Saturday 25 November 2017

The 2017 MotoGP rider of the year?

With the 2017 MotoGP season behind us I've been thinking about who I'd vote for rider of the year.  I tend to steer clear of the factory riders because when you have truckloads of people getting you around the track as quickly as humanly possible you should be at the sharp end of the championship.  There are exceptions to that, like Marc Marquez in 2014, when a rider seems to be in a class of one, but this year that didn't happen.

It was a scrappy season with many leaders in the championship.  What first looked like a runaway by Yamaha's new rider Maverick ViƱales turned into a season long fight between Marquez on an ever improving Honda that only he seemed able to ride and Andrea Dovizioso on a Ducati he has stuck with and helped develop into a race winning weapon.  At various points in the season Yamaha, Honda and Ducati all led the championship.

As exciting as all that was the rider of the year for me was Johann Zarco.  In his first MotoGP race he leapt into the lead and although he didn't last there very long it made a huge splash.  While the top riders are making big bucks and have dozens of support people, Zarco, a rookie in a small, private team using last year's bike and making a fraction of the money ended up being the only Yamaha rider fighting for wins by the end of the season.  Marquez' mum wasn't begging anyone else to not do to her son what he does to everyone else.

That's another reason why I like Zarco, he's an odd duck.  He doesn't play the whining in the media game many of the top riders do, he just gets on with the job without the retinues, fancy sunglasses and stylists.  He's known for spending his time in the pits with his crew and sleeping in the truck.  At each race he sorted out the bike and then got into the mix.  While riders like Marquez (with a long history of crashing and general nonsense) whined about Zarco's 'aggressive riding style', Zarco just shrugged and did the business, on a year old bike, for a fraction of the money, with a fraction of the support.  That's why he's my rider of 2017.  I look forward to him giving the big money riders some more grief in 2018.  Hopefully they won't whine about it quite so much, but I wouldn't count on it.

I went looking for some TechTrois / Zarco kit, but it's sadly lacking.  There is a photo of Johann at full lean on the Tech3 bike - I've pulled the colours out of it so it could go on any coloured shirt as an outline.  Between that and his logo, you'd have a nice bit of custom shirtery that celebrates the warrior monk of MotoGP.  

Here's the link to it on Zazzle.  Below is the image and the graphic I pulled out of it if you want to DIY up something.

The photo simplified into a coloured graphic...

Wednesday 22 November 2017

A North American distributed motorcycling network

It's the time of year again.  My next chance to go for a ride is months away.  As the dark descends I need to get my head out of the idea that I'm stuck in a box for the next four months.  I wonder what it would cost to set up a series of self-storage nodes across the southern US to enable year round riding.  With some clever placement I'd be able to fly in and access a wide variety of riding opportunities all year 'round.

Looking at companies that provide self storage I like the look of Cubesmart.  They get great reviews, offer good sized storage units with electricity and lighting and look to be well maintained.  They also offer parking and other services that would make picking up and dropping off a bike easy.  Storage with the same company means I'll also get looked after better.  Setting up all three nodes in the south near airports means I could fly in and be on two wheels in no time.

WEST COAST NODE: a storage unit in San Francisco

The Cubesmart I'd aim for is in Freemont, about 40 minutes from the Airport.  $140US a month gets you a 90 square foot storage area that could easily swallow a bike or two and some gear.  

There are dozens of best rides around the city, so this makes for a target rich centre for motorbiking. A winter ride doing the PCH north of SanFran and through the mountains back to the city would be a lovely idea...

If San Francisco were my West Coast base I'd have access too all of California and could still reach out to the South West even in the winter months.  That'd be the nicest time to ride the deserts anyway.

EAST COAST NODE: a storage unit near Knoxville, TN

Cubesmart has a 10x10 foot storage unit just north of Knoxville for under ninety bucks US a month (about half what San Francisco is?).   It's about an eleven hour drive from where I am now out of the snow and into the Smokey Mountains, or a couple of hours by plane.

