Mention the words “breakfast run” and most people think of three or four bikes, around 1 000cc each, carving up the tarmac en route to a country pub for egg, beans and moerkoffie.
But how about running on something smaller? Way smaller. And to make it more "extreme", something you don’t straddle, but sit on – with your knees together like a girl wearing a short skirt. A 250cc Vespa GTS. Well it says GT, doesn’t it – GT meaning Gran Turismo or Grand Tourer, plus an S for Sport.
At first we wanted to undertake a real grand tour: say from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn or the Transkei. But a lack of time forced us to settle on a breakfast run instead: V&A Waterfront to Stellenbosch, Somerset West and back to Cape Town.
In keeping with the scooter’s Italian origin, we decided to visit an estate that makes Italian wine, and another that produces olives, olive oil and two very special wines.
I had wanted a windscreen for the Vespa, but the salesman convinced me that it’s only really needed in winter. Instead they lent me a very cool R5 000 Vespa parka (yes, it appears you can use parka and cool in the same sentence). It’s quite nifty – with covers that zip out to keep you thighs dry. It’s breathable and waterproof too, but I discovered that it doesn’t provide enough insulation at 130 km/h.
Well, I didn’t think the Vespa would go that fast either, but it did reach that velocity on a slight downhill. I could have gone faster if it wasn’t for my "generous" upper body being an effective air brake, and my 105kg mass which is worth three or two race jockeys at least. And while top speed was surprising – but not impressive compared to real bikes – acceleration is quick.
A US tester measured 12.9 seconds for the 0-60mph (almost 100km/h) sprint. Hmmm, doesn’t sound impressive, does it? However, the fireworks actually happen between 0 and 50km/h when the GTS leaves everything except big bikes for dead.
This is thanks to fuel injection and water cooling for the engine. I asked the salesman if I had to check the water level, but he assured me it wouldn’t be necessary.
The next morning I jumped on the Custard Express and headed for the Winelands One-stop, where I met up with photographer Desmond and his 1981 BMW R100RT.
Has drivers perplexed
We continued on the N1 then turned off towards Stellenbosch at the first opportunity. I was happy to get off the highway. The Vespa keeps up with traffic, but some car drivers were so perplexed by its appearance in "their" domain that they came too close for comfort, wanting to get a better look. My mood changed as we left the national road. I was cruising at 90-100km/h, taking in the beautiful surroundings, when a sheepish grin developed on my face. Vespa fever was starting to take hold of me.
We stopped at a coffee shop in Stellenbosch’s café district where the sunshine chariot drew admiring smiles. After some hot chocolate – I needed the sugar and espresso would have been just too predictable – we had a chance to sample the Vespa’s handling in town.
It steers sharply and the upright riding position gives you a sense of control. However, if you lean over too far around a corner you’ll scrape the main stand. The seat still felt comfortable – as if one could ride the whole day. I also found that the incredible rate of acceleration was turning me into a bit of a hooligan: I felt invincible – never a good thing on a bike.
We took the R44 and the Blaauwklippen road to Waterford wine estate. The tar ended and I got a quick chance to sample the Vespa’s gravel travel ability, which turned out to be adequate. The estate is closed on Sundays, so we headed for Morgenster at the edge of Somerset West, to taste their olives and wine.
By now I was used to not changing gears. At first the purist in me wanted nothing to do with automatic Vespas, but the seamless acceleration of the new model was so seductive that any gear nostalgia quickly vanished. I never missed the smoky two-stroke engine – the new motors are all four-stroke. Giving cyclists, pedestrians and convertible drivers behind you a taste of oil is now a thing of the past.
You may ask yourself if almost 70 grand is justified for a scooter. Yes, you do get more than with an Oriental scoot: the Vespa has a strong steel frame that makes it very safe, according to the company. It also comes with an almost indestructible engine and iconic styling. But are these and a few other special features enough to warrant that extra 30 or 40 gorillas?
I guess people are happy to fork out that much for the same reason some buy expensive Italian cars. You can have a helluva lot of fun in the brilliant Clio Renaultsport (R219 000) or maybe even more in a BMW M3 (R683 000). But do they have the same brand equity, heritage and mystery as a Ferrari?
BMW fanatics would like to think so, but driving an F430 that’s just shy of R3 million is still a different, almost spiritual, experience. And not because of its stratospheric price. So yes, I want a Vespa, but getting a used recent model in good nick would be first prize. And then I’ll head for the Transkei.
Test bike from Vespa Cape Town 021 425 7944