Saturday, October 25, 2014


I ate lunch at my desk.

The leftovers from home are a healthy choice but the venue sucks. I've got to get up and get out.

Amid the vibrant colors and the warm bounty of Thanksgiving, fall has its mornful tendencies.    A decent brisk walk in the city is a fitting way to embrace the season and shake off the grief of summer's passing.  Yet a good walk without a destination, is a pointless stroll.

I set out heading north on Mountain and then east along Ste-Catherine.  As I make my way, the chill in the air prompts the thought of a nice rich cappucino.  An exceptional cappucino.  Not Starbucks, not Second Cup, not even Java U. Sorry guys.

I'm thinking more along the lines of Jean-Philippe Tastet's top five list of independent micro-roasting barrista-venues in the city.

As I continue on a northeastern tack I pull out my phone and call up his recent blog post.  Well, not his post, actually. His daughter Élise penned this particular review.

I scroll Élise's shortlist with one eye on the screen and the other bent on dodging lamp posts and pedestrians. I'm headed the wrong way for Café Myriade and don't want to double back.  Another of the top five is definitely a walkable target.  And a very pleasant walk at that.

When the Indigo store looms into view it jogs my memory and I stop to pick up a book that Susan expressed an interest in. It only takes five or ten minutes.

I walk north on McGill College, past the Roddick Gates and through the urban park that is the centerpiece of the lower campus.  It feels good to be among the students. I pick up bits and pieces of earnest chat about courses and other seemingly timeless trivia that animate the conversations drifting by me.  Not much has changed, really. I could be heading to class.  The words and occasional laughter float above the footsteps and the rustle of leaves littering the sidewalk.

Pressing east once more along Milton, through the student ghetto, I see Park Avenue four or five blocks away. In no time I'm there. I turn right and begin paying attention to the addresses, with a lookout for the storefront signs.

And there it is. Café Pikolo.
It's a small space. Bohemian, with a pronounced hipster vibe.
I order the cappucino I've been anticipating.
It comes with a milk foam heart gently etched into the crema. Now there's something I can't do at home with our Nespresso machine.
I spy a seat at the end of the bar and settle into the tiny spot. On the other side of the counter a senior barrista is instructing a colleague on how to infuse some concoction of herbs. He treats it like a Druid's potion, with minute attention to the ministrations of his fingers gently positioning the herbs for ideal infusion, or so it seems to me.  Much as I enjoy the proceedings I can't help thinking that if you just dumped the herbs in the water without the benefit of the ritual, no one would be able to tell the difference.  That's my inner philistine expressing itself.  Coffee and tea are the new wine.  We are so self-indulgent.

That said, my coffee is everything I hoped for.  Strong yet smooth, full-bodied but not bitter.  Maybe the rituals do the trick after all.  I soak up the atmosphere.  Pikolo seems to express McGill's vibe as Myriade does for Concordia's. The one more traditional, more victorian, the other firmly rooted in the mid-20th-century ethos, yet both sharing a very present dedication to the coffee culture. I'm glad I made the effort.

Office duties drag me from my reverie and off I go.

This time it's a beeline west along Sherbrooke.  Passing the McGill campus on my right a curious thing happens.

I have my head down as I walk with a purpose, less attuned to the walk, planning my afternoon.  The old imposing greystones of the music faculty, the elaborate black wrought iron fence, the towering trees, and then, on the sidewalk at my feet, the pedestrian traffic has shredded and ground the fallen leaves into a dry mulch ranging from recognizable leaf bits, to small dime-sized shards, and then down to a kind of leaf dust.

That sight triggers an utterly vivid memory. The sidewalk, the ground up leaves, the city sounds and sights, the musty smell of fall, the grey sky... I have experienced exactly this, six years ago almost to the day, on the left bank in Paris. With Susan, a world away.  The memory is so present, so tangible I am briefly overwhelmed by it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's in the glove box?

Vespas shine, they really do. Literally, and figuratively.

Storage is definitely one of the figuratively shiny aspects of Vespa love.

Which brings me to the point.

