Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chasing rainclouds

I took a nice long ride around the Lititz and Manheim area today. I try to ride on a road I've never ridden on before each day, and today I hit more than one.

The sky was overcast, with occasional breaks in the cloud cover. When I started out, there was a light sprinkle descending from the heavens, but it seems that was the extent of the evening's precipitation.

The rural landscape and the smells of farmland were refreshing. Dairy farms in particular have a unique odor that reminds me of childhood visits to my grandparents' house near Norwich, NY.

As I was riding down a road north of Lititz, I chanced upon this pasture with the white fence around it. It seemed picturesque, so I stopped and took a shot.

Not too far down the road, I found a lovely old barn. It didn't have much in the way of unique qualities, but the fading paint and buckled boards held a certain charm.

The evening turned out to be perfect. I puttered along at about 30 mph, simply enjoying the weather, the scenery, and the smell of the country. It's funny how we tend to take our surroundings for granted. Lancaster county attracts tourists from all over the nation, and this evening, I was reminded of one of the reasons this is so. The landscape is beautiful and the farms and homesteads are often lovely to behold.

It was a cleansing experience for me as rides in the country often are.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Government knows best...

Or so they think...

I've mentioned changes in scooter regulations from state to state in previous posts, and was unsure of changes to Massachusetts regulations. I now have a little more information, thanks to a post over on

Due to the growing popularity of scooters, especially in the Boston metropolitan area, Massachusetts decided it was time to change their regulations to account for 50cc scooters capable of exceeding 30 mph. On the surface, since I live in a state that already has registration and insurance requirements, it seems silly to become upset about this particular change, since registration and insurance can serve as a bit of protection for the motorist; however, the big picture reveals the major thorn in the side of all scootsters: Parking. Up until this point, scootsters in Massachusetts have been able to park their 50cc scooters on the sidewalks. As of August first, they will no longer have that privilege.

Ok, no problem, they can park in the spaces that the various cities have provided for two wheeled vehicles...Wait, nevermind, those spaces don't exist. So scootsters in Massachusetts are left in quite a predicament. If they park on the street, their scooter could be stolen, or moved, or hit by an inconsiderate cager. If they park on the sidewalk, they could recieve a ticket.

Of course, this is a predicament that scootsters face all over the country. Steering locks and disk brake locks offer minimal protection since the former can be easily broken and the latter only works if you have a disk brake and a heavy bike that isn't easy to pick up and throw in the back of a truck. Not many folks are able to carry a rotweiler around on their scooter, so that option is out of the question. Parking on the street gives no options for chaining the scooter up to anything (not that chains, no matter how stout, offer a 100% guarantee of security, but they are better than nothing and should deter most thieves in broad daylight, at least in better neighborhoods).

Some municipalities offer scooter parking. Lancaster City has scooter parking in two of their parking garages; however, the parking spaces have nothing to chain a scooter to. When they first unveiled the scooter parking, several people used it on a regular basis, but over the last several months, whenever I have gone past the Prince Street garage, the spaces sit there, empty. My guess is that most folks, like myself, do not feel comfortable parking their scooter in a public place without locking it up.

Unfortunately, until such a time as scooters become much more common here in the U.S., it is unlikely that these concerns will change. Our numbers are growing, if slowly, but with each individual who trades in their Escalade for a Vespa, change becomes more likely.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vacation fun

I haven't been doing much pleasure scooting this past week since I've been on vacation. I've been basically just sticking around home with my family, though yesterday, I took my family to the Philadelphia Zoo.

It is the oldest zoo in the United states. The animals were very interesting and some were quite amusing. We were a bit disappointed that they had no elephants, but due to the age of their facilities and the small size of their elephant enclosure, I do not blame them for moving the elephants to a larger facility at the Pittsburgh zoo.

Their aviary was impressive. It is not gigantic, but the bird species were enchanting. One of the birds (a Toucanette) seemed very interested in my son's nose.

