Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's a wrap!

It's been a phenomenal first season commuting on my Vespa scooter. No problems worth mentioning, I've had even more fun and gotten even more pleasure from the experience than I was expecting, and I've learned so many interesting and arcane things about life on two wheels.

I have a longish list of modifications I want to do before the spring riding season rolls around, so that will keep me more than busy in my spare time during the winter.

Without further ado, making good on my promise, here are the remaining lessons learned.

49. Power outlet

I don't know about other bikes, but Vespas don't come with 12 volt power outlets. Installing one is not particularly difficult, as long as you are comfortable with basic power tools and you own a power drill and a Dremel or similar multi-tool. You will find everything you need at your local electronics supply store, such as Radio Shack, The Source or similar outlets. For the Vespa-specific instructions, go to Modern Vespa and search for 12 volt outlet. Alternatively, let Google take you there. I installed mine in the glove box. Once you have the power outlet you can use a GPS unit, charge your cell phone, or power a dead cell phone in an emergency, plug in a portable compressor to fix a flat in the middle of nowhere, plug in a powerful search light, and the list goes on. I wouldn't want to go back to not having a power outlet.

50. RAM mounts

So if you've installed the power outlet, where the heck do you put your GPS unit? The answer to that question is to get a RAM mount. RAM mounts can hold just about anything you want. I got mine for my GPS unit (check out the post where you can see the RAM mount in action). I made sure to get the tripod attachment as well and I used it to mount my digital camera on the scooter and made a short video of my commute (click here for that post). You can get RAM mounts from GPS City. Fair prices and excellent service. For us Canadians, GPS City has a Canadian site too.

51. Blocking the rear brake to pump air into the rear tire

Pumping air into the rear tire is a bit of a chore because access to the rear wheel is severely limited by the muffler and the Vespa's very attractive cowls. You have to rotate the tire by hand until the valve stem is at the 6:00 o'clock position, and then apply enough force with the air pump hose nozzle against the valve stem to get the air going and inflate the tire. The tire will want to rotate fore or aft, and then the nozzle slips off, and, I don't know about you, but I start cursing. Make the job a cinch (or at least much, much easier) by applying the rear brake and using a short length of rope, or a velcro strap, or one of those rubber tubes that they use in the hospital as a tourniquet. Anything that will hold the brake handle in the compressed position will do. Wow! that really works.

52. Caught in the Web

Generations of motorcycle and scooter riders figured out how to ride, and ride well and safely without the internet to guide them. As with most things these days, the internet makes it really easy to become well informed, and get 24/7 advice from the most amazing experts when the need arises. There is no way that I would have gotten close to the amount of value out of my scooter commuting experience as I did without Modern Vespa. It is not possible to say enough good things about that forum, and the wonderful cast of characters who contribute to the goings-on there. Next to the actual Vespa motor scooter, Modern Vespa is the most important thing you need to enjoy the scooter commuting experience. The other place to go for in-depth knowledge about riding gear is Web Bike World. This is not to say that those are the only sites that can help you. But you have to go to those, and if those are the only internet resources you ever use, you'll find everything you need to make the best of your riding experience. No I don't get a commission.

53. Corazzo and Go Go Gear

There are many, many places to buy motorcycle gear, whether online, or in bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. There are also a number of places to get gear that is more suited to the scooter aesthetic. Personally, Corazzo is my favourite. I love my Corazzo 5.0 armored jacket and I highly recommend all their products. No I don't get a commission. For women who are looking for stylish riding jackets and coats that offer similar protection, check out Go Go Gear. They are newer to the market but have really nice things to offer.

54. Ride within your confidence zone

Somebody said that riding a motorcycle or a scooter is 90% mental, 10% physical. The same has been said by a number of athletes about a variety of sports. Who knows if that is a verifiable truth, but I believe it to be true. My experience is that bad things are most likely to happen when you are outside or at the limit of your confidence zone. That zone of confidence shifts with time. Things that are really awkward the first time you ride, are well within your confidence zone in no time. So right from the beginning, and by definition, we are all, to a degree, outside our comfort zone. The key is to recognize your zone, and when you are at the limit because you are learning new skills, stack the odds in your favor by staying sharply focused and learning in an environment where the risks are tolerable. Empty parking lots are a better place to begin riding than city streets. Quiet suburban streets with little traffic are preferable to boulevards with heavier traffic, and so on.

55. Bicycle skills do translate, to a degree

I love to ride bikes and at different times in my life, I put a lot of miles on a variety of bikes. During the 2009 riding season I logged more than 600 kms on Montreal's bike share BIXI bikes between May and November, riding to the office from the commuter train and back morning and night, and exploring the city on my lunch hour. Some skills definitely translate from bicycles to motor scooters. The general way that the two-wheeler handles and balancing issues are examples. If you are confident and reasonably skilled riding a bicycle, riding a motor scooter will come reasonably easily. On the other hand, there are many, many things about riding motor scooters that you'll never learn riding a bicycle. The obvious differences are in the weight and geometry of motor scooters that are a world apart from bicycles, and the speed at which you travel. For instance, I never experienced counter-steering on a bicycle. On the other hand, heavy braking into a curve seems to be very comparable to the experience on a bicycle. I would expect that if you don't feel comfortable and relaxed riding a bicycle, a powered two-wheeler will be a challenge for you.

56. Occupy the lane, drive like a truck

Riding in traffic with cars and trucks can be daunting. I have found, however, that if you ride your Vespa as if you were driving a car or a truck, you get a lot more respect, and feel much safer as a result, than if you ride as if you are on a bicycle. What I mean by riding as if you were driving a car, is that you occupy all of your lane. In that way careless or inconsiderate drivers will be less likely to squeeze into your space or attempt to squeeze by you in traffic. It's part of the mental aspect of riding a powered two-wheeler that translates into the physical experience in a tangible way. Filtering and lane-splitting are ways that scooters allow you to beat congested city traffic. But when you are filtering up through stalled traffic or lane-splitting through crawling traffic, you aren't occupying your lane, or driving like a car or truck. So when you decide to filter or lane-split, you really need to exercise extreme caution, not just because those activities are inherently tricky (like avoiding clipping a car's side view mirrors), but also because you are behaving more like a bicycle than a car. As you filter and lane split, you are causing the surrounding traffic to react differently to your presence. Whether consciously or not, many of the drivers observing you are re-calibrating their expectations of the space you need or deserve on the road. Three blocks from now, one of those drivers might be more inclined to try to squeeze by you. I don't know if this is just stuff going on in my mind, or if it's really happening this way, it just seems to work that way in my admittedly limited experience.

57. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

It's November 20th and the Vespa has been under wraps for a week now. My last commute to work was way too cold with the temperature below freezing when I set out. There's a post on that experience so I'll just link to it here rather than repeating it so soon after it was posted. I am positive that riding in November safely and comfortably is easily achievable. It's just that I don't yet own the gear that would allow me to do it. Based on others' experience, for a one-hour commute at an average speed of about 40 or 50 km/h, I'd need a good wind-proof jacket liner with a balaclava, or a combination liner like the Corazzo underhoody, good winter gauntlets, handle bar muffs, lined armored pants, a windscreen, and perhaps heated grips, or a scooter skirt. Then I'd be good to go. I'm planning to get at least some of that gear before the spring, so that I can start riding comfortably in mid or late March.

58. Have fun!

Of all the lessons my scooter commuting has taught me, the key lesson is that you've got to take a few chances and have fun. There are a million reasons it took me until my late fifties to get a motor scooter, not the least of which were strenuous objections from the women in my life like my mother and my darling wife. I have to admit that while I may be more quirky and adventurous than some, I am far from a dare-devil. So there was also that angel on my shoulder whispering constant exhortations to reason and caution. But I finally took the chance, and I have to say, it's been a very satisfying and worthwhile experience.

