Tuesday 30 September 2014

Bike Bucket List

Tim's bike-hole, once a storage place for unused furniture,
now an insulated work space with two Kawis in it.
Season 1 ended with me getting my license, my first bike and getting over 5000kms of riding in, including a full month of long commutes.  The original bike bucket list included getting the license and first bike.

As season two began I was looking to expand.  Bike bucket list 2.0:
  • build a garage worthy of the name (almost done!)
  • have a bike holiday on some less-Ontario-ish roads (done!)
  • ride more different bikes, done and done! (and that second one even got my wife scooter curious)
  • work on my bike-craft (done & ongoing!)
  • buy a fixer-upper (done!)
  • do an overnight bike trip (didn't manage it... but the season isn't over yet!)

Here's the bucket-list 3.0.  Some of these might take a bit longer to complete:
Some of these are well beyond what I can pull off at the moment, but you never know when circumstances might change.  Besides, if you're gonna dream, might as well dream big!  If I'm going to do that, retiring into my own little shop would be awesome!  Custom mechanical, digital parts fabrication and finishing!

Friday 26 September 2014


I came across YogaMotorSport on Google+ and began looking into yoga from a riding perspective.  It turns out many professional riders practice yoga.  I've never really done yoga before so I wasn't sure what I was getting into beyond some stereotypes.

via Michael Tan
Our little town has a nice yoga studio right down by the Grand River, a 15 minute walk away.  Awareness Yoga happens in a large basement studio with old stone walls and the sound of the Elora Gorge thundering away outside.  I'm a firm believer in ley lines, and there is definitely a lot of energy coming out of the ground in the middle of Elora.  It's a nice spot to do yoga.

I went in thinking it was some deep breathing and stretching.  It is that but it's also a lot of core strength building and I found myself sweating buckets simply following the workout.  I've had three classes so far and find the combination of stretching and strength training intense, but combined with the mindset you're encouraged to follow, it's also remarkably relaxing.  I don't come out of it all worked up like I do after a hockey game.  I come out of it calm and loose (though it tends to be sore the next day).

Yoga looks to flexibility, core strength and mental focus, all things that should be in frequent use while riding, I can see why professional riders do it.  I was lucky that my local studio does stiff guy yoga, it's a men's only class and I've got to say, it's a really nice change from your typical guy-sports workout, and something uniquely suited to motorbike riders.

Meditative rides through India
Motorcycle Yoga by Lisa Haneberg

Motorcycling & yoga... it's a thing!

Yoga & Motorcycling

motorcycle yoga mats

yoga and the motorcycle journey

Sunday 21 September 2014

Getting to know a very different motorbike

I took the Concours out for a brief ride in the sun this afternoon to get a feel for her.  She's a very different machine than the Ninja.  The carbs are a bit touchy when warming up, but then work in a very satisfying and immediate mechanical way once the bike is at temperature.  It's a much bigger bike too (over two hundred pounds heavier), but surprisingly lithe for its size.

Where the Ninja picks up nicely in lower RPM, the Concours pulls immediately with a much flatter torque curve; the word 'meaty' comes to mind.  The Concours was also surprisingly lively at higher RPMs, pulling hard to the redline.  Not like the Ninja does (which is more like a bull in a China shop), but it still gets you down the road right quick.  The lightness of the internal bits in the Ninja's 649cc parallel twin make it spool up like a turbine.  You can feel the complexity and weight of the Connie's in-line four cylinder as it builds RPM.  Where the Ninja screams like a banshee (and sounds lovely doing it), the Concours has a deeper, more sonorous song, though (and surprising to me because I really love the Ninja howl) equally enticing.  I can see why previous Concours owners have said they've had no trouble keeping up with sports bikes, this is an agile, athletic machine that belies its size.

In corners, especially at speed, the weight of the Connie seems to disappear and I can hit apexes in a similarly precise manner to the much lighter NInja.  With so much torque on hand, you don't need to keep the engine revving hard to get immediate pull out of it.  The Connie will go quickly without appearing to, with the Ninja you've got to keep it on boil to get that astonishing acceleration (as opposed to merely shocking acceleration at lower revs).

