Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rick Snyder's Cannonball Run

Rick Snyder's a great guy.

Rick has set his sights on the 2012 Scooter Cannonball.  It's a challenge most riders don't get to measure themselves against in a lifetime.

It takes guts, a chunk of free time, great riding skills, a willingness to sleep in a motel room with your scooter, iron determination and a butt to match, an adventurous spirit, and money.

Rick has most everything he needs, but some money to help pay the Cannonball bills would be really nice.

I don't have what it takes to take on the Cannonball.  That's why I'm planning to enjoy the whole thing vicariously through Rick.

Until the 2012 Scooter Cannonball is in the history books, the Scoot Commute is throwing its support behind Rick and his daring adventure.  You'll notice a makeshift banner that will fly here for the duration.  Click on it to support Rick.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Major set back (Aarrrrgh!!!)

No, I'm not a trying to be a pirate.

I was literally minutes from completing the installation of the Heat Troller® switch, wanting to get it nice and snug, I destroyed the switch body, turning the entire Heat Troller® into instant junk.
How dumb is that?

This means that the project report, that was also almost done, won't be posted until I get a new Heat Troller®.

Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

PS:  Patrick Denayer of Lockitt.com and Deata at Warm and Safe have collaborated so that I can get my damaged Heat Troller® repaired.  Jim Hollander of Hot Grips™ has also had his eye on this as you can see from his comments on this post.  Quite honestly this is just incredible customer service, and for a customer who messed up a perfectly good piece of equipment. That'll teach me that working in a cold garage might numb the brain.  It's amazing to be rescued from my self-made misfortune by such caring suppliers.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Who cares?

In the beginning I blogged knowing that no one was out there reading (turns out I was wrong, Bobskoot was reading - ed).

I felt that if just a few people found my blog, and that I helped them with some scooter commuting challenge or question, I would have performed a public service, returning the favour other bloggers had done for me.  Paying it forward, so to speak.

Then at some point, several months later, there were some readers out there.  Then some people actually went to the trouble of subscribing to my posts.  Still later, some fellow moto-bloggers found me.  Then I got a few followers.

Pretty soon, I got traffic.  Not a lot of traffic.  Kind of like on a side street, off main street, in a small town, in the boonies.

Now I feel that I have some blogger friends.  What's a blogger friend?  I consider someone a blogger friend if, should they come to town, I would happily lend them my Vespa for a few days, and consider it an honor if they took me up on the offer.

As all of this was going on, I was checking my stats in the blogger dashboard.  At first a couple of times a month, then weekly, then daily, and now... well you can see where this is going.

I think I need to go back to daily, then weekly... Basically that little stick figure needs to sit down and smell the flowers while he's still in the foothills.

I'm curious what my fellow bloggers think about this, or indeed whether they think about this at all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hiatus: for readers only

I started the installation of Hot Grips™ heated grips today.

It's an ambitious project, so it's going to take me a while to complete, and it's also going to take some time and patience to produce a decent project report.

So I'll be working hard behind the scenes here at the Scoot Commute, but readers will have to be patient waiting for the next post.

There's only so much a blogger and amateur mechanic can handle in his spare time.

Oh well... anticipation is half the fun.

Enjoy the reader's hiatus!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Here at last!

Hot Grips™, that is!

Now the fun can begin.

With a big thank you to the team at Hot Grips™ and the nice folks at Lockitt.com who thoughtfully enclosed a couple of treats to sweeten the experience.  One for each heated grip.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Winter blues? Take a hike! Buy a Vespa!

Here's the deal.  It's finally full-blown, snow-down-your-collar, spin-your-wheels, trudge-along, winter.

Plus, I'm fat.  Really, fat?  Judge for yourself: 30 lbs to lose.

