Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Into every life...

My car was in the shop for a month. During that time there was only one choice of transportation; the scoot. Not a bad choice really, but there are times it's a less exciting (or more depending on your perspective) alternative to using a car.

There are things one encounters head on while riding a motorcycle or scooter. Bugs, rocks, cigarette butts (still aflame mind you), and various and sundry other objects and debris. For this reason, I have found a full face helmet with a shield is invaluable.

Then there's rain. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind a little rain, but over the last two months, I have had the dubious pleasure of riding in three distinct heavy thunderstorms. Nothing reminds one quite how alive (and wanting to remain so) one is, like a bolt of lightning so close that the thunder is immediate, when protected by nothing more than a thin layer of water repellent jacket, a helmet and a pair of sodden rain gloves.

There was another discovery I made on one of those adventures; hail hurts! The most recent storm I endured (see video) included these lovely little balls of ice pelting down amidst the heaviest rain in which I've ever ridden. The rain was so heavy, my Frogg Toggs jacket was quickly penetrated by the deluge and rendered completely useless. By the time I arrived at home, my clothing was thoroughly drenched, even my shirt, so I just stripped it all off and threw it in the washing machine. Even so, I felt invigorated! It was one of the most exciting rides of my life!

Getting back to the topic of bugs and other debris, wearing a helmet with a full face shield quickly reveals what kinds of things will hit a rider in the face. The above image shows some insect remains, but can't show the other things that might come flying at a rider. Just this week, a driver in a 5 series BMW decided his lit cigarette butt belonged in my face; my helmet prevented this. I have no issue with people smoking so long as they're polite about it: i.e., don't smoke in doorways I have to walk through, don't blow smoke in my face, and don't throw your cigarette butts at me.

Riding motorcycles and scooters can be great fun, but it can be hazardous too. I've not been riding as long as some, but in my brief time in the saddle, I've found that the pleasures of the ride can be ruined by little turns of events, but proper gear can lessen those effects. Yes, it doesn't solve every problem, and even the best gear has its limits, as my experience with the Frogg Toggs jacket proves, but it makes a difference. In point of fact, my son used the same jacket today in a moderate rain and it worked very well.

So ride safe, take precautions, and have fun. The rain may fall, but you don't have to stop riding.

The following Video is linked above, but here it is:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Still running

Six years ago, I made an entry about my friend Kevin's purchase of a Wildfire scooter. At the time, I'll admit I didn't expect it to run for more than a year. As it is, it's still running, but it's not his anymore, it's mine. Well, technically, it's my son's, but my name's on the title, and I've offered to pay him a bit for it as a little extra to put down on something bigger, just so it doesn't get sold away. See, my buddy got a Honda Elite 110 from Lancaster Honda a year ago, and he gave the Wildfire to my kid.

Looking back at what I wrote all those years ago, it's apparent that I wasn't wrong about some things. The plastics are now old and brittle. A brisk wind knocked the thing over and shattered a side panel, not just cracked mind you, shattered. Any plastics that were originally clear are now yellowed and foggy, and the amber plastics on the rear blinkers are now clear. I find the irony in that amusing.

As you can see, the instrument cluster is unreadable.

The brakes are still pretty bad, and I've not sure how I got the impression that the front brake was a disk; it's a drum.

As the machine has aged it seems the CVT has loosened up a bit. Acceleration isn't quite as bad as it used to be, and on a downgrade, it will get up to 45 mph. Uphill is still dodgy, but then, it's a 50cc. As the boy and I have been putzing around, I've noticed that it seems very perky for him, but then, he's about 50 lbs lighter than me. Just the same, he's been able to keep up to the speed limit easily in 35 and 40 mph zones, which is what one expects from a scooter of this size.

note the missing lower side panel

As one will observe, the Wildfire is now red and black. Yes, it's a rattle can job, and it needs another coat, but the boy wanted it that way and I didn't see the harm. 

The machine sat for a while and it had some flooding issues, but after a carb cleaning. it runs fine again. As I was riding it back from the shop where the carb was tended to, I was reminded just how much fun it is to ride a 50cc scooter. Yes, the machine isn't quite as peppy for me as it is for my son, but it's still a lot of fun to ride. The engine still runs well, if a little fast at idle (which is adjustable of course). 

So, six years later, I still think you get what you pay for. Yes, the scooter still runs. It has over 4,000 miles on the odometer (converted from over 7000 km), which is quite something really. It's certainly a testament that the machine was well put together, but while the plastics on my Kymco are still bright and all the right colors, and I can actually see my instrument cluster, well, the Wildfire just isn't. The motor runs and there's no argument that if that's what you're looking for, that's what you'll get, but if I were looking to plop down good money on a new machine, I'd still go for something with a longer track record and fewer issues. let's not forget the issues with the transmission blowing belts a few years back. Yes, that issue has now been fixed, but it took finding a mechanic who works on Chinese scooters and there's not too many of those around here. 

