Vespa is an Italian manufacturing icon and symbol of the Italian renaissance after the second world war. This scooter became famous worldwide thanks to the movie ‘Roman Holiday’, a romantic comedy directed by William Wyler in 1953 where Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn did a little sightseeing around Rome on a Vespa 125 low light. The far-fetched story between an American reporter and a young princess eclipsed the sporting image of the Vespa built some years earlier and some 375 miles away from Rome, where Piaggio’s scooters were under the spotlight due to an unexpected international motorsport triumph.
The International Six Days Trail, 1951
The 26th edition of the ISDT was held 18th – 23rd September in Varese, Northern Italy. Usually referred as a sort of Olympics of Motorcycling, with trophies for best six-rider national, four-rider junior national, three-rider women’s national, three-rider club national and three-rider manufacturing teams. This competition mixed off-road and on-road routes and a track session at the Monza circuit. The race was won by the UK team (Rist, Viney, Alves, Stocker and Ray) although the most unexpected result came from the Piaggio Squadra Corse. In fact, rather amazingly, their tiny Vespa 125, specially prepared with a larger Dell’Orto SS23P carburettor, high performance exhaust and two petrol tanks was able to win 9 individual gold medals. They also earned Piaggio the Industry Gold Medal, as the only Italian team to win the trial. After this unexpected triumph, the Piaggio’s were produced in a limited edition, only around 300 units, obviously destined for the regularity competitions sold at four time the price of standard Vespa 125.
Luckily the new Sei Giorni isn’t so pricey: £5399.
The ‘Sei Giorni’ isn’t a new model but a clever refurbishment of the GTS 300 launched in 2006 for the 60th anniversary of the Vespa. Some of its styling details such as low headlight, chrome handlebar and the small dashboard with a white background remind us of its ancestry. Coated in a charming and almost military-style matt green which contrasts nicely with the all-black rims wheels and silencer, the Vespa Sei Giorni show off its sporty spirit with the burnished windshield, black number plate and one-piece saddle which is lavishly made in dual leather and piping with white stitching. As every respectable special edition, the Vespa Sei Giorni has its identity shown on the metal plate with the serial number struck on the leg shield. Despite its racy look, the Vespa Sei Giorni pampers its owner with some attentive details such as a wide helmet compartment, USB port and the storage compartment in the leg shield back plate maybe not really in racing style soul but certainly useful.
The press launch of the new Vespa Sei Giorni was held in Varese, on the same roads where 66 years earlier, the 125 won 9 gold medals. Even though it was a long time ago, Varese hasn’t changed too much. There are always mazes of narrow and steep roads that link the lake to the highest part of the city, named Campo dei Fiori. In short, it means that you can reach the highest point starting from the lake in 15 km and with 1000 metres of difference in altitude. Seated on the Sei Giorni I was impressed with its eye-catching finishing. Seat, grip, dashboard, handlebar switches, paint, everything looks really attractive. Turn on the engine, I am surprised how unintimidating it is, maybe too much for a single seat scooter with black number plate.
Although its single cylinder 4-stroke, 4- valve, liquid cooled it has lost 1hp after the Euro-4 treatment, it is still capable of putting out 21.2 HP at 7750 rpm with the respectable hit of torque of 22 Nm at just 5000 rpm. On the open road, the Vespa gets quickly from 0 to 45mph. The game’s over when the speedometer shows 75mph but the impression is that it could be faster with a different final ratio.
However, maximum speed isn’t important stuff, especially for a scooter. The Sei Giorni is incredible fast whether you dash around the snaking roads or on every kind of paved surface thank to an impressive suspension setup. Riding this Vespa along the old trial stage of the Six Day race, from Palace Hotel to Sacro Monte, I was surprised by the suspension response, it’s able to absorb the potholes and large cracks founds on this mountain road. If you are riding with a little more vigour, the noise of centre stand is scraping the tarmac reminds you that we aren’t in 1951 and your licence driving is in danger. For this reason, I cannot say that it’s a defect of the new Sei Giorni but simply a warning message. On the contrary though, I have no doubt that a responsive brake is needed. I’m also unconvinced about the dashboard readability. It looks lovely but like its ancestry is too small for the view of a middle-aged man like me.
