Piaggio has given its pioneering scooters more power, reports Tim Luckhurst

Engine: 492.7cc single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, four-stroke
Maximum power: 40 bhp @7,250rpm
Maximum torque: 42 Nm @ 5,500rpm
Transmission: fully automatic.
Brakes: front, two 240mm discs; rear, one 280mm disc
Seat height: 785mm
Dry weight: 244kg
Tank capacity: 12 litres
Price: c.£5,400

My introduction to the Gilera Fuoco's three-wheel technology came last year when I tested the Piaggio MP3 scooters on which it was pioneered.

I emerged from that baptism grinning. Cornering with an additional wheel demands none of the care needed on conventional motorcycles. Twin front wheels married to electro-hydraulic suspension beg the rider to corner fast. I thrashed the little Piaggios and found their roadholding exceptional. But with the MP3 range limited to 125 and 250cc versions I wondered how much better the technology would feel paired with proper power.

It feels good. Leaping astride an unfamiliar motorcycle, pegging the throttle open and pointing it at a sharp bend is not normally my style, but I made an exception. The Fuoco accelerated eagerly and I pitched into the roundabout at 40mph. The exhaust touched the tarmac, but the tyres did not flinch. In fact the risks of a front-end skid are, for all practical purposes, eliminated. With twice as much rubber in contact with the road, the Fuoco tilts and grips with Tigger-ish enthusiasm but resolutely refuses to bounce.

Ride quality is made velvet-smooth by the separate shock absorber fitted to each of the parallel front wheels. These devour bumps, even two-up, making the Fuoco comfortable as well as frisky on pot-holed streets. That extra rubber comes into its own again when you apply the brakes. Emergency stopping distances are about 20 per cent better than on two-wheelers and, although it is possible to lock both the front wheels and the rear one, there is no risk of falling off if you do.

Riding the Fuoco in town is a breeze, not least because of the brilliant "roll lock" suspension-locking system. It works like this: as speed drops below 6mph a warning light and beeping audio alert on the dashboard combine to inform the rider that they can stabilise the scooter. This is achieved by flicking a switch on the right handlebar. Result? No need to put your foot down to keep the Fuoco upright at standstill. With the lock engaged those tilting front wheels lock firmly in position.

Pulling up beside car drivers is fun. The Fuoco's additional wheel, enormous front bumper and twin headlights are striking even to the unobservant. So is its big, comfy seat. But little compares to the look of astonishment when you pull up at the front of the queue and sit there with no visible means of support. In 10 miles of urban riding I elicited pointing, stares and a man who just lowered his window and said "Please. What is it?" With practice I managed to lock at an angle to the vertical and remain seated while canted over. There is no risk. The lock is released as soon as you open the throttle. You cannot accelerate away with your suspension and steering frozen.

You can always guarantee being at the front of the queue because the Fuoco retains scooter dimensions. The single cylinder 500cc engine used here is a slightly enlarged version of the unit deployed on the Piaggio X9 and Gilera Nexus two wheelers (32cc bigger). It whisks the Fuoco away from the lights at a rate cars cannot match and which surprises motorcyclists. Then it pounds up to a motorway maximum of about 100 mph and cruises comfortably at 85mph. I did not feel intimidated in the fast lane of the M2. In my mirrors I could see the occupants of the Micra behind debating exactly what was pulling away from them.

Gilera is the giant Piaggio group's sporty marque and the Fuoco is quick enough to justify the branding. Is it practical? In terms of comfort and safety it certainly is. You can hustle this machine over greasy, wet cobbles without risking a tumble. The riding position is relaxed enough for long journeys and cockpit instrumentation is excellent. Luggage space is limited though. You cannot fit a laptop into the underseat storage compartment, but there is a rear platform.

In the end this motorcyclist will always choose two wheels over three. I have spent too long learning to corner properly to really cherish a machine that helps a novice to lean like a GP racer. My suspicion is that most people who have the full licence required to ride this cute hybrid will agree.

But that is subjective. The Fuoco is fast, safe and expensive. It attracts envy and fits into motorcycle parking spaces.

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