Saturday, Aug. 21| “I love the songs you play here and on the street, they’re really good,” a woman tells an employee inside This n’ That Amish Outlet in Old Town Warrenton, Virginia, and I restrain myself from yelling, “Yes! I think so, too!” across the store.
I’d unconsciously started noticing the music stream myself – golden oldies, they’d be called these days1 – after we’d wedged the Vespas into a parking space on Main Street.
We were in Warrenton as part of a short, simple 90-mile ride to get us out of the house and back on the saddle, preparatory for the St. Petersburg mission later this year.
The realization crept up in a subtle way with me thinking, gee, that’s an oldie and then haven’t heard that one in a while and suddenly, wait, what’s going on?
I feel silly asking, but a very polite staffer at The Open Book tells me their music comes from Spotify, brought in by computer and played on Bluetooth speakers. She doesn’t know what other stores on the street use but says the choice is theirs.
“We use indie-folk because it’s calming and doesn’t distract from people reading,” she says.
You hear music in every commercial venue, often to the point of saturation. So you ignore it, even as you’re being manipulated. Retailers often use music to make customers more susceptible to buying things, psychologists say2.
Part of that is music’s ability to shift you in time, to trigger memories you’ve stuffed away. I wouldn’t have been surprised to catch Blind Faith in the bookstore, but it was like the entire town was playing the same Spotify list, making me think it was 1971.
The ride itself was good. Erebus seemed more comfortable, or maybe I’m getting used to being uncomfortable.
I ended up buying the new biography of Malcolm X at The Open Book. I intended to get it at some point3, but it’s always good to patronize independent bookstores whenever possible, even if insidious, scheming, diabolical music-wielding market researchers will claim the purchase as a victory4.
1 – No Rolling Stones or Beatles, though.
2 – Loud music causes shoppers to leave quickly; soft music entices them to stay. And some studies say music in a minor key is associated with sadness, which shoppers address by buying something to release reassuring dopamine.
3 – I’ve read the 1964 autobiography, written with Alex Haley, but I want to compare this highly regarded new book with the bios written by Bruce Perry in 1991 and by Manning Marable in 2011.
Saturday, Aug. 14| “I saw your bikes, they look great,” says a guy on the street as we leave Betty’s Restaurant in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the one with the memorable sign inside.
Our sidewalk fan mentions the fluorescent green motorcycle jackets we have on and Linda says they’re hot in this kind of weather until we’re actually moving. The guy nods and says, “take care, ride safe.”
That’s amazing, I think to myself as we part, since Erebus and Linda’s red Vespa are parked on a side street way up the hill past Shepherd University’s main building.
What a coincidence: He saw the Vespas, came down the hill, and unexpectedly encountered us.
They look like they’re built for the Dakar rally and they are beautiful.
Ah, so that’s it, he thought the BMWs were ours, I think, and wonder what his reaction would have been if he’d seen the Vespas. Perhaps not as enthusiastic, but still.
The Shepherdstown reconnaissance was part of a short 135-mile ride charted by the mission navigator2 – who overcame my initial reluctance since I was just too tired – that kept us off interstates and on country roads.
We go through a few small towns that are interesting, though Shepherdstown unanimously wins the day.
It’s a college town, obviously, with an artistic, cosmopolitan air that invites one to linger. Even humble sidewalk benches are an integral part of it, transformed into works of art with paint and imagination.
We find a really great independent bookstore called Four Seasons Books, one of those rare places of discovery where you walk in and fascinating tomes and titles call out to you from shelves. Books you didn’t know existed. I could have spent a lot and lugged home a double-armful.
We hadn’t been on the scooters for months, owing to work and other matters. I had only 814 miles on Erebus and I’m still not acclimated to riding it after years on motorcycles. The GTV still feels too small and the saddle is uncomfortable.
I know I have to do a lot of work before riding it down to St. Petersburg as we’ve planned and using it in the 2023 Scooter Cannonball rally as I – perhaps insanely – want to do.
But Saturday’s ride gets us out and about and it feels good once I get used to being in the saddle again. After a while, the seat doesn’t feel so bad. We ride through some scenic places, including Lock 29 of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal national park, near the Potomac River.
Friend and owner Younes Jafarloo3, is a former sportbike rider and tells us how uncomfortable his Kawasaki Ninja could be after a while on the road. Ninjas have an aggressive riding posture.
