Thursday, October 30, 2014


Summer lingered well into October this year.   I took my sweet time transitioning too.

First I abandoned my BMW Airflow summer riding jacket for the Corazzo 5.0.  The Corazzo doesn't have a liner but it works as a cold weather jacket as I add layers.

Then I occasionally resorted to the heated grips.

Eventually I exchanged my gloves for gauntlets.

Now it's late October and the transition is  complete.  The tall and wide windscreen...
... has replaced the summer mid-height screen...
... and the Tucano Urbano Termoscud has made its appearance.
It was a little wrinkled from having been stored in its stylish pouch (that's the first photo).
Eventually it took on a less rumpled look after a couple of commutes.

I bought a super lightweight down jacket, and that has replaced my Corazzo Underhoody as the layer beneath the riding jacket.

The final hedge against the cold's penetrating knife edge is a motorcycle buff I purchased in Italy this summer.
I pull it down over the down jacket collar and it seals off any possible gap between the helmet and my collar.
All of the cold weather gear adds quite a bit to the preparation time each time I ride, but once underway, I can honestly say I am toasty warm everywhere.  It's almost amazing.

In fact, so warm, that at any temperature over nine degrees Celsius I find myself looking to shed some heat. 

It's a far cry from my first season. I remember my first ride in March to get my Vespa LX150 inspected and plated.  I wore a plain leather jacket, street shoes, jeans and leather gloves, with the open-face helmet that came with the bike.  I rode surface streets in all likelihood never exceeding fifty kilometers an hour. 

I freaking froze. I still remember the cold penetrating all along the jacket zipper like a knife. I sat in a coffee shop nursing a scalding hot coffee trying to banish the chill. 

I am light years removed from that experience now.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I ate lunch at my desk.

The leftovers from home are a healthy choice but the venue sucks. I've got to get up and get out.

Amid the vibrant colors and the warm bounty of Thanksgiving, fall has its mornful tendencies.    A decent brisk walk in the city is a fitting way to embrace the season and shake off the grief of summer's passing.  Yet a good walk without a destination, is a pointless stroll.

I set out heading north on Mountain and then east along Ste-Catherine.  As I make my way, the chill in the air prompts the thought of a nice rich cappucino.  An exceptional cappucino.  Not Starbucks, not Second Cup, not even Java U. Sorry guys.

I'm thinking more along the lines of Jean-Philippe Tastet's top five list of independent micro-roasting barrista-venues in the city.

As I continue on a northeastern tack I pull out my phone and call up his recent blog post.  Well, not his post, actually. His daughter Élise penned this particular review.

I scroll Élise's shortlist with one eye on the screen and the other bent on dodging lamp posts and pedestrians. I'm headed the wrong way for Café Myriade and don't want to double back.  Another of the top five is definitely a walkable target.  And a very pleasant walk at that.

When the Indigo store looms into view it jogs my memory and I stop to pick up a book that Susan expressed an interest in. It only takes five or ten minutes.

I walk north on McGill College, past the Roddick Gates and through the urban park that is the centerpiece of the lower campus.  It feels good to be among the students. I pick up bits and pieces of earnest chat about courses and other seemingly timeless trivia that animate the conversations drifting by me.  Not much has changed, really. I could be heading to class.  The words and occasional laughter float above the footsteps and the rustle of leaves littering the sidewalk.

Pressing east once more along Milton, through the student ghetto, I see Park Avenue four or five blocks away. In no time I'm there. I turn right and begin paying attention to the addresses, with a lookout for the storefront signs.

And there it is. Café Pikolo.
It's a small space. Bohemian, with a pronounced hipster vibe.
I order the cappucino I've been anticipating.
It comes with a milk foam heart gently etched into the crema. Now there's something I can't do at home with our Nespresso machine.
I spy a seat at the end of the bar and settle into the tiny spot. On the other side of the counter a senior barrista is instructing a colleague on how to infuse some concoction of herbs. He treats it like a Druid's potion, with minute attention to the ministrations of his fingers gently positioning the herbs for ideal infusion, or so it seems to me.  Much as I enjoy the proceedings I can't help thinking that if you just dumped the herbs in the water without the benefit of the ritual, no one would be able to tell the difference.  That's my inner philistine expressing itself.  Coffee and tea are the new wine.  We are so self-indulgent.

That said, my coffee is everything I hoped for.  Strong yet smooth, full-bodied but not bitter.  Maybe the rituals do the trick after all.  I soak up the atmosphere.  Pikolo seems to express McGill's vibe as Myriade does for Concordia's. The one more traditional, more victorian, the other firmly rooted in the mid-20th-century ethos, yet both sharing a very present dedication to the coffee culture. I'm glad I made the effort.

Office duties drag me from my reverie and off I go.

This time it's a beeline west along Sherbrooke.  Passing the McGill campus on my right a curious thing happens.

I have my head down as I walk with a purpose, less attuned to the walk, planning my afternoon.  The old imposing greystones of the music faculty, the elaborate black wrought iron fence, the towering trees, and then, on the sidewalk at my feet, the pedestrian traffic has shredded and ground the fallen leaves into a dry mulch ranging from recognizable leaf bits, to small dime-sized shards, and then down to a kind of leaf dust.

