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?