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?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tales of the end, and Vespanomics

First, let's shed some light.

I managed to squeeze close to the last drop of fun out of the 2014 riding season.

On Thursday I set out for work at zero Celsius.  Not too bad, really.  I chose the middle route.  East on 20, northeast on 520 (AKA Cote de Liesse).  East on the service road to Lucerne, then south to Cote des Neiges, over the mountain to Sherbrooke, then east once more to Mountain and south to the office.

It was a great ride.  I noodled my way through traffic chaos where the 15, 40 and 520 converge at what Montrealers know as the 'Decarie traffic circle'.  No one observing that huge sprawling concluence of highways and service roads would ever in a lifetime think of it as a 'traffic circle'.  When I was four or five years old there was a roundabout there, but that time passed.

Here's what it looked like in 1957.
Vanier College historical archive image
An enlightened gent in a Ford F150 honked at me as I wove past his spot in what, for the time being, was a parking lot.  Go figure!?  By the time his wheels had rotated much past 360 degrees, I was long gone.  In what universe did I contribute to his hellish commute?  He should have been honking at all the cars and trucks that had him temporarily trapped, no?

I chose that route because the morning paper spread the news that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts had acquired 'the Sun'.

That means that the magical Dale Chihuly glass sculpture has found a permanent home in front of the museum on Sherbrooke street.  I wanted to ride past before it gets stored for the winter... like my Vespa.
At lunch time I hopped on the bike and set out to strike another of the top five coffee shops off my list.  Le Couteau (The Knife) is on St-Denis at the corner of rue de Bienville.
As you can see, more than one Vespa owner was attracted here.
I grabbed a scone and a medium cappucino.  The scone was allright, a little dry if truth be told, but the coffee was truly excellent.  On a par with the other top-rated spots.
I doubt I'll be back though.  Myriade has coffee that is in every way as good and it's a hop-skip-and-a-jump from my office.  Le Couteau is just too far off my beaten track.

That leaves just two more of the top-five to check off.  One in Little Italy all the way north up St-Laurent, and the other to the south in Verdun on the newly gentrified stretch of Wellington street.  These little exploratory jaunts are largely made possible by Vespanomics (fast, fashionable, convenient, cheap transportation, with free parking exactly where you need it, 24-7).  It's possible that the end of the coffee shop expeditions will have to wait for the 2015 riding season.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Friday brought colder weather still.  Negative territory in the morning at minus three Celsius, with a forecast of minus four for the evening commute.  Still no precipitation in the forecast though, so off I went, riding to work.

Ironically, riding the expressway to work in cold weather is more comfortable than riding the surface streets.  It's a little counter-intuitive because wind is a huge factor in the cold.  The fact is though that at higher speeds the engine puts out plenty of heat and the increased airflow forces that hot air into the Termoscud enclosure.  The other sensitive aspect of cold weather riding is the hands.  The tall windscreen deflects the airflow, and the heated grips do the rest to keep my hands warm.

On surface streets, there isn't quite as much hot air trapped in the enclosure, and the stop-and-go riding pattern due to stop signs and traffic lights and such, means hands more often on the brake levers and they are c-c-c-c-old, the reverse effect of heated grips.

At noon-ish, I heard a little hubbub in the office.  When I looked up, my colleagues were lined up at our 19th floor window wall watching a substantial snow squall make its way southeast along the side of the mountain towards downtown.  What the heck happened to the weatherman's prediction of 10% probability of precipitation??  Oh well... I wasn't overly concerned.  The streets remained dry and the snow squall went on its merry frigid way.

Now I have to say that even my Vespa's counter-intuitive cold-weather riding advantages have their limits.

Friday evening I met Susan, our son Jonathan and his girlfriend Vicky for dinner on Park Avenue on the Plateau.  Once again the Vespa shone, this time in the parking department.  Free parking steps from the restaurant is a big plus.

By the time we headed home after what was an excellent meal at Damas, it was pitch black and somewhat colder.

