Red Dog and Me

This is an on-going dialog between me and a certain motor scooter, namely a 2009 Piaggio MP3 500 that came to live with me in October of 2009. I've named the scooter Red Dog and as yet have not determined its gender. In the past when I've named boats, bikes, and other like characters I've thought of them as feminine due to their behavior characteristics. Red Dog I'm not so sure about...we'll see. Update: OK, Red Dog's a girl...with an attitude

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dec 31, 2009 Plodding along with the Uni-Go hitch project

Oh, and of course it’s New Years Eve day today so I should at least extend my best wishes to everyone, I hope 2010 finds all of you well and having fun with your scooters! It’s early afternoon and I’ve just put the Eggplant Parmesan into the oven for the second bake segment, one to go after that and it’s done. Guess what we’re having for our New Years Eve repast?

Meanwhile I’ll see about catching up on the latest on the Uni-Go trailer project. The hitch took the better part of two days to design and fabricate as we went slowly and given the weather was cold as the dickens we limited our time correspondingly. When I say we what I mean is Ron did the designing and fabrication while I stood around shooting pictures and generally getting in the way a lot.

I took this shot of Bandon Fabrication during a lull in the high winds and driving rain. It reminds me of the Fairbanks Yamaha dealer’s place, nearly as cold and wet. Of course yesterday it had been sunny and mild out but not  this day. Brrr…….

Red Dog didn’t seem to mind the cold but I didn’t like it and I doubt Ron liked it either. Part of the deal if you’re going to work the metal trades I guess.

Before proceeding it was necessary to remove all of Red Dog’s rear fairings. This is the stuff owners refer to as “Tupperware” and it’s nasty to get off and put back on without breaking things.

Once Ron started the design process it was interesting to watch his progress. Since this was a total custom order nothing had been put down on paper, I just showed up with the scooter and a bunch of photos of other hitches I’d downloaded from the Internet plus a few emails from the west coast Uni-Go distributor.
I'd explained to Ron what I wanted to do and he took it from there using only the most basic information about the hitch itself and how it was to function. Dimensions provided by the trailer people were pretty rudimentary; we only knew what the weight factors would be and the optimum height of the hitch receiver.


We’d decided a 5-point support system would be sufficient so Ron welded two heavy steel tabs onto the forward upper frame member and two onto the rear frame member. A fifth tab was welded onto the lowest point of the center of the rear member for additional vertical support. Corresponding hitch frame members are bolted to the tabs using case hardened bolts. It's looking very strong for both weight support and lateral twisting.

Ron positioned the heavy steel tabs, and then using a high-speed deburring tool removed the paint from the area to be welded.
Welds were accomplished with a wire-feed high-amperage electric welding outfit. Penetration was good but it was a difficult job to reach the areas in back. Nimble-fingers Ron managed though and they turned out great.

Eventually all five steel tabs were on and Ron was ready for a well deserved break so we called it a day.

 When I arrived on Wednesday Ron had nearly finished the hitch. His work is so nice I hated to have to cover it up with primer but our salt air would nail it in less than a week if left bare.
This is the completed hitch with its first coat of primer. Ron’s part of the project is finished so now it’s time to head home where the rest is up to me.
 I’d recently picked up a folding aluminum ramp to replace the 2 x 8 planks I’d used for loading in the past. Riding Red Dog up the ramp felt a bit hairy the first time but I’d seen the dealer do it so I figured I could too. Like most things if you take your time and pay attention it’s no big deal. At home unloading was simple, I left the front end locked, released the park brake and standing on the left side walked her down the ramp. It was so easy I could have set the brake and taken a picture of her on the ramp. I only had to think about how bloody stupid I’d feel if the follow-up photo showed her lying on her side on the ramp so I passed.
So that’s it, I’m all up to date with the latest news of the hitch project. The paint’s in the house where it will remain warm and if tomorrow isn’t freezing I’ll have a go at painting the hitch. After that it’s on to the wiring part which may be awhile as I haven’t received the isolation relay yet. Right now it’s time to be thinking about New Years Eve! The Eggplant Parmesan’s finished and out of the oven, the Pinot Grigio is cold, the wind and rain outside are howling and it couldn’t be much better than this.

