Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The ride home

In the evening I rarely stop to take pictures.

The day's work has worn me down, and all I want to do is get home.

Don't misunderstand, the evening commute on my Vespa is something I look forward to. There is no better way for me to unwind than riding west along the Lachine Canal and then the lake shore all the way home.
Nevertheless, I'm much less inclined to take the time to snap photos, unless the scene is compelling.

This evening was one of those days.

The weather began to clear at noon and the day evolved into a perfect late summer day. Warm but not hot; a gentle breeze; clear blue sky punctuated by great big white voluptuous clouds.
In a word, a sailor's dream of a day.

No surprise then that the west island sailors were out in force by the time I got to Pointe Claire.

The only unfortunate part of this nice little story is that my Iphone was woefully inadequate to capture the beauty that made me interrupt my evening commute.

As you can see, I took several shots, playing with the exposure, hoping to get it just right. In the end I couldn't decide which was best, so I've posted them all.
It's a shame that the sailboats don't translate in the photos they way they appeared to me. It's the flotilla of boats that got me to pause to take these photos.

If you click on them you'll see them in a separate page of your browser. Depending on your operating system, you can zoom in until they fill the screen. Only then will you see what forced me to stop, if only briefly.

Irene's wake

On Sunday the outer reaches of Hurricane Irene's scythes brought sporadic power failures, tore branches from trees, and littered the ground with leaves.

Monday's commute to work was chilly and windy but with clear blue skies. 

I paused on the lake shore to snap a few pictures of Lake St-Louis, still pretty choppy from the high winds.
It would have been interesting to see the same scenes at the height of Sunday's storm.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Secure your helmet

Eventually you will want to park your bike somewhere, and not want to schlep your helmet along for your stroll.

If you wear a half helmet or perhaps a three-quarter helmet, and if your pet carrier or top case are relatively empty, you can store your helmet there and it will be out of sight, protected from the elements, and reasonably secure.

If your helmet doesn't fit there, you'll need another strategy.  Then again, maybe your helmet would fit there, but, like me, you carry other stuff in those places (rain suit, tool kit, portable air compressor, locks, digital camera, Sham-Wow, RAM mount accessories, monocular spy scope, ear plugs, flattened beer can (indispensable for soft ground to support the stand), air pressure gauge, Iphone charging cable, bungee net, GPS unit, re-usable shopping bags, sunglasses, velcro strap to compress the rear brake when the tire needs air, Icon waterproof gauntlets, and other sundries), and then you won't have room for a helmet, or much other stuff.

Sheesh, I sure do carry a lot of stuff.  I'll have to have another listen to George Carlin's inspirational riff on 'stuff'.

You could just lock your helmet to the back wheel, like these brave souls do (I don't know them, I just parked next to them at the mall).
One plus of this strategy is that if a thief takes your scoot, those helmets will smack his leg with each turn of the stolen wheel.

But sitting on the ground like that seems a little inelegant, not to mention that you might get an earful of ants and spiders when you pop your lid back on.

If your helmet strap closes with a double D-ring, like a horse saddle cinch, Vespa's got you covered.  It's easy to overlook this tiny feature under the saddle, just at the lip of the pet carrier, on the starboard side, at one'clock.

If you still can't spot it, this picture may well be worth a thousand more words.
Once you close the saddle, the helmet hangs securely from the chin strap.
You might think that the strategies I've covered so far are the only ones you'll need to secure your helmet.

Well, if your helmet is a full-face helmet, and if it has a nice ratchet closure, like mine, then you're still out of luck.

So what do I do?

I'm glad you asked.  It took me a while to figure it out.

I picked up a short cable lock at the Montreal Harley Davidson + BMW dealer.
I close the chin-guard on my Nolan N102 helmet, thread the cable lock though the visor opening, pass the cable through the grab rail, and close the lock.  I lower the visor, then sit the helmet down on the saddle, up against the topcase.
The nice thing about this strategy is that if it rains while you're off running errands, the inside of the helmet stays nice and dry.

Wait! You say you have an open-face helmet with a ratchet closure?  You're still not out of luck.  You need to get a T-bar thingy specially made for the Nolan ratchet closure helmet.  You thread it through the ratchet, then slip the hole on the T-bar onto the under-seat helmet hook, and close the seat.

There you have it, six sure-fire strategies for securing your helmet, before you set off for a walk in the park.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Secrets of Île Perrot

Susan and I returned yesterday from the annual governance conference of the Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries that was held in historic Quebec City.

There was a lot riding on my shoulders and, even though the conference was an unprecedented success, I need a break before I plunge back into life at the office.

