Showing posts with label motorcycling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label motorcycling. Show all posts

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Balancing Personal Responsibility with Sainthood

The in-law's cottage happens to be about 20 kms away from the bottom of the 507.  I like the 507.  It twists and turns through the Canadian Shield offering you bend after bend without the usual tedium of Southern Ontario roads.  I lost myself riding down it the other day.

Last week I was pondering how fear can creep in to your riding in extreme circumstances, like trying to ride through a GTA rush hour commute.  This week I'm struggling with how the Canada Moto-Guide and Cycle Canada are portraying deaths on the 507, which is evidently a magnet for sportbike riders who have confused public roads with private race tracks.

On the motorcyclists spectrum I tend toward the sportier end of things.  I've owned Ninjas, sports-tourers, adventure and off-road bikes.  The only thing that chased me away from sportbikes early in my riding career were the insane insurance rates and the fact that any modern motorcycle is already light years beyond most sports cars in terms of performance.  My old Tiger goes 0-60 in under four seconds, or about as fast as many current top-end muscle and sports cars.  To spend thousands more on insurance for a bike designed for a race-track just doesn't make a lot of sense, especially when you factor in the condition of Ontario roads.

If you missed the British MotoGP race at Silverstone last
weekend, do yourself a favour and look it up.  From start
to finish it was spectacular.
Having said that, I've been a diehard MotoGP fan for the past six years.  Watching riders develop and express their genius at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing is not only glorious to watch, but it has taught me a lot about riding dynamics, and I think it has improved my bike-craft.  I totally get speed.  Riding a bike always feels like a bit of a tight-rope walk, and being able to do it quickly and smoothly is a skill-set I highly value.

Like so many things in motorcycling, balance seems to be key.  Last week, among the idiotic commuters of the GTA, a frustrating number of whom were texting in their laps and half paying attention, I was unable to manage that danger and it led to a great deal of anxiety.  Rather than give in to that fear or throw a blanket of bravado over it, I looked right at it and found a way to overcome it.  Honesty with yourself is vital if you're actually interested in mastering your bikecraft.  I came to the conclusion that you need to approach two wheels with a touch of swagger and arrogance when that fear rises up.  This is done to moderate fear and give you back some rational control, especially when circumstances conspire against you.

The problem with swagger and arrogance... and fear for that matter, is that it's easy to go too far, and so many people seem to.  Emotionality seems to dictate so many aspects of motorcycling culture.  From the arrogance of the ding-dongs in shorts and flip flops who tend to the extremes of the motorcycling spectrum (cruisers and sportbikes), to the ex-motorcyclists and haters who can only speak from fear, it's these extremes who seem to speak for the sport.  I struggle with those emotionally driven extremes, but recently CMG seems intent on writing odes to them.

The CMG editorial news-letter this week makes much of not knowing why this rider died:

“He knew the dangers, and he admitted to going fast,” says his partner, Lisa Downer. “He knew when, where, how – it was just one of those things. A lot of people think the way the curve was, there was a car (approaching him) that was just a little too far over the line and David had to compensate. By the time that car went around the bend, they wouldn’t even have known that David went off, because the sightline’s gone. Or it could have been an animal, or a bit of gravel. You just don’t know.”

There were no skid marks on the road. Like so many of our lost, no one will ever know why.

Our lost?  Here's a video by that same rider from the year before:
"...the helmet cam shows his speedometer. “A decent pace on the 507 in central Ontario, Canada,” he wrote in the description. “Typical Ontario roads, bumpy, keeping me in check.” His average speed on the near-deserted road was above 160 km/h, more than double the speed limit, and at one point it shows an indicated 199, where the digital display tops out. At such speeds on a public road, there’s little room for error." - little room for error?

With that on the internet, one wonders how he had his license the following year.  You can come at this from 'it might have been an animal, or a car, or gravel', but I think I'm going to come at it from here:

"David was an experienced rider who’d got back into motorcycling just three years ago; he was 52, but had put bikes on hold since his 30s when he went out west..."

That'll be over 170 kms/hr on rough pavement around
blind corners next to a massive provincial park full of
large mammals...
An 'experienced rider' who had been riding for three years, after a twenty year gap?  And his first bike in twenty years was a World Super-bike winning Honda super sport?  Whatever he was riding in the mid-eighties and early nineties certainly wasn't anything like that RC51.  What his actual riding experience was is in question here, but rather than assign any responsibility to an inexperienced rider, we are speculating about animals, cars and gravel?

