Sunday 29 May 2016

Soaking Up European Grand Prix

Three months in Europe, loosely held together by six grand prix motorcycling events.  Lots of time in between to explore and soak up a variety of cultures.

A lazy 3 month Grand (prix) tour of Europe

The MotoGP Calendar

A roughed out schedule...

Friday 27 May 2016

Wanderlust: A Travel Motorcycle Production Company

I'm at it again.  Wanderlust, but with my trusty production crew this time.

North and West and then back again with the least amount of same roads:

I must have some kind of strange OCD, but I really enjoyed putting this together:
With scheduled production crew meetups and travelling together from Prince Rupert to Vancouver Island and back to Vancouver, it turns into a 41 day ride schedule with a 36 day production schedule.  The production team (Max & Alanna) have 8 flights spread over the 36 days they are on the road.

This would be an opportunity to collect video and develop a cross Canada story from a lot of different angles.  The production team would collect stock footage of the various regions we're in and save footage and data off the bike at meetups.  They'll then backup all data including footage and keep it safe.  I also hope they'd maybe develop their own stories in the process.

The goal of the production will to use the latest in digital tools to record the trip, eventually producing a variety of media out of it.  My goal would be a written story of a long distance, cross Canada, endurance motorcycle ride with photography to support a book.  I'd also then look to turn the ride into an episodic travel TV show.

Tools We'd be using

A 360° camera for experiential video.

I used a Ricoh Theta 360° camera a few weeks ago and was impressed with the results.  I'm not sure how we'd integrate this video into a media piece, but it would open the door to exploring virtual reality, which feels like the next big thing.  The lack of a single point of view makes for challenging post production, as does the huge amount of data it collects.  ThetaS: $450  The 360fly could be another choice.

Contour action camera on the bike.

I used this last fall and found its small profile ideal for collecting video from a motorcycle.  The upper scale model allows memory and battery swap-outs, making it ideal for shooting on long days.  I'd have one wired in to the bike so it could keep shooting for footage we could use in high speed video.  When things get really rough up north, this will keep collecting footage when others fail.  Conour+2: $430
The Olympus Tough TG-Tracker might be an interesting alternative.

I'm partial to Olympus Cameras.  In addition to the video camera on the bike, I'd also carry an Olympus OM-D E-M1 DSLR for photography.  It's weatherproof and tough, takes a wide variety of lenses (I'd carry a tele-zoom, 2x teleconverter and super wide angle with me).

Backup batteries and memory cards mean it'll keep going all day.  Olympus OM-D E-M1: body & lenses $2800

The production team would carry a pro-quality DSLR camera for shooting highest quality video.  The Canon EOS 70D is generally considered the top DSLR for video.  With proper video LED lighting, tripod and on camera and interview mics this kit would collect top quality video and sound.  Multiple battery and memory cards mean it can keep shooting on long days.

Multiple microphones (on camera and clip on interview), a teleconverter and a wide angle lens along with the 18-135mm lens would cover pretty much every eventuality.

Canon EOS 70D with accessories:  $1700

Another leading edge tool for this trip would be an aerial drone to take fantastic establishing shots.  The DJI Phantom 4 is a Canadian made aerial camera platform that produces astonishing video footage.  Its 28 minute flight time mean it could be used on multiple flights and recharged in the camera truck between flights.
Phantom4 with spare batteries & case: $2300

$30k seems like a good price for generating a wide variety of footage that could eventually be made into multiple cross country stories of epic proportions!

Now to find a producer and some corporate support.  My logo-ed dream team would be:

Tuesday 24 May 2016

That Moment When You Realize The Difference Between Road Tires & Multi-purpose Tires

I went out for a blast on Saturday of the long weekend.  It wasn't a long ride, just up and down the few windy roads near where I live that follow the Grand River before heading home for an oil change.

The Tiger was frisky and I was enjoying exploring its limits.  After a run up and down the north shore I crossed the river on a road I don't usually take.  Coming up the south river bank hill, I think I'm still a few hundred yards from the stop sign when I finally pick it out of the growth on the side of the road and realize it's only about forty yards ahead of me; I'm doing 80km/hr and the Tiger doesn't stop that quickly from 80km/hr.

