About a year ago, driving near UC San Diego I saw a “what the hell is that” kind of vehicle.
I didn’t know what it was when it went zipping by near the San Diego Veterans Administration Hospital, but I soon discovered the answer to my question was a three-wheeled Piaggio MP3 motor scooter.
I’ve been around and driven motorcycles since I was 16 and not being able to drive one after my stroke made me feel like something had been torn from my soul. I missed going out for a putt a lot, but I had come to the realization that even though I can ride a bicycle, my sense of balance had
been seriously compromised by the stroke. And, most of all, riding a motorcycle requires good balance.
I’ve always been a fan of single cylinder motorcycles. My last bike was a 650cc Suzuki single. It
had mule like torque, and more than enough power to handle the seven-hour scoot between Silicon Valley and the Los Angeles basin.
Most American riders aren’t familiar with the name Piaggio, but almost everyone knows its most popular brand, “Vespa”. When most people think of Vespa it’s hard not to imagine scooting through Rome on a reedy sounding two-cycle scooter, stopping for lite lunch at a trattoria or osteria and later picking up fresh groceries for the evening meal at a local market. The Piaggio MP3 400 fulfills
that promise plus it’s just as suited to use as an escape vehicle on weekend tours of local or distant wine countries.
The Piaggio MP3 is a Vespa on steroids. All three models (this brand is also available in 250cc 400cc and 500cc power plants) are based on reliable four cycle, liquid-cooled engines and come with constant velocity transmissions (which eliminate shifting). I scoured motorcycle for sale ads on Craigslist and in printed media before I made my purchase. The bike I settled on was a used
cream puff that had been tricked out with large windshield, and an oversize luggage boot. It’s the 400cc version, 32 hp (24kw). of the MP3.I absolutely love it.
One of the really impressive things about thge Piaggio MP3 happens when you park it on a level surface. Rather than struggle pulling this beast onto its stand, you merely slid a switch which locks its front forks, engages the antitheft system and walk away. Left by iutself, it proudly sits upright.
I’could never be accused of making purchases based on fashion, but when I’m scooting around on my Piaggio, I’m definitely stylin’. I like its aggressive European partial step-through design, its front-on appearance, its outstanding riding comfort and its road hugging handling.
The Piaggio MP3 is a big scooter. It’s 85.5 inches long and about 49.5 inches tall. It’s not a featherweight. It’s curb-weight is 550 pounds It’s set up perfectly for my six -foot plus frame and it comes stock with adjustable shocks.
It’s performance is outstanding. It’s as much a joy to ride on city streets as it is on California freeways, where I cruise comfortably at between 65 and 70 mph. And the engine has enough oomph that I can twist up more power when it’s needed going up long hills or passing the occasional eighteen-wheeler.
But what most Piaggio MP3 drivers really like about this brand of scooter is handling. The MP3 has two articulating, 12-inch, front wheels, which shortens turning radii considerably and makes driving on mountain roads a real joy. One of the peculiarities of this bike is its center of gravity—which
is behind and below the driver. When I first picked up my MP3 I had a problem with under steering on corners. But now that I’ve put some miles on the bike I’m completely comfortable.
What I really appreciate about the Piaggio MP3 is its native antitheft system. Without using its programmable ignition key, no one is going to start or drive your stylish Italian scooter. The MP3’s well lit instrumentation displays everything you need to know without taking your eyes off the road
So what’s it like to drive? It’s a joy,and at approximately 40mpg it’s a gas sipper Its 3.1 gallon tank provides enough range to cruise long freeway stretches with complete confidence. The articulated front wheels improve its road handling and power train provides sn incredibly smooth ride. Its luggage
compartment is big enough to store your helmet while you go out for dinner or stop at the market to buy groceries. And it’s cargo hook is sturdy enough to hang your reusable shopping bag filled with artichokes, aubergines, tomatoes, pasta, plus a bottle of Chianti and
some tasty cheese.
I’ve embraced my alien-eyed Piaggio MP3 and drive it regularly. All it needs now are streamers on the ends of its handlebar and a custom paint job of the California flag with its golden bear on my helmet.
I love my bike and have no difficulty keeping all of its three wheels on the pavement. Putt Putt—Jim Forbes, May 10.2013.