Friday, May 30, 2008

At least a dozen old black-framed motorcycles from the 1970s and early 1980s sit in a row in the repair shop of Connecticut Custom Cycles on South Main Street in Beacon Falls. They are not there to be turned into chromed-up and tricked-out show bikes that artist Sean Lezotte is accustomed to working with in his industrial loft with an airbrush and a stencil kit. They are being restored for road use by men and women who have had them in storage for yea[cruiser_bike.jpg]rs in garages and basements. Why? To offset Connecticut's predicament of having the highest gasoline prices in the United States.

"Most of them are just old bikes," Lezotte said. "They're not making them pretty. They're just making them functional and running. Some mechanical restoration and a little paint and they're on their way." It can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500 to get an old bike up and running, said Scott Doane, who runs the mechanical end of the business at the shop. "It depends on how well it's been taken care of and how long it's been stored," Doane said. The price of cleaning up an old bike and getting it on the road is modest in comparison with the money Connecticut residents are shelling out to fill their cars, trucks and SUVs with gasoline.

Harley — taking a huge slice off the couple's fuel budget. The idea is to use the bike on sunny days and the car when the weather is bad, saving a lot of money on gasoline, said Lou Bailey, of Trumbull, who had work done on his old bike. "Some of the guys I work with are doing the same thing," said Bailey, who works for the Southern Connecticut Gas Co. A look at the number of motorcycles registered in Connecticut is further evidence. The state Department of Motor Vehicles reported that registrations this May stand at 79,129, up 5.6 percent from 74,935 a year ago. When the comparison is made with the period five years ago, when gasoline cost $1.63 a gallon, it is remarkable: up 35 percent from 58,646 in 2003.

Motorcycle dealer Rick Erickson, of RER Motorcity in Monroe, has been in business for decades, and has seen a lot of gasoline price fluctuations, but believes this time the high prices are here to stay. "I don't think it's ever going back to cheap gas," Erickson said in his repair shop, where some old bikes were being restored for daily use. He has been to Europe, where it is not unusual to see gasoline sell for $10 a gallon, and believes that's happening here. "I think we're going to take a lesson from Europe," Erickson said. Options aside from motorcycles or motor scooters include hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles. Riding a bicycle is a good option for those who live near their workplace. A motorcycle can easily get 50 or 60. Older motorcycles also do not require a lot of insurance, which makes for additional savings. "I pay maybe $200 a year for bike insurance," Bailey said.

A motorcycle requires a special license and training, but a scooter, if its engine is smaller than 50 cubic centimeters, does not. "The trouble is getting [scooters]. They are so popular they're hard to get," he said. The trend in putting old bikes back on the road is also a do-it-yourself phenomenon, as homespun mechanics put their old bikes back into shape. "We sell parts on eBay and we're getting more money for parts now," Erickson said. Old motorcycles never looked so appealing.

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