Sunday 31 December 2017

2018 Motorcycling Wishlist

The 2018 wish list...

Some things to get deeper into motorcycling in the next year:

Ford Transit Van:

$53,472 + some more in accessories.

A means of moving bikes south in the winter to ride year round as well as a way to take off road or race ready bikes to interesting locations  where I can exercise them.

The bonus would be to get all Guy Martin with it.

Become an off-road ninja:

Step 1:  Get the kit:  A KTM 690 Enduro, the best all round off-roader that can also get you there.  
$11,999 + some soft panniers for travel.

Step 2:  Get good at off-roading with lessons at SMART Adventures!  

Step 3:  Do some rallies like Rally Crush, Rally Connex, the Corduroy Enduro, the KTM Adventure Rally (in BC!)

Set up the KTM as an all year ride:

A Mototrax snow bike kit would let me turn the KTM into a year round steamroller.  Back country riding in the cold months would make for some good exercise and training so I wouldn't be back on two wheels in the spring feeling rusty.  $6000US

Become a road racing ninja:

Step 1:  Build a race bike...

...but why be boring?  Instead of something new take on a race bike rebuild!  There is a '93 Yamaha FZR600 for sale nearby in need of some attention.  They're only asking $700 for a fairingless bike, but that means I can go looking for race fairing!  

It turns out 90s FZR fairings are remarkably easy to source.  Since this is going to be a race bike, I can go with a lightless race ready fairing.  The other fairing parts are also available and not crazy expensive.  Getting them all as unfinished moulds means I can start from scratch with a custom race paint theme.

I'd be spoiled for choice with classic race designs, but I think I'd do my own with a 90s style influence.  With a double bubble screen and some customization of rearsets I could make a Fazer that fits me.

Step 2:  (finally) take road race training:

Spend the weekend of May 11-13th next year at Racer5's introductory course at Grand Bend.

Three days of track training on a rented bike.  Later in the summer I could then follow up with the advanced courses on my own bike (the Yamaha would be ready by then).  That'd be about two grand in race training over one summer.  By the end of it all I'd have my race license and have a clear idea of how to proceed with a campaign, perhaps with the VRRA who also run a schoolWith the 90's FZR and the training I think I'd be ready to run in amateur classes.

Use next level tech to ride better:

I'm not even sure if Cruden's motorcycle simulator is available to the public.  I do a lot with VR at work and I'm curious to see just how effective this might be at capturing the complexities of riding a motorcycle.  Even if I couldn't get it privately, getting one for a month in our classroom would be a cool way of examining state of the art virtual simulation in a very complex process (riding a motorcycle).  It'd also be a nice way to ride when it's -25 degrees outside, like it is today.


With those tools I'd be able to bike in ways I currently cannot.   I'd have what I need to pursue both off road and more focused tarmac riding which would greatly enhance my on-road riding skills.  If motorcycling is a life long learning experience, these things would be like going to motorbike university.

Friday 22 December 2017

New Zealand Mid Winter Escape

Another mid-winter holiday escape daydream...

A couple of thousand kilometers riding through New Zealand's summer.

$5267 out and $6510 back = $11,777, but hey,
I could actually sleep on the flights!

Fly into Auckland via Vancouver with lay down seats so I might actually sleep on the plane.

Pick up the bike (they have Tigers!) at and ride from Auckland to Wellington on the south island over a couple of weeks.

$249 a day for 14 days = $3486

The flight home leaves Saturday and gets in early Sunday morning (you get a day back crossing the international date line).

Sunday 17 December 2017

The Motorcycle Industry is in Real Trouble

Google 'biker' and you get a lot of pictures of old white guys.
Good luck selling them bikes in 20 years.
The other day a fellow rider on twitter shared a link to this article on how the motorcycle industry is in real trouble.  Among the litany of problems was the hyper conservative nature of the industry and its habitual focus on old white guys.  The biker image is a bastion of pre-Twenty First Century prejudices; women (unless they're pillions and dressed like dolls) and non-white riders need not apply.  Groups like Bikers for Trump continue to find a comfortable place to operate within these old-school prejudices.  I'd suggest that an industry that wants to cling to this dying sense of privilege deserves to be in big trouble.