Could the 2017 Vespa Sei Giorni win the Six Days Trial today?
This is the question that I had in mind while riding this Vespa along the Varese route. Left, right, left, downhill, brake, u-turn, I keep an eye on my rear view mirror and I can see my photographer getting smaller and smaller. He’s riding a T-Max and he’s really in trouble trying to follow me on these narrow and crazy roads despite his Yamaha having double the amount of power and I am not at all a fast rider. He uses the power to his advantage and reduces the gap only on the straights. The Vespa boasts perfect balance and you can focus on the next turn confident that it will digest the change of direction and any obstacle with ease.
I turn off the engine and we are safe back at the hotel and I reflect, thinking that if the Vespa Sei Giorni could win again, then the next Six Days will have to be held in maze-like location like Varese.
Yes, it does like an original at first glance. But at second glance you can obviously tell it isn’t. It’s the all-new Buzz 1 electric scooter.
A new name meets old-fashioned styling. This is, of course, based on the Vespa of 50+ years back. That’s the big selling point and the brand identity. But certainly not the only selling point.
The finished version of this prototype scooter isn’t going to sell on looks alone. It needs the technology to match. This scooter packs in lithium-ion polymer batteries, regenerative electric braking and hydraulic disk braking (so braking boosts the battery), a removable roof system with solar panels (although to be honest, the roof looks a little odd), a slow reverse gear for easy parking and a weatherproof shell and steel tubular chassis.
Fast charging of the scooter take just 12 minutes, although it probably needs an overnight charge for any distance. Talking of which, the maximum distance right now is around 240km, with plans to boost to 400km. Top speed depends on the model you go for, but is up to 120km/ph.
There’s more detail and more images on the website, with a contact form if you want to know more. Details in relation to price and sales are said to be following this year.
Sometimes you come across a vehicle, whether on the road or online, that blows your mind. Over the past century you can see the creativity of scooter designers increasing as new models are produced, each more wonderful than the one. So, take a look at these 10 unusual scooters and wonder how anybody came up with such creative designs!
10. Cezeta 501The Type 501 scooter is Cezeta’s first scooter, with a unique design that was very popular among youngsters: the long seat is perfect to carry two persons. At 2 metres the “torpedo-like” scooter is much longer than regular scooters in those days, holding a pretty large luggage compartment since the fuel tank is located above the front wheel.
9. Salsbury Motor Glide de LuxeThe Salsbury scooter brand brought the first generation of scooters to America. This 1938 Motor Glide de Luxe was featured with an automatic instead of a manual transmission.
8. Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon C-10After World War ΙΙ, scooters were used to help reconstruct Japan – they were so important to the country that a Silver Pigeon was presented to the Emperor of Japan in 1948. This Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon C-10 from 1946 was the first in a long line of successful scooters. The design was based on a scooter brought from the United States by a General Motors engineer.
7. Honda Juno KThe 1954 Juno K was not only the first Honda scooter but also the first in a number of other areas as well. It featured the first electric start, the first fibre-reinforced plastic body construction, first turn-signal lights and a full windscreen with a tilt-back sun-shade. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, former Honda vice-president Kihachiro Kawashima says the bike was a ‘splendid failure’. Too expensive, too heavy and the engine got too hot too soon. Still, it’s quite an awesome collector’s item now!
6. KYBELE Cyber scooterThis scooter looks like something from the future; like it belongs in a city with flying cars and robots. The KYBELE Cyber scooter actually started off as a Honda Fusion, customised into this futuristic vehicle by the Japanese firm Gull Craft.
5. Vespa Stretch ScooterThe family-version of the scooter: with 4 seats it is supposedly ideal to drive your kids around. Vespa South Africa subtly refers limousines, by calling it a stretch scooter. A pretty creative vehicle, but how sturdy is it?