Ahead on the right you can see the stop sign, but this spring it's in long grass and the trees have filled out around it.

Between smaller tires in general and a curved profile to
manage cornering on half as many contact patches,
motorcycle tires do an amazingly good job.
Motorcycle tires do an astonishing job of gripping the pavement with barely any contact patch.  I've had to dig deep into braking at various times and have always come away surprised at how well they grip with so little contact to the pavement.  Of course, I've only ever ridden road bikes with road biased tires until this spring (the KLX doesn't count, I barely road it and besides, those big, knobby tires slapping on the pavement were a constant reminder that it wasn't a road bike).

Finding myself astride an athletic Tiger coming in too hot to a stop sign with through traffic doing the better part of 100km/hr had me realizing I'm in a bit of bother.  You can feel remarkably naked on a motorcycle in that moment.  If I can't stop in time I'll end up in the intersection, possibly side swiped by a two ton box.

As the adrenaline begins to course through me I'm happy to note that my right foot is already deep into the rear brake and my right hand is squeezing the front brake hard.  Meanwhile my clutch hand has me in neutral already.  The rear has locked up and is snaking about back there.  I've never had a rear lock up that quickly before.  The bike is shedding heaps of momentum but I'm not going to stop in time.  I go deeper into the front brake where all the bike's weight is concentrated and it starts to skittle as it too locks up.  You can slide down the street in a car all day, but staying vertical on a bike with two locked wheels seldom happens.  All of this is flashing through my mind while my body is doing its own thing, I'm not consciously doing anything at this point.  My foot remains locked on the rear brake, but to my surprise my hand immediately eases off and reapplies brake over and over whenever the front starts to wobble; I didn't know it would do that.  Even with all that adrenaline I'm happy to learn that I didn't freeze up or lock up and drop the bike; I'm glad I have smart hands and feet.  Maybe all that reading about motorcycle dynamics has paid off.

The big Tiger is crouched down on its long front suspension, trying to shed all that forward momentum into the ground.  I would have stopped already on the Ninja with its sticky Avon road tires and hard suspension, but this isn't a purpose built road bike with pavement biased tires, it's a tall trail bike with multipurpose tires - tires that are evidently very easy to lock up, though I didn't know that until now.

These are wicked all rounders - they handle the road well
and are magical on loose stuff, but there is compromise in that
I've shed the majority of my velocity but I'm still not going to stop in time.  Things have slowed enough, and my hands and feet seem to know what they're doing without me telling them, so I glance up and down the road as I near the intersection; it's all clear in both directions.  I immediately release the brakes and roll over the painted white line marking where to stop - impending lock up on that wouldn't have gone well.  I glide through the intersection, release the clutch and continue down the country road in front of me in too high a gear.

"Get your head on straight!" I say to myself as I gear down and move off down the road.  You don't miss stop signs until it's too late on a motorcycle, especially when you're going to be entering a through way with high speed traffic.  Getting t-boned in a car there would probably have been fatal, getting t-boned on a bike would have been a certainty.

There are two take aways from this little incident.  Firstly, pay better attention and approach unfamiliar, overgrown intersections in a more circumspect manner.  The Tiger's big triple gets you going quickly so easily that it's easy to forget how fast you're moving - keep that in mind too.  Secondly, those Metzelers may feel fantastic on gravel and loose dirt (and they do, the bike is astonishingly stable), but they aren't grippy like road tires and they'll lock up early on you in an emergency.

I was remarkably calm afterwards and enjoyed the rest of the ride.  Even during the emergency braking and immediately after I didn't get the shakes or anything like that.  This turned into a good learning opportunity about a few key items.  I now know how I handle emergency braking (better than I could have hoped), and I've learned the dynamic limitations of multipurpose tires, all with no penalty.

If it happens again I might give myself a smack in the head, but it won't.

A picture perfect day for a ride along the Grand River...

Back home and all cleaned up - that engine will get you going faster than you think you are, and the bike's athleticism
will encourage you to push it, but those tires aren't up to 10/10ths road riding, so keep that in mind ya big git.

Monday 23 May 2016

Tiger Chains & Parts

Top gear at 4000rpm has me going
about 100km/hr, so it looks like I have
stock sprockets on the Tiger.
A one tooth more relaxed front sprocket
knocks a couple of hundred RPM off
the bike at 100km/hr and takes the
edginess off low speed throttle.

