Sunday, August 30, 2015

The dichotomy

Lancaster County is an interesting place. One moment, you're in a small town or city, the next you're cruising between cornfields. There exists here a dichotomy between the urban/suburban and the rural.

Riding down Main Street in East Petersburg, a bright yellow banner announces the upcoming East Pete Days carnival. Granted, East Pete is a bit of a small town, but we do seem to have more than our fair share of car dealerships. this is probably due mostly to the Manheim Auto Auction a few miles up the road.

Out of town and down the road a bit, the dichotomy continues. On one side of the road, a cornfield...

On the other side sits a modern Church building.

Riding down the road further, the modern built up areas decline, replaced by more farms. Even so, modernity creeps in. Around the edge of a barn peeks the hindquarters of a sporty red coupe.

Hidden in another barn, a dual sport motorbike sits, awaiting a rider. Another touch of modernity in a barn owned by folks I know to be conservative Mennonites.

Further on, the rural nature of the surroundings becomes more deeply evident, almost to the point of being surreal. With the encroaching sunset, an Amish farm hoves itself into view with horses in the paddock and a wagon sitting empty in the dooryard. The scoot seems to intrude on these surroundings with the putt-putt sounding across the fields, so it seems time to move on.

More fields and farms pass by, with the occasional shop or factory. Modern churches, one room school houses, modern homes, Amish homes, shops and more farms buzz past. In the rear mirrors, a pair of Harley baggers close in. A twist of throttle and they disappear as the PCX carves its way around corners out of farmland and into suburbia, then back into farmland. A short stop is made to take in the scenery and the Harleys rumble past in a cacophony of exhaust noise.

After the brief rest, it was time to head back toward home. There are roads in this area that wind and bend like a snake with gastritis. Many of these are close to home, and follow creeks and rivers. It didn't take long before the scoot was humming along around bends and the PCX started to really make sense. The short wheel base and maxi-scoot wheels make it carve corners like a bigger sport bike. It's heavier than the Kymco and at first seemed a bit daunting, but after over two weeks getting used to it, it seems very balanced and nimble. Back into town, the PCX seemed to want to go further, but a long day was coming to an end and it was getting toward time to retire.

Lancaster County is a beautiful place to live, work, drive and ride. The dichotomy rural and populous areas makes it a little slice of heaven made just a little better on the back of a scooter.

Friday, August 28, 2015

"'Scuse me while I kiss the sky..."

The scooter has been named:

Onyx Purple Haze.

Yes, I know what purple haze is, but I like the song, and the scoot puts off a hazy purple halo on the pavement. One could even say that riding has a drug-like effect, so perhaps the name has a double meaning.

On the seat of a scooter with an open road ahead, the concerns of the greater world seem to fade away. Calm seeps in replacing feelings of anxiety and worry. The wind, the light of the sun or moon, the rain, the smells of nature, all these things and more add to the intoxicating effect of a long scooter ride.

So the name seems appropriate. It's not really a drug, sure, but the calming effect is undeniable.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The five minute project.

"Oh, this will only take about five minutes."

Two hours, three scuffed knuckles and some sore muscles later...

It seems this is the way of things when one approaches a project of any kind, be it automotive, motorcycle, home repair, etc. What at first glance we might think will take only a few minutes, turns into something much more.

False confidence can also play a part. Just a few days ago, it was a quick matter to install a Bell five plug power station on the scoot. I found it at K-mart for 8 bucks in the clearance aisle. It took only about ten minutes to add an additional circuit, with its own inline fuse and wire in the power station so electronic devices can be powered on long journeys. Works like a charm too.

So today, the "simple" project of adding more lights to the bottom of the scoot was on the docket. It was going well, but then there was a tight spot in between the frame and bodywork where wires needed to be joined and it wasn't possible to get thick fingers into the space, so the bottom side panel had to come off.

Taking the side panel off is a matter of five 10mm hex bolts, and six (I think) philip's head screws. Not a horrible task, but time consuming. there's also a little port on the left side, presumably for getting in at the valves if you're Tom Thumb.

Once the body panel was off, it was easier to get at the places the wiring would be strung, but then the wire kept breaking, so a different wire had to be substituted. Once everything was finally wired and working, it was time for the body panel to go back on, which took nearly ten minutes on its own just to get all the tabs lined up.

