Showing posts with label riding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label riding. Show all posts

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Five Years: Diversifying Motorcycle Experience and Finding Balance

After the first year on two wheels I began thinking about more challenging motorcycle projects that would diversify my experience.  Starting in year two I did my first away motorcycle ride, renting scooters and then a BMW around the southern end of Vancouver Island - that led to my first article being published in Motorcycle Mojo and gave me a lot of insight into variations in motorcycling.

In addition to pushing my riding experience in daring new directions (like riding two-up with my son on an unfamiliar bike on one of the most challenging roads in Canada), I also began looking for a bike that needed more than just regular maintenance to operate... a bike that needed me.

I discovered just such a thing toward the end of that riding season, a long dormant Kawasaki Concours that we had to cut out of the grass it was sitting in.  Something that old (twenty plus years at the time) had a lot of perished rubber on it, and when I finally got it up to temperature it also had a sizable oil leak.  The winter was spent getting a new oil cooler and lines, replacing a lot of rubber bits and otherwise getting this old warrior back on its feet again.

The Concours not only got me moving mechanically, but it also offered a real blank slate, something I've since realized is only available on well used bikes (unless you're loaded and like to pull apart new things).  I'd enjoyed the aesthetic restoration of the Ninja and was looking forward to doing the same thing on the Concours.  Getting an old bike and making it not only usable but unique looking has been one of the highlights of my motorcycling career to date, and a trend I intend to continue.  It's something that my current too-nice Tiger doesn't offer me.

The Kintsugi Concours became my go-to ride and the Ninja became my first sold bike.  It was difficult to part with something I'd developed such an emotional bond with.  I can understand why the people with the space and means hang on to every bike they buy.  Having beaten the selling a bike emotional roller coaster, I immediately went looking for another, but it took a while to finally find the right thing, and in the meantime the old Concours suddenly became less than dependable.

A KLX250 that couldn't do 100km/hr with me on it made me feel like I was overly exposed and under-powered while riding on the road, though it was a deft hand off it and gave me my first real off road experiences.  I held on to it over the winter and when there was finally a break in the never ending Canadian snow I thought this is the moment the KLX will shine, on dirty, just thawed roads - except it wouldn't start.  It was a lot easier to sell because I'd never fallen in love with it.  Getting $400 more than I bought it for didn't hurt either.

Later that summer I made my next motorcycle buying error and stumbled into an old Yamaha XS1100 sitting on the side of the road.  I ignored the three strikes against it (non-runner with no ownership being sold by a gormless kid) and purchased it anyway; I won't do that again.  I got lucky on the ownership - it was within a whisker of being a write-off and had a long and difficult history (I was the thirteenth owner!), but I was able to sell it on after sorting the ownership and just broke even.  In the process I stumbled onto a balancing act I hadn't considered before.

I love riding older bikes I wrench myself, but they aren't always ready to ride.  When the otherwise dependable Concours wasn't and my only other choice was an ancient Yamaha I'd only just freed up the brakes and carbs on, I found myself with nothing to ride as the cruelly short Canadian motorcycling season began.  I'd gambled too much on being able to keep the old bikes rolling.  With riding days so valuable in the Great White North, that wasn't a viable approach.

I still had most of the money from the Ninja sitting aside and my wise wife said to just focus on getting something newer and more dependable.  Maintaining that balance means having a riding ready bike and a project bike, and not messing up that equation.  To further complicate things, I'm a big guy so I needed a bike that fit, and my son was getting bigger every year and loved coming along, so I needed a bike that would fit us both.  Being the onerous person I am, I didn't do the obvious thing and buy a late model Japanese touring bike that runs like clockwork.

