Hooniverse Asks – Vespas: Cool or Tool?

Upon first seeing the MP6 scooter prototype, Enrico Piaggio exclaimed something to the effect of  ‘holy effing meatballs, it looks like a wasp!’ And thus, for better or worse, was anointed the Vespa. Piaggio has, over the years, seen both good times and bad, but their most famous product remains to this day, the two wheeler that put Italy, and much of Europe, on the road.
When someone says scooters to you, I’d imagine a couple of images come to mind. Maybe it’s a kid’s toy with an aluminum platform, narrow handlebars and a pair of urethane skateboard wheels. Or, perhaps it’s a dog which is attempting to de-worm itself on your living room carpet. But most likely, it’s Sophia Loren, sitting sideways in a tight skirt and behind some lothario on a speeding Vespa on their way to making mad, angry love in a sun drenched rendezvous apartment on a narrow street in Rome.
Sure, that’s the traditional impression of a Scooter, but over the years the little step-thrus have been usurped by hipsters and worse. Much in the same way that Harleys became the de rigueur rebellion icon of the yuppie scum parade, Vespas have evolved into the ride of choice for the porkpie hat wearing, soul patch evoking hipster douchebags we’re all thankful we didn’t become. The question is, have they ruined the Vespa fro the rest of us?
What do you think, has the Vespa (average price, around $5,300 new) become too much the trust fund radical’s iconic ride? Or, has its dilution by cheap, crappy Chinese knockoffs (seriously, these things are terrible) made the Vespa redeemable again? Is the Vespa still a sign of cool, or do its current stereotypical owners drool? What do you say?
Image source: [phishthoughts.com]

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54 responses to “Hooniverse Asks – Vespas: Cool or Tool?”

  1. Alff Avatar

    I'll have to go with cool, based solely on the fact that I'd like to have one.

    1. $kaycog Avatar

      I received an email notification of your reply to my comment, but I don't see it here. So I'll reply to your reply here. May I?
      There are some interesting customized Vespas, like this Vespa built for four. I'll pass on joining the Shriners though.
      <img src="http://indiatechnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/four-seater-vespa_aYbk2_5965.jpg"width="500"/&gt;

      1. Alff Avatar

        That's the Pains Of Being Pure at Heart's tour bus.

        1. bigfatgeek Avatar

          Being a frequent visitor to the Island of Formosa, I call that the Taiwan Family Sandwich.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    To me scooters seem to combine the worst disadvantages of a motorcycle with the worst disadvantages of a bicycle. Not really fast enough for other than residential or deep urban streets, yet not allowed on bike paths or sidewalks. Requires fuel, oil, and maintenance. Vulnerable. The current "Vespas are cool" thing seems to border on the bizarre Ironic Hipster ethic. By the way, Quadrophenia was a pretty great Who album.

    1. facelvega Avatar

      Of course they're for urban streets, was that ever in question? But oh, on urban streets. Please see this old link from Hell for Leather:
      Abandon scooter hate all ye who click here

  3. Maymar Avatar

    Probably about as cool as a Mini (or the Fiat 500 once it's been around in North America for a couple years). Cool is effortless, so a Vespa-riding hipster isn't, but that doesn't rule it out for the rest of us.
    I definitely want to try riding one either way (I probably have Vice City to thank for that), or even the knockoff Honda Jazz.

  4. Ryans92L Avatar

    It all depends on the Vespa…

  5. dukeisduke Avatar

    "Sure, that’s the traditional impression of a Scooter, but over the years the little step-thrus have been usurped by hipsters and worse. Much in the same way that Harleys became the de rigueur rebellion icon of the yuppie scum parade, Vespas have evolved into the ride of choice for the porkpie hat wearing, soul patch evoking hipster douchebags we’re all thankful we didn’t become. The question is, have they ruined the Vespa fro the rest of us?"
    That prose is what's cool.

  6. Jim-Bob Avatar

    I don't mind it as a vehicle as I see practical applications for it where it would make sense. Sadly though, the price is just too high for what you get so my practical side just doesn't let me like it. A Honda Metropolitan is just as good and arguably more reliable for substantially less money and so I would have one of those, a Sym Symba (Honda Cub) or a Honda ruckus over a Vespa. If I wanted to spend $5300 on 2 wheeled transportation I could get a small Japanese motorcycle for my money that would be better in almost every technical way possible than a Vespa. Sorry but style just isn't enough of an issue for me to spend that much more than another equally good product costs just to have a cool brand. Vespas simply aren't cheap enough anymore to make sense.

  7. IronBallsMcG Avatar

    I have to go with cool in spite of the high HDB factor.
    My wife wants a scooter, but we're starting off with a used cheap Chinese <50cc. In Missouri, sub 50's don't require titling, plates, insurance, personal property tax payments or a motorcycle endorsement. If she likes it, we may move on to something larger. She does like the Vespa's; however, the Genuine Stellas capture a lot of the essence at a lower price. They seem to be quite well built including a steel body.
    BTW the current 300's are good for 70+ MPH.