I made a beeline for home in a stiff headwind. The Termoscud did its job, but the long stretch of surface streets on the way to the expressway took its toll leaving my fingers well and truly chilled. With the heated grips burning hot, the result was a stinging sensation in my fingers as I flew home at 110 km/h on the 20.  Even my helmet, usually an impregnable zone of comfort, was getting chilled.

This ride was not a lot of fun. To venture further into winter temps, I'd have to add Tucano Urbano or Bagster handgrip muffs to combat the cold.

Living in Montreal makes that investment kind of fruitless because the snow will soon be the death knell for scooter commuting.

And that happened on Sunday morning.  And this morning too.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cold weather commute

Though a large swath of Ontario is writhing in winter's grip with snow falling, we are in a high pressure zone that's keeping us Grinch-grey rather than Santa-white.

This morning I was dithering.

Ride, or drive?  Drive.

Drive, or ride? Ride!

I flipped and flopped, and was still hesitant as I made my way from the shower to the closet.

Ride it is (or was).

No regrets at all.

The temperature was acceptable at five degrees Celsius.  I dialed a little more heat to the grips, inflated the sagging right batten on the Termoscud, and headed out.

I opted for a nostalgic ride along the quiet lakeshore route and then along the Lachine Canal to the downtown core.  It seemed appropriate since this could be the last commute of the 2014 season, to take the same route as the very first scoot commute in 2010.  I didn't spot any other PTWs on the way in.

I wrapped up the commute in my usual spot on P3 in the parking garage.  Removing my right gauntlet I lifted the flap concealing the ignition switch and reached inside the Termoscud where the temperature was all warm and cozy.  What a marvelous invention that thing is.  I'm almost used to riding with it.

The Termoscud has a reverse bib-like appendage that you are supposed to close your riding jacket over.  It's a cumbersome thing to do and lately I've discovered that if I just fold the bib away under the apron there is no appreciable change in the way the Termoscud performs.  That's what you call the benefit of experience.  If every day through the winter were like today, I'd be a 'rounder'.

I would have loved to throw some pictures in, but my iPhone is nearing the end of its useful life, and the battery dies when the phone is exposed to the cold.

It's not as hardy as the Vespa and I.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A season's end

Last commute of 2014, Monday, November 3, 0-C.

Or was it? Or is it?

It's hard to say really.  You don't know it until commuting ceases to be an option for a certain number of days.

Taking the scoot out for an aimless tootle, or a trip to the doctor, or a jaunt to the store is always a possibility.  But commuting is another kettle of fish.  I have to look at the hourly forecast in the morning and decide.  If there's rain forecast at either end of the day, and the mercury is hovering around zero, it's probably not a great idea.  That's why I admire Steve and Keith.  They commute on those days, whereas I sit them out behind the wheel of my Civic.

Oh well.

Wednesday I worked from home in the morning because I had a doctor's appointment.  Taking the Vespa to see my GP was a no-brainer.

I took a long-cut on the way home and rode over to the military cemetery in Pointe Claire to visit my grandfather's grave in the National Field of Honor.  There wasn't another soul.

Soldiers give so much, and yet, in death, their graves are among the most modest.
There are a lot of soldiers buried in this place.  The common denominator for the majority is that they served with Canadian or British forces in World War I, World War II or the Korean War.

The only sign of recognition on this day are dozens and dozens of Polish flags marking the graves of free Polish servicemen. These soldiers escaped Poland at the outset of Word War II and enlisted with the British army.  Poland has not forgotten their service, even though their final resting place is here in Montreal.
"Capt. George Terroux / 1877 - 1947 / 22nd Regiment C.E.F.".  That's all the inscription says.  The Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force is the storied Van Doos regiment that made a big name for itself in the second world war.

The headstone, like all the others here, is level with the ground, overshadowed by the grass, and littered with wet and rotting leaves.

I remember coming here when I was four, with my grandmother, my mother and my father.  On Remembrance Day.  We always came here on Remembrance Day.  My god how the cold and damp penetrates a four-year-old's body here on Remembrance Day.  58 years later on November 5th, it has the same effect, or would have but for my riding gear.

