2009 Yamaha TMAX 500

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Ken Freund, Yamaha

Right after a rider on a black-and-orange, big-twin cruiser scoffed at the bike I was on, we both took off from the traffic light onto the highway, his blaring, straight exhaust pipes no doubt saving many lives as we whisked ahead. Only much to his mortification, the TMAX scooter was in the lead once we attained the speed limit and I backed off.

While I may not have made a friend of the other rider, I did gain a newfound respect that day for the 2009 Yamaha TMAX. Powered by a spunky half-liter twin, this somewhat futuristic-looking machine is part sportbike, part scooter, and all business.

Approaching head-on, the TMAX's headlamps and windscreen look like other Yamaha sportbikes, only the image appears to have been lowered or "slammed." A side view tells you it's a scooter, although a large, modern one at that. The rear view - the one our loud-pipes guy got - also has a sportbike-style tail section.

Drivetrain

Hidden under the bodywork is a rather innovative 499cc parallel-twin powerplant. It has a unique, offset reciprocating counterbalancer that's very effective in minimizing vibration at all road speeds. A four-valve cylinder head inhales from the fuel-injection system's twin bore Mikuni 31mm throttle bodies; and due to the high 11:1 compression ratio, recommended fuel is premium unleaded. High-atomizing 12-hole injectors and a catalyst help reduce polluting exhaust emissions.

It's always ready to go, too. Squeeze a brake lever, thumb the starter button, and the engine jumps to attention instantly with no stumbling, wheezing or roughness. Rated 43 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 34.2 lb-ft maximum torque at 6,500 rpm, the TMAX has considerable low- to middle-rpm torque with smooth throttle response, plus very good high-end performance.

An automatic centrifugal clutch and continuously variable transmission (CVT) and two-stage, adjustment-free chain system transfer power to the rear wheel. Acceleration for the first few yards from a standstill is a bit lackluster, but about halfway through the intersection - here we go! The peppy twin hits its stride and comes to life, pulling strongly from about 20 mph up to highway speeds, which is great for passing and merging.

At all legal speeds, and then some, the engine retains its composure and hums away smoothly and quietly. It never seems to be working too hard and is capable of reaching low triple-digit speeds, something few scooters can claim.

Chassis & Suspension

Although hidden beneath the bodywork, one of the things that make the TMAX stand out from other scooters is its diamond-type, controlled fill, die-cast aluminum frame. This is a more expensive way to go, but it produces a lighter, stiffer chassis essential for great handling and rider confidence.

Out on the road, there's none of that flexible, twisting feel between front and rear that so many scooters have. And ride quality is also noticeably better than it is on most scooters, thanks to the large 15-inch wheels and stout 43mm motorcycle-style fork, rather than the traditional scooter-style front suspension.

Brakes, Tires & Handling

Dual rotors with twin four-piston calipers handle stopping up front. A beefy one-piston sliding caliper, which includes a parking brake, resides out back. Parking brakes are important when leaving an automatic scooter on a hill, but they are left off many other models to save money. This one is applied by a lever on the left handlebar, which is convenient to reach and easy to use.

Adjustable brake levers allow riders to tailor the reach to their hand size. Yamaha diverges from scooter practice by connecting the front brake to the right brake lever and the rear brake to the left lever. This makes it easier for motorcyclists to adapt to the layout, but the switch may cause some chagrin among experienced scooterists.
Easy to modulate and fade free, braking is very strong with low effort required.

Dunlop Sportmax GPR-100 or Bridgestone BT011/BT012 (F/R) tires are available on the TMAX. The tires on our test bike were the Dunlops, which offered good grip with nice, sharp response and feel. They also shrugged off longitudinal rain grooves and pavement joints.

On a twisty road the TMAX thinks it's a sportbike, and a skilled rider can give many sport riders a hard time in the canyons. The Max handles exceptionally well for a scooter, with quick turn-in, and it holds a line through a corner nicely. It's possible to lean much farther than on most scooters before things begin to scrape, and high-speed stability is excellent. Overall, very confidence inspiring.

Features & Ergonomics

Yamaha installs a tall windscreen that really blocks the windblast while limiting buffeting and turbulence. It also keeps the bugs off the rider and should help reduce the effects of rain and cold air. Those swoopy headlamps throw a wide swath of lumens on the road ahead, and this bike has some of the most effective mirrors out there, perched on long stalks out past your shoulders.

Instrumentation is very good, with a trio of round analog gauges that are quite readable. In the center is a large speedometer with an innovative curved bar-graph tachometer across the bottom that redlines at 8,250 rpm. On the sides are coolant temperature and fuel-level gauges, plus a clock and indicator lamps. Tachs aren't essential on automatic scooters, but it's certainly nice to know how high the engine is revving. After dark the dash is illuminated in red, which helps retain night vision and looks cool.

Twin non-locking glove boxes below the handlebars provide a place for small items. A radio or stereo system would be a great option on this bike and it could fit in one of these two compartments. Twist the ignition key to the left and it releases the seat, which tilts up to reveal a roomy lighted storage compartment. My XL, full-face helmet fits (upside down), along with a light jacket and gloves. A large tailbag can go on the rear seat, but it's difficult to find places to affix bungee hooks, particularly for the front straps. Yamaha offers a tail rack and hard case, along with a console bag that fits a helmet.

A separate fuel-filler flap means you don't have to raise the seat to refuel, while a locking cap keeps it from being tampered with. Capacity is just a tick under four gallons, with a 0.8-gallon reserve. Gas mileage averaged 47.6 mpg, with a low of 44.3 and high of 51.1. Generally, the odometer's low-fuel reminder comes on when the distance displayed is around 155 miles.

The wide saddle has a low adjustable backrest for the rider and still offers plenty of room for a passenger. Unlike many scooters, there seems to be plenty of space for most riders to stretch out. The roomy pillion seat is also sufficiently padded and comfortable, the footpegs are well positioned, and large handrails provide a feeling of security. A taller passenger backrest is available as an accessory.

Final Thoughts

Many owners "outgrow" smaller-displacement scooters as they gain riding experience and eventually want to venture out on the highway more. Here's a scooter that gets the job done and you aren't likely to find it lacking in performance. A quality machine that shows excellent fit and finish, the TMAX performed trouble-free in our testing, starting instantly and always ready to go. It's easy to ride, comfortable, quick, offers good handling, and it can cope with long-distance highway travel. Whether you want to commute across town or ride across the country, Yamaha's top-of-the-lineup TMAX is up to the task. And if you see that guy on the black-and-orange cruiser, tell him I said hello.