Be careful what you wish for, because it just might come true. I was thinking this as I pulled away on the Gilera Fuoco in a light rain, having suggested earlier that it might be best to test the radical three-wheeler in the wet. Twenty minutes later I was banking the Gilera around a soaking-wet roundabout at an angle I wouldn't have considered on a sportbike, let alone a scooter. As the centerstand ground itself into the pavement I realized I'd been right: Riding the Fuoco (the name means fire in Italian) in the rain will make you instantly believe in the wisdom of a third wheel.
Gilera's parent company, Piaggio, clearly has confidence in the parallelogram front end that allows both front wheels to lean together in tandem but still move independently over bumps. Piaggio presently offers 125 and 250cc MP3 models and has now introduced the concept to its Gilera brand with the larger-capacity Fuoco. Featuring a 493cc four-stroke single that drives the rear wheel through a centrifugal clutch and CVT transmission, the back half of the Fuoco is conventional low-tech scooter. But the front end is neither conventional nor low-tech, consisting of two pairs of independently suspended, cast-aluminum arms that pivot on a leading-link fork.
Despite the extra front wheel, the Fuoco is no wider than a conventional scooter and can be flicked from side to side using the same technique as a normal bike. And the Fuoco's front-end grip is miles beyond any conventional scooter-or even motorcycle. Not only could the Gilera be leaned further on the wet and slippery Berlin streets without sliding, but if one of the 12-inch diameter Pirellis did momentarily break traction, the machine's inherent stability prevented disaster. It also pays big dividends under braking, because the fat 3-inch-wide front tires provide twice the contact patch, and even if the twin front discs lock up the front wheels the machine can skid without spilling.
Performance-wise, a flick of right wrist is enough to keep the Fuoco ahead of traffic, but barely: It's hardly quicker than most 250cc scooters, mainly due to its staggering, 538-pound dry weight. Still, throttle response was flawless and operation generally felt very refined, with virtually no vibration from the balancer shaft-equipped single. The Fuoco does weigh and cost significantly more than equivalent two-wheeled scooters, but its handling and braking ability will convince many people of its merits after just one ride. Especially if it's wet.
Engine type: l-c single
Valve train: SOHC, 4v
Transmission: Automatic CVT
Horsepower: 40 bhp @ 7250 rpm
Torque: 31 lbs.-ft. @ 5500 rpm
Frame: Tubular steel
Front suspension: Twin shocks, adjustable for spring preload
Rear suspension: Twin shocks, adjustable for spring preload
Front brakes: Dual two-piston calipers, 240mm discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 280mm disc
Front tires: (2) 120/70-12 Michelin Pilot Sport
Rear tire: 140/70-14 Michelin Pilot Sport
Seat height: 30.9 in.
Wheelbase: 61.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.2 gal.
Dry weight: 538 lbs
So much potential, so little performance... How about a sportier version with less weight, more power, more lean angle and a more sophisticated rear end-and available in America, too!