Proficient Scootering – The Book. You Asked, and I Listened!

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Proficient Scootering - A comprehensive guide to safe, efficient and enjoyable scooter ridingYou asked, and I listened!

I’m very excited to announce that, after two years quietly writing and re-writing behind the scenes, drawing countless diagrams, and taking photographs, “Proficient Scootering” is available now for all the popular e-readers!

For those who prefer a traditional book, the print version should be available next week!

I wish to thank all who prompted me to create this work. It has been a labour of love. I excitedly let it out into the world. Fly my pretties!

Take a look at the Books page for more details.

Deer Strikes – Lessening The Odds

Photo courtesy: Liz Noffsinger

Photo courtesy: Liz Noffsinger

There was a definite unfamiliar chill to the  air this morning. It reminds me that glorious summer is preparing to give way to spectacular fall.

Even for the “fair weather riders” amongst us, there are still plenty of great riding days ahead. Sadly, along with the spectacular show that mother nature provides for us each year, she brings a heightened danger from our wood-dwelling fauna — most notably the deer.

The NHSA, in the US, estimates that there are 1.5 million crashes annually with deer in the US alone. 10,000 injuries, and 175-200 fatalities. Even more disquieting for us riders is the estimation that over 74% of motorcycle-deer collisions result in injury to the rider.

They are depressing statistics indeed, and the situation is only getting worse as we encroach more on and more on the deer’s habitat. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about what we can do to better the odds with capricious Bambi.

As with any wildlife encounter, there is little we can do to predict when an encounter will occur, but there are some things we can keep in mind about deer habits that may go some way to know when we are most at risk.

  • Local knowledge can be invaluable. Deer have a surprisingly small territory — often less than a mile, so will often be found in the same area. Knowing these areas, and taking extra care when travelling through them can help immensely.
  • Deer are most active at dusk and dawn.
  • Deer are social animals. If you see one, expect more.
  • Deer migration and mating season is roughly from October though December. Knowing this can prompt us to take special care at these times of year when they are most active and mobile.
  • 90% — yes 90% — of deer strikes occur between dusk and dawn on two-lane roads.

Personally, having hit a deer at 65 MPH (the deer died and I managed to stay upright with little more than a bruised leg, and $1,500 repair bill), I prefer to take no chances with them. I would recommend taking the following precautions:

  • If deer activity is at all suspected, such as when riding at night in rural areas — especially at dusk and dawn, I recommend riding at a much slower pace than normal — in preparation for an emergency stop.
  • If there are following vehicles, make efforts to let those vehicles pass. The last thing you need to worry about when braking hard for a deer is the very real possibility of following vehicles crashing into you from behind. There is also a small measure of protection afforded from following a larger vehicle in such circumstances.
  • Remember to keep a good distance between yourself and any vehicles in front. Remember the two-second rule – as a minimum. You gain a much better view by holding back, and you will often benefit from any vehicle’s actions ahead.
  • Try to maintain a healthy buffer zone between you and the sides of the road. Sometimes, in high-risk areas, this means giving up normal positioning to create that buffer zone. In that case, you will need to slow down to compensate for the lessened view and visibility that giving up your optimal position has created. This also means that, at night, when travelling on a multi-lane road (freeway/motorway), and there are no other vehicles around, I will choose to ride in the centre lane to afford the best, and equal, buffer from both sides of the road.
  • Good lights are a great help in spotting deer. If you find yourself often riding at high-risk times, and/or in high-risk areas, I would consider doing what you can to upgrade your lights – especially any that can better your view to the sides of the road. Of course, use high-beam when there is no traffic.
  • Consider a long blast on your horn when you first see deer. This can certainly not be relied upon.
  • Flashing your lights can sometimes help to snap the deer out of its reverie if the deer goes into the infamous “deer in the headlights” mode.
  • When deer first launch into action, their first leap is forward, before they start their evasive manoeuvres. If a deer is facing into your path, extra special care is called for.

