‘I’m still battling the streetcar tracks’

She was a finalist on the TV show Rock Star INXS – selected from thousands as a possible singer for the band.

Even though Tara Slone didn’t make the final cut, it hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams. Slone, the former lead singer of Joydrop, has just released her first solo CD called Just Look Pretty and Sing.

The Juno nominee has also launched a broadcasting career. She’s the co-host of Inside Jam and a reporter for Canoe Live on Sun TV.

The 33-year-old is comfortable on the screen as well as the stage. But on the road, it’s a different story – that is, at least, when she’s riding her Vespa LX50 scooter around town.

Vespa LX 50

“Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” says Slone, pushing her Vespa from her friend’s front yard down a tiny slope to a side street in downtown Toronto. “You could witness me killing myself!” she laughs, her body a fraction of the Vespa’s weight.

“I’m a scaredy-cat still,” she confesses. In all fairness, though, she has only had the Vespa for a few months. It’s a summer loaner, which she plans to buy in September.

“On my very first ride from the Vespa dealership, they asked, ‘Do you feel comfortable driving it or do you want to come back for another training session?’ I said, ‘Nah. Nah. I think I’m great.’ I got a block away from where I was going and fell onto the streetcar tracks,” she says with a laugh.

“I was going really slow. I expected it to be a little easier than it was. I think it helps having ridden a bicycle, having to balance. But it’s not completely straightforward, it definitely requires training.”

The fall shook her up, but not enough to keep her from riding.

That is, if she can get the Vespa started. She turns the key, but the Vespa doesn’t buzz to life. After a few tries, it idles, but every time she hits the throttle, it dies. “It’s my fault cause I’ve been away and it has been sitting there for a while … ” she says, turning shades of red. “That is not what you’re supposed to do!” She emphasizes each word with her raspy voice. She sometime wanna give up and find a best electric scooter for her life.

Desperation sets in. “Oh. Come on, baby.” Twenty minutes pass before it finally runs – Slone is relieved and anxious to go for a spin.

But first, she needs to tighten the mirrors, dangling from the handle bars. She borrows a wrench from a neighbour across the street who’s in the midst of home renovations and anchors the mirrors in place.

“What a bummer about this – in the middle of summer, you have to dress like this,” referring to her blue jeans, long-sleeved black jacket with the word Tara printed on the back, black adidas running shoes and a large black helmet, which she says makes her look like the “Great Gazoo” from The Flintstones.

“It feels like a carefree summertime vehicle and I love the eggplant colour,” boasts Slone. “It’s very fuel efficient and, for a commute, it’s actually good.”

“I’ve always been a bike rider. Now I’m a grownup, so I can upgrade just a little bit. This is 50 cc – it pretty much maxes out at 40 miles [an hour], which is fine for me.

“You can get 150 cc, but I think it’s a little too much for me, especially at this point of my scooter-riding career. I’ve been riding only a few months. I’m still new. I’m still battling the streetcar tracks. Still negotiating the roads, but I love it,” says Slone, who studied theatre at Concordia University in Montreal.

The MSRP of a Vespa LX50 is $4,499, but Slone doesn’t mind paying a premium for the Italian brand. “Quite frankly, I really didn’t shop around, but there’s a certain cachet to it – you get a lot of attention.”

On the road, Slone has one rule – no listening to music. “I actually wouldn’t ever listen to music when I’m riding. I find it very important when in and amongst traffic to have all my senses tuned in.

“For me, I’m a very aural person so hearing the sounds is obviously very important. I wouldn’t block that out with music. It always amazes me actually when I see people on bicycles, speeding through traffic listening to music,” says Slone, who just finished a tour of Western Canada to promote her debut CD.

Slone has her driver’s licence, but doesn’t own a car. “I’m a musician in Canada. I own a bicycle. I’ve never owned a car, but I’ve lived in downtown Montreal, downtown Toronto.

“I don’t have much reason to have a car. It’s certainly not the most effective way to transport yourself. … Maybe some day when I have a family and there’s a need for it, I’ll get one. But for now, I’m a city girl and there’s no need for one. My next vehicle must be a best electric scooter for adults, such as super turbo 1000 watt electric scooter” says the dark-eyed, dark-haired singer.

