Thursday, April 28, 2011

Finally Free in DC

Warm, humid, and wonderful. That's how I feel.

I'm fresh from an invigorating walk back from an earlier successful mission to fetch cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes.

The cupcakes are treats for Susan and Lauren.  Encouraged by my success, I drop the cupcakes off in my room and use the maps app on my Iphone to plan my further evening adventures.

I'm striking out from the hotel further down M street in search of Vidalia.  "Fine southern cuisine" is the promise on the restaurant cheat sheet handed to me by the concierge at the Fairmont.  I'm thinking that it's high time for some real southern fried chicken which I don't believe I've ever had.

Before satisfying my hunger for comfort food, I set off on another quest.  This is, after all, a blog about life on two wheels.  If you know the Washington Fairmont, you may think I'm headed for the complimentary BMW bicycles that the hotel offers to its guests.

Not quite my objective.

In the cab on the way in from Reagan National on Monday night, I had spotted a BIXI stand!  I knew I just needed to shoot proof that Montreal's public bike share program is alive and well in the heart of democracy.  It doesn't take me long to find my quarry.

On my way, I pass a Honda Metroplitan chained to a signpost looking like a forlorn pooch temporarily foresaken by its owner.
It reminds me of my first scootering experience in Victoria, so I snap a shot of it and move on.  No time for dawdling, I'm hungry.  But as I write this, I have the time to be indulgent.  So here's a shot of my very first scooter experience which, inexplicably, I haven't posted before.
Earlier in the evening, heading down M in the other direction, I had spotted a beautiful cream-colored Vespa ET that followed my cab, then filtered ahead, only to disappear down a side street before I could snap a picture.

A few brisk walking minutes later, I spot my prey at the corner of 25th and Pennsylvania Avenue.  A genuine real, feels like home, BIXI stand!!.  Except here it's capital bikeshare.

But a rose by any other name... is still a BIXI.
Such nice bikes. You just have to love how those sidewalls light up at night.
 Where am I? Right! Boy it's 8:45 and I'm starving.  But it has begun to drizzle.  I swing down Pennsylvania to 24th and back over to the Fairmont to fetch a brolly.

Armed with the loaner umbrella and feeling invincible, I set off down M in search of Vidalia and the promise of chicken.

Five good city blocks later and M has lost virtually all the charm it had in Georgetown from the cupcake store to the bridge just south of the hotel.  Now it's kind of office-y, and drugstore-ish, and drabb-ish, and I'm passing restaurants that are mostly closed-ish, with the only source of sustenance a brightly lit McDonalds.  If Vidalia is a bust, do I do McDonalds?  I shake off the wisp of thought, and forge ahead.

There! Across the street, Vidalia.

I scurry across the street feeling like the scofflaw jay walker that I am.  Hey! I'm a Montrealer.  We invented jay-walking. It's an art, it's efficient, not a crime, OK?

Hmmm.  The restaurant is downstairs.  There's a guy sitting on the stairs on his cell, looking a little dejected and, maybe desperate?  His back is to me.  If he was wearing scruffy clothes, I'd turn around and whistle my way over to Micky D's for chicken nuggets. But this guy's in a suit still.  He might be an investment banker, and this might be his first night on the mean streets.  I shrug, decide to chance it, and gingerly sidestep him as I head down below street level, into the unknown abyss.

Nice place once you're down here.  Now I'm worried that my casual attire or the late hour might earn me a box of McNuggets after all. I glance at my watch and look for anyone else in jeans.

No cause for concern   After a brief consult with the powers that be, the hostess offers me a very nice table where I have a view of the bar, and of a private room emitting clinking sounds and occasional polite applause that wafts out of the open frosted glass door and mingles appropriately with the jazz tracks piped in by unseen speakers.  Very nice indeed.

I've come to this slice of heaven in spite of the fact that the hoped-for fried chicken is only offered on the lower brow lunch menu.  The dinner menu is all braised bison short ribs and crispy duck breast, and foie gras au torchon, and such.  Hey, I can shift gears.