Happy New Year everybody!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dec 25, 2009 Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! From Bandon, OR

My very best wishes go out to all of you who have visited my blogs and been my friends. These are just a few pics I took on Christmas day of our little town and I wanted to share them with you.
If ever you have the chance to visit Bandon I hope you will do so, it’s one of the few remaining places on the Oregon coast that still retains the flavor of its origins.

How lucky it is for me to live in Bandon-By-The-Sea!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dec 22, 2009 Rain, Rain, go away…

Not much doing with Christmas just around the corner, things are kinda slow. The weather hasn't been co-operating so I've decided not to put up lights this year. Bah Humbug...! Was it only five years ago I put up 20,000 lights? At least this afternoon I was able to enjoy a short ride into Bandon with my friend Chuck Bruce. Typical of our rides we stopped at one of the local coffee shops where we consumed enough caffeine to hold us for a week. It was dark and foggy when we left and the town's Christmas lights shone through the mist. Nice.

Ron from Bandon Fabrication called today and we've set a tentative date of December 29th to install the hitch for the Uni-Go trailer. I'm really looking forward to that as it's a positive step towards next year's ride.

Next year's ride? Well initially I'm thinking about several possiblities with a run down the southern route for openers. I've got an old friend I'd like to visit who lives east of Tucson, AZ and after that I'll have to figure out whether to continue east or head back north.

This past summer's ride to Nova Scotia on El Nino has whetted my appetite to see more of America. Still I'm yearning to see Inuvik in Canada's Northwest Territories so I guess I won't know until it's time to turn east or north.

Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dec 13, 2009 Uni-Go Hitch Update

Not much to report on the trailer, everything remains status-quo for delivery. I went ahead and ordered a spare hitch receiver so the fabrication guys could start building the hitch. It arrived a couple of days ago and I’ll take it to the fabrication shop as soon as they’re ready, maybe this coming week.

I’m thinking I may have a hitch made for El Nino while I’m at it as I’m not 100% certain I’ll take Red Dog on my summer tour. A lot depends on how comfortable she is to ride long distances plus I want to be certain of her reliability. There’s a lot of talk on the MV Forum (Modern Vespa) regarding maintenance issues, many of which seem to affect nearly all of the MP3 models. I’ll know more as I go along but right now the jury’s still out on which bike I’ll take. For anyone who’s interested here’s the link to the MV Forum, you don’t have to be a member to read the posts:

As a note of interest to those considering this trailer: The Uni-Go is a nice unit and you won’t find anyone who’s towed one who doesn’t love it. At least I haven’t and that’s one of the main reasons for my decision to buy one. Dealing with the west coast distributor has been easy and I have no complaints; my phone call messages and emails have been responded to in a timely manner. Of course they’ve been keen on making another sale and you always get prompt responses during that time.

I did register a bit of dissatisfaction about their shipping fees for the hitch receiver as charging $33.14 to ship a 2 lb item is way over the top. The distributor commented that the factory customarily charges high prices for small items which was obvious considering the receiver itself is $56.10. We talked for a bit about the extraordinary shipping charges and he offered to bill what the factory charged him, $21.81. That still seemed astronomical but I figured it was better than before.

The receiver arrived in a USPS box and the shipping on the label is $6.55… Considering the folks at the post office give you the box free it’s obvious the Uni-Go people are gouging.

Certainly something for all of us to think about isn’t it?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dec 07, 2009 Uni-Go order update

The following is just FYI to keep everyone updated on what's happening with the Uni-Go. It looks like it may take awhile longer to get than I'd hoped; several weeks in fact. I think I'll order a second hitch receiver so the fab shop can get that out of the way before the trailer arrives. Here's the latest email on it:

Monday, December 07 2009 7:44AM

Hi Larry,

You placed your order correctly! Black Touring model, black combo lock, black handle, black drawbar, black wheel and isolation relay. Thank you very much!

