Kymco, the Taiwanese company, makes its debut in the high-performance maxi scooter business with the AK 550. With a two-cylinder engine, an inclination for running at high RPM, a frame worth of a sports bike, and first-class equipment. I wasn’t personally excited about this model at first, but then I let it run and…
“I quite like it”. That’s the first thing I thought when it came out of the bike shop. The look of the two headlights, frowning and aggressive at the same time, underlined by the side lights, and the profile of the fairing, the tail, and the rear optical unit that had that certain something that caught my eye. With everything being full LED, of course. Furthermore, the exhaust pipe, formed by a single element but with two exits.
And then the technical equipment. There’s the aluminium swingarm, with a single side shock absorber fully visible. The Brembo braking system, with two Brembo calipers that are used also on supersport bikes and the double 270 mm disc. Not to mention about the upside-down fork, a detail missing on many motorcycles, with its 41 mm forks. And then the 15″ wheels, that suggests that engineers wanted to give stability to this scooter, pretty much a roaring bike behind its appearance.
And just like motorcycles, the AK 550 has its engine located in the centre of the vehicle, set in the frame. The clutch has disappeared from the swingarm, moved on the body of the engine, to reduce unsprung masses, those that oscillate with the wheel making it harder for the suspension to work properly, to the best of its capabilities.
The AK 550 retains the line and practicality of the scooter, protecting passengers with its body, and offering both a load compartment under the saddle and two storage boxes behind the shield. However, apart from the continuous belt drive with variable speed, from a mere cycling perspective we have a motorcycle here.
The AK 550 retains the line and practicality of the scooter, protecting passengers with its body, and offering both a load compartment under the saddle and two storage boxes behind the shield. However, apart from the continuous belt drive with variable speed, from any other point of view we are effectively in presence of a bike.
You are in a hurry, and you start to realise the true nature of the AK 550
A brief explanation from the representative of the dealership, in order to show me the operation of the electronic key and the rotary control on the handlebars, and I’m ready to go.
The engine reactiveness is very sharp. It responds vigorously just by touching with a sense of urgency to throttle inputs, and revs up easily, with a transmission calibrated to make it always work close to the optimal rpm, placed at around 5500 rpm.
What leaves me unimpressed at first is the saddle. With such a rigid suspension, I feel a little “above” rather than “inside” the scooter. Do I have to be brutally honest? I didn’t like it during those early moments. I felt uncomfortable, in an atypical position, that didn’t give me the relaxation that I would have expected from a vehicle intended for everyday use.
I park the scooter at home, I have other things to focus on and time flies. A little too quickly, actually: I realise I’m late for the gym, so I now have to run. I jump aboard, throw the bag between my legs and drive assertively – a bit too much maybe – for the 6 miles between my house and the gym.
When I get there, I turn off the engine, pull the centre stand and I silently watch the AK 550 while it signals the shutdown of the panel. I had fun like a kid in a candy shop!
Later on, when I get home, I’ll let it dance again between bends, revving up the engine and understanding the true nature of this supersport vehicle created by Kymco specifically to enter the segment of high-performance maxi scooters.
I want it!
A sporting scooter – almost – without compromise
At first there only was the Yamaha T-Max, at the time of its inception a 500cc then bored up to 530cc. Then came the Gilera/Aprilia 800 and the BMW C 600 Sport. However, no one has managed to scratch the commercial dominance of the T-Max until today. Here now comes the AK 550, admittedly very close to the Japanese competitor, but with an engine that might suggest a stronger sporting personality.
It’s indeed 20cc bigger, reaching 51 horses of power, six more than the T-Max. What changes, however, is the inclination of the engine to run at higher rpm, because the maximum power regime on the AK 550 rises to 7500, against the competitor’s 6750 rpm. And even the torque, from 5250 rpm of the Yamaha model, increases to 5750 rpm; but it falls in absolute value, decreasing from 53 to 51.5 Nm.
So the AK 550 is more powerful but has less torque than the competitor, and to work properly, it needs to rev up. And the transmission is tuned to take care of this: as soon as it starts, engine revs immediately increase.
