Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thinking About Bikes on a Stormy Night

I've been visiting various riding sites on the internet, reading about riding on a night when tornado sirens have been wailing. Things cross my mind like what makes up a person's favorite choice in powered two wheelers.  How do you come to that conclusion?  Is it speed?  Torque?  Seating position?  Is it a little about those attributes and a bit about other things?  Do you ride what you ride because of the people you ride with?

Forbid it that anyone choose their ride based solely upon trying to fit in.  Or to try to present an image.  Once a person knows how to ride, their goal ought to be to find that bike which fits them best for the kinds of riding they actually ride.  Nowadays that kind of machine comes from many manufacturers.  It can even come in different skins.  I'll get to that later.

I like a bike I can sling around.  Something nimble and somewhat utilitarian.  I don't need a cruiser in the common style.  Not interested in stretched and lowered.  I think those bikes are trendy fashion statements for people looking for an identity.  Not everyone, mind you, but people who bought into the whole... scene and only ride with others like themselves.  There are those who were there first, so to speak, and they don't exactly appreciate the Johhny Come Latelys.  But that's another story in itself.  For the sake of a simple point about then versus now I'm going to leave that generality stand.  If you get it, you get it.  If you don't, then you're probably offended.  Here's your sign.

We ride what we ride because it's what we ought to prefer.  Another old saying is that no one rides a motorcycle because they have to.  And since that's the case, we should consider if what we ride really meets our needs.

I came to this scootering thing long after having been in the motorcycle thing.  I can't really say I gave up one for the other though.  Rather I parked a few of the latter and chose to ride the former.   A dedicated motorcycle enthusiast trading V twins and in line fours for small displacement singles.  Why do that?

I ride to revive myself.  To clear my thoughts.  I want to be on the bike which best meets what I want out of it.  You wouldn't take an antihistamine for a stomach ache, would you?  That's where I think I'm gettting to with the bike/scooter thing.

Now I'm not saying I'm giving up on the Harley just yet.  Memories and recent rides reminded me what I liked about that machine.  In a way I think I may be growing back into it.  You can get onto that big nearly straight no-stop that criss crosses the country with the old HD.  It seems pretty at home there.  Just hang back and move along.  And if something falls off (I've had it happen.  More than once.) there's usually an HD dealer or subsequent shop not too far off the path I'm on.    Didja ever notice Harley Davidson dealerships seem to be located right near a main exit on the freeway?  Coincidence?  I think not.

But something about the Vespa is closer to what I'm after at this stage in my life.  When I think about riding, that's the one which comes to mind first.  Its only shortcoming is that it cannot quite do all the Harley can.  Though legal for the freeway, I sure wouldn't ride there.  Not on a 150cc.  Uh uh. 

Unfortunately Vespa made a 200cc, a 250cc and now a 300cc.  Would I trade the Harley for a bigger Vespa?  I don't think I can.  Some things are kept for sentimental reasons.

That Harley was our honeymoon chauffeur in '96.  From Milwaukee to central Minnesota where we got married, to Custer state park.  Long days in the saddle, stopping when and where we felt like it.  We visited Sturgis as the rally was on (yes we planned it that way).  Sturgis during the rally is an interesting thing.  Sort of a renaissance fair with motorcycles.  Many were true customs.  Hand fabricated.  I can appreciate that.  Some even improved on the look of the originals underneath.  And there were many that I could not see from their owners' perspectives.

I remember looking at very old bikes and thinking how beautiful they were mechanically.  Simple elegance.  Flowing lines in purposeful design.  It seems as though an unspoken goal of former motorcycle appearance was to take the edge off.  Old Vespas share that.  Not only in curbside appearance but in maintenance.  A roadside fix was easily doable.

But until recently, Vespa scooters weren't exactly on the A list for expressway use.  It's been a long while since the 55 mph speed limits were done away with, but even then, the two stroke 200cc's wouldn't have been thought of as a n everyday use freeway bike.  Maybe to some, but no one I spent time with thought so.

So here I sit.  Thinking about the unlikely motorcycle that meets my needs and wants.

Sure does look like a scooter though, doesn't it?


ps: I can see that my writing needs some excersize.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Return Of An Old Friend

After a two year haitus from the bigger bikes to a scooter, I finally got around to bringing an older Harley back to life.  My '93 Sportster.  You can say what you like about the ride these bikes provide, but they're still decent machines for the average enthusiast.  You just have to take them on their terms.  And be prepared to accept what some consider limitations.  Consider it part of the package of owning a bike designed to be reminescent of the technological past.

It took a while to get the bike running again.  From thumbing the starter and hearing nothing to thumbing it and getting a sputter.  From a sputter to an idle to whacking the throttle and hearing the bike choke and die.  Disassembling the carburator a few times and help from a friend showed me the problem.  I'd never opened up a variable ventury before.  He says I'm overly cautious.  Well, I have broken things before.

Aside from the thorough cleansing the main jet required, the machine was in pretty stable condition.  Even after languishing in a corner of the garage while I played with the other bikes.  And I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive about getting this thing back on the road again.  Most people opt for larger machines, mainly because they're larger people than I am.  A Sporty fits me like a glove.  But after riding the Vespa for nigh on two full years the Harly seemed like a hulk of low slung bar steel.  Just look at one.  Compared to a Vespa scooter it's a mass of large metal chunks jutting out at all angles.  All of them hot once the ride begins in earnest.

Still, there's something inherantly fulfilling in the sound of the stock exhaust in the fifty five to sixty five mph range.   And the Harley veritably carries itself along. Its own mass propelling it onward.   Comfortable.  In its own way of course.

On one hand the Harley fits today's standard definition of entry level. A size and displacement considered something of a suburban starter big bike.   They originally came with diminuitive peanut tanks and minimal dressing.  You could buy bolt on accoutrements to make yours anything you liked, but the idea was supposed to be that eventually you would move up to a "real" Harley. 

On the other hand the Vespa is a suburban jousting tool.  You can squirt through traffic without a second thought.  Half the time I wonder if people even notice a scooterist on the boil.  What with their cell phones sending and recieving signals while they obliviously jostle for lane dominance on the way to work or home.

Something just zoomed by and they probably never heard the thing.  Maybe they saw someone seated rather high fly by but only their eyes ever knew the scooterist was there.  Whereas a Sportster tends to announce itself.  Even with stock pipes.  And Sportsters don't squirt anywhere.  You twist the throttle, a cacaphony of machanical noise erupts just forward of your knees and you're off.  People turn to see whether the loud motorcycle is about to run them down.  Really.  The face of the pedestrian does not lie.

The only difference I consider worth noting is that a Sportster can take the superslab and still be an enjoyable ride.  Don't try it on a 150cc Vespa.  They top out too early speedwise.  Someone in a Pruis could easily engulf one from behind and swallow it whole before the driver finished the message they were texting.

Is one better than the other?  Comparing an HD Sportster to a 150cc Vespa scooter is not a legitimate comparison.  But they both fulfill a certain kind of ride requirement.  You have to take each one for what it is.  Even in each machine's own element there will be compromises.

And I can live with that.