So that's it, I have nothing to add, nothing is left to say or share. At least for the time being.  As I dig in to the modifications I have planned for the off-season, I'll post my successes and complain about my failures.

I started this blog as a way of repaying the kindness and candor of the countless strangers whose blogs and forum posts gave me the knowledge and insight to get my scoot commute off the ground and sailing along through this magical first season. Blogging is the best way of making my own experience as a newbie powered-two-wheeler owner and enthusiast public so that someone like myself who is thinking of doing the same thing will get some benefit from reading these posts. Mission accomplished.

Happy hibernation!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

... still more lessons...

41. Gloves

Gloves are for more than keeping your hands warm. Even when it's nice and warm, or even too hot, you've got to wear gloves. I love my summer gloves. I got them at the local Harley dealer on sale. They have padding in the right places, ventilation, and fit my hands nice and snug. I don't plan to fall off my Vespa, but I do plan to be protected against road rash just in case. The vast majority of people I see riding scooters must have really good plans not to fall off, because they they clearly don't have much of a plan plan to avoid injury if they do. Before next spring rolls around, I'll have purchased some nice winter gauntlets from Corazzo for those chilly spring commutes.

42. Surface scan for hazards

It's really important to scan for surface hazards continually. It doesn't matter how well you know your route. It never ceases to amaze me when I see hazards just spring up within 8 or 9 hours on my scoot commute route. New stretches of pavement torn out and filled in with loose gravel, built-up mud and crud from dump trucks and heavy construction equipment entering the roadway from a lot under construction, super slippery steel construction plates bridging a brand new trench, oil spills, debris fallen from trucks, road kill, overnight potholes, sunken sections of pavement caused by overloaded trucks... you name it, I've seen it. So scan, scan, scan, and be prepared to take evasive action.

43. Focus

One of the nice things about riding a scooter is the focus that it requires. In a car there are many things competing for your attention: the radio, CDs, passengers, adjusting the air conditioning, cell phones, the GPS... On your scooter, you are totally immersed in the ride, you become the ride, when the road twists and turns, you lean and flow through the turn, you're scanning two seconds ahead, assessing the surface of the pavement, watching how the traffic is flowing, keeping a sharp eye on vehicles that are poised to merge or turn in your path, checking your mirrors, covering your brakes and horn, checking your speed, plotting your course well in advance... The combination of all those things that you focus on is what makes riding such a compelling pleasure. You rarely get that driving a car.

44. Air pressure

When I got my scooter I made the mistake of riding without checking the air pressure in my tires. Fortunately nothing bad came of it and something good came of it. When I learned a little more about riding scooters, I got a pressure gauge and checked the tires. I found the pressure substantially lower than it should have been. When I got the pressure back up to where it needed to be, I was really shocked by how much better the bike handled. Now I check the tire pressure regularly. Fortunately I have a good air compressor in the garage so topping up the pressure is really easy to do.

45. Patching flats

Sometime in August I picked up a really good nail in the rear tire. A scooter is not like a car: you don't have a spare (though some vintage Vespas did have them), and pulling into a gas station somehow seems like less of an option. So I did something I had never done before. I went to the local Canadian Tire store and bought a tire plugging kit. Worked like a charm. Now I know how to fix my own flats, and I carry the tire plugging kit in the pet carrier along with a portable 12 volt compressor. I know other scooterists who do the same.

46. Tools to bring along

The tire plugging kit and the tire pressure guauge were added to a small tool kit that includes a hammer, socket driver, pliers, assorted screws, nuts and washers, Allen keys, screw drivers and other assorted hand tools all wrapped up in a flexible textile holder with velcro closure. When you ride a scooter or a motorcycle, you need to be a little more independent than the average driver. To get yourself thinking along those lines, you could do worse than reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

47. Block the footwell

So this heading is pretty cryptic. But you're about to learn something that you may thank me for if you own a Vespa, or come to own a Vespa, and you decide to tackle some of the essential modifications I suggest you make in these 'lessons learned' posts. If you decide to install a Stebel air horn, and you definitely should, or you decide to install a twelve volt outlet, you'll have to run new 12 volt positive and negative lines from the battery to the leg shield. Doing that requires that you disassemble the leg shield and the foot board. When you begin the reassembly process, if you fumble a screw or bolt, or anything else that's reasonably small, it will follow the nice curvy leg shield and rattle down inside the foot well. So when you're working in the leg shield and the floor board is installed, use sponges or rags to block the holes at the top of the floor board to prevent things you fumble from rattling down there. This winter when I tackle the modifications I'm planning, I'll finally remove the foot board and retrieve the headset screw I fumbled back in April. Sheesh! And that was the second time I had lost something to the leg shield in 24 hours. Like I said, earlier, I'm a slow learner.

48. Turn signal beeper

With few exceptions, motorcycles and scooters don't have self-cancelling turn signals. Vespa turn signals are also silent though some scooters have audible clicking sounds (like the Honda Ruckus). When you're focused on the ride, it's easy to forget to cancel the turn signal after a turn. Installing a turn signal beeper solves that problem. It's not rocket science, and you'll find all the parts you'll need at Radio Shack (now The Source in Canada) or your local electronics store, and all the instructions at Modern Vespa. Three of the really nice things about installing the beeper are i) you will never again forget to cancel the turn signal, ii) you don't need to check the instrument panel to know that you've successfully turned the indicator on, and iii) in the city the beeper alerts pedestrians to your presence and turning intentions. Plus, Plus, Plus.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More lessons learned...

33. Never hang the helmet on the parcel hook

I learned this one the hard, or rather the expensive way.  This tidbit only applies if you ride a Vespa LX, or maybe a Vespa S as well.  On these models the parcel hook slides out from the front of the saddle.  It holds things really well and quite securely.  That is until you lift the saddle to access the gas tank or the pet carrier.  When you raise the saddle whatever is on the parcel hook gets ejected.  If you eject the helmet in this way, it's not good for the helmet.  After doing this 5-6 times (I'm a slow learner), eventually the helmet will roll down a grassy slope, stop against a rock and split your visor in two!  It's only about sixty bucks to replace the visor. Ouch! Lesson (finally) learned.

34. Securing a full face helmet

So if the parcel hook is not a good place for the helmet, and like me, your full face helmet won't fit in the pet carrier or top case, what do you do to secure your helmet if you plan to leave it with your bike while you're shopping? If your chin strap has a D-ring, you can use the secure helmet hook that comes with the Vespa. It's right on the lip of the pet carrier on the right, towards the front. But if, like me, your helmet has a ratchet lock (much more convenient than a D-ring in every meaningful way) you can't use the helmet hook. Soooo, here's the scoop. For about $15 you can buy a helmet cable lock. Thread the lock through the visor and lock it to the passenger grab rail. The cable is just long enough to let the helmet sit on the passenger seat. If it rains while you're away, the helmet won't become a water bucket. That's a big plus.

35. Always have a camera handy

One of the great things, maybe the best things really, about commuting on a scooter, is that the routes you choose are typically more scenic than the typical route you'd take in your car. So chances are, you're going to come across scenes that you'll want to take pictures of. That's a good thing because it's really easy to stop anywhere and snap really great pictures even without getting off the bike. So carry a camera in your pocket or your topcase or glovebox. You won't regret it.

36. Always have a spyglass

For years now I've always made sure to have binoculars in each of our cars. You never know when they'll come in handy. Now on a Vespa, binoculars aren't that much of an option. So I carry a really good monocular. A spyglass if you prefer. Makes you feel like Horatio Hornblower when you use it. All right, this one may not be for everyone, but it works for me.

