Words: Carl Burroughs (originally a member of Beverley Scooter Club)| Photographs: Carl Burroughs and Ashwin Goswami
In my humble opinion, the Macallan 15 is one of the finest whiskies money can buy. It has also been a contributing factor to some of my best and worst decisions in life. Like the one to ride a 60-year-old Vespa’s from New Delhi to the Taj Mahal…
I live in a beautiful seaside town on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. We have a great local scooter club, which is predictably called the Sunshine Coast Scooter Club.
We have the usual ride-outs, show’n’shine’s, we attend the once a year Australian National Scooter Rally and we drink beer. However, myself and local Vespa dealer Scott Macken have long wanted to spice things up a bit, so in 2017 we formed the Crazy 88 Scooter Club, which is a nod to the days of gymkhanas and the current VespaCross movement.
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For our first event, we fitted knobby tyres to our PXs and headed out to do 88 miles of off-road riding on local forest tracks. We had 10 scooters turn up, a heap of fun and one rider hospitalised with a major ‘off’ – so we figured we’d got off to an inspiring start.
Scott prefers bourbon, but he is happy to share some scotch with me now and again and on one such evening we were discussing what we should do for the second Crazy 88 outing.
Earlier in 2017, a bunch of us had ridden around Nepal on old Royal Enfield motorcycles and Scott and I had committed to riding Enfields around Northern India as part of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride 2018 (DGR).
Slightly under the influence of Scotland’s finest, we decided that the next Crazy 88 should be in India after our DGR ride, so we instantly called our contact in India – a legend of a man called Buddhi. Buddhi had ridden with us around Nepal and although he is very modest, we have a sneaky feeling he is some sort of Indian royalty as he only has to say a few softly spoken words and make a few hand gestures and stuff just happens.
In our slightly inebriated state we managed to describe what we wanted to do and asked Buddhi if it was possible for him to find us some vintage scooters to ride. His response is something you may want to remember if you are every travelling to India, which is if you are happy to ‘flash some cash’ just about anything is possible.
So, a date was set, a route of 240km from the centre of Delhi to one of the Seven Wonders of the World was agreed and Scott and I celebrated by finishing the bottle – job done.
Over the coming months, we put the word out about our adventure and we ended up with another five lunatics agreeing to join Scott and I, so we needed a total of seven scooters.
With vintage scooters still in high demand, whether it be bodged up exports to unsuspecting novices or for café displays, seeing vintage Vespas and Lambrettas in use in India is now a rarity. However, beaten up LMLs are everywhere and this is what we expected Buddhi to supply us with and quite frankly we would have been happy with these.
The PXs we take off road back in Oz are all pretty ratty, so we felt some LMLs with a million miles on would be in keeping with our theme. So, you can imagine our surprise when seven brightly coloured late 1950s fully restored VNAs with recent 150 motors fitted, turned up.
Initially we were delighted and with the all the excitement of a child in a sweetshop who has found a £10 note in the street and plans to spend every penny, we rode around our hotel car park in a crazed fashion, much to the bemusement of onlookers. As with every night we spent in India, we ended the day with a few liquid refreshments.
Buddhi likes to keep our trips intriguing and is generally on the secretive side, but after a couple of large bottles of Kingfisher, he told us the story of where the scooters had come from. These scooters were newly restored and had never been ridden.
They were already sold and heading to a dealer in Copenhagen, but when the Indian owner of the scooters found out he could make a bit of extra rupees by renting some of them to a bunch of mad westerners, the temptation got the better of him.
Breakfast consisted of the usual choices, but with a such big day ahead, I went with Elwood Blues’s favourite of ‘white bread toasted’. Initially the early morning traffic was quite light – well, for a city with 27 million inhabitants – but it soon became apparent how the day was going to unfold. Not more than five kilometres into the journey we had our first breakdown, the failure of a stator plate – the first of three stator plate replacements.
The first 50km consisted of a never-ending stream of mechanical issues. We had seizures, cables constantly needing adjusting and my orange beast decided its electrics would burst into flames. The owner of the scooters had very wisely provided us with a mechanic and a back up vehicle.
The mechanic was amazing and could strip down and rebuild these Vespas in minutes and have them limping along again. With an income of just $20 per week, I was tempted to see if I could import him just to look after my collection, but someone mentioned that William Wilberforce had worked very hard to wipe out slavery, so I did not peruse the idea.
By late morning and with less than a quarter of our journey completed, the scooters stopped breaking down and we started getting some miles under our belts. We will have done the Copenhagen recipients a huge favour by doing this trip as our awesome mechanic fixed many of the glitches these scooters had, but the fact remains that they were very pretty bodged up pieces of crap.
On one of our frequent stops Scott recommended that 55kph would be the optimum speed to avoid any more seizures, so with only my speedo working, I led the pack at a stately pace.
The plan was to get to the Taj Mahal in time for the expected stunning sunset and get some photos of the scoots with the world’s most famous mausoleum in the background. After 12 hours in the saddle, we finally reached Agra and raced through the streets like mad, but sadly, the sun was almost gone and the authorities turned us away from the entrance, so we settled on a nearby laneway, which still provided a backdrop of the Taj.
So, we had completed our challenge – well not quite, as we had the task of riding back through Agra to our allotted hotel before we could finally have a rest. This proved the most interesting 40 minutes of the day as by now it was pitch black and none of the scooters had any lights that worked.
So, we said a little prayer to the Hindu God of Travel (Ganesha) and set off through dusty streets trying to hang on to the tail-lights of our support vehicle. It was hilarious, dodging all the rickshaws, Tuk-tuks, trucks and pedestrians, but Ganesha had been listening and we managed to make it to our hotel.
We did not have the courtesy of getting changed, so the other guests at the hotel had to put up with a bunch of rather smelly, dirty scooterists downing a few rounds of delicious Indian pale ale and recounting the stories of the day.
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