Wednesday 30 September 2015

Last Light of the Sun

I'm thinking about a final trip before the snows fly.  I did Georgian Bay early in the perilously short Canadian motorcycling season, but now I'm thinking about a circumnavigation of Huron to end it.  I've never been to Northern Michigan before and I'd be passing right past where Hemingway spent his summers as a child.

It's an epic sweep worthy of Hemingway!
The trip is roughly 1600kms.  If I struck north out of Elora I'd aim for the 1:30pm Chicheemaun Ferry out of Tobermory but instead of heading right around Georgian Bay I'd swing left toward Sault St. Marie.  Overnighting in the Hemingway-esque Petosky puts me about half way around.  I'd strike south through Northern Michigan the next day before coming through Sarnia and cutting back across Southern Ontario to home.

It's ~776kms to Petosky, or about eleven hours of riding.  A normal departure and then the 1:30pm ferry puts me in Manitoulin at about 3:30pm.  That would get me into Petosky well after dark, which isn't the way to do it.  There is an 8:50am ferry that puts you on Manitoulin just before 11am.  That would put me in Petosky around dinner time.  It's a nicer fit, but it would mean a 5:30am departure, which would be brisk.  On the upside, the only riding I'd be doing in the dark would be in Southern Ontario on familiar roads, and once I'm on the ferry I could catch up on the sleep I missed.

After overnighting in Hemingway's summer retreat, it's a straight shot with no ferries back to Ontario.  The ride back from Petosky could be done in six and a half hours and 673kms.  The 8 hour version with a few hours next to Huron would be the preferred route.  A nine to six day with an hour lunch would get me home well before sunset.

Doing it backwards might work better.  After spending the night in Petosky, I'd be aiming for a 3:50pm ferry to Tobermory where I'd be riding south on the Bruce Peninsula at 5:50pm.  I'd need to be on the road from Petosky by 9am to make the Ferry.  Backwards might be better...  You're looking at 7:20am sunrises to 6:20pm sunsets in mid-October around here, so the last bit home would be in dusk and dark.

The temperatures are on their way down in October.  With some luck I'll have a weekend that is precipitation free to make this run on.  Night temperatures are dropping toward freezing by the end of the month, but with some luck I'd be riding into some amazing fall colours.

I don't mind riding in cool temperatures. The Concours is built for it with a good fairing, and sitting on it is like sitting on a volcano.  With proper kit even single digit temperatures are easily dispatched.

The trick will be to get a couple of days free to go ride through Hemingway's Michigan the way he'd have done it himself nowadays, on a motorbike.  I couldn't find any motorcycle specific quotes, but I know he'd approve of the method of transport...

The write up on this trip would be damn right hilarious!

Lots of time for self improvement while riding a motorbike

... practically written for riders!

There is a physical challenge to riding that does make you stronger
I think I'll bring along some Hemingway to read during breaks in the ride...

Saturday 26 September 2015

Yamaha XS1100: The Midnight Saga

Buddy Jeff gave me a hand getting the XS1100 home the other day; he's an enabler.

Getting it on the trailer was a bit tricky as the front calipers were seized.  A couple of whacks with a rubber hammer loosened them up enough to get the wheel rolling.  It took three of us to get it up onto the trailer - it's heavy (600lbs), had mostly flat tires and was still grabbing the brakes, but we finally got the job done.  We ended up settling on $400 as is, which gives me a working budget of about $1500 to get the bike back on the road.  It think it's doable.  The only other one like it for sale at the moment is asking $3300.  After looking at the bike again critically before agreeing to buy it, it's in surprisingly good shape for what it has been through.

Once home we had a victory beer after wrestling it off the trailer.  A bit later I had a go at it with a garden hose and some S100 cleaner.  The ride over had blown away most of the cobwebs, but the rest of the bike is quite astonishingly clean considering it has been sitting outside.  The S100 also has a corrosion inhibitor, but I also soaked the bike in wd40 in preparation of trying to remove any fastener on the thing.

Trying to muscle the 600+ pound bike into the garage earned my my first Yama-scar, but I eventually got it nestled in there.

