Friday, February 28, 2014

Vespas, Cryptography, Bitcoins, Patches, and Me

The title of this post is a string.

I was introduced to strings when I became interested in computers and programming, a long time ago.

Sentences are strings, but not all strings are sentences.

There's no need to worry, I'm not about to embark on an explanation of string theory.  That's in part because I can't wrap my mind around more than four dimensions.  Besides, it is, as they say, what it is.  I'm not that curious.  But the real reason that you don't need to worry about me launching into an impenetrable diatribe on cosmology is that the string in the title is not the same kind of string of which the universe may, or may not, be made of.

One parses this kind of string as a means of extracting the bits that are meaningful or relevant, depending on the context.  This one's easy for me to parse, and of course I am pleased to do it, so you will be pleased that very little effort will be expected of you.  Fear not, read on with abandon.

The string that serves as the title for this ScootCommute post is a string of fascination, ordered chronologically.

Vespas captured my imagination way back in the 1960's.  All I could do was imagine what it would feel like to own one.  To sit on the saddle, kick start it, rev the engine, ease out the clutch, and swoop off like a bird in flight, destination irrelevant.  It only took forty-six years for that dream to become my reality.

Many, many years after I dreamed of owning a Vespa (approximately twenty years later), I stumbled onto computers.

I was convinced at the time that computers would, in the near future, make me thoroughly irrelevant.

You see, law is as close to a pure information business as any that exist.  I knew a fair amount about law, and nothing about computers.  I was so certain that computers would doom my career, that I confronted them as one might confront a mortal enemy.  Square on.  I started learning about them.  Know thine enemy is good advice.  I learned more about computers than anyone else I knew.  I learned more about computers than any lawyer I've ever met.  I taught myself to program.  Computers became my friend and, in the fullness of time, actually helped to advance my career.

You may doubt the truth of these statements.  You may be forgiven for thinking that I am stretching some minor fiddling with technology into a tale of mythic proportions.

But consider this.  I found myself, many years later, in San Francisco, at the RSA Conference, which was then the most important gathering of computer scientists in the world, a conference attended by delegates from the world's most important technology companies.

I was there to give a talk, solo if you can believe it, in the main hall of the conference venue, high on Nob Hill, at the Fairmont Hotel, in the main ball room packed beyond its 450 seat capacity, with standing room along the walls filled to stifling capacity, and with more eager attendees in the lobby outside the room watching on remote monitors.  The topic I was addressing was how the existing economic and technology models promoted for public key cryptography infrastructures were fundamentally flawed, so much so that real world commercial deployment was unlikely to succeed on any meaningfully large scale.  The paper I presented was co-written with Andrew, a very dear friend and gifted mathematician.  Andrew sat with me on the podium as I delivered the paper.  The hour we were allotted was barely enough time.  The San Francisco performance was so successful that our paper became part of the curriculum at a number of very prominent  US computer science faculties for a good number of years thereafter.

That's what fascination means to me.

I've moved on since then.  Today my work revolves around corporate governance and securities law compliance.  It's less exciting, but it pays the bills.

Later still, Vespas became a reality for me.  It was a little over four years ago.  As the saying goes, I should have gotten into riding much earlier.  It is a source of very great pleasure.

I'm not one to do anything by half measures.  Before actually buying a Vespa I did my homework.

These days that means turning to the internet.

It didn't take long to find ModernVespa.  ModernVespa is to Vespa ownership, what the Silicon Valley RSA Conference was to computer science.  If Vespas could spawn a cult, then that cult is ModernVespa.  It is much more than a discussion forum.  Its members find ways to meet, many eventually attend the yearly Amerivespa rally in the US, and a good number participate in the Scooter CannonBall run, and hold memberships in the Iron Butt Association.

Like most societies, ModernVespa has its plebian class, and its nobility.  Members more often than not sport oval "MV" stickers on their helmets (guilty) and their bikes (also guilty).  The "MV" sticker is a black on white oval that evokes the country stickers that identify vehicles by the nationality of their registration. As with similar societies ModernVespa has its patches.  These are custom embroidered emblems suitable for sewing onto caps or jackets.  A little like the Hell's Angels, minus the loud pipes, hogs and drug trade.  Simply belonging to ModernVespa doesn't make it easy to find out that there are stickers and patches.  That knowledge can only be acquired by participating on the forum long enough to stumble upon references to them.  Even then, there is no link known to exist from the ModernVespa forum to the online merchandise store.  I don't even remember how I found it.  It is possible to Google it, as with most everything else these days.  So much for obscurity.

