Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Honda Reflex vs. CA Freeways - Life lessons from "high speed" scooter riding.


Honda Reflex vs. CA Freeways - Life lessons from "high speed" scooter riding.

In my professional and personal life, I've thrown my leg over dozens of motorcycles. Some bikes have ranged from the simple, single-cylinder machines to the massive behemoth Triumph Rocket III and its 2300cc engine. Some of those rides bring out the speed demon in me, and I know how it feels to blast down the road at 140MPH...on my FJR nonetheless.

However, what I've learned from taking a "slow bike" fast than a "fast bike" slow is what I value the most in my interactions with two-wheeled machines. In the moments when a full understanding of the vehicle between your legs is far more important than how far the throttle is twisted in your right hand is when everyday living gains a new perspective.

The "slow bike" in this conversation is a 2007 Honda Reflex NSS250 scooter. It's a 250cc, single cylinder automatic motorcycle made to be smooth, fuel efficient, and functional but one not to win any speed competitions. Originally, a friend of mine loaned the machine to me as something to play with, potentially to use on a couple local courier deliveries on my side of town. Plans were set to ride the bike from her residence in San Dimas back to my area in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County, and I did that on a random Monday after helping her acquire a new (to her) 2011 Suzuki Burgman AN400 somewhere near South Central LA.

Technically, I took CA-57 to CA-91 (the grey route). Still a bit of a hoof on a barely freeway legal maxi-scooter. Many props for it though.
This wasn't a very close ride either; the one-way distance from Point A to Point B was about 50 miles. For the naysayers who think I was absolutely nuts to take this bike on the freeway, a place where the speed limit is within the upper range of its capabilities, I can just say that it's legal to do this. Ideally, it probably wasn't. However, the alternative of taking nothing but side streets across Los Angeles and Orange County when I had work within a couple hours wasn't quite appealing either.

The scooter in question. The rider is questionable too.
So here I am charging down the freeway as quickly as the scooter would allow within reason, surrounded by giant cages (that's the motorcyclist slang term for cars) and trucks flying past me as they charged on toward their destinations. I wasn't fazed much by it, as riding the freeway on two wheels is an everyday aspect of my motorcycle courier work. The only difference? I didn't have the luxury of Eleanor's 1300cc inline-four engine and 700 lb. wet weight to withstand the wind blasts from vehicles alongside me.

Unfortunately, circumstances beyond my control that developed after I had brought the scooter "home" forced me to return it to San Dimas the following day. Delightfully, I did it by taking the exact same freeways I had used the previous day. So in essence I received a 90 mile test run and more than enough time to contemplate my life situation at hand while barely maintaining the speed limit on several major California freeways.

So without further adieu, here are several things I've learned to accept when riding the equivalent of a glider in a field of fighter jets on the Southern California freeway system.

1. You just have to not give a [insert a favorite expletive combination here] about what people think, do your own thing, and carry on.

Yes, I'm on a scooter with engine power a few horses short of a stable (19 HP to be exact), but I'm moving. I may be proceeding at the posted speed limit and no faster, but who's watching? I know where my limits are and I accept them without frustration because I have nothing to prove except that I can make it to my destination just like the rest of the crowd.

Besides, the ones who seem to pass you at 75-85 MPH are probably annoyed, pissed that you're getting better MPGs than they are (it cost me less than $5 to top off the tank). How about reducing that lead footprint and turn down those afterburners? Perhaps you'd save a few gallons of gas yourself.

2. You may have been given a set of parameters, but to be "stuck" in them is your choice.

As I've mentioned before, accepting the limitations of that scooter would've kept me off the freeway and potentially late for work. Instead of focusing on what the machine couldn't do, I looked at what I as an experienced motorcycle rider was capable of doing: ride a freeway legal bike and manage traffic at any speed. It's a waste of energy to dwell on what cannot be changed. Fortunately, we humans are dynamic creatures are able to adapt to the challenges set before us, the largest barrier being, in ironic fashion, ourselves. What choices will you make to get around a problem when that happens?

3. There's no need to overwork your motor when the destination is clear and you're en route.

Smaller displacement engines need to work harder to gain the speed and acceleration of larger ones so they will run at high RPMs and very hot. When running a bike of this type at higher speeds for longer periods of time, it is important to check not only the speedometer and tachometer for any unusual signs of overwork or potential engine failure but also, in the case of a water-cooled bike like this Honda, to make sure the cooling system can still manage these conditions and not put the motor at risk of overheating.

In layman's terms, you'll get to your destination eventually, but there's no need to rush. Why blow a head gasket and potentially cause long-term damage to save just a few minutes? Gauge your speed wisely. Sometimes it's best to let time eat the miles rather than forcing the issue. Good things come to those who wait.

4. It's the uncommon vehicle that shows its true value in times of difficulty.

You've never seen a Hummer try to slip between two cars before [successfully], right? When the normal traffic is stuck, now it's time for that scooter to shine. So those hotshots from earlier passed me only to get gridlocked several miles up the road. Guess that means I'm just going to have to needle past all of you.

Value your unique abilities and gifts. When given the right opportunity, they will provide that edge that you hoped it would bring. When moments happen when you're thrown to a corner, devalued, or otherwise disregarded because of what others perceive you to be, just go back to point #1. Your life is your gig. Stick it out and chugging along toward your goals.

You are worth it and no matter how others make you feel, you belong on the road. So get out there and make it happen. And sometimes, you'll meet the nicest people on a Honda. (Thanks, Joyce.)