Saturday, March 14, 2015

An interesting alternative for inter-continental travel

Word about the newest dimension of my life on two wheels has been slowly leaking out here and there for the past few months or so. I have been dropping hints, and a few fellow bloggers have been in the know. Sonja spilled the beans yesterday, or so. So it's time to come clean.

As many of you know, my life on two wheels began when I finally dared to fulfill a high school dream: owning a Vespa. In the five or so years I've been riding I've learned a whole lot about what it means to ride. In that time I've graduated from a great urban commuter Vespa, the LX150 model, to a grand touring Vespa, the 300 GTS Super i.e. I'm riding now. I went from commuting to work on slow and easy back roads, to being perfectly comfortable cruising on expressways and Interstates, at home, and on extended trips, in Canada, the US, and Italy.

For the past little while I've been wondering what it would be like to ride a motorcycle. Not that the Vespa GTS is not a motorcycle. At 330 pounds and 287cc's, it's more motorcycle than many of the motorcycles you see on the roads, and the law treats it as a motorcycle in every way. But it's not what comes to mind when I ask you to think about a motorcycle. You'll think of Harley Davidsons, BMW touring bikes, sport bikes from icons of the industry like Ducati and Moto Guzzi, and café racers like the Triumph Thruxton.

There are certain features that all motorcycles share. A frame, a center-mounted motor, a manual transmission, and a combination of hand and foot brakes. Most motor scooters, like modern Vespas, have a step-through body, enclosed motors closer to the rear wheel, automatic transmissions, and front and rear hand-operated brakes.

The biggest difference between a Vespa and almost any motorcycle, is the manual foot-shifted transmission. That and the look. There's no mistaking a motorcycle when you see one. Just like there's no mistaking a scooter when you see one.

What is it like to ride a motorcycle?

I finally scratched that itch in Florida late last February. They say 'go big or go home'. I went big.

There was more to that adventure than met the eye. As you'll now see, I really needed to learn to ride a shifty motorcycle.  A serious shifty motorcycle.

A few months earlier, my dear friend Sonja approached me for advice.

She said she wished to tour in eastern Canada and the US on a motorcycle but that rental costs were prohibitive. Sonja was prepared to buy a second-hand bike for the purpose, but ownership posed some interesting challenges for which she was seeking answers, and insurance seemed a key stumbling block.

Sonja knows I'm a lawyer, and figured I might be able to shed some light.

"I was wondering if you could be of any assistance in finding out what insurance I could obtain, and even better kindly give me your honest opinion about the whole matter. Do you think it might also be possible to insure the bike in another person of trust’s name, while I ride it around North America, in case I can’t get it insured?" she wrote.

I told her that I'd think about it and promised to get back to her. And think about it I did.

Insurance is a tricky thing. There are cast iron links between ownership, insurance and risk. You fiddle with those links at your financial peril. If a link fails, you can find yourself without coverage, even after paying all the premiums. Co-ownership of a motorcycle seemed like it might be a viable route for Sonja to explore. Assuming you could find an insurer to write the policy.

The first logical step was a call to my insurance broker. I warned him that I had an interesting hypothetical case for him to consider.

If Sonja, a dual Canadian and German citizen, resident in Germany, with a German motorcycle permit, and I, were to buy a motorcycle here in Canada, as fifty-fifty co-owners, could we both get insurance coverage in Quebec? I hastened to add that it was a hypothetical question, and that I didn't want to be a bother, and that there was no rush, because surely I had posed a real head-scratcher of a weird question, out of left field, so if he needed a few weeks to look into the matter that would be fine.

"Ya, sure, no problem" he said.

"OK, thanks I really appreciate that. When should I get back to you?" I said.

"No, you don't understand" he said. "There's no problem. All I need is a copy of the signed co-ownership agreement and a copy of Sonja's German driver's license with a valid motorcycle endorsement, and you're good to go!"

I was truly taken aback. "What?" I stammered. "Are you sure? Don't you want to do a little research?"

"We do this all the time" he said. "For motorcycles?!" I managed, still incredulous. "Well not really for motorcycles, this would be a first for me. But for sailboats, motor homes, yachts, snowmobiles, ATVs, ya, we do it all the time."

