Summer of Scootin'
Forget the Mods and Rockers, the Future of Scooters is Now!
Many moons ago, having recently arrived in L.A., I was given a choice of rides: a 1967 Vespa scooter or a 1972 750 H2 Kawasaki Triple. They only thing they shared in common was that both were two-strokers and puffed clouds of smoke. One went chingy-chingy, the other ringy-dingy. There was a message in the smoke, but I couldn’t read it at the time.
The Vespa, a cute little competition-orange thing with a spare tire riding on its rear-end like an Victorian dress bustle, was a loaner from a buddy named Augie, an ex-cabbie who had migrated from Chicago to Tinsel Town in quest of an acting career. He and his wife Alba used to trundle around Hollywood on the scooter and then got a car and offered me the scooter. Although the 150cc Single only managed about 6 horsepower and a spritely max speed of 58 mph, it did have a range of 230 miles and sipped gas.
On the other hand I had just ridden the bus for an hour to another part of L.A. to salivate over a passion-purple Kawi 750cc three-banger. It was a few years old but still shrieked like a banshee, its three cylinders pumping out 74 hp and capable of rocket-sled acceleration. Meep-Meep scooter or Warp Factor Kawi? This was one of the proverbial forks in the road. I took the spoon.
I chose neither the kinder, gentler Vespa nor the howling berserker Kawi. Instead I ended up with a ’67 Bridgestone 350, another two-stroke but a bike that lay somewhere in between pudding-slow and breakneck-fast. Why not the scooter?
I rode it around and it is fun, but at the time I didn’t feel it was fast enough for the 405 freeway and the little wheels weren’t happy with the rain groves. Why not the Kawi 750 triple? After one test ride, I was left with the distinct impression it would kill me. I had ridden all kinds of bikes, but this was the only one, at least to that point, that had whispered in my ear and audible above its shriek...”Don’t do it. Yankee, you die.”
Fast forward about 50 motorcycles and I probably still wouldn’t want to commute on that Kawi Triple, but the scooter is looking more attractive. Maybe it’s the patina of age – mine and scooter’s – or the $5-a-gallon at the pump or the New Cool Factor I encountered just recently at the “Summer of Scootin’” event put on by the Route 66 Modern Classics company based in Marina Del Rey, CA. The shop invited the public and press over for a look-see at their line-up of scooters.
The place was real easy to find. It’s adjacent, make that contiguous, to the world famous Bartel’s Harley-Davidson mega-store that I think you can see from the International Space Station. The invitational email arriving at Motorcycle.com and sent by Billy Bartels went like this:
“Hey, I realize none of us are scooter guys, but I'd figure I'd invite you all for the free sangria if nothing else. My brother Glenn is doing a little press party for the vintage restored Vespas he's importing. They're 50's and 60's Vespas that are restored to newish, and some are even done up custom; some Quadrophenia-style, some Audrey Hepburn style, etc. He's giving rides, food and drink on Thursday evening at his shop in the marina. It should be fun.”
'At that point scooters weren’t even on my radar, but all of a sudden now I have people pouring in the door in need of scooters because of the gas prices...'
The prediction proved right on the money. We found the sangria and a bevy of both new and vintage scooters for sale. (Route 66 also rents scooters as well as Harley-Davidsons.) We were greeted by Glenn Alan Bartels, prez and owner of Route 66 Modern Classics/Route66 Riders. As he says, he’s “a Harley guy by birth,” his family having been in the Harley-Davidson industry for over 30 years.
Back in ’94 he used his personal bikes to start his own international, tourist-based, Harley-Davidson Rental company called Route 66 Riders. Today they offer over 150 late-model Harleys for rent to the public, mostly catering to European tourists looking to explore SoCal on bikes.
Bartels himself finds no problem enjoying both Harleys and scooters and was drawn to the world of vintage 1950s and '60s Vespas after traveling to Europe and seeing how popular they are as primary transportation across the continent. By the way, Vespa translates from the Italian meaning “wasp.”
