January 8, 2005

Message from the Geriatric Ward

I am sober now. Roomie heroically drove out in the sub-freezing temperatures on the chance that she would see me exit the Loring Pasta Bar. This is what is known as True Love, especially since we have been out of gold stars to place on her side of the ledger for a week now. Approaching her third pass in front of the LPB we met up where the River Road meets University. I drove for two blocks, then Roomie took back over.

It was really fun talking about Italy. Your reason for holding off on Italy for a longer separate trip makes a lot of sense. But Italy cannot be rightly snubbed for any length of time. Plus, Austria is already in some sense his, whereas in Italy you can share the language barrier. And he will like Brixen (Bressanone) and Bolzen (Bolzano) since his Austrian-inflected German will serve there quite adequately. Check out where Stilfserjoch (Passostelvio) is on a map. Then yodel.

Burning Man vs. Coachella is another dichotomy upon which I pontificated. The two events share dust, discomfort, lots of people, and entertainment galore. Coalita appeared at both Burning Man and Coachella, but she was born at the former. BM requires a commitment to actually participate in some small way. This replaces the passive "entertain me" component with an active "here I am and this is what I am doing" role. However, by no means do you need to come up with something on your own. There are probably hundreds of people going to the Burn from the Cities, and many are likely toting person-powered craft. A quick search of the listings can put you on to a smorgasbord of groups doing all kinds of wicked crazy theme camps. A friend of mine in San Francisco sets up a croquet lawn, complete with wickets and mallets, and kicks your butt. And then there is always Pedal Camp. Burning Man is a transcendental experience: The hardships are universal, there are no garbage cans (you pack it out), and Black Rock City is a giant collective. If you go to Burning Man, it will be a project. But it is one that I think you will really really enjoy. But what the heck do I know?

Previously in this blog I have already blathered about the relative merits of scooters and motorcycles. You may also want to check out the Susan Synarski Interview, where I ask her all about her experience as a new rider and purchaser of a Vespa LT150. I think Susan may have mentioned it, but I will reiterate: Women who ride motorcycles are HOTT.

Posted by webs0080 at 8:41 AM

November 18, 2004


I ordered a throttle cable assembly, speedo packing, and a neutral indicator light bulb from Ohio Cycle. I may be able to ride the CT90 again before the snow falls.

Posted by webs0080 at 10:43 AM

November 5, 2004

The Joys of Vintage Iron

All three of my two-wheel commute options are out of commission. Nothing serious is wrong with any of them, mind, but it is frustrating to have to take the car for

  • A broken metal instrument holding plate (Morini);
  • A faulty throttle cable (Trail 90);
  • The time to install a new fast flow gas tap (Maicoletta)
The list of things I need to do over winter is growing. At least the garage is insulated.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:08 AM

July 13, 2004

Up and Down and Up Again

The busier you are with life itself, the less you can blog about it. As is the case with me and the Letta 275 in general. I swapped her old black box in for Sil's, and touched up the points inside the black box with a points file. I then touched up the points on the ignition. Only German engineering could design a bike with four sets of points, one set a "double" (it has a set of points mounted between two other points)! I can't imagine that one can be too fussy about the settings on the last one, since when you tighten one set, you loosen the other! To make a long story short, she fired right up and she ran well. I had to push start a couple of times, but the electric foot works well. How many consecutive e-starts do I need to claim the problem solved?

I rode her to school for the first time today. She fired up right away this morning, and once again when I left. She did cut out on the bike path at the top of the hill, but to my great relief, the ignition light came on. She bump-started right up. When I got home, I reset the idle and turned the air screw to its proper one turn out position. She runs much more nicely now.

Tomorrow, I ride her to Motoprimo to get a mirror. Then she will be all set, but for the Classic Motorcycle Plate I shall apply for this winter. Unless, of course, I am able to find a 1957 Minnesota motorcycle plate before then. . .

Posted by webs0080 at 8:30 PM

July 6, 2004

Disappointment is Best Served Cold

Alas, the perfectly running 275 was too good to be true for long. A week ago Friday, Mrs. Blog and I took her to the Thai place around the corner, where she dripped fuel and refused to start. And refused to start. I pushed and pushed. We walked home to get the car. Armed with the BMW toolkit, I could check for spark and clean the plug and so forth. Really, one can do just about anything with one of those. I ended up pushing the Letta home a mile or so. The incident got Mrs. Blog and I really talking about the utility of a pickup truck.

I popped off the bodywork and got the battery on the charger, while I checked the float, which given the fuel drip seemed the most likely culprit. Scooters are brilliantly engineered to hide all the workings underneath bodywork, but they can place things in bloody unituitive places. At any rate, cleaning the carb out did not do the trick.

garage - 20sOver the next week, I checked the timing, which on Maicolettas is a rather arcane ritual, full of marks on the fanwheel cowl and multiple sets of points. The gaps were large, but not so large that the bike would not run. Evidently, close is good enough on these machines. And so I turned to the carburettor. (Spark properly timed, fuel properly mixed, and compression sufficient to make an explosion of the other two are the three elements of an internal combustion engine). After getting no love from rebuilding the carb (how nice to have compressed air around -- finally!), I swapped in Sil's carb body, the jets being easy enough to visually inspect.

Along the way, I had the presence of mind to check the fuel tap. It was totally blocked in all positions. I put the Lambretta tap (a new one) on, it too was blocked. What the? I dismantled the Lambretta tap and put its rubber seal in the right place and put it back together. Finally, the carb would get some fuel. This may have been the problem all along. However, the best I can manage is an initial "pop" and then nothing.

At the advice of the Maicoletta Board, I swap out the "black box" with the black box on Sil. For the uninitiated, many motorcycles have black boxes that control ignition and timing. I notice that the connections are kind of cruddy and that several of the wires appear to be losing their insulation. But lo and behold with the "new" black box the Letta fires up! I shut it down, put the bodywork on and it starts again! It is back. I decide to ride over the bridge to Minneapolis to show it off to S., who had so much trouble with the new old Lambretta Ld she bought on eBay.

I never made it. Approaching the bridge from the Mississippi River Road, the Letta lost power and died. It was a pleasant enough push home, as far as pushes home go (and I have had a few). A burnt-electrical smell emerged from underneath the bodywork. The battery was dead. Both the battery and the black box were hot to the touch. With the body work removed, it became apparent that the smell was coming from the black box.

There are now two possibilities:

  1. Sil's black box is faulty: An inability to recharge may be why the machine was parked after only a few miles, before I even took possession of her.
  2. SG has a short which kills black boxes: This is a scary proposition indeed, since it means that I risk smoking another black box by putting SG's original box back in her.

On the bright side, I was finally able to remove the last piece of Sil's disintegrated clutch basket by using two C-clamps and sawed-up length of square channel. To think it only took me several years to figure it out! Still, it is nice to have a shop where one can make the necessary tools. This means that if I can figure out how it all goes back together, Sil may be running again by the end of summer. . .

Posted by webs0080 at 6:26 AM

June 26, 2004


Letta275 - 1.JPGAfter just about a year, the Letta 275 has arrived from Scotland. By coincidence, its arrival took place on the same day as Bitty's arrival on Emerson Street in the District of Columbia. "Silver-Grey" (or SG) was crated well, but Elite Shipping had briliantly stacked the two boxes of engines rather than attaching each to the floor of the crate. Consequently, the top engine (for a Maico Mobil, destined for a scooter in Emeryvillle) box toppled, and oozed oil on its way across the Atlantic.

Fortunately, the scooter wore some sort of an old bedsheet on its bodywork which absorbed much of the spillage headed its way. According to the seller, all fluids had been drained from the thing, but I am beginning to have my doubts. I only hope a t-shirt isn't in that box as well!

