Osadabwa in Oviedo… on a Vespa
This is a compilation of many Vespa rides with the Clandestino Scooter Club of Oviedo. Latest ride: CLICK HERE
I’m from Wyoming, my wife’s from Spain, and we live in Africa. That complicates ordinary life somewhat, but has made it possible for me to take some wild motorbike rides. At “home” in Tanzania I ride my XR400 around in the bush and mud with a bunch of ugly bikers from Dar es Salaam (see sig line for rides both long and short) but when visiting the in-laws in Asturias, Northern Spain, I tend to get stuck in a rut of drinking wine and eating cheese and Iberian ham. Not such a bad rut, I’ll grant you, but it lacks two-wheeled adventure.
The Principality of Asturias, located roughly between Galicia and Basque Country, is absolutely gorgeous, and simply screams to be explored by bike. With the Bay of Biscay to the north and the Cantabrian Mountains rising like the spine of a wild boar through the middle, the opportunities for twisty mountain riding are endless. However, I have a problem: The In-Laws. They hate bikes. There is absolutely no way they’d let me buy a bike and keep it in their garage. Or is there? I may have found a loophole… turns out they don’t fear the Little Wasp.
Above: Asturias from the sky and my first European two-wheeled ride location (Oviedo – Tiñana)
Enter The Oviedo Clandestino Scooter Club, comprised of about twenty chavales who share a love for roaring (puttering) around Asturias on old Vespas, drinking plenty of Rioja and Mahou and eating copious amounts of rustic Asturian cuisine. El Presidente, a friend of my wife’s, invited me to take his pared down, matte black Vespa T5 (1980’s model) out with the group on one of their weekly Friday rides. I couldn’t say no, particularly after seeing the setup these guys have, and learned how eccentric and entertaining an old Vespa can be to fix up and ride.
El Prez is the owner of a great bar in Oviedo called La Carte de Ajuste on the Ruta de las Cañas. The Thursday before the ride, I met him at his bar to do some maintenance on the old T5 which had been out of commission awhile. Just a few small tweaks were needed… like fixing the electrical system and replacing the front shock absorber. It was hilarious. We didn’t even break a sweat. These two tasks took us a couple of hours and a six pack of Mahou, and the only tools we used were a screwdriver and a socket wrench. The club has a fully tricked out workshop just below the bar complete with a hydraulic bike lift and a fridge full of beer, and the Vespa spares shop is just around the corner. I’m definitely not used to such easy repair work.
Above: El Presidente doing some last-minute (and futile) maintenance before the Friday ride
Come the day of the ride, I was a bit nervous. The Vespa doesn’t exactly handle like I’m used to, and I wasn’t sure if I could subdue the big-bore 125 I had been loaned. (All that power!) So while the rest of the guys were warming up with a pre-ride Mahou, I was zipping (lurching) up and down the street in front of the bar, trying to get used to the 10 inch wheels and the all-in-one clutch thingy. I was doing well, but somewhere on my third go around, I heard a pop. The headlight had exploded. Guess we hadn’t done such a stellar job of fixing the electrics the day before. No matter, I’m used to riding in darkness with the XR in Tanzania, so we set off. Destination: Tiñana, a village 12 whole kilometers out of town and home of Arbesu cider. Vamonos!
Above: La Carta de Ajuste, official bar of the Clandestino Scooter Club of Oviedo, your narrator in his borrowed orange crash helmet, three beastly Vespas in waiting
Powering (spluttering) out of town, we rumbled (buzzed) through the otherwise clean and civilized streets of Oviedo, inspiring fear (surprise) and awe (mirth) among the cage bound populace and totally dominating (clogging) the avenues. It was just like a swarm of wasps… but with less horsepower. All told, we had fewer than 2000 ccs between the eleven of us.
