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La Vita 150: Gone, but definitely not forgotten

March 20, 2010

La Vita 150

So many of you are still searching for information about this scooter that I decided to bring this post back from the archives. Needless to say, it has been changed since its original publication.

Please note: The La Vita 150 EFI is NO LONGER IN PRODUCTION. A source involved with the project told Scootin’ Old Skool in 2011 the Chinese manufacturer closed up shop in the face of demand that did not meet expectations. This scooter was also sold in Europe under the EU-RO name.

A big reason sales did not meet expectations was surely the complete and total lack of marketing and dealer support by Hammerhead Offroad, the U.S. importer. Unfortunately, that’s not at all unusual in the U.S. powersports biz.

But in the case of the La Vita, it seemed they wanted it to fail. Many dealers listed on the now-defunct Web site had never heard of the La Vita. Many others really didn’t seem that interested in selling it. The dealer in Portland who sold two to actor Timothy Hutton (he was in town filming the TV series Leverage) seemed to think that was enough.

I dunno, I have given up trying to decipher the thought processes that seem to dominate the U.S. scooter/motorcycle business. There are dealers doing yeoman work in the areas of marketing and customer service, and if you’re lucky enough to have one of those dealers where you live, please do whatever you can to support them. They are, however, a distinct minority.

As for the La Vita, that it was controversial was the understatement of the century, early as it is.

Scooter message boards were abuzz for months before this vintage Vespa replica debuted. It’s sacrilege, some said. It’s Chinese CRAP, said others. BTW, it’s NOT an Adly. The La Vita was built by a different company. So was the engine.

I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again: Back in the mid-1940s, Piaggio invented the modern motor scooter because it had to. Nobody had ever done anything like a Vespa 98 before. How that original Vespa turned out was as much pragmatic as romantic: it had a geared transmission because a rubber shortage made a drive belt impractical; its steel monocoque construction was what Piaggio knew best because that’s how airplanes are built; it had a 2-stroke engine because 2-strokes have way fewer parts, a serious consideration for something that sold new for 40 bucks.

Rear view

Luggage rack is standard. The locked door provides access to the battery. (Orin O'Neill photos)

Needless to say, the world has changed a lot since then. Ever fewer numbers of Americans know how to work a manual transmission, so a CVT makes the most sense. Honda’s GY6 engine design has become a de facto standard, with millions of originals (and just as many knockoffs) running around the world. Totally familiar to almost any scooter or motorcycle mechanic. Electronic ignition/fuel injection? Necessary to meet emissions standards in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, but more importantly reliable and ~100 mpg fuel-efficient.

These are the realities of the world in the second decade of the 21st Century. The marketing reality of selling scooters in the U.S. is more people will accept a scooter if it looks like an old-skool Vespa. The La Vita didn’t have to be such a faithful replica, but it was, because many of the people involved in its design were scooter enthusiasts.

But the only ones for sale today are used ones. Given its open-source design, a La Vita at the right price (i.e., cheap) could be a worthwhile purchase, and could be returned to running condition fairly easily, if for some reason it doesn’t. All the bits and pieces came off the shelf.

So how does it ride?

Well, like a modern scooter.

You will find all the usual controls in all the usual places. There’s a digital instrument cluster where you’d find the analog speedometer on a vintage Vespa (this apparently because Piaggio’s lawyers somehow thought an analog speedo would confuse people). Of course, you won’t find a clutch lever or gearchange because the La Vita has a CVT.

You start it by squeezing one of the brake levers and pushing the “start” button. At idle, it sounds like a lawnmower, just like a modern Vespa. There is a kickstart lever, but also like a modern Vespa it’s positioned in such a way you wouldn’t use it unless you really wanted to (and also like a modern Vespa, the lever won’t start the engine if the battery’s dead).

Nameplate

Adhesive nameplate on the shiny black plastic legshield.

Black La Vitas came standard with a solo saddle and a pillion pad, while other colors had a bench seat (the solo saddle was available as an accessory). There’s considerable travel in the saddle’s spring, and I found it was doing most of the work soaking up the awfulness of Dexter Avenue’s pavement.

The test example had exactly two miles on it when I began my ride, but it nonetheless pulled strongly up Florentia Street’s 4% grade. (In fact, people seem to be buying used ones for the engines.)

The La Vita brought back memories of the PX with its riding position, which like most vintage Vespas is like sitting on a wooden chair, with the handgrips kind of near your knees. Well, mine anyway. It weighs about the same as a PX150, and is just as easy to scuttle around.

The same cannot be said for its center stand, which I couldn’t make work with my partial right foot. A new centerstand was supposed to be in the works, though it obviously never became available. There is a side stand that’s very easy to use.

Fit and finish were quite good, the plastic shiny (and in the case of the ivory color, more than a little translucent).

Rear disc brake

Notice the brake caliper has two pistons, remarkable at this price point.

Oh, there are hydraulic disc brakes on both wheels. Scooters costing much more usually have a cable-actuated mechanical drum on the rear.

Let’s talk about the brakes for a minute. Everyone knows brakes are a serious weakness of vintage scooters. Not only do the La Vita’s work well (though some bedding-in will be necessary), hydraulic discs don’t have cables that need to be adjusted. Replacing the brake pads is a snap: remove the caliper, pull out the old pads, insert the new ones, reattach the caliper. I’m more than happy to accept translucent plastic if this was the tradeoff.

Let’s talk about tires. The La Vita uses 3.50-10s on both wheels. I didn’t recognize the brand, but if you don’t like the donuts it comes with (which have tread that looks like it would work in snow or mud), there are Contis, Michelins, Pirellis and God knows what else in that size. The rims are airtight, so no tubes to mess with.

For that matter, there are kits for GY6 engines. And ready-to-install GY6 engines, which are quite inexpensive.

Yes, there were stories of La Vitas self-destructing. But I’m inclined to believe that was the result of improper/indifferent setup by dealers. There used to be a La Vita in Seattle that was its owner’s only ride. He took it on a 116-mile highway ride that was part of a camping rally. It had a few thousand miles on it, when I last saw it (he moved to Las Vegas shortly thereafter). He never had any trouble with it. Just sayin’.

Oh, and someone is trying again, with a different scooter. Favicon

The details

MSRP new: $2,499
Built in: China
Construction: Steel tubular frame, plastic bodywork
Wheelbase: 54 in (1372 mm)
Length: 76.7 in (1948 mm)
Width: 29.5 in (749 mm)
Seat height: 31 in (787 mm)
Curb weight: 210 lbs (95.25 kg)
Front susp: Trailing link w/single hydraulic damper & coil spring
Rear susp: Swing arm w/twin hydraulic dampers & coil springs
Front brake: Hydraulic disc
Rear brake: Hydraulic disc
Front tire: 3.50-10
Rear tire: 3.50-10
Engine: 149cc single cylinder, air-cooled w/EFI and electronic ignition
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