Buying a Vespa in Bali was something I always promised myself I would do one day and a couple of years ago, after we had built our house here, I decided to make good on that promise…
Vespas were the standard village transport prior to the onslaught of the Japanese and their local factories in Indonesia. You will still see them here and there, usually in a fairly original and well-used condition, being ridden by somebody who looks like they have had the bike for ever!
Then there are the feral versions, which are a kind of Mad Max meets a bikie gang – Indonesian style. These Vespas have often been customized beyond recognition using parts that appear to have been found at the side of the road. They are also ridden great distances to rallies around the vast archipelago that is Indonesia.
My search for a Vespa took me to AJ’s Scooter in Kuta – not much of a search really as AJ’s is on Sunset Road which is the main road from the airport out to Seminyak, near where we live, so I had seen the shop and its display of Vespas many times.
I chose AJ’s for two reasons – first of all because they seemed (by Bali standards…) to have a pretty slick operation and knew their Vespas. Secondly I did not really know anybody else who could source and rebuild a Vespa for me in Bali, a situation that has now changed but you will have to wait for another post on that!
At the back of AJ’s Scooter shop is the workshop and paint booth, which they gave me a tour of as part of the sales process… By Bali and general Indonesian standards the workshop is what you would expect – a few talented guys sat on the floor crafting stuff together in classic Asian style.
The rudimentary workshop aside, you would have to agree that the finished product looks pretty good and there were several similar sidecar outfits either in the final stage of assembly or being boxed up for shipment to their new overseas owner.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this was where I made my first mistake… As I have come to realize, virtually all of AJ’s business is from people in other countries who are looking for rebuilt or customized Vespas and find his website. Nothing wrong with that as such, and I think they do a pretty good job of rebuilding old Vespas, but I thought I was buying a bike I could use legally in Bali and agreed to a $250 fee for all the local paperwork to be done properly – a princely sum when the average monthly salary in Bali is about $100.
It’s a long story but it just is not possible to do that with old bikes such as the 1963 Vespa I bought. There is simply no way to get the bike registered in my name, which is not unique as virtually all bikes owned by foreigners in Bali are registered in a local person’s name.
So that was where I landed with all that – the Vespa is now registered with a third party and I have come to terms with it all…
Which brings me to the next issue – originality… I thought I was buying a 1963 Vespa, but two years on I have learned that I actually have a 1963 frame and panels with a 1983 engine. All this despite being shown what appeared to be matching frame and engine numbers!
So “caveat emptor” – buyer beware… All is not what it seems and if you are looking for a completely original classic Vespa I very much doubt you will get one in Bali – you might think you are like I did, but the reality is what you will get is something that looks like a classic.
2.5 years on I still love the look of my red and white “1963” Vespa… It has been pretty reliable overall and is great for getting around locally once you come to terms with the lack of any significant braking capability!