To understand maxi scooters, we have to go all the way back to WWII when Cushman, an American company, produced motor scooters for the US and British armies.
The story goes that one of these was dropped by the RAF over Italy for Italian Partisans fighting the German occupation powers and fell into the hands of Enrico Piaggio. Between 1943 and 1945 he produced what would eventually become Vespa in the two prototypes MP5 and MP6 (Moto Piaggio #5 and 6).
In 1946 the name Vespa came into use and the Vespa 98 hit the market. They were an instant success, but it wasn’t until the 1952 romantic comedy Roman Holiday hit the silver screens that Vespa’s really became an international success with the iconic 1949 Vespa 125 seen in the film.
Despite the fact that Vespa doesn’t make Maxi scooters they were the first scooters to be associated with Grand Touring on a small scale with its 125 and 150cc models. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, MOD’s fought the Rockers on the beaches of Brighton and Vespa’s and other makes of scooters were their chosen vehicles. Both Harley-Davidson and Triumph have produced scooters in their history without ever reaching the numbers of Piaggio.
When Maxi hit Maxi
Small-capacity scooters sold like hotcakes and Piaggio and other scooter manufacturers were having very good times until 1999 when the Italian Helmet law was passed (it went into effect in 2000).
Until then you could ride around Rome without a crash helmet if your vehicle had less than 125cc. In an April 2000 article in the New York Times, Luca Raetano complained about buying his first helmet since the law went into
effect that year: ”I’ve never worn one before, and I think it is totally unnecessary. It’s uncomfortable and hot. Now, summer is coming, and it will be completely unbearable.”
To stop rider’s choosing their cars instead of scooters the Maxi Scooter with large underseat storage and good wind protection was launched with Suzuki becoming the first manufacturer to benefit with its 1999 AN400 Burgman.
The Maxi and luxury scooters were aimed squarely at the suave young professionals that spin around cities like Rome and Paris in their business suits wanting to save time in heavy traffic. I tested the Suzuki AN400 Burgman for the first time in 2000 in Oslo and found it incredibly practical as I was just such a professional myself at the time. I never could get myself to ride a motorcycle in a business suit so it was liberating to be able to do so without looking like an idiot.
After the Burgman Honda, Piaggio and Yamaha followed suit with super-sized Silver Wing, X9 and Tmax among others. The Maxi scooter was finally established as a large segment in the motorcycling industry.
In my motorcycle career, I then concentrated mostly on motorcycles again until 2007 when I tested Honda’s and Yamaha’s newly launched SH300i and Xmax 250 respectively. Both are big wheeled entry-level models to the Maxi Scooter segment with medium-sized single cylinder four-stroke engines perfect for city usage. Testing these around London and Manchester I very nearly bought one myself. They are fast enough for the motorway commute and super flexible in town and for picking up a bag of shopping from the supermarket.
In 2009 I had the ultimate scootering experience testing the new Piaggio Beverly Touring 300 and Carnaby Cruiser 300 in Rome. Both with enough power from a single cylinder four stroke to both commute from out of town and for ultra fast progress through stale big city traffic. Scooters like these equals more me time if you’re a big city dweller.
Aprilia also got involved with the motorcycle/scooter hybrid Mana 850GT with a fully automatic engine taken from the 2008 Gilera GP800. This was an attempt to draw customers from the maxi scooter market into motorcycling but it hasn’t quite worked out so far and in 2012 Aprilia launched its SRV850 Hayabusa of scooters which it hopes will fare better than both the Mana and the failed Gilera GP800 which it has replaced.
The Aprilia SRV850 ABS/ATC is taking scootering to its absolute extremes with motorcycle like performance from a large V-twin engine fitted with traction control. The Piaggio X10 500 Executive have also taken the electronics to extremes with an incredible onboard computer capability using your own iPhone.
In 2012, the mighty BMW entered the maxi scooter market with big touring bike comforts such as heated seats and electrically adjustable wind screen and 60+ litre storage space in the C 650 GT with a in-line powerful twin engine.
I think it’s safe to conclude that Maxi Scootering is in a very healthy state at the moment.
Maxi Scooter Timeline:
- 1936 Cushman Motor Scooter
- 1944 Vespa MP5 “Paperino” inspired by the Cushman airborne dropped by the RAF for Italian Partisans during WWII
- 1945 Vespa MP6 the second prototype
- 1946 Vespa 98, the first Vespa for sale featuring a 98cc two-stroke engine
- 1952 The 1949 Vespa 125 was used in Roman Holiday featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck
- 1960s and ’70s mods were seen on Vespas all over; Britain and the RAF Roundel were their chosen symbols
- 1986 Honda CN250 Helix
- 1995 Piaggio Hexagon 250 (the father of the X10 series)
- 1999 Suzuki AN400 became the first really large displacement scooter and some would argue the first real Maxi scooter or luxury scooter
- 2001 Honda Silver Wing 600 and Yamaha Tmax 500
- 2008 Gilera GP800 the first 850cc V-twin scooter
- 2009 Aprilia Mana850 GT, the world’s first Grand Tourer scooter/motorcycle hybrid. Not strictly classified as a scooter though.
- 2012 Aprilia SRV850 the world’s first and largest capacity maxi high-speed scooter and BMW enters the Maxi Scooter market with its C 600 Sport and C 650 GT
Photography by Milagro, Matteo Cavadini, Daniel Kraus, and Tor Sagen