Sunday 29 April 2018

Motorcycle 360 Photography and Digital Art

Setting up a 360 camera on your wing mirror using a gorilla pod and setting it to automatically take a photo every few seconds seems like the best way to catch some interesting self portraits while you ride.  It's a set up and forget system so you can just enjoy the ride.

Afterwards you download what the camera caught and then frame the photos as you wish (the 360 picture lets you move the point of view around until you've framed something interesting).

I've been trying to replicate the tiny planet view that the Ricoh Theta could do in its software on the Samsung Gear360.  GoPro makes a little planet capable app that they give away for free, so I've been using that.  Here is an example of a time lapse video tiny-planeted in the GoPro software:

The photos are screen grabs of time lapse scenes on the Samsung 360gear. They've all been worked over in Photoshop to give them a more abstract look.  I've included the original photo to show variations:

Here's the original photo.
Here is a posterized, simplified version.
Here it is with an oil paint filter and a lot of post processing.

Here is a tiny-world 'wrapped' image taken with the 360 degree camera.  Below are some variations on it...

 Below are some other 360 grabs - they'll give you an idea of how you can select certain angles and moments and then crop a photo out of them pretty easily.

One of the few things the Samsung does well is make time lapse video fairly straightforward (I miss my Ricoh Theta).  The software Samsung bundles with the gear360 only works with Samsung phones (which I don't have).  The desktop software won't render 4k video at all (it ends up so blocked and pixelated from artifacts as to be almost useless).  And when you're first importing video it takes ages for the software to open a video for the first time.  By comparison the Ricoh renders video almost instantly, has never had artifact problems when it renders and has never crashed on me (the Samsung software has crashed multiple times). If you're patient and are ok with crappy results, go for the Samsung.  Meanwhile, here's what I could get out of the damned thing:

This is a 360 fly video sped up, the weekend after the April ice storm:

Software used:  Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Lightroom CC, Paper Artist, Windows movie maker, Go-Pro VR Viewing software

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Weights and Measures

I'm always mindful of how heavy a motorcycle is, but there is a lot of static in the way. Between the splits Canadians do between the metric and imperial systems and the games played by motorcycle manufacturers, I'm often left second guessing what I think I know.

I've owned everything from feather weight KLX250s (278lbs/126kgs) to light weight Ninja 650s (393lbs/178kgs), heavy weights like the Concours (‎671lbs/305kgs) and middle weights like my current Tiger (474lbs/215kgs), but even those statistics are suspect because manufacturer's will share a dry weight (no fluids) if it's a bike that is bragging on its lightness and a wet weight (ready to ride with fuel) if it doesn't matter so much or the bike has a tiny tank and lousy range.  There is no consistency at all in this other than the marketing angles being played.  I have no idea if those numbers published on the bikes I've owned above are even equivalent.  Are they wet weight?  Dry weight?  Something else?

To try and get my head on straight I've gone looking for some stats, and found montesa_vr's work on (great site!  Check out their epic ride reports if you like to get lost in a long distance adventure).  

I took that exhaustive list of street legal dual sports and dumped them into a spreadsheet, sorting them by comma separated values.  Then I added in some handy metric/imperial connections and stats on weight of a tank of fuel, so you can see them all in one place.

one gallon of gasoline weighs 6.2 lbs.
One litre is equal to 0.264172 gallons (US liquid).
So, 1 litre = 1.6378664 lbs.
1lb = 0.453592 kgs
1 litre of gasoline = 0.7429237021194 kgs

It ain't heavy, it's my Tiger. It's obviously lighter than
the Concours I rode before it, but much heavier than
the Ninja before that. I just wish the stats were
consistent and comparable
The Tiger 955i is listed as a 215kg dry weight.  With a full tank of gasoline it's loaded up with almost 18kgs of fuel, putting it at about 233kg, yet it's listed as a 257kg wet weight.  So, that must be 18kgs of fuel and 24kgs of oil and coolant?  That seems like an awful lot of oil and coolant (and brake fluid? and what, fork oil?  How asinine does dry weight get?).  I've since been told that some manufacturer's don't include batteries in the dry weight of a bike - this is getting silly.

