Long term test: Yamaha Tmax

Published: 04 February 2002

JUST because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, according to an old saying. And while I might hesitate to share that gem of wisdom with the barefooted bloke I regularly see wandering around my local shopping centre, I’m afraid it’s true.

You see, I’ve been suffering from a vague sense of paranoia ever sense I got the Tmax. The way people react to it – and me while riding it – has consistently left me with the fleeting notion that we’re the punch- line of a joke I don’t quite get.

What I’ve learnt since then is that it’s no joke. They’re actually out to get me.

During the last six month I’ve been besieged by vandals. As you may remember if you’ve read my previous reports, in July some clever dick stuck a party popper in my exhaust, rendering the bike impossible to start. That was followed in August by the discovery that someone had forced my steering lock, causing £180 worth of damage - easily explained as an attempted theft until I add that bike was chained to a lamppost. Then, in October, someone slashed my seat cover. But as far as I’m concerned, the latest incident tops them all. Last month, somebody went to the trouble of slashing both my tyres.

By now you’ve probably reached the conclusion that a single person must be responsible for these acts, who for one reason or another simply doesn’t like me. And I’d like to agree. But if that’s true, I must have really, really offended them, because the incidents have occurred hundreds of miles apart. The steering lock, for example, was broken in France.

No, there’s only one possible explanation for this. It’s a conspiracy. Even the birds are in on it. Just the other week, I came out of sweeping bend at 90mph to find a pheasant standing directly in my path. Sensing it meant to do me harm, I dabbed the Tmax’s front brake, instantly scrubbing 10mph. It took to flight, heading to the right, so I carefully chose a line to the left to avoid a collision. But it was a trick. At the last minute, just as we drew level, it suddenly veered left again, smashing directly into the nose of the fairing and forks.

Unfortunately for the pheasant, its plan had a fundamental flaw – 200kg scooters stand up far better to 80mph impacts with birds than birds do with 200kg scooters. In fact, it was a bit like an overweight seagull passing through a jet engine on a passenger plane. A dull thud was followed by an explosion of feathers in all directions, with some coming straight through the vents in the Tmax’s dash and others lodging themselves in the gaps.

It was at least one fairly robust attack the Tmax had withstood, even if it hadn’t done so well against the tyre slasher.

The worst thing about that was I didn’t realise they’d been slashed at the time. It was a Monday morning, and I’d spent the weekend in London. That meant I had to get up at about 6am to get to work in Peterborough by 9am. As you can imagine, the sight of two flat tyres was hardly welcome as I emerged from the house fully kitted-up. But that’s what I assumed they were – the target of some errant juvenile who’d stuck his finger in the valves until they’d gone down.

My breakdown cover had expired the previous month and, being a bit strapped for cash, I hadn’t bother renewing it. To be honest, the Tmax has proved so reliable it didn’t seem important. But it meant I had to leave it there and get the train to work.

And it wasn’t until after I’d got there – arriving two hours late and inadvertently demonstrating the Tmax’s supremacy over rail as a way of commuting – worked a full day and then returned to London on the train with a foot-pump, that I discovered the truth.

Both tyres hissed as soon as I pumped air into them. I ran my hand around each tyre wall looking for the sources, and eventually found two almost invisible but matching one-inch incisions.

It meant I had to get on the train again that day, to make the 100-mile journey back home to Kettering, and then return to London yet another time the following night with a van, before making the final trip back to Kettering.

Given the travel exhaustion I felt by Wednesday, not to mention the two-wasted evenings, I’m sure you’ll understand why I like to imagine the tyre-slasher and now-deceased pheasant are a common enemy of the same kin.

And the inconvenience didn’t end there. It was just the start of a catalogue of misfortunes.

The Tmax was going to be off the road for a few days, while I waited for the tyres I’d ordered to turn up, so I thought I might as well take advantage of the time by removing the seat and sending it off to be recovered. Highlander Products, based in Tamworth, Staffordshire, charged £52 to return it to me within the week restored to original condition, which is no small feat with a seat as bulky and irregularly-shaped as the Tmax’s (details: 01827 875 740).

Keen to get back on the road, I rushed out to the bike to bolt the seat back on. But an unwelcome realisation quickly changed my excitement to disappointment once I’d got the thing in place.

I was guilty, it seemed, of a stunningly stupid oversight. Because unlike most bikes, the Tmax has a courtesy light in the under-seat compartment which comes on when the seat is raised. And stays on when the seat’s removed. And while it has a rather large battery compared to most bikes, it’s hardly equipped to power a light for seven days without being charged. The result was a flurry of inactivity when I pressed start button. The battery was totally dead.

A jump start from a Subaru Legacy got it going quickly enough, and at last it seemed the problems were solved. But yet more were to follow.

It was a Friday evening and I was preparing to go to London again for the weekend, so I jumped on the bike and headed for the A14.

My speedometer wasn’t working, thanks to minor hitch which occurred while changing the tyres. A small piece of plastic in the front wheel hub which drives the speedometer cable was broken. It seemed it had already been in two pieces before the wheel had been removed, but the pieces had been held together by the walls of the small compartment in which the part turned. That’s what the guy who changed the tyres said, anyway.

In any case, I wasn’t going to let it prevent me using the bike for the weekend, I thought as I pulled onto the A14. Then the oil light came on.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the sinking feeling I felt, watching it flash on and off.

I stopped at the first opportunity and checked the oil. There was plenty, but there could have been something wrong with oil pump. I still had no breakdown cover. It was late on Friday night and I was a couple of miles from home. It was risky, but I rode back.

On the way, I noticed it would flash four times at regular intervals, stop for a moment, and then begin again. It occurred to me that it could be a diagnostic tool, indicating there was a problem other than oil pressure. But consistent with my recent run of luck, I’d left my owner’s handbook at work. Without it, I had no idea what the problem could be and I wasn’t going to risk finding out on the way to London. It was time to get the train again.

Not until Monday morning, as I leafed through the book, did I discover that the oil light flashing on and off in intervals of four means… that the speedometer doesn’t work.

I can only guess at how the Tmax will warn me if I ever actually run low on oil.

Despite this run of misfortune, I feel I must congratulate Yamaha for making this bike. Despite the misadventures, it’s been emotional, as Vinnie Jones put it. Awesome weather protection combined twist-and-go ease-of-use make it the best winter bike I’ve ever ridden. Masses of luggage space and a top speed approaching 100mph has given me all the practicality of a small car combined with the freedom of a big bike. It’s also given me endless hours of fun.

And a nervous twitch.