I am vigilant about monitoring my road surfaces in the city, and I have mental checklists for known dangers. For example, I am particularly wary on garbage day, as the sanitation vehicles are famous for leaving puddles of unidentifiable goo in the street. Gas stations are also an excellent place to pick up diesel or oil on your shoes or tires, which you may not notice until you stop at a light and find your feet zinging out from under you.
But random oil slicks bandied across two lanes of traffic are not normally on my red alert list. So on my way to work Tuesday morning, the dark oily rainbow registered in my brain at the same time that I realized the Frankenstella and I were going down.
The wipeout was strange and shocked me completely; it was on a flat, straight, well-paved road that I ride daily. I usually keep an eye out for the streetcar tracks on this stretch because those can be quite slippery when wet. So I was caught by surprise to suddenly find myself rubber side up, swimming in what looked like the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez.
There was a large oil spill across both lanes of traffic, and the light rain was enough to make it super slick without rinsing it away. I was coming away from a light, so I was not traveling very fast, and was shifting into second gear when I hit the puddle and instantly hit the pavement. The cars behind me stopped, and when I registered that all body parts were still attached, I was back on my feet and pushing the scooter into a parking lot within seconds.
I put the Frankenstella up on her stand in and walked slowly around her, holding my breath. I am happy to report that the extensive crash bars covering Celeste did their job; she survived the slide with nary a scratch. This same protective mechanism is what banged up my legs considerably – those passenger foot pegs can cause a nasty shin bruise. But I was spared any lasting damage – just a thump on the right shin and a scratch on the left – the exact same spot I hurt last time I wiped out on wet leaves. Maybe I should get some hot modded shin guards or something.
I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think the Stella is one of the safer scooters. The very first time I rode it, I was alarmed at just how tippy and unsteady it felt compared to my previous bikes. I got used to the feeling, but I’ve never fully relaxed on that scooter. I’ve got 4,000 miles on the Vespa GTS now, and have never come close to putting that scooter down. I never went down on the Elite 80, nor the Elite 250. But this was round 3 going down on the Stella in only 800 miles.
I do feel the tires may be partially at fault. Of course, they will not compensate for the high center of gravity or the lack of balance due to the asymmetric weight distribution of the scooter, but I think it may be time for some new Contis. The Stella currently has a set of Continental Zippy 3’s, which are reportedly good all-weather tires. That said, they are 5 years old, and although the tread on them is not worn, I can’t imagine the rubber is in terribly good shape after the scooter sat in storage for 3 years. I noticed while riding two other Stellas — Vu’s 2008 Stella and Jett’s Atomic Fireball — that their scooters offered a much “stickier” ride.
I never feel cautious or ride gingerly on the GTS. I trust that bike. I have never trusted Celeste (especially after our tumultuous past). But… she’s just so darn pretty. She’s like the cheating girlfriend with supermodel good looks that you simply can’t break up with.
In any case, I’ve decided to garage the Stella until I get two new tires, and will probably not ride her in the rain much anymore. I have outfitted the Vespa with a windscreen and an all-weather trunk specifically for the rainy season. Additionally, the Vespa has larger tires with better traction, a lower center of gravity, and superb engine braking — all very good things in the rain.
I’m curious what kind of tires people have on their scoots — let me know if you’ve had good luck with a particular type for wet weather. I’m curious what type of rubber you’re riding on.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for suspicious rainbows on the pavement!