Saturday, 27 May 2017

Motorcyclist's Bridge to Nowhere

I'm enjoying the new format of Motorcyclist magazine.  It's one of the few US bike magazines I make a point of getting.  They write smart and with a Californian perspective that is very positive and engaging.  Their new graphics format is like nothing else out there.  They also take risks with their stories.  In many other magazines you feel like you're reading the same reviews and comparisons over and over again.  Motorcyclist is like Bike UK and what Cycle Canada used to be in that you know you're reading something unique.  I think that has a lot to do with them focusing on getting the best writers rather than the most industry connected people they can find.

In the last issue they had a bit on towing a dirt bike into the desert using another motorcycle.  It was a bit silly, kind of like a bridge to no where, but I could appreciate it from a more bikes is good perspective.  Having said that, I have to question the logic of trying to go car-less this way.  Towing a trailer means you've lost all the benefits of splitting lanes (try to imagine you're somewhere sensible like California) and, you know, riding a motorcycle.  They said at the end of the article that chucking the dirt bikes in the back of a truck instead of trailering them and towing them with two touring bikes would have been easier, but I think there is an even better way to make that all motorcycle ride into the desert.

Things you don't see anywhere else. It's a story of excess, exhaustion and a lot of motorcycles.

The KTM 690 Enduro weighs only a couple of dozen kilos more than the 250 dirt bikes used in the story.  You get great wind on it while on the highway, unlike the hot and sweaty touring bikes used, and best of all the KTM costs about $27,000 Canadian less than a CRF-250X and a Goldwing.  I bet it would take you across the sand and up the mountain they went to in the article as well.

It'll take your camping gear and you don't need to slavishly fulfill two motorcycle style requirements, so you can leave your ever so fashionable heavy leather touring gear behind.

That's a long, hot slog through the desert - two ways.

If the point of the exercise is to get out there and back on two wheels, something like the KTM would have done the business, though it might have been a bit less dramatic doing it.  The highways would have been full of wind blast and the nimbleness of two wheels rather than two towing two more.  The off road riding would have been mighty close to what the 250 dirt bikes could do, and you'd be doing it all cheaper and more enjoyably.

Having said all that, what a great thing it is to see an article so uniquely silly and full of excess.  I'm glad the editor let it happen.

The Swiss Army Knife KTM 690 Enduro.
... and the new ones are in!  If I had fifteen grand free I'd pop up to Ottawa and ride one back.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Any Day on Two Wheels is a Good Day

Almost three hours into an interminable visit to the local walk-in clinic last Friday night I'm told that I'm over a hundred degrees, in terrible shape, but it's just a virus and I have to suffer through it.  I should go home, rest and feel better, except I can't because this is the Haliburton Birthday Weekend.  We're on the hook for a hotel that won't cancel a long weekend booking, even under a doctor's advice.

I go home, sleep poorly and take lots of pills.  The next morning I'm shaky and either sweating or freezing cold, so a perfect day to go for a three hundred plus kilometer ride across the province.  The original plan was to leave early and take my time picking off must-ride roads in the south end of the Haliburton Highlands before finally arriving at our hotel near the town of Haliburton.  That didn't happen.  Instead, I followed my wife and son in the car on the shortest possible route.  We stopped frequently and a sunny, relatively warm day meant it wasn't as miserable as it could have been.  We all fell into our room after five o'clock and collapsed.

I could have driven up in the car, but the whole point of the weekend was to ride the Highlands, so bike it was.  Sunday morning dawned overcast with heavy clouds.  The rain held off until I saddled up after a late but brilliant breakfast at the Mill Pond in Canarvon.  I was doped up on fever and flu medication and as good as I was going to get.  The plan was to wind up Highway 35 to 60 and then into Algonquin Park.  If the weather was atrocious or I fell apart physically I could always turn around, but if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it; turning around isn't in my nature.

