On a roll A MOD renaissance revs up the scooters and the styles of the '60s again

February 25, 1996|By Victoria Niven and Dean Dalfonzo

In a Mount Vernon back street, signs of a curious revival are evident. Twenty vintage Italian motor scooters are neatly aligned in a row. Their riders, standing quietly nearby, have left no detail to chance in their own appearance. Hair is shaped in a sober blunt cut, bangs low to the eye, reminiscent of the early Beatles. Dark sunglasses mask their eyes. They sport short, boxy jackets. Expressions are solemn. Their stance is as tailored as their form -- with feet turned out and hands held behind their backs.

They've gathered to talk scooters, pose and, of course, ride. They sport a look that defines a lifestyle that's been forgotten, until recently. They call themselves MODS, and they're back in Baltimore.

These are not motorcycle fans of the rugged Harley hog sort. For many of these riders, clothes matter as much as the vehicle. There's even a few Baltimoreans who will never be seen astride their scooters unless they're dressed in their MOD attire; the scooter is the accessory.

The history of MODS, or Moderns, can be traced to London's West End in the early '60s. Places like London's Bastille coffee bar were hangouts for teen-age MOD-sters. Back then, MOD meant a round-the-clock devotion to looking and being cool. If you weren't fanatically in tuned to the constant change in fashion's ins and outs, you were not a MOD. One day bowling shoes. The next day loafers. The MOD was on top of it all.

Being cool meant defying authority and the rigid boundaries of the '50s. The true MOD simply ignored any authority figure or role model that didn't fall under MOD. They were into clubs and hangin' out. Clothes, scooters, the Who and dance clubs became the MOD houses of worship. The MOD-sters also obsessed over R&B music, Motown and ska, a reggae jazz.

The aversion to anything un-MOD led to violence in 1964, when MOD scooter gangs clashed with motorcycle-riding Rockers at England's seaside resorts. This angry incident aside, MODS set a pace for the generation. They were the first to break teen-agers into their own consumer group. MODs came to symbolize not only rebellion, but also innovation.

Now a whole new generation is rediscovering the '60s, not only the music and the clothes, but also one of the most symbolic, innovative and cherished relics -- the scooter. This veneration of the scooter has led to the formation of scooter clubs, such as the one in Baltimore that runs under the name the Baltimore Bombers.

The 20-odd Vespa and Lambretta scooter enthusiasts range in age from 17 to 60 and can be seen buzzing in formation at local parades and rallies. They strut a look, an attitude and definitely some of the finest vintage machines you'll see on two wheels.

Mark Jurus, founder of the Baltimore Bombers, displays his 1966 180 white and teal Vespa alongside scooter peers. His devotion to the scooter is not only social, he's also started a business repairing the old vehicles for others.

Today's MOD scooterists have picked up where the 1960s left off. "The scooter is a recollection of the classic and timeless feel of Europe in the '50s and '60s," says rider Peter Wolff, a four-year member of the Baltimore Bombers.

The look is smart. It's a "cafe thing," explains Mr. Wolff. It's a look that's built around clean lines and clerical neatness.

Unlike with the original MODS, neither violence nor drugs is part of the new lifestyle. Though compulsion still runs through the MOD renaissance, it's aimed in a different direction. Today's MOD is less concerned about getting his waistcoat dirty, and more hip about repairing and preserving his or her sweet vintage wheels. The MODs of the '90s are guided by an esoteric love affair with scooters and style.

Scooterists are out there, everywhere, increasing the congregation of motor-scooter worshipers with the initiation of both teen-age and silver-haired riders. While older scooter groupies thrive on revisiting an era that they were once a part of, they and younger scooterists alike are attracted by diverse factors, such as MOD fashion, the resurgence of ska music, and the "high" of scooter exhibitions or rallies.

From Cape Cod's June rally with the Boston Stranglers club to the Mayor's Day and Thanksgiving Day parade rides in Baltimore, the Baltimore Bombers rally up and down the East Coast to show their wheels, socialize and mostly have a heck of a lot of fun riding.

It's only been in the last couple of years that MOD scooterists began to form groups. Scooterists spotted each other buzzing down the side streets, but each was still alone with the secret of this MOD love affair. It wasn't until scooter owners like Mark Jurus got the itch to network that scooter enthusiasts rode out of the woodwork.

The Baltimore Bombers is a mosaic of professionals -- graphic designers, engineers, students and guidance counselors -- interconnected by a devotion to a MOD vestige.

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