It has to be a Vespa..
Some things are quintessentially Italian - pasta, pizza, Sophia Loren and Vespa scooters.
Built since the 1940s in their factory in Pontedera in Tuscany, Piaggio have always had the market cornered when it comes to 2-wheeled motoring chic. In all those years not much of the design has changed, they still look fantastic.
I’d sold my motorcycle a few years ago but kept thinking about riding around on two wheels again. We were in the little town of Cisterna and saw an elderly man riding around with no particular destination in mind on a beautiful red Vespa PX150. ‘Oh, it has to be a Vespa!’ I thought to myself - my wife was with me so I couldn’t say it out loud.
I spent a few weeks scouring advertising websites for the right machine. Red. It has to be red. Model? Well, not so keen on the more modern take on the Vespa such as the ET and LX models and the newer, bigger bikes are more comfortable but too far from the original concept, it has to be a PX. The PX first came out in the 70s but Piaggio recently reissued it, pretty much unchanged, so it’s possible to find one in decent condition for not too much money.
I found one in Sommariva del Bosco, 30 minutes away. A red PX150 with 8,000km on the clock. Perfect! With my dog in the back of the car (it was walkies time when I left home so he had to come with me or he’d go nuts..) I finally found Massamiliano. A young guy, thin, wearing a Vespa T-shirt. He was, as one of my African friends would say, really trying. The bike looked great. He started it up and we all disappeared in a cloud of two-stroke smog, George my dog going into a coughing fit.
It had a couple of small faults, but nothing I wouldn’t enjoy fixing. We talked about price and I said I’d get back to him. To cut a short story even shorter, a few days later money changed hands, we signed the deed in the local agency in Canale and I now own a bright red Vespa PX. We intend to use it for advertising and maybe lead some tours in the Langhe. So look out for us!
If you want to enjoy a Vespa yourself when you visit we’re friends with the owners of the Vespa rental shop in Canale, just north of Alba. It’s the only way to see the Langhe!
Thinking of buying one?
Vespa are a cheap, reliable and a fun way of getting around, especially here in Italy where the climate is good. So, here’s some information and tips on buying one.
Expect to pay anything from €1,500 to €5,000 for a used one. If you want a classic ‘big frame’ bike go for a PX or an LX. The LX is usually cheaper. Far better to find something that’s been owned by an enthusiast rather than an ex-commuter bike. But they are tough and reliable so if it looks clean enough it should be fine. €2,000 will get you a very good one.
Vespa come with either 4 stroke or 2 stroke engines. The 2 strokes are noisier and can smoke a bit. For me it’s all part of the charm. You’ll have to add 2 stroke oil that mixes in with the petrol but a full oil tank lasts many petrol tank refills. Use a good quality oil for less smoke and better economy. The 4 strokes are quieter and smoother and don’t need the separate oil, though you do need to do periodic engine oil changes.
Engine sizes vary from 50cc to 300cc on the ‘big frame’ models. If it’s for pottering around the Langhe then go for a 125, 150 or 200. It will be fine. This isn’t a racing bike.. You can have a 50cc without being resident here. For everything else you have to have residency. A dumb Italian law..
Don’t overlook the brand LML. They look exactly like the Vespa PX - because they are a Vespa PX. Made in the same factory in Indian but just with different badging. The difference is you get nicer colours, a stiffened frame and they only cost around €2,000 new. A new Piaggio badged Vespa is €4,000! Buy an LML and spend €40 on Vespa badges and you’ve got a great machine . (Update: I just bought one! Scoll down to read about).
The yearly road tax is very low. For my 150cc PX it’s just €20 a year!! Insurance is around €300 a year but you can suspend it during the winter if you’ll be leaving the bike in the garage in the cold months. That way a year’s insurance can last two years, so you’re down to €150 a year.
Spare parts are easy to find. There’s a great online store in Germany that has everything you could possibly need. It’s www.sip-scootershop.com
Maintenance is simple so even if you’re not so handy with a spanner a local Piaggio agent wont charge the Earth to keep your machine in top condition.
Another 'Vespa' added to the stable!
Recently, I bought another ‘Vespa’ as we love to go out riding in twos when we get a spare moment. A calm ride through the Roero with the sun setting behind the Alps in a fearsome orange glow is just so exhilarating or riding into Alba for a coffee is all part of the reason we stay here and pay ridiculous taxes.
I say ‘Vespa’ as technically it’s not a Piaggio Vespa. This is an LML Star. LML is an Indian company (Lohia Machines Limited) that for years have built PX scooters for Piaggio in their factory in Kanpur but a few years ago LML got licence from Piaggio to build a PX with their name on and their own twist on things.
It’s all a little strange. Why would Piaggio agree to it? I can only guess they’re receiving a fair amount from LML for each scooter built and LML - and here’s the amazing thing - sell their version of the PX for half the price Piaggio sell theirs so it must open up a huge part of the Asian market. And it doesn’t end there - LML’s PX is a better bike. Costs half the price and is better? What a deal!
So, how is the LML PX version better? It’s said the engine is better. I must say ours really purrs. Also, the frame has a tubular structure to make it more rigid and this really notices, even when you lift it off its stand. All parts seem to be interchangeable, so that’s easy. The LML also has a second air filter for dusty roads - this is going to be real handy for our next big ride - I’ll come to that in a moment.
I bought mine, a 2014 125cc two stroke manual, from a nice enough guy who seemed to have a substance abuse problem but the price was good and the condition excellent. I rode the 100 kms home in the freezing cold whilst Alex followed in the warm car, but I loved every moment of it. On getting home we found the battery hadn’t charged (we had assumed it had gone flat due to lack of use). On removing the side fairing we saw the battery terminals were very corroded. I put it on charge overnight but it still had no life. Only €30 for a new one - it wasn’t worth trying to revive. Then a little bit of deception. The excellent scooter spares company in Germany, Sip Scooter Shop, supplied me with Piaggio and Vespa badges. We popped out the LML badges and replaced them. Now only a trained eye would tell it’s not a Vespa.
So, if your thinking of buying a Vespa, don’t buy a Vespa, buy an LML Star. You’ll spend half the money. Then spend €40 on badges and no one will know the difference.
In June (2017) we set off for Sardinia. We’ll ride through south Piedmont into Liguria to pick up an overnight ferry from Genoa to Porto Torres. 13 hours later the entire island is ours to explore for the first time. Well, we only intend to stay in the north to central parts. I’ve been doing lots of reading and planning and it all sounds amazing. We’ll let you know how it goes!