Saturday, August 23, 2014

The sound of music

It's not that I bear any ill will towards Julie Andrews.
She has that peculiar British pluck, that surprising worldly-wise wry sense of humor that her stately demeanor belies. Those are traits that I really do appreciate and greatly admire. If I am completely honest, there are even one or two tunes from My Fair Lady that I do enjoy when I happen to hear them, or, more likely, when they rise briefly from memory to play in my mind's ear. Admittedly that is, thankfully, a very, very rare occurrence nowadays.

You see, when I was a young'un, things were very different. Before the internet, before cable, before CDs, when HiFi not WiFi was the state of the art. In those distant times, still as sharp in my mind as the point of a tack, Julie Andrews show tunes including Camelot, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and, of course, (shudder) Mary Poppins, were mercilessly etched into the neural pathways of my brain. Those LPs played and played relentlessly in our house, courtesy of one or two members of my family who shall remain nameless. They know who they are.
Just as my father-in-law, rest his soul, learned to despise even the sweetest, most succulent August corn, fresh from the harvest, its only crime being that it, and it alone, sustained his life through the unbearable hardships of World War II, I despise the sound, the merest suggestion even, of the vast majority of Julie Andrew's remarkable body of work, and chief among them, the sweet treacly Sound of Music.

It's a small wonder then that I appreciate music at all. But I truly do.
Jazz moves me, almost unfailingly. And the blues, well, nothing resonates more agreeably than a really good blues track.

Oddly, counter-intutively, the place I enjoy the music I love the most, is on the road, playing in my helmet, as I cruise along. That's the sound of music I'm talking about.
Wednesday morning was one of those mornings. I came to work through Outremont, south over the eastern shoulder of the mountain on Park, west up Pine Avenue to Peel, then south again sweeping down Peel past the McGill Faculty of Law, right on de Maisonneuve, left on Mountain and into the underground parking at 1350 René-Lévesque. That last bit was accompanied by Colin James' rendition of Three Hours Past Midnight.

If you have a Sena SMH10, synched to an iPhone, and you wear ear plugs (yes ear plugs), you know what I mean. Man oh man!

If I had to make a list of the most surprising things I have experienced since I began riding a motorbike, that experience easily tops the list as the most surprising, the most unexpected, the most inexplicably marvelous.

It is the confluence of things that, by themselves, taken individually, you would never expect could yield such a pleasurable result. I certainly never would have believed it.
Take ear plugs to start. Ear plugs are born of pain, suffering, and fear. Certainly not pleasure by any means. I had read that some riders wore ear plugs. I had read forum posts by experienced riders exhorting fellow riders to wear them. Even offering free ear plugs to anyone willing to try them out. Nuts I thought. Crazy what people think. Ear plugs? I want to hear the idiot coming at me thanks very much! Sheesh!
And then I cut my windshield to an unfortunate height. The deep rumbling turbulence drummed maddeningly in my ears. I truly feared irreversible loss of hearing. I met a rider whose loud pipes had so far saved his life, but sadly largely destroyed his hearing. And so I resorted to ear plugs. Yuck. It took forever for my tender ears to accept them without pain. I hated my footsteps resonating in my skull with every stride I took. It felt terrible. But at least I wasn't going slowly deaf.

By the time I recut the windshield to a more sensible height that eliminated the sonic cranial assault, a curious thing had happened. I was accustomed to wearing ear plugs. I could still hear surrounding traffic just fine. It was the harsh sounds of riding that were pleasantly muted. The wind tearing at my ears had become a pleasant rush, the sound of my bike had acquired a nice soothing tone, I felt more attuned to the traffic around me, more immersed in the ride, less distracted by the clatter of the commute. It was a revelation. The first revelation. Riding without ear plugs was harsh.

