Automorbit, Motorcycle – As V-Twin is to Harley-Davidson, Ducati is to sportbikes, and tissue paper is to Kleenex, the word scooter is synonymous with Vespa. The signature Vespa shape is what the masses have come to know as a scooter. With a rich history dating back to 1946, Vespa almost immediately won over the hearts and mind of people all over the world. The evolution of that first Vespa 98 to what I’ve been riding around for the past couple of weeks is what I enjoy about old motorcycles. It’s interesting to see where we’re going, but it’s really cool to see where we’ve been. The Sei Giorni trim mixes a little bit of both in this model.
That’s all you get to see on a Vespa. Just a hint of the inner workings of how this scooter is powered. The hot ticket with the latest GTS 300 is its new High Performance Engine (HPE). While displacement remains the same 278cc as the 2018 GTS 300, a lot has changed with the Single internally. The engine’s head was completely redesigned for better cooling and efficiency. Its four valves are now slightly larger and the combustion chamber itself has been reshaped for better performance and even has new spark plugs firing things off. The camshaft has been reworked to optimise timing. Feeding the engine are higher-pressure injectors and a larger intake system. All that said, Vespa claims a horsepower increase of 12% – 23.8 horsepower at 8,250 rpm. It’s the torque, though, that you feel launching away from traffic signals that’s so addicting. We’re told the HPE sees an 18% increase in lb-ft with the GTS 300 now putting down 19.2 at 5,250 rpm. The engine is controlled by the latest Magneti Marelli ECU, which helps make the machine Euro 5 compliant.
The transmission has also been overhauled says Vespa: “The CVT boasts a new belt, new geometry and new materials, all enveloped by a new cover coated with sound-absorbent material, to reduce mechanical noise, also aided by a new, more rigid clutch drum.”
The new motor really allows the GTS 300 to accelerate away from traffic with ease. I was able to ride the GTS 300 Sport in Milan in early 2019 and the ability to pull away from traffic lights quickly rather than getting engulfed by the hordes of commuting scooter riders was a comforting feeling.
All too often, I find myself riding scooters (any scooter, my own, or press loaners) at WOT. On my personal 150, it’s not a big deal. By the time I get to the next stop light, I’m just barely past the speed limit. Not so much the case on the GTS 300. I’ve found myself more than a few times holdin’ ‘er wide to find myself going… faster than I will admit here.
On the freeway, because yes, you can take this bad boy on the freeway, the GTS 300 pretty quickly gets up to cruising speed out here in California. It could have just a mile per hour or two more, though, before the speed sensor starts flirting with the governor. I’m told the speed governor is a new feature on the HPE, which is itself a bummer. Vespa made this new High Performance Engine, let her sing! Around an indicated 80 mph, the scooter begins to have a dragging sensation, but then it goes away with a little surge of power for what might be 10 to 30 seconds before you feel it again. I managed a top indicated speed of 85 in a tuck on the 405 as Teslas and nearly everyone else still blazed by me, emboldened by the pandemic-induced lack of traffic.
Scything through heavy traffic is a lot of fun on a scooter, particularly one with good brakes, handling, and acceleration. The 12-inch shod GTS 300, with its 54-inch wheelbase, makes for a nimble and quick steering dance partner. Say you come up to a light where the lane you chose to share has a tight spot, you can easily sneak over to the next lane and tip-toe your way to the front of traffic.
It’s not just tight traffic where this latest Vespa excels, though; it handles quite well at speed as long as the pavement is smooth. Let me explain. The steel sheet unibody structure of current Vespas really aids in torsional rigidity for the scooter. If the pavement is smooth and you’re dragging that center stand around each corner, the GTS feels solid as a rock. However, should you find yourself hitting a large rock, dip, or other bump in the road while leaned over, the single-arm front suspension, dual-shock rear and tiny wheels just don’t do quite as good of a job at helping to keep things stable. Fully upright, the suspension is stiff, but not overly so.
The 2020 Vespa GTS 300 also now has ABS both front and rear as well as traction control, which can be disabled for a bit of scooter hooliganism. The 220mm rotors get those wheels stopped quickly and confidently with a dual-piston caliper fore and a single-pot out back.
Even before Vespa hit the silver screen in 1953 with Hollywood’s Roman Holiday the brand already solidified itself as being nearly as much of an icon in the fashion industry as it was in the scooter biz. The GTS manages to keep true to its original shape and styling while imbuing itself with touches of modernity by way of LED lighting, cleverly hidden radiators behind honeycomb inserts and something like eight different trims allowing you to choose the scoot that speaks to you. Keeping on trend, Vespa has its on-going partnership with RED as well as collaborations with footwear designer/artist Sean Wotherspoon for a custom Primavera and an exclusive 946 designed in conjunction with the French fashion house Dior.
The scooter’s biggest downfall is probably its lack of underseat storage. I haven’t been able to fit any full-face helmets in there and was just barely able to latch the seat with a medium three-quarter helmet in stow. Plenty of groceries or other short items will fit though. One thing I did find quite useful though, was the dash storage (once EvB reminded me how to open it, hint: push the key forward in the ignition) complete with a USB charger and access to the GTS’s fuses and diagnostic ports.
Speaking of the trims available, the Vespa GTS 300 Sei Giorni I’ve been blasting around on is styled after the Squadra Corse scooters that entered the 26th Sei Giorni Internazionale enduro race in Varese, Italy in 1951. That is, of course, the race widely known as the ISDE in many off-road circles these days. Despite being regarded as one of the toughest global enduro races in the world, the ten Vespa Squadra Corse riders managed to bring home nine gold medals. This latest Sei Giorni pays tribute in styling alone with absolutely zero off-road ambitions to speak of. Man, that 69-year-old scooter looked bitchin’.
What you do get with this tribute trim is, a colorway similar to the original, a couple of number six graphics, a solo sport seat (which my wife did not like when I forced her to ride on the back. Hey, it has passenger footpegs), a fender-mounted headlamp, a small windshield, and a partially exposed handlebar. Oh, let’s not forget the numbered limited edition placard. I’m told it’s the sportiest of GTS models, but in practice, it also turns out that six is also the loneliest number.
The practicality of scooters can not be overstated. It’s a fact that is proven the world over from the tight bustling streets of Milan, to the dusty dirt roads of southeast Asia. When will Americans see these two-wheelers as workhorses and, thanks to Vespa, fashionable AF? I’m the guy who championed the GTS 300 HPE to the staff for our scooter of the year in 2019, and I stand behind that nomination and subsequent win.