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Checker Board Mud Flaps, Ska, And Eugene's Scooter Scene

Desmond O'Boyle

Many people like to ride scooters. A small engine and a step through design make them enticing for people who want to save some money while zipping around town. Some scooter enthusiasts combine their love for the machines with a unique culture. It includes fashion, distinctive mud flaps, and ska. The top speed is around 70 mph. KLCC’s Desmond O’Boyle examines what, and who makes up the Eugene scooter scene.

Credit Desmond O'Boyle
Geoff and his 2005 Stella

Geoff: “You turn on the key, you turn on the gas, if you need to, you choke it, and it usually starts in a kick or two.”

That’s 33-year-old Geoff  Clark starting his 2005 Stella.

Geoff: “I grew up listening to ska in the 90’s and there was this funny little thing, scooter culture that was off of that. And finally by 2000 I found a scooter and spent all my money to buy it.”

Credit Desmond O'Boyle
Joe and his bikes

Geoff is joined by 48-year-old Joe Barthlow, a friend and fellow member of Eugene’s “Top Dead Center” scooter club, which has been around since 1998. Joe had just started at the University of Oregon when….

Barthlow “I noticed a pack of about 15 to 20 Vespa riders who had checker board mud flaps and they were all wearing parkas and I thought that looked pretty cool. And I said I got to have one of those.”

Scooter enthusiasts tend to appreciate older or odd-brands.

Geoff: “You’ve got Heinkle from Germany, you’ve got the Go-Go. You’ve got Faukas, the Triumph Tigress. Harley Davidson even made a scooter called The Topper.”

The most popular brands are older Vespa’s, Lambretta’s, or Stella’s.

Credit Desmond O'Boyle
2014 May Day Rally in Eugene

Geoff and Joe love attending rallies. Eugene’s Top Dead Center’s annual “May Day” rally includes 30 to 40 scooter-ists from all over the Northwest and the world. Saturday’s activities started at a breakfast diner. Guido Wiesmahn is from Germany. He lives on Vancouver Island now. Guido cuts an imposing figure. His black and yellow racing suit matches his 1964 L-I 150. He’s been riding for 26 years.

Wiesmahn: “But I’m mainly here for racing. There’s a race, scooter race, with race scooters going on in McMinville tomorrow. So I’m here for practicing. So I took the chance and kept driving on the 5 and team up with the guys here.”

Wiesmahn’s bike is tuned specifically for racing and can go over 100 miles per hour.

Jackie Fitzpatrick is from Seattle. 

Credit Desmond O'Boyle
"Top Dead Center"

Fitzpatrick: “I’ve ridden from Seattle to Vancover and then I’ve ridden to Portland and I’ve ridden to Bend, Oregon, from Seattle. So that was a two day trip.”

Jackie had to tow her Vespa this time around due to fuel line issues. Geoff this sparking a standard activity in a scooter rally: fixing a bike.

Geoff, Jackie: “It takes a village to raise a scooter. Strength in numbers, you can’t pick off the weakest.”

Within minutes, hose clamps are on the ground and Jackie is holding bolts while Geoff installs a new fuel line.

Geoff, Jackie, and helper:  “You have snug brometts here Jackie.”

Credit Desmond O'Boyle
Geoff fixing Jackie's bike

Helper: “Wait, the seat had to come off too?”

Jackie: “Well, cause you have to take the gas can off.”)

Geoff re-assembles Jackie’s Vespa. A few scooter-ists offer "advice" or laugh about the last time *they had to fix a fuel line.

Geoff: “We just run the line through the same holes, and we’re just putting it back together right now. We’re just going to start this up real quick.”

Jackie: “Yay”

Geoff: “First kick, gotta love it.”

Geoff gathers the riders together and announces they are going ride some country roads in Lane County, meet for a late lunch, then meet up at a tavern for some live ska music.

Credit Desmond O'Boyle
Joe getting ready for the ride

MUSIC:  "The Toasters"  Don’t let the Bastards grind you down.

Ska is a combination of reggae, soul, and British R&B. Modern acts include The Toasters and The Specials.

Joe explains the revival of scooter culture in the 1980’s and 90’s...

Joe: “Was fueled by a lot of the two-tone ska and other second wave ska bands especially as it blew up in the United States that was what really fueled it in larger cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.”

Joe describes scooter fashion.

Joe: “It seems like there is always going to be someone wearing a button-down plaid shirt or a twin-tip collar or a twin-tip collared Fred Perry or some black white-stripe Adidas Sambas.”

Some riding jackets have patches from different rallies. Geoff’s is covered with them.

Credit Desmond O'Boyle
The ride begins!

Geoff “I think my favorite one is the ‘Scoot or Die’ Nintendo cartridge patch. There are only so many people that actually have that one from going to it.”

What’s next for the scooter scene? Joe and Geoff both say newer, more reliable models may need less maintenance, and as prices of new scooters increase, many young people may not be able afford them. Then again, according to Top Dead Center Founding member “English Dave” it hasn’t changed since he started riding in 1959.

Lawson: “There’s a culture around scootering all around the world. And it’s pretty well the same whichever country you go to and the people you meet.”

copyright, 2014 KLCC