Chain & Agony: The Return

Now that I'm off a shaft driven bike, I'm back into the black magic that is chain geometry!  A trip to Gearing Commander has me working out the details of an '03 Triumph Tiger 955i's chain and sprockets.  The stock set is a 18T (eighteen tooth) front sprocket and a 46T (forty-six tooth) rear sprocket.  The chain is a 530-50 114.

A number of riders suggested a 19T (nineteen tooth) front sprocket to calm the bike down a bit.  The chain and sprockets are happy right now, but when it finally comes to a change, I think I'll go the 19T way.  Motorbike sprockets run backwards from bicycle ones - the smaller sprocket is attached to the engine, so the more teeth, the bigger the gearing.


The 530 114 chain on the Tiger has a pitch of 5/8 of an inch (the 5 is 5 x ⅛" - a 4 series chain would be 4 x ⅛" or half an inch of pitch).  Five-eighths pitch chains have a  roller diameter of 0.400".    The 30 part of the 530 refers to roller width, which in this case is 3 x  ⅛" or 3/8th of an inch.  A 520 chain would have a roller width of 2 x ⅛", or a quarter of an inch.  If you want to understand chain sizes, get a handle on that rule of 8 (all the numbers refer to eighths of an inch).
The 114 refers to the number of links in the chain (its length).

How to change a chain on a Tiger (video)
Triumph Tiger 955i parts list

<- 520 and 530 chains & sprockets widths compared

Tiger Changes of Oil

A fifty dollar US ($300CDN) magnetic
oil drain plug.
Triumph magnetic oil drain plugs.
(that's a metric 14mm width, 1.5mm distance between the threads, 16 mm long drain plug).

Entertaining Triumph oil drain plug banter (and the idea to put hard drive magnets on your oil filter, which is what I'm doing instead of ordering an expensive custom drain plug from The States).

The Tiger has been using a bit of oil (which is evidently within spec) but I don't know what the previous owner's mechanic put in it - putting in not Mobil 1 Synthetic (which Triumph states is the preferred oil) would be a great way to make money on an oil change.  If I swap in the good stuff, then I know what's in it.

I'm also putting on a K&N oil filter with a higher spec than the stock one and putting a couple of hard drive magnets on the bottom of it to catch any metal shavings dancing around in there.

I did the oil change yesterday. I've done thousands of oil changes (it put me through university).  If that oil was changed last fall I'm a monkey's uncle.  The Triumph filter on it had rust on it, the drain plug didn't look like it had been taken off any time recently.  Either the previous owner didn't do it, or his mechanic lied to him.  The oil was black and punky too, looking like it had been in there a long time.

With that all done I'll now look to see how much oil I'm missing every thousand kilometres (it's 3-400ml at the moment - but goodness knows what was in it or for how long).  The moral here is change the oil when you buy a used bike - you can't trust what happened before it was yours and oil is vital to keeping an engine running well.  I'm looking forward to seeing what new, correct oil does for the bike moving forward.

Other than keeping it shiny and lubricating cables and controls, there isn't much more needs doing.

It's supposed to be a beautiful long weekend.  I'm hoping to get out for some time on my very orange Tiger in my very orange Tiger shirt.

Saturday 14 May 2016

They're all trying to kill me, even when they're not

It's a sunny Friday afternoon in April and I'm pootling down a residential street in the town next to mine on my way home from work...

There is a kid, maybe nine or ten years old with a basketball in his hand, standing on the grass on that corner to the left.  A white, ludicrous-sized SUV (maybe a Tahoe?) is in the lane approaching me.  I'm doing about 40km/hr towards this seemingly innocuous scene when the kid (who is looking the other way and hasn't seen me at all) decides to throw the basketball out in the street right in front of the SUV just to see what it'll do.  You could see him standing there doing the math before he chucked the ball.

The Tahoe driver has that vacant I'm-in-a-giant-box-and-don't-need-to-pay-attention look you see in a lot of SUV drivers.  Generally, the larger the box they're in, the less they seem to care what happens outside it.  He suddenly keys in that a basketball is going to hit his precious status symbol, so he swerves out of his lane and right at me, except I'm not there.