Letta275 - 2.JPGThere is perhaps nothing more fun than uncrating a motorcycle that someone else has crated. (There are no surprises when one uncrates one's own motorcycle.) As the youngish but desperately-trying-to-resist-imminent-pattern-balding delivery person said, "Your job is to sit back with a big smile while I get this thing unloaded." Be that as it may, I felt compelled to steady the crate on its way down the liftgate.

I unpacked the spare engine, which I bought in order to replace the cantankerous gearbox in Sil. The "spare engine" is and was really more of a box of an engine's worth of parts; for some reason, I had expected the engine to arrive assembled and ready to install. I have therefore decided to use what I can of the old engine since I know it runs and its timing is set. But I will definitely use the gearbox and shifting mechanism, in addition to the parts I mutilated earlier, out of the spare.

Letta275 - 3.JPGA second assumption I made was that the battery from Sil would be the same as the battery for SG. Thus, I ran over to Minneapolis to pick up a new battery minutes before the shop closed for the week. As it turns out, the form factor of SG's battery case is slightly different than Sil's, and so I spent 25 bucks on a new battery for Sil. SG arrived with a fresh battery (courtesy of seller), but I reckoned that a new battery was easier to come by than battery acid. As it turns out, Sears is supposed to sell diluted sulphuric acid. So it all works out. I just need to figure out how to get Sil's clutch plates compressed and removed.

Letta275 - 4.JPGAs the sun set, impatience drove me to try and start SG with the new battery, even though it did not fit properly. For the first several tries, I could get no more than a "click" out of the starter. After an aborted bump start in the alley, though, the electric start fired her right up. I put SG away content with the small victory of a running 275.

Posted by webs0080 at 5:30 AM

June 22, 2004

Bitty Goes Bye Bye

After class ended last night, I drove us over to Lake Como to pick up the pickup to take Bitty away for good.

smbl02.jpgThis morning, I awoke at 5:00, a full hour earlier than normal. By six, the dogs were fed and my coffee kept me warm in the garage as I lifted Bitty's seat for the last time. I disconnected the battery cables from the battery and covered the terminals in electrical tape. I packed a bunch of foam rubber around the battery and taped a squash ball to its top to act as a cushion. Just in case.

smbl07.jpgI backed Jon's old F-150 into the driveway and pulled the ramp out of the bed. Rolled Bitty out of the garage and up the ramp. There was a little struggle to hold Bitty up with one hand while lowering the side-stand with the other, and I kept one hand on her as I climbed up in the bed and rolled her forward. I tied her down and took some pictures. Later, I used two more tie-downs to keep her butt from wiggling around excessively on the way over to Forward Air.

smbl09.jpgThe drive over was easy and short. Getting the paperwork sorted was not quite so simple. The forklift rolled up with a tiny plastic crate: evidently HQ had forgotten to supersize the crate order. Despite the mildly panicky phonecalls which followed, the problem was resolved quickly. The "medium crate" was enormous. Several Bitty's could have fit inside. I rolled her in and cinched her up, attaching her little bag of paperwork. After making sure that the crate got its destination labels properly affixed, I attached the padlocks and that was that.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:25 AM

Anticipation Part Two

Silver-Grey (as she is called by the seller) has cleared customs and is on her way to my door. She arrived in Chicago in a container full of all kinds of things, including some hazardous materials, I suppose, for her time in customs was delayed because a shipment of paint ingredients destined for Sherwin Williams was discovered to have been leaking on its transatlantic journey. The hazmat leak brings new meaning to the slogan "We Cover the World." Fortunately, the leak was at the opposite end of the container from the crate with the Letta and the two engines.

Delivery of the Letta is expected either today or tomorrow. But since it has been nearly a year already and the painters occupy two pallets worth of space in the garage, I think I can manage to be patient for a little bit longer.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:10 AM

June 18, 2004

The Test

In 1982, I was so ready to move out that I didn't wait for high school to end. As it turns out, I blew off enough school that I missed graduation by managing to fail American Government. I moved to a room in a house across from the seminary, located in a small unincorporated part of San Mateo County, nestled between Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton. The woman who owned the house sold me an old Honda C100 which had not run in years for the princely sum of $200, which I paid in payments of 100/50/50 over a period of months. I cleaned its carb, bought a battery, and began riding the thing to school -- when indeed I went -- and to work at the New Varsity.

According to the California Vehicle Code, the CA100 was a motorcycle and not a moped, because it did not pedals with which to start it. Therefore, I was required to have a motorcycle endorsement added to my driver's license, which I had earned 18 months earlier. By the time I took the test, I had moved out from the house on Santa Monica Avenue, and was rooming with a graphic artist cum indie record label producer in Mountain View. Thus, I took the driving portion of the motorcycle test in Santa Clara.

In the days before motorcycle safety courses, all one could really do was take the written test, get a permit, and practice like hell during daylight hours. The only privileges the license grants over the permit is the ability to carry a passenger and ride and night, neither of which is tested. The large difference is that the permit expires sooner than the license, which may be renewed an indefinite number of times.

Getting to Santa Clara from Mountain View involved longish ride down El Camino Real, past many car dealerships. Both towns were pretty much backwaters back then. It was the Friday before Hallowe'en, and some of the DMV staff were in costumes.

I met the fellow who was to administer the test out in the testing area carved out of the largish parking lot. The first off-putting thing was that the tester was in costume. He wore a rubber mask and a trench coat, from which bare legs extended. Low boots sans laces adorned his feet. I did the "key", riding up to a circle, doing a couple of laps and returning down a lane parallel to the one I rode up on. Next, we measured braking distances. We measured braking distances on curves, both left- and right-handed. Finally, the tester picked up a remote control box with wires that led to a saw-horse thing with three lights on it. He instructed me to accelerate normally through the gears (as I had already done in all the previous exercises) toward the saw-horse and when a yellow light flashed I was to steer away from the light around the opposite side of the saw-horse.

I accelerated normally toward the saw-horse, getting up to about 30mph. No lights. I braked as hard as I could without locking up the wheels, stopping inches in front of the obstacle. Mr. Man in a Mask apologized and adjusted the controls on his remote. "Go back and let's try this again." Again, I accelerated normally through the gears toward the saw-horse. This time, both lights flashed on. The tester was definitely messing with me. Again, I stopped short of the saw-horse, and again he offered an apology. On the third pass, the light came on on the left and I swerved to the right. Test passed.

What kind of lessons can a eighteen-year-old take away this tale? First off, take the test on a bike you can manage really well. Small bikes are preferable. Second, the tester may be out to trick you. Third, know the limits of your own ability and the bike itself. Get a feel for how long it takes to slow the thing to a stop without locking up the wheels. I think it is a good thing that many states now require under-18's to take a course, and that insurance companies give discounts for safety course completion. Even better is the ability in 20 states or so to gain exemption from the skills section of the driver's license exam in a supportive environment. I can't honestly say that I would have signed up for the course, but if one had been offered while I was in high school, I would have been all over it.

Posted by webs0080 at 3:15 PM

June 10, 2004

Bitty Gets a Pink Slip

Fleet Plus BittyBitty came with a Bill of Sale. Unfortunately, our nation's capital does not allow vehicles to be registered on only the good word of an upstanding citizen. Perhaps this makes sense. Anyway, I have offered to register Bitty here in Minnesota, only to obtain a pink slip (why do they persist in calling them that -- they are all green now) which I will then sign and deliver to Bitty's New Mommy. As Mrs. Blog put it last night, "I guess BNM just bought you a new motorcycle."

And so I feel less guilty about taking her out for surreptitious spins around the block. Especially now that she has been registered in my name.

