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In the alley between Josephine and York streets near Cheesman Park, hipsters are assembling, engines are being goosed, and blue smoke is rising into the overcast air. Denver's scooter chicks are ready to rumble.
Behind a dowdy gray Victorian, a dozen self-consciously cool women in their twenties are gathering around a fleet of antique two-wheeled motor scooters. Some of the scooters don't run at all. Others are in need of repairs. Some are decked out with decals from Great Britain, others with Calvin and Hobbes stickers. Some are jet black and look like something out of Quadrophenia, the 1979 movie about rival teenage gangs in early-'60s England. Another is shiny blue and green. The sexiest one of all is silver--a steel frame completely stripped of its paint.
In a few hours, the scooter girls and a phalanx of invited guests--most of them male--will be heading out on a rally. The destination: the Coors Brewery in Golden. Your hostesses: Chris Hyder and her Secret Servix Scootin' Chicks All Girls Scooter Club--the "Secret SCs" for short--an organization whose members are proud to be one of the only all-girl scooter clubs in the United States.
That's right. Scooters. Those stylish two-wheelers made in Italy after World War II. Don't confuse them with wimpy mopeds or with brawny, oversized motorcycles, because scooters conjure up their own universe of cultural references. From the Sixties mod scene in London (heavy on go-go boots and ska music) to the classy image of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn touring the streets of Rome in Roman Holiday, the scooter is the perfect union of rock-and-roll style and mechanical substance.
The old Vespas and Lambrettas gathered in the alley are throwbacks to a time when getting around a big city was still an act of independence and sophistication--when you drove around for the hell of it, because you could, because it was fun. With their washboard fronts and flared rear ends and their simple controls--gas, brakes, a switch for the headlight, kick starter, clutch and speedometer--they're get-on-and-go vehicles. And they're urban, meant for people who live, work and occasionally make trouble in the city.
The 23-year-old Hyder, a blonde with dark eyebrows, purple eyeliner and an intense stare, started the club two years ago; today it has about fifteen members and is the only all-girl scooter club in Denver, where the other four scooter gangs are all dominated by men. The Secret Society part of the name comes from an all-male club in San Francisco that turned the women down after they asked to ride with the guys at a big rally being planned in California. After being snubbed long-distance, the girls went west planning to lay some full-throttle attitude on the Society--like "tampon bottle rockets, real obnoxious," says SC member Missy Walker. By the time they got there, though, they got caught up in the rally itself and figured they'd just get even by forming an exclusive club of their own. "It kind of burned," recalls Hyder, a waitress at a local brewpub. "So we have our own scooter society--nothing but girls."
Chris Shauinger, who works on scooters for a living and heads up his own scooter club in Denver dubbed the Aces, calls the Servix bunch a "band of yuppie girls gone bad." And while plenty of guys may fantasize about riding double as the Secret SCs cruise by, the scooter babes don't take a backseat to anyone. They know the history and the mechanics of the bikes as well as the men, and they're just as pleased with the kick-starter scratches and exhaust burns that have scarred their legs. Hyder says she'll often walk around the house oblivious to the oil smudges on her face. "To learn how to ride a scooter really well, you have to be twice as good as the guys," she says. "And we are, because guys tend to show off."
"It's so independent," agrees Walker, 25. "Especially if you fix something on your own, you're like, 'I am woman. See my scoots.' Sometimes Chris and I will go out in the garage and get some dirt under the nails. I always wear my little Dickies outfit."
But Walker hastens to add that the girls don't think of themselves as scooter chicks all the time. "Most of us are girly girls," she says. "The scooter is like a child. You have to take care of it. It almost becomes an obsession. When they broke down, I used to cry to my therapist about it."
Hyder was introduced to scooters in Salt Lake City by a close high-school friend. It wasn't until she moved to Denver in 1993 that she went out and bought her first ride, an Indian-made Bajaj--actually a replica of a Vespa 150 Sprint. (The bike eventually met its fate when it hit a pothole downtown and its entire exhaust system fell off.)
Today the Secret SCs will cap their rally with a cookout and a night at the clubs. Rallies happen about once a month, but this is the first one hosted by Hyder and her crew, who have had T-shirts printed up to commemorate the event.