Since before we started BEHIND THE MOTO, one of my many two-wheeled pursuits has been the scooter news blog ScooterFile. I started it to scratch my own itch. There are many great motorcycle news sources, but scooters don’t get nearly the love they deserve, and scooter fans are often like an audience without a band. Along the way I’ve had scooters come and go from my own garage. Recently though, I’ve been going through a bit of a scooter renaissance in terms of my own enthusiasm for scooters. They’re just such easy fun.
One of the things driving my renewed enthusiasm is attending a couple of recent scooter rallies here in the midwest. Just a few weeks back I was in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota for the Land of 10,000 Scoots rally, and more recently, we hosted part of Chicago’s own Slaughterhouse rally here at Motoworks Chicago.
As Chicago’s Vespa dealer, our love for scooters runs deep. We love the vintage Italian bikes, we have a huge soft spot for ’80s era Honda scooters, and obviously there’s no finer modern scooter than Vespa. More than our personal enthusiasm though, people buy a lot of Vespas from us each year. It’s been a core part of our business for a long time and Johnny Moto himself will be the first to tell you just how fun and how useful a scooter is here in the city.
Over the years, we’ve partnered with Chicago’s Slaughterhouse scooter rally to host part of the event here at our store on 1901 S. Western Avenue. In particular, we love putting on a BBQ and then hosting the rally gymkhana. What’s a gymkhana? It’s a scooter rally tradition, that’s what. Originally, gymkhanas were equestrian events — an obstacle course for horse and rider. In the case of a scooter gymkhana, it’s an obstacle course you do on two wheels that’s equal parts skill, speed and silly. It has to be seen to be believed, and has to be run to be fully appreciated. It’s some of the most fun you can have without getting arrested.
Our part of this year’s Slaughterhouse rally was to be the end destination on Saturday’s big group ride. Nearly a hundred scooters turned up just before 2:00 PM as the ride arrived. The variety was incredible. From vintage Vespas and Lambrettas, to modern Vespas, classic Honda Elites, some slammed custom Ruckus (Ruckuses? Rucki?), and I even saw a Yamaha Morphous and I haven’t seen one of those in years. It was a delightful turnout and a nice break from our typical curbside lineup of Triumph and Ducati motorcycles. With everyone arrived, it was time for some fun.
This year’s gymkhana was in four parts, with riders competing against the clock. The rider with the fastest, cleanest run would be the winner, but there were hefty time penalties for flubbing obstacles, hitting cones, and/or putting your feet down. The obstacles were as follows:
The Joust — The rider sets off from the start line with a pole in-hand, and the idea is to pass their jousting lance through the highest target opening they can.
The See-saw — The rider must traverse a roughly ten foot-long teeter totter apparatus. The skilled rider can ride up, pause, balance, let the apparatus pivot, and then ride down the other side. The more adventurous rider just goes for it and treats it like a sweet ramp, bro!
The Gauntlet — Next the rider must do a tight(ish) U-turn at speed while being pelted with wet sponges by a rogue’s gallery of volunteers.
The Slalom — The final obstacle is a set of very tight cones (or in this case, cans of PBR). Not only must the rider go through these without knocking any of them over, they can’t put their foot down at any point, and they must go through the Slalom in the direction indicated by the arrows on the ground. This is not easy.
The Finish — Once they clear the Slalom, it’s full throttle to the finish line.
The past three times we’ve hosted the Slaughterhouse rally gymkhana, there has been one consistent champion: our own Johnny Moto. So this year Johnny showed up to win it, and put down an impressive time. Unfortunately, Johnny’s reign as champion came to an end as he was just outrun this time around. You can’t win them all.
Beyond the gymkhana obstacle course, there were two more unconventional rider challenge events. The first was the Pillion Piñata. Teams of two would ride by a suspended piñata on a single scooter. The rider would pilot while the passenger would take a swing at the piñata on their way by. It took several passes, just as one would hope, before the piñata burst and came crashing to the deck.
The final gymkhana co-event was the Slow Race, which is my personal favorite. It’s silly, it’s really fun to watch, and it’s actually really difficult to do well. The idea of the Slow Race is to cross the finish line last, not first, without putting your foot down. This exercise of balance and throttle control is tougher than it may sound. Give it a shot sometime on your own bike. Heats of slow racers lined up four or so at a time, with the winners advancing to the next rounds. Finally it was down to the final four, with Johnny among them. It looked like Johnny Moto was going to take the Slow Race, but he ended up disqualified for deviating too far out of his lane. The winner, funny enough, rode a vintage Lambretta. Take that, twist-and-gos!
With the gymkhana wrapped up, it was time for brats and other BBQ faire. MJ ran the grill and kept a steady supply of deliciousness flowing for the whole group. The weather was absolutely perfect and we just couldn’t have asked for a better event. We got to hang out with our scooter pals, and that’s a special thing indeed. Thank you so much to all the rally organizers, and especially to everyone to came out and had fun with us. We’ll do it again in 2018!
Looks like fun right? Schedule a test ride on a new Vespa.