Category Archives: Love In The Time Of Coronavirus

Forget the Man Cave, Let’s Do a Vespa Garage Instead

VG01
A work in progress, at glacier speed.

Since our motorcycle travel plans are in a state of coronavirus-inspired limbo, we’ve been taking some time to work on the Nashville house and naturally I’m making motorcycles a part of it.

We go to Starbase Nashville two or three times a year and had a two-day layover on the ride back from New Orleans in 2017, during which I futzed with Linda’s Vespa in an unsuccessful attempt1 to replace the speedometer cable.

It was nice to have that haven, 780 miles from home. It started me thinking about Nashville as a second home of sorts, or at least a second garage.

VG02
“I see a rented power washer in your future.”

The notion comes from my father’s garage, I think. He has a two-car space with a workbench in the back, enough wrenches to overhaul the Queen Mary and machine stuff like power saws and grinders and sanders that make life so much easier. And the knowledge to make them work.

So this week, I went through the two-car garage at the Nashville house and got rid of a lot of unneeded stuff. The goal is to make it a motorcycle-friendly place that can be used as a staging area for future rides.

A certain amount of work will be involved. We had the house foundation re-aligned last year and we’re getting a new roof this year. In the garage itself, there’s some water damage I’ll have to fix, starting with power-washing the affected cinderblocks and sealing them.

I’ll paint the interior white, which will brighten up the place considerably, and put in new lighting. We added a second tool chest today, which will help with organization. Race Deck flooring is on the list.

VG03
Other motorcycle brands will be welcome, of course.

I’m still sorting through plans, but one aspect is definite: Linda loves Vespas, so this will be a Vespa-themed garage, with Vespa art and color scheme. Lowe’s offers multi-color metal pegboard, so I’ll get green, white and red panels and make them into an Italian flag across the back wall. ScooterWest offers clocks, tin signs, thermometers and insane loads of other items as décor.

The whole thing is like creative application of art to a functional2 workspace, I suppose. It’s a nice diversion from this horror of coronavirus and the reassuring feeling that I’m actually accomplishing something with my own two hands.


1 – No Vespa dealer in the area had a replacement cable on hand. The part had to be ordered, which I did when we got home.
2 – Emphasis will be on function, of course; I won’t simply tack up Vespa posters everywhere. We’re talking about a comfortable, well-equipped place to work on your motorcycle in a space with a good amount of Vespa visual references.

So If I Were to Buy a Vespa…

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Beautiful, isn’t it?

It would probably be this 2021 GTS 300 HPE Racing Sixties model, with a classic paint scheme of British racing green and yellow – the same as Lotus 7 sports car featured in the 1960s TV series The Prisoner.

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From the 1960s British TV show.

We saw this during our first visit to Sloan’s Motorcycle and ATV in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Thursday. The venture was a respite from work at Starbase Nashville and a chance to look at HPE1 models Linda likes.

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So it’s a little pricey.

Sloan’s turned out to be an impressive dealership, with 55,000 square feet of space, roughly the size of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building, in motorcycle terms.

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The Vespa choices were…um, a lot.

It has a wide selection of bikes (and ATVs) but it’s anchored by Indian Motorcycle, which has a designed floorspace that’s nicer than our living room2.

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Kawasaki W800.

Indians are nice, but I was drawn to a Kawasaki W800, a Triumph Bonneville-styled bike, and some of the Moto Guzzi ADV models.

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Moto Guzzi V85TT.

Still, the green & yellow Vespa was so perfect, so classy, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I probably won’t get one, but if I did, I’d have to fix up our place to make it worthy of the Vespa’s presence. Maybe I could get some fixer-upper tips from Indian.


1 – Vespa’s largest engine is 300 cubic centimeters, rather small by contemporary motorcycle standards with about 23 hp. The HPE, or High Performance Engine, is a redesigned affair that keeps the same number of ccs but increases output by a few horsepower. They also have anti-lock brakes and traction control.
2 – Seriously. The floors are faux wood, some of the walls are brick, and the furniture looks like it came from an HGTV make-over reveal. All that’s missing is a wood-burning fireplace. It must be some sort of Indian Motorcycle presentation rule; we saw something quite similar at Motorcycles of Dulles in Chantilly, Va., another nice dealership.