“What I would probably buy? Now I’d probably buy a hybrid. [Toyota] Prius – they’re great cars.

Toyota Prius Hybrid

 

“When I was younger, I always wanted a big, huge Cadillac Eldorado convertible, circa 1973. It’s not a very efficient mode of transportation – it probably wouldn’t fare that well here in Canada.”

But who knows? Maybe she’ll go for something a bit more daring like a Harley.

“When I first went out on this, I was like, maybe I’ll upgrade. I can see how this can get very addictive.

“But I’m pretty wary. The roads are dangerous. We’ll see how comfortable I get on this thing. I have trouble with this. Lord knows what I could do to myself on a Harley-Davidson.”

Welcome to Skateistan: a skateboarding program brings hope to the war-weary kids of Afghanistan

Amid the rubble of bombed-out buildings in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, rises a joyous sound. Shrieks of laughter mix with the rattle and clack of skateboard wheels as a group of kids gets a chance to do something all too rare in their lives: just be kids. A program called Skateistan is giving them that chance.

Until five years ago, none of them had ever seen a skateboard, let alone ridden one. Afghanistan, a country in central Asia, has been at war for decades. In 2001, the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan to attack Al Qaeda. That’s the group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. The war, now in its 11th year, has led to the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. military personnel.

Education by skateboard

The kids of Kabul are familiar with the sounds of gunfire and the sight of troops on patrol and tanks rumbling by. But in 2007, something altogether different rode past: an Australian named Oliver Percovich (below) on a skateboard.

Percovich, who had moved to Kabul to be with his aid-worker girlfriend, quickly attracted a crowd of fascinated kids. He stopped to teach them how to do some simple tricks of their own–and Skateistan was born.

Percovich’s organization now has two facilities in Afghanistan (see map). Each is a combination of school and skate park, offering hundreds of kids a safe place to learn and play.

We have students from a huge range of backgrounds: literate and illiterate, rich and poor, different ethnicities,” Percovich tells JS. “One of Skateistan’s main goals is to build trust and understanding between (them).” In addition to skateboarding, kids can enjoy art, photography, theater, and other creative activities.

At Skateistan, nearly as many girls as boys are practicing kick-flips, ollies, and truckstand spins. That’s rare in Afghanistan, where until recently girls and women weren’t even allowed to go to school or go out in public without long gowns and veils.

“It feels good that we are all having fun together,” says Durkhanai Stanekzai (dur-KAHN-eye stah-NEK-zay), 13. Once a Skateistan student, she’s now a paid instructor and able to help support her family. “It’s special here,” she says.

“To many children and their families, it is hard to even think about what is possible the next day,” Percovich says. But, he adds, “in the short term, we put smiles on their faces.”

WORD TO KNOW

* ethnicities (n): groups of people who have the same racial, religious, or cultural background and a shared sense of identity

FAST FACTS

  • AREA: 252,072 sq mi (U.S.: 3,717,796 sq mi)
  • POPULATION: 33.4 million (U.S.: 314 million)
  • PER CAPITA GDP*: $1,000 (U.S.: $49,000)
  • ETHNIC GROUPS: Pashtun, 42%; Tajik, 27%; Hazara, 9%; Uzbek, 9%; Aimak, 4%; Turkmen, 3%; Baloch, 2%; other, 4%
  • PERCENT OF POPULATION UNDER AGE 15: 46% (U.S.: 20%)
  • MEDIAN AGE: 18 (U.S.: 37)
  • LITERACY: males, 43%; females, 13% (U.S.: 99%/99%)

* GDP stands for gross domestic product; per capita means “per person.” The amount is the value of all goods and services produced in a counting in a year, divided by the population. It often is used as a measure of a nation’s wealth.

