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Skutoberfest Event

  • by Phil Boncer

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Skutoberfest is an annual San Diego area scooter rally, sponsored and organized by the Secret Society San Diego, who are generally recognized as the top dog of local scooter clubs.

This year it was held on the 25th to 27th of September, with most of the festivities centering from the Princess Pub & Grill (PPG) in Little Italy. The local scooter scene is young and boisterous, with a fair dose of drinking and irresponsibility, but they are serious about their bikes. The standards of restoration, care, and maintenance are as good as I've seen anywhere. Unlike most of us, many of them ride their vintage scooters frequently if not daily. Many of them also complete the scene with period clothing and riding gear, and there is always a plethora of nifty tattoos on display.

scooter_1.JPG (26409 bytes) Friday evening began with a simple gathering and kickoff at the PPG, which attracted about 50 scooters. Most were local, but clubs from Pasadena, Orange County, and L.A. were in attendance. All were Vespas or Lambrettas, except my Heinkel. Several scoots went on an impromptu spin about town, and rumor has it that the party went quite late, culminating in a few late-night firecrackers. 

The neighbors were not amused. Saturday began with a gathering at the PPG for a ride to the BBQ. I was unable to attend this event, but was later told that about 60 scooters participated on the ride.

Later that evening was another gathering at PPG for another ride, this time to the VFW hall on Othello St. for a dance, with a live ska band. There was a raffle for a custom easy chair made from/with various Vespa parts. The chair arrived at the show on a trailer towed behind a Vespa; on the trailer it looked like a chariot. About 60 scooters participated in this one, again all Vespas and Lambrettas except my Ducati (I hadn't had time to go home and get the Heinkel), and one Fuji Rabbit Superflo (see photo).

Sunday ended the rally with yet another PPG rendezvous, which resulted in a 70-scooter ride to Kate Sessions Park in PB for beer and hanging out. Vespas and Lambrettas, my Heinkel, and one brave soul on a plastic Honda Elite.

A (very) brief intro to scooters, for those who are unfamiliar: Scooters were a primarily European phenomenon, to meet the transportation needs of a bunch of small countries whose industrial capacity was in ruins from WWII. Starting in the late '40's, and lasting until the mid '60's, the scootering boom put millions on motorized wheels for the first time. Hundreds of companies tried their hands at scootermaking; some were motorcycle and car companies already, but many were previously uninvolved in land-based transport, having made their names in airplanes, refrigerators, guns, machine tools, or what-have-you. As a result, many of the designers of these scooters were unencumbered by a knowledge of traditional motorcycle technology, and the solutions they chose were frequently unorthodox and fascinating.

The best selling scooters in the world were the Vespa and the Lambretta. The Lambretta was more-or-less traditional technology, with a tubular steel frame, trailing link forks, and a kickstart two-stroke single mounted in the frame, driving the rear wheel through an enclosed chain; the chain case also served as the swingarm. Most, but not all, models had bodywork, which was externally mounted and unstressed. It was a simple and effective design, quite advanced for the time, and very tunable, but was never quite completely developed. The solution of just a few minor flaws could have resulted in the Lambretta being clearly the world's best scooter, but it never quite measured up to the reliability of the Vespa.

The Vespa was much less traditional. Its manufacturer, Piaggio, was an aircraft company before/during the war. This is why the single-sided trailing link front suspension of a Vespa looks like small airplane landing gear. It is. The Vespa does not have a separate frame; the pressed and welded-up bodywork forms a stressed steel monocoque. The engine, also a highly tunable kickstart two-stroke single, is mounted on the right side of the rear wheel and doubles as the swingarm. The Vespa is unique in the motorcycle world in being driven by neither chain nor shaft nor belt; it is a direct gear drive to the rear wheel. It handles amazingly well for a vehicle whose engine and transmission are off-center unsprung weight.

Although scootering is still common in Europe, it is no longer the norm. The widespread availability of affordable automobiles beginning in the '60's saw to that. In the U.S., scootering never made it to the mainstream. Larger spaces and longer distances, combined with greater affluence and earlier availability of cars for the masses (the Ford Model T), kept American scootering on the fringes of society.

Here's to the fringes; long may they live.

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