As part of my new diet, in addition to eating "right", and watching what I eat, I'm walking.  About 45-50 minutes a day.  That's where the taking a hike thing comes in.
In Montreal, we have miles and miles of underground pedestrian walkways and lots and lots of stairs, if you care to avoid escalators.  It takes about 50 minutes of brisk walking to go from the northwest corner of the underground where I work, to the northeast corner at the other extreme.  It's like a giant "U", just like that, in fact.  Though the "U" is hard to see on the highly stylized, not-to-scale "R-E-S-O" map posted here and there in the underground.

Here's the map of the underground city, and a link to a PDF map.  It's huge.  What better way to get the exercise I need?
While I was taking my daily walk today, I bought a vintage Vespa.  A nice winter white vintage Vespa.  So fitting.
 Just the trinket to park on my desk.
To remind me of the 2012 riding season that each day brings closer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hot choice

After quite a bit of research and sober deliberation I have come to a couple of decisions.

The first decision is to stay with my LX150 for a third season, resisting the temptation to upgrade to a Vespa GTS.

With that decision behind me, installing heated grips on my LX150 became an obvious next choice.

I considered two alternatives: either Oxford heated grips or Hot Grips™ heated grips.

The Oxford heated grips are from a UK-based supplier and they are manufactured in Asia. They come standard with a variable electronic controller that includes automatic shutoff if the scooter battery drains down to 11 volts or so. The electronic controller also has the advantage of managing the load on the battery since at lower settings, the controller actually reduces the amps consumed to heat the grips.

The Hot Grips™ model on the other hand is manufactured in the USA. They come standard with a three position high-low-off switch that doesn't manage the electricity budget as well as an electronic controller. An American made electronic controller is however available as an added cost option.

I read reports of reliability issues with the Oxford controller, and mounting that controller on the Vespa, due to the controller's bulky exo-skeleton type housing, while it would work well on the typical motorcycle, wouldn't be very elegant on a Vespa, unless I mounted it in the glove box. Mounting it there would make adjusting the heat a challenge, even at stop lights.

The Hot Grips™ optional Warm & Safe Heat-Troller® electronic control on the other hand lends itself to mounting on the Vespa's dashboard quite elegantly where the controller will be easy to adjust even during a ride.

The final element weighing in the decision is that there won't be any import duty issues with the American made Hot Grips™ product as a result of the North American Free Trade Zone.

So that's it! It's Hot Grips™ for David's Vespa! I placed the order with Lockitt.com, a motorcycle accessories distributor recommended by the manufacturer. Hot Grips™ doesn't ship directly to Canada since it's a 50 minute return trip to the post office from the plant in Plainfield New Hampshire.

I should add that when I ran into some issues when I attempted to place the order on Hot Grips™ website, and e-mailed the manufacturer, on Saturday evening, I got responses to my questions and the recommendation to order from Lockitt.com from Jim Hollander at Hot Grips™ at 10:00 p.m. Now that's service!

Now all I have to do is wait for the package in the mail.

Don't you love waiting for stuff that's coming in the mail?   I do. There's that element of anticipation that just brings out my inner child.

I can understand how some people become addicted to online shopping.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!!

Wishing all readers a happy and healthy 2012.


Dar suggested that it was a good idea to have an ICE entry in your cell phone (In Case of Emergency contact and vital information). My nephew had mentioned the same thing over dinner the other night.

If you have an Iphone, and if, like me, you must keep it locked to satisfy a corporate security policy, neither the ICE entry in your contacts or the ICE app (yes Virginia, there's an app for that) will be accessible should that emergency arise.

In an interesting twist, my wife lost her phone in the Aventura Mall here in Florida just a few days ago.  We were able to lock it remotely using the Icloud "locate my Iphone" feature after I posted a bunch of "Lost Iphone: if found, please call (XXX) XXX-XXXX" text messages to the phone.  The text messages did the trick and the phone was returned to us by a good Samaritan finder (also a Canadian).  Curiously, the Icloud lock and locate feature only kicked in after we retrieved the phone, and then wouldn't let us unlock the phone, necessitating a trip to the Apple store to restore the phone.  Kind of cool, kind of not.

