Monday, 19 July 2021

Eye Of The Storm

We pulled into Creemore just past noon with rain forming on my visor.  My lovely wife (who is very
good at finding a seat in a restaurant) got us just that on a covered patio at the Old Mill House Pub and we enjoyed our first meal out since the pandemic started while watching the rain fall.

The thunder cell past over just as we finished lunch so we had a nice walk around Creemore checking out the Creemore Bakery & Cafe coffee shop and the local, independent bookstore, Curiosity House Books.  Of course, we stayed just along enough that the next cell was moving in, and it was a humdinger!  We could have sat it out but the afternoon was getting long and we had a doctor's appointment to get to back home so we got ourselves ready and jumped on the bike just as the rain came again.

This wasn't a summer shower like the last one, it was torrential.  By the time we turned on to County Road 9 to follow the Mad River up the Niagara Escarpment and hopefully through the storm, the road was a river itself and visibility was down to just a few car lengths.

This was my first time tackling this kind of weather on the Concours and I was doing it two up and on a schedule.  I don't know if Kawasaki Heavy Industries makes nuclear submarines (they do, of course), but the Concours handled this biblical end of time storm like one.  With the windshield raised I was able to duck out of the deluge and track through the tsunami coming down the road toward us.

County Road 9 twists and turns as it follows the Mad River up the side of the escarpment and the volume of rain was already causing flash flooding.  As we approached Dunedin a construction site on the left side of the road had washed out leaving half a foot of muddy water running across the road.  I angled the bike to hit it at 90° and we crossed effortlessly leaving a wake of muddy water.  Further up the river had burst its banks and had flooded the roads around us.

Stopping seemed more dangerous than the alternatives so I just pressed on.  As we climbed out of the valley the rain, which had been thumping down in quarter sized drops so heavy I thought they might be hail eased and stopped as quickly as it came.  As we crested the summit the sun broke out highlighting the green valley behind us that was still under a diabolical sky.  We pulled up to the intersection with Grey Road 124 which would lead us down toward Horning's Mills, Shelbourne and then home, except the sky south of us wasn't just dark and sinister, it was green, like a fresh bruise.

"I don't think I want to ride into that," I said to Alanna.
"Noooo..." Alanna said, eying the apocalypse south of us.
"How about we jog west to Dundalk instead?" I said, nodding to the turnoff just south of us.

The sun was out and the road was steaming as we sat there watching Shelbourne getting rocked by a storm cell that would go on to Barrie and wreak havoc half an hour later.  

A deke onto County Road 9 and we were passing through county side washed clean by the passing storms.  We caught another followup cell past Dundalk but it was nothing compared to the submersion we'd experienced coming out of Creemore.  What's the best way to ride through a tornado?  Don't, ride away from it!

It was one of those moments when you bond with a new bike.  You ride it well and it performs like the fantastic piece of engineering that it is.  As we thundered home (making the appointment with 10 whole minutes to spare), I found myself appreciating the Neptune Blue Kawasaki in a new light.  This bike offers a level of versatility, even in the most obtuse situations, that opens up riding opportunities that I might otherwise not have considered.

On Friday we're taking a run at Lobo Loco's Comical Long Distance Rally.  We've got the right bike for the job.

Some Kawasaki Concours fan-art...

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Ergo-cycling: Concours 14 vs Tiger 955i for 6'3" Me

 Cycle-Ergo, the motorcycle ergonomics simulator, is a great online resource for getting a sense of what you'll look like and how you'll fit on a bike.  Unlike cars, your options with bikes aren't as easy as sliding your seat back or adjusting the steering wheel.  To make ergonomic changes on a motorbike you need to change hardware and mechanically adjust it to make it fit.

The other day I was out on my trusty 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i.  I came off a Kawasaki Concours 10 to the Tiger and while the Connie was comfortable, it made my knees ache on long rides.  The first time I sat on the Tiger it felt like a bike built by people the same shape and size as me because it is.  I can go for hours without putting a foot down without a cramp on the Triumph.  This got me thinking about the differences between the big Kawasaki that sits next to the Tiger in the garage these days.

