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November 22, 2009

News & Features

Less is more: Group rides, good gas mileage have led to a scooter swarm in Seattle

Special to NWautos

Scooters

Bob Brown goes on rides and plans events with the Westenders Scooter Club. (Michelle Ma)

Susan Richardson likes her scooter's gas mileage, but what she loves is the freedom she feels while riding it.

The founder of Scoot About, a scooter rental and sales shop in Seattle, Richardson has ridden for about 15 years and now drives her "dream scooter," an Italian-made Aprilia she got about two years ago.

"You're out there, it's open, the wind is blowing, and you can smell and see things," Richardson says with a smile. "It's freedom."

Scooter basics
  • A scooter can be identified by its step-through space that allows riders to sit upright on top of the motor. Traditional motorcycles usually require riders to straddle the motor when riding. Mopeds are similar to scooters, but they include manual pedals.
  • If you're interested in buying a scooter, some experienced riders recommend buying new or used from a store that also can service the scooter. That makes it easier to get annual maintenance checks and replacement parts
  • Be sure to check with the state on requirements for riding a scooter. Models must be registered as either mopeds or motorcycles depending on size and speed. Larger scooters require an endorsement that can be obtained after taking a basic rider course.

Richardson and other local riders say they've seen a surge in scooter interest in recent years, mostly from people wanting another commuting option. When gas prices spiked last year, Richardson says more customers sought scooters that could deliver 100 miles on a single tank of gas.

Now, Seattle ranks as one of the top U.S. cities for scooter sales, and when compared with other metro areas, it offers riders a safe, enjoyable experience, Richardson says.
"In Seattle, it's a pretty friendly town," she says. "There are an awful lot of people using [scooters] as their primary transportation."

Another draw for scooter owners is the social aspect. Riders can join groups such as the Westenders Scooter Club, Vespa Club of Seattle and Capitol Hill Scooter Society, among others. Moped riders have their own groups, including the Mosquito Fleet, Moped Army's Seattle branch. Groups often plan themed rides, charity events and other activities.

Bob Brown, one of the founding members of the Westenders, says his club members support each other like family. The group organizes one or two rides a month, plus a large rally each August. Club members hop on their scooters and travel together to shows, gather at favorite eateries and pubs, and take long trips on their motorbikes.

"The camaraderie is my favorite part of the Westenders," says Brown, who rides a red Vespa.

Bainbridge Island resident Jennifer Raines purchased her first scooter this fall and says it's a convenient and cost-effective way to commute to her classes in Bellevue. She says that in the past she rode motorcycles, but her shiny red scooter is a practical tool for getting around.

"Unfortunately, with motorcycles, the temptation is speed," she says with a laugh. "I like [my scooter]. And it looks cool."

Brown, of the Westenders, also says he likes being able to travel efficiently around the city, and that he doesn't have to battle cars for parking. For him and other scooter enthusiasts, there is joy even in a simple ride to the store.

"When you're on a scooter, you have to smell the roses," he says. "Life becomes an adventure on the back of a scooter. Everything old is new again."

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