Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Motorcycle Mojo: Tim's Birthday Edition

My great aunt and Granddad across the page from a Triumph,
I think they'd approve!

It's been a good month for publishing.  Glenn at Motorcycle Mojo ran two pieces I'd submitted.

In the Remember When section I'd sent in the family photos I'd discovered while back home in Norfolk, England in 2013.

It was a real joy to see Grand-dad and a great Aunt I'd never met in pages that I knew were being seen across Canada.

Our Vancouver Island adventure got many pages!
I was then astonished to see that Glenn had also run the article I handed in last year on our ride on Vancouver Island.  Seeing my byline right behind Lawrence Hacking's was a real rush!

There is no greater satisfaction for an English major than seeing your writing published.  I've managed it academically, but this was my first go at motorcycle media and it was no less satisfying.

The Motorcycle Mojo piece reads well (and I'm a tough critic with myself).  After seeing myself in print I think I might be addicted.  I'm so glad I brought the camera and aimed to write this up from the beginning, it's like reliving the trip over again, and my son Max is over the moon!

I've already pitched another piece to Glenn.

If you've thought of writing out a motorbike experience but didn't, give it a go!  Glenn is a considerate editor and the joy of seeing your words publicized is powerful!

Vancouver Island?!?!?  How can you not want to read that?!?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Brand Loyalty & Bilingualism

Brand loyalty seems to affect motorcyclists more than most.  Even when they don't work, motorcycle riders are partial to their rides in a way that owners of other modes of transport aren't.  With that in mind I just completely ignored my Kawasaki only motorcycle history to this point and just picked up a bike for my son: a Yamaha PW80.  I guess we're now officially bilingual.

It needs a cleanup and some TLC, but the bike is straight and solid.  Once I've got it sorted we'll be practising circles on the dead end road out front of our place.

They were asking $800, but rather than start there I asked what they were asking.  Since the Mom had put it up for sale and she wasn't talking to me, it was suddenly $700.  I suggested $600, they went with $675.  For a seldom used, nicely stored 2004 Yamaha PW80, I think I came out ahead.  I could sell it tomorrow for a couple of hundred more than I got it.

I'm still looking for something off-road for me to head out on with Max.  If I had a mint to throw at it I'd go pick up a late model DRZ-400 or a KLX-250, but I don't.  I'm hoping for a an older enduro bike, but sub 500cc; they don't come up often.  This is going to be a primarily off-road machine, so lugging a 600+cc 'adventure' bike on the trails isn't a thrilling prospect.  A big enough for me but light off-road machine is the goal.

I'm going to take Max out to the Junior Red Riders course early this summer, then I'm going to make as many trips to Bobcageon as I can manage to get us some time on two wheels together.

Getting into the PW80 was an easy prospect.  The seat pops off with a couple of nuts under the fender and the tank with a couple of bolts.  I'm not sure if two stroke oil can go off so I left it as is, but I emptied the gas tank and put in new gas (the former owner guessed the gas was at least a couple of years old).

I got it started and running smoothly and took it for a run around the circle we live on.  It took off like a scalded rabbit!  I could barely hang on.  The only issue is a broken exhaust.  I'm hoping our metal shop genius at school can sort it out tomorrow.  With a tight exhaust we'll be off to the trails!

Brand loyalty did play a part in this.  Another bike we went to go see was a Baja 90cc dirt bike.  It looked pretty cobbled together and the fact that it was a Chinese bike gave me the willies.  I might not be a Kawasaki or nothing guy, but I know better than to buy a dodgy, Chinese knockoff.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Ancaster And Back Again

Elora to Ancaster and back again... about 160kms
Another weekend another good ride, this time to Ancaster and back for an edcamp.  One again the Concours impressed with its ability to cover miles with ease.

It was about 6°C when I left at 7:30 in the morning, and up in the high teens when I came back mid-afternoon.  Both ways was comfortable though behind the fairings, and the new jacket is light-years beyond the old one in terms of both warming and cooling.

