Machine over ‘scene’ for scooterist Mark

Mark Genery Vespa P200 custom

For scooter enthusiast Mark Genery, it’s far more about the machine than the scene.

Sure, the 56-year-old loved attending local rallies in the ‘80s, and helped form a scooter club in his teens, but these days he’s more in his element getting his hands dirty than sitting in the saddle.

“A lot of people are in it for the scene, and I was in the early years,” he says. “I loved Great Yarmouth as a rally, drinking snakebite and black, sleeping on tarmac in a car park, waking up sweltering in a tent and throwing up in a Tesco bag while someone had pissed on your tent.

“Then getting up and going for a bacon butty. But for me, then and even more so now, it’s all about the machine. I’m never happier than being in one of them taking it apart and rebuilding it. I love that more than riding them now.”

Street racer Vespa

The latest in a long line of Vespas and Lambrettas that Mark has worked on is the bright orange street racer we’ve come to photograph – a Vespa P200 reimagined as a 2000-era superbike.

Vespa P200 street racer

Originally modified by Nigel Brailsford, the ‘87 scooter is an homage to Neil Hodgson’s GSE Racing British superbike, and it had stood idle for many years until Mark bought it in January 2023 from 2nd City Scooters for £3,500.

“It had just stood in someone’s lounge for about 10 years,” says Mark, “but it had been MoTd, so I thought ‘this is nice, I’ll ride it’.

“Digging into it though, the engine was tired, it was leaking and rattly, and I ended up doing virtually everything. It’s been great for me – it’s what I like doing.”

Mark Genery Vespa P200

Teenagers in the ‘80s generally went one of three ways when it came to getting on two wheels at 16.

“It was Fizzies, RDs or scooters,” says Mark, who was weighing up his options aged 15 when his mind was made up by a neighbour and his Vespa PX125.

“I love that sound”

“A guy who lived nearly opposite used to go off to work, and I’d wake up to the sound of his PX with some very loud exhaust on it. I’d hear it ticking over, warming up, and then he’d ride past and bomb it up the road. I thought ‘I’ve got to have some of that – I love that sound’.”

Vespa P200 superbike custom

By then Mark was already an old hand at both riding and taking apart mopeds.

“Luckily, where we lived there were fields all around us and I’d always had knackered peds that we used to ride around,” he remembers.

“Dad was a plumber and he’d come across old Honda C90s and crunchies in barns and sheds from working on jobs. He knew I had an interest in them and, if he was in the mood, he’d ask about them.

“A couple came back and we kept them for years. We knew the local farmers and when the stubble fields came along a little gang of us would just ride them as quickly as we could, avoiding the furrows and hopefully not falling off.

“When they didn’t work we took them apart. We had no knowledge, and when we put them back together there always seemed to be a few bits left over, and we shrugged our shoulders because they tended to work. It was great because the bikes didn’t matter.”

First Vespa

By the time his 16th birthday came round in September 1984, he already had his first road legal scooter, a maroon Vespa 50 Special.

Vespa 50 Special
Mark’s first Vespa 50 Special

“I put a backrest on it, like you did, and got ready to ride it up the road, hopefully quicker than I could pedal…and it wasn’t,” he smiles. “It was still a great feeling, but it lasted all of a month until I blew it up – put a hole through the piston. So then I got another Vespa 50 that I converted to a 90 – it was my first attempt at digging into a scooter, and it was much better to ride.”

It was on the 90 that Mark went to his first scooter rally at nearby Yarmouth in Spring 1985.

“Wow, what an eye opener that was, the smell was what stays with me, the Castrol R, and it still brings it all back now,” he says.

Scooter rally Yarmouth
On a trip to Yarmouth

“I think I just went for the day, and I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it was fantastic.”

Although “in awe” of those who rode (and still ride) to far flung places all over the UK, Mark was never one for long journeys.

“I don’t profess to want to sit on them for hours,” he adds. “Plus it did always seem to be raining when we went any further than Yarmouth.

Furthest trip? Skegness

“The furthest I’ve been is Skegness, and it was raining, and the Lambretta I had at the time didn’t even make it out of the drive.

INS Racer Vespa

“I went two up on my girlfriend Jo’s PX, but it was a bit of a slow ride. We were having to go the speed of people on 50s, and you do get to a point of thinking ‘what am I doing? I’m cold, wet and going really slow’, but we did it all together.

“Then when we got there, they’d shoved us in a stadium out of town, but we made the most of it.

“On the way back, someone’s scooter decided it was going to give up near King’s Lynn, and I remember knocking on someone’s door and saying ‘can we leave this here please?’ They said ‘yeah, put it round behind the gate’.

“By then I’d started plumbing, on a YTS with my dad, and I was the one with the van so the next weekend I went all the way back and picked it up.”

Mark started the George & Dragon Scooter Club With Jo and his good friend Phil Chapman, named after the pub where they frequented.

Mark Genery scooter
With good friend Phil Chapman

“It’s like it was doomed because they knocked the pub down,” he laughs, “so we tried a few other pubs or met up at people’s houses. They were great people and great days.”

Vespa PX125E

After the Vespa 90, Mark progressed to a PX125E, fitted with a 180 (“no-one knew, the engine’s all under cover”), on which he passed his test on a rainy day in Norwich with Phil.

