Thursday, 18 May 2017

Halliburton Highlands Birthday Holiday

A birthday long weekend riding holiday... based out of the Pinestone Resort in Haliburton (so easy access to the Haliburton Highlands Riding Roads).

The Ride Out:

Haliburton Highlands Research:

The Dynamite Loop:

Possible Sunday Loop:

The Ride Home:
283kms with a stop at The Millpond Restaurant for breakfast.

Total kilometres:  926 over three days

The weather:

Sunday's going to make for some nice, rainy photographic opportunities.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Motorcycle Tires and When to Change Them

I went for a ride with Jeff the motorcycle Jedi and Wayne, the parts guy from our local dealer, the other week.  It was a 250km round trip out to the shores of Lake Huron and back.  Since we were all on multi-purpose bikes we multi-purposed some of it:

Taking some winding back roads through the countryside we came across such natural wonders as deep mud holes and a lady sun bathing topless on her front lawn; it was a nice ride.

We stopped at one point and Wayne noticed the rear tire on the Tiger wasn't doing very well.  Coming from cars I'm used to using depth gauges on tread to determine a tire's remaining life.  Car tires burn through tread fairly evenly due to equally delivered lateral forces.   Bike tires are undergoing a whole different kind of physics.  You can expect to see fairly even tread wear on a car tire because of those lateral forces.  Bike tires tend to wear from the middle out because the crown of the tire takes the brunt of the wear, especially in flat and straight South Western Ontario.

Wayne pointed out tears down the middle of the rear tire on the Tiger that I hadn't even thought to look for.  As you can see, the tread on the edges of the tire is still quite deep, but the wear in the centre is so deep it's turning up the metal bands in the tires:

Those are some expensive  pieces of wire poking through...
This prompted a call to my local dealer to try and get the bike in - they told me it's over a month wait!  I offered to remove the tires and they said they'd try and squeeze them in.  Fortunately it rained a flood the next couple of days and with some cancellations I got a call a day later saying the tires were done.

The bill was a staggering six hundred and ninety three dollars - for two motorcycle tires on rims that had been removed from the bike (so minimal shop work involved).  I'm looking over the bill now.  Looking up the Michelin Anakees I purchased online, the dealer prices aren't crazy - about twenty bucks more than the online cost for the front and fifteen bucks more for the rear.  There is a cost associated with a local dealer keeping this sort of thing in stock and I've got no problem with that.  With that being the case these two tires came to a staggering five hundred bucks.  By comparison, Corvette ZR1 Michelin tires - very high tech, huge rubber for a faster than light car - cost about three hundred bucks a pop (and include road hazard warranty).  Motorcycle tires must be made out of platinum and unicorn horns - they are wickedly expensive!

The dealer prices on labour were also perfectly reasonable - about a hundred bucks to install and balance both new tires (with inner tubes).  So the lesson learned here is that motorcycle tires are wickedly expensive.  Even with perfectly reasonable labour costs at my local dealer I'm still out nearly seven hundred bucks for a set of new tires.

Fortunately the Anakees seem to be a very long wearing tire, so hopefully I won't be looking to replace them again for a while.  They ride great - much quieter than the Metzelers that they replaced, and the grip in dry has been very trust inducing.  They might have cost me  a mint, but they look like they might be worth it.

Anakee Review:  it's a road biased ADV tire (I'm ok with that - they feel great), it is long lasting, and it can handle light off road work, which is all I'd do on the big Tiger anyway.

US prices are marginally better... $336 for the tires (instead of $500+ in Canada).  $336US is about $461CDN - and that's an online price vs. a dealer price.  The online Canadian price is only a couple of bucks different.

Looking up prices in the US - most dealers will do a tire change for $20 a wheel if they wheels are off (that's $55CDN)

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Trophy Wives, Velocoraptors and Riding North of the Wall

Every once in a while events conspire to drop you out of the world's daily routine.  As everyone else is scurrying to work with worry lines on their faces I was disappearing into the countryside on two wheels, unfortunately the Weathernetwork had gotten the forecast wrong and my day of George was going to be more like Scott to the antarctic.

I knew it was going to be cold in the morning, but it was supposed to warm up to double digits later in the day.  Anything over 5°C and I can go all day, but under that core temperature eventually gets to me.  I got over to the Forks of the Credit before 9:30am and it was still only just above freezing.  Higher Ground on a weekday morning is a magical place full of millionaire retirees and trophy wives; I like to soak up the vibe.