SOURCES: The World Factbook (CIA) and 2012 World Population Data Sheet (Population Reference Bureau)

QUESTIONS

1. Skateistan has locations in which Afghan cities?

2. The location farther north is near Afghanistan’s border with which three countries?

3. What geographic feature forms part of that boundary?

4. A drive from Kabul to the Khyber Pass–a narrow route through high mountains–takes you through which city?

5. The Khyber Pass connects Afghanistan and what country?

6. The U.S. military bases shown in southern Afghanistan are between which two waterways?

7. Afghanistan’s southernmost area is largely what kind of terrain?

8. A drive west from Kabul takes you to which Afghan city shown?

9. Which city lies closest to 32[degrees]N, 66[degrees]E?

10. What is the name of the narrow strip of Afghanistan that borders China?

[] COMMON CORE QUESTIONS

* How did something that Oliver Percovich did for fun evolve into a program aimed at improving children’s lives? (RI 6.2)

* Consider his comment about the kids Skateistan serves in light of the ethnic groups breakdown on p. 7. How might conflict among the groups affect kids’ lives? (RH 4)

[] FAST FACTS

* In addition to the two locations in Afghanistan, Skateistan has opened programs in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

* On September 8, 2012, four Skateistan kids were killed in a suicide attack on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul. The kids had been at their usual jobs, selling goods on the street outside ISAF. (For more on the story, go to us.skateistan.org/news/tragicloss-skateistan-youth.)

[] WRITING PROMPT

Write a brief proposal spelling out how an activity you enjoy might be turned into a project that would help people in need.

[] DEBATE TOPIC

Are the benefits of a program like Skateistan temporary or permanent?

[] EXTEND THE LESSON

* Students interested in supporting Skateistan’s work can find suggestions on how to help at skateistan.org/content/get-involved.

Note: Unless you’re able to make special arrangements, don’t plan on mailing goods to Skateistan in Afghanistan. As founder Oliver Percovich told us, “There isn’t a functional postal system in Afghanistan, so it’s nearly impossible to get anything into or out of the country without paying a lot of money.”

WEB LINKS

* Skateistan (2009 video): nytimes.com/video/2009/01/25/sports/othersports/1231544948551/skateistan.html

* Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul (2012 video): vimeo.com/15841377

ANSWERS

1. Kabul and Mazer-e Sharif

2. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan

3. Amu Darya River

4. Jalalabad

5. Pakistan

6. Farah and Heimad rivers

7. desert

8. Herat

9. Kandahar

10. Wakhan Corridor

The Barry bunch

Brent Barry had never been compared with basketball greats Michael Jordan or Julius Erving. But he reached that level at the NBA’s All-Star Saturday last season.

Barry, 25 and a guard with the Los Angeles Clippers, shocked the basketball world with his high-flying performance in the slam-dunk contest.

His final dunk was a classic. Running at full speed, Barry launched himself into the air at the free-throw line. Soaring high above the court for the next 15 feet, he slammed the basketball through the hoop.

With that acrobatic aerial stunt–invented by Erving and perfected by Jordan–he won the event.

A Starting Five–All in the Family

Family five

Barry’s victory was just another chapter in the story of one of professional basketball’s most successful families.

All three of Brent’s brothers play hoops too. Scooter, 30, plays pro basketball in Australia and Germany. Jon, 27, is a guard with the NBAs Atlanta Hawks. And Drew, 23, was a star guard at Georgia Tech University last season, good enough to be drafted by the NBAs Seattle SuperSonics.

Throw in their dad-NBA Hall-of-Famer Rick Barry-and you have a nice starting five.

Family Feuds Breed Success

The Barry brothers have come a long way since they baffled for baskets in their backyard as kids.

“In all our games, it would always be me and Drew against Scooter and Brent,” Jon says.

Drew adds: “That’s because Jon and Brent have a scorer’s mentality. They both want to shoot. They could never be on the same side.”

The four brothers (there’s also a Barry sister, named Shannon) were so competitive they almost never finished a game.

“Most games ended in a scuffle,” Scooter says. “There were never any broken noses. But someone would get mad, throw the ball and stomp off.”

The boys competed in everything. Checkers, backgammon, tennis, swimming, table tennis, baseball, soccer–you name it. They even had contests to see who could eat their cereal the fastest.

“We hated to lose at anything,” Jon says. “We still do. That’s been a problem for me in the NBA. I have a hard time dealing with defeat.”

