Friday, March 02, 2007

Bigger Faster Louder. Better?

When I was young the talk was always about the bike each of us wanted to get. If the money for Bigger Faster Louder wasn't readily available, what parts could get us close on the shoestring budgets most of us had.

The funny thing was, as time went along we often talked about the bikes we once had. Slim small displacement machines. We would tear around on anything from 125cc on up to the four hundreds. Bikes with drum brakes, points, and character.

Funny thing is, I can't recall any of us actually wearing one of these small machines out.

It seemed the days to ride were Thursdays through the weekends for group rides and any other chance we could wring a little time out of our schedules the rest of the week. The bikes would be anything from any company. Some friends rode two strokes and others rode two fifty Harley Sprints. Most often the consensus was if you had a four hundred you could do it all.

As time went on and our incomes improved each of us moved past the early prizes of our youth to "full sized" motorcycles. But any time we got together the conversations would draw us back to the pure unadulterated fun those early bikes brought us. None of us realized it then but we had gotten caught up in the classic sales pitch: What you have isn't good enough. What you need is this.

What we had before we bought the inevitable this, it turns out, was Better.

The old machines gave us few complaints. They were a little more labor intensive, but that goes with the period. Small bikes of relatively simply design. The average rider could tinker on that CB 400 on a Saturday afternoon and actually accomplish making it run better than when that rider loosened the first fastener. And those were some of the easiest bikes to maintain. I would love to see a CB400 in the garage. Better yet a CB400F.

The beauty of these small displacement motorcycles was how they inspired confidence in the rider. You absolutely owned that thing while it was rolling underneath you. You could power it through a corner or you could toodle along at neighborhood speeds. Small displacement motorcycles always seemed to meet one's requirements. Agile little gigglers where your skills could really shine because they were built to meet the needs of real riders at a time when anyone from a teen to a middle aged man was the target market. The bikes were meant to be ridden by people who may not have had that much time to be out on extended trips, but could be with the right gear. Flickable, yet compliant and easy going. Not perfect, but Better.

Over the years those small displacement motorcycles have become harder to come by. Nothing new on the market seems to quite capture the same essence of what satisfied me about The Ride as it had in the past. I always kept an eye out for the modern equivalent. Over that same period of time I also came to a few important realizations.

I don't need a bike to go one hundred miles an hour. What I need is a bike with enough torque to get me up some steep hills without me gritting my teeth while I'm climbing.
I wanted something on the unique side of life (little did I know...)
I wanted something distinctly classic but current.

The machine that met my requirements surprised me. What made me cross over to the world of scooters was the modern CVT. No more shifting! I could have had that feature for a lot less money in other brands but I wanted the Wasp. You see, the '07 LX150 is not the first scooter I've owned. Its actually the third. The first being my 1964 Vespa GL. Literally a fourteen year exercize in boxing and unboxing through consequent moves. The quintessential antique the owner fully intends to finish. Someday. But its a shifter and a different story in its own right. No, what brought me around to my current thinking was a 1978 Honda Express 50cc I rebuilt last spring. Top speed of 27mph and fully automatic. The time spent getting that little city scooter running involved tuning and riding, tuning and riding. So much so that I put over five hundred miles on it before summer. It got me thinking about why I like two wheelers.

The ride itself was simply... fun.

It was the most fun when the bikes were... smaller. Somehow traditional and classic. Maneuverable. The little machines almost seem bouyant compared to the behemoths I've ridden since my youth. And comparatively speaking, some of these aren't even considered that large!

The modern Vespa LX150 is that fun for me. I really didn't expect it to to turn out this way but there you have it, I've become a scooterist. The LX does enough of what I need well enough. Should I ever want that bit extra to get on the expressways the GTS250 would fill the need. That one's more of a modern automatic motorcycle wrapped in scooter skin if you ask me.

We all wish for a little of the past in the present. Modern machines which emulate some aspect of riding we grew up with. I have to admit that while the ride of the modern Vespa itself is not the same as the small displacement motorcycles we grew up with, it retains why we rode them in the first place.

The Roadbum

Monday, February 26, 2007

Midwest Scooter Enthusiast

Where the Blue is

In an age when eletronic equipment can keep a rider from getting lost and music can be had by a slender thread from a modern Walkman to an ear bud, there is something still to be said for the old ways. The only music you had came from your own thoughts, blended with the sound of wind and the machine you were riding.

The old script of this play worked itself out this way; you got a little lost and tried to read the horizon for signs. At night it could mean aiming in the direction of light pollution in the sky signifying a town or city. Shutting the bike down to listen for the sound of a busy thoroughfare. It may have been a small main road leading through a town of a few hundred people but the greater the sound of traffic the better your chances were. During the day you had the chance to find an open country store to find out just where you were. Small towns with friendly people who offered a free coke for no other reason than just because. Small towns have always bolstered my faith in humanity.

If you were lucky enough to chance upon an establishment with a map on the wall, so much the better. It could show you the way back but it could also show you the best roads to get there.

Somewhere along the line I got a little smarter. I began buying maps instead ofjust looking at them when I was lucky enough to find them. I started applying them to find the best routes between A and B. I began using them to make the most of the ride. Much better to have the giant folding puzzles with you than to hope to remember what you saw at the last gas station.

Two friends on the gravel shoulder of a country road at midnight. They'd ridden to the peak of a hill. One pulls out a small piece of paper and begins unfolding it into a huge expanse. Two Bic lighters flash near the paper as they try to determine where they are. First one lights a cigarette, then the other. Their heads are close to the paper and the occasional exhaling of smoke billows around the edges of the unfolded map. One rider looks up and points over the horizon. The other agrees and begins to refold the map, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Moments later the two are off the shoulder and on their way.


It was then that I noticed the best roads ran past rivers and lakes. In summer, twisted green canopies of old growth trees shadowed me from the sun and made for incredible bursts into the starry night on these meandering two-lanes. Vacation homes with bonfires and children by the water. On a starlit night a glance can etch an indelible memory of their existance in one's mind. So quickly, barely a glance as I pass. But the peace I felt in the briefest moment I saw them will remind me of that ride.

On quiet nights as these I often felt my speed settle into an acknowlegement of the moment. The bike would slow of its own accord and I could lift a hand as to wave to them in the light of the streetlamps, and the people in their yards would wave back.

Summer rides where blue on the map indicated lakes and rivers have always been special occasions to me. Clear nights and waters shimmering the sky upon their surfaces.

The Roadbum
Midwest Scooter Enthusiast

A day of celebration!

Over the last month or so I have had numerous and somewhat interconnected computer issues. I could not tell you what exactly has happened nor does it matter. All I can say is I'm back and things are going to be normal again. Phew!