Monday, 12 August 2019

Saints & Sinners Long Distance Motorcycle Rally

Here's an upcoming Lobo Loco long distance rally. If you're iron butty you could do the 3 day event.  I'm in for the one day on Sunday:

Lobo Loco Rallies are based out of South/Central Ontario, but if you're anywhere in the mid-west or on the eastern side of North America it's easy to get to.

It's a great excuse to find weird things and pile up alotta miles on your bike, and it's based out of Peterborough in the middle of some beautiful Canadian shield riding.  You'll have hundreds of miles of rocky shield, winding road and beautiful lakes to roam through:

Friday, 9 August 2019

Cape Breton's Cabot Trail: an ultimate ride?

 I'm currently crossing the Canadian Maritime provinces with my wife.  She's recovering from cancer so a bike trip wasn't in the cards, but I'm using the trip as reconnaisance for future rides.

On our way back to our hotel after a day on the Cabot Trail in northern Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island, a guy on a Honda Repsol race replica blitzed through a row of traffic five cars at a time and disappeared down the road.  The Cabot Trail attracts that kind of rider with its hundreds of kilometres of twists and turns over the Cape Breton Highlands in the north west corner of the province.

Coincidently, while I was out here, Canada Moto Guide did a primer on how to ride the Cabot Trail.  That and the steady stream of bikes making their way up to the remote, north-west corner of Nova Scotia cemented the trail as a Canadian riding icon in my mind.

We were up in Neil's Harbour when a bunch of guys in full leathers wandered in to the Chowder House up by the lighthouse (you can write sentences like that when you're on the Cabot Trail).  The bravest of them was on a Ducati.  I say brave because the road itself is indeed a roller coaster, but it's also pretty rough in places.  I asked them if they could put a knee down or would they knock their teeth out first.  They laughed and said they pick their moments.  The Nova Scotia government does seem to be taking more interest in fixing up the Trail though.

The Cabot Trail traces most of the coast of the north-west side of Cape Breton Island.  This 300km loop takes you up and over the Cape Breton Highlands and through a national park; it's stunnlingly beautiful and it'd be a shame to rush it.  Actually, what would be a shame would be only doing it once while focusing on the road.  The ideal way to tackle the Trail would be to get yourself into one of the many lodging opportunties on the south end of it and then do a day focusing on the road followed by a day focusing on the many stops available.  If you came all the way to the end of the world in Cape Breton and didn't bother taking side roads to things like Meat Cove and Neil's Harbour, you'd be missing some wonderful opportunities.

There are many sections with good pavement and astonishing curves, but there are others where the road hasn't had any attention in some time and Canadian weather has had its way with it.  I was told there were some switchbacks where riders had a hand down on the ground as they came around, but trying to do that in other places would have had you bouncing out of your seat and kissing a guard rail.  Rough or not, if you're used to living on a tiny island with sixty million people on it, you'll find the Cabot Trail frighteningly empty, even in mid-summer.

Having done a lot of miles on Canadian roads now I'd approach it as I do them all: enjoy them while you can but expect them to go to shit at any second.  Something with supension travel and some athletic intention would be a good place to start, it made me miss my Tiger sitting in the garage over two thousand kilometres away in Ontario.  A psychotic mix of power and suspension flexibility like the BMW S 1000 XR adventure sport would be good.  Another angle would be to take one of the newest intelligently suspended sports bikes and see what their CPUs make of it.

This ain't no butter smooth Spanish road, but it's a fearsome thing.  A couple of years ago Performance Bikes put their man John McAvoy on a sportsbike and pointed him at Spain, in the winter.  It was a riot to read him navigating snow storms through France before finding the sweet never-ending summer of Spanish roads at a time when everyone else is huddled in their houses waiting for the snow to end.  Reading Johnny in questionable riding circumstances is never dull.  PB (now a part of Practical Sportsbikes) should send him out to Cape Breton for a tour of the Cabot Trial in the fall.  It'd deliver demanding and stunning riding and photo opportunities that no one in mainstream motorcycle media seems to be aware of.  It'd also give Johnny a chance to practice his Gaelic.

Instead of riding the same old Spanish roads over and over, motorcycle manufacturers should be bringing journalists out to Cape Breton.  A 300km loop on varying road surfaces through stunning, Jurrasic Park quality scenery and some incredibly acrobatic roads would let them assess a bike's real-world prowess without cheating on roads that have never felt the terrifying touch of a Canadian winter!