4. Lambretta RecordThis little red devil broke the world record of speed in the scooter category back in 1951, going an astonishing 201 km/h on ‘the flying kilometre’. The ‘red bullet’ is indeed as fast as it looks! The record was set by Romolo Ferri when he beat the Vespa Torpedo, his greatest competition at the time.
3. Piaggio Ape Calessino 1953A scooter and a covered wagon all in one. This vehicle really takes you back to ‘La Dolce Vita’ of the 1960s! While the driver takes you around Rome or Toscana, you and your lover can sit back and enjoy the ride. This classic scooter is still very valuable as a 2016 Catawiki auction shows: a Piaggio Ape Calissino 150cc from 1953, perfectly restored, was sold for £20,622.
2. Lambretta TV 175 with Volkswagen Bus SidecarThis is definitely one of the cutest and coolest scooter sidecars on the planet. Not quite suitable for camping however.
1. Vespa 150 TAP with canonOnce you have seen this scooter, you have seen it all; it doesn’t get much more creative than this! The ‘Bazooka Vespa’, introduced in 1956, has a rifle mounted to it and only about 500 of these scooters were ever made. They were parachuted into war zones and hidden in hay-bales. With a top speed of 40 mph these scooters were faster and more mobile than most vehicles on the battlefield.
“Not just a scooter, a way of life.” This is the slogan of the iconic Italian brand Vespa, most suitable for the world’s number one scooter producer.
The company was founded by Rinaldo Piaggio in 1884, and at first, it produced carriages, switching to aircraft production years later. In 1917, the company expanded their facilities by building a new plant in Pisa. In 1921. Piaggio acquired another factory in Pontedera, where they produced bomber plane engines. This factory became a strategic target during the Second World War, so on 31st August 1943, it was destroyed.
After the war, Enrico Piaggio, Rinaldo’s son, established the new Piaggio company in April 1946, in Florence, and built a new factory with the help of the Allied forces. Enrico saw the need of the masses for an affordable and small vehicle, which can be used on the damaged Italian roads. Inspired by the Cushman motorcycles, which were dropped by parachutes by the Allied Forces, in 1944 Enrico ordered the Piaggio engineers to design a scooter. They created a prototype named MP5, better known as Paperino.
Enrico was not satisfied with the looks of the scooter, so he asked the aeronautical engineer, Corradino D’Ascanio, for a redesign. In 1946, the MP6 model was created, and when presented to Enrico, it was immediately called “Vespa” by the owner himself. The Italian term “Vespa” means “wasp,” and its name was given due to the looks and the sound of the vehicle. On 23rd April 1946, the scooter was patented in the Central Patents Office in Florence, and the production began. The Vespa was an instant success, and it became famous soon after the launch. 13 years since the creation of the Vespa, there were one million scooters sold. Today, this number has increased to over 16 million. Many other manufacturers tried to copy the Vespa and produce their scooters, but none of them had the beauty and durability of the Italian scooter.
Vespa has had many models through the years, used for many purposes. However, there is one model which will remain known as the most dangerous scooter ever made: the Vespa TAP 150. Ordered by the French military in 1950’s, Vespa TAP 150 was produced by ACMA, the licensed French manufacturer of Vespa models. The model was first introduced in 1956 and enhanced in 1959. The TAP 150 was planned to be used in the Indochine and Algerian conflicts by the Troupes Aéro Portées (TAP), hence the name of the model. Three companies entered the competition: Valmobile 100, the Bernardet 250 and the modified Vespa. The Vespa won, so approximately 500 pieces of this model were assembled by ACMA.
The TAP 150 had a reinforced frame, a 146 cm³ single cylinder, two-stroke engine and could develop a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour. The TAP was equipped with an M20, a light anti-armour cannon, which could penetrate an armor with 100 mm thickness, thanks to the HEAT warhead attached to it. The Vespa was supposed to serve only as a transport method for the cannon, although it was possible to fire the gun while mounted on the scooter.
