Saturday 29 June 2013

Stretching My Legs

It's the first day of summer holidays, so I'm going to push the envelope and hit the road on my longest ride yet.  Elora to just past Bobcaygeon.  It's all paved except for the last couple of miles on gravel.  I'll be passing through villages, towns and a couple of cities en route.  236kms.

The Cottage Run
The weather is cooperating and the rain has dried up.  I'm going to have to break my iron man habit of doing long drives in single marathon runs.  Stopping along the way is going to be prudent.

The bike has new oil and filter and is half blue, so I'm in good mechanical shape and looking like a fine arts project.  The partially stripped black paint looks like it got pulled off by going too fast.

I'm not worried about it mechanically, it's super solid, the weakest link on this trip is the n00b rider.  As long as I can remember that and pace myself, it'll be a great step forward in riding.

The most exciting bit should be the logging road at the end of the trip.  It drives like a rally stage, but I'm going to be riding it with a light touch.  The Ninja isn't built for this kind of work, so it'll be a gentle last leg on the best roads.  I'll save the rally driving for the ATVs once we're at the
The Cottage Road
cottage.  Though now I'm wishing I had a little 250cc dirt bike up there to get muddy on.

The map doesn't do the cottage road justice.  It's been straightened out, graded and widened in recent years, it used to be even madder.  The road weaves around stone outcroppings in the Canadian Shield and includes a lot of elevation drops you don't see on the map.  The tight corners come up on you suddenly because you can't see over the hill you're on to what's next.

It's roads like this that make me wish I had something more dual purpose.

The Triumph Tiger 800xc would snort and stomp down that road.  The new KTM Supermoto would make that cottage road a tail wagging good time, though that's a much bigger bike.  I think I'd prefer the Triumph.  It's lithe, and agile where the KTM is a monster.

In the meantime, I'm going to gingerly nurse the Ninja to the cottage after a beautiful Saturday afternoon ride across rural Southern Ontario.  Pictures to follow.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Won't you make my black Ninja blue?

Project: restore the original blue paint job of a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650r.

Plan: remove the flat black-out paint job and restore the original metallic blue


This '07 650r Ninja is my first bike, I got it a couple of months ago.  I was considering buying a new bike, but wanted something I could get mechanically familiar with.  I got this Ninja with low miles (still only 8k on the clock when I got it).  There was evidence it had been dropped, but the bike was in excellent mechanical condition and with the low mileage, it seemed like a good candidate for a restoration that would let me familiarize myself with motorcycle maintenance (I've owned many interesting cars, so I know my way around an engine bay).  
Making a black Ninja blue again

So far so good, the bike is letting me figure out the mechanics and maintenance, and works flawlessly otherwise.  The biggest effort has been trying to figure out how to strip the blacked out paint job and restore the body to the stock colour.  Here is the process to date:

How to Strip Paint Off a Motorcycle:

My first attempt was heavy handed,
but lessons learned on the front
fender paid off elsewhere
Stone chips were showing the blue paint underneath around the front fender, headlight and leading edges of the fairings.  With it looking so shabby anyway (it's not like it's a nice black paint job), I began with the front fender, trying to find ways to remove the black.

I tried wet sanding the black but this didn't prove very effective.  The compound curves on the body work ('07 Ninjas are very sinuous) make sanding smoothly difficult.  The sanding block would either burn through into the
Goof Off Graffiti remover got
the worst of the black off,
then a wipe with a soft, lint
free painters cloth with some
thinner took away the haze
blue below or damage the clear coat; it was too blunt an instrument.  I eventually tried some graffiti remover  and it did the job while preserving the factory paint.  

Once I got the technique down, the
black came off leaving the blue in
good shape underneath
I initially tried wiping off the sprayed on remover with painter's rags, but they are too smooth to work well with paint this thick.  I eventually tried tea towels with a rougher texture and they worked well with the Goof Off.  

Eventually I found that spraying a thick coat of remover on a spot on the tea towel and then wiping in small circles would remove the black paint leaving the blue underneath untouched.  This is best shown around the seat at the back of the bike.  Even the clearcoat was left intact by working in small circles, removing the black paint in small areas at a time.  The paint there is not even waxed and looks great, this part of the bike was quickly restored with no damage to the underlying paint.

