Eco-Friendly Transportation

During the past year, I have observed a sudden increase in the number of people using motorcycles and scooters. While on a trip to southern California recently, I actually observed hybrid vehicles on the highways, about one a day. (In past visits to California, I never observed hybrid vehicles, despite what I understood to be California’s progressive incentives for owning, driving, and parking low-emission vehicles. )

It seems that prices at the pump have finally overcome US energy subsidies to motivate people to choose more fuel-efficient vehicles. An instance of the free market working despite the government?

I am fortunate to have a very short commute, and I don’t drive a gas-guzzler (though some of them are really quite attractive), but when my gas bill hit $45 the other day, I started looking into alternatives.

I refuse to pay above sticker price for any new car, but one must apparently do so, to purchase one of these hybrid automobiles.

An acquaintance was selling her Kawasaki Ninja 250R. This is a smaller, newer version of the 1989 (?) EX500 I owned for a couple of years. I sold that and switched back to a car full-time for a number of convenience factors:

  • Maintenance. The motorcycle seemed to require a lot of routine maintenance. Newer models are comparable to cars, I have heard.
  • Storage. I couldn't carry much in the way of groceries or leave anything in it while it was parked. A couple of panniers would have gone a long way to mitigate this problem, I think.
  • Clothing. The helmet I could live with, but you really need a full set of leathers and boots for maximum safety at the speeds the EX500 was capable of (I hit 80 MPH once). Incompatible with the "business casual" of the workplace.

Scooters seem to have come into fashion here in the US. Indeed, young hipsters seem to prefer the retro Vespa designs that are at least thirty-five years old, and not the cheapest rides. But Piaggio, the owners of Vespa, have a number of cooler looking designs (in my opinion) as well. Not that I am not a young hipster, mind you. One with a smaller engine should be cheaper, more fuel efficient, and slow enough to be safe.

One option I consider very promising is the Sparrow. An attractive price point ($14,900), zero emissions, and recharges for 25-30 miles in 6-8 hours. The Sparrow is supposed to be sold Real Soon Now by the openly religious Myers Motors.

Another very promising option is the Honda Civic running on Compressed Natural Gas. Fuel it at home overnight!

The Ecomobile, based on a BMW motorcycle, is interesting, but very expensive.

Finally, Neiman Marcus will let you have a Skycar for only $3.5 million.

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Updated at: 1 October 2005 8:10 AM

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