Sunday, 27 February 2011

I don't like it wet (Tim)

I gave my scooter a wash this weekend. I've never washed it before. In fact this was the first time since the resurrection that it's ever got proper wet. I was amazed at how grubby it had become - I guess most of it from the 220 mile round trip to mums a few weeks ago. So with a bucket of hot soapy water I bought her back to "show room" condition.

Every slosh of water however was a stab to the gut for me as I imagined that pesky wet stuff finding it's way into every nook, cranny, seam and weld line and settling unseen for years to come, gorging on my good metal and shitting out rust in return.
I've seen what water can do to a Vespa (and you can too at and it breaks my heart to think of it happening all over again.

I washed and I rinsed and I mopped and I dried but still I was worried about those seams - so I took her for a spin to get a bit of a blow through too.

And then Scott text messages me to suggest we meet up this week;
"I'm definitely getting some earplugs. Fancy meeting for brunch in oxfordshire on weds?" he said

I text back;
"Weds sounds jolly nice. Is the weather good that day - though that said I guess I'm going to have to take the rough with the smooth eventually - yes let's do Wednesday :-) "

Scott replied;
"I have to buy a neck warmer thing before then, and some boots.... It will be fun. Scotty"

And it dawned on me that now I am committed to this ride to Italy, I have no choice about what the weather might hold in store - I'm just going to have to go with it. I'm just grateful that Scott is there to make sure "it will be fun"

So, Wednesday - a hundred mile round trip in a day. I'm quite excited :-) though I don't know about neck warmers, I'm starting to wonder about a waterproof suit :-(

Friday, 25 February 2011

Rebuttal (Scott)

In response to Tims earlier thoughts:
1. Electric start on a Vespa. The amount of times I have stalled the scoot in traffic over the past 340 odd miles, is embarrassing. Electric start has stopped me from getting a punch in the face many times. And kick starting's a pain. And he's jealous.
2. I read on Wikipedia (so it must be true) that white helmets have the highest visibility rating, so being new to this whole scooter lark, I asked for one of those. I was then reliably informed by Tony from Harry Nash Scooters (roughly paraphrased) that when you have a head shaped like a lumpy potato, you shouldn't be so fussy about colour, get one that fits. So as a owner of a 1972 XXL head, I took what I could get. Though as I happens, I do quite like the matching helmet and scooter look, the beast has a black seat and I have a black jacket and trousers, so that's a match too, but I ruin the look with my fluorescent yellow backpack cover. Oh well. Style was never my strong point.

He is broken... (Scott)

Just as I left a client in Chiswick i heard a bump, and then heard something scrape along the road when I leant left. I thought I hadn't put the stand up properly, or the spring had gone. Popped it on the stand again, all looked fine. Oh well, try again, leant to turn left and the heard it again, and a less than bouncy back end. Uh - oh. So find a parking space, took the cowls off, and had a poke around. The rear spring and shock assembly had come astray from the mount, the bolt through the body had sheared off. Bother. I'm about a kilometre away from the nearest scooter garage. Double bother. As you can see in the photo, the front wheel is meant to be on the ground when it's on the stand, not 6 inches in the air!

One thing for it. Push a 110kg scooter the 1 km. Eventually when I got to Harry Nash Scooters, they didn't have the bolt in stock, as they aren't PX specialists. Triple bother. Luckily there's another scooter shop just down the road. they seem to have lots of shiny new twist and go models in the window, and was expecting the worst, which is getting the RAC to move it to BMG in Sheen. With trepidation I walked into Scooter World ( on Chiswick High Road, and met the very amiable Graham (Lambretta rider). I asked whether they did PXs. His reply; 'At the moment we'll fix anything' which is just what I wanted to hear! They had the right bolt in, so I asked for a service at the same time. I walked away wondering how much it would all come to. This was at 1pm and at 5pm I got a call back all done. No price yet. So a worrying weekend, and on Monday I was there at 9am to collect...

