My Consort: The Vespa

Arriving at Vespa

2009 Vespa GTS 250, circa 2013.

A scooter may seem like an unlikely touring vehicle, but so far it's proven to be perfect for me. The GTS 250 is powerful enough that I can keep up on the highway, but small enough to throw around. The low center of gravity is especially great to flick around cities. Perhaps because of its history as Italian ladies shopping bike, it comes with an amazing amount of storage, even before adding bags. It has a reputation for being reliable, and gets 70mpg. I can't quite stand flatfooted, but the step-through design means I can hop up if needed.

People are often surprised to hear I had a motorcycle, and chose the scooter. This article sums up a lot of my feelings towards the motorcycle industry in America (minus pushing Ducati so hard). The quick version: the current trend in America is towards flashy, large displacement toys, with a limited selection of practical bikes in the 250cc-500cc range. My old motorcycle would be considered mid-range in the US at 550cc, and was a well-rounded bike to start on. I was excited to have access to highways, and eagerly took it on its first foray into camping. That's when I realized it was too tall to back up on my own, and I didn't like handling it in small spaces or on non-paved anything. I also just didn't want to pick up 480lbs of bike plus gear, and it's unrealistic to think it'll never tip over. It was fun, but I wasn't sure I wanted it for the Big One. I didn't need so much bike. In the US, I'm a smaller rider, so logically I might actually be happier with a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle. Besides, who am I trying to impress?

After picking up the Vespa, I realized I had far more fun with it. It's nimble in town, with the flexibility of taking the freeway. The riding position proved comfortable for long distance. The Vespa works for me and my purposes, and it's stylish to boot. Its oddness has even been an advantage – people don't know what to make of it, but it's generally less threatening than a motorcycle. There's an inherent goofiness to a scooter that makes it approachable. I don't field 'biker chick' stereotypes so much.

Some people feel safer with a bigger engine to power out of a bad situation, which I understand. I suppose I just assume everyone will dart out of their way to hit me and nobody sees me at the same time, and an angry mob of porcupines waits around the bend. It's a different thrill working around the limitations of my so-called small ride. Right now, it's enough for me. In other countries 250cc is a large bike, but in America people don't believe how far it can go.

The more riders I talk to, the more I realize it's less about having the ultimate do-it-all adventure bike and more about being passionate about your bike. When it comes down to it, you're going to sit on this thing for thousands of miles, day after day. Better pick the one you love to ride, regardless of whether most people think it's the 'right' bike.

Additionally, it's just as much about the rider as the bike, and I just love riding. I got my first scooter in 2009 (Genuine Buddy 50), and a motorcycle license in 2010 along with my second 'proper' bike (1983 Kawasaki 550 LTD). By then, the bug had well and truly sunk its teeth in. I picked up my GTS in 2012, and over the next couple years slowly built her out for long haul trips. Now I go with her everywhere!

The Opposite of Boxy: Loading the Scoot

Me and Karen, another long haul GTS rider.

For a detailed look at bike modifications I made to tour, check out my Gear Talk post, The GTS Tourer! I also have a post on What's in the pet carrier, though I've ditched the Microlink in favor of a push-button lamp, after the tooth incident of Tamarack Flat. My clothing backpack is now a revolving door policy depending on climate, but I'll usually hang on to my silk liners and long underwear (for gloves too!) because they pack lightweight and tiny. Also, I picked up my old ukulele (edited May 30, 2018: I gifted my ukulele to Heidi of Billie's Backpackers Hostel in Fairbanks, for her kindness helping me ship my belongings. Fred gave me a new Kala waterproof ukulele which I plan to carry!).

The addition of a front rack and the Pelican Case in San Francisco changed things up a bit:

The information below is archived from February 2015.

Second Home Seattle, WA. August 14-24, 2014.
August, 2014. I picked up a few things.

Packing is an entirely personal process, much like choice of cheese in Wisconsin. This is roughly how I pack mine.

Click for detail.

Tent strapped like a rocket on this side. Rok Straps are great.

It took a couple weeks trial but items seemed to have settled into their places, grouped by utility, accessibility, water-resistance, and security. For instance, if I'm not camping, I take the day bag, overnight bag under the seat, soft cooler, and maybe a pair of flip flops for hostels (when I'm lazy I just tuck them under the flap of the left saddle bag, the easy access side). If I am camping, I throw the same items in the tent (I learned it's a good idea to keep a flashlight in my overnight bag), and leave the saddlebags on in everything but the worst storms. On snack breaks, I access the cooler, left (non-tent-blocked) saddle bag, or load snacks into my day bag. When I leave my scooter for a brief day excursion, I take my day bag containing things that would suck the most to walk away - though really, anything growing legs would suck on such a minimalist getup. The only two places that lock also happen to be waterproof: the topcase and underseat. The underseat is such an odd shape I just mash clothes in there. The sleeping bag would be a hassle if wet, so it lives with electronics and other sketchbooks in the topcase. Rain gear also lives there for accessibility, though sometimes it migrates to a saddlebag. After it's used I air it out to dry before shoving it back with water sensitive things. I also dry out my camp towel the next day while riding, attached under the bungee net.

A couple random small things I've found extremely handy:
  • Gear Ties - I used them to hold cables together, and form them into hooks to hang things to dry in my tent.
  • Eton Microlink Weather Radio - Solar or hand crank powered flashlight, USB charger, and radio. It's nice to have a bit of music at a campsite. Also this satisfies the 'if all else fails' part of me.
  • Rok Straps - Indispensable to many motorcyclists. The elastic makes cinching down and unloading the tent a snap.
I'll update this as I go. The overnight bag has a rotating cast of clothing, which keeps growing because people give me t-shirts or I acquire them at rallies (I've shipped some back to Providence). I also haven't found a place for my spare riding pants, now that I've bit the bullet and bought a mesh pair for hot weather riding. It's a work in progress!


  1. Probably too small for a guy my size though you definitely paint a picture that makes me want one. :)

  2. Stephanie, I think the only things I carried that you may not have were:

    a) A tool kit in a tool roll;
    b) a 12V air pump;
    c) a monocular to see sights close up;
    d) a cover for the scoot;
    e) an alcohol stove (for coffee);

    Interesting minor coincidence: I'm pretty sure I picked the same water bottle.

    1. On closer inspection, I see you have a bike cover. I may have missed some other stuff.

  3. I want to hire you to illustrate my entire life. Love your stuff!

  4. We're going to do what you've done, but next year and round
    Europe. Great info and ideas you've provided. Thanks

  5. Thank you so much for the inspiring blog. I've been riding a 1968 150 Super since 2004 and 200GT L since 2018. Just ordered a new GTS 300 HPE Touring and tour I will. So b^great tips and tricks there to learn from. Also ordered the rok straps end the gear stripes right away :-)
    Vespizzate !

  6. Thank you for such an informative blog. If you are looking for vespa scooters then do Consider Vespa India.