Thursday 27 December 2018

Riding in Style Out of the Rust Belt

How best to drive south out of the snow and salt?  A limo styled Benz!  They're asking about forty-seven grand for it out of a place in Toronto, and it has almost no miles on it.  The Metris gets the highest reviews in terms of work vans, and this one has been blinged up to make it a comfortable mile muncher.

How disco is it?  Built in TV, tall roof and power everything.  It'll easily swallow the Tiger along with the family and then make for a comfortable and pretty thrifty ride.

A good first escape out of the snow would be Louisiana over the new years.  It's two thousand kilometres and twenty hours south.  With a stop between Louisville and Nashville, we'd be in the Mississippi Delta in two days, then the bike can come out the back and I'd have a couple of days discovering the roads of the lowlands at a time of year when I'm as far from two wheels as I ever get.

Mississippi Loop: From the Gulfport coast up the shores of the Mississippi before looping back around.  355 miles all in:

Louisiana South: Through New Orleans and to the ends of the Delta.  436 miles:

How I found those routes:

Two days down, two days on the bike, two days hanging out in New Orleans and then a couple of days back means we could squeeze this all in before going back to work.

Leave Friday, Dec 28th and get back home Saturday, Jan 5th.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Lean Angle and Capturing the Dynamics of Riding a Motorcycle

Since starting the 360° camera-on-a-motorcycle experiment last year I've tried dozens of different locations and angles.  My favourite shots to date are ones that emphasize the speed and feeling of exhilaration I get while riding.  A bike in a straight line is a lovely thing with the wind and feeling of openness all around you, but when you lean into a corner the magic is suddenly amplified.  That thrill of leaning into a corner is something most people never get to experience.

The first weekend I ever rode a bike on tarmac (at the training course at Conestoga College in Kitchener) way back in 2013 I discovered this magic while working through a beginner's gymkhana style obstacle course.  After shooting through the cones a few times at faster and faster speeds I said to the instructor, "I could do that all day!"  He just laughed.  I wasn't kidding, I could happily spend all day leaning a motorbike into corners.  Each time I do it the complexity of what's going on is fascinating as hundreds of pounds of machine and me lean out into space, all suspended on two tiny tire contact patches.  It's when I'm most likely to forget where I end and the bike begins.

Lean angle in corners is an artform that many motorcyclists (but not bikers so much) practice.  Being able to use your tire effectively means you aren't the proud owner of chicken strips.  Underused tires tend to show a lack of experience and an unwillingness to explore lean.  There are exceptions (knobblies on off road focused tires, anything made in North America) that aren't about lean angle on tarmac, but it is a way to analyze your cornering comfort level.

Mounting the 360° camera on the bike is one of the only ways I've been able to catch the feeling of this complex dynamic in an intimate way.  MotoGP makes extensive use of 360 camera technology for on-bike photography and video, but they tend to be rear mounted.  Using a front mount means you get to see the rider's face in the shot.  It would be fascinating to watch the rider/machine interface from a 360 camera mounted out front of the bike while various riders do their thing on track.

I've got good road tires (Michelin Pilots) and a tall adventure bike, so it's not exactly ideal for exploring lean, though I think I do OK considering the weight and shape of the bike - the Tiger is surprisingly frisky in the corners.  But I'd love to get my hands on a sports bike and see just how more dynamic and exciting the on-bike 360° photography could be on a machine built solely for tarmac.

Sabbatical Rides: Riding the Americas

Previously I've thought about various ways I could do a four years pay over five years and then take a sabbatical year off work and still get paid.  From circumnavigating North America to tracing my grandfather's route through occupied France in 1940 during World War Two, there are a lot of interesting ways I could take a year off with an epic motorcycle ride included.

One of the first motorcycle travel ideas I had was to do the Pan-American trip from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Ushuaia in Argentina, from the top to the bottom of the Americas.  This ride is an even more extreme version of the North American circumnavigation as the mileage is mega; over 56,000kms!  At a 400km a day average that works out to 141 days or over 20 weeks making miles every day.  With a day off every week that adds another 3 weeks to the trip.  Fitting it into 24 weeks would mean some rest days and some extra time to cover the border crossings and rougher sections of the trip.