It should be noted that the LED's are cheap units from Amazon, and that is part of the reason they were more difficult to wire up. The leads are only about 8 inches long, so unlike the higher quality LED's installed previously, more wire was needed to reach the battery. 

After the job was finally finished, it looked pretty good. That it took over two hours to complete is irritating, but that's the way it is with a five minute project. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Night roads

August brings with it cool evenings. On evenings without rain and with cloudless skies, the riding can be phenomenal. Yes, night riding has its share of dangers, but there is nothing like carving around deserted roads with the road ahead illuminated only by the scooter's headlight.

The sky after dusk can be stunningly beautiful. Reds and yellows spread across the horizon, while deep blues spread up into the dome of the sky. Stars appear in the expanse above and the moon, when visible, glows brightly in varying hues. 

Alone on back roads, surrounded by darkness and a puttering exhaust note, the solitude is intoxicating. For some, being alone isn't appealing, but for those of us who find solitary pursuits refreshing, riding alone in the dark can truly be cathartic. 

The solitude of the lonely rider can give one time for introspection, prayer, even creative thought. It also provides an opportunity for meditation, not meditation in the far eastern sense, but rather meditation in the biblical sense; deep pensive thought on matters of faith and scripture. As the psalmist wrote: "O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." Instead of seeking some sort of otherworldly connection, this kind of meditation is a mulling over of the Word of God. 

For a person of faith, the rejuvenation of the spirit offered by being alone with God is priceless. Lancaster County offers an abundance of back roads through farmland, wooded areas, and even along rivers and lakes. This gives plenty of territory to cover for the wandering soul on a motorbike.

Sometimes, it's very good to be alone.

Time for a change...

The PCX is close to hitting 600 miles, so I did the 600 mile service. Got some oil at the Honda dealer, got my tools together and went to it. Since I've been doing how-to videos, it seemed appropriate to do an oil change tutorial. Even though this is specific to the Honda PCX-150, GY6 scooters are all similar enough that the process of changing the oil on one will be similar to the process on any other.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rack 'em up...

It's not what I wanted. What I wanted was a chromed tubular steel rack, but while there is a company that makes them, they are apparently only sold in Japan. I thought about talking to some friends of mine who are missionaries in Japan to see if they could get one for me, then I saw the price was close to $80 and decided that the Honda trunk mount rack would work fine.

I spent the better part of an hour putting holes in the grab-rail cover and installing the rack, but I'm pleased with it. It seems very solid and will serve my purposes.

For anyone who may buy a 2013 Honda PCX, I made a video of my misadventures.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rainy night riding

One of the wonderful things about August in Lancaster County is the weird weather patterns. It seems that most August days here start clear and end with a thunderstorm...or five. This means a good chance of a rain ride at night. Of course this happened to me tonight. It wasn't raining when I went to mount the scooter and ride home from Woodcrest retreat, but as soon as I hit the starter on the PCX, the heavens opened. This made the ride home more interesting.

Rain, by nature of being wet (obviously), changes the nature of the road surface and effects tire grip in all types of vehicles. This is why the guys on Top Gear (UK) used to try to get lap times on a dry track for cars they tested.

With a two-wheeler, grip is a big issue. A wet road isn't too bad on its own, but there are factors of which one needs to be aware, these include, but are not limited to:

  • hydroplaning - an effect of hitting standing water at a high rate of speed which causes the tires to lose grip on the road surface. 
  • debris on the road including mud, leaves, gravel, horse droppings, etc. 
  • painted surfaces which become slick when wet.
  • road snakes - those squiggly sealed cracks in the road surface which become slick when wet.
When it gets dark, things get worse in the rain. Not only are there dangers on the road surface, but now you can't see them. Streetlights, oncoming traffic, and even traffic behind the rider all conspire to leave him or her completely blind. 

