PIaggio MP3 400ie – The Weekend.

This is the third installment in a series of what it’s like to live with Piaggio’s revolutionary three-wheeled maxi-scooter.

Part 1, initial impressions, is here.

Part 2, erramds amd running around, is here.

Saturday arrives and it’s my daughter’s tenth birthday.  It is absolutely beautiful outside as I get up bright and early.  Sheila and I had spent the evening getting all the presents wrapped and ensuring that everything was in place for Kira’s 10 girlfriends to have a pool party and get a deep sugar infusion with ice cream, cake and pizza in our back yard.

Kira models the comfortable riding position an Big Smile that the Piaggio delivers

Kira models the comfortable riding position an Big Smile that the Piaggio delivers

Daughter walks into the room, and the first thing she asks is if I’ll take her on the scooter to the Panera bread around the corner for a cookie and some lemonade.  I’m feeling coffee, so this is definitely a good thing.  Continue reading

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…

What’s the trend in Motorcycling?

I recently started ChasingMotorcycles.com, aimed at publishing and aggregating advertisements for motorcycles and scooters that are deemed “cool” on eBay and Craigslist and other places.  It also has exclusive ads that I’ve put up from readers that have sent them in.  The trends are starting to show.  As I have added bikes, readership has grown to more than 1000 hits/day, and readers are starting to send in ads that they’ve spotted as well.

What I’ve noticed is that people are going more practical, retro and vintage, and away from cruisers, choppers and big-bore monsters.  It seems to me that, for the time being, the Easy-Rider/Dark Knight/Sons of Anarchy look has faded completely.  Bandanas, fringe and leather vests worn by weekend warriors that spend their days as accountants and orthodontists, riding a thousand miles a year at most have moved on to some other trendy and “see how wealthy and cool I am” thing. Their chrome covered bikes are parked in the back of the garage, used as bump stops for their new Porsches.

Motorcycling and scootering has returned to its roots, to those who ride, those that want practical transport, and those people looking for something that is mechanically “soulful”.  The trend of “I have this brand of bike and you know it even when I’m not on it” has moved to “I love bikes, I love things mechanical and I don’t so much what you think”.

Just as we’ve discovered that Elvis died of constipation, the posers have died off. Steve McQueen is back.  Long live the true King of Cool. Continue reading

What's the trend in Motorcycling?

I recently started ChasingMotorcycles.com, aimed at publishing and aggregating advertisements for motorcycles and scooters that are deemed “cool” on eBay and Craigslist and other places.  It also has exclusive ads that I’ve put up from readers that have sent them in.  The trends are starting to show.  As I have added bikes, readership has grown to more than 1000 hits/day, and readers are starting to send in ads that they’ve spotted as well.

What I’ve noticed is that people are going more practical, retro and vintage, and away from cruisers, choppers and big-bore monsters.  It seems to me that, for the time being, the Easy-Rider/Dark Knight/Sons of Anarchy look has faded completely.  Bandanas, fringe and leather vests worn by weekend warriors that spend their days as accountants and orthodontists, riding a thousand miles a year at most have moved on to some other trendy and “see how wealthy and cool I am” thing. Their chrome covered bikes are parked in the back of the garage, used as bump stops for their new Porsches.

Motorcycling and scootering has returned to its roots, to those who ride, those that want practical transport, and those people looking for something that is mechanically “soulful”.  The trend of “I have this brand of bike and you know it even when I’m not on it” has moved to “I love bikes, I love things mechanical and I don’t so much what you think”.

Just as we’ve discovered that Elvis died of constipation, the posers have died off. Steve McQueen is back.  Long live the true King of Cool. Continue reading

Motoworks Chicago!

An exclamation point is the only way to end any sentence with the words Motoworks Chicago, located at 1901 S Western Ave.  Johnny Scheff, the proprietor, is engaging, affable and enthusiastic about the brand and all things two wheeled.  When you meet him, you instantly want to like him — this electricity is conducted right through his feet and throughout the entire store.  I had a great afternoon there on the nickel tour, bouncing from room to room as Johnny picked up the phone every few minutes, and seemingly knew everyone that came into his store the entire time I was there.

The Motoworks Showroom

There is absolutely no doubt that Motoworks sells PIaggio and Vespa Scooters!

