NEW YORK – American motorists fed up with soaring pump prices are getting more curious about two-wheel transportation.
With gasoline above $3 a gallon in many parts of the country, fears of continued energy spikes are fueling sales of motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles, leading bike associations said.
"What we're seeing now with $3.50 a gallon gasoline is that people are looking for alternatives," said Bill Wilkinson, executive director of the Bethesda, Maryland-based National Center for Bicycling and Walking.
Motorists are paying an average of $2.97 for a gallon of regular gasoline at the pump, up 66 cents from last year and less than 10 cents away from the $3.06 record retail price hit in September, September, according to travel and motorist group AAA's survey of 85,000 gas stations.
With crude oil prices breaking records near $80 a barrel, motorists could see record pump prices soon, AAA has said.
"We've seen a lot more interest in scooters and motorcycles because of fuel economy," said Ty van Hooydonk, director of product communications for the Motorcycle Industry Council. "When you're looking at a motorcycle or a scooter getting two to three times the fuel economy of a car, people are going to think about it."
Scooter sales surged 17.5 percent in 2005, climbing 65 percent in the third quarter in top brands such as Suzuki , Honda and Vespa, the MIC said. "The trend is definitely still on the rise, and we're feeling pretty good for this year," van Hooydonk said.
The $23.3 billion market for motorcycles and mopeds saw increased sales in the first quarter of this year, with on-highway motorcycle sales up 8.6 percent, and scooters up 2.1 percent.
But some travelers are shunning fuel altogether, turning instead to pedal power.
"For cycling, high gas prices have a real positive side," said Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, a national coalition of bicycle suppliers and retailers in the $6 billion market.
Blumenthal said most bike dealers are seeing "a new type of customer" as more car drivers decide to cut costs by fixing their old bicycles or buying new ones for shorter trips.
Bike sales climbed 6.5 percent to 19.8 million in 2005 and should be similar this year, with sales already solid in the first six months, Blumenthal said.
"This year we expect a flat market — a lot of bicycles sold last year," said Ash Jaising, president of Bicycle Market Research Institute, a division of Sports Market Research. He predicted a flat to very low increase in 2006 sales.