Friday, May 4, 2012

Scooter Cannonball Run

Hi All,
    Well I am back to blogging again, mostly because I actually have something to write about. Earlier this year I opened my mouth to someone about my desire to do the Scooter Cannonball. This person, Ricky from J's market in Elk Park N.C. immediately jumped in and said he would sponsor/support me, so...I was in.
     The Cannonball is a run from Savannah Ga. to San Diego Ca. around 2580 miles.It is specifically for scooters and directed toward older scooters. It's popularity has grown from 6 old scooters in 2004 to 58 scooters in 2012. A lot of the scooters in 2012 were newer and bigger than was probably intended at the start of the event in 2004, but modernity and engine size does not take away from the accomplishment of riding what is basically a city commuter vehicle across a country the size of America.
 Here is my Sears/Vespa before I started "prepping her for the Cannonball

I had read a lot of stuff other people had written about their experiences in the Cannonball, how easy it is to crash, how previously reliable scooters just break down due to the long days and hundreds of miles, how a rider has to be a roadside mechanic and macguyver while trying to stay sane on endlessly straight roads. Warnings were everywhere... Do Not Do This If You Do Not Know Your Scooter Inside And Out.
      I knew all that stuff didn't apply to me, after all, I had a 46 year old scooter that had never seen a mechanic, my knowledge of two stroke engines was limited to swearing at and kicking my push mower, and I had been riding a two wheeled motor vehicle for exactly 6 months. Heck let's go!

 I figured, "if something ain't broke, don't fix it" so I left all the mechanical bits as they were and concentrated on carrying capacity and looks.  Makes sense to me!
 Despite the fact that "Sophia" looked good in her 46 yr old white paint job from a distance, the closer you got the more you could see the ravages of time and the application of various shades of white over accumulated scratches and dings. I really did not know white could come in so many different hues. So one of the things I really wanted to do was paint her, primarily to look good but also to be more visible on the road. After long deliberation, weeks in fact(paint choice is a very big deal) I decided on the GULF OIL racing colours from the 60s race cars. Basically blue and orange. Only much later did I realise that those were also the colours of our home town soccer club in England. Oldham Athletic Football Club.
                                        Painting in the front yard 1 week before the Cannonball.

                                                  Oh yeah, Eat your heart out MAACO.

                                                     Drying time. Add the Orange later.

   I am not the most patient person in the world so I did not do tons of prep on the scoot before I painted her. Just a quick sanding down so the paint would stick, and a bit of hammering on the lesser dents. I decided that the big dents could stay there to "add character"
    I had also acquired a period (1968) windshield from Rob, one of the guys I work with at the golf course. He kindly gave it to me as it had been "settin in the apple house fer 40 years gathrin dust". I will say that riding with a windshield on a bike for long distances is a lot better on your body than going without one, so....Big Thanks Rob!
    I needed a rear rack in order to carry tools and a tray on the footplate to hold a 2 gallon gas can! These I made at Bruce Dyacks welding shop in Pineola.

   So this is what a custom painted, custom racked,custom windshielded, and custom upholstered Sears/Vespa by Sir Paul looks like.

                Did I mention I also made the seat for the trip? The original was way too uncomfortable for long rides and so I took it off and made a new one using plywood, foam, and leather. I made it quickly removable by using velcro. The seat has to be removable to get to the fuel tank and the carburettor. The American Tourister vanity case on the back rack is holding my tools and spare parts, I paid 5 dollars for it at a flea market and it proved to be tough as nails.
     You can also see the tray I made for the gas can. Unfortunately, I discovered that when I would "tuck in" behind the windshield to get more speed I was breathing lots of fumes from the gas. Eventually I put the gas can on the back rack and the toolbox on the footplate. This gave me two added bonuses:-

  1 The center of gravity was lower.
  2 People seemed to back off a wee bit when they realised I was carrying a gas can in a position where, if they rear ended me, they might be involved in an explosive situation.

        A cool front view of my scooter outside a Sears store that might have sold scooters 46yrs ago!

