Gotta Scoot

A foray into the world of the 2-wheeled amateur

25 April 2007 Here comes the rain again…

Being a public holiday with fortunately very little for me to do, I had hoped to jump on the scooter today and travel a good hundred kilometres or so to get riding ‘out of my system’ for the week. However, it’s been raining non stop for the past three days and that is remarkably rare in Australia. In fact, I now find it strange to think that a pleasantry like “terrible weather we’re having, isn’t it?” is actually quite politically incorrect over here, given the phenomenal droughts we’ve had for nearly the last ten years. So when I woke up to the gentle pitter-patter on the rusty carport outside my bedroom this morning, I simply had to accept that, on the face of it, I wasn’t going anywhere interesting today.

I’m also mindful of the incredible collective wisdom of the scooter blogging community, where discussions of gale-force winds, snow and rain are taken very seriously as genuinely life-threatening elements. So fortunately I haven’t been stupid enough to succumb to a sense of disregard for the many ‘moods’ of nature.

But when the rain did subside this afternoon, I couldn’t help but jump on the TGB to take it for a (careful) spin around my local neighborhood. Many people that love walking or bicycle riding will attest to the beauty of taking an evening sojourn after heavy rain while smelling and breathing in the freshness of the air. I guess for me though, this trip was more about becoming a little more accustomed to the prospect of having to ride in the rain.

I say “having to” in reference to a conversation with a colleague and experienced rider who told me “you only ride in the rain when you have to, not when you chose to…” and pointed out that a little drizzle could be more deadly than a downpour, given that it might just spread oil in places where riders aren’t expecting to find it (instead of washing the oil away)… not to mention the high gloss paint on pedestrian crossings, where, he added, “you can feel yourself skidding without even trying!”

Nonetheless, there’s still a beauty in riding after a storm and noticing the subtle changes to the world around you. It’s also yet another context in which you become more aware of the nature of things around you: the beauty of graffiti, the fascination one has at the first sight of roadside junk, or the shear size of trees that are older than many of the streets they now line.

 

 

I guess no day is ever wasted unless we close our mind to its infinite possibilities.

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April 25, 2007 Posted by | General Riding | 3 Comments

20 April 2007 School is in session again…

These holidays have been a real learning experience indeed, and that’s saying something for a teacher. After all, we teachers reach the end of the term and find ourselves so devoid of life that the first half of the holidays end up a write-off. We stare mind-numbingly at daytime television… we try to read that favourite novel but don’t have the mental stamina to make it past page 3… we go out to friends’ parties and simply don’t manage to stay awake past 10:30pm. Of course, once we manage to restore even a small degree of brain activity, we then spend the remainder of our time dreading the return to the following term: the marking, reports, difficult kids, even-more-difficult parents, the long days, the sleepless nights… do I have to go on?

But occasionally we short-circuit the process by doing something different that vivifies our atrophied brain and returns that special joie de vivre that also miraculously helps us forget all about school for two weeks (a very good thing indeed). Such has been the joy of scooting for me these holidays.

What better to do when you wake up and have nothing planned for the day?

Of course, holidays come to an end, and sometimes, even before they do, we have to ‘pop in’ to school to tidy up that messy desk we never got around to tidying before we left. So it was I spent my last Friday of the holidays… riding to work in my new scooter!

I think I’m up there in terms of the distance I travel to work. My daily grind consists of an 84km round-trip that takes me from what is effectively the geographic centre of Sydney to the very outer-western boarder between Sydney and The Blue Mountains. My route includes quiet suburban streets, main roads, high-speed motorways, country lanes and fabricated security housing estates with winding roads that are supposed to slow down the local ‘hoons,’ but end up frustrating daily commuters and causing them to wear through a set of tyres at least once a year.

I often feel exhausted driving this journey in a car each day – in part because of the distance, and in part, because teaching is so damned exhausting! So in taking the scoot, I also decided to take it very slow and enjoy the scenery. I couldn’t wait to drive through Orchard Hills, a farming area on the outskirts of Sydney which saw the TGB finally make it to some proper country. Here were my attempts at a ‘Steve Williams’ photo, however, I don’t think my TGB looks nearly as nice as his vesper, do you?

When I arrived at school, I spent a long time hanging out with my buddies in Drama and Music. I gave them all quick scooter lessons in the car park.

