Showing posts with label motorbikes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label motorbikes. Show all posts

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

This Month's Wish List

This changes moment to moment, but based on bikes I've actually thrown a leg over, and the shear avalanche of reports on the Ninja H2, I've got a couple of new machines on my wish list.

Sport Tourer:  Honda VFR800

It's a jewel like machine with beautiful finish.  It'll run all day, has a magic variable valve engine, and can corner with the best of them.  It also hits a nostalgic button with me.


Bonkers Super Bike:  Kawasaki Ninja H2

A supercharger?  200+ horsepower?  It has wings for godsake!  It's a technological tour-de-force and one of a kind.  I used to be all wobbly over Hayabusas, but the H2 is a daring step in another direction.  It ain't cheap, but it'll be collectable one day.  If I were ever to do Bonneville, this'd be the bike to bring.


Off-road ready Dual Sport: CCM 450 Adventure

A light-weight, off-road capable dual sport bike with a bullet-proof BMW engine that can handle everything from actually adventuring off road to long distance travel.  It's the bike that would get me coast to coast to coast in Canada.

$10,000 ?

Wow, that is a well groomed man.

Back To Basics:  Ducati Scrambler

An air cooled single that does the business and reminds you what motorbiking is all about.  Just you and the wind.  It's light, engaging and charismatic.  I'm in even if I do have trouble connecting with the demographic they are aiming at.  Under all the marketing the Scrambler is a lovely little machine that does the business.

Urban Enduro $9995

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Desperate American Cruiser

I've been reading Inside Motorcycles, Canada's Source for Motorcycle News.  Their February/March 2015 issue has an article that underlines the desperation of the American cruiser.

In it they describe the Victory Gunner as over-priced, unable to corner and smooth.  They then go on to say, "...the Gunner is a bruiser, built to lurk about town striking fear into all those fancy Euro and Japanese machines."

If 'fancy' is code for motorcycles that can go around corners and out handle this 'bruiser' in every way, then I'll go with fancy.  My tiny Ninja 650r with only 37% of the Gunner's displacement, and not even a full on sport bike will trash this 'bruiser' in any straight line competition, and it corners nicely too.  It costs less on gas, less on insurance and looks fantastic.  I'll bet it'll have less maintenance headaches too.  So far, 'fancy' is looking pretty sensible.  

I'm not sure what the Victory Gunner is bruising (other than its rider's tailbone), but Inside Motorcycles has managed to clearly highlight the desperate, reaching nature of the American Cruiser in one short piece.  This 'bruiser' is a pretty boy who is designed to make its rider feel like a dude, but not ride like one.

I welcome this 'brusier' appearing out of the shadows and attempting to strike fear into my 'fancy' (and significantly cheaper) Japanese bike.  I will be sure to reserve a little pity for the mediocre guy on the 'cool' bike who desperately hopes it's working for him.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Unscripted Moments

Steve Hoffarth has a good editorial piece in the August/September 2014 edition of Inside Motorcycles that got me thinking about scripted experience.  Steve was lamenting his inability to go racing this year.  He compared going on rides at a theme park and found them lacking.  A scripted experience like being a passive rider on a roller coaster has nothing on the complex, non-linear and entirely participatory experience of racing.

I was sitting in the garage last night working on the Concours when my wife stuck her head in the door and asked how I was doing.  "I'm in my happy place," I replied.

What made it happy was that I was fixing a problem that had no instruction manual.  Success wasn't guaranteed and I had to approach it from several different angles before I could finally come up with a solution.  Real satisfaction followed a resolution to a situation that could easily have ended in failure.  It was an entirely unscripted situation, the kind I long for after your typically scripted day in the life of a 21st Century human.

So much of our lives are scripted nowadays, from phones telling us when to be where to GPS units telling us how to get there.  Brakes script themselves for us because we can't be bothered to learn how to use them effectively, traction control leaps in at a moment's notice to script your acceleration, vehicles will park themselves, warn you when something is behind you because you couldn't be bothered to turn your head, and even avoid obstacles you couldn't be bothered to pay attention to.  I used to enjoy driving, now, at its best, it feels more like sitting on a roller coaster.

All this scripting is a result of software.  It may sound funny coming from a computer technology teacher, but that software kills it for me.  If I wanted to watch machines race I wouldn't put people in the cars at all, it's safer that way.  It's been a long time since a driver could take a car by the scruff of its neck and drag it around a circuit.  We do all this in the name of safety, but ultimately I think it's lowest common denominator thinking; software engineers design life for the least capable people, they can sell more of it that way.

