Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I haven't been tending this blog, other than posting the links to the 2010 Scooter Cannonball rally that you'll see to the right.  My free-ish time has been devoted to following the Cannonball action.  I thought I might participate in that rally the next time it takes place in 2012.  I've been following the action pretty closely and I now think that neither my scooter nor I are up for that grueling an experience.

If I decide to ride coast to coast, and I may, it'll be on my own schedule, confined as much as possible to paved roads, during daylight hours only, and with the objective of raising money for a charity.  If I can help it, I won't turn my motel room into an impromptu mechanic's bay, or attempt to rebuild the cylinder and cylinder head on a gravel shoulder, as some intrepid Cannonballers have done.  What an adventure those riders are having.
Leaving the Cannonball aside for a moment, I thought I'd touch on transitions.  The daylight hours are shrinking.  The weather is a little gloomy. Fall is in the air. My first summer on a scooter is coming to a close.  The cold air worked its way through my gloves this morning by the time I got to the office.  I'm thinking seriously about installing a windscreen. Oh well, every season brings its charms.  That's why I've peppered this morning's post with sunrise pictures taken just east of the Pointe Claire village.  They tell the story of the coming fall, don't they?

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I rarely post accounts of my evening commute.

I suppose it's because I work long hours and the ride home is decompression time.  I'm anxious to get home, and my inclinations tend towards shorter, faster trips than to slightly longer photo opportunity trips.  The difference between the two experiences is literally only a few minutes, perhaps five, but five evening minutes are not five morning minutes.

That's not to say that the route along the water doesn't offer amazing views.  It certainly does, and I enjoy them just as much as the morning ones, but they're different, the quality and direction of the light is different, and unless there is something I see that compels me to stop and take a picture, I don't have anything to share with you here but the memory.

Last night's commute presented one of those compelling moments.  The photo was taken in Dorval, looking west across the bay towards Pointe Claire.

Not all scooterists have such benign experiences.  Some Modern Vespa forum members have to dodge bullets on the way home.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scooter Cannonball

The 2010 edition of the Scooter Cannonball is about to get underway.  It runs from September 9 through the 18th.  The participants depart Vancouver B.C. and trek to Portland, Maine.

I've posted a link to Pistol Pete's blog among the scooter blogs down on the right side of the page.  I'll post others as I come across them.

I am sooooo jealous.

Maybe in 2012.

PS: I've added a panel on the right side of the page with all the 2010 Scooter Cannonball links I come across to make it easier to follow the action.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What to read if you ride

This will be a short, but valuable post for those of you who already ride a scooter or motorcycle, or those seriously considering buying one.

I wouldn't say the learning curve is steep. Scooters are relatively easy to operate since most, like the Vespa LX150, have automatic continuously variable transmissions.  But riding any powered two-wheeler, whether it's a scooter or a motorcycle that can exceed 40 km/h, means having to come to terms with the laws of physics in ways that no other vehicle exposes you to.

One of the challenges is learning that when you are in a left hand turn, you actually need to steer right.  It's called counter-steering, and it's completely counter-intuitive. It's a really necessary skill, and it takes a combination of riding experience, knowledge and practice to get it right.

If you haven't already done so, you really need to find and purchase a copy of David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well.  The knowledge you need to complement your riding experience and practice is contained in this book.
After reading just a few chapters, I'm already more proficient in handling my Vespa.  Being able to counter-steer effectively is making a huge difference in my riding experience.

Pleasant surprises

You can live your whole life in a city and only get to know small parts of it.

If you had asked me in years past if I knew where Wellington street was, I would have told you that it was either in Point St-Charles, or Verdun, or somewhere vaguely southwest of the downtown core.  I couldn't have told you much else.

If you have no reason to go to the place because you don't work there, you don't live there, it's not along the route to work, or the route home, and you don't have friends or relatives there, well, it might as well be on Mars.
 An alternate route that I now take to work on my Vespa, when I have 5 minutes to spare, is to continue along the water, past Lachine, through Lasalle and into Verdun.  I veer off the water route and take Wellington street towards downtown.