Inevitably, what with so many bikes wobbling around in their twilight years and maintained by a group of semi-professional borrachos, we had a breakdown about halfway (6km) to our destination. The clutch cable responsible for shifting above first gear had snapped on somebody’s steely blue Vespa, so we all pulled off the road at the first available spot – a large, mostly vacant parking lot. Apparently, the groundshaking roar (smoky cough) of our massive (puny) engines approaching was terrifying (aggravating), because no sooner had we come to a stop than some geezer from the warehouse comes over growling about private property and it being a driveway for trucks and that we gotta get lost or else he’s calling the cops. Well, that didn’t sit well with the guys, and they put on a hell of a good Hells Angels impression (albeit a Spanish version) complete with posturing, spitting, cursing and gesturing (but no motorcycle chain beat downs… cause Vespas don’t have chains). By god, we’re not going anywhere; we’re not hurting anything; why don’t you stick it up your nose, etc. But when the guy started noting down license plate numbers, we donned our vintage helmet replicas and made for the exit.
Above: The warehouse in question (dually signposted as Private Property), us at a safe distance (still angrily gesturing)
It was determined that the steely blue bike with the busted cable would have to be parked. It was getting late for lunch even by Spanish standards, so we ditched it and I rode pillion behind the Prez the remaining distance to Arbesu, where we posed for a group photo before getting down to the business of the day: lunch.
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Above: 1 minute of pure Vespa in Asturias
Above: 11 Vesperos pelegrosos, Restaurante Arbesu, a Mahou for your trouble
After a half hour of grumbling about the grumpy old lump back at the warehouse, we slowly settled into a rhythm of eating, drinking and talking about bikes, as you do. It turns out that a few years ago, the Spanish authorities (in their infinite wisdom) granted any idiot with an automobile drivers license the right to also pilot motorbikes less than 125ccs without requiring any sort of specialized training. This crazy little law is what permitted me to go along for the ride. Although I’ve ridden for years in Africa, I’ve never taken the trouble to get myself a motorcycle license… it’s just been easier to pay “spot fines” now and then, or make up a good story.
Above: Seriously tasty Asturian food and a table full of scary Vesperos… (granted “scary” here can mean many things… but in terms of scary tough, CSC does have a Vinnie Jones lookalike)
After lunch, the Prez and I took off back for Oviedo in darkness. We only had an hour and a half to fix the electrics on the Black T5 before opening time at the bar, so we had to haul ass (scurry along). I rode sans headlight, following the Prez as closely as I could so the Guardia Civil wouldn’t notice me. I’m not used to functioning traffic police, so all of this was very adventurous… and cold as hell. Although I was wearing everything I could steal from my father in law’s closet, I was an ice pop by the time we arrived to the Vespa repair shop. There, a fellow emerged from the smokiest workshop on the planet, did a few cursory electrical tests, identified a burned out part and replaced it in minutes. This guy knew his Vespas from over 20 years of being the repair guy for Oviedo’s entire fleet of Postal delivery bikes.
Back just in time to open the bar, I had a drink with the Prez and then went downstairs to the repair shop where the rest of the gang were busy cannibalizing parts from each other’s bikes to help one of them pass the very detailed (anal) bi-annual inspection (ball busting). The job only required one or two guys, but there were at least six there helping out (getting in the way), naturally, and somebody had to be there to open the beers.
Above: Fatu…means foolish, but maybe a bit stronger, the T5 and the Vespa Diety, and the CSC repair shop in full swing
So anyway, I rode 24 short kilometers on an old Vespa with no headlight and I’m sold. It’s the perfect excuse for escaping the in-laws and exploring the mountains of Asturias on those tiny little Spanish roadways. My family thinks Vespas are harmless, I don’t have to get a license to ride one, I don’t have to spend a lot of money to buy one, and the it’s certain to break down a lot which means I’ll get to spend time tinkering on it too. And, assuming this ride report doesn’t alienate me from them totally, I’ll have plenty of good laughs along the way with the CSC.
If all goes well, I’m planning to go out again next Friday with the CSC on the old T5. If I do, I’ll be sure to blab on about it here. Stay tuned.
Wow .. great ride report !!!
Looks like fun. By chance, what is your occupation that allows you to live in Africa ?
I'd better reply to this fast before my "friend" Faceplant says something unsavory about me. I work in Agricultural Economics in Africa. This ranges from research on agricultural trends to more agri-business related work. Right now I'm working as a consultant on several projects aiming to create commercially viable value chains (for animal vaccines, for example).
