Where do you take Europe’s best value all-inclusive classic scooter touring event when you don’t want to cover the same ground? For the Vespa club of Bari the answer was relatively simple; you take 250 scooterists on a tour of Albania!
I’m very happy to report that not only was the event a great success, but also that the event dispelled a good few prejudices that people may have about this formerly isolated communist country. What quickly became apparent was that you are far more likely to get stabbed or your scooter stolen in London than any of the places we visited in Albania; including the capital Tirana.
Bari Vespa club first rebooted the historic 1950s Vespa endurance race in 2005 but in the intervening period it has become less and less of a competitive event and more of a group tour, but it is still a challenge in terms of scooter preparation and riding skill; particularly when you throw Albanian livestock into the equation. Goats, cows, sheepdogs and even tortoises roam the country roads and none of them appear to have read the highway code.
Tre Mari events starting in the heel of Italy may seem a long way away, but if you can get your scooters there then they represent exceptional value. For under £400 we got two overnight ferry crossings between Bari and Durazzo, two nights respectively in a private apartment in Saranda’s beautiful Bougainville Bay resort and in Tirana’s central Rogner Hotel and almost every meal was catered for. We were even covered in Albania for both medical and scooter insurance in that price. That’s about the same price as just a ferry crossing with a scooter to Spain in the same season!
Also included is baggage transfer and back-up with VCB’s well-oiled machine and for this ‘special edition’ event we were all issued with Albanian PAYG sim cards pre-loaded with call time and 1GB of mobile data. Sadly the issuing of these, immediately after arrival in Durazzo’s central square took two hours of being stood around in the sun, making everyone slightly behind schedule. With 250km to do to the southern resort of Saranda, all anyone wanted to do was start riding, but having the back-up of a local method of communication was still worth the wait.
Friends in High Places
Maurizio de Pasquale’s merry band have always had friends in high places to get special things sorted for the Vespisti on the ‘Giro’ but this time they pulled strings that would make Pinocchio dance. With the help of Artur – the Albanian police representative to their Italian consulate – we were given every courtesy by the Albanian cops; they guided us via motorcycle through the towns and there was usually a policeman stood at every junction to point the correct direction. Coming from a country where policing has been cut to the bone, this level of assistance would be both impossible and unthinkable. It also tells you a lot about how much the Albanian government now understand the value of tourism.
The Albanian cops also tolerated the presence of the Rimini Lambretta Centre crew, with whom I was riding, on loud, smoky and frankly unbelievably fast Lambrettas. Dean and Micky were both riding the sporty SSRs while I had a development prototype of the 265cc SST ‘touring’ engine to play with for a week. They’d previously ridden these to Scooterist Meltdown in Germany over the winter in sub-zero temperatures, but I wondered how would these engines cope with high speeds in temperatures over 30 degrees…
The first section of the ride south to Fier was a good test of any fan-cooled 2-stroke, with long boring sections of dual-carriageway over a flood-plain. I slowly built up confidence in the SST after Micky’s warning that I’d only kill it if it went onto reserve while I was riding at speed. Thankfully Albania is still well-equipped with attended fuel stations every few kilometres.
Vespa and Lambretta
Most of the other competitors were on PXs but there were also many older Largeframes like Sprints, GTs and Rally 200s as well as older piston-port models like GS and even a Faro Basso. If you were really perverse you could bring a smallframe or a PK, or even standard 75cc Lambretta Vegas like Marco and Gabriele did, echoing our previous visit to Albania four years ago. Tre Mari is very much an international event with teams coming from Italy, England, Scotland, Belgium and Germany. For most it was their first time in Albania and the majority carried the same preconceptions in their baggage.
After Fier the coast road became spectacular, climbing between rapidly modernising seaside resorts and winding between coastal villages still left in the last century.
Sarande seems to have changed notably since our last visit on Vegas. It hasn’t moved from its geographical position opposite the Greek island of Corfu, but it has been extensively tidied and redeveloped to welcome tourism of the selfie-stick generation. It’s still cheaper than the EU equivalent holiday destination, but not by as much as I recall. This is the price of progress.
Bougainville Bay is a fantastic art-style conceptual resort built into the hillside with views to Corfu. Nobody seemed to mind that the Vespa club mechanics turned the area outside the lobby into a temporary workshop for the repair of 2-stroke ailments. The RLC boys fitted an external condenser to Marco’s Vega ignition and found a cycle shop to weld Gianca Skins fractured exhaust bracket.
The hot conditions also tested the Vespas with one T5 overheating the stator to the point that the LT coil started to break down and lose resistance. The VCB mechanics fixed that one simply by reducing the spark plug gap to give the ignition system an easier time. This is precisely the sort of problem that can be resolved by fitting a Readspeed Lukas ignition coil which instead takes spark power from the lighting circuit rather than the LT coil.
TOP TIP; every group of Vespas and Lambrettas using 6-pole ignition should carry one Lukas between them on tours.
Looking in my big Blue Eye
The following day required no big distance riding, just two optional excursions to nearby Syri Y Kalter (Blue Eye) and Ksamil. We only managed the former, but the Blue eye spring was well worth the visit. This is a beautiful natural spring where cold, pure water flows up directly from an underground river through a 4-metre wide hole that looks, when viewed from the shoddily-welded overhead viewing platform like the cornea of a deep blue eye. It was only after we joined the braver tourists jumping from the platform into the centre that someone pointed out the ‘no swimming’ sign.
The following day brought our second good run of the week, retracing our tyre tracks northwards towards the capital Tirana, but this time following an inland route taking in the magnificent Ottoman-era citadel of Gjirokaster.