Once you find this semi-secret store, you see that there are patches readily available for the plebes, and then there are limited edition patches.  And just a handful of those have ever been made.  And they are all, yes all, prominently marked as being SOLD OUT. So you see, those patches are so exclusive, so rare, as to be virtually unobtainable at any price. No one who owns one will be likely to part with it.  There are just a few members of the forum who have a complete collection.  Like maybe three, tops, four people in the world.

OK.  So who gives a crap about Vespa forum swag?  Well, I do.  Even if you don't, you need to understand that the rarest of the rare, limited edition, ModernVespa patch, the "Italia" patch, is a very desirable thing indeed.  Factor in to this equation of fascination of mine, that I will be in Italy in May, will tour the Vespa museum (one of a kind in the world, naturally) in Pontedera, and then spend an entire day touring the Tuscan countryside and the vineyards of the Chianti region on a Vespa or Piaggio MP3 in the company of another ModernVespa member and her husband.  Having an Italia MV patch to commemorate that ride... well, to be honest,  it's way beyond priceless for me.

Fortunately, the world moves in mysterious ways.

Jess, the self-styled petty tyrant who rules ModernVespa, is the only man alive who has custody of all ModernVespa's secrets.  Jess is sitting on the few remaining Italia patches in existence that have yet to be sold.  A gifted computer scientist by trade, Jess is understandably fascinated by BitCoins.

Here is where fate causes my strings of fascination to intertwine.

There is no room here to delve into the murky realm of BitCoins.  Trust me when I say it's very, very murky, and extremely arcane.

My dear friend Andrew, the gifted mathematician, cryptographer, and co-author of our PKI paper, has been patiently teaching me about BitCoins for the past many months.  Suffice it to say that I also find BitCoins fascinating.  Not so much for the crypto-currency aspects of BitCoin that have been making headlines these past few months, but because the BitCoin algorithm is a brilliant model of open-source, distributed, non-hierarchical, cryptographically-based trust and authentication in open networks.  The BitCoin architecture could be leveraged to disseminate digital IDs in a way that has the potential to revolutionize the way we live, learn and communicate.  I still think that's potentially a very big deal.  So does Jess.

In an attempt to educate the ModernVespa community, and introduce us to the wonder of BitCoin, Jess announced that he planned to offer some of the few remaining rare limited edition patches in his possession, but only to ModernVespa members able to pay for them in BitCoin.  True to his word, he announced just a few days ago that among the small handful of patches available for purchase with BitCoins, were two remaining Italia patches.

The lure was more than I could resist.  It can take weeks to set up a BitCoin account.  I know this because Andrew has one and has explained what he had to go through to get it.  I knew that without expert help and guidance, I could never claim one of those treasures.

It occurred to me, as you can easily imagine, that Andrew might be willing to assist me in procuring one of the Italia patches.  I reasoned that if we worked in tandem, I could get a patch.  How fitting an exploit.  The chance to bring my crypto-knowledge to bear and procure an ultra-rare, much sought-after ModernVespa Italia patch.

The prospect of two of my parallel strings of fascination concatenating (it's sad, but concatenating strings is quite a lot of fun - don't believe me? Try it in Excel: =concatenate(A1, B2)) into a joyous real-world result was, to say the least, tantalizing.  The uber-geeky-ness of it was thrilling.  The pursuit of the arcane prize by arcane means: such a juicy Dan Brown-worthy adventure.

The stage was set.  Here I was in Florida on vacation.  Andrew was in London, Ontario, hard at work on software he was developing, and Jess was somewhere near Silicon Valley using the precious Italia patch to troll for BitCoins.  I explained the plot to Andrew, and how the deed could be done.  I would place an order with Jess for the Italia patch.  Assuming it hadn't been sold, Jess would provide a BitCoin payee crypto-string to me via a private message on the ModernVespa forum.  I would forward the BitCoin payee string to Andrew.  Andrew would send the BitCoin to Jess.  On receipt of the BitCoin, Jess would declare me the winning bidder, and the patch would be mine.

One of the two available Italia patches was claimed, then declared sold.  Then the second and last Italia patch was spoken for.  Damn! It was not to be after all.  But then, wait, the second buyer was unable to complete the purchase, the BitCoin transaction eluded him or her.  The sheer techno-difficulty was too great a barrier.  Indeed, Jess had only managed to complete two patches-for-BitCoin  transactions. The window of opportunity had cracked open for me.

With Andrew on board, I lost no time sending Jess a private message claiming the last remaining Italia patch.

I waited.  I checked the forum.  The last Italia patch sat there, unclaimed.  I hit the sack.

In the morning I checked my e-mail.  Nothing.  I checked the site.  Still unclaimed.  And then it happened.  A private message from Jess.  He acknowledged my claim.  I had twenty-four hours to deliver the BitCoin, and if I did, the coveted Italia patch would be mine.  I checked the forum.  There sat the Italia patch.  In bold next to the patch: 'Claimed' it said.

