Reader’s Ride: Key West Vespa(s), part 3
If you’re just joining us, guest author Michael Beattie, aka Conchscooter of Key West Diary fame, concludes his story of old-skool Vespa ownership following the jump. You can catch up by reading part 1 and part 2.
To summarize: In Part 1 I wrote about my history with Vespas and my nostalgic yearning for a return to the small wheeled wonders of my youth. In Part 2 I described my purchase of a distant 1979 P200E and its restoration to as-new factory stock. Here I will discuss what’s good and what’s bad about riding old-skool in modern traffic.
I’ve been riding motorcycles and Vespas since 1970. I have traveled widely by motorbike: across Europe where I grew up, twice in Africa, and across the U.S. I have always preferred to commute on two wheels. I have even commuted through the snow though I am well over that by now, living in the southernmost tip of the Continental U.S.
I have a lot of experience. I am not a dirt bike rider, I have never ridden a race track, but for me getting on a bike and riding out of town is no big thing. Indeed, I love traveling by motorcycle or Vespa!
My commute consists of 23 miles of flat, mostly straight highway across the Florida Keys, and the biggest natural obstacle tends to be headwinds. On my Triumph Bonneville, no problem; on my 12-hp Vespa they knock five or so miles an hour off my attainable speed. I bought the P200E because I wanted a top speed around 63 miles per hour to cope with traffic that routinely travels between 55 and 60. The P125 and P150 are just too slow for my taste and my needs, and I did not want to ride a heavily modified Vespa to gain speed and lose reliability.
In that I have been successful and the P200 keeps up fine with highway traffic. Most people seem to travel quite slowly around here, enjoying the scenery and the ocean views. On my motorcycle I have a tendency to speed and pass, and that tends to get noticed by the law. (No “professional courtesy?” —Ed.)
Speed is one thing but slowing down is quite another. The P200’s drum brakes are not up to much. The front is wooden and the rear (operated by pedal) easily locks up. I would love a front disc conversion but at close to a thousand bucks that will have to wait. Consequently, I have to ride conservatively, leave room and pay extra close attention as I simply cannot stop on a dime like you can on a modern scooter.
The other thing is that this scooter vibrates and makes noise. It is not a smooth magic carpet ride like my wife’s 4-stroke ET4 150. The gearbox clunks and the stock exhaust goes pop-pop-pop on overrun. The P200 has to be kick started; there is a choke, and because it doesn’t have an oil pump I have to mix 2-stroke oil with the gasoline when I fill up. A bit of a production at the pumps, for sure. I usually keep a five gallon jug of mixed fuel/oil (2.6 ounces of oil to the US gallon) at home.
One other thing is that this old scooter has almost no storage built in. There is a large glove box behind the leg shield which is three quarters full of two stroke oil, tools, rags and stuff I use. There is a bag hook under the front of the seat but I have added a rather unsightly, large tail bag to the rear rack. It’s waterproof, and fits a helmet or my lunch and man purse when I am riding to work.
I also have a set of Frogg Togg waterproofs as summer rains in the Florida Keys come at random and come hard. Gas mileage is about 60 mpg riding at highway speeds.
I have ambitious plans to tour Florida with this scooter, and as a touring bike the two stroke Vespa is fantastic. As long as you can enjoy speeds under 60mph, that is. Consider how easy it is to mount, no lifting a leg to get on or off. The center stand is wide set and will hold the 230-lb (104-kg) scooter securely on almost any surface. I have the optional front rack to secure extra fuel and a bag for a long trip if I need more storage and I also have a rather clever plug (http://modcharger.co.uk/) which will keep my iPhone charged while I ride. I am set!
I admit, this Vespa is a nostalgia kick for me, I’m 57 going on 16 when I ride this blue smoke special around town. I actually enjoy carrying light bulb spares, fiddling with the cables and changing my own tires under the watchful gaze of my cheerful old Labrador. It’s a bonding experience for her too sharing my oily hands and blue language when the wrench slips on a nut and I start to bleed. I am having a blast in short and my Bonneville is in reserve for long trips, more Iron Butt rides and the like as time allows.
I am into this scooter for probably $6,000 over two and a half years, the cost of a new and very fast GTS300. Whether or not that’s worth it for you is entirely another matter but I paid as I went and its mine free and clear and running well. Besides which, having had the benefit of a thorough professional restoration I am able to manage the modest mechanical maintenance required of this machine. I quite surprised myself removing the head and cylinder and rebuilding them with a new piston and then having the machine run flawlessly!
This Vespa is a keeper and I have no plans to ride it exclusively nor to sell it before I die. As long as it’s fun and that front drum brake doesn’t kill me, I’m good!
—Michael Beattie, aka Conchscooter keywestdiary.com