Most of the guys I ride with in Tanzania have more respectable jobs. There are electricians, contractors, engineers (for mobile phone companies, water systems, electricity), etc. Mind you, not everybody can run their own business successfully in Africa. It takes a hell of a lot more effort to be, say, an electrician in a country as messed up as Tanzania.
By the way, with a tag like Muddaholic, you would probably enjoy the rides in my sig line more than this Vespa stuff! Have a gander at the Kilimanjaro or Kilombero links.
Riding a small scooter may not be as adventurous as a dirt bike in Africa but around town nothing is more fun.
Leave him unsupervised for 5 minutes and his gay streak forces it's way to the surface.
Flap your hands boys!
Bar to Bar... Jan 20 Friday Ride
All week long I waited for Friday to come back around, and I watched the weather for any chance that the persistent drizzle that had been falling all week would subside before then. Friday morning, I awoke to a partly-cloudy and gorgeous, very un-wintery day. It looked perfect for a bit of exploring the outskirts of Oviedo in search of heavy food, unseemly conversation and cold beer.
Above: The loop from La Carta de Ajuste in Oviedo clockwise to El Fondín for lunch and El Garitu for suds
Just like last Friday, two O’clock came and went and we were still sitting around La Carta de Ajuste tinkering with bikes and trying to keep warm by lifting bottles. Late departures like this seem to be a tradition among bike groups. Whether it be Friday Vespas in Oviedo or week-long enduro journeys in Tanzania, the schedule is the first thing to be jettisoned on any trip. I took advantage of our late start to try out my steed for the day, a beautiful Orange 125 cc bike recently retired from the Spanish postal service. It was much easier to shift, but the brakes were rougher than a badger’s ass. The steep, slippery descent on the dark side of Naranco was the plan for the day, and it was going to be interesting, I was repeatedly promised.
Above: a Mahou and a worrying cigarette health warning, Vespa Views, and repairs ala Carta
Closer to four than two O’clock, we buzzed out of town, north over the steeply rising Naranco mountain. The sun was bright behind a doily of clouds and the smell of damp earth and fallen eucalyptus leaves was fantastic. The narrow road climbed quickly out of town and afforded amazing views down valley that unfortunately I didn’t take time to photograph. I was too busy being happy and on the move.
On the dark side of Naranco, the road narrowed and descended in switchback turns through fields and small copses like a snake gliding in and out of tall grass. Asturias is a very green place thanks to the year-round tendency toward gray, rainy days. The northern section of road had probably not seen direct sunlight for more than four months, and was very damp from the wet week. So, although paved, it sported a patina of green moss from wheel track to wheel track that was just waiting to take somebody out. One of our party, we’ll call him Five-O, came around a bend a bit too spritely and slid sideways a few meters madly grabbing at controls in a futile attempt to correct the slide before coming to a stop facing back the way he’d come. Witnesses attested to his bravery, but reckoned he should have seen his ass. All agreed the Vespa gods were on his side.
Above: The northern descent, a couple of slipshod locals, Vesperos perdidos
If I’d had any doubt about whether or not the Vespa 125 would be a good form of transportation before, it was quelled by the time we made it to our lunch spot. These little bikes are great fun. The roads in the mountains of Asturias are so narrow and zigzagging that riding a big bike would be like using a Clydesdale to pull a Radio Flyer… you could do it, but it would cost a ton of money and you wouldn’t exactly be tapping into its full potential (so you’d wind up feeling like a putz).
Above: Arrivival at our lunch spot
Before I knew it, we were parking the bikes at a restaurant at the end of lonesome country lane. It was amazing how the scenery could be so rustic so near the city and that at the edge of what looked like a forgotten village lay a funky old bar serving up excellent meals.
Above: A rainbow of Vespa flavors, me and El Carpinteru and I at El Fondín
After our celebratory arrival beer, we installed ourselves around the table in the restaurant. The place was adorned with all sorts of random stuff, from an old wooden rattle used to shoo domestic livestock to bizarre portraits of local yokels to a creepy old stuffed falcon. It’s just the sort of back-woodsy place you want to find in Asturias. The patrons are always a curious bunch hell bent on feeding you till you burst. El Fondín in Brañes was certainly no exception!