“My arms would hurt after a while,” he recalls.
Over dinner4, Linda and I relax and talk about what we’ve seen and where we’ll go next. Outside, the sun starts to set and street lamps light up.
Through the window5 I notice a couple, about our age, intently studying the Vespas and talking about them. The guy seems especially interested; he circles both and gesticulates at Linda’s GTS.
I’m mildly curious about what he has to say and if he’s been on scooters himself, but I stay where I am and don’t break the moment. At least he doesn’t think we’re on BMWs.
1 – Like Endurance, my 2000 R1150 GS, only 20 years later.
2 – That would be Linda, of course.
3 – Younes is a great guy who sold his Ninja years ago; I confess to pestering him (gently, I hope) about getting another bike or scooter. He sat on Erebus once but graciously declined my offer that evening that he take it around the block or across his parking lot.
4 – Which did not include wine, since the Vespas were parked outside and we never, ever, drink and ride. It’s an ironclad rule of our riding protocol.
5 – Because we always maintain a clear line of sight to the bikes whenever we’re in a restaurant or some other place.
Let’s get right to the point: Erebus has been delivered to Richmond for her 600-mile service1 and I’ve spent some time and effort on upgrades for comfort, utility and visual appeal.
I’m still getting accustomed to the small size2 of it – it’s a 2020 Vespa 300 GTV Sei Giorni – but the flat seat, the one obtained with the swap from Linda’s GTS, allows me to sit farther back.
I’ve also started using the passenger footpegs, which make it more comfortable and gives it more of a motorcycle feel3. And I attached an inflatable AirHawk cushion, which is working so far.
I feel a bit less intimidated on the freeway now, even with clueless Virginia drivers passing like they’re in practice for their own private Le Mans. It’s getting better, though. And it does feel good on meandering county roads, with a slower pace and less traffic.
One problem is a lack of storage space. There’s a small glovebox-like compartment in the front shield that could conceivably carry a pair of gloves, and a small tub4 below the saddle that can fit a half-helmet, a rain jacket and a real pair of gloves on a good day.
But the Sei Giorni (as we discussed earlier) is patterned after a racing bike, laughable when you think about its 24-hp engine, but still. I want to store tools and rainsuits and spare parts and such without turning it into the truck from the Beverly Hillbillies.
A few other additions:
A windscreen from Scooter West/Vespa Motorsport, along with handlebar-end weights, an extended footpad for the sidestand, a rubber floormat and a small luggage rack for the floorboard. (That’s where the main toolkit will reside.)
From Scoot Richmond: A luggage carrier behind the saddle and a set of crash bars.
I attached two plastic canisters that each hold a 30-oz. MSR fuel bottle. The canisters5 look like a pair of small torpedoes or maybe warp nacelles from a Starfleet vessel.
Installation of all this was just basic tinkering, though it took me a while to figure out how to position the fuel carriers on the underside of the luggage plate. I also had to fabricate a way to attach them.
But at least now I can carry a half-gallon of gas in reserve.
I dithered over the floorboard rack but decided I liked it. It’s low-profile enough to carry the toolkit without looking junky. It’ll be a pain to remove when it comes time to fuss with the battery, though.
The acclimation process continues. And have you heard about this Scooter Cannonball Run? It’s this coast-to-coast endurance rally, see, and I was thinking…
1 – Though the odometer shows 1,021.7, which makes it plain that the dial is recording distance traveled in kilometers instead of miles. 1,021.7 kilometers equal 634.9 miles, if you want to know.
2 – Relatively speaking, in reference to the BMW and the Yamaha.
3 – Aside from the saddle problems, foot placement can be a bit maddening at times. There’s some space on the floorboards to move your feet around, but I found myself wanting more. I tried folding out the passenger pegs and using them and it works, sorta.
4 – The tubs are called pet carriers because you absolutely can’t carry petsin them.
5 – They’re actually tractor manual carriers from Agri Supply. I read about them somewhere quite a while ago; the MSR bottles fit perfectly. I have a set on Endurance and Terra Nova.
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”
— Lao Tzu
The Vespadebacle ended Saturday1 when we went to Scoot Richmond — where we probably should have gone in the first place — and bought a new 2020 Vespa Sei Giorni GTV.