  8. muthalovin Avatar

    It really depends on who is rolling one. I could not pull off a Vespa, because I am not cool. In Austin, the cool kids don't ride the bus, have a car or walk. They bicycle when its nice enough, and ride their Vespa's when it's way cold or way hot, in their bizarre outfits.

    1. Alan Smith Avatar
      Alan Smith

      There is yet hope for you. First you must overcome this irrational predisposition agains Comic Sans.

      1. muthalovin Avatar

        Quite true. Cool kids like irony, and Comic Sans can only be used to achieve maximum irony.

      2. ZomBee Racer Avatar

        HA-HA-HA OMG… well done.
        I have a headache from laughing so hard…

  9. P161911 Avatar

    Thankfully in the suburban part of the South where I live, it is relatively free from the hipster infestation. So sure, get a Vespa, it is just that there are very few places to ride one without the worry of ending up on the bug gaurd of a F-350. If gas breaks $4 gallon and stays there I might have to start looking at something with either 2 wheels or 4 cylinders (maybe a 325e). I would probably end up with a cheap Chinese knockoff or an old moped.

  10. $kaycog Avatar

    I go with cool, and some are cooler than others. I would never have one though. I guess I'm not cool enough.
    <img src="http://gripofhysteria.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/awesome_vespa.jpg"width="500"/&gt;

    1. Alff Avatar

      That looks like an excuse to join the Shriners.

  11. engineerd Avatar

    I'd rock one. I have a 14 mile commute and take surface streets the whole way without much a hit on time. I actually have considered getting one.
    I'll need a sidecar for my dog, though.
    <img width=500 src="http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y241/Ian67/IOW06086.jpg"&gt;
    Photo in response to question "Has anyone seen a way to carry a medium size (45lbs.) dog on a Vespa?" on the Modern Vespa forum. Check it out. http://modernvespa.com/forum/topic9876

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      DVLA says that's an '87 PX125, licence scheduled to expire in May this year, so still on the road somwhere.
      Just so you know.

    2. muthalovin Avatar

      I bet Modern Vespa and Vintage Vespa have a great rivalry.

  12. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    To me, a Vespa should be ridden by a beautiful olive-skinned Italian girl, with her dark hair cascading from under her colour-coded crash hat, her burgundy lips battling with her Dolce and Gabbana shades for domination of her sunkissed face.
    Not a fat middle-aged, leather jacketed "mod" who doesn't get that the sixties ended over forty years ago.

  13. hwyengr Avatar

    If you like it, ride it. Don't let some PBR-drinking, bushy-bearded fellow keep you from enjoying the things you like.

    1. Dutch Avatar

      HEY HEY HEY…I drink Budweiser!!!!

  14. SSurfer321 Avatar

    New Vespa's are for hipsters.
    Classic Vespa's are cool, so long as an attractive woman is piloting it.

  15. scroggzilla Avatar

    Before Ada Pace raced in the Targa Florio, Mille Miglia and various Italian hill climbs, she raced and won on Vespa's. So, to answer your question, Vespas are cool.
    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2748/4053422832_2f7ab797e6.jpg&quot; width="374" height="500" alt="55 san remo ada pace" />

  16. tiberiusẅisë Avatar

    Instead of judging cool or not, really how would I know, I'll simply say this. If you can make it work, god bless you. I hope you score all the chicks that are into that kind of thing that you can handle.
    Me? I'll be at the state fair trying to impress some daisy duke wearing bleach blondes.
    <img src="http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5056/5509183787_46ac9d560c_m.jpg&quot; width="400">

    1. topdeadcentre Avatar

      May I recommend trying to impress some bleach-blondes wearing daisy dukes? It's a bit difficult trying to pry the bleach-blond guys off of Catherine Bach.

      1. tiberiusẅisë Avatar
  17. skitter Avatar

    For $5300, it better be highway capable (80+ mph).
    Otherwise, that's any number of nice used cars, or really nice new bicycles.

  18. OA5599 Avatar

    <img src="http://images.travelpod.com/users/seeyou2011/1.1286134287.geil-so-ne-vespa-f-r-den-zwe.jpg"&gt;
    If you ride one into town to pick up companionship while your yacht is docked, then cool. Otherwise, not cool.
    Still, they are less dorky than one of these:
    <img src="http://www.jeffnewcum.com/blog/SmartCarJeff.jpg&quot; width=500>

    1. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

      I've been staring at that yacht for three minutes. How the hell do they deploy those?

