Friday, June 27, 2014

Service with a smile, and a shine!

It was high time for the annual check-up.  The bike was last serviced just before the 2013 Blogger to Blogger Tour.

All the riding during and after the tour, and into this season, takes a toll.

Over the winter my go-to dealership, Alex Berthiaume & Fils, Montreal's oldest motorcycle dealership, went through some changes.  The business moved to Montreal's north shore and is now located somewhere in Laval.

As part of the move, they sold off the Vespa business and the premises on de La Roche street to Mécamoto who now operate the Vespa business as Vespa Montréal.  Same shop, some familiar faces, some new faces, same great service.  More Vespas are sold from this small shop on the Plateau, than anywhere else in Canada.

François Desmarais, who now heads up the Vespa Montreal service department, really impressed me with his courtesy, frank manner, and above all, competent and thorough servicing of my Vespa.

It didn't come cheap, but with a friendly discount and some goodwill, the bill was under $800.  Yes I know that's a lot, but when you only have two wheels to rely on, peace of mind ranks very, very high.  I could certainly do some of the work myself, but there's no way I could match the knowledge, experience and competence that François and his team bring to the table.

In the end the bike needed a new front tire, rear brake shoes, a new exhaust manifold, a new drive belt, new rear wheel bearing, new spark plug, and the usual replacement of fluids and filters, as well as all the related tune-up adjustments one comes to expect.
When I picked up the bike, Paul Brunette, Vespa Montreal's sales manager (and the guy who did more to get me rolling on Vespas than anyone else on the planet, from tolerating my too numerous chatty visits to the dealership in the years before I purchased, to recommending the type of bike I needed to start off, to encouraging me to rent one for a test ride), surprised me by detailing the bike.
When I picked it up it was purring like a kitten and was as spiffy as the day it rolled off the assembly line in Pontedera in 2010.  No charge for the thorough clean-n-shine, just a handshake, a beaming smile, and a thank you for my business.

You can't beat that!

Thanks to Paul, François, and the rest of the team at Vespa Montreal.  You guys rock!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Triple Crown revisited

Food forays: talk about a great reason to commute on a Vespa.

Last week I needed to get a bottle of my favorite olive oil, Fuente Baena.  A bottle lasts me roughly a year.  The most reliable place to get this Spanish delicacy is the Jean Talon market.  It's one of Montreal's foodie go-to venues. Olive & Épices is the boutique that stocks it.

If I commuted by public transit, Jean Talon market would be out of reach.  Well maybe not really, but certainly psychologically.  In all the years I commuted that way, I didn't go there once.

When I commute by car, the trip to the  market is costly and impractical.  I'd end up having to pay twice for parking downtown, and pay for parking at the market.

My Vespa means parking is free, and it zips around traffic congestion, and that makes a trip to the Jean Talon market at lunch time easy-peazy.  You guessed it, I've done this jaunt before.  Quite a few times in fact.

I hadn't eaten yet. Riding north up the Main towards Little Italy gave me time to ponder lunch venues.
Notre Dame de la Defense - Little Italy
I'd been wondering if Triple Crown Dinette was still dishing up southern fare. I had been there before, about two years ago.

I'm very happy to report that they are still very much in business.  The food dished up by what is surely Montreal's smallest restaurant, is simply delicious.

Take a peek at the menu. Guess what I ordered.
That's right.  A gorgeous yummy plate of southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, a cornbread biscuit and a delightful concoction of rice, black-eyed peas and diced ham, with just the right kick of spice to make it really nice.
If the perfectly cooked chicken with it's beautifully browned crispy impossibly light crust was the star, the rice medley was the delightfully contrasting understudy.
 Alternating bites of chicken and the scrumptious rice dish, with a taste of the mashed potatoes and a nip of cornbread biscuit... Oh dear!  Lunch was delightful.

The whole affair was complemented with homemade lemonade that was the perfect libation.
Summer on a menu. Nothing less.

