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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Repairs - Part one

A while back my Vespa GTS 300i.e. sprang a coolant leak.

You can read here about the discovery and diagnosis.

A coolant leak is no laughing matter.

If the leak causes you to lose enough coolant it won't take more than minutes to turn a perfectly fine high performance Italian engine into grist for a recycling mill.  The cure is to break out the tools and turn my half of the garage (the other half belongs to Susan) into a Vespa emergency repair bay.
Basically, the modern Vespa is a work of art.  Fortunately it's also very well engineered.  It's a finely sculpted sheet metal unibody design, closed by a shell of finely crafted ABS plastic panels.  The fit and finish is flawless.  Which is good, and bad.

The bad bit is that getting those curvy plastic panels off the bike requires patience, along with some coaxing, cajoling and some light doses of soft cursing.  The good bit is that the whole thing can be managed with a simple Phillips screwdriver and a pair of needle-nose pliers.   The large-frame Vespa GTS has a lot going on in its innards, and that means the job is about double the complexity of disassembling the air-cooled small-frame Vespa LX model.

This was the first time I needed to get under this Vespa's floorboards.  The job involves removing the following body parts and some other bits and pieces a stock Vespa won't have (hence the asterisks*):
  • The Piaggio badge.
  • The kneepad hatches covering the left recess with the alarm connector and the right engine coolant cover. 
  • The HeatTroller heated grips control.*
  • The horncover.
  • The glove box.
  • The floor rack.*
  • The battery cover.
  • The crashbars.*
  • The side fairings below the cowls.
  • The two small covers at the front end of the fairings. 
  • The floorboards.
I will spare you the details, but provide instead the phenomenal guidance I got from YouTube and ModernVespa:
Among the secrets you learn from Robot, is the elastic band trick that greatly simplifies re-installing the glovebox in a way that ensures that the glovebox locking mechanism actually works.

In short order, all those pretty bits litter the garage floor...
... and the Vespa reveals its secrets...
... including the source of the leak, and a missing screw clip for the left kneepad.  It was missing when I got the bike and I had replaced it shortly afterwards.  Now I have a spare.
The fix was super simple.  I tightened up the left-side hose clamp that was a little loose (and probably the source of the leak), and for good measure removed the single-use OEM hose clamp on the right of the joint, replacing it with a standard hose clamp.
A little more wiggling, cajoling and soft cursing later, and the bike was back in one piece.

The next day I returned to my bike in the garage at lunch time and was thoroughly pleased to find the garage floor nice and dry.
And that boys and girls, is how to unspring a leak, so to speak.  With a little helping hand from ModernVespa, as usual.

One more repair to come, stay tuned.

Friday, September 26, 2014

ScooterBob hits the road, Jack!

Copyright Bob Leong
This is a slightly long story, but well worth reading, and there's a twist that could involve you, in a good way.

I first met Bob in late May of 2012.  That's only a few short years ago, but it feels like a lifetime.

That first day I set out on the scooter Bob arranged for me and I met Bob at his home in Vancouver.  A whirlwind moto tour ensued that was jam-packed with wonders.  I didn't make it back to my hotel until shortly after midnight.

On the way back from visiting the famed Night Market, we stopped at Bob's place.  He popped quietly into the house and emerged minutes later with a mysterious cardboard box and some bungee cords.  He lashed the box onto the passenger seat of my scooter and then we set off again as he led me back to the Fairmont Pacific Rim where I was staying.  About half-way there we stopped on Granville Island where we sat and chatted about the day and a bunch of other stuff.  Bob took our picture using his signature bike-borne tripod and remote camera trigger trick.  If you look carefully, you'll see the cardboard box in question on the white Kymco scooter.

When I got back to the hotel I opened the box.  There was a bunch of Vespa stuff that Bob thought I'd appreciate, including a Vespa scarf, a Vespa bandana, a Vespa lanyard, and so on.  Also in the box, and greatly contributing to its size and weight was a wooden motor scooter mounted on a marble base, with a plaque that commemorated some event that the then-defunct Vancouver Vespa Club had once organized.