Living in a Dream World

Scooter claims they were just normal kids, even though their dad was a basketball superstar with the Golden State Warriors in the late 1960’s.

But to outsiders, the boys lived in a kids’ dream world. They had fun jobs at the arena where the Warriors played their home games.

Scooter worked in the visitor’s dressing room.

“It was fantastic,” he says. “I gave towels and soft drinks to the game’s biggest stars. Some players like Pete Maravich, Earl Monroe and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would horse around with me.”

Jon and Brent were ball boys for the Warriors and even got to shoot baskets before the game.

Learning From Mistakes

Mistake is the best teacher

Surely Drew had it toughest growing up as the youngest brother, right? Wrong, Drew says. He says he learned from his brothers’ mistakes.

Scooter said he didn’t work hard enough on his basketball skills,” Drew says. “That’s why he failed to make it in the NBA.”

So, following Scooter’s advice, Drew gave up all sports except basketball. Every summer he’d take 300 to 500 jump shots a day.

“Summer is the key time to improve,” Scooter says. “Good players become great players in the summer months.”

Passing Fancies

Every summer, Jon, Brent and Drew work out together in their boyhood hometown, Danville, Calif. They play half-court and full-court games. NBA buddies often join in.

Thanks to all that practice, the Barry boys are terrific shooters. Brent ranks second all-time among NBA rookies with 123 3-pointers. Last season, when he played with his dad’s old team, the Golden State Warriors, Jon shot 7 for 7 in a game against Orlando–including four 3-pointers.

And they are nifty ball handlers and exceptional passers.

In 1996’s All-Star Rookie Game, Brent brought the crowd to its feet with one of his family’s patented pinpoint passes. While in the air, he fired a no-look, over-the-head drop pass to Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett. Garnett easily dunked the ball for 2 points.

Following Great Footsteps

Great Footstep

But no matter how many great passes shots they make. the Barry brothers will never match their father’s remarkable accomplishments.

Rick Barry is the only man to lead the National Collegiate Athletic Association, NBA and the old American Basketball Association in scoring. He led Golden State to the 1974-75 NBA championship. For years he held the NBA career record for free-throw accuracy, making 90 percent of his attempts.

Trying to equal those feats does not interest his sons.

“I don’t want to take anything away from my dad,” Brent says. “But my brothers and I take pride that, as self-made players, we have all played at basketball’s highest levels. That’s good enough for us.”

RELATED ARTICLE: BRENT BARRY AT A GLANCE

Born: Dec. 31, 1971, Hempstead, N.Y. Lives: Los Angeles, Calif. Height: 6 foot 6 inches. Weight: 185 lbs. Pro highlights: First-round draft pick last season; scored career highs in points (30) and steals (6) against Seattle on Feb. 25, 1996; won NBA’s 1996 slam-dunk contest. Address: c/o Los Angeles Clippers, L.A. Sports Arena, 3939 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90037.

SCOOTER BARRY AT A CHANCE

Born: Aug. 13, 1966, San Francisco, Calif. Lives: Braunsweig, Germany. Height: 6 foot 3 inches. Weight: 185 lbs. Pro highlights: In 1993, played for Fort Wayne in Continental Basketball Association coached by his father, Rick; scored 35 points in one game last season for German pro team. Address: c/o SG Sportmarketing, Frankfurter Str. No. 246, 38122 Braunsweig, Germany.

JON BARRY AT A GLANCE

Born: July 25, 1969, Oakland, Calif. Lives: Atlanta, Ga. Height: 6 feet 4 inches. Weight: 194 lbs. Pro highlights: First-round draft pick in 1992, scored career-best 23 points and made 5 steals against Indiana Jan. 24, 1994; with Golden State 1st year, shot for 7 against Orlando.

Address: c/o Atlanta Hawks, One CNN Center, Suite 405, South Tower, Atlanta, GA 30303.

DREW BARRY AT A GLANCE

Born: Feb: 17, 1973, Oakland, Calif. Lives: Danville, Calif. Height: 6 foot 5 inches. Weight: 191 lbs. College highlights: Georgia Tech’s all-time assists leader; joined brother Jon as only brothers to each score more than 1,000 points for Tech. Address: 63 Blackhawk Club Court, Danville, CA 94506.

