Wednesday 28 February 2007

Commercial Drive

I found this movie thanks to the Vespa Club of Canada bulletin board. It is a travel feature on a part of Vancouver called Commercial Drive. Although I live in Maple Ridge which is, as I’ve said before, a suburb of Vancouver, I actually grew up in Vancouver. The Commercial Drive area, sometimes referred to as Little Italy, is one of many ethnic areas of Vancouver - places where you can go and it almost feels like you’ve travelled to a different part of the world.

I am a Grade 6 teacher and one of the field trips I do every year is take my students to Chinatown in Vancouver. I believe that experiencing other cultures in places like Chinatown or Commercial Drive is a wonderful experience - and not just for kids. Being around different cultures teaches tolerance and helps people to remember that there are other cultures than the mainstream one. Heck, it's hard to hate a person of a certain race or culture if you've sat down in a coffee bar on Commercial Drive, had an espresso, and had a conversation with several of the patrons.

The connection with scooters? The last minute or so of the video talks about the Vespa Club of Vancouver and shows some pretty cool scooters.

Saturday 24 February 2007

Steep Ride, Cold Ride

New Westminster is a community between Maple Ridge and Vancouver that is perched on the water of the Fraser River. The land slopes down to the water throughout most of this small city and, as a result there are many steep hills throughout.

I had a doctor’s appointment earlier in the week after school but I didn’t know if my Vespa could make it up the hills so I drove the horrid Ford Taurus. Today, when I woke up, I decided that I needed to find out whether my LX50 was up to the challenge.

It was cold for this time of year, 3 or 4° C., a vicious mix of sleet and rain was falling from the sky, and it was quite windy. I thought about going on a shorter ride but decided I had enough layers to survive the snow and rain.

After crossing the Pitt River (mentioned in a previous blog) I went on what is called the Mary Hill Bypass. I hadn’t been on this road since the day I bought the Vespa. At that time, on a nice sunny day, I found it was a scary road with lots of curves and fast, roaring traffic. A few months and 2500 kms later, even on a wet, cold morning, the road was just fine to ride. I think this is because of the experience that I have gained so far - I am more confident on the curves and have a better idea when I should slow down, how much I should lean, and how much I should turn. I’m still pretty slow when turning 90 degrees, but better safe....

After around 40 minutes I was at the ‘bottom’ of New Westminster. I found a route that was still hilly but not crazy-steep like some of the other roads. I had no problems going uphill and pulled over a couple of times when my speed was slow and there were a few vehicles behind me.

By this time, my hands, even though I was wearing my 'lobster' gloves, were pretty cold and I thought I’d stop for coffee at Starbuck’s in downtown New Westminster - but in this area of this city there are parking meters everywhere and I didn’t have any change. I’m not sure what New Westminster’s policy on parking on the sidewalk is, so I decided to head back rather than get towed or ticketed.

I went back with no problems except that my hands were slowly turning to sticks of ice. I thought that I’d stop at the Starbuck’s just past the Pitt River Bridge in our neighbouring community of Pitt Meadows. The Starbuck’s is beside an empty movie theatre and is usually pretty quiet. The thought of having a big mug of latte and a scone while I warmed up kept me going the last km or two.

Alas, when I arrived, I walked through the door and not a seat, not one seat, was empty. After lining up for my coffee, I went outside with the lone smoker and the other unfortunate people who couldn’t get a seat and slurped back my coffee, shivering. Five minutes later, I was on my Vespa and headed for home.

As feeling slowly returned to my hands as I warmed them over the heat register, I took heart that, overall, the trip had been a success.

Friday 23 February 2007

Vespa Purchase Plan

I saw this site tonight as I was fishing around YouTube. I'm not sure if it's a joke, or if this is something that makes a lot of sense!

Basically, a guy who lives in North Carolina thinks that the money the local government wants to spend on a rapid transit system would be better spent on buying a Vespa for everyone in the town. It's quite the detailed site with a proposal, plans, contact information and the video shown here.

As I said, who knows if this is meant to be real or not, but it does make one think. For the price of a one way ticket on our rapid transit system called Skytrain, from New Westminster (we only have buses and an infrequent train that go to Maple Ridge) to Vancouver, I can make a round trip on the Vespa. When I think of that it makes me think, maybe this guy in North Carolina is actually serious - and maybe it makes sense!

Sunday 18 February 2007

Hate My Ford but Love Gung Hay Fat Choy

One of the reasons that I bought the Vespa was that one of our cars is getting older and will someday need to be replaced. That day may happen sooner than I think.

After paying $1000 for a major brake job last month, I had a couple minor but aggravating things happen this week. The car in question is a 95 Ford Taurus station wagon. We’ve had it for about 10 years.

The first is pretty minor - the motor in the side mirror doesn’t work anymore - a bit annoying but not a real problem.

Then, after returning from music lessons with my daughters, I took the guitars out of the back of the car and slammed the rear window hatch shut - the window then popped out at a weird angle - a hinge had broken and the hydraulic arm was pushing against the window. Again, annoying, but (I foolishly thought) an easy fix.

