Monday 27 June 2016

And Then There Was One

When I started riding I began to voraciously consume motorcycling magazines.  It took me a while to figure out which ones were good, but for a while there I just went all in.  Being Canadian I thought it prudent to get a sense of Canada's motorcycling media, so I made a point of looking past the wall of American magazines to find a Canadian voice.

 The two I settled on were Cycle Canada and Motorcycle Mojo.  CC seemed to be edited by a writer with lots of motorcycle experience (rather than an expert motorcyclist with little writing experience).  Reading other magazines sometimes felt like reading a kid's essay that they'd been made to write.  No one seemed to revel in writing like Neil Graham did.  He was consistently acerbic, challenging and opinionated, but he clearly enjoyed writing.  I really looked forward to reading him each month.

I found Mojo a short while later.  Its modern layout (many other Canadian magazines looked like they'd been designed on a photocopier), and crowd sourced travel pieces got me hooked.  Mojo feels like it's put together by a community rather than a small group of motorcycle industry insiders who don't know how to write very well.

A few months ago CC arrived at my door.  As I got into it I discovered that the two writers who do the majority of the heavy lifting in producing the magazine were leaving.  Many readers seemed relieved to see the back of the complicated and difficult Graham, but I missed that voice.  A magazine that was once a drop-everything-and-read-it proposition (and Canadian!) was now filled with news pieces that looked like they were written by an ESL writer in single, giant paragraphs; a computer could construct better grammar.  The new writer they brought in was an old writer they'd let go.  His MO seems to be to say something controversial at the beginning of each article even if what he's saying is inconsistent from page to page.  The article on the new Harley Davidson is making fun of sport bike riders, the article on a sports bike makes fun of cruiser riders, and his recent piece on the new Honda Africa Twin allowed him to take pot-shots at adventure bike riders.  I get no sense of who he actually is or what he likes.  This approach seems disingenuous and makes me hesitate to trust him.

The newsletter modelled magazines that feel like they are driven by industry interests rather than independent editorial opinion have already been dropped.  Mojo & CC were my only Canadian subscriptions to renew, but now it's down to a single Canadian mag.  The hole left in the Canadian motorcycling publication landscape by Graham leaving Cycle Canada has made a sure thing a has-been.

 In the meantime I'm looking world-wide for my motorcycle periodicals.  The three I've settled on are Motorcycle Mojo (Canada), Cycle World (US) and BIKE (UK).  The last two are driven by professional writers who know motorcycles and not only write well, but seem to enjoy doing it.  I've never read a complaint about having to fill up space with writing or meet deadlines in either, although this seems to be a common subject for editorial discussion in many Canadian magazines.

I'm not reading any more magazines, Canadian or not, that make me feel like I'm reading an essay a kid was forced to write for school.  If the writing is that difficult, don't work for a magazine.  Writing is a skill unto itself, and it should be something you enjoy (it's what will make you work to improve it instead of just trudging up to deadlines while complaining about them in print).  Just because you're an expert in the subject area doesn't mean you're an expert at communicating it in writing.  Life's too short to read things written badly by people who aren't that good at it and couldn't care less about their writer's craft.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Expensive Aerodynamic Games

Those people paid to watch very highly paid drivers parade
around lap after lap and throw fits if anyone upsets the tedium.
I just watched the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix.  I used to be a huge Schumie fan and watched F1 religiously, but I've wandered away since I starting two wheeling.  It was an historic race with Max Verstappen being the first Dutch driver and youngest ever driver to win a GP race, but it was tedious.  Sky Sports' announcers tried to rev it up with one of the few attempted passes, which was then followed up by Sebastien Vettel complaining about an attempted pass.  Daniel Ricardo, the driver who attempted the pass said after the race, "I know no one tries to pass any more in Formula One, but I did, and it didn't work."

When you're working the air around a car that hard,you make
a lot of turbulence, which makes it hard to pass.  If you clip
another car with wings on it like this, you've probably just
done a million dollars in carbon fibre damage.  No wonder

they all drive around worried at being passed.
Having not seen an grand prix in a few years, I was surprised at how complex the wings have become.  The new normal isn't a front chin wing and a rear spoiler, it's layers upon layers of carbon fibre.  Thanks to complex 3d modelling the wings now consider wind flowing over them in all dimensions, so the wings have become these origami type pieces of industrial art.  You can only imagine what it costs when one gets clipped by a wheel.

The upside of all this aerodynamic black magic are cars that can corner like they're on rails because they have tons of carefully managed air pushing them into the pavement.  The downside is all that down-force creates huge turbulence, making passing next to impossible.  MotoGP doesn't produce passing stats, but based on any criteria I can imagine passing is orders of magnitude greater in MotoGP.

MotoGP has played with aerodynamics before, but because motorcycles change their angle of attack (they lean) when they corner, it isn't a relatively static shape that is always facing the oncoming wind blast.  As a result the benefits of consistent down-force while cornering aren't there for motorbike wings, but that isn't stopping MotoGP from pushing deep into it this season.