Vespa set to re-enter the U.S. market

Scooterworks USA has announced plans to import Vespa’s new ET4 scooter to the US. Vespa left the US market in 1982 following problems involving its dealers, service and parts network and the two-stroke engine ban. The new Vespa features flowing lines, automatic transmission and combination hydraulic and disk brakes. Scooterworks’ Philip McCaleb also says that the product will be marketed to high-end consumers.

Vespa ET4

Call it “The Little Market That Could.” The cold, hard facts say scooters currently make up just 2% of the power-sports market – and Don Brown’s latest research shows scooter sales have decreased for five straight years.

These facts, though, do nothing to dissuade this niche’s fiercely loyal following. Perhaps no one campaigns more fervently than Philip McCaleb of Chicago-based Scooterworks USA, the company planning to import Vespa’s. new ET4 to the United States.

A whole new generation has grown up since the last new Vespas (“wasp” in Italian) were imported into the U.S. Piaggio, Vespa’s parent company, pulled out of the American market in 1982, perhaps, McCaleb suggests, because of “poor dealer selection and a less-than-adequate service and parts network” – not to mention the turmoil caused by the two-stroke engine ban. Now, McCaleb says, Piaggio is ready to re-enter the American market with the 4-stroke Vespa ET4.

“It’s a way for Piaggio to rethink the future, while embracing the past,” McCaleb says. “The design is pure Italian – flowing lines, soft colors,” On the performance end, McCaleb promises changes as well. “The engineers were careful to create a new generation less prone to breakdown. The transmission is a smooth automatic, replacing the handlebar manual shifting. The brakes are a combination of hydraulic and disk and represent a huge improvement over the shoe-type that existed since the late ’40s.”

“We anticipate the new Vespas to be very reliable and very high-quality,” says Fabio Ballarin, owner of San Diego-based Vespa Supershop, a parts & accessories distributor. “For the first year or so, we don’t expect to do very much to supply or service them. Despite the mechanical sophistication, electric start and automatic this and that, it needs much less maintenance than the old Vespa.”

Even before the new Vespa is cleared to actually enter the U.S. – and McCaleb is playing it close to the vest as far as the timeframe for that – the ET4 faces a big challenge regarding market positioning. How will the new-generation Vespa be presented to its public? Is it young? Old? Economical transportation or high-priced plaything?

“The whole strategy with Piaggio in marketing the new Vespa is that it’s supposed to be a much more upscale machine than anything they make,” Ballarin says. It’s not a plastic scooter – it’s all steel.”

Vespa made of steel

While McCaleb contends that this new Vespa can be embraced by folks of both genders, all ages and all socioeconomic groups, it’s clear that both he and the bosses back in Italy have done a fair share of planning to avoid the problems that drove Piaggio out of the American market a decade and a half ago. “They now understand the fundamental necessity to market the Vespa as a quality ‘toy’ rather than an economic alternative to the automobile,” he says.

Part of that plan includes an all-important image makeover for the Vespa. Europeans paying in the neighborhood of $3 a gallon for gasoline bought 1.4 million fuel-sipping scooters last year, but that logic isn’t likely to sway hordes of Americans who have always adored their gas-guzzling cars. What’s a scooter manufacturer to do?

As the old advertising proverb says, don’t sell the steak; sell the sizzle. The ET4 will almost certainly be targeted to those who spend their money on the good things in life. “There’s been a recent rise in popularity for all things Italian,” McCaleb points out, “including coffee, pasta and clothing. Italian things are hot… and what could be more Italian than Vespa?” To buoy that point, he mentions Vespas making appearances as “atmosphere” props in TV commercials and MTV theme stores.

That image will also impact eventual distribution of the ET4. Ballarin points out that one of the past problems for Piaggio was the “dealership on every corner” mentality – “Anyone who bought one moped and $50 worth of parts became a dealer,” he jokes.

