Saturday, April 12, 2014

What a difference six months makes

Last fall I posted an uncharacteristically angry post.

Following that post, my fears were rapidly borne out.

Bigoted small-minded citizens were taking it upon themselves to chastise Muslim women wearing headscarves.  There were reports of women being shoved aside on escalators in the Metro accompanied by taunts that they weren't welcome here.

Another anxious turning point followed when the sovereigntist Parti Québécois minority government that had crafted the legislation to adopt the Charter of Values, had the gall to call a spring election.

They had done the very cynical calculus of polarization, betting that there were enough xenophobic Quebeckers supporting their ironically titled Charter of Values to vote the party into a fresh mandate with a majority of seats in the National Assembly.

About a month ago things were looking particularly bleak.  It seemed that the cunning strategy might work.

Then the situation aggravated, and seemed poised to get much, much worse still.

The government trotted out a surprise star candidate.  A renowned multimillionaire businessman, a pillar of Quebec's business elite.  He spontaneously and enthusiastically proclaimed that, in addition to the Charter of Values, he planned to renew the fight for Quebec's secession from the Canadian federation.  His exuberant manifesto was greeted by the cheers of the faithful, and a beaming smile with palm-pounding applause from Prime Minister Pauline Marois.

That moment has to rank as the most depressing moment of my life as a citizen.

If the strategy worked, and the Parti Québecois landed a majority government, which was looming as a very real possibility, an exodus of money and talent would be certain to ensue.  The folks who would likely abandon the province included religious minorities, many of whom are first generation Québécois, and Québécois whose mother-tongue is not French (most of whom speak French fluently).

Not surprisingly, many of those potential leavers were likely to be entrepreneurs and professionals with above-average incomes.  Our economy is already the weakest in North America, the last thing this province needs is another massive hemorrhage of talent and capital.  But that has been the lasting legacy of the Party Québécois.  It's one of the few areas where they excel.  The economy has never been a priority for them.

These dark events had shaken my belief in what I perceived to be the evolution of the province's politics. Prior to the election of the Parti Québécois in 2012, I truly believed that cultural and political peace had taken a firm hold here after decades of costly turmoil.

The economy that began to slide downhill when the Parti Québécois won a minority government in 2012 could be expected to begin a free fall if they won a majority in the upcoming general election.  Bleak was rapidly turning to black.

And then an amazing thing happened.

Quebec voters flatly rejected the kind of future that the Parti Québécois promised.  It turned out that most of my fellow Québécois were about as shaken and appalled by the prospect of that kind of backward, insular, ethnocentric society as I am.

Today, the sun shone brightly and the future looks bright as well.  Never has the Quebec electorate spurned the sovereigntist agenda or the politics of exclusion and cultural elitism with such unequivocal zeal.

My faith in my political perception has been restored.  For the first time since 2012, my outlook is solidly cheerful and optimistic.  We dodged a bullet.

I take these things to heart.  I tend to be a serious worry-wart, and while I do have a sense of humour, I face a crisis like the recent one with grim resolve.  I have difficulty finding the humour in such serious matters.

One of my favorite commentators, and one of Susan's favorite commentators, is Josh Freed.  Mr. Freed's columns are worth every penny of our subscription to the Montreal Gazette.  His post-election column expresses more about our recent past than I could hope to express if I had the luxury of spending weeks trying to find the right words.  Read it here.  To me, it's dead on, and totally hilarious.

Nice one Josh.

You're my literary hero.

You rank right after Mark Twain.

Friday, April 11, 2014

First commute of 2014

On Monday, April 7, 2014 at 07h34, I rolled out of the garage, headed to the office, marking the start of the 2014 scooter commuting season.

The long slow route was the way I chose to go.  I stuck to the surface streets getting used to riding once more.  I needed to get out of my too complacent car-driving habits and back into my vigilant riding routine.

From the late fall to the early spring there is plenty of time for winter to erase things that not so long ago were automatic.

