Wednesday 14 December 2011

Letter to Santa

Ho. Ho. Ho.  Merry Christmas.

Please, dear Santa, bring me a big bag of money to pay for all of my vehicle repair bills. That would be really nice so that my wife isn't bugging me about the great 'deal' I got on my GTS. It's a real sad story, St. Nick, but let me start a few days ago.

You know our VW Golf - the 2002 with 170, 000 kms on it - had to have some repairs a couple months ago because the engine light went on. Well, Santa, it cost a few hundred dollars, and so soon after the thousand we spent on the front end work but, hey, we thought it was OK because we've hardly had any work done on it since we bought it. It was a hit on the pocketbook, but we had a little while to build up the savings so we could rapidly deplete the money for Christmas. You know, presents, flying oldest daughter down from Prince George, more presents, dinners, yada yada yada. Oh yeah and buying my Vespa GTS.

Last week, old Red, as my blog readers know, I took in my new GTS for a checkup - and found that it was definitely not healthy - a real drag as it was the same red as your jolly coat. But more on that later.

Then, a few days ago, the engine light went on again in the VW. Back to the dealership, and, lo and behold, it was a whack o' money ($700) with more to come. Sort of like the gift that keeps giving, Santa, the VW will need the clutch plate replaced ($1400) as well as a new starter ($600) in the near future. But at least it will limp along until the near year, Santa, or at least I hope so.

Well, today, little St. Nick, I got a phone call from Will at Urban Wasp (my Christmas gift to Urban Wasp is that I now know the mechanic's name) who had both glad tidings and bad news about my beautiful GTS. The good news, old Red, is that he had correctly predicted the cause of the shiny layer on the oil shooter he had drained from the engine. It was the spragg clutch! Ok....

So there are a whole whack o' parts, Santa, that he has to order - all which will come quickly except for said spragg clutch. So now I'm looking at sometime in January before I can hop on my baby again.

Oh, old Red, the cost estimate is $1300! That's half the price I paid for my Vespa! Mind you that does include the repairs as well as the 20,000 km major service. Ho ho.

So, in closing, St. Nick, if you could chuck one of those big brown bags full of money down my chimney, that would be great. Actually, since I live in a condo, just toss it on the balcony. Failing that, maybe a nice bottle of scotch to drown my sorrows in would be a good alternative.

Oh, heck, Santa, what I really want is my VW to run well without having to sink a whole bunch more money in it and my Vespa GTS to be reliable and ready to tour, especially when the warmer weather comes. How about it, old Red, can you deliver? From one big guy to another?

Thanks and Merry Christmas

Ho, ho!

Saturday 10 December 2011

Hi-Yo Silver! Metallic oil....

Last night was my staff party. I decided to get a ride because the temperature was -3°C. at 5 o'clock and I was worried that when I came home it would be even colder. As it turned out, it was a wise choice as it was quite frosty and icy. Unfortunately, I ended up having a few too many tequila shots (I consider one tequila shot too many) so it was a good thing to get a ride home.

The reason I mention this is because I had an appointment at Urban Wasp (Vespa Vancouver) to give my new (to me) scoot a once over and a major servicing. It's over an hour there and I had some unpleasant reminders of the previous night in the form of a sore head. The temperature in Maple Ridge was at freezing but it warmed up the closer to Vancouver you went, so I decided to carefully set out at 8:30 this morning.

Once I got out of our parking lot, it was actually pretty good. I did slow down on the curves and made sure to be extra careful on the road. As for warmth, for once I was fine! My father-in-law bought me hand muffs when he went to China a couple of weeks ago and those, combined with my thin cycling gloves, kept my hands toasty warm. My core was kept warm with a long sleeve shirt, fleece, down vest, ski jacket and rain over jacket. The GTS 250 performed very well at many different speeds, not showing any problems with loss of power that helped precipitate my servicing request.

I actually arrived a bit early but Urban Wasp was open. I went in and  talked to the mechanic who is a very nice guy who enjoys talking about Vespa engines and seems extremely knowledgeable. We decided to go ahead with the 20,000 km servicing but he would give me a call if anything came up. I had a brief chat with Bob, the owner, commenting what a great deal I got, and then I left to explore Kitsilano.

A couple hours later, just as I was finishing my latté, I got a call - come down to the shop, please....

I have never seen a mechanic that seemed so genuinely apologetic. He had only changed the oil but had come across a problem. I guess he didn't want to spoil my day and I do appreciate the sentiment.

He had saved the oil in a clean container. There was a layer of silver fluid on the top of the oil, from metal inside the engine. At that point he gave me a couple options - do an oil change and see if it was any better in a couple thousand km or have him try to find out what the problem was. While I was thinking about it, he showed me lots of parts and described what it might be. I had a hard time following him but that's fine, I really just want the scoot fixed and ready to go so it doesn't have a problem down the road. Keeping that in mind, I opted for the second option.

He (sorry I don't know his name!) said that because the scoot was running well, it might be something that only grinds during start up or maybe it was a problem that was at the beginning. He said that once he figured out the problem, he would fix it and also perform the maintenance which would save me a little bit if a particular part was already accessible due to the repair. He also said that because the GTS has two oil filters (!) the metal might have collected in them rather than wrecking parts of the engine.

My feeling is that just hoping in a couple of thousand kilometres that it would all go away is not the best solution - and the mechanic also felt this way. I have really enjoyed trouble-free driving with LX50 so I want the same kind of start with the GTS. I know that buying a Vespa - or any other vehicle, for that matter - without an inspection is a bit of a crap shoot but with such a good price, and the fact that there wasn't any Vespa store in Kelowna, I took a chance. Now I have to live with my decision and make sure that the scoot is reliable.

