by Chris Orr
I had the pleasure of working the Scooterville booth at this year’s International Motorcycle Show here in Minneapolis and I now understand the demands placed upon booth personnel. Whew. Two and a half days of speaking in automaton-mode (repeat, repeat, repeat) is plenty and I was only there for two of them! But it was a great time and I enjoyed talking about scooters with so many different people and for so many different reasons.
Over the course of the weekend there was a certain stereotype observed and I just have to make a comment (and I am jokingly exaggerating to make my point): some guys need to relax! You could see the sparkling interest in their eyes when they looked at the scooters, but then they’d make some stereotypical comment about being mocked by their friends if they were seen riding a scooter. Hey, scooters are small. Scooters are fun. These two concepts can exist together. I mean, take a look at beer: alcohol content is pretty low and it’s made out of stuff horses eat (i.e.: grains). But it still tastes good and nobody is going to call you names for drinking it! Not to mention that it seems to be the favorite beverage of scooterists worldwide. Ditch the hesitation and try a scooter some time.
Scooters were scattered all around the show this year, from the Honda booth to the Yamaha booth to the new Benelli scooters (I hope to get more information on these soon) to Darci and her crew at the MotoPrimo/Vespa booth with their ET2 display. Great to see so many options!
It was a nice challenge to get information two days prior to the show and have to memorize details on new scooters and bikes, of which there were three. Scooterville just got in the new Genuine Scooter Company’s Stella (a 150-cc two-stroke) and the new Kymco MXer four-wheeler and the Kymco Venox motorcycle (which garnered quite a lot of attention). I’ll skip details on the MXer four-wheeler save for that it appears to be a solidly built 150-cc four-stroke off-roading vehicle at a decent price and a wide range of accessories will supposedly be available. Reviews are starting to show up in ATV magazines. Scooterville also had the head guys from Genuine and STR Motorsports (the U.S. importer/distributor of Kymco) present over the weekend and I was able to grill them with questions throughout the days.
A highly anticipated scooter, the Genuine Scooter Company Stella made its regional debut at the show and based on responses from people checking it out it is a well-designed and attractively priced scooter. It has the benefit of having the old-school scooter style (it should, it’s based on an 80’s model Vespa) and all the nice modern touches vintage scooter riders have long lusted after: gas front shock, front disc brake, electric start… heck, it has even got a fuel gauge! Stella should be on sale here in the Twin Cities by April 2003.
Some background information is in order for this newly discovered scooter company. Genuine Scooter Company (GSC) is a sister-company to Scooterworks in Chicago. Philip McCaleb, the main man of Scooterworks and GSC, was present at the show on Saturday and I talked to him about this new venture. He’s got a million stories to tell and his eyes glitter while he looks you in the eye and tells you all about scooters. I had to wonder if sometimes he was pulling my leg, but he seems pretty darn serious about the scooter business. Scooterworks has been in the business since 1989 and is one of the best-known places to mail-order parts and accessories. “With our seasonal climate, we had to do mail order,” McCaleb admits. He really liked scooters and had this idea that somebody could create bigger interest in old scooters, parts and accessories. Add in a bunch of people who were always playing around with the vintage machines and the business was born.
So just when did Stella come into being? McCaleb explains that they “probably had the idea for Stella about three and a half years ago and we’ve spent the past two years working on it.” Through his extensive contacts in the scootering world (and I do mean world), the details and form of this new scooter started taking shape. Eventually, the folks at LML were contacted about building Stella. LML is a longtime India-based scooter company formerly licensed by Piaggio to build Vespas for the Indian/Asian market (much like Bajaj). “LML didn’t understand why they should build a scooter with somebody else’s name on it,” McCaleb says with a huge smile on his face. They thought if they were to build a scooter it really ought to have their name on it. After much discussion, they agreed and the Italian-designed, Indian-built Stella scooter went into production, spec’d out for the U.S. market.
But wait a minute, didn’t I say it was a 150-cc two-stroke engine? Aren’t those engines outlawed or banned or something? Indeed, but the fine folks involved in building Stella found a way to put a catalytic converter on the engine and reduce emissions to levels on par with four-stroke vehicles. Quite amazing, even if you do lose a little on the top-end (which is still 60+ mph). I would imagine that some on the scooter racing circuit will be itching to get this scoot and make some performance tweaks (like a different pipe, 170-cc kit, etc). This engine, with its five ports and reed valve, should have a lot of potential.
