Hi, this is my first posting on Modern Vespa. So first of all a big hello to everyone and thanks for having me in your forum.
I recently completed my first long distance tour on a Vespa and enjoyed it so much, I felt a strong need to write about it somewhere where there are likeminded people. I tried explaining it to my friends and family and they didn’t really understand why anyone would want to go further than to the local shops on a 'moped'! Hope this is of interest to someone out there.
First a bit of story of how I ended up here. I moved out of London 15 years ago to what we call in the UK the 'commuter belt'. That is, somewhere semi-rural where you would still be able to travel into town for work on the train BUT (the key thing), the cost of housing is that much cheaper that you can afford a lot more house and garden for the money and more importantly A GARAGE FOR ALL MY TOYS .
Commuting by train meant I needed a means of transport to get to and from the train station every day. I chose a Honda Cub90 for the job. This worked OK (great little things) but they kept getting stolen. After 3 C90 thefts, I decided I had to call it a day. The trouble with the C90 is that it makes a great field bike that the little thugs can put knobbly tyres on, take the exhaust baffle out and have a great time tearing around off-road. The police seem to turn a blind eye to this sort of cr&p too as the kids just say they 'found' them in a bush somewhere. Such a shame
Anyway, here’s where the Vespas come in. My brother was moving abroad and was looking to sell his 2004 125 GTS for cheap. No more thefts, full screen and the Tuccano Urbano leg cover made this a much more civilised winter commuting experience (apart from the battery charging and starting problems but that’s another post). I really started getting into them since then. Eventually, I ended up on the 300 GTS as my daily commute which I just absolutely love (and have yet to meet anything that can beet me off the traffic lights).
The Vespa would just do the train station trips (2 miles either way) and to the shops at the weekend until earlier this summer when I resigned from my current employer to take a new job somewhere else. At a rather heavy leaving drinks session the plan (or more of a dare!) emerged to travel to the most northern point of Britain on the Vespa!!
Reading this forum and some others I heard it should be possible but the idea still seemed daunting.
The 300GTS had 8600k on the clock, knowing id be riding for a few 1000k at near full throttle, I thought I'd bring the 10k service forward to start the trip in the full knowledge that everything was fresh and clean. Here's what I did:
• New drive belt
• New variator rollers and those other guide bits
• Air Filter
• Engine oil and filter
• Gerbox oil… not required but hey, for the sake of the cost of the oil, WHY NOT?
• Coolant flush.
• Fresh set of Michelin Citygrip tyres.
I also treated myself to one of the smaller Vespa 'touring' screens as my full screen was not certified for use above 50MPH.
In the footwell I strapped the spare petrol can.
Day 1 - Hitchin to Stirling (383miles)
First leg of the trip, setting off into the unknown! It was a weekday so wanted to make sure I beat all the traffic as much as possible so I set off at 5am and straight out onto the A1(M) heading directly North. OK, so it took a while to get used to the GTS on the motorway (freeway). Keeping a steady 70MPH was not too bad and was somewhere around 4/5 throttle and sometimes wide open uphill. Downhill I was able to hit 81MPH on the GPS (90 on the speedo) where the rev limiter would kick in. Anyone who claims to be able to go faster on a 300GTS without an ECU tune just isn't telling the truth . The thing to note also is that I am 6'6" tall. So the perfect wind brake. Normal-sized people would find it even easier.
It was the being blown about thing I had to get used to with the big lorries (trucks in the US) to overtake. I eventually did, but got a sore shoulder and neck gripping the bars for dear life hour after hour.
The thing which wasn’t great was the tank range. I was getting about 90-100 miles out of a tank at motorway speeds but the task of guessing which petrol (gas) station to pull into when the signs said e.g. 'Services 1 mile and 22miles' was aweful. Too soon and you end up putting a ridiculously small amount of fuel in and wasting time at the services, too late and you are cr&pping yourself that you will be stuck on the side of the road. I had the spare 5L can but still, at the side of the motorway unstrapping the luggage from the bike and filling up fuel would be very scary and the police would probably have a 'word' with you for being dangerous. There were also areas without a hard-shoulder which would have been a disaster to stop in. Either way, you don’t really want it.
