While two-wheel scooters were once considered a novelty or mode of cheap transportation for college students, more and more motorists are trading four wheels for two in hopes of saving at the pump.
In Southern Oregon, scooter sales are increasing nearly as fast as fuel prices, says Naumes Oregon Motorsports owner Sam Naumes. In fact, sales are only hampered by the delay from manufacturers struggling to keep up with record demand for the two-wheel gas misers.
In a nutshell, any licensed driver can operate a scooter or moped in Oregon. Oregon law refers to engine sizes to determine license requirements.
As of this summer, two-wheeled vehicles with engines smaller than 50 cubic centimeters, and maintaining speeds slower than 30 miles per hour, are classified as mopeds and can be driven without special license endorsements.
Anything bigger or faster is considered in the motorcycle class and requires a special "class C" license. In sharing space on the road with other motorists, scooter drivers are legally permitted to walk a scooter in the bike lane but must otherwise utilize regular traffic lanes when under its own power.
Motorcycle and moped riders are required by law to wear a helmet approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and must carry insurance, just like other drivers. For more information on motorcycle and moped safety, visit www.oregondmv.com.
"Our biggest problem is, with these gas prices, the whole nation is buying scooters and supply and demand is out of control," says Naumes. "We literally cannot even get enough scooters for the number of people who want to buy them."
Rightly so, with gas pushing the $5 per gallon mark, scooters' impressive 75 to 140 mile-per-gallon performance record is a big draw for cash-strapped motorists sick of record fuel prices.
While scooters seem simple enough to shop for, area scooter suppliers say some research is definitely in order before plunking down $1,500 to $4,000 for the wrong set of wheels.
Unlike motor vehicles rated by horsepower, scooters are rated by engine sizes from 50 to 250 and even 500 cubic centimeters. The bigger the engine, the more likely the scooter is to pull heavier weights at higher speeds.
When shopping around, consider your weight, desired top speeds, and the type of terrain on which you'll be driving.
For example, a tall or heavy rider living in the hills around Medford should probably opt for a larger engine, says Steve Van Dyke, co-owner of Elite Sales and Off Road in Medford.
Keep in mind, too, only scooters with engines smaller than 50 cubic centimeters and traveling less than 35 miles per hour, can be driven without a special motorcycle endorsement on drivers' licenses. More powerful versions require a special test and endorsement (see sidebar).
While smaller scooters offer limited performance and are less likely to fill in as a second "vehicle," more powerful versions range from 150 cubic centimeters, capable of traveling up to 45 or 50 miles per hour, to 500 cubic-centimeter engines, reaching speeds of 95 miles per hour.
Other factors to consider when shopping include drive comfort in respect to seat height, handlebar position, and legroom, as well as finding a scooter that's not too small or, on the flip side, too heavy to handle.
Careful consideration should be paid, as well, to whether the scooter will prove useful year round or just during nice weather. Some scooter fans say winter driving is possible while others retreat to heated vehicles.
As an option to avoid parking scooters during winter months, motorcycle shops offer interesting products such as plug-in jacket heaters and heated gloves, Van Dyke says, keeping scooter drivers on the road in all but the worst of weather.
Prices fluctuate based on manufacturer, engine size, quality of scooter and special features. A 50-cc Yamaha at Medford's Naumes starts around $1,900, for example, while a similar size Vespa sells for just over $3,200.
Van Dyke urges consumers to do careful research and avoid "knockoff" internet sales or non-branded scooters.
Popular brands, Van Dyke says, include Vespa, Honda, Yamaha, Lambretta, Buddy, SYM and Stella.
If funds are tight, opt for a quality brand used scooter instead of a "knock off" new ride. Less expensive models, at the very least, should come with a usable warranty, a Department of Transportation emissions tag and some research on available replacement parts.
Van Dyke adds, "Scooters can be a lot of fun and they're a great deal with gas prices what they are"¦ but it's definitely a situation where you get what you pay for."