Cycle-Ergo gives me a quick way to check out the differences.  Forward lean is much more pronounced on the Concours 14 (12° vs an almost vertical 4° on the Tiger).  Knee angle is the same and my knees aren't bothering me on the Connie but hip angle is 6° tighter on the Kawasaki which explains the cramps I was feeling after today.

I sold a Honda Fireblade to bring the 1400GTR in and that bike had an extreme 'sports' riding position which was basically like doing a push-up on the bike (you lay on it) - it ain't easy on the wrists.  There are advantages to this aggressive riding position.  When you want to get down to business in corners a forward lean gives you a more intimate relationship with the front end, which is why sports focused bikes tend to sit a rider the way they do.  If I lived somewhere where roads were dancing with the landscape instead of cutting straight lines across it I'd have happily kept the Fireblade, but in tedious Southwestern Ontario it didn't make much sense.

Today I did a 200km loop on the Kawasaki and the constant lean does make it tiresome on the arrow straight roads around here (I have to ride 40 minutes to find 10 minutes of curves).  In the twisties the Concours is much more composed than the taller, bigger wheeled Tiger.  The Concours is a 50+ kg heavier bike but you can see in the animation that it holds its weight much lower than the Tiger.  In the bends today the Connie was fine but the SW Ontario-tedium I have to deal with most of the time has me thinking about ways to ease that lean.

There are solutions to this in the form of 'bar risers' which are blocks of machined metal that you slip in under the handlebars to bring them taller and closer to you so you're not stooped.  For me the lean also means I'm putting a lot of weight on my, um, man-parts, which end up pressed against the tank due to the lean.

Here's the difference between a stock
Concours 14 and the Murph's Kit bar
riser modification.
I had a look around at bar-risers.  There are number of people who put them together including some cheaper Chinese options but I ended up going with Murph's Kits C14 bar risers.  Murph is well known in the Concours Owners Group and has been producing Concours specific parts for decades.  His risers aren't quite as tall as some of the others and look to solve the problem without over-solving it by giving too-tall handlebars that spoil the lines and the purpose of the bike.

The biggest ergo-thing I did on the otherwise well-fitting Tiger was getting a Corbin seat for it which makes it a long distance weapon.  I'll eventually do the same thing for the Connie but I think I can make do with the stock seat this year and then do the Corbin over the winter.  That doesn't stop me from mucking around with the Corbin seat simulator though:

By next spring I'll have a C14 that fits but it isn't as easy as sliding the seat back in a car.  In the meantime we've got the Lobo Loco Comical Rally coming up at the end of the month.  That requires a minimum of 400kms travelled in 12 hours and will need more than that if we're going to be competitive.  I'm hoping my bar risers will be installed and I'll bring the good ole Airhawk out of semi-retirement to keep me limber over a long day in the saddle.

If you're thinking, "oh, a long distance motorcycle rally, that sounds like fun, you're out of luck on the Comical Rally, it sold out!  Lobo Loco is doing other rallies later in the summer though.

Monday, 5 July 2021

Lobo Loco Comical Rally: July 2021

It doesn't matter where you live, this one is a start anywhere, finish anywhere timed rally on Friday, July 23, Saturday, July 24th or Sunday, July 25th.  You need to cover at minimum of 400kms to be considered a finisher but otherwise it's an open event.

Comical Mini Rally
Motorcycle Scavenger Hunt
Friday, July 23rd to Sunday, July 25th, 2021
(Any 12 hour period)

Our Mini Rallies give riders the chance to get involved in Scavenger Hunt events without having to travel to the start lines.  You can start these ANYWHERE; we've had riders from all over the world do them each time!  You can also choose when to start your 12 hour ride clock, so you can adjust the event around your own work schedule and the local weather.

This event will have you looking for the Super Hero themed locations...

along with other Villainous twists & turns that Lobo Loco Rallies likes to throw your way!

12 Hour Rally - Starts ANYWHERE

Note:  You will need to ride a minimum of 400km

in order to be considered a Finisher.

Only $30 per bike!

Register here!

