Illustration: Chad Lindsay
The blue ’59 Vespa in front of me swerves and its rider points to the ground, warning me of a potential hazard. I drift to the left and look down as I pass what isn’t much more than a greasy spot in the road framed in bloody fur and broken teeth. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of road kill driving my car, but I’ve never been able to take in the full effect like I can while riding my scooter. The world’s details are harsher when they aren’t boxed out by layers of metal and glass. Blasting four feet over the asphalt, I’m forced to examine exactly the way in which these dead animals decompose and cook in the desert sun, eyes popping out, spilled guts filling with maggots. There’s something unhealthy about this, I imagine. Constantly being so close to the more brutal side of nature must have permanent, mind-warping effects. Maybe this is why scooterists, real scooterists, are so wild and deranged.
I’m riding through American Fork Canyon as part of an event hosted by the Brigham’s Bees Scooter Club—Utah’s most active scooter club. It’s a chaotic collective of scooter enthusiasts who get together every two weeks or so for rides and barbeques. Not only do they do local rides around Utah Valley and Salt Lake City, but in recent months they’ve participated in rides as far south as Moab and as far north as Antelope Island. Although occasionally known for their out-of-hand partying, the Brigham’s Bees work to maintain a reputation as the friendly, harmless scooter club in Utah. But the striking sight of twenty scooters howling down the road makes quite an impression.
Leading the crew on his red Stella affectionately dubbed “The Albatross” is club president Sean Blake. Face obscured by scratched sunglasses and a goatee, Blake looks like some kind of crazed beatnik slicing through the heat mirages that rise from the asphalt like steamy ghosts. It has been two years since Blake took leadership of the club, and he has been instrumental in helping it reach the level of activity that BBSC now enjoys. Boo Crandall follows close behind. Crandall is a longtime BBSC member and local scooter legend infamous for launching off of poorly constructed jumps on his ’59 Vespa. I trail the two on my orange Stella, and to my rear is a vicious crew of riders as varied as the bikes they ride. Among them is Taylor Allen, a barely-legal scooter mechanic on his dark purple “Frankenstella”—an unholy mishmash of salvaged parts fueled by siphoned gasoline. He has a toolbox bungeed to the rack just in case roadside repairs are in order, as they often are.
The BBSC came together in 2001, founded and led by David Hurtado, the owner of Orem’s Scooter Lounge. Aside from being home to some of Utah’s best and most trusted scooter mechanics and dealers, the Scooter Lounge serves as the Bees’ official headquarters, playing host to summer barbecues and pre-ride meet-ups. Hurtado, now a busy family man, didn’t make it to today’s ride, but he’s logged enough miles over the years to put the rest of us to shame. In fact, this is one of his shop’s major selling points.
“The Scooter Lounge is the best place to buy a scooter or have one serviced because we have the most knowledgeable staff and the best mechanics. We are scooter enthusiasts, we ride what we sell,” Hurtado says. Before opening the shop and after years of hobby restorations, Hurtado had a gig with a Vespa dealership, and it was there that the idea struck him. “I realized that there was a need for a shop like ours, and that nobody was really interested in meeting it, so The Scooter Lounge was born.”
It is very much because of the Scooter Lounge that our stylish band of real world misfits are now climbing the mountain road to Tibble Fork Resevoir. The roads are thick with weekend traffic, SUVs loaded with coolers and fishing poles, vehicles large and powerful enough to kill any one of us should they be piloted carelessly. Blake looks back to young Allen, as if to make sure he’s still there. He’s explained it to me before, “Taylor has nine lives like a cat, and I’ve seen him lose three of them.” But, like any dedicated scooterist, even being sideswiped by a distracted driver in a blind intersection hasn’t deterred Allen from getting back on his scooter. He grins, taking in the scenery and crowds.
We ride as a group across the narrow dam, the reservoir to our left and the rest of the world to our right. The view is spectacular, and we stop to drink it in. Everyone kills their engines and the rumbling stops, leaving a strange void in the air. The emptiness is quickly consumed by the laughter and general shit-talking that follows this crowd around. Folks pull drinks out of glove boxes and backpacks and loiter, admiring each other’s scooters. Shit-talking turns into good-natured bickering and arguing about which make of scooter is the best.
“It’s just in our nature to want to kick each other’s ass,” says Blake. The most ridiculous thing in the world to him is that scooterists get run off the road by trucks, yelled at by Harley riders and still manage to find reasons to fight with each other. This is why the BBSC is so accepting of riders of all breeds. “There should just be mutual respect between riders of two-wheeled vehicles,” he says, but when I ask him about the relationship scooterists have with motorcyclists he answers simply, “Two words: Fuck. Bikers.”
He doesn’t mean it to be as harsh as it sounds, he’s just tired of repeatedly being called a “pussy.” In fact, many scooter riders also own and ride motorcycles, and several of Utah’s scooter clubs embrace the wild and free lifestyle traditional of outlaw motorcycle gangs. The SLC Gropers, one of the wildest of the Utah clubs, fly under a black and white flag depicting two breasts being cupped by masculine hands. In an online advertisement looking for new members, club member Matt Stout claims to be sickened by the mod style so closely associated with scooter culture and draws plans for a scooter rally to be sponsored by sex toy manufacturers and hard liquor distilleries. He also describes the club’s initiation ceremony, known as a “grope-in.”
The Salt Lake chapter of the Pharaohs Scooter Cult, a club based in Oceanside, California with chapters in ten states and one in Australia, is also known for their wild, individualized initiation ceremonies which all seem to be based purely on drunken fun. Rumors of initiations circulate throughout Utah’s scooter underground by word of mouth. One such legend is that a new initiate, appropriately named Naked Laura, had a wine bag tied to her hand and was required to strip and pour booze down the throats of all club members, both men and women.
Fortunately VaVaVroom, a recently unveiled all-girl club led by long time riders Michelle Pate and Debbie Larsen, is doing its damnedest to promote a scene full of positive changes. Pate says, “We just wanted to have an all-girl club where we could ride together and women could learn basic scooter repairs and maintenance.” When it comes right down to it though, all the Utah clubs are friends and ride together, creating perfect conditions for Utah to host the annual Last Days of Summer Scooter Rally, a three day August weekender luring in riders from all over the western United States.
The Brigham’s Bees spend all summer gearing up for the Rally, testing out their scooters on short rides like the one we’re on now. It’s a good thing too, because engine trouble in a rally setting means getting left in the lonely, smoky dust of hundreds of scooters.
After snapping group pictures and swatting at mosquitoes, the Brigham’s Bees are ready to roll out, back down the canyon and up to Salt Lake for a post-ride party at the house of John Southerland, the charming president of an offshoot club, the Angry Bees. With a few kicks, everyone’s engines roar to life—everyone’s except for Mr. Crandall’s, that is. Frustrated, he hops off his Vespa, motioning for Allen to bring his toolbox. It isn’t long before Crandall snaps his scooter’s cowl back into place and stands over his Vespa for a moment. He kicks the 200cc engine to life, and lets out a long, affirmative howl. With that, our forty-wheeled vehicle, now more evolving organism than machine, cuts through weekend traffic and rumbles like a psychotic bat down toward the mouth of American Fork Canyon. There is something stirring, and almost saving, in the unlikely combination of our bastardized Italian style and the freedom of the American open road. The canyon and her walls, complete with cliffs, trees and waterfalls, towers above us impressively. We have something that other tribes lack, but we are fueled by the same sentimental feeling of fraternal union. We are an inseparable spectacle, one with each other and with Mother Nature herself, and the canyon — all of Utah in fact — is suddenly ours.