Test rides

2020 Vespa GTS 300 HPE – First Ride

Vespa presents its most powerful scooter yet and I am loving it

It helps to be a person of faith when riding a scooter through Milan. Firstly, it gives you somewhere to direct your pleas for safety: “Oh Sweet Jesus Baby Christ in Heaven, please help me fit through this gap between a bus and a taxi.”  Secondly, it provides you with a tiny bit of solace that if things go horribly wrong – as they will so often feel close to being – you’ll at least end up someplace nice.

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However, as Hunter S. Thompson said: “Call on God, but row away from the rocks.” You’ll want more than just strong beliefs if you want to survive a bustling urban area at rush hour. You’ll want the Vespa GTS 300 HPE – one of the better tools you could choose for getting from point A to point B in the city and, to a certain extent, beyond.

2020 Vespa GTS 300
The Vespa GTS 300 makes you feel relaxed

Not too long ago Piaggio* brought me to Milan, threw me on a GTS 300 and told me to go play in traffic. It was one of the most fun/terrifying experiences I’ve had in a while: riding hell for leather on cobbled and pockmarked streets, dodging Italian drivers and kamikaze scooterists as I tried to keep pace with the fearless Milan native showing me around.

The GTS 300 has been on the scene in one form or another since 2009, when it replaced the GTS 250. It was last tweaked for 2019, picking up the HPE part of its name – which may or may not be part of the name where you are. Piaggio is one of those manufacturers that likes to parse its product, giving different names to things that are basically the same, differentiated by paint and accessories. To confuse things further, its names don’t stay the same from country to country. So, in the United States you get the GTS 300 HPE, GTS Super, GTS SuperSport and GTS SuperTech. In the United Kingdom you get all those as well as the GTS Notte, GTS Touring and GTS Yacht Club. Yacht Club. Only a scooter manufacturer would use that name…

As I say, they’re all more or less the same machine, indistinguishable to the layman. Some come with fancy TFT technowhizzbangery of questionable value to the rider, some don’t. All of them are fun.

For these pictures the photographer had me ride round and round a large fountain. It felt silly and I acted accordingly

Some Numbers:

Starting Price: £4,899
Monthly Payment**: £56.65
Engine: 278cc single-cylinder four-stroke
Power: 23.8 hp
Torque: 26 Nm
Seat Height: 790 mm
Tank Capacity: 7 liters
Weight: ?? Probably ~170 kg

Engine, Performance and Handling

The HPE in the GTS 300 HPE’s name stands for “high performance engine.” The Vespa’s 278cc single-cylinder powerplant has the same displacement as it’s had for more than a decade but now the lump produces a claimed 23.8 horsepower, compared to the 22 hp of old. Torque has also been boosted, to 26 Nm – an 18-percent increase, according to Piaggio.

To a motorcyclist like me who delights in the colossal torque of a Harley-Davidson, 26 Nm may not sound like a lot. But crack the throttle of the GTS 300 and the thing definitely moves, comfortably placing you ahead of most cars off a stoplight. I say “most” because, obviously, if there’s some dude in an Audi who feels the need to compensate for personal shortcomings by attempting to drag race he’s going to win. In normal situations, the GTS 300 has all the oomph you need. Throttle is responsive but not snatchy, so gentler maneuvers are just as easily achieved as the all-out sprints to get free of traffic.

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I’ll admit that I’m not deeply connected to the scooter world but from what I gather by the scooter clubs I encounter in the UK, exhaust sound counts for something – just as it does for many in the motorcycling world. I’m happy to report that the GTS 300 has a great “rat-tat-tat-tat-tat” sound. Hardly offensive, but definitely not anemic. It made me want to throw on an army parka and ride up and down a British seafront calling people “geezer.”

The engine provides plenty of go up to about 50 mph, at which point greater speeds demand greater patience. That’s not to say the thing can’t handle higher speeds. At one point in our ride the roads opened up and we were able to flirt with 70 mph. At this pace, the engine was putting in the work, yes, but it didn’t strike me as overstressed. I’m confident it could hold such a pace for long stretches, and that even higher speeds are attainable with the wind at your back (Piaggio suggests a top speed of 80 mph). There’s noticeable vibration at highspeed – as you would expect from a single earning its keep – but it’s not annoying or unpleasant.

2020 Vespa GTS 300
Keen eyes will note I’m dragging the centerstand here. The GTS 300 has a spirit that makes you want to play

Piaggio claims 31 km/l, or 87.5 mpg (imperial), which is impressive but perhaps not as fuel-efficient as I would have thought. A Royal Enfield Classic 500 delivers roughly the same numbers whilst possessing a larger tank (13.5 liters), more power (27.2 hp), more torque (41.3 Nm) and lower price (£4,699). Of course, Royal Enfield is scrapping its 500cc engine this year, so perhaps it’s a moot point.

The GTS 300’s brakes are excellent, meanwhile – superior even to those on quite a lot of motorcycles I’ve ridden. I was surprised by the scooter’s stopping power, expecting the “we’ll stop eventually” mushiness I’ve experienced on other scooters. To this end, I discovered that although the GTS 300 has antilock brakes the system is far from intrusive. It will allow you to lock for a millisecond or two before kicking in.

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Suspension is a just a tiny teency little bit on the firm side. That makes it nice and steady at higher speeds but, man, you definitely feel each and every one of the bricks on a cobblestone road. The key selling point to a scooter, though, is maneuverability and here the GTS 300 really excels. With its narrow profile the scoot will fit through pretty much any gap that’s as wide as you are. It’s capable of making nice, tight turns, so you can do that thing of zigzagging between corridors of traffic. A roughly 170 kg wet weight (Piaggio conveniently leaves weight off its spec sheet, but that’s how much the previous generation weighed) means you won’t be able to muscle the GTS 300 around as easily as you would a smaller scooter but the weight is low to the ground and very manageable.

