Aprilia Scarabeo 500 Review
Aprilia’s new 500cc Scarabeo packs a punch in a tidy package.
Words by PETER COX, photography by LOU MARTIN
Scarabeo says “Go”. It’s got cojones, it’s got ticker and when you’re not moving it shakes.
All this makes Aprilia’s slimmed-down, 2007 Scarabeo 500 a fine mount for anyone who likes to give WRX drivers the eye at traffi c lights or wants something more brawny than those little scooters that go “eeeeeeeee” when you twist the throttle.
Under the Scarabeo’s bright red bodywork is the same engine used in Piaggio’s X9 and Gilera’s Nexus. Details of tuning and transmission maybe different, but the key factor is that the Scarabeo is an easy 30kg lighter than these 500-class maxi-scooters and about 20kg lighter than 400-class Japanese maxis. One issue with the “500ie” branding though. This is a 460ccengine, which surely rounds down to 450 rather than up to 500?
All the bikeswith this engine are badged as 500s what’s so shameful about a 460 or 450?
Maxi engine, mini bodywork is the recipe for a scooter that can hold any Australian legal speed limit over any terrain, splits lanes like a 200 or 250 scooter, but has similar weather protection to a Vespa as well as better storage.
On my first night out on the Scarabeo the convenient parking spot was in front of a pub.
“That’s the biggest scooter I’ve ever seen,” said a voice from the tables out front. This fella has obviously never seen a Suzuki Burgman 650! I didn’t think the Scarabeo was that big.
But when I looked back across the road at the scene I realised that the Scarabeo was parked between a Kawasaki 250 and a slender Buell 1200. In that company it looked enormous. Parked at work between my morning quota of Vespa GT200s it looked fi ne, although it is higher around the instrument binnacle than the ubiquitous GT.
I said it shook? That’s the big piston bouncing up and down under the seat, which makes the mirrors shake and the handlebars bounce up and down when it idles. Almost but not quite kinda like a Harley. The throttle has a fairly heavy action, but when fi rmly grasped and twisted with authority the Scarabeo takes off.
It feels like an old-fashioned single, with plenty of torque at low revs and a slower pick-up through the rev range than a geared motorcycle of similar capacity. I am used to nailing the throttle on my own 150cc scooter to get to the speed limit as soon as possible. This is licence-loss behaviour on the Scarabeo so take care, you will be carrying 80km/h before you know it.
This better engine performance requires matching brakes and the Scarabeo’s twin front discs and single rear, integrated so that the front brake lever also activates some rear, do a good job of slowing the beast. They aren’t pin-sharp sportsbike brakes, but do provide a nice balance of good power and excellent control for less experienced riders. You’d have to indulge in very inappropriate behaviour to lock them up.
Higher speeds also need better stability, steering and suspension. Not so good this time. There is a lot of weight hanging off the front end with the big mudguard, massive headlight and instrument binnacle and the shrouded forks. I suspect that the wheels are not too light either. The result is a lot of weight to push around when you are steering the Scarabeo, making it a much more physical ride than someone used to smaller scooters might expect.
Fully faired maxi-scooters I have ridden steer more sweetly as they don’t have all that weight hanging off the steering head. Think motorcycle rather than scooter when you are working the handlebars counter-steer a bit, move your weight about. Think about taking the full motorcycle training course you’ll be going fast enough and riding something that is, dynamically,
closer to a motorcycle than a scooter.
You might also think about more capable rear suspension. When you accelerate the Scarabeo the rear end rises; when you throttle off the rear end sinks noticeably (just like an old BMW or Moto Guzzi). The suspension just goes with it, leaving the rear end stiff when you hit a bump with the throttle wound on or running out of suspension travel if you hit a bump on a trailing throttle.
Again, the influence of the throttle over suspension behaviour could be a surprise to people used to smaller scooters.
When you are not keeping a weather eye for speed cameras and showing car drivers your bright red arse away from the lights the Scarabeo has some gadgets to amuse. A mode switch on the handlebars shows odometer, tripmeter and current fuel economy. Don’t believe the fuel economy gauge though, it kept telling me I was averaging 12 and 13km per litre, but when I filled up the Scarabeo actually averaged just over 20km per litre [5L/100km].
A fuel gauge and digital clock sit to the right of the large, clear speedo and a temperature gauge to the left. It’s hard to pick, but the Scarabeo is water-cooled. The radiator is almost invisible behind the large mudguard and bodywork, and this shows up in the temperature gauge behaviour.
Any extended period in traffic has the needle headed for the red zone. It seems as though the radiator fan only comes on when the needle is a notch away from the red, which left me pretty worried on the first couple of commutes. The temperature gauge drops away from the red zone when the fan cuts in or you get moving.
Amusingly, the key comes with buttons for the alarm and a push-button seat release. So GoldWing! Don’t forget that the alarm sets automatically when you decide to push the Scarabeo around the driveway it makes an ear-piercing screech.
Also, until you get used to it, you will experience plenty of “Scarabeo says NO!” moments. You can’t start the engine with the sidestand down. You can’t start the engine unless you hit the alarm button, even if you didn’t turn on the alarm when you walked away. You can’t stop the alarm from setting automatically (which should scare the hell out of anyone who accidentally nudges the scoot in the carpark).
And you can’t open the seat with the ignition turned on.
I struggled to lock the steering, managing to pop the compartment behind the legshield open more often than not. Make sure the dealer trains you thoroughly on this before you ride away. There is a bit of room in the legshield for very small items. A power socket is tucked in there, but my phone (a PDA) and its car charger are too large.
The curry (or Thai, your choice) hook behind the legshield is always welcome.
Under the seat you’ll find a surprisingly large space for the apparent size of the scooter. The space is not deep, but it is wide, long and rectangular. There is enough room for a briefcase or a laptop computer bag. With the briefcase out I could fit my wet weather gear (bless the rain!) and helmet in there with some careful placement.
No full-face helmets, but mine is a Nolan with a peak and flip-down face shield which doesn’t fi t under scooter seats such as Aprilia’s SportCity or Vespa’s GTs. The price to pay for the low seat height and good underseat storage seems to be a limited depth of padding in the seat, which felt a bit hard after half an hour in the saddle.
I rode the Scarabeo 500 around Sydney’s inner city and freeway network for nearly two weeks and had a ball. Suspension aside, it was great fun and combined the performance I love from a motorcycle with the convenience and traffi c-carving abilities of a small scooter. With a wheelbase nearly 20cm longer than a SportCity 250 and an extra 40kg in weight, it isn’t as nimble as a 200 or 250-class scooter.
But when your ride covers longer freeway sections you can’t argue with nearly twice the power and torque of the 250, fitted into a package that’s only a little larger. They say that power corrupts? The Scarabeo 500’s punch has absolutely corrupted my satisfaction with my 150!
As published in TW SCOOTER MAGAZINE – 25/06/2007
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