Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Irondad rides a scooter! ( and something else )

It's been an interesting three days. Gonna' take a couple of posts to fit it all in. Started out on Friday. The picture is of a Yamaha Grizzly utility atv. Don't let the word "utility" lull you into thinking this thing is tame. Far from it. I'm still grinning.

I stopped by a Yamaha dealer in a small town about 15 miles out of Salem, our State Capitol. The reason for my visit was to reconnect with my old friend Lon. For around 15 years Lon had been the Sales Manager for another dealership. As it too often happens, sales numbers became more important than being a "bike" shop. I'm not making judgements, here. It takes a lot of money coming in to support a business. I can see an owner feeling pressured. Lon just plain got tired of dealing with the pressure and moved on; joining two sales guys that had already gone to the Yamaha dealer.

Actually, things have changed too much at the old dealership for me to be comfortable, as well. I had been by earlier in the week. Two of the three mechanics were new for the second time in the last 6 months. There were two new parts guys. Once upon a time us hard core riders would just go hang out at the shop. Coffee was always on. On any given day there would be a combination of two or three riders drinking coffee and shooting the bull. We were all loyal customers and spent a lot of money over time. I always thought it increased sales, too. We'd take newbies under our wing and help them sort out this new world. Always put in a good word for the dealer and Lon never let us down. Sometimes Lon would refuse to sell bikes to certain folks who weren't always making the right choice, if you know what I mean.

Things just aren't like that anymore, in my own personal opinion. I'm not comfortable sending new customers there these days. Sadly, I've actually heard from a couple of fellow instructors who've had bad experiences there lately. Not that we're special but it just doesn't make sense to alienate folks who see hundreds of new riders evey year. So I figured it was time to go see where Lon went.

Going into the dealership was like "Old Home Week". Damon, Chris, and Lon were the three salesmen. All back together again. I had to give Damon a bad time because his hair actually looked normal this time. This young man always had a flair that included funny colors in his hair. It was great catching up on old times. I spent some time sitting on the new FJR1300 with no clutch lever. How weird is that? Don't you dare call it an "automatic". It's an electric shifter, mind you.

Anyway, to the ride. Lon was showing me some of the stuff hanging around. The new Grizzlies have 700cc motors and power steering. Fancy that. One of the units was a demo model. There just happens to be a very large open field with short mown grass right next door to the dealership. Land that is owned by the proprietor. The store is on top of a hill. The field is flat and then goes down the hill. Lon grabbed a dirt bike helmet and told me to go check it out. "Don't worry", he says, "it's a demo. One of the mechanics takes it out and wheelies it up the hill all the time!"

With his words still in my ears I go have fun. Have to get used to the thumb throttle thing again. I haven't ridden one of these since I was a kid, and back then they were three-wheelers. What a blast! After getting a feel for the thing I pause at the bottom of the hill. I gauge the distance to the top. Two thirds of the way up there's a gravel road that runs across the face of the hill. Looks like a good launch point.

I'm talking to myself. "Am I manly or milquetoast"? "Do I take the sane way or full speed ahead"? "Isn't this the best way to go thrill-seeking? On someone else's machine"? I talked me into it. Here it goes. Select "High" on the transmission lever. Mash the right thumb to the stop. Hold on tight. Just before the gravel road stand up on the floorboards. As all four wheels leave the ground let out a jubilant rebel yell. When the tires touch down let it ride until we get close to the bushes next to the parking lot. Leave a couple of deep ruts in the grass as we slide to a satisfying halt. Damn, Lon, can I get a job application?

Ok, so the Grizzly was fun. Can't commute on it, though. I don't have open property right next to my house. I do have a place to leave it where I could also ride it. Don't want to always have to "go somewhere" to ride it. Pretty easy decision. Fun, but it's not for me. Still, there's this other avenue of exploration that remains untapped. THE SCOOTER THING!

