Gilera Fuoco 500i.e.
All motorcyclists are show-offs to a greater or lesser extent and the Gilera Fuoco definitely gets more than its fair share of attention, whether on the move or standing still.
In essence it belongs to the ‘maxi-scooter’ category of small-wheeled bikes with big engines, in this case a 500cc, four-stroke single. The three-wheeled layout is what sets it apart from its rivals but it is not just a novelty.
The amount of stability and margin of safety that the two front wheels give has to be experienced to be believed, especially on Johannesburg roads with their potholes and sudden patches of gravel or sand right on the cornering line. What would have a two-wheeler on its side in a flash merely causes the Fuoco to slide wide before finding grip again.
It’s a sensation that takes some getting used to but once you learn to trust it, it’s quite amazing what you can get away with. The front suspension layout that allows the bike to lean and the wheels to tilt in a corner is solidly engineered and very clever and also very heavy. But it is this solidity that gives yet more feeling of security as the bike is very stable and feels really planted on the road with none of the skittishness than can affect small-wheeled machines.
Standing beside the bike, you realise that it is a big machine – very long and, with the front layout, quite bulky looking. But, once on board, it feels no bigger than a traditional scooter. You sit well forward and have no view of the front wheels. It’s only when you look behind you that you realise there is a lot of bike following you around.
That doesn’t mean it feels unwieldy or can’t get through gaps in traffic; despite having two wheels up front, the bodywork is the widest part of the bike and is actually little wider than, say, a Vespa.
Despite displacing 500cc, it’s not quite the rocket you would expect. There is a lot of weight to lug around and this definitely has a negative effect on performance. After market exhausts and transmission parts from Malossi (imported by Vespa Sandton, who import the Gilera) can change all this but why couldn’t Gilera give the bike a bit more zip in the first place?
We are not talking anything dangerous here; it certainly lifts up its skirts and gets going fairly sharpish if you are one up and on the level, but try it two up, uphill and things are not quite so rosy; it is almost as if Gilera have thought that giving customers three wheels was enough so we’d better not frighten them with too much power. Unfortunately they have gone a bit too far in the other direction.
Maybe I am being hyper critical here. The most a bike such as this will ever do is scoot around town, to work and back. For that type of riding there is sufficient performance.
The Fuoco has a party piece which can leave bystanders bemused. There is a small switch on the right handlebar that will lock the pivot mechanism so, as you come to a stop, you can give this a flick and keep your feet up without falling over. Twisting the throttle to move off automatically disengages the lock and you are back to fully articulated. Another clever safety feature ensures that blipping the throttle with the suspension lock on but with no rider aboard means the bike won’t shoot off into the distance; a micro-switch under the seat, activated by the rider’s weight sees to that.
Is this the future of small-wheeled motorcycling? There are certainly reasons to recommend it but price may not be one of them. At R108,000 it isn’t cheap and I’m not convinced that the benefits of its novel layout are significant enough to place it at the top of a shopping list that could include many brand new full-sized bikes or dozens of used models.
But, if you are in the market for a high-end scooter which is a doddle to ride and has the marginal benefit of being something unusual, this could be the bike for you.