Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Winter modifications, Chapter 1

Among the things that you can improve upon with the Vespa LX, is the parcel hook.

The LX parcel hook extends from the front of the saddle and is contained in the saddle.  The hook may look a little flimsy, but it is in fact quite sturdy.

Towards the end of the 2010 riding season, I found that the LX parcel hook was the best means of transporting my laptop bag during my scooter commute.  I had begun commuting with my laptop bag secured to the passenger seat with a bungee net.  While this was a good secure way of transporting my laptop bag, it was quite inconvenient because I had to remove the bungee and laptop bag whenever I needed to access the underseat compartment (affectionately referred to by many Vespa owners as the "pet carrier", due to the "No Pets" label prominently affixed to the compartment).

Each time I stopped for gas, and each time I had to stop to get my rain gear out, there was the added hassle of removing the bungee net and laptop bag, and finding a place for them while I attended to the other business at hand.  If that business was donning my rain suit, it was likely already beginning to rain, and, well, you can see how the extra time fiddling with the bungee net and laptop bag could quickly become tiresome.

This is why I first tentatively tried the laptop bag on the parcel hook.  Wary at first of the obvious possibility that the bag could spring free (it never did, even when I hit some serious potholes), I soon learned that the parcel hook was a quite secure and more convenient way to travel with my laptop.
So what is there to improve, you may well ask?  I'm glad you did!

The chief problem with the LX parcel hook is that because it forms part of the saddle, when you raise the saddle it becomes a parcel launcher.  I learned this the hard and expensive way.  You see the parcel hook is a great place to hang your helmet when you stop somewhere.  Until you decide to rummage under the saddle, which is when you discover the helmet launching feature.  I'm a slow learner, so it wasn't until the fifth or sixth time that I launched my helmet causing it to roll down a grassy slope where a small boulder kindly stopped the helmet's impromptu excursion by splitting the faceshield very nearly in two, that I learned to avoid the parcel hook as a place for the helmet.

Now you would think that Piaggio would make all its parcel hooks the same way.  Fortunately, it doesn't.  If you spring for the more powerful Vespa GT model, you'll find a much sturdier and much more secure parcel hook located opposite the saddle on the legshield.

Thanks (as always) to fellow MVers (those are folks who are, like me, addicted to the Modern Vespa forum), I stumbled on a thread where an MVer explained how to install a Vespa GT parcel hook on the Vespa LX.

As soon as I saw that post, I knew that I wanted a GT parcel hook on my LX 150.

This afternoon I completed that task (although you'll see from the photos that follow that the interior legshield thingy is not actually re-installed on the scooter, details, details).

For the benefit of other LX owners who may be tempted to follow in my footsteps, I will now attempt to share with you how I accomplished this minor miracle.

The first thing you need to to do is to purchase a Vespa GT parcel hook.  I got mine from ScooterWest.  if you want to order one too, click here. It's US$25.00 well spent.

Once the mailman delivers your hook, the fun can begin.

The first thing you'll need to do is to disassemble the leghield to remove the portion with the glovebox.  All you need is a Phillips screwdriver, and some courage.  Not to worry though, Vespas are well designed and whatever comes apart, goes back together without much grumbling.

To make a long story shorter, remove the Piaggio badge on the front of the leg shield.  You just need to pry gently from the right side of the badge.  I can remove mine with my fingers.  If you prefer, use a flat bladed screwdriver and protect the leg shield from scratches with a rag.  Under the badge, you'll find a screw to remove.  With that screw off, slide the horn cover upwards and off the bike.  Now you'll see a screw at the top center of the legshield.  Remove that screw.

Since there are many screws, and they are different sizes and types, get a box of ziplock sandwich bags and write the location of the screw on a slip of paper and put the slip of paper in the bag along with the screw.  Do this separately for each type and location of screw.  If you do this you'll have wasted 15 or 20 sandwich bags, but re-assembling the scooter will be painless.  Well worth the investment.
Now open the glove box and remove the three screws that you see there.  That's it!  Now gently pry and wiggle the glove box portion of the leg shield free.  Voila!  Here is a shot of my scooter all stripped and naked.
If, like me, you're tackling this project in the winter, you can now complete the work in the comfort of your kitchen, or workshop.

Since the glove box portion of the legshield is all nice and sexy curvy, and the GT bag hook isn't, you need something to sandwich between the hook and the legshield to fill the resulting gaps.  For this you need a miracle product called Sculpey clay.  You'll likely find this, as I did, at your local arts and crafts store.  It's a polymer clay that retains it shape extraordinarly well, and then takes that shape permanently once you bake it in the oven.  Pure genious.  The clay I bought was black, but it comes in a rainbow of colours.  All you need is a small-ish cube size, it's just a few dollars.  The clay is quite stiff and crumbly and needs to be conditioned by kneading.  As you work the clay and it warms up in your hands it will lose its crumbly nature and become pliable.  Roll it into a ball, and then use something to roll it out into a sheet about 1/8 of an inch thick.  I used an empty beer bottle.  Apparently it's not recommended to use kitchen utensils.  You'll need only half the clay for this project.