Of a less cut and dried nature (unless you're clinging to colonial, white guy privilege) was the piece about how young people aren't riding motorcycles or even driving cars as much any more.  I'd argue this is a larger and more difficult problem to solve.  I struggle daily with getting young people to engage with and master real world technical problems (it's my day job).  I wasn't at all surprised to see this as a conclusion from the research:

"...many millennial consumers were “bubble-wrapped for safety in their youth” or raised by overprotective parents who discouraged risk-taking"

A few years ago I suggested we start a motorcycle club at our school.  Some of our students go out and get their licenses and begin to ride and others dirt bike, so there would be interest.  We could use the experience and expertise of our teacher-riders to help students more safely and effectively take to two wheels.  The skills learned in maintaining and repairing motorcycles in our shop would mean safer vehicles for our students to use and an increase in technical skill.  They all sounds like good ideas, right?  It was nixed immediately: a hard no.  We run rugby teams and downhill ski race teams and go camping in bear country, but riding a motorcycle?  Way too dangerous.  I suggested that was exactly why we should do it, but still a hard no.

There is, no doubt, a danger halo around motorcycling that is a big part of its mystique, but the operation of a motorcycle isn't dangerous in and of itself.  Many riders like to play to this mystique, making it seem more edgy because that's the image they want to convey, but it isn't helping the sport.  That focus is also used to hyper masculinize the image of a motorcycle rider and plays to the conservatism that plagues the industry.  

It's always a relief when someone subverts that tired, old stereotype...

Enjoy having your assumptions subverted, it's good for you.

Apart from the prejudices and mythology around motorcycling, we also have a new generation of people who aren't taking up the sport, but then they aren't taking up vehicle operation in general.

"For 16- through 44-year-olds, there was a continuous decrease in the percentage of persons with a driver’s license for the years examined. For example, the percentages for 20- to 24-year-olds in 1983, 2008, 2011, and 2014 were 91.8%, 82.0%, 79.7%, and 76.7%, respectively."

There are a lot of social reasons for this to be happening.  More of us live in cities than ever before and driving in cities is misery.  Many jurisdictions don't acknowledge the advantages of riding a bike in an urban environment either, making riding an even dimmer proposition than driving.  The independence afforded by vehicle operation that used to define coming of age as a teen has become increasingly expensive even as wealth has been concentrated in a smaller and smaller class of people; fewer rich get richer while more poor get poorer.  With money slipping out of the hands of a vanishing middle class, the idea of buying into the independence of operating your own vehicle becomes increasingly impossible for many youngsters, especially with systemic economic discrimination like insurance forcing them off the road.

There is a final piece to this perfect storm diminishing the motorcycle industry that I haven't seen as much about.  Last night I watched Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, and like every other film I've seen in the past few years, it's a few moments of acting tied together by ludicrous computer generated imaging.  When I was young I stumbled upon a Bruce Lee marathon late one night and got really fired up about it.  Watching Bruce do his thing was inspiring.  I'd make the argument that a generation brought up on fake, computer generated action wouldn't feel that kind of inspiration to get out in the world and do things like kung fu or ride a motorbike.

Marketing is happy to pick up this idea of showing you cars doing things they can't actually do because you're buying an idea.  How the car makes you feel is what makes it valuable, not what you can actually do with it.  Whether it's Nissan pretending their cars are in Star Wars or Chevy pretending their cars are skateboards, the marketing and special effects departments are more than happy to sell you on an idea rather than engineering.  I won't even get into Kia selling you on a car that will drive for you because you'd rather be daydreaming.

In this digital dream-time we're all immersed in, you can you see why something as unforgiving and physically challenging as motorcycling might be one of the first casualties.  It's going to be a long time if ever before we see accident avoidance on something as elemental as a motorbike.  For all those young drivers who expect their car to drive for them when they can't be bothered to pay attention, this moves motorcycles even further away from the realm of possibility.  Coupled with the danger mythology many riders are guilty of promoting, it's little wonder that motorcycles increasingly seem like something from another time and place.