A little excursion today to Île Perrot seemed just the ticket.  You see, Île Perrot harbors some very special secrets.

I thought I'd share two of the secrets with you.

If you're here, or when you come for a visit, and if you can explore on your own, you'll have two secrets to seek out, and more to discover on your own.

To get to Île Perrot I took the Galipeault bridge.  So this post gets tagged as a bridge post as well.  Bonus!  For an aerial view of the bridge, and of Ile Perrot, click here.

The best place to see the Galipeault bridge is from the boardwalk in the village of Ste-Anne de Bellevue. 
The boardwalk sits on the canal lock that allows pleasure craft to get from the Lake of Two Mountains to the west, to Lake St-Louis in the east.  The lock itself sits right under the bridge (actually three bridges, once you include both vehicle spans and the railway bridge).
Navigable watercourses are a federal government jurisdiction, so the lock is a federal work.
The flag is flying at half-mast in honour of Jack Layton's passing last Monday.  He was easily the most loved of Canada's federal politicians, and was the leader of the opposition in Parliament.  When I announced his passing at the conference at Monday morning's plenary session, a ripple of shock spread through the ballroom at the Chateau Frontenac Hotel.

I got back on my Vespa and set out across the bridge to Île Perrot.

Just over the bridge, you'll find the first secret.  It's not exactly what you'd call a genuine secret, since it's there for all to see, hiding in plain sight.  It's just that unless you're in-the-know, you wouldn't know that one of Montreal's iconic fast food treats is smoked meat (others are 'Montreal bagels' - click here, and here, for the bagel posts - and of course, poutine which has spread all the way to New York, if you can believe it).

Anyway, you can get smoked meat in just about every no-star restaurant in the province of Quebec, and there are places in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver that claim to offer it as well.  But, like the venerable Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, most offerings of the delicacy leave much to be desired.

The kind of smoked meat that put smoked meat on the map is only served in a handful of Montreal restaurants, and nowhere else on earth.

There is the legendary Schwartz's on the main, along with the Main Deli, across the street, Dunn's is right up there at each one of its two or three branches, there is tiny Deli B, in the Valois village in Pointe Claire, Abie's on St-John's boulevard also in Pointe Claire, and then, there's...
From time to time, one of Montreal's daily newspapers holds a foodie survey to determine which place has the very best smoked meat.  Schwartz's usually comes in first, and Smoke Meat Pete comes in second.  For the life of me I don't know why, because Smoke Meat Pete is clearly head-and-shoulders the clear winner by a country mile.

Oh well! Les goûts se partagent mais ne se discutent pas! or à chacun son goût! or, as my brother-in-law is very fond of saying, à chacun son mishigas!

I didn't have time to stop to indulge, so I set off again, heading for the very tip of Ile Perrot.

My Vespa becomes a time machine, and I am magically transported to 1705.

I dismount, and twenty steps later, my Vespa might as well have been my horse.
A wooden walkway leads through the woods.  A short enchanted stroll later and the best secret of Ile Perrot emerges from the light at the end of the soft green canopy.
There's the miller's cottage, and just beyond, at the water's edge, amazingly, a perfect little windmill.
The mill was lovingly restored back to its original working condition in 1979 and won an award for the best historical restoration.  The last time I visited many years ago, the mill produced flour to demonstrate how mills operated in the 18th century.

The site is landscaped so that when you're at the mill, there is no evidence of the 21st century that intrudes to break the spell.  You are, while you are there, truly transported in time.
When you turn around to leave, the modest miller's cottage stands in your way.
Before you leave, take a moment to take in the pure beauty of this slice of life from 1705.
Then again, with another of my time machines, in this case a wicked long lens on my Olympus SLR, I can peer forward in time and see what the city of the 21st century looks like, shimmering through the haze.
I thought you might appreciate a treasure map to guide you on your discovery of these secrets, so before setting off on my return trip, I pulled out my Iphone and switched on the GPS tracking.  This interactive map is very cool.  Click on the "Earth" option.  Explore and you'll even find the windmill on your own.

View Ile-Perrot-2 in a larger map

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Jacques Bizard bridge

Ile Bizard is one of Montreal's little jewels.

It's an island tucked away in Montreal's north-east wedged in between the Island of Montreal to the south, and Ile Jesus (the city of Laval) to the north.  Ile Bizard is home to Montreal's most prestigious and exclusive golf club, the Royal Montreal Golf Club.  I'm the furthest thing from a golfer, so the club gets short shrift here.

All along the shore on Ile Bizard, McMansions have been springing up.  Every time I go for a ride there, a few more McMansions have sprouted.  It's the water views that hold a special attraction for people with serious money.  Doug Adams had views on the importance of boundary conditions (for instance at the water's edge) in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I'm not sure that the shores of Ile Bizard would have qualified for him, or, for that matter, that living in a McMansion on the shores of Ile Bizard would be the sort of place where you might transcend the human condition.

From the Montreal side you get to Ile Bizard over the Jacques Bizard bridge. From Laval you get there on a wonderful little cable ferry. I've written about the ferry before (click here) and I crossed on the ferry to Laval on the way to Ottawa (click here for that post).

This post is mostly about the bridge and fits as part of the Montreal bridge posts. Click here to go to the bridge posts page.
I wandered down the aptly named rue du Pont on the Montreal side to snap this picture of the bridge.  The bridge is a three-lane bridge and there are overhead traffic lights that determine the direction of the center lane.  In the morning there are two lanes southbound, in the evening, two lanes northbound.  There is nothing else remarkable about the bridge.  It's not particularly long; nor particularly tall; it's not a draw or lift-bridge; it isn't decorated or otherwise arty, and there is no particular magic to its engineering since it's neither cantilevered nor supended.  It's just a serviceable and useful bridge.  Not all bridges are as ambitious as the Golden Gate or the Pont Alexandre III.

If you were in a boat and headed westward up river from Ile Bizard you would enter the Lake of Two Mountains.  Along with Lake St-Louis on the south shore of the West Island, these lakes are Montreal's boaters' paradise.  All along the shore there are yatch clubs and marinas, home to hundreds of pleasure craft.
As a result of the greater concern for environmental issues, the Rivière des prairies is much cleaner than I remember it growing up.
Where the Rivière des prairies skirts the north shore of Ile Bizard the current is very strong.  It's the strong current that makes the passage on the cable ferry remarkably swift.  Just up stream and west of the ferry, the river is navigable  but the navigation channel has rapids that must make the passage fun, but a little choppy.  Unless you have a boat with a very strong motor, you won't make it back up stream.
To wrap up this post on the Jacques Bizard bridge, here is a video taken crossing the bridge back to the Montreal side.  Not very exciting, but it wraps up this post well enough.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First long distance ride

I did it yesterday.

A road trip from Montreal to Ottawa and back. On my Vespa. I've included a Google Earth view of the trip, mainly because I couldn't figure out how to embed a complete Google map view. I've now figured out that the trip was so long that the result is actually seven Google map segments. There are so many that I've added them to the end of this post.

8 1/2 hours (9:30 a.m to 6:00 p.m.); 375 kilometres, 233 miles; one more province added to the places I've ridden; one $3.00 ferry trip; 6 or 7 bridges; three pit stops to top up with gas; one chat with a fellow rider on a big Beemer who couldn't quite believe a guy on a small-frame Vespa was pacing him; one stop for a bite to eat; one massive traffic jam in Gatineau due to road work; one hour spent visiting my dad; one rush hour in Ottawa; two dozen or so bugs obliterated on my visor; three sets of disposable ear plugs; 75 kms on the Trans-Canada Highway with the throttle twisted to the stop, too few pictures to share, and one numb bum.

That's it for the ride stats.

What did I learn?

Long distance riding is tough. Really tough. The Vespa's gas tank is not designed for long distances. Nor is the saddle or seating position for that matter. 150 cubic centimeters is 100 or so cubic centimeters short for pacing traffic on a straight, two-lane, 90 km/h highway. A mid-height windscreen and a Nolan N-102 helmet is a combination that is WAY TOO LOUD for comfort, even with 32db noise canceling ear plugs.

The sweet spot for the Vespa LX 150 is urban riding. That's where the Vespa really shines. It's fun to ride; it's incredibly nimble; it hauls an incredible range of stuff so it's great for shopping; it can filter through traffic jams like a ghost through walls; you can park it anywhere; it turns heads because it's gorgeous; and the urban riding list goes on, and on.

Which is not to say I didn't have fun on this trip.

The absolute best was a stretch of highway 148 along the Ottawa river in Quebec. It was twisty with good pavement and a speed limit of 80 km/h. Traffic was doing just under 100 km/h. With the throttle wide open, the bike just ate up those sweeping turns. I felt like I was one with the machine, counter steering with just the right pressure on the handle bars, leaning first this way, then that. It was just fantastic.

I also appreciated the elderly gentleman who came up to me after my bite to eat at a roadside hotdog stand, to ask about the Vespa and whether it was made in Italy. He explained to me that the wheels were small because they originally were recycled aircraft landing gear. And I believe he is right.

Crossing from Ile Bizard to Laval on the cable ferry was fun. I hadn't taken that ferry in years.
I also enjoyed stopping at the church in St-Eustache. During the 1837 rebellion the British army laid siege to the church where some of the rebels had taken refuge. You can still see where the wall is pocked by cannon fire. When I was a kid, my mother used to point out a cannon ball that had remained lodged in the wall. That bit must have been repaired at some point, or the cannon ball was dislodged, because it's no longer there.
Visiting my Dad was the reason I went to Ottawa. He loves jackets, so he just had to model my armored BMW Airflow.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the ride home was not much fun. It was much more about endurance. Highway 17 in Ontario was straight, flat, and fast. The limit was 90 km/h and traffic wanted to do 105 km/h, a tad more than the Vespa LX 150 is able to muster. That stretch of road is a two-lane highway with few passing opportunities. The result was that for some stretches I was leading a parade.

Relief from that misery came when Highway 17 merged with 417 which is the Trans-Canada Highway. For some reason the slight head wind went away and I was able to average about 100 km/h. With traffic able to pass me in the other lane it was actually much more comfortable. It also helped that the opposing traffic on the west bound lanes was on the far side of the very wide median instead of being in the lane right next to me.

Between the 17 and the 417, the return trip ended up being a wide-open-throttle affair pretty much all the way. To be honest I was getting concerned about the impact on the Vespa's 150cc Leader engine. The good news is that after I turned off the motor when I stopped to gas up for the last leg home, the bike started right up without a fuss after the five minute respite.

Would I do it again?

375 kilometers is a lot of ground to cover with any vehicle, let alone a Vespa. And yet, if you look at the links on the right of the page, you'll find many accounts of cross continental trips on Vespa LX 150s, and even on 50cc bikes. I was always impressed with those exploits. Now with my own experience, I am in awe of those incredible trips. Any thought I might have had that I could go coast to coast on my Vespa is receding pretty quickly from my mind.

I might try another long trip if I upgrade to a GTS though. The larger motor would have eliminated the anxiety of not being able pace the traffic.

And before any longish trips are planned, I need to rethink my gear. I need to get a new windscreen and cut it only slightly down so I can see over it and eliminate the noisy turbulence. I also need a much quieter helmet. Not having to contend with that drumming in my ears for hours on end would also have made a huge difference.

Here are those Google maps. The route I took is indicated by the blue trail on the map. There appears to be some kind of a bug with the embedding code, and the route may not be visible on the thumbnail of the map. Scrolling around, or zooming out will reveal the route. I include these maps in the interest of completeness, in case anyone wants a more detailed closer look at the trip.

Flash forward: The Vespa LX 150 was my first Vespa.  In 2013 I stepped up to a Vespa GTS 300 i.e. and in July of 2013 managed an epic tour through the northeast.  Click here or on the 'Touring' link above, to learn more.

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

View Ottawa-trip in a larger map

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sunrise on Lake St-Louis

Today was going to be my first long road trip.  As often happens, work got in the way of fun, and took its usual precedence.  The trip to Ottawa is still on, but it will be Monday, weather permitting.

I invite you to hang around here, because I will take that epic trip, and I expect that there will be a long blog post or two to tell the tale.
To mitigate the pain of postponement, I interrupted the morning commute to take these early morning pictures of the lake.

I cheated a little, taking advantage of the Vespa's ability to go where other vehicles can't, and parked right next to the Pointe Claire pier.  The pier is barely west of the Pointe Claire village. It offers a nice view of Lake St-Louis looking east.
In this next picture you get an idea of where I parked in relation to where the intended parking is.
I snapped my pictures with my Iphone, and, ready to face the work day, continued the ride to the office.
Looking at these pictures, I am reminded once more that I have to renounce the Iphone for these kinds of photos. The focus usually seems murky, and the pictures often lack the depth that I can get with either my ancient Olympus 3 megapixel camera or my Olympus SLR. There's always room for improvement.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another bridge(s)

There's no better way for me to decompress than to set my sights on a scooter objective.

If you've been following this blog, you know that Montreal's bridges are one of my favourite challenges.

A doctor's appointment took my Vespa and I to a different spot on the island, and put me within range of another target bridge: the Lachapelle bridge that spans the river I always knew simply as the "back river" when I was growing up.  In fact it's the Rivière des Prairies.

I guess people called it the "back river" because, with downtown Montreal on the south side of the island, the north shore is easily thought of as the "back" of the island.  The river there naturally becomes the "back river".

That's just speculation on my part.  A historian would need to dig into that to find out the truth.  Since this is my blog, and it's late, I'm satisfied with my explanation and I'll leave it at that.

The appeal of the Lachapelle bridge is that I grew up in the Chomedey section of the City of Laval.  To get to Montreal you pretty much always took the Lachapelle bridge (Autoroute 13 wasn't even in the planning stages back then).  We always used to call it the Cartierville bridge, because Cartierville was the name of the Montreal neighborhood on the south side of the bridge.

Nostalgia is the main reason I am drawn to the Lachapelle bridge.  I must have crossed that bridge thousands of times growing up: in my parents' car, on buses, occasionally on foot, and solo during my college days on my 10-speed bicycle.  Countless commutes were spent in the early 70's with my Dad and my sisters in the family car in an endless bumper-to-bumper line-up waiting to cross that bridge.  When we moved to Montreal Island in 1973, one of the things we didn't miss was that bridge and those traffic jams.

With the population growth in Laval, the Lachapelle bridge became two bridges in 1975: the bridge of my childhood, and a new sister span right next to it.  Today they resemble fraternal twins.  The original span is all steel trusses of varying angles. It now carries traffic north to Laval.  The newer sister span has trusses shaped as graceful arcs and it carries traffic south to the island of Montreal.  The photo below is a screen shot nabbed from Google Maps.
After crossing to Laval on the original span, I went east to seek a vantage point to take these pictures.  I found one that took me right to the water's edge.  There are even a couple of park benches there inviting you to sit and take in the river as it flows eastward under those bridges.
One more mission accomplished.  It's nice to scratch that itch.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August bliss

I pulled into the parking lot at the Pointe Claire Venture Sailing School to snap this picture with my Iphone.

It only takes a minute or so to take a photo on the way to work.

On any given day there are many scenes that I would love to record.  The beauty of riding a scooter to work is that I do stop sometimes to take a picture.

My photography skills are hit and miss though. The Camera+ app takes much better pictures than the built-in camera application on the phone, but can't compete with my Olympus SLR.

I often think that I'll take some time one day to bring my SLR on a leisurely scooter ramble, but so far it's  just  wishful thinking.

In the meantime the beauty of the moment slips past me in a visual stream.

If the weather cooperates, I plan to take my first long distance ride on Friday: a day trip to Ottawa to visit my father. It's approximately 350 kilometers or 217 miles round trip.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The benefit of experience

I am fond of saying that experience is what you get, when you were expecting something else.

In many ways I have gotten what I expected back when I set out on my scooter commuting adventure last year.  But I have also gotten more than I bargained for, much more.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the more you do something, the better you get at it.

Riding is no exception.

My Vespa LX 150 motor scooter hasn't changed much since the day I got it, at least not in any way that relates to its performance.  It doesn't go any faster, or handle differently.

I have changed as a rider though.  Seven thousand-plus miles on two scooter-wheels changed me.

Looking back, it is easy for me to see how I have changed.

I am more confident now.

There are things that I can do more automatically.  I mean that I can do them with less deliberate thought.  Some are simple things like turning on or cancelling my turn signals, or being able to find the horn button in an instant, or routinely using the kill switch to turn off the motor.

Some things that I do routinely require more skill and knowledge.  Counter steering to get just the right lean and keep the bike on a safe arc while accelerating into a sweeping turn at higher speed, for instance.  Or slow speed sharp turns at intersections.  Last year I remember writing that those turns were always awkward and unsettling (click here).  Now I often handle those turns decently, and sometimes elegantly, which actually makes me grin with satisfaction inside my helmet when I feel the bike swooping through a slow sharp turn, both feet on the floor, with no fear that I might lose my balance and drop the bike.  Properly done, it's like a controlled fall into the turn, using the throttle to generate the centrifugal force that counteracts the fall and eventually rights the bike.

I am comfortable now on all city streets.  I know that I can safely travel in any lane, on any street I choose.  There was a time in the early days of my scooter commuting that I felt safest only in the "slow" lane.

The most recent step in my education has been expressway travel.  The first time I ventured onto a limited access roadway, the forces exerted by the wind at higher speeds were quite unexpected and took some time to get used to.  Today, I know that I can take an expressway without anxiety or discomfort.

The art and science of learning how to ride, and ride well, is enough of a challenge for me that it adds a new dimension to my life.  It is a source of pleasure and satisfaction, and gives me a feeling of real accomplishment.

In the end, the greatest pleasure is the feeling of freedom riding gives me.  As I improve as a rider, my horizons broaden.  I feel that I can go anywhere, at a moment's notice.  Trips that were once routine are now ripe with pleasure and adventure.

There is still much more to learn, many places I haven't been to that I need to visit on two wheels.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.