If you have no option and have to ride in the rain at night, there are a few things this writer has found helpful:

  • A good windscreen helps minimize the amount of water hitting one's face shield or goggles
  • A face shield is, in this writer's most humble opinion, an absolute necessity.
  • Waterproof gloves with a built in "wiper" on the thump or index finger(s).
  • Good all-weather tires
  • A decent rain suit
  • Footwear with a non-skid sole
One of the simplest ways to improve safety while riding in the rain, especially at night is to just slow down. As mentioned above, glare from approaching traffic and other light sources can make a rider completely blind. What seems to help for this writer is pre-planning. When another vehicle is coming up, the rider should get a good view of the road ahead and fix it in his or her mind. This can help the rider anticipate where turns and such are in the road for that moment when the oncoming headlights make the road disappear. Again, slowing down even just a bit, makes a huge difference.

Additionally, the rider should avoid any sudden movements of the front wheel since the road surface is not as predictable in the rain. It's not as bad as riding on gravel, which can shift suddenly, but due to the reduced visibility of a rainy night (or a rainy day for that matter), road imperfections can be difficult to see and anticipate, so it falls on the rider to be ready for the unexpected. 

For those of us who use a scooter or motorbike as our primary transportation, wet roads are an inevitability, and while they introduce some danger to the commute, a rider who is alert and prepared can minimize the danger and ride safely. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Out of the wind

So yesterday I installed a Givi D322S windscreen on my Honda PCX. What a difference. Video is linked below for any who want to try the same. Disclaimer, the video is for entertainment purposes only, I am not responsible for any damage or loss to the vehicles and property of others should they use my video as a guide.

Now, the Givi D322S is specific to the 2013 Honda PCX-150. From what I understand, Installation of windshields on newer models is about the same. I'm not really sure what the differences are.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gravelling my way?

Joe asked about riding on gravel roads. Let me tell you, it's not something to be taken lightly. My uncle had a scooter which may or may not have been a Cushman. He said it was British when I spoke to him, but according to my brother, our dad said it was a Cushman. At this point, both have shuffled off this mortal coil, so getting an answer is impossible this side of the veil.

In any event, my dad was riding my uncle's scooter one day and took a spill on a gravel road. My Uncle Cliff told me that he helped my grandfather (a country doctor), spend two hours pulling gravel out of Dad's backside.

Another story for the mix; I was trying to teach my lovely wife to ride. She was doing very well but decided to turn in to a gravel parking lot, and down the Kymco went, taking the Shelly with it. she hasn't gotten near a two wheeler since.

So, gravel isn't the best surface on which to ride a scooter. It's not the worst, but definitely poses a danger. Add to this road surface irregularities such as speed bumps, or potholes, and the riding becomes even more daunting.

The best bet on any slippery surface is to take it slow. Some gravel and dirt roads aren't as bad as one might think, especially if they are well worn from frequent use. Still, proceeding cautiously is the way to go.

Corners can be daunting on gravel, but they aren't so bad if you're being cautious. If it's a mostly dirt track with some gravel on the road surface, it will be easier to navigate. If the surface is entirely loose gravel, extreme caution is advised. Take your time. This is the type of gravel that is more likely to coax a scooter or motorbike off its wheels. Go slowly, make no sudden turns and you'll stay upright.

So, Joe, gravel is difficult to ride on, but if you're ever in a situation where you have no other option, if you take your time, you should be fine.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

That time of year again

It's day-camp week at church again. This will be my third year teaching one of the fourth grade classes. It's a bit of work, but enjoyable. Children of that age are still so full of wonder. For most of them, at least here in the U.S., the world hasn't dumped on them too much yet and they still have an intact sense of youthful optimism.

Getting to the campground is a bit of a trek from home, at about 17 miles. To be honest, It got to the point on the Kymco where I would find excuses not to ride it to the camp, but with the Honda, I'm trying to find reasons for riding it, even though my wife is also going in her car. Perhaps this is due to the newness of the PCX, or perhaps it is just a testament to the comfort and capability of the scooter.

The PCX looked right at home parked next to the pastor's Elite 110.  It looks a bit meaner than the 110 though.

After camp was done for the day I had to run to Brownstown for a doctor's appointment. I was running a bit early, so I swung into K-Mart to see about getting some electrical tape. While there, I found a five outlet power station which will work nicely in the understorage of the scoot. It has two USB ports and three cigarette lighter ports. Now I just need to wire it in, which should be simple enough.

