Friday, March 16, 2007

Spirited not Dangerous

When I was young I sometimes rode dangerously. Well by my standards today I would think so. Back then it was nothing to rely on quick reflexes and utterly trust my motorcycle to come through in the clinch. I would skip the tires, pour the bike into turns and throttle out with the dual forty millimeter Mikunis sucking in as much air and fuel as they possibly could. I hung her low and I was proud of it.

Over some years I mellowed but on occasion the young me, the former Rb would need to take the controls and set the tone. I've always been reading and listening to what skilled riders taught and I employed more and more of it. One day it felt like I was trying to duplicate the edge of my seat feeling I used to get, but it wasn't there. I realized I'd crossed some invisible line where I employed skill instead of hope and a little prayer. I was doing the same things I had in the past but the fear was gone. I also felt smoother through that turn. Confidence and more knowledge caught up with sheer youthful bravado. I'd made it this far with a bit of grace and luck. My style changed and improved over these many years and instead of the gritted teeth and bare knuckles, I was reading the information the bike and road were feeding me.

This was new...?

I began paying attention to the feeling I was looking for. The sensation of the right lean angle combined with the right entrance speed. Ahhhh that's the thing I was looking for!

When you do it right you get that same rush without the adolescent's anxious impatience. Sound familiar? A boy.. a girl... a passionate embrace leads to... (ahem) where were we? Oh yes. Attention to detail and practice brings about skill. Skill leads to being able to draw out the moment with (hey, you... stop thinking about the two young lovers. It was just an illustration) better self control.

I learned to slow a little more and build up more gradually in the turns. As my confidence increased I realized I could pitch the bike per speed and ride through the way I wanted. Not that all out crap, but really soak up the moment in a broad sweeping bend. Make it last.

Kids swill beer and coffee. Adults know what it tastes like.

I used to pour it on in the straights too. Looking for a natural high. But there's something about going the speed limit. You know, it really is about the right speed for this road.(ohmygoddidIjustwritethat?) Well, I suppose my attitude is improving and that's a good thing.


I bet in some ways I ride as hard as I ever did but those times are farther in between now. There's more skill in the saddle and its employed being smooth rather than trying to be blitzkrieg fast. Scooters are nimble little machines but they're not "fast". You can swing them into decent lean angles without much effort and throw them around a little bit. Its that near effortless compliance which allows me to enjoy them so much. Like the little bikes I grew up around. As happy with the ride now as I was then.

The Roadbum
Second Hand Happiness

Old Scoot mentioned having what's now becoming thought of as a classic old model, the Honda Helix. His bike has lots of miles meaning its getting ridden. Far too often I hear about scooters from the mid eighties on being sold for a song with three to five thousand miles on the clock. Bikes which are probably due for a tune up and good going over from sitting in the back corner of a garage somewhere.

These bikes were fun while their owners used them but some reason caused them to be put aside, relegated to storage. Maybe the owner decided it was time to move into something larger or life just changed as often happens. Great scooters, low miles.

You can find these machines for a song by listening to the grapevine. They were running when put aside. Gummed carburators, oil and brake fluid changes usually accomplish enough to get them back on the road. Oh, and this is important; you will require new tires. Going over the details starting with a good cleaning could show a nice gem underneath. Just some loving care. If the prospective seller finds the title, you might have just found yourself a very inexpensive ticket to ride.

A friend was recently given a Yamaha Riva 180. He literally sprayed some carb cleaner through it, changed the oil, drained the tank and added fresh fuel just to see if it would run. He replenished the old battery with distilled water and trickle charged it. You can thumb the starter and that old '83 Riva will fire and run every time. Cost of the Riva? His time into it so far.

Japanese scooters have been in the states a long time. They made their mark here with an ad campaign that anyone over thirty can quote. "You meet the nicest people on a Honda." Suddenly everyone wanted to ride the little Honda scooters. They had larger wheels, a version of legshields and they had a look all their own. Because of the placement of ads, everyone had seen the 70cc scooters. Honda placed the commercial in mainstream magazines. Everyday people riding and smiling while riding. The company founded by Hoshiro Honda had had created an icon.

Since the early seventies Japanese scooters developed their own reputations of reliability. They became thicker looking. More plush. They boasted good power and larger models could get above sixty miles per hour. The little 50cc models were seen hanging around college campuses, waiting for their owners to take them to the local watering holes. The bigger models had their own niche. People who rode them might've started on the smaller and just enjoyed them so much they had to have the next model up. Even in the seventies and eighties the Japanese scooter manufacturers carried automatic scooters. They were stone simple to use and pretty basic to maintain. And they were dependable.

I like to surf the internet looking at all the different scooters that have been made since the seventies. Different designs, interesting solutions to one thing or another, they all had something worth taking a second look at. There are websites dedicated to common problems one model or another had and the solutions to those problems. Most often its really not expensive even by today's standards. For a fraction of the cost of a new scooter you can be into something you used to think was pretty nice. For not that much more you can have it running as new. Hard to beat that logic against the rising cost of virtually everything in today's economy.

