Thursday, 19 April 2018

Summer 2018: Things to do list: Horizons Unlimited Ontario Meeting

HU Ontario 2018Horizons Unlimited is having a big meeting in central Ontario in May and it'd be nice to go.  It's a three hour ride from home but only about an hour and a half from the inlaw's cottage.  I looked into staying over but it's a pretty penny.  Staying at the resort it's at is north of eight hundred bucks for the cheapest condo type place available.  Even assuming I could find some people to divide the cost with, that's more than I'm willing to pay.

Heading up Friday I could do a loop around the Kawartha Highlands on some twisty, Canadian Shield roads before landing at the cottage.  The whole thing would be about 850kms over a long weekend.  A day of riding up there, a day at Horizons and then a ride home on Sunday - entirely doable.

The ride around Kawartha
They structure the pricing to get you there for the whole weekend, so even if I just went for the day it's still seventy five bucks, but then I guess I could always go back Sunday if it really did the business.  I've had friends attend before and really enjoy it.  If there were wild camping opportunities in a less resorty location, I'd be more willing to commit, but refugee camping (in rows, on a site) isn't my cup of tea, and the alternative staying in a building ends up being money I'd rather spend elsewhere.

Still, for seventy five bucks, it might be a good way to get a sense of the overlander adventure club, I just wish they offered a first time taster's package.  They say 'come to an HU event and find your tribe' - but I tend toward a tribe of one.  I want to believe, and I want to go, but I don't want to end up spending a mint on something that ends up not being a fit.  The aspie in me wants me to just go for a long ride in the Haliburton Highlands - I'm trying to use that to convince him to go and meet people... something he really isn't fond of.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Five Years: Diversifying Motorcycle Experience and Finding Balance

After the first year on two wheels I began thinking about more challenging motorcycle projects that would diversify my experience.  Starting in year two I did my first away motorcycle ride, renting scooters and then a BMW around the southern end of Vancouver Island - that led to my first article being published in Motorcycle Mojo and gave me a lot of insight into variations in motorcycling.

In addition to pushing my riding experience in daring new directions (like riding two-up with my son on an unfamiliar bike on one of the most challenging roads in Canada), I also began looking for a bike that needed more than just regular maintenance to operate... a bike that needed me.

I discovered just such a thing toward the end of that riding season, a long dormant Kawasaki Concours that we had to cut out of the grass it was sitting in.  Something that old (twenty plus years at the time) had a lot of perished rubber on it, and when I finally got it up to temperature it also had a sizable oil leak.  The winter was spent getting a new oil cooler and lines, replacing a lot of rubber bits and otherwise getting this old warrior back on its feet again.

The Concours not only got me moving mechanically, but it also offered a real blank slate, something I've since realized is only available on well used bikes (unless you're loaded and like to pull apart new things).  I'd enjoyed the aesthetic restoration of the Ninja and was looking forward to doing the same thing on the Concours.  Getting an old bike and making it not only usable but unique looking has been one of the highlights of my motorcycling career to date, and a trend I intend to continue.  It's something that my current too-nice Tiger doesn't offer me.

The Kintsugi Concours became my go-to ride and the Ninja became my first sold bike.  It was difficult to part with something I'd developed such an emotional bond with.  I can understand why the people with the space and means hang on to every bike they buy.  Having beaten the selling a bike emotional roller coaster, I immediately went looking for another, but it took a while to finally find the right thing, and in the meantime the old Concours suddenly became less than dependable.

A KLX250 that couldn't do 100km/hr with me on it made me feel like I was overly exposed and under-powered while riding on the road, though it was a deft hand off it and gave me my first real off road experiences.  I held on to it over the winter and when there was finally a break in the never ending Canadian snow I thought this is the moment the KLX will shine, on dirty, just thawed roads - except it wouldn't start.  It was a lot easier to sell because I'd never fallen in love with it.  Getting $400 more than I bought it for didn't hurt either.

