The Scooter That Handles Like a Motorcycle

Back in 2006, Piaggio introduced the world to its MP3 scooter, further expanding the backwards trike concept out of the “big bike” sector and into the scooter realm. This was an important step, and the factory has been hard at work to incorporate more features and performance normally only seen on bigger (and more expensive) bikes into this little ride. Powered by a 493 cc engine with the convenience of CVT transmission, the parallelogram front end gives the MP3 family more motorcycle-type cornering than other scooters. After a hiatus in 2017, the MP3 500 Sport returns to the U.S. market for 2018.

Continue reading for my review of the Piaggio MP3 500 ABS.

  • 2016 - 2018 Piaggio MP3 500 Sport
  • Year:
    2016- 2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Displacement:
    493 L
  • Top Speed:
    89 mph
  • Price:
    9199
  • Price:

Design

2016 - 2018 Piaggio MP3 500 Sport
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Trikes are nothing new under the sun, but they have always been regarded (and rightfully so) as a vehicle with a niche purpose; delivery vehicles, meter-maids rides, and as an alternative to two-wheels for riders unable to hold up a bike. They don’t handle particularly well, and behave poorly in the corners. Much of this changed with the advent of the “funny backwards trike” that places the third wheel up front. Suddenly, trikes corner as if they are on rails, and the genre has broken out of its traditional customer base.

The MP3 profile looks much like any other scooter, albeit with an exceptionally beefy front end. This perception changes rapidly with your perspective as you move around to look at it head-on. Now we see the major feature upon which all other design considerations revolve; the dual-wheel front end with its articulated quadrilateral steering and suspension, which is what gives us the fat front end, ’cause the independent suspension members need room to work. This setup grants the MP3 an uncommon combination of attributes; stable enough to be self-supporting without using the centerstand, yet capable of an astounding 40-degree lean angle in the corners.

Much of the rest of this ride is fairly typical at a glance. The step-through frame, running boards, under-seat storage and swing-mount motor are pretty standard fare for the scooter sector, and most of the really nifty stuff is hidden under the hood, as it were. One design feature I really like is the stadium-style pillion pad that places the passenger in a position to see over the riders head, or at least around it. After all, what fun is it to ride on back and see nothing but the back of the rider’s jacket!

Chassis

2016 - 2018 Piaggio MP3 500 Sport
- image 645664

Though the factory made some adjustments to the frame to increase torsional rigidity, and tweaked the steering rake out one-quarter degree, the real showpiece of the chassis and suspension is the front end. A parallelogram-type rack allows the front wheels, as well as the rest of the scooter, to bank into the turns a la two-wheeler style. This comes with a number of benefits, not the least of which being the doubled traction up front, independent wheel travel that increases traction on irregular surfaces (such as rain-slicked cobblestone streets) and twice as much “brakeage” up front where you need it the most since 70 percent of your stopping power comes from the front brakes. To put it bluntly; you would have to try real hard to pull a lowsider on this thing!

Suspension travel is sufficient for a scooter (even one that weighs in just under 600 pounds wet) with 3.74 inches up front and 4.25 inches in the rear. The dual rear shocks come with a four-notch preload adjustment to allow for changing cargo loads and/or the weight of a passenger. Dual, 240 mm front brake discs and a single 280 mm rear disc control vehicle speed under the management of the ABS system – a feature that boosts the already-impressive traction and control afforded by the dual front wheels. Front and rear brakes are controlled primarily through hand levers on the bars, but the MP3 comes with a third option; a brake pedal that combines both front and rear under one control. This is important for our European brothers and sisters in the wind, because the combined brake not only opens up the MP3 to riders without a proper motorcycle license (in some areas), but it also serves to help new riders crossing over from cages whose first instinct is to stomp a pedal when things get dicey up ahead. (A useful feature, but a crutch that prevents the rider from developing the proper hand-foot coordination necessary to ride machines with a more traditional setup.)

Drivetrain

2016 - 2018 Piaggio MP3 500 Sport
- image 645663

The beating heart of the MP3 500 is the 492.7 cc, swing-mount motor. This one-lung, liquid-cooled mill produces 40.1 ponies and 33.5 pound-feet of grunt – not bad at all for a scooter, even one as heavy as this. A top speed of 89 mph puts highway driving safely within reach, but due to the engine size, mileage starts to creep down into full-size bike territory at 55 mpg. While this isn’t a bad figure overall, you can forget about being the guy who rode around the world on three tablespoons of gas. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)

Piaggio doubled down on the traction preservation angle with a feature normally only seen on bigger, more powerful machines; a dynamic traction control system Piaggio calls the Acceleration Slip Regulation (ASR) system. Wheel speed indicators monitor wheel rotation, and moderates power output via the Ride-by-Wire throttle control system to prevent loss of traction at the rear wheel when you get a little too twisty for the conditions. It’s just a little lagniappe for people looking to buy a ride with safety features taken to the nth degree.

The final drive is typical, with a dry, centrifugal clutch and “Twist ’n Go,” Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT); another feature that makes the MP3 500 particularly suited to inexperienced riders trying to break out of their cages for the first time.

Price

2016 - 2018 Piaggio MP3 500 Sport
- image 645662

The MP3 goes for $9,199 for 2018, and you can get it in Military, Matte Silver, Nero Opaco Carbonio. This price does not include shipping and dealer setup, so bear that in mind as you dig into the accessories catalog where you will find plenty of opportunities to pad the sticker.