My daily rider suddenly popped up on Kijiji but it ended up being the most emotionally driven purchase yet.  Instead of a sensible five year old, low mileage Kayamonduki, I got bitten by a thirteen year old Tiger.  It was European, over budget, too old and with too many miles, but the owner was a young professional (nuclear operator!) and from the UK and we had a good, straight up chat about the bike.  I was honest about my position (the Tiger was out of my league but I loved it and wanted it), and he was straight up with his position (he was about to take it in to trade for a new Triumph at the dealership and even my lower offer was much better than he would have gotten on trade in).  I ended up feeling like I stole the bike for over a grand less than he was asking and he got more for it than he otherwise would have.  It was an emotionally driven purchase with a lot of rational oversight.

With all that good karma the Tiger has turned out to be a special thing.  I was only the third owner.  In thirteen years it had averaged less than 4000kms/year, and on two years the first owner had ridden it out to Calgary and back (seven thousand plus kilometres each time).  It had been power commandered (that had never come up in the purchasing discussions), indicating that the original owner had really fawned over this bike.  The guy I bought it off wasn't very mechanically minded and it hadn't had much in the way of regular maintenance, but then he hadn't used it much.  Within a couple of weeks I'd gotten it safetied, done all the maintenance and given it a good tuning - it has run like a top ever since.

It's an older, European bike, but fuel injection and a resurgent Triumph Motorcycles Co. using the latest manufacturing techniques means it's not a bonkers choice as a daily rider.  On the second year of ownership it fired right up after hibernating under a blanket in the garage, and it did again this year.  I've fixed some dodgy, plastic fuel connectors on the tank, changed the tires and done the fork oil and other fluids along with the chain, but other than the fuel fittings, it's all been regular maintenance.  The Tiger has been such a treat and it's such a rare thing (I've only ever seen one other) that I can't see myself letting it go.

Meanwhile the Concours became the project bike, but since I wasn't depending on it, the project took on new dimensions.  I stripped the old fairing off and ended up with a muscle bike like no other.  I've experienced some drift with this project and I think when I get it to a riding level I'll sell it with the aim to make my money back on it (shouldn't be too hard considering what I got it for).

I think the drift comes from biting off more than I can chew as far as tools I have on hand and time and a comfortable place to work.  If had welding gear handy and could do the fabrication I needed, I think I'd still be be pushing for an edgy completion to the project which has taken longer and has been more involved than I initially planned.  The heart is willing but I'm too tight money and time-wise to chase this big of a thing.  In the winter it hurts to go out in the garage and work on it and in the summer I'd rather be out riding.  Future projects might be more of a Shed and Buried/SPQR approach where I can get a bike sorted and back on its feet again, have some fun with it aesthetically and then move it on without losing any money on it.  Making enough on each one to keep me in tools and pay for the process would be the dream.

The sophomore years of motorcycling have been about pushing into more challenging riding opportunities.  From riding Arizona (another one that got published), to going to the last MotoGP race at Indianapolis to circumnavigating Great Lakes and Georgian Bay, I've gotten more and more daring and gone further afield with each season.

These years have also been about dusting off and expanding my technical skills and have seen me do everything from oil coolers to complete carburetor rebuilds.  The garage has gotten better and better in the process, though it's still bloody cold in the winter.  If I could find a solar powered heating system for the space I'd be a happy man.  If I had a heated, insulated work space about twice the size, I'd be even happier.  The other side of the coin is riding opportunities.  Living somewhere where you can't ride for 3+ months of the year isn't conducive to building saddle experience.  I'd be happier if I lived in an all year riding opportunity - or at least if I had access to such places over the winter here.

20 hours might have gotten me able to manage the basic
operations of a motorcycle - the Conestoga course was a
weekend with about 4 hours on bikes each day, then some
very tentative rides in the neighborhood got me to 20 hours.
At five years I feel like I've put a lot of time into improving my rider's craft.  I've also spent a lot of energy getting the rust off my mechanical skills.  What I most wish for the next five years is to maintain my hunger for more motorcycle experiences.  I'd like to try  a wider range of different bikes and types of riding and find a way to dig even deeper into mechanics.  This year I'm hoping to take an off-road training course.  In the future I'd love to find the money and time to take track riding, if not to pursue racing then at least to explore riding dynamics at the extreme end in a controlled environment.