37. Corazzo cup holder

Eventually you will want to pick up some coffee on the way to work. Since the average place you'll be likely to get your coffee may not be the place you'll want to drink it, you'll want to tote it to a nice park bench along your route, maybe a few miles from the coffee joint, and savour your coffee while you take in whatever picturesque view the bench was meant to allow you to enjoy. Trust me, those places exist, you'll find them on your scooter. So what's the best, most effective, and reasonably priced way to get your coffee safely from A to B? Check out the Corazzo cup holder at Corazzo.

38. Group rides with 2 cycles

I've only done this once. There's a post on this back in June. I'm more of a solitary ride type of rider. But the group ride is a lot of fun, and a great experience. Among the hazards you'll face, particularly if you choose to ride behind folks riding two-stroke machines (the Vespa LX is a nice four-stroke clean machine), is riding in an invisible cloud of noxious exhaust. After a few hours of this, you'll feel like you've mowed all the lawns in your neighborhood in one crazy, demented fit of lawn mowing. You'll want to wash your clothes too.

39. ATGATT

When I started out, I had no clue what ATGATT was. In fact, right from the start I've been an ATGATT kind of guy. You should also be an ATGATT person. ATGATT has nothing to do with AT&T, or Gatwick Airport, or an international import tariff treaty. It means "All The Gear, All The Time". No matter the heat of the summer day. No one plans to high side, low side, drop the bike, lay it down, get thrown after a tank slapper, or otherwise grace the pavement with their presence. Some knowledgeable medical types on Modern Vespa have pointed out that skin actually stands up to pavement abrasion better than denim. So get a full face helmet, a good armored jacket and pants, armored boots, armored gloves. Stack the odds in your favour, and maybe you won't have to be Googling ways to cure road rash.

40. Vespa one, squirrel zero

It had to happen. God can't be quite as perfect as some would have you believe. George Burns played God in "Oh! God" and there's this great scene when he's going over his mistakes (giraffe: neck's too long; avocado: pit's too big...). I'd like to add squirrels to the list. Perhaps it's not God's fault. For the longest time squirrels were probably not quite so vulnerable before roads and cars. But then you'd think that God would have had that covered. Don't tell me she didn't see it coming. Anyway there was this really talented squirrel. There was a car coming in the opposite direction, and me on my Vespa, closing at 40 km/h each, or eliminating the intervening space at roughly 80 km/h. This talented squirrel goes to cross. Comes up to the car. Thinks twice darts back towards the curb. I'm braking hard. The talented squirrel thinks thrice, darts back out, comes up to my front wheel. Still braking. Thinks again (fourice?), and here's where the talent comes in, darts back towards the curb, and, wait for it, changes its little mind one last time, and, incredibly, manages to dive under my back wheel. Quite a feat of squirrelyness, if you ask me. Unfortunately, that squirrel won't be passing those genes along, unless you believe in re-incarnation and it gets to return, as a squirrel. What do you think the odds are?

Can you take any more? Good, there's still more to come. Hang in there, and watch this space.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

58 Lessons learned in year one of the scoot commute

At long last, after threatening to post all the things I've learned since I first began this magnificent adventure back in February of 2010, here I go.

I don't know if there is a limit to how much stuff you're allowed to cram into a blogger post, but if there is a limit, I may well find out what it is. Here are 58 things I learned during my first scooter commuting season. One for each year I've lived. Who would have thunk?

1. Feet on the passenger pegs

After experimenting with various slightly different seating positions over the riding season, I've found that placing my feet more rearward, basically on the rear passenger footpegs, instead of forward close to the legshield, is i) more comfortable, ii) gives me a better feeling of control, and iii) allows me to "post" over obstacles (see the next topic).

2. Posting over tracks and bumps

When I was a kid my mom insisted I take formal horseback riding lessons.  English saddle and such.  I quickly learned that horses were way too big, and a lot less fun for me than for the Lone Ranger on TV.  For the longest time I figured that those lessons were wasted on me. And  then, 50 years later, it turns out that "posting" (raising your bum off the saddle to avoid bouncing around when the horse trots) is really useful on a scooter when there are obstacles (such as train tracks and potholes) to cross, of which my scoot commute route offers many. You get much better control, and deliver much less punishment to the scooter.  Especially if you weigh 200 lbs.

3. Seams in the pavement: not really a big deal

Way back in April, when I began commuting, I spent too much time worrying about and looking out for seams in the pavement.  Especially those seams covered with that rubbery, tarry, crack filler stuff that seems to have gotten popular, at least around here.  As my experience increased, and as I got way more serious about tire pressure (see tire pressure below), seams in the road turned out to be not a real concern.  Sometimes you get a little squirm, but overall, not something to be so worried about.

4. Edge traps and driveway entrances

If seams are no big deal, bona fide edge traps are to be taken seriously.  Read about edge traps in David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling. When you have to cross an edge trap, for instance when you turn into a parking lot and have to use a sidewalk ramp, make sure that you cross the line at least at 45 degrees.  Anything less, and you might loose control, perhaps drop the bike.  For railroad tracks or streetcar tracks that cross the road at 45 degrees, watch out in the rain.  The rails are slick, and the aprons that some crossings have are slick as well.

5. Bag on the parcel hook

I tried several ways of carrying my computer bag.  Wearing it across your chest with the bag on the passenger seat is only advisable for really short hops. It's guaranteed to give you a pain in the neck (and shoulder too) if you try to commute that way.  For the better part of the spring and summer I used a bungee net to secure the bag to the passenger seat.  That works very well, and in fact, a bungee net (about $10) is a must have in your topcase, pet carrier or glove box.  In the end though I found that the parcel hook was the best way for me.  I found it held the bag very securely, much more so than I thought, and it saved me precious time not fiddling with the bungee net, and even more time when I needed to get gas.  So get a bungee net by all means, but carry your laptop on the parcel hook.  That's what first got me using those rear footpegs.  Win - Win!!

6. How to pump gas

This I learned in part from the amazing folks at Modern Vespa, and in part from Pierre, the most experienced and knowledgeable PTW rider I have met so far.  Insert the nozzle fully into the gas tank, facing the rear of the tank, not the side of the tank, which seems the most natural way to pump gas, or the front or the tank (as you might do with a motorcycle).  Pull on the trigger and keep to a mid-level flow, not trickling the gas in, and not full tilt as you might do with your car eitherWhen the pump stops automatically, you're done.  No spillage, no pet carrier swilling with gas.  Just a full tank, thank you.  Resist the temptation to get the tank really, really full or you'll likely end up with a spill.  You're probably commuting in an urban setting, not going on safari, so don't fret if the gas gauge shows just under full.  Overfilling a modern Vespa can lead to nasty issues with the fuel tank evap system.  Don't believe me? Look it up!

7. Counter steering

Wow! This is a tough one, but so worthwhile.  Plus knowing how to counter steer is a vital skill for safe riding, particularly at higher speeds on twisty roads.  I won't even attempt to explain technique here.  I doubt I'd do a really good job of it, and might do you a serious disservice by misleading you.  Buy David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling, take a motorcycle safety course, and trust me, you need to learn counter steering.

8. Covering both brakes and horn

This one I almost had to learn the hard way.  On the Vespa LX, the left (rear) brake is a drum brake, and the right (front) brake is a disk brake.  Needless to say, the front brake is way more powerful than the rear brake.  To stop safely, you need to use both brakes.  In an emergency situation (I've had two this summer), you don't have time to think.  If you don't develop really good habits, you can easily grab a handful of the wrong brake and end up losing control.  In addition, in those situations, you're really going to want to use your Stebel air horn (read on).  To avoid trying to actually think through this in an emergency, EVERY TIME  you feel any need for the brakes, COVER BOTH BRAKES with all your fingers (no fancy "I'm so cool, I only need two fingers on the front brake" stuff).  Plus simultaneously cover the horn with your left thumb.  No exceptions, ever.  When an unexpected situation occurs and you desperately need the brakes and the horn, and you will, you'll thank me.

