Aside from “How many miles per gallon do you get?” and “How fast will that thing go?”, the most common discussion I have concerning the Vespa focuses on a belief that it’s great in town but you need something different for “the road”. It’s not hard to imagine the origins of this belief, at least in the United States, since almost all the marketing and promotion of scooters focuses on it’s utility in the city and frugal consumption of fuel. The marketing agencies probably recognize the equally well ensconced belief of American riders that you need a liter sized engine or larger if you plan to do any serious riding. Like riding 50 whole miles to breakfast with like minded bikers.
The reality is you can ride a scooter practically anywhere other than through deep water. The Vespa GTS 250 scooter I own will cruise all day at 70 – 75mph on the freeway (shoot me if I regularly choose that route). And on all other roads it is just fine. All day long.
So if you think a scooter is only good for running down the street to pick up groceries (which it is) think again — men and women criss-cross the continent on scooters.
I made the above photograph after descending off the Allegheny Front and heading home on a road crossing Bald Eagle Ridge. The Vespa didn’t blink being away from town. It will rip along at any legal (and some illegal) speeds making it a fine companion for anything from a Ducati to a Harley.
I’ve ridden my Vespa to a lot of places in Pennsylvania. It’s a great sightseeing machine that will take me and my gear (including food and water) anywhere I want to be. Even if it’s a muddy field that I need to traverse to photograph a tree.
Whenever I start to think about longer scooter rides I always think about two riders who have pushed the scooter envelope:
Both these fellows, and a lot of other riders, have done big rides on their scooters and saw the world in the process.
This picture was made near the village of Rock Spring. Turning off PA Route 45 I was surprised how watersoaked the field was. Luckily the turf was thick and I didn’t have to content with the mud below.
While my Vespa GTS scooter is not a dirt bike it’s fine for wandering along the thousands of miles of dirt and gravel roads in Pennsylvania. Don’t plan to jump or ride over logs or expect a soft ride when the road surface gets rough — the suspension was designed for pavement and reminds of that fact when you hit a rock or pothole unexpectedly. More aggressive tires adds more stability and feel, especially in loose gravel. If you go this route keep one thing in mind — it’s hard on the cosmetic appearance of the scooter. Lots of scooter riders, particularly Vespa riders, keep their machines glistening in every detail. Riding off the pavement will challenge that goal.
I made this photo on a road I had missed for years. I passed the turnoff many times but a new township road sign caught my eye. I must have thought it a private road in the past. The township should have added “Dead End” to the sign post. After wandering for some miles through the woods and up the side of the mountain I came to the end of the road — a big dog standing in my path probably saying in a canine thought wave, “MY property starts here.”
Luckily for me he was friendly and was content to watch me turn around and head back down the mountain.
There are moments and places that reveal themselves during a ride that cry out, “Stop, look and listen!”. I’ve encountered them many times and have learned to heed that call. The words are loudest when I’m alone and traveling slowly, the landscape more a still life than a movie, and there’s time to hear the voice and stop. Had I been racing along at 60mph I would be cresting the hill before I understood what was happening and unlikely to make a decision to turn around to see what just happened.
In this case I found a hardwood remnant from an agricultural past — those lone trees left in a field to park a team of horses in the shade when the farmer had lunch. With air conditioned cabs and working draft horses relegated mostly to Amish and Mennonite communities those trees are confusing icons to more modern visitors. One thing I hadn’t counted on when I turned off the road — the tree capturing my attention — is the field had been heavily dressed with cow manure and the recent rain had left an inch of semi-liquid manure covering the ground. Once you’re in it though what can you do. Riding up the road I let the bottoms of my boots drag along the pavement to scrape as much manure away as I could. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wash the scooter…
Some places have bad energy and unfortunately the scooter has no warning system that signals their approach. On a rare occasion I stumble into a place that feels haunted by something dark. After wandering along a narrow path through the woods I found myself beneath a railroad bridge still used by Amtrak and whatever commercial traffic crisscrosses Pennsylvania.
But something wasn’t right here. I could feel it in my bones and a little voice was telling me I don’t belong here. I made a few quick pictures but could not stop looking over my shoulder wondering when something would appear from the woods. I heard no banjo music. The Vespa scooter started and I left this place behind.
A scooter gets you off the wheel and onto the road, away from the chains of responsible living and to places where you can make choices based, for once, on what you want. Seems a rare occurrence. Never happens in the car but time and time again I find myself standing in the middle of the road wondering which way I’ll go.
I wandered this intersection for about five minutes before getting on the scooter and turning around and heading down the road to the right. When I got to this point I was planning to head straight. Mental calculations told me the right=hand route was longer and would provide more riding time.
Just a few of the things you should know about scooters — Vespa or otherwise. They’re not just good for town. They’re good for the soul…