Travel | ON THE ROAD

Take a royal ride on the Yamaha Majesty

If scooters could talk, they’d probably spout the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s line about not getting any respect. No one casts admiring glances their way. In fact, some bikers even seem to sneer at them, but that hasn’t stopped sales from rocketing through the roof.

In cities such as Tokyo, where parking and operating costs make car ownership impractical or impossible for many people, scooters are the next best thing. They have car-like qualities — good protection from the elements, cavernous built-in storage and automatic transmissions; but running costs are cheap thanks to decent fuel economy, low annual taxes and — if they’re 250cc or smaller — no pricey biannual vehicle inspection.

With scooters accounting for a whopping 60 percent of sales of bikes 250cc and bigger in Japan, Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki duke it out year after year for a larger share of this lucrative market. And in gizmo-crazy Japan, the key to sales success is constant innovation.

Bristling with gadgetry and sporting a sleek, futuristic look, this year’s all-new Yamaha Majesty 250 has the most technology-obsessed customer squarely in its sights.

Yamaha calls the Majesty’s design “revolutionary” thanks to “its completely new concept of a seamless look and low-slung shape.” That might be an overstatement, but there’s no denying that its sleek lines and alienesque visage give the Majesty a cool, sci-fi look.

The high-tech fireworks begin before you even sit on the Majesty.

Move within 80 cm of the machine with its smart key in your possession and it performs a verification check, unlocks all security systems, and renders the various buttons on the console operational.

Press the main button in the center of the console and the electrical system switches on, ready to fire up the motor. Push the button to the left and the door of a lockable glove box swings open, unveiling a space big enough to hold four 500-ml bottles. Briefly press the button on the right and the seat unlocks, providing access to a cavernous trunk that’s capable of swallowing two full-face helmets; hold it down a bit longer and it pops open the fuel tank lid lock instead.

Plop down on the Majesty’s sofa-like seat and the first thing you notice are a couple of bright orange buttons on the handlebar controls, the one on the left marked “I-S,” the other “mode.” These operate two more technical aces up the Majesty’s sleeve: the Intelligent Shift (I-S) system and the Yamaha Chip Controlled Automatic Transmission, or YCC-AT.

The YCC-AT lets you switch between three transmission settings at the flick of the mode switch. The basic setting, Drive, delivers the best fuel economy. Assist I lowers gear ratios, improving acceleration at lower speeds. And when you really want to stoke the coals, there’s Assist II, which provides an extra kick in the pants when the throttle is opened sharply.

As if these transmission options aren’t enough, there’s also the I-S system. If you’re cruising along in Drive and you feel the need for speed, push the left I-S paddle and the engine downshifts.

When you let off the gas, it returns to the previous mode, eliminating the need to upshift.

It may sound confusing, but once you start riding the Majesty it becomes quite simple. Producing just under 19 horsepower, the Majesty’s 249cc water-cooled single-cylinder motor isn’t going to set any speed records. But even in Drive mode, the scooter is quick enough to keep ahead of cars when pulling away from traffic lights. If your biggest concern is fuel economy, leave it in Drive and use the I-S when extra zip is needed.

But if fun is your top priority, toggle the transmission into Assist II mode and forget about it. The Majesty then accelerates with enough authority to let you slice and dice through slower traffic, and enjoy it the way you would a good amusement park ride.

The downside of big scooters has always been their poor manners on bumpy roads. Their small wheels and short suspension make handling nimble and allow even short riders to flatfoot the ground, but they don’t soak up bumps well and can be skittish on rough surfaces. Yamaha sought to address this problem by fitting the Majesty with a sport- bike-inspired frame, mounting the engine directly to the chassis and adopting a Monocross shock absorber — with good results. The Majesty handles confidently, staying glued to the road over all but the biggest bumps, and even then there’s no need to carry a spare pair of underwear.

As a commuter vehicle, the Majesty has impeccable credentials. Its fairing provides shelter from neck to toe, yet it’s slim enough to thread through traffic jams. On top of that, the enormous trunk — 60 liters of space and more than a meter long — provides plenty of room to stow your stuff.

These same features also make the Majesty good on the open road. Add an optional 50-liter top box and you have close to 120 liters of storage, as much as a full-blown touring bike provides. Seating accommodations for both rider and passenger are posh and roomy, making it easy to pile on miles. The four halogen headlights cast a brilliant beam.

While the motor won’t satisfy speed junkies, the Majesty can be hustled along back roads at a surprisingly fast pace, and its 135-kph top end means you won’t have a problem passing slower traffic.

The Majesty does come up short in a few areas. Despite it being a showcase for technology, it doesn’t feature ABS brakes, which have been an option on previous incarnations. The multiple transmission options are an exercise in overkill; why not eliminate the I-S feature and use the savings to beef up the rather basic gauges with displays such as outside temperature and distance before refueling? Finally, at about ¥680,000 out the door, it’s pricey for a 250.

Still, buy a Majesty and you have a vehicle capable of doing everything — everything except drawing lusty looks, that is.

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