A couple of friends of mine who happen to ride modern twist-n-go four-stroke scooters always smirk at me when I start talking about vintage scooters because they think I’ve got a bit of an attitude towards their modern bikes. I always try to explain to them that there’s something fundamentally different about riding a dirty old two-stroke Lambretta scooter that most modern riders will never understand. The difference can be boiled down to what I like to call the not sure if you’re going to make it factor.
When I start my bike in the morning, I feel just like Kilgore (from Apocalypse Now) when I smile and shout “I love the smell of two-stroke smoke in the morning!” I always wonder if I’m waking up the older woman who lives next door as I rev and rev and rev, trying to keep the scooter warm and hope it stays running.
My scooter isn’t perfectly tuned, certainly won’t idle, its ancient paint is rusty in spots, its panels are spray-painted, and sometimes it leaves me stranded. But it was manufactured 44 years ago, so if it isn’t shiny and doesn’t get me everywhere I want to go then I feel like I’ve got a duty to accept its idiosyncrasies.
Sure, besides being ridiculed by motorcycle-lovers, I’m also ridiculed by modern scooterists who say things like “you know what the difference between a modern and a vintage scooterist is? Modern ones ride.” The real difference is that besides enjoying getting your hands dirty and smelling like oil and smoke when you get to work, the fact that your bike doesn’t always run makes the times when it does run just that much sweeter. There’s almost a sense of accomplishment in it. Yes! I made it!
Sure, I’ve been late to work a few times. I’ve also had to push it up hills, had to walk a mile or two back home, and had to wonder if I was running out of gas or soft-seizing the engine. It doesn’t even have a gas gauge on it (never did), which leaves me eyeballing down inside the tank as I try to determine if I’ve got enough gas to get to my destination. I learned about that the hard way… running out of gas twice in a single day, which in my defense was because my fuel line was leaking.
Most people see a scooter and automatically think fuel economy, right? Unfortunately, riding my ill-tuned, non-idling bike typically leaves me with much lower gas mileage than people would imagine but I don’t even have a clue how to measure it because I doubt my speedo reads accurately enough and I couldn’t fill the gas tank up to the same level even if I tried! In addition, who has time to worry about calculating mileage when you’re too busy calculating how much oil you’ve got to add to the gas tank because your bike doesn’t have oil injection, or worrying about mopping up the extra oil that you’ve spilled so it doesn’t get on your tools that you have to keep stored in the glovebox to clean your carburetor on the fly.
So I guess it boils down to whether you’re riding for fun or for function. If you’re the type of person who rides for function—meaning you want to make it to work on time every time—then a modern bike is probably something you should think about buying and there’s no shame in that. If, however, you are up for a roller coaster ride and you realize that the journey is the most important part of your trip, then maybe you should think about those smoky old vintage machines.
I apologize in advance if you’re caught behind me and you have to smell that burning oil mixture or if I smoke you out while revving the engine to keep it running. But if you hang around it long enough, you might just start to gain an appreciation for the fact that my old imperfect Lambretta is still running, even if it does sometimes earn its nickname “the Lambroka.”
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.