The wooden scooter came home with me to Montreal (minus the marble) were it sat as a decoration and souvenir in my home office for just over two years.

In the meantime, Bob was in the very early planning stages of a moto road trip for 2015 and years beyond.  There was some talk of Key West as a destination.

This summer Conchscooter's dog Cheyenne sensibly suggested to her humans that they travel north to avoid the worst of the South Florida heat and humidity.  Eventually Cheyenne encouraged Michael and Layne to make it to Montreal, a southern outpost of the legendary Great White North.  I think Cheyenne was hoping for snow.  In that regard she was bitterly disappointed.

Conchscooter's visit to Montreal was truly a delight.  Meeting fellow bloggers and riders is always a source of pleasure.

Towards the end of the visit, the topic of a possible road trip to Key West came up.  It was then that it hit me like a flash.  What a great prank to play on Bob!  I gave the wooden scooter to Michael, saying that when Bob eventually came to visit, he would be shocked to find that his wooden scooter had beaten him to Key West.

A few days ago Michael wrote to me offering to mail the wooden scooter back to me.

At that point, another thought dawned on me.  Inspired by a similar feat on ModernVespa, I suggested to Michael that he take the wooden scooter to the landmark in Key West that marks the southernmost point in the continental United States, a place Bob would have been bound to visit, and take a picture with the wooden scooter.

It didn't take Michael and I long to cook up a plan to involve other bloggers in the scheme.  I'm going to remain a little coy on this.  I don't want to spoil surprises.

And there you have it.  If you're a moto blogger, and you know Bob (i.e. Bob posted comments on your blog, or you traded e-mail or phone calls, or you were extraordinarily lucky like me and you actually got to meet Bob, or if you're just learning about Bob now) then the wooden scooter will eventually come to visit you, but only if you want to participate of course.  All you need to do is contact me, or Michael, or Sonja, or Karen, or Dar, and put yourself on the tour list.

There won't be too many rules.  Just enough to make sure that the wooden scooter doesn't get stranded somewhere.

There will be more to come on this topic.  Bookmark this page and that way you'll know what progress the little scooter that could is making. I've taken to calling it ScooterBob.

Keep an eye on the moto blogs to follow ScooterBob as it literally travels the world, on an epic moto road trip most of us could only dream of taking.

This is ScooterBob's first post, and, for the time being, ScooterBob's home-away-from-home-base for the extended road trip, so to speak.

It will be very interesting to see how this evolves over time.

Right now, ScooterBob is on the first leg (well, technically the third leg - Vancouver to Montreal, Montreal to Key West, are legs one and two) of its travels.
Copyright - Michael Beattie
Safe travels ScooterBob, and warm regards to all.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Nature's veil

 I'm pretty sure this morning was the first time it happened this year.  It was certainly my first time.

I've always loved the fog.  There's something mystical and enchanting about it.  It's like the first snowfall.  It drapes familiar landscapes in a soothing ethereal veil and feeds the imagination.
Riding through fog is not quite as enchanting as strolling through it.

Tiny pearls of moisture coat my visor.  The solution is the silicone squeegee on the left index finger of my Icon Patrol gauntlet.  A wipe or two and I can see clearly.  I can go back to gliding through my veiled commute.
Siri seems to understand the mood of my commutes.  This morning she played music that, for the most part, fit the mood like the legendary glove.  Should that be worrisome?  Of course it's a simple coincidence.  "Shuffle my music please Siri."  "Playing your songs, shuffled."

But is she really shuffling my songs?  Yes of course my iPhone is shuffling my songs.   But it isn't purely random.  It never is.  Occasionally a song plays that doesn't fit.  Like Emily Claire Barlow who wanted to sing me a Christmas tune this morning.  The Sena is brilliantly designed.  Even with my gauntlet, skipping to the next tune is effortless.  No doubt the iPhone's shuffling algorithm interprets my skipping the song, and alters the shuffle.  At least that's the way it seems.  I would design it that way for sure.  I'm fairly certain Apple is smarter than me.  So they must have figured that out.