Above: A relief map showing our lunch spot, Vesperos hambrientes, the stuffed falcon (creepy)
Here, I must devote a paragraph to the food. We let El Presidente order for us, which meant we were going to be in for a memorable gastronomic experience. For starters, we were served Pote Asturiano (thick bean and vegetable stew with meat) in a clay dish as big as a kiddy swimming pool which we happily dove into, divvying up the tasty bits of chorizo, lacon (fatty pork bits) and morcilla (blood sausage) in a remarkably civilized manner for guys who had been telling stories that would have made Keith Richards blush. Next up was a cachopo (thin fillets of beef with cheese sandwiched inside, breaded and fried) the size of a pillow case which El Prez divided evenly and distributed like a king to his grateful serfs. And if that weren’t enough, our third plate arrived heaped with cordero (mutton on the bone) steaming from the oven. I tell you, I couldn’t move by the time we were done, but I was a happy boy.
Above: The Pote and Cachopo and the men who put it all away… there isn’t room for a picture of the cordero
Dragging ourselves out of the restaurant, we heaved our overfed selves back on to the bikes and spluttered down the road in the twilight. One of our happy party managed to bump into the verge on the way out of the restaurant. He later said he was avoiding a chicken, but nobody could corroborate. Otherwise, the ride was easy and there were no incidents on the relatively flat and dry stretch toward Luanco and our next stop.
Above: Vespas in the country, proof of a close call
We may have pulled into another bar before moving on to El Garitu. I’m not saying we did, I’m not saying we didn’t. But el Garitu was where we hid from the rain awhile and contemplated the dark and stormy night. We’d left the horse-lined idyllic countryside for the graffiti adorned urban streets and the Vespas held their own just fine in spite of their weak headlights and obnoxious pilots.
Above: Outside El Garitu
Well past dark, we set off for Oviedo and La Carte de Ajuste. It was a straight shot from Luanco on wet, shimmering streets and we arrived to find El Prez behind the bar tending to his adoring masses. We passed several happy hours between La Carta and the workshop downstairs. People were in good spirits, and there was a lot of nonsense going on. The highlight for me was when an animated El Carpintero started on about the drivers in Thailand which I had to capture on video (below). All the rest of the stories I heard, alas, I promised I wouldn’t repeat (which is just as well, cause I don’t remember any of them anyway).
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Above: Some riding, some talking, and a lot of gesturing and sound effects (1:45)
Above: Bits and pieces from the day, the workshop is well stocked
I’m now sold on the 125. I have it from a reliable source that I’ll soon be the proud owner of one if I play my cards right. Hopefully the next Friday ride I take will be on a bike of my own!
Las Reugeras Ride
One thing about a Vespa: You might not go a long way, but is sure feels like it. This is good news for me, because I’m still borrowing a bike from Lady L (thanks again!) and only get on two wheels during Friday rides with the CSC Crew. Last Friday’s ride was a stunning 24 kilometers round trip, kicking off as usual at La Carta de Ajuste and ending in El Escamplero.
Above: The route, all 12 kms of it
Above: Bikes at the bar
Above: Tipos duros...?
There were eight Vespas clogging up the sidewalks out front of La Carta by the time we set off. I decided to have a look at how badly their odometers were lying.
Above: Eight odos, a Military Green Vespa, and Monchupichu’s chicken hat
Although wintery according to the thermometer, the unexpected arrival of sunshine gave the ride a decidedly appealing, almost spring like quality after several straight Asturian days of grey and drizzle.
Above: Vespas on the streets of Oviedo
Above: Vespas heading West
As with all the rides that leave from Oviedo, the scenery and the twisty roads never fail to satisfy. We wandered through fields and villages to a restaurant in El Escamplero with a spectacular view of the valley below and a pretty damn good cachopo.
Above: Vespas on el Camino de Santiago
Above: Views near El Escampalero
Above: The view and the viewers
As always, we ate more than was strictly necessary and certainly more than was healthy. I was surprised to see a rooster strutting around outside the restaurant. Sometimes Spain really does feel like Africa…
Above: Monchupichu enjoying that cachopo, Earnest , King P, and the cock of the walk
As we were leaving, the Guardia Civil arrived, and instead of immediately searching for some way to extract a bribe from us, began bullshitting with Five-O (who is a fellow tribesman after all). Aaah civilization…
Above: Just a friendly howdy from the Guardia Civil, the cruise back home
As with most Fridays, the riding ends back at the workshop. This time, we were attempting to kick over a recently purchased but untested old Vespa. First we had to steal a bit of fuel from El Niñín´s little red project bike. And later, Earnest installed the CSC frosted glass effect logo on the doors.