Friday, 12 July 2019

A Summer Jaunt into the Adirondacks

I'm getting a bit stir crazy riding to the same places over and over.  Reading about Wolfe's run at the Iron Butt Rally this year makes me want to raise my own long distance game with an eye to eventually taking a run at that event.  Who wouldn't want to pass out in a graveyard for half an hour before hitting the never ending road again?

The Water is Life rally helps provide some alternatives, but what I really want to do is an overnight trip to roads both interesting and new.  The Adirondacks are the nearest thing I have to mountain roads anywhere near me beyond Southern Ontario's flat, industrial farming desert.

Operating out of the Hotel Crittenden, I'd be able to leave luggage behind and travel light on the two loop days designed to explore the twisting roads of the Adirondack Mountains.  Hotel prices tend to spike on peak times like weekends, so a mid-week trip should keep costs minimal.  It's a couple of hundred miles south and east, over the US border into New York State and south through the old mountains of eastern North America to Coudersport on the Allegheny River.

Day 1:  Ride to Coudersport:  352kms

Hotel Crittenden:

Interesting Adirondacks roads:

Day 2:  Snow Shoe Haneyville Loop:  352kms

Day 3:  Hollerback Loop:  384kms

Day 4:  Ride Home:  409kms

1497kms (930 miles) in 4 days / 3 nights.
Monday - Thursday (cheapest hotel room rates)
Hotel nights:  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
August 19-22:  USD $238.50 / CAD $313 Single King Room /3 nights
Our King suite is large, nearly 450 square feet. Each of our rooms is uniquely decorated and appointed with a classic theme. Relax on our premium quality king sized mattress and enjoy the historic surroundings. All rooms include a flat screen television, Coffee maker, and free WI-FI. The Bathroom features a Stand up shower with complimentary toiletries and a hair dryer.

Amenities on site (restaurant, bar) and a great downtown location near many other eating options means no need to ride at the end of a long day exploring twisty mountain roads.

The same area is great for autumn colours:

Monday, 8 July 2019

Would You Stop?

The other week I was out for a short ride up and down the river on a swelteringly hot day.  On my way back home I was accelerating out of the small hamlet of Inverhaugh when I noticed a bike down on the side of the road and the rider standing there looking at it.

I immediately checked my six (empty road) and indicated to pull over.  I stopped about 50 feet up the road from the downed rider and walked back.

Rider down, would you stop?  The four guys in front of me on Harleys didn't - though the nice couple in the Ford did...
The rider turned out to be Natalie, a 20-something on her first bike, a Ninja 300.  She couldn't lift the bike, which had fallen when she stopped to check directions, so I helped her get it back on its feet.  All was good except a bent shift leaver which was pushed in to the point where it was interfering with the frame - we couldn't get the bike in gear which means she couldn't ride home.

If I'm going any distance I have a tool kit on the bike, but this being a short ride, I wasn't so equipped.  Natalie had been out all day in the sweltering heat and had elected to head home rather than stop with the group she was with for a late lunch.  Exhaustion (no doubt some of it heat related) and a moment of broken concentration conspired against her and the bike tipped over.

A car with a couple in it has stopped so I asked if they had a tire iron I could use to gently bend the shift lever out.  I didn't want to yank on it too hard for fear of damaging the seals.  There was fresh oil around the lever, so I was worried that it had already been damaged in the fall.  The couple didn't have a tire iron - but I suspect it was more a case of they didn't know what that was or where to find it.  With no one else stopping in spite of frequent traffic and our options limited, Natalie called one of the riders she'd been with who was only 10 minutes away, back in Elora at a restaurant.

A few minutes later, under the sweltering sun, a Suzuki Hayabusa showed up with a "fuck fear" sticker on the windshield.  The hard man riding it hopped off and went about yanking on the gear lever until it was clear enough to move freely - he seemed determined to resolve things quickly.  I told Natalie and her friend that if they needed any assistance I was only 10 minutes away in Elora and they would be welcome to come by if they needed tools, and then I left.

As I pulled away all I could hear were stereotypes ringing in my ears.  I'd initially seen a sports bike down and a rider in sporting gear on the side of the road and had to fight an involuntary prejudice that they'd been assing around and tossed themselves at the countryside.  That, of course, wasn't what had happened at all - it was a case of a fairly new rider doing too many miles in tough conditions and underestimating how physically demanding that can be.  We all do that to start off with - I told Natalie how I'd dropped my first bike several times while trying to do too many things at once.

