Scooting away from ordinary automobiles

Friday, August 1, 2008 | 12:39 a.m. CDT; updated 12:44 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 1, 2008
Scooters sit on the showroom floor at Columbia Powersports on Monday. Because the scooters have small engines, they are technically considered bicycles, and only a normal driver's license is needed — not a motorcycle license. The scooters can reach speeds of 35 mph and get around 100 miles per gallon.

The scooters on the showroom floor at Columbia Powersports gleam in vibrant colors like cherry red and bright blue. They all get their riders around, but there is plenty of variety to satisfy individual tastes. The Schwinn offers a more classic look while the E-TON and the KYMCO look modern and speedy. Some even have a hook to carry grocery bags.

Sgt. Tim Moriarity of the Columbia Police Department said that in Columbia, scooters with engines 50 cubic centimeters and below do not require registration, license plates or insurance. All you need is a valid drivers license and a helmet with a chin strap.

The 49cc scooters fall just below the line to classify them as a motorcycle, which is one of the reasons for their popularity.

Steven Guerrero, the business manager for Columbia Powersports, said that the 49.5cc is the most popular and he sells two or three each day.

"We have been selling them like crazy," he said.

M.J. Henslee, sales manager for Jones Power Sports, said he started selling scooters in 2004 because of a higher demand.

"People were looking for a more economical way to get around," he said.

Henslee said that in the past year, he has seen an increase in sales and sells about 10 to 15 each month.

In August, Mid America Harley-Davidson is planning on opening a scooter store downtown at 823 E. Broadway.

Steve Tuchschmidt, one of the owners of Mid America Harley-Davidson, said there is a greater demand for scooters and he thinks the location of the shop will help the business prosper.

"The proximity to the university (MU), Stephens College, Columbia College and to the downtown district is great," he said.

The shop will carry only scooters, scooter parts, accessories and clothing. Tuchschmidt said that Mid America Harley-Davidson is shooting for an early August opening and plans to carry around 20 scooters in the showroom. The store will carry Vespa and Piaggio brands.

Guerrero said he thought the primary market for scooters would be students, but that he is selling to a wide range of customers.

"We are selling to students, to retired folks," he said. "There isn't a demographic for scooter riders anymore."

April Whitney, editor of Scoot! Magazine and a scooter enthusiast, said that using a scooter as alternate transportation is a money saver.

"Many people are looking to scooters for gas savings," she said.

Whitney encourages getting a used scooter if the only buying motivation is to save money. A cheaper buy-in would take less time to make up the gas savings from the thousands of dollars one would spend on a new scooter.

Guerrero said that used scooters are in high demand and he sells them almost as soon as soon as he gets them.

"We sold the last one on Saturday," he said. "It was only there for two days."

The 49cc scooters get over 100 miles per gallon and can go 30 to 35 miles per hour, Guerrero said.

The price of a new 49.5cc scooter ranges from $1,500 to $2,600.

Along with relief at the pump, riding a scooter also has less impact on the environment, Whitney said.

She thinks that this is another reason why several people are turning to scooters.

"There is a change in the way people are thinking," she said. "People are thinking about going green."

Mike Mount, director of communications for the Motorcycle Industry Council, said scooter sales are up 66 percent this quarter from last year.

Guerrero said that he saw a spike in scooter sales in March. He said this could be related to better weather for scooter riding, but said he is still selling more than he did last year.

Whitney said that most scooter owners also have an automobile for other transportation.

Jonathan Brownfield, a student at MU, said that he has a car for transportation along with his scooter.

"I like how it is fun and easy to park, but it is not very good for transporting things," he said.

In Columbia, it is lawful to park your scooter on a bicycle rack, but Moriarity warned that it may be dangerous if scooters are jumping on to sidewalks to get to the racks.

Moriarity said that scooters can ride in bike lanes, but have to yield to cyclists. Scooters are not allowed on trails. When MU campus is closed, scooters can be ticketed for driving through.

Brownfield said he uses his scooter when he is going somewhere close and safe to drive his scooter to.

Whitney said that she has more fun riding a scooter than driving a car.

"When I am riding on my scooter, I am smiling and having a good time," she said. "When I am commuting in my car, that is not the case."

Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri Highway Patrol said that one problem they have with scooters is they go slower and sometimes can back up traffic.

"We encourage riders to check behind them and pull over so traffic can get through," he said.

Guerrero said a scooters is only as dangerous as its driver.

Even so, Whitney still encourages preparation for new riders.

Guerrero refers his riders to Colmbia's Freedom of Road Riders, which offers safety courses approved by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

"It is important that people are safe," she said. "I encourage people to take classes and study up on safety."

Guerrero thinks the business will sell more scooters as gas prices continue to increase.

Whitney agrees that as long at there is trouble at the pump, scooters will be selling.

"The people I see in shops have never rode before," she said. "People are looking at scooters for relief."


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