And then the Sena happened. I got it as a Christmas gift for my road trip with Bob and Karen. I was after the intercom. The phone connectivity was a bonus, maybe. And the sound of music a very, very distant consideration, if at all. I worried that the Sena protruding on the left side of my helmet would emit more troublesome turbulence. I wondered if I could still wear ear plugs and be able to use the Sena effectively. I was sure there would be painful trade-offs to endure.
But the ability to communicate effectively on a road trip was worth the hassle.
Let me say now that the unexpected result of combining these elements that individually have potentially noxious features, is heaven. There is no turbulence from the Sena. And the Sena is fine with ear plugs. More than fine. By some accoustic black art, ear plugs raise the Sena to sound studio perfection. Phone calls and the intercom are crystal clear, like a Star Trek communicator. Completely impossibly perfect. As if I am government agent with a million dollar communications system at my disposal. It's that good. People are amazed that I'm riding at 100 kilometers an hour while we chat.
And the music... the sound of music... bliss inducing. That's the only way I can describe it.
Can I still hear the traffic? Absolutely. Am I distracted? Not one little bit.
The music playing has an insulating effect similar to the earplugs. My ability to focus on the traffic is improved. The music soothes, calms my mind, eliminates the need to rush, the impulse to dart. It gives me a serene environment where cool thought focuses my attention on what's truly important, the traffic that surrounds me, the distance I'm maintaining from the vehicle in front of me, the intentions of the drivers in adjacent lanes, and the rest of my commuter's world.
That's my sound of music.
If I've piqued your curiosity, and you think you might give ear plugs a try, I suggest ordering a trial pack of earplugs from the Aerostitch catalog. For under $20 you'll get a grab bag of different high-quality ear plugs in assorted sizes, shapes and colours. The likelihood is that you'll find a pair or two in the lot that will work for you. Or you can pick some up in the hardware store where the safety equipment is sold, or at your local pharmacy. Ordering from legendary Aerostich is just plain fun all by itself though.
Be warned though, the eventual pleasure that ear plugs promise, comes with some short term pain. A little like new shoes, or leather flip-flops that cause pain for a while before making friends with your body. I suggest you bear with it. Ear plugs will surely pay dividends over time by saving your hearing, but surprisingly will reward you in the near term too, by increasing your riding pleasure.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The kill switch

This is one of those things that can fuel annoying bar debates.

Like the over-under toilet paper roll issue. The next time that one rears its head, click here, bone-up on the topic, swig some beer to wet your whistle, then weigh in well-armed.

Back to the kill switch.

Every bike has one. Unless you ride a vintage bike, in which case, maybe not.

I don't think there is a topic that breaks more randomly among riders. Other topics that spawn vigorous debates, like counter-steering versus steering-by-leaning, tend to separate along experience lines, with the pros on the counter-steering side of the debate and the others on, well, the other side.

Not so with kill switch debates. There are expert riders on both sides of this one.

I'll do my best to summarize the arguments on both sides of the issue.

Arguments in favour of ignoring the kill switch:
  • Always leave it in the run position, it serves no real purpose except shutting off the motor in an emergency (dropped bike, accident, stuck throttle, etc.);
  • It's not designed for more than occasional use, using it two or three times a day will cause it to fail, and strand you with a bike that won't start;
  • If you get into the habit of shutting the motor off with the kill switch, you'll forget to turn off the ignition and when you return to your bike you'll have a dead battery;
  • If the bike is fuel injected, the kill switch will not turn off the fuel pump, and it is not good to have fuel pressure in the injector(s) with the motor not running; and
  • If you use the kill switch and leave the ignition on, the headlight will overheat and melt the lens or headset cover (Vespa specific argument).
Arguments in favour of using the kill switch:
  • If you make a point of using the kill switch to turn off the motor, in the event of an emergency, you'll already have the muscle memory and will be able to shut the bike off instantly;
  • Kill switches may fail like any other switch, but actual failures are more of an urban myth than a real problem. The turn indicator switch gets far more use, does that fail very often?
  • The kill switch is just literally handy. You can turn off the bike without taking your hand off the handle bar. It maintains total control over the bike until the engine is off, it's just a safer way to manage the bike;
  • If you don't get into the habit of using both the kill switch and the ignition, some devil will flick your kill switch off on a whim, and when you attempt to get going, you'll end up thinking something died and your bike won't start. The kill switch won't be front of mind;
  • If you're ever on a rental bike or a loaner, you won't be familiar with the ignition switch location and the distraction of locating the ignition switch while the bike is running is just another safety issue. Kill switches on the other hand are always located within easy reach on the handle bar; and
  • The US Motorcycle Safety Foundation course teaches new riders always to use the kill switch.
As you already know from a recent post, I use the kill switch.

