As icons go, in any market, they’re often not technically superior to newer designs. For the most part, they survive by popular demand and by history providing the stepping-stones of evolution and design, if not function. The Piaggio Group, owners of the Vespa brand, has kept true to its heritage and left the legendary Italian name untarnished and on track by producing only classic-style scooters. Growing only in engine size from the 250, the new-for-2009 278cc GTS 300 Super doesn’t stray from the pack but will now lead with ease.
Touted as Vespa’s fastest and biggest, the 300 is the first Vespa I've ridden. Comparing it another cannot be done, but I can offer you at minimum an evaluation on the unit itself. It’s big – for Vespa – and fast enough to be fun, but the Italian conglomerate makes faster scooters if you want more top speed from your grocery getter.
Vespa describes the Super as the fastest and most technologically advanced Vespa ever. I like to call it the invisible hooligan.
With a feather-light throttle and clutch-free transmission, new riders would be well advised to go easy on the throttle for the first few rides. Whisking you away with a surprising pace, the nearly silent GTS 300 CVT rockets from a full stop with grace. But hang on. With a 31.1-inch saddle height, tight steering rake and short wheelbase (53.9 inches), this Vespa is nimble and quick but a little twitchy on the grooved California freeways. In the city, it’s a blast to ride.
Beneath the retro-styled plastic exterior lies one of Vespa USA’s liquid-cooled fuel-injected four-stroke Singles. According to the company's website, it squidges (blame the girlfriend for that one) out a claimed 21.2 crankshaft hp at 7,500 rpm and 16.4 ft-lbs of torque at 5,000 rpm, providing just enough oomph to propel this 200-pound human down the freeway at 80 miles per hour. The Super is a maxi-scoot inside a mini-scoot package.
For those who might wonder how the 300 stacks up to Vespa's 250, the revvier 244cc GTS 250 makes 21.7 hp at 8,250 rpm and 14.9 ft-lbs at 6,500 rpm for a claimed top speed of 76 mph. It weighs the same 326 pounds but retails for just $200 less and doesn’t come with the cool “Super” moniker attached to the unit. For the $200, we'd take the higher top speed and extra few cents on the monthly payment.
Vespa describes the Super as the fastest and most technologically advanced Vespa ever. I like to call it the invisible hooligan. In the black paint scheme, ripping around the city at speeds sometimes in excess of 60 mph, buzzing past unsuspecting drivers and passersby, the stealthy 300 is overlooked as a troublemaker. “Eh, that guy can’t be going all that fast, he’s on a scooter!” We might need to turn down a pedestrian walkway, groceries in tow, to quietly slip into another neighborhood, laughing inside our helmet.
As is typical with scooters, and Vespas in particular, the riding position is classic deskchair-upright. Piaggio doesn’t make a lay-down foot-forward type of scooter in any engine size. None that are available in the U.S., anyway.
Vespa first created a synergy between style, performance, safety and reliability with its first GT in 2003, the Granturismo 200. Aiming to stay true to a simple appearance yet offering higher speeds and performance, the liquid-cooled powerplant was introduced to the Vespa lineup, and at the time the GT 200 was the biggest Vespa on the market.
The big Vespa’s 12-inch wheels, 120/70 front and 130/70 rear, ride on standard Vespa suspension fare: a single dual-chamber hydraulic shock up front and a pair of preload-adjustable shocks in the rear. You’ll also count on the saddle to help absorb road bumps, but the Super’s small size and quick steering will help avoid the bigger ones.
The two-up saddle is handy, and the switchblade-like passenger pegs are a nice touch. But when carrying a passenger, the pegs bump the operator's calves at traffic signals. Tight quarters for sure.
Unlike the lean/steer mechanism lockout found on the Piaggio MP3, the Super 300 has only one self-standing mechanism: the center stand. For riders of big touring rigs, the thought of picking up the motorcycle using only of half your limbs may seem impossible — but it works. For scooter riders, weight is far less an issue, and thus the maker chose a more solid and secure parking stance over the traditional sidestand. It’s all you’ve got now, so get used to it.
Beneath that two-person saddle, you’ll find the common storage areas and gas tank. Due to the scale of the 300’s engine and storage, the filling tube is bent in a way that prevents easy fill-ups. With the vapor collars as found on fuel-pump nozzles in sunny Cali, injecting gas can be a bothersome chore, and you’ll often pump gas right into the storage area. As an area without a drain, your stuff gets soaked with gas, so pump with caution.
Once you get past the aptitude test that is filling the gas tank, you might find that you’re getting the 65-70 miles per gallon that Vespa claims. We hadn’t run through a complete 2.4-gallon tank in our week-long test, even in LA!
With room enough for two half-helmets while you shop, the space is not designed for carrying your pet, and a warning sticker advises against it. However, your daily pull from the market is a perfect fit – a 1/5th of rum, a carton of eggs and some toilet tissue, you know, the important stuff. You’ll have to buy that after-market basket for carrying fluffy home from the vet. Carbon-fiber and leather-fringed models can be had on eBay if you look hard enough. For actual cargo portage, Vespa offers a tail pack for the over-nighter folks (spare clothes/shoes) and heavy drinkers (gallons of scotch like our dear friend Gabe).
Still not convinced it’s cool to ride a scooter? Get out of your cage and save some money. Motorcyclists know the real story behind two-wheels, so I see you folks in the cars are on the bubble. To you, I’ll direct your attention to my Brooklyn-born musician friend Jordan Katz, who tours the world with the likes of De La Soul and Redman. Around Los Angeles, his choice of transportation is a Vespa 150. He’s one of the coolest cats I know in LA., and he helps keep the world cool by staying out of an SUV.
Price and style are two of the most popular reasons for buying anything, really.
Everyone has a reason for buying a scooter, or for not buying one: Price and style are two of the most popular reasons for buying anything, really. But when you can save money while enjoying the wind in your face, it’s time to consider downscaling your life with a Super-cool ride.
The 2009 Vespa GTS 300 Super is available in three colors (Montebianco White, Shiny Black, Dragon Red) and has an MSRP of $6,199. Not the most economical choice of scoots, but a prestigious brand name has its price.
We liked the GTS so much, we gave it the runner-up spot in the Scooter category in our