Vespa for Beginners: Part II

Vespa waiting to be strapped down for Crossing the Channel. Front of the ship & the queue!

The ferry to Dieppe: Check-in opened at about 9:30pm. While waiting to check-in, I pushed Vespa into the queue of cars which was right beside where I’d parked earlier. I didn’t bother to turn on the scooter since I was just moving a few metres and waiting so, sitting on the scooter, I rolled along, pedalling Fred-Flintstone-style. A man in a small lorry in the second queue (beside me) hopped out and asked if I needed any help; was I having trouble starting it? I said no thanks, all was well. He was wearing Converse and said he had a Vespa. He was probably in his 60s.

After rolling up to check-in & show my passport & ticket, I was directed to the first queue because motorbikes board first. Vespa was the only motorbike. And – she wouldn’t start. So I smiled with embarrassment and rolled up to the queue and decided I needed to knock on all the windows of the white vans until I found the guy who’d offered to help about half an hour earlier. And guess what? He was outside of his van just beside me, cleaning his headlights. So I said, ‘excuse me – I do, in fact, need help!’

We had a chat and he ‘bump-started’ Vespa – by running with it and putting it in gear! Pushing the scooter along gets the engine turning over and vroom-vroom, there it goes. You’ve got to hop on before it pulls you along. He said it’s trickier with his Vespas because they are ‘big’ 150 cc scooters whereas mine is a 90cc so it’s easy to keep up. I learned that I keep flooding the engine because it isn’t always necessary to turn the fuel switch on and pull the choke out all the way. It’s good to try to start the scooter without doing either of those things. Then if it doesn’t start, turn on the fuel lever. Then, if it doesn’t start, pull out the choke a little bit – and, if necessary, a little bit more – etc.

My cabin right at the back (or front, depending,) of the ferry.

So, in two days, I’ve learned three different ways of starting Vespa: first, from Neil, closing the choke & fuel switch, opening the throttle all the way, and kicking the kick-start a lot (he said 10 times but it worked on three). Second, the ‘bump-start’ (which I have yet to try but is pretty amazing). And finally, the more sensitive approach with the choke, etc. Hurrah!

The Vespa attracts a lot of positive attention; I think one reason is because it is a vintage vehicle. Officially – it’s got vintage plates and everything. It’s a gorgeous bike, and it’s a friendly, approachable machine. It makes people smile. While I was talking with guy number 1 about bump-starting the Vespa, and he was returning to his van, another guy a few cars up gave me advice about not pulling the choke out all the way, right away. He used to have Vespas and had motorbikes. He was also in his 60s – totally my dad’s generation.

Then, through the fence separating the cars and the enormous cargo trucks, a few guys started chatting to me in Spanish (one was in his 60s, one in his 30s). They only had a few words of English, so with a mixture of French, Spanish, and English, I explained I’d ridden from London and was going to Paris. That got a skeptical reaction! The younger guys said he had a 1965 Vespa in Spain and he missed it.

The thing about the scooter is that it’s not a complicated bit of kit, and it’s in 100% excellent condition, so unless you really mess it up (notes on which later,) it is exceedingly reliable. The first guy was unfazed that I was planning to ride it to Paris – ‘It’ll get you there, no problem.’ He would be proven right. It wasn’t the scooter that would find it a challenge making it to Paris – it would be me.

The ferry departed at 22:30. I had a hot shower (bliss!) in my ‘Captain’s Cabin,’ and fell into a restless, tired sleep by about 11:30 pm.

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