 My wife Cheri also made stuff for the trip, in particular a leather pouch thingy that slid over the rear rack and gave me 2 more pocket spaces which I used for storing a raincoat, 2 inner tubes, and an assortment of granola bars. The pouch thingy also gave my scooter a tough biker look that I am sure intimidated many road warriors on the trip.
   What else did I do to prepare for a 2500 mile trip? Oh, yes. I bought some new tires, 2 to be exact, and I went for a 250 mile round trip excursion to the Va. state line to see if "Sophia" could handle a long distance day.  She did handle it, so all I had to do next was get to the starting line of the Rally on the 22nd of April. That little story will be in the next posting.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Just going out to get gas in the scooter Honey!!!

    After doing a little bit of painting and stuff for our "reclaimed ceiling tile kitchen ceiling project" I decided it was necessary to go out and gas up the scooter for the coming week. A lot of our neighbours seem to do their gassing up on a Sunday evening, either on the way to or from Church, so I thought 2:30 in the afternoon would be a good time to go. People would be in that flux time between services, either napping or lunching.
   As I was riding down the mtn. to Roan Mtn. I saw a familiar scooter coming towards me on the other side of the road. The scooter was familiar but the rider wasn't, I was expecting to see my buddy Joel, however Chris, Joel's room-mate, was the one riding the scooter today.

                              The 2 adventure scoots and their extra gas supplies, raring to go.

Anyway, it turns out that room-mate Chris is a pretty cool guy and he is up for a quick ride around town and country. Told him I was gonna gas up and I would meet him back at Joel's house. When I met him at Joel's he was all ready to go(even put a helmet on!), and we set off uuuup the long road to Carver's Gap. It's about 12-14 miles of steady uphill climbing that is boring going up but awesome coming back down.

                                                         Here's a picture of Chris.

 As I said, boring as all get out on the way up because we rarely hit more than 40mph, but..... The good thing about riding on the first few good weekends of spring is, you get to smell all the fresh cut grass, feel the warm air pockets as you ride through them, and you can smell peoples dinners cooking on the BBQ grill. There is also that brilliant smell that always jolts me into realizing that I live in a foreign country,    skunk. Doesn't matter if it is close by and strong or miles away and faint, it is, to me, a truly American smell.

                               A picture of Chris cornering on the way back down the hill/mtn.

And one of me on the same curve.

One of the cool things about having someone along on the ride with you, is that you can take pictures of each other coming round corners. It took a lot of reconnoitering and backtracking to get the right corner and the right position to take the picture from. I think we did okay for a pair of amateurs.                                       

A zoom-in from the previous picture.

After zooming to the bottom of the hill we took another of my favourite back roads, the old railroad grade road, which parallels Hwy 19E going out of Roan Mtn. Chris really enjoyed this road as he had never been on it before(even though he grew up right in this area).We followed the road to where the blacktop ended, then we rode over the dirt mound barricades that had been placed to stop cars from going any further down the old railbed.
The way became rocky and bumpy pretty quick and you really had to choose where you were going to put your wheels. Oh, did I mention that by this time we had swapped scoots and Chris was now riding mine. His first time on a scooter with gears, he got the hang pretty quickly. Must be nice to be young and have an agile brain!
                Here's Chris, dirtbiking my Vespa.                                   

We went to the end of the dirt path, even riding through some really nice mudholes, then parked the bikes up and took a little hike across the old railway bridge and through the tunnel. I think Chris is a 12 yr old at heart too 'cos he had no problem just scooching around the riverbank looking for cool rocks and old glass etc, etc.
Eventually we realised it was 6:30 and dark would be in about an hour. At 2:30 I had told my wife I was "just going out for gas, be back in a bit", luckily for me she is very understanding, but it would probably be good to be back before nightfall.
We retraced our steps back to the bikes(always a sigh of relief to see they are still there), jumped aboard and headed home. As Chris peeled off to the right to head home we gave each other a wave. We had already swapped numbers, so now I have two riding buddies. I carried on going straight up the road to "our house" and arrived home before dark, to a kiss from the missus and a nice cup of tea.

All the best to all,

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Retro helmet.

         When I first acquired my scooter I was definitely a two wheeler noob, and in no way could be mistaken for a "hard biker" type. So, in order to give me some street cred, a friend of mine gave me one of his lesser used helmets. It is black with smoky gray skulls and flames on it. He only used it when he was giving motorcycle safety classes for the local DMV.He said it was to make fun of all the guys who come to their first class wearing all the Harley gear and trying to look like they have been riding forever, when ,in reality, most of them are upper middle-aged professionals who are having their mid-life crises'. I used that helmet for about 6 months, until at Christmas I received a Full Face helmet from Father Christmas. Here is a picture of the helmet.It is being worn by one of the Grandkids so that we could take a short toodle to the end of the street and back
As you can see, very scary skulls and , really, not quite my style.