Controls wise the Concours is a much more comfortable machine.  The seat is wider and softer, the bike feels more substantial and not so wasp wasted between my knees.  The fairings keep the wind at bay, especially around  your feet.  In the rain your feet are soaked through on the Ninja where they are hanging out in the elements.  Riding in cool weather means thick socks.  I kept bumping my toes against the Connie's lower fairing until I got used to using less toe on the gear change.  Knee bend is still pretty bent, though not nearly as much as the Ninja and with the wider seat didn't seem so intense.

The Connie's gearing is much higher than the Ninja's.   At 120km/hr on the highway you're up around 6000rpm on the Ninja.  I'd guess the Connie would be doing under half that at the same speed.  A more relaxed bike that still has hidden reserves and is light of foot, I'm looking forward to getting to know Connie better.

As I was riding home we fell into a groove, like a horse extending its legs into a comfortable gallop and I realized just how far this bike could take me.  She's been sitting too long and wants to put road behind her.  Instead of wondering when to stop on the Ninja, I'll be wondering how much further I can go on the Concours.

Cycle-Ergo shows me the numbers...

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Complete Connie

Thanks to the kindness of CoG, some much needed bits and pieces from Murphs Kits, parts from my local Kawi dealer Two Wheel Motorsport and an awesome Givi box and windshield from A Vicious Cycle, the Connie is finally back on her feet!

The parts I needed consisted of your basic filters and fluids, some clutch lever bits, a number of rusty connectors, a speedo gear housing (the cable got replaced too), and replacement levers for the rusted out old ones.  At a CoG suggestion I looked at Murph's and found a full set of stainless replacement fasteners.  The bike was missing a number of them and the rest were in various states of disrepair.  I now have a pile of spares and new ones on the bike.  They look great and the whole deluxe set was less than seventy bucks.  Murph also had stainless replacement clutch and brake levers for only twenty bucks each, so I picked those up too.

The nicest surprise was the Concours Owners Group (best membership fee I've ever paid for!).  When asking about aftermarket options for the master cylinder covers I broke getting rusted bolts out, one of the moderators offered to mail me up a spare set from Florida in exchange for an adult beverage at some future time.  If you own a Connie, COG is a must do.  I get the sense that even if you don't have a Concours, COG is still something special.

With everything back together she hummed around our cul-de-sac in fine form.  No leaks, controls feel sharp, I think she's ready for a run at a safety.  If she passes I'm going to semi-retire the Ninja and put it up for sale and spend the rest of the season seeing what the Connie can do.  Once the snow closes in I'll break it down again and do the body work so next spring it looks as good as it runs.

Unscripted Moments

Steve Hoffarth has a good editorial piece in the August/September 2014 edition of Inside Motorcycles that got me thinking about scripted experience.  Steve was lamenting his inability to go racing this year.  He compared going on rides at a theme park and found them lacking.  A scripted experience like being a passive rider on a roller coaster has nothing on the complex, non-linear and entirely participatory experience of racing.

I was sitting in the garage last night working on the Concours when my wife stuck her head in the door and asked how I was doing.  "I'm in my happy place," I replied.

What made it happy was that I was fixing a problem that had no instruction manual.  Success wasn't guaranteed and I had to approach it from several different angles before I could finally come up with a solution.  Real satisfaction followed a resolution to a situation that could easily have ended in failure.  It was an entirely unscripted situation, the kind I long for after your typically scripted day in the life of a 21st Century human.

So much of our lives are scripted nowadays, from phones telling us when to be where to GPS units telling us how to get there.  Brakes script themselves for us because we can't be bothered to learn how to use them effectively, traction control leaps in at a moment's notice to script your acceleration, vehicles will park themselves, warn you when something is behind you because you couldn't be bothered to turn your head, and even avoid obstacles you couldn't be bothered to pay attention to.  I used to enjoy driving, now, at its best, it feels more like sitting on a roller coaster.

All this scripting is a result of software.  It may sound funny coming from a computer technology teacher, but that software kills it for me.  If I wanted to watch machines race I wouldn't put people in the cars at all, it's safer that way.  It's been a long time since a driver could take a car by the scruff of its neck and drag it around a circuit.  We do all this in the name of safety, but ultimately I think it's lowest common denominator thinking; software engineers design life for the least capable people, they can sell more of it that way.

