Monday, September 14, 2009

Advanced, Experienced Riding Technique

NOTE: ***The following techniques should only be engaged in by advanced, experienced riders.***

Shortly after 7am I was on my way to work. Sleepy commuters at the wheels of their cages darted from lane to lane, competing for position as far ahead of each other as possible. Noticing fog over a field to my left, I moved into the left lane. The fog hung along the path of a small creek. I can always use one more fog picture.

Waiting at the traffic light by Hills Plaza, my attention shifted between the rear view mirror and the traffic light. I make it a habit to watch for competitive commuters approaching from the rear. The light turned green. I twisted the throttle.

Then it happened. Sudden loss of power. Engine running but no response when I work the throttle. I thumb the turn signal and move into the empty right lane when the engine cuts out. Rolling downhill, I coast through the next traffic light and make a right turn onto Branch Road. Twenty feet later, the scooter rolls to a stop. Instinct tells me: Take a picture.

My fuel gauge had stopped working a few weeks earlier, so I'd switched to one of the classic modes of fuel management: counting miles ridden since my last fill-up. After extensive and careful calculation, I had determined I could easily travel 100 miles between fuel stops with a 2.4 gallon tank. The trip odometer read 88 miles. I couldn't possibly be out of gas.

Stepping away from the Vespa, I began streaming data through my gourd like an engineer analyzing the Space Shuttle. With mini MagLite in hand, I removed the gas cap. I shined the light inside. Empty. Nothing. Even the fumes are gone. For the first time in my life (not counting lawn mowers) I have run out of gas.

This is where advanced technique comes into play. Two miles behind me is a gas station. Another mile ahead, uphill, is another. My mind moves into overdrive. Training turns it into a meat-based supercomputer seeking the answer to an age-old riding question -- "Who will save me now?"

Traffic is increasing as more people make their way to work. A light flickers in my head. My daughter and her husband travel this way to work. They may still be at home. They have a lawn mower. They have fuel.

Jason answers the phone. "Buhwah?"

Shit. He was sleeping. "Did I get you up?"

"It's the first time I said anything today." Now with perfect enunciation. I think of slow cranking in cold weather and chokes on carburetors.

A few minutes later I'm pouring 100 percent grade A lawn mower gas through a small funnel into the Vespa. Just a glassful and I'm off for some Exxon Supreme. At the Exxon station, the Vespa's 2.4-gallon tank gulps more than 2 gallons of fuel.

I ran out of gas. My calculations failed. But I faced a real life riding situation and I lived to tell of it. I'll look back on this one day and realize I'm a better man for it.

Additional Note: In my emotional state my wife Kim helped me make sense of this post and the experience.


Stacy said...

Grabbin' a little too much throttle off the starting lines, eh? It's the most fun way to kill the environment!

Keith said...

A healthy mea culpa is good every once in a while, Steve. Glad it wasn't anything too serious.

bobskoot said...


When I had my Yamaha BWS a few years ago it only had a 4.5 ltr gas tank, VERY SMALL. During the summer I used to keep a 10L container at home and I would refuel the scoot every time I came home.
Luckily the traffic was light and you managed to pull over out of harms way.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Conchscooter said...

If you got 88 miles out of 2 point something gallons (8 liters)of gas I look forward to more stories of running out of gas in the near future. There is something wrong on a scooter that gets 72 mpg when getting it's neck wrung. .

Steve Williams said...

Stacy: I guess I must be a more hard charging rider around town than I realized.

I don't kill the environment, I just participate in its reorganization...

Keith: Yeah, it's always good for me to be reminded that I'm capable of stupid stuff.

bobskoot: I'm usually so careful about fuel. Having the gas gauge go has tripped me up.

Steve Williams said...

Conchscooter: Sounds impossible right? I think the flaw in my plan was that I forgot to make sure the tank was full when I set the odometer. I have long gotten 60 to 80 mpg on the GTS so 100 miles per tank seemed pretty conservative.

One good thing has come out of this. With the tank full to the top the gas gauge started working again. Sort of. Instead of no reading and the low fuel light on I now have 3/4 indicated on a full tank. I'll watch to see if it reads correctly as it drops below 1/2.

Woo hoo!

hrw115 said...

I have an idea! How about if you get your gas gauge fixed!! :P

SheRidesABeemer said...

thanks for the laugh Steve...great bit of writing. "even the fumes where gone" LOL If I ever run out of gas, I know the line will run through my head.

ridesroadsandronman said...

"I don't kill the environment, I just participate in its reorganization..."
This has to be one of the best lines of all time. I'm still cracking up. Having run out of gas on the Natchez Trace once I can feel your pain. The problem with running out on the trace is the lack of traffic. Had to wait on the rest of the group to make it to Tupelo and send the chase car back with some gas. Not one person stopped to ask if I was ok. That was the last time I ran out of gas on a scooter.

Great as always Steve!


Chuck Pefley said...

