scooterlife - photog's blog

Motorcycles. Scooters. Wheelchairs. Tape. Whatever rolls.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The transformation

It's official: it's now an obsession.

I figured I crossed the line yesterday when I went joyriding after the official errands were done, just to buzz around town. It was no longer an experiment, just fun. And after that first thrill of zinging past traffic, a little bit of hunger developed. A little bit of anticipation.

I've been riding motorcycles for over 20 years and have a state of the art BMW R1150GS sitting in the driveway. Tomorrow morning I'll walk past the BMW, and get on the scooter.



I knew it was an obsession when I started looking at add-ons tonight, surfing the net for all the hot-rod goodies for the little horizontal Minarelli engine. Expansion pipe, fatter tires, and so on. I knew I had blown past the obsession phase and into a new realm of fascination when after I was done add-on shopping, I began plotting the purchase of my next scooter, a stablemate for the Zip.

The next scoot is gonna be something classic--either a Vespa or a Stella, maybe even a restored Lambretta. It's gonna be the main vehicle, rain or shine, and enable us both to be scooter-enabled instead of vying for the one Zip by flipping a coin, or arm-wrestling. Already when the Zip is done running errands, it's playing hooligan in the streets, or just cruising around the old neighborhoods. I've lived in this town for almost 20 years and the scooter enables me to explore neighborhoods that I never knew existed, humming past houses at a speed that lets me enjoy the architecture, and wave back to the people there.

I'm having more fun under the speed limit than most squids have busting the speedlimit on their 1300cc sportbikes, having more fun on a 20 mile ride than the long distance riders have while they develop butt blisters on a 1100 mile ride.

Is it for everyone?

I'm not sure. Obviously I've got a bit more riding experience, so the transition to scootering isn't too hard since I have plenty of traffic savvy--though I've had to adjust my riding style and expectations a bit. But already I'm finding that even a small 49cc scoot will take care of all the errands in a 10 mile radius of home without breaking a sweat. It starts at the momentary touch of a button, settling into a quiet little burble. A twist of the wrist, and I'm off. No shifting, so my mind is free to focus on the ride and the scenery. The tires are sticky enough to let me generate insane lean angles. Yet it'll hum along at a steady pace in traffic, content to just get from A to B, a willing little companion.

From a zen standpoint, it rocks. A cleaner-burning 4-stroke would have twice the Zen, but given the mission of uncomplicating my life and minimizing my transport mode, it's outrageously successful.

No martyrdom here. I'm having a blast. This isn't a sufferfest. It's fun, it's frugal, it's a cute little beast. And given the current gas prices, I think people in cages (that's bike-speak for 4-wheel vehicles) are looking at the scooter less as an anomaly and more as a viable option. All they need is a few more of us out there, and a bit of mentoring.

It's 10:19pm. I've laid out my Saturday clothes, eagerly awaiting an early morning ride to pay a bill or two, and just buzz around for a while. Maybe go by the BMW dealership and eat a few of their doughnuts.

Scootering is good.

Messenger Bags

There are plenty of great bags out there. Chrome, Aerostich, and Timbuk2 come to mind. Other mainstream companies like Jansport and Columbia have messenger bags. Inexpensive knock-offs can be found at any big-box retailer like Wal-Mart and Target. But what is a messenger bag? It's made specifically for bicyclists and motorcyclists. The bag has one big compartment, a wide strap that goes around the shoulder, and another smaller strap that snugs the bag against the waist. The bag rests at an angle across the back, conforming to the rider's body. While the fine points may differ a bit--organizers, dividers for the main compartment, and so on--that's the basic idea of a messenger bag. The beauty of the bag is that it's very rugged, tends to shed water amazingly well for its design, and can be accessed by releasing the waist strap and sliding the bag to the front.

Here's a few of my Timbuk2 bags, showing off a few features.







Another option is the sling bag (look for the ones with a waist strap). This one is from REI:



Why the messenger bag over the ubiquitous backpack? Easier to get into it without removing it. Sits low on the body so it doesn't bump into the helmet. Fewer straps to flap about in the wind. Typically has reflective bits all over it. And allows for the maximum amount of mobility.

It's an acquired taste but most folks who ride with them swear by them. Most companies offer computer sleeves to make them laptop-friendly. When I'm not riding with mine, it's in use during the week as my laptop case. I have several Timbuk2 bags, used for everything from riding to travel luggage to camera cases. I'd like to try out a Chrome, but my budget isn't budging right now.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Here's where it gets to the meat of the matter

So, the work day is mostly done and it's time to run errands. Your choices: nice comfy Jeep, big BMW R1150GS motorcycle, or the scooter.

