Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tuscan Loop - Epilogue and lessons learned

This may become a ScootCommute tradition.  Once a tour is in the bag, so to speak, it's time to reflect and do a little analytical thinking.  There are lessons to be learned in most everything we do.

Tearing a leaf from last year's tour, I'll start with the philosophical before tackling the practical.

It may seem that renting a bike to tear around a corner of Europe with some friends is a no-brainer, but it certainly wasn't in my case.  First off, it was a rather unique and expensive family vacation.  Taking a whole day for me-time without putting a damper on the family time required some diplomacy.  I also needed to impose on the family to get me to and from the starting point.  That's a 60 kilometer round trip.  My sons Jonathan and Andrew stepped up to the plate without hesitation.  I brim with pride.

And then there was reaching out to friends so see if they could join in.  I didn't want to impose.  They would have a minimum of four days of road travel to get to the starting point and return home.  Quite an investment of time and resources for a one-day joy ride in the countryside.
Do these people look like reluctant participants to you?

Sonja and Roland, bless your hearts.

And then there were logistics.  Finding a reputable place to rent a bike, getting the right bike for the ride, figuring out what gear to take, planning the itinerary.  Not exactly an expedition to Nepal.  But not trivial either.  Fortunately ModernVespa and its wonderful cadre of helpful members helped out, endorsing  Noleggio Moto Toscana and Roberto.  Thanks to Al Gravola (Aviator47).  You rock, and as you predicted, Roberto rocks too!

Arranging the Tuscan Loop, as you can see, needed some amount of stepping out of my comfort zone.  The good news is that there were months available for the planning.

If I have words of wisdom to share with you, it's definitely to take the risk, step out, put yourself out there, and you will be rewarded with amazing experiences.

OK, that's out of the way.  On to the details.

I mentioned at the outset that I came close to choosing a Piaggio MP3 400 last year when I was in the market for a bigger bike.
Ultimately I chose the Vespa GTS 300 i.e. Super over the MP3 400.

Now that I've had the opportunity to spend an entire day putting an MP3 250 through its paces in an idyllic Tuscan setting, I can say with certainty that I'm very satisfied with the choice I made.

First the pluses.

The MP3 is an engineering marvel. When you ride the bike there is no sense that the bike has three wheels. It performs like pretty much any motorbike. Where you notice the difference most is when the bike deals with an edge trap. Edge traps simply cease being an issue when you ride an MP3. It just doesn't matter how you approach them. You can cross them at a more generous angle if you like. But even if you take them as shallow as can be, it's like they don't exist.

The fact is that I struggled in left hand turns, but that had nothing to do with the MP3 and everything to do with side stand issues I have with my Vespa. The MP3 is one stable and planted bike. I could love learning to lean that bike left or right like a Nova Scotia schooner in a gale force wind.
Moving on, I really liked the fuel filler location on the floor. It's an ideal location for touring, particularly when you are carrying gear on the passenger seat. It means you can fill up without unloading the bike. It's a much better setup than the Vespa where the access to the fuel tank is hidden under the seat.
It would be difficult to find more storage on a stock motorbike. The continuous and quite cavernous storage compartment running the length of the seat and extending to the bike's tail that can also be accessed through the separate trunk lid is extremely convenient. There is room for a three quarter helmet under the seat, and possibly a full face helmet. But not if you have a Sena SMH10 headset attached to the helmet.
Adding a topcase and sidecases would make the MP3 a really fine touring bike, but only if you were able to address some of its shortcomings that I'll get to in a bit.  Fehling makes side case brackets for the MP3.
The ignition key has a car-like fob with a button that releases the seat lock. That's also a nice convenience when you are getting ready to ride the bike and you need to retrieve gear from the underseat compartment.

The ability to park the bike the way you would park a car, by engaging the front suspension lock and parking brake is also quite convenient, making a sidestand unnecessary and also minimizing the need to use the center stand.
On the power train side, the MP3's CVT transmission provided the same smooth range of torque I've grown accustomed to with the Vespa GTS. The 250cc engine performed well, but I
did occasionally find I had the throttle twisted wide open and was wishing for more oomph. Still, the MP3 250 is a competent highway bike. I think the 400cc model must be pretty sweet. The top of the line 500 must be a beast.

On the minus side of the equation, the bike has shortcomings that I'd have to find workarounds for if I were ever to own one.

Ergonomics tops my list. I have to admit I am spoiled by Vespas. Vespas are really comfortable, whether you're just riding around town or riding across a continent. The Vespa saddle is comfortable, the seating position is excellent, and you can move your feet around, changing up your position to ward off monkey butt syndrome.