I generally disagree with the speed kills angle that law enforcement likes to push.  If that were the case all our astronauts would be dead.  So would everyone who has ever ridden the Isle of Man TT.  Speed doesn't kill, but how you manage it is vital.  There is a time and a place.  If you're intent on riding so beyond the realm of common sense on a public road, then I think you should take the next step and sort yourself out for track days, and then find an opportunity to race.  In Ontario you have all sorts of options from Racer5's track day training to the Vintage Road Racing  Association, where you can ride it hard and put it away wet in a place where you're not putting people's children playing in their front yard in mortal peril.  If you've actually got some talent, you could find yourself considering CSBK.  Surely there is a moral imperative involved in how and where you choose to ride?  Surely we are ultimately responsible for our riding?

Strangely, Mark's article, The Quick and the Dead, from 2017 has a much clearer idea of time and place when it comes to riding at these kinds of speeds.  In this most recent news-letter we're at "it would be easy to dismiss David Rusk as just another speed freak, killed by his own excess".  In 2017 he was quite reasonably stating: "If you’re going to speed, don’t ride faster than you can see and dress properly. And if you’re going to speed, do it on a track".  I guess the new blameless recklessness sells better?

There is a romantic fatalism implicit in how both CMG and Cycle Canada have framed these deaths that willfully ignores much of what caused this misery in the first place.  Motorcycling is a dangerous activity.  Doing it recklessly is neither brave, nor noble.  Trying to dress it up in sainthood, or imaging blame when the cause if repeatedly slapping you in the face is neither productive nor beneficial to our sport.  Up both ends of the motorcycling spectrum are riders who are all about the swagger.  For those dick swingers this kind of it's-never-your-fault writing is like going to church.  I get it.  Writing for your audience is the key to enlarging it.

Last Sunday I did a few hundred kilometres picking up bodies of water for the Water is Life GT rally, with the 507 being the final run south to the cottage.  The roads weren't exceptionally busy and I was able to fall into a rhythm on the 507 that reminded me of what a great road it is.  As it unfolds in front of you, you can't guess where it's going to go next.  Surrounded by the trees, rocks and lakes of the Shield, it's a gloriously Canadian landscape.

I'm not dawdling when I ride.  I prefer to not have traffic creeping up on me, I'm usually the one doing the passing (easy on a bike).  The big Tiger fits me and the long suspension can handle the rough pavement, but I'm never over riding the limits of the bike where gravel on the road, an animal or other drivers dictate how my ride is going to end.  The agility and size of a bike offer me opportunities that driving a car doesn't, but it doesn't mean I open the taps just because I can.  Balance is key.

There are times when a rider (or any road user) can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and no amount of skill will save you.  For the riders (and anyone) who perishes like that, I have nothing but sympathy.  They are the ones we should be reserving sainthood for.  Not doing the things that you love, like being out in the wind on a bike, because of that possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong time will neuter your quality of life, there are some things you can't control.  

I'm well aware of the dangers of riding, but I'm not going to throw a blanket of arrogance over them, and I'm certainly not going to describe recklessness as a virtue while hiding in delusions of blame.  Doing a dangerous thing well has been a repeated theme on TMD, as has media's portrayal of riding.  Having our own media trying to dress up poor decision making as victimization isn't flattering to motorcycling.  If you can't be honest about your responsibilities when riding perhaps it's time to hang up your boots.  If you don't, reality might do it for you.

As Vale says, "it's dangerous, not only for you, but for all the facking idiots in cars."

Related Thoughts:

Training Ignorance & Fear Out of Your Bikecraft:

Parent, Child or Zen Master:

Do Bikers Ignore Reality?

What else are you going to do at a cabin in the woods but pen and ink?

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Finding The Edge

I turn fifty in a few months and the nature of aging occupies my mind.   The increasing worry is that I've done everything I'm going to do of note and the rest is just living in those memories, but I'm not happy with that diagnosis.  The way of things seems to be that as people get older they become increasingly cautious, especially physically, until they are maintaining themselves to death.  If all I have left is a continuous receding of activity into a safety cocoon designed to keep me alive as long as possible, I'm bereft of hope.  If that's the trajectory I need to do something about it because it's causing me a great deal of anxiety.
This isn't so much about thrill seeking as it is about finding meaningful ways to challenge myself.  I'm not looking for overt or pointless risk, I'm looking for ways to engage and challenge myself physically and mentally.  Motorcycling, for me, is a lifeline to that realm of vital engagement - it can turn even a simple commute into an adventure.  To accept the challenge of motorcycling well you need to acknowledge the risks and manage them effectively.  You can't do it with one hand on the wheel and your thoughts elsewhere as so many other road users do; motorcycling well demands that you live in the moment.

