"I bought my first scooter to save on gas money," he says. "When it got stolen, I started looking for another one and just kind of fell into the culture." Two years later, Shields is an organizer and member of the Mad Toto Scooter Club, a loose collective of two-wheel enthusiasts from both sides of the state line who are interested in tricking out their bikes and taking long rides in pack formation.
Started by Mike Levitt, who owns Scooter World in Overland Park, Mad Toto is as informal as clubs get. "We do a ride every Sunday," Shields says. "We meet at the store at 1, hang out, talk shop and decide where we want to go." With two states to conquer, the group's 20 members have driven all over, making a long haul to Lawrence and celebrating Scoot-o-Ween (which involved cruising the West Bottoms and stopping at haunted houses on Halloween night). "We're still kind of a young club, so we haven't had too many organized rides," Shields says. "People show up and rides happen is how it normally goes."
January, however, marks a change for Mad Toto. Riders now pay a $25 membership fee to participate in a lineup of organized jaunts. The first is Saturday's Will Scoot for Food, a literal food drive from Scooter World to Harvesters' KC headquarters. The entrance fee is ten cans of food per person; the plan is to strap the cans onto luggage racks and stuff them into backpacks for the convoy through Overland Park. "I wanted to do something bigger than just people riding around on scooters," Shields explains. "I wanted to create a helpful cause."
Noble intentions aside, though, it's mostly about the ride. "You just have to ride one to know what it's all about," he says. "There's a sense of freedom when you're on the road, and it's just you and two wheels. From there, you just want to keep going and you get into upgrading your ride to keep the momentum and enthusiasm going." As a burgeoning group, Mad Toto isn't exclusive; the club accepts everyone from old-schoolers on Vespas and Mopeds to those still puttering around on Honda Helixes. "It's just about building a community," Shields says.
On the club's Web site (www.mad toto.com), members discuss modifications, trade scooter news and fish for running buddies for their treks around town. In a world dominated by cars, community is key for scooters dwarfed by their four-wheeled brethren. "That sense of freedom you get by yourself is multiplied with other people. It becomes an event. You get attention, from people flipping you off to people really interested in getting their own scooters."
And whereas most Mad Toto members own and use cars, scooters represent a more intense realization of the driving life. "In a car, you're in a box, looking at everything like it's on TV. But on a scooter, you get free access to everything. You're driving along, and you hit a patch of shade, you feel the temperature change. You don't need a radio or a heater to compensate because everything's right there for you to experience."