Wednesday, 16 October 2019

1997 CBR900RR Parts, Cables and Hose Routing

Notes for next round of work on the Honda.  Doing it for myself so I can follow what I'm doing on the laptop in the garage, but might help out other '90s Honda Fireblade CBR900 restorers too.

Missing tank mounting hardware:
BOLT, FLANGE (6X40) (missing bolts for front of gas tank)
COLLAR C6.3, MOUNTING



Throttle cable running under the right side of the centre triple fork

Vacuum routing - but not particularly helpful - air vent tubes probably connect to bottom of air cleaner box...

Upper and lower throttle cables are clear in this - they are over the handlebars now (wrong) - and like a burk, I put them together backwards, so you have to throttle off to throttle on - remove carb, remove cables, reroute and confirm on this before reattaching.


I tried a replacement LED in the neutral light - no joy - try reversing it?  Light receiving voltage when in neutral.  Confirm that?  Trace that  neutral switch wire?  

Double check choke cable - seems good the way I had it, but bike's in a choke right now, so no movement of front wheel to check routing when the handlebars are turned.

LINKS:

Online Microfiche for parts:
https://www.hondapartsnation.com/oemparts/l/hon/50541057f870021c54bede5e/1997-cbr900rr-ac-parts

'96 Technical Review Document:
https://mototribu.com/constructeur/honda/1996/1000cbr/doc/revuetechnique_900rr.pdf


Sub Air Filter  Honda FILTER, SUB-AIR CLEANER Part # 17254-KAZ-000
https://www.amazon.ca/Honda-17254-KAZ-000-Air-Filter/dp/B00HPTLPEO
Looks to be a foam filter - might see if I can source an equivalent - take the plastic bit in an size a filter.
https://www.hondashadow.net/threads/sub-air-cleaner.300257/
https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/hondashadowacetourer/sub-air-cleaner-what-is-it-39-s-function-t11508.html
https://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/atlas-briggs-stratton-lawn-mower-foam-air-filter-0607024p.html#spc



Sunday, 13 October 2019

CBR900RR Bits & Pieces

1997 Honda CBR900RR parts, but I'm buying too many online when I'd rather buy them locally.  For someone who would rather support local business, I'm frustrated at the lack of competent parts people.  Canadian Tire needs to do better.

Fram oil filters:
The oil filter for the CBR is a fairly common filter - but the big Canadian Tire in Guelph didn't have one... or anything else I needed.  It's things like this that force me online to purchase when I'd rather just purchase locally.

Strangely, the Walmart across the street, the only place I can find the Mobil 1 oil Triumph calls on for the Tiger, had an oil filter for the Honda.  Not a great weekend for Canadian Tire.  You can't really brag on having 200,000 parts if your sales rep can't find any of them.


Winter flushing oil:
This is what I'm going to put in the Honda over the winter as it gets sorted.  In the spring I'll do a flush and go with Mobil 1 synthetic.

The only place I can find the Mobil 1 is at Walmart - it's the only time I usually go there.  Since I'm already there for the Tiger, I'll go for 7 litres and do the Tiger and CBR with the same super-oil.  Running the Mobil 1 in the Tiger has stopped any oil burning in it.  It's good stuff.

K&N Filters for CBR900:
https://www.knfilters.ca/honda/cbr900rr/900/1997
The HA-9092-A air filter is a strange thing - I thought the filter element would pop out of the plastic, but it's a single (expensive) manufactured piece.  Finding these is tricky.  You can find cheap, paper filters for about $40 a go, but I found the K&N on Amazon for $120CAD, so that's going in and getting cleaned regularly.  That should pay for itself within three changes.

I'm not in a place where I'm going to put the front end back together again and pop in the replacement LED when it comes in this week.  With the replacement carb from NCK Salvage in hand, I'm going to try and rebuild as much of the Honda as I can over the long weekend (it's Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada).