In other news, here's something to know about bike ownership in Ontario (and probably elsewhere): if you're buying a bike off someone who bought it and never transferred ownership to themselves, you need to make sure you've still got chain of ownership intact.  This means either a piece of writing from the legal owner saying that the bike was sold to the intermediary or a signed ownership.  The kid I bought the bike off had neither (can't find them).  He's looking.  More updates to follow.

It's getting crowded in there - once the season ends
the garage will only need to hold the Concours &
the Yamaha, everything else will winter in the shed.
In the meantime, the history of this old bike is long and storied.  I'm the fourteenth (!) owner (almost).  It's a 1980, not a '78 as the kid selling it thought it was.  In the early '80s it went through three owners before finding itself at Norwich Collision Service in South West Ontario in the spring of '82.  The crash owner had owned it since Christmas and had probably been on the road for a few weeks in the spring before spilling it.  Idiots buying bikes too powerful for their experience level isn't a new thing then.  He got the bike back from repair and immediately sold it.

After the n00b crash and the repairs it got picked up by a guy who owned it for six years.  He then sold it on to a series of owners through the '90s and zeroes, the longest being eight years by a guy in Halton.  The last legal owner was a guy from Stoney Creek in 2009.  

Whoever said the Ontario vehicle history was boring or a waste of money?  This one reads like a Jane Austen novel!

I'll update the ownership situation as I hear more, hopefully it'll be resolved by the end of this weekend.  I'll hold off on working on the bike until I know I can own it, that seems prudent.

Monday 21 September 2015

Revised Seat Geometry=Happiness

After installing a new seat cover (with some modifications), I took the Connie out for a ride.  The change in geometry is a compromise, but I think it's one I prefer.  In raising the seat height I'm causing more forward lean, but I'm also easing knee flex.

The gel cushion and extra padding on the new seat cover raises the seat a couple of inches.  I notice the forward lean a bit more, but the bike already has bar risers, so I'm not laying on the tank or anything.  The 6° knee angle relaxing is dynamite though.  I'd gladly take a bit more lean to ease the knee cramping.

The extra height above the windshield is negligible as I'm already looking over it by quite a bit.  With the extra height the bike feels like it fits me better.  A shorter rider would find a taller, wider seat difficult to manage, but I still have no trouble getting feet flat on the ground and riding is a much more comfortable proposition.

The seat itself is also much firmer.  Instead of squishy foam I'm sitting on thicker vinyl backed by higher density form over the gel pad.  The Corbin seat I was thinking about looks very low profile, so it would probably have bent my knees even more.  I think I've made a cheaper option actually work better for me.

A ride to the Forks of the Credit on a sunny, cool Sunday tested the new setup.

Your typical weekend in the parking lot at Higher Ground in Belfountain - everything from a
1947 sidecar outfit to Ducati Monsters to the latest Yamaha R1, and everything in between
Panniers make handy coffee holders
(I used them for a bakery pick-up in Erin)
Back home, the new seat's looking the business

Sunday 20 September 2015

The Seat of my Bike

After the ride to Indy I have a much stronger opinion about the Concours' stock seat.  It's soft and comfy on short rides, but on long rides it turns into a kind of torture device.  There are options for Concours seats that I can't justify on an $800 bike, but the cheaper option arrived, so yesterday during the rain I gave it a go.

It's tedious, but loosening the staples with a screwdriver makes
for clean removal with needle nose pliers.
The process took about an hour and a half to swap out the seat cover.  The seat fabric is held down by industrial staples.  I loosened them with a small flat-head screwdriver and then pulled them out with needle nose pliers.  It's time consuming because there are a couple of hundred of them holding the seat to the plastic base.

The cover peeled off relatively easy, only sticking where the Gorilla tape I'd used on the torn seam was touching the foam (that stuff is mega).

With the foam exposed I tried fitting the new seat skin and found that it had much more extra material on it.  I was looking to firm up the seat a bit any way, so I took the gel pad I got on the Indy trip and found it would fit under the new cover.  It would also raise the seat slightly, which would do my knees some favours.

