Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Science and scenery

A process that began in March ended the other day when I received and installed the RAM mount for my Garmin StreetPilot i5 GPS system.

The RAM mount is from (actually from their Canadian web site, The RAM mount is rock solid. I thought I could get away without the special GPS cradle built specifically for my GPS and just use the ball device that mounts in the round socket on the unit, but the fit is a little too loose and when I hit a pothole this morning it was enough to jarr the unit off the mount.

No harm done, the unit is light and dangled safely from the power cord (thank heavens for snug USB-type connectors). I am going to experiment with trying to make the physical connection of the ball socket more snug (I'm thinking a thin rubber sheet in the socket) before I order the cradle from GPScity.

As for the Garmin StreetPilot unit, even at the loudest volume setting, it is very difficult to hear the spoken instructions above 40 km/h. The display is easy to read however and what I was most looking forward to was to be able to see an accurate speed measurement in km/h. My Vespa LX150 is a US model and the markings on the speedometer are most prominently in miles, with the kilometres in much smaller print with a smaller radius, so harder to read and, it seems to me, less accurate.

The power cord for the GPS unit plugs into the 12 volt power outlet I installed in the glove box. There is just enough play in the glove box door that the door can close securely, just slightly compressing the wire.

So after months of wondering, I now know that my Vespa speedometer reads approximately 2 km/h too fast, overall pretty accurate, based on what I have read on the Modern Vespa forum.

So much for the science, now for the scenery.
People who are not familiar with the shores of the Island of Montreal and the roads that snake along them might find it hard to believe that scenery this appealing is literally to be viewed during the morning commute, and without even getting off the saddle.

Here's the proof.

Taken from my perch, sitting on the Vespa, looking right:Same vantage point, looking left.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


We Montrealers spend the winter months bundled up against the cold. Add a stiff wind and a drop in winter temperatures, and many of us have experienced minus 40 Celsius. The only thing that's convenient about minus 40 Celsius, is that you don't have to convert it to explain to people who only understand Fahrenheit how cold it might be, because it also happens to be minus 40 Fahrenheit.

We are now gripped in the third day of the reverse: a record-snapping heat wave: For Montreal that means well above 30 Celsius (40+ when you factor in the Humidex, 86 degrees for you Fahrenheit folks). Everyone is now moaning about the heat.

Not me. And I'm riding my Vespa morning and night to commute downtown. Morning is cool(er). Late afternoon is another story. And I'm wearing a black full face Nolan helmet, a Corazzo 5.0 armoured jacket, gloves, heavy Levis, and stout Tyrol hiking boots. That gear will keep you warm on a crisp fall day at 60 km/h.

So why am I not complaining? It's a really good question for all you folks on the air-conditioned commuter train chatting about how unbearably hot it is, while I glide along the lakeshore in my portable human oven get-up.

That's another measure of just how much I enjoy my scoot commute, and how committed I am to the (relative) safety of the experience.Last night on the commute back home at about 6:40 p.m., I stopped to take the photos you see here. You can see the heat shimmering in the photos if you look closely enough.

The guy on the kite-board and I, we have the right recipe. Follow your passion. It means you're cool, even when the weather isn't.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dorval Island

I guess it's not surprising that when you live on an island, there are bound to be ferries.

And yet, I'm willing to bet that most Montrealers don't know much about our local ferries.

I'm kind of curious about these things, and while I certainly knew about the tiny community of Dorval Island and I knew there was a ferry, I had never taken the time to get down to the ferry landing and have a real look. For an aerial view of Dorval Island, click here.
So it seemed to me high time to look into Dorval Island (or at least what can be seen of it from the Montreal side). This morning I interrupted my morning commute for a few minutes to do just that.

There is a private parking lot where residents can leave their cars and bikes on the Montreal side and I parked there to take these pictures.The Dorval Island ferry landing is tucked away in a small cove at the base of Dorval avenue.I believe that the residents of Dorval Island are summer cottagers so I doubt there are any year-round residents. In any event, the ferry service is seasonal, so from the close of the ferry service in the fall to the time when the ice is thick enough to cross on foot, there would likely be weeks of isolation. Which might appeal to some folks, right?

It only takes a few minutes for the ferry to cross the river channel to the island.
I wonder if there are phone and electricity lines on the Island?

Unless I get an invitation from an Island resident, I guess Dorval Island's secrets are safe from me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ile Bizard

Early one Thursday evening a few weeks ago, I decided to visit a bit of Montreal that's very close to where I live, but thoroughly out-of-the-way.