  19. LTDScott Avatar

    I have two friends who have Vespas. One is a total dirty biker looking dude who is a motorcycle mechanic and may have the crustiest "ratvespa" ever. The other is his brother, who has part ownership of a Vespa dealer here in San Diego, and is a really smart clean cut guy.
    Neither really fit the typical Vespa rider, but both are my friends so I say cool.
    Here's friend #1 riding his custom painted Vino scooter at a recent LeMons race.
    <img src="http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash1/5493_1194395452564_1008762909_620493_7515647_n.jpg"&gt;

  20. RWB Avatar

    I'll take one Honda Ruckus and a lack of preconceptions, please.

    1. muthalovin Avatar

      And I will take a Big Ruckus to make up for my own inadequacies.

  21. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    Vintage "real steel" Vespas, up to and especially including the P200E I lusted after in high school, are and always will be cool. Current ones, not so much.
    <img src="http://jetsetserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/vespa.jpg"&gt;
    I'll take mine in grey, box stock, with no extra mirrors, please.

  22. BrianTheHoon Avatar

    Simply because of Quadrophenia, the right Vespa will always be cool.

  23. mdharrell Avatar

    <img src="http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5243/5355091263_9bdd1e3c2f.jpg&quot; width="400">
    The larger Vespas come with maid service, which is pretty cool.

  24. Feds_II Avatar

    I've got an uncle who was an outlaw biker in the late 60's/early 70's, right down to the 1% tattoo and moving all the way across the country for 20 years to avoid the "unpleasantness" associated with quitting a motorcycle gang.
    He currently rides a Kawi Vulcan Drifter, because it looks like an Indian but it works, and he can ride it without worrying about busting up an irreplaceable artifact. As he is the real deal, he doesn't have to worry much about his image.
    Same goes for Vespas. The genuine article is trading at a ridiculous premium because people buy them to get the image, rather than earning the image through what they do.
    I am definitely not a scooter-istissimo, but if I ever were to buy one, it would be a Jazz or a Vino. Stylistically equivalent, functionally better, and WTF do I care if I have the right brand or not? I'm on a scooter.

  25. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    I paid $5,000 for my falcon, $120 for a clutch (when all it needed was a $15 throw-out bearing), $25 for a shifter boot and roughly $250 for a set of Hecho in Chine 185/70 R14 tires.
    From a cool per dollar standpoint, I'd say they're not…at least now, in new form.

  26. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    While not a Vespa, Mr Jalopy's musings about a Puch he had and sold are hilarious to me:
    <img src="http://photos1.blogger.com/img/292/1503/640/emilypuch.jpg"&gt;
    Now that I have the Puch, I think I will adopt the 1979 sensitive college student. Occasionally crashing my Puch and throwing myself on the ground crying. Listening to My Aim is True and drinking cheap chianti as fast as I can so I can stick a candle in it to put on my board and concrete block bookshelves. Riding around on my moped and dressing like I was in a Wes Anderson movie. http://hooptyrides.blogspot.com/2004/10/pages-sta
    As always, via: http://hooptyrides.blogspot.com
    See also: dinosaursandrobots.com, cocosvariety.com

  27. ZomBee Racer Avatar

    The answer is built right into the question. The bikes themselves are damn cool, and I'm one-free-paycheck plus a drunk wife away from buying a 150 Sprint Veloce.
    But, as some sort of "symbol" no, they are never ever cool. Same applies for any cultural-cow trying to follow a trend-herd. (Hello Harley, Rockabilly)
    If you are a European hoodlum riding a Vespa that's pretty cool. If you and all your friends are dressing up as and pretending to be weekend European hoodlums, that's… kinda cool in a geeky way. If you are dressing up as and actually trying to BE a European hoodlum, the bike magically becomes your "symbol".
    You may as well be dressing up as Sailor Moon and hanging out at the yogurt shop. ANARCHY! DOWN WITH OPPRESSION! Ska or death. Give me a sorbet.
    A goofy 2-stroke scooter that can easily kill you, that's cool. It's the meatball you put on top that defines whether or not he's douchey.

  28. theeastbaykid Avatar

    Tool. Lambrettas, on the other hand….:)

    1. 4DoorNoMore Avatar

      I was stationed in the UK in the early 90's…the time of resurgent ska, traditional skinheads and scooters. I never liked the look of the Vespas but I'd take a Lambretta 175 or 200 any day of the week.
      I actually had one (SX200) lined up to buy, drain and ship home in my household goods but the sale fell through at the last minute with no time to find another.

  29. superbadd75 Avatar

    Vespas are pretty cool. No amount of hipster douchebags can ruin it for me, which is more than I can say for the iPhone.