Well, We Did 522 on a Vespa…

DCIM100GOPRO
One of the turns near U.S. 522.

We took our second official ride of the year down to Scoot Richmond on Saturday, where we 1) got out to ride; 2) looked at new Vespas; and 3) found a great road.

Scoot Richmond1 is one of our favorite dealers. We discovered it not long after Linda bought her 2010 300cc GTS Super. They’ve done some maintenance on her Vespa and we buy some riding gear there every now and again.

vespa03
It’s a great scooter, but it’s not red. Say, what color is that, anyway? Concrete chic?

The Scoot Richmond jaunt was also a bit of a test run for a possible ride to St. Petersburg in October, assuming half the nation hasn’t succumbed to the coronavirus2. We looked at a Vespa GTS Super 300 HPE3, which is fairly close to what Linda has now, except this new model has ABS and traction control, which are good things to have. We’re considering options now.

DCIM100GOPRO
Quick conference at at a stoplight.

While it’s good to have a destination, the ride is still the thing. We took I-95 south to Richmond, which was somewhat of a mistake because that interstate is frustrating enough to be an expressway to one of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell4.

It was soul-crushingly hot, too, the heat just bouncing off the bare cement. The rolling roadblock of endless stop-and-go traffic, with no discernible reason, was another Dantesque bonus.

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Scoot Richmond has a lot of bikes in the parking lot, including this one, an old 550cc Honda Four, that looks a lot like the Honda 500 Twin that my old friend Tom McCray took to San Diego. His wasn’t a cafe racer, though. I think this belongs to a Scoot Richmond mechanic.

But the ride home was great. Instead of the hellscape boulevard of I-95, we took I-64 west to U.S. 522 north and things got better immediately. 522 is one of those twisting two-lane roads of Robert Pirsig lore5 that takes you through tree-shrouded rolling countryside.

DCIM100GOPRO
The church we should have stopped at.

It’s kinda what motorcycles are made for. Freeway pressure disappears and the road opens up and you’re enjoying yourself. You pass into shade thrown by a line of trees and the temperature drops, like going from a hot porch to the kitchen and opening an icebox door.

DCIM100GOPRO
The helmet-mounted GoPro, firing photos at five-second intervals, captured this.

And there’s more to see, more life to observe: An old stone church with an ancient cemetery that we really should have stopped at to investigate; a family-owned gas station where customers park pickup trucks and are hailed by name by the women behind the counter; and farmhouses and barns and abandoned fruit stands and everything else that waits for you around every curve.

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And, a week after Baker, West Virginia, we found another Baker!

All told, about 267 miles, according to Terra Nova’s odometer. A good day on the road, with my favorite riding companion.


1 – It started as a scooter-specific dealership but has expanded to selling Triumph, Moto Guzzi and KTM. Accordingly, they’ve changed their name to Moto Richmond, but Scoot Richmond is still our moniker of choice.
2 – I’m still part of a group that covers coronavirus and it’s so disheartening to see the blacklash against science.

brochure

3 – I downloaded a PDF of the Vespa brochure and found it to be 37 MB worth of rather garish color photos, with only one (above) tangentially connected to travel. I’m aware how sales pitches use lifestyle appeal, but why the yotz6 can’t Vespa acknowledge that their scooters, at least the 300cc models, can be both fun to ride and capable of long-distance travel?
4 – I’m betting it’s the fifth one, Anger, since drivers are apparently driven mad by the stop-and-go traffic and start cutting in front of innocent motorcycle pilots.
5 – In “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Pirsig writes: “Secondary roads are preferred. Paved county roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst…Twisting hilly roads are long in terms of seconds but are much more enjoyable on a cycle  where you bank into turns and don’t get swung from side to side in any compartment.”
6 – That’s another Farscape reference. You’re welcome.

