Livin' La Vida Scooter

While not too long ago they were something of an anomaly, scooters are beginning to infiltrate the streets in ever-increasing numbers.  A world apart from their testosterone-laden cousin, the motorcycle, scooters and mopeds seem to represent a more sensitive counterpart. Word has it that within the (motor)cycling community scooters and mopeds have somewhat of a dorky reputation. If this is truly the case, well then pass me the pocket protector and retainer, because I’m on board with these nerds. 

The scooter subculture, which has until now received little popular attention, has recently been thrust into the mainstream eye as gas prices force Americans to consider alternative modes of transport. While they may not have a reputation as the “cool kids” in the motorcycling community, at 100 miles to the gallon and super trendy pastel color options, they look like the “cool kids” to the rest of us.

For some, scootering is about more than superb gas mileage, appealing color choices, and even transportation – it’s a way of life. Scooter aficionados across the country have formed clubs and societies in every major U.S. city. Additionally, the Moped Army, with 425 members, 35 scouts, and 27 honoraries, are represented in 20 cities.  Cincinnati’s groups meet weekly, and both attend and hold nationwide rallies, seeing peak activity in the summer.  Although their modes of transport are getting more mainstream attention, involvement in these societies is seldom – if ever – about gas prices. What these clubs are, at heart, are groups of friends who have come together based on their common love for the scootin’ lifestyle.

With militaristic monikers like the “Moped Army,” and “The Bombardment Society,” you may be tempted to fear such moped posses. Spotting the Moped Army’s local chapter, The Bombardment Society (TBS), cruising the streets, however, is more amusing than menacing, as they usually look about two sizes too big for the bikes they ride.  (Think Brand on the neighbor girl’s bike in The Goonies.)  As one will immediately gather from their website, this nationwide society is highly organized and busy “swarming and destroying since 1997.”  In fact, their mission statement  states that members uphold the moped as a way of life. For constituents, the lifestyle is all about the "moped’s aesthetic, its marginalized status in our society, the friendly traveling, easy stop communication, and our ability to enjoy the trip, as well as the destination.”

Although they don’t have an official mission statement, local scootering club the Ten Year Lates, or XYL, seems to share similar views.  XYL original Chris Hebenstreit states that members’ viewpoints are varied, but that they generally view scootering as a means of transportation, a serious hobby, and/or a way of life.  He formed the club in 2000 “by accident” with three others who met solely because of their common love of vintage Italian bikes.  Eventually they started taking weekly rides together, and eight years later their scootering club boasts fifty members from all walks of life, a website, and a chat forum hosting “Rides, repairs and rapport for Cincinnati area scooterists.”  Once or twice a week, XYL’s diverse members – doctors, I.T. and sales professionals, graphic designers, bartenders, and shop owners among them – meet to socialize and ride together. If you frequent the Comet, you’ve probably been around for one of their weekly sessions. 

One of TBS’s founding members, Chris Rice, rides these days with XYL as well, asserting that “Being a scooterist is a way of life.  It takes a different kind of mentality to take a 20-40+ year old machine and use it everyday for transportation.”  According to Rice, their focus on vintage bikes is what separates them from other scooter clubs. As he states, “Most of us in the XYL group are into the restoration and mechanical aspect of our machines. We like the fact that they… require constant maintenance.”  Care and maintenance is a similar theme with TBS members as well, whose rides, in comparison to scooters, are much smaller and have pedals.  As local TBSer Maria Seda-Reeder states, “There is never an end to fixing, tuning and customizing these things.  It’s all part of the deal.”

Both organizations recently held their annual rallies: XYL’s WKRP 2008, “Put Up or Shut Up!” was March 28-30, while The Bombardment Society’s “Bomb Prom” occurred several weekends ago, attracting aficionados from around the country.  Rallies are one of the greater membership benefits for Seda-Reeder, who views them as a “way to stay in contact with the friends I’ve made in other branches.  It’s pretty amazing to go to another city and feel like you have a built-in group of people who you already have a lot in common with, and you’ve already built a relationship with via online forums and rallies…. It’s a bonding experience.” 

On a recent trip to local scooter mecca Metro Scooter, I learned that scooter sales have increased as of late, although this isn’t necessarily the case for membership in local clubs.  Membership for both TBS and XYL is opened once a year, and is not for those indulging in a passing fad.  Initiation is a typically a lengthy process, as one has to spend a lot of quality time with the clubs to make sure both parties are a good fit.  Moped Army’s website, in fact, supplies quite a lengthy list of application guidelines. 

Membership may be selective, but the benefits of clubs centered around this lifestyle/hobby/mode of transport, or even of simply owning a scooter or moped, are manifold.  Taking pleasure in a form of transportation that the greater majority may not appreciate or understand, these travelers interact with their surroundings on a much more intimate level, as well as with those who share in the journey.  As these bands of scooter and moped brethren ride off into the sunset, they sure do look like the cool kids to me.

Cincinnati native Sarah Stephens is a writer, editor, and official-like Art Historian. In addition to writing for Soapbox, she is the author of an architecture column with CityBeat. When not writing, she’s either traveling or dreaming of her next trip.

Photography by Scott Beseler

Photos taken at Metro Scooter, Norwood