Wednesday 30 April 2014

More Traditional Bike Gear for Season 2

My first year of bike gear had a certain style to it, it also happened to be the least expensive stuff I could lay hands on.  After the no-name boots and pants I did a second round of gear buying as the summer began.  The Alpinestar boots and Macna pants I got were next level, but this year I want to expand my kit to include a more traditional biker look; it's time for the leather jacket and an alternate helmet.  

Since everything else is technicolour, textile and sport-bikey, I'm going for more traditional looking gear this time around.  When I've eventually got more than one bike I'm hoping that a range of gear lets throw a leg over anything and go.

This time round I'm looking for an open faced helmet for the short commute to work and a leather jacket.  My current choices were found on Canada's MotorcycleMotorcycle Superstore and

I've been looking for a classic motorcycle jacket that does the vertical stripe thing.  That look is surprisingly hard to find.  Short of going to a Pakistani garment manufacturer directly (along with the perils of ordering that way), they are surprisingly unavailable.

The flat black G-Max helmet is inexpensive and simple.  The Shark Soviet looking helmet is cool and expensive.  I've got gauntlet gloves and mesh gloves, but a pair of black leather gloves would be nice.

Since I started riding I've been finding that jeans are handy if I suddenly want to take the bike out.  A leather jacket would be a causal but convenient way to quickly get out on two wheels.  The full-on textile armoured jacket and pants still do the job for intentional longer rides, but for quick jaunts the leather and denim thing would mean just throwing a leg over a bike, not to mention not looking out of place on a more classic ride.  Getting on a Bonneville with the textile race wear looks a bit out of place.'s prices look reasonable too.  If they get back to me about the weird sizing on that jacket, I'll be ordering shortly.

Sunday 27 April 2014


I came across this term today while looking up gear.  It was funny to see it tied to a major manufacturer of motorcycle gear at the top of a Google search.  Being a keen new motorcyclist I looked it up.  You can't look like you know anything about bikes if you don't know the lingo.  Fortunately Urban Dictionary had a thorough explanation.

One of the things that knocked me off getting a motorcycle was a 'squid' killing himself outside my work one day.  He was late and he threw his GSX-R through a just-turned-red light at better than twice the speed limit.  He went over the hood of a car turning left onto the road in front of him and died on impact with the road.  His helmet wasn't done up and flew off on first impact leaving him to skid down the road helmetless in a tshirt for sixty feet.  Seeing this all happen first hand put me off riding for a long time.

When I think now about motorcycling I think of it as a meditative and conscious activity. The people I've met doing it are the antithesis of squids.  Many seem to have a poet's soul and a technician's considered approach to their riding.  In many ways I feel like I've found my tribe when I talk to other motorcyclists.  That a squid did something that stupid twenty years ago and robbed me of what I'm enjoying now so much is a source of irritation.  These idiots have a disproportionate effect on how non-riders see motorcyclists.

That the internet gives this idiotic motorcycle subculture such a hard time makes me happy...

"Squid Shopping"

Thursday 24 April 2014

Riding in the Desert

Flying in to Phoenix, the roads wrap around the
mountains like ribbons.  Riding them you'd
seldom be upright.
I'm still having culture shock over going to Arizona.  They have "buckle up it's the law" signs everywhere but most motorcyclists ride around without a helmet on.  They do things different in Arizona.

I was gutted to learn that Eaglerider was closed on the one day I wasn't at the conference I was going for.  I ended up in the desert in a cage.  I still had a great time hiking in the heat, but Arizona really is built for bikes, especially in the spring when it's hot but not too hot.

I took the route I was going to take anyway if I had the bike.  The only part I didn't enjoy was 87 back down to Phoenix where everyone was thumping along at twenty over the limit in massive pickups towing boats.

The ride out of Phoenix was smooth and the road quickly went down to one lane and got interesting.  Soon enough I was working my way up into the Mystic Mountains.  If you're riding from Phoenix a nice place to stop is the Boyce Thompson Arboretum on the right of US-60E about an hour out of Phoenix.  It's a lovely place to stretch your legs and smell the desert blooming.

On towards Globe it gets switchbacky and a dream ride for a bike.  The roads are smooth and never dull.  Turning toward Lake Roosevelt in Globe, the road takes on a less frantic vibe and has you taking long curves at speed.  I stopped at the Tonto National Monument.  It's a sweaty hike up the hill, but another interesting stop for a leg stretch.

Take 88 back to Phoenix, 87 is fast
and crowded.
I then pushed on up to the intersection at 188/87 at the top of the lake which I'd classify as a mistake on a bike ride.  There is a much more interesting road, the Apache Trail/US88 that follows the Salt River out of the Mystic Mountains and down to Apache Junction on the outskirts of Phoenix.  Had I been on two wheels I would have taken that one without a second thought.

Arizona begs to be ridden on a bike.  When I was out in the desert hiking I got a real sense of how wide open it feels.  Being able to feel that all the time on two wheels would be wonderful.

