Scores of motor scooters lined the Railroad Square train depot Saturday, and one of them belonged to Carol Lexa.
?I had always wanted one and decided I wasn?t getting any younger,? said Lexa, a Santa Rosan who regularly commutes the back roads to her real estate job in Healdsburg. Her Vespa scooter uses less gasoline than a car, and ?it makes me smile every time I ride it.?
Lexa was one of about 110 owners of mostly Italian scooters who took part in the third annual Scooter Rosa rally and ride.
The three-day event, which ends today, includes two rides through the back roads of Sonoma County. It raised more than $9,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the North Bay.
Motor scooters have grown in popularity in recent years as the price of gas cleared $3, and for a time last year, $4 a gallon.
Scooter sales, especially models from Japan, are growing at a time when street motorcycles have seen a slight drop. The Motorcycle Industry Council of Irvine estimates that on-highway motorcycle sales dipped 10 percent between 2006 and 2008. During the same period scooter sales climbed 68 percent.
Sonoma County has 17,000 registered motorcycles and scooters, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. That compares with more than 300,000 four-wheeled vehicles.
Nonetheless, the number of motorcycles and scooters increased nearly 70 percent between 2000 and 2007. In that same period, the number of cars increased just 6 percent.
?Clearly it?s a trend, not a fad,? said Roy Gattinella, who with his wife Johnna opened their Revolution Moto Vespa dealership more than five years ago.
On Saturday, rally participants drove in formation through Santa Rosa?s downtown and up into the hillside Montecito and Fountaingrove neighborhoods. The long line of scooters then headed north to Larkfield and west to Sebastopol.
The 42-mile loop ?really shows off the best parts of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County,? said Johnna Gattinella.
Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky, an avid bicyclist, rode a scooter in the pack and noted how the ride left everyone smiling.
?Even the drivers were waving back,? Wysocky said, a reference to motorists who had to wait at intersections for the scooters to pass by.
The Italian company Vespa, whose scooter remains an iconic image with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in ?Roman Holiday,? exited the U.S. market 1985 due to changes in emission rules. But the company returned to this country in 2000.
One of those riding Saturday was Dr. Harold Mancusi-Ungaro, a plastic surgeon at Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa. He said he learned to ride a Vespa in Florence, Italy at age 17.
Mancusi-Ungaro bought a Vespa GT200 four years ago and since has ridden it for 9,000 miles.
His wife, Sue, an operating nurse at Sutter Medical Center, has her own Vespa and also commutes to work with it.
The rally participants will ride again Sunday from Santa Rosa to the Dry Creek Valley north of Healdsburg.