Monthly Archives: March 2008

Have Storage, Will Travel

I got a sweet new trunk for my scooter. (They told me that I could use “sweet” here on the West coast.) It has a lot of room — it fits my big Timbuk2 tote alongside my 3/4 helmet. Or it will fit two paper bags of groceries from Trader Joe’s. It will also fit two cats or a medium-sized dog, but Piaggio USA would like to remind you that no pets are allowed in the storage compartments of Vespa scooters.

nopets

Anyways, here’s the new topcase:

topcase

While the trunk is weatherproof and roomy, I am a bit disappointed with it on a couple of features.

First, it’s flimsy plastic and I thought it would be a bit more sturdy and durable, given the exorbitant price. Likewise, I thought the red lenses on the back would be lights wired into the brakes — or at least reflectors — and they are neither. I shouldn’t have assumed they would be brake lights, but in my research I passed a few catalogs that carried “replacement brake wiring” for the Vespa topcases, so I jumped to that conclusion, aided by the price tag (which is more than twice what a generic Givi trunk runs). Apparently, though, I can buy one of the wiring kits and hack the trunk. I’m a bit nervous to mess with the electrical system when I’ve had so many problems with it already. I’ll likely leave it as is and add some 3M Solas instead.

The third issue is that it is a pain in the patootie to close and lock. If there is anything at all in the topcase, the aforementioned flimsy plastic bends, so the edges don’t line up perfectly and the thing won’t snap shut. When I had it installed, they showed me that I have to turn the key in the lock, then close the top, then release the lock to close it. Which is stupid and I often don’t have two free hands. I’ve discovered that shutting it hard without turning the key often gets it to lock — but it’s just super fussy and inconsistent.

I’m also cranky about having an additional key to deal with, namely because the ignition key has to be on to open the underseat storage space, and I’m often storing items simultaneously in both the trunk and under the seat. There’s no way to shut the topcase without locking it, or lift the seat without having the ignition on. This requires much juggling of keys. I may just get one of those key rings with the separator clip that pulls apart.

BUT the topcase is color-matched to the bike — a metallic midnight blue not available elsewhere — and it came with a passenger backrest. Thus, I could justify getting it because I won’t have to acquire a backrest separately. And the backrest is also color-matched to the seat. So, it looks pretty. Which is, in the end, what it’s all about. Right?

I got the topcase and had it installed at the new Vespa Eastside. It’s my understanding that they’re part of the Vespa Seattle empire (along with the repair shop — Big People Scooters). I was mad at Vespa Seattle so decided to order my topcase online, and I ended up doing business with them by accident. But the folks at Vespa Eastside were an agreeable bunch. I bought the trunk on eBay with free shipping, and then realized they were in Woodinville, WA. So I called them, and the fellow there said if I picked it up, he’d install it for free to save him the shipping charge.

So I went on a little road trip down to wine country, and it was a beautiful 50 minute ride. The sun was out and it was warm, getting me excited for spring riding weather. Following Google’s directions there, I made the mistake of turning right rather than bearing right and instantly found myself on the 405. I guess it was as good a time as any to put the GTS through her paces at 65 mph… and I promptly got off the first exit. Aphrodite can handle it, but I’m not sure I’m ready to. Not with SUVs whizzing by on either side of me doing 80 mph.

They had many pretty scooters and attire at Vespa Eastside. As you can see, everything is reflective.

eastside1

eastside3

gtv

This is the scooter I was going to get, the Vespa GTV, which is the same engine as my GTS but the body styling is “retro”. I didn’t like that the headlight was down on the fender as visibility is already a big concern for me. I also didn’t really like the exposed handlebars, which is the core of the “retro” look. I did like the Portofino green though, and the brown leather double-saddle seat.

eastside2

In the forefront on the right is another GTV, in “Aviator Grey”. Alas, the GTV is also an extra $1,000 and to pay that much more for a paint job that’s going to get demolished by urban living didn’t seem worthwhile (been there, done that).

See — it’s not always about looking pretty. Logic occasionally sneaks by me.

NOW! With 50% more bling!

v_cowl

I thought it would be wise to get the crash bars on the Vespa ASAP, considering the fate of the Frankenstella — that scooter went down three times while the crash bars were still lying limp and useless on my garage floor. I was determined to install the chrome on the Vespa myself, not only to avoid the $90/hr labor, but because I can. Oh yes, I can.

