Scooters Are Back
by Jeremy Wilkers
As the headline says, scooters are back and I’ll be trying my very best to produce an informative and entertaining column for forthcoming issues of MMM. But the headline doesn’t just pertain to this newly restored column, there are scooters galore back in the good ol’ US of A in the new millennium and I’ll get to all the juicy news in just a moment.
Let me start off this new column with a very brief personal note. Four years ago I never would have thought that I’d ever become any sort of mechanic. It just didn’t interest me. Set me down in front of a computer and I can make the thing purr like a well-fed tiger, but something mechanical?! Still, I have always wanted one of those “old Italian scooters” and was always keeping an eye out for one. One day the scooter appeared, begging for me to own it and ride it. Nobody had warned me about the joys of scooter ownership, however, and I became a mechanic of sorts in very short order. You know what? I like it. It’s almost transcendental. I can go out to the garage and start wrenching and all else drops away and the hours fly right by.
It would probably be safe to say that most people could identify a scooter. But let’s be clear here: when I say ‘scooter’ I mean ‘scooter.’ I do not mean ‘moped.’ A moped is small and slow and usually has those geeky looking pedals you have to churn to get it going. A scooter has no such apparatus and is usually 50cc to 250cc in engine size. Speeds upwards of 70 mph are attainable (scooter racers might reach over 120 mph on a heavily kitted scoot). Remember when you were younger and those summertime parades your parents took you to where you saw the funny men with fez hats riding their scooters in crazy formations? Those were Cushman scooters. More commonly sighted models are the Italian made Lambretta (with a narrow body) and the Italian made Vespa (a more rounded body).
Right. Enough babbling. Let’s look at the news about scooters!
After nineteen years of absence, the Vespa is returning to the United States and Canada! What has long been rumored is now a fact and Piaggio (the company that manufactures the Vespa) is reentering the North American market with two scooters to be available by midsummer 2000. The Vespa ET2 (50cc) and Vespa ET4 (150cc) models, currently sold in the European market, will be modified for sales in the US. Base prices for these models will be approximately $2,750 and $3,950 respectively. The new scooters will meet EPA requirements, comply with California state law and meet other US standards. Exciting!
Are you itching to ride one? Want one of your own? That might take a bit more patience. Let me explain why.
Piaggio USA has announced their intention to work with selected partners to reestablish the US market. They are in the process of selecting preferred partners” who will comprise the new dealer network to feature “Vespa Boutiques.” These new shops will feature “lifestyle” clothing and accessories in addition to the new vehicles. These initial “boutiques” will debut in California and Florida and other areas of the East Coast. Piaggio is also talking to groups in Seattle, Las Vegas, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and South Carolina.
Notice that Minnesota isn’t on their short list. My translation is this: we’re not a glamorous enough travel destination for well-financed yuppies who might just blow a wad on an impulse scooter purchase or rental. Ok, maybe that’s a harsh interpretation, but really, what gives? What about Denver or Kansas City or Toronto? And what about all of us who kept the scooter scene alive for the past 19 years? We’re all over the country, not just the fancy vacation spots. My hope is that this is only because they are being cautious about their reentry. If it is a huge hassle to get a new ET4 here, they might lose out to the competitors.
Oh yes, there are competitors. The two other brands most likely to succeed are Italjet and Aprilia. Racing enthusiasts will recognize the Aprilia name — their motorcycles have won numerous racing awards. Aprilia also just bought Moto Guzzi. They have at least three scooters available (from 50 to 150cc) and they appear to be very nice machines. Italjet has the Dragster, which resembles a mutant child of a futuristic crotch-rocket and a scooter, and the Velicifero (“veli-chee-fer-o”), which has the appeal of resembling an older model Vespa. Both of these brands are now available here in Minnesota.
In closing, let me say “Thanks” to the folks here at MMM for helping get this column back in running condition. Sometimes it seems that scooterists get slighted for having smaller vehicles or slower vehicles or even “toy” vehicles, but scooterists aren’t all that different from the rest of you. Rest assured that most all of us love the appeal of the road from the back of a two-wheeled ride and there is certainly something quite alluring about the scent of two-stroke smoke. We also seem to like to tinker and wrench and customize. In other words, when you see us out on a ride, give a nod or a wave. We’re in it for the same reasons.
The Twin Cities’ Vintage Scooter Club, The Regulars, meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at Bryant-Lake Bowl in Uptown Minneapolis (Lake St and Bryant Ave) at 2:00pm for socializing and riding. Their website is http://www.moonpost.com/vespa.