Sunday, January 25, 2015

Winter doldrums: Key West!!

January and February are deader than dead, riding-wise.

I think I've found a way to get a riding fix in late February that will keep my spirits up until the 2015 riding season kicks in.


Susan and I are planning to devote a week or so to the Sunshine State.  I'm planning to steal a couple of days, rent a bike at Eagle Rider, and teach myself (with a little tutoring and written encouragement from Dar in her brand-spanking-new moto instructor role) to ride a cruiser.

Dar suggested a 600cc'ish cruiser (Honda Shadow, Yamaha XV S650, or similar).

My plan is to drop in on Conchscooter for a beer and maybe a burger or something.  I'm also hoping to entice some fellow riders to join in.  The thing is that they're all up around Jacksonville or Tampa St-Pete, and it's a lot to ask for folks to take three days or so and put all those extra miles on just for a lark.

Stay tuned my winter-bound friends.  We'll see how this goes.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Product review: Viking Cycle Stealth textile riding jacket

Given that it's minus twenty degrees Celsius in the Great White North as I commit this review to digital paper, this will be a two part review.  The ride report about the jacket's performance on the road will have to wait until old man winter loosens his frosty grip and gives us back our bare and two-wheel-ride-able roads.

In a nutshell: 

The Viking Cycle Stealth is a very inexpensive, but well-designed, armored, padded, 600 denier, textile riding jacket.  It's part of the jacket line-up (click here, and here) from the folks at Motorcycle House.

The lesson here is that you don't need to spend north of $600 to get a good armored jacket.  There are no excuses for taking risks on the road when there are riding jackets like this one available.  If you're on a tight budget, yet still concerned about your riding safety, this jacket may just be the ticket for you.

Full disclosure:

I did not purchase this jacket, I received it from Motorcycle House free of charge for the purpose of doing this review.

Some bloggers won't do product reviews when they haven't purchased the product, some will.

Some bloggers host advertising on their blogs, some don't.

Most bloggers, myself included, write for public consumption and aren't in the least motivated by a desire to profit.  In many, if not most cases, the cost simply far outweighs the benefit.

I don't want to host AdSense advertising, so I know I have no hope of earning any financial reward for my blogging efforts.

With this review I am however dipping a tentative toe in the pool of freebie product reviews.  We'll see where it takes me.

The fact is that it's not easy for suppliers to entice bloggers.  Witness the comments some seriously good bloggers contributed to my earlier more philosophical post.

On the plus side, fellow bloggers have done promotional pieces that I found very valuable.  To mention just one example, take Steve Williams' motorcycle reviews courtesy of Kissell Motorsports.  Kissell Motorsports lent Steve a number of really nice bikes to ride and review.  His motorcycle review posts are examples of top-notch promotional pieces I found (and still find) really helpful. 

Right now my feeling is that as long as I believe that I'm adding value, along the lines of Steve's contributions, I will do more of these reviews.  When the process becomes too burdensome or irksome, I'll stop.

It's that simple.

Video peak:

I recorded a brief little video.

I apologize for the awkwardness the jacket model clearly exhibits.  It was his first time 'acting' on a stage and his natural reserve and shyness speak louder than the jacket he is supposed to be showing off to best advantage.  I also realize that the production quality is... totally amateurish.  I have a lot to learn about video editing.  I have a whole lot more admiration for those of you who produce nice videos.

The amazing thing is that I got it done at all.

There is no catchy soundtrack or helpful narration in the video.  I was on my way to figuring that out, when I upgraded our iMac to the Yosemite version of OSX, and that turned out to nuke iMovie.  When I finally installed the updated iMovie app... you guessed it, my product review video is no longer compatible.

I suggest you view the video. It's mercifully short, and the rest of the review will benefit from the context.

Safety and protection:
Armor and padding:

CE 1621-1 rated shoulder and elbow armor.  I pulled  the armor (never an easy task) and can confirm that it is stamped with the CE rating, with the same designation as the armor in my BMW Airflow jacket.
The armor in my BMW Airflow jacket looks and feels more polished, but bear in mind i) CE rated is CE rated, and ii) the BMW Airflow is more than five times the price.  The armor in this jacket looks not that different from the armor in my Canadian-made Corazzo 5.0 jacket, at three times the price.

