How to Ride a Vespa Motor Scooterby Chris Gilliland
Nothing exudes 60s European retro more than a Vespa scooter. Riding a scooter can be more than just a personal declaration of style, it can be extremely practical as well. With an average of 65 miles to the gallon, easier parking capabilities and lower investment, a scooter may just be the right choice for urban transportation. If this is your first foray into the two-wheeled world, you may benefit from the information within. We will go over the basics of riding one of the world's most cherished scooters.
Be sure to know what and where all of your controls are before starting off. Sit down and hold onto the bars. Your arms should be stretched comfortably, without having to lean forward, and your hands should be resting firmly on the handlebar grips. Your grip should be relaxed but firm, not tense. A lever is positioned each side of the handlebars, these are your brake levers and operate just like a mountain bike. The right lever controls the front brake and the left lever operates the rear brake. It is recommended to only use two fingers (index and middle) to operate your brakes, but you will find your own "style" as you ride.
Turn on the ignition and start the engine by pressing the red button on the right side handlebar control while pulling in either of the brake levers. Your scooter should start immediately, and you may release the brake lever.
Your right hand controls the throttle, so a relaxed grip is your key to safety. Without twisting the throttle, your wrist should be in a natural and relaxed position. Slowly twist (or roll on) the throttle grip and your scooter should start moving forward. The more you twist the throttle, the faster you will go. As you begin to accelerate, lift your feet up and onto the footboard. Be careful to be smooth with the throttle because sudden or jerky throttling can get you into trouble quickly!
To stop, it's best to use both front and rear brakes evenly. Gently, pull in both levers while rolling off the throttle. Once at a complete stop, be sure to put at least one foot on the ground. Again, smooth application of the brakes is the key to success. Do your best not to pull in the brakes too hard or too sudden to prevent your wheels from locking. Practice starting and stopping BEFORE attempting to move onto more difficult maneuvers because learning to stop and slow down is a critical skill.
Once you've mastered the art of starting and stopping, it's time to see what's around the corner. While turning at speeds below 15mph is just like turning on a bicycle, scooters and motorcycles change directions differently than a bicycle when moving at speed. A phenomenon known as "counter-steering" takes place. To counter-steer, you must push a handlebar in one direction to go to that side, in other words, press right to go right. As awkward as this may sound, it works once you try it. Start by accelerating to 20mph then lightly push a handlebar. You will feel your scooter lean toward that side. If you push a bit more, the scooter will begin to turn in that direction. Next, find a predetermined point to begin a U-turn at and accelerate towards it at 20mph. As you near that point, brake enough to slow your momentum and turn towards that point, focusing your eyes past that point and through the turn. As you complete the turn, slowly roll on the throttle and accelerate back to 20mph. Practice your turning until you can ride in circles and figure eights.
- When riding, where you are looking is important! Always scan the road ahead of you and look through turns. The further into a turn you look the better. When learning how to ride a scooter, try to find a large open area, such as an empty parking lot. You will have a much easier time learning new skills if you don't have to worry about obstacles and other vehicles. Be sure to be smooth with the controls, sudden inputs on the throttle or brakes can easily make you lose control. Take your time. It is easy to get frustrated, but patience will reward you. If you want more information on learning how to ride a scooter, or want to take your skills to the next level, contact the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for details on their Scooter School.
Things You'll Need
- Vespa Scooter
- Driver's license
- Gloves and long sleeved shirt or jacket
- Long denim jeans
- DOT approved helmet (check your local state laws if this is mandatory, if not, wear it anyway!)
- Keep your eyes on the road. Your scooter will go where you are looking, so don't fixate on obstacles. Wear your helmet. (Regardless of laws, a helmet will save your head!) Know your scooter. Read your owner's manual and know how to operate the equipment. Do not attempt to ride your scooter on public roads until you have mastered starting, stopping and turning. There are many more fundamental techniques to learn before you hit the street.
An avid motorcyclist, Chris Gilliland has immersed himself into the two-wheeled world while balancing work life and raising three daughters. When he is not managing the parts department of a local, multi-line motorcycle dealership, Gilliland can often be found riding, writing or working on his motorcycle blog, Wingman's Garage.