The MP3 on the other hand has a bolster that divides the driver's portion of the saddle from the passenger portion. In my case it meant I couldn't shift my bum back on the saddle, and the ridge of the bolster eventually proved to be a literal pain in the you-know-what.
Fortunately there are custom seats on the market, including this one from Shad that the legendary ScooterWest dealership keeps in stock.
If you can't shift your upper body around on the MP3, you find that your feet are more or less corralled into a single position too.  The tubular steel skeletal substructure of the MP3 leads to a high floor height. I felt like my knees were uncomfortably high. Compounding the seating issues was a tendency to slide forward on the saddle that resulted in a lazy slumped position that compounded the lack of comfort.

All told, the seating position was much better than a similarly laid out Kymco Frost I rode a few years back, but I wouldn't tour on an MP3 without having a custom saddle designed. I know that committed MP3 owners have taken that step and there's plenty of expertise available in the MP3 discussion area on ModernVespa. I would add to the custom saddle some after market foot pegs to allow the leg position to be varied.  There's also a supplier who posts on ModernVespa who has crafted highway pegs that many owners swear by.
Lastly, I'd add an adjustable windscreen.  The stock windscreen wasn't bad, but an adjustable windshield would be a nice touch.
It's time to come to a conclusion here.

If some good and very generous samaritan offered to trade an MP3 400 for my Vespa GTS 300, would I bite?

No.

What if it had the custom saddle and highway pegs?

No.

What if it had the custom saddle, footpegs, a large topcase and hard sidecases painted to match the bike?

Now that would be a really sweet maxi scoot. Now I'm tempted. Seriously tempted.

So what's the problem?

I love the Vespa's iconic styling. It's truly a thing of beauty. The MP3 has inner beauty in the engineering of that dual-wheel front end. But man oh man it makes the front of the bike so huge.   There's that, and somehow, the MP3 also has a fat ass.  It just looks like it's a lumbering beast of a bike.  It isn't that at all when you're in the saddle cruising along a Tuscan country road, trust me.  But the esthetics are definitely where the biggest rub is, at least for me.  Could I get over the looks...?

I guess the plain fact is that I couldn't last year. But with all the aforementioned goodies thrown in... so tempting. But in reality, no one is going to offer to make that trade. So it's a moot point.

I love my Vespa.

End of story.

But apparently not the end of the neverending epilogue.

I debated on the gear to bring.

If I could have waved a magic wand, I would have brought everything: helmet, Bluetooth headset, boots, armored jacket, gloves, rain gear, armored pants, RAM mounts, GoPro, GPS, ROK straps...

Reality intrudes.

I had to prioritize.

Helmet (could be rented, so not the helmet).  Jacket (had to take, feel naked riding without it).  Gloves (tiny, they come). Bluetooth (small, coming too).  Boots (also feel naked without boots - way bulky). Rain gear (my waterproof travel jacket can do double duty, packs small-ish). Armored pants (Oh boy, very bulky - not likely to come). RAM mounts (no way I was going to dismantle my RAM mounts, luckily I bought a universal RAM clamp - bazinga!).  GoPro Hero camera (tiny, plus it's a camera so goes in the camera bag).  GPS (I figured Roland and Sonja would have that covered - and they did.  Otherwise, knowledgeable people told me getting lost in Tuscany was a huge plus). ROK straps (the ROK pack straps are small - stuff'em in my camera bag).

Enough folks strongly recommended that I bring an armored jacket.  Sonja had a genius suggestion: can't pack it?  Wear it! So that became a relative no-brainer.  I pre-warned Susan that her travel companion might look a little dorky in transit because he would most likely be wearing a motorcycle jacket.  No protest. Dodged the bullet.  Not necessary, I am a packing wizard.  We had his and hers suitcases and I got all my stuff packed, including my Corazzo 5.0 jacket, with the armor in place.  Winning!

So if you're keeping track, the only gear items I would have liked to have but didn't bring were armored pants and boots.

There has to be some element of assumed risk.  My plan for my lower body was not to come off the bike.  And it worked. Phew!  Not crazy risk though, my upper body would be as safe as motorcycling at less then 100 km/h reasonably allows.

That's most likely it folks.  I think I have managed to press every bit of literary value out of the Tuscan Loop.  I took you through the planning, gave you as good a flavour of the pure joy of it as my talents permit, and dished up the nitty-gritty on the technical side of the page.

I'll come back to this post to fix the inevitable typos, sharpen a passage or two, and close the gaps I've managed to leave.

The end.