My waiter soon presents himself.  Very cool-looking dude, all in black jeans and shirt, cornrows, looks like the kind of guy you'd like to have as a cool friend, might own a bar in the islands, with a hint of Jamaica in the tone of his voice, and secretly you know he is way too cool to hang around with the likes of you.

I gingerly mention that I was hoping for real fried chicken, but I know it's not on the menu and would be pleased to indulge in some other southern fare.

My cool dude smiles a nice cool dude smile and encouragingly says he'll have a word with the chef.  The chef is way cool too, because they let the menu slide, and in the way I imagine southern comfort to be, indulge my desire.

While I wait, the amuse-bouches that now seem ubiquitous and de rigueur make their way to the starched table cloth before me.  Oh my dear Lord, I do believe I have found the ante-room to heaven and I am in it.

I now know this is going to kick ass!  A beautiful bent wood Scandinavian-looking breadbasket comes with a miniature trifecta of corn bread, traditional dinner roll, and a Vidalia onion brioche, accompanied by a ramekin duo of whipped Amish butter sprinkled with sea salt and a Vidalia onion marmalade.

Now you're thinking that in my overworked, sleep-deprived, meeting-numbed skull, I have lost all perspective and that nothing can be this good.  Dream on you silly reader.

There it now sits.
Three perfect, perfectly trimmed, perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, perfectly beautiful, impossibly crisp pieces of southern fried chicken, resting on what the cool-dude later described off-handedly, with I assume to be false modesty, as black pepper gravy.  He then apologized for having had to substitute Vidalia's signature Mac & Cheese for the promised mashed potatoes, saying that it was just as well, since the chef used heavy cream in equal parts with potatoes in his recipe, so the three cheese Mac & Cheese was the obvious healthy choice.

As you can see, my feast was rounded out by beautifully presented and confit-like collared greens as a vegetable antidote to the other portions of the meal.

Do you get my point that you have to now start planning a visit to DC just so you can eat at Vidalia?  Chatting with the owner, I find out that this slice of bliss has been in business for 18 years.  That's an elephant age for a restaurant.

It's already tomorrow, and I have to be up at the crack o'dawn.  So this post has to come to an end now.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Lofty thoughts

Warmer temperatures are finally forecast for this week.

That's the good news. The not so good news is that rain is also forecast just about every day.

Still, fair weather or foul, warm or cold, bright or dismal, my Vespa will have to wait patiently for me because, as I write this on my trusty Iphone,  I'm cruising comfortably in pitch darkness at 32,000 feet heading to Reagan National in Washington DC.

Business meetings and the intense preparation they entail will be the order of the day, dawn to well past dusk.  No time to sightsee.

If I stumble on fellow scooter commuters' trusty scoots while I'm at the political epicenter of the earth, I'll try to snap some photos to share here.

That will have to do, and will be as close as I'll come to the scoot commute until Friday.

In the meantime, Steve Williams' thoughtful  post giving thanks at Easter, has got me thinking along the same lines.

There's precious little to do anyway. It's a small regional aircraft and the only amenities are pretzels.
In most ways that matter, I'm truly blessed.

It's good to pause and reflect on my good fortune and think of my loved ones as I hurtle through life.  I surely don't count my blessings as often as I should.

To my wonderful wife, my daughter and our two sons, my sisters, my father, my brothers in law and sister in law, to my nieces and nephews, and my dear friends, I love each and every one dearly and you are the true source of my happiness.

So begins our final approach.
Good night all, and pleasant dreams.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life in the slow lane

Yes it was cold this morning.  But with the right gear, and the right scooter, the commute to work can be serene rather than stressful.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Project report: Installing an auxiliary brake light and turn indicator on a Vespa LX150

I promised to provide a project report and here it is. I know that many of you will appreciate this and that's why I'm taking the time to do it. It's more work doing the project report than actually doing the project.

Here goes.

This project report shows all the steps I took to install an AdmoreLighting Mini Light Bar LED auxiliary modulating brake light and sequential turn indicator unit on the Vespa OEM topcase on my Vespa LX150 motor scooter.

You'll see that I'm documenting my mistakes and clearly identifying them, so that others doing this project may not make the same mistakes. Not to worry though, there's always a way to get back on track.

