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Ride it like you borrowed it

May 28, 2007

“On your right,” said the voice on, well, my right. It was a bicyclist who I’d crowded slightly as I’d drifted right. Sorry, dude, I was still getting used to the GT.

What GT, you ask. Safety Ed’s GT. You, know, the one he dumped in Portland. Safety Ed’s recovery from a fractured right ulna and hairline fractures of the left thumb has gone well, but he’s still not in any condition to ride. So he asked me to take his GT out for a spin.

Sure, I guess I could force myself.

Having finally gotten his buddy to get the tools and other paraphenalia out of his garage, Safety Ed handed me the key. The bike really wasn’t seriously damaged when he dumped it, but it apparently was leaking a little oil (because it sat on its side). Still, taking a look at some things before riding it was a good idea.

It didn’t seem to be leaking any oil now, and in fact the dipstick showed plenty (remember, a GT, like all modern Vespas, is a 4-stroke; you have no dipstick in a PX because there’s no 5W-40 motor oil). I pulled the underseat storage case out to look at the top of the engine, and there was no oil path coming from the carburetor.

Ah, nostaligia, I think as I simultaneously squeeze the right brake lever and push the starter button (GTs and GTSs don’t have the useless kickstarter found on ETs and LXs). The engine fires right up, with that old familiar lawnmower-at-idle sound. I goose the throttle and the bike shudders… oh yeah, no clutch, but a Continuously Variable Transmission that is constantly engaged, spinning the rear wheel.

I try backing out of the garage, but there’s a slight upward slope and at over 300 lbs. the GT is too heavy to scuttle around when seated. Safety Ed says he always has to hop off and move it on foot. Okay… whoa, this sucker’s heavy. I’m used to a 213-lb. PX 150. I hope I don’t have to pick it up off the ground.

Safety Ed tells me I’m good on his insurance, points out the nearly full tank of gas and says, “bring it back, like, whenever.” Or words to that effect.

I pull out onto the street, and notice something that wasn’t apparent in the garage: the headset is cocked to the right, in much the same way the steering wheel of a car would be if the front end was out of alignment. And the right side mirror is showing my right jacket pocket. Hokay, I need to stop at home.

While there’s nothing I can do about the headset, I can at least adjust the mirror stem so it shows something behind me. Like most automotive companies, Piaggio often does things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. The mirror is held in place by a 17 mm jam nut, just like in a PX, and I can get to it by removing a little cover that reveals a master brake cylinder. Loosen, adjust, tighten… I’m good to go.

I’ll be meeting some of the Westenders at South Lake Union Park for yet another rehearsal of the ride they’ll be leading at Amerivespa. This will do the GT a world of good, burning lots of potentially bad gas, moving bearings, circulating lubricants and giving the battery a good charge.

This being a holiday, lots of folks showed up. Mr. Robert the hair stylist would be leading the ride, and the group also included Sidecar Evan and Molly (who doesn’t ride in the sidecar of Evan’s Stella), Ms. Honey and The Butterfly of Panama, along with her hubby and son The Star Wars Fanatic, who’d be riding on hubby’s Honda metric bike. Once our friend Chuck arrived on his GTS, we were ready to leave.

If you make it to Amerivespa, be forewarned: the Westenders’ “water ride” will be a long one. If you’ve never been to Seattle, you will see things you never knew existed. For that matter, you might see things you never knew existed even if you’ve lived here all your life.

We’re heading east on Boyer Avenue. The GT’s cushy suspension and 12-inch wheels make the ride on Boyer’s heaved, cracked pavement merely unpleasant, instead of truly awful as it would be on the PX.

You twist the right handgrip on a GT, and it goes. No need to worry about conserving momentum, no worries ascending a hill if you find it necessary to stop in the middle. No worries keeping up with the group, either.

While you’re very much aware of the PX’s engine, at times the GT seemed to run silently. At worst, it gives off a whirr like an electric motor, making power that I kept wanting to compare to creamy nougat.

Let’s not forget the brakes. Twin hydraulic discs haul the GT down really quickly if you need to, but they’re very easy to modulate, for those times you need a little dab of front or rear brake to adjust your line through a corner.

I rode a GT once when the model first came out, but that was a brief encounter on a rainy day. The more time I spent on Safety Ed’s, the easier it felt to ride. It even seems to have more compression braking effect descending hills, though the larger, wider tires probably help there, too.

On several occasions I happened to look at the speedometer and saw I was going 45-50 mph. I’m thinking, this would’ve been nice to have last weekend on the way to Port Angeles.

The only real problem seems to come from the mid-height windscreen Safety Ed installed. It generates turbulence that I found was actually pulling me forward!

The ride ended at Hamilton Viewpoint, the sun shining brightly and Elliott Bay a deep blue that contrasted nicely with the downtown skyline.

“So, has riding Safety Ed’s GT convinced you that you require one, too?” asked our friend Chuck.

“I was convinced long before this,” I replied. Right now, all that’s keeping me from making one of those 300-mile Craigslist specials mine is an acute lack of money. Favicon

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