Graffiti remover (I can't speak for all of them but if they are all formulated similarly then you should get similar results) does a fine job of stripping a bad paint job off bike body work.  Work in small areas, spraying on to the rag and then applying to the paint.  The top layer of the black comes off on the first application, the blue shows through after the second.
Hidden bruises

This closeup shows just how
the black is coming off to
reveal the Ninja blue below
Of course, when someone blacks out a bike they might be doing it for aesthetic reasons, but I don't think I'll be assuming that any more.  It turns out the bike had been dropped pretty hard on its left side.  As I was removing the flat black it looked like I could see her hidden bruises for the first time.  The scuffs had all been sanded smooth for the black paint job, but as the extent of the injuries become clear I'll have a better idea of what happened.  It looks like the bike went down and slid without hitting anything.  It still has its original front end and various switch gear, so this was an asphalt slide that damaged the body work.

Looking at the bottom of the main fairing, I found that one side appears to be unpainted other than the flat black while the other is blue, so this is probably a replacement fairing.

The fairing on the right
has no blue under the black
I'm about half way through stripping the black off.  I'm to the big front fairings now, and they have a lot of real estate on them.  Working in small circles, this is going to take a while.

Once I've got it stripped down, I'll remove the panels, repaint them metallic blue and then paint the frame (burnt orange) while I'm in there.  The end result should be a colourful Ninja that proudly wears its stock metallic blue paint, albeit with some touch ups that make the bike even more visually interesting.


I picked up the Goof Off at Canadian Tire.  They had other brands there, I haven't tried them, but if I do I'll follow up with comments.

The factory paint job on an '07 Kawasaki Ninja 650r:  

Sunday 23 June 2013

Colourful is the new cool

What secrets lie beneath my Ninja's flat black paint?
I'm finding the Ninja to be more and more  manageable.  I don't think I'll end up on a sport bike forever, but I'm glad I started with one so I have a sense of what a road purposed bike is capable of.  One of the reasons I went with the Ninja instead of a KLR or other enduro bike is because it looked like it had been mistreated, and I wanted to make it happy again.  The bike is super dependable, rock solid mechanically, but it's had an interesting hidden life.

In the picture on right you can see where I've been working on the front wheel fender, taking the angry-young-man flat black off to find the original
Kawasaki Ninja metallic blue.  It's a beautiful colour, I have no idea why you'd want to cover it up, unless you've done things you want to hide... cheap.

Why would you ever de-blue this?!?
I'm guessing that the gas tank got replaced when the bike was dropped at some point.  The replacement tank comes in flat black, so the owner decided to cover up the scuffs on the rest of the bike with a thin (though apparently professionally applied) coat of black.

The blacked out look is aggressive, tough, very angry young man, but I'm not an angry young man and I like colours, and I don't want the bike to be invisible, I want it to be very visible.

I've removed the black from the front fender, a time consuming and tiring process, but I really want that black gone.  There was a bur in the plastic on the back, some more proof of impact, but I've sanded it out and it looks smooth again.  Between the paint remover and the scuffs on the fender, a good repaint will be in order.  I think by stripping and prepping the parts, I can save quite a lot on the repaint (prep is very time consuming).  I can also remove the parts that will be repainted, making them easier to finish.  The only part
that won't already be blue would be the gas tank, but when done it would match everything else.

Paint removal has been a trial and error experience.  I've tried sanding (almost impossible to do on the complex compound curves of the body work).  I tried acetone but it's very difficult to work with.  It seems to raise the paint and then immediately evaporate so the paint solidifies all mottled.  Paint thinner works well as a final step, removing the last spots and any black haze left.  It also does a good job of smoothing out any roughness left by the stronger chemicals.

For pulling off the paint in the first place the best thing I've found is graffiti remover.  It pulled the unsealed black off the clear coated blue with minimal damage.  If you work in small areas at a time, you can lift most of the paint.  When you've got it virtually clear, switch to paint thinner and gently wipe the final pieces away, then wash it all down with water.

It helps to have a variety of lint free cloths on hand.  Rougher terry cloths and even a soft bristled scrub brush helped to get into the black and loosen it off.  I could then wipe it clean with the softer cloths.  Even the graffiti cleaner dries quickly, so work in small areas.

burnt metallic orange
The current summer plan is to strip the bike back to blue and repaint it in the stock blue.  While it's naked I'm also thinking about painting the tube frame a burnt metallic orange.  It'll peak out from behind the blue and contrasts nicely with it.  The end result should be a Ninja that is not only visible, but doesn't look like it's had the living daylights beaten out of it.

