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It's hip to zip on an updated version of the venerable foot-powered scooter

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

By Ljubica Gojgic, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At the Sharper Image store Downtown, the high-tech purveyor of gizmos, this summer's best seller is the low-tech scooter. But it looks nothing like the classic toy you zipped around on as a kid.

Under a sign that says "Ride the Wild Razor" gleams the Razor Rollerboard Scooter, an aluminum 6-pound gadget that looks like a skateboard with handlebars. Though foot-powered scooters are big with young riders, they've become adult favorites, too.

No less than singing sensation Ricky Martin is among the two-wheel converts. During his visit here last month, members of his crew purchased several scooters from The Sharper Image, including one for the famous Puerto Rican entertainer. They liked them so much that they asked for more.

"The same day they called the shop asking for one scooter more, for the manager, I think. I went myself to deliver it. They introduced me to Ricky," says Eric Miner, assistant manager of the Downtown Sharper Image, who also remembers seeing some people riding Razor scooters backstage at the Mellon Arena.

Miner, 31, knows firsthand that riding a scooter is not just for kids. It's a great time-saver. He says he can zip around in his scooter at least three times faster than he can walk.

"I flew down this hill today," he says, describing his 10 mph morning ride into town that had bystanders staring.

"It is light and yet strong, easy to drive both on the streets and on sidewalks, easy to carry around because you can fold it and put it in your bag. And it is cheap," he says.

The Razor sells for $99.95 at The Sharper Image. Other makes, like Z Scooter and Bullet Scooter, are available here for up to $139.

After taking Japan and Germany by storm, scooter-mania is zipping through the United States, and not just for the foot-powered models. Nationwide, the new breed of scooter rider includes everyone from Wall Street businessmen who use them to squeeze through rush hour traffic to college students to little boys in baggy pants.

Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey was recently spotted riding an electric scooter on the streets of New York. The electric or gas-powered versions, with names like Mosquito, Zappy and Go-Ped, sell for $600 or more.

You won't find any electric or gas-powered models at Sharper Image or ShadySkates on Penn Avenue in Point Breeze.

"That does not match with the idea of our shop," said ShadySkates salesman Dan Eger, 23.

"We like speed, but we sell no engines here."

Owner Rob Pell wasn't sure any type of scooter would sell.

"I wasn't interested in getting them, but my friends made me order the first two. They were sold in two days. Then I ordered another four and they were gone soon. Then I ordered 10 and that is how it started," he said.

ShadySkates, which shares an indoor practice course with other surrounding recreational businesses, sells the Z Scooter and Bullet Scooter for $129 and $139, respectively.

Eger says he often uses a scooter when visiting friends or shopping in the neighborhood.

"They are perfect when you are too lazy to walk and yet when it is to close to drive," he says.

ShadySkates and Sharper Image are expecting some newer models soon. In August, Sharper Image will get two new ones to further tempt speed lovers.

The first one, Xootr Street Scooter is being advertised as "a serious, nearly indestructible street scooter" with hand brakes and "ultra-low rolling-resistance" tires. It will sell for $389.95. Xootr Cruz Scooter, created by the engineers of race cars, will have a frame made of aluminum and Baltic birch. It will retail at $269.95.

In Pittsburgh, scooters haven't caught on as a yuppie phenomenon -- at least not yet.

"I would say that the scooters we sell mostly go to children between 6 and 16," Miner at Sharper Image says.

"It is true Pittsburghers are a bit slow, slightly behind the time. But in a year or two, I can easily see the local yuppies riding them in Downtown area," Miner says.

Maybe it's already started. A few days ago, a women bought a scooter at Sharper Image for her husband in his late 30s.

Italian native Roberta Galletti, a local medical student, recently purchased a scooter for her 7-year-old brother. She liked Razor's "techie" aluminum look and its colorful, translucent wheels.

"I saw them in California. They were all over the place. I'll take it to Milan because the one you can find there is not as good-looking as this is," she said.

For Aaron Frankel, a 14 year-old who zips around ShadySkates' practice course, a scooter is the ideal combination of a skateboard and a bike. This teenager is passionate about things on wheels.

"My mother always yells that I am going to break it because I grind as if I was on a skateboard," he says.

"It is different. I don't care if some people say it is for small kids. I think it is fun."

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