Friday, January 25, 2013

Guilty pleasure

I enjoy writing.

Can you tell?

As you know if you've been hanging around the water cooler here, I am prone to getting mesmerized by blog traffic stats.

When a new milestone looms, I can't take my eyes off the graph for too long.  I start 'running the numbers'.  Will I break through to a new plateau this month?

Scootcommute hit its all time high last May at the same time as I did. Two mesmerizing days spent in sunny Vancouver in the company of fellow riders, and bloggers.

Hitting a new high seems all but inevitable right now.  But I still can't tear my eyes off the bloody graph.

Of course Blogger will just set the bar higher still, and tomorrow's high will be just be a step along an unending winding path towards a new imaginary ceiling.

I guess I'm mesmerized because, as intangible as a blog might be, it's something of value that I have built, word, by word, by word.

Something of value to whom?  Well... I suppose something of value to you.  Otherwise, you wouldn't be here.  Thank you.  I am pleased that my ramblings are worthy of your visit.  After all, I started this blog so that I could return the favour I got from reading other bloggers like Steve Williams, Dave Dixon, and Orin O'Neill.

I think I've done OK.

What I have received in return has far, far, far surpassed what I have given.  Thanks to Bob, David, Sonja, Dave, Roland, Steve, Orin, Brandy, Dar, Keith, Dave, Rob, and...  I feel like some poor Golden Globes starlet, desperately fearful that my struggling brain is going to forget to mention some one of you who really deserves my appreciation.  Oh well, I apologize in advance for my omissions.

So... what do those numbers look like now...

Epilogue

Another milestone passed.  It was fun to see it happen.  One second the line is poking at the virtual 'ceiling', and then poof Blogger raises the bar, the pressure is instantly released, a new much higher ceiling appears, and, if anything, the statistics look smaller, more insignificant.  Which is what they are, really.

But I get carried away watching the blue line hit the ceiling.  It's silly really.  But I think these things strike a chord in many.  Recently the general discussion forum at ModernVespa hit the 1,000,000th posting.  Everyone got a little silly seeing who was going to post the millionth comment.  It reminded me of those contests at retail stores and supermarkets when I was a kid.  The millionth customer.

Similarly, the excitement wanes almost instantly.  There is not much magic in the 1,000,276th post, now is there?

Lottery tickets are in the same vein.  Before the draw there is the possibility.  After the draw, life goes on.  But someone...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Comfort, out of the blue!

I got in from work to find a mystery package waiting for me from Pensylvania.

What I found inside is amazing. 
Rarely, in a lifetime, do you get to meet a human being this kind and thoughtful.

This is a gift that is every bit as appreciated, as it is completely unexpected.  An ultra-light camp stove that runs on alcohol.

 Hot coffee, tea, or instant soup, anywhere, anytime, thanks to a blue flame, and Bobskoot.

Boiled water in about 1.5 minutes.  Amazing.


Thanks Bob!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday night in Canada...

Susan and I enjoyed the quintessential Canadian experience tonight.

While the snow continued to fall, blanketing the city, we, and 20,000 other Montrealers, were treated to the NHL season opener at the Bell Centre.

Canadiens vs the Leafs, complimentary beer, hot dogs and chips, and a pre-game show that had Canadiens old-timers including Jean BĂ©liveau literally passing the torch to the young-uns of the current team.

It was almost enough to make you forget the strike that almost killed the game in 2013.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Making good

Thanks Sonja, Bob, Brandy and Richard, I trekked back to the store and bought a set of the smaller ROK pack straps.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A reader asks about scooters and potholes

Last Friday I had the following e-mail exchange with Bob.  Regular readers please note that this Bob is not that Bob:

Firstly allow me to congratulate you on producing Scoot Commute. I find it interesting, entertaining and informative.

I was in the sailing magazine business for many years, which was considered extremely 'vertical' in interest, but you've gone far beyond that.

I think it's likely fair to say that you're an expert on the scoot scene in Montreal and in that capacity I seek your advice.

I moved to Montreal five years ago, to the Park Extension neighborhood, and bought a scooter for the first time. A very nice 2002 low mileage Yamaha 50cc. I love it and have done the F1 track on the Island and gone up the mountain uncountable times but in reality put on only 1000 K/year.

My problem centers around the fact that I weigh 50 pounds more that the scooter. 250 vs 200. The poor thing is 70 pounds over with just me aboard. This past summer the front and back ends both came apart at the same time, (I was sure I cracked the frame and wrecked it), but it was fixable for not too much $. I dodged a bullet.

