Thursday, August 29, 2013

Foggy morning

I love fog.

I love riding.

You'd think riding to work on a foggy morning would be a treat.

Well, yes, and no.

The problem is my visor. The heavier the fog, the harder it is to see because the mist covers my visor. Lifting the visor doesn't help because then my glasses get covered.  Riding without my glasses would be better, but not smart, or safe.  Contact lenses would probably do the trick.

It's a shame, because I love fog.  And I love riding.

Yesterday's fog was on the light side. A compromise fog, if you will.  Not quite heavy enough to delightfully transform the landscape, but not enough to make riding and seeing particularly difficult.

Looking for a decent photo on the grounds at Stewart Hall, I found a scene I had shared here in the past...
... and an unexpected one...
I also love totem poles.  Normally you have to be on the left coast to see them.  There was no time to learn about these.  There is an explanation on the city's web site.  The information looks like ephemera, so I preserved it here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Another exhaust collar or joint gasket or whatever the heck the thing is called blew out on my GTS. If the GTS has an Achilles heel, that's definitely it.

My dealership rocks however so when I called to report the problem they slotted me right in.

Spending a couple of midday hours at Alex Berthiaume et Fils is never a hardship.

I took a conference call with my staff and our lawyer in Spain, caught up on some e-mail, had a chat or two with Paul the sales and leasing director, chatted with the mechanics, indeared myself to the parts department manager's dog Toz, sat on a few bikes, offered encouraging words to a prospective buyer looking at a Piaggio BV350 (a steal I think at $5,900), a gold Vespa GTV 300, and a Honda Forza 300, and checked out a few helmets.

All this run-of-the-mill stuff was punctuated when the flatbed pulled up at the front door. Judging from the buzz, I'd say this was the high point of the day. I always kind of wondered how a Vespa (or any bike really) would fare on a flatbed tow truck. Would the operator know how to secure a two-wheeler properly? How tricky is it to load or unload?

These are questions I now know the answers to: 'yes, and no', and 'not at all' are the short answers.

First off, no, the Vespa LXV 150 showed no signs of damage, definitely mechanical ailments then.

The tow truck operator got a few key things right, and one thing very wrong.

Praise before blame:
  • the bike is not on the stand (check!). That's good because it allows the suspension to do its job during the tow, and avoids damage to the stand, the bike, and the trailer bed.
  • the front wheel is secured to a chock (check!). That means the bike can't slip sideways and break loose.
So what was done wrong?

Look at the fore and aft angle of the bike. It's really not level. Why is that? Because the tow truck driver way, way, way, way over-compressed the front suspension. The front wheel is completely compressed right to the end of the suspension's travel, and then some. So much force was applied that the handle bars could have bent. The straps were as taught as highwires. The Great Wallenda would have approved!

The key to tying down the front end of any bike properly is:
  • make sure the bike is securely vertical;
  • make sure the front suspension is only lightly compressed. The same thing goes for the rear suspension.
You see the bike's suspension has to be able to work while the bike is in transit on the trailer or flatbed.

This operator therefore gets a 'F' on a towing pass-fail test. A 'C' at best, likely a 'D' as a letter grade. Nor so good.

And just like that my exhaust gasket is good as new (well in fact brand new) and it's time to high tail it back to the office.

So long, and happy trails!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Rider profile: Tom Keene

Name: Tom Keene
Find me on Earth: Westbrook, Maine, USA
Find me Online:
Interview Date: Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Interview Location: In my home, on my iPad
Scootcommute: When did you start riding, how old were you?

Tom:  I watched a friend in his 70s riding around town on a bright red Honda Reflex 250, and noted how happy this grizzled old man was. "I must do that," I thought, and bought a scooter for myself; I was 61 years old.

Scootcommute: How many motorbikes have you owned?

Tom:  Two

Scootcommute: What is your current bike, and is the current bike your favorite?

Tom:  After riding a Yamaha C3 50cc scooter for a few months, I decided that I needed, to be safe, to get a bigger ride. That turned out to be a Vespa 250 GTS, which is without question my favorite bike.

Scootcommute: Talk to me about the most challenging riding skill you learned.

Tom:  It has been a struggle to become ultra aware of my surroundings on the road. Before my riding life began, I drove big cars; Cadillacs, Olds, Buicks were my usual rides. And in the silence of a fine automobile, the world is essentially a minor object. Frankly, I felt safe and secure in my well-engineered cage.

