Archive for July, 2006

Scarlet Rides To Work

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Weather: Sunny and Hot, 92°F (33°C)

Scarlet by the Stone Arch Bridge
Time out to enjoy the river view, down by the Stone Arch Bridge.

Scarlet O’Baron’s odometer reads 528 miles as I type this. We have been commuting together for almost two weeks now. I have definitely become One with this machine. The extra power afforded by the 250cc engine makes Scarlet the perfect vehicle for the urban commuter.

Lithe and agile, she gets around traffic very well, without having to resort to tactical off-road maneuvering like Frogwing. With this extra power, she really is like having a little sportbike again. Of course, the riding position is a good bit more comfortable than on my old Ducati.

Handling is tight, and now that I have the quicker rhythm down, we really have fun with the sweepers and the Ford Chicane over on Mississippi River Boulevard. We are able to keep up with, and even pass, traffic on Highway 55 and Shephard Road. Both of these have 50-55mph speed limits, and traffic on them typically travels at 60. This is so much nicer than feeling like a road hazard on the slower Red Baron.

Tonight, I am going to change her oil, and mount the new passenger footrests for Emily. Tomorrow, I will go and hunt down the proper size metal tube for her intake, so she will be “derestricted” in time for our ride on Saturday with reader Dan Jones. We are planning an expedition which he will lead, but I do not yet know where.

I never thought scooters could be so much fun. To paraphrase Tim Allen: All you need is More Power!

5:30pm… Late Breaking News

I’ve just arrived at my house, after a bit of an ordeal. Scarlet and I were riding home, and we ran out of gas. I had been ignoring her gas gauge, assuming that it was as inaccurate as others I have seen on scooters. The needle had dropped to E shortly after I left work, but I figured that I had enough to get to the cheap(er) station near my home.

Well, let me tell you right here, that gauge means what it says. I will be watching it more closely in the future.

What followed was a nice walk in the sun, pushing Scarlet along, in the 92° heat. We had gone about a quarter mile, when a motorcycle coming up behind us slowed to a stop alongside.

The rider looked like an old-school biker, and he was riding a Honda Shadow. No shirt, and of course, no helmet. But he held true to the real biker ethic of always helping a fellow rider, and for that I was very thankful.

Introducing himself simply as Wade, he offered to ride home and come back with a gas can. I could park on the side of the road, in a residential neighborhood across from the park, and wait for him in the shade. He said he would be back in ten minutes. This seemed like a sound plan.

So I pulled the book I am currently reading out from under Scarlet’s seat, and adjourned to the park, where I sat in the shade of a maple tree. I could see Scarlet across the street, and watch for Wade to return. It was a pleasant interlude.

After fifteen minutes had gone by, however, I began to get fidgety. I also noticed that a professional landscaping crew was operating at a house down the block from where I had parked Scarlet.

I waited another minute or so, then went back and pushed Scarlet down the block to the house where the guys were mowing the lawn. I knew they would have gas. The only question was whether they would share with a guy who was riding a sporty red scooter.

These were younger fellows, probably still in their teens. I explained my predicament once again, and after giving me an amateur ration of sh…, er, crap, they agreed to let me have about a cupful of gas. That was all Scarlet needed to get me to the nearest station.

About the time I was putting her gas cap back on, Wade rode up. He had his gas can ready, but now we wouldn’t need it. Still, I owed him. So I offered to buy him a beer, if he would follow me.

When we got to the gas station and I filled Scarlet up, Wade said, “Hey, it looks like I need gas too. Do you mind…?”

Has gasoline become more precious to bikers than beer? It would appear so. I handed the nozzle over to him, my debt was paid, and I was spared the humiliation of riding a scooter to a biker bar. That works for me.

Meet Scarlet O’Baron

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Weather: Gorgeous on the weekend, and rainy on Monday.
…as it should be, I guess.

Scarlet O'Baron in Nature...
Scarlet O’Baron, at the side of a local twisty road, early in the mornin’.

I have spent the last week getting acquainted with my new scooter: Scarlet O’Baron.

She has a 250cc engine, shoehorned into a little 150cc chassis like the one that I rode last winter. She is quick, she is fast, and now, she is all mine.

Yes, I know I said earlier that I shouldn’t own one of these, as it would only get me in trouble… but you do only live once, after all.

Scarlet had some carburation issues in development, and I have placed a sort of venturi-tube in the intake plenum, upstream of the carburetor, to limit performance during break-in.

This is sort of like the “restrictor plate” they use in NASCAR. I want to make sure that she is getting a slightly rich mixture, to keep the heat down and limit the stresses on critical engine components during her first five-hundred miles on the road.

Still, the early numbers look promising: I’m calling them 70/70 right now.

This means that on a section of freeway with a 65mph speed limit, at full throttle, we were passing cages with about 5mph overtake. This reflects at least a 70mph restricted top speed.

With 263 miles on the odometer, and not trusting the gas gauge yet, we went 112 miles since her last fill-up. She took 1.6 gallons, which calculates to a nice, round 70 mpg fuel mileage.

