By Royal Brevvaxling Special to Published Jul 18, 2012 at 5:25 AM

MADISON – Scooter Therapy is an icon within scooter culture, to those Madisonians "in the know" and to a large number of UW-Madison students and graduates.

The Madison-based seller and repairer of scooters and mopeds since 1991 actually began in a field between Waunakee and Dane.

"It was hard to get dealer treatment from parts reps in those days," says Scooter Therapy owner Randy Knudson. "One that I called came out, took one step out of his car, looked at all the mud between where he parked and my shed, got back in and drove away."

The wood sign with red letters that read, "Knudson's Scooter Therapy" which used to be on that shed now hangs in a corner of the North Few Street shop. Decorated on the roof and in the yard with hand-built "robots" and metal spiders, the otherwise unassuming and out-of-the-way building a half block off busy Washington Avenue is the second Madison space inhabited by Scooter Therapy.

Knudson was born in La Crosse and moved to Madison in 1985. He's been a mechanic his whole life, working on cars and motorcycles, in addition to scooters in what he calls, "the niche nobody wanted.

"At bike (motorcycle) shops, scooter people get driven over or chased with a bat," he says.

Knudson opened his scooter shop intending to one day get back into motorcycles, but the pull of steady, year-round work was ultimately too great.

"Motorcycle riders park their bikes (at) the first sign of winter. Scooter people are different, they need transportation," says Knudson.

Scooter Therapy sells Genuine-brand scooters with model names like Buddy, Stella, Rough Rider and Blur.

The Taiwan manufacturer offers the best scooter quality, according to Knudson, and this is the only brand he sells, although Scooter Therapy services all makes.

"About 80 percent of our service work is on bikes bought elsewhere, almost exclusively online," says Knudson.

He says online scooters are "half the cost and twice the headache" and recommends that scooter buyers everywhere carefully read the warranty, which often does not include labor costs for repairs.

"It really is a 'buyer beware' market. If a deal sounds too good to be true, then it is," says Knudson.

Scooter Therapy sells all its two-wheelers with an included two-year parts and labor warranty.

Most scooters have engine sizes that are 50cc and under, which according to law can be driven by people with regular drivers licenses. Two-wheel vehicles that have larger engines require a motorcycle endorsement.

The average 50cc scooter allows the rider to keep up with city traffic. Scooter riders in Madison ride year-round and scooters are often many residents' only motorized transportation, being more economical than a car with lower purchase, maintenance and insurance costs.

The Genuine Buddy model sold at Scooter Therapy gets 140 miles to the gallon.

Although mopeds and scooters have long been a mainstay in the Madison traffic scene, along with cars, buses and bicycles, not everyone is happy about it. Knudson says it's rumored that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin "doesn't like scooters" and it's ruining his business.

Knudson says the mayor's office is pressuring UW-Madison administration to make changes to its scooter policy.

On May 1, UW-Madison transportation services informed students and Madisonians in general of proposed changes to its parking policies that would allow scooters to be parked in only one campus lot beginning fall semester.

A Facebook group was recently started to "save the scooters." 

The proposal signals a fairly drastic change in policy toward scooters and mopeds, which UW-Madison students have used to get around the sprawling campus for decades.

"Students often only have 15 minutes between classes; they rely on scooters and bicycles to get from one building to the next," says Knudson.

According to a March article in the university newspaper, UW administration is aware that scooters are being used by students to travel between classes and that this was never the administration's "intent" for scooters. 

The article also suggests that a recent spate of accidents involving mopeds and scooters prompted officials to seek changes in their use.

There are as many as 1,800 registered mopeds / scooters on the UW-Madison campus, according to the same article.

It's not just university students who regularly ride scooters. Knudson says Veterans Administration hospital employees and other Downtown workers are avid riders. Hospital employees avoid spending $10 per day in parking charges by riding scooters to work.

"A scooter can pay for itself in a year," says Knudson.

Knudson says scooter culture is more "A to B" than for motorcycle enthusiasts, although some of his original customers from 20 years ago regularly frequent the shop and some scooter owners give their rides names and baby them.

But in general, Knudson says it's a completely different clientele.

"People just want cheap and effective transportation and when they sell (their scooter) they won't have any emotional attachment," he says.

Knudson has some scooters three or four times as owners buy and then resell their used equipment once they no longer need it.

Over the years, Knudson says 15 "copycats" have come on the Madison scooter scene.

"They've all gone out of business within two years, exclusively because they sold crap," says Knudson, who often won't resell scooters that are sold to him, deeming them "unrepairable" and using them for parts instead.

"You get a bad reputation, if you sell that stuff used," he says.

Although Scooter Therapy remains the main game in town, business has declined dramatically since the onset of the Great Recession.

Prior to October 2008, Scooter Therapy was selling 250 scooters a year. Sales have been down by half since then.

"Business increased every year after I opened in 1991 until fall 2008," says Knudson, "since then, nobody's had over a $1,000 to spend on anything."

Knudson was also planning a Milwaukee expansion that year.

"I was ready to sign a lease on a Milwaukee space when the credit market went out," he says. "I was really lucky that I didn't."

Scooter Therapy has some inventory remaining from 2008, as well, whereas previously its entire stock was replaced every three to four months.

But Knudson and the five employees of Scooter Therapy keep rolling, even during the summer with many UW-Madison students gone. Scooter Therapy has a good local customer base, a testament to the scooter's affordability, as well as Knudson's long commitment to the community.

Royal Brevvaxling Special to
Royal Brevväxling is a writer, educator and visual artist. As a photo essayist, he also likes to tell stories with pictures. In his writing, Royal focuses on the people who make Milwaukee an inviting, interesting and inspiring place to live.

Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.