Tim's Tat: inspiration for the Ninja
colour scheme
With some carefully chosen accessories that highlight the colour scheme, I should end up with a kingfisher Ninja that matches my tat.  With the orange highlights on the frame I could match up the brake and clutch levers (which are scuffed) with something a bit prettier; burnt orange levers would be a nice touch.

Colourful is the new cool.  Being visible isn't an option, I want it to be the goal.  Metallic blue and burnt metallic orange would pop and sizzle in the sun, be much more visible all the time, and would make for a happy, outgoing Ninja, rather than a war torn, black and beaten looking one.

Friday 21 June 2013

More Motorcycle Media

I picked up a magazine called Rider the other day.  It's American, and written by an older crowd, but offers a less adrenaline driven and more wise look at the sport.  There were a couple of articles that pointed me toward some interesting motorbiking.
RIDER magazine
The first was about Hubert Kriegel's 10 year epic ride around the world.  Hubert has been doing long distance adventure riding since the 1970s, and his Timeless Ride shows you just how active retirement could be.  That he doesn't over plan his trips and encourages the use of something other than a massive BMW is also refreshing.  Like the best adventures, Hubert stresses that wanting to do it is all that really matters, the rest is just noise.

The follow up editorial by Clement Salvadori was a detailed list of the adventure riding books that might lead you to your first RTW trip.  Now he has me looking for old, hard to find books such as Around The World With Motorcycle & Camera by Eitel & Rolf Lange, a father son duo who did it back in the 1950s on a old German bike with sidecar.  He also mentioned Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels, which I first heard of while watching Long Way Round.

I also recently came across Mondo Enduro, an epic, low budget 'round the worlder by a group led by a teacher!  It's much less a star struck thing than Long Way Round, but very genuine and a joy to watch.  I can see why it has cult status amongst RTWers.

Clements also mentioned a number of pre-war attempts to circle the globe. Greg Frazier's Motorcycle Adventurer tells the story of Carl Clancy who made an attempt in 1925.  He also mentions Bernd Tesch who is trying to create a listing of RTW trips on motorbike.  It appears that 'round the world motorbike trips are a vibrant, world wide subculture.  Other pre-WWII books of interest are Nansen Passport: Round The World on a Motorcycle, by a white Russian fleeing the revolution, One Man Caravan, a mid-thirties American's Long Way Round from London to New York City, and the eight year epic journey by a pair of Hungarians in Around The World On A Motorcycle: 1928-1936.
Curse you designers!

Rider Magazine also pitched some interesting theory on design trends.  I hate it when I'm pigeon holed into a market segment (I'm Gen-X, we're like that), but they were bang on in describing how designers are aiming for post-boomers with less chromey, blinged out touring bikes.  I hate to admit it but Honda's getting it right with the new Goldwing - I never thought I'd say that.

I think I'll give Rider another go before I commit.  Many of the rides were American based, which is a bit tedious, especially when I think about the Adventure Bike Rider UK magazine I stumbled across a month or so ago.  Only one of their road trips were based in the British Isles, the rest took me everywhere from Beirut to Greece to South America, but then they don't think they are the world.   If it weren't so expensive to buy a UK magazine in Canada, I'd go for Adventure Bike Rider immediately.  They do offer a digital edition.  I might give that a go, but for a digital guy, I'm pretty paper bound when it comes to magazines (reading tablets in the bath gives me the willies).

No matter what, it's nice to know that there are thoughtful, quirky publications about motorcycling out there, it's not all about how much leather you can wear on your Harley or how long a wheelie you can pull.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Invisible Man

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 8 June 2013

Max & Tim's Around The World Expedition

Everyone gets all kitted out with monster adventure bikes to travel around the world.  A monkey could get a big KTM or BMW around the world, and they're all adults with giant production budgets and crews!

I want a challenge!

Max & Tim Around the World Expedition!

My eight year old and I do the long way around from Ontario, across the Atlantic, through Ireland and the U.K., across Europe and Asia, through Japan and back through San Francisco and the Western U.S. to Canada.

The Over Map, you can click on pieces to get a breakdown of each leg


1. Canada East    3223kms
2. Europe           4377kms
3. Russia            4300kms
4. Mongolia        2272kms
5. China             1925kms
6. Japan             1503kms
7. America West 2619kms
TOTAL:             20,219kms on the ground, plus trips across the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Leave Ontario April 1st and put up with some dodgy weather in Canada before making our way to Ireland in May and out of Europe.  Across Russia and Siberia in early summer, and then south through Mongolia into China in later summer.  End summer across Japan and then do a fall drive through the Western U.S. back to Ontario, returning before Hallow e'en.  214 days, 10 days crossing the Atlantic, 20 days crossing the Pacific, so 184 days on the road, which makes for an average of about 110kms/day, which should be more than possible (with some days off too!).  It'll be slower in some places, but easily doable in developed areas.  400kms/day would be a comfortable five hours of riding in Canada, Europe and the States, as well as Japan and most of China.