  • Electrician’s pliers or wire cutter
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire strippers
  • Solderless connector crimper
  • Phillips screw driver
  • Soldering gun
  • Heat gun
  • Electric drill
  • 1/15 Drill bit
  • 9/32 Drill bit
  • Sharp craft knife, box cutter or scalpel
  • Voltage meter
  • A Sharpie fine-point permanent marker
1.  I planned to mount the Admore unit to my topcase.
I wanted to be able to remove the topcase without having to cut wiring connections.  The Reese trailer harness provides a good weather proof connector for that purpose.

2.  All the wire you’ll need for the installation comes with the Admore unit.  What you need to do is separate the wire in two parts, use the electrician’s pliers or wire cutter to cut the wire about 6 or 7 inches from the Admore unit.  On my unit there was a label on the wire.  Assuming that the labels are in the same place on all units, cut the wire just on the far side of the label, as you see in the photo below.
 3.  Cut the insulation sheath back a few inches, then strip each of the six wires about 1/4”.

4.  Cut the wires leading from each of the Reese trailer plugs about 1 1/2” or 2” from each plug and strip each of the five wires about 1/4”.
5.  Take the long section of wire you removed from the Admore Unit and, beginning at the end where you cut the wire, cut the insulation sheath back a few inches, then strip each of the six wires about 1/4”.

6.  As instructed in the Admore installation instructions that come from the unit, twist the blue wire and the red wire together.

7.  Cut five 1 1/2" lengths of 1/8 inch black heat shrink wrap and fit one on each of the wires you stripped in the preceding step.  Since the red and blue wires are twisted together, you only need five pieces for the six wires. 

This is where I made the first mistake. I forgot to slip heat shrink wrap onto the yellow wire before soldering it.  I unsoldered it, but the solder on the two ends of the wire prevented me from making a new solder joint.  So I shifted gears and used a solderless butt joint crimp connecter on the yellow wire.  Problem solved.   Hopefully by putting the heat shrink on all the wires before you start soldering, you’ll avoid my mistake.

8.  Notice that the two trailer plugs are not identical.  They are mirror images of one another.  One has five female connectors and one male connector, and other has the reverse.  On the assumption that one day you’ll want to travel without the topcase, select the plug that has the five female connectors as the one to solder to the long wire.

9.  Solder the wires to the trailer plug, matching the colors shown in the following diagram.
Click on the diagram to get a full size view.  You should probably also print the diagram out now, because you’ll be needing it later at the Vespa end of things.

Take care not heat the shrink wrap when you're soldering the wires.  In my case, I did cause a small bit of the shrink wrap to contract.  I used the box cutter (in my case, my scalpel [don’t ask, I’m a lawyer, not a doctor]) to cut away that small bit to allow the tubing to slide over the joint.
10.  Slide the heat shrink tubing over each solder joint so that each joint is insulated.

11.  Use the heat gun to shrink the tubing.

12. Starting from the other end of the long wire, slide an 8” or 9” piece of 3/8” heat shrink onto the wire and run it all the way to where the trailer plug is soldered on.  Bend the wires at the plug to bring them as close as possible to the plug, and slide the tubing as close as possible to the plug.  In my case, my scooter is Dragon Red, so I used red shrink tubing.  Since this piece of the wire will run from the scooter body to the topcase in plain sight, the red helps it look less obvious.  Just esthetics.

13.  Use the heat gun to shrink the tubing.

14.  Now carefully remove all the visible original black sheath off the wire and carefully separate the six colored strands.  Use your knife to cut away the fabric strands.  The easy way to remove the sheath is to slice it open where the shrink tubing ends, Get a hold on the six wires, and just pull them out of the sheath.  You won’t be needing the sheath, so discard it.

15.  Time to test your electrical skills.  Connect the two trailer plugs, the one you just soldered to the long wire, and the one you’re about to solder to the Admore unit.  Using a volt meter, check each wire for continuity between the very end of the long admore unit wire, to the stripped wires of the second trailer plug, the male one, making sure that all the connections work.  Congratulations, you passed your amateur electrician’s test.