If I had read Dar's post earlier, I might have done the following trick to my wife's Iphone and avoided the whole ICloud ordeal.

Here's a work around you can set up on your Iphone in seconds.

Use the Notes app to create an ICE entry, take a screen shot of it (hold the top on button and simultaneously press the home button) then set the screen shot as wallpaper for the lock screen.

Problem solved.

This is the easiest New Year's resolution to make and keep. Do this now, Iphone people.

Friday, December 30, 2011

I took the plunge!

I am now the very happy owner of a GoPro Hero HD point of view camera, and am very pleased with the purchase.

There is no scooter to ride here in South Florida.  But did I mention the sunshine and the pool?

Ahhhhh.... the perfect antidote for all the hard work the fall had in store for me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday spirit

Nothing says "here come the holidays" more than a vintage Vespa sidecar rig with all the trimmings.

Things are still nuts at the office. There's no time for a longer post.

This gorgeous Vespa has been a fixture in a clothes boutique in the Place Ville Marie mall for more than a year now. I've taken a picture of it in the past but I'm not sure that I've posted it here.

It will have to do as a holiday decoration for the ScootCommute until I have the time to post something more substantial, such as responding to Dar's challenge to post on the theme of 5 local road trips and dream trip challenge.  If you've got a scooter or motorcycle blog, take a look at the challenge and consider joining in on the fun.

I'll get around to it eventually, maybe on the weekend.

In the meantime, spread the holiday cheer folks!

Monday, December 5, 2011

An ounce of prevention

Putting my Vespa up for its annual hibernation is a breeze this year, thanks to the Modern Vespa forum.

Last year I removed the battery and brought it into the house to put it on the battery tender. That's a chore.

As part of last year's winter projects I upgraded the ground line from the battery that powers my Stebel horn and accessory outlet in the glove box.

Once I had the bike all opened up, I also followed the excellent advice from forum member Danny*h, and added a separate 10 amp fused positive and negative line direct from the battery. That new line terminates in a 2 pin trailer plug that hangs just a tad below the left cowl.

I soldered a matching 2 pin plug onto my portable air compressor that I keep in the pet carrier. Now I can pump up my tires to fix a flat without worries of blowing the fuse for the horn or power outlet.

On Sunday I cut the alligator clamps off my battery tender and soldered on another 2 pin plug.

This year all I needed to do was plug the battery tender into the bike. No battery removal.

That left me with one remaining 2 pin plug but with the wrong (female) polarity.  I added a couple of yellow butt crimp connectors to the leads from that plug, then"reversed" the polarity by putting red heat shrink tubing on the black lead, and black heat shrink tubing on the red lead.

Presto! Now I have a test point directly to the battery. All I need to do to check on the battery is plug in my test lead and plug the leads from my multimeter into the open ends of the butt connectors.  That test lead will make it a snap to monitor battery condition once the heated grips are up and running.

Not trusting my technical writing skills, I have added 5,000 words worth of pictures below.

You will note that the Vespa LX parcel hook makes a perfect place to hang my Motomaster battery tender:
Multimeter connected to the test lead:
Close up of the 2 pin plug / test lead:
Battery tender connected to the Vespa:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How and Why I got into Motorbikes

Gary France asked the following question this week on his blog Flies in Your Teeth:

"I have read a few motorcycling blogs recently that I haven't seen before. With almost all of them, I was left wondering how the authors of those blogs initially got into biking, and why?............ I would like to know your reasons, so if you want to participate in this, then write something on your own blog about 'How and Why I got into Motorbikes'."

I posted something like this when I started this blog.  After reading the many blog posts inspired by Gary's post, I think it's the perfect time to revisit the topic.  I'm hoping to answer Gary's question without covering exactly the same ground as in my first post.  So here goes.

One of the most difficult things I have ever done to this day, was learning to ride a bicycle.

I did it on a brand new 24", candy-apple red, Raleigh coaster-brake bike that I got for my seventh birthday.  I wanted that bike so badly.  Somehow, in my mind, I figured that by some magic, I'd just hop on that bike and ride off.  Reality intruded on that fantasy awfully fast.

