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Riding the Vespa from Milan to Tokyo

Created by Dietrich Limper at 14:05 on May 18, 2021

FROM MILAN TO TOKYO ON A VESPA

Fabio Cofferati will try to repeat the historic journey that Roberto Patrignani made to the Olympic Games in Japan in 1964.

In 1964, the XVIII Summer Olympic Games were held in Tokyo, Japan. One man dressed up as a motorized torchbearer that year and set out on a very special journey: the Italian Roberto Patrignani. He rode from Milan, on a 150 cc Vespa, to Tokyo in 85 days, covering 13,000 kilometers. At his destination, he presented Daygoro Yasukawa, President of the Japanese Olympic Committee, with a trophy donated by the Vespa Club d'Europe. A small contribution to the international understanding between the Japanese and Italian nations. Roberto Patrignani left this earthly world in 2008, but his spirit is still in the books he left behind: Stories of dreams and adventures that have also infected other people ...

One of them is Fabio Cofferati, who wants to make that journey again 57 years later. The 44-year-old Italian from Salsomaggiore Terme will set off from the Piaggio Tower in Milan on June 13, following in Patrignani's footsteps. However, he will have to change the route considerably, as a trip through Iraq, Iran and Syria is currently impossible for geopolitical reasons. He will travel much further north, but more about that later, as well as about the Vespa that will accompany him on this trip. A similar model to the one Patrignani used in 1964, embellished by artist Luca Moretto. And he too would like to present a gift from the Vespa Club d'Europe to the Japanese IOC.

 

START: PIAGGIO-TOWER, CORSO SEMPIONE

 

SIP: How did you get the idea to plan such a trip?

Cofferati: I've been riding a Vespa since I was thirteen. When I was 21, I started participating in rallies, which got me more and more attached to the Vespa culture. With all the different aspects that this passion can have: Reading, traveling, movies, restorations and memorabilia. At some point one of Roberto Patrignani's books fell into my hands, who made an epic achievement. What I liked about Patrignani is that he didn't write a mere travel diary, as many do, but packed into his story feelings, emotions and even moments of discomfort. A book that takes you along and at the same time is a journey into his soul. Who doesn't dream of having an experience like that? So my inspiration comes from Patrignani's Milan-Tokyo trip of 1964. I'm not looking for fame and glory, but for an inner experience. The real spark came from the journalist Valerio Boni, who reminded me a few years ago of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and that it would be nice to repeat the feat of 1964. That's when I started organizing this trip.

SIP: Tell us something about the itinerary.

Cofferati: I will leave from my home in Salsomaggiore Terme on Saturday, June 12, reaching Milan in small stages. The next day at 12:00 sharp I will leave from the same place where Roberto Patrignani started in 1964: from the Piaggio Tower in Corso Sempione. From there I will cross Brianza, then I will go along the eastern shore of Lake Como. I will stop in Mandello, the town where Patrignani lived, and I will do a section together with his son. He will ride the original Vespa of the first Milan-Tokyo trip. From Chiavenna I will enter Switzerland and the first stop will be in Chur in the canton of Grisons to meet the local Vespa Club. In Germany, I want to be at SIP Scootershop on June 14 at noon. This will be followed by Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and finally I will enter Russia. I should be in Moscow on the fifth day of the trip. In the Russian capital I will meet my friends from the Vespa Club Moscow. From there, after another two days, I arrive in Kazan, where I am expected by a crazy man who often travels around the world in eco-cars. I don't know if he will be able to join me for a part of the trip, but in any case I will be immersed in the Russian Far East and I hope to arrive in Vladivostok in three weeks. From the port on the Pacific Ocean I will embark on a ferry to Japan, where I will first visit Hiroshima, Osaka and of course Tokyo. Together with the Vespa riders of The Land of the Rising Sun we will make some small tours and visit the places where Patrignani had himself photographed 57 years ago.

SIP: How do you plan to solve any difficulties that may arise?

Cofferati: Of course, you can plan everything on a trip like this, but things turn out differently. Mechanical or health problems, bureaucracy, whatever - all plans are quickly rendered obsolete. Fortunately, I can also improvise and will take some spare parts with me. If the damage cannot be repaired somehow, I will still come to Tokyo. As for health, I will have medicine with me. I am diligently cramming some phrases in different languages to be able to ask for hotels or information.

 

In the workshop of Fabio Cofferati

ALWAYS ALERT, MANY BREAKS

SIP: Who helps you with the organization?

Cofferati: No one helps me, I did almost everything myself and without sponsors. I assembled the Vespa, planned the trip and gathered a lot of information with some friends. I would like to mention Luca Moretto, who accompanies the project with sympathy and enthusiasm and helps me with public relations, putting me in contact with many associations.

SIP: This is not the first time you have ventured out on a Vespa ride. Tell us about your previous trips.

Cofferati: Since I became a member of the Vespa Club of Piacenza, I participated in many rallies until I won the Italian Vespa Turismo Championship in 2003. After that, I raised the bar and started taking longer and more adventurous trips. One of the most important was a honeymoon trip with my ex-wife on a Vespa sidecar: we set off from Salsomaggiore and crossed all of France, then embarked and continued to Ireland and England. On this trip I had a technical problem that forced me to abandon the vehicle to recover it years later. Another important trip was the one in the summer of 2016: to the North Cape in 18 days on a 1954 Vespa.

