In case my wife is reading this, it isn’t a one-night-stand type of romance with somebody. Honest. This romance reference is different.
I walk down the steps of my personal jet and onto the hot tarmac of the Barcelona International airport. When I say ‘my personal jet’, what I actually mean is my easyjet flight. Easyjet claim to provide a personal service, so I’m not technically wrong with my statement, it is just that in reality, I’m one of about 250 personal flyers on that flight in. Anyway, it is June, about 5pm and it is bloody hot.
I have been instructed by my ‘Barcelona contact’ to take a taxi from the airport to a certain hotel in the middle of this fabulous Catalan city. I do as instructed. The taxi driver speaks better English than he does in taking notice of all of the kamikaze electric micro-scooter riders that are weaving in and out of pretty much anything and anybody, on the road or the pavement. I check my seat belt is fastened securely as it’s more likely to be used on this journey than the easyjet seatbelt was. Due to a strange road layout, the taxi driver drops me off close to the hotel and instructs me to use the pedestrian crossing to get to the other side of the road to where the hotel is. I step out onto hot tarmac once again. I let my taxi driver race off into the traffic, and then cross the road. Safely.
I’m greeted outside the hotel by my ‘contact’ who is standing beside 2 scooters. As he lives in the city, and the best way to travel is by scooter, he’s ridden one down and got one of his daughters to ride down on another one, and for ME! His daughter has disappeared into the city chaos somewhere. We greet warmly and my ‘contact’, who I can now introduce as work colleague, good friend etc etc, tells me to check-in and get back out as my scooter is waiting, which I do.
I step out of the hotel onto hot tarmac (again) and my friend points to the well used and abused Honda scooter that has been ferried down for my personal use. Personal jet and personal scooter all in under 2 hours. Good huh? The scooter I’m on is a family favourite and used by nearly everyone. As it’s just been used by one of my friends’ daughters, it obviously needs filling up with petrol. I notice this when I put the key in the ignition, turn it on, pull in the brake lever and stab the starter button. Every moving part on the scooter wakes up dramatically, except the fuel gauge because it’s nearly empty. My friend shrugs his shoulders and says that there’s enough to get us to a nearby garage.
With the little 125cc four stroke engine running, I get seated. The black, vinyl seat is as hot as the tarmac as it has been standing in the sun. The strap of my borrowed helmet is checked, just like the taxi safety belt, and my friend indicates that I should follow him. He’s riding an old 125cc two stroke Honda, which is his favourite scooter and it also shows signs of years of good use, but it accelerates away from traffic lights better than anything else on the road. It is about 7pm in Barcelona and therefore rush hour. This is a good thing if you like riding motorcycles or scooters, because the road is full of exciting mobile chicanes. Each one needs to be tackled differently and bearing in mind the power of the scooter engine, slowing down isn’t efficient as the little Honda engine needs to be kept at a good speed, so not using the brakes keeps up forward momentum.
After about 3 streets of dodging moving things, racing away from traffic lights and staying glued to the rear wheel of that little Honda in front of me, I find myself smiling from one side of the open face helmet to the other. I check my reflection in a shop window as we’re waiting for the lights to change to green, and the reflection of me really is smiling. This is my first visit to Barcelona ever, so I have no clue where I’m going, but I am massively enjoying what in reality, is a true baptism of fire type of induction into riding around the city on two wheels.
We move so fast that there isn’t even much time to use the indicators, we just look around and turn. After 5 minutes, we pull into a gas station and flip up both scooter seats to reveal the petrol caps and top them both up with petrol. I stab the starter button again and the fuel gauge needle jumps into action like the rest of the parts on the scooter. My friend points to the mountains overlooking the city and informs me that it is our destination, and to stay glued to his rear wheel.
So far, I’ve done less than 2 kilometres on the (very) hot seat of this scooter, but as I have also being going at a speed to test tyres, brakes, the horn etc, I’m now as comfortable and confident on it as a certain local boy, M. Marquez is on his Honda. The traffic decreases a bit as we head up hill, which means that our speed increases. The road surface is ‘mixed’, which means that I have to watch for every change in the surface whilst also staying glued to my friends Honda, and whilst watching everything else going on around me. I don’t think my eyes have blinked in the last two kilometres such is the energy going on around me.
About halfway up the hill, we negotiate a 90 degree, uphill, left hand turn. Taken nearly flat out on the scooter, it would have been amazing. However, two cars had already ‘connected’ with each other on the corner and were stationery in the middle of the road. They had been joined by a Police car, which had also parked in the middle of the road. There was a small crowd of people also standing in the middle of the road with the cars, and all discussing what had happened and who’s fault it was. The Policeman seemed to be facilitating the conversation rather than controlling it. The potentially fast sweeping bend had now become just another mobile chicane to negotiate, which we did obviously.
The road continues to the top of the mountain overlooking the city and with the spectacular Sant Vicenç de Sarrià church sitting on the summit. We park up the scooters and walk up the ‘hot’ stone steps to the church doors and enter inside. It is equally spectacular inside as well. There are tourists everywhere taking selfies etc. I don’t class myself as a tourist because I’m with a local boy and riding a local scooter.
We ride back down the winding hill and riding two abreast around the sharp mountain corners. It is really great fun. If I was riding a sexy 1298 Ducati, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun. Riding the little scooters close to their limits of power and tyre adhesion is the best fun ever.
I’m still not getting chance to blink my eyes due to the level of focus required to be on a foreign scooter in a foreign land. We pass the car crash chaos on the sharp corner, but this time, we just ignore them and treat the scooters to a great right hand corner experience. We continue down through the city and turn off a busy road to go down a quiet road, and which is full of amazing traditional and old, town villas. What also makes this area of Barcelona special for me is that it is also the area where the famous Paco Bultó lived. He was the man behind my favourite of all motorcycle brands, Bultaco. We speed round a corner and pull up outside one of the classical houses of the area and my friend instructs me to park up my new scooter partner. The engines are switched off and the two little scooter engines go to sleep until their next rude awakening.
Walking through a gate in the wall and into a courtyard, I’m greeted by my friend’s whole family, and whom I spend the following really enjoyable few hours eating, drinking and talking with. The wine and great home-made food is an appropriate transition from wide-eyed scooter riding to some sense of normality. Sadly, I have to leave the family scene to head back to my hotel. I ask if we are going via scooter, but sadly, and definitely safely after the wine, I get ‘personally’ transported back to the hotel in the car. On the way to the hotel, I put my hand in my jacket pocket and find the scooter key. I notice that the key fob is a small plastic flip-flop shoe. I hand it back to my friend like I have just handed over the keys to something special that I won’t ever see again. On reaching the hotel, I express my appreciation of the whole evenings experience to my friend and head up to my ‘personal’ hotel room for a good, and not too hot, nights sleep.
In the last few years I’ve had the good fortune to regularly ride my BMW GS across alpine passes (on the way home from the office), ride a hired Harley Davidson across the Arizona desert and ridden my vintage Bultaco trials bike in North Yorkshire, and guess what? Whilst all of these have been epic experiences, they haven’t come close to thrashing a scooter around Barcelona, and here’s where the romanticism comes into play. It’s the people around us that regularly do things that make our lives much better, and what’s more romantic than having a brief relationship with an old scooter, in one of the worlds most beautiful cities, and with welcoming and engaging friends?
All photos by the Author