Friday 27 September 2013

Gitchigoomee Iron Butt

I'd originally read about touring around Lake Superior and called it the Gitchigoomee Goaround.  I figured it'd be a week of riding.  I came across another motorbike blog where the guy was talking about doing it in 24 hours.  It turns out that focused, long distance, intense rides have a club!  The IBA.

It turns out that circumnavigating Lake Superior is 1673kms, which happens to be just over 1000 miles.  Leaving and returning to The Sault and going south through Michigan and around Superior to Ontario again, it would be a two border crossing trip with an awful lot of winding lake-side roads in between.  That would be an ironbutt you'd earn the hard way.

What better time to do it than Thanksgiving Day weekend (October 12-14) in Canada?  If we met up at Sault Ste. Marie on Friday and prepped, we could leave early Saturday morning before sunrise when there is minimal traffic at the border.  As the sun rises we're already making tracks through Northern Michigan.

The route:  Sault Ste. Marie and back to The Sault, 1039 miles in 24 hours!
44 miles per hour (70 km/hr) average speed is needed, so packing in fifty miles per hour (80km/hr) gives you the wiggle room to stop for things like gas, or peeing, or eating, or a cat nap.

In a world of perfect efficiency with no road works, border crossings, traffic lights, mechanical considerations, weather, or traffic, keeping a steady 44 mph would be pretty easy.  Doing it with all those things and the onset of a Canadian winter (along with early sunsets and late sunrises) raises the stakes.

I think I'd want to get in shape for this one.  I was going to dare a buddy of mine to do it this year, but maybe this would be a better next year dare.


With next year in mind I'm adding in the weather this Thanksgiving weekend for Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie, which should give us an idea of what to expect.  With showers on Saturday a Sunday to Monday run looks like it might have been the best bet.  Cold at night, cool during the day, the right kit would be imperative.  Leaving The Sault about 4pm so that the last hours are done in daylight on the afternoon of the next day.  By the time we're pushing east again the sun should be getting high in the sky so we're not riding into it.

Sault weather days

Sault weather nights
Thunder Bay days

Thunder Bay nights
Warming up into the teens during the day, flirting with freezing over night.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Perfect Fall Ride

Other riders I know are talking about putting their bikes away already, I just can't bring myself to do it.  Riding in the cool autumn air as the leaves turn around you?  How on earth can you put a bike away with that going on outside?

Today I was off work for a periodontist torture session, so when the day broke sunny and cool I jumped out for a ride before the terror was to begin.  Rather than ride the barren agricultural desert of Centre Wellington again I made a point of aiming for some of my favorite geography.

The route!  Elora, up the Grand River to Shelburne, a short jog up to Horning's Mills and then down one of my
favorite roads to Mansfield, south on Airport Road to the Forks of the Credit, through Erin and over to Guelph
The road north east out of Fergus through Belfountain is nicely winding as it follows the Grand River.  The twists continued through Grand Valley where the road drops right down next to the river.  North to Shelbourne takes you through a science fiction landscape of massive windmills.  The blast down 89 into Shelbourne had me looking at the fuel light so I pulled in for gas and then stopped for a coffee.

I'm bad at looking after myself when I get going, I tend to push on rather than take the time to stay warm and charged up.  After a quick coffee I saddled up again and pushed on up 124 to Horning's Mills.  Located in a river valley north of Shelbourne, Horning's Mills has the feel of a place that time forgot.

Nothing says Shelburne like an old
Buick LeSabre!
I have a theory that when the geography rises up around you and blocks you off, all the the psychic static from those anxious, frustrated people in the GTA is deflected away; River Road out of Horning's Mills feels wonderfully isolated and far from the world.

We're probably still a week or two away from the fall colours, but the ride was gorgeous. It was getting on toward noon and the sun had finally warmed everything up.  In keeping with my look after yourself on a ride theme I brought a fleece sweater that I put on coming out of Fergus and three pairs of gloves, to try and find the perfect set for the cold air.  I ended up switching to the winter leather gloves after the warm up coffee and was glad for them.

With the first colours in the trees, crisp, cool air and a road that was very un-Ontario like in its bendiness, the warm and eager Ninja thrummed down the road with an urgency that washed away every care.

