Vintage Vespa(SM)

Steve at The Scooter Scoop was trolling the patent sites again, and learned that our friends at Piaggio & C. S.p.A. are hoping to protect the phrase “Vintage Vespa” as a service mark. Piaggio returned to America a decade ago and alienated their entire customer base with a schload of legal action against the small handful of shops and parts distributors that kept the Vespa brand name alive in their absence. A handful ended up paying big money to be certified as a “Vintage Vespa Restoration Center,” a designation which carried little weight and was soon forgotten. At the same time, Piaggio offered (for sale!) a catalog of vintage parts that they seemed unable to supply to their dealers in any sort of timely fashion. In the ten years since then, most of the few truly successful Vespa dealerships are back in the hands of scooter enthusiasts, including several that Piaggio tried to shut down back in ’99 in favor of snooty luxury car dealerships and boutiques. But many of the best vintage scooter repair shops still want nothing to do with Grande Azzuro.

If the request becomes reality, how can an unsanctioned repair shop (many of which have been in business much longer than PiaggioUSA) attract customers? “We fix postwar Italian monocoque 4-speed rotary-valve steel-bodied 2-stroke motorscooters” just doesn’t flow off the tongue. Our suggestion? Simply offer vintage Piaggio parts and service.”

Weird Chicago Ride

We’ve seen a good number of Halloween rides over the years, but Scooterworks Chicago has taken things a step farther and organized a spooky ride curated and hosted by the experts at Weird Chicago on November 7 2010. The Weird Chicago Scooter Ride leaves at noon from Scooterworks after a 10am brunch at Fireside Restaurant (down the street). Brunch is a steal at $10, and the tour is $15, half-price from Weird Chicago’s usual tours (they won’t have to gas up the bus for this one). The ride runs until 8:30pm and visits “various sites where famous killings and crimes took place in the mob era of old Chicago.” Lots of people dress up for the ride, I love when people wear their silver vampire grillz its a great touch on any costume.

It’s Time to GIVI Thanks

About a month back I received a call from Phil Waters from Pride of Cleavland Scooters. He had an offer I ultimately couldn’t refuse. GIVI USA offered an opportunity attend the Indianapolis Motorcycle Grand Prix as guest of the LCR Honda MotoGP team, run by Lucio Checchinello. Phil was generous and thoughtful enough to pass this opportunity along to an enormous fan of MotoGP. An impromptu ten hour road trip later I was rewarded with the VIP treatment in the exclusive Grand Prix paddock and the privileged of watching qualifying practice from the LCR Honda pit garage while rider Randy DePuniet put in his best efforts while recovering from a violent crash only weeks before where he broke his leg. We were hosted by team representatives Elisa Pavan and Oscar Haro who lead us out to spend time right on the pit wall during the closing minutes of qualifying when riders were putting in their last ditch efforts for pole position. Our paddock passes allowed us amazing access to spend time rubbing elbows with the greatest motorcycle racers in the world. Sunday we watched the race from the main grandstands and had a wonderful time before heading back on a non-stop drive back to Minnesota.

I just wanted to give special thanks to POC Phil, Givi USA and the LCR Honda Team (links to their Facebook pages). Without this opportunity my next post regarding the Lambretta Racing Team wouldn’t have been possible! Stay tuned.


Scooter Superstore
and the Beginning of the End

On July 27, Scooter Superstore of America, a Ft. Lauderdale-based chain with several dealerships in Florida and Georgia, filed for bankruptcy. While many shops have closed their doors lately, and individual importers have faced some unique problems, SSTAM’s trouble could be–pardon the tired idiom–the straw that breaks the industry’s back.
Continue reading “Scooter Superstore
and the Beginning of the End”

Genuine: Discounts Coming

Tweet from Genuine honcho Philip McCaleb:

Genuine scooter will announce “save ferris” prices for 150, 125, blackjack, and 2 stroke stellas early next week.

Thanks to a combination of the economy, market saturation, too much regulation too late, and bad luck, things are bad for everyone in the industry right now, sadly even the best of ’em. Again, I promise a big story over the weekend with some more details about what’s going on behind the scenes in the industry.

SYM auctions 110 scooters

Guido Ebert reports SYM USA is auctioning 110 scooters, in various states of title… ed… ness.

It’s unclear from Ebert’s story where these 110 scooters came from, but as we’ll discuss in detail in a coming story, in the rapidly-declining scooter market, most scooter importers and their dealer financiers (usually GE Capital) are finding themselves with large numbers of scooters returned when dealers default on financing, considering the title situation, we’d bet that’s the source here.

Massachusetts Cracks Down on “Limited Use” Scooters

The Massachusetts RMV is targeting scooterists that have registered their “Limited Use” scooters as mopeds. Many states don’t require plates for mopeds, so some dealers and scooterists exploit the confusion to register bona-fide scooters as mopeds to skirt registration fees, insurance requirements, parking restrictions, and licensing requirements. When enforcement officials aren’t clear on the laws, it just makes things worse. It’s up to you to be certain your bike is registered and titled legally and that you meet all requirements to ride safely and legally.