16.  Now that you’ve soldered five joints successfully, you can tackle soldering the other trailer plug.

17.  Select the remaining trailer plug that has the five male connectors as the one to solder to the short wire coming from the Admore unit.

18.  Slide a piece of 3/8” heat shrink onto the wire from the Admore unit and run it all the way to the unit.  Make sure that the tubing is about 2” shorter than the sheath on the Admore unit wire.

19.  As instructed in the Admore installation instructions that come from the unit, twist the blue wire and the red wire from the unit together.

20.  Cut five 1 1/2" lengths of 1/8 inch black heat shrink wrap and fit one on each of the wires that come from the unit.  Since the red and blue wires are twisted together, you only need five pieces for the six wires.

21.  Solder the wires to the trailer plug, matching the colors shown in the diagram above.  Take care not heat the shrink wrap.  In my case, unbelievably, I made exactly the same mistake with the yellow wire.  There must be something in my brain with yellow.

22.  Slide the heat shrink tubing over each solder joint so that each joint is insulated.

23.  Use the heat gun to shrink the five pieces of tubing.

24.  Bend the wires at the plug to bring them as close as possible to the plug, and slide the black tubing down from the Admore unit as close as possible to the plug.

25.  Use the heat gun to shrink the tubing.

26.  Finally, all the lab tinkering is done.  What you now have is the Admore unit, terminating at the five-pin male trailer plug, and the other half of the wiring harness, terminating at the five-pin female trailer plug.
Now it’s time to head out to the scooter.

27.  Park the scooter in the center of your work space.  Set up some good task lighting.  If, like me, you’re working in a cold garage, lay a blanket down at the back of the scooter.

28.  Open the topcase, and remove the mat that lines the bottom.  Remove the large center screw, and then remove the topcase from the rack.  Bring the topcase indoors to your work bench or kitchen table.
29.  Open the seat and remove the pet carrier bucket.  Using the Phillips screw driver, remove the screw from the battery cover and remove the battery cover.  Make sure that you have a container to hold the screws you remove.

30.  Remove the screws that secure the plastic cover that surrounds the battery and the gasoline (petrol, for my UK readers) filler tube.

31.  Remove the gas (petrol) cap and gently lift off the plastic cover.  Once removed, replace the cap on the filler tube so that you don’t have to breathe in the high octane as you work, unless you like that smell and grew up sniffing gas for kicks.  No, seriously, put the cap back on.

32.  Next, still using the same screw driver, remove the single screw holding in each turn indicator light, pull the housing out, and let the housings dangle from their wires.

33.  Remove the two screws that hold the tail light in place, and remove the tail light, letting it dangle from its wires as well.
34.  Get the five Posi-Tap wire tapping gizmos out of the Admore unit parts bag, and install them onto the wires leading from the Vespa light housings following the wiring diagram above.
35.  Take the wiring harness terminating at the five-pin female trailer plug you completed in step 25, separate out the yellow and green wires.

36.  Take piece of 1/8” heat shrink tubing as long as each of the wires, less about an inch, and slide one piece each onto the yellow wire, and the green wire.

37.  Use the heat gun to shrink the tubing.  These wires will be fairly exposed to the elements inside the scooter’s body and that’s the reason for the extra protection.

38.  Now, looking down at the scooter from above, you’ll see that between the battery compartment and the back of the scooter body, there is an opening.  You’ll be feeding the three wires headed to the tail lamp through that hole.  On the opposite side of that hole, you’ll see an unused screw hole that leads into the battery compartment.  Thread the green and yellow wires from the hole at the back of the scooter, over the lip of the battery compartment, through the screw hole, and into the battery compartment.  Sounds confusing, but with the help of the photo, and seeing your Vespa, you’ll see what I mean.  Easy-peezy.
39.  Thread the yellow wire from the battery compartment, through the chassis hole nearest to the shock absorber screw, and down and through the left turn indicator opening.

40.  Do the same with the green wire, down and through the right turn indicator housing.  You’ll see that the inside of the scooter is pretty exposed and messy with road dirt and grime, and that’s why you added the extra insulation.

