How Many Gears Does a Vespa Have? Posted in: Motor Scooters – Tags: ,

In this article, let’s talk about the gears in one of the most popular vintage motorcycles – the Vespa! Have you ever wondered how many gears a Vespa has? Here’s all that you need to know.

A Vespa is an  example of classic engineering on a scooter with a timeless design. Its gearbox still uses the same setup since 1944. It is composed of either three (3) or four (4) gears. This gearbox design is still used by small & large-framed bikes, and wide-body bikes, along with modern Vespas. In this article, you are going to learn about Vespas, how they work, and their impact in modern pop culture.


Is a Vespa a Motorcycle?

Scooters and motorcycles are both two-wheeled vehicles with engines. Riding a motorcycle is usually a little bit complicated compared to scooters. They are usually bigger and faster. Scooters, on the other hand, are more fuel-efficient, easier to maneuver, and cheaper!

Vespas are scooters produced by Piaggio & C. SpA, an Italian motor vehicle company. The very first model was patented in 1946. Early Vespa scooters are well-known for their scooter’s flat floorboard, bulging front mudguard & splash protector, and enclosed covering on its engine. This prototype has become the base design of all next-generation Vespas through the years, with very subtle modifications from each model.


The Vespa Story: How Did It All Begin?

The Piaggio family was in the business of manufacturing aircraft before World War II sparked. Rinaldo Piaggio, the founder, and owner of this company made bomber planes for Italy’s allies. 

After the war, Italy’s industries were profoundly affected due to the bombings. Even the roads were in a dreadful state. Many manufacturing facilities were in ruins, including Piaggio’s bomber plane plant, and the country’s economy struggled.

Enrico Piaggio, a second-generation owner (and son of Rinaldo Piaggio), chose to veer the company into another path. He thought of producing two-wheeled vehicles that are cheap, dependable, and accessible to every struggling Italian who needs to move around, despite the horrendous condition of their roads.

They filed the patent for the Vespa on April 23, 1946, at the Central Office for Inventions, Models, and Makes at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in Florence, Italy. The patent was approved in December.

Vespa’s public debut was at the Milan Fair in 1946. Only fifty units sold during that event. When installment payments became a trend in the country, Vespa sales began to take off!


The Vespa Motorcycle Design

In 1944, Enrico Piaggio’s engineers made a prototype motorcycle with a bodywork that encloses the drive train, with a statuesque mud guard on the front. It has the controls equipped on the handlebar of the scooter. It was officially named MP5 (Moto Piaggio No. 5). They nicknamed it “Paperino” or “Donald Duck” in Italian. Enrico Piaggio is not pleased with the design.

He then hired the services of the Corradino D’Ascanio, an aeronautical engineer,  to revamp the MP5. With D’Ascanio’s experience of designing light-weight aircraft frames, he proceeded with his design. He had no aberrations about how a motorcycle should look. Being crafty and resourceful, he made use of the spare parts available at the plant.

In his design, D’Ascanio mounted the engine on the side of the back wheel, with the wheel axle driven straight into the transmission. This unit has a rod frame with tension-bearing metal outer panels, which allows for a flat foot-rest design. This design has no center section like the Paperino.

Its design also included isolated front suspensions. It also has convertible front and rear wheels. They were locked on dock axles, which also included an extra wheel. 

It has controls straddled on the handlebar, an enclosed bodywork, and a tall splash guard on the front, just like the Paperino. It is officially named the MP6.

The moment Enrico Piaggio saw the prototype, he shouted, “Sembra una vespa!” The sound of the engine and its looks resembles very much like a wasp; hence, it was nicknamed “Vespa.” (Vespa means “wasp” in Italian.)

The attention to aerodynamics is undeniable in the design. The Vespa is also one of the first vehicles to make use of a single-shell construction, where the body is a vital part of the chassis.


The Vespa Gearbox

The Vespa gearbox is composed of six parts:

  • Crankshaft
  • Clutch
  • Primary Gear
  • Christmas Tree Gears
  • Individual Gears
  • Output Shaft

These parts make up a group of components with different functionalities. The crankshaft is connected to the pistons. The layshaft holds the Christmas tree gears. These gears make up the different speeds whenever you’re driving a scooter or a motorcycle.

The input shaft or the Christmas tree gears are linked to the gears of the transmission. The transmission shaft is directly hooked to the rear wheel of the Vespa. These components either act as a starter or speed selector.

There are three main components in a Vespa Gearbox:


The Primary Drive

It is the component where a small gear links to the drive plate of the clutch. It is paired with circular-cut gears and is engaged in the input shaft. 


The Input Shaft

The input shaft has three (3) or four (4) gears assembled into a single piece. It is sometimes called a ‘Christmas Tree’ gear. At the end of this conduit is the kickstart gear.


Output Shafts/Separate Gears

These are gears that mesh with the input shaft, or the Christmas tree gear. A small selector engages a single gear. It is the end drive. An assembled cross independently bolts each gear turn to the spinning output shaft.

It is sturdily attached to the back wheel. All the gears spin when the scooter is running. The shaft drives only one gear at a time, as it turns freely on the output shaft. The metal cross goes up and down the turnout shaft as the rider squirms the grip on the scooter’s bars.


How Does the Vespa run?

The engine works by engaging Kickstarter. This action will spin the gear of the Kickstarter located on the layshaft. Once it starts to spin, the crankshaft will start moving the pistons inside, and with a spark coming from the spark plug, the engine will begin to run on its own.

Once the engine has engaged, the clutch connects to the cogs that drive the different gears. Once a rider grips the clutch lever on the handlebar, it allows the smooth transition to the various gears, allowing the rider to choose different speeds as the Vespa runs.


Vespas in Modern Pop Culture 

Because of its unique design, Vespas has become very popular all over the world. Many urban commuters chose to own Vespas because of its versatility, along with the increasing parking problems for car owners. 

Vespas are very hip scooters; people all over the world began restoring classic Vespa models! These Vespas are not only famous in Europe and the US, but it is also exported to different parts of Asia, particularly in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

One of the most significant turning points in Vespa History was in 1952. It was when actress Audrey Hepburn rode on Gregory Peck’s Vespa in the popular movie “Roman Holiday.” In the movie, these two lovebirds took Vespa for a ride on the streets of Rome. It resulted in a burst in sales of 100,000 units! 

Many famous personalities owned Vespas, namely Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Dean Martin, Abbe Lane, and many more.

During the period of the Cold War, the Soviet Union reverse-engineered, reproduced, and sold their version of a Vespa. They called it a Vyatka. Its production was unauthorized, and its production was withdrawn after the protests made by Piaggio.