The first part of the journey I rode together with young Luke Salvin who was really hustling a Lambretta 150 Special fitted with a lightly modified BGM 190 kit, 25mm carb and a Bigbox exhaust. That combination in the hands of reckless youth was easily enough to dispatch any of the Vespas we came across; no doubt much to their annoyance. I could imagine them cursing the noise and smoke of the Lambrettas as we passed; some secretly wishing for us to break down.
On a long downhill section of dual-carriageway following the Viosa river valley, someone got their wish. Following Luke at almost 130kmh the SST suddenly began to rev high, but with Mickey’s warning ringing in my ears I was quick enough to switch the tap to reserve. A few hundred metres ahead Luke also ran onto reserve but wasn’t quick enough to catch it before he popped a hole in the piston of his RT kit. Many previously-overtaken Vespas sailed gently past while we loaded Luke’s blown Lambretta into the conveniently following Vespa Club of Bari sweeper van.
All of a sudden the Serveta now had a passenger, but apart from reducing my ground clearance to the downpipe of the Protti exhaust you’d struggle to notice the difference. With 32hp on tap the prototype SST was a good compromise performance level between the average scooter and the insanity of Dean and Mickey’s full-fat SSRs. We’ll run a further article on how the SST performed on the trip next week.
We soon caught up with other members of our group including Tony Tessier who’d also suffered an engine failure. No chance of spares for his 140cc Vega that one this side of the Adriatic, so it was loaded in Magic Duncan’s back-up van.
At one of our petrol stops Dean arrived on the Casa Performance Demo SSR250 and kindly offered to take my baggage (i.e. Luke) leaving me less paranoid about grounding out the exhaust. Time to get on it…
We turned inland towards a massive black thunderstorm rolling across the country, only to change direction again and head up over a superb mountain pass on the last section toward the capital of Tirana.
With a sprinkling of rainwater, patches of sand and groups of kids who’d thrown rocks into the road, the ride was the most challenging so far. Dean very nearly binned the SSR down a ravine, and some time behind us an Italian couple crashed their Vespa on the same sandy corner requiring an ambulance for the rider who’d bashed his hand. Throughout the trip there were lots of people riding in T-shirts, shorts and without gloves but for the long days I preferred to wear my Weise mesh armoured jacket and Alpinestars Motocross gloves. Seeing one lad in Tirana with scabbed arms and legs confirmed I’d made the right decision.
On arrival in Tirana’s splendid Rogner hotel we were greeted by ladies modelling a swimwear collection around the pool. These were strings that even the Vespa Club of Bari would love to pull, I suspect. That night, after the included barbecue dinner, I walked right across the centre of the city. It has wide streets and felt perfectly safe. The only tell-tale of the old paranoid communist regime was a small machine-gun ‘pill-box’ located in the corner of a playground.
The following morning Luke set about repairing his Lambretta by fitting a new BGM kit very handily carried in the RLC back-up van. Apart from having to file the piston to accommodate Luke’s wider than standard small end bearing it all went together quickly. Conveniently, the last parts went together just in time for Luke and I to join the mass ride-out to castle at Kruje about 20 miles away as a perfect way to run his new kit in.
That night the Vespa Club of Tirana tacked the Giro onto a massive pop concert and festival in Skanderbeg Square, and it fitted perfectly. There were tons of police in the area, helmets and bags were left safely on the unlocked scooters and everyone seemed happy. Amongst the many Albanian scooters on display was one Series 2 Lambretta and also a PX customised in a very Scooterboy style. It seems that this scooterist contagion is worse than anyone feared.
VIDEO: Giro Tre Mari 2018 Albania special Edition
VIDEO: Giro Tre Mari 2018 Tirana parade
For the final day we had less than 50 miles to complete our circuit back to Durazzo, with the ferry back to Bari not leaving until the evening, but the VCB had planned for that. We could spend the day by the pool of a seaside resort and enjoy a leisurely (included) lunch. Afterwards we were guided to Durazzo and managed another lap of the town in the company of the Vespa Club of Albania before finally boarding the boat.
As a scootering experience, the Tre Mari is always special, but this one raised the bar even further which makes you wonder how Maurizio and his merry crew are going to top it next time. That’s a secret, but I don’t think this will be the last Tre Mari to catch a ferry out of Italy.
Thanks must go to Rimini Lambretta Centre for the loan of the SST265 Serveta and especially to Vespa Club of Bari and PepeRosso for putting on such an ace event. Watch out for an update on the SST and SSR engines we used for this trip soon on SLUK.
How can I get involved?
- If you’d like to attend the next Giro Tre Mari then you should contact the Bari Vespa Club through this Facebook Page.
- The Tre Mari usually takes place in May/June, before the Euro Vespa and Euro Lambretta rallies. To give you an idea of distance, Bari on the heel of Italy is roughly 1,300 miles from London by road. To ride this distance would not only take a fair bit of cash but more importantly a lot of time; which is fine if you have it to spare.
- Perhaps the most practical way of taking part as a team would be to van the scooters to Bari and for the remaining riders to fly out. Bari airport is a destination for several budget airlines including Ryanair from Stanstead and Wizz from Luton.
- ViaMichelin calculates that round trip fuel and toll costs for a van journey should be in the region of £800 from London, plus the cost of a channel crossing. Flights to Bari in that season are around £120. With a big enough van and splitting the cost between four or five riders then you could probably take part for £250 a head plus en route expenses and the cost of entry to the event (for Albania it was €430). Not cheap by any stretch, but a great scooter riding experience for the money…
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