2009 Vespa GTS300 Super

From Pisa, With Love

Chi Vespa mangia la mele. That's Vespa's 1970s ad slogan, which means, "Those who ride Vespa eat the apple." Trust me: Its connotations are every bit as juicy as the forbidden fruit to which it alludes. During my week-long fling with the biggest, fastest Vespa ever, I zipped around Southern Californian Meccas of style and privilege, enjoying its smooth-running 278cc engine. I'd lane-split at stoplights, confident in its ability to out-accelerate the behemoth SUVs snorting behind me. This super-scooter even holds its own on the freeway with a top speed around 80 mph, but it's pretty much at the top of its powerband. So be careful-you can't just juice it out of sticky situations.

This heartthrob may have had a growth spurt, but it didn't miss a styling beat. Cosmetic updates include a grille on the side rear engine panel, two-tone alloy wheels and a chrome air intake. And like all 17 million Vespas that have rolled off the Pontadera assembly line since '46, it's built with the company's exclusive steel-unibody chassis for serious rigidity and precise handling. But all that steel still doesn't seem to trip traffic-signal sensors. To get a green light you have to wait patiently until a cage rolls up to check out your flirty Italian ride-which usually doesn't take long.

A twist-and-go CVT automatic transmission makes the GTS300 a great starter bike; new riders can navigate traffic without a care in the world except whether they're color-coordinated. And when you're riding the motorbike that singlehandedly crafted the image of the scooter-riding, beanpole-legged Italian with a hand-rolled cigarette dripping from his lips, that should be a chief concern! Now, Vespa's got its eye on doing the same here in America, shifting our appetite for transportation away from the overly consumptive to the stylishly economical.

At the new Piaggio Technical Center in Costa Mesa, California, President and CEO Paolo Timoni ventured that the average American spends $800 per month operating a car, whereas a scooter costs just $150 per month. Think of all the money you could save for cappucinos and neck scarves! Piaggio is even working to make America a more welcoming place for scooter owners. Its most recent win for scooterkind was negotiating free spaces in select New York City parking garages.

In my household there are two cars and a slew of sportbikes. But the fact that we could ride two-up to Trader Joe's and cruise home with five bottles of Two-Buck Chuck in the underseat compartment and a baguette secured by the 'tween-leg bag-holder hook made the GTS300 our favorite around-town transpo. Plus it sips fuel, pinky finger extended, like you would a single-shot espresso-Piaggio claims 65-70 mpg. The main thing that's not convenient is its lack of a sidestand.

The GTS 300 triumphs with its ability to create romance in the mundane. Park it in front of Olive Garden, blur your eyes, and voila, you suddenly feel woozy with the ambience of Tuscany. So am I in love with this foreign-exchange student, or just in lust? Hard to tell. But one thing's for certain: I've most definitely eaten the apple.

Tech Spec

Price $6199
Engine type l-c single
Valve train SOHC, 4v
Displacement 278cc
Transmission Automatic
Claimed horsepower 22 bhp @ 7500 rpm
**Claimed torque ** 16.4 lb.-ft.@ 5000 rpm
**Frame Load-bearing steel chassis
Front suspension Single-sided trailing-link fork, single shock
Rear suspension Single-sided swingarm, twin shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Grimeca two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Rear brake Grimeca two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire 120/70-12 Sava Monsum
Rear tire 130/70-12 Sava Monsum
**Seat height ** 31.1 in.
Wheelbase 53.9 in.
Fuel capacity 2.4 gal.
Claimed weight (tank full/empty) 340/326 lbs.
Contact www.vespausa.com

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
Prepare to be seriously smitten.