Monthly Archives: July 2012

This is what happens…

1) When someone else “builds” your bike

2) It’s been sitting a while and it’s old

3) It’s had issues starting since I got it…

starting fail


Amerivespa ‘13: San Diego by the LONG way… through Mexico!

In an attempt to find a witty and telling picture to start off the first part of this awesome blog entry, I already struck a problem that may be more representative of the greater issue.  Let me explain…

In an effort for the sole two members of this gang to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get BACK on their bikes, we have once again started a plot that focuses around Amerivespa!  This year, it is going to be located in San Diego, California.  This is *much* closer to Phoenix, but that also is a downside as much as an upside.  It removes much of the adventure of going across country on bikes that really weren’t meant for such a journey.  But, as I sat and thought about things, running route scenarios for the summer rally through Google Maps, one thing became noticed as a constant:

Each route aside from one brought us into Mexico, if even for a short time.

Then, as I thought about it, a route started forming in my head.  But, it wasn’t the direct beeline that Amerivespa ‘12 offered up.  I looked at places I’ve always avoided, but have always heard of.  There was Rocky Point (which is located in a city where Wende Machete has a friend who owns a house), bastion to all of those bro-ish adventures on Spring Break.  There is San Felipe, home to the Baja 250 and San Felipe 250 overland races and prime training ground for North American Dakar racers.  There is Ensenada, the resort coastal town and long time resort for those looking for exotic-but-not-so-much from California.  And in between… a nation of adventure that I honestly don’t know as much about as I should living so close.

But, this isn’t unusual for many living in Arizona.  We live next to and depend on so much from Mexico as much as they do from us.  Our cultures constantly bleed into one another.  There is so much in common it’s uncanny, but rarely do you find a border so hotly contested anywhere in the post-industrial world. This leads me to the issue I had finding a picture to start this blog off.

So much of the images I found were VERY racist, anti-Mexican and downright disturbing, even for someone like me who’s seen civil war, police corruption and the inside of the federal prison system first hand.  I realized that outside of the sound-bytes, false claims of “headless bodies in the desert” by psychotic American governors and the real-world kidnappings and massacres that are a very real problem that flash across the screens here in the US, I didn’t really know much.  I have plenty of friends from both sides of the border, and in my world, they’re great people.  But, have I actually *been* to Mexico? I’ve been to Mexicali once and it wasn’t exactly a fun trip, but have I truly given Mexico the chance and the credit it deserves?

Well, there always needs to be a point to adventure.  We travel and challenge not only our bodies and mechanical skills with these kind of trips.  Why not challenge my world view?  Why not go and find more of our biggest neighbor down South and learn more than just slugging across the Midwest on two wheels…again? 

So, after a bit of over-the-phone planning, me and my partner in crime have determined that San Diego Amerivespa ‘13 will be by way of the costal towns of Mexico!  A story of adventure, international intrigue, scooters and  the story of a Roller-Derby Vegan and a Socialist Engineer in an effort to find something they probably shouldn’t: Something more interesting.

Mexico image


And because it’s a rainy day, New gear for a new season! ‘Trotksy’s choices

So, it’s a rare rainy day and the wife is still snoozing.  So, what better time to pass the lazy day away than to consider the new gear for the season! Now, I already do have a perfectly good full face helmet (if not on the cheap side) and a perfectly serviceable winter riding jacket. But, there is always room for new gear and I do need a new open-face lid.  Some gloves would be nice too…

So, here’s my take on what’s hot out there and what’s grabbed my scooter-specific attention. If anyone has a strong urge to buy me a little somethin’ pretty, just click on the link to the left of this to our Facebook page and I’ll give you all the shipping details on where to send it and the appropriate sizes Winking smile

Nolan N20 “Carbie” 3/4 Jet helmet

While the only true protection is a full face lid, I’m a grownup and I can do what I want! I can eat ice cream at 2AM, stay up late watching reruns of the Muppet Show and ignore my homework all I want!  And, sometimes, my freakishly large head needs a little relief from my chin dragging on the front of my full-face lid.  Nolan is one of the best names in the helmet biz, and when it comes to vintage styled lids, they get the best balance of retro and modern technology.  With a removable, washable liner and the cool quick-latch system that makes it easy to remove the helmet with gloves on, it really looks to be the business for those of us with the vintage scooter mindset.  And, they have a whole host of color and pattern options.  This one seems to fit well with my current interest in a black Symba.

