“We’re committed – or we ought to be.”
Former faux motto of the Daily Kent Stater, the student newspaper at Kent State University
Sometimes it’s hard to justify an act of commerce, even with motorcycles, but I bought a used 2016 Vespa 300cc Super Sport to pilot in the Scooter Cannonball.
The idea of doing the 2023 Cannonball – an 8-day coast-to-coast rally limited to scooters of 300ccs or less – started germinating like Japanese knotweed in the back of my mind after I wrote about it for USA Today last year.
It’s one of my favorite stories and I think that’s because I had a great time talking to the riders I interviewed. Fascinating people, every one.
So now I have two Vespas.
There’s an indescribable feeling you get when crossing the dividing line between spectator and participant. I felt it most keenly in my first Marine Corps Marathon, taking my place among the other runners and thinking to myself I’m really doing this at last.
Likewise, writing about the Cannonball made me think could I do this?
The marathon had its roots in my high school cross-country days, back in the Pleistocene era1. The Cannonball dream is more recent, of course, and I’m learning more about its logistical demands, which are roughly akin to those of the Normandy invasion.
The planning elements comprise a long list2, but choice of scooter – what am I going to ride? – is probably paramount.
Scooters get punished during the Cannonball. Small engines aren’t intended for sustained high-speed travel over 8 to 10 days and riders often do maintenance chores in hotel parking lots when they’d much rather be sleeping in their rooms 10 feet away.
I could take Erebus, my 2020 Vespa Sei Giorni, but it’s sort of a special-edition model and I started having visions of being dopey-tired and dropping it at gas stations and such. I really didn’t want to bash her up3.
That made me think about getting a second scooter, one, er, nice but not as nice as Erebus but still sturdy enough to get me across the country. Linda and I looked at Japanese scooters4 but then I saw the 2016 on La Moto Washington’s website.
It’s a 2016 Vespa Super Sport, a 300cc scooter with ABS, much like Erebus but less sporty-appearing. The engine isn’t an HPE like Erebus and Linda’s GTS but it’s still powerful, relatively speaking5, and has longer maintenance intervals. It had 872 miles on the odometer.
Long story short, I rode it home eight miles in the rain today.
I had to give her a name and, continuing my preference for naming my motorcycles after Antarctic exploration ships6, chose the moniker Terror, after the second ship of the James Clark Ross expedition of 1839-1843. Erebus was the first7.
Terror is in my workshop now at Starbase 8 with 880 miles on the clock. I’ll start learning how to work on it, how to change engine oil and filters and how to replace transmission belts and variator and clutch rollers. It will be a steep learning curve for me.
I’ll baby Terror and take care of her, but I’ll be secure knowing that I can take a tumble and – while aghast at the damage I’m causing8 – think: At least I’m not fucking up Erebus.
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1 – Admittedly, I wasn’t a very good runner, then or now. I’ve had bystanders tell me to just get a cab.
2 – That’s not an exaggeration. You have to decide if/how to ship your scooter to the starting line, reserve rooms at hotels/motels along the way, arrange for space on support vehicles and figure out how you’re going to get your scooter home when the rally is over.
3 – Any motorcycle or scooter can get damaged while traveling but the Cannonball carries a higher risk because of long days, insufficient sleep, enforced timelines and intense navigation. I just didn’t want to risk Erebus like that.
4 – A Honda ADV 150 or Yamaha SMAX were on the list. They have smaller engines and less power than Terror but are considered extremely reliable.
5 – Terror has 22 hp; Erebus has 24.
6 – It’s true; I have three motorcycles and two Vespas of my own (not counting Linda’s Vespa and Yamaha Vino) and all but one has an Antarctic-related name.
The outlier is Santiago, the 1965 Honda CL-77 awaiting restoration in a shed out back. It’s named after one of the five ships Magellan took on his circumnavigation voyage in 1519.
7 – Both were constructed as “bomb ships,” built with extremely strong hulls to withstand the impacts of naval explosions. Sadly, they were lost during the 1845 Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage in the Arctic. Erebus was found in 2014; Terror was discovered in 2016.
8 – And will fix, since it’s a really nice scooter.