Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Blogger to Blogger Tour - Departure

The night before I leave is never truly restful. I become apprehensive. The rut of daily life feels deep, and the comforts of home weigh on me as I think of the looming launch. The risks and uncertainties drift around me, like shifting banks of grey fog, as my imagination conjures reasons to stay safely put.

I emerge slowly from my restless slumber and the reality of the trip begins to dawn on me as the rising sun bathes the bedroom in shades of pale grey.

The warmth of the shower, the cascade of cleansing water, drenching my body, washes the doubts away, clears my mind. Reality is the antidote that sets me free.

The final pieces come together, I pull on my armoured pants, snap the buckles down on my boots. I look up to find Susan in the doorway, still sleepy, smiling. We hug and kiss. That seals the launch. I feel myself floating almost free.

I pull on my jacket and helmet, wrestle the tour-laden Vespa off the centre stand, and hit the starter. I roll down the driveway. "Turn left on Beaconsfield Boulevard" the Garmin commands. That's how my 2015 Blogger to Blogger Tour begins.

I was so preoccupied with the departure details that as I hit the highway and my mind relaxed, I realized that I had neglected to take a photo of the adventure-ready Vespa. I hopped off the highway and took the lakeshore road until there was a suitable place to take a picture.
With that out of the way, I got back on track headed to the border. Thoughts of risk were not completely banished.  The specters of risk rose to mind as I crossed the Champlain bridge to Montreal's south shore. I stuck to the middle lane. A few weeks earlier a motorcyclist was killed crossing the bridge when the impact of a crash launched him off the bridge, plunging him hundreds and hundreds of feet to the river below.

The border crossing was quick and easy.

I was headed to exit 29 off I-87 right in the heart of the Adirondack exits.

While there is plenty of beauty to behold on stretches of the Northway...
...  I was anxious to leave the Interstate and head west into the mountains.  The Interstate twists, and alternately climbs and dips as it heads into New York State's mountainous upstate playground.  I was riding wide-open throttle. The speedometer indicated just over 120 km/h, while the GPS, set to miles, reported a slightly more modest, but dead-on true, 74 mph.
Had I been more vigilant, I would have moderated the pace given that the temperature gauge was edging closer and closer to the redline.
But that detail had managed to escape me.

Exit 29 was finally here, I eased off the throttle and coasted off the freeway.

Looking down, I noticed water on my right knee. Huh?

Once off the exit ramp I pulled onto the gravel shoulder.  The sun was shining brightly.  Sweat beaded on my neck and down my spine as soon as I spotted the mess on the floorboards.  Coolant.

Was this the end of my adventure? Over before it had really begun?  Should I bail?

I knew that my Vespa's motor would be toast within mere minutes if it ran without coolant.  I looked at the temperature gauge.  The needle was at the midpoint, perfectly normal.  My mind raced, like a cornered animal, looking frantically for a way out, a path forward.

The amount of fluid on the right floorboard indicated a serious leak.  Since there was some fluid on the left floorboard as well, and anti-freeze had leaked from under the bottom lip of the glovebox, there were indications that it was a massive leak, likely a series of leaks.

Having taken my Vespa apart on a number of occasions, and having dealt with a previous coolant leak, I imagined the hose issues that might cause the cooling system to lose that much coolant. But how did the anti-freeze land on my knee and thigh? And with a massive hose or clamp failure, I would still be leaking anti-freeze. By now the temperature gauge ought to have been pegged at the top, not sitting  at the normal midpoint.

Aside from the fluid pooled on the floorboards, everything seemed paradoxically normal. All the clues pointed to a leak from the top of the reservoir behind the right kneepad.

The big question that loomed unanswered was, did I need to scrub the mission?  Did I call for a tow? Should I limp on and hope for the best? Move on, or retreat?  Was a catastrophic failure looming? Much as I wanted to continue, scrapping my Vespa was not an option. Still the heat gauge pointed to normal.  The check engine light wasn't lit. The motor sounded fine.

I'm not a quitter, and I'm not timid. Press on. Find a gas station, top up the coolant, keep an eagle eye on the gauge. Don't max out the throttle, spare the bike. The decision was taking shape. The whole time I sat there, not a single car went by.  Other than the rushing sound of passing cars on the Northway, I was alone.

Acutely conscious of the risk, I pulled off the shoulder and headed down the road. The one thing I didn't do was check the GPS to see where the next gas station might be.  Go figure.

It was a good thing. Had I checked, I might have second-guessed myself.

Blue Ridge Road,  eventually merging with Highway 28N miles away to the west, climbed and twisted its way west into the Adirondack National Park.  Two lanes of asphalt ribbon hemmed in by towering walls of evergreens. Mile upon mile racked up, no sign of habitation, certainly no service station. Eventually the road began a long downhill stretch with twists and turns, and signs warning truckers to slow their rigs.
The ride was spectacular, and would have been dreamy, but for my ultra-sharp focus on the temperature, and monitoring every other aspect of the bike's performance, nursing it up hills, and riding deeper and deeper into my commitment to the ride. While I rode I turned the coolant leak over, and over, and over in my mind.  I was slowly concluding that the cooling system had overheated and the coolant spilled out of the reservoir. That was the only theory I could muster to explain the amount of spilled coolant, the persistently and counter-intuitively normal operating temperature since, and the fact that the Vespa was no longer leaking coolant.