Corazzo Mens’s Postale Armored Jacket ($189)

 

This one is a cool jacket.  My current one is a bit big and bulky, and just doesn’t have that “off bike” appeal without everyone looking at it and saying “Oh, you ride a motorcycle huh?”. Not that I mind showing off my riding pride, but armored jackets off the bike can be hard to live with and move around in while outside of the riding position.  This one is patterned off of the old UK Royal Mail service jackets and fits that vintage look right.  Slim fit, full armored and comes with a fleece liner it’s a great light weather jacket.  It’s also got some cool tricks like reflective piping and tape around the lower seam, and “hidden” splits in the shoulders that reveal reflective material when you reach forward to grab handlebars, but are concealed within the folds of the seams when walking around in a normal posture!  Would look good with my Chrome Mini-Metro messenger bag

(Man, I do sound like a runner-up on “America’s Next Top Model”… ugh.)

MSR Fuel Bottle ($17.95 and up)

This may seem like a silly thing for some, but when you’re looking at long distance scootering, you are face with one glaring issue: Gas stations are a LONG ways away from one another when you’re on the back roads!  Sure, going the path less traveled is a far better riding experience, but when you are riding a machine that has at BEST a 1.5 to 2 gallon tank (and more like a 1.something gallon one), your range is severely crippled.  And, while strapping the $10 plastic jerry can onto the scoot is often times the way done by many American scooterists, there is a far more elegant and safer solution.

MSR bottles are high grade aluminum cylinders specifically designed to carry petrochemical fuels like gasoline.  They are incredibly tough, easy to fill and easy to store because they don’t come in the common gallon or 5 gallon sizes.  They start as small as 11 ounces (smaller than a soda can!) and go all the way up to a liter. And, they have plenty of mounting brackets so you can find an option that works for strapping one or two onto the bike, keeping the fuel out of the way and safe until you need it. It’s the simple solutions that often will make a ride more enjoyable.  That, and an extra 25 or 50 miles of insurance quietly tucked away is worth it’s weight in gold.

Corazzo 30’s Deco T-shirt, Medium ($22.00)

No special cultural reason.  It just looks cool.  I need more scooter shirts.

Zeal Trancend SPX GPS Polarized Snow Goggles ($271)

OMGWTFBBQ!!!!11!!!!!  I. Want. These!

OK, now that I got that out of my system… you MUST check these things out.  Yes, yes, yes I know these are for snowboarders but I would rock a half helmet for what these goggles do.  While not very stylish, what they lack in appearance they make up for in hardcore tech.  These goggles don’t just protect your eyes, but they also come with a built in heads up display that relays location, time, speed and temperature.  That’s right: fighter pilot info on your scooter!  Why they don’t have these in cycle helmets yet I have no idea, but this is just ten pounds of awesome right there.

There’s obviously more things that I want, but those are just my current lust worth things.  Yes, this is what I do when I should be doing laundry our out earning money to pay for the before-mentioned lust worthy things. 


“The Replacements” Part 2: What’s more iconic than Vespa?

The days of the “off season” are in the final third for me.  This summer has been particularly hard for my household as some of our regular readers know since the death of the Genuine Scooter Company Rattler 110 I was riding.  Ultimately not proving up to the task, I had to reconsider what I need in a daily driver scooter and have been coming up with some great options.  But, many of them lack that “thing”: Style.

Before we talked about the Kymco line of bikes: Well engineered, well “liked” and affordable.  But, shopping for one of those is about as passion-stirring as buying a new laptop.  It’s an appliance with Kymco.  Granted, they are some nice appliances and fun to ride, but they don’t have that “fun” built in with an image and a scene like Vespa (who now charges heavily to be a member of that club).  But, I started thinking about what I like about small motorbikes and scooters and why I don’t ride a Harley or a sportbike anymore.  It’s that world-culture factor: Knowing that what you ride is not only universal, but in any culture carries a certain identity.  Vespa will always be the fashionista’s transport: Style on a budget (at least back in the day). It was glamorous and Bohemian.  Hip and very European.  But, that’s not the only direction one can go…

The most popular motorbike in human history was the Honda Super Cub.  The original Honda Cub was actually a bolt-on motor that was made to convert bicycles into motorcycles by Honda back in the early 50’s, and was quite popular.  But, Soichiro Honda wanted MUCH more for his customers, so he developed the Super Cub: A 4-stroke (high tech for the time) 50cc scooter that could hit 50mph with a “semi-automatic” transmission, large stable wire spoke wheels and bicycle-like simplicity. 