Later that summer I made my next motorcycle buying error and stumbled into an old Yamaha XS1100 sitting on the side of the road.  I ignored the three strikes against it (non-runner with no ownership being sold by a gormless kid) and purchased it anyway; I won't do that again.  I got lucky on the ownership - it was within a whisker of being a write-off and had a long and difficult history (I was the thirteenth owner!), but I was able to sell it on after sorting the ownership and just broke even.  In the process I stumbled onto a balancing act I hadn't considered before.

I love riding older bikes I wrench myself, but they aren't always ready to ride.  When the otherwise dependable Concours wasn't and my only other choice was an ancient Yamaha I'd only just freed up the brakes and carbs on, I found myself with nothing to ride as the cruelly short Canadian motorcycling season began.  I'd gambled too much on being able to keep the old bikes rolling.  With riding days so valuable in the Great White North, that wasn't a viable approach.

I still had most of the money from the Ninja sitting aside and my wise wife said to just focus on getting something newer and more dependable.  Maintaining that balance means having a riding ready bike and a project bike, and not messing up that equation.  To further complicate things, I'm a big guy so I needed a bike that fit, and my son was getting bigger every year and loved coming along, so I needed a bike that would fit us both.  Being the onerous person I am, I didn't do the obvious thing and buy a late model Japanese touring bike that runs like clockwork.

My daily rider suddenly popped up on Kijiji but it ended up being the most emotionally driven purchase yet.  Instead of a sensible five year old, low mileage Kayamonduki, I got bitten by a thirteen year old Tiger.  It was European, over budget, too old and with too many miles, but the owner was a young professional (nuclear operator!) and from the UK and we had a good, straight up chat about the bike.  I was honest about my position (the Tiger was out of my league but I loved it and wanted it), and he was straight up with his position (he was about to take it in to trade for a new Triumph at the dealership and even my lower offer was much better than he would have gotten on trade in).  I ended up feeling like I stole the bike for over a grand less than he was asking and he got more for it than he otherwise would have.  It was an emotionally driven purchase with a lot of rational oversight.

With all that good karma the Tiger has turned out to be a special thing.  I was only the third owner.  In thirteen years it had averaged less than 4000kms/year, and on two years the first owner had ridden it out to Calgary and back (seven thousand plus kilometres each time).  It had been power commandered (that had never come up in the purchasing discussions), indicating that the original owner had really fawned over this bike.  The guy I bought it off wasn't very mechanically minded and it hadn't had much in the way of regular maintenance, but then he hadn't used it much.  Within a couple of weeks I'd gotten it safetied, done all the maintenance and given it a good tuning - it has run like a top ever since.

It's an older, European bike, but fuel injection and a resurgent Triumph Motorcycles Co. using the latest manufacturing techniques means it's not a bonkers choice as a daily rider.  On the second year of ownership it fired right up after hibernating under a blanket in the garage, and it did again this year.  I've fixed some dodgy, plastic fuel connectors on the tank, changed the tires and done the fork oil and other fluids along with the chain, but other than the fuel fittings, it's all been regular maintenance.  The Tiger has been such a treat and it's such a rare thing (I've only ever seen one other) that I can't see myself letting it go.

Meanwhile the Concours became the project bike, but since I wasn't depending on it, the project took on new dimensions.  I stripped the old fairing off and ended up with a muscle bike like no other.  I've experienced some drift with this project and I think when I get it to a riding level I'll sell it with the aim to make my money back on it (shouldn't be too hard considering what I got it for).

I think the drift comes from biting off more than I can chew as far as tools I have on hand and time and a comfortable place to work.  If had welding gear handy and could do the fabrication I needed, I think I'd still be be pushing for an edgy completion to the project which has taken longer and has been more involved than I initially planned.  The heart is willing but I'm too tight money and time-wise to chase this big of a thing.  In the winter it hurts to go out in the garage and work on it and in the summer I'd rather be out riding.  Future projects might be more of a Shed and Buried/SPQR approach where I can get a bike sorted and back on its feet again, have some fun with it aesthetically and then move it on without losing any money on it.  Making enough on each one to keep me in tools and pay for the process would be the dream.