Yesterday, at my trusty Ford dealership, I tried to order the part. After about 45 minutes of humming and hawing, the parts person told me that the part was obsolete. Obsolete? There must be hundreds of thousands of Taurus’s running (maybe on their last legs) around North America and now you can’t fix some parts because 12 years is obsolete?!

It was a nice day for a ride, however, so I pressed on past the Ford dealership over the Pitt River Bridge to Coquitlam. The Pitt River Bridge is currently the only way that connects Maple Ridge with points west (including Vancouver). There is a free ferry that goes south but there is always a massive line up. It’s also a swing bridge so, every so often it opens or malfunctions and people have to wait for a while while some sailboat drifts slowly by.

The road I ride on to get to Coquitlam is called the Lougheed Highway. Now, this highway has a speed limit of 80 km but, of course, I don’t go that fast. When gunned, the LX50 goes between 60 and 70 km which is certainly fast enough for me but might not be fast enough for the people in cars. However, I find that because there are at least two lanes each way, people can just pass me and I don’t have very many rude driver experiences.

My destination was the T and T Asian Supermarket in Coquitlam Centre mall to pick up supplies to make a special Chinese dinner for Chinese New Year. I love Chinese food - especially the little dim sum dumplings - and T and T is definitely the place to go. I don’t even know what some of the food in the store is but it is a great place to look around and experiment.

With a small knapsack, I was able to bring back all the fixings for dinner, plus stop at a speciality liquor store and pick up 6 bottles of wine. It’s amazing what you can cram into the pet carrier!

I found that all my frustration about the part for the car dissipated while riding my Vespa. I am always thrilled by how at peace I can feel after just a few minutes on the Vespa with the wind in my face.

Back across the bridge, I rode home, just beating the rain that showered from the increasingly grey skies.

Saturday 10 February 2007

Park Scooting

It was a stunning day. Really!

After cycling for a few hours this morning, I came home, had lunch, and then took the Vespa for a spin. I thought I’d visit one of the sights that Maple Ridge is famous for - Golden Ears Park . It’s a pretty straight forward ride with the only difficulty the steep hill as the road approaches the entrance to the park. The scooter slowed down to 25 or 30 km at the steepest part but seemed to run fine.

The Golden Ears are two mountain peaks that look like ears and turn golden at sunrise or sunset. It is a Provincial Park which in Canada means that the park is very good to visit with good facilities. The only parks that are better are National Parks like Banff which are the top quality government run parks in Canada.

But that doesn’t really matter, because when I got to the gates I discovered that the park was closed. Lots of cars were parked outside the entrance and people were walking inside the park but no vehicles could get past the gate. The reason it was closed was fallen trees all over the road blown down by the big wind storm several weeks ago. I snapped a photo and then turned around.

The ride down the steep hill was fun but, because it was curvy, I didn’t go really fast. I don’t have a problem with speed on the straight roads but I’m a bit of a chicken when taking curves and corners. I think it’s because I’m used to cornering on a bike and I’m not ready to corner faster on a scooter than I do on my bicycle.

After descending from one steep hill, I went up another that was fairly close by. This took me to the UBC Research Forest. The ride up was less steep than the road to Golden Ears. Vehicles from people visiting for the day can only go to the front gate but it has a nice shady parking area that hikers use when they hike on the trails. There is also an excellent camp called Loon Lake further in. I will be taking my class there for a camping trip in June.

After zipping down the hill,I stopped at Maple Ridge Park where we used to take our girls when they were small. I sat on a bench, cracked open a pop, and basked in the sun. The sometimes frosty, sometimes wet weather has left, at least for a while. Int fact, it got up to 14°!

Days like today are wonderful. In between bike rides, taking one daughter shopping, taking another daughter to lunch, doing work for school, and having dinner at my in-laws, it is an extra treat to be able to get away for even an hour on the Vespa. It’s a different kind of fun then being on the bicycle, although they are similar. The scooter is a guilty pleasure - all that fun of going fast without have to work for it.

Thursday 8 February 2007

Maple Ridge? Where's that?

It's been a terrible week.

My wife has had a bad cold so I've had to pick up my daughters from school everyday this week except for Wednesday.

So that means I've had to take the car instead of the Vespa. *sigh*

On the day that I did take the Vespa, I drove around the city where I live, Maple Ridge, for a while. A lot of the riding I do is around this place. I do love nature and trees and big skies but I really like suburban and urban landscapes. I enjoy riding on nicely paved streets with lots of people around, lights to stop at and buildings to cruise past. Mind you, I like the urban setting of Vancouver more than the suburb of Maple Ridge but Maple RIidge does have the added benefit that there are a whole lot more trees than Vancouver.

Maple Ridge has around 60,000 people and is about 45 km east of Vancouver. The weather is pretty similar to Vancouver although it can be a couple degrees colder in winter and a couple degrees hotter in summer. There are plenty of parks close by and community facilities like a Leisure Centre (pool, etc,), ice rink, and lots of sports fields.

