Friday, May 13, 2016

Re-tired (Michellin City Grip tires)

Tires wear out. It's an unfortunate reality of vehicle ownership. For those of us on two wheels, it is important to know that motorcycle tires wear out faster than automobile or truck tires. This is due primarily to the way motorcycle tires sit on the road. They have a much smaller contact area with the road surface than do automotive tires. The composition of the rubber will also affect longevity of the tire. To add insult to injury, the rear tire on a motorcycle or scooter wears out even faster than the front due to weight distribution and the simple fact that the rear tire is the one delivering power to the road.

The stock Dunlop on the rear of my Honda had been showing signs of wear for a while and last week, the rubber finally got down to the wear indicators. For those who aren't aware, many motorcycle tires will have a bit of raised rubber inside the tread (toward the middle of the tire generally) that is used to indicate when the tires should be replaced. When the tire is worn to the point that the wear indicator is even with the surface of the tire, it's time for a new one and so it was for me. The PCX had 6,070 miles on it when the tire was changed.

I did a bit of research prior to making a purchase and it seems that many other Honda PCX owners have been happy with the Michelin City Grip, and since it was more in line with my budget than an $80 Pirelli, it got the nod. Lancaster Honda ordered the tire for me and I picked it up last Friday. Getting the tire to school proved to be less complicated than I had originally presumed it would be. I was able to simply strap it to my backpack and ride in on the Honda with a spare on my back.

Installing the tire was a bit of a struggle. The physical proportions of most scooter wheels make them difficult to work with. They tend to be thin and small in diameter and in the case of the PCX wheel, I had to get the bead breaker in just the right place, at just the right angle to get the old tire free of the rim and the fit of both the new and old tires was decidedly tight, which can be attributed to the dinky size of the wheel rim.

Once the new tire was on the rim, it was a simple matter to get it back on the scoot, and time to take it  out for a spin. Something to keep in mind when riding a new tire, the compound can be very slippery until it has been scuffed in a bit. With this solidly in my mind, I was cautious around the first few corners but soon realized that the Michelin's name was not amiss. That skinny little tire gripped on the corners better than the previous Dunlop ever had. The PCX feels much more sure footed and I'm able to get a slightly better lean angle without feeling Like the scoot is going to slip out from underneath me.

The real test of the new tire would be rain. How would it hold up in the wet? Despite my distaste for wet weather riding, the only way to know how the tire would perform is to test it in real world conditions. So today I rode the Honda to school with full knowledge that thunderstorms were on their way. I'd prayed for a dry ride home without really expecting such, but it just so happened that the massive belt of thunderstorms finished its assault on York just as I was putting my rain gear on. When I went outside, the sun was glistening off the wet pavement.

At the suggestion of my instructor and a classmate, I took a new route to work through the hills. I tried to take a video, but only got a short snippet. The larger video did not save. Oh well, such is life. I can say though that the Michelin City Grip tire stuck to the road like glue. Even when I stopped at an intersection and nearly fell over since my boots had no grip, the scoot didn't skitter at all taking off from a stop. Cornering in the rain was very good without any hint of slip and if you look at the map I've included below, you'll see that there are quite a few twists and turns on the route.

So, I'd say the Michelin City Grip lives up to its reputation as a grippy scooter tire. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Misery loves company

It's the first Sunday of the month, so despite the rain I left the house around 8:30 and took off in the general direction of Ephrata. It wasn't exactly raining, though the PCX shed droplets as I lifted the seat to deposit my iPad within its cavernous depths.

The roads were wet, and the misty drizzle that seemed to hang in the cold spring air formed larger droplets on my visor, effectively dissolving the thin layer of insect remains. Still, the PCX clung to the roads like a nuthatch to a tree branch, seemingly in its element.

Upon arrival at the park, there were two other bikes parked outside the American Legion. It seems more were willing to brave the cold the last few months, but few wish to become sodden and shivering.

A few folks were finishing up breakfast. There were more people in the dining room than bikes in the parking lot since some of the folks had decided to drive their cars instead of braving the elements. I can't say I blame them.

After breakfast, I made my way home, stripped off my wet jeans and went back to bed. It's a lot warmer here and I have a little companion making it even more toasty.

Saturday, April 30, 2016


The GPS facilitates getting to one's destination quickly. It's a fantastic little invention really and can be very useful to find places you've never visited before, but it has a major limitation; the GPS has no soul, it is a dispassionate observer relaying the most direct route to the user. The meander, the goat path, and the forgotten trail are, well, forgotten.