Now the clock was ticking.  I lost no time sending the BitCoin crypto-string to Andrew.  I texted him: 'Call me'.  For some reason ATT&T thought his cell number was out of service.  Go figure that when valuable seconds are ticking away, ripples in the technology matrix manifest themselves, threatening to quash our attempt to deliver the BitCoins and claim the prize.

My phone rang.  Andrew was already at the keyboard.  His BitCoin wallet was so securely stashed away, as to be inaccessible.  Damn!  But there might be a way.  He might be able to use one of the BitCoin exchanges.  I could hear his fingers dancing on the keyboard.  Yes, he thought there was a way, it was theoretically possible.  He could acquire the BitCoins through an online exchange and pay for them via an Interac bank transfer from his bank.  More feverish keystrokes, Andrew talking to himself or to no one in particular as he danced his way through the electronic commerce maze.  He was ready to check out, yes it was working...  then... slam!  His bank was not among those that allowed Interac transfers of funds to a BitCoin exchange.

"Who do you bank with?" Andrew asked.  I told him.  I trust Andrew with my life.  "You're in luck!" he said.  "Process the BitCoin transaction directly, you don't need me."  Really, was it possible?  All I had was my iPhone.  Could I do this with an iPhone, from a breakfast restaurant in Fort Lauderdale?  I hung up with Andrew and pressed on.  I hit a snag, a 10 digit number was wanted.  What the hell??  I called Andrew.  Miraculously ATT&T let the call through.  I was nervous.  Andrew said "You're doing this on your iPhone?" he said it with the kind of chuckle you might hear if you told someone you were going to eat a bowl of spaghetti with a spoon.  He patiently offered some guidance, I thanked him, and soldiered on.  One hurdle done.  Crypto-string passed, two hurdles cleared. Security question... good, done.  Account information... done as well.  Password... PIN... click, click, click, accept, continue... wait... wait... SUCCESS!!!

I sent a private message to Jess with a screen shot of the BitCoin transfer confirmation.  A few hours later I received a message from Jess.  The patch was mine.  Mine!  MINE!!!   I checked the ModernVespa forum.  The second Italia patch was marked: 'Sold' it said.

And so ends this merry little string of intertwined fascinations.

A very satisfactory ending.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Stuck in neutral...

I don't want to complain, but my weight loss plan is stuck in neutral.  I'm bouncing back and forth (195, 194, 195, 194) and what I want to see on the scale is 193, 192, 190, 189.

So I'm going to pay more attention to what I'm eating, and dial in an evening walk, and see where that gets me.

If you're curious, you'll see my daily weight posting on the right.  That's my source of discipline.

For those who are following this, Richard is now decisively in the lead.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Project report: Discrete electric garage door remote control options

For those who saw this post shortly after I posted it, please note that I have changed it.  It used to be only about the addition of a switched remote hidden in the Vespa's saddle, an excellent choice.  Now it's about two excellent options, one better than the next.

First I'll deal with the new option which was posted on ModernVespa minutes after I posted news of my genius modification.  I'm tackling that first because it's a totally awesome choice, and much easier to install and use than the option I just finished installing that took the better part of a year.  I could have done it in a single day, but I chose to do in tranches and savor the process.

The Flash2Pass option

I don't have to say much about this, and it's amazing.

All you need to do is buy a Flash2Pass unit.  There are two components.  One end (the receiver) you install in your garage like any other garage door receiver module.

The other bit is a box that you install on your bike (for a Vespa I'd tuck it into the headset fairing).  The bike unit wires to the high beam circuit.

The manufacturer claims the unit will operate any garage door opener made since 1982, including the more recent models that use rolling codes.

Here's how it works.  You just flash your high beam twice.  Presto!! The door opens.  The first press of the high beam switch energizes the transmitter unit, and the second press sends the signal to the receiver in the garage.  It's genius.  And so convenient.

But I don't have one.  I have my button-in-the-saddle-solution.  If you think you want one, click here.

The button-in-the-saddle option

There are a couple of minor modifications I've been tinkering with very, very slowly.  They both go back to some time last spring or summer.

One of them is a garage door opener modification.

It was a little tricky, but I'm finally done.

Here's the concept.  Solder a couple of leads to a universal garage door opener remote, connect them to a small momentary push button switch, then mount the switch through the seat hinge, just under the front lip of the Vespa's saddle.  The remote control unit then just sits in the saddle, tucked into the compartment where the rain cover sits.

The button is so discrete as to be virtually invisible, yet within very easy reach.