For me a larger capacity fuel tank would be a very welcome touring addition even sacrificing the 'pet carrier' space. In fact I was very surprised to see the spec for the new 'touring' edition GTS had the same old pony 8L tank!!
Anyways, the bland middle of England faded away until finally I saw the sign to the historic borders route from Gretna to Edinburgh. After pulling off the motorway and onto the A7 the whole thing made sense. The scenery turned awesome, the roads turned twisty and full of other bikers giving the 'nod'.
At this point all the pain and discomfort of the motorway gave way to hair standing on end euphoria and shouting out loud inside my helmet. Corners you really had to plan seeing how hard you dare to lean the GTS over then full right fist of throttle on the way out. The feeling brought back memories of riding my Suzuki GSX-R 600 years ago but having the same thrill at 50MPH and not at 90-100MPH!
Here I realized I needed to adjust the preload on the shocks as I was bottoming out on the dips in the road on the rear and the front when I was braking before the corners.
Arriving in Edinburgh and then Stirling on the GTS, the A7 more than made up for the boring bit. Checked into the hotel weary, and got tucked into a few pints of local beer and reflected on the day.
Day 2 - Stirling to John O'Groats (260 miles)
After having a 'full Scottish' breakfast (including the haggis!) at the hotel I set off to pick up the North Coast 500 route to John O'Groats which is the most northern town in mainland Britain. Checked oil, coolant, and cranked up the rear shock preload by two notches.
Riding along on the A roads, the GTS immediately felt better on the stiffer rear springs. I just wish the front was also adjustable (perhaps father Christmas will bring me some Malossi/Olins fronts this year if I'm good!). The stock setup really limits how aggressively you can corner in my opinion. A bump in a bend and the scooter becomes unsettled very quickly.
Anyway, the A9 through the Cairngorms national park was incredible from a scenery point of view but nothing on the A7 borders route from a riding fun perspective. The road was almost too 'good' if that makes sense. Straight, smooth and it felt like everyone was driving on it to get somewhere and not to take in the scenery. Stopped in Aveimore for lunch, admiring the GTS through the coffee-shop window and observing the 'looks' it was getting this far out of an urban setting. Starting to feel really 'proud' (if that’s the right emotion) of the GTS having made it this far from home anf the train station so easily.
Carried on the A9 past Inverness, Alness, Tain, then Golspie. Here the scenery starkly changed to coastal and the road turned a bit more twisty following the coastline. FUN.
Soon the towns turned to villages, and the villages turned more and more spread-out until I finally arrived in John O'Groats.
This felt awesome. Great atmosphere there full of people that had travelled there on some sort of challenge. Loads of cyclists. People on some sort of car rally. Walkers … you name it. They were all there. A young-ish couple had travelled all the way over from Australia on BMW GS1200s.
Here I got lots of people asking about the trip on the Vespa and some disbelief that id made it that for in 2 days!
Anyway, original target reached. Checked into the B&B and went to the local pub for a few local beers (Orkney brewery pale ale. Really nice)
Day 3 - NC500 route John O'Groates to Gairloch (250 miles. Twisty!)
Setting off in the morning, I was determined to chill out on the mileage a bit as the first two days were a bit full on…. The plan failed. The roads and scenery was just so good I couldn’t stop.
Tight and twisty mixture of single track road with passing places and some sections of two lane A roads. Here the GTS really came into its own: Power to overtake slow moving traffic 2-3-4 cars at a time, nimble in the tight bends. Honestly, smiling all day till I blinked and id done another 250miles and half of the entire NC500 route.
Spoke to the hotel concierge on check-in about the fact I was doing the NC500 route and he claimed the best was still to come. Didn’t believe him.
