A two-wheeled renaissance in the Rome of the East
Inner-city Australia is getting an Italianate look, and it’s not from the overwhelming belief that eating on the footpath among exhaust fumes and bus queues is a badge of continental sophistication.
It’s the increasing presence of scooters. City centres are being Vespa-ised, Aprilia-cated, VMoto-ed, and not a little Piaggio-ified.
The striking response to rising petrol prices and clogged roads has been a growth in the scooter fleet which would be at home in Rome. During the first half of the year, scooters sales in Australia rose 14.3 per cent over the same period in 2010. That means nearly 6000 were sold, compared to just over 5000 in the first six months of last year.
It is part of the accelerating move to two motorised wheels which saw sales of motorcycles over all types rise by 3.1 per cent in the first half of the year. In fact, it is possible motorbike sales this year will come close to the peak of 114,000 reached in 2008.
The car industry would love that performance.
Those figures should be celebrated with some caution, because they come after two horror years in motorbike sales, and are lop-sided.
Much of the jump in sales came from purchases of all terrain vehicles (ATVs), which grew by about 30 per cent from 8165 to 10,544 units. An estimated 90 per cent of them would have been work vehicles on farms.
Sales on off-road bikes fell by 7.5 per cent and those of road bikes dropped by two per cent. The sector was saved by the ATVs and the scooters.
The scooter trend is obvious even without the sales figures.
Canberra in winter is not friendly to motorbike riders and usually the parking spaces set aside for them at Parliament House are empty after the temperature drops. This season they are often 75 per cent full, and most of the vehicles are scooters.
Accompanying the scooter boost is a solid preference among motorbike riders for the smaller machines. The best-selling bike was the Kawasaki Ninja 250R with 1093 sales, followed by Honda’s little CT110-, which mainly is sold to the Post Office.
“If you’ve got a short commute, or even a longer commute, to avoid the traffic snarls, to be able to park close to where you work—and probably it’s a damn sight cheaper,” said Rhys Griffiths of the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries, listing the virtues of travelling on a small unit.
“I don’t know what a car parking space is in Canberra but in the middle of Melbourne you’re looking at a significant saving by bringing your little motorcycle or scooter to work, parking it on the footpath outside your building for free, as opposed to parking your car in a high rise.’‘
Reports of more women taking up scooters is largely anecdotal, but consistent.
“The organisations that we tend to go through when looking to find where the trends are are the rider training organisations. And certainly the recent past has seen a small but significant increase in the percentage of women undertaking learner and licence training,” said Mr Griffiths.
It’s not just women, of course. A senior press gallery figure rides a scooter which has an engine so small that if it were transferred to the average lawn mower would not bother a blade of grass.
Men are more likely to go to the other extreme and but scooters so big and so tricked out they might as well be motorbikes and not step-throughs.
It’s women who go for the median products, and befit from the independence and economies they provide.
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