As he says, “After buzzing around Rome on a friends vintage Vespa, I got bit by the scooter bug and fell in love with these little, Italian rolling sculptures. They have a classic, timeless shape, they make cool sounds and vibrations, they get 90 miles per gallon, and girls love 'em. What else can I say!”
Glenn got hold of a ’66 Vespa and started playing around with it, jazzing it up with new paint, and he notieced people coming into his store to look at Harleys were attracted to the scooter and asked if they could get one for themselves.
“At that point scooters weren’t even on my radar, but all of a sudden now I have people pouring in the door in need of scooters because of the gas prices, so I had to find a newer style, good quality, automatic version as opposed to the vintage twist-gear set-up on the older scooters. That led me to Genuine Buddy Scooter and a Chicago company that imports them from Taiwan. The scooters come in a variety of displacements from a 50cc two-stroke to 125 and 150cc four-stroke models.”
'...the vintage Italian Vespas are the Rolex of the scooter crowd...'
Asked about having one foot in the Harley world, another in scooterville, Bartels says, “If I’m going to ride my Harley, I’m going to ride far. On the other hand, our commutes are becoming intra-city or neighborhood commutes.
A scooter is my choice for those short rides and the only way to get around, the only way to park. I also found out that different kinds of chicks dig scooters, to ride on them and to ride them.”
As for fuel mileage, Bartels says six bucks will take you 150 miles. A motorcycle endorsement is required for use in California, “but they are talking about bringing back the M2 for the smaller scooters.”
And the most popular model? “While the vintage Italian Vespas are the Rolex of the scooter crowd, the Genuine Buddy is the modern version but still with the Vespa look at about half the price.
What’s the learning curve for learning to handle one? “That could be a couple laps around the block.” And your customers? “That’s split 50-50 between guys and girls and anyone from 17-year-olds to 75-year-olds.”
Coming from an archetypal Harley family, we wondered if Bartels gets any heat from the Milwaukee people.
“No, none at all actually,” he responds. “It’s not an infringement on my Harley agreement. Scooters aren’t even on the Harley radar even though they did make the Harley Topper back in the day. I think it might be the time for H-D to consider re-issuing a scooter model. They got to make a bad-ass one, though, something painted in orange and black and with attitude.”
Okay, you bike builders out there, who’s going to step up and start making some cool custom scooters. Be there or be square. A scooter that’s cool is waiting to be born. Wouldn’t it be a nicer, friendlier place if we de-congested city car traffic and went into scooterville mode like in Europe where they got the message a long time ago when their fuel prices skyrocketed far greater than our own in the U.S.
Says Bartels, “Yeah, they ride year-round in Europe, rain or shine, and we have more shine here in SoCal.” He also points up the comparison between the sunny Mediterranean and sunny SoCal as the perfect environment for scooters. There’s some very pertinent eco-friendly/pocket-book perks as well.
“Many of us won't give up our SUV's, but did you know that simply by switching just 10% of your annual commuting to a scooter, you can help to save 15 million gallons of fuel per day and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 325 million tons!” That would be some good non-car Karma.
Besides speaking the universal language of scooterese, the Route 66 staff is multi-lingual, speaking a half-dozen European languages (including Scooterese, the universal language), as they hail from all over the globe, including ace scooter mechanic Orlando Belotti from Italy, Tony van Looy from Belgium and Raffa Dorawa from Germany. Belotti rides his Vespa 150 scooter 90 miles a day back and forth from his home in Fullerton to work in Marina Del Rey, and that would be freeway-flying miles.
In addition to a menu of tasty restored vintage Vespas, Route 66 Modern Classics offers the Genuine Scooter line. They offer a full service sales, parts, accessories and maintenance shop for the models they build and the brands they carry. And, yes, aftermarket hop-up kits are available. More info at www.rt66mc.com
For more images from the Route 66 Riders event, click on the Photo link below.