This artillery was not very useful against the tanks in the Indochine conflict but proved itself as quite useful against lightly armored targets in the Algerian War. The TAP was constructed to be dropped in pairs from a plane with a parachute. The bikes were mounted on palettes and protected with haystacks. One of the scooters carried the cannon, while the other carried the ammo, so they were operated by two men teams. The TAP 150 was ready to be used instantly, and due to its mobility, it was a very effective weapon. A trailer carrying additional items was often attached to the moped, and it also had a tripod for the cannon. The Vespa TAP 150’s construction was very cheap, with an estimated cost of 500$, so it was the perfect weapon for anti-guerilla warfare.
The Bazooka Vespa was not the first military motorcycle produced by Enrico Piaggio. At the beginning of the 1950’s, he introduced Vespa Force Armate to the army. Although the bike met the NATO standards, Enrico Piaggio himself quit the negotiations in 1952, stating he does not want to deal with the state and the military. The Vespa TAP 150 was used only in Indochine and Algeria and, after that, it was dismissed from service.
Today, the Piaggio group is one of the largest producers of motorcycles in the world, with more than 70,000 employees and operations established in over 50 countries. Piaggio owns eight different motorcycle brands, but Vespa is the jewel in their crown, still faithful to their traditional design and incomparably beautiful to any other scooter.
As we all know, the Piaggio Vespa is the ultimate emblem of what Italians call ‘La bella vita’ (translated as: the good life). However, Vespa was not always as elegant and trendy as we have come to know it today. In fact, the engineers of Piaggio built many prototypes with different chassis and frames, that experimented with the scooter’s versatility. Quicky read on to discover the examples.
Toy-like, yet ingenious, the Vespa motor scooter made its public debut in 1946 at Milan Design fair. The first 100 were very difficult to sell but, in 1953, when Audrey Hepburn made her big screen debut alongside Gregory Peck in the Hollywood flick Roman Holiday that Vespa got real world fame. In the film, Hepburn’s character in search of excitement, hops on board a Vespa and runs fearlessly through the streets of Rome. From that day, Vespa got an increase in sales of more than 100,000 units just after the screening of the movie.
Vespa 125 Corsa “Alloy Frame”
In 1949 Vespa was first built with a race chassis which was made from the same aluminium alloy used for the construction of aircrafts. A technology which was highly advanced during the 40’s. The fuel tank and steering position gave the rider more autonomy, which resulted in the optimization of high speed riding. Vespa 125cc Corsa participated to many competitions and celebrated many prestigious victories in 1950.
Photo credits: Vespa
Vespa Monthlery To promote the sporty image of Vespa, Piaggio shifted the focus towards breaking new records. On April 7th 1950, at the French circuit of Montlhery, during 10 hours of testing, Vespa won the world record for the 100 mile race (average speed 129.7 km/h), 500 mile race (average speed 123.9 km/h), and the 1,000 mile race (average speed 124.3 km/h).
Vespa Siluro In 1951 Vespa broke its most prestigious record: the flying kilometer. On February 9th, between the 10th and the 11th kilometer of the motorway of Rome, Vespa Siluro ran the flying kilometer with a record time of 21.4 seconds with an average speed of 171.1 km/ h (106.25 mph).
Vespa AlphaThis vehicle was used in the movie “Dick Smart, Agent 2007” starring Richard Wyler, Margaret Lee and Rosanna Tapados. This is the Vespa 180 Super Sport transformed by Piaggio and the English Alpha Willis. This scooter in the movie was capable of running on the road, flying like a helicopter as well as being a submarine.
Vespa 150 T.A.P. The French Ministry of Defense, in the fifties, commissioned Piaggio France to develop a vehicle for military use. The result was a very special Vespa of which there were only about 600 produced from 1956 to 1959. Used by the Foreign Legion and the Parachute Corps, the Vespa TAP was equipped with a 75mm gun, capacity for additional ammunition, two cans of fuel and a small cart. It was produced in two camouflage colours: green and sand. Despite the weight of 115 kg the Vespa TAP could reach a speed of 66 km / h, with a range of 200 km.
