The Little Italian Cousin, Or Tire Troubles in Three Parts
Since I’m waiting to pick up my beloved Vespa, Bruno, from yet another tire repair, I thought I’d go over some of the tire drama of the past 6 weeks. There’s a few lessons in here, this won’t be a woe-is-me session, promise! But it is going to be a long post. Highlights are marked ***. If you ride on two wheels of any kind, take the time to read this and you may save yourself or a buddy some headaches.
Please note: I am going to “name names” of the mechanics and shops along the way. They were all incredible and not at all the cause of the problems, so please don’t read this that way. This was an accumulation of knowledge and circumstances that allowed me to solve the 2 Vespa tire issues I bring up here. I am truly grateful for the service I’ve received from each shop who has worked on my bike along the journey and want to give credit where due. I am solely responsible for caring for my own bike, particularly since I travel so much that no one shop looks after the bike to get to know it thoroughly.
In June, I traded out my vintage 150cc for the currently owned 2008 Vespa 250GTS. It had ~4000 miles on it, the usual life expectancy of tires, and they had never been replaced as far as anyone knew. First scooter shop looked them over, we decided they could easily make it on my shakedown run from Connecticut to Maine and back. They inflated them and put on a fresh valve stem cover and cap.
37 miles out of town, I’m humming along and come upon a curve and start to hear a metallic sound I didn’t like. I was at the merge of two small highways, so after the merge, I made my way to the shoulder. Good thing, as the tire went flat as I was moving right. (***) Dumped the bike, landed on soft dirt. I was fine, so was Purl and the bike was not really worse for it.
After another rider came along and helped me get the bike up, I inspected the tire and couldn’t find a puncture. I had a compressor with me, but the tire wouldn’t hold air. I realized the valve stem was damaged. Another rider (The amazing Steve, thanks, man!) stopped, conferred with me, went home and got his trailer! The equally amazing people at Scooter Centrale stayed late on a Saturday and said to bring the bike in.
Might as well just do the anticipated tire replacement now. Options given. I believe in getting the very best possible that I can possibly afford. The Michelin City Grips were recommended. Most expensive, but also more than double the rated miles, so it was a good call.
The awesome mechanic, Pete, noticed that the internal component of the valve stem was missing from the original tire. I let him know that I believe I did that when I was trying to fix the tire by the side of the road. So I quickly dismissed this as being the problem. (Might as well put another *** here now!)
As with any new tire, it’s best to go less than 50 mph for the first 50-100 miles or so, to make sure the manufacturer’s outer residue is worn off. So I meandered north, the bike felt a bit weird, but I chalked it up to the coating on the tires. The next morning, determined to get to Maine, I set off. After 50 miles or so, I started to increase speed and nothing felt right. I stopped at a gas station to see if the wheel lugs needed tightening. All was totally fine with the installation.
There is a section of highway with awesome curves that I was looking forward to. The bike felt truly weird at this point, and I could hardly steer right. Plus, it was bouncing all over the place and I had to maintain a death grip on the handlebars Remember, this was a bike I barely knew, so all sorts of thoughts were swirling in my head. It was as if I was driving a different bike from the one I had picked up.
By the time I got to Maine, I had, forgive the visual, actually thrown up from the combination of nerves and jitteriness of the bike. Along the way, I jumped on some Vespa forums and realized about 1 out of every 5 posts about tires referred to a Head Wobble in the Vespa 250 and how different tires affected it. The Michelin City Grips were cited time and again, although there were people who said they solved their wobble problems. Not mine!
The 2 coastal Vespa shops are nowhere near our house in Maine, so I contacted a local motorsports shop, Mike’s Cycle, and they ordered a set of the Continental Zippy II. I know! Cheapest scooter tire on the market, but lots of people were stating this solved their problems. Within a minute of getting back on, the bike felt back to “normal.”
Mechanically unadventurous ride all through the East. Excited for my shop visit and service to Pride of Cleveland Scooters. What a terrific and well stocked shop and service department! They did an oil change and replaced the drive belt (at my asking) but didn’t try to push me toward service that wasn’t needed. The rollers looked good, I was grateful for a very reasonable bill. And lots of fun with the staff for Purl!