At 566lbs, my old Tiger would be 7th in the current crop of heavy weight adventure bikes.  I don't think it's exceptionally heavy for what it is, but it's hard to tell with the smoke and mirrors.

Dry weight is virtually meaningless, I'm astonished that it's even given as a statistic.  When would you ever need to know what a bike weighs without any fluids in it?  I couldn't run, so it's an academic statistic verging on pointless.  I also get montesa_vr's point that bikes shouldn't be punished on weight comparisons for being able to carry a reasonable amount of fuel.  Putting a peanut sized tank on a bike so you can brag about the weight seems disingenuous.

At least a wet weight comparison offers up a bike that is actually operational.  A wet weight with an empty tank seems like the obvious standard if you don't want to punish long distance capable machines, but no one seems to do it.

Case in point:  the picture on the left is from UK BIKE Magazine.  Don't expect a comparable standard in motorcycle weights.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Summer 2018: Things to do list: Horizons Unlimited Ontario Meeting

HU Ontario 2018Horizons Unlimited is having a big meeting in central Ontario in May and it'd be nice to go.  It's a three hour ride from home but only about an hour and a half from the inlaw's cottage.  I looked into staying over but it's a pretty penny.  Staying at the resort it's at is north of eight hundred bucks for the cheapest condo type place available.  Even assuming I could find some people to divide the cost with, that's more than I'm willing to pay.

Heading up Friday I could do a loop around the Kawartha Highlands on some twisty, Canadian Shield roads before landing at the cottage.  The whole thing would be about 850kms over a long weekend.  A day of riding up there, a day at Horizons and then a ride home on Sunday - entirely doable.

The ride around Kawartha
They structure the pricing to get you there for the whole weekend, so even if I just went for the day it's still seventy five bucks, but then I guess I could always go back Sunday if it really did the business.  I've had friends attend before and really enjoy it.  If there were wild camping opportunities in a less resorty location, I'd be more willing to commit, but refugee camping (in rows, on a site) isn't my cup of tea, and the alternative staying in a building ends up being money I'd rather spend elsewhere.

Still, for seventy five bucks, it might be a good way to get a sense of the overlander adventure club, I just wish they offered a first time taster's package.  They say 'come to an HU event and find your tribe' - but I tend toward a tribe of one.  I want to believe, and I want to go, but I don't want to end up spending a mint on something that ends up not being a fit.  The aspie in me wants me to just go for a long ride in the Haliburton Highlands - I'm trying to use that to convince him to go and meet people... something he really isn't fond of.

Saturday 14 April 2018

Five Years: Diversifying Motorcycle Experience and Finding Balance

After the first year on two wheels I began thinking about more challenging motorcycle projects that would diversify my experience.  Starting in year two I did my first away motorcycle ride, renting scooters and then a BMW around the southern end of Vancouver Island - that led to my first article being published in Motorcycle Mojo and gave me a lot of insight into variations in motorcycling.

In addition to pushing my riding experience in daring new directions (like riding two-up with my son on an unfamiliar bike on one of the most challenging roads in Canada), I also began looking for a bike that needed more than just regular maintenance to operate... a bike that needed me.

I discovered just such a thing toward the end of that riding season, a long dormant Kawasaki Concours that we had to cut out of the grass it was sitting in.  Something that old (twenty plus years at the time) had a lot of perished rubber on it, and when I finally got it up to temperature it also had a sizable oil leak.  The winter was spent getting a new oil cooler and lines, replacing a lot of rubber bits and otherwise getting this old warrior back on its feet again.

The Concours not only got me moving mechanically, but it also offered a real blank slate, something I've since realized is only available on well used bikes (unless you're loaded and like to pull apart new things).  I'd enjoyed the aesthetic restoration of the Ninja and was looking forward to doing the same thing on the Concours.  Getting an old bike and making it not only usable but unique looking has been one of the highlights of my motorcycling career to date, and a trend I intend to continue.  It's something that my current too-nice Tiger doesn't offer me.

