Thursday, August 30, 2012

Taking care of business

You were following my blog, living my excellent adventure vicariously, and decided to take the plunge yourself.

Now you've got a nice shiny scooter that performs flawlessly and jumps to life with the slightest press of the starter and twist of the throttle.

Pure bliss!

But wait... you do know that it's just a machine, with an internal combustion engine, right?  Under that pretty skin there are wires, relays, cables, a computer, locking mechanisms, a carburetor or fuel injectors, a piston, drive shaft, fuel line, drive belt, air intake, exhaust, light bulbs, fuel evaporation canister, catalytic converter, drum and disk brakes, springs, shock absorbers, fuel tank, fuses, a swing arm, rollers, oil filter, and other odds and ends that generally lurk within.

All that stuff, along with all other man-made things, is quietly struggling to get back into the ground from which it all came.  Mother Nature is very patient, so she works very slowly.

Fortunately, we can put off her plans for our bike, more or less indefinitely as far as we're concerned, all with a little maintenance.

When Mother Nature occasionally gets the upper hand and something stops working, we can step right in and repair whatever broke, and be back on the road, sailing along in no time.

Of course, over the long haul, unless our scooter ends up in the hands of a maintenance and repair wizard, as is the case notably for the Ford Model Ts you see every now and then, most scooters, no matter how loved, will end up in the wrong end of a scrap yard, or worse.

Now I'm no mechanic.  But I do add fuel, I don't mind messing with my Vespa's nervous system (check out my gear posts, above), I'll readily monitor and top up tire pressure, and I am toying with the idea of doing an oil change, but that's about it.

I don't have to worry about tune-ups, changing tires, changing spark plugs and filters, because I have ready and easy access to a phenomenal crew of motorcycle and scooter mechanics over at Alex Berthiaume et Fils.  And when I say "phenomenal", I'm not kidding, they are that good.  They should know what they're doing, they've been selling and servicing motorcycles longer than anyone else in these parts.  All the way back to 1917 in fact.

They are also Canada's most successful Vespa dealer.  So there!

That's where my baby gets new shoes and all the other stuff needed to keep both of us sailing happily down the road.

Wait! What if you and your Vespa are hundreds of miles from a good mechanic?  Clearly you need to help yourself.  You may have to tackle much of that routine maintenance on your own.  Or maybe you're destined to become a talented "wrencher" yourself.

I've got you covered there too!
Go on over to Amazon and pick up a copy of How to Repair your Scooter.  For about $20 you can have an expert mechanic guiding you along, making sure that when the job is done, you'll have done it right!

The book is very well organized, designed for the do-it-yourself-er, with lots of nice clear crisp color photos so that you know where you're going before you get there.

If I do attempt an oil change, and now I'm even more sure that I may actually do it, that book will be cracked open and resting on the saddle for the whole procedure.

Wish me luck... naw don't bother, I've got the book!

In the interest of full, plain and clear disclosure, I hastily add that while I receive absolutely nothing, nada, zip, for plugging my Vespa dealer, the publisher did send me a no-strings-attached advance copy of the book as encouragement for me to blog about it.  I could have read it, kept it, and then said it sucked.  But it doesn't.  It is really very good.  It therefore gets my unqualified endorsement.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fun on four wheels

Balance in life is as important as passion.

That's why yours truly is on a diet. I just ate way too much good food in Vancouver and Whistler.

Another aspect of balance in my life is that my recent trip to the West Coast was a mountain of work, and mountains of fun as well.

Unfortunately a blogger get together was not meant to be. I had to miss out on lunch with Bob, Dar and others on the first Sunday I was in Vancouver because I was leading an all day continuing education session downtown.

As soon as the conference ended, my family and I rented a mini-van and headed up the Sea-to-Sky highway to Whistler to spend a well-deserved few days de-compressing.

The very impressive mountain right in the middle of the screen in that video segment is the Stawamus Chief. According to the BC Parks web site, the Stawamus Chief is the second largest granite monolith in the world and provides good nesting habitat for the Peregrine Falcon.

