Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Old Lachine Canal

On Tuesday morning I picked up a steaming cup of coffee from the MacDonalds in Lachine and made my way down to the "Old" Lachine Canal.  The whole of the Lachine Canal is "old", but this portion is even older than the rest since it pre-dates the heavy industrial use of the canal in the early to mid-20th century.
A plaque commemorates the much earlier fur trading period, long before the construction of the Lachine Canal, when this spot at the head of Lake St-Louis served as the jumping off point for fur-trading expeditions up the St-Lawrence river and on to the Great Lakes.
The ancient fur trade outpost, once a kingpin in the lucrative trade of centuries-past, now serves principally as an anchor for this very pretty urban park.
Nothing is further from the hustle and bustle of the more traditional commuting experience that is happening on Highway 20 than the picturesque serenity of this much less traveled route just a few kilometres to the south.

Taking the Vespa to work means that I can take ten minutes to enjoy my first cup of morning coffee in this beautiful relaxing setting rather than juggling coffee in the car or on the train.

Ten minutes is such a small price to pay for such a soothing experience.

Monday, July 26, 2010


One of the great aspects of commuting on a scooter like the Vespa LX150, is that while it is powerful enough, and "legal", for freeway use, it is small and nimble enough so you can literally find parking wherever you care to go.

I alluded to this in the previous post.

I was reading on Modern Vespa today that Boston has expanded parking in the city for motorcycles.

Toronto has taken a much more liberal view, and, in my opinion, adopted the most bike favorable policy I know of, by allowing powered-two-wheelers to park free of charge in any metered municipal parking slot in the city.

Now Montreal has never been that kind to scooter and motorcycle riders.  There are a few (and I mean very few) designated areas where motorcycles and scooters can park free of charge.

There is also a theory (which may have force of law, but who has the patience to find out?) that motorcycles and scooters can also park at the beginning, and at the end, of street parking slots designated for cars.

Here is an example of a motorcycle testing that theory just outside my office.  The reflections from the sun made taking this picture difficult.
 Notice I circled in white the "L" shaped marker designating where the permitted car parking space ends.  Any car parking in the space that the motorcycle is in would surely be ticketed.  The motorcycle? Maybe not.

In other two-wheeled respects, the City of Montreal is among a handful of progressive cities worldwide that make available a municipal bike-sharing program.  The city is now covered with BIXI stands.

Interestingly, just about every BIXI stand just happens to leave enough space at either end for a scooter to tuck in safely.  This is a phenomenon that is sprouting serendipitously all over the city, and here is a great example, also right outside my window.

Close to 300 BIXI stands strategically placed throughout the city means that, in addition to all the existing nooks and crannies where I can park my Vespa, there are close to 600 more cozy spots just waiting for me.

So when it comes to parking for the scooter commuter, although on paper Montreal isn't as enlightened as Toronto, or as forward thinking as Boston, there is no shortage of great spots where you can park a Vespa.

For those of you living in Washington D.C., and for students and faculty at Washington State University in the Northwest, good news, BIXIs are coming your way as well.  More parking for DC scooter commuters.

Ride safely!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Morning bagels

There is something about life in Montreal that inspires those that have adopted this city to create incredible food.  I'm not just talking about top drawer gourmet cuisine, though there was a recent article in the New York Times about a cohort of NYC top chefs who regularly hop up to Montreal for what can best be described as 'food tourism', or perhaps 'inspiration research', or 'competitive analysis'.

What I am referring to is the phenomenon that St-Lawrence boulevard, Montreal's east-west division street, affectionately known as "the Main", seems to have a devilish way of ferreting out the talented chefs in each new community that calls Montreal home, and inspiring them to offer to all the most delicious fare imaginable.

And I'm not talking about complicated far-fetched recipes.  No.  What I'm talking about is much more remarkable.  Bread for instance.

Depending on where you live, you may be thinking "bread....???... borrring!".  To those among you, I say dare to dream! Come to Montreal! You may be able to tear yourself away and return home, yes I'll grant you that.  But you may find, like countless others, that you will forever after be haunted by BREAD :-)

Let's pick just one example.  Bagels.  You can get bagels everywhere.  But you'll never find a Montreal bagel anywhere else.
Two bakeries are stand-outs.  St-Viateur bagels, and Fairmount bagels.  Both delicious, each slightly different, both with legions of fans, both leaving wistful tourists back home, longing for the unattainable Montreal bagel.

Hand-made, using the same family recipes brought by long-ago Jewish immigrants, baked in generations-old wood-burning ovens, heavenly.
This blog is about commuting on a Vespa LX150 from the burbs.  One of the things you can do commuting on a Vespa scooter? Drop by St-Viateur bagels at 7:15 a.m. on the way into the office and pick up half-a-dozen St-Viateur bagels for your fellow staffers.  A nice little traditional morning pick-me-up, delightfully fresh and hot from the oven. Priceless.

Don't like bagels? What about baguettes from a real French bakery? Simple: Banette in NDG.  Craving the most incredible Portuguese rolls, crunchy thin crust, light billowy interior?  Coco-Rico on the Main.  I could go on for ever.  Every culture.  Every type of bread imaginable.  The only common denominator?  Incredible unforgettable taste.

None or few with ample parking. All within easy reach on a Vespa, and parking? Definitely not an issue.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Scoot Commute Boogie

Another great use for the RAM mount I added to my Vespa LX150 is to hold a digital camera.

Another great use for a digital camera is to make digital movies.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what better way to share the sheer joy of my scoot commute than a five minute video: that's more than three-and-a-half million words can say!!

OK... so it's a little grainy, but I think you can begin to see why the scoot commute is a real HOOT!!

The footage starts on Charlevoix street crossing the Lachine Canal, then along St-Patrick and under a couple of railroad bridges, then along Lakeshore road, ending at the Pointe Claire village.

The ride is way longer than 5 minutes, but the clips were craftily trimmed to match Colin James's rendition of 'The Boogie Twist', truly a great riding and driving tune.

Ride safely now.

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