Saturday, January 13, 2007

Midwest Scooter Enthusiast

The Comfort Zone

Each of us has ridden alone. Many of us prefer to ride in groups. It depends upon the individual. We all have a comfort zone of safety we strive to maintain no matter how we ride. Some of us have been involved in situations where other riders simply made us feel we were putting ourselves in dangerous situations riding with them. Situations which made us put distance between us and the other rider(s).

Its a matter of self preservation. You either trust who you're riding with or you don't and it changes your riding style when you're with people you're not sure of.

Sometimes you get really lucky and find someone whose skills and availability are very close to your own. Suddenly every ride is prefaced with a call to that one special riding buddy. Someone whose style you've grown accustomed to. You may even have developed your own set of rules for riding together.
I have just such a friend. His nickname to this day is Whitey. He could ride circles around me. He rode (and still has) a 1977 Suzuki GS 750. In my opinion one of the unsung best machines I've ever had the chance to ride.

Whitey is predictable when he rides. You never have to guess what he's doing because he's either in your mirror, right beside you, or leading the way with a smoothness I have seldom seen in other riders. Skill.

There were other people with whom I rode back in those days, but they rode differently. They were a little more... loose. Not that they were faster, they weren't. Not that they were necessarily worse riders, they might not have been.

There is a natural swiftness in Whitey's riding style. Yet you can see something else in the way he positions his bike in a lane, how he moves as half of a pair of riders or as part of a larger group. The best fitting description of him is as an imminently alert motorcyclist.

In some ways those years riding with Whitey have colored my perception of people I've ridden with since, although I never admitted it until now.

You can see people who've been through something similar. They tend to ride alone. They miss a special riding buddy. Sometimes more recent bad experiences with other riders make them shun the group rides they'd have joined in the past. They'd feel much safer in the singular. Knowing what I do, I can't blame them. Especially in a world of motorists who are often blind to who might be sharing the roads with them. If you asked someone what the colors of the vehicles are around them as they drive their cars and SUV's, how many would be able to tell you what they are? How many would have to shut something off in order to hear the question?

I've been that guy for a few years now. The one who rode alone or in very controlled environments where traffic is light and riding is done in staggered formation. Its hard to find a riding partner whose actions are utterly predictable.

But you have to keep up hope. You need to allow the chance to present itself. Because every now and then you find another such rider whose skills are close to yours. Someone whose of a like mind. It reinforces that hope.

I have to remember the years of riding with Whitey produced something which took a long time to develop. It had to be learned. You find what works best in practice. Out on the country roads. Adapted signals and positioning. Paying attention to the other guy. Nowadays there are prescribed hand signals so that riders of relative unfamiliarity with one another can communicate. We never even thought of that sort of thing back then. We just came up with our own language.

I've found another such rider. The kind who instills a sense that the ride will be safe with him somewhere around me. He rides well and he rides spirited. He also exhibits that same quality of being swift and smooth in his riding style Whitey has.

I like to ride with others but usually passed on the opportunity in the recent past. For a long time I had a fear of having another rider too close to me. Unsure of what the other guy'll do... A fear of the unknown rider. Probably more than is healthy.

Living on the outskirts of Saint Cloud Minnesota has given me a chance to breath deeper in the wind again. The roads are quiet. People seem really cautious around that scooter. And I've found another rider of the same mind as me. So am I lucky? No, that's the guy on the other Vespa LX150 I'm riding with nowadays. Its good to be confident riding with others again.

The Roadbum

Monday, January 08, 2007

Midwest Scooter Enthusiast

Setting the Pace

A Minimalist's Guide to Short and Moderate distance Touring

So you've got yourself a decent scooter. Its been a reliable and fun way to get around. You've always wondered what it would be like to ride somewhere a little further away from home. Somewhere which would take a little planning in order to get there. You've got the touring bug.

No matter what cubic displacement your machine is, it can be done. You can have all the fun you're looking for with the machine you've already got. Its a matter of accepting the conditions of the situation. You have to begin somewhere and there's no better way than to just get out there and ride what you already have.

The beauty of touring of any distance is the rider learns to adapt to unexpected situations. Its a learning experience. No matter how often I take the time to ride outside the usual home range I'm reminded of old lessons. Dormant bits of knowledge resurface which remind me what worked the last time I rode this far. Its fun to think about the last touring experience while you're on your new adventure.

Its time to prepare.

Think about the longest ride you've taken so far. No matter what distance or how long it took, try to recall some of the things you felt you could improve about that ride without investing in a totally different machine. For many riders that first longer distance ride wasn't so much planned as it just sort of happened. Before you knew it you were further away from home than you realized and you found yourself in a race to get back. That's when the riding got difficult, wasn't it.

The typical ride can be broken into three distinct phases. The first is spent getting to an area where you as a rider can really begin to enjoy the ride. The second phase is almost a state of bliss for a lot of us. There's nothing to worry about other than the immediate road ahead. You're where you crave to be. The third begins once you start thinking about heading back to park the bike. The ride is coming to a close. For some people the fun ends right there and while they could still be enjoying themselves, its then that their minds start to wander. I believe many of the accidents we hear or read about, happen during this phase of the ride. People are thinking about other things. Their thoughts have moved on ahead of them. I know that on occasion I've subconsciously tensed up on the way home during the third phase. I felt every seam in the road, every cross gust of wind. The longer the third phase when I felt hurried to get back home, the more dangerous I became. So I learned to think about touring from a standpoint of safety. I could relax and enjoy the third stage if I mentally prepared by maintaining a goal of leaving around a certain time, arriving around a certain time and coming home at a certain time. Its better to finish sightseeing earlier (and miss a few things) than trying to cram it all in today and then ride like sin to get home at a reasonable time. Adhere to a loose schedule. Don't burn yourself out on the third phase.

Take breaks when you need them.

There are no quick and dirty rules about how often to get off the bike. Thank goodness. We're all different and so are our needs. It doesn't matter how many miles you put on between stops. As long as you get off and stretch when you start to feel you need to. Bathroom break, something to drink. Maybe a smoke. Whatever reason you have, its perfectly alright to stop when you need to. When discomfort leads to aches and pain your body is trying to tell you something. Please listen. In the long run you'll become accustomed to longer rides and you'll learn ways that work for you to accomodate your own personal needs.

What to bring?

If its a ride that takes the greater part of a day clothing should consist of a warmer (or cooler) shirt and possibly another jacket. Wrapping bottled water in the bundle is never a bad idea. Stick a toothbrush and some deoderant along with a comb in a jacket pocket. I would also recommend putting your identification somewhere obove your waiste as a thick leather wallet can get irritating after several miles. Check the weather and see if you think you'll need any type of rain gear and wrap that into your bundle if you need to. How much protective gear is up to you. Consider looking at the Scooter in the Sticks blog by Steve Williams and Modern Vespa for a realistic idea of what works best. I always bring ten or twenty dollars cash on every ride. Gas, a snack at a Mom&Pop's along the way... nothing smells or tastes better than than the food at those little restaurants you never see in the city.

Where to go?

That's entirely up to you. I've found a remarkable treasure trove of sights within a day's ride of my home. Just a little online footwork to discover all the places I could visit on an overnight stay somewhere inexpensive. A weekend's ride can feel like a week's vacation when done on a scooter. How can you beat that? I don't think you can.

The Roadbum