The obvious solution is to move up to a 150cc, which I would do in a flash (sooner the better as this is buying season) except for the license. I would also like larger wheels in defense of the potholes.

I have not been able to find out about the required courses which seem to be long, expensive, preoccupied with gears and on top of everything I'm uni-lingual. Did I mention I'm 74?

I thought of putting a 50cc motor into a 150 chassis but the shortcomings are obvious. I have no interest in driving on freeways etc.

I would appreciate your thoughts.

Thank you for you time.

Bob
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Hi Bob,

First off, thanks for the kind words.

As for the scooter question, the scooter I ride is a Vespa LX150. It has a 150cc engine. It's very well built and there are plenty of guys with your build riding on that frame.

The good news is that the vast majority of Vespas LX scooter on the streets in Montreal are Vespa LX50's. Basically, a 150cc frame, with a 50cc engine.

You should have no problem finding one used on kijiji.ca.

The LX50 weighs 225 lbs vs 243 for the LX150. Other than the engine, the two scoots are identical.

Here are the specs:

Getting a motorcycle license is expensive and time consuming but very much worthwhile. I dodged that bullet because in Quebec in the past if you had a driver's license you automatically were entitled to ride any motorcycle. Some years ago they put on a campaign to encourage non-riders to give up that privilege, which I had done.

When I was shopping for my Vespa the dealer informed me that those who gave up the motorcycle privilege had three years to reclaim it, which is what I did.

Still, riding a powered two-wheeler is very different than a bicycle, especially once you get up over 50 km/h. It's cornering that requires special skill and it's not something you can easily learn without instruction. If you don't learn it, it can be very dangerous.

One option for you is to pick up a Vespa LX50 and have the dealer kit it up to 78cc's (I think that's what the displacement kit offers). The Montreal Vespa dealer, Alex Berthiaume, just north of Lafontaine Park, is very good and could do that for you.

If you do decide to go the Vespa route, check out modernvespa.com. Tons of good advice and a very good internet forum.

Hope this helps.

Because this exchange may be helpful to others as well, let me know if you mind if I post it on my blog. I won't do it without your OK.

Regards,

d.
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Thank you very much for the info. I do not mind if you put our e- mails on your blog.

I'll give Alex Berthiaume a call on Monday.

I notice you cleverly avoided the pothole question bit then I guess life is full of them.

Cheers,

Bob
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Oops, oversight.

Potholes. Interestingly, they aren't the worst hazard.

Those steel construction plates, sand and gravel, tire ruts left by overloaded 18 wheelers, seams, cracks and ridges, and sunken sewer covers, all make riding a scooter in Montreal a challenge.

I don't find the small wheels as much of a liability as I assumed they would be when I started out. In fact they handle obstacles like that surprisingly well.

Vespas are extremely maneuverable ("flickable", to use a motorcycle term). For the most part I have fun dodging potholes and sunken sewer covers. When they sneak up on me or I fail to dodge them, at worst they bottom out the rear suspension. On a Vespa you can adjust the suspension but even at the stiffest setting it will bottom out.

It's the other hazards that worry me more. I have gotten airborne off ridges on St-Patrick street near the cement plant, and often that road is slimy with muck.

All told, all those hazards don't detract appreciably from the pleasure I get from commuting on my Vespa.

Regards,

d.
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Don't get me wrong - I love my scooter and just yesterday checked the calendar to see when I got it out of storage last year-March 11.

A few years ago I was southbound on Querbes and suddenly noticed a pothole about 12" across (the same size as my front tire) and seemingly as deep, very close in front. Not being familiar with 'flicking' (and I think I'll leave it that way), I used the old bike trick of yanking up on the handlebars and sort of semi jumped over it.

Since then I have reduced my speed 5 kph which gives me time to multi-task: watching for traffic and holes at the same time.

Obviously I was expecting too much of you to solve the pothole situation and if any of your readers come up with a solution I'm sure you'll spread the word.

Cheers,

Bob
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Hi Bob,

I was editing our exchange to post it on the blog and noticed something I should have mentioned to you, but didn't.

I don't think that you need to speak French to get your motorcycle license. One of the popular outfits that provides the motorcycle training course is Morty's Driving School, and I'm sure that they provide instruction in English.

As for the SAAQ road test, I'll bet that it's available in English too.

None of this makes it an easy thing to do, but I can guarantee it will be fun.

