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words - Feann Torr
Are three wheels better than two?

WHAT WE LIKE
- Front-end grip
- Riding position
- Ride & handling

NOT SO MUCH
- Rear styling
- Pillion footrests

Scooters are big business globally and, though they only make up a small percentage of the Australian two-wheeled market, around 10 percent, they have been a growth market in the last few years.

Standing out in the scooter market like a sikh at a Hillsong concert is the Piaggo MP3. Where almost every other scoot on the market is a two-wheeled proposition, this bad boy has three wheels – two at the front and one at the back.

Apart from potentially outrageous powerslides, there's a lot of positives to having two front wheels working in tandem via a special parallel cantilevered system. As well as improved front end traction and therefore braking, the Piaggio MP3 features a locking system so that when you come to a halt, you just flick and switch and the vehicle remains upright. Ergo, when you're wearing slippers and the road is wet, this means no more soggy feet. Genius!

ON THE ROAD
After familiarising myself with the controls – throttle, brakes, locking mechanism – I proceeded to have a quick trundle around the carpark before venturing out on the road, fearful of how the front end worked.

Turns out I probably didn't need the entrée course because riding the MP3 is like making love – instinct takes over and the event is entirely pleasurable.

Never has a scooter felt so effortlessly smooth to ride. Granted, the 250cc engine could probably use a bit more poke (there's a 400cc version which remedies this) but the way it turns, nay, carves through corners is one of the most enjoyable experiences this side of a track day on a modern supersport at Philip Island.

Tipping the MP3 into corners is a little unnerving at first as the weight is a little different to most bikes and scoots. It's initially lighter yet the transition from upright to leaned over is so seamless and smooth you feel like you're on water rather than terra firma.

One of the most impressive aspects of the MP3, apart from the sheer fun of cranking through roundabouts at full tilt, is the front end grip.

My second day with the Piaggio MP3 was a rotten one weather wise, as the heavens opened and rain poured down from mid afternoon. I kept putting off leaving work, hoping the rain would ease, but by 7:30pm I'd had enough of being trash-talked by 12-year-olds on internet poker.

You see I only had a waterproof jacket, but as it turns out my jeans didn't get too wet in the driving rain, which is a testament to the MP3's lower limb weather protection. But even more impressive is the stability of the three-wheeled Italian, performing a right-angled turn across usually perilous tram tracks without missing a beat.

As any Melbournian (or Adelaidian) will know, riding or turning across rain-soaked tram tracks on a two-wheels can be a lethal experience but the MP3 isn't flustered in the slightest. And it's not a two-wheeler either. It just glided through the intersection like an eagle in a thermal, and so cocky was I that a quick crack of the throttle was in order, which saw the rear end drift out slightly as it passed across the tram tracks. Who knew scooters could be such fun?

The CVT or continuously variable transmission takes a bit of involvement out of acceleration, but on the flipside it does make the three-wheeled Piaggio very approachable. The missus who has never ridden a two-wheeler in her life and is usually averse to such hijinx jumped on the thing and was cruising around the Preston Market carpark with ease, laughing all the way.

The instruments are big, bold and easy to read (day and night) plus the locking mechanism that fastens front forks into position is an excellent feature.

With practice you can roll up to the traffic lights, flick the switch at 5km/h (or less) as you decelerate and not even have to touch the ground with your feet. Twist the throttle when the traffic starts moving and the locking mechanism automatically disengages, allowing you to shoot off as car drivers rub their eyes in disbelief.

Even if you're on a incline or decline, the Piaggio MP3 has a handbrake so you don't even have to rest your hands on the handlebars. Too easy.

Because the three-wheeler is a fairly chubby little scooter, I found weaving through peak hour traffic was a bit iffy because you have to scrutinise gaps very intently, quite the opposite to cheating South African umpires at the Ashes.

Together with the improved front end grip, the front brakes are very handy too. There's a disc on each wheel so you get two contact patches creating friction when you squeeze the right-hand brake lever, suffice to say the MP3 can pull up very effectively. The stoppers aren't world class but they don't really need to be as the double action traction more than makes up for this.