McCaleb says, “There really is an appealing kind of innocence to the old scooters. They are non-threatening and not too overtly sexual.” I’m not sure I completely agree with that last bit as the Stella is one gorgeous looking machine. A new “vintage” scooter with all the modern bits and a warranty to boot. I look forward to spending some time with her out on the road this year.
At the show through the day on Sunday was Bruce Ramsey, the STR Motorsports (the exclusive U.S. Kymco source) director of sales and marketing. Ramsey is a straight-shooter, a down-to-earth nice guy based in South Carolina who didn’t complain once about the frigid arctic conditions here in Minnesota.
STR Motorsports went looking for a scooter line back in 1999 and after comparing available options, chose Kymco for its great line of scooters and solid history. Based in Taiwan, Kymco built engines and parts for Honda from 1963 into the early 90’s. Along the way they started their own brand and expanded internationally. With their seven manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, Kymco produces over one million units per year. The Kymco/STR alliance has been good for the company, allowing the staff of twelve at STR to sell enough scooters to become the number three brand (10% share of the market in ’02) behind Honda and Yamaha.
STR has also been sponsoring motorcycle racers with Kymco pit scooters. The Corona race team rides Kymco scooters as does an independent Suzuki race team. You may have also spotted Kymco in certain Ducati race team areas or around the country at events such as air shows. Looks like they’re striving for more than just third place.
“We’ve had less than .2 percent in warranty claims on Kymco, so for this new year, all warranties are doubled to two years,” Ramsey says without being boastful. I am impressed. I know from my experience that Kymco makes a very solid product and who else grants a two-year warranty?
The two-wheeler that caught the most attention at this show, however, was the new Kymco Venox motorcycle (Kymco makes both motorcycles and scooters). This new bike caught the eye of a lot of passersby and they would spend a few minutes checking it out, liking how it felt, wondering who the hell Kymco was, then they would find out it was only a 250-cc motorcycle and they’d take a much closer look. Almost everybody who came by thought initially that it was about a 650-cc bike. The Venox is a liquid-cooled, V-twin (90 degrees) 250-cc four-stroke five-speed engine with 4 valves per cylinder. It has about 28 horsepower. “The Venox is a premium package and has more style and performance than any other bike in its class,” claims Ramsey. Indeed, this smaller (but not too small) cruiser even has me (a scooter geek) itching to get it out and see how it performs. It won’t be on the market until mid-April, however, so I’m in a state of continual suspense. The Venox appears to be a perfect starter-bike or a bike “for in-town or for the wife,” as many booth visitors claimed. At an estimated street price of around $3799, it should garner even more interest.
The Minnesota scooter community lost a longtime member this past January with the passing of Tim Gartman. Tim was active in the scooter scene long before The Regulars formed and had worked on many of the vintage scooters in town at one time or another. He had a reputation as a helping hand and this extended into his love of VW buses as well. Tim also ran the amazing letterpress shop on LoringPark called Lunalux and kept ancient printing techniques alive and well. I remember meeting down there with a bunch of other scooter-heads and picking up Tim to go for a ride. The last time this happened he showed us a CD he had found with a vintage Vespa on the cover and I’ll always associate him with this fun disc of swanky jazzy songs (Nicola Conte). A few years back he took a couple of us out on a fall ride over to Wisconsin via this curvy, tree-lined road that we’d never ridden. He had this great thing to show us: an old wooden toll-bridge over the river. Turns out he brought a lot of his friends down to experience this beautiful archaic structure. We loved it and took a bunch of photos of us and our scooters. Unfortunately, Tim had been battling with Hodgkin’s for the last seven years. You wouldn’t know it from talking with him as he was always positive, always upbeat and smiling. This past year he spent a lot of time down in Rochester getting stem-cell treatment and I had hoped this would mean we’d get to see a lot more of him on his scooter this year. He was 35 years of age. We’ll miss you, Tim. Thanks for showing us the little things, the beautiful things, the old, archaic things. Thanks for making us smile.
The Twin Cities’ Vintage Scooter Club, The Regulars, meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at Pizza Luce in Uptown Minneapolis (32nd and Lyndale Ave) at 2:00 p.m. for socializing and riding–as long as weather permits. Join us! The website is located at http://www.minnescoota.com or send me a message– firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com