Wednesday 30 October 2013

Winter Is Coming

My first season in the saddle is rapidly coming to an end.  I'm sad.  I've been OD'ing on magazines and media in the past couple of weeks but I'm also doing more concrete things to keep the dream alive over a cold, dark Canadian winter.

This weekend I'm finishing the garage (insulation & ply-board) which should make it more inhabitable for stage 2 of Tim's cunning winter motorbike plans.

With the garage organized (a tire rack for the car's off season tires, new workbench, shelving, etc), there should be a lot more room!  The Ninja will find a nice corner to spend the winter (while I strip the fairings off and refinish the frame).  In all that empty space I feel a strong urge to project bike!

One of my earliest motorbike urges was driving by an old Honda on the side of the road over and over again.  That bike was selling for $450.  If I can find an old bike that needs some TLC I'm going to get it home and give it a place in the garage.  I'll spend the winter stripping carbs and breaking it down to nuts and bolts.  The best way to understand is to lay hands on.  Having a rebuild project would be the perfect way to keep myself immersed in two wheel thinking.

Come spring I might be kick starting an old beasty that hasn't rolled on roads in years.  My recent infatuation with Cafe Racer culture might inform this process a bit.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Refining Motorbike Fashion

Getting the Ninja had me going all in on the sport bike look.  The full helmet and ballistic nylon riding gear makes me look like I came out of the future.  When I'm all out on the Ninja it suits.  But a sport bike was never the goal.  I like the vintage look and as the bike evolves so will the gear.

I've watched It's Better in the Wind a couple of times now and dig the vibe.  Cafe racers, old Triumphs, all customized.

A couple of other things are making me rethink the gear.  At the training course they talked about how the helmet doesn't seriously mitigate the chance of injury.  If you think that a helmet will make riding safe you're not understanding the physics.  Helmets help to minimize one kind of injury.  If you can't handle this truth then you shouldn't be riding, helmets don't make riding safe.

The fighter style open face helmet
is a modern take on the old open
faced helmet
They also said, during the same training session, that you should wear a full face helmet and full armored everything all the time.  I get being as safe as you can be, but if the safety equipment gets in the way of the experience, or worse, makes you uncomfortable, it prevents you from doing the deed in the first place.

The Bell is a classic, though it made
me head look HUGE!  It'd be nice
to get my Mondo Enduro on though
In Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Persig says he doesn't like to wear a full face helmet because he finds it claustrophobic.  If the point of riding is to experience that expansive sense of speed and openness then I think I want to try out an open faced helmet.  This isn't an expensive proposition, though the helmet might lead to a classic bike, which might be.

A variation on the classic by Bell,
the Pit Boss is a bit less
Open faced helmets are popular and tend to focus on a specific style.  The fighter jet style half helmet is a modern take on the classic open faced helmet, but you can still get vintage styled helmets.  I'm partial to the Bell classic but it did make my head look huge.

The Bell pitboss had a nice look to it, but they didn't have one in my size to try on, though I think I'd go with the over the ears cover for protection and wind reduction.

I'm helmet inspired by a couple of things.  The family history sure plays a part in it, but so do movies.  Picking up something that I can plaster a rebel alliance sticker on would be cool.

Here are a couple of other eye catching open face helmets I've been thinking about:

Bell Hurricane ~$100

ZR1 Royale Air Ace ~$127

Nolan Outlaw N20 ~$205
Thanks to and for letting me window shop.

The other day someone parked their original Thruxton next to the Ninja and I got the itch for that old bike once again.

What a lovely old machine, beautifully cared for...

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Do bikers ignore reality?

I recently saw this on the Science Channel's Through The Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.  I really enjoy the show, but I've gotta call you on this one Morgan.

Let's look at some of the statistics given:

For the UK:  motorcycles make up less than 1% of motor vehicles on the road but they are 14% of total deaths/serious injuries. 

Considering that bikers have no cage around them to mitigate their own poor driving habits I'm surprised that they are only 14% of serious accidents.  There is no doubt that if in an accident bikers are more likely to be injured; bikes don't have fender benders.  

Riding well demands a level of defensive awareness foreign to most drivers.  A good rider is attentive to the threats around them and deeply engaged in the operation of their vehicle beyond what most people are capable of.  The only time I came close to that level of intensity driving was in a shifter cart in Japan and during track training at Shannonville.  Day to day driving is a simple, safer operation by comparison, but does that mean it's better?

A motorbike rider doesn't get on a bike to test fate or ignore statistics, bikers know how dangerous what they are doing is.  There is a difference between doing something that is bad for you (smoking, etc) and developing a complex skill in a challenging environment.  Like other athletes or sportsmen, the motorcyclist is developing their craft in an unforgiving environment.  To say that they are ignoring the reality of statistics is reduction to the point of absurdity.  Not to mention that statistics themselves aren't reality, but a vague mathematical representation of it.  If there is a reality it isn't to be found in a human abstraction.

