Tuesday, November 11, 2008

San Juan Capistrano

The City of the Swallows - San Juan Capistrano, California. Dubbed the 'Equestrian Capitol of the West Coast' and Orange County's Oldest City, San Juan Capistrano was incorporated in 1961 with just over 1,100 residents. The Mission bearing the city's namesake, however, was founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra
I didn't start the day thinking I would visit a Mission. I was just on a mission to ride, without an agenda. It's been a little chilly lately and the weather has finally started to break. In the upper sixties now, it should reach the 90s by the end of the week. Yeah, I know. I like living in Southern California. Trust me. 
I found a nice, little taco stand on Camino Capistrano, which seemed to be the main drag in SJC. For $1.89, I was treated to a nice bean and cheese burrito at Senor Pedro's. With all outdoor dining, it was a good place to take in the the city. From Mr. Pete's place, there was a nice view of the Mission to the North and the eclectic mix of local businesses to the south. Antique shops seem to be what SJC is known for. Always makes for interesting browsing, whether that is your thing or not. One thing I can say in favor of SJC, there was plenty of on-the-street free parking. For anyone that lives in California, especially within shouting distance of the Ocean, that isn't always easy to find. Seems to make sense to me. You want people to come to your town and spend their money at local businesses, right? One thing I noticed, however. I had a hard time finding a place on the street that I felt confident parking the scooter, as the streets are all convex. I had to experiment with several angles before I felt comfortable leaving it on the stand. Seemed like it would tip with a strong enough wind. 
I didn't spend all day there, but it was definitely an enjoyable hour or so of wandering. I will definitely return to explore a little deeper another day. Lots of culture, charm and interesting architectural elements make San Juan Capistrano a great place to scoot through.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dollars and Caffeine

You get the 'miles per gallon' question with a certain amount of regularity when people ask about the benefit of riding a scooter. I prefer the 'actual dollars spent' variable, for a few reasons. You can quote the 60-70 mpg number, and it earns a lot of thumbs up, but quote dollars spent and it drops jaws. Why? Well, we all have a decent idea what the mpg number for our car is, but we remember the $90 or $120 fill-up far better. Yeah, I know the cost of gasoline is volatile, but dollars spent is a more tangible reality. I drive far more on two wheels than I did on four. It costs less. I can tell you that my 600 mile/month commute to work was costing $200-$250/month. Since taking delivery of the scooter August 13, I've put over 1,400 miles on her for a grand total of $89.66. Well over double the miles for well under half the cost.

And that's not all...

Commuting with coffee is a pretty easy habit to fall into. Not that I still don't have a coffee habit, but I don't have the $3 or $4/day habit of a latte on the way to work any longer. Where would I put it? Cold ass air in the face seems to be my morning pick-me-up. Not overpaying for coffee on the way to work more than keeps my tank full.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dogs Love...Scooters?

Let me start by saying that I didn't take the photograph above. This was courtesy of newsday.com. I did see something similar today, however, and it cracked me up. A woman on a Vino had her chihuahua in a front-loading baby harness. The little fella had his own goggles, which seemed to fit his chi-chi head pretty well. One of those times I wish I had the camera bag on the seat hook! I guess I was on the fence about whether that was a good idea or not, carrying the dog while riding. Sorta like people that let their dogs run loose (or worse, chained at the neck) in the bed of their pickup trucks. On one hand, the dog loves it. On the other, I can't imagine it is very safe for the dog. Agree? Disagree? And what's the weirdest thing you've seen on two wheels?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Scooter News

Check out Topix.com for continually updated Scooter News.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Imperfect Stranger

A sunset makes everything better, eh?

So what is the deal with people -perfect strangers- compelled to inform me of the dangers of riding? I am not completely without empathy when a person approaches me unbid, drawn by the site of a helmet or a riding jacket, to relate a story about a friend or loved one that died on a motorcycle. However, I get less than a warm fuzzy when thirty seconds into my first conversation with someone ever, someone I will likely never see again, is about so-and-so who was too young when he or she died. I can't imagine sparking up a conversation on line at the supermarket with a guy buying a case of beer. "Like that beer, eh? Yeah. My uncle Lefty liked the beer, too. Became an alcoholic. Heart disease. He's gone now. Hey, enjoy your weekend." I guess my point is, I know there are inherent risks with this mode of transportation. And those risks, for various reasons, are greater than those involved with others modes. I accept it. I do what I can to minimize it. I don't think that I am doomed to being scraped off the pavement one day. If I did, I wouldn't ride. Believe me. That would have factored into my cost/benefit decision. I hesitated to even post this semi-rant, but in just over a month of riding, I have encountered this situation on more than one occasion. Anyone else have a similar experience?

Monday, September 22, 2008

deviantART / Fuel-Sipping Cage

Check out deviantART for some pretty cool scooter-based artwork. The art above is by deviantARTist loish.

