Thursday 25 April 2019

Winding River Road on an Easter Monday Morning

Riding River Road on Easter Monday morning.  The day promised to warm up, but it was cool in the valley.  With little traffic and miles of winding road, the Tiger was frisky and I was ready to explore some corners.

With the ThetaV 4k video camera wrapped around the rear view mirror, I proceeded down the hill on Prince of Wales Road to River Road before heading east.  The Theta seems to kick off when it hits two gigs of video.  4k video is heavy and you reach two gigs after only five minutes, so here is five minutes of riding down into the valley before it chokes on itself. 

I couldn't stop at the Terra Nova Public House (closed for the holiday), but on the way back I went back to my happier medium of still photography and set the ThetaV at its one photo every four seconds rate to catch some corners, which I then chased down on my way back through the valley to Horning's Mills.  Later in the year it'll be quite busy, but on this early spring holiday, there were only a smattering of other vehicles and the corners were open and empty...

Riding through the desolation of winter before spring green is back.

Neutral throttle in, winding it on through the apex and out the other side. The Tiger is a settled, athletic thing for such a big bike.

Some Photoshopping to give it a painted look.  That scalloped sky followed me all the way home.

I ride an hour out of my way just to find that magical sign.

Terra Nova might have been closed, but Brewed Awakenings in Grand Valley was open with hot coffee and a date square ready to go.

Saturday 13 April 2019

Gold Winging It

My buddy Jeff is heading off to the West Coast and a golden retirement shortly, so he's cleaning up and vacating Ontario (good time to be doing it).  One of his motorcycle herd is a GL1800 Goldwing.  He offered Max and I a ride last weekend to see if it worked for us since Max is now a full sized adult and your typical motorcycle is overloaded with two big guys on it.  A few years ago I rode Jeff's daughter's Honda Firestorm, by far the sportiest bike I've ever ridden.  This time around we were way up the other end of the spectrum with the 'Wing.

That seat looks mighty appealing to a kid who has been forced to ride motorcycle saddles since he was eight.  Not only is it recliner comfortable, it's also heated!  The rest of the bike is equally enormous and astonishingly appointed.  With fourteen year old, adult sized Max on the back, we had no points of physical contact, which is strange because we're usually back to chest on the Tiger, which is a big bike in its own right.

We rode out of Jeff's place on a dirt farm road in South Western Ontario, in April, so it was really wet and soft... on an eight hundred pound gorilla, uh, bike, with 430ish pounds of us on it.  The 'Wing handles our size without a problem, but the whole thing rolling down the road is massive, so massive in fact that you just ride through puddles and mud and ignore variations in the road that I'd be skirting around on a typical bike.  The Tiger is a sure footed thing, but it felt a bit skittish on the muddy driveway, not so the 'Wing.

Once out on the road the first thing that hits you is no wind, at all.  I ended up flipping open my helmet even though it was a cool day because of the zero wind blast.  No wind noise, no buffeting, it didn't really feel like riding a bike.  All the elemental cues that I get from riding were gone.  I'm looking out through a screen instead of over one and the fairings cover you head to toe.

The dash looks back at you with a staggering array of buttons. My car doesn't have half that many. The tachometer looks like the one out of my old Civic, and red lines lower. It took me ten minutes of riding to work out where the heated grips and seats were. The grips themselves are meaty, way thicker than any I've used before; my hands didn't quite wrap around them.

On pavement you twist the throttle and get whooshed down the road without drama.  The 'Wing is motorbike quick and smooth, but I wouldn't call it inspiring.  Jeff set a quick pace on his Yamaha Super Ténéré and I had no trouble keeping the twelve hundred pounds of us in sight of him.  I was tentative in the first couple of corners, but once I realized how nimble the 'Wing felt, I just dropped it into corners and trusted the tires to handle us.  I often feel weightless when I'm riding, but as well as the Goldwing handles its size, I was always conscious of it.  In fairness, it also had over four hundred pounds of human on it as well.

The brakes haul it down from speed quickly and it picks up with piles of torque and very little need to change gears, which were smooth and direct when I did use them.  By the end of the ride I was up and
down in the gears without a second thought, so that's a thumbs up from my foot.  The first time I realized I didn't need to cancel the turn signals after a corner was a nice surprise, but habit had me turning them off anyway.  The GPS in the middle of the dash is nice too, but wasn't very bright.

We did a short, half an hour ride around the area, looking for some of the few twists and turns available to us in the agri-desert that is rural Southern Ontario.  Jeff is moving out to Vancouver Island where the riding season is virtually year 'round and the roads are never dull, but the 'Wing isn't making the trip.  The Super Ten and his customized BMW Cafe Racer are going in the container though.

After parking it back up I can say I get the Goldwing.  I understand why it's as popular as it is and what function is serves.  As a device to transport my son and I in comfort it does that, but I find myself back where I was in 2014 pondering the CanAm Spyder.  There comes a point where a motorcycle is trying so hard to be something else that it isn't really a motorcycle any more.  The Goldwing, with its faceful of buttons and speakers and radios and weatherproofed rider cocoon,  removes me from what I think riding is all about.

