A 1,200-mile round trip is not unusual, unless you’re riding a Piaggio scooter and heading to Richmond, Virginia. For Gary Honnert and other members of the Gem City Rollers Scooter Club, that’s exactly what they did the second week of June, to attend the annual scooter convention, AmeriVespa.
“We did about 275 miles each day, and made it there in two days,” Honnert explained. “We rode all smaller roads, primarily U.S. Routes 35 and 50 in Ohio, and U.S. Route 33 in West Virginia and Virginia, and it took us all the way to Richmond.”
Honnert noted that he rarely rides his scooter on the freeway, but sometimes he has to.
“It’s a 350cc scooter, and it’s capable of 80 mph. I’ve had to jump on the freeway for brief stints to connect to other roads, so I’ve had it up to 65 mph but that’s not the way to enjoy riding; I like the back roads,” he said.
Joining Honnert on the ride to Richmond were John Lieberman from Newport, Kentucky, and David McMillen from Englewood. Other Gem City Rollers who attended AmeriVespa were Michael Johns, who now hails from Apex, North Carolina, and Mark Radlinksi of Oxford. This was Honnert’s sixth AmeriVespa event; he has ridden a scooter to Cleveland, Chattanooga, Lake Geneva, Indianapolis and Memphis.
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The ride to Richmond began under gray skies and cool temperatures. Day 1 was uneventful until later in the day when the group rounded a curve on Route 33 in West Virginia and was greeted by a dead deer and a group of large vultures having lunch. After an overnight in Weston, West Virginia, they headed off for the 252 miles to Richmond in dry conditions.
“Route 33 through the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia gave some tight, challenging curves, but it was a fun ride,” Honnert said.
The Vespa Club of America hosts the annual event and is not associated with the Piaggio Group, the company that manufactures Vespa, Aprilla, Derbie, Gilera and Moto Guzzi mopeds, scooters and motorcycles.
On the third day, many in the group took a 20-mile plus ride around “Seven Hills of Richmond”, viewing historic sites, parks and the Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place for three U.S. presidents and the president of the Confederacy. David McMillen’s Suzuki scooter picked up a nail on the ride, and ultimately needed a new tire.
Friday’s ride was a 65-mile affair to the Petersburg National Battlefield Park, the site of a month-long Civil War battle in August of 1864. Friday evening was a Modern Scooter Riders cruise-in.
“Richmond was very cooperative for this event, which attracted over 400 scooter riders,” Honnert said. “They closed off side streets so we could assemble for rides, and helped escort us to get the groups rolling. It was very well organized.”
On Saturday Honnert and Johns rode a self-guided tour of scenic trails along the James River, while plans changed for McMillen and Lieberman. They determined that the weather forecast was a bit too threatening for Sunday and Monday and headed home early.
Honnert and the others attended the banquet on Saturday evening, with Radlinski winning Best Rat Bike for his comic tribute scooter, “Kirby.” Earlier that day Radlinski had also won a restored 1974 Vespa Sprint Veloce in an AmeriVespa raffle.
Awards for the longest solo ride went to a woman who logged 1,400 miles to get to the event. Longest vintage scooter ride went to a man who rode 1,150 miles; the longest club ride went to three riders who logged 2,800 miles en route.
Honnert set out for the trip home alone – something he rarely does on a long ride, but felt confident because he was going back the same way he came.
“I checked the weather radar when I left, and it was fine then, a sunny morning, but all that changed in the afternoon. I was just west of Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Route 33 when I encountered a torrential downpour. I was hardly able to get my scooter off to the side of the road and I was standing about a foot beside it on the edge of deep incline. There was no tree or overpass to get under. It poured, and I couldn’t get the rain covers on my saddle bags so everything I had was soaked,” he explained. “It was quite tense for a little while, but then let up and I made it to Weston.”
Monday’s ride began in light rain, which dogged Honnert off and on all day, with dry roads finally showing up in Washington Court House. After a lunch stop at Bob Evans in Rio Grande, Honnert arrived home – 1,202 miles later, and with lots of soggy laundry to do.
To learn more about the Gem City Rollers Scooter Club, go to Facebook and search Gem City Rollers.