If you come here on a Memorial Day weekend in late May, you'll see countless American flags fluttering discretely across the cemetery, more numerous than the Polish flags I see here now.  The US doesn't forget its servicemen either.  There are a lot of flyers here.  Most of the Americans here served in the RAF and the RCAF before the US joined the Allies in World War II.  It's a surprise to see Poles and Americans buried here.  There's no doubt a hundred stories well worth the telling buried beneath the lush green grass.

Georges Terroux (his first name is misspelled on his headstone) was gassed in France in 1916, but survived.  Otherwise I wouldn't be writing this.  My mother told me of long walks she took with her father along lonely dirt roads in the country.  She never said exactly where.  My grandfather walked with a German officer's Luger in his hand.  My grandmother told the story of how my grandfather came to own the pistol.  It's a tragic story, but as a child I thought it was neat.  Along the way, my grandfather would shoot at crows as he walked with his daughter.  When my mother would tell that story, I always thought it peculiar.  What would my grandfather have against crows, I wondered.  Only much, much later would I understand.  I wonder if my mother understood.  I imagine she did.  We never discussed it.

My grandfather would be relieved.  There isn't a crow in sight here.

In a few days' time, there will be soldiers here.  An honour guard.  A twenty one gun salute.  And then a lone bugler will play the Last Post.  I'll be in the office, 30 kms away, but my thoughts will be here.
The flag on this last outpost flies at half-staff.  We lost soldiers on Canadian soil just a few days ago.  The memory of what it means for a soldier to serve has been brought home in all its stark reality.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Amateur Mechanic Discovers a New Trick & Pay Back Time

Part of the joy in finally fulfilling a lifetime dream of owning a Vespa has been making some great new friends who share the same passion.  I have particularly enjoyed reading the blogs and chatting with David of ScootCommute, Ken at Lostboater Diaries, and corresponding and viewing the all-inspiring photography of Sergei Belski.

Thank you all!

So, I guess it’s my turn to add to the collective knowledge that these good folks have accumulated and so generously shared.

While I am not a real mechanic, I enjoy turning wrenches, learning and trying to do as much as I can to maintain my new to me 2013 Vespa GTS 300 Super.  After ordering, on the good advice of David, a huge box of “goodies” arrived this past week from ScooterWest – a top box, rear carrier, power outlet, etc., etc.

After watching their videos on the installation of the top box for the GTS, I realized that my toolbox didn’t include any M-6 taps.  A typical plug or tapered tap is pointed at the bottom and won’t clean out all the junk in the bottom of the blind threaded holes on the grab bar nor the two on the new rear carrier that serve to hold the top box.  Plug and tapered taps were the only styles available at the hardware and big box stores.  You need the full extent of the threads to secure the top box.

After spending several hours searching, I came to realize they did not carry what I required for this project - a bottoming tap.

I finally stopped by, as my last resort, a small foreign car repair shop, hoping that they might have a bottoming tap I could borrow.   No luck, but they gave me a new trick - purchase an M-6 bolt and make your own bottoming tap.  You grind the tip off of the bolt and put a small bevel on one side (see photo).  It worked like a bottoming tap with some cutting oil.  Thread it in a few turns, and back it out and repeat again.

AWESOME, by 10:30 in the morning I finally had completed the job.

Attached are a few photos to illustrate the blind threaded holes and how they attach to the Vespa OEM top box.

Why

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts sculpture garden morphed with Waterlogue app
That's an excellent question once the other 'W's are asked and answered.

Why ride?

Because, on the way to work, it makes effortless a little meander to the end of a dead-end street to reflect on the random beauty the everyday world offers if you have the means to seek.
Pointe-Claire seen from the village
Riding a scooter makes these digressions easy by freeing up some time, courtesy of maneuverability.

Why blog?

Because it gives me a considered voice, and an opportunity to listen.
Alton Mill Art Centre sculpture garden morphed with Waterlogue app
... and that gives you an opportunity to listen, and to speak in turn.

That's how you and I become friends. And that is priceless.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.