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Winter Riding? No Problem! – Klim Balaclava

By lem at 8:00 pm on February 10, 2009 | 1 Comment

A couple of years ago I posted a short entry entitled Riding in Cold Weather, designed to alleviate fears that come with winter riding. In fact, here is exactly what I said about cold weather:

I groan every time I see the forecast calling for temperatures in the mid-30’s. The truth is that once I get on my scooter I tend not to notice the cold temperatures. Sure, riding on a sunny, 70-degree day is optimal, but I’m thrilled enough that I can be out enjoying the wind in my face while zipping around DC. Of course my legs go a little numb, but to me it’s totally worth it!

Obviously I wrote this before I changed jobs, back when my commute was 3-5 minutes and the maximum speed between stoplights was 25 MPH. Now my commute is 10-15 minutes each way, and part of it involves roads where the speed limit is 55 MPH. Needless to say, hopping on the Vespa when the temperature is below freezing and traveling at these speeds for this amount of time requires some preparation.

There are four essential pieces of clothing that I do not leave home without, and this entry covers the first of these:

Klim Balaclava

Klim BalaclavaA friend from the cycling world introduced me to the balaclava, a ski mask that is thin enough to fit underneath a helmet. Unlike a scarf, the balaclava will stay in place, covering the nose, mouth, chin and neck. I found that most balaclavas are designed for cyclists, and allow too much cold air to get through (to help keep a sweaty biker cool). My search brought me to Klim, a maker of snowmobile accessories, which seemed the perfect cold-weather equivalent of a motorcycle or Vespa.

Enter the Klim Balaclava. The upper portion is made of cooler material (Coolmax, according to the product specs) to keep heat from being trapped in the helmet. The exposed bottom portion is made from Gore Windstopper material that, like the Gore-Tex insulation used in winter coats, is extremely light weight but very effective at keeping cold wind from hitting skin. You can pick up your own Klim Balaclava here.

The drawbacks? Balaclavas tend to project exhaled, moist air up into any eye wear or face shield you may have. When in motion, this isn’t a large problem because enough cool, dry air is coming in to keep fog from forming. However if stopped at a red light, the visor/glasses can fog quickly. You can help avoid this by exhaling through the mouth, or lifting the visor when stopped.

Check back later this week for the continuation of this series, Winter Riding? No Problem!, when we talk riding jackets.

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Almost Back

By lem at 8:37 pm on January 27, 2009 | No comments

After a two-year hiatus from the blog, I’m writing to assure you that we will be back soon. Subscribe to the feed, bookmark the site, and stay tuned!

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Approved for Jury Duty

By lem at 2:11 am on November 8, 2006 | 5 Comments

Last week I served on a jury in DC Superior Court, and while the weather was a bit brisk in the mornings, it was sunny enough to ride my Vespa each day to and from the Court House.

The first obvious benefit was the ease of parking. There is no public parking on the streets immediately around the Court House (it’s all blocked off for police cars and court officials), and even the jury summons states that using public transportation is highly recommended. I was able to chain my Vespa to a street sign directly across the street from the Court House, about three blocks closer than the nearest Metro station.

Second less obvious benefit is the actual cost. For me to ride the Metro each way during rush hour costs $2.80, totaling $5.60 per day. The Court provides transit reimbursement of $4 per day to help “offset the costs”. Not only does their stipend not cover the total cost of transit, but that’s more than enough money to supply gas for almost two weeks of commuting on my Vespa. After five days of service for the court, I earned $20 of gas money that should keep me well fueled for the rest of the year. Thanks, DC!

Filed under: Travels5 Comments »


A Whole New Network

By lem at 2:34 pm on October 14, 2006 | 1 Comment

About four months before I actually bought my Vespa, I did a lot of research. I visited the local Vespa Boutique and spent hours Googling for anything I could soak up. The one thing that really stood out is that everyone with a Vespa absolutely loves it. With most other products, people seem more compelled to write a review when they have something negative to say, and their review turns into outright slander against the product and the company. With the Vespa, I found very few negative comments and they were all nestled deep within generally favorable reviews. I really love my Vespa!

