2009 Piaggio BV500 Scooter Review - Motorcycle.com

Alfonse Palaima
by Alfonse Palaima

Speed is king, but sometimes you need a simpler machine for simple rides. Scooters offer highly coveted carrying capacity as well as comfort, combined with functionality for every type of rider. Today's scooters are growing not only in sales numbers but engine cubes. Diminutive only in stature, the deceptive nature of today's maxi-scooter is hidden right there beneath your ass. Some are capable of triple-digit top speeds, while others offer fuel consumption on par with your lawn mower.

Certainly a worthy mount can be found for everyone in today's market, and Americans are finally taking notice. Capitalizing on this newfound transportation prudence in the U.S., Italian two-wheel manufacturing giant, Piaggio, sold more units in this country during 2008 than ever before. Slumping job markets and energy-conscious buyers are learning - and saving money! - by adopting the two-wheeled approach to transportation. With a potential to save $6,000 or more in cost of ownership and maintenance (see sidebar), two-wheelers are popular again.
Redwoods to Poppies – California’s landscape is changing. Greener means of transportation are popping up everywhere.
Surely I don't help put scooters in the "manly" category with this silly photo, but my ride was most certainly eye-opening.

Piaggio saw the popularity of high-wheeled (larger wheel up front) scoots in Europe and joined the trend with its Liberty 125 in 1991. In 2003, they upped the ante with the 460cc Beverly 500 Tourer - the very same BV500 you see here today. As my mother says, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The $6,299 2009 BV's spec sheet is almost unchanged - save for a few pounds - from the '03 unit Motorcycle.com's long-suffering Euro correspondent, Yossef Schvetz, tested. There's no wonder, then, why we haven't seen this big scoot on the stateside testing roster. But in light of the recent surge in practical two-wheelers, it deserves another look.

'The BV500 is simplicity from the first twist of the wrist.'

Comparatively, the Piaggio lines up to the current roster of maxi's scooters like the twin-cylinder Yamaha T-Max 500 ($7,999) and the Kymco Xciting 500 ($6,799). The remaining models on the market either fall short or pile higher on the cubic centimeter scale, as 200cc units and 650cc units are more common builds. Such middleweight (500cc) scoots make popular choices for new riders fearful of bigger machines yet allow them more power than what the flyweight class offers.

The BV500 is simplicity from the first twist of the wrist. Its twist-and-go CVT transmission is capable of flowing with the local traffic, and big enough to trek like its Tourer name implies. It has a large, comfy seat coupled with nearly 500cc of Gilera/Piaggio engineering. Introduced to the U.S. market in '06 as Piaggio's largest scooter, (the larger 800cc scooters are only available in Europe), the Beverly's 460cc water-cooled Single is fitted with EFI and uses a single overhead cam to actuate its four valves, revs to 7500 rpm, and is good for a claimed 40 horsepower. We were able to squeeze a top speed of 100 mph out of the big girl.

When Yossef tested the BV500, he called it "an ultimate commuting tool." Noting it can "make short work of a 30-mile jaunt that includes city traffic, highway work and some twists," he skillfully observed that the BV500 "treads the thinning borderline between motorcycle and scooter."

Titled as a "tourer," the 500 BV is capable of highway speeds and 55 miles to the gallon, and though it might not replace a desire for a Gold Wing, adopting a low-impact commuting vessel like this scooter will require less room in the garage and might help you save money for that Wing. After a short time on the big Piaggio you realize it easily dispels the common misconception of scooters being wimpy, as its high-revving engine is capable of destroying canyons and piling on the miles with ease.

Living up to the Tourer part of its name, and typical of scooters in general, underseat storage can accommodate a pair of half-helmets, while the fairing-mounted glovebox can hold smaller items like your cellphone, camera and bottled water. Beyond the enclosed space, there's a (hand) bag hook from which you can dangle a sack of fruit between your legs for the short ride home from the market.

Overall capacity, however, leaves something to be desired. The contour of the BV's underseat storage is irregular enough that carrying groceries is more difficult than we found on the MP3. For truly long hauls on your Tourer, you'll want to consider the accessory hard-case trunk which mates to the BV's rear rack, or strap on a pair of soft-sided saddlebags to portage all the items necessary for any such overnighters.

8 minus 2 = $6,000

Eight wheels, minus two, can equal up to $6,000 savings, or more, in your family’s transportation budget. What the heck? Fight fire with fire, downsizing with downsizing. In light of this country’s current economic woes, the European motorcycle conglomerate Piaggio wants to help you neutralize the negative growth in your bank account and have fun in the process. Perhaps even reversing the loss, turning the low flow into a personal profit.

Like a bag of Skittles spilled on the ground, Vespas come in a myriad of colors.

Motorcycle.com was recently invited to see the 2009 model lineup at the fresh new Piaggio Technical Center in Costa Mesa, CA, and we were welcomed to the new facility by engineers, press relations staff, and the CEO and President of Piaggio Group Americas, Paolo Timoni. Timoni was fresh from a trip to Europe and was excited to share his growth plan with the press. The 12,000 square-foot facility will act as a media fleet center as well as home to the company's product testing and technical training operations, including factory product training and classroom instruction for service technicians from all U.S. and Canadian dealerships, as well as Latin American importers.

Offering introductory rides on dozens of two-wheel cash-saving machines, media outlets were invited to a taster's test of the 2009 Piaggio, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi model lines (Piaggio, for those that may not know, owns Aprilia and Moto Guzzi -- Ed).