..... and a clean bill of health, and £150 all in for the suspension mount bolt, a service, new clutch cable, front brake handle rebuild and a carb clean. I was mighty relieved! I mentioned the impending journey, and asked if there was anything else I should be watching for. Graham's reply 'we love finding things wrong with scooters, and unfortunately there wasn't anything'.

[Deep sigh of relief]

The little PX now runs much better than before and I am super pleased with my purchase. Yay!

P.S. A few days later, I noticed that they had snuck a little ScooterWorld sticker on the front above the Piaggio logo. I was quite impressed with their cheekiness!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

First sight of Scottys Scoot (Tim)

Scott and I have worked together on all sorts of projects over the years and so it was great relief that I could call on him this morning to dig me out of a hole by running some postit notes over to a venue that I was working in.
And it was a great delight that agreed to do it and come on his Vespa. This was the first time I'd seen it in the flesh

I kinda new what it was going to look like, but to actually touch it and see Scott in his scooter gear really brought it home to me that our trip is a reality! I'm very excited :-)

2 things struck me;
1. He's got an electric start! I hadn't realised that before - surely that proves he's a bigger girl than I am
2. His helmet is the same colour as his ride - and that does look good. I'm starting to think my hi-viz orange helmet might be looking a bit out of place on a 20 year old powder blue scooter. Time to start thinking about a more 'in-keeping' open face helmet?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Planning the route (Scott)

Over the past few months I have sat down with Google maps and tried to plot a non-motorway shortest route to Sestri from Petersham. It's bloody far. 900 miles-ish. Each way. Without cock-ups. I tried taking different ferry routes from Portsmouth and Southampton, as well as Dover, and all were long. Very long. For the conference we are riding to we will be doing logistics, which means trying to herd 250 Europeans and their accoutrements about a small resort town in Italy. It's hard work and we will be exhausted at the end of it. I was starting to have the cold feet about the trip. Then Tim got his lovely wife Laurie on the case. Finally some brains on the team. I always sort of imagined Laurie a bit like a Navy Wren in an WWII operations room, pushing with one of those long croupiers sticks a couple of markers in the shape of two berks on Vespas around an enormous map of Europe trying to find the best route.
As Tim mentioned the France train from Paris to Nice idea was quickly rubbished with their cretinous anti-scooterism, but the new route is awesome, 3 countries each way, still a decent length adventure and a sleeper on the train through Germany, then hoon around the lakes in Northern Italy. And hopefully arrive in Sestri refreshed and have a relaxingly quiet trip home.

Anyway all I want to say is that Laurie is awesome, and if the UK Armed Forces had drafted her to do the planning for Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, it would have been all done sensibly, quickly and economically and it would be all over by now. And she would have found there were no WMDs in Iraq long before invading and not bothered with even going there at all.

Thanks Laurie. You rock.

Begin at the beginning... (Scott)

A few months ago, while talking to Tim, discussing his Vespa project, he mentioned the  half-baked idea of an adventure… like riding it to CREA Conference south of Genoa in April. I'm always fairly partial to lunatic plans, I always have a few in my head, this really one appealed. I hadn't really thought much about scooters, but since we moved to deepest Surrey-type-suburbia reducing my commute time has been kind of on my mind. Two birds and a stone sort of came together, and next thing, I agreed that his idea was a good one, and I'd like to join him. From reading Tim's blog I started to get to know the PX125 and then the die was set. No horrible plastic automatic nonsense, I wanted the 4 speed manual, greenhouse gas emitting two-stroke beast.

I mentioned this idea to Joanie and who knows that I talk a load of rubbish at the best of times, and she said 'that's nice dear' and hoped the idea would pass. Unfortunately the man racing towards forty without a hobby had just found one. And my bonnet had a bee in it, so I took my CBT in freezingly icy conditions at the start of December and I think Joanie realised I was serious, I got up early on a cold morning and left the house without being a grumpy git, this is serious! Tim was still in two minds about the trip as he had then added up the mileage and found it was more than we thought, but I still had no bike, therefore it was still a slim chance of non-starter. We went to NZ for Christmas and my Mother pointed out that riding a scooter to Italy at my age with two kids at home was a stupid idea, which instantly made my decision for me.

