Riding and the Taste of Freedom

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Three things happen to me when I’m riding a scooter or motorcycle: I pay closer attention to the world, I taste a bit of riding freedom, and I get just a little bit smarter. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Riding alone, I almost always end up at a place where I can enjoy a simple pleasure, often something chocolate and a cup of tea. Time alone also lets me watch the world go by, perhaps write a few things in my journal, and let my mind unwind and run free. How often does a person get to feel the kind of freedom you have as a kid, where time doesn’t have meaning and your life seems like it’s your own? Riding provides a glimpse of what life could be like and makes it clear how hard it is to come by.

One of countless stops at coffee shops and cafes; a chance to absorb sugar, caffeine and reflect on life. Riders passing through Boalsburg, Pennsylvania can locate nutritional fuel at the Pump Station.

One of countless stops at coffee shops and cafes; a chance to absorb sugar, caffeine and reflect on life. Riders passing through Boalsburg, Pennsylvania can locate nutritional fuel at the Pump Station.

There’s a lot to see on the road beyond the obvious hazards and risks from vehicles, animals and pavement challenges. A rider always has to manage those and guard against complacency and a wandering mind, lest disaster creep near. While a valuable skill, this is only one form of paying attention. There’s another level of attention that I experience as a dim filter being peeled away from my eyes, revealing a world previously hidden. Everywhere there’s something to see; every scene and space is mysterious and holds secrets to uncover.

Riding along on the Vespa, I find myself exploring spaces and paths because I know I’ll find something – dumped construction waste in which the raw materials for the latest garden installation might spring, or a plant, rock or other treasure is revealed as I step away from the scooter to look in the weeds. My eyes sharpen and intuition whispers “look there, look here …” as it guides me through the journey.

The number of stops I make to explore or take pictures is excessive and obsessive. It drives my decision to seldom ride with anyone, lest they grow annoyed, frustrated and worse. I’ve found other photographers are the best to ride with, as they’re generally curious and have something to do when I stop.

While busy with work and family, things continue to happen in the world. A stop during a ride provided an education on the problems of the New Zealand Mudsnail in central Pennsylvania waterways.

While busy with work and family, things continue to happen in the world. A stop during a ride provided an education on the problems of the New Zealand Mudsnail in central Pennsylvania waterways.

The exploring does leave me just a bit smarter. While wandering at one stop along a trout stream, I saw this poster warning of the dangers of New Zealand Mudsnails – an invasive aquatic species that is troubling the area. Until I saw said poster, I had never heard any of this, and I live close to such a stream. Riding away, I know the importance of stopping aquatic hitchhikers.

This ride took place on July 5th. Looking at the picture I’m certain each and every one of you sees the obvious lesson derived from a stroll around the area.

Central Pennsylvania has some of the best riding roads in America. Here the Vespa pauses during a ride along Spring Creek, a favorite with trout fishermen.

Central Pennsylvania has some of the best riding roads in America. Here the Vespa pauses during a ride along Spring Creek, a favorite with trout fishermen.

You see it. On the left. The corn. Look at the corn and something is revealed. Well, maybe not, maybe I have special insight having spent the last 35 years working for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. An early indoctrination by someone, probably a farmer I ran into on an assignment, instilled some words in my head that are still with me involving how you assess the growth of corn. The rule of thumb was that the corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” Well, unless it grew overnight that corn was near my shoulders. So I learned something. Either that rule of thumb is wrong, or something is going really well with this corn variety.

And so the ride went, eyes wide, drinking in the world, free as a bird and tasting freedom, and maybe just a little smarter in a Jeopardy! sort of way …


Steve Williams is a committed scooter rider and seasoned victim of various jabs and jibes from motorcycle riders whose knowledge and understanding of the scooter is limited. He’s noted that criticism dries up as the weather turns cold and he’s still riding his scooter to work when it’s 15 degrees below zero. Despite his predilection for a Vespa, he’s spent considerable time on Triumph, Ducati, Ural and BMW motorcycles, including everything from his secret favorite Triumph Scrambler to the ponderous BMW K1600GTL. He has noted that getting on the Vespa after riding some of the bigger motorcycles can feel a bit like climbing into a clown car. Williams rides more in the winter than the summer and has been a year-round rider for most of his career. He’s the author of the blog Scooter in the Sticks (http://scooterinthesticks.com) where his experience and reflections pile up along with photographic evidence of life on the road.

