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May 7, 2009

News & Features

Motorcycle lite: Looking for a two-wheeled ride? Think outside the big-engine box

Associated Press

Vespa

A man sitting on a new Vespa GTS 300, left, is reflected in the mirror of another motorcycle at the International Motorcycle Show in January. (Photo by Richard Drew / Associated Press)

The big trend in motorcycles this year is to go small, allowing more people to buy in a poor economy and saving riders plenty at the pump.

Motorcycle makers showcased cheaper and more fuel-efficient models at the nation's premier motorcycle show -- the International Motorcycle Show, held in Manhattan in January -- and scooters stole the show.

"We're definitely seeing where manufacturers are taking advantage of the smaller motorcycles in their lineup, the motorcycles that don't get the kind of attention when things are sort of economically strong," says show spokesman Robert Pandya. "We're seeing motorcycles coming in that were originally designed for other markets that, because of people's consciousness for fuel economy and ease of getting around, are all of a sudden finding a home in the U.S."

Scooter-maker Vectrix Corp. unveiled two electric models, while Italy's Piaggio & C. SpA showed off its new Vespa GTS 300, which can reach 80 mph with a 278-cubic-centimeter engine that's the biggest in Vespa's line of trendy scooters. Honda Motor Co., Ducati and Kawasaki also displayed new bikes.

Scooter not for you? Test out a chopper
  • Smaller, less-expensive choppers were also on display at the International Motorcycle Show. Honda's Fury features a lower riding position, a single-shock rear suspension with a hard-tail look, and a 1,312 cc V-twin engine. The Fury's 71-inch wheelbase makes it the longest bike in Honda's lineup. Spokesman Bill Savino says the Fury will sell for about $13,000, which is less than many choppers -- high-end bikes that can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. "No one has ever made anything this affordable for that segment of the market," Savino says.

Middletown, R.I.-based Vectrix says it's targeting younger, urban commuters with its two electric scooters. The VX-2 will have a base price of just over $5,000 and will travel 40 to 50 miles on a charge, with a top speed of 30 mph. The VX-1E will cost about $3,500 more but can reach 62 mph with a range of 55 miles.

A tune-up on our vehicle is a computer upgrade," says Victor Pritzker, Vectrix's director of North American sales.

Scooter sales in the U.S. surged 50 percent in the third quarter of 2008 compared with the previous year's quarter, says Ty van Hooydonk, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council.
"You're seeing a lot of people who are looking for alternative transportation going to scooters and dual-purpose bikes," van Hooydonk says.

Van Hooydonk says last summer's run-up in gas prices likely contributed to the spike, along with more riders using two-wheelers to commute in addition to those who ride for pleasure. Although fuel prices have dropped more than 50 percent from the peak national average of $4.11 per gallon last July, representatives at the show say they believe consumers will continue to be drawn to motorcycles for their fuel efficiency, as many bikes get 50 or more miles per gallon.

"$4, that seemed to really hit home with the consumer," Honda spokesman Jon Seidel says.

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