Someone who rides Harleys asked me awhile back whether Vespa had any sort of trinket or challenge coin similar to the Harley-Davidson poker chip. I pleaded neophyte ignorance and then hit Google. Nothing I had seen or read so far indicated that such a thing existed, but I realized I also didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. I knew my friend collected these chips from dealers around the country, but didn’t know the origin of the program, the rules, what the chips mean or are good for. Poker chips? Like, cash them in for money or prizes? I doubted that. But it’s hard to say whether there’s an equivalent for Vespa when you’re not sure what you’re trying to match, right?
A cursory glance at threads on a few H-D forums gave me the gist of it. Most or all dealers have these chips. You get them from dealers and then they are yours. That’s about all everyone agrees on. Some riders just want to collect as many as they can, and work with friends to trade or gift chips from dealers just to add to their collections. Some only collect from dealers they have personally been to. Some purists will only collect from dealers they have actually ridden to on a Harley. Some people throw them in a shoebox. Some people buy fancy, overpriced artisan-crafted frames on Etsy to display them in their homes. Some will go out of their way to acquire more chips. Some enthusiasts for the bikes and the brand don’t care and won’t bother with a chip, ever.
So, not a lot of rules. It’s a thing that’s part of the brand culture – not integral, but still official and sanctioned by H-D, and if the forums I browsed are anything to go by, people seem to either really like it or just not worry about it. No one jumped out and said “Seriously, guys, poker chips? That’s stupid. Get a patch/t-shirt/decal/something else.”
Since I started scooter shopping, I have found user forums for brands like Vespa and Genuine to be an excellent source of mostly unbiased, mostly understandable, mostly useful information. I now hang out over on ModernVespa.com, so I did a few keyword searches to see if anything about challenge coins or badges or chips surfaced. No luck.
I’m not a huge fan of VespaUSA’s website and have gotten frustrated trying to find information there in the past, but that was my next stop. Nothing helpful, really, but in my random clicks to see what information they’d hidden today, I ended up on Vespa Piaggio’s worldwide page instead – in Italian – and that was where I saw the colorful tile asking simply “Do you Vespa?”
It invited me “join the official Vespa community,” so I quickly created a free account to see what that really meant. It’s a pretty sweet little setup, kind of a combination of a social network a la Instagram and a badge/challenge thingie. The How It Works page spells it all out. Basically you start with a Vespa-related photo, add some words, and share it. People like it and you accumulate “miles” based on the geographic location of the people who like your stuff. You can also earn miles by liking and sharing other users’ stuff. Miles add up to rewards and badges that have no physical manifestation like a poker chip, but simply show on your community profile.
So, not really the same. Not as simple as the poker chip for sure, and the community and photosharing aspect of it is completely different. Anything that involves “like and share” is never going to be as timeless as a thing you can hold in your hand, collect and save to brag about to your uninitiated children, and look at one day with misty eyes and remember a time when men were men and…
But maybe the germ of the idea is the same, because it’s about creating a way to encourage a connection among riders, people who love those bikes and that brand, and creating a link among people who are thousands of miles apart and will never meet. It’s just a different way to do it.*
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if a chip (or similar) would even work for Vespas – at least in the U.S. There are large swathes of the country with no dealers, for one thing, but more significantly – most of the modern and vintage Vespa lineup can’t reach and sustain highway speeds. That means we’re not going on nearly as many cross country trips or lengthy tours like Harley riders. All those 50cc bikes aren’t going to be hitting the open road to collect anything, that’s for sure. The 125s and 150s will do a little better, but only when you get up over 250cc are you really on a Vespa equipped for touring on the U.S. highway system.
Now that’s not to say that we wouldn’t be excellent at arranging swaps and building collections of whatever chip-like thing Vespa came up with, should they choose to do so. But I wonder if it would have the same meaning if it’s something that’s simply shared rather than earned. As I browsed the H-D threads on the topic of poker chips, I found myself agreeing with the idea that one should at least personally collect one’s own chip from each dealer, if not actually ride there. Otherwise it’s just someone else’s souvenir. Still, it’s quite nice that you get to kind of make up your own rules for that part. You do you. I like that.
This culture is still very new to me, and maybe there’s some sort of hidden trophy program they only tell you about after you do something like – oh, I don’t know, get an actual license to drive the scooter you bought. But this was a fun little exercise, a way to look at two brands that have deeply-entrenched cultures with seemingly little in common besides an affinity for going “vroom” on two wheels. Something to think about as I carve out my niche.
* Now some overindulged sociology PhD candidate is going to write his/her dissertation on the intersectionality of the gestalt of Harley riders and that of Vespa riders, just you wait.