Two Wheels

Jupiter’s Travels

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Look for his other books on the rack

I have a growing addiction to adventure motorcycle riding, the sport/pass time of taking your motorcycle on a long journey where the roads turn rough and the large populations of urban area give way to the more desolate and scenic back drops of remote parts of the world. My fascination began when I watched the series The Long Way Round, in which Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor ride their BMW GS bikes around the world. After doing some research I found that one of the inspirations for this journey was a book called Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon (who also makes a cameo in the documentary).

So after I finished with the series I quickly picked up Simon’s book and read it cover to cover. The differences between the two trips were so immense that they are almost incomparable. Simon traveled around the world for nearly four years and covered all the major Continents. What is even more impressive is that he did it in the mid-1970s amidst much political upheaval all over the world riding a less than reliable (by modern standards)Triumph Tiger named Jupiter. The 500cc bike does prove to be pretty durable given the excruciating tasks it’s put through, but as Simon quickly finds out his four year adventure over deserts, mountains and oceans takes its toll on the machine. Several times he has to rebuild the motor on the side of the road or have parts sent in to completely overhaul the bike. Electrical gremlins rear their head and he seems to be constantly battling the problem of how to store his gear properly. With a heavily loaded motorbike Simon also finds out that control, particularly on rough roads isn’t easy, and after several spills he also figures out that he has to completely unpack his bike in order to upright it. Add to that the fact that he has constant trouble with border crossings, theft, weather and the local police and it makes for a pretty entertaining story.


Nearly 30 years later Simon is still riding motorcycles all over the world.

Simon, a British journalist, was able to capture his adventure quite compellingly. Although arrogant and out of touch at times he was able to justify his emotions and actions nicely and give the impression that indeed this was a real adventure not some made up piece of fiction. Seeing him deal with culture shock, and give in to the temptation to stay in nice hotels instead of rough it, where things that upset me at first. But as I thought back on the time I spent traveling I realized that if I had enough money I would have opted for luxury as well. While the tales of the bike braking down, and the countries he passes through are interesting, I felt the best part of the book was how he delved into his own psyche looking for the reasons and struggling to deal with his emotions. He does an excellent job of explaining that while the 4 year trip was difficult, it was even more difficult to end the trip and try to reacclimatize to normal life.


Simon’s Triumph was not unlike this one, just a lot more worn and dirty.

I recommend this book to any future travelers or people who need some extra motivation to go see the world. It is an excellent read.

-Bill Mertz

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Loose Association of Lambretta Owners

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

50+ Lambrettas

This weekend was the 3rd Annual all Lambretta ride here in the Bay Area. Local Lambretta enthusiast and guru John Quintos created the ride as way for Lambretta owners to get together to share their love for Lambrettas, exchange information, ideas, tuning tips, and just to meet each other. Instead of creating an exclusive club, like many marque-specific groups do, Quintos wanted to keep it really informal, that’s why he calls it the LALO-Loose Association of Lambretta Owners-ride. It’s really not a club at all, it’s just a group of people who meet up every once in awhile to ride their Lambrettas and hang out, no more no less.

As is the case with most events I had a fair amount of prep to do to my Lambretta before I could ride it. The scooter needed a new clutch, some sort of custom air filter for the bigger aftermarket carburetor I am running, and an uprated rear shock/spring so I could ride two-up (my girlfriend on the back). Once I got the clutch parts it was a relatively straight forward job, but the air cleaner and shock required a little fabrication. For the air cleaner I took an old Weiand air filter that used to be on my MGB and modified it so that it could clamp onto my scooter’s carb. I really like this setup because it provides plenty of air flow but has a nice vintage look (since it came off of a 60’s British car).