I had a moment riding when I was flying through the air on the back of the bike realizing that there is nothing about doing this that I don't enjoy.  It was a windy day, the roads post Canadian winter look like a war zone and it was cold, but even with all that I was still stringing perfect moments together as I flew down the road.  I had a moment before the big trip last week when I was wondering if I'm not taking too many risks riding with my son.  What finally put me right was realizing that driving a car can end you as well, but we do that much more often and usually while paying less attention.  I looked back one time as we were winding our way through Beaver Valley and saw Max with his arms out and eyes closed flying through the air behind me.  I would have hated myself if I'd have never given him that experience.  Riding might be dangerous, but competence and attention can go a long way in mitigating those risks, and the rewards are impossible to find in any other mode of transport.

The more I ride the Concours the better the engine seems to get. On the way home I stuck the phone behind the windshield and got the video below where you can hear the Concour's happy noise.  
Sulphur Springs Road - a better way in is on Mineral Springs Road, the top of Sulphur Springs is rough!
Mineral Springs Road on the way back, it's still Ontario bumpy, but it ain't dirt and it is twisty!
Back up in Centre Wellington, the Concours takes a break where I took the first road pic of my former bike
I always thought that the Ninja was a delight to rev, but the throaty howl of the Concours in full song is hard not to fall in love with:

Flight of the Concours

... with musical accompaniment by Takeshi Terauchi & The Bunnies!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Stolen Weekend

About 340 kms over two days...
You know you're cutting it close when you're on your first two wheel road trip of the year and you ride into flurries.  Sunday was supposed to be fantastic, high teens Celsius and sunny, but we headed out on Saturday morning and found ourselves riding into a whiteout.

A bandit hat and some
chemical hand warmers from
Shelburne Home Hardware
saved the day!
We'd pulled into Shelburne after forty minutes on the bike frozen stiff.  Staggering in to Tim Hortons we both sat down and waited for our fingers to work so we could take off our helmets.  Half an hour later, after warming ourselves up on tea and grilled cheese, we crossed the road to the Home Hardware and got the last balaclava and some chemical hand warmers.  We hit the road and rode right into that whiteout, but at least we had warm hands.

As the snow swirled Max tucked in behind me and I tucked in behind the windshield.  The wind had been strong all morning but now with snow it was out to get us.  If accumulation began I was going to pull over, but as quickly as it appeared it blew off again, leaving us with frozen steel skies.  Ah, the joys of riding in Canada.

The plan was to head from the flat and boring grid of roads around us to where the pavement gets interesting.  The Niagara Escarpment is about forty five minutes away, so the plan was to get onto it in Horning's Mills and then wind our way up to Collingwood on Georgian Bay where we had a room booked at the Georgian Manor.

There are twisty roads in Southern Ontario!  River Road out of Horning's Mills is such a one.
Riding through the valley meant being out of the biting wind, but cutting back across the escarpment put us up on a ridge where the wind blasted us sideways.  It was with relief that we wound down next to Noisy River and into Creemore where we had poutine for lunch at The Old Mill House Pub right across the street from the Creemore Brewery.

Connie making Bavarian friends in Creemore.  KMW!
By the time we came out after lunch the sun had appeared and the temperature was up to a much more bearable eight degrees (we're Canadian, 8°C is bearable).  We dropped in to the brewery (they do tours!) and wandered up the main street before getting back on the bike and heading north again.

This was our first trip on my new machine.  I'd sold the dependable, newer/first bike Ninja and purchased a 1994 Kawasaki Concours I'd found in a field.  Over the winter I'd taken it apart and put it back together again.  It had just passed safety the week before our trip.  Riding to Collingwood was my first chance to really get to know this much bigger but surprisingly athletic bike.  That it could manage the two of us with panniers and topbox full with no problems only underlined the fact that this bike is the best eight hundred bucks I've ever spent.

We continued to weave across the escarpment finally cresting Blue Mountain and rolling down into Collingwood at about 4pm.  The Georgian Manor Resort is one of those places that looked like it was really popular in the 1980s.  It has a past its prime kind of ex-Hollywood starlet feel to it.  What I do know is that Max and I had the pool and hot tub to ourselves, and boy did we need it.

