Down East 2013 ©
Forgive any Bethel citizens who feared their quiet western Maine town had been taken over by an out-of-state gang this past June. Around a dozen professional engineers from Massachusetts came riding into Bethel on electric European scooters, circling the town and taking sharp turns at a variety of speeds. It's the same group of riders who marked this territory last February, their feet firmly planted on the scooters’ platform while riding whisper-quiet through the tree-lined streets at speeds up to 68 mph.
Okay, so maybe these modish riders weren’t exactly intimidating — they more closely resembled Tom Hanks in the scooter-based romantic comedy Larry Crowne than the Hells Angels. According to the Bethel Citizen, the engineers from Vectrix, an electric vehicle company, were testing scooters made in Poland.
“We originally came up to Maine to test our scooters in Auburn,” says Dana DeCosta, the manager of field service and logistics at Vectrix, and a native of Mechanic Falls. But to properly test them, DeCosta needed a place with temperatures less than twenty degrees and a landscape that mimicked that of Europe. With its climate, hills, and windy roads, Bethel proved the perfect fit — so much so that Vectrix returned this summer for more tests.
While the sight of a dozen scooters would be the norm in Europe (two of every three Vectrix scooters are sold there), they are relatively uncommon in the U.S., especially in chilly Maine. “Certainly in the winter it’s cold [in the United Kingdom], but if you wrap up warm, then you hardly notice,” says Andy Gillard, editor of UK-based Scootering magazine, making the case for scooters in all climates. “Also, we don’t have that ‘bigger is better’ mentality in the UK.”
In a state rife with ambling roads and beautiful vistas but lacking in highways and public transportation, perhaps the scooter deserves a second look. DeCosta thinks it’s just a matter of time before it catches on in his home state. “I used to scooter around Portland when I lobstered off Little Diamond Island," he says. "I’ve taken my scooter through my old parade routes in Norway. It’s a great state to experience by bike. And if you have a twenty-five-mile commute or less, it’s a perfect way to get to work.”
Perhaps those twelve engineers on Route 2 actually did signal a looming takeover. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. As Gillard says, “Once you’ve been bitten by the bug, you’ll realize this commuter tool is a whole load of fun. Just ask Larry Crowne!” — W.B.
Photo © Milla74 | Dreamstime.com