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!

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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.