Sunday, October 07, 2007

What to Ride

Well...there's another two-wheeled vehicle at the 'rastus house. I've wanted a BMW F650GS Dakar for some time now, but didn't think I would buy one, especially since BMW halted imports of the Dakar into the USA several months ago. I was very happy to find a local rider with one for sale last week. It's a 2007 model with less than 2000 miles on it, in perfect shape, and the price was very nice; I couldn't pass it up. I took several hours off from work Monday and drove it down from the big city.

Now, keep in mind that, as dual-sport motorcycles go, it's not the largest nor the fastest by a long shot; I still travel slowly, but to a lot more places than I did before. These photos were taken at the top of a local mountain this morning, accessible only by a long, steep, and rocky dirt road. There is no way I could have made this ride on a scooter, though I have been here plenty of times before on a mountain bike. Today I did not have the time to ride the bicycle, nor, frankly, am I in decent-enough shape to enjoy the climb.

However, on the new BMW, it was a pleasure indeed. I enjoyed the cool, crisp morning and the lack of fellow travelers on the way up. I had no trouble handling the bike even at slow speeds and on sketchy surfaces. I'm very happy; the Dakar is exactly what I'd hoped it'd be.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Where to Ride

I got up early today and headed to the local Chevron station for my weekly fuel stop before the rest of the family got out of bed. I was hoping to beat the predicted rain, but didn't make it--down the water came. Luckily, I was wearing my fine Olympia Motor Sports AST jacket; it didn't leak a drop all morning even though I didn't have the liner in. This sure is a nice jacket. I like all the pockets and it's super-bright hi-viz yellow color. I did stop to slip a plastic bag over the GTV's leather saddle, though.

After the fill-up, I headed west to the flatland. After a short expedition to find a geocache by the entrance to a tight tunnel under the freeway, I spied a short road heading along the railroad tracks that I'd never been on. Needless to say, off I went.

I spied this old service station under the gray clouds. It's been many decades since anyone filled up with either premium oil or gas from this place, but I'm sure it was rockin' in it's day.

I headed more or less homeward after this detour, and got caught in more rain. Did I mention how much i like the AST jacket? Yea, I think I did. I suppose I'll have to do a write-up on it as well, huh?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Where Not to Ride, Part II

Yes, I know it's been more than a month since my last entry. I've been scootin' faithfully to work and back at least four times a week and take occasional trips on weekends; I obviously haven't taken the time to blog, though.

This past Saturday, I took the middle child out for a short spin. We came upon another friendly reminder that we live in what's still the Wild West for some folks. We tried to be extra careful around this place, as we figured the sign poster wouldn't have much trouble spotting us in our bright riding gear. If you look closely, you can see my reflection in his glasses; I have the matching jacket. The jacket my boy is wearing is actually my wife's, and thus the women's cut (shhh...don't tell him that, or I'll not be able to get it on him next time).

I'll do a write-up/review on these Olympia Moto Sports Airglide 2 riding jackets and pants soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

da Vinci Tandems

I've been a serious cyclist for about 30 years now, with most of my miles on the road but significant mountain bike time several years ago. Up until a few years ago, I'd only ridden a tandem bicycle a few times; being a paid bike wrench for over 10 years as a youth gave me several opportunities. Only one ride was for more than 20 miles...and that was more than 25 years ago.

I bought this 26"-wheeled 1998 da Vinci Joint Venture early in 2004 and joined the tandem community. Since then, I've had about 4000 miles on two different da Vinci tandems with several different stokers, mostly my three children who are currently 8, 11, and 13 years old. The two adults I rode with were absolute novice cyclists, one being blind. Therefore, I have some experience with the da Vinci system, but not with an experienced adult stoker, and that might make a difference...see below. We sold that first tandem to a family on the East Coast and bought a custom-ordered 700c-wheeled da Vinci in early 2006.

I've discovered several things about the unique da Vinci drivetrain system: first, it's great with kids. They can coast when they want, push when they want, and when I'm really spinning, I don't pull their feet out of their shoes. We almost never ride with our cranks in sync...if we do, it's by chance. On the other hand, I've never missed it either. 99% of our climbing is done in the saddle. In fact, I only stand up to give the ol' butt a break occasionally. My stoker kids stand up all the time (sometimes too often) to take butt breaks. It seems like they always stop pedaling right at the steepest sections. But when it comes to ease of adaption to the whole tandem thing, the ICS (Independant Coasting System) gives us quite a bit of flexibility. It's at it's best with kids and inexperienced adults in the back. That's not to say it won't work for old-hand cyclists either; I just have no experience with it in that regard. As a captain, I love it. I wouldn't trade the ICS for anything.

The four chainrings are also very cool. Because the two crank chainrings are 34 teeth while the intermediate freewheels are about half that size, the whole middle jackshaft assembly spins twice as fast as the cranks. This means that the chainrings only need to be half the size of "normal" rings to give the same gearing. Very cool. This means that the 12-18-24-30 front chainrings are equal to 24-36-48-60 standard rings. Because they're so small, they never get caught up in while loading into the van, etc. They shift faster and easier than any triple I've ever ridden; this is to be expected, since they're actually Shimano HyperGlide cogs!! And the gear range is absolutely HUGE!! I'm currently running a 12x28 10-speed rear that gives us a 23 to 135 inch range from lowest to highest. You never need to worry about running out of top end...not with that 60x12 top gear.

