Scooter in Moncton

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The season is over. I was out of town on December 1st, and when I returned a couple of days later, there was 15-20cm of snow on the ground, road salt spread everywhere, and the mercury dipped to -15°C. All three of those spell an end, I'm afraid.

So I topped off the oil and gas, and added some fuel stabilizer to the gas tank as directed by the local Yamaha dealer. Unstabilized fuel will tend to develop a sort of varnish in the fuel line, and that's unhealthy for the engine, in the long run. So $5 to take care of it? Seems worth it. I intend, also, to remove the battery and bring it inside to prevent it from freezing. Freezing a lead-acid battery will destroy it's ability to hold a charge. Here's something else not everyone knows: Letting a car battery or other sealed lead-acid battery sit on a concrete floor will also sap its ability to hold a charge. I've never heard a satisfactory answer to the question of why, but it happens. I've lost two batteries myself to the phenomenon.

Anyway, in the 6 months that I owned it, now, I rode it. From June 9 up to and including November 30, it was possible this season to ride it. Having kept fuel records for my Nissan X-trail, I know how much it costs per km for me when I drive that when it comes to fuel costs. I also kept a log of the fuel costs in the scooter, and a journey log for the scooter, too. The idea was to see how much money I saved in gas by scooting instead of trucking. Turns out I saved just shy of $116 in gas that would have otherwise been burnt if I drove the truck on the errands, work commutes, appointments, etc. Not bad. It paid for insurance for the year and a bit extra, and was fun and convenient in the process. I'm satisfied with it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Well, the season for scooting is definitely winding down, now. The forecast is calling for colder temperatures with rain showers or flurries.

The big problem is when the gloves get wet. I'm wearing neoprene gloves when the temperature turns cold, but after 15 minutes, you can feel your fingers start to cool off. Those gloves are great for doing things that are wet, such as washing your scooter on a colder day. Yesterday, for example, I washed the scooter and my car at about 3°C. Using the neoprene gloves, my fingers stayed pretty dry, and pretty well insulated from the water -- mind you, I used a brush instead of dunking my hands in for a sponge, too, which saved me a little grief.

Now, when the gloves get wet while riding, the wind goes right through them. Also, rain on the face shield is bad. It can be difficult to see through. But there is something worse: Snow. It sticks there, and if it's too cold to melt it, it starts to cover the shield. And, annoyingly, when you ride in snow, the snow tends to build up in front of your crotch as the wind brings it in there to settle. Then your body heat melts it, making it look like you peed in your pants, only it's a lot colder on the man-parts underneath.

So I believe that snow is a no-go, making it even more uncomfortable than when a little rain flies. As long as the temperatures are above 0°C, the cold weather is tolerable with the right gear. But as the inclement weather approaches, it's rapidly becoming time to put the scoot away for the winter.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Here we are in November, well into it, actually, and the weather is still somewhat rideable.

A smart rider would wear gloves even in the summer. The idea of coming off the scooter onto the pavement stinks. Even if you're confident in your riding skills, there are other factors which might promote a fall to the pavement, such as unforeseen road conditions, other idiot drivers, etc. It's a lot easier and a lot less painful to replace a pair of gloves than it is to replace a few layers of skin. With the idea of wearing gloves anyway, moving into slightly thicker gloves for cold weather riding isn't much of a stretch. In fact, I rode with my padded cycling gloves (I'm a mountain biker) through the warmer weather, and a pair of Neoprene cycling/paddling gloves that I bought at Mountain Equipment Co-op for cold weather cycling have come in handy for this. I've ridden down to the freezing point with them and they do just fine. A long ride might be too much for them, but the 15-20 minutes it takes me to ride to work is alright. The neoprene gloves also protect the hands from moisture, but not perfectly. Get them wet when it's cold, and your fingers will still go numb. Not good when you rely on your hands to work the brakes.

Colder weather also brings face shield fogging into play. I have a helmet that doesn't have a chin guard, but has the plexiglass face shield. I find it is very easy to fog this shield from the inside with my breath when the temperature falls below 12-13 degrees Celsius. Below 8, it can be tough to get it clear. Especially when it you get down just above freezing. I try to breathe slowly and lightly to keep from fogging as much as I can. Another thing that the helmet without the chin guard brings into play is the chill of the wind on the face. While the eyes and nose are pretty well protected, the chin and cheeks aren't. I usually bring a knit "scarf" (actually, it's like a tube that is meant to be worn around the neck between the top of the jacket and up to the chin to insulate the neck) and tuck it under the helmet sides by my cheeks to keep it in place. This has worked for me right down to freezing, so far, without having to worry about frost bite.