And, on an unrelated note, check out Ford's new Fiesta, which gets 'scooter mileage,' but will only be sold in Europe. The linked article gives a lot of reasons why it can't be sold in the US, mostly due to American consumer's aversion to using diesel fuel.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

1,000 Miles and Counting

I was at Royal Oak Drive and Alton Parkway in Irvine, California when I hit the 1,000 mile mark earlier this week. Since taking delivery August 13, I've driven the truck exactly twice. The first time was to get to long term parking at John Wayne Airport (SNA), enroute to a business trip. The second was to drive home from long term parking from SNA. Other than that, it's been all scooter for the last month or so. I realized that meant I was already scooting (skooting?) at a 12,000 mile/year clip. That's quite a change from the 'strictly to work and back' driving I was doing in my truck. I wonder if I will be able to keep up the 'commitment' of making the scooter a daily driver. The fun factor is certainly there, as well as the gas savings. I haven't had to drive in anything more 'inclement' than morning mist just yet, so that should be the big tell for me. I am definitely fond of going where I want when I want without the cost/benefit decision of 'is it worth it?' that I contend with when driving a 15 mpg vehicle.
One thing that has me concerned is maintenance co$t$. Flipping through the warranty manual, noting how often the scooter needs to be serviced, well, you know. I've put this out there once before, without much response, but I am curious as to when people start wrenching their own rides. Do you generally wait until the warranty expires to do your own oil & filter related work? Or do you just document everything you do in the manual? I think eventually I will get a shop manual and learn to do the basics myself, if only to avoid the 80-90 dollar/hour labor costs at the local Vespa dealer. Another option would be to see if their are any independent, certified mechanics in the area that charge less.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jeremy Slagle's Scootbot

I saw this over on The Scooter Scoop, and had to share. Pretty awesome work by Jeremy Slagle.
And it you like the Vespa Girls pasted onto my wallpaper at the right, you can get either of them on a t-shirt at PlexiPixel. Just click the link, select schwag, then select t-shirts.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Love

Space sharing. Another unadvertised benefit to riding.

I titled this post 'the love,' but it isn't about romance or anything. It is more about the love you get when you give up the cage and get on two wheels. I enjoy writing the blog, but sometimes I wonder if there is a purpose to it. There are better writers with more interesting content out there. I keep a list of scooter/cycle related blogs I like over there on the left. Looking over what I've posted to date, I guess the bandwidth I suck out of the cybersphere is devoted to sharing the experience. I know when I was researching the possibility of getting on a motorcycle or a scooter, I did a lot of Googling and found a lot of blogs. Most of what I read, nearly all of it really, convinced me I was on the right path. Maybe someone out there is reading this right now, still sitting on the fence. Go ahead. Do it. Get on two wheels.
There seems to be something out there for almost any budget. And as bad a rap as the average American gets for going into debt, I'd have to say that financing a scooter is a pretty sound investment. Depending upon the size of your current daily driver, driving style, and commute conditions - the scooter is going to pay for itself in gas savings. Right around the two year mark, I should break even. ...but think about it. It may take two years, or three or four, for you to break even money-wise, but there are other profits to be had past mere money.
It's just fun. There are safety issues, of course, with riding as opposed to driving - and not everyone is blessed to live in a place they can ride 12 months a year without the hassle of inclement weather, but once you're past that it is just fun. Something about turning the throttle, and having that direct a connection to your conveyance - well, it puts a smile on my face every time. Mr. Lucky describes is as the difference between Dr. Moto and Mr. Hyde, i.e. the happy quotient to his personality seems directly proportional to whether he has ridden that day or not. I'd have to agree. You may get a few people on the road that don't welcome your presence, but the overwhelming number of people, in my experience, support you - even if it is just vicariously. It is one of those few life experiences that is both solitary and communal at the same time.
You see more of your world. Not as much as you would see on a bicycle, and even less than you would see if you walked everywhere - but riding is a great compromise between timeliness and completeness. You get where you are going in a reasonable amount of time and you see the world because you are in the environment. One thing I didn't really get before I started riding was the term 'cage' to describe cars and trucks. I get it now. If I were a dog, it would be the difference between sitting in a kennel in the backyard and getting let off the leash to run free. Either way, you're outside - but off the leash is a lot more fun. Arf Arf, indeed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

First Service Visit

It says 'Free Please Take One,' but apparently they mean the Weekly Mags 
on the floor, NOT the vintage scooter. They were real adamant about that.