The Red “Baron in Winter” did 63 mph and got 80 mpg with a 150cc engine, so these numbers are right in line with my expectations for Scarlet. Once we hit 500 miles, I am going to remove the restrictor and see what she’ll do then. If we don’t hit 80mph, I am going to start shopping for another carburetor and a pipe.

Alright, enough with the numbers… This past weekend, we did some testing of another kind altogether.

You see, Scarlet isn’t as plush and comfy as the Black Baron or Old Yeller were. Those two were built on the PM, or “People Mover” platform, and they were quite luxurious compared to the taut and sporty SX chassis. So I wanted to see if Scarlet would still work well two-up with my daughter Emily.

Emily Rose with her new friend, Scarlet.
Emily Rose with her new friends: Scarlet O’Baron and Saphire the Dolphin.

We planned a Saturday visit to the Como Zoo, followed by an ice-cream run up Grand Avenue to the Grand Ole Creamery.

The weather cooperated, so Emily and I set out with Scarlet at ten-thirty in the morning.

It is a bit more of a stretch for Emily’s legs to reach the passenger “pegs” on Scarlet. She let me know about that right away. Of course, I told her what her mother and I always tell her in these situations: “You’ll grow into it…”. But it would definitely limit our endurance in the saddle together, compared to the Baron PMs.

That’s OK at this point, however. At her age, a short ride is a good ride. Longer rides become more challenging, and ultimately less fun.

We were able to sneak a parking spot close to the entrance at the zoo. Then we waited in a long line of people to get in. Once inside, we noticed that at least 40% of the exhibits were closed for maintenance. So it was a short visit.

But of course, Emily had to visit the gift shop, and once there, found a “stuffed-aminal” she just had to have. So I ponied up the ten bucks for “Saphire the Dolphin”; yet another plush critter with which to litter her bedroom floor.

Why is it that a fiscally conservative fellow (cheap bastard) like me, loses all sense of economic responsibility around his cute little red-haired daughter? Oh, don’t answer that. It seems as though I’ve been asking a lot of rhetorical questions lately. This is probably just a precursor to the geezerly habit of muttering to myself.

Anyway, riding down Grand Avenue in Saint Paul, we stopped at the Grand Ole Creamery to enjoy an ice cream cone the same way our grandparents used to have them. They offer many flavors, all of them made on-site, and they dish them into old-fashioned waffle cones, if you like, or the more modern cake and sugar cones for the less adventurous.

We sat outside while we enjoyed our `cones, and discussed the issues that occupy her six-year-old mind. They are a good bit more complex than what I was thinking about at that age.

We rode home by a roundabout path, through the park and along the river. She gave me a big hug as she dismounted, and I couldn’t help but sigh. This little girl has me wrapped around her little finger, and I’m not even sure she knows that. Well, that’s fine, for now. We’ll worry about adolescence when it gets here…

Scarlet Rides to Work
Scarlet O’Baron: Working Girl.

This morning, I rode Scarlet O’Baron to work. We had to use the old milk-crate, because we haven’t been able to find a suitable trunk for her. That was fine by me, however, because me and this old milk crate have History.

We rode home in one of the biggest rainstorms of the year, and it caught me with my (Aerostich) pants down. I had left my Darien pants in the garage at home, believing the Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild when they said that we had a 30% chance of Isolated Thunderstorms.

Well, that forecast changed throughout the day. By the time I left, we were certain to get hammered by heavy rains, if not large hail.

Scarlet O’Baron and I got totally drenched on the way home, but she never missed a beat. This gives me great confidence in our future together. I’m not sure if I am going to ride her this winter, but at this point it is a definite possibility. For now, however, we are going to concentrate on being the coolest, fastest, bestest commuter scooter in the Twin Cities.

It’s going to be a fun ride…

Temporary Sanity

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

Weather: Sunny and 86°F (30°C)

"Buy the ticket, take the ride." - HST

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.” – Hunter S. Thompson

“Sometimes, the ride takes YOU!” – =gc=

Yesterday was Ride to Work Day, and it rained hard on us here in the Twin Cities. Scarlet O’Baron and I were the only motorbike on the roads, or so it seemed. I didn’t see another rider all the way to work, and it wasn’t even raining then. What a shame.

Today is another perfect Minnesota Summer day. The sky is so blue, it almost hurts to look at it. Especially when I stand up in my cube, and gaze longingly out the window across the room.

I had a meeting with The Boss this morning, and instead of using the conference room we had reserved, he elected to hold it outside at the picnic table. It was so nice out there that going back inside was pure torture.

I think that is what made me snap…

By lunchtime, I was fidgeting in front of my computer screen, trying but failing to concentrate on the technical procedure I was supposed to be writing. Something had happened to the chemicals in my brain, and I was beginning to have Dangerous Thoughts.

