I’ve always considered myself to be an 80s Scooterboy. It’s the decade I started riding and it’s also the decade where most of the dramatic myths and scooter rally horror stories relate back to. Scooter rallies in the 1980s were massive, exciting and at times, frightening. But if I’m truly honest, I had the best times and struck up most of my longest standing friendships in the 1990s.
By the start of the 90s, the numbers attending scooter events was down massively on the 80s heyday. But, some now saw this as quality over quantity; a statement aimed, I guess, at those who saw scootering as a fad, as opposed to those that felt normal grown-up family life, away from scooter rallies beckoned (for a while anyway).
Here are a few reminders from the 1990s scooter scene. Some of which would simply just not be allowed to happen nowadays, and I also aim to correct a couple of popular misconceptions. If you were there, or you wish you had been then sit down and let’s take a big dose of nostalgia.
VIDEO | Fred Perry documentary from the 1989 Whitley Bay rally - ending the 1980s on a high
1990 didn’t start too well; The UK was gripped with riots and protests on the streets due to the much-hated Poll Tax. The newish Public Order Bill also looked like it could threaten the very existence of any large scale gathering of people – scooter rallies especially.
The first major scooter rally of the year was the Blackpool National Rally, held in mid-March. This was the first time since the official National Rally calenders (began in the early 80s) that the first National of the year was actually held before the Easter weekend. In 1996 Great Yarmouth was the second, and only other time, that the first National Rally of the season was before Easter.
Blackpool was labelled as a B&B rally with no official campsite. The rally was spread out and hard to find your mates in a large town in the days before mobile phones or social media. The masses slated it and many vowed never to return there on a rally again, on the strength of a lack of a campsite! A Blackpool scooter rally campsite on a bitterly cold and very windy weekend in March probably wouldn’t be very busy in today’s calendar.
The second National of the year was the Easter weekend and it was at Skegness. The campsite used was a stock car stadium a few miles out of town. Very heavy-handed policing tried to stop anybody leaving the campsite to head into the town, unless you could prove you had a guest house already booked. Most of the pubs weren’t serving scooterists if you did manage to get into town.
The police also had a helicopter hovering low over the campsite for long parts of the rally weekend (strange but true); god knows what it must have cost. Quite different to the reception you will receive at either Scarborough or Whitby Easter National Rallies nowadays!
Like Blackpool, the Skegness rally is also one most people would prefer to forget. It was quite dismal and the police did everything in their powers to make the event as uncomfortable for us as possible. Not a promising start for the new decade and possibly why attendance numbers continued to fall rapidly.
Lambretta Club of Great Britain
On a different note, the Lambretta Club of Great Britain started the 1990s with 401 members and £2612 in the bank. The club’s oldest active riding member was the legendary Chuck Swonnell aged 55 years old. Chuck’s passion and riding achievements in the world of scooters will, quite rightly, go down in folklore forever. But to a lad in his early 20s, as I was in 1990, 55 seemed bloody old to be riding? My, how that view has changed in me now! Incidentally, if you don’t know, Chuck is now in his mid-80s and is still a stalwart of the scooter scene (you can see Chuck reminiscing with Norrie Kerr at our ScooterExpo event in July).
1991 saw the start of the epic run of rally longevity that we all know as Bridlington. And the towns of Oban, Bournemouth, Chudleigh (Finlake) Penzance, Kettering, Llandudno, Millport, Ingliston (Farmyard) and Whitby all debuted as National rallies for the first time in the 1990s.
The resorts of Brighton, Southend, Porthcawl, Torquay, and the aforementioned Skegness returned as National Rally venues in the 90s, having been off the calendar between 6 and 10 years individually.
Holiday in Holland, Camber Sands and Mersea Island all made an appearance as large scale scooter rallies for the first time in the 1990s too.
August Bank Holiday cancelled
The Great Yarmouth National Rally of 1992 was due to be held on the August Bank Holiday weekend. But a few short weeks before, it was decided that, after much debate with the local council and police, the rally would be delayed and go ahead the weekend after the Bank Holiday.