Motoworks doesn’t just sell scooters — there’s a large number of used bikes, possess a great service department with knowledgeable mechanics, and a huge space where they store well over a hundred bikes for their very satisfied clientele. “It’s funny about the season ending”, says Scheff, “we had Continue reading

Links to Moto Guzzi V7 Classic Reviews

V7 Classic on Roman Streets

V7 Classic on Roman Streets

I spent some time on the phone with Jim Barron at Rose Farm Classics yesterday.  I’m thinking about buying a bike from him right now (unless the right V7 Sport falls into my lap, which just doesn’t happen), and the subject turned around to the V7 Classic.  I’ve yet to plant my butt on one and ride it, but I know that will be happening in the future.

As we talked about the V7, we also talked about how much we liked Maxi Scooters.  The thing is, in Chicago, there are pot hole that will swallow you up.  I barely missed one last Saturday on Wacker that was more than 2 feet wide and at least as deep.  Had I hit that on the Eldorado I was riding, let alone a scooter, I do believe that would have made a spectacular mess.  Maxi-Scoots also aren’t getting any lighter, either.  Still love the scoots, and I’ve even looked at a couple recently for my jaunts around Oak Park.

So the question came up.  Maxi-Scoot or V7 Classic?  The Maxi-Scoot gives a lot of storage and weather protection, park-ability and style.  They are reliable, get great mileage and allow you to zoom just about anywhere you want, including freeways, with ease. How does it compare with the lightweight Guzzi?

The V7 has style all over it, since Guzzi basically pulled every classic goodie out of their refrigerator and made a perfect Dagwood Sandwich of style with this bike. Even the white color just fits it.  This bike is all style and all bike, without having a sinister bone in it’s body.

Is it reliable?  Reliability is a Guzzi hallmark.  I think there were a few years, pre-Piaggio, that might have been troubling, but I also believe that time is long past.  Even the latest recall on the Stelvio/Grisos was more for caution and getting things absolutely right for the customer, instead of fixing a potential disaster in the field.  A couple of the new V7 owners on the mailing lists that I subscribe to have had some niggling issues, but this bike is built on a well-evolved, solid platform.

I keep hearing that the V7 is “under-powered”.  My Eldorado has about the same amount with at least an extra hundred pounds to haul around.  I’m just buying that argument unless you’re comparing it to a 750cc hot-rod bike.  This bike doesn’t fill that role.  This bike is about enough of everything — a typical Guzzi with nothing to prove to anyone — the right-minded owner will bond with this bike completely.  It’s a great first bike, a great retro-bike, and I predict that it’s a great “Eastern City” bike, where there’s lots of stop-and-go, potholes, and openings that must be quickly exploited.

I have no dog in the hunt.  I haven’t ridden the V7 Classic yet.  I’ve been on a bunch of scooters, thanks to Piaggio, and I believe them to be superior products that are a blast to ride.  I think for me the V7 Classic would edge out the Maxi Scoot on three things:

  • I ride mostly with motorcyclists at the moment since I haven’t had a scoot in Chicago.
  • I take a lot of rides out in the wilderness.
  • I ride at night, and the potholes in this city come out of nowhere in the pitch.
  • Jim thinks the Guzzi is lighter than the biggest Maxis
  • Jim sells only Guzzi, and I’m pretty much of a completely biased homer in that department.
  • I would love a scooter, seriously love one, but I don’t have enough Motorcycles yet for the amount of money that I currently have to spend.  The sad fact is that if I had a scooter, I would probably ride it more than the bikes.  I’m just not ready to be so damned pragmatic in my life.

While I’m waiting for my V7 to test and ride around, I’ve been reading the reviews, and in doing so, I’ve decided to give out the links that I’ve found and share them.  Please feel free to comment with your experiences on the V7, good or bad,  if you have one and if you find more reviews feel free to add them to your comments:

(There’s a lot of UK in here, simply because the bike was available for almost a year in Europe before they were brought into the US).

Backup Bike Continued

Well, I have the ST2 on Craigslist.  The drama in my mind with respect to my “backup bike” continues.  I’ve been looking at the usual Guzzi suspects, the 1000s, SP, Brevas — even a V7 Sport or a Lodola.  The fact is, how and where I ride has changed dramatically since I moved to Chicago — gone are the 1000 mi weeks, week after week.  My commute is only about 15 miles round trip, and even with things closer here, there’s just no way that I’m going to rack up the miles that I had previously, which I don’t know if it is good or bad, it just is what it is.

