Showing posts sorted by relevance for query radar. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query radar. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Invisible Man

I was riding down to the city south of us today for a dentist's appointment.  Out on the 2 lane high way that cuts south through Guelph I had my first experience of being invisible.  In bumper to bumper traffic moving at about 80 kms/hr, the blue minivan driven by an elderly man (wearing a hat), suddenly lit up his indicators and with no shoulder check immediately moved into the lane I was occupying.

I had the radar on and saw everything he was going to do before he did it.  I eased on the brakes, weaved onto the curb and avoided being hit by him.  I honked (first time I've ever done that) and raised a hand in wonder at his  cluelessness.  The guy in the cage jumped when I honked, then made a point of ignoring me when I gestured.  I frightened him by honking, he was happy to knock me off the highway and then ignore the consequences.

I'm surprised at how not-angry I was.  Even though this clueless old git had no idea what was happening around him I couldn't get angry with him.   Like so many other caged drivers he is in his own world, remote from the consequences of his ignorance; happy to thump down the road at 90 kms/hr without knowing what is going on around him.

After shaking my head I was back in radar mode, wondering what the next cage driver would do.  Riding is only really dangerous when you're doing it with a lot of other human beings.

I got to the dentists and had a nice chat with my hygienist who rides.  The ride home was without any such drama, but I'm left wondering how often cage drivers think about what's around them.

Friday 17 July 2015

Into The Heart of Darkness

I've spent a lot of time on back roads and regional highways but have seldom ventured onto major freeways.  I'm not a fan of driving in cities, I find people to be quite idiotic and when you put a lot of them together it reaches a critical mass.  Put those same distracted idiots in giant metal boxes while you're out in the wind and the maths just don't work out, so I don't do it if I can help it.

Rather than cater to this avoidance I went right into the heart of darkness yesterday: downtown Toronto.  A Grand Lodge meeting at the Royal York had me making the 240km round trip predominantly on major freeways.

First day of  HOV with one person per box, and you wonder why
Toronto has traffic problems. The HOV lanes for the Pan Am
Games disappear when the games go, so Torontonians can
go back to their selfish, unecological ways .
Why take the bike?  Well, the Pan Am Games are on so they've finally gotten some sense and instituted HOV lanes (it took the Pan Am Games to make Toronto accessible to the rest of the province - go figure).  Fortunately for the selfish, environmentally oblivious Toronto commuters, the HOV lanes go away again when the games are over and Toronto is once again an hour further away for the rest of us.

Motorcycles are always high occupancy.  They are a highly efficient way of moving people compared to cars which is why they are so popular in places with less money than sense.  When things started to inevitably slow down (at eleven o'clock in the morning), the HOV lanes never did.  I've never gotten into Toronto so easily.  In under 90 minutes I was parked on Front Street.

Why else take the bike?  Parking a car in Toronto will punch you in the nose and take your lunch money.  Around the Royal York it's particularly expensive, often about $40-50 for a day, unless you're on a bike!  About 500 feet down the road from the Royal York there is free (!) parking for motorcycles.  

Free parking for two wheelers right on Front Street - you can see the Royal York off to the left.  I purchased a $23
club sandwich (!) with the money I saved not having to pay for parking.
What was the ride down like?  Well, the country bit was lovely.  It was about 20°C, sunny and not at all humid, a perfect day for a ride.  The 401 through Milton is alright, but when you get to Mississauga is starts to get silly and then goes bonkers around the airport.  In training they give you helpful advice like always ride on the inside or outside lane so you can take a blocking position, but that quickly becomes academic on the 401.

With lanes constantly appearing and disappearing and suddenly expanding out to 12 lanes you're playing a fool's game looking for a specific lane.  Spending your attention on what lane to ride in probably means you're not paying as much attention as much as you should to the vehicles whipping around you at 120+km/hr.  You can't keep a space bubble because the traffic is too thick and follows too closely, and you can't lane split in Ontario to get out of tight spots.  If you ride defensively (and you shouldn't if you don't), you'll find your ability to manage threats stressed on the four hundred series highways leading into Toronto.

The only incident was a guy in a Mazda who decided to lane change (no indicator, you see them less than 50% of the time) into me.  He had been twitch lane changing repeatedly so he was marked as a jackass on my radar.  When he turned into me I was easily able to avoid him, and then give him some stink eye and a head shake.  He hadn't seen me (he hadn't shoulder checked or indicated either, and he had his phone on his lap).  You always get a sheepish response from people when they make a mistake that might have cost you your life.

That much traffic is a real test of your rider-radar.  It's a constantly evolving, high speed situation, so you're always fluidly responding to variations, trying to make space, identifying idiots and giving yourself every chance of getting where you're going.  If you're prone to tunnel vision or lazy traffic responses when you ride, don't ride past the airport in Toronto.

The Concours hanging out with two
cute Italians on Front Street
From up in the saddle you have an clear view of occupants in cars.  I'd say about one in five has a smartphone on their laps and half of them are dividing at least some of their attention with it.  Ontario's distracted driving laws have driven phone use in cars underground.  There should be more OPP officers on bikes out on the highway, they'd make a mint, as well as raising the awareness of motorcycles in the minds of drivers.  Why are there no undercover police bikes?

Bike parking on Front, right there!
The ride in and out was pretty much flawless thanks to the government prioritizing access to Toronto for the Games.  I guess the rest of Ontario's citizens don't rate better access to our capital.

Once the games are over and things go back to the usual I'll be avoiding Toronto once again.

Permanent HOV lanes, the ability to safely filter in traffic and any other law that emphasizes the efficiency and agility of the motorcycle would make the Greater Toronto Area much more palatable to riders, but as it stands the mentality of Toronto commuters and the laws the government creates to support them make it a no-fly zone for me.

The Concours flirting with some Vespas. Parking for free in Toronto? Priceless!
Union Station in Toronto decked out for the Pan Am Games.
The Royal York - the grand dame of Toronto hotels, very nice indeed.
$23 club sandwich, it was good, but twenty three bucks!

Monday 24 July 2023

Guest Post: Wolfe and the IBR Parts 4-6

 The Iron Butt Rally is long distance motorcycling's most challenging endurance event. It runs once every two years in the continental US and Lobo Loco Rally Master, Wolfe Bonham, is a veteran of the event. Wolfe ran the 2023 IBR and has been sharing his ride on Facebook, but he said he's OK with guest posting on TMD, so here is parts 4-6! Eleven thousand miles in eleven days? Enjoy!