Attaching a new seat cover is a tricky business.  The vast majority of swearing happened while doing this.  Rotating the seat so you can put weight on the staple as you squeeze the handle of the stapler helps seat it properly, but it's a pretty muscley process.  Getting the edges tight requires some practice.  This one came pretty close, but future ones I'll be pickier about and get even snugger.

In the meantime I've got a seat that feels firmer, sits a touch higher and isn't covered in tape.  I think the end result looks pretty good, and for thirty bucks plus shipping, it's a good cheap alternative to those sweet Corbin seats.

I found this seat cover maker on ebay.  The seat arrived quickly and is as advertised.  I can't speak for its toughness yet, but installing it I found that it was made of thick vinyl and the sewing was very strong.  It's a cool sunny day today, I'm going to give it a whirl and see how it does.

The stock seat tore on the stitching, Gorilla tape did the business until I could find a better solution.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Riding to a MotoGP Race, Next Level

Riding to Indy was a blast, one of the highlights of my summer.  I was all keen to sign up for the whole weekend next year, but then this happened.  With no Indy on the calendar any more, the chance of me riding south to see Valentino and Marc do their thing has just gotten quite a bit more extreme.  If Indy was level one, here is what more commitment would look like.


Riding to Texas, ironically, takes us right past the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  This one's a bit tricky.  The Texas race next year is in April.  We can still get snow in April so it would have to be a weather permitting exit and then get south as quickly as possible to get clear of impassable roads.

Indy was a ~780km ride, Texas is over three times further at 2564kms; it's basically a diagonal trip across the majority of North America.  The IBA has a Bunburner 1500, and the ride to Texas just happens to be 1593 miles.  Could it be done in 24 hours?  If it could, it would need some recovery time afterwards, and some serious physical and bike prep beforehand.

If the race is on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of April 8-10, 2016, I'd leave on Wednesday, April 7 (very) early morning, aiming to cross the border and be out of Detroit before anyone wakes up.  Baring any major traffic problems I'd land in a hotel in Austin Thursday morning early, and pass out.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday would be practice, qualifying and race day, and then I'd begin the trek back at a more sedate pace.  Five hundred mile days would mean a stop in Arkansas and Indiana on the way back, leaving Sunday afternoon and getting home late on Wednesday, April 13th.

Could a ride to The Circuit of the Americas be completed within a week from Southern Ontario?  That would be over 3000 miles or a touch over 5000kms in seven days.  Boo ya!


There is another MotoGP even I could ride to, but if you thought Texas was a stretch, this one is something else entirely.

The Argentinian MotoGP event takes place the week before Texas at the other end of the world.  If you thought the exit for Texas might be tricky, this one is downright diabolical.

This is a 13,655km (8485 mile) odyssey that would mean riding across two continents and crossing one of the highest mountain ranges in the world (not to mention the rain forests and dozen or so international borders).  Nick Sanders managed three trips up and down the Americas in 45 days, but he's crazy, and legendary.  John Ryan, introduced to me through Melissa Holbrook Pierson's fantastic book, The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing, did Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the tip of Florida in an astonishing 86.5 hours, but he too was crazy, and legendary.

The ride to Argentina would have intention.  This wouldn't be a wishy-washy wandering around the world ride, it would have Terra Circa like intent.  I've thought about riding the Americas before.   Riding to Rio is about 16,500kms and I thought it would take 60 days (275kms/day - higher in North America, lower elsewhere).  Riding to Termas de Rio Hondo would be marginally shorter.  Pushing the average to 340 kms a day, it might be doable in 40 days.

That would mean a departure date of February 18th.  If you thought leaving in the first week of April might be weather problematic, leaving in the third week of February is positively terrifying.  I'd aim for a leaving 'window' between February 15-20 looking for clear roads to make a quick break south to get clear of the hard water.

This happens to fit nicely into a semester at school so it would be an easy absence to manage logistically.  With that in mind, I'd find myself in Argentina in the first weekend of April.  The end of the world is in the same country south of me, so hitting Ushuaia before coming back north and seeing Machu Picchu would be a nice idea.  Going down that way is a few hundred extra kilometres out of the way.

