Saturday, 22 September 2018

Hot Weather Riding

I tend to run hot, body temperature wise, and find that I can ride well into the single digits without too much worry.  My people come from a cold, wet place and that's what I'm built for.  Heat, and especially humidity, are my achilles heel.  I've gone to great lengths to try and find hot weather riding gear that will allow me to ride when it's sweltering.

Currently my go-to hot weather gear is a Fieldsheer mesh jacket in the lightest colours I could find.  I've never understood why someone would go with a black mesh jacket.  It defeats the purpose of trying to stay cool, unless you're just aiming for the other kind of cool.

This jacket is brilliant.  It keeps the sun off you while feeling like you're not wearing a jacket at all.  I think I'm actually cooler wearing this than I am in a t-shirt; much less likely to burn anyway.

The pants are where I'm having trouble.  A few years ago I found the most ventilated pants I could from Twisted Throttle.  These Macna vented pants do a great job of running air over my legs, but do very little where I need it most around my crotch.  To supplement those pants I got some riding shorts with a crotch pad, but they strangely disappeared, leaving me to ride with regular cotton underwear which is not remotely up to the job.

One of the great things about the convertible Roof Helmet is that you can swing it open for some wind on your face.  Even in that configuration the visor covers most of your face protecting you from Canadian sized summer bug impacts.  I just wish Roofs were a bit better ventilated across the top (the newer models might be, but they won't give me one to test).  An adventure/off road styled Roof with a roomier chin bar and more ventilation across the top and back of the helmet would be a must-buy for me.

A long time ago I found the Alpine Stars vented SMX-1 boots and have never looked back.  I've put tens of thousands of kilometres on them and beaten them senseless, but they still do the job so well that anything else on my feet doesn't feel right when changing gears.  They also keep my feet cool and are even good for walking around in (though they are very broken in).  When and if these ones give up the ghost I'll go get another pair just like them.  The lightest ones now have a touch of Valentino yellow on them, which is no bad thing.  They keep changing the colours, so maybe I'll get lucky and have a shot at some Lucifer Orange ones when I need them.

I'm focusing on fine tuning the bike/bum interface.  The best time of year to buy summer gear is the fall, and this fall is no exception.  Klim gear is usually a bit too rich for me, but I was able to find some vented Klim Savanah pants for under $200CAD.  I'm looking forward to seeing if the Klims really are all that.

I'm also replacing the biking underwear that wandered off.  It isn't cheap, but a good pair of technical underwear was the suggestion from many people when I asked.  Sixs makes a wide variety of riding focused sports underwear, so I went with the butt padded, seamless boxers.  The other pair I had looked a little less fancy, so I'm hoping this will be money well spent.  Their range of gear covers everything from top to bottom, so this might be the first of many purchases.

In order to keep the dreaded monkey butt from rearing its ugly head during hot weather riding you need moisture wicking underwear.  On my long ride last weekend my cotton boxers were soaked when I got back and I was so sore I couldn't sit down.  You do not want to get sweaty and wet under there, but your butt is on a black, vinyl seat so it's going to trap heat.  I've been looking into options to introduce some air under me.  Adventure Bike Rider Magazine mentioned Cool Covers a few issues back, but they don't make a cover for my fifteen year old Tiger.

Another option is the Bead Rider seat cover.  I've heard mixed reviews on beaded seats though.  They work well on shorter rides but over a long day they start to feel like torture.  I'm still considering my options here but the Cool Cover's futuristic look appeals more than the cabbie look of a beaded seat cover.

When I asked online, two super-stars who had just managed to complete a Bun Burner Gold very hard to do long distance ride had some hard won advice.  Everyone swears by technical sports underwear that wick moisture, so that's an easy fix even if you just go for Under Armour or something like.  Wolfe's suggestion of a Bill Meyers custom seat isn't cheap but isn't as expensive as I feared it might be (about the same as a new set of tires).  The old padding on my seat would benefit from a refresh and would go a long way towards making the Tiger all day rideable.

His other suggestion of the King of Fleece cover follows a popular bike habit of using pelts to separate your butt from unforgiving vinyl.  Sheepskin is a traditional choice, but I suspect some of the engineered solutions above might produce better results.

There are various new seat options, but not for my old Tiger, and spending that kind of money on a new seat for an old bike doesn't make much sense.  If I'm going that route, I think I'll be giving Bill Meyers a call.  A Canadian winter would be a good time to send the seat in.

