The South Carolina to Texas journey was part of the 2010 Amerivespa Rally that was created by Randolph Gardner, a founding member of the Vespa Club of America.
Hunkered down behind the windshield of my Kymco Xciting 500Ri Scooter dodging quarter-sized hail stones, I concentrate on the white line on the side of the road guiding me down the Texas interstate. Claps of thunder immediately follow flashes of lightning as we press on looking for shelter from a storm cell that threatens to beat us into submission. I mumble to myself, “Well, this is an interesting way to go out.” I’m sure I’m going to be fried by a million volts of white-hot electricity at any second. I can see it now, “He got hit by lightning? On a scooter? What the hell was he doing on a scooter?”
Because I was with a group of riders from Kymco who invited me to join them on a marathon-style ride to Amerivespa, one of the largest scooter rallies in the States. Our route took six days through 1500 miles of Southern states starting in South Carolina then through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and finally, Texas. I’m always up for new challenges and experiences on any machine with two wheels, so there I am, ducking lightning bolts on the backside of Bastrop. Now I know just how hardcore scooting can really be.
The impetus for the journey from South Carolina to Texas was the 2010 Amerivespa Rally. Created in 1993 by Randolph Gardner, founding member of the Vespa Club of America, Amerivespa has grown into a must-attend event for scooterists the world over. Every year the location of the rally moves to a new city, and this year it was in San Antonio.
The day before the rally was set to begin everyone gathered at the corporate headquarters to load up their gear.
During the five-day event, scooter fans of all types descend on the chosen city to enjoy planned and unplanned rides, a swap meet, raffles, judged shows and a test of skills called gymkhana. Although the name of the event is called Amerivespa, any scooter is welcome. It’s all about having good times with like-minded two-wheeled fans. This small wheels festival of fun would be our destination, but we had many miles to travel and state lines to cross before we could partake in the revelry.
The plan was to cover between 200 to 300 miles a day on the two largest scooters of the Kymco North American fleet, the Xciting 500Ri and the soon-to-be-released Downtown 300i. My ride for the trip south would be a red Xciting fitted with a top-case to carry my gear. The weather forecast for the six-day scoot was favorable, but not perfect as we came to find out. I packed gear for nice weather, putting my faith in the National Weather Service.
A LONG FIRST DAY
The Sunday morning before Amerivespa was set to ramp up, a group of Kymco managers and customers gathered at the corporate headquarters in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We loaded up the machines with our gear, and everyone in the group had rain gear under the seats of their scoots except me. Obviously they knew more about the highly changeable weather of the Southern states. Several riders asked if I had my rain suit with me; I just dismissed them, saying that even if it did rain it would be warm. I wasn’t worried as the forecast was clear, and we had open road to burn.
The adventure kicked off with a 310-mile trip southeast of Spartanburg, SC. We avoided major highways and got a real taste of the back country.
Our course for Day 1 would take us 310 miles to the south and east from Spartanburg to the river city of Columbus, Georgia. Avoiding interstates and highways, we snaked though the back roads between the two cities. The overcast skies that kicked off the morning burned off quickly, and the temperature and humidity rose even faster. Sweating our way through the single intersection towns of Georgia, we joked that rain would be a welcome addition to our ride, saving us from melting under that big heat lamp in the sky.
Though the scenery was lush and green, there wasn’t much to see, as the trees that lined the roads were thick and deep. Riding through the countryside was like riding down a green canyon, with very few turns. With little excitement on the road, the ride feels twice as long as it really is. Arriving in Columbus late in the afternoon, our bodies were ready for a break. After kicking back by the hotel pool, we hopped back on the scoots and made our way to the historic downtown area. This cool town center bumps up against the Chattahoochie River and was a great area to relax at the end a hard day of riding with your new scooter buds. Everyone was back to their rooms fairly early; the heat and long ride took a toll on our partying spirit.
