When I was asked to review a new scooter with three wheels, I expected something in the trike genre - one wheel in front, two in the back. I was mistaken. This new 250cc scooter from Italian manfucturer Piaggio has two wheels in the front, one in the back, handling more like a motorcycle than a scooter, except there's no need to shift because of its automatic transmission.
The scooter's nimble feel is due to the two front wheels, which tilt and turn independently from the back wheel. This gives riders superb control and stability. You can really lean it into the curves or turn it on a short radius.
One of this Italian job's more unique features is an electro-hydraulic mechanism that locks the front wheels. This allows the scooter to stand upright on its own when stopped or parked, eliminating the need to use the kick-stand. Unlike a trike, this three-wheeled machine does not stand up on its own. The locking mechanism can be engaged at 3 rpm allowing riders to roll to a stop and accelerate again without putting their feet down.
A switch near the right hand grip -- engaged with the thumb -- activates the locking mechanism. The lock is released via the same switch or simply by accelerating the throttle. However, if you release the lock while stopped, the scooter doesn't hold its balance. At that moment, you must have your feet down and be ready to hold up the scooter's very manageable 450 pounds.
Parking the scooter takes some getting used to because of its tricky three-wheeled maneuvering.
Another caution when using the lock: The scooter's front wheels must be pointed straight ahead or the wheels will lock in the direction they're turned. Before I got the hang of this feature, I veered off course by mistake.
It sounds complicated, but the Piaggio marketing folks say riders learn the nuances quickly. However, in four hours of city-highway-hill riding, I never did get confident enough to roll to a stop with the wheels locked without putting my feet down. I worried that the scooter would fall over. I would stop with a foot down and then engage the lock. I could then put my feet back up on the foot boards and accelerate from that position. Give me another day and I'm sure I would be in the driver's seat with this feature – no pun intended.
The scooter was introduced in Europe as the "MP3," but Piaggio hasn't yet received rights to this name for the U.S. market, so for now, the model is simply called the Piaggio Three-Wheel Scooter. It will be in the company's U.S. dealerships in early 2007 at a retail price of $6,999.
Piaggio hopes the three-wheeler will appeal to buyers who want a more frisky ride than a traditional two-wheeled scooter offers, yet aren't interested in shifting gears – a la motorcycling. As such, women are among its target market. With the scooter's greater stability and thrifty 60 miles per gallon gas consumption, the company may be aiming right.
Whoever they are, early buyers will likely turn heads, because that's what the three-wheeler did in San Antonio, Texas, where I tested it.
The scooter's uniqueness, coupled with its sporty good looks and racy slanted headlights, attracted small crowds who wanted to know more about it.
I rode a metallic blue-colored model (it also is being produced in red, black and grey) and completed a slalom course of cones in the parking lot before taking it on the open road. In city traffic, the scooter handles well. From a full stop, it powered forward without hesitation and easily reached 70 mph on the freeway. It also braked well, thanks to the dual front disk and single-disk rear brake.
The independent suspension systems on the two front wheels allow each wheel to rise and fall independently of the other. In other words, you can go over a speed bump or hit a pothole with one wheel while the other remains on flatter terrain. In a promotional video, Piaggio notes that the scooter can be parked with each front wheel resting on different levels -- perhaps one on a curb and the other on the street. One wheel can rise as much as 20 centimeters -- nearly 8 inches -- higher than the other, according to the company.
Perri had a great time enjoying the new-ness of the three-wheeled scooter.
During my test ride, I took a speed bump with one wheel, keeping the other on level pavement. This was smoother than when I crossed the bumps with both front wheels.
I'm average height -- 5 feet 6 inches -- and the 30.7-inch high seat allowed me to put my feet down firmly. Backing up to park at the curb was a snap because of the balance in the front. Since the scooter stands upright, it takes up less space than two-wheelers leaning on a side stand when parked.
The lockable under-seat storage compartment was roomy but the items in it got pretty warm because of the heat from the exhaust pipe. And, although the seat was cushy, it seemed too wide for my frame.
Specs at a Glance: Piaggio Three-Wheel Scooter
Seat Height: 30.7 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.2 gallons
Weight: 449.7 pounds
The three-wheeled Piaggio performs well, offering excellent balance. The gas mileage and roomy storage are a big plus. With just 250cc of displacement, it may not be an ideal choice for freeway commuting. But for riding on local and city roads, the Piaggio can't be beat. The $6,999 price tag probably includes a premium for the revolutionary technology involved in this vehicle, but this scooter is a great option for anyone who enjoys the latest gizmo plus a good ride.