I'd originally planned to stop often and use the new camera, but needs must and I was on a mission to complete that fucking loop.  The backup plan was to use the Ricoh Theta 360 camera on the fly.  It's a push button affair that is easier to use than a satnav.  Hit power, press the shutter button, put it away.  The tank bag that came with the Tiger has a handy little pouch at the front that fits the camera perfectly.  I'd never tried using the Ricoh by hand like that before, but it seemed like a good idea when my time on task was at a premium.  Since it takes in everything at once you don't need to worry about aiming or focusing it either.

Heading north out of Canarvon the rain closed in immediately.   On the upside, it was chasing away a lot of the holiday traffic, though this is Canada, so what you're looking at above was pretty typical for this ride... on a long weekend.

Highway 35 dodges and weaves around lakes and Canadian shield as it works its way up to meet 60.  If you're not blasting through the dynamited, rocky skeleton of Canadian Shield, you're winding your way around muskeg, never ending trees or scenic lake shores.  And it does all of this while being a bendy roller-coaster of a road.

The gas station in Canarvon was shut down, so I suddenly found myself running onto empty as I powered north into the big Canadian empty.  Fortunately, I came across a Shell station at the intersection with 60 and filled up.

By that point the rain was more steady than not, so I stepped into the rain suit and wove my way into Algonquin Park.  Suddenly the roads were full of people with GTA tagged SUVs all driving around aimlessly looking confounded by all the trees.  Throughout the entire loop Algonquin was the only time I was stuck in traffic.  I pulled in to the Visitor's Centre and had a coffee, stretched my legs and soaked up the ambience.  The lady at the counter was nice enough to give me ten cents off on my coffee because I didn't have change.

Fifteen minutes of crying babies and screaming kids and I was longing for the wind and silence of the road again.  The Visitor's Centre was near the half way point in the loop, and with a coffee in me (my first caffeine in days) I was ready to go all the way.  The weather was occasional spotty rain, so it wasn't as terrible as it could have been.  I was warm and dry in the rain suit and the drugs had beaten back the fever, so on I went.

I'd never been out the East Gate though I've been to Algonquin since I was a relatively new, ten year old immigrant to Canada.  It feels older than the West Gate, looking more like a toll booth than an art deco entrance to one of the biggest and most famous parks in the country.  Once out of the park traffic evaporated and I was once again alone in the woods.   I'd originally planned to head all the way over to the 523 for a wiggly ride south, but 127 cut off some kilometers and I was already feeling the hours in the saddle.  It was an empty trek down the 127 to Maynooth, albeit with some pretty scenery.

The rain came and went and I got so used to riding on twisty roads that it became second nature.  What would have been a ride to road where I live was just another road in Haliburton.  The Tiger spent very little time on the crown of its new Michelins.  I pulled up in Maynooth for a stretch before starting the final leg of the loop back over to Haliburton Village.

Strangely, and for the first time since the trip began, the roads dried up and the sun started poking through.  Up until now I'd been on local highways; fast, sweeping roads that, while curvy, were designed for higher speeds.  Out of Maynooth I took Peterson Road and got to enjoy my first local road with lots of technical, tight radius turns and elevation changes.  Peterson and Elephant Lake Roads were dry and a lovely change from the wet highways I'd been on before.

On a short straight between the twists on Peterson Road out of Maynooth.
Those 41 winding kilometres to
Pusey flash past in no time!
The local traffic was apparently very familiar with bikers making time through the area with several trucks pulling over and waving me through; some country hospitality on a long ride.  

The pavement continued to dry and the Tiger got friskier and friskier as I rode on to Pusey and then Wilberforce.  I was lucky to see another vehicle in either direction on this busy long weekend - just my kind of road trip.  No matter how sick I'm feeling there is nothing like a winding road and a motorbike to put a spring in my step.  For the first time on this ride I wasn't carefully monitoring my health and the weather, I was just enjoying being out in the world on two wheels.

The sun battled with clouds all the way under Algonquin Park and I soon found myself lining up for an approach back toward Haliburton, this time from the east.  Once again I elected to cut some extra miles out, forgoing a ride to Gooderham for the joys of the 118.

Swooping through the lake of the woods while leaning the ever eager Tiger around lakes, trees and rocky outcroppings had me in nirvana; it was like riding through a Group of Seven painting.  

