Amerivespa 2015: roamin' holiday 

America's biggest scooter convention comes to Indy

click to enlarge Art Wells and friends
  • Art Wells and friends

Art Wells is leaning up against an exterior wall of Fountain Square Brewing, hands behind his back.

"Honda Elites, that's what I ride," Art grins. "Got 12 of 'em. Keep three, four runnin' — use the rest for parts."

Art and a dozen or so other members of the Indianapolis Scooter Club have gathered at the pub for their weekly Tuesday-evening meeting. They'll quaff one and then scoot off to dinner somewhere in Indy. Tonight's something of a celebration: They're closing in on the final details of a national gathering that the Indy SC is hosting, the 23rd annual "Amerivespa" convention.

Amerivespa is the largest congregation of Vespas (and similar kinds of two and three-wheeled rides) in the nation. "It's the Super Bowl of our industry," says Jeremy Hall, the lead organizer of Indy's version.

"It's about rides; vendors come in. We put some time aside to play some silly scooter games," says Chris Sublett, club president.


"There's an obstacle course — and a contest to see who can drive the slowest and stay upright," Chris laughs.

For four days in June, scooter fans from all over the nation will descend on Indy to see the sights, dine together, check out scooter-merch and take a lap around the world's most famous racetrack, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It's a ride that will bring Art Wells full circle.

"I started riding a scooter at the track in '94," says Wells, who spends race days as a film runner. "If they have an accident on one of the turns, I jump on my scooter, run out to the turn, pick up the film cards and bring 'em back to the Indy Star and AP photo guys and they'll ship 'em to the printers."

Art's thinking about retiring after the 100th running of the 500 in 2016. He'll be turning 80, after all.

Amerivespa, which has been hosted by cities from San Diego to Cleveland, felt that access to the Speedway was a big draw. The host club here in Indy capped vehicle registration at 600 scooters, then began ironing out all the details. Things were going swimmingly.

Until Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Indy Scooter Club
Indy Scooter Club Indy Scooter Club Indy Scooter Club Indy Scooter Club Indy Scooter Club Indy Scooter Club Indy Scooter Club Indy Scooter Club

Indy Scooter Club

The Club meets regularly at Fountain Square Brewing. ISC is hosting this year's Amerivespa convention here in Indy.

By Ed Wenck

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"It almost crippled the convention," says Hall. "I'd say maybe half of those who planned on attending wanted to back out. A lot of our people were really offended by the law."

Hall pointed to Indy Mayor Greg Ballard's criticism of RFRA, and began campaigning hard to convince other riders that the Circle City shouldn't be defined by its state legislature.

But what ultimately saved Amerivespa 2015 was a call to Pride.

"I asked the Pride folks if they wanted 600 scooters in the [Cadillac Barbie Pride] Parade," smiles Hall.

"They jumped at it."

So, on June 13, parade attendees will get a gander at scooters from all over the globe: some new automatics (dubbed "twist and gos" as a result of the handle-mounted accelerators) and hundreds of vintage rides, too.

One of those older models: Indy SC Vice President Joe Shoemaker's "1964-ish Allstate made by Vespa, sold by Sears."

"It's been gone through by our local builder, John Gick, and it runs like a horse," says Joe.

And what might a classic scooter like Shoemaker's Allstate bring in at auction? "Probably a fourth of what I've got in it," Joe chuckles. How much is that? "I lost track at about 3300 bucks," Joe replies.

Sure, there are classics that bring in bigger bucks. A gent who identifies himself as "Yardsale Sockpuppet" (I'm not kidding) directs me to Google a model called "the '56 Basso. Those early scooters had handlebars, like a motorcyle. The headlight was down on the fender, they call them fender-lights," explains Yardsale.

Some collectors still have models like the 1956 Vespa 125 "Faro Basso" in their original crates. "A pristine model can bring in 20-30 grand," says Hall. (For a good look at a model with similar lines, check out Audrey Hepburn's scooter in the film Roman Holiday.)

But unlike a mint condition Basso with zero miles on the odometer, some riders have put over 70,000 miles on their 1.5-gallon tanks. Whether they're riding an Allstate like Joe's or a loud, old-school Cushman, "if you're vintage, bring a wrench," says Shoemaker.

But getting your hands greasy isn't the real charge of owning one of these things.

"There's something about riding a slow bike fast that you can't get anywhere else," says Joe.

"It's easy to get on a Harley and go 95," says Chris between sips of his pilsner. "On a Vespa? That's a whole other story."

But Chris is pulling my leg, right?


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Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck has been writing for NUVO (as well as several other Indiana publications) for nearly 20 years while moonlighting as a radio host. He became Managing Editor of NUVO in 2013. He's authored four books and also reports for WISH-TV's Boomer TV program.
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