Here’s the final instalment of Tim Wilson’s trilogy about their charity ride to Italy (you can catch up on parts 1&2 here). This week stricken Vespa 90SS rider, Martin ends up flying home and a 45mph Lambretta bought by one of the party whilst out in Italy ends up saving the day.
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Wednesday 18th July, Lucca to Lake Como, first leg of the return: 230 miles


After breakfast, it was time to leave Lucca and begin the 1000-mile journey home. T was back in the van with Gerry, while Martin, Timmy and Jaws were on scooters and on fine form. Someone had a good idea to drive along a bit of the coast road taking in the views of the sea, but in hindsight, stuck in traffic with nothing but hotels and beach bars to look at; it was kind of a waste of time and petrol with all the starting and stopping every 100 yards.


Everyone was soon bored of that, so it was back on the motorway, aiming for Milan, when the Vespa went down again.  This time it was just a simple spark plug change, and off again. This should have been taken as a warning, as it was such a hot day. The mercury was reading 93º Fahrenheit and when overtaking lorries it was like opening an oven door. Then, around 20 miles short of Milan the poor little Vespa heat seized solid in the fast lane and died. This certainly woke Timmy up, who was just behind it, busy saving petrol again! The scoot was quickly stowed in the van and it was agreed that all would stop at the next services to let everything cool for half an hour. Off everyone headed to the next service station, slowly doing the miles, when on the approach road into the services Jaws started to slow somewhat quickly, and had to push his scoot in.


When asked what was up, he replied “It just went pop, no power!” He kicked it over and said “Look it’s got no compression; I must have holed the piston.” Another casualty and another bike in the van. Everyone was pissed to have broken two scoots within half an hour of each other and just wanted to get the day done and see what could be salvaged on arrival at Lake Como.


Martin ditches the 90SS in Milan and flies home
Martin ditches the 90SS in Milan and flies home

Taxi for Martin


Timmy was all alone on his scoot following the van till the next stop, as was Jaws, who was in the back of the van on his own, sitting astride his scoot and hanging on in the dark. As it happened this had all taken place right next to Milan airport, where Martin announced the news that in light of the scoot not being fixable, and how close the airport was, he would walk to it and fly home. He was adamant that he wasn’t going to be sitting in a van for another four days on the return journey, so he would depart from the group and then jump on a plane from Milan to go home early to spend a few days with the family. That way Jaws would be able to sit in the front with Gerry and T, and it would be safer for all.


All were extremely demoralised to see Martin wondering off, bag over shoulder, searching for a way into the airport, although he would spend a while looking. The adventure for Martin was now over. “Should’ve bought a Lammy” shouted Timmy, remembering Martin’s comment whilst lounging on his Vespa at the leaving do. Martin’s reply this time came by way of a hand signal involving his middle finger!



An engine swap is an easier option than being stuck in the back of a van for days on end
An engine swap is an easier option than being stuck in the back of a van for days on end

The best plans are alcohol based


The remaining four arrived at Como, got showered up in the B&B and went out for a meal next to the lake. By the end of the evening, and numerous beers (not Timmy) a cunning plan had been hatched. It involved getting up very early, taking the engine out of Jaws’ newly purchased S2, and putting it in his S3, as it was a runner. It would only do 45mph, but it ran, and Jaws couldn’t bear the thought of four days in the van.


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Thursday 19th July, Lake Como to Sion: 166miles


Everyone was up with the larks to change the engine on the Series 3. First, it was necessary to completely unload the van to get at the Series 2, which T and Gerry did, whilst Timmy and Jaws started stripping the S3 down ready for the change. By 7 am the engine was ready to come out of the S3. Just the pivot bolt and rear shock to remove and the engine would be out. Then Timmy asked Jaws if he had been the one who removed the spark plug, “No it must have been you” replied Jaws. Well, Timmy was sure it wasn’t him and commented back that “Whoever had done it had left the spark plug in the spark plug cap” They both looked at each other and grinned. Timmy suggested that they screw the plug back in and see if it had any compression before pulling the pivot bolt. Sure enough, it did, so they turned the petrol on and attempted to start it, it fired up second kick. All laughed, and then called each other names etc.