Curse you, Gary and Steve. And by association, all you who write in with favorable comments about scooter riding. You see, up until recently I was secure in my bikehood. I was happily and positively a "motorcycle guy". Confirmed without a doubt. Like a tantalizing fruit you just keep holding this scooter thing in front of me. Now I'm often wondering, "What would it be like"? "Would it really be considered unfaithful if I tried it just once"? "Wow, this one has really nice curves"! "You looked, don't go there"! Too late. You see, I have to come clean.

I rode a scooter and I liked it!

Shudder. There. I've said it. Catharsis is good for the soul, they say. Trouble is, I want to do it again. Here's what I rode. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera. This is a picture from the manufacturer's website.

It's a Yamaha Majesty. 400cc's of fun in a 61.6" wheelbase. Single cylinder and fuel injected. The scooter belongs to one of our students. We had three classes going on this weekend. There was the beginner class which I was teaching. My class used the parking lot in the mornings.

Our program also offers one day classes for those who already know how to ride but want to get legal. Starting last year we began letting these
students use our bikes instead of having to use
their own.

The idea was that a lot of riders were holding off for fear of dropping their bikes during the training. Truth be told, most riders who have been riding unendorsed have pretty minimal skills. I'm often surprised that they've managed to live this long.

Anyway, some students still wisely bring their own bikes. I'm all for this. It makes sense to me that if you're riding already you should develop skills on what you're actually going to tackle the real world on.

So this man trailers in his scooter. We were done a little early and there was some time until the next group took to the range. I politely asked this man if I could ride his scooter on the parking lot for a while. My approach was that I wanted to have a better feel for how it handled so I could be more effective at teaching scooter riders. Actually, I just wanted to play with the thing. With his blessing I rode a while. The instructor T-shirt probably helped convince him. You know, the old "Trust me, I know what I'm doing" thing? I set some cones for exercises we do to see how the scooter handled. What I found more than anything was that I needed to sort of think farther ahead.

This particular scooter has a 120/80-14 front tire and a 150/70-13 rear. There's a fair amount of rubber on the road. The scooter just feels long with a low center of gravity. In the low speed manuevers I started thinking about initiating my turns four feet sooner than normal. It seemed to take the scooter about that long to react at low speeds. As long as I applied that strategy things were fine. I've seen some of my scooter-mounted students struggle with a smooth throttle application. I don't know if this one had a concentric pull on the throttle cable, if the fuel injection was mapped perfectly, or it was just my experience level, but I didn't have problems with abrupt power delivery. Maybe it's a combination of all three.

After watching me ride I guess the guy felt braver. He told me to go ride farther. In back of the college are some neighborhoods and typical city streets. This scooter felt pretty stable with some zip to it. I also discovered the joy of no shifting and thus no worries about which gear I was in. Point and shoot. And that seat! Dang, I could almost grab my slippers and the TV remote. Storage space under the seat looked pretty usable. Practical? Sure. Also, these things are fun!

So there you have it. I've lost my scooter virginity. ( I kinda liked it ) There are frequent discussions in this household about getting something smaller to do errands on. You know, important things like going to Starbucks. Something light to slide out instead of lug out for short trips. Ok, they're not really discussions. More like me telling Katie while she rolls her eyes. Whatever. Words come out of somebody's mouth. Sounds like conversation to me.

I never imagined I'd be saying this but I'm seriously considering a purchase. Nothing too large. That would defeat the idea, I think. I can't forsee commuting on one in the near future. Not unless my circumstances change. It's just too far. Still, there's a space next to the CBR that looks perfect. I might even buy a Yamaha Majesty and start another blog. I could call it,

"His Majesty rides again"!

What do you think?

That part is humorous. ( at least it's supposed to be ) I'm serious about looking at scoots. It's going to be fun shopping this fall. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Miles and smiles


Mad said...

Don't get the Majesty Irondad, you want its bigger brother the Yamaha Tmax! Widely considered the best of the maxi scooters, the japs even race 'em (I've seen pics of 'em with the rider's knee down). They're said to handle like a bike, they have a grunty parallel twin 500cc engine, storage space and a seat like a sofa (including the pillion seat). It's the maxi scooter that I get secret dark urges to own...

Anonymous said...