Competitor

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A few years ago, Yamaha’s Tricity would have been a good three-wheeled competitor because of the tilting front wheels. While the Tricity is still in the 125 cc niche in other markets, it hasn’t come to the North American market, though a 155 cc version was displayed at the 2016 Osaka motorcycle show with hopes of it appearing in the European markets. There is still hope, but the Tricity hasn’t been the success Yamaha hoped for when it was introduced in 2014. Due to the lawsuit from Piaggio, Yamaha reconfigured the Tricity’s front end with a dual-fork setup that does the same thing as the Piaggio suspension, just in a different, non-patent-infringing way.

Another out-of-market contender is the Metropolis 400 from ­Peugeot. It would be a closer competitor as far as engine size but Peugeot doesn’t have any motorcycle or scooter dealers in the U.S., so it is even less likely we’ll see the Metropolis on our shores than the Tricity. Taking those factors into consideration, lets go with the Tricity. If someone has a better head-to-head for the MP3, put it in the comments section and I’ll give it a look.

They’re both scooters, so yeah, both run with the typical swing-mount engine/drivetrain combo. Both engines are water-cooled one-bangers, and both run with some sort of automatic transmission. The similarities end there; while Piaggio went with a relatively large, 492.7 cc engine, Yamaha stayed down at 124.8 cc – a pretty big gap, but I’m sure they did that for European and UK licensing conventions. Still, the Tricity only generates 10.8 horsepower and 7.6 pound-feet of torque against the 40.1 horsepower and 33.5 pound-feet of torque from the MP3, leaving a pretty large performance gap.

Both have the typical under-seat storage, and though Yamaha says it has “plenty of storage” they don’t follow up with a quantifiable space. Piaggio designed its storage compartment to hold two full-face helmets, or one helmet and a pile of books, groceries or whatever. The Tricity lacks the stadium pillion of the MP3, and so isn’t quite as passenger friendly.

The MP3 500 comes with ABS and Yamaha offers unified brakes as standard. Which is better is a personal preference. Piaggio takes it a “step” further (get it?) with its foot pedal actuated combined brake feature. A big boon for the MP3 here is the ASR system, which puts big-bike technology at the rider’s fingertips and adds a bit of safety for the inexperienced rider and fiery-eyed pegdragger alike. The Tricity has no such system, but to be honest, with such a small engine I doubt one could justify a gadget that prevents you from accelerating too fast. Probably not a problem. Ever.

Yeah, I know I’m comparing a flyweight to a middle-ish weight, but unless you need to keep the displacement down for licensing reasons, you want a funny-backwards-trike and the MP3 is available, it should occupy the first, second and third slot on your short list.

He Said

“What a neat little scooter! I have always felt that a large part of the joy of riding was leaning into the turns, and now even persons with diminished physical abilities can ride with that same feeling of freedom without the fear of dropping it in the parking lot. Add to that the traction control and ABS, and you have a capable ride with some real champagne features. Most of all, the MP3 will push well into highways speeds so this is one scooter that need not be relegated to around-town duties only. This is a win-win ride for anyone looking for capable ride. If there is a downside, it would be the price. For the money, and if you don’t have to have a three-wheeler, there are plenty of nice rides in this price range.”

She Said

My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "I really like these parallelogram front-end scooters. I know Piaggio took issue with the Tricity and Peugeot’s Metropolis. Teams of lawyers fought it out, but the MP3 is the only one of the three available in the U.S. market, at least at this time. A Tricity with the 155 cc engine would be awesome. I’m sorry it hasn’t been received better in other markets."

Specifications

Drivetrain:
Engine: Single-cylinder, MASTER, four-stroke, four-valve
Displacement: 492.7 cc
Bore & Stroke: 94 mm x 71 mm
Maximum Power: 40.1 Horsepower
Maximum Torque: 33.5 pound-feet at 5,000 rpm
Max speed: 89 mph
Fuel tank capacity: 3.2 gallons
Gas mileage: 55 mpg
Cooling System: Liquid
Lubrication: Wet sump
Ignition: Electric
Gears: ’Twist ’n Go’ automatic CVT
Clutch: Automatic centrifugal dry
Chassis: Double cradle in high strength steel tubes
Front Suspension: Articulated quadrilateral consisting of four aluminum arms sustaining two steering tubes, and leading arm suspension geometry with offset wheel axle. travel: 3.74 inches. Electro-hydraulic suspension locking system.
Rear Suspension: Two dual effect hydraulic shock absorbers, preload adjustable to four positions. Travel: 4.25 inches
Front Brakes: Stainless steel double disc, 240 mm
Rear Brake: Stainless steel disc, 280 mm
Wheels: Five-dual-spoke rims
Front Tires: 13 inches
Rear Tire: 140/70, 14 inches
Length: 85 inches
Width: 30.5 inches
Wheelbase: 61 inches
Seat Height: 30.9 inches
Dry Weight: 577 Pounds
Type Approval: EPA and CARB
ABS: Standard
Colors:
2016: Silver, Black
2018: Military, Matte Silver, Nero Opaco Carbonio
Price:
2016: $8,999
2018: $9,199

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: piaggiousa.com, peugeotscooters.co.uk, yamaha-motor.eu

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