For a jacket, I'm wearing a waterproof coat made by Wilson, the sporting goods manufacturer. It's a lot like a spring coat, perhaps a little thicker. With it being waterproof, it also blocks the wind, and makes good protection against an unexpected rain shower while I'm out. So far, even the coldest conditions have meant that a t-shirt and sweatshirt, or simply just a long-sleeve shirt are enough under this jacket for the short commute to work.

Legs and feet. In the cold weather, often the extremities like feet are the first to get cold. Even the design of the front of the scooter doesn't block the wind entirely. I wear low cut hikers, generally, and they are not as well ventilated as sneakers, so they're working out just fine. My sneakers, on the other hand, are too well ventilated to ride in comfort when the temperature drops. For my legs, I find jeans are fine down to about 8-10°C, but below that, more has to be done, even for short rides. I wear a simple pair of wind pants to help block the breeze and it works just fine, so far. Any moisture in the air, however, will penetrate these, and keep the water close to the skin. A pair of real rain pants would cover this off, though.

So there you have it. Down to zero is more than just possible. I plan to put the scooter away soon, simply because road salt is bad for it mechanically, and ice can be very tough to ride on two wheels. Dangerous, in fact. So winter will take me off it for a while, but I'll keep it going for now, as long as weather permits.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Riding this scooter over the summer, I pushed weather and construction just to see how well I would do on it.

For example, our city has been tearing appart main streets while realigning some, redoing the sewer lines on others, and building new ones as a main bridge was being replaced. I wanted to see if the fat-though-small-diameter tires would be decent for light off-road work. Indeed, they are. Rolling gravel under the tires is uncomfortable. But at least the scooter lets you know that you're not on solid footing. Don't go too fast, don't take turns too tight or too fast, and you'll be OK. I also have taken a page from my mountain biking. When I see that I'm heading for a rough bump, I'll take my feet out of the cutout in front of the seat and place them on the "foot holds" for the rear passenger, and lift myself off the seat. It takes my 175 pounds off the shocks and turns my legs into shock absorbers, which lightens the load on the scooter's suspension. It also aids in keeping the thing from bucking uncontrollably, which is a good thing.

I've also found out that wet roads are not much of a concern in themselves. However, wet railway tracks and manhole covers can be. The tires tend to slip a little on wet metal, so the word is caution. Once again, paying attention to the road becomes much more important on two wheels than it ever seemed to be when driving on four.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Four days after I bought it, the timing was right. The weather would cooperate with me, and the shift schedule offered a chance to have some fun with it. I was in that morning at 5:30am, along with 3 of my coworkers. Another two would follow in a different work group right next to mine at 5:45am, then a lot more would show up later on around 7:00 or so. I'm compulsively early, so I'm always the first one in. It would be dark. I would park it with the motorbikes and say nothing. I'd simply listen to people ask questions of each other: "Who rode that to work?" "Anyone know who owns that scooter?"

The last of the 5:45 guys arrived, surveyed the "crowd" and said to me, "Is that your scooter out there?" Crap. So much for anonymity. I answered "yes", and the fun began. There was almost a lack of jokes at the start, much as if everyone was too tired at that hour to really get going. As the day wore on, it didn't take long for the jokes to fly. And when one person took a shot at me, someone else would take a shot at him. For example, one of the guys rides a Triumph 750. While he was, in a manly way, joking about how silly this scooter looks, "because it's bright yellow and has the big bug-eye headlights", someone else pointed out to him that his own bike was bright yellow and had bug-eye headlights. This was one of the few times I ever saw this man shut down and at a loss for a comeback when someone shot at him.

'Round about halfway through the shift, a good friend came in and told me he had, "nothing to do with what may or may not have been done" to my scooter. It was a busy day between the workload and the humor surrounding the scooter, so I didn't see it until I left that afternoon. Eight and a half hours of laughter can really tire you out, but it wasn't over yet.

When I left the building, I passed through the doors alone. One of my early morning coworkers had left just before me, and was parked in her car in front it, obscuring my view of what they had done to it. She said she wanted to see my reaction to what they had done. When I passed around her car, I saw their handiwork. They had taken ordinary paper and rolled and slit it, then attached it to the handle bars to make streamers like a little girl would put on her trike. There were a few others hanging off it as well. One couldn't help but laugh. By the time I got there, I turned to see a dozen or so people coming out of the building to enjoy the moment.

As I removed the streamers, the one person I wasn't prepared to deal with pulled up on real bike. We talked about bikes a few times over the past months and was dead against scooters. When I mentioned it to him back then, he tried his best to disuede me gently, hiding his scorn for them, trying like a caring big brother to talk me out of a mistake. He looked at this machine, and actually asked some questions about it, as if he were interested, as he helped remove the streamers. Not the reaction I expected, but I'll take it.