Of course this is precisely the kind of enjoyable little meandering debate that Google could solve in a heartbeat.  This morning I prefer the mystery.  It fits right in with the foggy commute.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Full of surprises

You come to expect how people will react, what they'll do.

The longer you live, the more people you meet, the more confident you become in knowing what to expect. Jaded is kind of the right word to describe it, but unfortunately it has a pejorative flavour that doesn't fit at all here.

Occasionally you meet a flamboyant person who surprises, but then you realize that they're flamboyant, and the initial shimmer of difference fades as you pigeonhole them. Once flamboyant, regularly flamboyant, they're just flamboyant. That's how it is.

Quite often I accused Bob of being a wizard. I meant that in the Obewan Kenobe, Merlin, Gandolf tradition. OK, I don't believe in pixie dust, or in the 'Poof! I'm here, now I'm not, now I'm here', vein of common wizardry.

Bob could always surprise me. You thought you had his measure, and then he'd surprise you. In a good way. Well... I have to say that his most recent and final surprise was breathtaking, though not in a good way. Suffice to say, he outdid himself. I'll bet he surprised himself.

There's a lesson here. We should all be full of good surprises.

I am also fascinated by presence.

That's not to say I'm any good at it myself.

People who have it are a source of wonder. They are a precious few, and they're far between. You know it when you feel it. I think that what passed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance for sainthood, was mostly presence in good people. The aura that is represented by the halo is the best way to picture it.

I hasten to add that people with presence are not by any means all saints. Presence cuts both ways. I'm reasonably sure Nero had presence.

People with presence surprise you, because it's so rare. Yet, like the flamboyant individual, while the aura can and does wax and wane, presence is usually, well, present. People who are full of surprises, in a good way, are rarer still.

If you strive to be an exceptionally good human being, strive for presence, and strive to be full of good surprises.

The first step is to listen, to be aware of others' needs and desires. It's not about me, it's about you. The next step is to fulfill a need, grant a wish. Every now and then will do. Be a gift to your family and friends. Be a gift to the people you meet.

It's hard, I'm not good at it. I wish I had presence, I'd like to be a wizard.

I'm very privileged because I've known people with presence (Henry, Pierre, Red) and also a wizard or three (Margaret, Bernard, Bob).

The world needs many more good wizards with presence.

I think I know where the path starts.

Can I take it?

Can you?

Monday, September 15, 2014

A loving tribute to a great man, Bob Leong

The account of Bob's passing struck me hard. It was like a sudden blast of emptiness that hit me with overwhelming force and left a void where once there was Bob.

Like many in Bob's vast extended family, I met Bob through the internet. He reached out to me through my blog. First a comment, then an e-mail, then a phone call, and so it went.
Bob infused my blogging experience with life. Vibrant, compelling, gritty, amazing, adventurous, life. When I just wanted to get together for coffee or lunch, Bob seized the day, two days in fact, and squeezed out two amazing mind-blowing days of moto-friendship that paid dividends I could never have imagined.
But wait, there was more, so very much more. I found myself, alone, in a borrowed tent, in Bellafonte Pennsylvania, waking to the sound of songbirds and peacocks. Magic. I was there because Bob asked me to meet him there. So I went.

Bob invited me to share slices of his life. So I invited him to share slices of mine. I visited his home, I met Yvonne and his kids. He spent a few nights in my home. He met Susan and our kids. Susan, Yvonne, Bob and I had dinner in Vancouver, and breakfast on another occasion.

More than anything else, I was blessed to ride with Bob. Bob blessed my life in a small but deeply marking way.

Bob was truly one of the kindest, most gentle, most generous people I have met. Most importantly, he gave of himself. He made things happen.

None of this came easily to Bob. He was candid about the challenges he faced as a child. Challenges no child should face. Many of us might have fared worse in similar circumstances.

