Why customize?

This may be a no-brainer for most folks, but I’ve always wondered why scooter and motorcycle people have always had the compulsion to add accessories and/or custom paint jobs to their vehicles. I’ve always gone along with it because I’m a creative-minded person and it appealed to me, but that didn’t answer why it was so commonly done in the first place. The current scooter boom, and my first new scooter, have answered the question for me. Ten years ago, it was nearly impossible to find two similar bikes at a rally. Perhaps there would be three silver P200s, but their states of repair and accessories would generally set them apart. These days, there’s an ever-increasing number of similar scooters at any rally, there were maybe a dozen or more orange Stellas at Amerivespa, for instance. Minneapolis was three-quarters comprised of more-or-less stock Stellas. When you show up to a rally or ride on a new scooter, there are very good odds someone else will be there on the EXACT SAME scooter in the SAME color. And that pretty much explains it all. Obvious to anyone thats ever bought a new vehicle, but funny that in ten years of riding vintage bikes, I’d never figured that out.

6 thoughts on “Why customize?”

  1. My opinion of this: the operative word here is “Stella.” The new scooters are pretty much ready-to-go out of the box, commuter-reliable, and appeal to a lot of folks who love the Vespa look, but don’t want to deal with the constant tinkering a vintage scooter would require… much like people who ride the new Harleys (or the Harley clones) over those who ride an older classic, or a person who loves the look of old hotrods but doesn’t have the capacity to deal with an old hotrod, so they buy a PT Cruiser. The accessories applied are the ones that can be snapped into place in less than an hour, and don’t require a full compliment of tools that a non-tinkerer would not have or know how to use. Just two different kinds of people, and scootering has become so much more popular among a wider type of rider that I would imagine there are so many more out-of-the-box scooterists NOW than there were 10 years ago.

    As far as “Why do we customize?” goes, that’s like asking “Why do we ride vintage?”

  2. VC, your argument holds some water, but the ‘customization’ thing is not as new as “harley lawyers” or “new scooterists” (I’ll let you determine the comparative derision intended there.)

    In fact, I’d argue that customization in the 50s and 60s was *more* rampant, especially with scooters. Sure, they were more popular then, but that’s my point, the higher the chance you might run into someone with a clone of your scooter, the more interest you’d have in adding doo-dads to it or painting it a different color. Dealer Specials of the 60s (the Baldet Arc-in-Ciel or the Grimstead Hurricane) are another example of people trying to set themselves apart from the pack. An Ulma accessory catalog i have from that period shows probably a dozen different horncovers, several variations of crash bars, seat covers, flags, chrome flashes, fender mascots, 20 different hubcap styles-far more than what is available now. This is pre-Mod-heyday, too, Mods did not invent scooter accessories, they were popular with the 50s-scooterist crowd, too. And of course Harley and Indian customization goes back well before that. While a range of accessories for classic vespas has always been available, it’s expanded greatly now that more people are more concerned about standing out from the crowd. I’d say the biggest difference between now and then is that today, the bike manufacturers have capitalized further on the trend, making somewhat-more-homogenized, dummyproofed accessories for their own specific bikes, so there’s a little less creativity involved (and bikes are less standardized these days, that doesn’t help), but there are also plenty of aftermarket companies making accesories, and still plenty of DIY nuts coming up with even more creative ways of setting their bikes apart. I’d say judging from Amerivespa, the current batch of custom-painted GTs is the biggest breakthrough in custom scooter design since the 80s, the new scooterists have taken it to a new level, at least with the paint.

    I think the “chopper/custom” craze going on right now is just a response to homogenization, a cyclical thing. Sadly, most of the chopper/custom scene represented on TV and at motor events are working within the cut-and-paste prefab spectrum rather than the true custom culture that we associate with the ‘good ol’ days” but even back then, there were cookiecutter accessories and prefab parts, they’ve just been lost to history. In the future, we’ll nostalgically look back at the “true” customs of this period with awe, and we’ll forget all about the lame stuff.

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