Scooter in Moncton

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.