Say the word "scooter" to most people, admits Dean Wright, and "they picture you on a Honda moped." But that's not quite what Wright and his friends are into, and when they're on the road, they draw attention. "People see you on a vintage Italian scooter, and they say, 'Wow. What is that?'" Wright said. Because even if they look a little like a wimpy Honda moped, these vehicles produce roars that make clear they're powerful. Some scooters can cruise at 85 miles an hour or more. (The two-wheelers are small, but the engines are two-stroke and therefore more powerful than the four-stroke engines on motorcycles.)

If you're curious about scooters, this weekend offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture. From Thursday through Sunday, the Rick Nifty Scooter Club will hold the Quad City Instigators Rally - a weekend of rides and events - that will showcase these compact but dynamic vehicles.

This will not be a big gathering, it should be noted. Rick Nifty only has 12 members, and Wright said he'd be happy if he gets between 25 and 30 people to the rally. "It's underground, but it's chic underground," he said.

The first word in scooters in Vespa, an Italian brand that debuted in 1946 and became all the rage on the Mod scene in the 1960s. Wright called a scooter "the ultimate fashion accessory."

But as should be expected from something that was considered as much a fashion statement as practical vehicle, the scooter fell on hard times in the late 1970s and '80s. It's only been in recent years that its popularity has risen again.

The 35-year-old Wright first saw a Vespa in a '50s-style diner, and it piqued his interest. When he rode a scooter for the first time three years ago, he fell in love. He now owns five Vespas and one Lambretta.

The growth of the scooter scene has created a thriving market for old vehicles. Enthusiasts scan papers for used bikes, and even travel to Italy, where emissions laws make it cheaper to take a vintage scooter out of the country than put it on the road.

But even though scooters are objects of hipness, they're appeal is also practical, Wright said. "A lot of people who aren't interested in a 500-cc motorcycle, this appeals to them," he said.

The Quad City Instigator rally starts Thursday night with a ride to Ducky's Lagoon in Adalusia, while Friday will feature a pool tournament and a night ride around the Quad Cities. Saturday's activities include a swap meet at 8 a.m., a 10 a.m. ride to West Lake Park for swimming and a barbecue, a 5 p.m. bike show, a 6:30 p.m. sunset ride to LeClaire, and a trip to RIBCO to see Paul Waters. Sunday activities will include brunch and one final ride. The starting point for all rides will be Mound Street Landing in the Village of East Davenport.

While the focus of the rally will be vintage scooters, all types of scooters and small-displacement motorcycles (less than 200 cc's) are welcome, as are people who are interested in scooters but don't own them.

The Rick Nifty Scooter Club meets the first Sunday of every month for brunch and a ride. For more information about the Quad City Instigators Rally or the Rick Nifty Scooter Club, call Dean Wright at (309)786-0935.

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