Getting back into the scooter commuting routine involves reviving the rituals that were second nature, but that manage to elude me a little at the start of the season.  Like remembering not to forget to cancel the turn indicators, remembering to put the earplugs in before I put the helmet on, checking to make sure the side stand really is up, and the list goes on.

Then there's the scooter that needs to shake its bugs out too.  Like the check engine light that came on once or twice during the first day's commute, or the left windshield mount that shook itself loose over a rough section of St-Patrick street.   I tried to fix that at lunch time but the pressure mount seems to have fallen apart, shedding a critical part inside the headset.  I ended up jury-rigging a temporary solution with a ROK pack strap.

I've now got three commutes under my belt and that old familiar feeling, the joy of riding, the focus, the nimble swooping way the bike takes turns and corners, the swift acceleration that leaves a yawning gap between me and the car behind me on the expressway, is all flooding back.  This is why I ride.

PS for Richard:

Here is what's left of winter in our back yard.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Out of the barn: a trifecta of creature comforts

It felt good, yet unfamiliar.

I think it's the Tucano Urbano Termoscud lap apron.  I hauled it out of its storage bag and installed it before venturing out on Sunday.  The thermometer was finally edging up into positive territory, and the snow cover with southern exposure was thinning or gone.

I had first seen lap aprons on scooters in Paris when Susan and I were there in the fall of 2008.  Scooters dominate the field for two-wheeled commuters in Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Naples and Sorrento, or so it seems to me based on my casual observations.  In Paris, lap aprons are a frequent accessory, and the Termoscud is the nec plus ultra of lap aprons.

The legshield is the distinctive feature of most scooters, and the generous legshield that the Vespa GTS offers is second to none.  When you add a Termoscud, things get downright cosy.  The Termoscud seals off the mid section of the Vespa and covers your lower body.  It is very well designed using balistic nylon and has a stiffness to it that both eliminates the airflow to your lower body and traps the air that flows past the Vespa's twin radiators, raising the termperature in the enclosure to the point where you can ride in comfort in a regular unlined pair of jeans even when it's very cold out.  Not even a need for long-johns.

It just takes some getting used to, is all.

You have to fit yourself onto the bike, sliding onto the saddle and under the apron.  There is a kind of flap that tucks up under your riding jacket that keeps the apron aligned and in position.  It's a little fussy, but no overly so.  It just takes some getting used to, is all.

There is no problem putting your feet down when you stop, and then, as soon as you're underway, your feet tuck back in like landing gear.

On the expressway the Termoscud is as stable as can be.  There is absolutely no rippling from the air flow.  It comes standard with a couple of inflatable bladders that act as lateral battens.  I didn't bother inflating them and frankly I don't think I will.  People swear by their Termoscuds, and now I see why.  Cold, what cold?

The Tucano Urbano Termoscud is the first winner of the 2014 trifecta spring classic scooter commuter season.
Next up: a tall shield.

My Vespa o.e.m. tall windscreen looks after my upper body very nicely.  For the bulk of my commuting the weather is balmy.  The Vespa flyscreen does a fine job of eliminating the wind blast to my torso.  I couldn't ride expressways much without it because the force of the wind is quite tiring.

For the cold bookend portions of the riding season, more protection is needed to keep things comfy.  In addition to reducing the wind assault to my chest and head, the tall OEM windscreen does two really handy things.  The screen extends out far enough to deflect the wind from my hands.  It isn't enough to avoid all the wind chill, but with winter gauntlets, it makes things tolerable, hand-wise, and that's handy indeed.

A tall shield is a must-have for cold weather commuting.

In the interest of full disclosure, few things are so truly perfect that they can't stand to be tweaked.  The ideal height for a tall windscreen is about level with your nose.  I took mine to a local glass shop and had it cut down.  In addition to improving the look, there's also a practical reason.  It's important to be able to look over, rather than through, a motorcycle windscreen.  This is especially true if it's raining, or the screen is littered with bugs.  Cutting the screen down to that level doesn't interfere with the protection it affords since the airflow still sails over the top of your helmet.
I said it was a trifecta, and it certainly is.