The nice thing about this little trick is that the garage door remote is always handy, easy to trigger while riding up to the garage, yet completely out of the way, and finally off my keychain.  Having the remote on the keychain wasn't the end of the world, but it required just a little too much concentration to watch where I was going, control the bike, fumble with the remote to locate the button with my gloves on.  It was a small pain, but a pain nonetheless.

The dicey bit was taking the remote apart and soldering a couple of fine leads onto the remote's switch terminals, without damaging any other components on the circuit board.

Believe it or not, I did it.  I was sure I'd destroy the remote.  But I didn't. 

Here's how the button-in-the-saddle option works.

Electric drill and drill bits
Pencil-tip soldering iron
Vice grips
10mm socket wrench and socket driver
Wire strippers / cutters
Crimping tool for electrical connectors
Skylink key-chain universal garage door remote
Small gauge solder
Spade type male and female crimp connectors
Small momentary push-button switch
Very small gauge electrical wire (I got what I needed from an old cell phone car charger)
Black electrical tape

1. I read this thread on the Modern Vespa forum very carefully.

2. I searched "soldering wire to circuit board" on YouTube and found a few videos that were helpful.

3. I bought a fine tip battery operated (4xAAA) soldering iron at The Source (formerly Radio Shack).

4. I found an old bit of non functioning electronic stuff (an X10 controller that gave up the ghost) and extracted the circuit board to practice on.

5. I got some fine insulated wire that I had lying around.

6. Using some small gauge electronics solder, I first tinned the soldering iron.

7. I stripped a tiny bit of insulation from the wire to expose the wire strands, twisted the strands (individually and separately not twisting the wires together), and tinned them with solder.

8. I used a pair of small vice-grips to gently hold the wire steady for the tinning step.

9. I clamped the vice-grip gently to the circuit board to keep it steady enough for soldering.

10. I found large-ish solder mounds on the circuit board and practiced melting the solder with the iron. Turns out that nothing was destroyed, the solder just liquifies ever so slightly.

11. I then held a piece of tinned wire to a solder mound and applied heat until the solder liquified. Bingo! The wire was soldered to the board. As simple as that. No need to apply any additional solder other than the tiny amount that what was tinned to the wire, and the solder on the board.

12. I repeated this a few times to make sure I could do it reliably and that my first attempt wasn't a fluke. Each time I chose smaller and more difficult solder points on the circuit board.

13. I took the garage door remote apart and took out the circuit board.

14. Mine is a Skylink brand universal key chain remote with a single button. I located the two solder points for the switch on the back of the board.

15. Using my new-found soldering skills, I successfully soldered two wires, one to each switch terminal.

16. With a very sharp craft knife (a scalpel actually) I cut a channel in the plastic case so the wires could pass through when the remote was re-assembled.

17. I reassembled the remote and re-installed the battery.

18. I held my breath, crossed my fingers and shorted to two wires, the LED flickered, and the garage door opened!!
19. Almost a year later, I had some time to devote to scooter stuff and decided to take the project a few steps further.  I soldered leads to the little momentary switch, and soldered a couple of male and female spade connectors to the switch leads, and to the remote leads.  That way I'll be able to disconnect and remove the remote should the need arise.  Reprogramming the remote for instance, or changing the battery.
20. The next little bit involved the bike.

21.  I first checked to make sure that the remote actually operates the garage door from inside the Vespa's pet carrier.  No problem there.

22.  I removed the underseat storage bucket to get to the seat hinge.  Using the 10mm socket wrench I removed the two bolts holding the saddle.

23.  I took the saddle indoors to take a close look at the hinge.  There is already a hole in the hinge but it's a little too small for the switch.  I drilled out the hole a little more and mounted the switch.  So far so good.
24.  I re-installed everything, but found the switch was just too far recessed under the saddle to be really convenient.

25.  After taking the saddle off and paying close attention to the way the hing operated, while the clearance was very tight, there was room to move the switch a little further forward.  I drilled a second hole, remounted the switch, re-installed the saddle and tried the switch again.
26.  This time it was perfect.  Easily accessible, even with heavy gloves on, and works like a charm.

27.  The body of the remote is tucked into the rain cover compartment.
28.  The main button on the remote remains accessible, which means I can still trigger the remote directly if the saddle is open.

29.  Another project done.  It only took eleven months of sporadic attention.  Done in a disciplined way, with the benefit of this project report, it's a nice way to spend a Sunday in the garage listening to Jazz and getting your fingers moderately dirty.

