Vespa 300 GTS
By Kevin Ash
There are three brands which not only evoke a loyalty and passion unusual even within our emotion-driven world of two-wheelers, they have transgressed the usual bounds and gained real awareness among those not normally interested in our kind of thing. The first, inevitably, is Harley-Davidson, a symbol of freedom, style and rebellion across the world. The second is Ducati, as the single-track embodiment of the Italian obsession with motorsport, persistently punching far above its weight with improbable success year upon year, not only on the track but in terms of public recognition too. The third is also Italian, and arguably coming from the most brilliant and original two wheel design of the last century: Vespa is so strong as a brand, a large proportion of people whove heard of it have no idea the company that makes it is called Piaggio. Indeed, to many, vespa has evolved into a generic term for scooter.
The original was built in 1946, designed by former aircraft engineer Corradino DAscanio to get working factories silenced by the ending of hostilities as well as to mobilise populations short of fuel, cash and jobs. The steel monocoque chassis was simple and highly effective, the fully enclosed engine an essential for everyday transport, the easily detached wheels and spare dealt with the then common problem of punctures, and it was styled with Italian flair at its finest.
In the UK mods took to scooters mostly Vespas and Lambrettas as the antithesis to the grubby, high performance motorcycle culture of the rockers, but if they were a cult, the fundamentals of easy and unintimidating transport which kept their clothes clean applied to most people. That was 62 years ago and while most motor transport has moved on almost unrecognisably, those Vespa fundamentals were so strong the latest machines principles are little changed. Even DAscanios aircraft undercarriage-derived front suspension remains the same and unique in the two wheeler world, single sided for that wheel change facility and with a trailing link that looks at first sight as if it ought to dive horribly at the first hint of front brake. It doesnt though, remaining stable and level because while the weight transfer of the scooter is trying to compress the suspension, attaching the brake caliper to the bottom of the shock absorber means it counters by trying to extend the suspension as it attempts to rotate around the wheel. Wheel removal aside another advantage is that the wheel moves backwards as it moves up, like one mounted in telescopic forks, rather than forward and up as in many other unusual front ends such as BMWs Telelever, and in turn this provides a better ride quality.
Which is why you still find the DAscanio suspension design on the latest Vespa, the 300 GTS Super. The Super tag has been applied only to the sportiest Vespas over the years and before the details of this latest one were announced, Vespisti worldwide were arguing over the merits of blowing the dust of this suffix once again. Yes, they really should have better things to do... What they didnt know was that the GTSs capacity was about to be upped, out to 278cc from the 244cc of the 250s Quasar engine via bore and stroke increases, concomitant with cylinder head changes to deal with the additional flow demands of the larger cylinder. But the changes to the motors resultant power curve dont appear especially sporting, with the low and mid rev ranges being packed out with more torque as a priority over a top end horsepower boost indeed, the claimed top speed of 82mph is the same on the 300 as the 250. But its all the better for that, and perhaps ironically sportier too, at least at speeds itll mostly be used at. It drives off the line with some impressive muscle then surges forward into overtakes, up hills and with faster moving traffic significantly more urgently than the 250, and no doubt will cope with a passenger more effectively too. Its not until 70mph that it starts to feel breathless, so you could conceivably use this as a fast A-road and motorway tool should needs be.
Certainly the chassis stability is well up to the engines capability. That pressed steel monocoque is, according to Piaggio, more than twice as rigid as typical tubular steel ones with plastic bodywork, the general scooter chassis formula, and it really does show. Bear in mind the step-through design is poor from a rigidity angle, theres a 40:60 front to rear weight distribution and usually wobble-inducing 12 inch wheels, yet the 300 GTS Super is very stable even flat out and in windy conditions. Okay, its not motorcycle secure, but within scooter parameters its one of the best, and that competence extends to the way it steers, with perfect neutrality at low speeds preventing it from dropping to far into tight corners and little of the urge to run wide in faster, broader corners thats typical of this weight distribution.
