Teenage Kicks

Grubby oiks on the rob, or the very future of motorcycling? Wozza hunts out the kids on scooters to find out

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I'd been back from holiday five hours and was in the middle of unpacking, throwing last month's milk out and wading through the fan mail and bills that had arrived in my absence when the phone rang.

It was Alex at TWO Central, and he had a mission for me. Damn. Accepting meant accepting my holiday was over; swerving it meant a few more days loafing before the big step back into the real world. Pacing my lounge and pondering my options I tripped over the bill mountain and my choice was made. "I'll do it. What is it?" I asked. The words 'scooters', 'kids', and 'find them' followed. To elaborate, I was to track down as many scooter-wielding youths as I could and find out what they were about.

You know them. They're the ones on the big-bored scooters - you can't see the bore kit but you know it's there because no 125 was ever that fast. They're the ones skulking about the local shopping centre, helmets balanced on top of their heads. They're the ones who think protective clothing means an extra hooded top. They are, in short, a menace to society in general and, more specifically, all that is good in motorcycling. Or are they?

How many have you spoken to lately? I'll wager the answer's none. How many have you tutted at as they've zapped past you in gridlock, tracksuit bottoms billowing in the breeze, helmet straps flapping beneath their chins? I'll bet the answer's a few more...

Whatever, living a stone's throw from Croydon I was already in a prime hunting ground. Even so, finding the buggers turned out to be far from easy.

Having sourced an R1 from Yamaha - the weapon of choice for any aspiring hoodlum - I went to trawl Croydon and see where it got me. The less kindly souls in the office suggested that would be casualty, conveniently minus my wallet, phone, house keys, shoes and so on. Surely not?

Two hours in and things weren't going well. I'd done that many laps of Croydon I was dizzy, and all I'd managed to catch was the beginnings of a cold. Then I saw him: tracksuit, bright scoot, small L-plate. One quick U-turn across the pavement and I was on his tail as he darted through the swelling rush hour traffic. A red light ahead and I had him. Er, now what? A garbled explanation of what I was doing only confused matters, while my waving gestures once we were on the move again didn't seem to help either but, somehow, we ended up at the roadside and I had a chance to explain what I wanted.

His name was James, he was 16 and he was on his way home from work. He'd got into scoots through his old man who had bikes. His scoot wasn't modified because that would only make it harder to sell. He wanted a car because riding to work in winter was "shit", but when he had some cash later he wanted a proper bike. What a pleasant, smart and sensible lad. Not what I was expecting at all.

Back into the gridlock and a few minutes later I saw another one. A bit more waving, shouting and gesticulating and he pulled up. His name was Brett, he was 17 and he'd got a scoot because "they're cheap, fun, and all my mates have 'em". I couldn't fault his logic, and asked if he could round up a few of these mates for me? Of course he could.

In fact they'd probably be at scooter shop 2 Wheels Ahead right now if I wanted to head over there. Obviously I'd have thought of this myself if I'd had a clue what or where he was talking about but, being past it, of course I had neither. Brett took the lead and I tucked in behind.

It may have been tipping it down, and he may not have had any waterproofs, but style obviously took precedence over and above all concerns about being a bit wet and so Brett continued to ride knees out, feet on pillion pegs and taking a soaking. Talk about making the most of 50cc. He was smooth, swift and safe all in one hit, and before I knew it 2 Wheels Ahead appeared. If you're looking for it, it's on the Wickham Road just next to the Abra Kebabra house of culinary delights. And kebabs.

Inside I met owner Jeff, and a motley selection of lads slouching about in tracksuits and hoodies. Having explained what in the name of journalism I was up to, it was decided Saturday would be the best day to get people together.

Good as their word, come Saturday, the place was swarming with a sizeable portion of Croydon's scootering youth. Perfect. "We got 'peds because we like bikes," explained 16-year-old Sam from under the lid perched on his head. "It's much better than getting the bus, but I'll get a car next year - it'll be warmer in winter. I'll get a decent bike later when I've got the money."

Meanwhile Lee, 18, has got one of the best-looking Gilera Runners I've seen, with all the toys. We can leave the details out, but let's just say you might want to think twice before challenging him off the lights. "It's got the lot," he explained proudly, also telling me his ultimate bike would be a GSX-R1000 and that he reckons him and his mates get unfair grief from the police.

He's not alone. "I've got nine points," said 17-year-old Carl. "Most of it's bullshit really - I got six just for not having a front L-plate, and another three for speeding at 42 in a 40." Hardly the crime of the century. "I spend nearly all my money on my bike," he added, "putting petrol in it and tricking it up."

