Are you a Rocker or a Mod? Do you prefer chugging beer to Bo Diddley, dressed rough in black leather, or popping amphetamines to The Kinks whilst basking in the sharp-suited narcissistic glow of your own inflated self-worth? If your vibe is the former then you’re a Rocker and your weapon of choice is a motorbike. Preferably a Café Racer. Preferably British. If you identify with the latter then you’re a Mod, baby, and you’ll want be seen on nothing but a Vespa: that iconic Italian scooter that’s been buzzing around the world’s streets since 1946 – the one with the interesting story.
You see after World War 2, after Mussolini had been cut from his meat hook in the Piazzale Loreto, Italy was in a shambles. While its people were displaced the country’s infrastructure was ravaged by bombardment. The road network was poor at best and this made it difficult for the masses to get around. Not ideal when you are trying to rebuild the economy. Luckily a man named Enrico Piaggio had an idea.
With his aircraft factory blown to pieces (it had been producing bombers for the fascist military machine) this Italian businessman decided to create an inexpensive form of transport suitable for men and women. It needed to carry a passenger and, most importantly, not dirty the clothes of those operating it. Aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio was given the task of designing said vehicle and what he came up with is the scooter we know today – the Vespa. Which, coincidently, is the Italian word for wasp: an insect that Piaggio thought it resembled.
And so the cleverly packaged two-wheeler swarmed from the get go. Immensely popular in Italy it soon spread to foreign shores where subcultures like the Mods made them their own in the 1960s. In fact every generation since then has fallen for the Vespa’s charms. Which is why even today, 70-years after the fact, it remains on sale and popular. Want in on the action? Well then you’re probably best looking at the entry-level Primavera 150 3V I rode around the streets of this evil city for two weeks.
Now in case you don’t know I’m a total newb when it comes to motorcycles. I have no prior experience at all. Despite this fact I was out and carving through traffic after a few short practice rides around the local Vespa dealership in Melrose Arch. Once you find your balance and get accustomed to the controls there’s seriously nothing to it. The best part is that you don’t have to deal with gears like you do on regular motorbikes. Being equipped with one of those CVT gearboxes that suck on cars but make sense on bikes means that you concentrate solely on accelerating and braking.
Is it fast? Well with 154 cubic centimeters packed beneath your derriere the Primavera is no Yamaha R1. It scoots to 60km/h pretty quickly but then starts running out of puff. With my chin brushing the speedometer on a windless night I maxed it out at 110km/h. Merging with highway traffic scared the bejesus out of me. If you find this off-putting don’t be.
Speed is not what this particular Vespa is about. It exists to leapfrog the deluge of urban traffic and it does this admirably. One you pluck up the courage to lane-split you’ll find that its low weight and compact dimensions make it absolutely unbeatable in the rush-hour hell. In a car my route home can take 45-minutes. On the Vespa this went down to 15. Think about it: that’s 30-minutes of time saved that you can now spend staring at Facebook or Instagram or Tinder or whatever other social media application rules your existence.
Parking is another boon. Usually a dinner out in Parkhurst means parking in some dodgy side street followed by a quick mini-marathon power walk to your eating establishment of choice. Here you just ramp up onto the pavement outside, pop your jacket and helmet and gloves into the storage binnacle beneath the seat and stroll right in. The Vespa is a cheat code for life.
Finally there’s the small issue of fuel. The Primavera sips petrol like a bankrupt alcoholic would nurse his last bottle of scotch. In the two weeks I had it I used just 4.2-litres. Incredible. Downsides? Well the cubbyhole mechanism felt China Mall cheap, as did some of the fascia plastics. The seating position is a bit cramped if you’re over six-foot while the headlight high beam seems set to shine far too far ahead of you to really be of much use.
The biggest issue for me, however, is the price. Equipped with the optional ABS brakes this scoot will set you back R99 950. This is a lot of money. Especially since a Honda Elite can do the same job for nearly R80k less. But then I guess the Honda doesn’t have the prestige or the cool factor that the Vespa oozes from every steely fibre of its monocoque form. You can park one next to a Harley and not feel like you’re losing at life. You cannot do this on the Honda. So if you have got the money to burn and feel like emulating that cool Mod image of Sting in the film Quadrophenia then get the Primavera. You won’t be disappointed you did. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: Vespa Primavera 150 3V
Engine: 154.8cc single
Power: 9.5kW at 7750rpm
Torque: 12.8Nm at 6500rpm
Fuel: 3.07l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R99 950