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PostPosted: Fri Jun 20, 2008 3:44 am 
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Joined: Fri Nov 11, 2005 12:40 pm
Posts: 14488
Location: uws
Scooter Model(s): et4 and px150
It's true: Scooters are an efficient way to get around NYC, and can help ease pollution and congestion. But more importantly, they are FUN, and have a built-in social scene associated with them.

However, scooters are NOT toys, and riding a scooter does present certain challenges.

Is scooter ownership right for you? This MSNBC article (from 2005 but still relevant today) will help you to begin to answer that question.

Is a motor scooter in your future?
Popularity of the fuel-efficient bikes rising, but are they right for you?

With $3-per-gallon gas a reality, some drivers are looking at downsizing from cars and trucks — at least part time — to scooters as a way to save money.

As a scooter commuter and enthusiast who has owned a few bikes over the past 20 years, I can attest to the great fuel savings, the speedier trips in the car-pool lane and easy parking.

There are, however, a number of myths about scooters that should be dispelled:

* Riders do face the same dangers as motorcyclists.
* They do need to wear helmets.
* Their clothes won't stay entirely clean in bad weather.
* Wearing dresses or skirts isn't practical.[/list]

So before running out and buying a bike, let's look at the pros and cons.

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, sales of motor scooters have more than doubled since 2000. “The motorcycle industry as a whole has seen 13 years of consecutive growth,” council spokesman Mike Mount said. According to council figures, 42,000 scooters were sold in 2000. By 2004, that number increased to 96,000.

Will you save money riding a scooter? Say your car gets 20 miles per gallon, and you have a 30-mile roundtrip commute. If you're buying gas at the national average of $2.94, you're spending just over $22 on gas every week — just for commuting. That's an annual fuel cost of $1,100.

On a $3,000 scooter that gets 60 miles per gallon, you could save more than $700 per year.

If you pay $100 per month for car insurance, you'll save an additional $1,000 or so by switching to a scooter.

Factoring in the cost of a helmet and other protective gear, it will take about a year and a half to recoup your expenses.

Many participants on Scooterbbs.com, an Internet message board that scooter enthusiasts use to exchange advice and stories, were eager to share their experiences when asked to comment for this article.

Bret Bolton of Fort Worth, Texas, reports even better numbers: “My old truck got about 19 miles to the gallon. Insurance ran $100 a month, plus tags. … I now pay under $100 a year for insurance, I get over 90 miles per gallon. I sold the truck last year.”

Such savings are what's motivating many novice scooter riders.

“We're seeing a huge number of people come in who bought giant trucks and SUVs ... but the cost of gas is starting to hit them hard,” said Adam Baker, co-owner of Sportique Scooters in Denver.

Unlike Bolton, Bernie Bober of Mineral Point, Wis., says he hasn’t completely given up on his truck. “I use the scooter for almost all my local driving — errands, a couple of miles to my business, running to various locations,” he says. But he doesn't take his bike on the highway because the speeds are outside his comfort zone.

Why the focus on scooters rather than motorcycles? There are several reasons:

* Generally, scooters are smaller than motorcycles.
* The rider sits on the bike rather than straddling it.
* Many bikes have automatic transmissions called “twist and gos.”
* With manual transmission models, drivers shift by hand instead of using a foot shift.
* Smaller wheels make the bikes more nimble at low speeds.

Lower fuel consumption and insurance rates aren't the only things a potential scooter rider must consider. Other factors can make a scooter commute even more attractive, but also more dangerous.

Fuel efficiency probably is forefront in the minds of most potential scooter owners, but many riders are quick to point out the dangers.

A report issued earlier this year by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says that although highway fatalities in general are down, motorcycle-related deaths topped 4,000 in 2004, an 8 percent increase over the previous year.

Agency spokesman Rae Tyson said there isn’t solid data to explain the increase, but he noted that the numbers loosely follow the increase in bike sales. He also noted another factor: “We’ve found a sharp increase in fatalities in states that have repealed their helmet laws."

The federal transportation bill signed by President Bush in August includes funding for the first comprehensive study in 30 years of the cause of motorcycle fatalities.

NHTSA figures showed that collisions — 50 percent with another vehicle, 25 percent with a fixed object — were the cause of two-thirds of all motorcycle fatalities. Tom Lindsay, a spokesman for the American Motorcycle Association, said that more than a third of all motorcycle crashes involve a motorist entering a cyclist's right of way.

Tyson said motorcycles and scooters can be safe, but riders "need to realize that there are a whole set of dangers and precautions they need to take."

John Smith, an avid scooter rider from Richmond, Va., said he’s worried that a sudden rush to buy them will mean a lot more unsafe riders. “The dirty secret of the 50cc scooters is that many of them are very easy to hot-rod," he said.

Another potential hazard is that scooters are generally smaller and quieter than motorcycles, making them "tremendously easy to overlook by preoccupied drivers," Smith said.

Bober, the scooter rider from Wisconsin, said, “I especially would like to see more people safely attired on scooters. The 125cc-250cc scoots are the workhorse errand runners, and it would be nice if the industry could do something to help people get out of the moped mindset.”

Parking perks
Back to the benefits of riding scooters. They can use HOV lanes, cutting down on commuting time, and parking is easier and cheaper.

Marc Dostal, who works at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, said parking is always tough near the tourist attraction. He bought a scooter for his commute, and parks his bike in the alley next to his office.

For Bryce Ludwig, a student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, parking costs were the deciding factor. “I can park my scooter at any bike rack on campus for $20 a semester instead of the $85 a semester for a car,” he said.