There will be a next time now that I've seen how easy it is to get down there.  From Southern Ontario I flew out of the tiny and quick Kitchener Airport into Chicago and on to Phoenix.  I was travelling for about five hours, but with the time change I left at 6:30am and I was on the ground and ready to go by 10:30am Phoenix time.  With that in mind, I'm now thinking about what a week in the desert on two wheels would look like.

Voila, the Desert Ride.  ~1765kms/1100 miles.  I think I could comfortably do it in a week.
The route: Phoenix up the road I missed, on to Sedona and some vortexes (!).  Then the Grand Canyon and 'Vegas before orbiting back to Phoenix through Yuma.  If I left on a Sunday morning and came back on a Sunday night it would be seven days of riding with the pickup and return of the bike on consecutive Sunday mornings.  252kms of riding per day minimum, more if I get lost, should be pretty manageable.

It was about $800 to fly down return, $1118 to rent a Harley Fat Bob for a week (7 day discount!) from EagleRider.  A couple of hundred a day for food & lodging... $3320 for a week riding in the desert.  That's not crazy for a chance to ride when I can't at home and shake off the winter blues, and an adventure bike would probably cost even less.

Now that I know how close and easy Phoenix is to get to, I think I'll be back.

google-site-verification: google687e0f8862d63de1.html

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Motorcycling & Autism

In 2004 my wife and I had our son Max.  At the age of three his daycare provider was wondering about his reactions to sudden loud noises and encouraged us to have him in for assessment.  This was a difficult process for me, I didn't want him labelled and pigeon holed for the rest of his life, but at the age of seven he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Autism presents in an astonishing number of ways.  In Max's case he's hyperlexic, and has many of the social cues you'd associate with autism (lack of eye contact, nervousness around strangers, generally missing social cues).  Encouraging Max into activities that other kids would leap at was always tricky.  We tried soccer for a year, but it wasn't his thing; Max does things in his own way.  When we started him on a bicycle he was slow to get into it and then wouldn't take the training wheels off.  After an intensive week last summer with Kid's Ability he was shooting around on two wheels.

We built him a bike (pretty much from scratch) and he's been inseparable from it since.  Last summer was, coincidentally, my first summer motorbiking.  While I was fettling my bike, he was fettling his.  I took him for a couple of short rides around town on the Ninja, but I was worried about how much attention he was paying on the back there.

This past weekend we took the bike down to Guelph on a sunny but cool Saturday morning.  With the topbox (and backrest!) on, it was a lovely ride.  I was no longer worried about him disappearing off the back.

He is very excited about the idea of riding which has me wondering about autism and motorcycling.  I think he enjoys the anonymity a helmet gives him (something not uncommon in autistic people).  In addition to the sense of anonymity is also the mechanical sympathy I see in a lot of autistic kids.  

My day job is as a high school teacher of computer engineering and we have a high number of autistic kids in our program.  I think they enjoy computers because they are consistent in ways that human beings simply aren't.  That consistency creates a trust in those kids; they can work with a computer and know that it won't be bizarre, random or emotionally difficult.  Some of my most focused, strongest students are on the spectrum and present a deep, nuanced understanding of technology.

Having a son who is autistic, I've moved from a professional relationship with autism to a much more personal one.  When it's your own son you start to see it in yourself as well.  My own mechanical empathy has a lot to do with my seeing machines as more than a sum of their parts.  Where I find people difficult, often frustratingly so, machines reward consistency and right action; I like them for that very reason, and suspect that my son does too.

I tried looking around online to see if there have been any links made
between autism and motorcycling but I couldn't find anything other
than a lot of 'rides for autism'.  The immersive nature of motorcycling fits nicely with the hyper-focus many autistic people are able to demonstrate.  You get to be anonymous inside your helmet and alone with your thoughts.  On top of it all, motorcyclists seem to have an intense relationship with their rides, what many 'normals' would consider to be mere chunks of metal, or worse, pointless infatuations.  A sympathetic if not empathic relationship with machines is a trait many motorcyclists and autistics seem to share.

I suspect there is a deep and lasting relationship between motorcycling and autism.  I wonder that there is nothing written about this anywhere.

Friday 11 April 2014

Bizarre Insurance

It pays to give your insurance broker a call each year and make sure you're paying the best rates available.  In my first year of insurance I went through the best insurance company for a starting rider and paid $1250 (this is in Ontario).  I called this week to make sure everything was in order and suddenly found my rates dropping by over $200.  

It turns out that Echelon Insurance has some strange ideas about how to judge your insurance rates.  According to them if you live in a rural area (with less people and less chance to run into them) you pay more in insurance.  You'd think that most insurance companies would consider urban and city areas more accident prone because, you know, they are, but Echelon doesn't.  If you live in a rural area (I know most people don't, but I happen to), then make sure you keep looking for alternatives to Echelon.