Another way to look at this might be from a Nick Sanders angle.  He did Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia and back again in an astonishing 46 days.  That's 23,464kms x 2, so 46,928kms in 46 days, or an astonishing 1020kms average per day, including stops for flights over the Darien Gap between Columbia and Panama two times.  That approach (I imagine) gets pretty psychedelic and I might not really get the sense that I'm anywhere doing it that way, but there are certainly ways to tighten up the schedule and move with more purpose if needed.

The actual number of days needed if I ran it over 24 weeks would be 168.  The best time to hit Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean coast of Alaska is obviously during the long days of the northern summer.  If I left home mid-July I'd be up Prudhoe way eighteen days later at 400kms/day.  If I push on tarmac I should be able to get up there by the beginning of August and then begin the long ride south.

A good tie-up in South America would be to follow a bit of the Dakar Rally - this year running in Peru from January 6th to 17th.  After that it would be down south to the tip of South America in their late summer before heading back north.

The 2019 MotoGP season lands in Texas the weekend of April 12-14, making a nice stop before the final leg home in the spring.  Two weeks before that they are in Argentina.  Trying to connect the two races overland would be an interesting challenge.  It's just over six thousand kilometres north to Cartegena, Columbia and the boat around the Darien Gap, or just over seven thousand heading through the Amazon.  Then another forty-five hundred kilometres through Central America to Texas for the next race.  In a straight run that'd be almost eleven thousand kilometres across thirteen countries in eleven days if I managed to get to Texas for the pre-qualifying.  That'd be a Nick Sanders worthy feat. 

The PanAmerican Trip Tip to Toe and back again in sections:

North America to Prudhoe Bay:
19,571kms July-August to Prudhoe Bay, August-November to Colon:

South America South:

11,106kms  Nov-Jan to Peru for Dakar, Jan to Mar to Ushuai

South America North:

11,057kms  Via Circuit De Rio Hondo MotoGP race in March.

North America North:


56,357kms.  @400kms/day average that's 141 days continuously on the road.

Leave July, Prudhoe Bay by end of July, Dakar in January in Peru, Ushuaia in February, Circuit de Rio Hondo for the MotoGP race at the end of March then a hard 11 days north through the Amazon to Austin Texas for the next race in mid-April.  Home by the end of April.   And I'd still have May-August to write about what happened and publish.

Saturday 17 November 2018

Idiots In Cages Day

It was sunny this morning, so Max and I thought we'd try and squeeze in a ride over to The Fork of the Credit and back.  Once we got going it was cloudy and 5°C instead of the 7-8 partially sunny degrees we were promised.

So, with a windchill of -3 we got there shivering only to discover it was idiot-in-a-car day on The Forks.  They've removed the speed bumps so every bosozoku dingdong from the GTA rushed up in his Fast & Furious car to make a traffic jam.

Many of them seemed particularly confused by the hairpin, especially the mouth breathing fuckwit in the Ford Focus who came around the corner half in our lane.  Once again my assumption that anyone in a hopped up turd-mobile is next to useless saved us.  I wasn't riding the hairpin so much as sticking to the outside of my lane - as far from the Eminem clones who can't drive in their own lane as I could get.  Even on this cold day, driving a car still feels like a poor alternative to riding a motorcycle.

Just in case the twisty road wasn't difficult enough, there was also a car parked at the top of the switchback with a drone hovering right over the road.  As a qualified drone operator, it's this kind of stupidity that gives the hobby a bad reputation.  He could have easily set up and flown so he wasn't a potential hazard, but he didn't.  It's a shame.  Getting some aerial media of the road is a great idea, just do it with some sense.

We got back to Belfountain and ended up turning around and going the long way around back to Erin and Holtom's Bakery.  The big row of traffic blocking up the only road through the tiny village is yet another win for the the four wheeled crowd.  Between being unable to drive in their lanes, blocking up villages and otherwise being pests, our cold trip out to The Forks underlined car culture in all its glory.

Escaping up the back way on Mississauga Road away from Belfountain.
That might have been our last ride of 2018.  Since then winter has descended:

Sunday 11 November 2018

Sabbatical Rides: Following Grandad On The British Expeditionary Force

I've previously written about and done a fair bit of digging into my Grandad Bill Morris's World War 2 service in the RAF.  His time spent in France with the British Expeditionary Force before the Nazis invaded in 1940 highlights a forgotten piece of history.  Weeks after Dunkirk had pulled most of the troops out, Bill's RAF squadron was still flying a fighting retreat against overwhelming odds.