The compelling reason as far as I am concerned is that if you don't get used to using it you'll eventually forget that it exists and you won't be able to figure out why your bike won't start if by some fluke (or courtesy of a passer-by) the kill switch gets flipped. The secondary arguments that work for me are the safety-related ones.

I got used to doing this with my carbed Vespa LX150.  I noticed (and more importantly Susan noticed) that when I came home and parked the new fuel-injected bike, there was sometimes a raw gasoline odor in the garage.

I still use the kill switch for the same reasons, but now I have reversed the shut-off sequence.  I turn off the ignition and then turn the kill switch off.  It seems to solve the problem.  I checked, and at least for a fuel-injected Vespa GTS 300, when you turn on the ignition with the kill switch on (i.e. disabling the motor), the fuel pump does activate.  I take that to mean that the fuel remains pressurized when the kill switch stops the engine.

If you care to explore samples of the debate,
Are you a killer?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Foul weather work-around

The weather god is very angry with us here.

The sky has been banded with ominous dark clouds, and we have had liberal doses of heavy rain.

I've been seeing too much of my Civic. I miss my Vespa.

So I did the perfectly logical thing to ease the pain.
I re-branded my Civic.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A lesson in MV

I'll share a little more detail on the recent transmission issue I experienced.

It's important to tell this story because riding a motorbike and driving a car are totally different experiences and what you learned driving a car is only vaguely helpful when you ride a motorbike.

Cars are ubiquitous and you're never that far from a dealer.  It's a whole other story with motorbikes, and perhaps more so with Vespas.

There are a good number of reliable Vespa dealers around, but nothing compared to Ford, or GM, or Chrysler dealerships, not to mention Canadian Tire dealers.

I had recently noticed a little more noise from the transmission when I coasted to a stop.  Nothing worrisome mind you.  Just a little change in the song.  As if they added another tom-tom to an already well-kitted percussion section.  Definitely not like adding a couple of tambourines or a cow-bell though.  So nothing really worrisome, just the slightest, most nuanced change is all.

In my experience this is one of those things that separate most men, from most women.  By the time some people first notice a strange sound emanating from their machinery, it's gotten to the point where many of us would gape incredulously at the sound, and then head straight for the tool box at a decent trot.  Not all the early noticers are men, and not all the oblivious souls are women, that's for sure, but the odds are...  OK... I'm already in hot water in some some quarters, so I'd better get back to the story.  One last word, I can't resist.  Don't believe me? Tune in to a few episodes of Car Talk on NPR.

A weird thing happened next.  I pulled into my usual parking space at work.  I hit the kill switch, then switched off the ignition (yes, I usually use the kill switch, it's a topic for another time).

I felt the bike was a little too far forward in the parking space.  Normally I could easily roll it back with next to no effort.  Not the case this time.  The bike was stuck in drive.  The transmission on the Vespa is a continuously variable automatic transmission, so being stuck in drive isn't like being in first gear with the clutch out.  You can still move the bike, but there's substantial resistance.

I fired up the bike again and then switched it off, thinking that something that needed to go 'thunk' hadn't, and it needed another try.  No luck.  Same behaviour as before.

With the bike on the centre stand I fired it up again.  The rear wheel normally spins freely when the motor's running and the bike is on the centre stand, but you can easily stop it with your foot.  I rested my foot lightly on the spinning tire's sidewall.  The resistance was too strong and there was no way to stop the wheel.  Applying the rear brake did the trick though.