We'd bagged the room for a hundred bucks for the night and used the heck out of it.  After a swim and a lay down we went for take out and then came back and had a picnic on the big bed.  We went for a late swim and then passed out early.  Our Sunday ride was beckoning and now that we'd warmed ourselves up and eaten some hot food we were ready for a good sleep.

The next morning we bailed on the free continental breakfast at the Manor after a friend facebooked saying they might hard sell us on a time-share.  That never happened (they were fantastic at the desk getting us in early and getting us out quickly on Sunday) but then we were on the road by 8am on Sunday morning.  We headed over to the Sunset Grill on Blue Mountain and had a fantastic and surprisingly affordable hot breakfast.

Astonishingly the runs were still open and skiers were squeezing a last day out of a long, cold winter.  Max and I stood there with our helmets and biking jackets watching people ski on the very wet snow.

After the resort we headed up and over the (Ontario sized) Blue Mountain...

The roads were empty and bone dry.  It was already warmer at 10am than it had been the day before.  The Concours was running like a Swiss watch and we were warm and loose in the saddle.  The back side of Blue Mountain is covered in apple orchards which led us to Thornbury, the home of one of the best cideries in Ontario.  We passed the cidery and stopped to check out the fish ladder and mill before having a long, slow coffee at Ashanti.

Ever noticed how everyone wants to stop and have a chat when you're on a motorbike?  I'd already had an unrealistic amount of support from the clerk at Shelburne Home Hardware, the waitress in Creemore and the hotel concierge in Collingwood.  People seem to respond to your vulnerability by wanting to connect with you.  While sitting at the coffee shop a local photographer who was leading a group on a photographic tour of the town stopped to talk bikes (he didn't have his out yet).  Another fellow told me about his 86 year old uncle who still rides his BMW everywhere.  A number of people assumed my big Kawi was a BMW on this trip.  I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or not.

After our coffee break we rode down to the still frozen harbour in Thornbury and spent a few minutes watching the fisherman fish and the boat owners doing maintenance, all while ice broke off from the shore and floated out into the bay.

We then saddled up and took a winding, scenic ride down through Beaver Valley to Flesherton.  After another stop to stretch we jumped on the Connie and thundered south across the never ending farm fields toward home.

The Concours was flawless.  It fired up immediately and ran perfectly.  I'm astonished at how well it handles when I'm out on it alone, but even more astonishing is how well it handles with full panniers and top box and my son on the back.  The suspension is light years beyond the hard ride of the Ninja, and the big motor swallows miles with ease.  Sometimes, if you get off the gas suddenly you can get a bit of a belch out of the motor.  Not a backfire, but a nice pop out of the exhaust.  The bike toodles along around 3500rpm at 100km/hr and leaps down the road if you twist the throttle.

Heading out this early in the season meant we got home and there wasn't a single bug splat anywhere.  That won't be the case on future trips.  Canada goes from snow season to bug season pretty quickly, but in between we stole a weekend and got to know and love the new bike.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Greasy Hands Preachers

I got a copy of The Greasy Hands Preachers through Vimeo the other day.  I enjoyed Long Live The Kings, though the hipster meter got pegged a couple of times, TGHP was similar.

The Greasy Hands Preachers interviews builders in the current custom motorcycle scene under the pretext of emphasizing the value of skilled manual labour.  The movie is nicely shot (though sometimes gratuitously hand held and pull zoomed).  By using off-the-cuff interviews you get glimpses into the deeper motivations of these custom builders, most of whom have more in common with sculptures than mechanics.

I've spent most of my life in an orbit back to valuing my smart hands.  In my late teens I was apprenticing as a millwright and struggling with the idea that I was undervaluing my mind.  The thought of decades of repetitive, menial work drove me to eventually quit and go to university where I could finally prove to myself that I'm smarter than people told me I was.

