Words by Alec Simpson, Photography by Lou Martin
Its not often I look at a bike or scooter and imagine what kind of animal it could be, but when I saw the Gilera Fuoco in the flesh I immediately thought its appearance reminded me of a warthog.
The Gilera Fuoco, like the Piaggio MP3 whose front suspension it shares, carries a lot of visual bulk at the front – the two independently suspended front wheels and their electro-hydraulic tilt system are covered by a sort of monster proboscis. On the Gilera Fuoco that bulk is the location for four headlights, a central running light, a steel tube bull-bar and painted perforated metal radiator protectors.
It makes quite an impression and looks much better in the flesh than in the photographs.
The tough bull-barred look reflects what this machine is, the scooterist’s equivalent of an urban assault vehicle, while the extensive steel rails that run right around the back of the scooter provide excellent places to tie things down, meaning you will be able to strap on the bazooka no problem. The utilitarian theme is carried through to the footboards, which are covered in aluminium checquerplate, while the exposed handlebars are nicely finished in satin silver.
While the looks might take some getting used to, the riding doesn’t. This is an incredible machine and, like the Piaggio MP3, re-writes how scooters can feel and handle in the real world of midcorner gravel patches, tram tracks and slippery bitumen banding.
Power is provided by a 493cc fuel-injected single producing 29.4kW at 7250rpm. It is enough to propel the Fuoco to a top speed of about 150km/h. The drive is handled through a CVT and while the 244kg weight dents performance off the line, it’s no slouch once underway.
Longer and heavier than the Piaggio MP3 on which it is based, the Fuoco is much more composed when encountering mid-corner bumps. The MP3 with its softer set-up and smaller rear wheel can wallow, while the firmer suspension and more rigid swingarm of the Fuoco controls any pitching or wallowing movement much more quickly. This means that it handles better at speed, while retaining the incredible roadholding introduced with the MP3.
Initial impressions when riding the Fuoco are that the steering is heavier than a normal scooter, but this is soon forgotten as the
Fuoco responds to steering inputs as well as anything else. There is a switch on the right-hand switchblock that allows you to lock the front suspension at very low speeds, which means you don’t have to put your feet down when you stop. A light flashes on the dashboard to let you know when you are in the speed range that allows it.
Accelerating away releases the lock so there is no danger you will arrive at the next corner unable to turn.
The two front tyres provide excellent grip under brakes and, combined with triple discs, ensure short stopping distances. Unlike the MP3, the Fuoco runs a 140/70x14-inch rear tyre, but retains the same 120/70x12-inch front rubber. When braking hard mid-corner it does require a firm effort to keep it from standing up under brakes and you can feel the suspension struggling to cope through the bars, but you are able to push the front much more than you would on anything else.
Ground clearance is limited by the centrestand, but dragging the undercarriage doesn’t unsettle the scoot, and as the Fuoco is capable of being parked without it – you could easily take it off if cornering was your primary objective. My brief run combined some city traffic mayhem, speed limit monotony and some excellent winding open roads.
I have not experienced such confidence-inspiring front-end grip on a scooter before.
In fact, the front end works so well that I was going out of my way to try to upset it. When I was turning off main roads on to smaller ones
I made a point of riding over the gravel build-up off the wheeltracks; when I was on the freeway I rode into the emergency lane to see if the lane’s height difference upset it; but it was all in vain, even riding off a footpath was gentle experience if taken one wheel at a time.
Other neat touches include a sensor in the seat that prevents the front suspension unlocking when the engine is running unless someone is sitting on it. This should stop curious passers-by sending your parked and idling scooter down the road with no rider. The underseat storage is generous, holding a full-face helmet, while next to the light a 12v accessory outlet is provided. Importantly the shopping bag hook remains on the front legshield.
I was fortunate to ride both the Piaggio MP3 and Gilera Fuoco back to back, and without a doubt the Gilera Fuoco is my scooter of the year. Nothing comes close to providing the security and speed this machine offers over treacherous surfaces. The feathering of the tyres testament to how much load can be carried through corners. For experienced riders it’s a complete giggle and feels uncrashable; for the inexperienced or riders lacking in confidence it will provide levels of roadholding unmatched by other scooters. This is one warthog that won’t be scratching around in the dirt. Sensational.