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A Brace of Phantoms

Road test by Dick Henneman

 

Back in the seventies and eighties, Malaguti was synonymous with small capacity motorbikes and scooters, but over the last decade the name has almost disappeared into oblivion here in the UK. However, a new distribution deal with E P Barrus looks like injecting new life into the brand for this Bologna-based company that first started making motorbikes back in 1948.

We got our hands on a blue 125cc and a silver 200cc scooter from the Phantom Max range and put them through their paces.

click for a larger imageBoth machines follow the same set of styling cues, the most obvious being the twin projector headlamps and the digital instrument panel, and in fact both are exactly the same overall length, although strangely the 125 has a 10mm shorter wheelbase. Put a 125 and a 200 side by side and apart from the badges by the seat and some detail differences in the swingarm area, you'd have a job to tell one from the other.

As far as fittings are concerned, there's useful bag hook behind the front fairing for carrying those essential supplies back from the supermarket, and a small cubbyhole with a spring-loaded cover for the odd petrol receipt, or maybe for a set of designer shades for that "cool-Italian" look. There's also a panel that you can remove to get access to the fuses and the coolant header tank for maintenance.

The three dial instrument cluster has analogue petrol and water temperature gauges either side of a central multi-function digital display. As well as giving you engine revs and road speed, it can also show the time, battery volts, air temperature, miles covered and how far there is to go until the next service is due.

But like all scooters, the instruments are mounted well below the eye-line for normal riding, so you have to make a conscious effort to look at them. Not a good idea when you're manoeuvering through traffic, when the last thing you need to do is take your eyes off the road. On the plus side the large bar-mounted mirrors give a superb view of what's behind and to the side, so you'd be better off looking at these rather than watching your speed and revs as you fight you way to the front of the queue.

click for a larger imageIn order to keep the weight as low down as possible, Malaguti have mounted the engines horizontally in both scooters, and to further lower the C of G the fuel tank is underneath the footboards. Both these factors as well as the comparatively long wheelbase, go a long way to make the Phantom Max very stable while on the move, although surprisingly the scooters are still very maneouverable.

The fuel filler is behind a locking cover between the footboards. There's a large amount of storage space beneath the locking seat, in fact according to the labels you can get two "Jet"-style open face helmets under here. However, it's too shallow to hold even one full-face helmet, but there again, can you imagine the syle-conscious Italians wearing anything but an open-face helmet on a scooter? The seat is well padded and there's plenty of room for both the rider and pillion to travel in comfort. The pillion also has excellent handholds either side of the tailpiece.

There's a useful security loop welded to the frame on both scooters to make it easy to chain them to large immovable objects, and they are also fitted with both centre and side stands. However the starter won't turn if the side stand's down, which I personally found a bit annoying at times. A nice touch was the rear hugger which was a great help in keeping a lot of the road dirt off the back of the scooter.

Although there's little to distinguish between the two sizes of scooter visually, get them both on the move and that extra 75cc makes all the difference.

click for a larger imagePress the starter button on the Phantom Max200 and there's no mistaking the fact that this is a single-cylinder machine. There's plenty of low-down torque from the engine, which allows the automatic clutch to bite at what seems very low revs and pull away cleanly from rest. The throttle action is very smooth and progressive, which makes for easy progress both through the traffic and along the open road, but it's also a lot of fun to give it a big handful away from the lights and watch everything else disappear behind you as you sprint up to around 50mph.

From here the acceleration eases off, but the engine still pulls willingly up to around 70. At this speed the front wheel feels planted and everything is solid and stable. Past 70mph, and the acceleration really begins to fall off as the digital speedo counts upward more slowly than a clock ticks off the seconds. I managed to see 80mph before having to back off and brake hard for a roundabout, and there was probably a further 5-10mph left to come, given another half-a-mile of dual carriageway. But the Max200 wasn't really happy at this speed. The front was beginning to feel a bit light and "skittish", probably due to the "sail effect" of the my arms on the bars, and the engine was starting to get out of breath, in spite of there still being plenty of revs left on the dial. But this sort of speed is not really what a scooter's all about, and you'd be far better backing off to around 70, and it would cruise all day at this speed, even two-up.

By contrast, the Phantom Max125 was a much more revvy beast. It needed a good handful of revs to get the clutch to bite although it still took up smoothly, launching the scooter rapidly to around 40mph, and then slowing its acceleration to around 55mph, before finally creeping up to a maximum speed of 68mph. The smaller bike always felt stable and planted at all speeds, which is not too surprising given the similarities of the two chassis. Two-up riding made everything a little harder work, and probably 55mph would be a good cruising speed for the Max125.

click for a larger imageWhen it came to stopping there was very little if anything to choose between the two. The braking systems on both are identical and as there's only 4kg difference in weight, there's nothing really in it. The brakes were well able to cope with the speeds that both scooters could do, and at 80mph the Max200 pulled up smoothly and firmly with only two fingers on each lever and the usual rear-bias that's common to all scooters. Although having said that, the front brake is surprisingly effective on its own.

Given their size, both scooters handled very well, being maneouverable through the traffic and still fast and stable out on the open road. They can be thrown around corners with enthusiasm, but look out for the centre stand touching down on left-handers, especially on the Max200. The standard forks at the front, along with a conventional rear swingarm with twin spring/damper units give a suspension system that was firm yet compliant, and took bumps and road irregularities in its stride. On one quick right-hander I hit a pothole at around 45mph while well-leant over, and although I certainly felt it through the bars, the Max200 stayed on track with no shakes or shimmies. For two-up travel, there's a quick and simple preload adjustment for the rear suspension.

The build quality of both models of the Phantom Max was excellent. The paint finish was deep and lustrous and everything was well bolted together with no squeaks and rattles from the body panels on the bumpiest of surfaces. And if you want your scooter to be a little different, you can get it fitted with a luggage topcase, a windshield or a windscreen, and an electronic alarm system

So if you're in the market for a "large" scooter, then it's certainly worth looking at both of these Malagutis. The only question is whether to go for the 125, or pay the extra money for the larger 200cc model. The choice is yours, but remember that they do say that there's no substitute for cubic capacity!

DH





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