We’re talking about a supersport scooter with very few shortcomings, to be clear. The comfortable details are there, right where you need them. There’s, for example, a sizeable under-seat compartment, where you can fit a full-face and a jet helmet. Two compartments behind the protection fender are also present, one of them being equipped with an electrical outlet to charge and power your smartphone. And there are heated grips, too.
Another pleasant surprise comes from the Nodoo System integrated with the instrumentation. Basically, an interface with your smartphone, which allows you to bring a series of info on the screen, including the sat-nav. And for those who just can’t quit their social interactions, on the central display you can read emails and WhatsApp messages, notifications and music tracks you are playing via Spotify. You can do all of this by selecting views with your thumb. The display, though, allows you to read and scroll information only when the vehicle is stationary. Thank goodness, they thought about it!
As far as the rest is concerned, some nice details are the fake key system in the centre of the handlebar, from which the switchgear is switched on and off, the saddle opening unexpectedly upwind, and the fuel filler cap, in addition to the steering lock. All this, of course, if you hold the electronic key in your pocket or in the front right-hand storage compartment. Don’t keep it in the saddle, mind you, because you risk that the antenna cannot read it anymore, and if that happens.. you’re going to need another key.
On the saddle: optimised for medium height
When you’re sitting on the saddle, as mentioned earlier, you’ll find yourself in a somewhat unusual position for a scooter, a bit high to be specific. A suitable position, however, to better manage the sporty driving, and on which you can partly intervene by raising or lowering the rider’s backrest.
If you have long legs, you’re going to encounter some problems: during low-speed manoeuvres the handlebar bumps into the driver’s knees, forcing him to move your leg to make room for the handlebars. Ergonomics were definitely conceived for a smaller rider than I am. Fortunately, after a while the movement becomes automatic.
The passenger sits in a comfortable position and doesn’t suffer too much noise since this is stronger in the front area, where you can feel the engine intake.
The windshield, adjustable on two positions, is definitely well designed, and I always kept it in the lowest position. Too bad that if you need to lift it, as can happen if you run into a thunderstorm, you need to find an Allen key to do so. But does it matter on a scooter with a sporty attitude? in few words: it doesn’t!
Sure, it’s still a scooter at low speeds, but when things get faster…
At last, let’s get to the driving part. As long as you’re driving at a slow pace, the AK 550 looks like a normal scooter, with slightly stiff suspension. The best part comes when you start to push harder. When you decide to draw precise trajectories and keeping them carefully managing the throttle. In this situation, you can rely on a reassuring stability and precision, that invite the driver to keep the engine revving.
The Brembo brakes work extremely well, on par with those of a sporting motorbike, and are well tuned with a sustained front suspension.
The pace can then go up, because after you’ve taken the AK 550 in wide curves, you can try to brake hard and then turn in the tightest curves. Eventually finding out that yes, the scooter can do it. Even with a passenger, who still feels reassured by the wide saddle and the two rear handles.
You’ll end up reaching a pace worthy of a sporting motorbike, as it happened to me several times, leaving stunned the other motorcyclists on the road.
Is there a limit? Rather than a limit, so to speak, there’s a characteristic of this scooter that must be accepted: a certain directional inertia. Will it be the weight? I believe it might be a precise design choice to give it stability on the fast? It’s not extremely agile in the sudden changes of direction, which must be negotiated with using a very decisive input. On the other hand, it never pays back with a loss of grip at the front or unexpected behaviour. In short, the scooter wants a firm hand: in return, the driving experience is very pleasant.
As for driving on wet roads, unfortunately, I’ve had the chance to try the AK for quite a long time under these conditions. Every time I went out to shoot the video of the road test, as a matter of fact, monsoonal storms happened. So much so that a video just couldn’t be filmed. However, apart from spending a fortune on valeting, I could witness that the scooter is good even under the rain, despite the lack of traction control. There is the option to choose a “rain” map, but frankly, I could not feel the difference between the two modes.
The full LED lighting system works well. The rear light unit is always clearly visible, while the double front headlight at night gives a perfect view of the road. And during the day the daytime running lights work just as well. An accessory that greatly improves the visibility of the vehicle on the road.
In conclusion, let’s talk about consumption: despite spirited driving, I always hit 59 mpg, as promised by the factory. Not bad at all!