Parts 1-3 can be found here.

Part Four - IBR 2023

The Heavens Open up

Heading southbound it isn't long before I encounter my first of many mechanical issues.  I notice my windscreen is getting closer and closer to my cell phone.  I had adjusted it yesterday and it becomes apparent I didn't torque down my Tobinator tight enough.  I jump off at the next exit and waste 10 minutes getting it done right.  This will be one of many roadside repairs in my near future. 

Back on I-79 and it's not long before I realize I'm running short on fuel much sooner than expected.  I check my Garmin for the next available fuel and am once again off the highway.  My auxiliary fuel cell is transferring fuel much slower than anticipated and I make a mental note to turn the transfer valve on sooner.  On the upside this exit has a Jersey Mike's, so I quickly snag a Bingo location while off the highway with a quick iced tea.

My next fuel stop snags the ever present Waffle House chain, but then I see the storms building across my path.  The next 2 days will have me ride through no less than 7 severe thunderstorms.

Crossing on HWY 19 the weather changes. What had been a rather warm afternoon suddenly becomes very cold, and the skies open up.

Prior to the rally I had discovered that my now 6 year old Klim Carlsbad riding suit was no longer shedding water like it used.  I had followed their instructions to re-water proof the outfit, but this would be the first real test.

Eventually the rain was becoming so heavy that my wheels were parting puddles deep enough to send spray up to my knees.  Worried about hydroplaning I spied an upcoming Bojangles on the next exit.   That's when I also noticed I had an oil pressure light glaring at me on the dash.

It looked like a brief break would allow this storm to pass.  I could get an actual meal, dry my gear, and look into my oil situation.  

Under the awning of the gas station next to the restaurant I could see my oil levels were good.  I guessed the only thing to do was continue riding and watch the engine temp.  If it began to rise I'd know that oil wasn't getting to all the needed spots.

Soldiering on I was getting really tight on time to make The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta, GA before they closed at 9pm.  This chain is on the bingo card, but only available in the Atlanta area.  I figured this would likely be my only trip through Atlanta on the rally, so I had to get it today.

This would mean passing up on visiting a Pal's Sudden Service bingo restaurant en route.  I figured I'd be able to find one later in the Rally as they are more common.... spoiler alert... I didn't, and it would cost me blacking out the entire card!  Day 1 decisions can have a cascading effect, like the butterfly that flapped its wings in Central America 3 days ago that is now causing the storms in the southern USA I'm now riding through.

My route to Atlanta only diverged enough to snag the high point value giant peach water tower in Gaffney, SC that was featured on the rally poster.

I called ahead to The Varsity to make sure they didn't have any ideas of closing early, threw away another planned stop at a Whataburger location, hauled ass to downtown Atlanta where Cherrelle was waiting to close with my peach lemonade already poured!  Phew... and it was refreshing too.

Also in the downtown was a metal peach sculpture that proved tricky to find a spot to park to take the photo.  After doing a couple of laps around the nearby stadium I figured using one of the hotel lots was the only real option... and low and behold, I run into Jeffrey Gebler pulling out of one.  He let's me know he had greased the valet with a few dollars to let him park there.  I quickly followed suit.  

On returning to my bike a group of high school students and their teacher were checking out my bike.  They were in town on a skills competition for, of all things, motorcycle and small engine repair.  I took a few moments to chat with them and show them the live tracking.  We wished each other good luck in our competitions and I headed out of Atlanta for Florida. 

This final stretch of the night had me in more thunderstorms and it was becoming quite obvious that my Klim gear was indeed no longer waterproof.  More concerning was the amount of water now pooling in my Sidi Adventure Goretex boots from running down the back of my calves.

Watching the tracker I knew most Florida bound riders had pulled off for the night, and I could see they were snug out of the weather in hotels along I-75S.

I was determined to push further and arrived at the Florida welcome center rest area where I curled up on a picnic table under an awning for 2 hours sleep...

Or so I thought...

Part Five - IBR 2023

The Struggle is Real

I wake up to the sound of distant thunder. A quick look at my weather app shows another massive storm about to roll through, and the winds are picking up.  I doubt I'll stay dry under this little park awning so I head for the shelter of the nearby welcome center.  Inside I chat with a very friendly security guard as we watch the rain flying sideways and palm trees bending in the wind.  I hit up the snack machine for dinner/breakfast, then make the call that I might as well be putting on some miles if I'm no longer sleeping.

I make my way through several clusters of storms on the way to Cedar Key in the dark.  It should be just after sunrise when I arrive.

Suddenly my lights pick up movement from the ditch. An armadillo is attempting to cross the road, and given the wet conditions there's very little I can do but brace for impact.  I've always feared hitting one of these after seeing one destroy a wheel well and fender of an RV as a child.  I expect it to be like hitting a rolling bowling ball.  Bam!

In actual fact it was more like a large raccoon.  Sorry little dude. 

I pass by 2 other riders heading back out of of the Key that must've passed me while I napped.  It's quite windy with the nearby storms and i struggle a bit with the rally flag.

From here I'm off to New Orleans.  The morning is chilly and my gear is still soaked. As I get close to Tallahassee it starts to warm up and the sun is out.  I stand up on my pegs to get my gear in the wind to help it dry out.  It's working, except my boots are still swamped.

....OK OK... the clutch.  For the past day all I can smell when at lower speeds is burnt clutch.  I've made the decision to shift the bike to neutral anytime I'm stopped at a light to help preserve it as much as possible.   This goes against everything we teach as motorcycle instructors.  I'm also being as gentle as possible going through the gears when accelerating.  Between it, an oil pressure light, my slow to transfer auxiliary fuel tank, and wet gear, the first 24 hours has kept me on my toes. 

... back to Day 2.

As I get to Mobile the temps soar.  It's over 100F and extremely humid.  I snag a Whataburger for my Bingo card and to cool off.  I've been carefully watching my engine temp, and given how hot it is outside, if my oil pressure sensor warning was accurate the engine should be running extremely hot.  It's not.  In fact, it sounds great at speed,  although now at idle I'm starting to notice a concerning rough vibration throughout the bike.  I probably should have performed a valve adjustment before leaving Canada.   Great!  One more thing to nag at my mind for the next 9 days.

