Saturday, August 30, 2008

Best maps for riding

If you're not familiar with Mad Maps, you should be. The company sells a variety of printed maps that show you excellent back roads and scenic byways, with accurate mileage counts and helpful notes about roadhouses, attractions, and so on.

Map Maps Regional Scenic Tours Florida
They have regional maps, state maps (above: Florida), rally runs, and a series called "Get Outta Town" that shows you several nice rides around a selected major U.S. city. I bought the Atlanta one (see below) to help me navigate around Atlanta on my recent ride from Florida to Tennessee.

Mad Maps Get Outta Town AtlantaOne other awesome map resource I discovered while planning my trip was the U.S. Highways Web site. You could spend hours here exploring the non-Interstate highways of the United States, including historic Route 66, among others.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

First-person account of the MSF course

Patrick Beeson lives in Tennessee. He took an MSF Basic Rider Course and thereby earned his Tennessee motorcycle license. Here's his blog post about his experience taking the course:

MSF Basic Rider Course teaches safety, skills
The MSF Basic Rider Course is definitely immersion based. And I think this is a good thing because you can talk about how to ride as much as you want, but it's very different when you are sitting on the bike.
I took this course myself in 2003, in Florida, and I always recommend it to new riders. It trains you in really valuable skill areas that could save your life.

I'm always amazed when people treat getting a new scooter like they are simply getting a bicycle and can hop on and ride. Even a 50cc scooter goes faster than a bicycle. And you're in the middle of traffic on a scooter -- not clinging to the shoulder on the side. People in cars tend not to see you. You need to be hyper-alert when you are on two wheels.

The MSF course gives you a good introduction to riding defensively, to protect yourself.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Scooter Owners' FAQ

I just found this really nice FAQ (list of frequently asked questions) at the Scootin' Old Skool blog (which is a nice blog, by the way!).

Orin O’Neill discusses helmets, licenses, protective clothing, the MSF class (take it), how to put your scooter inside your minivan (yes, really), what to do when your Vespa refuses to start, and MORE.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Scooter buying advice and tips - FAQ

Answers to some frequently asked questions about buying a scooter:

1) What brand of scooter is best?

The well-known brands all have their own strong points: Vespa, Honda, Yamaha, Aprilia, etc. I met a lot of people at AmeriVespa who LOVE their Genuine brand scooters -- these are models called Stella and Buddy. I have a friend who rides a Kymco and recommends it to everyone -- very low price, but reliable.

Be wary of buying a used scooter if you are inexperienced or not mechanically inclined. A bad scooter could get you killed. Is it worth a couple hundred dollars?

Think long and hard about buying a mail-order scooter. Can you really build a gas-powered, engine-driven vehicle from parts in a box? This is not a bicycle, dude.

2) Do I need a motorcycle license to operate a scooter?

In Florida, for any scooter with an engine size of more than 50cc, you need to have a motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license. Check the laws for your own state.

Even without the motorcycle endorsement, in Florida the 50cc scooters must have a tag and registration.

3) How fast does it go?

Generally speaking:
  • 50cc = 40 mph
  • 150cc = 60 mph
  • 200cc = 75 mph
  • 250cc = 80 mph
  • 400cc = 95 mph
4) How many miles per gallon does it get?

It totally depends on the make and model. My Vespa LX 150 easily gets 60 mpg -- but the manufacturer claims it gets 80 mpg. The ethanol in U.S. gasoline is reducing the mileage you can expect to get. (Yes, pay more for gas that doesn't take you as far. Grrr ...) Also, the manual says we should use a high-octane gasoline in Vespas, so I'm paying for Super or Ultra. Other scooters will have different requirements.

Still, I fill the tank about once every two weeks and pay less than $8 to do it.

5) How much does a scooter cost?

Again, check the make and model. Engine size is also a factor in price.

A 125cc Genuine Buddy is $2,699 (MSRP).

A Kymco People 50cc is $2,449 (MSRP), and the 125cc is $2,999 (MSRP). Only $500 difference.

A Vespa LX 150cc (if you can find one!) is $4,399 (MSRP), and the smaller engine, 50cc, is $3,299. Yeah, a big price difference there!