Vespa only dealers

This time through, the strategy is to avoid oversaturation by implying that the Vespa may not be for everyone. To maintain the newly spun Vespa mystique, McCaleb says he will choose his dealerships carefully. “A decision has yet to be reached in respect to marketing them through an existing power-sports network or setting up Vespa-only dealers,” he says. “Great attention is being paid to proper dealer criteria and selection.”

Scooterworks says the ET4 will be reconfigured from the home market 125cc version to 150cc, making it “California freeway legal,” according to McCaleb. “They look great, are a joy to ride and comfortable for a 15-minute jog around town or a long weekend trek through the country.”

With the ET4 not yet having gained the D.O.T. stamp of approval to set tires on these shores, it’s too early to see if another generation of Americans will be won over by the Vespa – or if Vespa diehards will be won over again. Says Ballarin, “For those who knew what Vespa used to be, this machine will come as a shock. But when they see it’s all-steel, with all the modern conveniences, they will see it’s much more user-friendly.”

Think the new Vespa is cool enough for your customers? Write to Scooterworks on dealership letterhead at 5709 N. Ravenswood Avenue, Dept. DN, Chicago, IL 60660, or FAX (773) 271-5012 for franchise information.

Scooters & mopeds: bringing new customers into your dealership

Motorcycle dealerships looking to venture into the scooter and moped market will find it a sound investment. Manufacturers contend that the scooter and moped industry promises a stable market since these are affordable and easier to operate and maintain. Scooters and mopeds also offer lightweight, automatic transmission and reasonably priced transportation. Scooter and moped enthusiasts are also from a diverse market, comprising of the young and old as well as men and women.

Why should your dealership expand into the scooter and moped market? The same reason you stock any other product line, for profit! With a dealer margin as high as 75%, these vehicles can make the margins on some motorcycles look pitiful. Scooters and mopeds are also a great way to bring completely new and different customers into your dealership. These customers may not want a motorcycle at all, or perhaps want something “easy” before making the big purchase.

Mopeds

“Scooters and mopeds fill an important niche within the powersports industry,” says Mark Jurus of Baltimore Vespa & Lambretta. “Dealers can gain a lot by offering scooters. Customers will have more choices when they enter the dealership, and a scooter may be a stepping stone to a motorcycle. Also, dealers shouldn’t forget that scooterists need helmets, along with all the other motorcycle accessories. They require the same service as motorcycles and, most of all, they offer a bigger bottom line.”

American Jawa’s national sales manager Ray Campanile believes dealers benefit from scooters’ and mopeds’ low cost. “They are the least-expensive motorized, two-wheel fun customers can have,” he says. “Teenagers can get around without their parents’ cars, moms can make quick trips to the market, and senior citizens can store them on their RVs for traveling.”

Who Are These People?

As fun and practical vehicles, scooters and mopeds attract a variety of riders: teenagers, college students, the fashion-conscious, and retired people. According to industry experts, young professionals in urban areas tend to enjoy the styling of the older Italian scooters such as the Vespas or Lambrettas, while many nomadic people like mopeds because they are lightweight and small enough to be hauled off in their RVs to be used around campsites. Basically, riders are anyone “looking for inexpensive, dependable transportation with snazzy styling thrown in for good measure,” according to American Honda’s Gary Christopher.

“A large growth section of this market are young people aged 18-25 who relate these scooters to current music and fashion trends,” according to Darren Lenkorn of Performance Scooters in Quebec, Canada. “The product is also ideal as a starter for these hip, young masses who will eventually outgrow these trends and want to graduate to a more powerful motorcycle.”

The Current Market

Scooters and mopeds currently account for two percent of the total powersports market in North America. Total reported sales for 1996 were just over 12,000 units, slipping 13% from 1995 (DJ Brown Composite Index, March 1997). These sales figures, however, may not be an accurate reflection of the market’s true status, since most scooter and moped manufacturers do not report wholesale figures to the Motorcycle Industry Council. Because the registration process for mopeds and scooters differs in many states from motorcycles, they are not included in Polk Report registration records, either.

current market

These relatively small numbers are certainly not indicative of the world market. In Europe, especially in Italy, sales paint an entirely different picture. Italy’s 1996 moped export sales increased by 37.13% over the previous year’s figures, while motorcycle sales decreased. Every second scooter in Europe is now Italian, according to the Italian Trade show promoter, EICMA. The Italian industry leader, Piaggio, produces 300,000+ units a year, followed by Aprilia’s 200,000+ and Malaguti’s 100,000 (not to mention the volume done by ItalJet). That’s a lot of scooters!

