Scooterboys Summer 1989

Created by Ralf Jodl at 14:03 on March 5, 2021
"It all started in London in the late 1950s."

At that time, a few young people got together who rode scooters, wore Italian suits and listened to black music: ska in particular, the precursor of reggae and soul, which had come across the Atlantic from America. With their style and the right pills, they unhinged the silent post-war economic miracle everyday life, because youth did not exist in it and life was something other than fun. The youths were called "Mods" and were England's first youth culture. By the mid-60s, "mods" no longer worked: the style had become an arrogant attitude, and the pharmaceutical industry had changed the formula of the pills. Many mods cut their hair short, called themselves skinheads, continued to listen to black music and fought against apartheid and the oppression of black people in England. Later, the Oi-Skins split off from them and the Fasco-Skins. In 1979, the film "Quadrophenia" brought a second wave of Mods to all of Europe. The kids ran around in their fathers' confirmation suits again and screwed tons of mirrors and chrome onto their scooters, so that the bikes could hardly move when there was a headwind. Then the affluent poppers discovered the scooter. So some of the mods put their suits back in the wardrobe, shaved their hair and slimmed down their scooters so that only the frame remained. "Scooter boys" they called themselves and today they are the biggest group in the scooter scene: about 2,000 strong in Germany, plus a few intrepid women."

The sensational pictures were taken by Udo Thomas, GARP.

They usually live peacefully with the mods and the skins. They attend the same meetings, dance to the same music and have to deal with the same prejudices. For the press and the police, they are all slobs who vegetate on the far right fringe of society: dull vandals who prefer to smash up pubs and beat guests to a pulp. Yet the equation "bald head equals Gauleiter" is as precise as "tie equals capital criminal".

Markus Broix once explained the correlations in a youth magazine: that fun is the most important thing in life, that after that comes the scooter and sometime the girlfriend. And that political views are as unimportant as they are diverse. Even less important than the brand of beer with which they sometimes cloud their heads. Only a few are against foreigners and for rioting and have a baseball bat in the cellar. And they don't understand anything in life. Especially the last sentence must have annoyed the skin in the old town. Markus himself is a scooter boy. And a tough one at that: three weeks after a stabbing he is back on his scooter. Heats through the mud with his friends or races against GTI drivers and four-wheel drive enthusiasts and whoever else counts among their enemies. Sometimes they also ride in guard for high-ranking guests of state, without helmets. With an erect middle finger, because the police are not allowed to leave the politicians' side and are completely helpless. Or they roar into town to McDonald's, not because the fries are cheap there, but because McDonald's just tolerates guys like Markus. They are banned from many other restaurants.

Scooterboys STERN 1989

Yet scooter boys are no danger to humanity. Like the mods in the sixties, they only encounter a society in which youth does not happen because everything that has always belonged to youth has been castrated to fashion: the big protest and the little escape, the search for meaning and truth. The joy of provoking and throwing stink bombs into the adult world. Today, nothing provokes anymore, except perhaps coquetry with fascism. This may be the reason why some play with the symbols of the Nazi era. In reality, Scooter boys are bourgeois to the core: young people with a secure future, an intact parental home and a bedroom with youth furniture. Markus still has a drooping climbing plant above the bed, with four small leaves on the scrawny branch, a doily on the TV and a bunch of straw flowers on the doily. "Doilies and strawflowers are a concession to the mother," he says. "A compensation for what I usually do." Still, his life is not particularly exciting: just shimmying from one temporary job to the next, greasing military belts at a fashion company or writing invoices for a department store or toiling through the congested streets of Düsseldorf in a small truck. All shitty jobs. In which he has nothing to report and has to stand at attention in front of some idiots who have no plan in life except to make money. "Life is wage labour," Markus thinks, "and wage labour is slavery. And that's not what I did my A-levels for."

"They can't tell the difference between a racing exhaust and the original part," says Markus, "and they don't notice a bigger carburettor. Besides, they're afraid of embarrassing themselves. All you have to do is be arrogant and tell them something complicated about your scooter. Then they'll let you ride right back."

