Thursday, November 26, 2015

Something to be thankful for

So, today is the day we Americans set aside to thank God for His many blessings as the separatists did almost 400 years ago. Despite what many will say, the Pilgrims, (not what they called themselves by the by), did not hold the first thanksgiving feast to thank the Wampanoag, nor did they set out on a quest of genocide against them (the Separatists, i.e. the Pilgrims, never killed any of the aboriginal peoples of this continent, that wasn't their style, they were peaceful folk), no, the Separatists held the first thanksgiving to thank God for His faithfulness and they invited the Wampanoag, their trading partners, to join them in thanking God.

So it is that I also am thankful to the Almighty for His blessings. I had to work today, and my wife is with her family (I won't divulge where my kid is), so my best friend, who doubles as my pastor, invited me to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner.

It's a beautiful day out there, and the ride was grand. Any clouds in the sky were so thin they let the sun through and the temperature hung between 50 and 60 degrees. The traffic wasn't too horrible either.

Riding up the highway toward Ephrata, more than a few Thanksgiving day travelers were obviously amused by sight of Rowlf on a scooter. I was only on the highway for about two miles and didn't push the throttle too much. I got off at the Ephrata exit, and headed toward Terre Hill. The traffic was heavier on the back roads, and the bike-n-buggy Mennonites were out in force. A fair number seemed amused by Rowlf.

Dinner at Kevin and Diane's house was wonderful, complete with a pecan covered sweet potato dish. It was a blessing to be surrounded by friends. Unfortunately it was all too short a time and I had to leave for work.

The road between Terre Hill and Lebanon ranges through hills, valleys and small towns. It's really quite a lovely ride and even passes the Middle Creek project, while offering up all sorts of twists and turns for the cornering enthusiast. The best part of it was, the pre-thanksgiving-dinner traffic had all tapered off and the roads were lonely and quiet, just the way I like them.

So today, I am thankful for friends, family, open roads, solitude, and the joy of the two-wheeler, among other things of course. This country may not be perfect, but we are blessed and that is another thing to thank God for.

Friday, November 20, 2015

River Ride

Last week was a bit more relaxed, due to some time off from work. School still progressed as normal in the mornings, but there was no need to be anywhere after. This led to opportunities to ride off the beaten path.

The Susquehanna River flows along the northeast edge of York county. Some of the river's edge is  inaccessible due to the way the landscape or roads closed to public use. Those roads that are accessible vary in quality, but the view, oh that is worth dealing with a few potholes.

As rivers go, the Susquehanna is fairly wide, and over a mile across in places. It's not the Mississippi,  nor the Hudson, but it's lovely and dotted with rocks and islands. If one pays attention, the river has a fair population of bald eagles. They can often be seen soaring high above, riding the air currents from the water below.

The PCX passed under the spreading branches of trees having shed their autumn splendor, the putter of its engine beating a mild staccato against the sound of flowing water. Fallen leaves blew into its wake, in a gold and amber wave.

The river road eventually ended with a big sign marked "Private Drive," but a bit of back-tracking found a track leading up out of the river valley and back into the countryside, then on toward the main roads and back across the river into Lancaster County.

Finding an idyllic locale for a leisurely ride takes little effort. All one needs is a vehicle and a little bit of time. Scooters and motorbikes are ideal for this kind of escape. There is nothing between the rider and the elements to detract from the overall experience. Even at this time of year when the temperatures are cooler, riding through the halls of nature is freeing and invigorating.

Sometimes it's just nice to go out and live.


Thanks to all my loyal readers for giving me a reason to write. I've really enjoyed it over the years. I will continue to write and hope to eventually turn this hobby into a career. Some of you may have noticed that there is a link to my GoFundMe page in the right sidebar of this blog. If you are so inclined, any assistance would be greatly appreciated.


Monday, November 9, 2015

A red cup? That's a problem? Really?

I generally keep this space to topics related to scooters and motorcycles. Of course, I also sometimes address matters of faith, and today, today I'm so furious I wish the written word had audible volume. 

Christmas is coming. Christmas as a religious holiday is a celebration and remembrance of the birth of God's Son in a human body. Historians and Bible scholars generally agree that Jesus Christ was not born on December 25th, but rather sometime in spring (when lambs are generally born), or possibly summer. 