I had also been spending time on a website called Modern Vespa, and one of the main topics, no matter what else was being discussed, was visibility as it pertains to safety. Eventually the "safety seed" that had been planted in my brain grew. Very slowly probably, not very fertile ground. After serious thought about what colour helmet would make me visible and look good too, I decided on the Gulf Racing colours from the 60s and 70s as used on the Ford GT40 and some minor league german cars, Porsches I think.

Here is the front 3/4 view of my custom painted, high visibility helmet.

I took the helmet to pieces until all I had was the fibreglass shell, then I sanded all the old paint and skull decals off the helmet. Next I painted the whole outside with a teal blue/green can of spray paint that had been in our basement for 6 years. We brought it with us when we moved!!!! I had to leave it in the living room for 24 hours so that it would warm up enough to use. Our basement is cold. After applying 3 coats with drying periods of 1 hour between coats, I let it sit for a day.

Side view. I can almost see my face in that blue.

The next day I used a pencil and marked out where I wanted the orange paint to go. This took a couple of tries to get it satisfactory. It is more difficult than you might imagine to draw parallel lines on a spherical object. In the end I had a 3 1/2 inch strip from front to back and a 1 1/4 border all the way around the helmet. To get the curves for the front of the helmet I used an old margarine container, it worked pretty well I think.
Front view. Well designed curves, eh!

The back of the helmet had tighter curves. I actually like the look of the back better than the front. I think I used the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper to get that curve. Toilet paper tubes, not just for making binoculars for the grandkids anymore. 
Nice rear. Very visible.

The final step was to apply a clearcoat to protect the paint. I patiently waited a full 24 hours before I even thought of applying anymore anything. After the 24 hours was up I perched the helmet on a shovel handle as it was such a warm sunny day outside.The beauty of using a shovel is that you can move it anywhere in the garden if the area you started working in has suddenly been put into shadow by the house, or a tree.
    I started spraying the clearcoat on one side of the helmet and the blue looked great as the wet spray hit it, nice and shiny.
 Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the orange. All of a sudden there were cracks and crinkles appearing all over the orangey bits. It looked like one of those dried out lakebeds you see in movies, usually with a cowskull laying in the dirt. I decided it was too late to do anything about the mess, soooo, I walked away and let the sun dry it out. While it was drying I went back inside to compare the cans of paint.
The orange paint was Enamel and the clearcoat Acrylic and unbeknownst to me, the two do not mix. In fact there is a whole industry devoted to making sure that these two opposites do get to meet and work against each other. It is the antique furniture/shabby chic industry, and the effect is called a "crackle finish.Anywho, Idecided a crackle finish wasn't so bad, so I went outside and applied 3 or 4 more coats of clear. Heavy on the blue and a bit lighter on the orangey bits. I didn't want the orange paint to just start sliding off the helmet altogether.
 Here is a look at the "crackle"

  A couple of people have seen the finish on my helmet and they approve, I really like it myself too. It looks like it has been around for years and is aging me hahahaha.
You can see I also put the edge trim piece back on the helmet too, it really finishes it off and makes the orange border look just right.

So there you go. Basically a new helmet with all the glamour of a vintage race helmet. I might put a thin line of black tape over the joining line of blue and orange. What do you think?

  All the best,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Saint Valentine's day ride.

I went out for a short ride today. Took my favourite road up to Roan Mtn.State Park. It's a good clean road surface with some nice tight turns and a lot of long sweeping curves. The only drawbacks to riding this road at this time of year are, the possibility of ice, and the probability of deer.

Obviously most of the snow and ice from last weekend is melting away. This little creek is becoming more of a branch or tributary.
Lots of debris gets washed downstream. Doesn't hurt to be on the look-out for Beaver too, you can often spot where they have been chewing away at the bases of trees here.