Existential Gravity was pulling against the perfectly rational desire to get out and enjoy this beautiful weather, before the rains come again as they are forecasted tomorrow. This is not a Professional Attitude, I thought. What was happening to me? Is this how ordinary, everyday workers suddenly go sane?

After lunchtime, I had to run one more report for the day, and then it was back to that horrible writing assignment. The Boss was walking by, on his way to another meeting, and before I could think about what I was doing, I found myself trotting up to him and asking:

“Is there any sort of off-the-cuff reason you would accept for me taking the rest of today off?”

A tiny smile turned the corners of his mouth up, almost imperceptibly. “Sure!”, he said. “You’re not working on anything hot right now, are you?”

Yeah, I know… this was a trap. It is the kind of thing that brings an avalanche of wretched new assignments crashing down on your head, burying you in the rubble of your own self-indulgence.

Still, he knew by my own admission that my head just wasn’t in the game this afternoon. I was already commited to this rash course of action, and we both knew that too.

“Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow.”, I said. “I’ll wrap things up nice and neat so I can start right in early tomorrow morning.”

He nodded, and walked off, already seconds late for his meeting. I went back to my cubicle in a daze. My heart rate had jumped, and I felt the endorphins beginning to circulate through my system.

FREEDOM! The sun, the sky, and the roads were calling me. I shut everything down, and tried not to gloat as I bid my fellow workers farewell for the day. I punched the clock, and flew out the door. In seconds, Scarlet and I were on the road, with no idea where to go but Away!

And away we went. We stayed on the sidestreets, to savor the peace and quiet of empty residential neighborhoods. We meandered towards the river, past hundreds of houses, but I saw very few children playing outside. How strange, I thought. Where are they? I saw their bicycles, balls, and other yard toys laying about, but the kids were nowhere to be seen.

What a change from when I grew up. During the summers, we had the run of the neighborhood, from right after breakfast until our mothers hollered out the door for us to come in for lunch. Sometimes their voices had to reach a whole block away to get our attention. Marine drill instructors could learn a thing or two from some of those ladies.

But everyone on this side of town has cable TV these days. When a hundred and fifty channels aren’t enough, the kids have their video games to absorb them in the air-conditioned comfort of the family home theater. So I suppose the call of the great outdoors isn’t as strong in them as it was with us. Our moms monopolized the black and white TV with their daily dose of soap operas, so there was really nothing at all for us to do indoors but help out with the housework.

Then you have to think about the fear instilled in every kid nowadays of the malevolent stranger, the predator who might scoop them off the front lawn and into some terrible ordeal to be viewed in full color on the evening news. Better to stay rooted in front of the tube, where the advertisers can reach them reliably, and shape their synapses to create good consumers who will buy on credit.

Yikes! Where did all that come from? I thought I was just going to tell you about my wonderful stolen weekday afternoon ride, my brief attack of sanity.

Yes. Let’s get back to that.

Eventually, Scarlet and I made it to West River Road. Her cooling system was functioning well, after the mods we made during development. I actually opened up the grille vents a bit more with a Dremel tool last night, to increase the airflow through the radiator. This allows the engine to operate in it’s nominal temperature range, in all conditions from idling in heavy traffic to full throttle on the freeway.

I can foresee a lot of this kind of tinkering in my immediate future, as Scarlet O’Baron is my very own hotrod scooter, and not just a development mule. This means that I can be a little more radical in the modifications I make, because they don’t have to be suitable for mass production.

The river road was almost empty of motorized traffic, but there were scads of cyclists and joggers out enjoying an extended lunchtime workout.

I really did have some errands to run, and they would be taken care of presently. But for the moment, I just wanted to savor these nearly empty roads, in the precious few hours before the after-work rush. With the sun directly overhead, the light was too harsh to make for good photography, so the camera remained stowed under the seat.

Eventually we made it to our river crossing at the Lake Street bridge. We stopped in the bike lane, in the middle of the bridge, just to look out at the water and the boats and the beautiful green parkland that stretched off to the horizon. The Twin Cities really are a nice place to live, as long as you don’t have to travel the freeways on a regular basis.

On the Saint Paul side of the river, we made short work of my errands. Then we headed for home, just as the rush hour got under way. Scarlet is just as nimble in traffic as her lighter, less powerful brother was. The bonus, of course, is when it comes time to pass. I don’t have to plot and plan the maneuver so much, but just twist the grip and make a move. There are still some cages who can spoil our fun if they choose to, but for the most part, that extra 100ccs make life a good bit simpler, and perhaps even a little safer.

It’s amazing how profound a mere two hours can be, when they are taken away from the insanity of the daily grind, and given over to the simple enjoyment of personal freedom. And there is no better vehicle on which to experience this than the humble motorbike, be it a scooter or a full-dress Hog.

Tomorrow I will arrive at work refreshed, and ready to take on that assignment that was giving me so much trouble today. These moments of temporary sanity pay dividends that cannot be measured by the cold, stark metrics of the business world.

But now I know that my boss understands, and that is a revelation that I never could have predicted. It means a lot.