How Bob will be missed.

Now is the time for tributes. To sing the praises of one who touched our lives. A fellow being who lived life the way life should be lived. With love, generosity, kindness, and courage.

Safe travels Bob. You left this life the way only the very best do. Doing what you loved, living an adventure, in the company of your loving wife.

Bob Leong

I just got word that Bob Leong passed away in his sleep in Nashville.

My very deepest sympathies to Yvonne and his children.

Bob touched us very deeply.  This is difficult beyond words.

There will be more to say, but not now.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Banff: from the ridiculous to the sublime

There was no moto-component, unless the silly souvenir in the shop window in Banff counts.

Sharing the impossible beauty we witnessed just a few short weeks ago seems like the appropriate way to go.

From Vancouver...
To Kelowna...
To Banff...
The scenery went from nice, to stunning, and on to spectacular.

The only possible conclusion is that travel is its own reward.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rider profile: Bill Breen

Name: Bill Breen
Find me on Earth: New York City, NY
Find me online: Not yet
Interview Date: Friday, September 12, 2014
Interview Location: Old Montreal
Leaving NYC for Montreal, September 10, 2014 - © Bill Breen
Grandkids on Mona - © Bill Breen
Scootcommute: When did you start riding, how old were you?

Bill: I had a Ducati 250 back in the dark ages and then I was a cager for oh forty years;

Scootcommute: How many motorbikes have you owned?

Bill: Two.

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

Bill: A 2012 Vespa 300GTSie in blue with a full windshield.  I bought it new and just turned over 10,000 miles.The Vespa is definitely my favorite.

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

Bill: Challenging? Well, it was a little stupid but I broke Mona in [ed.: Bill means his bike] on a ride from NYC to Charlotte NC to see the grandkids. I found myself in a mountain rainstorm in West Virginia  doing sixty on an interstate. Downhill. I hadn't ridden a two-wheeler since the '60's. Yes, I'd say it was challenging.

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

Bill:  I ride year round, weather-permitting (and by that I mean no snow or ice on the streets - any other time is good). We don't have a car in NYC and we use Zipcar when we really need one. I do most of the groceries and chores and whatever else needs doing.

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

Bill:  I'm mostly solitary, but I wave to Harley guys---they're usually the only ones who wave back.

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

Bill:  I almost flunked my test! A figure eight in a tight space just about did me in.

What is the best place your bike has taken you?

Bill: The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina on my way to see the grandkids.  Stunning scenery. Just bring extra gas because gas stations are in short supply.

Scootcommute: Tell me why you ride.

Bill: Jeez, not enough room here.

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

Bill: That Elizabeth would retire and get a Vespa.

Change of pace

We are blessed. I am blessed.

Let me explain.

In the past few weeks we have been to Vancouver, Kelowna, Banff, and Toronto. Home has been the exception, almost. That's how it feels.

This week, Vancouver has come to us. Andrew and Anuschka are with us, and Anuschka's parents are here as well.

Tonight Susan and I get to meet Bill and Elizabeth. Bill is a fellow Vespa addict who rode in Wednesday from his home in New York City (yes, on his Vespa GTS.  Elizabeth flew in).

In the course of all the travel and visiting, we have enjoyed amazing food and wine in some wonderful places, and we're not done.

Add to this the privilege I have enjoyed of meeting and conversing candidly with a handful of people who are luminary giants in corporate governance in Canada.

On a more gritty level, I also stripped down a Vespa GTS, fixed the cooling system, and put it back together. Oh, and I installed two brand new doors in the house, and helped my son Jonathan move into his new house in Toronto.

Yesterday we ran short of vehicles. Rain squelched the scoot commute, and Andrew and Anuschka needed the Civic.

That is how I  came to take the train. The train has its pleasures too. Like blogging my way to work in air-conditioned comfort.

A refreshing change of pace.

