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TIM JEAN/Staff photo Pat Arsenault of Milton puts on his helmet after having breakfast at Mary Ann's Restaurant in downtown Derry. As gasoline prices continue to climb, some dealers say they’re seeing more interest in two-wheel alternatives.

Rising gas prices are helping boost motorcycle sales — or at least it gives some people justification for finally buying that new bike.

"I think a lot of people who want to ride are using that as their excuse to spend the money," said Ken Harding, business manager at Derry Cycle. "The irrational side of my head says, 'I want to buy it to have fun.' But the rational side of my head can justify it because they get great gas mileage."

Despite the poor economy, Nate Grinnell, owner of Gypsy's Cycles in Rowley, said he's seen increased interest in motorcycles over the last several years.

"There's really a lot more interest," he said, "starting three years ago when the gas was up to $4 a gallon."

At first, he said, the economy kept people from doing routine maintenance on their bikes.

"But then, when the gas prices went sky high, we got a lot more tune-ups and tires, because people were riding bikes instead of driving cars," Grinnell said.

At Derry Cycle, sales have been "a little bit off" the last few years, Harding said.

"But things are really starting to snap into line," he said. "Where there was a surplus in product, now there's definitely a lack of product."

At Naults Windham Motorcycles, business was up in March over a year ago.

"We've seen a considerable uptick in people asking about gas mileage and all that," general manager George Kaperdas said.

More people also are showing interest in "commuter bikes" that have hard bags for briefcases, to cut down on the cost of fuel for a trip to and from Boston every day.

"The fun aspect of it is always there, but the utilitarian aspect has really started to come to fruition," Kaperdas said.

More customers will likely consider motorcycles or scooters as gas prices continue to climb toward $4, Kaperdas said.

"In Europe, people have been doing this for ages," he said.

In New Hampshire, there were 66,227 motorcycles registered last year, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. That was down slightly from 66,713 in 2009, and more than 68,000 in 2008. But it was above 2007, when there were 65,249 in the state.

In Massachusetts, there were 153,000 motorcycles registered in 2008, according to U.S. Census numbers. Totals for other years were not available from the Registry of Motor Vehicles last week.

While registrations have held steady in the Granite State, the number of motorcycle fatalities has varied. In 2010, 26 operators and two passengers were killed in motorcycle crashes. That was up from 16 drivers and five passengers in 2009, the lowest number of fatalities in recent years.

"The motorcycle industry, they kind of trumpeted the safety figures, how the fatalities went down," said Harding, of Derry Cycle. "But they neglected to mention how there were a lot less bikes on the roads."

The economy kept some motorcycles off the roads, Harding said, as did the very rainy weather last year. In 2008, 28 motorcyclists were killed in the state, up from 23 in 2007.

Harding said he urges his customers to take safety seriously, since many who are killed in crashes are not wearing the "proper gear."

"I've been downed on a motorcycle a couple of times, and I've always worn my protection, and I'm up and walking and smiling," he said.

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