The upside to $4 gasoline: Bike and Vespa sales soaring

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This morning after I dropped my kids off at their respective camps, I counted no less than five Vespas on the road. Maybe that doesn't sound like a remarkable number to you, but this is Los Angeles, not Italy. Vespas were always considered a quaint novelty.

Now, however, as gas hovers at around $4.60 a gallon for regular, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest the gas-sipping scooter is on its way toward becoming a mainstream transportation option.

It's not just my random observations either, apparently. According to industry sources, scooter sales have risen 24% in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the same quarter last years.Scooter dealerships complain that they can't keep up with demand. Would-be customers complain that scooter prices have shot up in the last year.

Some car dealerships, stuck with a backlog of gas-guzzling trucks, have been selling scooters to make up the difference.

Bike sales have also soared, taking many bike shop owners by surprise. "This is the first time we've seen this much growth from the gas problem," Jim Whitsett told the Times. He's the owner of Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica, where sales are up "a noticeable 20% just in the past 30 days.

OK, so a 24% increase in scooter sales is still hugely eclipsed by the millions of cars and trucks on the road. but with the era of cheap gas behind us, I think it's a safe bet that scooter dealerships are a growth industry. Granted, scooter-mode is viable nationwide only during temperate weather months. (Don't think anyone would be interested in riding a Vespa in Chicago in February, no matter how hot the trend.) But certainly when you start seeing more scooter riders in places like car-worshiping Los Angeles, it's a sign of the times.
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