The Vespa GTS glovebox is nowhere near as big as it might seem from the outside.
On the inside, it's just about right for a few essentials.
Here's my show and tell on the contents.

A couple of bandanas. I keep these here because they take no room, and could be useful. You never know.
Registration and insurance. I have been stopped a few times, sadly. It's nice to be in a position to hand over the papers with a minimum of fuss. No point in annoying a constable who may already be testy.
Tire pressure gauge. Because you just can't tell if your tire pressure is right any other way.
What? You're not sure what the correct pressure is? That's conveniently written down on the inside of the glove box door.
A multi-tool. Very useful both on and off the bike. This one's very good, but not great. It's a Gerber Recoil. I want one of the Leatherman models that accepts sockets, like a Leatherman Surge.
A flashlight. A serious flashlight. This one's a FourSevens Quark Pro. Two hundred plus lumens with variable output ranging from moonglow to brilliant sunshine, plus beacon and strobe functions. It runs on two AA batteries. Easy to carry and easy to find fresh batteries.
A spare Sena SMH10 controller, the one from my old helmet. I got it for the day that I coax Susan onto the passenger seat for a ride-to-coffee.  In the meantime it's my spare helmet communicator.  When the battery dies on the one I'm using, I just pop off that controller and pop in the spare. I labeled them 'Sena 1' and 'Sena 2' so I can tell them apart.  A fully charged Sena lasts about a week and a half of steady commuting use (at least two phone calls a day, plus the odd text, and streaming music).
A monocular spy glass. It's an Orion Eagle Eye 8X32 monocular.  It seems no longer to be in production, but the manufacturer has more powerful models for sale.  Here's the story.  I carry a pair of binoculars in the glove box in each of our cars. They're rarely used. But when you're sightseeing and you want a closer look, nothing beats having a pair of binoculars handy. The Vespa glove box only has space for a monocular. It is very high quality. A gift from my dad. The store that sold it to him said that their biggest customers for this model were law enforcement. Apparently for stakeouts.
Last, but not least, a cup holder.  It's from Corazzo, they call it a coffee jacket.  It takes up literally no space.  Like the monocular, it's hardly ever used.  But there's that odd time when I want to take a cup of McDonalds coffee for a short ride.  Then it's priceless.
And that's it.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


In hommage to my late close friend Bob Leong, who preferred to go by his avatar BobSkoot, I wrote that Bob was full of good surprises. I was fond of thinking of Bob as a wizard. He had the gift of making good stuff happen.

With his passing, I resigned myself to a life without Bob's surprises.

Then I got an e-mail from Brad and Brandy.  It turns out that Bob would buy stuff from time to time and have it sent to Brad and Brandy in Oregon, taking advantage of free shipping offers that sadly don't extend north past the border. Bob was rarely in a rush to have the things he ordered, and was content to pick them up whenever circumstances allowed.

That was how Brad and Brandy came to be holding a purchase for Bob. With his untimely passing, it was destined never to be collected or delivered.

Unbeknownst to me, a consensus developed among west coast bloggers that Bob would have wanted me to have the item.

On Wednesday it arrived on my doorstep.
It didn't take long for me to tear the wrapping off like a little kid on Christmas morning.
What the heck is it?

Well it's this.
An amazingly well thought-out, high-performance, portable, 12 volt air pump. It gets its power from the vehicle's electrical system. You can tell it's designed for the moto community because it's compact, it has a robust lossless screw-on air chuck, and the primary electrical connection terminates in a female two-prong SAE connector.

Stock Vespas don't have one of those, but I do. I installed one direct from the battery, hours prior to my departure on last's year's moto trip with... guess who... Bob.

The line, which is fused at 10 amps, runs from the battery compartment in the floor, back through the bike, and exits just below the left rear fairing.
This pump kicks butt!

I tried it out minutes after unwrapping it and it's by far the best way yet to adjust the tire pressure on my Vespa.
My full size air compressor is technically superior, but when you factor in turning it on, waking the dead while it builds pressure in the tank, uncoiling the hose, connecting the hose, plugging in the tire filler attachment, and clipping the business end onto the valve, the MotoPump is way, way, more convenient than the full size compressor.  That doesn't factor in the time it takes to take the compressor components off, empty the tank, store the hose and accessories, and so on.