Thirty-seven very long miles later I came to the crossroads where 28N and 30 meet at the village of Long Lake New York.
 The gas station at the intersection was a sight for sore eyes.  I parked the bike at the pumps, and strolled into the gas station convenience store.  "Do you have any anti-freeze?" I inquired, my fingers secretely crossed in my pants pocket. My heart sank briefly as the cashier looked around the store with a furrowed brow. "Oh sure honey, check on that rack over there." I must have looked casual, but inwardly all I could think was "Yes, yes, YES, YES!!"

I eagerly grabbed the two litre jug, shelled out $15 dollars, and headed back to the bike.  I unloaded the gear, refueled, reloaded the gear, and moved the bike to a parking spot next to the convenience store. I unloaded the bike again, strolled over to the pumps and came back with the windshield squeegee, using it to clean up the coolant mess on the legshield and floorboards.

With the environmental clean-up out of the way, I dug out my  tool roll and a rag, and set to work. It took only seconds to remove the right kneepad to reveal the top of the coolant reservoir. I gingerly and slowly twisted  the cap counter-clockwise.  After a quarter turn it hissed softly.  That was it, the pressure subsided and I was able to remove the cap.  The bike had cooled enough that there was no gush of hot liquid. I peered into the neck of the reservoir with the aid of my super bright flashlight. Clearly the coolant was below the 'min' mark. I added anti-freeze slowly until the level was above the minimum mark and closer to the maximum.  In all, I estimate I added about a cup or at most a cup and a half of coolant which roughly matched the amount of coolant I felt I had lost.  So far, so good.

I made a pit stop in the restroom and refilled my water bottle.

I was now reasonably confident that the rest of the trip would be uneventful, at least as far as the Vespa was concerned.

I turned left and headed south on highway 30.  The miles to the Adirondack museum counted down on the Garmin.  Soon I rounded a bend, and down the hill there it was in all its glory.  I pulled into the parking lot and circled around looking for Stephanie's blue Vespa. She wasn't there. Not that she should have been. She had estimated reaching the museum between two and three o'clock. Even with my little coolant misadventure, it was only one o'clock.

I picked a spot in the parking lot where I could keep an eye out for Ms. Yue.
I got my camp chair out and settled in, desperately trying to get internet service so I could monitor messages.
The sun was hot, and I had to maneuver my chair in an effort to stay in the shade cast by the small tree at the edge of the lot.  I gazed at the passing cars. I looked at the clouds.

Time passed, slowly as it does when you wait.  I sipped my water.  I watched more clouds. I baked in the afternoon sun. I wished I was thinner. I checked the cell service, barely there, mostly useless. I listened to the  birds and cicadas. I wished I had brought a hat. Then I remembered a time when I was nine or ten. I went for a hike with my Dad. He had showed me how to make a hat by tying knots in the four corners of a kerchief.  As it happened, I carry a couple of kerchiefs in the glove compartment.  I fished one out and made myself a hat. Much better. I watched more clouds. I fiddled with taking selfies thanks to my camera's WiFi remote iPhone app.  Thanks Bob.
And then it happened.  A bike rounded the curve at the bottom of the hill to the south.  Could it be?
Of course it could!!!
And there she was, in the flesh. Stephanie Yue and her blue Vespa with the Rhode Island plates, most recently hailing from southern California.
Stay tuned my friends, there's more to come.

I just got Stephanie's photos.  Here are two of me that Stephanie took soon after arriving. I wore the T-Shirt that Bill Leuthold sent me. The perfect attire for the trip.
Copyright - Stephanie Yue
Copyright - Stephanie Yue

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 Blogger to Blogger Tour - Ms. Quezzie, I presume

Copyright - Stephanie Yue
Imagine reading about someone you've never met. You share some things in common that set you apart from most people you meet in your day to day life. You are curious. What makes them tick?

How far out of your way, how far from your comfort zone, what sacrifices would you make, to meet that person face to face? To share a slice of your life with them. To share their path, if only briefly.

I can answer those questions.

This past Monday, July 20, 2015, I set out on a two day 600 kilometer road trip to meet Stephanie Yue. She is known online as Quezzie, an avatar she adapted from a video game that proved handy online, chiefly because it was unique enough that it was never taken when signing up for online forums or e-mail services. I think that's how I stumbled on her story, most likely on ModernVespa, maybe on the adventure riding forum known simply as "ADV".

Stephanie is an illustrator by profession, and an avid martial artist and climber in her spare time. She is also a prolific diarist, a blogger as we know them these days.

On May 5th, 2014, Stephanie put her life in Providence Rhode Island to one side, pared her everyday belongings down only to those things that could travel with her on her Vespa, and set out to see America. Solo. All forty-eight of the contiguous States. All four corners. Key West, Seattle, San Diego, and Lubec Maine, her ultimate destination for this chapter of her life.

Her riding blog began with her departure preparations. I have followed it pretty much from the beginning. Online diaries are powerful. You follow a person, you get to know them. The best bloggers are candid about their trials and tribulations. Stuff that went well. Things that took a toll. Stephanie is one of those.

Like an astronomer tracking a comet, I knew that inevitably Quezzie would approach my orbit. I reached out to make contact. Could we meet?

The answer to that question, deceptively simple, involved layer upon layer of planning, set backs, contingencies that could not have been predicted, potential mission-scrubbing glitches, and, in the end, depended on courage and determination. Hers, and mine.

This past Sunday I spent, by Susan's reckoning, four hours prepping my Vespa. I gathered gear, checked my touring checklist, swapped in a large windscreen, filled the tank, filled the spare tank, picked up my loaner tent and mattress, loaded my saddlebags, and strapped it all on the Vespa.
On Monday, July 20, 2015 at 08h00, I raised the garage door and launched. It sounds simple, doesn't it? Rendez-vous was at the Adirondack Museum, a place I was now familiar with. Three and a half hours distant, in the very heart of America's largest national park.

