Saturday, 24 September 2016

October 15th? Try a Long Distance Rally!

Many bikes of all shapes and sizes.  If you ride, a long distance
rally is a great way to meet new riders and challenge yourself.
Can you make your way to Woodstock, Ontario on October 15th?  The second ever Lobo Loco long distance motorcycle rally runs on that day.  I had a blast at the first one and want another go.

The rally is on the verge of getting enough people to run.  If you're in the North Eastern US, Quebec or Ontario or Michigan/Ohio, and can make it out to Woodstock, Ontario on October 15th, you won't be disappointed.

Give it a go, it's a blast!

You will find yourself in strange places you wouldn't otherwise stop in!

Things You Want To Do In Your 40s

Work for myself so I don't have to work for some myopic middle manager more interested in climbing than doing the right thing?  Yeah, that'd be nice.  Work on something as hard as I can knowing that no one else can walk in on a whim and derail it?  That'd be nice too.  Challenge my technical skills and develop my diverse talents to new levels of excellence?  That'd be awesome.  Have the means to fearlessly explore technology and the world around us?  Brilliant!

$1.3 million doesn't sound like a lot of money but it would mean a thousand bucks a week until I'm 75 years old.  Somebody better at math and competent with investments could probably figure out a more accurate, lower amount that would do the same thing.  It's comfortably middle-class, but I don't really dream of being rich, I dream of being free from work to pursue my passions.  If I could pull that off what would I do with my time?  It's kind of like retirement, but I want to do it now while I'm still able to do something useful with it.  I don't think I ever want to retire.
Mechanical Sympathy would expand and become an
income stream of its own. It would be the centre of
an online media onslaught!

Here's what I'd aim at if I weren't busy pulling the plough:


Writer:  I'd exercise the English degree and write, but not in a specific genre.  I'd pursue motorcycle and travel writing more aggressively.  I'd be happiest freelancing and working once or twice a month on assignment with the occasional larger travel project which would lead to a book.  Lois Pryce is a role model.  While that wasn't happening I'd be writing fictional novels.  It would be nice to work for established publications, but developing my own brand online would allow for more control over what I'm creating.  I've been working in large bureaucracies for too long.

If it's new and technically challenging I'm into it. 
Having access to that kind of kit is exciting.
I like to be surprised by what new tech can do.
Photographer:  The goal would be to have the work pay for the gear, and the gear I'm looking for is pretty technical.  I'd like to have professional quality photo and video gear on hand, as well as technically challenging tools like aerial drones, full spectrum and 360° virtual reality cameras to test limits and produce original, even experimental work.  If it's new and technically challenging I'm into it, especially if it probably won't work the first time.

Digital Media:  Exploring digital media has long been an interest (I teach it now).  Having access to the latest tech, not to consume but to experiment and explore, would be fantastic.  Projects would include VR environment building in CAD and simulation, as well as immersive media creation.  I'm working on a VR research project in school at the moment.  I feel like major breakthroughs are currently happening there.  What we have in ten years will make our screen use today look archaic.


I got into 3d scanning last year.  The resolution isn't
spectacular, but it's amazing what you can do with
a simple 3d scanner on an ipad.
Mechanic:  I've dusted off old mechanical skills with motorcycling, along with some long unused artistic urges.  Customizing motorbikes is an elegant way to combine left brained aesthetic creativity with right brained mechanical expertise; it's a whole brain hobby!  Having enough time, space and money on hand to chase down old bikes and see customizations through to completion would be grist for the writing and photography mill.

Digital Engineering:  I'm especially interested in micro-manufacturing using digital tools.  Multi-axis milling machines using CAD models offer new avenues into high-tech customization.  3d printers are making advances every day.  Being able to print my own fairing designs would be brilliant.  Being able to print my own designs with dragon scales would be even better.

An opportunity to borrow new technology and see what it is capable of would also be grist for writing and media creation.  If in the process I happened to get very good at producing customized parts, I'd lease the gear and get to it.  As prices fall on what was once expensive industrial grade equipment and digital management makes high tolerance production available to everyone, a new post-industrial age of customization will emerge.

Kawasaki's H2 supercharger impeller is a thing of beauty.
The technology that built it is becoming more accessible every day.

With table top laser cutters and various other digital tools becoming commonplace, the chance to explore these technologies without safety nannies hand wringing from above would be delightful.  The home garage of the future is going to be a magical place of customized, personal manufacturing.  It would be a blast to have the time and means to explore it.