Above: Petrol theft, logo installation
After workshop, it’s back to La Carta where the Prez, much rested after having bailed out on the ride for a little napito, was busy attending to clients and idiots like us. From here, everybody said a lot, but none of it is worth repeating.
Above: El Prez, Bar mascot, my view of Mahou, Vinny and Marky Mark
I swaggered home after my bedtime, enjoying the quiet streets of Europe’s cleanest city. I made a pass by two iconic structures: The Cathedral of San Salvador (place of worship begun by a king in 781 and finished by Cardinal in 1528) and “La Calatrava” (built, I hear, by crooks for the worship of consumption in the 21st century) before going home. I also saw Cap’n Caito’s rusty heap abandoned on the street where he left it after running out of fuel. Come on Cap’n… rookie move!
Above: Two Cathedrals and a Vespa on the street
Damn it Hunter, you're making me want to go get a scoot now!
If you haven't read NathanThePostman's journey, you should look it up. Wild man, Wild!
Great post!! My mother's family is from Asturias, they all live in Oviedo now so I am familiar with those roads. My great grandmother area is called La Castañal and the roads to get up those mountains are amazing! I have a trip planned in the future to cycle around those areas, I cannot wait to do it. Even though you were on a scooter im sure you guys had a blast and it was a fun little adventure. Thanks for sharing! Keep them coming.
2013: My Red Vespa Debut!
New year, new adventures. Early December, 2012 and I’m back in Spain awaiting the birth of my second child, and as most expectant fathers of second children are, I was bored out of my skull. Thankfully, the guys at CSC bailed me out right away. It was a lovely day in Asturias, sunny and brilliant and not half as cold as it could be given the season. El Carpinteru, who is always up for a ride convinced San Valentin to let me steal his matte black Primavera for a little loop to escape a bit from the city, and El Sevillano on his hopped up green racing Vespa came along for the ride.
After some push-starting (Santo V. isn’t known for his strict maintenance regime) the Primavera buzzed to life and zzzzipped down the road all the way to a café near the Calatrava where we promptly stopped and had a coffee. Even without leaving Oviedo, you can’t escape the feeling of being in the middle of darkest Asturias, what with the dead jabalies on the wall and old men breakfasting on chicken soup and everything. Well caffeinated, we sallied forth, leaving town and enjoying the curvy lanes and the sunshine, eventually stopping in las Caldas for a mid-morning San Miguel and some anchovy-filled olives.
Above: Café by Calatrava
Above: Las Caldas morning light
Not entirely satisfied with the whopping 20 kms we’d clocked, we decided to climb up to the Vista Alegre on Naranco for a noontime refresher. The bike and I wabbled steadily up the road like a bear on a unicycle, the sunshine and beautiful views below urging us onward like the circus guy with the whip.
It was a short ride, but it rekindled my fervor to possess one of these ridiculous, lovely, silly, excellent, curious, simple, brilliant bikes… and now I do!
Above: Behold! At long last!
El Carpinteru found me a red-hot stunner. One of the Spanish Postal Service’s retirees from the late 90’s, she has all of the old school feel of a vintage Vespa: she’s made of steel and has that clunky manual transmission, but comes with the much appreciated addition of a front disk brake and has fewer than a million miles on the clock (30,000 km to be accurate) which means she’ll still be running strong when my grandkids are farting around in their golden years. And, with a massive 125 cc engine, the torque is almost too much to handle…
The only problem was transferring ownership. Even with Blossom the Magician, our fixer, taking care of the paperwork, it would take time before I could get out on the road. So in the meantime, I cleaned the carb, added some grip tape to the floorboards, fixed various lighting issues and basically futzed and putzed around for weeks making sure the bike would pass the infamous Spanish vehicle technical inspection (ITV). Then finally, a full month after my little ride on the black Primavera, the bike was ready. I got the papers on Thursday night and Friday morning I was (literally) running around sorting out insurance so that I would be ready for the lunchtime ride.