Incomplete Serendipity, or: I Think I Missed a Good Story

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The BMW R75/5.

We saw this BMW R75/5 being towed by a pickup truck on I-81 on the way back from Starbase Nashville a couple of weeks ago; at first glance I thought it was an old Honda CB750 because of the color and chrome fenders, then we got closer and I saw it was a BMW.

We stopped at a hotel in Wytheville, Virginia, for the night and I was pleasantly surprised to see the BMW owner had picked the same hotel. I didn’t get a chance to speak with him, but I was able to eyeball the bike early the next day, while taking the dogs out for their morning constitution.

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Probably 128,344 miles.

What a beautiful bike. Closer inspection made me think it was carefully restored or extremely well preserved and maintained, but it was near-perfect either way. There were 28,344 miles on the clock (maybe it was actually 128,344 since it was a five-digit odometer) and the state safety inspection sticker was current, as was the New York state plate.

I’ve always liked the classic BMWs. The Slash/5 models were produced from 1969-73, according to bmbike.co.uk. This one has about 50 hp and a top speed of 108 mph.

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Drum brakes, front and rear.

With Skipper, our hyperactive Treeing Walker Coonhound1 tugging on her leash, I photographed the bike from all sides.

And here’s where it gets slightly weird. It wasn’t until later, looking over the photos, that I learned the significance of the sticker on the right side below the saddle: Philip Funnell, a legendary BMW rider, dealer and builder from Canada. He’s taken bikes around the world at least twice and was inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2010.

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The manual petcock controls fuel to the engine.

One of his bikes, his handcrafted R75/6 Podcycle, is on display at Bob’s BMW in Jessup, Maryland, a dealer whose service department has taken care of Endurance in the past. Linda and I were there five days ago, looking at touring bikes. I must have walked right by the Podcycle.

I don’t want to say I feel cheated, but I would have loved to learn where that New York BMW had been and whether its owner knew Mr. Funnell. We’ll call it a near-brush with history and leave it at that.


1 – Skipper is the dog we found abandoned and starving on the side of I-95 southbound while driving to Myrtle Beach more than two years ago. She’s doing fine now and can pull that leash like a sled dog.

The First Real Ride of the Year, or: Why Not Take Her to Baker?

baker1
Yep, that’s us, your humble crew.

So we broke out the bikes on July 4th with no real destination in mind, only a desire to get away, and we ended up riding west to West Virginia.

The entire trip was low-key though it was hot and humid, not the dry, soul-scorching Arizona inferno of Yuma to Gila Bend, but still. You have to take the weather as it comes, so we Winston Churchilled it through. Once you’re moving, the air cools you and it’s really not so bad.

baker3
You can’t see it from here, but the Yamaha saddle was a pain in the ass.

It was a good ride, of course; I figure we did a leisurely 262 miles in 8 hours, most of it off-interstate on old U.S. highways and state routes through rolling countryside. We stopped to fuel up a couple of times and drink cold Diet Dr Pepper (Linda) and Gatorade (me).

My interior monologue followed a script of crikey, I really haven’t done this in a while, have I? as unfamiliar aches and pains in the shoulders and arms began reporting in.

Opportunities for unwanted intimacy with the gas tank arose when I kept sliding forward on the saddle, no matter how I planted myself. It was something I hadn’t remembered from before and it got really annoying after a while.

baker2
But the pay phone still works.

There was also the rediscovery of other, more pleasant things I’d forgotten, like the ability to smell the places you’re cruising through. On this day, there were some inescapable whiffs of hot tarmac but also the scent of pine trees, which reminded me of motorcycle trips we’d taken in the Sierra Nevada, years ago.

I reckon the apex of the ride was in Baker, West Virginia, at a pleasant, old-style, country-store type of BP gas station1 on State Route 259. Two other riders pull in as we’re filling up and the guy on the Suzuki asks about Terra Nova:

“How do you like that?”

baker4
Linda, the mission navigator, in her “hey, don’t hit me” jacket.