The meditative nature of riding can't be overstated, especially in my case.  It's taken me most of my life and my son's diagnosis to realize I don't think like most people.  Whereas others find great traction and joy in social interaction, I've always found it confusing and frustrating.  People are takers who are happy to demand my time, attention and expertise and offer little tangible in return.  I spend my days in this social deficit where many  around me seem intent on using me for what I can do for them but are unwilling to offer anything in return.  The only currency many of them trade in is this slippery social currency, which I find difficult to fathom and so avoid.  Given the opportunity, most people disappoint, and often do it with and edge of cruelty and selfishness that I find exhausting.  Nothing lets me find balance again better than a few hours in the silence of the wind getting lost in the physical and mental challenge of chasing bends on my motorbike; the machine is honest in a way that few people are.

I started riding a motorcycle just over five years ago, after my mother died.  It was a secret as to why motorcycles were forbidden in our family.  A death no one talked about produced a moratorium on riding that prevented me from finding my way to this meditative state for decades.  I didn't realize that the motorbiking gene was strong in my family until I bypassed my mother's fear and found my way back to that family history.  Riding is something we've done for generations, but a single accident produced fear that kept me from what should have been a lifelong passion.  Wondering about what could have been is another one of those traps that people fall into as they get older, but rather than wonder about it I'd prefer to make up for lost time.

There are many aspects of motorcycling that I'd like to try, from exploring the limits of riding dynamics on a track to long distance and adventure travel journeys, or even retracing family history.  Last year I did some off road training and I don't think I've ever seen a photo of me looking happier.  Doing something new and challenging with a motorbike is where I find the edge.  It's also where I find the head-space that eludes me in my very socially orientated professional life.

Unfortunately, I live in the wrong country for exploring the challenges of motorbiking.  Whereas in the UK you can find cheap and accessible trackdays for bikes all over the country, in Canada they simply don't exist.  My only option is to pony up for a thousand dollar course that puts me on a tiny, underpowered bike for one weekend.  In the UK you can green lane and trail ride all over the country, but in Canada that's called trespassing.  We also happen to have some of the highest motorcycle insurance rates on the planet  and one of the shortest riding seasons.  In the UK you can ride virtually the whole year around and the range of biking interests are wide and varied.  In Canada riders are thin on the ground and often interested in aspects of riding that I find baffling.

As I'm getting older I hope I can continue to find ways back to the meditative calm of riding.  It isn't an end in itself, but it sure works as a tool to help me manage my other responsibilities, and as fodder for writing and photography I haven't found much better.  Motorcycling lets me plumb Peisig's depths and clarifies my mind.  Along with that meditative silence, motorcycling also offers a direct line to a thrilling and challenging craft that demands and rewards my best efforts.  Even the most mundane of riding opportunities offers a chance to find that edge, and it's on that edge that I'm able to find my best self, the one I want to hone and improve.  Being able to bring that refined self back into the world doesn't just help me, but everyone that has to put up with me too.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Micromorts & Motorcycling

I'm watching Morgan Freeman's Through The Wormhole again.  This particular show is all about whether or not luck exists.  In the episode they introduce the concept of micromorts - a unit of measurement based on chance, in this case a one in a million chance of instant death.  Using statistics, the micromort allows you to assess the risk involved in various activities based on your chances of a fatality.

Micromorts: assessing risk by statistical comparison
You've got to wonder what 'driving is safer' means from an
environmental perspective.
Needless to say, motorcycling is up there.   Compared to other forms of transport shown, you earn more micromorts motorcycling than just about anything else.  Of course, you have to remember that being alive costs you micromorts each day (and more each day you get older).  Sedentary activity?  Smoking?  Drinking?  They all get you.  

A twenty a day smoker generates the same micromorts as a motorcyclist who rides 100 miles.  Every 28 months you live with a smoker earns you the same micromorts as that 100 miles on a motorbike.  Next time a smoker is telling you how dangerous motorcycling is, you can hit 'em with some micromortization (and maybe point out that your motorcycling doesn't kill everyone around you quicker either).