But on two wheels, the world is a dangerous, aggressive place to be. I have had to understand that people on two wheels are not partners of the road. We are targets. That is a continuing challenge.

Scootcommute: Are you a moto-commuter, a tourer, or a fair weather rider?

Tom:  Mainly a tourer. I have no regular job to commute to. I am the opposite of a fair weather rider; I ride 12 months a year, in any temperature. I draw the line on riding in snow, which is a constant companion from November through March.

Scootcommute: Are you a solitary rider? How about riding in a group?

Tom:  Mainly I ride alone by preference. I do ride at least once a week with Mike (Torrusio) of Scooter for Fun.

The largest group in which I have ridden was seven, which was enjoyable, but isn't my cup of tea.

Scootcommute: I dare you to share an awkward or embarrassing riding moment.

Tom:  Last winter, I grossly misjudged the solidity of the sand at Old Orchard Beach, and I buried my Vespa up to the hubs in the world-famous fine sand of The Beach.

When he stopped laughing hysterically - which was a very long time - Mike help me extract the humiliated scooter and rider. On stopping for coffee, Mike was in tattle-tale heaven as he told the tale repeatedly to every customer who entered the busy shop.

Scootcommute: What is the best place your bike has taken you?

Tom:  Almost every ride has taken me to a place in Maine that is scenic, relaxing, and each is the best place I've been.

Scootcommute: Tell me why you ride.

Tom:  Riding is a liberating method of travel, making a simple trip to the store highly enjoyable. Riding makes me smile. And if I had any hair left, I think I would love the feeling of the wind in my hair.

Scootcommute: If I could grant you one riding wish, what would it be?

Ride the Great Wall of China.


Monday, August 12, 2013

So long!

Parting is indeed sweet sorrow.

My very close friend Marc is a guy who just gets stuff done.  He said he could sell my Vespa LX 150 in the space of a morning if I would just let him do it his way.

I should have known better, but I can be stubborn.  I had ads on Kijiji, and Lespac, and Craigslist, and I got the odd feeler, but no sale.  With the summer in its August phase, the prime sales time is long gone.

Marc just took matters into his own hands, and bullied me into submission.  He insisted that I e-mail him a description of the scooter.  Fine, I sent him the Kijiji ad.  Then he ordered me to park the scooter at the end of a neighbor's driveway.  Reluctantly, I did.  I was certain it would be stolen long before it was sold.
An hour and a half later, Marc rings my doorbell with a gentleman in tow.  "Here's the guy who is going to buy your Vespa!".  And sure enough, he was right.

I owe Marc a really decent treat for making the sale happen, in spite of my pig-headed reluctance.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Rider Profile: Mike Torrusio

Name: Mike Torrusio
Find me on Earth: Portland, Maine, USA
Find me Online:
Interview Date: Saturday, July 20, 2013
Interview Location: Portland, Maine, USA

Scootcommute: When did you start riding, how old were you?

Mike: Just about four and one half years ago. Mid 70's

Scootcommute: How many motorbikes have you owned?

Mike: 4

Scootcommute: What is your current bike, and is the current bike your favorite?

Mike: It's a Piaggio BV 250. Absolutely. Does everything one could want.

Scootcommute: Talk to me about the most challenging riding skill you learned.

Mike: Doing U-turns on a narrow street with a passenger on bord.  Not sure I've mastered it, but I manage to pull it off.

Scootcommute: Are you a moto-commuter, a tourer, or a fair weather rider?

Mike: It's my only mode of transportation. Have you seen my Youtube video of riding in the snow?

Scootcommute: Are you a solitary rider? How about riding in a group?

Mike: I do much riding alone. I Prefer one, or two others. If in a group I always make sure I'm last.

Scootcommute: I dare you to share an awkward or embarassing riding moment.

Mike: Impossible. Every ride produces an awkward moment. However, the evening my two friends and I stopped for a dinner, and I dismounted, kickstand down, and while removing my helmet, my friends standing next to me, my machine s-l-o-w-l-y tipped over into me and the two of us s-l-o-w-l-y settled to the pavement. Great fun. None of us can yet figure out what and how it happened.

Scootcommute: What is the best place your bike has taken you?

Mike: In Maine? There is NO bad place. Within 10 minutes you're surrounded with beauty - or at the least an interesting sight.

Scootcommute: Tell me why you ride.

Mike: Beats the hell out of me. Best I can do is that two minutes into any ride a sense of contentment, joy and excitement settle into my being and stays there for the ride and quite a while afterwards.

