Piaggio testing 850cc scooter with radical new electronic gearbox
By Mike Hanlon
April 18, 2005
April 19, 2005 Italian scooter magazine Cyberscooter has published pictures of is believed to be the prototype of a Gilera Nexus 850 scooter undergoing pre-release testing on Italian roads. That’s 850 as in 850cc – the largest megascooter seen to date. The convergence paradigm appears to be inspiring all manner of marketplace morphing with the scooter and motorcycle industries clearly now beginning to overlap. In less than a decade the maxi scooter has grown from the once humble Italian invention, the scooter into a powerful pseudo sports motorcycle. The Nexus 850 scooter is believed to have been under development since early 2003, with a radical new electronic gearbox that was showcased in the Gilera 850 V-twin Ferro concept machine at the 2003 Milan Motorcycle Show. The new gearbox can change gears some ten times faster than mere mortals, offering a significant performance improvement, if that’s needed on an 850 scooter.
The scooter was invented in 1947 as a low cost alternative to the automobile in war-ravaged Europe – it was designed as transport for the masses and it caught on so quickly that it became one of the great transport phenomena to sweep the world in the 20th century.
The Vespa (which means “wasp” in Italian) was the result of Enrico Piaggio’s determination to create a viable alternative to the automobile for the masses and was built from the ashes of one of the centres of aeronautical production in Pontedera in Italy.
Enrico Piaggio’s decision to enter the light mobility business was based on economic assessments and sociological considerations. It took shape thanks to the successful co-operation of the aeronautical engineer and inventor Corradino D’Ascanio (1891-1981).
The origins of the scooter
A motor scooter was produced, based on a small motorcycle made for parachutists. The prototype, known as the MP 5, was nicknamed “Paperino” (the Italian name for Donald Duck) because of its strange shape, but Enrico Piaggio did not like it, and he asked Corradino D’Ascanio to redesign it.
Corradino D’Ascanio only needed a few days to refine his idea and prepare the first drawings of the Vespa, first produced in Pontedera in April 1946. It got its name from Enrico Piaggio himself who, looking at the MP 6 prototype with its wide central part where the rider sat and the narrow “waist”, exclaimed, “It looks like a wasp!” And so the Vespa was born. For the incredible Vespa and Piaggio scooter story, see our history here.
The birth of the MaxiScooter
Though history has seen many large capacity scooters, the first significant move in the modern era of scooters came in 1986 when Honda introduced a 250 scooter known in various markets as the Fusion, Helix or CN250.
Over the next decade and a half, there were several other significant 250 scooters, most notably the Piaggio Hexagon, the Yamaha Majesty and the Suzuki Burgman, but Suzuki really got the superscooter craze happening with its Burgman 400 in 1999.
The year 2000 saw much activity in this area – Yamaha produced the T-Max, a twin cylinder 500 and the first scooter to be capable of the magical “ton” - 100mph.
The T-Max’s 40 horsepower was soon gazzumped by Honda’s Silver Wing 600 twin with 50 horses and in 2002 Suzuki raised the bar further with the launch of the Burgman 650.
One of our favourite Maxi scooters is the current top-of-the-range Piaggio X9 500 Maxi scooter that comes with a sophisticated communications system that enables you to integrate your mobile phone, use the FM radio, and even transfer calls to your pillion passenger via the intercom. We rode the bike in late 2004 and felt it was a viable alternative to four-wheeled transport with regard to the being contactable when riding a motorcycle. For the most part, riding a motorcycle means that you are incommunicado. For most motorcyclists, that’s a blessing, for others, it prevents them being contactable when they need to be, or even worse, forces them to travel by four wheels when they’d much rather be riding.
There have been several significant concept bikes shown since then that have indicated the intentions of the Japanese manufacturers but only Suzuki has really launched a fully-fledged supercooter in the 650 Burgman that we enthused about two years ago.
The Gilera Nexus 850!
Cyberscooter’s scoop image of the Nexus 850 shows a scooter with quite crude plastic fairing designed to disguise what the machine is, though it was apparently quite easy to “recognize the style of the Gilera Nexus 500.”
The motor is in fact from a concept bike developed by Piaggio R&D; and shown at the 2003 EICMA Show in Milan. The Gilera Ferro concept bike is an advanced example of Piaggio Group R&D; activity and married the Italian V-twin concept (as epitomised and made famous by Ducati, but more recently by Aprilia), with an electronic gearbox.
The Gilera Ferro concept bike was accordingly a pared-down, naked design equipped with an 850cc, 90° V-twin engine (low vibration, limited width, smooth power output and intoxicating exhaust note) PLUS an electronic power-assisted transmission.
The Gilera factory describes the electronic transmission thus: “The sophisticated electronically managed gearbox shifts gears automatically and has a manual pushbutton option. This system combines faster, smoother gearshifts and an automatic clutch, as well as total safety thanks to electronic engine braking control.”
“Cornering is very quick and acceleration extremely smooth; performance is exciting and power delivery fuller and more fluid, without uneven gear speed shifts.”
“Besides, the rider is free to vary several parameters, including pre-determined speed ranges (simulating a manual gear change) and therefore also engine braking effectiveness. Or he can switch to full CVT and concentrate on enjoying the ride with the maximum power available at perennially optimal rpm.”
With its strikingly modern design and extraordinary technical set-up, the Gilera Ferro, an exercise in Italian style, is a prototype on which Gilera's engineers are carrying out some very specific testing. What they're aiming at is the kind of revolution that the motorcycle world hasn't seen since the gear speed selector moved from the fuel tank to the pedal.
So now it seems that the Gilera marque is intent on offering the revolutionary gearbox in a softer “scooter” version first – softer in some ways but with 62.5kW of power at 8,000 rpm and 81.3Nm of torque at 6,500 rpm, it will yield a scooter the likes of which we have never seen before.
The final transmission on the 850 will be belt-driven, similar to that offered on some Buell motorcycles, and whilst the traditional shockers at the rear indicate that radical suspension is not going to be part of the new bike, our bet is that the shockers were used in an attempt to make the bike look more traditional whilst the engine and radical gearbox were under trial.
Other obvious take-outs from the brief look were that triple discs were used for stopping power, and that different sized wheels were used and shod with radial tyres.