Leaving Mobile they are thunderstorms popping up everywhere due to the heat and humidity.  Coming through Gulfport and Biloxi I'm faced with 2 of the worst.  Visibility becomes almost zero, signs everywhere warn of flash flood areas,  and I'm trying to position myself behind transport trucks so they can part the water as much as possible to keep me from hydroplaning.  I'm standing on the pegs,  hazard lights on, crawling at less than 20 mph.  My mind keeps telling me this is too dangerous, but there really is nowhere to go. My mind also tells me that we're "the World's Toughest Motorcycle Riders".  The words of one of my famous instructors,  Simon Pavey come to mind.  "Have a spoonful of concrete and harden the 'f' up!".  I soldier on towards New Orleans. 

The weather breaks for a bit and I'm able to snag a CookOut, Popeyes, and Sonic, all at the same highway exit. There is another storm front about to descend onto New Orleans, though, and it's a doozy.  The I-70 bridge is so windy I have the bike leaned at almost 45 degrees and I'm getting tossed back and forth in my lane.  Fortunately there aren't a lot of other idiots out here on the bridge in this weather, so I'm not worried about hitting another vehicle.  At worst I'll get to go for a swim over the railing! 

Into the city and I'm trying to stay ahead of the front.  I quickly snag my photo and head west.  Twice the winds in town almost knock the bike over at traffic lights, and several signs are blown off buildings.  I need to get out before this hits.  With some creative moves at traffic lights I'm back on the highway towards Baton Rouge where I have a Weinerschnitzel bingo restaurant as my target.

Arriving there my weather radar shows a potential tornado, and the staff offer to let me park the bike under their drive-thru shelter. We all watch my radar in hopes it won't be too bad.  It passes on the other side of the river, less than 2 miles from us!

I thank them and soldier on toward Lafayette. It appears the storms are behind me for today.  I snag the Crawfish Capitol sign, and head towards Houston.   Other than the interrupted nap in Florida I've now been riding for 32 hours straight.   I plan to pull my mandatory rest in Houston after snagging another 2 bingo restaurants. 

That night in the hotel room I remove my boots to assess the damage.  36 hours of wet feet and hot, sweaty conditions has led to Trench Foot.  If I can't sort this out I'm afraid I won't make the next 9 days.

Part Six - IBR 2023

Reality Setting In

The alarm goes off far too early and I'm donning still wet gear.  This doesn't bode well for my feet, but there's little I can do at this point. Stepping outside at 4am I'm hit with a wall of hot, humid air. My glasses instantly fog up, as does my visor even with pinlocks.

So far I've had to throw away WVSP - 539 pts, TNGA - 586 pts, and a Pal's bingo restaurant. I realize to safely make the group photo bonus in Kansas by 3pm I'll also now need to throw out TXHU for another 556 pts.  That puts me almost 2000 points off my plan due to weather delays and mechanical concerns.  Leg 1 isn't going to plan... and it's about to get worse.

I get through Houston before most people are up and set my sights just north of Austin for Ding Dong, TX.  Austin traffic slows me down a bit more than expected, along with a missed highway exit.  I'm getting concerned if I'll make the group photo.  At this point I have 30 minutes to spare, but I'll need at least 3 fuel stops, as well as dealing with Dallas and Tulsa traffic.

Apart from a few construction slow downs I get through Dallas in decent time, despite hitting the ring highways at rush hour.  Thankfully there is an HOV system.  But I'm down to less than 15 minutes to spare for the 1632 point group photo.  I'm sweating, both because of the stress and 100+F temperatures.  At least it's not raining any longer, but I can feel my feet continuing to deteriorate in my boots.

As I get closer to Sherman, TX my phone alerts me to a traffic slowdown for construction.  It's going to add 33 minutes.  That's not acceptable. As the slowdown begins I head for the shoulder with hazard lights on.  It's backed up way too far to run the shoulder all the way through it, despite having the excuse of an air cooled bike that will certainly overheat in traffic like this.  Then I see a parallel service road divided from me by a ditch and patch of grass.  Well, I am on a GS...

Even using all these tactics by the time I'm north of the construction my Garmins indicate I'll be 10 minutes late to the group photo.  I doubt I can make that up, and I still need to battle through Tulsa.   It's time for another change of plans.

The RallyMaster Jeff Earls is a genius at making aspects of the rally just barely attainable. Riders going to the group photo in Kansas at 3pm would have very little to do afterwards except ride to the Tulsa checkpoint 2 hours south, arriving 3 hours early.  The bonus- extra rest.  However,  there is a little 702 point location just west of Oklahoma City.  If you run the calculations you *could* immediately leave the group photo, struggle through Tulsa and OKC rush hour traffic, twice, once each direction, and arrive at CP1 10 minutes late.  At 20 points per minute penalty you lose 200 points, but still net 500.  A reasonable gamble... but everyone else would gain 3 hours more rest.

I had planned to make this gamble, but now that I won't even make the group photo, I plug OKER-702 pts into my Garmins and divert away from Kansas.  I'll snag OKC early and head to the checkpoint.  I've now thrown away almost 4000 points.  My thoughts turn from top 10 to just finisher status.  It's a tough pill to swallow this early in the event.

En route I stop by a drug store for some Epsom salts, anti-fungal powder, and medicated creams.  I need to get serious about my feet.  I'm concerned this is turning into a staph infection, and that would certainly mean a DNF.

As I'm eastbound on I-44 I see 2 rally bikes hauling ass westbound.  Only 2 brave souls opt to try to snag OKER after the group photo.  I stand on my pegs, salute them as they go by, and give them a heroic fist pump.  Go boys go!

If you're into this (and how could you not be), Wolfe did a full sixteen part breakdown of the incredible long distance rally that is the IBR. You can find him on Facebook here.

If you're looking for a start in long distance rallying, Wolfe rally-masters Lobo Loco Rallies.

Here is Lobo Loco Rally's Facebook page:

Iron Butt did a nod to Wolfe's Lobo Loco (crazy wolf) rallies here.

... and (of course) you can find some Lobo Loco Ralliage on TMD here:

This has me thinking about what it takes to take a run at the IBR, but I suspect it's even more complicated than Wolfe lets on. I'm also curious about what it costs to do the thing. Fuel, hotels and the rest can't be cheap, and I'm also curious about some housekeeping items like: how do you wear ear plugs for weeks at a time without getting ear infections?

