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Scooters part 3: Clothing myths, weather woes

As gas prices rise, scooters are becoming more popular. But riding one can prove hazardous to your office clothing, and bad weather can pose risks.  MSNBC's Denise Ono reports.
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Most modern scooters trace their roots back to postwar Italy. The designers at Vespa and Lambretta wanted a vehicle that was cleaner and more accessible than the motorcycles of the day. So they adopted the step-through designs of the American and British military scooters and added legshields for added protection from water and mud.

Does this mean your dress or suit will be spotless after a 20-mile ride? That's doubtful if there's any water on the road. Nothing can protect you from the occasional road splash, and even in dry conditions there's dust, road grime and exhaust from other vehicles.

For people like Dostal, who wears jeans and polo shirts to his job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, commuting on a scooter works well.

In the 1950s, marketers said the step-through design was great for women because it allowed them to ride in skirts or dresses. But there are a number of reasons why this is impractical.

Because it's almost impossible to ride with your knees together on most bikes, a knee-length or shorter skirt will give everyone on the road a free show. A longer skirt will take care of that problem, but it needs to be loose enough to allow you to quickly put your feet down when you come to a stop. Then again, a loose skirt can catch the wind and possibly billow over your head. Yes, Audrey Hepburn did it in “Roman Holiday,” but she also crashed.

And forget wearing your favorite Manolo Blahniks. High heels and exposed ankles are just plain dangerous. For the men, shorts and flip-flops are equally bad. A safer option is to wear pants and sensible riding shoes, and change at work.

Safety gear
Several riders I spoke to stressed the importance of not only dressing appropriately, but of wearing safety gear.

As Tyson of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration  pointed out, states that repealed their helmet laws saw an increase in motorcycle fatalities.

In addition to reducing injuries in the event of a crash, helmets can also protect you from stinging rain and flying bugs. If you’ve ever hit a bumble bee at 50 mph (I have), you will appreciate the importance of wearing a full face helmet, or at least one with a full face shield.

Another added benefit: If you like to hum or sing to yourself while riding, a full face helmet allows you to hear yourself and avoid odd stares from those around you.

When the sun doesn’t shine
When its 70 degrees and sunny, riding a scooter is divine. But what about riding on the not-so-nice days?

Bad weather is unpleasant, and it poses risks. Rain or fog can reduce visibility. Slick roads reduce stopping distance and increase the possibility of falling on turns and at stops. Cold temperatures can reduce a rider’s reaction time.

Bolton said snow doesn’t bother him too much, “but ice is impossible, I don't care who you are.”

Even in dry conditions, a dip in temperatures also can mean a dip in riding enthusiasm.

“I now commute exclusively on my (Vespa) GT," said SantaRosa, Calif. resident Larry Desjardin, who bought his scooter earlier this year. "We'll see if that holds up in the winter here in Northern California."

So before you sell your car, imagine a snowy day in December.