I plan to take my time telling this story. It was only thirty-six hours out of a remarkable year in my life, but if I tell the story well, put you in my shoes, lend you my eyes and ears, I will do you, and I a favour. That's what I believe. If you have come this far, you believe it too.

Do you think it's weird, that a 63 year-old newly-retired guy, very, very happily married, would set out to meet a single woman half that age far, far from home? On a motorbike? For an overnight camping trip? In the wilderness? Some people thought so. If you are one of those folks, read on. You may judge for yourself.

How about Stephanie? Do you think it's weird that a young woman in her prime would knowingly venture deep into a vast forest, well beyond cell phone coverage, to spend a pitch black night camping with a man twice her age, a stranger she had never met? You wouldn't be alone if you thought so, I'm sure you'd have plenty of company.

Could you, would you, do what either of us did?

Stay tuned. No intimate detail will be spared.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Project report: Installing Viking Lammelar saddlebags on a 2003 Honda Shadow VT750 ACE

Sonja and I purchased the Honda Shadow VT750 ACE so that Sonja, who lives in Germany, could have a bike to tour with in Eastern Canada and the U.S.  You can read about that in a previous article.

When we1 got the bike it was basically stock. The only changes that had been made to the bike were the addition of an SAE power point direct to the battery, a Cobra after-market exhaust, a pillion backrest, and a rear rack. If anything, the Cobra exhaust hindered rather than helped because of the unnecessary noise it made, and it seemed to cause backfiring when slowing on compression.

Although the backrest/sissy bar and the rear rack are excellent touring accessories, for the Shadow to become an acceptable touring option, it needed some additions.

One of those additions was a set of saddlebags.
Sonja and I looked at what was available that would be functional, yet still look good on the bike. We are slaves to fashion.

Our taste leans towards being understated, so neither of us was really looking forward to lots of buckles, rivets and tassles.

After taking our time to see what was available, and after exchanging e-mails and web links, we found saddlebags that seemed like they would fit the bill.

That was step one.

Step two was keeping our costs manageable. This is where blogging pays dividends. This means that I need to digress, just a bit. Please bear with me.

Motorcycle House, an online vendor that owns and sells the Viking line of motorcycle clothing and motorcycle accessories, had approached me in 2014 to see if I would agree to do some product reviews for them. At the time, owning a cruiser-style motorcycle was the furthest thing from my mind. I was a dedicated Vespa man. Viking’s product line leans heavily to the cruiser market.

I was flattered by the offer and I took them up on it, agreeing to review a classic motorcycle jacket that I had always wanted. That style is a stretch on a Vespa, but I figured what the heck, take a chance.

Working with the folks at Motorcycle House and Viking turned out to be mutually advantageous and, frankly, quite enjoyable as well.

Looking back on this adventure, I’m not sure whether the Viking Cycle Angel Fire jacket attracted the Honda Shadow cruiser to me, if the so-called law of attraction did it, or whether there is some other inexorable and universal force of nature at play here. One thing is certain, there is a cruiser in my garage, and it now has some really nice saddlebags.

Here is how those saddlebags came to be.

Sonja and I made a pitch to Motorcycle House and Viking Bags. Sonja and I would agree to feature the saddlebags we wanted prominently on our blogs, covering every aspect from selecting the saddlebags, through the installation process, and eventually how they performed on the road during Sonja’s upcoming Maritime tour. Viking Bags requested a business case which Sonja and I were happy to provide. Viking liked the proposal. No surprise there, because it was patterned on Jim Mandle's pitch to Piaggio North America. Jim is a former advertising and marketing executive and he knows his way around a business case, don't you know.

A few weeks later, the saddlebags showed up on my doorstep.

That was the easy bit. Getting the bags installed is what this article is all about.

Before explaining the installation I should share something about the saddlebags themselves.

They are sold by Viking Bags as Viking Lamellar hard saddlebags. They are fibreglass saddlebags entirely covered in black leather. The bags have dedicated locks and are hinged at the front. They are designed to match the arc of the cruiser’s rear fender. They have a reflector on the side. These saddlebags have elegant flowing lines that complement the Honda Shadow VT750 American Classic Edition.
Courtesy Viking Bags
The saddlebags are slim, provide good clearance from the Honda Shadow’s exhaust and rear shock absorbers, and make excellent use of the space available on the bike, as you will see. They are lined with a soft synthetic fabric with some padding on the bed, or floor, of the saddlebag.

The interior portion of the locking mechanism is shielded to avoid getting snagged by items carried in the saddlebag. That’s a small detail, but it’s very much appreciated. The Vespa top case lacks that feature and as a result is sometimes difficult to lock and unlock.

The Viking Lamellar hard saddlebags are supplied with the necessary mounting hardware. Because the saddlebags are intended to fit more than one type of cruiser-style motorcycle, the bags are supplied without any holes drilled in them for the mounting hardware.

To install the bags, you have to find a way to mount one of them on the bike in a temporary way so that the bag is held in place while you check to see if the placement is appropriate. Because the left and right sides of the Shadow’s backend are symmetrical as far as the mounting points are concerned, it’s only necessary to determine the location of one bag. Once the holes are drilled in one bag, and the bag is mounted, assuming the holes are in the right places, you transpose the holes onto the second bag. That’s the theory.

I wouldn’t say that installing the saddlebags was trivial, because it wasn’t. But I will say that if I managed to do it, then so can you. All you need is a little skill, some patience, some ingenuity, and, in my case, just a little help from a dear friend who is a talented mechanic.