Some of the kids – who were at school for a musical rehearsal – overheard the commotion. I must say that when we saw the stunned looks and furrowed brows on their faces, we felt very much as if we were the naughty kids in the equation. Oh well, nothing like buzzing around on your fancy new scooter in a school carpark to feel young at heart is there? After all, it makes the thought of returning next week that little bit more bearable.

April 22, 2007 Posted by | General Riding | 4 Comments

18 April 2007 An excuse to open your eyes…


Having ridden now for over a week, I am constantly finding myself in a perpetual mental state of rediscovery.

In Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire (largely inspired by Bram Stoker’s classic) my favorite moment is when the main character Louis is made into a vampire, opens his eyes and looks into the night around him. He starts to hear the softest noises and see the richest shades of colour in what was previously only silence and darkness. Suddenly he realises the finer details that he’s missed all his life up to this point.

What I find so remarkable in the blogs I read is a similar understanding about the heightened awareness we have when riding. With this awareness I’m now learning that we notice much more than we ever would in the confines of a tin shell on four wheels.

With this in mind, I decided to jump on the scooter and travel 15 minutes to Auburn, a neighboring suburb that is made up of two very large ethnic communities – the Arabs and the Chinese. Sydney has a few such ethnic enclaves, where it is possible to loose yourself for hours in other cultures, rich with language, customs and – best of all – delicious food! I’m always quite touched by the friendliness and community-oriented feel of suburbs like Auburn, where you will find a library with a gigantic non-English section, bilingual (and sometimes trilingual) signs in banks, bakeries and butchers and an atmosphere that makes you stop to check that you’re still where you thought you were a moment ago. I find that when you give a little – with a pleasant smile or a “how are you going?” – you always get so much warmth and generosity back.

Can’t read English? No problem – Arabic or Chinese?

Mum goes out for a shop with the kids…

These humble tobacconists’ are so cool!

What is also remarkable is the fact that in a city like Sydney – home to a diverse range of ethnicities and cultures and built on values of tolerance and mutual understanding – you rarely has to travel far to learn something new about the world and change your perspective on it. Funny how a humble scooter can provide you with the “excuse” to get out of your comfort zone, open your eyes and start seeing things in a new way.

Auburn train station

Around the corner from the Arabic district you’ll find little Chinatown.

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April 21, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

16 April 2007 “Darling, you and I go together like scooters and inner-city traffic…”

At long last – six long days after attaining my learner’s license – I braved the journey from Parramatta, through Sydney’s inner-west region to the suburb of Ashfield, where my brother, his lovely wife and their baby boy (my beautiful nephew) live in an apartment they recently bought.

This journey took me through the choked artery of Sydney’s famous Parramatta road, originally built by the convict laborers to pave the way between the early settlements close to the harbour and, further inland, the colony’s first successful farms, where the first edible grain was grown in Parramatta.

Since the M4 motorway was finished in 1993, most people traveling between Sydney’s outer and inner-west choose the M4 for any long-distance commuting, where traffic roars at anywhere from 90km/hr to 110km/hr. Running parallel to the M4, Parramatta road is limited to 60km/hr for the most part, with fairly heavy traffic usually traveling short distances and exiting or entering the motorway at various points.

I decided to scoot onto Parramatta road and try my luck putting along. Throughout Sydney’s outer-western suburbs, one often finds that trucks rule the road. This is what especially scared me most about taking the M4. No one likes to be tailed by a gigantic beast of a thing hurtling down the open road at 110km/hr; apart from anything else, that kind of arrogance is particularly life-threatening to a scooter pelting along at full throttle.

What amazed me about Parramatta road, however, where the trucks trundle along generally no faster than 50km/hr, is how peaceful it can be to be a scooterist wading through this kind of traffic. I don’t think I generally ever feel at peace on 4 wheels when I want to get somewhere and everything around me is crawling. I would naturally choose the fastest, supposedly most “efficient” way of getting my car from A to B. But, strangely enough, on a scooter I generally don’t feel phased by crawling traffic or the extra time it takes… on the contrary, I find it almost comforting!

As I made my way in towards the city, I also noted the growing number of scooters. Like many of the worlds populous cities, the congestion of Sydney’s CBD now seems to invite these 2-wheeled contraptions that are, when buzzing around at 40-50km/hr, truly in their element. Funnily enough, the closer I got to the city, the more functionally appropriate I felt. Stopping and starting every 50-100 metres or so, I realised how ridiculous – let alone environmentally unfriendly – cars can be in any inner-city environment.

