Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First long distance ride

I did it yesterday.

A road trip from Montreal to Ottawa and back. On my Vespa. I've included a Google Earth view of the trip, mainly because I couldn't figure out how to embed a complete Google map view. I've now figured out that the trip was so long that the result is actually seven Google map segments. There are so many that I've added them to the end of this post.

8 1/2 hours (9:30 a.m to 6:00 p.m.); 375 kilometres, 233 miles; one more province added to the places I've ridden; one $3.00 ferry trip; 6 or 7 bridges; three pit stops to top up with gas; one chat with a fellow rider on a big Beemer who couldn't quite believe a guy on a small-frame Vespa was pacing him; one stop for a bite to eat; one massive traffic jam in Gatineau due to road work; one hour spent visiting my dad; one rush hour in Ottawa; two dozen or so bugs obliterated on my visor; three sets of disposable ear plugs; 75 kms on the Trans-Canada Highway with the throttle twisted to the stop, too few pictures to share, and one numb bum.

That's it for the ride stats.

What did I learn?

Long distance riding is tough. Really tough. The Vespa's gas tank is not designed for long distances. Nor is the saddle or seating position for that matter. 150 cubic centimeters is 100 or so cubic centimeters short for pacing traffic on a straight, two-lane, 90 km/h highway. A mid-height windscreen and a Nolan N-102 helmet is a combination that is WAY TOO LOUD for comfort, even with 32db noise canceling ear plugs.

The sweet spot for the Vespa LX 150 is urban riding. That's where the Vespa really shines. It's fun to ride; it's incredibly nimble; it hauls an incredible range of stuff so it's great for shopping; it can filter through traffic jams like a ghost through walls; you can park it anywhere; it turns heads because it's gorgeous; and the urban riding list goes on, and on.

Which is not to say I didn't have fun on this trip.

The absolute best was a stretch of highway 148 along the Ottawa river in Quebec. It was twisty with good pavement and a speed limit of 80 km/h. Traffic was doing just under 100 km/h. With the throttle wide open, the bike just ate up those sweeping turns. I felt like I was one with the machine, counter steering with just the right pressure on the handle bars, leaning first this way, then that. It was just fantastic.

I also appreciated the elderly gentleman who came up to me after my bite to eat at a roadside hotdog stand, to ask about the Vespa and whether it was made in Italy. He explained to me that the wheels were small because they originally were recycled aircraft landing gear. And I believe he is right.

Crossing from Ile Bizard to Laval on the cable ferry was fun. I hadn't taken that ferry in years.
I also enjoyed stopping at the church in St-Eustache. During the 1837 rebellion the British army laid siege to the church where some of the rebels had taken refuge. You can still see where the wall is pocked by cannon fire. When I was a kid, my mother used to point out a cannon ball that had remained lodged in the wall. That bit must have been repaired at some point, or the cannon ball was dislodged, because it's no longer there.
Visiting my Dad was the reason I went to Ottawa. He loves jackets, so he just had to model my armored BMW Airflow.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the ride home was not much fun. It was much more about endurance. Highway 17 in Ontario was straight, flat, and fast. The limit was 90 km/h and traffic wanted to do 105 km/h, a tad more than the Vespa LX 150 is able to muster. That stretch of road is a two-lane highway with few passing opportunities. The result was that for some stretches I was leading a parade.

Relief from that misery came when Highway 17 merged with 417 which is the Trans-Canada Highway. For some reason the slight head wind went away and I was able to average about 100 km/h. With traffic able to pass me in the other lane it was actually much more comfortable. It also helped that the opposing traffic on the west bound lanes was on the far side of the very wide median instead of being in the lane right next to me.

Between the 17 and the 417, the return trip ended up being a wide-open-throttle affair pretty much all the way. To be honest I was getting concerned about the impact on the Vespa's 150cc Leader engine. The good news is that after I turned off the motor when I stopped to gas up for the last leg home, the bike started right up without a fuss after the five minute respite.

Would I do it again?

375 kilometers is a lot of ground to cover with any vehicle, let alone a Vespa. And yet, if you look at the links on the right of the page, you'll find many accounts of cross continental trips on Vespa LX 150s, and even on 50cc bikes. I was always impressed with those exploits. Now with my own experience, I am in awe of those incredible trips. Any thought I might have had that I could go coast to coast on my Vespa is receding pretty quickly from my mind.

I might try another long trip if I upgrade to a GTS though. The larger motor would have eliminated the anxiety of not being able pace the traffic.

And before any longish trips are planned, I need to rethink my gear. I need to get a new windscreen and cut it only slightly down so I can see over it and eliminate the noisy turbulence. I also need a much quieter helmet. Not having to contend with that drumming in my ears for hours on end would also have made a huge difference.

Here are those Google maps. The route I took is indicated by the blue trail on the map. There appears to be some kind of a bug with the embedding code, and the route may not be visible on the thumbnail of the map. Scrolling around, or zooming out will reveal the route. I include these maps in the interest of completeness, in case anyone wants a more detailed closer look at the trip.

Flash forward: The Vespa LX 150 was my first Vespa.  In 2013 I stepped up to a Vespa GTS 300 i.e. and in July of 2013 managed an epic tour through the northeast.  Click here or on the 'Touring' link above, to learn more.

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map


Unknown said...


a few years ago I had a Kymco 250. It was great around town and surrounding area. I even went to Victoria, No problems with the terrain. For short spurts I even used the local 80 km highways but Hwy 1 was too much and too fast so I avoided it.

then I decided to ride it to Kelowna for the scooter rally. I went with another person on a Vespa GTS. We decided to bypass the steeper section of the Coquihalla Highway as the speed limit is 110 km and extremely steep. We took the long route through Princeton then up the connector back to the Coquihalla but farther east. The hills just killed our speeds. Lucky we had two lanes and other cars could pass. The speed limit was 110 kmh and we could barely reach 85-90 kmh. Even the GTS was struggling. We were nearly matched for power but I decided then that 250 was not big enough for this mountain highways, so I know what you mean by "leading the parade"

Riding the Wet Coast

Keith - Circle Blue said...

