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‘Scooter therapy’

Staff Writer

In a famous scene from the 1950s romantic comedy “Roman Holiday,” Gregory Peck, playing an American journalist, takes Audrey Hepburn, the runaway princess, on a tour of Rome on a motorscooter.

More than half a century later, scooters still hold their appeal – particularly now because gasoline prices are so high and they get great mileage.

It helps that they’re fun to drive on the backroads of Nevada County.

Meanwhile, prices at the pump have slipped a bit for the first time since oil began its upward zoom, and the national average for a gallon of regular last week dropped to about $4 – the first time it’s been that low in seven weeks.

Oil fell last week to about $123 a barrel for September deliveries of light, sweet crude, down from a high in early July of $147, the Associated Press reported.

Local prices are dropping a bit, approaching $4.30 a gallon for regular, but it’s still a lot to pay. Recently, a group of motorbike enthusiasts formed a club in Grass Valley called Sierra Scootz.

Members convene once a month at the First Baptist Church on Ridge Road for a club meeting and once a week at the parking lot of Sierra Motor Sports on Nevada City Highway for a group ride, said club member Bill Braden.

“It was gas prices” that prompted Braden, a Grass Valley resident, to buy his silver-colored 1985 Honda Elite 150 in May last year, he said.

“This is the ideal place to ride scooters because we don’t have the wide boulevards like those in big cities,” Braden, 53, said. “I don’t think I’d feel safe riding a scooter in Los Angeles, Sacramento or the Bay Area, where you can get swallowed up in the traffic.”

Bill Braden’s wife, Debbie Braden, 52, owns a white 1987 Honda Elite 150.

“We primarily go to and from work on our scooters,” Bill Braden said. “My work place is nearby, but Debbie does her shopping and a lot of errands with her scooter. She rides about quite a bit.”

The Bradens get about 70 to 75 miles to the gallon, Bill Braden said.

“Scooters give terrific mileage, they pollute less and don’t use as much resources,” Bill Braden said. “We really had never considered buying one until we got sick of the gas prices.”

Dennise and Terry Stackhouse of Alta Sierra, however, bought scooters purely for fun. The couple got hooked on them after riding them during a holiday in Canada three years ago, Terry Stackhouse, 51, said.

“It was a blast – with the wind on my face, driving along the ocean with my family,” Terry Stackhouse said. “I didn’t grow up riding motorcycles, so it was like finally being on one. We drove our scooters until the last minute of our 24 hours” rental time.

Terry Stackhouse owns a red 2005 Twist-N-Go Verona that gives him 80 miles per gallon, he said. His wife gets about 90 miles per gallon from her black-and-white 2004 Honda Metropolitan, he added.

“I love riding it, as it’s exhilarating,” Dennise Stackhouse said. “I call it scooter therapy.”

Larry Click of Grass Valley, who founded Sierra Scootz, commutes to his work in Rocklin every day on his maroon 2007 Vespa GTS 250.

“You don’t have to shift gears and can sit with your feet on the floor instead of straddling,” Click, 52 said. “I also get 72 miles to a gallon, so I laugh at the Toyota Prius, which gives around 45.”

“In the last several months, we’ve seen a surge in the sale of scooters,” said Sue Johnson, co-owner of Sierra Motor Sports. “It’s got to do with the gas prices. Scooters are also very eco-friendly. They have low emissions.”

A small scooter can’t be driven on the freeway and it can also take time going up a steep hill. But in general, safety is not a problem, riders said.

“What makes me feel more safe is that I see other scooters nowadays,” Dennise Stackhouse said. “The more people ride scooters, the more visible we’ll become to cars.”

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail ssen@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

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