Aberdeen to Gibraltar on a Vespa PX200
by Craig Ballantyne
Reproduced here by kind permission of Craig (and Simon Cuerden of the Armed Forces Scooter Club)
I had this trip planned for more than a year or so, that on leaving the Army I would ride a scooter from my new home town of Aberdeen to my brothers home in Loja Southern Spain (near Malaga), my plan was to have a search for scooters in Spain and see if it was viable to import Scooters back to the UK to sell on, and as we know the best way to find Scooters is to be riding one!
I decided that my bog standard 4 year old Fire Engine Red, Vespa P200 Disc would be the ideal scooter for the job, reasoning for this I thought I would stand a much better chance of finding any spare parts required in the event of a major breakdown anywhere along my route, than I would if riding my nearly 40 year old Lambretta GP 200.
Kathleen on my bog standard 4 year old Fire Engine Red Vespa P200 Disc
I booked my ferry tickets for early June with an open return, I planed to be back in Scotland for the best rally on the European calendar by far, the Lowlanders SC's Whiskey Galore Rally at Wigton on the first weekend in August, I was determined I wouldn't miss it! The Vespa was packed up with all the kit required for a 6 week adventure to Spain, I made the decision to carry the absolute minimum of spares to save weight, so only the real necessities were packed, (spare cables, gasket set and all the useful Vespa special tools and my usual trusty Lambretta tool kit).
I set off from Aberdeen with a great big grin on my face heading for the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry, the well loaded Vespa was extremely heavy and handled like a well overloaded Tesco shopping trolley, which took quite a while to get used to, we had a steady ride down the east coast of Scotland from Aberdeen to the port of Rosyth just north of Edinburgh, with strange thoughts going through my head of "Do you think we're going to make it girl?", "Do we really care?" "NO not really!! "The Army is paying me for this!!! Awesome!!!"
I made the ferry port in good time and was directed to the motor cycle waiting point, where I joined a line of around 100 bikers, most turning their noses up at me on the little red Vespa, however on seeing the scooter two guys riding old Bonnevilles came over for a chat, they where heading for a Triumph rally in Belgium and invited me to join them that evening in the bar and also to the Triumph rally, I spent the evening having a brilliant laugh with these guys, and found they a had a genuine respect for scooterists and understood our very similar life styles.
Once off the ferry I headed south, the little Vespa running sweet through Belgium, cruising at a steady 90kph as we headed for France, I intended on riding as far as possible with minimum stops which I now know wasn't really a good idea as fuel stations seemed to get further and further apart, however I was carrying two 5 litre reserve cans which proved a real necessity and worked very well as I rode until the main tank was empty, then topped her up and motored on, as I travelled through the night, 24hr fuel stations were getting pretty scarce, I had to resort to using the fuel from my peak stove at one point just to keep me going to the next fuel station! As morning broke I encountered a police road block where I was asked to produce my Certificate of Insurance and breathalysed! No problem though my Footman James Certificate was accepted by the French police and I was on my way again in no time.
I was now clocking up some serious miles, only stopping for fuel and eating French bread as I filled the scoot up, I kept on going until I just couldn't go on any further, stopping late in the afternoon to grab a few hours sleep in a lay-by somewhere in southern France, sleeping beside the scooter I woke to find I had been sleeping only a few feet away from a coiled up snake basking in the sun!! Shit!!!
Back on the road again I rode until late in the evening and set up camp in a lay-by, I had at least another day's ride ahead of me to the Spanish border, so up sparrow's, a quick brew and a look at my map, I had ringed Renteria on the map which I thought should be do-able in a day!! This proved a little ambitious and a long arse numbing ride!! But we managed it!!
I crossed the Spanish border and run along the beautiful west coast for a few kms before heading east into the mountains to find a campsite for the night, I woke to very heavy rain, a quick breakfast and a look at the map, I ringed Madrid where I planned on stopping for the night.
Riding through the mountains was really fantastic and the scenery just breathtaking, the little Vespa taking the long winding climbs in her stride. As we dropped out of the mountains the temperature really soared and the scenery turned to boring barren brown fields with nothing very interesting to look at, it was getting unbearably warm although I now had the roads to myself, arse numbing mile after mile the little Vespa was running beautiful.
We reached Madrid in the intense heat of the afternoon, the traffic was really horrendous, I had to cut my speed down to well below 80 kph due to the extreme heat, I decided to keep on pushing on as far as possible, now heading for Granada and now really bored looking at the horrible brown waste land scenery that hadn't changed very much since I left the Pyrenees mountains in the north, I could now see the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the horizon and decided to keep going with the intention of stopping somewhere around Granada to sleep, it was now getting pretty dark so finding a safe place beside the road wasn't an option, I was now so paranoid about snakes!!
