What a way to start a trip. My first flight delayed, I have to change airlines, go through the 'special interest' security screening, endure a two-hour layover in Dallas, and when I land in Los Angeles, I have to ride a scooter. How bad can it be?
A ride up the Pacific Coast Highway is cool no matter what. For an East Coaster like me, one has to jump at any opportunity to see the Pacific. And while a scooter is certainly no motorcycle, thankfully, it's no car either.
Southern California has the reputation for weather as close to perfect as it can get and today is no exception. The hip, retro architecture of the Long Beach airport only enhances the L.A. mood I already feel myself slipping into - this may turn out to be OK after all.
Think fast surfer boy wannabe, you just got here. What should have been a short shuttle ride to the Piaggio USA headquarters displayed one of Los Angeles' shortcomings, traffic. Gridlock on the 405 at 2:00 p.m. and I'm supposed to - gulp, ride a scooter in this? My guide for the afternoon is Piaggio USA's Director of Operations and Technical Services, Rino Alessandrini. After a quick technical briefing on the X9, we suit up and head to Santa Barbara.
Engine and Transmission
Any prejudicial feelings I may have had toward the X9 and scooters in general quickly disappeared as soon as we hit the 405. This machine is fun and oh so easy to ride. Just roll on the throttle and off you go. The 460cc, liquid-cooled engine puts down a respectable 39hp delivered seamlessly through the automatic 'twist and go' transmission. This brand-new Piaggio 4-stroke mill is the first in a new line known as the MASTER family (Multi-valve Advanced Super Torque Engine Range). Designed to deliver exceptional power and torque via electronic engine control and fuel injection, the four-valve SOHC single does an admirable job scooting the X9 down the road. The claimed top speed of 98 miles per hour was not quite achieved on this day but I have little doubt that it is capable of such a figure. Hey, I was just following Rino. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The aforementioned 'twist and go' transmission will always be a bone of contention among us motorcycle purists. We seem to like our clutches and our gears. Automatics are for cars. Yeah, yeah, whatever - in heavy stop-and-go traffic, I'll take a scooter any time. There, I said it. I feel liberated, and your clutch hand will, too, after an hour of not shifting gears 50 times in three miles. The bottom line is that the transmission works well. You do give up a bit on acceleration and roll-on speed, but the ease and fun factor more than compensate for these losses.
Chassis and Brakes
We've established that the X9 has no clutch. That said, the uninitiated will certainly ask what the lever on the left handle is. Well, it's the brakes. Yes, brakes plural. Piaggio has given the X9 a linked braking system that is activated by the left lever. Considering that the bike is equipped with three discs being squeezed by Brembo calipers, ample braking power is readily available. When activated, the system simultaneously applies the rear disc and the left front disc to give optimal and predictable stopping power. The lever on the right handle applies only the right front disc. All in all, the braking system works very well once you get the hang of it. Folks with experience riding motorcycles should really take a few minutes to familiarize themselves with this unique setup before hitting traffic. Reaching for the clutch can be a real wake up call if you're not careful. Novices, on the other hand, should readily take to this system, as it is reminiscent of the brake setup on a bicycle.
The suspension duties on the X9 are handled by twin shocks in the rear and 41mm forks up front. The rear shocks are adjustable to four positions of preload. The stock settings offer a plush ride but they are susceptible to bottoming on larger bumps. The big Piaggio rides nicely and handles surprisingly well. The double-cradle frame feels stout and shows no signs of twitchiness. The large diameter 14-inch wheels and tubeless tires have the capacity to be pushed further than I'm willing to push them because the scooter center of gravity is still foreign to this bike guy. Bear in mind, it is a scooter and therefore inherently top heavy, but it's surprising what this machine will let you get away with in the curvy stuff. Don't be shy about wringing it out on the back roads if the urge hits.
Accessories and Arrangements
When it comes to bells and whistles, the designers at Piaggio didn't miss a beat. Comfort, style and a do-it-all sensibility abound on the X9. The bike looks comfortable and it is. The large seat stands up well to hours of hard riding. The only complaint about the seat is the feeling I got that I was sliding forward. This may easily be cured by adjusting the driver's backrest, a neat feature in itself. I never really felt the urge to explore this option as the ample floorboards offer plenty of legroom to compensate.
Under the seat there's an extremely generous storage space capable of holding a full-face and an open-face helmet together. My rather full book bag disappeared under the seat with no problem at all - students take note. Small storage compartments located on the inside front shield are perfect for smaller personal items, and there's even a 12V socket to charge your phone. Guarding against theft, the Electronic Immobilizer System won't allow the scooter to be started when anything other than the original key is inserted. A three-position adjustable windscreen helps keep wind low and comfort high.
Along with these standard features, Piaggio offers several attractive accessory options. These include an 11.9-liter top case spacious enough to hold two full-face helmets. The optional top case, equipped with a comfortable passenger backrest, is designed to look like an integral part of the bodywork. A touring passenger backrest is also available for mounting if you don't need the top case. Heated handgrips are another nifty option offered up by Piaggio. A nice thing to have for those chilly morning commutes.
What can I say? I'm a believer. I flew into Los Angeles thinking I had little use for scooters and flew out wishing I had one to use. The X9 is a great machine to ride; it's a lot of fun, economical and practical, too. There is plenty of room to stow gear for a day's work or a weekend getaway. Piaggio has covered all the bases with the X9: power for the freeway, nimble handling for the back roads, and easy maneuverability for city use. Oh, and did I mention that this thing is really fun to ride? All of these attributes are wrapped up in a well-designed and attractive package that lists under $ 6,000. Nice work, Piaggio! You even managed to get this die-hard biker to join the ranks of the scooter faithful.
Piaggio X9 Evolution
Retail Price $ 5,999
Warranty 1 year unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 625/every 3,000 miles 1000/every 4,800 km
Piaggio USA Inc.
20003 South Rancho Way
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90220
phone (310) 604-3980
single cylinder, four-stroke, 460cc, SOHC, four-valve
Fuel Tank 15l (3.96gal)
Fuel Consumption 4.2l/100km (56mpg)
Theoretical Fuel Range 357km (222mls)
Bore and Stroke 92/69mm
Max Power 39hp at 7,500rpm
Lubrication wet sump, capacity 1.5liters (1.6qts)
Transmission automatic 'twist and go' continuously variable transmission
double cradle steel tube
Front Suspension 41mm telescopic fork
Rear Suspension 2 hydraulic spring shocks with 4-position adjustable preload
TIRES & BRAKES
Front Tire 120/70-14
Rear Tire 150/70-14
Front Brake 2-260mm (10.2in) discs, 2-piston calipers
Rear Brake 1 240mm (9.4in) disc, 1-piston caliper
Length 2,140mm (84.25in)
Width 880mm (34.65in)
Seat Height 1540mm (60.63in)
Wheel Base 1,395mm (54.9in)
Running Weight 213kg (470lbs)