30/11/2006 00:00 | By By Ian Grainger, contributor

Ridden: Piaggio MP3



Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

In 1946 Piaggio created the iconic Vespa as a post-war transport solution, 60 years on and the company has just re-invented the wheel, or to be precise it’s added an extra one. The amazing Piaggio MP3 is already proving a hit across Europe; in fact the UK launch was postponed because the factory in Pontedera, northern Italy can’t keep up with demand for the quirky machines, and after riding it I’m not surprised!

Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

The MP3 has all the usual characteristics of a modern scooter including an eco friendly, liquid cooled, four-stroke single-cylinder engine with auto transmission. The engine is available in learner legal 125cc and a larger 250 capacity; a 400cc will also be available next summer. It also boasts a capacious under-seat storage area, with a separate ‘hatch back’ compartment, capable of storing a full face crash helmet. In all there’s a whopping 65 litres of storage space under the seat. Good weather protection is provided by the legshields and Piaggio even offers a large screen and heated lap cover as extras.

Lean on me

Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

The front profile isn’t actually any larger than any other mid-capacity scooter, so using one on our congested city routes isn’t an issue, as we found out on the launch in central London. You might not look at the MP3 and think there’s anything too clever about it but within seconds of riding it a grin will spread from ear to ear and you’ll quickly realise you’re sitting on something pretty special. The twin front wheels tilt independently thanks to Piaggio’s parallelogram suspension system which allows a much greater level of grip and a 40-degree angle of lean without compromising safety.

Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

Although the scooter is fitted with a centre stand, you don’t actually need it because the MP3 has a hand brake located behind the front fairing and it’s perfectly stable on its three wheels whilst locked in the upright position. To start the MP3, sit on the seat to deactivate the pressure switch which lets the machine know you’re safely aboard, pull in one of the brake levers and press the starter button, then just twist and go.

Getting started on two wheels (not three)

Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

There’s a button located on the right hand grip which will lock the machine in an upright position, so pull up at a junction, press the button and the scooter will stay upright until you’re ready to move off again – no need to even put your feet down! It took a while to get used to but soon became second nature. On an ordinary scooter there’s an element of risk involved when riding on damp or slippery surfaces but within seconds of getting on board we were all leaning as far as the scooters (or our nerves) would allow, with complete confidence - despite the tarmac being fairly wet. There’s no way you could do that on a conventional two wheeler.

Traffic stopper

Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

You’d better get used to being stared at because the MP3 brought London to a standstill (no change there then) but the traffic-busting machine will safely get anywhere a conventional two wheeler can, it’s just so much better at doing so, it’s smooth and stable at all times. There’s no slow-speed wobbles to contend with, you just pick your path through or past the traffic and accelerate away in complete control, whether you’re an inexperienced rider or a veteran it’s a doddle.

Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

I expected the machine would detract from the fun and exhilaration usually found on two wheels but if anything it enhanced the sensation, this machine may have three wheels but it’s certainly no trike. Forgive me for saying this but, if anything, the MP3 is actually more fun to use than any bike or scooter I’ve ridden in the last 20 years. Cornering is still as exciting on three wheels as it is on two but you can actually lean much further in the knowledge that you’re still safely on three wheels.

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Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

Grab a handful of rear brake and the powerful disc brake will still cause a skid, the difference is that it’s very controllable and the twin front wheels keep the machine in a straight line rather than causing a dangerous swerve, so riding on icy roads shouldn’t be quite as scary. The front brake lever operates both front discs and they’re powerful enough to stand the machine on its nose if the mood takes you. If you find yourself riding along on less than ideal terrain the MP3 will take it into its stride, it will go up pavements with one wheel on and one wheel off without upsetting the fine suspension or rider.

Verdict

Piaggio MP3 (© Image © Piaggio)

There’s always a downside to things and for the MP3 it’s the price tag, the 125cc retails at £3,999 and the 250cc £4299, but you do get a lot of bike for your money. The machine might be a bit pricey but if you live or work in a city you’ll be saving a fortune in train fares, congestion charging and parking. The MP3 may have an extra wheel but thanks to a clever loophole it’s still classed as a scooter, so road tax is still cheap (£15 a year for the 125cc and £30 for the 250cc).

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