Of course, what should have been a two hour affair dragged on for three weekends due to lack of proper tools (Vice grip? Ginormous allen wrench?!) and the loss of a nut. Now I understand the old adage “for want of a nail the war was lost”. That singular piece of hardware put a wrench in the machine, as it were, of the whole installation. The nut rolled off somewhere — perhaps into the storm drain — never to be found again. I had already installed half of the crash bars on the other side, so I rode around for a week sporting only 50% bling.

I tried to pick up a replacement at three different hardware stores, but of course it was a certified Vespa® nut and engineered specifically for the 2007 GTS left cowl. I finally bit the bullet and rode all the way down to Big People Scooters to pick up a replacement nut so I could finish the job.

Orin provided some tools and brute force, for which I am grateful, as I am lacking in the brute force department. The chrome was not quite at the right angle so the placards had to be bent with the vice grip in order to match it to the bolt on the cowl. The left cowl chrome is a little too bent, over-projecting from the bike an inch, but that is both subtle and fixable.

v_windscreen

The wind screen was the trickier part because it involved so much assembly and came with so few directions. The directions that were provided were (poorly) translated from Italian and contained hand-drawn not-to-scale diagrams that had been photocopied a million times. This was no illustrated Ikea “how to”. But I figured it out, mostly with the assistance of Click’s windscreen as a model. The windscreen I installed is one size larger and works quite well at deflecting wind, rain and road-spray from my face and chest.

All in all I’m quite pleased with the results. And I highly recommend the DIY method of scooter maintenance, especially for non-critical items like this. I learned a ton. And the Vespa is all shiny!
I’ve been admonished that “chrome won’t get you home” — but damn if you don’t look good en route…

v_fender

Rabbit Raincheck

eggsabove

I’m nutty busy at work and haven’t had a chance to do much of anything, including uploading these photos I took on Easter while dyeing sparkle eggs with Kerry — but better late than never. My hands were purple and glittery when we were done (as well as my kitchen). It was fabulous.

eggs

Hope the ÜberBun was good to you.

Just Add Hooka

vcosparty

The Vespa Club’s “Ides of March” party was Saturday. The festivities were held at the Grotto, which is located in the opium den basement of the Rendevous. I took Gracie and she braved all the eccentrics swimmingly.

The Grotto had first class hommus, heavy on the tahini. Sugarbear kept doling out the gratis drink tickets, so the Tonic & Cran flowed freely on into the night. We sprawled on the red velvet cushions and at least three people mentioned hookas. I could almost hear finger cymbals…

I only took two pics before my battery died. Chuck took lots more and you can see them on his Flickr site. There’s a couple side-splitters. Sylvia’s beehive is tres chic.

Makin’ Aht

We like our art here in Seattle. It ranks up there with coffee, sushi, microbrews and REI. This city is absolutely bursting with stuff to do, all year round. The rain doesn’t seem to slow people down any. (I complain more than usual, especially if my butt is wet, but venture out just the same.)

First Thursdays are the poor man’s Cheap Date Night, since the museums are free, as is the Pioneer Sq. Art Walk — where you can also get free dinner if you score wine, cheese and crackers at each gallery.

In New Haven we had Open Studios, which is the same thing, but it was only once a year. Seattle does it every month. If you rotate neighborhoods, you could even go weekly. Today is Fremont 1st Friday, and next week is West Seattle 2nd Thursday.

I went to the West Seattle Art Walk last month. It wasn’t as bustling as Pioneer Sq., but I love West Seattle and whatever it does is the best. Alki is my golden child — it can trap me in bridge traffic, break my neck on potholes, and remain financially just out of reach — but it will always be my favorite. Every night at sunset, Alki quietly apologizes for its transgressions, and you must forgive it.

So last night was the Pioneer Square shindig, and Aphrodite and I rode down with Orin to be cultured.