My wife and I went to a firing range near Elverson, PA today. My wife is a little nervous around firearms, but she shot my Ruger Mark II and my Bersa Thunder .380. She found the .380 to be a little too much for her tastes, but she stated that the .22 was not intimidating due to the virtual absense of recoil. I wish I had thought to get a picture of her firing the pistols.

All in all, it's been a nice break from the norm.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finally! Some time off!

Vacation time is here at last! Unfortunately, we won't be traveling, but at least I'll have some time to spend with my family. I'll probably scoot around a bit, and in fact I've thought about taking a day to run down into Maryland to look at the horse farms.

Today, on my way home from work, I stopped in at the campus of my alma mater, Lancaster Bible College, to check out some changes to the campus that were completed a year or two ago, but I had never gotten around to seeing.

The campus has changed a great deal since I graduated in 1998. Esbenshade hall was a dormitory when I was in college. It has been changed into offices.

It struck me that scooters fit in well on a college campus. Looking back on it now, I wish I had thought to talk to my parents about getting a scoot back when I was in college since it would have given me more opportunities to get off campus employment. It would also have facilitated getting back and forth to internships and service projects as well.

College students don't generally have a ton of extra money, so a fuel sipping vehicle with a low initial cost and cheap insurance rates, is perfectly suited to their financial situation. It might not suit every college kid, but it beats not having a vehicle at all. Add to that the fact that scooters fit the geek mystique, and you have a guaranteed winner!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A sad farewell...

Today I attended a funeral for a client who recently passed away. He was a quiet man, but had become very dear to me over the three years I had worked with him. It was touching to see the pictures and writings that were on display. I read a few paragraphs I had written and after the funeral, since I was going home after the graveside ceremony, I had to take my scooter.

It was probably a little odd looking to those who saw the procession to see a line of cars, then a scooter, then more cars.

The burial ground was behind a church surrounded by cornfields. An idyllic setting for a peaceful old man.

While I am saddened by the passing of my friend, I believe that he is now healed of all infirmities and walking arm and arm with Jesus in the heavenly places. I believe that he can now speak and sing, and make himself understood. I believe he can dance and run with the angels.

I will miss you John. Your life has touched mine in ways I cannot even recount.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Helmet? I don' need no steenkin' helmet! Sure....

As of yesterday, it had been two months and eleven days since I last drove my car. I've driven my wife's car, but only when I was taking her places, so that does not count. I've been trying to sell my car for a few months now, and letting it sit in front of my house wasn't helping me to show off the "For Sale" notices in the windows.

It was actually nice to drive my little Cavalier. I put the stereo way up, rolled the windows down, and went for a little joyride on my way home from work. It wasn't the same as riding the scoot, but it was nice in its own way.

Today, my son was riding his dirtbike around and he accidentally goosed the throttle, sending himself to the ground. Thankfully, he was doing as he had been told, and had his helmet on, so the helmet took the pounding that his head would have. Other than that, he has a little bruise on his shoulder. It was a good lesson for him to #1, ride carefully, and, #2, always wear his helmet.

After his little spill, his bike was revving wildly at idle. I fiddled with it a little bit, then realized "duh! Idle screw!" A quick twist, and it was back to normal.

It seemed to have been the night for kids in my neighborhood to have dirtbike accidents. Just down the road, a real little guy (maybe 4), on an old Yamaha 50 (sounded like a 2 stroke), plowed directly through a neighbor's wooden fence. He hadn't quite gotten the idea of turning. Thankfully, he too was wearing a helmet and only recieved an injury to his self confidence.

Later on, when my son was back riding, I was watching him when a passing neighbor pointed out a small crittur in the grass. It was a tiny mole, who had apparently come out of his tunnel due to the vibrations of the dirtbike. Neat little bugger, but I didn't get the best picture of him.

