Phil Waters turns crimson when he tells the story. Stationed in the army in Germany 18 years ago, he was sucking up beers with his barracks buddies and bragging about his vintage '69 BMW bike parked outside the bar. After hearing enough hot air, another soldier challenged Waters to a race against his Lambretta motorbike.
Certain that his sturdy ride could outgun the puny scooter, Waters took the bet, only to be left in the dust. "We walked out of the bar, and he smoked me," recalls Waters. "That's when I realized that scooters were quicker. They're lighter. They get good gas mileage, and I could park it anywhere."
These days, Waters parks his 15 scooters and eight motorcycles in his garage at home in Avon Lake and operates the Pride of Cleveland scooter shop on West 25th Street in Cleveland. The store becomes Scooter Central this weekend for the 13th annual Amerivespa, for as many as 600 scooter addicts from across the country.
"It's strange for this to come to Cleveland, since we're this overlooked gem," says Waters, who heads the local chapter of the Vespa Club of America. "But we are ground zero, in the middle of so many Vespa dealerships."
Named for the famed Italian-made scooter, the four-day rally starts with a 7 p.m. barbecue on Thursday. At noon on Friday, bikers will ride in packs around town, and on Saturday, they'll take a five-hour, 68-mile cruise through the Cleveland Metroparks. By 4 p.m., they'll meet outside McCarthy's Ale House in the Flats (1231 Main Street) for the fest's Concourse d'Elegance, where awards will be given for the farthest-traveled, best vintage, and ugliest scooters.
Waters beams with pride when he talks about Cleveland being the festival host. "Two years ago, the organizers said, 'You're not ready,'" he says. "Well, it's two years later, and we're ready."