That sight triggers an utterly vivid memory. The sidewalk, the ground up leaves, the city sounds and sights, the musty smell of fall, the grey sky... I have experienced exactly this, six years ago almost to the day, on the left bank in Paris. With Susan, a world away.  The memory is so present, so tangible I am briefly overwhelmed by it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's in the glove box?

Vespas shine, they really do. Literally, and figuratively.

Storage is definitely one of the figuratively shiny aspects of Vespa love.

Which brings me to the point.

The Vespa GTS glovebox is nowhere near as big as it might seem from the outside.
On the inside, it's just about right for a few essentials.
Here's my show and tell on the contents.

A couple of bandanas. I keep these here because they take no room, and could be useful. You never know.
Registration and insurance. I have been stopped a few times, sadly. It's nice to be in a position to hand over the papers with a minimum of fuss. No point in annoying a constable who may already be testy.
Tire pressure gauge. Because you just can't tell if your tire pressure is right any other way.
What? You're not sure what the correct pressure is? That's conveniently written down on the inside of the glove box door.
A multi-tool. Very useful both on and off the bike. This one's very good, but not great. It's a Gerber Recoil. I want one of the Leatherman models that accepts sockets, like a Leatherman Surge.
A flashlight. A serious flashlight. This one's a FourSevens Quark Pro. Two hundred plus lumens with variable output ranging from moonglow to brilliant sunshine, plus beacon and strobe functions. It runs on two AA batteries. Easy to carry and easy to find fresh batteries.
A spare Sena SMH10 controller, the one from my old helmet. I got it for the day that I coax Susan onto the passenger seat for a ride-to-coffee.  In the meantime it's my spare helmet communicator.  When the battery dies on the one I'm using, I just pop off that controller and pop in the spare. I labeled them 'Sena 1' and 'Sena 2' so I can tell them apart.  A fully charged Sena lasts about a week and a half of steady commuting use (at least two phone calls a day, plus the odd text, and streaming music).
A monocular spy glass. It's an Orion Eagle Eye 8X32 monocular.  It seems no longer to be in production, but the manufacturer has more powerful models for sale.  Here's the story.  I carry a pair of binoculars in the glove box in each of our cars. They're rarely used. But when you're sightseeing and you want a closer look, nothing beats having a pair of binoculars handy. The Vespa glove box only has space for a monocular. It is very high quality. A gift from my dad. The store that sold it to him said that their biggest customers for this model were law enforcement. Apparently for stakeouts.
Last, but not least, a cup holder.  It's from Corazzo, they call it a coffee jacket.  It takes up literally no space.  Like the monocular, it's hardly ever used.  But there's that odd time when I want to take a cup of McDonalds coffee for a short ride.  Then it's priceless.
And that's it.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


In hommage to my late close friend Bob Leong, who preferred to go by his avatar BobSkoot, I wrote that Bob was full of good surprises. I was fond of thinking of Bob as a wizard. He had the gift of making good stuff happen.

With his passing, I resigned myself to a life without Bob's surprises.

Then I got an e-mail from Brad and Brandy.  It turns out that Bob would buy stuff from time to time and have it sent to Brad and Brandy in Oregon, taking advantage of free shipping offers that sadly don't extend north past the border. Bob was rarely in a rush to have the things he ordered, and was content to pick them up whenever circumstances allowed.

That was how Brad and Brandy came to be holding a purchase for Bob. With his untimely passing, it was destined never to be collected or delivered.

Unbeknownst to me, a consensus developed among west coast bloggers that Bob would have wanted me to have the item.

On Wednesday it arrived on my doorstep.
It didn't take long for me to tear the wrapping off like a little kid on Christmas morning.
What the heck is it?

Well it's this.
An amazingly well thought-out, high-performance, portable, 12 volt air pump. It gets its power from the vehicle's electrical system. You can tell it's designed for the moto community because it's compact, it has a robust lossless screw-on air chuck, and the primary electrical connection terminates in a female two-prong SAE connector.

Stock Vespas don't have one of those, but I do. I installed one direct from the battery, hours prior to my departure on last's year's moto trip with... guess who... Bob.

The line, which is fused at 10 amps, runs from the battery compartment in the floor, back through the bike, and exits just below the left rear fairing.
This pump kicks butt!

I tried it out minutes after unwrapping it and it's by far the best way yet to adjust the tire pressure on my Vespa.
My full size air compressor is technically superior, but when you factor in turning it on, waking the dead while it builds pressure in the tank, uncoiling the hose, connecting the hose, plugging in the tire filler attachment, and clipping the business end onto the valve, the MotoPump is way, way, more convenient than the full size compressor.  That doesn't factor in the time it takes to take the compressor components off, empty the tank, store the hose and accessories, and so on.