The vestigial wings on MotoGP bikes don't do much to glue the bike to the ground in corners (the main purpose of F1 wings), but they do provide some stability while under acceleration (keeping the front wheel from rising).  Turning a wing sideways makes it fairly useless, so acceleration is the only place it's facing the wind properly.  Even with these modest wings, riders are complaining that the amount of turbulence coming off machines has increased, making passing more difficult.  Between that and worries about wings clipping people in an off, there are obvious dynamic concerns around winglets.

Another problem with aerodynamics is that they're incredibly expensive.  You can only go so far with computer simulations before you wind up in a wind tunnel testing your designs, and wind tunnels aren't cheap.  Developing aerodynamics mean many models and constant refinement.  That the end results aren't that significant begs the question: why do it?

What I'd like to see is MotoGP ban wings.  The aerodynamic costs limit other manufacturers from considering entering the fray.  A strong multi-manufacturer competition is a big part of MotoGP's success.  That they create turbulence that makes following bikes unstable at speed and reduce chances of passing is another strike against them.  The aesthetic argument that they turn the simplistically elegant racing motorbike into a warty toad also rings true; winglets aren't pretty.

I love the high tech nature of Formula1, but aerodynamics have made the cars fantastically expensive with no real benefit beyond the race track.  Improvements to engines, transmissions and safety have a clear connection to the evolution of automobiles in general, but massive wings and tons of down force don't.  Watching a film like Rush reminds me of a time when drivers drove.  Today's races are more like a Moon shot, and the drivers astronauts.  In the last race Hamilton couldn't compete because he couldn't get his car to reboot, and Vettel is probably still upset that his carbon fibre wings might have been touched.  If I wanted to watch people who can't work computers I'd go to work, I hardly want to watch it in an F1 race.  If I wanted to watch people worried about how perfect their cars looked, I'd go to a concour d'elegance.

A Formula 1 with physically smaller cars and reasonable down-force limits could still explore the technical boundaries of driving on four wheels while encouraging something that looks less like a parade lap and more like racing.  Without the wings dripping off them and huge turbulence, passing could become a part of an F1 race again, perhaps so much so that drivers don't complain about a single attempted pass.  If F1 wanted to explore a more functional aspect of aerodynamics they should limit the massive wings but allow small, adaptive aerodynamics.  That's something that would once again be relevant to the evolution of the automobile.

I can only hope MotoGP doesn't follow F1 down this evolutionary dead end of aerodynamic inflation.  A bike festooned with wings wouldn't just be ugly, it would be irrelevant.

Can you imagine if the wings knocked each other, or got locked together?  I like my bike racing frenetic, fast and side by side.

Four abreast heading into the first corner?  The beginning of another frantic pass-fest in MotoGP.
F1 overtaking stats

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Fundy Roads

The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world.  The shape of the bay forces huge quantities of water into and out of the bay every twelve hours, making for a rather bizarre ecosystem.

A few weeks ago I spent a few days in Moncton at the Skills Canada National Competition, just up river from the bay.  All of the rivers and streams in the area have always wet mud banks on them as the tides rise and fall constantly, even miles inland.

I spent a tedious tour bus ride trundling down this road:
... which is every bit as bike friendly as it looks.  When it wasn't bending left and right it was chasing huge verticals.  On two wheels it would be marvellous!  Maybe next time.

After a nice ride from Moncton to Hopewell Rocks, you can walk along the sea floor, before a 40 foot tide comes in!

Saturday 11 June 2016

The Third Way

I was at Skills Canada's National Competition in New Brunswick last weekend and had a rainy Sunday morning in Moncton to listen to Michael Enright on the Sunday Edition on CBC radio.  His piece on bicycles versus cars stressed the enormous gap between coddled, cocky cagers and the noble, spiritually empowered bicyclist.

As someone who doesn't live only a bicycle ride away from everything I need (because I live in the country), I felt somewhat excluded from this urban (urbane?) discussion.  As someone who stays out of cars whenever possible and doesn't ride a bicycle, how can I possible survive?  I've found a third way ignored by both cagers and the messianic bicyclist.

What is this magical third way?  It's the motorcycle of course.  You enjoy that feeling of flying that the bicyclist on the radio refers to, but you do it without forcing a third lane of traffic everywhere you're going.  Motorcycles actually reduce congestion and improve traffic flow and do so without demanding bike lanes in already overcrowded urban centres.  You don't see motorcyclists riding into opening car doors like you see bicyclists.  Though they thrive in that environment, motorbikes aren't only suitable for urban use.  People in suburbs and rural areas can still use them to cover useful distances quickly.  You don't produce the spontaneous righteous indignation that bicyclists seem to be able to generate at will, but you also don't show up to work smelling like sweat and spandex.

For less than the price of an economy car
you can buy a Yamaha R1 that accelerates
faster than anything you're ever likely to
meet and still gets better than 40 mpg.
Cutting edge Italian style can be yours in a
Vespa that costs about what a fancy road
bicycle does but can run at highway speeds
while getting 100 miles to the gallon. 
You aren't suffering for choice when it comes to two-wheeled motorized transportation.  Want to buy a Canadian built, Canadian owned company's bike?  The Can-Am Spyder offers older riders a stable, efficient platform to enjoy being out in the world.  Love Italian exotica?  Italy has more than a dozen current manufacturers of motorcycles producing everything from race ready Ducatis to stylish Vespas.  The Japanese produce an astounding range of bikes from the ground-breaking super-charged Kawasaki H2r to the futuristic Honda NV4 which manages to look like the off-spring of the batmobile and a stealth fighter while still getting better than 60mpg.

