Fresh Oil and Gravel

The book Proficient Motorcycling by David L. Hough is much recommended by the experienced riders on the ModernVespa forums, so I downloaded it to my Kindle the day I decided to purchase my scooter. It’s a bit of a terrifying read at first, but that’s intentional – if you can get past the story of the rider who was doing everything right and still got decapitated, Hough figures you’ve got the stones to forge ahead and learn to be a safe rider.

I’ve been reading it in spurts over the past few weeks, which has helped in keeping safety top of mind. There is so much good stuff in there, which I’m sure I will review more fully at a later date, but I thought it funny that the section I read this afternoon happened to be about road surfaces.

I’ve been learning the scooter with the mindset of “If I don’t do it, I won’t do it” and basically forcing myself to conquer the things within my skill set that still scare me a bit. It’s the only way for me to build up confidence, really. Take more turns. Go a little faster. Ride a little further. Bit by bit every day, I’m pushing myself and getting better.

Today a friend announced an impromptu dinner party at her house in the outer ring suburbs. It has been gorgeous riding weather, absolutely perfect, so I decided today would be the day I do more than just scoot down Delmar to the grocery store and back. I mapped the route using the “avoid highways” option in Google Maps and saw that it was about 14 miles on roads with speed limits that didn’t exceed 40 mph. Doable.

I got all the way down Delmar to where it ends at Price, turned south, and saw the sign:

Fresh Oil and Gravel

A few weeks ago this might have made me rethink my route, but with the chapter I had just read fresh in my mind, I proceeded. The two-lane road was hilly but straight, and with no traffic on my tail I practiced a little braking and accelerating on the unfamiliar surface first. I rode mainly in the left third of my lane, where car tires had compressed most of the loose stuff – until I noticed that my proximity to the center line seemed to be worrying some of the drivers approaching me, so I moved to the right. Crossing the center part of the lane kicked up some sand behind me, and when I got a little close to cars ahead of me, I got some grit up under the bubble shield on my open face helmet.

But I stayed cool, stayed alert, and rode my ride, and in a few short minutes the fresh oil and gravel were safely behind me. I rode the rest of the way on Clayton Road, which was delightful because it was gently hilly and gently twisty, perfect for practicing turns and maintaining steady speed. I loved every minute.

Heading home was my first ride of any length in the dark. I checked my lights, reminded myself where the high beam was, and took off to retrace my route. Traffic was minimal, which was nice because I could focus more on the turns and speed, and in a few places I could really open up the throttle a bit. The GT200 can cruise comfortably at 65 mph, but I haven’t had occasion to get above 50 yet. Her top speed according to Vespa is 74 mph; according to ModernVespa riders it’s more like 81. But who’s counting?

I paid attention to things I take for granted driving at night in my car – watching my sight distance and stopping distance, inspecting every roadside reflector to see if it’s a mailbox or a vehicle, watching the shoulders for deer and other wildlife. We talked about all this stuff in the MSF class, but those two days were so full of information it would be easy to lose some of it in the overload. Reading this book has helped me keep good habits on the brain, right now when that brain is in training mode and needs those reminders the most. If you’re thinking of learning to ride, or if you’re a beginner like me, I highly recommend grabbing a copy.

So, 28 miles round trip isn’t much, but it’s my longest to date and it was a lot of fun. I think it validated my choice to get the GT200 rather than a smaller scoot – this is what I wanted to be able to do, to go places and go fast and have a bike capable of holding its own in some traffic. I thought I’d outgrow a 49cc pretty quickly, and this ride proves I was right. It was definitely a confidence builder, too, getting a lot of firsts checked off my list.

(Among other things, running my first red light – the signal at Price and Ladue roads won’t trip for just a scooter, in case anyone asks.)

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3 thoughts on “Fresh Oil and Gravel

  1. Sounds like you are doing it right. Stay scarred, but not terrified for the first 2 seasons and before you know it, you’ll have 5,000 miles of experience and way too much confidence when that 3rd summer rolls around. I may or may not be describing myself at the beginning of this season. 😉

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    1. Hah! I’ll keep that in mind! I am working on that fine line where you pass fear to confidence but don’t cross over into cocky.

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  2. When I returned to the motorized two-wheel world a year and a half ago – after a forty-year absence – I read every awful anecdote from seasoned riders I could, in addition to watching some fairly scary YouTube clips, mostly of riders minding their own business until some cager pulls the proverbial dick move and nails them, but also a few where the rider himself (yep, always a “he”, it appears) is being dickish, always with disastrous results. And old friend who’s been riding for a solid five years now cited my four decades as a cyclist in NYC, saying that surviving that should serve me well on the open road, and to a certain degree I think he’s right: having survived several car/bike collisions and emerged intact (though not always so in the case of the bikes themselves), I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting potential trouble early and quickly, as well as learning the right and wrong way to occupy my own piece of the road or street. (And, road conditions: I’ve slid on everything from motor oil to black ice, as well as that bit of weirdness called freshly-painted lane striping.) I’ve applied all of this to my scooting from the get-go, meaning that I don’t ride “scared”, but always aware. I believe you can be reasonably comfortable behind the handlebar without becoming complacent or sloppy, but it does take time and practice. But I think the simplest rule of the road, besides simple awareness, comes down to the old adage of DDSS: Don’t Do Stupid….Stuff. 🙂

    And, I agree that the GT 200 IS the perfect bike for you: big and fast enough to hit the highway if and when you feel the need or desire, but still small enough to remain mostly-scooterish in terms of overall nimbleness. This is exactly why I chose my GTS 300, and I’ve never looked back.

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