I could proceed south to the Tail of the Dragon and further on into Georgia, the Atlantic coast and Florida or west towards New Orleans.

The run south into the Smokey Mountains is a quick one:

Austin, Texas and the lone MotoGP appearance left in North America is only a couple of long days west.  Then again, Austin would make another good network node...

Central/South West Node: a storage unit near Austin, TX

There'a another Cubesmart less than 20 minutes away from the Austin airport.  Like the Knoxville one it's less than a hundred bucks a month for secure, lit and electrified storage (which will be handy for getting the bikes ready to go).  

Circuit of the Americas where North America's last MotoGP race is held is only twenty minutes awayThe Twisted Sisters, one of the best roads to ride in North America, are only an hour away...

Outfitting Each Node

I'd build up a package to keep with the bikes in each storage depot.  A duffel bag with basic tools, fluids, an extension cord and a battery jumper just in case I have to give things a spark to get them going.  I'd make a point of putting the bikes away well, but you never know how long it might be until someone is back to exercise them, so having the kit on hand would be helpful, especially if I'm getting there at 4am after a red-eye for some much-needed two wheeled therapy. 

Licensing bikes in Ontario for riding elsewhere would be a stupid idea as Ontario is one of the worst places to own a motorcycle.  If I could find a reasonable place to make a residence (like BC or Alberta), I could license a number of bikes and leave them scattered around North America.  If I hadn't been there in a while all I'd need to bring along is maybe a new plate sticker if needed.

Off hand, my 3 remote stables would look like this:

West Coast
Kawasaki Z1000R:  my favourite super naked motorbike.  With a look like something out of Pacific Rim it would keep up with the image conscious West Coast.  As a canyon carver little comes close.   It's a bit extreme, but isn't that what riding the West Coast calls for?

I'd have an SW-Mototech EVO cargo bag that would let me turn the big Zed (and the Suzuki below) into a tourer for those longer trips.

East Coast
With the Tail of the Dragon right around the corner, Knoxville calls for a bike that can handle the corners but can also cover distances if I wanted to ride to the Florida Keys or New Orleans.  Most sports bikes look small under me, but not the mighty Hayabusa.  It isn't as skinny and dynamic as a sports bike, but it's still more than able to handle twisties while also being a surprisingly capable distance muncher.  BIKE Magazine just took one across the USA.

For long distance reach and also the chance to ride into the desert when needed, I'd go for the new Triumph Tiger for the Austin depot.  A good two up machine that'll do everything well, it also has good cool weather capabilities for riding in mountains in the winter.

That's three very different machines for each storage point down south.  Swapping machines between depots would also be a cool idea, so riding the Triumph to San Francisco and then riding the big Zed back to Austin if I felt like changing up the options.  Setting up each bike drop would also make for a good end of season ride down south.


California Dreaming

The snow is blowing sideways in the dark, only visible as it passes through the dull orange of the sodium parking lot lights.  The car crunches to a stop in knee deep drifts.  I shut it off and the cold immediately begins to creep in through the cracks.  Grabbing the duffel bag on the seat next to me I make a mad dash for the monorail entrance at the end of the long term parking lot, the car is already being buried in snow.  A big Boeing thunders overhead, lights invisible in the swirling darkness.

Image result for snow at night airport
The monorail slips silently through the night into the terminal.  The airport is dead, barely a soul in sight.  With a printed e-ticket I walk straight to security and US customs and pass through quickly.  Two hours later the Airbus is thundering down the runway and I'm watching snow vortex off the wings as we slip into the night.  Its a five hour and forty minute red-eye flight ahead of the coming dawn; we land in San Francisco at 4am local time.

With no luggage to wait on I'm out of the airport in minutes and in one of many waiting cabs heading to Freemont.  It's a foggy nine degree night as the cab quickly makes its way down empty streets to the storage lockup.  Sunrise is beginning to hint in the east as I unlock the roll up door to reveal a covered motorbike in the shadows.  The bike underneath gleams black and green in the predawn light as I pull the blanket off.  If I was tired before, I'm less so now.

