by Gary Charpentier
It was the Golden Hour in old St. Paul as Quasi-Moto and I snortled across the High Bridge. (Snortle is my own contraction of snort and burble, and describes Quasi’s exhaust note perfectly.) Thirty-six degrees, sun not yet over the horizon, and no traffic… Golden indeed. It had rained every day since I finished building this bike I call a Cafe Scrambler, and both of my earlier shake-down rides had been cursed by precipitation. But this morning was magic, and I savored every moment of it.
My commute to work takes in some wonderfully twisty sections of urban pavement. First, there is the strangely Manx-sounding “Ramsey Hill”, at the top of which lies a right-hand sweeper followed by a decreasing radius left, bordered by old stone walls. These reflect the exhaust note back to the rider and encourage one to explore the rev range a bit. But you have to temper that enthusiasm, as there is a stoplight at Dale and Grand immediately afterward.
Grand Avenue is your typical High Street, by which I mean there are upscale shops and cafes, a liberal arts college campus, and a lot of pedestrian traffic. The variety of aromas which emanate from these buildings is incredible! The rich melange of strong coffee, a hint of cinnamon from fresh pastries, sometimes the tang of garlic makes my mouth water as I pass the classier restaurants. Stoplights abound, but there is so much to see and, though I am loathe to admit it, they provide ample opportunity to admire your bike’s reflection in the many plate-glass storefronts. I guess we are all poseurs to some degree…
There are some nice sweeping curves along the Mississippi on West River Road, and these can be taken somewhat briskly if you go early enough. After about 6:30 though, the lycra-clad trotters come out, along with the Park Police, and the 25 mph speed limit is strictly enforced. Then too, there are the speed-humps to deal with. These taper to nothing at the edges, and it is a fine test of steering precision to quickly swoop over and clip the curbing, missing the hump altogether. Quasi-Moto performed this with panache, and I found myself grinning like an ape inside my helmet by the time I reached the stop sign at Plymouth Avenue.
The real handling test came at an unlikely spot. There is a shopping center along my route with a nice, twisty road running along the edge of it. Most people enter this road from the left turn lane at a stoplight, but when that arrow is red I bypass it and catch the next left turn lane which is not metered by a light. Here I crank it over to the left in a quick U-turn,scraping the pegs or at least grounding something on most bikes. Quasi-Moto reeled right over and I just felt the edge of my boot sole grazing the pavement before we set up for the immediate ninety degree right turn and the beginning of the “Byerly’s Chicane”. Still with me?
Keep in mind that these are all in the space of half-a-block and follow immediately after one another. So, it’s left U-turn followed by 90-degree right turn into 90-degree left turn with crumbling pavement everywhere off-line, followed by a 90-degree right sweeper that widens at the exit so you can really pick up some speed at the end. I think that’s why they put the stupid stop sign at the little-used ‘T’ intersection about a block from that last turn. At any rate, it’s a most challenging bit of urban chicanery, and I found myself thankful that I left the centerstand off of my Cafe Scrambler design. With the high-mount scrambler exhaust and Tarrozzi rearsets, there is nothing to drag in the corners, and I find myself amazed at the lean-angles I am getting. Why, I could have dragged a knee coming into that last right sweeper, but then I realized that I would look pretty silly at work with holes in my Dockers and road rash showing through.
Quasi-Moto passed the handling test with flying colors. I arrived at work flushed with adrenaline, snot running from my nose, and an ear-to-ear grin plastered on my face. That hasn’t happened in a long time.
He’s out there right now, leaning casually on his sidestand, waiting for me to flee my cubicle and join him on another adventure. I park him in the unmarked space at the end of the lot, in full view of the cafeteria windows. Every time I take a break, to get a drink of water or a snack, I pause a moment to gaze out and daydream of our next ride. Maybe another Lunchtime TT around the serpentine roads of the industrial park, or a quick blast out to one of the many cafes in the area. Life is good…
Attack of the Niggles
Of course, anyone who has built a custom or café special is well acquainted with “The Niggles”. For those who don’t know, The Niggles are those last remaining gremlins which survived the build process by lying dormant, only to make their presence felt once the bike is on the road.
Niggles are either mechanisms which have settled comfortably into the static state during long years of storage, or strange new parts that have been attached to the old chassis, but have yet to become ‘one with the machine’. The Niggles can really wreak havoc on your shake-down rides, and in fact are the primary reason for doing them.
They hide in many places, but tend to prefer the fuel and electrical systems. I believe this is because that’s where they can do the most mischief while still eluding your efforts to track down and eradicate them. Why, if they partied down in the crankcase, you would have to tear down the engine and kill them before you could even ride. What fun would that be?
No, the name of the Niggles’ game is frustration. They want to get you out on the road, away from your trusty tools, before they begin capering about. This is precisely why a shake-down ride should always be planned within a pushing-distance-radius of your home. Failing that, you should at least take a cell phone along and have a friend standing by with a pickup truck and ramp. I know this because I didn’t do the first, and couldn’t do the second because I don’t even own a cell phone. But I am a sneaky bastid… before the ride I surreptitiously filled the pockets of my jacket with a few strategically selected tools. The Niggles hadn’t counted on that, and I vanquished them right there on the side of the road.
The Trial of Ton-Up Hill
As many of you know, I have a sort of unofficial speed-testing venue near my home which I have dubbed “Ton-Up Hill”. Climbing the steep grade coming up from the Mississippi River, the run commences after passing an entrance ramp on the right, and checking it for lurking lawmen. If the coast is clear, you twist the throttle to the stop and try to crack the ton before taking the next exit only a half-mile away at the top.
Modern sportbikes do this with ease, and I score them based on terminal velocity… so braking comes into play as well. However, Quasi-Moto is a vintage, air-cooled, half-liter twin, and I had to grab a gear and work him hard to achieve a best of about 85 mph, as indicated by the dancing analog speedometer needle. Still impressive though, when you consider that a Norton, Triumph, or Harley of the same era would have trouble beating it, despite the significant displacement advantage they enjoy. But the Quest for the Ton continues, and you can bet I will be tuning and tweaking to try to squeeze that last bit of horsepower out of this basically stock motor. That large sack of meat on the back could stand to lose a few pounds as well…
First Call to Grid…
It’s almost quitting time. I’m in the cafeteria again, looking out the window. The angle of the sun has changed so I can now see the deep green of the paint and the glint of chrome and polished alloy. All of the Niggles have been sorted, and I know that when I go out there and push that button, he is going to fire up eagerly and immediately. Ya gotta love that vintage Japanese technology. With that delightful snortle sounding from the scrambler exhaust, we will roll on out of here and take the long way home. Past pubs and parks, cafes and garages, we will probably stop anywhere that has bikes parked outside. The green flag has dropped on a beautiful evening, and there’s no hurry to get to the finish line.