The Kintsugi Concours became my go-to ride and the Ninja became my first sold bike.  It was difficult to part with something I'd developed such an emotional bond with.  I can understand why the people with the space and means hang on to every bike they buy.  Having beaten the selling a bike emotional roller coaster, I immediately went looking for another, but it took a while to finally find the right thing, and in the meantime the old Concours suddenly became less than dependable.

A KLX250 that couldn't do 100km/hr with me on it made me feel like I was overly exposed and under-powered while riding on the road, though it was a deft hand off it and gave me my first real off road experiences.  I held on to it over the winter and when there was finally a break in the never ending Canadian snow I thought this is the moment the KLX will shine, on dirty, just thawed roads - except it wouldn't start.  It was a lot easier to sell because I'd never fallen in love with it.  Getting $400 more than I bought it for didn't hurt either.

Later that summer I made my next motorcycle buying error and stumbled into an old Yamaha XS1100 sitting on the side of the road.  I ignored the three strikes against it (non-runner with no ownership being sold by a gormless kid) and purchased it anyway; I won't do that again.  I got lucky on the ownership - it was within a whisker of being a write-off and had a long and difficult history (I was the thirteenth owner!), but I was able to sell it on after sorting the ownership and just broke even.  In the process I stumbled onto a balancing act I hadn't considered before.

I love riding older bikes I wrench myself, but they aren't always ready to ride.  When the otherwise dependable Concours wasn't and my only other choice was an ancient Yamaha I'd only just freed up the brakes and carbs on, I found myself with nothing to ride as the cruelly short Canadian motorcycling season began.  I'd gambled too much on being able to keep the old bikes rolling.  With riding days so valuable in the Great White North, that wasn't a viable approach.

I still had most of the money from the Ninja sitting aside and my wise wife said to just focus on getting something newer and more dependable.  Maintaining that balance means having a riding ready bike and a project bike, and not messing up that equation.  To further complicate things, I'm a big guy so I needed a bike that fit, and my son was getting bigger every year and loved coming along, so I needed a bike that would fit us both.  Being the onerous person I am, I didn't do the obvious thing and buy a late model Japanese touring bike that runs like clockwork.

My daily rider suddenly popped up on Kijiji but it ended up being the most emotionally driven purchase yet.  Instead of a sensible five year old, low mileage Kayamonduki, I got bitten by a thirteen year old Tiger.  It was European, over budget, too old and with too many miles, but the owner was a young professional (nuclear operator!) and from the UK and we had a good, straight up chat about the bike.  I was honest about my position (the Tiger was out of my league but I loved it and wanted it), and he was straight up with his position (he was about to take it in to trade for a new Triumph at the dealership and even my lower offer was much better than he would have gotten on trade in).  I ended up feeling like I stole the bike for over a grand less than he was asking and he got more for it than he otherwise would have.  It was an emotionally driven purchase with a lot of rational oversight.

With all that good karma the Tiger has turned out to be a special thing.  I was only the third owner.  In thirteen years it had averaged less than 4000kms/year, and on two years the first owner had ridden it out to Calgary and back (seven thousand plus kilometres each time).  It had been power commandered (that had never come up in the purchasing discussions), indicating that the original owner had really fawned over this bike.  The guy I bought it off wasn't very mechanically minded and it hadn't had much in the way of regular maintenance, but then he hadn't used it much.  Within a couple of weeks I'd gotten it safetied, done all the maintenance and given it a good tuning - it has run like a top ever since.

It's an older, European bike, but fuel injection and a resurgent Triumph Motorcycles Co. using the latest manufacturing techniques means it's not a bonkers choice as a daily rider.  On the second year of ownership it fired right up after hibernating under a blanket in the garage, and it did again this year.  I've fixed some dodgy, plastic fuel connectors on the tank, changed the tires and done the fork oil and other fluids along with the chain, but other than the fuel fittings, it's all been regular maintenance.  The Tiger has been such a treat and it's such a rare thing (I've only ever seen one other) that I can't see myself letting it go.

