Jamie Leonard offers up his account of the 2009 Mad Bastard Scooter Rally as experienced on the road … on a Tomos moped.
“Have one,” said the man in the ape-suit, gesturing with the stub of his cigarette towards a wood crate filled with bananas, which was strapped to the back of his scooter.
This is the 2009 Mad Bastard Scooter Rally – an 800 km endurance rally emphasizing madness, whimsy, long distances travelled on machines thoroughly unprepared for the job, with the occasional bit of mechanical spontaneous combustion thrown in for seasoning.
The original MBSR was conceived back in 2004, but I didn’t join in it until 2007 when it ran from Bellville, Ontario, to … Belleville, Ontario. The ‘07 rally was a tremendous success, so much so that Belleville citizens promptly signed an agreement never to mention it again in public.
Since that rally we had sold one of our two scooters, so I was scrambling to find something to ride. At the last moment I found someone willing to swap a project motorcycle lurking around the shady confines of an in-law’s garage with a running (if slightly battered) 2001 Tomos Moped – 49 ccs of less than glorious power.
I was in! Even if I did have no idea what I was in FOR …
The moped received a poorly applied coating of olive drab spray paint. Broken turn signals were replaced, and essential bolts checked for tightness. My wife had some vinyl military style graphics made up to apply in various pieces to complete its military theme.
At this point, already short on preparation time, I agreed when Editor ‘Arris asked if anyone wanted to start up a rally preparation blog. This quickly became eagerly and enthusiastically read by two, perhaps even three people. Though at least one of those accidentally stumbled upon it thinking it was a recipe site.
We arrived in Ottawa around 2 p.m. to find that the parking lot was already packed with scooters of all kinds, colours and descriptions – machines ranging from 40 years old to two weeks, scooters that were absolutely original, and others so heavily modified it was almost impossible to know their lineage.
There was also another scooter using the military theme, although the owner had done up his better than mine. Way better. We’re talking custom bodywork and a radio antenna.
After getting the details of the route at the riders’ meeting, we went off to lay out our supplies for the next day’s riding and do some quick last minute planning (and debating of details, and panic over readiness, and forgetting to put things in the correct bags so we ended up not having them on the rally … the usual thing.)
The next morning at 4:00 a.m. (after a fitful and limited sleep, with both of us I suspect thinking, “What the HELL have we gotten ourselves into here?”) we got up and went down to get ready to start.
Being in the 50 cc class, I went first, leaving in a glorious cloud of blue two-stroke smoke and bravely and majestically riding off to the first gas station … only to turn around and come back and wait for my wife’s departure an hour or so later.
This gave me a chance to observe several riders leaving that included a group of Mods (complete with army parkas and British flags), two Bananas and a Monkey (pretending to throw excrement at each other – at least I hope they were pretending), and an Indian moped ridden by what appeared to be a large toilet (a dangerous choice, given the madness of the riders and the shortage of washrooms along the way).
My wife came up at this point, and we were off in a blaze of two-wheeled glory (fortunately not literally). We soon started catching up with some other competitors; The two bananas had been having some mechanical issues, followed by a wipeout on the first stretch of gravel.
It was at this point the man in the ape suit offered me the bananas from the crate on the back of his scooter. I turned it down, feeling a bit odd about accepting fruit from a naked hairy primate smoking a cigarette.
The fallen rider turned out to be ok – if a bit shaken and battered – so when the sweep truck arrived we rode off.
The gravel was a bit scary – moped tires are narrow and sink into the gravel, giving a feeling similar to riding on a bunch of running squirrels. I took it slow and steady, avoiding accelerating, decelerating or braking, and eventually made it back to asphalt the right way up.
By the time we got to Storyland – a children’s amusement park where we were supposed to be doing an amusing photo opp – they wouldn’t let us in.
Apparently earlier riders had been, as they described it, “defacing the property,” and they were not terribly amused by this. So we took our photos at the gate and motored off into the hilly section.
Now to give you the history, at the rider’s dinner Editor ‘Arris had said the course was “slightly hilly.” This was about as accurate as saying that the ocean is “slightly moist.”
Add to this the fact that my moped had a ‘performance pipe’ – which takes a little bit off the already pitiful low end torque and adds it to top end – and it turned out to be a very, very bad machine for this particular route.
The first bunch of hills I got to be able to tell the grade by how many times my automatic gear downshift would kick in. The second batch of hills began to worry me a little – as it wouldn’t kick in at all, it just stayed in low gear.
Then we came to Foymount road.