As you can see, I mounted my GoPro Hero camera on the roof of our van. Although the GoPro suction mount has never failed, I tethered the unit with a compression strap that I ran into the passenger compartment. The tether was not called upon to save the unit. Maybe one day I'll trust the suction mount with my $400+ GoPro investment.

Controlling the GoPro with the WiFi remote made it possible to shoot stills and video remotely. Simply genius.

We spent Thursday strolling around the Whistler Village and shopping. It was just as well because the late afternoon rainfall was a non-issue for shoppers and strollers.

Friday we made up for our indolence by gearing up and heading up the mountain on ATVs.

The midsection of an ATV looks a little like a motorcycle, as do the handlebars and some of the controls, but the handling of these beasts (and make no mistake, they are beasts) is unlike anything else.

After gearing up, including swapping my motocross helmet out for one with a GoPro mount, and with a little coaching session and some parking lot practice under our belts, we headed out and up the mountain in the company of Nat and Rick (a very nice friendly couple visiting from Switzerland), and our guide Barney.

Thanks to the unsung GoPro Hero owners who kindly sacrificed their helmet mounts for the greater good. It meant that I didn't have to experiment with my suction mount on the front of our ATV.

The stop at the base of the chair lift half-way up the mountain was just the thing to relax and integrate the ATV skills we managed to learn on the initial climb

Nat and Rick and Susan and I were the only ones riding two-up. If you look carefully you'll spot Nat and Rick leading the pack just behind Barney our guide. Susan and I were riding sweep, though we were barely qualified to do so, other than the fact as parents we were following our daughter Lauren, Andrew's girlfriend Anushka, and our sons Andrew and Jonathan. Kind of like reverse mother ducks.

Riding pillion on an ATV is way less comfortable, and way more nerve wracking than riding pillion on a Vespa. I'm seriously hoping that with this excellent adventure as encouragement, Susan will finally accept my invitation for a latte run to Ste-Anne de Bellevue on my Vespa.

After the brief pause we set out once more up the mountain.

It wasn't too long before we reached our destination, the Crystal Hut.

True to form for place names, as you can see, there was no hut, and certainly no crystal. What there was however was a decadent homemade waffle and bacon breakfast waiting to be devoured. The view from the balcony was glorious.

With our tummies full (remember the diet?), we set off once more, this time headed back down to the village.

The excitement towards the middle of this segment was an adult black bear that ran across the logging road and went to hide out shyly in the shade of some trees just below the road. All I saw was a black shadow shifting around among the trees. I'm sure that Nat and Rick got a much better view from the front of the pack.

With that bit of excitement under our belts, we set off again.

You can tell by the speed that our ATV skills were in full bloom!

And that, dear readers, is how to have fun on four wheels.

Special thanks to Nat and Rick for being such good company, to Barney our guide, and to his colleague (whose name I have completely forgotten, but who hails from Tasmania) who whipped up the breakfast feast, including completely decadent bacon that is legendary in Whistler.

For a price, I'll share his simple, but completely inspired recipe.

We spent the afternoon alternating between the hot tub, the pool, and the chaises on the pool deck.  It's a rough life, I know, but someone has to do it, no?


That is the biggest difference between commuting on a Vespa and commuting in a car.

You can stop anywhere you like without getting in anyone's way.

If you are in mid commute and the light is amazing, you can stop to take it in. That what I did recently because the morning sky was simply beautiful

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The end of the road

That expression can be ominous.  Reaching the end of the road is seldom a good thing.

This is an exception.  Perhaps because it's the end of a road, not the road.  The land you see here used to be a golf course.  It's a short ride from home.  The pavement peters out, and leads to trails through the woods.

On Saturday morning I was off to get a haircut.  With a little time to spare, I took a little joy ride.  I had in mind Steve Williams' classic photos.  I was actually thinking of going off-road a little ways to get more of a Vespa-in-the-field look.  However, where I was, at the end of the pavement, was a good fifty feet beyond the 'no motorcycles' sign.  I wonder if it applies to my scooter?

