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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

As I plan for my first poker run (more on that soon) and group ride I thought I should brush up on riding safely in a group.   Some wonderful video's brought to us by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

You can read more about who they are and what they do here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 3 and beyond

Something happened.

I went into a long sweeping curve on my way home, and without thinking the machine below me answered...staying on its line, the lean felt I was meant to be at that angle.  I looked down at the speedometer and we held a constant 60 mph.  The curve ended, the bike righted itself with little effort and my speed stayed constant.  For the first time in 3 days on my new bike I felt comfortable.

The wind buffering that I felt, and still feel, was lessened with my buying a full face helmet and I'm not sure if that is more psychological or more due to the fact that my block head is more aerodynamic in the helmet.

So far I've only taken the bike back and forth from work, a commute of a little bit under 35 miles one way, and am starting to feel the need to take it a bit further.  Tarpon Springs is one of my favorite locations in Florida, so a longer ride might be in my very near future.

I've been in the mood for some good Greek food and not the traditional Gyro or sweet Baklava either but something from the old country, a traditional recipe passed from mother to daughter.  Then spend some time on the famed Sponge docks soaking up the European atmosphere and relaxed way of life.

Or I might take the bike down into the city of St Pete and join my fellow "Scooter Trash" in riding around the beaches and beautiful town of St Petersburg.

Orlando, land of the evil mouse, is having a rally in mid October called the Snowbird Classic.  A buddy of mine who owns a Harley has been wanting me to go on a few poker runs.

Tempting.  Tempting indeed just to go and ride.  Make some new friends and see some new things.  Isn't that the whole idea behind owning a bike?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The first ride.

When you buy a new car, you understand the basics of that car.  What the steering wheel does, where the brakes are.  What you don't know is what to expect.  How will the car react in wet weather?  Around sharp curves?  Up and down hills?

So you take that car out for a test drive and learn these things.  It helps you decide if you want to buy that car or not.

Since I don't have my motorcycle endorsement (yet) I'm not allowed to take the bike off the lot.  I had to make my decision on what to buy based on second and third hand information.  From various friends, websites, forums and magazines.  While my choice to buy a Suzuki Burgman was informed by this information...if I made the right one or not wouldn't be known till I took her out onto the mean streets of Tampa and opened her up.

So this is a first for me in a lot of ways.  Not only is it a new bike, but its also my first ride on something bigger and more powerful than I had ever ridden before.  Not only would I be driving in the stop and go traffic of a city, but traveling on highways and along some twisty country roads.   I had not really planned on this route but it just sort of happened that way.

To say I was a bit nervous is a bit of an understatement.   I could just see myself getting onto the bike, pulling away into traffic and going down in a heap.  I didn't thank God.  I did however learn some things about the Burgi right off the bat.

I had a brief ride through the city of St Petersburg and then had to cross the Gandy bridge.   The speed limit was 65 mph and I quickly got the bike up to speed.  Up until then I was traveling at about 35 - 45 mph.

I had expected some buffeting but was surprised by how much.  I felt like I was getting punched as the wind rolled over the windscreen and straight up into my chest and head.   I'm 6 foot tall and had traveled less than 20 miles.  I already knew I was getting a taller windshield as soon as possible.

Bending over a bit and looking just over or through the windshield helped immensely, but created an awkward position for me.  I read some reviews where the writers complained of a weird magnification of the windshield, which I did not experience at all.  

I also noticed how the bigger bike caught the wind a lot more than my smaller previous Zuma 125 did.  Which came as a bit of a surprise and I had to work out how to cut the wind on the bridge.  Luckily traffic was light and although I was not blown into another lane, I felt that I could have easily have been.  The weight and size of the bike would also be an issue on the twisty back country roads I drove on. Where I was used to the much lighter and smaller Yamaha, so it would take a few more days and miles to adjust to the bigger Burgman.

Once I hit the city traffic things got a little easier, although I still had to get used to the weight of the bike.   As my lovely girlfriend pulled into a market I nearly tipped the machine over pulling into a parking space...all because my weight was not placed right much to her amusement!

