Friday, April 3, 2009

Vespa Commute

I've found that it doesn't much matter which vehicle I use to get to work, be it the car, the motorcycle or my wife's Vespa 150. I pretty much have to leave the house by ten minutes after the hour to get to work by ten minutes before the hour, door to door. The only exceptions are middle of the night rides for overtime when I'm on the Overseas Highway when most people are one hopes, asleep. Those are the times I can ride straight through and knock a few minutes off the commute. Passing doesn't do much overall, as one tends to get held back further up the road by another clump of cages ambling along admiring the scenery and failing to get a move on. Of course passing is fun but that's another sotry.So I decided to be a bit more conscious of the differences between commuting by Triumph or by Vespa ET4 on my 26 mile stretch of Highway One. I enjoy riding the Vespa and as my wife has been having some work related shoulder problems she hasn't left it at work and I've been taking advantage of it under the house to ride it around a bit. The ET4 has become something of a Vespa classic as it was the first automatic four stroke Vespa built by the company known for it's manual shift two stroke workhorses. At the time it was a radical Vespa and thus much criticized by a lot of people including myself.My wife's alabaster 2004 150cc is no longer built though the engine and transmission are still used in it's replacement the LX 150 (LX is 60 in Roman Numerals and is designed to denote the Italian factory's 60th anniversary). The LX 150 has an eleven inch front wheel which has to make the front end of the Vespa a lot less twitchy, and I have to say that's the first thing I notice when I transition from the Bonneville to the ET4, the front wheel feels very light. Which doesn't stop me from riding it altogether too fast, shown here indicating 56 uphill over the Niles Channel bridge:The distinctive oval headlight is reproduced in the slightly weird flying saucer shaped handlebar cover which contains the speedometer, fuel gauge and a selection of idiot lights. The headlight is quite powerful enough for night riding which is good for me as half my commute is in the dark. I have always enjoyed having a windshield on my motorcycles, and I use a 22 inch Parabellum on the Triumph. For the Vespa I bought an Italian Cuppini shield which isn't very big but it does push much of the wind aside and seems to make the scooter a little faster on the flat. However a full size windshield on a scooter with just twelve horsepower would rob it of a lot of speed especially into the wind so this has to be a compromise. My wife likes it and notices the relief it gives from wind in her chest too.We bought the ET4 in 2005 for around $3500 as I recall, when our house was worth a lot more too, halcyon days! It had 240 miles on the clock and was fully accessorised, with top case, floor mat lock and helmet. I think the woman who owned it dropped it at slow speed as we subsequently found a minor dent in the steel leg shield and I suspect she simply lost her nerve. Her loss is our gain and we now have nearly 6,000 miles on this little gem:

I was buzzing home from work last weekend and I got stuck behind a car doing just around 50 something miles an hour (the Vespa speedo is about ten percent optimistic). The big drawback to a 150cc engine is that it is almost impossible to pass a vehicle that is just under the limit. Sometimes the distances are just too short and other times the asshole, realising he is being passed by a moped, speeds up and makes for a chaotic moment on the highway. In this case I stopped at the gas station at the end of my street to fill up (1.7 gallons/ 7 liters of premium) and the car I had been tailing pulled up too. The driver got out and started staring at the scooter.

"How many miles to the gallon do you get? " he asked, the usual opening question.

"About 70, " I replied though my full, face helmet. The lack of a full windshield prompts me to wear a full face helmet on the Vespa.

"And you can cruise at 60 miles per hour?" he said, leaving the question hanging.

"Evidently," I replied, putting the pump away. I'd been following him since Mangrove Mama's and he knew I'd had no problem keeping up. Harley Riders hate it when they find themselves tailed by the pansy little scooter:

And sometimes people in cars, ignoring the fact I'm doing 60 will pull ahead just not to get stuck behind a stupid scooter. One of my colleagues coming into work one evening in his police cruiser pulled alongside at a traffic light on Stock Island and rolled down the window. " Hey, that thing goes pretty fast!" he said. I'm sure the other drivers watching the exchange thought I was in trouble for some reason. What they didn't know was I have the ability to make his life hell all night if I feel like. I was amazed he recognized me in my helmet riding my wife's scooter, but cops are smart like that.Happily it's hard to break the speed limit in a 55mph zone on a Vespa 150, so I hadn't been breaking the law in front of him, but he was surprised at how well I could keep up on the four lane section of Highway One. Vespas, even simple carburetted ones like the ET4, are fast as well as solid and comfortable. And the ET4 also sports weird oval mirrors:

Plus the scenery is just as good from the seat of Vespa as from that of a Bonneville or even a Harley:

And then I get to look out of the Communications Center windowat the top of the Police Station all night and see my little cream colored Vespa 150 ready to take me home:

I like the Bonneville because it has the ability to pass others easily, it doesn't notice headwinds and it engenders more respect from other road users. But the Vespa makes a welcome change from time to time and I'm really glad my wife enjoys owning and riding it so we can justify having it in our lives. It's definitely a keeper.