9. Stebel horn

Even really big expensive motorcycles come with the same "meep! meep!" horn that graces Vespas.  Swap that horn out pronto, before you start really riding your bike, well before you start commuting.  Install a Stebel air horn.  I've stopped 18 wheelers in their tracks, and shocked cell-phone-toting drivers back to attention!  Thanks Stebel!  You'll find everything you need on Modern Vespa.

10. Rain gear

If you're going to commute, you're going to ride in the rain, even if you don't plan to.  If you avoid riding every day when the weather is iffy, you're going to end up riding a heck of a lot less than you'd like.  Head off to your local dealer and buy a good rain suit.  Always keep it tucked into your pet carrier or top case.

11. Traveling in the left lane

The left lane is often faster, but the risks are greater also.  Scooters are more about a relaxed pace.  Take your time.  Take the scenic route.  Save rushing for another time, another place.  Take the left lane by all means when it makes sense, but re-double your vigilance.  You're harder to spot on a two-wheeler, and people don't tend to expect Vespas in the left hand lane. Cover the horn button with your left thumb.

12. Watching out for lane changers

Eventually a lane changer won't see you.  That's where the Stebel really shines (honks actually!).  And cover those brakes as well.  

13. Watching out for left turners

One of the more serious risks for motorcyclists and scooterist alike, is the left hand turner.  Statistically, people coming from the opposite direction have a nasty habit of not seeing you, or miscalculating your closing speed and thinking that they have time to turn left in front of you.  The only thing for it is to be acutely aware of the risk that the situation presents.  Making eye contact with the other driver is no guarantee.  Be prepared to stop, be prepare to blast the horn, be prepared for evasive manoeuvres.

14. Never rushing

I've said it before, being in a rush is a bad recipe.  Ride well within your comfort zone.  Stay alert.  Be really focused on the ride.  Riding in a more relaxed way will be sure to yield amazing benefits.  My scoot commute has been a pure joy.  And it doesn't really take more time than commuting by car, bus, subway, or train.

15. Three second rule

When you ride, make a conscious effort to scan your route three seconds ahead.  What this means is paying attention to the road ahead, approximately where you'll be three seconds from now, from now, from now... you get the point.  It's easier said than done, trust me.  But by doing it, you increase the safety zone you travel through.  Just do it.

16. Controlling speed

One of the things I learned is that there is a pernicious relationship between speed and pleasure on a powered two-wheeler.  There's something about how you feel the forces at play, in the curves particularly. As your skill improves, particularly as you learn to counter steer, you find that you can confidently take curves faster and faster.  And the same curve is way more fun at 50kms than at 30kms per hour.  Fortunately, if you're on a scooter, you're unlikely to be flirting with exhilaration at 120kms per hour.  But even at 50kms per hour, the pavement and fixed obstacles won't be very forgiving.  So keep your speed in check, especially as your skills improve.

17. Practicing figure 8's

One of the more difficult things to do is sharp turns at very slow speeds.  The closest I came to dropping my Vespa was doing a U-turn in an empty parking lot.  That close call didn't happen in the first two weeks I had the bike, as you might imagine.  It happened at the very end of the season and it happened after I had spent time a few weeks earlier practicing U-turns and figure eights in another parking lot.  No, practicing those turns did not lead to the close call.  The close call was due to the fact that I hadn't practiced enough.  And maybe I thought that because I had practiced a little, that I could now make that U-turn casually.  Wrong!  You can't practice those slow speed manoeuvres enough.

18. Practicing stops

And while you're at it, practice emergency stops.  David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling has excellent tips on setting up to practice turns and emergency stops.  Buy the book.  No I don't know the author, and I don't get a commission.  Buy the book.

19. One foot down (right? left! right!)

When I first started riding, I put both feet down when I came to a stop.  Eventually I became adept enough to put one foot down when coming to a stop.  It was awkward at first.  But I mastered it.  With my right foot.  I'm left-handed, and I often do things differently from most folks.  It never occurred to me that putting the right foot down might be wrong.  But it is.  It finally occurred to me when I was following a group of motorcycle students taking a lesson from the local driving school..  At every stop down went the left feet.  Of course!  On a motorcycle you need that right foot for the rear brake!  Now on a Vespa LX, since it's got an automatic transmission, the rear brake can use the left handle bar lever since it's not needed for the clutch.  It occurred to me then that I should re-train myself to put my left foot down.  It just seems more orthodox.  So I made a conscious effort to do that at every stop.  Not so easy.  But after a month or so, I'm almost there.  It no longer feels awkward, and I can almost balance the bike as well on my left foot as I can on my right.  But it's still not as comfortable.  Don't be like me, start off on the right foot, and use your left foot.  Right...

20. Helmet choice

I love my modular helmet.  When I started shopping for a helmet I knew I wanted a full face helmet because I had benefited from all the discussions on Modern Vespa. I got very good advice from one of the folks at the local motor sports dealer who suggested a modular helmet.  My Nolan N102 helmet is beautifully designed, locks very securely, and allows me to flip up the helmet which is really handy when fueling, or chatting with people while you're still in the saddle.  Plus it makes it a lot easier for people like me who wear glasses.  I've had a few big bug strikes (wasps, bees).  Think SWACKKK!  I can't imagine those strikes would be much fun with an open helmet.  Not to mention that there's a strong chance that if you fall off, it's likely your chin is going to be the first part of your body to meet the road.  I prefer to ruin my helmet than to sand off my chin.  Your opinion may vary.

21. Sunglasses

Unless you have the extra cash to spring for a really cool helmet like the Nolan N103 with the built-in flip down sunshade, you're going to want your sunglasses.  Bear in mind that there's no sun visor to flip down when the sun's low, like when you're driving your car.  Nuff said. 

22. Yarmulke mitigates helmet hair

If you've been to a Bar Mitzvah, you've probably come away with a Yarmulke, usually with the young man's name and the date of the blessed event printed on it.  Now I'm not a religious person, and I wasn't raised as a Jew, so normally I don't have much use for Yarmulkes.  Until I figured out that putting a blue suede Yarmulke in my helmet just so, largely prevents 'helmet hair', at least for me.  So now that blue suede Yarmulke is a fixture in my scooter jacket pocket.  I hope that G-d has a sense of humor, otherwise my goose might be more cooked than it needs to be.  But at least I don't have helmet hair!

23. Office dressing strategies

If you're like me, and you work in an office, and you have to dress formally in the office, you need a strategy if you're going to commute on a motorcycle or scooter.  The saddle on my Vespa LX is grippy.  So it's a little hard on fabric.  So for my day-in-day-out commuting, I prefer not to wear suit pants.  The solution for me is that I leave my suits and dress shoes in the office.  I commute in jeans and wear heavy hiking boots.  Between now and next spring, I plan to buy proper lined armored pants.  And maybe some real motorcycle boots.  I am fortunate to have a closed office.  There is a glass panel next to the door.  So I got a blind for the glass panel, I lower my window blinds and I do what my colleagues refer to as my "Superman thing".  It only takes a few minutes.  My suits prefer it, and I get to enjoy my commute in comfortable clothing.  Win - Win, don't you think?

24. Coming to the office dripping wet

So with my formal dress strategy, I don't have to worry about commuting in the rain.  I have a really good Teknic two-piece rain suit, and if it starts to rain, I put on the suit and don't have a care in the world.  Let it rain!  When I get to the office, I just wipe most of the rain off my suit, and wear all my gear up to my office.  By the time I get from the underground garage up to my sixth floor office, I'm fairly dry.  I hang up the rain suit, and by about mid morning it's all dry.

