Piaggio MP3 – 400i Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

Day One. Bringing it home, reading the manual, picking up the kid from school and other stuff you’re supposed to do on a scoot….

MP-4 from the front

The PIaggio MP3 400ie (click for larger)

“Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It’s gettin’ kind of long
I could’ve said it was in my way

But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it, to someone”

That pretty much sums up the Piaggio MP3 the first few miles you put on it. It’s different… waaay different! Johnny Scheff, owner of Motoworks Chicago, was cool enough to give me the ride for the weekend. My goal is to write about it and give an honest assessment of day-to-day living with it. I want to answer questions like:

  • What is the perception of other two-wheeled veterans to the bike?
  • Is it really as utilitarian as a scooter and as much fun?
  • Are there any quirks that make it undesirable?
  • Does it become tedious explaining to everyone just what it is and why it’s different?
  • Would I want one over my favorite scoot, the Piaggio BV250?

This series isn’t about numbers, rocking around the Santa Monica Mountains to the Rock Store or finding out just how amazing the front grip on this bike is (It IS amazing, by the way).  I want to write about what it’s like living with this three-wheeled wonder on a day-to-day basis, running errands, picking up the kid from school, going to coffee, stuff that you’ll do the second week after owning it.  I want to explore how it will integrate into the life of the owner.

That funky wheel lock thingy…

Before riding the MP3 400ie for the first time, there’s just a few things to realize.  First, it WILL fall over if you don’t treat it like it has two wheels.  You can’t just walk away from it without doing anything.  When you come to a stop at a stoplight, you need to put your foot down.  It has a center-stand.  It leans way over.  All this is true, but…

There’s this little switch…

See that switch under the kill switch?

See that switch under the kill switch? (click for larger)

The switch under the kill switch and above the “mode” button changes everything.  It “locks” the lean so that when you’re parked, stopped waiting to make a turn or just idling while you’re chatting up someone you’re attracted to at a cafe.  Note that it locks the suspension, not the steering. It automatically kicks off as soon as the bike starts to move.  One beep for a successful lock, Two beeps when it’s unlocked.  The bike will NOT fall over then.  You don’t have to put your foot down at lights, you don’t have to use the center stand, and when you park it, you lock the front wheels, set the parking brake and walk. The wheels will lock exactly at the angle that you put them.  If you lean it to far before locking, you’ll get a warning from the bike that it might fall over if you walk away.  It actually takes getting used to to get it straight up and dwon.

With a little skill, you can actually set the suspension lock as you’re rolling up to a light and never put a foot down.  I’ve been trying this all day with about 30% success.  Sometimes I engage the lock while the bike is still rolling too fast.  Sometimes I get it locked when the bike isn’t quite straight up and down.  Coming to a stop with a little lean really messes with your senses.  You end up putting a foot down and looking like a complete noob.  My current technique is to come to a stop, put a foot down and then lock the wheels straight up and down if the light or stop is long enough.

Riding Home, first impressions

I thought to myself that I’d just treat it like any other two wheeled scoot and just ignore the fact that it has three wheels. I mounted up with the bike running, the suspension  locked, “hmmm I’m sitting on a stopped running bike and my feet aren’t on the ground“. OK, you can’t get over the fact that it has three wheels.  I put a foot down and unlocked the bike.  It immediately leaned into my right bar.  “I know what this feels like.  Ok, twist the throttle and see if I can ride off like I know what I’m doing.  If I dump the bike here in front of Johnny and the rest of the crew at Motoworks Chicago, well, at least I can try to blame it on him…”

I pulled off.  Wow.  Just like a regular bike.  At the end of the alley when ready to turn and head home, I squeezed the brakes.  The rear locked, just a little, in the loose gravel.  The fronts just gripped enough to where I think this bike could stoppie with enough practice.  Johnnie’s place is off Western, about a mile south of Lake Street.  I decided to ride down Lake, under the EL and shake the scoot down.  Lake has fewer cross streets than other east-west streets, and the pylons of the Elevated Railway keep lane changes to a minimum.  There’s potholes and standing water, and the intersections need to be approached with a jaundiced eye, but it’s a good route to see what the straight-line limitations of a bike might be.

Here’s what I get from the first ride:

  • It’s well built.  Solid.  Lots of quality engineering
  • No rattles.
  • Rides great
  • Seat is comfortable, but takes getting used to.
  • Short windshield would have a lot of blast if you don’t ride full-face.
  • Weather protection is awesome.  I rode through puddles and didn’t get a drop on me.
  • When underway, it’s just a scooter.  A 400cc scooter with very nice linear power.
  • Extremely stable.
  • Did I say well built?

Brakes and Stopping Protocols

First and foremost, the front brakes are just amazing.  You can really stop this bad boy.  I don’t know if the rear tire is a little flat-spotted (Mr Scheff admits he may have been exploring the limits of rear wheel locking in parking lots).  What I do know, is I like to approach braking with a good hunk of front brake, followed by some rear and then, if I’m particularly stable, letting the rear stop the bike while my right thumb engages the lock and I don’t have to put a foot down.

As I said before, I’ve been successful with this about 30% of the time.  30 percent of the time I don’t engage or even try it, and the rest of the time I try to do it but look like a complete dork.  I imagine that a few more days will reverse this and I’ll only look dorky 10% of the time, or I’ll know when to just not try it (lots of uneven surfaces at lights here in Chicago!).

More tomorrow.  I plan to talk about the storage and practical stuff. Over the weekend I’m going to take it on a nice jaunt to my favorite Moto Guzzi dealer…

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One thought on “Piaggio MP3 – 400i Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

  1. Pingback: PIaggio MP3 400ie – The Weekend. « As the Dude Abides…

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