Saturday, February 28, 2009

Scooters Hate Motorcycles

I was pondering a scooter parked at Florida Keys Community College next to my Bonneville. They don't make Rivas like these at Yamaha any more, or if they do they are no longer imported into the US. I think this one was a 125 cc model though they made them up to around 200cc, pretty much identical to this one, ridden two up on North Roosevelt Boulevard:I was pondering the little white Yamaha, not least probably because I was facing a mid term exam and dawdling on my way to class. It occurred to me this Yamaha was pretty close to being an ideal scooter, especially when I started noticing the details. The sturdy and useful luggage rack with built in bungee attachment points and a helmet lock:Let us not forget the ridiculous safety stickers designed and deployed solely for the litigious US market:I liked the two stands that are provided, a solid side stand as well as the neatly folded center stand:The scooter had a rubber foot mat and a foot brake for the rear drum:The right hand switch cluster had the kill button, the left hand pretty much everything else:All big and easy to use like the speedometer (notice the stand deployed light!):I haven't ridden the Riva but I suspect a 125cc model would be gasping if it closed in on 60mph (95kph). I read a comment by an owner of a 200 Riva and he said it was big enough to maintain freeway speeds so that sounds a bit more like it. In any event I look at this Riva with just 1500 miles on the clock and I see an eminently practical machine, check the mud flap built in...... and a nicely proportioned ride with a big comfortable seat and a hand rail for the passenger:...with nice lines reminiscent of a Vespa, a much more expensive ride. Of course I liked my Vespa 250 which closely resembled this machine parked in Key West:When it ran it ran beautifully, up to 85 miles per hour and used but one gallon of premium every 72 miles. However mine was plagued by unreliable electronics and I was forced to sell it. My wife's Vespa 150 runs just fine with a simple carburettor, hitting speeds up to 65 mph (105kph) and I enjoy taking it for a ride from time to time:Between the two Vespas and an ill fated Indian Stella 150 two-stroke scooter I must have commuted around 15,000 miles (25,000 kms) on Highway One and I have noticed a big difference when I ride the same route on a motorcycle. While I remain a big fan of scooters I find it easier to be on the road on a motorcycle when surrounded by homicidal car drivers. They just don't seem to respect scooter's right to be on the road like they do big nasty Triumphs and I should note I have owned several Vespas in my previous life starting early with a 50cc special in 1970. I also rode a Vespa P200 across the US and Mexico in 1981 and enjoyed using the Vespa as my daily rider for another ten years in California. The largest motorcycle I owned was an 1100cc Honda Gold Wing which was not a good fit for me, unlike the 900cc Bonneville, shown here scaring wildlife:The Bonneville means business, and though I ride it no faster on my commute than I ever did the 250cc Vespa GTS, I rarely get crowded by stupid car drivers. People used to cut me off, tailgate me and try to outrun me when, to their amazement I passed them while riding my "moped." The Vespa was a wonderfully practical way to get around with lots of lockable, dry storage, a more comfortable seat than any motorcycle I've ridden along with excellent weather protection. Yet I find my 900cc Bonneville with three times the horsepower of the Vespa to be more practical, even though it uses more gas (45mpg) simply because it inspires more respect.The Keys aren't a practical or sensible environment for boy racers, with not many roads and all of them desperately straight, yet lots of people ride these superb, over-powered machines and as you can see lots of them ride wearing a bare minimum of protective gear. I don't always wear a helmet or my protective clothing when I ride and I find the suffocating blanket requirement on web forums for all riders to be armored at all times to be rather tedious. New devotees of the sport tend to be rather more focussed on the risks than the pleasure it seems to me. They've discovered this excellent new-to-them means of locomotion and they want everyone to share their need for total protection all the time, so they get preachy. I also find the debates between scooter riders and motorcyclists to be irritating because I don't see the need for riders to worry so much about what they ride. Hell I rent Harleys when I can and I enjoy them very much! On the scooter front I like, in theory, Yamaha's 500cc, 100mph (160kph), T Max recently introduced to the US. I found this photo on a French motorcycle website and I think it looks gorgeous:Bobscoot in Canada, like me (horrors! we have something in common), rides a scooter as well as his rather toothsome Suzuki 650. His scooter is a powerful Kymco 500, pictured rather