My Vespa Lesson

It occurred to me that other riders with far more experience might be reading this for some technological tidbit or real cool motorcycle slang talk about a riding technique. Then it occurred to me that I’m not even called a rider. Recently I found out I was a co-rider. I enjoy my “co” existence. And while I agree it takes a certain type of courage to get on a motorcycle essentially taking your own life in your hands, might I also add it takes even more courage to get on a motorcycle and put your life in someone else’s hands. After 5 plus years of riding behind RD, I want to learn to drive my own bike. Enter a white with black seat, 150cc, Piaggio scooter. I’m calling her Venture.

Every rider should know how to turn on his or her own darn bike. It went something like this:

“To turn on your Vespa. Insert the key here. Turn the “Kill” switch on. See, it’s this red button. Squeeze back break like this. Hit start button.”

“What? I have a kill switch? Why? What for? Where’s the start button? Oh, the kill switch is red, does that mean it kills the bike or me? RD, let me do it, so I know how.”

“Do you want me to show you again?”


And that’s how we started. My first sentence of encouragement from RD was, “it’s just like riding a bike.” I thought about the scar on my knee. I only rode my bike in a tomato patch once. Then I got a scar. So I wondered if he meant it’s like riding a bike and not falling off.

The first thing any budding motorcycle rider should master, as per RD, is stopping and starting. After you figure out how to turn the scooter on. And after you figure out which foot you are. Are you a left foot on the ground guy or a right foot on the ground guy? Turns out, I am a both feet on the ground guy.

My second sentence from RD was, “Don’t take both feet off the ground until you are going forward!”

According to him, I have to choose because taking off is easier if at least one foot is still on the ground. He’s right. I didn’t feel comfortable balancing on two wheels while I tried to remember which direction to turn the throttle.

As per my wishes he took me to a huge parking lot with no trees. I had plenty of room to stop, start, turn and not worry about traffic. My first surprise was learning the throttle turns towards the rider. Don’t know why I thought it turned the other way. But I did. It doesn’t. Next thing.

Getting your balance, keeping your balance and losing your balance. Balance as in staying upright. Balance as in not wobbling. Balance is easier while moving than while standing still trying to figure out which left foot I’m going to put on the ground.

On the second lesson, I added a tiny little bit of speed. Only about 15 mph. Still in the parking lot. Only the balance wasn’t as hard. I finally reached far enough back into my childhood and remembered the years I did ride a bicycle.

By now RD decided I should do some figure 8’s and practice starting and stopping. Preferably without wobbling or falling over. I had to wiggle around on the seat a little to find the right position. Before long I could start and stop smoothly.

Lucky for me the Venture is an automatic transmission. So I pretty much just need to worry about brakes, throttle and balance right now. I’m not pushing for speed. I just want to know what the Vespa can do, can’t do, will do, and won’t do.

I only had one scary moment. Almost hitting RD doesn’t count because he was on foot and always had the ability to jump out of the way. But I do feel embarrassed about the pole. In the middle of a high school parking lot are two light poles. They’re not camouflaged or concealed in any way. I was very busy trying to turn. RD told me not to stop in a turn, and I was focusing on not stopping while turning when the pole just popped up in front of me.

In an instant it was the “tree incident” all over again. I was staring at the pole, not thinking about balance or breaking or even which foot to put down. Experience paid off. I stopped fixating on the pole, looked past it, swerved around the pole and abruptly stopped in the neighbor’s yard without turning.

Do you think I’m a natural?


  1. The best thing a new rider can do is take the MSF Basic Rider Course ( You get a very good set of fundamental skills by the end of the course. They provide motorcycles, some provide scooters or you can ride your scooter in most classes.

    I know literally dozens of riders who crash in their first few months of ownership. Most have not taken the course. Crashing is not fun. At all. Also check out the book Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough. Mostly scooter-relevant info and a lot on riding techniques and skills with some good exercises.

    Other than that, practice-a lot. Resist the urge to jump on and ride in traffic before you're ready. Practice sharp turns in both directions, swerving and hard stops.

    It is like riding a bike-if you're never ridden a bike before. Unlike a bike, you don't go from a Big Wheel to training wheels to a bicycle over 4 years. So it really takes some patience and good judgement.

    Congrats and good luck! The S 150 is a wonderful scoot!

  2. Thanks Eric. I've got a course close to me. Plan on getting in soon. Thanks again for the encouragement.

  3. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Great story, it made me giggle. Watch out for the lightpoles and other vehicles out there Madam Two feet and we'll see ya tomorrow.

  4. I wish I could have been there to see that. :) I hope you have fun riding the wheels off that Vespa.