By comparing various historical documents I've managed to cobble together the strange course Bill's squadron took during this desperate retreat.  Spending a year following in his footsteps would be a pretty magical experience and a brilliant way to spend a sabbatical away from work.

Conveniently, from a sabbatical time-off scheduling point of view, Bill landed in France in September, 1939 in Octeville and proceeded north to set up an air base in Norrent-Fontes near the Belgian border.  They then wintered in Rouvres and as battle commenced were fighting out of Reims before retreating south and then west around Paris, quickly setting up  aerodromes for his squadron's Hurricanes and then breaking them down and moving on while under constant fire.  They were supposed to get out on the Lancastria in Saint-Nazaire (another forgotten piece of World War 2 history), but Bill was late getting there (operating heavy equipment means you're not at the front of the line).  He saw the ship get dive bombed and sunk - the biggest maritime disaster in British history, with most of his squadron on it.  He spent the next two weeks working his way up the coast before getting out on a small fishing vessel and back to the UK at the end of June, just in time to get seconded to another unit for the Battle of Britain.  Being able to trace Bill's steps would be a powerful journey.

Bill was an RAF military policeman who worked in base security, but his handiest skill was his ability to drive anything from a motorbike to a fuel bowser.  It'd be cool to use the period technology Bill used to retrace his steps through France.

This sabbatical ride would have to happen between July of one year and the August of the next.  Following Bill's time in France I would be landing in Octeville from the UK in September, hopefully on a period bike.  My preferred ride would be a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin, though an RAF standard Norton 16H would be equally cool.

If I couldn't find a period bike I'd try and source a modern descendent of the Triumph or Norton.  Triumph is actually coming out with a new Speed Twin shortly, so that's an option.  Meanwhile, Norton is coming out with the Atlas, which would be a modern take on the do everything 16H.

I'd arrange to stay in the places Bill did at the same times he did over the winter and spring.  With many days at various locations in rural France, I'd have a chance to find the old aerodromes and make drone aerial imagery of each location, hopefully finding evidence of this war history hidden in the landscape.  I wonder if I'd be able to see evidence of the Lancastria's resting place from the air.  With time to get a feel for the place, I'd write and record the experience as I moved slowly at first and then with greater urgency in the spring around Paris, through Ruaudin, Nantes and Saint-Nazaire before ending the trip in Brest at the end of June when Bill left, almost three weeks after Dunkirk.

The research so far on Bill's World War 2 service in France, the Battle of Britain in the UK and then into Africa!
Living in France for most of a year would offer a cornucopia of travel writing opportunities and the historical narrative I'm following would let me experience a lot of local colour in order to research a fictional novel I've been thinking about writing based on Bill's World War 2 experience.

To get ready for this I'd get Bill's full service record and research the whens and wheres of his experience on the continent during the Phoney War and through the Fall of France.  

When all was said and done I'd pack up the bike and ship it back home to Canada where it would always be a reminder of the year I walked in my Grandad's footsteps.

Research Links to date:

Bill's service record research:
Map of Bill's Squadron movements in France:
RAF squadron research:

We could totally blend.  All of Bill's grandkids in period
kit and riding period vehicles...
Follow Up What would be even cooler would be to have my brothers and cousins come along for part or all of the trip.  For the non-motorcyclists the option to drive period trucks and military vehicles would be on hand - though a surprising number of Bill's grandkids ride.

There is an annual D-Day Festival in Normandy in May and June that celebrates period vehicles and dress.  Even if I could get Bill's grand-kids together just for that it would be a memorable event.

Saturday 10 November 2018

Sabbatical Rides: North America

The idea of a year's sabbatical has come up a few times recently.  I'm ten years away from my retirement date.  My job has a four out of five option where my salary is stretched over five years while I'm only paid for four.  It means a slightly smaller paycheque, but then a paid year off at the end of it.