I think I'm going to like the convenience, and I'll be able to take the other remote off my key chain.  Less is more.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Project report: Installing Heaterz brand heated grips on a Vespa GTS 300 i.e. Super

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO READERS: Flash forward one year: The Heaterz brand heated grips I installed did not even last a season.  The right grip became intermittent in the fall of 2014, and failed altogether within a few weeks.  I sought assistance on the Modern Vespa forum (click here), and at least one member with a lot of experience indicated that the throttle side will fail as a result of the throttle movement.  That was certainly not my experience with the US-made Hot Grips™ brand heated grips.  For that reason I'm tearing off the Heaterz and installing Hot Grips™.  Live and learn.  Though the Heaterz leads look more impressive than the Hot Grips™ leads, looks in this case are deceiving.  I attempted to remedy the problem by eliminating the quick connect terminals and soldering the wires (no joy, it's the grip itself that failed), and what I discovered is that the wire looks good, but it's all fairly flimsy insulation, and the copper filaments are much fewer than in the Hot Grips, and that's a large part of the quality equation.  This post remains interesting for the installation procedure for heated grips on a Vespa GTS, but please avoid the Heaterz brand of grips. Flash forward to March 2016: For the post where the Heaterz were replaced by Hot Grips™, click here.


This is the second time I am installing heated grips on a Vespa motor scooter.

The first time was the installation of Hot Grips™ brand heated grips on a Vespa LX 150 which I have since sold.  You can see the project report on that installation by clicking here.

Once you get used to the comfort of heated grips, there's no going back, so here we go again, another heated grips project.

This time around the project is being done on a Vespa GTS 300 i.e. Super.  The nice thing about the GTS is that the electrical system is well-known to be able to support heated grips.  There is plenty of anecdotal evidence on the Modern Vespa forum of successful installations.

The other difference with this project is that I was unable to get Hot Grips™.  They would have been my preferred product but they are no longer exported to Canada.  The supplier I used last time, in New Hampshire, suggested the Oxford Heaterz brand grips.  Those are made in the far east rather than in the United States.  The grips themselves are said to be of equivalent quality, but there is some evidence on the 'net that the electronic controller has failed.
For that reason I decided to stick with the Warm & Safe Heat-Troller® solid state control.  The other advantage with the Warm & Safe Heat-Troller® is that it can be mounted in a way that all you see is the control knob and the LED status light.  That's a big plus over the Oxford controller.  I'm not sure what the elegant way would be to install that on a Vespa.  I think that some owners have found a way to install the control in the glove box.  I wouldn't do that because the glove box is already very small and that would also mean giving up any chance of changing settings while riding.  When I had heated grips on the LX 150 I would frequently adjust the setting during my commute in response to changing conditions.

Finally, we Vespa owners love the classic iconic Italian design of the Vespa and prefer not to install farkles that get in the way of the Vespa look.

Another change from the Vespa LX to the Vespa GTS is that GTS has 'kneepads' at the top left and right of the legshield.  They are more like hatches to the interior of the legshield and not really kneepads at all.  The right kneepad gives access to the coolant reservoir and offers little in way of customization opportunities because the coolant reservoir takes up almost all the space on the right side.

It's the left kneepad that offers a world of options.

I had already installed dual 12 volt outlets to power electronics (click here for that project report), and I also installed a switch that one day will provide four-way hazard flashers.  I still haven't wrapped my mind around that one, so all I have for now is a push-button switch that goes nowhere.

There is room on the left kneepad for the control knob and LED of the Warm & Safe Heat-Troller®, so that's where it needs to be.  It's slightly less convenient there than on the handlebar fairing which is where I installed it on the LX, but the kneepad is not inconvenient either, and if ever I want to return the bike to stock, all I need to do is buy a new left-side kneepad.

With those preliminary remarks out of the way, without further beating around the bush, here is how I installed the Oxford Heaterz heated grips and the Warm & Safe Heat-Troller®.

So let's get started.  You'll see that I've numbered the paragraphs to make referring to the instructions easier, if need be.

As a final preliminary note, please read the entire project report before you begin.  That way if I've gotten a step in the wrong place from your perspective, you'll be aware before the bike is in pieces and you're in tears.

I also strongly recommend that as you remove screws and bits and pieces, you place each part, or related parts, in a sandwich baggie with a note on a scrap of paper so you remember where each part goes.  This will go a long way to making the re-assembly painless, especially if the project extends over days or even weeks and your memory of what goes where starts playing tricks with you.
Phillips screwdriver (preferably with a magnetic tip)
Long slim electrician's screwdriver
Set of metric Allen keys
Electric heat gun
Electric drill and drill bits
Medium grit sandpaper
Flat file
Razor knife
Adjustable crescent wrench
Super glue provided with the heated grips
Oxford Heaterz heated grips
Warm & Safe Heat-Troller® electronic temperature control unit
12-14 gauge solderless wiretaps
Small plastic wire ties
Rubbing alcohol (methyl hydrate)
Sandwich baggies and slips of paper
Left over black screws  from a RAM mount
Self-locking vibration-resistant nuts matching the screws (the kind you get with RAM mounts)
A few inches of vinyl-coated metal strapping
Black electrical tape

1.  No project worth doing is complete without curve balls and stupid mistakes.  You won't be disappointed.  This project starts with a curve ball and that leads directly to a stupid mistake (quite a few, actually).  Be patient, there is value in sticking with this story, and it has a pretty happy ending.