From indigenous people of the Arctic to Quadrophenia, by way of the US military and then indie bands, the parka has proved itself to be more than just a practical winter coat. Its name is the sole word in English derived from Nenets, the language spoken in the Arctic north of Russia close to where the parka originated. The Parka was originally designed and worn by hunters in the Arctic regions for protection against the freezing temperatures and wind.Typically made from caribou or sealskin and trimmed with fur, the hooded Inuit jacket is the model for today’s parkas, which first came to prominence in the 1950s when the US military developed the N-3B snorkel parka.In the 1960s the Fishtail Parka became popular with the Mods, wearing it to protect smarter clothes underneath when riding their scooters. As popular today as it was in the 60’s and manufactured by many of the top brands the Parka seems like it’s here to stay!
The Fishtail Parka
The fishtail parka was first used by the United States Army in 1950 to help protect soldiers from the elements in the Korean War. Following the end of the Second World War the US army recognized the need for a new cold weather system for fighting in as the existing kit was inadequate; the fishtail parka solution was the result of a concerted design effort.
There are four main styles of fishtail parkas: the EX-48, M-48, M-51 and the M-65. The M stands for military, and the number is the year it was standardized. The EX-48 model was the first prototype or “experimental” precursor to all of them. The M-48 then being the first actual production model fishtail parka after the pattern being standardised on December 24, 1948.
The name fishtail comes from the fish tail extension at the back that could be folded up between the legs, much like a Knochensack, and fixed using snap connectors to add wind-proofing. The fishtail was fixed at the front for warmth or folded away at the back to improve freedom of movement when needed.
The EX-48 parka is distinctive as it has a left sleeve pocket and is made of thin poplin, only the later production M-48 parkas are made of the heavier sateen canvas type cotton. The EX-48 also has a thin fibre glass based liner that is very light and warm, the M-48 has a thicker wool pile liner with an integral hood liner made of wool. Both are distinguishable from any other type of parka by having the sleeve pocket. This was dropped for the M-51 onward The fur ruff on the hood is also fixed to the shell of an EX-48/M-48 and is of wolf, coyote or often wolverine. The M-48 parka was costly to produce and therefore only in production for around one year. The pockets were wool lined both inside and out. The cuffs had two buttons for securing tightly around a wearer’s wrist. The later more mass-produced M-51 parka had just the one cuff button. The liner had a built in chest pocket which again was unique to the M-48 parka.
The next revision was the M-51, made because the M48 was so good and of such high quality it was just too expensive to mass-produce.
The outer hood of the M-51 Fishtail Parka is integral to the parka shell, an added hood liner as well as a button in main liner make the M-51 a versatile 3 piece parka. The idea behind this 3 part system was to enable a more customisable parka that allowed for easier cleaning of the shell as the hood fur was on the detachable hood liner, not fixed to the shell as in the M-48. It also allowed for both liners to be buttoned in or our depending on the temperature and hence warmth required. It was also cheaper than the M-48 to mass-produce The early M-51 was made of heavy sateen cotton, the same material as the M-48. Later revisions of the M-51 were poplin based. The later liners were also revised from the “heavy when wet” wool pile to a lighter woolen loop or frieze wool design that dried easier and were far lighter. The frieze liners were constructed of mohair and were designed using a double loop system which repelled cold weather.
The M-65 fishtail parka has a detachable hood and was the last revision. It features a removable quilted liner made of light nylon / polyester batting which are modern synthetic materials. The M-65 fishtail parka first came in to production in 1968. These parkas featured synthetic fur on the hoods after an outcry from the fur lobby. As a result, only hoods for these parkas made in 1972 and for one year later have real fur.
Designed primarily for combat arms forces such as infantry, they are to be worn over other layers of clothing; alone, the fishtail parka is insufficient to protect against “dry cold” conditions (i.e. below about -10 °C). As such all fishtail parkas are big as they were designed to be worn over battle dress and other layers.
In the 1960s UK, the fishtail parka became a symbol of the mod subculture. Because of their practicality, cheapness and availability from army surplus shops, the parka was seen as the ideal garment for fending off the elements and protecting smarter clothes underneath from grease and dirt when on the mod’s vehicle of choice, the scooter. Its place in popular culture was assured by newspaper pictures of parka-clad mods during the Bank Holiday riots of the 1960s.
