Monday, April 30, 2007

Vespa GTS on the Long Ride

With plans turning in my head for longer trips I decided to assess the performance limits of the GTS against my own limits as a rider. With clear skies and the temperature at 45° F I rolled down the street at 6:30 AM with only a vague idea of what I would do other than take a long ride.

After reading stories of traffic nightmares on Rush Hour Rambling, Midwest Scooter Enthusiast, and Musings of an Intrepid Commuter I've become aware of how little traffic there is here in the sticks and this Sunday morning the roads seemed even more empty than usual. At one point I remember thinking that something terrible had happened and everyone was at home glued to their television.

I did have one chore to mix in the ride. I had to deliver motor and hub oil to my father-in-law Bob for his Vespa ET4. I rode along the winding country roads I usually take on this 49-mile trek and after an hour I had only gone 20 miles.

The light was striking on the emerging spring landscape and I wasn't able to travel without constantly stopping to take pictures. If I had any hope to see how the scooter would perform at a distance I was going to have to learn to stifle my visual senses a bit. With the picture of these lone trees near Seven Stars I made an oath to ride directly to Altoona. I passed quite a few subjects beckoning to me like sirens but I rode on. I knew I had shifted gears mentally to ride and not photograph when I made the turn onto the approach ramp for Interstate 99.

The Vespa GTS has an advertised top speed of 76 MPH and I was pleased to be able to cruise along easily at an indicated 70 MPH. The highway is relatively new and the road surface smooth and free of potholes and tar snakes. The absence of traffic continued save for the occasional passing SUV. With no wind and cool air I had a smooth ride into Altoona for that 25-mile stretch.

Bob didn't know when I was coming and was surprised to see me in the driveway as he was coming out the front door on his way to breakfast. We did a quick check of the fluid levels in his scooter and then I followed him to Kings for a quick bite before riding on. At age 70 he's still riding the Vespa as much as he can and having a blast.

The odometer showed 51 miles as I rode away from the restaurant. Air temperature was now at 54° F. Riding along 6th Avenue I made a decision to go south towards warmer weather by way of the Appalachian Thruway (I-99) to see how the scooter (and me) would do at sustained highway speeds on the 40-mile run to Bedford.

The thruway is a lovely (if a 4 lane highway can be) stretch of highway that follows the first ridge of the Appalachian Mountains south. The Vespa ran great on the highway that was almost empty. During this leg of riding I saw less than ten other vehicles. I was riding with the throttle wide open the whole way. Speeds on the long uphill sections would get to 65MPH and on the long downhill runs 85MPH. A passing car would cause a bit of air buffeting and a feeling of instability. It didn't take me long to figure out that much of the buffeting was my body being banged around by the air hitting me square in the chest and not necessarily the scooter. Tucking down low the scooter ran smooth and tracked along nicely. If I were going to do a lot of this kind of riding a windscreen would help. And tucking down shows a ride in speed as well with my body not acting like a sail.

Leaving the thruway at Bedford I have to make a decision --- turn around and go home or keep riding towards warmer weather. I'm not done riding yet so I head east on US 30 towards Everett, Pennsylvania.

I stopped for fuel there and saw one of the old movie theaters that every small town used to have. It's still standing as a reminder of what small towns used to mean though no movies playing anymore.

Leaving Everett on PA 26 I decide to head towards the Mason-Dixon Line and enter Maryland and the South officially.

Sure enough at the border was a marker commerating that famous demarcation line. The roads are the small winding country routes I find so attractive.

There are picture possibilities everywhere and my commitment to ride fades a bit and the camera comes out for a while and my progress dwindles again.

Eventually I find I-68 and the US 40 Scenic Route. Heading east towards Hancock, Maryland I see two other vehicles and my first motorcycle.

No one seems interested in the scenic route. The season is a couple weeks ahead of us and the Dogwood and Redbud blossoms are in full bloom.

Riding down this stretch of road I have an opportunity for a good deed. I pass a box turtle trying to make his was across the road. Even with almost no traffic I figured it would be a good idea to stop and help him across. He is now safely in the woods after posing for a quick picture.