When I got home from work, it was warm and overcast, but not quite cloudy. An hour later, when it was time to venture out, it was pouring. I was mentally unprepared. It’s one thing to know you’re going to get cold and wet, and another to suddenly be cold and wet. But I was wearing my scooter skirt (along with AAA, one of the best purchases of 2007), and my Vespa still has Chuck’s windshield on it. He lent me his flyscreen to try it out because I was trying to decide which size to get. It does a decent job of deflecting rain from my chest if I hunker down in the seat and also use the faceshield on my helmet. I’ve ordered one of the mid-size windscreens so I can sit up straight.

In any case, I was un-thrilled to head out in the driving rain, but by the time we got to the International District, it had mostly stopped. The sun had gone down but the sky was still deep blue, and the whole city was crisp and shiny after the rain. Everything glittered. I could smell the Sound. I forgot about my wet butt for one moment and just soaked in the night.

We parked on the sidewalk, which is reason #1,592 why I love having a scooter. We hit about a dozen galleries. The TK Gallery reminded me of ActivSpace, where I used to have my studio. There were many smaller studios within the main one, and the artists had their doors open with their work up. Of all the artists we saw last night, two of my favorites were in that gallery. One was Betty Hageman, who let us touch her paintings (!!!!), and the other was Kerrie Carbary who creates altered books and mixed media. Kerrie had these amazing miniature collages that were so intricate. There were a couple of pieces that I simply loved, and wanted to climb inside.

I so wish I had money that I could be spending on art — it seems like such a luxury to me. It’s like organic produce. I know it’s healthier for me, tastes better, and I want to support local farms. But some days I can’t rationalize a $7 red pepper. I know a framed mixed media piece on my living room wall is better than a print from allposters.com, but I just sank every last penny I had into a scooter. So I added “buy real art from local artists” to my list of things I’ll do when I’m a responsible adult with a house and stuff. Luckily, I have amazingly talented friends that send me their work as gifts for Christmas and birthdays.

You know, I thought a lot about my friends last night, and how talented they are. Viva had a show this week in New Haven, and sent me an email snapshot of her display (with the subject line “giving birth”):

vvb2

I thought of Viva’s photos (seven of which I have framed and hanging in my apartment) and of Nathan’s photos (four of which I have framed and hanging in my apartment) and didn’t see even a handful of photographs last night that moved me in the same way. Or really, moved me at all. I think a person can be an artist even before picking up their medium, and being an artist is more a way of seeing the world than the mastery of a specific skillset. If you take away the technology, does the photo still speak? Because that stuff can’t be taught.

I personally don’t make art with photographs. I’m more of a documentarian. A personal-life journalist, I guess. I started enjoying photography a lot more when I stopped trying to make art. Images are an intimate love of mine, but words are my passionate life partner. My little digital point-and-shoot is more like a fling.

Speaking of documentation — here are two pics from last night. It’s funny when you have two photographers, who are used to being the ones taking the pictures, turn it around on one another. I was curled up in a big chair in the coffee shop, nearly napping, and Orin said he wished he had his camera. So I gave him mine. It was very low light in the cafe, and the shots came out quite dreamy.

k_coffee

Orin thinks he looks like Bill Gates in this one I took of him. But I think this pic looks like an author photo on the sleeve of a hardcover book about graphic design. Maybe it’s the glasses.

orin_coffee

I’m excited to dig into the digital video more. I shot some footage last week by strapping the camera to my scooter, facing backward. It came out very cool for a first try. If I get it edited this weekend I’ll post it. I want to add music. One finished project I helped out with is the “How to Shift a Manual Vespa” video for scootinoldskool. I rode on the back of Orin’s scooter and shot the video camera over his shoulder while he shifted. We edited the video using MS Movie Maker. It turned out well — considering my lack of familiarity with the camera, my two hours of experience with the software, and the fact that I was riding bitch on a PX150 with no foot pegs or grab rails. You can view the final video here.

I’m hoping to improve my skills in the video arena because I’ve got a brain on fire full of projects I want to do — I just have to figure out how to make the pictures in my head come out with the available technology.

Oooh — does that make me an artist?

Prom Night at Hater High

prom2

Oh, to be sweet eighteen again — or at least, eighteen again…

Project “Unearth Old Photos” continues. This one didn’t require too much restoration but I did have to balance the color on that sweet back-drop that appears in every single posed photograph of me from 1992 on. My dad was a photographer, and liked to hang up cheeseball backgrounds for portraits. My friends were good sports about posing, though. Probably better sports than I.