Meanwhile, a 250cc motorcycle, such as Honda's popular Rebel, goes for $3,199 (MSRP) -- new. Honda's Nighthawk (250cc) is $3,699.

6) So why not just buy a "real motorcycle" instead?

Ahhh ... that's a very good question. Let's just say that there are plenty of people who have ridden motorcycles, and loved riding them, and now they ride a scooter instead. There are people who got on a scooter and never wanted to ride anything else. There are even people who sold a scooter, bought a motorcycle, and ... then sold the motorcycle and bought another scooter.

It's not about shifting gears. I used to ride a Honda Shadow 750cc, and shifting gears was no problem at all. My Vespa is lighter, more nimble, more responsive, and -- best of all -- more fun to ride!

Some more advice:

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book review: 'I See by My Outfit'

An odd title, sure enough, but don't let that deter you if you ever dreamed of crossing America on two wheels -- with your best friend by your side, of course.

Peter S. Beagle made this journey in 1963 and wrote the book, a memoir, not long afterward. He and his sidekick, Phil, set out from New York City too early in the year (it was far too cold for two guys on scooters who hadn't even thought to pack long underwear), but there was a woman waiting for Pete in California, and he needed to get on the road.

The scooters are Heinkels, German, "as rare as kangaroos in this country." Their names are Jenny (Pete's) and Couchette (Phil's).

I have to confess, I probably picked the best possible time to read this book -- while I was making a much shorter solo scooter trip from Florida to Tennessee. I really looked forward to my nightly meeting with Pete and Phil and finding out what interesting characters they had met on the next leg of their trip.

It's not a travelogue, and the boys aren't sightseeing, but like all good road trip stories, this one gives you a fine sense of the country, the tedium, the distance, weather, friendship, and the strains a friendship will bear. Two things I think will stay with me for a long time: The image of Phil passing Pete and crying out, "Seventy! Seventy!" (I know how that feels!), and the afternoon they spent in a pawn shop, playing guitars and telling stories with some old men.

Some people called them beatniks, and they called themselves "fuzzy" -- bearded and shaggy, 12 years after Kerouac and much less worldly. It's a modest story, warm and tolerant, like your best friend's arm around your shoulder after a long, hard day.

Buy it at

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Scooters selling like hotcakes

Editorial cartoon by Ed Hall (detail):

Click to see full version

Click to see the full version -- this is only a detail.

A recent USA Today story by Chris Woodyard says:
While scooters made up about 15% of all street-licensable motorcycles in 2007, their U.S. sales zoomed 66% in the first half of the year, highest of any segment in the motorcycle market, the Motorcycle Industry Council says. Some scooter makers say sales boomed when gas hit $4 a gallon: Piaggio Group Americas, which makes Vespa, saw sales rise 174% in July compared with a year ago.
At AmeriVespa, Piaggio mechanic and instructor Rolf Soltau explained that U.S. Vespa dealers attend a meeting once or twice a year at which they tell Piaggio how many scooters they expect to sell in the coming year. What you say is what you get. So if dealers did not anticipate the leap in gasoline prices and the subsequent spike in interest in scooters, well, there's nothing Piaggio can do about that.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Road trip: Florida to Tennessee

Here's the route I followed from Florida through Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July. I wanted to travel about 150 to 200 miles per day on smaller roads, and definitely NO INTERSTATES. Scooter style.

Northbound Day 1: July 20

Click for captionFrom Gainesville, Florida:
  • State Road 26, to Fanning Springs
  • U.S. 19 (big road) through Cross City, Perry, and Monticello, Florida (Monticello is about 30 miles from Tallahassee)
  • U.S. 319 (at Thomasville, Georgia)
  • U.S. 319 Business to Moultrie, Georgia
Lunch: Cafe Marmalade, Monticello. Sunday buffet with fried chicken, Brunswick stew, greens, cornbread. (Who says Florida is not the South?) Not bad.

Slept: At the Barber-Tucker Bed & Breakfast in Moultrie.

Notes: Monticello has a big white courthouse smack in the center of a roundabout in the middle of town. The dome on top has four clocks, a style of public building I saw in a lot of Georgia towns along the way. Moultrie's downtown is largely intact (Early 1900s style?), nice looking, but lacking interesting shops and restaurants. There's a gigantic magnolia tree in front of their domed courthouse. This stretch of U.S. 19 is a boring road, but smooth and fast.