When you get into extreme sports the micromort count skyrockets.  Ever felt the urge to climb Everest?  That'll cost you about 40,000 micromorts, or 266,666 miles on a motorbike.  Of course you'd spend a couple of weeks climbing a mountain or years on two wheels racking up a quarter of a million miles.  Funny how one thing is considered brave and noble and the other reckless.  Of course, riding a bike also uses less fossil fuel to move people around, while climbing Everest creates an environmental disaster.

One of the hardest things to wrap your head around with micromorts is how they change over time.  As a baby you're small and weak and much closer to death.  Through your middle years you're stable and as far from death as you'll ever statistically get, but as an older person you face death more and more each  year.  Considering that, you have to wonder why more older people don't get into biking.  Just waking up the in morning in your sixties nets you more micromorts than a hundred miles on a bike.  If you're facing that long good night anyway, do not keep trying to turn away from the inevitable hoping to go gently.

The point of us being here isn't to be here for as long as possible.  Motorcycling, more than anything else, will remind you of that every moment you're in the saddle.  There are some things than cannot be reached without risk, and they are usually the best things.  If I'm going to rack up micromorts anyway, I'd rather be doing it on a motorbike.

Some micromort links:
understanding micromorts
A lesson in risk taking
Extreme sports, risk and micromorts
Understanding Uncertainty: Survival

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Motorcycling & Autism

In 2004 my wife and I had our son Max.  At the age of three his daycare provider was wondering about his reactions to sudden loud noises and encouraged us to have him in for assessment.  This was a difficult process for me, I didn't want him labelled and pigeon holed for the rest of his life, but at the age of seven he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Autism presents in an astonishing number of ways.  In Max's case he's hyperlexic, and has many of the social cues you'd associate with autism (lack of eye contact, nervousness around strangers, generally missing social cues).  Encouraging Max into activities that other kids would leap at was always tricky.  We tried soccer for a year, but it wasn't his thing; Max does things in his own way.  When we started him on a bicycle he was slow to get into it and then wouldn't take the training wheels off.  After an intensive week last summer with Kid's Ability he was shooting around on two wheels.

We built him a bike (pretty much from scratch) and he's been inseparable from it since.  Last summer was, coincidentally, my first summer motorbiking.  While I was fettling my bike, he was fettling his.  I took him for a couple of short rides around town on the Ninja, but I was worried about how much attention he was paying on the back there.

This past weekend we took the bike down to Guelph on a sunny but cool Saturday morning.  With the topbox (and backrest!) on, it was a lovely ride.  I was no longer worried about him disappearing off the back.

He is very excited about the idea of riding which has me wondering about autism and motorcycling.  I think he enjoys the anonymity a helmet gives him (something not uncommon in autistic people).  In addition to the sense of anonymity is also the mechanical sympathy I see in a lot of autistic kids.  

My day job is as a high school teacher of computer engineering and we have a high number of autistic kids in our program.  I think they enjoy computers because they are consistent in ways that human beings simply aren't.  That consistency creates a trust in those kids; they can work with a computer and know that it won't be bizarre, random or emotionally difficult.  Some of my most focused, strongest students are on the spectrum and present a deep, nuanced understanding of technology.

Having a son who is autistic, I've moved from a professional relationship with autism to a much more personal one.  When it's your own son you start to see it in yourself as well.  My own mechanical empathy has a lot to do with my seeing machines as more than a sum of their parts.  Where I find people difficult, often frustratingly so, machines reward consistency and right action; I like them for that very reason, and suspect that my son does too.

I tried looking around online to see if there have been any links made
between autism and motorcycling but I couldn't find anything other
than a lot of 'rides for autism'.  The immersive nature of motorcycling fits nicely with the hyper-focus many autistic people are able to demonstrate.  You get to be anonymous inside your helmet and alone with your thoughts.  On top of it all, motorcyclists seem to have an intense relationship with their rides, what many 'normals' would consider to be mere chunks of metal, or worse, pointless infatuations.  A sympathetic if not empathic relationship with machines is a trait many motorcyclists and autistics seem to share.

I suspect there is a deep and lasting relationship between motorcycling and autism.  I wonder that there is nothing written about this anywhere.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Refining Motorbike Fashion

Getting the Ninja had me going all in on the sport bike look.  The full helmet and ballistic nylon riding gear makes me look like I came out of the future.  When I'm all out on the Ninja it suits.  But a sport bike was never the goal.  I like the vintage look and as the bike evolves so will the gear.

