Sunday 28 July 2013

One Lap of Japan

7940kms... according to Google Maps
Another dream trip.

I've done most of the north end of the main island in a car, and traveled as far south as Kyoto by train, but the motorbike offers a new way to see the archipelago.

Google maps suggests that this can be done in 6 days and 16 hours, that's at a continuous average of 50kms/hr 24 hours a day.  Assuming we'd want to sleep and eat, the old two to three tanks a day might be the way to go.

At two tanks a day (about 600kms depending on the bike), we'd be back to Narita in just over thirteen days.  Call it two weeks of steady riding.

Being what it is (a volcanic island chain), there aren't many straight roads in Japan, especially if we want to stick to the coast.

When you're riding around volcanoes,
the roads get creative
The epic ferry ride to Okinawa in the south is almost a day in itself.  The riding would never be boring, and it would be miles away from interstate mile making.  Japan is a crowded but super organized kind of place, you can get places as long as you avoid the major urban centers.

Late summer would avoid the tsuyu (rainy season), so landing in Narita in the last week of August, then head north, do Hokkaido, then down the Japan sea coast to the south end of Honshu, a long ferry ride across the East China Sea to Okinawa, two days circumnavigating the island before taking a slow boat back to Honshu.  The last leg would be up the Pacific side of Honshu, through Kyoto and Tokyo and back to Narita.

It'd be nice to do the trip while riding the Japanese bike industry.  Split into four sections, we could ride Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha for a quarter of the trip each.  That way we could meet up with various clubs and groups without being manufacturer specific.  Riding all four big Japanese manufacturers also lets us experience the fantastic bikes Japan makes.

Two weeks, some serious mileage, from a tropical 26 degrees above the equator in Okinawa (roughly in line with central India) to a northern 45.5 degrees at the top of Hokkaido (right next door to Russia),  we'll experience everything from palm trees to snow.  It is entirely possible to climb five thousand feet if we're working our way through mountainous areas and wind up at sea level again by night fall.

Two weeks would be intense, but that's kind of the point.  The route picked out avoids any repeated tarmac other than driving on and off one ferry.  Every mile would be new as we circumnavigate these beautiful islands.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Old Vintage Cranks: a hidden side to bike culture

Ural project: ready for combat!
I finally made some time to stop by OVC in Hillsburgh this week; it's everything I'd hoped it would be.  Only a few years ago this was a one man operation running out of his garage, but as the need grew he moved into a garage space and now has employees and is so busy that he is thinking about expanding again.

The shop was busy with sidecar projects as well as working on what they sell as a dealership (Urals and Royal Enfields mainly).  It was organized, but busy, and every inch of space was in use.  Out front they had sidecar rigs on a Royal Enfield 500cc and the fantastically Soviet styled Ural.
Royal Enfield & sidecar

I'd gone to see the Royal Enfield, I think the Bullet Classic is a fantastic looking classic bike.  With the modern engine and fuel system it's super dependable.  At 500cc I thought it would be much too small, but I (at 6'3") felt more comfortable on it than I do scrunched up on my Ninja, which has a lower seat and higher pegs.  The problem came when I saw the Ural.

The Soviet cool Ural
I was indifferent to it, though impressed by how tough it is from online writing like Hubert's Timeless Ride.  When I finally saw one in person it has a unique aesthetic that you don't find in any other bike.  The lights are blocky and purely functional where an Italian would have made them streamlined and an American would have drenched them in chrome.  There is nothing dainty about the Ural, it's a tough machine built by tough people for a tough environment.  If you dig Soyuz space capsules and the no-nonsense style of Russian technology, you'll totally dig the Ural.  It comes with a movable spotlight (standard), but machine gun mounts are an option... this is the bike that Russians manufacture for their own military, and it looks it.

Max digs that Bullet Classic
After looking at the Royal Enfield and the Ural, I wouldn't want to saddle the RE to a sidecar, it's such a pretty bike on its own, and without the extra weight, even with 500cc, it would move around in a spritely fashion.

The Ural is a beast, and with the sidecar it looks like it could come thundering out of Moscow to chase the Nazis back to Germany (the bike itself is copied from German designs).

OVC's busy show room
If you have the time to drop by Old Vintage Cranks in Hillsburgh, it'll show you another side of motorcycling culture about as far away from the big manufacturer's aesthetics as you can get.  With no American=too much, German detailism or Japanese techno-crush, the bikes at OVC offer you another
avenue into biking that's so not mainstream that it's shocking.  That it's a tiny, independent, busy, working shop packed to the gills just adds to the flavor.