My wife has ideas of going back to school in that year off, but I'm disinclined to take a year off teaching in school to go to school.  What I'd really like to do is the EPIC MOTORCYCLING TRIP with the intent of writing and producing art and photography out of it.  When people do this they typically line up the RTW ('round the world) ride and then spend a lot of time in poor countries making unintentionally Western-superiority statements about how hardy they are and how backwards non-Europeans are.   I'm reluctant to follow that pattern.

We recently spent a summer driving most of the way across North America and back again.  I had a number of moments when I saw North America for what it is:  a place that has almost no human history in it.  At the Canadian Museum of Human Rights I started thinking about how native aboriginal people are to North America (there were lots of displays on how poorly Europeans integrated with the first immigrants to this place).  A few days later at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller I discovered that most of North America's mega-fauna disappeared right after humans first arrived; we're an environmental scurge no matter where we go.  It got me thinking about how North America must have looked before we got here and unbalanced it all.

The Americas were blissfully free of human beings for all bit a trivially small, recent moment in time.  They separated from the massive Pangea landmass between two hundred and a hundred and seventy million years ago, long before anything remotely human walked the earth.  For millenia upon millenia North and South America were unique ecosystems with animals not found anywhere else, all of it safe from the human migration out of Africa two to three million years ago.  Earliest estimates now have humans crossing the northern ice bridge during an ice age about fifteen thousand years ago.  That means that, conservatively, humans (aboriginal and later settlers) have claimed North America as theirs for less than 0.0086% of its existence.

One of the few mega-fauna left after the humans got here.
It's hard not to see a tragic species memory in those eyes.
This framed much of that trip for me.  I kept trying to see the lands we were travelling through without the recent influx of foreign species.  Humans appeared and immediately started filling this place with invasive species from where they came from.  This became especially evident when I was looking into the eyes of a truly native species in Yellowstone Park.

This human free view of the Americas is something we tend to ignore as we're all so busy justifying the pieces of it we divide up between ourselves.  Most of North America's history had nothing to do with us.  There are other parts of the world that have had humans living in them for hundreds of thousands of years, but those places aren't here.

This sabbatical ride would be to circumnavigate North America and try to see the place itself without its invasive and destructive recent history.

The trick would be to time this ride with the weather.  I'd be off work beginning in July and then have until the end of the following August.  Heading east to Cape Spear (North America's easternmost point) would mean avoiding the early winters that hit Newfoundland.  Spending a summer at home would be a nice way to start the sabbatical, then, as my wife heads off to school, I hit the road.  We could arrange meetups when she's off school through the fall.

I'd start in Newfoundland in September and then head down the East Coast to Key West before riding around the Gulf of Mexico to Cancun and then crossing the continent at its narrowest point before making my way up the West Coast.  I'd try to time my pause for the holiday break, servicing and then parking up the bike in storage for a few months in California.

I'd fly back out and release the bike from storage in the late spring and aim to be taking the long road to the Arctic Ocean as the days become infinite over the Tundra.  Ideally I'd be back home by mid-July.

From tropical rain forests to mountains, plains and tundra, this ride would show the staggering range of geography to be found in North America.  At well over thirty-three thousand kilometres, this would also be an epic ride in terms of distance (RTW rides are typically 20-30,000kms).

The only downside would be the cost of travel in the USA and Canada, but there are ways to manage that without breaking the bank.  With the idea of getting to know the North America under the human migration, wild camping as often as possible would be a nice way to get closer to the land and to meet the people from all over Turtle Island who now call it home.

Taking my old Tiger on a North American circumnavigation
would be brilliant!  This old thing would be long distance
ready with only a few upgrades.
With a dearth of freeway travel on this trip, it would be about a lot of coastal roads and staying to the edge of the continent.  With potentially rough roads in the far south and north of the trip, something that is capable both on and off road would be ideal.  It wouldn't need to be a high speed touring cable unit, but it would have to carry the gear for at least occasional wild camping.  There are a number of mid-sized adventure bikes that would fit this need, though I'd be just at tempted to take my current Tiger.  Perhaps I could customize it as a sabre-toothed Tiger in relation to the America's apex predator (made extinct when humans showed up).