Alas, still no pictures here.  They will come, but I need to spend some time fetching them out of iPhoto and pasting them here.  When life starts hopping, blogging gets a short shrift.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I sprang a leak. So did Andrew.

Yesterday when I was leaving work I noticed a leak under my bike.

I looked and could find no evidence of a leak and assumed that someone else had parked in my spot and left the stain.

Today at lunch time I went to stow a purchase in my topcase.  I had parked one spot over to convince myself that I wasn't the source of the leak.  Lo and behold, it is me leaking.
I traced the leak to the floor of the Vespa where you can see two drops forming on the underside of the chassis.
That, my friends, is what a coolant leak from a Vespa GTS looks like.  Another ModernVespa quasi-instant diagnosis.  Thanks to Craig (caschnd1 on MV), with MJRally, Madison Sully, and Jimc chiming in for good measure, for unhesitatingly identifying the problem.

I plan to ride home on quiet streets to avoid over-exercising the bike, and to keep a sharp eye on the temperature gauge.  I have some coolant at home and I'll top up the reservoir.

Some time over the weekend I'll open up the bike to see if I can spot where the leak is and assess whether I can repair it myself.  The Vespa shop manual is not exactly crystal clear, but I think the worst case may be that I need to order a new hose which I think I should be able to get from ScooterWest.

And so it goes.  The joy of owning a vehicle like me.  Old(er), that is.

I've been silent here because, as usual, summer draws to a close and I get really, really busy.

Last week Susan and I attended the CSCS annual conference in Banff.  We got there via Vancouver and a road trip with our son Andrew and his partner Anuschka (hereafter, the 'kids').

The road trip blossomed into a full-blown adventure involving a midnight Greyhound ride from Revelstoke to Banff.  Andrew and Anuschka repeated that feat 24 hours later.  Further adventures ensued as Susan drove the 'kids' back to Revelstoke in a rental car to re-unite them with their 2003 Mercedes E Class which by then had a new fuel injector.  If you have to get stuck, the Rockies offer stunning scenery to compensate for the pain. The silver lining was more time for us to enjoy our kids' company in Banff.  It was a lose-win.

And so it goes.  My son's joy in owning a car like me.  Old(er), that is.

I'll come back to post some of our overly breathtaking photos, just to make Sonja homesick.  Bob too, wherever he is.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The sound of music

It's not that I bear any ill will towards Julie Andrews.
She has that peculiar British pluck, that surprising worldly-wise wry sense of humor that her stately demeanor belies. Those are traits that I really do appreciate and greatly admire. If I am completely honest, there are even one or two tunes from My Fair Lady that I do enjoy when I happen to hear them, or, more likely, when they rise briefly from memory to play in my mind's ear. Admittedly that is, thankfully, a very, very rare occurrence nowadays.

You see, when I was a young'un, things were very different. Before the internet, before cable, before CDs, when HiFi not WiFi was the state of the art. In those distant times, still as sharp in my mind as the point of a tack, Julie Andrews show tunes including Camelot, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and, of course, (shudder) Mary Poppins, were mercilessly etched into the neural pathways of my brain. Those LPs played and played relentlessly in our house, courtesy of one or two members of my family who shall remain nameless. They know who they are.
Just as my father-in-law, rest his soul, learned to despise even the sweetest, most succulent August corn, fresh from the harvest, its only crime being that it, and it alone, sustained his life through the unbearable hardships of World War II, I despise the sound, the merest suggestion even, of the vast majority of Julie Andrew's remarkable body of work, and chief among them, the sweet treacly Sound of Music.

It's a small wonder then that I appreciate music at all. But I truly do.
Jazz moves me, almost unfailingly. And the blues, well, nothing resonates more agreeably than a really good blues track.

Oddly, counter-intutively, the place I enjoy the music I love the most, is on the road, playing in my helmet, as I cruise along. That's the sound of music I'm talking about.
Wednesday morning was one of those mornings. I came to work through Outremont, south over the eastern shoulder of the mountain on Park, west up Pine Avenue to Peel, then south again sweeping down Peel past the McGill Faculty of Law, right on de Maisonneuve, left on Mountain and into the underground parking at 1350 René-Lévesque. That last bit was accompanied by Colin James' rendition of Three Hours Past Midnight.

