scooterlife - photog's blog

Motorcycles. Scooters. Wheelchairs. Tape. Whatever rolls.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Initial Impressions

With about 200 miles added to the clock since it first came home, the Stella has delighted and surprised me with every turn of the odometer.

I didn't expect it to run--the previous owner had not been able to ride it--but after changing out the plug and giving it plenty of room to run, it fired right up and has handled 200 miles of traffic, long stoplights, and a few hard accelerations without so much as a hiccup.

Owning a Stella is like finding a perfect Vespa PX150 in a barn. It is a brand new scooter with all the charm--and technology--of an 80's Vespa.

Mine has been spec'd well with a Pinasco 177, Dellorto 24G carb, and SIP (JL) expansion chamber/pipe. With these goodies, the bike is transformed into a very capable urban warrior--even though the stock bike is more than adequate for the job. The top end is most likely gear-limited at 70mph or so--and since I'm still in break-in, I have only seen that speed briefly. However, acceleration is more than enough to keep up with urban traffic.

Is it for everyone? No way. The newest crop of automatics are well-behaved and fairly potent beasts for their displacement, capable of making cross-town commutes an easy affair. The Stella is different; you have to work for your thrills. While the engine is much more luggable than you'd expect a small 150 to be, you still have to change gears and for some, that detracts from the scootering experience. For others, it's what defines the Vespa and Lambrettas of that period and differentiates "real scooters" from their newer CVT-equipped grandchildren.

The 10" tires are skinny and the ride is what you'd expect--quick steering combined with a bit of twitchyness off-center, but not annoyingly so. The bike is remarkably stable and sure-footed; you just have to remember that countersteering takes just the faintest of pressure instead of a shove to initiate or tighten a turn.

On even or undulating pavement the Bitubo shocks are a joy. On potholes and sharp, jarring bumps the rider is treated to a spleen-jarring smack in the hindquarters. On the upside, the bike isn't easily upset and somehow remains planted in tight turns when it encounters irregularities.

But I keep asking myself--would you recommend this bike to someone wanting a plain little a-to-b scooter? I keep finding out that the answer is "no". The Stella is wonderful, but it's a bike for those that want to be connected with the machine. The clutch is light and the transmission shifts smoothly, but it's a busy affair, just like any motorcycle in traffic. The ergonomics are a bit different from the cushy, upright new bikes; the Stella/PX retains a bit of that sporty forward cant of the rider. The legshield encourages creative foot placement for weightshifting in corners. The raspy engine--especially a kitted one--encourages feisty duels with other commuters. It may not win every stoplight to stoplight battle, but it'll win a lot of them, and those it can't win with acceleration, it'll win with sheer maneuverability. But to put those notches on your cowls demands a certain aggressive, lighthearted, fun attitude and willingness to ride hard. This isn't a bike that simply takes you from A to B--it is a small cafe racer.

At 300 miles I am just into the break-in stages, running BelRay semi-synthetic oil plus a smidgen in the tank (about 1%). I'll switch to Castrol TTS synthetic at around 600-800 miles and then continue to run that for the duration. The bike does smoke quite a bit at idle--not a cloud of blue smoke that envelopes the rider, but enough that you can see it swirling around the headlight at night. The jetting is still rich, but I'd rather err on that side during breakin and try to gradually lean it out.

While the stock headlight was moaned about on several forums, I found it was fine for my night rides--though the H4 conversion will eventually happen. I also plan on installing a license plate frame adorned with a bunch of LED's to help the people behind me note that I'm slowing down, since the small, low-mounted taillight isn't exactly a flamethrower. I may also convert my turn signals to running lights.

But the bike performs admirably just as it is. I can pull away from a stop in 2nd gear, and pull reliably from about 10mph in 3rd gear. I'm still working on the details, but it seems to like taking hard turns in 3rd and pulling smoothly through them--it has enough grunt to lug around in 3rd gear for most of the day in dense downtown traffic.

It's an attention-getter. Not that I wanted that--I'm the type of person that would just as soon be invisible. But if people are gonna look, they may as well have a neat bike to look at, and judging from the responses, people love it. I get lots of waves and honks. And since I'm typically leading the pack instead of holding up traffic, it would appear that the honks are friendly ones.

Even with its dated design, the original brilliance of Piaggio is clear. These bikes were designed to get a commuter across town or across the county efficiently. A quick touch of the starter button and the bike spins to life and settles into the pop-pppp-popppp uneven idle, then clears its throat as it winds through the gears. In no time you're up to 55mph and watching the scenery move smoothly past as the exhaust settles into a nice purr. The brakes are light and precise, and the riding position is so variable that there's no way you can't find a comfortable perch. Some buzzing creeps into the bars (a set of bar ends are on the list) but it's not terribly annoying. The entire experince combines to make it a very lively ride, not an insulated one.

Without a doubt, I am convinced that this was the right bike for me. The more I ride it, the more I realize what a special, unique experience it is to ride a PX series bike amidst all the automatics.