If you put ten thousand hours into something you've developed a degree of expertise in it.  In each season I've tried to beat ten thousand kilometres of riding (and succeeded) before the snows fall.  Those fifty plus thousand kilometres have probably had me in the saddle for over a thousand hours and I've easily spent that again in the garage doing repairs and maintenance.  If feel like my motorcycle apprenticeship is well underway, I just need to keep finding ways to feed that expertise.

The light cover in the garage - a reminder...

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Five Years of Riding: the beginning

Five years ago I began the never ending apprenticeship of motorcyclist.  The summer before I had a chance to ride a dirt bike at a friend's farm and got bitten.  My mother had always been adamant about me not riding, so I didn't, but she had died the year before and I was suddenly able to do something I'd always wanted to try.  That same summer I also became qualified as a technology teacher and was interested in dusting off my hands-on repair skills.  Motorcycling offered a perfectly timed riding and technical renaissance one-two punch.

When I was eighteen and looking for my first car I realized I couldn't afford it and started looking at motorcycles.  My parents ponied up the difference to keep me out of the saddle.  Living in Canada meant bikes aren't a year round transportation solution anyway.  I ended up getting so deep into cars that I never found my way back to bikes, but the urge had always been there.  When I had my highest amount of disposable income in my early twenties while working full time before university, I was thinking about a bike again when a co-worker ran a red light on his bike and killed himself in front of all of us as we were coming in for our shift.  That put the brakes on getting a bike yet again.

Twenty years later...

Things moved quickly as the snow melted in 2013.  I walked in to the Drivetest Centre and got my learner's permit after a long winter spent buying magazines, watching TV shows and reading books on motorcycles; I was rearing to go.  A couple of weeks later I was taking the introductory motorcycle course at Conestoga College.  There was nothing better than high speed passes through the cones, leaning the little learner bike to and fro.  A few days after that I'd found a poorly used Kawasaki Ninja in town and had it in the garage less than a week later.  Meanwhile it was still snowing outside (oh, Canada).

Soon enough the weather turned and I was out on the road.  It was only a 650cc twin cylinder Kawasaki, but it went 0-60 faster than anything I'd ever owned and looked like a rocket ship.  The time I was sat at an intersection and a Ferrari pulled up next to me and started revving its engine was the first time I explored the Ninja over 6000rpm, and I was gobsmacked.  With the Ferrari car lengths behind me I dropped the bike into top gear and gave my head a shake.  Leaning into corners is still my favourite aspect of motorcycle dynamics, but the acceleration of even a mid-sized motorbike is a thing to glory in, and they brake like mad things too.  In addition to being out in the world on a bike, you're on an athletic machine that can embarrass anything else you're likely to meet.  It was my mission to come to grips with this wonderful machine.

By May I had my M2 and could carry passengers and go on big highways, so I immediately spent all of July commuting solely on the bike to a summer course seventy kilometres each way including a blast down the biggest highway in Canada.  The first time I pulled out on the highway I eased up to 90km/hr and followed the slow lane.  That lasted for about ten seconds and then I was gone.  The next morning I indicated onto the highway, shoulder checked and was at a buck twenty in the fast lane a second later; what a rush.

What typified my first year of biking was my commitment to using the thing.  Rather than take the car if it was raining, I put on rain gear.  Rather than take the car when I had to go shopping, I found a way to carry what I was getting home on the bike.  That commitment was what got me racking up over five thousand kilometres on the Ninja, which isn't easy in Canada with its short riding season.

The mechanical side of things had me taking care of basic maintenance, but the Ninja was my first choice of bike because it was a mid-capacity machine that was relatively new and in ready to ride shape - the idea was to learn how to ride.  I'd leave the deep mechanical work for future years.  Most of the repair energy on the Ninja was spent on un-blacking it and making it colourful again.  When I eventually sold it I got pretty much what I'd paid for it even though I'd added over ten thousand kilometres to it, so the painting paid off.