The majority of rally-goers camped on the official St Nicholas seafront campsite back in those days. But the scooterists were told that we wouldn’t be welcome on the Bank Holiday weekend, because we would upset any potential “normal holidaymakers” on such a popular weekend. Can you imagine the onslaught rally organisers would get in 2019 if the busiest rally weekend of the whole year’s calendar was simply delayed by a week, at very short notice?
Don’t grow up
This was the first Bank Holiday I can ever recall to not host an official large scale scooter rally. It came at a time when attendance was dropping like a stone, the rave scene had taken many scooterists. Growing up had also affected the weak, mortgages, weddings, and general apathy towards the scene at the time meant times were changing.
NSSA Sporting weekends
Sporting weekend events were very popular in the first half of the 90s too. The NSRA (National Scooter Riders Association) formed an off-shoot, the NSSA (National Scooter Sport Association) to encourage scooter racing. Although at the time it caused friction amongst the clubs already running scooter racing in the UK.
Under the NSRA/NSSA banner, the three best-known drag strips in the UK hosted large scale rallies. Santa Pod (first in 1989) and then in 1990 & 1991, Avon Park 1992, 1993 and 1994 and York Raceway in 1995 & and 1996.
A full campsite of tents and traders based around a quarter mile drag strip watching the countries fastest scooters doing battle. You could also blast your own scooter up the strip if you were sober enough.
Taking ‘The strip’ literally, the scooter legend that is Rob Skipsey wanted to race his Series 1 (Yamaha 350 powered) Lambretta up the track with no helmet or clothes from the waist up at one event. Thankfully, for his own safety/sanity, he wasn’t allowed.
Other scooter sporting venues visited in the 90s were Aintree, Knockhill, Langbaugh, Pembrey, Croft, 3 sisters, Ty Croes and Manby for the scooter circuit racers, and Baitings Dam, Curborough Oxford and Caister for the hill climbers and scooter cross riders.
The Scooter rally organising body at the time was the National Scooter Riders Association and they hosted five very successful and popular European rallies, they were:
- Saintes (France) 1990
- Beersel (Belgium) 1991
- Den Haag (Holland) 1992
- Parthenay (France) 1993
- Opglabbeek (Belgium) 1994
At Saintes, a well-known scooter boy from The Dirty Mills suffered nasty injuries and ended up in hospital after crashing his scooter whilst drunk. He had no medical cover and the accident cost him a fortune.
In Den Haag members of the Mansfield Monsters allegedly set fire to an annoying leather dressed local.
In Parthenay top custom scooter Pseudo Satisfaction was vandalised on the campsite. A sad end to a great rally. Pseudo was brought back to its former glory by the owner, Glyn Dove and you’ll have a chance to see this classic scooter at ScooterExpo in July.
Rally venues like Morecambe, Margate, Exmouth and Gt Yarmouth, all followed the same sort of format. A very central or seafront campsite (of sorts) with the pubs and nighttime disco a short walk somewhere along the seafront. It is fair to say these four towns were usually the best-supported rallies of the 90s for that reason. Although, sadly, nothing like the visual impact of the 80s rallies in those towns.
Scotland had at least 5 different National rally Venues in the 90s, whereas today’s Scottish National venue (Kelso) is now the longest standing inland rally venue in the UK.
Euro Lambretta rallies
1991 Den Haag (Holland)
1992 Kesterfield (England)
1993 Saignelegier (Switzerland)
1994 Troyes (France)
1995 St Wolfgang (Austria)
1996 Wanroij (Holland)
1997 Milan 50th Anniversary (Italy)
1998 Millstreet (Ireland)
1999 Duren (Germany)
Euro Vespa rallies (Now called Vespa World Days)
1990 Kreuzlingen (Switzerland)
1991 San Remo ( Italy)
1992 Pforzheim (Germany)
1993 Abano Terme (Italy)
1994 Girona (Spain)
1995 Aix-En- Provence (France)
1996 San Remo (Italy)
1997 Thessaloniki (Greece)
1998 Gronningen ( Holland)
1999 Girona (Spain)
VIDEO | Mansfield Monsters tug of war at the first Bridlington National 1992
Misconception number one:
The Isle of Wight has been running continually as a National Rally since the early 80s. Wrong! For the first six years of the 1990s, there wasn’t an official National Rally on the island.