I haven't tried anywhere else but I really do think that Urban Wasp does a good job. The mechanic really seemed to know his stuff and that is always a good thing.

Now I have to wait for the call back to tell me exactly what's wrong... fingers crossed. At least my head isn't sore anymore....

Friday 2 December 2011

First RIding Impressions: GTS

Despite the unseasonably cold weather, I have had some opportunities to take the Vespa GTS for a bit of a longer scoot. Not hours but certainly more than 5 or 10 minutes.

This is a FAST scooter. I am amazed at the difference in speed with the LX50. Yes, I knew it was faster but the acceleration is amazing. I love the feeling and have to keep using my urge to go really fast in check. There is a bit of a funny sound (rollers?) when I first start to accelerate, but after that, the speed is smooth and feels very unstrained. It's not loud or flashy but it is fast! I imagine that this is what it feels like to ride a BMW bike compared to a Honda. The LX50 really feels a bit like a toy now.

The feel of the ride is much more solid. I guess if you're going to go faster, you're going to need something that is heavier and built to perform. The GTS feels great on the road, especially around town, and, more importantly, stops easily with its two disc brakes. I think I'd be uncomfortable with an LX150 which has the same feel as an LX50 and lacks both brakes being disc brakes. That might prove to be a negative thing since an LX150 goes a lot faster than an LX50 but, I believe, has the same braking system. Ditto with a Stella. The GTS stops nicely and quickly, if needed.

One thing I've found is that wind has been bothering me - something that didn't happen on the LX50 or during my motorcycle classes but when I am near or on the Pitt River Bridge, I really feel the wind - not inconsistent but a steady wind that feels strong and pushes hard on my chest. Maybe that area is really windy or maybe it's windy this time of year or maybe I'm just going to have to get used to it! The scooter doesn't feel tossed around but I do feel that I have to crouch down to reduce the wind.

Another thing that happened on one ride is that, while on the highway, I lost power. This happened a few times on the way to my destination  and the scoot actually stalled twice at a light. I managed to get to where I was going and, after a few hours, embarked on my return. This time, there were no problems with the power and, in face, there hasn't been since then. Bad gas? Wonky spark plug? Dirty fuel filter? I don't know but will have to take it for a servicing to check things out.

I am getting used to the GTS and realize it is a bit of a slow process becoming more comfortable with a new scoot. Today, someone asked me if I was going to take it on the freeway. Right now, I don't think so but eventually I will when I am more comfortable. All part of the experience....

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Vespa Comparison - LX50 and GTS 250

After I made the big purchase, I thought about transport - and quickly decided to do the sensible thing (for a change). I went to a web site called U-Ship where you input what you want to ship and where from and to. You can also state what you want to pay but I didn't have enough experience to figure out a fair price. I had a few bids around $500 and one at $800 but then had a bid for $250. I figured by the time I borrowed a friend's car ($75 for thank you scotch), gassed up ($100 round trip), and rented a trailer ($50) that it wasn't really worth my time to burn a weekend driving there and back. Also the weather has been brutal of late so I wasn't sure which weekend I would end up going. 

It arrived a week ago on Tuesday night. John, the delivery guy, had is safely secured and arrived in good time in one piece. I happily paid the man and rode off in the rain to fill it up at the gas station. 

I took it to school a couple of times last week and was a bit concerned that it had developed a bit of a wobble. I then checked the tires and realized they were both around 15 psi - no wonder there was a wobble! I also adjusted the shocks to the second setting.

The weather has been quite cold since then - hovering around 0 degrees - so I haven't taken it out much at all lately. Luckily, a warm front has finally come so, while it is rainy, it is also warm. I plan on some riding this weekend but, until then, I thought I'd look at the two Vespas, while I still own both...

On first look, the GTS is obviously longer and wider then the LX. It also feels less toy like and more like a motorcycle in how it handles. The faring is wider which gives more protection and the red colour is, frankly, gorgeous!

Looking at the headlight, I will miss my chrome head cover that I installed a few years ago but will not miss the goofy signal lights that stick out of the steering portion of the LX. I don't know if there is any difference in the brightness of the lights. 

The front of the scoot is WAY wider as you can see in the photo. The LX has a pretty cool horn cover, though. The GTS, however, looks adult sized and ready to go on the open road!

The front wheel and fender for the LX looks fine but the GTS  wheel looks super sharp with the whitewall. The fender on the GTS was replaced (that's why it isn't red) but I sorta like the look of it! 

The seats look quite different both both feel pretty good. I put some major kilometers on the LX seat and had no worries. I think the GTS seat will be good, too, but it's a bit worn looking which is a bit disappointing as the LX seat looks as nice as the day it was bought. I'm wondering if the GTS is a leather seat and if that will be more comfortable in the long run.

The look from the rear is nice with the LX, especially with the crash bars but the GTS looks a bit more aggressive and, I hope, more visible. I'm looking forward to the rear rack as well since my attempts to jury rig a solution have been OK but not spectacular. 

Finally, the speedo. The LX one looks kinda cool with the back lit look and the curvy shape inside the cluster. The dead clock, though, is not so hot. The GTS has more information in the digital section and the red does look pretty nice. Don't like the miles, though, as I am used to kilometers now. 