EPA Retracts Certifications
from Four Chinese Manufacturers

The EPA has withdrawn certification for off-road vehicles from four US importers, Hensim USA, Loncin USA, Peace Industry Group, and Seaseng, affecting 200,000 vehicles. All four companies used broker MotorScience Enterprise to handle their emissions testing. Three of the four companies also import scooters, but it appears no scooters were included in the action. The EPA alleges MotorScience provided “tailpipe emissions information was either incomplete or falsified.”
Continue reading “EPA Retracts Certifications
from Four Chinese Manufacturers”

Pep Boys fined $5m

Looks like Pep Boys and their scooter supplier, Baja Inc. are finally being penalized for their questionable scooters in the largest Clean Air Act case ever. The complaint alleges that Pep Boys sold over 241,000 illegal vehicles and engines (45 models!). Hopefully this publicity will spark an NHTSA investigation (the Clean Air Act action ignores the safety and road-worthiness of these vehicles.) Baja (not to be confused with Bajaj) was apparently in dire financial straits already, their fine was reduced.

I live near a Pep Boys and always marveled that they sold fifth-rate “off-road-use” vehicles in the middle of the City of Chicago. I see grownups AND little kids riding those scooters and minibikes on city streets and sidewalks all the time… no helmets, no license, no training, no lights (let alone turn signals), on bikes spewing blue smoke, wondering “How does a huge national chain like Pep Boys get away with selling those things?” I guess now we know.

Schwinn, the Bicycle

This weekend I stopped by my favorite local bicycle shop and it got me thinking. So let me spew some Andy Rooney nonsense on you:

  • Schwinn (bicycle) dealers have had it hard since Schwinn’s 1990s 2001-era (see comments) decision to sell inferior bikes under the Schwinn name in big-box stores. You can argue all day that even top-end Schwinns are made in Asia now, and/or nothing compared to their former glory, but the general issue is that there is a marked difference between what’s sold at Schwinn dealerships, and what’s sold at Wal-Mart. Schwinn corporate maybe has a lot to answer for, but their dealers always seem totally right-on to me. They love the brand, they love cycling, and they know their stuff. Incidentally, that’s everything a good scooter shop should be.
  • So, it says a lot (and it’s probably a good thing) that very few Schwinn bicycle dealers sell Schwinn scooters. Maybe the scooters weren’t even offered to the bicycle dealerships, but it seems more likely that a Schwinn bicycle dealer is uniquely positioned to realize that Schwinn will slap their name on anything, AND that even in hard times, it’s best not to sell something you can’t support 100%. The two products have little in common, it’d be like a car dealership deciding to offer steam-powered tractors. They’re both vehicles, but the parts supply, technology, customers, and expertise do not overlap. At all.
  • Schwinn’s making some tentative steps into e-bikes. They’re playing it pretty conservative, but that’s probably smart. It’s interesting that some bicycle dealers have jumped on the e-bike (UM, E-Go, etc) bandwagon, and others avoid them like the plague. I’m really curious how that market develops.
  • Bicycles are, like scooters, a great example of “You get what you pay for.” Sure, certain brand names will artificially jack up a price, but when it comes down to nuts and bolts, you can see the differences in quality. Scooters or bicycles, the cheapest asian models are assembled and sold by unskilled retailers without any support or personal contact. They’re made of components that are often second-quality, and sometimes dangerous. They feature outdated technology, or superficial imitations of current technology.
  • Short term savings matter little when you can’t source a replacement part or constant niggling problems keep it off the road. A good bike or scooter costs more, but comes with long-term support, a personal relationship, and quality. Parts and accessories will be available for years. Vina bought a 40-year-old Austrian three-speed at a garage sale for $10. I have a 15-year-old Schwinn cruiser, our local bike shop can get us any replacement part we need. But every time we’re in there, someone wheels in a three-month-old Wal-Mart bike with a cracked weld or some goofy mechanism that can’t be repaired or replaced. Sound like any scooter shops you’ve been in lately?
  • The cries of elitism come into play in both markets, too. But looking at the bicycle world is a good way to distance yourself and see that in an underegulated market (oh, the laws are there, but not the enforcement!) you end up with bottom-of-the-barrel deathtraps competing with top-end luxury models, and you start to understand why insiders are frustrated with all the junk out there. Cheap bikes rob sales from knowledgeable dealers, threaten consumer safety, and turn potential fans away from the hobby before they even get started.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, spend any time in a respectable bike shop, and you’ll see folks strut in with a credit card and buy a $4000 racing bike because “I was thinking about trying a triathalon” This, too, happens in scooter shops, and usually ends with Mr. “I don’t need a helmet, I’ve been riding dirt bikes since I was a kid” dropping his new Vespa 300 before he makes it out of the parking lot. And in both markets, there’s always the “audiophile-quality” “better” parts available for upgrades. Again, common sense prevails, but few people have it. I like to think that when you buy a well-designed product, the engineers that designed it knew what they were doing, and if you find yourself needing to upgrade, you shoulda bought a better one in the first place.
  • Last note: You always see people asking “What’s a good scooter can I get for $500.” For $500 you’re just getting into the juicy part of the bicycle market. Who would want to be on the road on a motor vehicle that costs less than a bicycle? A lot of top-quality custom bicycles cost more than scooters! And you could use the exercise!