Somewhere along the line, I left the rear valve stem cap. I believe in regularly checking tire pressure, at least daily on this kind of long trip. (I now remind myself to put the cap in my pocket, not on the ground) So I asked them to put one on, and they had these cool looking metal valve stem covers and caps in pink! Our favorite shade of it, too. (Oh, for the heck of it, let’s put another set of *** here!)
First time I checked the pressure after that, I noticed the cap was showing the silver under the pink. Noticed… but didn’t really take notice. (***!)
After I left Cleveland, I found a road called Defiance Pike. Some of the most delicious, straight on, two lane highway riding a girl could ask for on Independence Day. I literally screamed and sang my way through 50 miles of awesomeness. Then, in the fashion to which I had grown accustomed, it started to rain. I noticed a sign for a winery and figured it would be better to stop and even just check it out (no drinking while riding!) then to dampen my spirits. As I turned right (***) the tire went flat.
It might have taken me a bit, but when there once again is no puncture, I finally realized it was a valve stem issue. The metal of the new cap was getting more beaten up, so it was hitting on something.
Inflated the tire, it held, I went on my way. Now to a 65mph highway, tire seemed fine, made it easily, came to the exit ramp, and you guessed it, banked right and the tire went flat. Genius that I am, let’s put it all together now… centrifugal force against the overly stiff valve stem was causing it to hit something at just the wrong spot. Inflated, again (sure glad I listened to fellow rider Matt who told me to grab a compressor for my journey!) and it held just enough to get to my hotel for the night. But I knew I was screwed if I didn’t get it fixed.
Do you have any idea just how many motorsports shops closed for the long holiday weekend? I was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, not a small town, and all but the Harley shop was closed. So I decided to bring my baby bike over and see if they would help their little Italian cousin out.
Oh Osborn Harley of Fort Wayne, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
I went in with an idea of what was going on, but definitely wanted the opinion of a pro. Without hesitation, they had me roll the Vespa into their shop and 3 guys went about testing every aspect of the tire rotation. Thankful for the Vespa center stand, they were able to soap it up, roll it around, spin it like crazy… and we all came to the same conclusion. There was nothing wrong with my tire. It was the stiffer than necessary valve stem cover causing the problem. They removed the metal cover and cap and replaced it with rubber. All in all, 45 minutes of meticulous work. Guess what they charged me? A handshake. That’s right. And they added a smile and well wishes for the trip and playtime with Purl.
So grateful they didn’t discriminate against the baby bike!
Nary a problem since, despite checking every 100 miles and riding a bit nervous for a while. Until…
Part 4, I Guess!
The current wait time is due purely to my own stupidity. Nothing else can be blamed when one decides to take I-40 during a monsoon and is forced onto a shoulder with tons of stones thrown from the big trucks. I didn’t get a puncture, I got a nasty slice in the tire. A plug will hold long enough to get off the highway, but a slice will only increase in length along the grooves.
However, I’m happy to say, at this point we had 3000+ miles on the tires and the tread was still plenty deep. I even asked River Rat Motorsports, who retrieved me from the highway rest stop (in epic El Camino style!), to replace both tires while they were at it and they said the front tire was in too good condition to waste with replacing it. (Kudos for giving up potential profit on the repair.) The Continental Zippy Scooter Tires ended up to be a true road worthy tire! Pirelli has discontinued the tire that originally shipped with the bike, so I’m sticking with this brand as long as I can.
*** The saga was long, but I hope you learned some things to keep an eye out for. The valve stem comes incredibly close to the support arm (on my bike, but I’m sure on others) and turning to the right at speed may force them against one another if the valve stem isn’t flexible enough.
The Continental Zippy ended up to be the right choice for this bike. The head wobble is now minimal, the tire has stood up to rain, sun, desert temps and many many miles.
If you are still here…thanks! And let me know in the comments what your tire set-up is and anything you’ve learned along the miles. Certainly if you still have questions, ask me and I’ll see if I can help!