Overall, both scoots are nice machines but I really feel that the GTS is a substantial step in scooter evolution (hope that doesn't sound too pompous!). Next steps are to ride the GTS more and sell or take off the insurance on the LX. 

It's 9:30 at night and my wife needs me to pick up something at the store. Gotta scoot!

Saturday 12 November 2011

Big Guy, GTS Scooter?

It was a cloudy day - not too cool, and I thought it would be an auspicious sign for my quest for a new (to me) Vespa. After checking through Craiglist, I had found one in Kelowna - a 2007 250 GTS with around 12,000 miles for the incredible price of $2800.

After consulting friends, family and knowledgeable commenters on this blog, I decided to take a look. We drove up to the Okanagan yesterday and spend the day with my wife's family. Last night, my sleep was interrupted with several brief dream sequences involving Vespas.

Today, we drove out to Kelowna to see the scoot. The guy selling it has made a practice of going to the states, primarily California and Arizona, fixing up vehicles, and then bringing them back into Canada, selling them for a small profit.

The one I was looking at was bought at an auction in California. There were some problems with it including an ignition system that no longer worked, fried brakes, and some other damage. It looked like it had been dropped at some point in its life but the direction of the scratches led me to think it was not in an accident. There are some scratches and bent trim on one side but really just cosmetic stuff. The guy was up front about this and he had lots of documentation of repairs and other information.

I then took it for a test drive. It started easily and I frankly amazed at the acceleration as I took it up the steep driveway. It wasn't licensed so I just drove it around the neighborhood which was an excellent test as there were plenty of hills and lots of bumpy roads. It drove beautifully and the engine made a pleasing buzz.

Compared to the LX50, it seems a lot more refined. The GTS 250 doesn't struggle to get to speed and the feel of the scoot is more solid, less toy like. I think it also gave me a bit more room for sitting.

My wife said that when I rode back to the house, she could tell by the grin on my face that I was going to buy it. Luckily, the seller didn't see my grin and when I offered $2500 ("that's it") he came around to accepting it.

I was - I mean, I am the new owner of a scooter that has had some rough adventures as well as a bit of a makeover.

Whenever you buy something, there's always risk - maybe it's a lemon or maybe the previous owner drove it into the ground and all you've bought is trouble on two wheels. I think this will be OK, though. It ran well and I got a good sense off of the seller.

After registering it at an insurance agent, a process that took at least an hour (I love bureaucracy so much) due to the international complications of buying a scoot from the US, we went back to the seller's house and he gave me all the extra pieces he had including a new Vespa tire! I then left for my brother-in-law's house, just a few minutes up the road.

Or was it?

I went the wrong way! After 10 minutes I pulled over, checked my Map app on my iPhone, and realized my error. By this time it was raining hard. After I turned around, the wind picked up tremendously and I carefully headed back the way I had come.

The road was wet and a bit slushy in parts as it started to snow as well. I pulled over, checked my GPS, and headed out on the highway again.

I'm not sure if the speedometer works properly - I'm terrible with miles now (as it is a US scoot, kilometers are in teeny tiny numbers) and I have the feeling that the miles are off anyways. If not, I was trying to keep up with traffic in a 80 km zone going about 60 mph. That's a bit faster than 80 kms!

The precipitation relented for a while as I closed onto 90 kmh. I finally arrived at the turnoff for my destination, and the skies opened up with snow. Up the hills I went, motoring along nicely, feeling more confident in the Vespa's ability.

I arrived and parked it in the garage (where I took today's photos) as the snow outside turned to torrential rain. I worriedly looked it over as a terrible rattle had started in the last 10 minutes of my drive. Had I really bought a lemon? Was there serious engine problems? No, just the license plate screws were a bit loose!

Now the task is the get it back to Maple Ridge. No way am I going to take the Vespa on the highway down to the lower mainland this time of year. There's too much snow in the mountains and no other way around it. I'll either have to come back with a motorcycle trailer and a friends vehicle that can pull a trailer or I might get it shipped down by a vehicle transport company.  I'll explore my options over the next few days.

In the meantime, it's time to put the LX50 up for sale. We've had some fun, my small scooter and me, but now it's time to step aside for one that's not so small....

Thursday 10 November 2011

Decision Time?

Last night, for dinner, I decided to go to a local store for some salmon on my LX50. I went there one route that was mostly downhill and had a nice ride to the market. After picking up the salmon, I went a different way home - on the Lougheed Highway.

I've gone on the Lougheed hundreds if not thousands of times before. But it was dark and there seemed to be rush hour going every which way. I gripped the handgrips tightly as I putted along at 50 km but it was an 80 km zone so the cars and trucks were zooming around me. One truck driver did the "I'll pass you and then accelerate like I'm trying to break Earth's orbit" and I certainly felt the pressure of drivers behind me. Thing is, I was going too fast for the breakdown lane and if I had made that choice, it was too dark to see the road properly and I know there is lots of junk on the side of the road.

It was somewhere during that knuckle whitening ride that I realized that I was definitely ready to put the LX50 behind me. I'm tired of crazed drivers trying to zoom past me to emphasize that they can go wayyy faster than me! I'm also tired of slipping into the breakdown lane once I get a line of more than five cars behind me. It's been a great 5 years on the 50 but it's now time to move up!

Today, I ran a lien check at Service BC on the Kelowna Vespa GTS 250 and it came back clean. I took out a whack-o-cash from the bank and, armed with that, my Carfax report and my riding stuff, I am ready to take a serious look at the potential ride. Sadly, Kelowna's Vespa store shut down in 2009 so I'll have to trust my own (gulp) judgement as to the suitability of the scoot.