It's only a matter of time before my son and I are on a Ural pounding through the woods, or I'm on a Royal Enfield weaving along back roads, enjoying a bike that's as much a part of the scenery as the scenery is.

If you're heading out of the GTA, I have a suggestion, head north on the 410 out of Brampton (it turns into Highway 10) and hang a left onto Forks of the Credit Road (about 10 minutes up the road after the 410), enjoy that, grab an ice cream or coffee in Belfountain.  Hang a right onto Bush Street/Wellington Rd 52 until it Ts in Erin, go right to the light, left to the next light and you're at Trafalgar Road North.  Hang a right there and OVC is on your left about five minutes up the road as you ride into Hillsburgh.

There are lots of nice riding roads around there if you've never been up that way before.,-80.021324&spn=0.137025,0.338173
Forks of The Credit to Old Vintage Cranks, a nice ride out of the GTA for an afternoon
link to GOOGLE MAP

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Trans Canada

Last summer I was driving past the bike on the right over and over again.  Had I the means to ride it home, I suspect I would have snapped it up (they were only asking six hundred bucks and everything on it worked).

The idea of picking up an old bike, getting it going and then hitting the open road with it on a long trip has a lot of romantic appeal.

I've been trying to work out how to do a coast to coast Trans Canada trip when I live in the middle of the country.  Riding one way and then flying to the other coast seems a bit heavy handed.  To resolve the issue I've decided to plan it empty handed.  I'll fly out to the East Coast, find a used bike for sale somewhere on the Island, get it sorted out and then head west.

Go West Young Man

2008 VTX
One of the nice things about shopping the classifieds (besides not paying the rolling off the lot premium) is that you might pick up a bike that you otherwise wouldn't.

Browsing the classifieds in St. John's NFLD today I came across this Honda VTX.  I've never even heard of this bike, but that is one cool looking ride.  I'm the furthest thing from a cruiser fan, but you have to wonder what kind of relationship you'd have with that Honda as you ride coast to coast.

It'd certainly hold its value well, I might even break even on the other side, and it would have long legs for that epic journey.

The Maxim on the right costs less than it would cost to ship a bike across Canada. It has just had new mufflers, tires and battery.  With some minor fix ups I'd probably be well on my way for less than two grand.  It might not have the style and presence of the VTX, but it would bring its own history with it and offer its own unique experience.

The nice thing about doing it this way is the trip itself is dictated by what's out there, and the bike might be something you wouldn't otherwise develop a riding relationship with.  From thousand dollar cheapies to expensive chromed out blingers, on a quiet Tuesday morning in July there was an interesting mix of bikes available in the St. John's area, and each one would make your cross country ride a completely different experience.

When it's a one trip bike, you might ignore some of the must haves you usually think about when buying a long term bike.  Those must haves often lead to a lot of compromises.  Here is a bike you'll ride for a few weeks one summer.  Without the weight of a long term relationship, what would you want to try out that you wouldn't otherwise?

I imagine I could fly out with my plates and find the bike, call back for insurance and be ready to go in only a couple of days.  At the other end I could put it up for sale on consignment and have it settled out while I'm flying home. The only complication might be if you fell in love, then an extension on the trip might be in order.

Trans Canada

From St. John's NFLD on the Atlantic coast to Tofino BC on the Pacific Coast

Leave at Sunrise over the Atlantic, ride to sunset in the Pacific...
Coast to Coast, from St/ John's Newfoundland to Tofino BC
The only planned stop would be a home for a rest stop in Ontario on my way across.  7813kms across if I stay the course, but I'd be hard pressed to pass through places I've never been before without having a look around.  Conservatively I'd guess that this would be a 10,000km trip.

At a couple of tanks of gas a day, covering 5-600kms would be easy and allow for some wandering time as well.  I'd throw a goal that far up the road and see how it went.  It'd be two weeks at 500kms/day, but with other stops and breaks, three weeks wouldn't be a bad guess.

Roughing out costs, with gas at $40/day, hotels at $140/day average and food etc at $50/day, I'd be looking at $230/day on the road, $4830 for expenses over three weeks, and then whatever the bike costs/sells for.  Through in a $1000 for the flight out to St. John's and home from Vancouver.

