The last time I was in Rome I saw a young man in linen shorts and wraparound sunglasses, talking on a cellphone and smoking a cigarette while riding a Vespa, moving fast down a narrow street in the direction of the Piazza Navona.
Perhaps only an Italian can do that, and only in the Eternal City, but there is something timelessly cool about the classic Italian scooter.
As a motorcycle snob, I never rode a scooter -- or wanted to. Give me horsepower and performance, I said. Scooters are for ... amateurs.
Then I rode a Vespa, and my feelings changed.
The Vespa GTS 300SS, as its name would suggest, is a 300cc super sporty scooter. It's lightweight, and powerful, and fast off the line.
It's also very comfortable, and quiet -- like riding a Barcalounger. It's so easy to ride that I felt myself reaching for the TV remote and wondered why the company hadn't installed a cup holder for my double venti-minty-soy-latte. (The next day, I saw a scooter made by a rival brand that did have a cup holder.)
The 300ccSS features the traditional Vespa styling. This limited-edition scooter comes only in a satin black finish, and features what the Vespa folks call "a masculine, modern aesthetic." (Other models come in the traditional Siena Ivory color, and in paint-store shades like Dragon Red, Midnight Blue, Volcano Black, Montebianco White and Espresso.) True to that testosterone promise, the grips are thick and beefy -- just like on a real motorcycle!
The electronic fuel injection engine is capable of producing speeds up to 80 mph, Vespa says, and gas mileage of 70 mpg. Other extras include a capacious storage bin under the seat (for the helmet), a drop-down storage pocket inside the front fairing (for those wraparound shades) and an "anti-theft immobilizer" ignition key that will make it hard for anyone to steal your scooter.
Vespa's parent company, Piaggio, has done a good job of programming to a growing market for scooters -- and of capitalizing on the nostalgic appeal of the Italian marque, which dates to 1946. The 2013 line features everything from a Vespa S 50 priced at $3,299, to a Vespa LX 150 at $4,599, to its top-of-the-heap GS300SS special edition at $6,399.
That's a lot of loot, for a scoot. But cool costs.