I'm not completely taken with THIS Vespa (although I am taken with Vespas in general) so if this does not seem to be the one, I'll go back

Monday 7 November 2011

A Stinking Good Deal or Just a Stinker?

As you have heard in my previous post, there's a guy in Kelowna who is selling a 2007 GTS 250 for $2800. Sounds like a great deal - maybe even too good to be true. But I have to consider the time of year and maybe the guy just wants to get rid of it. Kelowna is already in winter so nobody there is going to buy one. Offering the scooter at a good price is sure to draw someone like me....

I've emailed back and forth with the guy and he has been fairly prompt with his responses but is certainly not very verbose. He sent some photos and answered my questions.

The latest exchange, this weekend, had me asking for the VIN so I could run it. He complied. It turns out that the scoot was originally from California which I guess wouldn't be a bad thing. I ran the VIN in the stolen car database and a couple other BC databases and found nothing. Then I ran it in the California database - a negative report showed up but with no details.

Agitated, I hummed and hawed and eventually paid the $36 for Carfax, a website that gives you more information on a negative report. Had it been in an accident? Was it stolen?

It turns out that the odometer figure has the potential for not being reliable. The report stated:

A NAM title is issued when the owner discloses to a DMV mileage fraud, a broken odometer or that the actual mileage of this vehicle is unknown.
Mileage reported after this reading is potentially unreliable.

At first I thought, that's it, I won't even bother. But as the day went by, I thought, why not give the guy a chance to respond?

 He responded by saying that when he bought it, the battery was dead and was told it had 5000 miles on it but when he went to the Vespa dealer (in San Diego, I believe) they told him that it actually had 10,500 miles on it.

Now, he's saying that it has 11,000 miles on it which still sounds reasonable. My wife wants to go to Kelowna anyways to visit her sister so I'm thinking, can't hurt to take a look. Maybe it'll look fine and run fine and maybe I'll even get a good deal...

Or maybe I'll get soaked...

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Searching for THE scooter...

Now that I've got my class 6, I'm in the enviable position of being able to look for a new scoot. I say enviable because I've always enjoyed searching for the right product, whether it's a TV, car, bicycle or scooter, and then trying to get a good price. Sometimes it's a matter of doing both at the same time.

What's especially gratifying right now is that I'm not in a hurry - at least I'm trying not to be in a hurry! I have my LX50 to get me around town and I'm thinking of waiting until spring to sell it as that would be a better time to sell. That gives me from now on to look as the real fair weather scootering weather is over and people selling now are probably more motivated (or desperate to sell!).

I've made the decision to go with a scooter. It was a blast learning on a motorcycle but it just isn't that practical, especially in crappy, rainy weather which is all too common in the lower mainland.

So what am I looking at?

First up is the Stella (new) which has a great retro feel and is a standard which appeals to me. I'd like to take it for a test drive (where I don't kill the battery and it can't start again like last time). At $4000 plus dealer charges, it's in my price range, especially if I get a decent price ($1500?) for my LX50. It could be service at the Stella dealer in Vancouver and I figure it would be easy to find parts. It's a 150 so it would be a lot faster than my LX50 but not quite fast enough for the freeway.

Second, a used Vespa. I've been looking at Craigslist - both here and in the states (Seattle, Portland). There are way more choices in Portland than here but I don't know if I want to deal with the hassles of getting it through the border. If I got something used, it would probably be either a 200 or 250 GTS. It might save me a little money as a 2005 GTS200 (pictured above) in Coquitlam at a dealer was $3500 and a guy in Kelowna (pictured below)  is selling a 2007 GTS 250 for a paltry $2800 - although I don't know how I'd ride it down the Coquihalla highway which is infamous for snow and ice this time of year.

Third, a new Vespa. It would probably have to be an LX150 which, like the Stella, has potential issues if I want to go on the freeway. I'd still have to get a demo or older stock as a new one, at $5000 plus dealer fees, is really stretching it. And I don't like the S150 because I think the rectangular like is ugly.

Can't believe I'm getting this picky! As to the LX150, yes, there is the warranty and no kms on the engine but that is a hefty price....

Finally, perhaps I'll stray right away from the Vespa/Stella look and get something like a Burgman. Mind you, they are pretty pricey too so I'd be looking for a used one.

Any suggestions from out there in the blogosphere? Feedback would be greatly appreciated....

Saturday 22 October 2011

Testing Day 2.0

It's amazing how tense and nervous a person can be, even after over 5 decades of experience in the world. Friday was my second attempt to pass my motorcycle license test and, although I tried to project an aura of self confidence, I really was rattled. Thoughts like, "If I fail this time, how many more times do I go before I give up?"  and, "if I keep failing, will they make me redo my regular license as well?" I didn't sleep that well the night before and I had butterflies in my stomach most of Friday.

I went to Dave's place to pick up the bike and his son was there to greet me. He was an amiable guy and told me how he had failed his first time which his father, the motorcycle teacher, was not overly proud of! He gave me some words of advice including that he hoped that I had the two girls testing me again because the guy was really picky.

It was raining hard so before taking off to practice, I put on a pair of gortex cycling overbooties so that my hiking boots would stay nice and dry. They attach with velcro and have served me well on many a cycling trip. I then headed off on the Suzuki Marauder 250 for Poco.

