Madison, or Milan
Scooter use increases in Morgan County
Story By Tara DeRock Mahoney - Photos By Angelina Bellebuono
For some, they are a statement about a way of life—for some, they are about gas savings.
And gosh darn it, they’re just plain fun. More and more scooters can be seen on the roads of Morgan County, and they’re usually driven by people with big smiles on their faces.
Madisonian Ishmael Bowman bought his first scooter—a 1978 Vespa Piaggio 150—in 1982. At the time he was living in Westport, CT, a bedroom community of New York City.
“Westport was a sort of summer town, the crowds were heavy,” remembers Bowman. “At night time, near the restaurants, there was no parking, but bicycles and Vespas were ideal.”
After moving from New York, Bowman—a self-employed private investor—stored his Vespa for a while. But he has been riding it again recently, and he’s part of a growing local trend.
Buckhead resident, folk artist, and recreation department employee Eugene Swain and his wife Glenda own no fewer than three scooters, two 50 cc Hondas and a 400 cc Yamaha Majestic. Eugene says he enjoys the gas savings as well as the feel of the wind on his face.
“I always wanted a motorcycle, but I ended up with a scooter because you don’t have to have a motorcycle license to drive [the smaller] scooters, and I thought that was right up my alley,” said Swain in a telephone interview last Monday. “Now I go all over the countryside on my scooter, and I really enjoy it.”
Scooters, for the uninitiated, are generally two-wheeled, motorized, gas or electric bikes with rear-mounted engines. The rider therefore does not straddle the engine as on a motorcycle but sits forward of the engine and is propelled around town.
“You sit in front of the engine, and you ‘scoot,’” said Bowman.
Scooter engines can be extremely powerful, and most—with the exception of the smallest, 49cc engines—require a motorcycle license. Owners love them because the insurance is low, and the gas savings are out of sight.
“I get 83 miles to the gallon,” said local youth minister Troy Bryant, who drives a 150cc Vento. “My scooter’s got a one-point-two gallon tank, so I can go about a hundred miles on a tank of gas, and it costs just under five bucks to fill it up.”
In European cities such as Rome and Milan, large, American-style cars are rarely seen; most people drive tiny Smart cars or ride scooters.
"I remember when scooters really came into vogue, in the 1960s,” said Bowman. “That movie came out with Gregory Peck, ‘Roman Holiday,’ and he was scooting around Rome with Audrey Hepburn…that was so cool.” Although dense, European urban centers are seemingly made for scooters, notes Bowman, there’s definitely a growing market for them in the United States, even in rural communities such as Morgan County.
“I drive back and forth from Buckhead to Madison,” said Swain. “I have three vans, but I ride the scooter because it’s so much fun and they save a whole lot on gas.”
“It’s like a game for me,” said Bryant. “I try and figure out how often I can leave my truck at home…if I can drive my scooter, I do it.”
Bowman just plain enjoys driving his scooter. “I’ve had fun—I’ve put it in the back of my pick-up and taken it to the beach, I’ve taken it to the mountains. It’s nice to have a small vehicle to drive around when you’re visiting places.”
“It’s just compact…you don’t have to worry about putting gas in it,” said Swain. “You just hop on and ride until you get tired.”