To put this job into its greater context, I have to say that every job I tackled on the Honda Shadow turned out to be significantly more challenging than the jobs I did on the Vespas. I measure the difficulty of jobs in sweat, curses, and the onset of the feeling that the particular job might be beyond my meagre abilities. Jobs on the Vespa rarely rated (on the traditional scale of ten) more than 3 for sweat, 2 for curses and 0 on the feeling of impending doom.

Fortunately, I managed to overcome all the tricky bits for the saddlebag installation, and I am happy to share them here with you. That should make your purchase and installation of these Viking Bags even less challenging than it was for me.

Here we go.

Tools required
  • Electric drill 
  • Set of drill bits
  • Set of socket wrenches
  • Dremmel tool and metal cutting disk (to cut screws to the proper length) 
  • 85 mm M8 fully threaded bolts
  • 20 mm M6 fully threaded machine screws
    NB: Although the mounting kit supplied with the saddlebags comes with the necessary bolts, I found that the supplied bolts were too short to do the job on this particular bike.   The reason the large M8 70 mm bolts supplied in the installation kit didn't fit is that our Honda Shadow has an added rear rack and a sissy bar back rest. Those additions are what required longer bolts. I had to order the bolts as a special order since the local big box hardware stores don’t carry that size of metric bolts.
Installation Steps
  1. The first step is to remove the saddlebags from the shipping box. Find the key for each saddlebag and set that aside. They are only supplied with a single key and the saddlebags are not keyed alike. Eventually you will want to have some additional keys cut. I cut two additional sets so that I have a set, Sonja will have a set, and there is a backup set.

  2. Start the installation process by taking the right side saddlebag and holding it against the right side of the motorcycle to get an approximate idea of how it will fit. Start with the right-side bag because the exhaust is on the right side of the bike and you need to take exhaust clearance into account in positioning the bag.

  3. Unless you have someone helping you, or you’re a mutant with octopus arms, now you need to find a way to hold the saddlebag in place on the bike while you step back to assess whether the saddlebag is properly lined up. I used a length of marine docking line that I keep in the car to fasten loads when the need arises. This turned out to work really well for me. I attached the saddlebag with the docking line so that it was held in position, yet I was able to move the saddlebag around to make sure that was properly positioned.
  4. In determining the proper position for the bag consider the following:
    a) is the bag level?
    b) does the bag clear the bike’s muffler?
    c) is the bag positioned well front to back: does it clear the rear shock absorber, does it clear the rear turn signals?

  5. I was able to position the saddlebag, making small adjustments, using the docking line. I did this over a period of days. I wanted to make very sure that I had nailed the optimal positioning before drilling any holes. Rushing this step is definitely not a good idea. In that way, working solo forced me to come up with the docking line solution and that worked really, really well.

  6. Once you are absolutely confident that the bag is well positioned on the bike, press the bag very firmly against the bike in the hope that the two rearmost fender bolts will leave an impression on the leather of the bag.  If you look very, very closely at the next photo below, you will see a faint mark on the leather right at the tip of the drill bit.  You may be able to spare some effort and gain a little accuracy (although the pressure method suggested by Viking did work for me), if you butter up the fender bolts with a substance that will leave a mark on the bag.  Toothpaste might do the trick.  Plus it's minty fresh.

  7. Select a drill bit that matches the diameter of the Viking mounting bolt and drill the two holes for the two top mounting points.
  8. With the saddlebag on the work surface (in my case on the kitchen counter) assemble the mounting hardware as follows:

    a) first attach the crossbar to the bottom part of the black metal tubular braces. The bottom part is the part with the shorter of the two mounting tubes. The instructions are good on this point, so follow them as indicated. If you’ve done this bit right, you’ll have the mounting hardware interconnected in a kind of sloppy ’U".
    You may find, as I did, that the geometry the bag with its curves, and the rigid geometry of the mounting brackets, makes attaching the mounting hardware a challenge.

    The solution I found is to use the drill to work the holes a little bit larger until everything lines up and fits.

    b) mount the hardware on the bag as follows:

    1. place a large supplied washer on each of the large mounting bolts, and insert the bolts from the inside of the bag.

    2. place a large supplied washer on each bolt from the outside of the bag.

    3. place the mounting hardware on the bolts.

    4. You will see that you can now swing the mounting hardware left and right on the bag. Position the hardware so that the brackets will support the bag well. Too far to one side and the bottom mounting bracket will be too close to the edge of the bag. Too far in the other direction and you’ll be too close to the other edge. Find a spot in the travel of the mounting hardware that’s just right. Trust your judgment and the Goldilocks principle. You’ll know ‘just right’ when you see it.

    c) Mark the two spots on the bag where the bottom holes for the mounting hardware will need to be drilled. Use your wits and perhaps some toothpaste as suggested earlier, or lipstick if you’re feeling kinky (make sure to get prior approval from the lipstick’s owner, otherwise may heaven help you).

  9. Once you are absolutely confident that you’ve found where those holes need to be, select a drill bit that matches the diameter of the screws for the lower part of the mounting hardware. Remove all the mounting hardware from the bag, and drill those holes.

  10. We’re getting close now. Reassemble the mounting hardware on the bag. This time, the cross bar goes on the inside of the bag, not the outside. Place the smaller supplied washer on each of the lower mounting screws, place the supplied black powder-coated crossbar on the screws, and insert the screws in the lower mounting holes. Insert the black powder-coated female bolt into each vertical mounting bar and loosely hand-tigthen the lower mounting screws. Now swing the vertical mounting bars into position and insert the large bolts with washers from the inside of the bag.