In addition to the removable CE-rated armor, the jacket has polycarbonate exo-skeleton portions aligned with the internal removable shoulder and elbow armor.
Non-rated but removable foam back pad.
Permanent foam pads in the abdomen, chest, and back.
One of the keys with armored clothing is ensuring that the armor is positioned properly, and that it stays optimally positioned in a crash.  This is where fit is critical.  The Viking Cycle Stealth jacket fits very snugly, so much so that it's just a little bit of a struggle getting it on.
Once on, the jacket is comfortable and the armor is well positioned on the arms and shoulders. The sleeves are snug and there are hook-and-loop adjusting straps that allow the sleeves to be snugged up even more.
The impression the jacket leaves is that the armor is likely to stay put in a crash. Neither of my other jackets provide quite the same feeling. My Corazzo 5.0 is the loosest fitting. My BMW Airflow is snugger than the Corazzo 5.0, but not nearly as snug and form-fitting as this Viking Cycle Stealth jacket.
This jacket has a feature my BMW Airflow has, but that my Corazzo 5.0 lacks: the wrist-forearm zipper closure has a full gusset, so even if the zipper opened, the sleeve remains fully enclosed and wouldn't be as likely to separate and ride up in the way that I think that the sleeves on the Corazzo 5.0 might in a good slide. I like that feature, I have to say.
As a final note on protective elements, the jacket has a joining zipper that allows you, should you choose to do so, to join the jacket to your riding pants.  Doing so provides some assurance that the jacket won't ride up and expose you to road rash in a slide.
 Abrasion resistance:
The Viking Cycle Stealth jacket has a 600 denier outer shell which will survive a slide almost as well as Kevlar and competition leathers.  The downside is that after a slide, the jacket will have given its all, and will need to be replaced.  Given the price of this jacket, you could afford quite a number of slides, buying a brand new jacket each time, and still manage to save a decent amount of cash.  

Though this jacket is jet-black, there is an ample reflective strip on the front of the jacket, and a smaller reflective piping on the back.
My personal preference would have been to have as much reflective material on the back as on the front.  The reflective material is black to match the jacket, and is non-apparent until it reflects a light source (oddly, in the photo below, there must have been some stray light that lit up a small section of the reflective strip). 
The reflective material is not as prominent as on my BMW Airflow jacket, and neither of those jackets can hold a candle to the Corazzo 5.0 with its copious, yet nicely designed, reflective striping back, front and side.
Comfort and convenience:

The Viking Cycle Stealth jacket has two exterior zippered pockets that are well-positioned, and suitable for  keeping your hands warm off the bike on a cool day, and to keep cash or coins handy for tolls.
There is also an interior zippered slash pocket just behind the zipper on the left side. I like pockets like this.  My Corazzo 5.0 has one, but my BMW Airflow doesn't. They're a handy place for my iPhone, when it's not in a RAM mount.  The photo below doesn't do a good job of conveying exactly where this pocket is, or how accessible it is.  Check out the video above, since it does a better job of showing off that pocket.
There are two more pockets in the interior of the vest liner, one on the left side designed to hold a cell phone with a hook-and-loop closure....
... and the other on the right side suitable for a wallet or passport with a vertical zippered closure.

The Viking Cycle Stealth jacket came with a removable quilted vest-style liner. The jacket I got for this review did not come with a full sleeve waterproof liner, but the seller's website says that one is normally included.
Overall impression:
The Viking Cycle Stealth jacket is a decent armored jacket, it's inexpensive, it fits very snugly, so much so, as mentioned, that it's just a tiny bit of a struggle getting into it.  The sleeves are designed for the riding position, with a natural curvature from the shoulder to where your hands would be on the handlebars.

Once on, the jacket is comfortable and the armor is well positioned on the arms and shoulders.  The sleeves are snug and there are hook-and-loop adjusting straps that allow the sleeves to be snugged up even more, and there are also hook-and-loop adjustment straps at the waist.
The impression the jacket leaves is that the armor is likely to stay put in a crash.
 So there you have it.

I'll revisit this jacket early in the 2015 riding season and share how it performs on the bike.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Motorcycle House

If I could find a way, I'd figure out how to make a living as a writer.

