Sunday, May 31, 2009

Scooter Resource -- Stella Experience

Recently, I participated in a group ride with the Diner City Scooter Club of Worcester, Ma. I took the opportunity to spend the day on a friend's new Genuine Stella scooter. The Stella is the same body as the 1970's Vespa P200-E. The appearance is nearly identical. The mechanicals are very similar. The Stella boasts a 4 speed manual transmission with the twist to shift mechanism that is so familiar to classic scooterists. A 150 cc two stroke engine provides torquey starts and a top speed of over 55 mph. The long bench seat is standard. Storage is limited to a large glove box and storage for a spare tire. Modern additions to the basic design include electric start and a powerful front disk brake. Many consider the Genuine Stella the best way to purchase a new classic style scooter.
Do not be afraid to buy a used Stella scooter as they are usually very easy and inexpensive to repair. Have your scooter or motorcycle mechanic check the bike out before buying.

The Stella has been popular
enough to convince Piaggio, the Italian company that owns the Vespa moniker, to bring the classic Vespa back to the US market. The Vespa PX 150 and the Stella are very similar machines. The PX 150 costs about $1000.00 more than the Stella. Readers should determine the difference in value.

Oddly, the Stella did not come equipped with a rear view mirror. Many vintage scooterists do not use mirrors. Riders often check traffic behind by twisting their head and shoulders completely around. Some states including Massachusetts require at least one mirror for a motorbike to pass inspection. Many chrome or black powder coat optional racks, guards and mirrors are available to personalize the Stella. Many Vespa modifications will bolt on to the Stella.
My usual ride is a very modern, Honda Reflex scooter (I ride about 9000 miles per year). The Honda is easy and intuitive to ride without any idiosycracies. I have worked my way up from a trouble prone 1977 Puch Maxi Moped, and a peppy,
reliable 2004 Yamaha Zuma (2000 miles in 4 months) a Honda Aero 125 a Bajaj 150, etc....
I am quite comfortable on a small two wheel conveyance.

Start the Stella by gripping the clutch tightly with your left hand and depressing the starter switch with your right thumb. Stella rewards you with a tiger like growl. The classic scooter kick start is still there, but I do not see many riders use it. My Stella starts the first try all day.
With most newer scooterists, the biggest leap in mastering the Stella is to learn the clutch – twist system. The Stella's small body and powerful engine will force the front wheel two feet off of the ground with the slightest coaxing. Practice was rewarded with smooth, fast starts. As a new Stella rider, I often stalled the bike at lights. One time I came to a stop in 4th gear and was unable to shift into first for an entire light cycle. The trick is to shift into first while approaching the stop sign or red light, and hold in the clutch until it is time to go.

To a scooter enthusiast, the Stella is light and responsive. Some riders, who gain their experience on large motorbikes, find the Stella to be unstable. I feel very confident on the little 10” diameter wheels. Even at 60 mph I am in complete control. The stiff suspension passes the texture of the road surface through to the rider much more than the larger Honda Reflex, and allows for sure handling. The Stella twists and turns like New Hampshire's Yankee Cannonball roller coaster as it traverses the winding back roads of rural New England.

The brakes are quite effective. I do not use the foot brake often. An experienced Stella rider said that the foot brake is useful for uphill starts. The hand brake actuates the front disk; it is more natural for me to use and works very well.

At the end of a 10 hour day of riding and schmoozing with scooterists, I reluctantly handed the little bike's key back to her owner and stretch my sore shoulders. It is great fun to spend a day with a living relic.
In summary, the Genuine Stella is a new scooter that is exactly like a classic Vespa with the front brake upgraded to a disc and an electric starter. The fit and finish may not be as high as the Italian job, but the price (under $3000.00) is not as high either.
I recommend 3 upgrades, a more comfortable seat, a chrome rack, and a pair of rear view mirrors. These add-ons will bring the cost of the Stella closer to that of the unadorned Vespa PX150.

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