There are places in mechanics where it just makes sense to incorporate computer control, especially when it amplifies an operator's nuanced control of a vehicle rather than overwriting it.  Thank goodness for fuel injection.  It allows us to create responsive, linear fuelling and use less of a diminishing resource, it's all good, as are disc brakes and other technological advances that improve rider feel.  I'm certainly not anti-technology, I make my living teaching it, but I am anti-technology when it takes over human inputs instead of improving them.  That kind of thinking breeds sheeple.

Traction control (many settings!), antilock brakes (many
settings!), hill start control and more electronics than a
moon shot - perhaps bikes aren't the last bastion after all.
Unscripted moments are increasingly hard to come by.  Perhaps that freedom we feel on a motorcycle is one of the last bastions of unscripted moments when a software engineer isn't deciding how you'll spend your time, or worse, spending it for you.

Except they increasingly are.  After I started riding last year I was astonished that this is legal.  In a granny state-world where safety is all that matters, where SUVs are considered better because they're bigger and collision avoidance systems are desirable because you shouldn't have to pay attention while operating a vehicle, motorcycles too are succumbing to our vapid, software scripted lives.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

It's an Appliance

It's an appliance, you know, like a fridge...
I'm back at school this week and getting to know my new students.  In our grade nine introduction to computers class they're putting together tech-resumes so I can see what their background in tech is.  One of the nines has a prezi covered in pictures of Ferraris.  I asked him what that was all about and he said, "I love cars!"

I was surprised by my response, "they're appliances dude!"

Some of them even look like fridges!  Guess what the most
popular car colours are... just like appliances!
I've been a car-guy for a long time (since I got one when I was seventeen because my parents ponied up the difference between a car and the motorcycle I was going to get).  On the list of things I thought I'd never say, calling cars appliances is near the top, yet out it came.

Appliances are used to make domestic chores easier, things like commuting, or going shopping.  They keep you dry when it's wet, keep you cool when it's hot, and warm when it's cold, and they get you where you need to go.  They're so easy to operate that most people who use them have no idea how they work and don't care.  The vast majority of people on the road last focused on how to drive when they were getting their license, once they have it they simply operate their vehicles on habit for decades.  Cars are a necessary appliance for modern life, and that's how people use them.

Fetishizing cars is where I found an odd resonance.  As engineering and design efforts, I can still appreciate the mechanical and design elements some cars display (one of the reasons I still look forward to watching Top Gear who focus on those things), but when I see someone driving down the street in a pimped out Pontiac Sunfire I have to wonder what is wrong with them.  It's like putting a wing on an oven.

What kind of license do you need to drive a car?  In Ontario it's a G-general license, good for cars and light trucks.  Two-thirds of Canadians have a driver's license.  Older drivers who probably shouldn't be on the road keep general licenses active, we hand out automotive licenses to children before we allow them to vote.  Driving a car offers access to an appliance that the majority of people feel they need.

When I have to take a car to work it's for appliance like reasons (I need to pick up equipment or move stuff around), it's never an enjoyable experience in and of itself.  I want the car to work, to be efficient, and to last a long time... like any other appliance. 

I drive very well.  I've spent time and money improving my ability to handle a four wheeled vehicle in advanced driving schools and on the track and I've driven on both sides of the road on opposite sides of the world, but the thought of hauling tons of seats and dashboard around a track seems absurd to me now.  I'll make an exception for racing vehicles stripped to the essentials, but my interest there is mainly in the engineering rather than the driving.  The complex, raw interaction between rider and machine on two wheels is much more interesting to me now.

I have been drifting away from driving as a ecologically irresponsible means of recreation for a while, though the years I've spent getting familiar with internal combustion engines has made me a fan of their engineering.  The brutal minimalism and efficiency of a motorcycle allows me to keep that connection alive knowing that I'm burning as little gas as possible to carry the least amount of weight in the most entertaining fashion.

I'll leave the appliances to the masses.  They can get into their refrigerator white or silver vehicles and putter about in a distracted, isolated way, using way more of a diminishing natural resource and producing more waste to support a wasteful, simplistic, accessible means of transport that the majority of people can manage (poorly).  I think I'm at peace with what came out of my mouth in class, though it surprised me at the time.


[uh-plahy-uh ns]

1. an instrument, apparatus, or device for a particular purpose or use.

