Round the World on a Vespa Scooter
Forget what you think you know about adventure bikes and travel. Stergios and Alexandra have been riding round the world for the last five years, two-up on a 20-year-old Vespa scooter and are still going…
The plan is as simple as it can get… ride round the world!
In October 2013, I (Stergios) left Greece on my Vespa, rode to Italy and then onto Morocco by boat. From 2013 to 2015 I travelled through 18 countries in Africa.
But then, after meeting (by chance and for the first time) Alexandra in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a successful two-up “test ride” across South Africa and Lesotho, we shipped the scooter to South America in 2015 and have been travelling together two-up ever since.
Our next goal is to ride to Central America and onto the US and Canada. Alaska will be the finishing point for the Americas trip. After that, perhaps over to Asia, maybe Australia and then one day back to Africa where it all started…
- Bike: 2003 Piaggio Vespa PX200
- Years owned: 16
- Miles covered: 125,000
- Top speed: 70 mph
- Years on the road: 5.5
- Countries visited: 45
- Miles on the trip: 50,000 miles
- Years left: unknown
- Petrol: 935 gallons
- 2T Oil: 22 gallons
- Spares: 92 parts
- Beer: 530 gallons
Round the World on a Vespa
The decision to go…
I have always wanted to go on a big journey. Something that would take me away from the limited Greek reality. From the moment I first rode my Vespa, I knew that something had changed.
In Greece, things became more difficult gradually. I still had my job, but I couldn’t manage to gather enough savings or free time. In 2012 my salary dropped dramatically and I lost my job – this was the best thing that could have happened to me.
And also, I realised that I could no longer understand most of my friends because the way we think about life was completely different. The worst thing though – the “spark” – was the exploitation of the gold mines in my home town (Skouries, Halkidiki) and was a huge environmental and economic scandal.
Suddenly, my life became a mess, so I decided to leave everything behind and see the world with my own eyes. The day I started to plan the trip, I had about 20€ in my pocket but I was really lucky: not only did I manage to make some money by selling almost everything I owned (bicycle, other motorcycle, old cell phone etc.) but just before I departed, I was also given back some money that was owed to me from a long time ago.
So that was it, on 27th October 2013 I was onboard my Vespa and heading towards Africa!
Why travel on a Vespa
Some people say that the best bike to set off for a big journey is the bike you already ride. I already knew my scooter’s simple engine, its quirks and the possible problems it could get me into. I was also broke! I had a very limited budget, so my thought was: “If I spend money on a new bike, I won’t have money to travel.” Plus, it does feel great to go against the stereotype of big adventure bikes.
Preparing the RTW Vespa
In short, I took my mechanic’s advice and did no modifications at all. I simply checked the scooter over, bought new tyres, added fresh gearbox oil, loaded the luggage and hit the road.
Vespa luggage system
I chose the traditional and tested way: a front and rear rack (very common accessories sold everywhere), saddle bags (soft panniers) plus some stuff inside the toolbox and between the legs. Pretty standard Vespa set-up. We carry a lot of stuff and this can be an issue sometimes, but we always try to make adjustments and toss the things we don’t really need.
Off roading on a Vespa
Riding off-road is our only option most of the time. In Africa or South America, even the paved roads are in bad shape. When we travel, we rarely take into account the road conditions unless it is an extreme situation. I don’t know if there’s anywhere we can’t go on a Vespa, but there’s many places we managed to get to because we were on it! The small size and the light weight can be an advantage too.
Mechanics, repairs, spares and tools
We haven’t really had any problems. Every part of our scooter is stock, so this means it’s been on the market for decades. It has been tested and is reliable. Our only issues (in some cases) were because local mechanics didn’t know what they were doing and tried to scam us a few times.
We carry a case with spare parts and the tools we may need to fix them. The spare parts we carry are the ones that are most likely to fail at some point and there’s quite a list:
- 1st oversize replacement piston
- Complete 2nd clutch
- Replacements for every bearing and seal in the engine
- Spare gear selector
- Spare shift cross
- Spare shift plunger
- Carb rebuild kit
- Spares for every cable
- Brake shoes and pads
- Spare bulbs
- Couple of sparkplugs
- Spare H/T cable
- Spare sparkplug connector
- Collection of spare connectors for the CDI
- Spare CDI
- Spare clutch and brake levers
- Spare cotter pins and the big nut/washer for the rear wheel
- Bag of nuts, washers, and lock washers for the wheels
- Spare stator
Our scooter hasn’t suffered any major breakdowns. We could fix nearly all the troubles we faced by ourselves with the spares and tools we carry. Even in the DRC where we didn’t have a spare clutch (because it was the second time it got burnt out), our mechanic helped by shipping everything we needed with a courier company. And that was the only time that we had to have spare parts urgently shipped to us.
