ANNAPOLIS – As gas prices continue to rise, more Maryland residents are returning to a cheap and fun means of transportation from a bygone era — the motor scooter.
Once mostly reserved for high school students, college kids and delivery boys, motor scooters, with their gas-sipping motors, get 75 to 100 miles per gallon and have begun to attract a whole new clientele.
While precise figures on the number of scooters being driven in Maryland are hard to come by — the Motor Vehicle Administration says it makes no distinction between motor scooters and motorcycles — industry officials say the number is growing exponentially. According to one estimate, by the Motorcycle Industry Council, scooter sales have grown by more than 900 percent over the past five years, although they were unable to provide the exact numbers for the state.
Nationwide, however, yearly sales of motor scooters doubled from 2000 and 2004, to about 86,000 , the industry group said.
Mike Sutphin, manager of Annapolis ATV’s Scooters said he has noticed an increase in sales since earlier this summer when gas prices went above $2.30 per gallon.
“This summer I have noticed a lot more people buying them,” he said. “I’d say three out of every five customers mention the cost of gas as their main reason.”
Scooter shoppers this summer have been a diverse group, he said, but the majority of customers are in their 30s or older, and they’re purchasing motor scooters to ride on their daily commutes to work.
Perry Hall resident Malice Constantine bought a TNG Venice LX scooter last year for the five-mile commute to work each day. Saving money on gas was an added bonus that was especially helpful this summer when prices got so high, he said.
“Saving money on gas is an understatement,” he said “It takes only $5.65 to fill my tank, and I can ride on that for about a week.”
Constantine said he has noticed more scooters on the road this summer.
“Last summer I noticed very few scooters on the road,” he said. “This year we are literally bumping elbows at red lights. People have even stopped me in traffic asking to buy the one that I’m sitting on right out from under me.”
Mike Mount, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council said scooters first became popular in Europe in the 1940s when the Italian scooter manufacturer Piaggio made the Vespa motor scooter. It was pulled from the market in the United States in the 1980s due to guidelines from Environmental Protection Agency, but in 2001 it reemerged.
In the past few years, other scooter manufacturers like Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha have begun to offer several new models to consumers in the United States.
Salisbury University student John Sager and a friend decided to launch their own scooter business, OC Motor Scooters, after gas prices went up significantly earlier this summer.
Sager said he posted an ad for 25 Primo scooters online using the Web site craigslist.org in August, and while sales were slow for the first few days, business began to pick up as gas prices continued to climb.
“For three straight days we sold at least two scooters a day,” he said. “and right now we have about six more expected sales from the same ad.”
Sager said he attributes the quick sale of his scooters to the affordable price, which is about $1000 each, and to rising gas prices.
“I have heard people say that they weren’t on the market for a scooter until gas prices went up,” he said. “I ride one myself, and mine has been getting a lot more use because of gas prices.”
The Primo scooters Sager has sold get about 80 to 100 miles per gallon and are good for riding short distances, he said.
In Maryland, legislation was passed in 2001 which allowed for the use of “street legal” motor scooters with an engine size of 50 cubic centimeters or less. These require a drivers’ license or mo-ped license to operate and may not be used on roads with a speed limit of 50 mph or higher.
Owings Mills resident David Citron, said he purchased a Wildfire Scooter for about $1100 in June.
“I’m pretty environmentally aware,” he said, “so I bought it for that reason and because I wanted to save money on gas.”
He uses it for the nine-mile commute to work in Towson and for recreation on weekends, he said, and gets about 75 to 100 miles per gallon.
“I feel as safe on my scooter as on a bicycle when I ride,” he said. “On the street I do worry about people in cars, but I try to be as careful as I can. I try to avoid any dangerous situation.”
Bob Gordon, owner of Gordon’s Cycle Shop in Baltimore, said he’s had several customers who have expressed interest in buying a motor scooter in the future.
“I think if gas prices go much higher people will start buying them to save money,” he said.
Gordon, who lives downtown, rides his scooter to work everyday and says he used to do it purely for fun, but now it also helps save money.
“It’s a lot cheaper than driving my truck every day that’s for sure,” he said.