There is more to this long distance rally caper than just the willipower to do it. I'll ask and see if I can get any more details out of him.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Sprockets, Chains & Walls of Rain

I thought I could make it down to Guelph to order my sprockets and chain and back before the rain hit.  The weather radar said there wouldn't be rain for over an hour.  I left at 2:30 and grabbed some gas in Fergus before heading down Highway 6.  It sprinkled lightly as I went, but it was just enough to take the edge of some truly oppressive humidity.

I got the sprocket and chains sorted out at Two Wheel Motorsport.  The chain drives on motorcycles are one of the first places people play with their geometry.  If you go to look up sprockets and chains for a 2007 Ninja 650r you're buried alive in neon chains and sprockets designed to look like shuriken.  By messing with the length of chain and number of teeth in the sprocket you can essentially gear up your bike, giving it faster acceleration (though it would also be revving over 5000rpm at highway speeds).  

For my first go-around with motorcycle sprockets and chains I went with quality and longevity.  The steel sprockets I got were Afam sprockets designed and built in Europe, they are very high spec pieces.  I stayed away from anything that's neon.  If you're curious, a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650r takes a 15 tooth front sprocket and a 46 tooth rear sprocket (that isn't always obvious as people rush to over gear their bikes so they go 0-60 faster).  I also got an X link chain, which offers a number of advantages over an O link chain, though they are more expensive.  The high quality sprockets (front and back) and a high tensile strength chain cost me about $300 taxes in.  They should be in by the end of the week.

Something wicked this way comes!
After wandering around looking at new bikes in the showroom for a few minutes I jumped back on the Ninja and headed back north.  As I turned on to Elora Road the sky got menacing, then it turned positively apocalyptic.

I've ridden through rain a fair bit, especially last summer when I was commuting on the bike.  This one looked turbulent though.  I stopped to zip everything up and take that picture and then I drove into a wall of water.

One of the nice parts of being on a bike is how connected you are to the world.  As I rode toward the darkness I knew this was going to be more than a sprinkle.  The clouds were scalloped and black/green and the temperature dropped ten degrees as I rode under them.  Then the smell of ozone filled my helmet.  I could see across the valley ahead that cars had their headlights on and the wipers were going furiously, behind them the standing wall of rain advanced steadily.

Hosed but home.
As the first big drops hit me I hunkered down on the tank behind the windscreen.  The wind picked up and I had to lean into it to hold my line, and then I rode into the water wall.  I like riding in the rain.  The bike is surprisingly well planted and if you want your visor to clear just turn your head and watch the rain roll sideways across it.  Of course, I like it better when I'm in rain gear, which I wasn't this time.  In about 10 seconds at 80kms/hr in torrential rain I was soaked to the bone, but I was only 10 minutes from home so I could get wet.  Cars were pulling over, the end was nigh.  Trees were bent sideways and it was night-time dark.  I made it the 10 minutes up the highway and turned on to back streets.  I was in my driveway a minute later.

After getting the bike inside and towelling it off I peeled off soaked clothes.  It was the first time I wasn't hot and sweaty all day.  I love riding in the rain.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Labour Day Weekend Ride: Georgian Bay

 A 300km round trip up to Georgian Bay and back:

I aimed to get out of the boring straight lines of South West Ontario and over to the Niagara Escarpment as quickly as I could.  I was going to head up Highway 6 but it was packed full of GTA types escaping their pandemic ridden cities, so I angled off in Fergus and took 16 up, which was completely empty.  That would become a theme of the ride.

It took me about an hour to get up to Flesherton, where I made a stop at Highland Grounds for an Americano.  I usually enjoy sitting in there sipping my coffee while sitting on their 70's retro disco red glitter vinyl chairs, but it being the summer of COVID, I ended up drinking my fine coffee by the Tiger on Highway 10 (also packed full of citiots all doing the same thing at the same time, as they do).

While I was standing there I noted the new bicycle shop that had opened up a few doors down.  Ryan Carter, the owner of the new Ryan's Repairs, had some interesting kit out front, including a seventies banana seat bike with a single cylinder engine mounted to it.  I ended up chatting with him for a bit and had a look in his shop.  He'd only been up in Flesherton for a couple of weeks.  If you're up that way and you're interested in bicycles or even just some interesting mechanical engineering, drop in with your Higher Ground coffee and see what's what at Ryan's Repairs.

It was a longer than planned stop in Flesherton, but I eventually finished my americano and then I was off to Beaver Valley.  Highway 10 was bumper to bumper, but I dodged through town and only had a to do a few hundred yards with the sheeple before turning off onto empty country roads again.

Beaver Valley has a fantastic road (Grey County Road 30) that weaves down into it with epic views.  If you hang a right at the bottom and go on the dirt, the ride back up Graham's Hill is intense, particularly so this time as all the recent rain had washed it out leaving a stream cut down the middle of it that was tricky to navigate.  I ended up on the wrong side of it as it cut across the road, but even on my 'it's time for a change but no one has them in stock' Michelin Anakees, I was still able to 

The view out from Graham's Hill lookout was also worth a stop.  I went through there last year in the middle of autumn colours and it burned itself into my memory.  This time around everything was super green, but it's still some interesting geography to ride in our otherwise tedious flatness.

I looped back around to Grey 30 and came back down the hill without a slow mover in front this time before hanging a left and following the road out to Beaver Valley Road and the trek up to Thornbury.  I was there in the early spring but the harbour was closed in the early days of COVID.  I was hoping this time I'd be able to get myself right down to the water's edge.

I guess Beaver Valley Road isn't on everyone's GPS because it was fairly empty.  With a few big, high speed sweepers, it's a nice way up to the bay.  Ontario 26, the road that follows the shore, is evidently on everyone's radar because it was bumper to bumper.  After a brief stop to look at the bay...

... I stopped for gas in Thornbury, but the traffic on 26 was nuts.  Rather than sit in a line to get through
the light for half an hour, I zipped up the side and took a right back inland.  South out through Thornbury and Clarksburg (no traffic), I hung a left on 40 (also empty) and rode directly to Grey County Road 2, which would bring me back over Blue Mountain and into the Grey Highlands.  I'm still at a loss to explain why, when left to their own devices, most people just imitate each other.  I'm not sure what happens in their heads that makes sitting in traffic when they are surrounded by empty road make sense.