My bike’s much anticipated debut ride was, well, a walk… at least to begin with. I got to the workshop found out that the plan was to eat in Oviedo and then go for a short ride afterwards. So, after restlessly stuffing my gullet with an entire pan of eggs, ham and chorizo (not half as odd for lunch as a pan of eggs, shrimp and imitation eels others had) we were finally ready to ride! Destination: the ever popular Vista Alegre on Naranco which, although affording lovely views of the city, is perhaps only 5 km outside of town. Unambitious, maybe, but sometimes overly ambitious debuts (I’m thinking Titanic here) don’t always go according to plan.
Above: Bipedal Friday ride to lunch (eggs, shrimp and eels anyone?)
Above: Post-lunch, still walking… oh wait... bikes!
Above: Vespas at Vista Alegre
Anyway, off we went. The bike started on the second kick (and then only because I forgot to turn on the key) and buzzed happily along with the others up the hill to the bar. A fantastic debut, all were pleased, applause all around! After a respite from the cold, we saddled up and attempted the nighttime return… attempted being the operative word. My bike wouldn't start. The kicker had no purchase. Stuck cables meant that the clutch was engaged, and we couldn't sort it out there, so El Carpinteru (the helpful uncle of the group) jumped on and coasted it all the way back to the workshop with the occasional boost from one of the others when momentum lagged.
Back at the workshop, the music blared, the bottles clinked, and we set to work cleaning and tightening the cables until the bike kicked over again before tinkering with other perpetual projects like Adolfo’s greyhound and interior design projects.
Above: El taller after dark
Saturday morning, I launched out of the house with my son to the park with a plan: keep him occupied til noon and then ask for the afternoon off. It worked a charm. By afternoon, after a quick stop with El Carpinteru back at the Vista Alegre, I was off on my first solo journey to nowhere in particular. I climbed up over Naranco to Branes (can’t make the ~ work on this keyboard) down a shady, steep and and slick-with-mud road where bearded locals driving 4x4s and wearing hunting orange paraded around with dead wild boar strapped to the roof. Doesn't take long to go from little old ladies walking in their furs on Calle Uria to what back home might be described as Hillbilly country. Good thing I’m in Europe, or my presence on a shiny red Vespa might not have been acceptable. At all.
Above: my bike’s first solo journey above Oviedo
I had no map or GPS, so the plan was to ride out a ways and retrace my steps home. I like to follow the smallest roads possible (or passible, given my 10” wheels), but I was keenly aware that a) I didn’t know if my fuel gauge works b) I doubted there would be a petrol station out there c) I didn’t have any tools to fix problems d) just one day ago, the bike didn’t start at a crucial moment. Riding a Vespa, in case people are skeptical, is an Adventure partly because although you can keep one running forever, you never know from day to day if you’ll make it to your destination, and you have to be a mechanic on demand.
The bike shifts horribly, clunking into gear as if it were a hammer instead of a clutch I was using, but she shifts! The twisty roads and green scenery were a much needed respite from the gray of Oviedo, and the sunny day (the first in a week) had me fairly singing in my helmet as I whizzed along. At one point, in the village of Fanes, I meandered down a dead-end road and ended up at a farmer’s house where four mastodon-sized dogs greeted me with a mixture of big-dopey-dog enthusiasm and big-angry-dog menace. On a Vespa, you’re keenly aware at these moments a) how slow the bike really is, particularly when accelerating from idle b) how ridiculous is the noise from the exhaust, couldn’t scare away a fly and might anger a dog c) how low to the ground you are and exposed to canine attack.
But, I survived, and having been out for an hour or so, decided to stop for my lunch. I picked a green sunny spot and just enjoyed the silence. From there, I tried to retrace my steps home and arrived without incident. I am looking forward to the next sunny afternoon!
Above: Random, sunny roadside stop for lunch: empanada y queso Manchego (Flor de Esgueva)
Suddenly I wished I lived in Oviedo, a city I had not previously noticed.
everybody knows that.............
CON FABAS YA SIDRINA NUN FAI FALTA GASOLINA :lol3
:clap Super photos !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Always nice to see the Vespas on the road.
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