PIAGGIO MP3 500
THIS THING IS POSITIVELY brilliant! Not necessarily as a scooter, understand. For you and me, a conventional two-wheeled scooter is lighter, less complex and less expensive. Thing is, the MP3 wasn’t built for you and me.
Two impediments that keep “civilians” from riding are the need to master a manual clutch/gearbox and the fear of tipping over. Piaggio’s three-model MP3 line directly addresses those concerns. Like most scooters, there’s a stepless CVT “automatic” transmission-just twist the throttle and you’re moving, no need to change gears or find neutral at stops. But the MP3 family’s real claim to fame is the tilting parallelogram front suspension/steering design, made up of hinges and arms and pins and bearings, oh my!
We sampled the butch member of the trio, the MP3 500 with its four-valve, liquid-cooled, 492cc Single for power, a claimed 40 hp. Top speed is an honest 90 mph on the radar gun, with a timed quarter-mile of 17.43 seconds at 75.7 mph. Zero to 60 mph takes 9.7 seconds.
While the 250 and 400cc versions look typically scootercute, the 500 has a sort of diabolical tiki-doll visage, an effect heightened by the matte-black paint (red is also available) and diamond-plate floorboard inserts. Army of Darkness stuff.
Anyway, here’s the cool part. Ride up to a stoplight, and as soon as your speed falls below 10 mph, thumb a switch on the right handlebar that locks the front end upright-indicated by a double-beep. The bike remains balanced without assistance; no need to sully your sneakers at a stop. Light turns green, give it some throttle, you hear a single beep, and
the steering unlocks.
More Stupid Scooter Tricks: If your driveway has any slant at all, you don’t awkwardly paddle back when it’s time to ride. Simply release the parking brake, keep your feet on the floorboards and the MP3 rolls into the street. Gas it to unlock the steering, lean in the intended direction and you’re off in one smooth move bound to impress friends and family.
If you insist, you can forgo the button and put a foot down to steady yourself at stops, just as on a regular two-wheeler. And, in fact, in all other situations, the
MP3 feels utterly conventional. If you were magically plopped into saddle at speed, you wouldn’t know there was an extra wheel up front. In turns, the bike countersteers and leans just like a single-track vehicle. In enlightened states like California where lane-spitting is legal, it even threads through traffic jams with no undue drama.
Is it safer than a twowheeled scooter? Well, it has an extra contact patch up front and an extra disc brake, so it stops well, posting figures almost identical to those of our 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R testbike. And on wet cobblestones, having an extra wheel has to be a plus.
More important to fencesitters trying to choose between open-air commuting and another bloodless econocar is the sense of security that third wheel brings. At $8899, the 500 ain’t exactly cheap, but it’s half the price of a new car, gets an easy 44 mpg and sets its owner well apart from the mundane masses. See? Brilliant!