Morini on the lift, since she is awaiting grips.I have registered many bikes without titles, but all of them in California. Experience with one state does little to prepare you to deal with another. (Imagine my chagrin when Maryland demanded that I submit the venerable Morini to an inspection! But I digress.) Fortunately, Minnesota will allow you to register a vehicle without a title , provided you provide:

  • A Bill of Sale, signed by the seller, providing a complete description of the vehicle (year, make, model, and vehicle identification number), the name of the purchaser and the date of sale. All owners must sign. Purchaser must complete an Application to Title/Register a Motor Vehicle (PS2000).
  • A statement of facts, written and signed by the seller of the vehicle. This statement must give as much information as possible regarding the history of the vehicle and indicate why there is no documentary proof of ownership. It must also contain a complete vehicle description (year, make, model, and vehicle identification number).
  • A signed statement from purchaser that s/he agrees to defend and protect the State of Minnesota against any and all future claims of ownership.
  • Photographs showing all sides of the vehicle (photographs are not required on utility trailers with a gross weight of less than 6000 pounds).

    Ha! No problem. I fixed the typo on the Bill of Sale's engine# that the seller gave me, took a few pics in the alley, and I was good to go. Can you imagine if DC allowed this kind of titling?

    View from the tool chest. Bitty's headlamp is sick.So off I went to Sears to wait. Did I mention that the St. Paul DMV is on the second floor of Sears, between the draperies and the hair styling tools? When I arrived at 10:30am, the number being called was B70. The number I took was C10. It would be a while. I decided to pick up a few sundries and a couple of tools (a dial caliper and a set of metric T-handle allen wrenches). Then I went upstairs and checked my number. They were on B84. I called Mrs. Blog, and dropped my new purchases in the Tortoise. Then I went inside again. The lines kept growing. Actually, there aren't any lines there (except at the express window) because everyone had taken a number. People sat on the Samsonite luggage and leaned on the wire bins full of bedspreads. Gradually, it came to appear as though the whole town had turned out to change the addresses on their license on the same day. But really, it is always like this.

    I didn't really need to get to that bench anywayOccasionally, someone would wait around for a while and then realize that they could renew their tabs by walking up to the express window. Others simply got frustrated and left. Sometimes, they would give the number they had invested an hour's time on to a grateful fellow waiter. I saw one white-haired lady receive a low number as a gift, and then regift it to an older man in a polyester leisure jacket [redundant phrase?] when she got frustrated. I felt sorry for the people who brought their kids, who were actually really well behaved. I tried to read. I added our tentative date with Cupcakes, Mr. Cupcakes, et famille into my handheld. I listened in on a conversation about identity theft and how thieves paid for $600 worth of gum and windshield wiper fluid at a gas station and paid for everything with a stolen check which they signed on the memo line. Eventually, C10 was called.

    What do you think? Can I fit three or four more bikes in here?As I lay out my case to the Hmong clerk, I notice that the sign says "No Out of State Checks" right below where it says "Cash or Check Only". My personal checks are from Maryland, though the bank is in Texas. I never bothered to order new checks to match the new address. I mean, checks are for entities which trust you, right? And if they don't trust you then they call up TeleCheck or something and make sure, right? I quickly flipped through my checkbook to confirm that I had in fact used the same checks to register the Morini. I passed the check on as if there was nothing suspicious about it: I did not fancy returning there later for another hour and a half wait.

    I walked out with a set of stamped photocopies and a shiny new plate. Minnesota never asks for its old plates back. California does.

    Posted by webs0080 at 6:37 AM

June 8, 2004

Bitty's Arrival

Bitty arrived ca. 6:25. The seller had left Eden Prairie at 5:30. I am glad he offered to deliver the bike; I suspect he won't be so generous next time. Seemed like a genuine enough guy.

The weather paused just long enough for the bike to get unloaded and for us to complete our paperwork.

We gave the thing a couple of kicks, but no dice. However, the battery was a little flat from overwintering, and the tank was bone dry. Good signs: the battery and the plugs were new-looking.

We chatted about bikes and Bitty's provenance. She was a real stray, purchased on a whim at the County Fairgrounds last year. He told me that he never got the headlight to work. I suspect that it is the original reason for the bike's orphan status.

I took the battery out and put it on the charger.

Before it got dark, we took some photos.

I took the headlight off and saw that the snowmobile sealed beam had been wired without slide connectors. I ran off to get some large size slide connectors and a gallon of gas. I took the battery off the charger when it would light a bulb.

Bitty was at first uncooperative, but after drying off the plugs (cute little things!) and tightening the plug caps (they were covered in electrical tape and slipped right off the leads), she started up after a couple dozen kicks. She would run for a while then cut out, but got progressively more enthusiastic. Those caps really ought to be replaced.

Her maiden voyage (as far as I am concerned) was down the alley and back. I think she has the friendliest clutch of any bike I've ever ridden.

Here's what Heck's Barflies had to say:

Shermiepants: Woo hoo! Bitty's arriving tomorrow morning, jm!!!

Shermiepants: I mean, this evening!!


jm: you guys should call me.

jm: xxx.xxx.xxxx. if you can.

jm: even if there's bad news, i can take it. like, this motorcycle's missing two wheels and an engine.

RT: Oh, that will never happen. Even if it did, UB would fix it up on the spot and stick a "Lick Bush in '04" sticker on it.

Shermiepants: Ewww! don't want to lick Bush

Bitty Update: Tom will be here between 6 and 7 this evening.

jm: like, right now

SuSuBelle: Some of your best friends lick bush.

best friends: we do!

Shermiepants: Just got a look at Bitty. Cute! UB will give you the rundown.

Bitty: Hi Jenny!

jm: hi Bitty! i'm your new mommy. even though you're older than me. do you run?

Bitty: I'll let my daddy-in-law tell you about me.

Bitty: I sure am cute.

Sherman: <---P-O-S-T-E-D

Bitty: I run strong. However, I sport my original Yokohama tires, which are far too old and brittle. Also, my headlight doesn't work. It may not be original: it says "snowmobile" on it.

underblog: Those little tank badges actually say "160" on them. Supercute!

Bitty: Thanks uncleblog! It feels like my muffler is falling off.


Bitty: But I will make an excellent first bike for jennifer_miller, if she is patient with me. I will reward her with many miles of fun.

Dr. Uncleblog: Instructions to new Bitty-Mom: Get that parts catalog, STAT!

Underblog: jm, the muffler may be OK. You may just need the muffler joint, which OH Cycle has in their repro stash. But someone needs to look at the parts catalog and the bike and make the call.

DC Motorbike Inspector: That's just the thing I'll catch!

Posted by webs0080 at 11:12 PM

June 4, 2004


New old wheels are on their way to their new old homes all over the country. I think it has been a year now since my set began their voyage. Maybe more. In the scheme of things, it is not such a long wait.

sm277.jpgI had wanted a Maicoletta since I first read the British road tests reproduced in "Jet Set" and "Scooter and Scooterist" in the 1980's. Then I laid on a pair acquired by Wyatt, who owned Quantity Postcards on Grant Ave. Wyatt is an aesthete: he knew what made vintage scooters attractive, but he had no idea what made them good or not. He got the pair (a red 275, and a silver 250) in a major haul from Pennsylvania, I think. Other scooters in the deal included a pair of Heinkels, a Silver Pigeon, a Fuji Rabbit, and a Salsbury.

sm277wo.jpgThe Salsbury and the red Maicoletta were placed on display in the postcard shop. At the time, I had the only running Heinkel Tourist in San Francisco, and so Wyatt and I sat down one evening and talked about what it woud take to get and keep a Heinkel running for him. He took me to the garage downstairs and showed me the Heinkels he had for sale; I had recently purchased Schleicher Motors stash of NOS Heinkel parts, and could complete the two non-running Heinkels that Wyatt had. It was then that I offered to buy either of the Maicolettas from Wyatt. He had no interest in selling, but he did promise me that he would offer it to me first if he ever decided to sell one of them.

smfr.jpgMy life was upheaved in many ways between 1989 and 1993. I had managed to relocate myself from San Francisco to Italy back to San Francisco to Healdsburg and Sebastopol, and finally up to Dunsmuir. While sitting in the empty cafe/bar one afternoon, I got the call from Wyatt. Someone had offered him $1000 for the silver Letta, but he had remembered his promise and tracked me down. I told him I would come down with the trailer and collect the Letta.

smfrwhl.jpgMany months later, I examined what I had purchased: I put a battery in, and attached a piece of fuel line directly from the tank to the carb, since it was missing its fuel tap. To my astonishment, the scooter started right up. The tires only held air for a day or two, but that was long enough to take it for a spin. The scooter upshifted just fine, but it downshifted only with difficulty, despite apparently well-adjusted cables. The short ride from Sacramento Avenue to Soda Creek and back was the only time I ever took the scooter out. I fussed and fussed and adjusted and adjusted to no avail. I dropped the engine out of the frame and realized that I would need special tools to get the clutch off and look at the shifting mechanism itself.

