Texas Traveler: AmeriVespa 2010, San Antonio

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More than 30 scooter enthusiasts from Houston spent Memorial Day weekend in San Antonio representing the Bayou City at AmeriVespa, the largest scooter rally in the nation. Now in its 17th year, the event, which takes place in a new city each year, draws scooterists from all over the United States and beyond. This is the first time the event has been in Texas.

The event was started in 1993 after Randolph Garner, a Cleburne, TX, scooter and small motorcycle enthusiast, founded the nonprofit Vespa Club of America. Garner had previous founded the Mustang Motorcycle Club of America and the Cushman Club of America.

This year's VCOA gathering drew more than 600 scooterists to The Mission City. Despite its moniker, scooters of all makes and models, modern and vintage, are welcome to the rally, though the VCOA's mission is the preservation, collection and restoration of European scooters, especially the Italian bikes that came into favor in war-ravaged Europe in the Midcentury. This year, AmeriVespa drew scooter enthusiasts from as far away as Sweden and Japan, and a number of people rode their scooters -- most which have engines under 250ccs -- to the event, including a group who rode all the way from California.

Scooterists attending from Houston represented a number of local scooter clubs, including the Sunday Punchers, the Houston Scooter Battalion, the United Scooter Riders of Texas and the Golden Triangle Scooter Club out of Beaumont.

Thursday, the first day of the rally, saw a group of more than 100 riders taking a scenic ride from San Antonio to Canyon Lake and New Braunfels for a tubing trip down the Guadalupe River. The drive was nearly 120 miles round-trip. Friday morning, several hundred scooterists were taken on a police-escorted ride through the sights of downtown to the Alamo, where a panoramic photo was taken with the riders and their scooters before the historic mission. The San Antonio police department was instrumental two years ago in helping local resident and VCOA Membership Administrator Dawn Brooks recover her custom-painted vintage Vespa after it was stolen.

Following the photo, San Antonio City Council member David Medina and Downtown Alliance President Ben Brewer presented VCOA President Mike Bobadilla of San Jose, CA, with a mayoral proclamation thanking the VCOA for their promotion of lower-footprint means of transportation, and for their advocacy of San Antonio as a vacation destination. Brewer himself has been a scooterist since 2006.

The highlight of many scooter rallies is the gymkhana -- a skills and obstacle where contestants race for the best time. Gymkhanas often include a slow race, where the last person to cross the finish line without putting their feet down wins. A raffle followed the gymkhana where four new scooters (and a bunch of other schwag) were given away.

The rally also featured some distinctly-Texas flavor. Following the ride to the Alamo, several groups split off for local-led rides to the Museum Reach, the southern missions, and El Mercado. In the evening, rally attendees were treated to a lucha libre wrestling show. And Saturday night's keynote banquet was catered with -- what else? -- Tex-Mex food.

The banquet recognized a number of long-time scooterists with lifetime achievement awards for their work in helping a younger generation of Vespa enthusiasts restore and maintain the sometimes temperamental vintage machines. Randolph Garner was given top honors as VCOA Membership No. 1. Ribbons were also given out for the Concours d'Excellence, a scooter show featuring categories for best restoration, best original and more. Houston scooterists swept the awards with prizes for the best modern scooter, best small frame, best non-Italian scooter, best modern custom scooter and several more.

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