Reader Ride–Southern California:Scootouring

Text: Chris Phillips • Photography: Patrick Dickey, Duke Trinh

Scootouring (v.) the act of traveling long distances on a scooter.

Sometimes the right word just doesn’t exist. Such is the case with touring on a scooter. With the advent of maxi-scooters (scooters with motorcycle displacement engines and similar performance), major manufacturers have embraced this growing market segment. But deciding to eschew motorcycle touring in favor of scootouring is only the first step. Soon one is confronted with another dilemma: convert the scooter you have into a tourer or buy a scooter designed for touring?

Different Folks, Different Approach

While my riding partner, Patrick, and I have toured on scooters before, we never compared the two alternatives, weighing the merits and limitations of each. Patrick is clearly in favor of the “buy it and ride it” approach. To that end, KYMCO USA provides a 2014 MYROAD700i. The largest displacement scooter on the market, its 700cc parallel twin exudes highway power and performance. However, with its long wheelbase (63.6 inches) being only three inches shy of a Honda Gold Wing, and its weight (608 lbs) being 37 lbs more than a BMW R 1200 RT, would it be hampered when super-slab turns to twisties? My take is more of a “ride what you got” philosophy. I decide to ride my 2010 Vespa GTS 300 Super. The largest displacement Vespa ever built, its 278cc DOHC, fuel-injected single has freeway cruising capabilities. While its lithe weight (326 lbs) and scant wheelbase (53.9 inches) mean that carving through canyons takes no more than a flick of the wrist, would it come at the cost of comfort and stability on a longer journey? 

We settle on a 650-mile course through Southern California. With large elevation changes, long highway stints, and plenty of winding backroads, this route would challenge any motorcycle on the market—let alone two scooters. Preparing for this test, Patrick has little to do. For an adventure-ready ride like the MYROAD700i, simply stuffing a soft-case bag under the seat suffices. A stock GTS 300 Super is hardly trip worthy. To remedy, I’ve spent the last year adding strategic parts to create a stealth scootourer. With an aftermarket windscreen, a custom fuel cell, and heated grips in place, the around town sprinter suddenly becomes a viable long-range runner.

Rounding Curves and Testing Sand

We leave on a temperate mid-autumn morning heading onto California Highway 2, the Angeles Crest Highway. With its rapid elevation gain and twisty tarmac, it’s the ideal road to baseline our scoots. After a quick breakfast at iconic Newcomb’s Ranch, we remount in search of more serpentine splendor. The KYMCO easily carves through more open curves, but Patrick rapidly begins to grind the centerstand on decreasing radius hairpins. However, the ample torque allows slingshot corner exits, propelling the big bike beguilingly fast out of corners. The Vespa rockets through the tight spots—its ample clearance and feather weight an asset. As the 7,000-foot elevation marker passes, the smaller single’s lung begins to lose breath, making full throttle corner exits the norm. We turn onto Angeles Forest Highway and enjoy the descent into the Mojave Desert. To test the versatility of the two, we exit Highway 14 and sample some of the small, snaking side roads. A mistaken turn dumps us unceremoniously onto dirt. As asphalt splits into sand, I wisely halt my journey. With 12-inch street tires, the Vespa stands no chance of any off-road aspirations more than unmaintained asphalt. With a larger 15-inch front tire, Patrick swings the KYMCO off-pavement and manages to successfully travail about 100 yards of hard-pack with sandy spots. Its low center of gravity and motorcycle-esque wheel size prove it can navigate any road that its street motorcycle brethren can.

Chasing Daylight, 
Running Headlights

As desert morphs into mountains, we descend to the shores of Lake Isabella. Ravaged by record drought, the locals have begun calling it Lake Is-a-puddle. Fed by the now trickling Kern River, its dwindling shoreline is a testament to how little rain California has been getting lately. Following the Kern River up the Sierra Nevada foothills is a rare moment of scooter equilibrium. The open sweepers are punctuated with intermittent hairpins—forcing both bikes to repeatedly transition from strengths to weaknesses. Climbing into the Sierra Nevada proper, we realize we’ve spent too much time taking pictures—the sun is rapidly sinking over the majestic mountain range, robbing us of precious daylight. Highway 190 is a wondrously wiggly ribbon of road, its 40 or so miles of technical, decreasing radius turns will be savored in the dark. Patrick, on the KYMCO, uses its superior three-beam headlight array to illuminate our descent into the San Joaquin Valley. I follow closely as the Vespa’s single headlight provides barely adequate lighting. I make a mental note to look into aftermarket riding lights. We roll into Porterville for the night in pitch black conditions, the KYMCO literally shining the way.