I had about an hour to practice which I did. The heavens opened up with torrential rain which splashed around my face. I don't like the full face visor closed all the way so I kept it open about half way which protected my eyes but drenched the lower half of my face. I tried to cover all the route that I had gone on before and then, for the last 15 minutes, practice my nemesis, the U-turn.

If you recall from my very first time at motorcycle school, I fell off trying to do a U-turn. I think that one incident has scarred my for life as it was also the reason I failed my first attempt due to a too wide U-turn that nicked a lawn. My first 10 or so practices were OK but then I started to make them wide again. I finally discovered that cranking the throttle in short bursts gave me the needed speed to make the U-turn properly but without going so fast I was out of control or headed for the curb. Still, I was shaky and did not look forward to that part of the test.

When the heck do you need to do a U-turn anyway?

I sped over to the testing centre, parked, turned of the bike and promptly fell over.

What had happened was the flap on the bottom of the gortex overbooty caught on the peg on the left side. When I tried to get off, my leg wouldn't go and I was thrown off balance. I fell down and the bike fell over as well.

Sometimes, Buddha or Lady Luck smiles at me after having a good laugh. I practically bounced off the ground and picked up the bike (lucky it was only a 250) and then looked around. Nobody saw me! Two minutes later and a crowd of people were in the lot but at that time I was completely alone amongst the other vehicles!

Sporting a slight limp from my scraped knee and no longer wearing the aforementioned vortex overbooties, I first hobbled, then walked into the testing centre. After doing the necessary paperwork, I met my tester, the guy!

His name was Gary. He seemed nice enough but I secretly knew that he was the ûber picky tester who could not be taken for granted! Actually, we chatted a bit before the test and he was friendly and sort of made me feel a bit at ease!

The weather for the test had turned, well, pretty nice. It was cloudy and the roads were wet but there was no longer any driving rain. I left the centre and proceeded to ride the first half of the test without incident. I was feeling pretty darned confident and thinking, maybe I'll actually pass, when Gary said, "When safe, show me your U-turn."

I remembered the trick with the throttle and worked really hard to look where I wanted to turn. There was only one chance at this and I knew that this was my pivotal moment. I went around the U for the first half perfectly. Then, I twisted the throttle a bit too much and the bike jerked. It jerked a couple more times but I stayed on and next thing I knew, I wasn't on someone's front lawn, I was on the road headed in the correct direction!

He continued to test me, taking me through a multitude of school and playground zones. At one point, I was going 50 kmh and I looked to the right and saw, right beside me, a middle school. Luckily it had a school zone sign without a speed on it so I was OK. Twice in the latter half, I lost Gary as I went through a yellow light but there was no way I was going to slam on the brakes and get an automatic fail.

During the final half km, I was going a bit slow when I realized that I had missed a playground sign. Luckily I was probably at the upper threshold for speed and I didn't get a fail due to it. We then made our way back to the centre where I parked the bike and got off, this time without falling to the ground.

He came close to my helmet so I could heart and said, "Well you've passed," to which I yelled, "Yes!" right into his face.

It wasn't perfect - he said my U-turn was a bit shaky, I cut a couple corners when turning left, and I was a bit too far right at one time but otherwise, I nailed it! I thanked Gary, got my photo taken for my new license and headed off, for the last time, on the Suzuki.

What a feeling of accomplishment! What a relief! Now, time to look at a new scoot in earnest.


Friday 14 October 2011

Testing Day 1.0

So today was testing day.

I had another teacher graciously cover my class so I could dump off my stuff at home, pick up my motorcycle and have a bit of practice.

First. I arrived to get my preferred motorcycle, the Honda 600, but, due to the signal switch falling off, the bike must have been in the shop. So, for the first time since my very first motorcycle lesson, I had a 250 Suzuki Marauder.

That wasn't such a problem, though. It's a nice bike and gives me a bit of an edge in terms of control. As I rode out to Poco, I thought that this just might be an OK day. It was beautiful - sunny, warm - ideal!

After practicing for about 1/2 an hour, including several good U-turns, I headed up to the testing centre. I paid my $50, took a deep breath, and waited for my test.

The way it works is that there is a car with a driver and a tester. You are given a radio that has pretty good sound and the instructor follows along behind while you follow the instructions. I had a female tester who seemed nice enough and was driven by another female.

After completing a safety check, we departed for the testing route. I felt pretty confident, although I had had enough difficulties in my practice rides to be ready for a fail. I was careful with my speeding, caught all the school zones, and didn't get caught up by a playground. As it was a beautiful sunny day, the one time I stopped a bit fast, there was no problem with skidding. I cruised by a bus which signaled just as I started to pass it so I had no problems there. I was feeling good, feeling confident. Then I was asked to do a U-turn.

As I said before, I practiced this maybe 10 times before the actual test. I was fine. But during the test, my U-turn became incredibly wide and I actually ended up going up the curb and grazing the grass of a lawn on the side of the street. I couldn't believe that I had done that! I thought, well, maybe she'll give me another chance at that, but she didn't.

I continued on with the test, thinking, maybe I'd lose a couple of demerits or maybe that'd be it. I didn't know. The rest of the test went well. I had a few times where I missed a shoulder check and one left turn which I cut a bit close but nothing serious. I also rode a bit slow in some parts, but I'm not surprised as I was trying to see all the potential hazards on the street.

Finally, 45 minutes later, we arrived back at the testing station. The tester told me that I hadn't passed because of my U-turn - it was a DA - Dangerous Action.  When I think dangerous action, I think running a red or skidding out but a crappy U-turn was all I needed to blow the test.