 What a pleasant surprise Wellington street is.

Even during the hustle and bustle of the morning commute, the pace on Wellington is leisurely.  It's a nice mix of higher density residential property and small retail outlets.

One of the surprises is to find lovely Locust trees lining the street.  Locusts are my favorite trees.  Their lacy foliage filters the light in a very pleasant way.  When it rains, the bark goes almost black and the pale foliage provides a beautiful contrast.

Densely populated urban thoroughfares are not generally tree-friendly, especially in a northern city like Montreal.  Snowplows are the sworn enemy of trees, particularly young trees.  Yet, as you can see, the Locusts of Wellington street are doing allright.  Maybe better than allright.

Traditionally, this part of town was home to persons of modest means. I doubt that it will stay that way much longer.

Montreal's population has been slowly shifting back to the city.  As real estate prices in the suburbs and the price of gasoline have soared, thirty-something professionals have been gentrifying some of the older neighborhoods on the Plateau, the Mile-End east of the mountain, and all along the Lachine Canal.

I look at Wellington street with fresh eyes.  It has a lot to offer.  I'll bet that, before long, this area will be re-discovered and property here will rank among the new trendy sought-after places to live in the city.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


When you work downtown, whether you commute by car, train, bus, metro, or even walk, you tend to stay more less put and eat lunch pretty close to where you work.  Certainly that was my case until recently.

Last summer BIXI bikes opened a whole other range of possible lunch venues.  The Old Port, the Plateau, the Atwater Market, Greene Avenue, all became what you might call 'luncheable'.

This riding season, my Vespa has opened all kinds of additional possibilities: enjoying a sandwich on the lookout on Camilien Houde, or a delicious grilled lamb sandwich at the Jean-Talon market, for instance.

This map says it all, the black lines more or less tell the story of the respective lunchtime roaming capacity of BIXI bikes, and Vespa LX150's.
On Tuesday I really needed a change of scenery and a change of pace.  So I hopped on my scooter and headed to a place that is one of Montreal's legendary hangouts: the Orange Julep on Décarie boulevard.  This place doesn't need a website of its own, because it has a Wikipedia page.  Wow!
The food, other than the signature orange beverage which is akin to the nectar of the gods, is unexceptional drive-in fare: hot dogs, burgers, fries, ubiquitous Quebec 'poutine', etc.  The ambiance is all retro fifties and sixties drive-in, with the backdrop of the over-the-top, huge, orange, citrus-shaped, building that houses this unmistakable landmark.

60's pop music, heavily laced with Motown classics, suffuses the air in the huge parking lot and instantly takes me back to my earliest experiences here when waitresses on roller skates responded to flashing headlights to take orders and deliver the food on a drive-in tray cantilevered on my Dad's driver's door window.  With the exception of the skating waitresses who are doubtlessly mostly grandmothers now, the place hasn't changed at all.

Read all about it on Wikipedia.

From my picnic table, I had a decent view of two other unmistakable Montreal landmarks.

St-Joseph's Oratory...
and the main art-deco tower of the Université de Montréal designed by famed architect Ernest Cormier.
Lunch doesn't get any better, or cheaper, than this!!

Come to Montreal and check it out.

If you live in Montreal, buy a scooter!  Dare to live!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mercier bridge

On the way to work I parked on a foot path on the river bank that is parallel and just south of the bicycle path that runs on the bank on the south side of Lasalle Boulevard to enjoy my morning coffee and take some snapshots of the Mercier bridge.

Since my post last week about Montreal's bridges it makes sense to post some images.
These photos don't really tell the story about the bridge approach that can only really be conveyed by looking at the map.
The black circles on the map show that you have to commit to the Mercier bridge on Airlie just over a quarter mile from the bridge, and once you do, it's all limited access roadway with concrete dividers so there's no turning back.

