The Mod Squad

A rally lets scooter enthusiasts sample Baltimore's charms and rural routes as they share their love of a two-wheel ride.

August 10, 2005|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

The world canters by from the back seat of Frank Barich's Bajaj Chetak 150 motor scooter. There's time to study the expression of an old woman in a housecoat sitting on her porch, to admire red hibiscus blooms as large as pie pans, to silently freak out at the prospect of rounding a hairpin curve at an alarming angle.

Down and around, down and around, Barich deftly banks his scooter, while keeping an eye on some 15 others also wending through the turns and "twisties" of rural Oella and Ellicott City.

They travel as a team, signaling turns with their left hands, alerting one another to menacing potholes and blocking traffic at intersections to avoid getting separated.

Caution doesn't scratch fun. As the scooter she has hitched a ride on takes a thrilling dip, Momi Antonio throws her hands straight up, as if she's on a roller coaster - or at least a roller coaster commercial.

The pack's destination on this toasty first Saturday in August is a "big bacon breakfast" in Ellicott City, where 80 owners of Vespas, Lambrettas, Stellas, Aprilias and Bajajs have gathered for Baltimore's first Charm City Rally for scooter enthusiasts.

Rallies are a way to show off your town, says Melissa Rands, who first fell in love with an unattainable, mint-green Vespa displayed in a Florence, Italy, storefront. "It was so beautiful," she sighs.

The Hampden home Rands shares with Bart Phillips (whom she attained by way of the Amsterdam scooter scene) is a crash pad for some of the out-of-town scooter crowd. "It's really fun to ride in a big rally with 80 or 100 scooters," says Rands, the adviser for the Maryland Institute College of Art's study abroad program.

Rallies also showcase a vehicle that is easy to park, uses minimal fuel and costs little to insure. Maximum speeds range from 30 mph to 80 mph, depending on a scooter's age, engine size and how souped up it is.

"In Europe, two wheels rule," Rands says. "In the U.S., they don't. We're trying to raise the profile of two-wheel riders. Having a rally in your town promotes the scene."

Although they have a step-through chassis, scooters with engines measuring more than 50 cubic centimeters are registered as motorcycles and require licenses. Smaller motor scooters are officially banned in the city, but are hardly nonexistent. Scooters that show for rallies are generally street legal.

The night before the Charm City rally, scooter people had straggled in from Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C., some sodden from frightful downpours. Then came a night of revelry and shop talk that culminated with a 4 a.m. scooter tour through the Gwynns Falls Valley.

Such impulsive escapades help to explain "scooter time," which takes into account that scooter rally events tend to start an hour late, thus buying recovery minutes for the dazed motorheads who slump on the couch in Rands' home and watch American Chopper, a fantasy bike show on the Discovery Channel.

Start your engines

Soon, though, the hung-over and the bleary-eyed start their engines and aim for Ellicott City. With a sweeping wave of his arm, an obliging Hampden man sends them on their way.

After the Ellicott City breakfast, the scooter rally will split in two. Dozens will opt for a rambling, three-hour ride led by Mike Heytens on country roads in Baltimore and Howard counties.

Others will motor back to Baltimore for the "Fells Point Shop-O-Rama Poker Run" sponsored by the Baltimore Bombshells, the "all-girl scooter club" that sprung several years ago from the guy-centric Baltimore Bombers.

After a barbecue dinner at a South Baltimore bar, the scooter guys and girls would reconvene at the Lithuanian Hall in West Baltimore for "Soul Night." There, local DJ Pablo Fiasco would spin ska, reggae and Motown music, required listening for scooter folk modeling themselves on the working-class Mods of 1960s London who also favored smart, narrowly tailored suits and sleek little Lambrettas and Vespas.

Late in the evening, trophies welded by Baltimore sculptor Tim Scofield from crankshafts, pistons, flywheels and other scooter engine parts would be awarded to the prettiest scooters and the most dedicated scooter riders.

It takes about an hour on back roads from Hampden to reach the suburban cul-de-sac, now encircled like a shiny charm bracelet with 50 classic and new scooters. There, Mark "Bobo" Bobotek, a 46-year-old attorney, hosts a breakfast with wife, Loriann, that includes heaps of bacon, prepared by Heytens, his neighbor and founder of the Big Bacon Breakfast Scooter Club.

Steve Greer tries to thread a clutch wire through the handlebars of his 1965 Lambretta TV175 parked in the scooter circle. So far, Greer, of Laurel, has avoided the scooter clubs. But Baltimore's debut rally drew him in. "I've come around," he says. "These people are nice and they have breakfast."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.