Yamaha Tmax long term test, September

Published: 02 September 2001

Douglas Adams wrote in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that a towel is the most useful object in the universe, but I have another suggestion - a party popper.

Apart from its primary function of livening up a party, the exploding tube of streamers could, be invaluable for self-defence. Set it off in the face of a wild animal and it's certain to startle it for long enough to allow you to make your retreat. It could also be used as a makeshift SOS signal. And, thanks to some anonymous joker, I've recently discovered it has yet another use - insert one in the exhaust of a Tmax and it will instantly render the machine unusable.

That's what I learned after leaving the scooter chained to a lamppost outside my girlfriend's house in Stockwell, south London, for the night.

Returning to it the next day, all set for a sunny Sunday afternoon ride with the missus, I found it wouldn't start.

Had I been on another bike, I might have tried to investigate the problem myself. But somehow, the workings of the Tmax seem to represent an unknown quantity. When it comes to the engine, there are one or two things I'm unsure of. Like where it is.

I know it's in there somewhere, shoehorned between the fuel tank and under-seat luggage compartment and entombed in plastic. From the way the scooter glides seamlessly from standstill to 100mph, it would be easy to believe it's driven by some divine force, but the recent oil-change I had to do confirmed it has a far less enigmatic power source.

The Tmax requires one between its first and second service and its not something you quickly forget when you've bought a chain-free bike in the belief it will be almost maintenance-free.

No, the engine is in there alright. But which bit of plastic I have to remove first to get to it is another question. And faced with the prospect of dismantling a bike I've had little experience of working on at the side of a busy main road, breakdown recovery seemed a far more attractive option. Besides, the thing's under warrantee - why should I have got my hands dirty?

I dialled the number on my mobile and began pacing up and down behind the bike. Then, just as I was about to tell the polite lady at the call centre where I was, I saw it, poking out of the end of the exhaust insolently. Too embarrassed to explain, I simply told the lady I'd need no assistance after all and hung up.

A moment's fumbling confirmed the identity of the foreign body as it popped out into my now grubby fingers.

My embarrassment gave way to a relief as I pushed the start button again and the engine instantly began purring. With a long-awaited holiday to Barcelona on the Tmax looming, the last thing I wanted was reliability problems - especially since I've just shelled out £596 on kit for the trip.

A Givi rear carrier cost £49.95 and a top box to attach to it, made by the same firm, cost £82.20. It’s big enough to accommodate two full face helmets and I can either leave it securely locked to the scooter with my gear inside or remove it at the touch of a button and carry it away like a suitcase.

But the real beauty of it is, I should be able to fit it to bikes I own in the future, once I’ve bought the appropriate carrier. I went for black deliberately, so it would go with anything.

Givi makes a range of similar boxes to fit almost any bike, varying in specifications and ranging in price from £30 to £250.

Another £94.95 paid for an equally spacious set of Givi universal throw-over scooter panniers, which can also be conveniently carried away separately as cases. I just have to keep an eye on them and make sure it’s always me who carries them away.

A further £69.95 bought a Givi screen which is so tall I can now look through rather than over it. It’s also wider than the standard screen, which means my hands are now tucked behind it, and thicker, which means it vibrates less at high speed.

The effect is that the Tmax is now almost too tall to fit through the Dartford tunnel, and has so much luggage space I'll have to check for stowaways.

I also spent £299 on an Autocom rider-to-passenger intercom system that fits under the seat.

It consists of a battery-powered unit with a mass of wires sticking out of it like tentacles. One leads to my helmet, which has been fitted with two speakers and a mike. Another leads to the passenger’s, which has been similarly equipped. A third dangles uselessly, waiting to be connected to a bike-to-bike transmitter, which I don’t have. And yet two more lead to my minidisc player and mobile phone, both of which also reside under the seat.

I know what you’re thinking. Every time I’ve explained this lot to another rider, the response has been a stream of derisive remarks about getting two more wheels and a roof, delivered each time as if no-one else has ever said it. But what the device has taught me is that you don’t need a car to listen to high-quality music, chat to your passenger and even answer your phone, even if you’re doing 80mph one the motorway.

The mikes are highly sensitive, which means they don’t transmit any wind noise - just your voice. Speak, and the music automatically cuts to half volume. Shut up, and it returns to full volume in a few seconds.

All this doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel self conscious about all the faffing about with wires every time I get on and off.

Just the other week, while on a weekend break in Canterbury, a guy on a ‘real’ bike pulled up in petrol station at the pump opposite the one I was preparing to leave. By the time he’d removed his helmet and gloves, filled up, paid, returned to his bike, put his gloves back on and checked his hair in one of his mirrors, I was still trying to un-knot two leads and work out which one was supposed to go to my helmet and which one was supposed to go to my girlfriend’s, as she stood there looking impatient.

I glanced over my shoulder to see him staring at me with a look of disdainful amusement.

But I don’t care. I wouldn’t be riding a Tmax if I minded people having the odd joke at my expense. It’s all part of the fun.

Ever since I bought it, I’ve had the vague feeling it’s a source of humour to some people. Leering kids ask me what its top speed is and how quickly it gets to 60, before confidently informing me I should have got a Gilera Runner. Grinning taxi drivers wind down their windows to ask me how big the engine is, when it clearly says 500 in big digits on either side.

Even when I fell victim to the party popper gag, part of my mind imagined the culprit laughing at my attempts to start the engine from the safety of a house across the road.

But there’s always consolation to be found. For one thing, I love the Tmax as much as the day I rode it out of the showroom. For another, the guy with the smirk on his face in the petrol station was riding a Suzuki GSX750F - almost as ugly as he was.