  11. It was at this step that it became clear that the supplied screws for the lower part of the mounting bracket were also too short. No problem, I found longer M6 metric screws at the local hardware store. I would later find that the large supplied mounting bolts were also too short, in each case by about 15 mm. The longer lower mounting screws I bought were a little too long, so I cut them to the right length using a Dremel cutting wheel.

  12. Now that the mounting hardware is properly mounted on the right side saddlebag, let’s move from the kitchen to the garage.

  13. Using a socket wrench, remove the two most rearward bolts on the Shadow’s rear fender.

  14. At this point you can save yourself from much sweating, cursing and despair because, if like in my case, there is a rear rack and sissy bar or pillion backrest, they are mounted to the same mounting points on the bike that the saddlebags will use. The effect of those accessories is to link the left and right sides of the bike and transfer stresses and pressure from the left to the right. The result is that when the right side mounting bolts are removed, the metal bits become misaligned, and the result is that mounting the saddlebag, while possible (I know, I did it after much sweat, cursing and despair), is very, very, very difficult.

    My close friend Gino offered some very sage master mechanic’s advice: “When it’s too hard to do, you’re doing it wrong!

    I ended up taking the bike over to Gino’s and he spotted the issue immediately. “Loosen the left side bolts to release the pressure, then install the saddlebag” he said.

    And just like that, everything lined up and the saddlebag installs in a wink.
    Gino tightening things up
  15. Once the right-side saddlebag is installed, and you’re sure that the mounting position is good, remove the bag, remove all the mounting hardware and move back to the kitchen counter.

  16. Place the left-side saddle bag next to the right-side saddlebag. Make sure the bags are perfectly aligned parallel to each other. After trying various means of transposing the mounting holes from the right side to the left-side bag, I settled on using a drywall screw. It is really very pointed and sharp, and I managed to make a tiny mark in the leather on the left-side bag for each of the four holes.

  17. All that’s left to do is to drill the required holes in the left-side bag, install the mounting hardware, and install the saddlebags on the bike. Piece of cake.
Now the Honda Shadow has saddlebags, and the result is one really good looking bike.
The Viking saddlebags easily hold the following touring necessities with room to spare:
  1. Portable electric air pump;
  2. Tool roll;
  3. Tire pressure gauge;
  4. Rain gear;
  5. Sunglasses;
  6. Multi-tool;
  7. Flashlight;
  8. ROK straps;
  9. Miscellaneous Boy Scout stuff (four sets of 25’ paracord and Figure9 tensioners, emergency rescue tool (window breaker, seatbelt cutter), medical kit);
  10. A rag, and a can of Pledge (for cleaning visors and windscreens).

All the other stuff one needs to carry for touring in comfort, mostly clothing and toilettries, will fit in the Viking tail bag.
Yes you are correct, that means there is another product review in the works.
Time will tell how Sonja finds the set up we have put together performs on the road.

1. "We" and "Our" refers to Sonja and I.  Sonja lives in the Black Forest in Germany, and I live on the Island of Montreal in Canada.  We co-own the Honda Shadow that is (or will shortly be) the subject of many posts here on Life on Two Wheels, and on Find me on the Road.  The idea of co-owning the bike came out of a discussion I had with Sonja in early 2015 when she asked me if I could give her advice on how she might purchase a bike in Canada or the US, and use it to tour whenever she came here on vacation.  One thing led to another, and with the consent and support of our spouses, we became co-owners.  It's a very cool and cost effective way that enables riders to tour easily far from home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Rider profile: Jim Mandle

Name: Jim Mandle
Find me on Earth: Hernando, Florida
Find me (ADK Jim)
Interview Date: July 6, 2015
Interview Location: Lake Luzerne NY (ed.: spiritually)
Scootcommute: When did you start riding, how old were you?

Jim: My real riding career started at age 64, but I first fell in love with scooters when I saw pictures of the early Vespas in the Sears Roebuck catalog at about age 8. I just loved the lines and aesthetics of them and used to keep pictures of them on my desk, and later in my briefcase, to dream about. My first riding experience on a motorized two-wheeler was when a friend in junior high school used to let me ride his Cushman scooter around his family’s backyard. What a thrill!

Scootcommute: How many motorbikes have you owned?

Jim: The first was a broken down Honda, which I think was around 125 cc. I was given it by a friend in non-working order, and spent an entire summer trying to get it to run. On its “maiden voyage” I made it halfway around the lake where I lived and had to be towed back – I looked like a water skier being pulled by our car. My second “real” scooter was my 50cc midnight blue Vespa LX 50. I kept it for less than a year, building my riding skills, until I realized it was underpowered and unsafe for the roads I intended to ride.

Scootcommute: What is your current bike, and is the current bike your favorite?

Jim: My current bike is my favorite - a red 2013 Vespa 300 GTS Super.

Scootcommute: Talk to me about the most challenging riding skill you learned.

Jim: I have taken riding seriously from the start and try to do all I can to increase my personal safety. I took motorcycle training classes, purchased the best helmet and safety clothing I could find, and continually practice and seek knowledge from my riding friends with more experience and skills. My most challenging skill has been being smoother at tight slow speed turns and also working on gaining greater comfort at highway riding speeds.

Scootcommute: Are you a moto-commuter, a tourer, or a fair weather rider?

