Vespa Tourer by name, tourer by nature

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 06:00 16/03/2014
Vespa

WASP-WAISTED: It couldn't really be anything but a Vespa.

Vespa
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LOCKAGE STOWAGE: For those more valuable items.
Vespa
Fairfax NZ
FRONT RACK: Not much good for anything vulnerable.

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Every time I see one of the larger Vespas of either 250cc or 300cc capacity on the road, I usually take stock of all the accessories that their owners have fitted to them.

AT A GLANCE
Engine: 278cc liquid-cooled sohc 4v single stoked by fuel injection to develop 16kW (22bhp) at 7250rpm and 23Nm of torque at 6200rpm.
Transmission: Twist n' go CVT.
Frame: Steel monocoque with powertrain mounted on a single-sided transaxle, leading-link front suspension with unajustable monoshock, preload-adjustable twin rear shocks.
Price: $10,495
Hot: New Touring version of the iconic GTS300 adds $1200 worth of accessories for a $500 increase in cost, making the best scooter on the market even better.
Not: Is that front rack really that useful? Many would have preferred to have a rear top box instead; harsh action of Vespa's unique front suspension layout.
For these stylish, well-furnished scoots are like small-wheeled Harley-Davidsons in the way that you never seem to see a box-stock example.

Like the owners of Milwaukee machines, riders of larger-capacity Vespas appear to treat their rides like blank canvases waiting for a bit of colourful personalisation with the addition of some tasty accessories from the factory catalogue. Usually these scoots sprout added screens, racks and top boxes to enhance their already impressive weather protecting and load-hauling attributes.

With the addition of a new Touring model to the GTS300 Super range, Vespa has now speeded up this after-sales activity by packaging the new model with two racks and a windscreen at the factory.

The 300 Touring costs $10,495, roughly $500 more than a screen-and-rack-less 300 Super. That premium is quite a low one given that ordering the added accessories for the latter model would cost around $1,124 for the parts with extra charges likely to be incurred if you require a Vespa dealer to fit them.

The chrome-plated racks fitted above both the front and rear wheels of the Touring are built to a high standard, and have spring-loaded carriers to help secure anything the owner might attach to them. Be warned, however, that the front rack is rated to carry no more than four kilograms, and a laptop and case might breach its limit on urban trips, while carrying a tent might also challenge its load rating when indulging in the long trips encouraged by the new Vespa model's name.

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Fortunately there are plenty of other places to stash heavier items on a 300, so you can reserve the front rack of the Touring just for the lightest loads.

These include the decent underseat storage area permitted by the 300's use of 12" wheels, the relatively large lockable drawer immediately below the steering head, and the rear rack of the Touring, which is rated to carry three times more load than the front.

The windscreen that is standard equipment on the Touring is of medium height, and is the mid-sized of three options from the factory accessory catalogue. It therefore offers reasonable weather protection from the mid-chest to the thigh of most riders without causing any noisy turbulence around the helmet. While the generous leg-guards of the 300 and the road spray-reducing mudguards do a good job of keeping riders dry from the knees down, the chink in the Vespa's weather protection is found in the gap just below the handlebars, which allows the rain to pour in at thigh level.

Did Vespa go far enough when tailoring the 300 towards more long-term riding applications? I'd certainly feel tempted to add $379 waterproof leg covers and the expensive but well-conceived $899 factory top-box which also acts as a comfy padded back support for any potential pillion passengers. The latter has proved a useful addition to my own 300, particularly as it provides a place in which to lock away my preferred Arai full-face helmet when parked. It has also not displayed any undesirable sail effects during repeated crossings of Auckland's Harbour Bridge in gale-force winds. But then, these two items would have taken the cost of the Touring well above the $11,000 mark, and most inquirers already whistle alarmingly whenever I tell them the cost of a 300.

What they don't realise is that the top-of-the-range Vespa model is absolutely worth every cent that you pay for it. Not only is it the perfect urban mobility solution, it always seems to deliver me to my destination with a smile on my face.

Carrying pillions on a GTS300 is no chore, as the passenger also seems to arrive at the targeted location in an improved state of mind as well. As Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn proved in the classic 1953 rom-com, Roman Holiday, a shared Vespa ride can be a prelude to romance.

But forget the saccharin, for this bike is also as tough as they come. The 22-horse 278cc liquid-cooled fuel-injected single-cylinder engine delivers its torque earlier in the rev range than most scoots of this capacity, allowing the bike to charge off the line with a lunge that can catch cruiser riders by surprise.

The take-up of the CVT transmission is initially soft, but it locks up the slippage by the time the bike has travelled three bike lengths and the Vespa then really takes off. A sound similar to that of a Pratt and Witney jet engine accompanies the performance.

Handling is light and agile, aided by steep geometry and the appropriately stubby wheelbase that only Latin scoots of this cubic capacity appear to supply. The single brakes on both wheels possess progressive stopping power, although the different set-up of the two master cylinders makes it easy to lock the rear wheel while the front brake lever requires a hefty squeeze before unleashing all its power. So don't forget which hand operates which brake, OK?

A Vespa built for Touring might sound like an oxymoron to many staunch bikers. Perhaps they should tune in to the many web-diaries of GTS300-mounted globe-trotters who have found that riding the largest Vespa is a great way to see the world.

- The Dominion Post

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