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Thursday, Aug 11, 2022
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’60s Trip

As gas prices climb ever higher, fuel-efficient scooters are increasingly becoming viable and popular alternatives to costly cars.

The rides, a common site on European streets, are even turning heads in an unexpected place: the insular world of Harley-Davidson bikers.

Glenn Alan Bartels, whose family has had a Harley-Davidson dealership for three decades, is one of the latest converts. After spending much of his life among gas-hogging 1500cc cruisers, he opened a Marina del Rey scooter shop this year.

The rides are inexpensive, convenient and create less exhaust than either a Harley or a car. But the popularity of scooters is directly related to the cost of filling up the tank.

“I’m selling like 10 a week and the No. 1 reason is gas prices,” said Bartels, president of Route 66 Modern Classics. “These scooters get 100 miles to the gallon.”

As of last week, the average price of a gallon of gas in Los Angeles was $4.61 a whopping 39 percent increase from the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, scooter sales were up 24 percent in the first quarter of 2008, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, an industry trade group,

Bartels opened Route 66 Modern Classics, which sells Vespa-style vehicles made by Chicago-based Genuine Scooter Co., in January, just before the most recent run-up in gas prices.

Indeed, the scooter store was an unexpected move for the lifelong Harley-Davidson rider. Bartels worked for the family business for years, and in 1994 he decided to split off and form his own company.

He took his five personal motorcycles and opened a Harley-Davidson rental company called Route 66 Riders, which appealed primarily to international tourists. The company now offers 150 bikes and has annual revenues of about $1.5 million.

Bartels had not paid much attention to scooters until he traveled to Europe around 2000 and saw them everywhere. That prompted him to buy several vintage models for his personal use. Over the same period, customers increasingly inquired about purchasing scooters through his business.

“People kept coming in the door wanting scooters but the light bulb didn’t go on for a while,” he said. Once it did, though, the company took off. In just six months, Bartels said his operation has grown considerably and he expects to sell about $500,000 in scooters this year.

The store sells models that retail between $1,999 and $3,100, and offers customization and maintenance services. The scooters are attractive to hobbyists, but the gas-saving benefits could keep the vehicles popular among everyday drivers.

“I’m in the scooter business, and it’s here to stay because the gas prices are not going away,” he said.

What’s more, the iconic rides are becoming increasingly trendy, appealing even to celebrities. Bartels said he was recently out cruising on his vintage 1959 Vespa GS 150 when it caught the eye of a top Hollywood actor.

“Orlando Bloom wanted to buy the scooter I was riding,” Bartels said. “I put a lot of time and energy into customizing it and I didn’t want to sell it. It’s a pretty rare Vespa, considered the hot rod of its time.”

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