The Strange World of Dash Bulbs:

12v 1.7W wedge dash light is the warning light bulb needed for a '97 Honda CBR900RR.  These are hard to find - Canadian Tire was no help and the girl at the parts desk in Guelph couldn't remember the numbers for parts, so I gave up on trying to find them.  I want to buy locally, but with that kind of floor help, it just isn't happening.


I found LED replacement lights that should last better and use less electricity in the process on Amazon.

This light search led to a crash course in bulb sizing.  The dash lights on the CBR900RR are T-5 Wedge 12v 1.7W bulbs.  T5 means it has a 5mm base.  In this case they're 1.7cms long on that 5mm base.  The LED should be cooler, use less electricity and be brighter.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

NCK Cycle Salvage

I took a nice, long autumn ride through long shadows and cool setting sunlight to NCK Cycle Salvage in Woodstock, Ontario this afternoon.

Google Maps was determined me to walk me through the middle of Kitchener-Waterloo in the middle of rush hour and then along a 401 covered in construction.  I forced it to route me around the population and construction, which Google Maps took to mean sending me down increasingly small back roads until I was riding through a deep, dark forest tinged crimson with fall colours on a rutted, dirt road.  I think at one point I was being chased by a pack of wolves, but hey, I never once sat in traffic.

I eventually wound my way down to Woodstock and found NCK in the west end of town in an industrial estate.  I used to do a lot of work on cars, so  I was expecting something like a breaker's yard with bikes laying out in the weather.  I was once told by an old motorcyclist that bikes don't last well in the weather because, unlike cars, they don't have a cover;  NCK agrees with that biker wisdom.

I was worried that the carburetors I was picking up for the Fireblade project were going to be rusty and nasty, but instead they look almost brand new - far better than the battered carbs the muppet who owned the Honda before me had molested.

I was surprised at how organized and dense NCK's layout was.  Nathan, the son of the original owner, is in the process of taking on the family business which has been running in Woodstock since the early '90s.  He took me on a quick tour and explained NCK's process.  They dismantle and warehouse parts as bikes come in.  I asked about the lack of European bikes, but Nathan said they tend to either be repaired or written off, whereas Japanese bikes are more common and less expensive, so that's where the spares market is.  They often get bikes from dealers who don't want an inexpensive bike cluttering up their showroom.  Where possible they sell the bike on complete, when it isn't possible they dismantle the bike, check the parts in to inventory and keep everything organized in their dense, 5000+ square foot warehouse.  That inventory system is what allowed Nathan to immediately get back to me with confirmation of the parts I needed when every other motorcycle salvage operation in Ontario was radio silent.

Support a local business indeed!  Nathan is the second generation running NCK out of Woodstock, Ontario.  If your only experience with junkyards is piles of rotting cars in a field, NCK will show you how it's done efficiently and with the needs of motorcycles front of mind.  This ain't no field of rusty wrecks.
Since it's all inside, you're not getting rusty, rained on left overs and the parts look like they've actually been looked after (because they have).  We had a walk through the warehouse and I got to see the next project they're working on, an originally painted mid-70s Yamaha air cooled big twin.  It was already in shockingly good condition (the old fellow who owned it lost his storage and had to move it on), so now it's at NCK getting some TLC.  You can tell this is as much a labour of love as it is a well run business.

If you love Japanese bikes and are anywhere within a stone's throw of Woodstock, Ontario, you owe it to yourself to drop in to NCK Cycle Salvage and have a look around.  If you're working on a Japanese bike, this place could save you a pile of money.  I got the '97 Fireblade carb for $250CAD (they are going for $250US+shipping+customs on eBay).  When I was sourcing new parts that the muppet who butchered the carbs before me had broken - strange parts like choke plungers (not even sure how you would break one of those) or carb clamps (because this goof had tried gluing them to the engine!), I was quickly running up a bill into the hundreds of dollars US, plus shipping and border taxes - and that's even assuming I could find the parts, many were not available.