My little Zuma 125 could easily keep up with city traffic, I felt a bit more visible on the larger Burgman.  Just when I'm feeling a bit more cocky some idiot pulls out and crosses two lanes of traffic right in front of me.   A quick light touch of the brakes slowed me quickly enough to avoid a problem however and I enjoyed the quickness of the stop.  It was not a panic stop but if I were traveling about 10 miles an hour faster it could have been.

Ah, Florida!
One thing I wanted to do was buy a drink holder.  I joked about with the salesman at the dealership, but as I drove nearly 100 miles in temperatures close to 100 degrees I realized that I would really need a way to keep cool.  I was riding in short sleeves and jeans, boots and my helmet.  Not exactly safety gear but with a jack and full helmet I would be melting my fat ass off.

Luckily the front glove box does a deep pocket that will hold a bottle of water, although opening and closing this box while traveling seems a bit dangerous.  I guess I could do that at stop lights.

Under the seat I was able to store a jacket as well as a small toolkit that came with the bike and a odds and ends.  I was slightly surprised to find there were not one, but two, compartments for holding documents on the sides of the storage compartment.

My fat ass in traffic.

While it was not part of my original plans, I ended up taking the bike to work which meant I would have to ride it home at 1 AM on nearly empty streets in the middle of no where.   Before I knew it I was doing 80 mph surprised as hell.  I slowed down and reminded myself to keep an eye on the speedometer.  I was also surprised by the brightness of the head lights, the "high power" switch lit up the night like a ball park for me...which brought a smile to my face as the deer on the side of road looked up as I passed them.

As I approached the first 100 mile mark on my new bike I thought to myself "I made the right choice."   I was a bit concerned about the 400cc engine because I wanted something bigger...afraid that six months from now I would be wanting more power.  After my first 100 miles on all types of roads and traffic conditions I felt the 400cc would be just fine.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

**Grumbles** - the first ride put off a day

So I drive all the way down to the dealership, check in hand but they have a problem with their computers.  So no bike today.   Tomorrow for sure.

Here are some pics taken directly from their website of my new ride.

More to follow soon.  :)

So which Maxi Scooter is for me?

May 1, 2014 - UPDATE:  A lot of you are looking for information on Scooters.  A few of you may even buy one, so I'm going to recommend you read not only my article but also this piece on Cheapskate Scooters.  You want to buy the bike that's best for you, but also one that is best for your situation.

On the website Ride to Work one of the biggest problems it seems with riding to and from work on a motorbike is storage.  From the simple brown bagged lunch up to laptops, people bitch about the lack of storage on their bikes.

As I decided to move forward with owning a bike, storage was one of the issues I had been looking at.  I was looking for enough storage to do two things.  The first was haul my lunch bag back an forth as well as hold a sweater and jacket for rain and night riding.   The second was a little more complex.

Not my car but that is my girlfriend!  
I am planning on letting the bike eventually replace one of the two cars I own.   I own a 2002 Jeep Liberty with 127,000 miles (204,387 km) and a 2003 Hyundai Elentra with about the same.   Like it or not one of these cars were going to the great auto wrecker in the sky sooner or later.   Probably my Elentra since I tend to ride it hard and put her up wet.

So for me, the storage issue was simple.  Scooters can hold a lot under the seat depending on their size and a Maxi Scooter can hold about 3 bags of groceries.  Get a top case or saddlebags and you have even more storage.

So the question now became.   Which scooter was for me?  Even though scooter sales have exploded over the last few years, their is still a bit of a stigma when it comes to the bigger scooters.  I think I know why but that's another blog post for another time.  Today, most scooters being sold are in the 49cc range (good for city driving, triple digit gas mileage and low costs to operate and insure).  My little Yamaha Zuma was the next step up at 125cc.  It got me up to its top speed of  55 mph (89 kmh) with no problem and let my old car sit still for a entire month while I commuted around on the scooter.

I was finding lots of scoots in that range.   Not so much in the range I wanted.  Plus, while there are lots of companies that make scooters in the 125cc range and below...not many companies make the maxi scooter, which is defined as 250cc or above.