The odd thing about that statement is, I actually have made a very nice life by writing. That's mostly what lawyers do. The only rub is, it's all too often a stress-inducing affair, and the writing lawyers do lacks, well, appeal.

When I started the ScootCommute my only thought was to provide a public service of sorts, if anyone could find me, of course.

Well, find me they did.  Many more people found me than I ever thought possible.  Still, to cast the ScootCommute in its broadest category, it's a moto blog.  That is a very, very, very narrow slice of the internet pie. The saving grace is that the internet is very, very, very, very, very big, and it's still growing by leaps and bounds. Even a minuscule insignificant crumb off a teeny tiny slice is something.  Like the Earth is, in relation to the known universe.

The ScootCommute has allowed me to practice writing in new ways.  In a more relaxed conversational style.  As a story teller, rather than as a compeller of things yet to pass.  In a way that people may actually read because my writing is tolerable. Not because my preface was 'without prejudice'.

Among the folks who have taken notice are publicists eager to get their products noticed beyond manufacturers' and e-retailers' web sites, in the vast uncharted sea of social media.

And that's how Motorcycle House came to me, as it also came knocking on other bloggers' virtual doors, offering products to review.

I took my time deciding whether reviewing products was something that made sense for me, and for the ScootCommute.

Oh, right.  I have reviewed products.  Lots of products.  Just check out the gear posts. The thing is though, I bought 99% of those products, or received them as gifts from friends and family. I was free to say what I wanted about them, unfettered by any kind of quid pro quo.

I treasure the creative freedom I have here, and I don't want to sacrifice it just to get my hands on some free products.  I also don't want to waste sponsors' time. They have a business to run, and they have needs too.  Last, but far from least, there is you. I don't want to disappoint you.  Whatever I decide to write about, I want you to appreciate my words.  I want you to come away with something you'll value.  After all, a blog without regular readers is just a waste of bits and bytes.

In the spirit of the ScootCommute, after deliberation, I am pleased to introduce you to Motorcycle House.  They have a lot to offer. Though the products they sell are primarily aimed at the cruiser crowd, even a scooterist like yours truly can find moto-happiness in their catalog.

Now that the introduction is out of the way, I'm sure that some of you will have clicked on the links to take a peek at their offerings.  I'm equally sure that some of you are wondering which products tickled my fancy.

As you know from a previous post, the answer is 'jackets'.

I love jackets.

Always have, and I think I always will. 

I've mostly been a shy-ish unassuming kind of guy.  Except when it comes to jackets.  One of the great things about riding is that I get to wear jackets.  Serious jackets.  Jackets with body armour.  Jackets that tell a story.  'I think that guy rides. Check out his jacket.'

There was a suede fleece-lined Davy Crocket jacket that saw me through junior college.  I still remember the sound and feel of the fringes as I trudged endless miles on cold cold nights.  The fringe made my thighs sting when it was really truly cold.  I know, I know, but it was the 70's.  1970 in fact.  I rode buses not Vespas back then.  The shoe leather express.  Psychedlic was in, Easy Rider was in, I was in, sort of.  I was serious about peace, love, and rock-and-roll.  My generation had broken with the past in a serious way.  We were revolutionaries, all of us.  We were the counter-culture, we were anti-establishment, man.  Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Frank Zappa, and Jefferson Airplane.  The White Album.  The blues;  Paul Butterfield, Janis Joplin, John Mayall; and serious folk; Joni Mitchell, Carol King and Leonard Cohen.  We were going to change the world.  Woodstock, weed, Vietnam; and my Davy Crocket jacket.  That, and my army jacket with the peace symbol painted on the back.  Honestly.  Those were the days.  Timothy Leary was the high priest with a simple message: tune in, turn on, drop out!  Haight Ashbury and the summer of love, my friends.  How Susan agreed to date me back then is one of life's deep mysteries.  I had hair down to my shoulders!  My god I'm lucky.

Flash forward.  The Motorcycle House jacket I really wanted was out of stock.  Wouldn't you know?

Fortunately, they have a heart of gold.   They suggested that I try another jacket.  Oh well, 'OK' I thought, but without much enthusiasm to be perfectly honest.  'What if we send you this other jacket  and when the jacket you want comes in, we'll send you that one too?'  Really?