Steve, I had an "almost" similar experience two years ago in northern California riding highway 101 toward San Francisco. I knew I should have taken the time to fill up at the last tourist stop i was at, but no ... my GPS said there was another station 30 or so miles ahead.

I watched the yellow warning light come on and began unconsciously holding my breath while peering in the distance. Angela, the comforting voice of my GPS, began counting down the remaining distance to my gas stop ... but when she said "turn right in 300 feet" there was NOTHING ... not even a road! Oops! OMG! I'm gonna run out of gas!

Fortunate for me, I was traveling with two friends, one on a GT and the other on a P200. My P200 friend plans ahead ... way ahead, as he has no gas gauge and relies on mileage recording with pencil like you are currently doing. Because he felt mis-calculation was a serious possibility, he was carrying a single quart of gas along on the trip as insurance. Boy, was I happy he did!

Life is always an adventure, isn't it?

The big question, though, is did you make your "one more fog image"?

cpa3485 said...

I am in agreement with Ronman, a truly classic line. I bet Jack Riepe wishes he had thought of it, therefore I am putting you in his league. Hope the intervention with the wife went well.
I have never run out of gas on the scooter, but primarily because I have a great distrust of all gas guages. Years back in my old BMW 633 I ran out of gas. But I took it one step further and actually had the darn car towed to a repair shop because I thought there was a problem with the engine. The repairman was really nice about it though after he quit laughing at me.

Brian said...

I really think you need to embark on a LONG journey - overnight for at least two nights - three would be better if you are that worked up over running out of gas and being only a mile from a gas station. :)

Worst case was walk 1 mile, buy a small carry tank walk back 1 mile.

Ford said...

Do you think it is possible that riding all the high horsepower motorcycles lately has acclimated you to faster acceleration and you've been compensating by twiting the throttle more aggresively?

Mike Simmons said...

I find it really neat that your first instinct in the confusion was to take a picture - you're a true photographer. I agree with hrw115, a gas gauge fix would be good.

Great story - glad it turned out well.

Orin said...

Interesting that you go 100 miles on a fill. My GTS goes 130 miles before the low-fuel light comes on, and depending on how long I choose to ignore it, takes 1.7-1.8 gallons (my technique is to put the nozzle in as far as it will go, and squeeze the trigger just hard enough for fuel to flow; when the nozzle clicks off, the tank is full, or at least at a consistent level, with no fuel flow into the evaporative emissions canister).

Oh, and I just found out in Oregon, if you ride a scooter or motorcycle YOU CAN PUMP YOUR OWN GAS! The Oregon Legislature changed the law in 2002. Don't know what the sitch is in New Jersey...

Scootin' Old Skool

Steve Williams said...

hrw115: Where's the fun in a functioning gas gauge?

SheRidesaBeemer: It's sort of amazing what goes through a mind when things aren't going the way you think they should.

Ronman: I like to kid myself that I lead a quiet, soft, easy on the environment life but then I look at my truck, my house, the furnace, the place I work, the food in my frig and just know a lot of stuff happens to support my life.

But I do ride a scooter!

Steve Williams said...

Chuck: I've thought of carrying gas but instead I might just bring a tube to siphon gas. A West Virginia credit card or so my West Virginia father called it. Any accommodating rider or passing motorist could help. Barring that the unknowing could as well...

On a trip though like the one you describe I would probably have extra gas. Even with the gauge working there have been a couple times I thought I would run out because the fuel oasis I expected to use was closed.

And I didn't make the fog picture. By the time I was ready to go I needed to meet someone for breakfast.

Steve Williams said...

Brian: I have not made a single overnight trip. I've ridden 350 miles in a day but always in a big circle. Someday though. For now I am in local tourist mode.

cpa3485: For a moment I thought something happened to the engine. While coasting I started to wonder if I miscalculated the fuel and I was glad to find that I did.

Next time I just need to make sure the tank is full before counting miles.

Steve Williams said...

Ford: No, I am pretty wussy with the throttle generally. With the motorcycles I do try them out when it's prudent to do so but all that has transferred back to my Vespa is a sublime appreciation of the utility and function of the scooter for my riding lifestyle.

My throttle hand didn't cause my fuel incident. It was my failure to fill the tank. How did I miss that?

Steve Williams said...

Mike Simmons: Picture taking is like a physical tick I suppose. I do it all the time. Some people doodle. I take pictures. There isn't much I won't point the camera at. Usually takes someone saying "don't" to break the trance...

The gas gauge is sort of working again. Always fails when the ambient air temperature gets above 75 F. Must be a circuit crack or something. This morning at 55F it worked fine.

Steve Williams said...

Orin: Normally things go exactly like you indicate. It didn't this time because I failed to fill the tank when I reset the odometer.

Around here we can pump gas. Even at the full service stations they don't like putting gas into scooters or motorcycles for fear of spilling fuel on shiny objects. So we get to do it everywhere.

American Scooterist Blog said...

Maybe your guage is working, but some other reason is the cause of your quick-burn Vespa.

Yer not runnin' stock no more iz you...? ;)