Pine trees, snow flakes, sled rides, snowmen, mistletoe, and any number of other things that are associated with the Christmas holiday, are human additions to the celebration. These things have absolutely no relevance to the celebration of Christ's birth and are simply human tradition. 

So, along comes Starbucks and they have the audacity to not put any of these traditional images on their "holiday" cups. We'll leave the stupidity of renaming everything Christmas related to "holiday," for another day, there's another stupidity that's far more glaring. 

So, you're going to boycott Starbucks and accuse them of trying to take Christ out of Christmas because they went minimalist? You're that shallow, that privileged, that spoiled and pampered that this is what you're going to protest? Really?!!!


Ok, I feel better now. Actually,  no I don't. This infuriates me!

There are many things that are worth protesting, but this is not one of them. The purpose of Jesus' Christ's birth is the salvation of mankind through his death on the Cross in our place. God's son did not come to earth in human form just so we can have cups with snowflakes on them. 

If this is what is important to you, I question your understanding of the scriptures. I question your grip on reality. 

Jesus' words are recorded in Matthew 10: "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles."

With that in mind, is it really worth making a big fuss over a paper cup? 

Autumn bliss

Darkness departs late and descends early this time of year. The skies are often a steely grey, portending the approach of winter. With these annual changes come cooler temperatures and the need for bundling up, but for the intrepid few who ride year round in those places where the seasons change, the colder months provide unique experiences, vistas, and dangers.

The temperature this morning was a balmy 31 degrees (that's Fahrenheit for those across the Atlantic). Out of the closet came the trusty scarf, gloves were doubled, the orange coverall went on, and it was hoped that one pair of socks would be enough. Looking a bit like a bright orange adult version of Randy Parker (think "a Christmas story), the winterized scooterist left his home.

The sun was on the rise and had not yet crested the horizon at the outset of the journey, but was well risen upon arrival at the destination. Thirty miles on a frosty morning is a good test for one's mettle and the windproofing of his riding gear.

The solitude of the cold weather ride is a wondrous thing. Fewer riders venture forth when the mercury falls below the 50 degree mark, and fewer still as it descends toward and then past the freezing point. This is both a benefit and a danger. Those who do take their two-wheelers out in the colder months can enjoy the solitude yet should beware the automobile driver who is no longer as alert to the presence of motorcycles.

Additional danger lies in the chance of catching a chill or developing frostbite. When one's toes start to burn from the cold, it's a sure sign that the footwear needs an upgrade. Doubling up on gloves seems to help with finger numbing. Of course, one can't really go wrong with heated gear, if one can afford it.

As the days grow cooler there is the added potential of ice on the road. In the early part of Autumn, this is not generally a concern in south-central Pennsylvania, but by the time November has rolled in icy conditions are possible.

This morning, a matched set of chilly toes was the only drawback to the ride to school. The next morning ride will see in place of cloth shoes, a nice set of steel toed boots.

By the time school let out for the day, the temperature had risen well into the fifties. The extra layer was no longer necesary and so it was that atop the crate was strapped an orange roll of coverall. The morning ride with its chill to the extremeties, was made more worthwhile by the journey home along streets gilded with maples still in leaf. 

A stop at a park along the Susquehanna with a view of the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge added a needed punctuation to an already glorious day. Autumn can mean less comfort on the journey, but it holds its own alure and even perhaps a hint of magic.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Living with it - 2013 Honda PCX150

Time flies when you're having fun, and so it is that over two and a half months have passed since my purchase of a 2013 Honda PCX150. As of my arrival at school this morning, there were almost 3200 miles on the clock. So it seems appropriate to address how it is to live with. While there have been changes to the machine for the 2015 model year, they amount to a few minor tweaks and most of these observations will still apply. There are also still many 2013 PCX models available as left-overs and for those seeking a used scooter, this should be of some help.

First off, it is different by far from my old Kymco. The riding position, seat height, wheelbase, torque, horsepower, maneuverability, and any number of other things are not the same, even if only marginally so. Of course, it's a different style of scooter, and indeed was designed  from the ground up to be different from previous scooterly products.