It was nice to see my son brush himself off (so to speak), then get right back in the saddle. He's getting to be quite the little rider.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On politics

I have a theory that about 15% of people exist on each end of the political spectrum (30% total). The remaining 70% in the middle are composed of the following:

- 20% The truly uninformed; those who have the ability to think for themselves, but no knowledge of what is going on. Another word for these people is; "naive".

- 40% The easily gulled; Translated: idiots. Those who will believe anything so long as it sounds good.

- 10% The apathetic; those who have become so utterly jaded that they are simply willing to let the world destroy itself around them.

Politicians align themselves with one end of the political spectrum, then use whatever means they have at their disposal to draw those in the middle to their side. Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of those in the middle comprise the first two categories. Since the apathetic aren't going to vote anyway, or will vote for a third party, all a politician needs to do is keep the naive uninformed, and trick the idiots into voting for them. So in a nutshell, a political contest is decided primarily by how many idiots are convinced to vote for either side.

**Please note that the above is intended to be entirely humorous and the statistics given have no guarantee of accuracy, nor was that the point.**

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ramblings after work.

After finishing the morning shift today, I stopped at an ethanol free gas station to fill up the scoot, and puttered off for some exploration. I usually like to go down a road or two that I have never traveled previously. Today, I found a heard of "longhorn" steers. In actuality, they appeared to be a shaggy heritage breed of cattle.

I then found my way up into the hills southwest of Lititz. I'd been that way by car before, but never down the path I finally took. I decided to see if the Log Cabin Restaurant had actually closed as rumored. For those who are not from these parts, the Log Cabin was a higher class, upper crust place. Last year, they closed their doors.

The place seems forlorn and a little creepy. Even my scooter seemed bothered since she fell over, even though she was on her sidestand. Thankfully she wasn't damaged much, and she kept running, even on her side. The rear brake lever broke, but that should be easy to replace. The scoot still rides fine, despite her spill.

I went along home, and now, I'm relaxin' on me couch, ready to take a nap.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Not a scooter post...

but I need to vent.

My father was an English teacher, and while my grammar and spelling are not perfect, it seems the vast majority of persons who contribute to the Internet are completely incapable of producing anything approaching acceptable English writing.

Periodically, I will read the posts on the local newspaper's message board. I'm more of a lurker than a participant these days since I quickly came to the realization that involving myself in petty arguments with some of the more small minded contributors was more than pointless and served only to raise my blood pressure. So now, I simply watch from the sidelines and leave them to their petty bickering.

Today was one of the days I decided to browse through some of the posts on the forum, only to find my eyes bleeding after reading several horribly crafted postings. It's especially painful when I agree with the writer's viewpoint, yet they seem unable to author a single sentence without a half dozen errors.

Many say that image is unimportant, and to some extent, I agree; however, we do make an impression on others by how we speak, and by how we write. If we wish to be taken seriously, we should put some effort into writing legibly. Slovenly writing does not impress.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 2009 Ephrata Ride-in

Today was another first Sunday in Ephrata. Yet again there were a ton of bikes and this month, there were a bunch of scoots, including some from the "Wild Hogs" scooter club from Philly and Reading.

I am a somewhat new member of the club, and was unsure whether I wanted to remain a part of it, until this morning. The members I met with this morning included some whom I'd met before, and some new faces as well. There were only about ten folks all told, but they are a nice crew of people and it was a real blessing to spend some time with them. I am a bit far from either chapter, so I'm hoping that a Lancaster chapter can be started eventually, but for now, at least I have some folks to ride with on occasion.

We wandered around for a while and had a nice breakfast. The folks at the American Legion post provide good food at a good price. Things have been a bit tight for me financially lately, so I was just going to sit breakfast out since I didn't have any extra cash, but two of the "hogs" were kind enough to purchase my breakfast for me. Their kindness was one of the things that convinced me to stay with the club for now.

After breakfast, we went out to look at the bikes that had come in. The sea of chrome was blinding, though there were a lot of vintage treasures, including a Vespa P series, a '54 Beemer, and an old Honda 350.

