Monday, 23 December 2013

Ninja Photoshoots

What got me on the Ninja as a first bike was listening to the engine.  I was very rational about bike decisions prior to hearing that parallel twin purr.  That it looked the way it did didn't hurt either.  I keep finding myself looking for reasons to take photos of it...

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

Thursday, 19 December 2013


Good book so far!
After enjoying The Perfect Vehicle so much I started on The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing.  I sent the author a quick email saying how much I enjoyed The Perfect Vehicle and hoped she'd keep at writing so well about the craft of biking.

After ripping through the first couple of chapters I did what anyone in the information age would do and looked up what John Ryan is doing at the moment.  The assumption was that he was making time somewhere and putting miles behind him.

I have a unique talent for lousy timing, and my starry eyed thanks to Melissa Holbrook Pierson for writing The Perfect Vehicle contained no idea of what was happening with her and motorbikes right now. She was very kind to right back so positively.  More people should drop a line to the writers they enjoy and say thanks (says the English teacher).

John Ryan, the main focus of my current read, is a record breaking Iron Butt rider.  He covered huge distances in record breaking time.  I stumbled across the Iron Butt Association when I was planning my Lake Superior circumnavigation earlier this year, so Melissa's latest book on this hidden subculture wasn't completely new to me.  As I was researching circling Superior I saw a blog post where the rider casually mentioned that he did it in less than 24 hours.  I was astonished!  And intrigued!
RIP John Ryan

I've been greatly enjoying The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing so far, so much so that I wanted to link John's blog to this one.  That was when I discovered that he'd recently died in a seemingly benign road accident.  I'm frustrated that he was rear ended by a cager in a Mustang, and that no other details of the accident are forthcoming.

So here I am, a week later, mulling over John's fate (yes, I'm a muller).  There is no doubt that motorbiking is a dangerous pass-time, one that demands the utmost attention, and I now suspect a degree of fatalism.  If John Ryan can be taken out by some idiot texting in his Mustang, so can we all.

I've been osculating between despair and bravado in responding to this. A small part of me wants to question what the point of it all is, and the other (larger) part is thinking, 'fuckin' ay! He died doing what he loved."  We should all be so lucky.  I've lately had the fear that I'll go shovelling the driveway, or be at work... how horrible!

In the book Melissa has a great quote: "Give your best years, your now, so that at some distant point, which may never in fact arrive, you can get all the pills you'll need to extend your shuffle to the grave."  The fearful response to two wheeling is, I think, based on this truth that so many people live by.

Melissa also talks in great detail about the calculus of risk in riding.  Knowing John as well as she did, I suspect she'd appreciate the fact that he left the world on two wheels, even while wishing he were still here.

I crossed the line a year ago when I decided to go take the course and get on two wheels.  It's approaching mid-winter here in Canada and that feeling of immersive freedom is as far away from me as it can get.  I'm sorry that John is gone, and reading the rest of Melissa's book is going to be tinged with that regret.

Does any of this stop me from getting back on two wheels as soon as I can?  Not remotely.  

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Dr Who on 2 Wheels

Being an English immigrant to Canada in the '70s, I've brought my childhood Dr. Who fandom with me.  Last year Triumph made a surprise appearance in "Bells of St John" episode of Doctor Who meaning I could geek out while enjoying my cool new hobby too.

Here are some screen shots from Bells, and then a video in which Jenna says after shooting, "I wanna bike, I wanna motorbike!"  Very cool.




Apparently Jenna wasn't kidding about wanting a motorbike as she is the one riding in Day of The Doctor, the 50th anniversary special that came out this fall.  Here are some screen shots from that one:

She's on the bike this time.  I couldn't find anything online about whether or not she's gotten into biking or not.  I guess I'll have to wait until she's on Top Gear, they'll get it out of her!

There has been a lot of talk about this in the UK press:$21382079.htm

Jenna's Tumbler also has some great images:

Monday, 9 December 2013

Future Bike

WIRED recently did some articles based on the Tokyo International Motor Show.  I spent a couple of years in Japan paying off all the debts I accumulated living in North America.  I've got a soft spot for Japan and the tech they produce.

Kawasaki's neon green ode to anime bikes scratches that anime itch, though it is fairly ridiculous.

Of more interest from an engineering point of view is Yamaha's ultralight bike.  Since watching McGregor and Boorman trying to right seven hundred pound BMWs in the Long Way Round, I've wondered why bikes aren't lighter than they are.  Why aren't we getting more horsepower out of smaller engines and saving weight that way?  Why aren't we using our modern engineering prowess to build bikes with smarter materials?

