Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Honda PCX - seat hump

PCX seat has a hump separating driver and passenger sections. It's probably meant to be used as a back support for driver, but the way it's designed, it makes it impossible to scoot back on the seat. This is uncomfortable for taller riders, since you cannot stretch your legs.

I have removed the seat hump shortly after I got this scooter, but it left a hard spot underneath, so it's still not comfortable to sit where hump used to be. I tried putting an Airhawk set cushion over it, but didn't like the way it feels.

I have checked the Clubpcx.com and Hondapcx.org forums - it appears that my issue is pretty much a main complaint that owners have about their PCX. I've read about the ways they solved it, but it seemed like too much work for me :)

At this point, it looked like replacing a seat seemed like an only option. There were no U.S. stores selling an alternative seat, so I expanded my search and found a site in Germany that offers an altermative (faddybike-deutschland.de). I ordered a seat from them, waited for a week and asked to see what the order status is. They said that seat is out of stock (even though their website didn't say so). After waiting for another month, I asked if they can send me another seat from their inventory. They agreed, but one day later said that customs won't let it thru, because it has word "Honda" on the back (!). They refunded the money.

So, I was back to square one. Another shop was mentioned in the forums: PowerByPcx.com. Their seat selection was wider and prices lower. The only caveat was that site was only in French. I struggled my way thru it with Google Translate and ordered the seat.

Ten days later it finally arrived!

The seat appears to be a revamped version of the original Honda one - if you look underneath, you can still see the holes where the seat hump used to be.

I am planning to put it on as soon as I figure out what kind of wrench I need to use to remove the original one :)

Update - I got the new seat installed, it's great! The quality of PCX ride went up a notch!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Riders and Drivers

In Russia there is a saying: "A smart man will yield to a streetcar - and not because he is polite". Same thing applies to scooters/moped - even though we have same rights as cars on the road, in every collision with a car, we lose.

Car drivers talk on the phones, listen to radio, talk to passengers and drink their Big Gulps. Their attention is scattered and their reaction time is delayed by the distractions.

Keeping this in mind, here are some thoughts on how to ride safer on a scooter:
  • If there is a car nearby, do not assume that driver sees you. If they see you, do not assume they will yield to you.
  • When choosing a route, try to pick a road with less traffic. Safety is more important than saving few minutes - and besides, with less cars around, you might actually get there faster.
  • If you are on the road with 2 lanes of traffic going in your direction and the opposing lanes are separated from yours by a wall or a lawn, ride in the left lane. This will minimize your contact with people pulling out of side streets/driveways. Note - this tip only applies if your bike can keep up with traffic.
  • When you see someone getting ready to pull out into your right-of-way, try to establish eye contact. If you see that their wheels are spinning, honk! If you are tech-savvy, upgrade your horn. Otherwise, get a Genuine Buddy - they got the loudest horns in the world!
  • Since you know that many car drivers are distracted, make sure that at least you are focused. Do not smoke, drink, eat or use a phone when riding. I know that some helmets have headsets and they are really nifty, but it's probably better not to use those either - it's safer to pull over if you need to talk to another rider in your group.
  • When you are riding next to a car, make you sure you are not in their blind spot. If you can pass them do so, otherwise slow down and let them get farther ahead.

Riding Safety

After I had my Vespa incident, I've made a list of rules to follow in avoid to ensure safety in the future. Here they are:

  • Reduce night time rides.
  • Make more effort to return home while it's light.
  • Reduce rides in bad weather (wet roads, fog). If there's an urge to ride, try to stick to subdivision.
  • Possibly, take MSF course again - to learn emergency moves. Maybe you can take course on your own bike - and skip the 'clutch' portion :)
  • Protection: kneepads, shoes, body armor (tried that for a couple of weeks and stopped - too much hassle :)
  • More priority to stopping on yellow. can practice it even in car.
  • Go slower when entering intersection.
  • Use 'high beam' most of the time.
  • See if headlight can be upgraded.
  • Don't be shy to use the horn to let drivers know you are there.
  • See what bike color is most visible on the road - this could be higher priority than 'the color I like'.
  • Avoid highways as much as possible.
  • Avoid jammed streets.
  • Avoid streets with lot of parallel parked cars (less visibility).
  • Wear bright vest all the time.
  • See if there's "glow in the dark" clothing.
  • Read safety tips online.
  • Try a full face helmet.
  • Not a drop of alcohol when riding.
I've made this list in 2002 and I've been following most of these rules. No new accidents since then *knock on wood!*

Links of interest

Kymco Myroad 700i

Letter from a rider to a driver

Honda Thailand issues PCX150 recall

Scooter Riders Sitting At Intersections

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Figuring out Honda PCX (2012-now)

Honda PCX 125 is the latest scooter I bought. It's beautiful, nimble, fast and quiet - yet something doesn't quite feel right about it.