I'm curious to see how the new undies and pants will do on hot future rides (which are only going to become more common).  The old, stiff seat may eventually get some attention, and I have a contact in mind in Bill Meyers.  You've got lots of options for finding ways to ride in comfort even in hot and humid weather.  Hopefully this helps you find ones that work.

Friday, 21 September 2018


I did a 360km-ish kilometre ride on Saturday.  All back roads and as twisty as I can find in the farm-desert we live in.  I was gone shortly after 8am and had a coffee at Higher Ground before ripping up and down the Forks of the Credit.  I was then up past Orangeville to Hockley Valley Road, back through Mono Hills and up to River Road into Terra Nova before coming back down to Horning's Mills and north to Noisy River Road into Creemore.  All in all I crossed the escarpment half a dozen times on my way north.

By now it was well past noon and into the high thirties with humidity.  After a great lunch at The Old Mill House Pub in Creemore I was out to Cashtown Corners to fill up and then past Glen Huron and over the escarpment one more time before heading north to Thornbury Cidery and the cooler shores of Georgian Bay.

Nothing Cools you down like the shore of a great lake on a hot, summer day.

From Creemore on I was soaking wet and sweating freely, monkey butt (red and sore on my backside from wet, aggravated skin) was soon to follow.  It wasn't so bad by the lake, but inland it was sweltering.  I was standing frequently to try and get wind under me, but by this point my big ride was just uncomfortable.  The Macna vented pants did ok on my legs, but where I needed it the most they were just trapping heat and leaving me dripping.

I bombed south down Beaver Valley, stopping once at an overlook to finish the Gatorade I had and then on to Flesherton for a stop at Highland Grounds before dodging and weaving south on back roads towards Elora and air conditioned nirvana.

Before I left that morning I learned that Wolfe and Robyn, the founders of Lobo Loco long distance motorcycle rallies, had already started the monumentally difficult Bun Burner Gold, the seemingly impossible fifteen hundred miles (2400kms!!!) in twenty-four hours - yes, that's a 100km/hr average for a whole turn of the earth.  You'd need to be making time every hour so you'd have time to get gas, eat, drink and toilet; it's madness!
By the time I'd seen what these two superheroes were going to attempt that morning they had already done more miles than I was going to do all day (monkey butt and all), and they still had the better part of two thousand kilometres to go... in a day!

Part of this is making sure you've got the right gear for the job.  I'm going to address that in another post, but the other side of this is do I think I can actually pull something like that off.  I'm months away from turning fifty and I'm starting to get a sense of what getting older is going to feel like.  Doubt is what starts you thinking that you have to act your age.

The two doing that epic bun burner are fifteen plus years younger than I am and much more experienced riders.  My starting to ride late grates on my nerves.  Despite numerous opportunities, events beyond my control conspired to prevent me from finding my way back to a hereditary hobby.  Those lost years still haunt me.

No point in moping about it.  I've gotta grab the opportunities as I find them and not let doubt weaken my resolve.  If I want to get an Iron Butt done then I need to get it done.  You don't get shit done by moaning about it.  But first I've got to get my seat and kit sorted.  No point in trying to do a job without the right tools.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Riding the Rocky Mountains

I drove the Canadian Rockies this past summer.  Riding from Ghost Lake in Alberta to Chilliwack in British Columbia would be one hell of a few days.  We did it in a crazy day and a half going the most direct route we could with one missed turn having us drive the wrong way to Boston Flats to get back on the Trans Canada.  Doing the Rockies like that it was pretty exhausting, even in a car.

On a bike it'd be dangerous to try and pull that off, especially as none of the roads are straight and you're fighting altitude too.  It would be a shame to rush through it anyway, so taking your time is the way to go.  When I eventually ride the southern Canadian Rockies it'll be a multi-day trip that makes use of every road I can find.


Day One:  Cochrane, AB to Radium Hot Springs, BC.  323kms via 40/742.  Lunch in Banff.  That's just over five hours of riding at a sixty kilometre per hour average.  With multiple stops, it'd be a full day of riding twisty roads before hanging it up in Radium Hot Springs for dinner.

Day Two: Radium Hot Springs to Revelstoke, BC. 252kms via 95 and TransCanada.  This might seem like a short day, but it's high altitude passes over top of the world stuff.  We staggered into Revelstoke around dinner time and wanted to stop, but had to push on.