Now take the bag hook and put some nice red lipstick (be sure to get your wife's or daughter's or girlfriend's or mother's permission first) on the two screw posts.  Press the hook against a sheet of paper (I used parchment paper, the kind you bake with, it's nice and strong) so that you have a template for the holes.  This turns out to be less scientific than it appears, because the posts are different lengths, the template will show the holes just a little too close together.  Oh well, you'll see how I corrected for that later.  Place the template on the bag hook to make sure that the posts fit.  If not, do over until you get it right.  Trim the template so that it is the same shape as the bag hook.
Now that you have your template, find some clear plastic.  I used the kind of cellophane that's used for gift baskets, but clear sheet protectors will do just as well.  Using the template as a guide, cut two holes in a sheet of plastic.  Repeat with a second sheet.  Now you have two plastic sheets with holes corresponding to the holes needed for the bag hook.  Leave the plastic sheets square, don't make them the same shape as the bag hook.  The plastic film will make it easier to remove the moulding clay from the legshield and the bag hook once it has been shaped on the legshield.

Fit the bag hook onto each plastic sheet to make sure that the holes fit.

Figure out where you want to put the bag hook on the shield.  There's really only one logical place for it, right in the middle, above the glove box, to the left of the ignition switch hole and as close as possible to the vehicle identification plate.

Using the paper template, place the template on the leg shield where the bag hook will go.  MAKE SURE THAT THE TEMPLATE MATCHES THE ORIENTATION OF THE BAG HOOK OR YOU'LL DRILL HOLES IN THE WRONG PLACES AND RUIN A PERFECTLY GOOD LEGSHIELD.  Now mark the centre of each hole.  I used a sharp-pointed scalpel and made a tiny dimple in the plastic in the middle of each hole.

I used a small drill bit to drill a pilot hole, and then used a 3/8" Forstner bit to finish off the two holes in the legshield.
 It turned out that the holes were just a tiny bit too close together and so the bag hook would not fit.  I used a rotary saw bit in my Dremel tool to slighly enlarge one of the two holes and the bag hook then fit nice and snugly in the legshield.

  To make sure the bag hook is able to carry some weight without risking damage to the plastic leg shield, some re-inforcement is needed on the inside of the legshield.  I followed the suggestion on Modern Vespa and used a metal electrical cover as backing.  With the paper template as a guide, and with a combination of power tools: a drill with a 3/8" drill bit to make the holes for the bag hook's screw posts to fit through; a disk grinder with a metal cutting disk to trim off the excess metal; and a Dremel tool with a metal sanding drum to remove burrs and smooth sharp edges, I crafted a piece of metal with a shape pretty close to the shape of the paper template.
The final piece of the puzzle is shaping the Sculpey clay.  I pressed the bag hook onto the flat piece of clay that was rolled out earlier to mark the location of the holes for the screw posts.  I then used the scalpel to carefully cut out the excess clay to finish the two holes.  I placed one of the clear plastic films on the bag hook, then fitted the Sculpey clay on the hook, then placed second sheet on the bag hook so that I had the Sculpey sandwiched between the plastic sheets.  I then installed the bag hook on the legshield.

Pressing the bag hook onto the legshield forced the Sculpey clay to conform to the baghook on one side, and to the legshield on the other.  Once the gaps between the leg shield and the bag hook were filled by the compressed clay, I used the scalpel to trim away the plastic sheet closest to the bag hook, and then the excess clay.  Once that was done, I lifted off the bag hook and carefully removed the shaped Sculpey clay, which now had the same shape as the paper template, the shaped metal plate and the base of the bag hook.

Here's a shot of the Sculpey clay in its final shape lying on one of the sheets of plastic.
I then baked the Sculpey clay in the oven for about 20 minutes at 275F.

While the cured Sculpey cooled I made a quick trip to the hardware store to buy some 1/2" number 8, self tapping screws and some washers (a few washers with a hole large enough for the bag hook screw posts to fit through and two smaller washers to allow the entire sandwich of the bag hook, Sculpey clay, leg shield and metal backing plate to be screwed tight. Here's a shot of the back side of the legshield showing the backing plate screwed in place.
I now have an LX legshield wiith a GT parcel hook.
Next up, some upgrades to the electrical circuit that supplies my 12 volt outlet and Stebel air horn.

2 comments:

  1. I couldn't live without my curry hook. You'll love having it when you start riding again in the spring.

    The use of Sculpey is brilliant. I'll have to keep it in mind when I'm doing mods on my scooter. Did it shrink or deform at all when baking? I seem to recall that when my daughter was making beads and such that it would sometimes lose its shape.

    Cheers,
    Rick (Chichikov)

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  2. Hi Rick,

    I have to say that the Sculpey is amazing stuff. It is so fine that you could actually read the label from the Corona bottle I used to roll it out imprinted in the clay. When I saw that, I used some parchment paper between the bottle and the clay, and the Sculpey took on the fine texture of the parchment. As for shrinkage, as far as I could tell, there was absolutely no deformation after baking. The pattern that imprinted on the clay from the back of the hook was absolutely faithful, down to the finest detail.

    The only thing is that it took a fair bit of muscle to knead the Sculpey to the point that it was soft enough to work with. There is a softer type of Sculpey that is said to be much more malleable right out of the package. It may be that the softer Sculpey is the one they use more often with kids and that it deforms in the curing process. Young kids would not be able to work with the Sculpey clay I used, it's just too stiff.

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