A couple weeks ago I left the house on a damp morning with no goal other than to find breakfast. For me, that’s how to ride a Vespa scooter — without limits or preconceived notions of what it was designed to do or how it can perform. At the most basic level, the scooter can do almost anything you want it to do.
This post isn’t about technique. I won’t discuss lines or counter steering. There will be nothing on braking technique or road awareness. Learn those things from experts and through enlightened practice. What I want to do here is suggest a few things to broaden the riding experience.
I know motorcycle riders who think in terms of performance. Their descriptions feel like there’s a competition between them and the road — how fast they can travel, how aggressively they can chew through curves, how smoothly they can overtake obstacles in their path. While I’m certain there are Vespa riders who share this approach, I don’t know any personally.
When I think about riding a Vespa, it’s about an experience of the world. And it starts with your eyes wide open.
When I’m riding I see things, smell things and feel things. Things in the world around me as I travel down the road. While I do pay close attention to the road and the necessity to handle the machine and environment in a safe manner, my riding style is neither aggressive or demanding in the way some motorcycle riders must embrace. Instead, riding a Vespa is about being in the world and connecting with it.
Being alive and riding (or walking) through the world provides a rush for those able to slow enough to feel it. Riding a Vespa has changed my life and opened my eyes to the details of place and time. It’s allowed me to see and feel that the glass is half full.
An example of the kind of ride that provides a rich experience appears in The Price of Better Pictures.
On this particular morning I was able to watch the world change from a damp, gray wetness to a bright sunny day as the scooter and I wandered through Penns Valley.
While I have no statistics of the Amish population in our area the evidence of growth is everywhere along the winding roads that I love. Homes and farms once replete with electric lines and vehicles now reflect the spare, simple signifiers of Amish life — buggies and laundry on lines and well tended vegetable gardens.
Like so many standout trees in this part of Pennsylvania, I’ve likely photographed this one several dozen times over the years. It looks no different now than the first time I saw it 45 years ago. The only difference is a Vespa rather than a VW Beetle in the photo.
Riding a Vespa has a special power to allow me to think. The experience swells beyond the technical action of piloting the machine. It becomes a platform for something more. I shared some of that in a post called Just Thinking.
This horse doesn’t look like those in a team pulling a plow or hauling a buggy down the highway. He was too well groomed to be a work horse. And his squeals and nickering indicated a more anxious temperament than you would expect from a horse that’s working and around people all the time. I could be wrong. But that well mowed strip along the electric fence doesn’t exactly scream Amish either.
I can’t fully articulate the satisfaction felt from these small moments of observation that collect during a ride on the Vespa. They are part of the unexpected joy of riding. It’s as if riding sets you free.
I can’t tell anyone how to ride a Vespa scooter. The experience is unique to the rider. It doesn’t matter if you have a scooter or a motorcycle, the ride will reflect what you bring to it — your skills, desires and expectations. If you’re lucky, things will all line up to provide some profound revelation.
What I can do is share my own experience riding a Vespa and hopefully provide a jumping off point for other riders to explore their own experience. And for those people with a Vespa parked in their garage, thinking it’s limited to short trips to the grocery store or a weekend ride around town, perhaps they might reconsider the power to explore more expansively. The Vespa really can take you farther than you might imagine. If the Amish can tool around with one horsepower, you should be able to go a bit further.
I finally found breakfast in Millheim, Pennsylvania at the Inglebean Coffee House. And I learned a little more about how to ride a Vespa scooter.