A nice ride through the countryside on a sunny, autumn afternoon and I've got a donor carb that looks to be in even better shape than the low mileage one I was looking for parts for.  What I was going to use for parts I'm now swapping in.  I'll take the old one apart and sell off the pieces.  I'm only a couple of online sales away from breaking even on the carb purchase.

I can't recommend NCK enough - they know what they're doing, do it well and if you're looking for parts for an older Japanese bike, they might not only save you money, they might be the only ones who have what you need!

Maybe it's just me, but a place like this scratched an aesthetic itch.  That's a lot of Japanese colour to take in!

Where possible, and especially with older bikes, when a good tank comes in it gets special treatment.  Wherever possible they try and keep the tank and paint as original and unblemished as possible.

Fairing bits that might simply not be available any more, or cost you as much as the bike did in a dealer...

Little bits, big bits, mechanical bits; organized and accessible.

Fenders... so many fenders.  Got a cafe project?  These aren't so dear that you're afraid to modify them.

NCK also offers a purchase and store option where you can buy a used bike in the fall and pay it off over the winter while it sits in heated, safe storage in the warehouse - no extra charge.  Nice, eh?

Sunday, 29 September 2019

My First Honda: Fireblade!

I've had a pretty diverse group of R&R  (repair & recover) motorcycles to date.  My first R&R bike was the '94 Kawasaki Concours ZG1000 back in 2014.  Purchased for eight hundred bucks and cut out of long grass to get it out of the field it was in, the Concours got sorted over the winter and put back on the road where it took us to Indianapolis and went on to over twenty thousand kilometres of mileage before I sold it on for what I purchased it for this past summer.

The Concours became my regular riding bike so I sold on the Ninja.  Eventually a KLX250 off road bike came into the garage, but didn't last long as I struggled to find ways to use it in Ontario: land of no fun.  That led to a too-quick purchase of a Yamaha XS1100 from an entirely dodgy kid that led me into the headaches of sorting ownership.  That experience has made me more cautious in buying used bikes.  The belief is that all motorcyclists are salt of the earth types, but that isn't my experience; shifty would be a better description.


So far I've been able to make money on my R&R projects, Shed and Buried style, but I don't make it easy on myself.  Both the Concours and the XS1100 were big, four carburetor bikes with spaghetti loads of vacuum tubes and complex wiring.  I've taken my time looking for the next project and tried to look for something simple, air cooled and single cylinder, but bikes like that don't come up often.  As the summer fades and winter approaches, it was time to commit to a new R&R project.


This 1997 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade came up on Facebook buy and sell.  I've found the local nature of Facebook's marketplace offers up interesting opportunities that you don't find on the hardened semi-pro sellers of Kijiji and Autotrader, where you are much more likely to find shady characters who sell a lot of crap.  This twenty-two year old non-running Honda got me curious enough to contact the seller in Alliston.


It turns out the bike had gotten tangled in a divorce and was then sidelined.  It was eventually used to settle debts between the estranged couple, but now it belonged to a non-rider with no mechanical experience who just wanted it gone.  Her new partner was trying to sell it for her, but with it not running he wasn't getting any calls.  A late nineties CBR in safetied, running condition was going for about $4000, he was asking $1200 for this one as is.

We exchanged a number of emails, both of us cautious as we'd both met idiots from online sales (it turns out the internet is actually full of idiots).  As we got to know each other I asked increasingly direct questions - was is repainted to hide crash damage? (no, the former owner didn't like the stickered stock look)  - why is it in this state?  (where I got the bad karma backstory this bike was unfortunately wrapped up in).  The last problem to solve was how to get it here.

During our give and take the seller offered me the bike for $1200 instead of $1300, and then said he could trailer it down to my place for $100, so I got it at asking price with a $100 delivery charge.  The bike showed up and we had a good chat and ended up being given a milk crate full of pears from his parent's farm too.  Bonus Honda pears - good deal.  This low mileage, non-runner seemed like a steal upon first look.  The paint's a bit rough, but for a 20+ year old low mileage bike, she cleaned up a treat.