Day Three:  Revelstoke to Vernon along Upper Arrow Lake.  300kms via 23 and 6.  We didn't go this way last time and bombed down the TransCanada behind infinite numbers of campers and eighteen wheelers who were wheezing up and down the inclines.  This route is at least as twisty but should offer less heavy traffic than on the more direct route.  Kamloops was a pretty rough spot, so I wouldn't miss it the second time through.

Day Four:  Vernon to Hope via Boston Flats and Hell's Gate.  After a couple of light days, the last day going West is a kicker.  Just over 400kms of very twisty mountain roads.  Google maps says it's a five hour effort, but with traffic, twists and roads that'll leave your mouth hanging open, that's an optimistic ETA.  This would be an all day ride along some unforgettable roads.  I ran into a new rider at Hell's Gate who had ridden up from Vancouver.  He was grinning ear to ear.

From Hope you're ideally poised to hit the west coast, but this isn't about that.  If you still haven't had enough of your Canadian Rocky Mountain High, a trip back skirting the US border offers you a whole new set of twists, turns and stunning scenery.  I'd be hard pressed not to want to head toward Valhalla...

You could do a lot worse than giving yourself a couple of weeks (or months, or the rest of your life) wandering the Canadian Rockies.  This trip doesn't even touch Jasper or Whistler.  There are also a number of roads that don't go anywhere.  Chasing down those dead ends would be an obsession of mine if I lived out there.

Here are some of those roads we saw this summer... 

...and these are all 'main' roads!

Like most Canadian Roads, they suffer huge swings in temperature.  The ideal thing to tackle them on would be a road focused adventure bike.  The extra suspension travel would help soak up the inevitable imperfections while allowing you to still enjoy the twists and turns.  They also happen to be the ideal ride for a big guy like me.
KTM focuses on fast ADV bikes, but you'd also be spoiled for choice if you looked at Triumph's big Explorer, or BMW's bonkers XR sports ADV.  

Yamaha's Super Ten is a solid, fast choice, as are the other larger capacity Japanese bikes (though they all seem to object to defining the category).

Thursday, 6 September 2018


It's that time of year again.  Dreams of escape surround me.  If I left right now I could get in and out of Tuktoyaktuk on Canada's north shore before the snows arrive (just).  I might have to bomb up there in a van just to get out in time, but then it'd be heading south across the Americas for months, chasing the summer.

The west coast as autumn falls would be glorious.  As the snows start to fly in Canada, I'd be into Mexico and Central America.  An unrushed few weeks working my down through the many border crossings would be much less stressful if I didn't have to be somewhere somewhen.  Crossing the Darien Gap from Panama to Columbia is five days on a boat and a chance to take a break from the saddle.

The boat lands in Columbia.  Once in South America I'd find somewhere to bed down over the holidays in Colombia or Ecuador before rolling south into the South American summer.  Spending Christmas on an empty Andean shoreline facing the never ending Pacific would be glorious.

I'd push south and see Machu Picchu after the holidays and then try and catch at least one stage of the Dakar Rally as it thunders around Peru in January.  A Peruvian desert stage would be awesome.

As summer wore on in the southern hemisphere, I'd continue south to Ushuaia on the southern end of Argentina.  After going from arctic to antarctic, I'd work my way back up to Buenos Aires and start the process of packing up the bike for a trans-Atlantic crossing to Cape Town.
...for what it feels like to peer over the edge into a never ending ride.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

the grace, the space, the pace

I just spent a month on the road, driving from Ontario, Canada to Tofino on the western coast of British Columbia before driving back through The States.  It was a great family road trip, but after having spent days and days (and days) on some of the best riding roads on the continent (we crossed the Rockies twice and spent time in Yellowstone and the Black Hills) while stuck on four wheels, I've had a lot of time to think about what makes riding a motorcycle such a wonderful thing by comparison.

The trip was made in a Buick Encore, a small SUV which allowed us to cover 500 kilometre average days in relative comfort (my sweaty back on leather seats notwithstanding).  Even when we weren't swallowing miles across the continent we were touring around Yellowstone, or hitting the beaches and trails south of Tofino, so we ended up doing well over twelve thousand kilometres in less than a month.  The Buick managed it all with no problems and mid-thirties mpg efficiency.  Other than getting shot in the windscreen by kids with a pellet gun in Montana, the car is in good shape (you haven't lived until you've been shot at in Montana).

