Piaggio Liberty 150

What good is a scooter?

In Europe, the 125cc Piaggio Liberty is a workhorse, delivering everything from pizza to the mail. And it’s a reliable a commuter. A 150cc version has just now become available in the USA.


If you are looking for something light for the street, the Liberty only weighs 255 lbs. without fuel. But the lighter the bike the smaller the engine. Why? I don’t know exactly but it probably has something to do with staying alive. You only get 150 cc’s.

You can have a 150 cc motorcycle,  but a small engine requires a lot of shifting to keep the rpms in the maximum power range. A scooter has a simple automatic transmission and is more or less always in the right gear. No shifting required.

The Liberty engine is the same air cooled, fuel injected, three valve unit used in the much more expensive Vespa. 77 mpg, actual, reported on fuelly.com

The big wheels, 16 inch front and 14 rear, help on rough roads and produce handling more like a motorcycle than a small-wheeled scooter.


There’s a big glove box up front and good storage under the seat. You can get by without a top box, at least around town. The seat is 31 inches off the ground and pretty narrow in the front, making it easy to put your feet down. No side-stand, but the center stand is easy to operate.

You only get a top speed of 60 mph, and 45-50 is probably more in the comfort range, so you are talking minimalist transportation. Keeping up with traffic is a matter of either picking your roads or occasionally moving over to let cars go by.

Think of it this way, the Liberty is out of the box faster than any hot-rodded 50-60 cc Honda Ruckus, and I would love to go around Lake Winnipesaukee on a Ruckus. I like minimalist thinking, but I don’t want to get run over either. With 13 horsepower, the Liberty has just enough to stay out of trouble.

You can buy a Piaggio Liberty 150 at Herb Chambers Vespa in Boston for about $3600, out the door.

Am I going to buy one?

Very tempting. This is one of the very few practical scooters that look good to me and I am a big fan of things that look good. But I would want to keep my ’97 BMW F650 and I know my wife will say “you don’t have room for it” and be right.

In fact, she did say it.

How did this post turn into thoughts on shed building?




2012 G650GS

I enjoyed taking a spin on a 2012 BMW G650GS, essentially the latest and final version of the F650 line that started back in the early nineties. My own bike is a 1997 F650.

The engine is pretty much the same with the notable exception of fuel injection. I looked for the enrichment lever to start the bike and didn’t find one. Give it a little gas, press the start button and it fires right up!

It has the same characteristic big-single vibration in the 4000-4300 rpm range although a bit more subdued. Nothing in the bars, a little in the pegs, nothing in the seat. I think it has slightly more power in the 3000-5000 rpm range. I rarely use anything higher than that.

The sound is different with more of a growl. The exhaust pipe feeds into what appears to be dual mufflers, but they are connected in series and the exhaust exits from the one on the right.

The geometry and dimensions of the G are identical to the old F, but it felt a bit more nimble, maybe because the fuel tank is under the seat. Or maybe the rear tire had less of a worn flat center section than my Metzler Tourance tires with almost 8000 miles on them.

The suspension is identical as far as I can tell and, by the way, having gotten used to 6.5 inches of travel front and rear, I don’t think I would be happy with the couple inches you typically get on something like a Sportster.

The gnarly headlight works for me and I like the idea of running tubeless tires on the cast rims. It was a cool day and I enjoyed the luxury of heated grips.

Overall, the G has that contemporary BMW feel of substance. It’s a great bike and could last a lifetime with the remarkable support BMW has for older bikes. But this one is essentially brand new with less than 6000 miles on it.

The G650GS got me to the local SlashBurger restaurant very nicely, but I felt like riding it further.  Say, to Deadhorse, Alaska.


A borrowed 2012 BMW G650GS and Bell helmet and my new Sedici jacket


Running Lean: Part One

A motorcycle can be a pretty minimalist approach to transportation and I like that. Buy a good used 50 mpg bike for relatively little money, maintain it yourself, register and insure it for $150. Travel light.

Not really the North American way these days, but there was a time when that general approach to living was mostly what I knew.

In 1949 I was 5 years old and we lived just behind Elliott’s coal yard in a small cottage on a dirt road that led to the town beach on Pentucket Pond. My mother loved the beach.