suavely in France in this picture (not chez Bobscoot incidentally). This is another good looking scooter able to cruise at highway speeds with excellent weather protection and comfort:The Frenchman depicted above is very relaxed and debonair in full riding leathers, zooming across town. Apparently there are scooterists in the US that believe they don't need protective gear because they are just scooters which is silly because falling off is falling off and it hurts and the ground doesn't care what you are riding. As long as you understand the risk, make your own informed choice...hell, my knee still hurts from tripping while walking and chewing gum! Check out this portly Honda Goldwing, known to Allen Madding as a honda-potamus thanks to it's general massiveness:It's too much motorcycle for me, with its reverse gear, built-in everything electronic, optional airbag, and all it's bulk. I'd rather buzz around town and into the country on a slender, perky BMW 650 single like this one which is ridden daily around Key West:But whatever you ride you need training to be truly as safe as you can be. I am a believer in the value of using your head for active safety, rather than worrying so much about what you wear or choose not to wear. Or worse yet what you ride. If I were planning another cross country trip I'd think about that other Japanese work horse, the Honda Helix, a 250cc machine that can barely hit 70 miles per hour but that has a record for reliability and sturdiness second to none, with huge load carrying and extreme comfort built in (no air bags though):There is a reason we ride what we ride and that boils down simply to image, like it or not. Our machines reflect the image we want to project of ourselves, and practicality has almost nothing to do with it. Car drivers frequently claim they are locked into practical requirements like load carrying and cost rather than driving for the sport of the thing- and their tedium and lack of interest shows as they steer. Motorcycles in the US are still viewed largely as toys, so instead of riding a sensible scooter we give ourselves a thrill by commuting like a Grand Prix racer, or like me by invoking the gods of my youth- fuel petcocks, air cooled engine fins and sexy rounded fuel tanks: I don't need a Bonneville, I like my Bonneville and I really don't care what other people ride as long as they are enjoying themselves in their own way and leave me to enjoy my own self image. Long live all scooters, motorcycles and Harley Davidsons. And their well trained riders, of course.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Big Coppitt Main Force

Big road works on Big Coppitt mean that Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is digging in new sewers on Overseas Highway and what is good news for the waters surrounding the Keys is bad news for drivers trying to get past the mile long dig.The highway remains open but traffic tends to slow to a crawl along Mile Marker 10, as drivers gawp at the big bad back hoes doing their job:The main force project is aqueduct-speak for putting in sewers, a project that will be good for the reef no doubt, after twenty years of procrastination and delay. The reef has been dying and shrivelling up for years as everyone stood around and wrung their hands in despair, even as they shit into septic tanks which "filter" the waste through limestone rock. I have no doubt agricultural run off from the Everglades and any number of other factors hurt the reef, but septic tanks just seem an obvious problem in need of a solution. And here it is, one slow, expensive mile at a time:The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is responsible for piping water to Key West from the South Florida aquifer and they do the job very well. You would have thought a complex job like sewering the Lower Keys would be right up their street. Not so our previous county commission, whose majority signed off an a sweet heart deal with a very shady outfit to sewer Stock Island. It was a cock up of Ruritanian proportions. The commissioners opposed to the deal were even denied golfing privileges at the public course thanks to Resort Utilities connections there, meanwhile residents of Stock Island found sewage backing up into their homes and plans for the project never made it to the county offices as promised prior to the start of construction. Connections were thus built incorrectly, pipes were of the wrong size; it was a scandal created by the county Gang of Three in charge of the county commission and their lax oversight.A state audit revealed unauthorized expenses including charging the company owner's family's private cell phones to the tax payers of Stock Island and a request for a massive rate increase was rejected. The Aqueduct declined to take over the misery of the Stock island project and that mess exists to this day. I was ready to go ballistic if the county was going to foist Resort Utilities on my island but fortunately we have a