As a review, the PCX-150 was originally billed as a "sports scooter," which is subjective of course. As far as the looks go, with a stock windscreen it has some resemblance to a sport bike from the front, but the profile is closer to that of larger touring scooters like the Honda Forza, and Silverwing, or the venerable Suzuki Burgman. The stock windshield was the first thing to go, as it didn't really live up to the name. Some people like it, but my personal taste is for something a bit taller. The Givi screen has been perfect for my own riding needs, and changes the looks from the front to match the impression given by its profile.

Technically, the PCX is very modern, and though it looks like a bigger scooter, it's still a one lunger with a small displacement cylinder. Fuel injection makes it a peppy little scoot, with quick acceleration and a top speed of 67 mph as tested by GPS.  It's only a 150, so highway travel, while legal, is not recommended. Riding on the highway tanks the fuel economy (I know, bad pun), and even though it is a liquid cooled engine, that kind of constant pounding is not going to do the dinky little piston any favors. While I've run it all over and have done some highway, including a short jaunt up I-83 earlier today,  it's much more at home on the back roads.

On a 2013, like mine, the instrument panel and controls are nicely laid out. The only quibble I have with it is the horn arrangement. The buttons for the horn and turn signals are reversed from the normal placement on most bikes and scooters. This has led to accidentally hitting the horn when trying to signal, or the reverse. Even after two months, I still get it mixed up. Otherwise though, I love the look of the chrome bars and the easy to read instrument cluster. Every time I see it, I'm impressed by just how pretty it looks. That may be odd, but it speaks to quality of manufacture in my opinion.

The engine starts with the stator instead of a traditional ignition motor. I'm ambivalent on whether this was a smart move. Yes, it means one less component, but whether it wears out the stator more quickly, time will tell. So far there have been no issues and starting is nearly immediate.

Braking is supplied by a three piston front disk assembly and a rear drum. The left handle operates the rear brake and the center piston of the front brake, while the right handle puts all of the pistons to use up front. Stopping power is good, though it's not going to stand up on the front wheel under hard braking, not in my experience at least. While I've had no issues, some users of the forums have experienced poor handling and brake lockups on wet roads. I'm not 100% certain, but one of the videos a user posted showed obviously greasy road conditions. Other pictures of crash sites showed poor road conditions as well, which leads me to believe the scooter is not the primary culprit.

The ride on the PCX is somewhat firm, and the last 3200 miles have driven home the fact that a new seat should be on my Christmas list. I wasn't quite sure about the "rump-bump" on the 2013's seat when I first purchased the machine. It wasn't until I started putting my feet on the forward floorboards that it started to make sense. This seating position pushes one's rear back against the bump, helping create a sense of security. Even so, the seat numbs the hinderparts after about an hour of riding.

The suspension is acceptable, if a bit on the stiff side. Eventually, aftermarket shocks will find their way onto the rear, just out of my own personal preference and really more for looks than for practicality. The front fork is sufficient and will probably remain unmodified. There is plenty of bounce and it doesn't bottom out on bigger bumps, though more gravity challenged riders might have a varied experience. If you'll recall, I rode the PCX from Lancaster to Massachusetts and back around Labor Day this year, so it's not so bad as to put a stop to such shenanigans.

The ride is crisp, agile and secure in the corners on a good clean road. It doesn't exactly throw itself into corners, but it's definitely capable in the twisties. One of the roads I travel on the way to and from school has a number of bends that allow for a moderate lean and the PCX travels through them with ease, even on a wet surface. Harder turns are a bit more challenging and the PCX doesn't seem quite as sure. Where the PCX really shines is it's touring ability. It not only looks like a big touring scooter, it feels like one. Yes, the seat needs work and the suspension could be tweaked, but it still travels better than one would expect for something so small.

Maintenance can be a bit of a trial. For the shade-tree mechanic, the PCX is not extremely wrenching friendly. There are bits here and there that lead me to think Honda's engineers were inspired to discourage amateurs from doing more than the occasional oil change, though it's more likely the design was intended to be as space saving as possible. Oil changes require that the rear brake line be moved, which isn't a huge deal, but there are two panels to remove if one needs to work on the CVT, and if any maintenance must be done on the engine itself (like valve clearances), a number of body panels have to come off. This is fine if you have time and a garage, but if your only option is to work outside, that's a bit of a tall order for an afternoon. Once the panels are off, it can still be a bit of a squeeze. Honda has focused so on making everything fit in as small a space as possible, even getting in at the battery has gotten my fingers pinched.