Future years would have me diversifying my bikes and rescuing a basket case that would challenge my technical skills and have me knee deep in mechanics, but the early years were all about riding as much as possible.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Stealing One Back From Winter II

I stole one from February last year.  This year the weather aligned again and I was able to get a ride in between snow storms.

It was a cold commute in before 8am, about freezing, but clear and sunny.  I took it on the chin knowing that it'd be worth it on the way home.

Coming out of work past 4pm it was about 10°C and windy, but I can go all day in ten degrees.  I took the long way home, 27 kilometres of leafless trees, rivers with cubist banks of ice shoved into  the new mud by our recent floods, and a sky so winter blue that it wriggles before your eyes; all while leaning into fifty kilometre hour gusts of wind.  It was glorious!

I can still operate the bike without a thought, but I missed all sorts of apexes.  I'm rusty with neglect.

Note the snow pile in the middle of the road....

The smug I-stole-one-from-winter face

Icy verge

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

River Ride

 Work has been picking up and I'm having trouble finding time for a ride.  After watching Dovi win Silverstone on PVR I jumped on the Tiger and went for a short ride down and up the Grand River.  I'd like to be able to go on longer rides, for days and weeks and months, but can't seem to find the time and space to do it.  In the meantime winter is coming so I want to get as much saddle time into my head as I can to last the long, cold dark.

The sky was bruised ahead with a passing thunderstorm.  My favourite moment was riding past a murmuration of starlings as they came to ground like a massive jelly fish after another day on their long migration south.

Back in Elora, I made my way through town and back home.  It was only a half an hour ride, but it's another one to put in the memory bank for those frozen January days when the possibility of riding seems as remote as walking on the moon.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Icelandic Motorcycle Culture

I'm sitting in England thinking about our 9 days in Iceland.  We covered over two thousand kilometres in the land of fire and ice, alas, none of it on two wheels, but I was always on the lookout for motorcycle culture and there is no shortage of it on Iceland.  In a future post I'm going to hammer out all the advice I've garnered from our Icelandic reconnaissance.

You see a lot of BMW GSes on Iceland.  Viking Biking rents them out of Reykjavik and a ferry delivers them from mainland Europe on the east coast.  The adventure bike is the perfect motorcycle genre for Iceland as the roads vary from smooth tarmac to potholed hard dirt, and everything in between.

On our second day I discovered another side of Icelandic motorcycling culture.  The big-twin cruiser rider can also be found here, albeit in much reduced numbers.  The Norse Riders Iceland Chapter are a mashup of your North American patch club with viking imagery.  Like every other biker I've talked to, they look rough but are the nicest people when you chat with them.

Later that day we were making tracks back to Keflavik Airport to return the rental car when we came across some massive lava fields in the south west of the island.  We'd been driving 20 minutes at a time without seeing traffic either way, and this was during the height of tourist season when a number of people had asked me if we should be going there then.  If you like empty roads, you'll love Iceland.  Through the lava fields eventually came two GSes making time on the empty, winding roads.  I can only imagine the smiles on those riders' faces.

Even in the capital of Reykjavik you're looking at something the size of a small North American town.  Traffic moves all the time and there are seldom any backups.  Out in the country you're making tracks all the time with sporadic traffic at worst.

You're driving on the right, so you've got none of the headaches involved in riding in the UK or Australia/NZ, and the drivers themselves are polite and efficient.  If you pull up behind a slower moving vehicle they'll turn on their right indicator when it's safe for you to pass.  We made good time in a hatchback and then a mini-van with six people and luggage; on a bike it'd be heaven.

This left me wondering what I'd most enjoy riding in Iceland.  The Tiger I've got sitting in a garage back home would be the ideal weapon - able to make good use of tarmac but able to manage gravel and packed dirt/potholes.  Iceland is adventure bike nirvana.

A couple of days later we were out near Lake Myvatn and came across a couple of Germans on KTMs.  With their light weight soft panniers and nimble bikes capable of handing any rough stuff, these enduros would be another good choice for riding Iceland.