The day was perfect. The sunshine was beautiful, the temperature was cool to moderate, and there were only a few clouds in the sky. All told, a great day to look at motorcycles and enjoy the smell of exhaust.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lancaster County Road hazards

Riding a scooter around this county has taught me a new respect for road conditions, road quality, and road debris. Here are my "Top Ten" road hazards for Lancaster County.

# 10.) Odds and ends: Common to all roads, but an issue here in south central PA, any number of things could litter the road surface. Just today, I had to dodge some carpet ends that had apparently fallen off a truck. Other things, from mufflers, to "road alligator," to cardboard boxes, have periodically found themselves in the road ahead of me.

# 9.) Potholes: Of course, these are a problem all over the world, but they seem to be a little worse around here. Part of the reason for this has to do with the paving techniques that are used in this area; the primary technique being tar and gravel. This technique consists of spraying tar on the existing road surface, then covering it with gravel, after which the vehicles that use the road do the job that a roller would do, albeit much more slowly.

# 8.) Road construction: Pennsylvania seems to be in a constant state of road construction. The road crews aren't always terribly observant though they seem to notice me on my scooter and are generally friendly to me. The re-direction of traffic tends to be poor and should cause operators of two and three wheeled vehicles to remain alert.

# 7.) Gravel: and lots of it, due to the aforementioned paving technique (under #9). Nothing is more terrifying to me than a freshly tarred and graveled road since the gravel is still very loose. Even after these roads have been traveled for a while, loose gravel can still abound along the edges, making these roads something I avoid whenever possible.

# 6.) Bicyclists: For some reason, there are usually hordes of these folk wandering around the back roads of the county. I don't begrudge them the use of the roads, but I do wish they'd share them better. I was riding this morning and came upon four cyclists near Farmersville, riding abreast of each other, stretched across the lane. Even though they obviously heard me coming (evidenced by turning of their heads to look at me), they did not move to the side or make way immediately as it would have made sense to do. It's this sense of entitlement that bothers me. This also extends to the many Menonites on bicycles, especially on Sunday mornings. They seem even more oblivious to motorized traffic than their less devout kindred in bicycle shorts.

# 5.) Amish buggies: The Amish aren't very safety conscious as a whole. I'm not sure if it's due to agressive inbreeding or just a general lack of common sense, but the Amish do not take much care for safety when driving their horse-drawn buggies. they will often swerve all over their lane, pull out too far at intersections, pull out in front of other vehicles, and so on. I generally have plenty of room to pass them, but many times, their erratic movements force me much closer to the center line than I care to venture.

# 4.) Amish buggy ruts: These are not actually the doing of the buggies themselves, but rather, the hooves of the horses pound out a trough in the pavement along the right edge of the lane. These should be avoided since they tend to develop potholes rather abundantly.

# 3.) Roadkill: Nothing says "countersteer!" quite like the corpse of a possum or skunk appearing suddenly in one's path. I can only imagine what would happen were I to hit one. While roadkill is a common issue all over the world, similar to potholes, there seem to be more little animal bodies riddling our roadways in PA, than anywhere else I have been. This would seem to be supported by statistics that show Pennsylvania to have the most deer fatalities on roadways of any state in the nation. It seems logical that this might carry over to other wildlife as well.

#2.) Poorly repaired roads (or old repairs gone sour): In this area, PennDOT seems fond of simply patching endless stretches of old concrete slab with tar (and sometimes tar and gravel as mentioned under #'s 9 and 7. The stretch of rt 23 between Eden and Leola seems to be especially riddled with these patches. Over time, as traffic passes over the roadway, the patches buckle and, in some places, form a hump in the middle of the road. The first time I hit one of these was with my 50cc Yamaha Vino. I was following the suggestion of the PA Motorcycle manual, which states that one should keep to the center of the lane. After being literally launched into the air by one of these humps (but with no damage to my scooter, thankfully), I chose to stick to either the left or right side of the lane and ignore the recomendations of PennDOT.

