I often wonder what it is that has kept us pursuing this love of small Italian scooters for all these years. Yes, they’re pretty to look at and great fun to ride but they do have a few issues. If you ask any ‘normal’ person if they’ve ever stripped an engine and bodged it back together at the side of the road (often using whatever you find lying around) just to get to the seaside they’ll look at you as if you’re completely mental.
They’d probably have a point as well. It’s hardly something most ordinary folks would do in the middle of nowhere just to overcome a mechanical issue, or is it? Maybe that’s a big part of the attraction in owning a classic scooter. Riding something that is meant to be unsuitable for the hard life we give it, making it go faster than it was designed to do and to go much further than the local shops. Here’s a story from one of our readers, they were looking for an alternative to the usual August Bank Holiday rally, so set off with loaded scooters and no plan.
As I write this it’s just after the August Bank Holiday, so I thought I’d put down a few memories that you may wish to share with the readers about a trip a few of us Essex lads took in 2016. Basically none of the three amigos who embarked on this journey fancied spending the August Bank Holiday at the Isle of Wight (again). There was a general feeling of ‘been there done that’ and quite literally got the T-shirt.
So a plan was hatched – in the very loosest sense of the word, to head off on a Bank Holiday scooter adventure. The plan was… errr, well that’s the point – there was no plan. I mean NONE. We met up at a petrol station on the Friday morning of the Bank Holiday weekend with camping kit, mobile phones, AA cards and a tank of petrol.
The plan we made there and then was simple. Go west. (you know the tune)
A great start
From our base in North Essex, west meant twisty backroads towards Bishops Stortford, but before we navigated the first village a loud bang rang out from beneath Roger’s side panels. The usual wobble, slow down, look about a bit, ‘was that me or was that something else?’ discussion as you’re cruising to the next junction. We pulled over for a quick check – nope nothing seems wrong, carry on. We thought little of it and after about an hour’s riding, we rode past a greasy spoon café in Bishops Stortford that had a lone PX sitting on the pavement. It was a sign… so with no further encouragement required we pull over for a fry up, a brew and a chat to hatch a more solid plan about where to go.
Inside we met a lone skinhead on his way to the Isle of Wight in jeans, harrington and DM’s. He made us all feel positively overdressed in our full bike gear with intercoms so we could chat as we rode. He was just finishing up to leave so we wished him well and he rode south towards the ferry. We began by scrolling through our phones looking for wiggly back roads. The developing route involved a ride to Wales, ‘in at the bottom and out at the top’. With a plan to travel through the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia National Parks.
It was at this point Roger noticed that his sat nav was losing charge. So after the fry up it didn’t take him long to work out that the bang we had heard earlier was the scooter’s battery exploding. Now Roger is a canny chap and just resorted to a plug in 12v battery pack as a backup.
The day’s journey continued well, great roads, good company, fine weather. You know the stuff great road trips are made of. We were in no hurry and had no place to be specifically that evening so riding was relaxed with plenty of time for joking around. By early afternoon we had made our way towards Cheltenham and just as we were approaching the outskirts of town Roger’s bike seizes, frees itself and then dies.
We set about the usual diagnostics and quickly discover compression is lower than normal and he had bits of metal in the plug gap. So expecting a holed piston we decided to remove the top end to have a look.
Removing the top end on a P range engine is fairly simple and this revealed that one of the circlips from the gudgeon pin had ejected and been around the top end a bit, probably disappearing out of the exhaust port but leaving a mangled piston and plenty of metal in the crankcase. On first inspection, it didn’t look too bad and we thought with a bit of filing we may be able to free up the rings and get it to run again. Searching through the spare bits and bobs I always carry revealed an old circlip that would fit so we got on with the job.
So with the single salvaged ring moved to the top of the piston and everything back in place the trusty Vespa engine sprang back to life first kick and after a few miles Roger seemed to think it was running as good as ever! After a detour into Cheltenham to try and find a scooter dealer we gave up and started looking for an overnight stop.
I don’t fancy yours much!
We settled on a pub that offered free camping on a small patch of grass at the back of the car park (as long as we spent some money in the bar). Spending money on beer for free camping is not a challenge we were likely to refuse. The pub was great, but that evening also hosted the local pigeon fanciers club. They were loading the prized birds into an open-sided truck that was setting off to release them at some remote location. Leon is never shy and after a few beers had engaged in eloquent conversation with the birdmen about their chosen hobby. It was all going rather well until he leaned over and in a voice just a little too loud said: “Ash, someone needs to tell him they’re just rats with wings”… I’ll get my coat.