I transfer a few clothes from the duffel to the hangover soft panniers and belt them to the bike.  I give it the once over and make sure everything is ready to fly.  With the key in the ignition I turn it and watch LEDs play across the dash.  The breeze outside smells of sea salt and the fog is beginning to lift; I feel like I've landed on another planet.

Image result for pacific coast highway north of san franciscoThe big Zed fires up on the touch of the starter so I roll it forward out of the container and let it settle down into an idle.  I check everything again and make sure the panniers are secure on the back.

While the bike warms up I change out of travel clothes and leave them in the duffel hanging on the wall.  A few minutes later I'm in boots, riding pants and leather jacket and feeling warm in the cool morning air.  It's mid-winter here too, but a Northern Californian mid-winter is a very different thing from Ontario.  The forecast is calling for fifteen degree days, no nights under five and mostly crisp, sunny weather.  This would be ideal fall riding weather back home and this Canadian riding gear is built for cool days like these.

 The PCH is calling so I throw on my helmet and saddle up as the sky brightens.  The 880 is still quiet as Oakland is just beginning to wake up around me.  I'm through Oakland and over the Bay Bridge before rush hour builds.  Traffic is just beginning to build in town as I roll through San Francisco and out through The Presidio and onto the Golden Gate Bridge.

I pull into the Shoreline Coffee Shop in Mill Valley just north of the bridge for a big plate of eggs and bacon and some good coffee; it's just past 7am.  I've got six days ahead of me to explore the coast and mountain roads around here before I've got to go back to the land of ice and snow.

Image result for pacific coast highway north of san francisco

Sunday 19 November 2017

Snow Garage

The snow's flying.  I like watching Waiting out the Winter for some inspiration at this time of year:

WAITING OUT WINTER from Andrew David Watson on Vimeo.

I did my own less cool and moody version of it here:

I'm beginning to see why I'm sore after doing a few hours in the garage.  I'm all over the place!  The Tiger has new oil and filter and has been cleaned and coated and is now living under a blanket until the weather comes back to us.  The battery's in the basement on a smart charger.

In the process of cleaning up I noticed a missing rubber on the bottom of the seat.  Gotta figure out how to get that, the cracked rubbers on the mirrors and the rubber thing that covers the rear brake wiring.  

The Tiger's going on fourteen years old.  Fourteen years in Canada means wild swings in temperature.  The rubbers need renewing.  There's a winter project.

Monday 13 November 2017

Roof Helmets: enjoying the cultural dissonance

I'm a big fan of Roof Helmets.  It's the best lid I've ever owned, and one of the only ones that offers me full face protection when I want it and the freedom to easily go open.  I'll often start a ride open faced, flip it down to handle the wind when I'm out on the road at speed and then flip it open again when I slow down, even if it's just riding through a town.

I saw my first Roof Helmet when Jo Sinnott wore one on her Wild Camping series through Europe.  It took some maneuvering to get one to Canada, but it's been my go-to helmet since I landed one a couple of seasons ago.

I keep a close eye on Roof these days.  Their newly redesigned Desmo hemlets are on my wish list, and the new Carbon Boxxer is a work of industrial art.

Roof is selling that new Carbon hard, but if you think it's your typical helmet commercial you've forgotten how French they are.  See if you can keep up with the cultural dissonance, make sure to hang in to the end:

I'm wincing at the hooliganism at the beginning, but you start to have faith in the rider and end up letting them ride well outside of sensible because of your increasing faith in their skill.  Then they suddenly get into tiff with a couple at a cafe, and things go from there.  The reveal at the end?  Brilliant!

I don't think many Bikers for Trump alt-right Harley types will enjoy it, but I suspect that doesn't bother Roof too much.  It worked on me.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Stealing One From The Icy Teeth of Winter

The days are getting darker, damper and distinctly not rider friendly.  One day this week was into the double digits Celsius, so we jumped at the chance to do a big Max & Dad ride, maybe our last one of 2017.