So it's a big impressive map, but we aren't doing it on a giant adventure bike, we're doing it on what has always been in my mind the toughest looking motorbike there is!

A Classically Styled Bike & Sidecar!

The bike and sidecar has faded into history as a cool means of getting through anything, but I still have memories of seeing them in action on the roads of England in the '70s, and a chance to resurrect the awesome cool of a bike and sidecar on a modern adventure ride is too much to resist.  That it allows my son to enjoy biking without being perched on a saddle is also nice.  I haven't seen too many options for adventure touring with a bike and sidecar so we'd get to explore some interesting new ways of loading up a three wheeler for an expedition!

Engines of the Red Army! The 
classic sidecar and bike!
My weapon of choice would be a Royal Enfield Classic with a matching sidecar.  The Classic is modeled on the old Royal Enfield bikes but with modern technology.  They are easy to get into and take care of, and the modern touches make it a dependable, tough piece of kit.  Besides, everyone and their dog has gone around the world on a BMW, or other big adventure bike.  The Classic with a sidecar would bring an entirely different vibe to the macho around the world trek.

With the bike itself and the sidecar capable of carrying gear we could make some interesting choices for building an expedition ready motorbike.  I imagine a bike that is capable of carrying spares, as well as camping gear and all our kit in a more elegant way than the typically overloaded adventure two wheeler.

If they can hold machine guns and ammo, they can certainly carry what we need for our expedition!  Once we've got our kit worked out and our aesthetic set, we need to work out...


The bike will be kitted out with Gopros and we'll have a video/still camera on hand for video diaries.  The trick will be to create a narrative from the media we create.  As we collect footage from each leg we'll hand off the media to our Production Manager (Alanna) and take a few days with her in each place before loading up for another leg.  Some ideas for narrative might be an ASD father/son relationship as we cross the planet or a look at the history of motorbikes around the world.  No matter what, I'd want to film it pushing what technology can do to capture a live experience.  To that end, I'd like to create a videoblog of the trip as it happens, as well as a travel documentary when we're home.

April to October would be travelling, then the winter would be resolving the footage into a story in post-production.

PITSTOPS (where we meet up with our production team)
  1. Quebec City
  2. St. John's 
  3. Dublin
  4. Norwich
  5. Brugges
  6. Warsaw
  7. Minsk
  8. Moscow
  9. Novosibirsk
  10. Ulaanbaatar
  11. Beijing
  12. Shanghai
  13. Nagasaki
  14. Kyoto
  15. Tokyo
  16. San Francisco
  17. Omaha
  18. Chicago
Our production/travel support team meets us at each pit-stop and takes our media while giving us fresh memory to save stuff too.  We spend a couple of days at each spot touring about and resting up then we're off on the road again as Alanna and team flies ahead of us to the next destination.  Having a travel expert in country ahead of us should ease crossings and make entry into each new area more efficient.

Alanna could also help produce some establishing shots and other footage for the final product.  Needless to say she'd need a production partner... she and I both think... Jeanette!  They'd have a fabulous time.

Back To The Kit

Here's a fun statistic!
  • Royal Enfield Classic 500cc = 183 kgs
  • Classic side car:  80 kgs
  • TOTAL WEIGHT:  263 kgs, or about 88 kgs per wheel
A BMW R1200GS Adventure weighs 260kgs or about 130kgs per wheel, so with a side car and another wheel to share the weight, the Classic weighs about the same as BMW's big adventure bike, but has a much lighter presence on and off road.
Royal Enfield Classic with Classic Rocket Sidecar

With some handiwork we should be able to fabricate a tonneau cover for the sidecar that keeps Max warm and dry in nasty weather, but disappears when not needed.  I'd also look at  putting together a canvas tent that works off the structure of the bike.

The Classic Enfield also has a back deck we could fabricate a rack on for carrying, and the long nose in the sidecar could easily hold soft bags and other equipment.

The bike itself could also hold gear in front of the handlebars and behind the saddle.  It isn't a giant bike, but at 500ccs it would be more than capable of getting us down the road with our gear and would get good mileage too.