2.  I received the Oxford Heaterz and the Warm & Safe Heat-Troller® as Christmas gift.  My daughter Lauren played Santa and she did a great job.  I spotted the curve ball as soon as I unboxed the present.  The model of Warm & Safe Heat-Troller® my daughter bought came with an enclosed control switch instead of an exposed circuit board.  I wasn't at all sure how the heck I'd be able to mount that unit on the kneepad since the plastic of the kneepad is quite thick.  This particular controller is designed for handlebar mounting on a naked handlebar, and not for mounting through a dashboard or fairing.

3. I knew I could exchange it for the other model, but I didn't want the hassle of mailing it back and paying for return postage, and the delay involved.  I figured I could work around it and get it installed.  Besides, I like a challenge and the opportunity to let my inner McGyver out to play.

4.  My first thought was that I would simply remove the casing and presto, I'd have the naked model.  That turned out to be impossible.  When gentle prying failed to open the casing, I decided to take a peak inside by dremelling off a section of the back.  Surprise!  This thing is built to last!  There is basically no cavity.  The manufacturer filled the entire casing with resin.  Wow! talk about waterproofing.  From there I reasoned that I could just use the dremmel cutting wheel to trim back the face of the switch.  Fail! for the same reason.  That switch is impregnable.  Even with all my cuts, the case looks the worse for wear, but has lost absolutely none of its integrity.  I am really impressed with the quality of this product.

5.  So I shifted gears.  I hauled out my fine measuring instruments (micrometer, Vernier caliper), took my glasses off to take a good look at the exposed threads of the rheostat control.  There wasn't much left, but there might just be enough.  I figured I could countersink a hole in the kneepad leaving just enough material to anchor the control.  First I tested my theory on a piece of wood.  Bingo!  Worked like a charm.  Encouraged by this test, I attacked the kneepad with the same approach.  Fail!  If I had a drill press, I might have stood a chance.  Instead I drilled clear through the kneepad.  Now there was no chance of anchoring the switch using the threads on the switch and the plastic of the kneepad.

6.  Undaunted, and still optimistic, I went back to thinking.  I came up with the idea of using some kind of metal brace and a couple of screws to clamp the control to the kneepad.  The small hole I drilled for the switch's LED served to locate the switch on the kneepad.  After more thought, I settled on vinyl-coated perforated metal strapping.  More measuring, scrounging some black enameled screws left over from a RAM project (never throw such things out!), more dremelling, a little more drilling, and BINGO! Worked like a charm.

7.  Here are the photos of the mounted Warm & Safe Heat-Troller.  In the end this worked out really, really well.  Much more robust than the control that I should have started with.  Not that the inside of the kneepad is exposed to much grief, but the mechanics at the dealership might need to get in there (they'll be shocked with all the extra stuff they'll find!), and if they do, they can't possibly harm that switch.
8.  Just a note, you will see washers between the strapping and locking nut.  The washers were making it difficult for the screws heads to sit flush on the kneepad, and turned out not to be necessary, so I discarded them.  With the bench work done, it`s time to turn attention to the bike.  The first step is to open up the headset and gain access to the legshield. 

9.  The first step is to remove the windshield if there is one.  These instructions are for a Vespa OEM screen.  There may be slight variations for after market screens.  Using an Allen key loosen the screws on the windshield supports so that the windshield moves freely on the supports.  Next, locate where the windshield supports enter the headset.  Using an adjustable crescent wrench, loosen the bolts.  As little as a quarter turn may be sufficient and the rest can be done by hand.  Once the supports are loose, the windshield can simply be removed.  Certain after market windshield support become jammed in the tightened position even after the pressure from the bolt is removed.  In that case, it`s necessary to push the loosened support into the headset socket, which will cause the mechanism to release.  A light tap with a rubber mallet will certainly release the support.
10. Next remove the rear view mirrors.  Simply grasp the mirror stem and twist it counter-clockwise and continue unscrewing until the mirror stem comes off the bike.
11. With the mirror stems off, using a small Allen key, remove the brake fluid reservoir covers.
12.  Next remove the horn cast.  This is the plastic nose piece that covers the opening in the legshield with the horn is located.  Using a rag to protect the paint, insert a flat blade screwdriver into the slot on the right side of the Piaggio badge and gently pry it loose.
13.  Once the badge is removed you will see a Phillips head screw (all the screws for this project are standard Phillips head screws).  Remove that screw (a magnetized screwdriver helps).  Next slide the horncast up and off the bike.
14.  We're almost there.  The next bit is a little tricky and fiddly, and there is some risk of loosing a key crew.  Look carefully under the headlight.  You will see a Phillips head screw.  Remove that screw, taking great care not to let it fall into the legshield.  If it does, you'll have to remove the floor board to retrieve it, which will add a lot more dis-assembly to this project.  I strongly suggest using a magnetized screwdriver for that one.
15.  Next, if you look at the underside of the headset from the back side, you'll see two small screws, one on each side near the brake levers that need to be removed.  With all the screws out, begin the delicate task of wiggling and prying the front of the headset cover that has the headlight on it, loose.  There are a number of plastic retaining clips that make this bit fiddly.  For a while it might be impossible but persist, and it will come loose.  Once it's loose, disconnect the headlight and the parking light where the white plastic connectors are (the small one has a little catch that needs to be depressed) and now the front portion of the headset will come free.
16.  Place the parts you removed in a safe place where they won't get damaged.

