The 2018 Kymco AK550 v TMAX | ROAD TEST
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Both scooters look sharp, modern and have most of the features you expect on a scooter of this calibre, TFT dash, ABS (traction control on the Yamaha), decent storage space, top spec suspension and plenty of power. With its glossy black paintwork, non-standard sports screen and aftermarket Akrapovic exhaust the TMAX looks stunning but you’re looking at another £1092 on top of the list price for those extras.
Meanwhile, the Kymco has a deep-throaty sounding exhaust as standard and subtle detailing, like the well-crafted stitching on the seat, for instance, horizontal in-yer-face rear suspension and a certain mean look to it. For me, it’s slightly more up to date and aggressive than the 2018 TMAX in standard trim. Not that either machine have been hit with the ugly stick. These both ooze ‘look at me’ styling and beg to be ridden fast and hard, luckily that’s how we like to ride our scooters at SLUK.
Both scooters need a better more accurate fuel gauge. A scooter capable of covering long distances should have a better range than either of these two. They both have a 15-litre tank (which should be plenty) but ridden hard, neither of them can do over 100 miles without the fuel gauge flashing ominously at you. I recently rode the TMAX back from Heathrow in the middle of the night, expecting to be able to get home to Nottinghamshire on a full tank (135 miles). By Leicester, the fuel gauge was on empty and the range was showing zero, not wanting to risk running out and waiting for recovery at 2 am I bottled it and filled up at Leicester Forest East, it still had 5-litres left in the tank. Incidentally, late night riding leads to quicker speeds and I arrived home getting a personal record for the Heathrow trip. Ridden sensibly the TMAX is capable of a much longer range and a sensible MPG.
I found the Kymco’s fuel gauge even more annoying. It’s hard to ignore a big flashing display, even if it is reading much earlier than is absolutely necessary. I hate stopping more often than I need to. Especially on a scooter that is as comfortable as these two are, where long distance riding and a few hours in the saddle isn’t an issue.
What about the power?
The Kymco’s in-line twin cylinder, 8-valve engine is 20.4cc larger in capacity and produces 8.32 bhp more than the TMAX’s 530cc lump. It’s a forward-inclined parallel twin, whilst the Yamaha has an inline twin layout. Similar but different both in characteristics and power. The Kymco, with its standard exhaust, sounds meatier than the TMAX, even with the added carbon Akrapovic system.
A2 licence friendly?
Yamaha have kept the TMAX below the 47bhp A2 licencing limit so restricted licence holders can ride one. The Kymco has punched its way out of that bracket though with 53bhp on tap. That means if you’re on an A2 bike licence you can’t ride one. It’s worth bearing in mind if you’re unsure which one to choose.
Three figure speeds
It goes without saying that both engines are quick and very usable, they’re smooth and deliver their power very well. Although the AK has a momentary lag on acceleration. Not that it matters too much because it still beats the TMAX off the line and holds it at bay until around 80mph. To be honest, though there’s not much to separate them on performance in the real world, neither machine will outrun the other for long (check out the video above). Both are capable of three-figure speeds, with the TMAX topping an indicated 110mph, the Kymco 114. Although 90-100 mph is where they’re both comfortable to cruise at. You can find yourself on the wrong side of the speed limit quite easily on these scooters thanks to their aerodynamics and linear power delivery.
Talking of cruising, the short TMAX screen actually works better for me than the original higher screen, you still get buffeted on either scooter but sometimes a taller screen just deflects the blast directly at your neck and makes it noisy inside your lid. On a quick scooter like these, you really need to wear earplugs if you’re not planning for future tinnitus.
The standard Kymco screen (and TMAX screen) is adjustable, although it’s a tools out job to move it, in reality, both scooters should have an easy to adjust, (or preferably an electric) screen. If Honda can do it on the 125/300 Forza I’m sure these boys can on their maxi scooters. Yamaha does offer an electric screen, heated grips and heated seat on the higher spec TMAX DX but that model isn’t available in the UK this year, although it’s listed on the Yamaha website at £11,349 so you can probably order one in.
Weather protection from the large frontal plastics is also very good on both scooters, you can get through a good few miles of rain on them without having to stick your waterproof trousers on and they’ll keep your legs warmer in winter as well.
What are they like to ride?
To put it simply you’ll enjoy riding both of these scooters, they’re both powerful enough, although the Kymco has more power and torque so it’ll out accelerate the TMAX. Not by much but from a standing start to 80mph it’ll be out in front, after that the TMAX starts to claw it back a bit. Similarly, with a side by side roll-on, 50-60mph on a dual carriageway, pin the throttle and see who takes the lead, the Kymco won that one as well. You can feel the extra torque on the AK550, blasting around country lanes. Using the same corner repeatedly on both scooters for photos the Kymco has more drive on the exit. You feel as though you could almost spin the rear tyre if you wanted to. The TMAX has Yamaha’s TCS – Traction Control System though to prevent wheelspin (although it can be turned off if you wish).