The sophomore years of motorcycling have been about pushing into more challenging riding opportunities.  From riding Arizona (another one that got published), to going to the last MotoGP race at Indianapolis to circumnavigating Great Lakes and Georgian Bay, I've gotten more and more daring and gone further afield with each season.

These years have also been about dusting off and expanding my technical skills and have seen me do everything from oil coolers to complete carburetor rebuilds.  The garage has gotten better and better in the process, though it's still bloody cold in the winter.  If I could find a solar powered heating system for the space I'd be a happy man.  If I had a heated, insulated work space about twice the size, I'd be even happier.  The other side of the coin is riding opportunities.  Living somewhere where you can't ride for 3+ months of the year isn't conducive to building saddle experience.  I'd be happier if I lived in an all year riding opportunity - or at least if I had access to such places over the winter here.

20 hours might have gotten me able to manage the basic
operations of a motorcycle - the Conestoga course was a
weekend with about 4 hours on bikes each day, then some
very tentative rides in the neighborhood got me to 20 hours.
At five years I feel like I've put a lot of time into improving my rider's craft.  I've also spent a lot of energy getting the rust off my mechanical skills.  What I most wish for the next five years is to maintain my hunger for more motorcycle experiences.  I'd like to try  a wider range of different bikes and types of riding and find a way to dig even deeper into mechanics.  This year I'm hoping to take an off-road training course.  In the future I'd love to find the money and time to take track riding, if not to pursue racing then at least to explore riding dynamics at the extreme end in a controlled environment.

If you put ten thousand hours into something you've developed a degree of expertise in it.  In each season I've tried to beat ten thousand kilometres of riding (and succeeded) before the snows fall.  Those fifty plus thousand kilometres have probably had me in the saddle for over a thousand hours and I've easily spent that again in the garage doing repairs and maintenance.  If feel like my motorcycle apprenticeship is well underway, I just need to keep finding ways to feed that expertise.

The light cover in the garage - a reminder...

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Five Years of Riding: the beginning

Five years ago I began the never ending apprenticeship of motorcyclist.  The summer before I had a chance to ride a dirt bike at a friend's farm and got bitten.  My mother had always been adamant about me not riding, so I didn't, but she had died the year before and I was suddenly able to do something I'd always wanted to try.  That same summer I also became qualified as a technology teacher and was interested in dusting off my hands-on repair skills.  Motorcycling offered a perfectly timed riding and technical renaissance one-two punch.

When I was eighteen and looking for my first car I realized I couldn't afford it and started looking at motorcycles.  My parents ponied up the difference to keep me out of the saddle.  Living in Canada meant bikes aren't a year round transportation solution anyway.  I ended up getting so deep into cars that I never found my way back to bikes, but the urge had always been there.  When I had my highest amount of disposable income in my early twenties while working full time before university, I was thinking about a bike again when a co-worker ran a red light on his bike and killed himself in front of all of us as we were coming in for our shift.  That put the brakes on getting a bike yet again.

Twenty years later...

Things moved quickly as the snow melted in 2013.  I walked in to the Drivetest Centre and got my learner's permit after a long winter spent buying magazines, watching TV shows and reading books on motorcycles; I was rearing to go.  A couple of weeks later I was taking the introductory motorcycle course at Conestoga College.  There was nothing better than high speed passes through the cones, leaning the little learner bike to and fro.  A few days after that I'd found a poorly used Kawasaki Ninja in town and had it in the garage less than a week later.  Meanwhile it was still snowing outside (oh, Canada).