It was a hit!  EVERYONE on Earth wanted one.  It wasn’t the style that grabbed you, but the simplicity and affordability.  It was the great equalizer.  Everyone from farmers in Vietnam to university students in Kent to the son of a coal miner in Kentucky could afford one and ride it until Armageddon.  Everyone in all corners of the world has a story or two of their encounter with a Cub.  Even the Beach Boys wrote songs about it (granted they were under commission by Honda, but even that was forward thinking for the time).  It was truly the People’s Bike.  By 2008, over 60 MILLION of these sewing-machines-on-crack were sold and  it had secured it’s place as not only the most popular motorized form of transport in human history, but fell into that position of being the Vespa’s alternative nerdy cult-bike.  If you couldn’t afford a Vespa, you sure as hell could afford a Cub! 

And, it’s that everyman approach that makes the Cub so appealing.  While Vespa took great lengths to avoid being a motorcycle at all costs, Mr. Honda examined why motorbikes were difficult, and stripped away the bits that weren’t needed.  He then invented ways around the parts that made riding a motorbike hard, and designed everything to be easy to maintain, fix or replace for anyone with a box end wrench and a screwdriver.  Vespa made motorbikes stylish and desirable, Honda made them practical and effective. 

Sadly, Honda pulled the Cub (known as the Passport in the US and Canada) out of the market in 1983, and production stopped on these bikes by Honda and it’s affiliates in 2008.  Granted in most of the world, there are hundreds of metric tons of these bikes around and parts are plentiful and still produced in mass quantities.  But, in America’s bike-deprived culture, the Cub really isn’t as well remembered.  They sold well here… for a small bike.  But, they didn’t have the cult status that the rest of the world (especially in Japan, Southeast Asia and Western Europe) attached to them.  But, in 2009, yet another major Taiwanese motorbike firm took a note from LML’s playbook and dusted off the factory machines of a bike they once made…

SYM was another “sub-factory” out of Taiwan just like Kymco, PGO and companies like LML and Bajaj in India.  They took on the task of making the popular bikes for the big boys in Japan and Europe when the factories were too full and the orders too great.  SYM’s claim to fame was being the 2nd birthplace for tens of millions of those same Honda Cubs sold worldwide.  And, when Honda retired the model, SYM saw that the nostalgia and desire for these bikes was still high. And, with the new retro trend sweeping the post-industrialized world, how could they say no?

Hence, the SYM “Symba” was born!

Get it? “SYMba” Cub/Lion Cub?  OK… so it was a ploy on naming, but at least it’s a better name than most Taiwanese translations (That, and the Taiwanese name for this bike is the “WoWow”.  Yeah. Not kidding).  The new Symba took the exact frame and tooling of the Honda Cub, but improved it: Bumping the displacement from 70cc’s in the 2008 final model to 101cc’s, adding modern telescopic forks and adjustable suspension, CDI ignition and increasing the horsepower from a whopping 4bhp to …6.7bhp.  Yeah, may not seem like much with a whole 5 lb/ft of torque, but this will scoot you to 55-60mph and give you a REAL WORLD 100mpg!  Other than that, nearly all of the measurements and design elements remain the same as the original.  This can be a good thing for spare parts and accessories, but this also means that the “quirks” of a semi-auto transmission, drum brakes and carburetion remain.  It’s truly a vintage bike updated to keep that exact feel, but with a higher quality finish.

And, there’s a SYM dealer in North Phoenix!!!!!

