Mopeding Around

Sales are up for these affordable motorized bikes

March, 2004

Robert Young has been riding around Oahu on a moped since 1979, convinced the more affordable means of transportation would someday take off. In 2001, this belief led him to open Bo Tek Moped, a small retail store in McCully that specializes in used and rebuilt mopeds. Business these days, Young says, has never been better.

With the rising costs of gasoline, insurance and parking, coupled with the ever-increasing traffic congestion on Hawaii’s roadways, the popularity of mopeds has risen in recent years. According to the city’s Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing, 11,963 mopeds were registered in 2003, up from 9,788 five years ago.

The retail space in Cycle Imports in McCully is like a candy store for moped enthusiasts. Its walls are filled with a variety of locks, shock absorbers, mirrors, rims, carburetors and gaskets. In the middle of the store stand eight shiny new mopeds by the Taiwan-based Standard Motor Corp. and Malguti from Italy. These are the last mopeds left, until the next shipment in two weeks. Moped sales at Cycle Imports have doubled every year since 2000.

“Business is booming,” says owner George Burmeister. “Last year, sales just rocketed.”

In 2003, he sold about 600 mopeds. He attributes the spike in popularity to the affordability of mopeds.

Retail shops sell both high- and low-end mopeds, ranging in price from an affordable $1,295 moped from Taiwan to a $4,000 Italian import. Hondas have traditionally been the most popular. Taiwan-made mopeds, however, have been gaining popularity since they hit stores in 2000, because of their cheaper price tags.

South Seas Honda Yamaha BMW on Nimitz Highway carries the largest inventory of Honda and Yamaha mopeds on the island, with more than 300 scooters in stock. Of its selection, however, the Kymco ZX-50, made in Taiwan, is its bestseller. At $1,799, it’s also South Seas’ cheapest model.

“[The popularity of mopeds] is price-driven,” says Mark Ely, general sales manager at South Seas, which sells about 250 mopeds a year. “When we can pass a discount onto the customer, that’s when we see a surge [in sales].”

The cost of mopeds has dropped since 2000, according to Cycle Import’s Burmeister. Back then, Hondas cost about $2,000. Today, they are priced from $1,600 to $1,800.

“When prices go down, sales go up,” Burmeister says. A substantial number of his customers are University of Hawaii-Manoa students. He buys radio ads and participates in orientation at the UH, at the beginning of its semesters, hoping to lure students on fixed incomes.

A transportation disruption can also affect moped sales. For example, the month-long city bus strike in September 2003 forced many riders to find alternative forms of transportation. Many of them flocked to moped shops, which lowered their prices to fuel the demand.

A moped’s price tag, however, is not its only attraction. Most models have one-gallon fuel tanks, able to hold enough gas to travel about 70 miles. A typical moped user will spend less than $10 on gas – substantially less than what those driving cars pay a month. And mopeds can be parked like bicycles or in motorcycle stalls, reducing the cost of pricey parking, especially in downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. In addition, maintenance for mopeds is cheaper than for cars. A standard tune-up, which should be done once a year, can cost anywhere from $30 to $60.

Well-built, well-maintained mopeds can last up to 40,000 miles, says Young, of Bo Tek Moped. “How long a moped lasts depends on you,” says Young. “You have to take care of it.” He has been riding his Honda Aero 50 for 18 years.

“Mopeds are cheap, man. That’s what we’re talking about here,” he adds. “I don’t see moped sales ever going down.”

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Catherine E. Toth