  30. CptSevere Avatar

    I agree with Mr. Howser, when you see Vespas in their natural environment, they're pretty cool. In the early eighties, when I was stationed in Italy, everybody there rode Vespas and Lambrettas, and some of the young dudes modified the hell out of them, and showed off riding wheelies. Pretty impressive, even if you were into motorcycles like me. At one point, I rode one, and it sucked. No handling at all, weird high center of gravity, and the seating position is all wrong. I'd never have one, not when I could have a motorcycle instead. When I got out of the Army, I promptly bought a Norton Commando, and about that same time, scooters became hip. First you saw a lot of red Honda scooters, then the hippest of the ur-hipsters started getting Vespas. They always thought they had it going on, until I pulled up next to them on the Norton. Nah, I'll pass on a Vespa.

  31. James Avatar

    I'm a scooter mechanic by profession.
    I'm kind of ambivalent about Vespas.
    Their engines are made in China now (small frame aircooled engines anyway) so there goes that bragging right.
    Vespa owners also like to brag about how their bikes have all steel unibodies instead of cheap plastic draped on a steel frame. But after they lay it down and find that even a small dent costs more to fix than the replacement cost of their bike, that advantage doesn't seem quite so cool.
    A person buying a Vespa as their first scooter is asking for disappointment. Buy one after you crash your cheap Chinese enough times to learn how not to crash.
    A lot of people who ride old Vespas are douchey.
    But after years and years of making them, Vespa has figured out how to make a comfy bike. Cheap Chinese give me a backache after a few miles. I could ride a GTS300 around the world twice without ever getting off that seat.
    Modern Vespas also suffer from the same feature creep that we discussed about Honda a few days ago. And all the problems therein. That cable that allows you to open the seat by turning the ignition lock backwards – while a cool feature – is a pain in the butt when it breaks.
    And 330lbs for a scooter. Egads!
    Cheap Chinese are actually getting pretty decent. A lot of the more familiar cheap Chinese models are being replaced by a new generation of cheap Chinese for 2011, and the new models do address many of the problems of the previous generation. Vespa needs to amp up their game. In the first 1/2 of 2009, Vespa sold 13,000 bikes in the US. In the first 1/2 of 2010, they sold 3000. Shades of 1980 when the Japanese set their sights on Vespa and Vespa fled the US market.
    FWIW, I have a 1977 Bajaj Chetak – which is a 1960s Vespa VBB built under license in India. It's a dead-up clone in every way other than the badging.
    But I much prefer to ride my 1984 Honda Aero 125. 125cc, two stroke, tune-able CVT – what's not to love. I've modded it a bit. It'll bury the 75mph speedo and keep going and still returns 50mpg.
    And it's a Honda.
    <img src="http://i450.photobucket.com/albums/qq228/JamesISpalding/Honda%20Aero%20125/DSCF8422-1.jpg&quot; border="0" alt="Photobucket">
    I also have an old Dutch moped that I swapped a 2 stroke Honda scooter engine onto that I prefer to ride over either of my scooters, but that's a tale for another day.

  32. longrooffan Avatar

    For what it is worth, last year I spotted this totally restored vintage Vespa at a show here in Florida. The owner picked it up on ebay for $2,700 plus $300 for shipping from Saigon Vietnam to Central Florida. $3K for a vintage Vespa? Money well spent based on the numbers thrown around in these comments….And sorry, still trying to figure out the kinks in the width=600 deal…..
    <img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_zCnDCJkPVTc/TB05EgJwLOI/AAAAAAAAMpk/jTAHKRjJyZI/s1600/vespa.jpg"end&gt;

    1. James Avatar

      Vietnamese Vespas – or Bodges as they are commonly known – are pretty sketchy. They're shiny and pretty, but the standards to which the mechanical bits are rebuilt leaves much to be desired. Horror stories of shims made from soda pop cans abound.
      A friend of mine worked on a bodge that someone imported that had catastrophic engine failure on it's maiden voyage. Five miles or so, and the crank bearings gave up.
      Buyer beware.
      They do seem to do a decent job of the body work.
      And a brand new LML (Stella) crate engine can be had for $1000 or so – which will bolt in to just about any older large frame and give you five port, 12v, CDI goodness.
      So budget accordingly.
      Or just buy a Stella. They're Vespa compatible and can be had used for 1/2 that $3000 typical bodge price.

  33. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    Like CR-Zs, Vespas are cool for other people. I love the idea, but dangle the keys in my face and I'd rather a motorcycle, if I'm two-wheeling anyway.

  34. Richard Slap Avatar
    Richard Slap

    I’m wayyyy late on this one, but the Vespa isn’t called a Vespa – Italian for “wasp” – because it looks like a flying insect, which it doesn’t… no no my friend, it’s called a Wasp because it sounds like a cloud of angry bees!
    Brrrrrrinngggggg-ding-ding-ding-ding-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMPP-BRRRRIINNNNNGGG-ding-ding-ding-ding ah that two-stroke sound.