Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shop Stop: Geiger Works, Philadelphia PA

Theres just something about walking into a warehouse for the very first time and having your vision clogged up with the site of old bikes floor to ceiling. It's a lot to take in and more questions are raised then answered. Where did all this stuff come from? Who owned these? What are the stories behind each and every item. It's a very romantic notion, I know, but I'm a hopeless romantic at heart - what can I say?

John Geiger's romance with Italian motor scooters started over 20 years ago and like me he's a polygamist with his machines. An ex girlfriend turned him onto Vespa's and while she faded out of the picture, the relationship with scooters grew from an infatuation to a way of life. It's not often that someone can earn a living working on the things one loves, but it's even rarer to be able to have such a tight focus on one particular machine such as old Vespas and Lambretta's and still earn a living. 

As a side story, I first got my '74 Vespa in the late 90's. I loved the styling of the scooters and I loved the folklore of Mods riding through London in the early 60's. I found my Vespa resting in a barn in Western Mass with a seized engine and a heavy blanket of dust and splattered paint. Though it was rough, it was complete and the price was right (free). I had owned two motorcycles prior to this, a 70's Honda XR75 as a kid and later a Triumph TR25 - both of which came to me in running order. Finding a machine in need of love (and a whole lot of sorting out) was a whole new experience for me. With the help of my father (who was building a Triton Cafe Racer at the time - perfect irony - see mods vs rockers)  we got the piston unstuck from the cylinder and had the scooter running in a few hours. For the next month I tracked down tires, fuel line, petcock  and carburetor parts all while doing my best to clean and restore the Vespa's appearance. Working on that machine gave me a sense of ownership, understanding and love that I never experienced with a motorcycle before. I also had one of the best bonding moments with my father that I can ever recall. This moment carried forward and I still love rescuing beaten bikes to this day. It just makes it so much more special.

Over the years my Vespa served me well but wear and tear on the engine began to set in and I knew it needed an overhaul, complete with boring, honing and rewiring (if you've ever wired a vespa than I don't have to tell you about fishing wires through the pressed steel frame). The bike eventually went into the corner of my garage and began to gather dust. After many failed attempts to breathe new life into the old girl, I threw my hands up and took her down to Geiger Works in the Kensington section of Philsdelphia.

Jon is one of those guys who loves riding small displacement vehicles on journeys that some would think twice about even on a large motorcycle. He builds his engines to be fast and reliable so when the need to ride 500 miles on a scooter arrises, he's ready. I met Jon at a motorcycle rally a few Novembers ago up near Reading PA. He was on his P200 all the way from Philly (a 120 mile round trip on an icy day). I knew he was the man to take on my engine's reconditioning. When I went down to his shop to drop off my bike I was pleased to see he was an even bigger hoarder than I am. Scooters and motorcycles covering every inch of floorspace and stacked to the ceiling on large industrial shelves. An old lathe sat on a crate in one corner "I found that in the trash" Jon boasted to me "I couldn't let it get scrapped". I could certainly relate.

Jon started working on scooters like anyone else: He found an old Vespa that needed work, so he took it apart - though that bike is still apart and up on a shelf. The passion for mechanics definite;y stuck because soon Jon was working as a mechanic for Philadelphia Vespa.  As scooters gained popularity, Jon and his crew of avid riders became the centerpiece for scooter rallies and events. After leaving Hostile City scooter club (because too many new plastic scooters were showing up), Jon helped co-found The Rabble Rousers - a hardcore group of vintage scooter riding, beer swilling hooligans from the City of Brotherly Love. Again I could relate to the passion of keeping it all vintage - I was in the right spot.

I talked to Jon for a few hours from bikes, machining tools to punk rock. Turns out we both had a fondness for the Bad Brains and we both were at many of the same shows throughout our days. I can't recommend Jon Geiger enough for reviving your old two stroke, he's a nice, honest guy with a solid reputation. I've seen pictures of his work on his site - but more importantly I've seen his scooters in action... and they're usually a long way from home.

John Geiger, 2013
There are absolutely no shortage of parts here.

Like two lost souls, one consoling the other.


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