I've watched It's Better in the Wind a couple of times now and dig the vibe.  Cafe racers, old Triumphs, all customized.

A couple of other things are making me rethink the gear.  At the training course they talked about how the helmet doesn't seriously mitigate the chance of injury.  If you think that a helmet will make riding safe you're not understanding the physics.  Helmets help to minimize one kind of injury.  If you can't handle this truth then you shouldn't be riding, helmets don't make riding safe.

The fighter style open face helmet
is a modern take on the old open
faced helmet
They also said, during the same training session, that you should wear a full face helmet and full armored everything all the time.  I get being as safe as you can be, but if the safety equipment gets in the way of the experience, or worse, makes you uncomfortable, it prevents you from doing the deed in the first place.

The Bell is a classic, though it made
me head look HUGE!  It'd be nice
to get my Mondo Enduro on though
In Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Persig says he doesn't like to wear a full face helmet because he finds it claustrophobic.  If the point of riding is to experience that expansive sense of speed and openness then I think I want to try out an open faced helmet.  This isn't an expensive proposition, though the helmet might lead to a classic bike, which might be.

A variation on the classic by Bell,
the Pit Boss is a bit less
Open faced helmets are popular and tend to focus on a specific style.  The fighter jet style half helmet is a modern take on the classic open faced helmet, but you can still get vintage styled helmets.  I'm partial to the Bell classic but it did make my head look huge.

The Bell pitboss had a nice look to it, but they didn't have one in my size to try on, though I think I'd go with the over the ears cover for protection and wind reduction.

I'm helmet inspired by a couple of things.  The family history sure plays a part in it, but so do movies.  Picking up something that I can plaster a rebel alliance sticker on would be cool.

Here are a couple of other eye catching open face helmets I've been thinking about:

Bell Hurricane ~$100

ZR1 Royale Air Ace ~$127

Nolan Outlaw N20 ~$205
Thanks to and for letting me window shop.

The other day someone parked their original Thruxton next to the Ninja and I got the itch for that old bike once again.

What a lovely old machine, beautifully cared for...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Do bikers ignore reality?

I recently saw this on the Science Channel's Through The Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.  I really enjoy the show, but I've gotta call you on this one Morgan.

Let's look at some of the statistics given:

For the UK:  motorcycles make up less than 1% of motor vehicles on the road but they are 14% of total deaths/serious injuries. 

Considering that bikers have no cage around them to mitigate their own poor driving habits I'm surprised that they are only 14% of serious accidents.  There is no doubt that if in an accident bikers are more likely to be injured; bikes don't have fender benders.  

Riding well demands a level of defensive awareness foreign to most drivers.  A good rider is attentive to the threats around them and deeply engaged in the operation of their vehicle beyond what most people are capable of.  The only time I came close to that level of intensity driving was in a shifter cart in Japan and during track training at Shannonville.  Day to day driving is a simple, safer operation by comparison, but does that mean it's better?

A motorbike rider doesn't get on a bike to test fate or ignore statistics, bikers know how dangerous what they are doing is.  There is a difference between doing something that is bad for you (smoking, etc) and developing a complex skill in a challenging environment.  Like other athletes or sportsmen, the motorcyclist is developing their craft in an unforgiving environment.  To say that they are ignoring the reality of statistics is reduction to the point of absurdity.  Not to mention that statistics themselves aren't reality, but a vague mathematical representation of it.  If there is a reality it isn't to be found in a human abstraction.

Is biking more dangerous?  No doubt, but this reality episode is choosing to selectively chose their realities.  Chasing all motorcyclists onto four wheels because it's safer isn't really safer.  Why don't they take into account how dangerous it is to drive a massive SUV that is actively destroying the ecosystem we live in with its atrocious waste of resources?  Or mention the political and financial instability caused by big oil and OPEC?  If there were less people driving around in three ton tanks there would be fewer severe accidents.  You can do a lot more damage in a 5000 lb vehicle doing eighty miles per hour than you could ever do on a bike.  The reductive reality given in the show seems designed to cater to mediocrity.

If we want to be really Malthusian about it, making sure everyone survives every accident no matter how many they cause might appeal to SUV drivers, but for the rest of us keeping them alive to do it again (and again) is a disaster.  

Biking demands competence and punishes you harshly for not having it.  If you want mediocrity go drive a car, if you want incompetence go drive as big a vehicle as you can find.  You can hit as many things as you want and if you have enough money, you can burn a hole in the world while doing it in a massive SUV that pretty much guarantees your safety.