And we start talking about the year and model and how he likes his Super Tenere2, and we rabbit on about Yamahas and BMW shaft-drive problems and Adventure Rider.com and as he’s pulling away I realize we’ve been talking for 3 or 4 minutes without either of us wearing a coronavirus mask and I feel like a right frelling3 idiot. And we were doing the mask thing and social distancing during the ride, too.

Masks deployed, we find ancient patched wood floors inside the store and two tables’ worth of Donald Trump campaign memorabilia. The nice lady at the cash register asks Linda about the Vespa and says, “That’s a real cute-looking ride.”

baker9
Later: Things got complicated.

We get home without incident and I start fiddling with Terra Nova’s saddle the next day, making no progress as I futz with different leveling positions and search for smaller rubber contact pads and tools. I end up tearing apart half the workshop to find a T50 tamper-proof Torx wrench, which was absolutely ridiculous.

baker8
A “tamper-proof” Torx wrench4 has a hole in the business end.

But it was really good, even with the aches and pains and out-of-kilter saddle and ludicrous tool hunt, to get out and ride again.


1 – With adjacent post office.
2 – Which is what Terra Nova is, a Yamaha Super Tenere, 2012 model, Generation 1. On the infinitesimal chance the Suzuki pilot is reading this, I haven’t done the ECU reflash but I did upgrade the clutch basket and the cam chain tensioner with Gen 2 replacements.
3 – That’s a Farscape reference. You’re welcome.
4 – Look, this is part of some needless design overkill on the part of Yamaha for its OEM sidecases. One could argue that they hinder the sidecases from being unbolted from the bike and stolen, but it’s nearly impossible to fit a Torx or standard hex key into the sidecase rail bolts when the sidecases are still on the bike. Besides, any self-respecting thief is going to carry “tamper-proof” wrenches anyway without trusting to chance.
Also: Belated apologies to Gabriel García Márquez for the category.

Staying Safe, Staying Sane

vino1

Linda’s 2007 Yamaha Vino scooter. Remy will be here to investigate; Cody is around somewhere.

The coronavirus has virtually shut down the world, but we won’t be talking here today about the number of infected persons and the awful fatalities and the monumental screw-ups that have ushered this pandemic into our streets. I work for a news organization covering this and at times you just have to get away from it, for the sake of your own sanity.

Linda and I have been assiduously working from, and staying at, home since March 13 and only recently have I turned back to our motorcycles, parked silently in stasis out back.

tools

The new tools, plus the mail-ordered bolts for Terra Nova’s luggage plate.

I started with her 2007 Yamaha Vino scooter, a 125cc bike that was her first two-wheeled motorized vehicle. It’s possible – when all this is over – that she’ll ride the Vino or her Vespa to work in the District so I started futzing with things to make it road-ready. Even though that road is at least a month or two or three away.

It didn’t have much in the way of an onboard toolkit so I ordered a basic set of Cruz Tools and augmented them with a couple of extras, a 17mm wrench and 8” crescent. That got wrapped in plastic and put into the storage bucket below the saddle.

Then I started wondering about fuses; I hadn’t put any spares aboard, and God knows you always need to carry extra fuses.

fuse33

Damn. A glass cartridge.

Checking the manual, I was astonished to see the Vino runs on glass-cartridge fuses1, 10 amp, only two, one working, the other a spare. Glass-cartridge fuses; I haven’t had a motorcycle with those since my very first bike, a 1974 Honda CB7502.

Also to my surprise, the Vino started with only a little fussing, maybe a dozen attempts on the kickstarter to save the battery. But she fired up more quickly than I thought, and stood there purring away, waiting to go somewhere.

So the Vino is online. I’ll try and give her a bath this weekend, along with Linda’s Vespa and Endurance and Terra Nova. Working on the bikes is good. Now I’m starting to think about places to go.


1 – I carry spare fuses on my bikes, but they’re all blade affairs; I ordered a pack of glass cartridges online just for peace of mind.
2 – Thinking of my old Honda made me think of my friend Stephan Wargo (Steve’s nephew) and his 1978 CB750, which is just about showroom perfect. (How did he get the rust off those chrome fenders?)