And the 24 equivalent smallest ring, with a 28 or 30 big cog on the back end is plenty low for us. In fact, it's not the lack of low gears that bother me, it's my own steering problem keeping the bike straight and not wandering all over the road at speeds under 2.5 mph that limit our steep uphill creeping speed. Not many other 40-speed bikes out there either.

The 26" wheels we had on the first da Vinci are no big deal. I found a nice tire from Soma that's 1.1" wide and only 230 grams. At 110 PSI it rides very well. We're only 235-255 lbs depending on which kid stokes, so we're a very lightweight team. For heavier pairs, there's lots of quality 26" tires to choose from. The big knock on 26" road tandems is the lack of top end. Again, a 60x12 takes care of that just fine...

However, I prefer the 700c wheels we have on the latest tandem. There's plenty of tire selection and they just seem faster. I don't think they are; our average speed is about the same. I'm sure it's a psychological thing...

I expected some sort of weight penalty when I bought into the da Vinci drivetrain, and I'm sure there is one, but either bike still weighs almost exactly 35 lbs, which I think is reasonable. You can "lock-out" the ICS if you want, as well. To do so, you replace the two freewheels on the intermediate bottom bracket with a pair of fixed gears, thereby "locking" the two cranks together as with a traditional tandem. You still get the advantage of the smaller chainrings and 4-way front shifting. You can switch back and forth between ICS and fixed for the price of the time needed to exchange the cogs...about 20-30 minutes (with practice), I'd guess. According to the builder in Colorado (a great guy, by the way), he very rarely has to send out the parts to do this. Most teams like the ICS better than fixed, according to him.

Disadvantages? Well, that middle bottom bracket with the two single-speed freewheels on one side and four cogs on the other is more complicated than a normal tandem. I can foresee that a strong pair of experienced adults that are more evenly matched than me and my various stokers would not need some of the benefits I find so attractive, but for me, it's just the ticket.

By the way, I've found the Large-Small da Vinci sizing to be rather flexible. My usual stokers are my children at 13, 11, and 8 years old now. They all started at 10, 8, and 7 (youngest had to grow just a bit to fit; he was too short when we first got the tandem). They're currently 5'3", 4'8", and 3'10" tall respectively. They all fit on the bike fine, though I have to remove the shock-post and run a different saddle all the way down for the youngest.

The 13-year-old daughter is nice to ride with because of the time we spend together. Where else can an old guy spend so many hours with his teenage daughter? She's not all that strong and doesn't like to push very hard, though she doesn't mind longer 60+ mile rides if we take enough rest stops along the way. If the speed ever gets above about 24-25mph (usually on the down-hills) she starts calling for me to apply the brakes. A speed demon she's not.

The 11-year-old boy, on the other hand, is much faster both on the flats and especially the downhills. He doesn't talk much, but likes to put his helmet down and hammer. Our average speed is about 1-2mph higher than with the girl. He tells me "Faster, Dad, faster!!," on every downhill. His longest ride is a metric century (62.5 miles) and he was very tired at the end.

The 8-year-old is only just barely big enough to reach the pedals. He's a real fireplug up hills, though; I think his strength-to-weight ratio is higher than the other two. When he stands up on the pedals, I can really feel the turbo-boost kick in. His longest outing is 45 miles so far--he still talks about that ride and wants to do hills when we go out. A real chip off the old block, if I do say so myself.

My two adult stokers have been my wife (5'2") for a few rides and a blind gal (5'7" but heavier than I am) whom I took for a couple or three rides last summer. Neither of these women are experienced cyclists by any stretch of the imagination, but we were easily up and riding on the tandem with virtually no issues. The daVinci ICS makes this especially easy.

I can't say enough good things about the ICS system, especially if the captain is much more experienced than the stoker, as is the case with me. It allows me to ride the tandem almost as I would a single bike, without any of the worries about dragging the stokers legs (as was previously mentioned), concerns about coordination of coasting periods, or even being effected when the stoker wants to stand up and coast for a butt-break. Starting out is particularly easy with no whacked shins for either rider...ever. I ordered the new bike with daVinci's cool three-hole stoker cranks (no extra charge, by the way).

They makes a big difference, as they allow the stoker to have either 130, 150, or 170mm crank lengths just by moving the pedals from hole to hole. Because I tend to run a rather high cadence (usually from 90-110 rpm) I used to hear constant requests from the back seat to slow the feet down when on our older tandem (with fixed 170mm stoker cranks). Well, by using the 150mm option (where I normally have the stoker pedals mounted), it allows the stoker to run the same cadence as I but at a lower overall foot speed--no more complaints. Furthermore, I am able to use the 130mm super-short option with my youngest. This made all the difference in allowing him to fit the bike well.

Over time, as the stokers get more used to the faster cadence of the captain, you can simply move the pedals out to a more normal 170 mm length.

In our case, I'm about to try the 170mm with my daughter, though my wife (as infrequently as she rides) will likely prefer the 150mm forever. Since both boys are not long-of-leg yet, they'll stay at 150mm and 130mm for some time, I imagine. When a growth spurt hits, it's so easy to change to a different hole.

Our bike was "custom" ordered from da Vinci last spring, but with standard Large-Small sizing. We picked the exact color we wanted and I was able to spec every component. The front cockpit fits me exactly the same as my best-fitting single bike. I can move right from the one to the other without feeling even the slightest difference in fit.

