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Old 03-14-2015, 11:03 PM   #1
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Old versus New

I am 57 years old. My first bike was an orange Vespa 50R my mother bought me when I was 12 in 1970. I am rather horrified to note that was 45 years ago, and even though I was two years younger than the legal minimum age to ride a 50cc, I rode that Vespa all over the central Italian hills where I spent my vacations. I was a traveler from the start.


I kept riding as I grew older, gained experience and bought my first "proper" motorcycle. It was owned by a friend of a friend and I bought it because I had the money and he had the bike and my hero Giacomo Agostini won races on a bright red MV, so I bought it and attached bags to it and I traveled all over Western Europe on it. As ridiculous as it seems I did fine with clip ons, bulky luggage and no money at all. I had no tools to repair a flat, no spare parts and I was riding a rare motorcycle by anybody's standards . I did fine.


It is perhaps because of this background that I find myself impatient when I read that one "needs" a vast spacious tourer to travel, that to ride without gear or a cell phone is the height of foolhardiness. Seeking permission from Internet strangers to test your limits seems like a waste of time to me. But I had many adventures as a young man. I hated my home life and I took off on two wheels every chance I got, fueled in part by my mother's love of motorcycles ( she died shortly after buying me the Vespa, telling me I should ride motorcycles one day. She also wanted me to become a church organist but there I let her down!). In part also a motorcycle was a cheap way to get out of Dodge. So I rode a lot.
Always with clip on handlebars, always on Italian bikes, never with a "proper" tourer. I went to Africa on my Moto Morini and traveled alone with a map and no clue. I happened upon a Berber wedding in the mountains outside Algiers, and rode through a riot in Constantine, Algeria a coastal city where an Italian engineer plucked me off the street and gave me refuge at the last minute. We drank wine and I checked his porn stash while the Algerians rioted outside the compound.



I later took off to West Africa on a Yamaha single, not the off road XT but the, to me more romantic and beautiful SR500, a road bike. I spent a few months on the road, riding in sand, falling off, meeting people, drinking Guiness and getting desperately ill in Cameroon. I loved my simple, aircooled motorbikes. I changed their oil, adjusted their valves and replaced their chains using master links with clips. It all seems so rough and ready looking back.


Little wonder then that I fell in love with the modern low maintenance Bonneville. Seven years later it is still my ideal motorcycle. It does everything and serves as my all purpose daily rider.


"It does everything..." except it doesn't scratch the scooter itch. I never lost my love of the Vespa. I was introduced to the concept of the Vespa as traveling bike by Roberto Patrignani, a man famous in Italy for his abilities as a motorcycle racer, an author and a bizarre traveler. He rode mopeds and Vespas where no one would be seen riding them.
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Old 03-14-2015, 11:18 PM   #2
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Old versus New Scooters

I met Patrignani at a motorcycle show where he autographed his book for me and assured me the Vespa is a great touring bike. Simple, strong, easy to mount and dismount, lightweight, a good carrier of balanced loads, works wide parts availability, take the Vespa he said.
So I did and I traveled from New York to California via Key West, New Orleans and Gudalajara. I traveled light, I met tons of people and saw magnificent sights and the Vespa was perfect.

I was 23 and I met an Italian woman whom I dated for seven years and with who I continue to correspond. That Vespa was responsible for a lot.

Giovanna lives in Canada now and thanks to the Web we can still keep in touch. She found a God and children: I dudn't.

So it's hardly surprising I continued to reserve some of my motorcycle love for the scooter even after owning and riding all sorts of large and powerful motorcycles, a Gold Wing, a UJM etc...
When Piaggio built the new Vespas I knew I had to have one. I told my wife I needed a scooter, so as I approached 50 I had my crisis, not a sports car but a Stella.
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Old 03-14-2015, 11:50 PM   #3
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Stella! St-e-e-ll-aa!

In 2004 I found out Genuine was importing Indian made Vespas, steel bodied with gears and front rack accessories. I had to have one and I spent $4,000 to buy one in Miami. I was as sleepless as a child at Christmas when we went to pick it up. I rode it home and soon found out I was lucky to see 50mph.


That 150cc Stella turned out not to be the greatest thing since sliced bread and canned beer. It was slow. It looked lovely but nothing held together. It broke down a lot, until the oil pump failed, the engine seized and Genuine blamed me. The embarrassed dealer bought it back for a grand and I washed my hands of Genuine, old school scooters and Indian built bikes.