41.  Mount each of those wires to the Posi-Tap connectors that you installed at the turn indicator light housings in step 33.
42.  Now it’s time to tackle the part that took me the longest time until I figured a path out.  Fishing the remaining wires to the tail light.

43.  Turn your attention to the place where the tail light attaches to the scooter.  You’ll see that the wires come through a black rubber grommet.
Use your fingers or a pair of needle-nose pliers to pull the grommet out.  Slide the grommet back to the tail light housing that’s dangling free.  Now you can clearly see the rectangular hole into the scooter body.

44.  Get a three or four foot length of fairly stiff wire.  I used 12 gauge automotive wire, and it did the trick nicely.  Beginning at the opening at the top of the scooter, thread the wire into the opening and down towards where the tail light assembly is.  It takes a wee bit of trial and error, but eventually, you’ll catch a glimpse of the wire through the rectangular hole at the tail light end.  In the picture below, you can see the yellow 12 gauge wire going into the opening, and then coming out at the tail light end.
45.  Using the needle-nose pliers, grab the wire and pull it through.  Now, the toughest part of this project is done.

46.  Moving back to the opening at the top of the scooter, using electrical tape, tape the four remaining wires from the Admore unit wiring harness you made (the purple, black, blue and red wires) to the 12 gauge wire.  Moving to the tail light opening, gently pull the 12 gauge wire out through the rectangular opening until the Admore unit wires have been pulled through.  Here's a picture of the harness wires once they were pulled through the tail light hole, still taped to the 12 gauge wire.
47.  You can now remove the excess length of the Admore unit wires.  Cut the four wires so that you have enough to make the connections to the Posi-Tap connectors that you installed earlier at the tail light housing.

48.  Feed the four Admore wires through the rubber grommet, then push the rubber grommet back into place to seal the rectangular hole.
49.  Twist the red and blue Admore unit wires together, and then connect them to the Posi-Tap connector connected the Vespa wire with the black and yellow stripe.

50.  Similarly, connect the black Admore Unit wire to the black Vespa wire, and the remaining purple Admore unit wire to the Vespa wire with the black and white stripe.

51.  We’re almost done with the Vespa-side wiring.  Here's a photo of the new wiring harness with the battery compartment housing re-installed.
But before buttoning the scooter back up, it’s best to run a test.  Take the Admore unit and plug it in.  Make sure the kill switch is in the run position. Turn on the ignition.  The Admore unit should light up as a running light.  Now turn on the left, then right turn indicators.  The Admore sequential turn indicators should work.  Make sure the unit is right-side up so that the left indicator is on the left side.  Now apply one of the brakes.  The brake light should modulate, then stay on.  Release the brake and then re-apply it.  The brake light should come back on, but without modulating.

Here's a video of the test I did.


53.  You won’t re-install the underseat compartment parts just yet.  Let’s move on to the topcase end of things.

54.  In the comfort of your kitchen or workshop, turn the topcase upside down.  Take the Admore unit mounting bracket and figure out where you want to place it.

Here’s where I made another mistake.  I judged the location of the holes from the outside of the topcase.  Inside the topcase you’ll see that there’s a kind of trough that runs around the perimeter.  I ended drilling the holes a little too close to the edge of the trough.  I couldn’t get the supplied Admore mounting screws to sit flat as a result.  What I did was to mount the screws from below, with the nuts inside the topcase, and there was barely enough room.  I was lucky.  Make sure that the holes you drill as well within the “trough” so that there’s room to let the screw heads or nuts lie flat, whichever you prefer.

55.  On the outside of the topcase, use the permanent marker to mark the two mounting holes.

56.  Using the point of your sharp knife, make a small dimple in the topcase in the center of the mark, to give your drill a place to “bite”.

57.  Using your electric drill and your smallest drill bit (I used a 1/15 bit), drill pilot holes.  The topcase material drills nicely, I found that a low speed worked best.

58.  Switch to a 9/32 bit, and drill out the two holes.
59.  Using the screws provided with the Admore unit, mount the bracket to the topcase, and then mount the Admore unit to the bracket.
60.  Now re-attach the topcase to the Vespa, and plug in the Admore unit.