Ile Bizard is one of the many islands that sit with the Island of Montreal in the mighty St-Lawrence river at the confluence of the Ottawa river.
The south side of the island is linked to the Island of Montreal by the Jacques Bizard bridge. The only other way for vehicles to get on or off Ile Bizard is a ferry that links the north shore of Ile Bizard to the south shore of Ile Jesus, the island due north of the Island of Montreal.
The only municipality on Ile Jesus is the City of Laval, a sprawling suburb that has seen huge growth in the past ten years.

My father took me on my first ride on the Ile Bizard Ferry when I was 12 or 13 years old. We lived on Ile Jesus at the time in what is now the Chomedey sector of the City of Laval. We had ridden our bikes along the old road that follows the river and we eventually came to the Laval side of the ferry crossing. It seems to me that ferry has operated in that location for as long as anyone can remember.

My Dad told me at the time that the ferry went way back to the horse and buggy days, well before the industrial revolution.

This type of river-crossing ferry was much more common back then, and examples could be found on rivers all over North America. I remember my father explaining that the ferry had no motor and made its way from one shore to the other by exploiting the river's current.

The ferry is tethered to an overhead cable and there is a large keel on the ferry's hull that the crew can direct using a large wheel like a pirate ship's helm. The keel is perpendicular to the ferry and parallel to the river's flow, so when the ferry is perpendicular to the shore, it remains stationary. When the wheel is turned, the cables that tether the ferry angle the ferry into the current so that the keel acts in the water the same way a ship's sail or an aircraft's wing acts in the air.

The current is deflected by the keel and forces the ferry to travel across the river. The ferry's speed is entirely dependent on the strength of the river's current and the angle of the ferry and its keel in relation to the river's flow.

When you’re just a kid growing up you take for granted that the only way to get around involves a motor of one variety or another. From that point of view, when you're twelve or thirteen years old, the Ile Bizard river ferry is an object of mild fascination.

I still find it to be a fascinating and little-known part of Montreal's transportation infrastructure. I took a bunch of pictures to show the ferry in action.

This youtube video, taken from the Laval side of the river, gives a better understanding of the current in relation to the ferry.

At some point the old wooden ferry, the Paule I, was replaced by the current Paule II. The new ferry is now all steel construction with a diesel engine and hydraulics to actuate the cables and angle the ferry and its keel, as well as the lift gates that allow vehicles to board.

Although the current is still doing all the propulsion, the rumble of the diesel and the sleek hydraulics more or less dispel most of the wonder. When I first took the ferry, all you heard was the creaking of the wood and the rush of the water. It was spell-binding to me.

Today, it isn't quite so fascinating, but definitely still a fairly unique and worthwhile thing to experience.

On this occasion I didn't take the ferry, making a mental note to return during the summer and to cross to Laval on the ferry as part of a longer ride.

I continued on the road that circles Ile Bizard following the shoreline.

I was rewarded with an incredible sunset on the north shore of the island just about a kilometer beyond the ferry landing. Unfortunately my-point-and-shoot camera refused to capture what my eyes beheld, so no pictures of that sunset to share.

As the island road twists and turns and rises and dips its way west then south and back east toward the bridge, the scenery becomes very rural. Nothing but farms and fields and much cooler air.

As I mentioned in the previous post on my Tour de l'Ile ride with the Club Scooter de Montréal, the route followed the same path around Ile Bizard.

It was just as much fun sharing this marvelous tucked-away corner of Metropolitan Montreal with 30 other scooterists in the early afternoon, as it was to ride it alone at dusk. Except the ride organizers neglected to stop to allow us to marvel at the ferry.

But even if they had stopped, they wouldn't have enjoyed it from a thirteen year olds' perspective.

Monday, June 28, 2010

First group ride

Brace yourself for a long post, 'cause there's lots to share.

Sunday I set out for my first group ride: the Club Scooter de Montréal's 7th annual Tour de l'ile.Thirty plus riders showed up for the event. The departure point was at the parking lot next to the chalet in Lafontaine Park.The park is the club's departure venue for its Sunday group rides. The annual Tour de l'ile ride (literally, "around the island") in some ways is the signature Montreal ride. It is patterned on a similar ride for cyclists that for the last 12 years has attracted hundreds of participants.

Because it was going to be my first group ride, I was a little apprehensive. I had the benefit of having read a number of posts on Modern Vespa and was aware of the special risks of group rides, as well as the principal ways to mitigate those risks.