This was important to me, though some captains don't mind (some even prefer) a different fit. Our frame was still made by hand by the same fellows that build da Vinci "custom" bikes; it's a pretty small shop. The biggest advantage of a custom builder would be for custom tube choices if you're an unusually light or very heavy team as well as the obvious custom sizing if needed, most especially for a longer top-tube in the rear cockpit. This can make a world of difference for stokers experienced on single-bikes. Because all of my stokers are small, the 28.3" rear top tube of the daVinci is fine.

I wanted a 57-58cm captain's top tube with a rear seat tube in the sub-45cm range. Their stock sizing fit this just fine so I didn't have to pay the custom size up-charge. I do have two different seatposts and attached saddles that I swap (15-second job) depending on who rides. I run the shock-post in the middle of it's height range for my daughter and wife and run it all the way down for my oldest boy, but I replace the post and seat for a set with very low profile for the littlest stoker.

Oh, and by the way, if you're set on another custom builder, daVinci does sell the jackshaft assembly separately, with a choice of steel, aluminum, or titanium shells to fit whatever frame material you prefer. Check out da Vinci Tandems for further info. However, I would not hesitate to recommend daVinci themselves for the frame. They know their product best and are an absolutely top-notch outfit. In fact, I know their painter does work for a number of other frame builders and I believe they do contract frame work as well, though I could be mistaken.

By the way, I've got an IRD 10-speed 12-28 mounted on the new da Vinci. It's the "10-speed Elite Road Conversion Cassette" type that allows for Campy spacing on a Shimano-compatible freehub. This is in conjunction with a 9-speed SRAM chain, as I have not found any 10-speed chains long enough for the da Vinci (which uses 124 links) and didn't want to purchase two and splice. I'm leery of the strength of a spliced chain. I suppose I could use two master links, but haven't gone to the trouble yet.

The only problem we've had is that two of the spacers between the cogs were too thin for the 9-speed chain. This caused the chain to rub on the next largest cog at times and ghost-shift on to it under load on occasion. I firmly believe this is caused by the 9-speed chain and has nothing to do with the cassette itself. I solved it by replacing the two spacers with slightly thicker ones. The new spacers were thicker by .05 mm (yes, that's 1/2 of 1/10 of a millimeter). Not very much difference in thickness, I know, but it's enough that we've not had a single problem in the 3400 miles we've put on the bike.

I share some folks concerns about carrier-mounted cogs, which most high-end cassettes use to save weight. However, I believe that is most relevant on tandems using the larger rear cog sizes (like 32 or 34) and with strong full-sized stokers...especially off-road. Our cassette has a maximum of 28 teeth, we ride on the road exclusively, and my largest regular stoker just barely tips 90 pounds. Needless to say, we're not a powerhouse team. If this is a concern, you can use the Comp versions of the IRD; they don't use carriers for the larger cogs.

Be aware that daVinci's ICS will not "make" a team faster in and of itself. Fast teams are those with two strong riders who cooperate well with each other; the ICS's advantages lie in those times when the two of you purposely do not want to cooperate, like when one wants to take a break from pedaling and the other does not. Or when one rider is screwing around getting a cleat back in the pedal and you still need to get across the intersection. This happens to us all the time.

On the other hand, I do not believe that the ICS will slow down a strong coordinated team either (other than the pound or so weight penalty the jackshaft imposes). The ICS really shines in those circumstances like mine (small kids and/or non-cyclist spouse). If we didn't have a daVinci, I'm sure we wouldn't ride at all. The single bike is plenty fun, but the tandem is at least twice as much fun.

And yes, there's a real temptation for the weaker rider (usually the
stoker) to allow the stronger rider (usually the captain) to rickshaw them about. I can attest to this mightily as my kids have learned just how fast they have to pedal to keep the jackshaft's freewheel pawls from ratcheting (which I could easily hear), but to not really add much to the propulsion effort.

The only complaint I have about the whole rickshaw issue is when we're riding with friends. For example, they usually cruise at about 15-16mph over a 50-60 mile relatively flat ride. On a single bike, I have no problem with 18-19mph in the front pulling them all. But on the tandem, with one of the kids on the back, I really struggle to keep a steady 14-15mph. It's close enough to the speed of our friends; we can almost hang, but not quite. We get very tired of pulling into every rest stop just as they all are ready to take off again, but I guess it doesn't bother my stoker kids enough to get them to crank just a bit harder.

On the other hand, there are no kids on these rides other than my stokers and we do get to spend an awful lot of time talking just between the two of us. I guess in the long run, I don't even mind playing the rickshaw driver all that much. We're out and having fun together, we enjoy the nature, and I get one hell of a workout, which is what I wanted all along...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tippin' the Saddle

I've mentioned before that I wasn't entirely satisfied with the stock saddle angle on the nifty leather Vespa GTV250ie seat. I felt that the front of the saddle didn't give enough support while braking; my weight would naturally shift forward and I tended to slide off the front of the seat unless I braced my feet against the leg shield. I decided that something had to be done. Here's a shot of the stock angle. Notice the nose is slightly lower than the tail and that the hinge under the nose cannot be seen.