Then the humorist with the Triumph came out. He asked if he could take it for a spin in the parking lot, so I said he could. He tooled around a little bit, then parked back in front of me and said, "There, do you see how fucking stupid it looks?" I replied simply with, "I got you to ride it." He told me a few weeks later that he had considered showing off a bit on it. It's possible, for example, to do a wheelie on it, even though it's low powered. He thought better of it, though. The last thing he wanted, after being such a manly man about motorbikes was to goof up and crash it. Afterall, not only would he have to pay to fix it, he'd embarass himself extremely if he showed people he couldn't ride a scooter. Then the jokes about "Dumb and Dumber" came out, and everybody had a good laugh.

One of the guys who was leaving at the same time asked to follow me, wanting to see this yellow rocket in action. He did for the first little stretch -- keeping his distance and running with his four-way flashers on.

So there it was. One of the other guys in there with a good wit about him said I was "untouchable" now. Having done this and survived the barrage of insults, what could they say now? My god it was a great day. I still smile when I think of the fun we had over this silly little scooter that day.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

So, eventually, I would have to ride this scooter to work. I mean, among the reasons for buying it was to save a little on gas, right? Since my commute to work is almost guaranteed to be a solo drive, running an SUV to carry only one person makes little sense, environmentally.

The last person to bring a scooter to work was ridiculed tremendously. They picked up the scooter and carried it to the bicycle rack, among other tauntings. And really, it was funny.

So I'd have to face this eventually. I had already considered this, and was as ready as I could be, but ended up getting rained out for the next couple of days. Nobody at work was told anything about me having bought a scooter. I wanted it to be a surprise so I could see people's reactions.

Given the rain, the only time I'd ride the scooter before taking it to work for the first time would be the day I brought it home. I had to get out and get accustomed to its handling before taking it to work. Afterall, you can't show up to work on one of these things, a place dominated by humor-filled men, and prove you don't know how to handle something like a scooter.

I took it for a ride through town, seeing several intersections, higher-speed roads (remembering that I can't do much more than 65km/h so highways are out), and merge lanes. It really was easy. There's nothing to it.

So proving I could handle riding it is out of the way. Now I just had to prove that I could handle owning it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The things to learn about for scooter riding are in many ways similar to riding a motorbike, I'm told. The old adage, "Drive like you're invisible -- because you are," quickly becomes evident. A friend of mine added that even when drivers see you, they all too quickly forget about you. Also, blatently evident. If you already ride a bicycle in traffic, at least you have probably already learned this.

In many ways, I find drivers in this city are tentative about scooters. It seems like they odn't quite know what to do about them. This is good and bad. First, they'll often back off when they have no reason to, which sometimes gives you and your underpowered little engine a chance to get into traffic, such as when changing lanes on a street where the speed limit is about the same as your speed limit. Other times, it's like they don't see you as a motor vehicle and decide they have the right of way, when clearly (at least in your mind) they don't. Defensive driving is a must on a scooter -- you don't have the power to push yourself out of danger.

Another big thing you learn very quickly is not to follow a car too closely. First off, you spend a lot more time in driver's blind spots, simply because you can. You have a much smaller profile, and are much narrower in rearview mirrors, too. The idea that a reasonable person won't suddenly jam on the brakes if someone is behind them goes away quickly. They honestly believe there is nobody there. But there is a more important reason. All of those pavement cracks and potholes that car tires straddle, or indeed are wide enough to drive over without sinking in, become huge for you, suddenly. The times on these scooters are small than those on motorbikes, and therefore can be eaten up very decisively and quickly. You really need to give youself time to react. The extra space you provide between yourself and the car in front of you can make the difference between a smooth ride and a ride where you damage the scooter, even if you do stay upright. You may not be driving at highway speed, but put the 200lbs of the scooter along with your own weight at 60 km/h and suddenly the momentum is there to do damage or make you lose control, depending on the rut you hit.

Conservation of energy used to be the thing of cyclists and dogfighters. Scooter riders can benefit from it, too. It takes some time to build up a good head of steam, so you tend to watch for other clues that traffic might slow down, so that you don't run right up and come to a complete stop. Back off a bit and ride up to that traffic light a little slower and you may be able to keep some of the speed you have rather than stopping.

Ah, the little things. There may be more that I have learned to take in as "common sense" already. But that's part of my point: These are not difficult to ride. Scooters are, in fact, pretty damn easy if you keep some of these basics in mind. No gears to change, no clutch. Just twist'n'go.