Working against me is the manufacturer's plate with the VIN that says my Vespa is a motorcycle.

I snapped one more picture, fired up the bike, and headed to my 9:00 o'clock appointment.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Parking in Vancouver

 Sonja and Bob both say that Vancouver is not a friendly place to park powered two-wheelers.

I was in Vancouver, staying across the street from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

I stole an hour from my duties at the Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries Annual Governance Conference to visit the Matisse exhibit at the museum.

Strolling across the street, I couldn't help but notice a few motorcycles and scooters parked on the museum's grounds.  Protected by the museum, the PTWs seemed immune from Vancouver parking demons.

I couldn't manage a picture on the way to the museum, when there were four or five bikes parked. When I stopped to snap a picture on the way back, there were only two PTWs left, including this nice Vespa S.

During a discussion with my colleagues, several people mentioned that Vancouver city hall was very focused on making Vancouver bicycle-friendly.

Why not adopt the Montreal BIXI system, Mr. Mayor?

Montreal and Toronto have seen their bicycle scene grow amazingly with the BIXI system acting like a catalyst.

Mr. Mayor, if you do that, not only will you be joining Washington D.C. and London, as world-class cities with BIXI bikes, you'll also do the city's motorcycle and scooter commuters a big favour!

So come on, Vancouver, two-wheels all the way!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pump it up!

When you only have two wheels to rely on, the condition of your tires is not just important, it's critical.

Making sure your tires are in good shape is important.

A visual inspection, particularly of the rear tire on a Vespa (or any other scooter for that matter), is essential.  Paying particular attention to the rear tire is important because it wears about three times faster than the front tire.  A visual is good, but it's not enough.

Low tire pressure is a very bad thing.

If your tires are only a few pounds shy of the recommended pressure, you will be sacrificing 5 or 6 miles per hour at full throttle.

On city streets you might not be fussed about it, but if you take expressways and usually ride at the top end of your bike's ability, those 5 or six miles per hour will be sorely missed.

If your bike is slower, it's because under-inflated tires have so much more rolling resistance. Even on city streets that means that fuel consumption is way up. With a Vespa, a full tank at current prices in Canada costs seven to ten dollars, no big deal. But it does mean more annoying trips to the pumps that could be avoided.

If the tire pressure gets really low, the usual sure-footed behaviour of the scooter becomes downright squirrely.

I have felt what that's like because last year I was plagued for a while with a slow leak.  Any seams in the road make the bike squirm in a queasy way.

All of which to say that proper tire pressure is a must.

There are a few quirks of scooters that make keeping an eye on tire pressure a pain.

First off, unlike a car where a walk-around visual inspection will allow you to spot a low tire, the tires of a bike at rest, particularly a scooter, will always look fine, even if all the air has escaped. If the tire is actually flat, you're more likely to feel it in the saddle. I don't actually know this for a fact, I've never really had the experience, thank heavens.

If the tires are low enough to cause queasy handling you won't be able to tell sitting on the saddle at rest. The tires might seem too low on a visual inspection with a rider on the saddle, but when you're the rider on the saddle, you can't see the wheels, let alone the profile of the tires.

This means that regularly using a gauge to determine the pressure is critical. You shouldn't ride a powered two-wheeler if you don't carry a pressure gauge all the time.

That leads to another point.

Getting to the rear tire valve stem on a Vespa is a T-O-T-A-L P-A-I-N!

Reading the pressure is only mildly difficult. Topping up the tire is enough to coax the Pope to swear.

Why? If you're asking, it's because you have never done it.

The rear valve stem is most accessible with the valve at the 6 o'clock position.

The Vespa's muffler is like a blimp that prevents seeing and touching the valve stem simultaneously. You can see it, if you get down on your knees and rest your forehead on the ground. But when you reach for the valve stem with your hand, unless you've got a black belt in Yoga, it's just damn near impossible to see what you're doing.