Then there was the moment as I approached when I thought, hmm, that's a mighty small fellow, before I realized I was approaching a female rider who was looking frustrated and overwhelmed.  My wife later asked if I was worried about stopping and making her uncomfortable.  That hadn't occurred to me at all, but perhaps it should have.  Considering the circumstances, I think safety trumps any worries about chivalry or chauvinism.

When the 'fuck fear' 'Busa showed up with rider to match, I was again fighting that sense of stereotyping, but he had cut out on everyone else and a much needed late lunch to get out there and help his friend.  All the tattoos and attitude couldn't hide that sense of kindness.

Then there were the ten or so cruisers that puttered by without stopping or even slowing down to see if everyone was alright.  These are the hard core types in leather who go on and on about how nice bikers actually are and how they always stop to help a fellow rider.  Perhaps these brotherly and sisterly biker types were all late for some kind of pirate fancy dress party; there was another stereotype broken - or perhaps they only help their own subculture.

Any time I see a rider on the side of the road I slow and give them a tentative thumbs up, which they have so far always returned.  If they didn't, I'd stop to see if I could help.  This doesn't have anything to do with a magical bikers code of conduct or chest thumping self-righteousness.  If someone on a motorcycle (any motorcycle, it doesn't have to be made in Milwaukee) is stuck on the side of the road, they can't sit in a safety cage and they're at the mercy of the elements.  Leaving them out there because you're too selfish or lazy to stop is both dangerous and cowardly; riding by like you didn't see it makes you a giant tool, even if you do like to strut around telling everyone what a paragon of virtue you are.

I've no regrets about stopping.  I'll keep doing it because it's what everyone should do.

Lots of talk about codes and looking after each other... but on this day it was all kind of bullshit, sort of like their grammar.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Potential of Emptiness: Honda Thoughts

The garage is looking pretty spacious this weekend.  The Concours sold yesterday so the Tiger is alone in the bike-cave for the first time.  I ended up selling it on if I could sell it for what I bought it for, which I did.  I owned it for five years, rescued it from retirement, doubled the mileage on it, had some great adventures riding around Georgian Bay and down to the last MotoGP event at Indianapolis in 2015.

I was ready to go in 2016 when the Concours wouldn't start.  With the Canadian motorcycling season agonizingly short I lost my patience, but then a Tiger appeared as if by magic and suddenly the Concours wasn't a necessity.  It's hard to believe I've had the Tiger for three years already; it isn't going anywhere.

With the money from the Concours set aside, I'm already considering my next project.  I'm aiming for a bike that is significantly different from the Tiger, which is a great all purpose machine, but it's heavy; a lighter specialist is the goal.  The guy I sold the Concours to already has one and half a dozen other bikes.  Having that many bikes would be a handful, I've always been about a functional garage.  Jeff, the motorcycle Jedi, has three very different bikes, that's the direction I'd like to go in.

In a perfect world I'd have the Tiger, a sports bike and a light dual sport.  A generalist, a tarmac specialist and an off-road specialist.  Time to peruse the Ontario used bike market.

There's a dual sport in need of some mechanical sympathy.  These typically go for twice what he's asking.  Parts are accessible and not particularly expensive.  There is a complete, virtually new head on ebay for about $760CAD.  If I could get the purchasing price down to $2200, I could have a virtually new Honda dualsport for three grand that would be worth twice that.

The worrying bit is this guy managed to blow a Honda engine, which are famous for being bulletproof.  If it has been abused (the dent in the tank suggests it's been dropped, though it's a dualsport that goes off road, so I shouldn't read too much into that) then the engine could have more major damage and require big end cranks and such, which could make this a money hole.

The fact that it runs is promising and it does sound like a top end issue - but I'm guessing it's a head replacement or major remachining situation.  It's an air cooled single cylinder, so after the complexity of  the water cooled, four cylinder Concours, this'd be lawn mower simple.  I'm tempted.

I've always had a soft spot for VFR Interceptors, and this lovely example is up for sale at a pretty reasonable price considering how much work has gone into it.  Hugo, the editor of BIKE Magazine recently got one of these and went on and on about how bullet proof they were, so even an older machine like this would be readily usable.

With this RC-36-2, last gen version you get a VFR at the pinnacle of its Honda evolution.  It's technically considered a sport-touring bike, so you don't get caned in Ontario's ridiculous insurance system, and it weighs less than 200 kilos, which would make it the lightest road bike (ignoring the KLX250, which wasn't really a road bike) I've ever owned.

If I could get it for $3500, I'd be able to ride it for years.  Rather than depend singularly on the now 16 year old Tiger, I could split duties between a generalist and a road specialist.  This too is tempting.