Regards,

d.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tying one on...

... no, I'm not much of a drinker, but as a former boy scout, I have always appreciated the ability to secure gear.

Bob made a casual comment to me in Vancouver.  I had showed him some gear tie-downs that I carry with me.  They are light duty but very strong and tuck away nicely in any available little nook or cranny.  They are sturdy enough that I was able to use them to secure a battery for my Miata to the pillion seat on my Vespa for the ride home.

Bob looked at my little marvels, and said casually "You should get ROK straps".

I've learned over time to take Bob's most casual, seemingly off-hand remarks as pearls of wisdom to be taken very seriously.  I can be a skeptic learner, so it can take me a while to catch on.

This time I listened and have now acted on his advice.

ROK Straps: check!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Preparing for adventure

Susan and I just came back from seeing The Hobbit.

Hobbits, wizards and enchanted forests aren't my thing, and yet the movie doesn't fail to inspire.

Too many of us are Hobbits who live their lives never straying from our comfortable Bag Ends.

There's a reason that the story of the Hobbit strikes a chord.  Setting out on a quest with a small band of trusted confederates is a fitting adventure to strive for.

Even if there won't be dwarves, elves, Orks or dragons, there are aspects of any adventure that have mythic qualities. Daniel Hillis is credited by Stewart Brand with conceiving the seven stages of a mythic adventure:
"1. The image in the mind of the goal at the end of the journey.

2. The point of embarkation, the point where the transition begins to becoming a pilgrim on a quest.

3. The labyrinth. It's a concept like the twilight zone, where it's difficult, It's a place you must travel through that's disorienting, where you might get scared, but you have to get through it to reach the point of deep reintegration.

4. There should always be in sight the draw, kind of like a beacon, that draws you through the labyrinth.

5. The climax, the payoff, the goal, the main thing that you are trying to get to and, ideally there may be a secret payoff that you didn't expect, that caps the payoff that you did expect.

6. The gradual return to the normal world, that gives you time to assimilate what you've learned.

7. The memento, something that you are able to take away to remind you of the journey.
"
There's a chance that mythic adventure will beckon in 2013.  There are signs.  Just the other day I noticed that a link to my blog popped up on the Adventure Rider forum.

As many of you know, there's more to mythic adventure than grabbing a bag and heading out the door.

A real-world adventure requires careful preparation. Preparation is part of the quest and is an integral part of the experience.   If it's up to me (and maybe it is), I choose to add preparation for adventure as a first stage in the eight stages of a mythic adventure.

My preparations began in earnest shortly after I got a call from a wizard far out on the west coast telling me that a small band of adventurers planned to set out on an easterly course bound for the Atlantic, and that I might join them when they passed my way.  I need to act quickly, because as matters stand, I am utterly unprepared for adventure.

I knew instantly that I needed saddlebags.  Treppenwitz came to my aid when he sent me a set of saddlebags from Israel.

These saddlebags aren't expensive, and they are truly only designed as a stow-away solution for impromptu shopping with your Vespa. What they have going for them in this case is, having come from far away in a place that in some ways more than qualifies as the cradle of our civilization, they are ideally suited, metaphorically and metaphysically speaking, as the perfect luggage for a Vespa adventure.

What they lack in structure and security, I will make up for in the coming weeks as fierce winter weather grips the great white north.

The first step to prepare my saddlebags is to add some symbolism to pay tribute to their provenance. So I'm adding a couple of Israeli flags. My first choice was definitely Vespa Club of Israel patches, but Trepp told me that no such thing existed. The Israeli flags I picked up here in Montreal at the Flag Shop will do nicely, and will set the stage for an epic trip to the coast.

Practically speaking, the saddlebags need more structure to make them suitable for a mythic adventure. I'll be adding four adjustable strap-and-buckle closures to each bag, as well as some kind of interior plastic panels to the bottom and sides of each bag to ensure that they yield 100% of their storage capacity.

Because the bags aren't waterproof, I'm also planning to get my hands on some Eagle Creek compression bags that will allow me to maximise the space and ensure that the contents stay dry.

Here are a few photos showing where I'm heading with this.  This first bag is standing true to form thanks to some improvised cardboard panels.
This last close-up shows where I'm planning to attach the front buckles.

There is going to be much more preparation in the months ahead.

Keep an eye out here because I will be sharing all my preparations down to the tiniest detail. Who knows, maybe you will benefit from these words and set out on an adventure of your very own!
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.