US stats: motorcyclists are 37x more likely to die in a crash

This is an exceptionally worthless statistic, of course you're more likely to die in an accident if you're on a bike.  If you were in a motor vehicle collision would you rather be on a motorcycle or in a Smartcar, a Hummer or a Sherman tank?  That tank would offer you the greatest level of protection if you were in an accident, but would be cripplingly wasteful.

Once again, there are other degrees of damage being done in the complex activity of human beings burning fossil fuels to transport themselves.  This past summer I did about four thousand kilometers on the bike.  I didn't die, I didn't come close to having an accident and I did it all at about 60mpg.  That's a reality I'm not ignoring.

Why do people continue to take this risk?

If reality is what we think it is I want mine to reward competence and punish incompetence.  

I don't believe that longevity is the point of human existence, I believe that we should all seek to improve ourselves by any means available, even and especially if that means putting ourselves at risk in order to do so.

I think we should strive to improve ourselves through the activities that we pursue and that should involve putting some aspect of yourself on the line in order to make the feedback meaningful.  Learning that matters can only be gained through sacrifice and risk.

I'm not ignoring reality when I get on a bike, I'm facing it in a way that most cage drivers never will.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Sidecar for my Side Kick

Side cars are cool!
I've been thinking about getting a second bike, one that lets me do some distance with my son (and wife if I can convince her).  I'd initially wanted to get a Royal Enfield with a side car so we could Harry Potter it up.

Like a fish in water.
All together that's about a $12,000 new piece of kit.  I love the classic looks but with a 500cc engine, the RE wouldn't be brisk, though it would be frugal.

Something that might fit better happens to be for sale in Guelph just south of us with an asking price of $5000.  I didn't know anything about XS1100s, though the sidecar was done by Old Vintage Cranks so it'll be done properly.

Looking into the XS Eleven, I found some interesting history.  A monster bike in its day, it was known as a fast, heavy machine that you needed a sledge hammer to roll over in corners.  Since it's with sidecar I'm not so worried about laying it down.  It would certainly have the pickup needed to move a sidecar rig and would have enough grunt to manage all three of us.  At less than half the price of the Royal Enfield (though with less of the classic look I like and over 70k on it), it has some appeal.

As a second bike I'm hoping for something very different from the Ninja which I'd still like to hang on to because I'm not finished learning from it yet.  A big, classic Yamaha with side car is about as far from an '07 650r Ninja as you're going to get. is vintage & in great shape needs nothing for cert, sidecar is new cost $5500 to purchase & have installed by OVC the sidecar pros! comes with gel pak in newly recovered seat,, am/ fm/ USB for ipod or iphone cd sounds fine on the highway.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Perfect Fall Ride

Other riders I know are talking about putting their bikes away already, I just can't bring myself to do it.  Riding in the cool autumn air as the leaves turn around you?  How on earth can you put a bike away with that going on outside?

Today I was off work for a periodontist torture session, so when the day broke sunny and cool I jumped out for a ride before the terror was to begin.  Rather than ride the barren agricultural desert of Centre Wellington again I made a point of aiming for some of my favorite geography.

The route!  Elora, up the Grand River to Shelburne, a short jog up to Horning's Mills and then down one of my
favorite roads to Mansfield, south on Airport Road to the Forks of the Credit, through Erin and over to Guelph
The road north east out of Fergus through Belfountain is nicely winding as it follows the Grand River.  The twists continued through Grand Valley where the road drops right down next to the river.  North to Shelbourne takes you through a science fiction landscape of massive windmills.  The blast down 89 into Shelbourne had me looking at the fuel light so I pulled in for gas and then stopped for a coffee.

I'm bad at looking after myself when I get going, I tend to push on rather than take the time to stay warm and charged up.  After a quick coffee I saddled up again and pushed on up 124 to Horning's Mills.  Located in a river valley north of Shelbourne, Horning's Mills has the feel of a place that time forgot.

Nothing says Shelburne like an old
Buick LeSabre!
I have a theory that when the geography rises up around you and blocks you off, all the the psychic static from those anxious, frustrated people in the GTA is deflected away; River Road out of Horning's Mills feels wonderfully isolated and far from the world.