"I'm sorry, we're running out of change.  Everyone keeps paying with hundreds," the girl at the counter apologized as an elven woman with a lovely Mandarin accent who had just gotten out of her Range Rover tried to pay for a coffee.

As I warmed my hands on a coffee (the heated gloves were warding off frostbite but not keeping them warm), a group of conservative retirees sitting on fat piles of cash (they all arrived in German SUVs or touring sedans) were lamenting the lack of gumption in their millennial children, all of whom were described as directionless and unwilling to make the kind of money their parents did.  "By the time I was that age I already had kids and owned my own house!" one outspoken gentleman declared, "and we worked hard for every penny!"  Of course, back then the pennies weren't all being held by a generation that proceeded them.  The other favourite topic was 'those damned liberals'.  Man, do those people ever hate Justin Trudeau.  If you ever have a chance to spend an hour on a weekday morning in Belfountain, you'll enjoy the 1% watching, just try not to gag on their sense of entitlement.

Warmed up on excellent coffee and with sensation in my extremities again, I headed back out into a one degree warmer day.  At this point we'd already missed the forecast by a couple of degrees, and it wasn't going to get better.  I rode up and down a completely empty Forks of the Credit, enjoying the curves without worrying about any four wheeled chicanes.  On my way back I pulled off on the side road to Brimstone.  The Credit River was spring runoff swollen and looked spectacular.  A kingfisher was working the river further up but never came close enough to catch on the camera.

I eventually wound my way up the single track road to where it ends. As I sat there with the engine off a dozen wild turkeys crossed the path a couple of hundred yards ahead of me up the closed trail; I dropped the kick stand and grabbed the camera.

These things were enormous! They picked their way through the forest looking very prehistoric.  After ten minutes of turkey watching I walked back to the Tiger and packed up the camera.  Before I got on the road again I needed let that coffee go, so I stepped off the trail into the woods.  Have you ever had that feeling that you're being watched?  
Standing there rather exposed, I felt that prickle and looked around to see the massive lead turkey not five feet away watching me intently - I almost jumped out of my skin.  He looked at me.  I looked at him.  I finished up and he just stood there watching me climb out of the ditch.  He then turned around majestically and walked back up the path were his crew where waiting for him before leading them away up the hill.  My advice is do not mess with that turkey.

After my close encounter of the turkey kind I headed north, following the escarpment's winding roads. Spring runoff was a theme of this trip with all of the streams and rivers swollen with melted snow. Up in Hockley Valley I fought the urge to keep riding the roller coaster and stopped to grab some images of the exposed red clay.

When I got back on the road it was behind a pile of traffic backed up behind a pensioner on their daily Tim Horton's run. Rather than fight the demographics I took at right hand turn up Hurontario Street.  I was expecting apartment buildings and strip malls, but Hockley Valley don't play like that.

Down where I grew up Hurontario is the main drag through a city of half a million people.  Up in Hockley it's a single lane, twisty dirt road that winds its way up the escarpment.  The three older guys who were ahead of me on massive Harleys got to keep enjoying the parade, but I was able to turn onto that dirt trail on my Swiss Army knife-like multi-purpose bike and enjoy some more solitude.

I rounded a corner to find a Dufferin road works van on the side of the road. He waved me through as he was just removing the road closed sign from the winter. The road coming out of the river crossing is very steep and untended. Getting up it in the winter would be a challenge for anything on wheels. He told me I was the first one on the road this year, which felt a lot more special than the parade I'd left behind.

I'd originally intended to bomb up Highway 10 for a stop and then ride back down through Mono Centre where I still wish we'd bought a house; this back route up Hurontario was better in every way.  The Tiger is such a capable road bike that I keep thinking about going with purely road biased tires next time around, but unexpected turnoffs like this are why you keep a multipurpose tire on the thing; the Metzelers handled the soft gravel and mud with ease, even on the unpassable hill.  Lightness is the goal off road, but these big adventure bikes are surprisingly capable if you're conscious of their size and don't try and ride them like a mountain bike.

Winding my way north through the Hockley Highlands put further lie to the weather forecast.  Rather than warming up to ten degrees it instead dropped back down to three degrees, and the wind was picking up.  Up and down the roller coaster that is Airport Road, I eventually found my way to Side Road 20 and the backdoor to River Road.