Unfortunately, deer are an extremely unpredictable animal. They seem to react more to proximity than to noise and lights. This means that they will often seem unfazed by your presence until you are very close to them, at which point, they will launch into action, and begin the familiar zig-zag patten of avoidance. Sadly, that evasive action is very often directly into your path. Nobody said they are the smartest animal!

I have sometimes had success with sounding my horn to prompt them into movement from a distance, but this certainly cannot be relied upon. Because of their unpredictability, I tend to brake, and slow to a walking pace, or even stop, upon first spotting one.

Swerve or Brake?

Let’s hope it never comes to a collision, but it’s worth here discussing a couple of points about strategies if a collision is imminent. If a collision with a deer seems unavoidable, it is best to hit it straight-on. If you can swerve to avoid it without encroaching into oncoming traffic, then it is worth a try. This is where your well-practised skill with steering — and particularly counter-steering — will come into play. When it comes to the actual impact, though, I would hit it when upright, and release your brakes momentarily before impact.

Until next time, Scoot Safely!

Photography From The Saddle

I have two great loves. One, which won’t surprise you, is two-wheeled transport. The other is photography – more particularly, landscape photography. Fortunately for me, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement each other very well.

One of my greatest pleasures is to load Bella with my photography gear, and to head off into the wilderness in search of good photographs. Bella, incidentally, is my 2009 Vespa GTV 250. Venturing out in search of photographs is my form of hunting or fishing (except that no animals get harmed in the process). I make the reference to hunting because – just like the fishermen can report – a very enjoyable day can be had without catching a thing. What a great reason to get out and ride!

In a light-hearted departure from the usual subject of this blog, I’d like to share with my readers a scooter/photography trip I took at this time last year.

ViewMasterBut first, a little back-story: as a child, living in my native England, I was bought a ViewMaster. I loved that thing. My very favourite was a disk consisting of images of Colorado. I’d spend hours peering into this 3D miracle, being transported to those mountains so far away, and dreamed that one day I would go there to see for myself. Possibly it was this that first sparked my love for landscape photography.

Fast-toward a (ahem) few years, and I found myself living in the good old US of A. Many years had passed, and I still hadn’t seen the place I dreamed of as a child. This time last year, I set about putting that right. I had to start working on that bucket list!

IMG_0123-1024So, I carefully attached Bella to the back of the motorhome, and Sally, (my dog) and I headed out west.

I really think you’d have to look hard to find a vehicle better suited to photography trips than a scooter. It is, of course, very frugal (not so the motorhome), but is also very light and manoeuvrable with excellent carrying capacity. I can take a scooter into places that I could not go with a car, and even my street motorcycle would be a burden. The scooter is made for the job.

So, the plan was to take myself out west, and head out on the scooter to photograph those places I’d dreamed of as a child. As it turned out, once I reached Colorado, I kept going west – using the scooter for photography outings on the way – until I reached the Grand Canyon.

It really was a trip of a lifetime, and Bella proved herself perfect for the job. I could even hang my camera bag onto the shopping hook in front of my legs.

It took something like forty years to get round to it, but I finally did make that trip to Colorado, and other destinations out west. Incidentally, Utah was an eye-opener. What a beautiful state!

I’d love to hear from some of you who use their scooters for photography. Let me know in the comments!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few of the shots that I got while I was out there. You can click the photo for larger versions. Until next time, Scoot Safely!

Crested Butte

Crested Butte, Colorado was an enchanting place. I could have stayed there a very long time. I was initially camped about thirty miles away (and it felt like thirty miles below), but the pre-dawn – and very cold – ride on the scooter was worth it when I got there. I loved the place so much, I went back for the motorhome, and brought it back up to stay there a couple of days. Magical!

The Rainbow Bolt

Talking of pre-dawn, I was riding through Crested Butte early one morning, and noticed that some cars had suddenly made a stop by the side of the road. When I looked, I could see why! I don’t think I’ve ever got a camera out of a scooter so quickly!

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Still, I wasn’t alone to see the dawn in.

The Bridge

Another of Crested Butte.

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Bella taking a rest. Bless her.