With a little luck, and given enough time I will eventually cross all of Montreal's bridges.

On a technical note, for beverage addicts, one of the challenges of commuting on a motorcycle or scooter, is that they don't come with cup holders.  The folks who post valuable information on the Modern Vespa forum have come up with some excellent ways of transporting beverages, some home-grown, some very sophisticated and versatile .  Since all Vespas have carry hooks (variously and affectionately referred to as the "purse hook" or "curry hook" depending on where you're from and what your sense of humor is), many designs exploit that feature.

I settled on the coffee jacket from Corazzo that also happens to fit in with the look of my Corazzo 5.0 armored jacket.
It just arrived the other day along with some goodies and freebies. Think a fresh batch of zipper pulls to replace the one that tore, and to add to my pockets to make life easier, another Corazzo sticker that I want to apply to my scoot, just have to figure out where, some nice postcards, and something else, that I won't mention, but that is really appreciated and serves to confirm that the folks at Corazzo are very special people - Thanks Jody!!.

If you look carefully in the first photo above, you can just see the cup holder hanging in front of the saddle.

I tested it this morning for the first time, and it works really, really well.  It held my McDonalds coffee securely, kept it handy, and not a drop was spilled.  Success!!  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Weather for ducks

 After a spectacular beginning to the riding season with record-breaking heat in April, and the unremittingly beautiful summer weather that followed, the sometimes heavy rains and overcast skies of the last few weeks are certainly a change.

This morning a light pervasive fog softened the island.

Steve Williams, publisher, author, photographer, and fellow scooter blogger (check out Steve's award-winning Scooter in the Sticks blog), has a particular fondness for fog and mist veiled landscapes. 
Do you share his appreciation?  I certainly do.

This morning's photos were taken during my commute, snapped lazily from the saddle of my Vespa LX150, stopped for a moment on Lakeshore boulevard in Pointe Claire.

Monday, August 9, 2010


When you live on an island, even a large island like Montreal, and when you ride a scooter like the Vespa LX150, and when many of the bridges are either linked to limited access highways, or are huge imposing sky-high engineering wonders, you eventually wonder how you're going to get off the island.

You know it's more or less inevitable. But to do it, you have to commit to it.  For most of Montreal's bridges, the design of the bridge approach requires that you make a major commitment to the bridge.  Once you're on the approach, there's no turning back.  So it's not like exploring a new neighborhood, or a new route downtown, where you can always abandon the experience, stop, turn left, turn right, pull over, turn around, head back to the familiar, put off the adventure.

The bridges to the South Shore are those that require the greatest commitment.  Whether it's the Victoria, the Jacques Cartier, the Champlain, the Mercier, or the Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge-tunnel, when you commit to the approach, you can't even see the bridge.  The very nature of Montreal's demographics, the sprawling South Shore suburbs, means that traffic on all those bridges is intense and that the posted speed limits are at best guidelines.

So the prospect of committing to one of those bridges is a little intimidating.

I was thinking that I would first commit to the Victoria.  But the bridge deck is a metal grid because it's a lift bridge.  The little Charlevoix bridge that I take to cross the Lachine Canal daily, and the slightly longer Gauron bridge that crosses the canal at Ville St-Pierre, have a metal grid decks that I practice on.  The grid makes the bike squirm and worm its way along. Even at 20 km/h it's an experience that's unsettling.  Committing to the Victoria at 50 or 60 km/h (perhaps even faster?) will require quite a bit of nerve.  I'm not there yet.

Last Friday I had a work-related social obligation on the South Shore, in Longueuil, way to the east, just east of the Hippolyte-Lafontaine Bridge Tunnel.  The obvious choice was the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.  It's a huge bridge that manages the challenge of the St-Lawrence Seaway like the Champlain Bridge does, by rising to a ridiculous height.  Six lanes of impatient drivers, more or less ignoring the speed limit.  I have to say I was a little apprehensive.

