Monday, June 28, 2010

First group ride

Brace yourself for a long post, 'cause there's lots to share.

Sunday I set out for my first group ride: the Club Scooter de Montréal's 7th annual Tour de l'ile.Thirty plus riders showed up for the event. The departure point was at the parking lot next to the chalet in Lafontaine Park.The park is the club's departure venue for its Sunday group rides. The annual Tour de l'ile ride (literally, "around the island") in some ways is the signature Montreal ride. It is patterned on a similar ride for cyclists that for the last 12 years has attracted hundreds of participants.

Because it was going to be my first group ride, I was a little apprehensive. I had the benefit of having read a number of posts on Modern Vespa and was aware of the special risks of group rides, as well as the principal ways to mitigate those risks.

The ride departure was set for 11:00 a.m. with the organizers intending to show up at 10:00. I got there at 10:15 because I wanted to meet Pierre (his alias is Voyageur5 on Modern Vespa).

When I got there there were already three or four riders there, including Pierre.Voyageur5 rides a bright yellow Vespa GTS that's a real beauty. He's made a number of modifications including GPS and camera mounts, switched power outlet, dual horns (a Stebel air horn in addition to the stock horn), special polymer protective coatings on the cowls and glove box to ward off damage to the paint from saddlebags and ignition keys, windscreen, front rack, bar-end weights, and the list goes on. He's been riding motorcycles since he was 16 and has ridden all over the US and Canada, Panama, Europe and North Africa.

Meeting a proficient and experienced rider like Pierre puts my own meager experience into its proper perspective.

As the other riders showed up, it became clear that the ride was going to be quite an experience. There were experienced senior riders among the organizers on Burgman 400's, a bunch of 250cc scooters including Aprilias, and Vespa GT's, and a collection of two-stroke scooters including 2 amazing fully restored vintage Vespas.Finally, a small flotilla of 49cc mopeds, including a Jawa and a Solex Stentor joined the parade.What with a few key late arrivals, the departure was delayed to just past 11:30 a.m.

We finally set out. There were a number of first-timers, and so the organizer's pre-departure sermon on group riding rules and etiquette was more than welcome, and served to lay some of my concerns to rest.

The route was ambitious: north along Christophe Colomb and l'Acadie boulevard to Gouin Boulevard which runs along the north shore of the Island of Montreal. Then west along Gouin to the Jacques Bizard bridge to Ile Bizard, all around that island and back across the river to Montreal where we stopped for lunch at local fast food place.After a quick bite we continued west along Gouin around the western tip of the island and east along the southern shore, eventually to the city of Westmount and up Mount Royal to the observatory and then down the east face of the mountain and back to Lafontaine Park.

Here, in no particular order, are the high points of the ride:
  • Keeping the group together in the city was a challenge because of the many intersections with traffic lights. The organisers had helmet headsets that helped them to herd us along. They stopped us at green lights until the group got back together and we'd set off again. It worked really well with tolerable risk.
  • Keeping a close eye on the flock paid off when one of the mopeds broke down. Two of the organizers rode back, took care of the moped and had the marooned mopeder ride pillion on one of the big Burgmans so that she could enjoy the remainder of the ride.
  • Motorists showed amazing courtesy patiently waiting for the scooter parade to pass.
  • I was pleased to see the smiles we got from scores of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists wherever we went.
  • The scenery was often spectacular, particularly along the many stretches of shoreline.
  • The intrepid folks on the mopeds, from kids to adults, rode the whole way, from 11:30 to well past five o'clock, wide open throttle and 50 km/h all the way, with little in the way of acceleration, other than some vigorous pedalling on the many take-offs. All accomplished with generous beaming smiles.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by how well my LX150 kept pace with the larger GTs, especially in terms of acceleration.
As for the less appealing aspects of the group ride experience:
  • Following a large number of two-stroke motorbikes means you are constantly bathed in their noxious exhaust fumes for hour after hour. One of the other members of the four-stroke crowd commented on this, mentionning that they preferred to hang well back from the pack to avoid the two-stroke exhaust as much as possible. When the ride was over I felt, and my clothing smelled, like I had just mowed 20 lawns in a row. Definitely not pleasant.
  • As I expected, I much prefer the solo ride. Perhaps riding occasionally in a small group of four-stroke folks would be fine as well. But the Tour de l'ile will be best enjoyed as an annual event.
All in all, a wonderful experience for me, and one that every rider should have at least once.

I'll post separately on the Ile Bizard portion of the route.

Ride safely!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forest & Stream

I don't know about you, but those words always evoke a soothing feeling of peace and idyllic harmony for me.

