Enthusiasts came to Seattle from as far away as Germany to trade stories, compare notes, test-drive different models and find their own niche...

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Put a few hundred Vespa owners in a parking lot together with free Red Bulls and an intoxicating afternoon sun, and sparks are inevitable.

At Saturday’s Amerivespa rally, part of a three-day event for scooter enthusiasts of all types, riders eyed each other’s seats, asking about comfort vs. style. They traded stories of spills, sideswipes and sympathetic spouses (or the opposite).

They got personal sometimes, too.

“You’ve got a really short inseam, like I do,” one man said to a new friend.

“Probably,” the other replied, and agreed it can be hard sometimes to straddle a gas tank.

The riders came to Seattle from as far as Germany for the annual rally, held in a different city each year. It ends today.

Riders tour the city, test-drive different scooters, buy gear and participate in activities such as an obstacle course.

For most, it’s a rare opportunity to hang out with hundreds of like-minded people in one place.

“Everyone is welcome,” said J.D. Merryweather, president of the Vespa of America Club.

Within this subculture, though, divisions emerge.

Hard-core riders like vintage scooters for the history and tradition. They’re not into the environmental benefits or convenience. They personalize their Vespas with stickers and do their own repairs, thank you very much.

The new models?

For sissies, they claim.

“They’re made of plastic, not metal. They have rattlesnake-skin seats. They’re cutesy,” said Geoff MacIver, from Victoria, B.C., who has a 1983 Vespa.

Cutesy, on the other hand, is a big draw for the newbies, who ride Vespas made since 2001, when the Italian company started selling scooters again in the U.S. after being out of the market for several years.

The newer models fit in with the broader auto-revival movement, which brought drivers the new Volkswagen Bug and the Mini Cooper, said Dave McCabe, editor of American Scooterist magazine.

He spoke about the history of the scooter movement. (Recap: it started in Italy, swept through England and then went global. Today if you want to see swarms of Vespas, which means “wasp” in Italian, head to Southeast Asia.)

Although a few Harley-Davidson T-shirts and telltale beards were spotted in the crowd, scooter enthusiasts define themselves as against that grain. That’s one thing both old- and new-style riders agreed on.

“Getting on a motorcycle takes effort,” McCabe said. “You have to gear up. They’re heavy. Scooters are nimble. They’re much more fun to ride, and they’re quirky. They’re like these cute little things. Scooters are just prettier. They have lots of curves and they’re shapely.

“I haven’t slept with my scooter,” he added.


Roxana Popescu: 206-464-2112 or rpopescu@seattletimes.com