River Road between Horning's Mills and Mansfield
The ride south on Airport Road, usually a quick road with big elevation changes, was horrible.  There was some kind of grey hair convention going on, and combined with the construction, the ride was a disaster.  Rather than trying to pass every pensioner in a beige Camry in Ontario, I ducked right through Mono Cliffs and over to Highway 10.  While not as geographically exciting, Highway 10 did offer two lanes, and even though trucks were determined to drive side by each in them, I was able to flit through Orangeville and south to the last bit of interesting road on my trek.

The Forks of the Credit is a short bit of winding road that follows the young Credit River as it flows out of the Niagara Escarpment.  Once again construction ground things to a halt, but the crazy 180° hairpin and constantly twisting pavement reminded me of how a road can talk to you, especially through two wheels.

Forks of the Credit
By this point I was getting pressed for time to get back to Guelph for my torture session so I opened up the Ninja and hit Highway 24 through Erin and south to Highway 7 past Rockwood before ducking in to Guelph just south of the University for a quick lunch and then the blood letting.

The ride did a couple of things for me.  Taking longer trips I'm finding the Ninja remarkably easy to sit on for extended periods.  The seat is comfortable, the handlebars fall to hand and the bike is a joy to ride, it really wants to go.  What's getting me are the pegs.  Being as swept back and high as they are, my knees don't enjoy being folded up like that for long periods.  I find myself standing up on the pegs and resting my legs on the front frame sliders just to try and work out the kinks.  That 14° lean angle I could live with, but the 74° bend in the knees just isn't working for me.  Being long in the torso I also get a chest full of wind even with a larger, aftermarket windshield on the Ninja.

Having said that I covered about 230kms in between four and five hours with a few stops here and there, so it's not a show stopper.  There are other bikes that would fit me better, but I'd miss the Ninja's friskiness and eagerness to connect and become a single entity.  I'm afraid that something that would fit me better would be heavy and dull by comparison.

If you're thinking about putting your bike away, wait until the end is nigh and the snow is about to fly.  You never know when that perfect autumn day is going to suddenly appear in front of you and give you a ride that you can keep in the back of your head all winter long.  Yesterday's ride, complete with sore knees, wind burn and cold hands was a revelation.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I just finished this book.  It's the first book I've finished digitally, I'm more of a paper and ink reader, but I thought I'd give this a go on my phablet.

The narrative is based on a man and his son doing a cross country trip on a motorcycle in the 1970s.  The story focuses on that quiet mind you experience as you make miles on two wheels.  While some people's mind wander while riding, the narrator of this hefty tome starts with an examination of the basic mechanics of motorcycle maintenance but quickly wanders into a philosophical deconstruction of Greek philosophy and its effects on Western thinking.

If you've got a background in philosophy it's fairly easy to follow, if you don't you're probably going to be wondering what the hell is going on in places.

The book is full of some real gems in terms of how we approach basic mechanics as well as life in general, but it can get pretty full of itself as well.

To further complicate things the author is battling with his alter-ego as he recovers from electroshock
therapy.  No, this isn't an easy read, though it's worth it if you can get through it.

Last year I read Shopclass as Soulcraft, which I'd recommend as a much more accessible read if you're interested in getting philosophical through the lens of motorbiking.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic, and it has attained a kind of cult status in philosophy and motorcycle literature.  I'd recommend reading Crawford before you take a run at Pirsig.  Reading a review of Western philosophy wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday 15 September 2013


Looking at a better fit of bike (at 6"3' I'm a bit of a giant on the '07 Ninja 650r), I came across Cycle-Ergo, an online simulator that shows you the shape of any number of bikes and how your frame sits on it.  This is an interesting exercise even if you aren't looking for a new bike.

The FAQ explains that the basic rider model isn't perfect, but

does show you lean angles and other ergonomic considerations in riding.  The feet on the floor option should be taken lightly (the FAQ explains there are too many factors - rider weight, thigh size, seat shape,etc - that can change it), but it still gives you a rough idea.  

If you want to be a lean into it sport rider, then this will show you just how uncomfortable you'll be looking cool.  If you are looking for a long distance multi-purpose (as I am),then this will show me which bike offers me the most natural/classic riding position.