Somehow I convinced my wife a Vespa GTS 250 for seven grand would make everything right and restore my connection to my past. Wrong!

I loved that GTS, it was fast, silent and the most comfortable bike I'd ever sat upon. I rode it everywhere which was when I discovered it was costly to buy but also costly to run. Tires wore out fast and the rear was impossible to disassemble at home as the bearing seized in the supporting plate.
The exhaust ate gaskets like they were going out of style. The belt had to be changed every six thousand miles and CVT was a mystery to me. I did not go near it with a wrench, it was outside my comfort zone.


I rode it a thousand miles a month. I was so happy to have Vespa I went on line to share the joy but soon I grew to detest the bulliyng I met on Modern Vespa and it's coterie of California snobs. So I created my own sand box on the web and called it Key West Vespa though it soon became apparent there's not much to talk about riding a Vespa in Flatistan. Especially when the Vespa couldn't keep up. Around 10,000 miles it started Stalling and refusing to start. Suddenly every trip was an adventure and the Vespa started to spend more time in the trailer than on the road.



Vespa Miami fiddled with this and that under warranty eventually deciding I drive it too fast and was blowing relays. My fault.

In retrospect I think I got one of the duff Chinese built fuel pumps that killed the relays but they changed the pump twice and nothing worked. I sold it at a terrible loss. I bought a Bonneville and rode reliably ever after and changed my web page became Key West Diary...
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Old 03-15-2015, 12:06 AM   #4
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I loved and still love my Bonneville but it wasn't filling the Vespa void. My wife bought herself an ET4 lightly used and sold cheap by a novice who thought Vespas were cool but who dropped it after 200 miles and sold it gratefully to us at a steep discount.

Stealing rides on the 150 convinced me an air cooled carbureted Vespa was fast and reliable and those rides convinced me also that my favorite scooter brand had some magic left.


Aside from the fact the ET4 was technically my wife's it was not a direct connection to what I was looking for. It ran send runs beautifully. It will cruise all day at 60mph. It is economical and efficient, it looks good and it is silent to operate and retains its luster. But it is a small scooter physically and it somehow doesn't quite hit the right emotional buttons even though I love to ride it. And now we live in the suburbs my wife, who used to ride it around town all the time, prefers to drive her convertible Fiat. Lucky me.

And yet there was a Vespa itch. I still loved to look at the rounded hindquarters of the Vespa two strokes. I enjoyed reading about 2stroke Vespa riders adventures. I envied people I saw touring with luggage in front and in back, rationally as preached by Roberto Patriignani.
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Old 03-15-2015, 12:31 AM   #5
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1979 Vespa P200E

I can't explain my wife but she saw my love lorn looks and she accepted that I needed another Vespa. Women are like that; sometimes they know what we need before we do. So I set about looking and found a nicely cleaned up P200 in Iowa. It was a non US model with no battery, an on/off switch for the lights, no auto lube for the oil, no reflectors as mandated on the US models. It seemed ideal I planned to ride it home 1700 miles because I knew these bikes were great tourers.
Hey they even have spare wheels!


But even though "my" Vespa looked lovely it ran like crap. It turned out later that it was out together with bodged bits and pieces, it leaked air, it seized when pushed and it couldn't run at 45 mph. "Runs strong" the ad read. Um no, it's needs a whole new rebuild. All part of my master plan.
I trailered it to Gene at Scooters Originali for a top to bottom rebuild. It took two years and $3,000.
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Old 03-15-2015, 01:04 AM   #6
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Before I sent it off for a rebuild I tried to make minor adjustments to the carburetor and fueling but it was almost cause. I didn't know it at the time but the engine was bodged and needed proper fasteners, new seals, fresh wiring, a carburetor that wasn't bent, a new clutch, and so on. I was dreaming big dreams and a half wrecked Vespa didn't fit.


It looked good with no rust and fresh paint so the opinionated on Modern Vespa thought I should "freshen it up" and leave well alone.
The trouble was I knew the P200E should be a 60 mph, utterly reliable daily rider and I figured if I got it rebuilt properly I could recreate my glory days of Vespa riding. It turns out I could...at a price. So why not just buy a simple no gear modern scooter? Well, everyone rides one of those in Key West!

I have been pondering this question, and as you can see this thread is the "what I ride is predicated on what I rode" thread. I find that there are lots of smart practical reasons to ride a scooter designed 40 years ago. Spare wheel?


