Gilera Nexus lives up to its name
At the Milan Motorcycle Show late last year, journalists identified a new trend: the blurring of the boundaries between motorcycles and motor scooters.
New crossover two-wheelers like the BMW C650GT and C600, Honda's NC700S and the Aprilia SRV 850 super-scooter were all seen as harbingers of this new direction in motorcycle design.
However, in their rush to find a new angle for their reports on the show, the motor-noters overlooked the fact that Piaggio's Gilera branch has been building such bikes for 20 years or more.
The Gilera Nexus 300 here is a fine example of a bike that offers the convenience and comfort of a large scooter, yet handles and rides much like a motorcycle, so much so that the name Nexus fits it like a Saville Row-tailored suit.
My electronic Encarta dictionary tells me Nexus means a connection or link associating two or more people or things.
The new 300cc version of the Nexus slots neatly into the Gilera range between the Runner VXR200 and its even more motorcycle-like big brother, the Nexus 500. At $8490, a tempting $600 more than the Runner, the Gilera costs about $1500 less than the Vespa 300GTS that donated its powertrain, and such are its advantages in handling, weather protection and underseat storage that it really does question why anyone should spend more on the latter.
As a GTS owner, I confess that my choice of purchase was driven by heritage and my wish for a more sartorial-looking ride.
A Vespa can trace its looks back to the 1948 original and is as instantly identifiable as a Porsche 911, but a Gilera looks like a lot of other, mostly cheaper scooters. It's only when people get close that they can recognise that it wears one of the most famous and successful brands in Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
Forgive the diversion from the delights of riding the 300 Nexus, but perhaps a little debate about whether Gilera should find itself a brand now attached to a range of motor scooters is helpful to our understanding of the marque.
When Piaggio took over Gilera in 1969, the former corporation built only motor scooters, so perhaps it made sense at that time to turn its latest acquisition into a sportier alternative to the Vespa.
Hints that Gilera would return to building proper motorcycles appeared in concept form at various motorcycle shows for several decades afterwards, then abruptly ceased in 2004, when Piaggio also acquired Aprilia.
For Aprilia suddenly occupied the sporty motorcycle niche that Gilera was seemingly destined to inhabit, putting its plans to return to building such products on the back burner. So anyone attracted to a famous motorcycle brand that dates back to 1909, and won the World 500cc Grand Prix championship six times in eight years, must content themselves by riding a scooter.
Fortunately, the Nexus 300 is a more involving ride than most scooters. The 278cc version of Piaggio's Quasar liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine doesn't make any more power than the 250cc version that proceeded it, but the 14 per cent lift in torque output that it offers makes it feel more immune to upward changes in gradient, and gives it a more immediate response to throttle input. The little single probably buzzes away quite a bit below you as the Nexus 300 cruises the open road, but you'd never know it.
Vibrations are well isolated, keeping the rear-view mirrors free of fuzziness, and the rider free from memories of their last visit to the dentist.
Such is the refinement, fuel economy and torque delivery of the 278cc Quasar that it is arguably the best single-cylinder scooter engine on the market.
As mentioned, the major difference between a Gilera 300 and a Vespa 300 is that this fine engine comes wrapped in a sportier chassis. You can lean the Nexus over further than the GTS in a corner, and not leave a trail of sparks as the parking stands come into contact with the road. There's a more evenly distributed weight bias as the Gilera mounts a larger fuel tank between its rider's ankles, where the Vespa locates it northeast of the axle of the rear wheel. Braking performance and suspension quality both favour the Gilera, although the Nexus still can't compare to the more generous wheel travel of full- wheeled motorcycles when blitzing a bumpy back road.
But then, proper motorcycles can't offer the protective weather insulation of the superb fairing attached to the Nexus, nor its huge reservoir of underseat storage, complete with a cellphone- charger, heated-vest, satellite- navigation ancillary socket.
Nice touches include the ankle- warming louvres that can waft warm air from the radiator when required, and the courtesy light of the underseat compartment.
As scooters go, this is definitely one of the best, and I suspect Giuseppe Gilera would feel proud to see his name attached to it.
AT A GLANCE
* Engine: 278cc liquid-cooled SOHC 4-volt single stoked by fuel injection to develop 16kW (22bhp) at 7250rpm and 23Nm of torque at 6200rpm.
* Transmission: Twist N' Go CVT.
* Frame: Steel-tube trellis frame with powertrain mounted on a single-sided swingarm, 35mm unadjustable front forks, preload-adjustable rear monoshock.
* Price: $8490.
* Hot: At $600 more than the Runner and $1500 less than the Vespa GTS, the Nexus offers more of everything than both its sibling rivals.
* Not: Piaggio will waste the cachet of the Gilera brand if it confines it just to making scooters, albeit highly competent ones like this.