25. Always carry a ShamWow

I keep one in my top case.  That's how I deal with most of the water after a ride in the rain.  See the previous item.

26. Metal bridge decks

Montreal has a number of bridges with metal grid decks.  It doesn't freak me out anymore to ride on the metal decking.  But you need to know i) that it's reasonably safe, and ii) that the metal grid makes the bike squirm.  So if you approach a bridge and it has a metal deck, and you've never ridden on a metal grid deck before, don't worry, but don't freak out when the bike begins to squirm.  Don't worry, be happy.

27. Sand

This (sand) you do really have to worry about.  Sand or gravel is what caused the people I know who have crashed their bikes, to crash their bikes.  Yikes!  Beware!

28. White paint

OK... not just sand.  The white paint used to mark our roads is like grease when it rains.  At intersections when there are those huge turn arrows, or 'zebra' crossings, or cross walks, it means that the pavement you need to use to stop, might be severely compromised in the rain.  Forewarned is forearmed.

29. Construction plates

The only thing more slippery than sand, white paint, or gravel, is a thick steel construction plate that crews use to bridge the trenches they are so fond of digging in our roads.  When those are wet, watch out!

30. Potholes

While you're looking out for all those other road hazards, add potholes to the list.  'Posting' really helps when the pothole is unavoidable.  See posting above.

31. Sewer covers

Sewer covers are more annoying than dangerous.  They tend to be recessed, and can be unnecessarily jarring to ride over.  If the dip is deep enough, your suspension will bottom out.  Not much fun.  BUT, all the more reason to do the manhole slalom!  Turn that frown upside down! As dreadful as driving over a dippy sewer cover might be, the manhole slalom is scooter bliss.  I just love it.  Swoop, swoop! Woot! Woot! What a hoot!!

32. Train tracks

Covered above... check out 'posting'.

Lots more to come, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ode to Steve Williams

I've wanted to share my recent cold weather experience since last Tuesday, but this time of year is nuts for me and time is not my friend.

The Vespa is basically off for its winter snooze in the garage. Last week I thought I'd do one last commute. When I set off at about 7 a.m. it was below freezing. Frost was heavy on the lawn and on cars that spent the night outside.

I was wearing ski gloves, a fleece under my Corazzo 5.0 jacket, full face helmet, and jeans.

Half way to the office I had to duck into a McDonalds for coffee to ward off the cold. Half an hour later I set off to complete the 30km ride after switching to ski mitts.

I got to the office and was so thoroughly chilled, I hooked up a space heater under my desk and ran it full blast until lunch time.

To say that I regretted that last ride is to put it mildly. At lunch time I picked up some of those disposable hand warmers. For the ride home, I used one in each ski mitt, and one in each shoe.

Here's where I learned something useful. The helmet keeps my head warm. My hands and feet were kept nice and warm by the disposable warmers. The rest of my body was chilled though. So chilled that after I changed out of my riding gear, within half an hour in the house my hands were cold. It took all evening to get the chill out my body.

Ironically, I had just a few days earlier read the sections on cold weather riding and the risks of hypothermia in David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling.

I live in a city where I have experienced minus 40 several times (Celsius or Fahrenheit, it's the same), and have skiied in bitter cold, and yet never really gotten chilled like I did last week on my Vespa in much less cold weather.

I was definitely not hypothermic, but the combination of being essentially still, coupled with the rush of air that increases the cooling effect, makes riding a PTW in cold weather a bigger challenge than it appears to the uninitiated. The risk is that the cold combined with the chill can affect your judgment. You want to get the ride done, so you ride faster than you would in more clement weather, and thinking about how uncomfortable you are reduces the focus otherwise devoted to the road and surroundings. Plus, numb fingers don't react as fast as warm ones.

The eye-opener for me is that keeping head, hands and feet warm, doesn't compensate much for the overall chill your body is subjected to.

If I had been wearing more appropriate gear (armored lined pants, cold weather lined jacket, etc.) I would have fared better. But I guess my point is, that cold weather riding needs to be taken seriously, particularly if the commute lasts an hour or more. Heated grips might keep your hands warm, but given my experience on the ride home, warm hands is just not enough protection if your legs and torso are not sufficiently protected.

So who is Steve Williams and why is this an ode to Steve?   Steve Williams' Scooter in the Sticks blog documents, among other very fascinating pursuits, his intrepid cold weather Vespa rides all through legendary Pennsylvania winters.  He has so much to teach fellow riders about what it takes to ride in cold weather.  And I have so much to learn.

The next post will be the wrap up of lessons learned from year one of the scoot commute.  I started this adventure with 1,304 miles on the Vespa's odometer, and, as you can see, I've piled on 4,642 of my very own miles.  Wow!  Even in the cold, the scoot commute is still a hoot!

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October commutes

As the temperature falls riding a scooter requires a stronger constitution. The cold air is felt sharply wherever it manages to penetrate, or wherever the protection is thinnest.

I'm wearing a fleece under my Corazzo 5.0 jacket, which is fine protection for my upper body, and Combi ski mitts, which, so far, are keeping my hands reasonably comfortable. I can eliminate wind entering at the cuffs, but there is always a thin vulnerable point between my collar and my Nolan N102 helmet. Where the wind does penetrate, it is cutting and sharp. And even with the ski mitts, after an hour's commute, my fingers have begun to chill.

The fall weather increases the risk equation. Leaves litter the ground, accumulating by the side of the road. After a rainfall, the cars sometimes leave a layer of pulverized leaves on the pavement that can last for several days. Getting chilled tends to be distracting, and numbed fingers tucked into mitts are clumsier than warm fingers in motorcycle gloves.  Riding in the rain has definitely lost any allure it may once have had.

The weather alters the familiar scenes. There's no mistaking a fall sky at dawn.

Here are some pictures of Lake St-Louis snapped on last Wednesday's commute.
And here are some shots of a similar view taken this morning.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wrap up in sight

 
I can't believe that I started this adventure in March.  October is here, and Halloween will likely mark the end of my first season riding my Vespa LX150 scooter.

I have learned a lot these past 8 months.  March was spent getting ready, and the scoot commute began in earnest in April.  More than seven months on the road and just over four thousand miles, or more than 6,400 kilometres, covered in that short time.  Commuting really racks up those miles.

I'll most likely do a comprehensive "lessons learned" formal wrap up once the bike retires for the season to its little bay in my garage.
One of the things it took me a while to learn was how to store my laptop.  After trying to ride with the bag slung over my shoulder (uncomfortable for all but the shortest rides), months of using a bungee net to secure the laptop bag to the passenger seat which turns out to be a little tedious, but otherwise OK (but super tedious when you have to stop for gas), for the past several weeks I ride with the laptop secured on the parcel hook.  It just rests on the tunnel with more than enough weight on the hook to hold the bag very securely.  It's fast, convenient, secure.  I now ride with my heels on the passenger foot pegs.  This allows me to apply another thing I learned: posting over the many railroad level crossings that litter my commute.

Enough! Enough!

I'm stealing my own thunder, wasting my dry powder! Stay tuned for that mega season wrap up post! 

In the meantime, it's back to wearing a fleece under my Corazzo 5.0 jacket, and ski gloves on my hands.  The morning temperature is still in the high single digits (just below 50 Fahrenheit), but it will soon be down to freezing temps during the morning commute.

I haven't posted lately because I was on vacation the last two weeks having fun in Ogunquit Maine, Boston and Toronto.  Just two weeks ago it was 28 balmy degrees in Ogunquit, and 30 in Boston.  I saw Vespas everywhere I went, but by far the most Vespas were in Toronto.  During a 15 minute stroll downtown, I counted 12 Vespas.

