In a survey of over 600 current scooter owners, Yamaha’s research team discovered that over half of them (55%) said their next two-wheeled purchase would be another scooter. Meanwhile, nearly 70% of those same respondents admitted that the majority of their time spent on their scoots was either for pleasure or commuting to/from work.

With this newfound information, Yamaha realized it had a gap in its lineup. Fun rides or commuting generally involve stints on the freeway, and in order to legally do so, a motorcycle needs to be at least 149cc. And up to the 2014 model year at least, the only freeway-legal scoot bearing the Tuning Fork logo has been the 400cc Majesty (curiously, the Majesty is not listed in Yamaha’s 2015 lineup. Yamaha reps were coy, but hinted at a possible refreshing of its maxi-scooter roster). Meanwhile, the 153cc PCX150 presents Honda’s solution to those riders looking to move up to a freeway-legal scoot, without the bulk of maxi-scooters. Obviously, to concede sales to Honda just isn’t acceptable, and hence the Smax was born.

Freeways? Well, don’t mind if I do.

Not too big, not too small

At 155cc, the fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, four-valve Single in the Smax is slightly larger than the 153cc Thumper powering the PCX150. It also has two more valves and slightly higher compression (11.0:1 vs. 10.6:1). Yamaha says the frame is all new, with a completely flat bottom and step-through design, making ingress and egress on the Smax much easier than on the Honda with its tunnel running down the middle.

2013 Uber Scooter Shootout + Video

The flat bottom also makes it easier to place grocery bags between your legs. Of course, storage is an important feature of any scooter, and the Smax has 8.5 gallons (versus 6.6 gallons on the PCX150) under the seat to put your stuff, plenty big enough for a full-face helmet and a box of cereal. An open storage compartment beneath the bag hook is suitable for a water bottle plus other small items. Should that still not be enough room, Yamaha has accessories for the Smax, including an optional 10-gallon topbox and water-repellent tote bag.

That’s a 3/4 lid under the seat, but a full-face fits under just fine, with room to spare.

As part of the new frame design, the single rear shock was placed horizontally (as opposed to the twin vertical shocks on the Honda) to help add more underseat storage space. Yamaha says rear travel is 3.6 inches, which bests the 3.0 inches the PCX provides. However, the Honda wins out in front travel with 3.9 inches; an edge over the 3.1 inches on the Smax.

An advantage for the Yamaha comes in the braking department, with its twin disc brakes an improvement over the disc/drum setup on the Honda. The front rotor is bigger on the Yamaha, too, 267mm compared to 220mm. Neither scooter is equipped with ABS, though the Smax doesn’t feature linked braking either, unlike the Honda. Wheels and tires measure 13 inches on the Yamaha, an inch less than the Honda, but the Smax utilizes 120/70-13 front, 130/70-13 rear, rubber. This in contrast to the skinnier 90/90-14 front, 100/90-14 rear on the PCX, giving the Yamaha a wider footprint on the road.

The Smax utilizes a single shock, mounted horizontally, to help give more underseat storage space.

The Smax utilizes a single shock, mounted horizontally, to help give more underseat storage space.

While the Yamaha appears to be superior to the Honda in many performance categories, the Smax loses out in a few key areas. Firstly, the Yamaha’s 31.3-inch seat height isn’t as beginner-friendly as the Honda’s 29.9 inches. To make matters worse, at 328 lbs with its 2.0-gallon tank topped up, the Smax is a full 42 lbs heavier than the PCX. Most importantly though, especially in a class influenced by frugality, at $3,690, the Yamaha is 6.5% more expensive than the $3,449 Honda. Without having both models to compare side-by-side, the final verdict will have to wait. In the meantime, some initial impressions from a nearly 60-mile ride through the heart of San Diego, California.

Stay classy, San Diego

San Diego is a perfect locale for testing the capabilities of the Smax, as its downtown area can get cramped with car traffic, making it ideal for a scooter to squirt in and out. Meanwhile the surrounding charming communities aren’t too big, and perfect for exploring on a scooter. And if you’re not in an exploring mood, a short freeway jaunt is all it takes to get where you need to go.

For times when walking takes too long and a car or full-size motorcycle is overkill, the Yamaha Smax is an ideal choice.

Imperial Beach, where our ride originated, is far enough from the city to consider taking a vehicle for your everyday commute, but the seat heaters in the car wouldn’t even begin to get warm by the time you made it to work. The Smax is a great solution.

The step-through design is a welcome feature, but the broad seat makes it a little awkward for those with short legs (like myself) to comfortably place both feet on the ground. I usually resorted to only placing one hoof on tarmac. Otherwise, seating position is standard scooter, with the rider sitting upright. One can place their feet flat on the floorboard, or stretch them out slightly into the detents on the leg shield. I use stretch loosely, as the legroom was just enough for my 30-inch inseam without having to scoot back onto the passenger seat.

I didn’t see a single Vespa while riding a Yamaha scooter through Little Italy. Go figure.

Once moving, the Smax is a great commuter. From Imperial Beach we made our way to Coronado via two-lane roads. There’s plenty of power from the 155cc Single to more than keep pace with the surrounding traffic. From there the hustle and bustle of Little Italy came next, and the small stature of the Smax was great for darting through gaps and separating ourselves from the sea of cars at each green light. The CVT takes care of any shifting needs, and power application is smooth and gentle as can be. Scooter riders young and old will have a hard time feeling intimidated by the Smax.

There’s not much to complain about in terms of ride quality, either. Being a commuter, its suspension is tuned for compliance, and while we rode along the harbor en route to Harbor Island and beyond, the gentle ride made it easy to soak in the wonderful views San Diego has to offer. The Smax will even lean quite a bit, too. While clearly no R1, she’ll tip over a ways before scraping the sidestand.

2012 125cc Scooter Shootout + Video

As we head inland slightly to Balboa Park, then back down the 5 freeway heading south, the speeds pick up a bit. The large windscreen does a decent job directing wind away from the chest. If it were mine, I’d wish for something a little taller and wider. Speaking of speed, I was pleasantly surprised to see an indicated 85 mph on our freeway jaunt with the aid of the draft. Without others to pull you along, a solid 80 mph is doable with enough room. Equally as impressive are the brakes, the twin discs easily bringing the scoot to a halt with great power and feel from the lever.

The Smax can handle the occasional twist and turn, its centerstand touching down much later than I expected.

Shenanigans aside, judging from our brief ride the Smax is every bit a formidable challenger to the PCX150. Though it’s been a while since I’ve ridden the Honda, performance between them seems practically equal. There’s useful storage space, two-up capabilities and more than enough engine to feel comfortable on the freeway. However, if Yamaha’s step-through design is more your calling, you definitely won’t go wrong. All that’s left to do now is pit the two together for a faceoff.

The $3,690 Yamaha Smax is only $300 more than Yamaha’s own Zuma 125, which is not freeway legal. If deciding between the two, spending that little bit more for highway capability is a no-brainer. The Smax will be available in two colors: Ultramarine Blue and Matte Titan. Units will start hitting dealerships later this month.

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