The roads south were also pretty empty, though I'm able to dispatch traffic with alacrity on the big 'ol Tiger.  Singhampton arrived in no time.  124 northbound had construction and what looked like a half an hour wait to get through it.  I was heading south then east and bypassed it.  I wouldn't have sat in it in any case.  A better way around would be to zip down Crazy River Road toward Creemore then wind through the hills of Glen Huron, which is exactly what I did.

 The big skies in the hills were getting dark as I headed south.  It was cloudy when I left, but driving north to the bay meant avoiding that rain, now I was riding back into it.  The clouds were ragged as I flew south on 124.

By this point I'd been on the road for about four hours and hadn't stopped since Flesherton, so I figured I'd give River Road from Horning's Mills to Terra Nova a go.  It was closed for construction when I tried it in the spring, so this would be my first ride on it in 2020.  Like everything else in Ontario these days, they've managed to fuck it up.  After construction the entire road is now a 50km/hr zone with community fines doubled signs everywhere.  I really need to move somewhere else.  I get that no one wants idiots ripping up and down the road in front of where they live, but a 50/community safety zone for the entire length of a road that has maybe ten driveways on it over 12 kms?  There must be money in the area.

Fortunately, Terra Nova Public House was open and could squeeze me in for a socially distanced soup between their lunch and dinner service.  The rain finally hit while I was sitting out back.  Big, fat drops splashing into my soup, but it was still fantastic (maple carrot homemade!).  It was a brief shower and it blew over quickly.  I was in and out of TNPH in about 20 minutes, and by the time I came out the road was dry again.  I puttered back along River Road, frustrated at the iron grip of government and then started the burn south west back home.

Blustery winds and ragged clouds north of Shelbourne, then it was down through Grand Valley, following the Grand River home to Elora...

The Tiger ran like a top.  The idle/stall issue seems to be a thing of the past.  It was a nice ride through some changeable weather.  It was also cool enough that I wasn't cooking on the seat, so I felt like I still had a lot in me when I got back.  The trip knocked the Tiger up to only 600kms away from hitting 80k.  It turns twenty years old in 2023, and I like the symmetry of it hitting 100k by then, so that's the goal.  This winter it'll get new shoes (if anyone ever gets Michelin Anakees back in stock again), and a complete service including all bearings and suspension.  It'll get an oil change too if anyone ever has Mobil 1 motorcycle oil back in stock again (finding parts during COVID is an ongoing headache).

I should get well into the 80s before the riding season's done, and then it'll be spa time.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Moments From My First Season On Two Wheels

From a new (to me) Ninja with 8100 miles  to 11,410 miles by the end of my first season, April to October, 3,310 miles, ... 5296kms.
2013: Out and about on 2 wheels!
The first time I looked at that map I wondered why I didn't go further afield, but I did make some longer sorties.  Next year I'll make a point of doing some overnight riding trips

Here are some moments from my first year in the saddle:

The first time I changed gears without consciously thinking about it was probably about a month into riding.  I then immediately became aware of the fact that I'd just changed gears without thinking it all through and had to focus on the road again before I rode off it.

In that first month I kept pushing further away from home.  The first time I went on our local (rural) highway I had a lot on my mind.  I found a left hand turn and got myself into the turning lane.  In a gap in traffic I began to make the turn and gave it (way) too much throttle, my first wheelie while turning left on my first ride on a highway!  I leaned into the bike and got the front wheel down in time to make the corner.  The kid in the Cavalier waiting to pull on to the highway got all excited by my wheelie and did a huge burnout onto the highway.  I had to laugh, I'd scared the shit out of myself and he thought I was showing off.

First time I was on a major (ie: limited access) highway, I'm riding up toward Waterloo through Kitchener and the new slab of tarmac I'm on begins to taper out.  It's the kind of thing you wouldn't think twice about in a car, but I couldn't cut across this.  The new pavement began to peter out and I ended up slipping three inches down onto the old pavement, sideways, doing about 90km/hr.  The clench factor was high, it felt like the bike just fell out from under me.  That was the first time I really realized how little is around me on a bike, and the first time I had trouble understanding what it was doing under me.

The lightning is to remind 348
drivers that it's fast... for a car
Early on I was out on local back roads getting used to the Ninja.  I pulled up to a light and a red Ferrari 348 pulled up next to me with a very smug looking boomer at the wheel.  He started blipping the throttle.  I'd never really even gone into the top half of the rev range on the Ninja, I only knew what it might be capable of from stories online.  The light changed and I twisted the throttle harder than I ever had before (which probably meant about 75% rather than 50%).  I didn't know where the Ferrari was but it wasn't next to me.  The Ninja is quick in the lower part of its rev range, more than able to stay ahead of the traffic around it.  In the upper half of its rev range something entirely different happens... it lunges.  I made a clean shift into second even while registering astonishment at what my little 649cc parallel twin could do when that second cam came on.  Second gear lasted for about a second before I had to do it again for third.  I eased off and sat up to look over my shoulder, the Ferrari was many car lengths back.  My little thirty five hundred dollar mid-sized Ninja could eat Ferraris for breakfast.  I've owned some fast cars in my time, this thing was something else entirely.

On the long ride back from Bobcaygeon I was within half an hour of home when I was trundling along behind a greige (grey/beige - featureless and soulless) mini-van at 75km/hr.  By this point I'm getting comfortable on the bike and have a sense of how it can pass and brake (astonishingly well!).  In my helmet I suddenly ask myself, "why are you following this clown?  If you had bought a Lamborghini would you be driving along in the row behind this P.O.S.?"  I passed the mini-van on the next broken line (easily) and, in that moment, adjusted my riding style to suit the vehicle I'm on.  Everything is still by the book (indicators, shoulder checks, passing on broken lines), but I don't wait for BDCs to begin paying attention to what they are doing, I just put them behind me.

Speaking of which, I'm riding in Guelph in the summer on the Hanlon highway and the old guy in a Toyota appliance (it was even the same colour as a fridge) pulls right into where I was, no indicator, no shoulder check... at least he wasn't on a phone.  I had the radar on and could see what he was going to do before he did it.  Being on a bike I was able to brake and swing over onto the curb in order to avoid getting mashed; my first experience of being invisible on a bike.  I had to look down to find the horn, I'd never used it before.  He studiously ignored me.  What is it about people in cars not feeling responsible for what they are doing?

