2009 Yamaha T-Max - Short Shift

V-Max For The Step-Through Set

It looks harmless enough. Just another plastic-wrapped mega-scooter. Sensible two-wheel transport for the urbane motophobe? Sure. That's just what the T-Max wants you to think. But underneath the smirking plastic facade lurks the heart and bones of a modern, mid-sized sportbike. Yamaha sold upwards of 23,000 examples of the 2001 T-Max to scooter-happy Europeans in the first eight months. So when the extensively enhanced '08 edition arrived at the same time as budget-crushing fuel prices and record scooter sales, it earned a slot in Yamaha USA's '09 lineup. Shortly thereafter, an R1-yellow one showed up in our garage. If you're still thinking remedial faux-sportbike for the half-helmeted geek squad, think again. The engine alone makes it more than that.

Riding parallel to the pavement, you'll find Yamaha's counterbalanced, 499cc, horizontal-twin: two cams, eight valves and an alleged 44 horsepower, flowing through a centrifugal wet clutch and CVT V-belt transmission. A two-stage, adjustment-free enclosed chain handles final-drive chores. It's all compact enough to keep the heavy engine/driveline bits low and essentially amidships in the CF die-cast aluminum frame, creating a package that handles more like a motorcycle than anything else in Scooterland.

All the hardware down below makes the seat tall and broad, but it's quite comfortable, solo or two-up. Grab either brake lever-no pedal here-thumb the starter, and the half-liter twin awakens with all the veiled menace of a 1000-watt Yamaha generator. The shiftless CVT transmission takes some getting used to for committed clutch users. Open the throttle; revs rise and you accelerate nicely...a half-step behind the throttle. Outboard motor operators and aficionados of English-dubbed Godzilla movies will feel right at home.

No worries though: There's more than enough urge to outrun 80-mph freeway traffic, surprising 90 percent of two-wheeled traffic in our informal research and 100 percent of the four-wheeled kind. Mr. T changes direction with less effort than you'd expect from 491 pounds balanced on a 62-inch wheelbase. There's less steering feedback as well, but an admirably stiff chassis and firm, nicely damped suspension make up for that in the twisty bits. Keep your momentum up and your lines tidy. The 15-inch Dunlops grip with enough tenacity to chew up the centerstand, along with the pride of any sporty-bike pilot who left his A-game at home. Brakes are a little spongy, and can wilt if pressed beyond their job description. Otherwise, it's a shockingly viable alternative to the average econo-sport motorcycle. Especially after you've been strafed by a well ridden 'Max some perfect Saturday morning, complete with a weekend's worth of groceries in its underseat stowage compartment.

Drawbacks? The otherwise superbly appointed cockpit is beset with loud, turbulent air at freeway speeds. And at $7999-add $101 for that R1-yellow paint-Yamaha's maximum scooter costs $709 more than a new FZ6. On the flip side, that's $700 less than Suzuki's heavier, more luxuriant Burgman 650. At that rate, maybe you can't decide between the sporting middleweight's fun factor and mega-scooter practicality. With the T-Max, you don't have to.

tech SPEC
Price $8099
Engine type l-c horizontal-twin
**Valve train ** DOHC, 8V
Displacement 499cc
Transmission Automatic, V-belt
Frame Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension 43mm Soqi telescopic fork
Rear suspension Single Soqi shock with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Dual four-piston calipers, 267mm discs
Rear brake Single-piston caliper, 267mm disc
Front tire 120/70-HR15 Dunlop Sportmax
Rear tire 160/60-HR15 Dunlop Sportmax
Seat height 31.5 in.
Wheelbase {{{62}}}.2 in.
Fuel mileage (high/low/average) 49/45/38 mpg
Fuel capacity 4.0 gal.
Measured wet weight 491 lbs.
Contact www.yamaha-motor.com

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
The 44-horsepower cure for people who still think scooters are boring.

The counterbalanced twin is dead-smooth in its happy place between 4500 and 5500 rpm.