commission made up of sensible people and the new county manager seems incorruptible and (amazing!) competent, so the Aqueduct Authority is now in charge of sewering. We breathe a sigh of relief.Like the Aqueduct, Toppino is not a construction company that messes around either. They are the family that made their name in the early twentieth century helping to build Flagler's railway and they have thrived ever since. The work itself has gone smoothly enough, well off to one side of the remaining lanes on the Highway:It's a pain in the neck for people who live in the area no doubt, dealing with the dust and the confusion and it can't be much of a picnic for the businesses that line the overseas Highway to the north:There's Hitch King, Bobalu's Southern Cafe, Tina's vegetables, the Mobil gas station (with Dion's chicken!), a used car dealer and a church too. I have high hopes that once the work is done there will be a proper sidewalk and bike path and quite likely a proper turn lane down the middle. Traffic has always been a bit stop-and-go on Big Coppitt thanks to cars turning off the roadway and blocking traffic. A nice big fat turn lane in the middle would work wonders...I guess for someone viewing the pictures from under a snow drift it must look a bit odd to see so much dusty construction in February:And this is the big traffic time of year, when all those snowbirds, as winter residents are called, are joined by numerous visitors to create unusually crowded streets in the Lower Keys (seen here gassing up at $2:10/gallon):I have no doubt work will continue through the summer when heavy rains will turn dust to mud and temperatures will rise with the humidity. After all, the work is supposed to be done by 2010, an impossible deadline thanks to the idiot procrastinators, and you can bet Monroe County is holding out it's hands for some stimulus money. This is a "shovel ready" project if ever there was one! As the cost, in 21st century dollars, could amount to $20,000 a home, we could sure use some stimulating!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New Tach, Same Bonneville

This photo is from the Performance Triumph USA catalogue:
It was about time, but the job is done at last, and now I can count the revolutions of my engine as I ride. When the new Triumph factory at Hinckley in England brought out the original 800cc Bonneville in 2000 the machine was viewed as being a little lacking as it didn't come with a tachometer, the instrument that measures the engine revolutions.Traditionally, motorcycles have been supplied with this tool to help the rider determine the best gear to be in for the speed of the motorcycle. I don't remember buying more than two motorcycles that didn't have one, and then I bought my basic Bonneville in 2007. This was the "upgraded basic" Bonneville, with the 865cc engine but still no tach...So I decided I wanted a tach for my Bonneville and my wife came through for my birthday and I bought the little round object illustrated above from Performance Triumph USA's catalogue, priced at $200. It's illuminated at night too:

The T100 (Fancy) Bonneville's tach is also available from Triumph but it costs $325 and what's worse requires one to lose the rather attractive black instrument fascia and replace it with the bright aluminum of the T100 "upgrade":I decided to go with the "retro" upgrade instead, with the smaller instrument that fits alongside the original fascia. It only took Jiri at JK Motorsports two weeks to install it for me... ...his excuse was that he was rushing to fix his race bike for a meet at the Homestead track...whatever! I was delighted with the final result:The Parabellum windscreen does a great job of keeping the wind and weather off me and the instruments, and the windshield mounting system is simple and solid even though in this picture it looks rather bulky as it surrounds the instruments in the middle. I now have a plethora of instruments, speedo, tach, clock and air temperature gauge. My, we are sophisticated now on the carburetted basic Bonneville.The Triumph is known for sounding like it needs a sixth gear and riders of the Bonneville frequently complain that they would like one more cog. Personally I like the gearbox exactly as the ratios come from the factory, but there is no doubt the tach has a useful purpose to serve.I now know that when the speedo shows 70mph and the tach shows 4,000rpm I am in top gear and cruising comfortably and economically in 5th gear. When the tach shows 3,000 rpm I am in the same gear as the speed indicated- above 50mph I'm in fifth, above 40mph I'm in fourth, and above 30mph I'm in third, very suave I'm sure. I think I am congentially compulsive.The question then might be, if one wants a tach so desperately why not buy the T100 over the basic Bonneville, especially as engine size and everything in the performance area is identical? Well, the T100 was considered an upgraded model in the carburettor era when I bought mine. The T100 has chrome engine covers which I'm not a fan of, especially in salt air environments, it also comes with two color paint jobs; plus there's the matter of the giant tach and the fact that the T100 commanded a $2,000 premium over the basic Bonneville. However nowadays, in the new 2009 line up, the only Bonneville that comes with wire spokes and traditional "pea shooter"exhausts is the T100. This is the basic SE Bonneville from the Triumph factory website:The basic Bonneville called the SE, is aimed at a younger demographic with alloy wheels, reverse cone exhausts and smaller wheel size to accommodate the petite among us. I am very fond of my old fashioned carburetted Bonneville, at last complete with tachometer...