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Not just a bike but an attitude to living

By Western Gazette - North Dorset  |  Posted: September 26, 2012

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Brand names such as Vespa and Lambretta are music to the ears of many scooter aficionados, not only those who remember the era of the mods and rockers, but many younger people too, as after all, with their classic designs they still look cool.

There has been a renaissance of interest in scooters. A considerable number of motorists these days are switching to two-wheeled transport from their usual four to cut costs, at least for their daily commute.

With fuel-sipping engines and the low emissions offered by modern machines, running a scooter can be a great deal cheaper than a car. But let's go back to the time when scooters were in their hay day, the era of the Mods and Rockers in the early 1960's.

The phrase 'Mod' is a word that best describes the youth movement and ensuing sub-culture that had fully developed by the mid-60's.

Originating from London in the late 1950s, the word is derived from modernist / modern.

In the '50s, the term Mod used to describe modern jazz musicians and fans, as modern jazz, along with easy listening songs and Rock and Roll, were the musical mainstream during that decade.

Rock and Roll, however, was followed by members of the Rocker subculture, who were contemporary rivals to the Mods. Indeed, there were many violent clashes between the two which often took place at seaside resorts, the Mods arriving on their scooters while the Rockers turning up on their larger and often faster motorcycles.

The Mod subculture expanded during difficult economic times when the country was still trying to recover from the war, but Mods still needed to maintain their fastidious image of style and fashion.

The youths of the early 1960s were one of the first generations that did not have to contribute money from after-school jobs to add to their family finances.

This meant that mod teens and young adults could use much of their disposable income to purchase stylish clothes.

Indeed, older generations often believed them to be fashion-obsessed.

It was all part of the era of 'swinging London'.

Scooters had provided cheap transport for decades before the development of the mod subculture, but as well as using scooters for their transportation, mods used them as a fashion accessory.

Whilst a few other makes were available, they usually choose Italian-designed Lambrettas or Vespas for their elegant and classic design.

Mods were obsessed with fashion. Young teenagers would wear designer suits and dresses to escape their stereotypical working class routes regarding fashion.

As far as music was concerned, they'd listen to raucous garage rock, with strong R&B / Northern Soul influences, African American soul, Jamaican ska and British beat music, in contrast to the stronger Blues and Rock and Roll influences of their Rocker contemporaries.

However, the Italian motor scooter was probably at the top of the list of passions for most Mods who embraced them as an icon for their way of life.

The Who, one of the biggest bands at the time, had a huge influence on Mods culture.

Their album, Quadrophenia, also lent its name to film tribute to the Mods movement.

Released in September 1979, this film featured the Lambretta heavily. Even today the name Lambretta is synonymous with the original Modmobile – the Scooter – and the distinctive Italian influenced-style of that era.

Lambretta scooters continued to be produced in Italy until 1971 and were also manufactured under license in France, Germany, Spain, India, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina, making it a worldwide brand.

In 1972, the Indian government bought the rights to the Lambretta name, creating Scooters India Limited, a company that continues to produce them today.

Scooters made by Vespa were also much loved by many. Enrico Piaggio began production of Vespa machines in 1943 as a way of introducing cheap transport for Italians.

Piaggio continues to produce a full product range today and is now the largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles in Europe, and the world's fourth largest motorcycle manufacturer in terms of unit sales.

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