Going lean I could probably manage under $100/day for hotels and shave $20-30 off the food/gas costs (bike choice would play in there).  It would be conceivable to do it for ~$150/day ($2100 if done in 2 weeks).  I like the idea of a tighter schedule with more saddle time, I'd probably see if I can do it in 10 days...

Three ferry rides (off  The Rock, across a Great Lake and over to Vancouver Island), the Atlantic Ocean, the East Coast, across Quebec and Ontario, through the Prairies, over the Rocky Mountains and onto Vancouver Island for a final push to the Pacific Ocean.  Coast to coast across Canada by motorbike!

Now I can't stop looking at used bikes...

1983 Suzuki GS in Guelph, only about $1000.

1986 Kawasaki Concourse, about $2500

I guess I like the more angular style of '80s bikes...

Agony!  '84 Honda Interceptor: Had this been available in March when I was looking for my first bike, Tim's Motorcycle Diaries would have started off way differently!  I've had a crush on these bikes since I was a kid, and only $1500!

Thursday 18 July 2013

13 days

July 2-18th I was commuting on the bike every day from Elora to Milton.  The ride took me on country highways, country backroads, down the escarpment, on a 13 km blast down the 401 to James Snow Parkway, then 5 kms of urban riding in Milton.

At 70 kms a day each way of riding, I piled up over 1820 kms on the bike in three weeks.  I'd fill it up every 3rd day, costing about $16 and change and it would take me 190 or so miles (305kms) before the fuel warning light came on (it's a 15 litre tank).  I never tested the reserve too much, I think, conservatively, I can get 220 miles to a tank before things get frantic.  Based on the amount I was putting in and the miles on the odometer, I was getting about 58mpg, which is impressive because it's hard not to wind this bike up, it likes to go.  58mpg when I'm spending an inordinate amount of time in the top half of the rev range is impressive.

The coldest morning had the air temperature at 12° Celsius (53°F), the hotest ride home had me at 37°C (99°F).  On those cold, rainy mornings I had the long gloves on and ended up stopping to put the rain jacket on just to warm up.  On the hottest day (today), I road home in shorts and the jacket open.

Daily riding has made my shifting smoother, and I don't think twice about riding in urban or highway settings.  My first couple of goes on the 401 were tentative, by the end of the week I was getting on the highway the same way I do in a car - looking for the left hand lane.  The Ninja goes from almost nothing to two miles a minute in an astonishingly short time.

This morning I rode out into ground fog, with the tops of trees and old, stone farmhouses peaking out of the mist.  You can smell a river and you cross it.   You can smell hot brakes on the 401 from trucks before you see brake lights.  Riding is such a sensual experience.  I think the quiet time without radio or music, just the sound of the wind and the distant thrum of the Kawasaki twin was centering.  I got to class (computer engineering) every day oxygenated and ready to go.  I came home tired but clear minded.

1820 kms, 1131 miles... after doing this I think a couple of tanks a day would be a good way to measure a long trip.  At just over 300 kms each tank, 600 kms a day and I'd be ready to put my boots up and relax, having been through the places instead of driving through them.

The daily commute demystified the experience of riding for me.  I found ways to stretch (stretching my legs out on the frame sliders is a nice way to get a breeze up your pant leg), and standing up on the footpegs every once in a while cools off your seat and thighs.

With familiarity I've found that the Ninja is a very forgiving, but very capable bike.  I've no regrets that it's my first bike.  A more relaxed (ie: upright, proper, not cruiser) riding position would be nice, but I found that I fit the Ninja better and better as the commute went on.  I always looked forward to throwing a leg over it, and when the weather was bad (almost zero visibility rain one morning), I had no regrets from riding it down.  Every day was an adventure.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Ninja Blues

This has been many weeks in the making.  I began de-blacking the '07 Kawasaki Ninja 650r (my first bike) in May.  Last weekend I took another big run at it.  This weekend I finally got it to the point where I can live with it.  I think I'll do the rest once the riding season is over in Canada, but in the meantime, I've got a Ninja that looks a lot better than it did.

I've blued the front end and the fairings down to the air intake.  I'll eventually do the entire bike, but those fairing are big and it takes a long time to strip the flat black off them (I'm using graffiti remover in small areas at a time).

At the moment the tank, front end and rear end are completely covered, but the fairings are only half blue.  I've faded the metallic blue into the existing flat black and it doesn't look half bad.