17.  It's finally time to tackle the main objective: the grips.  Using an Allen key, remove the bar-end weights.
18.  Starting on the left side, use your heat gun (it's possible that a hair dryer might work too).  Begin heating the grip.  Heat the grip uniformly all round.  While heating the grip, take great care always to direct the heat away from the plastic headset or any other plastic parts.  They are all made of thermoplastic and will melt and be ruined if they are heated.  Once the grip is uncomfortably hot to your bare hand, begin twisting it back and forth in an unscrewing motion.  Eventually you will feel the grip coming loose.
19.  The more the grip moves, the easier this becomes.  At the beginning it requires quite a bit of force to get the grip moving.  You are likely to need to reheat the grip at least once in the process.
20.  An alternative on the left grip is to use some spray lubricant, like WD40, with the plastic straw that comes with the spray can, and get some lubricant between the grip and the handlebar.  This will work very well.  Unfortunately I don't recommend this for the right grip which the throttle side.

21.  On the throttle side, the grip sits on a plastic throttle tube.  Using the same heating technique, wrestle the right grip off.
22.  Once the grips are off, clean the exposed handlebar and throttle tube to remove any residue that will prevent the glue you'll need to use from setting properly.  I used rubbing alcohol (methyl hydrate) to clean the surfaces.

23.  Dry fit the heated grips.  They are a really nice fit.  Notice that the right grip (the grips look the same but are identified as left and right, because the throttle grip has a larger inside diameter), and notice as well that the one that fits on the throttle side won't slide on.  This is because the throttle tube on the Vespa GTS has a lip on the outboard side(whereas the throttle tube on the LX doesn't (go figure).  That lip needs to be removed.  Go at it gingerly with a box cutter or Exacto knife, or a scalpel if you're lucky enough to have one (I do but ran out of blades), and then finish the job with a flat file.  Here is a photo of the lip, mid-destruction.
24.  Now fit the right grip and see how nicely it fits.  It's time to figure out how the grips needs to fit so that the wire on the throttle side can rotate with the grip as the throttle is twisted without binding in the headset or interfering with the throttle or the brake.  Be aware of symmetry, if they both are fitted in the same orientation, the finished job will look good for years to come. Here is how I ended up mounting the grips.

25.  Now for the part that is about like defusing a bomb in reverse.  The Hot Grips on my LX were made fast with high temperature marine epoxy glue.  That glue, while it sets fast, is still forgiving and allows some time to get the alignment just right.  The Oxford Heaterz grips come with super glue.  I hate super glue.  It's too liquid, it gets everywhere, it will get on your fingers, and beware because it does bond skin very effectively.  Practice another dry fit, to make sure that you know exactly how the grip needs to fit, paying particular attention to the orientation of the wire, and the distance from the end of the handlebar where the bar end weight will fit.

26.  Once you're sure you've got it right, apply some of the supplied super glue to the bar.  I ran a bead along the top which immediately began running down the side of the bar.  I smooshed a little glue around, using the tube.  I then lost no time fitting the grip.  It was a little nerve wracking, but it worked out OK.  I did end up getting glue on my fingers, down the wire from the grip, and some even dripped on to the legshield.  I cleaned up the mess, then did the same steps with the other grip.
27. The white mess on the lead from the grip is super glue residue.  Hopefully it will tidy up without too much grief.
28.  It's a little difficult to tell in these photos, but I have the grips oriented so that the wires point straight back.  It's the throttle side (first photo) that determined the orientation.  After trying different orientations, this one leaves the wire lead in a looped configuration that allows the throttle to rotate freely without interference.