My longest ride so far on the Symba was 223mi/358.8km. It can be rather intense riding a small displacement mount. I was quite happy with the speed I was capable of until people began to move faster, or when I was holding up traffic. On that ride I needed to pull over a couple of times to let the "parade" pass.

I was very glad I did it. At the end of the day I was very tired, but I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. Will I go for a long ride again? Yes. I understand even more the importance of routing.

Thanks for taking us along through your ride report. I enjoyed the touch of history about the 1837 Rebellion.

Dar said...

Wow 375 km's that a lot of riding! Are you glad you did it? The best thing is you visited your dad and had a great day! You learned about the capabilities of your scoot and with the right gear a long journey might not be so bad. I would suggest putting a sheepskin on the seat, might make it a bit more tolerable. I hate helmet noise too.

My hub is set on me getting a motorcycle when I get my motorcycle endorsement. His reasoning is exactly for some of the things you mentioned, speed, power and comfort.

Orin said...

David, congratulations on your first scooter road trip! As you have discovered, an LX is not the best mount for major highways, so your future trips need to be on the margins. When seeking directions on Google Maps, tick the "Avoid Highways" box and you should have a route better-suited to your scooter's capabilities. And likely, more interesting.

Scootin' Old Skool

David Masse said...

Bob: I think that next year I'll be in the mood for a Vespa GTS, hopefully I'll find a 300 at a reasonable price. I really want to ride to the coast in Maine. That would be an all day ride starting in the early morning. There are mountains to cross but the highways I'd take are all backroads so a 250 or 300 would likely do the trick. I'm not sure I will move up to a motorcycle. Then again, I never thought I'd ride my scooter on the Trans-Canada.

Circle Blue: You're absolutely right. Routing is key, but sometimes the map can deceive. You would think that Highway 17 was going to be a doable pace just looking at the map. I learned a lot about fast two lane highays. The four lane divided expressway seems a big step up, but in fact it was easier than the "smaller" 17.

Dar: Tell me more about the sheepskin. I'd heard of the AirHawk but not the merits of sheepskin.

Orin: That's good advice. The GPS unit I use on the Vespa is permanently set to avoid expressways. Even around the city I found some routes I would never have found on my own by following "Brittany's" advice. We call our GPS Brittany because we prefer the British accent to Amanda's overly gooey American accent.

SonjaM said...

Wow, that's a long stretch of road. We have figured that 250 to 300 km are enough riding for one day by scooter. As you found out the hard way the ergonomics does a number on your body after a while. We are good on our 200/250cc scooters but we try to avoid major highways as cars always tend to go faster than speed limit.

With the fly screen I haven't experienced any noise or buffeting issues, and a full tank would give us 200km before refill was required.
Try a 200 or 250cc, lots are on sale as people now want the 300cc.

Funny: We also prefer the British accent on our GPS over the American drawl. We named it 'Mina'.

David Masse said...

Sonja, you're right, I could have gone further but didn't want to take any chance that gasoline would become an issue.  As for the windscreen, fall is coming so I think I'm going to order a new full height screen and just cut it down enough to be able to see over it. I'll keep the one I have, but cut it dwn further to make it into a fly screen. Hopefully that will eliminate the buffeting. My windscreen works well to eliminate the wind blast so there's no fatigue or strain from the wind, but it's the sound of the wind in the helmet that's difficult to deal with. 

Dave D said...

David--I have spoke to you a few times on the Modern Vespa site and you have been very helpful. I am planning my first long distance ride from Louisville to Pittsburgh soon on my 300 GTV and am a bit worried that I and the scoot can handle the ride....9 hours on back roads. Can you tell me what you carried with you--tools or other equipment. I plan on taking my camping gear as I will try to make it a two day trip.

Also, I lived in Maine for 12 years and made many trips along coastal Maine...albeit in a car. I am hoping to take the scoot back up that way next year to do a similar trip.

Thanks for sharing your LD scoot experience.

David Masse said...

Dave, thanks for posting.

If you're planning on staying off the Interstate, it looks like a 10 hour ride, not counting on traffic issues.

That's a really long ride. On the Vespa you have to count breaks for food and fuel, and body breaks.

On my tour last summer the longest distance was Montreal - Ottawa - Toronto, about 420 miles. It made for a long day and the ride took about 10 hours... but... I rode for the better part of that distance on expressways at about 75 miles an hour. Traveling on back roads with similar destinations would have taken even longer.

One of the pleasures of Vespa touring is enjoying the ride. If you take on too much distance, the ride can become too tiring to be enjoyable.

I would recommend approximately 300-325 mile days, so if I were you I'd break that ride into two days.

If you're planning to camp anyway, there should be some very nice KOA campgrounds along the way. If the weather makes camping painful, you could always stop overnight in a motel.

As for packing gear and what to take along, take a look at this post (Click here). Everything I learned on my tour last summer is in that post.

On another note, many riders find the GTV split saddle more attractive in terms of looks for the Vespa, but quite possibly uncomfortable over long distances. That might be another factor to consider in planning stops into your itinerary.

Thanks for stopping by. I'm happy to provide whatever advice I can.

Dave D said...

David, thanks again for your quick and thorough response. Yes, a new saddle is in order soon.

Hope you enjoyed your Italy trip. I go there often but only spent 1/2 day on a scooter near Florence. I'm looking to do a trip like your recent experience.



i have travelled 5500 km with vespa in 15 days. road trip from kochi to tawang

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.