FORWARD TO THE PAST
On Day 2 we reached Mobile, Alabama by entering a tunnel underneath the bay (below, left). After a quick pass through the city (bottom, right) we took a detour to Battleship Memorial Park (above).
An early rise to beat the heat had us on the road before eight in the morning. We pointed the scoots toward the port city of Mobile, Alabama, and so began another 300 miles of riding. We were on schedule and the crew was determined to get as many miles done before the unbearable afternoon heat kicked in. Our route took us through rural towns that have been hit hard by current economic troubles. Small businesses have closed their doors, and it’s a sad sight to see beautiful main street areas deserted. Even though the economy is depressed the locals are not. Every time we rolled into a town we were met with waves and friendly conversation.
As we neared Mobile we got our first glimpse of the coast and that recharged our mental batteries. Crossing over wetlands and the mouths of rivers, we stood up on our scooters to get a better view. Soon the skyline of our destination appeared, and we turned the throttles a little further. Entering the conurbation through a tunnel under the bay, we popped out in the heart of the centuries old city. Immediately you could feel that the place had an old soul. This is why I go on rides like this, to experience the history firsthand.
Founded in 1702 as the capital of French Louisiana, Mobile was under French, British and Spanish rule before becoming part of the United States in 1813. After checking into our hotel, we hit the boulevards to check out what the city had to offer on a Monday night. The streets reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans, with wrought iron railings surrounding second-story balconies. Come to find out Mobile has the oldest organized Mardi Gras celebration in the United States, dating back to 1703. As I walked through the streets lined with 200-year-old buildings I could imagine them filled with the sights and sounds of the carnival celebrations.
A LATE START
On the way into Mobile we had ridden past the USS Alabama Battleship museum. A few of us made the decision to persuade the group into getting a late start so we could check it out in the morning. There were some mumbles and grumbles about the chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, but they reluctantly agreed to push back our departure a few hours.
As we continued on our journey during Day 3 we encountered the first drops of rain on our windshields. Little did we know it would soon become much worse.
We were at Battleship Memorial Park bright and early waiting for the gate to open. With just a few hours to see as much as we could we made our way onto the USS Alabama for a quick look. On the deck we had a chance meeting with Mike Thompson, who was in the process of rebuilding a P-51 Mustang fighter that was damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Mike gave us an up close and personal tour of one of the best collections of warplanes I have ever seen. Every aircraft in the collection had a story, and Mike knew them inside and out. Of course our tour went into overtime, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear some amazing tales from a man who has dedicated his life to preserving military history.
The rest of the group was mounted up and ready to roll when we got back to the hotel. We filled the crew in on what they had missed, and they understood our tardiness. It was time to leave Mobile and roll on to Baton Rouge. The skies were clear; it looked like the group’s worries about rain were unfounded.
We followed the Gulf Coast into Mississippi and spotted out first sight of a string of booms deployed to catch the oil gushing from 5000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The oil had not spread to the area, but the beaches were absolutely empty. When we stopped for lunch in Biloxi, we were charged an additional couple of bucks for our sandwiches because of the spill and loss of tourism. We gladly paid the surcharge, and hit the road with bellies full of gulf shrimp po’ boys.
Just down the road clouds were gathering and the first drops of moisture hit our windscreens. The clouds grew quick and before we knew it the rain began to fall. Luckily we found a gas station to take refuge in and devise our escape plan. The three of us that visited the battleship endured some good-natured ribbing while we waited for the rain to die down. Everyone that had rain gear suited up, and we hit the road.
I’ve never been a fan of rain gear, especially in warm weather. Soon my legs, hands, and feet were soaked, but my upper body was dry thanks to my waterproof Shift jacket. The rain was cool and I enjoyed every minute of the next four hours of riding in the rain though the Louisiana backwaters, bayous and swamps. Just a few miles outside of Baton Rouge the rain stopped. While everyone sweated it out in their rain gear, I enjoyed the evaporative cooling of my wet gear all the way to the hotel.
On the fourth day we officially made it into Texas and began the long trek across the state to Alamo.