This tiny nothing of a restaurant punches way above it's weight.  I would pit them head to head against Vidalia in Washington D.C.  You can read that post here.  I'm really not sure who would win that contest, but I sure would like to judge it.
I guess I have a thing for southern cooking done right.  It's much rarer than it ought to be.

Unable to finish the generous helpings, I apologized profusely, and zipped over to the market to fetch the olive oil.

Lunches before the ScootCommute were never like this.

Powered by Vespa!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Meet Stephanie Yue

Scooterist. Illustrator. Martial artist. Climber of things. Eater, drinker, explorer.

That's the bio of a 250cc superhero, in her own words.

I would add Vespa rider to the list, but that's just me.

Every now and then a moto blogger of exceptional talent emerges from the social net. Stephanie is one of those.

By all means, don't take my word for it. Check out her blog, it's linked here, and in the blog list on the right.

Planning a four month hiatus, paring her life down to some stuff in storage, a Vespa GTS, and only things she can carry with her, saying farewell to family, friends, and her comfortable rut, to ride off solo to discover America: that's definitely a mission that takes guts.

Stephanie is on her way. She set out on May 5th, right on schedule.

She tells a compelling story. She writes with humility and candid honesty, right from the first post, in a style that's light, conversational, and never contrived or pretentious. This is an easy summer page turner.

I plan to follow her progress. It won't be a chore. Her blog is literally a work of art.
I think Stephanie Yue is right up there with vloggers Natalie Tran and Sonia Gil.

What do they have in common? They are exceptionally articulate, dynamic, well-traveled individuals, with media careers influenced by social media.

Check out Stephanie's blog. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Black and blue

I'm not. Not really.
Well, a little, maybe.
Returning to 'normal' after a dream vacation can bruise your psyche, that's for sure.
Susan actually is. Bruised, that is. Her nasty Tuscan ankle sprain still has her limping. My darling wife is a trooper, she is soldiering on.
We're both in need of some TLC.
I found a partial cure for Monday blues in a cup at the end of my lunchtime walk.
Café Myriade on Mackay street, just north of Ste-Catherine street offers some of the very best coffee you'll find anywhere.
Breaking with a long-standing ban, Montreal is allowing food trucks into the city.
I couldn't get my coffee fix from this charming venue because I was only carrying plastic. According to reviews on Yelp and UrbanSpoon, it was my loss. The truck is an off-shoot of a café I may need to find.
I have a thing for quirky vehicles. My Vespa scratches that itch.
I toy with the idea of getting a safari-ready vintage Land Rover 110 as a daily driver.
If I could throw caution to the wind, I would build a stable and throw a couple of vintage Citroëns in with the 110. An H1 truck like that coffee truck, and a deux cheveaux sedan.
To dream...
Speaking of dreams, my commutes are dreamy. On the way to work I took a minute so I could share the view here.
Looking at the day's iPhone photos, the post title sprang off the screen and smacked me right between the eyes.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I am back to the mundane world of commuting on two wheels.

It's not as exciting as touring, but commuting is still an inexhaustible source of satisfaction.  My commutes this week have been blissful.  Any route I choose has its pleasures.  I am spoiled that way.

Monday on the way home I took the slow scenic route.  It occured to me that I could take a look at what may be Montreal's most curious heritage building: our very own, essentially unknown, shot tower.  A turn-of-the-nineteenth-century industrial revolution museum piece.  Essential for making musket balls and buckshot.
It looks like a chimney, but only if you're not very observant.  For instance, are those windows? That is how our one and only shot tower manages to hide in plain sight.  Who would have thunk?  Not me!

I only found out about it a few weeks ago when doing a little homework on shot towers as a tidbit to add to my reference to Mark Twain's disparaging comment on the Tower of Pisa.  I have been riding right by it several times a week going on five years and never once guessed what it really was.
Montreal has a lot of history.  Montrealers are spoiled that way. You can see how a little thing like a shot tower could slip by under the radar, even in what is now a residential neighbourhood.

