Knoxville doesn't have that many scooterists and unfortunately we're a very loose-knit bunch. Despite desperately wanting to go ride around with my fellow scooterists, I end up hanging out and riding around with motorcyclists more than anything else. I think it's a product of the fact that they're always at our house given that my husband enjoys making old bikes run. I've learned a couple of things from riding with these guys that other scooterists may find helpful.
One thing is that I lean through turns a bit more than I should. Most scooters are both lower and wider than motorcycles, right? (Well, with the possible exception of some of those two-wheeled boats that people call motorcycles these days...) Last year at Amerivespa (a scooter rally in Chattanooga) a friend told me that I handled my speed through turns really, really well, which made my face light up with delight! Then he told me that I was getting really close to scraping my exhaust as I went into turns and that if I kept it up I'd end up wrecking. *Insert shocked face here.*
Since then I've been working to keep the scooter more upright while in turns, shifting my body weight off the bike so that I feel like one of those knee-dragger motorcycle guys. In reality, I'm barely off the bike at all and probably look a bit ridiculous since my scooter has two "saddle" type seats. They're these wide retro-looking seats that most scooterists derogatorily refer to as "tractor" seats. Getting your ass off a wide springy seat, while in a turn and at a decent speed, can be a bit challenging both physically and mentally (it's not an altogether natural motion to hang off of your bike it in a turn).
On the way home from that rally, I watched a fellow scooterist take a hard turn and tumble off the road, over his scooter, because he was trying to keep up with my husband on his motorcycle (which happens to handle particularly well through turns). It was one of the scariest things I've ever witnessed but he's doing fine and is back out on his scooter like a true trooper.
Another thing I've learned is that I don't think I'll ever keep up with motorcycles in a drag race. My scooter has a 200cc engine (specifically a GP200 engine) in it as well as a couple of other performance-oriented things, which means that for a scooter it's pretty freakin' fast, especially for a 45-year-old bike. The problem is that it's just not as fast as a motorcycle, especially off the line. I often end up watching them zoom off into the distance when a light turns green. Don't get me wrong… I do pretty well, nearly catching back up to them. The thing is, though, I always end up pushing my engine harder and harder when I ride with them… praying to my bike, "Please don't seize! Please don't seize!"
One of the guys encouraged me to go on a ride with them by saying, "I don't care about going fast. I just want to take my time and enjoy the ride." Then I proceeded to watch both he and my husband fly off into the sunset at the first green light. I could kit my bike to make it go much faster, but I have the feeling I would still be left in the dust more often than not. Plus, since it's more about enjoying the ride than actually going fast, I don't really feel the need.
What they don't understand is that I really enjoy riding my scooter. I have a T-shirt that I got from the Tampa Two Stroke SC that says "Crotch rockets are like tribal tattoos. Everybody has one. Be original, ride a scooter." When you ride an old scooter around town, people gawk at you, many of whom haven't seen a vintage Vespa or Lambretta in person. The best comments I get are from old men who sometimes say, "I had one of those back in the '60s!" Stellas get the same gawking treatment because they've got that great vintage styling, just like old Vespa P200s.
There's a rich history associated with scootering and as I've said previously, scooter clubs all over the country throw rallies every summer (including one in Nashville May 22-24). Being involved in the rally scene is amazingly fun and I recommend that everyone go to at least one rally just to get a feel for the vibrant scene associated with these odd little step-through bikes.
That's why the Knoxville scooterists need to band together and go on our own rides or throw our own rally. There are all of these great benefits to riding a scooter beyond just fuel economy and I think it's time Knoxvillians started realizing it.
Melanie DiClaudio is a mad scientist working at UT, who has been actively involved in the regional scooter scene for about two years but has had a love of scootering since first spotting a Vespa at age 16.