Besides, we can find spare parts for the Vespa almost anywhere. We have even used cables and parts /accessories from a bicycle store when we had clutch problems in Patagonia. Kitsos’ engine is very simple to repair and maintain (Kitsos is our scooter’s name and is also a very common name for a donkey in Greece).
Riding two up on a scooter
We met for the first time in the Democratic Republic of Congo (where Alexandra was doing fieldwork for her PhD), then again in South Africa and after riding two-up for a month across South Africa and Lesotho, we decided to continue traveling together.
Riding the Vespa with a pillion has its pros and cons – just like everything in life.
We have travelled on two scooters and it was fun, but we enjoy riding two-up more. If you know your partner – and you don’t mind the lack of space – the experience is amazing. Especially when at a slow pace, we can have our visors open and chat, sharing moments on the road. And there’s also another pro we can’t ignore because we’re on a budget and that’s the cost.
Taking it easy
Travelling on such an unexpected vehicle works as an ice-breaker between the local people we meet on the road and ourselves. It makes us feel and look less “serious” so we are more approachable and we feel less uncertainty when we are in completely unknown places.
Our appearance doesn’t shout “wealthy foreigners” so we rarely attract the wrong type of attention. As for the travel itself, we have no option but to go at a slow pace, which means we get to enjoy every place without the temptation of just opening the throttle and flying through. This, of course, can turn our day’s ride into a dull process when we have to cross vast areas of no exceptional interest, like the Argentinian pampa.
When things go ‘wrong’
What’s wrong or right is usually a matter of perspective. When we burnt the clutch in the heart of the jungle of DRC, everything seemed wrong, but after almost a month among the locals across the most remote places with the scooter loaded on various trucks, traveling on indescribable roads under the most surreal conditions, I can’t say that this was wrong.
On the contrary, it was one of the best experiences in my life. Or when we left from Sao Paulo heading towards the border with Bolivia and we realized that something was seriously wrong with our scooter’s engine, we didn’t stop. This put us in trouble and we never reached Bolivia, but now it is one of the stories we remember laughing. Countless times things go wrong, but we always try to benefit from the unexpected and see where this can lead us.
Lessons from the road
This trip is a big school. From the first day until now, almost 10 years later, we keep learning about ourselves and about the world. We don’t consider it an adventure anymore – it’s a way of living. A lifestyle choice that goes beyond a small bike adventure. We have evolved and have changed a lot. We know that whenever we feel we have reached our limits, we can always go further. We have learned that many of the things we believed as necessary for our happiness, just aren’t. We have learned that in any part of the world people are just people and that we have more in common than we realised. We have learned that nothing is guaranteed but we shouldn’t lose faith in life.
The one bit of advice we could give someone planning a trip on a scooter is to not listen to all of the advice people will give them! Especially the discouraging words you may hear.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard “you can’t make it” I would be rich by now. But not only did it not discourage me, on the contrary, it made me stick to my plan and do it anyway.
Everything starts the moment you make the decision to just go. If you listen to your gut and just go for it you’ll be fine (probably). You’ll figure everything else out on your way…
About the authors
We are Alexandra and Stergios, a couple from Greece travelling around the world on a Vespa PX200. Our story started in Greece in 2013. At that time, we didn’t know each other. Different reasons made us leave the country, but we had something in common: the socioeconomic crisis which affected our lives and suffocated us. We first met by chance in the Democratic Republic of Congo and soon after that, we started a “test-ride” two-up across South Africa and Lesotho. The Vespa made it and we discovered that we make a good team. So, from that day back in December 2014, we’ve been travelling together. Our RTW journey is a lifetime project and we made a promise not to stop until we’ve been to every corner of our planet.
Follow Stergios and Alexandra’s incredible adventures online, and check out their awesome book too:
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