Let's say that you've persevered, and gotten the stem cap off, and read the pressure, and you need to add five pounds.

If you're really unlucky, you've found this out after riding to the gas station.

Adding immensely to the fun you're having, is the undeniable fact that the damned muffler is as hot as your toaster-oven halfway through the morning toast order.

I guarantee that if you try to top up the air, you will probably succeed, but not before the tire rotates in one direction or the other (two or three times), the air hose falls off the stem (two or three times), you fumble trying to seat the air hose (two or three times), end up releasing more air (two or three times), and before finally getting air into the tire, you've burnt your knuckles on the muffler (two or three times).

Now you know why many Vespa owners ride with less air than they should. Which brings me to the point of this post, along with some really good news.

Yes Virginia, that are some tools and tricks that make it all much easier.
  • If you can afford it, get a compressor.
  • If you don't have a compressor and must ride to a gas station, wear your gloves to top up the rear tire to ward off muffler burns.
  • Get a Griplock for your Vespa.  Not only will it help keep your Vespa safe, you can apply it to the rear brake lever once the wheel is at the six o'clock position and it will keep it there.  If you're not sure what a Griplock is, check out this post.
  • If you aren't getting a Griplock, take along a Velcro cable wrap thingy and use it to hold the rear brake lever compressed.
  • Go to your local Walmart and pick up this dandy tool:
You clip it onto the valve stem where it stays put, the gauge shows the pressure, and there is a trigger to add air, and a bleed valve to release air.

Simple genius.  Almost painless.

And so it would have been for me one morning last week.  However when I was topping up my tires I spotted two more stone chips, and the one one the right is a doozy!
 Consider this graphic evidence that riding ATGATT on every commute is a wise choice.  If a kicked-up stone can gouge a metal cowl, do you need to have that stone tear a strip off your calf in rush hour traffic?

How distracting would that be?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Parking in Toronto

Montreal's popular public bike share system is in London, Washington D.C., and other cities, including Toronto.

Just as in its birthplace, BIXI stands have spawned scooter parking in Toronto.

Walking up Bay Street on my way to a meeting yesterday I felt compelled to snap this picture as further evidence of this BIXI-related urban scooter-friendly trend.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lunchtime trifecta

There is no doubt in my mind that Vancouver has the best restaurants in Canada.  I say that because Vancouver restaurants offer fascinating, delectable, beautiful food that you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Canada.

If Vancouver is number one, then Montreal is a very, very, very close second.

One of the aspects of Montreal's food scene that makes it so special, are the many small chef-owned restaurants that offer amazing food. Vancouver has a similar food scene in that way.
Triple Crown Dinette, is a tiny little restaurant.  Open all of eight weeks now, no tables, no chairs, just a homey little counter place with mismatched stools and a wonderful open kitchen.  Some (perhaps all?) of the entrepreneurial twenty or thirty-somethings who operate this tiny morsel of foodie heaven, are relatively new Montrealers, originally from Victoria on Canada's west coast and the US south (Kentucky, or Tennessee, I think, I should have been taking notes).
Googling the restaurant (that only has a Facebook page, not its own website) immediately yields the restaurant review I caught in the weekend paper, a Yelp! entry, and this foodie blogger's review as well as a number of other references.

Here's a map if you want to get to this gem:

View 6704 Rue Clark in a larger map
The recipes come from the chef's southern roots, specifically from his grandmother.  It's all good mouth watering food and southern hospitality rolled into one very satisfying experience.

How do you not have fried chicken with mashed potatoes, cream gravy, and a tall glass of lemonade?
The fried chicken was tender, juicy and tasty, perfectly cooked and seasoned, with a light impossibly crisp deep brown flaky crust that crunches then melts in your mouth.  The cream gravy was spicey but perfectly so, not too hot. Take a bite-size morsel of chicken on your fork, dab on some potato and gravy, and boy-oh-boy you have a scrumptious bit of food that cannot possibly be improved upon.  Easily one of the very best servings of southern fried chicken I have ever had.