Here's the Facebook page:

If you're looking for a reason to put some miles on your bike and see places you wouldn't usually go during a strange summer where the rules of travel aren't very clear, do this!  You've still got a week to sign up.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Overlanding While Treading Lightly

 I came across Overland Journal in Indigo that other day and the combination of reasonable price ($12CAD) and very high quality (it compared favourably with magazine-book combos asking $25+) had me picking it up.  It isn't motorcycle specific but does include off road and adventure bikes along with pretty much any vehicle you might go off the beaten path with.

I usually do that kind of off-roading with completely inappropriate vehicles.  In the early noughties my wife and I beat a rented Toyota Camry to within an inch of its life on the the logging roads in the interior of Vancouver Island.  Another time we were in a rented Citroen mini-van in Iceland watching arctic foxes run across the empty landscape.  In both cases we got deep into the wilderness in rental two-wheel drive vehicles, but then we got a Jeep Wrangler as a rental car last year and it started giving me ideas.

I put myself through university working as a service manager for Quaker State's Q-Lube and whenever a Jeep came in you needed an umbrella when you walked under it for all the fluids leaking down on you.  That negative experience put me off the brand for years but last year we got a Wrangler as an insurance rental after and accident and it changed my perception.

It was a 2019 Jeep Wrangler four dour with about 20k kilometres on the clock and it was tight!  Everything worked and felt quality and it did something that no car has done for me in the past decade; it felt like an event driving it.

Since bikes set in I've fallen out of love with cars (trucks, whatever), but the Jeep made driving feel special again.  Performance cars seem kind of pointless when I have two bikes in the garage that are faster than anything but apex million-dollar plus super-cars, but the Jeep came at it from another angle.  The big tires made it a challenge to manage on pavement and the big V6 in this one was a stark contrast to the sub-two-litre mileage focused appliances I've been driving, but maybe that's what made it feel special.

There was a point where we could have taken the other car (a Mazda2) down to Toronto but took the Jeep instead and it made the whole experience less like a long, difficult winter drive and more like an adventure.  Being higher up off the road meant I wasn't looking through other people's road spray all the time and if I wasn't heavy on the gas the thing was getting mid-high-twenties miles-per-gallon.

Another time we were out in it and my brother-in-law (a former Jeep owner) and our sons went out for a ride and I shifted it into 4wd and drove right over the snow mound in the Canadian Tire parking lot, much to everyone's amazement.  This was a ten-foot plus high mound of snow and the Jeep went right over it - with road tires on!  Deeply impressed with the vehicle's capabilities and character is where I was when we handed it back.

I also used it to take a thousand plus pound of ewaste to recycling from work and the heavy duty suspension and utility of the thing made this an easy job when the little hatchback would have been blowing shocks and wallowing under the weight.  Having a vehicle that takes on larger utility tasks makes sense when you have a lot of them to do.  It also makes sense if you want to go deep into the wilderness while being self-sufficient.

I'm getting to the age now where things seem strangely expensive.  My first car cost me $400 and took me a hundred thousand kilometres.  A Honda Civic hatchback I had in the early noughties took me over a quarter of a million kilometres for less than seven grand.  The only new car I've ever purchased (that Mazda2 that has been flawless for over 120k over ten years of ownership) cost me $17k new, all in.  My wife's Buick cost an eye-watering forty-grand back in 2016 new and I'm not interested in double car payments so won't be looking until we finally pay that one off (which seems like it's taking forever  with our strange new world of 7-9 year finance schemes).  When that debt finally gets cleared I'll be looking at a Jeep Wrangler, but not just any old Wrangler, I want the one from the future.

From an 'overlander' point of view a dependable long distance vehicle capable of going off the beaten path means my wife and I can do what we've always done, but more so.  In the pre-covid times we drove from Ontario to the West Coast in 2018:

In 2019 we took the same tiny Buick to the East Coast of Canada, but the vehicle we drove limited our ability to go off the beaten path (or even off pavement).  What a Jeep would do is enable us to do the things we defer to (in rental cars) in something designed for that kind of nonsense.

This has me encouraging my lovely wife to join us at SMART Adventures this year to learn some off road driving in a side-by-side while we dirt bike.  Which brings the overlanding vehicle back to bikes again.  You can go deep in a Jeep but you can get places on a dirt bike that you can't in any other way.  Jeep's new 4xe hybrid Wrangler would be a fantastic platform for all manner of biking shenanigans from a tread lightly/minimal emissions angle.  Overland Journal had an editorial about not abusing the remote places they feature.  A good place to start with that would be to minimize the amount of emissions you're putting out while enjoying nature.