If you have a Sena SMH10, synched to an iPhone, and you wear ear plugs (yes ear plugs), you know what I mean. Man oh man!

If I had to make a list of the most surprising things I have experienced since I began riding a motorbike, that experience easily tops the list as the most surprising, the most unexpected, the most inexplicably marvelous.

It is the confluence of things that, by themselves, taken individually, you would never expect could yield such a pleasurable result. I certainly never would have believed it.
Take ear plugs to start. Ear plugs are born of pain, suffering, and fear. Certainly not pleasure by any means. I had read that some riders wore ear plugs. I had read forum posts by experienced riders exhorting fellow riders to wear them. Even offering free ear plugs to anyone willing to try them out. Nuts I thought. Crazy what people think. Ear plugs? I want to hear the idiot coming at me thanks very much! Sheesh!
And then I cut my windshield to an unfortunate height. The deep rumbling turbulence drummed maddeningly in my ears. I truly feared irreversible loss of hearing. I met a rider whose loud pipes had so far saved his life, but sadly largely destroyed his hearing. And so I resorted to ear plugs. Yuck. It took forever for my tender ears to accept them without pain. I hated my footsteps resonating in my skull with every stride I took. It felt terrible. But at least I wasn't going slowly deaf.

By the time I recut the windshield to a more sensible height that eliminated the sonic cranial assault, a curious thing had happened. I was accustomed to wearing ear plugs. I could still hear surrounding traffic just fine. It was the harsh sounds of riding that were pleasantly muted. The wind tearing at my ears had become a pleasant rush, the sound of my bike had acquired a nice soothing tone, I felt more attuned to the traffic around me, more immersed in the ride, less distracted by the clatter of the commute. It was a revelation. The first revelation. Riding without ear plugs was harsh.

And then the Sena happened. I got it as a Christmas gift for my road trip with Bob and Karen. I was after the intercom. The phone connectivity was a bonus, maybe. And the sound of music a very, very distant consideration, if at all. I worried that the Sena protruding on the left side of my helmet would emit more troublesome turbulence. I wondered if I could still wear ear plugs and be able to use the Sena effectively. I was sure there would be painful trade-offs to endure.
But the ability to communicate effectively on a road trip was worth the hassle.
Let me say now that the unexpected result of combining these elements that individually have potentially noxious features, is heaven. There is no turbulence from the Sena. And the Sena is fine with ear plugs. More than fine. By some accoustic black art, ear plugs raise the Sena to sound studio perfection. Phone calls and the intercom are crystal clear, like a Star Trek communicator. Completely impossibly perfect. As if I am government agent with a million dollar communications system at my disposal. It's that good. People are amazed that I'm riding at 100 kilometers an hour while we chat.
And the music... the sound of music... bliss inducing. That's the only way I can describe it.
Can I still hear the traffic? Absolutely. Am I distracted? Not one little bit.
The music playing has an insulating effect similar to the earplugs. My ability to focus on the traffic is improved. The music soothes, calms my mind, eliminates the need to rush, the impulse to dart. It gives me a serene environment where cool thought focuses my attention on what's truly important, the traffic that surrounds me, the distance I'm maintaining from the vehicle in front of me, the intentions of the drivers in adjacent lanes, and the rest of my commuter's world.
That's my sound of music.
If I've piqued your curiosity, and you think you might give ear plugs a try, I suggest ordering a trial pack of earplugs from the Aerostitch catalog. For under $20 you'll get a grab bag of different high-quality ear plugs in assorted sizes, shapes and colours. The likelihood is that you'll find a pair or two in the lot that will work for you. Or you can pick some up in the hardware store where the safety equipment is sold, or at your local pharmacy. Ordering from legendary Aerostich is just plain fun all by itself though.
Be warned though, the eventual pleasure that ear plugs promise, comes with some short term pain. A little like new shoes, or leather flip-flops that cause pain for a while before making friends with your body. I suggest you bear with it. Ear plugs will surely pay dividends over time by saving your hearing, but surprisingly will reward you in the near term too, by increasing your riding pleasure.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The kill switch

This is one of those things that can fuel annoying bar debates.

