Lambretta: Soundtrack for new generation

By Jacqui Madelin

Fifty years on, the 60s' scooter is still music to the ears.

Lambretta LM125. Photo / Jacqui Madelin
Lambretta LM125. Photo / Jacqui Madelin

Forget pitched battles along the Brighton seafront. They might have hogged the news in the shock-horror papers of the 60s but weren't common.

Mods and Rockers were about the excitement of youth, leather-clad oiks versus blazer-clad fashionistas who rode elegant Italian scooters laden with flashing mirrors and chrome. And the thoroughbreds among them were the Lambrettas, rakish speedsters of the scooter brigade because they were easy to customise and attracted battalions of oil-smeared performance tuners eager to fit aluminium barrels, larger carburettors - and anything else to make these step-through steeds improbably fast.

Luckily Lambrettas were the first two-wheeled production machines to get disc brakes, or more Mods would have lived hard and died young; as it is, the glamour lives on.

This LN125 aims to recall those heady times and bring that flavour to a new generation of drainpipe jeans-wearing hipsters. But before you raid Repco for extra mirrors, this is no lean, mean speed machine.

Lots of bolt-on bling would prove too much for the modest 125cc four-stroke single-cylinder engine and its auto transmission, not to mention the impressively effective brakes operated via a single handlebar-mounted lever.

Leave it standard and enjoy the retro looks underlined by that brown seat and two-tone paint, brought into er, modern times with a few subtle angles to offset the sweeping lines.

Now twist the throttle to release an engagingly gruff soundtrack, with a clinging whiff of testosterone as if the bike's issuing a challenge to the black leather brigade.

The baritone thrum through the bodywork when you throttle off only adds to the aural appeal - especially round town where there's enough poke to mix it with the traffic, the Lambretta growling and grumbling beneath you as if it's straining at the leash.

Call its bluff to discover the humble truth - it'll manage open-road cruising if it's given the time to get up to speed, but without the pace that its ancestry and that soundtrack suggest.

Where it rediscovers its mojo is on twisty back roads where I found the character the soundtrack suggests.

This suspension proved unexpectedly capable over the lumpy lanes of my commute, encouraging steeper and steeper lean angles, the motor gargling away as the scoot swung through bends, bodywork skimming the tarmac, glorying in its improbable handling skills ... until inevitably I caught up with a car and it all turned pear-shaped.

There's not enough power to pass, even when the rider's hunched low over the bars.

Still, the LN had proved it may not have the grunt of its more illustrious predecessors but it's certainly got the character, and I all but named it and gave it pride of place in the garage.

Mind you, it's not perfect.

The under-seat cubby takes a loaf or bread and some milk, but is smaller than some.

Getting it on and off the centre stand was trickier than expected from such a lightweight, and the springback sidestand is out to get you, as I found after dropping the seat shut with a vigour triggered by an unexpectedly enjoyable ride on an improbably characterful machine.

It rolled off the stand and fortunately tipped onto my thigh and not the concrete.

Perhaps scratches could be seen as war wounds and the stand's capricious behaviour as part of its charm - as classic car owners forgive their car's foibles because they love it.

That might cover the fuel gauge's habit of lighting up when the needle's still over the half-way line of the tank's ludicrously tiny 6-litre volume, but hitting the deck is a pain in the butt, not to mention the back as you lift the 111kg beast.

At $4995 there are cheaper commuters than a Lambretta LN125. But the looks and character let you forget it's really just an undemanding runabout.

- NZ Herald

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