Soon enough the weather turned and I was out on the road.  It was only a 650cc twin cylinder Kawasaki, but it went 0-60 faster than anything I'd ever owned and looked like a rocket ship.  The time I was sat at an intersection and a Ferrari pulled up next to me and started revving its engine was the first time I explored the Ninja over 6000rpm, and I was gobsmacked.  With the Ferrari car lengths behind me I dropped the bike into top gear and gave my head a shake.  Leaning into corners is still my favourite aspect of motorcycle dynamics, but the acceleration of even a mid-sized motorbike is a thing to glory in, and they brake like mad things too.  In addition to being out in the world on a bike, you're on an athletic machine that can embarrass anything else you're likely to meet.  It was my mission to come to grips with this wonderful machine.

By May I had my M2 and could carry passengers and go on big highways, so I immediately spent all of July commuting solely on the bike to a summer course seventy kilometres each way including a blast down the biggest highway in Canada.  The first time I pulled out on the highway I eased up to 90km/hr and followed the slow lane.  That lasted for about ten seconds and then I was gone.  The next morning I indicated onto the highway, shoulder checked and was at a buck twenty in the fast lane a second later; what a rush.

What typified my first year of biking was my commitment to using the thing.  Rather than take the car if it was raining, I put on rain gear.  Rather than take the car when I had to go shopping, I found a way to carry what I was getting home on the bike.  That commitment was what got me racking up over five thousand kilometres on the Ninja, which isn't easy in Canada with its short riding season.

The mechanical side of things had me taking care of basic maintenance, but the Ninja was my first choice of bike because it was a mid-capacity machine that was relatively new and in ready to ride shape - the idea was to learn how to ride.  I'd leave the deep mechanical work for future years.  Most of the repair energy on the Ninja was spent on un-blacking it and making it colourful again.  When I eventually sold it I got pretty much what I'd paid for it even though I'd added over ten thousand kilometres to it, so the painting paid off.

Future years would have me diversifying my bikes and rescuing a basket case that would challenge my technical skills and have me knee deep in mechanics, but the early years were all about riding as much as possible.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Another Lousy Weather Long Weekend Daydream

With hail hitting the windows, here's another load-up-the-van daydream, this time over the Easter long weekend...

It's up in the teens Celsius in Cincinnati, and it's close by, less than eight hours away.  If I'd have gone to work on Thursday with the bike loaded up in the van, I could have been on my way by 3:30pm and feet up in a hotel on the Ohio River before midnight.  The next morning I'd be exploring what looks like a plethora of interesting routes up and down the River on the Kentucky side, all in mid-teens temperatures.

Spoiled for choice:

Cincinnati is so close I could finish up with a short ride Monday morning and be on the road about noon, which would get me back up into the still frozen north by eight in the evening.

Another angle might be to aim just east of Columbus, Ohio.  There are a large number of motorbike roads out that way on the edge of the Appalachians.  Zanesville, Ohio would be a great launching point to dozens of rides, and it's less than seven hours away.  Due south of town is the Triple Nickel, along with a pile of other very twisty roads.  Temperatures out in eastern Ohio are similar to those in Cinci.

Flirting with the West Virginia border means wandering onto the foot hills of the Appalachians.  Every road in the area is twisty, even the ones leading to the riding roads.  This is even closer than the Cinci plan, and twistier too.

The weather's getting better everywhere else but here.  With above zero temperatures still weeks away, I remain reduced to daydreaming about rides out of reach.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Surprisingly Tough, but not Invincible

Barely above freezing, but the sky is clear and winter blue.  The camera is a Ricoh Theta S on a Gorilla Pod wrapped around the rear view mirror, until it wasn't.  Without a hint of a problem it suddenly let go at 80km/hr as we rode down a country road.  The tripod and camera slid down the pavement for 50 odd metres before coming to a stop.  We turned around and went back to find the camera case popped open and electronics hanging out, I figured it was dead.  (check out the bottom of this post for an update - it looks like the Theta didn't survive after all).

Once home I put the guts back in and snapped it shut again and it powered right up.  All the photos on it were fine, only the plastic piece at the top shattered.  It's now covered in tape and looks like the tough little camera that it is.  If you're looking for a hardy 360 camera, the Ricoh Theta has survived thousands of miles on a motorcycle taking all sorts of photos and videos, and now it has hit the road at high speed, and it still keeps on ticking (kind of - see below).

