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Scooters Make a Comeback


By NorCalCars guest writer Chris Somerville

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As gas prices continue to hover in the mid-$4-a-gallon range, many motorist are re-evaluating their driving habits and looking for transportation alternatives to offset rising prices that are putting a squeeze on their budget. Where seven-seater SUVs were once the norm for a single-person commute, these days many drivers are looking to downsize--and in some cases even drop a few wheels and go for a two-wheeled ride.

The rejuvenation of the scooter has grown right along with rising gas prices as consumers are finding that these economical, fuel-efficient vehicles offer a great alternative for trips around town. And with many scooters getting between 60 and 100 miles per gallon, it’s no wonder that demand has skyrocketed. Even mopeds, the scooter’s pedal-equipped little cousin, have burst back onto the scene with their 100+ mpg numbers making believers of drivers for their short, around-town trips.

And with auto manufacturers slashing production numbers and the general economy in a slump as well, the whole two-wheeled industry could be primed for a major resurgence if gas prices continue their upward climb.

According to the Irvine, Calif.-based Motorcycle Industry Council(MIC), 2007 was the third-best year for motorcycle sales in the past 30 years, and sales of scooters and dual-purpose vehicles were at their highest levels in the past 20 years, showing strong interest in affordable, fuel-efficient bikes. The MIC also notes that since 2000, scooter sales in the U.S. have more than tripled, from 42,000 new units to an estimated 131,000 in 2007. Overall scooter sales in the first quarter of 2008 were up 24 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Motorcycle Industry Council spokesman Mike Mount.

Evidence on the street confirms the increase in scooter sales.

“Anything that gets 100 miles per gallon is flying out the door right now,” says Patrick Fitzgibbons, owner of P-Town Scooters in Portland, OR. “Even mopeds are making a comeback, something I wouldn’t have predicted a few years ago.”

Fitzgibbons says that his customers come from all walks of life, with most scooter buyers downsizing from larger vehicles.

We see a lot of guys coming in who are downsizing from larger motorcycles,” he says. “They’re driving these 1000cc bikes and only getting 35-40 miles per gallon, and they’re figuring, if I’ve only got a 12-mile commute, why do I need all this bike?”

But going the two-wheeled route requires some serious consideration other than just looking at the fuel savings. Most require a motorcycle license to drive and some states require driver training classes. Then there is the issue of safety. It’s much different cruising through rush hour traffic on two wheels than on four, so a good helmet and safety gear are necessary requirements.

But the benefits can outweigh the risks, and if you decide a scooter is right for you, what should you look for?

Most beginning riders should start with a newer model scooter with an automatic transmission, while experienced riders can opt for larger, more-powerful models, some of which can even hit highway speeds. There are even scooter clubs and scooter events for the hard-core scooter enthusiasts.

Depending on what you’re looking for, you can pay anywhere from $1,500 to over $10,000 for a new model. Prices vary for used scooters and a lot of times you get what you pay for, so opting to pay a little more for a name brand can pay off in the long run with fewer repair costs.

As with any vehicle purchase, it pays to do your homework before jumping on to the first scooter you look at. There are many things to consider when buying a scooter, including how you will use it and your budget. A great scooter-buying resource is Scoot Magazine, which publishes an annual buying guide that reviews all the latest models.

P-Town Scooter’s Fitzgibbons says that the scoter boom has been a double-edged sword on some fronts. Because of their high gas mileage and increasing popularity, demand has been through the roof for scooters, which means every major vendor has been running out of product. As such, he says people are going out and buying whatever is available, which sometimes is not a quality vehicle.

”I get a lot of calls from pissed off people,” he says of those who have bought from a less-than-reliable source and have found out that there is no warranty and nowhere to go for service when it breaks.

If getting 60 to 100 miles per hour still isn’t enough, another option that is gaining popularity are battery powered electric motorized scooters. No, I’m not talking about Mobility Scooters like Rascal®. These are two wheeled electric scooters that many younger people are finding to be a blast to ride and are refueled by household electrical outlets.

No matter what type of scooter you decide on, be sure to buy proper safety equipment and become comfortable riding before you hit the open road, because no amount of fuel savings is worth losing your life over.

Chris Somerville is a freelance automotive writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Visit his Web site, Somerville Custom Publishing, for more information.