When I arrived at Rob’s I was delighted to show him and his son Riley my new purchase. I wonder how many more scooters will be zipping along the streets of inner-western Sydney by the time Riley finishes school?

April 18, 2007 Posted by | Inner-City | 2 Comments

12 April 2007 Out of the closet and into the traffic!

At long last, I decided this morning to traverse the 24km (48km return) trip to my mum’s house on my new scooter. A word before we begin though: I’m sure most, if not all of us, are aware of the ‘parent’ issue when it comes to all two wheeled things that happen to be endowed with an engine. How often have you heard the expression, “You’ll ride a motorbike over my dead body!”?

Well, in this post I’d like to open up this topic a little more by inviting you to post comments about your ‘coming of age’ or – should I say perhaps ‘coming out of the closet’? – with your parents and their induction into your new-found life as a dreaded two-wheeler. I’d also like to share with you my story of riding to my mother’s house, arriving and showing her my new TGB.

Let me begin by saying that I didn’t surprise my mother out of the blue with the new scoot. I had forewarned her one evening at a Japanese restaurant where we often dine when I come to visit her. I buttered up the news of my recent purchase with the standard euphemistic phrases, including, “it’s just a little scoot,” “I’d only be riding it where one rides a bicycle,” “it’s very cheap to run,” “…nothing as dangerous as a big motorcycle” and so on. Surprisingly, my mother simply remarked calmly, “well, I don’t like it!” and left the conversation there.

Anyway, here I was, braving the traffic of Epping road (my first foray into a four lane, 80km/hr arena where anything sporting an L-plate doesn’t tend to go down well with the other folks on the road. “But confidence is the key,” I told myself, determined to ride safely through the thick of it and without being perturbed by the collective roar of the traffic through which I was already ‘swimming.’

Actually, the biggest challenge proved getting my camera out of my velcro-secured pocket, turning it on and taking the snaps in the red light breaks, all with my gloves on!

Arriving at my mum’s house, I realised how much of a mental workout it is being a scooter on the road – especially a main road – by contrast to driving in a car. How often we zone out and let our minds wander when driving a car! How impossible it is to zone out when on a scooter in four lanes of 80km/hr traffic! Perhaps this is why so many scooter bloggers say that riding always ties us into the moment and gives us a heightened awareness of everything around us. Perhaps that’s the survival instinct at play and we simply have no other choice if we wish to live.

In any case, I was pleasantly exhausted when I arrived at my mum’s house. With no on-street parking, I decided to park on the garden path – how convenient!

I asked my mum to come out and have a look. Her eyes widened as she looked at the TGB for the first time. She began to question me about the usuals: under-seat storage, the top-box, why the headlight is always on, how fast it goes, why I have an L-plate on the back, and so on. While she examined the TGB and listened to my answers, my beloved feline and 10 year-old friend, Lester, came to see what all of the commotion was about. Like my mum, he appeared interested too, but rather more interested in the smell of the tyres and the footwell than anything else (I don’t suppose he’d fancy a ride in the top box, do you?) I dutifully answered all of my mother’s questions, after which there was a somewhat awkward pause.

“I still don’t like it” she muttered. I looked at her quizzically and then noticed the strangest thing: she started to smile! “I still don’t like it,” she repeated, half-smiling, half mock-frowning.

Thus it was my mum came to accept my new life as a scooterist. Thanks for your support and understanding mum! I promise I’ll ride safely.

April 12, 2007 Posted by | General Riding | 8 Comments

10 April 2007 Maiden Voyage

What an incredibly long day it’s been. After so many hours of riding, getting lost, discovering new streets and different ways of looking at the same trees; after the smiles, the thrill of racing off the mark at traffic lights, the stopping off at the roadside to take a photo – after all this and much more, how hard it is to sit down and put into words what an amazing day it’s been.

I could barely contain my excitement this morning when I finished my knowledge test at the RTA and was finally handed my shiny new gold license with a “R LRN” appended to the “C” underneath the “class of license” category. Who would have thought that it all came down to having a few letters on the license? …not to mention this swanky looking L on the back of the scoot.