We're probably still a week or two away from the fall colours, but the ride was gorgeous. It was getting on toward noon and the sun had finally warmed everything up.  In keeping with my look after yourself on a ride theme I brought a fleece sweater that I put on coming out of Fergus and three pairs of gloves, to try and find the perfect set for the cold air.  I ended up switching to the winter leather gloves after the warm up coffee and was glad for them.

With the first colours in the trees, crisp, cool air and a road that was very un-Ontario like in its bendiness, the warm and eager Ninja thrummed down the road with an urgency that washed away every care.

River Road between Horning's Mills and Mansfield
The ride south on Airport Road, usually a quick road with big elevation changes, was horrible.  There was some kind of grey hair convention going on, and combined with the construction, the ride was a disaster.  Rather than trying to pass every pensioner in a beige Camry in Ontario, I ducked right through Mono Cliffs and over to Highway 10.  While not as geographically exciting, Highway 10 did offer two lanes, and even though trucks were determined to drive side by each in them, I was able to flit through Orangeville and south to the last bit of interesting road on my trek.

The Forks of the Credit is a short bit of winding road that follows the young Credit River as it flows out of the Niagara Escarpment.  Once again construction ground things to a halt, but the crazy 180° hairpin and constantly twisting pavement reminded me of how a road can talk to you, especially through two wheels.

Forks of the Credit
By this point I was getting pressed for time to get back to Guelph for my torture session so I opened up the Ninja and hit Highway 24 through Erin and south to Highway 7 past Rockwood before ducking in to Guelph just south of the University for a quick lunch and then the blood letting.

The ride did a couple of things for me.  Taking longer trips I'm finding the Ninja remarkably easy to sit on for extended periods.  The seat is comfortable, the handlebars fall to hand and the bike is a joy to ride, it really wants to go.  What's getting me are the pegs.  Being as swept back and high as they are, my knees don't enjoy being folded up like that for long periods.  I find myself standing up on the pegs and resting my legs on the front frame sliders just to try and work out the kinks.  That 14° lean angle I could live with, but the 74° bend in the knees just isn't working for me.  Being long in the torso I also get a chest full of wind even with a larger, aftermarket windshield on the Ninja.

Having said that I covered about 230kms in between four and five hours with a few stops here and there, so it's not a show stopper.  There are other bikes that would fit me better, but I'd miss the Ninja's friskiness and eagerness to connect and become a single entity.  I'm afraid that something that would fit me better would be heavy and dull by comparison.

If you're thinking about putting your bike away, wait until the end is nigh and the snow is about to fly.  You never know when that perfect autumn day is going to suddenly appear in front of you and give you a ride that you can keep in the back of your head all winter long.  Yesterday's ride, complete with sore knees, wind burn and cold hands was a revelation.

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.

Monday, 8 July 2013


Southern Ontario is sinking man,
and I don't wanna swim...
Toronto is sinking man and I don't want to swim.

Riding home tonight into a wall of black. Yesterday I dodged the storms, today I'm not so lucky.

If it starts to spit I'll pull over and put my rain jacket on and cover the tail bag.  

It starts to spit.  I pull over.  

I get the rain jacket out and throw it on the ground and cover the tail bag with the rain cover.  As I'm getting the jacket on I look up and a wall of water is moving toward me.  I get the jacket on quick and get back on the bike.  I'm back up to speed when I hit the wall.  The rain is so heavy the guy in front of me in a pickup is hydroplaning everywhere.  

It's so black I can only see cars by headlights.

The bike is a bit skittish but surprisingly sure footed, then the gusts begin.  I get to highway 24 and there is a lightning strike so bright it's blinding, followed by an almost immediate thunder roll.  The gusts are so hard I'm leaning into them to stay on the bike, visibility is almost zero.  If there is a tornado I've decided to hang on to the bike - together we weigh almost 650 pounds, that's got to be better than going solo.  Being out in a violent thunder storm is an entirely different thing from watching one hit your windscreen.

I hang on for a couple of kilometers and everyone starts to pick up speed as the sky starts to clear.  The road begins to show patches of tarmac through the water.  I ride the last 15 kms home soaked to the skin but elated!  That scared the shit out of me!  It was great!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Thunder bolts & Lightning

I was up early, getting ready for my 3rd day of commuting to Milton on the Ninja.  The sky was heavy, the roads patchy but still mostly dry.  In the 20 minutes it took me to get ready the weather moved in, rain bucketing down, the sky so dark the street lights came back on.

I'm standing there on my porch looking at the bike which I've got started, sitting in the driveway with rain tearing off it.  I've gotten into the safety gear, then the rain gear.  I'm hot and dry, but I won't be for long.  The car is sitting there, an easy, comfortable option.