But for my younger brother and I, a short walk through the back garden and into the the woods brought us to Mr. Bateman’s place, a 10′ x 14′ tar-paper shack. We called him Charlie. He was an old, slow-moving, WWI veteran who kept to himself, took care of himself and said little.

He had no car, no phone, no power, and no plumbing. Everything was dark. Kerosene lighting, coal stove, dark boards, black tar-paper walls and roof, old army blankets, and Charlie himself all in black with one of those heavy fabric vests that old men wore. One small window above a tiny makeshift table attached to the wall.

I was a bit afraid, not understanding Charlie and how he came to be there and what it meant, but there he was and there I was. My brother loved him easily and spent a lot of time shooting Charlie’s air gun, drawing cartoons at his table, and just hanging out.

The absolute best adventure was going hunting. Squirrel hunting. We’d hike down the abandoned railroad bed to a place in the woods Charlie liked. He had a shotgun and a big canvas bag with crossed rifles on it. The squirrels would go in the bigger part of the bag in the back. Our sandwiches and the shotgun shells would go in the smaller outer part. There were rules and only one of us could go with him at a time.


A bag like Charlie’s, but his was darker.

One morning my mother found Charlie slumped down on the back stairs, unconscious. He had tried to come up to the house for help. That had never happened before.

It was my first funeral. I was surprised how good he looked in the casket, considering he was dead. At the grave site an honor guard of veterans fired their rifles in the air in a three volley salute. It was so loud! Again, and again, and I realized Charlie must have been young once and there was a whole world of stuff I didn’t know about him, and now shots were being fired out of respect for him and I could hear a distant bugle, beautiful and clear.

He’s one of the very few people I remember from way back then, before I went off to first grade.

In the years after Charlie died, the shack came down and the Elliotts built a large new home overlooking the pond on the wooded knoll behind the cabin site.

Down the Road

The old, hardwired part of my brain arrived genetically, a product of millions of years of evolution. It existed before agriculture and was used hunting and gathering. It knows how to carry all my possessions with me, to live light and free. It’s still there, operating in the background. There hasn’t been enough time to change it much.

That’s why a motorcycle feels natural. A minimal machine, carrying my gear down the road to the next good spot.

I can do civilization pretty well, but part of me objects to it and gets angry.

That’s why a regular dose of “the bike” is necessary. Even a photo does wonders.


Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels.




Street 750

The idea of a motorcycle can be just what you want it to be. You can even attach a sense of well-being to it. “I can get on my bike and ride and be okay. Life is good.”  Why undercut that idea with negatives?

On the other hand, the real bike you own doesn’t hide negatives, it presents them to you in highlighted fashion. If it doesn’t start, you are stranded. And lucky to be just stranded. The top-heavy beast didn’t fall over and break your leg as well. (The kick-stand has to be up to start it.) Not to mention dangerous non-cancelling directionals, messy chain lube, too heavy in the driveway or too light on the highway, decaying rubber parts, leaks, etc.

So even though I own a great bike and have no intention of replacing it, it’s still enjoyable to conjure up the carefree, perfect-fit experience of an optimal motorcycle.

That’s how the Harley Davidson Street 750 came to my attention. Not when it first came out and I dismissed it, but now after riding the F650 for over 11,000 miles and also having seen some slightly custom Street versions like the one below:


Harley Davidson Street 750

Compared to the F650, I like the lower center of gravity, lower seat height, belt drive, cast wheels, tubeless tires, low horizontal tank, good looking quiet 2-into-1 exhaust, simpler rear suspension, the advantages of a newer bike made in the USA and a nearby dealer. But what really makes this bike appealing is the engine.

Like a lot of imported bikes, the F650 doesn’t begin to develop any torque until 3000 RPM, so I have to rev it and slip the clutch to get it going. Typical. But the Street’s fuel injected V-twin is already producing torque at 2000 RPM. I like that. Low-down torque is in fact a hallmark of the Harley Davidson brand.

I would be able to loaf along on the Street at lower RPMs in situations that don’t require a lot of power, situations that would nonetheless have the F650 staggering a bit, requiring a downshift into a buzzier gear.

And I’m thinking the new counter-balanced V-twin is smoother than my single, even though the F650 is arguably the smoothest big single out there.

With greater engine displacement, the Street has more roll-on power at highway speeds. Where the F650 powerband leaves off, the Street keeps on going into higher RPMs. You have the horses to go, and that little bit of extra weight, longer and lower, makes you more planted on the pavement.

