James, our MD, adores the little 3-wheeler van that will carry him from John O’Groats to Lands End. He seems to be the vehicle’s favourite person, being the only one who can work the dodgy door and negotiate the adverse-camber-and-steep-hill combination near our local station, and they can often be seen around London delivering chocolates together. We thought it was about time this valiant steed, occasionally laughed at for being a hairdryer/washing machine on wheels, got the appreciation it deserves.
The Rococo van is a Piaggio Ape (pronounced “ah-peh”, Italian for bee), the fat-bodied sister to the Vespa (meaning wasp). The name is as cute as the vehicle but Apes aren’t just pretty. Piaggio started making them in 1948 as a cheap commercial vehicle to aid Italy’s economic recovery after WWII. Originally modified Vespa scooters, Apes are still controlled by scooter handlebars rather than conventional steering wheels. Today they are very common in Italy and India but seem to be mainly used as coffee carts in London. The cabin is really designed for one, but can fit a passenger if you don’t mind being a bit squashed – not such a bad thing in winter because it gets very cold in there! Our Ape doesn’t move very fast (particularly uphill) but its size means it’s incredibly easy to manoeuvre and can park virtually anywhere, making it ideal for delivering in London.
So naturally, we thought it seemed like a good idea to go on a very long cross-country drive.
James’s main problems in the Ape are going to be cold, wind and cushioning. It’s been below zero in the Highlands at night recently so James has shiny new motorcycle gloves to protect his hands, but gusts of wind are a more serious problem as the van is so light that a strong gust in the mountains might knock it right over. Fortunately we have a backup vehicle, so it can be tipped back the right way up if the worst happens! Even if things go smoothly, scooters aren’t generally known for their ride comfort. Imagine driving for 8 hours a day on one… maybe we’ll give him a couple of Rococo print cushions to sit on.
Their progess will be tracked online via SatNav, and James will be sending updates and photos from the trip to the blog. It might only average 25mph but we’re sure that the bond between James and his little engine that thinks it can will see them through the challenge!