Rouleur Classic

Fire up the Vespa: Pacing Andy Fenn

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Photographs: Tim Lindley

Let’s have a rundown of the essential equipment: machine and sunglasses, make and model.
For motor-pacing, it’s better to use a modern automatic scooter around 125cc. The automatic gearbox gives you seamless acceleration and makes the bike very easy to control. It needs to have enough power to pull away from the rider when sprinting at 70-80kph. Seeing as we’re in Italy it’s got to be a Vespa equipped with windshield. The windshield is integral. You want to be punching a hole in the air that’s big enough for the rider to slot into, recreating the conditions of riding in a bunch at sustained speed. Two wing mirrors are essential, enabling me to keep an eye on the rider’s position at all times. Always check the tyre pressure before starting: it constantly fluctuates in humid places on small two-wheelers.
For the sessions with Andy, I’ve been using a Vespa 125L auto. Because I’m a ponce from Yorkshire, the attire also has to fit the bill. Persol Steve McQueen shades, Barbour Steve McQueen wax jacket and a vintage Bell Jet helmet with original World War Two pilots’ goggles.
The piloting: what do you need to do and what are the golden rules?
The scooter pilot needs to be alert at all times. It’s probably the most important aspect of pacing. The rider trusts you, not only to control the speed, but also the position on the road. You need to choose the lines early, avoiding as many potholes, grates and bumps as you can. Using both mirrors maximises the view you have of the rider and plays a big part of the communication between you. Ideally the pilot is an experienced handler of motorbikes/scooters, but also a cyclist who understands how speeds vary according to road surface and gradient. If you’re doing a two hour session at 50-55kph with a couple of short rises and descents, you should be aware enough to ease off when you go up and speed up as you go down – all the time keeping that twelve-inch gap between yourselves.
Generally the schedule is agreed upon before you start, so you know when the intervals are coming and you know when to keep the speed constant. Maintaining an even speed is another important factor: the whole session needs to be as smooth as possible. The pilot must be able to keep the distance from wheel to wheel the same at all times. You have to trust each other as roads undulate, red lights appear and traffic remains unpredictable. If you’re approaching a red light, accelerate away and towards the side of the road rather than into the middle. Give the rider space and it will also serve as a signal for what’s coming up ahead.
Most cyclists will be aware of the numerous hand signals employed when avoiding obstacles, changing position, slowing down etc. These are also used in motor-pacing to the same effect.
Don’t try and race with the cyclist. Don’t change the pre-arranged schedule in any way. Don’t run red lights, jump stop signs, or pull wheelies. Don’t stand on the seat and bare your arse at the Italian ladies. Don’t forget the cyclist is behind you.
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How does the communication work?
A nod, a wink and a flick of the wrist.
Communication is key. Before the rider is going to break with the scooter, there’ll be a look in the mirror, maybe a pull alongside and a quick word, then a shout and he’s gone. Stay put until he’s away. Then ease off and stay behind the rider out of the way. They’ll let you know when you’re wanted again. This will depend on the length of the interval. Stay alert and aware of traffic around you. A flick of the wrist will mean you’re back on. You need to ease in front of the rider so that they don’t break their rhythm and slot back into the slipstream without expending more effort. This is where handling and experience can be key. If a rider wants to sprint behind the scooter like a lead-out, you accelerate smoothly, not in bursts and not aggressively. He’ll pull off when he’s ready. Don’t try and stay with him, let him go.
Roundabouts, junctions and traffic lights must all be approached and conducted with care. This is where your actions do the communicating. You need to follow the rules of the road as much as any other vehicle. The rider can look after himself and will see the deviations approaching. For the pilot it’s vital to be aware of the rider’s position at all times and getting out of his way is your main concern at moments like this. A clear roundabout and the rider will generally stay close to the scooter unless the curves are particularly severe. Green lights are a no brainer.
What are your roads of choice for motor-pacing around Lucca?
The route we’ve been using is the mainly flat SS439 around the base of the Monte Pisani whose peaks include Monte Serra. It’s a 90-100km route and rises and falls in places, but for the most part it’s wide and flat with some long straight sections once you get away from Lucca. You have a clear view of oncoming traffic lights and junctions and not many one-way systems to negotiate. Another good road is the Freddana SP1 Camaiore road. It has a constant 2-3 per cent incline for close to 20km, then kicks up at the end. It’s a different kind of session to the previous one and can be heavily affected by the wind from mountain or sea, but it’s pretty as a picture and makes me feel like a playboy.

Give us a rundown of the session.
Andy has been doing two hours with five intervals, some sprints and a couple of solo stretches of around ten minutes. He will take off at around 50/60kph and hammer his solo blocks – when this happens you need to be out of his way without moving. He was sprinting in the 70’s and I couldn’t catch him at full throttle on a 50cc Vespa. Don’t forget the rider is the reason and beneficiary of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. They dictate the session and set the numbers. The pilot must simply adhere to the programme and keep the speed and the scooter where it needs to be.
However, I will say this. When Andy goes, he really goes. The scooter can’t quite catch him at first, which is why you need the 125cc. Being on a Vespa getting dropped by a cyclist does not work wonders for your street cred. Even if it is a hot young sky rider.
If you fancy being towed around Tuscany by Tim Lindley, either via combustion engine or, more sensibly, pedal power, get in touch at or at Tim runs guided rides for all abilities, be it groups or individuals, around the Lucca area.
Feature courtesy of 225 at Ciclissimo!

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