I imagine that any biker or scooterist will tell you the same thing – nothing compares to that first ride, the maiden voyage if you will. Unfortunately, living in the heart of sydney “urban” Parramatta suburbia, I can’t pretend to have ridden off into the countryside, past mountains and lakes and beaches with gleaming white sand. All of that will come with time and practice, so stay tuned to this blog! 😉

My journey with the humble supermarket and an interesting discovery. Yes, that’s right – I needed soy milk, damn it! and I wasn’t going to get in that car and drive when the new scoot beckoned. Anyway, I dexterously navigated through the back roads and even onto a main road before arriving at the local IGA carpark. Not being trained in the ways of scooter parking, I navigated my quietly purring TGB through the maize of cars, looking to conservatively park in an ordinary car space, before spying this motorcycle which had been defiantly parked over painted caption on the tarmac which read NO PARKING. What a valuable discovery: ‘no parking’ means parking for a scooter! Thumbing my nose at the ‘tin tops’ around me (only pretend smugness at this stage), I maneuvered my scoot alongside the bike. Later on, when I returned from the supermarket, the bike was gone and the gaping ‘NO PARKING’ remained.’

I must admit, writing this several hours later, the rest of the day is a blur. I suppose this is a kind of paradox – that remember being acutely aware of everything around me, but now that I’m home typing this, it’s hard to recall what I was thinking. I remember riding around back streets and getting rather lost. I remember numerous smiles from pedestrians (especially the ladies) as I flew by with the false impression of going somewhere important. I remember freezing in the middle of the day when it was 24 degrees celsius! I remember the sense of solitude that doesn’t even come close to driving in the car alone. I began to experience what Steve Williams means when he says, “I ride for the heightened awareness of the world and life.”

I’m so amazed that even in the most mundane such awareness might be possible.

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Learner riders | 4 Comments

9 April 2007 Famous last words on the eve of metamorphossis

 

It’s the eve of my rider’s knowledge test and, like a petulant child, I can neither abate my excitement nor speak civilly to those around me. Tomorrow marks the beginning of my life as a rider and, having waited so long for this day to come, I’ve blown up all expectations. I’ve been furiously reading every blog from the many scooter enthusiasts all around the world. I’ve been pouring through reviews in the Australian Scooter magazine affirming my choice of the TGB and rubbing my hands with mirthful glee in the possibilities that 150cc has to offer. Finally, I’ve been dreaming most nights about all of the amazing getaways I’ll have when I’m finally a proficient rider. It seems to me that the beaches, mountains, lakes and countryside won’t be the same when I’m out in the open air zooming by on two wheels. But then, I’ll have to wait till tomorrow before I can begin to describe those kinds of experiences.

 

It’s been really hard these past few days – especially since finishing the rider training program – not to just jump on the TGB and ride off into the great beyond. The possibility of that police car around the corner, the check for the non-existent license and subsequent barring of any riding (and possibly driving) privileges for a period of time has, however, been enough of a deterrent. Nonetheless, I’ve still buzzed around our unit car park at least once a day, much to the chagrin of my lovely neighbors (it won’t be a problem after tomorrow, folks!).

 

Today, my long-time friend Brendan came over and jumped on. He has neither car nor bike license, but seemed to manage well enough!

 

 

 

 

 

I keep trying to persuade him to join me in my new endevours, but he and his girlfriend Yasmin seem to prefer, like most, the idea of a car.

Anyway, I’ve studied probably much more than I ever did for my driver Ls (over 12 years ago, at the impressionable age of 16) but at least it will save me the time and money involved in having to attempt the test more than once. In other words, after more than 5 hours doing the practice tests and reading the motorcycle manuals I feel that I am guaranteed success, but of course, one never knows!

 

Thanks so much to scooterists and non-scooterists alike who have read and supported this beginner blog with your comments and moral support. If you haven’t familiarised yourself with what else is out there, please check out my blogroll for some other great scooter-related reads.

April 9, 2007 Posted by | Learner riders | Leave a comment

5 April 2007 You gotta ride before you can ride…

Tonight the unthinkable happened… Felicity and I were declared “competent” enough to venture out into the world on 2-wheels. After two grueling evenings subsisting on muesli bars, the occasional sushi roll and the thrill that only comes with putting around (and when I say “around” I literally mean around and around and around a space the size of a small ice-skating rink), we do indeed have what it takes to be learner scooterists.

 

So what was the experience like? Let’s start with the décor, shall we? Not many places can boast such splendid alfresco dining right underneath one of Sydney’s most established motor ways. It was the perfect start to this special evening… Behold, the training centre in Clyde, Australia:

 

Ok – I’m being a tad sarcastic, and really, that isn’t entirely fair. Despite the nagging sensation of feeling like I’m back at school (well, that isn’t hard since, as a school teacher I spend most of my time there and had been at school an hour before arriving at the training centre) I must be honest and admit that we novice riders learned more about what’s going on on the road than many drivers learn in twenty years of driving experience.