I finally got around to getting the cover off when we were installed at our house in Takoma Park. It was then that I managed to destroy the clutch basket in an effort to pull it off the crankshaft. Oops.

smtop.jpgI eventually sourced a clutch basket from the editor of the "Maico Letter" in Scotland, but that only took the problem back to the gearbox. Plus, remnants of the old basket were not budging off the crankshaft. A month or so later, Steve listed his 1962 275 for sale with a spare 250 motor. If I purchased it, I could both repair the silver one and sell it and have the extra 25cc and a very handsomely restored scooter to boot.

Getting the money wired over seemed at the time to be a big deal, but it was not nearly as big a deal as getting the scooter picked up from Scotland. First, I made the mistake of getting a crate made rather than having the shipper make one. The custom job was enormous, and the shipper refused to use it, since shipping costs are based on volume, not weight. The crate did come in handy for the Scottish winter, when the scooter sat crated in the driveway.

smrear.jpgOnce at the shipper, the scooter found its way onto a ship rather quickly. In a few days time it will be in Halifax, and then I expect it will take a week or two to get here from there. There is still work to do this summer, plopping the spare engine into the silver Letta's frame and perhaps the bodywork will take a trip to a local body shop for a coat of paint. (The scooter has been moved a few more times than it would have liked, starting with Wyatt and ending here.) And then it is off to eBay! Know any takers?

Posted by webs0080 at 6:36 AM

June 2, 2004

Katspanker Got Some Wheels

sm24_1_b.jpgLet me be the first to say to you what you are sure to hear many more times than you like: "Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down." It sounds pretty stupid and it is, unless you stop to consider the alternative. You are scared. You should be; bikes are downright scary. Riding a motorcycle sometimes feels like being a kitten in a herd of wildebeest. But to those who hear the siren song of a tuned exhaust, they are irresistable. Welcome to the club.

sm29_1.jpgIt is appropriate that in this commencement season you are about to embark on what promises to be a great adventure. Motorcycling at its best can be just about the funnest thing in the world. Moreover, it is altogether unique; driving a truck is kind of like driving a car, but motorcycling is nothing like bicycling and even less like driving. A friend of mine (who, interestingly perhaps, later went completely insane) compared it to flying. Freedom becomes you, and motorcycles are all about freedom. You don't need a place to go, because getting there is all the fun. That, and pulling up on your cool ride. I look forward to hearing about your adventures, as you take one of the DC area's many creekside parkways as far out as it goes. The woods, the curves, the lack of traffic. Suddenly, familiar roads will have new criteria by which to be judged. The world itself seems different: you smell the smells and feel the sunlight dappling on your back.

Your 1966 Honda 160 Scrambler is awful cute, and it is a great bike to learn on. Light enough to pick up if you have to, yet speedy enough to get you around town just about as fast as anyone can. Old Hondas are tough. My Trail 90 is about the same year (1967), and I had a green and white CB 350 back in the day. Yours should be at least as indestructible as mine, given the occasional spot check.

smb1_1.jpgYour bike is older, and it needs to be looked after. I expect that you will religiously check your air pressure each week and change the oil at least once each season. Check the battery level often, and top off with DISTILLED water if need be. If the tires that come on it are original or noticeably older than the tires you see on contemporary bikes, please change them. Should parts ever seem expensive, think about how much a visit to the ER (or permanent loss of full functioning of a body part or two) will set you back. Get a can of 3 In 1 and oil all the cables. Each spring. Helmet and gloves, always. A nice 3.4 will look appropriately retro. And think eye protection, esp at night.

sm31_1.jpgBikes are not without their frustrations, so get to know other motorcyclists, especially ones who also ride old small Honda twins -- they are an invaluable source of info on parts, potential problems, and the occasional story. The internet has made this kind of information sharing much easier, but there is no substitute for real live chitchat. As the ad they used in the 60s says, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda." Get acquainted with your friendly neighborhood Honda dealer. The folks out at Aspen Hill across from Home Depot seemed nice enough. It is a good sign if they come out to take a look.

A word of caution, new motorcyclist: Your new old vehicle will give you the super-power of invisibility to other motorists. Pay attention to who is not paying attention. Assume that the car waiting to turn left will move into your path at any moment and anticipate what you would do if it starts to move. You will see danger everywhere. This is not paranoia but merely survival. City biking is mentally and physically exhausting.

sm1d_1.jpgFinally, take the class. I know that there is a long waiting list for it and that it uses up a weekend, but people who take the class really do die less frequently than those that don't. Going down is without a doubt the worst part of motorcycling, even if you manage to survive. You will save on your insurance if you take the class. Plus I hear it is a great place to meet chicks. Not that you are looking.

So godspeed little katspanker with the perfect eBay rating. Be cautious, be aware, be safe. We hope to have you in the club for a long long time.

Posted by webs0080 at 9:04 PM

May 25, 2004

Seven Hour Romance

smallstate.jpgThis morning, I knew little about Puch motorcycles. I knew that they were distributed by Sears under the Allstate name, and that they were cute. I knew from Puch mopeds that the factory was in Austria. But a listing in the eBay "Other Makes" pages this morning caught my eye: a 250cc Puch Allstate listed for $162.70. I reckoned I had an edge on the bidding because the seller was local and would not have to pay for shipping. On a $10,000 bike, shipping hardly matters, but in the bottom-feeding world of low-end vintage motorcycles, it can be determinative. Heck, anything that runs is worth $500, and so I quickly entered a bid.

In the meantime, I learned a lot about Puch's. There is a dealer in Milwaukee that specializes in Puch parts. This meant I could replace the missing Sears tank badge on my new ride. All the cleaned up models I found online were of the earlier, round-tank variety. They are cuter. Still the price was right. The bidding rose to $204.50.

smallstate2.jpgMechanically, the Puch's were unique. Moderately mechanically-inclined folk will notice right away that the carburettor is not where it is "supposed" to be. Instead, it hangs off the side of one of the cylinders. And therein is the great mechanical mystery: Puch 175's and 250's were two-stroke "twingles," ie the combustion chamber was shared by the two cylinders. The pistons were slightly out of synch, the rear one mounted on an eccentric. The result was a slightly more fuel-efficient but conspiculously underpowered machine. Puch owners were proud of their little machines, but they acknowledged that the charm was less in the barn-burning speed than in the bikes' dependability. I found a Yahoo! group dedicated to Sears bikes and quickly signed up.

smspeedo.jpgI was not planning to become a Puch enthusiast. But enough of my friends talk about taking up motorcycling that I thought a good starter bike for under $500 would be too good to pass up. Evidently, some other people had the same idea. About an hour before the auction was to end, the price had gone above my bid. Fearing a poacher, I entered another bid $25.00 higher than my initial limit. It was the winning bid for all of 20 minutes. As it turns out, not only was one person more interested than I, two were!

I confess I was a little disappointed to "lose" the auction, but the grapes were probably sour. I mean, I gained 400 bucks by not spending it: next week, I'll have 400 more bucks to play with, and a bit more space in the garage as well.

