Gas is topping $4 per gallon. Parking, even in a cheap lot, can cost more then some people make in a day. And keeping a car in the city, between alternate-side parking, epic traffic jams and torn-up roads, is enough to make anyone long for the subway.
There are a growing number of Brooklynites who don’t have to worry about such things anymore, though, since scooters — especially the Mod-throwback Vespa bikes — are taking the borough by storm.
“We’re looking to have sold 75 to 80 bikes for the month,” said Andrew Hadjiminas, owner of the borough’s first dealership, Vespa Brooklyn, which opened in Clinton Hill last month. “We get a lot of people that come in, and — right off the bat — they’re talking about gas prices, so that’s one of the biggest selling points.
“There’s also a reduced cost of having a scooter — insurance is cheaper, parking is easier — and a lot of people want to do it, because they want that freedom. They don’t want to sit in the car in traffic all day.”
The average Vespa, which will set you back from around $4,000 to $9,000, has a gas tank that holds two-and-a-half gallons, and, according to Hadjiminas, the bikes get 70 to 80 miles per gallon. Combine this with easy parking, computer-coded keys to prevent hotwiring, and the fact that a scooter — despite the cutesy name — is inherently cooler than that junker you’ve been driving around, and you’ve got a formula that appeals to a broad range of Brooklynites.
“It’s the summer time, so it’s warm, and I wanted to not spend so much money on gas,” said Jocelyn Cooper, a Clinton Hill resident who just bought a green 2008 Vespa LX 150 as an alternative to her other car, an SUV. “Riding around Brooklyn is really fun; people feel very comfortable talking to you while you’re driving, you get lots of comments and compliments. It always seems to be a topic of conversation.”
It isn’t just the shiny, new bikes that are getting all of the love though. Vintage bikes restored and sold at Scooter Bottega in Red Hook, are also seeing a spike in sales this summer.
“People have been stopping by and calling a lot more than usual,” said Robbie Rhodes, who owns Scooter Bottega. “There also seems to be a lot of people wanting to get their scooters out of storage and onto the road. Scooters are a perfect mode of transport for getting around Brooklyn: They’re easier to park, and it’s all positive compared to getting into a car.”
Indeed, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 548 scooters — the DMV defines a scooter, or moped, as “a low-speed vehicle with two or three wheels” — were registered in the borough in 2007. (This number does not include the higher-powered bikes, which are lumped in with motorcycles as far as licensing and registration are concerned.)
It isn’t all fun and games when it comes to scooters, though. Crowded streets and inclement weather can make it tough — and even dangerous — to ride the bikes.
“One thing I’ve noticed in Brooklyn is that you don’t get respect as a motor vehicle,” said Bay Ridge resident Pat Guira, who rides a black 2008 Vespa S150. “Cars don’t respect you — they always try to pass you or try to get around you, because they don’t think you can go fast enough [generally 55-60 miles per hour]. Driving around can be a little tricky.”
Still, in the warm summer months, scooter enthusiasts said, there is nothing better than buzzing about the borough on a bike.
“It’s great just riding around Brooklyn,” said Rhodes. “It’s a great ride.”
Vespa Brooklyn (215 Park Ave. at Vanderbilt in Clinton Hill) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. The dealership is open Monday through Friday, from 10 am to 7 pm, and weekends, from noon to 6 pm. For information, call (718) 254-0808 or visit www.vespabk.com.
Scooter Bottega (65 Union St. at Van Brunt Street in Red Hook) accepts cash only. The shop is open daily, from 9 am to 7 pm, and by appointment. For information, call (718) 858-4667 or visit www.scooterbottega.com.