R1 shock conversion, installed on the scoot

For the shock I decide to try out a conversion that has been gaining popularity in the Lambretta community. Step one is to get a remote reservoir rear shock from a Yamaha R1 or R6 sport bike. Because the spring in this unit is setup for the much heavier bike you need to order and fit a lower ratio spring. I went with a 215 lb spring of the same height and size as the stock Yamaha spring (which is closer to 500 lbs). There is also the matter of having custom bushings made to fit the Lambretta’s shock mount. Being the cheap guy that I am, I also decide to make a spring compressor instead of buying one. I used an old car scissor jack, cut it up into pieces and welded it back together so that it could compress the new Lambretta spring and let me put it onto the new shock. Making the compressor ended up being the most time consuming part, but now I have a custom tool that works great for the job.

Vintage Weiand air cleaner from my MGB

With the new shock fitted, a new air cleaner attached and a new clutch installed (the night before the ride no less), we assembled a group of five scooters over in the east bay, loaded them into pickups and trucked across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. The ride started on the water front where over 50 Lambretta’s gathered at the beginning. In a massive cloud of two-stroke smoke we raced all over the city, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and rode through the headlands than back into the city to the final destination, the bar/club at 330 Ritch. After a beautiful ride with some amazing weather, and no break downs for me, we kicked back and enjoyed free pizza and a few beers.


After putting a lot of labor into my scooter I was happy that the bike performed flawlessly. The new shock worked great, especially with two people on board, and the clutch didn’t complain at all. Lambretta owners are a fine bunch of people, and riding around San Francisco with them on 50 vintage Italian scooters in gorgeous weather was a great way to spend a Saturday.

Here are some more pics from the ride:


-Bill Mertz

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Craigslist Supercar!

Thursday, February 15th, 2007


Craigslist is an endless source of fodder for my blog. There is always someone selling something ridiculous or trying to scam you out of your own vehicle by promising you access to an African diamond fortune. Today it was a ridiculous vehicle that caught my eye. But this vehicle isn’t ridiculous in the home built V8 powered X1/9 sense. This vehicle actually looks like it is well constructed and might perform well.

In the last year I’ve noticed several unique 3 wheeled vehicles cruising around my local Bay Area freeways. With two wheels up front and a single drive wheel in the back these creations are usually powered by motorcycle engines and tend to look both scary and fast. Well now you have the chance to buy your own crazy-fast three wheeled monster. If you search the Bay Area Craigslist for “Supercar” you will come across this ad:

“Supercar built by Dr. Technology at the SECRET MOUNTAIN LABORATORY IN 2001. Has Corvette front suspension, rack & pinion, disc brakes, aluminum A frames. 1000cc 4 cyl. Kawasaki with 6 speed gearbox sequential shifter, tube chassis with all aluminum bodywork. SCREAMS!”


I’ve actually heard mention of this “Secret Mountain Laboratory” and it is always in reference to some wild aluminum bodied machine. However, I have been unsuccessful in discovering the true identity of Dr. Technology. Either way he has churned out another amazing vehicle. Even though it looks a bit like a bottom feeding fish, this supercar certainly is unique and the fighter plane cockpit gives it a sporty look. If it is as light as it looks it can probably get down the road quick enough to make you forget that you can’t see out the back of this thing. So would you pay $50K for this “supercar”, because that is what Dr. Technology is asking. Maybe you can trade him some comic books and get a little discount.

-Bill Mertz

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Viva La Scooter: Study Shows Scooters Can Help With the Environment and Congestion

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007


I’m always looking for another excuse to tout the scooter as one of the best forms of motorized transportation. My motives are 100 percent selfish: I’m constantly trying to justify purchasing, owning and spending further money on a vintage Lambretta scooter. So when I read about a study in New York City that showed scooters having a positive impact on traffic congestion and the environment my guilty conscience temporarily disappeared. If scooters help to reduce traffic and have less impact on the environment than cars, then I don’t have to feel bad about owning one.

A new traffic model released today showed that bustling and crowded NYC could cut fuel consumption, save considerable amounts of time normally spent stuck in traffic and slash carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly by getting more scooters on the streets. These results come directly in the wake of growing concern over traffic congestion in the nation’s largest city.