And that's how Jacket Number One from Motorcycle House landed on my doorstep.

My next post will be a product review of Jacket Number One.

We'll see what you think.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Unbounded generosity

When Peter Sanderson reads this, he may squirm, but what the hell, when generosity is your hallmark, and you bestow a kindness on a blogger, you're going to get outed.

Those of you who have taken the time to follow Peter's blog know that when Peter commits to something, there are no half-measures.

So it was when Peter set out for an adventure on two wheels.

First Peter bought himself a gorgeous Vespa GTV. For those of you unfamiliar with Vespas, the GTV is the top-of-the-line model. It has features that hark back to vintage Vespas from the 50's and 60's: exposed chrome handlebars, and retro-styled dual saddles.

Not content to leave a beautiful bike be, Peter set to work upgrading. Among other goodies, too numerous to mention, He swapped out the stock exhaust, shock absorbers, and brakes with high-end performance parts.

In no time, Peter found a Vespa GTS for his wife (how blessed is Chantal?) so they could ride together.

They documented their rides and I was pleased to follow their adventures.

In the fullness of time, Peter and Chantal, seriously bitten by the PTW bug, upgraded to motorcycles, and more recently, have purchased matching BMW GS dual sport-bikes, all decked out for serious touring.


That left Peter with a bunch of stock Vespa odds and ends, including the OEM exhaust, and schock absorbers.

Guess what Peter did?

He sold me those precious Vespa parts for a song. And Chantal delivered them right to my front door.

That, dear friends is an act of pure generosity that will top the list for a long, long time to come.

Thank you so much Peter.

When the bike gets serviced in the spring, I think I'll swap exhausts and rid myself of the annoying loose baffle that rattles at low speeds.

Pretty cool, yes?

Monday, December 22, 2014

My very best wishes for the holidays!

And so another season of the ScootCommute draws to a close.

I cannot let the last few moments drift away without wishing each and every one of you my very, very best wishes for the new year.

If I have a wish for the new year, it is to meet, perchance to ride, with more of you.

Until then, to those of you enduring hibernation, stay snug, and to those of you in the southern hemisphere, soak up that wonderful summer weather and enjoy a bit of it for those of us knee-deep in snow.

Happy Holidays!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Taking a break; making some plans

When the posts dry up at the ScootCommute, you know I'm busy, busy, busy, looking after business.

It's not that there's any shortage of things to share with you. Quite the opposite.

Sunday, I got to take a break.

First I'll fill you in on how we chose to spend a restful Sunday. Then I'll share the blog posts that will be coming just as soon as I can free up some time to think, write, and shoot some pictures.

With nothing on the agenda, Susan and I lingered in our nice warm bed (we have a heated mattress pad. Don't have one? You have my sympathies). Once we got up and got going, we headed out for a nice tête-à-tête breakfast at Quartier du déjeuner on St-John's boulevard in Pointe Claire.  

Over our last round of bottomless coffee, I asked Susan whether she was up for a stroll through the art galleries on St-Paul street in the old city.

This Sunday was by no means a bitterly cold day, but it was certainly damp, and solidly overcast. Susan considered my suggestion carefully, clearly not relishing tramping along cold slushy streets. The saving grace was that the snow still draped on the trees turned the landscape into a never-ending series of postcards wherever you cared to look.
Fletcher's field, seen from Mount Royal avenue, looking west towards the mountain.
We parked on St-Nicholas street and made our way east on St-Paul's narrow 19th century sidewalks, dodging ice patches and puddles.

The galleries were invariably warm and inviting, and we had them mostly to ourselves.

We share a love of art, even if we are rarely on a wavelength where a painting, the price, our shrinking wallspace, and our budget align. Our taste over the years has evolved to the point where we tend to agree on more modern abstract art, or cityscapes.

Now good modern art is pricey. Today there were only one or two works in the two-to-three range that appealed. And a good handful in the eight-to-thirteen range that were all but tugging at our heart strings. Since we're talking not ones, tens, or even hundreds, but thousands, we came away wistful and empty-handed. That's our usual situation when we do the gallery stroll. It's good therapy though. The art gives our spirit wings, and the abstinence builds character.
What if art did rule the world?
Not quite ready to head for home, I set a course northward to the Plateau. If I couldn't buy a painting, I could certainly afford a couple of great cappuccinos.

