TL;DR -- On a whim I bought a BV350 in Florida, and drove it home to NYC over a long weekend. Love the bike, loved the trip. The End.
So, a couple weeks ago I posted asking for suggestions about which scoot to buy. After everyone weighed in (thanks again for all the tips), I was open to either a newer BV350 or a GTS 300, whichever came first/sang to me. So, I began my search, and found a few candidates, and test drove a couple from private sellers.
A 2009 GTS 250 I rode felt very similar to my old ET4, just bigger -- same light steering, same nimble feel switching lanes, just a little more power off the line. I don't know how it'd felt at highway speeds, because I didn't buy it. (I know I said I wanted a GTS 300, but the seller wanted just $850 for it, then later changed his mind.)
A 2013 BV350 I tried around a parking lot was... different. Definitely bigger, heavier, a little more finicky at low speeds. I didn't get to assess the power meaningfully, but it was obvious it was there (the Arakpovic pipe sounded awesome as well). Problem was, this "great" scooter would've needed new tires, front brakes (or at least a rotor and pads), had 2 cracked panels, and could've used $100 in new bolts, if only to get rid of the rust on the exposed ones. So, I passed.
Then I found a great option -- a 2016 BV350 ABS, 2,600 miles, used as an RV getabout by a retiree, being sold because the owner got a dog and preferred his car after 6 months of pet ownership. Only problem was, the scooter was currently parked outside Orlando, Florida, and I'd never ridden more than 100 miles in a day before.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I called up the seller Phil on Tuesday, made an offer and agreed to buy the scooter. Turned out that Phil was from NJ originally, ran a business for years just 5 blocks from where I live before retiring, and was cool with the idea of me coming down to buy it and letting me use his registration and plate to get it home (it was still registered in NJ, while he was was in a campground in Florida, so getting a transit tag would've been taxable twice).
Now, all I needed was a plan. Google Maps said I could make the trip in 2 days (riding 8 hours a day), if I stayed on the interstate the whole way back to NYC. But the idea of taking a new-to-me ride on I-95 on my first day of ownership felt more like a death wish than a plan. I wanted time to get to know the bike, and shake the rust off my 3 years of not riding before I mixed it up on the Interstate.
Plan B was to click "avoid highways," and see what route Google spat out. 100 more miles, give or take, but another day of riding (26 hours vs. 16). In case something were to go wrong, I padded in an extra day, and counted backwards. If I wanted to be back for work Monday, that meant I'd have to leave... Thursday.
12,500 AAdvantage miles and $86 in fees later, I had a one-way ticket to Orlando on the Thursday AM direct flight from LaGuardia, and an urgent need to pack touring gear by Wednesday night. Next up was a call to an insurance carrier for coverage. Figuring there might be rain, I found a pair of Frogg Togs on Amazon with 1-day shipping, and a pair of nylon gloves for rainy riding. Since no RAM Mount would arrive in time, I tried on all my earbuds to find the ones that'd fit inside my helmet plus a Bluetooth adapter so I could get navigation instructions, a lock/chain, sunglasses, clothes, toothbrush, all set right?
4 AM wake-ups suck, even if it's the scooterist's equivalent of Christmas Morning. Dragged my ass to LaGuardia, got a free bag inspection while they checked out my Kryptonite chain and wondered why I needed it at Disney World, and headed to the gate. An uneventful flight apart from the pilot being an hour late.
On the Lyft ride from the airport, I started to get excited, and we pulled into the campground just as Phil pulled in from a doctor's appointment in his car. The BV was parked next to his RV, and Phil and I chatted for a while before he mentioned the daily afternoon showers, which focused me back on getting on the road.
The start of the journey.
The scooter looked fine, as described in the ad, give or take some rubbed spots on the paint where it had been strapped in for trailering around the country. So I put on my helmet and gloves, and took it for a spin around the neighborhood. Apart from the tires feeling low, and a rattle we quickly diagnosed as coming from the license plate frame, everything looked great. Checked the fluids, asked him about the service history (600 mile service done, with nothing else needed apart from replacing one of the footpads after it got caught while trailering it), whether he thought it was ready for my hare-brained road trip, and began the paperwork. Gave him his cash, figured out how to load up my bag full of stuff with the help of a bungee cord, fired up Google Maps, and headed out around 2.