Scootcommute: If I could grant you one riding wish, what would it be?

Mike: That I get at least 10 more riding years. There's miles to go and promises to keep.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

2013 Blogger to Blogger Tour - Montreal leg, part two

What more might possibly be left over to show Bob during his too brief stopover?

Well, there is the city you can tour on two wheels, and the portion that can only be toured on two feet.

After sleeping in and simultaneously treating Susan to a surprise visit by our eldest son, his girlfriend Vicky, and our daughter Lauren, we devoted the day to man-tasks in the garage and driveway.

Cars and Vespa were washed, and Bob prepped his BMW R1200R for the ride west to Vancouver.   I offered to wash Bob's bike, but I think he liked the look of the road grime.  It fit in well with the ADV stickers on the side cases.  When he wasn't looking I wiped the side cases clean.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Evening plans and dinner plans were discussed. Vicky and Susan (Lauren had a party to attend) wanted to see a movie. Bob demurred. Jonathan had little choice and had to throw his lot in with the girls. Bob's choice meant I was released from movie duty (I had already seen what was running in the theaters and there appeared to be no overlap between the very small list that interested me, and the girls' list).

We unanimously decided that dinner could wait until after the show, and after whatever Bob and I would be doing.

The five of us piled into the car and headed downtown, where Bob and I dropped the movie-goers off. We parked the car in the underground parking lot at Place Montreal Trust and set off on foot.

No visit to Montreal is complete without a visit to the underground city. Since it was Saturday evening, some portions of the underground were closed off, but there there was enough that remained open to give Bob a good understanding of the scope and scale of the underground that has been growing and growing since the underground city began in the early sixties centered around Place Ville Marie and Central Station.

We walked indoors from Place Montreal Trust to Place Ville Marie as I tried to explain to Bob just how vast the network of malls and passageways had become. After emerging at Place Ville Marie, we backtracked north on the surface to Ste-Catherine Street, the age-old shopping district. Bob was very impressed with the flagship Birks' store and took a photograph of the massive forbidding doors.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
We continued east along Ste-Catherine Street to the relatively new Quartier des Spectacles (the entertainment district). The nucleus remains Montreal's symphony hall, Place des Arts, but it has grown to become much more, in large measure spurred on by the huge outdoor venues for the Montreal Jazz Festival.
The Quartier des Spectacles is now a vast pedestrian mall, with outdoor theatrical lighting, acres of outdoor space, the opera house, the museum of contemporary art, smaller theaters, restaurants, and fountains.

Bob determined parts of the entertainment district to be photo worthy.
Some of the fountains are of the leap-out-of-the-ground-uplit-programmable variety and we just couldn't resist getting our feet wet.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
When we got to St-Urbain Street we headed south to Chinatown, and on the way, Bob photographed the most recent Montreal phenomenon, the BiXi public bike system, with yours truly as the bicycle model.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Montreal's Chinatown is no rival to those in San Francisco or Vancouver. It is however a significant presence on the Main, spanning two large blocks in the north-south axis and five blocks east to west. The topic of exotic fruits had come up during lunch and Bob had mentioned cherimoya. He popped into a fruit and vegetable store hoping to find some. The cashier knew what he was after but said he she didn't have any, and couldn't say where they could be found.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Before leaving, Bob snapped a great photo of the southern gate.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
We re-entered the underground city at the convention centre, its south-eastern limit, and headed west back in the direction of the Ste-Catherine street shopping district. I wanted to show Bob the atrium in the World Trade Center. In addition to a very large black granite fountain, the atrium is home to a rather unusual display.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
A section of der Mauer (the Berlin wall), a gift from the city of Berlin to the city of Montreal in 1992.

A long walk later, having gone from the Palais des Congrès, to the World Trade Centre, to the International Civil Aviation Organization, to Place Bonaventure, to Central Station and back to Place Ville Marie, we ended up basically back where we started from, having done a rather large loop.  By rather large, I mean miles, and miles.

To be honest, I was a little concerned that I had committed Bob's feet, and his pink crocs, to a much longer walking tour than he had bargained for.  I don't think any harm was done.  Besides, how else to prepare for a late, late, late, dinner?

Now that we were once more above ground, it became somewhat clearer what was happening on McGill College Avenue that had pre-empted my parking and strolling plans on Friday.  It was some kind of weekend-long fashion event.  The pulsating techno beat reminded me more of Berlin's hyper-cool night scene than anything I'd ever seen in Montreal.