First, there is the seat. It has a hump which is supposed to separate driver and passenger sections. However, the hump is too close, so it's impossible so sit back when you need to stretch your legs. I have removed the hump, now there are hard bumps in the place where it used to be - so sitting back is still not comfortable. I have ordered a replacement seat from an online store in Germany on April, 25 - still waiting for it to arrive.

Then, there is a matter of "sweet spot". My definition of scooter sweet spot is this - it's the speed that makes you smile as soon as you reach it. For a moped or 50cc scoot, this is 25-30mph. For my Vino 125 it's about 40-45mph. For the Honda PCX, I can't quite feel the spot. It's kind of 'meh' when going slower tan 30mph. It gets a bit scary at 60mph due to it being lightweight. I guess 50mph is where PCX likes to be - but it's doesn't give me that "smile ear to ear" feeling.

Seating position causes my back to start hurting quickly - but this could be resolved once I get the seat replaced.

Suspension is odd too - when you are on a good road, it's like floating on air - very smooth and quiet. On the bad road you start feeling every bump and the more you ride, then more they add up. I rode for a few hours recently and at the end of the ride I was scowling and growling at each bump that I encountered. I did not have this issue on Aprilia Scarabeo - though it did have bigger wheels (16" vs 14"). I checked the forums and they said that PCX suspension cannot be adjusted - the only option is replacing the shocks.

When you get to 60mph, it feels like PCX is braking to avoid going faster - this is especially noticeable when going downhill. It's probably not dangerous, but I don't like how it feels, so I try to avoid opening throttle all the way. My others scooters (Aprilia, Vespa, Yamaha) didn't do that.

So, I am torn as to what to do next.
  • Aprilia and Kymco could be possible alternatives, but there is only one shop in town that works on them - and I don't want to be locked into relying on one mechanic. 
  • Yamaha does not make a comparable bike (ok, it makes Vino 125 which I already own and love.. they also make Zuma 125 which feels very uncomfortable when you sit on it).
  • Honda has PCX150 on the way - but it looks like it's gonna have same seat and suspension. They also made SH150 which I test rode and didn't like.
 Any suggestions? :)

Update - now that I got the seat hump sorted out, I think I've finally found the 'sweet spot' - it's between 50mph and 55mph.

Yamaha Vino Forever! (2003-now)

In the fall of 2003 I was driving around and saw a little Vino scooter with a "for sale" sign. By that time I already had Aprilia 150, so I thought that I have left the 50cc world behind - however I never pass along a test ride, so I stopped and talked to the owner.

He was open to the idea and I rode Vino around the block. The feeling was incredible! There is something about a 50cc bike that no bigger scooter can give you! Perhaps it's the fact that on a small scoot you have fun as soon as you twist the throttle. Plus, the wind in your hair is so awesome... yeah, yeah, I know - you should always wear a helmet.. but whatever :)

Anyway, it was love at first sight and bought the Vino for $1500. From that point until spring of 2012 is became my fun and reliable second bike. Every time Aprilia wouldn't start in the spring, Vino was purring like a kitten. Each time Scarabeo in the shop, Vino ensured that I can keep two-wheeling.

Eventually I realized that I am enjoying Vino more than my 'big bike'. However, riding Vino meant that I should stick to secondary roads/subdivisions - which meant that I would have to get up earlier to get to work... and I hate the idea of getting up early. So, even though I liked Vino more, I rode it less.

Earlier this year I saw a Vino 125 for sale at CraigsList. An idea of upgrading my Vino 50 came to my mind... I contacted the owner, drove there and test rode it... the bike was awesome! So, I bought it and eventually sold the Vino 50.

My thinking was that Vino 125 could be fun riding thru backroads, while capable of getting on main road, if needed. It's true for the most part, but still, when you riding the roads with speed limit of 30mph or less, nothing beats a 50cc for pure enjoyment!

It looks like Yamaha has Vino Classic 50cc back on their 2013 lineup, so you never know...

Vino 50cc
Vino 125

Remembering Aprilia (2003-2012)

In the spring of 2003, few months after my Vespa was gone, I felt the Call of the Road again and started looking for another scooter. There was a local store which sold BMW motorcycles and Aprilia scooters (I know, it's a strange combination). I test rode Aprilia Scarabeo 150 and was amazed by how smooth and comfortable the ride was.

