Monday, November 17, 2014

Tales of the end, and Vespanomics

First, let's shed some light.

I managed to squeeze close to the last drop of fun out of the 2014 riding season.

On Thursday I set out for work at zero Celsius.  Not too bad, really.  I chose the middle route.  East on 20, northeast on 520 (AKA Cote de Liesse).  East on the service road to Lucerne, then south to Cote des Neiges, over the mountain to Sherbrooke, then east once more to Mountain and south to the office.

It was a great ride.  I noodled my way through traffic chaos where the 15, 40 and 520 converge at what Montrealers know as the 'Decarie traffic circle'.  No one observing that huge sprawling concluence of highways and service roads would ever in a lifetime think of it as a 'traffic circle'.  When I was four or five years old there was a roundabout there, but that time passed.

Here's what it looked like in 1957.
Vanier College historical archive image
An enlightened gent in a Ford F150 honked at me as I wove past his spot in what, for the time being, was a parking lot.  Go figure!?  By the time his wheels had rotated much past 360 degrees, I was long gone.  In what universe did I contribute to his hellish commute?  He should have been honking at all the cars and trucks that had him temporarily trapped, no?

I chose that route because the morning paper spread the news that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts had acquired 'the Sun'.

That means that the magical Dale Chihuly glass sculpture has found a permanent home in front of the museum on Sherbrooke street.  I wanted to ride past before it gets stored for the winter... like my Vespa.
At lunch time I hopped on the bike and set out to strike another of the top five coffee shops off my list.  Le Couteau (The Knife) is on St-Denis at the corner of rue de Bienville.
As you can see, more than one Vespa owner was attracted here.
I grabbed a scone and a medium cappucino.  The scone was allright, a little dry if truth be told, but the coffee was truly excellent.  On a par with the other top-rated spots.
I doubt I'll be back though.  Myriade has coffee that is in every way as good and it's a hop-skip-and-a-jump from my office.  Le Couteau is just too far off my beaten track.

That leaves just two more of the top-five to check off.  One in Little Italy all the way north up St-Laurent, and the other to the south in Verdun on the newly gentrified stretch of Wellington street.  These little exploratory jaunts are largely made possible by Vespanomics (fast, fashionable, convenient, cheap transportation, with free parking exactly where you need it, 24-7).  It's possible that the end of the coffee shop expeditions will have to wait for the 2015 riding season.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Friday brought colder weather still.  Negative territory in the morning at minus three Celsius, with a forecast of minus four for the evening commute.  Still no precipitation in the forecast though, so off I went, riding to work.

Ironically, riding the expressway to work in cold weather is more comfortable than riding the surface streets.  It's a little counter-intuitive because wind is a huge factor in the cold.  The fact is though that at higher speeds the engine puts out plenty of heat and the increased airflow forces that hot air into the Termoscud enclosure.  The other sensitive aspect of cold weather riding is the hands.  The tall windscreen deflects the airflow, and the heated grips do the rest to keep my hands warm.

On surface streets, there isn't quite as much hot air trapped in the enclosure, and the stop-and-go riding pattern due to stop signs and traffic lights and such, means hands more often on the brake levers and they are c-c-c-c-old, the reverse effect of heated grips.

At noon-ish, I heard a little hubbub in the office.  When I looked up, my colleagues were lined up at our 19th floor window wall watching a substantial snow squall make its way southeast along the side of the mountain towards downtown.  What the heck happened to the weatherman's prediction of 10% probability of precipitation??  Oh well... I wasn't overly concerned.  The streets remained dry and the snow squall went on its merry frigid way.

Now I have to say that even my Vespa's counter-intuitive cold-weather riding advantages have their limits.

Friday evening I met Susan, our son Jonathan and his girlfriend Vicky for dinner on Park Avenue on the Plateau.  Once again the Vespa shone, this time in the parking department.  Free parking steps from the restaurant is a big plus.

By the time we headed home after what was an excellent meal at Damas, it was pitch black and somewhat colder.