The commute to Milton and back was a big part of my first season.  It began after I got back from my longest trip to Bobcaygeon over the Canada Day weekend.  I quickly had to get rain gear sorted out after deciding to take the bike every day rain or shine.  In those three weeks I rode 400 series highways, big city streets and miles of country road.  Temperatures ranged from 8 degree fog to 36 degree sun beating down.

One morning I left torrential rain and rode the whole way through fog, rain and spray.  Another day coming home the sky in front of me turned green and purple, real end of the world stuff.  I stopped and got the rain gear on and rode into what felt like a solid curtain of water only thirty seconds later.  As the wind came up and the rain went sideways I remember thinking, "OK, if you see a funnel cloud just hang on to the bike, you're heavier with it than without."  The bike's narrow tires cut down to the pavement even as the wind was trying to send me into the trees.  I eventually rode out of that darkness and decided that if a bike can track through that it can handle any rain.  The commute also contained the first time I didn't think twice about riding through a busy city.  Riding day in and day out on the bike gets you comfortable with it quickly.

My first tentative steps onto the 401 (staying in the inside lane for the whole 13kms) quickly turned into opening up the bike and syncing with traffic in the left hand lane.  I think a lot of that had to do with coming to trust what the bike can do, and what it can do is quite astonishing.

River Road out of Horning's Mills
My last big fall ride before the end of the season had me doing one of my biggest rides down some of the best roads within a hundred kilometres of where I live.  The bike was humming, it was cold until the sun came out, then it was perfect.  A last perfect ride before the snow fell.

It was a great first season, and I got some miles in and really enjoyed the bike.  I'm now torn whether to get rid of it an get something else, or stick with it for another season.  Either way, first time we see the sun and some clear pavement again I'll be out.

My Ninja and I in the fall on the Forks of the Credit

Friday 21 August 2020

Motorcycle Riding in Ontario: It Was The Worst of Times, It Was The Best of Times

I managed an 800+ kilometre loop through Southwestern and Central Ontario over the weekend.  The ride out and the ride back four days later were distinctly different, though they did have one thing in common:  gravel companies with little regard for public safety.

I began early on Thursday morning hoping to beat the heat, but even a 9am departure had me sweating in humidity fuelled mid-thirties temperatures.  On Fergus/Orangeville Road heading into Orangeville a gravel truck decided to drive into oncoming traffic so he could have a chat with his buddy pulling up on a side road.  He cut it so close the old couple in the Cadillac at the front of our group left ABS intermittent skid marks on the road and almost got rear ended by the guy behind them in an F150 who was too busy texting to notice events unfolding.  This is the second time an employee of Greenwood Aggregates/Construction has been a pain in the ass for us.  Last time it was a fist sized lump of gravel that cost us a $500 deductible to get the windshield replaced in my wife's car.  This time around I was in full-biking-radar-paranoia-mode, so I saw the whole thing unfolding and made myself some space by moving to the shoulder so the guy behind me didn't run me down in the heavy braking.  It'd be nice if the OPP spent a little time observing misdemeanours by Greenwood Aggregate drivers on the Orangeville/Fergus Regional Road 3.  If they can't take other road users' safety into consideration, perhaps they should have their licence revoked.

Rather than continue to enjoy the chaos of the busy-for-a-Thursday-morning regional road, I ducked onto a gravel side road (a benefit of riding the Tiger) and took the back route around to the bypass.  Being clear of traffic, even on loose, recently graded gravel always feels so much better than riding with jumpy, unpredictable pillocks in their boxes.  Bigger the box, bigger the pillock, and these days everyone drives the largest possible thing they can find.

I've been working on the Tiger's recent stalling issue, and thought I had it licked, but it stalled on me after getting gas in Mono Mills in the middle of a highway intersection, so I was on edge.  It did it again while making a left turn off Highway 9.  The key to my survival as a motorcyclist is my ability to respond to traffic quickly with awareness and agility.  A bike dying on me in the middle of an intersection feels the exact opposite as it suddenly makes me vulnerable and immobile; it feels like betrayal.  Some people online have suggested just riding around the issue, but I think that's absurd.  If you're riding something that can leave you dead in the middle of a turn, that's not something to ride around, it's something to fix.

Now truly fraught and soaking in sweat, I pulled over to get my shit together on a tiny side road before getting onto the 400 Highway.  My new COVID normal is to find a shady spot and have a stretch, a comfort break and a drink.  I pulled over onto Side-road 4 which had zero traffic and re-centred myself.  It was a lovely stop in a quiet farming area.  No sound of traffic and only the breeze stirring the trees and corn.  It was a Zen ten minutes that let me get my head on straight again.

The 400 north was surprisingly busy for a late Thursday morning, but was moving at warp speed anyway.  The inside lane was averaging 120km/hr.  I dropped into the flow after passing a cruiser parked under the overpass I used.  I guess he was only looking for people doing 160+.  By now the air temperature was well into the high thirties and the oppressive humidity had it feeling in the forties.  Even at speed on the highway I was always sweating.  I got to Barrie in next to no time only to discover that a single lane reduction at the Essa Road exit meant that the me-first GTA crowd had backed up traffic for 20 minutes because they all have to be first.  Massive trucks and SUVs (few people drive cars in Canada any more) were pulling out onto on ramps and burning to the end before trying to butt in ahead of where they were.  Being Ontario, I couldn't filter through and ended up sitting on sixty degree tarmac for the better part of twenty minutes in stop and go traffic under a relentless sun surrounded by air conditioned cagers who were making it even hotter, with a bike that stalled if I let go of the throttle.

I finally got clear of Barrie and things were once again moving at warp speed, with trucks towing boats passing me at 40km/hr over the limit.  Ontario highways are truly something special; a hybrid of Mad Max and a never ending grocery store line up of the biggest jackasses you've ever met.  But I was now clear of Barrie and Orillia and only had the wide open spaces of the north to look forward to.  I was evaporating sweat so much a cloud was probably forming above me, but at least I was in motion, until I wasn't.