By this point the drugs were wearing off, I'm starting to wilt and the deed is almost done.  The last few miles into Haliburton turn ominous as dark clouds fill the horizon and  the temperature drops.  I steel myself for the final push.

As the sky fills in and the rain starts to fall again, my goal is in sight.  I pass through the small town of Haliburton like a ghost and pull up just as house keeping has cleaned our room (the family is out at the pool).  Ten minutes later I've taken another round of drugs and I'm in a whirlpool tub getting the heat back into me.

The logic I followed doing this was:  any day on a motorcycle is a good day.  Even with a fever and a nasty virus I had a great ride and a real sense of satisfaction in completing my birthday loop of the Haliburton Highlands.  It would have been nice to do it without feeling like I'd been turned inside out, but hey, any day on a motorcycle is a good day.

The ride:  a 270 km loop through Algonquin Park and back around to the town of Haliburton.  All told I was on the road for about four and half hours, including a gas stop, a coffee at the Algonquin Visitor's Centre and a leg stretch in Maynooth.

The camera: a Ricoh Theta SC.  It takes two hemispherical photos in both directions and then stitches them together, which makes the camera disappear in any photos it takes - which is pretty freaky.  

Having all hardware buttons, you don't have to futz around with a smartphone to interface with it like you do with the Fly360.  As a camera to use while photographing a motorcycle ride it doesn't come much easier than this.  It'll do video and save it in 360 format so you can look around in the video on a smartphone.  It does the same thing with photos.  

The photos in this piece were opened in the Ricoh software and then screen captured.  That's how I cropped images to show various things.   The original, unedited photos are pretty funky (see below), but look good with some judicious cropping.

Where we stayed:  The Pinestone Resort just south of Haliburton.  The prices are reasonable and you get a nice room.  The facilities are good with golf on site (if you care about that sort of thing) and a salt water pool and sauna.  The onsite restaurant had us waiting 90 minutes (in my case for a French onion soup and salad) and isn't cheap.  Eating elsewhere might be a good idea, especially on a busy weekend, but anything else is at least a ten minute drive away in town.  We stayed there last summer on our ride back from The Thousand Islands and it was good - they seemed to have trouble handling the traffic on a long weekend this time around though.
Standing on the side of the road
futzing with a smartphone interface.

360Fly:   The one benefit of the Fly is it's more weather proof than the Theta, so I set it up on the tachometer of the Tiger in light rain and left it recording a time lapse video of the ride from Maynooth to Haliburton - it's about an hour or riding compressed into 20 seconds.  The much fiddlier smartphone connected Fly wasn't ideal for a ride like this, unless I was going to set it and forget it, like I did.  It also doesn't take a full 360 video, it only has one eye unlike the two on the Theta.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Halliburton Highlands Birthday Holiday

A birthday long weekend riding holiday... based out of the Pinestone Resort in Haliburton (so easy access to the Haliburton Highlands Riding Roads).

The Ride Out:

Haliburton Highlands Research:

The Dynamite Loop:

Possible Sunday Loop:

The Ride Home:
283kms with a stop at The Millpond Restaurant for breakfast.

Total kilometres:  926 over three days

The weather:

Sunday's going to make for some nice, rainy photographic opportunities.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Motorcycle Tires and When to Change Them

I went for a ride with Jeff the motorcycle Jedi and Wayne, the parts guy from our local dealer, the other week.  It was a 250km round trip out to the shores of Lake Huron and back.  Since we were all on multi-purpose bikes we multi-purposed some of it:

Taking some winding back roads through the countryside we came across such natural wonders as deep mud holes and a lady sun bathing topless on her front lawn; it was a nice ride.

We stopped at one point and Wayne noticed the rear tire on the Tiger wasn't doing very well.  Coming from cars I'm used to using depth gauges on tread to determine a tire's remaining life.  Car tires burn through tread fairly evenly due to equally delivered lateral forces.   Bike tires are undergoing a whole different kind of physics.  You can expect to see fairly even tread wear on a car tire because of those lateral forces.  Bike tires tend to wear from the middle out because the crown of the tire takes the brunt of the wear, especially in flat and straight South Western Ontario.