I'd kinda hoped that this nixed the Theta S so I could upgrade to the new Theta V.  That might be what ends up happening now.

I had the camera set to take a photo ever 10 seconds.  I hoped that it happened to be taking one as it came off the mirror, but no luck.  In the meantime, here are a selection of stills and 360 movable images from the Ricoh on the ride:

Dress warm for a cold ride. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Cold, easly spring #Triumph ride #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


I tried the Theta on the way into work today.  It has gone cross eyed!

It looks like the old film double exposure shots I used to take in college.  The speaker doesn't make the byooup noise it used to when you press the shutter and it doesn't fire on every touch.  When it does take a photo it's a psychedelic experience...

On the downside, the tough little Theta didn't manage a super-heroic save on the 80km/hr slide down the pavement.  On the upside it still fires up and the memory works fine, it's just cock-eyed.  The other upside is a Theta V is on my short list for a replacement.  In spite of this understandable failure, the Theta is still by and far my favourite 360 camera for on-bike shots.  It's small but easy in the hand, aerodynamic and has hardware buttons on it.  Many others only have software control through a smartphone which is fiddly and awkward.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Walking In Bill's Footsteps: 1940 France

I'm going to build this one in stages.  Putting together the research in order to eventually build a map of my grandfather's path through 1940s France will take some time.

The goal is to work out how my granddad, William Morris, worked his way through France as the British Expeditionary Force and the French military collapsed under the weight of the German Blitzkrieg during the Battle of France.

What I know so far:  
Bill was already a member of the RAF when the war began.  He was able to operate everything from heavy trucks to motorbikes and found himself supplying Hurricane squadrons in France as a heavy lorry operator.  Being stationed in France as a part of the British Expeditionary force in 1939/40when the Blitzkrieg began he started to make his way to the coast.  He got close to Dunkirk at the end of May but the chaos made it look like a bad idea, so he kept pushing south, avoiding the fast moving German Panzer divisions that were pushing into France in huge leaps.
The rough map so far on Granddad Bill's escape from German occupied France in 1940

Sinking of the Lancastria in the National Maritime Museum
He got down to St  Nazaire by mid-June and witnessed the sinking of the Lancastria - where more people were killed in a single sinking than in the combined losses of the Titanic and the Lusitania; it's the largest single maritime loss of life in British history.

By this point it must have seemed like the world was ending.  Here's a quote from the man himself:

“When Paris was made a free city (June 11th) the British Expeditionary Force had to evacuate and make for St. Nazaire. The roads were clogged with retreating troops and equipment. What couldn't be carried was destroyed. We arrived in St. Nazaire in the afternoon just in time to see the ship that was to carry us out destroyed by dive bombers. An officer directing traffic suggested we try to make for Brest. We arrived there two days later just as the last ship was preparing to leave, I had to leave my German Shepherd behind on the docks as there was no room for her on the boat.”

Bill got out of France through Brest on June 13th, 1940 - over two weeks after Dunkirk.  From May to June, 1940, Granddad saw more of France than he probably intended.  His unit was disbanded due to losses, but I'm not sure which squadron he was attached to.  A number of them were decimated trying to battle BF109s with biplanes.  The few Hurricane squadrons could stand up to the Messerschmidts but were badly out numbered and inexperienced.  If the documents I've got are accurate and he was providing support to a Hurricane squadron east of Paris, then there are a number of candidate RAF squadrons who were based around Reims.

At some point the planes and air crews must have taken off and left the support people, including Bill, to try and find their own way out.  He had been missing for so long and so many British soldiers were lost in the Battle of France, that he was declared missing or dead.  When he got back on British soil and was given leave, Bill headed straight home to Sheringham in Norfolk where he waited on the street for my grandmother to walk by on her way to work.  She must have been stunned to see that ghost standing there.  Bill always had a flare for the dramatic.