OK, this is super-interesting, because it’s non-trivial.
When a fluid moves around a body, the fluid flows around the body in a predictable manner. In particular, at the point where the fluid first encounters the body there is a phenomenon known as the bow wave effect. This is the tendency of the fluid to move outwards and around the body in advance of the leading edge of the body:
Now, here’s the important thing: Most of the fluid is in what is called laminar flow, meaning that it flows along the surface at more or less the speed of the fluid. But at the boundary layer, in particular the leading edge boundary, the turbulence causes the fluid to create a small vacuum. So in the area in green above, there is almost no flow at all.
Now, what does this have to do with parkas and fur trim? Well, it turns out that the bow wave effect is proportional to the area of the leading edge of the object that the flow is around. Or, to put this another way, the fur trim on a parka increases the effective area of the leading edge, leading to a larger bow wave effect and hence the creation of a zone of calm area right in front of your exposed face.
I myself have experienced the difference between parkas with and without fur trim many, many times, and the the difference is startling. Particularly when the wind is head-on, parkas with fur trim make the difference between relative comfort and rapid frostbite.
So, what’s super interesting is that while I know the exact answer to this question, and this was widespread knowlege of this in the arctic, there does not appear to be any literature on the subject. This would make a great Masters (or even PhD) thesis, and best of all you could do it in Engineering, Anthropology, Fashion… the possibilities are endless. I can even see the title now: Percieved and Actual Cooling As A Function Of Fur Trim-Induced Bow Wave Effects in Traditional Inuit Garments: An Empirical Approach.
My recent jaunt to Turin for Euro Vespa brought back home the pleasure of riding a scooter abroad, and as more and more people are looking across the water we thought we’d give you some advice on scootering on the continent.
The other side
Of course there’s no denying that you can get beautiful scenery right here in Great Britain, but all too often many of us tend to take the same, direct and boring route to a regular rally venue and little else. Besides, it just doesn’t seem as exotic as it does abroad.
Now you may think that it’s simply a matter of crossing the Channel and riding on the wrong side of the road, which is true to a certain extent, Fingers crossed, and the Best of British, and you could read no further. lf however you decide to err on the side of caution, here’s few tips you may find useful should you decide to go continental…
Before you go
lf you’re going to do it properly, then there’s some paperwork you need to look at first. To begin with, to ride in Europe you must hold a full driving licence.
Next, although most motor insurance policies these days do include some sort of green card cover (for travelling abroad), it’s always best to double check this before you go.
Another thing well worth its weight in gold is travel insurance, as this can help iron out a whole load of problems should you have an accident or your baggage gets stolen. Again, check the small print to insure the policy covers you to ride a scooter abroad (many don’t).The Post Office do such a policy quite cheaply and they also have application forms for your E111, European medical card – another essential.
It’s always advisable to plan your route before departure too, although ignoring it does add an extra element to the adventure! Whatever you decide, sticking a list of town names to your scoot will alleviate the need to stop and examine a map at every major road junction!
Prepping the scoot
A GB sticker on your scooter and a spare set of light bulbs are compulsory in some countries, and do make sense, as does bringing your driving license, green-card insurance and vehicle registration document along with your passport (it could prove vital if stopped by the police). Then, according to certain websites like the AA (www.theaa.com/motoringadvice/overseas), you get into things like emergency triangles, fluorescent jackets etc, and basically you discover each country has its own laws. If you’re really worried, the best thing is to browse a couple of websites before you go.
Then make sure your scooter’s had a recent service. Regarding spares, well this is potentially a bottomless pit. Vespa owners should be able to buy most average spares from the vast amount of Piaggio dealers throughout Europe- in theory. Personally I take the obvious like cables, nipples, bulbs, common-sized nuts and bolts, inner tube, etc, and I’d consider taking parts like clutch plates and the relevant tools because even if you don’t know how to change them yourself, you may well find someone en route who does. Swarfega wet wipes and surgical gloves are a good idea too!