With the rear brake applied everything seemed and sounded OK.  But clearly something wasn't right.

So what does one do in a situation like that?

I had just had the belt changed and the transmission inspected and cleaned earlier in the summer by the dealer.  If there was a transmission issue now, it was possible that the dealer messed up the servicing.  If that was the case I needed to know.  I also needed to find out whether riding the bike at all was an option.  And finally I needed the problem fixed by the end of the day, ideally.

If you own anything even slightly complex and slightly exotic (in my opinion a Vespa qualifies on both counts), and if you aren't what motorcyclists like to call a 'wrencher' in your own right, not only do you need a good mechanic, you need independent expertise.

By the time I was six strides away from my bike, I had a plan.

I considered my transmission issue potentially complicated and expensive.  Could it be diagnosed accurately and quickly?  I had every reason to think so. Step one: reach out to

Here's my initial post:
Let's see the MV results, shall we?
Forty-two minutes to solve an otherwise perplexing problem with contributions from the U.K., North Carolina, and Oregon.  Now that's amazing.

Armed with the MV diagnosis, I called the dealer.  I explained the situation to François, the head of the service department at Vespa Montréal, and said I thought the nut holding the clutch might be loose.  He readily agreed that the loose clutch nut was the likely culprit.  He felt I could ride the bike safely to the dealer.  He offered to free up the service time to solve the problem in time for my evening commute.

The twenty minute ride to the dealer was uneventful, though when I stopped on level ground, the bike was clearly pulling forward.  As soon as one of the lifts freed up, my bike received the attention it needed.

After I whiled away some time in the showroom responding to e-mails and chatting with Paul and a customer, François emerged from the service bay wiping his hands thoughtfully on a shop rag and looking like a surgeon after a successful something-ectomy.  Unable to maintain the suspense for very long, he cracked a boyish grin, confirmed that the diagnosis was bang-on the money, that the nut had been loose, was now tight, that everything was ship shape with the drive train, and I could ride home when ready.  Thanks Vespa Montréal!

And what can you say about the good folks on  There aren't nearly enough adjectives to describe the value they bring to the table, and not nearly enough adjectives to explain the peace of mind they give me.

Thanks ModernVespa!

You own a Vespa and you aren't yet a member of  What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good for the grass... and Civics

Mother nature has grounded my Vespa and has got me hiding out in the comfort of my Civic.
It poured cats and dogs today.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rider profile: Howard Yegendorf

Name: Howard Yegendorf
Find me on Earth: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Find me online:
Interview Date: Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Interview Location: Laval, Quebec, Canada

Scootcommute: When did you start riding, how old were you?

Howard: I started riding in 2004 when I was 50

Scootcommute: How many motorbikes have you owned?

Howard: I've had two.

Scootcommute: What is your current bike, and is the current bike your favorite?

Howard: My current bike is a BMW R1200RT, and yes that bike is my favorite.

Scootcommute: Talk to me about the most challenging riding skill you learned.

Howard: I can name two: 1) Riding twisties in the rain; 2) Very slow riding.

Scootcommute: Are you a moto-commuter, a tourer, or a fair weather rider?

Howard: Mainly a tourer.

Scootcommute: Are you a solitary rider? How about riding in a group?

Howard: I prefer to ride alone or in a small group.

Scootcommute: I dare you to share an awkward or embarrassing riding moment.

Howard: Overwhelmed by a spectacular vista in Arizona, I forgot to put down the kickstand and I dropped my bike.

Scootcommute: What is the best place your bike has taken you?

Howard: Riding the Cabot Trail, in Nova Scotia.

Scootcommute: Tell me why you ride.

Howard: There are three things about riding I love: 1) the excitement; 2) the travel; and 3) the way it unclutters my mind.

Scootcommute: If I could grant you one riding wish, what would it be?

