2015 Yamaha Smax First Ride Review

Balancing the needs of agility for urban riders with the need to occasionally access the freeway to cross-town efficiently, the new 2015 Yamaha Smax scooter is a brilliantly intuitive and functional in-town vehicle.

Sporting an all-new SOHC, 4-valve, liquid-cooled, 155cc fuel-injected motor, the 2015 Yamaha Smax has the ability to cruise at 80 mph on the freeway (flat ground, no headwind) and a chassis that makes the exercise enjoyable rather than stressful.

With 13-inch wheels, one might expect that the Smax (pronounced S-max by Yamaha) might be a bit uneasy at extralegal speeds. However, the wide footprint of the Kenda tires, along with a 55+ inch wheelbase and 26-degree rake, allowed the Smax to track confidently down Interstate 5, which is in less than stellar condition near the Mexican border.

The freeway-legal capability (in most states) is an important one for the Yamaha Smax, as it is aimed at riders who have cut their teeth on 50cc to 125cc scooters and are ready to move up. While half of scooter owners transfer to motorcycles, the other half stick with larger scooters. Yes, there are 400cc and 650cc classes if you want to get serious about scooting, but those machines are not as agile and practical in the crowded urban setting as the scooters in the 150-200cc range.

Most of the design of the Smax is traditional scooter, with a fully automatic CVT and step-through chassis. Yamaha gave the Smax a large cavity between the front end and the seat so that you can slip in an optional water-repellant bag in the gap. Under the seat, you can fit a full-face helmet (even an Arai Corsair-V), as well as open face lids (we happily tooled around with a Bell Mag-9 Sena). Underseat capacity is 8.5 gallons, and a 10-gallon top box is also available (great for stowing a second helmet).

Ergonomics are midway between the large touring scooters and the tiny 50s. At 5’ 10”, I was slightly cramped on the Smax, though using the upper footrests on the leg guard gave me a choice of boot positions, which allowed me to ride all day in comfort. The seat is excellent and sits just a hair about 31 inches above the pavement.

Handling is excellent wherever you will want to take it. As mentioned before, it’s stable at freeway speeds, even on less than ideal pavement. In-town, you can split lanes at will and weave between cars as necessary (and safe).

Taking it up into the canyons, the Smax meets Yamaha’s claim that the Smax a “sport cruiser”. There are no handling quirks, and the Kenda tires will let you confidently lean the bike over until the chassis touches down. The engine is peppy enough for fun sport riding, just so long as there aren’t any steep hills and the corners are tight.

Riding around a hilly town, the Smax’s 155cc motor will take you up any paved hill easily. It won’t necessarily rocket up if you’re going from a standing start at a light or stop sign, but with momentum it will fly up steep hills without wheezing.

On flat ground, the motor easily dispatches with four-wheeled traffic with a healthy twist of the throttle. Given that, a less aggressive right hand makes the Smax completely unintimidating for a new rider, and not just one moving up from a smaller-displacement scooter.

Braking is predictable and smooth on the Smax, with a soft bite for slower speed applications, and plenty of deceleration power for use on the freeway. Hydraulic disc brakes get it done at both ends, with the most power coming when using both hand levers — linked braking would be welcome, of course.

Not playing the retro-scooter game, the Smax is fully modern looking, with styling cues from the YZF-R family. I like the gills around the side-mounted radiator, though I was a bit bummed that only the Ultramarine Blue version gets the red brake calipers (I was on the Matte Titan version). Fit and finish on the Taiwan-made machine is outstanding, with excellent attention to detail.

Attention was closely paid to aerodynamics, and the windshield is efficient enough that tucking in behind it on the freeway will only get you one or two mph improvement in top speed.

The dash is informative, even though I can’t quite figure out why I need a large analog tach on a machine with a CVT. I can tell you that engagement of the transmission starts around 2500 rpm and the 9500 rpm redline gets you right around 80 mph. The mph readout is digital, which I prefer.

Coming up with a standout machine in this class is difficult, so it’s more about getting everything right. With the 2015 Yamaha Smax, the tuning-fork folks have hit all the right notes and produced a scooter that works flawlessly from the crucial standpoints of practicality and enjoyability.

Photography by Brian J. Nelson

Riding Style
• Helmet: Bell Mag-9 Sena
• Jacket: Axo Grid
• Gloves: Axo Pro Race XT
• Jeans: Drayko Drift
• Boots: Sidi Traffic Air USA

2015 Yamaha Smax Specifications
• Engine Type: 155cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, SOHC single cylinder, 4 valves
• Bore x Stroke 58.0 x 58.7mm
• Compression Ratio 11.0:1
• Fuel Delivery Fuel Injection
• Ignition TCI: Transistor Controlled Ignition
• Transmission Automatic CVT
• Final Drive V-Belt Automatic
• Front suspension travel: 3.1 inches
• Rear suspension: Mid-ship horizontal positioned rear shock w/ 3.6 inches of wheel travel
• Brakes / Front: Hydraulic disc, 267mm
• Brakes / Rear: Hydraulic disc, 245mm
• Tires / Front: Kenda 120/70-13
• Tires / Rear: Kenda 130/70-13
• L x W x H: 79.9 x 28.1 x 51.0 inches
• Seat Height 31.3 inches
• Wheelbase: 55.3 inches
• Rake: 26°
• Trail: 82mm
• Fuel Capacity 2.0 gallons
• Fuel Economy: 81 mpg
• Wet Weight: 328 lb
• Colors: Matte Titan; Ultramarine Blue
2015 Yamaha Smax MSRP: $3690