Thursday, May 3, 2012

Post 004 – The Coveyance

My mode of travel is a motor scooter. What does the word scooter conjure in your mind? A rhetorical question since two classic scooters are pictured right here: the Vespa and the Lambretta. Both companies are from Italy. They set the de facto standard for our concept of motor scooters. There is no fixed definition, but baseline, a motor scooter is a small two-wheel motorized vehicle. It is small in wheels, weight, engine size, and cost. It has a step-through frame with space for a purse, luggage, or groceries. The transmission is automatic, although they were not originally. It was a successful design for urban living during the depression and post World War II era. It is still popular today.

"Drive one of these across the US?" You ask incredulously. Yes, it's been done by many, across the US, Canada, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Cape to Cairo, and Paris to Beijing. All these routes have been traveled by bicycle too, not to mention horse and foot. Technology does not restrict travel, fear and ignorance do.

My choice to drive a scooter grew from my history of bicycle touring. I once loaded my bicycle with gear and pedaled throughout New England, across the United States, and around New Zealand. I was younger then, more fit. That's my rationale. I know there are many folks in their retirement years happily pedaling all over the world at this moment. Good onya, mates.

The desire to travel never ebbed, so in time I persuaded myself to buy a motorcycle. It's two-wheel travel with no effort up hills. My only criteria in a motorcycle, besides affordability, was a small engine. The smaller the better. I wanted to keep the experience slow and low, more akin to backroads touring than Interstate racing. Most motorcycles sold in America are designed more for the latter than the former. My shopping experience was depressing.

Sales people steered me away from the Honda and Yamaha 250cc machines saying I would be back in six months looking to trade it in on a larger machine. I agreed, but for a different reason than their, "It isn't a manly machine" exhortations. The bikes are badly designed. I went home and ruminated on how to make two-wheel motorized travel work the way I wanted.

I considered motorized bicycles and mopeds. The bicycles seemed too flimsy and underpowered. Mopeds, those scooters with pedals to get them going, were a possibility until an acquaintance who had ridden a moped extensively, described the never-ending high pitch whine they make. Mopeds were out too.

What motorcycles, bicycles, and mopeds have in common, something my knowledge of modern scooters lacked, are large wheels. Large wheels roll better for sustained travel. Did Conestoga wagons use wheelbarrow wheels? I subconsciously rejected scooters because I thought of them in the traditional sense. Then I saw a photo of a fellow riding a scooter with big wheels. Hosanna.

Internet research showed many makes and models of scooters with motorcycle size wheels. The scooter's engines ranged in size from 50cc to 600cc. Narrowing my focus I settled on bikes in the 150cc to 250cc range. Choice and availability were slim in Northern New England, but I found a dealer in Manchester, New Hampshire with one bike in stock. I bought it.

Formally, the bike is a CF Moto E-Charm. It is manufactured in China, based on a Honda model. I stripped off the original decals and added a new name, Moto Fabini. The name celebrates both scooter history and my own Italian heritage.

Moto Fabini weighs about 300 pounds, half of a normal motorcycle. Its 150cc engine produces 10.8 horsepower, less than your riding lawn mower. It will do the speed limit, but I restrict most of my riding to under 45 miles per hour.

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