As for vehicle recovery, make sure you’ve got some! Everyone has stories as to who is good and who is not, but whatever you choose, check the small print of any policy you may have to make sure it gives the cover you want with regards to the scooter’s size, location, destination and recovery costs.
Finally, minimalist packing is always better than including the kitchen sink. And remember when loading to evenly distribute your luggage around the scooter, front and back, rather than piling it all on at one end. This should have a less detrimental effect on handling and the carriers.Oh and wrap it all in plastic bags in case it rains, and consider packing some spare gloves too!
Crossing the water
There’s a variety of ways of getting across the water, although I noted with all ferry companies that you couldn’t book more than one vehicle at a time via the internet which is usually cheaper than booking by telephone.
Over the last few months I’ve tried three different companies, and these are my findings.
Sea France operates almost the same as P&O, Dover to Calais, but are slightly cheaper and with slightly fewer crossings per day. It seems a bargain on paper, but to be honest I’m not too sure now.
After being directed onto the boat we found the special motorcycle racks used by Sea France to secure bikes during the sailings were not suitable for our scooters, catching the Lambretta’s engine and fouling both front mudguards. This didn’t go down well with a couple of French staff and eventually we found ourselves parked in an alcove on the side of the coach deck with minimal straps to secure the scooters.
SeaFrance’s reply to these observations was: “Our existing facilities were designed with co-operation from motorcycling groups to suit their needs. They were not designed specifically with scooters in mind, as the demand for crossings from this form of transport is negligible. However, having had this matter brought to our attention, we will look at how the system might be improved for scooters.
“Whether for a car, coach, lorry or two-wheeled vehicle, all bookings are made for a single vehicle and its occupants. Internet booking facilities will not allow groups of any vehicles to book together because each vehicle is treated as a separate entity- as is the case with all cross-Channel operators.”
Speed Ferries operate a single faster ferry from Dover to Boulogne, a little further west along the coast from Calais. In a nutshell they can be commended on their speedy service which takes less than an hour, a journey made more pleasurable by the absence of hordes of foot and coach passengers, and indeed heavy freight vehicles. The price at the time of travelling (£9 to £19 per single crossing) was a bargain, though facilities on board are minimal. However with only five crossings per day, and the fact they only accommodate eight bikes per sailing (the bikes secured using cushions and ratchet straps), unlike P&O for example, if you miss your sailing or return earlier than planned there is no guarantee as to what boat you will get on.
Speed Ferries response to these comments were: “Regarding internet bulk bookings I do see your point and this is an area we are looking into. We are working towards changing the features of our booking system to allow customers more options and services online. Until we have such features in place though, customers are always welcome to contact our call centre to check availability on specific departures.
“Regarding the limitations of motorcycles per departure; we have eight spaces available for motorcycles, which do not interfere with the loading of cars. If we allow more motorcycles per departure it will slow down our loading process, as bikes do take longer to load because they have to be strapped down. As you yourself mention, Speed Ferries only operate one vessel so far, which means that turnaround times are tight. Carrying more than eight motorcycles could delay turnaround times considerably and cause delays in our daily schedule.”
I’ve also used the Norfolk line (Dover to Dunkerque), which is cheap, although the initial trip out was a farce regarding the loading of bikes. Two on at a time until secured it seemed, and it took ages. The boat was an older ferry and as such not as fancy as others, but that was reflected in the food prices too—a veritable bargain by cross-Channel standards. As rough as the crossing was (very!), the bikes remained upright (ratchet straps and padding again). The return sailing was on a more modern ferry — cleaner, brighter, and more expensive to eat and drink on. Norfolk Line have made no comment about these remarks.
Although not having used P&O recently myself, we did invite them to say something, which they did. “We count our two-wheeled customers in the tens of thousands so it’s very straightforward. Foam, straps and tender loving care take care of securing them. I prefer to fasten my own bike, yet my on-board colleagues will assist —and they’re doing this all the time with some machines that are worth a small fortune.
