When is a scooter not a scooter? With the lines being increasingly blurred between scooter and “normal” motorbike, that can be a difficult question to answer. Yamaha would claim that the answer lies with its T-MAX; a machine they describe as, “The dynamic maxi-commuter that’s part scooter and part sportsbike.” And they’d be right. Although it’s not so much a case of a scooter not being a scooter, but more a case of this is what scooters have become.
The Yamaha T-MAX (also known as the XP500/SE) is top-dog in the scooter range at Yamaha. Their scooters start at the 50cc Jog then range through three 125cc models, up to the 400cc Majesty, and then to the 500cc T-MAX. That capacity puts it at the big end of local scooter engines, with only Suzuki’s Burgman 650 offering a bigger power-plant. (Honda used to sell a 600cc version of the Silverwing but dropped it from the range, their top model now being the 400cc version). 
Yamaha use the word “sophistication” in their blurb about the T-MAX, and there’s a fair bit of that in evidence when you take a close look at it. The quality in construction and finish is obvious, and it looks and feels a classy machine.
It comes in a choice of black or white-and-black. The predominantly white machine I rode looks very stylish and classy and, yes, sophisticated. The way the lights swoop back gives it a very stylish look and also gives an impression of speed. I reckon the whole front-end looks like it’s being blown back by the wind!
Underneath all that pretty bodywork is a very un-scooter-like aluminium frame. Take a look at the picture on the left – it looks more like the innards of a sports-bike! Wheels are 15” which give it the handling and stability of that “sports-bike” they say is hiding in the scooter clothing.
The mechanicals are pretty sophisticated too. The engine is a liquid-cooled twin-cylinder 4-stroke, with 4 valves per cylinder, running a compression ratio of 11.0:1. Transmission is handled by the usual scooter-style automatic CVT type affair, driven by the again usual type V-belt.
The transmission is very positive and works really well. Yep, this is scootering to the max!

Scooters are generally pretty comfortable things to sit on and this one is no exception. There’s even some slight lower-back support from the stepped seat. (Perhaps that’s to stop you from sliding backwards on acceleration? Err, maybe not!).
The screen is big and wide, promising to keep nasty things like wind and rain off as you scoot along. There’s plenty of room on the floor, even for big feet like mine. Or you can stretch out and put your feet on the sloping foot-rest sections, like a cruiser with highway-pegs. (Except with this there’s a fairing to stop the wind blowing up your trousers!).
The seat hinges up to reveal the usual spacious luggage compartment below.

I got the chance to ride this at a big Yamaha test-day. It was the same day – and so the same route – that I rode the XJ6 and Tenere 660. It included some around-town, some suburban back-roads with choppy sections and sweeping corners, and then some open highway; so a good test to see how the big scoot performs in the real world.
Start it up and … hang on, how do you start it? Nothing happened when I pressed the starter button. There’s no clutch to pull in, so what do you do? Yes, of course, you pull on the left brake-lever, that makes sense! It also makes the desired noise when you try the starter again. Mind you, the noise it makes is very quiet. It sounds more like a sewing-machine than a 500cc donk that Yamaha claim will deliver “A surprising measure of performance.”
Yamaha say the engine has been designed for strong low-mid-range torque, and this is evident from the moment you twist the throttle. There’s almost none of the typical auto lag; it just gets up and goes. So you won’t have to worry about taking off into flowing traffic, or being rammed up the back by that sporty thing that expected you to be quicker away from the lights.
Acceleration from higher speed is good too. There’s an initial growl that sounds like you’ve just awoken a sleeping rottweiler, but then it quickly gathers itself up and accelerates very well.
The scoot works really well as a commuter, but it also works very well as a tourer, cruising effortlessly at 110kph - 120kph along the highway. There was a bit of wind-buffeting from the big screen, but it does the job of keeping most of the elements at bay. It’s quite stable at speed too; the big wheels no doubt helping with this. I had a slight feeling on the highway that it might get a bit wobbley, but it doesn’t. I even tried gently wobbling the bars to see if it was the scoot or me, but it remained totally stable, so it was obviously just me.
Handling is different, of course, but you soon get used to it. And it's good; smooth, accurate and stable. You just lean it into corners and it goes exactly where you want it to.
The ride is disappointing; it gets a bit rough on choppy surfaces. There’s some compliance there, but it’s pretty choppy. “Compliantly choppy” was the phrase that came to mind. To put it in perspective, as I mentioned earlier, I rode this over the same test-route as the XJ6 and the Tenere, and it gave the roughest ride of the three. The bumps don’t unsettle it though. At one point I hit a rather nasty longitudinal hump in the road and it remained straight and true.
Brakes are excellent! They feel very strong, with just light finger-pressure being all that is required to slow it. But they don’t snatch or bite harder than you expect. With some scooters the back brake seems to do more than the front (some cruisers can be like that too), but this is just like a normal bike, having a powerful front with a complementary back. Especially for this application (a scooter) the brakes are just superb!
When I was riding it I kept thinking that this was a machine that you could easily ride with your mates on their big “normal” bikes; unless they’re playing boy-racer-wannabes. It goes as well as you’d want, it handles well, and it has the usual scooter advantages of comfortable seating, ease of riding and good luggage capacity.
Also while I was riding it I was reminded of a couple of scooter “don’ts”. Don’t blip the throttle at the lights. (“Aah! Stop!”). Don’t pull the clutch in. (“Aah! Don’t stop!” I only did that once – while coming up to some traffic lights). 

A scooter that works really well! You can go out with your mates on “normal” bikes and it won’t embarrass you. In fact, depending on what your mates are riding, it could very well be you who’s embarrassing them! It’s no sports-bike but it goes well enough, handles well, and cruises effortlessly on the highway. For me, it’s only really let down by the ride.

Engine: 2-cylinder, 499cc. Power: N/A. Torque: N/A.
Gearbox: Automatic CVT, with V-belt.
Suspension: Front: Telescopic fork with 120mm travel. Rear: Swingarm with 116mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 15 litres.
Weight: 221kg (Full tank, ready to ride).
Seat height: 800mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 15” Rear: 160 X 15”.
Brakes:  Front: Twin 267mm discs. Rear: Single 267mm disc.
Price: $12,999 (+ORC).
Test Bike From: Yamaha Australia.

Ridden 2011.

UP-DATE 2013.
The big scoot came in for some revision in 2013; the main one being an increase in engine size: there are now 530cc of twin-cylinder engine to drive you along. You’d assume this would have resulted in more power, but Yamaha doesn’t give figures for power or torque, so we’ll just have to assume it is more powerful.
It is also lighter, by about 5kg, thanks to the swing-arm and a couple of other bits being made of aluminium.
The styling has had a few tweaks too, although you’d probably have to look closely to see them.

By the way, with the above-mentioned increase in engine size, it is now called the Yamaha TMAX530. Other than that though, the basic scoot seems to be the same. So read this test, think a few styling changes, a tad more power, and you’ve got the latest one.
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