And apparently many others would love to love a Vespa! Something that nobody mentioned in all of my research was that when you have a Vespa people who would otherwise be curious onlookers will walk right up and ask you about it. While some like to strike up a lengthy conversation about scootering, I would say that 90% of the time people ask two questions: “How much did you pay for that?” and “What kind of gas mileage do you get?”.

The first number usually takes people by surprise, but I am always quick to point out that the Vespa is manufactured in and imported from Italy, that it has a great maintenance record (people drive their Vespas long after their cars are rusted out in a junkyard somewhere), and that I save money on gas and parking. Commuters pay up to $20 per day to park in downtown Washington DC, and a year of that will buy almost two Vespa LX 150s at list price. The gas mileage figures also get a big grin from most people, especially those who are used to fueling their large cars and SUVs.

Owning a Vespa has certainly made me more social, and it makes me wish that Vespa had a referral program. If I had little business cards to pass out that had the address of the local Vespa dealer, I’m sure that the store would receive far more inquiries. After all, word of mouth is the best lead generation method and having your current customers doing all of the sales for you is a dream come true.

Filed under: Travels1 Comment »


Battery and 2000 Miles

By lem at 6:12 pm on October 10, 2006 | 1 Comment

Last Thursday I called to have my Vespa towed into the local service center. Since the towing is free (covered under warranty) I figured it was better to do it that way than risk another kick start. I had also just hit 2000 miles on my Vespa a few days before, which means it was time for another service.

The towing was fairly smooth. I called an 800 number, several hours later a guy met me at my house and used a ramp to put the Vespa in the back of his pickup truck. I gave him my information, and he was off to the service center. A few days later I hadn’t heard anything from the Vespa service center, so I called to find out how things were going.

Apparently my battery was fine, it was just not charged. My trips recently have been so short that the engine has been unable to keep it properly charged. They suggested either taking long rides on the weekend to help the battery recoup, or periodically using a Battery Tender to trickle charge the battery.

The tread of rear tire was also a bit worn, so they replaced it. They suggested that when carrying passengers a lot that it’s a good idea to add a few extra PSI’s of air to each tire. I also received the regular maintenance and oil change that happens at 2000 miles. I’m happy to report that my Vespa is back in excellent shape and running smoothly!

Filed under: Maintenance1 Comment »


How To Kick Start a Vespa

By lem at 9:02 am on September 28, 2006 | 36 Comments

After what happened last night, I decided to peruse Google in search of instructions for kick starting a Vespa LX 150. I was surprised that the results were fairly light, and other than a few warnings about possible damage to the engine casing, I didn’t find very much on the subject. Based on my own experiences, and the little scraps I found on Google, I have decided to write the definitive guide “HOWTO: Kick Start Your Vespa”.

What good would free advice be without a few caveats? First my Vespa is a 2006 model LX 150, so people with older models may have an entirely different experience. Second, I’m not an expert but am merely trying to provide some help to anyone who may be in need. Please keep the hate mail to a minimum! Third, I’ve been told my the Vespa service folks that the kick start is merely aesthetic and is mostly non-functional, especially in situations where the battery is dead or nearly dead. While I don’t disagree, my results obviously vary from theirs.

You’ll most likely need the assistance of a second person to make this happen. The reasons will become apparent soon enough. Without further delay, here goes:

  1. Turn the key to the on position so the headlight is illuminated.
  2. Make sure the Vespa is on the kickstand. Since the kick start and the kickstand are located in close proximity, it is physically impossible to have a successful kick start without the bike being on the stand.
  3. Have the person who will be using the kick start level (we’ll call him the “kicker” for now) stand on the side of the Vespa with the kick start and the “helper” (that second person I mentioned) on the side with the throttle.
  4. Unlike using the electric starter, DO NOT grasp the brake handles. The brakes must not be engaged.
  5. Have the kicker make complete movements of the kick start lever with their foot while at the same time the helper is gently opening the throttle (no more than halfway) to give the engine some gas.
  6. Continue to kick and open the throttle until the engine kicks over.

