gen•u•ine adjective \'jen-y?-w?n, -(?)win, ÷-?win\
-actual, real, or true: not false or fake
-sincere and honest
If you want a stylish, well-made, fun-to-ride scooter all you need is decent credit and a ride to the scooter shop. Once you're there, almost every manufacturer has a big selection of scooters: retro, classic, sport, whatever you want. And if you want to soup up your ride – whatever it is and wherever it was made – you can stroll to the parts counter or surf the Interwebz and shop till you (or your credit rating) drop.
Restored vintage Vespas wait for new owners at Scooterworks, c.2008. Photo courtesy of avoision.com.
It didn't used to be so easy. In the dark years of the '80s and '90s, after Piaggio stopped bringing scooters to our shores in 1982, it was like living in Cuba for the vintage scooter community. Steel-bodied scooters purchased before the blockade were cheap (at first), but parts started to dry up and you needed a connection to keep them running, a mechanically minded person who knew where to find cables, shift crosses (look it up), clutch plates and all the other bits temperamental Italian machinery likes to chew up.
Scooterworks founder Phillip McCaleb was one of those go-to guys, keeping vintage Vespas in the Chicago area running. McCaleb wasn't your average shade-tree scooter mechanic – he would go on buying trips to Italy, packing containers with old two-stroke Vespas to send back home to refurbish and sell. It turned into a decent business – not only was he selling a scooter, he was also creating a market for the parts, labor and accessories needed to keep the dinged-up relics running and reliable. He founded Scooterworks in 1989 as a mail-order business, selling to customers and dealers and continuing his regular pilgrimages to Italy, "scouring the countryside for vintage scooters people were willing to sell," as Genuine's VP for Sales Trey Durham put it.
I recall seeing Scooterworks-imported scooters when I worked at a scooter shop in the early 'Oughts, and they were always interesting. Elderly, battered, but always running, they often sported St. Christopher medallions to supplement their barely functioning 50-year-old running gear. Scooterworks continued to pack containers with these old nails until 2007, but by the turn of the Millennia, a strong Euro and increased collectability of vintage scoots made the trips less profitable.
Luckily, there was another way to keep stylish scooterists on the road. Scooterworks created the Genuine scooter brand to import Indian-built clones
of the Piaggio LX125. Getting these two-strokes certified for the USA took some doing – and until March 2003 – but 16 dealers started selling the Genuine Stella. Sensing a larger market, in 2006 Genuine struck a deal with Taiwanese firm PGO (also a former license-builder of Piaggio products) to import the Genuine-branded Buddy 50 and 125.
Genuine's latest release, the Hooligan, combines zesty performance with super-modern style.
Today Genuine/Scooterworks is one of the bigger players in the scooter importing business. Unit sales at the 200 Genuine dealers hover between 3000 and 5000 units, big numbers in a total scooter market that was under 30,000 (counting major brands only) in 2013. The parts business is going strong as well, with 800 shops selling items through the Scooterworks catalog, everything from vintage Vespa wiring harnesses to billet triple clamps for a Honda Ruckus. A third subsidiary, Scooterworks Chicago, is a busy dealer of Genuine, Kymco and (sometimes) beautifully restored classic Vespas – Trey claimed Genuine sold 33% of the scooters in the Chicago area. McCaleb has since moved on – the company was recapitalized
and is now owned by an investment group.
Scooterworks was founded on vintage scoots, but it's looking forward. "We want to be a driver of the scooter industry," Trey told me, and Genuine sees plenty of opportunity in the smaller-displacement marketplace. "Seventy to 80% of the market is still under 300cc, mostly under 200cc." That's why the company is excited about its modern-styled, 170cc, liquid-cooled Hooligan and its other high-performance, affordable plastic-bodied scoots, despite much media attention focused on bigger, faster scoots like the BMW C600
. It's a shrewed strategy – Genuine/Scooterworks has a broad, deep knowledge of the American scooter market, bolstered by years of experience and tens of thousands of customers.
"The goal is to get more Americans riding scooters," Trey says, enthusiastically wrapping up our interview. "Keep the trend going!"