I don't usually spend much time on four wheels in the summer these days, though I used to be car mad, chasing high performance vehicles and taking advanced driving schools when I was younger.  I was well aware of apexes and how to efficiently corner long before I started riding, but this trip emphasized just how limited your options are in a car.  While you've got a whole lane width to find apexes and explore a road on a bike, you're trapped in train tracks in a car with only a couple of inches to move side to side.  I constantly bumped up against this limitation and found the lack of space tiresome.  On roads where I'd be dancing on a bike, in the car I'm forced to contain myself, constantly watching for oncoming four wheelers that weren't.

Cornering in a car on a road isn't fun, it's tedious.

Even with the magic of leaning into a corner (which lets you dance on a tire instead of dumping all your weight to the outside) out of the equation, driving on twisty roads was a pale imitation of riding on the same tarmac.  This was emphasized when crossing the Bighorn National Forest which had staggeringly twisty roads hanging from the sides of truly epic mountains (when they weren't falling off them as they were in multiple places).  A car on this road was tedious and sometimes terrifying rather than electrifying; that space also means a safety margin.

The claustrophobia I felt in our small SUV was of two types:  the boxed in a cage type and the stuck on rails on the road type.  On my first ride the day after we got home, I revelled at the sky above and the space to stretch, as well as how wide and accommodating the roads felt.  Days on end in a car might be logistically necessary, but they aren't fun.

On this trip we saw people travelling in all manner of vehicles from the bafflingly expensive recreational vehicle to the sports car. Corvettes were an obvious and particularly popular choice in the US. On most roads this massive sled's six foot plus width completely fills a small lane, giving the driver no room to move at all and leaving oncoming traffic to dodge his wing mirrors if he's looking for an apex. Coming around a corner on a small mountain pass and seeing an RV spilling over into my lane was a common occurrence. The sheer size of North American vehicles bring their own problems.

Decades ago Jaguar came out with one of the most famous automotive marketing slogans in history.  It captured the luxury grand touring ethos of Jaguar to such a degree that it has remained in the public consciousness since.  I'd like to repurpose that brilliant piece of marketing for the vehicle that best exemplifies it.  The motorcycle, for all its short comings, offers you the space to move gracefully down the road.  With that grace comes the pace that motorcycles enjoy, which would explain why we got overtaken by so many of them on this trip.

The opportunity to retrace my four wheeled journey, especially through Yellowstone and the Bighorn National Forest is on my mind now.  It's a fifteen hour slog west over the plains to get to the edge of motorcycling's magic kingdom.  From there it's the South Dakota Badlands, Black Hills, over Bighorn and on to Yellowstone.  That would be a truly stunning motorcycling memory.

Some roads from the trip that might prompt you westward (if you're in the east):

Bottom left:  sometimes the road can't hang on to the side of the mountain...

Some suggested must sees as you head west across the northern US:

South Dakota Badlands Scenic Road:

The Black Hills are riddled with small twisty roads, just try and avoid early August unless you like riding slowly behind farm vehicles.  We stayed in Custer, but Rapid City has great restaurants and is a full on city with everything you could need, so I'd suggest that as a base camp for exploring the Hills:

Bighorn National Park was a brilliant surprise.  We did Shell to Dayton through Burgess Junction.  The roads ranged from some of the most dangly and exciting we'd seen to miles of gravel, ideal for an adventure bike.  The 2-up Harley riders didn't look like they were enjoying the road based colonoscopy so much.  The national parks stop at Shell Falls was brilliant, with all sorts of information on hand about where we were:

Cody is worth a stop.  It's a great town with everything you could need with a genuine western flair.  The two loops in Yellowstone each take a day, don't think you can burn around them as quick as you can (you can't).  Between small roads, animals that weigh thousands of pounds walking onto the road at random, your bike at seven thousand plus feet breathing hard, and the other tourists, you'll find rushing Yellowstone stressful.  You'd also be missing the point.  Stop often and check out the geothermal features and stunning scenery.  A day for the north loop, a day for the south loop, and enjoy taking your time.

I'd hoped to get down to Jackson Hole in the Teutons in the south, but didn't.  Maybe on two wheels in the future.  West Yellowstone offered better hotel rates than the North Gate which tends to be busier with better interstate access, but cheap hotel options are few and far between around the park.