It was a drama-free, no-regrets event that let me think about the scooter itself during the meandering ride home.
I was gauging how it felt, the way it handled, and whether I’d be scared silly while sharing the freeway with demented, uncaring, inconsiderate northern Virginia motorists who are better at texting than driving.
We rolled out of Scoot Richmond’s lot with 7 miles on the clock and hadn’t gone 30 miles when I realized the saddle just wasn’t working. Sliding back on the seat gave my legs and arms more room, but the saddle is contoured and I ended up on the seat’s edge, which felt like sitting on the short side of a 2×4.
I’ve got to get a new saddle, I remember thinking.
But that was the only thing, aside from vibration at stoplights, which is expected since we’re talking about a single-cylinder engine. The Vespa has nice acceleration and was good on the sweeping county roads like U.S. 255 and stable when I got on the freeway. The ABS-equipped brakes felt reliable.
And I didn’t feel ridiculous on it as I thought. How I look may be another matter.
I swapped seats — my first modification! — between the Sei Giorni and Linda’s GTS2 the next day, which will make both of us more comfortable, I think. There’s a list of other changes I’ll be making.
“What’s the idea of a scooter if you already have a motorcycle?” a colleague at work asked, a righteous question, certainly; it’s still hard for me to articulate why I wanted a Vespa.
They’re much quirkier machines than either of my motorcycles but they still have a certain attraction for me.
I still like both of my motorcycles3 and couldn’t give them up.
The Vespa is something radically different, forcing me to think differently in terms of riding and touring. It’ll be slower-paced, and we’ll have to take less than we usually do. I’m thinking that may be a good thing.
Continuing my predilection for naming my bikes after Antarctic exploration ships, the Sei Giorni will be called Erebus4.
Now we have to figure out where to go.
1 — I put a down payment on that poor Sei Giorni at the Honda dealer when it seemed they were making an honest effort to obtain a brown/red key. Sadly, the previous owner did not return their calls and they were flabbergasted by the quoted cost to replace the ECU and ignition switch. They dropped the price a bit more but Richmond offered a better deal on a new bike, with bonafide key and two-year warranty, so I withdrew from Honda and went to Richmond instead.
I still feel bad about that keyless Sei Giorni, though. It deserves better.
2 — The Sei Giorni is essentially the same as Linda’s GTS with the same engine and ABS. The seat swap was with her consent, of course.
3 — Both Endurance and Terra Nova will be around for quite a while.
4 — The HMS Erebus (and the HMS Terror) visited both the Antarctic, in 1841, and headed for the Arctic in 1845. Both were lost until they were rediscovered in 2014.
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Still captivated by the idea of slower-paced motorcycle touring – a fixation I couldn’t dislodge with a bulldozer – I gave up on the Honda Super Cub 125 after a discouraging dealer encounter and started looking at other small motorbikes.
The focus drifted to Vespa, where I started paying attention to the Vespa Sei Giorni II, a 300cc scooter with the HPE engine, like Linda’s 2020 GTS.
It’s a beautiful machine, even more sexy than the green-and-yellow 300 Racing Sixties HPE I once admired at the dealership in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The Sei Giorni (which translates to “Six Days” and pronounced say JOR-nee) is based on the winning team of 125cc Vespa scooters in the 1951 Sei Giorni Internazionale enduro race in Varese, Italy.
That’s a brutal six-day endurance race. The team won nine gold medals, a stunning success.
Today’s Sei Giorni is styled the same way as those winning scooters, but with updated electronics, fuel injection and ABS. The headlight is mounted on the front fender instead of the handlebars. It’s garnished with the racing number 6, front and rear.
The damn thing grew on me, gnawing at my subconscious, until finally I decided to look for one. The hunt, of course, is turning into an endurance event of its own.
We patronize Scoot Richmond in nearly all things Vespa, but they’re 110 miles from us, a bit too far for casual looking just now.
So on Saturday we went – just to look, you understand – to the closest dealer, La Moto Washington in Arlington, Virginia, whose website said they had one for sale.
“Oh, we have one, but it isn’t here,” said the nice salesperson at La Moto. “We store it off-site since we can’t keep everything here.”
She says she’s there by herself since the other salesperson wasn’t able to make it in and mentions that it might not be a good idea to walk over to the other site because of the cold and ice but we could come back.
