Last year when I started to think that actually getting a scooter would be a real possibility, I was drawn to the Montreal Vespa shop. While that shop has since closed, I just knew that I wanted a Vespa.
I finally got to rent a Vespa LX 50 on the 2009 Halloween weekend. I suspected that what I really needed was the LX150 but I reasoned that taking the LX50 on my intended commuting route from downtown to the West Island and back would give me a better feel for the experience and would serve to confirm whether the extra power that came along with the 100cc increase in displacement was worth the additional cost, and the pain of getting a motorcycle license.
I picked up the bike on Friday on my lunch hour at the dealer's main location just north of Lafontaine Park, which is roughly three kilometers northeast from my office. I rode to the dealer on a Bixi bike which was both quick and convenient since there is a Bixi station just outside my office, and another one at the intersection near the dealer.
It was a cool day, but not really cold. While it is relatively rare, Montreal has seen snowfall on Halloween. I had made arrangements with the attendant in the underground parking garage in my office building to let me park the scooter there for the afternoon free of charge. The forecast called for rain the following day.
The ride from the dealer to the office was my first real taste of riding in heavy urban traffic. The full face helmet that had made my head feel huge in the shop seemed incredibly unnoticeable once I was underway. The ride presented an early opportunity to test the limitations of the 50cc engine. I was surprised to find that with a headwind, the LX50 topped out at about 40kmh climbing the rise where Park Avenue crosses the shoulder of Mount Royal. That was just not fast enough to pace the traffic that was doing 55 or 60 kmh.
I parked the Vespa in the garage and went back to work.
I planned to leave the office early in order to avoid travelling home after sunset. At about 4:30 I changed into jeans and a windbreaker and headed down to the garage. When I rolled up and out of the garage, the first thing that greeted me was light rain. You just can't rely on a weather forecast.
I was thankful that my windbreaker was waterproof. I also really appreciated the full face helmet. From head to waist the rain was surprisingly a non issue. At first it was not so bad on my jeans either. The leg shield did a surprisingly good job of protecting me from the rain. It was definitely a dryer ride than it would have been on a Bixi bike. Nevertheless, by the time I got home, my jeans were very damp but not soaking, and my feet had remained essentially dry.
All told, less than ideal conditions for a first test scooter commute, but in spite of the difficult conditions, I enjoyed a very pleasant ride.
The following day I awoke to find the sun shining. I figured that the weatherman was just slightly off his game and that I got the anticipated Saturday rain unexpectedly on Friday, and that I would get a much more pleasant sunny ride back to the dealer on Saturday. We went out for breakfast as a family as we often do, so I wasn't able to get underway to return the scooter until around 11:00 a.m.
By that time the sun had vanished and it was raining again. But this was not light rainfall. We're talking real rain. Not large raindrops bouncing off the pavement, but a good steady downpour nonetheless.
By the time I got to the dealer's shop, I was still dry from the waist up, but otherwise I was well and truly drenched. One of the weird things I discovered about driving a scooter in the rain, and I wasn't really surprised that it happened, because it makes sense, is that your weight on the saddle creates a depression that the rain running down your body turns into a miniature lake. You realize this kind of suddenly the first time you come to a stop and shift your weight in the saddle, and slurp, you feel like a little kid who just wet his pants. Oh well. I made a mental note to make sure to buy really good rain gear.
If my body was drenched, my spirits were buoyed and not in the least dampened.
The test was an unqualified success on all fronts. I now knew from real world experience that :
- The scoot commute is a hoot!
- The route I had planned to take from my downtown office to my home on the West Island was a really good route for the scooter.
- I even really loved it in the rain, without proper rain gear, and in chilly October.
- The Vespa LX was definitely the right bike for me. Much more substantial than the smaller Yamaha Vino I had rented in Victoria the year before, but still small enough to fit just about anywhere.
- A full face helmet is a really nice helmet to wear in the rain.
- If at all possible, I definitely wanted the Vespa LX150. I had no intention of riding on highways, but the additional power would mean I would be able to keep up with urban traffic in all cases, and with additional power in reserve.