The First Snow

Now, wouldn’t this be a nice place to live!

I then moved on to Aspen to get the iconic shot of Maroon Bells. I camped about thirty-five miles away, got up at 4.15 in the morning, and rode the scooter up to Maroon Bells. It was freezing, but I wanted to get the pre-dawn shot of the mirror lake. Sadly, it was blowing a gale that morning, and there was no mirror lake!

Mountains on Fire

I did, however, get the dawn light catching the mountains afire as it crept over the horizon.

About 8.30, another photographer (there were plenty there) took pity on me, and let me sit in his car with the heater on for half an hour. I still hadn’t recovered from the freezing ride, and the gale blowing across the lake didn’t help any.

Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells in all its glory.

So, on to Utah. As I stated earlier, Utah was a real surprise to me. It is breathtaking. Of course, I couldn’t do Utah without taking Bella through Arches National park.

Cactus

Cactus and Balancing Rock. Arches National Park, Utah.

And wouldn’t you know it? I got talking to some people in the park, and it turned out they were fellow English folk from a scooter club in England! They sent me the following picture when they got back to home.

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Yours truly looking suitably weathered.

Rather them than me!

Rather them than me!

Of course, you couldn’t visit Arches National Park without getting the iconic Delicate Arch shot. I so nearly missed it! I was racing around the park – trying to get the last shot of the evening. It turned out there is a quite strenuous hike up to Delicate Arch of, I would guess a mile. It was sunset, and the light was fading fast. I really didn’t think I was going to make it, but tried anyway. British grit, don’t you know. I made it to the top, set up my camera, went “snap” and an instant later it was like someone had turned the lights out. Dusk seems to fall rather quickly up there. But I got the shot!

Delicate Arch Sunset

Delicate Arch Sunset

From Moab, we headed to Monument Valley. When I got there, I thought: “Well, it’s really not that far to the Grand Canyon! I checked with Sally (my travel companion and partner in crime). She said it was OK, so off we went.

Sally looking to see how far to the Grand Canyon.

Sally looking to see how far it might be to the Grand Canyon.

Sally made it to the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Sally made it to the edge of the Grand Canyon.

It was a magnificent trip. The realisation of a childhood dream. Made so much better by being able to make my explorations on a scooter.

Incidentally, what a beautiful country my adopted home is!

The Watchtower. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

The Watchtower. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Where Have I Been?

I surely need to start this post with an apology to my dear readers. It has been a long time — way too long — since I last posted on ScootSafely.

Some major upheavals on the home and work front have taken my attention for quite some time now, and have meant that I’ve had little time to pay attention to Scoot Safely. Hopefully, as things have calmed a little, I shall be back among the living in the blogosphere!

Still, I haven’t been idle! Here’s what I’ve been doing…

Over the years that I have been running this blog, I have often received requests to produce a book catering specifically for scooter riders – as does this blog. A book about scooter safety and the particular challenges that we face out there on our scooters.

I always saw that as quite an undertaking, but a worthy one. It would have to cover all aspects of scooter riding, from the most basic control, to advanced techniques and tips for the seasoned rider… and more.

Well, it has been two years in the making. It has been a labour of love, but I am delighted and excited to announce that the book is finished!

I have been very busy over the last few months – since the writing was finished –  preparing it for publication, proof-reading, editing, creating the numerous diagrams that accompany the chapters, even out taking photographs for demonstrations, and formatting it all for the various e-readers out there, and for the final print version.

So, I hope that you, my dear readers, will forgive my absence, but be assured that I have been quietly working behind the scenes preparing my humble literary contribution to our scooter community.

Stand by (in the next few days) for the official release of: “Proficient Scootering – A comprehensive guide to safe, efficient and enjoyable scooter riding.

 

Piaggio BV350 Review

Piaggio BV350It has been quite some time since a new scooter created such a buzz among the scooter community as Piaggio’s new BV350.

I have watched with interest all the speculation leading up to the launch, and read with interest the opinions of the lucky people to first get their hands on the BV 350.