It may take several attempts to get the coordination just right, and the kicker’s kicking leg is sure to get tired and sore very quickly. But in a pinch, this can save you from an expensive tow. Of course, you’ll want to drive the Vespa immediately to a place where either you or a Vespa service person can diagnose the cause of the electric starter failure.

Please leave a comment if this has helped you, or if you have further insight to offer. I’d love to update these instructions as warranted!

Filed under: Maintenance, Tips and Tricks36 Comments »


Dead Battery?

By lem at 11:25 pm on September 27, 2006 | 6 Comments

I’ve noticed for the past few weeks that the electric starter on my Vespa LX 150 has been a little sluggish. I had to hold the button longer to get the engine to kick over properly. While I didn’t consider this to be normal behavior, I wasn’t sure if it was something worth making the drive out to the Vespa service center for.

And then tonight, my girlfriend and I were downtown picking up dinner at Lindy’s with a plan of taking it home to eat. When I went to start the Vespa, I noticed the headlight was considerably dimmer, and the starter was barely cranking. Immediately I recognized the problem: a nearly dead battery.

My girlfriend is an AAA member, and after waiting for over two hours for them to show up we decided to try kick starting the Vespa. When I first bought it, I read the instruction manual cover to cover (well, at least the English portions) and the only part about kick starting said something about why it was a bad idea. But I figured getting stranded downtown DC at 11 PM on a weeknight couldn’t be much of a better option. After several attempts, we figured out how to get the kick start to work properly and we were off.

I know that like cars, motorcycle batteries charge themselves while the engine is running. We drove around for a while and parked back at home. My hope is there will be enough charge to get the Vespa started in the morning. We’ll see how it goes in a few hours!

Filed under: Maintenance6 Comments »


1000 Miles!

By lem at 5:10 pm on May 29, 2006 | 2 Comments

Today somewhere in the middle of the Key Bridge (connecting Washington, DC with Arlington, VA over the Potomac River) my Vespa hit 1000 miles. It may not sound too impressive, but that’s a lot of city miles! Given that I bought the Vespa in January (four months ago), that’s about nine miles travelled per day. Each of those miles have definitely been a joy!

Filed under: Travels2 Comments »


Trip to Glen Echo

By lem at 5:02 pm on | No comments

Recently Erin and I went out to Glen Echo, MD (near Bethesda, MD) to have brunch and walk around. Glen Echo Park started out as a Trolley Park in the early part of the 20th century, located at the end of Washington, DC’s #20 trolley line. In recent years the National Park Service has done considerable work in repairing and modernizing Glen Echo Park. If they added some public transit, I have no doubt it could return to its former glory as an escape for the urbanites of DC.

The parking lot looked pretty full on the Sunday morning we visited, so I just chained up my Vespa to the nearest fence and walked around stress-free! To view the whole set of pictures from the trip, please check out my Flickr set.

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First Maintenance

By lem at 2:11 pm on April 20, 2006 | No comments

Earlier this week I crossed the 625-mile mark on my odometer, and promptly called to the local Vespa dealership to make an appointment for the first servicing.

As Vespa enthusiasts themselves, the guys at the shop were interesting to chat with about everything from inspections to DC speeding cameras. I was happy to learn that my Vespa is in tip-top shape, and with fresh oil is good until 2000 miles.

Going into today’s servicing, I tried to do some research on the internet about how much services cost, what they do, and how long it takes. My complete service lasted 45 minutes and included a thorough checkup and oil change. The total cost was $143.15 including tax on the new oil filter. This must be a flat-rate charge, because I was actually charged for 1.4 hours of work (at $70/hr). The total of the oil filter and oil made up the rest, making that part of it comparable to an oil change on a car at a place like Jiffy Lube. Next time I go in I will be more mindful of the time, and perhaps raise the issue.

It’s a gorgeous day outside today, at about 80 now with a projected high of 83. The ride to and from the Service Center was very enjoyable, and I’m planning on getting out for a bit this afternoon too.

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