The more interesting bit is the frame.  I wanted a burnt orange, but every orange on the shelf was a pylon orange.  I was all set to mix a yellow and dark red to a burnt orange, but the mixing didn't go well, it ended up looking an angry pink.  It eventually settled into a darker orange, but I still wasn't happy with it, it looked muddy..

I had greater success getting the orange I wanted by doing a base coat of pylon orange spray with a cover of candy apple red metallic.  The result is the sparkling burnt orange I was looking for.  The plastic drop sheets and cardboard I was using to shield the rest of the bike looked like they'd come out of a volcano when I was done.  I'm not entirely thrilled with the finish, but now that I have some sense of how to mix the colours (orange based, mix in light layers of red while the orange is still wet), I'm ready to experiment more.
Orange base, light candy apple
red metallic over top
while still wet

I think I'll eventually make the entire frame that burnt metallic orange. It's also rust paint, so it'll seal up the frame nicely.

I got a different gloss this time, thinking they are all pretty much the same,
they aren't.

You want the one on the
right; AWESOME clear coat

The ultra-cover 2x (the blue and white can), gives you what looks like a factory clear coat finish.  The lacquer makes a foggy mess.  I'll only use the Ultra Cover in
future applications.

The angry young man's flat black Ninja:
A truer, bluer Ninja:

One heck of a lot more visible, and it sparkles in the sun.

When I get the fairings finally done I'll giver her a real photo shoot.

I'm now thinking about Kanji-ing up the front end... Ninja Kingfisher...

Coventry Eagle

I was looking at the picture of Grand-dad Morris on his motorbike again this morning.

With a bit of digital wizardry I was able to get the name of the bike: A Coventry Eagle.

Fitted with a 250cc twin port villiers engine, back in 1933
 the bike cost £36.00 new. She still has her brass
 headlight & tail lights and brass horn.

I found this in a UK online classic bike sales site.  Looks like the same creature!

I wonder where Grandad's bike went... it's probably long gone.

Thirty six quid brand new!  That 247cc engine could push the bike up to sixty miles per hour.  I can imagine Bill thundering down winding Norfolk roads on that Eagle...
The West Runton Sea Road

Wednesday 10 July 2013

The Blueing of the Ninja part 2

I spent some sweaty hours this weekend de-blacking the Ninja.  The coolant got flushed as I was waiting for paint to dry.  With the fairings off I got more done than I intended.  I stripped the tank and repainted it, my first attempt and recovering the stripped back to blue paint.

Original Kawasaki Paint codes courtesy of Color Rite
I was able to find a metallic blue that would work with the Ninja original Candy Plasma Blue.  Going on it looks almost identical, but it dries a darker blue, a more royal blue, though since it's metallic it pops like the original factory metallic paint does.  The paint I found was Rustoleum's Metallic Cobalt Blue.  It's readily available, I found it at Homedepot.

After laying a couple of coats of the new blue, I followed it up with a couple of coats of a gloss clear coat.  The picture of the tank on the right shows you what kind of finish you can get out of these basic tools.  It won't satisfy a perfectionist, but at under $20 to paint the front fender and tank, it will satisfy your accountant.  I waxed it once everything set (I let it sit for half a day), and it looks pretty sharp.  I've driven it 200kms so far this week since and no scuffs or scratches on the paint, so it's pretty tough too, even after an impromptu ride through a driving hail/thunder storm.

I could agonize over stockness here, but I don't think I will.  The vision I've got for the bike isn't stock anyway, but it's a far cry from the flat black bike I started with.  I'm still working out the orange for the frame.  I've got a gloss red and a gloss yellow and intend to mix my own.  The only oranges available seem to be traffic cone inspired (see the pics below), I'm going for a burnt orange as an opposing colour to the royal blue.

From the pictures you can see that the blues are mighty close, though the camera does flatten the differences a bit.  When you're up close you can see where the new paint is slightly darker, though just as rich and metallic.  With the clear coat on top it's silky smooth to the touch and polishes up nicely with wax.  I've been riding in rain all week and everything now beads off where it used to just get wet and sticky on the flat black.