You do start to notice the considerable unsprung weight of an engine and transmission that move in concert with the rear wheel as the going gets quicker and bumpier, with some jarring and bouncing, but again, the Vespa is more composed than most scooters.
The transmission plays an important role in the GTSs feeling of rider obedience as it picks up the drive with unusual smoothness and predictability. On some scooters its almost impossible to execute a three point turn without at least a small wobble when the drive kicks in as you open the throttle, and some are downright difficult because of this. But controlling very low, traffic trickling speeds with just the twistgrip on the GTS is pleasing and easy you can pull away directly into a full lock turn with both feet up on the footboards and not keep them poised near the edges in case a quick dab is needed.
Engine aside the differences between 300 and 250 are not major. The Super badge gives the 300 the right to some side panel cooling grills as sported by older, er, sporting Vespas, while the legshields have been revised with different chrome trim and vents, red-painted suspension components front and rear and new seats (there are two options at purchase time), both of which are leaner looking than the 250s. What you dont get is the 250s very useful and I think rather good looking rear rack, a shame as this seriously reduces the 300s practicality, always something of a quiet disadvantage with Vespas compared to most other modern scooters as they have less underseat storage than most. No chance at all to fit my full face Arai under there without taking a saw to it (and even then Im speculating), while not all open face lids will fit. There is a top box option, though this will of course annihilate your sporting pretensions. No doubt a rack of some sort will be an option at some point, even if its not one of Piaggios own.
Another omission which surprises is the lack of ABS. The Brembo brakes inevitably impress with both their balance and power, and theres even good feel from the rear which most motorcyclists arent used to, although thats also because a scooters rear stopper generally is stronger than the front not just because of rider habits but because with more weight squeezing its tyre to the road it has greater stopping potential, even with weight transfer taken into account. But the Vespa is upmarket, sophisticated and expensive, and lesser scooters offer ABS so really this one should too.
Like all motorcycle and scooter manufacturers, Piaggio doesnt quote meaningful fuel economy figures (BMW will tell you some about its bikes, but not for speeds or conditions any normal person would relate to). But judging by experience with the 250, Id expect youd be able to get 70mpg (24.8km/l, 4.0l/100km) or maybe more out of the 300, which with its 2 gallon tank (2.4 gallons US, 9l) means 140 miles (225km) to empty. Thats fine for round town use and probably the majority of Vespa riders, but I cant help thinking a little more would add a touring dimension the machine is otherwise capable of (given that top box too of course). Its certainly comfortable enough for several hours in the saddle, weather protection isnt bad (you could even wear one of those all-over leg covers and keep your lower half completely dry) and reliability is good enough for confidence over long distances in foreign lands. But then with more space taken up by fuel tank youd not even fit a Barbie doll helmet beneath the seat...
If the initial £3649 is high, where you gain is in depreciation, or lack of it compared especially with cheap Chinese offerings. Not only do they generally lack any sort of style, they dont come close to a Vespas very impressive build quality, often barely have an importer at all let alone a proper dealer network, and when they go wrong, as they inevitably do, you cant get any spares and pretty soon have to throw them away. Even if you can sell one on the depreciation hit often is huge.
In the end though, no matter how convincing the rationalising, a Vespa sells because its a Vespa. That is taken to mean Italian style and chic at its finest, and in those respects too, the 300 GTS Super does not disappoint in the slightest. Its one of those rare objects, like some Ducatis and Harleys and a few other bikes too which is simply a pleasure to own, whether you rode it or not. But of course you will, and youll enjoy it then too.
Had mine for a year now. Still love it. Starts on the button and has great ride quality. A keeper.
Thanks, that sort of stuff is interesting to hear, longer term views are harder to come by, and most of the stuff I do is shorter tests of new bikes. But I do know Vespas last well and I'd always recommend them.
Yup, the ride quailty is really good on the big GT series.
Kev. I love the GTS, but i am quite interested in the Honda SH300 (as a second scoot). I seem to remember you liked it, and all the reviews say it flies. Is it as good as reported?
I think a 300cc scooter will be ideal for our police state roads!
