Ups and Downs

03 March, 2006 Temperature: 30 degrees F (-1°C)

The morning commute was strange today. It being a Friday, I expected the usual early-risers to be out in force, aggressively forging ahead with their minds on the coming weekend. Much to my surprise, our route was virtually deserted. It was as if everyone who usually drives here on Friday morning took the day off. I checked my calendar at work, and it isn’t a government holiday. What gives?

I’m not complaining, mind you. The ride this morning went beautifully. We flowed around corners, from stopsign to stoplight, with no wasted time or motion. We arrived at work in about an hour, and I was happy and ready to roll. Today was the day of our Scoot! Quarterly magazine photo shoot, and we were going to do it out on Medicine Lake. I’d been looking forward to this.

Yes, all the snow and ice is gone off the roads, and the only place one can really experience the total lack of traction is out on a frozen lake. My photographer, Tracy Mayer, is also one of the engineers in our R&D department. She knew where we could gain access to Medicine Lake from a public boat ramp. Perfect.


Steve Williams reads my blog. He has a blog of his own, called “Scooter in the Sticks”. The link is in the sidebar on the right side of this page. He also rides his Vespa scooter to work in the Pennsylvania Winter. Today he rode it on snow and ice. What kind of lunatic would do a thing like that?

This morning, cresting a hill at 20 mph, he rode down the other side on a sheet of glare ice. Dragging both feet, he squeezed his rear brake, the wheel locked up, and he started to slide sideways. This was probably as far as his thinking went on the subject, up to that point. He was all out of tricks. Unfortunately, physics had a few more cards left to play.

Steve and his Vespa fell down, gently. They were able to get right back up again and complete their ride to work, stopping enroute to take a wonderful self portrait, apparently none the worse for their adventure.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

My workday went slowly. Existential Gravity was in full effect, the ticks separated from the tocks by what seemed like a full minute. I think I got carpal tunnel from drumming my fingers on my desk. It was agony!

But finally, we escaped. We fled the building under a flat, grey sky. The clouds had moved in, spoiling our beautiful light, and we would just have to make the best of it.

The boat ramp was bumpy, and the ice around it was rutted and treacherous. The Baron and I rode slowly out towards the snow-covered plain where we would perform our little stunts for the camera. Tracy walked gingerly after us, cradling her expensive camera and taking no chances.

We practiced for a bit, spinning donuts and trying our flat-track turns on a surface quite unlike the slushy-snowy-sandy mix we encounter out on the roads. I went for one balls-out donut, full throttle, and ended up on my ass with the Baron laying on top of me. Score one for Medicine Lake.

Getting up from that, I began my runs for the photographic record. Accelerating across the snow, when we reached bare ice I turned the bars and gassed it, dropping my foot and drifting sideways, looking right into the camera lens. Well, it sure felt like we were sideways. What the camera saw was perhaps less dramatic than what I had imagined. The fact is, out on this slick surface, if you really get sideways like we do on the road, you get horizontal soon after. The front tire just doesn’t have any grip out here on the lake, and I didn’t want to run over my photographer.

We finished up with the Baron and I spinning more donuts, throwing snowy roost at the camera. Tracy captured dozens of images, some of which have got to be good enough for publication.


I thought about Steve’s fall today, and how he must have felt after trying everything he knew to try and save it. Then I compared that to my sheepish grin and chuckle, as I pushed the Baron upright, after we tumbled on the ice doing stupid scooter tricks. Falling down is just something you accept when you try to tackle these conditions on two wheels. You wear the proper safety gear, so that a mishap doesn’t turn into a disaster, and you take your lumps in stride. This is all part of having fun on a motorbike. It still beats driving around in a cage, living in a box, and trying to insulate yourself from the big, bad world.

25 Responses to “Ups and Downs”

  1. Lee Bruns Says:

    If a goal of the RTW and this blog is to convince folks to ride their bikes more, then is telling them “Falling down is just something you accept when you try to tackle these conditions on two wheels.” really helping?
    I would think that statements like that will run a LOT of potential riders away from motorcycles and scooters in a hurry. If each ride is a dance with death I doubt many commuters will choose that over their nice percieved-as-safe cars.

  2. mnscooter Says:

    Folks, Lee “Lunatic” Bruns is a guy who’s primary ride has THREE wheels.