I'm developing an interest in finding a certain model Honda I've always liked. This thing was considered plush in its time and still looks it today. Those bikes have never looked "cheap" to me and they still don't. They're out there. In a garage, basement or barn. Waiting for someone to put them back on the road.

Is there a model you remember that caught your eye?

The Roadbum

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Time to Slake Your Thirst

I've always had an unspoken distance I needed to ride in order to feel... rested. I don't know about you but I feel more refreshed after a proper ride than after a good night's sleep. Since I can remember I could never sleep more than six hours unless physically ill. Sleep is a non active sort of activity. You're not really involved. You sort of have to trust that nothing will happen while you're "away".

Riding on the other hand, is a hands on in the moment experience. You control what happens and so you ultimately control most of what you feel. Pick the road, the third of the lane, the time of day or night or the company you choose to ride with. Its all yours to tune to your liking.

The only variable left is how long do you need to be out there, to be riding at your own pace in order to feel like the ride has reached its fullness? How long a ride will it take to satisfy your lust for the experience of The Ride?

When I was a single Roadbum it had to average a good thirty miles to even qualify as a ride. With groups it seemed the ride had to be longer. Much longer. I was given the nickname Marathon Harv after a certain nighttime sojourn I led brought us to the Minnesota state line. This was back when I lived in Milwaukee. Some riders complained I'd gotten us lost. My friends knew I was loosely following the stars.

So what comprises a satisfying ride? I think its being in the moment you'd planned for when you started. Sometimes creativity needs to work in one's favor but the general rule is we have expectations for each ride. If we meet them it becomes a memorable experience.

I'm married. I've got soon-to-be four year old twins to think about. Time is less my own than it ever was. I've resorted to skimming a little time here or there in order to get some time in the saddle. Subconsciously I must have come to the conclusion something about the ride had to change if I was to capture the same satisfaction I used to find in the longer rides.

I had to rediscover what it was about the ride which has always drawn me in so completely.

When the Honda Express came along the little scooter turned out to be a hoot to ride. The little bike's bare minimum capabilities not only brought back the livelihood of the ride it somehow managed to compact fun into shorter distances and thus shorter spans of time. It felt like starting over again. Fresh.

When I got the Vespa LX150 I could have gotten the GTS250. I passed on it because it crossed an invisible line which would have put it in the same category as the other full on motorcycles I have. If it can get on the expressway its a motorcycle as far as I'm concerned. I've got several of those. I don't need another. No, the line had to remain or I would be confusing the issue. And I'm not selling the others. The Harley carried Annette and me on our honeymoon nearly eleven years ago. She loves that bike for sentimental reasons. The Nighthawk is hers and her decision alone regarding whether it stays or not. The Yamaha has been with me twenty years. The only bike I've ever named. Tamera is "the other woman". She looks as good as the day we met. The GL is something I haven't decided about just yet.


The Harley.

These bikes require being ridden longer distances on principle alone. They warm themselves into the ride in a different way. Some people say bikes like these need to "stretch their legs". Short rides on Tamera and the Sporty just don't feel right. Unsatisfying.

The Vespa can be ridden short distances or long because it distills the whole riding experience in a different way. It imbues a sense of getting back to the roots of why we ride, in each ride. Its just fun whether you're going to the grocery store to pick up odds and ends or riding straight through a couple tank fulls worth on a Saturday.

A new cup filled with good vintage wine. Not like the adolescent thirst I once had, a craving to just go go go, but a more mature interest in the full body of the ride. Lesser roads on the way to better roads. For me this Vespa puts more fun into all of it.

It goes to show the ride is what you make it.

The Roadbum

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Genuine Success

About a week ago my dad picked up the Genuine Buddy scooter he'd ordered. The reason he bought it was the scooter he's ridden until now is a 50cc. While it'll run an honest 40mph and 45 if you strain it down a hill, traffic generally moves a little quicker than the posted limits. Keeping up with traffic flow can become a safety issue.

We brought it home in his Tacoma as my work on making my boat trailer a dual purpose design hasn't begun.

The other day it was beautiful here. In the fifties and light winds. Dad was itching for a good day to ride his new prize. I called him and said I thought this would be a good day to take it on a little spin. Kind of get the feel for it and break it in a little. You could hear the anticipation in his voice. Within half an hour the little red truck was parked in the driveway.

I rolled my midnight blue LX and his ruby red Buddy into Annette's spot and began wiping them down. It's the little details which surprised me about the Buddy. The fit is nicer than you might expect from a Taiwanese import scooter. By looking at the quality of the fit and finish a person might be hard pressed to come up with the actual price of this bike.

My dad commented that I didn't have to wipe it down but it's a habit I developed somewhere along the line and I'm not about to quit now. To me it's part of the fun of owning a motorcycle or scooter.

We rolled the two scooters out of the garage and onto the driveway, each of us starting his respective bike. Both started immediately. Both worked themselves down to a warmed idle and settled into that familiar one lunger loping sound. So nice.

We went over the switches again and decided the route. A familiar loop we'd ridden all of last summer. Some straights, some hills and a few sleepy bends to round out the ride.