Tuesday morning was overcast and cool when I set out on the morning commute.

Throwing caution to the wind, I chose my BMW Airflow jacket and Tucano Urbano mesh gloves.  These are my coolest riding gear choices... because they keep me nice and cool.

I am spoiled to have choices.

On the way to the expressway (I was running late), I zipped up my jacket as the slightest chill got to my open collar.

After a mile or two of running on the highway, I felt a little chill on my hands.

I reached down and dialed in some heat to the grips.

Aaaahhhhh! Seriously spoiled.

PS: Doug went to visit the Dubuque shot tower.  His post is here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tuscan Loop - Epilogue and lessons learned

This may become a ScootCommute tradition.  Once a tour is in the bag, so to speak, it's time to reflect and do a little analytical thinking.  There are lessons to be learned in most everything we do.

Tearing a leaf from last year's tour, I'll start with the philosophical before tackling the practical.

It may seem that renting a bike to tear around a corner of Europe with some friends is a no-brainer, but it certainly wasn't in my case.  First off, it was a rather unique and expensive family vacation.  Taking a whole day for me-time without putting a damper on the family time required some diplomacy.  I also needed to impose on the family to get me to and from the starting point.  That's a 60 kilometer round trip.  My sons Jonathan and Andrew stepped up to the plate without hesitation.  I brim with pride.

And then there was reaching out to friends so see if they could join in.  I didn't want to impose.  They would have a minimum of four days of road travel to get to the starting point and return home.  Quite an investment of time and resources for a one-day joy ride in the countryside.
Do these people look like reluctant participants to you?

Sonja and Roland, bless your hearts.

And then there were logistics.  Finding a reputable place to rent a bike, getting the right bike for the ride, figuring out what gear to take, planning the itinerary.  Not exactly an expedition to Nepal.  But not trivial either.  Fortunately ModernVespa and its wonderful cadre of helpful members helped out, endorsing  Noleggio Moto Toscana and Roberto.  Thanks to Al Gravola (Aviator47).  You rock, and as you predicted, Roberto rocks too!

Arranging the Tuscan Loop, as you can see, needed some amount of stepping out of my comfort zone.  The good news is that there were months available for the planning.

If I have words of wisdom to share with you, it's definitely to take the risk, step out, put yourself out there, and you will be rewarded with amazing experiences.

OK, that's out of the way.  On to the details.

I mentioned at the outset that I came close to choosing a Piaggio MP3 400 last year when I was in the market for a bigger bike.
Ultimately I chose the Vespa GTS 300 i.e. Super over the MP3 400.

Now that I've had the opportunity to spend an entire day putting an MP3 250 through its paces in an idyllic Tuscan setting, I can say with certainty that I'm very satisfied with the choice I made.

First the pluses.

The MP3 is an engineering marvel. When you ride the bike there is no sense that the bike has three wheels. It performs like pretty much any motorbike. Where you notice the difference most is when the bike deals with an edge trap. Edge traps simply cease being an issue when you ride an MP3. It just doesn't matter how you approach them. You can cross them at a more generous angle if you like. But even if you take them as shallow as can be, it's like they don't exist.

The fact is that I struggled in left hand turns, but that had nothing to do with the MP3 and everything to do with side stand issues I have with my Vespa. The MP3 is one stable and planted bike. I could love learning to lean that bike left or right like a Nova Scotia schooner in a gale force wind.
Moving on, I really liked the fuel filler location on the floor. It's an ideal location for touring, particularly when you are carrying gear on the passenger seat. It means you can fill up without unloading the bike. It's a much better setup than the Vespa where the access to the fuel tank is hidden under the seat.
It would be difficult to find more storage on a stock motorbike. The continuous and quite cavernous storage compartment running the length of the seat and extending to the bike's tail that can also be accessed through the separate trunk lid is extremely convenient. There is room for a three quarter helmet under the seat, and possibly a full face helmet. But not if you have a Sena SMH10 headset attached to the helmet.
Adding a topcase and sidecases would make the MP3 a really fine touring bike, but only if you were able to address some of its shortcomings that I'll get to in a bit.  Fehling makes side case brackets for the MP3.
The ignition key has a car-like fob with a button that releases the seat lock. That's also a nice convenience when you are getting ready to ride the bike and you need to retrieve gear from the underseat compartment.

