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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

Area motorcycle sales accelerate as gas prices turn drivers into riders

BY TED FACKLER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Terry Mitchell, right, readies a motorcycle class at Owens, where officials said sessions are booked until early September. Terry Mitchell, right, readies a motorcycle class at Owens, where officials said sessions are booked until early September.
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As fuel prices rise, it pays to be "bad to the bone."

Motorcycles typically get 50 to 70 miles to the gallon, and Toledo buyers apparently have noticed. Local bike sales have risen, and safety schools are full.

"When gas hit $4 a gallon, sales went up. The day it became $4, we sold six bikes," said Darin Finnen, sales manager at Toledo Harley Davidson on Central Avenue.

Sales of the entry-level 492cc Buell Blast model, costing $4,700, have doubled in the past year, he added. It gets 60 to 70 mpg.

"A lot of people are [buying] because of the price of gas. And we've taken in a lot of cars on trade too," he said.

Sales of motorcycles in the United States were 1.1 million in 2007, exceeding 1 million for the fifth straight year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

In Ohio, one of the five states with the highest per capita ridership, the sport is growing, said Peter Kline, site coordinator for the Ohio Transportation Safety Office's Motorcycle Ohio program.

In 2007, more than 277 classes were held, and 2,588 riders were trained by the state program; 12,090 riders were trained by private firms. Ohio had more than 321,357 registered bikes in 2006, the latest year for which figures are available, he added.

"Training has gone up. The demand has been there," said Mr. Kline, adding that an increase in the rider numbers has created a growing market for private firms' classes.

In Toledo, increased bike sales have boosted enrollment in safety schools.

Owens Community College's three-day, 16-hour licensing class trained 228 students in the past four months. Classes run through October, and the program is booked until early September, said program coordinator Rhonda Hogrefe.

"In the last class we had someone that was 71 years old, and we also had a 17-year-old," she said. "There are no age restrictions." The course costs $25 for adults and is free for minors.

The Toledo Harley Davidson classes also are filling up rapidly, said program manager Sue Lucas.

"There's been an increase in registration, and when I ask people why they became interested in riding, the answer I'm getting now - that I didn't get last year - is 'fuel costs,'•" she said. "They want to do something to beat the fuel costs."

Said Mr. Finnen, at the Harley dealership, many buyers are daily commuters who are tired of filling autos' gas tanks so often.

The Harley class, called Rider's Edge, costs $325 for a five-day, 27-hour licensing program. Harley also offers a monthly "skilled rider" class for $150.

"Classes are filling out more quickly and further out that in the past," said Mrs. Lucas, adding, "There's an increase in urgency."

Another rider school, the Lucas County Education Service Center Motorcycle Ohio program, is based in Oregon. It was unavailable for comment.

Contact Ted Fackler at:

tfackler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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