When I hit about 550 miles last week, I called Newport Beach Vespa to schedule a service appointment, which was due at 625 miles. Odd how you just want to give them your money when your 'baby' is brand new, eh? Sales Associate Lisa, or 'Pony' as her business card says, told me not to worry about it and just call when I rolled past 600. I did that yesterday, and was scheduled to come in today after work. By then I had 693 on the odometer. Anyway, for an oil change and a thorough check-up, I was set back $118 and change. Ouch, eh?I try not to pay more than $40 bucks for an oil change on my full-sized pickup. 
The good news was everything is running perfectly, with no problems. I sorta anticipated paying a premium for service when I bought it. I figure it will encourage me to get a shop manual and learn to do oil changes and other basic maintenance on my own. At least while she's under warranty, I guess I'll keep taking her to the dealer. Anyone out there have a different opinion about that? I know some out there in the blogosphere do their own maintenance, but how does it affect the warranty?
Another query for my fellow LX riders...how close to empty have you brought the 2.3 gallon tank? I've had the amber warning light blinking like I was on vapors, only to top off at 1.1 gallons, but today it only flickered once or twice and sucked down 1.662 gallons. 

Top Case Story at Modern Vespa

Check out The Curious Incident of the Top Case in the Night Time over at Modern Vespa. My quick review of the Vespa-brand top case had me wondering if the materials used in construction weren't a little insubstantial for the job. This may have been a case of foul play, however. In any, ahem, case, it is worth a look if you are comparison shopping for a top case. I still love mine, for the record, but, well, click the link above and read on...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quick Review: LX150 Top Case

Garage Days. Mission Viejo, CA

So, I finally rationalized and argued the pros/cons in my head long enough to justify purchasing the top case. I'd have to agree with most of the comments I've read researching the product on the internet. On the positive side, it looks great.. It is designed specifically for the LX50 or LX150 and color-keyed to match any of the factory paint. It doesn't look aftermarket or cheap.
There are some well-documented downsides, however. For the cost, it does seem a little cheap, despite looking real swell. The included rear carrier rack is very sturdy, and also color-keyed, but the top case itself is completely plastic. Kind of odd when you buy a scooter as sturdy as the Vespa, that they would manufacture a component part with such insubstantial materials. Of course, being plastic rather than metal, it adds almost zero weight. I found myself glancing back from time to time to see if it was even there. And if you follow the recommended load restrictions of less than 12 lbs, I can't imagine the balance of the ride would be affected in the least.

Bottom line: It's beautiful and matches the LX perfectly, both color and shape, but it's a bit small for the price and I wish Piaggio would have found a way to use more substantial materials in the construction.

Some notes on installation: The instructions I received with my shipment were almost completely in Italian. There were a few pics, and an illustration or two, but not real user-friendly overall. For the record, you'll need a medium-sized Phillips Head Screwdriver, a 5/32" Hex Wrench and a socket wrench with a telescoping attachment. 10mm will loosen the corresponding bolts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Saddleback Mountains. Orange County, CA

I've been settling into the routine of riding to work rather than driving. I'll say this. Even in So Cal, it is pretty brrr at 5AM in the saddle. Some of that is early morning acclimation, but it does more to rouse me than a hot shower or that first cup of joe. Reminds me of surfing in Northern California at dawn. The feel of cold swell smacking you in your sleepworn face gets your attention. And keeps it. I've got a good route down that only tacks on 5-10 minutes from my commute in the truck. And if there weren't two intersections with 3 minute waits for a left turn arrow, the ridetime would be about the same as the drivetime.
The ride home is a little longer, due the afternoon traffic that just isn't there at 5AM, but it's rewarding. I met another rider with a similar commute to mine, taking the same parkway home. Mike rides a Yamaha with 125cc. I don't know if it is a Vino or some other model, but it moves at a good clip. We traded lead positions at each light and chatted a bit waiting for signals. I'm sure I'll run into him regularly, and that's pretty cool.

Parked behind a Lance 'Venice' at Home Depot in Mission Viejo, CA

Another cool thing...it cost ten bucks a day to park my truck in the garage at work, so I was having to park it across the street in a spot with limited space. The Vespa gets locked up in the parking garage to a rail, free of charge. You have to love that.
So, the point of all of this, I guess, is that there are more incentives to riding than an initial cost/benefit analysis reveals. Gas savings and easier parking are measurable, but the intangibles can have just as much value.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Commuter / Cruiser

Newport Beach, CA
I took my first trip from home to work, the map re-routed to avoid the highway. It added about four miles to the overall commute and an extra half hour. Well worth the added fuel economy. Also, I realized you can gauge your speed by the level of wind noise. Pretty handy, since I am most comfortable with my head up and scanning the road. The old 'SEE' from the MSF course - Search, Evaluate, Execute. All of this worked out pretty handy when I was on the PCH between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach where the speed limit rises to 55 mph. This means, of course, that the slowest car on the road is doing at least 60. And at 60 the wind noise level is REALLYF&$@INGLOUD. Good to know. 