The ability to park the bike the way you would park a car, by engaging the front suspension lock and parking brake is also quite convenient, making a sidestand unnecessary and also minimizing the need to use the center stand.
On the power train side, the MP3's CVT transmission provided the same smooth range of torque I've grown accustomed to with the Vespa GTS. The 250cc engine performed well, but I
did occasionally find I had the throttle twisted wide open and was wishing for more oomph. Still, the MP3 250 is a competent highway bike. I think the 400cc model must be pretty sweet. The top of the line 500 must be a beast.

On the minus side of the equation, the bike has shortcomings that I'd have to find workarounds for if I were ever to own one.

Ergonomics tops my list. I have to admit I am spoiled by Vespas. Vespas are really comfortable, whether you're just riding around town or riding across a continent. The Vespa saddle is comfortable, the seating position is excellent, and you can move your feet around, changing up your position to ward off monkey butt syndrome.

The MP3 on the other hand has a bolster that divides the driver's portion of the saddle from the passenger portion. In my case it meant I couldn't shift my bum back on the saddle, and the ridge of the bolster eventually proved to be a literal pain in the you-know-what.
Fortunately there are custom seats on the market, including this one from Shad that the legendary ScooterWest dealership keeps in stock.
If you can't shift your upper body around on the MP3, you find that your feet are more or less corralled into a single position too.  The tubular steel skeletal substructure of the MP3 leads to a high floor height. I felt like my knees were uncomfortably high. Compounding the seating issues was a tendency to slide forward on the saddle that resulted in a lazy slumped position that compounded the lack of comfort.

All told, the seating position was much better than a similarly laid out Kymco Frost I rode a few years back, but I wouldn't tour on an MP3 without having a custom saddle designed. I know that committed MP3 owners have taken that step and there's plenty of expertise available in the MP3 discussion area on ModernVespa. I would add to the custom saddle some after market foot pegs to allow the leg position to be varied.  There's also a supplier who posts on ModernVespa who has crafted highway pegs that many owners swear by.
Lastly, I'd add an adjustable windscreen.  The stock windscreen wasn't bad, but an adjustable windshield would be a nice touch.
It's time to come to a conclusion here.

If some good and very generous samaritan offered to trade an MP3 400 for my Vespa GTS 300, would I bite?


What if it had the custom saddle and highway pegs?


What if it had the custom saddle, footpegs, a large topcase and hard sidecases painted to match the bike?

Now that would be a really sweet maxi scoot. Now I'm tempted. Seriously tempted.

So what's the problem?

I love the Vespa's iconic styling. It's truly a thing of beauty. The MP3 has inner beauty in the engineering of that dual-wheel front end. But man oh man it makes the front of the bike so huge.   There's that, and somehow, the MP3 also has a fat ass.  It just looks like it's a lumbering beast of a bike.  It isn't that at all when you're in the saddle cruising along a Tuscan country road, trust me.  But the esthetics are definitely where the biggest rub is, at least for me.  Could I get over the looks...?

I guess the plain fact is that I couldn't last year. But with all the aforementioned goodies thrown in... so tempting. But in reality, no one is going to offer to make that trade. So it's a moot point.

I love my Vespa.

End of story.

But apparently not the end of the neverending epilogue.

I debated on the gear to bring.

If I could have waved a magic wand, I would have brought everything: helmet, Bluetooth headset, boots, armored jacket, gloves, rain gear, armored pants, RAM mounts, GoPro, GPS, ROK straps...

Reality intrudes.

I had to prioritize.

