Mod about town

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2001, 12:00am

YOU HEAR A RUMBLE approaching from a distance - the angry buzz of motorcycles - giving you reason to turn your head.

You see not just one but a whole swarm, maybe 40 scooters easing up to the traffic lights. They look stylish and immaculate. The riders wear cool shades under vintage helmets, their fashion a pick and mix of classic vogues.

The Vespa Motor Scooter, the legendary Italian transport choice for generations of young people since its 1960s heyday, continues to be an object of worship in the SAR - despite going through a rough patch in recent years.

A group of fans of the fashionable bike have re-formed and multiplied, rapidly attracting new members.

Wilson Tsang Wai-shun, organiser of the revived clan, says the response to a Web site he set up three months ago has been 'unbelieveable'.

'I knew there were a lot of people into Vespa in Hong Kong just from seeing them on the streets, so I put an ad in a newspaper about the site,' Tsang tells Sunday Young Post.

Soon after, Tsang, 28, met fellow 'scooterist' Paul Law Hoi-fai and the two decided to set up a new club, called Hong Kong Vespa, and organise Saturday night functions.

Both say the camaraderie and innate style of scooterists lured them into buying their first bikes.

'The appeal of scooter power for Chinese people is the cool look and price,' says Tsang, who is a merchandiser.

'For $10,000 to $20,000, you can have the scooter, the freedom and the lifestyle.'

Law says: 'I liked the style when I first saw it four years ago, it's all about turning as many heads as possible.'

They certainly do that in busy Mongkok where passers-by, dazzled by the sparkling chrome and colourful machines, often ask to have pictures taken with them.

The vivid street life is much embellished by the sight of 50 polished up, customised Vespas (Italian for 'wasps'), parked side by side, with their modish owners mingling nearby.

'If I'm waiting at the lights and another scooter pulls up next to me, we always start talking,' says Law, 25, an IT specialist. 'I'll tell them about Saturday and ask them to come.'

Scooterism was thriving in Hong Kong four years ago when a club called Scooter Power used to organise gatherings. But its founder, Sam Wong, closed his shop - the focus of events - due to a lack of funds and the club broke up. Wong was not available for comment, but Ivan Che Wing-tat of Oscar Motors in Mongkok says he now sells about 30 of the old-style Vespa PX-200E model every month.

'People buy them and customise them or take them apart for spare parts,' said Che.

The Hong Kong Vespa gang often visit Motorzone, a shop in San Po Kwong, for their maintenance needs or accessories.

There are many scooter clubs around the world. Clubs come together based on shared location, interest or make of scooter.

The Vespa was first introduced in 1946 by Italian manufacturer Piaggio and it has lived on to become a natty symbol of freedom.

It was made famous in the 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday, where Gregory Peck speeds around Rome on one, with Audrey Hepburn riding pillion.

Quadrophenia, a cult British film about 1960s Mods and Rockers, is seen as an accurate interpretation of the freedom and cliques associated with motor-scooter culture.

Tsang and Law have both seen the film and said enthusiasts in Hong Kong were familiar with the history of the scooter but were more interested in the maintenance and care side of it.

'The condition of my bike reflects my personality. If it looks good then so do I,' Tsang said.

So, is Hong Kong Vespa here to stay? Will it survive the turbulence that sunk Scooter Power?

'Right now, I'm really into it and don't mind volunteering time to organise functions. Others are also very enthusiastic, so hopefully it will continue, no matter what,' says Tsang.

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