Wayne pointed out tears down the middle of the rear tire on the Tiger that I hadn't even thought to look for.  As you can see, the tread on the edges of the tire is still quite deep, but the wear in the centre is so deep it's turning up the metal bands in the tires:

Those are some expensive  pieces of wire poking through...
This prompted a call to my local dealer to try and get the bike in - they told me it's over a month wait!  I offered to remove the tires and they said they'd try and squeeze them in.  Fortunately it rained a flood the next couple of days and with some cancellations I got a call a day later saying the tires were done.

The bill was a staggering six hundred and ninety three dollars - for two motorcycle tires on rims that had been removed from the bike (so minimal shop work involved).  I'm looking over the bill now.  Looking up the Michelin Anakees I purchased online, the dealer prices aren't crazy - about twenty bucks more than the online cost for the front and fifteen bucks more for the rear.  There is a cost associated with a local dealer keeping this sort of thing in stock and I've got no problem with that.  With that being the case these two tires came to a staggering five hundred bucks.  By comparison, Corvette ZR1 Michelin tires - very high tech, huge rubber for a faster than light car - cost about three hundred bucks a pop (and include road hazard warranty).  Motorcycle tires must be made out of platinum and unicorn horns - they are wickedly expensive!

The dealer prices on labour were also perfectly reasonable - about a hundred bucks to install and balance both new tires (with inner tubes).  So the lesson learned here is that motorcycle tires are wickedly expensive.  Even with perfectly reasonable labour costs at my local dealer I'm still out nearly seven hundred bucks for a set of new tires.

Fortunately the Anakees seem to be a very long wearing tire, so hopefully I won't be looking to replace them again for a while.  They ride great - much quieter than the Metzelers that they replaced, and the grip in dry has been very trust inducing.  They might have cost me  a mint, but they look like they might be worth it.

Anakee Review:  it's a road biased ADV tire (I'm ok with that - they feel great), it is long lasting, and it can handle light off road work, which is all I'd do on the big Tiger anyway.

US prices are marginally better... $336 for the tires (instead of $500+ in Canada).  $336US is about $461CDN - and that's an online price vs. a dealer price.  The online Canadian price is only a couple of bucks different.

Looking up prices in the US - most dealers will do a tire change for $20 a wheel if they wheels are off (that's $55CDN)

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Trophy Wives, Velocoraptors and Riding North of the Wall

Every once in a while events conspire to drop you out of the world's daily routine.  As everyone else is scurrying to work with worry lines on their faces I was disappearing into the countryside on two wheels, unfortunately the Weathernetwork had gotten the forecast wrong and my day of George was going to be more like Scott to the antarctic.

I knew it was going to be cold in the morning, but it was supposed to warm up to double digits later in the day.  Anything over 5°C and I can go all day, but under that core temperature eventually gets to me.  I got over to the Forks of the Credit before 9:30am and it was still only just above freezing.  Higher Ground on a weekday morning is a magical place full of millionaire retirees and trophy wives; I like to soak up the vibe.

"I'm sorry, we're running out of change.  Everyone keeps paying with hundreds," the girl at the counter apologized as an elven woman with a lovely Mandarin accent who had just gotten out of her Range Rover tried to pay for a coffee.

As I warmed my hands on a coffee (the heated gloves were warding off frostbite but not keeping them warm), a group of conservative retirees sitting on fat piles of cash (they all arrived in German SUVs or touring sedans) were lamenting the lack of gumption in their millennial children, all of whom were described as directionless and unwilling to make the kind of money their parents did.  "By the time I was that age I already had kids and owned my own house!" one outspoken gentleman declared, "and we worked hard for every penny!"  Of course, back then the pennies weren't all being held by a generation that proceeded them.  The other favourite topic was 'those damned liberals'.  Man, do those people ever hate Justin Trudeau.  If you ever have a chance to spend an hour on a weekday morning in Belfountain, you'll enjoy the 1% watching, just try not to gag on their sense of entitlement.