The answer to our craving was as simple as 1-2-3. 123 Mount Royal West, that is. Café Plume.  If you're keeping track, Café Plume is number 4 on the top 5 list of cafés in the city compiled by Ms. Tastet. She bears her name well and does her father proud.
Unfortunately, Susan doesn't share my taste (or Élise Tastet's taste for that matter) in high-end micro-roastery espresso treats. She enjoyed the chocolate chunk and peanut cookie, but left me to savour the other half of her coffee. I couldn't let that heavenly coffee go to waste, now could I? Can you spell b-u-z-z-z-z-z-z-z?
So there you have it.  

Oh, right, I mentioned that there were blog topics begging to get out of my brain and into the virtual ink.

Busy time has coincided this year with an avalanche of stuff that screams for thoughtful and comprehensive reviews.

I have not one, but two very different riding jackets from Motorcycle House that I will review shortly.

The reviews will be two-parters. The first instalments will be technical reviews focusing on purpose, fit, and finish. Since riding is out of the question, the follow-up pieces will be ride reviews in the spring focused on how each of the jackets performs on the road. Well not on the road exactly. Crash tests are out-of-scope. At least that's the plan.

I think you'll enjoy the reviews. The jackets are very different, yet, as you might expect, share some things in common.

I've also been approached by another outfit interested in some product reviews. That one is still in the works.

And then there is a tale of Peter Sanderson's continuing generosity to share with you. Suffice to say that when Peter and Chantal left Vespa-land for Beemer territory,  Peter parted with a bunch of basically pristine OEM Vespa parts for a song.  Those precious parts are screaming for a post of their own.

Finally, Jim Mandle is working on a crazy scheme that three or four of us intrepid bloggers wouldn't rate as more than a snowball's chance in hell of working out. And now the odds-makers have upgraded his hare-brained scheme to 50-50 proposition. Let me put it this way: whether Jim's plans pan out or not, there will be grist for really interesting posts to come on that score. I don't dare say anything more on that topic for now, since it's better left hush-hush until it's a go, or a story.

In the meantime, if you crave moto-stories that are more than well-worth reading, check out the side bar.

In particular, if you need inspiration to undertake a life-altering adventure, be sure to follow the following incredible moto-madness journeys:
  • Michael Strauss' multi-continent ride from Johannesburg to Italy and the French Riviera;
  • Stephanie Yue's grand counter-clockwise USA tour that has her currently in southern Calfornia;
  • Ken Wilson's reprise of the Cross Egypt Challenge (got to find a link); and
  • Mike Saunder's epic ride from his home in the D.C. area south to Key West, then north to the Arctic Circle, and down to California.
Michael and Stephanie tour on Vespa GTSs, and believe it or not, Mike accomplished his amazing feat on a 50cc Honda Ruckus. Ken has more mileage on his Vespas than any other human ever, or so it seems to me, though his Egyptian tour was done on shifty Vespa-style scooters that look like they might be Stellas. Ken and Michael met up in Italy just a few weeks ago, after Ken wrapped up his second trek through the Sahara.

You come to expect that serious adventure-riders will be on BMWs or KTMs.

And that's part of the magic in these amazing road trips.  All on scooters, most on Vespas.  Totally counter-intuitive, totally true.

Take care my friends, and watch this space, there will be lots of interesting posts to come.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Among the joys of ModernVespa

Those of you who are familiar with my favorite haunts know that one of my regular hangouts is the ModernVespa forum.

The forum demands less of me than this blog.

ModernVespa always offers a smorgasboard of Vespa and non-Vespa topics to browse through, and when I find one that strikes my fancy, or one where someone needs advice that I am able to offer, I can dive in and join the fray.  It's not too much in terms of a commitment.  If I get busy, I can pull back, and the forum bus rolls along on its merry way, none the worse for my absence. 

