They rode from Italy to Singapore on a Vespa

A few weeks back, the Vespa Club Singapore hosted a couple who have been travelling with their Vespa. Paolo from Italy and Lindsay of Canada started their journey in Italy since September last year. They rode through Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, flew to Thailand, Malaysia and recently landed in Singapore.

The route is the same as what Master Goh and Samantha did 5 years ago, just in opposite direction. It is also similar to where Leo and Nat travelled.

People have been telling me, go travel with a proper touring bike la. Get a GS la... It is not that I do not like the bike. The money I spend to get a Beemer could have funded me for much of the travel. I have been in a debt-free state for many years (I don't use loans for both my bikes.) and I would like to remain free of liabilities during my travel. Plus, carnet for motorcycles above 400cc is $15,000. For bikes below 400cc, the deposit is $5,000.

It is not as if BMW produces many bikes for the vertically-challenged.

My right toes cannot even reach the rear brakes! Damn it.
I know many watched Long Way Down, Long Way Around. OK,  Beemers are one of the best touring bikes in many's opinion. I fell asleep a quarter way through the show. If these people travel without support vehicles, I may be more keen in completing the show.

Let's be realistic! My journey is not a TV show. If breakdowns were to occur along the way, are you going to have a support crew to ship in parts and fix your bike? If you have the money, by all means.

I am not in a rush to complete my travel within a stipulated time. I do not see the need to travel at 150km/h. It is not as if all the roads in the world allow you to travel at that speed.

Honestly, to go on such a long trip and being alone, an excessively heavy bike is the last thing I need.

Marketing and commercials has fed us all with the notion of the ideal and perfect touring bike - Tall, wide, big, heavy, macho looking, BMW logo. Realistically, not everyone are built the same to be handle these bikes.

Do you think mechanics in rural areas are going to be versed in dealing with those complex electronics? One often overlooked aspect of long distance, multiple countries touring is the mechanical simplicity of the bike. Is it easy to fix? Are the parts cheap and easily available in different parts of the world?

"It may not be cool to admit it, but our vanity and perceived self image has a lot to do with what we choose to ride than whether the valves are shim- or tappet-adjusted." - Chris Scott, Adventure Motorcycling Handbook. 

On a side note, I was very surprised to realise the cost to replace my Vespa gearbox was only $60 (It lasted for at least 5 years before I changed it.) It did not come cheap for my KTM 200 in the past. I cringe at the thought about that of Beemers.

The old Vespa scooter is so simple. When I broke my lever, I was able to replace it on my own without calling for the tow truck. My Vespa front and back wheels are interchangeable and it can carry up to 2 spare tyres with rims.

My old Vespa may seem less ostentatious to the locals than a big touring bike. I do not want to attract too much attentions especially of those with ill intentions. Even if my $2,000 scooter gets stolen along the way, it beats losing a $30,000 bike.

What many did not watch or know of are low profile individuals, common people like you and me, who rode with other bikes that do not fall into the category of adventure touring bike.

Mark and Sanne met 2 New Zealanders who rode their 110cc Posties from Singapore to London. They themselves rode two Suzuki DRZ400E.

Jannick, our favorite Ang Moh and cook, met two Korean girls travelling Siberia with their Maxi-scooters.

Sean Dillion, an Irishman, has been travelling from Alaska to Argentina since August 2011 on his Honda C90. Along the way, he also met people travelling on Honda Wave (If you have Honda Wave, just go round the world with it, mai tu liao!) their feet, unicycle. Yes, unicycle!

I also listed down travellers who have done it with their Vespas in my first blog post. The most famous of all, Giorgio Bettinelli.

Who else?

Sean rode around the around on his Vespa PX 200 in 18 months in 2010.
Drew rode from Adelaide, South Australia to London in 2011, also on a PX 200.
Another Greek guy is currently on his World tour on a Vespa, and just finished travelling Europe and Africa.

After going through this Facebook page, Vespbook, seeing photos of many Vespas travelling around the world, I realised I am not the only one with loose screw in the head afterall.

It is not impossible with a Vespa.

Any cock bike you think of, do not be surprised that people have done it before. Like what Uncle Charlie once said, any bike can go, it is matter of comfort. So I am exchanging my comfort for more travel fund. Unless you can give me money and longer legs, stop telling me to get a GS.

So yes.... Finally, I was meeting someone who has been travelling with their Vespa in person!



From Italy! Take that, Naysayers!
Vespa Club organised a meet up session with Paolo and Lindsay at Wine Bos. I told my aspiring overland traveller friends that I will be meeting them. Master Goh, Samantha and Wei Jie turned up. I introduced myself to Paolo in Italian.

"Ah, you speak Italian!" he said.

"Cosi cosi (so so)," I responded with the hand gesture.

In Italian, he asked how, why and when I learn to speak Italian. It was through books, audios and most importantly, speaking with a Native speaker. I shared with him my Italy trip last year, visiting Pontedera, the birthplace of Vespa and meeting my italian friend/teacher.

