How scooters have brought a unique group together in Lynchburg
By Tobi Walsh | Photos by Ashlee Glenn
What’s superior? Vespas or Lambrettas?
While that’s a conversation that could cause some bad blood in the scooter community, both types are welcome in the Vespa and Lambretta Club of Lynchburg. Though scooters may seem like a niche hobby, the group has drawn a diverse crowd from all over the city. It all began about seven years ago after founding member and former California resident Patrick Hubble created a page on Facebook.
“My wife, Bridget, and I were into the scooter scene in the ’80s,” Hubble said. “They were a large part of the ska and mod culture. I had no idea what to expect when creating the group.
I thought it sounded much better than just asking people to be my friend.”
To Hubble’s surprise, there was a whole subculture in Lynchburg waiting to be found as other enthusiasts like himself were excited to take part.
“Our ages in the group range from 21 to 75,” Hubble said. “We have people who grew up with scooters in Europe and then people like us who just love the appeal.”
Hubble explained the difference between Vespas and Lambrettas, comparing it to the Chevy vs. Ford debate. Both have a cult following.
The first Vespas, which means “wasp” in Italian, were manufactured in 1946. While a lot in the world has changed since then, the original design of the scooter has not for the most part. The scooter still retains its classic shape, curves, and “almost-futuristic” design, as Hubble describes it. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell to you, chances are you’ve seen a Vespa before either in a movie such as The Talented Mr. Ripley and American Graffiti or even in a photograph of the European countryside.
“Italy knocked it out of the park when designing the Vespa,” Hubble said.
Lambrettas were also manufactured in Italy, specifically in Milan, and named after the river that flowed near the factory. But in the 1960s when cars became more affordable across Europe, the need for a compact scooter declined and the factory eventually closed in 1972. The factory parts were purchased by the Indian government and began being manufactured there as India had a demand for affordable transportation. The Lambretta recently made a comeback with a new model in 2017.
When it comes to scooter preferences, the Lynchburg group is a mixed bag. While Vespa is the scooter of choice, there are about three to four Lambrettas in the group, according to Hubble.
Both options are considered an easy, and fun, way to get around town.
“You can easily go 45 to 50 miles per hour on one. It’s perfect to drive around town and you can even get on the Expressway when you’re in a pack,” he said. “It probably seems a little bizarre to see a bunch of us driving around, but we get a lot of smiles and waves. It seems to make people happy when they see us.”
The group also likes to meet at a local restaurant or bar where they chat about where they’ve found parts for their scooters, especially the vintage models. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they started meeting in large parking lots, so they have plenty of space to social distance.
But, most importantly, they ride. Sometimes it’s around town, or sometimes it’s an adventure.
“It’s a great way to see parts of Lynchburg you’ve never seen before,” Hubble said.
When Riverviews Artspace Executive Director Kim Soerensen began working downtown about three years ago, she looked into buying a Vespa for the commute. She grew up in Germany, where it was common for teenagers to drive Vespas, including herself.
“It’s the most economical thing because most of us couldn’t get our license before we turned 18,” Soerensen said. “I don’t live far from downtown so [I thought], why not? Maybe part of me was a little nostalgic for my youth.”
Soerensen chose a modern bright yellow Vespa, which she calls “perfect.” She even works to match her outfits to her scooter sometimes.
“I think I look like someone from Austin Powers,” she laughed.
Soerensen had no idea about the local club until she saw a post from Hubble on social media and decided to get involved.
“When we’re not riding, it’s very nerdy scooter talk,” Soerensen joked. “We talk about ’80s mod, scooter problems, but it’s very equal between the men and the women. Everyone brings something diverse to the group. A few of us are from Europe so there’s a lot of European influence, but we’re well-traveled and I think that’s what brings us together. It’s quite a group. [We have a] high school nurse, an undertaker, an arts director, a nuclear physicist.”
Peter Kerschbamer, like Soerensen, has European roots. Growing up in Northern Italy, Kerschbamer knew his way around a Vespa. But it had been years since he’d ridden one.
“I saw a Vespa on eBay and I had this nostalgia for it,” Kerschbamer said. “Now we have five of them. Even my wife and my daughter ride now.”
And according to Kerschbamer, riding a Vespa is like riding a bike.
“You don’t forget it,” he said. “You pick it right back up.”
While others found the scooter club on social media, Kerschbamer said he met Hubble while riding down Fort Avenue on his Vespa.
“We saw one another, and we waved,” he said. “I thought, ‘That’s neat that there’s someone else with a Vespa in Lynchburg.’ He ended up turning around and chasing me down. Then we started riding together.”
For Kerschbamer, the club is a great social circle. It’s a chance to have comradery, and it’s also a great conversation starter.
“People definitely notice a group of scooters outside of a restaurant,” he said. “People always come up to us and we tell them stories.”
Investing in a Vespa is hard work though, Kerschbamer explained, especially if you lean more into the vintage side of things.
“Something like a motorcycle is easier to buy,” he said. “But the appeal about a vintage scooter is that it’s about the personality and the style. Sometimes you go all over to find a certain part, but growing up, we’d work on our scooters together because everyone who had them was asking if you have this part or this part. Now more than 30 years later, that’s what I’m still doing. I love it.
I love seeing how it works.”
For Soerensen, the investment is worth it because riding her Vespa takes her back to being 15 years old again.
“It’s fun to feel the wind whip beneath you as you ride, kicking up dirt and gravel. You can’t help but smile,” she said. “In a weird way, you almost feel closer to nature and stylish as you ride. We all get to show our personalities when we ride.”