RIDING AN ICON
1960 GS150 vs 2016 GTS300 Anniversary
‘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