There are a lot of options in the menus to the right, so be sure to play with them.  After you put in the rider height and inseam you can modify various parameters of the stock bike (handlebar locations etc).  It also shows you variations in angle due to seat position.  At the riding school they encouraged me to sit as close to the tank as possible, so I tend to sit forward in the seat.  

I looked up my current Ninja (an '07 650r).  The bike feels too small for me, and it looks it in the diagram.  

I don't find the wrist position overly uncomfortable, even though I am at quite a forward lean angle.  What I do find uncomfortable are how high the pegs are and how bent my legs are on it.  At 75° it's one of the most extreme angles I found in the knees.

My feet are flat on the floor with bent knees.  The low seat means I can stand up at a light with inches of light beneath me.  It's a short bike I have to fold myself onto.  When at speed I'm catching a lot of wind in the face, even with the aftermarket windshield on it.  I have to lay on the tank to get out of the blast.

One of the bikes I'm considering is the Triumph Tiger 800xc.  The seat height on this bike is much (much) higher than the Ninja, and the steering seems to be closer and higher, offering a less stretched forward lean.

Unlike the backward bent legs on the Ninja, the Tiger offers me a more neutral almost 90° leg angle as well.  It looks like it might be a promising fit.

The Kawasaki KLR650 is also short listed as a possible contender.  It too has a tall, upright stance with a more neutral riding position.  At half the price of the (nicer) Triumph I'd also be much less worried about dropping it, which would certainly happen at some point if I'm exploring less paved roads.

As a bike I've actually sat on, I have to say this looks pretty close to accurate.

I ran the simulator with a number of other bikes just to see what various styles looked like.  The vague body shape reminds you that this is a rough simulation, but if you're considering buying a bike why not compare it to what you're on now or what you think would be your preferred style of riding.

I wish I'd have known about this tool when I was first looking for a bike, it would have given me some stats to consider.

The Ducati all-rounder adventure bike - the seat is supposed to be horrible

I've always thought Gixers were cool... painfully cool

Living out my Mad Max fantasies on an Interceptor... worse lean, better on the knees than the Ninja

I was considering this bike last year, but the blandness described  in reviews put me off

I've sat on one of these too - it felt small, it looks small in the picture, but classy!

Another rider at work has one of these, loves it, nice riding position!

The simulator lets you put a passenger on too - this is the Tiger with Max on the back

Here is what I'd look like if Ewan McGregor was my best friend...

Saturday 14 September 2013

Transitioning to Season Two

It's getting into autumn and my first season of biking is coming to a close.  I've enjoyed the Ninja and I've done a lot of work on it.  I've overcome my anxiety around opening it up and working on it and I've put a lot of miles on it in all kinds of weather.  I'm far from the beginner I was in April and my garage is more a shop than it's ever been before.

Not only has riding become a new interest but it has also reawakened my love of mechanics which has in turn influenced my work in general.  So far the whole experience has been a positive one full of firsts and valuable learning opportunities.

I'm thinking about season 2 and where I want to go.  When I started off riding I was aiming at a KLR650 or other big dual purpose bike but went with the Ninja because it was local, available, low mileage and made a lovely sound.  The Ninja offers me an opportunity to explore the limits of a modern road bike, but that can be a tricky proposition, and an expensive one.  Were I to stay with the Ninja I think I'd find some track days and feel out some of the more extreme limits.  Knowing how a vehicle handles on the track offers you a unique insight into how to manage it on the road, especially in emergency situations.  I've driven cars and shifter-carts on track and know how to work towards the edge without stepping over it (too far).

I've been very careful with the Ninja, but I'd like to push my understanding and that involves taking risks with the machine.  I can't understand the dynamics of riding if I'm never riding over seven tenths.  If I'm going after a deeper, more nuanced understanding then I've got two options: the dirt track or the race track.  One is obviously cheaper than the other.

The KLR is still under consideration
I'd initially shied away from doing off road for fear of wear, but I'm over the maintenance panic now.  I'd still like to develop my road riding skills, but exploring limits seems like a less dangerous option in off road and multi-surface riding.  To that end, I think I'll look to a multi-purpose/enduro bike for my second season and begin exploring roads without worrying about where the tarmac ends.  The ultimate goal is still the long distance/adventure touring bike.  I love the swiss army knife abilities of those bikes.