It'd be nice to have both, the XR as a project and the VFR as an immediate gratification machine; they would make for a very diverse garage.  I think I could have both on the road for just over six grand CAD.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Triumph Tiger 955i Rear Brakes

I came home last weekend to a lot of noise from the rear brakes.  A closer look showed virtually no pad material left, so it was time for new pads.  I thought I had some at the ready, but it turns out they were for the Concours.  A quick online shopping trip to Fortnine got me sorted out.  Surprisingly, the rear pads are the same as the front pads - I think the Tiger is the only bike I've owned with the same pads front and back.

Everything went smoothly until I got to the caliper pin - it's the bar the brake pad hangs on as it it presses into the disk.  The end of the pin was (rather bafflingly) a slot screw, which isn't a very nice choice for something like a caliper pin which will get hot and cold over and over again for years between service.  Slot screws aren't famous for great purchase and tend to strip easily, like this one was.

It was only after looking at the parts blowup that I realized the slot screw I was trying to remove was actually only a cover and the hex-head pin underneath was actually hidden away.  Once I realized I was only removing a cover, I applied some heat with a propane torch and got the thing loose.  I wouldn't have tried that had it been the pin itself - too much thread resistance.

With the cover removed, the pin, with its easily grippable hex-head came out easily.  Once disassembled I soaked the retaining clips and calipre pin, both of which had years of dirt and rust on them.  The next morning I greased everything up and reassembled the caliper with shiny retaining clips and pin, along with the new brake pads.  I had to force the caliper piston back to make space for the new pads, but this was relatively straightforward with the rear brake fluid container cap removed.  The fluid back filled into the container as the piston pushed back with little resistance.

With the new pads on, I put the two body panels I'd removed for access back together and tightened it all up.  The caliper was still moving freely - not bad after seventy thousand kilometres on it.  Judging by the rough edges of the caliper pin cover, I wasn't the first one in there.  Before I put it back I used a hack saw to deepen the groove.  Hopefully that'll make it easier for getting into it next time, that and some judicious lubrication.

I took it for a few loops around the circle in front of our house and bedded in the pads.  After a minute or two they were biting so hard I could easily lock up the back wheel, so them's working brakes.

A ride up and down the river to double check everything showed it all to be tight and dry and working perfectly.  No drag with the brakes off and quick response when I applied them.

That's how to do your rear brakes on a Triumph Tiger 955i.  I've got the front pads on standby.  Hopefully what's on there will last until the end of the season then I'll do the fronts over the winter.  Should be a pretty similar job as the pads and calipers are identical.

The Tiger stops faster than that guy...

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Zen and the art of running out of gas

Went out for a nice ride on a beautiful spring evening.  The bike was low on gas but I was still in the red, so I pushed on.

Couldn't have asked for a nicer night.  Bikes were out everywhere, me along with them.  I looped out east and then passed south of home and followed the river west.


In the setting sun I came across the Black Power Bison Farm.  The big furry creatures were grazing in the golden light... very idyllic.

From there I continued west downstream and turned onto highway 86, wondering when the gas light would come on to give me the immanent fill up warning.  Instead of the light coming on the Tiger hesitated as I accelerated up to speed on the highway, and then stalled.  I rolled to a stop on the side of the road and it wouldn't restart.  I gave the bike a shake and it started, so I looped around and started heading back toward the river and the road home, when it stalled again.  I kept it rolling and pulled back on to the side road I'd just ridden up.

As I ran out of momentum I could see the Kissing Bridge Trailway parking lot.  It was only a short push up a slight hill into the lot.  The sun was casting its last rays across a beautiful evening.  I got out the phone and called home - fortunately my son picked up and mobilized the cavalry.

I pushed the Tiger out to the front of the empty lot so my rescuers could see it and spent my time in the dying light reading about the Trailway and taking photos.  There is a video where a guy is riding his old Triumph and it won't restart after he stops for a pee.  He rages at the machine, but eventually ends up soaking up the nature around him.  With a Zen like calm, he eventually kicks the old bike over and it starts - it wouldn't while he was angry.  I wish I could find that video and share it again here.  No point in being angry, best to be where I am doing what I'm able to do.

Soon enough my lovely wife and son showed up with the gas can.  I put a litre into the tank and the Tiger immediately fired up.  They followed me the ten minute ride back to Elora and we topped up the bike and refilled the gas can.

Now to figure out why the low gas warning light isn't working on the Tiger.