Monday, October 23, 2006

Scooter fun!

I can't get this darn scooter thing out of my head! All around me are reminders of these little beasts. It was Gary's blog about The Baron that got me started blogging in the first place. Then there's Steve's blog about the Vespa. Art in Seattle is riding the Silver Wing. Scooter Guru, Mist Frog, and other scooter riders comment on my blog. Students are showing up in my classes with scooters.

You've heard how ignorance is bliss. As a side note, if that's true, how come there aren't more happy people in the world? I never paid much attention to scooters in previous days. Now there's more and more of them thrusting themselves upon my consciousness. Maybe they've always been there. You know how you buy a red sports car and then suddenly notice how many there are on the road? The cars were probably there all along but now you're sensitized because you bought one. I think that's what's happening to me!

Along with the awareness of their presence comes so many questions. Would a scooter really be practical for me? Will I suffer esteem issues from riding a small scooter? Is it possible that riding a scooter will mellow me out a little as some claim it has done for them? Or will I just remain the same crazed warrior on a smaller chariot? Like I say, so many questions and so few answers. I had the chance to get a glimpse into life with a scooter. I thought I'd share it with you.

It was time for Sophie to make a visit to the mechanic. The 16,000 mile valve adjustments seem to come more quickly all the time. This is such a bullet-proof motor. Five times the inspection interval has come. One valve is finally a little off but still within specs.

I'm one of those fanatics who run synthetic oil and then change it every 3,000 miles. Although I admit that lately the interval stretches by a thousand miles or so these days. If I go to the office every day it's a 180 mile round trip. That's 900 miles a week. Oil changes would happen every three and a third weeks. Granted, I don't do that trip all the time, but you can see how the mileage piles up quickly. I usually do the smaller maintenance myself. Between work and teaching the schedule's pretty full. Besides which, I'm blessed with several bikes to ride. I'm also cursed with having several bikes to do maintenance on. I'd much rather ride than tweak, clean, and polish.

This shop isn't one of those "Boutique" places. Bikes and accessories are just sort of crammed in here and there. The fork lift was out because some new scooters were being uncrated and assembled. God, I hope they didn't use the fork lift on Sophie! Kind of looks like it's getting ready to happen, doesn't it?

I planned the day around the service appointment. The agreement was to just leave it for a while. The last thing in the world you want is to have mechanics messing around in the guts of your bike while feeling rushed! This was going to take four or five hours. Weak sunshine was making itself felt. There were some folks within a radius of a few miles I could go see as a part of my job. Walking would be good for me. Of course, the first order of business was to go into the showroom and drool over the new bikes. This shop sells Honda, BMW, and Ducati. The sales manager told me that there was an open house planned for the next day which was Saturday. Some controlled group rides were going to happen on a few BMW and Ducati models. There was also some free food planned. That almost got me convinced to show up.

In actuality, it would have been fun to show up and ride the new bikes. It was just that I had other things going. Besides, I told Steve, I probably wouldn't be in the market for either bike. I was, however, thinking about a scooter. This shop has recently taken on the Schwinn line. Not that I would buy one of these, but there WAS a demo of the Graduate 150 model sitting there. The owner of the shop offered me the use of it for the day. What the heck, huh?

That's how I came to be a scooter rider in the city.

Except for the Yamaha I rode in the parking lot, I hadn't been on a scooter for years. Even then, it was very limited rides on my son's Honda Spree. I just wasn't interested. Now I'm looking at it from a different perspective.

Of course, I had to take some ribbing when I was getting ready to leave. The owner of the dealership came out and told me he hoped I could handle this thing and all the power. I replied that if I got too scared I would call them to come get me. With a couple of more traded insults I was left to my fate.

First thing I noticed was this was much smaller than the Yamaha. On that bike I could sort of put my feet forward. I took off out of the parking lot on the Schwinn, which is only 69.9 inches long overall. Where the hell do I put my feet on this thing? The floorboards were right under my knees. When I put my feet there I noticed two things real quick like. One, if I put my feet together on the floor boards, the soles of my boots were almost touching each other. I felt like I was trying to balance on a small fence rail. Both front and rear tires are 3.5-10's. Tiny little things. The more I spread my feet the better the balance felt. I finally got used to the balance thing.

The second thing I noticed right away took a little longer to adjust to. Since I was just riding in town I decided to leave the Roadcrafter pants in Sophie's saddlebag. I know, it was a calculated risk but that's how it went down. Even with just new jeans to contend with, putting my feet that close together caused an uncomfortable squishing sensation in a sensitive area, if you get my drift! This scooter is small with a capital "S"! So here I am, sitting kind of weirdly on a hard seat, precariously balanced, ready for the adventure to come.

Within a block or so everything settles in and sorts itself out. The next revelation comes three blocks later at the first stop light encounter. I'm sitting on this little scooter in my full-face helmet with racer graphics. The Hi-Viz 'stich is resplendant in the mid-morning sunshine. We are the very picture of a serious rider. Sitting on a small Schwinn dark grey scooter. Up next to me comes a man in a very large Suburban SUV. His window is open. He looks to his left and right at me. This is when I found out I had a little esteem issue.

