Monday, February 09, 2009

The Dregs of Reliability

I participate on a web forum dedicated mainly to riders of the modern Vespa. Four stroke engines, CVT transmissions. We're the new scooterists on the block, so to speak. That doesn't necessarily mean we're new to riding, but it does mean we're ok with modern appliance simplicity.

The motorcycle world has recently jumped to a new plateau. These modern Vespas with their lack of shifting certainly weren't the first scooters to emply this design successfully, but they've caught on enough to garner attention of the two wheel riding world in general. Piaggio is making some of them full on automatic motorcycles. Bar the fact someone is still calling them scooters, one look tells you a scooter was designed for a specific purpose while these boldy slip into the next category up the ladder.

Four stroke engines have always been the centerpiece of the road going motorcycle. Two strokes served a purpose in that they were lighter for the diminuitive scooter. The right powerplant for a much smaller machine. At the time they fit the package well. An easy to maneuver small "motorcycle" which protected the rider from the majority of the elements. Road grime and engine... stuff... were kept reasonably at bay. Leg shield, engine shield. And light enough for your average post war Italian beauty to liberate herself from the schedules of public transportation.

Time and the scooterist roll on.

Its the heritage the vintage riders are cueing into. The straightforward purpose built simplicity of the era. Small, light, easy to work on.

Not so with the new models. They're shiftless in the derogatory sense. They're four strokes hiding awkwardly under non removable metal bodywork. They have nothing in common with their ancestors other than the fact the same company makes these as made those.

You just put gas in and take yours to the dealer to service it on the schedule. Nothing is supposed to happen in between. No fiddling, no adjusting, no double checking of odd things even above the standard regimen of the motorcyclist. Appliance grade reliability. It somehow means we're not entirely real scooterists. Never mind motorcycle enthusiasts.

I should rename mine Amana. Seems oddly appropiate, don't you think? Amana the midnight blue Vespa.

I think I just bit my tongue...

Yet, that is the direction the entire motorcycling community is heading. A stark reality that these machines can indeed be astonishingly reliable. The preride walkaround will always be requisite. We'll just find fewer and fewer reasons to reach for the tools to tweak something as we pan the seals, bolts and new-to-us electronical thingies of our current era two wheelers.

Its a little bit of every corner of life that we riders seem to be banging our heads against. Unless you live in an older neighborhood, you just don't get to have an unfinished basement in which to corner off a small workshop for yourself. Garages seem to be be the new basement/attic storage areas. Looking down my street I can see cars which never get parked where they were meant to be parked because garages became basements and workshops. Not unlike any other guy who realizes what he's had, I moved from a city house with a shop I built myself in the basement, a three stall insulated garage and a decent sized shed. The truth is it really was a small price to pay for the better school district we moved into some seventy miles from where we used to live. But the instinctual subconscious hunt for where the shop disappeared to, always wakes you up to reality; lack of workspace means a higher reliability requirement out of the things you use. Tinkering is traded for necessary repairs. You just don't have the space or the interest to do things in a cobbled together corner of a room. Any room.

Life moves fast. Time to ride is time to slow life down.

Time to dote around your machine used to slow life down too.



Baron's Life said...

Well, I don't think going gearless or shiftless makes anyone less of a scooterist and/or enthusiast...Heck they have automatic motorcycles now...time to get on with the times.
I enjoyed riding my wife Yamaha 150 (Automatic) as much as I did my 4 gear's all about enjoying the least in my books it is

American Scooterist Blog said...

Baron's Life, I agree wholeheartedly with you. What I was trying to say was that while there was an aspect of the motorcycle/scooterist culture in the past which might heavily involve being able to work on one's own bike, its no longer necessary. That people who don't have the room or the time don't need to feel guilty about it. At the same time those of us who enjoyed doing a bit of maintenance can remember it without lamenting greater reliability's removing us from that part of the game. As you say, riding is riding. Its gotten easier to be a riding enthusiast and that's a positive. Thanks for seeing that and writing about it.


Baron's Life said...

Oh but you are right Harv...that element of fixing the little things on the bike, changing oil or fouled up spark plugs is something us the older crowd will always cherish...them were the days.."I remember it well" as Maurice Chevallier used to say in that song...

irondad said...

I appreciate the fact that any maintenance I might do is not because of failures. I spent too many hours doing "emergency" fixes because I was too poor to pay a garage.

The aspect of what you're writing about that I miss is the connection. The kids and I had many deep talks with a motorcycle or car between us. They opened up more readily with the mechanical object as a buffer. We were much closer because of it.

I used to bond with my wife's brother, my grandfather, and even my father-in-law. The "don't touch it yourself" thing takes away a wonderful means of connection. Where has the need for basic human connection gone these days?

American Scooterist Blog said...

Thank you Baron's Life. That is indeed a huge part of what I miss.

Iron, I miss that too. When I lived in Minneapolis my three car garage became the "block garage". I would tinker on one of the bikes and before long guys from up and down the block and alley would be hanging around talking about everything men talk about. Someone would bring a few beers and we would doodle around whatever bike I had pulled to the front of the garage to work on. The times I've been back to the old neighborhood, the guys I used to know so well always talked about the good times. Harv's garage. Now I live in a neighborhood where people seem less apt to get together to rebuild something or just hang out while one or two strip some machine down to repair it. I miss the networking for scavenged parts these guy always seemed to come up with. Maybe with the economy and the social structure of things changing some of this will return again. Cycles in life lol.