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“Scooters” or “the pleasure of feeling the wind on your face”

A new custom, almost a “social event”, the advent of the “scooter”: the public is fascinated and enthusiastically accept the rules of road education and the sense of true solidarity that it generates

 

In these days, one of the two great Italian manufacturers of the “motor scooter”, the Genoa-based “Piaggio” company, celebrates the production of its 100,000th vehicle. In Milan – more specifically, in vast production plant of Lambrate – the “Innocenti” company has also reported that it has achieved similar levels of production. Many other manufacturers have followed suit: “Guzzi” in Mandello started to produce “scooters” only recently, whereas others such as “iso” or “mv” are successfully continuing to increase their production. Having considered these numbers and taken into account eventual losses from this immense, spluttering fleet, in these times of scooter-passion, there should be about 200,000 scooters circulating on Italy’s roads. Some recent declarations also state that 150,000 new scooters will be manufactured in 1950, so we can envisage in six months about 350,000 scooters circulating on our roads. These are impressive numbers, especially when considering recent growth (compared to the few thousand Vespas that timidly circulated on the roads of Liguria and Lombardy in 1946). Indeed, these figures also give us a general idea of the phenomenon from a technical and social perspective.

This last aspect is particularly interesting. The “scooter” as an industrial miracle of the Italian post-war period has been amply analysed. The questions that we now ask are: who uses “scooters”, and why? Some recent statistics (from “Lambretta”) show that 30% of current scooters are divided between workmen and white-collar workers, and 22% between travelling salesmen and small-tradesmen; 15.5% are owned by doctors and 8.8% by other professionals; 7.5% are owned by agricultural workers; 7% by craftsmen; 3.4% by shop-owners; and 1.3% are divided between sportsmen and students; 1% by schoolteachers; 1.7% non-classified. […] We would like to ask all “scooter” owners the following: How much was your purchase influenced by purely utilitarian considerations? To what degree have other subtler factors influenced your choice; perhaps something pertaining to fantasy or to a more poetic aspect (the sense of liberty and freedom, of conquering space, the opening of new horizons, new panoramas, new interests…)? How many of you have discovered fishing, walking in the woods or countryside or by rivers, and appreciating nature in general; and – why not? – also love? Who are the most convinced buyers of “scooters”: people in love or others? Are they sedentary or restless people, are they bachelors or husbands, young girls or housewives? […]

This is no joking matter. It is not naïve to think that at the root of this social phenomenon there might be something fantasy-based or irrational. On the other hand, it would be very difficult to explain the incredible popularity of small vehicles without considering a sudden change in the spiritual interests of humanity. […]

But this is a statistic that nobody can prove. So, let’s accept the thousands of isolated factors that capture the attention of each of us as proof of this new and surprising change in our everyday habits. A meeting of “Vespa” aficionados in Bologna some weeks ago comes to mind: the event was solemnly blessed by the authoritative priest of the Bologna Curia Monsignor Casazza who, despite his 73 years of age, proudly arrived astride a motorcycle.
Again, alongside this venerable newcomer to the road, we could – to make an extreme contrast – envisage a couple escaping from some little village in the south of Italy on a scooter, the cuckold husband racing behind on another. All three end up in a ditch once the betrayed husband catches up with the elopers.

In another village a little further north, we can imagine an entire scooter-mounted christening party, complete with the nurse, the mother and newborn child, father and relatives, all with their scooters. A “Lambretta” has reached the North Pole, and a “Vespa” has “skied” down the slopes of Madesimo, and so on. Thus, we are facing a veritable universal phenomenon.

What are the limits of the scooter? So far, from a commercial point of view, there are none. The demand is two, three and sometimes even four times greater than the supply. Problems of manufacturing have still not yet been encountered. […]

What is interesting for the future of the scooter is the relationship between the scooter and the bicycle on the one hand, and the scooter and the automobile on the other. It has always been said that scooters will kill bicycles. This sinister prophecy has not been demonstrated through hard numbers. Italy still manufactures hundreds of thousands of bicycles every year, and today there are about 7 million circulating on our roads. If bicycle is dead, then the dead is doing quite well. More realistically, our sensation is that bicycle industry production is destined gradually to slow down. The bicycle, however, will always remain the first choice of transport, or at least the first logical progression for man’s mechanical locomotion. Its survival is also dependent on two important allies: sport and the micromotor, which are today incredibly powerful allies. I have been assured that from 1951 there are plans to produce over 100,000 micromotors (another child of the post-war period): this means a healthy life for over 100,000 bicycles. The third important factor for the bicycle is constituted by the life expectancy of European citizens.

The relationship between the scooter and the automobile is much less strained. Automobile industry managers have often declared that they see the scooter more as a friend than an enemy. Indeed, we see many new scooter-owners who have progressed from the bicycle that they no longer ride, and many others who cannot yet drive automobiles. And therefore, if the scooter is a means to satisfy the exhilaration of today’s youth (the pleasure of feeling the wind on one’s face), a more flourishing economic situation will render owning a scooter more important than suffering the inconvenience of not having one. This, not even to consider the incalculable number of people that see in the scooter a means to familiarise themselves with driving and to overcome the natural timidity that each of us encounters when driving for the first time.

Speaking of driving, we believe that the true enemy of the scooter is the bad road manners of many drivers. Accidents, many of which are fatal, occur in the hundreds, more on the open road than in the city. Whether or not it is modified, the scooter engine can reach high speeds. Indeed, before comprehending the dangers that high speeds entail, some people race their scooters furiously into curves or along wet roads. Even the engine – that little gem of refined mechanics – is often the victim of tyrannical and inexpert “aficionados”. We heard the story of a car owner who was told to drive slowly until the engine had not been “broken in”. Three days after picking up the car, he returned to the garage with the engine completely ruined. The mechanics were furious: “But didn’t we tell you to drive slowly for the first 500 km?” “Yes, but I did drive really slowly!”, protested the new car owner. “I even drove from Milan to Turin in second gear”.

And so, amidst small accidents and great adventurers, the scooter continues on its triumphal march to conquer the masses. The word “masses” is appropriate, as this phenomenon attracts and captivates people in imposing numbers. A curious fact is that these hundreds of thousands of scooter aficionados – particularly the younger generations – tend to unite, to organise and to connect. It is a well-known fact that two major Italian manufacturers have created two important associations, the so-called clubs which are associated to centres of fervent self-discipline – something enviable for any political organisation. Some of these centres have up to 10,000 members. Thus, from this perspective, too, the scooter is a “social phenomenon”: it has mobilised masses, created wide areas of influence, helped disseminate ideas, principles, and lifestyles. Fortunately, these masses are mobilised for serenity and joy, for sport and for the pleasure of feeling “the wind on one’s face”, and certainly not in protest or dissent.

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