Monday, January 26, 2015


When in Pisa, visit the leaning tower as everyone else does and then treat yourself to the Piaggio museum, the home of Vespa scooters! It's very informal, like the Vespa, and has some weird contraptions on display. It's about 30km from the leaning tower, parking is free and there are dedicated motorcycle spots too. It's well worth a visit and don't forget to watch the Piaggio video!

Made in 1964, a good year!

Thought you need a big adventure bike to go
around the world? Think again, it has been
done on a Vespa scooter
Did you know that Vespa means 'Wasp'? I didn't. Just like I didn't know that the 3 wheel 'ute' version called Ape means 'Bee'. The venerable Vespa was designed just after the second world war by an aircraft designer who disliked motorcycles. He saw them as dirty, complicated and user unfriendly machines. In a way he's right of course. What he designed was something that could be ridden by a woman in a skirt, was easy to maintain, no messy chain or complicated shaft drive, is economical, has leg protection and would remain in production longer than any motorcycle that has ever been built… 

The number of Vespas produced is staggering and even today they are still being built in Italy. Despite several other manufacturers making scooters now, Vespa is still the number one brand world wide. Looking around the museum it's easy to understand why: they make so many different versions of them and they look so much better than the competition. 

You want a big one? take the one on the left!
This one went around the world too...
Despite being in production for almost 7 decades, they Vespas far from old fashioned. They come with features that many motorcycles still lack today. A fuel gauge for instance, a spare wheel, front and rear single sided suspension meaning replacing wheels or tyres is easier than with any motorcycle, they come with ABS and ASR, fully automatic gearbox and there are even hybrid models… There is storage in front of you, just behind the front panel and under the seat, while some models even carry a complete spare wheel. Heck, they even come with a USB port!

Mike's favourite...

Seeing them zoom through Italy's narrow streets, they just make perfect sense. With a fuel consumption of 30km/ltr for even the fastest model and a luggage racks front and rear it's no wonder they have become so popular. Being in production for so long has also resulted in an accessory industry rivalling any motorcycle brand and model. Be it performance parts, windscreens, suspension mods or bling; it's all available from many different suppliers.

The smallest Vespa is the 50, for which you don't need a motorcycle license. The most popular are the 125cc and the 150cc. The biggest engine Piaggio makes for the Vespa is the 300. All come with fuel injection and, apart from the still in production PX models, they are now all 4 strokes.

The oldest is pictured here on the left. It's a pre-production model from 1946, lovingly restored. Despite being different from the production models, the 'line' is clearly set even in this early version.

Yes, it's a fire engine… don't bet on it arriving soon though :-)
Engine, gearbox and wheel all in one
Entering the museum, we were immediately confronted with a series of Vespas that have been around the world… No mean feat on those little wheels, I would think. There is also a Piaggio Ape that has been around the world… must be a record for the smallest motorhome to circumnavigate the world! 

Vespa for Paris - Dakar. The hump behind the seat is
for extra fuel
On the second level is a collection of Gileras. Piaggio owns Vespa, Gilera, Moto Guzzi and the Spanish manufacturer Derbi. Oh, and for all of you that think a Vespa is just a toy… there are 7 on display in the museum that have been around the world and one that entered the Paris - Dakar rally… What's also mildly amusing is that the company who's designer hated motorcycles and thus invented the scooter… saved Moto Guzzi a couple of years back from bankruptcy…!

Entrance to the museum is free, they are open from Monday to Saturday and can be found at N43.66078 E10.63296. Just opposite the museum is a pizzeria, and guess what sort of pizza they make there… yep the Vespa! We had one, it tastes good too!