I usually picture a quiet leafy forest of tall trees with a lush undergrowth of sunlight dappled ferns, and a pristine stream babbling its way over a bed of water-worn rocks and bright pebbles.
The Forest & Stream Club in Dorval evokes its own soothing feeling of peace and idyllic harmony, but on the banks of the mighty St-Lawrence rather than a mere stream.
Sitting on a picturesque point that juts into Lake St-Louis, the Forest & Stream Club stands in stark contrast to the tumult and frantic bustle of Trudeau international airport just a few kilometers away.
The airport, bathed in jet fuel laden air, accompanied by the incessant roar of jet traffic hurtling down its sizzling-hot, bone-dry runways, and the Forest & Stream Club, its antithesis in every meaningful way.
It’s just one more feature of the scoot commute that begs to have its picture taken on a beautiful morning on this second day of summer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father and son ride

We celebrated my daughter Lauren's 21st birthday yesterday.

We were blessed to have family come in from near and far to join in the celebration, including from Fort Lauderdale, Toronto and Ottawa.

I promised my Dad that I would take him for a spin on my Vespa, weather permitting.

While it poured in the early afternoon, everything had cleared up by the time our guests arrived.
My father, who celebrated his 80th birthday last October, became my second passenger. Getting him on the scooter while it was on the stand made that maneuver safer both for him and the scooter, and with a little help I got if off the centre stand with both of us on it.
You can see from my daughter's expression that she had doubts about our sanity. I must admit we look pretty awkward, but it was fun for both of us and a memorable event to cherish.
We rode west for a few kilometers on Old Lakeshore Road at about 25 to 30 km/h and then back home along Beaconsfield Boulevard where we reached 50 km/h. Woohoo!!! Wild and crazy guys.

My Dad is in the early throes of Alzeihmer's, and I'll print a picture or two for him so that he can marvel at the pluck it took to come along for the ride, and so he can show his doubting friends back at the residence where he lives in Ottawa that he really does live dangerously on the weekend.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fuel for the soul

After commuting all my life on buses, subways, trains, and sometimes by car, nothing compares to commuting on my Vespa.

The incredibly scenic route I am privileged to take makes a huge contribution to the pure pleasure of the ride.

But it's not merely about the route.

As beautiful as it is, I have taken the same route many times in a car, and even in my Miata with the top down, it's just not as enjoyable as with the Vespa.

The Vespa makes taking in these views, and snapping these photos, so easy to do, that I actually get to do it. It's something I never did in the past.

It's a simple part of the scoot commute and life on two small wheels that brings extra peace and contentment into my life.

Does your commute do that for you?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Twists and turns

The very best riding moments are deeply satisfying.

There's something about twisting stretches of road, particularly well-spaced S-curves, that can be counted on for that kind of satisfaction.

The portion of the commute that follows Lake St-Louis through Pointe-Claire, Dorval and Lachine has a fair number of those twisting stretches.I tried to capture a few photos of them this morning.It's the physical forces flowing through the bike and the rider that make those curves so much fun. For the Vespa and my current skill level, the magic equation seems to be somewhere over 50 km/h, with a decent lean into the turn, and then shifting the lean one way, then the other, as the S curve rolls by.The antithesis of the graceful S-curve is the awkward slow, sharp L-turn, often in cramped quarters, sometimes jerky, always risky, never pleasant. Bonus points for fumbling the controls on the turn indicator and inadvertently flashing the high beam. Even more points if it's a trifecta and I hit the horn button too.

As great as the S makes me feel, the awkward L-turn is unsettling, undermines my confidence, makes me curse my lack of skill, and makes me vow to return to a parking lot to practice.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tough week

Last week was quite a week, with a fair amount to share, but no time to share it here.

Better late than not at all.

My route along the lakeshore continued to offer one soul-refreshing view after another. The week was a tough one at the office with major personal challenges as well.

At times like that, the serenity of riding the scooter along one of the most scenic drives on the island provides needed relief from the pressures felt elsewhere.Last Tuesday I rode down to Old Montreal for a bowl of clam chowder and a lobster roll at Muvbox. Muvbox is beginning its summer season down by the last lock on the Lachine Canal that connects the canal to the downtown harbour. What makes Muvbox special is that it's a self-contained lobster shack that transforms out of a shipping container. It's solar powered and off the grid. Plus the lobster fresh from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St-Lawrence is a treat that kicks off the summer season in a very pleasant way.
Moving on to the more technical side of the scooter commute, Thursday morning brought the threat of rain.

The rain only really started in earnest once I was downtown. Riding the Vespa in a downpour is nothing like any other rain experience I have had.

I've had plenty of experience riding bicycles in the rain. On a bicycle you become one with the rain. You get absolutely drenched to the point where you can't really get any wetter.

On the scooter, with proper rain gear and a full face helmet, it's the reverse. You're in the rain, it's all around you, it's running down you in every direction, but you're perfectly dry and comfortable.On a bicycle I merge with the rain. On the scooter I am in the rain but I travel through it, observing it, feeling it, hearing it, being in the middle of it, yet remaining completely separate from it.

It's not really a better way to experience the rain on two wheels, it's just completely different.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.