In these two photos, you can see the four silver bolts that hold the saddle to it's plastic frame-plate. In the second shot, the lower right bolt has already been removed. These bolts require a 4mm Allen wrench (hex key). Once the bolts are removed, the saddle and it's rear chrome-plastic supports can easily be lifted off. Keep in mind that the rear bolts should be reinstalled without spacers or modification, unless you also want to raise the rear of the saddle. This might be the case, if you've got longer legs, but wasn't what I was personally after.

I decided that it would be a simple matter to install a pair of spacers under the nose of the saddle along with the necessary longer bolts. Here's a photo of the original bolts (the short one to the far right) along with 50mm and 40mm length potential replacements. Specifically, these are all 6mm in diameter with 1mm thread pitch, by the way. I wasn't sure which would give me a comfortable angle, and not wanting to return to the hardware store, I bought both sizes; you can never have too many bolts in the spair-parts stock, ya' know. As it turns out, the 40mm worked best; the spacers needed to support the 50mm bolts raised the nose of the saddle too much. I'll go into some details on that a bit later.

Here's a photo of the 1/2" outside diameter x 3/4" long nylon spacers (those of you with good eyes will notice that there's actually one 1/2" spacer and one 1/4" spacer together) and three 3/4" washers I used. The lowest washer lies next to the head of the bolt, just as on the original setup. The other two washers sandwich the spacers and sit between the saddle itself and the plastic frame/pet-carrier lid. The re-installation of the saddle with the longer bolts and spacers required one more hand than God gave me; I enlisted the help of my oldest boy to hold the saddle frame steady while I positioned all the loose pieces.

Once the bolts were tightened and the frame/carrier lid closed, the saddle now has a definitely higher nose. Notice how the front hinge is easily seen under the bottom of the saddle now. At first, I installed the 50mm bolts and appropriate 1" of spacers. That turned out to be a bit much. Yes, the front of the saddle was raised nicely, but so was the middle portion, where my thighs sit. I found it uncomfortable--the constant pressure on my thighs, that is. I felt like I was sitting on a bench with my butt hanging slightly off the back. Not pleasant.

A week went by and I grew sure that I needed less tilt. I again had the boy hold the saddle frame while I removed 1/4" of spacer and slid in the 40mm bolts. The resulting tilt was ever-so-slightly less, but seems to make all the difference.

After riding this setup for six weeks now, I can report it's a vast improvement over both the stock angle as well as my first attempt with it's too-high angle. I no longer slide forward on the saddle, nor is the pressure on my thighs uncomfortable.

The GTV saddle's angle has now reached a happy equilibrium.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where Not to Ride

I was out for a spin on the GTV the other morning and came upon this large sign. I've seen several with a similar message over the years and thought some of you city-folk would get a kick out of the "rugged individualism" one runs into out here in the Wild West. Note the lowest line on the sign. It makes me wonder if the property owner intends to shoot as I scoot.

The funny thing is that the land this sign is supposedly protecting is a pair of large alfalfa fields on either side of the dirt track. I have a hard time thinking there's anything of value growing there that wouldn't require a day and a half of harvesting with a swather, baler, and several large trucks to carry it all off. I wouldn't think a scooter, or anyone else for that matter, was much of a threat. Perhaps he's looking out for the occasional hay poacher.

The sign only makes me wonder what else is going on up that road. In fact, I'll bet it has the opposite effect on passers-by than what the sign-poster intended. I, for one, want to find out what's so secret. Had there been no sign, I wouldn't have given the property a second thought.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Noggin Cover and Podcasts

I picked up this helmet, a Scorpion EXO-200, last month. I can't say enough good things about it. I find it attractive (for a helmet), well-fitting, and relatively inexpensive at $121.95 from Plaza Cycle, a large motorcycle dealer in Salt Lake City. I quite enjoy the understated graphics. There are no garish letters or logos; it's available in a number of nice solid colors. The large flip-up shield is easy to adjust to the ambient temperature and/or current speed. I can flip it all the way down for high-speed runs or tip it back for slower spins in the mountains.

I realize the three-quarter style does not offer the protection of a full-face helmet, but those can be so uncomfortable in the temperatures we've had lately. Several times I've headed home from work with the thermometer showing well over 100 degrees. I've found the EXO-200 to be a nice compromise between safely and comfort, at least during the warm summer months. I've no doubt that the full-length shield would provide a measure of abrasion protection if called upon, even if impact resistance isn't all that a full-face would be. It is both Snell and DOT certified.

I find this helmet does have more wind noise than a full-face, though not terribly much.

What is rather noticeable, as is alluded to by a commenter below, is the occasional blast of air that sneaks up under the shield. This type of helmet/shield seems particularly sensitive to its orientation in the wind. If I turn my face up and to the side, the wind forces itself up onto the lower portion of my face. It's not a violent, full-force wind, but rather like a breeze, I guess you could say.

This is actually pretty nice when I need additional cooling. I suspect this will be unwanted once the weather cools down--thus my plan to move to a full-face for late fall/winter riding.

This helmet has provisions for fitting small speakers between the outer shell and inner lining. The speakers (I took mine from an old set of headphones) fit perfectly in the space allocated and sound fine, as long as I keep the scooter under 50 mph or so. At higher speeds, the wind noise becomes so great it drowns out the voices.