Riding tens of thousands of kilometres in a relatively short period of time means some challenging logistics, especially if I want to spend breaks with my significant other.  The ride out to Cape Spear on the easternmost coast is a thirty-two hundred kilometre all-Canadian opening to the trip.  All told, the ride out to Newfoundland and then back to the US border to head south down the Eastern Seaboard is nearly five thousand kilometres.  Breaking the trip into pieces is how I've blocked out the timing of it.

Canada East:  Elora to Cape Spear, Newfoundland and back to St. John, New Brunswick.  Mid-September.  About five thousand kilometres.  With potentially interesting weather (this year the east coast of Canada has been hammered by the remains of hurricanes) even this opening section might be challenging.  With ferries involved, doing an average of 400kms a day seems like an eminently doable thing that would also give me reasonable stopping time so I'm not always rushing past moments of insight.  Five thousand kilometres at four hundred a day works out to twelve days on the road.  Giving myself a fortnight to do that would mean being able to spend a bit of extra time where necessary (hopefully on Newfoundland).

The East Coast:  New Brunswick to Key West.  End of September/early October.  This four thousand kilometre jaunt down the East Coast would be happening in the fall, while dodging hurricanes.  Sticking to the coast would be occasionally tricky in a road system designed to put you onto an interstate, but I'd stubbornly cling to it.  Four thousand kilometres at four hundred a day average is ten days riding south.  I could easily compress that by doing it on freeways, but that's not the point.  Being on back roads gives me a better chance of seeing the place for what it is instead of just seeing the travel industry.  I'd be aiming to get to Key West still fairly early in October and then start my circumnavigation of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico:  Key West, Florida to Cancun, Mexico.  From early October for the month.  The Gulf coast means I'm travelling through some culturally unique places.  New Orleans has long been a desired destination, and Texas is often described as a country in and of itself.  Crossing into Mexico puts this trip well into an adventure mind-set as I'd have to find my way through a unique culture in a language I'm not familiar with.  The fifty-three hundred kilometres of this leg of the trip should take roughly two weeks, but with borders and other hold ups it would probably be better to settle on an end of October arrival in Cancun (giving me 5-6 days of padding in there to let things run at Mexican speed).

Pacific Mexico:  Cancun through Baja to San Diego, California.  This six thousand kilometre leg up the west coast of Mexico and the Baja Peninsula will eventually lead me back to the USA.  If I'm beginning this leg in early November, it should take me fifteen days at my 400/day average to make my way north.  Giving myself the month means extra days, hopefully with a reading week meetup with Alanna somewhere in Mexico for a few days off together in the warm.  Even with that relaxed schedule I should be able to make my way to San Diego, service the bike and put it into storage for a few months before making my way home for the holidays.  A handy winter break means I could collate my photos and notes from part one of the trip.  

West Coast to the Arctic Ocean:  San Diego to Tuktoyaktuk.  This seven thousand kilometre ride to the northern edge of North America would take 18 days, but with multiple ferries, borders and coastal barriers I'd pad some extra time in there.  I'd be aiming for a late June/early July (midsummer, midnight sun) arrival in Tuktoyaktuk on Canada's Arctic coast.  A month back from that would mean flying back into San Diego around the beginning of June and then riding north for many weeks.

From Vancouver Island on north this would be a rough and tumble ride with hundreds of kilometres of gravel roads.  The bike would need to be sorted and ready to take on that kind of abuse.

The Long Way Home:  Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories to Elora, Ontario.  It's nearly seven thousand kilometres diagonally across Canada back home again to finish this trip.  That's another 18 days at 400kms/day.

I'd try to be home by mid-July and enjoy some downtime before getting ready to go back into the classroom.  The first nine hundred kilometres of this trip would be long days on permafrost and gravel, but from the Dawson Highway south it would be back on tarmac and I would be able to make better time.  There is no over land passage that traces the northern coast of Canada through the tundra, so a diagonal slash south and east would be the final leg of this trip.

Wrapping my head around this continent on which I live would not only give me great material for writing, but it would also let me tick off a bucket list item:  complete a truly epic motorcycle journey before I'm too old to manage it.

Saturday 3 November 2018

West Coast Siren Call

I came up with the idea of setting up motorcycles down south in rental storage units to access over the winter a while back.  This is just the sort of thing I'd do if I had that kind of disposable money laying around.