The problem was that the bike was just too big for me. I could barely straddle the crossbar on tiptoes.

My first "ride" was with my dad holding the bike steady with his hand gripping the saddle from behind, as I wobbled along the driveway concentrating more on begging my father not to let go, than riding the bike.

I remember the frustration I felt, especially when the neighborhood kids who could ride were turning effortless circles and figure-eights in that driveway while I could barely go four dicey feet without my dad's guiding hand.

My parents got me training wheels, but I hated them because I had to choose  between trying to ride properly, which was a mixed bag of feeling the promise of what riding a bicycle could be, and having a training wheel kick in and feeling that horrible lurch; or giving in to the training wheel on one side or the other and riding painfully down the street at an awkward lean with the training wheel making the sound of a defective shopping cart rolling downhill.

Curiously, I have no memory of an 'ah-ha' moment when the art of riding a two-wheeler finally clicked.

We soon moved to a brand-new house, in a brand-new development in the suburbs. All my brand-new friends and I quickly evolved into Evil Knievels.  We tortured our bikes.

It started with jumping them off curbs; then slamming on the coaster brake to make dozens and dozens of unsightly J-shaped skid marks on the hot summer pavement; off-roading at breakneck speed along rutted farmer's paths and forest trails; even soaring off a seven foot berm over a sand pit,  launching the bike off the ledge,  dismounting in mid-air, leaving the bike to clatter into the sand, while we tucked and rolled trying not to meet up with it. We were nuts.

Those endless summers on two wheels, riding like maniacs for hours on end, made me one with my bike.  To this day, I feel intuitively what a two-wheeler is, and is not, willing to do in any given situation.

Naturally we all fantasized what riding a motorcycle would be like.  We used clothes pegs and baseball cards to imitate  the sound of a growling Harley, and imagined what a sprung saddle and suspension would do for the ride.

By the time I graduated to a three-speed bike in my early teens, that Raleigh was one stripped down, beaten up, mean-looking ride, with at least one cross-threaded, half-stripped axle, and handlebars that could no longer be tightened quite right.

At the high school I attended, a handful of the older students had Vespas, Lambrettas and 50cc or 90cc Hondas. I spent countless recesses and lunch breaks drooling over those bikes. I watched those riders start their bikes up with a sure-footed kick, and swoop off campus. I can still hear the put-putting sound the Italian scooters made, idling before take-off.

The closest I got to actually riding a motorbike, was riding pillion on a white Vespa for short ride, and riding pillion for a still shorter ride on my cousin's Triumph Bonneville, while my mother scowled and fretted.

By the time I was in university I managed to convince my grandmother and my mother to buy me a Solex moped.  That moped barely qualified as a moped.  And yet I used that bike up, logging more miles than I can remember.  It had some horrible features.  The absence of suspension meant chronic broken spokes.  I could never quite get the oil:gas mix right and I'd get powdery build up in the cylinder.  And talk about a defective drive-train: the Solex is front wheel drive; the motor sits on a pivot over the front wheel and an abrasive roller rests on the wheel and drives it by simple friction.  In the rain the roller looses traction slowing the bike, meaning that you get to enjoy the miserable wet ride in the rain even longer.

In the end, I could get the cylinder head off, clean out the residue, pop off a wheel, replace a few spokes, and take off on a weekend adventure in under 45 minutes.  And in spite of all that grief, I loved that bike.

Fast forward more years than I care to count.  It's August 2008, and I'm at a conference in Victoria, British Columbia, staying at the Empress Hotel.  I have a Sunday to kill.  I stroll down to the inner harbour in front of the hotel and notice scooter rentals.  Could I do it?  What if I break my neck?

I check out the price, and hang around watching people sail up, rent scooters and scoot off, with seemingly reckless abandon.  I hem, I haw.