Posted by webs0080 at 9:25 AM

May 19, 2004

Susan Synarski Interview

Susan Synarski is a recently-minted celebrity and a true renaissance woman. Real estate tycoon, old-house fan, artist, and expert gardener, she was recently named one of Out Magazine's "100 Most Intriguing Gay People of the Year 2002." Her illustrations of she-pirates grace the pages of Booty (Chronicle Books, 2002) as well as the op-ed page of the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. Beloved to animals, her pets respond enthusiastically to her instructions to perform all kinds of entertaining manouvers.

Her fame, fortune, and all-around excellence is cause enough to endear her to me forever and thus make her interview-worthy. But she is here in cyberspace today to talk about the newest addition to the Synarski-Meckel household, a Piaggio LT150 scooter named Pearl.


I understand that you had some initial resistance to having a scooter in the household. Please describe how you came to be convinced.

Several factors came into play. First, my co-pilot has been lobbying for a motorbike for several years now. She rode Vespas a lot growing up. She works hard and has many responsibilites. I knew having one would bring her a lot of enjoyment. I finally decided to let go of my fears and not stand in her way. Life is too short. Second is parking. Parking is really scarce near the gym, for example, but there's plenty of motorcycle parking (free). Third, the scooter shop in our neighborhood had a big sale. Fourth, it eases my conscience to use a high mileage vehicle. Fifth, it's really fun to ride!

Wow! That's a lot of reasons. You sound ready to ""join the Vespa™ team" Have you been doing any evangelizing?

This blog is the kick-off to my scooter advocacy campaign.

Many of our readers are not motorcyclists. As a new member to our ranks, can you tell us a little of how riding differs from driving?

lt150_small.jpgIt feels like I'm going a lot faster at 20mph than I do in a car. I have a heightened sense of awareness, what and who is around me, the air on my body, the ability to see the world around me with no obstructions. It's more like riding a bicycle in that way but sexier.

That is a good point about the sense of speed being greater on two wheels. I remember how both exhilirating and exhausting learning to ride was for me. Do you suppose that the heightened sense of awareness is triggered by the self-preservation impulse? Also I can see that not pedaling and working up a sweat is sexier than bicycling. Are there any other reasons scootering is sexier than bicycling?

Yes, the feeling of increased vulnerability must play a part in the sensation of riding. I think the main reason scootering is sexier than bicycling is the clothes. Most people who are serious cyclers wear cycling togs that are not very attractive to me. When you scooter you can wear hip clothes. The shiny black helmet, leather gloves and boots also add to one's sex appeal.

How did you prepare for the motorcycle endorsement written test?

I read the DMV booklet several times. I tried to imagine myself riding to see how the rules made sense. A lot of it is common sense and applies to riding a bicycle, like the fact that people have a harder time seeing you.

Is it true that people "check you out" more on the scooter? Is it really a "chick-magnet" as has been claimed? Did the salesperson make this claim?

The shop owner, Darragh, made no such claim. I wonder if he uses that angle with other potential customers? I hope people "check me out" more because I want them to see me (from a safety standpoint). It's still too soon to make a call on this but it does seem like people notice a hot, middle-aged hipster on a scooter more than they notice a hot, middle-aged hipster in a station wagon. However, they would probably notice me more if I wore a bikini while walking the dog. I'll have to get back to you on the "chick-magnet" claim. It does seem to make me more attractive to my girlfriend, though. Got to figure out how to get the thing in the bedroom...

I would certainly notice you wearing a bikini walking your dog; Phoebe is quite a looker. Coming home from Prairie Home Companion, Mrs. Blog and I saw a woman on a chromed-out Harley with pig-tails, sunglasses, and a doo-rag; we thought she had quite a look. Girls on motorikes: Hot or Not? What is the hottest motorcycle fashion you've seen?

promo2.jpgGirls on motorbikes=Hot. I mean, sitting pressed up behind a girl with your arms wrapped around her waist...no brainer. Fashionwise, a mod look is hot to me. One hot look I can imagine would be a completely co-ordinated, colorful ensemble that goes with the bike. The full-blown leather daddy/mommy look can be hot if the person has the body for it and it's simple and understated. I saw a 40ish guy at the DMV with a hot look that was very simple and "old-fashioned": faded black jeans, black gloves in back pocket, black boots, worn red and black, form-fitting jacket with some logo on the back. His pair of simple silver earrings set the whole thing off nicely.

How did you decide on the Piaggio LT150? I understand that your co-pilot is enamored of all two-wheeled motor vehicles. Who persuaded whom on the wisdom of this particular model?

Yes, my co-pilot originally wanted a motorcycle, like a Ducati; or a Vespa (for sentimental reasons). I pretty much deferred to her judgement on this because of her experience, but I didn't like the small wheels of the Vespa because they make it harder to control. They are terribly cute, though. Piaggio is the featured make at our local scooter shop so we'd looked at them several times. Selling points for the LT150: it's Italian, it's nicely designed, has decent horsepower yet is not too big, it's got bigger wheels, it's automatic, which my girlfriend said would make it easier for me to ride (part of her plan to convert me). When they went on sale it was the final nudge to make the plunge. She considers this a "good introductory scooter". I think her dream bike is a BMW.

Those are big bikes. Do you see yourself ever going that way?

Not really. My girlfriend thinks the motorcycle companies are missing out on a big market by not making smaller bikes for women. That's probably why she's happy with a scooter right now.

Did the scooter seem too heavy or difficult to handle at first? To what does it compare?

LT1502.jpgThe other bikes I had ridden in my life were a Honda 125, a Bridgestone 175 (both my brothers' out on dirt roads) and, most recently, a Honda Passport. Of those bikes I'd say it's most like the Honda 125. The Piaggio took a little adjustment because you ride with your feet in the floorboard instead of straddling the gas tank with feet on footpegs. It's a little heavier than I imagined but not overly so. This will encourage me to get my "girl arms" in shape. While riding it seems well balanced and easy to handle. I have to be aware when parking it on the stand because if it falls away from me I may not be able to stop it from going over.

Has "helmet hair" caused you to rethink your styling plans? What directions do you see taking your hair?

Good question. Probably the most important question regarding motorbikes is how they affect one's hair. I understand why you shave your head now but I'm not going there. Forming cream or hair wax helps reshape the hair pretty well after helmet removal. I don't see making any changes cause I like my hair style right now. I'll just try to muss it back into shape as best I can.

How about eye-protection? Or did you go the full-face helmet route?

No, I'm just wearing sunglasses or my prescription glasses for now because I'm not a speed demon. But since I wear glasses if I need more protection I'll have to get a face-shield.

Artsy types seem to be attracted to scooters: is this an argument for or against having one?

For me this is definitely an argument FOR having one. Think how cool it would be if everyone drove scooters. It would kind of be like living in Europe, which, right now would not be a bad thing.

I have often remarked how much happier the world would be if everyone took Trail90s to work whenever weather permitted. This spring, many of my lesberado friends and acquaintances have been purchasing scooters. Is this a vast lesbian conspiracy to conquer the highways with cute, fun, economical and ecologically sensitive motor vehicles? And do you have plans to ride in the Dykes on Bikes contingent of the Freedom Parade? You will not be surprised to learn that I always thought they were the best part.

LT1501.jpgI think Dykes on Bikes is everyone's favorite part ... the anticipation as the ear-splitting rumble is heard in the distance ... sigh. We do plan to ride in the parade. In the back, of course, with the wee bikes. I think in the hierarchy of D on B, the Harleys must lead. I'm glad to hear that we are part of a conspiracy of cuteness. I've never been part of a conspiracy before.

Do you find yourself checking out other bikes now? Are there any makes and models you covet?

Yep. In spite of my aversion to small wheels, the Vespas are attractive little things and they're now importing the retro-style models. Also, Aprilia Mojito Custom 50 has a beautiful retro look. I like the chrome handlebars and headlight. And it comes in powder blue. It's only 50cc but judge for yourself.

