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Know the West

Scooter blues: When you're environmentally correct and get no respect


I wish I knew why Harley riders stare straight through me when I'm coming down the street on my scooter from the opposite direction.

Sadly, I'm beginning to suspect American motorcyclists of subscribing to a caste system in which Harley Davidsons occupy the top tier, followed by the Euro-touro blends, the bullet bikes, dirt bikes, and finally, the dung of motorized two-wheeled transportation, the scooter. I own a scooter. Americans are buying and riding more gas-saving scooters. Do we have to organize our own rally just to get a little respect?

It may be that a manifesto tooled into leather and nailed to a dealership door could make our case for a new age on the streets. Not everyone who chooses to ride a scooter is a wimp; clearly, not everyone who rides a Harley is a rugged individual. I've seen the ladies with blue hair driving their two-wheeled Buicks and believe me, it takes guts to scoot around on our public roads with only 49ccs under our seats. I'm proud of my comrades for staying alert, being cautious and sucking up less gasoline. It's time the big bikes realized they're representing the Hummers and SUVs of the motorcycle world.

If I could market a scooter look — an outfit, say, that screams "take a ride on the mild side" — maybe stereotypes would shatter and the thundering chrome classes would meet us with open arms. Unfortunately, uniforms don't appeal to those efficient souls who ride scooters.

Most of us follow the fashion model dictated by common sense: If it's cool, we dress warmly; if it's warm, we wear something cool; if it's wet we try to stay out of the rain. Leather, chains, fringed vests, beards, braids, and tattoos amount to clutter, and really, there's not enough room on a scooter. Trademark insignias and corporate belonging do little to motivate the modest scootee.

I'm not sure if it's a matter of economics or just sour grapes. In many Western states, scooters with engines under 50ccs need not pay for endorsement licensing, registration, plates or insurance. They can even park on the sidewalks. If I were big bike, I'd be upset, but there's no need to take it out on us little guys. Let's be role models for each other and try to relax: We won't say anything about 12 bikes lined up in two parking spaces if you'll just disregard our wimpy looking shopping baskets.

Being ignored as a bipedal without pedals only makes matters worse. The scooter rider already feels invisible at the traffic light, but here's the most embarrassing part. I've arrived at intersections early in the morning when no traffic is forthcoming, especially from side streets. I pull up to the crosswalk where the traffic signal should get some sense of my presence, but nothing happens. The light stays red for me, green for the rest of humanity. I could sit a full five minutes wrapped in my invisibility cloak, waiting for the signal to change, waiting for another vehicle to pull up. Once I even put my scooter up on its center stand and jogged over to push the pedestrian crosswalk button. The light changed, but it mistook me for a pedestrian.

Lately, I've taken to simply looking both ways for traffic and scooting across the intersection regardless of what the light tells me to do. Hey, what I'm doing amounts to a blatant disregard for authority — just like any good Harley rider.

David Feela is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is a teacher, writer and proud scooter owner in Cortez, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].