F.Birchman / MSNBC.com
By Cover producer
msnbc.com
updated 10/7/2005 4:06:51 PM ET 2005-10-07T20:06:51

This story was originally published in October, 2005.

With $3-per-gallon gas a reality, some drivers are looking at downsizing from cars and trucks — at least part time — to scooters as a way to save money.

As a scooter commuter and enthusiast who has owned a few bikes over the past 20 years, I can attest to the great fuel savings, the speedier trips in the car-pool lane and easy parking.

There are, however, a number of myths about scooters that should be dispelled:

  • Riders do face the same dangers as motorcyclists.
  • They do need to wear helmets.
  • Their clothes won't stay entirely clean in bad weather.
  • Wearing dresses or skirts isn't practical.

So before running out and buying a bike, let's look at the pros and cons.

Money-saver?
According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, sales of motor scooters have more than doubled since 2000. “The motorcycle industry as a whole has seen 13 years of consecutive growth,” council spokesman Mike Mount said. According to council figures, 42,000 scooters were sold in 2000. By 2004, that number increased to 96,000.

Will you save money riding a scooter?

Say your car gets 20 miles per gallon, and you have a 30-mile roundtrip commute. If you're buying gas at the national average of $2.94, you're spending just over $22 on gas every week — just for commuting. That's an annual fuel cost of $1,100.

On a $3,000 scooter that gets 60 miles per gallon, you could save more than $700 per year.

If you pay $100 per month for car insurance, you'll save an additional $1,000 or so by switching to a scooter.

Factoring in the cost of a helmet and other protective gear, it will take about a year and a half to recoup your expenses.

Many participants on Scooterbbs.com, an Internet message board that scooter enthusiasts use to exchange advice and stories, were eager to share their experiences when asked to comment for this article.

Bret Bolton of Fort Worth, Texas, reports even better numbers: “My old truck got about 19 miles to the gallon. Insurance ran $100 a month, plus tags. … I now pay under $100 a year for insurance, I get over 90 miles per gallon. I sold the truck last year.”

Such savings are what's motivating many novice scooter riders.

“We're seeing a huge number of people come in who bought giant trucks and SUVs ... but the cost of gas is starting to hit them hard,” said Adam Baker, co-owner of Sportique Scooters in Denver.

Unlike Bolton, Bernie Bober of Mineral Point, Wis., says he hasn’t completely given up on his truck. “I use the scooter for almost all my local driving — errands, a couple of miles to my business, running to various locations,” he says. But he doesn't take his bike on the highway because the speeds are outside his comfort zone.

Why the focus on scooters rather than motorcycles? There are several reasons:

  • Generally, scooters are smaller than motorcycles.
  • The rider sits on the bike rather than straddling it.
  • Many bikes have automatic transmissions called “twist and gos.”
  • With manual transmission models, drivers shift by hand instead of using a foot shift.
  • Smaller wheels make the bikes more nimble at low speeds.

Lower fuel consumption and insurance rates aren't the only things a potential scooter rider must consider. Other factors can make a scooter commute even more attractive, but also more dangerous.

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