Laguna Beach, CA
Another observation...maybe it is just living in the OC, but I haven't found any lack of brotherhood from other two-wheeled conveyances. I get the head nod or wave from other scooterista, crotch-rocket racers, cruisers, touring bikers, and even choppers. No one was more excited, however, than the Michelin Man when I showed him the branding on my tire walls. :)

 Lake Forest, CA
I purchased a little protection today - a Scorpion 'Exo' type jacket from Mission Motorsports in Irvine. After a few rides in short sleeves, as 'free' as that feels, I can't help thinking, er, yeah, dude, you are moving along at a pretty good clip. What if? What if, indeed. Pounded a nail today and hung it up in the garage, so it's easy to remember. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day Two (Acclimation)

Alright. I wasn't ready for just how LOUD it is after you pass 40 mph or so. The earpieces for my helmet were described as functional for 'cold weather riding,' so I took them out. Right. First time I stopped the scooter, I put 'em right back in. It's still a bit louder than I anticipated, but I'll get used to it. Tonight was the first time I actually took it out on the road and got a feel for it. Last evening's laps around the parking lot don't really count. I suppose today was really day one. I can say, between today and yesterday, having the LX out in public, it does garner the attention people claim. When it was tied down in the bed of the truck yesterday, people wandered around the perimeter staring at it. At a red light, a guy in a four-wheeler with big tires leaned over the passenger seat to talk to me.
"Is that a Vespa? Yeah? I thought it looked like a real Vespa. What year is it? 2009? Cool. How many CCs? 150? Oh, that's perfect!"
And there are the pedestrians at crosswalks discussing the merits of getting their own scooter. "I should get one of those for work. I could take the side roads..."
Of course, not all attention, even if it is positive, is good attention. I was doing 45 mph in a 45 mph zone. Traffic was dense enough that riding at the speed limit wasn't really obnoxious, but a guy in a Lexus was tailgating me in the left lane regardless. So I waited for an opening, and got over to the right. Lexus got over and resumed tailgating. My first thought was that he was just not fond of sharing the road with a scooter. Then I realized, Lexus driver was just gawking. Proud of my purchase as I am, it was still a little uncomfortable to be tailgated like that, even if the cause was unabashed admiration for the ride.
The other question I've been getting constantly is 'How much?' When I first started looking, the MSRP was a little daunting, but after figuring out the economy/cost of ownership vs. my current vehicle and certainly after experiencing my first real ride - my initial reaction at being asked 'How much' is not longer sheepish or explanatory. Rather, it's a little proud.

Post-ride grind. Rubio's black bean and cheese burrito. It's A Grind's Iced Nutty Cow.

Other observations. Need goggles of some sort. A rear rack (or top case) would be nice. Despite the impression many people give - I don't agree that a stock LX has a lot of storage. Yes, there is room for a helmet under the seat, and that's awesome. The 'bag hook' does the job, but I think I'd rather have that space free. The 'glove box' is pretty useless. Anyway. Something to think about. And I wonder if a windshield is a good call. I've read that it can improve top speed/fuel efficiency - and also cut down a bit on the wind. Which, well, makes sense - being a windscreen and all. Oh, back to storage. Do people actually put groceries in that under-the-seat bin? I mean, it gets kinda warm in there. I was thinking, if I lived somewhere colder, I would love to keep a spare pair of gloves down there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day One (3+2+1+1+2=40)

2009 Vespa LX 150. Graphite Black.

I was on a business trip a few weeks ago. Lisa from Newport Beach Vespa called me as I was trying to board a plane at DFW, bound for Albuquerque. "We've got your Black S in," she told me. Well, the black S was my second choice. I really wanted the LX 150 in Graphite Black, but I figured I would go ahead and get the S. Pretty much the same scoot, and I'd save a few hundred. Right? I was still number two on the list for the LX. Fast forward a day and a half later. While waiting for the park/fly shuttle on the ground at LAX, I decide to give Lisa a call. She couldn't get hold of the first person on the list. If I wanted the LX, it was mine.

"Um. Yeah, I want it."

Of course, I didn't have my permit yet. I figured after taking the MSF course, I would just take the written portion of the test and get the license. Didn't imagine the scoot would arrive as quickly as it did. So, I wouldn't be able to drive it home. No worries - I could just load it in the pick-up (also a 150, an F-150). Eh. Now I needed a way to get it out of the pick-up once I got home. I went over the options. Buy a moto-ramp. Maybe a thick piece of wood? Then I found out Home Depot will rent you a ramp - 4 bucks for 4 hours. Or keep it 24 hours for 7. Not bad.

I actually stopped at the DMV in Laguna Hills, CA on the way home to take my written test. I guess 2PM on a Wednesday afternoon is the right time to visit the DMV. Three lines, two forms, one remittance, one photograph, two tests - about 40 minutes.