Vespa's punchy new scooter keeps up with traffic

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      In a perfect world, there would be peace, gasoline would still cost two bits a gallon, mortgages would be illegal, and every person who got behind the wheel of an automobile would be a skilled and courteous driver. Motorcycles would have the right of way on city streets, and I’d be six inches taller, have a full head of hair, and weigh about 30 pounds less.

      But life is full of imperfections. And if you’re on the large side and still like the idea of thrifty and economical two-wheeled transportation, but find yourself on the outside looking in because most scooters are just too underpowered and flimsy, perhaps Vespa’s LX 150 is the answer.

      It looks like a conventional scooter—albeit with a decidedly retro flavour—but lurking beneath that sheet-metal space-frame is a 150 cc single-cylinder engine that delivers some 11.7 horsepower at 7,750 revolutions per minute, and almost eight-and-a-half foot-pounds of torque at 6,000 rpm. That may not seem like a heck of a lot, but the LX 150 only weighs 110 kilograms, which is comparable to many conventional 49-cc powered scooters. In short, when compared with most other puddle jumpers, the power-to-weight ratio is more than double, which means the LX 150 can actually keep up with traffic, climb hills relatively easily, carry more than one person, and even, in a pinch, use the freeway.

      The last two uses aren’t recommended, because once you get up to 100 kilometres per hour, there isn’t much reserve power left, and this is still a very small scooter that’s easily blown around by wind and back drafts. But the LX 150 might hit 110 kilometres per hour if you give it enough time, and can find a tail wind. More importantly, it will return at least 4.0 litres per 100 kilometres in fuel consumption, even if its 8.6–litre fuel tank does require 91 octane or better.

      The engine is used in other products by Vespa and Piaggio, the company behind the line, and it has electronic ignition and a pair of overhead valves. It’s also a four-stroke, which means it runs nice and clean and conforms to all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board emission and noise requirements. While far from being a powerhouse, it seemed to handle my 90 kilogram–plus weight relatively easily, and I did manage to touch 100 kilometres per hour with it.

      As is the case with virtually all scooters nowadays, the LX 150 has a single-speed, continuously variable transmission, and there are no gears to fiddle with. Brakes are a single disc up front and a mechanically activated drum setup in back. Both are applied via handlebar-mounted levers. Suspension is a single shock up front and a coil spring in back, and if there’s one area of this scooter that will let bigger riders down, it’s the suspension. I felt almost guilty going over hard bumps and train tracks, and bottomed out on a fairly regular basis. Lighter riders should have no problems. Interestingly, the front wheel is slightly larger than the back one (11 inches versus 10 inches), so that helps a little.

      Elsewhere, the seat pops up to reveal a fairly large storage space—enough for a helmet or some groceries. This under-seat storage bin also lifts out to give access to the engine for maintenance and so on, and there is a small glove-box-sized storage space in the front fairing. The only way to park the LX 150 is with an easily deployed centre stand, and it comes with a funky little kick-starter, located at the back of the transmission case. Instrumentation is virtually nonexistent—a speedometer and fuel gauge with some idiot lights, and that’s about it. But for the majority of those interested in this kind of ride, that’s more than enough. It may have a “high performance” engine, but the LX 150 is strictly downtown, baby, with as much of an emphasis on style as on getting from A to B. It is Italian, after all.

      Pricewise, the LX 150 starts at $5,495, which is $1,200 more than the physically identical, 49.4-cubic-centimetre LX 50. Interestingly, you can pick up a Piaggio Fly 150, which has different bodywork but virtually the same drive train, for $1,900 less. It looks different and lacks the Vespa mystique—whatever that is—but according to the sales rep I spoke to, Vespas are kind of like Harley-Davidsons, in that they tend to fetch higher prices simply because they can.

      You can order accessories with the LX 150, such as a leather seat, a theft-alarm system, a windscreen, a helmet, and other odds and ends.

      It’s all meant to enhance the Vespa-riding experience.