All right then. Sonja's unusual request, and my hypothetical interest, literally sprang from crazy theory to rock hard fact in one ten minute phone call. What about the premium, I asked. "Oh... let me see... under $200" he said.

"What?" I uttered, dumbfounded. "Don't you need to know what kind of bike?"

"OK" he said. Now I felt that I was trying his patience. "What kind of bike?"

A big bike I said. A big cruiser. Like a Honda Shadow 750cc. Huge, massive!

"Look, under $200, I'm positive. I'll look it up and shoot you an e-mail" he said. A few says later I got a voicemail message from him: "Hi, look it's me, I'm really sorry, I misled you, I looked it up, the annual premium for that bike will be $75, have a nice day!"

If I was dumbfounded earlier, I was, as the Brits are fond of saying, gob-smacked.

At that moment, I knew that Sonja was getting her wish, and that I was getting a motorcycle. A huge, massive, burly, bad-ass motorcycle. Spousal approval was quickly obtained on both sides of the pond. It no doubt helped that Sonja, Roland, Susan and I had met over dinner last year in Lucca. All we needed to do was find a suitable bike for the right price.

Partnership has its advantages. Sonja immediately set up the purchasing department. We lost one, but in no time we had a couple of hot prospects. Both Honda Shadow 750's, and both within easy range. Within mere days, the bike was seen, the price negotiated, and bingo! Just like that, Sonja and I became the proud co-owners of a 2003, Honda VT 750 American Classic Edition motorcycle.
It's not perfect, but damn close. Low mileage, in pristine condition, but... those damn flames.

And the Cobra after-market-loud-pipes-save-lives are just so look-at-me-I'm-a-greaser-Harley-wannabe! Sonja's take (and she gets the last word): "Who cares about the flames... and what's wrong with it sounding like a Harley??"


Coop a.k.a. Coopdway said...

I am SO impressed...both with the bike and the fact that you two went ahead. I see all of this as only good. Oh, and I really like the bike. That VStar Lady blogger has had me watching closely for bikes just like hers and yours is close enough to be considered.

Can't wait for the travels El Toro will be making with you two at the controls.

RichardM said...

Nice flames, somehow it seems to fit with your new persona...

I can't wait to see what changes Sonja makes after seeing the updates to the Sportster.

Canajun said...

Wow, that's great news. Not sure how you pulled off the insurance though, especially since Quebec has a reputation (undeserved?) for high rates. Anyway good luck with the new acquisition and let me know when you want to do some riding up Ottawa way. Oh, and I've often heard of riders being described as 'shifty', but not usually their bikes. That's a new one for me. :)

ADK Jim said...

GREAT! Safe enjoyable riding for you both. Maybe you'll head "south of the boarder" for a test ride.

redlegsrides said...

That's a great paint job on the motorcycle....coincidentally, its similar to my first motorcycle, which was also a 750cc....a Honda Shadow Aero. Yours is better looking. Here's what mine looked like: and her name was Gretl.

Congrats to both of you!

SonjaM said...

Good timing, David. I just had my second posting up. Sometimes I still scratch my head wondering how we pulled this off this fast. Can't wait to see you riding her home.

Nikos said...

I used to work for a firm that started coownership of business jets - can I interest you in a wing flap from a Learjet35A?

Nikos said...

PS I meant to say what a great idea and enjoy the flaming ride!

Dar said...

Very cool! I love it., my bike Scarlett is the baby version she's a VT500c . I have seen crazier flame paint jobs, through some saddle bags on it & that covers part of the paint job. It is serious badass though. Love it! Paint job if needed is about $1000 so there you go. Hopefully Betty will ride out to the West Coast at some point :)

David Masse said...

Thanks Doug.

There is farkling to do before Black Betty hits the road. Most is trivial stuff, but still.

RAM mounts (got'em), air horn (in transit), dual 12V outlets (gotta wait to get my hands on the bike), saddlebags (ditto), assessing whether the Cobra pipes stay or the OEM pipes go back on (a joint decision, subject to noise abatement by-laws), and then the stuff we haven't figured out yet.

David Masse said...

Richard, who knows, you may be right. Those flames may be a better fit than I think.

