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The Daily Tar Heel

Colorful, Convenient . and Collapsible

While the sound of whirling wheels against concrete is not an unfamiliar one around campus, the sight of freshman Jamiyla Bolton gliding around the second floor of Morrison Residence Hall on a scintillating silver scooter prompts many students to stop and stare.

Bolton is one of many trailblazers who passed up inline skates and a bike to sport the latest trend of transportation to sweep the nation -- a new breed of collapsible scooters.

Although scooters might look like child's play, more often college students like Bolton and trendsetting adults are catching the recent craze.

The new aluminum scooters have inline-style wheels and rear-fender friction brakes for fast and easy stopping. The average scooter weighs about seven pounds and can be easily folded and stowed, convenient for the typical college student.

And as they grow in popularity, so do concerns about their safety.

Freshman Justin Lynch, a scooter owner, said, "They're a fun way to get around. You can fold them up and take them to class; they're very portable."

Popular models include the Razor, Kickboard and Xootr. They are sold everywhere from the local 7-Eleven to the more exclusive The Sharper Image, a chain of high-end specialty stores. Prices for the average scooter range from $30 to $150.

The scooter fad originated in Europe during the mid-1990s when scooters solved the problem of clogged streets and limited parking.

The new designs soon hit Asia, and by 1999 The Sharper Image began selling the product in the United States.

Scooters started their rise to fame on the West Coast and in New York. The trend quickly spread nationwide.

An estimated five million lightweight, collapsible scooters were sold in 2000.

But the sight of a student zipping around Franklin Street on one can still prompt a few backward glances.

"Some people are really interested in it and think it's really cool and ask to use it. But you can tell that others, just by the way they look at me, think it's weird," said junior Jordan Peed.

Bolton said she uses her scooter as more of a fashion accessory than a substitute for a bike. "I can't ride it around campus because it's too bumpy and it'd be too easy for me to fall, but I ride it on the path around Morrison," she said.

And her worry is not unfounded.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported at least 32,700 people visited emergency rooms after falling off scooters last November.

Between Dec. 7 and 20, the commission recalled three scooter models due to threats of steering columns breaking or folding units pinching, cutting or even amputating fingers.

But most parents and doctors consider them to be safer than bikes, skateboards or inline skates. This can be attributed to lower speeds, handlebars and low platforms that allow riders to jump off if a crash seems likely.

Lynch said he can easily ride his scooter to class, even with the uneven surface of the paths on campus. "It still gets around. It can jump over things; you just have to know how to maneuver it," he said.

Some experts wonder how long the scooters' 15 minutes of fame will last, with companies such as The Sharper Image already reporting this year's scooter sales will be only about 25 to 30 percent of last year's sales.

Despite these worries, scooters were popular items found under last year's Christmas trees and on television.

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Sarah Jessica Parker of "Sex and the City" featured them on her show, and Kevin Spacey modeled his on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

Students might continue to stare at Bolton as she rides her scooter, but she said after the initial shock, they often ask to use it.

She said, "It takes a lot less time to get places, it's more fun than walking, and plus, they're so cute."

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