GATINEAU, QUE.â€“Two guys riding scooters with their underpants on the outside of their jeans isn't something you see everyday.
But Lisa Hubers, whose family runs the Top of the Mountain ATV rental about 160 km west of Ottawa, didn't even bat an eye when Team Death Star rolled up to her doorstep unannounced last Saturday during the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally.
"We've been in this business for the past seven years," said Hubers, when Wheels Editor Mark Richardson and I (Wheels.ca editor, a.k.a. Captain Underpants) asked for help, about seven hours into our 21-hour rallying marathon. "I've seen just about everything."
Though Hubers seemed blasÃ©, she wasn't aware of the two-wheeled nuttiness displayed by all 85 participants in the fourth running of this oddball motorsport event. Among such hard-core scooterists, Wheels' dynamic duo in boxers were mere tourists (see accompanying story).
We'd started just before 5 a.m. here in downtown Gatineau with the questionable idea of finishing within 24 hours at the same place. For those of us tackling the whole rally, it meant at least 749 km in the saddle of whatever size scooter we had â€“ from vintage mopeds to 650 cc touring scooters.
The route ranged from beautiful winding highways along the Ottawa Valley to fiendish sections of gravel road. Along the way, riders collected points for answering questions related to the route. They also collected receipts from required gas fill-ups and Tim Hortons to prove they'd gone the required distance.
But points were also awarded for donations to the Kids Help Phone ($16,434 was raised overall), the age of scooter (the older, the better), the size of the bike (the smaller, the better) and the wackiness of the riders' costumes â€“ and the creativity shown in photos taken of riders doing "mad" things.
There was a gorilla, a pair of bananas, a toilet (yes, a toilet), a trio with inflatable dolls riding shotgun, a group of Mods, Star Trek officers on scooters decked out as the U.S.S. Enterprise â€“ even Elvis showed up.
Staging a mock off-road disaster on one of Hubers's ATV trails was one of our more creative (and tasteful) photo opportunities â€“ all done to collect maximum points for a "mad" activity.
"It's an ATV tour," laughed Hubers as she positioned us beside our prone scooters. "But it doesn't say how many wheels your ATV has to have."
Though our improvised costumes appeared woefully inadequate, we had other tricks up our sleeve to maximize our points potential â€“ starting with the 49 cc bikes.
After all, if you think riding a 749 km rally route in one day is mad, try doing it on a two-stroke bike designed as an urban runabout.
Besides their tiny size, they typically have restrictors on them that prevent them from going faster than 50 km/h â€“ if you're an optimist. Run into a headwind, or ride uphill or have excess baggage, then you're lucky to get anywhere near that speed.
Fortunately, Team Death Star was equipped with two sporty-looking rides â€“ a $4,150 Peugeot Speedfight 2 Rcup and a $2,695 Sym Jet Euro 50 â€“ that had their restrictors removed.
But a 49 cc engine is still just 49 cc. On flat stretches, the Sym maxed out at 65 km/h (the Peugeot was a little faster), and considerably slower on hills.
To survive through the Madawaska Highlands we'd clearly need some kind of carefully thought out strategy. Not to mention a gel seat pad and patience.
Lots of patience.
So I twisted the throttle open as far as it would go and tucked into a downhill skier-like crouch behind the front fairing to limit wind resistance and coax every last km/h out of the bike.
On some longer downhill runs, I even managed to bury the needle. On the Sym that was, uh, about 80 km/h.
But what went quickly down crept slowly up, and with heart-sickening regularity both bikes would slow on the inclines to 30 km/h or less. All we could do was move to the far right and let the rest of the world pass us by.
Only the migrating turtles on the road were slower.
And so 21 hours of our lives ticked away: throttles pinned in vain, butts aching from immobility and the "madness" of the early stages replaced gradually by sheer frustration and boredom, the whine of the engines fortunately drowning out the whine of the Harley-owning Wheels Editor.
On-the-road dangers were never far away, though, so we couldn't daydream. Besides the occasional moose, deer and groundhog, there were the animals behind the wheels of cars to contend with â€“ especially in the dark hours of Sunday morning.
Leaving aside the sore butts (which would happen after 21 hours on any size scooter), both bikes were reasonably comfortable, although the Peugeot's seat seemed a little low, even for my 5-foot-7 frame.
It also seemed better put together than the Sym, feeling more solid, as you'd expect from a bike that cost more than half as much again as the Sym.
Not that this mattered much as we finally approached the hotel in Gatineau in the middle of the night: the rutted cart track that passes for a main road in the city gave our spines and more tender body parts a final unwelcome rattling on either bike.
The next day we would learn that I had trounced the opposition in the media class, coming in eighth overall.
But rolling into the Gatineau hotel parking lot after 21 hours in the saddle, I couldn't have cared less. What I really wanted was something with a softer seat. Like, say, a car. Or a sofa in front of the TV.
When it came to performing their mad feat, both bikes did so without complaining, something that can't be said for their riders.
Andrew Meeson, editor of Wheels.ca, writes about scooters for Wheels. [email protected]