I really do enjoy teaching, but the vampiric bureaucracies that manage it make working in education feel like giving blood; you're doing a good thing but you always come out feeling drained.  I'd happily take in apprentices on my own terms and genuinely enjoy helping them discover and develop their talents, I just wouldn't want to do it in an institution of learning.

One of the things I want to do in my forties is stop others from diluting my focus and wasting my time with their own mediocre expectations.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Quick Motorcycle Chain Switch

After previous experiences breaking and installing motorcycle chains I figured this time it would be fairly straightforward thanks to a good tool and knowing what I'm doing.  The Tiger's chain had a pretty severe tight spot in it. When I set the tight spot to spec (40mm of slack), the loose part was wobbling around with twice that.  If I set the loose part to spec the tight part would rumble on the sprockets.  You could actually feel the difference in chain tension under acceleration as a surge.

The tool I got last time was quick to set up.  The blue 500 size chain pin pusher slotted right in out of the handle where it had been sitting since my last chain change on the Ninja over two years ago.

The Tiger chain is a 535 sized chain (wider than the Ninja's, but the same pitch length between the links - the Ninja was a 520 chain).  
With the pin pusher piece in place I tightened the outer bolt with a 10mm ratchet and it easily pushed the pins out of the old master link with only mild force on a small ratchet.

With the old chain removed I spent some time cleaning up the sprockets, which were in great condition.  The front sprocket was packed with years of gum from chain lube and it took a while to get it all out, first with a screwdriver and afterwards wiping it up with some WD40.  With it all cleaned off it looked like a bit of rust had found its way onto the front sprocket.

The rear sprocket was only covered in chain oil remnants and cleaning it up was easily done.

If you're not yahooing around and yanking on your chain like a madman all the time sprockets tend to last, especially big, beefy 535 wide ones; this bike has only been owned by gentlemen.  I might swap out the rear 46 tooth sprocket for a 47 tooth one to lower the revs slightly on the next chain, but that's years down the road, and with the sprockets in good shape, it seemed silly to do a full switch now.

A master link came with the chain which is a bit off-putting because Fortnine immediately filled the screen with master links after I purchased the chain, which I took to mean I needed one.  I guess I'll hang on to it, but if the chain I'm buying comes with it letting me know seems like the polite thing to do rather than encouraging an upsell.

The master link that came with the chain had an interesting process for installation.  I'm told this is quite common on bicycles now.  The master link pins have a threaded piece on the end of them.  You thread the long pins on the chain and then alternate tighten the bolts until they won't go any further.

This snugs the outer piece of the master link onto the pins.  When you're done you back off the nuts a few turns and then break them off with a pair of pliers.  It worked well.

A chain so new it's still covered in the wax it was packaged in to stop rust.
With the new chain set to 35mm of sag top and bottom and lubricated with chain wax (preferred because it doesn't make a gooey mess of things, sticks to the chain well and is also a lovely honey colour), it was time for a test ride.  A twenty minute ride in the setting sun up to 100kms per hour demonstrated all sorts of improvement.  The surging feeling was gone making the bike much smoother under acceleration.  In corners that surging could destabalize the bike, it doesn't any more.  The new chain is also noticably quieter.

This time round I think the actual chain removal and installation took about 40 minutes moving slowly and deliberately.  The cleanup of the front sprocket was what took the most time, though it probably did a lot to quiet the new chain (not running through a tunnel of goop on each revolution has to be better).

While I had the tools out I finished the counteract balancing beads install I started earlier in the week by doing the back tire as well.  With beads now in the front and rear tires vibrations through the handlebars are gone and the whole bike is rattle free at speed.  I never really got to try them out on the Concours, but what little I did seemed to work, and seeing as the beads are cheaper than taking in tires to get balanced anyway, why not?  I'm glad I did.

The Tiger is now as arrow straight and smooth as it can be.  It was a joy to ride it home as the sun set on Sunday evening.

Monday, 19 September 2016


Costello's BMW is a thing of beauty.
Digging out an old BMW from the woods the other day was an emotional roller coaster.  What we ended up finding wasn't what we thought it was though.  Jeff's original plan was to find an old air head BMW and convert it into a cafe racer.  Bill Costello's wonderful example was what motivated him aesthetically.  BMW turned out a lot of air cooled boxers before recently adopting an air/water cooled combo.  You think it'd be easy to pick one out to strip apart back to basics.

Turns out that isn't the case.  As we wheeled the old R100RT out of the shed we were struck with a custom paint job and some interesting looking badges.  It turns out that in 1983 BMW Motorrad was celebrating its 60th anniversary and produced 300 special edition machines, and we were looking at one of them that had been sitting in a shed for eleven years.

