"What?" my neighbor said to me as he watched me get on 2008 Vespa S150 for the 25 mile ride back to Key West."You riding that moped on these streets?" He had a point things were a bit rough right after Irma landed. And in Key West where everyone rides 50cc scooters a 60 mph 150 is indistinguishable from a 35 mph model.
So how is a Vespa as a survival tool when civilization teeters on the brink? In normal times I use the scooter to commute on the Overseas Highway where it's perfect. Speed limits vary between 45 and 55 mph and the Vespa allows me to keep up with the normal flow of traffic. With the wind at my back the 150 cc motor sends me down the flat straight road at up 65 mph (showing 70 on the speedo). It does not allow me to get into trouble by passing or speeding in the carefree manner my motorcycle allowed me to. My Bonneville got trashed by salt water and it does not look likely to be a survivor and with two Vespas at my disposal it doesn't look like I'll be replacing it in this phase of my life.
The Vespa is known for its metal body and sturdy construction and its load carrying ability. On my rides checking neighborhoods after the Category Four storm ravaged the Keys I came across all manner of things, including these pallets on Sugarloaf Key. The National Guard dropped off supplies for survivors and I easily loaded a box of MREs onto the seat.
Fuel: I found that riding at 50 mph indicated (45mph actual) I saved a ton of gas. The fuel gauge on on the S150 is quite accurate so it encouraged me to keep my speed down. Quite aside from the objects laying around on the roadways in the early days. I should have filled a five gallon jug before the storm but I was stupid and forgot. I know better...So I had to round up some jugs find a gas station that was open and be very careful about how much I burned. This is a big issue for a scooter as survival tool. I could have used a front rack on the Vespa with a one or two gallon jug strapped on just for peace of mind. I did strap a jug on the floor boards but I like to keep that area clear in normal use.
I always carry a tire repair kit under the seat and flat tires were constantly on my mind. The ease of use of the Vespa, the low weight the open body make it much more suitable than a motorcycle. Then there is the fact that the Bonneville has tubes in the tires. A flat would be truly awkward in these circumstances.
To a population used to riding around in giant trucks and SUV type vehicles the idea of using a 230 pound scooter to get around in the best of times seems weird. In a crisis those big trucks look so self important with their heavy duty whatnot and then this hairy old hobbit comes rolling by on a moped. Oops!
But the scooter got me where I wanted to go. I did not drive through flooded areas but I dodged downed trees and power lines and I managed gravel and sand just fine. Having experience is decidedly a plus in these types of conditions which can easily tip and inexperienced rider.
One thing drivers of trucks don't have to worry about is decapitation. Wires down are a serious issue for a rider after a storm and you need to keep a sharp eye out. Wires can come down later even if the road was open previously. This was one of my biggest fears:
The hospital was closed after Irma as there was no running water in Key West, so an injury could be severely inconvenient or fatal. That was always at the forefront of my mind when I was riding or doing anything else. No ambulances no hospital no help.
Some heavy duty wires were so low down they even kept me out of my street. Luckily these were so thick I had no trouble spotting them and they were there for two weeks:
I even picked up a kid hitch hiking and gave him a 15 mile ride toward Miami. Florida is no helmet law state (for adults) and it was easy enough to pop him on the solo seat for a short ride. The Vespa did sterling work.
So how did my Vespa survive the storm? Well it was small enough to fit in the elevator at work so I took it to the upper floor safe from potential flooding of which we warned by the National Hurricane Center. I wondered who would yell at me for parking in front of the detectives bureau but I guess people had other things on their mind. There were only two dozen of us left to ride out the storm anyway.
Then of course I wondered what I would do if the storm in some way knocked out our elevators. Would my Vespa be stranded upstairs? In stressful times we worry about anything...
The fun factor is always there on two wheels so if you enjoy riding, getting on the Vespa can be a bit of an escape too. My wife and dog were safely evacuated so I only had myself to look after which made the Vespa perfect for these two weeks of isolation. I carried little and had no responsibility for others so my single seat ride fit the bill exactly.
The weather channel said this was a non-survivable event in the Florida Keys. When I found their truck stuck with a flat tire I let my feelings be known about the way they rated my chances of survival:
In the end I have to say my decision to keep and use the Vespa as a survival tool was perfect for me. On the other hand I am a confident rider after half a century in the saddle and that makes it easy for me to choose to use a Vespa in circumstances others may think bizarre or risky. Certainly there was an element of risk but I was cautious and took my time and rode slowly. I got where I needed to go.
The more I ride these ultra smooth perfectly reliable modern Vespas the less I miss the two stroke geared Vespas of my past. These machines go and go and they do it well.
I should point out I had a non survivable event shortly after I wrote this piece. My drive belt blew on the road and I had to get help from friends to round up my ailing car and trailer and get the Vespa off the road. I knew before the storm I should have changed the belt as it was nine years old even though the scooter had only run 326 miles when I got it. I changed the tires promptly but the belt...well I wanted to get a few miles out of it.Of course when Irma intervened in my life I was too late to order a new belt and when I locked the other Vespa safely away first... This was the one I had to ride. Yet I knew I'd be better off riding the Vespa than driving the car and I hoped for no breakdowns. I got away with t till the very end.