Sun, 13 Jul 2003

Vespa clubs Forming ties of solidarity and friendship

Jock Paul, Contributor, Jakarta

Out of a passion for their favored form of transportation, a community has grown, united by a fondness and respect for each other that goes beyond simply sharing the same ride. It's a brotherhood -- a loose gang or alliance -- and all that is needed to be accepted is that distinctive two-stroke buzz of a Vespa.

Even in the fumes of Jakarta's traffic jams, it's common to see Vespa drivers nod, honk and wave at each other -- and chances are that if one driver sees another Vespa broken down on the road, they will stop and help.

Maybe it's the experience of having suffered the same fate or a desire to protect the banged up reputation of the Vespa, but this has helped forge a unique bond among complete strangers in a crowded country with over two million Vespas.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the scooters were seen simply as affordable practical workhorses, but 20 years later classic, original and lasting are the words that the owners are now using to describe these same bikes.

The enthusiasts leading the revival and celebration of the Vespa are a mixture of young and old, mostly men, who are excited about their unique bikes and the potential they lend for creative tinkering.

But it's also the spirit and camaraderie of hanging out with like minded hobbyists that has led to a growing number of "scooterists" whose Vespas have become an important and proud part of their identity.

"No other motorcycle or scooter has this sense of community," said Ifdal Fadali, 27, echoing the thoughts of dozens of other enthusiasts.

"It's a brotherhood, like a big family, we look out for each other," added Sandy Winarno.

The look or appeal of the bike is usually secondary as Vespa "scooterists" discuss what it is they like about their object of affection. Many recount stories of being helped by or helping strangers after a Vespa has broken down.

"Just last Saturday night, on my way home, I saw an old guy pushing his Vespa. I stopped, but I could not fix it. The piston was stuck, so I towed him home," said Hikmat Kurniasyah, 29, an engineer.

Miftahul Arifin, 30, an IT administrator, described the same situation another evening, and how he was able to help by giving the old man he stopped to help his extra clutch cable, and fixing his clutch for him.

Breaking down on a Vespa every so often is an accepted event, and there are just as many stories of people being helped, and receiving spark plugs, gas or tows. Roadside repairs are almost a badge of honor.

With an extra tire, spark plug and clutch cable, experienced riders say that they can fix more than 90 percent of roadside problems.

Even diehard fanatics admit that maintenance is a required part of owning a Vespa, and that they take a lot more TLC than Japanese produced motorcycles. They add that nothing beats the Vespa's rounded curves, chrome and Italian designed flair.

"I like Vespas because of their unique sleek body shape, they have a chubby, sexy design ... like me," says Miftahul, 30, laughing.

"The design is completely original, and different, and I like the fact that I can also take my family and things around on my Vespa," said Udin Jaenudin, 52.

Their enduring popularity has led to the recent explosion of Vespa clubs across the country, where enthusiasts meet and share experiences.

In 1979 Ronny Rasyidi opened the Jakarta Vespa Club, still going strong today. Ronny said there were 140 official Vespa clubs, from the Cendrawasih Scooter Club in Irian Jaya to Langsa Scooter Club in Aceh -- and many more societies, owners groups, web communities and small clubs that have not become official.

Official clubs are sanctioned by either the Scooters Owners Group (SOG) or Indonesian Vespa Society (IKI). To join these umbrella organizations a club must have 30 members that all have a driver's license, registration and identity card.

Vespa Indonesia Online, a website dedicated to Vespas in Indonesia, lists over 200 clubs in the country, many of which are not official. Clubs are opening and growing faster than ever and there is about one hundred other clubs that have not registered with the website.

Most clubs meet once a week to talk shop, hang out and deal with business such as memberships and upcoming events. Clubs are usually formed by people in the same area, but some are based around a certain modification, or style of vespas.

Ibay Baidwhoni and his friends from Jakarta have formed the Post Scooter Club, in which each member has accessorized his Vespa to make it look like the car of a Formula One team. He said that the team hangs out a few times a week and goes to street races in Kebun Nanas, East Jakarta, and Permata Hijau, South Jakarta.

Vespas can be spruced up considerably with new pistons, or other modifications and by installing a racing kit available for them -- and constantly surprise other motorcyclists. Legal races, restricted to Vespas competing in three categories; standard, modified and open, are held at the Sentour Circuit in Kemayaron, Central Jakarta.

For many enthusiasts, the highlight of their hobby is the festivals, meets and tours in which they get to showcase their bikes and socialize with those from other regions. At these large gatherings, clubs members sport their local patches and T-shirts, and trade stickers and club paraphernalia with other riders. Plans are made to visit other clubs on future tours.

Competitions are held that showcase, classic, open and modified vespas, and others in which teams of "Hell Drivers" compete in stunt contests.

Although Vespa's were intended for convenience over short distances, touring is a big part of the hobby. Most Jakarta-based clubs travel throughout Java and many have done a two-week trip to Bali.

At meets or on tour there is no tension among different clubs, or among official and independent clubs. There are also many Vespa enthusiasts who although they very active in the Vespa community choose not to join a club.

"With a family I don't have the time for a club," says Hikmat, whose wife also has a Vespa.

He, like an increasing number of enthusiasts, relies on the Internet to stay in contact with people and learn about Vespas.

In March 2000, Hari Hidayat created an online chat group for enthusiasts, affiliated with the Vespa-Indonesia Online website.

"I opened it because I was having problems with my Vespa and wanted to know how and where to fix it," says Hari.

Now there are over 300 people in the Web group who share mechanical hints, and information about good repair shops, tours and events, he said.

More information about clubs, meets and Vespas can be found at Vespa Indonesia Online