Uh, mad, we don't get the Tmax, not imported here. I'd suggest the Suzuki Burgman 400. I just sold a Yamaha Riva 200Z, not stable at highway speeds. Needed larger diameter tires.

I just picked up a 1978 CB400A. I was always curious about the Hondamatic. I knew they were slow, but never appreciated them for what they were, which is a "slow" motorcycle with decent brakes and good handling.

Sound like a recipe for a good scooter, huh?

Art said...

Hi Dan, I recently added a scooter in addition to my high mileage Ninja 250. Last month I purchased a left over 04 Silverwing it's a 600 maxiscooter. I do love it I use it every other day. I do enjoy the twist and go feature. It's much heavier than my Ninja 250 and my mileage is not as good as my 250 (56-60 mpg compare to Ninja 73mpg) I'm glad to hear that you might consider getting one. I don't think you will ever regret getting one I know I didn't


irondad said...

Is the Tmax anything like T-Rex?

to the CB400A rider,
Too bad you didn't leave a handle. It seems too impersonal this way. I rode that model of bike. If Honda came back out with it now it would probably be a hit.

I had a Honda Silverwing that was actually a motorcycle. It was a 1982 500cc twin. The scooter version looks pretty cool. From the front it's hard to tell the difference between it and the Interceptor. I actually saw one with a sidecar a while back on the freeway. No matter how capable the scooter, that's just wrong! Do you actually do the commute up there on it? How does that work for you?

To all,
thanks for the input. I'll be asking questions about experiences with specific scooters as time goes on, I'm sure.


Mad said...

No Tmax in the States! Bummer, they never let you guys have the cool stuff do they?

Gary said...


You should really try a smaller scoot. The difference between a touring chassis like the Majesty, and a sport chassis like my Baron SX is striking.

Handling on the Baron SX is immediate, like right now! I haven't even ridden a racebike that can change directions as quickly. It's also not terribly stable in fast turns, unless the road is perfectly smooth.

A lot of this is weight-related, but there is also the wheelbase issue. I'm trying to line up a test ride myself, on a Vespa GTS. That is 250cc, fuel injected, and supposed to be fast as heck. (for a scooter)

Well, this is getting long. Try a smaller, 250cc sport-scoot. If I know you, I'm betting you will buy one.

Ride well,

Art said...

Yes I commute with the silverwing and believe it or not I prefer it than my 250. I won't put a sidecar because you need another endorsement to ride one, plus I would lose the maneuvability of the scooter...


Steve Williams said...

Dan: Like Gary said you really, really need to try a smaller scooter. The maxi-scooters are nice but nothing like the feel and gifts of ones 250 and smaller. The Vespa GTS 250 or GT 200 are really nice if you can't imagine the 150. I've ridden the GTS250 and it is fast. And around town it just zips in and out of places .


irondad said...

gary and steve,
Thanks for the input. I had planned to stay in the smallish range. That was my whole purpose. Something not too big and heavy that I could just dash off on. 250 sounds about right.


ScooterGuru said...

Glad to see you considering a scoot. I think it would "broaden your perspective", and definitely help you relate to your new scoot-mounted students. I think the guys are right in saying a 250 would be more your speed. My Scarabeo 500 is good for the long commute I have, does interstate trips easily, and hauls my wife behind me in comfort when she has time to ride with me, but it is a bit ponderous in traffic. Cuts in my personal budget mean no more road-trips for a long time, so I feel like I am riding around with about 250cc and nearly 200 pounds overkill. Make sure you consider the Kymco's. Several of my friends have them. They are nice, quality scoots for the money. Happy hunting.

irondad said...

Coincidentally, I had just looked at the Kymco's. There's a Triumph dealer who sells them. Neat scoots!


Mistfrog said...

You should definitely ride the Aprilia Scarabeo 250 before you make up your mind.

It's got the same motor as the Vespa GTS 250, without the fuel injection, but the influence of the company's motor cycle heritage allowed them to build the perfect hybrid, in my opinion. It's got 16-inch wheels, for one thing.

There's a 500cc model too, but it's not as nimble in city traffic as the 250.

Be prepared to fall in love.