It took a few hours to get back with the bike, but once in the driveway we were looking it over by flashlight, trying to get a handle on what it was that we'd recovered from the grips of time.

The next morning over coffee a discussion started around just how special this anniversary model might be.  It took Jim showing up with a cell phone that actually worked at the cottage (thanks Bell) to get online and begin filling in the gaps.

As the rain thundered down outside we discovered that these bikes often sell for three times what Jeff had bought it for.  On top of that a lot of BMW aficionados are against pulling apart and cafe-ing older BMWs, especially anniversary specials.  This left us in an awkward place.  Do you cut it to pieces and build the cafe racer you've been dreaming of building, or do you restore what might be a valuable piece of history?

If you're going to run into problems buying an old bike, this is a good one to have.

Putting air in the tires for the first time in a long time, they held it too!

A CRV, the perfect off road towing vehicle!
It took a lot of pushing to get it that far.

Ever wondered what eleven years of dirt looks like?  Like that.

Lots of nice details on this old BMW

Sunday, 18 September 2016

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Once you've discovered riding a motorcycle, especially if you do it later in life as I have, you quickly come to realize that this isn't something you'll be able to do forever.  Motorcycling is physically and mentally demanding and you'd be crazy to do it without your faculties intact.  The thought of not being able to ride after discovering how freeing it is isn't a comfortable one.  If you get so decrepit that you can't do the things you love, what's the point of being here?  Melissa Holbrook Pierson does a wonderful job of conveying that feeling in The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing.  If you're looking for a pensive, profound motorcycle themed read, that one will do it for you.


The other day my buddy Jeff was finally able to make a deal for an old BMW R100RT that has been sitting in a shed in the woods for over a decade.  My son Max and I burned out of school on Friday afternoon and followed Jeff and his lovely wife up to their cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.

A neighbour five minutes down the road had purchased this BMW back in 1999 and had ridden it until 2005.  On a cool September day eleven years ago he rode back to Kincardine from a conference in Peterborough and parked the bike, it hasn't run since.  Jeff discovered the bike a year ago while over there at a garage sale, but the old fellow didn't want to part with it.  There was hope that he'd eventually get it out, clean it up and feel the wind in his beard again.  Jeff gently persisted, letting him know that if he ever did decide to sell it he had a buyer.

While over there getting the bike out of a shed hundreds of yards back in thick trees the owner told me, "I came to the realization that I'm not riding any bike, let alone this bike.  When that happened I finally decided to let it go."  He's still physically active even though that activity has landed him with metal pins where his bones used to be.  Struggling against old age is a pointless exercise, but I was right there with him - I'll be him in thirty years if I'm here at all.  The real tragedy is that he's as sharp as a whip; the mind is willing but the flesh is weak.

We were both enjoying the stories he was telling of how he went down to North Carolina to pick up the bike, and what it was like to bring it back across the border in the pre-internet age.  This guy had always wanted a BMW but when he was younger he couldn't afford it; this was his dream machine but it has been sitting in a shed as the seasons spin by outside, alone but for the sound of creeping rust.  It turns out this Bimmer was Jeff's dream machine as a young man as well, but you can't buy a $3500 bike when you're making six bucks an hour.  You can when you're older and it's under a decade of grime though.

We were both so excited going over there to get this bike out of the woods, but Jeff had said the owner was having a hard time doing it and our excitement quickly turned to ambivalence and then reflection as we heard the story of how it ended up parked under the trees.  While we struggled with conflicting feelings we were at least confident in the fact that we could bring this old machine back to the world.  Machines can sometimes offer this kind of immortality.

If you never take any risks and lead a sedentary life of caution, being old is just another day.  If you get out there and live, perhaps the memories of that life well lived, the chances you've taken and the adventures you've had will make easing into old age possible, even rewarding.  To me motorcycles are a symbol of that belief.  I hope anyone who has ever looked at me with a disapproving frown when it comes to riding is very comfortable in their old age.

Knowing me I'm going to be very bad at old age if I get there at all, but I'm trying to take care of that now, on two wheels.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

A Winter without Winter

These little imaginings are a nice escape, and if I ever become pointlessly rich, I'll be able to torment friends and family who ride with ridiculous Top Gear like challenges.

I've been monkeying around with Furkot and have come up with a themed trip to the end of South America and back.  Starting in October, just as the darkness and cold is closing in on Canada, we head south.  Over the next six months while ice and snow reign in the north, we enjoy equatorial heat and spring in the southern hemisphere.

