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Karma chameleon plaid

March 27, 2009
Downtown Seattle

Orin O'Neill photos

Isn’t that a great view? You can could only get it on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, at the turnout near Safeco Field (until that part got torn down in 2011 —Ed.). You’re not supposed to park there unless your vehicle has broken down. In that regard, the GTS was totally legit.

Just like last time, Wednesday evening it was running fine, then just quit. Must be karma again, because there’s no shoulder on the Viaduct, just little turnout spots that were intended to be ramps that connected directly to I-90. Didn’t happen, of course.

The Viaduct is not a place you want to hang if you can help it. I decide to sit tight for a short while. The GTS is well away from from traffic, and if I can get it started again, it’s not far to the Seneca Street exit. If it won’t start, I can call AAA and enjoy the sunset (that would be about all I can do, since there’s no way to walk off the roadway).

About 10 minutes pass. I crank the throttle hard and hit the start button. It starts!

To be safe, I get off at Seneca. Things seem okay going north on 1st Avenue, and nothing happens at the Denny/Western/Elliott kinks.

Approaching the Magnolia Bridge, it quits, exactly the same way it did before. Ughhh!

I can shuffle into the parking lot of a business that’s closed for the night. Hello, AAA. The representative says it’ll be at least two hours, possibly three, before someone can fetch the GTS and me. The tilt-bed wreckers are busy this evening, she explains.

Okay, not much to be done except go to the Starbucks down the street and get a mocha. And an apple fritter.

Two hours later, I get a call from Bill, the AAA wrecker guy. He’ll be at the bike in 10 minutes, he says. I will be there to greet you, I say.

Thank goodness for AAA

Bill tells me he has the biggest tilt-bed wrecker in AAA’s fleet. I always get a chuckle thinking of a little scooter tied to a gigantic truck’s bed. Tied down it is, and we’re off. Home, James… er, Bill.

In no time at all, the GTS is off the wrecker and tucked into the garage. And there’s no co-pay. The decision to get AAA Plus RV was a good one. Still, I’m bummed. An ailing GTS is something I don’t need right now.

Thursday morning, I go to the garage, insert the key, turn it, and hit the starter button.

It fires right up.

Okayyy, let’s take a spin around the block. It’s more like five or six blocks, but everything seems okay. How ’bout we go down to Alki, then?

It quits right where Admiral Way curves downhill. Crap. At least I can coast into a cross street and park. And it’s not too long of a walk home. I’m thinking, this is something that might only happen when the bike is warmed up, so letting it sit for a few hours might at least make it possible to get it close enough to home to push.

I return to find the GTS upright and intact, though honestly I wouldn’t have been too upset if it were missing, or had been creamed by an errant SUV. It starts on the third attempt, and runs the whole way home. Perusing Modern Vespa showed a consensus—disconnect the battery and let it sit for a half hour or so, which should reboot the ECU.

I disconnected the battery and went to run my errand at IKEA. That should take at least an hour, especially since I had a meatball craving.

It’s still light at 7:30 pm, so I reconnect the battery (it’s under the trim piece in the floorboard hump, in case you were wondering) and fire it up. It starts on the first hit.

First lap around the block(s), everything seems okay. I’ll try another lap around some different blocks.

It quits.

But it fires right back up. I do a third lap, and everything seems okay. I head toward the view of Terminal 5, all seems well. Not wishing to press my luck, I head back to the garage.

Several Modern Vespa posters mentioned bad gas, but the most recent tankful came from a place that has been trustworthy before. Still, it might not hurt to pick up a bottle of STP Gas Treatment. Among other things, the stuff is supposed to purge moisture.

I got HEET (it was cheaper), and put just a splash in the tank. One 12-oz. bottle treats 20 gallons, sez the label, so it probably isn’t a good idea to dump the whole thing into a 2.4-gallon tank.

Had to make a trip early this morning, so I decided to take the GTS. It fires right up, and runs just fine the whole way. After sitting for two hours, it started right up. Feeling somewhat confident, I take the long (long) way home. No hiccups here, either.

Time for a longer ride. From home, south on California to Uptown Espresso, then down Erskine Way and 48th to Beach Drive. Dodging the potholes and patches, the GTS runs just fine. On the short bit of smooth pavement, I crank the throttle hard. The GTS accelerates strongly, no hiccups.

Let’s stop at Alki Tully’s. It’s time to read the paper. Just one now. *Sigh!*

It now takes longer to drink a tall decaf mocha than to read the Seattle Times. At least the vending machines still dispense a copy for 50¢, even though the cover price is 75. I wonder if they’ll ever figure that out.

The GTS and a Harley. Neither are exactly parked legally...

Coffee consumed and paper read, I turn the key and hit the starter button. The GTS fires right up. Okay, now what?

After briefly considering a short run on the Spokane Street Viaduct, I head for 35th Ave SW. Apparently it’s known in the neighborhood as “I-35,” due to the near-total disregard for the 35-mph speed limit. The pavement is smooth, and if the GTS craps out again, at least I can walk home.