What is the most pleasant riding experience you have had so far? The most unpleasant?

I've only ridden three times so far and they were all pleasant. I'm still most comfortable on residential streets right now but I've done short stretches on a busy street. I guess that was a little unpleasant because I was a bit anxious. But it was unpleasant in a good way.

Any plans to take it up into the hills? Skyline is a lovely road, as is Tilden Park.

Yes, that's great idea! The view would be even better riding out in the open.

How long do you reckon your garage will only host one scooter? I hear these things are addictive.

Funny you should mention that. Tonight Swiss Miss said we have to move to a bigger house with a bigger garage.

It's been a pleasure interviewing you for Girls Gone Motorcycling Week. Any final thoughts you would like to share?

I'd like to thank you for your gentle persistence as scooter spokes-professor.

Posted by webs0080 at 6:04 AM

May 18, 2004


by Jill McElmurry

Day Two of Girls Gone Motorcycling features Jill McElmurry, author-illustrator, punk rock impresario, dedicated blogger, and fearless motorcycle passenger. Well almost. But she has really good reasons.

sidecara.jpgIn 1977 I was being paid to do ink-n'-paint for John, an artist/animator in Montecito, CA. It was a pretty fun job. We worked about fifty steps from the beach in a sunny little hut surrounded by oleanders, eucalyptus, and palm trees. Sometimes John and I walked on the beach at lunch or else I sat outside eating whatever it was I liked eating at the time, something with alfalfa sprouts, no doubt. I can’t remember how I got to and from work. My orange Karmann Ghia was 'in the shop' after one of my roommates accidentally let it roll off a cliff. Our mechanic neighbor said he'd fix it for a reasonable price, but ended up keeping the car for nine months. I could see it sitting next door as it disappeared under layers of leaves and bird shit. I guess I rode my bicycle to work or bummed rides from a friend, or hitched maybe. In any case, one day John offered me a ride home on the back of his motorcycle, a BMW something or other. He taught me how to be a good passenger: hold on tight and lean into the turns. Then he began the jumping ritual it took to start the motor. I climbed on back and just before we left, he handed me the helmet.

"Wear this," he said. He only had one.

"No, I’m ok. Go ahead," I said. But he insisted so I put it on.

toys2a.jpgIt took fifteen minutes to get from Montecito to where I lived in Santa Barbara via the scenic route, ten by freeway. John chose the freeway. When we started down the ramp from Coast Village Road my heart was thumping, but there wasn’t much traffic and once I got used to the speed, it seemed ok, even fun. As we passed the turnoff for the Bird Sanctuary, the bike did this weird wiggly swerve. Then another. And another. I thought John was playing around, doing a little motorcycle dance in the middle of the freeway. "Cut it out!" I shouted, gripping his shoulder, but he couldn’t hear me, or maybe he could but he didn’t respond and the bike kept swerving. I was mad at him for playing around. What a jerk! Then my senses did what senses do when something unexpected and frightening begins to happen: they snapped to full attention while simultaneously s-l-o-w-i-n-g e--v--e--r--y--t--h--i--n--g d---o---w----n. I experienced the moment with uncharacteristic calm. I noticed the color of the cars and the people in them, the freeway shrubs, the seagulls,the lavender hills, and asphalt racing under me like swift water. The swerves became swervier and swervier until finally the bike flipped and the two of us went flying. I lay on my back watching cottontail clouds drift across the blue sky, my arms and legs spread out as if I were tanning on the beach. At some point, it dawned on me that I wasn’t on the beach, but in the middle of the freeway with a helmet on my head, and I sat up. John was scrambling towards me. The bike lay on it’s side.

"Are you all right?" he said in a shaky voice,

"I think so," I said, while a traffic jam formed behind us.

"We had a blow out," he said, "I tried to keep the bike upright as long as I could."

helmeta.jpgJohn’s motorcycle dance had been a lifesaving maneuver. He wasn’t a jerk after all. Nor was he bloody or scratched and he still had all of his parts, as far as I could tell. Actually he looked fine except for mussed up hair and a scared look on his face.* I took off the helmet and ran my hand over a huge dent where it had hit the curb of the median strip. When the police arrived I handed the helmet to John and said goodbye, maybe we hugged. He had to stay there and take care of his motorcycle.** Sitting in the back of the cop car I peeled off layers of clothing searching my body for wounds. That was the worst part. I didn’t know what I’d find: half my intestines might be hanging out, or maybe a rib would be poking through the skin. All I found was a hole in my sweater and a bloody scrape on my elbow. I started to shake.

"You’re very lucky," said one of the cops. "We consider motorcycles to be unsafe vehicles."

At home, I tossed my bloody sweater in the direction of a chair, fell on the bed, and shook for a couple of hours. I replayed the motorcycle dance and the sparkling fullness of those moments when everything slowed down before the crash. They were the most vivid moments of my life.

* One of his fingers was broken.
** John sold his motorcycle soon afterward.

Posted by webs0080 at 6:34 AM

May 17, 2004

My Little Bloo Scoot

by Jennifer Robin

Welcome to Girls Gone Motorcycling Week at USA. Today, we are honored to have reknowned singer-songwriter, animal-purse designer-sewer, and scholarship-winning graphical-design talent Jennifer Robin share the inspirational tale of a motorized two wheel love affair.

ciao2.jpgWhen I think back about my bright blue Vespa Ciao, a flood of great memories washes over me. It was by far the most carefree period in my life. I was about 22 and lived in Santa Barbara California. My mo-ped was my only means of transportation for several years. Beautiful Santa Barbara was the perfect little city to scoot in. Uncrowded, gorgeous weather, you name it.

It was about 1979 and I was a budding musician and living in a tiny cottage that was one of six and paid only $212 a month rent. I would park my Ciao just outside the front door and to the left of the little covered porch. When it rained I would push (let's call her Bloo), up the three steps onto the porch where it would just fit. I remember many a rainy night getting up out of bed and racing outside across my 10 feet of cottage to get Bloo up and out of the rain. I was very protective of her. During that same period I was designing and making purses and backpacks in the shapes of animals called Jennifer's Jungle™. I sold them in galleries. I would ride all over town on Bloo with a Puppy Pack on my back, ears flapping in the wind. Like I said this was a very carefree time. I would also make bagel runs on her. I was totally into lentil soup and bagels and there was a great New York style bagel store in town where I would always buy some even number of bagels, stuff them into my puppy pack and scoot home. But, being this budding musician I eventually needed to haul a P.A. system and guitars to my gigs. So I bought an old Buick Special, but rode Bloo whenever possible.

vespa_ciao2.jpgLife then became more intricate and involved. I met this musician and we started living together and eventually married. I had to give up my cottage but I kept my Ciao. Matter of the fact I kept Bloo for several more years, even through the move to Los Angeles. That marked the end of an era. it quickly became apparent that L.A., being such a car town, was not the best place for mo-peding. Especially where we lived. So Bloo would sit for weeks in a storage room with all the amps and keyboards and microphone stands. It became too hard to see her with all her spirit in such a state of inertia. So I made the difficult decision to sell her. I got her all spiffed up and checked out and placed an ad in the Recycler. Well, I got a call from a UCLA student and thought that he sounded perfect. We drove Bloo down to West L.A. and met with the prospective buyer. It was all going very well, although I was feeling quite choked up and sentimental. The prospective buyer had never driven a scooter, gets on for a test run and proceeded to fly willy nilly into a curb. I was so angry. I couldn't believe that someone could be that stupid! Mostly I was sad to see her all scraped up dinged up and skewed. But as Underblog would say "that was a sure sale!" I drove home that day feeling pretty empty and like I had just lost an old friend.

vespa-ciao-jasper2.jpgI now live in a beautiful part of L.A. in a small space, and single again. I have been writing and performing my music for many years now. It's my passion. That period with Bloo, the cottage and the puppy pack had a profound effect on me. Over the years I have had a recurring dream about going back to that little cottage. There is something there for me. I think part of the reason I am as happy as I am now is because I am returning to some of the simplicity and innocence that I had while riding on Bloo. Who knows maybe I will buy myself another scooter someday.