With blue, icicle fingers I unbuckled my helmet and cracked my frozen knees as I ungracefully dismounted in the Terra Nova Public House parking lot. The sky had gotten darker and what had been sporadic, light rain on my visor earlier now looked distinctly white and blowy. I staggered inside with my nose running and a wild look in my eye.  They quickly got me sorted out with soup and what may be the best roast beef sandwich I've ever had. The TNPH is one of those places that are common where I'm from but rare in Ontario - a pub with character that looks like it grew out of the ground and has always been there. As the heat worked its way back into me and my blood started pumping again, I could feel the zombification receding.

My vague plan was to work my way up the escarpment, perhaps all the way to the southern shore of Georgian Bay, but my photo/warm-up stops and the general misery of the weather made me aware of the fact that I'd reached the apex of my journey in Terra Nova. As I was looking over Google Maps the day before I'd worked out twenty one of the least boring kilometres you could ride in Southern Ontario, so the new plan after lunch was to do the loop both ways and then head back home.

Using TNPH as the start/end point, the idea was to hit the windiest parts of River Road and then come back around on the most interesting roads available.  It takes about fifteen leisurely minutes to make the loop, but when you're not in a corner you're enjoying elevation changes and some beautiful scenery.

Reinvigorated from my roast beef sandwich I did the loop backwards to scope it out and then forwards before following River Road one last time back out of the valley and onto a long and windy ride home.

You seldom spend much time on the crown of your tire.  Riding a motorcycle feels like flying most of the time, but bending one into a corner has a multiplying effect on that goodness.  When you aren't leaning into corners you're enjoying some whoopdeedoo elevation changes and the scenery is about as good as it gets, even on a winter-like early spring day.  You'd do a lot worse than making the ride up to Terra Nova for this bit of pavement.

After a couple of loops all the warmth from lunch was long blown away and I was dreading coming back out of the sheltered valley I'd been enjoying.  A last ride down River Road to Horning's Mills (another place I wish we'd bought a house) had me ignoring the swollen streams because I didn't want to stop the roller coaster ride.  What did finally bring me to a stop was the overflowing waterfall out of the pond in Horning's Mills.

After this last stop I made my way through the quiet village and up onto the Shelburne Highlands where fields of wind turbines do their business.  Up on the heights forty kilometre an hour gusts were knocking me around in addition to the plunging temperature.  The partially sunny high of ten had turned into a cloudy and windy high of three.  The windmills were spinning fiercely as I passed through them, and that's when the flurries started.  A few flakes of snow suddenly turned into reduced viability as snow snakes eddied across the pavement.  I clung to the heated grips but the blasting northern winds hitting me in the side meant double the wind chill.  I couldn't go much further like this.

I ducked behind the windshield when I could, grimly soldering on as the sky darkened and the wind gusts increased to over sixty kilometres per hour.  I usually make the sixty-six kilometre push back home from Horning's Mills to Elora in about an hour, but not this time.  Riding into Grand Valley I knew there was a coffee shop on the main street and for the second time that day I staggered into a warm shop with a running nose and a wild look in my eye, this time with snow on me.

Half an hour later, and while snow swirled around the trusty Tiger outside, I'd restored feeling to my fingers and caffeinated myself for the final leg of what had turned into a much shorter and more difficult ride than I'd planned.  As I walked outside an old guy coming in looked me up and down and said, "nice day to be out on a bike..."
"All I can say is that The Weather Network lied to me!" I replied.  He laughed.

South of Grand Valley I was following the Grand River and being off the Shelburne Highlands meant a break from the chronic winds and snow.  Heading south also meant the wind was at my back instead of trying to dismount me.  I finally got my frozen carcas home and stood in front of the fire forever, trying to get heat back in me.

After feeling returned I discovered my wedding ring had fallen off my senseless fingers at some point when I pulled my gloves off.  We're nineteen years married this summer and I've never lost the ring before.  I couldn't find it in the obvious places so emailed my various stops hoping it had showed up.  It took a second search the next morning when my brain had warmed up to find the ring in the bottom of my bag where it had obviously fallen out of my gloves at some point; good save there.

As painful as it was, I still feel like this trip cleared away the cobwebs and let me look upon the world in a way that any car trip wouldn't.  I didn't just go for a drive, I did something genuine and difficult and have a tale of trophy wives, dinosaurs and snow snakes to tell from it.