Strength in the European market is beginning to translate into an American market presence. This year, Italian scooters have been featured in both Time and Vogue as one of the up-and-coming trends that will be impacting the US market over the next few years.

Peddlin’ Mopeds

Mopeds are also making a move on the market. According to Impuls International’s Doug Mahan, mopeds can be a safe alternative to motorcycles for teenagers who are too young to drive or whose parents are too scared to let their children ride motorcycles (or simply don’t want to shell out the money). “Kids can ride them home from practice so their mothers don’t have to take off work,” he says.

Veteran dealer Matt Hall, owner of Speede Service, liked the line so much, he became the Midwestern rep for Tomos Products. Hall notes that one draw of Tomos’ mopeds is the larger 16-inch to 20-inch wheel. “When the wheel’s bigger, you just bump into something and go on.” He does admit, however, that not even a moped is completely safe. “Theoretically speaking, you can kill yourself or someone else, especially if they walk out in front of you, same as with any vehicle.” But speeding around at 30 mph still sounds safe to most, and with gas mileage of about 100 miles/gallon, it’s cheap, too.

Tomos claims they are the United States’ leading importer of mopeds. The company has been selling mopeds in this country for more than 20 years. The dealer margin for Tomos is 25%, and the prices have been kept low because, as Hall puts it, the Japanese products are “out of line with their prices, even with their high quality.”

Phil Chastain of Tomos stresses the point even further by saying. “It is important to remember to keep the quality high, or risk losing an already small crowd.”

Doug Mahan of Impuls agrees that Japanese models have become too costly for customers who want inexpensive transportation. “People ride mopeds because they need to,” he says. Founded two years ago, Impuls International is already predicting sales of 4,000 mopeds in 1997 (up 30% from 1996). Impuls imports and distributes mopeds with a profit margin of 30% to 40%. Impuls’ two-wheelers are based on a Japanese design, but manufactured in Japanese-built factories in China to keep costs down.

Mahan believes the moped market will always exist because of people who don’t want the hassle of licensing, tags, registration and helmets. But he stresses that the scooter market should be redefined. “European scooters are wonderful products but are for customers looking more for style than price or quality.” However, even with this view, Impuls will bring in a limited quantity of 125cc scooters later in 1997 to test the market.

Speedin’ Up

For some people, mopeds just aren’t fast enough, “If I lived in a resort area or a small community, I’d go for something small like ItaIJet’s 50cc Velocifero,” says Jurus. “I prefer the 125cc to 150cc scooters, myself, for the speed.” So why don’t these scooterists go ahead and buy motorcycles? Some scooterists do own motorcycles, but many would never touch a motorcycle, due to the pejorative connotations that often come with the motorcycling subculture. Selling scooters can help you tap into this group of buyers.

Before and after speeding up

“Most of the scooterists I meet are into style and fashion, going to rallies, that sort of thing. In Baltimore, there seems to be a lot of scooterists in the more artistic professions, such as graphic design, writing, music. People who love fashion are into it, and they can fix the scooters up to suit their own tastes,” Jurus claims.

Another scooter manufacturer enjoying success in the US is Kasea Motorsports. “From teenagers to adults, it offers a lightweight, automatic transmission and reasonably priced transportation,” says Steve Leighty at Kasea. Couple the economical price with pure fun, and scooters make for a popular product. In fact, currently more than 770 dealers take advantage of the added profits that Kasea scooters bring in.

Kasea scooters offer a strong 36% margin, with new two-up and electric-start models now available for 1997. “The RV crowd and college kids are good markets – but don’t limit yourself,” says Leighty. “Scooters are for anyone on a budget.”

Honda agrees that dealers need to focus on the differences between customers. “Honda Helix customers are usually in their late 40s and often tour the country on their machines,” says Gary Christopher. “But the same scooter sells to commuters. They find the scooters are easy to operate and park, economical and have enough performance features to handle the traffic.