Viciously prodded and hounded by a gaggle of angels perched on my shoulder, I shake a finger at myself, and head back to the hotel.  I sit in my room contemplating my computer, and the work I could get done.  But that scooter is dancing in my mind, taunting me.

I finally give myself a monumental kick in the butt, and nervously set out for the scooter rental shack.  It's difficult to resist the angels on my shoulders screaming at me to forget this stupidly risky scheme and get back to the safety of the Empress.  I stand there, imaginary fingers in my ears, humming a brave tune to drown out the heaven-sent voices, waiting my turn, forcing myself to plod through the rental process.

Finally, the paperwork done, the credit card surrendered, the charge racked up, the time is upon me.  I'm handed a helmet and led to the parking lot.  I'm nervous.  The angels are still screaming.  I strap on the helmet.

The rental guy gives me the most cursory instruction in the art of scootering.  "Insert the key here;  turn it like this;  make sure that this switch is in this position; now apply the brake; push that button" and the scooter coughs and sputters happily to life.  Now the guy asks me if I know how to ride.  "I'm really good with a bicycle" I say lamely.  He looks at me, and a fleeting shadow of doubt whisps across his face.

"Let's see you ride straight over there" he says, pointing to the sea wall "then turn around and ride back to me".  I nod like a dutiful student, gently twist the throttle and prudently make my way over to the sea wall in a nice straight-ish line, trying to look jaunty and confident.  The U-turn I manage to handle, haltingly, but at least there isn't any point when I'm going to lose control, or drop the bike.  I ride back to the shack.  I get a thumbs' up, and a nod, and the rental guy turns on his heels to serve another willing victim.

There I sit, astride the beast.  Alone.  Responsible.  Almost free.  Nervous.  Alert.  The angels are whimpering and trembling now, desperate, and bereft of hope.  The end may be near.

The devil on my shoulder gives me a hearty whack on the back, a wink, and a devilish scowl.  "Well done lad, now, let's get some lunch! Tally-Ho!"

I turn right on Government street and join the traffic.  It's the first time I'm on two wheels and taking up a whole lane!  I try to look cool and nonchalant.  Don't get too close to the car in front.  Easy on the throttle.  Every second I am learning more about the scooter, and learning more about riding.  It's all so new.  Clearly, it's not really like riding a bike.  But I'm not dead yet. Yay!!

I head over to Barb's Fish & Chips.
I pull into the parking lot, park the bike, pull it up on the stand, and turn off the motor.  "How cool is that?" I say casually to the devil.  He looks at me, nods knowingly and shoots me a devilish grin.  The angels have abandoned me, nowhere to be seen or heard.
After a delicious lunch, I decide to head up the shore road.

Before leaving, I pause to snap a picture of my ride:
I spend the next three or four hours happily exploring the coast beyond Victoria.  In my mind, the devil is casually wondering whether I could ride my steed all the way to Butchart Gardens.

I find myself on a quiet residential street, straddling the idling bike and studying my rumpled and woefully inadequate tourist map intently.  I'm feeling like a real biker now.  I no longer need the devil to egg me on.

I hear a female voice, "Can I help you?" it says.   I look up and there is this gorgeous, impossibly fit, tanned, young woman, perched on a Tour de France, multi-speed bike, probably all carbon fiber, decked out in skin-tight, blinding, multi-hued, blue and white spandex, offering to help me find my way. "Hi" I say, trying to sound casual, virile and possibly attractive.  " I'm not lost.  I was thinking of riding to Butchart Gardens... how far is it from here?" I ask politely.

"You won't get there on that thing" she says with disdain bordering on ridicule and with a dismissive, deprecating tone.  She kicks a pedal and in an instant, she's off, leaving me there, my ego deflating with a pathetic, mournful hiss.

I head back the way I came, the beautiful spandex wonder receding quickly from my consciousness, washed away by the pure bliss of riding that scooter.

Later that fall, my wife and I visit Paris and Barcelona, firsts for both of us.

