A swarm of scooters

Vintage scooter enthusiasts cruise Southwest

One sunny Sunday, they caught my eye -- a group of vintage Vespas at Pizza Luc/, 3200 Lyndale Ave. S. This isn't just a chance encounter, however; it's a tradition.

This group of scooter enthusiasts, who call themselves The Regulars, have met twice monthly in Southwest for the past eight years to hang and ride. They meet, eat and then the 20-plus scooters buzz down the street together like a swarm of bees, leaving puffs of blue exhaust in their wake.

Each scooter owner has a different story about his or her machine. Many have tales of how scooters first grabbed their fancy and what they've done to customize their mini-mobiles.

Kent Aldrich of St. Paul has a 2003 Stella scooter and has been riding with the Regulars since this spring. He's adorned his scooter with 38 mirrors, getting lots of attention when he rides around.

Aldrich said he's been into scooters and mini-bikes since he was a kid. He prefers scooters, and the happy response he gets from passersby. "There's a certain dweeb factor in scooters that I like," he joked.

The Regulars

The informal club consists of mostly guys with vintage Vespas -- although other scooter brands and newer-Vespa owners are welcomed, too. Riders range from Gen-Xers to retirees. Some live in Southwest, others live as far out as Plymouth.

Pizza Luc/ employees say hosting the scooter meet-ups wasn't planned, but aside from the exhaust, it's fun. Usual scooter-group waitress Cassandra Bagley said watching the group buzz away is the coolest part. "It's kind of funny because they all leave together, and it's a spectacle," she said.

Uptown resident Will Winter owns seven scooters and had his pride and joy -- a 1966 Primavera Vespa -- out for the early June ride. He said and he and his wife have been riding with the group for seven years, and he loves the reaction he gets. "When you're riding these (scooters), little kids smile," he said -- a much different reaction than you'd get with motorcycles.

Adrienne Rochester, 24, lives in CARAG and owns a 1980 Bajaj. She also loves the thrill of the ride. "It's so much fun to ride in a group. Going down the street with 20 scooters really turns heads," she said.

East Harriet resident Sean Nason, owner of a 2002 Indian Bajaj scooter, said he likes belonging to the group so that when something goes wrong with his scooter, he has a network of people to help him. A number of the members are mechanics, and a few even started the scooter shop, Scooterville, 650 25th Ave. SE.

Minutes before the June afternoon ride, a fellow scooter enthusiast was helping Rochester with a gas tank leak. "I like to be able to talk shop and about the aesthetics," she said. "There are so many guys in this group that know everything."

Southeast resident Thomas Cao owns a 1963 Lambretta scooter -- which Nason calls his dream scooter. Cao said his love for scooters dates back to his childhood in Vietnam. "My dad used to have one of these back in the '50s," he said.

Cao has four scooters at home, in addition to his Lambretta. He said his brother has a slightly larger, matching Lambretta. Cao said he likes the look of the Italian-designed scooters and has been riding with the club for two to three years because he likes the people.

Longtime group member Jeremy Wilker, has taken tours of South Africa and Italy on scooters. He said he's currently producing a scooter documentary.

Wilker, also a scooter columnist for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, said Vespas fascinate him as machines.

He said the obsession began while living in the Wedge neighborhood, when he discovered his landlady had been storing a 1981 Vespa scooter for her son. Wilker said he talked the son into selling the Vespa, souped it up and has been fascinated ever since.

Scooter popularity in Minnesota

Turns out club members aren't the only ones crazy about scooters. According to Wilker's research, Minnesota rates fourth in the nation for scooter sales.

Jonathan Schuster, scooter specialist at Downtown's Vespa, 109 S. 7th St., said Minnesota ranks among the top 10 states nationally for new Vespa sales (new scooters are $3,500-$5,400). "We put up with such crap for winter, we look for more to do in the summer," he said, explaining the popularity.

Schuster said the scooters are usually purchased for recreational -- off-highway -- use only. However, some employees and a few of The Regulars said their scooter is often their main form of transportation in the warmer Minnesota months.

Many scooter enthusiasts come to the store to buy helmets, chrome, lights and stickers to adorn their scooters. But scooter club member Winter said the clothing store Tatters, 2928 Lyndale Ave. S., is also known for their great selection of scooter accessories such as stickers and goggles. He said Tatters has become a club supporter and, as well as Pizza Luc/, sponsors a yearly August rally.

Schuster said new Vespa customers are usually women, but the scooters also appeal to those into mod fashion, made popular by the Who movie "Quadrophenia," which features a lot of scooter footage.

Schuster said, however, that one of his first Minneapolis customers was a World War II vet. Schuster said the man had seen Vespas during his tour in Italy and had vowed to buy one someday. Schuster said selling that scooter was a special experience.