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  • Maggie

    You and your blog were one of the reasons Flutter (my small scoot) and I ventured beyond the “rivers” that trapped us in an urban setting. The article says it all…. Now we have 6 scooters big and small and RIDE all over the country.

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      Go Maggie! Six scooters — wow — that’s impressive. Glad to have helped you get immersed in a riding life.

      Be safe!

  • Hannah

    Beautiful photos. The world is an incredible place when you just slow down to enjoy it whether on a scooter or a motorcycle.

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      A major challenge for most riders — how to enjoy riding slow!

  • sportster58

    Almost passed this up being a Harley rider. What interest could there be with a scooter. Glad I didn’t. You captured the unspoken part of my rides that I sort of don’t talk about. Look forward to more from you scooter rider.

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      There’s a motorcycle (and scooter) gathering in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania called the Piston and Pints Moto Hang. Harleys, BMWs, Moto Guzzis, Triumphs, Vespa and more show up and the mix is easy and comfortable. If you ever pass through central Pennsylvania on the first or third Wednesday at 5 pm stop by and say hello. The next get together is supposed to be at a nearby rural airport where some of the riders who are also pilots are going to take people on a different kind of ride!

  • Mobilia

    As a long time hotrodder, I love all things vintage and just began riding for the first time. While not vintage, I chose a Vespa and love the simple freedom and joy that it brings. One can get caught up in the Ford vs. Chevy, Harley vs. all others debates, but it’s really about the road and how you travel it. Great article.

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      I agree, if a person gets past the debate of the perfect machine and onto the road things change a bit. I’ll be the first to confess a bias, or more precisely, a connection to the Vespa I ride — it’s just the right thing for the situation and environment in which I ride. In another place a Ducati or Harley might make more sense. But at the end of the day it’s the flight down the road that makes me smile…

  • FlandersWasp

    Great article and photos. This is what riding is all about and you expressed it perfectly. Please keep writing; Steve!!! And thanks to Motorcycle.com for giving the ever growing scooter community its deserved place ;-)

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      Thanks for the kind words of support. It’s an honor to have Motorcycle.com publish some of my stuff!

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    Hate to burst your bubble about the corn, but it’s probably GMO. No taste to speak of, grows really fast, pest resistant, etc. Japan and Europe won’t let us export GMO products to them.

    As for the riding, I’m pretty much of a “Get there” kind of guy. I do look around though and see a lot of stuff cage riders don’t. There’s a lot to see between Los Angeles and Tucson.

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      No bubbles bursting here. I’m familiar with GMO corn and the related beliefs. This stuff was destined for animal feed, biofuel or other industrial uses. Can’t comment on the taste though — field corn is tough at best GMO or not. Sweet corn though, man we have some great varieties here being grown by all sorts of farmers who offer it up at the local farmers markets. Get it picked a couple hours earlier, oh my, that stuff melts in your mouth. Great rides to all the markets here, make the loop to get corn at one, fresh squash at another, bison meat at the next, and fresh bread at another. You need a Vespa to carry all that stuff!

  • DavidyArica Freire

    Scooters are the best kept secret in motorcycling. With that said, I do enjoy my Ninja 300 but I sure wouldn’t mind a kimco (Vespas are expensive)

    • Steve Williams

      Scooters are a great way to experience the road. A Vespa is definitely more expensive than other brands of scooters but they bring with them a unique ride and feel along with their own engineering and design that sets them apart. Once I rode one nothing else seemed quite the same…

      • DavidyArica Freire

        Nice thanks for the reply. Would you say the difference is compatible to a Japanese bike versus an European bike? Say maybe, CBR1000RR vs 1199 panigale? Both intended for the same purpose but delivery varies quite a lot.

        • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

          Sorry but the sportbike comparisons are definitely beyond my range of experience. My bones and joints reject the riding position and weight on my wrists.

