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Vietnamese Vespa lovers hit European roads

Members of the Ha Noi Vespa Club set a record by becoming the first aficionados of the iconic Italian scooter from Southeast Asia to attend a four-day global meet in Italy. Lan Dung reports on their experience

Through the Alps: Vespa riders wind their way between the mountains of the Alps in Switzerland.
Through the Alps: Vespa riders wind their way between the mountains of the Alps in Switzerland.

Ferenc Halasz and Alain Warnon were surprised to see the Vietnamese contingent.

The Frenchman and Belgian, members of Vespa clubs in their respective countries had not seen anyone from Southeast Asia participate in the Vespa World Days, held this year in Mantova, Italy, from June 12 to 15.

In fact, Vespa lovers from around the world, expressed pleasant surprise when they greeted the group of 10 Vietnamese driving Vespas with licence plates from Viet Nam.

Starting their trip on May 31 from Genoa in Italy, the Vietnamese, everyone in their late thirties, drove 4,000 kilometres through three other European countries, France, Germany and Switzerland, on a trip lasting nearly a month, to take part in the event.

They were from the Ha Noi Vespa Club and set a record in becoming first Southeast Asian club of Vespa lovers to take part in the global event.

The idea of driving a Vespa in Europe and taking part in the event struck them two years ago. Earlier, members of the club drove 2,000km across Viet Nam in 2008, conquered 3,000km across Indochina in 2011 and rode 4,000km across ASEAN countries in 2012. Thanks to the immense experience gained from these trips, they were even more determined to ride their Vespas in Europe and participate in the biggest day for Vespa lovers.

Do Vo Tuan Dung, head of the Ha Noi Vespa Club, said that it took them about 20 months to prepare for the journey – from learning about procedures to transporting their Vespas from Viet Nam to Italy, to maintaining the scooters.

“We had prepared carefully for our long trip, with a budget of VND100 million (over US$4,700) one person. Besides, members had taken protective clothing, handheld transceivers, a GPS device, raincoats, boots and reflective shirts,” he said.

The participating vehicles concluded three PX Vespa scooters manufactured in 1996 and 2012, which were shipped to Italy, and three 2014 models of Vespa Sprint 3V, which were loaned to them by Piaggio.

We were here: Riders pose in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

On the first stretch from Genoa to Nice in France, members drove at speeds of 30 to 40km per hour, much slower than what they did on the roads later. This was the first time they had ridden their Vespas on European roads, and were like fish out of water at finding their way around while seeing signboards, lanes and traffic regulations.

In the next few days, they got used to driving on those roads and did not have any problems.

“We were all surprised at the beauty of the places we had ridden through. The road from Genoa to Nice runs along the coastline while from Zurich in Switzerland to Nancy in France there was wheat spread on the road,” Dung said. “While travelling from Zurich to Lugano in Switzerland, we had an opportunity to challenge our driving skills on the Alps. We were all thrilled and impressed at seeing snow for the first time.”

He said that some of the roads in Europe were similar to the ones in the north-western and north-eastern areas of Viet Nam though their quality was much better.

Vespa World Club

On March 14th 2006, the Vespa World Club was founded by Piaggio & C. s.p.a. and the Piaggio Foundation, aiming to promote, unite and coordinate all Vespa clubs worldwide.

Eurovespa was an annual Vespa gathering that took place every year from 1954 to 2007 (with a break in 1970). In 2007, Eurovespa was transformed into Vespa World Days, under the supervision of the Vespa World Club. The first Vespa World Days event was held in the Republic of San Marino in 2007.

The Vespa World Days 2014 attracted more than 200 clubs from 30 nations with the participation of about 10,000 Vespa scooters.

During the trip, there was just one occasion when the engine of a Vespa PX 1996 stalled, when they were driving from Milan to Mantova to participate in the Vespa World Days. However, it took them just 30 minutes to fix it, and it did not give them any other problems after that.

Arriving at the venue, the Vietnamese riders toured private museums housing old scooters, clocks and cameras near Verona, and rode in a procession in the city. They introduced their country to the world by exchanging stickers, flags and badges with other participants.

Vu Bao Ngoc, who fell in love with Vespa in 1996, admired the different types of scooters that he had only heard of, such as Vespa Paparino, Vespa Arma and also a tuned Vespa mini with high engine displacement.

“There is also a fair for Vespa lovers to sell and buy spare parts. For people collecting old Vespas like us, it is very important to purchase rare parts that are not found in Viet Nam. I bought a King & Queen saddle for a Vespa PX and some souvenirs at the fair,” he said.

Meanwhile, Do Phuong Thao, one of three women on the trip, was very glad to meet people from other nations who shared her interests.

“After returning home, we have kept in touch and share our knowledge and experience of taking care of our scooters.

“There is a difference in the perception of Vespa lovers in Viet Nam and abroad. In Europe, they do not differentiate between an old Vespa and a new one like we do in Viet Nam,” she said.

Thao, who was attracted by the special styles of Vespa in 2010, also revealed that Vietnamese scooter lovers knew how to fix the small mechanical faults while Westerners did not know anything and often took them to repair shops.

After finishing the long but interesting trip, all the members felt very proud to be the first Southeast Asian club to bring the wasp-shaped Vespa scooters to its original country, and are dreaming about driving on European roads again.

Ha Noi Vespa Club, established in 2010, has around 200 members. They meet regularly to share their know-how and experience on scooter models and organise social activities, contributing to the development of the Vespa community in Viet Nam.