Check.
Widely spaced center stand for maximum stability, and a total scooter weight of 230 pounds, easy to push up onto the stand.


Forced air cooling on a low compression, low maintenance two stroke. It has a cast iron barrel with an aluminum head requiring no head gasket. The gearbox is a direct drive from the crank so there's no chain or belt to drive the rear wheel. This layout was conceived on the original 98 cc Vespa built in 1946.

It's easy to kick start even in bare feet. Without a battery the lights run off a magneto and with no autolube you mix oil in at 2% -2.5 ounces per US gallon.
The gearbox has four ratios lubricated by 8.5 ounces if non detergent 30 weight oil, cheap and available everywhere. I buy mine at ACE.


That oil is changed every couple of thousand miles and it is the only regular maintenance required. If coke builds up in the chamber you can take the head off by loosening four nuts (torque is 12 ft/pounds when re-tightening) and scraping any carbon off the piston crown.do that once a year and you are more diligent than most.
If you need to eventually change the tires (!) no tire iron needed. Simply undo the nuts holding the rim together, pry them apart...

...pull out the inner tube and reassemble with a new tire in the rims and bolt it back on the bike, front or back, all are interchangeable.

Suspension is what it is and it's not adjustable. The ride is harsh compared to what you may be used to, and the riding position is rather weird, like sitting on a barstool with handlebars. It's comfortable but not like any motorcycle you've ridden. If you want a different seat the aftermarket for the P series has everything you could want. Bear in mind the P125 and P150 models are still being built in Italy though the 200 which does not have a parts compatible motor with the smaller Vespas' crankshafts, cannot meet emissions standards any more. But parts are widely available. The trick is to make sure they are quality parts not cheap Indian bodges. eBay is littered with cheap Vespa parts. I go to Scooterwest, Scooterworks and SIP in Germany should have a US dollar site in English. They also produce excellent SIP tutorials on U Tube with hilarious Sgt Schultz type voice overs. I find them invaluable. SIP is your vintage friend.
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Old 03-15-2015, 01:22 AM   #7
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Old versus New

Compared to a modern scooter a P200 is slow though it can be made faster with accessories but it won't be as economical as a modern four stroke. It will, when set up correctly run all day, but it needs to be set up and nowadays even though parts are available it takes time money and skill to know how to get the P series to that state of original grace. Many youngsters like to play with their bikes, few keep them stock and not all of them know how to set them up for reliability in the first place.

Storage is minimal on an old P200. Under the seat you have the fuel tank, in this case with no oil tank.



The main fuel tank is 1.5 gallons/6 liters with half a gallon/2 liters in reserve. Expect to go 90 miles before having to switch over to reserve. Manually:



The black button is the manual choke. The bag hook is the original now seen on many modern scooters. The main storage is behind the leg shield. I use it to store the multi tool to remove the spark plug and dismount the wheels and split the rims. I also store oil and my measuring cup:



But it's not like the space you get under the seat on modern scooters. The sturdy front leg shield does allow for a front rack to be mounted when needed which can be very helpful. Also a top case at the back be useful for commuting.
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Old 03-15-2015, 01:29 AM   #8
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I see that I am not the only one up in the middle of the night

Very interesting story

The whole Old vs New thing interests me. As I look back to my "old' bikes, those from the 80s, they stack up pretty good compared to my newer bikes. In some ways they were better, in others the new ones are better. In the end however it is the smile that a bike puts on your face that counts and obviously for you that is your Vespa.
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Old 03-15-2015, 02:00 AM   #9
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Old versus New



So, given all that, what's it like to ride the old versus the new? First of all you will stand out. The stock muffler is still louder than an almost silent modern four stroke. The gears allow you to raise the rpm, then change gears with a loud "chuck!" And the revs drop as you take off in a higher gear. That sound is completely unlike a modern automatic. In the looks department your ride stands out, especially if it has an "antique" license plate (Florida allows them on vehicles 30 years old and they are a distinctive shade of blue).



To ride the old scooter vibrates especially below 50 mph where it has it's sweet spot. The clutch on the left handlebar requires quite a reach and will give your hand carpal tunnel exhaustion at first especially around town. The front brake is wooden to put it politely. The rear brake operated by foot pedal will lock up the rear wheel by contrast. Also the ease of use compared to the gorilla grip of the front brake lever makes it much easier to just stomp the pedal...