We say that’s fine, we’ll come back the next Saturday and thank her and take our leave.
Walking back to the Jeep, Linda suggests we go to Richmond but it’s a little late in the day for a long drive and we veto the idea for today.
“Hey,” I say, “why don’t we go back to the Honda dealer? Let’s see if that Super Cub is still there1.”
So we do, and we enter the place, and I walk back to check the row of used bikes and I see…
…a 2020 Vespa Sei Giorni2 with 356 miles3on the odometer. Exactly what I want.
Seriously. It’s right there.
The coincidence is overwhelming – Twilight Zone scary, even! – and I’m marveling as I circle the Vespa. It looks good, really clean, a few minor scuff marks inside the front shield, but still, really, really good.
The sales guy, probably young enough to be my grandson, comes over and we talk for a bit and I ask, “so what’s the out-the-door price on this?”
He does a quick calculation in his head and names a figure roughly much more than I would pay. I look doubtful and he says, “I can run some numbers if you like.”
“Well…okay,” I say, convinced nothing will come of this, but the Sei Giorni looks really good so we head over to his desk.
He’s on his computer for a moment and then fetches the sales manager, who turns out to be the same Mr. Killjoy4 from the Super Cub debacle literally 29 days ago.
But Mr. Killjoy is carrying a piece of paper, a printout – hey, the printer’s working! – and says they’ve done some price cutting and hands me the paper. It turns out they’ve had Sei Giorni for 90 days or more, taken as a trade-in. It must’ve been parked downstairs; I haven’t been down there in a while.
The price is a lot less than I expected, still a little high, but a good starting point. The mood is entirely different from last time, there’s no take-it-or-leave-it vibe and I’m actually starting to feel hopeful. We say we’ll think about it, thank them sincerely and leave.
We go home, pull the sales papers from Linda’s 2020 Vespa and find a few discrepancies in dealer prep and so on. We talk the idiocy of getting yet another bike but Linda senses my rising enthusiasm and understands me as usual so we decide to go back and make a counteroffer.
Mr. Killjoy comes back with a counter-counteroffer that’s a hundred bucks higher. I say okay and we get the paperwork started. I call our insurance company and get the Sei Giorni added to the policy.
It’s really happening at last and we wait and let the paperwork machinery whirr along.
I start thinking about the Sei Giorni and what modifications I want to make (larger windscreen, additional brake light, maybe some auxiliary lights on the front) and which Antarctic exploration ship I’m going to name her after.
Then the sales guy looks up and says, “We don’t have an owner’s manual. In trade-ins, we sometimes don’t get one.”
“That’s okay,” I say. “That’s not a problem.”
And it isn’t. I can go online and print one; I’ve already done it with Linda’s Vespa, two copies, one aboard the scooter itself, the other in the garage at Starbase Nashville.
“And,” the sales guy says, “we don’t have a spare key.”
If this story had a soundtrack: Here is where the needle would skip across the record and make a horrible scratching sound and send the tone arm clattering off the stereo.
“Wait,” I say. “You don’t have another key? You don’t have a brown key?”
“Uh, no,” he says. And, as if someone’s tossed a bucket of sand into it, the deal machinery screeches to a halt.
A brief but necessary technical digression…
All modern computerized Vespas are sold with two keys:
A blue key, which is used as a standard ignition key, for day-to-day operation of the bike. It has a tiny transponder chip.
A brown key5, which is the bike’s master key. This is the program key, used to work the bike’s onboard computer and program the bike to accept new keys and a whole lot of other stuff.
When you buy a new Vespa, the salesperson will hand you this brown key and say, literally in bold capital letters:
“DON’T LOSE THIS KEY.
KEEP IT SOMEWHERE SAFE.”
You can get other blue keys as spare ignition keys. (I got two for Linda’s scooter.) However, you need the brown key to program them, to make them work.
It’s an aggravating quirk of the Vespa system. The computer controls an immobilizer system on the bike, which means you can’t start the engine without the properly coded keys. You need the damned keys.
You can’t get a new brown key without replacing the bike’s Electronic Control Unit and the ignition barrel (the thing in the dash with the slot you stick the key into). All that costs a lot of money, upwards of $800 or so with parts and labor.
I am not making that up.