Comparing the MotoPump to the portable 12V pump I had been keeping on the bike for emergencies, the MotoPump takes up a lot less room than my former loud and painfully slow portable pump that had no built-in gauge or worklight.  The MotoPump also comes with an array of accessories that will allow you to inflate anything, and includes both an extension with a standard car 12V plug, and, for good measure, an extension with battery terminal alligator clamps, just in case you're servicing an ATV or a farm tractor (nudge nudge, hint hint, wink, wink).  Even with the accessories, it still takes up a lot less room than my old pump.  The MotoPump is also amazingly fast for a portable pump.  In fact, it's amazingly fast for any pump; period.

Armed with this baby in my Vespa's underseat compartment, I could rescue stranded motorists in full-size SUVs!  Wouldn't that be a hoot!  Next time I see a stranded motorist, I'm going to stop.

Here's proof:


Thanks Bob, wherever you are, I feel you smiling, truly I do.  And thanks to Brad, and Brandy, and Richard if I'm not mistaken, for your kindness in making this happen.

I am blown away (sorry for the pun).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Endlessly useful

Here's another idea born from my Scouting past.

I just cobbled together another of these contraptions for Susan. We had a power failure last week, and I was the only one prepared in an instant.  Now we each have one.

What are they?

Mine is a tiny pocket knife (blade, screwdriver+bottle opener, nail file) together with a Mountain Equipment Coop Turtle light two-LED bike light. I use the Turtle light's bungee to secure it to the pocket knife.

It's a tiny little getup that fits in the palm of your hand, lives in my pants' pocket completely unobtrusively, whether in jeans or a suit.
Susan's is the same but with a Swiss Army pocket knife (the smallest they make - blade, nail file+screw driver, scissors, toothpick, tweezers).

Endlessly useful because...
  • Space-age packaging is impossible to open
  • Life is full of dim moments
    • dark drawers
    • unlit paths
    • dropped items in the theatre
    • unfamiliar darkened rooms
    • power failures
    • dark alleys in Venice
    • the suitcase storage under the stairs
    • some menus, in some restaurants
    • the space under the driver's seat where that vital thing just slipped to
  • Small children are fascinated by how bright light emanates from my closed fist
  • When you get a splinter, tweezers are your best friend
  • Sometimes the perforated line is just printed as a suggestion and there are no actual perforations
  • Walking at night on a road without sidewalks is safer with a strobing LED
  • It's way easier to open boxes from Revzilla 
  • When it's four a.m., the party is still swirling in your bamboozled brain, and even with a flashlight you've tugged your shoelace into a Gordian knot, a blade is your best friend
  • Stuff falls into nooks, crannies, and cracks
  • Crossing a busy street once the sun sets is safer when you're seen
  • That twine you used just won't snap
  • When you need a toothpick, nothing else will really do
  • Once in a while there's a loose screw
  • Once in a while, even guys break nails
  • Who's to say that there's emergency lighting on level three of the underground parking?
  • Cutting or snipping a loose thread is infinitely preferable to having your sleeve fall off because you tugged on the stitching
  • Unboxing Apple products is impossible with your bare hands
  • It's easier to prove that there is no monster hiding under the bed when you can shed bright light
  • Not all beer has twist-off caps
  • Cutting the tags off right now is sometimes a necessity
  • You're beginning to think that the car keys could be under the family room couch
  • Putting it on the dog's collar is safer for the dog, and just too damned funny
  • It's way easier to open boxes from Aerostitch
  • Holding the Turtle light between your lips makes an impromptu headlight that you can point with your head, and steer with your tongue. Better than anything else when working on a fiddly thing in a tight dark space (I mean like plumbing under a sink, or changing a light bulb in a closet - not what you were thinking).  As with many endeavours, just don't swallow
  • You can let it dangle from a backpack or purse and set it on strobe to keep you visible
  • Morse code is easier with a flashlight than with a Bic lighter 
  • It may not be perfect, but it's always there when you need it
Plus, the Turtle light is designed to bungee itself onto bicycle handle bars or forks. That means you can bungee it to motorcycle grab rails, brake levers, crashbars, handle bars...

Comes in white and red. The red one is useful on the bike if you have a breakdown at night. Bungee it to a rear grab rail and set it to strobe.

Be prepared.  It's more than just a motto for kids.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Repairs - Part two

If you were expecting a Vespa repair, you're about to be disappointed.

The victim this time was my Corazzo 5.0 riding jacket.

I tugged up the zipper at the end of the day, as I had done hundreds of time before, and I heard a 'click' sound as the zipper thingy snapped free, clearly beyond repair.

I resorted to a binder clip as a stop-gap measure.
Replacing the entire zipper was of course an option, a potentially expensive and time-consuming option.  Since the Corazzo is my cold-weather jacket and fall is upon us (although today as I write this we are in the middle of a freakish heat wave), it had to be fixed in short order or I wouldn't be riding, and that, just wasn't acceptable.

What to do?  Google of course.

That's how I found FixnZip.

A quick trip to the Mountain Equipment Coop store and I had the tiny marvel in my hot little hand, as my mother was fond of saying.
The instructions are excellent, the quality above-reproach.
In no time my Corazzo jacket was a good as new.
Easy-peasy, an inexpensive fix that works like a charm.

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