I've ridden the SH300 a bit. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, after years of "proper" bikes of all types/ capacities, I don't think I've ever ridden anything faster point-to-point on real urban roads. Slim enough to filter to the front of any queue and beats anything this side of a GSX-CBR-RR away from the lights. It really is a bit of a weapon and so smooth with it. Only problems: there ain't much storage or weather protection, it's a bit "compact" for the taller gent and it looks a bit too much like your grandma's Honda Express 50cc shopping bike from 1978. The looks are worth it though just to see the expression on the faces of the young lads in Corsas fitted with "peformance" bling as you leave them for dust off the mark.
Nice one. At the moment i reckon it's a toss up between light and fast (the SH) and big storage (Suzuki Burgman 400). My local dealer is putting a Burg on demo soon so i'll have a go and see.
Thanks for the feedback.
I'll have to eat my words about the SH300's appearance as it seems now to be available in some markets in this rather lovely pearl white/ matt black colour scheme, which does it no end of good:
There might be a sale if I can get one that looks like that. Bet you Honda UK aren't bringing it in though. There's no sign of it on their woeful, out of date website, where the SH is resplendent only in black, blue, beige (ferchrissakes) and old-farts burgundy. Mr Ash, is there any chance you can use your contacts to talk some sense into them and get a container of white/ black ones sent over?
Ha, no way on earth would they listen to me about what colours to bring in! (and quite right too, I'm crap at deciding what colours might sell or not...). But yeah, I really liked the SH300, with exactly those reservations about underseat storage (which is the same prob on all big wheel scoots) and looking like your gran's transport. But fit a box and tell everyone you're Italian and you'll be fine! Dynamically it's better than the Vespa, it just doesn't match up to it in terms of style or heritage. Depends what matters to you in the end.
Hi Kev. What do you know about Kymco? I like the look of their new Downtown 300. Any idea if they will be bringing it to England?
I've quite a lot of experience of Kymco and I'd happily recommend them - there's a test of the Yager 125 on this site. The scooters are decent quality, the distributor Masco is very long established, spares supply is good etc. For some time a few years ago Kymco had the best selling scooter in Italy, which is quite an achievement and a vindication of the scooters too.
But, the Downtown 300 (they're not so good at names though...) isn't coming to the UK. For 2009 the new models are only the Agility RS (50 and 125cc), the Super 8 50 and the Italian-styled Like 125 - these are being added to or replacing the current range which doesn't include the Downtown 300.
I don't pretend to be in the same league of experience as Kevin but just as an independant back up to what he says, the Kymco range is pretty popular over here in the Czech Republic and very well received. In addition to my day job my wife and I also own a fairly succesfull motorcycle accessory import business and as such I am fortunate enough to be invited to quite a lot of industry and press events. I have ridden a few of the Kymco scooters on some of these and my impressions have all been favourable. One of my journalist friends here tests a lot of scooters for his publication and he actually rekons that taking all things into account they should be a serious consideration for anyone looking at buying.
I don't know if they use the same names in each country but the "Downtown" is almost as bad as the "Xciting" - it must be the vehicle equivalent of Herbert.
Cheers for the feedback. Lets hope they decide to bring it in in the next year or so.
Well, got a top deal on my old TDM, and have ordered a SH300! I think it'll be a great machine and can't wait to pick it up. Roll on.
I'll post a test of the SH300i on here shortly - sorry, the website's been quiet recently while other work has been practically swamping me, but there will be plenty going on again very soon. But yes, it's an excellent choice, the SH is outstanding. It was meant to have the cross country ability of a big capacity scooter with the agility in town of a 125... well, they all say that, but in the SH's case that's pretty much what they've achieved. I'm sure you'll be really happy with it.
Meaningful fuel figures ! In your article on the Vespa you mention that bike manufacturers don't quote meaningful fuel figures. As much as I have no interest in cars other than practical neccessity, I am an avid reader of your colleague Honest John at the Daily Telegraph and from what he writes, quite often, it seems that fuel figures quoted by any motor maunfacturer are far from meaningful or accurate. I believe he mentioned that Mercedes have even been succesfully sued as a customer could not get anywhere near the manufacturers quoted consumption figures!
