Monsoon Season and the Failure of the High Viz Jacket

Was looking a bit dorky and walked to the local coffee shop a half block away from work to procure some hot chocolate for our handbell choir event this week in my brighter-than-the-sun high viz rain jacket.  Two cars almost ran me over.  I could still see my work building and two whole vehicles didn’t see me and could have flattened me.  As a pedestrian.

My high viz jacket makes me feel fairly invincible as a pedestrian.  I’m not stupid.  I look at the cars to make sure they’re stopping and that they appear to see me.  How could they not see this?:

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I thought the first guy in the truck saw me -I even waved- and I didn’t realize until my heels were in jeopardy that there was problem.  He looked apologetic at least.  Within 6 feet another truck turning out of the same spot (with a stop sign) nearly took out my toes.   Another apologetic wave.

I actually wasn’t mad.  It’s easy to forget to look out for pedestrians.  I drive a car, too.  But riding and walking in hostile environments has made me aware of the underlying issues in such interactions.  Also, I like to read books like Straphanger by Taras Grescoe and watch films like Urbananized by Gary Hustwit that challenge the often unquestioned supremacy of the automobile.  Good thing doing yoga has made me a more compassionate person, too.

I hope that nearly running over a person in a cross walk wearing high viz yellow when they were supposed to have stopped was the little jolt each needed to pay better attention while driving.

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“Invigorating” or soggy?

It seems like wet coast winters are getting colder the last few years.  That crisp, clear, and dry kind of day with brilliant sunshine.  Not the October to April uninterrupted drudgery of rain and soggy everything that has people in a mood where the only thing they can manage is to complain that IT HASN’T STOPPED RAINING.

I spent two winters in Edmonton, AB while I was going to the U of A for my Master’s in Library and Information Studies.  Unused to the brightness, I sometimes wore sunglasses inside my apartment.  Still, I liked how the snow was dry and roads generally were not slippery (except for that one year that there was a frozen ice sheet and all of the snow landed on top of it all winter with no chance of melting until April or May, of course).  Invigorating!

This relatively new properly cold weather gets me excited about snowshoeing and sunny days and not being sopping wet whenever I try go anywhere.  Dog people walk no matter how horrific the rain.

We are into our second stretch of cold and clear.  Your clothing strategy for getting to work warm is certainly different.  I got quite used to the cold, dry weather and started scheming about hand muffs and ninja turtle gloves to combat the tips of my fingers going numb.  I also schemed about adding more fake fur into the inside of my Tucano Urbano Termoscud around where it meets my lap and the sides of my legs.  (I am seldom too warm in the winter.)

Crunchy leaves are a big thing to me:

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Something in glorious full bloom in early November with a perfect blue sky:

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When the rain started it was all about being florescent in the mist, rain pants and rain jackets meeting seamlessly, and hydrophobic coatings on my windshield and face shield.

A change is as good as a rest, but if i had to choose I would choose the cold, clear weather.

I had sole custody of the car last week (a rainy one), and only managed to psych myself up to ride by Wednesday.  On Wednesday I promptly dropped my helmet on the ground and broke my poor face shield, which destroyed the rest of my riding week as driving rain in the eyes is a safety concern.  Face shield is now replaced and has a better hinge so no annoying semi-flapping now.

Are you a wet or cold weather commuter?

Probably not so fixable

Thud, snap!  Helmet falling from eye height shelf in my office to the ground, the visor that I never really cared for much broken on the one side.  Not gonna work.  Oh crapsicles.  I am not so delusional that I will try to glue this back together.  Having it give way on the road seems like a terrible idea.  (Epoxying my rubber boots last month DID teach me something -epoxy cannot fix everything.)

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Not a quick trip to the store after work, this one.  Will have to make replacing a priority this weekend.  Made it home fairly uncomfortably.  The rain was driving in around my glasses.  I hunkered behind my tall windshield, my back and shoulders complaining.  The rain, the different visibility through the windshield, and the 5pm darkness were a bit scary.  I realized that hunching threw my centre of balance way off -we are supposed to be tall in the seat to be well balanced as my parking lot cone test taught me!  I will be taking advantage of the car tomorrow.

An aspiring all-season scooter commuter

I moved to Nanaimo almost 2 years ago.  While I loved many things about growing up in North Vancouver, I am definitely appreciating some of the features of (Vancouver) Island Life.  Like the ability to use roadways without people trying to kill you.

Every time I talk to my parents they talk about something craptastic that happened to them on the way home from work in Metro Van or (my dad) how much the traffic has increased in volume. Though this gets tiring to listen to and genuinely stresses me out, I believe that the traffic has worsened in the last 2 years since I’ve moved.  I don’t know that I would have survived learning to ride over there.

My commute is a fairly pleasant 20-25 minute affair, entirely composed of Old Island Highway traffic lights with some faster travel of up to 80-90 km/hr (wheeeee…!).  It was relatively unintimidating to build my skills on and is predictable and steady.  In 4 months I’ve only sounded my very loud after-market horn once and boy, did it work!  (Wolo, installed by previous owner.)