    He does that because he knows that riding in winter on TWO wheels, without studs or screws in your tires, is inherently dangerous. Yet apparently, he doesn’t want me to share that essential truth with you.

    Lee, the goal of my blog was to show that it is possible to commute on a little Chinese scooter, in a Minnesota winter, through the cold, the snow, and the ice, and to actually have FUN doing it. It looked like a crazy, daunting endeavor at the beginning of the season, but it has become a triumph over adversity now.

    Fear of falling down is what drives so many people away from motorcycles, right? Well, my message today illustrates that falling down is not a life-shattering disaster, IF YOU WEAR THE PROPER RIDING GEAR.

    Once you wrap your head around that, riding to work becomes an exercise in risk management, and a new adventure every day. As your skills increase, your fears diminish, and your life expands. That is what this blog is all about.

    Ride well,

  3. irondad Says:

    Everybody dies. Not everybody lives. ( borrowed from Reaperwear )

    It’s not live “SAFE”, it’s live WELL.

    We respect risk. We study it. We find ways to neutralize it. We ride well. Riding well leads to living well.

    Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.

    If someone is scared off they have learned about themselves. Maybe it is best they DON’t ride.

  4. jim Says:

    The Frog Blog

  5. Steve Williams Says:

    Being today’s “cover boy” I’ll chime in on the “dance with death” fears. I have only been riding now about 7 months after a brief 35 year layoff. As my confidence in my skills has grown so have the risks that I have decided I could manage—read that riding at night, then in the cold, and finally in the snow. Some small part of me whispered that I would never fall down, never have an accident, never be hit by another driver. But the informed part of my brain knows that there is a risk of all three and that the prudent action is to take every precaution while riding.

    Each of us makes decisions about what risks we are willing to take. I don’t consider riding in the winter an unreasonable risk for me just as I don’t think hiking alone is unreasonable or sailing in the ocean hundreds of miles from shore. In each case I understand the risks and make an informed decision to undertake an activity.

    When I began riding the instructors in the MSF class I attended and the riding books I read were firm in their admonishment against riding in snow. It was not that riding in snow was impossible but rather it is a risk that one should not engage. I don’t ride in the extreme conditions that Gary does. My skill, confidence, and comfort quotient cause me to stop much beyond light snow. Gary’s skills allow him move far beyond where I can ride. I know my personal limits and ride within them. A fall doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve riden beyond them. I’ve dropped my mountain bike on the way home from work riding over a garden hose. Bad choice taking the hose at the angle I did but it was within my limits.

    I’ve spoken to other motorcycle and scooter riders about my winter riding. Some think I’m nuts. Others have that gleam in their eyes saying they wish they could do it. I just try to explain how I prepare, how I ride, and that I adjust for conditions.

    This morning I rode to the top of Pine Grove Mountain just to see how the scooter handled a 5 mile grade. The road was covered with salt and rows of gravel for traction. Riding through it on the scooter felt extremely unstable so my riding speed diminished in accordance with that. I gave way to many four-wheeled vehicles going 20 MPH faster than me. I was patient, aware, and sensible. The ride was fine. At the top of the mountain was some glare ice to negotiate as I made my way to the edge of the overlook and I was better prepared today than yesterday.

    When I first started riding I read a young man’s blog who was riding to work on his scooter. He had a permit but no license, had not taken the MSF course, but was commuting daily through a congested area in the pre-dawn light. He crashed into a pickup truck that turned across his path at the creast of the hill. He admitted that he had been riding the same way he would drive a car—coming up that hill like he owned the road. Had me taken the MSF course he would have know what a dangerous point in the road that was. After the accident sent him to the hospital he made a decision to stop riding, too dangerous for him and his young family. He said he would never feel comfortable on the road again. I believe him. I think had he been better trained and was aware of that risk, prepared to manage it that he would have not had that accident. And if he did, he would more likely accept it as part of the riding risk and go on to ride again.