Throttle cranked hard, the GTS climbs the hill from Avalon Way with gusto. When the roadway levels out, I crank it again. The speedometer needle swings past 50 mph, briefly. No hesitation, no problems.

The trip north on California is uneventful. Must’ve been a bit of undigested gruel. Favicon

  1. Mark Selzler permalink
    March 27, 2009 9:03 pm

    Just a comment on a similar problem with a member’s GTS. Spark plug wire into the boot kept disconnecting. Perhaps it is loose thus causing erratic starts and stops. Hope you solved the problem with the Heet thing.

  2. March 27, 2009 11:06 pm

    Mine did this and it took months to figure out a bad relay in the handlebars which controlled the electonics, after the ignition ECU burned up. I think the GTS is over electronically engineered for it’s own good. I got sick of worrying whether it would run and my wife, normally a stoic broke into tears worrying about me stalling in Key West’s relatively modest traffic and getting killed.

    I am really enjoying carburettors on my Bonneville and my wife’s ET4. I’d suggest dumping the GTS and modifying the 150 to say a 210 Pollini and … oh hell the GTS is perfect when it runs. It’s just that sick worry about it dying all the time made me crazy. Grrr.

  3. March 28, 2009 11:07 am

    Mark, I thought of that. Wire is solidly connected at both ends. But thanks for pointing that out.

    At the time I got the GTS, there was also a GT on offer. Dark metallic gray with topcase and windscreen, for, I think, $4.4K. I dunno, I don’t have any regrets. This and the earlier incident are the only serious problems I’ve had, and while it would seem to me Piaggio would design the fuel system to be more tolerant of bad gas in light of the markets where GTSs are sold, it is what it is. For now, I’ll add a dash of HEET to the gas until the weather becomes seasonably normal (or at least not near freezing at night). If this happens in spite of treating the gas, then I have another problem.

    I know people who have Piaggio BV250s, who’ve never had any problems at all. The mechanic at the local Aprilia dealer tells me he’s never seen these kind of problems on SportCity 250s, or new Scarabeo 250s. All these bikes use the same engine, with the same ECU and same software. It saves Piaggio having to recertify if the engine configuration is identical to something they’re already using.

    The GTS’ electronic engine management system is not essentially different than what you’d find in any car, anywhere in the world. It’s proven technology, but of course that technology is dependent on the quality of the components, or possibly the software (the car companies have lots more software engineers, so they can write more code to deal with glitches).

  4. March 28, 2009 6:56 pm

    I had the same thought about the GT. I said to my wife, had I bought the 200, which was still on offer when I spent $7400 to buy the GTS (!) I’d probably still be riding a Vespa…

    Whatever it is, it’s not acceptable to me that a scooter/motorcycle not run properly and too many have had this or similar problems, for Piaggio not to have dealt with it.

  5. March 28, 2009 7:21 pm

    Having spent considerable time riding Safety Ed’s GT, on a strictly seat-o’-the-pants basis, I noticed no difference in performance between it and the GTS (and I have a hard time believing the 300 will be any different in this regard). The GT got 70 mpg, my GTS does 75-80. I just think carburetors are kludgy vs. fuel injection, and I wanted the extra front light, and an instrument cluster with a tachometer.

    Yes, ideally Piaggio should deal with this, but I’m not holding my breath, especially after reading Bryan’s analysis of the whole Piaggio situation on 2strokebuzz a while back. I think at some point in the not-too-distant future all of us modern Vespa owners are going to be on our own, for a while, anyway.

    However, I’m inclined to think a Vespa/Piaggio parts & service business might have a better chance of being viable than a chain of lifestyle boutiques. Ask anyone who owns a Peugeot car (a surprisingly large number in Seattle) about getting parts, and they’ll tell you it’s easier than getting parts for some Japanese-brand cars…

    p.s.—Took the GTS for a ride in the rain today. Twice. Each time, long enough for the coolant temperature to hit normal. No problems.

  6. Ken permalink
    March 29, 2009 12:57 am

    I am sorry to hear you are having problems on your GTS. When my ear has been to the ground, I haven’t heard of similar problems here in NZ. Rather that the maintenance schedules are strict and more expensive than a classic Vespa.

    Makes me very thankful for the simplicity and reliablility of my PX200! Just like the SS180 of old.

  7. March 30, 2009 5:45 am

    Hello Orin – sorry to hear about your scoot, but it looked like it got the royal treatment with such a large tow truck to take care of it! My motorcycle mechanic, plus others, swear by a product called “Seafoam.” It cleans out the fuel lines and carbs – if the problem is bad gas, this may help.

  8. March 30, 2009 9:50 am

    Well, Lance, I no longer think the problem is bad gas. Last night I stopped to fill the tank, and when I hit the starter button, nothing happened. The instrument cluster lit up, the lights went on, but the starter does not crank. There’s an electrical problem somewhere…

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