Heated grips.

Given a fighting chance by the windscreen, my Oxford Heaterz do a superb job looking after my hands.  As I rode off along the lakeshore I had them on the highest setting.  I use a Heattroller electronic heat control rather than the stock Oxford control.  Click on the link below to find out more about the heated grip set up on my bike.

Four blocks into my ride and I had to dial them back to medium heat.  My hands were cooking!!

On the expressway, with the Vespa cranking out maximum amperage, even the medium setting was too hot for comfort.

If you have a Vespa and want the luxury of heated grips, by all means don't deny yourself.  Click here if your bike is a Vespa LX150, or click here if you have a Vespa GTS.  Everything you need to know to purchase and install heated grips yourself is right there.
And there they are folks, your 2014 trifecta spring classic scooter commuter winners.

And that's why the interminable winter has been such a pain, because I know, for a fact, that I have the very best cold weather commuting two-wheeler in existence.  It was icy roads, not the cold that was keeping my bike in the barn.

That's a challenge then.  Who thinks they have a better cold weather two-wheeled solution, warmth and comfort-wise?  Sure the Big Beemers have heated saddles, but so does the Vespa because that's where the motor is.  Cold bum is not a problem in search of a solution.

Ride safely everyone, I declare the 2014 season open!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Calling cards

My grandmother who was born in 1895 in England, and who married into a patrician family in Montreal in 1918, or thereabouts, sometimes related her memories of life among the upper classes in Montreal before the Great Depression ended the patrician dream.

One of the tidbits she shared was that gentlemen had calling cards.

Today we know them as business cards.

I have two business cards.  One for my day job, and one for my volunteer job as the national chairman of a professional society.

Recently when I was in Vancouver Bob showed me his calling cards, and offered me one of each.  You see, Bob has two calling cards.  They aren't business cards, because joyriding in a Chevy Corvette is hardly business.  Neither is joyriding on a motorcycle.

His Corvette calling card is for when he's in a Corvette social setting (parading in a fleet of 'Vettes, or chatting with curious and envious passersby) and there may be an opportunity for more than a fleeting social connection.  When he isn't joyriding in the 'Vette, Bob's marauding on his R1200R or V-Strom and similar occasions arise, hence the second calling card.

Offering to trade contact information can be awkward, not to mention presumptuous.  Offering a calling card, on the other hand, is very acceptable, not at all forward, often appreciated, and harks back to an earlier more genteel period when gentlemen might "come calling" out of the blue.  The butler would come to the door, and one imagines an exchange they might have had.

"Good morning sir!"

"Yes, it is, quite.  Is his lordship receiving visitors?"

"Regrettably sir, his lordship is unavailable at present, whom shall I say stopped by?"

"I see... no sense in disturbing him, please be so kind as to accept my card and let his lordship know that I am anxious to meet with him to discuss matters of shared interest."

"Certainly sir."

"Good day then!"

Good day, sir."

In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, Steve Williams offered Bob, Karen and I his calling card last August, and Bob's friend Jenny Mah also has a calling card she offered to me that sits in my card collection.  I wonder if that's where Bob got his inspiration.  Could it be a new social trend?

At all events, since Bob and I have taken to jointly marauding all over the continent on our bikes, it's fitting for me to have a calling card too.  Since I don't have the skill to make a decent one, Bob offered to "hook me up".  He wanted to make sure I was well-equipped, socially speaking, when I go abroad in May to visit the Continent.

I have Karen to thank for the photo.  It has special meaning for me because it was taken mere moments after I hit the kill switch after rolling in to our rendez-vous point in Pennsylvania.

Here's my calling card.
I like the QR code.  It's also on my Vespa.  That makes my Vespa one heck of a calling card all by itself.

I should add that the actual calling card is razor-sharp.  I don't want anyone thinking that Bob does shoddy work.  The culprit is my iPhone and limited patience for macro photography.  Sorry Bob.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring road assessment

2014 will be season five for me as a Vespa commuter.

