15 January 2010

One newbie's guide on how to survive wet days on Vespas

I know the BBC aren't actually Irish but hey, nobody's perfect...

So, the worst of the snow looks like it's all over. Everything should return to normal pretty soon, we're told. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, normal means welcoming back those dark, cloudy and rainy days.

And, with that comes mocking laughter from idiotic pedestrians, tighter looking lycra on cyclists and strange looks from the hairy/greasy motorcyclist variety (nice people, seriously).

Nice ride mate. I have one of those too-in the shed! Look, they're great in the summer but in this weather...

Looks up in the sky and speeds off as the lights barely turn green. No s**t, Sherlock?

The motorcyclist is right though. Having come off the Vespa at least 3 times, 2 of which were wet riding related (none of which were my fault, really), I have developed some ideas on how to avoid coming off a Vespa on a wet day. The Vespa after all, was never designed to withstand monsoon-type conditions.

1. Only the brave
Or the demented. First of all, gauge for yourself whether it's worth the risk. Whether or not you have enough skills and experience to control your Vespa in wet weather. If you hear that little voice in your head that says IT'S NOT SAFE then, it most probably isn't. Leave the Vespa at home for another drier day.

2. The weatherman tells porky pies
Check the weather around where you live first by simply looking out the window or walking out a few steps from your front door. It might say no snow or ice on the telly but there might still be ice on the streets of your estate. The council might have used some low-grade grit around your area which make driving conditions more treachorous. If you're not sure, revert to #1 above and go from there.

3. Try the Power Ranger look instead
You might think that the open-face helmet and the over-sized parka completes your Mod look on the Vespa but think again. An open-face helmet is an open invitation for the pouring rain to hit you in the face like bullets, temporarily blinding you (not a good idea while in city traffic) while that parka (or similarly unsuitable jacket) might get drenched and add weight unnecessarily. Equally dangerous is a full-face helmet that fogs up quickly. Make sure your visors are properly cleaned and that you get properly ventilated helmets to avoid/reduce fogging. Also, a hi-viz vest/tabbard might not actually get you on the front cover of GQ but it does catch the eye of motorists especially ones driving with their elbows while talking on the mobile and trying to put on their mascara at the same time.

4. Check your brakes
You should probably do this every time you get on your Vespa (or any other road-going vehicle) but more so on a wet day. Vespas are one of the most reliable machines known to man but you never know who could have messed with your ride while it was parked in the shed/driveway/garage overnight or something as simple as a bolt somewhere coming loose. Worn out brakes don't help either so, get them replaced as soon as possible.

5. Pimp your brakes
The drum brakes on most older Vespas are useless at best. Ideally, one might want to upgrade to a state-of-the-art Grimeca disc set-up or add some bling with ScootRS' own brakes for the PX. Either option is going to cost you a fortune. Personally, until I get enough money to upgrade to a disc brake set-up, I'll survive with changing to all-weather type tyres instead like the Heidenau K58 or Schwalbe's Weatherman. The K58's I use have improved my Vespa's braking by a mile compared to so-called performance tyres like the Michelin S1 (probably the most overrated tyre in the history of scootering).

6. Stop that scooter
Having good brakes doesn't automatically stop your Vespa when needed. You'll need to learn how to use them properly as well. I've learnt the hard way. Some people say it should be 7:3 ratio (front:back) of pressure on the brakes. Some say it's 4:1, others says it's 6:4 or even 1:0. Whatever it is, when you need to brake, you won't have the time to go Hmmm am I doing 4:1 or is it 7:3? The key is to get comfortable with how your Vespa brakes. Too much pressure and you might swerve and get acquainted with wet tarmac or the kerb. Too little and you're a loud thud at the back of that white Transit van.

7. Slippery when wet
Wet leaves, diesel/oil spills and man-hole covers on the roads are like booby traps for Vespas or any of its two-wheeled cousins. Watch out for these things and try to avoid them as much as possible. Might also try to avoid those painted directional arrows on the road. Those things should be made illegal under some sort of EU directive or something. Could the powers-that-be not use some sort of matt paint instead?

8. Keep it straight
Don't make any sudden movements. Don't swerve if you don't have to. The straighter your Vespa is kept on the road the better chances you have of staying on it and reaching your destination. Roundabouts are a disaster when it's dry (especially those annoying little ones that no one is actually sure why they exist) so, it's even worse when it's wet. There must be some sort of proper method of negotiating these pesky roundabouts but my personal advice is to just go slow when you see one.

9. That Micra ahead of you knows better
OK, that car in front of you might have slowed down to two miles an hour and is driven by a half-blind granny. You're just itching to break loose, cut all the stalled/slowed-down cars and yell FREEDOM!!! Be patient though. Bad things happen in bad weather. A fallen tree. A car might have broken down in the middle of the road. Flooding. You might not see those things but granny certainly does. Just be extra cautious and keep your ego in check.

So, that's it. I tried to make it to 10 but damn it! I just ran out of ideas. Maybe someone out there has any other tips to share?

Ride safely.

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