You can get new blue keys cloned but it’s a pain in the ass without the brown key and there’s no guarantee they’ll work.
…and now back to our story
“I’m sorry, but we need to have that brown key,” I say. “That’s a deal breaker.”
The sales guy goes looking for the key without success. It’s not in an office, it’s not aboard the Sei Giorni.
We try to explain how necessary the brown key is, but you just know the sales guy and Mr. Killjoy think we only want a key with a different color or something. You can see the disconnect in their eyes.
“I’ll get you the brown key,” Mr. Killjoy says, and I believe he is sincere but I also believe he thinks he’ll just go to the nearest Vespa dealer – La Moto Washington, in another bit of irony – and pick up one.
He wants me to sign the paperwork anyway and I say, I’m sorry, I really like the bike but I can’t do that, not without a working brown key.
So we leave it like that, with them saying they’ll get the key and they’ll call the previous owner to see if he still has it (though he should have surrendered it with the bike as part of the trade-in).
Like 29 days ago, we leave empty-handed.
We get home and I start to think how this will play out and I’m quietly convinced it won’t happen.
We’ve been in a Samuel Beckett absurdist play for 20 minutes, talking about keys with different colors and the dealership’s Vladimir and Estragon don’t quite understand because they haven’t done their homework. Vespas can be costly and complicated and dealers don’t like complications when selling used vehicles.
What’ll probably happen is that they won’t find the original brown key or get a new one and I won’t buy the Sei Giorni.
They’ll end up selling it to someone unfamiliar with Vespas and that person will buy it and toddle off and things will be fine until they discover they need a brown key and find out they’re screwed.
I’ll wait and see what happens. If under-powered Vespa scooters can win a six-day endurance race, it’s possible Godot will actually show up with a working brown key.
“Based around the air-cooled 125cc single … the 2019 Super Cub is almost as much a time machine as it is a motorcycle.”
– Rider magazine review, Feb. 8, 2019
I’ve been craving a Honda Super Cub C125 without knowing why until the Rider comment that made me realize, yes, that’s it – it is a sort of time machine.
The Super Cub is not the type of motorbike I normally lust after. I prefer adventure-type motorcycles1 like Endurance and Terra Nova, which is why they’re part of the fleet of five2 here at Starbase 8.
I was briefly drawn to a 2021 BMW R1250 GS Adventure at Bloodworth Motorcycles in Nashville last December, a real beauty that got me going until I saw the heart-stopping price of $26,590.
But something’s been quietly nagging at me at odd moments, the notion that long-distance motorcycle travel need not be aboard a $20,000 BMW Leviathan. Maybe it’d be better if you Marie Kondoed it down to a smaller, slower bike.
Three things sent me down that path:
The Long Way Down documentary in which riders had motorcycles that were a thousand times more expensive than the net worth of all the African villages they were visiting3.
My dream of riding across Vietnam on the largest bike I could rent, which would probably be no more than 250cc’s.
Ed March and his you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it website C90 Adventures4, which chronicles his insane rides across Canada in winter, Alaska to Argentina, and Malaysia to the UK, all on a Honda C90 Cub.
The Super Cub took residence in my imaginary garage when I first laid eyes on a blue-and-white model at the Washington, D.C., motorcycle show in 2019. It was there because Honda was reintroducing it to American riders for the 60th anniversary of importation to the U.S.
A time machine. I’d seen pictures of it in motorcycle history books, of course. It was first made in Japan in 1958, then imported to the U.S. in 1959 as a 100cc model. Honda built its sales campaign around it, the ubiquitous You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda. That was in contrast to the hoodlums depicted in the 1953 movie The Wild One5 with Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin.
There was even a song about it, Little Honda, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys. Another group, the Hondells6, covered it and it rose to No. 9 on Billboard 100 in 1964. Give it a listen here on Shindig; you’ll enjoy the song and be grateful for improvements in music videos since then.
Other advances since early Sixties include the bike’s engine, which Honda upgraded periodically. Style-wise, the Super Cub7 looks pretty much the same, with its wide handlebars, round mirrors and signature white leg shields.
Honda stopped exporting it to the U.S. in 1974.
And now the Super Cub is back, in red and white (even better!) for the 2020 and 2021 models, making me dream of riding it with Linda down rolling country roads, stopping for ice cream in small, picturesque towns, bedding down at a B&B in the Adirondacks, and zipping up Highway 1 toward Hanoi in the rain.