To be honest, I don't recall the beginning of any previous riding season being quite so challenging.

Spring road assessments are usually the responsibility of municipal work crews who hunt for and fill in potholes.

This year is different.  There is a combination of unusual climate conditions in play.  For one thing there is a lot of snow.  There are still substantial snowbanks by the road side.  Then there is the sun that now rises early enough, rides high enough above the horizon,  and sets late enough, to melt the snow cover no matter what the ambient temperature may be.

Finally there is the un-remitting cold front.  Arctic air is pushing down and surrounding Montreal in its embrace.  Montreal's climate this year is more like the climate you usually get in Quebec City.  I remember going to Quebec City in April.  Montrealers had shifted to spring outerwear for a good few weeks.  In Quebec City, there were snowbanks, and people were still in parkas.

When you combine these ingredients what you get is runoff from the snow melt that collects in roadside puddles where it gets splashed around the roadway.  Because the ambient temperatures are so low, the water freezes and you get swaths of pavement that you could play pond hockey on.  The problem is compounded by the fact that the public works people have gotten to the end of the road salt allotment, so now they're hoarding not salting.

As usual in the spring, there are some massive potholes here and there along my commuting routes.  In the south, they'd call them sinkholes.  Combined with the ice coverage that just kind of happens here and there, commuting on two wheels is just way too risky.  The expressway is treacherous in places (like ice covering a lane-width for a ten to fifteen foot stretch), and the surface streets have even larger ice surfaces with oncoming traffic precluding use of the other lane as an escape route.

So that's how I find myself doing road surface assessments during my morning and evening commutes.

It was above freezing overnight and today we hit 6C.  I could have ridden this morning, the ice was all water.  I'll see if that holds for the evening commute.

This is not something you can take a risk on.  Sure, you can take your bike out to toodle around the neighborhood.  But risk a commute?  No way.  Not yet.

Interestingly there were powered two wheelers in use today downtown.  No motorcycles.  Only Asian 50cc scooters.  Not likely to have been commuters though, at least no one with a thirty kilometer route to tackle.  Last night I saw a guy on a BMW GS going way too fast on a service road, passing traffic.  He looked all Paris-Dakkar'ish and way too exuberant.  I prayed that he didn't hit an ice patch.

Patience.  Patience.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Unique patch collection up for grabs

A while back I posted about my online adventure where I purchased a patch with BitCoin.

I mentioned that there were limited edition patches and that there were just a few MV members who had virtually complete collections.
The MV member known as Tomjasz (in real life Thomas Jaszewski, and an accomplished horticulturalist whose work endures in Las Vegas at the Bellagio) is offering up his complete collection in a silent auction.  Reaction to the offer is coming in on a related discussion thread.

I put a bid in, though I very much expect to be rapidly and soundly outbid.

Tom asked if I would put up a post with a link to the auction to spur interest further.  I am honored by the request and pleased to offer this post.  I doubt that the ScootCommute will drum up much more interest than the posts on MV, but you never know.  Every bit helps.

Good luck Tom!

I sincerely hope my bid gets trounced in a vigorous stampede of patch hunters, and that Tom profits from the sale of this rare and pristine collection.  In my hands, these specimens would end up gracing my jackets and being subjected to the merciless elements.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I can't resist...

... bringing back this little guy.
He started out way back in January 2012.

I brought him back at the end of March 2012 and we haven't seen him since.
So I thought we could check in on him and see how he's doing.
Say so long!

There's no telling when we'll see him again, if ever.

This is what happens when I can't ride.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Another weekend, another dump :(

Here's hoping that the inexorable law of averages means there's hope for great weather later this spring.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Walk a mile in my shoes...

Here's what a noontime stroll looks like in Montreal's underground city.... if you condense a fifty minute walk to 22 seconds, that is.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Underground art

What does a rider do when it's not safe to ride?

OK, I get it. I did what good writers are not supposed to do.  My opening statement begs an unspoken question. Why is it not safe to ride?  I'd better get that out of the way before tackling the real subject of today's non-riding post.

