Motorcycle road test: Piaggio MP3

12-66 Wes Smith on a three-wheeled scooter at the Gazette office, Hemel Hempstead.
12-66 Wes Smith on a three-wheeled scooter at the Gazette office, Hemel Hempstead.
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Everything about the Piaggio MP3 screamed that I really shouldn’t like it.

For starters, it’s an automatic twist-and-go scooter, and in the short time I’ve been riding I’ve become rather fond of changing gear and listening to the sound a bike makes when it’s working hard/wants to be worked harder.

Secondly, it’s got three wheels. What’s that all about then?!

And thirdly, and not that I’m a power junkie or anything (much), but the MP3’s 278cc single cylinder engine produces the grand total of 22 brake horsepower, so getting anywhere in a massive hurry didn’t really seem like it was going to be an option.

So after spending a little time with it, it came as something of a surprise to find that I really enjoyed it. Really quite a lot, actually.

The key selling point on the MP3 is its third wheel – and, because of that, the fact that it can be ridden on a full car licence. For those who have no intention of getting a full motorcycle licence, it means you can have all the benefits that come from riding a bike, but without the added expense of taking lessons and another test. That said, I would recommend doing a CBT, just to learn some basic roadcraft and tips to stay alive on what is essentially a motorcycle.

The two front wheels use an ingenious locking suspension system. Flick a switch just as you come to a stop, and the wheels lock into place, allowing you to stop without having to put your feet on the ground. Quite handy at times, although it takes a little getting used to.

Elsewhere, the controls are very similar to most motorbikes – indicators, hazard lights and main beam on the left, starter switch and suspension lock on the right.

And while the controls are easy to use, what made them difficult for me was the fact that the MP3 had bar muffs on, which I found very difficult to remove so they had to stay on. With a thick pair of winter gloves on already, the muffs just made life that bit harder than it needed to be.

The display is very simple, however – analogue fuel gauge and speedo, plus a digital clock with thermometer, trip counters and so on. If I have one gripe about it, it would be the fact that the speedo uses kilometres per hour as its primary reading rather than miles per hour, although perhaps that is to be expected from an Italian scooter.

Elsewhere, when you lock the suspension in place an orange light comes on to tell you it is on, along with a loud beep. Unlocking is a matter of simply opening the throttle and moving off. Be warned though, some clever trickery means it will only unlock if there is someone actually sitting on the seat. Took me a food few minutes to figure that one out!

Speaking of seats, it is rather comfortable and with good pillion capacity too. And underneath the seat is a huge amount of storage space – easily enough for two lids or a couple of bags of shopping.

And should you need that tiny bit of additional storage, there is a bag hook in front of the rider, just above the parking brake.

As for the ride itself, at 22bhp, you’re never going to manage a racing start, however, there is enough zip to get away at the lights reasonably briskly. As the MP3 makes its way through its automatic transmission, acceleration is gradual and smooth, and surprisingly not vibey at all, despite only having one cylinder.

Top speed is officially listed as around 75mph, a speed it hits with no complaint at all. And while I could feel there was more in it, conditions forced me to take it relatively easy. I’m told, however, that someone else who has been on one has had 92mph out of one. Probably downhill with a tail wind, though!

On the twisty roads, it is much more fun than I ever expected it to be.

Thanks to the extra wheel it has a certain level of stability, although not too much more – lean it far enough and you’ll still topple over. But you can still get some surprisingly good lean angles and the suspension copes well with it. I thoroughly enjoyed pushing it around the bends of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire and it genuinely brought a smile to my face.

Put it in an urban setting and the MP3 excels, as you would expect from a commuter-focused machine. Despite its physical size, it isn’t actually any wider than an average motorcycle and can still filter with ease. Stability at low speeds is also excellent, and despite its width and weight, it is also very adept at fairly tight U-turns.

Braking is also excellent. There are double discs at the front, a single disc at the rear, and front, back and foot brake all offered great confidence and feel when coming to a stop.

Apart from the minor quibbles already mentioned, the only other real problem with the MP3 is the price. At £5,699, it really isn’t cheap. But for those of you looking for a cheaper alternative to a car, and on something that offers all the benefits of a motorcycle without having to get the licence, you can’t really go far wrong.

Tech specs:

Model: Piaggio MP3 ie Yourban LT

Engine size: 278cc

Engine spec: Single cylinder, 4-stroke, 4 valves, SOHC, chain drive

Power: 22bhp

Fuel capacity: 11 litres

Weight: 217kg

Price: From £5,699

Piaggio

Many thanks to Palmers Motorcycles for the loan of the Piaggio MP3. Find them at Pennine Way, off Redbourn Road, Hemel Hempstead, HP2 7AZ. Call 01442 289033 or visit the website at www.palmers.co.uk