Warmed up on excellent coffee and with sensation in my extremities again, I headed back out into a one degree warmer day.  At this point we'd already missed the forecast by a couple of degrees, and it wasn't going to get better.  I rode up and down a completely empty Forks of the Credit, enjoying the curves without worrying about any four wheeled chicanes.  On my way back I pulled off on the side road to Brimstone.  The Credit River was spring runoff swollen and looked spectacular.  A kingfisher was working the river further up but never came close enough to catch on the camera.

I eventually wound my way up the single track road to where it ends. As I sat there with the engine off a dozen wild turkeys crossed the path a couple of hundred yards ahead of me up the closed trail; I dropped the kick stand and grabbed the camera.

These things were enormous! They picked their way through the forest looking very prehistoric.  After ten minutes of turkey watching I walked back to the Tiger and packed up the camera.  Before I got on the road again I needed let that coffee go, so I stepped off the trail into the woods.  Have you ever had that feeling that you're being watched?  
Standing there rather exposed, I felt that prickle and looked around to see the massive lead turkey not five feet away watching me intently - I almost jumped out of my skin.  He looked at me.  I looked at him.  I finished up and he just stood there watching me climb out of the ditch.  He then turned around majestically and walked back up the path were his crew where waiting for him before leading them away up the hill.  My advice is do not mess with that turkey.

After my close encounter of the turkey kind I headed north, following the escarpment's winding roads. Spring runoff was a theme of this trip with all of the streams and rivers swollen with melted snow. Up in Hockley Valley I fought the urge to keep riding the roller coaster and stopped to grab some images of the exposed red clay.

When I got back on the road it was behind a pile of traffic backed up behind a pensioner on their daily Tim Horton's run. Rather than fight the demographics I took at right hand turn up Hurontario Street.  I was expecting apartment buildings and strip malls, but Hockley Valley don't play like that.

Down where I grew up Hurontario is the main drag through a city of half a million people.  Up in Hockley it's a single lane, twisty dirt road that winds its way up the escarpment.  The three older guys who were ahead of me on massive Harleys got to keep enjoying the parade, but I was able to turn onto that dirt trail on my Swiss Army knife-like multi-purpose bike and enjoy some more solitude.

I rounded a corner to find a Dufferin road works van on the side of the road. He waved me through as he was just removing the road closed sign from the winter. The road coming out of the river crossing is very steep and untended. Getting up it in the winter would be a challenge for anything on wheels. He told me I was the first one on the road this year, which felt a lot more special than the parade I'd left behind.

I'd originally intended to bomb up Highway 10 for a stop and then ride back down through Mono Centre where I still wish we'd bought a house; this back route up Hurontario was better in every way.  The Tiger is such a capable road bike that I keep thinking about going with purely road biased tires next time around, but unexpected turnoffs like this are why you keep a multipurpose tire on the thing; the Metzelers handled the soft gravel and mud with ease, even on the unpassable hill.  Lightness is the goal off road, but these big adventure bikes are surprisingly capable if you're conscious of their size and don't try and ride them like a mountain bike.

Winding my way north through the Hockley Highlands put further lie to the weather forecast.  Rather than warming up to ten degrees it instead dropped back down to three degrees, and the wind was picking up.  Up and down the roller coaster that is Airport Road, I eventually found my way to Side Road 20 and the backdoor to River Road.

With blue, icicle fingers I unbuckled my helmet and cracked my frozen knees as I ungracefully dismounted in the Terra Nova Public House parking lot. The sky had gotten darker and what had been sporadic, light rain on my visor earlier now looked distinctly white and blowy. I staggered inside with my nose running and a wild look in my eye.  They quickly got me sorted out with soup and what may be the best roast beef sandwich I've ever had. The TNPH is one of those places that are common where I'm from but rare in Ontario - a pub with character that looks like it grew out of the ground and has always been there. As the heat worked its way back into me and my blood started pumping again, I could feel the zombification receding.

