COLUMBIA — The joke is simple and the image indisputably amusing: big guys on little bikes.
It’s nearly impossible not to at least chuckle at the thought of 6-foot-4, 265-pound Brad Madison, second team All-Big 12 defensive lineman, cruising around Columbia on a 165-pound scooter that looks more like a child’s mini bike than a vehicle a grown man would use as a legitimate mode of transportation.
But look around campus and Madison is easy to spot — and not just because of his size. Fact is, he’s not alone. The self-named “scooter gang” within the Missouri football team has quickly grown in numbers since now-Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore broke the scooter barrier during his Tigers football career.
Now the players on the football team, along with other Missouri athletes, are experiencing a sort of scooter phenomenon.
The scooter decision for most of the riders was a simple financial one. For anyone, not just Division I athletes, rising gas prices and a steady stream of parking tickets make the advantages of riding a scooter around Columbia easy to understand.
The scooters get upwards of 90 miles per gallon of gas and can be parked on bike racks free of charge.
It should be easy for MU students to relate to the story of Corey Sudhoff, who said he “had a bit of a problem” with parking tickets during his first semester on campus.
Teammate Jacquies Smith said he once came across Sudhoff at a gas station when Sudhoff was putting air in one of his tires and told him he was “too big for that little scooter.” But Sudhoff says the ribbing he gets is worth it.
It’s nothing more than substance over style.
“They made a smart investment,” Moe said of early scooter-adopters like Sudhoff and Madison. “That’s probably the best investment I’ve ever made.”
The investment was so easy to explain, that soon after Moe purchased his last fall, his roommate, Andrew Wilson, bought one too.
The investment’s initial capital isn’t overly taxing, either. Most players purchased their vehicles off of Craigslist, for prices ranging from a few hundred to just over $1,000. Sudhoff bought his for $2,500, but it is widely accepted as the nicest on the team, and it came with an insurance policy. If it’s stolen, Sudhoff said he could call Honda and get it replaced.
Sudhoff said his Honda Ruckus gets more than 100 miles per gallon. His 2006 Ford Taurus is somewhere in the 17 to 25 miles per gallon range. It doesn’t take a calculus major to figure out which is more economical to ride, no matter how goofy Sudhoff might look.
Now, with other players joining the scooter gang, the jokes have mostly stopped.
“I think I’m just used to it. They’ve done it, for like, years now,” said defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton, a non-scooter rider. “I might try it one day. I was going to try it out, Ricardo Ratliffe, he drives one too, I asked him one time, and he said he’d let me ride it.”
According to Sudhoff and Brinkley, Madison is the president of the scooter gang, a natural choice since he was the first of the current Tigers to ride one. Sudhoff is vice president, and Brinkley is “chairman.”
While Brinkley wasn’t the first to join, he might be the most experienced rider of two-wheeled motor vehicles on the squad. As a teenager, Brinkley raced dirt bikes and ATVs.
“I’ve grown up on stuff like that, and just to have something here brings me back home a little bit,” Brinkley said. “That’s something I love, it’s one of my first loves, as well as sports.”
For Brinkley, old habits of trail riding in the 10 acres of woods behind his family’s Kearney home have died hard. His scooter has taken the brunt of the consequences of that. He agreed that it was appropriate to call his ride, at least in its current state, a beater.
“Not when I got it, but right now yeah,” he said. “I’ve ‘ridden hard’ as they say.”
Sudhoff’s scooter — not overly surprising considering the price tag — is considered the fastest after multiple drag racing victories in the parking lot of the Missouri Athletics Training Complex. Off the race course, though, Brinkley said he has pushed his “beater” to the limit.
“There’s a hill out by Mizzou Arena,” Brinkley said. “The speedometer goes to 45, and that’s when it’s red, and I’ve clearly gotten it to where the little hand is going crazy, so probably I’d say 50 or a little over 50.”
Coach Gary Pinkel probably doesn’t like to hear stories like that. He said the only reason he allows them is “because of gas,” and that players have “got to wear helmets and be smart about it,” and though he’s a well-chronicled motorcycle enthusiast himself, he bans the big bikes for his players.
“They can ride one when they’re done playing for me,” he said.
That’s not to say nothing can go wrong on the little ones.
“I’ve laid it over a couple times,” Moe said. “But I haven’t fallen yet. I’ve jumped off."
Smith said that despite the increased risk of injury of scooter over sedan, he doesn’t worry about his teammates.
“Those guys wear their helmets,” Smith said. “I guess they know what they’re doing, so I really don’t say too much about it.”
With their coaches and teammates’ blessings, these oversized men on undersized vehicles are doing what anyone might do: exercising their right to safely save money and have a little fun while doing it.
“Scooters are all fair game,” Moe said. “So that’s why we’re rolling."