I find that the podcasts I subscribe to are much less distracting, sound-wise, than music while riding. I can still hear ambient sounds such as traffic noises and can even carry on a conversation while the iPod is on. This isn't always possible with music playing. I'm able to follow the issues of the day through OnPoint, learn about new subjects on SctrCst, and even keep up on my Swedish from Sveriges Radio, all while enjoying the commute.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

First One; Now Seven

Just a few weeks ago, I was the only employee of my company commuting by scooter on a regular basis. This morning, I see six parked directly outside the main office with at least one other down at the south building.

To be fair, several folks here have ridden periodically to work by scooter over the years, but it seems to me that a combination of higher gasoline prices and a decreasing number of available parking stalls during reconstruction of our parking lot (see the equipment in the background) has led to much more regular scooter ridership.

Additionally, I see many scoots all over town, though only a very few on the connector roads between communities here in the valley. The recent influx of cheap Chinese scoots has undoubtedly help fuel the growth, as the vast majority of scooters seem to be these no-name brands. I only hope that when the low-end bikes inevitable fail that the riders won't simply give up on scooters as a whole, but will purchase quality Italian, Japanese, or even Taiwanese replacements.

Monday, June 25, 2007

22 vs. 9000; Horsepower, that is.

Most mornings, when I take the direct path to work, I pass the local Union Pacific switching yards. This small yard serves several short-line railroads, most notably long Utah Railway coal trains, along with the big yellow UP itself. I'm a long-time railfan, being enamored of big traction engines since childhood, when my dad bought me a small AT&SF N-scale toy train set for Christmas. I've loved watching trains, big or small, ever since. When I'm near the yards, I try and notice what rolling stock is there, how it's configured, and especially which locomotives are on duty.

I generally pass the yards early, as the train crews are preparing for the day. If I give them a toot from my scooter horn, they'll often honk back with an air-powered blast or two.

This morning, three matching UP EMD SD40-2 locomotives were warming up for the day, with their unique ticking sound. As I whizzed past, I couldn't resist stopping to snap a photo of my humble 22 hp next to their combined 9000 hp. I console myself by thinking that my top speed is higher than theirs.

And I don't have to follow the rails; I can go anywhere I please.

Friday, June 15, 2007

New Saddle; Happy Butt

Ever since I bought the GTV, I've been a little unsettled about the leather saddle on this particular scooter. I like having unique items, but not when they don't perform as they should.

This particular saddle is not the same as other GTV scooters I've seen, being an orange color, almost like a basketball, instead of the normal medium brown. That's OK, but what's worse is that the leather itself is also so thin that it tends to wrinkles up under my butt on rides of any length. This can get uncomfortable and looks cheap.

Additionally, the foam padding feels to be not very dense. As a result, it deforms easily under my weight. I notice this happening when slowing the scoot when coming to a stop in particular. As my weight shifts forward in response to the deceleration, I find the front of the saddle deforming and letting me slide forward and almost off the front of the saddle. I'm well aware of this happening with a poorly adjusted bicycle saddle. In that case, the remedy is to angle up the saddle slightly in the front, an adjustment that is easy enough to do with a decent-quality bicycle seatpost, but not apparent at first on this scooter. I examined the saddle and determined that I could insert a set of spacers under the nose and thus slightly raise the angle in the front. I haven't done that yet, but had intended to hit the hardware store this weekend for a set of longer bolts and spacers.

I casually mentioned my displeasure of the saddle's construction to the Vespa salesman earlier this week, but figured there was nothing more that could be done, short of ordering the $900 seat myself, and I wasn't that displeased. Well, two days later, I received a call from the Service department of Utah Vespa saying that my replacement saddle had arrived.

Wow. What quick service!!

Two-day turn-around in response to a vague complaint is remarkable. I didn't figure the salesman would go to the trouble to warranty the original saddle, but he must have. Great customer service indeed.

Well, everything isn't always as it initially appears. As it turns out, the mechanic who uncrated and performed the initial assembly on the scoot noticed the same issues as I. He placed a defect replacement order at that time; it was in response to his request that the saddle was shipped.

Regardless, I rode in to the dealership yesterday afternoon and swapped the old for the new. What a difference!! The new saddle is more attractive in color, being a medium brown instead of orange and thus should be easier to purchase other leather accessories to match. In addition, it appears to be made of substantially thicker leather that holds its shape much better. The saddle itself is firmer and therefore more comfortable; I wonder if it has different foam padding as compared to the original. It sure feels like it.

I do like the difference. I'll have to pay particular attention to the firmness of the padding over the next few days to see if I need to apply the tilt modification to this saddle or not.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Took the Long Way Home

I took the long way home Friday after work. I spent lots of time up on the east benches of the valley, looking down on the congestion. I was very pleased at how the scooter handled the hills, though I didn't push it hard at any point; I've still only got 300 miles on this scoot and as such we're just shy of half-way through the recommended 625 mile (1000 km) break-in distance. Unfortunately, I wasn't looking at the time and, after stopping for gas (filled 'er up with 91 octane for a whoppin' $5.50, by the way), I arrived home a few minutes after 18:30. The trip took considerably more time than I thought it would. Sure was fun, though.

I picked up a cheap $17 face shield for the helmet Thursday on the way home. It makes the helmet difficult to fit in the pet carrier, but otherwise is a welcome addition to my gear. I find I no longer have dust and other gunk blowing into my eyes while speeds over 45 mph are not as difficult either. I'll have to get one for the wife as well; I think she'll like it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rainy Day Thursday

I woke up this morning to light rain, heavy clouds, stiff winds, and a 45 degree temperature. I thought about taking the car, but figured that sooner or later I'd have to see if my rain gear is up to snuff or not. I got all the clothes on and was immediately too warm standing there in the garage, but once on the scoot and headed north, I felt fine.

