3-wheel scooter for the young and hip
Piaggio's new scooter puts two wheels in front for better stability and handling.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With gas prices going up, Italian scooter company Piaggio, most famous for its Vespa line of scooters, has seen sales of its bikes rise 20 percent in each of the past five years.
Now the company is bringing over an odd-looking product that it hopes will attract two groups of riders: the hip who want the latest in scooter technology and those who are simply afraid of falling over.
The Piaggio MP3, as it's called in Europe, has three wheels. But, unlike other three-wheeled bikes, this one has a single wheel in back and two up front. The front wheels move up and down independently so they both maintain contact with the road as the rider leans into a turn.
When stopped, the two front wheels can be locked in place so the scooter can remain upright without a kickstand.
The three-wheel scooter isn't cheap, even for a high-end scooter. When it's released in the United States in the first quarter of 2007, it will be, by a slim margin, Piaggio's most expensive bike with a price of about $7,000.
Piaggio also sells the well-known Vespa line of scooters. Vespas retain the classic Italian scooter styling while Piaggio bikes aim for a more modern look.
"The MP3 is a flagship product for Piaggio," said Mike Kull, the company's vice-president for marketing in the United States.
With its unusual design, the bike will appeal to those interested in riding the latest technology, he said.
It will also likely appeal to novice riders worried about tumbling off a regular two-wheeled scooter. While the bike can still tip over, it is more stable in turns than a regular two-wheel scooter, especially at low speeds.
Having two wheels in front, each with its own disc brake, also gives the bike greater stopping power, according to the company, and better traction on imperfect road surfaces.
The Piaggio three-wheeler has a one-cylinder, 22.5-horsepower engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission. It has a top speed of about 77 miles per hour, according to the company.
Although there's no strict definition, scooters are, basically, motorcycles designed primarily for use on city streets. They have automatic transmissions and are designed to have a low center of gravity for greater maneuverability. Their engines are fully covered, unlike a motorcycle engine, which is usually exposed.
Scooters are also generally less expensive than motorcycles with the most expensive scooters, like this one, costing about as much as the least expensive motorcycles.
Scooter sales in the United States have more than doubled in the past five years, according to data from the Motorcycle Industry Council. In 2005, an estimated 113,000 were sold here.
CNN's Ali Velshi and Todd Bonin contributed to this report. Watch CNN's American Morning on Thursday, Sept. 28, to see Velshi take the MP3 for a test ride.