Howard: Safe travels. (And I wish you the same.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Still on a roll!

My luck with lobster was only going to get better.

Last weekend we went with good friends to Lucille's Oyster Dive.
Lucille's has to go straight onto my list of favorite restaurants.
It is the antithesis of the "Maître d'", jacket-and-tie, white table cloth, formal dining room experience. Well, maybe not the antithesis, they do have waiters, tables and chairs.

How to describe Lucille's?
The patrons were a 'with-it' bunch when we were there.  I hope we didn't detract overly from the vibe that Saturday night.  I think we're 'with-it', but our kids (who are definitely 'with-it') once famously told me that 'they' had changed what 'it' was, and now it was 'something else', other than the 'it' I was with.

Did I mention that the sound system was all blues tracks?  Yessir.  I love the blues.  Not just the blues, Jazz too, But the blues fit the mood of this place perfectly.

The restaurant has a bar, and the bar has oysters.
Then there's the scantily clad mermaid figurehead overseeing the goings on and staying abreast of the proceedings, as it were.
The most recent culinary offerings and libation options are scrawled on chalk boards.
The wait staff glide among the guests in the obligatory black, but rather than the usual spandex tube dresses, have opted for very fetching, shimmering silk, polka-dot, short, short, short skirts.
Sorry no pics of that attraction.  Come on now, this is a classy blog.  Use your imagination.

Now I will readily admit that the luscious scenery, though it sets the mood and matches the rhythm beautifully, does make it a tad more difficult for a guy to focus on the menu and make decisions.
Susan clearly wasn't distracted, and she casually snapped my mind back to attention with the usual 'have you decided what you're having?'

Oh, right...

The answer rolled off my tongue without a moment's hesitation.  "I'm having the Seafood Caesar".  Yes, yes, yes, I know that's not a suitable dinner choice, but it's definitely where I was going to start.  From there I was headed for the Surf-n-Turf.

I'll bet it's not what you're thinking.

Lucille's Surf-n-Turf is more of a Squeal-n-Roll.  Dry-rubbed babyback ribs, with sauce on the side, and a lobster roll.

That Caesar seemed to take forever to make its appearance.  I think it was the blues, the skirts, the steamy summer evening, and the slowly setting August sun that managed to stretch the wait in my mind.  When it finally arrived it immediately elicited oohs, and ahhs, from my fellow diners.

I was so carried away with it, that I forgot to take a picture until it was very nearly demolished, and its contents were happily adding to the intense pleasure I was basking in.  Let's just say that my Tommy Bahama silk Hawaiian shirt was the perfect uniform for my Caesar-induced, seafood-fueled, frame of mind.
I'll have to paint a picture with my words.  It came in a generous beer glass.  The edge was rimmed with fiery smokey embers, or so it seemed.  To fan the flames, there was a nice stalk of leafy celery, helping to maintain the vertical aspirations of a magnificent crab leg and claw.  A massive shrimp perched on the edge, and two Littleneck clams on the half shell nestled in the midst of the fantastic jungle, like surfers on hammocks at the end of a gnarly day at the beach.   The tumbler was full to the brim with the suitably kicky and clammy Caesar.

Now you can begin to understand why it only occurred to me to take the pic so late in this delightful game.

Susan ordered lobster rolls.  The helping was so generous, it yielded a take-home portion we shared for lunch the next day.
My Surf-n-Turf was a delicious distraction from my slowly dwindling Caesar.  The ribs were textbook samples, tender, and barely able to contain the bones.  They rested on some of the most perfect french fries I've ever had.  They were just the way I like them, with a deep rich potato flavour, a little limp, but retaining a hint of crispness, with nice caramel and cream colour tones.  I think they must have been fried in duck fat, or something equally decadent.

And then there was the lobster roll.  This was my second lobster roll in about a week's time.
I declare Lucille's lobster roll the winner over the Muvbox offering of a week earlier.