2. a piece of equipment, usually operated electrically, especially for use in the home or for performance of domestic chores, as a refrigerator, washing machine, or toaster.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Mechanical Empathy & Human Expression

I've enjoyed machines since I was a child.  My father is a mechanic and engineer and his fearless approach to maintaining, repairing and operating machines amazed and intrigued me.  With that fascination I always found it easy to empathize with machines, not necessarily in the anthropomorphic give them a name and talk to them kind of way many people do, but to suggest a machine has personality expressed in how it operates isn't strange to me.

In the last post I talked about how a MotoGP rider was a much larger piece of the equation than a Formula 1 driver is.  That expression of skill through machinery is what interests me about motorsport, the high tech frills are just that, frills.  What I want to do this morning (it's 5am and the world is silent and dark, the people are all asleep and the mental static is at a minimum) is to unpack what machines are and why they are worthy of empathy.

Machines are our thoughts given substance.  When I get on the Ninja and go for a ride I'm experiencing a confluence of thinking, dozens of engineers and designers who pieced together a rolling sculpture that best expresses their ideas of efficiency, beauty and inter-connectivity.  You seldom get to experience the mind of another person is so intimate a way as you do when operating a machine that they have created.  It's little wonder that many engineers and designers feel that the mechanical devices they produce are like their children.

You can approach this from a couple of interesting reads.  Matt Crawford's Shop Class As Soulcraft focuses on the understanding you develop from laying hands on your machine yourself.  As a treatise on the value of hands-on mechanical experience and the development of that mechanical sympathy Guy Martin mentions above, it is priceless.

Melissa Holbrook-Pierson's The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing comes at it from the riding experience and how motorcycles in particular can reach into you and animate you in a way that many other machines cannot.
A deeply personal look
at how motorcycling
can emotionally
charge you

There is a virtue in motorcycles that is also why so many people don't partake of them.  They demand so many inputs from the rider that they make driving a car seem like running a washing machine; merely the operation of an appliance.  This is so endemic to driving a car that every opportunity to interact with the vehicle is being diminished, from manual transmissions to parking.  In a few years many will flock to self driven vehicles and become forever passengers.  The vast majority of people have little interest in how a machine works or how to express themselves through it - perhaps because they have nothing to express.

The Naked Bike, in all
its glory
That motorcycles are so demanding is a virtue from the point of view of a mechanical empath.  The more interaction you have with the machine, the more possible it is to inhabit it with human expression.  There is something pure in the mechanical simplicity of the motorcycle, it is bare, naked, not covered in sheet metal designed to conceal and contrive; its function is obvious.

That this naked machine demands so much from its rider creates a giddy kind of connection in those willing and able to make it.  This machine connects to your hands, feet and whole body.  It demands inputs from every one of your limbs as well as your entire mass.  Being naked on the road, the rider's mind isn't isolated from their activity and is as engaged as their physical body.  Inhabiting a machine this completely is an intoxifying experience.

The thrill of inhabiting a machine isn't limited to motorcycles, though they are one of the purest expressions I've found.  The satisfaction in fixing, maintaining or operating any machine well offers some degree of satisfaction.  In inhabiting the machine it empowers us, giving us abilities that would seem magical to non-technological people.  We can cover ground at great speed, communicate across the world with the push of a button, fly, even slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the sky, but not if we don't inhabit the machines that enable us.  

When machines serve humans instead of enabling them
If we remove ourselves from this equation machines become limitations rather than a means of expression.  The thought of a human being interacting with a responsive, demanding and complex machine offers us a future that is bursting with opportunity for growth.  The alternative is stagnation and ignorance.  You can guess which approach appeals to a consumerist culture intent on selling to as many people as possible.

That a machine should place demands on us isn't a bad thing, especially if it leads to a nuanced awareness of our own limitations.  The machine that can overextend you, challenge you, stress you, is a machine that can teach you something.  We fool ourselves into stagnation when we design machines that do more and ask less from us.

When I see human expression through a machine, the machine becomes a magnifying glass for their achievement, how can that not deserve empathy?  The only time it wouldn't is when the human is a pointless addition to the equation. When this happens machines become oppressive rather than enabling forces in our lives.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Gitchigoomee Iron Butt

I'd originally read about touring around Lake Superior and called it the Gitchigoomee Goaround.  I figured it'd be a week of riding.  I came across another motorbike blog where the guy was talking about doing it in 24 hours.  It turns out that focused, long distance, intense rides have a club!  The IBA.

It turns out that circumnavigating Lake Superior is 1673kms, which happens to be just over 1000 miles.  Leaving and returning to The Sault and going south through Michigan and around Superior to Ontario again, it would be a two border crossing trip with an awful lot of winding lake-side roads in between.  That would be an ironbutt you'd earn the hard way.