Case in point, as a high school student I thought the Honda Interceptor was awesome. It weighed 443lbs ready to go.  The current 500CBR is a modern equivalent, wet weight? 428lbs.  In thirty odd years of materials research and development a company as forward thinking as Honda has managed to shave 15 pounds off a bike's gross weight?

How about Triumph's last year of the original Bonneville?  A 750cc bike, 441lbs.  The new one?  496lbs.  It's a bigger engine, but it would need it to lug that fat ass around.  Even Triumph's brilliant and athletic naked Street Triple still tips the scales at over four hundred pounds.

Motorcycles are, by their nature, minimalist forms of transportation, but instead of finding ways to make them even lighter and more efficient we're SUVing them just like we did with four wheelers.  Bikes like KTM's new 390 Duke give me some hope though.  At 300lbs I bet 390cc has never felt so powerful.

I can't help but feel that alternate building methods and advanced materials haven't been explored by conservative
motorcycle manufacturers.  Yamaha asks a good question when it asks, where are the two hundred pound motorbikes?

McLaren could put together the three seater 200mph+ V8 F1 super car twenty years ago with a curb weight of only 1062kgs (about 2340lbs).  We've got massive cruisers tipping the scales at 900lbs, meanwhile Mercedes-Benz is putting together Smartcars that weigh only 1600lbs.  Even a back to basic bike like the KLR650 with only a single cylinder and basic bodywork still weighs in at 432lbs.

A bike frame in one hand? It's possible,
but bike manufacturers aren't
considering it?
I'm still not a fan of electrical bikes as long as we're stuck with medieval chemical batteries.  With lousy storage and even worse disposal characteristics, rushing into electric bikes right now isn't the way to go, though one day I hope to see an unlimited charge bio-tech battery that recharges off the buried kinetic/flywheel battery under my house.

Our issue with electricity isn't the making of it, it is the storage and transmission of it.  One day I hope to be able to unplug my bike from my locally generated and stored electrical system and get a thousand kilometres out of it before I have to plug it in again.

There are levels of efficiency we still need to move through in order to get to that place and the conservatism and marketing focus I'm seeing in bike manufacturer aren't moving us in that direction.  A little less focus on building to marketing niches and a bit more focus on advancing engineering would help us toward a necessary evolution in motorcycling.

While Formula One develops energy recovery systems that also act as full on torque turbo-chargers, perhaps it isn't too much to ask bike manufacturers to go after other areas of efficiency such as weight improvements in chassis and drive-trains.  I'd very much like a 400cc bike that weighs only 200lbs.  From an efficiency point of view it would be unbeatable as a means of transport and something that would get many more people interested in riding on two wheels.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Motorbike Books

I just finished Melissa Holbrook-Pierson's The Perfect Vehicle.  She has a wonderful writing voice, you really get to know her and her love of two wheels through reading the book.  The anecdotal pieces on trips she's taken and the history flashbacks are very immersive and informative.  At other times she prosetalizes and it wanders a bit, but she always seems to find her way back to that love of bikes again.

The most memorable parts for me are her poetic descriptions of how it feels to ride.  She has come closest (by far) in describing the feeling of riding a bike.  If you are willing to let her take you on a ride and aren't freaked out by her intelligence or gender, you'll find the trip rewarding.
I then moved on to Motorcycling: A Life Long Passion, and after the Ondaatchi-esque prose of Melissa I'm having trouble getting into this strange book.  

I previously read Odessey To Ushuaia by the very entertaining Andres Carlstein, who makes a trans-American trip sound both naive and remarkably slutty at the same time; I really enjoyed it.

So here I am reading a less engaging road trip and then alternate chapters on the experience of motorcycling whose prose isn't up to the task.  I'm only a couple of chapters in, but it isn't grabbing me as the other two books did. I'll keep at it with the hopes that it ups its game.

On a different angle I also picked up some more tech-orientated books. I got the Ninja Haynes Manual when I got the bike in the spring, but I was looking for more general overviews of bike mechanics when I came across the Basics Techbook and Motorcycle Maintenance on Amazon.

I've started the Techbook and after skipping the explanations of two and four stroke motors, I got a good explanation of the variety of motorcycle engines out there.  I'm finding the book detailed and well written so far.

After spending so much time finishing the garage, the only gratuitous purchase was the How To Set Up Your Motorcycle Workshop.  It'll be both enjoyable and frustrating to see what a more perfect bike repair area would look like.

If I can't be riding at least I can work my mind around other aspects of the sport.