When David “Baggie” Bagnall was a kid growing up in Kimmage, most of the cars in his neighbourhood were grey, blue, or black.
But the guy next door had a bright red Vespa. “You could hear him coming first, then see him through the railings,” he says.
The wheels had shiny chrome trim, and the neighbour was a sharp dresser. Bagnall would run over and watch him wipe the scooter down with a cloth.
“At the time, he was so different to what was around me … It’s always stuck with me,” Bagnall says.
Back in the ‘70s and ’80s in Dublin, scooters were associated with Mods like Bagnall’s well-dressed neighbour, and with people who were into particular types of music, like Northern soul and ska.
These days, some of those people are getting back into the music and culture of their youth.
The Pit Stop Krew
Bagnall is one of the founders of the Pit Stop Krew, a Dublin-based scooter club with more than 50 members. It got started in 2013.
For years after admiring his neighbour’s scooter, whenever somebody asked what he’d do if he won the Lotto, the answer was always the same: buy a Vespa.
He and his wife Sandra were punks back in the day, and even though that wasn’t part of the scooter scene, Bagnall wanted one. But he never had the spare cash to get one, he says, especially after they had children.
When the kids were finished with school, he finally bought his first vintage Vespa. That was in 2009. Now he has five.
“There were a lot of people who were heavily into scooters and kind of through work and families, they had to give up the scooters,” Bagnall says.
“They couldn’t afford to keep the family car and the scooter going. Family life just took over. Like a lot of hobbies, it fell by the wayside.”
Sandra’s gotten into them, too and they’ve travelled the world going to events. They’re signed up for next year’s Vespa World Days in Bali. Other club members call them “Mr and Mrs Vespa of Ireland”.
In the Krew, there are people from all kinds of backgrounds and musical interests, Bagnall says.
Part of the Subculture
“It’s part of the subculture, that’s the whole thing,” says Sandra Bagnall, on a recent Saturday afternoon.
“You’re out and about, and you’re seeing somebody on a scooter; you’re seeing somebody at a Northern soul night. And you’re going, ‘I remember him … [I] danced with him in the ’80s,” she says.
She’s talking while scrubbing some old green wainscotting in an old room in an old building.
“You can get a lot done in two hours,” she says, her white and black horn-rimmed glasses pushed up on her forehead, one arm splashing in a bucket of suds.
For the last few months, the Krew’s been meeting at their new clubhouse – a couple of rooms in the Inchicore Sports and Social Club. Most members don’t work on Saturdays, she says, so they give whatever time they can.
That goes along with what David Bagnall said was an important part of the club – there’s no pressure. “If you want to dip in and out, that’s what you do. There are no expectations.”
The Krew’s chairman, Paul Lennon, took a couple weeks off work to get stuck in to the renovation project.
The rooms used to be a sewing factory for the CIÉ works, where uniforms were made. It hasn’t been used for many years, so the first thing that had to be done was a clear-out, Lennon says.
Once the place was clean, there were leaks in the roof to fix, plaster work to do, and lots of painting.
“There’s an awful lot of history in here, and hopefully we can get it back to the way it was,” Lennon says, as he arranges badges and other memorabilia on the walls.
There’s a case full of badges from different clubs, which are coveted collectibles, says Krew member Alfreda O’Brien Kavanagh. “Do not part a Vespa fiend with a badge!”
“When other clubs come over from Croatia and Italy, we can bring them here … It’ll be like the United Nations of Vespa clubs,” she says.
O’Brien Kavanagh got into the Vespa scene not through music, but through her Italian family.
She talks about how the manufacturer, Piaggio, designed them as a form of transport for women and families after the Second World War. Her relatives in Italy bought them back then, she says.
“They’re heartbreakers, as in they’re just beautiful. I mean, they are icons of design, and they are in the design museum in Milan as a piece of art,” she says.
The how or why you love scooters doesn’t matter to the Krew, she says.
“We’re a scooter club, so if you rock up on a Lambretta, rock up on a Vespa, rock up on a Suzuki, you’re welcome,” O’Brien Kavanagh says.
Once the clubhouse is finished, the Krew plans on having lots of classes, for both members and the local community – things like basic maintenance and first aid.
And there will be more charity events, which are a big thing for the Krew. They’ve linked in with ChildVision in Drumcondra, Temple Street Children’s Hospital, MS Ireland, and many others.
The Pink Scooter
The Krew also has a mascot: Nuby, an 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier.
He and his human, Peter Johnston, raise money for the children’s cancer charity Aoibheann’s Pink Tie on their bright pink Vespa. Nuby sits in a basket at the back, wearing pink goggles.
Last Sunday morning, they took a spin to Howth. There were nine other scooters, but it sounded like more.
“I can’t go anywhere but people come up and talk to me,” Johnston says. “It’s very difficult to be in this type of community and be solitary.”
As the gang winds its way past the quays, past Fairview and Marino, passengers in cars crane their necks to take a look.
Boys riding bicycles stop on a footpath to watch, pointing at the source of the noise. The bikes flow past, and when they spot Nuby at the back, they cheer.
At the turnoff for Bull Island, the smell of the bay mingles with exhaust fumes.
Johnston says going for a spin on the scooter lets him use his senses to experience life. “When you ride down a highway, or a motorway, or a main road in the country, you can’t but feel alive.”
Now 63, Johnston wasn’t a Mod back in the day, he says – that was a little after his time. He was a rocker.
“We had Easy Rider and Marlon Brando [and James Dean] for the motorbikes.” He says Dublin’s rocker scene started up the late ’60s.
“I was a teenager when the Vietnam War was going on and all that. That’s really where the rocker thing took off,” he says.
The look was jeans, Levi’s denim jackets, leather motorcycle jackets, and long hair. “I would have had long hair,” Johnston says, at a time when long hair was “frowned upon”. He called it “rocking the boat”.
As the group pulls up in front of the Summit Inn and parks in a row, a few curious people walk over to ask questions. The Krew trickles into the pub for a couple hours of chatting, slagging, and a full Irish.
Everyone Wanted a Scooter
Ken Higgins drove a restored white Lambretta LI150, series two, from 1975.
He started getting into music when he was a kid in the mid-’70s – first ska, then punk, then Northern soul.
When Quadrophenia, the film based on a rock opera by The Who, came along in 1979, that “changed everything”, Higgins says. The main character was a scooter-driving Mod from London.
“Everyone wanted a scooter. Everyone wanted to look sharp,” says Higgins, who got his first Vespa around that time.
He and his friend Ian Lewis, also in the Krew and into Lambrettas, used to go to Carnaby Street in London to buy the right clothes.
The style then was similar to what he’s wearing now: Levi’s 501s, desert boots, a Lambretta polo shirt, and a navy blue trench coat.
He and Lewis used to get the bus into town from Cabra, to hang out at a club called Bubbles in Temple Bar.
It was like one big family because everybody knew each other, Higgins says. “We all went into town on the bus together and then we’d meet up with other friends that we had in other areas – Ballyfermot, Coolock, Finglas, Ballymun – from all over Dublin, we met in the same club.”
Higgins got married in 1985, when he was 19, and had five children. He “stepped away” from the scene. But when the kids got older, he crept back in.
He got a record player about six years ago and dusted off his collection of hundreds of records.
“They’re all in perfect condition. I look after my vinyl, I always did.”