Comparing the MotoPump to the portable 12V pump I had been keeping on the bike for emergencies, the MotoPump takes up a lot less room than my former loud and painfully slow portable pump that had no built-in gauge or worklight.  The MotoPump also comes with an array of accessories that will allow you to inflate anything, and includes both an extension with a standard car 12V plug, and, for good measure, an extension with battery terminal alligator clamps, just in case you're servicing an ATV or a farm tractor (nudge nudge, hint hint, wink, wink).  Even with the accessories, it still takes up a lot less room than my old pump.  The MotoPump is also amazingly fast for a portable pump.  In fact, it's amazingly fast for any pump; period.

Armed with this baby in my Vespa's underseat compartment, I could rescue stranded motorists in full-size SUVs!  Wouldn't that be a hoot!  Next time I see a stranded motorist, I'm going to stop.

Here's proof:


Thanks Bob, wherever you are, I feel you smiling, truly I do.  And thanks to Brad, and Brandy, and Richard if I'm not mistaken, for your kindness in making this happen.

I am blown away (sorry for the pun).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Endlessly useful

Here's another idea born from my Scouting past.

I just cobbled together another of these contraptions for Susan. We had a power failure last week, and I was the only one prepared in an instant.  Now we each have one.

What are they?

Mine is a tiny pocket knife (blade, screwdriver+bottle opener, nail file) together with a Mountain Equipment Coop Turtle light two-LED bike light. I use the Turtle light's bungee to secure it to the pocket knife.

It's a tiny little getup that fits in the palm of your hand, lives in my pants' pocket completely unobtrusively, whether in jeans or a suit.
Susan's is the same but with a Swiss Army pocket knife (the smallest they make - blade, nail file+screw driver, scissors, toothpick, tweezers).

Endlessly useful because...
  • Space-age packaging is impossible to open
  • Life is full of dim moments
    • dark drawers
    • unlit paths
    • dropped items in the theatre
    • unfamiliar darkened rooms
    • power failures
    • dark alleys in Venice
    • the suitcase storage under the stairs
    • some menus, in some restaurants
    • the space under the driver's seat where that vital thing just slipped to
  • Small children are fascinated by how bright light emanates from my closed fist
  • When you get a splinter, tweezers are your best friend
  • Sometimes the perforated line is just printed as a suggestion and there are no actual perforations
  • Walking at night on a road without sidewalks is safer with a strobing LED
  • It's way easier to open boxes from Revzilla 
  • When it's four a.m., the party is still swirling in your bamboozled brain, and even with a flashlight you've tugged your shoelace into a Gordian knot, a blade is your best friend
  • Stuff falls into nooks, crannies, and cracks
  • Crossing a busy street once the sun sets is safer when you're seen
  • That twine you used just won't snap
  • When you need a toothpick, nothing else will really do
  • Once in a while there's a loose screw
  • Once in a while, even guys break nails
  • Who's to say that there's emergency lighting on level three of the underground parking?
  • Cutting or snipping a loose thread is infinitely preferable to having your sleeve fall off because you tugged on the stitching
  • Unboxing Apple products is impossible with your bare hands
  • It's easier to prove that there is no monster hiding under the bed when you can shed bright light
  • Not all beer has twist-off caps
  • Cutting the tags off right now is sometimes a necessity
  • You're beginning to think that the car keys could be under the family room couch
  • Putting it on the dog's collar is safer for the dog, and just too damned funny
  • It's way easier to open boxes from Aerostitch
  • Holding the Turtle light between your lips makes an impromptu headlight that you can point with your head, and steer with your tongue. Better than anything else when working on a fiddly thing in a tight dark space (I mean like plumbing under a sink, or changing a light bulb in a closet - not what you were thinking).  As with many endeavours, just don't swallow
  • You can let it dangle from a backpack or purse and set it on strobe to keep you visible
  • Morse code is easier with a flashlight than with a Bic lighter 
  • It may not be perfect, but it's always there when you need it
Plus, the Turtle light is designed to bungee itself onto bicycle handle bars or forks. That means you can bungee it to motorcycle grab rails, brake levers, crashbars, handle bars...