Posted by webs0080 at 8:25 AM

May 14, 2004

Diversity and Danger

all kinds of crazy little buzzing vehiclesMy love affair with motorbikes began with the illicit sort: when I was about seven years old, my oldest brother would sit me in front of him on his mini-bike and take me for laps in the clearing in the woods behind our house known as The Valley, a clearing where the county had buried a giant surface run-off pipe. These communal spaces have all but disappeared from the suburban landscape.

When it comes to the streets, motorized vehicles are more strictly enforced. California is pretty explicit in its vehicle code about what kinds of vehicles require registration and which kinds of vehicles are verboten altogether. At least, I never saw in California (nor in Maryland) the variety of oddball "scooters" and go-karts peddled here in Minnesota. I reckon the big appeal of these Taiwanese imports is that they exist pretty much outside the regulatory universe, appealing to those individuals who are unable to obtain insurance coverage or have lost their licenses. Paradoxically, these vehicles appear to be much more dangerous to operate. Capable of reaching speeds between 9 and 20 miles per hours,they are dangerously underpowered. It can be argued that bicycles are likewise underpowered, but they can actually move more quickly than these micro-scooters. Moreover, their tiny wheel size prevents them from achieving much of the stabilizing gyroscopic effect upon which bicycles and motorcycles depend for stability. Finally, bicyclists have the option of riding on the sidewalk, from which these micros are banned.

The sale of these micros may be legal in Minnesota, but where exactly is it legal to operate them? They are banned from bike paths (I recently spyed two Latino youth pushing them along the bike path as a police car pulled away) because they are motorized, and from the highways because they lack the standard operating equipment motorized vehicles are required to have, e.g. brake lights, head lights, and the ability to keep up with traffic. It appears to be that it is possible rather than legal to ride them wherever one can get away with it.

One thing I really like about Minnesota is that they appear to be much more cavalier than either California or Maryland about this kind of thing. For instance, I routinely ride my Trail 90 on the bike paths at the U. and park in the bike racks. Admittedly, I used to fear that someone would notice and tell me to stop or, worse, write me a ticket. Instead, motorcycle cops (without a doubt the most likely people to issue tickets) ignore me altogether.

In Maryland and DC, I noticed that young adults would often flout the helmet law if they were riding <50cc scooters. Still, these scooters had license plates -- meaning that the vehicles had to meet some basic safety requirements. In St. Paul, kids can be seen (and heard) buzzing around the neighborhood on these things when it is completely dark outside. They buzz down the streets, up onto the sidewalk when cars approach, terrorizing pedestrians (looking out after their own safety) and motorists (looking out for the kids on these unregulated vehicles). I miss those semi-public spaces where kids could endanger themselves, and envy the motorized fun the kids seem to be having. At any rate, I expect the neighborhood micros to disappear just as soon as either the kids reach driving age or the first broken bone results. If the machines last that long.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:44 AM

May 5, 2004

On the Way To School

As a motorcyclist, I have found that it is in my best interest to pay extra careful attention to what people are doing in their cars. This morning I saw a woman at a stoplight in her SUV using her cell phone and applying make up AT THE SAME TIME while driving. I mean really. Shortly thereafter, I swerved to the far right of the lane to avoid turning into oncoming traffic. Turns out she had a dog on her lap. I love dogs as much as anyone, but again. Really.

Posted by webs0080 at 9:03 PM

April 30, 2004

Motorcycle or Scooter?

Despite the occasional and mutual antagonism between scooterists and motorcyclists, there is actually a pretty fair degree of overlap. Walter Alter rode a Triumph T-6 Thunderbird (like Brando's in The Wild One before becoming an apostle of scootering, Rob Rice from the Digital Garage restores Lambrettas and Aermacchis, and I have owned more scooters than motorcycles, though more of my motorcycles actually ran.

Motorcycles and scooters each have their advantages. I see scooters as essentially though not exclusively urban machines. I have commuted from San Franscisco to Palo Alto on a scooter, and it was fun—sometimes; my Heinkel and I even made it to Sacramento once. But scooters really shine in the city, where traffic is bad and parking is tight. Few things in life are cooler than pulling up in front of a crowded cafe in North Beach or Uptown or Dupont Circle and parking one’s Lambretta prominently on the sidewalk. Very European. The step-through design makes mounting and dismounting a casual affair. With a little practice, people won’t even notice you getting on and off. On bigger streets, say the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge known as “Blood Alley” or Oak Street, traffic moves much more quickly, and I feel much safer with the extra horsepower of a motorcycle.

Just as it takes some effort to balance a bicycle at low speeds, both scooters and motorcycles are more stable the faster you go, due to the tendency of objects in rotation to keep moving in the same direction. (Remember the bicycle wheel / lazy Susan experiment from science class? Same thing.) Scooters compensate for their smaller gyroscopes by having a lower center of gravity. This means that scooters are more stable at low speeds (and easier to get put on their centerstands) than their big-wheeled cousins. However, at 50 mph, 18” wheels wheel give the motorcycle more stability than the 10” wheels of scooters. If all my riding was in parking lots (as many urban centers have become), I would always take the scooter.

A final distinction between big wheels and small is that scooters were designed to accommodate dress and skirt wearing people. This bit of gender construction is a product of the circumstance from which they emerged. Motorcycle design evolved when few women operated any kind of heavy machinery. But scooters became most popular in post-war Europe, where demand for mobility was unisexual: scooters were often the only vehicle many households could afford. Finally, motorcycles generally require one to shift gears with the top of the toe, and one's choice of footwear is somewhat limited to shoes you don't mind repeatedly scuffing the tops of.

Compared to my peers, I have had little education in the literature of gender-construction. But since we are talking motorcycles, let us break this out a bit. If you identify as male and seek to break down constructed genders, then by all means go for the scooter. If you identify as female, then riding a scooter tends to reinforce the status quo, ie "scooters are for women." Personally, I think women on motorcycles are hott. But then again I've always had a thing for androgynes.

I suppose this is why I have a special affection for the motorbikes that are neither entirely one nor the other: the Maicoletta is clearly a scooter, and yet it has largish (14") wheels, and its large displacement and long wheelbase make it legitimate competition for motorcycles. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Trail 90 has 17" spoked wheels, but it has a step-through design like a scooter. The Peugeot Mobilette likewise was something of a hybrid, though I have yet to see one actually running.

And so we have now come full circle: It is entirely normal to feel attracted to both scooter and motorcycle. The question for the itchingly curious is to which mode is the greater attraction felt? If there is any doubt in the matter, the best thing is to try them both out before you buy. Alternatively, one can turn to the people who ride them: Am I more like the scooter-people or the motorcycle-people? No matter which way you swing, you will be far cooler than the squares trapped in their cars (or worse, the bus). Riding any motorbike is the epitome of freedom, but the bike one chooses is also an expression of identity. So whatever you choose, choose something that you respect on some level.

Posted by webs0080 at 8:04 AM

July 18, 2003

Middle Life

My boss at the computer company found an Alfa-Romeo to buy in Petaluma, about 40 miles north of San Francisco. It wasn't a Spider (2-seater convertible), just a Giulia. Not even a Giulia Super (that with the 2 liter and side draft Weber carbs), but a 160Ti. Still, it was a fine, fine car, which ran better than the GTV he later purchased.

One of the things about buying a second car is that you need a driver to drive the second car back. Now this driver is an accomplice of sorts; Tom had been in a sufficient number of relationships to know that one does not bring a disapproving partner up to pick up a spare car. Plus, I suppose, it is a guy thing.