So the hunt began, after furious saving/juggling of credit. Researched a fair bit about the cantankerous rust-traps that Vespa had the good sense to kill off 5 years ago after roughly 30 years of production, the more I found out the more I wanted one, and the game was on.

I found a nice one on eBay, not far from my house (I hadn't ridden one before, so the first ride would be a worry) which had a 200cc motor, in a pale pistachio colour, the current owner had the engine uprated and few other bits and pieces added, like nasty chrome. So I set my limit and watched it climb through the roof. Perhaps my budget was wrong, perhaps it was a stupid idea, but I was pissed off I missed out as I had been watching it for a fortnight and it seemed good, and to lose it in the last 5 minutes irked me. As the auction finished I did another search for Vespa PXs, and a silver PX125 came in at £1300 or make an offer, which had been re-listed about a 10 minutes ago. It seemed quite nice, and the guy had a super clean garage (I watch too many crime shows, I did my owner profile based on garage cleanliness, and good eBay ad grammar & punctuation), and the scooter had a Malossi 166cc kit, T5 carb, and Scorpion exhaust and only 4300 miles on the clock, which since I was going to do a 1000 miles in April, seemed a much better purchase. So in a moment of weakness I added an offer of £1100, hit send and got back to sulking about the first one. 2 seconds later, Your offer has been accepted.
I felt physically sick.

I had just agreed to spend £1100 on an 11 year old Vespa, I had never seen before, which lived in Rugby and was non-standard and had blurry photos. And I bought it because Tim had one. It was the right spec it had an uprated engine (I'm a bit porky), a disc brake (I will use to ride round central London), electric start for stalling in traffic and it wasn't covered in chrome mod-nonsense. 

So, after mild panic attack. Told Joanie. Luckily she was in a pub with her friend and was quite supportive. I think my verge-of-a-nervous-breakdowness was coming through on the phone. I feel quite guilty as I would have shouted at her for spending a grand on something unseen which will be used to do something stupid on. I must buy her something nice in Italy.

So the plan was to get Joanie to drive me up Saturday, and I would ride the 90 miles back, taking all day in small chunks. By Wednesday the weather forecast had deteriorated and I hired a van (Mercedes Vito, the nicest van I have ever driven), and decided I couldn't wait any longer and went up after work on Friday. After horrendous London traffic I eventually got to Rugby and got to Jackie and Darren's house. I has shaking from nerves.

We introduced ourselves, and the tension must have been a bit obvious, as Jackie let me off the hook and took me straight out to the beast. And it was bloody awesome. I had aged about 10 years in the walk from the front door to the garage. Jackie fired her/him (still undecided) up. That heady whiff of two-stroke, reminded my of mucking around in boats with outboards when I was a kid in Auckland, and the Scorpion exhaust makes quite a racket I was smitten. We got the scooter in the van, luckily a friend of Jackie's was there to help as I didn't take anything for ramp, the cash was swapped for keys, spare carbs, a cover and a couple of tyres, and back to London I went.

It turns out that Darren has a Lambretta (single seat model) and bought this for Jackie, had the engine and gearbox uprated for her, and then used it on the weekends, and was in beautiful condition. A small bit of rust on the front mudguard (well it is Italian, so rust is compulsory) and they are emigrating to Australia, and there is only room for the Lambretta and the car in the container, so on eBay it went. She had to say good-bye to the scooter three times, and looked a little teary at it going so that meant it was loved, and nice to see.