Like the over-under toilet paper roll issue. The next time that one rears its head, click here, bone-up on the topic, swig some beer to wet your whistle, then weigh in well-armed.

Back to the kill switch.

Every bike has one. Unless you ride a vintage bike, in which case, maybe not.

I don't think there is a topic that breaks more randomly among riders. Other topics that spawn vigorous debates, like counter-steering versus steering-by-leaning, tend to separate along experience lines, with the pros on the counter-steering side of the debate and the others on, well, the other side.

Not so with kill switch debates. There are expert riders on both sides of this one.

I'll do my best to summarize the arguments on both sides of the issue.

Arguments in favour of ignoring the kill switch:
  • Always leave it in the run position, it serves no real purpose except shutting off the motor in an emergency (dropped bike, accident, stuck throttle, etc.);
  • It's not designed for more than occasional use, using it two or three times a day will cause it to fail, and strand you with a bike that won't start;
  • If you get into the habit of shutting the motor off with the kill switch, you'll forget to turn off the ignition and when you return to your bike you'll have a dead battery;
  • If the bike is fuel injected, the kill switch will not turn off the fuel pump, and it is not good to have fuel pressure in the injector(s) with the motor not running; and
  • If you use the kill switch and leave the ignition on, the headlight will overheat and melt the lens or headset cover (Vespa specific argument).
Arguments in favour of using the kill switch:
  • If you make a point of using the kill switch to turn off the motor, in the event of an emergency, you'll already have the muscle memory and will be able to shut the bike off instantly;
  • Kill switches may fail like any other switch, but actual failures are more of an urban myth than a real problem. The turn indicator switch gets far more use, does that fail very often?
  • The kill switch is just literally handy. You can turn off the bike without taking your hand off the handle bar. It maintains total control over the bike until the engine is off, it's just a safer way to manage the bike;
  • If you don't get into the habit of using both the kill switch and the ignition, some devil will flick your kill switch off on a whim, and when you attempt to get going, you'll end up thinking something died and your bike won't start. The kill switch won't be front of mind;
  • If you're ever on a rental bike or a loaner, you won't be familiar with the ignition switch location and the distraction of locating the ignition switch while the bike is running is just another safety issue. Kill switches on the other hand are always located within easy reach on the handle bar; and
  • The US Motorcycle Safety Foundation course teaches new riders always to use the kill switch.
As you already know from a recent post, I use the kill switch.

The compelling reason as far as I am concerned is that if you don't get used to using it you'll eventually forget that it exists and you won't be able to figure out why your bike won't start if by some fluke (or courtesy of a passer-by) the kill switch gets flipped. The secondary arguments that work for me are the safety-related ones.

I got used to doing this with my carbed Vespa LX150.  I noticed (and more importantly Susan noticed) that when I came home and parked the new fuel-injected bike, there was sometimes a raw gasoline odor in the garage.

I still use the kill switch for the same reasons, but now I have reversed the shut-off sequence.  I turn off the ignition and then turn the kill switch off.  It seems to solve the problem.  I checked, and at least for a fuel-injected Vespa GTS 300, when you turn on the ignition with the kill switch on (i.e. disabling the motor), the fuel pump does activate.  I take that to mean that the fuel remains pressurized when the kill switch stops the engine.

If you care to explore samples of the debate,
Are you a killer?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Foul weather work-around

The weather god is very angry with us here.

The sky has been banded with ominous dark clouds, and we have had liberal doses of heavy rain.

I've been seeing too much of my Civic. I miss my Vespa.

So I did the perfectly logical thing to ease the pain.
I re-branded my Civic.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.