“Every category of vehicle is limited, although we had nearly 300 bikes on the Pride of Rotterdam going over for Assen last week. But we do have to work out a balance of traffic. Every person ticks one off the legal passenger capacity of the ship. To take it to the very extreme, we could fill a ship with scooter riders and their machines. That would leave the vehicle decks virtually empty, but we’d be unable to take a single truck (half our business) or coach, or car etc, because we’d be out of passenger space. There’s no hard and fast answer, but when it’s really busy we’ve a greater degree of flexibility for a scooter and a couple of people than say a coach and 52 passengers.
“This explains why you can’t just get on the Internet and grab half the ship for a particular type of traffic. But the tip is that once a decent size group travels, around the 20 mark, we’ll quote a group rate anyway.”
So there you go, and remember that whichever way you choose to get your scooter to Europe, booking as far in advance as possible will save you money as well as hopefully get you onto the crossing you want. Always check the small print too, as altering your ticket can cost quite a bit, although for a few extra pounds you can buy a flexible ticket to start with.
Thankfully the amount of mopeds and scooters in Europe meant that we had no problem find either semi or fully synthetic oil in French or Italian petrol stations. Granted, if you insist on slicking to a certain brand like Silkolene or Rock Oil you’re going to have to search, but even in a remote part of France we stopped at a small car dealership that had a couple of petrol pumps to fill up and found they stocked fully synthetic two-stroke.
And as we’re on the subject of petrol stations, there are plenty of them on the continent, although there are less 24 hour manned locations than here in the UK. Off the motorway, it’s not uncommon to find smaller stations closed for lunch and indeed on Sunday. Come the evening, some of the bigger stations close for the night as well. When darkness falls you are left with a number of options, and they vary depending on country and location. Many countries have automated pumps at night, which can be paid for in a variety of ways. In France for example we encountered payment by fuel cards only, while others accepted ordinary credit cards. In Italy we also found pumps into which you fed paper money (5,10, 20 euro notes) and then the pump dispensed that amount of fuel, so be prepared if riding outside normal office hours.
Regarding grades of fuel, both normal unleaded (95) and 98 octane petrol was available, it’s also worth noting that in Belgium we had trouble getting money from bank cash machines after hours, until a friendly focal informed us that many lobby services are only available to holders of local bank accounts.
Finally, in Europe they measure tyre pressure in ‘bar’ and not psi. 1psi = 0.06895 bar, and for example 18psi =1.24 bar and 32psi = 2.21 bar.
Passes and tunnels
We casually assumed that Col de l’ Iseran would be clear in June but were informed on reaching the peak that they’d only removed the last of the snow and opened it just 24 hours earlier!
And while we’re at the top of a mountain, the thin air almost 3km above sea level played havoc with the carburettor’s mixture on our two-stroke engines, We changed nothing on our standard Vespas and although they struggled towards the end, made it to the top. Other motors, especially those which are tuned, may behave differently, so it may be advisable to contact whoever built your engine with regards to altering jetting or airscrew mixture en route.
The same goes for tunnels through the mountains, check them all out before you go is the advice, and be prepared for them to cost; €20.20 was what it cost us per bike to use the 14km long Frejus Tunnel.
On motorways in Italy you are not allowed to ride on a scooter that is less than 150cc and the same goes for travelling through the Frejus tunnel, a bit hypocritical of course as a vintage 150cc Model D Lambretta is easily out performed by a 125cc Vespa T5, but them’s the rules. As a hint, the only time we were challenged was when entering the tunnel and then the two of us were on PX200s. Of course with no badges on the scooter it would be difficult for anyone to know…
Speed limits also apply in Europe, unfortunately, and they are approximately on a par with those in the UK, although those with tuned engines should note that in France the maximum speed on a motorway is reduced in bad weather conditions (and in France radar detectors are illegal). Static speed cameras can be found throughout Europe, though less so in Italy, and on our recent excursions it was only in France that we encountered policemen with portable speed guns. While rumours suggest that foreign police may not chase those who trip static speed cameras back to the UK, from personal and friends’ experience both Swiss and French police will happily relieve you of cash on the spot at a mobile speed trap.