Ruben Villarreal has a theory: It’s hard to stay mad if you’re riding a scooter.
He knows from experience. Angry one time when he forgot something at work, he got on his two-wheeler to go back. Within a few seconds of cruising, he burst out laughing.
“It’s hard to be angry at anything when you’re riding a scooter,” Villarreal said. “The way you’re sitting; it’s comical. You’re just cruising slow down the road.”
On July 11, that smile grew wide again, as he drove a new Honda Metropolitan along the Spokane River with other members of the Mild Riders Scooter Gang. The group does weekly rides on flat rural roads, at top speeds of nearly 40 mph.
Villarreal is co-founder of the scooter group, which formed about a year ago. But in June, someone stole his red 2009 Honda scooter, cutting the lock where he had it chained on his front porch.
His friends raised $2,800 on a GoFundMe to buy another one, and he picked up the 2023 green-beige scooter about a week ago. He only paid $1,200 out of his pocket.
“I’m so excited,” said Villarreal, 42. “I’ve never owned anything this nice in my life. To have 1 mile on it when I got it, it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever gotten and it’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
He’s always had fun on a scooter. He and other Mild Riders don’t have the electric kind such as the Lime scooters downtown. They ride various models, but all are gasoline-fueled, sit-down scooters with a step-through frame like a moped, typically with a bit more power from the motor.
Villarreal’s connection to scooter riding also is tied closely to turning around his life, he said. Villarreal stopped drinking about seven years ago and found he soon saved $1,200, because he wasn’t spending his money at bars. He used that money to buy his first scooter. Going on some rides with friends followed.
Villarreal and Mild Riders’ co-founder Tiffany Patterson said up to 10 members show up for weekly rides on different brands of motor scooters. They meet Mondays at 6 p.m., in the Value Village parking lot near the Spokane Arena.
Many, but not all, of the Mild Riders have what are called 50cc scooters, as a rounded number, or rather 49cc scooters, for having a 49.6cc engine because of the cubic centimeters as the measurable engine size.
“The 49cc are the smaller engines, and they only go up to about 39 miles an hour, so usually our rides are usually around 35 to 40, right around there.”
He added, “That’s why we’re the Mild Riders; we’re just keeping it mild. We’re just cruising.”
Some are Vespas, Hondas, or Piaggios. Kate Burke, former Spokane city council member, rode on her scooter Monday that was manufactured without any logo. “It’s Chinese, 49cc,” she said. “I call it the Wave.”
Patterson said a few more scooters are being seen around Spokane as a mode of transportation, and it’s economical. Their group isn’t the first scooter club in the region.
The Mild Riders also aren’t your typical two-wheeler gang – lacking the loud noises, leather attire and boots.
The club also has a few easy rules. To join, members are asked to do one kind deed for a stranger, and to have a cup holder on the scooter.
Patterson, a well-known local artist whose work has been featured on billboards and TV ads, drives a bronze-colored Royal Alloy GT, nicknamed Babs, with an 150cc engine.
She said the cup holder rule was inspired by seeing Villarreal on one of the first rides with a bicycle cup holder on his scooter, and a LaCroix can inside. It seemed to fit the mildness of the group.
“We have patches that Tiffany designed and had made,” Villarreal said, with a logo that has M and R intertwined with an eyeball above. “If you join, you have to wear your patch. You have to have a cup holder, and you have to do an anonymous kind deed for a stranger.”
“We just want to put some goodness into the world,” Patterson said. “It can be like buying a coffee for someone in line behind you.”
Spokane Valley resident Mike Novak has a Piaggio that can go up to 80 mph, but he likes to drive it slowly with the group.
“If they’re mostly all 50ccs, depending on the week, we have to stay under 40 mph and avoid the hills,” Novak said. “It’s real informal. A couple of weeks ago, we had almost all Vespas.”
Villarreal said the group’s weekly rides will last anywhere from one hour to three hours.
“We’re like the friendliest group of two-wheel riders,” Villarreal said. “We’re all about kindness and being nice to each other and having a good time together.
“We go all around the outside of Spokane. We try to find new roads. We’re sometimes out in the Mead area. We’ve been around the Latah Creek back out by the airport. We’re all about exploring and seeing different little nuggets around here. It’s so pretty just outside town, and in town.
“That’s our thing, find a road and head out that way, or somebody will say, ‘Let’s go this way.’ Sometimes, it’s up the river, to the Boulder Beach area, and we’ll go swimming.”
Most people connect with the group through its Instagram, at mild.riders.spokane.
Patterson said the ride any given week matches the interest and speed of what people can do.
“It’s definitely trying to be open to all and have it be less intense,” Patterson said. “We have different people from all walks of life.
“We tend to pick side roads that are rural and scenic, which is just minutes away. We’ve learned a whole lot of roads that I didn’t know about before.”
She said with the high price of gasoline these days, the smaller engine scooters can often get nearly 100 miles per gallon, “super helpful right now.”
After his scooter was stolen, people wanted to support Villarreal, she added. “With Ruben being sober, it’s a nice recreational thing to do outside of going to a bar.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously. I have a hot pink helmet, fuchsia and sparkly.”