Bad motor scooters

A primer for the increasing number of Sacramentans turning toward two-wheeled motorized transport

Illustration by Robert Armstrong

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Two wheels are better than four. I’m far from the only Sacramentan to subscribe to this philosophy, and now that we’ve reached the tipping point for gasoline prices, an increasing number of local men and women are making the switch from automobiles to motorcycles and scooters.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the creed.

What exactly is driving gas prices to Uranus will be discussed below, but first, as a 30-year veteran of the motorcycling scene, I’d like to offer you newbies an introduction to two-wheeled etiquette as well as a few helpful tips for navigating in an overtly hostile environment.

You meet the nicest people on a Honda—or on an Aprilia, BMW, Ducati, Hyosung, Kawasaki, Piaggio, Suzuki, Yamaha or Vespa, for that matter. You’ll know this because riders of these brands will often wave as they pass heading in the opposite direction. Wave back, it feels good. A caveat: Since passage of the Patriot Act in 2001, Harley-Davidson riders are prohibited from waving to riders on foreign-made machines. You’re either with us or against us. Don’t take it personally.

When you see a fellow two-wheeler stranded on the roadside, you stop, even if it means being late to work and losing your job. Besides, let’s face it: Your job isn’t going to last very much longer anyway, not in this economy.

Choosing the right vehicle for you is a matter of both practical and aesthetic considerations. If you’re going to be doing a lot of freeway driving, you’ll need a scooter with a 250-cc engine or above, and even then, the 10-inch to 12-inch diameter wheels don’t exactly inspire confidence at speeds exceeding 70 mph. Get a motorcycle. On the other hand, downtown residents can choose anything from the 123 miles per gallon Yamaha Zuma, with its diminutive 50-cc power plant, to a 1200-cc Harley-Davidson Sportster, which gets 45 mpg in town. As for looks, imagine what you want people seeing you on, and get it. No matter what, you’ll be kicking the crap out of most of the cars on the road when it comes to gas mileage.

After you buy, a riding course approved by the California Motorcyclist Safety Program is highly recommended. Once you’re trained and properly licensed, you’ll need to be aware of a few things they probably didn’t teach you in class.

No. 1: Automobiles are your enemy. Stay away from them. Use your superior maneuverability to cut through the traffic. According to the California Highway Patrol, “Lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.” And listen up, car-driving cretins: Trying to “door” a motorcyclist because you’re sitting in traffic and he’s not is known as “attempted premeditated murder,” as is using a cell phone without a hands-free device.

No. 2: If you value your skull, purchase a Snell Memorial Foundation-approved full-face helmet. A wide range of body protective gear is also available. If you really want to look like an asshole, wear shorts on your sport bike.

No. 3: Ride within your limits. Don’t be dragging your knees in the corners just because you saw five-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi do it on TV. By the way, if you’d like to see Rossi and the rest of the MotoGP stars in action, tickets are still available for the July 20 race at Laguna Seca. I’ll be there, and no doubt there’ll be a heavy Sacramento contingent on hand.

Once again, welcome to the two-wheeled universe. With gasoline prices nearing $5 per gallon with no end in sight, you’ve obviously made the right decision.

As to what’s driving the increase in oil and gas prices, opinions are mixed. Some say that peak oil—the concept that we’ve used half of the petroleum resources in the ground and face ever-rising prices because demand outstrips supply—is upon us, or will be within the next decade or so. Still others point to instability in the oil-rich Middle East, caused by You-Know-Who. In the short term, it’s growing increasingly clear that the dramatic rise in prices in the past year has been due to rampant speculation in the commodities market.

No doubt all three factors are working together to drive up prices and cast a dark shadow over the global economy. It’s definitely a cause of concern for everyone, but those of us on two wheels can afford to worry a little bit less.