The back end is still stock blue, the tank is the new metallic cobalt  blue
This is a closeup of the seat fairing - the front is the new blue, the back is
the old blue - pretty damn close - matches the spring nicely too
The headlight and front fairing is stock blue, the front wheel
fender and tank are the new blue
Another angle on the tank.  I taped off the filler cap and silver surround,
it came off clean.  I wiped any overspray before clear coating everything
After and before - the metallic blue covers up the bruises well, and where
the bike was already blue, you've got a strong undercoat that supports
the top colour.  It took a couple of extra coats to cover the bruises.
Next up: cleaning up the frame and getting it a metallic burnt orange
While I've got the fairings off to do the frame, I'll have another go at the blue on the big front fairings.  It's a time consuming, tiring process taking that black off, so the fairings might be a while longer before I get them done, then I can finally call my beaten up black bike blue again.

Monday 8 July 2013


Southern Ontario is sinking man,
and I don't wanna swim...
Toronto is sinking man and I don't want to swim.

Riding home tonight into a wall of black. Yesterday I dodged the storms, today I'm not so lucky.

If it starts to spit I'll pull over and put my rain jacket on and cover the tail bag.  

It starts to spit.  I pull over.  

I get the rain jacket out and throw it on the ground and cover the tail bag with the rain cover.  As I'm getting the jacket on I look up and a wall of water is moving toward me.  I get the jacket on quick and get back on the bike.  I'm back up to speed when I hit the wall.  The rain is so heavy the guy in front of me in a pickup is hydroplaning everywhere.  

It's so black I can only see cars by headlights.

The bike is a bit skittish but surprisingly sure footed, then the gusts begin.  I get to highway 24 and there is a lightning strike so bright it's blinding, followed by an almost immediate thunder roll.  The gusts are so hard I'm leaning into them to stay on the bike, visibility is almost zero.  If there is a tornado I've decided to hang on to the bike - together we weigh almost 650 pounds, that's got to be better than going solo.  Being out in a violent thunder storm is an entirely different thing from watching one hit your windscreen.

I hang on for a couple of kilometers and everyone starts to pick up speed as the sky starts to clear.  The road begins to show patches of tarmac through the water.  I ride the last 15 kms home soaked to the skin but elated!  That scared the shit out of me!  It was great!

Sunday 7 July 2013

The Stable

My dream garage always had to be kind of huge to fit all the cars I wanted in it.  With the new bike
infatuation I get to dream of a more condensed (and plausible) dream garage.  It's still got room for the necessary evil (I live in Canada, some days a bike just won't do it), so I took the two car garage and doubled it to make a workshop in the back.

The car garage is separated by a dividing wall with a single garage door in it to allow larger vehicle access into the workshop.  There is a half size roll up door on the side for direct bike access.  The garage is wired in, but also has a turbine and solar collection.  In the winter this runs the high efficiency heater in the workshop.  In the summer is pushes a small, high efficiency air conditioner into the workshop.  The goal is to keep the workshop above freezing in the winter and below 25 degrees in the summer.

The battery packs and computer controls for the wind turbine and solar inputs are upstairs, as are the heating and cooling units, both of which feed into the workshop directly.  There is also room for storage upstairs.  Access is made through a pull down staircase in the back of the car garage.

The workshop has space for 5-6 bikes, though I think I'd keep 3 working bikes on hand, and one project bike.  I'd also keep a shed at the side for a couple of dirt bikes.

As for what I'd fill the workshop with, at the moment I'm all about the British bike.  A Triumph Street Triple, a Royal Enfield Classic with a sidecar and a Triumph Tiger 800XC would be what I'd have on had to regularly ride.  The other side of the shop has the half car/half bike Morgan3 Trike.

Royal Enfield Classic with sidecar
Triumph Tiger 800XC
The Tiger is a great all rounder that can get you anywhere.  A nimble adventure bike that also loves to carve up roads, this'd be my go to for long rides.

The Royal Enfield Classic with sidecar is a classic with modern technology.  It would let me share the open road with my son in a way he'd truly dig.
Morgan 3 Wheeler

The Triumph Street Triple is a naked bike built for the road.  It's fast, responsive and sounds wonderful.  This would be my dedicated road bike.

What I don't show in the plan is the project bike.  This would change quite frequently, depending on how much work the bike needs.  At the moment I think I'd like to bring an '80s Honda Interceptor back from the dead.

Honda VFR 750 Interceptor
The idea behind the dream garage is to have a workshop for bike maintenance and restoration.  I've really enjoyed restoring the 650r Ninja I've got now, and I'd like to keep doing that kind of work.  To that end I think I'd include a bike sized bench style spray booth, as well as a compressor in the workshop.  I enjoy both mechanical as well as body work, and it would be nice to have the space and tools to do both well.