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Razor's Edge

It's not just for MTV--Bay Area risk takers are pushing America's scooter obsession toward a more extreme edge

By Mary Spicuzza

ANYONE WHO PUTS IN quality time watching MTV surely has seen a popular episode of its hit show, Jack Ass, featuring one of its masochists repeatedly falling on his face while trying an off-road adventure on his Razor scooter. While most couch potatoes may have written off extreme scooting as suited only to the bumbling cast of Jack Ass, Bay Area risk takers are breaking away from their Barcoloungers long enough to discover that wheelies, flipping and grinding can be achieved on a scooter. Who knew that the trendiest toy of the recent holiday season--dubbed by critics as a skateboard for those with no coordination--has such potential for death-defying action?

No one could guess the scooter's true trick potential watching busy downtown San Jose commuters, who mainly seem to use them to get from the office to the nearest coffee shop. Vans Skatepark in Milpitas also limits the ability of scooter riders to earn street cred among skateboarders and even rollerbladers, former wimps of the wheel world. Vans allows both boards and blades, but scooters are strictly prohibited.

It wasn't until a trip to Westfield Shoppingtown Valley Fair mall that the mystery of more extreme scooter riding started to unravel. Jewelry-laden shops like Claire's Boutique and Afterthoughts both feature scooters--Claire's even supplies accessories like a black carrying case with red-orange flames. But any traces of an edgier side to scooters only begin to show at the Sharper Image shop, where friendly sales associate Mike says that it's the kids who have discovered that Razors, a leading scooter name brand, have excellent trick potential.

"All of the kids in my court have them," Mike says. "I can hear them constantly practicing different tricks, grinding and slapping. Some of them are actually pretty good, and the handlebar makes them really easy to maneuver."

At Valley Fair and malls across America, Sharper Image stores are banking on the idea that Razors can be used for more extreme riding. The Razor carrying case, complete with a small cellular phone pocket, takes up little window space compared with more exciting toys, such as the Rugged Wheels Razor with Big Wheels, perfect for those hoping to take their scooters off on some off-road adventures. The biggest seller is still the Razor Xtreme, complete with shock absorbers and a wheelie bar for tricks.

"No question, I won't hesitate to say that Razors are our biggest sellers," says Lou Soucie, longtime media spokesperson for Sharper Image.

Apparently the best-seller before was the Ionic Breeze Silent Air Purifier, designed to filter dust mites and pet dander from the air. While pushing the Razor is a start in the right direction, Sharper Image still has a ways to go if it wants to transform into an extreme sports hub.

"I use the wheelie bar as a footrest," Soucie says. "So it has a dual purpose to it. Otherwise your foot is just hanging off to the side."

Still, Soucie may qualify as an extreme rider, solely because he still cruises around on a Razor at 58 years old.

Online retailers at REI and California SpeedSports, a Livermore-based wheel sports shop, offer video guides for risk-taking Razor riders.

"We picked them up and sell them, but we haven't gone as far as sponsoring riders, teams, anything like that," Joe of SpeedSports says. "We've been selling scooter videos [teaching tricks], though."

While adults have dominated the scooter marketing frenzy, people under 12 years old are the ones willing to do risky riding. While few adults know anyone who can use their scooters for more than commuting, every preteen asked had either tried tricks on a scooter or watched somebody else perform them.

Paul Richards, a nine-year-old Santa Cruz athlete, is currently mastering grinding his scooter. Richards says he waxes the board and then glides--or grinds--along curbs or other concrete surfaces.

Erica Aiken, a Santa Cruz-based designer, says her 10-year-old son and all of his friends do tricks on them, and proudly reports that none have been seriously injured.

Contrary to mainstream media hype about the impending doom and broken bones surrounding the scooter craze, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center spokesperson Matt Shenonie says that there have been few trips to the emergency room courtesy of Razors or other scooters.

Scooter fans like McDermott and Sharper Image's Soucie still say it's an urban jungle out there for riders facing the threats of Silcon Valley's open roads. Potholes, uneven sidewalks and curbs all present plenty of opportunities for flipping over the handlebar, although McDermott admits the only time she took a dive was riding indoors on a relatively flat surface.

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From the March 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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