Bottom line, I'll abide by what I've said all along; If you know what your doing, or have a good mechanic who knows what he's doing, then a Chinese scooter is not necessarily a bad choice; however, you're going to have to deal with issues other than the mechanical, and that, for me, makes it a tough call. If you're absolutely desperate for transportation, or just want something really cheap (in more ways than one) to bop around on, then it's not the worst choice you can make, and I say this as the owner of just such a machine. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Small packages (Honda Grom Review)

Yep, I rode the Grom yesterday. I can't see that name without thinking of a character from a popular game series and it makes me chuckle every time. But the Grom is not an orc. It's not quite big enough to classify as such. What it is though is an amazing little machine.

And when I say little, I mean it. It feels small and nimble, but with that 47 inch wheelbase, it's practically a minibike. In point of fact, the Grom's wheelbase is a fraction of an inch shorter than Honda's 80cc junior trail bike.

So, here's the Grom in a nutshell. You can see the link for the entire list of specifications, but what I took away from it is that it's a tiny, light, agile bike and it's a blast to ride on open roads. If I could get luggage and a rack for a crate, it might make a great stomper, though I have reservations on that, which will be expounded presently.

The transmission is a smooth little four speed. There's a nifty digital readout on the dash with a rev counter and the speedo. The horizontal 125cc engine is peppy and puts out good power form suburban or rural commuting. And that, for me, is the problem with the Grom.

Kevin, the sales manager at Lancaster Honda, asked me if it would be something that would fit my particular riding needs, and I had to honestly say no.

Here's the problem, it's not the size of the bike, the size is perfect. I think it's perfectly suited for rural and suburban riding for someone who is neither traveling a long distance, nor having to face stop-and-go traffic. A manual bike isn't the best for city riding, in any engine size, but it can be done. Just the same, take a look at any major city outside the U.S. that has a lot of motor-bikes and you'll see that the bulk of them are scooters, for that very reason. Then there's the engine.

Yes, the engine felt peppy on Dairy road, but it didn't feel like it had quite the oomph of my own scooter's. I'd take such a bike on a long trip, but I'd be happier with just a touch more power. I sat there looking at it for a moment after my brief jaunt, and I wrestled with the idea of possibly buying the bike, but it just didn't have quite everything it needed to convince me.

So, the Grom is a niche bike, but I think it could spark interest in small bikes in the mainstream. It looks fantastic and it is fun to ride, so long as there's not a lot of stop and start.

Bottom line, if Honda puts a 150 in a future version, it will turn my head, that's for sure.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Scooters are the soul of simplicity.  There's no clutch so acceleration is steady and seamless. The riding position is comfortable yet can be aggressive if need arises. Scooter engines are small and easy to maintian.
Riding to work, running small errands, riding just for fun; it's all possible on a scooter. Add to that list long distance ridig, with the proper sense of adventure, and they are the perfect little machine.
On top of that, you can surprise random people on a scooter. Today I popped into Manheim to grab something from the auto parts store. I'd been buzzing along back roads and came to a stop light.  A guy in a 3 series Beemer pulled up alongside and expressed his shock at how fast my little rattle-trap can go. This led to a short conversation about what make my scooter is and so on.
A couple weeks ago,  I went for a ride with a friend. He has a 250cc Yamaha V-Star and he had a buddy along on an old Goldwing 1100 trike. Both were amazed that the little 150 kept up, and even out-accellerated both of them. It made for great conversation,  and it shows just how good Honda engine design really is, not to mention the testament to Kymco's build quality. 
There's a lot to be said for simplicity. Things don't need to be complicated or flashy to surprise people; they just have to work well.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gone to the dogs

There are disadvantages to having a small dog. One receives insults for not having a "real man's dog." One doesn't feel quite as secure when walking down a dark alley...while walking a shih tzu. Hunting is somewhat out of the question, since a small dog has, what one man at church referred to as "a low wheel base."

But, there is a huge advantage when it comes to riding on two wheels. Small dogs work. Little Maggie, my eight pound Maltese, loves to ride. She has an "Outward Hound" flat bottom pooch pouch, which works very well for her to perch in front of the rider and gives her great access to the wind around the edge of the windscreen. There has been one issue with the bag. The drawstring around the top of the pouch was not well attached and pulled loose. This does not seem to change the safety of the pooch since she is still well secured by a collar restraint, but it does allow her to put her paws out over the edge. This happened after only six uses of the product.

 The flat bottom allows the pooch to feel secure, and when the drawstring was still attached, it allowd the owner to cinch the opening closed so doggy paws can't get out. There is also a small zipper pocket in the front gives a place to put a small leash and perhaps a plastic baggy for potty stops.

Then there's the newest addition to Maggie's riding attire: Doggles. They are PetSmart brand dog goggles, but they seem to work. She certainly looks happy wearing them.

On the way home from the pet store, she really leaned out around the windscreen, "lapping up" the feel of the wind. The construction of the goggles seems sound and they fit her well, though she needs a bit of a haircut. Maggie tolerated the doggles well until we were almost home. this might have been due to her need for a trim.

We don't have a doggy helmet as, from what I've read, the jury is still out on whether they even are necessary. 

To sum up, a small dog is a lot of fun to ride with. There are safety issues that should be addressed first, such as securing and protecting the animal, but if you have a small dog who likes rides in a car, chances are, rides on a motorbike will be a big hit as well.