But smart hands don't like inactivity.  The intimate act of dismantling, understanding and healing a machine stays with you, and your hands itch to make things work again.  Cars had devolved from a special interest to a utilitarian necessity for me.  Working on them was menial rather than scratching an infatuation.  It wasn't until I started riding a couple of years ago that I found a machine that fostered a sufficiently intimate relationship to warrant infatuation.  The ability to express my smart hands on a motorbike and heal the machine is half the thrill of riding.

The Greasy Hands Preachers are preaching to the converted with me.  The
arc from white to blue collar work experienced by several of the people in the film is one familiar to me.  But rather than pierce the veil and coherently express the underlying urges behind the resurging DIY ethos, GHP only hints at it.  I think this is a result of their unscripted interview approach.  Asking an artist to spontaneously and coherently express their process is unlikely to produce a clear view of what they do.  Expecting them to be able to do so while on camera isn't going to lead the viewer to a deep, nuanced understanding of how a mechanical artist values their hands.

Were it me, I would have started with the interviews and then had a scripted followup that clarified and deepened the narrative.  I can't help but think GHP is an opportunity lost.

If you want to look right into the heart of the DIY resurgence pick up Shopclass As Soulcraft and discover an intelligent explanation of the value of skilled labour.  I was hoping that Greasy Hands Preachers would approach Crawford's brilliant little book in terms of realizing the value of hands-on work, but instead it's a pretty, sometimes banal film that hints at deeper ideas.

Would I recommend The Greasy Hands Preachers?  Certainly.  It's a beautifully filmed opportunity to consider an important part of being human.  If you read Shopclass As Soulcraft first (as I'm guessing the makers of GHP didn't) you'd be ready to create your own meaning, which is probably better than being spoon fed anyway.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Space Limitations

At 12x20ft, I'm feeling the pinch...
I wish I had a bigger bike cave.  With only a one car garage I'm having to pick and choose my next steps.  In a perfect world I'd have room for active bikes and a workshop at the back with longer term projects on the go.

The 2 ½ car option at 24x30ft would feel cavernous by comparison to my cramped 9x20ft space, but a garage that big would mean I'd probably have to keep cars in it.  A safer bet would be an outbuilding workshop, like this Canadian made prefab kit.

They have an A style 20x30 footer for just over $12 grand.  That would be wider than my current space is long.  Instead of my meagre 180 ft², I'd have a whopping 600ft².  That kind of space would let me chase down all the loose ends I'm considering right now.

My current urges run toward a couple of dirt bikes for my son and I, a distance capable road bike and something more intimate for short blasts and track days.  While the working bikes get their occasional maintenance, I'd also like space for a project bike.

Roughly to scale, that 20x30 workshop would fit the bill nicely.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Out On Me Mota!

The Connie at the covered bridge in West Montrose
Finally got out for an hour today.  Only about 5°C, but sunny.  With a sweater and my swish new jacket I was comfortable behind the Concours' fairing.  At speed on back roads you only get a bit of wind around the head.  Your hands are protected by the wing mirrors and the rest of you is behind fairing.  The Connie is comfy in the cold.

The bike feels very light once it's in motion, very flickable.  I'm coming off a Ninja 650r, so I'm riding 350 more ccs, two more cylinders and one hundred more pounds of bike, but the Concours feels quick.  It doesn't spring forward with a banshee's wail in the upper rev range in the startling way that the NInja did, but it's not nearly so peaky either.  It also has suspension more than up the task of dealing with Canadian roads.  Where the Ninja used to rattle my teeth over a pothole, the Connie manages to swallow the worst of it while still feeling very connected to the pavement.

The Concours pulls with urgency off idle, but that urgency becomes an avalanche of torque as the revs rise.  I gave it the mustard off one stop light and was shocked with how quickly 100km/h appeared.  Both bikes are quick, but I always assumed the bullet shaped, lighter, sportier Ninja would have been the quicker of the two, that stop light torque avalanche made me doubt that.  I ended up looking up the stats on both bikes.