Helmet (could be rented, so not the helmet).  Jacket (had to take, feel naked riding without it).  Gloves (tiny, they come). Bluetooth (small, coming too).  Boots (also feel naked without boots - way bulky). Rain gear (my waterproof travel jacket can do double duty, packs small-ish). Armored pants (Oh boy, very bulky - not likely to come). RAM mounts (no way I was going to dismantle my RAM mounts, luckily I bought a universal RAM clamp - bazinga!).  GoPro Hero camera (tiny, plus it's a camera so goes in the camera bag).  GPS (I figured Roland and Sonja would have that covered - and they did.  Otherwise, knowledgeable people told me getting lost in Tuscany was a huge plus). ROK straps (the ROK pack straps are small - stuff'em in my camera bag).

Enough folks strongly recommended that I bring an armored jacket.  Sonja had a genius suggestion: can't pack it?  Wear it! So that became a relative no-brainer.  I pre-warned Susan that her travel companion might look a little dorky in transit because he would most likely be wearing a motorcycle jacket.  No protest. Dodged the bullet.  Not necessary, I am a packing wizard.  We had his and hers suitcases and I got all my stuff packed, including my Corazzo 5.0 jacket, with the armor in place.  Winning!

So if you're keeping track, the only gear items I would have liked to have but didn't bring were armored pants and boots.

There has to be some element of assumed risk.  My plan for my lower body was not to come off the bike.  And it worked. Phew!  Not crazy risk though, my upper body would be as safe as motorcycling at less then 100 km/h reasonably allows.

That's most likely it folks.  I think I have managed to press every bit of literary value out of the Tuscan Loop.  I took you through the planning, gave you as good a flavour of the pure joy of it as my talents permit, and dished up the nitty-gritty on the technical side of the page.

I'll come back to this post to fix the inevitable typos, sharpen a passage or two, and close the gaps I've managed to leave.

The end.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Motor Madness Month

That's right! The Grand Prix is in town and we're hoppin' n' rockin'.

But that's not all. If it's two-wheeled excitement you want, and you want to see real people having an extraordinary real life adventure, with thrills, spills, and chills, you really need to follow the 2014 Scooter Cannonball. It's maybe, just maybe, the best ever.

I've made it super simple for you. All the links you need are at the bottom of the right panel under 2014 Scooter Cannonball.

Hyder Alaska to New Orleans Louisiana via some of the most amazing scenery Canada has to offer.

If you want a place to start, check out the ModernVespa page. It's compelling stuff.

Here's a teaser for a documentary on the 2010 Cannonball.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tuscan Loop - Farewell

The Museo Piaggio behind us, we made our way back to Motonoleggio Toscana so I could return the MP3.

Just like that, the Tuscan Loop ended.

I parked the bike, took the Sena headset off the helmet and returned the helmet to the shelf. I thanked Roberto profusely for the experience of a lifetime, and walked out the door.

Jonathan and Andrew were on their way to pick me up. Sonja and Roland were itching to ride into Pisa to visit the famous tower that Mark Twain referred to as the "old shot tower" when he visited in 1867. He noted that the tower could easily have been attributed to Michelangelo, had it not been "so awfully out of the perpendicular".  The city of Dubuque Iowa has a real shot tower they're proud of.  It sits not far from the mighty Mississippi, another topic that was dear to MT's heart.  I add the link because it helps to appreciate Mr. Twain's acerbic wit.

Sonja and Roland insisted on sticking around until my sons showed up though they would soon be faced with a setting sun. Such class. I felt bad having them cooling their heels in Pontedera when Pisa was beckoning.

Finally, Jonathan and Andrew pulled up at around 6:15 and Sonja and Roland rode off into the setting sun.  For once this hackneyed phrase is actually true, they were heading west, and the sun would soon be setting.

Later they e-mailed me a picture to show me what I had missed.
If the Pisan architects of the tower had suspected the sheer volume of visual puns that would be inflicted on that otherwise grand tower in the age of digital photography, they might have done a better job on the foundations.  Seriously, troll for images.  Among them you'll find this gem.

