“I ride a GS scooter with my hair cut neat
I wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet”
Mods ride scooters. End of story, right? Not exactly…
Typically, the answer you’ll read in books goes something like this: young people in Britain bought scooters as an affordable means of transportation.
Modern, urban, an object of considerable design, the scooter – or more precisely, the Vespa and Lambretta models of the mid to late 1960s – had a particular appeal to mods. They weren’t the only mode of “cheap” transportation available, so there must be a deeper attraction. Even today, a scooter can serve as a symbol of one’s dedication to modernism–they often go hand-in-hand with other passions, such as music, art, and fashion. Certainly it helped that the Vespa and Lambretta were Italian. Italy reigned as a mid-century design capital, and today still holds a considerable place in contemporary design. It would only make sense, then, that mods would be attracted to perhaps the most well-designed, from an aesthetics perspective, two-wheeled vehicle ever. What sealed the scooter’s place in our culture was its ability to be easily modified (no pun intended, honestly) to suit (is that another?) the individual rider. A whole industry exists that continues to supply riders with the chrome, mirrors, lights and other accessories necessary to complete their bikes. A mod scooter is nothing if not a reflection of one’s desire to stand out from the crowd, be noticed, and show off an intense attention to details.
Skinheads picked up were mods left off in the early and mid-70s. The classic skinhead bike from this era is the “skelly,” a Lambretta run with a replaced front fender, cutdown or removed leg shields, replaced or removed floorboards, and no cowls. This stripped down look ended up taking on a life of its own, as skins started to put nearly as much stuff back on the bike as they took off. Skelly-style bikes remained popular throughout the 80s as the scooterboy scene grew.
Scooters became a more obvious point of reference for mods in the late 1970s through early 1980s, as a mod revival swept through pop music in Britain (ushered in by bands like The Jam, Secret Affair, The Chords, The Purple Hearts, and countless others). This was helped, of course, by the release of The Who’s Quadrophenia, a film whose story centered around the Lambretta-riding Jimmy (it goes without saying that Quadrophenia is required viewing for all scooterists). From ’79 onwards, the scooter is recognized for its iconic status, often literally so: you’ll see the scooter used on record labels and flyers for mod bands (commercial advertising was quick to capitalize on the scooter’s appeal, and you will see it used, even today, by people with something to sell). While you won’t find any 60s mods singing about scooters – indeed, many top mod bands of the 1960s claim to have never owned or even ridden one – revival groups embraced the scooter with the same passion as they embraced their parkas. The Killermeters biggest hit is an ode to Lambretta, SX 225, and features the classic chorus: “It’s a rebore!” (For those who don’t know, the owner of a SX 225 would have taken the engine’s cylinder from their Lambretta SX 200 – the number indicates the cc of a bike, or essentially how powerful it is – and had it bored, or enlarged, to make the scooter a faster 225 cc. Or, as the Killermeters put it, “Cos she goes more!”).
Decades removed from the sixties, there is still no sign of the love affair with the scooter dying. Indeed, as the scooter’s popularity is once again on the rise, it may be more important than ever to hold on to and embrace our roots.
Want to know more? Read our Allez Cats page on scooting 8Ts in Chicago, then visit our Gallery for Allez Cats photos, flyers, patches, and zines.
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