While the industry itself ails along with the rest of the world, some manufacturers are showing growth and enjoying higher market shares each year. More and more eager-to-save Americans are buying into the two-wheeled nation. Although Americans are buying (Piaggio and Vespa) scooters in greater numbers than sportbikes, the Piaggio Group is happy to report a 4-year growth of volume share of 9.2%, as reported by the MIC. Selling more scooters in the U.S. than any other OEM, Piaggio's answer to the question of how we survive on current wages while still considering the health of the globe, is to downsize (once more) and make your second vehicle a scooter.

From city to canyon vista, the BV500 is ready to serve

Think globally, act locally…

According to independent testing on behalf of Piaggio, 30% of U.S. consumers have considered adding a cheaper mode of transportation to their garage. Were we to switch just 10% of our total mileage to scooters and motorcycles, we would consume 14 to 18 million fewer gallons of fuel per day, and carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 324 million pounds per day. (Source ICR Survey, May, 2006) Sounds like a win-win-win option (Piaggio, the buyer and the environment) to that second automobile.

Hip to the idea, Americans purchased a combined total 78,000 Piaggios and Vespas last year, bolstering the market share of scooters (for all brands) in 2008 to 27.7% according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. Measured in dollars, that's a 36% increase of scooter market share, and in total, 3% of the entire line in overall market sales for Piaggio alone. Piaggio is poised and actively engaged in enabling the American public to live "in the wind" by conscious means of informing the public about motorcycles and scooters sharing the road, and reforming government rules and regulations regarding use and costs involved with owning a two-wheeler.

Piaggio's Paolo Timoni poses atop the latest and greatest offering from Vespa, the GTS 300 Super.

"Our aim is to infiltrate deeper into the American market."

Already a market leader in Europe, where 10% of the population (not just 10% of all motorcyclists) ride two-wheelers to work or play, Piaggio believes they can not only convert a portion of our 8 million registered riders to the brand, but also get more of the general population riding as well. "Our aim is to infiltrate deeper into the American market," said Timoni, predicting the number of riders will approach that of the European market, a healthy figure of 20 million riders over the next decade in the U.S.

AAA"s Real Cost of Driving study shows that owning many common midsized sedans cost Americans on average $750 per month to own and operate. Swapping a family's second vehicle for a scooter, we'd be potentially saving $6,000 to $9,000 dollars annually in ownership and operation costs.

While every family needs an automobile, they often own two, with the second car being used less for full family travel and more for simple commutes to work and back. The average cost of ownership for a Vespa is $150 per month. Sell that other car, buy a bike and save nearly $600 per month on average. Cha ching!

For a deeper look at the potential savings when grafted to their model lineups, you can check out the Vespanomics.com website.

High-stepping through the poppies, the BV500 sports a 41mm front fork, dual disc brakes up front and plenty of chrome accents.
The BV’s dash is big and clear.

Zipping along on bigger-than-usual scooter wheels, the BV spins a 110/70-16 hoop up front and a beefier 150/70-14 in the rear. Three brakes functioning with Piaggio's linked brake system talk the BV down from speed. Strange to me, but apparently quite common to scooters, is the lack of foot controls. The right hand lever controls only one of the two front disc brakes, and quite frankly, makes for rather ineffective stopping. Applying the left hand lever activates the second front disc brake as well as the rear disc for noticeably better stopping power.

'Capable of highway speeds and light enough on its feet to pass through urban traffic...the BV500 Tourer is here to deliver.'

The Beverly's classic Euro-scooter look - two-up saddle, shorty windscreen and bright simple dashboard - will suit many riders, but the office-chair upright ergos and handy glovebox limit rider height by stealing away space for the riders knees behind the fairing. For most riders under the 6-foot mark, the BV500 offers solid wind and weather protection. The stepped saddle allows you to slide back for leg more room, but also raises your overall center of gravity, making for a dicey trade for an already top-heavy feeling machine.

If you can more easily appreciate the functionality offered from most scooters over the highly stylized form of many of today's motorcycles, choosing a scoot might be the proper choice for you. Capable of highway speeds and light enough on its feet to pass through urban traffic, yet enjoyable on extended rides, the BV500 Tourer is here to deliver. In addition, the BV is easy to park and less alluring to would-be thieves than an Aprilia SXV.

Piaggio noticed the weaknesses in our auto-drivers' habits, lack of purpose-built motorcycle parking facilities and cumbersome licensing procedures, amongst other roadblocks, preventing Americans from joining the carbon and congestion-reducing low-cost auto alternatives, not to mention happier travel. Piaggio entered the U.S. market knowing that in order to be the market leader here, it was going to have to help build that market.

Considering the Italian firm has been building two-wheel motor vehicles since 1884 and its current multi-brand label lineup amounts to more than 708,000 vehicles produced in 2007 alone, we'd say Piaggio might just be up to the task of changing American minds about transportation. European ingenuity is being put to the test, in order to sell us, as well as the non–readers of MO (aka civilians), on joining the two-wheeled revolution.

Where many see slumping sales and broken spirits, Piaggio's Timoni sees growth of human freedom and lifestyle as well as market share.

Hop on a bike today and smile!

Related Reading:
2003 Piaggio Beverly 500
All things scooter on MO

Alfonse Palaima
Alfonse Palaima

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