It's not the cold, at least not directly.  I have enough equipment to deal with the cold.

Even at -15C like today, at this time of year the sun's rays are busy melting the snow.

You can tell this is happening because of the water trickling from the base of the accumulated snow.  And there's the rub.  That run-off water spreads to the roadway.  The sun manages to keep a thin layer of the runoff water liquid so the cars spread the liquid portion out into a very thin layer which freezes solid.

During last night's commute there were numerous places where the roadway was a sheet of ice.  That's OK in my Honda Civic, or any other four-wheeler.  Definitely not OK on a motor bike.

That's why I'm still not riding.  I need mostly positive temps from dawn to dusk to avoid large-ish and otherwise unavoidable ice patches.

Back to the original obvious question.  What to do?

The answer in Montreal is to do what other animals do in the winter.  Head underground.

Montreal is renowned for its underground city.  Miles and miles of interconnected sub-subterranean tunnels and mall space link most of the downtown core, including most of our major hotels, our department stores, boutique chains, food courts, concert halls, convention centres, restaurants, office towers, many condominium towers, and the list goes on, and on.

Our underground city has lots and lots of stairs.  It's possible to get a really good workout wandering around down there.  That's what I've been doing at lunch time since the new year began.

Truth be told, there are many utilitarian stretches of underground tunnel and not much relief for the weary eye.  You can begin to feel like a mole.

What a joy then when the annual Underground Art project brings installation art to the underground city.
Numerous artists do their best to rattle the cave-dwelling pedestrian's complacent meander with large art installations that make very big statements.  The event is curated, so there is lots of useful information concerning the work and the artist.  There are materials available online, an audio guide, and there's an app for that (of course there is).

There is no hope of giving you more than the merest glimpse of this marvelous week-long marvel.  You can learn much more by clicking on the link above if the spirit moves you.

You never know the wonder you'll encounter round the next bend.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Life's pleasures

We got a wallop of snow yesterday.
But spring is nevertheless in the air.  The winter's snow banks were battered and receding before this latest storm and lawns were peeking out along the sidewalks.

The Primavera is the new Vespa small frame model that takes its place in the Vespa lineup with the venerable LX, and the not so modern PX shifty.

It's possible that with spring in the offing, the name of the new Vespa model became a subliminal message that inspired the editor of the chi-chi insert in this morning's paper to feature a piece on Vespas.
In the world of riders there are many two-wheeled alternatives and brands, and each has its loyal devotees.  It can't be denied however,  that three brands are particularly iconic.  Harley, Vespa and...

Well maybe there are just really two.

I was going to say the third was BMW.  It occurs to me that to say so may betray more of a personal preference and less of a statement with universal appeal.  As I was going to commit "BMW" to the page, I thought of the chorus of jeers and taunts that would come from the justly proud owners of Triumphs, Indians, Ducatis, Yamahas, Suzukis, Hondas, and... well, that third place spot will have many, many contestants vying for the honor.

All that being said, this morning's Plaisirs de vivre - Living with Style magazine struck my fancy as you may easily imagine.

Spring is definitely in the air.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Project report: Installing a Sena SMH10 Bluetooth helmet headset in a Nolan N104 helmet

This is the second time I've installed a Sena SMH10 Bluetooth helmet headset.

The first time was in a Nolan N102 modular helmet.  This is the first time I installed one in a Nolan N104 modular helmet.

The first time around was very straight-forward.  The unit installed very easily using the preferred clamping method.

Nolan has made a number of really important improvements to their flagship modular helmet since the N102 came out.

This helmet is substantially lighter, and is reported to be quieter as well due to the improved aerodynamics of the shell.  The ventilation system is improved with the addition of rear exhaust vents and improved chin, brow and head vents.  Last but definitely not least, beginning with the N103, Nolan added an internal sun visor.  In the N104, they added an instant retraction feature.