The scenic route ended as it merged with I-68 heading towards Hancock. Maryland traffic here was heavier and fast. I stayed in the truck lane for most of the way until I had to pass a tractor-trailer. I began running into the rev limiter on this stretch. I thought the engine was starting to misfire until I realized what it was. Not sure why I didn't notice it earlier on the Appalachian Thruway because I thought I was going just as fast.

I exit the interstate and ride south on US 522 towards the Potomac River and West Virginia. I begin seeing my first groups of motorcycles out for their Sunday rides and I am happy to report that almost every rider gave the low wave. Many initiated it first and passing long groups I just left out my hand as we swept by. No evidence of scooter rejection, not even by the leather clad V Twin groups. I was a fine day all around.

Riding into Berkeley Springs, West Virginia I had ridden as far as I was going to today - 133 miles - at least in one direction. After a stop to stretch my legs I headed north towards home. Not wanting to retrace my steps I rode on I-70 north into Pennsylvania. This is a heavily traveled route with lots of trucks. The wind had picked up and I found myself being knocked around more than earlier in the day but was still able to find a comfortable speed to manage the wind, road, and traffic. I even was passing people on this 25-mile leg of the trip.

Exiting in Breezewood, Pennsylvania I headed west on US 30 where I found PA 26 again which would take me all the way home. I stopped at the Eats and Treats for a cheeseburger and fries and a longer stretch. From there a straight run home on winding roads for nearly 70 miles. Total mileage - 258 miles.

Home safe and writing now I know a few more things about the Vespa and myself.
  • The scooter is capable of sustained highway riding if necessary.
  • My ass is capable of 9 hours in the saddle with some occasional breaks if necessary.
  • Taking pictures really slows things down.
  • I'm ready for some tours.


American Scooterist Blog said...

This is what its all about. You rode the miles and found out that not only can you endure the miles but the bike can too. My LX150 hits an indicated 70 mph (as you know having had one yourself) and I think it surpises people when they realize how fast I'm going when they get it into their heads they have to pass the "wimpy" scooter haha.
Since I ride these country roads almost all the time I''m clicking along more often than I realize at fifty mph or above. Checked the oil before a little eighty mile jaunt yeasterday and saw the oil was a little low. Looked at the the book and it says right in there that Vespas which are ridden at higher speeds on a fairly regular basis should have the oil levels checked between service.
I need to clean my bike after yesterday's ride. Between the running lights and on the windscreen itself there are so many buggies that if I Don't clean it, it'll look like a black shag carpet with just one more dusk ride. Blech.

Great tale about the ride Steve! Keep doing those when you get the chance. They're fun stories to read. :)


Art said...


Great writing, riding, and photography. When can we expect a book? :-)

When I rode from Memphis to Las Vegas I took the back roads out west but on the way home I rode I-40 the entire way. I was on the GT 200l which performed flawlessly at 75-80 mph. The back roads are much more fun and I enjoy riding at about 45 mph so that I can take in the scenery.

Keep up the good work. See you on the road someday.

Dan Leri said...

Great ride! Love the photos and writing. Speaking of theaters in small towns, check out this project I am working on with a few e-friends who are also from my hometown in Western PA -
You will appreciate the photography taken on glass slides. An article was published yesterday in a Western PA newspaper - speaks to your comment about movie theaters and small towns.

Bill Sommers said...

This is one of my all time favorite "Steve" posts. I even went back and reread some parts to connect them with the photo's.

Great trip, and great post.

Have fun,

Honky-Tonk Dragon said...

Great Post Steve!

I'm looking forward to hearing about your touring...
There is always AmeriVespa this summer. Maybe that's more of a trip than you want to tackle, but if you can make it out, I know some of your West Coast fans would be willing to show you a hearty welcome.

Honky-Tonk Dragon

Steve Williams said...

Roadbum: I was pleased with the whole ride and performance all around. I'll check the oil before I ride to work today. I was off yesterday but the scooter sat in the garage.

It is covered with bugs. I forgot to wash it yesterday. My helmet and jacket are covered too. A real mess.

art: Thanks for the kind words. I hope to get it together to do a book someday. That would be a fun project.