We need to bring back the kind of inclusive advertising
that worked for Honda so well over forty years ago.
Forgetting the old white guy thing for a minute (it's going to go away on its own anyway), how can the industry get people back on motorcycles again?  The obvious first step is to make your advertising plausible and inclusive.  Don't digitally animate anything.  Show riders of all types enjoying the elemental freedom of riding.  This doesn't need to include jumping canyons or putting knees down; the joy of riding is a simple, accessible pleasure.  Show people commuting, going out on a date and otherwise living their lives.  Minimize the costuming, especially the pirate thing, emphasize how effective modern safety gear is.  

Honda had this figured out decades ago and it prompted a renaissance in riding.  There is no reason why we couldn't do it again.

Build bikes that appeal to all sorts of riders.  Smaller, easier to handle bikes for beginners that push technology to create something so efficient that it makes snooty hybrid car drivers look like diesel pigs.  A 100mpg bike is an immediate possibility.  A hybrid touring bike that gets mega mileage but can still move two up easily?  An all electric bike?  Self leveling suspension, anti-lock brakes, fuel injection and the myriad of over things that make modern bikes dependable and safe?  These things should be what define modern motorcycling and should be moved on aggressively in marketing them.  The safety and dependability of a modern motorcycle is a marvelous thing.

When coupled with a campaign to emphasize how efficient bikes can be at moving people around, especially in cities, it would play to the urbanization of our population instead of against it.  Motorized bikes are capable of moving people more effectively and efficiently
Governments ignore a lot of research that clearly
demonstrates how efficient motorcycling can be,
especially in an urban environment.
than just about any other form of transportation, if we let it.  Pressuring governments to recognize this and encourage two wheeling instead of vilifying it would be a great step forward.  Can you imagine how many people would flock to a motorcycle industry couched in marketing around environmentalism, dependability, modern safety technology and the elemental thrill of riding as an escape from the digital miasma?  Escape the Matrix indeed.

Ontario offers thousands in incentives for people driving environmentally questionable hybrids.  What would happen if you got thousands back in incentives for buying a motorcycle that gets better mileage than a Prius?  There are a lot of them - my fourteen year old 955cc Tiger gets better mileage than the Toyota green flag waving hybrid and was way less damaging to manufacture.  Can you imagine how many more people would ride these environmentally minimalist machines in cities if they could lane split and move quickly to where they needed to be, reducing traffic and improving the flow for everyone?

Why not do one better and apply those incentives to emphasizing the power and importance of the rider?  Instead of advertising about how your car will drive for you because you're too much of a drip to do it yourself, maybe motorcycling could emphasize the importance of the rider and include them in any upgrade.  How about training being automatically included when you buy a bike?  This would immediately result in lower accident rates and better insurance costs.  If you're a beginner you get the training as a part of the purchase because you are immediately recognized as a vital part of the riding equation.  If you're already experienced then an advanced riding course in the area of your choice (off-road, track, road) is included to continue your advancement in pursuit of mastery.  Motorcycle training courses blossom and grow and sales are encouraged.  How about industry and government formerly recognize the importance of the rider and collaborating to make riding the life-long learning opportunity that it should be; motorcycles become paradigms of skill, self-discovery and mastery.

Shows like Ride with Norman Reedus are gender and race
inclusive and celebratory of motorcycle culture in its many
forms.  We should be encouraging more shows like it.
De-snootying motorcycle culture, especially where it's at its snootiest (North America) isn't something to wonder about, it's a marketing imperative.  Anyone out in the wind, even if they aren't on a cruiser, is a part of the culture.  Scooters and three wheelers aren't for losers, they're a part of the sport that needs to be embraced and included.  Three wheels mean older riders and those less physically able can still enjoy being out in the wind, how is that a bad thing?  Next time someone gives you a wave from a trike, don't be a jerk, wave back.

If the current motorcycling industry is unwilling to embrace the Twenty-First Century maybe they should be in real trouble.  There are always smaller concerns in the shadows waiting to step in and make changes where the established, conservative powers are not.  Business as usual is clearly not working.  Hopefully the industry that feeds our hobby will realize that and stop coddling Twentieth Century prejudices.  A brave new world of opportunities awaits them if they do.


