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The '90s Mod Squad : Trends: Today's scooter rallies bring together a smaller, older crowd. But for many riders, their hearts are in the past.

May 31, 1991|ROSE APODACA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Memories of the freedom of youth, hot summer nights and the wind blowing through their hair have Southland motor scooter enthusiasts revving up their Vespas and Lambrettas and hitting the rally trail.

About three dozen riders took to the streets in Costa Mesa last Sunday. The scooter brigade ended at Goodies Nightclub in Fullerton, which was hosting a 12-hour concert featuring Mod, ska and post-punk bands.

Almost 100 owners of the Italian-made scooters convened in late April at Anaheim's Go Fast Scooters shop for the first of several summer rallies. They traveled to San Diego for an overnight camp-out, complete with a live concert and scooter competition.

But unlike the rallies of several years ago that attracted hundreds of riders, scooter rallies today bring together a smaller, older crowd.

Older--as in people past their early 20s.

It wasn't the same scene in the early '80s, when many teen-agers who became involved in the Mod movement imitated the original one of the '60s by wearing tailored suits, adopting a holier-than-thou attitude and riding Piaggio-designed Vespa or Lambretta scooters.

But most of those teens found that the Modernist manifesto that emphasized youth, rebellion and change became more difficult to follow as they grew older. The Mod lifestyle interfered with their career and family responsibilities, so the pegged slacks ended up in the cedar trunk and the scooter was parked in the garage.

In the last year, however, those still Mod-at-heart have been dusting off their old bikes, realizing it is possible to grow up without growing old. Joining them are people who just love riding the machines.

"Everyone who went on the rallies five years ago were Mods. Now everyone belongs to every scene under the sun," said Greg Clauss, 23, as he panned the crowd at last month's rally.

A self-described "retired Mod" who no longer dons the 1960s-style suits, Clauss said he will always keep the spirit of youth and love the music associated with the movement. The San Clemente resident has owned a dozen Vespa scooters since he was 15; he currently has four.

Like Clauss, Erick Larson holds on to his ideals and memories of youth, although he's now the father of a 3-year-old girl and an 8-month-old boy. "We don't lose what Mod meant to us, but life goes on."

Larson, 24, is the owner of Go Fast Scooters, which he opened in 1986. In recent months, his business has been improving.

"Last year, I almost went out of business, but this year it's booming," he said. "I've been servicing bikes that have been parked from two to five years, and the owners range from old Mods to just older people."

He worked on 58 scooters last month, and he expects the summer to get even busier.

Just three miles away from Go Fast Scooters is the place where Larson got his experience--Scooterville, USA. The 41-year-old scooter shop, the oldest authorized Piaggio dealer in the U.S., has also seen its business increase--by about 30%. More scooters are being brought in for repair that have been sitting around for years, according to manager Scott Chain.

"We have certainly been replacing lots of rusty gas tanks," he said.

Chain, 28, a real estate/mortgage loan representative, continues to work at his family's business and repair his own scooters, he said, as a hobby.

Chain remembers the Mod, Mod world in Southern California, when giant rallies brought 300 to 500 riders to events sponsored by his shop and local scooter clubs. It's not like that anymore, but, Chain said, scooter lovers still have heart. "It's like a family almost. You know everyone for years, and what we all have in common is a true love for scooters."

Chain's mother, Judy, who purchased the shop in 1976 from the original owners, compares the renewed interest in Vespas to the longtime fascination with vintage automobiles or motorcycles.

"When I was a teen-ager, the boys were into working on rigged-up Chevys with red flames . . . ." said the 49-year-old. "This is just another nostalgic resurgence for the kids in their 20s."

The Mod movement originated in London in 1962 as an alternative to the greasy, leather-garbed Rockers who rode around on loud motorcycles. Mods (derived from the term Modernist) adopted The Who's "My Generation" as their anthem in 1965.

The release of The Who film "Quadrophenia" in 1979 signaled the second coming of Mod, spreading from London to Los Angeles as part nostalgia and part nouveau.

But long before Vespa and Lambretta scooters became a symbol for the Mods, they were a part of growing up in the United States. The motorbikes were imported from Italy in the early 1950s.

For Hermosa Beach resident George Kuhn, 28, his 1964 Grand Sport 160 represents youth--not just his own, but that of anyone who has memories of once riding a Vespa as a teen-ager. "My greatest joy is the smile it evokes from people who were kids during the '50s and '60s and owned scooters. They come up to me and start relating their stories of when they were young," he said. "It's a piece of history."

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