The look of motorcycling is largely defined by leather — most of it in cringe-worthy designs that are long on protection and short on style, especially for women. Indeed, "motorcycle fashion" is something of an oxymoron. There are motorcycles, and there is fashion, but rarely do the twain meet.
Scooters? That's another story. Rooted in European design, the small number of designers devoted to scooter wear do a far better job of equalizing form and function, merging crash-worthy materials into styles that allow riders to step off their rides and into a restaurant without looking like they've been in a race.
"If you're on a scooter, how ridiculous is it to be wearing a racing-style leather jacket? If your bike only goes 35 miles per hour, you feel kind of like a fraud," said April Whitney, editor of Scoot magazine in San Jose. "Scooters are a personality statement, but they also have to fit into riders' lives."
Those lives are typically urban and professional — lived by individuals who value the fun, fuel efficiency and style of two wheels minus the macho posture of a motorcycle. It's no wonder scooters are especially popular with women, who are drawn to the bikes' no-muss, no-fuss automatic transmissions and step-through, rather than swing-a-leg-over, designs that let them dress like sophisticates rather than gear heads. Whereas 12% of motorcyclists are female, 41% of scooterists are women, according to the Irvine-based Motorcycle Industry Council.
And women demand more from their gear.
"I wouldn't be caught dead in anything on the market," said Arlene Battishill, a scooterist who spent years riding without protective gear rather than wearing what was available on her commute to a corporate job in real estate.
Now the 50-year-old Angeleno has her own line, GoGo Gear, a collection of six jackets that includes all the abrasion-resistant fabrics and armor of traditional riding gear but still looks feminine. It was launched this spring and is sold online and at scooter and motorcycles shops. Battishill says she was inspired by the classic lines of Coco Chanel. Sized like women's clothing, in even numbers GoGo Gear's designs follow the silhouettes of trench coats and military jackets. They also place the brand name where it belongs — inside the coat, rather than emblazoned all over the exterior, which is the unfortunate norm for most two-wheeler gear. This fall, Battishill expanded her line with pants, using an unlikely come-hither moniker for Kevlar-reinforced apparel: "ultimate date night" jeans.
Battishill anticipates sales of $250,000 this year (part of the $1.81-billion annual U.S. apparel market for scooters and motorcycles). But she just opened her doors and expects her business to grow — eventually. Sales are sluggish this year, as they are for both scooter makers and most mom-and-pop scooter apparel manufacturers.)
"The market's tough, but what we've been able to accomplish in terms of where our products are sold and market share is pretty good," said Bradford Duval, founder of Portland's Corazzo line of scooter apparel, which includes T-shirts, sweaters and jackets and is priced at $22 to $359. It's sold at more than 250 stores on four continents as well as on the Corazzo website (http://www.corazzo.net). Annual business is in the low seven figures globally.
Duval is a former Vespa boutique owner who never received a single phone call from anyone making riding gear for his scooter customers. So in 2003, Duval launched Corazzo, a line that draws heavily from styles of the '50s, '60s and '70s, because "so many people look so bad on motorcycles," he said. "It's a sad state of affairs. If more stylish riding apparel's got to come from the scooter world," so be it.
"In our opinion, most of the style lines that are going to look good in 100 years have already been created, so what we do is take classic style concepts, add some modern materials, armor and reflectives and create a garment that doesn't look like you just got off a BMW" motorcycle, he said.
Duval has sold thousands of his striped "5.0" jackets — one of his earliest designs — and he expects to sell a lot more, no doubt adding to the swarms of scooter riders that already show up at rallies wearing them.
"That tells you there's not many options out there," said Scoot's Whitney.
But there are some, such as the "Quadrophenia"-inspired U.K. brand, Armadillo, which recently expanded its offerings from the heavy, armored overcoats that inspired the line's name to include Kevlar-reinforced hoodie jackets and lighter-weight pieces lined with Cordura.
"The scooter look is more European and professional. There's no chaps and leather and tattoos," said Joel Martin, who is based in Miami and has been importing the Armadillo brand since January, selling them in scooter shops and online. Prices range from $150 to $399. "People care what they wear."