The Next day’s riding was fantastic and we charted a course through Merthyr Tydfil and then followed the A470 North, tracing the course of the river Wye and then through the forests of Coed y Brenin.
By the end of the day we had made it all the way to Caernarfon and stopped for the obligatory photos at the Majestically solid castle. It was at this point Roger mentioned that he had an aunt and uncle who lived over the water on Anglesey. Although he hadn’t seen them for a few years they were more than happy to hear from him and would, of course, welcome a visit from him and a couple of friends.
Keeping it in the family
Without wishing to impose, we purchased beer, a disposable BBQ and provisions before arriving at the remote smallholding and small cottage that Roger’s family occupied. The place was idyllic, overlooking the Menai Straight with greenhouses, chickens, goats and the best bit was that instead of setting our tents up in the garden we were able to use the just completed stable block to sleep in and store our scooters from the threatening storm clouds that had blown in that evening.
We were also welcomed with a hearty chicken stew and they would not hear of us cooking our own food. It was one of those evenings that you could not imagine could have been any better. With a warm welcome, fine food and a solid roof over our heads – all unexpected. And boy, did it rain that night!
Day 3 dawned and with the scooters all running fine we headed for the A5 and followed this through the Snowdonia National Park. The A5 is a real treat, and for me, this morning’s riding was the highlight of the trip. The tarmac winds along a flat valley floor with the hills rising each side of the road like a scene from The Hobbit.
A real scenic delight for a bunch of Essex lads. We don’t get many hills to play with on our usual ride outs.
Too good to be true
I’m not quite sure how we jinxed it, but around lunchtime we were feeling pretty confident that our running repair on day one would get us home. However, it only takes a split second for it to all go wrong. With the second original circlip making a bid for freedom around Roger’s top end there was little we could do to rescue the piston and cylinder.
Luckily the breakdown occurred as we were passing Berwyn Steam railway station so we pulled up and after a quick check of the top end made the dreaded Bank Holiday phone call to the man with the yellow van. As we didn’t feel like abandoning Roger to his fate we decided to wait with him. We unpacked the unused BBQ’s and food purchased the day before and had a pleasant lunch watching the trains go by. Waiting for the AA (or any less than adequate recover service) to arrive is almost never ‘fun’ but after six hours Leon and I had started to regret our promise not to abandon Roger. Especially as when questioned about the offending circlips, Roger sheepishly admitted that when he had fitted the second-hand kit, the circlips he used came out of a multipack from Machine Mart that he had in the garage. It’s probably not a surprise that the square-edged circlips worked their way out of a round groove probably intended for round wire circlips. Do’h!
I used to have one of them
While we were waiting, a local ‘old boy’ came over for a chat about the scooters. He lived literally just over the road and asked if we wanted to take a look at the classic bikes he had in the garage. We were not expecting much and my knowledge of old British bikes is not great but this guy (who must have been in his eighties) had everything from an ex-race Fireblade to pre-war machines with girder forks and tank mounted gear shift. He was the real deal, a nice old bloke still with a passion for the machines of his youth. That could be us someday we thought.
Early evening and the breakdown man finally arrives and we load up Roger’s bike. Roger had arranged that the scooter would be transported back to his home in the coming days and he would ride pillion with Leon. I’d double up with all the remaining luggage. However, we were still in Wales and wanted to get some miles under our belts before making camp that evening. We made our way towards Brum and were around Telford as it started to get dark. We headed for the motorway and a quick blast got us to Tamworth, where we managed to find a hotel with a secure car park for the scooters. A local Chinese takeaway was the only thing open at 9 pm on a Bank Holiday Sunday evening, so with a couple of beers from the hotel bar it was an earlyish night.
The last leg home was fairly uneventful, with only a loose exhaust causing my P2 to get a bit hot. Soon sorted though. The scooter arrived home just before Roger, so it all ended fine and with a story to tell. That’s what it’s all about in my eyes. Small wheels, a few mates, good roads, a good laugh, overcoming the small adversities and having a story to tell at the end of it.
Cheers, ride safe. Ash CDVLC
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