Where Thought and Riding Meet

There's a weird, strange thrill riding in the sticks that's hard to describe. Part visual, part physical, part spiritual. The ride is important, an anthem to living, a meditation on feeling blood and breath course through the body. Problems, opportunities, secrets and answers unfold on the road. Those discoveries fuel my ride.

Beware the Snow

snowy road at nightBeware the snow the rider thinks, too fraught with danger and despair.  Fresh snow falling, light and dry in the darkness, experience reflects this snow is now the one to fear, for in fact, in great need, this snow is navigable by Vespa, it’s soft depth yields both traction and stability allowing passage, albeit slow, to two-wheeled travel under duress.  I’ve made small journeys in such a mess.

Gratefully, no need presents itself and the only journey is to the end of the driveway to make a photo.  A few mornings earlier I had the opportunity to explore a far more challenging winter surface.

Vespa GTS scooter on icy drievewaySunday morning, the temperature just about freezing, frozen ice and snow beginning to mix with liquid water creating an wintry plasma that defies friction or traction.  The driveway was untreated but the roadways were dry with wet patches but clear of ice. Roadway assessments and predictions fall to any rider venturing out with snow on the ground, even if only at the fringes of pavement.

Heidenau K66 LT Snow Tex scooter tire in snowI take opportunities to practice in snow from time to time, usually off the road, in parking lots or farm lanes.  Having snow tires helps but only for specific types of snow and ice.  If there is traction to be had, the Heidenau K66 LT Snow Tex tires will bite into snow or snow pack and provide stability for forward motion.  Obviously leaning is out so turns must be negotiated at a snail’s pace, literally, and a rider must be aware of the changing character of the snow.

Snow pack that offers a chance of traction can instantly become a hardened mass of snow bordering on ice which offers almost no traction.  It gets worse when the temperature rises about 32F and a thin film of liquid water enters the equation.

Vespa GTS scooter at Pennsylvania MIlitary Museum in snowThis snow is hard with little traction.  The scooter isn’t heavy enough for the tires to chew threw the surface.  Still, it’s navigable though I road with my feet down just in case a tire started to give way to gravity.  I feel comfortable handling a scooter of this size.  I would not want to try a larger one, or a motorcycle.

At the other end of the lot I encountered wet ice pushing through hard snow, frightening in it’s lack of traction giving the feeling that the wheels could break loose of the ground at any moment.  My feet offered no help at all.  Riding on ice.  I has it’s own lessons.

I experiment only to expand the data in my head which helps manage riding on the road — especially when and if I should be out.

Vespa GTS and Piaggio Fly 150 scooters in State College, PAThe ride into State College for breakfast was uneventful — the roads clear with some moisture and salt, but nothing exciting.  Saw a Piaggio Fly 150, have seen it around for awhile, but haven’t seen its rider yet.  Another year round rider in town.

Gelatin silver print The darkroom was pressed into service again and I finally arrived at our Sunday morning photo meeting at Saint’s Cafe with some new gelatin silver prints.  I had forgotten how satisfying it is to work in the dark.

Vespa GTS scooter and Mt. NittanyIt started to snow again while at Saint’s but the temperature held about the freezing mark meaning the ride home might be wet but not dangerous.  The biggest challenge faced was transporting my 11×14 prints — too big for the topcase, they had to hang from the purse hook in a plastic back.

Safely home, the scooter in the garage on the Battery Tender, a forecast for more snow, I was happy to be warm and safe.  While URALs and other sidecar rigs can play in more serious white stuff, for those on two wheels, the watch words remain, “Beware the snow.”.

Breathe Deep and Ride

Vespa GTS scooter at sunriseCold and windy at sunrise with brain announcing there’ll be no riding today.  At once a coward and slacker the gray matter will convincingly guide ass into car, or couch, or other safe and slothful action.  I have to guard against my brain for it does not have my best interest in mind but rather hopes to drift in a comfortable malaise fueled by sugar and fat and electrons pushed out by Netflix. With as much muddled resistance as I could muster I tried to breathe deep and ride.

And so I found myself walking out of Subway with breakfast in a bag at sunrise.

Vespa GTS scooter parked at Penn StateWarm sunlight bathed the scooter when I arrived at work.  No caffeine necessary to wake up when 19F air is hammering at you.  Dismounting the Vespa after a cold ride leaves you quivering like a dog exiting a freezing dip in a creek.  While I’ve done no research, I’m certain the workdays kickstarted by a ride are better.

Twilight and a Vespa GTS scooterDeparting for home at twilight in the cold can be, well, discouraging after a long day.  Without a doubt driving home in a warm car is easier than bracing for a ride into the freezing night.  The damn brain.  It says it’s just playing things safe but I swear it’s robbing me of life energy.

Or something.

Twilight and farm fieldsYou would think an evening ride in the cold would be direct and deliberately intended to travel fast to the warm safety of home.  But like one of the kids in Bil Keane’s Family Circus comics, I wander off course a bit.  As the sun sank further below the horizon the challenge to monitor the road surface increased as I made the logical choice to detour.

Vespa GTS scooter on frozen farm laneThere are plenty of dry, paved roads to ride on but I seem to be drawn to the little dirt, grass and gravel paths found here in central Pennsylvania.  I wonder at times why I’m not riding a dirt bike instead of a scooter.

It was almost dark when I arrived home and as in the morning I felt refreshed and alive.  All things seem possible after a scooter ride.

I think that’s called denial.

