Riding a scooter provides a different way of seeing things, Shawn Smith says, tossing his head to the side as we ride down Front Street. It's a little hard to hear him through the borrowed helmet on my head, so I have to lean down to listen.
My hands grip the handles on the side of his Majesty scooter, holding on as we follow others ahead. It's my first ride through the city on the back of a motor scooter.
Smith is one of many scooter enthusiasts celebrating the seventh annual Dead Elvis Rally in Memphis, organized by the Memphis Kings Scooter Club. More than 100 people from all over the country (and even Canada) come to the city each year for the four-day event, which took place this past weekend.
- alexandra pusateri
- A scooter makes its way through an obstacle course at the Dead Elvis Rally “Kingkhana” competition.
Not surprisingly, scheduled rides — long and short — make up most of the activities. One ride takes scooter drivers on a tour of past movie set locations in Memphis, while another one offers a musical tour of the city.
Smith's scooter has a 395-cubic centimeter (cc) engine, which dictates its top speed. When he says someone once topped it out at more than 140 miles per hour, the grin on his face testifies on his behalf.
Scooters at the rally range anywhere from 50cc, which tops out at about 40 miles per hour, to Smith's hefty engine. Anything above a 50cc scooter requires a motorcycle license.
Smith, a member of the Mid-South Scooter Collective, has been riding for more than 10 years but has been interested in scooters for far longer.
"My parents said I couldn't, so I went into the Navy for 23 years and now I do what I want," Smith says.
For folks like Smith and his fellow scooter enthusiast Tim Adair, the scooter lifestyle is a hobby that began a long time ago. Adair has been riding since he was about 3-years-old but says he has a knack for just about anything on wheels, racing with cars and contending in BMX.
"I started off on a little mini-bike that my dad had built for my brother and said, 'Take off!' It was all over after that," he says. "As an adult, it's expanded into my career."
Local motorcycle/scooter shop Performance Plus, where Adair is a service manager, is one of the many sponsors of the Dead Elvis Rally and raffles off a new scooter to event-goers.
Adair also owns his own business called Alleyway Customs, which personalizes motorcycle and scooter builds.
Adair, who touts his competitive nature, ends up winning two events in the rally's Kingkhana competition that took place at Mud Island. There, riders show off their skills in a timed obstacle course and even compete to see who has the slowest scooter (without touching their feet to the ground, of course), among other events.
Almost as quickly as it began, my scooter ride through downtown — like the Dead Elvis Rally — comes to an end. As I pull the helmet off, Smith points to my face with a gloved finger.
"She's got it. She's got the grin," he says. "Once you get that grin, it's over. You're addicted."