That's it for now folks!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sunrise

I haven't been tending this blog, other than posting the links to the 2010 Scooter Cannonball rally that you'll see to the right.  My free-ish time has been devoted to following the Cannonball action.  I thought I might participate in that rally the next time it takes place in 2012.  I've been following the action pretty closely and I now think that neither my scooter nor I are up for that grueling an experience.

If I decide to ride coast to coast, and I may, it'll be on my own schedule, confined as much as possible to paved roads, during daylight hours only, and with the objective of raising money for a charity.  If I can help it, I won't turn my motel room into an impromptu mechanic's bay, or attempt to rebuild the cylinder and cylinder head on a gravel shoulder, as some intrepid Cannonballers have done.  What an adventure those riders are having.
Leaving the Cannonball aside for a moment, I thought I'd touch on transitions.  The daylight hours are shrinking.  The weather is a little gloomy. Fall is in the air. My first summer on a scooter is coming to a close.  The cold air worked its way through my gloves this morning by the time I got to the office.  I'm thinking seriously about installing a windscreen. Oh well, every season brings its charms.  That's why I've peppered this morning's post with sunrise pictures taken just east of the Pointe Claire village.  They tell the story of the coming fall, don't they?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sunset

I rarely post accounts of my evening commute.

I suppose it's because I work long hours and the ride home is decompression time.  I'm anxious to get home, and my inclinations tend towards shorter, faster trips than to slightly longer photo opportunity trips.  The difference between the two experiences is literally only a few minutes, perhaps five, but five evening minutes are not five morning minutes.

That's not to say that the route along the water doesn't offer amazing views.  It certainly does, and I enjoy them just as much as the morning ones, but they're different, the quality and direction of the light is different, and unless there is something I see that compels me to stop and take a picture, I don't have anything to share with you here but the memory.

Last night's commute presented one of those compelling moments.  The photo was taken in Dorval, looking west across the bay towards Pointe Claire.

Not all scooterists have such benign experiences.  Some Modern Vespa forum members have to dodge bullets on the way home.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scooter Cannonball

The 2010 edition of the Scooter Cannonball is about to get underway.  It runs from September 9 through the 18th.  The participants depart Vancouver B.C. and trek to Portland, Maine.

I've posted a link to Pistol Pete's blog among the scooter blogs down on the right side of the page.  I'll post others as I come across them.

I am sooooo jealous.

Maybe in 2012.

PS: I've added a panel on the right side of the page with all the 2010 Scooter Cannonball links I come across to make it easier to follow the action.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What to read if you ride

This will be a short, but valuable post for those of you who already ride a scooter or motorcycle, or those seriously considering buying one.

I wouldn't say the learning curve is steep. Scooters are relatively easy to operate since most, like the Vespa LX150, have automatic continuously variable transmissions.  But riding any powered two-wheeler, whether it's a scooter or a motorcycle that can exceed 40 km/h, means having to come to terms with the laws of physics in ways that no other vehicle exposes you to.

One of the challenges is learning that when you are in a left hand turn, you actually need to steer right.  It's called counter-steering, and it's completely counter-intuitive. It's a really necessary skill, and it takes a combination of riding experience, knowledge and practice to get it right.

If you haven't already done so, you really need to find and purchase a copy of David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well.  The knowledge you need to complement your riding experience and practice is contained in this book.
After reading just a few chapters, I'm already more proficient in handling my Vespa.  Being able to counter-steer effectively is making a huge difference in my riding experience.

Pleasant surprises

You can live your whole life in a city and only get to know small parts of it.

If you had asked me in years past if I knew where Wellington street was, I would have told you that it was either in Point St-Charles, or Verdun, or somewhere vaguely southwest of the downtown core.  I couldn't have told you much else.

If you have no reason to go to the place because you don't work there, you don't live there, it's not along the route to work, or the route home, and you don't have friends or relatives there, well, it might as well be on Mars.
 An alternate route that I now take to work on my Vespa, when I have 5 minutes to spare, is to continue along the water, past Lachine, through Lasalle and into Verdun.  I veer off the water route and take Wellington street towards downtown.

 What a pleasant surprise Wellington street is.

Even during the hustle and bustle of the morning commute, the pace on Wellington is leisurely.  It's a nice mix of higher density residential property and small retail outlets.

One of the surprises is to find lovely Locust trees lining the street.  Locusts are my favorite trees.  Their lacy foliage filters the light in a very pleasant way.  When it rains, the bark goes almost black and the pale foliage provides a beautiful contrast.

Densely populated urban thoroughfares are not generally tree-friendly, especially in a northern city like Montreal.  Snowplows are the sworn enemy of trees, particularly young trees.  Yet, as you can see, the Locusts of Wellington street are doing allright.  Maybe better than allright.

Traditionally, this part of town was home to persons of modest means. I doubt that it will stay that way much longer.

Montreal's population has been slowly shifting back to the city.  As real estate prices in the suburbs and the price of gasoline have soared, thirty-something professionals have been gentrifying some of the older neighborhoods on the Plateau, the Mile-End east of the mountain, and all along the Lachine Canal.

I look at Wellington street with fresh eyes.  It has a lot to offer.  I'll bet that, before long, this area will be re-discovered and property here will rank among the new trendy sought-after places to live in the city.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lunchtime!

When you work downtown, whether you commute by car, train, bus, metro, or even walk, you tend to stay more less put and eat lunch pretty close to where you work.  Certainly that was my case until recently.

Last summer BIXI bikes opened a whole other range of possible lunch venues.  The Old Port, the Plateau, the Atwater Market, Greene Avenue, all became what you might call 'luncheable'.

This riding season, my Vespa has opened all kinds of additional possibilities: enjoying a sandwich on the lookout on Camilien Houde, or a delicious grilled lamb sandwich at the Jean-Talon market, for instance.

This map says it all, the black lines more or less tell the story of the respective lunchtime roaming capacity of BIXI bikes, and Vespa LX150's.
On Tuesday I really needed a change of scenery and a change of pace.  So I hopped on my scooter and headed to a place that is one of Montreal's legendary hangouts: the Orange Julep on Décarie boulevard.  This place doesn't need a website of its own, because it has a Wikipedia page.  Wow!
The food, other than the signature orange beverage which is akin to the nectar of the gods, is unexceptional drive-in fare: hot dogs, burgers, fries, ubiquitous Quebec 'poutine', etc.  The ambiance is all retro fifties and sixties drive-in, with the backdrop of the over-the-top, huge, orange, citrus-shaped, building that houses this unmistakable landmark.

60's pop music, heavily laced with Motown classics, suffuses the air in the huge parking lot and instantly takes me back to my earliest experiences here when waitresses on roller skates responded to flashing headlights to take orders and deliver the food on a drive-in tray cantilevered on my Dad's driver's door window.  With the exception of the skating waitresses who are doubtlessly mostly grandmothers now, the place hasn't changed at all.

Read all about it on Wikipedia.

From my picnic table, I had a decent view of two other unmistakable Montreal landmarks.

St-Joseph's Oratory...
and the main art-deco tower of the Université de Montréal designed by famed architect Ernest Cormier.
Lunch doesn't get any better, or cheaper, than this!!

Come to Montreal and check it out.

If you live in Montreal, buy a scooter!  Dare to live!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mercier bridge

On the way to work I parked on a foot path on the river bank that is parallel and just south of the bicycle path that runs on the bank on the south side of Lasalle Boulevard to enjoy my morning coffee and take some snapshots of the Mercier bridge.

Since my post last week about Montreal's bridges it makes sense to post some images.
These photos don't really tell the story about the bridge approach that can only really be conveyed by looking at the map.
The black circles on the map show that you have to commit to the Mercier bridge on Airlie just over a quarter mile from the bridge, and once you do, it's all limited access roadway with concrete dividers so there's no turning back.

With a little luck, and given enough time I will eventually cross all of Montreal's bridges.