TIME FOR TEXAS
The next three days would take us through the remainder of Louisiana, across Texas and straight to the Alamo. As we pinned it for Houston, we motored past bayou after bayou on less than ideal roads. Miles of potholes tried to beat us into submission, but we weren’t having any of it. Every view of a swamp kept me motivated to press on. I want to return to Louisiana for another trip with more time set aside for exploring the deep mysteries of the swamp lands. Before noon we crossed the Texas border and stopped just on the other side for a stretch and lunch. It was amazing how much better the road surface in Texas was after pounding our way across Louisiana. We slid into Houston with ease, though the temps started rising. Luckily, Scorpion had sent me a special delivery the night before, and I was cool as I possibly could be in my new mesh jacket.
The next morning a couple of us broke out early to take a longer and more scenic path into Austin. Winding through the start of the Texas Hill Country made memories of the straight roads from earlier in the week disappear. We tested the top speed and handling limits of our scoots on the winding Farm-to-Market roads and fortunately for one critter, the brakes. Rounding a bend I saw what I thought was a rock in the road, but it wasn’t a rock. A turtle had found itself in the middle of the lane while ranchers in trucks rumbled past. Being the animal lover I am, I stopped and moved it to the other side of the road. In appreciation the little green bastard peed all over my gloves and shoes. No good deed goes unpunished, right?
We met up with the rest of the group in Brenham, the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, for a bit of lunch and a root beer float before we struck out for Austin. That hit the spot. Before long we were snaking through the back roads, when clouds began to gather. We hoped we would squeak past before the rain hit. No such luck. Just before we reached a highway underpass the skies opened up. Once again we were soaked, but it helped cool us down as we took refuge beneath the underpass. When the rain finally subsided, we decided to take our chances and high-tail it to Austin.
Just two miles down the road, it began to sprinkle again and the wind picked up. Then all hell broke loose and I figured I was a dead man. I could barely see more than a few yards and lightning cracked around us while hail pummeled our group. There was nowhere to hide except under trees along the road side, and that would surely get one of us killed by a bolt of lightning. Out of nowhere the leader pulled off the road and into a roadside pre-made shed display. Luck was on our side, as the door of the display was unlocked. All 12 of us ran into the shed high-fiving and hooting, high on adrenaline and happy to be alive. Ten minutes later the skies were clear and the sun was shining. We covered the last 35 miles into Austin with no more weather troubles.
Day 6 would be a short ride into San Antonio, where we met up with the Amerivespa crew and descended upon the Alamo. We had to be there no later than 11 a.m., so we were all business blasting through the hill country. It was 10:55 when we rolled into the front drive of the El Tropicano Hotel and it was eerily quiet. Where were the scooters? The bellman informed us we were an hour late for the Alamo ride. Apparently the schedule had been changed the night before and was not updated on the website. No Alamo for us, although I heard it was pretty cool. Oh well. We checked in and prepared to join the evening ride to dinner.
After arriving in San Antonio and checking in we joined an organized ride to dinner at the Blue Star Brewery.
TIME TO PARTY
We had arrived and were ready to enjoy all the good times that Amerivespa had to offer. Although we missed the Alamo ride, the rest of the weekend more than made up for it. Organized and disorganized trips went in and out of the hotel all weekend. Saturday was the day for the Concourse d’ Elegance, vendor displays, tech seminars and an award banquet. I looked forward to the Gymkhana and the slow race that would be held on Sunday before the grand raffle.
Being new to the scooter rally scene, I never knew how hardcore and fanatical scoot fans were. Several groups rode from starting points that made our ride look like a walk in the park. There were clubs flying their colors on the backs of their jackets or on the front of their scoots. Come to find out the Texas scoot scene is quite large, especially in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. Clubs like “The Bastards,” “The Sunday Punchers,” “Piston Broke,” and “Westenders S.C.” rolled to various functions in packs, just like any serious motorcycle club. Another thing that caught my attention right away was the amount of women compared to men. The ratio was just about 51/49, with there being slightly more ladies in attendance than men.
