Turns out an oversized scooter makes an excellent two-up touring bike.

While I ride some motorcycles purely out of a sense of curiosity, newcomers to this site may not realise that, in many cases, I’m simply documenting the process by which I search for my next bike. I usually have very specific requirements, and I’m always very, very picky.

In this case, I had a very specific objective. To achieve it, I first tried out a Honda Forza 300, then a Harley-Davidson Sport Glide, before finding what I was looking for in a Yamaha T-Max 530. That meant that it was time to put my money where my mouth was and bring home a very lightly-used 2-year-old matte-black ‘DX’ variant of my very own. Buying used always carries risks, and I assumed I was relatively safe given that Yamaha regularly tops reliability surveys. And with just 2,300 miles on the odometer there weren’t a lot of opportunities for the previous owner to have abused the bike before I took ownership.

Sadly, the honeymoon period lasted just 24 hours before an electrical fault prevented the bike from starting after I rolled it out of the garage the very next morning. As you might imagine, I was fairly aggravated, but a private sale of a just-out-of-warranty vehicle left me with no recourse. Without a wiring diagram it quickly became apparent that I was stuck, and none being publicly available for such a new bike I gave in and paid my local Yamaha dealer to take it away.

Six hours of labour later the technicians finally traced the broken wire buried under the fairing and I was back in business, albeit with my wallet somewhat lighter. Still, their exhaustive search meant that any other potential gremlins have clearly been driven off, as my new T-Max has been faultless in the 4,000 miles since – many of which were under fairly extreme conditions.

My intention was to use the T-Max for a two-up low-speed 3,000-mile tour of the Italian and Austrian Alps, which my girlfriend and I set off for as August drew to a close. Luggage proved to be more of a challenge than expected, with the official Yamaha top box inexplicably on indefinite back-order, and the aftermarket racks too ugly for me to seriously contemplate. I was able to track down the smaller of the two options from a German dealer and made do by moving some day-to-day items to a ‘Tunnel Bag’, a sort of scooter tank bag that wedges between your legs. I took the under-seat storage, she claimed the top box, and we packed light.

Engine performance was sufficient for the intended task, with the DX-exclusive throttle modes proving more useful than expected. ‘T’ is very relaxed, exacerbating the already rubber-band-like throttle response of the constantly-variable transmission. Perfect for rolling on and off the power while trundling around, but also responsible for making slow-speed manoeuvres even more difficult than usual. In contrast, ‘S’ mode is considerably sharper than the only engine mode on the standard T-Max I reviewed, and it was quite a shock the first time I tried it out.

The engine reacts instantly, and the CVT’s design ensures that peak power and torque are delivered to the rear wheel at all times. With a relatively light curb weight of 215kg – the same as my V-Strom 650 – the T-Max shoots forwards immediately, the rate of acceleration defying its 45bhp peak power figure. Coupled with the surprisingly supple and controlled suspension, I was able to keep up with far more powerful motorcycles when blasting around solo. Two-up the power deficit becomes more apparent, with engine response far more sluggish and a noticeably reduced top speed.

Buying used means that the previous owner pays the 30% depreciation.

Yamaha claim 100mph is possible, but with the electronically-adjustable windshield at maximum and a top-box and pillion adding extra weight and drag this is clearly a fantasy. I set the electronic cruise control to a GPS-verified 130km/h as we blasted down the French autoroutes, but with the bike loaded this way the computer was unable to maintain those speeds during some of the steeper sections to the east of the country. Still, this extreme stress-test does mean that the kevlar-rubber belt transmission is clearly up to the task.

… but a private sale leaves you with zero recourse if something goes wrong.

Suspension proved itself to be just as impressive two-up and loaded with luggage as it had when riding solo. That being said I was disappointed to discover that even maxing out the preload on the rear shock could not maintain the chassis attitude, sagging a few degrees under our combined 130kg. On darker days and in tunnels I was regularly flashed by oncoming drivers convinced I had left my high-beams on, and the maximum 45-degree lean angles were noticably reduced. The centrestand touches down first on the T-Max, and with very little give it would be very easy to lift the bike off the ground on sharper bends. I think a stronger spring or new shock may be in the T-Max’s future.

Brakes are another area that proved adequate for the task at hand, even if they aren’t up to enthusiastic use when fully-loaded. With the centre of gravity so low in the vehicle, there’s not a great deal of weight transfer, limiting total braking before the ABS cuts in. Braking felt perfectly safe and stable in most realistic circumstances, but the feedback from the chassis, suspension and brakes advises against hooligan behaviour. If you’re a quick rider, and like to ride as fast two-up as you do solo, then this might be the bike for you.Fuel economy seems enormously variable. Spirited, mixed solo riding returns around 55-60mpg, and relaxed two-up touring sits in the 60-70mpg range. The full-speed autoroute trip drained the 15-litre tank in just over 100 miles, meaning that we were filling up once an hour and just scraping 40mpg. Later experiments at slightly reduced cruising speeds saw economy climb into the low 50’s, proving that no engine is truly efficient when running at its absolute design limits.

Comfort and stability were fantastic. The electric screen allowed me to dial out wind noise under the vast majority of conditions and the seats were comfortable for hours and hours of riding for both rider and pillion. I would prefer the handlebars be set further back, but then I do have notoriously short arms, and at 5’8” I was easily able to stretch out my legs on the spacious footboards. The wide seat meant that I had to settle for tiptoes on either side at a stop, but putting a single foot down flat is perfectly possible with the other on the boards. The weight is held low in the chassis, so balancing when stationary is much easier than it would be for a similarly-weighted adventure bike.