This traffic model traffic model focused on a specific section of midtown Manhattan. By using a detailed simulation that incorporated scooters into the traffic mix the model uncovered some interesting results. If the vehicle mix in city changed to 80 percent cars/20 percent scooters these would be the annual results:

-A total decrease in delay of more than 4.6 million hours per year –which translates to time savings of nearly 100 working hours per person
-A reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 26,000 tons (52,000,000-pounds) per year
-A decrease in fuel consumption by over 2.5 million gallons per year
-A total savings for New York City of more than $122 million per year in fuel and labor productivity

According to the folks at Sam Schwartz PLLC, these results are even a bit conservative as they didn’t take into account that two scooters can ride side by side or pass each other within a single lane. Paolo Timoni, the President and CEO of Piaggio Group Americas who sponsored this study, said “throughout the world, scooters are recognized as a smart transportation alternative, and this traffic simulation underscores the tangible impact that two-wheel vehicles can have on a major urban area like New York City,”.


New Vespa ET4

Mr. Timoni is absolutely correct. All around the world in major metropolitan areas people have left their cars at home (if they even own one) and have taken to the streets on scooters, mopeds and bikes. When I was in Barcelona I couldn’t walk a half a block without seeing a dozen scooters or small displacement motorcycles. It just plain makes sense to ride a scooter in a densely packed city where you are only driving on streets and you have to face the grind of heavy traffic. Scooters get great gas mileage, pollute less than cars, are easier to maneuver in traffic, fit in tiny parking spaces and are cheap to insure. They really are great city vehicles.

As far as my personal scooter, it is an old two stroke and probably wouldn’t have helped the scooter cause in this study; but what can I say it’s fun and cool (in a dorky kind of way).



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NSU Kettenkrad: The Ultimate Off Road Motorcycle.

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Kettenkrad in Saving Private Ryan.

Towards the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan there is a scene where two guys hop on a little tracked motorcycle and speed off to try and lure a group of German tanks into an ambush. When I first saw the vehicle I was really curious what exactly it was. I’m a WWII guru so-to-speak and had never seen one of these tank/motorcycle hybrids before. In the movie they called the vehicle a Rabbit, but I couldn’t find it in any internet searches so I slowly forgot about the oddball bike.


This week by pure coincidence I opened Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market, and toward the back of the magazine I saw a picture and short write-up of the little Rabbit. It turns out it isn’t a Rabbit at all, it is actually a German made NSU Kettenkrad. A quick visit to Andreas Mehlhorn’s wonderful Kettenkrad homepage gave me more information on this amazing vehicle than I could have dreamed of. Now I really want one and Andreas has three. What do you say Andrea, even swap for my MGB?

The NSU Kettenkrad was a small tractor designed in WWII (it continued production even after the war) to tow a small gun or a trailer over difficult terrain. Although it has a motorcycle front wheel and fork mounted on the front it really is much more of tank than it is a motorcycle. At just under 10 feet long and with room for three people it was the smallest tracked vehicle in service in Europe.

Because NSU only produced single cylinder engines at the time, the Kettenkrad was powered by a water-cooled Opel four cylinder lifted straight out of the Opel Olympia. The motor put out a respectable 36 horsepower which proved to be more than enough grunt to scoot 2700 pound half-track around quite briskly. In fact the stated top speed of the Kettenkrad was 50 mph–tremendous for a down-sized tank–and Andreas reports that the NSU is a very fast vehicle indeed. Remarkably the Kettenkrad gets 18mpg imperial which really isn’t too bad.


At first glance the Kettenkrad looks like it uses conventional motorcycle steering but this is only partially true. At high speed the motorcycle front tire adds an element of stability and in large arching turns the front wheel is what steers the vehicle. But when the NSU needs to make a tight turn it relies on a steering brake system much like a bigger tank. When you turn the steering wheel sharply the brake is applied to which ever tread you are turning towards, making the Kettenkrad a very maneuverable vehicle.

Slightly over 9000 Kettenkrads were produced and only a fraction of those survive today. It is a pretty obscure find. However, in my search for the Kettenkrad I think I found something even rarer, Kettenkrad Porn. Seriously I found a photo of a Kettenkrad with naked girls posing on it, what a world we live in. With no Kettenkrads on Craigslist it is doubtful that I will own one any time soon, But I will definitely have to add this rare vehicle to my dream car (tank-motorcycle) list.