On a technical note, for beverage addicts, one of the challenges of commuting on a motorcycle or scooter, is that they don't come with cup holders.  The folks who post valuable information on the Modern Vespa forum have come up with some excellent ways of transporting beverages, some home-grown, some very sophisticated and versatile .  Since all Vespas have carry hooks (variously and affectionately referred to as the "purse hook" or "curry hook" depending on where you're from and what your sense of humor is), many designs exploit that feature.

I settled on the coffee jacket from Corazzo that also happens to fit in with the look of my Corazzo 5.0 armored jacket.
It just arrived the other day along with some goodies and freebies. Think a fresh batch of zipper pulls to replace the one that tore, and to add to my pockets to make life easier, another Corazzo sticker that I want to apply to my scoot, just have to figure out where, some nice postcards, and something else, that I won't mention, but that is really appreciated and serves to confirm that the folks at Corazzo are very special people - Thanks Jody!!.

If you look carefully in the first photo above, you can just see the cup holder hanging in front of the saddle.

I tested it this morning for the first time, and it works really, really well.  It held my McDonalds coffee securely, kept it handy, and not a drop was spilled.  Success!!  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Weather for ducks

 After a spectacular beginning to the riding season with record-breaking heat in April, and the unremittingly beautiful summer weather that followed, the sometimes heavy rains and overcast skies of the last few weeks are certainly a change.

This morning a light pervasive fog softened the island.

Steve Williams, publisher, author, photographer, and fellow scooter blogger (check out Steve's award-winning Scooter in the Sticks blog), has a particular fondness for fog and mist veiled landscapes. 
Do you share his appreciation?  I certainly do.

This morning's photos were taken during my commute, snapped lazily from the saddle of my Vespa LX150, stopped for a moment on Lakeshore boulevard in Pointe Claire.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bridges

When you live on an island, even a large island like Montreal, and when you ride a scooter like the Vespa LX150, and when many of the bridges are either linked to limited access highways, or are huge imposing sky-high engineering wonders, you eventually wonder how you're going to get off the island.

You know it's more or less inevitable. But to do it, you have to commit to it.  For most of Montreal's bridges, the design of the bridge approach requires that you make a major commitment to the bridge.  Once you're on the approach, there's no turning back.  So it's not like exploring a new neighborhood, or a new route downtown, where you can always abandon the experience, stop, turn left, turn right, pull over, turn around, head back to the familiar, put off the adventure.

The bridges to the South Shore are those that require the greatest commitment.  Whether it's the Victoria, the Jacques Cartier, the Champlain, the Mercier, or the Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge-tunnel, when you commit to the approach, you can't even see the bridge.  The very nature of Montreal's demographics, the sprawling South Shore suburbs, means that traffic on all those bridges is intense and that the posted speed limits are at best guidelines.

So the prospect of committing to one of those bridges is a little intimidating.

I was thinking that I would first commit to the Victoria.  But the bridge deck is a metal grid because it's a lift bridge.  The little Charlevoix bridge that I take to cross the Lachine Canal daily, and the slightly longer Gauron bridge that crosses the canal at Ville St-Pierre, have a metal grid decks that I practice on.  The grid makes the bike squirm and worm its way along. Even at 20 km/h it's an experience that's unsettling.  Committing to the Victoria at 50 or 60 km/h (perhaps even faster?) will require quite a bit of nerve.  I'm not there yet.

Last Friday I had a work-related social obligation on the South Shore, in Longueuil, way to the east, just east of the Hippolyte-Lafontaine Bridge Tunnel.  The obvious choice was the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  It's a huge bridge that manages the challenge of the St-Lawrence Seaway like the Champlain Bridge does, by rising to a ridiculous height.  Six lanes of impatient drivers, more or less ignoring the speed limit.  I have to say I was a little apprehensive.

The bumper-to-bumper traffic on the mile-long approach allowed me to filter up at a slow rate of speed.  I got behind a guy on a Harley and his female riding companion who was on a large Burgman scoot.

The traffic picked up the pace briskly as soon as the ascent started in earnest, quickly reaching 70-80km/h.  Fortunately the Vespa LX150 can handle that challenge with power to spare.  The actual crossing was over so fast, I barely had time to enjoy the spectacular view from the top.

And there I was, cruising along Marie-Victorin boulevard, headed east along the south shore of the mighty St-Lawrence river.  I was elated.  A challenge faced squarely, mastered and conquered.  I felt that I had broken the bonds of the island.  I felt that I had opened a door to the entire continent.

Suddenly, the prospect of riding my scoot to the seashore in Ogunquit seems all the more attainable.

Wow! What can I say?  It's not skydiving or bungee jumping, I know, but for me, it was a real rush.

Weekends

 

Since I commute 60 kms a day, 300 kms a week on my Vespa LX150, weekends are mostly devoted to other pursuits.

Mostly.

I can't resist a least one ride on the weekend.  Since my commute goes east, on the weekend, my joyride has to go west.  It's a go-slow-and-savour affair.  West along old lakeshore road to take in glimpses of the lake amid million dollar mansions.

Then further west briskly through Baie d'Urfée enjoying the twists and turns of the road and then crawling through the heart of Ste-Anne de Bellevue's quaint restaurant strip where the restaurants on the lake side of the village back onto a pedestrian boardwalk along the canal.

The sailboats and cabin cruisers tie up and the weekend sailors lounge on deck and chat over wine and beer while the patrons crowding the open-air restaurant terraces and the envious throng of ogling pedestrians take in the scene.

The whole return trip takes less than an hour but the enjoyment of that ride, either looking forward to it, or savouring the memory, is one more contribution to my well-being that the Vespa makes.

Here is a further glimpse of that ride:  the bay that puts the "Baie" in Baie d'Urfée.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

More... food!

Here at last is the intended Thursday post.

Having picked up bagels for my colleagues at St-Viateur Bagel last week, I just had to balance things out by picking up Fairmount bagels this week.

So once more I took the more northern route downtown through Town of Mount Royal and Outremont. Once on Fairmount, just east of Park Avenue, I pulled up in front of Fairmount Bagel.  It turns out that they don't accept debit card payments, so a detour to the bank a few blocks away at Laurier and Park Avenue became necessary.  Oh well.  Wonderful bagels fresh from a wood burning oven are more than worth the extra effort.
Once of the more or less unexpected side benefits was stumbling upon the Continental kosher butcher shop.  This hole-in-the-wall kosher shop was were my father-in-law first worked when he came to Canada.  When I began dating my wife Susan, I was introduced to the most wonderful all-beef salami that her father Sam would bring home from work.  Heaven.
I made a mental note to return here to pick up one of those salamis one of these days.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Morning Glory

The official post for today will be another (hopefully) interesting topic.

In the meantime, this scene in Pointe Claire was so compelling, I had to interrupt the commute to take the photo.

Just a little something for the car-train-metro-bus set to consider while they debate whether commuting on Vespa might be a better way to go.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rain

One of the essential ingredients in making the scooter a reasonable choice as a means of commuting, is to make sure that you have the right gear.  Rainy weather comes and most powered two wheelers head for the shed. But if your scooter is your means of commuting, you really need to be prepared to ride in the rain.

It could be nice and sunny for the morning commute, but the evening could be really wet.  If you leave your bike at work it's an inconvenience.  If you forego the bike every time there's a chance of rain, you will miss out on so many riding days that you won't really be commuting on the scooter any more.

Really good rain gear makes all the difference.

Last evening I stopped in Lachine because the sky had gone from grey and iffy, to black and menacing.  I sat on a park bench and donned full rain gear that I always carry in the underseat compartment (affectionately known to Vespa owners as the "pet carrier", owing to the prominent "No pets" warning sticker inside): Teknic waterproof overpants and a matching jacket.