Here, on the other hand, I'm the chief cook, bottle-washer and main entertainer, for better or for worse.  When I get busy, as I do at this time of year, the blog coasts to a stop.  The only sign of life lately is Conchscooter contributing an odd challenging comment that makes me chuckle.   Then I spend my few free moments in the morning pondering how best to reply.

Each medium has really nice features that I have come to appreciate more than I ever expected when my riding and social media adventures began.  If the blog demands a lot, it also returns much more than it takes.  This is where friendships are born, where the seeds of real adventures are sown, and bear fruit.

ModernVespa also has its charms.

One of the amazing things about ModernVespa, quite aside from virtually instantaneous top-notch technical advice, is the camaraderie of the forum.

The annual holiday gift exchange is a standout.

Each year for the past four years, A volunteer has offered to organize a holiday season gift exchange.  Once the gift exchange thread appears, forum members sign up, and the organizer pairs each giver, with a getter.  It sounds trivially simple, but there's much more to it than meets the eye.  This year Matthew offered a hilarious glimpse of the mayhem behind the scenes.  As one forum member pointed out "no good deed goes unpunished', a famous quip variously attributed to Clare Booth Luce, Oscar Wilde, Billy Wilder, and Andrew W. Mellon.

And that's how a mystery box showed up on our doorstep on Friday. 
When I opened the box I found out that my benefactor was DaveLX, a forum member from London England.  Digging a little further into the box revealed a very generous gift. 
It's a cordless electric screwdriver from Black & Decker.  
The really cool thing about it, is that the screwdriver senses your hand motion and adjusts the direction, speed and torque based on whether you twist your wrist left, or right, and how much you turn the driver.

What a great holiday gift!

Amazingly, one of the few tools I didn't own, and never owned, was a cordless screwdriver.  It's odd that recently I found myself thinking I might buy one.  Funny how things like this happen serendipitously, isn't it?  It's as if the universe reads our thoughts.

Along those lines, there have been an unusually large number of articles in the press, online, on TV, and radio lately about physics, deep space exploration, and cosmology.  For instance, the calcium in our teeth didn't exist at the beginning of time.  It was born much,  much later in a supernova event.  Now that makes you think.

In one of the articles I stumbled on, among the theories about our universe, was one hypothesis that there is a chance, a tiny yet not-quite-possible-to-ignore chance, that our universe doesn't in fact exist.  Think along the lines of the movie The Matrix.

But then you stub your toe, or something equally dumb and painful, and the universe seems all too real.

Getting back on track for a moment, the gift exchange has a flipside.  The gift you give.

Knowing that things would quickly get too damn busy for me, I lost no time.

I got really lucky this year and drew the name of one of the most prominent members of the forum.  I was initially worried about what I could possibly get her.  I have had exchanges with Judy in the last couple of years.  I sent her a gremlin bell when I read that she didn't have one but that it was best if it came unsolicited.  Judy sent me a saddle heat shield. I can't remember which came first.

Fortunately, as I was strolling through a local department store, Judy's gift almost spoke to me.

An elf.

This one was not your run-of-the-mill Christmas elf.  He had a wry yet friendly expression that seemed worldy-wise and just a tiny bit ironic.  His clothes were appropriately elvish, yet clearly high-end and, yes, fashionable.  Wispy grey fur trimmed his elvish hat and collar framing his face and lending him an air of impish mystery.  He appeared to be of a certain age, not some adolescent elf, wise rather than child-like and prankish.

What a perfect gift for Judy Rossman of Waialua Hawaii.  Judy is one of the kindest, nicest, most giving individuals on the forum.  She is like a kind-hearted ModernVespa elf herself, quietly looking after people who may need looking-after.  Hopefully the elf will strike a chord for Judy as it did for me.

The US Postal Service says it was delivered, but so far Judy hasn't acknowledged it.  I hope the package wasn't pilfered before she could get to it.  One never knows.  That would be seriously bad karma, now wouldn't it?

Assuming it get into her hands safe and sound and Judy posts a photo, I'll post it here.  In my rush to get it off to Hawaii, I didn't take its picture.  Just as well, don't you think?

PS: The elf was delivered safe and sound, allbeit by a quite circuitous route.  Judy posted a photo.  Doesn't it look like the elf is earnestly explaining why it took him so long to get to Waialua?
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.