February 7, 2013 by Doug Coutts
The Vespa was designed in the 1940s to meet the need for a machine that ran on the smell of an oily rag and required little maintenance, apart from topping up the rag with oil on occasion. The same holds true today. Your Vespa will give you years of trouble-free scooting, provided you follow a few simple steps:
1. At the first sign of trouble, call in an expert. Trouble is defined as a noise, smell or visual indication that wasn’t there yesterday or if it was, it’s worse today. An expert is defined as someone who can use words like “gudgeon” and “pin” in a sentence and not sound wet. An expert is not someone who works in a motorcycle shop – they are sneering snobs who think Harley Davidsons are the bomb.
2. Make sure there is always petrol in the petrol tank. This is a sure-fire method of ensuring smooth running of the engine, especially if a spark plug is installed as well. Consult an expert if you’re not sure what a spark plug looks like.
3. Do a quick look-over of your scooter before starting out each day. (NB: this is not the same thing as an over-look which should take longer and achieve a different outcome.) In particular, count the number of wheels. Anything over one is good, one or fewer will necessitate calling in an expert. Make sure the scooter is pointing in the correct direction. (Hint: The handlebars go at the front.)
Your Vespa is a perfectly safe means of transport, unless you take it out on the road. Then it becomes a death trap and a magnet for crazy car drivers jealous of your ability to slide sideways on wet road-markings. If you can’t avoid riding on roads, keep your wits about you – although keeping your armed security agents about you is probably a better bet.
Pay particular attention at intersections. Car drivers are notorious for pretending they can’t see scooters or children and will often drive straight into them. If you do get run over and the vehicle has passed over you, do not linger to see if you can wiggle your toes – most drivers are adept at finding reverse gear in an instant and making it appear accidental or a panic-reaction.
Note too that Stop and Give Way signs apply only to scooter-riders. Cars, pedestrians, cyclists and skaters are exempt. Truck and bus drivers are too high up to see any signs so are exempt as well.
Practise safety manoeuvres that will keep you out of harm’s way. Probably the most effective is staying in bed, but if you need to venture out into traffic make sure you are well protected. If you can’t arrange a Diplomatic Protection Squad escort, a well-fitting helmet, gloves and jacket will have to do. Make sure the jacket is long enough to cover your lower back area and to hide weapons of retribution.
Never use your left hand to give motorists the finger. This will throw you off-balance and pitch you into the middle of the road. Using your right-hand will also throw you off-balance but you’ll end up in the gutter which is inherently safer. Plus, it’s your accelerator hand – lifting it will cause your scooter to slow down meaning the car in front will stop much further away and the driver will have a greater distance to cover when he comes after you.
Some scootering publications will suggest that you should “ride like you own the road”. This is bad advice – if you owned the road you wouldn’t be letting anyone on it because of the damage they’d cause to the nice new seal. It’s much better to ride as if you have every right to be on the road, just like skateboarders and jaywalkers.
Wheel-stands, or wheelies as they’re often called by those who don’t know the proper term for anything, are an important part of being a scooterist. The main idea is to act like you meant to pull one. The other main idea is not to attempt one near a blind intersection, close to a wharf or within sight of anyone who might suspect you’re just an unco.
Remember, the whole point of riding a scooter is the concept of freedom – it’s a similar feeling to that experienced by those on the wrong side of the Rio Grande: a lot of money will get you close but you know that sooner or later you’ll end up on your butt back where you started.