So, the week is off to a good start. My rear rack is in at the Honda dealer and they should have my windscreen soon as well. Here's to hoping.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

Standing Watch but not standing still

It's Friday now and I've had the PCX for two full days. Yesterday and today I took it the twenty miles to work in Lebanon, PA. It's a little different from the Kymco, but I'm quickly getting used to it.

Yesterday was bittersweet as my old People 150 changed hands and went to an older gentleman who needed a low key option to replace the big bikes he used to ride. Watching him ride away on it left me a little sad as that machine and I traveled a lot of miles together. I had changed the oil so it would have a fresh crankcase full, then took it for one last short ride around the neighborhood.

Riding to work on the PCX (still unnamed), showed me that my purchase was a wise one. Then riding it around East Petersburg and into Lancaster today made me feel even better. I rode it to the military recruitment center after physical therapy to stand watch for about an hour, then had to head to work.

It was nice to be able to stand watch again. I don't know if I've mentioned it here, but I've been standing watch at the Lancaster recruitment center since the Tuesday after the Chatanooga shooting. I had to take a brief hiatus due to a work injury.

Before it became too painful to sit for several hours at a time, I had been strapping a beach chair onto the Kymco and sitting in front of the center for a few hours each day. After I got hurt, the time I could spend gradually diminished. Today I returned to my post for about an hour.

Getting back to the scooter, there are a few things I've noticed after riding the machine longer. The first, and \most dramatic for me is the foot room is better than the Kymco's. I mentioned early on in my experience with the other scooter that the floorboard was too small for my feet, which are a very average size 11. On the PCX, the floorboards are alongside the fuel tank and would be long enough for the average clown. This raises the comfort level several notches.

The next thing I've observed is the speed. Now, I'm in the first 300 mile break-in period, so I'm not beating the tar out of her, but this little machine trucks along like a bigger bike. Yes, the top speed is around 60, but up to that point, it feels like I'm riding something much more powerful. Perhaps this is the fuel injection, but just the same, it's a quick little scooter.

The wind is not as big of a problem as I expected it would be, though I still can tell I need a taller windscreen. While I could previously run with the face-shield removed from my helmet, that isn't possible with the PCX. The stock windscreen is so short, it does nothing to deflect the swarms of gnats and Volkswagen sized mosquitoes common in August in Pennsylvania. Thankfully a new GIVI screen is on order.

I'm also starting to see why Honda has billed the PCX as a "sports" scooter. It has a very sporty feel too it, and even has a throaty exhaust note while under power. While chatting with a couple of the recruiters today who are Harley enthusiasts, they observed that it sounded pretty good for such a little bike. It's quiet enough at idle, but once that throttle gets a bit of a twist, the noise, though not overpowering, is quite pleasant. Then there is the handling. While not as sharp as the People 150, it's got a nice, low center of gravity that makes it swing around corners well.

I can tell that this is going to be a very easy scooter to live with.  Now I just need to install some underglow.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

an end, and a beginning

If you search for Kymco on the Lancaster, PA Craigslist, you will find this advertisement.

Yes, the Silver Streak is for sale. She has served me well, but due to changes in my work situation, she's not going to be the best option for what will sometimes be a much longer commute.

While I will admit I feel some sadness, I am pleased to announce that the "Sold" signs on the pictures of the PCX-150 I tested the other day were due to it being in the process of sale, to little old me.

Tomorrow morning, I will be picking up the new scoot. The only thing she will need is a fitting name. I'm still working on that. I'm thinking a name with Onyx, or Obsidian in it, or something similar.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The lighthearted side of life

There are disadvantages to being in the minority. Sometimes it's hard to get respect, to even get noticed. People don't always take those in the minority as seriously as they do those in a majority.

But there are also advantages. In the minority, you don't have to fit a mold. You can be different, and if you're different enough, you will stand out and be noticed. I'm not talking ethnic or cultural minorities, nor do I intend to cheapen the difficulties that have been faced and overcome by people in those groups. No, I'm talking about motoring minorities.

Being a motorcyclist, by simple fact of numbers, puts one in a motoring minority here in the United States. Scootsters are an even smaller minority within this larger group. I think this may be part of the reason that those of us who ride scooters tend to be a little more on the quirky, even goofy side. I fall more in with the latter certainly; my headgear attests to that.