Well, thanks once again to my friends at Vespa Marietta, I was given the opportunity to judge for myself whether the machine lived up to expectations. Let’s see…

Specifications at a Glance

  • 330 cc 4-Stroke liquid cooled engine producing 33 HP at 8,250 RPM. Max torque: 32.3 Nm at 6,250 rpm. Electronic ignition.
  • Top Speed: 86 MPH.
  • Clutch: Multi-disc centrifuge in oil bath. (Not your traditional scooter clutch).
  • Frame: Twin cradle tubes in high tensile steel.
  • Brakes: Disc brakes front and rear.
  • Weight: 390 lbs dry.
  • Gas Mileage: 65-70 MPG.
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 3.4 Gallons (US)
  • Seat Height: 31″.
  • Warranty: 12 months unlimited mileage.
  • MSRP: $5,499

Fit and Finish

Piaggio BV350

It seems that there are two main factions when it comes to scooter styling: those who love the traditional look of the Vespa and similarly-styled machines such as the Genuine Stella – and those who lean toward the more modern-looking machine.

I must admit to being in the former category. I love the rounded, sensual lines of the traditional scooter. I do ride a Vespa GTV 250, after all.

Despite this, there can be no denying that the BV350 is a very nice looking machine indeed. The overall body shape, I feel, tries to find a middle ground between classic and modern styling – with limited success in my opinion.

However, as soon as you examine the machine in greater detail, it seems to exude a refined luxury that is very hard to ignore.

Piaggio BV350 Saddle

Whether looking at the black version – as seen here, or the only other available option right now – silver, what dominates is that beautiful deep Burgundy red saddle which is coordinated with trim for the front storage compartment, and even the handlebar shroud.

As mentioned above, this machine really does project an image of quality, and even my careful inspection of the fit and finish did nothing to convince me otherwise.

If there is anything that could let the side down, it could be the cover for the gas cap, which, when unlocked, simply comes off with the key as a flimsy piece of plastic – just asking to be lost.
To be fair, I think this is a design compromise due to the location of the gas tank. Because it is directly in the tunnel where you will swing your foot through the machine, were it to be a hinged affair, I think it would only be a matter of time until it was kicked off.
It may be better to be completely loose to avoid that potentially expensive repair.

Under-Seat StorageUnder-seat storage is ample – despite the various bulges intruding into the space. It also has a handy courtesy light.
Crucially, it passed the full-faced helmet test. I was able to fit it inside and close the seat.
That’s a real bonus when you’re parking where you’re less than confident it would be still there when you returned.

There is also storage in the front tray. It seems a little cluttered in there, but Piaggio seem to have done the best job given the little space available.

Controls

Left Controls Nothing far from the norm here.
The left switchgear contains main/dip switch for the headlight. I was pleased to find that it also incorporates a momentary switch when you press down – enabling you to flash your lights without having to rock the switch back off again. A nice touch which I miss about European machines.
Beneath the light switch is the turn signal switch. Push left or right to signal. Push in to cancel. Underneath that, you will find the (typically anaemic) horn, and a button to electronically unlock the seat and gain access to the under-seat storage. This is a nice touch and, of course, will only work when the key is in the ignition.

Right Controls

The right switchgear contains the engine kill switch, the electric starter (brake must be applied to start the engine), and the mode switch for the various functions. These function include two trip meters, odometer, battery voltage and outside temperature.

There is a digital clock permanently displayed.

ClocksWhile on the subject of clocks, one thing you will have to get used to on current models is that the primary display is in Kilometres, with MPH shown in the smaller, inner dial. All digital displays can be changed to read either in metric or imperial measurements. I found the clocks to be a beautiful design, including the pleasing “dance” they do when you switch on the ignition. They may as well be easy on the eye if we’re going to spend so long looking at them, right?

ScreenThe BV350 comes with a factory screen, which does a surprisingly good job of keeping the worst of the wind off of you – allowing visor-up riding if needed at in-town speeds.

So, all in all, this adds up to a well appointed machine with plenty of typically Italian flair to boot.

