Two-stroke powered scooters take this club on the ride of its life.
By MICHAEL CANNING
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
What is this, a scene from Quadrophenia?
You couldn't be blamed for wondering if you've seen them buzzing along in a mini-swarm through the streets of Seminole Heights, or the country lanes of Thonotosassa.
They're the Tampa Two Stroke scooter club -- scooter bikes, that is, not the motorized skateboard-with-handle-bars popular with kids now -- and their vintage machines could've easily appeared in the 1979 film that dramatized Britain's mid-'60s mod youth culture.
If you're in an older demographic, perhaps you'd flash on Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn taking in Rome's night air on a Vespa in Roman Holiday. Or Marcello Mastroianni and the paparazzi of La Dolce Vita.
That such images are readily recalled from the pop culture memory vaults confirms the scooter as a popular symbol of youthful, stylish independence in a resurgent post-war Europe. That young adults would ride and care for them half a world away decades later confirms the scooter's membership alongside Volkswagen Beetles and blue jeans in the club of things forever coming back in style.
The list of celebrity nouveau scooter enthusiasts includes Jay Leno, Steven Spielberg, Marcia Gay Harden, Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart, Michael Stipe and Sean "Puffy" Combs. But Tampa's vintage scooter riders are a world away from the shiny new toys of trendy stars. They take pride in their cult status.
"We're not into the mainstream of things in general," Tampa Two Stroker Craig Valdivia, 29, said of his fellow riders, some of whom were recently gathered with him at the club garage at the Stor-Ette storage facility in east Tampa. In his estimation, "there's right now 15 of us maybe, or 10 of us (in the bay area) that are riding together. And that's it. We find scooters in barns, but nobody's riding them. None of the old people that we buy them from are riding them. You'll ride out on a Saturday afternoon and see 500 different people on Harleys, or (other motorcycles)."
Minutes later, a small engine was heard revving outside the garage. But it wasn't another scooter approaching. Dan King, a metal sculptor who rents nearby units at the storage facility, was in his go-cart, racing in taunting circles yards away. Kieran Walsh, Tampa Two Stroke's unofficial mechanic, emerged from the garage on one of his nine scooters to give chase.
Moments later the two streaked by the congregated scooter riders. As King pulled handily ahead of Walsh in his swifter machine, he shouted, "Scooters suck! Scooters suck!" Everybody laughed.
None of the Two Strokers are ruffled by King's taunts. They know scooters aren't high performance machines. For them that's a big part of the attraction, the scooter's diminutive size and limited power potential. "It's just a big, monstrous, lumbering machine," Walsh, 28, said of the scooter's big brother, the motorcycle. "When you say the word 'scoot,' what do you think of? 'I'm just gonna scoot over.' It's real simple, it's real easy. It seems fun."
The most common engine for scooters is a two-stroke 50 cc, which is essentially a larger version of what powers gasoline chain saws and yard edgers. Mileage can range from 70 to 100 miles per gallon. A modern 50 cc two-stroke produces around 5 horse power. Those powering the Tampa Two Strokers' scooters, most of which date from the '60s, likely produce less.
And the top speed? "Probably 50, 55," said Adam Barbosa of his 1967 Vespa. "Some people's go a lot faster." Someone asked how fast Walsh's scooter goes. Valdivia pounced. "Kieran's? Fast as he can push it."
As a club, the Two Strokers gather at least every Sunday at the garage and ride out to breakfast, usually to Seminole Heights haunts Nicko's or Three Coins Restaurant. Sometimes they venture, via the back roads of Thonotosassa, to the Cracker Barrel in east Tampa.
They're always looking for back roads. Avoiding heavy traffic is their first tactic for safety, along with riding together in a big group, wearing helmets and generally avoiding the night.
Other excursions include regular trips to the monthly Strawberry Classic Car Show in Plant City, and a yearly trip to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. They haul their scooters in vans for that one.
