I took advantage of yesterday’s blue sky sunshine to spend some quality time with the Frankenstella. We bonded like old lovers reunited.
We had plans to meet Jett and her Fireball Stella, “Arson”, in West Seattle. I’ve been toying with the idea of moving to that neighborhood in the fall. The only factor preventing me from already relocating to West Seattle is my disdain for rush hour traffic.
I am presently spoiled by a four minute commute (five minutes in traffic). In January, when I’m riding a scooter on the windy Lakeview ramp in the freezing rain, I cherish this fact and use it as justification for my astronomical rent.
But on a warm and rosy day, riding along Alki Beach with the salty breeze on my face, watching Labradoodles gambol in the surf, January is just a faint bad dream. One should avoid apartment hunting during Seattle summers.
Most of my passages to West Seattle are during the weekend. If I hop on Interstate 5 from Capitol Hill, I arrive at Alaska Junction in less than fifteen minutes. But because there’s only one way in and out of West Seattle, and because I wouldn’t ride on I5 in rush hour traffic, I needed a dose of reality concerning my potential commute. So yesterday the Frankenstella and I left work in South Lake Union at 4:30 and headed Westward.
A rush hour commute to West Seattle on the Frankenstella is a worst-case scenario for two reasons. One, the Frankenstella hates idling. (Who can blame her?) Her idle is currently set exceedingly high – an adjustment I would have remedied before my ride, had I not just latched 100 pounds of chrome over the cowls. Accessing the engine is now a job requiring at least three hands and more patience than I possessed yesterday.
Because of The Frankenstella’s history of constant stalling, I had the idle set high purely for my own comfort level. My stomach would tie in knots when the put-putting dropped below a certain rhythm – even if that rhythm was within safe range for a healthy engine. Now that my trust in the Frankenstella’s staying power is fortified, I can lower the idle – especially since I plan on doing mostly city riding with her and she’ll get all boggy.
(This sounds like a great opportunity for a “how-to” post on idle adjustment, especially since it was the very first thing I learned how to do on my two-stroke after changing the sparkplug. Maybe I could even do it on video with audio, because it’s really all about the sound.)
In any case, the idle was high and I found myself sitting at light after infuriating light. Before getting to the open road of Airport Way, the engine was so hot I feared an impending case of the diesels. With my particular set-up, I’ve found that keeping the engine in gear while waiting at lights prevents it from racing. If it’s hot and I put it in neutral and let up on the clutch, the idle will start climbing until it sounds like the engine might explode.
Since I’d been riding the Frankenstella from home to cafe to work and back and nowhere else, I hadn’t even managed to get her into fourth gear in some time. And I’m sure the battery was on the fritz from lack of recharging, though I’d abandoned use of the electric start long ago. Between that and the boggy engine from sitting at lights, I was pleased as punch to finally break free of downtown so I could open her up and put her through the paces on Airport Way.
I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but the Frankenstella seemed relieved to meet fourth gear with an open throttle. I let her rip and pushed her up to a comfortable 45 mph. I could hear the quality of the engine hum improve, like when you cough and cough and finally clear your throat.
the Frankenstella’s stock seat has been cut down and the foam padding removed. This lowers the seat by several inches and simulates riding on a knotty pine two-by-four. Nearest I can tell, it was because the scooter’s intended owner was short. At six feet tall, I don’t have a problem reaching the ground while sitting on any scooter. So the lack of padding offers no benefit. Particularly when riding on Airport Way.
Airport Way, like all of the surface street routes to West Seattle, is rife with waist-deep potholes, interspersed with mountains of crumbling asphalt intended to fill them. It’s a war zone. I’ve learned where some of the truly awful offenders are and change lanes to avoid them.
The first time I took that route, it was pitch dark, and I was riding with a dim headlight, blindly following two friends. The road, sans streetlights, was almost invisible. Under the bridge I clutched the handlebars for dear life, and nearly bought the farm when I hit the uneven cliff of the railroad tracks head-on. I will need to take a photograph of those railroad tracks.
While it’s no secret that I am prone to hyperbole and exaggeration, this jagged chasm is total skull & crossbones material. The pavement is broken and lifted, the rift rising half a foot. You take the edge directly to the front tire on the approach. And if you’re riding a Stella, it’s a 10″ tire – with stiff suspension.
But by now, the route is old hat and the Frankenstella and I arrived at Jett’s unscathed. Though I’d forgotten how much work it is to ride a manual bike. I mean, it’s a full-time job.
[ The Frankenstella gazing longingly at Arson. Subtle, Frankenstella, subtle. ]
We had dinner at the Luna Park Cafe, which is the coolest joint ever and straight out of a Coney Island nightmare. It makes me a little sad that Luna Park is gone. When I see Alki and the city lights across the water, I think about how beautiful it must have been and how neat it would be to still have an amusement park with music and rides and a boardwalk to explore on summer nights. The Cafe has damn good onion rings, FYI.
After dinner, Jett and I cruised along the beach, passing Alki Tavern with its gleaming row of Harleys parked outside. We honked and waved, and the sea of bikers saluted us. If anything draws the attention of a crowd like that, it’s two chicks on brilliant custom bikes with a sweet flame job and head-to-toe chrome. Jett and I get a lot of looks riding together.
After Alki we climbed to a lesser-known lookout point to which I’d never been, and we parked at the edge of the cliff to watch the ferries and sailboats glide on the shimmering water at sunset. I looked up at the street signs to realize we were aptly located at Sunset Ave. and Seattle St. For a minute I fantasized about living in the beautiful house perched on the edge of the wall with a full glass lookout tower and 360 degree views of Sound and mountains. Then the owner came home in his Beamer and spoiled my reverie.
Depending on the neighborhood, the attention Jett and I draw can be unwelcome. We moved on quickly lest he call the cops on the two scooter hoodlums loitering outside his residence, sullying the view.
We cruised through the back roads with lush green lawns and low-hanging trees, arriving back at Jett’s little gingerbread house. She has a huge garage and had spent the day cleaning it out and organizing her tools. I was grateful for this pit stop as my crashbars shook loose during the bumpy ride and needed to be tightened. I entertained myself endlessly by crawling under my scooter in my 9-to-5 khakis and smearing black grease across my face while pushing my glasses up on my nose. I decided to make little pink t-shirts that say, “I have a wrench – and I’m not afraid to use it!”
Jett let me take the Atomic Fireball for a spin. I was curious how it would compare to the Frankenstella. The stock Fireball has a higher gear ratio, but Celeste has a Sito+ pipe which kicks the power through the roof. I’m pretty sure the Fireball has a beefier top speed cause Jett leaves me in the dust if I’m not paying attention. So while the Frankenstella feels like it has more initial get-up-and-go, the Fireball has more staying power. Her scooter certainly offers a much smoother ride, and I don’t think it’s just the seat. It accelerates more smoothly, shifts more smoothly, and vibrates a lot less. Now the first thing I’d do if I had a Fireball was slap a Sito+ pipe on it and go drag racing. But I’m a bit of a volume freak.
Jett gave me the mod stadium mirror on a long chrome post that came on the Fireball because she wasn’t using it. I attached it and enjoyed the view on the way home, which was a typical nighttime fifteen minute ride down 99. In related news, I have confirmed that Celeste’s top speed with me aboard is a sure, steady 50 miles per hour.
My butt hurts today. Given the choice, I would take Celeste on short trips down brightly-lit, well-maintained roads, in clear weather. She’s great for around town. But my Vespa can definitely handle cross-town traffic adventures. While the rush hour commute to West Seattle would be more pleasant on Aphrodite, it’s still fifty minutes to travel five miles. I’ll let you do the math.