Sometimes he worked at the petrol station around the corner. For ten D-Mark an hour. Or makes his friends' scooters a little faster. For a small donation. Markus is a helpful guy and a gifted tinkerer and is therefore considered something in the scene. A scooter that hasn't been tinkered with is not one of the Scooter Boys' scooters. They distinguish between three different variants. A "race scooter", which is fast and also looks like one, a "cut-down", which has had everything cut off that seems superfluous, and a "custom scooter", on which everything is allowed that the TÜV does not allow. Chopper forks, motorbike tanks. Forward-mounted footrests. Gold-plated brake discs and the like. He himself has a cutdown. A black Lambretta Grand Prix with a drilled-out engine, low seat and the exhaust system of an English tuning specialist. With it, he is 140 km/h fast and easily shows the rear wheel of any Golf GTI at the traffic lights. Unfortunately, the police don't like such bullets. "They can't tell the difference between a racing exhaust and the original part," says Markus, "and they don't notice a bigger carburettor. Besides, they're afraid of embarrassing themselves. All you have to do is be arrogant and tell them something complicated about your scooter. Then they'll let you ride right back." Some of the scooter boys' scooters, however, don't even make it past the TÜV. For these cases, many have an identical model in the garage, whose number plate they use. Markus drives with an English number plate. This has the advantage that the police and TÜV can't touch him anyway. And in England the bobbies are loose and a scooter only has to have a horn, working brakes and a light. "In England, the most they'll send you home for is if you put too many rough parts on your scooter," Markus says. That's why Markus has a second home there.

England is the promised land of scooter boys. There, the scooters are more extreme and so are the scooter riders. And the meetings are three times as big and more like the disorderly deployment of an army. The most important meeting of this kind is held every year in Morecambe. It's a run-down seaside resort fifty miles north of Liverpool, a town that's dying and prolongs its death throes somewhat with Las Vegas gambling halls and miles of fairy lights. A lifted, garishly coloured piece of rubbish that only looks cheaper because of the make-up.

Pensioners who can't afford anything else spend their holidays here. And scooter boys who don't want to afford anything else. Because they are like this place: the dirty and forgotten backside of England. Shadow side of Thatcherism. "In England the scooter boys have to compare the prices of washers, that's how little money they have" says Markus. 6000 scooter boys have come to Morecambe this time. They squeeze their tents into the car park behind the promenade between the station and the amusement park and do what their colleagues in Germany do: actually nothing. But they do it excessively. Without order and without sleeping: roaring through the town on their Vespas and Lambrettas until the whole of Morecambe is suffocating in a blue two-stroke cloud. Lying in the front gardens drinking canned beer or running in packs along the promenade, their strides spacious and their upper bodies swaying. As if they've just taken on a big job: Drink Morecambe dry or topple Maggie Thatcher or something. Every scooter boy has this gait because everyone wears these jump boots and because the shoes don't allow any other gait. Only the colours of the laces are different: the right-wingers have red ones, the far right-wingers have white ones, and the left-wingers have black ones. And the sympathisers of the IRA wear yellow ones. In England, too, the differences are minimal, but visually at least they are tangible. There, the positions are more extreme, and yet everyone lives together
peacefully. Not a single brawl in Morecambe, not a single arrest, the Scooter boys are no longer decided by their opinions. Politics has had its day in the scene - and even a stabbing in Düsseldorf can't change that

Text by Christoph Scheuring with photos by Gerald Hänel and Udo Thomäs (Garp)


Book Scooterboys - the lost tribe

Ralf Jodl
Ralf Jodl

Ralf is managing director and co-founder of SIP Scootershop. He has been riding Vespa since 1990 and even today the working day starts best for him when he rides to the SIP headquarters in Landsberg on his Rally 200. Otherwise he owns a 180 SS, a 160 GS and a VM2 fenderlight Vespa.