Those that know me will instantly associate me with motor scooters, they have been a part of my life since I was 12 years of age when I found a Lambretta LD abandoned on the local rubbish dump, with the help of a few friends we managed to drag it from the bottom of the crater it lay in and after an hour or so fettling we got it running of a fashion, the remainder of the summer was the spent razzing up the alleyways of Manchester till summer holidays were over and a return to school saw it dumped once again.
This was the 70s and Lambrettas were next to worthless so this isn’t as shocking as it sounds, though boy do I wish I had it now.
Fast forward to my birthday in 2011, I was living in Paris and had a hatred of using the metro, Tamara was pretty sick of my incessant complaining so decided to surprise me with this, an LML Star 4T, basically an Indian clone of a Vespa PX125 but with a 4-star engine which was quieter and less vibration prone than it’s Italian cousin, eager to run it in I immediately suggested we take a road trip so we booked an apartment in Liguria for a few weeks then plotted a circular route that would take in Switzerland, Italy and the French Riviera before heading back north to Paris.
The thing is, plotting the route was about as much planning as we did though in deference to the distance I popped out and purchased 3 spare inner tubes, a bicycle pump – what was I thinking! – and a bunch of puncture repair patches, Tamara in the meantime packed a small holdall and on my return we set off, we didn’t even bother with a map as I was convinced I would remember the route.
The first 50 kilometers were trouble-free, it was a scorching hot day and once we had broken out of Paris the road – we deliberately avoided the autoroute – was empty, refreshingly cool despite our keeping the speed down as we were running in and in the main arrow straight, then it happened, the puncture.
Tamara decided that as I was driving she would have her first go at fixing it under my supervision so the scooter was dropped unceremoniously on its side and she set to removing the tire.
Fortunately, the puncture occurred next to an open-sided barn just out of shot to the right of this photo so as it was now mid-day and the sun was now doing its worst we moved to the relative shelter to effect the actual repair.
This proved to be a wise choice as I’d underestimated the effort required to inflate the new tube using a small bike pump, an effort that saw me gasping for breath and sweating profusely despite the welcoming shade.
I refitted the wheel and we set off again thanking the gods that due to our relatively low speed we hadn’t come off and had been able to bring the scooter to a controlled stop.
The next 10 kilometers were taken relatively easy whilst I assured myself all was seated correctly and once happy I opened the throttle again, thump thump thump, another puncture in the same tyre!
This was a much quicker fix than the last, rather than messing around changing yet another tube I elected to just use the spare wheel figuring we had already had our share of bad luck and wouldn’t need it again, I could sort out the deflated wheel when we reached our final destination which once again shows how wrong I could be as whilst still within 75 kilometers of Paris we were to suffer a further 10 punctures.
Anyone else would have just called it quits and turned back but our final puncture happened in a town so rather than give up I set off in search of a scooter dealer to fix this once and for all, by now I was out of tubes, patience, and energy.
Time wasn’t on our side as it was now late afternoon on a Saturday and everywhere was shutting up shop but eventually I found a dealer who was pulling down the shop shutters, obviously he didn’t want to open up again, that is until he saw my Paris plate and curiosity got the better of him, he couldn’t understand what I was doing on a “Vespa” so far from Paris and once he discovered my next planned stop was Nice he was hooked, the workshop was opened and a further repair was attempted.
Unfortunately, as a dealer in modern auto scooters he didn’t stock the correct size tubes or tyre so we decided to try to identify the root cause in the hope that we could then prevent further punctures, up to this point I hadn’t been able to find any reason for our ongoing issues.
After some initial head-scratching we identified the tyres themselves as the problem, they were cheap chinese specced as original equipment when we purchased the scooter and I hadn’t given them much thought other than deciding I would probably switch them for something better known before winter set in.
It turned out that the inner carcase of the tyres was poorly finished and was in effect acting like sandpaper on the tube causing micro puntures, the front tyre so far had escaped the same fate as it wasn’t carrying as much weight, I dread to think what would have happened if that had let go two up.
As a quick fix we cut up an old tube and glued this to the inside of the tyre in the hope that this would provide some protection, the best of my remaining tubes was then repaired and we were ready to go, a bonus was that no money changed hands, the shop owner felt that we had suffered enough and refused to take any payment.
By now I was exhausted so we booked into a motel for the night and then headed for a bar, this trip was proving to be an adventure…
Sunday morning dawned, promising to be just as hot and cloud free as the previous day, I decided not to head off straight away but to wait until late afternoon to take advantage of the cooler temperatures, we still had a long way to go and I had no problem driving through the night.
The day was spent just pooling around the local area, partly just for the fun of exploring and partly to ensure that the tyre would hold air.
Late afternoon I was happy all was well so we set off with several hundred kilometres ahead of us, the scooter behaved impeccably and we made good time.
There is a part of France, right in the centre, where there is no-one, settlements are few and far between and help isn’t easily found, the scooter chose this area to give up once and for all and to top it all we had around half an hour of daylight left.
The sun set and not a single vehicle passed us, we had no phone signal and our supply of water was rapidly diminishing, I think that may have been the lowest either of us had ever felt, we were completely powerless.
As night fell there was still no traffic and we had no idea how far it was to the next town or village, we were at least 30 km from the last house we had seen behind us so walking back in the dark didn’t appeal, we decided to just try to get some sleep on the verge and hope morning would bring better luck.
Around midnight we spotted headlights in the distance, a white van pulled up and a couple got out, we explained our plight and they explained that they had a house in the mountains not too far away and were happy to put us up for the night, they would recover our scooter the next day and take us to the nearest garage to get it repaired.
We happily jumped into the back of their windowless van, thoughts of serial killers briefly passed through our minds, but we were by now too tired to care, I deal with that if it happened.
Fortunately, they proved to be nice people, they had a large home in a valley, and food, a shower, and crisp linen did a lot to heal the horror of the past few hours.
The next morning, true to their word the scooter was collected and we were transported t a tyre dealer who unfortunately didn’t stock scooter tyres but put in a rush order for same-day delivery, we paid through the nose for a new Michelin tyre but mid-afternoon we were back on the road, Riviera bound.
It seems we had travelled further than I thought as we found ourselves descending into Nice whilst we still had light though given our current run of good luck for a change we opted not to stop and to continue along the coast crossing the border into Italy and then heading inland to our final destination, a small medieval village nestled in the foothills of the Alps.
Two more new tyres were purchased the next day in Italy and barring an incident when the only key I had with me broke in the seat of the scooter, that’s another story, the next few weeks passed without incident, we based in Italy for a couple of weeks then headed back into France to spend time on the Riviera before turning for home and summers end in Paris.
Despite our mishaps, the trip was a success and turned out to be the first of many long-distance road trips we were to take on her, and we never suffered another puncture!
I didn’t have a camera with me for this trip so the below gallery were all taken with an iPhone 3, the biggest issue with scooter touring is you need to pack light when there are two of you, maybe I should finally teach Tamara to ride so she can have her own.