If you like the traditional look you can find modernized classic Triumphs and evolutionary Harley Davidsons that all use fuel injection, have anti-lock brakes and are both dependable and efficient ways of getting there in style.  There is a motorbike for every taste from subtle to gross.

The third way means you are paying road taxes to help build and maintain the roads you're using (bicyclists don't), and you're not asking for your own lanes because you have no trouble flowing with normal traffic.  You never see a motorcyclist take to the sidewalk and abuse pedestrian space like you will with bicyclists because motorcyclists consider themselves road going vehicles all the time and not just when it suits them.  That kind of responsibility happens when you're paying for the infrastructure you're using.

The police officer redirecting traffic just told me to pull into
the full parking lot - you can fit bikes in without needing new
infrastructure to fit them.  All those unused triangles suddenly

have a function.
The third way means that, like bicyclists, you have to share the road with distracted, idiotic cagers who barely pay attention to what happens beyond the air conditioned box they find themselves in, all while they burn copious amounts of gasoline moving themselves, four empty seats and a couple of tonnes of vehicle around with them.  It's a dangerous business sharing space with these vain-glorious, self obsessed tools.

What do you get in return for that vulnerability?  You are present in the places you pass through, alive in the world.  You smell every smell, feel the sun on your back and arrive feeling like to you travelled through the world to get there instead of feeling isolated, superior and more than a little clueless.  The first time you lean into a series of corners and feel like you and your bike are one is a magical experience.  You can't take on the spandex righteousness of bicyclists, but you can take comfort in knowing that you're using way less of everything to get where the cars are going, and you're doing it with a much bigger smile on your face.

The kind of defensive riding you learn on a motorbike (who is at fault doesn't matter, you need to be responsible for the ineptitude of those around you) can't help but make you a better car driver.  I've been unable to squeeze the statistics out of the Ontario MoT, but I'll bet you a coffee and donut that if you compare any age group with G class car licenses and G and M (car+motorcycle) licenses, you'll see a significant drop in collisions when they drive four wheelers.  You can't help but internalize that kind of defensive mindset if you're going to ride motorbikes for any length of time.  Bicycling isn't a parallel to driving a car because you aren't held firm by the same traffic flow and right of way issues, so bicyclist paranoia doesn't translate to driving like motorcycle paranoia does.
For most who can't afford the excess
that is the automobile, the motorcycle
offers real mobility.

You'd be hard pressed to find a more democratic vehicle than the motorcycle.  As a means of economic, efficient transportation, there is nothing better.  If you don't believe me, look at any developing country.  The motorcycle is what allows many people who can't luxuriate in the first world isolationism of the automobile a chance at mobility in the modern sense.

While urban cyclists find god and battle the soulless commuting automobilists on The Sunday Edition, I'll enjoy my third way.  I only wish it was a consideration in the misery that is most urban commutes.  Rather than chasing utopian dreams of bicycle lanes in a car free city, why not consider a compromise that lets us immediately reduce gridlock?  Ontario could start by following the examples of more motorcycle friendly jurisdictions by allowing filtering, reducing insurance, offering more parking (easily done in unused areas of parking lots designed for three ton SUVs) and easing access into motorized two wheeling by supporting and encouraging training.  We'd see an immediate uptick in the efficiency of the roads we have now.

Commuting by Motorbike is Better for Everyone
Mega-Mileage Scooters

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Flying: The Antithesis of Riding a Motorcycle

No Moncton Airport, you can't cheer me up with a rainbow.
I'm in the middle of a five hour wait at Moncton Airport, for a flight back to Toronto, and then a shuttle up to Centre Wellington.  All told, it'll be a 2pm to midnight commute, all on public transit.  Ten hours of tedium, uncomfortable seats and no leg room... and constantly being reminded that you're much bigger than most people.

To fend of the insanity of canned air, lousy, overpriced food and being herded like cattle at an abattoir, I'm dreaming of the best possible way to get home.

Riding from Moncton would offer a geographical opportunity as the Appalachian Mountains are in the way.  The best route I can manage on Google maps takes me through Maine, Vermont and New York to Niagara Falls, before a quick blast up the QEW home.

Anything out in the wind on two wheels would be better than this synthetic hell I find myself in.  At the moment I'd opt for a Honda VFR800 Interceptor and a good set of leathers, and nothing else.  My only goal:  to wind my way across some mountains to home.

If I left at 2pm from Moncton, I'd have gotten to Augusta, Maine by about 8pm in the evening.  A good sleep on a real bed and I'd chew up the remaining eleven hundred kilometres home the next day, wind blown, engaged and full of feeling, instead of slowly dying inside in a darkening airport terminal waiting to be herded on a plane.