The downside is that I cannot test-ride one. They only order them from California since they aren’t as big a seller here in the Southwest.  But, in 3 days they can get one in my choice of black, red or baby blue and they don’t even charge “dealer fees”, “assembly” or  “document prep” fees.  Refreshing in an era of death by a thousand service fees. The now-standard-for-Taiwanese-major-brands 2 year parts/labor warranty is also appealing.  The only downside is that SYM’s import partner, Alliance Motorsports, weren’t the first ones to bring them to the US.  They had a shaky partnership with a group called the Carter Brothers who weren’t so truthful about their financial status when SYM first started wanting into the US market.  Soon, the Carter Brothers were so underwater that their warehouse in the US suffered a “mysterious” fire that took out all of their backstock of bikes and made it rather convenient for them to claim insurance money that was greatly needed.  This led to SYM dropping them like a hot rock, but also set back their US plans and leaving a bad taste in the customers they had won over.  They are back in the game, but supplies and dealer support are still a back burner concern.  They retain a solid and well-loved reputation overseas and in many parts of Europe and Asia, but they are on the mend in winning back US confidence.

But, at $2399US, this is a tempting bike.  It’s like the flipside of the Stella by Genuine Scooters.  It’s retro, original and true to the bike that started it all, but in a nerdier fashion, and that has some appeal!

I still have a little over a month and a half since there is no hope of early financing before my new season starts and my grants hit.  So, there’s still room to reconsider. But, this is winning. Even my wife is starting to *really* want one!  She finds it non-threatening and “quirky cute”.  It will definitely stand out on US roads, and if other reviews are anything to go by, it may be the smartest choice for my desire to have a vintage bike but a need to have it reliable.


The “Replacements”: So long, Piaggio. Hello… Kymco?!

So, as the few regular readers on here know, it’s been a bit of a fight as of late to keep a scooter on the road here.  Much of it is funds, since I work in the arts and life has this pesky way of taking that meager artist’s salary and finding ways of spending it before I can.  But, a lot of the issue is finding a bike that can put up with the insane environmental conditions of where I live in Phoenix, Arizona.  Where temperatures are in the high 110’s to 115’s, and on the street surface can easily climb over 122 degrees machinery doesn’t last too long out here.  Cars literally burst into flames on the side of the highways and tires become so overheated blowouts are as common as the ubiquitous Filibertos Taco Stands that dot the city. 

There is another factor that keeps many scooters off the roads here in the US: Parts.  You see, Piaggio thinks we in the United States are no better than a rural farm town in Russia, or a tiny island in Malaysia.  This is because scooter sales here are tiny in comparison to the rest of the word, and for Piaggio and Vespa, if it’s not the number one market, they simply won’t care.  In fact during the LARGEST Vespa rally in North America, Piaggio USA did not send ONE representative.  Not one person from Piaggio came to support the largest group of Vespa riders.  Also, if you have ever tried to order parts for your Vespa, you pretty much can’t.  If you do get it, expect to wait a month to 4 months for it.  And, then there are the dealerships… or lack thereof.

Of course, then there is the price for being a member of the “elite” Vespa brand image.  What was once a shining example of transportation and style for the masses has become the iProduct of the motorcycle world, commanding prices that only the upper middle class can afford and twice to three times that of an inexpensive used sedan

It’s enough to drive you up the wall!!

So, what is a scooterist who values affordable, fashionable and fun transportation to do?  Companies like Genuine Scooter Company in cooperation with LML and PGO have done wonders in keeping the nerdy spirit of scootering alive, but they aren’t the only ones in the game.  I myself LOVE , LOVE, LOVE the Stella but their “Buddy” line of scooters are just too small to fit my tall, skinny English frame.  The Japanese makers see scooters as an afterthought in the US, where they can easily sell a liter superbike faster than a 50cc.  So we get the cast offs and the most sparse of offerings from them.

But  another company has caught my eye, and knows what they are doing when it comes to scooters.  They are the 5th largest manufacturer of motorbikes in the world, have offerings that outsell Vespa in Italy itself and have decided that the United States is where it’s at next.  It’s Kymco.

After 15 years in the US, they have gained traction as a reputable company with amazing ATV’s, Quads and scooters.  They started out working as a Honda OEM manufacturer in the 60’s, and now make some of the most popular bikes in the world and are even the manufacturers of the new BMW scooter engines and the BMW 450cc engine they use in their enduros!  They dominate in Taiwan and Austriallia, have taken HUGE positions in the market in Japan and Italy and are known for reliability and quality that rivals Honda, and that puts Piaggio in it’s place. 