But here's the beauty of it: When you're quirky and goofy, you get noticed. For those of us who ride on two or three wheels, That's a good thing. Granted, I don't always have Maggie with me, but even with just Rowlf, I've seen people take a second and third glance, laugh, then nearly run into a utility pole. At least they aren't running into me.

On my way home from work, I will often take the highway home and very often will observe cell phones filming me as vehicles pass. I've long been a proponent of being visible while riding and this lends to it. Sometimes it's good to be just a little weird.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Marines to implement new strategy in wake of Chattanooga, TN attack.

After the tragic murder of four Marines and a Navy corpsman three weeks ago in Chattanooga, TN, the United States government has been slow to respond to a public outcry for better defense of our military personnel.

In the wake of the shootings Armed citizens stood up to keep watch at recruitment centers. This drew the ire of the Department of Defense, which released warnings to citizens that they should leave well enough alone and stop assembling peaceably to protect the servicemen and women inside the centers.

After weeks of pressure from the public, the Navy has made it known that they will be moving to arm soldiers in the Recruitment centers, per FOX News.

Not to be outdone, the United States Marine Corps has released details of their plans for protecting recruiters. Training is now under way for all Marine recruiters and eventually for the rest of the corps that will enable any marine to catch incoming bullets in his or her teeth and spit them back at the attacker. The technique, similar to the ancient martial arts technique of catching an arrow with one hand, should allow Marines to adequately defend themselves in the event of an attack.

When asked the President's opinion, White House staff declined to give Mr. Obama's position stating that he will formulate a response after he hears about it on the news this evening.


Please note, the above is satire. Additionally, I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform and mourn with them the loss of their brothers. Our government, on the other hand, has droppped the ball in protecting those who so selflessly protect us.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

All the pieces fall into place (HONDA PCX 150)

I know. I talk about Honda a lot. What can I say, I really like their products. I love my Kymco, which happens to have an engine based on a Honda design, which at this very point in time has traveled more than 24,400 miles. All with a horizontal 150cc engine! That's quality in my humble opinion. Of course, regular maintenance and occasional repairs have played a significant part in the scooter's survival, but even with regular maintenance, I've seen other brands just fall apart.

So, yesterday I tested a Honda PCX-150. Let me say up front; it looks sharp and vaguely shark-like. I understand that it is supposed to be a "sports scooter," and this contributes to the look of it. The example I tested is a 2013 model, but aside from a few cosmetic differences and the apparent addition of a 12V plug on the 2016 model, there really isn't any substantial variation between the model years.

When one straddles the machine, it feels big and a bit heavy, of course, with a curb weight of 286 pounds, it is heavier than I am used to. The next thing I noticed was the dash layout which is sharp and easy to read. The fuel meter and odometer are electronic, but the speedometer is a good old fashioned analog dial. One oddity is on the left handlebar controls, the horn and turn signals are swapped from their normal positions with the turn signals at the bottom of the cluster and the horn in the middle.

Basic inspection completed, I turned the key, depressed the left brake handle and hit the starter and had to stop for a moment to make sure it was running. I've ridden quiet scooters before, but the engine sound was like the rustle of bird wings, it was that quiet. I needn't have bothered with listening though since I soon realized through the vibrations in the seat that the single cylinder beneath me was thumping away.

So, off down Dairy Road I went. A left turn out of the driveway and quickly up to an indicated 50mph without so much as a sputter. The scooter felt planted to the ground, even as I did a little bob-and-weave down the road to test handling around non-existent potholes. The handling was much better than I've experienced with other scooters with similar sized wheels (14 inch). I didn't even need to take the scooter all the way around on my normal test route. upon reaching the bridge at the end of the road, I turned around and headed back to the dealer. 

Twice in the last two weeks I have been surprised at how a vehicle has made me feel. First, the Nissan Leaf, despite it's ridiculous price-point surprised me by how civilized and normal and nice it was to drive, and I'll admit, it was so nice I actually would enjoy owning and driving one on a regular basis, but not for anything near the price they are asking so if someone wants to give one to me, just let me know. Then along comes the PCX-150, which is actually a very sporty handling scooter that feels like a big touring scooter with a lot more power than it really has.