It's really famous for horses - in fact, its called the Horse Capital of Canada. I don't ride horses so I wouldn't know.

It does have a horse clock (which is what my Vespa is in front of) which is one of its most famous landmarks. It's nicknamed the Beast and the guy that built it won a contest to commemorate Maple Ridge's rural past. There was quite a bit of controversy because it has a striking resemblance to a Hasbro toy.

Every 15 minutes it moves around and rears up on its hind legs on the hour. It was originally powered by some dinky little computer like a Vic 20 or a Commodore 64 but that was replaced this year.

So that was my only ride this week- so far....

Oh, and my wife's better now. :-)

Sunday 4 February 2007

Why a Vespa?

What we're gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time....

My first experience riding two wheeled motorized vehicles was about 25 years ago when I was on my eight month backpacking tour of Europe. I spent three or four weeks in the Greek Islands (picture above was taken on Corfu) and part of what I did about every other day was rent a moped and, with the people I was with, explore different villages, sights and beaches. One day, the rental shop was out of mopeds and gave me this scooter called a Vespa instead. I fell in love with it at that moment....

Fast forward to last spring.

With my eldest daughter the proud owner of a learner’s license, I realized I would soon need some mode of transportation but I didn’t want yet another car. I do like riding my bike but being too busy and too sweaty make it difficult to bike ride everywhere. Additionally, a new teaching contract freed up some money for this kind of purchase. And, of course, I found myself thinking back nostalgically to those days in Greece, oh, so long ago.

I began my research. The internet is a wonderful place because there is so much good information. Some people find it daunting but I love arming myself with scads of facts and reviews. After all that research, I discovered that although I really wanted the Vespa, I thought that it was a bit pricey compared to the competition.

I went to my local motorcycle store in Maple Ridge (CR Cycle) and asked to see what they had. After wandering through the Harleys and big Suzukis, we came to the small scooter section. I was interested, at this time, in the Honda Jazz, basically because it sort of looked like a Vespa but was cheaper. I sat on it and found that I couldn’t turn the handlebars without banging into my knees! Too small.

I then tried the PGO T-Rex (pictured above). It was, admittedly, fun to drive and had good pickup. It was comfortable to ride but lacked something in the look - it just wasn’t a Vespa.

I got a lot of good advice from the Vespa Club of Vancouver message board. One person offered to sell her 50cc ET2 Vespa. It was at this point that I realized that I didn’t want a 2-stroke - I was willing to take a slight hit in power for a cleaner burning 4-stroke engine.

Then, off to Vespa Vancouver. The salesman (Bob) is a genuinely nice guy. He encouraged me to take it for a nice long ride - and I was hooked -still hooked - 25 years later. As I rode around the streets of Vancouver, people would look over at me and smile - not sure why but it made me feel good!

I returned to the store. What Bob didn’t know (and I told him later) was that I had already made plans to see a guy selling a Vespa privately. He had won it in a contest but had only put 75 kms on it in two months and was parting with it. With taxes, a new Vespa would have cost around $5700 where this one cost me $4000. I felt bad, though, and the first place I went after I bought it was back to Vespa Vancouver to tell Bob why I had bought privately. Bob was very gracious and said, “That’s fine - by the way the shop rate for you is $1000 an hour!”

The anticipation and excitement I still get from rolling out the Vespa from the garage has not faded since I bought my LX50 in August. Just imagine the fun I’ll have in the spring!

Saturday 3 February 2007

Welcome to my Vespa LX50 Blog

I am inspired!

I have been an avid reader of Scooter in the Sticks for quite a few months now and this excellent site has inspired me to start my own. I love Steve's engaging mix of excellent photos and thought-provoking commentary. I want to tell my story about my Vespa LX50 and include some of my own (very amateurish) photos as well.

I am a fairly large man (6'2", 250+ pounds) yet I ride a 50cc Vespa LX. I chose this machine for a couple of reasons:

• in British Columbia, you don't need a motorcycle license to ride a 50cc scooter. As much as I enjoy going for training rides in the car with my 16 year old daughter, I don't particularly relish going through the process again myself.

• I have enjoyed riding my bicycle for years. I have a Cannondale (which I call my Cannondave) and sometimes commute to work. I also do multi-day rides in the summer with a group of teachers. I think that moving from a bicycle to a small scooter makes a lot of sense. On a bicycle, the rider has to drive very defensively. When approaching an intersection, cyclists are always watchful of traffic, trying to catch the eye of motorists on cross streets, trying to be seen. The same goes for a small engine scooter - riding is not too different from a bicycle - oh sure, you go faster and you don't have to work so hard, but there are a lot of similarities.

So that's my introduction. I hope to post a couple times a week but we'll see how it goes. The picture on this post shows my daughter, Colleen, and me posing on my Vespa in August of 2006 shortly after I rode it home from buying it in Vancouver.