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What is a Cutdown?

By Karize Uy
Updated May 17, 2024
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A cutdown is a type of modified scooter mostly popular in the decades of 1970s and 1980s. The outer framework of the vehicle is usually taken away or “cut down” to customize the scooter. This method of vehicle modification was common among the scooterboy and skinhead subcultures, particularly noted for their fondness of scooters. Another nickname for this altered scooter is a skelly.

Scooters became popular back in the 1950s because they were convenient and easy on the pocket. Italian brands such as Lambretta® and Vespa were particularly prominent because their scooters were designed to be sleek and maneuverable. Such was the scooters' popularity that many owners would over-accessorize them with mirrors, lights, and paint jobs. Skinheads and scooterboys, most of whom had working-class upbringings, responded with their own backlash. They stripped their vehicles of everything that did not have any practical purposes, and the result was a cutdown.

Usual parts removed in a cutdown were the tail section, fender, cowl, and almost all protective coverings. Vespa scooters were said to be more difficult to modify because the exterior frames are welded together with the interior body. A Lambretta® scooter makes for an easier cutdown because the exterior panels are separate and can be easily removed. The customized scooter would expose all cables, hoses, motors, and other functional components.

One of the main advantages of a cutdown is the faster speed due to its lightness. Some would even fine-tune their skellys, replacing parts with other lightweight materials, adding windshields for less wind resistance and installing shock absorbers. A sub-type of a cutdown is the rats, wherein scooters are built from scratch using second-hand parts. For enthusiasts, worn-looking rats are more appealing. Another skelly sub-type is the chopper. This variety is distinguishable by its lengthened frontage, much like a smaller-sized Harley-Davidson. Skellys were also driven for drag-racing events, and often took part in the “specials” category along with other modified scooters.

A cutdown scooter is also similar to a naked scooter, only the latter is already purposely made with no unnecessary panels, as compared to the actual removing of the frame to produce a skelly. More modern scooters and motorcycles have a “naked” design to have a streamlined look and an improved speed. Cutdowns have a simplistic and functional design that many people preferred over the flamboyant accessories. Many motorcycles, scooters, and automobiles today echo this minimalistic look.

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