First and foremost you need to know what size tyres you need. It may sound simple, but unless you’re dealing with a reputable scooter shop that knows what you want when announcing “I want two tyres for a Vespa P-range please mate,” you are likely to be questioned about their dimensions.
If you’re renewing the rubber on an old school scooter you’re likely to be looking at 3.00 or 3.50 x 8 or 10. But then you have obscurities such as the early Vespa smallframes and J range Lambrettas for example, so it’s always best to check first. If you’re trying to alter the gearing on your classic scooter then a 4.00 x 10 will fit the back end of a Lambretta if you grind the bump stop off. There is far less room at the rear of a Vespa for this type of trickery and it oftens ends in an off-centre wheel too.
Modern scooter owners should refer to their owner’s handbook because tyre sizes can change within the same model for different engine capacities, as well as differ between front and rear. Don’t take anything for granted.
Finally, for any old schoolers wanting to jump aboard a 100/90 x 10 wagon, Sticky’s Lambretta manual translates these new tyres into Lambretta and Vespa language for you.
Pretty patterns,different compounds
I’ll admit that in my youth if I could get a tyre for less than a tenner I considered that a good deal. If I recall, one in particular lasted many years, partially because the compound was so firm it never wore down, and also coz I was too scared to ride far on it! The reality is that tyre companies spend a lot of money, time and effort getting tyres to work properly, so you want to be buying them according to your riding needs and not just because you think they look nice!
Different treads cope with different terrains, specialising in one area or another. Tyres with few grooves and very rounded profiles are often referred to as semi-slick as they are based on completely smooth racing tyres. A good semi-slick tyre will be manufactured from a soft-ish compound which heats up quickly and sticks to the road pretty well, and together with the profile will allow for faster riding and cornering. On the negative side, it won’t do well in the rain and will wear out quickly. On the other hand, a poor quality semi-slick will look the part, but the compound will be hard and it’ll probably slide and then throw you off if you try to ride like Barry Sheene.
Tyres with a larger amount of more intricate grooves are usually designed for maximum water dispersion, the idea being to keep as much rubber in contact with the road as possible when riding in the rain. Again, a poorly designed tyre may look pretty, but it is less likely to work well in the rain leading to potential aquaplaning. Not good.
There are plenty of modern day tyres that use a classic style tread pattern, allowing your old scooter to retain its looks but without compromising safety. For that reason the advice is that you don’t buy New Old Stock tyres. It’s likely that their structure will not have aged well. Whatever claims the seller may make about the tyre’s storage over the last 40 years or so, if they were meant to last that long then the likes of Pirelli, Ceat and Michelin would still have a manufacturer’s warranty on them. Which they don’t, so don’t be tempted unless your scooter is a museum piece, never to turn a wheel on a road again.
And while we’re on classic tread patterns, please remember that you need to look good going around corners as well as in a straight line, so don’t go buying those traditional tread tyres with 90-degree corners instead of a curved profile.
Writing on the wall
The numbers and wording on the side of the tyre contain a whole heap of information. Firstly, there’s the tyre manufacturer’s name and the brand of tyre. There should also be a reference number relating to where and when it was manufactured and whether it’s tubed or tubeless (tubeless tyres can be used with inner tubes, but tubed tyres cannot be run tubeless). The tyre size will also be shown, and then the other numbers will be load and speed rating. You need to check these with the retailer before purchase to make sure that the tyre is suitable for your particular scooter, and please note that any particular model can have a number of ratings depending on what scooter it was designed for. There should also be an ‘E’ mark stating it is approved for use on European roads. If not, walk away.
The final word
Whether you are braking or accelerating, cornering or straight lining, popping out for a pint of milk or touring around Europe on your scooter, there are only ever two small patches of tyre that are in contact with the road. No matter who built your engine, how nice your clothes are, or what theme your custom paint job is based around, the tyres are the most important part of your scooter, so choose them wisely and maintain them well.