One of the things that has been tickling me of late is the maxi-scoot.  The Eldo is just a great bike.  I love riding it, love everything about it.  Sheer joy on my face while I’m on it, so I’m imagining what another bike looks like parked next to it, and trying to play forward what the use for the second bike would be as the “new to me” wears off and I get up in the morning and decide what to ride that day.

I love the Piaggio Maxi-Scoots.  They’ve made me a better overall rider.  They are a serious blast to run around in, and are just as relaxing and utilitarian as anything I have ever been on, and just plain fun.

So I’m still ruminating and want to seek comments and opinions from anyone that cares.   Here’s my poll:

Feel free to chime in with a comment, too!  Thanks!

First Week in Chicago — Looks Like Riding Season is Over

I think that part of my orientation with my new position at WMS is weather-related.  The day that I arrived it was in the 20’s, and the day after was a “balmy” 50 degree day.  Next day was snow, followed by a cold, windy day that showed the thermometer at 6° with a -20 wind chill.  Next day was a good foot of snow, demonstrating how traffic can get insanely snarled up.  It repeats until today, where it’s -5° and the wind is howling so much that I don’t really care what the wind chill factor is.  My moustache froze 15 seconds after I left my front door.

I had a great drive from Los Angeles to Chicago last week.  Took 3 1/2 days and I ended up at a friend’s house overnight, moving into my apartment in Roger’s Park the next day.  Up until that point I was extremely disappointed that I didn’t ride my Ducati ST2 out.  Sure, I would have had less stuff, but I would have taken only what I needed and just lived with a smaller footprint until I went back home for Christmas on the evening of the 23rd.  I could pack a suitcase and bring more stuff out on the return trip, and I would have the bike when the streets were clear. Continue reading

Vespa GTV250 i.e. – Day 4 – Testing the Limits

This is the fourth in a series of posts dedicated to living with the Vespa GTV 250 i.e. The third article is here.

Takin’ the long way on the GTV250.

Vespa GTV 250 i.e. - Retro Masterpiece

Vespa GTV 250 i.e. - Retro Masterpiece

I made two trips to Santa Barbara on my daily commute to my (now former) job there.  I decided that the 160 mile round trip daily ride would put the scooter to many tests.  Top speed, endurance, mileage, handling over different pavements and conditions, scootering in Santa Barbara, and finally the attitudes of the people that I have coffee with in Ventura, lunch with in Santa Barbara, and a cup of tea with in either place on the way home.

Top speed and freeway driving.

Those 14 inch tires just disappear underneath the Vespa.  I didn’t know what to think about them.  Even standing at idle on the bike, there is no way, without contortion, that you can see the rear wheel.  I didn’t expect much with respect to riding on the freeway, but I’ve seen lesser rides on the road with me, and the 250cc engine is freeway legal.

As I accelerated down the onramp from Reseda Blvd to the 118 freeway west, I was shocked how fast the GTV got from zero to “I’m not going to be killed doing this” speed.  By the time I hit the end of the relatively short onramp, I was speeding past 60 and on my way.   Signals and visibility are without question awesome, and I safely maneuvered into traffic, still accelerating even though I was going slightly uphill.  I topped out at an indicated 84mph, which, translated through an Italian Speedo, is either about 75mph, or, if you’re used to them like I am, that would be “fast”.

The first obstacle in the path between Northridge and Ventura’s salt breezes is the Susanna Pass road, which is quite steep uphill.  The Piaggio 250 that I had tested previously made it up this hill with very little drop in top speed, so I wanted to see what the Vespa, with slightly smaller tires, much more frontal area and a little more weight would do.

Not bad, about what I had expected actually.  By the time I got to the top of the hill, I was running about 71 indicated, 62 or so actual (italian translation: medium fast).  As soon as it flattened out, there was no doubt that the scoot would go back to top speed.  The engine, even with 5000 miles on it, just ran like it was new.  A rev-limiter is attached to the engine that limits top speed to an indicated 87 or so.  I was able to bump up against this limiter on the flats, so the bike is geared just about perfectly, the CVT works as advertised, and if you are skeptical, spend a week with one and you’ll be hooked.

The trip to work and back, taken twice, took about 15 minutes longer than it would have on my bigger motorcycles.  Two things stick out though.  I found myself taking side roads more often, enjoying the view, smells and textures of my surroundings, and generally relaxing along my ride.  I had come to accept the lower speed potential of the scoot, and found some very nice ways to entertain myself and enjoy my ride, especially on the way home. Continue reading