What better time to do it than Thanksgiving Day weekend (October 12-14) in Canada?  If we met up at Sault Ste. Marie on Friday and prepped, we could leave early Saturday morning before sunrise when there is minimal traffic at the border.  As the sun rises we're already making tracks through Northern Michigan.

The route:  Sault Ste. Marie and back to The Sault, 1039 miles in 24 hours!
44 miles per hour (70 km/hr) average speed is needed, so packing in fifty miles per hour (80km/hr) gives you the wiggle room to stop for things like gas, or peeing, or eating, or a cat nap.

In a world of perfect efficiency with no road works, border crossings, traffic lights, mechanical considerations, weather, or traffic, keeping a steady 44 mph would be pretty easy.  Doing it with all those things and the onset of a Canadian winter (along with early sunsets and late sunrises) raises the stakes.

I think I'd want to get in shape for this one.  I was going to dare a buddy of mine to do it this year, but maybe this would be a better next year dare.


With next year in mind I'm adding in the weather this Thanksgiving weekend for Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie, which should give us an idea of what to expect.  With showers on Saturday a Sunday to Monday run looks like it might have been the best bet.  Cold at night, cool during the day, the right kit would be imperative.  Leaving The Sault about 4pm so that the last hours are done in daylight on the afternoon of the next day.  By the time we're pushing east again the sun should be getting high in the sky so we're not riding into it.

Sault weather days

Sault weather nights
Thunder Bay days

Thunder Bay nights
Warming up into the teens during the day, flirting with freezing over night.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Biking Family History Part 2

Since seeing pictures of my granddad on a motorbike I've been curious about my family history with bikes.  Knowing that bikes have been in my family for generations is kinda cool.  When home in August I got to see some more bike-related family history.  My Uncle had a couple of albums I hadn't seen before that had some fantastic pictures in them.

It's always nice to see pictures of Granddad, and seeing him working on his bike was wonderful.  I guess if you rode a bike in the 1940s and 50s you spent some time making sure it was running right, or it wasn't running at all.

There were also some pictures of my Granddad Bill in his RAF uniform on a bike.  With war-time scarcity, getting around on two wheels was the way to go.  I imagine the RAF used bikes extensively as personal transport.

Granddad rode in their motorbike tatoo - doing stunts and coordinated high speed riding.

I love the poses; the bikes, the suits, and some rural Norfolk scenery!  No doubt that Granddad Bill loved his motorbikes!  

I can remember him letting me sit behind the wheel of his lorry and steer when I was four or five.  I wish I'd been around him longer.

The bit of family history I didn't know revolved around my great Aunt who rode a bike too!  She was a single woman who was a serious rider at a time when women didn't really remain single, let alone bomb around the countryside on motorcycles.

I loved hearing about her, and even when I discovered that she died in the saddle in a motor accident I was glad to have learned about her.  I wish I'd have known her.  I feel like the family I have who are into bikes are far from me.

I also talked to my cousin who owns a Fireblade and a BMW R1200.  It was nice to have a bike talk with family members, though I feel like the ones I most wanted to chat with aren't with us any more.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Norfolk Motorcycle Museum

We drove past the entrance twice.  Finally, up a gravel drive we found the entrance to the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum.  This was an impromtu stop between various tourist related day trips.  I'd seen the sign and wanted to go for a wander.  No one else wanted to come in with me, so they stayed in the rental car while I wandered into a warehouse full of bikes.

One of the things you notice in England is just how divergent the technology is, and this museum was no different.  The bikes were odd, different, not a cruiser in sight, no Harleys.  It was decidedly un-North American.

Many of them I couldn't identify at all, some were so old as to be virtually steam powered.  You know you're far from the familiar when you don't even recognize some of the manufacturers.

The building was a working restoration shop with a big warehouse space behind.  Bikes in various states of repair were lined up at the entrance, the finished machines were perched up on a two layer rack that ran through the whole warehouse.

You can poke around the bikes and the father/son duo who run the museum are happy to talk about any of the examples on display.

I had to rush the walkabout because the family was waiting outside, it would have been nice to wander around for an hour taking some good closeups.

If you're ever in the vicinity of North Walsham in Norfolk, England, drop by the museum.  It's a strange trip down someone else's memory lane.

Like what you see?  Many of the restorations are available to buy.

Mainly British bikes, but some others can be found
in the rows

A mighty Vincent!

"Made in England" - getting harder and harder
to find made in not the far East any more

Many parts in the process of being cleaned up...