It usually hosts sporting events and rock concerts, but from June 14th – 17th it was home to over a thousand Vespas.
Rather than the full four-day experience, which included a rideout and a gala dinner, I opted for a day ticket on Sunday, the final day of the event.
The car park, overlooked by a brand new cable car system transporting passengers across the river to the equally new Olympic stadium, was throbbing with engines of all size as the scooters arrived, many already laden with luggage for the homeward leg.
Vespa World Days
Gleaming modern autos rubbed legshields with puttering veterans and souped-up custom jobs. Aftermarket exhausts roared, and the lawnmower smell of two-stroke filled the air.
There were Vespas from Italy, Vespas from France, Vespas from Serbia and Vespas from just round the corner.
I reflected yet again that the UK sports the biggest, ugliest motorcycle number plates in Europe. One rather tatty example from Germany had a sticker proclaiming “Lieber Rost statt Plastik” — “Better rust than plastic”.
There was no sign of any rivalry between the twist and go merchants and the old school, however; we were all united by our love of the Vespa marque. I could happily have stayed in the car park all morning, but when my riding buddy arrived with his son on the pillion we headed to the Arena area to purchase our entry wristbands and check out the scene.
The event moved to the Dome after permission to use the original site in East London was revoked at the eleventh hour. The stalls and attractions looked a little small and lonely on the new, larger site, but full marks to the organisers for sorting out alternative arrangements at such short notice.
We found a small exhibition and a number of stalls selling official Vespa merchandise, parts, accessories, and assorted bling for both scooter and rider. Perhaps the most exclusive item on sale was the Vespa World Days helmet by Vespa, in a limited edition of two hundred and featuring the VWD London logo.
Fortunately for my wallet they had sold out of my size, but I did buy a couple of stickers and a Lambretta (ssh!) sweatshirt.
The exhibition focused on the Douglas Vespas manufactured under licence in Bristol between 1951 and 1965, with some fine examples provided by the Veteran Vespa Club.
The current Vespa lineup was on display outside, with the new PX — a modern geared Vespa! — attracting a lot of attention.
I was sorry I’d missed the official rideout on Saturday morning, which took in both London’s tourist attractions and the pretty country lanes around Epping Forest. The sight of a thousand assorted Vespas in convoy must have been unforgettable — not to mention the sound and the smell!
There were also plenty of unofficial meets and rideouts, giving foreign participants a chance to experience the traffic jams, draconian parking regulations and selfish or downright malicious drivers familiar to those of us who commute in the capital.
I felt for the Austrian couple who were nabbed by the law on the way to Brighton for riding in a lane reserved for bicycles, but they reckoned their experience of the South Coast’s roads and views more than made up for it — especially as PC Plod relented and allowed three offending scooters to split a £30 fine between them.
I live in south London and found myself on the roads near the Dome on both Saturday and Sunday. On both days I was delighted to spot little knots of Vespas on the road, visiting scooter shops or just exploring London.
Really, that’s what Vespa World Days are all about: an excuse to get together, see old friends, make new ones, put a face and voice to a name from an internet forum; to travel to the venue in a group, making the journey as much of an adventure as the destination, or just to get a new badge for the legshield to record the fact that you had been.
Vespa World Days 2013 will take place in Belgium from June 20 – 23, 2013. More information can be found atwww.vespaworlddays2013.com.