Scooters are a gas

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Beep beep!

With warmer weather and rising gas prices, you’ll be seeing more motor scooters on the road. They’re affordable – you can get a new one for about $1,000 – economical – how does 100 miles per gallon grab you – maneuverable – these babies can zip around traffic holdups that give car drivers road rage – and heck, they’re just so darn cute.

Connie Ellis bought her scooter about a year ago. When her husband and son jump on their Harleys, Connie proudly rides her Tank scooter right next to them. It’s a fun mode of transportation, yeah, but there’s something even better than that, Ellis said.

“Did you notice how many people just smile and wave at you when you’re on a scooter?” she asked, smiling after a recent group scooter ride earlier this month.

It was a second Saturday of the month ride, as usual, and the scooter sun gods were smiling. The rain had stopped and the sun held court into the afternoon. Plenty of time to meet at Scooters of Boise, zip down to Main Street, buzz down Warm Springs to Barber Park, circle back on Boise Avenue and back to Scooters of Boise.

Because of the weather, turnout was a bit sparse, Ken Omundson said. Omundson, who rides a limited edition Atomic Fireball Stella (there are only 150 of ‘em), is the head of the local scooter club, Minions of Boise (MoB).

Scooters represented in the ride included Omundson’s special Stella, Tony Allen’s 1980 Vespa P200, Chris Lockhart’s black Stella, Connie Ellis’ Tank, Zack Sanchez’s Yamaha Zuma and Emily Gaines’ Honda Metropolitan. (I rode a T N’ G Venice and Idaho Statesman photographer Will DeShazer rode in a sidecar. Kathy Navin, co-owner of Scooters of Boise, obligingly tooled DeShazer around.)

Julia Omundson, Ken’s wife, and Joleen Cardoza, Allen’s girlfriend, escorted the scooter entourage in their cars, or, more accurately, they followed, mostly as a safety net.

Before the merry troupe took off, there was the meet and greet dance in the parking lot. What are you riding? How do you like it? Have you joined the club? When’s the next ride? But it was Julia and Tony who started talking about scooter culture.

“I like the culture of the scooter, everything about the mod culture,” Allen said.

He and Julia said there’s even a scooter fashion – the matching, pulled together look – and music: ska. A form of Jamaican music, it began in the late 1950s and was a precursor to reggae.

Huh? Yes, scooter culture is “mod” – think 1960s England, The Beatles, The Who. And if you think of those groups during that time, you’ve got the fashion idea, too: pulled together, tight, tailored suits, ties, boots. If you’re really interested, check out “Quadrophenia,” the quintessential mod scooter movie. (Other scooter movies: “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, “American Graffiti” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”)

So how did this scooter culture arise? And what is the history of the scooter, anyway?

The first scooter was a motorized bicycle invented in 1894 by German inventors Hildebrand and Wolfmuller. It was a commercial failure.

The first successful scooter was the Italian-made Vespa, which means wasp in Italian and was so-named because its design gives it a sort of waist, like a wasp. It was invented around 1946 as a sprightly means of inexpensive transportation for the hordes of young, post-World War II industrial workers. It was a hit in Europe and 13 other countries, but it never really caught on in the United States; in 1985, Vespa even quit selling scooters here for a while.

But now they’re ba-a-ack!

Today, Vespas are only one of many scooter choices.

There are scooters made in Italy, India, Iran, Brazil, Japan and China. There are scooter-only brands such as Tank, Stella, T N’ G, and there are scooter glom-ons to brands already well known in motorcycle circles: Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha.

There are retro-style scooters that look like the classic old-school scooter; and there are the sporty scooters that look more like little motorcycles.

You can get a 50 cc scooter for a song or you can pay $8,000 for a 600 cc Honda scooter.

They’re cute, they’re cheap, they’re easy to ride, and they’re hip. But what’s driving more and more people to ride scooters is a simple three-letter word: gas.

Just ask Kathy Navin and Kitty Smith, co-owners of Scooters of Boise. They opened their doors two years ago, wondering if they would make it one year.

Gas prices continued to rise. Business was so good they had to expand to keep up after the first year. Today, they rank in the top 20 distributors in the nation.

They sold 200 scooters last year. On one memorable day, they sold six.

“We all got to have ice-cream,” Kathy said, smiling.

Eric Fieldsted, co-owner of Boise’s A-1 Scooters, agrees that gas prices drive scooter sales.

“Business is excellent, to the point we don’t know if we’re going to be able to keep up,” Fieldsted said.

Besides the traditional urban customer, Fieldsted said the nimble ride is popular with builders, contractors, real estate agents, doctors, lawyers, and – cowboys.

“Very popular with the rodeo crowd,” Fieldsted said.



THINGS TO CONSIDER

Just as with any other transport, there are pros and cons to riding a scooter. If you are thinking about buying a scooter, there are some things you should consider:

-What do you want to use it for? Is it to be your primary mode of transportation? If it’s just a ride-around-the-city toy, you might not want to get the all-out, top-of-the-line scoot ride, but if it IS going to be your main ticket, you might want to dig a little deeper in your pocket.

-Sure, your gas and insurance rates will be low, but don’t forget: you have to get a motorcycle license.

-No matter what brand you decide on, make sure you can get it serviced locally and get parts locally.



(c) 2006, The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho).

Visit The Idaho Statesman online at http://www.idahostatesman.com.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CNS-SCOOTERS

AP-NY-04-25-06 0615EDT

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