Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The Many Faces of Motorcycles - Custom Scooters
Scooters tend to get a bad rep here in the states. Maybe it has to do with our need to be the fastest, toughest and most bad ass but we're one of the only countries where a twenty-something attractive male probably wouldn't be able to pick up chicks and would be mocked by his buddies while on a Vespa. And while it's not out of the norm to see hordes of people parking their scooters outside of cafes in countries such as Italy and Spain, Japan may have the most unique scooter society.
While motorcycles started to gain a foothold among the average citizen early in the 20th century, scooters didn't start to hit the market until after World War II. Italy was in ruins. The factories, streets and city were in a dismal state, which made it harder for the average person to get around. Much like in England, consumers needed an affordable and small form of transportation that could navigate the roads. While cafe racers filled a large part of that need in England, Enrico Piaggio, the son of the owner of an Italian company, Piaggio, looked to fill the transportation void in Italy. Before the war, Piaggio had manufactured mostly aircraft and it was that which influenced the vehicle that the company would later produce, the Vespa.
"Sembra una vespa!" proclaimed Enrico Piaggio the first time he laid eyes on the vehicle. "It looks like a wasp!" Because of the heavy influence of the aircraft engineering that the company had previously done, the first Vespa was distinctly sleek and streamlined but also very different from how motorcycles were being designed. The scooter was designed with a wide front frame in order to make the two-wheeled vehicle more reliable while keeping dirt from flying up around the rider. It was the epitome of Italian class and style and, in the first three years of production, about 35,000 were sold making the Vespa an extreme success.
Since its first production, the scooter has not only been exported to other countries with many other companies fought to catch up. In the 80's, Honda stepped up to the plate to offer their version of the scooter. And while the Italians saw them as cheap knock offs, Hondas saw some serious success with heir lightweight models and more eco friendly engines. Soon Japan had caught the scooter bug and almost every motorcycle company was producing their own versions.
But, as with the car and motorcycle industry, the Japanese style and customization has taken scooters to a whole new level. Just as popular as it is to make cars and motorcycles stand out with custom paint jobs, bodywork and parts, custom scooters now look nothing like their stock cousins. From fat rear tires, to massive speaker systems, to custom exhaust to luxury seats, these scooters rival the ingenuity of famous custom motorcycle shops in the US and are hardly ever laughed at.