Day 4 - NC500 Route Gairloch to Fort William and a cheeky detour to the Isle of Skye (280 miles)
Set off (again after my full Scottish) and straight out onto the twisty roads. Just didn’t want this to end. Just having so much fun. The hotel concierge told me about this famous loop to Applecross and I was very excited. Getting going, full tank of petrol and all the 'danger difficult road' and 'road not passable in winter conditions' etc signs full of adrenalin.
The roads did not disappoint, especially the part to Applecross. Single track with passing places, great climbs, blind summits, cattle grids… you name it, it had it. Only downside was a posh car rally of some sort blocking up the road. Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Lotus's …. Seemed everyone was out there on some sort of driving challenge. I was overtaking loads of them but it still slowed down the whole pace and spoiled the scenery.
So here's where the weather 'broke' it rained solid for the rest of the day. Miserable as I realised that the Tuccano all in one waterproof was really meant to handle the odd shower on the way back from the train station and not full day of wet weather touring. I was soaked to the bone (which I didn’t really mind. I mean once you're soaked you cant get more soaked right?). Visor on the helmet was doing its thing with the anti mist but the whole of the scenery disappeared. Heading up to the top of the isle of Skye I decided to call it a day. The wet wasn’t the problem, it was the not seeing anything interesting apart from grey cloud. Headed to Fort William to check into my hotel and dry my clothes.
Day 5 - Lake district and home! (520miles)
Woke up in Fort william (room stinking of wet boots and gloves drying on the radiator overnight. Condensation on the window etc. Reminded me of being on a school hiking trip as a kid). Checked the weather report…. Rain for the next 5 days! Looked outside…. pouring with rain. Spoke to family at home…. Biggest heatwave we've had for the last 3 years, temperature in London 32degrees!
Decided I'm a fair-weather tourer and decided to start heading back towards the sun. Speaking to a waitress over breakfast, she suggested stopping off in the Lake District to catch some of the roads and scenery there. Left the hotel and headed straight there.
Sure enough, as soon as I stared coming down to the bottom off Loch Lomond and then onto Glasgow the sun came out!! Felt good to be drying out a bit as my clothes hadn't really dried in the hotel. As I entered the Lake District national park, I started enjoying the ride again. Great roads, great scenery (not quite north coast Scotland but still pretty cool) but very very busy. Loads of traffic. Saw two car accidents in seemingly impossible, careless places. In short I was on edge and wanted to stop riding for the day.
Here’s where the problem was. Because it was so busy, EVERY B&B, hotel (even the posh ones) were fully booked (or at least that’s what they told me arriving with a slightly funny walk after riding the GTS all day and not having shaved for 4 days). I put the Vespa on the Centre stand and sat on it to think. The options were (1) stay somewhere random outside the Lake District and still spend £200 for a room or (2) get on the Vespa and blast it back home. I took option 2 and arrived home in time to tuck the kids in to bed and have a glass of wine with the wife and bore her with tales of the trip.
Would I do it again? Absolutely!
What would I do differently? Pack less stuff ( I think I lived in 2 changes of clothes and just fresh boxers/socks every day)
Bike mods: If I have the money, I'd do the front suspension mods I mentioned earlier. A gel seat cover might also prevent a bit of sore butt after a full day of riding. The vespa seat really starts getting uncomfortable after a few hours.
Engine upgrade? If you research the Malossi tunes on the web, you see people getting up to 90 or 100mph easily with the V4 head upgrade, 282cc barrell, piston, ECU, exhaust etc. I have thought about this and would NOT do this to a tourer. My reasoning (personal opinion) is this (1) to be confident to thrash a bike all day long I would like the knowledge that it is operating well inside its designed operating envelope. A 'tune' will put more stress on the components which is fine for small bursts but not for 9 hrs a day riding every day (2) The exhaust note would drive you insane on the motorway miles. In the twisties its fine (and the grumble popping on the overrun is fun). But the hours of this in your brain might add to the fatigue.
Anyway, hope that you enjoyed the account of my trip (or even that it persuades you to tour on a Vespa yourself!).
Take care, happy riding.
Last edited by pat_pending on Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:36 am; edited 3 times in total