Thursday, May 27, 2010

Other fair weather sports

Scooters are out in force, so are the sailboats on Lake St-Louis. There's only one inescapable conclusion: Summertime, summertime, summertime.

Today I commuted by car and had to deal with a massive traffic jam on Highway 20 on the way home: an extra 45 minutes tacked onto the 1 hour commute, bumper to bumper, to bumper. Had I taken the Vespa, I could have scooted past the whole awful mess.

Tomorrow it's back to the much more pleasant scoot commute.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer heat at last!!

The temperature for this morning's commute was a very comfortable 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit). What a pleasure not wearing a fleece under my Corazzo 5.0 jacket or the ski gloves.

This evening brought 30C degree heat (86F). Even with all vents open on the jacket and my Nolan N-102 helmet, it was HOT.

The most pleasant surprise was when I got to the part of the route where the road is right on the lake, with nothing to break the breeze coming off the water. It was like air conditioning on a scooter!! Simply amazing. It felt like a 15 degree temperature drop each time I caught the lake breeze.

One more thing to look forward to during my summer scoot commutes.

There was the most beautiful photo opportunity along the way: a shimmering misty view of one of the many broad bays, with a handful of kite boarders skimming along and catching wild air propelled by the strong wind filling their huge colorful kites.

But I had a mission that left no time for photo opportunities: I had to get home to greet my daughter who just got home from a month-long European vacation.

I'm sure I'll get many other opportunities to get those shots and share them with you here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Speed: distance over time

One of the things I love about my scooter is the freedom it affords.

I can go anywhere my car would take me, and then much more.

Why much more?
  • Because I can stop and park in places my car won't let me. In fact, parking is available pretty much anywhere I care to stop.
  • I can roam and roam with hardly a concern for the rising cost of gas.
  • Riding twisting roads on the scooter is just plain fun.
  • Even stops signs and red lights are fun, since I get to glide to a stop, then glide off again. A little like landing, and taking off, over and over.
  • Riding focuses my mind in ways driving doesn't. Fewer distractions, more to concentrate on, more to experience.
Basically, it's all about distance and time and the way the scooter changes the way I experience them.

In the past lunch hour used to mean choosing which food court to walk to.

All last summer, BIXI bikes expanded my range. Old Montreal, the Plateau, the Atwater Market became lunch venues. Life on two wheels was just beginning. This year, my Vespa blows most roaming limits away. I can cover substantial distances in no time.

So last Thursday I zipped down to St-Helen's Island and Ile Notre Dame on my lunch hour.

The view of the downtown skyline from the north side of St-Helen's Island is completely unobstructed. One of man's great tributes to distance and speed is the Grand Prix circuit. Montreal is once again on the circuit and the F1 race will be held on the course at Ile Notre Dame in a few short weeks.

Time and distance are relative. The earth travels around the sun at more than 66,000 miles an hour and at Montreal's latitude the speed of rotation at the surface is approximately 700 miles an hour and yet we don't really have any way to experience all that speed. My average speed on the Vespa is perhaps 30 miles an hour, yet when I ride I feel like I'm flying.

Riding my Vespa around the the F1 circuit on my lunch hour: priceless. Friday evening I experienced another dimension of time and distance.

The town of Beaconsfield where I live is home to Canada's only true military cemetery. It's a few miles from my home. I've been going there off and on since I can remember. My grandfather who fought in World War I is buried there. I remember going to the Armistice ceremony with my parents and my grandmother when I was three or four years old.11:00 a.m., November 11. Unfailingly the coldest, dampest, dreariest most mournful day of any given year. Standing there as a child, the chill wind very uncomfortable, me holding my mother's hand. The lone bugler playing the last post. Slowly. So slow. So lonely. So sad. Time seemed to stand still. Until the rifles fired the twenty-one gun salute and the ceremony crawled to an end.

That military cemetery is today almost exactly as it was when I was four.

I rode over on the Vespa last evening. I was the only one there. Fitting.
The modest tombstones are set into the ground. Like the dead on a battlefield. A fittingly humble tribute to men and women who sacrificed life most precious for the greater good.
Being there makes me feel like a time traveller. Me as a young child, as a teen, as an adult, as a father, and now evenutally approaching retirement.
I, always growing... older, and this place, frozen in time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Another sunny but thoroughly chilly morning. Barely 3 degrees, just above freezing, a light frost on the cars in the driveway at 7:00 a.m. as I fired up the Vespa. I am wearing a fleece under the Corazzo 5.0 jacket and ski gloves on my hands. The visor on my Nolan N-102 is snapped firmly shut.

I stopped to snap this picture of one of the points that reach into Lake St-Louis along the route.
Scenes like that are a big part of the pleasure that the scoot commute affords.

When I pulled up a wheelchair ramp and onto the sidewalk to park for that shot, I heard a scrape and clunk. Checking the scoot revealed that the kick stand had grazed the curb. The impact shaved the cupped foot off the right leg of the stand.

I've noticed on Modern Vespa that many people name their scooters.

The smartest people I know always bestow names on their cars. I have never personally felt compelled to name my rides.