Quite aside from the amazing experience of gobs of European culture and delight, I marveled at the two-wheel culture.  Bicycles, Velibs, scooters, motorcycles, filling the streets, lining the sidewalks, students, young professionals, gray-haired men,  executives in expensive suits, women in business atire, every single segment of society on two wheels.

Guess where that lesson led?

I suppose that if you're a follower of my posts, you already know the answer.

I think I'll make a point of revisiting this topic once a year or so.  It's quite therapeutic to remember how I got here.  Thanks Gary!

Now I'll go back to reading other posts of riding-bloggers' reminiscences.  It's nice to find those unexpected common threads.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Preliminary semi-scientific conclusions

If you're new here, this post won't make much sense unless you read the previous post, and be warned, that post might not make much sense at all.

Oh well! That's life, so here, in as coherent a fashion as I can muster, are my conclusions.  I have the generous assistance of CircleBlue, BobSkoot and Brady Steffl, both on and off this blog, to thank for allowing me to get this far:
  • The Vespa LX 150 has a 12 volt electrical system that reliably (so far) generates at least 7.5 amps of electrical current at 3,000 RPM.
  • The total load of electrical bits and pieces that come with the stock Vespa LX 150 draw 7.27 amps.
  • That means that the Vespa LX 150 is designed to operate with a mere 0.23 amps left over to charge the battery.
  • The normal running electrical draw of the stock Vespa LX 150 is 3.85 amps.
  • Oxford heated handlebar grips consume 3.6 amps on average.
  • The normal running electrical draw of the Vespa LX 150 with Oxford heated grips in operation will be 7.45 amps, leaving 0.5 amps of electrical head room.
  • That 'head room' means that the Vespa LX 150's electrical system is able to deliver all the power needed to run the scooter, and run the heated grips, without drawing additional current from the battery.
  • The battery in the Vespa LX 150 is a 12 volt 9 A-h lead acid battery with a charging rate of 0.9 amps.
  • The trickle charging rate for the Vespa LX 150 battery is 0.03 amps.  This means that a charging rate of 0.03 amps is sufficient to keep the battery topped up if it's got a full charge.
  • With the Oxford heated grips running, the battery won't be draining, and there will even be 0.05 amps available for trickle charging the battery, which is more than the 0.03 amp trickle charging requirement for the battery.
My conclusion is that the Oxford heated grips work with the Vespa LX 150, but it's theoretically tight in terms of the electrical budget.

I think that in a real-world application, for the way that I run my Vespa in the course of a one hour commute each way to work, the Oxford heated grips will do just fine, and that the electrical budget won't be nearly as strained as the analysis to date would show.

For instance, I would expect either to run them at the low range of the settings from the beginning to the end of the commute, or wait until I feel a little chilled, and then run them at a higher setting only until I get the chill out.

Running the grips at 30% capacity will consume 1.08 amps of current, increasing the head room to 2.57 amps left to charge the battery, which is only 1.08 amps less than the stock bike's excess capacity, and a lot more current than the 0.9 amp normal charging rate of the battery.  Running the grips on the highest setting for the coldest twenty minutes of the commute would yield a similar result leaving 2.46 amps of headroom.

The worst case scenario would be running the grips on high from beginning to end of the commute.  In that case, there are times when the bike would be idling and producing less than the 7.5 amps of maximum current, and it is likely that for those portions of the commute there would a power deficit that would be draining the battery.

After a morning commute with that kind of brutal punishment, I still think that what battery drain would have occurred have still have been marginal and that the bike could start up for the evening commute.  After a similar evening commute, plugging in the battery tender at home would top up the battery and set the bike up for another such brutal commute the next morning.

What I don't think that the bike could handle would be a long distance cold weather trip with the grips running on high morning to night.  Although, even then, the likelihood is that the bike would be mostly running at high RPMs and the battery might just hold up fine.  As long as the high beam wasn't also on, and the GPS wasn't hooked up... and that's not likely to happen.

If I make that kind of trip, it'll be a mid-summer adventure.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.