The island had many smaller gatherings – or ‘pirate’ type rallies, but no National. The rally held in July 1996 will, I think, always go down as the smallest, poorest attended I.O.W National ever. I’m sure I’m correct in saying that this was also the only ever National on the island not to be held on a Bank Holiday.
1996 was a massive turning point for scootering and it could have been the end of the National calendar when the NSRA folded after Bridlington in October. The BSRA – British Scooter Riders Association was formed by Scooterists/clubs and individuals as a replacement and is still the main scooter organisation behind the scenes of the National calendar today.
Also in 1996, the South West rally was held at Finlake holiday camp. This was the first ever National to be hosted at an all in one-holiday camp.
Scarborough has been running continually as a National Rally since the early 80s. Wrong! The one and only 1990s National Rally held in Scarborough was Easter 1998. The town had a ten-year gap without a National up until that point. Again, smaller or local gatherings, but no National.
- Scooter rally DJ, Jeff Ventress had his Lambretta stolen from outside his Bed and Breakfast during the Saturday night.
A couple of my vivid memories of the 1990s were police roadblocks on the way into some rally towns; the false and often comedy made up names we gave the police were laughable!
I remember seeing Headhunter, the iconic Lambretta chopper pulling onto the campsite at Bournemouth ‘92 rally. It made me stop stare and think “That looks cool as f**k”.. and yet still the locals called us Mods?
Another Bournemouth memory was setting up tents on the Friday night just before dusk, out of nowhere came swarms of huge flying beetles. They were bigger than a bumble bee and seemed to be attacking everybody, scooterists could be seen all over the campsite trying to fend them off with the poles from semi-erect ridge tents.
“It’s the blue one…”
For a while, the Scooterists I rode to the rallies with, all owned some form of blue PX or T5. We would pull onto a petrol station forecourt, fill up and then when paying, (all one by one) say to the cashier ‘Mine’s the blue scooter’, pointing to a forecourt full of blue Vespas! It may sound childish humour but we did it at EVERY garage, we never tired of it.
My long-standing friend, Mick Gervin, from Cumbria, would regularly set off on a very long rally journey on the Thursday night. He would travel on his beloved SX200 “S” type. I would usually set off in the very early hours of Friday morning. I don’t think I (or many other people) ever got to a rally before Mick. I remember thinking the minute I saw his SX on the campsite with tent pitched next to it, the rally had officially begun.
I don’t recall seeing any other scooter throughout the 90s anywhere near as often as Mick’s SX. A true rally regular in all its guises and he’s still around today. He has owned and ridden the same scooter for nearly 30 years now, it’s highly unlikely that there is another scooter on the planet that has been to more scooter events?
Start me up
Finally, one very tidy and quite subtle red custom GP200 would often fly past me on the way to rallies. Its rider always waved in a ‘punching the air’ sort of way. I really liked the scooter, and I would burst into song in a (Rolling Stones style) as it went past “You’ve gotta Start me up”. The rider was Essex lad Mark Swinge. Although I didn’t know this at the time.
Strange images often stay with you for years but the colour and the sound of this Lambretta, often in the fast lane, was a superb combination. In recent years Mark has re-acquired the GP “Start Me Up”, and turned it into one of the most full on, and OTT, custom creations out there. I’m quite sure in its new form it’s probably won more trophies than any other custom scooter ever.
Nowadays, I often laugh and joke with Mark about the days I would see him blasting along to a rally with me singing back instead of waving. Times have changed now though, because this scooter is ridden far harder, faster and covers far more miles than ever before. Much to the disappointment of the doubting Thomas’ that refuse to believe it is ridden at all… (clowns).
I hope the photos and lists of events have stirred some good memories for those of you that still flew the scooter-riding flag in the 1990s. Maybe you or your scooter are in the pictures (there are three huge galleries below). Do you know if any of the scooters are still out there, or do you have your own 1990s rally memories? We’d like to hear about them so feel free to comment below.
Share the 1990s scooter flashback SLUKers,
Ride safe Col