Riding comfort is good, thanks to soft seat cushioning and an upright riding position. I found myself slouching a bit on longer journeys but that's due to my own indolence rather than any shortcomings in the riding position.

Taking a pillion passenger on the back is a lot of fun but the extra weight takes it toll on the 249cc four-stroke motor, which struggles (particularly uphill) when riding two-up. The 400cc version of the Piaggio MP3 will warrant serious consideration if you plan on lugging around extra weight. The pillion footrests are also very small, which can make first-time pillion passengers a little skittish.

The Piaggio MP3 is a curious little scoot, one that attracts the attention of both car drivers and bike riders.

It looks like nothing else on the road; the dual front wheels working in tandem like Torvill and Dean through the corners, carving up the road with level of smoothness that astonishes.

All told, there's not much to complain about. It looks a bit dippy (especially the rear end – yikes!), but you soon forget about that when you start carving gracefully through corners, like a water skier on a glassy lake.

The Piaggio MP3 250 could do with more power, but the 400cc version mollifies this argument and, ultimately, the 250cc jigger will be more than enough for many riders. In a word, inspired.

EQUIPMENT AND PRICING
The entry-level MP3 250 is priced at $9,990 (not including government and statutory charges) while the 400cc version adds a grand to the price at $10,990.

The 249cc engine churns out almost 22hp and 20Nm of torque, which finds its way to the rear wheel via a CVT and shaft drive. Those figures don't sound like much but the MP3 can be hustled along rapidly on a wide open throttle.

Piaggio's liquid cooled single-cylinder engine makes use of electronic fuel injection and gets rather loud at higher revs.

The front suspension system is the MP3's biggest drawcard, providing the curious-looking scoot with excellent grip and smooth handling. Technically speaking the front end is an electro-hydraulic parallelogram design, composed of four aluminium arms which have a maximum lean angle of up to 40 degrees. It not only sounds cool, but seeing the front end working its magic in motion is also very compelling.

The rear features a dual effect hydraulic shock absorber.

Meanwhile twin front disc brakes and a single rear disc control deceleration, all of which have 240mm diameters.

The front and rear wheels are all 12-inchers, shod with 120/70s at the front and 130/70 aspect ratio rubber at the rear.

Size wise, and the Piaggio MP3 is fairly bulky, with a 745mm width and a 2130mm length (sitting on a 1490mm wheelbase).

Tipping the scales at 204kg dry, the MP3 is not the lightest scooter you'll find but neither is it the heaviest. It has a good sized 12 litre fuel tank a and a

As well as the locking fork system and handbrake, the three-wheeled Piaggio comes with some other neat features, such as the an anti-theft immobiliser with a coded-key and a remote boot/seat release via the key plipper.

SPECS: Piaggio MP3 250

ENGINE
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-valve, four-stroke, single
Bore x stroke: 72 x 60mm
Displacement: 249cc
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Emissions: Euro 3

TRANSMISSION
Type: CVT
Final drive: Shaft
Clutch: Automatic

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Double cradle high tensile steel tube
Front suspension: electro-hydraulic parallelogram, 85mm travel 
Rear suspension: dual effect hydraulic shock absorber, 110mm travel
Front brakes: Twin 240mm discs
Rear brake: Single 240mm disc
Wheels: 10-spoke in cast light alloy (5-spoke in forged light alloy)
Tyres: 120/70-12 fronts, 130/70-12 rear

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed dry weight: 204kg
Fuel capacity: 12lt
Wheelbase: 1490mm

PERFORMANCE
Claimed max power: 22hp
Claimed max torque: 20Nm

OTHER STUFF
Price: $9,990*
Testbike supplied by: PS Importers (piaggio.com.au)
Warranty: Two years unlimited kilometres

*Manufacturer's recommended price before statutory and dealer delivery charges

To comment on this article click here Published : Monday, 3 August 2009
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