Thursday, February 22, 2007

Machine Review: Piaggio X9

As a Piaggio and Vespa shop, we get to play with the toys all the time. Its fun. However, because we're so busy having fun, we usually don't get the luxury of riding the bikes, especially for any extended amount of time. When we do, its awesome; not only do we get to burn up the mean streets, but we can give interested customers first-hand experience about the bikes, not just relay info that we read from the brochures.

Last evening, I decided to stay on the clock and take the Piaggio X9 out for an extended jaunt around Kansas City. Now, with previously limited saddle time, I wasn't a big fan of the X. Its big, heavy, the suspension is harsh and its just akward looking when comparing it to the Vespas. By taking the bike out for a longer experience, I was hoping to learn that there was more to the bike than I was led to believe. I heard it was a highway king, but I hadn't checked for myself and as far as I was concerned, the bike was sorta out of place in our shop.

Surprises, surprises. Heres what I found out:

Last night wasn't the warmest weather to be riding in, but with the 3-position windscreen and wide fairing, I figured I'd take a gamble anyway. In my full face helmet, riding gloves and zip-up track jacket, I was suprisingly cozy as I made my way North on Nall Avenue. Sunlight fleeting, the large brakelight and turnsignals telegraphed my intentions and gave me one less thing to worry about while riding amongst all the cell phone drivers on the road. Seriously, the brake light and signals are bright!

Being a big bike, I expected the machine to handle like one, and while it does have the cruiser-like comfort you’d expect from looking at it, it busts through heavy traffic like a smaller Vespa: effortlessly and with finesse.

Once I left the slower confines of Nall and began my trek westward on Shawnee Mission PKWY, I decided to see where the throttle would take me. The power delivery of the X9 for real world use can be described in one word: smooth. In two words? Really smooth. You twist the throttle, and the bike simply glides to speed, regardless if at a standstill or from a 30 MPH pace. It was sorta like being in my car, just faster! A lack of throttle-lag or jumpiness made the acceleration extremely predictable and it really surprises me how much I enjoyed that.

After I made my way home, I told the girlfriend what I was up to and she put on her gear, hopped on the back and we were off towards the Country Club Plaza. I was anxious to see if the neutral handling remained with a pillion passenger. On most bikes, the addition of a pillion not only increases your braking distance, but makes accelerations slower, and turning a pain as it can require more effort to get the bike leaned over. The X9 passed my test with flying colors. It remained neutral throughout, with just a touch more braking pressure being required of the Brembo calipers when stopping at stop signs and traffic signals. Getting ahead of traffic was a continuous surprise as weaving in and about slower moving cars was very easy! I wasn’t expecting that since streetfighting is next to impossible in moderate traffic with the X9’s competitors, especially the big Burgman and Silverwing. Then again, the X9 isn’t as big as those maxi-scoots either.

We quickly arrived at our destination: Balsano’s!! While sitting down to enjoy our Gelato, the GF gave me the 411 on what she thought of the X9. She enjoyed the wide seat, the hand rails, and most importantly, the wide-seat. As an owner of a Vespa ET4 and a semi-regular passenger on the back of my Ducati, she’s the authority on the uncomfortable vs. comfortable butt, and it was good to hear that she enjoyed the X9. Although it smarted a bit when she not only agreed that it was comfortable but added, “it was WAY more comfortable than the Ducati!”

The X9 and I had another jaunt through Overland Park this morning. This time, it was to find out the limits of its high-speed handling and to experience its interstate mannerisms. I entered the “testing grounds” of the Brookwood office park prepared to throw the bike into its 8 small-radius turns and small elevation changes. Even at the speed limit, the testing grounds are a good way to obtain information on braking, cornering and acceleration; just ask all the Mini Cooper folks and superbike guys that scream through those streets ‘round midnight.

The X9 felt surprisingly nimble through the first set of esses, and when squeezing the brakes for the long left-hander that follows, the Brembo Series Ono brake system does a great job of giving you the feedback you need to feel within your limits. Through the rest of the test, the bike’s cruiser-like acceleration and turning made for slower stopwatch times, but the X9 is not a sport-bike and it doesn’t pretend to be. Its performance I-69 however was freaky! I jumped off 87th and drove south to the 103rd st exit.


The predictable cruiser acceleration got me to 60mph with no surprises, but by the time I looked back down at the speedometer, I had somehow arrived at 85 MPH in an instant, and it still felt as if I only was going 60! Even heading into the wind, the bike kept pulling, its windshield and fairings sending all the turbulent air around me and keeping me comfortable and in control. I won’t post how fast I was going before I decided to stop breaking the law, but I will say the machine has power to spare!

The final real world test was to see if I could put groceries in it. I could. I went to HyVee this morning and stuffed two egg-sunny side up- with bacon and hashbrowns, an Arizona Tea bottle, and a broccoli and raisin salad under the seat and I had more than enough room left over to store a gallon of milk and a pair of shoes. Nice stuff!

Over all, I had a lot of fun with the X9 over the last number of hours and instead of it being the bike I was least excited about, I’m now very enamored with it. While it still shines at high speed cruising above all else, its not a bad bike for the city, especially if riding with two folks is what you plan on doing more often than not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have read your review from a link to the X9 owners club here in the UK and can only endorse your feeling for the 500. A lot of the owners here use their machines as commuters, as indeed I did until I retired. Several of us also use the machine for long distance and we cannot fault the comfort and effortless cruising. We have several members from the US of A and It's good to hear of your experiences.