Weather: 76Â°F (24Â°C) With scattered thunderstorms.
Road Conditions: Wet.
Now that my Vespa GTS 250ie “Rose” and I have travelled over 700 miles together, and I have been able to ride her out of the break-in constraints, it’s time to do the Rush Hour Road Test.
This is going to require me to put away all the emotional attachments I have developed over the past week, and kill my New Bike Buzz for a bit, so I can try to give you an objective report on how the GTS compares to other commuter motorbikes I have experienced.
It’s not going to be easy, mind you, but I can do this. I am, after all, a Professional. (Thanks, Hunter…)
The Vespa GTS is the culmination of a long evolution in Piaggio’s stylish retro-scooter line. All of the traditional curves are there, slightly updated in strategic locations, so as not to be confused with the vintage ancestors. Liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, electric-start (only), and sporting a digital LCD dashboard, it has all the modern conveniences.
Hmmm… “All Mod Cons”… Now, where have I heard that before?
But I don’t intend to get all caught up in the cultural ramifications here. That’s not what Rush Hour Rambling or Ride to Work(tm) are about. The object of the Rush Hour Road Test is to evaluate the suitability of the test subject for the mission of daily commuting. This entails measuring such parameters as fuel mileage, maintenance costs, comfort, visibility, utility, and performance as it relates to getting through heavy traffic during rush hour.
In other words, what is it like to actually live with this bike, day-to-day?
First and foremost, the Vespa GTS is a modern scooter. That means it has an automatic, CVT transmission and is driven by a clean four-stroke engine. The Piaggio “Quasar” engine has a chain-driven, single-overhead-cam bumping four valves in the liquid-cooled comfort if its’ single cylinder head.
The fuel injection operates without a glitch, from idle all the way to full-throttle. The exhaust system keeps the whole show nice and quiet, so we don’t wake the neighbors when we take off for work in the pre-dawn stillness. Of course, all modern scooters are quiet. But not all commuter motorbikes are.
My Termignoni-equipped Ducati made me Neighborhood Enemy Number One for awhile there. We would set off car alarms just rumbling past in second gear. I’m really not so sure that Loud Pipes Save Lives, but I know for a fact that they do piss off the neighbors.
Since I took up riding scooters, my neighbors have forgiven me. Some of them actually talk to me now, from time to time. And that is mostly a Good Thing…
Out on the road, the GTS feels like it was carved from billet. The Vespa’s stamped-steel monocoque chassis resists twisting much better than the underslung backbone frame and plastic bodywork of its’ Asian rivals. The modern single-sided, trailing-arm front end, originally derived from aircraft landing gear, is surprisingly stable. Even in hard cornering, I could not detect a bit of flex or other bad behaviour.
Essentially, the handling of the Vespa GTS is better than any other scooter I have tested. But let me clear something up for any new Vespa owners in the house: Every single scooter I have ridden has exhibited some tendency for front-end oscillation on deceleration. I’m not sure if this is a product of the steering geometry, or the small wheels supporting a lot of weight, or what. It is, in effect, very much like what you get on some shopping carts when one of the wheels wobbles back and forth.
*Epiphany! Maybe that’s why most scooter pilots never wave!
On the GTS, this quirk never progresses beyond the mild curiousity phase. Kind of, “Huh, I wonder why it does that?”. Some of the Asian scooters I have ridden will go into full blown tank-slappers if you don’t use force to restrain them. But if you have both hands on the GTS’ handlebars when you are coasting or slowing down, then you won’t even notice it. Applying brakes damps it right out.
Speaking of brakes, the stoppers on the Vespa GTS work just fine. Hydraulic discs both front and rear, they have excellent feel and the rear can be locked with a good hard squeeze, if you must. I’ve never tried to lock the front, and “stoppies” are never necessary during the course of moto-commuting.
Acceleration is brisk, for a scooter of this size. Most 4-wheeled adversaries can be defeated away from a stoplight with a quick burst of full-throttle. That’s where the CVT is nice, because you never stop accelerating to change gears. But don’t get cocky… Many modern cages have high-performance engines which will allow them to stay with, and even pass you on the way to that single-lane construction zone up ahead. Just let `em go, and live to ride another day.
So, what about the numbers that matter? Rose is getting a solid 68.2 mpg average over the course of 706 miles. I spent $40 on the supplies for her First Service, which I performed with a little help from my friend Roadbum. Had I brought her to the dealership, they would have added another $176, plus tax onto that. So the advantage definitely goes to the gearhead who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
Comfort-wise, I have no complaints. The GTS’ seat is perfectly positioned for my 5′9″ frame, and the reach to the bars is completely natural. The ride is a revelation, after the cheap shocks and forks I grew used to on the Asian scoots. I have set the rear shocks at about medium preload, as the factory soft setting was a bit too plush for my liking. Vespa includes a nice little spanner in the tool kit for this purpose.
Although lower than my KLR, Frogwing, I can still stand up on the floorboards to see over most vehicles in front of me. You can’t do that on a sportbike, unless you let go of the handlebars – never a good idea in rush hour traffic. Sometimes such a perspective is crucial in avoiding gridlock, as it enables you to start moving towards the exit earlier.
You can’t beat the maneuverability of a scooter in tight city traffic. With 12″ wheels, the GTS fits the standard scooter mold better than the larger maxi-scooter category. This allows moves that wouldn’t be possible on a Silverwing or Burghman. Yet the GTS will keep up with them on group rides, all the way up to illegal speeds on most two-lane country roads. Rose has seen the far side of 75 mph indicated with my non-aerodynamic bulk perched upon her back.
Purchase-price is the only parameter where the Vespa seems to give ground to the competition. But that’s only if you count plastic-bodied, angular-styled, non-traditional scooters as The Competition. In the world of Ride to Work(tm), where we evaluate strictly on the merits of a moto-commuting platform, there are better deals to be had.
Kymco puts out a couple of 250s that have similar performance, at around $1,500 to $2,000 less. That’s a lot of money, to somebody who is shopping for a scooter to save on commuting expenses. They also have an excellent reputation for reliability and parts availability. Honda and the rest of the Japanese Big Four produce 250cc machines with similar performance for less cash outlay.
That’s a lot of weight piled on the other side of the decision scale, for the pragmatic moto-commuter.
And that’s the point at which the practical, logical riders are separated from the romantic, emotional riders. Right-brain vs. left… or is it vice-versa? I always forget.
But I could never forget the Vespa GTS’s radiant Vintage Red color, or those gorgeous, classical lines. I could never forget the feel of that metal body underneath my polishing cloth, or her wonderful Italian heritage. This scooter looks so good in photographs that I take twice as long to get anywhere for stopping to set up the shots.
Oops, I guess I slipped there, didn’t I? Objectivity flew out the window like the smoke from a fine cigar…
I bought my GTS because I’m a sucker for tradition, and a connoisseur of fine Italian design. I bought her because she caught my eye across the showroom floor like the girl of your dreams down at the end of the bar. And now that I have known her in the most intimate ways, I can tell you with complete confidence that I have no regrets. Rose, my 2007 Vespa GTS 250ie, is everything I hoped she would be, and more.