Bob took a little video that captures the mood reasonably well. A light rain was falling but it didn't seem to dampen the festivities, whatever they were.
By then the movie had ended, we fetched the car and picked up the movie-goers.  Everyone was starving.  We ended up at Il Focolaio, my favorite pizza joint on Phillips Square, right across from Birks where Bob had snapped pictures earlier.

We chatted, ate the pizza, and headed home.

Another fantastic (and final) day on the 2013 Blogger to Blogger Tour in the bag.

Monday, August 5, 2013

2013 Blogger to Blogger Tour - Montreal leg, part one

"Guess who's coming for dinner?" I said to Susan.

Actually, I didn't. But I could have.

Bob's Spot messenger trail was heading straight for us faster than I could have imagined. I checked with Susan and headed to the grocery store to pick up a few essentials we needed if we were to take good care of our incoming guests.

Mere minutes after walking in the door I spotted motorcycles in the driveway.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Bob and Karen were weary from a long day's ride in foul stormy weather. They wheeled their bikes into the garage and lost no time shedding all the wet armor.

A hot home cooked meal, following nice hot showers, with a couple of bottles of rosé and white wine, led to a very pleasant evening of conversation.

After breakfast on Friday morning Karen had to leave for home. Bob and I rode out to the western tip of the island to see her off. It was a last ride for the three of us together. Bob planned to stay with us for the weekend before heading out for his own long trek home to Vancouver.

Last year in Vancouver Bob had given me a grand tour of his favorite haunts. Bob, Sonja, Roland, and Dave were wonderful tour guides. Now it was time for me to return the favour, if only for Bob. I had a day to give Bob a decent lesson in the sights, sounds and tastes of the city. It was fun to be leading a tour. The fact that we had Sena helmet communicators made a huge difference.

Before treating you to the tour we took, I should add a technical note on the Sena. Bob mentioned that he was getting some static on his. Later during the tour he could hear me, but I couldn't hear him. After some trial and error, we disconnect and re-seated both our control units. Bingo! Problem solved. It seemed that Bob's unit was not quite seated well and one of the pins (presumably the pin or pins for the mic) had made a poor contact.

We took the shortest and fastest route to the easternmost point on the tour. The Olympic stadium and the Olympic park. The stadium has become one of Montreal's signature landmarks. You can see it from afar from all over, or at least from anywhere but the western side of the island since Mount Royal gets in the way. Unless you see it from close up it's impossible to grasp the scale of this huge building. I decided that I would take pictures of Bob taking pictures.

From there I set a course for Ste-Helen's Island. This is a must see as it's the former home of Expo67. I chose the eastern access over the Jacques Cartier bridge. It's the most dramatic route to the Island and the bridge itself is another signature landmark.

The first photo op was what is now the Biodome and what was the Expo67 American pavilion.
I had my fingers crossed. We took a short ride across a bridge onto the site's man-made sister Island, Ile Notre Dame. You see, Bob is not only a rider and a talented photographer, he's also a true car guy. I guess the finger-crossing worked, because Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, site of the one of the world's 19 Grand Prix F1 races for the 2013 season, was open to roller bladers, cyclists, and... yes, motor vehicles. The thirty kilometer per hour speed limit didn't allow for any knee-down Moto GP antics, but it's still pretty cool to ride an F1 race track and see it from that perspective.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Returning to Ile Ste-Hélène, we cruised along as I pointed out other Expo67 pavilions that still stand, some of which house the Montreal casino. We tucked the bikes into a niche near the La Ronde amusement park and walked a few feet to a spot that offers a great view of the city.
From there we took the Pont de la Concorde towards the old port and Old Montreal.
We parked the bikes opposite the Marché Bonsecours and took a stroll along rue St-Paul, past Place Jacques Cartier, then up to Notre Dame street, back down through Place Jacques Cartier, before returning to fetch the bikes.
Once we saddled up, we headed back up to Notre Dame and westward to St-Laurent boulevard. I was constantly doing my tour guide impression, reeling off all the information about Montreal that sprang to mind as we made our way northbound on 'the Main'. St-Laurent divides Montreal east and west. It's also been the traditional focal point for successive waves of immigrant families. Like an archeological dig, the waves of immigration defined the Main south to north. We travelled through Chinatown, then through the entertainment district, and parked the bikes just north of Pine avenue in the stretch where the Jewish influence is clearly present.