Meanwhile the Concours became the project bike, but since I wasn't depending on it, the project took on new dimensions.  I stripped the old fairing off and ended up with a muscle bike like no other.  I've experienced some drift with this project and I think when I get it to a riding level I'll sell it with the aim to make my money back on it (shouldn't be too hard considering what I got it for).

I think the drift comes from biting off more than I can chew as far as tools I have on hand and time and a comfortable place to work.  If had welding gear handy and could do the fabrication I needed, I think I'd still be be pushing for an edgy completion to the project which has taken longer and has been more involved than I initially planned.  The heart is willing but I'm too tight money and time-wise to chase this big of a thing.  In the winter it hurts to go out in the garage and work on it and in the summer I'd rather be out riding.  Future projects might be more of a Shed and Buried/SPQR approach where I can get a bike sorted and back on its feet again, have some fun with it aesthetically and then move it on without losing any money on it.  Making enough on each one to keep me in tools and pay for the process would be the dream.

The sophomore years of motorcycling have been about pushing into more challenging riding opportunities.  From riding Arizona (another one that got published), to going to the last MotoGP race at Indianapolis to circumnavigating Great Lakes and Georgian Bay, I've gotten more and more daring and gone further afield with each season.

These years have also been about dusting off and expanding my technical skills and have seen me do everything from oil coolers to complete carburetor rebuilds.  The garage has gotten better and better in the process, though it's still bloody cold in the winter.  If I could find a solar powered heating system for the space I'd be a happy man.  If I had a heated, insulated work space about twice the size, I'd be even happier.  The other side of the coin is riding opportunities.  Living somewhere where you can't ride for 3+ months of the year isn't conducive to building saddle experience.  I'd be happier if I lived in an all year riding opportunity - or at least if I had access to such places over the winter here.

20 hours might have gotten me able to manage the basic
operations of a motorcycle - the Conestoga course was a
weekend with about 4 hours on bikes each day, then some
very tentative rides in the neighborhood got me to 20 hours.
At five years I feel like I've put a lot of time into improving my rider's craft.  I've also spent a lot of energy getting the rust off my mechanical skills.  What I most wish for the next five years is to maintain my hunger for more motorcycle experiences.  I'd like to try  a wider range of different bikes and types of riding and find a way to dig even deeper into mechanics.  This year I'm hoping to take an off-road training course.  In the future I'd love to find the money and time to take track riding, if not to pursue racing then at least to explore riding dynamics at the extreme end in a controlled environment.

If you put ten thousand hours into something you've developed a degree of expertise in it.  In each season I've tried to beat ten thousand kilometres of riding (and succeeded) before the snows fall.  Those fifty plus thousand kilometres have probably had me in the saddle for over a thousand hours and I've easily spent that again in the garage doing repairs and maintenance.  If feel like my motorcycle apprenticeship is well underway, I just need to keep finding ways to feed that expertise.

The light cover in the garage - a reminder...

Saturday 7 April 2018

Five Years of Riding: the beginning

Five years ago I began the never ending apprenticeship of motorcyclist.  The summer before I had a chance to ride a dirt bike at a friend's farm and got bitten.  My mother had always been adamant about me not riding, so I didn't, but she had died the year before and I was suddenly able to do something I'd always wanted to try.  That same summer I also became qualified as a technology teacher and was interested in dusting off my hands-on repair skills.  Motorcycling offered a perfectly timed riding and technical renaissance one-two punch.

When I was eighteen and looking for my first car I realized I couldn't afford it and started looking at motorcycles.  My parents ponied up the difference to keep me out of the saddle.  Living in Canada meant bikes aren't a year round transportation solution anyway.  I ended up getting so deep into cars that I never found my way back to bikes, but the urge had always been there.  When I had my highest amount of disposable income in my early twenties while working full time before university, I was thinking about a bike again when a co-worker ran a red light on his bike and killed himself in front of all of us as we were coming in for our shift.  That put the brakes on getting a bike yet again.