Jim: I would like to think that I am a tourer and have been taking ever increasing long distance rides. It combines my love of travel, ultra-light camping, and the Vespa. Using much of my backpacking gear, I can get a week’s worth of food and camping gear down to a small pack weighing only 23 pounds! I hope to do more really long distance rides combined with camping. I’ve been fortunate to take some great rides becoming friends with riders like Bill Leuthold, Ken Wilson and “Captain Gary” Kinney, and my Canadian Hero, David Masse! (ed.: blushes, resists the strong urge to edit)

Scootcommute: I dare you to share an awkward or embarrassing riding moment.

Jim: There are so many, like knowing that I look like an overgrown bumblebee (yellow helmet and yellow/black jacket and pants) walking into stores. Embarrassment – I just appreciate the patience of my riding buddies as I was learning and know the embarrassment that they must have felt just being with me!

Scootcommute: What is the best place your bike has taken you?

Jim: Every ride is a thrill as I continue exploring on two wheels. Just riding and having all my senses alive – smell, sound, greater concentration riding, are all the things you don’t get in a car. I especially enjoyed the long rides like the one to Dothan, AL and the trips in the Adirondacks.

Scootcommute: Tell me why you ride?

Jim: Mostly it is exploring and the sense you get by riding on two wheels. I also never tire seeing the lines and look of the Vespa. It just makes me smile! Every time I ride the scooter I meet people who mention how good looking it is. People don’t react that way to a typical motorcycle.

Scootcommute: If I could grant you one riding wish, what would it be?

Jim: One riding wish? How about that all motorcycle and scooter riders ride ATGATT (ed.: All The Gear, All The Time) eliminating all two wheel accidents! (ed.: Jim snuck in two wishes, but that's OK)


Monday, June 29, 2015

Rocket and me

Bill Leuthold is on my must-meet list of riders, bloggers, and characters.

Bill is a Cannonballer, a serial and multiple Vespa owner, and he knows how to make a 200 cc Vespa GT fly like a rocket.

Bill’s GT is so fast, it got the testosterone all riled up because he was making such incredible times on various legs of the Hyder Alaska to New Orleans 2014 Scooter Cannonball. Suspicion fell on his trusted mechanic Boris.

Remember Boris and Natasha? Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. Cold war era cartoon spooks. When your mechanic’s name is Boris, and he’s got talent, and your Vespa GT blows the GTS’s away on a cross-continental odyssey, and there are points for each leg, suspicion is natural. And totally misplaced.

Bill is living testament to the wonders of the Vespa GT.

I remember when I was shopping for my first Vespa. I went to a dealer who was selling a GT. I looked at it. Very nice. Portofino green or something like that. It was on a battery tender tucked away with the other scoots and motorcycles in winter storage. “How fast is it?” I remember asking the dealer. He looked at me like I was missing a screw. “Oh, it’s fast” he said, in a kind of Seinfeld-Kramer-ish way.

In the end I didn’t buy it. It got nixed by the finance minister in favour of a somewhat less spendy dragon red Vespa LX150.

Seems hard to believe that a 200cc bike can travel like that, but Bill and Rocket are proof positive that the Vespa GT is one fast bike.

Check out his blog, and go back and follow the 2014 Cannonball. Time well wasted, to be sure.

Now what was the point… Oh yes.

I was looking in on Bill’s blog, Rocket and me, as I strive to do, making the rounds of the moto-bloggosphere, and I saw he had a T-Shirt done up to celebrate his blog.

I’ll buy one” I thought, more or less instantly. As I read on, I was gobsmacked, as they say in Blighty, Bill said he was sending me one, unsolicited.

Now it takes an extraordinary amount of time for the postal services of Canada and the U.S. to ferry mail between us, so the package only arrived the other day. But arrive it did.
I am tickled pink.

What better garb to don as I wrote the article on my retirement.
Thanks Bill! I am indebted.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A last commute


That word has been daunting for the last twenty four years. “You have to start paying yourself”. Wise words from my accountant. That’s how it showed up on my radar. A tiny, faint, scary blip in what seemed back then like a distant, dim, uncertain future.

I couldn’t afford to save much. “We’ll retire to a trailer park…” I thought, without any idea how Susan and I might actually avoid that as our eventual fate.

I was a young partner in a law firm. Three kids, a mortgage, a lawn to mow in the burbs, and no pension plan.

Friday was my last commute. I had choices. I opted for the Honda Shadow - Black Betty to Sonja, Thunderbird to me -  though I don’t name my rides, really, I don’t. Not exactly a ScootCommute. The only constant is change.

It turns out retirement will be fine. I plan to earn some money. Traveling money. That’s what it will be.

For the next little while Susan and I will coast, enjoy summer, as we begin the graceful descent to a retirement lifestyle in Toronto. Gradually less altitude, some flaps, ease up on the throttle, wheels down, and a three point landing in a new town, new home.

We’re clearing the table, wiping the slate. Out with the old, in with the new. We’re exchanging our plodding caterpillars for butterflies.

Thursday’s commute was nostalgic. I took the Vespa along the route of my first two-wheeled commute. That was six years ago. Man I love that Vespa. Smooth as silk with power to spare. Beauty, and a beast.

That morning the sun played with the lake shore route, dappling the winding road with warm patterns of bright light and cool shade. Casting glittery flashing diamonds here and there on the lake. I rolled into the underground garage at 10:30. Not a care in the world. I left the office at five-ish, came home the same way, savouring the slow path home.

Friday, June 26, 2015.

The last day of work. A last commute.