The riding position was comfortable, though the stock windscreen is a bit on the short side. This did make riding with a sore shoulder a bit uncomfortable and tiring, which was another reason for turning around after such a short distance. Thankfully, there are aftermarket screens available through both Honda and Givi (the Honda screen is quite pricey).

For someone like me, who likes to travel long distance on occasion, it would be the perfect machine with a taller windscreen and a bigger rear rack (more on this below). The seat is comfortable and seems like it would be so for a long duration. The under-seat storage is about twice that of the Kymco and maybe about the same as the Elite 110 but not the same shape. Fuel capacity is 2.1 gallons which is better than I've seen on a 150. It's as if the engineers at Honda said, "hey, lets make a 150cc scooter that some crazy American will take on road trips!" Who knows, it may be time to sell the Streak before she needs a rebuild.

The one big thing that could use some work for the average scootster such as myself is the rear rack. It's rather pointless. Ok, that's not true, it's sort of pointy, but it's pointiness has no point...if that makes sense. The rack is so small and has such a tiny surface area, it was obviously never intended to be used for anything other than a top-box, which is fine for some, but limiting if you want to haul a bit of camping gear. Even if you get a top box, which is available aftermarket through Givi, you have to also get an adapter plate. Of course, this isn't going to affect all riders, but for me, it's something that would need to be modified.

So, to sum up, here are the positives of the PCX-150:
  • Planted
  • Handles well
  • Good control cluster layout
  • Quiet engine
  • Feels fast
  • Comfortable seat
And here are some of the negatives:
  • Small rear rack
  • Limited accessory options (some after-market)
  • Quiet turn signals
  • Vigorous thumping from engine at stand-still
  • Short Windscreen
The real question is, would I buy one? The answer is a resounding yes. A second question is, would I recommend it to others? On the whole, yes. If you want a big scooter that sips gasoline like a mosquito yet has enough power to get out of its own way and possibly even ride short hops on the highway on rare occasions with potential for long distance riding, then yes, assuredly yes! If you're just starting out though, it might be a little too big. Just the same, I know the PCX-150 surprised me. Go, try one out. You know you want to! 

Note for the observant, when I rode it yesterday, it did not yet have a "Sold!" sign on it. I forgot to get pics yesterday and went back this morning.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Laid up

I wished I could go for a ride. As it was, I was sitting here in my lazyboy with muscle relaxers coursing through my veins and a light-headed feeling which really doesn't lend itself to operating any kind of vehicle, nevermind one requiring balance. See, my job can be dangerous. When you work with the developmentally disabled, there are chances you could get hurt, and I did...again. I've been having back spasms and difficulty with my left shoulder and neck for almost two weeks now and have been on Dr. ordered leave from work.

I can tell you, I'd rather be working, but today, today I decided I'd had enough and I took a little scooter ride to my third physical therapy appointment. Boy oh boy was I excited! Ok, I'll admit, I was a little scared as well. As it was, I brought out the rarely used half-helmet since I thought less weight for my neck to contend with would be a good thing and since the speed limits in town are 25mph (and amazingly people follow them since the police keep a very close eye on Main St.), I wasn't too concerned about a high speed collision.

The ride was uneventful, but I could feel that a prolonged ride wasn't going to be a picnic. I went in to my PT appointment for my impending beating, then put my helmet back on and rode over to Lancaster Honda to get the scoot inspected. It was there that I saw they still have a 2013 PCX 150 for sale, as well as some 2015's, and I finally got to test-ride one after trying out the seat five years ago. The write-up of the test ride will come tomorrow. I need to go get some photos which I forgot to do in the midst of my discomfort.

In any even, the Silver Streak passed inspection without any issues. Happiness this is. 24,406 miles at the time of inspection and not a single problem other than a slight wobble of the windscreen, which was fixed with a couple turns on an Allen wrench.

I'll tell you though, by the time I got home, again uneventfully, I was ready for some Tylenol, my hot-pad, and some sit down time in my recliner.

I'm glad that I was able to get out for a ride today. While my car is a lovely place to be, riding a scooter or motorbike has no peer in giving one a feeling of freedom.