One of the downsides of growing up in the house of a photographer is the sheer volume of pictures in existence. Nowadays they can be stored on a hard drive. But I’ve got cases and cases of photos from the day I was born until this past Christmas, capturing every bad haircut, every angst-laden adolescent dance, every birthday.

My older sister had it harder than I. In her tender youth, my parents were still in the habit of commemorating dates by dragging boys into the house for a photo session (complete with back-drop). Stopping that routine probably has more to do with my choice of dates than a waning interest in visual documentation; they were mostly afraid of the people I hung out with.

One truly surreal afternoon, at the bidding of my mother who was hurt that “you never bring your friends back here anymore,” I invited the crew back to my sleepy suburban acre. My mom served piping hot brownies to my boyfriend at the time, Chris, a 6’5″ punk kid with flaming orange hair and a black leather jacket with saw blades sewn into the shoulders. She asked us if we’d like to go for a swim. Bill, who had painstakingly spent several hours the previous night perfecting his cerulean blue hair, replied that he’d skip the pool since the chlorine might turn his hair “funny colors.”

Notice the lack of prom date in the above photograph. He was probably hiding in the garage, wearing those patchwork pants of his and biting his painted black nails.

Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables

watermelon
How cute am I?

One of my projects for class right now is to restore old photographs. I set to digging through my box of pics that are not yet in albums, and came across several gems. I love this one. I so wish my mom still had this shirt so I could borrow it. It’s AWESOME. I’m sure it went well with my father’s bell bottoms and sideburns.

Wait til you see his pics.

Vespeuphoria

sundee

In a Lingonberry carb coma. Photo by Orin. More pics of Operation Flapjack here.

Okay so my lean, mean Vespa machine was returned to me. Aphrodite is back on the road, and though I’m still crossing my fingers each time I start the ignition, it appears she’s done throwing battery tantrums. Each time I start her up, I get a jolt of gleeful surprise — the same feeling I got when my Stella was still outside my apartment each morning, parked in auto-theft central. Yay! It’s still there! Now I clap excitedly to myself: Yay! It still starts!

I’ve learned to keep expectations low and celebrate the small victories.

Sunday I went on the first half of the Operation Flap-jack ride, including breakfast at the Swedish Cultural Center. I ate many pancakes with strange berries on them. Then I rode around Green Lake and across one of my favorite neighborhoods — Phinney Ridge. I absolutely love that stretch. I used to ride it several times a week when I was working regularly at Cat City — from Westlake to 85th via Fremont Ave. and Phinney. Views, parks, long flat stretches of new pavement. It was a good day.

Now that I’ve put about 300 miles on the Vespa, I’ve been able to draw some comparisons between this and the various other scooters I’ve ridden. The GTS is the creme of the crop — a five-star scooter, the Jaguar of the scooter world, if you ask me. Vespa calls the GTS “The Fastest Vespa Ever.” I would also call it the safest Vespa ever. Not that I need to rationalize anything, but purchasing the GTS was definitely a wise move.

As a disclaimer, I am in no way an expert on safety, scootering — or really anything other than, say, cats and indie rock. I am speaking solely from my own experience, which is very limited. That said, I’ve been riding since ’99 and I’ve never had an accident. (Although I have dropped the Frankenstella twice this winter, both times going 5 miles an hour on precarious road conditions.) I really like this article from Motorcyclist Online, 50 Ways to Save Your Life. There’s also places like the Evergreen Safety Council who can provide you with actual legitimate information. Consider my input totally editorial.

Riding a scooter in the city is dangerous. There’s no two ways about it. You have to pay attention constantly, ride defensively, and assume that every single car on the road is going to hit you. You are literally invisible. Even wearing my new Glo Glovs, even with my white 3/4 helmet lit up by 3M Solas marine grade reflective tape, even with the dual halogen headlamps on the GTS, I am invisible. But as long as I accept that, I can ride as safely as possible. This means at every intersection, I assume the oncoming car is going to turn left in front of me, that the car next to me is going to change lanes into me, that the SUV hurtling down the hill to my right is going to run that red light. Even if drivers do see you, they misjudge your speed because you’re smaller than a car, particularly if you’re heading toward them. That’s one of the reasons why many two-wheeled collisions with a car involve the driver turning left in front of the bike, even if they saw the rider — even if they made eye contact.