Compared to last summer this first ride with pop was already better. We weren't limited by his speed. Cautious and a more spirited ride is what this turned into. My dad rolled his throttle and moved through the rpm's and the bike never stuttered. When we turned I could only smile as once we were rolling again he remembered to flick off the signal. The audible clacking of the switch is a great feature to remind us to thumb it off. Dad could hear it again. He never missed a beat.

Now there is a section of plumbline straight road. Pockmarked and rippled its a sore spot on the run but it gets you to the better stuff. I sometimes think of it as the price you have to pay for what's coming afterward. Something I hadn't thought of before came to mind as I watched my dad riding ahead of me on this road. You really get to see how a bike deals with rough pavement. You don't visialize it like you might when you critique your own experience, you actually witness it.

I don't know why but for a split instant I saw my dad on the old 50cc. I blinked and there he was on the Buddy. As strange as this was it also caused me to notice something. The Genuine Buddy's supension works extremely well. It's rider wasn't being jostled but the feedback appeared to be about as close to right as I would suppose one would want from a scooter. My dad wasn't fighting the ride, he was rolling with right along with it. He certainly appeared comfortable.

Once we got to the roads where a little lean angle is employed he moved right along through them. Instead of the wandering line he used to follow, using the whole lane to negotiate each arc, he held the line consistantly. When he started in the left third of the lane he rode that third all the way through and maintained it on the following straightway. After the ride he spoke of the Buddy's design inspiring his confidence. Hey, I can't argue, I witnessed it.

The true testament to the Buddy's quality and attention to details regarding how it works came in the words my dad spoke upon shutting the bike down. He looked me square in the eye and said, "Son, if it was a bit warmer I would say let's just keep going."

The only thing he thought the bike could use is a wider legshield. Coming from him that's pretty impressive. We'll revisit his thoughts later in the season once the newness of the bike wears off and he's put some miles and time in the saddle.

That says enough about how my dad feels about his new Buddy.

The Roadbum

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

When Owning a Chinese Scooter isn't so Bad

Let me preface this by saying I have nothing against Chinese scooters if they're brands like TN'G or Schwinn. Actually both are the same scooters with different badges but that's another story. TN'G has been making scooters for decades overseas and has entered the US market with a fairly decent support line. Unfortunately unless the trend of sales remains strong they too may fade away. I hope they stick around because from what I've seen locally dealer support is pretty darn good for this particular Chinese company.

What companies like TN'G offer is an inexpensive scooter which fits a small niche of people just getting their feet wet. Unfortunately there are many [used car] lots selling Chinese brands I've never heard of, even in this college town of St. Cloud. These lesser known companies have gained a sales network of people willing to make a quick buck and it bodes poorly for those of us who are scooterists first and foremost. When a no name brand comes along for a season or two of spiking gas prices the money is made on the sale. Once sales decrease the no name scooter brands fade away, leaving buyers with machines needing only slight maintenance from sitting quietly through a winter, without anyone to turn to. People who would have been avid scooterists are left with regrets and a sour taste against the sport in general.

But what if you're a new scooterist? What if you've never ridden a motorized two wheeler before?

You might be one of the millions who plunked down anywhere from an unbelievable 700 dollars to under two grand for the better models. The bikes have done what you asked. You're learning to ride and you're have a blast in the breeze and sunshine.

The day of truth arrives. The day you discover if you're a rider or someone just testing the waters.

You have your first spill. It could be a slide, or something as simple as what my dad did just two days ago. He started the bike for the first time after a long winter without riding. He managed a simple newbie mistake and the bike rolled away from him. He tried to grab it but by standing on the wrong side and not keeping a hand on the brake the little 50cc "scooted" away from him and went over on its side. Damage was a cracked upper legshield along with a turn signal bracket snapped off. In the accident he tripped and fell but no injuries. Just a little pride and a (thankfully) gentle reminder that these things need to be taken seriously. I don't think he even suffered a bruise that's how light this little tip over was.

My dad has no intention of giving up. He loves to ride. As I mentioned in an earlier post he now has the new Genuine Buddy. He wisely intended to run in the older TN'G to get himself back in the groove before getting on the new scooter. After his little mishap he checked the 50cc out as well as he could and even took it for a little spin. Seems there's nothing wrong with the bike other than a chipped plastic legshield and a snapped turn signal bracket.

To me the TN'G runs exactly as I remember it last season. But it suffered a little cosmetic... individuality. My dad made some fairly common new rider mistakes. He assumed a few things and now knows not to. But I have to tell you he's thankful it happened on the little 50cc rather than his brand new Genuine Buddy 125. Mechanically the TN'G is no worse for the wear. Neither is my dad.

I can't imagine how upset he would have been with himself had it happened on his cherished ruby red Buddy. I'm just glad the little low speed scooter was the bike to remind him to always think about every detail of what he's intending to do when it involves two wheels. He's set in his ways and there's no changing his patterns from the son to father perspective. Sometimes he just does things his way and learns on the uptake. I wish it didn't have to be this way but its his choice. In that respect an inexpensive Chinese scooter was the better of the two he owns upon which the lesson was to be learned.

The Roadbum