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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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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 »


Rising Gas Prices

By lem at 5:28 pm on April 19, 2006 | 4 Comments

A lot of people are really beginning to complain about rising gas prices here in the US, and with the per barrel price of crude oil futures soaring past $72, it’s only going to get worse. A bunch of CNN.com readers sent in their thoughts on rising gas prices, mostly to say they are having a hard time keeping the gas tanks in their SUV’s filled. I certainly couldn’t afford to pay $100 for a fill-up, only to drive 40 miles each way to work.

I’m one of the many people that have to drive to work each day, my trip is 128 miles each day, I stop for gas every two days so it never gets too low. At this writing I’m paying $2.69 a gallon. The trouble is that price goes up every day. The Exxon 3 blocks from my home went from $2.59 to $2.73 in one night. I’m now going for $80.00 to $85.00 a week just for five days. I don’t use the car on weekends if I don’t have to. When is GEORGE going to do something about it????

Bill, Clifton, New Jersey

I think the sentiment that Bill shares is shared by many, and I don’t agree with it. The problem isn’t the government’s failure to regulate our consumption of gas, or their failure to keep prices artificially low. The real problem is that people have chosen to live where they do, to drive the car they do, and to consume gasoline recklessly as they do. That’s why I bought a Vespa, and chose an apartment close to my office. It cost me $4.20 to fill up my tank, and on that tank I was able to drive over 100 miles on my LX 150. I imagine it will be some number of years before Americans truly change their lifestyles and adjust to the price of gas that Europeans have paid for years.

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Putting Traffic Cameras to Work

By lem at 9:48 pm on February 7, 2006 | No comments

DC Traffic CameraOne nice thing about Washington DC is that there are dozens of traffic cameras located throughout the city. There happens to be one just up the street from my apartment with a clear view of the sidewalk in front. These cameras are accessible via the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) website, When I park my Vespa in front of my apartment, I can check up on it 24/7 via the DDOT website. I used to think such cameras seemed a bit intrusive, but I believe I’ve found a way to put them to work for me. Though I don’t know for certain, I’d like to think that if anything ever happened to my scooter while parked out front, I could ask DDOT to retrieve archived video footage to help solve the case.

Most recently, there was a city work crew doing work on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. I was able to periodically check-in remotely to make sure my Vespa was never in their way. And of course, it’s always flattering to watch people stare in amazement as they walk past my parked Vespa!

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