I was once tempted to name my bicycle ( I thought I would call it "Bernie" for reasons I won't explain, nothing to do with heat or fire). Oddly, I still think of it as Bernie, but frankly, I think that I never actually uttered the name, and this is definitely the first time I am sharing that. It's just not that relevant or important to me.

It occurred to me though, as I rode on and thought about the consequences of the missing foot (can't park on soft ground safely? What, if anything, to do about it?), that a fitting name for the Vespa would be "Peg Leg". I've now posted that on one of the Modern Vespa threads about scooter names. Now that I've thought that, this Vespa will always be "Peg Leg", even if I never actually utter its name.

When I got to the Lachine Canal today, I chose to continue along the river instead of taking the usual route along the canal.

Intuitively I figured that the alternative route would be substantially longer and tack an extra 30 minutes on the ride.

Assumptions are frequently wrong. It turns out that the time penalty for the longer route is only about ten minutes.

Continuing to follow the road along the water brings fresh pleasures. New sweeping views of the lake and the broad St-Lawrence rendered in shimmering silver by the morning light, and new interesting landmarks to admire like the Fleming Mill in Lasalle.The Fleming Mill was built in 1827 and operated until 1891. It now belongs to the City of Lasalle and is a classified cultural monument.The view of the lake across the road from the mill is truly beautiful and restful.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mercier bridge

Today I paused to enjoy a banana breakfast in the Lachine Canal park. I had never been to the park before. I always thought that it was just a marina.

The park is on a long spit that juts into Lake St-Louis at the mouth of the Lachine Canal. It turns out that the marina is on a similar spit just a little to the north of the park. The two spits are like spindly fingers reaching out into the lake. I stopped at the very end of the parking lot and perched on a large boulder to sip my hot tea and take in the view.

This vantage point offered a distant view of the Mercier bridge. The Mercier is the westernmost of the major bridges linking Montreal to the south shore of the St-Lawrence river. The Mercier bridge is the larger bridge in the background. The bridge in the foreground is a separate railway bridge. The commute home last night was accompanied by threatening weather and very strong winds. It took me an extra 10 or fifteen minutes to get into my rain suit before leaving but the effort was well worth while, even though I only had to ride through light occasional rain. The extra protection of the rain suit made the ride much more comfortable given the wind and a good drop in the temperature.

The Vespa LX150 performed very well in the stiff headwind. I had to open the throttle a little more to pace the traffic, but had no trouble keeping up my speed with power to spare.

The wind felt like a massive wall pressing against my upper body. I had never experienced anything quite like it. If I had to ride in strong wind conditions very often, a large windscreen would be a definite addition to my wish list.

In spite of the pressures, the Vespa felt very solid. It really is an excellent bike.

You will see that I added a Modern Vespa "MV" sticker to the topcase. I only joined the forum in October of last year. In that short time, I have learned that the forum provides a wealth of information, support and humor for anyone who owns a scooter, and Vespa owners in particular. The sticker is a small way to show my support and appreciation.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Breakfast break

This is the view of the lake looking southwest where St-John's boulevard meets Lakeshore road.

The morning mist on the lake made for such a beautiful scene that I just had to stop and snap the picture.

I'm trying out a new approach for breakfast during the week.

This morning I brought along a thermos of piping hot Earl Grey tea and an apple.

A traditional park bench along the waterfront in Lachine provided the venue and the view.
If there is a strong argument for commuting on a Vespa, this is it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


When I bought the Vespa it had 1,304 miles (2,908 kms) on the odometer. Now it's got just over 1,880. 576 miles of happiness.

I've been keeping an eye on the back tire because that's the one that wears more quickly.

One the few drawbacks of the route I take is the number of railroad tracks that cross St. Patrick street. I haven't actually counted, but there are at least four or five sets [I subsequently counted, and in fact there are seven sets of tracks to cross]. The tracks are for spur lines that link the factories on the south side of St. Patrick street to the rail line that runs along the bank of the Lachine canal. The rails cross the roadway at forty-five degrees. Since the St. Patrick street portion of the route is also where the traffic speed is highest, I regularly hit them at 40+ mph (65+ kph). The tires really take a beating. "KA-CLUNK ~ KA-CLUNK", times 5, twice a day.

So at lunch time yesterday I took a ride to Alex Berthiaume et Fils, Montreal's main Vespa dealer. I wanted them take a look at the tire and have them show me how to check the oil as well. Good thing I did, too.

Turns out the dealer in Toronto who sold me the scooter and did the oil change, overfilled it. The Alex Berthiaume mechanic very kindly used a large syringe to remove the excess oil. He was shocked that any dealer would make such a mistake.

He asked me if I had noticed difficulty starting and loss of power (symptoms of oil overfill). I hadn't. But since I'm new to the scooter, I had no basis for comparison. But now I do.

Unbelievable! It's like someone added another 50cc's to the bike! I easily accelerated to 75kph going up the hill on Pine towards Peel on the way back to the office.

Today I'll pick up some tire levers at Canadian Tire and tackle the tire change. Here's a link to a YouTube how-to video. Should be fun.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.