March 14, 2010 — With the frost of winter finally dripping its last drips, 55º meant it was time to un-mothball our scooters. The Mrs wants to know how to do her own scooter maintenance, so today she changed both the crankcase and gear oil in her Buddy 125. I changed the crankcase oil in my Vespa GT just for post-winter good measure and was happy to see it was basically still honey colored. No harm in fresh oil and a new filter though. The oil from the Buddy was blackest tar and the gear hub oil was equally long in the tooth. Good thing we changed it.
The Mrs took off to see her friend’s new house here in Eagan, and I headed to the corner gas station to top off with fresh fuel and make sure my tires were at their proper pressures. There’s a 6 psi difference between the front and rear tires on the Vespa GT, and if it’s not observed the bike won’t handle properly. There’s something about these little details that really resonates with me. I’m not a particularly anal retentive, type-A kind of person. My Vespa is filthy, truth be told — covered in a fine layer of last season’s road grime and this winter’s sawdust. But there’s something about these little idiosyncrasies that I really enjoy. It’s how I come to really know the machine.
With everything inspected and topped off, it was time to scratch a winter-long itch. I headed through Mendota and wound up exploring some wonderful areas of St. Paul that I wasn’t familiar with. More than anything I wanted to lose time. Not waste time, but lose it. I wanted to avoid well-known roads. I wanted to have absolutely nowhere to go and not care about how I got there. It’s something that I feel like I lost last season. By commuting nearly every day, it got tough to just let go and ride. A winter away and some new perspective has really refreshed things. Today’s ride also did great things for me in that regard. By having nowhere to go, and no time limit save the setting sun, my Vespa and the open roads of the Twin Cities were reunited. Hello, old friends.
Looking forward to your great posts this coming riding season.
Here’s a question for you. I have a 250 GTV, and plan to do some touring in Quebec and Maine (from Boston) this summer. There are stretches in which I may be able to ride 70-75 mph for several hours on end. Now every engine obviously has a red line. Am I going to be red-lining the Vespa 250 at those speeds? Have any idea what the red-line for a Vespa 250 is in terms of mph, since there’s no tachometer? Official top speed is 76 mph, by the way. I’ve had it up to 70 mph without any apparent strain at all. Many thanks.
The CVT basically keeps you from “red lining” by the nature of its mechanics. I’d imagine that the engineers in Italy set it up such that you can’t really over-rev it. But that said, it’s certainly not easy on the motor to be at high revs and hard output for extended periods of time. It’s simply not what the bike is optimized for.
I’ve pegged my Vespa GT at 74 mph a few times and yeah, it doesn’t feel like it’s about to explode, but it doesn’t feel like the bike is very happy about it either. It’s fully capable, but certainly not optimal. Engine aside, the suspension just isn’t designed for comfort at that speed, I don’t think. Your arse will likely wear out much sooner than the bike does trying to ride a Vespa outside its natural habitat like that. It simply isn’t a freeway machine.
Will it kill your bike? Probably not. I think about my friend Alix Bryan, who rode her Buddy 125 cross country twice, basically full-throttle the whole time. 22,000 miles and she’s still riding that same scooter. She had a couple engine failures, but that had more to do with people not changing her oil correctly when she’d pull in for oil stops. It also didn’t help that the Buddy is air cooled. Your liquid-cooled Vespa should be able to keep itself nice and cool for as long as you’d need to trek at those speeds.
But beyond that, where I’d challenge you is on is your approach to the trip. It can be difficult to break out of the mentality that we must travel via interstate to get where we want to go. There is an extensive system of smaller highway and byway roads that can take us pretty much anywhere. Those roads are going to be much more suitable to your Vespa, less traffic, more scenic, and lower speed limits. But beyond the logistics, I’d wager that you’ll enjoy the trip a lot more if you let go of that need to be somewhere super-efficiently at exactly a particular time (which is why we take the interstate in the first place). Otherwise, why ride the Vespa at all? It’d make a lot more sense to just drive a car. I’m of the opinion that unless you can let go of any kind of stringent itinerary, that a scooter trip won’t be very much fun. It’ll turn into work. But if you embrace a two-hour window on your arrival time, take the back roads and see the scenery, I’d wager that you’ll enjoy the trip a lot more.
Thanks, Nathaniel, for your very thoughtful and cogent response, as always.
Agree completely with your closing paragraph. My intention is to try some of the interstate in southern New Hampshire to quickly get up to Quebec, thereafter I plan a leisurely trip through Quebec and back to Massachusetts through Maine. But that said, if I find I don’t enjoy the segment of the trip I had planned on Interstates, I have plenty of time to switch to local byways. I am reassured, though, that if I do spend any time on the Interstates that the GTV won’t self-destruct.