I was told the bike was a non-runner due to the carbs.  As I got into the bike mechanically I figured I'd look at the fuel system as a whole rather than only looking solely at the carb since I didn't know how long it had been sitting.  I'm glad I did.  The fuel tank had a worrying amount of rust in it.  I talked to people on the Practical Sportsbike Magazine Facebook group (one of my go-to bike magazines and a great place to talk to DIY types) and got suggestions around various acid etching and chemical routes.

I went out to Canadian Tire aiming to get some industrial grade hydrochloric acid but found Metal Rescue Rust Remover, a water based environmentally friendly solution that neutralizes rust and prevents more from forming.  It also helps the tank retain its structural integrity whereas acid eats holes in it.  My first go at a motorcycle tank cleaning (I've been lucky so far and not had to deal with it) went well.  I left the chemical in the tank for about six hours before recovering it back into the bottle (it can be reused).  With the tank sorted it was time to look at the rest.


The vacuum operated fuel pump in the bottom of the tank was clogged and a mess, but it too cleaned up nicely.  With the big end of the fuel system sorted out, I turned to the carbs.

Compared to the buried in the frame carbs on the Concours and XS1100, the Honda's are a joy to access.  Having seen the mess that was the rest of the fuel system, I figured the carbs were crammed full of guck, and they were.  The only other issues seemed to be more about mechanical cack-handedness than wear.


Once on the bench I've been able to isolate some obvious problems.  I found a spring laying under the carbs on the engine case.  If you're fixing a carb it generally helps to use all the parts.  I also found that one of the choke pins were broken, so the choke was only working on three of the four carbs, and the choke cable itself wasn't attached correctly, so the choke was only moving about 2/3rds of the distance it should.  These are all things that would prevent the bike from starting properly.

Yesterday I took the float bowls off and had a look at the bottom end of the carbs.  The ethanol in modern fuel is not a good mix with older fuel systems, like carburetors.  Not only can it eat away at the rubber and gaskets in older systems not designed for it, but it can also leave varnish, and worst of all, it's a water absorber, so it can lead to corrosion in older, gravity fed systems.  If there was ever evidence of modern ethanol based fuels making a mess of a carburetor, it was here in this old Fireblade, where every carb bowl was worse off than the one before it.


Thanks to some judicious use of carb-cleaner, they cleaned up nicely, but does ethanol ever do a job on mechanical fuel delivery systems!  Fortunately, if I stick with super unleaded from most stations in Canada, it means I'm not running any in this old bike from now on.

I run super in my bikes anyway because they're very fuel efficient anyway so it doesn't cost much and, at least on the Tiger, the power commander means I can maximize power out of it.  For the Honda or any other carb fueled bike, you should be running super just to stay away from the ethanol.

Today I'm going to pull the tops of the carbs and have a look at the state of things (I'm hoping better than below) and finish cleaning them.  I'm also going to see if I can fix that broken choke pin on carb 4 or else I'm going to have to track down the part.  Bikebandit has it for $50US, but no one else seems to have one available.

There are other bits and pieces in this poorly looked after carb that are suspect.  Rather than use boot clamps to attach the carb to the engine, the muppet who owned it before me appears to have put some kind of rubber sealant on them and attempted to 'glue' them to the block.  This is stupid in all sorts of ways.  Bits of this rubber seal would deteriorate in the gasoline rich air-fuel mix and get sucked into the engine, and there is no mechanical connection ensuring the carbs are tight and leak free to the engine.  For a system that runs on vacuum, this is a disaster.

The boots have cleaned up nicely, so I also need to source some ring clamps for them.  The Honda specific ones are hard to find, but I'm hoping I can find some aircraft grade ones that are an engineering match and easier to source.  Oetiker Clamps, ironically based in Alliston where the Honda came from, do some nice, high quality options that I should be able to fit.