If a Wrangler'll carry a full on dirt bike, it'll
handle a Freeride (or 2 without batteries in 'em).
Whether it's taking a dirt bike to a trail or a trials bike to an event, the Jeep 4xe would be capable of doing it efficiently and effectively.  With some canny rear mounted racks it wouldn't even require a trailer.

The next-level green expedition option would be to pick up a KTM Freeride and put it on the Wrangler 4xe and then work out how to charge the bike from the hybrid Jeep's electrical system.

Overland Journal has a lot of advertisers who specialize in making vehicles long distance ready, including many that specialize in prepping Jeeps for the long haul.  A Wrangler 4xe would make an efficient, green platform from which to launch wilderness riding on KTM's Freeride that barely leaves a trace.
KTM's Freeride electric off roader gives you 90 minutes of charge, weighs less than 250lbs and (with the battery pack removed) would be barely noticeable on the back of the Jeep.  With some canny wiring the bike could charge while on the hybrid Jeep.

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe is the most powerful Wrangler yet, has astonishing mileage and would also offer some interesting electrical generation options when off the beaten track.

The electric bike and the hybrid Wrangler would cost less than a base model BMW mid-sized SUV, so it isn't even crazy expensive (well it is, but that's just because I'm old - everything's expensive!).  This zero emissions expeditions thing is something KTM and Jeep should join forces on.  Two legendary off-road brands working together to produce an environmentally responsible off-roading experience?  Betcha it wouldn't take too much to have the Jeep's hybrid system juice up the Freeride while off piste either.

I'm glad I stumbled across Overland Journal.  I'm enjoying it so much I think I'm going to pick up a subscription.  Then it's time to start thinking about the Jeep/KTM green/dream team combination.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

To The End of the Road North in Ontario & Quebec

Ontario has hundreds of miles of ocean coast line but being Ontario there is no way to ride there.  Quebec hasn't been so lackadaisical in connecting its northern communities by road.  If I cut out of Ontario just east of New Liskeard I could then make use of Quebec's better northern infrastructure and actually ride to the coast of James Bay almost to the point where it opens out into Hudson's Bay:

I'm not the first one on an adventure bike to want to ride to the end of the road north in Eastern Canada:

...though apparently only (new) BMW riders make the trek.  Bet my old Tiger could do it.

It's remote but the vast majority of the 1600+ kms north are on paved roads.  North of Hotel Matagami (just over half way up) services get thin.  It looks like there are road side truck-stop type accommodations on the James Bay Road but most of what's on offer is camp grounds and sparsely spaced gas stations.  Sounds like a perfect adventure bike thing to do!

Lots of good advice for riding motorbikes in the remote north around James Bay can be found on the James Bay Road website.  The challenge here isn't twisty roads and nights in the bar, it's the extreme isolation of the far north.  You need to be able to keep your machine moving or it will end expensively, or worse.  Getting a tow out would cost thousands.  Worst case would be getting stuck without any means of getting out, then it could quickly get dangerous.

For people who have only ever travelled between other people this'll be hard to wrap their heads around.  On a ride like this you'd find yourself hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest people and even further away from infrastructure that could help you.  Self-sufficiency would be central to a successful run up to James Bay.

An extended version would make use of Quebec's northern roads and would include traversing the road to Labrador, a trip to the big island of Newfoundland and then down the east coast and through New England before coming back home home under Lake Ontario...

About 10k kms, a huge portion of it on gravel roads in very remote regions of Northern Quebec!

Saturday, 26 June 2021

A British Appreciation for Industrial History & Hands-On Restoration

There is an element of British television that revels in the industrial history that many generations of us lot lived through, and I'm hooked on it.  My favourite is Henry Cole & Sam Lovegrove's Shed & Buried which follows the two as they dig up hidden treasures found in some of the more eccentric sheds in the U.K., including a lot of older motorbikes:

They find all sorts of old machines in people's sheds which often leads to impromtu history lessons on brands I've never heard of or hidden bits of industrial history I hadn't heard of before.  From seed fiddles to motor memorabilia to the esoteric history of British motorbike production, it's never dull and usually enlightening.

