Blog Post

Headlinesn > Lifestyle > Bellissimo! There’s No Better Way To See Milan, Italy, Than On A Vespa

Bellissimo! There’s No Better Way To See Milan, Italy, Than On A Vespa

I recently traveled to Milan, Italy, while on assignment for another publication. After freaking out my fitness app by walking 20,000-plus steps each day for two days, I was tired but also ready to see more of the Italian fashion capital, which dates back over 1,000 years in its “modern” form, but was first founded over 2,400 years ago. So instead of hopping back on the flying bus for home, I booked a cozy apartment and headed to the local scooter rental shop.

I saddled up a Vespa 125 Primavera scooter (above) from HP Motorrad, located on the eastern outskirts of the city. I’m a Vespa GTS 300 Super owner myself (and president of Vespa Club Portland), and it seemed apropos to see Milan from the seat of such a domestic icon, proudly made in Italy.

The Vespa 125 Primavera cost about $65 to rent per day and despite the smaller motor, the scooter was physically large enough for my 6-foot-1 frame to ride in comfort. There was underseat storage typical for scooters, plus a small glovebox and a rear topcase for storing a helmet and the inevitable tourist tchotchkes I’d be collecting. Top speed is 85 kmh (about 52 mph) flat out, so while freeway riding was possible, it was perhaps not the best choice (the speed limit on the major highways in Milan is 85 kmh). Of course, it was plenty fast for pretty much everything outside of the local highways.

Unlike the smoking 2-stroke vintage Vespas from the halcyon days of Mods and Rockers, modern Vespas feature disc brakes, fuel injection, adjustable suspension and twist-and-go simplicity via a CVT belt drivetrain instead of a 4-speed manual gearbox. I rented a Shark modular helmet (required by law) and a pair of gloves from HP Motorrad, and once I convinced the friendly staff I could actually ride a scooter, I was off.

After buzzing back into the city on main roads, I GPSed my way to a small Piaggio/Vespa repair shop repair to see if they could help lock down a mirror that was reluctant to stay in place. The older gentleman mechanic on duty didn’t speak a word of English besides “hello” but quickly understood my concern and made quick work of the problem, which he had clearly encountered before. Mirror now behaved, I said thanks, gave him a sticker from my club (a traditional scooterist offering) and he refused any payment, shaking my hand while quickly saying something in flowing, looping Italian that I took to mean “no charge, good to meet you, now let me get back to work.” I snapped a few pix of some vintage Vespas in his shop and was then back on my way, rearward view restored.

As I got closer to the city center and the massive Duomo di Milano cathedral (above) the city is perhaps most famous for, the traffic density increased and the unwritten rules of riding a scooter in Milan became more apparent. First observation: While cars tend to be in lanes, scooters are free to bob and weave through traffic as they see fit. Italians drive on the right as in the U.S., but my American scooter riding habits meant I defaulted to sitting at red lights behind car traffic.

A flood of Italian scooterist then flowed around me and between all the stopped vehicles to post up at the front of the traffic queue and when the light went green, a mini scooter MotoGP takes place as the two-wheelers race away from the slower car traffic with throttles pinned to the stop. It was good fun and very different from riding in Portland, Oregon, and you can get a sense of it from this video I shot with my Insta360 X3 4K camera:

I began to join the other riders in filtering through stopped or slow traffic when I felt space allowed, and I had a sneaking suspicion past renters of my Primavera had done the same and likely cut it a bit too close with that mirror, causing it to spin around at will after it had likely tagged a few cars and other vehicles. Some of the scooter riders were able to sneak their scooters through what I felt were very tight spaces I was unwilling to chance, and I noticed most had stubby aftermarket mirrors instead of the government-approved longer stock stalks on my Vespa. Many more battle-scarred scoots had no mirrors at all.

Milanese scooter pilots ride aggressively and were inventive in getting through traffic, including riding along curbs – and sometimes on them. I saw one rider use a pedestrian crossing to sneak across a clogged intersection. I guiltily followed suit (much more slowly) and the stylishly dressed pedestrians didn’t bat an eye. Neither did the officers in a nearby police car, not that they would have been able to pursue since they were trapped in the stopped car traffic. Fortunato!

Drawing closer to the massive cathedral, the roads became more challenging, alternating between badly broken asphalt to choppy cobblestone to a mix of both that was then punctuated by train tracks for the many trolleys and light rail lines that crisscross the ancient metropolis. The small wheels of my scooter were at risk of getting caught in track ruts and other uneven surfaces, but Portland, Oregon’s infrastructure isn’t much better in many places so I thankfully had some experience navigating similar hazards and kept the Vespa upright.

Most scooters riders were also equipped with lap aprons and handgrip overgloves for when rain makes an appearance, which it was threatening to do. Most Milan scooterists – and I noticed many were women – ride year-round and have impressive skills navigating the crowded and busy streets, even when they are wet.

At the soaring temple, which took over 500 years to build beginning back in 1386 and is getting some updates now according to the scaffolding on both sides, I got some requisite tourist photos and then grabbed a few scooter key rings that I happily overpaid for at a small kiosk.

Back on the road, I searched for a suitable lunch spot and ended up at Jollibee, a sort of Filipino McDonalds that specializes in chicken sandwiches. Hunger sated by the novel local fast food franchisee, I hopped back aboard the ivory Vespa and just began to roam the city with no particular destination in mind. I traversed shopping districts, endless blocks of well-maintained but clearly old apartment buildings, and even some areas I would classify as “rough parts of town.” Like many big cities, there was graffiti, the occasional homeless person, and the banality of everyday life away from the tourist spots as people rode the bus home from work, kids played in parks and the citizens of Milan went about their business.

Circling back to my rented flat, rain began to fall and by the time I arrived, my riding jacket and pants were quite damp, but the shape of the Vespa kept water from splashing off the front wheel and onto my clothes as I rode, a design feature that dates back to the creation of the first Vespa in 1949. And the name “Vespa?” It translates roughly to “wasp,” which is derived from the shape of the scooter looking down on it from overhead.

A scooter has multiple advantages in Milan, including being allowed to park for free on the sidewalk (or pretty much anywhere) while cars orbit looking for an elusive paid parking spot. Slipping through traffic at pretty much any speed is clearly condoned and expected, with car drivers often positioning themselves in red light queues to let the scoots slip by unimpeded. Fewer vehicles lined up at a stoplight means everyone goes a bit faster.

More than anything, it was great fun to pack in a lot of sightseeing in the most entertaining way possible aboard a machine so closely associated with Italy. Next time, I’ll add a couple more days to ride around and bring my own lap apron just in case.

#Bellissimo #Milan #Italy #Vespa

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *