Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Faster, and Fastest!

Commuting to work on a Vespa is not about speed in the absolute macro sense of speed that we normally think of when we talk about the speed of things.

Speed certainly plays a very important role in the pure joy of commuting on a Vespa, but it's much more about speed at a micro level, as in a body in motion in space and time, and not so much about how fast you get to where you're going.  It's the force of gravity acting on the bike, the centrifugal and centripetal forces that you feel and work with in sweeping turns.  That kind of speed.

It's also about becoming accomplished in low speed sharp turns that you execute turning right from a full stop onto an intersecting street, when, through a mix of experience and skill, you first initiate, then control, then counteract, and ultimately throttle out of, the act of what I think of as letting the bike fall into the turn.  It's hard for me to express, as you can see.  For me it's closely related to the feeling you get in a canoe when you shoot rapids and you drop down into that first trough, or when you ski, and you crest a rise, in that first moment when you dip into the slope again.

Many of these pleasures are best savoured when you're not in a rush to get to your destination and can afford the luxury of the twisty by-ways.

Then again, as your skills increase, eventually you find your way onto expressways (assuming that your bike, like mine, is expressway-legal).  Expressways offer a far different experience.

If commuting on the by-ways is more akin to performing aerobatics in a slow-moving bi-plane, getting anywhere on an expressway is more of an exercise in raw speed at the far edge of your Vespa's capacity, like flying that by-plane in a race.

On the expressway, attention to detail and your surroundings has to be especially sharp, the path you travel has to be carefully planned.  At a mile-a-minute, the scene unfolds before you quickly.  Changing lanes with a wide-open-throttle is a very graceful, powerful arc, with gentle pressure exerted on the bars determining your trajectory.  It means consciously using the brake lever to flash your brake light, though the engine compression is actually doing all the braking you need.  It means dividing your attention between what's happening in front of you, and what's going on behind.

Having that Admore Lighting LED brake and turn indicator unit that I installed under the rear lip of my topcase is comforting on the expressway.

Living where I do, I'm very fortunate to have a nice range of commuting options.  Slow leisurely routes that twist and meander along the lakeshore; a fast, direct expressway route that gets me from home to office, or office to home in the quickest time, and a fast-ish hybrid route that offers a mix both expressway stretches and shortcuts on city streets where I can filter and lane-split with ease to shave 10 minutes or so off the leisurely commute.  The variety is refreshing.

Here, for instance, is the faster hybrid route that I took yesterday morning on the way into the office:

View this route map in a larger map
31.256 kilometers, or 19.422 miles, in just over 50 minutes.

And here was my route home on the most direct, and fastest route:

View this route map in a larger map
28.256 kilometers, or 17.557 miles, in just over 28 minutes.

In a future post I'll show you my bread-and-butter leisurely route.  Not necessarily better, just slower paced, longer in time and distance, but packed chock-a-block full of wonderful scenery.


Keith - Circle Blue said...

It is interesting to see how we daily commuters go about route planning. I tend to keep to the same route day in and day out becoming intimately involved with the goings on in this little slice of the world. That said, I do have some variations. These options have to do with mostly with weather conditions. Most everyone else seem to take different routes so that it doesn't get boring.

Thanks for the share.

Unknown said...


You are so lucky to have such scenic options. I have 3 routes but all wind through heavy urban traffic and involves NO freeways, nor any scenery which would be noteworthy.

Riding the Wet Coast

Dar said...

When I am not in a rush I take a scenic by the ocean route. Usually most mornings I am pressed for time and in a rush to get to work and get presentable (helmet hair) before patients start coming. I love the feel of the bike or scooter when I lean into curves and throttling up brings a pretty joyous feeling as well. Your description was right on the money, anyone who rides knows the feeling.

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