Showing posts with label touring. Show all posts
Showing posts with label touring. Show all posts

Friday, 9 August 2019

Cape Breton's Cabot Trail: an ultimate ride?

 I'm currently crossing the Canadian Maritime provinces with my wife.  She's recovering from cancer so a bike trip wasn't in the cards, but I'm using the trip as reconnaisance for future rides.

On our way back to our hotel after a day on the Cabot Trail in northern Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island, a guy on a Honda Repsol race replica blitzed through a row of traffic five cars at a time and disappeared down the road.  The Cabot Trail attracts that kind of rider with its hundreds of kilometres of twists and turns over the Cape Breton Highlands in the north west corner of the province.

Coincidently, while I was out here, Canada Moto Guide did a primer on how to ride the Cabot Trail.  That and the steady stream of bikes making their way up to the remote, north-west corner of Nova Scotia cemented the trail as a Canadian riding icon in my mind.

We were up in Neil's Harbour when a bunch of guys in full leathers wandered in to the Chowder House up by the lighthouse (you can write sentences like that when you're on the Cabot Trail).  The bravest of them was on a Ducati.  I say brave because the road itself is indeed a roller coaster, but it's also pretty rough in places.  I asked them if they could put a knee down or would they knock their teeth out first.  They laughed and said they pick their moments.  The Nova Scotia government does seem to be taking more interest in fixing up the Trail though.

The Cabot Trail traces most of the coast of the north-west side of Cape Breton Island.  This 300km loop takes you up and over the Cape Breton Highlands and through a national park; it's stunnlingly beautiful and it'd be a shame to rush it.  Actually, what would be a shame would be only doing it once while focusing on the road.  The ideal way to tackle the Trail would be to get yourself into one of the many lodging opportunties on the south end of it and then do a day focusing on the road followed by a day focusing on the many stops available.  If you came all the way to the end of the world in Cape Breton and didn't bother taking side roads to things like Meat Cove and Neil's Harbour, you'd be missing some wonderful opportunities.

There are many sections with good pavement and astonishing curves, but there are others where the road hasn't had any attention in some time and Canadian weather has had its way with it.  I was told there were some switchbacks where riders had a hand down on the ground as they came around, but trying to do that in other places would have had you bouncing out of your seat and kissing a guard rail.  Rough or not, if you're used to living on a tiny island with sixty million people on it, you'll find the Cabot Trail frighteningly empty, even in mid-summer.

Having done a lot of miles on Canadian roads now I'd approach it as I do them all: enjoy them while you can but expect them to go to shit at any second.  Something with supension travel and some athletic intention would be a good place to start, it made me miss my Tiger sitting in the garage over two thousand kilometres away in Ontario.  A psychotic mix of power and suspension flexibility like the BMW S 1000 XR adventure sport would be good.  Another angle would be to take one of the newest intelligently suspended sports bikes and see what their CPUs make of it.

This ain't no butter smooth Spanish road, but it's a fearsome thing.  A couple of years ago Performance Bikes put their man John McAvoy on a sportsbike and pointed him at Spain, in the winter.  It was a riot to read him navigating snow storms through France before finding the sweet never-ending summer of Spanish roads at a time when everyone else is huddled in their houses waiting for the snow to end.  Reading Johnny in questionable riding circumstances is never dull.  PB (now a part of Practical Sportsbikes) should send him out to Cape Breton for a tour of the Cabot Trial in the fall.  It'd deliver demanding and stunning riding and photo opportunities that no one in mainstream motorcycle media seems to be aware of.  It'd also give Johnny a chance to practice his Gaelic.

Instead of riding the same old Spanish roads over and over, motorcycle manufacturers should be bringing journalists out to Cape Breton.  A 300km loop on varying road surfaces through stunning, Jurrasic Park quality scenery and some incredibly acrobatic roads would let them assess a bike's real-world prowess without cheating on roads that have never felt the terrifying touch of a Canadian winter!