Your order has been placed with the factory. The last few orders have taken between 6-8 weeks to receive but I'm hoping they have fully "caught up" from their busy season and will be closer to their "normal" times of 4-6 weeks. I'll will keep you posted on the order progress and once shipped will forward carrier and tracking information so that you can follow it right to your door.

My curiosity is piqued about your Arctic Ocean adventure...can't wait to hear what you've got up your sleeves and how the Uni-Go performs with your Piaggio and custom hitch!

Thanks again!


----- Original Message -----

From: Larry Parmenter


Sent: Saturday, December 05, 2009 6:59 PM

Subject: Order XXXXX

Hi Marty,

I've reviewed my order and thought I'd specified a black wheel but it looks like maybe it's silver? Would you please verify and if it's not black please change it to that. If it's impossible to do don't worry about it, I can live with silver but I'd prefer black.

Will my Uni-Go be the first one to travel to the Arctic Ocean? Stay're gonna love this tale.

Thanks a bunch,

Larry Parmenter

Bandon, OR

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dec 06, 2009 Cover Up!

I needed a cover for Red Dog and since I've got several for other bikes I borrowed one of those. I don't think you could ask for a better fit, at least if you have a top box. There are two heavy straps on the bottom so you can secure it against wind. Another feature I like is they sewed a huge flap underneath the front that says "FRONT" so no more fumbling around trying to see which way it goes on.

I've read a few comments regarding concern about scratching the windshield but that's never happened with this one. Actually I've never had that happen with any cover come to think of it. Maybe it's a result of the fit being too tight? This cover is a size large Black Sable from Beverly Bay, cost was under $50.00 and the quality is really nice. Made in China.

Here's the link to Beverly Bay: They were easy to deal with, have a nice web site and gave prompt service.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dec 05, 2009 Uni-Go or not to go?

After much deliberation and listening to countless opinions and advice I’ve decided to buy a Uni-Go trailer for Red Dog. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that particular beast here’s a link to their web site:

If you go there be sure to watch the video; that and testimonials are what convinced me to take the plunge.

Some of you who have followed my previous blogs know that I like to haul way too much stuff along on my meanderings. This, much to my chagrin has on occasion resulted in overloading my bikes causing subsequent handling problems. My goal with the Uni-Go is to enable me to take along a reasonable amount of camping gear without affecting the ride characteristics of the bike, in this case, Red Dog.

To date I’ve had two meetings with Ron, the owner of Bandon Fabrication regarding building a custom hitch for towing the Uni-Go and we’re comfortable that it can be done. To date it seems no one else has done so and this will be a first. I’m confident in Ron and his crew as well as the folks at Uni-Go and I’m anxiously looking forward to the next phase in this venture. Delivery should be in the next few weeks but with the holiday season in full swing it will likely take awhile to complete.

Next year’s ride is going to be a blast!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nov 12, 2009 Foot Pegs & Brackets

 My major and perhaps most singular complaint about Red Dog is the seating position. Part of this is due to the limited room you have for resting your feet and part is the saddle configuration. Read that last as not enough room to scoot my fat butt back, the solution for which will be covered in a future report. For now I’ll address the issue of where to put my feet when it’s time to stretch.

One of the guys on the scooter forum I frequent has entered into the manufacturing game by introduction of his foot peg brackets. Made of heavy stainless steel, they’re stronger than the scooter base you mount them on. Point in fact Jeff, the company owner cautions against standing or pushing on them to reposition your feet as the underlying material might break. Probably good advice.

I ordered a set and they arrived before he’d even cashed my check which Just goes to illustrate how some guys are of a trusting nature. They turned out to be every bit as nice as I’d expected and the installation was simple.

As furnished the brackets are well made but not buffed or polished and it was my desire to improve on their appearance. At first I was smitten with the idea of having them “engine turned” or what we used to have done to our firewalls and rifle bolts back when such things were in vogue. It’s a sort of swirly looking pattern that’s engraved into the metal surface and it’s cool looking as all get out. Not being of artistic bent I took the brackets to our local fabrication outfit for their opinion on such matters where it was suggested I have a go at it myself. Thanks a lot guys.