But a credible fantasy should have some reality in it. From a big Harley point of view, the Street is merely an introduction into the proper range of HD motorcycles. It’s not even as manly as the lowly Iron 883. I don’t care, but it affects resale. And I would prefer a slightly taller seat and the pegs a little more under me. I have yet to see a suitable luggage setup on the Street.

Even though the Street 750 is about half the cost of a “real” Harley Davidson, it’s still three times what I paid for the ’97 F650 about three years ago.  Also, I can maintain the BMW myself.

Remarkably then, all reality considered, especially money, the bike I really want is the bike I already have.

Still, using that old mental magic, I can skip over cost, make some superficial modifications, and wind up with a rather optimal incarnation of the approachable middleweight motorcycle.




The fantasy is working!






Suzuki VanVan 200


There’s a memorable scene in Out of Africa in which a band of Masai warriors comes trotting over the horizon into view carrying their weapons and we are given to understand that they can keep up their pursuit as long as required, day after day. Well, there is something immensely compelling about a performance that is clearly beyond normal human capabilities. I imagine our brains have been excited by this type of thing for countless millennia.

So compared to walking as our only means of getting around, a small motorcycle can almost be a transcendent thing. You can own it, maintain it, ride it easily and increase your range dramatically. Move around at 10-20 times the speed of a brisk walk. All the while carrying stuff, even another person.

When you get on your bike, your feet are flat on the ground and your eye can move from that ground all the way to the horizon, which is now only minutes away. Smell the grass and feel the air as you travel, listen to the engine working, watch the landscape and keep your balance, glance down at your feet gliding over the surface.

You aren’t disconnected from your natural habitat and your brain is comfortable with that. You are paying attention, applying yourself physically and mentally, and you have no time to think about other things. You have returned to your native self and you are okay.

On your minimalist motorcycle.

This primal machine of yours can’t have a lot of chrome or a lot of plastic, can’t be slick with a futuristic skin, can’t be too heavy to lift off the ground by yourself, can’t be a high speed machine, can’t sound like a chain saw and can’t cost too much.

It has to look good, feel good, sound good, work well, and be reliable and easy to maintain and repair.


2017 Suzuki VanVan 200


The Suzuki VanVan 200 looks like a bike worth considering as a simple, lightweight, dual sport motorcycle. 199cc air/oil cooled, fuel injected single, 30.5 inch seat height, 282 lb. curb weight, 54.5 inch wheelbase, 1.7 gallon tank, 16 hp @ 8000 rpm, $4599 MSRP. Comfy seat and cushy tires.

The word VanVan in Japanese means something like “keeps going on”.

Forward, of course.

After all, that’s the whole idea.



T. E. Lawrence survived the dangers of WWI Arabia only to die later in a motorcycle crash back in Dorset, England. He was safe at home in a civilized world.

So why did he then go considerably out of his way to ride a series of seven high performance Brough Superior motorcycles, beginning in 1922 and ending with the SS100 in 1935?

He called them Boanerges, by the way, meaning sons of thunder.


Lawrence was disillusioned with post war military life but the civilian experience was not for him either. On a fast motorcycle he could leave it all behind.

“I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.”

“The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.”

“The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside.”

from The Road, by T. E. Lawrence



George Brough and T. E. Lawrence


Lawrence once matched his Brough motorcycle against a WWI Bristol Fighter flying low overhead. The pilot pointed at the road to Lincoln and the race was on. Lawrence fell behind when he nearly crashed on a rough stretch of road but he recovered the lost ground and the race ended in a draw just as they were approaching the outskirts of Lincoln.


Bristol Fighter


At $50,000 in today’s money, the Brough SS100 motorcycle was special. It had a super-tuned 998cc V-Twin which smoothed out nicely once you got rolling in high gear. A very fast bike for the early 1930’s, it encouraged ever more throttle. Each one was tested at 100 mph before it left the factory. But it was “skittish” and had poor brakes.

Lawrence was apparently a speed addict, so it was natural that he would love this bike, and visa versa.  He said, “Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.”


Lawrence’s last great motorcycle up close, when it was displayed at the Imperial War Museum in London. Privately owned, it is estimated to be worth almost $2,000,000.