    Not too get too long on Gary’s blog…. I had long wanted to make an ocean sailing trip. All my sailing was confined to lakes and bays in small craft. When I had the opportunity to sail from Norfolk Virginia to Peakes Island Maine with a friend on his 38 foot Hans Christian cutter sailboat I jumped at the opportunity. My sailing skills were solid though my blue water experience was almost not existent. I was well read and anxious. The trip was challenging. The first night out a sudden squall and lighting storm reminded me how small I was on the earth. The US Navy directed us east about 300 miles to avoid war exercises. Another storm at night found me reefing sails with waves washing over the deck and me realizing the only thing between me and the hereafter was a lifeline. The trip also was filled with sublime moments—-incredible star filled nights. Days adrift with no wind and a water damaged engine and all I had to do it the world was relax and wait for the wind to blow again. Most people with sailboats don’t go out unless the sun is shining and the wind is not too strong. They feel it is an unreasonable risk to do otherwise. The sailing trip helped me understand that risk regard is personal and I can do what I feel is acceptable in my personal circumstance.

    I don’t believe anyone who seriously considers riding should not know as much as they can about the joys and the risks of riding. They should know that riding can end your life. And also start it.

  6. Steve Williams Says:


    Forgot to say one thing. I feel like a minor celebrity. This must be my 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol (?) talked about…



  7. Dick Aal Says:

    Gary, a couple of observations on your evolving blog. one, with the good weather coming you want to have more horsepower to ride with. This is a natural feeling. second, Existential Gravity is going to drive you towards your goals. It is not so much what you are doing for a living but who or what method you are doing it. I think you will grow from this experience.

    Another thought on the title for your next venture. Something along the lines of writing such as a variation of “Strattford on Avon” ( two wheels on Avon” ?

    Looking forward to the next phase of your journey.

  8. Bus Driver Says:

    Gary I would like to submit my name for your new Blog.Since there is a preponderance of Twin,Two and Dual.An your riding style takes place inside and outside the envelope.An lastly your geographic location an perimeters of thinking.” Hate Ashberry II Parris Island “.

  9. Mad Says:

    It would irresponsible to encourage others to ride to work without acknowledging the dangers inherent in that activity would it not Lee?

    Gary I hope we get to see some of these photos, they sound great (especially the one of you under the Baron hehehe).

  10. Mad Says:

    Sorry I meant: “It would be* irresponsible”

  11. mnscooter Says:

    Steve and Dan, what can I say? Your comments stand on their own.

    Jim, your entry is duly noted. *ribit*

    Dick, surely thou dost not comparest me to the venerable bard? `Tis great folly to do so, especially since it is Kenda who sponsoreth me, and not Avon.

    Bus Driver, have you been sharing Irondad’s fever drugs? If so, I forgive you. Please try again…

    Mad, you get it, as always. Yes, when I figure out which photos are going to SQ, I will post others on the blog. That really was a hoot.

    Ride well,

  12. Ron Johnston Says:

    I for one have to credit Gary for changing my views on the possibilities of winter riding. I have to own a pickup for my part time second job. I hate driving it (and feeding it) but I can’t afford a second car. When the insurance renewal on my bikes came up in October, I started to think along the lines “Maybe I could ride thru the winter…”

    I searched the web for tips and gear for winter riding, and came across this blog. Gary, you’ve been my winter riding R&D. Luckily for me, your Minnisota winter came on a little earlier than mine in the BC Rockies. I didn’t have to try anything without the knowledge that you had already conquered it.

    Before begining, I planned out primary and alternate routes that I might require for different weather or traffic conditions. Early on, I was riding very stiff and tense, but was unaware of it until I read in this blog about the importance of remaining fluid - especially in adverse conditions. I can truly say that what I have learned has made me a better rider for any time of year.

    I have now replaced 4 months of drudgery with FUN! Last week we had what will probably be the last big dump of snow, followed by a crisp clear sunny morning. My wife suggested we go for a spin on the scoot. I was hesitant, so she suggested we head up the bike trails that branch into the hills just a few blocks from our home. She walks our dogs there regularily, and knew that few others use the trails in winter. We grabbed the camera in case we came across photo ops, which we found aplenty. We spent over 2 hours buzzing about, exploring, and laughing like children.

    On the way home, we had my first fall of the year. Slow and gentle, turning into our own driveway. I hit the bump where the driveway meets the road at a bit of an angle, and the back end slid out. The only damage was a broken screw on one passenger footpeg. It was such a non-event that it couldn’t even erase the smiles from our faces. It was a GOOD DAY.

    I’ve said it before, but here is is again:

    THANK YOU to Ride to Work and Gary for the inspiration!

  13. mnscooter Says:

    …and THANK YOU, Ron, for putting a big old smile on MY face!