I've got a Viking jacket review in the works. When I got the jacket, writing the review seemed like such an incongruous stretch. Now it will be like hand-in-glove.

David Masse said...

Dave I couldn't wrap my mind around it either.

The way my broker explained it to me is this. I'm already insuring the Vespa. I'm the only licensed rider in the home. I can only ride one bike at a time. Sonja will be insured as a second driver. Given that she's in Germany, that's a no-brainer. No matter how long she stays over here riding the bike, she will still be considered a second driver. In the end, the premium for adding the Honda represents the incremental risk.

The year I sold the first Vespa, I insured both bikes, and the incremental premium was $0.

Now the registration for the new bike is about $600 which includes the no-fault coverage. I'm paying at $400 for the Vespa, so all told that's about $325-ish for insurance, and $1,000 for registration for a total of $1,325 for two bikes.

Trobairitz said...

Congrats to you two for making the dream happen. I can't think of a better way for you two to each get to ride a new to you motorcycle.

But those flames..... they are something. I agree with Nikos - enjoy the flaming ride!!

David Masse said...

Thanks Jim. If we do that Piaggio gig, I'll be on the Vespa, assuming Sergei ends up riding from Calgary. If Sergei needs the Vespa, then you'll get to see Black Betty.

David Masse said...

Very cool Dom. One more thing in common.

Who knows, maybe the universe will conspire to send a Ural my way :)

David Masse said...

Hmmm... when the stars align, the stars align.

Also, bear in mind, that the internet changes everything, it really does.

David Masse said...

Let's see Nick... I could afford co-ownership of a control knob off the Learjet dashboard.

My son Jonathan was looking into setting up a commercial co-ownership proposal for exotic cars. But going from personal to commercial was just too complicated. Insurance and financing became hurdles too difficult to overcome.

As long as the equation remains personal, it's astonishing how easy it is.

David Masse said...

Nick, once the bike is in hand, it's going to start driving Sonja crazy. Flames indeed.

David Masse said...

I know Dar... I dug into your blog, basically the same bike.

Sonja may start encouraging me to ride out your way and drop the bike off in your care.

David Masse said...

Thanks Brandy. This is definitely going to spawn a rich trove of stories.

Not to mention documenting this adventure so that others may benefit.

SonjaM said...

David, any chance you might be clairvoyant?

Dar said...

There is always room for another bike! Woot woot! I know you will love Betty. Is she a shaft drive or chain? Ya know you could always peruse Used & have a West Coast bike, they go for between $3500 to $5500 and if it's vintage you can pick up one for $3000 or less and most of them here are garage kept & have low kilometres on them. Mine only had 9000km on it and it was an 1985 which a guy stored here & came out from Alberta to ride in the summers. Sounds like I bike co-op being started. Hmmmmm

Keith - Circle Blue said...

I do like the flames :^)

David Masse said...

They are well done decals with clear coat over the top.

Sonja suggests waiting a year to see whether we want to repaint.

The consensus seems to be $1,000 to repaint, maybe $300 if you pull the parts and prep them yourself.

David Masse said...

Chain drive. Shaft drive started one year later in 2004.

The Editor said...

I reckon you could add Steph Jeavons trip to your blogrole. She's ridden from Britain to Antarctica so far and has just landed back in Argentina to continue her journey north: map and videos: and her blog is here

David Masse said...

Thanks for stopping by Alan, and thanks for the tip.

Steph's blog has been added.

David Masse said...

Ed I think you're right.

For me the cruiser is a bit of a lark. A chance to get my feet wet with a big motorcycle. The Vespa will remain my daily commuter I suspect.

If I were to tour on a a motorcycle, I think it would rather be on a BMW GS or something similar, quite possibly a BMW R series like yours.

Sonja is going to use the Honda to tour. She is comfortable touring on her Harley Sportster, and hopefully the Honda will be a familiar feel for her.

The other factor for both of us is cost. The Honda was extremely affordable. That is what makes this peculiar arrangement work for us.

VStar Lady said...

Well done Sonja and David - enjoy your dual ride!

David Masse said...

Thanks Karen, we'll see how this goes. We'll be posting information about the experience so that others who may be curious about doing it themselves will get the benefit of how we went about it.

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