No easy ride: Motorcycle industry is in deep trouble and needs help fast, panel agrees

The Decline of the Driver's License
Fewer people of all ages are getting them, and it’s not quite clear why.

Riding the Roman Empire

Across the top of the Mediterranean over two weeks.
This time of year always feels like about as far from a ride as I'll get.  It's in the minus twenties outside and it's been snowing for days straight.  Time for some cost-no-object daydreaming...

If I jumped on a plane late in the evening on Friday, December 22nd at the beginning of our holiday break, it's a long slog because there is no direct flight to Athens, but I would eventually get there on Saturday afternoon. A night in Athens and then I could begin a long ride in a warm climate across the north coast of the Mediterranean on Christmas Eve, passing through the heart of the Roman Empire on my way west to Lisbon for a flight in time to go back to work.

I have to be back at it on Monday, January 8th. There is a direct flight from Lisbon, Portugal back to Toronto on the Saturday before.  Could I get from Athens to Lisbon in thirteen days? 

It's about four thousand kilometers through Greece, Italy, France and Spain to Portugal.  That works out to an average of just over three hundred kilometres per day which means plenty of time to stop and see things or a big day of riding followed by a day off.  Because it's Europe there are always autostradas to make up time if needed.  It appears Athens to Lisbon is a very doable two week ride.  

Here's a possible day by day breakdown with a couple of days off.  All the maps are highway averse, looking for local roads and the time it takes to ride them.  Should things get backed up, big highway miles could happen to make up lost time:

Here's a link to the spreadsheet with working links to maps.
There are a couple of longer days in there, but there are also two days off completely and some short, half days of riding.  There is plenty of time to stop and soak things in en-route to our western return point.

My weapon of choice for this trip would be the new Triumph Tiger Explorer I'm crushing on, in matt cobalt blue.  Tall Tigers fit me well and this one is perhaps the best one ever made.  As a cross countries mover there is little that can beat it, and that new blue is a lovely thing.  I think I'd do a burnt orange on the engine guards and pannier logos.  I'd also redo the badges in matching orange.

The new Tiger Explorer is 24 pounds lighter than the old one, gets better mileage and has a host of advanced features that make an already good long distance bike better.  The big three that powers it would comfortably carry a passenger if I could convince anyone to do this with me.  If we're touring two up I'd luggage it up and make sure we could carry everything with us, but if I was solo I think I could just get by with the panniers and leave the back end looking less luggage-y.

Outfitting it with luggage and a few odds and ends from the extensive options catalogue is always fun.  I only got myself into four thousand dollars of trouble there:

The solo, lighter Tiger looks a treat.
  • Expedition Aluminium Panniers - Waterproof Inner Bags Pair $160.00
  • Engine Bars - Black $364.99
  • High Rider Comfort Seat $340.00
  • Heated Passenger Seat $535.02
  • Quick Release Tank bag $131.57
  • LED Fog Lights $555.00
  • Adventure Tail Bag $295.00
  • Aluminium Radiator Guard $84.99
  • Expedition Pannier Mounting Kit $450.00
  • Expedition Panniers - Black $1,265.00

In a perfect world I'd get my Tiger shipped from my garage in my England house to the Triumph Dealer in Athens where I'd pick it up on December 23rd.  I'd drop it off at the Triumph dealer in Lisbon on January 6th and either convince my cousin to ride it back to the UK or get it shipped back.

I've got the kit needed to do this now, but having a look at the latest European gear, I think I'd spring for a new helmet to do this ride with.  The Roof Carbon is a piece of industrial art that gives me the benefits of a closed face when I need it and an open face when I'm in need of some wind.  The iridium face shield would make this thing look like something out of battle of the planets.

Since it's a daydream, it ain't cheap.  I'd fly business there and back, so flights are north of seven grand.  Getting the bike delivered wouldn't be cheap, assuming it was waiting for me in Europe to begin with.  But hey, if you can't daydream big, why daydream at all?


Sat Dec 23 to Sat Jan 6
13 full days + 1/2 a day on each end

~4000kms - 307kms / day