So lets start with an icon.  Vespa.
Vespa GTV 300
When people think scooters the image they have in their mind is pure Vespa.  The design is classic, mechanically my research showed little wrong with buying one of these.  The displacement was a little below what I wanted (I wanted to be in the 400 - 650cc range) meaning a top speed of only 80 mph (129 kph), not that I was planning on going above 70 mph (I do that in my cars now, it's a comfortable speed for me).  Plus, there are several Vespa dealers in the area that could fix things when they go wrong.

Only two problems.  Searching Craigslist and Ebay I did not find any bikes that met my budget.  Buying new would have been possible, but pushing my budget.  This was about saving money and adopting a new lifestyle.  Putting myself into more debt was not on the list.  The second issue was the displacement.   I wanted something with more power.  I didn't want to be going "I need to sell this bike for something with more power" six months from now.

Now to be honest I fell in love with the next scooter.  The Aprilia Scarabeo 500 ie.
2008 model

You still have the classic design, the Italian engineering.  It looks a bit more sporty to me that the Vespa.  It's displacement was higher, at 467cc as compared the the Vespa 287cc engine it was going to move!

I've always been an odd duck and nothing I had seen on the street yet showed such a unique look.   There was even a dealer in my area!

And now the issues.  While I was able to find a few used ones, my research showed that if there was a issue it might take weeks, not days, for the part to come in.  Repair bills also tended to be high on this bike.  The cost of a new bike was again going to strain the pocket book.

The Xciting 500 RI ABS model
Kymco scooters had a lot going on for them.   They are generally well respected, pretty easy to get parts for and would run about a grand cheaper than then the other two bikes I was researching.   Kymco has a lot to offer in there Xciting 500Ri class, including a model with ABS brakes.   For someone like me not wanting to kill themselves on a bike...this was a major plus!

The problem.   No dealers within a 100 mile radius of my home in Florida.   While I might find a mechanic the general consensus of all the reviews I read and research I did came to one conclusion.   You get what you pay for.   It might be a good bike, sharp to look at and would meet all my needs.   But it was cheap.  Cheap in the way it was put together and cheap in the way it handled.  I am to poor not to have quality.

I went in search of Honda's Silverwing model, but no luck.   Honda seems to thrown in the towel when it comes to maxi scooters.  No dealerships, nothing on any of the used bike sites.

Much sweeter than the picture!
Yamaha however offered the glorious TMAX.  I have to be honest, until I read about the performance of this scooter I was going to pass it by.  Motorcycle like handling was all I needed to hear.   While I had my reasons for wanting a scooter and not a motorcycle, in the back of my mind the idea was always there.  Here was a chance for me to have both the handling of a "traditional" motorcycle and the convenience of a scooter in one nice package.   I even found a dealer that carried them!

Problem was, even the used TMAX was stretching my dollar thinner than I wanted it to go.  There did not seem to be much of a used TMAX market out there either.

Which lead me to the bike I ended up getting.  I had heard good things about the Suzuki Burgman.  Some had called it the Benz of the Maxi Scooter world, and not in a bad way.   They were affordable used and there seems to be enough of them in the market to make finding one easy.   They had glowing reviews.  The performance was ranked very high.  They kept their value over time.

Suzuki dealerships were common.   I can go on.   I had made up my mind early.   It was going to be a Burgman.  I wanted the 650cc displacement but when a 400cc fell from the sky into my lap I had to take advantage of it.

I am picking it up later today.  My first ride on a new machine and I'm nervous, scared and excited.  Happy too.

So lets see where it takes me and what adventures await me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Scooter or Bike

So...I had a scooter I had to sale.  A more powerful bike I had to buy.  Lessons I had to learn and an endorsement on my licence to obtain (in the state of Florida your required to have a motorcycle endorsement for any engine over 150cc).

Yamaha Virago 250
I don't know why, but a scooter at 250cc is considered a little more powerful than a traditonal motorcycle with the same cc powerhouse.   Basically from what I can figure it is due to how the engine is configured.   A 250cc engine on a scooter will get you up to highway speeds of 65 to 70 mph (105 - 113 kph) but that's going to max it out.  The smaller wheels on a scooter also concerned me, after all it's all about feeling comfortable and safe.   While I might be able to get the speed, what happens if I need a little more oomph to avoid something?