The road opened to the south today. A third opportunity to attempt to cross the Mason Dixon Line had arisen, and so upon his trusty Onyx steed, the intrepid adventurer set off into the unknown. Alright, that's a bit melodramatic, it was just a jog down 272 and 222 into Maryland. So I passed the most southern point I've been in Lancaster County. This was a momentous enough occasion to take a photo. In the photo you can see Pennsylvania's state geometric shape: The traffic cone.

The road south through Lancaster County curves gently at times and undulates lightly over rolling hills. It's not the most exciting riding road, but the scenery is lovely so it passes quickly enough. Soon I'd passed into Maryland.

And here the GPS began to yell at me. The map clearly showed a curving road leading down by the Susquehanna River all the way down to the Chesapeake Bay, yet the GPS demanded I go left at route 1 and follow the beaten path. This was not appealing and so turning right my Trusty Honda and I headed down toward the river. Soon, the watery vista opened ahead revealing the road across the river along the top of the Conowingo dam. Now it was time for a left turn as I did not wish to cross the river. The road now led through the woods and down to the little river town of Port Deposit. 

What a quaint little place is Port Deposit. Ancient looking stone buildings hug tightly against the hillside desperately holding to the rocks as if to fend off floodwaters from the river only a stone's throw away. 

Many other bikers and scooterists were out enjoying the dry roads as were collectible car owners. 

There was a park at the south end of town offering a splendid view of the river. and several bridges to the south. 

The road out of town led up into the hills and again the GPS wanted to lead me toward the more populated roads. I declined and turned right onto a rural road that again led down along the river, through some tunnels, and down to the little town of Perryville where I was able to view the beginnings of the Chesapeake Bay. 

With the steely grey skies overhead, the waters below seemed cold an uninviting, but across the river-mouth in Havre De Grace, boats sat moored as if awaiting a break in the clouds so their captains could take them from their moorings out into the open waters of the bay. 

Having successfully completed my goal of riding to the Chesapeake Bay, it was time to return home. Already my shoulder was aching from the ride south. Here it is nearly five months after my collarbone break, yet still my shoulder aches after rides of half-an-hour or more. Still, I was able to return through Port Deposit which was not the worst outcome. 

It is such a pretty little town and the road north has a few corners to make scootering all the more enjoyable. 

I stopped to snap a photo of the Conowingo Dam before turning east on Route 1. During a quick stop for gas at the intersection of 1 and 222, a couple young men asked me how fast the PCX can go. I'll admit, I was a little baffled since the most common question I get is regarding fuel economy. Alas, there was but little time to ponder this as the road north beckoned me and my throbbing shoulder to return home. 

Perhaps a 100 mile round trip was more than I was ready for, but at least there was a VW bus heading south past me as I was on my northward trek. For some reason, those funky looking things always make me smile. 

So it is with a sense of accomplishment that I have added a seventh state to my list of those to which I have traveled on the back of a 150cc scooter. I've been asked why I like scooters so much and why I don't just have a regular motorcycle. I've thought about this to some length really and have come to the conclusion that yes, I could do the same things on a bigger motorcycle, I could travel all over the united states with relative ease and even comfort if I had the right bike, but really where's the challenge in that? 

I don't need a big bike or a computer telling me where to go. Give me a winding road, a map to guide my explorations, and a small motorbike. Those are the ingredients for a pleasant journey. 

Should you wish to see the map of the places I've traveled on scooterback, it can be found here: 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Beverly and me: The Piaggio story

It's no secret that Italians make some of the most iconic scooters. In February, I had the opportunity to get my hands on one such scooter for a very reasonable sum. The 2006 Piaggio Beverly 250 was in sad shape, but the price was low enough to make it a reasonable bike to purchase and flip.

The guy I bought it from had crashed it, and the prior owner had laid it down as well. This had broken the windscreen and shattered the left floorboard. Neither were unredeemable issues, nor were the weather cracked front tire and the nearly bald rear tire.

The steering stem was the most concerning issue. Moving it from side to side was difficult and caused a horrendous wobble when the scooter was in motion. It left little wonder as to how the previous owner crashed. Still, the cost to repair this issue was still little enough to allow for a decent profit.

In early March, I got the handlebars off and discovered I needed a special tool to take off the locknut. There was no supplier in the U.S., so it had to be ordered from Europe. Once the steering head nut was off, the steering stem slid right out and revealed the problem: The original grease had turned into paste and was filled with contaminants.

