Last year's soaring gas prices sent drivers scrambling for alternative modes of transportation.
Some opted for carpooling and public transit, while others went the cool route, leaving their SUVs parked in the garage and hopping aboard two-wheeled, European-flavored motor scooters.
Fueled by price-weary consumers trying to avoid the pump, sales of motor scooters jumped 66% in the first half of 2008 compared with the same period the previous year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. But as gas prices cooled at the end of last year, so did sales of motor scooters, which have since leveled off or fallen from their mid-2008 highs. However, sales remain brisk, retailers across the country report, and interest remains strong.
Motor scooters get about 70 miles per gallon, compared with 20 to 25 mpg for most cars and 15 to 20 mpg for most SUVs.
It's easy to understand why. Most motor scooters will get 60 to 70 miles per gallon or more, compared with 20 to 25 mpg for most cars and 15 to 20 mpg for most SUVs. If you travel 1,000 miles a month to work and around town, you'll need about 66 gallons of gas for your SUV (at 15 mpg) and about 50 gallons a month if you drive a sedan (figuring 20 mpg), for monthly costs of about $122 and $92, respectively (at a national average of about $1.85 per gallon of gas). But if you drove a motor scooter that same distance, you'd use only about 16 gallons of gas and pay only about $31 at the pump monthly.
You'll also pay less for parking, especially if you live in the city, and you'll tread lighter on the environment. And did we mention the cool factor?
A few quick notes about scooters. The engines are designed to fit under the seat, so you don't have to straddle a scooter as you would a motorcycle. Your feet can rest comfortably on the floorboard. Scooters are also generally quieter than motorcycles, and weigh less. And they usually have only one gear, so they're easy to operate. Safety and licensing requirements vary by state, so be sure to check local laws before you head out on the road. For more information and reviews, check sites like
So what will you see when you visit your local scooter retailer? Here's a quick rundown.
scooters. The brand remains the most recognizable scooter name worldwide, due at least in part to its appearances in artsy cinema like Federico Fellini's movies. The classically designed Vespas range from the LX 50, which retails for $3,299 and can get up to 100 mpg from its 50cc engine (top speed: 39 mph) to the more powerful LX 150 (150cc engine, up to 75 mpg and 59 mph; $4,399) and the 2009 top-of-the-line GTS 300 Super, with a 278cc engine. Available in March, it will cruise along at 80 mpg, still manage 70 mpg and come with a price tag of $6,199.
The Italians aren't the only ones making scooters.
, which has a motorsport-racing heritage that goes back 50 years, offers a wide range of scooters. If you prefer a Euro-styled scooter, check out the Vino Classic, which has a cool retro look, a 49cc engine and a top speed of 41 mph. Here are some other numbers you'll like: It gets up to 110 mpg and comes with a sticker price of just $2,049. At the other end of the spectrum, the Yamaha Majesty ($6,099) comes with a 395cc engine, and looks and handles more like a small motorcycle.
Honda Powersports: $2,049-$8,199:
has been making scooters for nearly half a century and offers a range of styles and pricing. The Metropolitan ($2,049) has a Euro-cool look, while the Silver Wing ($8,199) can best be described as a scooter rocket, thanks to its 582-cc engine (top speed: 100+ mph). For something a little different, try the stripped-down Ruckus, which almost has a dirt-bike look -- "urban attitude," as the manufacturer calls it. It comes with a 49cc engine, a top speed of about 45 mph and a sticker price of $2,149. Best of all, you can fill up the tank with just 1.3 gallons of gas, or less than $2.50 at today's prices. How's that for economy?
Bob Feeman is a former editor of Robb Report and Smart HomeOwner magazines, and now writes full time about a variety of subjects. He's based in Maine.