Motoring Around

Chippewa Vallians bust out mopeds for warm-weather cruising

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

HITHER AND YON. Rolf and Jean Van Houten jet around Altoona and Eau Claire on their mopeds: with the warm weather comes adventure!
HITHER AND YON. Rolf and Jean Van Houten jet around Altoona and Eau Claire on their mopeds: with the warm weather comes adventure!

Jean and Rolf Van Houten have been biking together for more than 30 years. The two retired teachers ride several miles every day from their Lake Altoona home, and then after supper they go out again on a ride of a different kind. They bust out their matching Genuine 50cc mopeds and take them for a cruise out in the country.

“You go out on a country road and you see all sorts of things you wouldn’t see if you were going 50-60 miles per hour.” – Rolf Van Houten, on the advantages of traveling on a moped

While mopeds might be associated with trendy, environmentally (or financially) conscious young people, Kurt Seeman of Birch Street Mopeds says that the majority of his motorized bikes are sold to middle-aged and older residents. By his reckoning, the students who come through area colleges meet their transportation needs with bicycles, by walking, or with cars they brought from home. However, mopeds are still a popular choice for recreation and commuting in the Chippewa Valley.

“We thought it would be fun and said, well, let’s give it a try,” Jean remembers when Rolf bought his first moped in 2015. Shortly thereafter, they each had one and were taking regular rides out into the low-traffic, scenic parts of the Valley. When Jean, who was teaching at the time, took hers to school for the first time, her students approved. “All the kids thought I was just the coolest thing on the block,” she said.

Now they use the little bikes to take a break from pedaling. They can give their muscles a rest and enjoy each other’s company without one sacrificing speed for the other. Rolf and Jean roll along the back roads at speeds that top out at about 35-40 miles per hour, sometimes heading as far as Lake Wissota for a day on the water. They’re also an environmentally friendly choice for trips to the grocery store.

“Maintenance is next to nothing on them, which is really nice,” Seeman said of mopeds. There are no chains to adjust, and the fuel economy is upwards of 90 miles per gallon. Riders do not need a motorcycle license to operate one – a driver’s license will do the trick in Wisconsin. However, the simplicity of a moped can lead to a lack of caution in new riders.

“They’re easy to take for granted,” Seeman said. “It’s a motorized vehicle – it’s not a bicycle – and you have to treat it with respect.” This means wearing a helmet, keeping track of the oil and tire pressure, and perhaps investing in a motorcycle class before taking up riding, he said. Riders are small and difficult to see, so defensive driving is a must. It’s helpful – and safer – to get some experience in riding before hitting the open road.

Moped season started a little later than usual this year, Seeman said. March 2018 brought out the bikers in droves, while this April’s cold weather kept enthusiasts at bay a little longer. However, spring is right around the corner.

When a moped is out on an easy-going side road, the ride is unbeatable. “You’re going slower, you’re being more in the present,” Seeman said.

“You go out on a country road and you see all sorts of things you wouldn’t see if you were going 50-60 miles per hour,” Rolf explained.

Birch Street Mopeds is located at 2203 Birch St, Eau Claire. More information about their inventory is available at woodsaddictcycles.com.

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