We reach the southern terminus of our trip in mid-winter/summer (December 21st) on the longest day, and then begin the climb back up the globe on the other coast of South America before finally stopping in Rio and shipping the bikes back to NYC.  With the best part of three months to get south, this isn't a ragged rush to the end and should offer time to really get a sense of the places we're passing through.

We'd be in Buenos Aires two weeks after Ushuaia, coincidentally, just when the Dakar Rally kicks off, which would be an exciting thing to try and follow on lightened motorcycles (we could store most of our luggage in B.A. while we chased the race).  

The Dakar wraps up in mid-January after we follow it into the Andes and through Bolivia before coming back to Argentina for the start/finish.  We'd recover in Buenos Aires and then begin making our way north into Brazil.  A tour of Brazil would have us seeing the Amazon before coming back down to Rio.

If we left South America from the port of Rio and headed back to New York City, it would take about three weeks on a slow boat; a good time to rest, recover and write!

The final piece would be the two day ride home from NYC to Southern Ontario in April, just when we're ready for spring in Canada.

The Five Thousand Dollar Challenge

The evil-rich me would offer to pay for the trip, but we'd be riding the whole way on bikes that cost less than $5000 Canadian (Top Gear style).

I'm still crushing on Tigers.  I think I could talk this one down to $4200 to get it under the $5000 limit with taxes.

An oil change and a check of the obvious bits (chain, tires, cables) and I'd be ready to go.

The North American bit will be a lot of tarmac, but the Central and South American bits will take some tougher tires, which I'd aim to pick up en route.

A quick trip to Twisted Throttle (who have a whack of 1050 Tiger gear) and I'd be ready to take on the escape from winter.

With a $5000 limit on the bike (taxes in), what would you take?

Some 1050 Tiger Farkling

Engine Guard
Tires for Central/South America
Hand guards

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Ride Planning Tools: Furkot

Another benefit of doing a trip as a class project was pushing me to find alternatives to Google Maps, which I generally use for trip planning.  It makes pretty maps and I like that I can get a sense of what I'm looking at through street view and satellite imagery.  It's relatively easy to use and lets you quickly put together distances, though not easily in segments.

Google Maps lets you switch to Google Earth view and show the geography of the area (in this case The Twisted Sisters -
the top motorcycling road destination in the US).  It makes for pretty maps, but I had to add in extra
waypoints to keep it off the boring highways and on the interesting tarmac.
Where Google Maps really falls short is on longer trip planning as it tends to be car focused and can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to sit on an interstate all day in a box.  Trying to coerce Google Maps onto twisty roads is a tricky business, especially with limited way point options.  You quickly run out of pins to stick in the map when you're constantly fighting the software's predilection for making your trip as short and boring as possible.

Google Maps' real talent is ease of sharing - it's easy to get links or embedding code.

Being back in the classroom has me looking for escapism, so I've been reading ADVrider's Epic Ride Reports.  There is nothing like reading a ride report from someone's RTW trip to set you free from a regimented schedule.  While on there I came across a couple's ride from Toronto and around the US.  Chelsey was planning their trip on Furkot, which I'd never heard of before.  This piqued my interest because some of my students would benefit from an easier/more fully featured digital trip planner.

Getting into Furkot was pretty straightforward, you can login using a social media account.  It took me about five minutes to transfer my pieces of Google Map from my road trip project into it, and there were no stingy limits on way points.
It was when I got into the details that Furkot really lit up.  Not only does it auto-set your stops for each day based on what you think your mileage is going to be, but it'll also find you hotels and preset you gas stops based on the range of your vehicle.

When you make a map you can keep it private or share it, and if you share it you immediately get a link to it.  Furkot also gives you a share page which has more social media connections (left) than I thought existed, so it shares well.

I only monkeyed around with it for twenty minutes, but I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface.  You can set your trip to your vehicle and I get the sense that a motorcycle selected trip gives you motorcycle specific results.  I look forward to sharing it with my class tomorrow as well as playing with it more myself.

Where the journey's the thing...
In the meantime I've been thinking about Google Maps.  The API for Maps is open and used by lots of people to create custom mapping applications.  Had I more free time on my hands I'd get into it and build out a motorcycling focused mapping app using Google Maps.  The idea came up at the Lobo Loco rally as well.  A rally specific app that allows for many GPS way points and more motorcycling focused roads would be a real treat.  As would a simplified interface that would work from the busy and limited input environment of a motorcycle saddle.

A simplified G-Maps that focuses on the ride would be a cool project.