The bumper-to-bumper traffic on the mile-long approach allowed me to filter up at a slow rate of speed.  I got behind a guy on a Harley and his female riding companion who was on a large Burgman scoot.

The traffic picked up the pace briskly as soon as the ascent started in earnest, quickly reaching 70-80km/h.  Fortunately the Vespa LX150 can handle that challenge with power to spare.  The actual crossing was over so fast, I barely had time to enjoy the spectacular view from the top.

And there I was, cruising along Marie-Victorin boulevard, headed east along the south shore of the mighty St-Lawrence river.  I was elated.  A challenge faced squarely, mastered and conquered.  I felt that I had broken the bonds of the island.  I felt that I had opened a door to the entire continent.

Suddenly, the prospect of riding my scoot to the seashore in Ogunquit seems all the more attainable.

Wow! What can I say?  It's not skydiving or bungee jumping, I know, but for me, it was a real rush.



Since I commute 60 kms a day, 300 kms a week on my Vespa LX150, weekends are mostly devoted to other pursuits.


I can't resist a least one ride on the weekend.  Since my commute goes east, on the weekend, my joyride has to go west.  It's a go-slow-and-savour affair.  West along old lakeshore road to take in glimpses of the lake amid million dollar mansions.

Then further west briskly through Baie d'Urfée enjoying the twists and turns of the road and then crawling through the heart of Ste-Anne de Bellevue's quaint restaurant strip where the restaurants on the lake side of the village back onto a pedestrian boardwalk along the canal.

The sailboats and cabin cruisers tie up and the weekend sailors lounge on deck and chat over wine and beer while the patrons crowding the open-air restaurant terraces and the envious throng of ogling pedestrians take in the scene.

The whole return trip takes less than an hour but the enjoyment of that ride, either looking forward to it, or savouring the memory, is one more contribution to my well-being that the Vespa makes.

Here is a further glimpse of that ride:  the bay that puts the "Baie" in Baie d'Urfée.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

More... food!

Here at last is the intended Thursday post.

Having picked up bagels for my colleagues at St-Viateur Bagel last week, I just had to balance things out by picking up Fairmount bagels this week.

So once more I took the more northern route downtown through Town of Mount Royal and Outremont. Once on Fairmount, just east of Park Avenue, I pulled up in front of Fairmount Bagel.  It turns out that they don't accept debit card payments, so a detour to the bank a few blocks away at Laurier and Park Avenue became necessary.  Oh well.  Wonderful bagels fresh from a wood burning oven are more than worth the extra effort.
Once of the more or less unexpected side benefits was stumbling upon the Continental kosher butcher shop.  This hole-in-the-wall kosher shop was were my father-in-law first worked when he came to Canada.  When I began dating my wife Susan, I was introduced to the most wonderful all-beef salami that her father Sam would bring home from work.  Heaven.
I made a mental note to return here to pick up one of those salamis one of these days.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Morning Glory

The official post for today will be another (hopefully) interesting topic.

In the meantime, this scene in Pointe Claire was so compelling, I had to interrupt the commute to take the photo.

Just a little something for the car-train-metro-bus set to consider while they debate whether commuting on Vespa might be a better way to go.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


One of the essential ingredients in making the scooter a reasonable choice as a means of commuting, is to make sure that you have the right gear.  Rainy weather comes and most powered two wheelers head for the shed. But if your scooter is your means of commuting, you really need to be prepared to ride in the rain.

It could be nice and sunny for the morning commute, but the evening could be really wet.  If you leave your bike at work it's an inconvenience.  If you forego the bike every time there's a chance of rain, you will miss out on so many riding days that you won't really be commuting on the scooter any more.

Really good rain gear makes all the difference.