-Bill Mertz

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Nolan N100E: Affordable, Comfortable Modular Helmet

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Nolan N100E, I opted for the Titanium grey model

I finally picked up my Nolan N100E, so I thought I’d give it a quick review for anyone looking into a full face, particularly modular (flip up), helmet.

After about a years worth of research I decided to purchase, or have my girlfriend gift me as the case may be, the Nolan N100E for several reasons. First and foremost was its comfortable fit. My head is long and narrow and was really hard for me to find a helmet that fit me comfortably and that would slide on with ease, but the N100 being a flip-up style helmet made it much easier to pull on and off my big noggin, and even better when I tried on the 2XL size it fit me extremely well. The flip-up helmets also have the benefit of being able to take them on and off while wearing regular glasses or sunglasses.

Thanks to this opening chin bar the helmet actually fits over my massive dome

A closer examination of the Italian made helmet reveals a good quality product, the finish is nice, and nothing feels overly cheap or fragile. While this may not be a top shelf helmet, I would certainly put it in the above average category. The N100E sports some very nice features including a wide variety of colors and schemes, a three stage top venting system as well as a dual chin vent, a “Smart Lift System” which allows single-handed release of the flip face front, a lockable fog resistant visor second anti-fog insert included, removable and washable liner and a micro-lock chin strap system. It’s a pretty tidy and attractive package.

Common complaint of modular helmets are weight and noise, but the Nolan’s GE Lexan shell seems good and light and honestly my scooter is so loud that ear plugs are always recommended so I doubt noise will be a factor. I’ve also heard and confirmed that your chin sits pretty close to the front of the helmet and Jay Leno types might have difficulties shutting the chin bar, not an issue for me.


My girlfriend’s first gift, a super light helmet

The other incentive to buy an N100E is that Nolan is upgrading to a new N102 model meaning a lot of stores have great close-out deals on the N100. Prices should be from $200-$250 for this unit depending on colors and paint schemes as well as other accessories like helmet bags.

-Bill Mertz

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Long Way Round: the Ultimate Motorcycle Adventure.

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006


If you like motorcycles, traveling, adventures, or just have a crush on Ewan McGregor than you need to add Long Way Round to your must have DVD list.

The premise was simple, well known actor Ewan McGregor and his best mate (also an actor) Charley Boorman decided to ride from London to New York heading more or less directly east. They had their own cameras (a helmut came and a video diary camera) but also brought along a film crew in two support vehicles to meet up with them at borders and take care of some of the video as well as a third motorcycle rider/camera man to follow more closely and film during their journey. It turned out to be an amazing, dangerous and beautiful trip that no one who was with them will soon forget. The documentary was shot in 2004 and aired on several different cable channels in 2005. Thankfully it is now available on DVD as a ten episode series for those of us who missed it on TV.

Keeping Your Hands Warm

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006


I’ve been spouting off a lot lately about the importance of safety and having the proper equipment when it comes to working on and driving cars, motorcycles and scooters. In light of me adding a new safer full face helmet to my riding gear I also decided to upgrade my hand wear to something a little more appropriate.

Since I bought my scooter I’ve been sporting a pair of really nice suede gloves whenever I ride it. The gloves are definitely not riding gloves, they are better suited to a cold night on the town in San Francisco than any type of riding duty, but I had them already and didn’t use them much so I figured why not ride with them. They have served me well, including keeping my hands uninjured in my little accident, and have the battle scars and grease stains to prove it. But the gloves are majorly lacking in several areas, namely warmth, weather resistance and safety.

On a recent ride in San Francisco my hands got so cold that they started to lock up a bit and it was very difficult for me to operate the clutch and brake. The temperature was probably in the high 50’s or low 60s Fahrenheit, but subtract some temp for wind chill and things got pretty cold fast. Add in the fact that I have terrible circulation and suddenly a 20 minute ride on a moderately chilly day becomes downright unpleasant. My gloves simply weren’t cutting it.