Memphis to Las Vegas is a real trip! That kind of long ride is on my to do list as well. I would like to have enough time to do the 45 MPH riding and stop as often as I like. That means a lot of time.

dan: Took a look at PeanutHeaven. I met Don Taylor once at Penn State when he returned as a distinguished Alum. Back in the 1970's. It was cool to have a real Hollywood director to talk with.

Too bad about those old theaters. I spent many fine Saturdays myself in the as a kid.

Bill: thanks! I was afraid it was too long and rambling. I had a great time riding. Now I have to go back to work. Another ride can't be too far off....

Honky-Tonk Dragon: A ride to Seattle would be great but I'm afraid a trip of that length will have to wait until retirement. Just don't have the time. One of these days though!

Gary said...

Steve, this is really getting me psyched for picking up my "own" GTS. The deal is coming together, but for some reason it is taking a LONG time. Well, I was warned about that...

I did get confirmation from my dealer though: 2007 in Vintage Red.

Ride well

Billie said...

Steve, I don't know how you keep making interesting pictures of the scooter but you do. The ones in this piece are great.

Markus Merz said...

Great story of a day ride. Greetings from a scooterist from Vespa Club Hamburg (Germany).

irondad said...

I find it an interesting situation. When I ride I have to make an effort to stop and take pictures. Hmm, that would be a great picture. No, let's just keep on riding!

You're such a master at photos I can see why you're so inclined that way. Hmm, that would be a great picture. No, let's just keep riding!

Same place at the moment from two totally opposite directions.

It's funny how the exact same words uttered by two different people can have such varied meanings and nuances, isn't it?

Steve Williams said...

gary: I saw a Vintage Red GTS at our local dealer last weekend. Man it is a great looking machine. Can't wait to hear how you like it on the road. The GTS is just a sweet riding machine.

billie: It's the same experience when I was shooting pictures of Kim. After a while you find an eye and rythmn. It is odd with a machine though...

markus merz: Guten tag! Thanks for your kind words. Next trip to Germany I am going to try and rent a scooter instead of a car.

irondad: It is strange. You are riding with a possible picture dragging behind. I am taking a picture with the ride trying to drag me along.

We can agree though on the "let's keep riding" idea.

Keep riding!

Sojourner rides said...

Wonderful write up! I absolutely love the photo of the turtle!

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Passing cars on I-70! What a hoot!! One of those "I wonder what they're thinking right now" moments. And, as always, very nice pictures.

I've recently begun toying with the idea of a scooter iron-butt ride. So far, it still seems insane. Almost have myself talked into a 500-mile day, just to see if we can do it. (What's half an iron butt? Iron bun? Aluminum butt?)

Will probably start w/ 250 miles and work up from there. Would need to borrow the GPS, though, 'cause I want to take advantage of the nice scenery & back roads.

Antonio said...

wonderful trip and biking day

Brad said...

When searching for scooter info, I want you to know it has been a pleasure to read your postings. This reading has lead me to purchase a 2006 GT 200.

zaldy said...

can gts stand stand the heat at tropical climate like phil. some scoot here like gt getting overheat here

Steve Williams said...

zaldy: I have ridden without problems at close to 100 degrees here but I certainly would not call our climate tropical.

I think you would find first hand information about this by posting on the Modern Vespa forum. There are members from all over the world who can answer that question.

The URL is

Bil said...

I can't imagine seeing a scooter on the highway!!! That is insane. I've been into the whole British Mod thing and now looking into scooters. One of my main concerns was the practicality of having one since I make an occasional freeway trip every week or so. Thanks for sharing your experience!

han said...

Your blog convinced me of buying my GTS 300.
(A photographer from Belgium)

Steve Williams said...

bil: The Vespa 250 I ride now certainly can handle some freeway riding where the speeds aren't above 70mph. It is hectic though because of the weight. You tend to get beat around in the wind at times.

han: Great! The GTS 300 is a fine machine.

Will said...

Steve, what kind of bag are is on your scooter in this article? Thanks, Will