I'm a number of years into riding now and I've been on all sorts of bikes in all sorts of strange places.  That experience has refined my aesthetic sense of motorcycling.  For me it's all about getting to that feeling of flying.  It's a visceral experience with wind, noise and a sense of lightness.  When you bend into a corner that feeling is amplified.  You can probably see where this is going.  The 'Wing will lean into a corner, but it feels stately and remote when it does it.  Everything feels far away, and ends up begging the question: why suffer the indignities of motorcycling when the bike is trying so hard to be something else?

I can get a lightly used one of these for the same price as a Goldwing.
Given a choice, I'd go for the mini-Mazda Ferrari in a second.
It might sound perverse, but the other side of motorcycling for me is embracing the physical difficulty of the activity.  I don't consider motorcycling a hobby, I consider it a sport and want to attack it with the same physicality.  This philosophy doesn't only contrast with the Goldwing.  Any bike that does all it can to not delivery that immediacy of riding experience misses the mark for me.  Whether it be a Harley tourer or a BMW K1600, any big, heavy cruiser with windshields and fairings and every gizmo imaginable makes me wonder why in terms of motorcycling.  If you want to bring that much stuff with you, go in a car.  In many cases the car is cheaper and more efficient, and contrary to biker prejudice they aren't all cages.

I love to ride, but I'm still smitten with bikes that feel like bikes and focus me on the aesthetics of riding.  When a lightly used Mazda MX-5 RF costs the same as a new Goldwing and looks like a piece of rolling art rather than a compromise, that's where my eye wanders.  Motorcyclists call car drivers cagers trapped in their boxes, but a massive bike that does all it can to not feel like a motorcycle is more of a fetishy gilded cage than any number of cars designed to be entertaining drives.

So, the Goldwing is not for me.  When I get to the point that I can't handle the elemental feeling of riding (a moment I hope I never see), I'll be looking for a Lotus, not a mega-bike.  My son is only a couple of years away from starting the never-ending and sickeningly expensive licensing and insurance process in Ontario.  I'm hoping that he has developed a taste for riding and will one day join me on a ride on his own machine, then we can both revel in the visceral feel of flying down the road together.

Jeff will have no trouble selling his Goldwing on.  He has meticulously maintained it and there is a strong market for 'Wings since there are so many older bikers who are looking for that kind of ride.  I, for one, will miss him when he's gone.  As a motorcycling mentor, he has been a great friend and teacher.  I hope I can get out to see him on the West Coast and ride those magical roads in the future.  In the meantime, I'm feeling more and more like Ontario is getting too tight for me, yet here I stay.

Monday 8 April 2019

Spring Riding On-Bike Photography

A Sunday in the teens (Celsius) meant that riding was inevitable.  The Tiger had been sitting in the garage as it hailed and snowed outside this past week, but once again we get a break in the neverending Canadian winter, so off I go.

In the fall I got a Ricoh Theta V, so this was the first go at on-bike photography with it.  Using the mount I made last year, I attached the new camera (same form factor and similar size to the SC I'd used before) and off I went for the first ride over to The Forks of the Credit and Higher Ground.

The ThetaV has better processing power for video than the older model, but the camera is similar spec, so still photos, where I like to work, weren't likely to change.  Once nice thing about the V is that it processes way faster, so can do a photo every 4 seconds instead of the old camera's one every eight.  Having twice the chance of catching a good corner was no bad thing and resulted in a number of good shots as I rode up and down The Forks, usually behind confused people driving beige minivans as slowly as they possibly could.  I waited for a gap on the return ride and got a bit luckier with space, though it was pretty busy on the first sunny Sunday of the year.

Winter run-off everywhere meant a cautious line, but the Tiger on Michelins is always sure footed whether it's on snow runoff or piles of sand left over from winter.

I guess someone missed the switchback - bet it was a fast and furious type...

Stuck behind that tool in a big maroon mini-van again, so I'm waiting for a gap.  Nothing more frustrating than riding for an hour to find some curves only to be stuck behind a yobbo in a mini-van.

Quality of photo is similar between the ThetaSC and the ThetaV, but the V takes way more photos quickly, so you're more likely to capture a good moment.

Parked up at Higher Ground in Belfountain. Don't order a specialty coffee if it's busy - the regular brew is good and you get it right away.
As capable as the V is, it suddenly flashed out on me when I went to ride home and wouldn't start.  This was a bit of a surprise as all previous Thetas have been astonishingly tough.  The Theta V seems to have magically fixed itself today, but now I'm wondering if it's up to the job.

In the meantime they've come out with the Theta Z1, a higher resolution 360 camera with a faster lens and even faster processing performance, including in-camera stitching of images together.  It looks very nice, but if my first upgrade won't take photos when I need it to after it's first real weekend of use, I'm second guessing a bigger, more expensive step further.

In another meanwhile, GoPro has the Fusion 360 camera, which is tough and offers similar high resolution imaging.  It's a bit of a brick, so the Theta still seems like a more aerodynamic and logical choice for on-bike photography, but not if it doesn't work.  More to come.  Hopefully this in-and-out Theta V was a one time thing.