That night it was going to bucket down with a cold, pre-winter rain storm, but the day promised sun and clouds and a chance to ride, so we took it.  We waited until the numbers got well above zero and then got the Tiger out of the garage and put on leathers and layers of fleece; this was going to be a cold one.

There is nothing more ragged and beautiful than a pre-winter sky over Georgian Bay.  We pushed north across the barren farm tundra that we live in.  Miles upon miles of mechanically tilled and industrially fertilized fields rolled by as we headed toward a first warm-up stop at Highland Grounds in Flesherton on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment.

We staggered into the coffee shop just past eleven.  The weather wasn't anywhere near where the Weather Network promised it would be.  Our low teens, sunny morning had turned into a six degree, overcast slog north along your typical, boring, straight Southern Ontario roads.  Fortunately, nothing cheers us up more than warming up in an independent coffee shop and then heading onto Escarpment twisties.  Highland Grounds was as good as I remembered and we left with warm grins after a vanilla milkshake, a cookie the size of a pizza and a big, piping hot coffee in a ceramic mug.  It was a lot of calories, but we'd shivered those off on the way up.

North past Lake Eugenia where I spend a lot of summers at a friend's cottage, we wound our way into Beaver Valley and the twisties and views we'd been looking for - so much so that we stopped at the scenic look out on our way into the valley.


Of course, as soon as we stopped an elderly couple pulled in behind us and the driver immediately wandered up to find out who made our Triumph.

"Triumph?" I replied, somewhat confused by his question.
"Where are they made then?" he asked.  He has (of course) owned old Meriden Triumphs from the pre-80's collapse of the Motor Company and had assumed they were long gone.  He had no idea John Bloor had saved the brand in the early 90s and it was now one of the biggest European motorcycle manufacturers.  He'd assumed it was an Asian built Triumph branded thing.  When I told him it was built in the UK at a state of the art factory in Hinckley he was gobsmacked.  I always enjoy telling the story of Triumph's phoenix like rise from the ashes.  We left him thinking about dropping by the factory next time he's back in the old country.

We hopped back on the trusty Tiger and headed on through Beaver Valley and out to the choppy shores of Georgian Bay where the sky looked torn and the waves smashed against the rocks, splashing us with spray.

We hung out on the lonely shore for a little while, watching the hyperthermic fisherman standing in the mouth of the Beaver River amidst the surf, casting into the grey water over and over.  Georgian Bay skies always look like they are about to shatter, even in the summer, but with a Canadian winter imminent they looked positively daunting.  Time for another warm up.

We rode back up the hill onto the main street of Thornbury and got ourselves another warm drink.  The goal was to strike south east across the Escarpment toward Creemore for lunch.  The sporadic sun had managed to get it up to about ten degrees, but it was only better compared to the frozen morning.  We headed south behind Blue Mountain and through the glacial remains of Singhampton before turning onto the positively serpentine Glen Huron road for a ride down the hill into Creemore.  Shaggy highland cattle watched us ride by, much to my passenger's delight.

A hot lunch of philly steak and poutine refueled us at The Old Mill House Pub in Creemore.  When we came back out mid afternoon the temperature was as good as it was going to get, eleven degrees.  With warm stomachs we saddled up for the ride home through the wind fields of Dufferin County, but not before walking down the street to the ever popular Creemore brewery for a photo op and some brown ale.

When it comes to the end of October in Ontario, Canada, you take what you can get, and I'm glad we did.  Soon enough the snow will fall, the roads will salt up and the Tiger will have to hibernate, dreaming of the far off spring.

All on bike photos courtesy of the very easy to operate Ricoh Theta 360 camera - with simple physical controls and an ergonomic shape that is easy to grip, it's my go-to 360 camera.  No worries about framing a shot or focusing, it takes a photo of everything!

Georgian Bay 2017 end of season ride #triumph #roofhelmet #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Our last big ride of the year?  Perhaps - it was hot baths and fireplaces when we got home.

Leather, fleece and armoured trousers, and it was still a cold one.