To set up San Francisco bike storage I'd need to get an Ontario bike down there and parked up in the storage facility.  The idea is to have a ready to go bike that I can fly to with minimal luggage.  I'd eventually be able to fly in to San Francisco with only a carry on bag, take a cab to the storage unit and be on two wheels in one of the best motorcycling locations in the world within a few hours of flying out of the snowbelt.  For the setup I'd take known, works-for-me gear for the ride and then hang it up in the storage unit along with the bike.  Flights back at the moment are one stop, seven hours and about $700 Canadian.

The weather is already closing in here.  We've had dustings of snow multiple times.  This would be one of my last chances to make the ride out west before the white wall of winter descends on us.  In trying to make good time to SanFran, I'd also aim to get a motorcycling bucket list item done:  an Iron Butt thousand miles in twenty-four hours:

Day 1:  Elora to Hampton Inn Portage IL.  Just under 500 miles over the border and to the edge of Chicago.  Make sure everything is ready for the big push on Day 2 (the Iron Butt 1000 miles in 24 hours).  Make sure everything is good to go on the bike, get in early, eat and rest up for an early departure.

Day 2:  Portage IL to Denver, CO.  Be on the road by 5am for the big push west.  Cross Chicago before rush hour picks up and then thump across the plains.  1027 miles in 24 hours.  Get in to Denver overnight and then 2 days at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Stapleton.

Day 3:  Rest day in Denver.

Day 4:  Denver to Grand Junction.  Into the Rockies, 333 miles to the Hampton Inn Grand Junction.  A lower mileage day means this should be as much about enjoying the mountains as it is about making time.

Day 5:  Grand Junction to Ely.  429 mountain miles to Ely and the Ramada by Wyndam Ely passing through 3 national parks, so it should be a pretty ride.

Day 6:  Ely NV to San Francisco.  554 mile day to wrap up the trip.  Get into San Francisco late, park up the bike and put everything into hibernation mode.  Load up a carry-on bag with the essentials and take a cab to the airport.  Retrace the four thousand plus miles back in five hours.

I should be able to take the bike out, park it up and be back home within a week, then I'll have a bike on-call on the West Coast.

For this trip I need something that can cover big miles effectively but is still a useful tool on twisty roads.  The big Triumph Tiger 1200XRx is a long distance capable bike that fits a big guy like me.  It's also easy to maintain (shaft drive, fuel injection) and comes with many long distance handy abilities like long suspension to soak up bad roads and luggage for the long trip.

A big Tiger in this format costs just over $24k Canadian.  It's a pretty thing, I saw the new ones in the flesh at the Triumph Tiger ATLAK meet up last summer.  Many magazines describe the bike as very large, but I didn't find it overwhelmingly so.  In fact, I was surprised at how svelte it was for a 1200cc adventure bike.

But there are some things about the big Tiger that I'm not a fan of.  I've never gotten excited about the big aluminum panniers thing on adventure bikes, or any bike for that matter.  I like the colour matched lucifer orange ones on my old Tiger.  I think the aluminum ones look half assed and unfinished, and I get to pay hundreds more for the privilege of having them because others think they're a fashion item.

The other issue is a recent BIKE Magazine review in which their Tiger developed a number of electrical issues.  Whatever is waiting for me on the West Coast would need to work when I opened that storage unit roller door.  The Tiger is also a reasonably sensible choice, but it'd be nice to have something a bit more come-hither waiting for me in San-Fran.

For surprisingly similar money there is something that I'd describe as more of a dream bike:  the Kawasaki H2 supercharged demon bike in sport touring form.  The H2 SX is an efficient, powerful, supercharger-chirping-as-it-breaks-the-sound-barrier thing of beauty.  It weighs about as much as the big Tiger but produces prodigiously more power and looks like a Japanese super model.

On top of that it has beautifully designed and colour matched panniers that practically disappear into the stunning looks of the bike, rather than looking like tacked on, low-rent metal boxes.

Having the SX sitting in a storage unit in San Francisco would be a constant West Coast siren call.  If I wanted to go far, it could handle it, if I wanted to canyon carve in and around San-Fran, it'd do that to.

As much as I love adventure bikes for how well they fit me, I think I'd have the Kawasaki super model waiting for me on the west coast.  It'd be a blast to ride on the trip out there and would fit in with Californian bike culture much better.