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Metro Santa Cruz Summer 2005 Guide


Twist 'N' Go

Scooters ain't just for hipsters

By Mike Connor

Vintage Vespa fanatics spend a lot of time with their scooters--a lot of time fixing them. Not that old scoots are all poorly designed (though technological improvements make it seem that way); often the problem is simply one of age. Like people, a 40-year-old machine is bound to have some technical difficulties.

Recognizing the surging demand in the late '90s for retro scooters, manufacturers like Vespa, TN'G and Honda designed retro-looking scooters with the latest technological advancements--four-stroke, centrally mounted engines, automatic transmission, electric start, disc brakes--to make them more user-friendly and reliable, giving nonfanatics a chance to get in on the action.

Hello. My name is Mike Connor, and I'm not a Vespa fanatic.

In high school I was happy getting around on a Honda Elite 80, which could hit 40 mph traveling downhill with the wind at my back; it never broke down, it cost me 90 cents a week in gas and it even had a cheap radio built in. Back then you didn't need no fancy-pants license to drive a scooter around--a standard Class C would suffice.

Most scooters today go fast enough to require a motorcycle license, so last week I made my way over to the DMV, grabbed a motorcycle handbook and studied it for about three minutes before taking the test. I managed to pass, but just barely. Recommendation: download the handbook in advance and study for at least 20 minutes.

Permit in hand, I made my way to Il Motorino (Italian for "scooter"), the scooter shop on Soquel Avenue. Co-owner Marychris Fees set me up on a 250cc 2005 Vespa Grand Tourismo ($5,350). It was out of my price range, but the free test drive was not.

Fees spent a few minutes getting me acquainted with the scoot, showing me its controls and various extra features, like a glove compartment and a storage bucket under the seat big enough to contain a small dog (or a large cat), but the bucket was marked with a sticker that read, "No pets." Rats!

The GT was a cinch to ride, and zippy-- easily fast enough to feel safe merging into moving traffic. It's compact and maneuverable, making splitting lanes a breeze, and with a top speed of 80 mph (you have to sort of duck down out of the wind and lean forward), I felt perfectly comfortable passing cars on Highway 1.

Up at the Bonny Doon tasting room I discovered the Vespa (Italian for "wasp") is a veritable chick magnet--one of the perky "pour sluts" jumped on the back and made me motor her around the parking lot. Indeed, it truly looked adorable parked out front as I enjoyed some Italian-style wines inside. Fortunately, the storage bucket is big enough to carry multiple bottles of wine and plenty of ice.

An hour later the sun finally burned off the marine layer, letting the sunshine add to my afternoon cheer. The air in Felton was crisp and refreshing; the view from UCSC was clear and stunning--ditto Big Basin, Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

The GT is not much for jumping, but a smooth, gradual approach ramp and a nice, soft, watery landing might at least preserve the suspension. My only complaint with the design involves the turn signal toggle, which is positioned a bit too far away from the handle for my short left thumb to reach.

I returned to Il Motorino, flushed and beaming, to talk dollars and sense. Rees says scooters get anywhere from 60 to 85 mpg, making them a sensible option for intercounty commuters. The step-through design and leg shield keep legs out of the way of dust, dirt and rain, and also allow for skirt-wearing in a way that motorcycles never can. Plus, they're eco-friendly and fit in tight parking spots. Rees says UCSC offers free parking in remote lots for motorcycles and scooters.

Il Motorino offers training and test drives on the weekends; their shop is a full-service Vespa, Piaggio, Kymco and TN'G dealer.

P.S. Italian-style wines are not available on-site, but can be tasted throughout the county free of charge.

For more information about Il Motorino, visit www.vespasc.com.

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From the June 15-22, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

For more information about Santa Cruz, visit santacruz.com.

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