Super-sized Scooter

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores

In the burgeoning maxi-scooter market, Piaggio's BV500 is more classically styled than the company's X9 or other more sportbike-inspired competitors. The front exhibits classic scooter design cues, but the rear has been transmogrified into a touring motorcycle. Is this the ingenious creation of an enlightened product development team, or has someone slipped a Vespa two-stroke steroids?

Design
Piaggio designers have done a great job creating a vehicle that blends scooter and tourer characteristics into a cohesive, attractive ride. The classic elements of scooter design - high headlight, feet-together position, curved leg shield, and seat - are all there in a slightly super-sized form. Optional top and side cases are integrated beautifully into the rear, and the entire design is held together with a collection of graceful arcs and curves that lend an elegant air to this machine of focused practicality. The overall effect is feminine, befitting the name on the test scooter's side cases: Beverly.

Urban Assault Vehicle?
So how does this maxi-scooter perform in the domain of its smaller brethren? Where the coaster-sized wheels of smaller scoots struggle, the larger wheels of the BV500 (16' front/14' rear) excel, swallowing potholes and manhole covers in stride. Handling is quick and precise, and the drive train is well-suited to city duty. The 460cc Piaggio 'MASTER' motor is a fuel-injected, single-cylinder, 4-stroke producing 39 horsepower, driving the rear wheel via a continuously variable transmission. Although 0 to 5 mph performance is a little soft, as the engine and transmission work to find a suitable power/gearing combination, once on the move, this scooter really takes off, providing taxi-slaying acceleration.

A knee-high glove box provides storage for small odds and ends, and a simple split-ring plastic hook resides near the ignition, perfect for a handbag or an order of General Tso's Chicken.

Most scooters provide cavern-like storage beneath their seats, however the space on the BV500 is uncharacteristically small. Full-face helmets? No. A rainsuit? Yes. But having the optional cases will make up for any storage deficiencies. The top case is spacious enough to hold a helmet and gloves; and though the side cases are deceptively shallow (their depth compromised by the exhaust and other rear-end mechanicals), they are deep enough to hold a messenger bag or soft attaché. The top case is secured with a key while the side cases use combination locks that can be difficult to use at night or in poorly lit areas.

At 436.5 pounds, the BV500 also takes some muscle to paddle into tight parking spots. The side cases also compromise the scooter's ability to filter through traffic. Installed, they stretch the BV500's width to nearly three feet and make threading gaps more problematic. So in its transformation, the BV500 has gained some urban ability, but lost some too. Its smaller kin are better runabouts.

Cruise Missile?
With eighteen-wheeled behemoths punching 70+ mile-per-hour holes into the lower atmosphere, leaving dirty whorls of air in their wake, the BV500 tries to keep up on the interstate, accelerating enthusiastically to 70 mph as the vestigial windscreen directs a clean, chest-high stream of air at the rider. A full-face helmet (or optional touring windscreen) is highly recommended at these speeds. At extra-legal speeds (approximately 75+ mph), the frame and suspension approaches the limits of design, and the ride becomes unsettled. The front end begins to wander and the scooter responds to road imperfections with a wallow and a weave as windblast becomes a torrent. The swingarm-mounted motor makes its presence felt as it moves up and down with each bump, creating some coarseness in the feel of the rear suspension.
Terminal velocity, tucked behind the small windscreen, tickles the triple digits on the optimistic speedometer, but the BV500 makes it clear that this is not something to be done regularly or for extended periods of time. Ultimately, the BV500 is a competent highway cruiser that can pass the miles at law-abiding velocities. The problem is, average speeds seem to climb every day and, ultimately, the BV500 is not quite the Autobahn-burner needed for rapid transit on today's highway. Touring rigs make better mile-munchers.

Suburban Utility Vehicle?
The environment where the BV500 excels - shopping malls, small towns, and local roads - puts its assets to good use while minimizing its design compromises. Here, the side cases are bonuses as they swallow the latest booty from Home Depot and Target, or clothes for a long weekend in the country. Nimble handling and the strong motor generate commuting fun, passing somnolent SUVs with ease, and the upright seating position makes over-the-shoulder checks a breeze. The low-mounted fuel tank (just under 3.5 gallons) helps handling, and it takes the passage of 180 'enthusiastic' miles before it's sipped dry. That's 50+ mpg. Less 'enthusiastic' riding can garner 60+ mpg.

As the suburban patchwork gives way to twisting two-lanes, the BV500 continues to shine, linking turns like an Olympic snowboarder. The CVT transmission is not the ultimate performance component, but on a flowing road it can be an asset, allowing the rider to concentrate on other things, like the line, the braking, and if so inclined, the scenery. The biggest adjustment that motorcyclists will have to make when riding the BV500 is how they brake. The twin-piston Brembos that clamp down on dual 260mm front discs are matched to a single 240mm rear disc. The braking system is linked front to rear, which helps to reduce front-end dive, but the right brake lever (operating the right front disc) is unusually weak. It does a decent job of scrubbing off speed, but the real braking power comes from the left brake lever (operating the left front disc and rear disc). Used together, they provide strong, controlled braking, and work with the rest of the package to provide a surprisingly fun ride.

Conclusion
The best of both worlds? The worst of both worlds? A Gold Wing on the Atkins Diet or a muscle-bound scooter? Piaggio has done an admirable job combining the qualities of vehicles on opposite ends of the two-wheeled spectrum. The result could have been an albatross, but by adding a dash of fun, practicality, and style, they've managed to create a vehicle that fits into the niche that most of us live in every day.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Piaggio BV500

Distributor Piaggio USA, Inc.
www.piaggiousa.com
Retail Price $ 6,299
Warranty one year factory warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance
Engine Piaggio MASTER, 460cc single cylinder, four-stroke catalytic
Fuel Type unleaded
Fuel Capacity 3.49 gallons (13.2 liters)
Fuel Mileage 50-55 mpg
Range 150-180 miles
Bore and Stroke 3.6' x 2.7' (92mm x 69mm)
Max Power 39hp
Ignition Magneti Marelli electronic ignition
Starter electric
Lubrication gear-driven trochoidal pump
Cooling liquid
Transmission CVT automatic ratio variator (twist-and-go)
Front Suspension 41mm telescopic hydraulic fork
Rear Suspension engine mounted oscillating fork, two dual effect hydraulic dampers, four-position coil spring
Front Tire 110/70 - 16'
Rear Tire 150/70 - 14'
Front Brake twin 260mm discs with twin piston calipers, 32mm left, 34mm right
Rear Brake single 240mm disc with twin piston caliper
Rear Brake single 240mm disc with twin piston caliper
Length 87.2 (2,215mm)
Width 30.3' (770mm) without optional side cases
Seat Height 30.9' (785mm)
Wheelbase 61' (1,550mm)
Dry Weight 436.5lbs (198kg)