Last evening I stopped in Lachine because the sky had gone from grey and iffy, to black and menacing.  I sat on a park bench and donned full rain gear that I always carry in the underseat compartment (affectionately known to Vespa owners as the "pet carrier", owing to the prominent "No pets" warning sticker inside): Teknic waterproof overpants and a matching jacket.

Just as I had secured the last velcro closure, torrents of rain fell with gusting winds.  The rain was so heavy that it was like a veil of water descending.  The only issue I had was controlling fogging on the visor of my Nolan N-102 full face modular helmet.  Not too challenging.

I reduced my speed, made sure my high beam was on, rode very cautiously, and avoided slippery surfaces like painted lines, painted lane, turn indicators, and crosswalks, metal construction plates, and the like.

Rain is one thing, lightning is another.

As soon as lightning began I sought shelter.  I found an outdoor market in Dorval, parked the bike in the parking lot and took cover under its large canopy.
While I feel perfectly safe sitting in a car during a thunderstorm, riding a bike is another story.  Without the protection of a good grounded or insulated metal structure to act as a Faraday cage, getting struck by lightning is an all-too-real risk.  I reasoned that short of being indoors, the heavy metal structure of the market's canopy could act as a Faraday cage if lightening did strike.

Once the sky lightened and the thunder stopped, I continued on my way.  The pause at the market to wait out the lightning was a pleasant break, a moment in time in an adventurous evening commute.

Inclement weather is not something to be avoided at all costs.  With the right gear, and a little common sense, it adds spice to the scoot commute and is one more reason that I am loving the summer of 2010.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Croissants & café au lait

On Wednesday morning I took a different route to work.

At Sources boulevard I sacrificed the water route for a much more direct but oblique route that took me along the Autoroute 20 service road, to Autoroute 520, to the Décarie traffic circle, and along the Autoroute 40 service road to Rockland Boulevard.  Not by any means a picturesque route, but certainly faster paced.

From there I ambled through tree-lined Town of Mount Royal admiring the massive, and yes, elegant, 1950's bungalows that run along both sides of Rockland.  I then took the overpass that leads into Outremont.

While this route is more complicated, it is much faster.  I left home at 6:50 a.m. and by 7:20 I was nearing my objective: breakfast at one of Montreal's quintessential outdoor café spots.  Croissanterie Figaro at the corner of Faimount and Hutchison ("X" marks the spot on the map above).  Go ahead click here and you too can be virtually there in seconds.

Here you go... your breakfast is served.
There was no parking available, unless you ride a Vespa.  In that case, you can sit, read the morning paper, savour the best café au lait this side of Paris, nibble on the most heavenly croissant, and all the while admire the fine Italian lines of your Vespa, parked right by your table.
As I caught up on the news, my attention was diverted by the unmistakable sound of an approaching Vespa: a really nice black GTS which I admired as it passed by.

Commuting can't get any better than this.  It really can't.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Old Lachine Canal

On Tuesday morning I picked up a steaming cup of coffee from the MacDonalds in Lachine and made my way down to the "Old" Lachine Canal.  The whole of the Lachine Canal is "old", but this portion is even older than the rest since it pre-dates the heavy industrial use of the canal in the early to mid-20th century.
A plaque commemorates the much earlier fur trading period, long before the construction of the Lachine Canal, when this spot at the head of Lake St-Louis served as the jumping off point for fur-trading expeditions up the St-Lawrence river and on to the Great Lakes.
The ancient fur trade outpost, once a kingpin in the lucrative trade of centuries-past, now serves principally as an anchor for this very pretty urban park.
Nothing is further from the hustle and bustle of the more traditional commuting experience that is happening on Highway 20 than the picturesque serenity of this much less traveled route just a few kilometres to the south.

Taking the Vespa to work means that I can take ten minutes to enjoy my first cup of morning coffee in this beautiful relaxing setting rather than juggling coffee in the car or on the train.

Ten minutes is such a small price to pay for such a soothing experience.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.