Remember, this is a test. The mission was to do alllllll the errands on the little fuel-efficient scooter. Yeah, that'll show 'em! Big Oil can kiss my ass! Right? Well, yeah, except that this is the reality of scootering--those little moments where a voice in your head whispers "hey, noone will know if you take the Jeep". If the scoot is your only vehicle, hallelujah--it's motorized and your feet will be happy they're not slapping the pavement for the 2 mile trip to the post office. But when you have other options that happen to have plush seats and a CD player, well, hmmmm. You gotta question your commitment. Especially when you've got a bit of a headache and have been working since 7am.

This is sooo much like dieting.

But this is the reality. I'm gonna stick with the Zip. I'll start off by rounding up the messenger bag (stand by for another lesson), dressing properly (yet another lesson) and then head out the door. The flight plan has me going in two directions--the relatively short hop to the post office which is a fairly fun little romp, and the second leg of the journey is on that damned hilly high-speed section that isn't exactly the strong suit of a not-broken-in 49cc scoot that's screaming at the top of its one little lung to keep from becoming a hood ornament. But this is reality. I'll post more when I get back.

(tick tick tick)

Today the trip seemed a bit better. I had a better feel for what speeds worked on the still-not-broken-in Zip. 30-35 mph (indicated) feels pretty smooth. The dash to the post office took a couple of minutes and I found my stealth parking spot on the side of the building. Locked the forks but nothing else. Was in and out in a few minutes. I briefly considered going to the bank but at that point it was edging close to 4pm and crazed commuter traffic would push me to the curb on that hilly stretch. I pushed the bank errand to Friday. But since I was having a good time on the scoot, I took a quick ride downtown.

Once there, I was flying past slower traffic, beating cars from stoplight to stoplight, slingshotting from A to B and moving a LOT faster than I thought I would. It's in this environment that a scooter really comes into its own. I was thankful for the disk brake up front; I was pulling off a few point-and-squirt moves that had me doing max braking, and the excellent feel from the levers was reassuring. If you're buying a scoot, don't underestimate the need for serious brakes.

Anyone who rides in a spirited fashion on a motorcycle will NOT be disappointed with the perfomance of a scoot in an urban environment. There's a slight lag from stoplight, then the bike rushes forward past the cars. A quick diagonal across lanes to find an empty space, and then you repeat the process at the next light. I'd say I was using as much of my skills as I would've on a full-size motorcycle. And was grinning ear-to-ear. Yeah, this is working out okay.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


We're gonna have to do something about that headlight. I'm finding out that scooters just beg for mods. Some are safety-related, others speed-related, and the rest are just based on that human desire to tinker with stuff. Posted by Hello

Expenses so far

2004 Vento Zip $500
Expenses to get it home: $100
Oil, spark plugs, battery, etc. to get it running: $35

So $635 for a running scoot in very good condition and low miles (109) is a pretty good deal. I admit that it was quite a find, and the pricing was low because a friend cut me a lot of slack.


That's the GS in the foreground, dwarfing the Zip. But both arrived at the coffee shop at the same time.

I'm looking at insurance costs right now. They'll probably be less than $100 a year. I'm an MSF instructor so some places drop rates by quite a bit for MSF certification and some drop it even more for the instructors. Add in the tag fees and we'll probably see another $150 for this year, which will drop a bit in subsequent years. I'm tagging and insuring the bike not just for insurance purposes, or because it allows me to not worry about busting the 29mph restricted limit on scoots in NC, but because having the tag seems to me to send a signal to other drivers: this is a licensed vehicle...I belong here.

Fuel around here varies from $2.15 to $2.25 for regular unleaded. I haven't checked fuel mileage yet.

As for the "expenses to get it home"...I have GOT to post that story sometime. $100 was the Raleigh-Alpharetta-Raleigh leg of the journey but it was longer than that. The trip actually was a 1300 mile banzai run from Raleigh to Jacksonville, FL to deliver some tools for a friend who had his work truck and all his tools stolen. The riding community of www.advrider.com pitched in to buy him tools; one rider donated his truck. I picked up the tools from a little community about an hour and half from where I live, and drove them the next day to Jacksonville FL. A few riders donated my fuel money to cover the trip. I covered the fuel expense portion that was Zip-related to keep things honest. You know, if it wasn't for the ADV forum members' generosity, 1) one of our members would be out of work and 2) I'd be stranded somewhere between here and FL.

Like I said, this is an experiment based on NEED. I need cheap transportation! I don't have enough money to pay attention, much less put $2.22 a gallon gas in the Jeep for routine errands. Why? Yes, I'm gainfully employed. But health insurance and related health expenses wipe me out every month.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A day without scootin'...

...is like a day without sunshine. Cliche' as hell but so appropriate. I had to work today and the Jeep was required. Thought I'd get to zip around (no pun intended) on the scoot afterwards on an unusually crisp, cool spring afternoon but no joy. Funny how you get addicted to it early on and look forward to riding. We're now seriously considering buying a second one. That'll happen when some money falls out of the sky.

