BELLEVILLE–It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Take a small, 49 cc scooter – near-perfect motorized urban transport – and ride it around the countryside.
Wring the little engine out to its top speed of 60 km/h and enjoy the rural landscape as only a cyclist can, with none of that tedious exertion that comes with pedalling. Slow down for a while, make the most of the journey.
And so, two years ago, I entered the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally and rode a plucky Yamaha B-WS around Lake Ontario for a loop of more than 800 km in less than 24 hours. And somehow, thanks to my good luck and others’ misfortune, I won the rally through a combination of goofy photos, vague determination and foolish bravado.
So when the call came to repeat the deed last month, only the happy memories remained. I asked Yamaha to provide another B-WS (the 2008, with a new exhaust catalyser) and persuaded my riding friend Dave O’Halloran to come alongside on a loaned Honda Ruckus.
On the new route for 2007 – a 660 km loop north from here at Belleville up to Calabogie, over to Ottawa and then back down to Highway 2 and down to Belleville, with an optional loop down to Cobourg and back to complete 800 km – we would be unbeatable.
The Mad Bastard Scooter Rally is organized by the Canadian Motorcycle Guide Online web magazine.
There are different categories of scooter, ranging from mopeds with pedals, bicycle seats and a truly challenged top speed of 50 km/h to large highway-gobbling machines like the 650cc Suzuki Burgman, which is as capable as any motorcycle and more comfortable than most.
The larger bikes had a time limit of 12 hours to complete the distance, finding the answers to various local questions along the way. The smallest had a full 24 hours and would need every minute.
My riding friend Dave was a lot more relaxed about the rally than me. “An average speed of 50 km/h means that we’ll complete the rally in 16 hours, and our machines reach 60 km/h, so it’ll be easy,” he announced. “I’ve told my aunt we’ll stop in along the way for a visit. I have a gift for her I’ve been meaning to drop off.”
This should have been the first clue. The generous under-seat luggage space of the B-WS (known fondly to its riders as a Bee-Whiz) was filled with a chrome kitchen garbage pail, to be delivered to the aunt who lives on the Ottawa River. There was a small amount of space left over for essentials, such as water, warmer gloves for after dark and a sweater. Late-June temperatures were cold at night, down to 6 degrees.
We left the parking lot to quiet fanfare at 4:30 a.m., twisting the throttles as far as possible and staying far over to the right out of the normal motorcycle blocking position. When cruising speed is 20 km/h below the posted limit, and almost half the common road speed, it’s important to ride more like a bicycle than a motorbike.
We both knew we had an advantage of reliability over many of the other entries. There’s not much that’s complicated about a modern scooter and the Japanese have been making such small engines for many years — plenty of time to perfect their design. The Honda has a 4-stroke engine and the Yamaha a 2-stroke, though both are clean running, quiet and consume almost no gas.
The oldest bike on the rally was the 1970 Motobecane of Costa Mouzouris, editor of Cycle Canada magazine. It was also the least powerful, capable of perhaps just a couple of horsepower. It’s his own moped and we knew he’d be the rider to beat, since he’d be awarded extra points for the age of the machine and its unique quality.
There was a stop at Sharbot Lake and Dave wanted breakfast, so we sat on the balcony of the Sunsets Day Resort and enjoyed pancakes and coffee and bacon and eggs as other riders came, kissed the waitress (to be photographed for points) and left. As we paid up, Mouzouris chugged in on the little yellow machine, kissed Steve the owner, and got a head start on us.
And so it went throughout the day. Mouzouris stuck with the route like a bad rash as other rallyists fell by the wayside. He snuck ahead stoically when we spent a couple of hours at Calabogie Motorsports Park, where we set a record for slowest lap of the new track – as well as for riding its entire length with the throttle pinned, never touching the brakes.
Dave’s aunt was pleased to get her garbage pail, and offered us hot dogs and strawberries with ice cream as the remaining rallyists disappeared far over the horizon.
We rode through Ottawa and down to the St. Lawrence, and as it grew later, the air turned cooler. Eventually, the slow and steady ride became just a surge toward the finish at Belleville. After many lazy stops, there was not enough time to reach Cobourg and return within the allotted 24 hours and we knew that victory had been lost.
We checked back in at the hotel 21 hours after leaving, to find Mouzouris waiting there already, his trusty Motobecane less the worse for wear than he was. He’d also skipped the Cobourg leg. “It was tiring pedalling up some of those hills,” he said.
I came 18th of the 55 entrants; Mouzouris came 14th. The winner, Doug Wright, dressed as a Viking and rode a 150 cc Twist N Go scooter capable of highway speeds. He won a Kymco scooter that he promises to ride in the next rally.
Good luck to him. It makes no sense, but I’ll be trying to regain the crown. Anybody got a 1969 Motobecane for sale?