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Discombobulated

I felt like a couch potato sitting in the house and decided I could use a little ride out into the sunset and enjoy the evening outdoors. Funnily enough I don't often get to watch the sunset because when I'm working I'm...working! When I'm not I'm usually hanging out with my wife making the most of whatever the evening together offers, as we don't get as many evenings together as people who work normal shifts.So with my wife at a staff meeting and my chores done I thought I'll take a little ride and see what I could picture. It was a beautiful winter's evening, cool air blowing strongly from the east and clear skies and a strong patch of pink and orange to the west. There were lots of motorcyclists, cruisers, rumbling up and down the highway.I stopped a couple of miles from home and parked the Bonneville next to the new Niles Channel Bridge that arches 40 feet over the water next to the old, flat Flagler railroad bridge. The old bridge is now a fishing pier essentially, still as it was when it was the old Overseas Highway between 1938, and 1982 when the new road was completed. This evening there wasn't a single solitary angler on the bridge. My camera and I were alone:Well, I thought, I'd better get the picture taken as the sun was rushing to the horizon.Nice enough but perhaps one without the intrusion of human ingenuity?That was more like it. But where did that bloody bush come from? I realised I was running out of time if I was going to catch the golden orb above the mangroves of Summerland Key. So I ran forward to find a clear placement for this picture:But between those two images I met this:And I hit it stoutly with my tennis shoe, propelling me forward onto my hands and knees and forcing me to launch the camera and gorilla pod into a sublime arc across the pavement. The camera, amazingly, still works okay even though it now sports a big scratch across the back. I amazingly, still work okay even though I managed to graze my right palm, my left elbow and my left knee which started to pour blood in imitation of a very active and scarlet volcano:"Wow!" I thought, "I should have stayed home!" But then immediately I realised that was an unworthy thought. I stood there dripping blood and stinging like a 51 year old version of 18 year old me when I laid my first "real" motorcycle down. I was doing hairpins up a hill in central Italy in 1976 on my 350cc MV Agusta and I fell into the hairpin as I tried to power out of the turn. I scraped myself up pretty good, thus preserving intact my splendid fire engine red parallel twin, and best of all there was no one around to watch as I picked up the bike, eventually kicked it back to life (no electric starters!) and rode off. My left ankle still twinges from time to time,as a reminder where the foot peg ground into it as I went down... In this case too no one was around to witness my stupidity so I took a few more pictures before darkness closed in, which happily would also hide my stupidity and then the phone rang. "Great," I thought, "now what? Do I tell her the truth or hide it?" In the event it was my buddy Bruce from Santa Fe. I wondered why he was calling me at that very moment. What a coincidence! Nice to hear a friendly voice through the dripping blood! "Well," he said, "You called me!" We figured my phone must have decided to call him as my parabola ended and I probably landed on the phone which must have felt compelled to call for help.
We shared a laugh at my temporary predicament while I fished around a for a rag in my saddlebag to contain the spreading pool of blood which threatened the top of my sock...by now it was getting dark so I hoped that I could get home with no one being any the wiser. Because you know they'd see a bloody elbow and a bloody knee and start making groaning noise about those dangerous motorcycles....This whole kerfuffle was actually planned a as a response to the recent essays discussing risks and riding techniques recently posted on Scooter in the Sticks and Musings of an Intrepid Commuter. My point? Walking can be bloody dangerous too, so perhaps we should wear safety gear all the time, not just when riding those nasty dangerous two wheelers.