I wasn't completely surprised that I had failed but I had hoped that it wasn't serious enough to actually fail.

I was wrong.

Now I've got to wait a week and hopefully do better next time.

I was pretty bummed out but a few glasses of wine and blogging about this has definitely made me feel better. I'd be lying, though, if I didn't say that I was actually looking forward to hitting the sack tonight.

Better luck next time. Now, what do I tell the kids at school?.......

Saturday 8 October 2011

Fail, fail, fail

Friday was my last ride with Dave before my test. He's heading off to sunny points over the border after the weekend while I'm in the Okanagan this weekend for a family Thanksgiving with my wife's relatives.

I met him on Friday for a tune up ride going over the test route. I was feeling pretty positive and hoped that my confidence would be reflected in a clean ride.

The ride started off well enough. I remembered my shoulder checks and intersection scans, rode smoothly on the motorcycle, and was careful not to make any careless errors. I was humming along nicely for the first half of the ride and thought, yes, I am going to nail it today!

And then I broke the signal switch.

Not intentionally, you understand, but when I pushed it in to cancel it, it first wouldn't cancel, and then, after a couple more attempts, fell off onto the road. We stopped, rescued the piece that fell off, and then Dave told me to continue with hand signals.

That one small event sucked the confidence out of me and I started to make mistakes.

First one was I turned right on a yellow light but is was red by the time I was turning - not good.

Then, I stalled in an intersection while turning left and couldn't get it started for about a minute. FAIL!

A couple minutes later, I was turning left again and while the space on the crosswalk was clear, there were still people who had not actually stepped onto the sidewalk. Sorry - FAIL!

Then, on a faster section of road called the Mary Hill Bypass, I was trying really hard to relax and ended up zooming up to 78 km/h in a 60 km/h zone. FAIL!

Now, except for the stalling in the intersection, I rode the motorcycle well. My riding skills were fine. However, my driving skills were just plain careless. I know that the problems started after the stupid signal switch fell off but I also know that I can't let something like that affect my riding so severely!

I had a difficult time getting to sleep, as I beat myself up over the ride over and over in my head. Finally, though, I reasoned that stressing about my test is not going to be helpful. I am confident that I have it within me to pass - and I just have to make sure I don't screw up!

In the meantime, gotta relax....

Sunday 2 October 2011

Meh... and some pondering....

So, a catchup and some pondering as I sit out a beautiful day when I'm so supposed to be on a ride.

 First, last Tuesday, after school, I was lucky enough to be the only student for our ride. I got to lead, of course, and we did the whole driver testing route starting at the DMV building. Although I stalled the bike once, and I didn't stop for a pedestrian waiting at a crosswalk, I did remember most of my shoulder checks and intersection scans. I got all of the school zones and playground speed changes as well.

I was a bit unsure at times, not like last time, because I was leading - it's a lot easier to get all of the parts of the test right when you are following somebody. When you are on your own, however, it is more stressful and more demanding - and a lot easier to make an error!

We rode for an hour or so and then returned. Instead of, "You nailed it!" I got the comment, "I don't see any problems," which looks good as I type it but didn't quite sound the same.

The expression "Meh", as far as I can tell, means it was, well, OK, but not great - and that's how I feel about the ride.

 One positive comment Dave said was that I am focussing on the road to make sure I get everything right and so am not so caught up about the actual riding of the motorcycle.

Today, I was supposed to go for a nice long afternoon ride. The weather cooperated - it was a sunny day, not too cold - and ideal day for "get comfortable in the seat" riding. Unfortunately, I woke up with a killer sore throat and, worse, a woozy feeling not caused by a couple glasses of wine. So I had to cancel. 

Instead, I have been pondering a question David Masse (Life on Two Wheels) asked me last entry - scooter or motorcycle? I have been thinking about this a lot and I really think that I will stick with the scooter. A scoot with a bigger engine - even a 150 - will allow me to keep up with traffic and go farther afield. I know that some of the reading I have been doing has cautioned against riding on a major highway with a 150 but I'm not sure why….

I also love the styling of a scooter - and by that I mean a Vespa or a Stella or a similar design. I've looked at the Piaggio and it has similar parts to the Vespa (after all, they are made by the same company) but looks different enough to make me have second thoughts. The Burgman, MP3 and other scoots are nice looking machines but I don't know if that's what I want.

I see the PX150 or the Stella or even the LX150 and I think that I really like the design. But the PX150 is 2 stroke so I don't want it and the LX150 is $1500 more than the Stella so, at least at this point, I'm leaning towards the Stella.

Hopefully I'll have my license in the next little while and then I can start looking in earnest.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Nailed it!

Yesterday afternoon, I crept away from school as early as possible (it was a professional day so that was OK) and went on a later afternoon ride. Along with Dave and me, there was a young guy who is heading up to the Yukon in a few days where he works in a camp. On his visits down here, he keeps his hand in, so to speak, and is waiting to book a time for a test when he is here.

I took the 600 again, the other guy took and 1100 - whoa! We headed out to Poco and basically rode the testing route. This time, no speeding, no missing zone changes, and I got all of my shoulder checks and intersection scans. The only error that we both made was slowing down in a school zone that didn't have the hours posted - in that case, you are only supposed to slow down if there are children on the road.

After doing the route for a while, Dave said we were both fine so we went back to Maple Ridge and on to Ruskin for a ride.  It was basically uneventful but exhilarating. Got some speed up, some nice curves and I was feeling relaxed.