To be fair, when Jaws had said that it had no compression and must have holed a piston, it was within half an hour of Martin’s Vespa going pop, so all were a touch pissed and just loaded it up in the van, wanting to get to Como to cool down and grab a beer. On reflection, it must have been the extreme heat on the Milan ring road that caused Martin to seize and then Jaws’ plug to unscrew; hence it was still in the plug cap. That and three scoots racing along like escaped madmen, slipstreaming in the outside lane.  


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With the S3 rebuilt, Jaws took it for a longer shakedown ride than T managed, going around part of Lake Como, and taking a good while. This was almost certainly a deliberate decision as it allowed enough time for his blushes to disappear and made sure he was AWOL when the time came to load the scoots and stuff back in the van. Gerry just wanted to get going as we had a way to go and was getting pissed off with all the dilly-dallying. 


When we were eventually all loaded it was off towards Sion in Switzerland, where the B&B was booked.  Plenty of nice scenery on route and a pretty uneventful ride considering the past 10 days.


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Friday 20th July, Sion to Is-Sur-Tille: 189 miles


Following the Swiss way around Lake Geneva enabled more stunning views of the mountains and the lake from the high vantage points on the motorway. On crossing the border into France the mountains became more like rolling hills and it didn’t seem as much fun now. The previous week and a half was starting to take its toll on all, and everyone just wanted to get to the hotel and rest. The B&B had a lovely view overlooking the river. Martin had done particularly well with the selection of accommodation so far, it was a pity he would be missing this one!


There was a bit of a lull in spirit now that Martin had flown home; who was Timmy going to slipstream now? The Vespa should have gone ‘pop’ properly long before it reached Lucca, so it is a testament to Atoms who built the engine, which at one point on the autobahn was clocked at 86mph with a GPS, and Timmy a metre behind, saving fuel apparently.


Jaws didn’t need to slipstream and had a noisy pipe to boot, so when Timmy wasn’t slipstreaming Gerry and T in the van, he sat a bit further back and to one side of Jaws. Although when Jaws opened the throttle and buggered off into the distance Timmy was reluctant to follow, as he’d been having a serious vibration when first chasing him and it didn’t sound healthy. It would still on occasion jump in and out of fourth gear, so he backed off and knew he would have to nurse Troll to make it back.


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Saturday 21st July, Is-Sur-Tille to St Quentin: 219 miles


A long stint today encouraged all to get up early and get going. After around 100 miles through the rolling hills of France Jaws pulled over on the hard shoulder. “It’s got a funny knocking when I go over any bumps” he said. He proceeded to remove his R/H side panel to reveal his rear shock, which now resembled the shape and angle of a banana! He was very lucky to feel it and to have pulled over to inspect it, as it could’ve cost him dearly.


It was decided to remove the rear shock off Stax, as she wasn’t going anywhere, and Tarby still went. Around half an hour later, Jaws very sprightly went from the outside lane and on to the hard shoulder, to a halt. “It’s proper f****d this time” he said. Timmy went straight for the plug, which this time is nice and tight. Although before removing the plug to take a look, Jaws tried to kick her over, “Proper bag o’ nails in there” he said, so this time it was terminal. After removing the plug for inspection, it was apparent the ceramic had gone for a wander around the top end, and then taken the crank out too; it must have got cracked when the plug was spat out in Milan. After discussion Jaws got on to his broker to sort out all the necessary details and would ride his S2 the rest of the way.


Out came “Ugly Betty” as Jaws had named her, and after T had meticulously cleaned the carb, and put fresh fuel in, she fired straight up second kick – what a touch! All set off knowing that Jaws would only be able to do a max of 45mph, so Timmy tried to encourage Jaws to slipstream him. Jaws wasn’t comfortable doing this, so Timmy decided to sit behind him, with Gerry and T behind him in the van. It was slow going and with numerous lorries beeping when they passed, it was agreed to split up, and Jaws would get to the next B&B by using country roads and his trusty helmet sat nav. With the rest sitting at 65 mph on the motorway. Jaws was going to be left unsupervised, which is always worrying!


