from the Omaha World Herald:
Published Saturday May 24, 2008
Spike in gas prices gears up cycle sales
BY JONATHON BRADEN
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
• The growing price of gas
• The growing price of gas
P.J. Hartman of Omaha used to ride his motorcycles only on nice days or for leisure. It wasn't until recently — with the spike in gas prices — that Hartman has made it a point to ride them for the 20-mile commute to and from work.
"It just seems to make sense economically," said Hartman, 46. "It used to be if there was a chance of rain, then I would take the car, but that doesn't matter to me anymore."
Hartman, who has four motorcycles, fills up for about $15 per motorcycle, compared to the $40 he would spend to fill up his Volkswagen Passat. His motorcycles each get about 50 miles per gallon, 30 miles per gallon more than his Passat.
Hartman is one of thousands of people in Nebraska and Iowa who ride fuel-sipping motorcycles. As gas prices have risen, motorcycle registrations have climbed in both states.
In 1997, Nebraska had 18,441 registered motorcycles, according to figures from the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.
The number of registered motorcycles has increased by about 3,000 nearly every year since 1999.
By 2007, the number of motorcycles had more than doubled to 43,387.
Iowa has also seen an increase in motorcycle registration, according to figures from the Iowa Department of Transportation.
In 1997, Iowans registered 107,473 motorcycles. Last year, 153,273 motorcycles were registered in the state.
During that same time period, the average cost nationally of a gallon of gas jumped from $1.24 to $2.84, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. On Friday, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.85 in Nebraska and $3.82 in Iowa, according to AAA.
"It's all about gas prices," said administrator Betty Johnson of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.
Fred Zwonechek, Nebraska Office of Highway Safety administrator, said the state has also seen baby boomers with disposable income hit the road again after taking time off to raise their families.
Scott Falb, driver safety specialist with the Iowa Department of Transportation, also credited part of Iowa's increase to baby boomers back on the road.
Officials in both states attributed a small part of the increase to scooters. Generally speaking, large scooters such as Vespas must be registered as motorcycles.
Whatever the cause, Omaha motorcycle dealers have benefited. Ducati Omaha, at 3615 S. 149th St., has seen sales increase about 40 percent this year, and high gas prices are behind the majority of that growth, said Jarel Jensen, general manager and one of the owners of the store.
"With motorcycles, most people are not buying it for their primary mode of transportation," Jensen said. "With fuel prices being high, it gives them a convenient excuse to buy."
Ducati Omaha specializes in basic street motorcycles that people use for commuting and in-town riding, Jensen said. Ducati's most popular model, he said, averages around 50 miles per gallon.
Holstein's Harley-Davidson, at 7337 L St., has also seen steady business. "It's boomed this year. I think gas prices have helped," said sales manager Paul Lanning.
With the increase in motorcycles on the road, Iowa has seen its numbers of fatalities increase, though Nebraska's fatalities have declined.
In 2004, 37 motorcycle fatalities occurred in Iowa. Last year, the number reached 61. So far this year, Iowa has had 13 motorcycle deaths.
"And we got a late start. We didn't even start until April," Falb said, noting that the first motorcycle fatality in the state was April 4. "So the pace has been extraordinarily fast so far."
Falb said more inexperienced, older drivers riding heavier motorcycles have led to the increase in fatalities. "They're not as experienced as they think."
In Nebraska, 15 motorcycle fatalities occurred in 2007, continuing a downward trend that began after 2004 when 21 deaths occurred. So far in 2008, the number has reached five motorcycle deaths, Zwonechek said, up from one at this time last year.
Zwonechek said he hopes those looking to buy motorcycles learn how to safely maneuver them.
"We could have a lot of people that simply want to save on fuel," he said, "but don't take the time to properly learn to ride and operate those vehicles."
In order to ride motorcycles in both states, you must have a Class M license. In Nebraska, a helmet is required; Iowa doesn't require a helmet.
A Lincoln man died May 16 after being thrown from his motorcycle just north of Plattsmouth, Neb. The 48-year-old man did not have the motorcycle endorsement, according to the Cass County Sheriff's Office.
Hartman, who has lived in Omaha since 1985, has been in one motorcycle accident in his 31 years of riding. He advised motorcyclists to be more aware of gravel and water at intersections than they would be if traveling in a car.
"I would encourage people to ride if they have a motorcycle," Hartman said. "I think the more of us that are out there, the more the motoring public is aware that that's an option."