A couple of things inform my ESP on the road.  Firstly, Conestoga's Motorcycle Training courses did a great job of getting me to threat assess and prioritize what's going on around me.  For less than the price of a decent helmet you get experts with decades of experience getting you started.  Motorcycle training courses should be mandatory for anyone wanting to ride on the road.  They give you the best chance to survive the often ridiculous circumstances you find yourself in.

The second piece is something that Matt Crawford mentions in one of his books.  He has a mantra he chants when things get dodgy, and I've found that it helps remind you to never, ever depend on the skills or even basic competence of the people driving around you.  When things get sticky Matt mutters in his helmet, "they're all trying to kill me, they're all trying to kill me."  It's the kind of gallows humour that most motorcyclists would find funny, but it's also sadly true.

A few weeks ago a kid made a mistake in school but it was excused as an accident by one teacher because the kid wasn't intentionally trying to hurt anyone.  Another teacher pointed out (rightly I think) that not properly preparing for a task, or doing it half-assed isn't an accident, it's incompetence, and that person's intentions are irrelevant, they are at fault.  The word accident removes blame and makes everyone feel better, it covers all manner of indifference.  No where is this more true than on a motorcycle.  Any experienced motorcyclist will tell you that it doesn't matter if you have right of way when you pull out and get clobbered, or whether the distracted driver that side swiped you while texting shouldn't have been.  You'll loose any physical altercation you have with a car (or a 3 ton Tahoe).  It's on you, the rider, to avoid these idiots.

On a quiet back street in Fergus, Ontario I could very well have ignored the abject stupidity unfolding in front of me or spent my energy assigning blame, but I didn't.  The child's profound ignorance and vicious curiosity (great job with that one parents) along with the Tahoe driver's distracted, indifferent approach to operating a six thousand pound vehicle could have very well ended me (80km/hr closing speeds between two vehicles won't end well for a motorcyclist).  As it was, I'd pulled over to the curb and was stationary as the Tahoe went by in my lane, looking surprised and freaked out that his precious truck almost got hit by a basketball.

I could have gesticulated, but I just stood there at the curb shaking my head as the freaked out driver rolled past.  You're not going to convince someone like that to be better than what they are.  The kid ran out into the street (he still hadn't looked my way), and grabbed his basketball.  I could have talked to him, or eventually his parents, but there'd be little point to that either.  Blame is a waste of time.

Even when they aren't trying, they're all still trying to kill you, keep your head up.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Overnight & Doable

Alright, some of the recent day dreaming has been pretty extreme.  With all the Ride the Highlands material I've been seeing recently, how about this...

The Longer Map
Bancroft Motor Inn
Saturday:  Elora to Bancroft:  357kms
Sunday:  Bancroft back to Elora via Algonquin:  561kms

Alternate shorter map
Saturday:  Elora to Barry's Bay:  412kms  
Sunday:  Barry's Bay to Elora:  453kms
Balmoral Hotel

The longer route:

100kms shorter:

It's also handily central in the province - the easterners could meet up with the westerners at a central location, somewhere like the Opeongo Mountain Resort (3 bedroom cottages for $150 a night!).  Ride up Friday afternoon, settle in, leave everything in the cottage and enjoy a day of riding light on Saturday, Saturday night around the camp fire and then riding home on Sunday.  That'd be one heck of a weekend.  If it worked out well we could do it again at the end of September in the fall colours.

Dash to Ushuaia

The hardest financial part about a long trip is being out of work.  It's not just costing you for the trip, it's probably costing you even more for not being at work, but I got lucky in that department.  From the beginning of July until the end of August I'm off, and with the semester winding down all I can think about is how I'd best use that time.  With the paycheque covered, could I get to Ushuaia in the time I have off?

600km days in North America seem reasonable, and I wouldn't want to lollygag around where I live anyway.  The point of this trip would be to go far in a relatively short time.  Moving through The States quickly also means not coughing up for first world accommodation any more than I have to.  600km days would wrap up the North American bit in five days.

