This is hardly timely, but I wanted to capture my thoughts on riding my Vespa GT-200 for the first time.
It’s a strange thing how for a lot of scooters and motorcycles, the first time you ride it isn’t unitl after you buy it. I get it. Motorbikes require a minimum amount of riding experience and skill to operate at a basic level. You can’t just turn motorcycles and scooters over to people willy nilly. It makes a purchase decision difficult, however. In my case, I was coming from a scooter that I loved when I bought it, but came to hate because of the seating position — something that didn’t crop up until I started taking longer rides. Would the Vespa be better? Would it handle worth a damn? Would the brakes get the thing stopped in a controlled way? The best I could do was talk to people who owned GTs, read the online reviews, and trust the advice of the folks I’ve come know so well at Scooterville.
I met my new GT for the first time out behind Scooterville. Stephen, one of their ace mechanics, was getting the idle adjusted for me. The GT was making a nice, quiet, burbly “papapapapa” sound. I geared up and hopped on after getting the run-through on controls and things to keep in mind. I was a little bit apprehensive, I must admit. With mostly metal body-work, dropping a Vespa is a costly mistake.
Getting my bearings in the back parking lot at Scooterville, I pulled away up to 5 mph or so and tested the brakes. The brakes on the Blur are epic. Those brakes have ruined me. Seriously. When I grabbed the brake handles on the GT for the first time, I honestly thought something was wrong. I’m used to grabbing just a tad more rear brake and then adding in the front brake where all the power is supposed to be. The front disk on the GT felt like it was asleep. I parked, hopped off, and ducked back inside to get a second opinion. “Yep, that’s how they’re supposed to feel.”
Damn. What have I gotten myself into?
I was assured however, that they’d get better as they wore in. That was indeed the case, thankfully. About 20 minutes into my 90 minute ride home, I got a lot more comfortable with the brakes and the pads were indeed grabbing better and better. (note: It took about two weeks to get used to the nuance of the GT’s brakes and to get the pads well seated. I can testify that it stops very, very well. Not quite Blur-caliber, but what does?)
Confident that my brakes were at least functioning, I did a couple laps ’round Scooterville and finally headed toward West River Parkway in downtown Minneapolis. With this beautiful new machine, I was going to take the long way home. Making my way through the chain of lakes and finally into the western suburbs, I just couldn’t stop grinning. Not only was this beautiful machine mine, it was magnificent.
The biggest reason I sold the Blur and bought the GT was riding position. The saddle shape of the Blur seat meant you had one choice for where to put your butt, and it wasn’t a good one. The GT has a nice, flat, bench-style seat that could be a tad more supportive, but is comfortable overall. Where the GT really wins is in how low its footboards are. So someone tall like me can actually ride comfortably. What’s more, I actually have room to move my feet around and l can scoot back and forth on the bench seat. Lots of options, so it’s easy to stay comfortable.
The GT has the torquey 4-valve, liquid-cooled, 200cc version of their LEADER-series engine, which cranks out around 22 hp. With the scooter’s weight a trim 320 lbs or so, it gets up and goes just like a scooter should, even with my big arse on it. Moving through parkway or city traffic, the acceleration can only be described one way: effortless. The GT is downright quick. I could tell right away that this thing was a speeding ticket waiting to happen.
I’ve often called Vespa the “Lexus of scooters.” This isn’t entirely accurate. They’re more like the Ferrari of scooters. Plush, powerful, gorgeous like only an italian machine can be, and upon close examination your left thinking “for something this expensive, you’d think the panels fit together better…” Oh yeah, ride. It’s very comfortable. The GT rides on 12″ wheels, which handle road roughness much better than the smaller 10″ wheels found on many smaller scooters. The suspension is forgiving but not bouncy. The front end is responsive without being darty (unlike my old P200E). The GT feels a tad butt-heavy, but not overly so. It’s very responsive to hip-checking it into a lean, and very responsive to counter-steering. It holds turns very well, albeit not as well as the Blur. The rear felt a little loose on that first ride — a little soft for my weight. Thankfully, the GT has a 4-position adjustable rear suspension. On setting #3, it’s perfect for me.
The headset, the switches, the gauges – they’re downright cute. There really isn’t a better word. You can tell that these aren’t just off-the-shelf controls from the motorcycle parts bin. The grip texture, the switch shapes, they’re all lovingly made. The turn signal switch was tricky to get used to at first, but I soon got the hang of it. I do have one big complaint: there’s no click or buzz sound to indicate that you’ve got your blinker on. Yeah, you should be in the habit of turning it off, but the auditory reminder is a nice safety touch.
Overall, I had a hoot of a time riding the GT home that day. No complaints at all in the areas that really matter. For the rest of the riding season, I came to appreciate the GT and Vespa more and more. I also discovered one particularly aggravating shortcoming, but that will have to wait for my long-term review. Stay tuned…