Friday night I joined my first organized ride to dinner at the Blue Star Brewery just a few miles from the hotel. As a matter of habit I’m always early to everything, and I parked my scooter right at the front of the line. Maybe it was because of my cameras hanging around my neck or my shiny new gear, but as the crowds amassed to ride everyone looked to me for direction to get this thing started. Finally someone from the Amerivespa staff rolled up and I was of the hook. I followed him as we led a few hundred or so rabid scooterists to a place I had never been. I decided to circle around to the
There were plenty of group rides planned for Amerivespa 2010 or you could set out to explore on your own.
middle of the pack to take in the scene. It was quite a sight to see a swarm of 2-stroke smokers, 4-stroke moderns and obscure oddities roll through the heart of San Antonio. Of course, dinner was awesome and we hung out for quite a while talking about scooter life with some new friends.
On the way back to the hotel, we came across a scene that looked like it was straight out of Daytona Bike Week, except the lines of two-wheeled machines were scooters of every shape and style. I waved my arms for the Kymco crew to follow, and we found a place to park. Through the crowd I saw lights and heard a PA system blaring “The next match is about to begin.” Lucha Libre! Smack dab in the middle of a front yard/beer garden was a freestyle Mexican wrestling match complete with masks and high-flying moves. What a way to end a day of hanging out with cool people on small wheels!
Saturday was a very relaxed schedule with the Concourse d’ Elegance starting at 10 a.m. and running till around 3 p.m. There were some very beautiful restored machines, and some hardcore rat rides. The most interesting machines had to be a pair of un-restored Vespa 400 mini-cars that had been pulled out of a barn a few days earlier. My personal favorite was a black and teal Fuji Rabbit. Later in the evening awards were handed out to all the winners after a banquet-style dinner. An after party was announced, but I headed for bed so I’d be fresh for the gymkhana competition the next day.
Our Kymco scooters easily withstood the rigors of a 1500-mile journey through the Southern states, chugging right along in heat and hailstorms. Call me a fan now!
The event I had been waiting for was here, and I was amped. The Kymco guys were worried I would tear up their new shiny Downtown 300i, so they pulled out a 50cc Super8 for me to ride. Only one problem – it had been at a dealer with a full tank of gas on display for the last few months and the pilot jet was gummed up. So I was given a baby blue Yager 200, not exactly the manliest of colors to go into competition with. No matter, I would let my riding do the talking. I hopped on my powder blue racer and headed for the site of the competition and immediately got worried. This thing had a long wheelbase as far as scooters go and would make the course of twists and turns much tougher.
Scooter gymkhana consists of a timed course containing tight slalom sections, obstacles, a test of balance and goofy clothes. Time is added for knocking over cones or putting your feet down. Right away I knew I had my work cut out for me as the shorter wheelbase scoots had problems getting through some of the turns. When my turn came, the crowd mocked my long blue steed, but after blitzing the elevated balance beam and charging into the first turn the crowd was on my side. I threw my legs out like I was on a MX bike for balance and cleared the first slalom section in style. In the last section I knocked over two cones, but hoped my time was still fast enough to get me the win. Sure enough my time around the course was the fastest, but the time penalty for the cones knocked me back to fourth place. Not too bad for riding an unfamiliar sissy-colored scoot. “Pistol” Pete Cervantes from Northern California dominated the gymkhana and slow race, and because of his skill he is a celebrity of sorts in the scooter rally circuit. Kymco had promised to hop-up a scoot for my assault on the 2011 Amerivespa Gymkhana Championship. Pistol Pete, you’ve been put on notice.
I never thought I’d say it, but I am a scooter fan! Don’t be surprised to see more reviews of scooters from me in MotoUSA in the future. All in all, the entire trip was one I’ll never forget, and I plan to be there for Amerivespa 2011 in New Orleans. Anyone up for a 1900-mile scooter ride in about a year?