Talking of looks, cosmetic mod of the day goes to Scott and his Gilera Runner 50 which, at a glance is sporting some badass blacked-out lights. Closer inspection reveals these are actually his mum's old tights stretched over the lenses. Why? "Looks good innit". I felt daft for asking.

"You're bike's got to look good, you've got to make it fast, and you've got to beat your mates," said 17-year-old Billy, summing things up pretty neatly. Just like the rest of the bike world, looks and speed are the holy grails in 'ped heaven. "All anyone who comes in here is worried about is being faster than their mates," said Wes, one of 2 Wheels Ahead's tuners. "The two questions we always get are 'how much faster will it go?' and 'how much will it cost?'", added partner-in-grime Paul.

One thing that does often go neglected in this quest for speed and style is basic maintenance. "Most scooters coming in here ain't looked after at all," confided Wes. No surprises there then. Given the choice between a good night out and staying in to service your bike, which would you choose? Especially at 16? No contest really is it?

But it's not just about who's fastest and who looks the best because riding plays a major part in 'ped cred. After all, when you've barely got the dough to keep yourself in petrol you're hardly dripping in the cash to make your scoot vastly faster than the next bloke, who's probably in the same boat. So the only way you can really beat him is to out-ride him. And that means wheelies.

Yup, the good old mono is the number one currency of choice when it comes to sorting out who's the daddy. So, amidst a symphony of bwapping pipes and a haze of two-stroke fug, we head off somewhere quieter for the lads to strut their stuff. And strut they do. Standing up, stood on the seat, feet over the bars and, occasionally, right the way back with the numberplate scraping and the back brake squealing as it tries to stop their scoot from flipping on the greasy back street, the lads cut loose. With no power to speak of, ham-fisted power wheelies are out of the question. On a 'ped it's all technique, balance and finesse, and it is very impressive.

Pick of the bunch is 18-year-old Jack who, in his Reebok trainers and Nike tracksuit bottoms, happily drags the numberplate on any scoot he's given. "I started riding on a Puch Magnum when I was five, I learned to wheelie on a BMX and a few years ago I moved onto 'peds. It's just fun ain't it?" I try digging for more technique tips, but soon realise I'm on the wrong track. He doesn't analyse what he's doing, he just does it 'cos he loves it and doesn't need any more reason than that.

The following day, the lads are all off to a 'secret location' where, apparently, we'll 'see plenty of action'. At the appointed hour, myself and snapper Martin show up on a murky trading estate where all hell is breaking loose as hordes of scoots and a handful of bikes wheelie their way up and down between the industrial units. It is brilliant.

Not everyone thinks so though, like the pair of glum-faced bikers who think the scooter boys are "dangerous, really, because you never know what they're going to do next". And neither of course do the police, who inevitably turn up. As soon as they do, it's a 'ped exodus as they disappear to the nearest MacDonald's to work out the next meeting spot. But no sooner do they all pull up than they're off again as someone somewhere shouts out another location. As neither Martin nor myself have a clue where they're going next, a lad called Jay offers to take us there. Accepting, we are then treated to 20 minutes of irrepressible stand-up wheelies as Jay shows off to anyone and everyone. Car drivers, dog walkers, Sunday joggers and small children at bus stops, they all get the same treatment. Some gawp, some point, and all the kids cheer. Jay loves it.

Arriving at another industrial wasteland, the throng reunites to continue its endless round of banter, wheelies, smoking, wheelies, piss-taking, wheelies, burnouts, texting, and more wheelies.

I'd started this feature half-expecting to be mugged by a bunch of barely-literate oiks, but now here I was in the middle of their world and I couldn't have been more wrong. This lot are mint and in it for the love of riding, the fun of mucking about and are doing it just because they can. They're the ultimate in non-denominational, non-judgemental riders who don't care what bike you ride or car you drive. If you're alright, you're alright and if you're a twat, the vehicle you own is never going to change that.

Oh, and if you want to know why they insist on wearing their lids on top of their heads, I'll let Jay explain: "It hides helmet hair, stops anyone nicking your lid and it keeps your head warm". Don't know why we never thought of it before.

Thanks to: Brett, Carl, Billy, Jack, Jay, Wes and the rest for putting up with us, Jeff and the crew at 2 Wheels Ahead (www.twowheelsahead.com, 0208 656 2727) for answering my daft questions, and Yamaha for the R1