A Scooter Duel

The morning mist clings close to the earth, a common occurrence in California’s Central Valley. We continue westward on Highway 190, one of the rare ruler-straight runs on this trip. While the Vespa can buzz along at 70 mph all day, its single strains compared to the KYMCO’s larger twin. Both bikes make short work of the cross-valley blast, but the KYMCO once again has the upper hand as its weight and power make for an easier highway experience. Passing still verdant patches of agriculture, we’re reminded that this 220-mile long valley is the fruit and vegetable capital of the nation. Sixty miles on, we reach Bitterwater Road, a quintessential country backroad. Twisty, rutted, and rural—it’s a demanding road. The Vespa’s tight suspension means comfort comes second to canyon carving. Even the smallest potholes threaten to engulf its small wheels. Patrick swings the KYMCO expertly around ruts, its long wheelbase, however, slows transitions. As we stop beside a fenced pasture, a lone horse, slowly chewing contemplative cud, eyes these two strange albino steeds. 

Soon, we turn onto Highway 58, one of California’s top 10 must-ride roads. We uncork the duo on this scantily-trafficked road as miles of sweepers slowly tighten until we reach the last 15 miles to our next junction. In a four-mile stretch, Highway 58 constricts its coils into a vicious viper. Off-camber turns and successive switchbacks hug rock-strewn cliff faces as we descend toward the valley below. Again, Patrick uses the centerstand as a touchdown marker, piloting the large bike at an astonishingly quick pace. The Vespa flies through corners, gravity assist welcome. Over too fast, we agree to a draw—both bikes taking a different, yet satisfying, approach to the twists.

Highway 33 is our last leg. Stopping in Taft for lunch, we are reminded that this patch of arid scrub is the third largest petroleum-producing region in the country. An oil pump slowly draws this black asset from the soil. Though challenging, we slow the pace and ride relaxed—fully attuned to each bike, satisfied with their capable engineering, and our abilities to harness them. We stop for fuel at the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company. A bag of pistachios makes a good gift, and we relish the remaining miles to Ventura and our terminus at the Pacific Ocean. The usual marine layer casts a pallid gray hue to the land as we slide towards San Buenaventura State Beach. The last rays of day bid us farewell as we chat about our two-day 650-mile journey. 

Over fresh fish and chips at Neptune’s Net on the fabled Pacific Coast Highway, Patrick and I vociferously defend our scooters. The KYMCO, touring bred, strikes a chord with Patrick. I argue the merits of customizing a scooter to meet individual tastes. We agree to disagree. Both bikes, ultimately, achieve the same results: miles and miles of smiles. The age of scootouring has just begun! 

Scooter Transformation: 2010 Vespa GTS 300 Super

When I purchased my 2010 Vespa GTS 300 Super, I knew a stealth-touring bike lay beneath its steel skin. To that end, I enlisted Scooter West of San Diego to supply parts and labor. The must-haves included the Faco midsize windscreen ($ 134.99). It keeps enough wind blast off the rider at speed but allows easy look-over visibility. The KOSO heated hand grips ($ 79.99) not only come with five heat settings but are significantly more comfortable than stock. 

Knowing visibility is key on small bikes, AdMore Lighting’s LED combo riding/brake/turn light strips ($ 169.99) for the topcase were invaluable. The Vespa’s low tail/brake light is all but invisible to today’s high-riding SUVs and minivans. The red lights conveniently flash and brighten when braking and turn amber when turn signals are activated. Installation involved drilling and adhesive application as the topcase had dummy lenses in place, allowing LED strips to be inserted underneath. Overall, the appearance is clean and effective, especially at night. 

The last must-have was an external DC port conveniently built-in to the left knee pad ($ 49.99). It sits next to the heated hand grip control, allowing full use of both with the left hand. Ideal for plugging in a GPS, heated clothing, or simply charging electronic items, it’s been a valuable and easy addition, perfectly replacing the stock part. Getting respect on a scooter can be challenging, so a Stebel Nautilus air horn ($ 64.95) was installed. Though a tight fit within the Vespa’s steel body, the resonant blast is ear popping. 

To address the Vespa’s limited range with the stock 2.4-gallon tank, my friend fabricated a custom aluminum fuel cell that sits under the seat. Scooter West managed to insert a cap and quick-release braided fuel line that gravity feeds into the stock plastic tank below. While I have no gauge for it, visual inspections are easy through the large fuel cap. When the fuel gauge begins dropping, the stock tank is good for about 150 miles. At 2.9 gallons, the combined 5.3 gallons is equal to my BMW R 1200 GS. I’m estimating a range of about 350 miles with both tanks. Removal and installation is an easy two-minute affair, and reinserting the original plastic bin returns storage space. While not cheap, total parts and labor came to about $ 1,500. The result is a fully capable small-displacement scooter that is considerably cheaper than many stock maxi-scooters.