The Thursday before I picked it up I had to get some gear and visited Harry Nash Scooters in Chiswick where Graham and Tony were awesome with advice and clothes for the portlier rider, with stuff I wanted in stock. I was very happy, got the helmet, gloves, waterproof trousers and not-too-biker looking armoured jacket all in one place. Their advice was a excellent, and I'm very happy with all my gear.

On Saturday Joanie and the kids helped me get the scooter out of the van, I got dressed up, and choke out, clutch in, hit starter make 20 month old Sam cry with the noise it makes, filled our cul-de-sac with oily smoke and I was off. Two 7 km laps of Richmond park (at a sedate 20mph) later and I was off on to the mean streets of Richmond. The Vespa is great fun to ride, comfortable, the gear change is a killer on the left hand, it's as noisy as anything, the exhaust pops and crackles during engine braking, but all in all… awesome.

Thank goodness.

When I told Tim this, I heard him inhale slightly… the Italy trip got one more step to reality!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Spares kit (Tim)

Chatting with Scotty yesterday, it dawned on me that he is clearly getting more road experience in than me. I am a fair-weather rider and as such might only get out on my Vespa once a week -if I'm lucky - depending on when the sun decides to show his face. Scotty on the other hand is riding his Vespa every day, come rain or shine!

I decided that I must make more effort to build up some experience if I am to make this big trip without too much stress or injury, and so today I took a little spin out into town - I'm proactively trying to get more exposure to busy roundabouts and complicated junctions - I don't like them, but I cant avoid them so I might as well get used to them.
I noticed I was getting a little low on 2-stroke oil so it seemed like a good excuse to pop into Gransport. Dan was as welcoming as ever and didn't even smirk when I told him of Scotty and my plans for Italy (I am very conscious of perhaps appearing the naive nu-boy)
We got round to talking about spares needed for such an epic journey and before I knew it, dan was piling the shop counter with essential parts.

Do I really need 3 replacement gear/throttle cables? AND 2 replacement brake/clutch cables?
Dan painted a scenario for me where I was stranded on the side of an Autostrade with all cables snapped (??!!) .... He was right, I would need all those cables (??!!)
And 2 spark plugs, a handful of cable nipples and 8 replacement bulbs!!!
I wasn't going to doubt Dans experience and hard-learnt wisdom but I was surprised at just how accepted it is that all these bits are likely to be needed. In the end I didn't think that 30 quid was too bad for a complete backup kit

So, I've got MY spares. I hope Scott is bringing more than just a spare pair of sunglasses with him

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Pants (Tim)

I like comfy pants.  And I like clean pants, I could never wear the same pair of pants 2 days in a row - even if the previous day had been a particularly 'relaxed' one.

Sitting with the wife over a cup of coffee this afternoon, our conversation turned to pants.  I was wondering how much clothing I should carry with me on this trip, and more to the point, just how much I COULD carry with me on this trip. 
Jeans are no problem - I can make a pair of jeans last for months, but pants are a different kettle of fish.  If we are going to be away for a couple of weeks am I going to have to take 14 pairs of pants? (and of course the extra 2 pairs for emergencies..... what?..... doesn't everyone take emergency pants??)

As I say, I like comfy pants but as a consequence they can be rather baggy, and 14 pairs of baggy pants can take up a lot of space (witness my pants draw that wont close properly)  And space on the Vespa is one thing that I dont have much of.

Over our coffee Laurie and I pondered this predicament and came up with a number of potential solutions (and I am assuming that Scotty will be having the same worries so might also be grateful for these useful pants strategies);
1.  Perhaps we could start to learn to love smaller pants like thongs or Tanga briefs.  I'm always open to new experiences, but thought of wearing a thong and sitting on that vespa saddle for 5 hours makes me wince 
2.  Maybe we should take disposable paper pants with us.  This seems like a jolly good idea to me - just as long as we dont get soaked through in any down-pours
3.  Laurie was quite keen on the idea that I might take all my big (and rather old) pants with me and throw them away each day as I use them.  Maybe one day people could retrace the steps of our momentous journey by following the trail of pants that we leave on our way
4.  Laurie also thought it was a brilliant idea (of hers) that Scott and I, under the special circumstances, might simply agree that we "go commando".   I not sure when the best time might be to test this idea with Scotty.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Thinking about Luggage (Tim)

I wonder how much luggage we are going to need to take with us? And I wonder how much luggage a vespa can carry?