Legs and upper body weathered the ride fine; the only cold parts of my body were my fingers and face. Frankly, I expected as much. I need to find a nice wool balaclava and some sort of windproof covering for the gloves. I think I have a pair of half-way decent gauntleted mittens somewhere, but after the recent move, I'm not sure exactly where they might be.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the ride in was, though the rain never hit all that hard. I was especially careful at every corner, just in case.

No problems, not any at all.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Early Morning Joggers at the City Park

I seem to have no problem waking up early enough to be one of the few mechanized folks out on the road. I seldom see another scooter or motorcycle rider. Perhaps as the overnight low temperatures rise, along with the prices at the pump...

It's amazing the number of joggers out this early, though. Depending on the community I drive through, the difference in the number of runners is dramatic. In my own hometown, I regularly see the previously mentioned jogger-moms, but they're limited in number to perhaps a half-dozen or so. No other exercisers seem to be found in town.

But when I head east to the next community on the other side of the farms, they're out in force. I must have seen 20-25, mostly young, fit women, running in pairs or triplets; very few men are out, and they're always alone. This community is of a higher economic scale, no doubt. The homes are substantially larger, the cars are nicer, and the lots tend to be rather well-groomed. I wonder if the women see themselves as needing to keep up a certain standard. Maybe that's their motivation.

If so, that's too bad. On the other hand, they seem, to my five-second glance as I ride by, to be happy and laughing. I wonder if the same could be said for the inhabitants of my own home town.

As I passed the city park, I noticed this fine older bandstand sitting empty. It looked like a nice place to spend a summer evening, listening to the local brass band play some John Phillip Sousa tunes.

Just then a gaggle of joggers passed by, giggling and laughing with each other all the way down the street.

I made it in to work with plenty of time to spare. Nice ride.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gone by Sunup

As my first full day commuting with the scooter, I was up and on the road just as the sun peeked over the mountains.

Nice and quiet. Gotta' love it.

The only people I saw for the first several miles away from home were the dutiful morning joggers; several of the young mothers in the neighborhood seem rather determined to run every day, rain or shine. Thankfully for them, and for me, today was nothing but shine.

In fact, I didn't see a car until I hit Main Street.

I held to the western side of the valley along stretches of what my kids call "cow & horsey roads" as I made my way north to the metropolis. Nice ridin', but chilly. The 10 or 15 miles per hour this scoot finds comfortable over my normal commuting cycling speed of 17 mph sure do add to the wind chill my face feels. I think tomorrow morning the balaclava will be in order.

I had the ol' GPS unit along for the ride and discovered that the speedometer on the scooter reads 16.67% fast. Therefore, when I think I'm traveling 35 mph, I'm only really doing 30. This likely explains why I had several cars backed up behind me for a few minutes when I thought I was keeping the speed limit.

Gotta' watch that. Don't want to rattle the fierce yet bored animals in their cages. Might get ugly.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beautiful View Indeed

I picked up the GTV from the dealership's Service Department this morning on the way to work. As suspected, the issue was with the sensor itself and not anything serious.

This is good news.

The scoot commute the rest of the way to work was great. I have grown most accustomed to the bike and how it handles, I wasn't the least bit worried about any lights on the instrument panel, and the sunshine weather was absolutely perfect.

What more could a guy ask from his commute?

I've decided that a fine scoot must be a chick-magnet. Several times in the past two days while riding the Vespa scooters, I've had cars full of girls (who look to be of university age) honk and whistle at me as they drive by. It must be the appeal of fine Italian engineering and design, the lure of summer evenings spent riding through the Tuscan hill country, or the exotic views of Monaco they see when my scooter comes into view, 'cause I'm sure it's not the lunk riding it that catches their eye.

Had I known this previously, I'd have spent my single years riding a Vespa, and not a Colnago, Bianchi, or Masi. Fine Italian steeds they may be, but I guess keen bicycles are one thing and keen scooters are entirely something else.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yes, I still travel slowly--just not as slowly as before

The wife and I were in town running some errands this past Saturday afternoon and I suggested we drop by the Vespa dealership "just to look." Once there, she began walking through the showroom on her own, looking at the various scooters and not standing beside me and looking bored. This is unusual behavior for her when we're at a bike shop or someplace else that is of interest to me and not to her. I knew something was up, but I couldn't begin to guess how the afternoon/evening would end.

I pointed out the dark gray Vespa GTV, which I thought would be a fine scoot for me. To my great amazement, she said, "Well, I don't like the seat, but fine. Get it now as long as I can have one for me." You could have knocked me down with a feather. "Uh... Sure, dear. Sounds good. Which model and color would you like for yourself?" I quickly stammer as I rush to get the salesman's eye before she can change her mind. "Oh, and by the way, happy anniversary," she says. Wow, what a gal!!

We spent the better part of an hour selecting a scooter for her, talking about the various Vespa models, their engine displacements, top speeds, weights, etc. She decided that an LX 150 would fit her well, and I agreed. She liked the Midnight Blue color, which surprised me as I thought she would have chosen the lighter Sky Blue. I guess after 20 years, just when you think you know somebody, they go and show you that you really don't...and twice in the same hour!