A time machine, a dream machine, a simple machine. Something that asks you to slow down and really, really look at where you are.
So we went to the local Honda motorcycle dealership … and that’s when things started going south.
The sales rep was a good guy but did not seem to know much about the Super Cub on the floor. We tried to open the saddle to look at the gas cap, but it wouldn’t budge – the battery was too low to activate it. They put it on a charger.
That was okay, but then I asked about price, which brought in the sales manager, a Mr. KillJoy8, I think.
He ushered us over to his desk, located (inexplicably) in the Ducati section.
“We don’t have much of a margin on these,” he said, and started futzing with his computer, looking up numbers, finally coming up with a price that was almost $900 over MSRP, which I thought was nearly as outrageous as the $26,000 BMW in Nashville.
He started reading off shipping charges, tax and title, dealer prep and other such nonsense and Linda asked if we could get a printout.
“Our printer isn’t working,” Mr. KillJoy said.
The whole enterprise crumbled into a take-it-or-leave it affair and he appeared not to care either way. It reminded me of the Harley-Davidson dealerships I visited in the 1990s9.
They didn’t even ask for our contact information, a really bad sign. It was time to go.
“Thank you for your time,” I said.
On the way out, we took another look at the Super Cub, so sad with its battery panel off and charger nearby. I was tempted to buy it anyway, just to rescue it from Mr. KillJoy. We didn’t, of course.
So we left that beautiful little bike behind but dreams die hard.
What’ll probably happen is I’ll go back and inquire about a reasonable price and Mr. KillJoy won’t budge and I’ll get pissed off and either rationalize away the Super Cub or look for it elsewhere.
Or look for something else. The Royal Enfield Himalayan, 400cc, is genuinely interesting. And Go Little Himalayan could be a catchy tune.
1 – Though I really don’t ride mine off-road. They are big, comfortable and powerful, though.
2 – Yes, five: Linda’s 2007 Yamaha Vino 125; her 2020 Vespa GTS 300 Super HPE; Endurance, my 2000 BMW R1150 GS; Terra Nova, my 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere; and Santiago, my 1965 Honda CA 77, awaiting restoration in the woodworking shed out back.
3 – I really like the Long Way series, but they (and other such on-the-road documentaries) got me to thinking about guys riding high-priced bikes in economically disadvantaged areas, passing through as if people in villages were simply background in a movie. Robert Pirsig talks about the difference between motorcycles and cars while traveling – “…through a car window everything you see is just more TV” – but doesn’t a $700 Shoei helmet and $1,000 Roadcrafter suit have an opposite effect on the people who see you? In both situations, you’re set apart.
4 – I can’t recommend Mr. March strongly enough. He’s funny, wise, witty, adventurous, and a mechanical wizard, just the sort of guy you’d like to ride with. Do go see his site, please.
5 – Which apparently scared the bejeezus out of moviegoers back then. The film really hasn’t aged well.
6 – In a move that was breathtaking for its crass commercialization, they actually created a music group, named them the Hondells, and had them sing about Hondas and motorcycles and such. Their first album Go Little Honda was motorcycle-related and though Little Honda is fun and bouncy and gets stuck in your head, the other songs soon get on your nerves after a while. Their second album, released about 20 minutes later, was imaginatively titled The Hondells. I’ve yet to hear it.
7 – We’re talking about a motorbike with small engine, about the size of a loaf of good bread, a single-cylinder affair that makes 9-10 horsepower on a good day. That’s on a par with Linda’s Vino scooter. Terra Nova, by comparison, has about 108 hp.
8 – Actually not his real name.
9 – Oh, those guys were awful. Harleys were selling like crazy back then – there were actual waiting lists – and dealers were copping attitudes like you were lucky they let you in the door. There were stories of dealerships jacking up profit margins by making you buy overpriced accessories before they’d sell you a bike. It was that attitude that drove me elsewhere, to BMW as it turned out. I bought Endurance brand-new in 2000 at Sierra BMW in Sparks, Nevada. Now that’s a great dealership.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Indians are nice, but I was drawn to a Kawasaki W800, a Triumph Bonneville-styled bike, and some of the Moto Guzzi ADV models.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)