Ridin' thrifty
Scooter popularity rises along with gas prices

CONYERS - Rockdale County resident Russell Paschal said he and his wife, Sandy, decided to buy a pair of scooters this summer after gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon. According to local dealers, the Paschals are part of a growing trend of folks switching from four wheels to two wheels as a way to cut back on gas expenses.

"You can drive that thing, it seems like forever and ever, on a couple of gallons of gas," Russell Paschal said. "It really makes a lot of difference in getting 20 miles per gallon and getting about 70 miles per gallon."

The Paschals purchased two Vespa-brand scooters: a 200cc model for Russell and a lighter 150cc one for Sandy. Russell Paschal said at first they used the scooters occasionally, such as driving to Madison on Sundays for lunch, but it did not take them long to begin using them during the week.

Along with trips to Georgia Tech home football games, Russell Paschal said he has used his scooter to run errands like getting a haircut in Covington or visiting his son in Norcross.

"Not only does it save you a lot of money on gasoline, which it does, they're just fun to ride," Paschal said.

Peggy Purvines of Horizons Ltd. Motorsports Warehouse in Conyers said sales of scooters at her business have tripled this year, and she anticipates sales will continue to be strong as long as gas prices remain volatile.

"People are just trying to find a cheaper way to get around," said Purvines, who is the parks and accessories manager at Horizons, located on Parker Road.

In Covington, Steve Smallwood of Fat Boys Golf Carts said he also has seen a huge demand for scooters, so much so that he ventured the market may be too good.

"I sold them in the beginning, then everybody jumped into the scooter industry, so now it seems everybody and their brother are selling scooters," Smallwood said. He added that he will keep a couple in stock, but planned to focus more on golf carts, which are popular transportation alternatives.

Overall, sales for scooters have doubled in the United States for the past decade. An estimated 157,000 scooters were sold in 2007, compared with 70,000 scooters in 2002, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a nonprofit trade association.

Scooters also appear to be increasing in popularity among older riders. The median age for scooter owners has climbed from 26 years old in 1990 to 46 years old in 2003, according to the council.

The 150cc-sized scooter is the smallest and is considered a good entry-level bike. It gets the best gas mileage - anywhere between 80 and 110 miles per gallon, Purvines said. The larger 200cc scooter has slightly lower gas mileage because of its extra weight.

Even though scooters are gaining in popularity because they save gas, safety remains a concern. Paschal said he and his wife are cautious when they take their scooters on the interstate, and they use a trailer to carry them on vacations.

Important to remember that a scooter's size makes it harder for motorists to spot, Paschal said.

"You have to watch people on cell phones in particular," Paschal said. "They're preoccupied, and they just won't look for you."

Smallwood rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and said he would think twice about taking a scooter on a major highway, like Interstate 20.

"I'm talking to you right now, and I see four scooters on I-20," he said from his business on the Access Road. "I don't know if I could do that, but you see a lot of people on them on the expressway."

Mike Mount, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council, encouraged people to take a 15-hour motorcycle safety course through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Local classes can be found at the Foundation's Web site, www.msf-usa.org.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.