Commuters across the United States are beginning to behave like those around the world in response to the high cost of personal transportation. Pinched by fuel prices and the growing acceptance of alternative transportation for daily travel, usage of motorcycles, scooters and mass transit systems within many large urban areas has swelled. Motorcycle sales, which include on-highway scooters, have increased yearly since the mid-'90s, peaking in 2006. Industry data shows motorcycle registrations are on the rise.

Arguably the most popular motorcycle manufacturer in the United States, Harley-Davidson plans to expand its operations into Europe, beginning with the purchase of Italian cycle manufacturer MV Agusta. Agusta's 500 dealerships, most of them centered in prime European cities, offer a solid foothold for the iconic American brand's expansion.

Harley-Davidson plans to buy Agusta for $109 million, which includes covering bank debt of $45 million, and gives the company ownership of both the MV Agusta (high-performance sport bikes) and Cagiva (lightweight motorcycles) brands.

Consumers pressed for immediate relief are changing their focus to smaller vehicles, including smaller motorcycles and scooters. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, sales of scooters have jumped nearly 24% since the beginning of 2008. Yamaha and Vespa, two leading scooter manufacturers, are seeing record-breaking sales for the year.

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