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High gas prices propel a new 'moped madness'

Scooters and mopeds see a rise in sales - and cachet - thanks in part to a youth energy ethic.

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How it happened, Devin Biek still isn't exactly sure.

Infatuation with an Italian Vespa scooter led this resident of Elkhart, Ind., to an ad on eBay, a trip to Iowa, and a triumphant return with a 1978 Rizzato Califfo moped that wouldn't start. After its carburetor was de-gummed, the creature roared to life in a puff of blue exhaust.

Four years later, Mr. Biek is still hooked. "Once you ride one, you have to have one," he says. "It's consumed my entire life, and I have no real explanation for it."

The moped and its bigger, flashier cousin, the scooter, are swarming out of Jimmy Carter's America and into George W. Bush's republic - a movement propelled by soaring gasoline prices surpassing those of the late 1970s and by legions of Americans who take seriously the call for oil independence. If the serious intent is mixed with a little fun from "moped gangs" who call themselves the Heck's Angels or the Hardly Davidsons, so much the merrier.

Though Gen-Xers and baby boomers are among those flinging a leg over these two-wheelers, the vehicles may owe their newfound cachet to their embrace by a younger set. Sometimes called "the millennials," they are said to embody a sense of social purpose, adopt a "team" approach to life, and rebel from their elders by hewing to the small-scale. It's an attitude with a simple message: Small-bore is cool.

"This [moped resurgence] is a reflection of a deeper generational shift going on," says Neil Howe, a cultural historian and coauthor of "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation." "The idea of a big, bad, dangerous gas-guzzling machine is not the millennial style. They prefer something that is not only socially responsible in a big sense, but also in a little sense: It makes less noise, and it's less likely to get them into an accident."

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