As we mentioned a while ago in our original Kymco AK550 road test, the scooter does have a momentary lag in the transmission if you whack the throttle open. It is only for a split second but you do notice it. A Malossi variator would no doubt cure that though.
Both scooters handle really well, although the Yamaha suspension is slightly better, not there’s a lot in it really. They’re both perfect for having a bit of fun on the twisties and can cover long distances easily enough. The TMAX has always been the finest handling maxi scooter as far as I’m concerned and it still is but both of these are as capable as a mid capacity bike, the 15″ wheels on both scooters help to keep things under control, 160-section rear tyres gripping the tarmac perfectly. They’re well planted and easy to ride slowly in traffic, you can also perform a feet-up U-turn on both pretty easily despite their size.
You don’t find top spec Brembo brakes on many scooters but Kymco have fitted them to the AK and it gives the scooter the edge on stopping power, twin 270mm discs (slightly larger than the Yamaha’s 267mm discs) provide more than enough up front bite. Although the TMAX has a 282mm rear disc, compared to the Kymco’s 260mm disc. Both scooters stop very well but ridden back to back you can feel a difference with the Kymco. Having said that, the ABS isn’t as intrusive on the Yamaha, it doesn’t cut in as often when you’re having fun but is there when you really could benefit from it.
Both scooters have generous underseat storage, large enough to fit a full faced helmet and a few other bits under there. The TMAX space is easier to load though, the underneath protruding shape of the Kymco seat means space has to be packed carefully or the seat won’t close.
Don’t expect to fit more than a small bag of clothes under the seat of either scooter though if you’re using it for a night or two away. On my recent airport run I Roc Strapped a small Givi case to the pillion seat, it worked well enough but if I was two up we’d both have to pack very carefully to fit as much under the seat as possible, I’d also need to have some kind of tunnel bag in between my legs and my passenger would probably need to wear a rucksack. Still more practical than a bike though for sure. Talking of pillions, both are comfortable twos up although a top box with pillion pad would be a good addition.
Both scooters would benefit from an additional luggage rack/top box really to make them even more practical. My vintage Lambretta may not have any storage space beneath the seat but it carried enough stuff for a recent two-week Spanish camping tour on the rear luggage rack. Both the TMAX and Kymco also have additional cubby holes behind the front plastics, they’re useful for smaller items and include a charge point.
I love both of these scooters and find it hard to choose between the two. The TMAX is, well it’s a TMAX. A proper full-on sports tourer. It’s good looking, fast and great fun. It’s got 17 years of Yamaha sports scooter heritage behind it and does exactly what it was designed to do. The Kymco also boasts many of the TMAX characteristics but it’s also more powerful, a little bit quicker and comes with a better spec for less money. Heated grips and Noodoe navigation/connectivity are well worth having – especially when those ‘extras’ come as standard on a scooter that costs over a grand less than the base model TMAX.
With a scooter of this calibre and price you need to choose carefully, you also need to consider the future residual value. A secondhand TMAX is often a good way to get into maxi scooter ownership. A 500 mile old, 2017 model TMAX with luggage rack and top box can be bought from a dealer for £6495. That’s a lot of scooter for the money. Sticky still runs around on his 2001 first generation TMAX and loves it, that scooter may be old and tired but has served him well since 2003. Future pricing on the Kymco is a little hard to predict, it’s a new model from a manufacturer that isn’t as instantly recognisable as Yamaha. Still a manufacturer with an impressive history and reputation though.
If money is no object and you want a scooter with a well-proven history then the TMAX is a great first choice. It’s a scooter that has evolved over many years. It’s also a scooter with plenty of aftermarket (and official) accessories to help you customise it further. Buying a TMAX gets you into a worldwide club of existing happy owners.
Buying the Kymco will no doubt save you some money and you’ll be different to the usual maxi scooter gang, it also might make your new scooter less attractive to thieves (the TMAX is high on Britain’s most wanted list). Whichever way you choose to go you won’t be disappointed, these two scooters are the current top two maxi scooters as far as I’m concerned.
Words: Iggy, photos: Sticky
Video edit: Iggy
Kymco AK 550 specs
Engine: 550.4cc, in-line twin cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valves
Power: 53bhp and 41 ft lbs of torque
Suspension: Front 41mm upside down forks, rear horizontal trailing arm
Chassis: Aluminium twin-spar frame
Brakes: Front 270mm twin discs, with Brembo calipers, rear 260mm single disc
Tyres: Front 120/70-15, rear 160/60-15
Tank capacity: 15 litres
Contact: Kymco UK
Yamaha TMAX 530 specs
Engine: 530cc, forward-inclined parallel 2-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valves
Power: 45.32bhp and 39.09 ft lbs of torque
Suspension: Upside down front telescopic forks, rear swingarm
Chassis: Die-cast aluminium
Weight: 213 kg
Brakes: Front 267 mm twin discs, rear 282mm single disc
Tyres: Front 120/70-15, rear 160/60-15
Tank capacity: 15 litres
Contact: Yamaha UK
Kymco AK550 gallery
Yamaha TMAX 530 gallery
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