There aren’t all that many brands that have managed to make their product name representative of an entire product line in the minds of the North American consumer (think Kleenex for facial tissue), but Piaggio’s Vespa is certainly one. Even the scooter-haters of the powered two-wheeled conveyance world (you know who you are) at least acknowledge the presence of “Vespa” and for many ordinary people “Vespa” is synonymous with “Scooter”.
Until the introduction of the modern large-frame Vespa in the form of the Gran Turismo 200 in 2003, Vespa scooters were predominantly 150cc or less and all were air-cooled. In 2006, we saw the introduction of the Vespa GTS 250 – large frame, liquid-cooled and fuel injected. As it happens, I have a GTS 250 in my garage so I am not without experience when it comes to modern Vespa. The company upped the game again for North America in 2009 with the GTS 300 (well, to 278cc) and now in 2015 we are getting Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) along with an enhanced front suspension design.
Bob Hedstrom of Scooterville generously made a brand spanking new white Vespa GTS 300 Super available to me. “Don’t crash it,” he said as I pulled out of Scooterville’s lot on a sunny summer day.
The first thing I did was top off the fuel tank and attached my GPS unit to complete some testing. For those of you who care about such things, the speedometer is mildly optimistic – indicating about 6% faster than actual speed. The top end I saw was 77 mph. Fuel economy was a very good 72 miles per gallon.
I then enlisted the assistance of my friend John, who recently purchased a Piaggio BV350 from Scooterville. I consider the BV350 to be the best “do-everything” scooter currently on the market and John has a lot of experience with (mostly) motorcycles though he recently owned a Vespa GTS 250 scooter to complement his Star bagger. Switching between the two scooters, we rode a nice chunk of the Grand Rounds on that gorgeous day. John appreciated the bump in performance the GTS 300 offered as compared to his older 250. The Piaggio BV 350 is a big-wheeled scooter (16 inch up front 14 inch in back) that is relatively lightweight with true highway capabilities.
After a good bit of riding, John summed things up nicely. “The Vespa is a wonderful ride and is obviously a scooter, the BV350 is more of a hybrid between scooter and motorcycle.”
Oh yes, Bob’s words proved prophetic. While I was in line in the right-turn lane at a stop near Minnehaha Falls, the young lady in the automobile in front of me mistook the “R” for a “D” on her automatic transmission and backed into me. The rubber side stayed down and the front fender was the only casualty. The young lady had full insurance coverage and was quite apologetic, muttering the requisite “I didn’t see you” when she got out of her car. Why she was going backwards was never fully addressed.
The new front suspension design and the ABS brakes also make a noticeable change from the older GTS 250 scooter. The single sided swing arm remains on the front end (no conventional forks for Vespa) and the lower shock mount is now hinged. The older version was a rigid mount directly on the trailing arm. The new set-up allows the front suspension to maintain the correct geometry with no lateral flexing. The ABS and traction control work well. The added electronics take up about half of the glove box, but the result is strong, drama-free braking in most every condition. I did notice that more effort is required of the rider at the brake levers as compared to the older GTS 250 scooter.
Acceleration is more than adequate (brisk even) from a stop up to about 70 mph. Beyond that it takes a bit to wring out the top speed. Roll-on from 30 mph – 60 mph is very nice. Handling is quick, nimble, and still smooth – smoother than the BV350 in fact – with the 12-inch front and rear tires offering quick response to inputs while being more stable at higher speeds than the 10-inch rubber typically found on a lot of scooters.
The ergonomics are outstanding. I cannot think of any other scooter in this class that is as comfortable for such a wide range of riders. Those with lesser inseams (myself included) won’t be able to flat-foot at stops, but the center of gravity is so low that a mild lean to one side is not an issue at all. Taller riders will likely find more than enough room on the seat/floorboards to accommodate them and the upright riding position and easy reach to the controls feels just right.
Underseat storage is OK, though too narrow to take my XXL full-face helmet. There are many choices for luggage racks front and rear and all manner of rear topcases to expand the carrying capacity of the Vespa.
Ultimately, I cannot think of a metro area riding experience that wouldn’t be enhanced aboard the new Vespa GTS 300 Super. It can easily handle some freeway time and is an absolute joy on surface roads. If you’re in Minneapolis, you owe it to yourself to swing by Scooterville and have a look at the new large-frame Vespas. With an MSRP in the $6,000 range, they aren’t inexpensive, but you’ll not find a better combination of new technology and gorgeous Italian design at any price.
Oh yes, Bob forgave me for the front fender damage after I completed all the insurance paperwork and called the adjuster.
Twin Cities scooterist David Harrington owns and operates JustGottaScoot.com