Can it really be that hard for motorcycle or car manufacturers to supply us with accurate data, or is this all legislation driven crud?
Nice one Kev. I remember your review was glowing. There is a guy on the Modern Vespa forum who has the same as me. A GTS 300 and a SH300. He loves them both, but says the SH is better dynamically.
I can't wait!!
Paulvt1, yup, would agree, the Honda is better dynamically but the Vespa does have the style... Personally I'd have the Vespa but I'm just a sucker for all that heritage stuff, but I'd struggle to justify it rationally...
shuggiemac, yes the Mercedes thing does happen, but generally people get fairly close to the combined cycle figures, and the important thing is at least you can compare cars in like-for-like situations. But the bike manufacturers don't even try to give you any figures. I've just come back today funny enough from a meeting with one of the bike manufacturers who is looking at long term strategies, the next 20 years and what is likely to happen to motorcycling, and this was one of the things we discussed.
It occurs to me that any fuel consumption test for bikes would have to stipulate a standard size rider and possibly even what gear should be worn as these things have a disproportionate effect on the fuel consumption of a bike compared to a car. Not only does an 18 stone rider comprise far more of a bike's all-up weight than say, a 10 stone rider, he (or she!) would also present a, shall we say, less aerodynamic profile, and different clothes simply add to the problem.
I have calculated that an 18 stone rider on a 400lb bike amounts to 38% of the total mass whereas the 10 stone rider comprises only 26%. Not only would the test itself need specific rules but it would also mean it would be much more difficult to replicate the results on the road, so if you think your car's fuel figures are unachievable I wouldn't be too optimistic about those applying to bikes!
That fundamentally though is what they do with cars. They are not real world figures and are all arrived at in supposedly control environments. I believe it is done on a rolling road for example and I don;t know if they simulate a certain number of passegers or not etc.
My initial point that while it would be possible to give fuel figures, of course, it is wether or not they would be really meaningful. They could of course be comparitive, so we could see one bike up against another under the same "laboratory" conditions but as to how that would relate to the road is the element of meaningful I was querying.
I guess we'll only know how meaningful the tests are if and when the EU, VCA and manufacturers pull their fingers out and actually start testing bikes.
Certainly something would be better than nothing assuming a consistent basis for test is set and adopted accross the board. It does make you wonder why it has not been done before.
Just done about 80 miles on the SH. Very impressive. I now have the best of both worlds..the SH for commuting and the GTS for cruising.
How long is your commute and what kind of roads does it involve? I am moving house soon and will have about 35 mile commute, including through busy city and approx 20 miles motorway, so would be interested to learn if the SH would be good for that. The highway in the morning is pretty busy so I don't need to be running at 80 mph all the time or anything like that. I would like to get something that will nip through traffice easy, be OK on the motorway and I won't mind about running up big mileage on quickly.
It would be perfect. It narrow and lets you filter but is roomy enough for the longer rides.
cheers, I'll certainly consider going to look at one and have it in my list of options. Nothing better than actual owner reccomendations.
I'll keep you informed. Hope to have the screen and handguard kit soon. Will look pants next door to the GTS, but will improve the practicality no end.
Coming up on 600 mile service now. The screen and handguard kit do the job. I have cut the screen down to just below eye level. Easier to look through / over, but noisier. The SH is a wonderful tool. Superb brakes, quick (90 mph top end) and wonderfully made.
I've been riding a GTS 300 since last Oct and I agree with much of the excellent review above. I commute on it - 110 miles each day - 30 miles motorway each way, 25 miles through South London. I find it suits both well. Top speed is around 90 at a push but comforatable at 80. Fuel economy is less than the suggested 140 miles per tank. I can do both ways on a tank - so roughly 110 miles - but that is 60 miles hammered hard and 50 miles stop/start, so not ideal. I do find the comfort an issue. I've had the seat replaced with a 250 seat as it's slightly softer - but the bike hasn't let me down. Terrific through the cold winter, stable at speed in high winds, heavy rain, and very quick off the mark, and never a moment's problem with it. Now done 8000 km and looking forward to the next 8. Do find the half blade front screen very useful, and the top box for the helmet. Strongly recommend it.
