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 – Tińana)
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 Cańas. 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: Tińana, 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.
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.