Please understand, you can't go wrong with either place.  In both cases the lobster is the undisputed star of the show.  Mayonnaise is only barely there, and definitely does no more than a cameo as a very discrete and retiring member of the supporting cast.  The roll at both Lucille's and Muvbox is the traditional hotdog roll, and it barely does more than serve as the utensil for moving the lobster from the plate to your mouth.

So what sets the Lucille's offering apart?  The flavour of the lobster itself of course.  Muvbox gets its lobster from the Magdalen Islands.  It's possible the frigid waters keep the flavour slightly in check.  Wherever Lucille's gets its lobster, they need to stick with it.  Yum!

If you're in Montreal and hankering for some comfort food and an all-around good time, make it over to Lucille's Oyster Dive in the Monkland village in NDG.

Oh, sorry, Montrealers have a nasty habit of turning the most fanciful place names into acronyms that only hold meaning for locals.  The Monkland village is in the heart of Notre Dame de Grâce, a 15 or 20 minute cab ride from downtown, but well worth the trip.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On a roll

A little while ago, on a Tuesday, I met up with Carl.

Carl used to be a Vespista, now he's a BMW R1200GS kind of guy.

Carl sold me my GTS last March.

He sure was happy to see me.  On second thought, was it seeing his first moto-love that accounted for the gleam in his eye?

We met at Mubox in the Old Port.

We traded touring stories over lunch.  Carl took the Maritimes by storm on his beemer last year... twice!  Once in September, and again in October.  He raved about the salt air, the empty highways, the charming folks he met.  He's likely to do it again.  He thinks I should do it too.

He wanted to know all about the 2013 Blogger to Blogger Tour, and how his GTS had fared on such a long and ambitious trip.  I was more than happy to oblige.

We also talked about GoPros.

Carl didn't yet have one, and someone in his circle of friends had some unkind things to say about it.  I explained how I use it, and added my two cents.  I'm a fan.  I believe the latest GoPro Hero has many features I would love to have.  Carl says he found a deal at $350 for the top-of-the-line GoPro.

All the chatter didn't prevent us from enjoying the excellent and very generous lobster rolls and New England clam chowder (as opposed to Manhattan clam chowder, or any of the other variants listed on Wikipedia).
When all was said and done, we shoved off and went our separate ways.
Yesterday morning I returned to snap a few more pictures of these shipping container transformer restaurants. It was the first time I saw them in their container shape. When they blossom and the bits fold out and the transformation takes place and crowds of hungry people surround them, it's not all clear that they can button back up into their container alter egos.

Friday, August 1, 2014


This city has charm. Its charm runs deep. It has layers and textures. Montreal is a city of facets and contrasts.

It is old, and it is new.

It's French, and it's English, and Italian, and Portuguese. It is Greek, and Vietnamese. Chinese and German. It's proudly Jewish, and Catholic, Muslim and Hindu.

Montreal lives underground, and on a mountain. It's surrounded by water in the middle of a vast plain. Far inland, yet with an ocean port.

It can be steamy and hot, or bitterly cold.

It has passion, and culture runs very deep. It is strident, and gentle; boisterous, yet with dignity to spare.

Montreal loves food, and food loves Montreal.

Montreal strolls, it rides bikes. Traffic never stops. It gets around. Once or twice a year cars scream at hundreds of miles an hour, in Montreal.

We work hard, and play hard. We ski and we sail. Politics and controversy are a way of life here. We are discrete. Possessions and social standing are rarely a topic of conversation.

It's hard to be indifferent here. Over-stimulation is a risk.
So it's nice to shift gears sometimes. To coast into one of the city's layers, stop for a moment. Sit in the sun. Savour a rich impossibly perfect café au lait and croissant, leaf through a morning paper. Listen to children chatting as they make their way along the sidewalk.
Croissanterie Figaro is one of Montreal's Parisian oases. Fifteen minutes from the skyscrapers, yet a world away.

Ten minutes here lasts all day.

PS: I returned a few days later to indulge again.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.