 

We flitted back and forth between this small demountable “classroom” which had the odd aroma of some lemony-fresh scent that some enthusiastic cleaner had sprayed (and then must have sprayed again several times more than the pack recommended) and the charm that only florescent lighting can bring:

 

When the range finally called, we ambled outside to mount our trusty mechanical steeds and maneuver taxing twists and turns around pylons, witch’s hats and arbitrary lines. Our driving instructor, Steve, was nothing short of amazing. At all times, he dexterously navigated through the pitfalls and pinnacles of the evenings – a tasteful joke here, a stern reminder there… I can genuinely say that I felt humbled as a teacher. Here was a man whose job it was to turn over five complete novices wanting to learn how to seriously put themselves and others on the road at risk; here was his job to make them competent and do so in the space of seven hours, before starting with the next group, and the next one, from scratch, again and again. OK – some things I do at school are routine, but never that routine. What I think I found remarkable about Steve is that his job made him a real lifesaver, and he never let the routine dampen that awareness. On the contrary, he really showed that he cared very much about our well-being and the fact that we were about to embark on a journey that was for him (and would be soon for us) a real passion.

 

At the end of the night there was nothing left to do but pose for the camera. Smile, Fe!

 

 

…oh, and I did have to pop my certificate on the mantelpiece and admire it… only a few times.

 

Ls, Ls – here we come! What a pity we have to get through this Easter long weekend without being able to jump on our TGB! At least we’re one step closer.

April 5, 2007 Posted by | Learner riders | 4 Comments

01/04/2007 Introductions all round

Hi everyone! Welcome to my new blog. In the interests of reading convenience, I’ll try to keep it catchy and brief, but as I spend most of my writing life churning out essays for the various courses I’ve studied at university, it may take a while before I adjust to the new (and very cool) environment of the blog. Today I decided to start a blog primarily about my new scooter, and in so doing, share my experiences, discoveries and insights about changing from 4 wheels to 2. I’ve been truly inspired by a number of scooter and motorcycle blogs that I’ve been reading fairly avidly over the past few months. Two that particularly come to mind are Scooter in the Sticks and Big Guy Small Scooter. Let me just say that if you’re a scooter enthusiast (and perhaps a part-time philosopher like me), you need to have a look at these!

So, to get everything started then – first of all, let me introduce my scoot, photographed stylishly amid the backdrop of a generous neighbor’s charmingly dilapidated carport, replete with a whopping crack in the pavement and a back fence that has seen better days.

Isn’t it pretty?

my new scoot

Before you ask, no it doesn’t have a name, and no, I don’t think I’ll bother with one! At least for the time being, I can’t profess to a wealth of 2-wheeled experience. Actually, to be truthful, I don’t yet have a license… but I’m working on it! Before you begin – I only zoomed around the block once… ok, well, twice… and there weren’t any cars around… and I was only doing 20km/hr. Anyway, finger’s crossed, by the end of the week, I’ll have a big yellow L-plate attached to my number plate, then I can really go places.

So how did this incredibly stylish sports machine wind up in my possession, you ask? Well, it all began not long ago at a school disco. These places of excitement and wonder – where you may be lucky enough to have a first kiss and be asked out onto the dance floor – are absolutely dead boring when you happen to be a teacher at the tail-end of an 11 hour day with frankly better things to do than tell adolescent girls that no they can’t go into the hall unless they go and change, and yes that skirt is too short – no arguing, young lady!

Anyway, so there I am wandering around sipping a bottle of water that the boys at our local brother school made me pay for (the nerve… they should be paying me overtime!) Then I hear the obnoxiously loud roar of an engine, and a colleague/friend of mine Mark pulls up in leather on a beast with two gigantic wheels and a blinding headlight.

“Wow!” I remember saying to myself. “I wanna do that when I have my mid-life crisis!”

I’ve always been one for starting things early. So at 28, here I am with a TGB 101R 150cc sports scooter chained to a pole in our unit car park. All it took was the photo of this guy cruising on the highway (thanks www.scootersales.com.au) and I was desperate to hand over the cash.

tgb on the highway

No, that’s not me… yet!

April 3, 2007 Posted by | Learner riders | 2 Comments