For the way I ride, it’s not the open roads or speed that I’m too concerned about. It’s intersections, it’s heavy traffic with lots of lane-changing, it’s long stretches of construction without clearly marked lanes, enormous steel plates covering the road with zero traction in the rain. Some people argue that because the GTS is capable of highway speeds, it is therefore more dangerous. That’s totally flawed logic.

Compared to my previous scooters, the Vespa GTS has the following safety features: better brakes, larger wheels, stronger acceleration, brighter headlights, louder horn, lower center of gravity, and all-around better handling.

There are three ways to avoid obstacles or danger on a scooter — speed up, slow down, and/or swerve. You have to make split-second decisions on which is appropriate in any given situation, based on who’s behind you, who’s in front of you, what the road surface is like, and how fast you’re going (and myriad other factors). On the Stella, I tended to brake and/or swerve to avoid danger because I just couldn’t move fast enough to get out of the path of the obstacle. Particularly with the hesitation in 3rd and 4th gear. The torque on the GTS is unbelievable and I can easily throttle my way out of situations instantly. And I don’t have to shift before accelerating. It makes riding so much more enjoyable.

Stopping on the GTS is smooth and fast. Compared to both the Stella and my Honda Elite 250, the brakes on the Vespa are a million times better. The Elite was 20 years old, so I did replace the brakes with new ones. But I still had to stand up on the foot brake to stop on Denny. The GTS has no foot brake, which was disconcerting at first (and I occasionally slam my foot into the floorboard for no particular reason), but with both brakes on the handgrips, I found I could maintain better balance when stopping. On the other scooters I would need to hold my right leg at an awkward angle to use the foot brake — I don’t know if I sit weird or it’s because my legs are so long. With both feet braced flat on the floorboard, stopping on a hill is much more comfortable on the GTS. Plus the GTS has disc brakes both front and back. The Stella and the Elite have front disc brakes and rear drum brakes. Hence the standing-up-to-stop maneuver.

As an added stopping bonus, the GTS is fuel injected so engine-braking kicks in fast if you don’t give it gas. When riding in the city, I often don’t even need my brakes if I leave room in front of me.

The GTS halogen headlight is wicked bright, and there’s a second headlamp on the mudguard for increased visibility. The stock headlight on the old Stellas are inadequate at best. Luckily, adding a halogen headlight is one of the things Genuine improved upon for the new Stellas coming out this year (along with a decent crank). Of course, the Frankenstella’s electrical system was so royally screwed that I rode with practically no lights or signals for a good few months. (See safety disclaimer above.)

The GTS is a very heavy scooter. The weight was the one thing I was concerned about when comparing models during pre-purchase research. My Elite 80cc weighed 170 lbs., while the GTS weighs 326 lbs. In between are the Stella, at 240 lbs., and the Elite 250cc, at 287 lbs. Forty pounds difference between my largest bike and the GTS didn’t seem like much, especially since I carried a 170 lb. passenger every day on the Elite 250. And I easily weighed at least 40 lbs. more than I do now.

I talked to Tina at Vespa Seattle about the weight differences among the models, LX150, GT and GTS. She said I wouldn’t even notice it. And I don’t — except when I’m parking. Or putting the GTS on its center stand, on top of my big toe. Because the weight is distributed so well on the GTS, and the center of gravity is so low, the bike is perfectly balanced. Once you give it some throttle, the weight disappears. The bike feels like it’s made out of graphite.

After riding the GTS for awhile, I got back on the Stella, and could instantly feel the difference in the center of gravity. The Stella felt downright tipsy. Maybe that’s why I keep putting it down.

I’ve been entertaining myself by blowing people away at lights — particularly when they inch up alongside me and I know they’re going to try and pass me when the light changes green. They see a girl in a skirt on a cute little scooter and get their panties in a bunch that they’re going to be “stuck” behind me. So I leave them there to reconsider. It’s juvenile and unnecessary but I have to get my rocks off when I can. On Aphrodite, I’m no commuting secretary — I’m a superhero in civilian clothing.

In summary, I am totally, fully and completely smitten with the Vespa GTS. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. ”