For practicality, the PCX is very good. I can't quite shut the seat with my helmet inside, but it has plenty of capacity. One user on the boards has fit the entirety of a 24 pack of Dasani water in the underseat storage. As seen on my recent camping trip, the underseat storage, crate on the rear rack, and a pair of saddlebags are more than sufficient for a single traveler.

Fuel economy has been a mixed bag. I average about 86 mpg as tracked by Some riders get up to 100 mpg out of their PCX's, but I'll admit I ride a bit hard and have no choice but to travel on the highway at least once a day for a short hop on the way to school, then back again to get across the Susquehanna river on the way to work in the afternoon.

So after nearly three months with a PCX and a good bit of road passed under the wheels, I'm still very happy with it. running nearly 80 miles a day some days is a lot more than many bigger bikes will do comfortably, and the PCX does exactly what I need, with a bit left over for the unexpected. If indeed Honda was trying to blur the lines a bit between scooter and motorcycle, I'd say they've made some strides in the right direction. It's not going to be mistaken for a motorcycle by anyone who knows better, but it does manage to exude less of the geekiness of the traditional small scooter. Now if only the rider would get rid of his silly helmet cover...yeah, not gonna happen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Learning curve

Going back to school after 17 years is a bit daunting. It helps when a fair number of the other members of the class are in the same boat.

When I graduated from high school, I was accepted to an art school out in the midwest. I was not 100% convinced I wanted to go to a 4 year college, but my parents and mentors and so on were all convinced it was best. At the last minute, my plans changed. My brother was working for the Word of Life Ranch that summer, and my family had gone up for a visit. Word of Life International also runs a Bible institute which offers the equivalent of a four year biblical/divinity bachelor's program without any pesky courses outside that field of study. It was such a moving experience, I stayed for the second year term which was more of a pastor/youth pastor training program. It was on that visit that I decided to apply to the Bible Institute.

This was a decision that changed the course of my life. I thoroughly loved the coursework and earned over a 3.8 average the first year and over a 3.5 the second. This was something new for me because academics was always a drudgery before. I had an offer to become a pastor of a small church in New Hampshire, but when my dad got wind of it, he was not happy and demanded that I move on to get a full bachelor's diploma. Being the dutiful son, I did as I was asked and was miserable for two and a half years. Then I met my future wife and the misery subsided until after we got married (that's a joke if you read this dear, I love you more than life itself). In any event, I struggled for motivation while at Lancaster Bible College. It's not the college's fault, I just wasn't really interested. I barely graduated with a C average for a bachelor's in Biblical studies and 30 hours of what would have been a computer sciences degree had LBC been accredited to offer such a thing.

Two and a half years of my post-educational life were spent working for a local internet company here in Lancaster County, and then the  tech bubble burst, and there went any hope of a decent job in that industry. I worked for nearly five years at the PennDOT call center in Lancaster city, until the state gave that contract to an out-of-state company, found myself floating between part-time jobs then ended up  where I have worked for more than nine years. Don't get me wrong, I love the individuals I work with at Friendship Community, and treasure the memories of those friends who have since  passed into the  next world. But it is becoming impossible to support a household on less than $12.00 an hour and I'm just beat up physically and mentally from the unique stresses of this  work.

Enter, a career change.

I've been dabbling in motorcycle repair now for several years. God has gifted me with an ability with tools and with seeing how things fit together. And I love the schooling. My time at YTI's Motorcycle Technology Center has been far from boring.  In fact, I feel much as I did my first days at Word of Life. I'm refreshed, rejuvenated, and excited to awaken every day to a new learning experience.

The ride to work is amazing on those days that I take the scooter. The leaves are falling from the trees and it's moving on toward winter.

We're not doing a whole lot in the lab just yet, but i've gotten to move a few bikes around, practice safe workshop stuff and have learned enough in this first week to keep me wanting to go back for more.

And I still get to ride off to work every day with my ears flapping in the wind.