You Won’t Stop Riding the Vespa Primavera 150

It’s a friendly runabout, an urban mule, even an apex bomber. This little Vespa does something you want.

byChris Cantle|
Motorcycles photo

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In the drowsy quiet of a Los Angeles morning, the Vespa Primavera 150 starts with a chuff and settles into an easygoing, almost agricultural idle. It's not a boastful exhaust note. Sport bikes have crested the 200-horsepower mark, and 450cc off-roaders can easily top 100-mph, so it's almost sweet to think of the Primavera rolling out of the showroom with half the power of the average riding mower. Measured objectively, and against its two-wheeled peers, the unintimidating Vespa might seem more concerned with style than substance. But then, what better measurement of performance is there than the likelihood you’ll pick up the keys, just for the sake of a quick ride?

“It was just in a Gwen Stefani video.” Vespa’s affable PR guy tells me, as the little machine warms up. Cool drizzle steams off the muffler. Conversation has landed on Vespa’s long legacy in the movies. This small-screen appearance is just a footnote, but for a second or two, weight gathers behind his statement.

“Oh. You mean this one?” I wonder aloud as I nudge the bike forward, and off its centerstand. It’s almost new, just a few break-in miles on the odometer, and accessorized to within an inch of its life. I pull out my phone and scour YouTube. Sure enough, there it is. A perfect prop. Stefani bounces atop the very bike I'm straddling. Dancers dance. The singer sings. The Vespa sits on its stand. Just another machine treated as an ornament. It pisses me off. I resolve on the spot to wring its neck and make up for lost time. A little promise between me and the machine. I resolve to treat it as something more than cute.

Chris Cantle/

Days later, the Primavera 150 is whistling through the wind. I’ve assumed a racer’s tuck and set out on the heels of a gang of motorcycle-mounted colleagues on a 200-mile trip. Freeways, back roads, coast roads, country lanes. The little Vespa ascends legendary Highway 33, north of Ojai. It swoops gracefully through the big sweepers of Highway 1, south of Point Mugu. The Primavera isn't a quitter. Even when the gang disappears over the horizon in straight sections, they’re seldom any further than a stoplight or two. It might be wrung to its limits but the Vespa acquits itself beautifully, topping out above 70, and never needing a breather in the corners. In the whistling I think I hear the little machine laughing too.

But it’s when it’s treated like the family truck that the little Vespa really comes into its own. This Primavera came in Touring guise, and the friendly little machine is brimming and bristling with folding chrome bars, perfect for grocery bags, making it as utilitarian as any motorcycle. To the great embarrassment of our species, the capacious underseat storage has a sticker that says “no pets,” but that same space has no qualms carrying a 5kg bag of dog food. Or a car battery and two sets of wrenches. Or my work boots. Or a helmet. As an urban mule, the Vespa is surprisingly tough to beat. But its utility doesn’t end there.

Thanks to its trim frame, the Vespa scythes through traffic handily. The little fuel-injected four-stroke makes enough power to get out in front of a city bus and inattentive commuters. It’s not much thrust by motorcycle standards, but with its continuously variable transmission the throttle can be almost binary in application with no unpleasant consequences.

The tiny engine delivers almost unbelievable fuel economy. Even with gas prices climbing, you hesitate to throw a leg over the bike. Even better, it always seems to have enough gas to get you where you want to go when you do. The 150’s roomy seat happily and comfortably accommodates a passenger, and unlike Vespa’s of old, the single hydraulic disc brake up front is enough to slow down both you, and your newly dashing passenger effectively.

It’s not a perfect machine. The Primavera’s rudely simple switchgear is carried over from a more soviet Italy, and is the only real indication of cheapness on an fundamentally cheap machine. A rear tire puncture pointed out another infuriatingly Italian quirk: Access to the rear wheel is obstructed by the muffler, which has to be removed to change a tire.

Just quibbles, really. Forget style, forget the film appearances and the linen sport coat romance. Forget the legacy. Treated like a machine, on it’s own terms, the Vespa Primavera 150 is still a damned delight. It’s a rare vehicle that excels at the mundane, that gets you riding when it’d be easier to call a car, or that can get the nod over a race-bred superbike by being more useful and efficient and playful. That’s the charm of the Primavera. In a world packed with two-wheeled machines that can approach escape velocity, it's the little Vespa that's the best escape of all.

Chris Cantle/