I'm looking for experiences.  I could have stripped down and taken the easy way down, but I wouldn't have felt the rain, or smelled the world as it opened up under it.  I wouldn't have been out in the world as mist rose from the ground and trees emerged from the fog.

I was worried about the 401 but I need't have.  With the rain it was barely moving.  By the time I got to Milton I was crawling along at walking speed behind a transport truck.  I arrived at the school after an hour in the wet.  The worst was in Elora, then I drove out of it and it was only drizzle, but by then I was hosed.

I only lost the back end once while downshifting and a quick hand on the clutch got that back in line.  I stopped downshifting after that while in the deep water.

It's 2pm now.  Most of my gear is dry after some time under hand dryers and sitting on a warm lamp stand.  In retrospect, today would have been a good day to wear my big cool weather boots - I think they're waterproof too, unlike the AlpineStar summer boots I had on.   I now know my gloves aren't remotely waterproof.  The rain gear did a good job of keeping me warm and mostly dry.  The only wet spot on my body was on my stomach.  It probably got in under the jacket.  I'll tighten that up next time.

It would have been easier to jump in the car, it would have been more comfortable, but it wouldn't have left me with an idea of what riding in driving rain feels like; lessons learned.

It's 6pm now, and trying to dry out wet gear in an air conditioned lab is all but impossible... there is nothing better than some good old sunlight on a hot deck:

Friday, 21 June 2013

More Motorcycle Media

I picked up a magazine called Rider the other day.  It's American, and written by an older crowd, but offers a less adrenaline driven and more wise look at the sport.  There were a couple of articles that pointed me toward some interesting motorbiking.
RIDER magazine
The first was about Hubert Kriegel's 10 year epic ride around the world.  Hubert has been doing long distance adventure riding since the 1970s, and his Timeless Ride shows you just how active retirement could be.  That he doesn't over plan his trips and encourages the use of something other than a massive BMW is also refreshing.  Like the best adventures, Hubert stresses that wanting to do it is all that really matters, the rest is just noise.

The follow up editorial by Clement Salvadori was a detailed list of the adventure riding books that might lead you to your first RTW trip.  Now he has me looking for old, hard to find books such as Around The World With Motorcycle & Camera by Eitel & Rolf Lange, a father son duo who did it back in the 1950s on a old German bike with sidecar.  He also mentioned Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels, which I first heard of while watching Long Way Round.

I also recently came across Mondo Enduro, an epic, low budget 'round the worlder by a group led by a teacher!  It's much less a star struck thing than Long Way Round, but very genuine and a joy to watch.  I can see why it has cult status amongst RTWers.

Clements also mentioned a number of pre-war attempts to circle the globe. Greg Frazier's Motorcycle Adventurer tells the story of Carl Clancy who made an attempt in 1925.  He also mentions Bernd Tesch who is trying to create a listing of RTW trips on motorbike.  It appears that 'round the world motorbike trips are a vibrant, world wide subculture.  Other pre-WWII books of interest are Nansen Passport: Round The World on a Motorcycle, by a white Russian fleeing the revolution, One Man Caravan, a mid-thirties American's Long Way Round from London to New York City, and the eight year epic journey by a pair of Hungarians in Around The World On A Motorcycle: 1928-1936.
Curse you designers!

Rider Magazine also pitched some interesting theory on design trends.  I hate it when I'm pigeon holed into a market segment (I'm Gen-X, we're like that), but they were bang on in describing how designers are aiming for post-boomers with less chromey, blinged out touring bikes.  I hate to admit it but Honda's getting it right with the new Goldwing - I never thought I'd say that.

I think I'll give Rider another go before I commit.  Many of the rides were American based, which is a bit tedious, especially when I think about the Adventure Bike Rider UK magazine I stumbled across a month or so ago.  Only one of their road trips were based in the British Isles, the rest took me everywhere from Beirut to Greece to South America, but then they don't think they are the world.   If it weren't so expensive to buy a UK magazine in Canada, I'd go for Adventure Bike Rider immediately.  They do offer a digital edition.  I might give that a go, but for a digital guy, I'm pretty paper bound when it comes to magazines (reading tablets in the bath gives me the willies).

No matter what, it's nice to know that there are thoughtful, quirky publications about motorcycling out there, it's not all about how much leather you can wear on your Harley or how long a wheelie you can pull.