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Goin’ like 60? Not quite…

December 25, 2006
Alaskan Way Viaduct

Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct (Wikipedia)

It’s Monday. It’s also Christmas Day, but quite honestly the day of the week is more meaningful to me, because what’s usually a work day for most people, isn’t. Meaning traffic on the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be minimal.

Toward the end of the ET era, I rode it on all kinds of limited-access roadways: I-5, I-90, the 520 bridge, and especially the part of State Route 99 that begins at the Aurora Bridge and ends at the exit to 1st Avenue, just north of the stadiums (stadia?). Not to mention round trips to Bellingham, Centralia, La Conner and Vancouver, B.C. I did mention it had almost 11,000 miles on it when I traded it in, right?

The Hwy 99 route was the way to and from a job in SoDo, and it beat the heck not only out of riding the bus, but of taking 2nd Avenue through downtown Seattle. I would regularly get home in 20 minutes.

But since the job and the ET went away, I had not revisited the much talked-about Viaduct. That talk would make you think the 50-plus-year-old structure is about to collapse into a pile of rocks and dust any second now, but while a couple of sections of it have settled an inch or two since the 2001 earthquake (not entirely surprising, since it’s built on loose fill), it still accommodates somewhere between 73,000 and 110, 000 vehicles daily, depending on whose numbers you believe.

From the perspective of the scooterist, it’s actually a rather nice place to ride. The pavement is decent considering the lack of maintenance over the decades, and the view is wonderful. Especially on a sunny day like today.

The problems come from folks grossly exceeding the 50 mph speed limit, and folks not really looking for something like a Vespa in front of, next to, or behind them. That’s why I wanted to wait until today to see just how fast the PX will go; there isn’t likely to be much traffic.

With almost 1500 miles on the clock, the PX has broken in nicely. It’s considerably peppier than when I first got it, and that (along with a general increase in my comfort level) means it’s pretty easy to be bopping along at 40-45 mph. Everybody’s asking me, “when are you gonna put the Sito Plus pipe on it?” Probably when the warranty expires. But in any case, the first rule of performance tuning is to establish a good baseline before you go tweaking around.

So that’s what I’m gonna do. I’ve had the PX up to an indicated 50 mph on a couple of occasions previously, but today I plan to just let ‘er rip.

But I’m not stupid… today we’ll hop on near the Pike Place Market. I’m not eager to see how the nibbly Michelin S83s react to the grooved pavement in the Battery Street Tunnel, at least not yet. The ET was kind of squirmy, so I tend to think the PX will be worse. I’ll leave that experiment for another time.

I slot in behind a 7-Series BMW on Western Avenue and make the swing onto the ramp. I’m still rather peeved that the city extended the sidewalk about six feet several years ago, making the turn much more technical (i.e., giving one a bigger chance to screw up and curb one’s vehicle). No matter. I’m up to 45 mph at the end of the ramp.

The roadway, however, is quite wet. The pavement, while free of cracks and holes, is nonetheless old. Meaning the aggregate is polished smooth and sticks way up above the matrix, which has long since worn away. No biggie in 3000+ lb. car, a major deal on a 213-lb. scooter with 3-in. wide tires.

My racing experience makes me acutely aware of things to which most drivers don’t give a second thought. Tire grip, or in this case the lack thereof, is one of those things. I have no particular desire to find out what having a motor scooter fall out from under me at 50 mph is really like, so I back off. As I’d hoped, traffic was light, so merging two lanes to my left to position myself for the exit to Safeco Field was easy.

Since the southbound lanes of the viaduct are under the cover of the northbound lanes, the pavement dried out fairly quickly, if it got wet at all. Let’s crank the throttle!

There’s 50. But there’s the sign indicating my exit. I really do need to get off on 1st Avenue, so I back off for now.

Coming back from West Seattle, I look over at 99 from East Marginal Way South. There appears to be little traffic, so we’ll try a speed run again. If the pavement on the upper deck was wet, the sun and the breeze should have gotten rid of any moisture by now.

The ramp to the viaduct from 1st Avenue is fun… you can take your best Valentino Rossi line, preserving momentum that lets you merge smoothly and easily.

If there was any traffic to merge into… I am alone on the upper deck, and I’m already doing 50 mph. Time to crank the throttle hard!

I didn’t have the handgrip completely cranked, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. The speedometer needle crept past 50 to (I’m guessing) 51, 52, maybe 53. Which is where it stayed until it was time to make the Western Avenue exit.

At least I know my confidence as a rider has gone way up… any kind of top-speed run on the ET was a major gut check, but here I was just mildly disappointed. Santa doesn’t usually stop at my place, but for once I regretted that. He could’ve left a Sito Plus pipe. Favicon


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