Gas prices drive Suquamish commuters to embrace scooters

Mor-Mor Bistro owner and chef John Nesby is part of the scooter revolution. He commutes his four miles daily his Honda scooter which gets 100 miles to the gallon.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Mor-Mor Bistro owner and chef John Nesby is part of the scooter revolution. He commutes his four miles daily his Honda scooter which gets 100 miles to the gallon.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

POULSBO — Whirrrrrrr whirrrrr whirrr. Riding down Poulsbo’s Front Street on his scooter, clad in a white chef jacket, could it be the famous Italian Iron Chef Mario Batali?

A closer look and alas, no orange Crocs. It’s John Nesby, owner of Mor Mor Bistro and Bar.

With rising fuel prices now almost $4.30 per gallon, expect to see more people like Nesby riding scooters through town.

According to Motorcycle Industry Council reports, scooter sales are up 24 percent in the first quarter of 2008 from 131,000 sales in 2007.

Suquamish’s Burton Motorsports is already ahead of the nationwide trend, seeing a 41 percent increase in scooter sales so far this year, said Business Manager Heather Logan.

“The popularity has been driven by the price of fuel,” she said. “People started thinking about buying scooters at $3 a gallon. They actually started buying them when prices reached $4 a gallon.”

Nesby, who used to drive his Dodge truck into work each day, said he was spending $100 on gas each week.

“I was taking up a perfect parking spot in the truck that could be used by customers,” he said. “Not only is riding a scooter better for the environment and pocketbook but it’s better for my customers.”

Nesby said his scooter averages 110 miles to the gallon and with a one-and-a-half gallon tank, he’s only had to fuel up twice since he purchased it more than a month ago.

“It’s perfect. You never go over 35 (mph) in the city anyway,” he said.

Logan said scooters typically average 80 mpg, depending on engine size. Compared to the average car’s 21 mpg it’s a 4:1 savings in gas. One week of auto commuting costs the same as a whole month of scooter commuting, she said.

“Switching just part of your commute over to a scooter can quickly add up to more than $1,000 of saving per year in gas alone,” she said. The more people ride their scooters, the sooner it pays for itself in gas savings.

With the gaining popularity companies are developing sleeker styles, alleviating rumors that scooters are just for geeks or girls.

“It’s a 60/40 split of men and women buyers,” said Burt Perkins, owner of Burton’s Motorsports. “The men will come in and say they are buying them for their wives but I know, I see right through it. They always ask to drive it home.”

Burton’s Motorsport models range from sporty to European and hold engines from 50ccs (cubic centimeters) to 250ccs.

“A 50cc generally goes 25-30 mph and is good to go in Poulsbo, Kingston or Winslow,” Logan said. “But the most popular is the 150cc which goes 50-55 mph.”

Although the 50-150cc models cannot be ridden on limited access freeways with on and off ramps because they can’t keep up with traffic, the 250cc model can exceed speeds of 70 mph, she said.

To prevent scooters from being stolen, Perkins recommends getting a cable lock in addition to the handle-bar locks already installed on most scooters.

“It’s a major deterrent to those who want to take a bike quickly without drawing attention to themselves. I used to live in Phoenix and I was the only one who didn’t get my bike stolen because I would religiously use my cable lock against a pole,” he said.

Scooters require training, endorsement

According to the Department of Licensing, Washington state law requires anyone who owns a vehicle that can travel faster than 30 mph to have a motorcycle endorsement on their drivers license. Those operating vehicles without the required endorsement can be cited and risk vehicle impoundment.

“Many scooters with 50cc engines can travel faster than 30 miles per hour. Riders of those bikes need to be properly endorsed, just like any other motorcycle rider,” said Steve Stewart of DoL’s motorcycle safety program. “We want people to know moped riders have to follow the same rules of the road as full sized motorcycle riders.”

To get an endorsement riders need to pass DoL’s motorcycle knowledge and riding tests. Riders can get these requirements waived if they complete an approved motorcycle training school and bring their certificate to the DoL within 180 days of completion.

Gas prices lessen motorcycle/scooter disparity

For anyone who’s ridden a scooter successfully on the streets knows motorcycle riders wave to other motorcycles.

It’s the slight hand wave, seat-side, completely cool.

But scooter riders just didn’t rank to receive one.

Now, however, the disparity between riders is lessening, said Perkins and Logan.

“A lot of our motorcycle riders are buying scooters,” Logan said. “Most are our high-end riders that get a scooter for everyday commutes because they are easier to just jump on and go and they’re not overly expensive to repair.”

Perkins said the “biker ego” isn’t what it used to be now that many die-hard riders are becoming part-time scooters.

“Cycling is a pretty neat community,” he said. “It seems they were adopted right away. North Kitsap is really our best place to ride because it seems the automobile drivers are much more aware of us on the road than anywhere else across the country.”

Just remember while riding a scooter, wave slightly to other riders. Keep it cool.

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