Down a back alley two blocks from the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa, Dean Wright is busy welding an exhaust pipe onto a ’79 Vespa P200E. Working in site of a whiteboard crowded with notes on orders for custom paint jobs and engine adjustments, he has only a little time for conversation and none for dawdling.
“It’s going to be a busy day,” he says. “We have five scooters – some from as far away as Chicago, Atlanta, and St. Louis – that all need to be finished, polished, and ready for pickup by 6pm.”
Having just put in a 40 hour work week at his second job as a manufacturer engineer Dean picks up some tools and gets to work.
It’s no sweat for Dean and his custom painter/mechanic, Kris Hernandez, who since 2010 have been the country’s go-to team for Vespa and Lambretta maintenance and restoration. Hidden away in a windowless building, their vintage scooter shop Gran Sport Cycles certainly doesn’t look like a traditional store/workshop. But then again, there’s nothing traditional about fixing exotic Italian scooters in a back alley in Iowa, is there? They’re the best, though, and Mike has been going to Dean for scooter advice as customer and friend for almost 25 years!
“Dean and I worked in the same bike shop in the Quad-Cities during the late ‘80s,” explains Mike. “We both left to pursue personal passions. I wanted to open my own shop, and he wanted to study manufacturing engineering. The summer after he graduated, Dean came to help me out as I was opening my first bike shop in Iowa. With a background in bicycle frame building, he knows every inch of a bike. But soon after, Burley snatched him up as a tool designer and toolmaker for their bikes and cargo trailers.”
The job took Dean to Oregon, where he met and fell in love with his wife, Sarah. They were newly engaged when she joined the Peace Corps, temporarily leaving Dean with extra time on his hands. He’d grown up in a garage watching his dad work on muscle bikes and scooters, and that inspired him to buy an older scooter to restore as a welcome home present for Sarah: a green and tan 1959 Douglas Vespa, a nod to his British future mother-in-law.
“I told Kris what I had done and it turns out great minds really do think alike because he also had given his wife a scooter! The girls loved them. And it didn’t take long for us to realize we were going to need a way to get more play time with these machines. So we became founding members of the Knuckle Draggers Scooters Club. Along with 10 or 12 other riders, we rally across the Midwest promoting scooter subculture and sweet rides. And Kris and I wound up servicing club members’ Vespas so often that it made sense to team up and open a repair and restoration shop. We named it Gran Sport Cycle after the Gran Sport series scooters we had given our wives.”
“Dean appreciates every make, model, and edition of scooters,” says Mike. “If you let him, he’ll chat your ear off about the era of the model and its specs, and let you take one for a spin. His enthusiasm is infectious. After my first ride, I knew I was bit. I got bit so bad, that I traveled to Italy in 2001 and wound up buying an entire container load of scooters! Eight years later, I turned to Dean for help appraising an extremely rare scooter I picked on the show: a three-wheel, Piaggio APE Calessino. Between his travels and my previous trip to Italy, we were both left speechless in its presence. It was a memorable moment for us both.”
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