Would you buy a scooter from this man? I did!
First stop was a gas station to fill up and reinflate the tires (they were indeed 8 lbs low). The BV's temp sensor read 113, which I told myself was optimistic, if only not to start melting, and got out on the road.
My first impressions of the BV was that it was definitely a bigger bike -- bigger wheels, bigger weight, bigger seating (I know the seat height is roughly the same amongst all Piaggios/Vespas, but it just feels taller, somehow...), and required more deliberate steering/handling inputs than my old ET4.
Oh, and a bigger motor... oh, that bigger motor. As I drove into the farmland between Orlando and Jacksonville, and the traffic on the 2-lane roads thinned out, I started cracking the throttle open to see just what I'd gotten myself into. Compared to my poor ET4's slow build of speed, the response was definitely sportier, and the midrange made me start wishing for a tachometer on the dash, just so I could watch it build, then fall as the wet clutch did its magic decelerating the bike with engine braking. This was what I'd been looking for -- juice on demand.
Then a sun-shower wet the roads, so I figured Play Time Was Over on a bike I didn't have 100 miles on yet. Just South of Jacksonville, the sun-shower turned into thunderstorms, and kept up into the night. I changed into my rain gear at a gas station, reminded myself to buy some Pledge for my helmet's faceshield to help water bead off, and made my way to Jesup, GA for the night.
Miles ridden: 208
Here's a preview of the next couple days, give or take a few lightning bolts.
In the morning, I discovered that my hasty packing had left out extravagances like a comb... and underwear. So, I added those to the list with the Pledge, and headed out on 301 North in search of a Family Dollar, gas and more coffee. Today, the rain kicked in around noon, outside Orangeburg, SC, and didn't stop until after I checked into a hotel in Burlington, NC hours later. The purchase of Frogg Togs was looking smarter every minute, and the helmet rubdown with Pledge was kept the rain from turning my view of the road into an Impressionist painting.
Now that I was getting more familiar with the bike, and the roads were more 4-lane than 2-lane (and rainy to boot), I focused on recalling my MSF classes, and repeating S-I-P-D-E in my head, rather than noting how different it felt from my last Vespa; Be in the moment, get home safe. Still, I didn't yet feel confident on it yet, and noticed that I was using too much body lean, rather than countersteering the bike.
The most interesting thing that happened was that the Burlington PD came to my motel after one of the guests decided that it'd be a good idea to pee on every guest room door on the 2nd floor. Ah, EconoLodge, the perfect starter kit for an episode of COPS...
Miles ridden: 390
Although the forecast didn't call for rain, the skies looked as leaden as they'd been since Thursday afternoon, so I packed the rain suit on top of my gear, and got on the road around 10. Now on my 3rd day of unpacking and repacking everything, I was beginning to understand why detatchable bags are so appealing to real tourers.
I was rewarded with my favorite day of riding for the trip, on Route 119 that runs between North Carolina and Virginia. Here was the road I needed to get back on the counter-steering beam again, with sweeping turns, dry pavement, and the flat grey skies helped make picking a line feel instinctive. The overcast burned off to reveal a beautiful day, and the miles slipped by as I passed through Leesburg, slipped through Maryland, and got to a hotel in Pennsylvania Amish Country 12 hours later.
Miles ridden: 410
The 2nd half of the trip was goregeous.
I woke up tired and sluggish this morning, definitely feeling the thousand miles I'd traveled the past few days, and grateful to be 150 miles from home. Luckily, I had some work to do that morning, so I took my time over a coffee at the BK Lounge until I felt the itch to get back on the road.
This was the home stretch, and I had a race between impaitence and nerves for this last leg of the trip -- I could knock a couple hours off of the travel time by getting on the Interstates the rest of the way, and put my practice to work, but I was also weary from the trip. So I decided to split the difference, and mix in some Interstate riding in advance of the shitshow that are the highways leading into Manhattan to gauge where I was and how I felt.