This road beat me up with slope and finished the job with the help of gravity. I watched my speedo needle go backwards – 40, 30, 20, 10, then finally … zero. The engine was pinned, full throttle … and I was motionless … about a quarter of the way up a very, very long and steep hill.
In the words of Editor ‘Arris, describing what the hills might mean for 50 cc machines, I was “really screwed.”
Since the pedals on the Tomos moped are basically decorative items, I had no option but to get off and start pushing. Even walking on this hill proved to be almost impossible due to the slope (and doubly impossible when you are wearing full motorcycle gear).
Apparently working at a desk in IT all day does not quite prepare one for pushing a moped up the Ontario equivalent of Mount Everest. My wife, after a while of waiting, came back and in her spirit of helpfulness and kindness – promptly started laughing and took a photo.
Eventually I reached the top, didn’t quite fall over from exhaustion, and remounted, only to rush back down a similarly steep road at the moped equivalent of Warp Speed.
The moped was protesting, shaking, shuddering, juddering, and a whole lot of other unpleasant ing-type words mixed into it. The speedo hit the maximum number and just kept going off the dial.
After this brief exhilarating ride we were off. Only to repeat the roller coaster experience again and again as we traversed the rest of the “slightly hilly” section of the Rally.
We got to Wilno (the most westerly point of the route), and stopped at the tavern for a much needed break and strategy planning. My wife was wanting us to buy a rope (either for towing purposes, or for just lynching my moped from the nearest tree) though that gave me visions of being accidentally drawn and quartered by scooter and so I suggested that we might be through the worst of it by now.
We continued on – I struggled to pass a tractor with loaded trailer (my only pass of the day … take that Mr. Farmer!). I was chased by a dog for a while who looked worryingly close in my rearview mirror for a worryingly long time.
It got dark, we turned on the lights and kept going. It also got quiet. The quiet of rural roads with no traffic, no lights, nothing but what the wimpy moped headlights revealed – which was just enough to be a bit terrifying. You got the sense you were about to ride off a cliff at any moment. And being on a moped, I’m pretty sure even falling would be in slow motion.
We got to Westport at the southern end of the route well after 10 p.m. to find that the local stores were shuttered and closed. Residents peered at us through half-drawn blinds and after a few minutes the OPP showed up.
They were kind enough to get us back on route and escorted us out of town, and we were off in a north-easterly direction back towards home … ish.
Temperatures were dropping, the mist was rising – both of us were getting cramped, cold, and tired, having passed the second wind stage about five winds ago.
Like Bastards in the night, we drifted noisily (in the case of my moped) through the quiet night. Shattering the silences and carving the dark with the glow of our headlights. Traffic was mostly nonexistent – it was like the rest of the world had simply gone away, leaving us alone, cold and riding together.
I was riding wide open throttle the whole way, pinned and bumping up and down to get every last bit of momentum going up hills and tucking into junior racer position to get every last bit of speed going down.
Blue-tipped fingers had a death grip on the handles – we were going to get there if it killed me. And I wasn’t entirely sure it wouldn’t.
When we finally got to Kemptville (the point at which you have to decide to do the optional loop or not) we knew that the optional loop was not … optional. The ass-blistering lack of speed of the moped pretty much ruled that out, we were heading straight back to the hotel – or as straight as my aching arms could steer.
The gradual appearance of street lights and city glow was like angels in the darkness – a return to civilization from our self imposed exile in the dark country roads.
Soon no more the muttering (continuous by now) of my mantra, “Go moped go … Go moped go,” which I whispered under my breath, echoing it in my helmet and praying I would hold speed to get me there one minute faster.
Finally, after a minor miracle of piloting straight through Ottawa and over to Gatineau where the hotel was, I arrived – 21 hours (out of 24 allowed) after leaving. My wife, being on a bigger scooter and so in a higher class, did not officially finish in her allotted time, but she was there so she could keep me company and make sure I made it.
I handed in my photos, clue sheet and gas receipts and went off to bed.
The next day was the awards ceremony (which largely consisted of photography of people mooning over people and objects). I ended up coming 24th or so out of 75 riders. In the top third of Madness.
Two days then to get back home to Toronto. I won’t go into the details of things like the rainstorm that soaked me, the GPS deciding to route us through 15 km of deep gravel road over rain slicked clay, or the wasp I discovered in my helmet on the 401 with no handy place to pull over.
I was broken, sore, had left my ass somewhere in eastern Ontario, and hadn’t even come very close to winning.
And despite all this, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up coming back for the next rally.
I must be a proper Mad Bastard after all.
You can also read up on the inside view of putting on the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally here.