"Parli bene italiano. (You speak good italian.)" he said, even though I used an English word or two in our conversation. My listening still needs improvement, at times, I asked him to slow down and repeat what he said.

Grazie Francesco, sei un buon insegnante! Ora posso parlare con altri italiani.

Then I heard Master Goh talking about a man riding his scooter with a big guitar. I said, "Ahhh.... Giorgio Bettinelli."

"You know Giorgio Bettinelli?" Paolo asked.

"Yes, he is famous for travelling around the world with his Vespa."

"She knows Giorgio Bettinelli too," he said to Lindsay. Lindsay wanted to read his books but Paolo could not find any translated version.

"Can you read italian?" Paolo asked.

"A little, but very slow because I refer to the dictionary a lot." I tried finding his books while I was in Italy but to no avail, not even in Piaggio Museum.

I asked him if he had any problems crossing the border into Singapore with his Vespa. In one of my earlier post, I laid out the tedious process of riding a foreign-registered vehicle into Singapore.

Disappointingly, we have first class every thing but we do not have the facilities at the custom to process the importation of vehicles into Singapore. Paolo and Lindsay did not face much problem in other countries. The process was easy elsewhere but not in Singapore.

He spent sometime trying to explain to the immigration officer and showed her the fine prints on the documentations that he is allowed to bring in his vehicles. Earlier on, he was sold an Autopass only to realise that he could not use it in Singapore. That was why they could only come after ERP closed. People there were like robots, only do as they were told. Anything out of the usual is no, cannot! Working in the stat board, I have to agree and understand, it is all because we are afraid to get into trouble if we do anything wrong. It is a Singapore working culture I guess.

I had some burning questions about the technicality of the Vespa. Did he have any problem at high altitude? Due to less oxygen at high altitude, there needs to be adjustment to the air fuel ratio to keep the engine running. How?

"Sorry, I don't know much mechanical knowledge about the Vespa. We did not have any problems up till less than 4000m." By the way, their Vespa is LML Star, 4 stroke, not 2 stroke.

That reminded of Giorgio Bettinelli. From this article about him, 'Surprisingly, he had little mechanical knowledge. When asked what he did if the Vespa ever broke down, he replied “ You wait. Someone comes, someone helps. A car, a truck, a camel. An hour, a day. Someone comes, someone helps.”'

I remember reading about an incident of his epic ride from Rome to Saigon. He sent his scooter for servicing in Thailand or Vietnam. The mechanic asked Bettinelli when was the last time he changed his oil. Bettinelli said he always add the oil to his petrol (referring to his 2T oil).

"No, the other type of oil."

That was when Bettinelli first discovered gear oil. So it is apparent that he did not change his gear oil while riding from Rome to Saigon. Power, right?

Master Goh and Samantha had lots of common topic to speak with Paolo and Lindsay because both have travelled through the same countries. They learnt how travelling in these countries have changed or remained the same over the years.



I recalled Leo mentioning that there is someone travelling around with the Vespa and he will send me the page. I wondered if he was referring to Paolo and Lindsay, so I asked if they knew a German-Argentinian couple travelling with African Twin. Then, we realised that Leo and Nat, Paolo and Lindsay were hosted by the same lady in JB, through couchsurfing platform I think. Their host ever mentioned to them about Leo and Nat. Master Goh and Samantha also met this lady before. It seems to be such a small world between travellers. I know you, you know him and he once met me at some other country.


With the riders from Vespa Club Singapore
Andiamo!

After meeting Paolo and Lindsay, I felt a new surge of motivation. As cliche as it is starting to sound, I have to say it again - It's the rider, not the bike! Thank you Vespa Club Singapore for the opportunity to meet them.

Updated: Paolo and Lindsay shipped their scooter to Indonesia. I introduced them to Mario who had rode South East Asia and also knows Jannick. Mario and them met while they were in Bali. The community of overland traveller, although spread throughout the world, is actually pretty close. Last heard from them, they were in Mexico.

Comments

  1. Travel by road is just amazing experience.!! hope you had a great time.!!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Chris, thank you for the comment. Yes, you will not know how amazing the experience and the people we meet are until you are on the road. :)

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  2. I rounded up a whole bunch of people riding two stroke Vespas. They are everywhere.

    http://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2015/04/vespas-around-world.html

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  3. I am an Optometrist on the Central Coast NSW Australia. I tested a woman's eye whose surname was Worrall. She told me she was the first woman to ride overland from London to Sydney on a vesper in the 1960's. She showed me cuttings and described the trip. It is a sad reality that the world is now a less hospitable place.

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  4. I love this post. My wife and I are travelling around the world on our Australian Honda 110 Postie bikes. I have lost count of how many time we have been asked when we are going to get a 'real' bike. Though most people soon shut up when they realise we have travelled further on these little machines in 5 months than most people travel on their 'adventure' bikes in a whole year. Loving your trip. Love your little Vespa! Keep the posts coming!

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  5. Covering such a long journey on a Vespa would be quite adventurous.
    Luton parking meet and greet

    ReplyDelete

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