Monday, July 23, 2007

Exploring the Road (Slowly)

Roads and highways are designed for machines not people. Maybe that's why often feel out of place stopped alongside one taking pictures or exploring the areas most people rush by. Count up all the miles of roads and that's a lot of ground that has been delegated to invisibility beyond the general view.

I've passed the road cut in the picture above countless times in a car but never stopped to really look at it. It's easy to stop on the Vespa and it never feels inconvenient no matter how many times I stop to look at a plant, rock, or view. It's one of the strengths of a small scooter. In the car all the details are filtered away by speed and separation from the road. I've wondered if the same might be true if I were riding a bigger scooter or motorcycle---would I be seduced into the same rapid pace as a car? Judging by the other riders I see the answer would be yes.

My friend Frank Armstrong believes you need to be traveling no faster than 35 MPH to see anything photographically. (Correct me if I have this wrong Frank). I have found that to be true and when I used to explore in my truck it was painful to crawl along roads at 25 MPH. It just felt wrong. On the Vespa it feels just fine.

So I'm not sure how versatile and useful a motorcycle would be to me for the kind of riding experience I seek. Hard to imagine feeling comfortable and satisfied astride a Triumph Scrambler or BMW 1200 GS Adventure all afternoon at 35 MPH. If some manufacturer what's me to test the theory with an extended loan I'll experiment. Maybe I'm wrong.

I stopped again along Route 322 just to look at the road wind over the hill. How often do I stop in the truck?

I didn't have any destination in mind on this ride and just kept wandering along turning and stopping as the whim hit me. Heading toward Black Moshannon State Park I passed Hannah Furnace Road.

A quick U-turn and off I go down a road that I hadn't been on before. Asphalt turns to gravel and I have the chance to practice my skills a bit more until I am comfortable running along at 30 MPH without feeling like the scooter is going down at any moment.

After a few stops to look at plants and birds I rode on until joining US 322 again and headed home. Only traveled about 70 miles but it was a nice, relaxed ride...


Kano said...

I ride a motorcyle Steve and don't have any qualms about traveling slow and making lots of stops to look about. Especially on roads where traffic is thin or non-existant.

I do love practicality though and there is nothing more practical than a scooter when it comes to motorized transportation. I'm seeing a scooter in my future. Probably a Vespa, they just have more character than the others.

Ride On Steve

pitchertaker said...

You quoted me correctly, Steve, faster than 35 mph, no pics. I think you might find it interesting that after traveling about on the Vespa slower than 35 mph, you will now see more images when driving your truck. Whether or not you stop as often, is a different story.


Jenni said...

What a nice trip! I love riding the backroads on my scooter, since I live in the country too.

My hubby has a motorcycle and wants me to get one too so I can keep up on the long distance, mile burning trips, but I kind of like taking it easy though. I'm like you...I don't know if I would like it as much.

Matt Hoefler said...


Do you find the GTS to be comfortable to ride without a backrest? Does not having a backrest cause any problems or frustrations for you?

Thank you,

CodyandMichelle said...

Spot on Steve! Michelle is always making me slow down, and thus discovery happens:) Great post!
kano, like our friend Billy, aka the scooter evangelist, aka little billy's scooter tales...........Vespa is the way to go!!
jenni: don't you dare give up your GT. Heck a Gt can hang with any MC as long as they are not cruising over 70+ all day long!

Vince Stevens said...

Any motorcycle I've owned has inspired speed, speed, and more speed. At times, I still fight the urge to go fast, feel the rushing wind and see the world all ablur. The ET4 lets me play with speed on the winding backroads of San Diego County. Then it reminds me of it's limitations on that long, straight, grade over the next hill. That's when I open my eyes and ears and start to hear the birds and smell the river water. I still don't stop enough; don't know what I'm afraid of...

Dick Aal said...

I just finished a 6000+ mile trip through Canada and 14 western states. I traveled mostly on secondary roads and rarely went on the interstate. I was also one of the slowest vehicles out there traveling on my HD RoadKing. What you say is VERY true. In fact, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the road in some of the more beautiful spots in the western lands. For one, you have a panoramic view of everything. No roof or window sills to slow down your sweep of the horizon. I also hit about 10 national parks in U.S. and Canada. It was a lot of fun and I took almost 300 pictures.
What a ride!

Steve Williams said...

kano: The scooter is definitely practical. It's ease of use makes it ideal for running to work and around town. I think it is that ease that makes some scooter riders forget it is just a variation of a motorcycle. Hence the short pants and flip flops, no helmets or protection or some combination.

Of all the scooters I have seen there is nothing that I have warmed to as the look and build of the modern Vespa scooters.

pitchertaker: I still find it more difficult to stop in the truck. Probably because I am going faster and by the time my brain says stop I would have to turn around...

jenni: Unless your husband is burning miles on the Interstate at 80 MPH you should be able to keep up on a GTS at legal speeds. I'm with Cody on this.... keep the scooter!

matt: I find the ride very comfortable. A back rest would be too far back for me to use. When I carry a lot of gear it sometimes takes up the back part of the seat and I can lean back but I find myself usually sitting up straighter and higher to see what is over the next rise...

cody: Slow down! Michelle shouldn't have to tell you that. *grin*

vince: I fear that if I had a motorcycle I would not go slow. That's not to say I would be a speed demon but I think I would rush along and not see things.

Still, I want to test that someday...

dick: Sounds like a great trip! If you end up posting pictures somewhere let us know. I think cruising along back roads on a Road King is about as American as you can get.