First up was the 202 outside Philly -- a newly constructed 8-lane bypass that reminded me more of SoCal than Pennsyltucky. Unfinished expansion joints, uneven slab concrete, sweeping off-camber turns, with everyone driving a minimum of 65 was a good warm-up for what was coming. Ihe BV was definitely up to the task, and I felt more confident with riding than I had just 48 hours before. Before I knew it, it was time to get on 287/95 for the final push.
It feels like the BV has a very forgiving chassis, as I only experienced 1 incident of chatter from the back end while leaning into a turn doing an indicated 75 (pace of traffic), and steering corrections don't seem to upset it much. It's light enough to forgive mistreatment, but heavy enough not to get its jimmies rustled by bumps, if that makes any sense. I don't know how much to attribute to the bigger wheels, how much is its longer wheelbase, etc., but I do know there's no way in Hell I'd feel as confident on a large-frame Vespa, at speed, on the roads that made Bruce Springsteen want to write Born to Run.
Once I was back in the city (after detouring from the Holland to the Lincoln Tunnel thanks to not one but two disabled vehicles), 10th Avenue felt like my old stomping grounds again. Once you're above 10 MPH, the BV feels as nimble as needed, and I drove like an asshole just because I could, weaving in and out of the lanes of traffic and didn't miss a light from 36th Street all the way into the 70s.
Now that I'm home, I wish I'd stopped for more pictures, because the roads, sights and surroundings were amazing. Luckily, I remembered to GoPro the whole 4-day trip, and you can watch it all HERE.
Miles Ridden: 163
Grand Total: 1,171
At rest, finally.
Thoughts on the BV350
After 1,000 miles on it, I'm really pleased with my choice. It did have a couple glitches the first day riding it. The Traction Control light would turn on solid amber upon starting up and stay on while riding, but I think it was the result of sand/cruft in the speed sensor that cleaned itself out after the first day riding, as it hasn't shown a fault since.
Once I was certain the Traction Control had sorted itself out, it's like it wasn't there. I didn't notice that it ever engaged at any point along my ride. I don't know if that was the result of my cautious riding, or the overall stability of the platform, so while I didn't need it this time out, I'm comforted that it's there, and look forward to testing it out in a wet parking lot so I can let it engage in a controlled situation.
I know I talked about the engine earlier, but I really, REALLY like the wet clutch, and the engine braking it provides. Knowing that rolling off the throttle brings immediate deceleration led me to having smoother speed/braking inputs the whole trip, and it's just plain fun.
The BV's riding position is pretty neutral (like other scooters in my experience), but by the end of my journey I could feel myself leaning into my wrists on the bars, and my hands are a little tingly 24 hours after getting off the road. Since I didn't remember having any vibration along the ride, I'll chalk it up to overall fatigue after a long ride.
I can see why people have mixed feelings about the seat. At the start of a day's ride, it feels great, but about 2 hours into a ride, I'll want to fidget around to sit further back on the saddle, and shift my feet on the floorboards to give my hip flexors a new task. By the time the reserve light comes on, I'm ready to get off and walk around for a bit. Luckily, since sitting is the New Cancer, I'm just keeping up with current trends. My 31" inseam lets me put the balls of both feet on the ground at lights without issue, or 1 flat foot -- dealer's choice.
The under-seat storage is great, and held the bulk of my stuff for the trip, with just my rain suit, electronics go-bag, and trusty can of Pledge in a duffel bungeed to the pillion/rear rack. I do wonder why Piaggio didn't provide any bungee hooks on the aft end of the bike, as my used example shows evidence of scratching where Phil (the previous owner) used to tie stuff down. Before I take my next ride lasting longer than a weekend, I'll get better bags before I go.
In sum, I feel like this is a bike I can grow in to, and would have to leave scooters behind for a motorcycle if I wanted more power, torque, or handling. To continue that growth, I've committed mentally taking the MSF Intermediate Course out in Jersey before the riding year, and finding some wide open concrete patches where I can do my compulsory tight low-speed turns, figure-eights, etc. Right now, the bike's better at going places than I am at riding it, but the rest is just a matter of conscious practice.