The ride departure was set for 11:00 a.m. with the organizers intending to show up at 10:00. I got there at 10:15 because I wanted to meet Pierre (his alias is Voyageur5 on Modern Vespa).

When I got there there were already three or four riders there, including Pierre.Voyageur5 rides a bright yellow Vespa GTS that's a real beauty. He's made a number of modifications including GPS and camera mounts, switched power outlet, dual horns (a Stebel air horn in addition to the stock horn), special polymer protective coatings on the cowls and glove box to ward off damage to the paint from saddlebags and ignition keys, windscreen, front rack, bar-end weights, and the list goes on. He's been riding motorcycles since he was 16 and has ridden all over the US and Canada, Panama, Europe and North Africa.

Meeting a proficient and experienced rider like Pierre puts my own meager experience into its proper perspective.

As the other riders showed up, it became clear that the ride was going to be quite an experience. There were experienced senior riders among the organizers on Burgman 400's, a bunch of 250cc scooters including Aprilias, and Vespa GT's, and a collection of two-stroke scooters including 2 amazing fully restored vintage Vespas.Finally, a small flotilla of 49cc mopeds, including a Jawa and a Solex Stentor joined the parade.What with a few key late arrivals, the departure was delayed to just past 11:30 a.m.

We finally set out. There were a number of first-timers, and so the organizer's pre-departure sermon on group riding rules and etiquette was more than welcome, and served to lay some of my concerns to rest.

The route was ambitious: north along Christophe Colomb and l'Acadie boulevard to Gouin Boulevard which runs along the north shore of the Island of Montreal. Then west along Gouin to the Jacques Bizard bridge to Ile Bizard, all around that island and back across the river to Montreal where we stopped for lunch at local fast food place.After a quick bite we continued west along Gouin around the western tip of the island and east along the southern shore, eventually to the city of Westmount and up Mount Royal to the observatory and then down the east face of the mountain and back to Lafontaine Park.

Here, in no particular order, are the high points of the ride:
  • Keeping the group together in the city was a challenge because of the many intersections with traffic lights. The organisers had helmet headsets that helped them to herd us along. They stopped us at green lights until the group got back together and we'd set off again. It worked really well with tolerable risk.
  • Keeping a close eye on the flock paid off when one of the mopeds broke down. Two of the organizers rode back, took care of the moped and had the marooned mopeder ride pillion on one of the big Burgmans so that she could enjoy the remainder of the ride.
  • Motorists showed amazing courtesy patiently waiting for the scooter parade to pass.
  • I was pleased to see the smiles we got from scores of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists wherever we went.
  • The scenery was often spectacular, particularly along the many stretches of shoreline.
  • The intrepid folks on the mopeds, from kids to adults, rode the whole way, from 11:30 to well past five o'clock, wide open throttle and 50 km/h all the way, with little in the way of acceleration, other than some vigorous pedalling on the many take-offs. All accomplished with generous beaming smiles.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by how well my LX150 kept pace with the larger GTs, especially in terms of acceleration.
As for the less appealing aspects of the group ride experience:
  • Following a large number of two-stroke motorbikes means you are constantly bathed in their noxious exhaust fumes for hour after hour. One of the other members of the four-stroke crowd commented on this, mentionning that they preferred to hang well back from the pack to avoid the two-stroke exhaust as much as possible. When the ride was over I felt, and my clothing smelled, like I had just mowed 20 lawns in a row. Definitely not pleasant.
  • As I expected, I much prefer the solo ride. Perhaps riding occasionally in a small group of four-stroke folks would be fine as well. But the Tour de l'ile will be best enjoyed as an annual event.
All in all, a wonderful experience for me, and one that every rider should have at least once.

I'll post separately on the Ile Bizard portion of the route.

Ride safely!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forest & Stream

I don't know about you, but those words always evoke a soothing feeling of peace and idyllic harmony for me.

I usually picture a quiet leafy forest of tall trees with a lush undergrowth of sunlight dappled ferns, and a pristine stream babbling its way over a bed of water-worn rocks and bright pebbles.
The Forest & Stream Club in Dorval evokes its own soothing feeling of peace and idyllic harmony, but on the banks of the mighty St-Lawrence rather than a mere stream.
Sitting on a picturesque point that juts into Lake St-Louis, the Forest & Stream Club stands in stark contrast to the tumult and frantic bustle of Trudeau international airport just a few kilometers away.
The airport, bathed in jet fuel laden air, accompanied by the incessant roar of jet traffic hurtling down its sizzling-hot, bone-dry runways, and the Forest & Stream Club, its antithesis in every meaningful way.
It’s just one more feature of the scoot commute that begs to have its picture taken on a beautiful morning on this second day of summer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father and son ride

We celebrated my daughter Lauren's 21st birthday yesterday.