There’s no denying that a Vespa is a good looking machine

Comfort, Usability and Tech

The big seat offers plenty of room for you and a passenger. The lower section obviously provides a certain amount of wind protection for the legs and screens of all sizes are available to help keep weather off your upper half. One of the things I like about scooters is how easily they give themselves to high levels of weather protection. Throw on some Tucano Urbano handlebar muffs and one of those all-weather blankets and you’re pretty much ready for anything. Oh, sure, you look like Davros but you’re cosy and warm. For some reason we don’t really go to these levels of comfort on motorcycles; maybe we should.

Another famous strength is the storage space beneath the seat. Piaggio says there’s enough room to hold two three-quarter scooter-style helmets. I’m not sure I totally believe that, and there’s debate about how effectively it can store a full-face helmet, but there’s still plenty of space to carry a fair few groceries or the stuff you need for work (assuming your laptop isn’t very wide). The leg guard also has a small storage area intended for phones and the like, equipped with a USB port.

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Piaggio says the GTS 300 is the most powerful Vespa it’s ever made. The extra go means it’s viable for use in extra-urban scenarios, making it a more realistic commuting proposition to all those people not living in the dense heart of a city. You can rely on the scooter to weave through thick city center traffic, but you can also keep up on the faster roads leading into town and even (patiently) enjoy jaunts into the countryside.

It strikes me as running contrary to the aesthetics and spirit of Vespa to do so, but if you are so inclined, the GTS 300 is available with a 4.3-inch TFT screen. It offers a fair bit of rider information, as well as the opportunity to connect your phone. The Vespa Mia app to which it connects is largely useless in my opinion, giving you such utterly pointless features as the ability to add Vespa “stickers” to photos of yourself, and a direct link to Vespa’s accessories catalog. But there is also the standard mapping feature found on a number of other bike apps. Using your phone’s navigation software, the app will provide basic directions in the form of arrows on the scooter’s TFT screen. Well, theoretically it will. When Piaggio attempted to demonstrate the whole thing to me it wouldn’t connect.

So, uh, my advice is to skip that feature. After all, it has no effect on what makes the GTS 300 a joy to ride. Nimble as anything, the scooter is hilariously fun and fits just about anywhere. This is the benefit it has over, say, the Royal Enfield Classic 500 I mentioned earlier. Finding a place to park the GTS 300 is almost as easy as finding a place to stand.

The Vespa GTS 300 is a solid commuting machine, with the ability to go longer distances

Verdict

What I really like about the GTS 300 is that it has the power of a maxiscooter but isn’t so damned wide. I mean, consider the similarly powered Honda Forza (which costs quite a bit more). That thing’s bulk robs you of one of the great advantages of a scooter over a motorcycle: its ability to slip through the tiniest of gaps.

I also like that it has enough power to keep up in faster traffic. The GTS 300 wouldn’t be my first choice for such an activity, but you really could cover some big distances on the thing. I’ll bet it could easily handle the classic Lands End to John O Groats run, albeit with a fair few stops for fuel (that 7-liter tank obviously wasn’t designed with Iron Butt rides in mind).

Most of all I like the fact the GTS 300 is wonderfully old-school sexy while being all kinds of ridiculous fun. It looks cool and is easy to ride, leaving you so mentally and physically comfortable that you connect with the environment even more than you would on a motorcycle. I’ll admit, though, that I find it difficult to imagine choosing the GTS 300 over, say, the aforementioned Royal Enfield or a (more expensive) KTM 390 Adventure, but that has a lot to do with my personal experience – how and where I use a bike. If I lived within the confines of the M25, the motorway that runs a 117-mile loop around London, the Vespa would make a hell of a lot more sense. 

Vespa GTS 300

The Three Questions

Does the Vespa GTS 300 fit my current lifestyle?
Not really. The scooter would be able to handle my 16-mile-each-way daily commute, but I’d probably alter my route to eliminate the need to spend quite so much time on the motorway. I think that with patience and fair weather the GTS 300 could be a lot of fun to travel on but I’m not sure I’d want to do such a thing often.

Does the Vespa GTS 300 put a smile on my face?
Yes, without doubt. I think it’s fair to say that within a congested urban environment a scooter is at least twice as much fun as a motorcycle. Putt-putting around on quiet avenues, they are equally a joy. Riding the GTS 300 made me desperately wish I lived somewhere that owning such a thing would make more sense. Time to move to Madrid, I guess.

Is the Vespa GTS 300 better than my current motorcycle, a Triumph Bonneville T120?
No, but that’s a wholly unfair question. They are different beasts. I’m not sure it’s really fair to compare any scooter against any motorcycle.

Rider Stats

Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Weight: 168 lbs
Build: Lanky

Helmet: HJC RPHA 70
Jacket: 55 Collection Hard Jacket
Jeans: Pando Moto Boss 105 Reg
Gloves: Aerostich Elkskin Competition Roper
Boots: Red Wing Spirit Lake


* I don’t know if this confuses anyone else but for a long time I didn’t quite understand the hierarchy of names when it comes to Vespa. I had thought that it was a brand owned by Piaggio, as Indian is owned by Polaris, or Moto Guzzi is owned by Piaggio. But, in fact, it’s a sub-brand, in the way that Scrambler is a sub-brand of Ducati, or Star a sub-brand of Yamaha (in the United States). In 1946, when the first Vespa was built, Piaggio was an aeronautics company; the Vespa badge/name was created to help differentiate the scooter from the rest of Piaggio’s offerings. The name carries on today because it is so deeply loved.** 60-month hire purchase, with a £1,500 deposit, at the current Piaggio offer rate of 0 percent APR