Is biking more dangerous?  No doubt, but this reality episode is choosing to selectively chose their realities.  Chasing all motorcyclists onto four wheels because it's safer isn't really safer.  Why don't they take into account how dangerous it is to drive a massive SUV that is actively destroying the ecosystem we live in with its atrocious waste of resources?  Or mention the political and financial instability caused by big oil and OPEC?  If there were less people driving around in three ton tanks there would be fewer severe accidents.  You can do a lot more damage in a 5000 lb vehicle doing eighty miles per hour than you could ever do on a bike.  The reductive reality given in the show seems designed to cater to mediocrity.

If we want to be really Malthusian about it, making sure everyone survives every accident no matter how many they cause might appeal to SUV drivers, but for the rest of us keeping them alive to do it again (and again) is a disaster.  

Biking demands competence and punishes you harshly for not having it.  If you want mediocrity go drive a car, if you want incompetence go drive as big a vehicle as you can find.  You can hit as many things as you want and if you have enough money, you can burn a hole in the world while doing it in a massive SUV that pretty much guarantees your safety.

US stats: motorcyclists are 37x more likely to die in a crash

This is an exceptionally worthless statistic, of course you're more likely to die in an accident if you're on a bike.  If you were in a motor vehicle collision would you rather be on a motorcycle or in a Smartcar, a Hummer or a Sherman tank?  That tank would offer you the greatest level of protection if you were in an accident, but would be cripplingly wasteful.

Once again, there are other degrees of damage being done in the complex activity of human beings burning fossil fuels to transport themselves.  This past summer I did about four thousand kilometers on the bike.  I didn't die, I didn't come close to having an accident and I did it all at about 60mpg.  That's a reality I'm not ignoring.

Why do people continue to take this risk?

If reality is what we think it is I want mine to reward competence and punish incompetence.  

I don't believe that longevity is the point of human existence, I believe that we should all seek to improve ourselves by any means available, even and especially if that means putting ourselves at risk in order to do so.

I think we should strive to improve ourselves through the activities that we pursue and that should involve putting some aspect of yourself on the line in order to make the feedback meaningful.  Learning that matters can only be gained through sacrifice and risk.

I'm not ignoring reality when I get on a bike, I'm facing it in a way that most cage drivers never will.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Sidecar for my Side Kick

Side cars are cool!
I've been thinking about getting a second bike, one that lets me do some distance with my son (and wife if I can convince her).  I'd initially wanted to get a Royal Enfield with a side car so we could Harry Potter it up.

Like a fish in water.
All together that's about a $12,000 new piece of kit.  I love the classic looks but with a 500cc engine, the RE wouldn't be brisk, though it would be frugal.

Something that might fit better happens to be for sale in Guelph just south of us with an asking price of $5000.  I didn't know anything about XS1100s, though the sidecar was done by Old Vintage Cranks so it'll be done properly.

Looking into the XS Eleven, I found some interesting history.  A monster bike in its day, it was known as a fast, heavy machine that you needed a sledge hammer to roll over in corners.  Since it's with sidecar I'm not so worried about laying it down.  It would certainly have the pickup needed to move a sidecar rig and would have enough grunt to manage all three of us.  At less than half the price of the Royal Enfield (though with less of the classic look I like and over 70k on it), it has some appeal.

As a second bike I'm hoping for something very different from the Ninja which I'd still like to hang on to because I'm not finished learning from it yet.  A big, classic Yamaha with side car is about as far from an '07 650r Ninja as you're going to get. is vintage & in great shape needs nothing for cert, sidecar is new cost $5500 to purchase & have installed by OVC the sidecar pros! comes with gel pak in newly recovered seat,, am/ fm/ USB for ipod or iphone cd sounds fine on the highway.

Friday 4 October 2013

Motorcycle Media

I've been perusing the youtubes for motorcycle related videos and came across a couple of humdingers.  The first is BLAZER, a short (16mins) motorcycle mood piece based on a quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  If you've got the patience for it, Blazer builds from a joyous ride in the country to that moment we've all experienced where the machine you love becomes your worst enemy.  The conversation between the biker and his old Triumph is one anyone with an older and/or dodgy vehicle has had.

Don't be internet impatient and you'll enjoy where this goes.  The production values are excellent.

The second is another atmospheric piece (I'm a media arts teacher, what can I say?  I love moody artsie shorts!)   This one is about a bike mechanic in London (UK).  It follows not only his work but his ethos.  This piece not only follows the art of the mechanic, but it also follows the art of the craftsman.  Once again, if you're an internet twitch addict you'll find this long and boring, but if you can lose yourself in a narrative, this one is lovely.

The next is another fantastic video production that catches the raw, wild feeling of riding.  Cafe bike based and focused on friends completing a bike journey together, the video uses strong visual editing and audio to put you into their saddles.

This video uses music as effectively as BLAZER to put you into a motorcycle riding frame of mind.

If you're looking for a more documentary approach, the Classic Motorcycles documentary series will give you an accessible review of the beginnings of such classic British marquees as Ariel.

Open these up in the full youtube window and you'll get suggestions down the right side about similar videos.  You'll discover a wealth of motor cycle culture well beyond the frantic, herd minded focus on current motorcycle news.