What to do when high gas prices turn your Dream Cruise into a nightmare

To some, the Woodward Dream Cruise is a heavenly celebration of America's love affair with the automobile. Just driving down Woodward these last few days has made people feel like the cars they're driving are a little bit cooler, the music they're cranking is a little bit better and the style they're sporting is a little more kickin'. For others, however, the Cruise and the gasoline consumption inherent therein is a wanton abuse of natural resources and a gluttonous disrespect for the atmosphere.

Could it be that Dream Cruising and Green Living are mutually-exclusive? Read on after the jump to find out.

Possibly not. Tucked away among the rumbling muscle cars, beastly choppers and boat-like sedans that overwhelmed 9-mile Road in Ferndale on Saturday, Jeff Buttrell happily answered questions from passers-by who were eyeing the Vespa scooters sitting beneath the awning of his company's trailer. The European-designed modes of transport looked out of place surrounded by an environment oozing with so much Americana -- like stuffy French artists drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in a crowd of beer-guzzling NASCAR fans. But the point is that the Vespas were there, and people were interested.

With rising gas prices, Buttrell, who owns Detroit Eurocycles in Eastpointe, Mich., says that his business is certainly increasing. While some might think it strange to be hawking gas-sipping scooters to muscle-car enthusiasts, Buttrell might not be too far off the mark.

"These guys with their muscle cars obviously aren't in it for the gas mileage," Buttrell remarked, "but I have had several cruisers come in here and say it would be nice not to have to drive around at 12 and 13 miles per gallon."

While it might be unlikely that your muscle car enthusiast will give up his '69 Fastback for a Vespa scooter, there are certainly folks out there choosing the Vespa over other modes of transportation.

The fact that scooters get 60-80 miles per gallon has not gone unnoticed -- scooter sales have doubled since 2000 and are up 19.7 percent over last year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Gas prices can't take all the credit for Detroit Eurocycles' increasing sales, however.

"Some of it is just due to the fact that scooters are growing in popularity," said Buttrell. "It's a lifestyle thing."

In fact, one of Buttrell's customers will participate in the Cannonball Run, a 3,293 mile endurance race for scooter riders. The race begins in Pacific City, Oregon on September 10 and ends in Orange, New Jersey nine days later. The primary route runs along highway 20/26, the original Oregon Trail, and has become something of a holy journey for scooter owners.

As their popularity has grown, scooters have also become more rider-friendly. Whereas in their early days most scooters had manual transmissions, now Buttrell's Vespas have continuously-variable transmissions (CVTs) much like the ones coming out as options on vehicles such as the Dodge Caliber and various Nissans. Electric starters have also made their way into the technological innovations offered by modern scooters, doing away with the traditional kick starter and improving ease of operation.

The 50 cc Vespa LX 50 Buttrell has on sale can be registered as a moped, which does not require a motorcycle license or insurance, and it can be picked up for a pocketbook-friendly $3,299.

The other Vespas sitting on 9-mile were also fairly cost-effective, with the next model up from the LX 50, the LX 150, coming in at $4,199. The model line tops out with the GTS 250 IE, which sports a 250 cc motor, 12-inch wheels, a top speed of 75 mph, and a price tag of $5,799. Vespa also offers up a retro-style scooter, the PX 150, a cult-status favorite that has been reintroduced after a 20-year break. The classic scooter offers up traditional four-speed manual transmission and goes for $4,199. Buttrell says that the LX series represents his best-selling line -- no doubt due to their cost-effective pricing and fuel-sipping nature.

No lifestyle choice would be complete without accessories. Buttrell's Vespa accessory offerings include retro-style helmets, custom seats, aluminum handles and chrome kits. Vespa also has a full line of apparel, including riding jackets and pants to complete the look.

In addition to the Vespas Buttrell brought to the Cruise, Detroit Eurocycles sells a number of other scooters, off-road bikes and motorcylces, including brands such as Piaggio, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, KTM and Bajaj, as well as a number of pre-owned offerings.

Muscle cars? Not exactly, but certainly Dream Cruise-worthy.

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