We were blessed to have family come in from near and far to join in the celebration, including from Fort Lauderdale, Toronto and Ottawa.

I promised my Dad that I would take him for a spin on my Vespa, weather permitting.

While it poured in the early afternoon, everything had cleared up by the time our guests arrived.
My father, who celebrated his 80th birthday last October, became my second passenger. Getting him on the scooter while it was on the stand made that maneuver safer both for him and the scooter, and with a little help I got if off the centre stand with both of us on it.
You can see from my daughter's expression that she had doubts about our sanity. I must admit we look pretty awkward, but it was fun for both of us and a memorable event to cherish.
We rode west for a few kilometers on Old Lakeshore Road at about 25 to 30 km/h and then back home along Beaconsfield Boulevard where we reached 50 km/h. Woohoo!!! Wild and crazy guys.

My Dad is in the early throes of Alzeihmer's, and I'll print a picture or two for him so that he can marvel at the pluck it took to come along for the ride, and so he can show his doubting friends back at the residence where he lives in Ottawa that he really does live dangerously on the weekend.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fuel for the soul

After commuting all my life on buses, subways, trains, and sometimes by car, nothing compares to commuting on my Vespa.

The incredibly scenic route I am privileged to take makes a huge contribution to the pure pleasure of the ride.

But it's not merely about the route.

As beautiful as it is, I have taken the same route many times in a car, and even in my Miata with the top down, it's just not as enjoyable as with the Vespa.

The Vespa makes taking in these views, and snapping these photos, so easy to do, that I actually get to do it. It's something I never did in the past.

It's a simple part of the scoot commute and life on two small wheels that brings extra peace and contentment into my life.

Does your commute do that for you?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Twists and turns

The very best riding moments are deeply satisfying.

There's something about twisting stretches of road, particularly well-spaced S-curves, that can be counted on for that kind of satisfaction.

The portion of the commute that follows Lake St-Louis through Pointe-Claire, Dorval and Lachine has a fair number of those twisting stretches.I tried to capture a few photos of them this morning.It's the physical forces flowing through the bike and the rider that make those curves so much fun. For the Vespa and my current skill level, the magic equation seems to be somewhere over 50 km/h, with a decent lean into the turn, and then shifting the lean one way, then the other, as the S curve rolls by.The antithesis of the graceful S-curve is the awkward slow, sharp L-turn, often in cramped quarters, sometimes jerky, always risky, never pleasant. Bonus points for fumbling the controls on the turn indicator and inadvertently flashing the high beam. Even more points if it's a trifecta and I hit the horn button too.

As great as the S makes me feel, the awkward L-turn is unsettling, undermines my confidence, makes me curse my lack of skill, and makes me vow to return to a parking lot to practice.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tough week

Last week was quite a week, with a fair amount to share, but no time to share it here.

Better late than not at all.

My route along the lakeshore continued to offer one soul-refreshing view after another. The week was a tough one at the office with major personal challenges as well.

At times like that, the serenity of riding the scooter along one of the most scenic drives on the island provides needed relief from the pressures felt elsewhere.Last Tuesday I rode down to Old Montreal for a bowl of clam chowder and a lobster roll at Muvbox. Muvbox is beginning its summer season down by the last lock on the Lachine Canal that connects the canal to the downtown harbour. What makes Muvbox special is that it's a self-contained lobster shack that transforms out of a shipping container. It's solar powered and off the grid. Plus the lobster fresh from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St-Lawrence is a treat that kicks off the summer season in a very pleasant way.
Moving on to the more technical side of the scooter commute, Thursday morning brought the threat of rain.

The rain only really started in earnest once I was downtown. Riding the Vespa in a downpour is nothing like any other rain experience I have had.

I've had plenty of experience riding bicycles in the rain. On a bicycle you become one with the rain. You get absolutely drenched to the point where you can't really get any wetter.

On the scooter, with proper rain gear and a full face helmet, it's the reverse. You're in the rain, it's all around you, it's running down you in every direction, but you're perfectly dry and comfortable.On a bicycle I merge with the rain. On the scooter I am in the rain but I travel through it, observing it, feeling it, hearing it, being in the middle of it, yet remaining completely separate from it.

It's not really a better way to experience the rain on two wheels, it's just completely different.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.