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LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. - Even though he's facing double hip replacement surgery, Bill Smith is more than happy to struggle out the door each morning, limp past his brand new P.T. Cruiser and grimace as he hops aboard his Honda motorcycle. Then he's all smiles. With the price of a gallon of gasoline so high and no hint of an impending drop, commuting to work on two wheels has never made him happier.

"I'm very conscious of gas prices, and I make every effort to ride my motorcycle to work rather than use my car," said Smith, a 58-year-old banker who works in nearby Glens Falls and has logged more than 73,000 miles on his 8-year-old motorcycle. "I can save a lot of gas."

These days, Smith has a lot more company than when he first began riding in the 1960s. The U.S. motorcycle industry, spurred by the impressive success of Harley-Davidson, has grown steadily in each of the last 11 years, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

This year, it's booming.

"Sales are at an all-time-record high, all brands, all styles," said John Wyckoff, a longtime industry consultant who regularly calls 60 dealers a week and says all are running 10 to 50 percent ahead of last year in sales. "It just took off like a flying goose.

"I've been in the business all my life and I keep as close as I can to it," Wyckoff said. "It's a phenomenon I don't really understand. It's just amazing."

According to MIC, a not-for-profit national trade association based in California, sales of new motorcycles rose 6.4 percent to 996,000 in 2003. Overall, the association's latest estimates show the industry generating more than $20 billion in consumer sales and services, including around $7.5 billion in retail sales of new motorcycles.

"This is a generation that refuses to age. That's at the core of this. I'm not an old man or woman and here's the proof," said Chick Hancock, a Harley-Davidson dealer in Albuquerque, N.M., who initially feared an oversupply when Harley announced it would increase production 8 percent this year. "Even with horrendous weather in the East, things are looking good."

Even for motorcycles that haven't been ridden in a while.

"The resale value is going up in the used-bike market, and a lot of people are aware of that," said Frank Wal, who works at trade shows for BMW. "People are looking for cheap transportation, fuel economy, that type of thing. You're seeing a lot more motorcycles being sold that probably sat in the garage the last two or three years. It's putting a lot more bikes on the road."

And in the repair shop.

"We have seen quite a few bikes being pulled out of garages and repaired," said John Tilton, who has operated a motorcycle repair shop for 28 years in Syracuse. "We've been running two to three weeks behind in major repairs."

Greg Warne, who works for a publisher in Orange County, Calif., has parked his Ford Expedition in favor of the newest Suzuki scooter he's testing on his 32-mile commute to work. And despite nagging fears — he always pauses for a cigarette to contemplate the most treacherous leg of his daily journey from Norco to Irvine — Warne plans to make the trip on two wheels a habit.

"It's been an eye-opener," said Warne, 54. "The money savings is considerable. Everybody I talk to, anybody that's commuting, is interested."

Warne figures between gas and taking toll-free roads, he can save more than $6,000 a year riding instead of driving, but it's not only a matter of money to him. With the more maneuverable scooter, he gets through traffic faster.

"I had no idea what getting an hour back five days a week would mean," Warne said. "I feel like I have a fuller life."

That's music to the ears of Andy Goldfine, who heads Ride to Work, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Duluth, Minn. Goldfine, whose motto "work to ride and ride to work" is a takeoff of Harley's "live to ride and ride to live" philosophy, has been trying for 13 years to get more people to commute on motorcycles because studies have shown that urban motorcyclists reach their destinations faster, park more easily, and consume less resources per mile than most cars.

"Motorcycling has a wonderful place in society. It helps make better people," Goldfine said. "It helps people socialize. You're on display all the time. The more you encapsulate people, the less they socialize."

According to U.S. Census figures, there are approximately 120 million commuters in this country, but only 158,000 of more than 6 million registered motorcycles are regularly ridden to work.

During the oil embargo of the early 1970s, high gas prices and shortages in the United States led to an increase in motorcycle sales as automobile drivers sought alternatives.

"Our travel habits, roads, and lifestyle are different than Europe, where motorcycles are a primary means of transportation," said Jon Seidel, spokesman for American Honda. "In the U.S., motorcycling is mainly a sport-recreation activity. If gas prices continue to rise, consumers will look to alternative means of transportation."

Seidel said Honda, which has manufacturing operations in Marysville, Ohio, and Timmonsville, S.C., has considered that scenario and is "confident that we are flexible enough in our manufacturing to respond to a big increase in demand."

Energy markets around the world face a number of constraints and threats that are likely to keep prices higher and more volatile in the year ahead.

"We're never going to become Europe, but if gas goes to five and a half bucks a gallon like it is in most every other country, the story's altogether different," said Bill Dutcher, who operates Americade, the largest motorcycle touring rally in the U.S. "People would then start using SUV's as their doghouse or their kids' playhouse and they all buy motorcycles."

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
and besides, driving to work isnt fun..riding to work once you get there its a different story either way.. :rolleyes:
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