There are places in mechanics where it just makes sense to incorporate computer control, especially when it amplifies an operator's nuanced control of a vehicle rather than overwriting it.  Thank goodness for fuel injection.  It allows us to create responsive, linear fuelling and use less of a diminishing resource, it's all good, as are disc brakes and other technological advances that improve rider feel.  I'm certainly not anti-technology, I make my living teaching it, but I am anti-technology when it takes over human inputs instead of improving them.  That kind of thinking breeds sheeple.

Traction control (many settings!), antilock brakes (many
settings!), hill start control and more electronics than a
moon shot - perhaps bikes aren't the last bastion after all.
Unscripted moments are increasingly hard to come by.  Perhaps that freedom we feel on a motorcycle is one of the last bastions of unscripted moments when a software engineer isn't deciding how you'll spend your time, or worse, spending it for you.

Except they increasingly are.  After I started riding last year I was astonished that this is legal.  In a granny state-world where safety is all that matters, where SUVs are considered better because they're bigger and collision avoidance systems are desirable because you shouldn't have to pay attention while operating a vehicle, motorcycles too are succumbing to our vapid, software scripted lives.

Saturday 13 September 2014

A State of Constant Surprise

On the bike I tend to pay very close attention to people piloting the boxes around me, mainly because they can quite easily hurt me.  That close attention has shown me that a surprising number of drivers (anecdotally more than half) are in a constant state of surprise.  They jump when they notice someone walking down the sidewalk, they start when a light changes in front of them; they are permanently startled by everything around them.

These jumpy people must be exhausted when they get out of the car.  I wonder if they are equally surprised by everything when they go for a walk.  Perhaps their subconscious is just continually reminding them that this driving thing is a bit more than they can manage.  Next time you're riding or driving try to consciously register how often you're surprised by events around you.

When I started driving I found that my mind wandered and I wasn't always paying attention to what I was doing.  After an accident (not entirely my fault, but I could have avoided it had I been paying better attention) I made a promise to myself to make driving the priority in my mind when I'm at the wheel.  I developed a relaxed, alert driving style that allowed me to take in what was around me while also being able to respond to it quickly and smoothly.  When I did something wrong or found myself in a bad situation I'd consciously review it and ask myself how it got like that and try think of alternatives for the next time.  It took me a long time, some advanced driving courses and some track time to get me where I wanted to be in terms of driving, but I don't look surprised or start at everything I see like a rabbit in a field.  I suspect most people are lost in thought when driving matters interrupt them, and if something bad happens embarrassment forces them to ignore it rather than critically review it.
Most drivers behind the wheel.  Being freaked out is not the
same thing as being alert or responsive.

If you don't make a conscious effort to develop a skill it atrophies.  Practice by itself isn't improvement, in many cases it's just reinforcing bad habits, which is what I see every day when I'm closely watching the habitual people around me with years behind the wheel driving in shock and awe.

When you consider that the last time most drivers made an effort to learn how to drive was when they needed to get a license, many of them are not only trapped in bad habits but have also forgotten what little they did pick up years ago.

People often say that riding on the street is a dangerous business, they aren't wrong.  Getting hit by a startled rabbit in a three ton metal box is gonna hurt, no matter how startled they are.  The trick is to see the rabbits and give them enough space to drive badly, it's all they know how to do.

Sunday 7 September 2014

Concours d'Elegance

After a couple of weeks of cleanup and repair, the Concours is back together.  I'm going to take it in for a safety this week and then see about getting it on the road.  I'm waiting on some replacement master cylinder covers and some clutch lever bits.  They should be in mid-week.  I hope to have the safety done by the end of the week.

Saturday 6 September 2014

It's an Appliance

It's an appliance, you know, like a fridge...
I'm back at school this week and getting to know my new students.  In our grade nine introduction to computers class they're putting together tech-resumes so I can see what their background in tech is.  One of the nines has a prezi covered in pictures of Ferraris.  I asked him what that was all about and he said, "I love cars!"

I was surprised by my response, "they're appliances dude!"