The bike was 1 year old and I got a good deal on it - especially because it included after market top case and side boxes. (The incredible storage capacity led to my bike being used for storing helmets and stuff by my trunk-less friends:).

Scarabeo was heavier than Vespa, so it took some getting used to - for example it couldn't turn on a dime, so I actually laid it down twice while trying to turn in parking lots. Side boxes also meant that I couldn't squeeze into narrow passages as well I liked, so some scratches were earned that way too.

Overall, things were going great until the shop I bought it from decided to become "BMW exclusive" and refused to work on Aprilias. My Scarabeo became orphaned and next time I needed service, I went to the local "any scooter accepted" shop. That was not a pleasant experience - the bike was there for 2 months and I was experiencing an "Aprilia withdrawal" syndrome. Thankfully, I also had a Vino 50cc scoot as a backup, so I could keep riding.

My Aprilia has seen many years of commuting, rides, rallies and even scooter jousting:

Being lazy, I neglected the winterizing tips - for example I never disconnected battery when storing Scarabeo for a winter. As a result, every spring it was an adventure getting it started. Sometimes I was able to get it going by jump starting from my car, but every other year a new battery was due.

In the spring of 2012, I jump started Aprilia, rode for an hour, tried to start it again.. it wouldn't. I took it to the shop, they called me back a week later and said that it's ready. I came to pick it up, rode few miles toward home and engine died. I called the shop and they said "if you can 'limp' it back, we will look at it".

So I started back - it died 9 more times on the way. When I came in, mechanic doubted me and went for a test ride himself. He came back 20 minutes, looking embarassed and said that it died on him 3 times too :)

A week later they called me again and said that it's working - but they don't know why. This was the breaking point for me - if the service people don't know what's going on with the bike, how can I rely on it now? So, I started searching for a replacement and eventually got a Honda PCX 125.

However, the memories of Aprilia remain - I miss it and I even thought of calling the Honda dealer back to see if my Scarabeo is still sitting in the storage somewhere...

R.I.P. Vespa ET4 (2002)

Vespa ET4 was my first scooter. It was bright red and all around beautiful.

I decided to upgrade from a moped because my company has moved from a location close to my home to a bigger one: 14 miles away, mostly highway. My plan didn't work out quite the way I planned - after talking Vespa on the interstate once, I decided that it's more adrenaline than I could handle :)

So, ET4 became my ride for nights and weekends - exploring the city, seeing where every road goes, feeling wind in my face and forgetting about time.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon did not last forever. One day in the winter, when it was unusually warm, I decided to dust Vespa off and take it for a spin. As I was entering an intersection, light turned yellow - I kept going since it was too late to stop. Then a car turned left in front of me, I slammed on the brakes and hit the car on the side.

Next thing I remember is laying on the ground, seeing stars way above and hearing my Vespa still rumbling few feet away. Some kind soul called 911 and they whisked me off to the emergency. X-ray has shown that a little piece of my knee cap broke off.

Few months later, my physical therapy was over. Driver was found at fault and had to pay for my treatment and reimburse the cost of totaled scooter (I stopped to look at it - front frame was folded in half). For a while I was playing it safe and driving my car.. then scooter bug bit me again and the Era of Aprilia began.. but that's another story.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My second moped: Tomos Targa (1996-2002)

After struggling with Sachs acting up for a few months, I decided that a new moped will be a solution to my problems.

From reading old books, I knew how diverse the choices were back in the 70s: Batavus, Puch, Jawa, Peugeot, Motobecane, Solex, Garelli and many more. In 1996, there were only 3 brands available locally:
  • Puch Korado - made in Slovakia by Jawa. I test rode it and it was fun until I hit a bump and engine died. I had to walk it back. It took me a while, they even got worried and sent a guy on a scooter to look for me :)
  • Kinetic - made in India. This bike was the chepeast, but it was also single speed, so it was pretty sluggish to get going.
  • Tomos - made in Slovenia. They actually had 3 models: Sprint (basic), Targa (turn signals and some cosmetic features added) and Targa LX (top-tank).
Test driving Tomos was a complete blast - when it shifted from 1st to 2nd speed, the acceleration felt great! It just whisked me away toward the horizon... and I could ride forever, except I had to turn back at the end of the street and return it to the dealer ;)

My mind was made up and I bought a Tomos Targa with a credit card (took me a year to pay it off).
New bike didn't have issues like old Sachs did, but it did take some getting used to. For example, using a choke to start it and knowing how cold start and warm start differ was a learning process. Once I couldn't start it when the engine was warm and had to walk it for half a mile before it cooled down... a year later I laughed, remembering how inexperienced I was.

I have ridden Tomos for years without any major issues. The joy it brought me is hard to quantify. Things changed when I bought a Vespa scooter. After that, Tomos spent most time sitting in the garage, until one day I decided that it deserves better, so I posted an ad, saying that I will give it away to someone who needs it and can pick it up. So, few weeks later, Tomos had a new owner and I am sure it was happily on the road again!

My first moped: Sachs Suburban (1996-1999)

Once I decided that Bike Machine is not quite enough, I began my search for a moped. I called every motorcycle store in town, asking if they sell mopeds. Some just said "No", others said there are no mopeds nowadays, only scooters. Two stores did have mopeds for sale, but the prices started at $1000, which I couldn't afford at the time.

I began checking classified ads and test rode some nice bikes, such as Puch Maxi (loved it!). However, owner wanted $500 for it, which didn't make sense to me: a new Puch used to cost around $300 back when it was made in 1977, so why is it $500 now?!

One day I saw an ad for an estate sale/auction. Among items listed there was a moped. I went there with my friend Yuri - I needed help getting bike home in case we get it. It was a blue Sachs Suburban, sitting in a barn and looking lonely. We tried starting it and it came to life. I checked my wallet and decided to fight for it when the auction starts.

There was another buyer interested at Sachs, but luckily for me she reached her limit when my bid went up to $230, so the bike was mine! I got in my car, Yuri got on the moped and we headed home, feeling victorious!

The ride was smooth until we were 2 miles from my home - a policeman saw that the headlignt on Sachs is out, stopped Yuri and says that he cannot ride like that. We stood around helpless until a friendly retired couple asked if we needed help. They had a big car, so I asked if we can put moped in the trunk. They agreed and we got Sachs home. When we were taking it out of the trunk, I noticed that some gas leaked out... whoever were these nice people, I am sorry about that!

In the following weeks I was riding my moped every chance I could get.  I like exploring every road I see and it got me in trouble sometimes - there was a lot of construction going on in those days and carpentry nails on the roads were common. Once I got 2 punctured tires in 10 days and decided to watch where I am going :)

This moped could only go up to 25mph, but was a blast nevertheless. One of the features I liked is freewheeling - when you got to the top of the hill and rolled back the throttle, you could coast downhill, just like on a bicycle.

Overall, Sachs was great fun, but moody. In the mornings I would get one heck of a workout trying to start it, pedaling like mad to get the motor going. Eventually, I got tired of fighting it and decided to spend more money and get a new moped.

I loaned Sachs to Yuri, who didn't have a car at the time. He rode it for several years, in rain, snow and ice, until it got stolen from his apartment's parking lot. I hope it brought as much joy to its new 'owner' as it did to us ;)

Early days: Bike Machine (1995-now)

I have been riding bicycles since I was 3, dreaming of owning a moped since I was 12... but it wasn't until 1996 when I first became an owner of a motorized bicycle.

Bike Machine is a small 35cc gas motor with a friction drive roller. You mount it on the rear wheel of any bicycle, put a pint of gas into it and off you go! It's loud and gathers looks from anyone in 200 ft radius.
The design is similar to the famous Solex moped, except Solex motor drives front wheel.

I bought it got for $100 from a co-worker and her father helped me install it. After he started the motor with the pull-start, I heard how noisy it is and got scared. My first question was: "How slow can it go?". He gave me a puzzled look and said: "I'd rather find out how fast it can go!". So, he rode it off, I looked and decided that I want to give it a shot too... after all the money has changed hands already.

It was fun and weird at the same time. Eventually I got it going full speed (20mph, but it feels faster than that) and felt the state of "whee!!!" coming over me. I took it home and rode it every chance I got.

In time I discovered a limitation of the friction drive - it hates rain. As soon as the wheel gets wet it starts slipping and if you don't stop the motor, it will eat thru the tire and puncture the tube (yikes!).
Keeping this in mind, I only rode it when forecast was clear.

Another thing I found out is that bicycles are not designed for the kind of vibration that Bike Machine generates - twice I had the frame break and moved the motor to another bicycle (fortunately I had tons, since I was always buying them at garage sales).

Even though I enjoyed it tremendously, I started longing for more speed and better breaks, so I started searching for a moped. My unsatisfied 'moped desire' resulted in me reading all I could about those miracle bikes - I checked every website I could find (there was less than a handful at the time), bought used moped books and read moped newspaper articles from the 70s in the library via microfiche. That was the time when I created my Moped.org site (now Moped2.org).

Bike Machine has not been ridden in many years, but it's still sitting in my parent's basement, waiting for the someone to pull the cord and enjoy the WHEE feeling!

Here is a pic of Bike Machine (no, it's not me in the picture:)