          Closest I’ve been to a sportbike is the Ducati Hypermotard — 390 pounds and 90 horsepower. You can see that experience here: http://scooterinthesticks.com/2009/09/ducati-hypermotard-engineering-meets/

        • http://craftingyoohooville.blogspot.com Concetta Phillipps

          Sort of? I have a Honda Metropolitan and a Vespa GTS250. The Honda is styled the same way as the Vespa but the ride is totally different. The Honda was very efficient, easy to use, and dependable. The Vespa, is also efficient, easy to use, and dependable, but it also has more personality. Its the fun and the personality that keep me loving it, and even when my Honda went to motorcycle/scooter heaven, the Vespa kept me on a scooter because nothing else I’ve ever ridden is like it.

  • William Snyder III

    Way to go @disqus_JygSxrp1ec:disqus ! very cool…glad I can bump into you in our town. Keeping scooter love alive.

  • Melu

    I am thrilled to see an article on riding a Vespa on motorcycle.com!

    My Vespa life started with an ancient (1968) banged-up 50 cc that I received on my 20th birthday as a gift from my friends. Best. Birthday. Gift. Ever. They had secretly bought/repainted it, and fixed it up. Well, sort of – the electrical never worked and I had to keep pushing it through our street until we (the scoot and I) had gained enough speed for its engine to kick to life and for me to jump on. I also had to be home before dark because the lights weren’t working. But oh – what fun, what freedom. And today, almost 35 years later, I am riding my 300 cc, Midnight Blue Vespa and still feel the same thrill.

    Thanks, Steve, for putting into words what great fun riding a Vespa is!

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      Wow, a scooter as a birthday gift — that’s a great present. Whenever my family says they don’t know what to get me for my birthday I tell them to surprise me with a motorcycle or a scooter. Seems so easy to me.

  • Fred Smith

    Motorcycle.com: This is an excellent article capturing the joy of riding, regardless of what particular two-wheeled vehicle one rides. You should make Mr. Williams, his insights and observations, and his excellent photography a regular monthly part of your magazine.

  • Cliff Yankovich

    Spot on. I remember you from http://www.yearroundriders.com. Keep on riding and riting!

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      I don’t get to the rounders site as often as I used to; any site for that matter. The noise and chaos of life can really twist up priorities. I do show up on the rounders site when the weather gets cold and the winter tires go on the Vespa.

  • http://craftingyoohooville.blogspot.com Concetta Phillipps

    I’m glad to see Motorcycle.com recognize the scooter community in the two wheeled world. As part of a household with a scooter and a motorcycle, we deal with ignorant people all the time on two wheeled vehicles that think one community is better than the other, when really, there are fun, talented people in both of communities. I hope that motorcycle.com continues to feature Steve’s amazing writing and photography!

  • fledermaus1

    Nice article! Your writing so beautifully captures the joy of exploring one’s world on two wheels. Love your blog and your reflections on riding. Your photographs are alone worth the visit!

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      Thanks for the comments — I’ll keep collecting thoughts and images until my battery wears out!

  • Bill Bays

    Thanks for publishing this. It reflects what riding has done for me. Riding is something that transcends the size or image of the bike. It’s what you get out of it that counts.

    • http://scooterinthesticks.com Steve Williams

      I agree Bill that riding can transcend any specific machine. We all like what we like but at the end of the day the rewards of riding are often similar save for those out on the bleeding edge of performance. For a lot of us though a ride puts us in touch with the world.

  • Moto_Diva

    I always find it funny when I read motorcyclists reactions to scooters, there are more similarities than differences and the freedom is the same. I read Steve’s blog regularly and love the pictures and that he always has his scooter in them. I also come a scooter background and now motorcycling and relate to the solo rides and obsession with documenting my travels and like Steve I like to look for interesting octuples, albeit mine are a far way off of his. Great story Steve! Enjoy the moto freedom!

  • http://scootermayhem.blogspot.com Moto_Diva

    I love reading Steve’s blog. He captures the essence of riding for me and it doesn’t matter if it’s on a Vespa or motorcycles, there are more similarities than differences. The taste of freedom is the same no matter what you ride. I always get a chuckle when I read comments from motorcyclists. I love how Steve always makes his scooter a part of the scenery in his pics, as a blogger I do the same. Nice post Steve!

  • frankf

    I also ride a Vespa. The interesting thing is, I actually feel more relaxed riding than driving my car. Being on the bike forces me to focus on the riding, and without the distraction of phone, radio, etc., I feel much more part of the environment while riding. Great job capturing your experience.