16 comments:

  1. David, what would a trip be without a recap... about bikes, gear, what went well and what could have been better.

    Isn't it great to have ticked off an item of your bucket list? And I am happy that we could do it together. Memories of a lifetime! I only wish there had been more time to ride with you...

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    1. Sonja, having a bucket list is a really good thing. Ticking a box on the list is truly wonderful.

      I want to ride to Key West. Hopefully in the company of some bloggers. Drop in on Michael and buy him a beer. Maybe pick up Rob, and Bill and Ken along the way.

      Mr. Leong could ship one of his bikes to me and spare himself some déjà vu.

      Just planting some 2015 seeds.

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    2. David:

      Plans are already in Motion. Michael will let us pitch a tent under his stilt house, in exchange for letting him ride my Beemer. I have also secured a spot in NJ for a few days near the Jersey Shore.

      Sorry, that's all I can divulge unless you are on board . . .

      bob
      Riding the Wet Coast


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  2. A great summary David.

    I liked your MP3 comparo. We've thought of them often when the deals come up, but we just couldn't do it. It is good to know the minuses as well as pluses.

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    1. Thanks Brandy.

      I started this blog because I was new to riding and I knew so little that I relied on riding forums and blogs to learn. I wanted to return the favour.

      In keeping with that, I like to find angles that help readers learn from my experiences. It's something we all do. I like feeling I'm contributing, not just taking.

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  3. I like the summaries. They usually have valuable lessons which get filed away for future trips. I also enjoyed the videos taken while riding through the towns. The MP3 comparison was good as it has come up recently in discussions but having never even seen one in "real life", it's impossible to say much about them.

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    1. Richard there's no doubt a kind of gee-whiz aspect to the MP3. I find the concept fascinating and I really looked forward to getting my hands on one.

      I've scratched that itch. Ahhhhhhh...

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  4. David, I'd forgotten all about the MP3 - I saw the prototype on a show so many years ago.

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    1. Karen, when I was spending time at the Vespa dealership drooling over bikes in the year before I took the plunge, I distinctly remember looking at the Vespa GTS and thinking they were beasts way outside my comfort zone. There was also an MP3 in the shop at the time. It actually looked intimidating.

      What a difference five years makes.

      The interesting thing is that you can't get an MP3 in Canada. Piaggio can barely keep up with demand in Europe and doesn't ship them to dealers here.

      At least that's what my dealer says.

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  5. David,

    Glad your Tuscan adventure went so well. Always nice to have things turn out mostly as planned. That said I've found more and more that I resist planning. It consumes so much of my life at work that I just don't want to do it anywhere else. Not sure if that's a childish reaction or opening me to another way of experiencing life.

    Enjoyed your reflections on the MP3. I suspect I'll buy one when if I ever feel I need something more stable or I begin to doubt my ability to keep the Vespa upright. I've put about 500 miles on an MP3 and can say that once you master the wheel lock you never have to put your feet down again!

    Perhaps the most important part of the post for me was this sentence: "I love my Vespa."

    That sums things up for me.

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

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    1. Steve we're definitely on the same page.

      This ride required significant planning and that required focus. Not quite stress, but certainly focus. There were a lot of moving parts that needed to come together at a fixed window in time for that ride to work. And work it did.

      The summer will be spent commuting. I'm lucky because I have five very different routes to choose from, and that's where my serendipity will come from.

      As for the MP3, if there were stability issues at play, I think a side car rig like the Ural would be hard to resist. Alternative, a real trike like the Canam Spyder or a Harley trike would be better than an MP3.

      When I was about to get rolling at the rental shop, in a moment of distraction the bike leaned over a little too far to the right. That's one heavy bike. It took a surprising amount of muscle to get it back to vertical.

      A perfect answer would be something like the LIT bike. That is like George Jetson cool. Have a look.

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  6. David:

    It was nice for you to be able to plan this tour and have it turn out, as expected. Seems like everything worked out to everyone's satisfaction. It's always great to meet up with others while on the road.

    I have logistical problems which cannot be overcome so I could never do a fly and ride vacation, with family so If I ever landed in Europe it would have to be in a rental car but I doubt that this would ever happen. the closest I can get is through your video and photos, so continue to keep snapping away, I appreciate it

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast





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    1. Bob I am in awe of your adventures. You could certainly manage a fly n ride. The problem is that you wouldn't settle for less than a month on the road and a Scotland to Greece ride with stops to visit every known blogger along the route.

      Maybe after I retire; we'll drag Karen along.

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  7. I have always wondered about the 3 wheeled Piagio's and how they handled. Awesome summary of your Tuscan Loop!

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