Indonesia’s Vespa-Hacking ‘Rebel Riders’ Make Harley Biker Gangs Look Soft

To most of the world, a Vespa is a stylish scooter. In Indonesia, it can be an adjunct rickshaw, a truck, or even a half-track.

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Transportation culture in the wealthy western world may be centered primarily around cars, but in developing parts of the globe, more economical modes of transport are favored. Three-wheeled tuk-tuks, motorcycles, and their lighter-duty cousins, the scooter, dominate the streets of many Southeast Asian countries. And in Indonesia, one particular type of scooter reigns king: the Vespa. 

There, the icon has a dedicated, yet untamed following and mod culture, whose ingenuity and resourcefulness put even the Kiwis to shame. The Rebel Riders, as they’re known, are an expansive clan of Vespa owners that are spread across the most built-up of Indonesia’s roughly 6,000 inhabited islands. Despite outwardly resembling a loose band of outcasts, the Rebel Riders are a tight-knit community, ready to lend their peers a helping hand at any time.

“In the Vespa community, we come from different bloodlines, but we are one,” said Rebel Rider Nando Anjasmara Azani, in Great Big Story‘s highlight on the culture. “One Vespa, a million brothers.”

Vespas are ripe for modification both due to their ubiquity and their robust steel frames, which enable conversion into anything a rider has the desire to create. That could mean anything from a makeshift rickshaw or truck to a contraption seemingly inspired by a military half-track, like the one ridden by Rebel Rider and mechanic Yogik Hermawan Saifullah.

“It was too boring, riding a regular Vespa,” said the self-taught fabricator. “So I wanted to build something more extreme and more unique in some way.”

Saifullah’s community builds its unique vehicles with any materials available, from scrap metal to literal trees; one Vespa showcased in the video above has handlebars formed from a tree branch, and a frame wrought from two trunks. Many builders snub sense and fit as many wheels as possible to their Vespas, with many in the video visibly featuring between one and two dozen. Few, if any, of these modifications would be street-legal in most developed countries, but that should just give most people reason to visit Indonesia and see these machine for themselves—as soon as the rest of the world lets us Americans out of our gilded, virus-ridden cage, that is.

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