Thursday, August 28, 2014

low carb

I spent most of my Saturday with my arms elbow deep in the bowels of a Chinese scooter. 

It was a cool day, so it wasn't the worst way to spend an afternoon.  It's amazing how much trouble that shiny silver carb cover was hiding. 

About two months ago, the scooter in question went to a shop to have the carb checked because it was flooding. It was fine for about two weeks, then earlier this week, it started flooding again. After work on Saturday, I opened it up, put a bit of carb cleaner in it, and it fired up and was puttering away nicely, then cut out. We loaded it in the back of my wife's car (it was at the home of one of my son's friends), and took it home. At home, a quick inspection revealed that, wonder of wonders, there was no gas in the tank, which is apparently a requirement of internal combustion engines. After the addition of fuel, the scooter again fired right up, and seemed to be idling fine. After a few minutes at idle though, it suddenly started to rev higher and higher, then cut out. Apparently this is what was happening when it was shredding belts a few years back, except in that case, the engine would rev so fast the belt would fly apart.

It would then start and run for a bit, then eventually flooded. I tinkered with this and that and since the carb has been worked on a few times and I have no idea how to competently take the thing apart so I just ordered a new one off Amazon for $25.00. It's a standard carb type and replacement parts are so cheap, it wasn't worth taking to someone for a rebuild. I figured it might take some tuning, but would be easier than trying to figure out what is wrong with the old one. I also ordered a new fuel petcock as it was one of the other possible causes of this revving issue, and for good measure ordered one of those snazzy little air filters to replace the crummy old airbox.

The parts arrived today and were waiting for me in the mailbox when I got home at six. After about an hour of unplugging this and that, replugging this and that, and mashing my knuckles into the scooter frame, the new carb was in place along with the replacement petcock.

A quick last check and I inserted the key into the ignition and hit the starter. The starter whirred and whirred as fuel slowly trickled down the transparent lines to the fuel filter. A few moments later, the engine chugged to life, sounding better than it ever has to my ears. The scooter ran for a good twenty minutes with no issues and idled at a regular rate.

So, yes, I still think Chinese scooters aren't for everyone, but with a bit of mechanical ability (and if I'm any measure to go by, it's not a whole lot), they can be repaired and maintained very inexpensively. Consider that my Kymco just had to go through inspection, and the bill for labor and parts came to $455.00. Compare that to this little 50cc with its simple engine and it's hard to argue that they aren't a viable alternative. I'm not certain I would rely on a China scoot as my sole transport; however, I will keep observing and continue to take in data.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Slithey Toves and such things

Frogg Toggs actually. Earlier this year, I purchased a Frogg Toggs Pro-Action jacket in anticipation of my whirlwind journey through a good chunk of the North-East. I've run it in everything from light rain to a raging thunderstorm complete with hail, and I'll say it's not a bad product. I've even purchased one for my son, and he purchased a pair of pants for himself. That having been said, here's the long story:

Back in May, I needed something to keep the rain off me while I traveled to Massachusetts via central Pennsylvania and the heart of New York State. To be honest, I didn't run into too much rain until late Tuesday, but the rain that afternoon put my jacket to a good test while walking and riding around the small town of Schroon Lake. It was a hard steady rain and my torso stayed dry, except in the places where there was no watertight seal. I think if I put the hood up under my helmet, that would take care of the bulk of the problem with water getting in at the neck, so some of that was my own fault.

Thursday of that week, I ran into more rain as I visited my friend Guy in Connecticut and I found water getting into the sleeves, but this seemed to be due to my gloves being completely sodden and the gloves tucked into the sleeves instead of the other way around. Still, my torso remained fairly dry since I had closed up the jacket's neck as tightly as possible.

Between then and now, I've used the jacket in several small showers, for which a rain jacket was hardly needed, and three thunderstorms. Now, as I've mentioned before, riding in a thunderstorm is not for the faint of heart. It's a dangerous endeavor, and I do not recommend it. That said, in two of the storms, the jacket worked fine, but in the last, it worked until the deluge really started in. There was just so much rain it was coming in at the neck, up the sleeves, in through the bottom, and so on. I don't think it came through the fabric at all since the contents of the pockets remained dry.

My son, who so kindly modeled both garments for me, found both the jacket and pants to work very well for him without a bit of moisture penetrating either garment. This was in light as well as steady rain.

So my verdict is this. I think the Pro-Action line is a good product and would recommend it; however, if you're going into heavy rain, make sure you have the sleeves tightly tucked into your gloves and the hood up under your helmet so rain doesn't go down the back of your neck. In my experience, rain gear is going to have its limits simply based on the severity of the weather, but for my money, I'd buy Frogg Toggs again.

My dog likes them too.

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.