If it was easy everyone would do it.

Some other pictures from the trip:
Over the Credit River watching kingfishers

Hockley Valley Road.

At The Terra Nova Public House ready for another lap.

Great on the road, but that's the only place you'll ever use one.

Winter runoff in Hockley River.

Horning's Mills Run Off.

If you like the twisties, the loop out of Terra Nova is a keeper.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Any Motorcycle Trip's A Good Trip

A short ride up and down the banks of the Grand River near Elora, Ontario.  

We headed over to Pilkington Overlook, then up to the West Montrose Covered Bridge and then back down the north side of the Grand River to The Breadalbane in Fergus for dinner on a sunny, warm, Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Todd Blubaugh's Too Far Gone

It took me almost a month to slowly work my way through this complex piece of media.  I originally came across an excerpt from it in Bike Magazine and it was so moving that I immediately purchased it.  I'm generally not a fan of coffee table books.  I've always thought of them as flash over substance and a decoration for yuppies to strategically place in their perfect living rooms to impress guests.  It took some powerful writing in that excerpt to overpower my prejudice about this format, and I'm glad it did.

Writing is only a small part of this 'book', and calling it a book isn't really fair to it.  This is a piece of art; it feels more like you're walking through an emotionally powerful art exhibit.  The author, Todd Blubaugh, was a photographer by trade, so this all starts to make sense as you fall into his aesthetic.  Between the pages of powerful and technically complex photography you find short pieces of narrative text that pin down the corners of Todd's six month quest for meaning after his parent's unexpected death in a car accident.

If you've lost a parent in unexpected circumstances with things left unsaid, Todd's meditative ride around the continental U.S. will raise a lot of your own ghosts.  This was one of the reasons I savoured it so slowly.  After reading each emotional upper cut, you're immersed in several pages of photography of life on the road.  Working in black and white on a film camera, Todd's images tend toward startlingly frank personal portraits of the people that he meets on his travels.  Todd must be a particularly disarming fellow as he's able to catch people with almost animal like honesty - were I able to do this, I'd be much more interested in human portraiture.  As it is, it's a joy to see a master like this at work.

As you travel with Todd further into his trajectory away from the things that anchor most people to their lives (job, family), he surprises you with artifacts from his parent's lives.  At moments like this the book feels more like a scrapbook or family album, with news articles about his Dad's tour in Vietnam and his mother's paintings offering you further insight into the scope of his loss.  The letter from his Dad at the end of the book had me in tears.

Todd tells two entwined and complex stories in Too Far Gone.  His disassociation from the habitual, stationary life that most people live reaches a climax in a conversation with an old sailor that will leave you, along with Todd himself, staring into the abyss.  Free from the responsibilities most of us labour under, Todd is able to focus on his loss with such a startling clarity that it will shake you.

This book pressed a lot of buttons for me.  As a photographer I greatly enjoyed Todd's eye, even (and especially because?) it is so different from my own.  Todd's relationship with motorcycling (old Harleys and biker culture) is also about as different from mine as can be, yet the sense of brotherhood still felt strong because Todd is never once preachy or superior about his infatuation.  Instead, his honest love of motorbikes comes across loudly, and that is something we share.

As someone who lost a parent and experienced that same phone call out of the blue, Todd's experience is something that cuts me deep.  In coming to understand Todd's relationship with his dad I can't help but reflect on my own difficult and distant relationship with my father.  I lost the parent that I most identified with and have a challenging relationship with the other one, but Todd's parent's were still together and he lost both at once.  It's the things left unsaid that gnaw at you afterwards, and losing both parents together while they are still paragons in your life is something I can only imagine.

We all lose our parents eventually.  If you haven't yet, this book will give you an emotionally powerful idea of how it feels, and how someone has worked through the scars of that experience.  If they're already gone, your sympathy will create powerful echoes.

There are a few motorcycling themed books that plumb philosophical depths.  Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Shop Class As Soulcraft in particular have spoken intelligently and deeply about the meditative nature of motorcycling.  Too Far Gone is a multi-media, large format book that takes you to the same place through different mediums, but it does it while also offering an emotional intelligence that is hard to find anywhere else.  Immerse yourself in this book, you won't be disappointed.

What you need and nothing else.  After six months on the road Todd looks as homeless as he is, and has to make a decision...