Oil changed, suspension adjusted, luggage packed and ready to go!

There are only two “modes”, but unlike many bikes they’re both different and useful.

Handling wise you’re limited by the slightly odd-feeling front-end. The low centre of gravity means limited weight transfer, so the T-Max handles a little bit like a telelever-equipped BMW; you just have to learn to trust it. That being said, turn-in is sharp and light, with the smaller 15” wheels providing less gyroscopic resistance than the 17-19” rims most motorcyclists are used to. Ground clearance only seems to be an issue if overloaded or riding excessively enthusiastically, and in ‘S’ mode the engine is responsive enough to allow you to maintain positive throttle through bends. Conversely, ‘T’ mode adds enough lag to discourage faster lines through corners, and I don’t recommend attempting hairpins or other low-speed manoeuvres with the throttle set this way.

It’s worth noting that the T-Max’s automatic clutch disengages at around 12mph on a closed throttle, resulting in a sudden loss of engine braking – very disconcerting if you’re following slower traffic through a downhill hairpin. I recommend trailing the rear brake all the way through such bends with the throttle partly open to maintain control. While it’s definitely easier to execute accurate manoeuvres with a clutch, you can certainly learn to work around the foibles.

The advantages are that you never have to change gear, never wear out your left hand in traffic, and are never going to find yourself in the wrong gear on an uphill hairpin. Instead, you can focus on your Roadcraft, maintaining the right lines while enjoying the stunning scenery. Whether rolling through sleepy Italian towns or dicing through Alpine passes with sportsbikes and adventure bikes, the T-Max never missed a beat, and the only times I wished for more power were when overtaking faster-moving traffic.

More relaxed touring returned acceptable, if not hugely impressive numbers.

Back home I’ve filtered down the motorway and into central London with ease, collected groceries using the cavernous underseat storage, and genuinely enjoyed a few twisty back-road blasts. An adventure bike is still a better all-round motorcycle, and for many riders a big scooter might be a step too far if they enjoy enthusiastic riding on solo trips. Even on days when my girlfriend and I broke from the rest of the group and did our own thing, we never once found ourselves wishing we’d brought something bigger, faster or more expensive. What’s more, I’ve since taken the T-Max out on some local loops and can confirm that I had no less fun than when riding the same roads on my proper bikes.What won’t come as a surprise to BMW or Harley-Davidson riders is the sheer joy at not having to lubricate a drive chain at the end of a day’s ride, nor having to scrub oily residue off the rear wheel and surrounding fairings at every wash. The belt drive certainly has its disadvantages; if it ever needs replacing, the part alone is more than £300. But Yamaha does not quote a replacement mileage, merely an inspection interval, and I’ve spoken to Harley-Davidson owners who are still on their original belt at 75,000 miles. Pulleys weigh more than sprockets, and the whole arrangement saps power over a traditional chain. If you get unlucky and pick up a piece of gravel it’ll punch a hole right through it, but all things considered, it’s a compromise I’m happy to make.

The release button on the glovebox door became very sticky after a couple thousand miles and needed lubricating with silicone oil, and the 2-amp fuse on the 12v socket popped when I tried to top up one of my tyres using my compressor. The toolkit is extremely lightweight, containing only a screwdriver and a couple of Allen keys. Notably missing is the hex-key driver necessary to access the battery compartment, which would spell disaster if you managed to flatten the battery while away from home. You can’t bump-start a vehicle with an automatic clutch.

No chain to oil and so far almost 7,000 miles with no adjustments needed.

Not an inch of wasted space; I’m not looking forward to the valve clearance check…

I’d argue that servicing is both expensive and unnecessarily frequent, with an oil change every 3,000 miles, more substantial checks every 6,000 and even more work at the 12,000-mile mark, which also includes replacement of the internal CVT-belt. Labour charges add up quickly with so much bodywork to remove, and Yamaha’s prices for parts and consumables are fearsome. On the other hand, oil changes are easy, with Yamaha providing full instructions in the owner’s manual, and resetting the service reminder can be done simply through the dashboard.

I was able to figure everything out in the end, and in truth it’s simply a very compact motorcycle squeezed under some unconventional bodywork. Given how few of these are sold in the UK, it’s quite likely that the only difference between you and your local Yamaha mechanics are that they don’t have to pay to access the service manual. I may cave in when the valve check is due, as there’s not a lot of space to work with, but I have until the 24,000-mile service to make up my mind about that.

The tyres probably have another 2,000-3,000 miles in them, but uneven wear has affected turn-in slightly. A new set of Michelin Pilot Road 4’s are waiting in the garage, the newer version in the series not yet available in the T-Max’s smaller 15” wheel sizes. I’m also tempted to try a more aggressive pad compound, or braided hoses, for the front brakes and would like a more adjustable rear shock. But I have to remember that I didn’t buy this bike for high-speed hijinks, and that any upgrades need to be entirely focused on the mission for which it was purchased.

And on that score, the T-Max is an absolute triumph. Yes, it’s down on power compared to what most fully-qualified motorcyclists are used to, and no, the seating position isn’t for everyone. At the end of the day, you have to be honest with yourself about which features and specifications you’re insisting on out of habit or misplaced pride, and perhaps consider that there are alternatives to conventional wisdom, because it turns out that you don’t need a 1.3-litre 150-horsepower motorcycle to go climb mountains with your partner; a 530cc scooter works just fine.

Nick Tasker
First published in Slipstream February 2020