They don't just rummage around in other people's sheds.  The show also casts a light on the 'car boot sale' and the used sales trade in the UK.  This culture of reverance for past technology is completely foreign in Canada.

It's tough to find anything motorbikey in Ontario to begin with let alone anything old and interesting, yet Henry & Sam seem to be able to find any number of interesting old bikes for around £1000 ($1700CAD).  In a country like Canada that prefers to hide its history under a modern marketing blanket, throwing stuff away is a cultural imperative.  This (very colonial) approach means there simply isn't an ecosystem of old machinery to explore.  This is exacerbated by Canada's history as a resource extractor rather than an industrially focused manufacturer; we don't make much here so there is no home-grown pride in any vehicle.

These cultural differences in background prompt media and awareness that is distinctly different in both countries.  The British produce a plethora of programs that explore industrial history and mechanics.  Shows like this would never fly in consumerist focused Canada.

Here's a case in point:  Shed & Buried started out with a '69 Triumph Daytona project, sorta like the one below described as 'an excellent buy' in Ottawa right now for $4650 Canadian .  Henry paid £600 ($1000CAD) for his old Daytona in similar condition.

If they exist at all, older bikes in Canada are prohibitively expensive.

What got me thinking about this was someone else on FB Marketplace offering disorganized boxes of old Triumph parts for $3600 without even a clear idea of what's in there.  Henry and Sam picked up a 1950s BSA for £400 they found in pieces in a caravan.  Canada's disinterest in and lack of history around industrial manufacturing make it a very difficult place to find old project bikes - unless you want to go into massive debt for an incomplete box of shit.

If, like me, you find living in this vacuous, consumerist wasteland frustrating, there are a lot of British TV programs that will remind you that finding old things and getting your hands dirty restoring them is a viable thing to do.  Here's a list of what to watch if you're looking for some proof that you're not crazy:

Find It, Fix It, Drive It: if you're crafty with VPNs you can stream this on Channel4.

Guy Martin's How Britain WorkedGuy's background as a mechanic comes up in most of his shows

Car SOS: one of my favourites - restoration leading to catharsis

Wheeler Dealers: started in the UK, went to the US and lost its way, now back to UK

Even Top Gear makes a point of mechanics, though often in jest:

Monday, 21 June 2021

Kawasaki Concours 14 GTR1400 ZG1400 Tires & Suspension Setup

I finally got around to adjusting the Concours' suspension.  It was pretty unsettled on uneven pavement so I went with the list shared online and aimed everything at 'right on the money' which works out to front spring preload of 14mm and rebound dampening of 3 clicks out from all the way in.  The rear got set to 20 clicks in on spring preload and 1 and 1/4 turns out on rebound dampening. 

It's a significant improvement over what the bike was set at before.  On uneven pavement it feels much less likely to bounce and wander.  On smooth pavement it now tracks much better and isn't such a struggle to hold a line with, though it still feels heavy.  That might be my own fault coming off a Honda Fireblade to the Kawasaki though.

The existing tires on the bike are Michelin Pilot Road 4s which people in the know swear transforms the bike's handling.  I had a look around and the rear tire's 2715 stamp means it was built in the 27th month of 2015.  My best guess on the front is that it was 1918 or 2019 in the 18th month.  If that was the case then Declan, the guy I purchased the bike from, put these tires on it in or around 2019 so they're not only lightly used but also recent!
They passed the safety easily and aren't flat spottted or low on tread so a couple of very low mileage years is likely, which means I'm not in any rush to replace them.  That didn't stop me from having a look at what new tires for it would cost anyway just so I'm ready (end of 2022 riding season?) to replace them.
Going to a 190/55/R17 rear tire (stock is 190/50 ZR17) raises the back end a bit with a marginally thicker sidewall and stops the bike from feeling so vague.  Bike Magazine describes the handling of the GTR1400 as 'not good' and I think this dropin vagueness is what they're referring to.

Another nice surprise on this used bike purchase is that the former owner put new tires on only a couple of years ago and then barely used them, but now I've got some ideas about where to go next.