Heavens, who would have thought that after all this time together, we would have stumbled upon a two-wheeled activity we can do together--one that we both appear to like. I love my wife dearly, but she never warmed up to my other love of cycling. Even the tandem didn't do it for her; after a few token rides, all the miles on that bike have been with one of the kids as stoker.

But scooters, well I can dig that, too. Especially if she can.

I rode my new scoot right out the door as soon as the paperwork was done; we had to wait to pick the blue bird up on Monday morning. It was a nice, pleasurable ride home in perfect late spring evening weather.

The grin stuck on my face was marred only by the obnoxious arrival of the red Oil Pressure warning light on the instrument panel. After a frantic call to the dealership and a long and involved series of posts on the marvelous Modern Vespa forum, the Vespa GTV has returned to the service department for diagnosis. All indications are that it was not actually a problem with the oil system itself, but rather a faulty sensor. This has become a hassle, but not a show-stopper, as long as the problem gets resolved quickly without any long-term issues.

On the good side, they had my wife's LX 150 ready to go Monday. She's in love with the color and really likes the look of the matching top case. Since my wife had never driven a motorcycle, I rode it the 20 miles home.

I must say, in around-town riding, the LX is much easier and even a bit more pleasant to ride than the larger GTV. I suspect this will equalize as I gain more experience on my own scoot, but for now I particularly enjoyed the throttle response on the LX as being not anywhere near as sensitive as the GTV. I attribute this to using a relatively greater percentage of the LX's power capabilities than the GTV at any given speed. In short, it took more twist on the LX to achieve the same speed as the GTV, thus the LX was easier to modulate and didn't have the tendency to jump speeds as dramatically as the larger bike. The LX felt smooth at all times.

When I got it up to speed on the long country roads between the larger town where the dealership is located and the smaller bedroom community where we live, however, I could appreciate the larger wheels and greater mass of the GTV over the LX 150. If I wasn't very careful, anytime I shifted in the seat, the LX had a tendency to sharply jump to the left or right. I would never want to take the LX on the freeway.

Once home, I followed the wife and her new scooter to the local elementary school parking lot for a lesson. I don't think I'll ever get to drive that scoot again. She took to it like a fish takes to water and was soon zipping about. I really missed out, having my bike in the shop, and not being able to ride alongside her. After 40 minutes or so around the parking lot, she took to the residential streets around home and put on 20 miles of sub-25 mph stop and go before I knew it. I'm glad she had so much fun; I'll bet that by the time I get home from work today, she'll have another 20-30 miles on the bike.

I'm having a hard time getting her to wait until we complete the MSF Basic RiderCourse before she wears the thing out.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Aging Gracefully

On the bicycle commute home yesterday afternoon, I spied a rider in front of me just pulling away from a light on the outskirts of town heading into the farm/ranch country. This is not a common sight; I seldom see other cyclists heading my same direction on this stretch of road.

As I pulled closer, I could see he was dressed in full racer-boy garb and was on a high-zoot, all Dura-Ace, carbon wonderbike. His outfit matched perfectly, like a go-fast racer. The man's wind jacket, shorts, jersey, socks, and even helmet were all emblazoned with the name of a local resort; I have no doubt they sponsor a small team or at least a club. He must have ordered the full matching kit.

As I got closer I could see he had very defined calf muscles and obviously shaved his legs regularly. He was holding a good line and had a smooth spin. I took him for a racin' type; he must have had some experience, I decided, just looking at his form. I put a bit more effort into the pedals and pulled even with him for a chat.

To my surprise, I found a much older fellow than I had expected. His hair was rather gray and he sported a weathered face. He'd seen his share of sun and rain; he was not the young pup I'd thought.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries about the fine sunshine and jointly cursed the quartering headwind we found ourselves facing; we ended up riding together for three or four miles until he turned off from my route towards his home. Nice fellow.

After I caught up to him, he seemed to want to push the pace a bit. I stayed beside him, but soon found it a little more strenuous than I generally ride on the commute home. I was wishing I was on my own go-fast bike and not the fendered, racked, and fat-tired commuter steed. The bike I ride to work and back is one or two mph slower than my speedier ride, and I got to the point where I would have appreciated the quicker machine. Thankfully his turn-off arrived before I blew up totally.

As it turned out, I had worked for him almost 20 years ago on my first job out of university. Actually, I worked for a guy who in turn worked for this fellow. He's still at the same place today, though I moved on to the job I have now after only a short time. It was nice to reminisce about several memorable happenings from back in the day. He didn't remember me, but I didn't expect him to either. I was just a flunky at the time; he was (and still is) the big cheese.

The funny thing about this rider is that I'm pretty sure he was in his mid-40's back when I worked for him. That would make him approximately 20 years older than I. He must be in his early to mid-60's now. Not exactly an old geezer, mind you, but not the young buck I took him for back at the traffic light.

Yea, there I was struggling to hang with a guy who must be looking retirement right in the face.

As soon as he turned off, I dropped the pace and cruised on home.

I tell you what, though. I hope I've got anywhere near that level of health when I hit that age.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Uneventful commute and a fine scoot review

This morning was a pretty uneventful commute. No drivers slowly drifting into me as they put on their lipstick. No hopped-up one-ton diesel pick-up trucks dousing me with their unsavory black smoke when they pull away from the traffic light. No unexpected road closures to cause long detours (though two small sections were down to a single lane). Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, and that's very nice.