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Gold Winging It

My buddy Jeff is heading off to the West Coast and a golden retirement shortly, so he's cleaning up and vacating Ontario (good time to be doing it).  One of his motorcycle herd is a GL1800 Goldwing.  He offered Max and I a ride last weekend to see if it worked for us since Max is now a full sized adult and your typical motorcycle is overloaded with two big guys on it.  A few years ago I rode Jeff's daughter's Honda Firestorm, by far the sportiest bike I've ever ridden.  This time around we were way up the other end of the spectrum with the 'Wing.

That seat looks mighty appealing to a kid who has been forced to ride motorcycle saddles since he was eight.  Not only is it recliner comfortable, it's also heated!  The rest of the bike is equally enormous and astonishingly appointed.  With fourteen year old, adult sized Max on the back, we had no points of physical contact, which is strange because we're usually back to chest on the Tiger, which is a big bike in its own right.

We rode out of Jeff's place on a dirt farm road in South Western Ontario, in April, so it was really wet and soft... on an eight hundred pound gorilla, uh, bike, with 430ish pounds of us on it.  The 'Wing handles our size without a problem, but the whole thing rolling down the road is massive, so massive in fact that you just ride through puddles and mud and ignore variations in the road that I'd be skirting around on a typical bike.  The Tiger is a sure footed thing, but it felt a bit skittish on the muddy driveway, not so the 'Wing.

Once out on the road the first thing that hits you is no wind, at all.  I ended up flipping open my helmet even though it was a cool day because of the zero wind blast.  No wind noise, no buffeting, it didn't really feel like riding a bike.  All the elemental cues that I get from riding were gone.  I'm looking out through a screen instead of over one and the fairings cover you head to toe.

The dash looks back at you with a staggering array of buttons. My car doesn't have half that many. The tachometer looks like the one out of my old Civic, and red lines lower. It took me ten minutes of riding to work out where the heated grips and seats were. The grips themselves are meaty, way thicker than any I've used before; my hands didn't quite wrap around them.

On pavement you twist the throttle and get whooshed down the road without drama.  The 'Wing is motorbike quick and smooth, but I wouldn't call it inspiring.  Jeff set a quick pace on his Yamaha Super Ténéré and I had no trouble keeping the twelve hundred pounds of us in sight of him.  I was tentative in the first couple of corners, but once I realized how nimble the 'Wing felt, I just dropped it into corners and trusted the tires to handle us.  I often feel weightless when I'm riding, but as well as the Goldwing handles its size, I was always conscious of it.  In fairness, it also had over four hundred pounds of human on it as well.

The brakes haul it down from speed quickly and it picks up with piles of torque and very little need to change gears, which were smooth and direct when I did use them.  By the end of the ride I was up and
down in the gears without a second thought, so that's a thumbs up from my foot.  The first time I realized I didn't need to cancel the turn signals after a corner was a nice surprise, but habit had me turning them off anyway.  The GPS in the middle of the dash is nice too, but wasn't very bright.

We did a short, half an hour ride around the area, looking for some of the few twists and turns available to us in the agri-desert that is rural Southern Ontario.  Jeff is moving out to Vancouver Island where the riding season is virtually year 'round and the roads are never dull, but the 'Wing isn't making the trip.  The Super Ten and his customized BMW Cafe Racer are going in the container though.

After parking it back up I can say I get the Goldwing.  I understand why it's as popular as it is and what function is serves.  As a device to transport my son and I in comfort it does that, but I find myself back where I was in 2014 pondering the CanAm Spyder.  There comes a point where a motorcycle is trying so hard to be something else that it isn't really a motorcycle any more.  The Goldwing, with its faceful of buttons and speakers and radios and weatherproofed rider cocoon,  removes me from what I think riding is all about.