Comes in white and red. The red one is useful on the bike if you have a breakdown at night. Bungee it to a rear grab rail and set it to strobe.

Be prepared.  It's more than just a motto for kids.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Repairs - Part two

If you were expecting a Vespa repair, you're about to be disappointed.

The victim this time was my Corazzo 5.0 riding jacket.

I tugged up the zipper at the end of the day, as I had done hundreds of time before, and I heard a 'click' sound as the zipper thingy snapped free, clearly beyond repair.

I resorted to a binder clip as a stop-gap measure.
Replacing the entire zipper was of course an option, a potentially expensive and time-consuming option.  Since the Corazzo is my cold-weather jacket and fall is upon us (although today as I write this we are in the middle of a freakish heat wave), it had to be fixed in short order or I wouldn't be riding, and that, just wasn't acceptable.

What to do?  Google of course.

That's how I found FixnZip.

A quick trip to the Mountain Equipment Coop store and I had the tiny marvel in my hot little hand, as my mother was fond of saying.
The instructions are excellent, the quality above-reproach.
In no time my Corazzo jacket was a good as new.
Easy-peasy, an inexpensive fix that works like a charm.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Repairs - Part one

A while back my Vespa GTS 300i.e. sprang a coolant leak.

You can read here about the discovery and diagnosis.

A coolant leak is no laughing matter.

If the leak causes you to lose enough coolant it won't take more than minutes to turn a perfectly fine high performance Italian engine into grist for a recycling mill.  The cure is to break out the tools and turn my half of the garage (the other half belongs to Susan) into a Vespa emergency repair bay.
Basically, the modern Vespa is a work of art.  Fortunately it's also very well engineered.  It's a finely sculpted sheet metal unibody design, closed by a shell of finely crafted ABS plastic panels.  The fit and finish is flawless.  Which is good, and bad.

The bad bit is that getting those curvy plastic panels off the bike requires patience, along with some coaxing, cajoling and some light doses of soft cursing.  The good bit is that the whole thing can be managed with a simple Phillips screwdriver and a pair of needle-nose pliers.   The large-frame Vespa GTS has a lot going on in its innards, and that means the job is about double the complexity of disassembling the air-cooled small-frame Vespa LX model.

This was the first time I needed to get under this Vespa's floorboards.  The job involves removing the following body parts and some other bits and pieces a stock Vespa won't have (hence the asterisks*):
  • The Piaggio badge.
  • The kneepad hatches covering the left recess with the alarm connector and the right engine coolant cover. 
  • The HeatTroller heated grips control.*
  • The horncover.
  • The glove box.
  • The floor rack.*
  • The battery cover.
  • The crashbars.*
  • The side fairings below the cowls.
  • The two small covers at the front end of the fairings. 
  • The floorboards.
I will spare you the details, but provide instead the phenomenal guidance I got from YouTube and ModernVespa:
Among the secrets you learn from Robot, is the elastic band trick that greatly simplifies re-installing the glovebox in a way that ensures that the glovebox locking mechanism actually works.

In short order, all those pretty bits litter the garage floor...
... and the Vespa reveals its secrets...
... including the source of the leak, and a missing screw clip for the left kneepad.  It was missing when I got the bike and I had replaced it shortly afterwards.  Now I have a spare.
The fix was super simple.  I tightened up the left-side hose clamp that was a little loose (and probably the source of the leak), and for good measure removed the single-use OEM hose clamp on the right of the joint, replacing it with a standard hose clamp.
A little more wiggling, cajoling and soft cursing later, and the bike was back in one piece.

The next day I returned to my bike in the garage at lunch time and was thoroughly pleased to find the garage floor nice and dry.
And that boys and girls, is how to unspring a leak, so to speak.  With a little helping hand from ModernVespa, as usual.

One more repair to come, stay tuned.

