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Scooter tweaks for winter riding (part 1)

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Although with a new job I’ve lost my wonderful commute to downtown Detroit, I still enjoy a daily ride. Whether it’s to pick up some shopping, deliver dry cleaning, heading out for some Chinese, Thai or Indian food for the family. I love riding, even if it’s for a five-minute trip. I also enjoy riding in less-that-optimal weather, and Michigan is perfect for that. I ride in the rain and convince myself that it’s perfectly acceptable to do so. I compare myself to the Mods in 1960’s London, as if they didn’t ride in the rain, then they would have hardly ridden at all! I also enjoy the challenge of winter riding, hitting the snow and ice-free streets of Detroit at low temps of 15 degrees these past few years. Under 15, it’s almost impossible to keep one’s visor from icing up (on the inside), so I try to avoid that.

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When done the right way, a scooter ride in chilly to cold weather is a blast. People, cold even in their cars, look and shake their heads in amazement. It’s really a treat. The challenge is making it as comfortable as possible. When you are comfortable, you ride safer. Riding in cold weather shouldn’t be a penalty. I set out this year to make one scooter into my winter ride. The “Winter Warrior.”

The Scoot -
I picked my 2007 Aprilia SR 50 as the winter scooter. I had good luck in starting and running this fantastic small, 50cc scoot last winter. Since I no longer commute to downtown Detroit, my scooter use has changed. I run errands, go shopping and take a few medium length fun rides now and that’s about it. Although I still have the Genuine Blur, the Aprilia SR 50 runs quick for a 50cc, is very light, and handles and brakes like a dream. I don't need the speed of the Blur for shorter winter runs. The fact that the Aprilia is water cooled also appealed to me and I hope to find a way to harvest the heat from the radiator to make the ride even better. I picked a nice warm afternoon in October to start the transformation.

Small Mods -
Heated grips are a must for the Michigan winter rider and an easy upgrade for the scooter owner. I had already fitted the wiring (from the switch to the battery and handlebars) for Oxford Hot Hands to the Aprilia last year, so I began the Winter Warrior transformation by reinstalling the grip covers. Recall that the Oxford Hot Hands simply wrap around the grip and use a grip-strip type of closure and a foam rubber backing to grab the grip. The wires that I had run last year were in place, so after simply plugging them into each grip, I flipped the switch (that I left affixed to the center of the headset) and the heat began at once. The Hot Hands have no thermostat, so I have to turn it on and off, which is good because since I wired the grips directly to the battery, they will work with the scooter off (and drain the battery) quickly. Having hot hands is a reminder to turn the grips off a bit of a distance from your destination in order to allow a little charging to go on before you shut it down.

A perfect companion to the heated grips are my eBay Tucano Urbano muffs. As used last year on the Honda Reflex, they not only do a great job at holding the warmth from the grips, but provide easy access to controls and stay open when you need to open or close a visor or make a kindly gesture to your fellow-road sharer. One problem - the Aprilia didn’t have the bar ends that the Honda did (and the version of the muffs that I bought had.)

Bar ends are the metal extensions found at the end of the handlebar. Mostly found on larger scoots and bikes they serve to cancel out a specific harmonic vibration and the result is a better, more stable feel through the bars at certain speeds. I ordered a set of fairly lightweight bar ends for the Aprilia from an Asian vendor on eBay, and sure enough, 25 days later they arrived. That day, I headed out to the garage and quickly mounted them up. They fit perfectly and provided a little sparkle on the ends of the grips. I quickly stuck the muffs over them and verified that they fit well.

To finish up the small tweaks, I put a small amount of additional rake on my second hand Puig “sport” windscreen on the Aprilia. Wind is the enemy during winter riding, but since this scoot is not a highway cruiser, there isn’t a need to go with a barn door-sized windscreen.

There was one more thing that I could do to improve not only the safety of riding in the winter, but for the comfort and confidence of the rider as well. And that’s next.

What’s next: A must for a Winter Warrior scooter