There's nothing like the crisp onset of fall or the balmy afternoons of an
Indian summer to make me want to go for a bike ride. Slip on my shoes, maybe
put a light jacket on, buckle up my helmet, put the key in the ignition... .
What? What key? What ignition? Yes, it's true. I've been an avid bicyclist
for years, writing about my adventures in books and magazines as I pedal my way
around the Northwest and other scenic parts of the country and the world. But
I'm also the OTHER kind of biker -- the gasoline-powered kind.
My Little Harley
OK, it's not a Harley. It's not even a Yamaha or a Suzuki. I ride a little,
dinky 49.5cc motorized scooter made in some little backwater country in
Southeast Asia. It has an automatic transmission and tops out at about 45 mph.
Coincidentally, my other bike once hit 45 miles per hour heading downhill on a
notorious local slope called "Bombing Range Road." I think. At least,
that's when I quit looking at my bicycle computer and decided to concentrate on
Typically, though, I ride my scooter anywhere between 25 mph and 40 mph,
which is considerably zippier than the 12- to 15 mph at which I ride my bicycle
while touring, or even the 18- to 20 mph I might be able to sustain for a few
miles while racing or trying to impress a new cycling partner.
The Scooter Phenomenon
I'm certainly not the only person in America who has fallen in love with
scooters. There's a certain "nerd chic" about scooters. They are
cute, in a dorky way that goes far beyond practicality. Scooter clubs, blogs,
websites, and newsletters have cropped up all over the world, enabling scooter
aficionados to share their passion. Scooter rallies and swap meets offer
face-to-face opportunities to commune with fellow riders. But for me, the
biking experience, whether motorized or pedal-powered, is more about solo
communion with the Great Outdoors.
My Two "Bikes"
While both my bikes get me out in the open air, each has its advantages and
disadvantages. I get more exercise on my bicycle, but my scooter gets me from
point A to point B quicker, and with less sweat. I can carry more gear on my
180-pound scooter, but my 18.3-pound bicycle is a lot easier to load into a
vehicle when necessary
Parking is a breeze with either vehicle. My scooter has a center stand and a
side stand, while my bike has no kick stand. My scooter has an anti-theft
ignition system, while my bike requires my locking it up if I want to be relatively
sure it will be there when I return. On the other hand, I can easily slip the
cable lock for my bicycle through my lightweight cycling helmet and secure both
at the same time, while my heavy, cumbersome, full-face scooter helmet is a bit
of a nuisance to secure -- usually I just carry it with me. Of course, this
enhances my "cool" factor at the grocery store and other venues in a
way no mere bicycle helmet could.
Both are extremely fuel efficient, the scooter getting around 80 miles per
gallon and the bicycle requiring nothing, but the expenditure of a few calories
on the part of the peddler, which I can easily spare! The initial cost outlay,
curiously, is almost identical: about $1,500. Both scooters and bicycles can be
had for more or less than this, but mine, purchased new today, are within $100
of one another.
But cost is only one "bottom line." For me, the other bottom line
is that both of my bikes are a lot more fun than climbing into a car. In a few
months, the snow may fly and I may be forced to make different choices. But for
now, with the sweet waning sun of autumn shining and the merest whiff of wood
smoke in the air, if I want to go somewhere, I'll ride one of my bikes.
Sally O'Neal Coates is an avid bicyclist, hiker, and outdoorsperson who
lives and writes in southeastern Washington State. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.