So much of mechanics come back to common sense.  The guy who owned this before seems to have had a startling lack of it.  I'm hoping for $1200+$500 in parts I can get this Honda humming and ride it for a year before seeing if I can double my money on it (unless we bond).  Safetied bikes of similar vintage with twice the mileage are going for four grand.  Even with all the work done so far, the bike hasn't cost me a penny in parts and I may be within spitting distance of sorting out this abused Fireblade.



Follow up:
Tops of the carbs were fiddly - the plungers are a pain to reseat properly, but I worked through them and all the top ends have been cleaned, though they were all in good shape as befitting a low mileage bike like this.  The nastiness was all in the float bowls.

I gotta say, I'm enjoying Honda engineering.  Kawasaki has a real heavy industry feel to it by comparison, though my Kawi experience is mainly on a big sport tourer and this Honda is built for one thing only... getting down the road quickly.  But this bike has an engineering elegance to it that makes it a pleasure to work on.

With the cackhanded way this bike has been worked on, there are a number of fiddly bits missing or broken. I was sourcing ring clamps (x8), a choke plunger and other odds and ends and found the price quickly creeping up.  I reached out to local bike breaking yards and only heard back from NCK in Woodstock, ON, who seem organized and on their game.  They have a donor carb in used, rust free (stored inside) condition for $250CAD.  That's within fifty bucks of where I was with buying bits and pieces and means I'd have a lot of spares I could always sell on after.  I'm going the donor carb route this week.

Oh, and Oetiker clamps got back to me and apologized for not having what I needed because (of course) the Honda's clamps are a special size and would require special manufacturing.  My quest for carb hose clamps continues.



NOTES:

One of the tricky bits of working on old bikes is getting the documentation you need to work on them accurately.  The internet is a gold mine for this.  If you're working on a late '90s Honda CBR900RR Fireblade, you'll find this handy:

1996/7 Honda CBR900RR Owner's Manual:  https://mototribu.com/constructeur/honda/1996/1000cbr/doc/revuetechnique_900rr.pdf


It has lots of good technical graphics in addition to all the specs you need.

***


I was also able to source the Haynes Manual for this bike from Fortnine on sale for only $35.  Most other places were over $40US, so finding that on sale was a good first step in this project.

At the moment I've got emails out to The Bike Yard in Caledon and Oetiker Clamps in Alliston.  With any luck I can source the bits I need and have this Honda purring even before the snow starts to fly, then I can spend the winter sorting out the other fluids and maintenance before it hits the road in the spring.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Balancing Personal Responsibility with Sainthood

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Related Thoughts:

Training Ignorance & Fear Out of Your Bikecraft:
https://tkmotorcyclediaries.blogspot.com/2014/02/training-ignorance-fear-out-of-your.html

Parent, Child or Zen Master:
https://tkmotorcyclediaries.blogspot.com/2014/05/child-parent-or-zen-master.html

Do Bikers Ignore Reality?
https://tkmotorcyclediaries.blogspot.com/2013/10/do-bikers-ignore-reality.html



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

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Fear and Arrogance

The other day I did a ride that isn't typical of my time on two wheels - I aimed for the middle of a city, during rush hour.  The siren call for this insanity was strong.  The Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival was having a best-of showing at the beautifully restored Playhouse Theatre in Hamilton.

From TMD you'll know I'm a big fan of motorcycle media and the TMFF's push to encourage Canadian films is something I'd like to both support and participate in.  Riding down to Hamilton on a beautiful summer's day was the perfect entry point and has me thinking of ways to get to their main show in Toronto in early October.  I'm secretly hoping I can find a project that needs a drone pilot aerial camera operator and likes weird camera angles.


But first, the peril.  Driving in rush hour isn't like driving at other times.  The people doing it are miserable, embroiled in the last part of their forced servitude for the day, the part where they get to spend a sizable portion of their time and income in a vehicle that has become an expensive appliance whose only function is to move them to and from the job it demands.  The aimless frustration and misery oozes out of them at every turn, sometimes expressing itself in sudden bursts of anger and aggression before settling back into a miasmic death stare of indifference.

So that was making me anxious.  Looking at Google Maps red roads of the GTA at rush hour on a warm, sunny day wasn't thrilling either.  Sitting in traffic on a motorcycle in moribund no-filtering Ontario sucks.  It sucks on the fumes of the massive SUVs all around you, their contents breathing filtered, air conditioned air while you choke on their output.  Edging toward a green light inches at a time on hot tarmac surrounded by this excess and misery is about as much fun as a deep periodontal cleaning, without the benefits, and with the destruction of nature as the result of this pointlessness.

I haven't had much time on the bike this summer.  My wife's surprise cancer diagnosis and surgery has meant other priorities take hold.  Finally back from weeks in a car, I was facing my first long ride in over two months, and it wasn't for the ride, it was for the destination.  Alanna wanted to ride pillion down, though she's still recovering.  I was worried about her, feeling very over protective and also dealing with my son's anxiety in us going after being away at camp for the first time this summer (don't worry, we're coming back!).

That's a lot of emotional luggage to take on a ride.  Even leaving our subdivision I was second guessing traffic and riding awkwardly, and getting frustrated with myself for it.  I'm usually loose and light on the controls and not stuck in a conscious state while riding - which makes me smooth and fluid, even in traffic.  We worked our way down to the dreaded Hanlon bypass in Guelph (which isn't because it's covered in traffic lights)  and sat in row after row of the damned things every few hundred metres.  I was constantly placing us on the road where I could squirt out of the way of someone not paying attention.  We passed two collisions, rear enders caused by the epidemic around us.  Sitting up high on the bike has its disadvantages, like seeing down into the vehicles around us and watching over half of the drivers working their phones on their laps.  I guess that's the new normal in a 2019 commute.

Down by Stone Road the guy behind us wasn't going to stop in time (he had a nice iPhoneX on his lap), but I squirted out onto the shoulder instead of letting him end our ride and took the next exit where we worked down country side roads instead, but not before being choked to death by a diesel black smoke belching dump truck that jumped out right in front of us causing me to brake so hard we bumped into each other.  I finally got past him after riding in his bleching, black haze for several kilometres, but by this point I was fried, and we'd only ridden through Guelph, the small city before the big one.

I was going to pull off at the lovely old church in Kirkwall and have a stretch and get my head on straight, but the F150 dualie behind me was about six inches off my rear tire even though I was going over the limit and I was afraid to hit the brake, so pressed on.  He blew past us coming out of Kirkwall only to pull up behind the car 150 metres ahead of us and stay there until he eventually pulled off some time later.  You gotta make time on your commute I guess.

Doubt isn't something that creeps into my riding, but it was starting to here.  The lack of control and extremely defensive mindset was exhausting me.  Alanna was suffering hot flashes on the back mainly due to Guelph's atrocious traffic and lights and was feeling wobbly, and I was starting to question everything I was doing.  We are coming home Max.  This isn't going to end badly!


We were both on the lookout for a place to stop when the Rockton Berry Farm appeared as if an oasis in the desert.  I pulled in and we dragged our sweaty, tense bodies off the Tiger.  Alanna went in and found some sustenance and I did some yoga.  After stretching and some Gatorade and trail mix I felt human again.  Talking to Alanna I mentioned how I was battling some demons on this ride and reminded myself that the best kind of rider is the Zen rider.  Matt Crawford describes motorcycling as a beautiful war, but this one was more like a pitched battle.  It's amazing what a stop can do for your mental state though.

After a fifteen minute break we saddled up again ready to face the horror of Hamilton's rush hour, but something had changed.  Instead of holding on too tight, I was letting go.  My riding was more fluid, we flowed with the chaos and when we got down to the mean streets of downtown Hamilton, they were a delight.  Unlike Guelph, who seem determined to stop you at every intersection, Hamilton actually times its lights so you can cut through the heart of the city with barely a stop.  Past the beautiful old houses and industrial buildings we flew, down to the up and coming area where that beautifully restored Playhouse Theatre sat.



As we pulled into the parking lot that was already filling with all manner of motorcycles, I thought over that ride down. I'd actually suggested that maybe we should take the car, but that would have sucked just as much and had no sense of adventure and accomplishment in it, though it would have been easier and safer - the motto of modern day life.
 

If you're in a situation where you're riding and finding it overwhelming, take a break and give yourself a chance to get your head back on straight. You'd be amazed what a ten minute stretch and reset can do for your mindset, and that mindset is your greatest tool when riding.  In spite of her cancer recovery, Alanna had pushed to ride because she wanted us to 'immerse ourselves in that biking culture' in going to this event.  Standing in the parking lot chatting with other riders, we were doing just that.



I'll cover the film night in another post, but the ride down was a reflective opportunity I couldn't pass up.  In Bull Durham, Crash Davis talks about how you go about the difficult job of being a professional athlete.  You've gotta have swagger, even when things are going against you, and that's equally true in motorbiking.  After this ride, I can see why many people who otherwise enjoyed it gave it up.  That fear, once it worms its way inside you, will talk you out of risk no matter what the reward.


Of course, the point isn't to not feel fear, but to feel it and work through it anyway.  That's bravery.  Not feeling fear at all is psychosis.  Baz Luhrman has a good take on this with his motto:  a life lived in fear is a life lived.  Letting fear dictate your life is no way to live.  We are already dead when we always play safe and stop taking risks.

What made it especially challenging this time was that I couldn't moderate many of those risks by riding away from the faceless hordes of commuters.  Spending a day with them in their pointless battle to destroy the planet was exhausting and terrifying, no wonder they box themselves up in the largest container they can afford, planet be damned.

The motorcycle films shown by the TMFF were great and completely new to me (and I'm a guy with Austin Vince's entire DVD collection - I know moto-films).  One of my favourite parts of this kind of documentary film making is showing what is possible, and I was briming over with it when we left.  I couldn't have been in a better mood to ride.

We exited into the dark for the long ride home.  It was cool and the streets were flowing and half empty as we worked our way back to the highway and shot up into the dark of the Niagara Escarpment.  Even the guy driving 10 under the limit who suddenly stood on the brakes for no reason (he had evidently received an exciting text message - he was two handing a response as we passed him on the inside lane of Highway 6) didn't phase me.  I was back on my game, staring into the dark out of my third eye.  When that eye gazes into the abyss, the abyss is the one that gets nervous.


Now I'm thinking about a third eye graphic for the helmet...
We got all the way up to Guelph, sane now that traffic had died down and all the sad people were in their row houses waiting for tomorrow to do it again.  If we're so smart, you'd have to think we could find a better way.

Shakespeare Arms by the university we met at over twenty years ago provided us with a late night dinner before we pressed on home, passing a skunk (the Canadian night is filled with them) galloping across the road into the graveyard ahead of us.  The last light (of course) caught us, then we were away into the night, the Milky Way glittering above us and the night smells all around.  We were home seemingly seconds later, our creaking, cold joints groaning as we finally seperated ourselves from our trusty Tiger.

***



We rode right into south central Hamilton at rush hour and out after 9pm, about 12 kilometres of dense, urban riding with more traffic lights than I could count, but we got stopped at three of them both coming and going.  I commented to Alanna about how Hamilton has its shit together in a way that Guelph seems oblivious to.

Passing back through Guelph past 10pm at night and covering about a kilometre less in a city with less than a quarter the population, we got stopped at nine traffic lights.  On our way south earlier in the day during rush hour, Guelph was a traffic light bonanza (even on the 'bypass') getting stopped at no less than six lights before we could escape the madness.  Guelph should rename itself the city of lights, just not in a Parisian sense.

Perhaps the moral of this story is really just don't go anywhere near Guelph if you can help it.  It's time they started urban planning like the city they have quickly grown into.  It'd make the chaos that much less overwhelming (not to mention, ya know, stopping the iminent demise of the human race).  There's this thing called IoT and smart cities?  Guelph should look into it - I'd be happy to help.