Miles: 185

Northbound Day 2: July 21

Click for captionFrom Moultrie, Georgia:
  • State Road 133 (about 30 miles) to Albany, Georgia (nice road!)
  • U.S. 19/Liberty Expressway (about 7 miles of an Interstate-like highway) around Albany, then north on a smaller U.S. 19, to Leesburg
  • State Roads 195 and 377 to Americus (good roads)
  • State Road 30
  • State Road 41 to Buena Vista (great lunch!), and then Geneva, then Manchester
  • State Road 190 (I missed this turn in Manchester and went straight to Warm Springs by following the signs, then took State Road 85 south from Warm Springs to get on 190 and ride west to Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park
Lunch: Aunt Mary's Country Kitchen, in Buena Vista, had awesome meat loaf, greens, beans, and cornbread. It was packed with people.

Dinner: Mac's Bar-B-Q, Warm Springs

Slept: At the Mountain Top Inn and Resort on S.R. 190.

Notes: In Americus, a lot of spectacular Victorian-style homes; beautiful old brick public buildings in the center of town. Warm Springs, small, charming, with a vintage motorcycle museum. Most shops closed Mondays. Did not go over to Pine Mountain (sounded so touristy).

Miles: 182

Northbound Day 3: July 22

Click for captionFrom FDR State Park, Georgia:
  • State Road 190
  • North on County Line Church Road (I had to stop for a flock of pheasants milling about on the road; they ran and then flew in confusion, as if no one had ever disturbed them before), through Durand
  • State Road 18 (special nice one), through Greenville
  • U.S. 27 Alt, to Newnan, then Whitesburg
  • State Road 5, to Douglasville
  • State Road 92
  • U.S. 41/Cobb Parkway
  • Red Top Mountain Road (toward I-75)
Breakfast: Foxx Den, Greenville (nice people, great latte)

Lunch: Cinco de Mayo, Douglasville (very yummy food; close to I-20)

Slept: At the Red Top Mountain Lodge (in the state park)

Notes: In Newnan, more wonderful Victorian houses, including this one. Some construction on U.S. 41 seems to have eliminated a clear sign to the state park. Follow signs to I-75, but don't get on it. The road with the ramps to the highway is the road to the park. A long bridge leads to the park entrance, which is impossible to miss. U.S. 41 was the only big road today -- realy nice riding! Spent all day July 23 in the park and nearby Cartersville.

Miles: 130 (includes a round-trip detour to Kennesaw to visit the Vespa dealership there)

Northbound Day 4: July 24

Click for captionFrom Red Top Mountain State Park, Georgia:
  • U.S. 41/Cobb Parkway, to Calhoun
  • State Road 136 Connector (clear signs to 136)
  • State Road 136, toward Sugar Valley, then Villanow (nice road; runs through Chattahoochee National Forest)
  • State Road 151
  • State Road 95
  • U.S. 27, through the Chickamauga Battlefield and Fort Oglethorpe (I made a wrong turn here and got onto U.S. 2, which added at least 20 miles to my intended route -- grr! I wound up on State Road 41 going into Chattanooga.)
Lunch: Greg’s Restaurant, 12560 N. Highway 2, Chickamauga -- awesome Southern chow. I had a country fried steak, macaroni and cheese, and fresh ripe tomatoes. The waitress assured me the mac&cheese was great by explaining, "We use real Velveeta." It hadn't occurred to me that there might be fake (?) Velveeta.

Slept: At the Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Notes: Stayed in Chattanooga from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning. It's a great mid-size city with a lot going on downtown, a nice-looking river going through it, some cool old bridges, quite a decent art museum, etc. I can recommend Lupi's Pizza on Broad Street, La Altena Mexican restaurant on Main Street (first-rate!), and the Long Horn Restaurant (really a diner) for breakfast anytime. I'm really sorry I missed Rock Point Books, near Lupi's on Broad Street. I found it Sunday evening after they had closed. Their windows were so enticing. I missed visiting the aquarium too. (Too busy looking at scooters!)

Miles: 113

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