The future has no gears and small wheels. Apparently featured image

The future has no gears and small wheels. Apparently

28 Aug 2018
Can life on two small wheels really be better? We have seven days to find out...

Apparently big scooters like this Suzuki Burgman 400 are the future

A growing number of my friends reckon their big scoots have significantly enriched their riding lives.

The cheerleader-in-chief among them owns a Burgman 400 and, handily, works in PR for Suzuki. Three pints into our one-way conversation about their merits, he’d booked me a week-long stint treading the boards on an exact replica of his red-wheeled Burgman.

I’ve ridden, and enjoyed, a few big scoots in my time so I kinda knew the drill – but I’d never seen their long-term appeal. Why not just buy a real bike?

Then again I’d never had a prolonged period on one before, either. So maybe a week on one would make me a big-scoot believer.

Day One

Milton Keynes’ American-style lattice of roads makes it a roundabout aficionado’s dream come true.

Reaching the first of MK’s islands on the Burgman and squeezing the front brake is an eye-opener – literally – and a timely reminder that rear brakes work best when there’s more weight over the back wheel than the front.

That rectified, we scoot through the roundabout and whip the throttle open again to rip out the other side and ease clear of traffic. Burgman 1 Roundabouts 0.

The step-up seat shoves my Kriega rucksack uncomfortably up into the rim of my lid, so I stop to see how many of its contents will fit into the Burgman’s underseat compartment to lighten the load.

The Burgman swallows the lot, and then takes the bag as well for good measure. Impressive.

Clear of Milton Keynes, 50 miles of continuous dual-carriageway and motorway lie ahead, with only 30 horses powering us along. Tedium time? Not exactly.

The 215kg Burgman hardly demands flame-retardant pants, but it buzzes up to 70mph quickly enough to stay ahead of all but the enthusiastically-driven cars. It’s happy at 75mph, OK at 80mph and will hit 95mph if you’re happy flirting with the single-cylinder motor’s 8500rpm red line.

The screen shelters from windblast and stretching feet out to the front of the footboards eases the cramped feel from keeping them on the horizontal sections. It’s all so easy, and the big roads pass by with little effort.

Back on single-carriageway main roads up to Boston and it becomes more demanding. Overtakes that would be a breeze on any bike are challenging on a heavy, low-powered machine that won’t let you kick down a gear.

Time to adapt to my new surroundings and learn to sit behind some cars, and appreciate that I can’t overtake everything that moves.

The 85-mile MK-Boston jaunt disappears in 93 minutes, despite a long stretch of 40mph limit through roadworks on the A1. And the Burgman’s simple digital dash display says it’s done all while kicking out 68 miles to a gallon.

Day Two

My first proper commute on the Burgman. It’s hoofing with rain so I take the boring way to work, which takes around 50 minutes by car (I never take this route on a bike). It takes 48 minutes on the Burgman and I haul my work stuff straight out from under the seat and walk to my desk. Easy life.

It’s dried out by home time, so I take the interesting route back and get there only three minutes slower than the best I’ve managed by bike. Helmet and gloves go under the seat when I get home and leave the Burg in my garage, making life that little bit easier still.

Day Five

Burgman-man James is so chuffed to have some big-scoot company that he persuades me we need to take a trip to the Peak District. Any reticence buckles when an overnight stop is mentioned and the phrase ‘Burgman Buxton Booze Cruise’ coined.

The pair of us float 70 miles through Rutland and Leicestershire into Derbyshire. Remembering when to twist and when to fold on overtakes is still proving problematic, but there’s something fun about just relaxing into a journey rather than constantly pressing on.

By the time the big hand points out beer time, it’s been a fun day coasting around lovely roads in good company. And we’ve only burnt a gallon or two of fuel. We soon spend the savings (and some) on another form of go-juice.

Day Six

It’s throwing rain down again for the return ride and I plan a sweeping route home, expecting the small(ish) wheels to feel skittery on rain-soaked tar. James knows better and, 4000 miles already under his Burgman’s 15-inchers, is confidently leading the way.

The Suzuki is far more competent in these conditions than I’d expected. With 30bhp on tap there’s no need for assistance from traction control, and ABS is reassuring when squeezing on the strong-enough stoppers.

After our impromptu weekend adventure, the Burgman has proven itself to be surprisingly companionable for trips as well as on daily duties.

Day Seven

My last commute before the Burgman goes back, this time in the dry, and we reach Sportsbikeshop HQ in 43 minutes, with the readout promising over 80mpg. I get home in the same time, at a promised 88mpg.

A shop customer rolled in today on her identical Burgman 400, which is still on the original tyres as she nears 8000 miles – and they’re only just starting to square. She’s only just had her first service, too. As practical transport, the argument is becoming stronger.

Day Eight

I hand the Burgman back to Suzuki, having just covered 202 miles to a 12.79-litre fill-up, at an actual economy of 73.19mpg. That is seriously impressive stuff, and plenty of food for thought.

The final reckoning…

I expected to enjoy the Burgman for my week and be happy to give it back afterwards. Instead, it left me doing mental gymnastics.

A big scoot like the Burgman couldn’t fill a bike-shaped hole in my life. A scooter offers a different riding experience, sitting on its back and floating along rather than immersing myself in the experience.

But I’ve realised I was making the wrong comparison. A scooter can’t replace a bike, but it can replace a car. By behaving more like I do when driving – chilling out rather than constantly looking for overtakes – the scooter excels. It’s faster, cheaper and a hell of a lot more fun than a car.

Quick calculations for my 325-mile-a-week commute show a £45 a month saving on fuel and tax alone, and that’s without factoring in the growing number of repair bills my ageing Ford Fusion dullsmobile is racking up.

My weekly food shopping fits under the Burgman’s seat, it’s covered by a three-year warranty and the £6299 scoot costs about £80 a month on PCP. It’s starting to look like a no-brainer. Anyone want to buy a Ford Fusion?