It recently occurred to me that I hadn’t told the story of my own first rally, and that many of my readers may not even know me or how I got into scooters. Not that it’s a unique story, as I followed the well-trodden path of many people my age, who by a quirk of fate ended up with a love of Italian shopping bikes which has never gone away.
Here’s the story, with a few grainy photos, describing how it all started for me…
Ali Richards – My First Rally
How did you first get into scooters?
Me and my best mate Debbie got into music like The Jam, 2 Tone, Secret Affair and The Who in the early 80s, and we both bought Harringtons, flasher macs and then parkas. Deb was actually a step ahead of me most of the time, and I followed, but I was lucky in that my 16th birthday was in October whereas hers was in August, so I could get a scooter relatively quickly whereas she had to wait nearly a year.
In the summer holidays before my 16th birthday we went on a family holiday to Ibiza and I persuaded my Dad to hire a scooter. I rode pillion around the island and then we found a disused road where he taught me how to ride. It was a smallframe Vespa and I learned how to work the clutch and gears, although the health and safety police would have a field day, with me wearing no helmet, or any protective clothing!
I was clearly going too slowly for my Dad to take the perfect shot in the photo below!
How it tended to work in that dark winter of 1982 was that you’d buy your first scooter from someone in the year above you, assuming you didn’t have rich parents who’d buy you a brand new one. I was paired up with Paul Shannon, who didn’t turn 17 until the December, so I didn’t have my first scooter on my 16th birthday which I was gutted about. It was just before Christmas when I rode that 50 Special from his house to my then-boyfriend’s place in the town centre. I can remember it clearly because it had a dodgy clutch and frayed throttle cable; it was impossible to ride, clunking through the gears and trying not to stop at any of the roundabouts, otherwise I’d have a screaming engine!
I had it painted blue, and did a bit of customising myself, spraying the horn cover and some black arrows on the side panels and sticking some black pinstripes on. It looks so rubbish now but I always liked to add my own touch to the scooters I owned and didn’t have the knowledge or budget to do it any better!
What was your first scooter rally?
The first rallies I did were to Brighton and the Isle of Wight in 1982, but I don’t really count them as I was only 15 and went on the bus and train. Brighton was just incredible, seeing all those scooters in the sun. They were only day trips too as my Mum wouldn’t let me stay overnight!
I went to the IOW with Debbie and we came off the ferry and walked to the green in Ryde where we couldn’t believe how many scooters there were. I thought that was the rally site! We then met up with my boyfriend and his mate who took us on the back to Smallbrook, the actual campsite, which blew my mind! We were gutted to have to go back home that night and I was determined to get a scooter so that I could do a rally properly.
However, I consider my first proper rally to be the first one I rode to, which was Weymouth in 1983. I was in the 5th year at school (Year 11 for any millenial readers) and by then a lot of my mates had turned 16, and some of those in the year above were either still riding a 50 or rode on their 125s with us.
How far away was it?
It’s around 100 miles from Bognor to Weymouth, so it took us all day! It seemed like half of my school year went in convoy. There were dozens of us riding at 28mph on the A roads, through the middle of Southampton, through the New Forest and then down to Dorset. The route included roads near army bases and we were going so slowly that a tank overtook us at Bovington!
What job were you doing at the time?
I was still at school but had various part time jobs, including a paper round and working in an old people’s home. I’d saved money during the holidays working in an amusement arcade too.
Where did you stay when you were there?
I’m not sure whether it was the campsite or a car park but I remember pitching our tents on a grassy knoll at the side! I certainly don’t remember a proper field or even any stalls or music, but that’s probably because my memory is so bad.
Were you in a club at the time?
No, there were local clubs like the Stormtroopers from Littlehampton, and my mates formed Voice Of A Generation in Bognor. But I mainly hung around with the Midhurst Detours throughout the 80s, and then joined the club in the early 2000s. They were (and still are) a great laugh, always up to something.
Do you have any memories of the rally itself?
My memory is so bad that I really can’t remember much! I think we just sat around the tents drinking cheap lager and cider. I asked my DJ partner Steve to help jog my memory and he can remember some bikers riding through the campsite at night, scraping their metal boots on the gravel to create sparks and try and scare us all!
We certainly didn’t go to any pubs or dos, probably because we weren’t old enough! I wrote a piece for SLUK about 80s rally entertainment, including the joys of the wet t-shirt competition, which you can read here.
Was the journey home eventful?
I rode home in a smaller group so I think it was a lot quicker than the journey there.
Do you remember what your favourite rally anthem of that period was?
I’d started to get into Northern Soul, and would buy a single from dealer Pete on the stalls at most rallies. I’d have my latest favourite tune and try and sing it to him, and most of the time I’d get the one I wanted, although Sock It To ‘Em JB took a few goes – it’s harder with an instrumental isn’t it?!
One of the first records I played to death was Right Back Where We Started From by Maxine Nightingale. But if I had to pick a rally tune which takes me back to those early/mid 80s then it has to be Interplay by Derek and Ray.
What was your favourite custom scooter of that era?
I really liked Vespas, with murals. I think my favourite was Mytho Poeikon, it was the only full-blown custom smallframe that I can remember from the early days. You can see some more classic 80s scooters and read the full DISC 86 rally programme in my 80s posts here.
Other 80s Rallies
After I passed my test, I got a brand new P2 after a brief disaster with a Jet 200, on which I did every rally in 85. It was called Dangermobile, with Dangermouse murals on it and it was a great workhorse, loaded up with luggage, visiting all corners of the country.
Do you still have a scooter now?
Yes, I’ve got a GTS300 and have just bought a Series 2. The GTS is great for commuting and faraway rallies, but it’s nice to have a geared scooter too.
It’s my first Lambretta in 30 years, but I fancied a change and am looking forward to having fun on it in 2019!
What do scooters mean to you now?
The buzz of riding never goes away, and you can’t beat meeting up with friends on rallies, people that you would have never met if it hadn’t been for the shared love of scooters. The laughs we continue to have are the best, and the support I’ve received from the scooter community since my cancer diagnosis is overwhelming.
I met my husband on a rally, over the breakfast table in a B&B we happened to be both staying in. We got married on the day before the Isle of Wight in 2010, partly so that we could share it with all our scooter friends, and had our ‘honeymoon’ at the rally itself.
I really think it is in your blood, particularly for my generation of 50-somethings who were there at its peak in the mid 80s. It’s quite extraordinary that we are all still doing it though, and if you’d told my 18 year old self that I’d be riding scooters into my 50s then I’d have thought you were mad. I’m sure many people remember the Old Bastards Scooter Club, where you had to be over 25 to join. 25!! Yet I know many who are still going strong into their 60s and 70s, and good for them. Never say never, that’s my motto…
To get the lowdown on the 2019 rallies, check out my guide here to everything that’s in the calendar so far.
If you need ideas for a birthday or other occasion then here are some ideas for the scooter lover in your life!
Shop for scooter goodies!
If you’d like to read more from my First Rally series, here are the other scooterists I’ve featured :
- Dave Lloyd, top scooter DJ and restorer
- Dean Percival, scooter racer and builder
- Steve Bone, scooter adventurer, Darkside co-founder
- Dizzy Holmes, from Detour Records and the National Bulldog Rescue
- Norrie Kerr, Vespa legend
- Sticky, scooter author, mechanic and adventurer
- Sean Robinson, chief Garagista
- Jo Jackson, psychobilly queen and original Alcoholic Rat
- Lee Richards, owner of Meat Is Murder and the unfortunate guy who is married to me!
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