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....