I'm a number of years into riding now and I've been on all sorts of bikes in all sorts of strange places.  That experience has refined my aesthetic sense of motorcycling.  For me it's all about getting to that feeling of flying.  It's a visceral experience with wind, noise and a sense of lightness.  When you bend into a corner that feeling is amplified.  You can probably see where this is going.  The 'Wing will lean into a corner, but it feels stately and remote when it does it.  Everything feels far away, and ends up begging the question: why suffer the indignities of motorcycling when the bike is trying so hard to be something else?

I can get a lightly used one of these for the same price as a Goldwing.
Given a choice, I'd go for the mini-Mazda Ferrari in a second.
It might sound perverse, but the other side of motorcycling for me is embracing the physical difficulty of the activity.  I don't consider motorcycling a hobby, I consider it a sport and want to attack it with the same physicality.  This philosophy doesn't only contrast with the Goldwing.  Any bike that does all it can to not delivery that immediacy of riding experience misses the mark for me.  Whether it be a Harley tourer or a BMW K1600, any big, heavy cruiser with windshields and fairings and every gizmo imaginable makes me wonder why in terms of motorcycling.  If you want to bring that much stuff with you, go in a car.  In many cases the car is cheaper and more efficient, and contrary to biker prejudice they aren't all cages.

I love to ride, but I'm still smitten with bikes that feel like bikes and focus me on the aesthetics of riding.  When a lightly used Mazda MX-5 RF costs the same as a new Goldwing and looks like a piece of rolling art rather than a compromise, that's where my eye wanders.  Motorcyclists call car drivers cagers trapped in their boxes, but a massive bike that does all it can to not feel like a motorcycle is more of a fetishy gilded cage than any number of cars designed to be entertaining drives.

So, the Goldwing is not for me.  When I get to the point that I can't handle the elemental feeling of riding (a moment I hope I never see), I'll be looking for a Lotus, not a mega-bike.  My son is only a couple of years away from starting the never-ending and sickeningly expensive licensing and insurance process in Ontario.  I'm hoping that he has developed a taste for riding and will one day join me on a ride on his own machine, then we can both revel in the visceral feel of flying down the road together.

Jeff will have no trouble selling his Goldwing on.  He has meticulously maintained it and there is a strong market for 'Wings since there are so many older bikers who are looking for that kind of ride.  I, for one, will miss him when he's gone.  As a motorcycling mentor, he has been a great friend and teacher.  I hope I can get out to see him on the West Coast and ride those magical roads in the future.  In the meantime, I'm feeling more and more like Ontario is getting too tight for me, yet here I stay.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

One Bike To Rule Them All!

I think I need 3 bikes, a road bike, an off road/scrappy bike and a touring bike that lets me 2 up easily.  The wee garage would easily swallow this stable.  The Ninja was $3500.  I think I could cover the other two for $4500.  Keeping the bike stable at half what our cheapest car cost seems reasonable.

The Ninja is the sport bike... $3500

This Kawasaki Concourse was $2500 in the summer.  With a pillion seat-back it would make a great long distance shared riding bike.

If I could pick up a good dual purpose bike for under $2000, I'd be able to fill out the stable for about $8000 (£5000).  This KLR fits the bill, though I'd be longing to paint it (not a problem).

Unless I can find a way to throw legs over as many bikes as I can, I can't see another way to get an idea of how various bikes ride.  Finding a bike that does everything is a fool's errand.  Bikes that claim to do this are a series of compromises.  The key to riding a variety of styles is to ride a variety of bikes.

The first bike that would suffer in a diversified garage would be the somewhat sensible all round Ninja.  In its place I'd be looking for a naked streefighter... a Triumph Speed Triple would be on my short list.

Motorbike show NOTE:  I had a chat with Riders Plus Insurance.  They insured me in my first year of riding and were helpful and efficient.  This time round I was curious about how insuring multiple bikes work.  They told me that buying a second bike means you're doubling your insurance payments.  This doesn't make a lot of sense to me as I can only ride one bike at a time.  I expected something like you're insured at the rate of whatever the highest cost bike is plus 10% for the paperwork on the other bike.  What I was told was that you get a 10% discount on your second bike and pay another full set of insurance on it... which makes owning multiple bikes not really financially viable, so that dream goes down the toilet.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

M2: Double the Fun

I got my M2 yesterday, which means I'm off double secret probation and able to ride at night, double people and/or go on the big highways.  Two hours after I got my M2 I took the bike over to my eight year old's school and drove him home on it.  It was a nice, leisurely ride through town.  He hasn't been able to talk about much else since.

