Text + Photos: Michael Blanchard
Spotlight | Wherever I go I look for motorcycles and scooters; from the standpoint of a rider and enthusiast but also as a someone involved in the business. I want to see what people are riding, how they use them, what segment of society is riding and I am interested in the bikes themselves.
Madrid like many countries outside the US is crazy for two wheeled vehicles. MotoGP stars are the advertising heros who adorn bus stops. Business men in suits are as common as anything flying through traffic on maxi scooters with a briefcase strapped to the back. Unlike the stupid rules in the states prohibiting parking on the sidewalk large stretches of Madrid sidewalk are parking for scooters and motorcycles. The much ridiculed Scooter Skirt is in vogue for the Madrilleño commuter and there seems to be a curious habit of riding with your feet off the floor boards or pegs. They hold them out like wings as they ride, feet skimming the tarmac.The cops ride scooters, big BMWs and MP3s, and they are loaded down with machine guns.
Spaniards are not very into vintage bikes. Whats new and chic is what people want. There are notable exceptions, the custom BMW Airhead or 80s vintage Ducati stand out for being so un common. The biggest crackup are the oddball Chinese bikes. A 50cc two stroke tarted up like a miniature Harley mixing its metaphors and belching smoke as it buzzes along looking stupid. A blatant Chinese small bore copy of a Triumph parked next to a Triumph gave a good laugh. The other incongruity are hot rod superbikes that live their lives in the crowded streets and alleys of the old town. Never able to live up to their speed potential, like race horses pulling a vegetable cart.
Im a sucker for the lone bike parked at night. Chained to a pole next to a 400 year-old building. Where does it go during the day? What secrets has it seen? What roads has it traveled? They always seem like children left outside the bar while their parents are inside having a good time. A slightly criminal act. What is up with the brand new 200 horsepower Aprillia chained to a sidewalk railing? Never moving, always there, for two weeks straight. How could the owner stand to not be out riding this thoroughbred?
Much as in the states, Harleys are a statement of wealth, style and (oddly in a culture that is very proud of its history and vaguely distrustfull of the United States) a sign of respect for America. But somehow in a much more obsequious manner than one sees in the good old USA. Reminded me of the Blues singer we saw who could cover classic delta blues but couldn’t speak English. The transplanting of the the thing changing its original cultural significance despite the sameness of Harley culture world wide. We are all rebels and wild individuals so we will all dress the same to show how rebellious and free we are.
In the end it is the scooters. Scooters everywhere in Madrid. The perfect urban vehicle. Vespas are the most common vintage bike one sees in Madrid. Lots of ‘70s and ‘80s vintage Vespas are still in service. One sees the odd stylish cat bombing around on a small frame 90 S riding like he thinks he is Maveric Viñales. Ripping through Lavapies at night heedless of intersections. Headed for some late night assignation. For me the most memorable sight was the Vespa P parked next to the statue of the writer Augustin Lara outside a church wrecked in the Spanish Civil War. Three iconic Spanish obsessions; religion, writers and scooters.