Cute scoot boogie

Posted July 26, 2008, at 12 a.m.

It’ s bigger than a breadbox. But way smaller than a Hummer. It’ s as stylish as a Marc Jacobs bag. But, unlike said bag, it will get you to work and back. The fastest can go up to 100 miles per hour. But the most efficient can get up to 100 miles per gallon.

Here’ s a hint: It’ s not a Prius. Or a Fit. Or a smart fortwo.

It’ s a scooter. And these days, it’ s almost as hot as a hybrid. And frankly, I’ d take a Vespa over a Prius any day.

After talking with a few eastern Maine scooter dealers, it’ s easy to understand why they can’ t seem to keep them in stock.

“For a lot of people, [this summer’ s $4-plus gas prices are] the last straw,” said Lou Fraser, who manages Friend & Friend in Orono and teaches motorcycle education classes. “They’ ve seen the light. … Some people who are getting into it think it’ s a necessity, but at the same time, they’ re thinking, ‘ What the hell? This is fun.’ “

During a recent visit to Friend & Friend, there was one sleek, silver, motorcycle-size Suzuki Burgman on the floor. This summer, Fraser has pretty much sold out of his 2008 stock, leftovers from as far back as 2006 and every used model he had. He anticipates the arrival of the 2009 scooters — including the popular Yamaha Vino and the posh Burgman — to arrive in August. Friend & Friend’ s Ellsworth location sells scooters by Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda, and Fraser says sales there have been equally brisk.

It’ s a similar scene at Stanley Scooters in Ellsworth, which started carrying scooters by Vespa, Schwinn and Vespa’ s parent company, Piaggio last year. Owner Mark Politte thought it would complement his Subaru sales. But this summer, the scooter trend has taken on a life of its own — he’ s already sold twice as many this season as last.

“I wish I had 10 times the amount I have today,” Politte said. “They sell before they arrive.”

There are very few vehicles on the road cuter than a Vespa. The Italian design and elegant colors (Tiffany blue, anyone?) set it apart from many comparable models on the market. But in this case, the style is backed up with substance. A quick visit to the “Vespanomics” section of Vespausa.com details the economic and environmental benefits of owning a Vespa — but the breakdown applies to almost any scooter on the market. Scooters in general (not just Vespas) range in price from $1,400 to $8,900, and from the math I’ ve seen, it doesn’ t take long for them to pay for themselves. My favorite fact: “If Americans were to switch just 10 percent of their total mileage to scooters, they would consume 14-18 million gallons less fuel per day and carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 324 million pounds per day as well.”

If that isn’ t reason enough to switch — at least during the warm months — I don’ t know what is. And apparently, I’ m not alone. My friend Peggy just bought a Yamaha Vino, and she absolutely loves it. Her husband bought one, too. According to Politte, this is a fairly common phenomenon — women come in to buy a scooter, and a few weeks later, Politte will sell one to their husbands or boyfriends.

“A year ago, I could’ ve described the demographic, but the demographic today is anybody with a driver’ s license,” Politte said. “The appeal is very broad.”

It’ s easy to see why. The days of the tortoise-slow moped are long gone. The more powerful models top out at 100 mph — these are perfect for people with a highway commute — but even the low-power scooters average 40 mph. In many ways, they resemble motorcycles, although Politte is quick to point out that they have a lower center of gravity and are easier to maneuver. Plus, for the uncoordinated among us (that would be me), they don’ t require shifting. As Politte says, “You just twist the throttle and go.”

As for my friend Peggy, she’ s going in style. The safety concerns on a scooter are the same as those for a motorcycle. So she went out and bought a denim jacket at Talbot’ s, a pink AFX Skutour helmet at www.motorcycle-superstore.com and bicycling gloves from www.nashbar.com (on clearance for $4.99, but available at any bicycle shop). While on her scooter shopping binge, she discovered Scooter Girls, which sells “cute scooter apparel for women” at www.cafepress.com/myscoot, and Scooter Diva, a Web site for female scooter riders (www.scooterdiva.com).

It’ s an occupational hazard, to be sure, but I now want a scooter in the worst way. The object of my affection is the cream Vintage Collection LXV Vespa. I could totally see myself scooting around town, strapping my shopping bags to the back and zipping off into the sunset. The best part? I wouldn’ t have to stop for gas for weeks. And weeks. And weeks. And it wouldn’ t cut into my shopping budget at all.

“The last time I went to the gas station, I tried hard and I almost put $10 in it,” Politte said.

 Scooter resources:

Peggy recommends the Yahoo! scooter group for research: http://autos.dir.groups.yahoo.com/dir/1600126255

To find a scooter dealer in your area, check the yellow pages under Motorcycles and Motor Scooters.

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