Wellesley on Under-compensating on a Vespa (by Danny Harris)


Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“I was born in Falls Church, then moved all over the country and then overseas and came back here for law school. I grew up around motorcycles. My Mom owns a Harley and I spent a lot of time around motorcycle clubs. When I was 16, I was living in Germany as an exchange student and went to Italy on a field trip. I was at the Spanish Steps in Rome and there was an attractive woman sitting on a Vespa. She is sort of a blur, but I remember the scooter. I guess that’s a bad sign! It was an early 1960’s burgundy Vespa with eight-inch wheels. It had a leopard print seat cover. From that point on, I wanted to get a Vespa.

“When I was in law school, I decided that DC would be a great place to have a scooter and I tracked down my first project, a 1985 Vespa. Within four months, I had six Vespas. Within a few years, I had 22. I would restore them and sell them to help pay for law school. I really love things with two wheels, that’s why I opened Modern Classics. The most important thing about Modern Classics is that we’re four people who are really passionate about scooters and motorcycles. We are the only full-service shop in Washington, DC so you can buy or fix bikes with us. Might as well keep the business in the city.”

“One of the things that I have noticed about being involved with scooters in DC is that a lot of the Vespa riders here seem to be more educated about scooters than in most other cities. DC is very white collar even though there are those of us, like me, who are blue collar by choice or circumstance. We have a lot of customers from places like The World Bank, people at embassies, and students. But, ridership in this city is really growing. I am constantly amazed by the people coming into my shop these days to buy scooters. I mean, big macho dudes like rugby and football players. You never would have seen that in DC fifteen years ago.

“Still, there’s been lots of times here when I have heard, ‘Get a real bike, you fag.’ But, I can tell you that if I take my motorcycle and go park it somewhere versus taking my Vespa out, the women love the Vespas. It draws a crowd. That’s not why I ride in DC, but it helps. Women tend to view it as metrosexual and guys who are insecure view it as homosexual. Sure, a Vespa doesn’t have the same testosterone level as a burly guy on a Harley, but some of us have to overcompensate and some of us under-compensate. But, I still think that it is really acceptable for anyone to ride a scooter in DC and people won’t judge you.”

Modern Classics is located at 955 V St. NE. Read more about motorcycles in DC from Kim at People’s District.

27 Comment

  • What a random and cool DC story. I love these posts, keep em coming. And, for the record, Vespas are a little effeminate, just saying…

  • i like scooter very much, may i know how old is your scooter, i love classic scooter

  • I bought a Vespa back in May. For me it’s perfect. Driving a car while often practical keeps your somewhat detached from the road. On a Vespa potholes and even manhole covers that aren’t completely flush with the asphalt are obstacles. It keeps me much more engaged.

    I can park places with my Vespa I could never park with a car or even a motorcycle. I can maneuver around double parked or turning vehicles with ease. During rush hour when cars are at a standstill I can skip right past them along the shoulder like a cyclist would. That’s not something that I do as a general practice but on occasion it’s a helpful option to have in your arsenal.

  • Does anyone know why the Vespa dealer on Wisconsin Avenue closed? It seems like Vespas were really popular around here 4-5 years ago, but I figured it was just a fad, since the official dealership closed, and I don’t see nearly as many of them on the streets of DC these days. It seems like a Vespa would be a much better deal used, as opposed to new, anyway. They can’t be terribly difficult to maintain.

  • Philly— effeminate? google john wanyne on a vespa…

  • I am Italian where there is never a question of sexuality concerning driving a scooter. It is a part of life. I don’t get why Americans are so hyper-obsessed with equating men driving scooters and homosexuality.

  • Paolo, Americans are hyper-obsessed with equating ANYTHING to homosexuality.

  • @Goot Lemmon, the Vespa dealer on Wisconsin Ave closed because it was poorly run by the owners, not because of any fad. In fact, sales were at an all-time high when the shop shut down. The workers there decided to open a new shop when they found themselves unemployed!

    And FYI, scooters are the best way to get around town. I’m fine with everyone thinking they’re effeminate…don’t want everyone crowding me out of my sidewalk parking. I’m never opposed to capitalizing on the ignorance of the herd!

    Kudos, W.