Vespa PX125E
A typical scene in Mark’s back garden

“I did my emergency stop, and I was watching Phil do his,” he says, “when he slammed his brakes on and slid past the examiner on his backside looking at him. He gave him a second chance because it was wet.”

He kept the PX for a number of years, and remembers picking up a mate and riding to college in all weather for his plumbing course.

“I remember on an icy day sliding backwards down a hill, and watching it slide away from me while I’m looking at the guy in the car behind me, and my mate complaining at me because he’d ruined his new coat,” he says. “It went through some stuff with me, but I guess in the end it had had its time and I sold it on, although I still regret selling it.”

Custom Lambretta

Many other scooters followed, including a Series 1 Lambretta bought in boxes that Mark decided to turn into something a little different.

Custom Lambretta chopper
Custom Lambretta

“It was all back garden stuff, and that’s what I liked about scooters, you didn’t have to have a workshop, and everyone had a go at everything,” he says. “You could find parts everywhere and you could strip them down easily. I’ve got no engineering experience, so it was all about finding my way, and I loved that.

“I took the Lambretta down to my uncle Tony’s to get the central bar welded on and foot pegs welded through the frame, cut all the back off it, made up an aluminium seat and played with the frame.

“There were no extended forks on it, so it wasn’t a chopper. I believe it’s the scooter featured on the cover of Scooter Boys book by Gareth Brown.

Custom Lambretta
The same scooter?

“I swapped that for a purple metal flake custom, an Li150 (really a 225), which I repainted green, white and blue.”

The Li stayed with him for some time, until work and a house purchase became his main priorities.

“Work takes over”

“Work takes over your life, especially when it’s a family business, and I didn’t feel I had the time to say ‘yeah, I’ll be away that Friday until whenever’,” he explains.

“When I got my first house, I put everything into that, and it was work and house, work and house.”

He was scooter-free until about 2007, when a friend made a suggestion.

“He said ‘shall we import a couple of Lambrettas from India?’” smiles Mark, with a pair of scooters eventually arriving from Mumbai.

“We opened the case and chose a weapon each, and I built a black and chrome GP150.

Indian Lambretta custom

“The engine was full of soil, it was complete gash, but the body, which had been sun-bleached, didn’t have any rust on it and it was straight, which was all I needed.

“I had AF Rayspeed build a 250 engine based on Ray Kemp’s original Race Rapido 250, which was just mad. It was a 90mph-plus engine if you wanted it to be, but unfortunately with 10 inch wheels the roads aren’t suitable for anything like that speed now.

“I had fun building it and spraying it, and used it for local rides.”

A lesson learned

Mark had also bought a Vespa PX at the same time, with a view to building a Malossi engine for it.

“I bought a Malossi 210 and played around with that, but blew the back of the engine out of it,” he laughs. “I learned a lesson – I knew what I couldn’t do with them. The stuff people are producing is so powerful to put into these little Italian engine cases, sometimes it just can’t cope with it.”

Then came an Italian Lambretta GP with an Imola 186 kit, an ex-custom that well-known painter John Spurgeon resprayed white and candy apple red.

Lambretta GP

“I don’t really know why I got rid of that, and it’s my biggest regret of selling a scooter,” says Mark, who was briefly seduced by a desire for longer, faster journeys, and bought a Ducati Monster.

“I thought ‘great, I can go further, and it’ll be more comfortable’, but I actually wasn’t comfortable with it – I had it a year(ish), and thought if I get something particularly wrong on this, it’ll try to kill me.”

An automatic Vespa GTS was the next experiment (“hated it”), before Mark decided to go back to the tried and trusted classic Vespa PX.

Back to the classic Vespa

“I know them inside out, and you can make them reliable if you don’t do something silly with the engine,” he adds. “I saw an orange one, which got sold, and then I saw this one online. I bought it without seeing it physically.”

Vespa P200 wheel and brakes

Initially, he intended on just riding it, while changing the wheel rims to split rims.

“I undid all the nuts on the hub and they all stripped out, so I ended up having to change the hub, which wouldn’t fit the original back plate he’d put on it, so I had to get the whole thing and it all had to come from Germany.

Vespa P200 flywheel

“The back one did exactly the same thing, and I started to look a bit deeper. I took the calliper apart, and the brake fluid came out coffee coloured. It’s no surprise, because it had been sitting there for 10 years.

“So I did something I always wanted to do but never had the money, and built a Malossi. Everything in that engine is Malossi, it’s reed-valved, and all strong. From just doing the wheel rims, it’s turned out to be everything.”

Vespa Malossi engine
Malossi engine

Mark has kept the Vespa true to Brailsford’s original intent, however, and the paintwork and decals remain untouched.

Vespa modernisation

Vespa custom street racer exhaust

“It’s his, but it’s carrying things on – the suspension is more modern, the brakes are better,” he says. “Mechanically, it’s been brought back to where it should be. Everything now works that should work, whereas it was a little bit tired.

“It’s about making it reliable but keeping the look the same. In my opinion, it’s worn very well.”

Vespa street racer bodykit

So having regretted the sale of more than one of his scooters over the years, will this one be hanging around?

“I’m keeping this one – I don’t think I can get rid of this.”

Scooter stories is a series of articles exploring the lives and experiences of scooterists and collectors. Click on the Scooter Stories category link to read more.

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August 8, 2023