The gears will shift silently from time to time when you get it just tight and that's cool but most of the time it's the cadence of the engine going up and down punctuated by the clunk of the gear box. Great fun.

Under way the front end is light, wandering is easy especially in crosswinds. The engine and your backside press down in the rear wheel. Some people say the engine mounted on one side makes the bike lean noticeably but I don't see that. In every photo though you will see the back wheel firmly planted on the ground, with the front in the air thus:



Acceleration up to 50 is brisk and can startle car drivers as they watch your blue plate and blue smoke waft away. Fourth gear lacks punch. It's best to pull third gear all the way to 45 to launch fourth gear if you want speed. I imagine hills will kill speed and I know headwinds do. Sometimes I lay down to reduce frontal area (ah youth!) yet once up to speed, say 55, it will hold it even if I sit up. I've seen 66mph (105 Km/h) down a slight incline with the wind at my back. However I am still dialing in the correct air/fuel mixture so I tend to keep varying the throttle settings to avoid over heating the piston as I did 400 miles ago when I welded a ring to the piston at 62 mph Wide Open Throttle. It is easy to install a new piston with patience, a torque wrench and an hour of your time. And 300 bucks for parts and cylinder cleaning and shipping of it all to Scooterwest! Parts are really not expensive and the Internet makes obtaining them easy.

On the whole riding an old Vespa is like flying a biplane I imagine. Why do it when you can spend a few thousand and buy a modern GT 200 for three or four grand and ride at 75mph in comfort with no fear of seizing? I guess in the end if I have to explain you won't get it. Yet I feel connected to this old P200, like my old dog from the pound. I wonder what Cheyennes life was like before I got her?



I am pretty sure she wasn't allowed on the furniture, or in the kitchen, nor was she taken for rides in the car. I doubt anyone owned my Vespa with extravagant plans such as are brewing in my head...

I don't want a Piaggio 350, that would be too easy to ride over the horizon. I want to fiddle with my old girl, maybe give her a freer flowing exhaust, get a steady comfortable 55 as a cruising speed, a little more torque up hills. The next year will be one of testing and trying bad enjoying and maybe later I will reconnect with the world my P200 brings to mind each time I kick it to life, smell the warm rubber and oily exhaust and listen to the clunk of the gearbox, and the putt-putt of the overrun. Bliss never known with an automatic.

My brother-in-law courted my sister on his old Vespa 50 years ago

And he still owns it though he resents the helmet law so badly he won't ride any more. He just encourages his grandson.



I relate to that place when I ride the P200, not the ET4 nor the Bonneville. Say it's in my head and so it is but that makes the emotion of riding the noisy vibrating slow Vespa no less real.
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Old 03-15-2015, 04:39 AM   #10
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Thanks for staying up and entertaining us. I'm sticking with my automatics - don't want to start a Vespa addiction. The temptation is always there.
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Old 03-15-2015, 05:21 AM   #11
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Thank you conchscooter.
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Old 03-15-2015, 05:43 AM   #12
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Very cool. I love to see enthusiasm no matter what someone rides, espescially the old Vespas which I hope to have time for when I retire. Enjoy, man!
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Old 03-15-2015, 05:47 AM   #13
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Thanks for a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed your story and the pictures. You don't need to explain to me, I get it. This passion, like any passion, is very deep seeded. There is a clear connection, an emotional connection, to your childhood, to people you loved, places you've been, people you've met. It totally makes sense.

When I was in Florida last week I thought of you down in Key West. Too far to drive, especially with three kids in tow. And I was reminded of you again in Sarasota when a P200 pulled up behind me.

Again, a great read. I appreciate you taking the time to share your story (or at least part of it). Sounds like you married a wonderful woman. My wife is much like yours, she knows me. I wouldn't have bought my first scooter had my wife not encouraged me to get one. My wife has put up with a lot of seemingly irrational behaviour. For example, how many wives would be okay with their husband storing a beloved bike (in my case a pristine, new-to-me Honda C70) in the kitchen?

All the best,

Rob
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Old 03-15-2015, 06:18 AM   #14
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Great read!

You've had an interesting journey. Glad you found your old love again!
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Old 03-15-2015, 06:32 AM   #15
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I saw this thread getting bumped a lot and got curious.
GLAD I popped in, what a great read! Love the pics too.
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