My vague plan was to work my way up the escarpment, perhaps all the way to the southern shore of Georgian Bay, but my photo/warm-up stops and the general misery of the weather made me aware of the fact that I'd reached the apex of my journey in Terra Nova. As I was looking over Google Maps the day before I'd worked out twenty one of the least boring kilometres you could ride in Southern Ontario, so the new plan after lunch was to do the loop both ways and then head back home.

Using TNPH as the start/end point, the idea was to hit the windiest parts of River Road and then come back around on the most interesting roads available.  It takes about fifteen leisurely minutes to make the loop, but when you're not in a corner you're enjoying elevation changes and some beautiful scenery.

Reinvigorated from my roast beef sandwich I did the loop backwards to scope it out and then forwards before following River Road one last time back out of the valley and onto a long and windy ride home.

You seldom spend much time on the crown of your tire.  Riding a motorcycle feels like flying most of the time, but bending one into a corner has a multiplying effect on that goodness.  When you aren't leaning into corners you're enjoying some whoopdeedoo elevation changes and the scenery is about as good as it gets, even on a winter-like early spring day.  You'd do a lot worse than making the ride up to Terra Nova for this bit of pavement.

After a couple of loops all the warmth from lunch was long blown away and I was dreading coming back out of the sheltered valley I'd been enjoying.  A last ride down River Road to Horning's Mills (another place I wish we'd bought a house) had me ignoring the swollen streams because I didn't want to stop the roller coaster ride.  What did finally bring me to a stop was the overflowing waterfall out of the pond in Horning's Mills.

After this last stop I made my way through the quiet village and up onto the Shelburne Highlands where fields of wind turbines do their business.  Up on the heights forty kilometre an hour gusts were knocking me around in addition to the plunging temperature.  The partially sunny high of ten had turned into a cloudy and windy high of three.  The windmills were spinning fiercely as I passed through them, and that's when the flurries started.  A few flakes of snow suddenly turned into reduced viability as snow snakes eddied across the pavement.  I clung to the heated grips but the blasting northern winds hitting me in the side meant double the wind chill.  I couldn't go much further like this.

I ducked behind the windshield when I could, grimly soldering on as the sky darkened and the wind gusts increased to over sixty kilometres per hour.  I usually make the sixty-six kilometre push back home from Horning's Mills to Elora in about an hour, but not this time.  Riding into Grand Valley I knew there was a coffee shop on the main street and for the second time that day I staggered into a warm shop with a running nose and a wild look in my eye, this time with snow on me.

Half an hour later, and while snow swirled around the trusty Tiger outside, I'd restored feeling to my fingers and caffeinated myself for the final leg of what had turned into a much shorter and more difficult ride than I'd planned.  As I walked outside an old guy coming in looked me up and down and said, "nice day to be out on a bike..."
"All I can say is that The Weather Network lied to me!" I replied.  He laughed.

South of Grand Valley I was following the Grand River and being off the Shelburne Highlands meant a break from the chronic winds and snow.  Heading south also meant the wind was at my back instead of trying to dismount me.  I finally got my frozen carcas home and stood in front of the fire forever, trying to get heat back in me.

After feeling returned I discovered my wedding ring had fallen off my senseless fingers at some point when I pulled my gloves off.  We're nineteen years married this summer and I've never lost the ring before.  I couldn't find it in the obvious places so emailed my various stops hoping it had showed up.  It took a second search the next morning when my brain had warmed up to find the ring in the bottom of my bag where it had obviously fallen out of my gloves at some point; good save there.

As painful as it was, I still feel like this trip cleared away the cobwebs and let me look upon the world in a way that any car trip wouldn't.  I didn't just go for a drive, I did something genuine and difficult and have a tale of trophy wives, dinosaurs and snow snakes to tell from it.

If it was easy everyone would do it.

Some other pictures from the trip:
Over the Credit River watching kingfishers

Hockley Valley Road.

At The Terra Nova Public House ready for another lap.

Great on the road, but that's the only place you'll ever use one.

Winter runoff in Hockley River.

Horning's Mills Run Off.

If you like the twisties, the loop out of Terra Nova is a keeper.