There are some prejudices about scooters that we should probably clear up.
All of us have rumbled past some poor hapless soul, lost out there on a 50cc Jog, faded plastic parts held together with sellotape, buzzing along at a top speed of 40 kph. Many of us still see that as the typical scooter experience.
There are of course many scooter manufacturers that broadly fit that profile, and they are truly deserving of your scorn. Increasingly, however, there are some big-engined scooters coming out of proper motorcycle garages that break all of the old scooter moulds. And of course, there are manufacturers like Vespa who have been building the real thing for decades.
Earlier this year, we tested the Vespa Primavera 150, and while excellent, it lacked a bit of oompf when forced out onto the highway or up something long and steep. It’s a brilliant
run-around, but not the complete all-rounder that
many commuters need.
The 300 Super has that oompf. Here’s how it tested.
The Drag-Strip Test (Acceleration)
Having just ridden Suzuki’s big, bruising V-Strom, there was no doubt that the Vespa’s acceleration was going to seem pedestrian. Nevertheless, it was still able to give me that ‘Yeeee-haa!!’ feeling.
I recorded a 0–60kph aggregate time of 4.9 seconds, and a 0–100kph time of 11 seconds. It is clear that the initial acceleration on these bikes is their most impressive feature, and it is here that I prefer to have most of the bike’s power available. I was itching to drag-race it against a Harley (which I’m pretty sure I would beat) or my mate’s Africa Twin (against which I suspect I’d lose), but sadly the week didn’t work out that way.
It is worth noting also that once the Vespa climbed to a cruising speed of about 60kph and I could ease off the throttle, its overtaking acceleration (from, say, 60 to 80kph) was excellent again. It was easy to whisk past slower traffic without feeling that I would run out of steam in the middle of an overtaking manoeuvre.
The Freeway Test (Speed)
The freeway is about the safest place to be on a bike — provided that you’re able to hold your own when speed is required. It is more than a little unsettling when even trucks are roaring past you.
The 300cc engine in the Super is a significant upgrade on the Primavera, and I found that I was able to hit a little over 130kph without too much trouble, and the bike cruised comfortably at freeway speeds.
While the bike was comfortable at freeway speeds, the lack of a windshield on mine made me slightly less comfortable, and so I’d recommend digging deeper into the pocket for some glass up front. The little wheels look like they should be a disadvantage at speed, but I didn’t notice any issues. Vespa has upgraded the front shocks on this model, and they coped well.
The Ou Kaapse Test (Power)
The 150 Vespa showed its limitations most clearly when trying to climb our deep-south mountain pass. The 300 Super had no such problems. I was easily able to accelerate past 80kph going uphill, and I even dropped my speed down to a crawl at one point to see whether the automatic gearbox would be able to get me moving again without the benefit of momentum. Within seconds I was back up to top speed.
The Fuel Test (Economy)
Due to time limitations, we tested the Vespa’s range on 3 litres of fuel rather than the usual five. It managed a commendable 87km, putting it at 29km/l.
If frugality is a big concern, there are probably better options, but this means that it is likely to get you to work and back at half the fuel of cost of even the most efficient four-wheelers and most bigger bikes.
The Vespa 300 has more than enough power for all kinds of ordinary road use. It’s great on the freeway, can cope with gradient, and it is quick enough to get you out of trouble. So it ticks all the boxes there. There are, however, lots of bikes that excel in speed and power. Why buy this one?
What makes the Vespa 300 a great bike — and not just a good one — is that it can do everything (road legal) that a bigger bike can do, but it can do it while also being efficient, lightweight, and utterly manageable.
What I love about the Vespa (as opposed to the 1000cc bikes I’ve owned, for example) is that you can crawl it around at walking pace without it being jumpy on the throttle or feeling prone to falling over if you forget your place. It is the kind of bike that you would feel comfortable sharing with the wife or late-teen kids without worrying that it’ll be beyond their control.
This model features some nifty safety features as well — it has ABS and traction control (as well the usual solid Vespa chassis), and it even has a USB port in the glove compartment for your cell charger.
Close control is great — it’s light and easy to wind your way to the front of traffic queues — and the cornering even at speed is generally quite good too (though I’ll leave it to someone else to test the point at which traction control lets go).
On the negative side, let’s face it, small wheels are not ideal. The front shock has been improved, but the bumpy roads of ‘Little Mogadishu’ where I stay in the South Peninsula demonstrated the limitations of its wheels. The good news is that Vespa are able to fit larger rims that will significantly improve comfort for a small reduction in acceleration performance.
The biggest put-off about the Vespa is certainly the price. It is just about perfect as a daily road-bike, and it does everything well. It is also reliable and has good longevity (as evidenced by the number of models from the 1970s and 80s still riding). But at R110,000 or so, most of us will be inclined to shop around. The good news again, though, is that Vespa buy back and recondition their commercial bikes, which they will kit up and custom-respray to your specifications. You’ll be able to pick one up for around R70,000, and it’ll still last you for years.
Either way, it’s a better way to get to work than buying a second car.
Cons: • Some way beyond what most are willing to spend on a 300cc, even for such a good one.
• Small wheels are a minor drawback.
Pros: • Pretty much a perfect all-round commuting vehicle.
• Excellent balance between power and manoeuvrability.
• Build quality is very good.
• Extremely easy to handle, forgiving and convenient.