Only time will tell how that gorgeous red trim stands up to the ravages of the sun and inclement weather.

 

So, what’s it like to ride?

Well, up until this point, I’ve been trying to keep this review quite low-key for fear of appearing too enthusiastic, but, I have to say: This scooter is a joy to ride!
There, I’ve said it.

Being a motorcyclist as well as a scooter rider, the holy grail for me would be one vehicle that could combine the best of both worlds. This machine is the nearest to that ideal I have ridden yet.

As far as engine sizes, this 350 – with the performance that it returns – truly lies in the “sweet spot”.
With extremely impressive take-off from standstill that will leave all but the most committed performance car driver in the dust, and a top speed more than capable of earning you a very hefty fine on the freeway, one has to ask the question: “What more could you need?” This engine truly is a winner.

TransmissionEngine braking is more apparent than you may be used to with traditional CVT transmission. To me, that is a good thing as I use engine braking quite extensively (see Throttle Sense).
Remember that this scooter sports a new design of multi-plate wet clutch.

The suspension seemed a little on the stiff side for the city, but, given the performance of this scooter, it should make for better handling when you’re having fun in the twisties – something this scooter is more than capable of.

The 16″ front and 14″ rear wheels should add to the stability as well.

Braking is excellent with plenty of feedback. It feels more like a motorcycle than a scooter in this respect.

Conclusion

I am very, very impressed with this scooter. Everybody’s needs are, of course, different. For me, this really is the perfect match of performance and economy. It is a scooter that works perfectly in town, yet I would have no reservations taking it touring on journeys that would previously have been the domain of much larger scooters and motorcycles.

The one thing which would make this perfect? ABS.

Did I mention that engine is outstanding?

The MSRP of $5,499 in the US doesn’t make it a cheap option – especially as it doesn’t sport the prestigious “Vespa” badge, but its understated elegance, solid build quality and impressive performance goes a long way in convincing you that you would be getting your money’s worth.

If it were a car, it would be a sporty little Audi. Something with a hand-stitched steering wheel and an iPad on the passenger seat. I love it.

Until next time, Scoot Safely!


PIaggio BV 350 Rear

Exhaust

Rear Left

Rear Right

A Word to Car Drivers

Listen, car drivers kill us motorcyclists and scooter riders all the time by pulling out in front of us.

Because of this, please cut us a little slack when we’re wary around you.

To the guy pulling out of the gas station this morning: there you were, squinting into the sun, shielding your eyes with your hand. I was coming from the direction of the sun. You (of course) had no turn signal on, but I surmised you were about to turn left – from the great US turn signal.
The US turn signal, incidentally, is the two round black rubber things at the front of your car which can often – but not always – be relied upon to be pointing in the general direction you intend to turn. That’s all you’ve given me to work with… I’m sorry. Continue reading

Observation Links

Today, I’d like to talk a little about really honing our powers of observation:

Observations skills (and the use we make of the information gathered during observation) are arguably the most important skills we have to help us stay safe out there on our scooters.

Imagine a scenario where two riders encounter the same situation while doing their daily commute. For our purposes it could be any hazard situation. Let’s say – a car suddenly coming over the brow of a hill encroaching on your side of the road.
(Actually, I’m using this example because it’s a real-life situation that cropped up while I was taking my advanced motorcycle test).

For one rider, it’s a complete non-event. For the other, it’s a panic stricken, stressful moment. How could that be so?

The first thing that the rider A knew was that suddenly there was a car coming towards them on their side of the road.
Here’s what happened for rider B:

As he was riding up the hill, he noticed that there was someone walking a dog on the pavement/sidewalk on the other side of the road. So what, huh?
Well, rider B surmised that it’s entirely possible that the dog could suddenly put his head into the roadway. If the dog did that, then a vehicle coming over that hill could swerve to avoid the dog.
So, what did rider B do? He gave up his normal position, and moved to the opposite side of his lane just in case that should happen. Ultimately, that is exactly what did happen! When the car did appear over the brow of the hill – encroaching on rider B’s side of the road, it was pretty much a non-event.