Nothing I like better than finding "beach glass" in these mountain streams. White and green examples above.
As long as they are worn or rounded enough to not cut you when you pick them up, then they are "beach glass". If they cut you, then they are trash and you pick em up and toss em in the garbage so some kid doesnt cut their feet in the summer. That happened to my kid brother Craig one summer, in Wales at the beach. There was a broken bottle under a raft we were all playing on. As I remember, Dad took Craig to hospital for stitches while Mum and us other three carried on at the beach. Well, no point in everyone having a miserable time was there? 'Course we had to stay away from the raft from then on. Colwyn Bay it was, we went pony riding too. That may also have been the year we saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the first time. We always went to the pictures when it rained on Holiday.

                 Here are some of the deer that are always to be found grazing at the side of the road.
 They seem to know exactly where the state park boundary is. There is no hunting in the state park of course. It really infuriates my hunter buddies when they see so many deer on their way home from work but cannot take a shot at them.
 I think they have never seen or heard a Vespa before mine because they always stare curiously, and twitch their tails a little nervously at the new noise and sight. Cars do not bother them in the least, and the hoards of big motorbikes that zoom up and down this road in season are hardly spared a glance, but for some reason the bzzzzzzzzz of my little engine and the meep meep of the horn makes them very curious.
 Before this little family of 8 deer decided to move along, I was less than 30 yds away from them. The prick up their ears when you talk to them too.
Deer Rear
 What do you see when you are out riding?

  All the best,


Superscooter Rides Again

Thought I would throw some piccies out there for y'all to see. These are mostly taken when I am out riding on Sophia. Hope you like them.
Above is a picture of myself and Grandson Christian coming back into the front yard from a trip to the end of the street and back.
                                                              A slightly closer look.
                         And closer still. Hmmm must be two different trips here. Can you tell why?
                              Zipping by on our way to the other end of the street. Meep meep.
Here is the front yard of one of our neighbours' houses. He decorates for every occasion. Every one of those figures lights up at night! He kindly gave me permission to take the photo, and to have my scoot in the picture with the Holy Infant.
                           Sometimes you just have to stop at the side of the road and take a picture.
Here is a gate that I designed for a local guy. It was made by Blue Mountain Metalworks of  Banner Elk.
I used to work there when I first came to this area. Unfortunately I did not get to build this gate, just design it.
Another view of the gate. Up close you can tell that the ironwork looks like rhododendrons or mountain laurel.The wording above is "Vini Vidi", or, I came, I saw. When you get up there you are exposed to some beautiful views.

  All the best.

Visiting a Local Dealer

         I had occasion to go to Charlotte N.C. a week ago, so whilst I was there I made a visit to Vespa Of Charlotte. I had good directions to the place but I actually drove right past it. It did not look anything like a motorbike dealers or showroom at all.

     So, there is the store. It looks a bit small, and with the awning over the entrance I must have mistaken it for a beauty salon. Anyway after asking directions, or location, from a passerby, I circled the block and 2nd time was a charm.
The fella that owns the place is called Mike, and a right nice guy he is too. He showed me around and explained all his bikes to me. The place was packed with shiny, gorgeous scooters as he had not had a chance to put them out on the street yet. He handles Vespas, Kymcos and Genuine Scooters, plus he had a Yamaha Vino in there too, on consignment. The scoot that I particularly liked was actually called....LIKE, and is made by Kymco. It is available with a 163 cc engine and is very good looking. Unfortunately the handlebars hit my knees when I am sitting in the driving/riding position, and there seems to be no adjustability to the steering/headset.
Here is the Like. Front like a Vespa, rear like a Lambretta.
The above is the 50cc model, but the 163cc has the same body, bigger engine.

What really fit me to a tee was the 2007 LX150 Vespa. I can really see myself riding down the road on one of those. This one was owned by a lady who only put 500 miles on it before deciding scooters, or two wheelers in general, were not for her. Charlotte is a pretty big city and the traffic may have been too much for her.
Here is the bonnie Blue Vespa 150
Yes, I was tempted by the pink one, but it was only 50cc.and I do not have a helmet to match, so.
It would be really nice to have a modern Vespa to run around on, for the reliability, and extra speed. That way Sophia could be worked on and become more of a weekend ride/show bike. Job situations will have to change before that happens, I think.
I ran into a fellow on line who has a Kymco Like. He is also 5'10", he has nothing but good things to say about the quality of the scoot, but when it comes to ergonomics he wishes he had bought something else. Even at his(and my) average height, he cannot find a comfortable riding position. His legs bump the steering/handlebars, and there is no comfortable way to slide back on the seat because of the way it is shaped.
I had a good time chatting with Mike, and I am sure that if I fall into a pot of money sometime soon, I will give him a visit and come back with a shiny new toy. Oh, and by the way, when I said he was local, what I meant was, I drove for two and a half hours. We need a scooter dealership in Elk Park!