We are away from home for 2 weeks - what stuff are we going to need to carry with us?  Scotty never goes anywhere without his MacBook and cables for every eventuality so that's him fully loaded then - no clean pants for him.
I'd really like to take my electric toothbrush - but have I got the space?

I've been watching (and bidding) on ebay for Vespa front racks. They seem to be going at about 40 quid, though I could "buy it now" for about 60. This seems quite expensive to me for something I'm unlikely to use again (maybe)

I wonder if anyone out there would like to donate or lend one or two front racks for a couple of weeks?? Any sponsors?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Ferry Crossing (Tim)

Ordinarily the obvious direction to Italy would be south - and via Dover.  But as we have had our travel plans redirected via Dusseldorf, it looked like Harwich / Hook of Holland might actually be a more direct route - despite the fact that when we actually leave our houses - I will be riding East, and Scotty riding North!
An additional advantage of Harwich/Hook of Holland it that we can use the crossing as a sleep over too.  Our return ticket for a 2 birth cabin and 2 scooters is £320 all in.  I reason that this is probably getting us there quicker AND we would have to have paid for a stop over somewhere anyway, so the cost isnt too bad if you say it quick enough.

So thats all the non-riding parts all booked and paid for.  All additional costs from here on will be fuel, replacement clutch cables and JD&cokes..... oh and we might choose to do a stop over on the way down in Verona

I am feeling both excited and nervous
Scott messaged me just now;
"after being anxious for weeks, I feel quite zen now! And excited!"
followed by;
"also do you still want to do a mirror swap, the most time I use mine are in traffic jams when I'm looking out for other bikes that are screaming up, and twatty cyclists"

Planning the route (Tim)

In the early days of our discussions (2 weeks ago) it was simply case of getting up early one morning, riding down to Dover, getting a ferry and then riding down through France and long the Mediterranean sea front until we got to Sestri Levanti on the Italian Riviera.  It sounded so easy and the idea of pottering along sun-dappled, tree lined avenues with a baguette strapped across the back of the saddle was a compelling one.
However after my first 'big' trip down to see my mum last weekend, it quickly became apparent that my 20 year old Vespa isn't the zippy thing that the modern twist-and-go's that kept zooming past me appear to be.  I'm rather embarrassed to say that my 110 mile journey took me nearly 5 hours!  In my defense it was very windy and I was being cautious with my newly conditioned engine etc etc but nevertheless it did make me wonder about just how many days it would take to ride 800 miles to this conference.

By my calculation; at an average of 25mph (my god, is that all i averaged last week??!!), 800 miles would take 32 hours of riding, and based on the fact that I was knackered after 5 hours a dont think I could face more than that per day, this would be a 6 day journey there for a 6 day conference followed by a 6 day journey back - 18 days in all.  Now I have a very understanding and lovely wife, and I am sure she wouldn't miss me at all during this time, but I think she would be very concerned about me not earning any money during this time - in fact not only would I not be earning, but I would be spending - on hotels, food and JD&cokes. 
I could see that Scott and my big ideas were looking a little too ambitious.