Schwartz's Deli sits on the eastern (sunny) side of St-Laurent just fifteen or twenty feet north of our parking spot. We lined up long enough for Bob to snap some photos, of this most iconic of Montreal eateries. 
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Unwilling to devote half an hour just to make our way to the door, I mentioned to Bob that the Main Deli across the street had excellent smoked meat, and was certainly ranked in the top five Montreal smoked meat establishments.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
So we settled in there for the obligatory 'special': a delicious smoked meat sandwich with a kosher dill pickle, some cole slaw, and a side of french fries.

There were still some obligatory stops and it was already three o'clock. We hopped back on the bikes and headed further north up to Mount Royal boulevard where we turned left and headed straight uphill to where the Camilien Houde Parkway winds its way up Mount Royal in a series of switchbacks. At the summit we circled back and headed back on our path so that we get to the eastern lookout. We chatted, snapped photos along with the usual tourist crowd. The most prominent landmark to be seen from this vantage point is the Olympic Stadium, far away to the east.
Truth be told, we dared to become scofflaws and made an illegal left turn to head back up to the summit. We followed Remembrance Road down the northwest side of the mountain, then left on Cote des Neiges, and immediately swung a hard right to climb up the other switchback road towards the Westmount summit. Our destination was the Westmount lookout. Not many tourists know about this third Mount Royal overlook. Since it's nestled in among the priciest homes in Montreal it's off limits to tour buses and off the radar for most tourists.
After taking in the sights looking southwest over the city, we rode down to the downtown core. We joined the parade of cars headed east on Ste-Catherine Street.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
I was planning to park the bikes on McGill College avenue and take a stroll to show Bob the Roddick gates to the McGill University campus and the plaza at Place Ville Marie at the opposite end of the avenue. That plan was pre-empted because the avenue was closed to traffic for some kind of street festival.

It was getting late. I had exhausted my tour itinerary and I had a hair appointment at 7:00 o'clock I really needed to keep. We took the expressway home. I had made no plans whatsoever for the evening.

After a rather late dinner, it was Susan's turn to step into the tour guide's shoes. She proposed driving into town, stopping to give Bob a taste of a Montreal orange julep at the giant Orange Julep drive in on Décarie boulevard, a Montreal hangout celebrating its 80th anniversary. From there she proposed heading to Mount Royal to hike over to the third and most attractive lookout that is only accessible on foot. Truly great suggestions.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
On the way we digressed slightly to take in St-Joseph's Oratory. To call it a church is like calling St-Peter's in Rome a church. It is one of the most prominent landmarks on the north side of the mountain.
From there we went to the main lookout that provides the best views of the city.  Bob took some amazing pictures of the skyline.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
By the time we were done, Susan had one last great suggestion: let's take Bob for a Montreal bagel at St-Viateur Bagel.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong

It was very late and more than high time to call it a day.

Part two of this story starts here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rain delay

On Monday I set out on my bike hoping for a bite to eat at a restaurant that warranted a blog post.

Sadly, the restaurant in question is closed on Mondays.  I eventually settled on a little corner restaurant that is nice, but not blog worthy by any means, at least not in any foodie sense, which is what I was after.

I sat in the restaurant because their terrace was full (that's a patio for non-Quebecers, if you're wondering) but was basically outside because the patio doors were wide open and I had a table right on the door sill.

There was rain in the forecast but only tiny amounts and the probability factor was small.  I had calculated that I would be back in the office before any rain fell.

As I was finishing my lunch, I noticed that the breeze had turned a little chilly and the sky was darkening.  I overheard the waitresses saying something about rain.  I lost no time finishing up and setting out for the office.  I only had three miles or so to go.

Less than halfway there, I started feeling little drops.  Within five minutes, it had started raining.  Just as the rain started I stopped and put on my rain jacket.  When I take these little lunchtime trips I don't bother with my armored pants.  I always have my rain jacket under the seat, but I don't carry rain pants.  I think I'll pack my rain pants from now on.

As I headed south on St-Urbain, the rainfall was getting to be a problem.  Although I'm better protected than if I was on a motorcycle, particularly since I still have the tall windscreen on, my suit pants were soon going to be wet if I didn't seek shelter.

About a minute later I was riding past Place des Arts, and I was on the lookout for a shelter option.  Providence provided.  I spotted a bicycle rack with scooters and motorcycles parked next to the rack, that was conveniently located under the building's overhang.

After the storm abated some fifteen or twenty minutes later, I was on my way.  I never really did get wet.  Perhaps only slightly damp.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.