Since I’m not as worried about being mowed down I have been focusing my energies on getting warm and dry gear.  I am generally a cold person and cling to the Persian saying of “cold hands, warm heart” to feel less reptilian.  My wife wears a polar fleece with the underarm vents open, and I wear a merino wool shirt under a polar fleece with a down jacket on top to not freeze my butt off.New Termoscud

Items purchased this Fall:

  • Highlighter yellow rain jacket that fits over my armoured jacket, Scott’s, 3 way stretch from Tuff City Powersports here in town (about $95)
  • Black rain pants that fit over my armoured pants, same as jacket (about $85)
  • Tucano Urbano Termoscud lap blanket/”pensioner blanket” from SIP Scootershop online (97 Euros + shipping and duty)
  • Prima Windscreen (Tall, Clear) for Vespa LX/GT from ScooterworksUSA online ($114 + shipping and duty)

Service and install done this Fall:

  • Oil and filter
  • Installed windscreen
  • Installed heated grips (from Tuff City, a Christmas gift from the year before that never quite got installed)
  • Tire pressure adjustment

It felt awesome to have the cash to actually get some good gear.  I was previously precariously employed for 4.5 years (on-call casual hours, contracts with no benefits -don’t get me started…).  Now I can invest in my comfort and safety to have a lighter environmental footprint and save a bunch of money by not having another car in our family.

From the beginning

I’m not sure exactly how I became utterly obsessed with getting a Vespa but I do know it happened in the last year. Perhaps it was seeing them in movies like We Are the Mods, or perhaps it was the romance of embracing a stylish and efficient European mode of transport. The things I most appreciate about my scooter at this point is that it is so beautiful and fun to ride. (The cheapness and convenience of taking it on BC Ferries is pretty darned appealing as well!)

It had to be a Vespa. Nothing else made me want to get on and brave the rain. For months I read specs from Vespa Metro and Urban Wasp in Vancouver, got my hands on any book that wasn’t a service manual from the library, and trolled Craigslist for potential scooter soul mates. The used offerings were not great. I knew pretty quickly that a 50cc scoot was not going to work for me. My main goals were to be able to ride to work and take the ferry. I could conceivably take Marine Dr. to the ferry (and I’d be unlikely to get sick like on the bus) but getting off of the north shore on a 50cc would be dangerous. Lion’s Gate might be okay if no psycho drivers tried to rear end me going 53.5 km/hr on the causeway (unlikely!) but the Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge demands more speed. More power also allows you to nip out of the way better. I knew that my parents (bless them for caring) would be less upset at the idea of their cautious librarian first born daughter riding something with more oomph.

The verdict: 150 or 300 cc engine.

Having never ridden actually ridden a scooter, it seemed only right to give it a whirl part way through my research. “Oh, yeah! This might be terrifying and not something I want to invest money and my life into!” I have been driving cars (mostly a manual), the family’s big old Chevy Silverado, and ATVs over my 10+ years driving. I am also good on a bicycle, which my motorcycle racing dental hygienist told me was good for getting the feel of leaning.  (Yes, I have the coolest hygienist ever.)

My lovely partner indulged me in the summer and we rented two little 50cc scoots from Tuff City Powersports in Nanaimo. I loved it, she tolerated the exercise and fought off her waves of nausea and sense of foreboding gained from a bad experience in Greece involving a pothole. I practiced owning the lane and going almost 55 km/hr on the picturesque roads of neighbouring Wellington. She wanted me to ride by the side of the road so people didn’t take me out trying to pass but nobody did as I was going a laboured 50. We returned the scoots after a quick and cheap top up of gas, leaving me with a wide smile and a plan slightly more grounded in reality.

Armed with the knowledge that I could indeed ride a scooter and that I could do so happily and comfortably, I continued my research and costing out my options. Since I hadn’t actually seen any over 50cc Vespas for sale, I assumed I’d have to shell out a bunch on money for a new scoot and the freight, etc. Very expensive. I even considered a new Saga Stella made with the old 70s Vespa factory moulds but was unsure that a manual scooter was a good idea for me. The price was compelling: only $4000 compared to over $6000, plus awesome colours like Dijon and the option of a side car (not my personal taste for design but the dogs would have loved it!) Plus the sales guy at Tuff City was really helpful and low pressure. As an underemployed young person getting by because her parents’ let her live their ground level basement suite, cost was definitely a factor. I was unsure what the compromise would be because I didn’t want to get a machine that I would want to sell pretty quickly due to operation issues (the manual Stella) or lack of power (the plentiful 50cc Vespas on Craigslist).

Skip ahead to October. I’ve talked to anyone who will listen about Vespas and am possibly looking insane. My coworker whose husband rides motorcycles is very supportive and offers their company buying one. My partner is worried I’ll be crushed or smashed into a bunch of pieces on the road. Ditto for my too proximal parents. My brother is jealous because he sold out his two-wheeled dreams for a measly $15 to cover the cost of his motorcycle knowledge test in exchange for a promise to never use the license. Some people suggest a small motorcycle but I have no desire to ride a motorcycle. They just don’t do it for me. Their centre of gravity is higher and I’d have to navigate gears and a clutch while not being killed in traffic. No thanks. And they’re simply not pretty like Vespas. The aesthetic is a large part of the charm and I want to look like myself while getting a car off of the road.

There isn’t a lot left to learn in order to take the plunge. I live in hope that I’ll either come into some money or a good used scoot will show up.

And it does!  Three 200+cc scoots show up all at once on good ole Craigslist.  Two are black.  Black is unappealing.  If I were buying new I would have gone for white or orange for visibility.  And the other is Daring Plum…

I can tell immediately from the glamour shots taken by a lake that this is one loved machine.  The ad is well-organized and even has a link to how loud the after market horn is.  I am in love.

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VespaSM1

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It has all of the modifications that I as a safety princess would want: louder horn to wake up drivers and a brighter headlamp.  The luggage roll is divine and the price is about half that of a new scoot due to the 2006 vintage.  I go to the bank to get financing and hope it’s still for sale.

More coming up in The Purchase.