I made a beeline for home in a stiff headwind. The Termoscud did its job, but the long stretch of surface streets on the way to the expressway took its toll leaving my fingers well and truly chilled. With the heated grips burning hot, the result was a stinging sensation in my fingers as I flew home at 110 km/h on the 20.  Even my helmet, usually an impregnable zone of comfort, was getting chilled.

This ride was not a lot of fun. To venture further into winter temps, I'd have to add Tucano Urbano or Bagster handgrip muffs to combat the cold.

Living in Montreal makes that investment kind of fruitless because the snow will soon be the death knell for scooter commuting.

And that happened on Sunday morning.  And this morning too.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cold weather commute

Though a large swath of Ontario is writhing in winter's grip with snow falling, we are in a high pressure zone that's keeping us Grinch-grey rather than Santa-white.

This morning I was dithering.

Ride, or drive?  Drive.

Drive, or ride? Ride!

I flipped and flopped, and was still hesitant as I made my way from the shower to the closet.

Ride it is (or was).

No regrets at all.

The temperature was acceptable at five degrees Celsius.  I dialed a little more heat to the grips, inflated the sagging right batten on the Termoscud, and headed out.

I opted for a nostalgic ride along the quiet lakeshore route and then along the Lachine Canal to the downtown core.  It seemed appropriate since this could be the last commute of the 2014 season, to take the same route as the very first scoot commute in 2010.  I didn't spot any other PTWs on the way in.

I wrapped up the commute in my usual spot on P3 in the parking garage.  Removing my right gauntlet I lifted the flap concealing the ignition switch and reached inside the Termoscud where the temperature was all warm and cozy.  What a marvelous invention that thing is.  I'm almost used to riding with it.

The Termoscud has a reverse bib-like appendage that you are supposed to close your riding jacket over.  It's a cumbersome thing to do and lately I've discovered that if I just fold the bib away under the apron there is no appreciable change in the way the Termoscud performs.  That's what you call the benefit of experience.  If every day through the winter were like today, I'd be a 'rounder'.

I would have loved to throw some pictures in, but my iPhone is nearing the end of its useful life, and the battery dies when the phone is exposed to the cold.

It's not as hardy as the Vespa and I.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A season's end

Last commute of 2014, Monday, November 3, 0-C.

Or was it? Or is it?

It's hard to say really.  You don't know it until commuting ceases to be an option for a certain number of days.

Taking the scoot out for an aimless tootle, or a trip to the doctor, or a jaunt to the store is always a possibility.  But commuting is another kettle of fish.  I have to look at the hourly forecast in the morning and decide.  If there's rain forecast at either end of the day, and the mercury is hovering around zero, it's probably not a great idea.  That's why I admire Steve and Keith.  They commute on those days, whereas I sit them out behind the wheel of my Civic.

Oh well.

Wednesday I worked from home in the morning because I had a doctor's appointment.  Taking the Vespa to see my GP was a no-brainer.

I took a long-cut on the way home and rode over to the military cemetery in Pointe Claire to visit my grandfather's grave in the National Field of Honor.  There wasn't another soul.

Soldiers give so much, and yet, in death, their graves are among the most modest.
There are a lot of soldiers buried in this place.  The common denominator for the majority is that they served with Canadian or British forces in World War I, World War II or the Korean War.

The only sign of recognition on this day are dozens and dozens of Polish flags marking the graves of free Polish servicemen. These soldiers escaped Poland at the outset of Word War II and enlisted with the British army.  Poland has not forgotten their service, even though their final resting place is here in Montreal.
"Capt. George Terroux / 1877 - 1947 / 22nd Regiment C.E.F.".  That's all the inscription says.  The Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force is the storied Van Doos regiment that made a big name for itself in the second world war.

The headstone, like all the others here, is level with the ground, overshadowed by the grass, and littered with wet and rotting leaves.

I remember coming here when I was four, with my grandmother, my mother and my father.  On Remembrance Day.  We always came here on Remembrance Day.  My god how the cold and damp penetrates a four-year-old's body here on Remembrance Day.  58 years later on November 5th, it has the same effect, or would have but for my riding gear.

