Demand for mopeds and scooters incredible

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Demand for mopeds and scooters incredible

Postby Micronaut » Sun Sep 18, 2005 4:24 pm

Two-wheel transit wins converts

High price of gas leads some to switch to bikes, mopeds, cycles


Posted: Sept. 8, 2005

Jacob Tomko grew tired of sinking $80 a week into gas for his Chevy van that carried him just 12 miles for every gallon it drank.

Two-Wheel Transit

Photo/Karen Sherlock

Richard Kirkley of West Allis picks up a CPI Power Oliver City moped at Sportland 2 in Oak Creek.

It was slowly getting to the point where we literally could not afford to buy gas.
- Jacob Tomko,
who hopes to drive his Honda Ruckus moped on his 27-mile commute from Caledonia to West Allis
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On Aug. 2, he decided he wouldn't do it anymore.

Tomko parked the van, pulled out his credit card and bought a Honda moped. His new weekly gas bill: $7.68. He now travels more than 100 miles on each gallon of gas and figures he'll offset the $2,200 cost in about 14 months.

Steve Rohde took that idea one step further. Why not travel for free, use human energy to propel himself seven miles from Milwaukee to the bookstore in Brookfield where he works?

On Sunday, Rohde walked into Allis Bike & Fitness and bought a hybrid bicycle - a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike - and vowed to ride his bike to work three to four days a week.

"I figured I could buy a $200 bike or buy $200 worth of gas that would get used up anyway. I would rather go with the bike," Rohde said.

As gas prices hover above $3 per gallon, motorists across the area are parking their thirsty four-wheel vehicles and converging on bike and motorcycle stores in search of two-wheel transportation options.

"This past weekend was absolutely crazy," said David Mokros, owner of Mokros Cycle in the City of Pewaukee. "You'd think it was the first warm day in spring. I have never had Labor Day weekend business like this before."

Ditto at Crank Daddy's on the east side of Milwaukee, where manager Andrew Temperly said the shop was considering hiring additional workers to keep up with the hectic pace of repairing and selling bicycles.

"I'm finding myself caught with my pants down, so to speak," Temperly said. "I have seen a pretty dramatic spike since the hurricane. People are showing concern."

Even if gas prices drop, Temperly expects interest in bikes to remain steady.

The recently passed transportation and energy bills contain more than $3 billion in bicycle- and pedestrian-related projects. Sheboygan County is among four in the nation to receive $25 million to create a non-motorized transportation model. And 10 communities will be selected to receive $6.25 million to promote bicycling as an energy reduction strategy, said Elizabeth Preston, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists, which represents about 300,000 cyclists and affiliated groups.

"We are really pleased with the transportation bill," Preston said.

Preston said people have increasingly been turning to bicycles as an alternative method of transportation, but interest has soared since Hurricane Katrina.

"It's happening so quickly we don't have statistics on it yet, but we're getting a lot of phone calls," she said. "It usually takes some sort of impetus to get someone to (bike to work). The gas prices are doing that."

Sales at Wheel & Sprocket in Fox Point jumped 20% in August compared with the same month last year, manager Jim Saber said.

'Unheard of' demand

And in West Allis, Jim Morateck, owner of Allis Bike & Fitness, said sales the first few days of September surpassed even the busiest days of spring and amounted to more than the entire month of September last year.

People brought in newer bikes for tune-ups or repairs and bikes that hadn't been ridden in 30 years.

"This is just unheard of," Morateck said. "Six months ago nobody was talking about commuters on bikes. We've probably talked to 150 separate people in the last three to four weeks.

"Bikes have always been something people wanted. Now people are starting to need them."

Sportland 2, an Oak Creek motorcycle shop, is selling out of mopeds and scooters before the models even make it to the store, saleswoman Moira Glavan said. The store sold out of Hondas and added a new manufacturer to keep up with demand.

"All of our bike inventory is sitting in our showroom," she said. "We can't keep bikes in stock."

Mopeds, defined as having engines with 50 or fewer cubic centimeters of piston displacement, typically go up to 40 mph and start at about $1,600, Glavan said.

Mopeds are not designed for freeways, and drivers don't need a motorcycle license. Scooters have larger engines, some of which are legal on freeways, and drivers need a motorcycle's license to operate them. Unlike motorcycles, scooters do not have clutches or require the driver to shift gears.

The Environmental Protection Agency said emissions from mopeds and scooters are now regulated and that they don't pollute the air the way they did years ago.

Joe Reina said he and his nephew sold 13 Vespas - high-end Italian mopeds and scooters - on Saturday alone.

"Normal is one or two," said Reina, co-owner of Reina International Auto/Vespa Milwaukee in Brookfield and downtown Milwaukee.

"Finally people have started to realize if people in Europe can do it, people can do it here, too," he said.

Many of the people shopping over the Labor Day weekend said they hoped to drive them most of the year, despite the cold, Reina said.

Jacob Tomko hopes to drive his Honda Ruckus moped through the winter, though he knows his 27-mile commute from Caledonia to Quad/Graphics in West Allis on city and county roads could get treacherous at times. He's adjusting to the extra hour he spends on the road but said every day he drives the moped he has more money to spend on his wife and three young children.

"It was slowly getting to the point where we literally could not afford to buy gas," he said.

"We've already seen pretty big savings."
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