Ten kilometres outside of Gravenhurst traffic came to a sudden stop again.  Why?  Ontario refuses to widen the bypass around Gravenhurst onto Highway 11, and we all know how GTA traffic likes to merge with grace and efficiency, so things had come to a stop, again.  At this point I was deep into fuck-it territory.  My plan to get up to the lovely 118 and cross over the Haliburton Highlands and down to my wife's family's cottage near Bobcaygeon was starting to smolder in a dumpster.  After sitting next to a Shell station for a couple of minutes on baking asphalt, I pulled in and looked at the map.  Oddly, the Tiger was now holding idle.  The ECU learns how to set idle when you reset it with a new fuel map, so maybe the Tiger had learned how to solve its own stalling?  I should be so lucky.

Gravenhurst Traffic
Early Thursday afternoon GTA traffic into Gravenhurst where all the citiots have to all go to the same place at the same time, all the time.  The old fella at the gas station told me it'd be a 40 minute stop and go to get through it on fifty degree tarmac.  Bigger is always better in the cager crowd.  See many cars in there?  Trucks and SUVs, all the better to hit you with while ensuring your own safety!

I had a look at the map and thought that Washago and south around Lake Simcoe and over to Kinmount would at least get me out of attempting a route that thousands of people in giant vehicles from the GTA were plying.  Highway 11 has lots of turnarounds to go south, which I've always found odd until today.  I was quickly able to get on the empty highway south and found myself back in Washago and heading down an empty 169 and then east on an equally empty 45.  The temptation is to say Ontario is under-funding infrastructure, and it is to a degree, but the real issue is the group think in the most overpopulated area of Canada, which I have the misfortune of living near.

Changing my mind on where I was going changed the ride.  I'd been aiming for unfamiliar roads, but that's not something easy to find in summer of pandemic.  The Tiger seemed to have changed its mind too.  At the odd stops at lights it was suddenly idling steadily and the pickup on throttle and vibes at speed felt better than they used to.  I guess the ECU had finally worked out the new fuel map.  I was still dehydrated and cooked, but I was on winding roads with almost no traffic.  Unfortunately, these were the same winding roads I'd taken last month to the cottage.  
I stopped in Kinmount because I'd done that last time and knew they had a public washroom in the park.  After another comfort break and as much water as I could neck, I sorted out the 360 camera and headed toward Gooderham on the 503 for a roller-coaster ride down the 507 and then into the cottage; this was the good bit coming up.

The sun was getting low behind me and I early evening was upon us.  I got to Gooderham just past 5pm and headed south on the 507, the Tiger feeling better than it had in months.  Just south of town I saw the inevitable sign:  CONSTRUCTION.  Unreal.  I'd just busted my hump for hundreds of kilometres of Ontario tedium and the highlight is dug up.

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

After some kilometres of gravel, some of it ankle deep because they're in the middle of resurfacing, I
got back onto the pockmarked but paved 507 and proceeded south.  The long shadows meant the worst of the heat was off me and I soon found myself in Noogies Creek, working my way into some of Ontario's prettiest wilderness.

The 14kms up Bass Lake road goes from two lane gravel fire road to a winding, single lane gravel fire road quickly before ending at the lake.  Ten minutes later I was neck deep in it washing off a day of sweat and frustration.



Four days later I was saddling up just past 11am for the return trip.  My cunning wife suggesting doing the 118 route backwards on the way home since no one from the GTA would be going that way.  To make it even better, it was a humidity free 22°C on a Monday morning.  The Tiger still had almost half a tank, so I skipped cutting back to Bobcaygeon and headed east toward the 507 on Peterborough Regional Road 36.

I was approaching the turn north on to the 507. Quarry Bay Stone was just up the road and a gravel truck had just pulled out fully loaded and was ramming it up through the gears heading westbound towards the group of traffic I was in.  Bucketfuls of gravel were pouring out of this piece of shit truck as it approached us, bouncing down the road at 150km/hr closing speed.  Remember the Millenium Falcon in the asteroid storm in Empire?   Now I know how the ship felt.  I was lucky to be able to duck behind the truck and car ahead of me.  I imagine both vehicles are looking at body damage and broken windshields.  I got whacked on the shin hard enough to knock my leg off the peg.  That's another win for my awesome, armoured Macna motorcycle trousers.  Not only are they cooler than any other pant I've tried, but they also prevented me from getting a broken shin and/or severe lacerations on my leg.

When I realized how many rocks were coming at me and at such a high speed I put my head down and my new-this-year Roof Desmo RO32 took the impact for me right on the crown.  The rock was big enough to ring my bell, but had I not ducked it would have hit me at neck level, which might have been fatal.  Other sharp bits of gravel clattered off my road side pannier and I got a big scuff on my front fender, but otherwise the Tiger dodged the rocks.  I glanced back to see more bucketfuls of gravel skipping down the road, bouncing off the vehicles behind me.  The road was covered in it.  The next day at home I thought about what happened and came to the conclusion: fuck those guys.  It's their responsibility to operate safely on public roads, and they aren't doing that.  That this happened with two aggregate companies suggests that industry has a real fuck-you attitude to the rest of the citizenry who are using public roads.  It made me angry enough to make an online report with the OPP.  It's two days later and I haven't heard anything, but I'm not holding my breath  They're probably too busy trying to figure out what to do with all their pay raises.

This is one of those things you don't think about so much at the time.  I wasn't bleeding too much and the bike was ok, so I kept going.  I wasn't about to chase the truck down and I was too shocked to pull into the gravel yard.  I would have just flipped out on someone in any case.  Biking requires a sense of inevitability and fate.  You control what you can and live with what you can't.  Glad I did the report though; fuck those guys.

The 507 was virtually empty and cool as I made my way north.  Being a week day I suspected they'd be working on the road and soon enough I came to the edge of the construction.  I had a nice chat with the girl doing traffic control and was soon off.  Since they were laying tarmac they'd just put down a thick layer of sand and gravel, so thick my front tire disappeared into it and the Tiger bucked.  Thanks to recent SMART training my wrist did what it was supposed to do instead of involuntarily grabbing the brakes, which would have been bad.  The Tiger leaned back on its haunches and the Michelin Anakees bit into the loose material and launched us through the wave of loose material.  My feet never even left the pegs and I like to think I looked like I knew what I was doing.  The guy behind me on a Harley wasn't so lucky.  Legs all over the place before he ploughed it to a stop.  He then cut across the road to the tire tracks and then continued slowly up the verge.