Riding in the Dark

Vespa GTS scooter at night in the snowJust typed “Vespa GTS scooter at night in the snow” as the alt tag for the above image and thought “What the hell are you doing riding in the dark?”.  After some thought the best I can come up with is a line from the the old Florida Citrus Commission campaign (remember Anita Bryant) “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”

Substitute “a scooter ride” with “orange juice”.  I just needed a little ride and it was dark outside so what do you do?  Sit inside on the couch? Even a 20 minute ride will change the way you look at the world.

Besides, it wasn’t cold — temperature hovering at the freezing mark.  A the roads were mostly clear of snow and ice and not much traffic around.  The Vespa has a bright high beam headlight that illuminates the roadway making scanning for obstacles simple.

Vespa GTS scooter on Church Street in Boalsburg, PAMost of the holiday lighting is gone save for some twinkle lights wrapped around light poles in Boalsburg and a shrinking collection of lights on homes.  Doesn’t dull the thrill of riding.

An aside related to the photos.  Made them with a Canon G15 point and shoot camera.  I continue to be amazed at what it can do.  This one is a handheld shot at ISO 1600 with the zoom at a medium range setting. You can shoot pictures in the dark. I realize it’s another matter entirely to be riding in the dark.  Some might say a fools errand and on the surface I might agree.  Looking deeper it’s not so simple. It may seem risky but it only seems that way.

At home now drinking juice and gnawing on French bread.  I am absolutely certain it tastes better because of the little ride I took earlier.  Isn’t that your experience as well?

Winter Vespa

Vespa GTS 250 scooter on snowy farm laneThis morning under a dazzling sky and frigid 12F atmosphere the Vespa scooter returned to the road — mostly, just a few side jaunts to re-familiarize myself with the newly mounted winter tires.  The winter Vespa has slightly different handling characteristics that take a few moments to program into muscle memory.

There’s still a bit of snow and ice to contend with but the main roads are mostly clear and dry though the stray patch of ice or packed snow still lurk in the shadows demanding winter grade attention to detail.  I can sense the autonomic responses at work and seem to have a level of hyperawareness that’s not present in warm weather.  All the usual suspects remain — other drivers and such, but now the road surface has far more pitfalls.  Crossing through a residential neighborhood I found myself riding at 15mph on packed snow where I would normally be navigating at 35mph.

Winter riding means slow riding.

Paul Ruby and in his big blue truckPaul Ruby provided transportation from my home to Kissell Motorsports where the scooter with it’s new fuel pump and winter tires waited.  In exchange I took him to breakfast at the State College Diner.  The temperature rose sharply from 0F when I was walking Junior to almost 10F at breakfast.  Add a little sunshine and your brain can convince you it isn’t all that cold.

Ice water in Pepsi-Cola glass at State College DinorNo matter how cold it is there’s always ice water being served in restaurants.  Seems to make sense that the ice would be dropped in the winter.  Lukewarm tap water being served…

Vespa GTS 250 scooter at Kissell MotorsportsThe scooter had been sitting in unheated storage for a few days and nights of really cold weather and took a bit longer to start than normal.  Once it fired up it ran like a champ.  I let it run a bit while I paid the repair bill and took a look at the motorcycles and scooters.

The technician let me know that come spring when I remove the snow tires I should change the rear wheel bearing.  Not surprising that some water and salt grime have gotten into the bearing.  He cleaned it out and regreased the bearing but it’s time for a shiny new version.

Self-portrait at Kissell MotorsportsKissell Motorsports has a lot of motorcycles and scooters to look at.  The new Vespa Sprint 150s are really cool looking.

Update on the FirstGear Kilimanjaro jacket in the cold — fantastic.  Riding at 13F I was able to do so with a long-sleeved undershirt, a sweater, and the jacket.  It appears impervious to cold.  No leaks, not cold penetration.  The zippers are big and easy to operate and the velcro closures seem perfectly placed and easy to use.  Really happy with this jacket.

Departing Kissell Motorsports on the Vespa GTS 250 scooter(Photo by Paul Ruby)

Off on a few errands and then onward towards home.  First order of business was to not dump the scooter in the parking lot.  Slow is the order of the day.  Heated grips worked really well and warmed my hands nicely through a thick pair of Tourmaster winter gloves that I’ve had for years.  The Tucano Urbano muffs also do a great job keeping the wind and cold at bay.  The combination of heated grips and muffs is the best winter Vespa hand protection that I’ve found.  A far cry better than heated gloves alone.  At some point I’ll test the heated gloves with the muffs in place of the heated grips.

Steaming cup of Earl Grey tea at the Pump Station in Boalsburg, PAThe only weak link left in terms of me getting cold are my feet.  After about 45 minutes my feet started to get cold.  No spare power on the scooter for electric socks or insoles.  Thinking it might be time to just get some heavy boots — perhaps a Sorel winter boot though the rubber bottoms worry me a bit in terms of wear.

The tried and true method of managing freezing body parts is to stop riding and seek shelter.  The Pump Station in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania provided shelter today along with some steaming hot Earl Grey tea.  Sitting inside with the sun pouring in the windows kept the place warm and I was ready for a nap.

snow on the road with a Vespa scooterWhile not perfect winter riding weather because of the lingering snow and ice it is possible to still ride if you’ve winterized yourself and your scooter or motorcycle.  Riding on neighborhood roads and streets is a mixed bag of snow, ice, and dry pavement.  Don’t get over confident on the dry stuff only to suddenly find yourself having to navigate the slippery stuff while going much too fast.  It’s a perfect way to try out your protective riding gear.

I still find a puzzling level of satisfaction riding the winter Vespa.  There’s a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing I endured the cold.  And of course the fun of riding which has not diminished much regardless of the weather.

Wonder what’s next this winter?