He goes on to say that the majority of the younger buyers are “generation Xers” looking for economical and fun transportation. Mopeds or scooters are usually their only vehicle.

Even with the apparently depressed state of the US scooter market, Yamaha also is paying attention to this niche and has re-introduced their 50cc Zuma II. “The Zuma II is Yamaha’s most fun scooter, namely because it has bigger tires, dual headlights and carries two riders comfortably,” says Bob Starr, the national communications manager for Yamaha’s Motorsports Group.

“Hondas and Yamahas may be indestructible,” Jurus concedes. “But for an older person, that quality is not necessary and a motorcycle is too heavy. The light weight and the styling of scooters makes them perceived as less of a dangerous or exclusively male vehicle, and women can get dressed-up on the Step-Thrus. They are comfortable to drive and easy to park – I park right on the sidewalk, even though I’m not supposed to,” says Jurus.

For low-income customers, financing is still a key factor in completing the deal. “When I bought my first scooter, I actually wanted a Honda CBR600. But I had no credit,” says Jurus. “Then alongside another shop I saw a P200 all chromed-out with a tigerskin cover over the spare tire and hey, it had a whole heck of a lot more personality than the OBR600. My insurance costs half of the insurance for my classic BMW motorcycle. And now, six years later, it’s turned into a real love affair. I’ve become so focused on setting up my business, I think I’ve lost a few girlfriends along the way!”

The Next Harleys?

Many customers who purchase classic Lambrettas and Vespas are interested in personalizing them with accessories, custom paintwork and chrome. “It is similar to what Harley enthusiasts do when they personalize their bikes,” says Lenkorn.

Vespa brand“The Vespas hold a lot of nostalgia for the older rider, many of whom always wanted one as a child but never could buy one,” says Jurus. “This feeling can cross over into the younger crowd by creating a feeling for them like Harley has created. It becomes a lifestyle, the thing to have.

“Restoration is the way to go because the newer models’ prices are too high,” adds Jurus. For refurbished/renovated models, the price range is largely dependent on the amount of work put into the models. A completely restored Vespa or Lambretta can sell from $3,500 to $4,500, which can draw a more affluent crowd. A younger customer may decide to go ahead and buy a $100-$200 scooter and fix it up himself. From fixer-uppers to totally refurbished scooters, Jurus claims his profit is between $200 and $1,000 per scooter.

Vespas may get all of the restoration market’s attention, however, Performance Scooters has initiated a plan with Lambretta to import the new models into the North American market this year. Scooter-works USA has also initiated a project with Piaggio to re-establish the market for new Vespa models.

Philip McCaleb of Scooterworks says, “Many new product ideas and strategies for re-introducing scooters into the potentially large US market are now under consideration. We are getting new marketing people combined with an impressive post-sale program that will keep the customer coming back.”

Practically Selling Fun

Advertising is a key ingredient for successful scooter sales. For example, in college towns and in states favoring easy licensing and insurance policies, scooters are perfect vehicles for dealerships to increase their bottom line.

American Jawa’s Ray Campanile points out that every state is different when it comes to sales figures for scooters and mopeds. “Some states are more relaxed with their licensing requirements. East Coast states have been more lenient and allow minors to operate mopeds without any required driving tests. This makes them an easy sale for parents,” Campanile explains. And as Matt Hall points out, in some states, like Indiana, drivers who have lost their licenses due to drunk driving violations can still operate mopeds.

Gary Christopher of American Honda also believes that scooters represent a “non-traditional” market compared to motorcycles and therefore demand a different marketing approach. “This segment needs special promotions and advertising – outside normal enthusiast channels,” he points out. Christopher says simply placing scooters in the showroom by themselves does not equate to extra sales. “Dealers need special displays to spotlight scooters and to promote them to specific scooter buyers.”

Scoot Into Another World

Scooters and mopeds will continue to attract a relatively small, but devoted group of buyers. Once you decide to enter the scooter and moped market, any of the people on the following list will be happy to help you keep those scooter and moped nuts from bolting from your dealership without first increasing your bottom line.