From what I understand, a 250cc motorcycle engine on a traditonal bike might work out great for city driving.  Not so hot on the freeway.  So if I go traditional bike I'm looking at least 650cc, which is generally the engine size of the smaller bikes.

So what is best for me?  I'm about 6 foot even, 210 pounds (1.82 m and 95.3 kg)...not a small guy but not exactly muscular either.  I wanted something that I felt comfortable on, I didn't want to be bent over most of time, as I would be on a sport bike - sometimes called a crotch rocket.   Nor did I need 1200 cc strapped between my legs to prove I am a man.

I'm 45 years old (in dog years I'm 193 years old) and believe more in comfort than style.

My job does not require me to wear a suit and tie every day but I am required to have "business causal dress" most days of the week.   How about storage for a laptop?  Being new to riding I was more concerned about safety as well.   Would the bike "forgive" me if I fucked up?

2007 Aprilia 500 Atlantic
So when I added everything up, my choice was simple.   I needed a maxi-scooter.  The design of which meets a lot of what I wanted in a bike.  

With the pass through my legs are protected.  Storage is safe under the seat, and generally speaking easier to carry as it is more towards the center of the bike so the rider does not have to worry about counterbalance as much.  I have seen 3 bags of groceries placed under the seat without issue.

With the center of gravity moved forward and the engine fixed to the frame, the so called maxi scooter would have bigger wheels than a traditional scooter and that improves handling.   Improved handling equals more safety in my mind.  Other options such as automatic transmission, ABS brakes, and other features that are just not available on a motorcycle yet sold me.  If they are available then the price was steep.

Scooters it seems, carry a lower price tag.  I think that has to do with American's obsessions with power and style and not function...but that is another post.  Another time.

The logic or lack of logic in my getting a bike.

I am a new rider.  When I first thinking about getting a motorcycle I went through every emotion that a person can go through and I'll admit I thought about it months before I finally bought a used scooter.  

It seemed that everyone had a story where either they knew a friend of a friend or knew someone directly that had lost a direct head on confrontation with an 18 wheeler.   "They are called donor cycles for a reason."  "Your going to be road pizza!"  I imagined my mother saying.

But at that time gas was quickly approaching the $4 US mark and the bike that I was considering buying would average about 70+ miles (113 + km) per gallon.  At the risk of losing you completely, lets do some math.

 It was a Yamaha Zuma 125 stock (meaning it had no upgrades).   I found a blue book value for it and truthfully I overpaid.  I figured about 3 years of riding it however would pay for the bike, and that was even if I rode it 75% of the time.

 Living in Florida gives me an advantage over most riders, in that I can ride nearly all year and motorcycles are a pretty common sight here as well.  That does not mean they are any safer but, in my twisted logic at least, meant that I would be a little more visible than lets say in my home state of Pennsylvania.

My commute at the time was only 15 miles (24 km) one way, flat and more or less straight.  The 125cc engine could easily keep up with city traffic and my commute at night (I work till 1 AM most days) would be on more or less empty streets.   I felt safe.

BUT first...a shiny helmet which I hoped would reflect light when driving a night.   A bright yellow jacket.  Anything to make me a bit more visible.    A simple mantra that I would repeat..."Cocky will get me killed."

So I started to ride.   In the parking lot at first, then in the side streets around my home at the time.   Then simple jaunts up and down the busier roads to Subway or the market.   Then work.   Then before you know it something happened.

I started to relax, to enjoy the ride.  What started out as a logical way for me to save some money turned into something else, I realized it one day when I jumped on the little bike just to ride...and got lost on the back roads, not caring.  I started to look for excuses to take the little scoot out.

Now I understood what my biker friends where talking about.  Complete and total freedom.  A stupid grin on my face.  Life on 2 (smaller) wheels was not so bad after all.

Then something happened.   I bought a house which was about twice as far as I was before from work.   My little Zuma 125 had a top speed of 55 mph (88.5 kph) and that would not cut it on the highways I had to travel.  So with only a few months of riding experience under my belt I had to upgrade.

Again I had to consider my options between a Scooter or a "Real Bike."