This is the opening chapter in a war story Bill never talked about, but I've been trying to piece back together from existing details.  A couple of interesting things could come out of this...

1)  Build up a map of Bill's route through France in 1940.  Put together a collection of World War 2 era British bikes and ride them from the air field he was stationed at and follow the meandering route he may have followed, stopping at the places we have evidence he was, eventually ending where he escaped the continent.  I've got two brothers and several cousins, all direct relatives of Bill's, who could do this ride with me.

Films like Chris Nolan's Dunkirk shine a light on the often ignored
early moments of World War 2.  There is more work to be done.
We could do it on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of France in May and June of 2020.  It's a forgotten moment in the war that is often misunderstood and mocked historically.  The French didn't surrender (in fact they bloodied the nose of an otherwise technically superior German force and vitally weakened it prior to the Battle of Britain.  There would have been hundreds more German planes and thousands more personnel available for the Battle of Britain had the French military and British Expeditionary Force not fought as they had in France.  Bill's journey would be an opportunity to highlight a lot of that forgotten and misunderstood history.

2)  This is the first part of William Morris's rather astonishing path through World War 2.  His improbable survival (he was the member of multiple units that got disbanded due being decimated in battle) is the only reason I'm here today, and I find the serendipity and skill involved in that fascinating.  Had Granddad not survived the war he would never have fathered my mum in 1946.  Our family exists as it does today because of his survival.

A longer term goal would be to put together a based-on-true-events narrative of Bill's experiences during the war, from his time in occupied France, to his work retrieving wrecks during the Battle of Britain, to his years in the desert in the later half of the war, his story sheds light on a working man's experience in the conflict.  So often the attention has been on the wealthier officer class of pilots and commanders, but this is a look at World War Two from the trenches (so to speak).  It's a war far more people experienced than the scientists and upper class types did.

3) If the book got written, it'd make for one heck of a TV or film series!

Meanwhile, the research continues...

The Norton 16H in RAF blue (once the war began they
just churned out army green ones).  The TV show would
have myself and my cousins - all the current descendents
of Bill Morris, following his trek through 1940s France.

Norton 16H in RAF colours (up to 1940, army green after that…)


Triumph Tiger 100 (not used in service but might have been found in 1940s France)
1940 Battle of France WW2 RESEARCH:

A paper I wrote for a history course at university in 1996:

Statistics on the Battle of France:

Some photos of Hurricanes in France in 1940...
Hawker Hurricane RAF 501 Sqn SD being refueled by a bowser at Bethenville France 11th May 1940

73 Squadron

Bloodiest Battles of WW2:

The WW2 soldiers France has forgotten
Aircrafts and bases of the Royal Air Force on May 10, 1940

Get a copy of military service records:

RAF french bases in 1940 May - by June they were all gone...
Berry-au-Bac (France)
Merville (France)
Douai (France)
Poix (France)
Rosieres-en-Saneterre (France)
Reims (France)
Lille (France)
Betheniville (France)
Villeneuve-les-Vertus (France)
Conde-Vraux (France)
Berry-au-Bac (France)
Reims (France)
Vintry-en-Artois (France)
Abbeville (France)

RAF in France 1940, (Fighting against Odds)

Hurricane Squadrons in the Battle of France
"British losses in the Battle for France:  68,111 killed in action, wounded or captured. Some 64,000 vehicles destroyed or abandoned and 2,472 guns destroyed or abandoned."

Armée de l'Air - Order of Battle, 10th May 1940

Traces of World War 2 - Royal Air Force, Battle of France 1940

RAF base Marham history

Royal Air Force - Order of Battle, France, 10th May 1940

A simulation of the Battle of France in 1940:

Mapping the Maginot line RAF supporting stations in France:

Association Maison Rouge

Abandoned and forgotten airfields in France:


Moto-raids into occupied France (from a January 1941 article): might be good as a chapter piece between the BoF, the Battle of Britain and heading off to the desert...