Upon returning to Dave's place, his words were, "You both nailed it today!"


Tuesday 20 September 2011

Double Trouble!

This week has started with back-to-back lessons last night and today. I think I'm improving but the two rides had definitely different feels.

Last night, I rode with two women and Dave and we headed out to Port Coquitlam to ride the testing route that we will have to take when we attempt to get our license. The route will, of course, vary but it gives and idea of what to expect.

I was in the lead to start which I liked because it really tests my skill (or lack thereof). Problem was, we were on the highway and I couldn't hear Dave over the radio half the time. As a result, I missed a few turns which was frustrating. I thought I was doing OK for the first 20 minutes or so and then noticed that we were zooming by a playground at 55 kmh when the posted speed was 30 kmh. Fail!

I think I was nervous because of the testing conditions and I missed a few scans and most of my left shoulder checks. None of use had a great ride and I was feeling a bit frustrated that I kept forgetting things. I was in the second position for the latter half of the ride and still managed to miss a few checks and scans.

Today I was with a guy and a woman (neither who I had met before) and Dave. I had a better focus this time and nailed most of my scans and shoulder checks. This was a good thing as a cyclist caught up with me at and intersection and decided to turn with me, very close. Luckily I saw her because of my right shoulder check.

We did a fair bit of turns and driving on streets in the downtown core and I felt very confident tonight. Last night I stalled the bike a few times but tonight was much better. I really felt that I am in control even when going slowly.

We then hit some windy roads which was very enjoyable. The other guy and I ended up taking off on the rest a few times. We hit the highway and that was lots of fun as well.

After we arrived back at Dave's, he actually seemed pretty pleased with out riding. My only real flaw? Left the turn signal on (like an old person) too long once. Things are definitely looking up!

Next ride, Friday.....

Wednesday 14 September 2011

3rd Ride Out

Last night, Charles and I joined Dave for another ride.

It was a cloudy evening so I actually wore a jacket for the first time. Of course, I don't have a real motorcycle jacket but I do have a real cycling jacket and so I wore my red reflective MEC jacket for the ride.

Dave decided to take us around town and this time, for the first time, I was the leader. I was on the Honda 600 again which I really liked. It is a very stable bike which is comfortable to ride...

Now, you have to understand, that as a teacher, I can be a distracted student in the classroom. All that stuff about lane placement really didn't stick all that well. Last night, I got an earful about where I should be on the road. I must admit, though, I improved rapidly as the ride progressed!

After practicing in town, we rode up to Alouette Lake. During my first ride, I found 60 kmh a tad fast and frightening. This time, I was itching to go faster! I am definitely getting more comfortable on the bike!

Things to work on - right check, left check, intersection scan, and turning from a standstill.

I am trying to be more careful to practice these safety routines on my Vespa. We'll see if they take.

Got rides scheduled for Monday and Tuesday evening. Can't wait!!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Windy, windy, road....

Ah, that's better. My leg muscles have finally unclenched.

Scooters have a heckuva lot more space to move your legs around than motorcycles. At least that's how I feel today.

But first, back up to yesterday.

So my current spouse and I drove into Vancouver and checked out Stella Metro. We had tried a week earlier and had wandered around in the store but couldn't find anyone. The note that said, "Back in 5 minutes," was apparently inaccurate.

Now Stella Metro happens to be in the same building as Vespa Metro but they can't share the same floor space so I had to go to the back of the building, apparently a different address, to see the Stella.

It is a gorgeous machine. This one was in old school refrigerator green but the styling screamed vintage Italian scooter (even if it is made in India). Excitedly, I handed over my Learner's (with the motorcycle skills endorsement) and exchanged that for the keys. I wheeled the Stella out of the building and up a ramp and then started it. It sounded great. Unfortunately I stalled it trying to get it going and then... it wouldn't start. The battery just couldn't give enough juice to start it up again. I'm hoping it was a problem with leaving the ignition on at some other point.

Disappointed, I left, but still grateful that I had a chance to at least sit on it.

Back to this morning.

My ride today started at 10 this morning. There were just 3 of us - Dave (the instructor), Charles (the other student) and me. Charles is close to completing the course and already has a 650 on order. Dave had him ride the Honda 600 that I had ridden before. Me? "Ride that Marauder 800," Dave said. *Gulp*!

We rode around town for a little while, getting used to the bikes ("Shoulder check!" "Intersection scan!") and then headed out on the highway.

On my Vespa, 65 km seems pretty fast. On the motorcycle, 85 km seemed similar to piloting a rocket! Don't get me wrong - I loved it! But I don't have the same secure feeling that I have with the Vespa - on the motorcycle I sort of feel like I'm riding a really fast horse under control that is ready to bolt in an attempt to commit suicide at any moment!

We ended up in Hatzic (I think) that had the twistiest and hilly roads I have seen. I kept up all right but this is where I was clenching badly. "Relax...." Dave said. Yeah, right!

After a half an hour of twisting and turning, we ended up at Hayward Lake for a break. Charles said that he really had fun on the twisty road and I agreed but secretly I was happy to be walking around instead of zooming around crappy roads that had (what I thought were) huge ditches. But I tried to look like I had had fun!

This link is from Youtube and shows some of the road we were on - I think!

We then headed back and I felt relaxed and strong during the final half hour or so.

Overall we had spent 3 hours on the road. I am getting more comfortable but still have to really work at relaxing and being less tense.

Next ride..... Tuesday evening!