29.  With the new grips installed, it's time to turn your attention to the electrical connections.  Thread the leads from each of the grips to the centre of the headset.  Snap the quick connector from each of the grips to the wiring harness that came with the Heaterz grips.  Here's another picture that leaves something to be desired, but has the benefit of showing the connectors for the left and right grips plugged into the "Y" configured wiring harness.  The long tail of the "Y" is the piece that is fished from the middle of the headset down and out the left kneepad opening.
30.  Feed the long end of the wiring harness down from the headset and into the left kneepad space and out the kneepad.  Leave it dangling loose for now.

31.  Take the left kneepad with the control installed and place it on the floorboard on the left side of the bike.

32.  Using a Phillips screwdriver, remove the left turn indicator housing.  The Vespa GTS offers much less interior space inside the legshield than the Vespa LX and there isn't enough room in the kneepad space to hold the Heat Troller's control box.  The control box is the box connected to the Heat Troller switch unit by a longish black wire.  The white and blue leads, and the red and black leads emerge from the other side of the Heat Troller control box.  There is however enough room inside the leg shield just behind and to the left of the left turn signal housing.
33.  Thread the blue and white, and red and black leads into the kneepad space, lead them out of the open turn indicator opening, and continue pulling the unit through until the Heat Troller Control box is in hand.

34.  Use a tie-wrap to bundle up the excess black wire as close as possible to the control box and tuck that all inside that free space beside the turn indicator.  Now thread the blue and white and red back up from the turn indicator space into and out through the left kneepad opening.

35.  What you now have is an open kneepad, the blue and white leads and red and black leads from the Heat Troller, the black lead from the Heaterz grips with a white connector, and the kneepad itself, all hanging ingloriously out of the left kneepad opening.  In my case there is even more stuff hanging out, including the 6 position terminal strip that distributes positive and negative feeds directly from the battery, fuse holders for the 12V outlets and the hot grips, and the relay that shuts off the power to those accessories when the ignition is off.  It's a fair amount of stuff.  Plus I'm not an engineer or artist, so there is probably enough excess wire to make an engineer cringe, and an artist cry.

36.  Here's another video (a little premature because it shows the grips operating, but we're not quite there yet) that gives an idea of just how much stuff I've now got stashed in the left kneepad enclosure.

37.  Because I installed 12V outlets and a terminal strip earlier, hooking up the Heat Troller and Heaterz grips is a cinch.

38.  I took the positive connection for the grips by tapping the positive lead of one of my 12 volt outlets.  The ground connection comes directly from the battery on 12 gauge automotive wire via the terminal strip.  That circuit is protected by a 7.5 amp fuse.  The line that feeds the outlet is switched by a relay that gets its switching current from the GTS alarm connector.  That way of wiring the grips means that the power to the grips (like the power to the outlets) will only be on when the ignition is on.  That's a good thing because it means that it won't be possible to leave the grips running when I turn the bike off and remove the key.   That's the configuration that Oxford recommends for the Heaterz grips.

39.  Because a diagram may prove very helpful to others attempting this modification, I took the time to make a circuit diagram. If you need to see the diagram more clearly, click on it and it will open in a larger version in a new window.
40. To connect the wiring harness from the grips to the blue and white Heat Troller leads, cut off and discard the quick connector.  I made all my wire taps and connections using quick connectors.  You can pick these up at hardware stores or at a specialty electronics store, which is where I got mine.  You used to be able to get this stuff at Radio Shack (The Source, in Canada), but they have gotten out of the component business alltogether.  Here you see the connection of the heated grips to the blue and white Heat Troller wires.
41.  The last step in this project is to wrap the quick connectors in black electrician's tape as an extra measure of protection, stuff all the wiring and components back into the left kneepad space and button the bike pack up (re-install the headlight portion of the headset, the brake fluid reservoir covers, the mirrors, the horncast and the Piaggio badge.

42.  I believe that this wraps up another successful project report.  Now all I have to do is wait for winter to loosen its grip so that I can test this modification on the road.  I'll come back to this post with an epilogue to provide some commentary on the grips in action.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Heated grips, that is.

Installed, tested, marvelous.  Within a few minutes, the grips get uncomfortably hot to the bare hand.

I'll be posting a detailed project report to show how it's done, but it'll take a while to get it posted.

Here's a glimpse of the heat control seen from the rider's position.

I was concerned that the LED for the control wouldn't be visible because it's fairly recessed due to the thickness of the kneepad plastic.  But, as you can see, it turns out not to be an issue.

I apologize for the background noise, no it's not the noise that heated grips make, it's my heat gun hanging overhead in an attempt (successful) to get the garage to a temperature conducive to working on the Vespa in light clothing.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.