After having a look at what there was available at our local hardware store I decided to do with what I had on hand, namely my Moto tool outfit. I attacked the backside of one of the brackets with a flourish, but it soon became evident that my limited skills would not produce the masterpiece I wanted and I settled for a mediocre polishing job that eliminated most of the fabricator’s marks. So be it.

At the same time as I’d placed my order for the mounting brackets I’d ordered a set of pivoting foot pegs from an on-line purveyor of motorcycle farkles. As it turned out there was a 1-day lag between receiving the mounting brackets and the foot pegs which gave me time to do the install in two easy steps. Like two screws… how hard is that?

After that it was simple enough to hang the foot pegs from Drag Specialties and the job was done. They fold up easily enough and when in the down position they provide a nice place for resting my feet.

I just don’t know if I can stand all this excitement….

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nov 08, 2009 Brookings Bikers Breakfast

Good grief, what is this darkness thing anyway? I got up fairly early for my monthly run down to Brookings to attend a Bikers Breakfast and it was still pitch dark. I guess old man winter must be on the way as all I could see was the moon. The weather people had predicted cloudy/sunny with a low of 45 degrees to get things started and later on maybe 59 degrees. They didn't mention a word about darkness...

I was pretty much ready to ride other than not having a full tank of gas but figured I could make it to Port Orford. Sunday mornings usually means nothing will be open much before 7:00am and that proved to be right; the Chevron station had just been open a few minutes when I pulled in. I tanked up and headed south as daylight continued its spread across the choppy Pacific Ocean. It’s around 80 miles from our place to Brookings via the twisty coastal highway and I always enjoy the ride. This morning was no exception, no nasty cross winds and no rain, just a bit of fog blowing in off the surf.

The guys & gals who attend the Bikers Breakfast are an eclectic bunch who ride all sorts of gear that includes cruisers, sport bikes, trikes, side cars, adventure bikes, and now even a scooter. Red Dog drew considerable attention from everyone as few had ever seen one of Piaggio's products and nearly all were curious. Most questions were centered around the mysterious front end configuration and how well it handled, etc. After the usual polite inquiries it always got around to "Uh, if you don't mind, uh, I know it's kind of personal" to which I would respond "9". I knew they wanted to know the price for one and I'm not offended by their asking, they're friends and besides anyone can find out what they cost by calling a dealer.

After breakfast I headed north towards Bandon, pausing for a brief photo op next to one of the bears currently guarding Brookings. The town was sporting a couple dozen of the critters, apparently part of a traveling show. Or maybe they're beginning to weird-out a little?

Nearing home the fuel reserve light came on and after a few miles I noticed a new display that hadn’t been there before. Evidently when you go onto reserve the computer begins recording how many miles you’ve traveled, sort of an extra visual reminder you’d better fill up. I like that whole idea as running out of gas is not my idea of entertainment. I’d traveled 15 miles on reserve when I pulled into the Bandon Chevron and I was anxious to see what sort of mileage I was getting. I pumped 2.83 gallons into the tank and if memory serves me right it holds a little over 3 gallons so I must have been nearly empty. That’s when I did a really dumb thing; I hit the reset button on the trip odometer before recording the mileage. Duh… Oh well what the heck, next time I’ll check it first.

Rain had started a few miles before arriving in Bandon and it was my first opportunity to ride Red Dog in the wet. As was expected good manners were exhibited and I felt very secure with the handling. This ride also provided an opportunity to fully test the new heated grips. They not only worked well, I had to turn the temperature down as my hands were getting too hot. Now that's a problem I can deal with!

More stuff to follow on the heated vest and the Air Hawk seat pad, stay tuned.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nov 6, 2009 The Electric Vest Controller Arrives

Around 1:30pm this afternoon I told Linda I was going to have a lie-down aka power nap until the FedEx gal arrived. The digital controller for my electric vest was due to arrive today sometime and until then there wasn’t a whole lot I could do to Red Dog. At precisely the moment I made that statement both dogs started raising heck which is their way of announcing the arrival of someone at our gate.
The FedEx gal is a really nice lady but she has this thing about our collie Chance and prefers to not enter our place. I admit he raises cane and his bark is super loud plus he gets all puffed up and scary looking. The other delivery people seem to be able to deal with him or at least they try but she’s afraid of him and maybe I don’t blame her. In any event I didn’t get my lie-down as the shipment had arrived and I was happy to see it.