Tuesday 6 September 2011

First Training RIde

After I finished my skills session on Sunday, my knee really hurt from when I dropped the bike doing the U-turn. I didn't sleep very well Sunday night because it ached so badly, even after some pain medicine and a rum and coke. Monday, luckily, was a holiday, and I nursed the knee, icing it and stretching it all day.

This morning, first day of school, it was much better - thank goodness because I had a training ride tonight!

First I went the the DMV to exchange my basic Learner's for a less restrictive Learner's (no supervisor needed). I felt like a somebody!

I showed up for the ride at 6 tonight, expecting to put the 250 through its paces. Dave, the instructor, has a bunch of bikes and he decided that the 250 was too small for me! He rolled out a 600 and said, "Try that on for size."

I was not expecting to ride such a big bike (for me, at least) but after a few stalls, I got the hang of it. There were two instructors and 3 students and we rode up and down hills, through lights, stopping a starting at intersections, on hills, and then cruised along a windy road up to Golden Ears Park where we went to Alouette Lake. 

We had a break (both instructor chain smoked a couple cigarettes - do I have to learn to smoke and ride?) and then we went back down into town, practicing more intersections and lights. 

It was a great training ride for me - I'm getting to use the clutch and gears more efficiently and am improving my starts from standing. I also am doing pretty well with my lane placement. I still have some work to do for proper down shift and for starting uphill but it is coming. Eventually I'll remember to shoulder check more often!

I will try to practice the lane positioning and shoulder checks with my Vespa this week. Next lesson is Sunday morning. Can't wait. Maybe I need to re-assess the kind of bike or scoot I'm going to get - - "Big Guy, Humongous Motorcycle"? 


Monday 5 September 2011

It's Been A While

It's been awhile. Sorry.

No, I didn't die, blow up my scooter or become a spy with CSIS or some other spy organization (CSIS, by the way, is the Canadian spy service).

And I have been riding my scoot, fairly regularly, in the year and a half since I stopped blogging. And why did I stop?

I was seduced.

By a Smart Car.

Just after Christmas, 2009, I bumped into an acquaintance at a hockey game who owns his own retail company. I knew he had a Smart car and I had always been interested in it because it is a very eco-friendly vehicle and kinda funky too. It turned out he was selling it and a couple weeks later, I was the proud owner of a 2005 Smart Car. It was reddish orange and was a cabriolet with a  powered convertible roof. It was diesel and got crazy gas mileage - around 70 or 80 mpg - and it drove like a big go cart.

I did still ride my LX50 but most sunny days - previously good scooting days - I would roll out the Smart Car, open up the roof, and cruise. The Vespa became a utilitarian vehicle while the Smart was, well, the new girl in town.

Sure, I fel guilty as I walked by the Vepsa, gathering dust in the garage, as I took the bumpy, smelly but très chic two weather for a spin. Occasionally, I would take the Vespa, and still get that rush of good feelings but only for a ride to the grocery store or somewhere around town.

Then things happened to the Smart - it began to have problems. The real pain was that, here in Canada, Smart is serviced by Mercedes - and no one else has a clue how to service them - or, for that matter, knows where stuff is on them. The battery? under the passenger floor mat. The washer fluid? under the windshield. The engine? under the trunk. The glove box? under the driver seat. The spare tire? there isn't one, just a pump and some sealant.

Over the course of the last year and a half I got to know Mercedes very well. They have very nice waiting rooms with free coffee, wifi and charge a whole whack o' dough for everything.

Here's a partial list of repairs I had to have done:
- intercooler - $1500
- rear shocks $400
- computer - $1000
- roof repair - $100, $250
- water pump - $500
- sensor - $400
I could go on... oil changes were $250 - $400 because they're called "services" and most other garages can't do it.

After too many repairs, we ditched the Smart, got a new Golf, and I went back to riding my Vespa.


I found that I was tiring of going too slow much of the time. Whenever I went for a nice ride, say, to White Rock, there were always times when I was a fair bit below the speed limit and some people got impatient, even when I was careful to pull off the road. Also, to go any farther then I have on my past trips (Seattle, Powell River) I need to be able to keep up with traffic. I just don't feel safe anymore.


It's expensive to buy a Vespa that's a 150 or above.  It's a big jump - say I sell my 2006 Vespa LX for $2000 (if I'm lucky - it does have 15, 000 km on it) and I buy an LX 150, it will cost $5000 + $600 fees and $800 taxes - that's a whopping $6400 - still $4400 if I sell my scoot for 2 grand...


The Stella has now arrived. It is very retro, has a manual transmission (like my two cars), seems to have a good record, and is now available in a 4 stroke engine. And the list is $3900 - so basically a savings of more than $1000 - which I think I could swing....


Now I've started motorcycle school. I'm taking a course at 2Wheel2Itiion which is run by a guy who taught motorcycle cops from the Vancouver Police Department to ride. The bikes are Suzuki 250s and I'm having to learn how to use a clutch and gears.

I've done the first part of the course which is the basic skills and only had one mishap - I was trying to do a U-turn at slow speed, looked down at the ground instead of at where I was heading, and fell off the bike. I broke the mirror off the bike and bashed my knee but still managed, an hour later, to pass the first hoop, my motorcycle skills test.  Now I can ride a bike without a supervisor.


Yeah, I know this was too long but I had a lot to say. I will try to keep everyone updated on what is going on in my quest for a Class 6 motorcycle license.

Hey, feels good to be blogging again!