Saturday, June 07, 2008

Aprilia in June

Like the title? I couldn't help it. I was smitten by an Aprilia 50cc scooter which I witnessed cranking it up to over 50 mph today. A liquid cooled two stroke monster which looks like its moving even when its parked. Its master (if you saw this thing you would know such a bike cannot be owned) proved that looks are not always only skin deep. Sam rides one heck of a sweet machine.

Today's ride came about to help fill a need. St Cloud Scoots does a yearly run for the local food shelf in St. Cloud Minnesota. Our leader, Lucky, had the vision that our little group should do something to help the local community. He came up with the appropiate title, Scoot For Food.

We met up at a little cafe here in Sartell. A group of scooterists with money in hand so that others could feed those less fortunate. I don't know how much came in total, but I know these people need people like this group to help them. The cost of food isn't going down and the people who need that assistance is growing. Every little bit actually does help. A ride with a mission.

We talked for a bit and held a raffle. Then we prepared ourselves for another great ride. Before long we were on the road, heading out of the suburbs (can I really call Sartell that?) and into the farm fields of central Minnesota. The sun was high and the breeze warm A perfect day.

Choosing the sweeping leisure of less travelled tar, we found a back door to the town of Avon. Not much more than an exit off the freeway. There are a couple nice lakes I've fished outside that town but not much else except for the friendly people. Welcoming folks are the norm in this state, and they're memorable once you get lost outside the limits of the twin cities. In five minutes or less and we were across to the other side of the I-94 superslab. Two quick jogs and the busy highway traffic was gone from our rearview mirrors.

Sometimes it amazes me how quickly you can be in and out of small towns in the country. Snap your fingers and you've almost forgotten what you just saw.

We wove our way past quiet lakes and valleys. Up lightly travelled back ways and around winding bends. HecksAngel peeled off and headed for Spring Valley whence he came. We said "See ya later" and swung toward the college nestled in the woods. More tightly winding passages under canopies of oaks and maples. Past an orchard and climbed the hill.

We basked in the sun shining down on us. Reprieve from a week's worth of near record setting rains. It was more than we could express and Chauncy rode past me with his arms spread out wide to hug the air. A huge grin on face. I knew just how he felt. We all did.

The return ride is as good as getting out there. One of the advantages of living on the edge of civilization. You don't have that feeling like the ride is really done until you're virtually home. St. Cloud is large enough to have all one needs and small enough to escape its strip mall main roads before traffic on a Saturday can really make you grit your teeth. Usually anway.

We split our ways where we started. Some heading off to Mongo's Grill and me, I headed back home to see how my wife and kids were. Sam and his Aprilia stopped in for a bit and we talked bikes and motorcycles. Then it was time to say goodbye until the next ride. And to think about what to write here.

Year two of Scoot for Food is now in the history books. A great ride for a great cause. Its nice to be able to do something worthwhile for people you may never meet, now and then. A little humbling too.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Taking the Express Home

Not by train. Not by boat or car. Not by any method which would get me there in record time unless you consider the slowest constant moving rate some kind of record.

After two years of puttering around the outskirts of my town it was time to return the little Honda Express scooter to the man from whom it came. The bike was sort of a gift to me. With fuel prices looming toward the stratosphere it was time to give back. My father in law had an interest in the little machine. What better way to take that last ride before the title switched back to him than to hop on and take her on one of her longest known excursions.

Saturday morning my wife and kids piled into the truck. I rolled the little green scooter out of the garage. We said our 'see ya laters' and they were off.

I checked the fluids, let the engine warm and prepared to head out on my quiet way. Something told me to put on a jacket. The hall closet is packed to its gills with riding apparel. That's what happens after all those years of riding. You accumulate... stuff.

The bike is of 1978 vintage so I grabbed a jacket which hadn't been worn in I can't remember how long. An old Levi's denim number of classic style. I reached into a pocket to find the obligatory buck and change I always leave myself in case of gas emergency. That alone should be a pretty strong indication how long its been since I've worn this thing. For any other bike I have, a buck and spare coin would be almost useless. A Honda Express can go a long way on a dollar and a half.

Back in the garage, I listened to the satisfying two stroke sound of that little motor. Grumbly little beast. Sounded nice. A cell phone, wallet, and multi-tool were all that went with me. Either I was going to make it on this fifty mile sojourn or I wasn't. Worrying about it would take the fun out of the whole experience.

I'm thankful my driveway has a slight grade to it. I puttered down its length and headed west. A few blocks later and I was in farm country. Other than some outcroppings of homes and passage through towns of a hundred or so people, it would be wide open cropland. People hearing the little 50cc working its darnedest, smiled and waved. You sometimes feel a certain vibe as you pass people or other motorists. Each person who acknowleged me made me a little happier.

There were some long slopes. High hills that tested the little Express. From a top speed of about 27mph this little engine proved that it could. It held enough torque to keep it chuffing up the inclines although the steepest brought it down to 19 or 20 mph. It didn't caugh or sputter either. With the throttle wide open that little banger pushed itself right along.

The wind was brisk Saturday morning, in the hinterlands beyond central Minnesota civilization. Pickups loaded with farm impliments gave wide berth but their gusts and the passing clouds made for a sometimes cold ride. Even at a constant 25-26 mph. I felt a little naked on what amounts to a stout bicycle frame with a little two stroke engine hung beneath it. At the same time it felt really good.

For a little more than two hours the Express chuffed along, carrying me to my family. While my feet buzzed on the hard rubber footpegs, that thickly padded oversized pear seat did me just fine. Instead of being in a hurry to get somewhere, I enjoyed the scenery at a pace few people want to go anymore.

It went too quick. Before I realized it I was closing in on the house on the hill. My inlaws' home. I rolled up the gravel drive feeling triumphant for finally having done this ride on the Express. I also felt a little sad. It would most likely be the only time I'd get the chance to ride that thirty year old scooter that kind of distance.

I can't explain it. To ride something of that limited speed for longer distances is a kind of experience you'd have to have had yourself to understand. It is absolutely its own kind of fun. And you really can't compare it to any other type of two wheeled riding. Going slow on something capable of going quicker isn't the same.