Nice to know that all that power doesn't have to be converted into speed.

Ale- said...

I'm an italian LXV 125 rider and I often browse your Vespa weblog; I was wondering: did you ever happen to browse mine?
if you like here it is:

feel free to link.

keep on riding!

(sorry but i didn't find a link to email you)

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

I learned to ride on a 125cc Yamaha Riva, added larger motorcycles (400-1150cc) to the mix about 2 years ago after meeting my fiancee. In my experience, the mindset for riding a scooter or smaller motorcycle is different from larger bikes.

With the scooter, or even the 400cc, I had more of an "I'll get there when I get there, and let's enjoy the ride" mentality. I knew it was more efficient to go slower, and also that neither was going to get me anywhere in a big hurry.

With the larger displacement motorcycles (& I suspect I'd do the same with a larger scooter) I'm more likely to go faster. It doesn't help that the 3 largest in our stable all have clocks.

Brian said...

You really have a great blog. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

I don't think the size of the motorcycle or scooter matters much.

I ride an 1100cc Moto Guzzi cruiser. I'll do 80mph sometimes on the way home and other times I'll take the side roads at 30mph. It's just the mood I'm in. Either speed is great..It's all about the mood I'm in.

Sojourner rides said...

Interesting discussion about traveling slow. As a former long distance bicycle rider, I can say I never stopped much except to stretch and answer nature's call. I never took many pics either. It was all about the destination, unfortunately. But on my Suzuki SV650, a nice moderate displacement motorcycle, I do a lot touring and off-Interstate riding. I stop all the time! And I've seriously reconnected with photography. My motorcycle allows me to explore the road fast or slow. And if I only have a weekend to get out of the city, I can ride 400 hundred miles to a particular destination and spend the rest of the time exploring the area slowly. I return with a renewed spirit to face the days ahead--and tons of photographic memories. I've never had the pleasure of a scooter. I'd like to try it one day. I think, however, that I love hugging a tank and the choice of slow or fast. I love your blog!

irondad said...

I agree with Brian and Sojourner. It's about attitude and wrist management. I can ride 100 mph or 20 mph. My wrist rotates both directions. The difference for me in stopping is the box versus bike. With a box around me I tend to stay in the box.

On the bike I'm already literally out in the environment so it's no biggie to step off.

Another note on speeds and photos. It's all about blinking rates. Faster blinks, faster shutter speeds. Slower speeds, slower shutter speeds. Just blink more slowly!

P.S. to Bill: Looks like the nickname I gave you stuck!

Moose Gear said...

What a Nice bike. You've reached my dream. congratulations and enjoy it.

Kelly Renaul said...

Sometimes Slow Drive Gives you the Best Sight !

Jack Riepe said...


I first found your blog about a year ago. Somebody in the BMW club I ride with (Mac-Pac) sent it to me as an example of what a ride-oriented, photo-documented blog should be. I found it both soothing and inspiring.

Then I lost it.

I couldn't find it anyplace. Worse, I couldn't remember who sent it to me and apparently they couldn't either. It was a happy coincidence that I found it listed among the favorites on Sojourner’s Moto Tales.

I have often thought of getting a Vespa, but find myself addicted to a BMW K75 at the moment. My riding style is such that I often stop to placate the raging arthritis in my knees. There ample opportunities to take pictures, but I don't use a tank bag and carry my camera in the top case. I regret it just hurts too much to get on and off this machine to fumble with the camera.

The camera is a small enough Nikon CoolPix S9, which I can carry in a pocket, though I am leery of doing so in the event of a high impact crash. Having had a head-on collision with a mini-van (that made an illegal left turn less than 20 feet away from me), I am sensitive to carrying anything in my pockets that could shatter my ribs.

I wanted to tell you how much I've enjoyed and admired your stories about riding a scooter in the snow and on gravel. I've told three people about your post regarding the Christmas tree on your scooter -- since I read it last night. You and Sojourner (Sharon) write on a very cerebral and pure level. By comparison, my own work is like the oil slick on a trout stream.

Jack Riepe
Twisted Roads

Steve Williams said...

Jack: Thanks for your kind words. I definitely find riding soothing and I'm glad it comes through in the posts.

Thinking about your arthritis challenges and getting on and off the bike perhaps there is a PIaggio MP3 in your future. Those three wheelers are in my head already for a day when I need more stability or if my back gets to the point where I don't want to be pulling the scooter on and off the center stand so much.

I try not to carry anything in my pockets for the same reason you describe. Sometimes I forget to pull the pens out of my shirt pocket though and I think those are like little potential daggers...

"OIl slick on a trout stream". That's funny. I've read your blog and I think you are being too hard on yourself. We just all have different voices and think about different things...

Sojourner rides said...

Steve, I feel as you do about the relaxed, slower speed of two wheels, and being able to stop and smell the roses. I was surprised to hear you wonder if it would be the same on a motorcycle. Perhaps it's a matter of one's reference point. Mine is that between a motorcycle and car. The motorcycle allows me the luxury you speak of. I associate the car with speed and indifference and being boxed in a cabin that disconnects me from nature. But the bike, it demands that I take a different road, at a different pace, one that is conducive to tripping the shutter and getting in touch with my environment. Nice post!

Touring Motocycle Tires said...

Nothing gives me pleasure than to ride on my motorcycle and make several stops just to admire nature. I take lots of photographs of me on my motorcycle and my motorcycle too. I don't like backrests. they would make me feel lazy and i would not enjoy my rides. Steve, you are a great rider, photographer and story teller! Keep up!