Friday, September 26, 2014

ScooterBob hits the road, Jack!

Copyright Bob Leong
This is a slightly long story, but well worth reading, and there's a twist that could involve you, in a good way.

I first met Bob in late May of 2012.  That's only a few short years ago, but it feels like a lifetime.

That first day I set out on the scooter Bob arranged for me and I met Bob at his home in Vancouver.  A whirlwind moto tour ensued that was jam-packed with wonders.  I didn't make it back to my hotel until shortly after midnight.

On the way back from visiting the famed Night Market, we stopped at Bob's place.  He popped quietly into the house and emerged minutes later with a mysterious cardboard box and some bungee cords.  He lashed the box onto the passenger seat of my scooter and then we set off again as he led me back to the Fairmont Pacific Rim where I was staying.  About half-way there we stopped on Granville Island where we sat and chatted about the day and a bunch of other stuff.  Bob took our picture using his signature bike-borne tripod and remote camera trigger trick.  If you look carefully, you'll see the cardboard box in question on the white Kymco scooter.

When I got back to the hotel I opened the box.  There was a bunch of Vespa stuff that Bob thought I'd appreciate, including a Vespa scarf, a Vespa bandana, a Vespa lanyard, and so on.  Also in the box, and greatly contributing to its size and weight was a wooden motor scooter mounted on a marble base, with a plaque that commemorated some event that the then-defunct Vancouver Vespa Club had once organized.

The wooden scooter came home with me to Montreal (minus the marble) were it sat as a decoration and souvenir in my home office for just over two years.

In the meantime, Bob was in the very early planning stages of a moto road trip for 2015 and years beyond.  There was some talk of Key West as a destination.

This summer Conchscooter's dog Cheyenne sensibly suggested to her humans that they travel north to avoid the worst of the South Florida heat and humidity.  Eventually Cheyenne encouraged Michael and Layne to make it to Montreal, a southern outpost of the legendary Great White North.  I think Cheyenne was hoping for snow.  In that regard she was bitterly disappointed.

Conchscooter's visit to Montreal was truly a delight.  Meeting fellow bloggers and riders is always a source of pleasure.

Towards the end of the visit, the topic of a possible road trip to Key West came up.  It was then that it hit me like a flash.  What a great prank to play on Bob!  I gave the wooden scooter to Michael, saying that when Bob eventually came to visit, he would be shocked to find that his wooden scooter had beaten him to Key West.

A few days ago Michael wrote to me offering to mail the wooden scooter back to me.

At that point, another thought dawned on me.  Inspired by a similar feat on ModernVespa, I suggested to Michael that he take the wooden scooter to the landmark in Key West that marks the southernmost point in the continental United States, a place Bob would have been bound to visit, and take a picture with the wooden scooter.

It didn't take Michael and I long to cook up a plan to involve other bloggers in the scheme.  I'm going to remain a little coy on this.  I don't want to spoil surprises.

And there you have it.  If you're a moto blogger, and you know Bob (i.e. Bob posted comments on your blog, or you traded e-mail or phone calls, or you were extraordinarily lucky like me and you actually got to meet Bob, or if you're just learning about Bob now) then the wooden scooter will eventually come to visit you, but only if you want to participate of course.  All you need to do is contact me, or Michael, or Sonja, or Karen, or Dar, and put yourself on the tour list.

There won't be too many rules.  Just enough to make sure that the wooden scooter doesn't get stranded somewhere.

There will be more to come on this topic.  Bookmark this page and that way you'll know what progress the little scooter that could is making. I've taken to calling it ScooterBob.

Keep an eye on the moto blogs to follow ScooterBob as it literally travels the world, on an epic moto road trip most of us could only dream of taking.

This is ScooterBob's first post, and, for the time being, ScooterBob's home-away-from-home-base for the extended road trip, so to speak.

It will be very interesting to see how this evolves over time.

Right now, ScooterBob is on the first leg (well, technically the third leg - Vancouver to Montreal, Montreal to Key West, are legs one and two) of its travels.
Copyright - Michael Beattie
Safe travels ScooterBob, and warm regards to all.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.