All the best,

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Years ride.

      January 1st 2012 started out sunny and warmish so Cheri and I did a bit of tidy-up work around the outside of the house. Normal things like, getting rid of pumpkins left over from fall, taking all the plantpots and putting them in the basement so they don't freeze and break,putting patio furniture under the house to help protect the paint. Stuff like that, oh and I also broke up the large concrete slab that used to cover the old septic tank in the back yard. In the midst of doing all this Cheri told me that I should go for a ride cos "who knows when the weather will be this nice again?". I decided to finish what we were doing and then go for a ride. Guess what. It started raining, I mean really pee-ing down. I was just a little put out. Ah well.
      Two hours later the sun miraculously shone through the wet sky and the roads started to dry off. I quickly got all my gear together, including my BRAND SPANKING NEW full face helmet, kissed the missus and took off on my silver(dull white) dream machine(underpowered Italian scooter).
      New Years Day seems to be a good day to ride, there was almost no traffic, I bet I saw less than 30 cars on a 52 mile ride. I went west into Tennessee and up through Roan Mtn. State Park, then up Hughes Gap Road. Hughes Gap peaks out on the top of a ridge that is the border of N.C. and Tenn., it is one of the few places in America where you can drive a vehicle across the Appalachian Trail.  Once at the top of Hughes Gap there is a steep drop down to the little town of Buladean. The road is very twisty, and lots of fun  'cos it's downhill, so my lack of horsepower does not stop me enjoying the curves. Once Hughes Gap connects with 226 I decided to head toward Erwin, Tenn. 226 is another beautiful curvy road and has the added benefit of a nice smooth surface with no gravel to scare you in the corners. (Hughes Gap was quite gravelly and becomes a forest road for a while too, which is where the App Trail crosses it) Anyway I will certainly be going back to ride 226 in the spring when the road is dry and my tires are a bit warmer.
      226 leads into 237 which I took in an Easterly direction toward our friend Beth's house. 237 is another curvy road and has the added benefit of a stream/crick/branch/river running alongside it. Both of these roads have all kinds of brilliant hillbilly type country scenery all along them. Now because it is winter I get to look through all the tree cover into peoples yards and fields and outbuildings. Trampolines are abundant as are 4-wheelers and plastic kiddie pools. Because of the season there are lots of inflatable snowmen and santas around, and, the 1 thing that drives me crazy with envy, plywood cut-outs of santa, his sled, and reindeers, ON PEOPLES ROOFS. There are still an amazing number of 1970s style fibreglass satellite dishes in the Tenn hills, they call them "snow-catchers", plus lots of cars from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. I saw one yard with four late 70s Jeep Wagoneers and a1985 Plymouth Horizon, another yard had a dodge scamp, and another had 3 subaru brats. Then there is the livestock, lots of mules,horses,donkeys, and dogs. I also saw Alpacas and Llamas and goats and chickens. I rode past one field that had seven deer just grazing quietly away. They barely looked up as I buzzed on by.
       Even though there are few signs of massive population on these roads, there are always tons of churches, the most prolific being Baptist churches with their little white buildings with a spire, and an outbuilding for eating or picnic-ing. For some reason Baptists don't like to eat in a building connected to the church!
      237 connects to 19E, which takes me directly back to Elk Park, Sophia, my little scooter, is running very well, probably due to the cold temperatures, and riding up the long steep hills back to N.C. is relatively painless, but somewhat tedious. Unfortunately you cannot always find a new way home, so at some point every ride loses some of its excitement as your wheels follow the grooves in the road that you have made from going the same way again and again.
     I rode a total of 52 miles, up and down some very steep hills, so steep in fact that sometimes I was down to 20 mph and in 2nd gear. My elevation ranged from 3000 ft above sea level to around 5500 ft, and Sophia gave me no trouble at all.
     I hope those of you that rode today had a good safe trip.

    All the best,
  Sir Paul