Riding Safe: Scooters, Wheelies and Broken Teeth.

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Series II Lambretta, sketch by David Irving.

As some of you know I have vintage Italian scooter, a 1959/60 Lambretta LI 125 (series II). I bought the little scoot right after I graduated from college. The 1950’s styling and amazing patina spoke to me in ways that shiny new motorcycles never could, so I plopped down $1200, loaded it up in the back of my friends Toyota pickup and headed home. Having never ridden scooters or motorcycles before, I fired up the Lambretta and went about teaching myself to ride. I had one close call that involved too much throttle and a parked car, but soon enough I was competent and comfortable on the scooter.

I bought myself an open face helmet on Craigslist and began riding the scooter to work. Not long after that two of my good friends got Lambrettas as well and we began going to vintage scooter rides in San Francisco. On one of these events while doing some scooter drag racing I accidentally figured out that my little 125cc two-stroke scooter could pull a wheelie under hard acceleration. I was stunned at first but soon my shock turned to confidence and confidence to arrogance and… well it lead to an expensive accident.
This one’s not me, but you get the idea.

While riding our Lambrettas to dinner one night my friend and I pulled up to a stoplight and saw some little kids waving and pointing at the scooters. I got really fired up that they were into our Lambrettas and I decided to try and put on a show. I pulled up to a 15 mph speed bump and goosed the throttle popping a pretty good sized wheelie. But when the antiquated front suspension hit the ground the scooter went completely out of control. I knew I was going down so I tried to lay the scooter on its side but it bucked me off hard. I smacked the ground with my left shoulder first followed by the side of my head, then I rolled forward and my face hit the ground. It felt like all my teeth had been knocked. In a state of shock I hopped up and ran to the nearest car mirror. To my horror I had a massively split lip and had seriously chipped two of my upper front teeth off, amazingly enough the scooter kept idling on its side all the while.

When I got home I tended to the road rash on my elbow, knee and ankle (asphalt will rash you right through a leather jacket). I got checked out for a concussion, and then went in to have my teeth worked on. Months of fitting and refitting, a painful root canal, a self conscious smile and thousands of no-dental-insurance dollars later and my teeth look just fine. I now have a gold front tooth with a porcelain veneer and it looks better than before.
Chunks of my teeth may be missing but I still flash a smile.

As soon as the accident happened I promised myself I would buy a good full face helmet. Don’t get me wrong, I know the big lesson is “don’t stunt on your scooter or ride it recklessly”, furthermore I know that the open face helmet saved my ass by taking the initial impact on the ground, but I also realize that my face could have been much worse than it was after this low speed accident.

That was three years ago, and I still have an open face helmet. I also have dental insurance, but I’ve been feeling really guilty about not coming through on my promise to myself. Yesterday was my birthday and my girlfriend came through big where I could not. She bought me a nice Nolan N100 flip face helmet, the one I told her I was eyeing months ago, but never caught on that she was listening. All I have to do is go pick out a color and size and bring it home. But don’t worry, I won’t tempt fate and ride my scooter to pick it up.
Nolan N100 flip front, full-face helmet.

After my accident I highly recommend full face helmets to anyone riding a motorized two-wheeled machine. While there are other lessons to be learned about safety and arrogance from my story, buying a full face helmet is a no-brainer. It’s like using your seat belt; you may be able to drive safely without one, but if you put it on and have an accident that isn’t your fault it might just save you from serious injury or death.
Keep two wheels down.

-Bill Mertz

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About Automotive Blogger

Some people use their automobiles only to get from Point A to Point B. You know there's more than that. You get mad when someone makes a remark about your car that's less than flattering. You get riled when a cool car is destroyed in a straight-to-video movie. You realize when a new car doesn't deserve it's name of a great car of the past. When you see someone driving a boring vehicle, you feel sorry for them. You know it's not the destination that counts - it's the journey. Welcome home gearheads. Welcome home, car freaks. Welcome to the site that fuels your automotive obsession -

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