So, I loaded it on the PCX, and took it to school to see what could be done to fix it. Once the old grease was cleaned out, the bearing could be inspected. It turns out, nothing was wrong with the bearing itself, so I re-greased it and took the fork assembly back home wrapped in cellophane to protect the freshly greased bearing. Once it was installed back on the scooter, the wheel went side to side smoothly with no dragging or clunking. The operation was a success!

New tires were purchased and installed, and I acquired a left floorboard from the closest full service Vespa dealer. The windscreen was a bit more complicated as they no longer make the stock screen, but thankfully, with a bit of finagling, a slipstreamer scoot 40 screen fit the bill. There is another story there, but we'll save that for another day.

So this morning, I insured the Piaggio and got a plate for it. It was time to take her for a spin. It soon beame apparent how much I've missed the big-wheeled scooter experience, with some reservations. After a brief shakedown ride, and a stop at Lancaster Honda to see about inspection (which is tomorrow), I ran the BV250 home to check the tightness of the various fasteners, then headed south with the intention of popping down to Maryland, which again did not happen, not because of the scooter, but rather because I got distracted.

The road south gave me the opportunity to test the scoot in traffic, which it handled well. Aside from the cooling fan coming on a few times, the stop and go stuff on Rohrerstown road was uneventful. Once past Millersville, the choice was straight roads or twisty. The straight road would have led directly to Maryland, but nothing tests the mettle of a motorbike like a curving mountain path. Yep, that was the distraction that kept me in Pennsylvania. This was a good thing, since it allowed me to see some lovely bits of road and beautiful vistas, and afforded me a chance to really see what I like and don't like about the Beverly 250.

Yes, I know the Piaggio is a ten year old model, just the same it's been suggested I should keep it and sell the PCX. So here's the good and bad, and the reasons I will either sell the Piaggio and keep the PCX, or sell Onyx and keep Beverly.

The Piaggio Beverly is a big wheel scooter, which gives it great stability and makes it feel far more like a standard motorcycle than a scooter. It's comfortable to ride, with a big wide seat that didn't get uncomfortable after an hour's riding. The 250cc engine is fast, easily running up to 60 mph without skipping a beat, and even continuing to 80 with little effort. Once underway, it feels more like a motorcycle than a scooter. The ride was pretty smooth and it flowed around corners even with the low end Shinko tires I put on it.

Unfortunately, there are some bad points. For starters, it's a ten year old scooter, and parts are getting difficult to find. At nearly 330 lbs with a 31" seat height, it's also very big and heavy compared to the PCX. I was not able to stand flatfooted due to the seat height and the width of the floorboards, and the weight makes it hard to get off the centerstand. The suspension is feeling a bit worn out, which can be corrected, but requires special tools from Piaggio. It's Italian, which means if I can find parts, they will be expensive.

I'll admit, I really like the BV250. It is planted and so much more comfortable to ride than the PCX, so long as I don't have to stop. I wish I could keep it instead of selling it, but I really need the money and it just doesn't make sense to sell a good quality, low mileage Japanese scooter in favor of an older model with a somewhat questionable reputation as far as reliability goes. There's a few things I need to fix on it yet, so I will have a little more time to ride it around before it goes on Craigslist.

One thing I believe this experience has proved. If you know what you're doing and keep an eye out for a really good deal, it's possible to get a bike or scooter for cheap and make it a viable everyday rider. Or, you can flip it if that's more your style.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Maggie goes for a ride

It's a beautiful day in spring; a perfect day for a ride. Maggie was so excited when I said "ride." She danced around and around, then jumped on the back of the sofa so she could go in her travel pouch.

I wanted to try out the Piaggio since it's almost completely fixed up, but I still haven't got insurance or a plate on it, so that wasn't an option. That's a task for tomorrow.

So Maggie and I took the PCX. Maggie enjoyed the ride, but every time we stopped at a light, she tried to take her doggles off. The original plan was to try for Maryland so I could add another state to my "states visited on a scooter" list. Since Maggie was getting fidgety, it seemed prudent to keep the ride local, so we went to Lancaster County Central Park instead and took a walk in the Garden of the five senses.

Maggie loved her walk. She said hello to others walking in the park and tried to play with another small dog that was terrified of her. She's only ten pounds herself, so the scene was hilarious. .

After her little walk, Maggie and I returned to the PCX and rode home through Lancaster City. The trees are in bloom and the sun was bright. Pedestrians and the occupants of other vehicles chuckled and pointed at Maggie. She would put her paws on my arm and strain forward into the wind.

Riding alone is ok. There's something to be said for the solitude, but having a riding buddy, even one that is not human, makes the time that much more special.