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Long term test on the Yamaha Tmax

Published: 10 June 2001

Sometimes, the strangest combinations actually go together remarkably well.

When I was a kid, my favourite teatime snack was peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Other children would curl their lips with disgust when I mentioned this to them. But if they ever got over their initial revulsion and actually tried one, they tended to change their minds.

I don’t eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches any more – they rot your teeth. But now I’ve discovered another peculiar mix that works better than anyone would imagine – a scooter and a 500cc engine.

" A 500cc scooter? " one of my mates asked me, when I told him what I was about to buy. " Yes, " I replied.

" A 500cc scooter? " he repeated, the incredulity raising his voice a couple of octaves. He was convinced I must have made a mistake, until I dug out a picture to show him.

OK, so it might not be the best bike for posing, you can’t take it on track days and you get some weird looks from leather-clad GSX-R riders whenever you go to a pub meet. But considering I don’t ride to pose, I’ve never done a track day and I don’t much care for warp-speed sports bikes, I didn’t find any of this a problem when it came to choosing Yamaha’s new Tmax.

It might not seem like the ideal bike to take to a World Superbike meeting, either. People asked why I didn’t simply travel the 100 or so miles to Donington in a car, but that just wasn’t an option. Not only did I arrive at the track dry, despite cruising at 90mph through sporadic rain in just a leather jacket, jeans and trainers, I was also able to ride straight into the paddock area. And no, I didn’t have any passes.

" I just want to ride in there to take a photo of the bike in a paddock, " I said to the grim-faced steward at the gate. " You’ve got five minutes, " he replied.

Needless to say, he didn’t see me again for several hours. And once inside, the Tmax looked like just any other paddock scooter, albeit larger, so it failed to attract a second glance from any other stewards, which was just as well because it should have had a vehicle pass displayed on the front. In fact, it blended in so well that it still didn’t attract any unwanted attention even when I persuaded two pit lane babes to drape themselves over it. Then again, between them and the Tmax, I know which my attention would have been drawn to.

Of course, the scooter isn’t always quite so inconspicuous. Some car drivers look at it as though it has just landed from the heavens in a blinding flash of light, especially when I pass them at 90mph.

Others seem to see it and think, irrespective of how fast I’m going: " That’s a scooter, so I’d better overtake it. " Only the other day, a determined Sierra driver cruised past me on a slip road on to the motorway, before realising that he was about to enter the slow lane at 100mph and abruptly slamming on the anchors.

It also attracted more attention outside the WSB paddock. As I rode through the car park, I heard someone shout: " Oi, mate, what’s the spin cycle on your washing machine? "

" All right, grandad? " someone else barked.

Like the peanut butter and jam sandwiches, the very idea of the Tmax will always appall some people, even though they haven’t tried it. But not everyone has such closed minds.

Another rider in the paddock, who had taken far more of a shine to the " bike " , said: " The rest of Europe is so much more open-minded about these things than we are. I bet they’ll love this in Spain. I don’t know why riders in this country are so obsessed with sports bikes. There are so many other types of bikes you can have fun on they’re missing out. "

I had to agree. Much as I like sports bikes, I don’t need to be riding one to enjoy life. My last bike was an Aprilia Falco, and it was great. But since then my circumstances have changed. An office relocation means I now have to ride 60 miles a day to get to and from work. I also spend a lot of time riding both to, from and around London. I intend to ride to Barcelona for a holiday in August. I may take a trip to Amsterdam at some point, too.

For all these things, the Tmax makes more sense than a sports bike. Thanks to the ample luggage space, economy, twist-and-go ease of riding, comfort and weather protection from the tall screen, I can have more fun doing all these things than I could on a sports bike. More my idea of fun, anyway. I can even see the road behind me in the mirrors without my elbows getting in the way.

The seat’s so big and soft I can sit on it for hours without feeling like I’ve been on a bike at all, while the footboards allow me to adopt two different riding positions according to the circumstances. Each features a horizontal section and a diagonal sloped section to put your feet on. That means around town I can sit on the edge of the seat with my feet flat on the floor in front of me, ready to put them down the next time I stop at the lights. But when I get on the motorway I can sit farther back on the seat, with my backside against the bum stop, my legs stretched out and my feet up as if I was relaxing in my living room at home.

The result of this sofa-like seating position, combined with the tall screen, is comfort and weather protection to rival a GoldWing, on a machine that can still nip through traffic without making you feel like you’re piloting a jumbo jet.

The luggage space under the seat makes life easier, too, both for commuting and touring. It means I can ride somewhere with a weekend’s worth of clothes and still squeeze my full-face lid in before locking the bike up for the night and going to the pub.

There is one problem with it, though, which I discovered last week when I tried to cram in just a little too much. The two catches which lock it are operated by turning the key in the ignition.

Force too much under the seat and it puts pressure on them and makes the mechanism stiff. The result was a bent key – and a sickening sense of déjà vu. Only last month, while filling the Falco, the key snapped off in the petrol cap. Even worse, I always put the steering lock on when I fill up, ever since a mate had his bike nicked when he went inside to pay, so I couldn’t even wheel it off the forecourt.

In the end I had to get a couple of mates to come and pick me up in a van and help haul the thing into the back. It was one of my last experiences with the bike before trading it in.

Luckily, this time the key stayed in one piece, which means all I have to do is get another one cut and be more careful in future.

Minor gripes aside, I couldn’t be happier. I may not be able to keep up with sports bikes any more, or even fast cars, but I can beat most things away from the lights and still have a dice every day with the guy from the office who rides an ageing Kawasaki GT550.

The bikes are closely matched, with the older one having a touch more straight-line speed. Put them head-to-head on a straight road and the GT550 will slowly creep forward. But while the Kawasaki screams at 11,000rpm, the Tmax purrs quietly along like a giant armchair thanks to the constant-velocity transmission, which stops the engine over-revving and maintains maximum torque. It’s a surreal experience. And if you don’t think it sounds like fun, I suggest you try it for yourself. You’ll probably be surprised.

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