During the ride, I listened to a couple podcasts of NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook. I sure do like that show. The host seems to come across as very learned and articulate but also strictly neutral on whatever issue is at hand.

I saw this post on one of my favorite blogs: Rush Hour Road Test: 2007 Vespa 250 GTSie Here's a fine photo of that even finer scooter taken straight from the review.

Well, like that piece really makes me want to wait and purchase later! Yea, right! While I'm most interested in the Vespa GTV because of it's cool retro look, the GTV is the based on the scoot reviewed. Same chassis, engine, internals, etc. Only the color, headlight placement, saddle, handlebar, and instrument cluster differ.

I've not read a single unfavorable review of that scooter no matter how I search the web. I know it's not the best value, but sometimes that's not the be all and end all of decisions.

I discovered long ago that purchasing the bare minimum object that will do the job usually ends up costing much more in the long run. Besides that, the enjoyment of the object's use is nowhere near as pleasurable as it would be with a step-up in quality, design, etc.

I've found this to be very true in my bicycle collection as well as home electronics, computers, automobiles, etc. Why should it be any different with motor scooters?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day off from bike commuting

Wednesdays are my day off from commuting by bike. Today I'll pick my son up from saxophone lessons on my way home from work, and even on the tandem, that alto sax case would be a little hard to handle. Besides that, it gives me one day a week to transport packages, laptop, clothes, etc. to and from work. This would be a hassle to do by bike.

Nevertheless, I drove my usual commute route this morning,
keeping the car under 35 mph, just to see how long it'd take moving at conservative scooter speeds. Turns out it's roughly half the time as by bike--40 minutes. That should be no big surprise, since 35 is roughly twice my bike speed.

However, the big gain was in not changing clothes, showering, etc. 42 minutes after I left home, I was sitting at my desk checking the morning's e-mail.

This is significant.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Långsamt leder också någonstans

Here's a tune I've been listening to quite a bit recently. It's one of the reasons I decided to slow down, especially during my daily commute. You can find out about the artist at:
There's even a section in English; use the link to the lower right of the page.

(text: Lisa Nilsson, musik: Lisa Nilsson & Henrik Janson)

Jag har kommit att röra mej långsamt
Det har sina olika skäl
Benen de känns inte lätta
Lusten finns inte där

Och jag har kommit att sluta försöka
Känslan är full av besvär
Magen den blir liksom ihopsnörd
Flödet finns inte där, men...

Långsamt leder också någonstans
Långsamt leder också någonstans
Oh, långsamt leder också någonstans
Långsamt leder också någonstans

Jag har kommit att fastna i mönster
När ett steg fram kostar tre steg bak
Där att vakna på fel sida
Det är ingen ovanlig sak

Och jag har kommit att jagas av tiden
Hon går i ett tempo som inte är mitt
Min dygn är mycket, mycket längre
Där skiljer vi oss vitt, för...

Långsamt leder också någonstans
Långsamt leder också någonstans
Oh, långsamt leder också någonstans
Långsamt leder också någonstans

Och jag vill skrika högt över hela världen
Att jag kan andas av mej själv
Och jag kan flyga runt vintergatan
Och ta ner månen om ni vill
Men jag vill vara i lugnet inom mej

Långsamt leder också någonstans
Långsamt leder också någonstans
Oh, långsamt, den leder också någonstans
Oh, långsamt leder också någonstans

Oh, långsamt leder
Oh, långsamt leder
Långsamt, den leder
Långsamt, den leder också någonstans

I've been a long-time cyclist, used to race back in the day, but got tired of all the hassle. It's just too much pain and misery, especially for an over-the-hill type like me. Now I like to smell the roses and spend time with my kids on the bike. They're too small to ride fast enough that I don't feel like I'm about to fall over, thus the big blue bike you see below.

We've got several thousand miles on it over the past year, sometimes with one kid on the back, sometimes with another. Even the intrepid wife has been out three times, though she really doesn’t like the experience. She's not one to sweat unnecessarily.

I've been commuting by bike the past few months. First, off and on as the weather permitted, but much more frequently now that spring is firmly upon us. My normal commute is just shy of 20 miles each way; occasionally, I'll take a little more scenic route and lengthen the ride by a few miles.

I average about an hour and a quarter in actual time on the bike, but what with the change to cycling clothes before I leave and shower/clean-up at the destination end, the total commute time is running about 1:45. This time is no problem in the mornings, it's just a matter of getting up earlier and hitting the road. Unfortunately, it's becoming a burden on the way home. I often find that it's close to 19:00 before I'm ready to sit down to dinner and start the evening with the family. This is just too late, frankly.

I don't think that I can cut much off that time riding faster; even if I pick my average speed up from the current 17 mph to 20 mph or more (which would be flying, in my opinion), it won't save but a few minutes.

I'm going to see if there are other alternatives. The prospect of a scooter is very inviting. I'm enjoying the slower pace of the bike; the scooter still has a measure of that, yet is not forced to that speed if I don't want it to be. I'm still not ensconced inside the vehicle as I would be in a car, and can smell the new-mown hay as well as feel the rain.

Yea, I like the scooter idea.

Now, do I really want to pay the $8k for the cool Vespa GTV or not?