Win the traffic-light grand prix

If getting to work quickly is the nut you want to crack, then the performance of the Gilera FXR 180 Runner is a sledgehammer. Commuting need never be dull again, with this insane hybrid of motorcycle and scooter. Martin Round reports

Fancy a race from the lights? If your car can't do 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds, then don't bother. Many motorcycles can't match that, either. For a twist-and-go scooter to perform with such venom is simply unheard of. Or it was until now.

Britain has begun to wake up to the massive convenience offered by the latest generation of automatic scooters: light weight, manoeuvrability, and space to store a crash helmet. Piaggio, the Gilera's Italian manufacturer, is the first company to combine these features with traffic-terrorising performance.

Power for the Runner is supplied by a 180cc two-stroke engine with lubricating oil injection. The blistering acceleration is thanks to the 21hp engine, and the seamless variomatic transmission system. Automatic transmission in a car may mean less acceleration, but variomatic on a scooter means best use of the available power.

I found it all too easy to hold the throttle open a touch too long around town, and the constant engine revs give no indication that you may be doubling the 30mph limit. On the open road, the speedo can nudge 90mph downhill, though this feels maybe 5mph optimistic. Where the extra performance is most welcome is during overtaking. In as long as it takes to think about a manoeuvre and open the throttle, you can be past any A-road obstacle. Your next problem is slowing down again.

The greatest problem with the automatic transmission on today's scooters is the almost total absence of engine braking; hence the Gilera 180 needs all the brakes it can get. Thankfully Piaggio has endowed it with a 220mm front disc, griped by a twin-piston sliding hydraulic caliper. The 140mm drum rear brake helps to bring the machine to a halt quite sharply, but without fuss.

The chassis of the machine is unusual for a scooter, in that the area between the rider's legs is not open. Instead there is a high central tunnel in the bodywork, containing the fuel tank, battery and a "central rigidifying beam" which is supposed to improve handling.

The FXR runs on wide 12-in tyres and does handle acceptably for everyday use, but the engine encourages hooliganism. In that idiom the chassis can get rather upset, particularly on bumpy corners taken at speed. It needs either better suspension, or a modicum of restraint from the pilot.

Build quality is pretty good, and Piaggio offers a three-year warranty, but there are still a few niggly points with the design. The turning circle is unusually large for a scooter, which takes the edge off its ability to filter through thick traffic. Also the mirrors don't adjust well, and the helmet bay under the seat is a tight fit with some helmets.

One thing that the Runner really could do with is extra security. It will be worth investing in a Piaggio plug-in alarm system or armoured cable lock.

The Gilera sells for a not unreasonable pounds 2,650 on the road. There is a 125cc learner-legal variant for pounds 2,350 OTR, and even a 50cc version (pounds 1,999) which can be ridden on a car licence.

Still, the 180cc FXR remains the one to get, and the same goes for the 180cc Piaggio Hexagon, which shares the same superb motor.

As the road system gets increasingly strangled, you need a good strategy and the right weapon. The FXR is it.

The writer is assistant editor of `Scootering International'.

Gilera Runner FXR 180 Price: pounds 2,650; weight: 115kg

Engine: single cylinder 180cc, two stroke

Transmission: belt drive variomatic

Top speed: 85mph

Acceleration (0-60mph): 5.4 sec (claimed)

Rivals:

Italjet Formula 125: (pounds 3,250): High-tech Latin lovely with hub-centre steering, but only one year warranty. The nearest rival sports scooter both looks and handles better than the Gilera, but the 114cc twin-cylinder motor is no match. Compared to the 125cc Runner, things are closer, but the 70mph, learner-legal Italjet is nearly pounds 1,000 dearer.

Aprilia Leonardo 150: (pounds 2,745); Arriving in April, this bigger-capacity version of the Aprilia's handsome 125cc four-stroke packs extra punch for an 80mph top speed. Acceleration and nimbleness would be improved if the 130kg machine went on a diet.

Honda Foresight 250: (pounds 3,999) Heavy, solid construction counts against it on acceleration, and make it less nimble in thick traffic, but it's a pleasure on the open road. Legendary build quality - but at a hefty price.

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