My first day of work was in the spring of 1980, immediately following my last Bar exam. Thirty-five years. Three employers. Fourteen offices. 36, 19, 44, 17, 75, 19, 37, 40, 5, 6, 5, and 19 are the floors I worked on. All in office towers, all downtown, most in Montreal, a few in Toronto. Never a dull moment. Quite a lot of high drama. Serious stuff. Many hours spent in knee-length black robes, a handful of all-nighters. A life spent learning, crafting, honing, pitching, deflecting, defending, writing, speaking, losing, but most often winning, arguments. A lawyer’s lot.

In keeping with the vibe, Thunderbird was the only logical choice for my last commute. Blues playing in my helmet, cruising on the 20, rockin’ my way downtown on 750 burly cc’s of raucous thundering adrenaline-fueled fun. With a devil-may-care attitude, greeted  by waves from guys on badass cruisers (my new ‘brothers’) many of whom I would almost certainly steer clear of on the sidewalk while avoiding eye contact, I headed straight for the office.

The remaining work was dispatched in a workman-like way. Hands were shaken, backs were slapped, there were heartfelt hugs and kisses, smiles were beamed, memories relived, personal contact information exchanged. In the process, my co-workers had hidden my helmet while I was roaming the building to ensure I couldn’t leave without final adieus to those closest to me. It worked.

I abandoned my credit card, put my access card on a colleague’s desk, and walked out the door in the company of one of the kindest, smartest, and most charming lawyers it has been my pleasure to work with. He knows it. I believe in telling it like it is.

No regrets, happy, confident, released. I think those I left behind felt the brunt of the departure. I had to fight and struggle to leave on my own terms. Like a child leaving the womb, in a way. I was striking out, breathing fresh air, free to roam, to be myself, care free, no work obligations.

I won.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jim's Adirondacks

Sorry to disappoint right from the get go, but sadly, Adirondack National Park in upstate New York, all six million acres of it, with its 6,970 miles of roads, 3,000 lakes and more than 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, does not belong to Jim Mandle.

It sure seems like it though.

Having spent a day touring the park with Jim as my guide...
... I think it's fairer and more accurate to say that the Adirondack National Park owns Jim.

Jim and I had been conspiring for some time.

These things have a rhythm. A comment on an article, a couple of e-mails, a phone call or two. That's how it goes.

My Adirondack tour started as a very ambitious plan hatched by Jim.

I say ambitious, because that's what it was, honestly.

Jim, myself, Ken Wilson, and Sergei Belski, hailing from Calgary, Northern Florida, Montreal, and upstate New York in reverse order, would assemble some place, like say New York City, then ride up to the Adirondacks, all on Vespa GTS's, crash the Americade Harley/cruiser extravaganza in Lake George, and have a blast along the way.  Something like that.  Jim pitched the idea to Piaggio SpA as a unique marketing ploy for Vespa North America in which Piaggio would pony up some sponsorship cash for travel expenses. We all thought it was crazy.

In the end, Piaggio didn't take the bait, and the project sputtered. But I firmly and truly believe in the 'go big or go home' approach that Jim took. He actually got Piaggio to listen, to give him the time of day.  That's an amazing achievement and speaks to Jim's advertising and marketing expertise.

The plan Jim hatched didn't die though, it just morphed.

First it changed into a slightly less ambitious meet up among Jim and I, and Stephanie Yue.

That plan was torpedoed by... very good fortune, if you can believe it.

First Stephanie was invited back to L.A., interrupting her quest to cross the U.S. from the southwest to the northeast corner on her continuing 48 state odyssey, but landing her an advertising and promotion gig that was just too good to pass up. That meant pushing her arrival in upstate New York into July.  No big deal.  But... the final bit of good luck that sealed the fate of that moto get together, was that Jim got a buyer for his house in Lake Luzerne. That meant that Jim and Grace had to pack up and leave for Florida.

See how amazing good fortune can spoil a great moto party?

That left Jim and I.

I knew Jim and Grace were frantically packing up to meet their unanticipated end of June closing date. Could Jim tear himself away from the preparations for lunch, I enquired?  If so, I would jump on my Vespa and truck on down to Lake Luzerne.

Do I have to keep you guessing on Jim's response?

I left the house at 8:30 last Wednesday morning, an hour later than I had hoped, so I made a beeline for the border.

That meant a first for me, crossing the Mercier bridge, one of the massive bridges that span the St-Lawrence river to Montreal's south shore and the only one I had yet to cross on two wheels.
Just to the west of the Mercier's twin spans there is a railway bridge.
In no time at all I was over the border and cruising south on I-87 bound for Lake Luzerne.
One of you loyal readers (I won't mention names) wondered why I would need both GPS and iPhone mounts on my bikes.  Well the answer came no sooner than I was off the Interstate and headed west towards Lake Luzerne.  You guessed it.  No cell coverage.  Nada. Zip.  It stayed that way for the better part of the day.  Thank heavens for my Garmin. It took me to Jim's front door without a single bad turn.
I knew I was in the right place as soon as I saw Jim's GTS.  Rarer in these parts than... well as rare as a Vespa in upstate New York.  That explains the U.S. border guard's odd questions about my bike, like, was it highway legal, did it have a license plate, and how would I cope with the daunting super-scary 18 wheelers on the big bad Interstate.  When I said "I just pass them", he seemed incredulous.
What a nice balcony Jim and Grace have...
... a view to calm even the most restless spirit...
... and more than enough room for Vespas.
In no time at all we were ready to roll.
It was high noon and time for lunch. I had skipped breakfast and was famished.
Jim led the way to the centre of town to the Upriver Café, a delightful restaurant right on the banks of the Hudson River. We ate on the veranda out back.  What a delightful place it was.
We grabbed a bite, Jim started planning a grand tour of key Adirondack must-see sights, we paired our Sena helmet headsets, chatted with some locals explaining the wonders of Vespa travel, and set out.