61.  Push any excess wiring harness wire into the opening at the top of the scooter.

62.  Remove the gas (petrol) cap, and, taking care not to pinch any wires, put the plastic housing that surrounds the battery compartment back on the Vespa.  You’ll see that there is a tab that fits into the hole you used to fish the wires down to the tail light.  That tab now has to share the hole with the wiring harness for the Admore unit.  That’s also the recess where the seat latch fits in.  So there’s now a lot going on in that hole.  As you re-install the housing, make sure you don’t pinch any wires, and use your finger to poke the wiring harness wires to the side, so they remain clear of the laching mechanism.  Once that bit of fiddling is done with, screw the housing down securely, taking care not to over tighten any screws.

63.  Drop the pet carrier bucket back into place, close the seat, and, finally, this project is done.

64.  Take a moment to congratulate yourself, admire the wonderful light show at the back end of your Vespa, show off your handiwork to your significant other, and then go for a ride.

Pheww... that was more work than actually doing the project.  I hope you will find the project report useful.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

WOT to the Bridge

It's Friday and I'm stuck in the office waiting for a meeting with VIPs that never actually happens.  My wife and I are invited to dinner at the home of close friends who live just off the western tip of the island in Vaudreuil.  

It's 6:15 and I'm still downtown. If I take my usual scenic southern route that hugs the lake, I estimate that I won't be able to make it to our friend's house until 7:45. 

I roll out of the underground garage at 6:20 and decide to swing north, straight up the mountain on Peel to Pine, then west over to Cote des Neiges, over the mountain and down to Jean Talon, west to Lucerne, and north to highway 40. 

Highway 40 is Montreal's major east-west expressway. Late last season I chanced riding the 40 for a couple of exits, and that's my only experience so far. 

Traffic has been light and I've made really good time.  Heading through the D├ęcarie traffic circle, I'm debating whether to stick to the service road or hop on the expressway. 

The Vespa's clock on the dash is indicating 6:40, but I know it's running five minutes fast and I make a mental note to adjust it. I don't want to hold up dinner, so I take the first on-ramp and open the throttle wide.

The Vespa LX150's speedometer reads a steady 65 miles per hour. I know i'm doing more like 57 or so based on past experience with GPS comparisons, but I'm pacing traffic in the right hand lane, and even need to roll off the throttle from time to time to keep my distance.  So I decide to stay put on the expressway. 

I'm really eating up the miles at this pace. A few eighteen wheelers slowly pass in the middle lane. I brace for buffeting each time. While there is some, once the truck is about 100 feet ahead, it's not dramatic. The Vespa cruises along like a champ. 

As the western tip of the island looms, so does one of my milestone challenges: the long six lane bridge that spans the Lake of Two Mountains. 

I'm getting set for the adrenaline rush of crossing that bridge at wide open throttle. Last season the Ile aux Tourtes Bridge seemed like a challenge I might never dare to take.

As I cruise down the long slope on the far side of the span, I'm sufficiently comfortable to take in the spectacular view of the lake far into the distance to my left and right. The  Vespa is doing an indicated 68 mph. 

 I take the next exit.  There is a good crease in the road where the concrete expressway lane transitions to the asphalt of the exit ramp. There is a momentary squirm as the Vespa negotiates the crease. I'm alert, and very focused, but not intimidated.  As I cruise along the ramp gradually decelerating to the speeds I normally ride at, I realise how far my riding skills have progressed. 

The weather for this ride is great. Clear skies and a comfortable 11 Celsius. Before leaving the office I had removed the liner from my Tourmaster Caliber pants and I'm glad I did. The windshield makes the ride very comfortable. I've had my visor up and my collar open the whole time without the least discomfort. 

When I ring the doorbell at 7:05, everyone is shocked to see me so soon. My wife had only arrived minutes before me and figured she would have to wait another 45 minutes or an hour for my arrival. 

If you're concerned that you won't get to see the end of my new Admore light unit installation, no worries.  I'll return to that project just as soon as I can and post all the details. 
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.