    Ya see, Mr. Bruns? THIS is what it’s all about.

    Ride well,

    Ron, please check your email…

  14. Chewy Says:

    Hey Gary! How’s the missus doin’?

  15. mnscooter Says:

    She is doin’ just fine, Chewy. Thanks for asking. She still has several days of her anti-biotic treatment to go, but the symptoms are all gone now.

    Ride well,

  16. bro shagg Says:


    This thread of comments has to be one of the best so far! Excellent reading! Good response to Lee. As you, irondad and Steve combined point out, riding (and life) is abouut assessing the risks, preparing yourself both mentally and with the proper equipment, and going for it!

    Steve- Happy to hear you’re OK. I envy your sailing adventure. Was it the ideal trip you had imagined? I’m guessing not. But was it one of the most memorable things you’ve done in life? I’m guessing yes. I thought buying a power boat was the way to go when I get around to buying something. Then, my wife convinced me to go out on a Schooner (the Liberty) last year in Key West. I even got some time at the wheel! Now I want a smallish sailboat, something that can be managed by two people on Lake Erie. I realize there is a big difference between a 3-masted schooner and a single-mast, 24-footer, but I’m guessing the experience will be similar, or even more rewarding. As with the MSF course, I will take a sailing course from the local experts, and discuss with them my plans, and listen well to their advice. Risk-assessment, preparation, planning, going for it. (Well OK, that last part has to wait for $$$!)

    irondad- Your comment says it all! Here’s something else in that vein: “When you lose small mind, you free your life” (lyrics from “Arials”, System of a Down)

    -Bro Shagg

  17. tiff Says:

    “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, body thoroughly used up totally worn out and screaming “WHOO HOO what a ride!”

    MAD, lets take it to email: tango india foxtrot foxtrot at foxtrot yankee sierra hotel dot oscar romeo golf

  18. mnscooter Says:

    Thanks, Bro Shagg. It constantly amazes me how people seem to believe that they have a right to a risk-free existence. This is a direct result of the incredible advertising and propaganda pumped over the airwaves by corporations intent on creating an army of consumer zombies. Ohhh… don’t get me started here.

    Tiff, where does that quote come from? Is it a Tiff original? It sounds vaguely Hunter Thompson-esque. Good one…

    Ride well,

  19. Steve Williams Says:

    Bro Shagg,

    Yeah, the sailing trip was not the dream I expected but it is a bright memory. It’s a long story but I was glad I went and don’t want to do it again—yet.

    You live near Lake Erie? That can be a challenging place to sail. Weather and water changes so fast and the wave frequency is so narrow that it can be choppy as hell. All the great lakes can be like that but especially Erie.

    I’m with you, I want to skid in at the end screaming “What a ride!”. I always remember the scene in Lonesome Dove when Gus is dying and he looks up and says ‘It’s been quite a party!” I hope I can live that way….

  20. irondad Says:

    Here’s my only concern about dying: How to die and run out of money on exactly the same day.

    Another reaperwear quote: “I refuse to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at Death”.

    ( I like these people! )

  21. mnscooter Says:

    Man, you guys are getting me going again. We have a couple inches of fresh snow here, and I’m looking forward to playing around in it tomorrow morning. I’m guessing it will all be gone by the evening commute.

    Dan, I have got to ask those guys for a sponsorship. We have the same philosophy, and it would expand their market beyond the sportbike crowd. ;^)

    Ride well,

  22. Keith Says:

    Gary, have you ridden a good part of the winter on your personal bike in other years? It sounds like you have your KLR put up and out of the salt this year.

  23. mnscooter Says:

    Keith, I rode an NX650 Honda for three winters in a row, back in the late `90s. By the time I was done, everything on that bike had a patina of corrosion, and the entire electrical system operated intermittently. Road salt is HARD on a motorbike.

    I paid full retail for my KLR, and it has to last me several more years. Last year, I took it out in late February because I just couldn’t stand driving my truck anymore. But I won’t do that again.

    Ride well,

  24. Keith Says:

    I rode my bike this weekend for a quick ride and was surprised how much salt is still on the sides of the roads. I cleaned it up as well as I could with a bucket and rag afterwards but wonder how much salt it takes to do damage. Hopefully we get a good dose of rain this week as forcast in Chicago.

  25. Mad Says:

    Oi Tiff you have mail! Oh and er hi Gary. ;)

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