#1.) Amish Buggy exhaust: Otherwise known as "horse apples," this stuff can be pretty treacherous. It only took one run through a pile of equine excrement, after a rainstorm, for me to realize how slippery it can make the road surface.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gassin' up: government meddling and the small engine

I'm not sure where to start, so I suppose I shall start at the beginning. My neighbor, Lee (well, he lives a few streets over, but that's close enough to call him neighbor), who writes the "life is good" blog in my reading list, suggested that I write an entry about ethanol and its effects on small engines. With the passing of the "cap and trade" bill in the House of Representatives and its likely passage in the Senate in some form or other, ethanol is likely to become more prevalent than it already is.

First off, let's look at what Ethanol is. Basically, Ethanol is an alcohol additive in gasoline which is derived from plants, generally corn. It is generally found in either E10 gasoline (10% Ethanol, 90% gasoline), and E85 gasoline (85% Ethanol, 15% gasoline). From what I have been able to learn, ethanol stores less energy than regular gas, so it does not deliver the same fuel economy one will get out of straight gasoline. Ethanol allegedly has a nasty habit of absorbing water from its surroundings, which would not be terribly good for whatever engine that water laden fuel would then be used in.

I found several farm lobbyist websites and government websites claiming that Ethanol doesn't have any negative effects and that it is perfectly safe for all engines. Of course, I'll trust everything the government and farm lobby tell me without question. Yeah, sure.

Interestingly enough, I found this article from MSNBC, that lays the opposite claim. According to the article, small engine mechanics are finding that ethanol is causing damage to small engine parts, especially in 2 stroke engines. The article explains the reasoning for why ethanol would be damaging to small engines, and it really makes a lot of sense. Larger automobile engines with fuel injections and modern computer systems, are better designed for dealing with ethanol. From what I've heard from several mechanics, the fuel system in newer cars is designed with ethanol in mind. Not so with small engines.

A few other articles I found seem to lay the blame for ethanol's poor performance in small engines on its detergent qualities, which makes a little sense, I suppose. For instance, in this "Boating Life" article from 2006, the writer indicates that as Ethanol moves through the fuel system, it kicks up impurities left behind by old gas, which then get lodged in the fuel filter or injectors. The article does note ethanol's tendency to absorb water and it's dislike for fiberglass fuel tanks. The article is specifically in reference to boat engines, but it seems to me that the information can also be applied to other small engines as well.

For those of us who ride small displacement scooters, especially 2 strokes, this information is critical. Our scoots all have small engines, which puts them at risk if these claims are true.

Fortunately, there are a few enterprising folks who offer "ethanol free" gasoline. I know of four stations in Lancaster county that offer it. Two are Citgo stations (which I don't use due to Citgo's afilitation with dictator Hugo Chaves of Venezuela), and two are independent stations. I have found that my mileage jumps by about %10 when I use ethanol free gasoline. That seems to indicate to me that ethanol is little more than a filler or extender, and really isn't doing anything positive for my scoot. That's an interesting little piece of information there.

It could be perception on my part, but my scooter feels more smooth and less "chuggy" when I use straight gas. With Ethanol, it seems to splutter a little.

Now, I'm all for taking care of God's creation, after all there are commands in the Bible for doing just that; however, in its current incarnation (or should that be...incornation...har har har), it's less efficient than regular gasoline, doesn't really do what it's supposed to, and has the potential for messing with the gaskets and tubing in my scooter. Not really a glowing recomendation in my book.

So, I'll still do my part by using less fuel to get from point A to point B, simply by riding my scooter, but I'm going to do so while also avoiding ethanol. Sure, the government's claims that ethanol won't hurt my scooter may be well intentioned, but I think I'll take a chance on the wager that they are entirely wrong, and go with the tried and true option of using straight gas, at least until the government makes it impossible to buy it anymore.