“Into the Sunset”
In Which (After A Few Bumps In The Road) The Author Falls In Love With His Brand New Piaggio BV500 Maxi-Scooter
The time had come. I’d been reading Scootering magazine for years, and when I finished each new issue I’d pick up the old ones and start in on those. Perpetual entertainment. My head was swimming with images of Vespas and Lambrettas in a rainbow of colors and styles. When the fever ran hottest, I’d have grabbed anything with two strokes and two wheels.
A fellow down the street was selling a yellow 1980 PX200E with sidecar (so much for two wheels), and though the price was high, I rang him up and arranged a test drive. When I showed up, the engine was warm; he’d already driven the thing.
“Bad sign,” I thought, “must be hard to start.”
I took the little trike around the block, but the handling with the sidecar was pretty wonky, and all I remember were gleaming new Land Rovers and Hummers and Nissan Muranos climbing up my tail, looking like they wanted to eat the little Vespa – with me on board – as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre.
I thought, “if I ever get one of these things, it’s got to have some power.” And then the proverbial light-bulb went off: why not a new Piaggio Auto?
I dialed up Piaggio on the web, and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. The top-of-the-line BV500 was the bike for me.
Proudly-mounted round halogen headlamp. Gorgeous scalloped front leg shield — like the Venus clamshell in that famous picture — with a cool vertical chrome stripe, a necktie for the scoot, very executive and professional (can you say “tax write off?”). A big round exhaust can, real naked bike.
And best of all, a 500cc motor. Zowee, I’ve owned cars with engines that size! “There’s no replacement for displacement,” as my friend Ricky says.
I was due up in Denver, Colorado for some family function; Erico Motorsports, an authorized Piaggio/Vespa dealer, was in the same city, with a full line of Vespas and Piaggios. Determined to keep an open mind, I nevertheless made sure they had a new BV500 ready to go in Burgundy…
Best of all, they took American Express. “Buy first, ask questions later” – that’s always been my motto. Can you really charge a brand new $ 6,000 scooter? I was ready and willing to find out.
The salesman at Erico, a lanky, ear ringed hipster about half my age, was helpful and patient, and he let me test drive a variety of scoots. The Vespas were smooth and lovely, but it wasn’t so much checking them out as checking them off, so I could drive the BV500 and make sure there wasn’t anything about it I didn’t like.
There wasn’t; “it rocked.”
One twist of the throttle and the surge of raw power and raspy exhaust note sold me. The brakes were terrific, too, as you might hope for on a 110MPH scooter (the factory claims 100mph, but it’ll go beyond that, given sufficient time and space). It really is a Vespa on steroids, with 100% authentic Piaggio DNA, made in Pontedera, like the Paperino of sixty years ago.
I still get a kick out of the sales manager running the card and handing me the approved charge slip to sign, all casual, like I’d bought a bag of groceries or something. $ 6,400.00!!! Plastic scooter, plastic payment, right. But I was happy.
The plan was to drive from Denver to my home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a distance of 425 miles, through beautiful mixed terrain, mountains and agricultural flatlands…
…in one day.
Because it was late September, I needed some warm clothing, and with the charge card still smoking, I was introduced to a very charming and captivating young woman in the accessories department.
She must have worked some kind of voodoo love-magic on me, because I ended up with $1,000 worth of clothing and accessories, a mixed bag of brands no less (Triumph jacket, Ducati pants, Moto Guzzi gloves). Stuff I didn’t even know I needed. If I froze my pants off, at least they’d be proper pants.
After a cozy night at Denver’s historic Brown Palace Hotel, I set off early. Extant photos show me wearing a worried rather than exuberant expression, because even with all the clothing, it was damned cold. I had a long way to go, and I’d never driven more than a few miles on a scooter before. I was in a strange, densely-populated city. And I had no idea what I’d do if I broke down.
I managed to get out of Denver all right. Just barely. At the base of a very long, very steep hill, the red light on the BV’s dashboard starting flashing and the motor cut out. I pulled to the side of the road, voiced some expletives to the uncaring Scooter Gods, and wondered, “what the hell am I going to do now?”
This wasn’t my first Italian vehicle, after all. A wave of dread came over me as memory opened the door to decades of youthful but nightmarish breakdown experiences with Latin transport. “Why, oh why, didn’t I just buy a rice burner? There’s a Honda called the ‘Venice,’ looks like a Vespa but half the price, probably dead reliable…”
Well, it didn’t get that bad, but it might have, had my mind been idle. Instead, I did the only thing I could think of to do, which was to push that 416.6 pound (30 stone) beast up that long, long hill (we’re talking Rocky Mountains here). It was hard work (great exercise), but I was ultimately rewarded with signs of commercial life atop the hill, some kind of construction firm.
A full hour later – I could only push the bike about 10 feet at a time before stopping to rest – I was sitting at somebody’s desk, sipping coffee, warming my toes by a radiator, and helping myself to no-cost hospitality, kindly offered by the friendly folks to whom I explained my desperate plight.
I made some calls – to loved ones (what can we do?), the dealership (closed on Mondays, sorry!), and finally, to Piaggio in New York City. They told me exactly how to remove the underseat battery cover and check the connections – sure enough, one was loose, inadequately tightened at the dealership – and soon I was on my way, much time lost but deeply relieved.
Erico Motorsports, if you’re listening: flog that mechanic to within an inch of his life, then sack him!
Happily, the Piaggio gave no further trouble. Like some latter-day American cattleman (“Suburban Cowboy?”), I reached the end of the dusty Santa Fe Trail just as the sun was setting. I tucked my trusty new steed into the garage, after patting its flanks and murmuring some soothing words.
One year and 2,500 miles later, the Piaggio continues to please. It’s tough as nails and reliable as the tides. I love roaring past polite suburban types in Asian-made hybrid cars (and tattooed tough guys on Harleys, even).
To those purists out there who won’t even consider riding (not to mention buying) an Auto: the BV500 is fantastic! Remember, today’s new scooters are tomorrow’s vintage machines.
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