SIP: Back to Milan-Tokyo, what worries you most about this trip?

Cofferati: The thing that worries me the most is having an accident. I am aware that it is a dangerous trip, and since I have two small children and a wife, everything should go smoothly if possible. I am willing to take the risk, but I will not look for the danger. I will try to be as careful as possible to minimize the risks. I must do everything to travel rested, and if I feel tired, I will definitely take a break.

SIP: How will you cope with the loneliness in the middle of sheer endless Siberia and what will you do to keep your concentration?

Cofferati: When I travel, I usually think. I don't use headphones to listen to music because I prefer to listen to the engine to detect problems early. On a Vespa, you ponder a lot. I can look at the trees, count the miles or look at everything at the side of the road. My motto is: Always be alert and take lots of breaks!

SIP: Many people can't even make such a trip for work or family reasons. How did you manage to arrange it?

Cofferati: This is a trip that many people could dream of. Someone who has three months to spare usually goes on a trip to other, less remote places, like a tour of European capitals or a coast-to-coast trip in the United States. I think that's a trip with some depth. I like being out in nature and especially the wild nature of the Nordic countries. I work as a bus driver for school children and have the three summer months off. As soon as school stops, I will pack my bags and leave for this adventure. I will then return to Italy at the beginning of September and resume my normal job. Our children are at a summer camp to make time easier for my wife as well.

SIP: And what are the plans for the time after Tokyo?

Cofferati: First we have to get to Tokyo! It will not be the ultimate journey of my life, because the one journey of life does not exist, as life itself is a journey. This is a phase in my life where I have the opportunity to grow and get to know myself better. During the trip, I can also think enough about what I want to do after Tokyo. I tell everyone that after that I will cut back and pull the oars into the boat to rest, but I actually have other travel plans already. I've promised to devote more time to my kids and family, but I'm not going to stop riding Vespa.

But now we come to Fabio's companion on the long journey - his Vespa. We already know what it looks like, but what has been changed and installed? An overview.

 

DATA SHEET VESPA „MUGEN“: 150 VBB2, YEAR 1963

THE CHASSIS
The base for the scooter was in need of heavy restoration. Leg shield and step plate were completely replaced. The step-through was reinforced inside the tunnel by means of 3 mm plates. The stiffener behind the leg shield was also reinforced and replaced with a wider version. Thick washers were additionally welded onto the mounting points of the engine crosshead. Two plates were welded to the handlebars from below to provide reliable wind and weather protection.

Behind the leg shield a 10 liter tank from the SIP program was mounted. An additional luggage compartment and rack were added in the step-through. To be able to vary the position of the legs while riding, there are also a couple of additional footrests.

Instead of the standard tank, a model from PLC with a capacity of 10 liters is mounted. Both tanks are connected via a T-piece and ensure an even supply of gasoline by means of a vacuum pump. The 20 liters total volume thus achieved means a range of 400 km.

The fork is original, but was also reinforced and equipped with a SIP spring and a shock absorber adjustable in compression.

Very special are brakes and rims constructed: Front and rear parts of the Sprint models allow the use of 10 inch brake pads. The brake drums and rims are custom-made by a company from Venice, which usually equips rally cars. They allow, similar to the „Seigiorni“ models, the use of 8 inch wheels over the brake mechanism of the 10 inch models.

A Bitubo shock absorber is used as the rear. The frame mount of the shock absorber is reinforced in the frame with a stainless steel plate to distribute the loads more evenly.

The stand is reinforced with aluminum feet from SIP, the rear splash guard with Italian flag a reminiscence of Patrignani's 1964 trip.

The seat is a swinging saddle from SIP. This was also reinforced with a custom frame and refined with the backrest of an office chair.

Further for the journey 7.5 liters of engine oil, 2 spare wheels and a 2 liters spare tank were mounted. In addition to a SIP Classic bag for small parts, four travel bags with a total volume of 110 liters, on luggage carriers front and rear, go on the trip. Two additional headlights can be mounted on the windshield frame. A digital SIP speedometer provides information about the cruising speed.

The left side hood and the fender were painted by the artist Luca Moretto in the style of the „Vespa Venice“. A Vespa 50, which is exhibited in the collection of the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera.

And this is what it looks like, the finished Vespa „Mugen“

THE ENGINE
The engine was completely overhauled and rebuilt to use a PX gearbox including a stronger primary.

Welding was done at the level of the cylinder base to allow the use of a cylinder with boost port. The connection to this port was made in the case and adapted to the VMC aluminum cylinder.

Power is transmitted to the Crimaz PX Lusso/Arcobaleno gearbox via SIP crankshaft, Pinasco clutch and 24/63 primary ratio. The engine is supplied with gasoline/air mixture via Pinasco VRX-R carburetor and air box.

With this setup, 23 hp should allow for a comfortable cruising speed.


Those who want to follow Fabio Cofferati on his journey can do so on Facebook: Ancora in Vespa da Milano a Tokyo

With special thanks to Guido Guerrini.

Dietrich Limper
Dietrich Limper

Dietrich is content editor at SIP Scootershop. He's also an avid geocacher, poker player and supporter of the not really successful football club Bayer Leverkusen.