I'm sort of ashamed to relate it, but it's the truth. My first thought was to say something to this SUV driver like, "Hey, I'm just playing with this thing, OK?"

That was really the only time I felt that. I don't know where it came from, but it was interesting to see that it popped up. Mr. Suburban driver and I just exchanged greetings and went our own ways. In the opposite vein, I came up behind a Toyota Prius Hybrid. These things are supposed to get such great mileage. It really depends on where you drive one. The real fuel savings come in town when the car runs off the electric motor. Out on the freeway they run on internal combustion just like every other car.

Anyway, coming up behind this car, I thought to myself how the Prius driver and I could sort of relate. After all, this scooter is supposed to get 87 miles per gallon. Scooter riders are treading very lightly on this planet. Big tip of the helmet to all of you!

This particular scooter doesn't feel like it has much torque. The single cylinder engine has a distinctly tractor-like rattle. I've noticed the same thing riding a BMW F650 Dakar. Even so, we could still beat cars off the light. We looked real good for a while. Until about 20 mph, that is. After that it leveled off but still seemed willing to buzz along at 35 or 40 easily enough. It felt like I was looking down at my lap to see the speedometer. I noticed that the scooter only had three miles on it when I started out. The little thing probably felt like a horse with a rider it knows isn't too experienced.

"Oh Brother, where did THIS guy come from?"

Somewhere along the way it seemed like a good time to go have coffee. I searched my mind for a place that would fit in with the theme of new experiences. My brain rapidly flipped its mental file cards and came up with The Coffee House. This doesn't seem too remarkable until you know more about this place. I usually avoid it. I'm a Redneck Cowboy Warrior. The usual clientele of The Coffee House is as polar opposite as you can get. Most of the folks hanging out there have dreadlocks, multiple piercings, weird clothes, and so on. What's really strange is that a number of these people are older guys. In for a penny, in for a pound, I figured.

Just around the corner was a place with motorcycle-only parking. The Schwinn only weighs a little over two hundred pounds. Being a former bodybuilder, I was tempted to just throw the scooter over my shoulder and take it with me. However, the sign on the door said NO PETS so I had to leave the little beast there! I got some coffee and a chocolate chip scone ( I said FORMER bodybuilder ) from a little gal with a ring in her nose and tattoo's all up and down both arms.

The rest of the day with the scooter went well. It only took a little while to adjust to having no clutch. Habits become so ingrained that I automatically squeezed with both hands while coming to a stop. The front brake lever is on the left where the clutch would be. ( just in case you aren't familiar with scooters ) The rear brake is activated by a lever on the right handlebar. On this particular bike, the front brake is a disc while the rear is a drum. Fortunately, I've deeply ingrained the "smooth" habit so when I squeezed what my brain said was the clutch it didn't cause a problem.

I laughed at myself several times as I took off from a stop. My left hand slowly eased off the lever while my right hand rolled on the throttle. There's no clutch, dude! Partway through the day my reflexes adjusted. We'd slow down by just letting engine compression do its thing. It was weird to just sit at a stop with neither hand having to squeeze a lever. I'm sure that if I added a scooter to the fleet my body would adjust like it does to the other bikes.

You knew this next thing was coming, didn't you? I went over to the college where we teach classes and played as best I could between the parked cars. I'm pretty sure now that those of my students who have troubles in slow speed manuevers do so because they're afraid to let the scooter lean. This little scooter is extremely agile. It drove home to me that I shouldn't encourage my scooter-mounted students to push very hard to countersteer. I'd be willing to bet that a small scooter like this would tuck under pretty easily if the rider were too aggressive!

All too soon play time was over and it was time to go get Sophie. I came away with more understanding of this scooter thing. Katie can't believe I'm even considering one. I'm not sure how much it would get used. 95 percent of my riding is covering long distances. Right now I just can't see riding a scooter for 90 miles worth of Interstate 5. I don't really take many short hops like the scooter would be ideal for. Although, if I had one I'm sure I would find excuses to ride it. Gary's suggestion of a 250cc sport model seems sound. The process of finding the right one will be an adventure all its own, I'm sure!

Miles and smiles,


Tinker said...

Sold my Yamaha Riva 200Z a few weeks ago. As you might expect, it was 200cc of single cylinder power. I needed about 300 cc, as I am a rather big boy. Yes, I adjusted quickly to no clutch, and to drum brakes, front and rear, but I had separate controls for brakes, front on the right bar, rear on a foot pedal on the right. Typical motorcycle. Got about 85 mpg, started right up, idled on a warm up circuit. The starting / warm up circuit on these was a bit fragile, but this one was perfect.

Less than 7500 miles on an 88 model. Anyway, sold it to a new buyer who showed up without a helmet, so I gave him a new half helmet I had in the garage. looked like he was experienced, and he had cash.

I had purchased a 1978 Honda cb400A, with the Hondamatic, under 10,000 miles. I replaced the tires, cleaned out the carbs, and I was on the road. Upshift at 12 mph? What the heck? So I have started putting it in 2nd and just running it like the scooter, so that somone doesn't run over me while I upshift. This thing is slow, but safe at highway speeds. The Yamaha was not very stable, backwash from a truck really tossed it around.

