Barry Rivkin revels in soaring car-maintenance costs. He is the co-owner of Metropolis Bike and Scooter shop on Capitol Hill.

"The more bad news you read in the paper the better my sales are. When you pick up the paper and read about a 6 percent gas tax, that helps the business; when you see the price of gas rise, that helps business; when you read all the bad news you see that you can't afford a car," he said.

Rivkin's comments reflect a local and nationwide trend. People are abandoning conventional means of transportation for more economical alternatives such as mopeds -- the two-wheel hybrid of a bicycle and motorcycle that cost between $500 and $1,000 and gets 135 miles to the gallon.

Nationally there has been a steady progression of moped sales since 1975, the first year of organized sales. According to Paul Zimmerman, executive director of the Moped Association of America, five years ago there were 25,000 mopeds sold. Last year the number sold jumped to 300,000.

The moped spokesman said that a middle-price moped, $600, pays for itself in gas saving alone in two years. In terms of dollars and cents, the moped association publishes conservative estimates which show annual savings of over $300 for people who drive mopeds instead of cars that average 16 miles to the gallon. This is based on an average daily use of 12 miles per day.

"As more Americans realize that it just doesn't make sense to use a gallon of gasoline to buy a gallon of milk, the figures (moped use) should take even more drastic turns upward," said Zimmerman.

Washington area moped sales reflect the national trend.

"This city is HOT, H-O-T, for mopeds," said Barry Rivkin, of Metropolis. "We must've sold 65-70 machines last month. Last year we sold over a thousand. People were freaking out last year when the gas prices went up.

"Sales are really hot with kids, who three years ago would have bought a used car to go back to school, now they are buying mopeds. People who commute to work seem to like the moped as an alternative."

Kenny Jacquay, manager of Big Wheel Bikes' moped sales, sees the increase of moped use contingent on gas prices. "Last year sales were spontaneous, people were flipping out over the gas prices. This year there seems to be more serious riders. Half the bikes that people bought last year during the gas increase are probably sitting in garages around town now. Last summer we sold one or two mopeds each day. This year we sell maybe three or four a week," Jacquay said.

Moped salesmen see a bright future for their product with the gas-stingy alternative already replacing urban-dweller's second cars. Over the years they see moped use following European patterns, where some 15 million mopeds are on the road.

"Just as you could find a 10-speed bike in every garage, in the next 10 years almost everyone will have a moped. People will start to think in terms of two wheels as an alternative to the second car," said a moped store owner.