At this point do I have to return the bike?  If so, the ride back could take place over 18 weeks.  If not, the flight back happens in just under one day (though coming back via Texas would mean I'm on a plane with a whack of MotoGP types!

What to take?  Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki all have factory presences at MotoGP and they each offer a viable choices:

Yamaha's Super Ténéré is what Nick Sanders does his double ride up and down the Americas on.  When they took it apart after the trip the engine still looked brand new.  This is one tough bike.  That story impressed the motorcycle Jedi I work with so much he bought one.  It'll handle less than perfect roads and swallow miles with ease... and it's bullet proof.  I'd get mine in Rossi colours.  Whatcha think Yamaha Canada?

Honda's African Twin is being resurrected next year.  Rumours have this bike being off-road capable and more than able to manage anything Central and South America might throw at it.  Canada to Argentina would be a solid way of proving the new Africa Twin's metal, whatcha think Honda Canada?  I'd get mine in Marquez colours.

Ducati's Multistrada is a long distance beauty with lots of tech thrown at it.  It doesn't have the dependability rep of the two Japanese bikes above, but it appears a very capable all-rounder that would have no trouble managing the variety of roads to Argentina.  It's so pretty and I haven't heard of any epic treks made by one, so it's a bit of a risk, but what's a trip like this without some risk?  This ride would give the Multistrada that world beating rep.

I'd get mine in Ducati red, whatcha think Ducati North America?

Suzuki's V-Strom is a road focused adventure tourer, but it has some off road cred after BIKE Magazine took one from the UK back to the factory in Japan where it was made.  Anything that can ride across Asia can manage Canada to Argentina.  Suzuki has only recently returned to MotoGP, it'd be nice to remind everyone that they're there by riding a Suzi through all those countries.  Whatcha think Suzuki Canada?

My opportunity to ride to a MotoGP race hasn't ended with the death of Indy, it's just taken on a higher level of commitment.

Saturday 12 September 2015

Why Do You Like Bikes So Much?

Part of the pleasure is in the simplicity of the experience.
It's analogue, immediate and visceral, yet still mentally
stimulating, meditative even! Mark Webber knows.
Asked by a grade 9 this week upon seeing my wall of motorbike photos ranging from Coventry Eagles to Kawasaki H2s.  My answer:

"Bikes are faster than cars in every way that matters.  They cost a fraction as much, insurance is less, they barely use any gasoline and when you go around a corner you feel like you're flying."  The kid nodded and then said, "I'm gonna get a bike."

Beyond all of those excellent reasons there is also the involvement.  Cars have you sitting in a box, watching the world go by from behind a screen.  On a bike you're out in the world.  You see more, smell more, hear more, feel more, and you're expected to do more.  When you ride you're using both hands, both feet and your entire body to interact with the machine.

In a car you spin a wheel and it goes around a corner.  On a bike you counter-steer out of the turn to drop the bike toward the corner and then lean into it.  Once you get the hang of it, it feels like dancing.  The first time they had us weaving through cones at the introduction motorcycle course I said to the instructor, "I could do this all day!"  Bike acceleration is astonishing, but the cornering is magical.  If you want proof, find any twisty road on a sunny summer day and see how many bikes you see.

Bike cornering is magical.
In the hands of a genius it's ballet.

I've driven some pretty involving cars.  The best get you about 40% of the way to what a bike feels like, and I'm comparing sports cars that cost as much as a house to regular road bikes - I've never ridden a supersport or track bike.

There are lots of other reasons why you should ride a bike (the camaraderie and sense of belonging to a group that recognizes their own, the exercise it provides, the ability to go places a car couldn't, the rich history, the technological know-how), and only one reason why you shouldn't.  Yes, riding a motorcycle is dangerous (mainly because of all the people in boxes), and it demands attention and skill, but the benefits are epic.

