Friday 26 April 2013

Gitchigoomie Go-Around

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

Circumnavigating Lake Superior (and Huron)

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

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

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

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Gear Upgrades & Bike Tribes

After a couple of weeks on a bike, I'm starting to get a feel for what I like in kit.  I think having a real set of boots and pants really paid off at the course (near freezing and windy).  Windproof clothes are worth their weight in gold.  The other day I did my longest ride wearing the jeans I wore to work and it wasn't very comfortable.  I'm a big fan of wearing kit that suits the activity, jeans are a poor second choice.

The other piece that I'm not feeling are my gloves.  They're sufficient (they are Joe Rocket biking specific gloves) and they are comfortable, but plain black and not particularly warm.  I was aiming for a white/grey vibe when I started, the Alpinestars SP-1 gloves shown are a nice, gauntletted glove that look like they offer a much wider range of comfortable temperature options (they close up or vent as needed).  They also cost four times what the beginner gloves I got cost.  I imagine they are whole levels of awesomeness beyond the basic gloves I started with.

I did the same thing with boots, I picked up the cheapest pair of bike-specific boots that were available.  They are warm, dry and quite tall.  I've always wanted an ankle boot, for cooling and the Alpinestars S-MX1 boots on the right give me the monochromatic look I've been looking for in a boot that isn't huge.  I purchased pretty low-rent gear to begin, mainly because what was available in the shop in the budget I was looking for.  It was all purchased without any time in the saddle, so I didn't really know what I needed, other than it should be motorbike specific.

The pants I got (I hadn't planned on buying pants), happened to be on sale.  They've been great, and as early/late season pant they're wind resistant, have a liner that would let you ride in a snow storm and have a zipper, so you could get some air going through them.  They are too long and way (WAY) too hot for summer driving.  Looking for well ventilated pants I could wear over shorts, these Rev'It Airwave pants fit the bill, and continue the monochromatic theme I'm looking for.  A light coloured pant would also help keep the heat out.

The one piece of kit I wouldn't want to change is the jacket I got.  The Joe Rocket Atomic 11.0 textile jacket is fantastic.  Great wind resistance, a removable liner, vent openings, it fits me perfectly and feels fantastic... this is a jacket for all seasons, I have no regrets with it at all.  I imagine the more expensive jackets might offer lighter weight, but this particular jacket is my favorite purchase.  It's padded in all the right places and I even like the break with my monochromatic vibe.  I've yet to find a situation where the jacket hasn't been just what I wanted it to be.

The other purchase I've been really happy with is my Zox Helmet.  The funny part was I was treating it like a
full face helmet until one day I wondered what the red button on the chin did, and suddenly it was a modular helmet that flipped up!  It's comfortable, but the wind noise isn't ideal.  I'm guessing more expensive helmets offer a tighter fit and finish meaning less wind noise.  It has nice venting, and when I treat the visor with a bit of soap, it's fog free.   As a cheap first helmet, I've no regrets. It does more than I hoped it would and didn't break the bank to do it.  It also lets me live my inner Stig, which is never a bad thing.  The built in sun visor is a nice touch too.  It really is a full featured helmet.  The double adjustable top and bottom vents work very well and the storm trooper vibe is cool.

If I had any advice for buying kit your first time it would be: don't rush it, try on lots of stuff, and then walk away and think about it.  Waiting a couple of weeks saved me a couple of hundred bucks as things went on sale for spring time.  Trying on a number of different styles also lets you decide what fits you better, and what feels right.  I need to adjust the pants (too long in the leg) but I can probably pin them up.  After a bit of looking, I've found pants that offer the same size with a shorter inseam.  My next purchase will be more pinpoint accurate in terms of sizing.

In riding I've noticed that there are tribes.  I definitely fall into the sport bike/standard bike crowd with my textile gear and full face helmet.  The 'I'm too cool' leather cruiser crowd are so busy putting out a vibe they don't have time to wave.  I've found everyone who isn't a Harley knob makes a point of giving me a wave. As a new rider, that's a nice feeling.  To all the ZZ Top chopper types, I say, "whatever dude."

Finessing the Ride

I've been on the bike every chance I've been able to get the past few days.  My longest ride was an hour and ten minute look over to where I used to live and back again.  Yesterday, making use of our last warm, rain free day before the temperature drops and frozen mud returns, I was out and about north of town.  I've been trying to get my shifts smoother.  When I'm gearing up I'm finding the bike plunging going up gears because the revs are so high and the engine drops off revs so quickly.  You need to give it a touch of throttle between bringing the clutch in and engaging it again to match engine revs to road speed.  It's tricky.

I've gotten out of the habit of dropping the clutch in the middle of a corner, making those much smoother, and I'm remembering to turn off the signals much more.  Only once or twice did I forget and have to do it after the fact (usually after tearing up a road after a good turn).  The roads are cleaner and less sand covered, so I'm less worried about washing out in corners.  I'm still startled by how much power the bike has.  You have to hang on tight if you wind it out.

On my way back home the gas light finally came on.  162 miles on that tank (261kms?).  It took $16 to fill it with the highest grade gas I could find.  After I've done the plugs and cleaned the fuel system, I think I can get that over 300kms to a tank.

The real excitement came when I pulled into the gas station for my first fill up.  The premium pump was empty so I went to pull in.  Just then a woman in an old Taurus started backing into the same lane, so I stopped quickly.  So far so good, except her angle is all wrong and she's driving right for the curb the gas pump is on.  She starts to pull forward so I assume (wrongly) that she is doing a 3 point turn and leaving.  Instead, she starts backing up again.  I haul on the brakes hard.  This time I can't get my legs down in time and drop the bike, still running, my hand locked on the front brake and clutch.  Rather than hit the kill switch (and because I'm in embarrassed shock), I try to dead lift a 400lb Ninja back onto its feet.  I didn't do it the first time, the adrenaline did it for me the second time (I'm a big guy).  I got her back on her wheels, still with the front brake and clutch in.  The woman in the Taurus has since backed up again because she went up on the curb and is trying to back into the slot again, except she goes over the curb a third time, then a forth time.  She finally backs it up into the slot back from the one I was trying to pull into.

The guy filling his truck makes eye contact with me and shakes his head.

I walk the bike up to the pump only to discover it doesn't work.  Excellent.  I end up walking it over to the next lane and the other premium pump and finally get to fill up my new bike for the first time.  The ride home had me second guessing everything I was doing.  After a nice ride I was shaky.  Later that night my right arm feels tight, I think I pulled something deadlifting a 400lb Ninja out of the way of the most incompetent driver I encountered on that ride.  On the upside, at least she didn't kill me driving down the road, and I can now say I've dropped my bike, picked it up and gone on.  Thank goodness the guy before me put frame sliders on it, no damage done (other than to my pride).

Wednesday 17 April 2013

That Guy...

I'm that guy! I always wanted to be that guy!
It's been spring-ish in Ontario for the past couple of days (after the ice storm).  I've had the bike out a few times.  I still get a charge out of waving to another rider.

Yesterday I went out for almost an hour.  The front end felt a bit soft, but now the bike feels balanced on a knife's edge with the right pressure in the tyres (the front was at 20psi after a winter in storage).  That was the first fifteen minutes of the ride, trying to find a gas station with a working air pump and then paying a buck... for air.  Once that was sorted I was south on the small highway out of town.  I'd never gotten the bike properly warmed up before, it's an eager, responsive creature, even at low RPMs, but it seems happiest between 3500 and 4500 rpm for cruising..  I'd also never gotten it up to highway speed before, wind noise is surprising, though it shouldn't be; a 100km/hr wind wouldn't be quiet, would it?

I'm getting better at remembering the indicators.  The stuff drilled into me on the course has stayed.  I'm always in neutral and on the clutch when I start it, and I don't get on until I'm completely suited up; good habits to have.  Had the bikes we practiced on had indicators, I would have probably internalized those too.  I don't want to look like a (dangerous) n00b riding down the street with a forgotten signal flashing.

I took a left turn off the highway onto a back road and made one of my few control errors.  I thought I was in 3rd, but I was in 1st.  I dropped the clutch too hard and was thrown forward. As I reacted I accidently pulled on the throttle... my first wheelie!  On Highway 6!  Fortunately I was sitting close (as an instructor had told me during the course).  I let go of the throttle, and with my weight forward got back on 2 wheels.  As I rounded the corner the kid sitting at the stop sign was all worked up by my wheelie, so he smoked the tires on his Cavalier.  Had he known how freaked out I was, he wouldn`t have been so excited by the whole display.

You get cold on a bike, even in good gear when it`s cool out.  I got home with cold hands and a big smile on my face.  I got to know my Ninja a bit better, and have an appreciation of just how athletic she actually is.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Ninja in my Garage

The Ninja finally crept into my garage last night. She's crouching there quietly as freezing rain falls all about, waiting for that first chance to ease out onto the open road and put some wind behind us.

She's under used and poorly looked after.  Someone took her pretty electric blue and painted it an angry, flat black... now flaking.  As we get to know each other I'm going to see what she needs to feel better about herself; a paint job is in her future.

In the meantime, as the freezing rain falls outside I'm going to take off her fairings, clean her up and make sure everything is squeak free, topped up and ready to go.  A bit of time to become familiar with the bike isn't a bad thing.

I was wandering around Canadian Tire the other day and saw a little, electric air compressor and started dreaming about a garage that'll do it all for me.  A little compressor, a lift to get the bike off its feet for work, and a shopping list of synthetic super fluids.

I'll be figuring out how to get into all the maintenance and starting to look the body work and what I can do to make my Ninja pretty again.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Riding A Motorcycle

I'm up into third gear coming up on the cones fast. The wind is pressing into my chest and starting to roar around my helmet. On this introduction to motorcycling course this is as fast as we get going, I'm probably doing about 45km/hr.  As my right hand rolls off the throttle and reaches for the front brake my left hand reaches out to the clutch lever and begins squeezing. As the engine disengages my left foot begins tapping down the gear shifter and my right foot is already on the rear brake and squeezing in
time with the front brake, hauling the bike down from speed in surprising time.  As the bike slows, the centrifugal force of the wheels spinning aren't enough to keep the bike balanced any more, my backside and legs are also subtly beginning to balance the bike.  I'm now only doing about 5 km/hr as I enter the turn but this is a tight box of cones leading to ninety degree left exit.  I turn the handle bars into the corner, trying to keep my eyes up instead of looking in front of the wheel.  At that moment I realize I don't have enough momentum to get through the corner, I've scrubbed off too much speed.  I let go of the clutch in the middle of a sharp, slow speed left hand turn, dumping the bike into first gear, it's a jerky exit I make as I dump the clutch clumsily and begin to regain some lost momentum.

At the motorcycle course I just took many of us went from never having sat in the saddle to realizing just how complicated riding a bike is.  Unlike a typical car with one hand on the wheel and one foot operating pedals, you're using all four limbs and your body mass as a whole when riding a bike; it's a surprisingly aerobic exercise.  At the end of the first day, 2-3 hours in the class room, 7+ hours in the saddle, I was exhausted.  The physicality of it is one thing, then there are the mental demands, especially when you're new.

An instructor told us of a new rider who had just finished the course and decided to drive his new bike out to Alberta for a job.  It was all very romantic.  He never made it out of Ontario.  The truck driver saw him coming from miles away, he even managed to slow down and stop completely when the kid on the bike, in the oncoming lane, plowed into the front of the truck at high speed... asleep on the bike.  Riding a bike is a good bit of exercise when you're experienced.  It verges on a mind and body marathon when you're new and having to think about everything you're doing.

In addition to the technique of operating a vehicle that asks you to steer with your whole body, change gears manually using both hand and foot, and operate two sets of brakes independently, again, using both hand and foot, the bike rider is also developing a constant 360° awareness of what is happening around them.  Your head is a on a swivel, you're constantly assessing threats and dangers.  It matters much less who is at fault if you're in an accident on a bike, it isn't likely to be a fender bender you drive away from.  Defensive driving on a bike takes on dimensions that car drivers would find extreme locked away in their metal boxes.

After a weekend of getting familiar with the basic operation of a motorbike, my back is sore, my arms ache and I'm still getting over the wind/sun burn, but it was a purging exercise.  If you ever wanted a challenge that puts you into a very intimate relationship with a machine, motorbiking is that.  It isn't easy.  It's demanding mentally and physically and requires your undivided attention.  You can't walk into it after drinking, drugs or even emotionality and hope to do it well enough to not be at risk, and the risk is about as high as it can get.  In a world of safety at all costs, insurance company run nanny states, I'm kind of surprised that motorcycling is still allowed, but I'm glad it is.

Riding is a Zen thing that demands you surrender distractions and live in that moment, your whole body and mind deeply involved in the task before it.  It's a task that rewards you with a sense of freedom and the thrill of open speed that I've never experienced in any automobile; it's the most honest form of motorized transportation, which is exactly why I answered the call.  Taking the course made me realize that motorbiking was everything I'd hoped it would be.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Biker Nerd Style

While everyone else is going for the Harley Davidson leather thing, I'm looking for a bit more nerd in my biker look.  I'm going with for an Imperial trooper vibe.I like the idea of white kit that gets used looking on the road.  Having a white jacket and helmet will also be cooler in hot sun.  

Star Wars Bike Culture!

The black and white theme can follow through to the bike too.  White helmet with black trim, white jacket with black trim.  White bike with black trim...

Monochrome but high visibility True North textile jacket.  It's armored
(very Trooperish), and vented so it'll be comfortable in the heat or lined
in the cool. Wish it came in white.
That's the helmet I want, not the one I got, though the one I got was a full face white helmet with black trim too.  A modular helmet would be fantastic - the fighter pilot style is a bonus.

I'd originally thought I'd go cheap on the kit, but this is where you get yourself sorted out so that you're comfortable and protected, at least as much as you can be on a bike.  To that end, I'm looking at all the details.

I'm all about the stream lined biking boot.  They protect the ankle, offer good ventilation and water proofing, and aren't as crazy expensive as I thought they'd be.

I read another new rider in Cycle Canada who tried to go with construction boots but was frustrated by how clunky they made his footwork with gear changes.  I'm looking for boots that protect while giving me a good feel for the bike.

Getting kitted out for a bike is a cautious process.  It's important to get what fits well and suits the kind of riding you'll be doing.  A bit of consistency in the colour choices and style make for a bit more of a personal statement.  I might not line up with the Harley crowd, but I'll look Imperial cool.