And, Kymco has been building their image in the US by partnering up with NHRA race teams, sponsoring giveaways at local scooter rallies where winning a T-shirt isn’t an option, but an ENTIRE SCOOTER!  And, they have themselves thrown some crazy rallies in the US in an effort  to show that not every company ignores it’s enthusiasts.  And, it’s People 150 scooter is still considered one of the best bikes on the market nearly 10 years after its release in the US.

And, it’s down to two of their scooters for me: The Like 200i and the Agility 125.

The “Like” 200i must be one of the most bland names in scooter history.  It’s not passionate, driving or even sensible!  But, for what it lacks in creativity, it brings in features!  Now, the Like 200i isn’t actually a 200cc… it’s 163cc.  Yeah, a little misleading.  But what it doesn’t tell you is that it makes up for this with a Fuel-Injected engine with front and rear disc brakes all on a largeframe scooter chassis backed by the typical bullet proof Kymco engine and a 2 year/unlimited mileage warranty!  While some are quick to point out that it’s “retro” styling is too close to Vespa, I tend to disagree.  Vespa didn’t invent the scooter even if it wants the world to think so  (much like Apple not stopping people from thinking it invented the touchscreen smartphone).  To me, it says more “Lambretta” with those flat vented sides and strong front rake. 

So it’s fuel injected, well equipped with braking and even comes with the topcase as standard.  What’s to make *me* buy this over a Vespa LX150?  Well, the LX150 starts at $4,200US plus fees.  The MSRP on this? $2,599US.  And, Vespa will only give you a 1 year warranty.

This is the front runner because a local dealership has TWO on sale for the low, low price of $2,095US!  You get all the features of a Vespa (save the all steel body) with a lot more piece of mind.  And, you can actually find more than one Kymco dealer in your state as opposed to the Italians (if your state even has a Piaggio dealer).  In fact, many states have more Kymco dealers than Yamaha dealers, and I have respect for the tuning-fork logo!

The other scooter on my radar is at the bottom of the price range, but not the last in the line when it comes to quality: The Agility 125

This is a bare-bones scoot, but well put together: 125cc air cooled, carbureted mill.  Front disc, rear drum.  It’ has all the modern scoot basics and an engine that will get you to 60-ish miles per hour… and that’s it.  No auto-stability system, no GPS systems, no nothing.  Just scooter.  It’s the modern smallframe and that’s a good thing.  It’s the same base engine as the Kymco 125cc lot of other scoots, but in a clean, poly shell and tube steel chassis.

So, why the hell is this thing so interesting?  Try an MSRP of $1,799US.  No, that’s not a clearance price.  Yes, that includes the 2 year warranty.  Their 50cc Version eeks in at under $1,399US!  You can hardly get a China-Clone scooter for that!!! And, it’s one of the top 10 selling scooters in Italy, known for being one of the largest and most competitive scooter markets in the world!  They sell more scooters there than in the entirety of North America!  So, that’s a lot of Agility for the buck.

To be fair, these scooters aren’t manufactured in Taiwan, where Kymco is headquartered.  They are made in a Kymco-only owned factory in China.  Now, some may balk at this idea especially after how much I rag on Chinese scooters.  BUT, this is a Kymco run facility and they have a rep around the world for running a *tight* ship.  Also, consider that the Vespa S150, Piaggio Fly and Piaggio Typhoon are ALSO made in China under a plant owned by Piaggio.  Yep: You think you may be buying Italian and thus buying “better”, but as it turns out Piaggio is taking a page from Kymco in an effort to stay competitive. 

So, it’s down to these two for me.  There will be another Stella in my drive, make no doubt about that!  But, for the winter and for commuting, it’s down to these two juggernauts of the scooter world that 10-15 years ago would have been unthinkable: Taiwanese scooters out-performing and out lasting Japanese and Italian competitors?  Then again, who would of thought ten years ago that our cell phone choice would depend on what operating system and what video phone options we could get.

The times, they are a’changing….