Timmy was bored following the van, using it for a tow as he could then sit at 65mph without the vibration starting, and had no further issues other than a stiff back before arriving at the B&B, situated somewhere near the Somme Battlefields. This was top of T’s bucket list and so all headed to the very quiet town of St Quentin. Everyone was waiting for Jaws’ arrival, which would be three very quiet hours later!


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Not long after splitting up and watching Timmy and the boys disappear up the motorway, Jaws had been pulled over. The officer explained, whilst pointing at the leg-shield badge, that he would have to leave the scoot there, as 150cc scooters were not allowed on motorways in France, being too slow! Jaws assured him that it did, in fact, have a 200cc engine and he was running it in, hence why he was going so slowly. He got out all the numerous logbooks and paperwork and went about convincing him that this was the case. The officer either believed or pitied him and let him carry on, at which point Jaws took the next exit and worked a way of doing the back roads to the B&B.


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It was slow progress and from time to time he would get a misfire, but he put it down to riding it too hard and promised himself he would change the plug once he arrived, just in case. A few hours later, and with dusk approaching, Jaws finally pulled into the B&B, to be greeted by Timmy with his customary cup of tea in hand.


Two weeks of living in each other’s pockets, although funny in most part, was now starting to drain all concerned. A good night’s sleep was needed prior to starting the last leg home. All watched Jaws change his spark plug, made small talk, and then went to their respective rooms.



Sunday 22nd July, St Quentin, France to Bromley, UK: 224 miles


Up early, and all ready for the off! It’s a long trek today, with a deadline of 4.30pm for the Eurostar, so Jaws will have to be on his game if he is to make it in time using the ‘B’ roads.

Gerry, T and Timmy head off to find the way back on to the motorway, whilst Jaws heads in the opposite direction following the voice in his ear. Gerry, T and Timmy have a dull time on the motorway, the scenery seems to be running out as they near Calais, T is snoring and Timmy is bored. They all arrive two hours early and wait patiently for Jaws who is happily driving up through rural France and making good time on the 150, when the mysterious misfire re-appeared, and he knew it wasn’t the plug. He eventually traced it back to where the HT lead goes into the coil, screwed it back in and off he goes.


Due to the very old and fragile “Bakelite” HT connection on the original coil, this happens several more times and is costing him precious time. He finally has enough and decides to fix it properly, only this time he’s on his own and in the middle of nowhere, so will be using what nature provides!


He looks around for something stiff to wedge into the HT coil connection, a twig or such like, but could find nothing. He then spots a fairly large bird’s feather blowing by and decides to chase it and use that. With the feather folded, then stuffed in alongside the HT lead, off he goes again, expecting the worst. His quick thinking bodge appeared to be holding up to scrutiny, as the “lucky feather” enabled him to reach Calais just in time! 


Made it back to the Eurostar...
Made it back to the Eurostar…

Timmy and T were waiting patiently, watching him sit on his scooter in the queue for passports etc, while Gerry was getting tetchy and just wanted to get the van to where it would need to be. It was agreed that Timmy would wait for Jaws while T and Gerry would drive the van to the boarding point. If need be, Jaws and Timmy would jump on the next train and meet them on the other side, which is what happened.


The last stint now. Gerry is getting beeped again, as all the lorries are having to go in the middle lane to overtake him and the scoots, who are flat out at 45mph. Eventually Gerry pulls up alongside Timmy, while T winds down the window and shouts across from the passenger seat that “We’re going to shoot off now, as its getting a touch dangerous”, then adding with a wry grin “Anyway, you’ve both got your breakdown cover” and with that they were off, the old Millwall teamwork strikes again!


Timmy and Jaws plod on, eventually arriving back in Bromley around 9 pm English time, both shattered. They arrange to meet up in the morning round at T and Gerry’s to unload the van, they say their goodbyes, and they’re off!

Words and photos: Tim Wilson
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