In parts of the world where lodging is available, we'd refocus the expedition machine on a lighter load with less food carried and minimal equipment.  In places more remote, we'd reconfigure for camping and be sure to have the kit we need to get by in the rough.

A year off with an epic trip across the planet with Max would be fantastic!  Seeing how he sees the world would be unique.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Local Bike Shops

Around the horn on local bike shops
I recently took a little road trip to local bike shops, two of which I hadn't been to yet.  So far I've been a diligent Royal Distributing
customer,  they are closest and offer a big selection.  It's pretty much serve yourself, and the kids working there don't seem to know too much about riding as opposed to selling stuff.  They also tend toward cheaper, mainstream gear.

To expand my options I thought I'd drop by A Vicious Cycle in New Dundee (great name) and Tri-City Cycle in Waterloo.

A Vicious Cycle had knowledgeable guys on the counter who were less focused on a quick sale than giving me good advice.  They knew what they were talking about and took the time to figure out what I needed (as opposed to what I'd seen online).  I think I might have found my new favorite bike shop.

Tri-City Cycle is a motorbike dealer, so the main building is all about selling bikes.  There is a small room in a building in the back that sells gear, but I found the selection quite limited and the vibe was quick sell, though the guy there did know of what he spoke.  Like Royal Distributing, Tri-City has a more mass market vibe; it was stuffed with product moving through.

My new favorite
A Vicious Cycle (which I never get tired of saying) was clean, well stocked but organized and, as mentioned, the sales support was excellent.  I'm going to go for the Macna summer pants they have on offer.  They seem to be of excellent quality and are by a European manufacturer that aren't the same same old brands pushed everywhere else.  Most importantly, the knowledgeable and patient sales guy took the time to show me a pair and how they work.

I'd never suggest going to a single retailer for all your gear.  At various times different retailers will have what you're looking for on sale or on hand, but when you find a place that you like, it's nice to know you have a first go-to that won't let you down.

Follow Up

I got the Macna summer pants and they are excellent.  I ordered online, A Vicious Cycle sent me updates so I knew where things were in the delivery cycle, and I received my pants a day before they said I would.  The pants themselves are very high quality and unique looking compared to the matt black look popular in North American gear.  Unlike the Joe Rocket pants I tried which are far too long in the leg, the Macna's fit me perfectly, off the rack.  Between the the quality of the online service and quality of the product, I'm very happy with A Vicious Cycle.
The Triumph Tiger 800: the bike I'll get hard luggage for

Thanks to their honest advice about how much I'd need to put into getting a hard luggage rack that works well with the Ninja, I've decided to go with a tail bag and save the carrying gear for a future bike more suited to the task.

In the meantime, I can't say enough about the quality of those Macna pants.  They breath like crazy, even on hot sunny days, and because they aren't black they reflect their share of heat as well.  If you're looking for a summer pant, these are excellent!

Sunday 2 June 2013


I've been careful to ride with the weather so far.  When I could have taken a big risk and crossed Toronto in thunder showers, I didn't.  I guess this is what comes of being in your forties and starting to ride; twenty year old me would have been off into the lightning with no experience in the rain or four hundred series highways, through Toronto.  There is something to be said about risk taking, but it's something that happens more in your youth.

I've only got a 15 minute ride to work, so I tend to grab the bike whenever the weather is nice.  Last week on my way home I rode into some dark clouds which turned out to be hail.  At sixty kilometers per hour hail feels kind of like paintball strikes.  I got in behind the fairing and windshield and rode through a torrential downpour that left slush on the side of the road and the pavement drenched.  I also discovered that wind proof jackets aren't waterproof  (I guess to help with breathing).  I got back to my driveway soaked and steaming as the sun came out complete with rainbow.

Taking it easy around a corner, the backend stepped out when I went into second.  It was easily tamed by easing off the gas, but boy do bike backends break free easily in the wet!

Whenever something like this happens I try to grok it as completely as I can.  I was amazed at how efficient my helmet was at keeping my visor clear, even in heavy precipitation.  Vision is much less of a problem than I thought it would be.

As I went back out to pick up my son about ten minutes later, the road had a layer of mist a foot deep as the sun burned the rain off.  I could smell the ozone as the storm hit, the vegetation as it got wet, the steam as it burned off the road.  Smell is one of the great things about riding.

Back home again, I spent ten minutes wiping off the bike and put it away as another storm rolled in.  A good first experience in the wet.