Just as I had secured the last velcro closure, torrents of rain fell with gusting winds.  The rain was so heavy that it was like a veil of water descending.  The only issue I had was controlling fogging on the visor of my Nolan N-102 full face modular helmet.  Not too challenging.

I reduced my speed, made sure my high beam was on, rode very cautiously, and avoided slippery surfaces like painted lines, painted lane, turn indicators, and crosswalks, metal construction plates, and the like.

Rain is one thing, lightning is another.

As soon as lightning began I sought shelter.  I found an outdoor market in Dorval, parked the bike in the parking lot and took cover under its large canopy.
 
While I feel perfectly safe sitting in a car during a thunderstorm, riding a bike is another story.  Without the protection of a good grounded or insulated metal structure to act as a Faraday cage, getting struck by lightning is an all-too-real risk.  I reasoned that short of being indoors, the heavy metal structure of the market's canopy could act as a Faraday cage if lightening did strike.

Once the sky lightened and the thunder stopped, I continued on my way.  The pause at the market to wait out the lightning was a pleasant break, a moment in time in an adventurous evening commute.

Inclement weather is not something to be avoided at all costs.  With the right gear, and a little common sense, it adds spice to the scoot commute and is one more reason that I am loving the summer of 2010.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Croissants & café au lait

On Wednesday morning I took a different route to work.

At Sources boulevard I sacrificed the water route for a much more direct but oblique route that took me along the Autoroute 20 service road, to Autoroute 520, to the Décarie traffic circle, and along the Autoroute 40 service road to Rockland Boulevard.  Not by any means a picturesque route, but certainly faster paced.

From there I ambled through tree-lined Town of Mount Royal admiring the massive, and yes, elegant, 1950's bungalows that run along both sides of Rockland.  I then took the overpass that leads into Outremont.

While this route is more complicated, it is much faster.  I left home at 6:50 a.m. and by 7:20 I was nearing my objective: breakfast at one of Montreal's quintessential outdoor café spots.  Croissanterie Figaro at the corner of Faimount and Hutchison ("X" marks the spot on the map above).  Go ahead click here and you too can be virtually there in seconds.

Here you go... your breakfast is served.
There was no parking available, unless you ride a Vespa.  In that case, you can sit, read the morning paper, savour the best café au lait this side of Paris, nibble on the most heavenly croissant, and all the while admire the fine Italian lines of your Vespa, parked right by your table.
As I caught up on the news, my attention was diverted by the unmistakable sound of an approaching Vespa: a really nice black GTS which I admired as it passed by.

Commuting can't get any better than this.  It really can't.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Old Lachine Canal

On Tuesday morning I picked up a steaming cup of coffee from the MacDonalds in Lachine and made my way down to the "Old" Lachine Canal.  The whole of the Lachine Canal is "old", but this portion is even older than the rest since it pre-dates the heavy industrial use of the canal in the early to mid-20th century.
A plaque commemorates the much earlier fur trading period, long before the construction of the Lachine Canal, when this spot at the head of Lake St-Louis served as the jumping off point for fur-trading expeditions up the St-Lawrence river and on to the Great Lakes.
The ancient fur trade outpost, once a kingpin in the lucrative trade of centuries-past, now serves principally as an anchor for this very pretty urban park.
 
Nothing is further from the hustle and bustle of the more traditional commuting experience that is happening on Highway 20 than the picturesque serenity of this much less traveled route just a few kilometres to the south.

Taking the Vespa to work means that I can take ten minutes to enjoy my first cup of morning coffee in this beautiful relaxing setting rather than juggling coffee in the car or on the train.

Ten minutes is such a small price to pay for such a soothing experience.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Parking

One of the great aspects of commuting on a scooter like the Vespa LX150, is that while it is powerful enough, and "legal", for freeway use, it is small and nimble enough so you can literally find parking wherever you care to go.

I alluded to this in the previous post.

I was reading on Modern Vespa today that Boston has expanded parking in the city for motorcycles.

Toronto has taken a much more liberal view, and, in my opinion, adopted the most bike favorable policy I know of, by allowing powered-two-wheelers to park free of charge in any metered municipal parking slot in the city.

Now Montreal has never been that kind to scooter and motorcycle riders.  There are a few (and I mean very few) designated areas where motorcycles and scooters can park free of charge.

There is also a theory (which may have force of law, but who has the patience to find out?) that motorcycles and scooters can also park at the beginning, and at the end, of street parking slots designated for cars.

Here is an example of a motorcycle testing that theory just outside my office.  The reflections from the sun made taking this picture difficult.
 Notice I circled in white the "L" shaped marker designating where the permitted car parking space ends.  Any car parking in the space that the motorcycle is in would surely be ticketed.  The motorcycle? Maybe not.

In other two-wheeled respects, the City of Montreal is among a handful of progressive cities worldwide that make available a municipal bike-sharing program.  The city is now covered with BIXI stands.

Interestingly, just about every BIXI stand just happens to leave enough space at either end for a scooter to tuck in safely.  This is a phenomenon that is sprouting serendipitously all over the city, and here is a great example, also right outside my window.

Close to 300 BIXI stands strategically placed throughout the city means that, in addition to all the existing nooks and crannies where I can park my Vespa, there are close to 600 more cozy spots just waiting for me.

So when it comes to parking for the scooter commuter, although on paper Montreal isn't as enlightened as Toronto, or as forward thinking as Boston, there is no shortage of great spots where you can park a Vespa.

For those of you living in Washington D.C., and for students and faculty at Washington State University in the Northwest, good news, BIXIs are coming your way as well.  More parking for DC scooter commuters.

Ride safely!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Morning bagels

There is something about life in Montreal that inspires those that have adopted this city to create incredible food.  I'm not just talking about top drawer gourmet cuisine, though there was a recent article in the New York Times about a cohort of NYC top chefs who regularly hop up to Montreal for what can best be described as 'food tourism', or perhaps 'inspiration research', or 'competitive analysis'.

What I am referring to is the phenomenon that St-Lawrence boulevard, Montreal's east-west division street, affectionately known as "the Main", seems to have a devilish way of ferreting out the talented chefs in each new community that calls Montreal home, and inspiring them to offer to all the most delicious fare imaginable.

And I'm not talking about complicated far-fetched recipes.  No.  What I'm talking about is much more remarkable.  Bread for instance.

Depending on where you live, you may be thinking "bread....???... borrring!".  To those among you, I say dare to dream! Come to Montreal! You may be able to tear yourself away and return home, yes I'll grant you that.  But you may find, like countless others, that you will forever after be haunted by BREAD :-)

Let's pick just one example.  Bagels.  You can get bagels everywhere.  But you'll never find a Montreal bagel anywhere else.
Two bakeries are stand-outs.  St-Viateur bagels, and Fairmount bagels.  Both delicious, each slightly different, both with legions of fans, both leaving wistful tourists back home, longing for the unattainable Montreal bagel.

Hand-made, using the same family recipes brought by long-ago Jewish immigrants, baked in generations-old wood-burning ovens, heavenly.
This blog is about commuting on a Vespa LX150 from the burbs.  One of the things you can do commuting on a Vespa scooter? Drop by St-Viateur bagels at 7:15 a.m. on the way into the office and pick up half-a-dozen St-Viateur bagels for your fellow staffers.  A nice little traditional morning pick-me-up, delightfully fresh and hot from the oven. Priceless.

Don't like bagels? What about baguettes from a real French bakery? Simple: Banette in NDG.  Craving the most incredible Portuguese rolls, crunchy thin crust, light billowy interior?  Coco-Rico on the Main.  I could go on for ever.  Every culture.  Every type of bread imaginable.  The only common denominator?  Incredible unforgettable taste.

None or few with ample parking. All within easy reach on a Vespa, and parking? Definitely not an issue.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.