RidersPlus checked out alternatives for me and found Intact insurance doesn't have Echelon's bizarre logic when it comes to insuring motorcycles.  Suddenly I'm paying $1015 a year for insurance on the same bike because Intact doesn't work under the strange idea that riding alone in the country is somehow more dangerous than being surrounded by distracted drivers in the GTA.

It pays to check with your insurance broker each year as you renew your insurance.  Don't just renew, have a conversation.  That quick talk saved me a couple of hundred bucks this year.

Monday 7 April 2014


I'm enjoying the Ninja and I hope to track day with it this year at some point, but I'm also keen to expand my two wheel experience.  To that end it would be nice to have a bike that is a bit more drop friendly and willing to go off paved road.  In keeping with my '70s heritage I love the idea of a scrambler: an all-rounder that is stripped and ready for everything from road to off it.

Triumph makes a Scrambler model based on 'stripped down desert bikes with high exhausts' (that don't get blocked in dirt, mud and water).  But if you head over to the Triumph page you get the sense that the new Scrambler is more a hipster man purse than a scrambler in the real sense.

I was hooked on adventure bikes but I'm finding them a bit much.  I got an ADV magazine I hadn't seen before recently, and after reading the third straight piece about how adventure touring had produced a mystical understanding of reality I threw up in my mouth.  What used to be a Mondo Enduro style lark has turned into pretentious evangelism.  Why do people always have to fuck up what they love with hyperbole?  A DIY scrambler that I can get muddy and fall off of without worrying about plastic is my latest crush.  The video at the bottom with wacky Auzzies giving it the welly in mud is much more my thing.

Building a scrambler by stripping down a street bike and readying it for anything is an appealing project.  I found a 1986 Yamaha YZ Radian for sale.  The Radian is a naked sport bike with a detuned engine with better mid-range power, ideal for working in less than ideal traction situations.  This particular Radian seems well cared for and is only going for about $1000 (Canadian).

I'd strip off the fenders, shorten the seat to a single, lighten up the bike (which is already pretty light) and swap out the lights for LEDs.  I'd also throw some frame sliders and upgrade the shocks for heavy duty use and cover the fronts with dust covers.  I think I'd keep the cool chrome, analogue instruments.  The muffler would get the high mounted low profile scrambler treatment and last but not least would be some somewhat knobbly tires that would work both on road and off road.

With all those changes I think I could strip the bike down to about the 400lb mark. 

The point of a scrambler is to ride it anywhere and not worry about it.  It hearkens back to days before motorcycles were penned into tiny niches by marketing types more intent on selling a lifestyle choice than a machine you could make your own.  At the very least, it'd be hard for me to make it look like a week long trip has provided me with enlightenment on something so low brow.

Some Scrambler Links:

How to build a scrambler (EXIF)

Aftershock (The Bike Shed)

Sunday 6 April 2014

Travelling Ninja

A Vicious Cycle got me the kit for the topbox mighty quick (the day before they said it would get here).  It was a quick fit and install.  With the topbox and backrest in place, my son has a much more comfortable pillion to sit on.  A Vicious Cycle makes it easy to get sorted with the right kit, letting you search by bike and get kit specific to your machine.

 The setup is very solid.  The Givi monolock seems very stable and the frame was all first rate.  There were no problems with installing it.

The 26l topbox might seem small, but for a svelt bike like a 650r Ninja, it's a well proportioned fit.

 $320 all in (including shipping & taxes) for the Kappa case, the Ninja specific mounting bracket and the Givi monolock base.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Finishing Touches

The snow is slowly receeding.  This week I was down in the city and saw someone buzz by on a bike and got all revved up.  Over the past couple of weeks I've put the Ninja back together.  It's about where I want it now in terms of looks.  It's gone from a debranded, flat black angry young man's bike to a colourful machine that knows what it is.

After it warmed up enough to get the paint sorted I sourced some stickers from The Sportbike Sticker Shop.  They arrived the day before they were supposed to in a plain envelope with cardboard backing in perfect shape ready to apply.  Since I was going for a blue and orange colour scheme and I could colour customize the Ninja stickers, I did.

I went for black Kawasaki logo writing for the lower fairing and 650r stickers for the front.  I picked up a Triumph sticker for the toolbox and the Japanese kanji for shinobi (Ninja).  Instead of on the toolbox the kanji ended up on the bike on the 'interesting' side (the side with the shock).  The metallic silver sticker looks great on the flat black leading into the exhaust port on the fairing.

The stickers went on well and seem to have bonded perfectly.  The site says you can clearcoat over them, so I'll do that as a final step and it'll be done.  I recommend The Sportbike Sticker Shop - you get your order quickly, it's very competitively priced and the stickers are quality pieces that look great when you get them on, just don't be surprised if you get what looks like a letter from a relative only to find it full of awesome stickers.

With any luck we'll have some heavy rain and then a 10+°C day and I'll be off on the kingfisher coloured Ninja.

What thirty bucks gets you from The Sportsbike Sticker Shop