RVA Mag traveled out to Richmond International Raceway to check out this year’s annual AmeriVespa held here in the River City. The event, sponsored by the National Vespa Club of America and Richmond’s own 7 Hills Scooter Club, featured moto-enthusiasts from across the globe and yes, every kind of Vespa imaginable. The end result of this merry moto event was spot on.
Arriving early, we found hundreds of Vespas and scooters had already begun their morning warm-up laps around a makeshift track before the day’s activities kicked off.
Thought as a lost art unique to a vintage Italian tradition and Hepburn’s comical ride in Roman Holiday, the event brought people from all ages and walks of life; many showcasing their rides with classic fits, customized bike designs, and gnarly club patches from the scattered locations they call home. Thanks to the low cost of entry, perfect for any swarthy two-wheel utilitarian, what started in 1946 as a symbol of post-war peace would become one of the trendiest two-wheelers in history.
Put another way: This weekend, Italian vintage mixed with Richmond grime and the end result was rad.
RVA Mag spoke to the Vice President of the National Vespa Club of America, Jeff Lewis, to see how the event managed to come together in Richmond. “I think the biggest difference between a Vespa club and a [Chevy] Corvette club is that Vespa clubs don’t tend to be exclusive,” Lewis said. “Plus other clubs tend to be less slapstick, less fun. I want to come to an event and party, not have to worry about stepping on as many toes.”
Asked why an event that usually takes place on the West Coast decided to come to Virginia this year, Lewis said, “We operate on a bidding system, and Richmond, particularly Seven Hills Club here in Richmond, made their presence known.” The successful bid coincided with a desire to hold this year’s event on the East Coast, he said, adding that the planning “was exceptional…the local clubs have gone out of their way to make this a breeze.”
The highlight event – one dating back to its Italian roots – was Gymkhana, or scooter games, which were held in the main pavilion. Although we were skeptical, the scooter drivers – with some much-needed sponsorship by Belle Isle Moonshine – got down and dirty with the carnage. “Gymkhanas are obstacle courses, usually with the older vintage style bikes, because they are a little bit more rugged and they have better ground clearance. Newer bikes would get trashed on the same course,” Lewis said.
The event began as two preliminary qualifying races that would lead up to an ultimate matchup of competing Vespas and scooters, and the ensuing mayhem whipped a torrent of excitement from the crowd. The debris was impressive and fitting, as the riders were made to scarf down biscuits and slam PBR amidst the ensuing dust storm that overtook the arena.
Though obviously excited for the obstacle event, Lewis was quick to remark that the true main event was the headliner and the most intense race you’d never expect. “It’s the slow race,” he said, “How slow can you get from point A to point B while balancing on the bike? It’ll be intense.” Surely enough, this race was not for the faint of heart, although a contest at this speed meant a single ill-timed blink wouldn’t lead to missing the race.
There were gorgeous bikes and warm faces gathered all across the raceway, all under a sunny weekend at the race track. Spills were met with applause and rivalries were all in good taste. Lewis assured us that the award ceremony on Sunday would have a range of awards, from raddest bikes to longest commute for participants. “We actually had a guy last year that circumvented the United States,” he said. A tradition that may have started in Europe continues on in a uniquely American atmosphere – an experience of its own that might put any other form of transportation to shame.
With over 16 million in use, it’s surprising these bikes remain relegated to a sub-culture within their respective clubs. Vespas are a design that exudes vintage Italian charm, but also a statement of self-expression that is a canvas taken to every bike. Gnarly.
Some of the best photos from AmeriVespa can be found below:
Photos by Landon Shroder