The club took shape around four years ago. Most of the members were already friends who hung out on the local alternative music scene. Walsh was the first to buy a scooter. "I just started riding my bike up to shows, and little by little people saw my scooter, and they would want one."
Though produced by many countries in Europe and around the world, the scooter market has always been dominated by Italian manufacturers. The most famous scooter make, Vespa, debuted in 1946. First serving as a utility vehicle, it eventually became a leisure vehicle as the European economy rebounded after World War II. By the 1950s, it was cutting stylish lines beneath movie stars in movies from Hollywood and Europe. Italian film director Lina Wertmuller called the Vespa "One of the first positive symbols of a reborn Italy . . . a symbol of its sunny, beautiful simpatica and vital nature."
The scooter's long relationship with movies and pop culture was forever galvanized with its adoption by Britain's mods, and the later chronicling of that phenomenon in the 1979 movie Quadrophenia. Ask any scooter enthusiast if they've seen Quadrophenia, and the answer will likely be yes. "It's necessary that you have to see this movie," said Tampa Two Stroke rider Michelle Molen, 22. "I guess it comes with the whole package of scooter riding."
Along with tidy fashions (and, at least originally, pill-popping and grooving to American R&B till all hours), a scooter has always been considered a standard mod effect. So much so that the scooter's popularity has often waxed with the intermittent mod revivals that have cropped up in Europe and the United States since the '60s.
However, Casey Earls, managing editor and co-owner of Scoot! Quarterly magazine in San Francisco, says the latest U.S. scooter resurgence started about three years ago when scooters suddenly started popping up in TV commercials and fashion magazines. "That was right about the same time that Aprilia and Italjet started importing scooters," Earls said, referring to popular Italian manufacturers. "They started bringing in newer models -- automatic scooters, mostly 50 cc's. Since there hadn't been any new European motor scooters available in the U.S. in like 20 years, it really started to catch people's attention."
Earls added that another thing was reintroduced to people who wanted Euro-retro styling without the Euro-retro maintenance hassles: warranties.
Hence two camps evolved amongst scooterists, those who ride new, and those who ride vintage. New scooter riders may enjoy the safety net of a service warranty, but Earls says they're missing out on a bonding opportunity.
"We all have to band together to keep our scooters running," Earls said. She said before the scooter resurgence, "There wasn't any specific dealer support. You have local shops that were usually small businesses who were constantly struggling to get by and get parts from Europe. It's a very bonding experience trying to keep a vintage scooter on the road. So a lot of people feel that that shows that you've worked harder for your hobby than somebody who's riding a new bike. They're like "What do they have to work for? They got a warranty. They got parts (available).' "
But it's not like every vintage scooter rider lives to get grease under their nails. The vintage look is the main hook. "The body style on the older Vespas was fatter and rounder," said Earls, "and on the older Lambrettas it was very slim, very sleek European styling. The new scooters, a lot of them are plastic, not metal. The styling has a tendency to be a little more spartan in the body."
The Tampa Two Stroke's inventory is overwhelmingly vintage, mostly Vespas and Lambrettas, another popular Italian make. "More stylish, I think," said Richardson, 27, of the old scooters. Valdivia added, "They're smooth lines."
But scooter love can be more than skin deep. Valdivia was broadsided by a car downtown near the Ice Palace in 1998. "I broke my leg in like eight places," Valdivia said. Richardson recalled visiting him in the hospital the next day. "How's my bike?" Valdivia asked.
"It's pretty bad," Richardson replied. Valdivia thought for a moment. "Maybe I'll get a new one."
* * *
For more information about the Tampa Two Stroke club, e-mail Kieranwalsh@mindspring.com. Scoot! Quarterly's Web site is at www.scooter.com. To find scooter Web sites, go to www.topsitelists.com/world/scootertrash/topsites.html.
-- Michael Canning can be reached at (813) 226-3408, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to Weekend
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111