Anyway, about 6 months on a scooter, now back on a motorcycle, and rather a classic model. (I hate the candy saphire blue.) I wish they made this one in 650cc, for a starter bike, trainer, commuter, etc. I guess I can paint it...

ScooterGuru said...

Good to hear that you are becoming more open-minded. Some of the nicest people I have met sure didn't look nice by their appearance.
I didn't even think about the countersteer thing, because I don't ride smaller scoots much anymore. The larger scoots, 250cc and up, need a bit of countersteer to get them heeled-over, whereas anything under 250cc, you pretty-much look and think and you are turning.
I am in HVAC classes right now, and the lot that I park in has the painted lines for the safety course that the school hosts every weekend. I usually play on the course a bit as I go out and in. I am getting good at the low speed stuff, but turning and cornering on the street still bothers me a bit. When I had the BMW, I always prided myself in making time by keeping my cornering speeds relatively high. Now, a normal 90 degree turn at an intersection is about 20-25mph. What slows me down is the funky suspension, the long wheelbase, and the tendency to drift if I lean too far. I am working on it, and have gotten confident enough to hang-off on some corners. Probably doesn't look cool, but sure is fun!

Mistfrog said...

On Sunday, down here in Melbourne, Australia, 300 scooter riders attended a rally to press for safer roads.

I took a few shots for a local email scooter group:

They indicate the diversity of people - and mounts - in the scooter community.

Steve Williams said...

I've seen the Schwinn scooters advertised in magazines but have not seen one in person. You don't strike me as the Schwinn guy though. Or even the 250 Sport style scooter. I see you on Honda's Big Ruckus. You'll manage 70 MPH and have less esteem issues. Imagine if the Suburban guy had actually said something to you!

I'm often getting comments from guys on my little scooter.

I rode my friend Paul's Suzuki DRZ400 SuperMoto the other day and after I got back on the scooter I was shocked at how small and insignificant it felt. Like a toy. The SuperMoto had torgue, power, size, big tires, big shocks, thumper engine.... but I still like the scooter better. At least better than the SuperMoto. If I was on a KLR or 900 Scrambler I might have felt different.

The scooters are nimble though. And you can lean them way over but as scooterguru suggests with a 150 you just think and it turns. During the MSF Experience Rider Course the instructor just marveled at how the little LX150 could tear up the range. While he was telling everyone else to speed up he kept telling me to slow down...

One last comment. I'm having trouble picturing you on a scooter. I keep picturing the bear on the little bicycle at the circus. *grin*

Have fun!


irondad said...

I guess you could always go with the new "electric shift" Yamaha FJR! I'm pretty sure they're not blue, either.

Keep honing skills. I totally respect those who keep striving for the next level. Try slightly modifying your turning sequence. Don't consciously lean to turn but just push straight forward on the handlebar in the direction you want to go. Keep your eyes level with the horizon and look for a target in the distance.

For example, on a right turn around a block, look clear to the end of the block. Drifting wide in a turn usually happens from a little too much throttle and not enough head turn.

It would be interesting to watch you hang off on a scooter!

diversity makes the world interesting, doesn't it? What makes the roads unsafe?

I resent the "bear" comment. By the way, I'm suddenly hungry for some honey! :)

ScooterGuru said...

Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by "drift". Once I lean over so far, the rear tire actually breaks-loose and slides! I used-to do it on purpose with the BMW on some of my favorite twisty roads, but it took some effort and throttle. One of the reasons I have begun to hang-off is to keep the scoot above the angle that the rear tire breaks-loose. So far, it's working. You are right about looking farther ahead, though.

gary said...

Hey Dan, sorry it's taken me so long to catch up...

Very cool post. You rode my wife's scooter, from the looks of it. I think the Schwinn brand is made in China at the same factory that churns out Amy's Baron VLA. That is the same bodywork, and I would wager it has the same GY-6 engine.

For guys our size, it is nothing but a pit-bike or a toy. The Red Baron I rode last winter was a more serious proposition.

I really wish you could ride a Baron 250SX like "Scarlet". This is a total upgrade in every way. Disc brakes front and rear, freeway-capable speed, and the handling is very quick, but not "too-quick", with the 13" wheels.

Do you have any Baron dealers in your area?

Another one to try is the Kymco People 250. I have heard good things about it, and it was tested by the magazine I used to write for, with good results.

But of course, considering your riding needs and habits, we have to get back to the question of:

What the heck do you need a scooter for, anyway?

It's not going to make you zen, or anything. I'm living proof of that. The warrior mind simply finds a way to be aggressive within the available framework:

"Improvise, adapt, and overcome.", right?

Well, whatever you decide to do...

Ride well,

irondad said...

Yeah, it was a nice scooter but I felt like the monkey on the...never mind. I'm looking for a Baron dealer. About an hour South is a Triumph dealer who sells Kymco. I'm still toying with the idea but, like you said, unless my life radically changes I don't know what I'd do with one.

You say a scooter won't help you and I find Zen. Do guys like us really want to, or do we just profess to desire it so we don't seem quite so primal?