The bikes are coming out of hibernation in Canada - like this
little jewel of a Honda with not a spot of rust on it.
The Ninja 650r does a 12.06s quarter mile at 108.79mph, the Connie edges it the quarter with a 12 flat at 109mph!

While almost identical, how they do it isn't.  The Ninja needs a lot of throttle and a glib clutch to hook it up in the top half of the rev range, and then judicious gear changes to keep you in the top four thousand RPM through many gears.  It's a thrilling, high tension rush up through the gears.  With the Concours you drop the clutch at about four thousand RPM and the motor just picks up the bike with no wallow and storms to the redline.  A single gear change gets you up to legal limits.  Where the Ninja had that intoxicating banshee wail, the Concours has a baritone bark that becomes a godlike roll of thunder.  I used to think the Concours inline four wasn't as happy a creature as the Ninja's parallel twin, but after hearing the big-four warm and in voice today I'm starting to think she just sings a different tune, but it's no less happy.

The ride was only about an hour, but I went from constantly comparing the experience to my dear, departed Ninja to wondering just what the Concours is capable of.  As a shakedown after a long winter of maintenance, it has begun the process of rebuilding my confidence in this new machine.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Pannier Thoughts: Motorbike Repair Kit Gear

Having never had on-bike storage before, or a bike designed to cover big distances, I'm thinking about what I could leave in the bottom of the panniers to keep us on the road. 

Here's the short list so far:

A bike specific multi-tool, this BikeMaster metric device covers a lot of bases in terms of general usefulness.

$16.18 from canadasmotorcycle.ca

Puncture Repair Kit.  Many moons ago I used to do this at Canadian Tire, so plugging a tire is nothing new, and if I've got the bits I need on the road I'll be able to get us going again in short order.

$~20 from Canadian Tire

Yukon Steel Multitool.  I use a generic one at work all the time.  They work well and I don't need a fancy brand to somehow validate my handiness.

$30 from Canadian Tire

I'm also going to grab a lightweight nylon tarp.  You can get tough, camping ready ones that only weigh about 500 grams and fold up into the size of an envelope.  Along with a little roll of duct tape, small hand pump, some nylon string and a mini wd40 can, I'd have a very light and small collection of handy bits and pieces that would keep us moving if we ran into a problem.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Creating Paint Decals For a Motorcycle

With weather like this,
who needs enemies?
I've been floored with a wicked stomach flu the past couple of days, but I had enough in me today to get the last of the painting done and finish assembling the Concours.  It's safetied, insured and ready to launch.

As expected, Canada isn't cooperating.  I'm hoping I can go for a short jaunt on Monday, but otherwise the week is looking pretty dismal for riding.

The finishing touch was my first go at a stencil on a bike.  I tried paper, then plastic film with no luck (it lifted off the compound curves of the fairing), but eventually created a sticky template using printable stickers.  Some research suggested that frisket film would have been ideal, but it's expensive and hard to find.  Another alternative is transfer tape.  Having said all that, printing your design on sticker worked well and what it did leave behind was easy to clean off.

After printing a design, I exacto-knifed the text out and then put the stickers on the bike.  A few light coats of spray and the sticker came off with no problems.  Now that I've got the hang of it, creating layered decals should be a pretty straight forward process.  Finishing them with my preferred clear coat seals the whole thing up and gives it an even surface.

The Concours came to me with all sorts of cracks on the right side fairing (it had obviously been tipped over at some point).  The previous owner had done a pretty good job of reattaching everything with plastic weld, but it would never be perfect.

Rather than trying to hide those imperfections, I remembered a kind of Japanese pottery I once saw in Tokyo.  Kintsugi (金継ぎ) literally translates as 'golden joinery'.  It's a form of pottery that, rather than hiding the blemishes caused by age, emphasizes them by using gold to seal the cracks.

What I've done with my old Kawasaki is highlight those cracks in gold and put the kanji for kintsugi on there.  She should be proud of those cracks.  Twenty years of living in Canada will give you wrinkles, they should be celebrated.