Some of them even look like fridges!  Guess what the most
popular car colours are... just like appliances!
I've been a car-guy for a long time (since I got one when I was seventeen because my parents ponied up the difference between a car and the motorcycle I was going to get).  On the list of things I thought I'd never say, calling cars appliances is near the top, yet out it came.

Appliances are used to make domestic chores easier, things like commuting, or going shopping.  They keep you dry when it's wet, keep you cool when it's hot, and warm when it's cold, and they get you where you need to go.  They're so easy to operate that most people who use them have no idea how they work and don't care.  The vast majority of people on the road last focused on how to drive when they were getting their license, once they have it they simply operate their vehicles on habit for decades.  Cars are a necessary appliance for modern life, and that's how people use them.

Fetishizing cars is where I found an odd resonance.  As engineering and design efforts, I can still appreciate the mechanical and design elements some cars display (one of the reasons I still look forward to watching Top Gear who focus on those things), but when I see someone driving down the street in a pimped out Pontiac Sunfire I have to wonder what is wrong with them.  It's like putting a wing on an oven.

What kind of license do you need to drive a car?  In Ontario it's a G-general license, good for cars and light trucks.  Two-thirds of Canadians have a driver's license.  Older drivers who probably shouldn't be on the road keep general licenses active, we hand out automotive licenses to children before we allow them to vote.  Driving a car offers access to an appliance that the majority of people feel they need.

When I have to take a car to work it's for appliance like reasons (I need to pick up equipment or move stuff around), it's never an enjoyable experience in and of itself.  I want the car to work, to be efficient, and to last a long time... like any other appliance. 

I drive very well.  I've spent time and money improving my ability to handle a four wheeled vehicle in advanced driving schools and on the track and I've driven on both sides of the road on opposite sides of the world, but the thought of hauling tons of seats and dashboard around a track seems absurd to me now.  I'll make an exception for racing vehicles stripped to the essentials, but my interest there is mainly in the engineering rather than the driving.  The complex, raw interaction between rider and machine on two wheels is much more interesting to me now.

I have been drifting away from driving as a ecologically irresponsible means of recreation for a while, though the years I've spent getting familiar with internal combustion engines has made me a fan of their engineering.  The brutal minimalism and efficiency of a motorcycle allows me to keep that connection alive knowing that I'm burning as little gas as possible to carry the least amount of weight in the most entertaining fashion.

I'll leave the appliances to the masses.  They can get into their refrigerator white or silver vehicles and putter about in a distracted, isolated way, using way more of a diminishing natural resource and producing more waste to support a wasteful, simplistic, accessible means of transport that the majority of people can manage (poorly).  I think I'm at peace with what came out of my mouth in class, though it surprised me at the time.


[uh-plahy-uh ns]

1. an instrument, apparatus, or device for a particular purpose or use.

2. a piece of equipment, usually operated electrically, especially for use in the home or for performance of domestic chores, as a refrigerator, washing machine, or toaster.

Friday 5 September 2014

Perfect Moments

Riding a motorcycle feels special every time I do it, but I had a couple of perfect zen moments on Wednesday that approached nirvana.  After dropping off my son at day care I was trundling down an empty country road in a golden, early morning fog on my way to work.  

You feel more connected to the world around you on a motorcycle because you're vulnerable and exposed to it, and in that moment the beauty of creation came flooding in.  Unimpeded by windshields or closed off in a box, the sights, smells and sounds of the world filled me with happiness.  The machine and I were a single thing, gliding through the golden morning mist.

I got to work with a smile on my face that wouldn't go away.

Later the same day I was riding home from a meeting after dark.  The half moon was so bright it lit the few scudding clouds in the sky, the rest was a dome of stars.  

Riding through the dark countryside I would drop down into pools of ground fog, my head just above the silver mist.

If you're on two wheels you feel like you're flying most of the time, but as I tore through that ground fog I felt like I was was truly learning to fly.

From the golden fog of sunrise to the moonlit night, it was a beautiful day to be out in the world, and my motorbike delivered it to me as only two wheels can.

Night Ninja
beneath a darkened sky
skimming through the dark
under a dome of stars