Just like Nana used to drive:
The Isetta 3 Wheeler
One of our instructors at the motorbike course wasn't a fan of taking passengers.  To him it defeated the point of the whole experience; a singular, tight bond between rider and bike, and a chance to be alone with your thoughts.  I think that's an important part of biking, but I'm digging being able to share the feel of riding with my son.  To that end, I'm thinking about the options available.  The idea of a big touring bike doesn't really thrill, but in the antique and adventure bike arenas there are a lot of options.

I've got a thing for asymmetrical vehicles.  My Nana had a three wheeler when I was growing up in Norfolk. I loved that car, the door was the whole front end, and she looked so cool driving it.

Royal Enfield Bullet Classic
When I was a kid I also saw my share of Morgan Aeros, and the new Morgan 3 scratches that same itch.  Bikes have a long tradition of three wheeling too.  I've always thought the sidecar look was classic cool.  When I discovered that one of the premier vintage side car shops (Old Vintage Cranks) is only 20 minutes away from me in Hillsburgh, I could see me getting something from them in the future.

They also happen to be a Royal Enfield dealer, so I could get a classic look with modern parts!  With that bike a sidecar is almost a necessity!  OVC is the place to get that done.  A Royal Enfield Bullet Classic in blue with a matching classic side car would be an awesome way to share the open feel of riding with my family.

I think there will always be a place in the stable for a two wheeler, but it's nice to have a not crazy-expensive option like the RE Bullet and sidecar sitting there waiting for a tear down the road.  Cool chrome riding goggles and classic leather gear would be the accessory of choice.

At the moment I'm finding the Ninja to be a great first bike.  It's athletic, sounds wonderful and is always rearing to go.  With my son on the back I feel the weight, especially on the shocks.  Something with longer suspension travel, like that KLR I originally considered, would also allow for a better two person ride.  A KLR with luggage means I'm less worried about him flying off too, something the twitchy Ninja seems eager to do.

Now that I can do pretty much everything you can do on a bike on the road, the perfect bike isn't one bike.  I'd eventually want an enduro that can go anywhere, a road specialist, and something odd-ball, like that classic bike and sidecar combo.  At the moment my dream stable is a Triumph Tiger 800 adventure bike, a Triumph Street Triple naked road bike and that whacky classic with sidecar.  Being able to open the garage and see those three sitting there would mean all options are on the table... and the three together still cost less than a new mid-sized SUV.

Road Specialist
Triumph Street Triple
Enduro Go Anywhere Bike
Triumph Tiger 800

Friday, 26 April 2013

Gitchigoomie Go-Around

another tour, this one a bit more plausible...

Circumnavigating Lake Superior (and Huron)

Google Map
Stage 1: Southern Ontario to Michigan: 135 Miles / 217kms
Stage 2: Southern Michigan: 288 Miles / 463 kms
Stage 3: Northern Michigan: 603 Miles / 907 kms
Stage 4: Ontario North: 502 Miles / 808 kms
Stage 5: Bruce Peninsula: 140 Miles / 225 kms
Total Mileage: 1668 Miles / 2685 kms

At 400 kms/day, about a week (just under 7 days) of riding.  If we pushed one day, we could have a light day the next.  The green pins indicate population areas at around 400 kilometre intervals where a stop would be possible.

Ideal travel time would be late summer, as the nights are getting cooler and the bugs are dying down.  One of the last two weeks of August would be good.  September would be spectacular, though cooler, especially if the colours were starting to turn.
Superior Foliage Report
Lake Superior Motorbike Touring