Yeah, if I was doing your sorts of distances and speeds I'd definitely go for some kind of screen as otherwise you're fairly exposed to the windblast. A topbox is pretty much essential too.
Vespa has just gone in for a new fuel pump. Hot start problem with the fuel pump cutting out at rest. Known fault - no biggie really.
The SH is probably going to get traded in next year. I like it - but the lack of leg room is really starting to grate. I think there is a reason the Vespa marque is so well loved. One ride on it and it feels spot on. Comfy, flickable and great to look at.
I have fitted the tall screen on the GTS for winter rides. I have cut it down to about 14" above the instrument binnacle, as the top part needed to be clean and polished, otherwise any moisture / rain became dangerous, due to lack of visibility. Getting a Givi top box soon. Really useful.
As you can tell - i love the Vespa. Best scoot out there!!
Well, things have changed since the last post. A few test rides on big bikes have re-awoken the big bike bug! Both the Vespa and the SH have been traded in against the new VFR 1200F. Got a good deal - with the proviso that if the VFR is above a set limit price wise then i can opt for something else.
The 18 months i owned the Vespa was a fun time. If anyone is thinking of one then i would recommend the GTS highly.
very interested in your experiences of bigger scooters! i am just about to get one - was thinking of the sh 300 but did wonder a little about the leg room when i tried one... i am quite tall (6' 1") and worried about feeling a bit cramped on it...
do you think i will struggle?
Hi Jasonc, can't speak for Paul but I'm the same height as you and did find the SH to be a bit too cramped, most notably for my feet because there's not a lot of space on the footboard. Not much useful luggage space under the seat either. Otherwise, I loved it.
Other scoots you might consider: Yam Xmax 250 - has more leg space and a much bigger "boot", but doesn't go or handle quite as well as the SH. Burgman 400 - plenty of space in every department, goes well, but quite lardy next to the SH and a fair bit more expensive. You could also take a look at the Italian alternatives such as the Gilera Nexus 300 and the Piaggio Xevo but these don't seem to sell all that well even in Italy and (I'm told) can be tricky to shift secondhand in the UK, where Vespas probably outsell all the other Italian models put together.
Hi Rocca - thanks a lot for your comments... very useful... It's a tricky one not going for the sh300 as it does seem to stand head and shoulders above the rest!
reckon better have a look around at the competition tho'..did try a yam majesty 250 which i liked and might have a better look at the bigger vespas
Good advice Rocca, I was also thinking of the Piaggio Xevo though I didn't know about it possibly being hard to shift when you want to sell it again. But you could always turn that around, hunt down a few good used ones and drive a hard bargain, let someone else take the depreciation hit. The Majesty is generally a safe bet too.
Had both the gts 300 and sh 300 , I must say they were both great scooters however I prefer the sh 300 , why ?
-better build quality Honda still felt like new after 2 years
-smoother transmission and changes
-less wear of tyres due to larger wheels less time off road !
-better suspension 2 people weighing 150kg or more causes the vespa to bottom out on bumps.
-less maintenance costs the honda practically requires only oil changes
-ABS brakes are brilliant
-the vespa metal body easily dents
down side was storage space about 15%-20% less than vespa and exposure to weather which I overcome with an imported mid level screen for ebay.it
btw i'm 6'2 and I had no trouble fitting on the sh300
That's why Honda is still the world's biggest two wheeler manufacturer, they're not always the most stylish and maybe lack the design flair of the Italians, but they just build them better than anyone else, and that counts for a lot when you're paying out a lot of money.
That why I have just put a deposit down on the Piaggio BV 350 - hopefully the best of both worlds - will let you know!
I am also interested in the BV350, so I would like to know how your BV350 is doing?
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