When Yamaha’s TMax was introduced in 2001 it was the first scooter with decent rear suspension, the first to hit an honest 160km/h and the first with genuine sports credentials. It moved straight to the top of its class and it has stayed there ever since.
Along the way it has been updated three times, gaining fuel-injection, an alloy frame (once again, a first for a scooter) and Grand Prix-style brakes.
For 2013, it’s also been bored out 2mm, taking it up to 530cc, and the fuel-injection system has been radically revised, from two 31mm throttle bodies to a single downdraught unit with two 34mm venturis.
There’s a new, vacuum-cast alloy frame that helps lighten the TMax by three kilograms, and a clean, high-efficiency, toothed-belt final drive, as well as simpler Eurocentric styling and the cleanest instrument panel in the business.
Quoted power is up from 32kW at a buzzy 7500rpm to 34.2kW at 6750rpm, and torque has been boosted from 46.4Nm at 6500rpm to an impressive 52.3Nm at 5250rpm.
Forgive me if I thought this thing was going to go like a bomb, but the same Garmin GPS that recorded the previous model at a true 168km/h had this one doing 151 flat out with 163 showing on the car-style analogue speedometer, right on the power peak at 6800rpm.
And that was the best of three long runs; the TMax 530 seemed happy to run flat out all day, reassuringly stable and showing no signs of stress. On each run it went up to an indicated 140km/h very quickly indeed, showing about 6000rpm, then crept slowly up to just over 160.
For those of you who don’t have a calculator to hand, speedometer error was 7.9 percent, acceptable by car standards but not quite good enough for a two-wheeler.
But then, away from the notorious Six-Kay Straight, we settled into actually riding the new TMax and found out just what Yamaha were trying to do with the latest version of this GT sofa.
The ‘third piston’ balancer of the previous engine has given way to a more conventional bobweight-on-a-jackshaft type, and the 530 engine runs as smooth as an electric motor throughout its rev range. Retuning the engine to deliver maximum torque 1250rpm lower has produced a power delivery so smooth it’s deceptive.
GETTING THE MESSAGE
It’s only when you realise that a sports bike with a bigger engine (a 650cc four, to be exact) has difficulty staying with the TMax off a standing start that you Get the Message.
Crack the throttle open from a standing start and it comes off the line with an uncanny lack of fuss as the revs shoot up to 6000 and stay there, humming like a cat that’s found the Sunday roast while the TMax gathers momentum at a dizzy rate.
The 530 engine doesn’t have a power band - it’s tuned like a car, for maximum torque, and it has that in abundance from idle to 6800rpm, which was as high as we could get it to go.
Twist its tail at anything up to 120km/h and the power delivery is so creamy, so effortless, that you may not realise how quickly you’re getting deep into speeding-ticket territory.
Yes, it’s utterly different from the way thundering V-twins and howling fours produce performance, but it’s no less addictive.
Minor updates to the suspension have made the steering very sensitive; it’s light, pin-point accurate and as quick as a ferret after a mouse, but it’s not self-centring and tends to get off line (especially going into a corner) if you’re not concentrating.
As with most Yamahas, the new TMax repays being ridden with focus and finesse; stay on your game and it will touch hit the apex of a corner with uncanny accuracy, every time, and (even more important), hit the exit coming out with equal accuracy.
As you may have guessed, we ran the big Yamascoot over our ride and handling section a few more times than was strictly necessary, purely for the challenge of getting it exactly right – it’s no wonder this is the top selling big scooter in Italy.
Sorry Aprilia, the TMax is still the best-handling big scooter - after more than a decade at the top of the pile.
Just before we got it, the test scooter was caned round Killarney by a succession of heavy-handed riders at a Yamaha track day, who scrubbed the 15” tyres (120/70 front, 160/60 rear) almost to the end of the tread without scraping anything.
Part of that is down to the suspension - 43mm conventional forks in front and a superbike-style swing-arm with a horizontal pull-shock under the engine.
Around town it was firm without being choppy but it was actually amazingly supple on our bumpy test section, soaking up all but the three worst bumps without jarring – although those bounced me clean out of the saddle!
The front brakes are superbly progressive and immensely powerful, as well they should be; using two of Sumitomo’s superlative four-pot monobloc callipers may seem like overkill on a scooter, but not on a 218kg single-speeder with serious sporting pretensions.
The rear brake, a silly little single-piston unit straight out of the 1970s leftovers bin, was actually a little grabby - or is that just that I’m unused to modulating anything other than a clutch with my left hand?
The seating position is upright but very comfortable, with a choice of two foot positions; you can either sit upright, as if on a kitchen chair, or stretch out your legs to relax your knee joints.
The broad, flat seats are deeply and luxuriously padded, easily earning five stars for comfort, although the nose of the front seat is a little too broad for comfortable paddling in car parks - another indication that the TMax is not intended as a commuter.
The carpeted storage box under the saddle won’t quite take two full-face helmets, but there’s room for one plus a rainsuit or rucksack. Unfortunately the latch doesn’t ‘pop’ like the boot of a car; you have to turn the ignition key all the way to the left and open the seat with the other hand, which can be a nuisance if you have an armful of helmet and gear.
Once open, however, the seat stays up on a neat double gas strut and the courtesy light stays on.
There’s also a neat, lockable compartment in the legshield for keys, garage-door remotes, access cards, transponders and all the rest of the electronic gadgetry we seem to wind up wearing around our necks these days.
The car-style instruments, analogue dials for speed and revs flanking a liquid-crystal display for everything else, are brilliant, very easy to read in any light with red backlighting so strong it can be a little intrusive at night.
Fit and finish are also worth a mention, as the test bike had stood up well to what had obviously been considerable abuse in its short life.
She Who Always Has The Last Word reckons the TMax 530 would make an ideal shopping trolley. It provides lots of storage and takes up its space on the road, discouraging car drivers from trying to push you into the gutter
Yet, she says, it’s also a decent Sunday-morning ride or even a light tourer if you’re not a member of the superbike brigade. It’s easy to handle, with a low centre of gravity, and you can sit upright and look around.
Whatever the TMax 530 has lost in outright performance, it has more than gained in refinement and rideability.
Price: R109 950.
Test Scooter from: Yamaha Distributors SA.
Engine: 530cc liquid-cooled inclined four-stroke parallel twin.
Bore x stroke: 68 x 73mm.
Compression ratio: 10.9:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 34.2kW at 6750rpm.
Torque: 52.3Nm at 5250rpm.
Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with dual-bore 38mm Mikuni throttle body.
Ignition: Transistor-controlled digital electronic.
Clutch: Centrifugal multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Fully automatic constantly variable transmission with double-cog type belt and final drive by toothed belt.
Front Suspension: 43mm conventional cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Swing-arm with horizontal pull-type monoshock.
Front brakes: Dual 267mm floating discs with Sumitomo four-piston monobloc callipers.
Rear brake: 282mm disc with single-piston floating calliper and cable-operated parking brake.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 15 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 160/60 - 15 tubeless.
Seat height: 800mm.
Kerb weight: 218kg.
Fuel tank: 15 litres.
Top speed (measured): 151km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 6.3 litres per 100km.