Monday 7 September 2015

Rivers to Roads

Yesterday I took the KLX out for a stretch, today the Concours.  I'm trying to get her up over thirty thousand miles this season.  Thanks to today's run I'm a hundred miles closer.

I first aimed at Marsville to have another look at the XS1100, this time in daylight.  It's $500, the motor isn't seized (!), and it's seen better days.  I left a message on the number attached to it, we'll see what comes back.

That it's covered in cobwebs and has spent the last who knows how long in the back of a barn somewhere only makes me want to take it home and take it apart more.  It's a good candidate for a tear down - especially if I can get the price down.

After looking at ye old Yamaha, I struck north, aiming for Horning's Mills and River Road.  Nothing works out the kinks like bending the big Kawi down some winding roads.  It was busy up there, with lots of bikes looking for the twisties.  The weather was hot (in the thirties Celsius) and sunny.

River Road gives you some very un-Southern Ontario like bends, it was nice to give the edges of my tires some work.  With all the traffic on the road I had to keep timing my corners so I wouldn't run into nice old couple in minivans out for a lovely drive.  A guy coming the other way on an R1 showed how it's done, executing a smooth, quick pass to get around the moving chicanes.

Just when you get past the twistier bits you come across the Terra Nova Public House, a tavern in the old style, with raftered ceilings and great local beers on tap.  After a break in the shade and a cool drink, I took the Concours back down River Road the other way and headed back via Grand Valley and Belwood, to Elora.

Three hours in the baking sun had me a little sun-stunned by the end of it, but what a lovely day for a ride.  The memory will keep me warm in the coming darkness!

Sunday 6 September 2015

River Crossings & Riding In The Empty Quarter

I've been building a map of local green lanes and interesting back roads to use the KLX250 on.  If you know where to look, there are some surprisingly tricky off-road bits around where I live.   As I build up the map I'll have a list of go-tos that mean I don't have to go far to get off road.  If anyone lives in Wellington County or nearby and has any suggestions, I'd be happy to add them.

I headed down a back road suggested by Jeff the motorcycle Jedi this time.  It ended at the Connestogo River where there was a water crossing.  It was obvious that Jeff wanted me to try it, so I did!  What happens next is all on him:

Success!  The first was tentative.  I did what ABR Magazine suggested and scoped out the bottom first, looking for any deep holes I might fall in to.  The river was never more than two feet deep and fairly even, so I figured I'd give it a go.  ABR said to proceed slowly so you aren't swamped by your own wake.  I might have been a bit tentative on the first pass, but the second was a test to see if I could proceed with a bit more throttle.  Like all things off road, the real trick seems to be don't fight the handle bars, they'll find their own way, even over slippery river rocks.

Some of the back roads in my area aren't maintained, which makes them much more interesting from a dual sport perspective.  The farm trails I took to get to the river were remote and varied from groomed gravel to deep mud holes and larger rocks.  In a couple of places I couldn't have gotten by with a car, which was what I was looking for.  You have a moment where you think, "if I drop it here and can't get it going, I've got a walk to get out."  Calling for a pickup wouldn't have been an easy exit.  I was never more than a short walk from help though, farmers waved from a wide variety of vehicles while they tended fields throughout the ride.

In one mud hole I was in a rut which led me right into the deepest part of it - it was the only time I had to come to a stop to keep my balance.  Once I had my feet down the big knobbies on the KLX chucked up clods of mud and I easily powered out of six inch deep sludge (which smelled a bit cow-ish).

One of the nicest parts of dual sporting is getting lost in the world without traffic.  I put over 60kms on the KLX on this ride, the vast majority of it without another vehicle in sight.  At one point I was connecting trails and doing about 100km/hr on a back road and I was reminded why the empty quarters are better.  A guy on a sport bike blew past me and then slowed to look back over his shoulder with a shrug.  I waved at him to follow me down the next dirt track.  He didn't.

The next day I'm still feeling it in various muscles.  Working your way though challenging trails on an off-road bike is a full body workout.  Austin Vince must be made of iron!

Another benefit of dual sport riding?  If you're into photography, it'll take you places worthy of it: