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.