I expected the installation to go smoothly as I’ve done them before and it wasn’t new territory for me. The biggest issue was where and how to locate the controller and the plug-in the vest uses to attach its cable to. In the past I’ve located the plug-in on the right side of the bike just below my leg so there was a natural fall towards it. The plug-in itself just sort of dangled out of the side frame which was convenient to use and if I forgot to unplug when I dismounted it would just pull free without breaking anything.
Red Dog’s makers have got this thing about covering every possible wiring route up with plastic fairing and getting a control wire from the front of the scooter to the back by my leg was going to be a pain in the butt so I tried to come up with an alternate location that would be both convenient and easy to install. I finally decided it would be a simple matter to mount the controller on the handlebars using Ram Mounts that I already had on hand in my junk box. This turned out to work just fine and I was able to route the plug-in so that it hung out of the center of the handlebar housing. This will ensure an easy connect/disconnect without any damage issues should I forget to unplug.
I finished the job a little after dark and since I’ve never ridden Red Dog at night I rode down to the mail box, then up 101 to the Game Park which is about ¼ mile up the road and back. The heated grips were a welcome luxury and if I had worn the vest it would have been also. At the same time I was able to get a feel for the lighting and it seems more than adequate, especially the low beams. The bright beams are two little spotlight things and they also perform nicely.

Busy, busy....

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nov 4, 2009 HotGrips for freezing fingers

OK so when it comes to cold I’m a bit of a wuss but I don’t care, cold is not my deal. HotGrips are the thing to have in my book, they help stave off cold stiff fingers and that’s a safety issue on a bike. I’ve already installed them on 3 other rides and love the darn things so I ordered up a set for Red Dog. They arrived promptly and this morning I set out on what I figured would be a simple install.

Right from the get-go I ran into a snag, the Allen screws holding the bar end weights on and ultimately the original rubber grips were refusing to budge. Fearing the worst I called the dealer in California and his tech confirmed it, they’d been installed with some sort of Locktite product thereby guaranteeing they weren’t going to come off easily, if ever.

He had several suggestions ranging from heating things up with a butane torch to cutting the grips off so I could more easily access the screw threads. None of his suggestions sounded good to me as nearly all of them might result in damage to the underlying plastic throttle sleeve. I posted a problem inquiry on the Piaggio users’ forum and decided while waiting for responses I’d ride into town and see if an auto mechanic I know could get them off.

This turned out to be a good idea as he dug into his bottomless kit of exotic tools and came up with a set of Torx screw extractors, one of which worked perfectly. He had both screws backed out in less than 2 minutes and I was on my way home.
At home again I set about removing the original rubber grips. Evidently there’s a consistency at the Piaggio factory; they’d used plenty of what appeared to be contact cement holding them on so it was out with the pointy knife and off they came. Once done I followed the instructions for preparing the handlebars by sandpapering the surface. This makes for a better glue bonding and things finally started to go smoothly. The grips went on and have been left to set up overnight.

In the mean time I located the variable heat controller up high on the dash where hopefully it will be out of harm’s way from the front suspension action. I’d been cautioned by several forum members to keep that in mind as they’d learned the hard way by losing switches they’d installed too low.

The wiring is already in place and ready for final hookup tomorrow after the glue for the new grips has cured. Following the paths of others I’d located a relay with a switched power source of more than adequate supply and tapped into it.

Ain't this fun?

Nov 5, 2009 Postscript

This morning I finished the wiring and the HotGrips work great. I also took a run to town and found new metric Allens in the correct length for the bar end weights so that's resolved.

Now I'm ready for the next project, the electric vest controller. It's scheduled to arrive tomorrow and should be a fairly straight forward install (where have you heard that one before?)

Film at eleven....