A different kind of ride

Professor Scott Talan is used to getting stared at on the street when he cruises through the District.

Talan, an adjunct communications professor, relies on his red, motorized Peoples scooter – named Wineberry – as his sole means of transportation in the city, making the trek from his place in Dupont Circle to GW’s campus a few days a week when he teaches his public relations or public speaking courses.

Talan, 43, has lived in several different states throughout his lifetime because he was a reporter. For most of the time, he’s had two cars – a classic 2002 BMW and an old jeep. He sold them both a year and a half ago when he first moved to D.C. because he didn’t want to pay for their upkeep.

“To get around on a scooter is a fraction of the cost,” he said.

And that’s when he picked out his scooter – he said he liked the Peoples-brand scooters from Taiwan because they have bigger wheels and more of an “old-school design” than some of the other scooters. He said he used to have a Vespa, but now they’ve raised their prices because of their popularity.

Out of the six states Talan has lived in – California, New Mexico, Florida, Boston, New York and D.C. – every one has a different scooter climate. Los Angeles has a lot of freeways, New York has too-insane traffic, but Washington, D.C. is the ultimate “scooter-friendly town,” he said, because the city is flat and there are not too many big, busy streets here.

But Talan, despite his love for scooter riding, said there was a time he wouldn’t use one because he thought it would cramp his image. When he lived in California, he was the mayor of Lafayette, a Bay Area town. “Mayors don’t ride scooters,” he said.

But part of Talan’s decision to scoot in D.C. instead of drive is also convenience. Talan said with a scooter he can U-turn wherever he wants or park anywhere there is a pole to lock up his scooter. It costs $3 or $4 to fill up the entire gas tank, and that lasts him three weeks to a month. He also saves on insurance, which is much less than what it would be with a car.

“It’s just so easy to be spontaneous,” he said.

And the view compared to other cities, he said, is outstanding.

“I’ve seen parts of the city I never would have the way you see things in a car,” he said. “Like Mass Ave. – driving down that street, the embassies look so beautiful.”

Talan said he’s never been in a city where scooter riding is so common – from senior citizens to men in suits to delivery people, he sees others on scooters all the time, and he is never too shy to strike up a conversation with them.

But why a scooter and not a motorcycle? Talan said a motorcycle is “too much power, too much acceleration, too much danger.” His scooter doesn’t go faster than 50 miles per hour and he isn’t permitted to drive on freeways or highways with it and can’t travel long distances.

His motto – riding a scooter is “fun and functional,” but most of all, it’s exhilarating, he said. “Part of it is the wind – I mean it doesn’t blow through my hair, but you are exposed to the wind passing by you, and you feel so alive.”

But one of the more dangerous aspects of scooter riding is safety. Talan said that in D.C. taxi drivers have a tendency to drift and take up two lanes, making him vulnerable to getting hit.

“If it turns out I end up at the same stop sign when that happens, I will communicate with them what I feel they were doing improperly,” Talan said. “I want them to know there’s other people on the road not in cars.”

Other safety issues with scooter riding are that there are no seatbelts, no airbags and nothing to protect you if you get hit. To combat that, Talan said he is always extra careful and is constantly scanning the horizon for potential safety issues.

“People are distracted – bad drivers, disturbed by their kids, on cell phones, in a rush because they’re late for work,” he said. “I do preventative driving.” He added that he always wears a helmet.

But there are some downfalls to scooter riding. He said weather can prevent him from scooting around the city because he won’t ride in the rain, and you do have to take the time to lock it up every time you stop somewhere. It’s also tough to take out women when you get around on a scooter, Talan said.

“Going on dates is tough,” he said. “I would not surprise a lady by showing up on a scooter because she might wear a dress. You have to figure out the transportation in advance – use a taxi, Zip Car or her car. It’s not all fun in the sun.”

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