What rider B did there was make an excellent use of an observation link.

Opportunities for observation links such as that outlined above surround us all the time. Learning to recognise them, pay attention to them, and act on them can make a huge difference to your riding.
Ultimately, it will make your riding a much more relaxing occupation simply because you’re avoiding many, many potentially hazardous situations before they have even developed.

Let me give you some examples of more basic observation links here, and hopefully it will stimulate you to come up with your own:

Here, a single lamp-post in the distance could indicate a junction you cannot see as yet.

 

 

 

 
Here, the unbroken line of trees or hedges in the distance would suggest a turn coming up (you obviously can’t ride straight through the trees).

 

 

 

Here, the glow of light in the distance suggests you are entering a built-up area, or are coming up on a more heavily used facility, such as a gas station.

Be on the lookout for the resultant traffic.

 

Here are some more examples where making observation links can help immensely with your riding:

  • You are passing a row of parked cars. One of them is occupied. Expect the driver to open the door..
  • You are rounding a bend in a country road, and you see hay/straw in the road. This should warn you to expect slow-moving farm traffic round the corner.
  • You smell diesel fuel. Take extra care and be on the lookout for the spillage.
  • A child is looking across the road. He/she could be looking at a friend or a pet who could be coming across at any moment.
  • Trash cans (rubbish bins) at the kerb. Collection day. Be on the lookout for the collectors.
  • The passengers in a bus you are following are beginning to stand up. The bus is about to stop.
  • A bus is waiting at a stop. Expect passengers to come out from in front of it.
  • A cat runs across the road. Be on the lookout for the dog chasing it!
  • High-speed motorcyclist (or scooterist) passes you riding recklessly. Expect his friends to be chasing!
  • A brief flash of reversing lights on a car. It is an automatic, and the driver has either put it into park, or put it into drive. Do you feel lucky today?
  • Foreign, or out-of-town license/number plate on a vehicle. The driver likely doesn’t know the area. Be prepared for sudden changes of direction, or erratic driving.
  • Overgrown vegetation on a pavement/sidewalk. Prepare for pedestrians stepping into the road.
  • On a fast road, where it is rare to see a pedestrian. You see someone walking. Look out for his/her disabled vehicle ahead.
  • Balloons on a gate-post. Be prepared for children, or generally increased pedestrian traffic.
  • Oncoming drivers have their sun-visors down. Be away they have difficulty in seeing you.

These are just a few of endless possibilities to use observation links to your advantage. You can see that what we’re trying to here is to enhance our observation skill from merely observing hazards that are occurring immediately, to applying intelligent thought to that which you see – to enable you to avoid hazards even before they present themselves to you.

Next time you’re out riding, try to come up with some of your own. You may be surprised how many you can come up with – and it’s a interesting exercise.

Until next time, Scoot Safely!

Steering, and the Great Counter-Steering Debate

Scooter Steering and Counter-Steering

So, what’s all this we keep hearing about counter-steering?

It’s a buzz phrase we tend to hear often among the scooter and motorcycle community. Some riders spend their entire life riding – and have never heard of it. Some espouse the merits of active attention to it, and some claim it’s a myth! Continue reading

SYM Classic 150 Review. Back To My Youth.

You can be forgiven for wondering why – in the first of my series of scooter reviews – I’m talking about a motorcycle.
There is method in my madness, however, for the little gem I’d like to talk about today carries a name that is very familiar to most scooter riders: SYM.

That’s right. SYM, the Taiwanese company famous for such well-made scooters as the Mio and the MAXSYM, have released a little motorcycle. Continue reading

Group Riding and the Marker System

With the onset of spring, and the great riding weather we’re all looking forward to, my thoughts have turned to the many arranged group rides which will be taking place all over the world.

Riding in groups is a great way to enjoy our scooters, and I always find that the scooter community is an extremely friendly and sociable group of people. Group riding can be a lot of fun.

However, my experience has been that group riding continues to be one of the more dangerous activities we can participate in with scooters and motorcycles. Continue reading