RID­ING AN ICON

1960 GS150 vs 2016 GTS300 An­niver­sary

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Comment - By Stuart Barker MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

‘There are no clutch or gears to worry about, sim­ply turn the twist­grip and ease off into traf­fic’

Even to­day, if you were tasked with de­sign­ing the eas­i­est-to-ride and most fuel-ef­fi­cient form of two-wheeled trans­port it would prob­a­bly look a lot like a Vespa. Step­ping onto the lim­ited-edi­tion 70th an­niver­sary ver­sion of the GTS300, ev­ery­thing feels com­pletely nat­u­ral and com­fort­able. The seat­ing po­si­tion is high so you can plan your way through traf­fic as well as keep­ing a good, up­right, com­fort­able pos­ture. The run­ning boards al­low you to place your feet wher­ever is com­fi­est, and there are so few con­trols to fa­mil­iarise your­self with that it re­ally couldn’t be eas­ier. Thumb­ing the 278cc fourstroke engine into life, it’s so quiet and smooth that you barely no­tice it’s run­ning. There are no clutch or gears to worry about, you sim­ply turn the twist­grip and ease off into traf­fic, feel­ing like you’re float­ing along the road rather than rid­ing on it. Un­til you hit a pot­hole that is. Small, 12in wheels and lim­ited sus­pen­sion travel don’t cope well with sud­den jolts but in all other cir­cum­stances the lit­tle Vespa glides along ef­fort­lessly.

There’s enough speed for over­tak­ing too, even on the open road. With a top speed of around 83mph, the GTS can scoot past the ma­jor­ity of dither­ing car driv­ers with ease. There’s plenty of stop­ping power too, thanks to the ABS brak­ing sys­tem (stan­dard on all GTS mod­els), which is more than pow­er­ful and sta­ble enough to pull you to a halt on com­mand. And re­turn­ing up to 70mpg, there are few cheaper ways to get around, short of ped­alling or putting one foot in front of the other.

But it’s in town that a Vespa truly ex­cels. You can cut through gaps that seem im­pos­si­ble, and it’s so light that it’s ef­fort­less to ma­noeu­vre. Park­ing is a breeze, too – as the phys­i­cal di­men­sions of the bike are so small and at just 148kg, you can even man­han­dle it into su­per-tight spa­ces.

But it was while park­ing up that I no­ticed the one an­noy­ing thing about the GTS – the flip-up side­stand. Un­less there’s a tech­nique that I’m miss­ing,

I had to ac­tu­ally step off the bike and hold it up­right so that I could reach the flip-up stand tucked away be­neath the bul­bous body­work. Not good.

Once parked, an­other mas­sive bonus be­comes ap­par­ent though. Within sec­onds of step­ping off the Vespa, you can be dressed like a nor­mal civil­ian. There’s no need for clumsy rid­ing kit – just stick your lid in the am­ple un­der­seat stor­age area and walk off in your jeans, jacket and shoes. Pure bliss.

We’re not sug­gest­ing you trade in your mo­tor­cy­cle for a Vespa, but as a sec­ond bike for town use, there re­ally is noth­ing bet­ter.

Rid­ing Matt Bab­bing­ton’s prizewin­ning 1960 GTS150 was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mat­ter though. Ev­ery­thing that makes the mod­ern GTS so ef­fort­less was no­tably lack­ing on the clas­sic model. For starters, you have to kick­start it ev­ery time and keep the lit­tle two-stroke mo­tor revving to stop it bog­ging down. The sound and the smell are in­tox­i­cat­ing but very far re­moved from the silent run­nings of its more so­phis­ti­cated four-stroke coun­ter­part. There are no mir­rors so you have to get used to look­ing over your shoul­ders and there are no in­di­ca­tors ei­ther, so hand sig­nals are the order of the day. The drum brakes feel truly ap­palling for a rider used to mod­ern bikes, while the skinny lit­tle tyres and 10in wheels (as op­posed to the 12in wheels and far fat­ter tyres on the GTS) make it feel like you’re balanc­ing on a roller blade.

But there’s no deny­ing the char­ac­ter and cool of this 56-year-old clas­sic. Even the Ital­ian waiter in the cof­fee shop came out to drool over it, amazed at its vin­tage and con­di­tion. For my part, I spent most of the day sit­ting on its tail, just to hear the chain­saw-sharp note of its tiny engine and to suck in the two-stroke fumes that re­minded me so evoca­tively of a by­gone era.

If it’s comfort, prac­ti­cal­ity and con­ve­nience you want, look no fur­ther than a mod­ern Vespa, but if you want old-school cool and true char­ac­ter then you’re go­ing to have to in­vest in an orig­i­nal.

The years have been kind. The 2016 Vespa GTS300 bridges the gen­er­a­tion gap with 1960 GS150

New bike is slightly more user-friendly, but both look the part

Two-stroke Ves­pas like Matt’s were cool ur­ban trans­port in the 1960s, and the four-stroke ver­sions re­main the same to­day

Matt’s 1960 GS150 with its skinny wheels is achingly cool

Stay­ing faith­ful to orig­i­nal styling, GTS300 looks the part

Old meets new on the dash

Right-hand sus­pen­sion in 60s

Spe­cial edi­tion gets this logo

Tail light shows art of Vespa

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