The design changes to the helmet make the installation of the Sena system a little trickier.  The main difference is a thermo-plastic fairing around the edge of helmet.  The only options for installing the Sena are 1) to forego the mechanical clamp and use the glue-on interface.  Like other riders, I prefer the clamp method; 2) cut a slot in the plastic fairing to slip the clamp plate in.

I know that installing with the preferred clamping method is possible, because others have done it before me.  I'm just a camp follower adding my voice to the crowd.

I encourage you to check out Richard Machida's installation on his blog by clicking here.

Richard referred to a previous installation that he had followed on the FJR forum.  You can take a look at that installation by clicking here.

To do my installation I used:
  • A divider to measure the length of cut I would need to make
  • A drill and drill bit 
  • A Dremel-type tool with a cutting disk
  • A box cutter - craft knife
  • A metal ruler
 1. The first step is to remove the neckroll and cheek pads.  This is a little tricky.  I watched the excellent helmet review video on to get a feel for the removal process.  At first it feels a little dicey, and I was afraid of breaking a tab or snap.  No such thing happened.  In the end it wasn't that tricky, and the parts are very well designed and built.  So just watch the video and dive in.

2.  With the pads out of the way, I spent quite a while examining where I would cut the slit for the Sena clamp.  The trick is to mount the unit as far forward as possible so that the boom mike sits in proximity to your mouth once the helmet is on and the face shield is closed.

3.  Once I knew where I wanted the slit, I carefully measured the length of the required slit with the divider.
4.  I transposed the length measurement to the plastic fairing, using the sharp points of the divider to marks the two ends of the slit.
5.  Using the metal ruler and the craft knife, I marked a line between the points on the fairing.
6.  I used a drill bit with a diameter equal to the thickness of the Sena's clamping part to drill a hole at each end of the slit, and then to drill a series of intermediate holes along the line.  I think this step may have been unnecessary.  It did give me a little comfort that I had some kind of guide to the width of the slit that was needed.

7.  With a dremel-type tool and a small cutting disk, I cleaned out the intervening plastic between the line of holes.
8. I tried to fit the Sena clamp piece in, but the slit was too tight.  I used the dremel to widen the slit, cutting away on the inside portion of the slit, the part nearest to the inside of the helmet.  Otherwise, the clamp would have been too close to the shell of helmet.
9.  I used the craft knife to clean up the slit.

10.  The rest was very simple.  I clamped the Sena unit to the helmet and tightened the screws.  I then installed the speakers in the speaker recesses in the helmet.  They were a near perfect fit.  The speakers must be the same size as the Nolan Ncom speakers.
11. I routed the speaker wires around the helmet, tucking the excess wire into the recesses on each side between the shell and the styrofoam padding.

12.  Finally, I re-installed all the padding and tested the installation.  In a word, flawless.

13.  As a last step I paired the new Sena SMH10 with my iPhone, and then paired my existing Sena and new Sena for intercom use.
That's it.  Easy really, with a minimum of fiddly work.

I have a lot of experience with the Sena SMH10 and I recommend it to fellow riders without reservation.

With two Nolan Sena-equipped helmets, I may be able to convince Susan to try a jaunt this summer, on a nice warm evening, to get some coffee or ice cream.

One can dream.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Dar, I found it!

My Montreal spring is lingering in Vancouver, bathing the city in blessed rain, coily revealing her morning beauty through a misty veil.
Now, how do I entice it to venture east?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dar, there's no end in sight

We received more snow this Sunday. Not spring snow. Dry powdery snow.

On Monday morning I climbed high in the sky looking for any sign of spring. It's a quest to please you, Dar.

The sun burned hot through the plane's window, yet winter won't take heed, flinch or squirm. It remains defiant, wearing its fresh white coat with pride, reflecting the sun's rays, spurning its warm embrace.
Sorry Dar. I did my best.

You shouldn't give up hope though. I am defiant too. I'm heading west where winter may be losing its grip.

If I find spring, I'll do my best to guide it east.

My Vespa sits in its stall, oblivious, wearing its shroud, in suspended animation, the soft green glow of the battery tender's status lights the only sign of life.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.