The lemonade was the perfect beverage for this meal.  Made from freshly-squeezed lemons, not cloyingly sweet as lemonade often is, but perfectly tart, and just sweet enough to marry with the other flavours to make this a perfect lunch.

Add to that some fine, homey hospitality, and it's a tiny slice of food bliss.
Parking is little Italy is a pain, but not if you arrive on a Vespa. I parked mine on the sidewalk across the street where it fit perfectly between the trees without obstructing the way for pedestrians. Oh so appropriate in little Italy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What is it, really?

It's not a house, it's not a building, most aren't shelter. No walls, often barely a roof, though many have floors, some have seating, none are home.

They occupy space. They have a purpose, but they aren't useful in any normal way.

I have one, do you?

Mine comes from China. It provides shade, mostly. It almost serves a practical purpose. But it's not just the shade.

I think they serve our minds, much more than they serve our bodies. I think they are worth thinking about.

I like to look at them, like this.
Or this.
Or this.
They invite us in. I enter. Being in, is, well, not as satisfying as looking in, or more correctly, looking at.

I look from it, like this,
I can't see it when I'm in it, so it adds nothing, not even shelter. The view might be very nice. Often that's why it's there. Sometimes not.

I think they are mostly symbolic. They evoke the things that in reality they're not. Shelter, home.

Unlike homes and shelters, they don't exclude anyone. Most are public goods. Anyone can enjoy them. Anyone can feel sheltered, safe, at peace, almost at home in them, near them.

So I like them, and have enjoyed taking pictures of the ones that are here, and there, along my slow commute route.

And I've enjoyed thinking about them while writing this post.

How about you?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Pointe Claire windmill

If you live on Montreal's west island, it's hard not to become aware of the Pointe Claire windmill.

That's because it is part of the city's coat of arms. Here's a link to the city's website.

It's equally true that unless you are both curious, and willing to go out of your way, you might never realize that there is an actual windmill.

And unless you Google a little, you might never learn the history of the mill.  The mill was built in 1710 and restored in the 1960's.  There are only 18 left of the 250 windmills originally built in the province.  You can find out more about three of them right here on this blog.

See what you learn when you join the ranks of the scooter commuters?  All it takes is a few minutes and a Vespa.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Weather watch

We have been blessed with the most incredible weather in 2012, and this summer is spectacular.

I have only ridden in the rain once.

It's still important to watch the weather carefully.  The other night there were massive towering clouds building in the west.

When I reached the lakeshore there were blues skies overhead, but I was riding straight into a storm.

That's when I stopped to take this picture.

Where is that rain falling?  It's really hard to tell.

Five minutes further along the commute the streets were wet, and water was dripping from the trees.  I stopped in the Dorval village and hauled out my rain gear.  Better dry than sorry.

As it turned out, it was a precaution taken for nothing.

Later that evening torrential rain fell and thunder shook the house.

Nothing makes for a better summer riding season than bright, warm, sunny days, and rain at night.  If I were master of the weather, every day would be like that.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Grey is beautiful too!

Just because you can't see the sun doesn't mean that there isn't beauty all around.

One morning last week the sky was looking bleak. The aftermath of stormy weather that only lifted before dawn.

I stopped mid-commute to take this picture.  Overcast skies have been a rarity this season, so when you see a scene like this, it's worth snapping.

Looking at the lakeshore, you'd never know that tucked in among all that greenery are hundreds of suburban homes, or that I walked ten feet from Lakeshore Road to snap that picture of Valois Bay.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fraternal twins

 One block over from my office there is a public relations company.

Parked prominently on a stone landing between the building's ground floor reception area and the sidewalk you will often spot a couple of Vespas.  I think of them as fraternal twins because they are the same LX model, in different colours, but with identical custom upholstery.

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