If you come here on a Memorial Day weekend in late May, you'll see countless American flags fluttering discretely across the cemetery, more numerous than the Polish flags I see here now.  The US doesn't forget its servicemen either.  There are a lot of flyers here.  Most of the Americans here served in the RAF and the RCAF before the US joined the Allies in World War II.  It's a surprise to see Poles and Americans buried here.  There's no doubt a hundred stories well worth the telling buried beneath the lush green grass.

Georges Terroux (his first name is misspelled on his headstone) was gassed in France in 1916, but survived.  Otherwise I wouldn't be writing this.  My mother told me of long walks she took with her father along lonely dirt roads in the country.  She never said exactly where.  My grandfather walked with a German officer's Luger in his hand.  My grandmother told the story of how my grandfather came to own the pistol.  It's a tragic story, but as a child I thought it was neat.  Along the way, my grandfather would shoot at crows as he walked with his daughter.  When my mother would tell that story, I always thought it peculiar.  What would my grandfather have against crows, I wondered.  Only much, much later would I understand.  I wonder if my mother understood.  I imagine she did.  We never discussed it.

My grandfather would be relieved.  There isn't a crow in sight here.

In a few days' time, there will be soldiers here.  An honour guard.  A twenty one gun salute.  And then a lone bugler will play the Last Post.  I'll be in the office, 30 kms away, but my thoughts will be here.
The flag on this last outpost flies at half-staff.  We lost soldiers on Canadian soil just a few days ago.  The memory of what it means for a soldier to serve has been brought home in all its stark reality.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Amateur Mechanic Discovers a New Trick & Pay Back Time

Part of the joy in finally fulfilling a lifetime dream of owning a Vespa has been making some great new friends who share the same passion.  I have particularly enjoyed reading the blogs and chatting with David of ScootCommute, Ken at Lostboater Diaries, and corresponding and viewing the all-inspiring photography of Sergei Belski.

Thank you all!

So, I guess it’s my turn to add to the collective knowledge that these good folks have accumulated and so generously shared.

While I am not a real mechanic, I enjoy turning wrenches, learning and trying to do as much as I can to maintain my new to me 2013 Vespa GTS 300 Super.  After ordering, on the good advice of David, a huge box of “goodies” arrived this past week from ScooterWest – a top box, rear carrier, power outlet, etc., etc.

After watching their videos on the installation of the top box for the GTS, I realized that my toolbox didn’t include any M-6 taps.  A typical plug or tapered tap is pointed at the bottom and won’t clean out all the junk in the bottom of the blind threaded holes on the grab bar nor the two on the new rear carrier that serve to hold the top box.  Plug and tapered taps were the only styles available at the hardware and big box stores.  You need the full extent of the threads to secure the top box.

After spending several hours searching, I came to realize they did not carry what I required for this project - a bottoming tap.

I finally stopped by, as my last resort, a small foreign car repair shop, hoping that they might have a bottoming tap I could borrow.   No luck, but they gave me a new trick - purchase an M-6 bolt and make your own bottoming tap.  You grind the tip off of the bolt and put a small bevel on one side (see photo).  It worked like a bottoming tap with some cutting oil.  Thread it in a few turns, and back it out and repeat again.

AWESOME, by 10:30 in the morning I finally had completed the job.

Attached are a few photos to illustrate the blind threaded holes and how they attach to the Vespa OEM top box.


Montreal Museum of Fine Arts sculpture garden morphed with Waterlogue app
That's an excellent question once the other 'W's are asked and answered.

Why ride?

Because, on the way to work, it makes effortless a little meander to the end of a dead-end street to reflect on the random beauty the everyday world offers if you have the means to seek.
Pointe-Claire seen from the village
Riding a scooter makes these digressions easy by freeing up some time, courtesy of maneuverability.

Why blog?

Because it gives me a considered voice, and an opportunity to listen.
Alton Mill Art Centre sculpture garden morphed with Waterlogue app
... and that gives you an opportunity to listen, and to speak in turn.

That's how you and I become friends. And that is priceless.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.