The KLR still offers an affordable, basic, multi-purpose bike and I'd consider it seriously.  It's also not crazy expensive.

Triumph Tiger 800xc, my first
British bike?
Given a bigger budget I'd aim for a Triumph Tiger 800xc.  It is a capable off-road bike that doesn't tip the scales too madly, while still offering an effective road mile covering bike.  A bike that can pack in the miles is what I'm looking for.

Either the bargain basement KLR or the Tiger would get chucked to the curb if I sat on them and they didn't feel right.  Now that I've done some miles I'm getting a much better idea of what I want my bike to feel like.

KTM's outrageous 990 Supermoto
Fortunately there is no shortage of multi-purpose bikes out there.  From Yamaha Teneres to KTM 990 Supermotos to BMW's famous adventure bikes, there are many options and many of them have that naked, standard bike look that I prefer.

I'm planning on finishing up my work on the Ninja and putting it out for sale this fall while looking for my second season bike, this time spending a lot more time considering how I fit and what I want to do with it.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Biking Family History Part 2

Since seeing pictures of my granddad on a motorbike I've been curious about my family history with bikes.  Knowing that bikes have been in my family for generations is kinda cool.  When home in August I got to see some more bike-related family history.  My Uncle had a couple of albums I hadn't seen before that had some fantastic pictures in them.

It's always nice to see pictures of Granddad, and seeing him working on his bike was wonderful.  I guess if you rode a bike in the 1940s and 50s you spent some time making sure it was running right, or it wasn't running at all.

There were also some pictures of my Granddad Bill in his RAF uniform on a bike.  With war-time scarcity, getting around on two wheels was the way to go.  I imagine the RAF used bikes extensively as personal transport.

Granddad rode in their motorbike tatoo - doing stunts and coordinated high speed riding.

I love the poses; the bikes, the suits, and some rural Norfolk scenery!  No doubt that Granddad Bill loved his motorbikes!  

I can remember him letting me sit behind the wheel of his lorry and steer when I was four or five.  I wish I'd been around him longer.

The bit of family history I didn't know revolved around my great Aunt who rode a bike too!  She was a single woman who was a serious rider at a time when women didn't really remain single, let alone bomb around the countryside on motorcycles.

I loved hearing about her, and even when I discovered that she died in the saddle in a motor accident I was glad to have learned about her.  I wish I'd have known her.  I feel like the family I have who are into bikes are far from me.

I also talked to my cousin who owns a Fireblade and a BMW R1200.  It was nice to have a bike talk with family members, though I feel like the ones I most wanted to chat with aren't with us any more.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

The Norfolk Motorcycle Museum

We drove past the entrance twice.  Finally, up a gravel drive we found the entrance to the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum.  This was an impromtu stop between various tourist related day trips.  I'd seen the sign and wanted to go for a wander.  No one else wanted to come in with me, so they stayed in the rental car while I wandered into a warehouse full of bikes.

One of the things you notice in England is just how divergent the technology is, and this museum was no different.  The bikes were odd, different, not a cruiser in sight, no Harleys.  It was decidedly un-North American.

Many of them I couldn't identify at all, some were so old as to be virtually steam powered.  You know you're far from the familiar when you don't even recognize some of the manufacturers.

The building was a working restoration shop with a big warehouse space behind.  Bikes in various states of repair were lined up at the entrance, the finished machines were perched up on a two layer rack that ran through the whole warehouse.

You can poke around the bikes and the father/son duo who run the museum are happy to talk about any of the examples on display.

I had to rush the walkabout because the family was waiting outside, it would have been nice to wander around for an hour taking some good closeups.

If you're ever in the vicinity of North Walsham in Norfolk, England, drop by the museum.  It's a strange trip down someone else's memory lane.

Like what you see?  Many of the restorations are available to buy.

Mainly British bikes, but some others can be found
in the rows

A mighty Vincent!

"Made in England" - getting harder and harder
to find made in not the far East any more

Many parts in the process of being cleaned up...