Now this is what I'd call something different: a three-wheeler scooter. Gilera's Fuoco (careful how you say that!) has been launched in South Africa by the same people who import Vespa scooters and the 500cc machine retails for R119 000.

It's an exotic name for an exotic bike (Fuoco means "fire" in Italian) and the Gilera is unique in South Africa's motorcycle market in having two front wheels instead of one.

The advantage is double the front grip of a regular bike so even a novice rider can lean the Fuoco into a turn like Valentino Rossi. The risk of a front-end skid is virtually eliminated.

The front employs a clever suspension that tilts the wheels as the bike turns to keep both tyres in contact with the road.

It's a non-threatening, easy to ride bike, a fact demonstrated when my non-biking colleague Jesse Adams gave it a go and was riding it confidently within a few minutes.

It's low, light and easy to manoeuvre and it's no wider than a regular bike so lane-splitting through slow-moving traffic is easy. And it fits motorcycle parking bays.

The Fuoco's aimed at motorcycle novices who want something more powerful than a 250cc scooter and its 500cc single-cylinder engine does the job well, feeling brisk yet unintimidating.

The Gilera can out-accelerate most cars from a rest, making it a nippy commuter, and it can reach an indicated 150km/h which makes it practical for freeway cruising as well. Unlike most scooters.

What makes it extra appealing to motorcycle newcomers is that there's no gear-changing to worry about. The automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission) allows you to simply twist the throttle and go, worring only about accelerating and braking.

And its stopping ability is particularly good, with the twin front wheels reducing emergency braking distances by about 20 percent compared to a regular bike.

Another cool feature the Fuoco has up its sleeve is the ability to stay upright when it stops. As soon as the bike goes slower than 10km/h a light on the dash flashes to inform you that you can flick a switch on the handlebars that locks the front suspension.

NO NEED FOR A STAND

I garnered quite a few puzzled looks from other road users when they saw me sitting feet-up at the lights as they tried to figure how the bike stayed vertical. The moment you accelerate the front suspension and steering automatically unlock and you can start riding normally and taking corners again.

This suspension's locking system also means there's no need for a side or centre-stand - but there is a handbrake to prevent the bike from rolling away.

In truth the Fuoco's no easier to balance than a normal bike - if you can ride a bicycle then staying upright on a two-wheeled scooter is a no-brainer - but there's a psychological advantage to motorcycle novices in that it appears more stable.

HINT OF MAD MAX

It's also very different and, and if you're an attention-seeker, this bike captures a lot. Everywhere I stopped a small crowd gathered to ask about it.

The Fuoco, with its extra-large front bumper and quartet of lights, has a hint of Mad Max in its styling so blokes won't feel like sissies riding it.

It's practical, too, with underseat storage large enough for a helmet, space for a pillion rider and rear footboards.

The bike will be available in November 2008 from Vespa dealers around the country. - Star Motoring\

Gilera Fuoco 500ie specifications