Those KTMs slice down the valley of the Krefla Geo-thermal power plant (Iceland's main source of electricity and heating is green/geo-thermal energy).  
On our first day with two families, 3 kids and a minivan, we did what all Canadians do and covered a lot of miles, all while repeatedly ignoring the satnav.

The vast majority of this drive was on tarmac, but the satnav kept telling us to turn back on the north shore of the peninsula and we soon found out why.  There were over 100kms of gravel roads that soon devolved into hard parked pot-holed earth roads.  While battling those roads you're also wrapping around fjords and experiencing blind corners at fifteen degree inclines.  It's beautiful, but it's a tough road, especially if you're still hundreds of kilometres from where you're going to lay your head that night.  We saw a number of campers just pull up in a fjiord for the night to enjoy the quiet and the view.

It'd be a challenging ride on an adventure bike, but you'd never forget the scenery.  Based on how exhausting the car ride was, I'd suggest 2 full riding days to do this on a bike, and be ready for some technically challenging roads on day two.

Snaesfellsyokel: a stratovolcano in a land of rift built shield volcanoes.  There is a road across the back of it, if you dare. Rental cars are restricted from using F roads, and considering how rough some of the 'main' roads where, F roads must be quite technical.

Your typical busy Icelandic summer road - if you like the view you'll get a new one like this every ten minutes.

Lava fields

1st day in Iceland: driving Canadian style (huge distances, various road surfaces)...

Taken five minutes past midnight - that's pretty much as dark as it gets - dusky.
Riding in Iceland isn't an oddity.  You'll meet people from all across Europe exploring the continent's last real frontier.  Whether you're a cruiser, a sport or an adventure rider, you'll find your people here on two wheels enjoying some Jurassic Park quality landscapes and empty, sinuous roads.

If you're into exploration of any kind, Iceland delivers.

A 4x4 off-road ready camper van?  Yep, saw that (parked on black lava sand at the base of a cinder volcano!)
This couple were pros.  Their packing was exceptionally organized and the next morning they were up in a light rain in full waterproofs and gone before 8am.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Mood I'm in When I Return from a Ride

BIKE magazine had a travel piece where the writer paraphrased a French pilot talking about how flying takes him away from the minutia of life.  I've flown planes but I find riding a motorcycle much more what I thought flying would be like.  The check listed and tedious process of operating an aircraft along with the strictly regulated flight paths don't lend themselves to a sense of freedom.  You're much more likely to slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of god on a Hayabusa than you ever are in a Cessna.

I was reflecting on my mood when I returned from a ride with my son Max on the weekend.  It wasn't a big trip but I came home relaxed, as I always do from a ride.  Riding a bike involves you.  You can get lost in the complexity of operating it.  Even once you get familiar with the controls the subtlety of working them all together harmoniously becomes a never ending aspiration.  You can always ride better.

I started writing this in October when we went for our ride, but it's the beginning of the new year now and it's been weeks since I've ridden.  At this point I'm reduced to driving a damned car which offers nothing like the sensory thrill you get from riding a bike.  While everyone else wrings their hands about how dangerous being out in the wind is, I'm addicted to it.  Riding a bike makes even the most tedious commute an adventure.

Coming back from that ride all those weeks ago, I was blown clean by the wind.  I'd been in the world in a way that seems foreign to me now, encapsulated in winter.  About the only redeeming feature of having a long off season is the growing anticipation of getting back out there again.

I sometimes wonder how my son Max feels about riding.  I'm always worried that with his autism he finds the sensory overload overwhelming, but he loves going for rides.  Even on very long trips he's a trooper who is always ready to hop back on the bike.  He isn't generally interested in being cool, but I don't think the cool factor is lost on him.  I don't get many images of him on the bike behind me, but I love seeing him doing his wings in these images.

It's been snowing for days.  We're buried in the stuff.  The thought of jumping on the bike and going for a ride is still months away.  Sigh.