The construction was soon behind me and then so was Gooderham.  I'd taken Haliburton County Road 3 to Haliburton a few years ago when I did a birthday ride through Algonquin Park, and knew it was a good one.  It's not as long as the 507, but at least as twisty and in much better shape; it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride through cool, noon-time air with thermoclines down by the lakes that I could both smell and feel.

I got to Haliburton still reading above empty.  This new fuel map was richer and smoother than the stock map, so I'd expected worse mileage, but because I'm not asking for more throttle and what I did use was smooth and effective, my mileage was actually better.  I figured there would be a gas station in Haliburton on the 118, but I passed through and found nothing.  I was far enough out of town that riding back didn't appeal, so I pushed on to Carnarvon figuring there had to be a gas station there as it's at the intersection of two major highways, but there was no gas in Carnarvon either, so I ended up ducking down the 35 to Mindin to get gas as the gauge fell into the red.  I was able to put 19 litres in, so I still had the better part of 5 litres in the tank when I filled up.  I'd have tried for Bracebridge if I'd have had a jerry can with me just to see what the run-to-empty is on the new and improved Tiger.  As it was I was over 400kms into that tank and think I still had another hundred in it (the Tiger has a big 24 litre tank).  That had us rocking a 4.22 L per 100 km / 55.71 mpg consumption figure, which means I'm beating a Prius, and that's without riding for mileage.

Brimming with gas I rode back north to 118 with more vigour than I'd come south.  The Tiger was idling so well I'd forgotten to keep checking on it, and the new fuel map was giving it a spring it had been missing.  Passing a cement truck (front wheel getting light as I wound it up through third) onto the 118, we found ourselves rolling through muskeg and ancient stone as the road took fast sweepers left and right around the Canadian Shield.  At one point a couple had pulled over and were slowing traffic (which was just me) because a snapping turtle was making its way across the highway.  He was a dinosaur amongst dinosaurs.  Easily a forty pounder with a giant, spikey tail.  I'm not sure how old they get (the interwebs say they can approach fifty years old); this was an apex predator snapping turtles.

Having circumnavigated the turtle safely, the Tiger burst off down the road with a snarl.  I saw no traffic until I was within twenty kilometres of Bracebridge.  The 118 twists and turns so much there are few places to pass, so soon enough a pile of us were behind a lovely old couple enjoying their leisurely motoring afternoon in a large American automobile.  I managed to squeeze out a pass on the only broken line and then enjoyed clear sailing all the way in to Bracebridge, which is much bigger than I remember it, looking more like a Toronto suburb with big box stores than the remote Ontario town it used to be.  Maybe it's all our fates to one day be living in identical subdivisions all doing the same things at the same time while staring at the same box stores.

Bracebridge was a bit of a faff, with more lights and traffic than any other part of the trip, then I was clear of it and off to Port Carling.  One of my first long rides on the Tiger was with my son across Ontario when we first got it in the summer of 2016.  Back then we had a great stop at a lovely coffee shop and had chats with lots of people at the local tourism office.  Port Carling is a lovely little town, but COVID has taken its toll.  The coffee shop was gone, and the rest of the place was mostly closed, though this might have been a Monday thing as much as a COVID thing.

I ended up skipping town and stopping COVID-style at an empty side road in the shade for a comfort break and a granola bar and as much water as I could take on.  I'd been hoping for a hot lunch, but hot lunches are few and far between in 2020.

The ride south to Bala was trafficky but moved well.  I'd never taken the 38 west to the 400 out of Bala and was surprised to learn it passes through Mohawk land.  It was a nice ride on interesting roads which I spent mostly behind a couple of native one-percenters (badged vests and all) on Harleys.  They gave me a wave when they pulled over to their clubhouse which was nice, a lot of the too-cool-for-school cruiser types don't bother with the biker wave.

The 400 was what every highway should be:  lite traffic moving like it means it.  Traffic was cruising at 120 in the slow lane.  I flashed south to Horseshoe Valley Road in a matter of minutes.  It was 80kms of quick moving but with zero headaches because I bailed before Barrie.  Horseshoe Valley Road was doing culvert repair (a lot of government COVID support has been going into needed infrastructure updates, which is no bad thing).  It was only about a ten minute wait and I was off again.  I remembered the Strongville bypass and took back roads to Creemore where I made my last stop by the Mad River where it gets its name tumbling down the Niagara Escarpment for the last of my water, then it was the final hour and a bit home, but now I was back in the Tiger's natural hunting range on familiar roads.

Other than being pelted by another anti-social gravel company, it was a lovely ride back.  Mostly empty roads and in much more humane temperatures.  The Tiger ran like a top, not a single stall, and feels like a new thing with its software update.  I'd been having anxiety about it on this trip, but it's a multi-dimensional thing that can do everything from single lane tracks in the woods to superhighways.

I'm back home again for a few days for work conferences (all remote), before we're forced back into classrooms by a government that seems to have no idea what it's doing.  In the meantime though, I have two working bikes in the garage and the rest of the short Canadian riding season to enjoy them.  Life is good.



I've got vegvisir (viking runic compass) to prevent getting lost (and survive storms, perhaps including gravel ones), and a modern binding rune for good fortune in travel (the top one).  Online suggested that the modern binding rune doesn't have any real magic in it because it's a modern thing, which I find funny (magic?  really?).

Here's some perverse atheist logic for you: I don't have to believe in these things for them to work.  If they do work and they are why a hail of gravel missed killing me, then I'm annoyed because my technique should have been what saved me, not a rune.  One of the reasons I don't like religious thinking is because it takes success away from you.  I'd rather own my wins and losses directly.

Why would an atheist put runes on their motorbike?  (these are on my hand guards).  I like honouring my norse heritage with the first one, and the fact that I spent a cold winter day hand painting these on there is a form of mindfulness.  Even when I'm not riding, I'm thinking about what's important when out on two wheels:  knowing where I'm going and getting there safely.  These aren't examples of magical thinking, they're examples of psychological discipline... and I didn't get maimed by gravel because of situational awareness and defensive riding techniques.  Unseen magical forces had no more to do with that than they did cause the gravel in the first place.  That kind of thinking is turtles all the way down.