  • Well said Divine! Why are Americans so hyper-obsessed with defining things as being gay or not gay? Whiskey + Harleys = Not Gay. Scooters + Smirnoff Ice = Gay.

    Wellesley is right on in equating his love of Vespas with his own strong sense of identity. I love that he talks about Vespas as being a way to attract women, that is perfect.

    Great post, I love the diversity of stories on People’s District.

  • Philly: Please to be going back to your namesake, where you can ride Harleys with other “real” men…

  • For the record, the last guy I had a date with (and hope to date again) drives a Ford F-150, which I find odd for a city dweller, but that’s just me. I drive a Hyundai Elantra, which is somewhat gay, I guess.

    (for the record, I’m a dude, too).

  • From straight/married guy:

    I used to have a 50cc scooter and loved it, and now I have a 750cc motorcycle and love it. Both great, both have strengths and weaknesses…Hell a full-size/1200cc Harley would be overkill for DC anyway…like hiring a dumptruck move a buddy’s couch…

    What I ***REALLY*** care about is that I don’t have to go to fkng VA anymore to get my bike serviced!!!!

    Coleman Powersports always does right by me, but I am a year-round rider with no car, so it is a HUGE pain in the ass to drop my bike off for service in Burblandia.

    Thanks for getting me the heads up on this local business!!

  • ‘Stuff White People Like’ does a handy job explaining white people’s fascination with Vespas: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2009/06/02/126-vespa-scooters/

  • @ Zach

    Smirnoff Ice is pretty gay.

    Not that theres anything wrong with that.

  • Good luck with the F-150 guy, CPT_Doom.

  • Loved the story. Being from Philly, I gotta say that homeboy just doesn’t get it. I have lots of motorcycles that I like to ride and race. However, my new favorite is my Sachs 49cc moped. If that makes me fem, well so be it. I just want to ride. I don’t discriminate if it has a motor and 2 wheels. Philly has love for ya Vespa owners. Cheers, Tex

  • A motorcycle is a far superior mode of transportation. It handles much better, it has a better range – you can take it anywhere – and has the same parking/lane splitting advantages of a scooter. The only thing a scooter has going for it is that it doesn’t require license/insurance.

  • Do you guys work on motorcycles on regular basis? I have 2 sportbikes and a supermoto and it’s a pain going to VA.

  • For those of you trying to find Modern Classics to get service, buy a used bike, get parts or gear you can find our address, directions, hours and phone number at http://www.modernclassicsdc.com.

    @Scooter Mania: the Orange and White Vespa in the picture is a 1964 Vespa GS160. Also shown is a Bajaj Chetak, a Vespa Allstate, and a Lambretta (Serveta) LI150 Special.

  • I don’t see a place to put down my appletini on this thing

  • @dcpublis
    Actually the scooter does require license,insurance and registration, in DC at any rate.
    We do work on motorcycles on a regular basis, we all do own them as well as scooters.
    All scooters are motorcycles, not all motorcycles are scooters.
    Some people prefer the way a scooter over a traditional motorcycle, some prefer the traditional motorcycle over a scooter. We love them all.

  • Is there a weight limit on Vespas? I ask this because I regularly see an enormous fellow commuting on New York Avenue on a Vespa or similar scooter, and it just doesn’t look right.

  • I’ve seen a few parked off of columbia that are cute. I consider them quintissentially European. Denim cutoffs with a Harley & dykes on bikes would be considered gay.

    Goot~if it still moves, I guess it’s ok.

  • Bloody motorcycles. Way to many parts and the wheels are to big 🙂
    Good luck Wells.

  • Check out ‘Roman Holiday’ with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn for some scooter-related romance. Then there’s ‘Quadrophrenia’, but that seemed to be about multiple rear-view mirrors. During my last visit to Milan there were so many dudes who were, let’s just say, immaculately groomed and dressed in what I would consider, er, suspiciously gay attire (if it were here in the U.S.) Of course in Milan it’s normal to ride your bike around dressed in a black leather skirt suit with mink trim.

  • vespas are not all about picking up women. in fact, girls can even ride scooters themselves! it’s true!

  • Congratulations to Wellesley and Modern Classics for opening up such a great shop. We checked out the grand opening and it’s a fantastic place. Awesome to keep business in DC.

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