Seriously, though...it may be a while. Lesson #1 (I may as well start keeping track of these since this is a "how to" site): if you have a significant other or best friend in your household and only one scoot, you may as well budget for two from the very beginning. It's more fun for both to ride together than one to come back and say "wow, I had a great time...I saw this and that and railed that great corner down the street" and all you can do is nod glumly. Great. Sounds like fun. I sat here on my ass and blogged while you played hooligan.

So, let's be concise, dear reader.

Lesson #1: Everyone needs their own scooter. If in a household of multiple scooterists, where people = P and scooters = S, under optimal conditions P = S.
P > S is clearly suboptimal. P < S is nirvana, especially if there are scoots of varied displacements. I'm beginning to think that P = 2S is about right, with one being a Stella and the other being a tricked out 49cc scoot like an Italjet Dragster or the new CPI GTR50 or a Ruckus.

Oh, one interesting thing. The local Suzuki dealership had a beat to hell 2002 Yamaha Zuma for sale. Over 14,000 miles on the poor bastard, scarred all to hell and looking like it had travelled every one of those miles through Bosnia and Baghdad. I asked one of the salesmen what they were asking and without blinking (and straight-faced) he replied "$1,450." Bear in mind that you can get primo used Zumas for $1500 and pristine ones for $1700. Same dealer is selling the UM X-peed for $1950. The Vento Triton--same basic scoot with better details--is less than $1500 shipped to your door. I don't know what those guys are smoking but I wish they'd share some of it.

Monday, May 02, 2005


This ought to deter the casual thief. In order to deter the more serious felon, I'll be locking the scoot to the wheel of one of my cars. Note: the car is inoperable...no worry about driving off with the scooter being dragged along. Posted by Hello

Canadian Motorcycle Guide Online - Test Ride

Canadian Motorcycle Guide Online - Honda Ruckus Test Ride

First day of experiment

Most of my work requires that I drive the Jeep in order to carry around the equipment I use as a photographer. Occasionally I'm teaching, so I've got quite a bit of stuff to cart around--a mobile multimedia lab of 6 laptops and 6 cameras. But other than that, since I have a home office, my errands are fairly simple--get groceries, get prescription medicines, go to the post office, go shopping. Just about all those places are no more than 7 miles from the house. So that's the basis of this experiment: drive a 49cc scooter for every trip where I don't need the cargo capacity of the Jeep.

And here it is, in all its glory--a 2004 Vento Zip R3i.



Today was the first trip, after the initial joyriding that ensued after the beast fired up. I headed out to the bank to deposit a check. This particular route was about 12 miles round-trip on a 45mph heavily-travelled artery during rush hour, complete with several tough hills. The scoot managed to hold between 30 and 35mph on the hills, 40 on the flats, and 42 downhill--all indicated speeds (I'll check them with a GPS later). A couple of times I waved traffic past as I hugged the white line, but for the most part I was able to keep up with traffic and held my place in the center of the lane. It didn't take me any longer than it would've in a car.


Here's the Zip on the way home. This was after 16 hours on the road with another 7 hours to go. Posted by Hello

Day Zero - minus one

Why a Zip? Why a scooter at all? After all, I've been riding motorcycles for over 20 years. I'm an MSF instructor. I have a BMW R1150GS. I'm REALLY into motorcycling. Why buy a 49cc scooter?

Easy. Next to a bicycle, hiking boots, and public transportation, it's the ultimate in minimalist urban transport. It makes less and less sense as time goes by to fire up my Jeep to go 5 miles. I can do it on foot, or on my bicycle, but a scooter is a sane alternative that gets me where I want to go in the same time it takes me to take my 4-wheeled vehicle, consuming so much less fuel while doing so...and saving wear-and-tear on my high-mileage vehicles.

I guess I'll get into more details later. Maybe when I've written all I can about two-stroke oils and irate cagers.

But lets get right down to it. There IS a purpose here, a goal, a mission: use this scooter for 100% of my errand-running. Instead of Super-Size Me, I'm gonna Minimize Me. I'm gonna see if a real grown-up professional in an average urban/suburban environment can actually scooter their way to less dependence on foreign oil, as the pundits would put it. It's not so much a call to arms, but a how-to for anyone that wants to try this.

Day One

It started as a trip to go get the scooter, and ended up as a mission of mercy. I'll fill in the details later because it's a story worth telling.

But the pertinent part of this: the 2004 Vento Zip R3i came home.

Laid over on its side, oozing premix, it was none the worse for wear 6 hours later. After going through it carefully and changing the plug, it fired right up.

109 miles on the odometer. But not for long.