Mexico is where it starts to get interesting, and it's also fairly straightforward, though it gets dodgier the further south you go.  Travelling the length of Mexico means just over two thousand kilometres of riding.  At a reduced 400kms/day (more in the north, less in the south), I'd be at the border to Guatemala in another five days.   The urge to photograph would increase exponentially as I got into cultures and geographies I've never experienced before, so more time wouldn't be wasted.

Central America is, by many accounts, the slowest part of riding down the Americas.  From the southern border of Mexico to the Colon ferry terminal in Panama is only 2300kms, but in that time you cross six international borders that aren't exactly state of the art.  At a further reduced average of 200kms per day, it would be a twelve day ride crossing those borders, mountains and rain forests to Panama.  Thanks to the one certain way of getting around the Gap closing down, those twelve days through Central America needn't be rushed.

Crossing the Darien Gap looked like it was solved with a brilliant ferry service to Cartagena, Columbia, but the service appears to have stopped.  There are other options, but run much less regularly and are more expensive.  The best seems to be the Stahlratte, which will take motorbike and rider to and from Panama to Cartagena in quite nice circumstances for about the price of your typical Canadian airline ticket.  The scheduled trips for 2016 pose problems though.

The Pan-American Highway portion of the ride is 10.300kms, and involves four international border crossings (five if you count the second Chilean crossing in Tierra del Fuego).  At 500km average days I'd be looking at 21 days of travel to get down the spine of South America to the end of the world.

It's another three thousand kilometers back up Argentina to Bueno Aires in order to drop off the bikes for shipping back to Canada.  That'd be another six days at 600kms/day back to the big city and the flight home.

The Darien Gap poses problems because it throws the schedule off.  With the ferry not running it's either a chartered boat (expensive, timing not great) or air freight (expensive but timely).  The schedule below is using the Stahlratte's 2016 schedule:

... but even with those slack days before the trip over the Darien Gap, it still just fits into a summer off.  Air freight over the gap is also an option that could shift those six days in waiting in Panama to the push down South America.

Shipping back from Buenos Aires looks possible but unclear.  The most likely connection would be overseas from B.A. to NYC, probably getting the bikes back towards the end of October.  A weekend flight to NYC, picking up the bikes and riding home would be the final bit of this epic journey.

That guy already looks like he's on his
way to Ushuaia !
He builds entire luggage systems,
knows his way around a firing range,
and brews beer, and that bike is up
for it!
To make it even more plausible I'd tap a couple of buddies who happen to have bikes totally capable of making this trip.

Jeff's Super Ténéré and Graeme's V-Strom would both be more than ready to join the Tiger on a trip south, and both riders have the kind of skills and experience that would allow them to carry me so that I barely had to do anything!  Jeff has been riding bikes since biblical times and Graeme has years of riding experience plus a long stint in the military, so he can read maps and everything!  I could wander around taking photos of butterflies and videoing bikes winding through the Atacama while these two made sure we were moving in the right direction.  Having a couple of capable, experienced riders on this burn south would help keep it on schedule.

Adventure motorcycling
bits are wicked expensive!
I'd take Austin's advice in Mondo Sahara and change all the wearable bits (tires, chains, fluids, etc) prior to leaving, but otherwise the bikes would be as they are.  A Triumph, Yamaha & Suzuki tumbling down the Americas over a brief summer.  If we're not getting manufacturer support (unless all three band together in an alliance against the unholy absolutism of celebrity BMW adventure motorcycling!), maybe we can chase down some support gear.

We could do a lot worse than an assisted walk through the Twisted Throttle adventure catalogue.  They'd do popular Japanese bikes like the V-Strom and Super10, but they also offer a lot of kit for my older Triumph.

The last weeks of school get pretty manic.  Daydreaming of massive rides that last all summer is a survival mechanism.

Links & Maps

Info on the Bueno Aires to North
America transport is thin on the
ground- we might have to ride
home from NYC!

Elora, Ontario to Colon Ferry Terminal Panama.  7040kms

Crossing the Darien Gap:  Drive the Americas.  Ferry service stopped.

Cartagena to Ushuai back to Buenos Aires.  13,363kms  (20,403kms total)

Colon Ferry terminal to Cartagena; $360US with a cabin - 18 hour crossing

A summer tumbling down the Americas (timeline)

Air Canada's bike shipping: a bit dodgy.  But freight options exist.

HU: shipping your bike

Boxing a bike