Tales from a life on two wheels

Running Out of Gas

I ran out of gas.

Sure, the gas gauge was pegged into the red, and yes, poor Bella-Simone did sputter and try to function valiantly for the last two miles before giving up and rolling to a humiliated stop.  Doubting that so much time and distance had passed , I just didn’t believe it could be as low as it showed. Time had been slipping away from me.

I wasn’t willfully ignorant….earlier in the day, I had done  a visual check and confirmed there was fluid shimmering in the bottom of the tank. Sometimes you can’t believe appearances, however.

Exhausted from adding extra hours at work to an already full-time grad school schedule and two deadlines plus writing a speech for a large fundraiser, there just hadn’t been enough of anything in my life except stress.  I wasn’t eating or sleeping enough, there was not enough time in the day, or enough wine in the bottle to ease the feeling that my face was trying to slide off my head.

So it was really no wonder that on my way home from work, dusk rolling in, and rain drops spattering,  Bella and I sputtered to a stop.

Despite that I have never run out of gas in any vehicle before, it was clear that we had no more go-juice. Thankfully, Bella-Simone has a reserve tank that I don’t personally possess.

The knob to switch to the reserve is located between my legs, within easy reach and I just wanted to get back on the road. Reaching down to switch it over, BANG! I slammed my helmeted head into the left mirror.  Immediately I changed tactics and BANG! Slammed my head into the right mirror.  Dammit!  I knew I could reach that switch!  Scooting back on my seat, I tried again.  BANG! BANG! Into the windscreen.

There on the side of the road, I was so tired I could hardly figure out why I kept hitting my head. I just needed to GET OFF THE SCOOTER STUPID! in order to switch the knob!

I never claimed to be a quick learner.  Or exceptionally bright.  But, I do possess a sense of humor and, as I do so often when I observe myself, I chose  a half crazed giggle over tears.

Tank switched, Bella-Simone roared to life happily, and we stopped at the gas station  ¼ mile away to fill up.

I went to bed early instead of studying.  And I took things off my calendar for next week.

We will see how long this lesson lasts…..

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Review: Washington Motorcycle Safety Training School

In the interest of doing everything I possibly could to be a safe rider, I enrolled in a motorcycle safety class with Washington Motorcycle Safety Training school.  Over 3 days, I participated in 16 hours of class time split between discussion, videos and range time.  I walked away from it with knowledge, confidence, and a little card that cleared me to add the motorcycle endorsement to my driver’s license without taking more testing.

The school is independent of Washington state licensing – meaning that it was not a class on legality, but riding safely.  This meant that the ¾ of us who had already been riding on the street without a license endorsement could confess – and learn from each other’s actual road experiences.  The fact that a handful of the guys already knew how to ride didn’t mean they were going to pass easily – each of us struggled with doing things how our instructors wanted them accomplished, from smooth shifting and tight turns to looking up and fully turning your head.  It wasn’t easy and all of us were all sweating bullets at testing time.  The fact this was everyone’s dream developed a sense of camaraderie and we cheered each other on.  Everyone that tested, passed.

I was the only one on a scooter, which of course, it made it easier. The little Kyocera I rode was about half the size and weight of my Bajaj, and everything was automatic.  Having one less thing to worry about (shifting) made it easier to learn how to trust the weight shifts and tilting in turns. Because my scooter is manual, I had to translate everything from class to home,  something I am still working on.  My only complaint is that I wasn’t able to learn on my scooter with its hand clutch and larger size, but I picked up tips from watching the guys learn how to use the foot shifter .

Classes covered everything from on a bike through how to ride over hazards or avoid obstacles in the road.  It moved fast, but   if  a rider was having difficulty, instructors spent extra time making sure they got it right.  Not everyone passes the class, however, and though an option was given to take a more basic class, money was not refunded to the one person who was told they were not safe enough on the bike to test.

There was a bit of ribbing about my little scooter next to their 200cc bikes, but as we proudly flashed cell phone photos of our rides, the differences disappeared – we all wanted to feel the wind in our faces and the freedom a two two-wheeler provides – SAFELY.

I highly recommend Washington Motorcycle Safety classes for any first time rider –  they also have women only and scooter only classes, as well as advanced and group riding classes.  The instructors are knowledgeable and classes were hands on and fun – not intimidating at all. They went out of their way to be welcoming – even to a little scooter girl like me.

(images from WMST website)

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Sit Eating Grin: Scooter Smugness

1. shit eating grin
Sometimes shit-eating grin.(1) n. A shit eating grin is a very wide and, to the outside observer, stupid looking grin, usually showing smugness, self-satisfaction, or inner humor.(

I let Neil have the first ride on my new baby so that I could observe.  Or at least that is what I told him – actually I am terrified to get on it.  This was such a random thing for me have done – deciding  I want a scooter, and buying one within a week, has left me reeling, and the idea of learning to ride has thrown me over the edge. The nice man I bought it from was in too much of hurry when he dropped it off  to give me more than basic instructions. Instructions, which, in my excitement, I have forgotten.

Trying not to hyperventilate, I watch Neil carefully as he turns the key, pushes the start button and puts it into first. (The Cheetak is a manual scooter, with a hand shifter….something I didn’t realize is a bit unusual).  As he eases off the clutch I stand back, expecting  him to confidently zoom off down the road.

He stalls.

He tries again.  And stalls.

Chuckling self-consciously, he finally gets it going, roughly shifting the gears as he slowly goes down the road.

I am shocked to stillness.  I have NEVER seen Neil do something poorly.  He has the most uncanny ability to be good at everything he does – or maybe he just doesn’t ever do anything he won’t excel at.  It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t  have some sort of  motorcycle experience. Isn’t that a genetic guy thing?

He quickly returns, turns the key off and holds the scooter out to me. He seems a bit nervous.

“I think you should buy a helmet first.  Like now.”

“What? That’s silly!” I say. mounting (!) the yet-to-be-named scooter, “I am going to go down the street and back on a weekday morning when everyone is at work.  I am not going to get hurt. I’ll buy a helmet this afternoon”.  I turn the key, and with a nervous giggle, smoothly let out the clutch and zoom down the street.

“YES!” I shout into the wind as I shift easily into second – and then – GASP – THIRD!

Shit-eating grin aptly describes the smile on my face as I easily make a tight  turn  to ride back to Neil, who has remained watching me from our driveway.  “I did it!!” I scream, deliriously happy – and quietly smug.

Score one for the scooter girl!




My scooter arrives early in the morning in the back of a white El Camino with a serious muffler problem.

“It’s here, it’s here!!!”  I skip around the house searching for shoes and coat, while Neil goes out calmly to meet Jim.

As they back it down the ramp, I stuff my hands in my pockets to keep from clapping. My feet do a little dance of their own despite my efforts to play it cool.

Jim turns the key in the ignition to ride it into the driveway. CLICK.  Nothing.

“Hmmm.  I started it before I left…”

Again. Nothing.

Neil looks at me. My mouth opens in horror, this is my nightmare of buying something by myself that turns out to be a very bad deal.

Suddenly the engine turns over like magic.

I hand over the cash and take the keys and title from Jim.  Neil holds the scooter as we wave goodbye. Finally we are alone with my new baby. I pet her gently.

“You should go for a ride!” I exclaim, wanting Neil to love it.

He works the clutch and shifts into first, stalling immediately.  Shuffling the scooter forward to get it back into neutral, he starts it again and stalls again.  Repeat. Each time he gets closer and closer to his car, leaving no room to maneuver.  Eventually, he has to get off it, pushing it in a circle towards the road.  Another turn of the key, a gentle twist of the right wrist and success!  He lurches off down the road.

I stand in the driveway clapping my hands.

I own a scooter!

And I  have yet to sit on it…..

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street cred

I gather my courage and go see the man about the Bajaj scooter all by myself.  I would  take a guy with me, for safety and for the mechanical language that seems to spring out of them so easily, but  I don’t want to share the potential bliss – or disappointment. The seller is retired, with a local address in a quaint neighborhood along the water, so I felt pretty certain he isn’t a rapist or axe murder.

I drive up the street slowly, searching for the address when I can see it!  Like in those paintings where a beam of light illuminates something holy, the scooter – MY SCOOTER –  is there on the side of the road, glowing in the afternoon sunlight.

Pulling into the driveway, I have a ridiculous smile plastered on my face. It is all I can do to keep from skipping around, gleefully clapping my hands. I hear myself breathe “Ohhhh she is so pretty!” before I cover my mouth with my hand .  I am supposed to be a grownup – this is a business transaction.  Rule one: don’t look eager.

Jim, is  a retired gentleman with a penchant for fixing cars and motorcycles. He is wearing khakis and a dress shirt to do yard work and has dirt under his fingernails. The scooter belongs to his wife, who is about my size,  and is in perfect condition. They had hauled the it  behind their camper and they had just bought a new travel  trailer instead. No room for the scooter.

He talks to me as he would a guy about engine sizes and mechanics, and I nod, asking  intelligent sounding questions. At least I hope so. He tries to hand me the keys, but I keep my hands behind my back, walking circles around the bike instead. A serious inspection.

When he flips the ignition switch,  she immediately comes to life; a gentle purr nothing like the sound of the Harley’s in my neighborhood.  As he rides up the street, I envision myself on her, the breeze from the bay blowing through my hair.  I am giddy with love.

We chat some more about maintenance and about learning to ride.  He offers to teach me.

I don’t want him to sell it to someone else so I tell him a little about myself hoping her will want me to be the owner. So I tell him I am writer.


He exclaims, “You are just the sort of person who should have a scooter!  You belong on this!!” I duck my head, playing shy, because I secretly  think so too. I  tell him I will call  after I talk  to Neil and get ready to leave.

Jim cocks his head,wind  lifting his thin grey hair, and looks at my sideways,  his  faded eyes twinkling, “You know, this scooter is gonna get you some real street cred….”


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Shopping like a girl

This is a surprisingly rapid obsession.

I type “Vespa” into the Craigslist search box and start looking at images posted by local dealerships. I quickly see things I like (Vespa and Genuine Stella’s) and things I do not (anything that looks like a space vehicle).  Not usually girly, I nevertheless shop for a scooter like I would for roses – “ooooh, this one is pretty!”.

Knowing that my local roads have a 50mph speed limit I settle on a 150 cc engine and retype “150 Vespa”.

And there she is – as if it were destined to be – a butter yellow Bajaj Cheetak.

I read the ad to my boyfriend, who is observing my excitement with wariness: “Absolutely like new all-steel scooter made by one of the largest scooter mfg’s in the world. One-owner scooter purchased new at Scooter’s of Seattle, has 2700 miles…looks new, and starts, runs, and drives like it too. New battery Rigid monocoque chassis made of high-strength alloy steel Electric and kick start – Electronic fuel gauge Top speed 60 mph+ Very low emission 4-stroke engine, 150cc, air cooled, 9 HP, overhead camshaft, oil pump circulation, oil filter, automatic variable advance electronic spark ignition Variable rate coil spring suspension with anti-dive front suspension, adjustable front/rear suspension to suit weight and road conditions 4 speed manual transmission, low friction all geared drive train for 90+ mpg Other extras include: Windshield, steel fender guards, rear chrome rack, Bike E storage bag, tool kit, Bajaj tire gauge, motorcycle cover, owner’s manual, and complete service manual. Email from here, or call…”

“I think I might email this guy….what do you think?”  Neil shrugs – as good of an answer as any for me. My head is filled with thoughts of the breeze in my face while hauling groceries home in the rear basket, wearing flats and pencil leg capri’s ala Audrey Hepburn. And a helmet of course.  A cute helmet.

I panicked on the last motorcycle I rode. I was 16, and a tree got in the way of the dirt bike I was riding in a field. One tree in a BIG empty field. I forgot where the brake was.  Instead I  accelerated up the trunk until gravity took control, ending with bike landing on top of me.  There was a lot of screaming,  though no injuries.

It was this memory that kept me from buying a cherry red, custom Harley Sportster a number of years ago.  Especially since it was too heavy for me to keep upright easily when parked. Squashed under a bike you can’t pick up is not sexy.

I know nothing about car engines and less about motorcycles/scooters. Do I care about a “monocoque chassis” or “low friction all geared drive train” ? Does any of it matter if it runs well and is cute??

So I decide to send the owner an email:

“Hello, I am interested in your scooter, but I don’t know anything at all about them.  I don’t even know what questions to ask….”


It was the fault of the wine….

The whole thing started one night while I was surfing the internet avoiding my homework.  A picture of a sky blue classic Vespa  on an Pintrest board caught my eye. Parked on the cobbled street of some exotic locale, it screamed LIVE THE LIFE YOU DREAM!!   In my mind it had wicker baskets filled with wine, fresh flowers and crusty bread.  The idea of owning a such an inspiring, sexy, environmentally friendly mode of transportation lodged  in my mind with all the sticking power of Velcro on my favorite sweater.  This was the antidote to the sad reality of driving a dented grey minivan named Liz.

I am not normally a spontaneous person – the last spontaneous thing I did was the reason I was avoiding homework – I enrolled in grad school.  That decision happened at a similar time of night, after a similar amount of wine.  Perhaps I should be wary of that witching hour…or maybe I am on to something. Maybe tired and a little tipsy is the perfect set of circumstances to allow my heart to manifest its secret longings.

I am in grad school to become a writer.  OOOPS, no – that is not true.  I already AM a writer – the tattoo on my wrist says so!  I am grad school to become a better writer, something I have dreamed of since I was a little kid.  And, most of the time I love it.

I have a pretty cool life – probably the one I would have dreamed of as a kid if I had thought it was possible:  a tattooed writer who works in a bookstore, manages a huge garden and a few chickens,  and now owns a scooter. The best part is, this is life is full of  laughter and silliness and  loads of great writing material.

And so….scoot! was born.  Welcome to my latest adventure….