What you won't soon find is one quite as classy as the send-up by Roland and Sonja.

And that dear friends, is where the 2014 Blogger to Blogger Tuscan Loop ended, and the 2014 summer riding season began.

Up next: an epilogue.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Today, I polished off the last of the potato chips we bought on the second to last day in Florence.  No need to wax poetic over the chips.  Think Lays Classic and you'd be on the right track.
The only thing left before our Italian vacation is really and truly behind us, is to frame the watercolor print we bought on the way back to our rented condo from the Palazzo Pitti, on the approach to the Ponte Vecchio (X marks the spot).
 Susan and I always try to buy what we call travel art. Something we can hang on the wall as a reminder of the vacation. The family room is where we hang our travel art. Looking around the room I see Vancouver, Boston, London, Barcelona, San Francisco, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, Bryce Canyon and Ogunquit. I think we are behind in framing. Los Angeles is around here somewhere, not to mention Sorrento and Rome.

Now we'll have something to release a flood of fond memories from our too brief time in Tuscany.
Funny how awesome vacations begin to seem like a dream. You have to pinch yourself from time to time to remind yourself that they really did happen.

Still two more Tuscan Loop posts to come, sit tight.

Tuscan Loop - Museo Piaggio

We pulled into the driveway entrance of the massive Piaggio plant where our Vespas first saw the light of day. To a Vespa owner it's a little like the promised land.

We parked the bikes to the left of the entrance and prepared to tour the museum.

There was already one Vespa parked there which explains the four bikes, if you were expecting to see only three. We met the owner when we were getting ready to leave. She was a young German lady. Imagine her surprise when Sonja and Roland introduced themselves to her.
The thing that struck me most was how quiet the plant was for a weekday. I didn't expect to hear a 19th century cacaphony of hammers pounding metal amid showers of sparks, but I've seen more evidence of industry in the average hospital or even funeral home.

Entrance to the museum is free. And unattended. The only soul to be seen was the cashier in the museum gift shop. She was quiet and demure, to the point perhaps of seeming to be bereft of enthusiasm.

I didn't expect to be greeted by a delegation of Piaggio executives, much less to be offered some free Vespa swag. But hey, Sonja Mager and I are serious Vespa bloggers. We are volunteer ambassadors for the brand. Ken Wilson, Steve Williams, Dave Dixon, Orin O'Neill, Peter Sanderson, Bill Leuthold and others, are assets that Piaggio should at least acknowledge. And yet Piaggio seems officially and unofficially oblivious to the exposure we bloggers and forum participants lavish on their products.  I guess they don't get social media.  What they should be doing is monitoring the web and social media sites so that they know how the brand is faring for better or for worse.  They should know who their brand ambassadors are.

It's certainly true that the praise and devotion for the Vespa brand are well earned. But it seems to me that if I were the marketing manager for the brand, I'd make sure I had someone greeting visitors at the museum and finding out who they are.

When bloggers and serious brand ambassadors come calling at the museum, I'd find a moment or two to chew the fat, express some appreciation, and make them feel welcome. "Welcome to the Museo Piaggio! Where are you from? Do you own a Vespa or other Piaggio motorbike? If you care to, please sign in on our visitor guestbook."

Piaggio may own the rights to an icon, but that's where the story begins and ends. They built a decent museum and I guess they figure that's enough.

Anyone who questions whether Vespas have earned the top spot as the world's most iconic motorbikes will find all the convincing they may need at the Museo Piaggio.

I think I'll just let the pictures do the talking for a change.
As you can see I was drawn to the arty aspects of the experience.

Sonja and Roland on the other hand did a better job of revealing the museum and its collection. The following pictures are theirs.
You've come this far, and I know you are expecting this to be the end of the Tuscan Loop.

Geographically you'd be right, but there's still a little more virtual ink to be spilled before the Tuscan Loop can be considered officially closed.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.