I was concerned that Jim would mess up his packing schedule.  But Grace insisted he take the afternoon to show me around, and I got the feeling that Jim needed to break free and enjoy some time off from the moving chores.

Our first stop was at an overlook that no casual tourist might easily find, other than by dumb luck.  I knew instantly when we got there that I was in the hands of a very experienced Adirondack guide.
There in the distance was Lake George.  Jim pointed out the paddle wheeler, barely visible, plying the vast lake no doubt with a boatload of spellbound tourists, their imaginations adrift with thoughts of the great Mississippi and Mark Twain's epic yarns.
The first major stop was the Adirondack Museum.  I knew nothing of this marvel.
I was impressed by the huge Adirondack chair.  Jim offered to sit in it for a photo, but I felt that would be unbecoming.  I had already sensed I was privileged to have Jim as my guide.  Like getting a tour of Buckingham palace from Queen Elizabeth, or a guided Vatican visit from Pope Francis.
Jim had a chat with the lady manning the reception desk, quickly negotiating a waiver of the admission fee so that he could show me the view from the museum's café.  Being with Jim at the Adirondack Museum was like being at the Guggenheim with Guggenheim, or the Getty with Getty.
 More "Wow!".  This where Stephanie, Jim and I would have had lunch had good fortune landing on Steph and Jim left and right not robbed us of the opportunity. No biggie. There will be equally good times to be shared I'm sure.
We were destined to travel all day long in the park.  Jim estimates (actually more of a dead-on calculation) that we covered 186 miles in all from the time we left his place in Lake Luzerne until we parted ways in Keeseville.  And all day long, I heard myself utter "Wow!" like a dumbstruck numbskull hamstrung by a limited imagination and even more limited vocabulary.  Sorry Jim, but the ever increasing numbness in my bum must have been traveling northward to affect my speech.
Not only is Jim a certified Adirondack guide, but Jim and his family are benefactors of the museum.  Seriously.  His name is engraved there.  Honest.

See that canoe in the photo above? The one on the left? It's famous. Jim has one. He allowed in all seriousness and genuine humility that his is a better specimen.
The Adirondack Museum is to canoes and all things Adirondack-related, as the Museo Piaggio in Pontedera is to Vespas and all things Vespa-related.
The museum is truly a gem.  Anyone who finds themselves in upstate New York must pay the museum a visit. I promise it won't disappoint. Even if you won't have Jim to show you around.

There was no time for any more loitering in the museum, even if the exhibits were fascinating and the views breathtaking. We saddled up and shoved off.

Jim had more sights to show me.

We came to a stone bridge.  We stopped so I could snap a photo.  Jim rolled on a bit, and I heard him speaking in the headset but he was out of sight. At first I thought he was speaking to me. But no, he had stumbled on some local fauna.

Artistic fauna to be precise.
Jim must count his friends and acquaintances in the thousands. He has irrepressible good spirits and a genuine love of people. And shyness is not in his nature. I guess that's what made him a success in the advertising business.

Jim wanted to show me this place because more than any other place, it is his favorite in the park. Clearly the local artists' colony would agree because they were out in force capturing the scene in all its natural beauty.
As you can see for yourself, it truly is a uniquely beautiful spot.
We crashed the party and took a group photo.
This is Jim's special spot in the park.  Right there.
Here is Jim making new friends.
And then the pièce de résistance.  If you look carefully, you'll see that this artist has a vintage Vespa poster adorning her palette.  Vespa = art. As if you needed more proof. I rest my case.
As pleasant as Jim's favorite spot is, and as pleasant as the company was, and it was, there was more to see.  So off we went.
The next stop was to be Paul Smith's College.  Located in the park, the college offers programs in natural resources, fisheries and wildlife science, forestry, recreation, biology, hotel and restaurant management, culinary arts, and business.
The campus is simply stunning, located on the shore of one of the park's 3,000 lakes.
We may have cheated just a tiny bit by taking our Vespas where only pedestrians are truly welcome.

The clock was ticking and we wanted to be home by dusk.  So we rolled on, headed east on the way back to the Adirondack Northway, which is how upstate New Yorkers refer to I-87.
Along the way we stumbled on this raging spillway that Jim had not seen before.  That's how vast this park is.  Bigger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains combined, so say WikiPedia, and Jim Mandle.
You can see the spray from the spillway on the road, and on my mirror.
We were cutting across the park now, taking smaller roads, trusting Jim's Garmin and his knowledge of the park. At one point we were on a truly secondary road that seemed to be getting more and more rustic shall we say.  We had our eyes peeled on the lookout for loose gravel, massive potholes, for deer or other unsuspecting wildlife.

At one point, some turtles were making a mad dash across the road. Yikes! With incredible skill and agility, aided by Jim's alert via the headset, we swerved each in turn and avoided disaster, sparing the turtles.

At long last we made it to Keeseville and the Northway.  We indulged in some celebratory ice cream cones, refueled, and went our separate ways.  I headed north, and Jim swung south.  By nine that evening, we were each snug in our homes, our fuel tanks dry, and our minds swimming with the memories of time very well spent.

Thanks Jim! 

Depending on the way the future unfolds, an opportunity may come my way to spend more time here, at a more restful pace, and see even more of what Adirondack Park has to offer.

The tally for the day: 12 hours traveling time, 1.5 to 2 hours in lunch and other small breaks, just under 500 miles.

And that my friends is how my bum became numb, even on a very comfortable Vespa GTS.

Live your lives!  Break free!  Ride till it hurts!
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.