However, we are trained problem solvers, and we aren't easily dissuaded when faced with an obstacle.  Our real dream was to ride our scooters in the warm sunshine, so the real question was about how we might get the scooters down to Italy as quickly as possible without killing ourselves in the process?  And of course the Autorail was obvious answer - Scoot down to Paris, pick up the over nighter to Nice, ride along the sea front from Nice to Sestri.  We agreed this was the best idea we'd had yet, and recruited my aforementioned understanding and lovely wife to do all the messy logistics of ferry and autorail bookings.
It turns out though while Autorail welcomes motorbikes - it doesnt necessarily welcome scooters!  On investigation, we discovered that Autorail say that scooters are 'too light' to secure safely and consequently dont allow them on their service (i think they go on open transporters so are exposed to the wind).  Now I would like to explore this a bit further with them - what is their definition of a 'scooter'? and have they ever felt the weight of a Vespa PX?  but alas its all a bit complicated when you dont speak the language of the booking agent - and so an (another) alternative route had to be found...... again

And this time it came in the form of an overnight sleeper train - The AUTOZUG ( ) from Dusseldorf to Balzan - I phoned them directly to check if they accepted 'scooters' but had to wait for an English speaking operator to phone me back to confirm that they did (though again we didnt agree on our definition of 'scooter' - Im assuming the Germans dont have 1Tonne scooters)

So for 673 euros, Scott and I have got ourselves a train and 'couchette' to get us from Dusseldorf to Balzan, and return via Alessandria to Dusseldorf.  This will save us many miles of slogging across the damp Alps, give us somewhere to sleep for the night (along with 3 other people in our 5 person couchette?) there and back.
We've spent money now.  We are committed.  Just need a channel crossing now

Why? (Tim)

Scott and I met a number of years ago at a conference.  We were both volunteering our services.  I was doing some teaching, and Scott was running the logistics for the conference.  We are like that; we are 'giving' sorts of people.  The fact that the conference is run on the sea front of a chic little town on the Italian riviera had nothing to do with our enthusiasm to support such a worthy conference.
Crea Conference ( is now in its 9th year and we of course plan to offer our services once again this year - its a tough job, but someone has to do it!
In past years, we have normally traveled to Sestri Levanti by some combination of flights, trains, hire cars and taxis.  And we would have done the same this year if it werent for the fact that we've both recently become enthusiastic owners of Vespa scooters - and shared the dream of riding them through Tuscan hills and along Mediterranean sea fronts.

The recent addition of scooters to our lives is all a bit of an accident and surprise to both of us.  Mine arrived nearly a year ago when a friend of my daughter was under pressure to get rid of his MOT failure PX125 from his dads garage where it had been gathering dust for the past 2 years.  I'd never ridden a motorcycle in my life, but rather fancied the idea of trying to get it started - just for fun.  As it turned out, it was much more of a project than I'd anticipated and the subsequent 8 months saw me completely strip and rebuild the whole vehicle - During which I blogged about the process and my growing love for Vespas ( you can read the whole story at
Meanwhile Scotty and I were doing various bits of work together and I was regularly chewing his ear off in the bar in the evenings over a JD and coke or two about how fabulous I thought Vespas were...... and it wasnt long before he was agreeing with me.... and soon thereafter, looking to buy one.

2 weeks ago, Scotty, a scooter virgin, bought his Vespa PX125 - and so it was clearly a natural next step for us to think about taking the Vespas on a 1600 mile round trip through France and Italy.  Why wouldn't you do that to test a pair of old, unknown entities (bikes and riders)?

With barely 200 miles of scooter experience between us (I did do a 110 mile / 5 hour trip to my mums last weekend) we have somehow egged each other on to agree to make this epic journey.

What have we done? (Tim)

I like Scotty.  He's a fabulous chap.  One of the best.  We work well together.  We easily bounce ideas between us and enthusiastically build on each others visions.

But to be perfectly honest I thought he'd pussy out of this one.  I was kind of planning on egging the whole idea on, talking big, and looking cool, and then when he finally backed out of it, I could simply place all blame on him without losing any of my face.

But I seem to have rather under-estimated Scott.

Somehow we appear to have got ourselves committed to riding our Vespa PX 125's from England to Italy.  And if we pull out now, we will have wasted a good few hundred quid on the ferry crossings we've just paid for.

The travel is in 7 weeks time.  But the journey starts now