Sportique Scooter's Baker said parking plays a major role in his shop’s sales as well. “Parking on the sidewalk or at a bike rack is legal for a 50cc scooter in Denver. That’s attractive to a lot of people.”

Most modern scooters trace their roots back to postwar Italy. The designers at Vespa and Lambretta wanted a vehicle that was cleaner and more accessible than the motorcycles of the day. So they adopted the step-through designs of the American and British military scooters and added legshields for added protection from water and mud.

Does this mean your dress or suit will be spotless after a 20-mile ride? That's doubtful if there's any water on the road. Nothing can protect you from the occasional road splash, and even in dry conditions there's dust, road grime and exhaust from other vehicles.

For people like Dostal, who wears jeans and polo shirts to his job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, commuting on a scooter works well.

In the 1950s, marketers said the step-through design was great for women because it allowed them to ride in skirts or dresses. But there are a number of reasons why this is impractical.

Because it's almost impossible to ride with your knees together on most bikes, a knee-length or shorter skirt will give everyone on the road a free show. A longer skirt will take care of that problem, but it needs to be loose enough to allow you to quickly put your feet down when you come to a stop. Then again, a loose skirt can catch the wind and possibly billow over your head. Yes, Audrey Hepburn did it in “Roman Holiday,” but she also crashed.

And forget wearing your favorite Manolo Blahniks. High heels and exposed ankles are just plain dangerous. For the men, shorts and flip-flops are equally bad. A safer option is to wear pants and sensible riding shoes, and change at work.

Safety gear
Several riders I spoke to stressed the importance of not only dressing appropriately, but of wearing safety gear.

As Tyson of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration pointed out, states that repealed their helmet laws saw an increase in motorcycle fatalities.

In addition to reducing injuries in the event of a crash, helmets can also protect you from stinging rain and flying bugs. If you’ve ever hit a bumble bee at 50 mph (I have), you will appreciate the importance of wearing a full face helmet, or at least one with a full face shield.

Another added benefit: If you like to hum or sing to yourself while riding, a full face helmet allows you to hear yourself and avoid odd stares from those around you.

When the sun doesn’t shine
When its 70 degrees and sunny, riding a scooter is divine. But what about riding on the not-so-nice days?

Bad weather is unpleasant, and it poses risks. Rain or fog can reduce visibility. Slick roads reduce stopping distance and increase the possibility of falling on turns and at stops. Cold temperatures can reduce a rider’s reaction time.

Bolton said snow doesn’t bother him too much, “but ice is impossible, I don't care who you are.”

Even in dry conditions, a dip in temperatures also can mean a dip in riding enthusiasm.

“I now commute exclusively on my (Vespa) GT," said Santa Rosa, Calif. resident Larry Desjardin, who bought his scooter earlier this year. "We'll see if that holds up in the winter here in Northern California."

So before you sell your car, imagine a snowy day in December.

Commuting on a scooter is pretty straightforward, but what if you have to shop?

Runs to the grocery store require some concessions. Certain things, like a 24-pack of toilet paper, are impossible to carry, but a six-pack will fit just fine in the rear trunk. If you have a family to feed, the four bags of groceries you would likely be able to fit on a scooter won't be enough. Picking up dry-cleaning also can be problematic. And those weekend trips to Costco or lumber yard are out of the question.

But for some people, a scooter does just fine.

Unlike motorcycles, many scooters have built-in storage space under the seat. They also have rear racks, bag hooks and options for more carrying capacity.

“My wife now does all her shopping on her (scooter)," said Desjardin. "Our car sits in the garage for days, unless we need to haul something big, or travel (an hour away) to San Francisco.”

“With a trunk mounted on the rack and a messenger bag slung over my shoulder, I can accomplish most any errand,” said Rich Chapel of Worchester, Mass.

Storage capacity is just one important consideration when deciding on the proper bike, and there are many models and options on the market.

Many choices, but buyer beware
Just a few years ago, there was a limited variety of scooters. But recently, established brands and those new to the American market have been introducing new models at a record rate. Scooters now have engines that range in size from 50cc to 650cc.

Not all scooters are created equal, however. In the past few years, many inexpensive bikes of questionable origin have been showing up on Internet auctions and in auto parts stores around the country. Most of these scooters are not legal for street operation.

“We have a decent number of people coming in asking for service on these scooters,” said Baker. But, he warned, “we will not work on any scooter that we can't get parts for.”

More than practicality
People who are considering buying a scooter most likely are thinking first of their pocketbook. But like longtime riders, they may become attached to their scooters for other reasons.

“I used to listen to voice mail on the way on my cell phone, or listen to the radio, but there's something refreshing about the wind in your face and total focus on the task at hand until I cruise into the company parking lot,” Desjardin said.

“Scootering is the transportation equivalent of the bow tie," said Patrick Masterson, a rider from Virginia Beach, Va. "It's not generally well understood — and people’s first reaction will either be a huge thumbs up or utter disdain. But in the end, I'd scooter if gasoline cost a dollar.”

And like the bow tie, a scooter becomes an extension of the rider's personality. Strangers on the street constantly strike up conversations, and other riders feel an instant kinship. Talk to almost any scooter rider, myself included, and you'll find someone who sees the bikes as more than simply a way to get from point A to point B. They're a way of life.

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

http://web.archive.org/web/200510130913 ... d/9087878/

Note: In NYC, having a scooter isn't unfortunately a "parking plus," as the article suggests. In fact, its one of the biggest challenges.


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