So we are sitting in Ferrari's cafe near the intersection of 101 and Penngrove Road. As the waitress waits on someone else, Tom leans over the booth table and says to me "Isn't our waitress something? She is hot!" I turn to glance casually at our server, who is admittedly buxom but only OK-cute; mostly she is young -- even for a 23 year old like me. "I suppose she looks all right, but she's like sixteen years old," to which Tom replies, memorably, "The older you get, the harder it is to tell the difference between young and beautiful."

Posted by webs0080 at 6:48 AM

July 14, 2003

Dogs and Motorcycles

So if it's not about dogs or motorcycles I'm not into it.

Part One: Took dog to the vet today. We awoke ca. 3:00am to the overpowering stench of symptoms of a dog's gastro-intestinal distress. She hadn't been too firm this past week, but she always made it through the night. The fun part was getting a stool sample -- it has to be fresh! -- from her. Fortunately, we hoard those little hummus containers from Kowalski's, A few years ago, I could have given you the model number. SL-8? Anyway, they are great for stool -- and urine -- samples. Smelled pretty gall durn revolting until I got that lid snapped on there. Bottom line: she's a healthy 13 year old dog with a case of the runs. Rx: antibiotics.

Part Two: Got the latest MaicoLetter from the UK today. Turns out the Club Secretary is selling off one of his Maicoletta's to make room for a 4 wheeled project. I wouldn't have been interested, but it comes with a spare engine, which I plan to put in Red Wheels, my silver 250. Fixing RW's gearbox trouble is too much trouble. So Sec. Steve and I are working on a way to get the thing plus spare motor to the States.

Posted by webs0080 at 9:07 PM

July 4, 2003

Thanks For The Memories

During the summer of 1989, I rode my Laverda from Italy to Berlin and back, stopping on the way back. Several images come to mind:

1. On the autobahn from W. Germany to Berlin, rows of Trabants would queue up for service at the service stations where Westerners could spend only Western money. Presumably, the mechanic would replace spark plugs and set the points and send them on their way.

2. In East Berlin, I visited the Zeiss Optik shop (my host was a photographer in Wedding and had a friend purchase all his darkroom stuff there). The only other customers at the Zeiss shop were Yanks in uniform, shopping for binoculars -- no doubt to gaze upon the East from Checkpoint Charlie.

2a. In E. Berlin, I met several kids my age for coffee. When I asked them where they lived, they gestured toward blocks of grey concrete highrises, which continued to the horizon.

2b. At the department store, people would leave their old shoes in the stairwell when they bought new ones -- perhaps for their needier countrypersons.

3. Getting a visa to visit Czechoslovakia was impossible to do in the States back then. They wanted to *hold my passport* for *three weeks*, to which I said "f*** that". Instead, I visited the Czech consulate in Berlin -- only a short wait and presto!

4. Riding through E. Germany to Czechoslovakia, I met a gaggle of Danzigers -- perhaps 20 on ten bikes MZ 150 and 250's. The bikes were dangeriously overloaded with luggage, blankets, etc -- fellow Americans can imagine the Beverly Hillbillies truck, but with two wheels. I chatted with the kids about the Laverda -- they were very keen to know how fast it went -- and I asked them where they were headed with all the stuff. They looked nervously at each other and said "Budapest". I thought nothing of it until I got back to Italy and read that Hungary had opened its border with W. Germany and about 10k Germans were emigrating daily. A little slice of history which I shall never forget.

5. En route to Prague, every time I came to a hill of any mentionable size, I would pass a convoy of blue smoke producing, barely moving Trabants, each of which was seriously overloaded with passengers and possessions. On the flat parts of the autobahn, both my SF750 and the Trabants would approach the speed limit, but hills were a formidable obstacle to the Trabants.

6. Prague was amazingly beautiful before the arrival of 45k Americans. And Czechs *liked* motorcycles. Only in Italy did I feel as welcome as a motorcyclist. My lodging was in one of those concrete block highrise complexes which surrounded E. Bloc capitals. A liter bottle of Pilsner was included in the price. Each night, my host would ask me if I wanted to change money. Evidently, buying Western currency (even at many times the official rate) is an excellent way of saving for the future when inflation is high.

6a. As it turns out, on my last day in Prague, I finally spent all the money I had had to acquire upon entry. I also needed to fill the Laverda with gas in order to make it to the Austrian border. On the street, men were constantly calling out "Cambio, change, wechsel", and so I took one up on their offer. Petrol had been expensive in Germany and so I changed 10 marks (about 5 USD at the time). I got a *pile* of notes, half of which I still have! The other half purchased fuel, motor oil, a towel, magazines, souvernirs (Lada and Skoda keyrings) and some miscellaneous hardware. I bought everything I thought would have even the slightest amount of value at every roadstop from Prague to the Austrian border.

6b. The department store in Prague was a trip: they had racks and racks of shirts, but all were the same style and size. Same deal with hardware: when I was there, they had hubcaps and 6mm screws -- and little else! Shoppers would load up with whatever they were stocking, perhaps in order to barter later.

7. Ljubljiana is a beautiful city; from Italy, several of us took an overnight trip and met (by pure chance) some Benellistas -- they showed us a great time.

There is a little irony that each of the countries that bothered to stamp my passport in 1989 no longer exists!

Happy July 4th!

Posted by webs0080 at 8:51 AM

June 22, 2003

Clutch Time

Time speeds up the older you get. Kitty Carlisle says that by the time you reach 70, it seems like you are having breakfast every fifteen minutes. The clutch on the Morini had always slipped a bit, or at least it had as long as I have had the thing (since 1986). While it might have been possible to find a mechanic with the proper tools, willingness, and experience in 1986, it is no longer.

Two or three years ago, I got new oil seals for the bike from Herdan. I was then thwarted in my conscientiousness by a lack of a special tool with which to remove the clutch basket springs. On one of my many trips as a homeowner to Home Depot, I bought a vise with which I was to fashion such a tool from an auto body trim tool.

But this week past, I got the garage into shape. In order to replace the cam belt (the old self-destructed a block or two from the Mississippi), I had to order a special tool from Germany. While waiting for the tool and replacement belt to arrive, I bought one of those large rolling toolchests. Once I replaced the timing belt, I realized that I finally had all that I needed to get on with the project I had started and aborted earlier. I mounted the vise to the workbench and hacksawed and filed the auto body trim tool into a clutch spring removal tool.

So I dug into the clutch. Getting the basket off was no great challenge, once I ran all over town chasing down a large enough socket to get the nut off. After first giving up on the larger project of getting behind the clutch to the primary case, I tore it into it once I realized that I could do so with the engine in the frame.

Removing the primary drive case presented some new challenges. First, I necessarily destroyed the old gasket in the process. Next the I heard a fateful "click" as the kickstart shaft unsprung itself. I made the gasket with the technique taught to me by Walter Alter back when I was puppy in San Francisco. It took a few tries to get the gasket, shaft, and cover aligned properly.

But I got the new seals in and within the first half a dozen attempts, the case, gasket, and kickstart shaft all played together nicely. Once I rotated the rotor magnet 180 degrees, the thing ran beautifully all the way to Dunn Bros. and back.

In one of the deleted scenes from Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that everyone has to have an interest in something really stupid -- in his case Porsches. For me, it's the Morini (and -- I admit -- the rest of the fleet). But it was cool seeing Jerry Seinfeld fixing a oil sender on his old VW; VW fixin was a sideline interest at the Batcave.

Maybe fixing the clutch after a decade and a half of neglect will show me that I can accomplish some of the goals I have been recently complaining about having committed myself too. I only hope that I don't have to wait as long to achieve them.

Can you spot the blogger in "Scooter Pix 2" at the bottom of this page? Hint: you likely wouldn't recognize him today.

Posted by webs0080 at 1:42 PM