I pressed on through the mountains in the darkness which wasn't the best decision I have ever made!! At least the temperature had dropped though, I reached Loja and my brother's house at around 3am where he had a few ice cold beers waiting for me!! Looking back over the last few days with hindsight it wasn't very clever to travel the length of France and Spain in just 3 days. Doh!!
I used my brother's house as a base for the next week or so as I toured around the Malaga and the surrounding areas searching for scooters while I waited for Kathleen my wife to fly down, I was really sick of the main tourist hotspots by now which were just full of arsehole Brits and Germans on holiday, I met up with Kathleen at Malaga airport, she had flowed down carrying a new tyre for the Vespa which the customs people found a little bit strange!! As soon as Kathleen touched down we headed straight into the mountains and back to the real Spain.
I swapped the worn rear tyre while we waited for the sun to come up as it was far too cold to ride in the mountains during the night in just t-shirts and shorts, we slept for a few hours on an old disused bridge, I woke and had a sudden urge to have a shit, so sticking my arse over the side of the bridge, like you do! I was mid shit just as a group of cyclist passed, well a man's got to shit somewhere!!!
We spent the next two weeks riding through the mountains, camping as we went, this was a really fantastic time, the well loaded little PX 200cc motor working really hard as we climbed up the mountains, the front disc brake was brilliant on the long winding descents.
We camped in some really beautiful little villages along the way, the scooter proved to be a excellent way to tour a hot country like Spain, we headed for the ultimate destination for this trip Gibraltar, this really was a fantastic experience, a little piece of the UK in the burning sun, the Vespa climbed the steep roads of the rock without too much trouble, as we reached the very top of the rock, Kathleen jumped off the scoot to let me reverse the scooter in to a parking spot, I felt the bike wobble from side to side as I moved her backwards, I looked behind me to see a rock ape helping himself to all our food strapped to the bike then jumping back into the trees to scoff it all with his pals!! Wee buggers!!!
I dropped Kathleen off back at Malaga airport and then headed due East, I made my mind up I wasn't going to return along the same boring route up through Madrid again, I would travel along the east coast and ride up through Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona, this was a good decision and I really enjoyed the mile after mile of beautiful coast line, until I neared the French border where I was forced to ride along some Spanish then French toll motorways, this was pretty fast but very expensive even on a scooter.
I rode through some of the worst down pours I have ever experienced returning through France, and couldn't find a hotel with an empty room to escape the weather, so I was forced to keep on riding until I was out of the rain and could set up camp for the night, I ended up sleeping on a fuel station forecourt for a few hours and woke to beautiful bright sunshine.
The Vespa still running great, took every French mile in her stride heading towards Paris, then on through Belgium to the port of Zeebrugge to catch the ferry back to Scotland, the ferry queue was full of bikers, mainly foreign bikers going on to tour Scotland and Ireland, and British bikers returning from touring all parts of Europe, it felt really great when they came up to me while I waited beside the now filthy little Vespa and asked where I had been, it was fantastic to watch their jaws drop as I replied proudly "Gibraltar", a few real heavy duty bikers took me for a few beers in the bar on the ferry then for a big slap up meal, the full works, and wouldn't let me pay a penny, They just couldn't believe I rode a little red shopping trolley to the furthest southern point of Europe before you reach the African continent.
The Vespa amazed even me, I really didn't expect her to get me all the way to Gibraltar and back without a single problem, she clocked over 11,000 trouble free km's in just 6 weeks, I still have the bruises on my arse to prove it!! It really was a trip of a life time for me, and one I will never forget as long as I live, it was worth every second of my 22 year service in the Army just to have the opportunity to do it, it's great to do what you love and get paid to do it!!!
I forgot to say there are many scooters to be found in Spain, I didn't come across many Lambrettas though and the ones I did were normally very tatty Jet 150/200s still being ridden by old blokes, however Vespas are plentiful and very cheap to buy, lots of old GSs and models I have never came across before. One model that did interest me was the TX 200 a Mk 1 T5 body with a P200 engine which you see all over the place.
My next arse numbing trip is already being planned for 2007, I intend to ride around the entire coast of Italy catching a few European rallies on the way, but this time by Lambretta!! And not on my own, a few scooterists have already shown an interest in riding around Italy with me, I just hope my now rebuilt GP will perform half as good as the little red P200 Disc!!!
I learned a lot of very valuable lessons on this trip and I also learned a lot about myself!! I thank Mr Piaggio and his little red Vespa for looking after me for mile after arse numbing mile, she never missed a beat, and never let me down once, what more could I ask of her? FANTASTIC!!!
"You Only Live Once"
Animals Fae Naboombu SC and AFSC (Scotland)