Twenty years later...

Things moved quickly as the snow melted in 2013.  I walked in to the Drivetest Centre and got my learner's permit after a long winter spent buying magazines, watching TV shows and reading books on motorcycles; I was rearing to go.  A couple of weeks later I was taking the introductory motorcycle course at Conestoga College.  There was nothing better than high speed passes through the cones, leaning the little learner bike to and fro.  A few days after that I'd found a poorly used Kawasaki Ninja in town and had it in the garage less than a week later.  Meanwhile it was still snowing outside (oh, Canada).

Soon enough the weather turned and I was out on the road.  It was only a 650cc twin cylinder Kawasaki, but it went 0-60 faster than anything I'd ever owned and looked like a rocket ship.  The time I was sat at an intersection and a Ferrari pulled up next to me and started revving its engine was the first time I explored the Ninja over 6000rpm, and I was gobsmacked.  With the Ferrari car lengths behind me I dropped the bike into top gear and gave my head a shake.  Leaning into corners is still my favourite aspect of motorcycle dynamics, but the acceleration of even a mid-sized motorbike is a thing to glory in, and they brake like mad things too.  In addition to being out in the world on a bike, you're on an athletic machine that can embarrass anything else you're likely to meet.  It was my mission to come to grips with this wonderful machine.

By May I had my M2 and could carry passengers and go on big highways, so I immediately spent all of July commuting solely on the bike to a summer course seventy kilometres each way including a blast down the biggest highway in Canada.  The first time I pulled out on the highway I eased up to 90km/hr and followed the slow lane.  That lasted for about ten seconds and then I was gone.  The next morning I indicated onto the highway, shoulder checked and was at a buck twenty in the fast lane a second later; what a rush.

What typified my first year of biking was my commitment to using the thing.  Rather than take the car if it was raining, I put on rain gear.  Rather than take the car when I had to go shopping, I found a way to carry what I was getting home on the bike.  That commitment was what got me racking up over five thousand kilometres on the Ninja, which isn't easy in Canada with its short riding season.

The mechanical side of things had me taking care of basic maintenance, but the Ninja was my first choice of bike because it was a mid-capacity machine that was relatively new and in ready to ride shape - the idea was to learn how to ride.  I'd leave the deep mechanical work for future years.  Most of the repair energy on the Ninja was spent on un-blacking it and making it colourful again.  When I eventually sold it I got pretty much what I'd paid for it even though I'd added over ten thousand kilometres to it, so the painting paid off.

Future years would have me diversifying my bikes and rescuing a basket case that would challenge my technical skills and have me knee deep in mechanics, but the early years were all about riding as much as possible.

Sunday 1 April 2018

Another Lousy Weather Long Weekend Daydream

With hail hitting the windows, here's another load-up-the-van daydream, this time over the Easter long weekend...

It's up in the teens Celsius in Cincinnati, and it's close by, less than eight hours away.  If I'd have gone to work on Thursday with the bike loaded up in the van, I could have been on my way by 3:30pm and feet up in a hotel on the Ohio River before midnight.  The next morning I'd be exploring what looks like a plethora of interesting routes up and down the River on the Kentucky side, all in mid-teens temperatures.

Spoiled for choice:

Cincinnati is so close I could finish up with a short ride Monday morning and be on the road about noon, which would get me back up into the still frozen north by eight in the evening.

Another angle might be to aim just east of Columbus, Ohio.  There are a large number of motorbike roads out that way on the edge of the Appalachians.  Zanesville, Ohio would be a great launching point to dozens of rides, and it's less than seven hours away.  Due south of town is the Triple Nickel, along with a pile of other very twisty roads.  Temperatures out in eastern Ohio are similar to those in Cinci.

Flirting with the West Virginia border means wandering onto the foot hills of the Appalachians.  Every road in the area is twisty, even the ones leading to the riding roads.  This is even closer than the Cinci plan, and twistier too.

The weather's getting better everywhere else but here.  With above zero temperatures still weeks away, I remain reduced to daydreaming about rides out of reach.