Showing posts sorted by relevance for query SMART adventures. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query SMART adventures. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday 4 November 2023

A Colourful SMART Adventures Late in the Season

I've been going to SMART Adventures since 2018. As a way to get myself doing things on a motorcycle that I don't get to do on the road, it's a great opportunity to expand your riding skills. Getting experience on a variety of different bikes is never a bad thing either.

I've had some great days at SMART. A particular highlight was during the deepest, darkest summer of 2020 when I did a full day that started on a trials bike, moved to a brand new GS1250 and ended on a dirt bike. It was a great day of bike learning across three very distinct machines.

Last summer we managed to squeeze in a half day and it was the first time I'd done the expert riding group, which I second guessed myself on being in. Unfortunately the father who dragged his son into it wasn't so introspective. I spent a good amount of money hoping for expert riding opportunities but the afternoon consisted of watching this kid fall off a bike too big for him that his dad kept demanding he ride, and then watching him drop the second bike we had to go back to get for him into a two foot deep puddle. We ended up spending most of the afternoon picking this kid up or riding back to the base after he broke a bike. I needed this trip to SMART to be a win after that last disappointment.

We tried to arrange a trip up in August but things got complicated (dog died, kid going to college, in-laws being difficult) and it never came into focus. I thought this would be our first year not going up to Horseshoe Valley, but Max's reading week was at the end of October and the week before the weather looked like it might hold up, so I signed us up for an afternoon, and this time SMART nailed it, though in fairness it's not their fault if a toxic dad wants to design a miserable afternoon.

Going this late in the season and during the school year means you're less likely to trip over father/son drama. Max got Dave who was the instructor who taught him both ATVs and dirtbikes previously, and I got Tyler who I hadn't had before but is an incredibly talented off road rider who also has a knack for finding where I was at in terms of skill and then keeping us at that edge throughout the afternoon - I learned tons.

Having a look around before the ride out, it's not easy keeping the jealousy in check when it comes to SMART Adventures owner Clinton's bike collection.

Why are y'all wearing rain jackets? 'Cause it was raining... a lot! That's inches deep mud.

We started with some warm ups in the bowl at the base. I've been on a 250 CRF Honda before but this time they had a Kawasaki KLX 300 with bar risers which fit me even better. Tyler had me doing riding with one hand while standing up (in mud), which isn't as easy as it sounds, then rear wheel lock up braking, then both wheels coming as close to locking up the front as we could manage (in the mud). We also did logs and tires, but once Tyler had an eye in on where I was with clutch control and balance we took off into the woods, which were spectacular!

Riding in a thick ground layer of leaves is tricky. You can't see rocks or mud underneath, but it teaches you to ride looser and float over the surprises without over correcting for them. We did a lot of kilometers through the rain and brilliant colours and the riding was never dull.

I'm always surprised at how physical proper off-roading is. With mid-teens temperatures and the rain gear on I was dripping wet with sweat. I worked hard at using my legs to grip the bike so my arms weren't putting pressurized inputs through the handlebars. It's a combination of balance and lower body strength that demands a lot of energy. One suggestion was to turn my feet fractionally into a corner to weight the pegs in the direction I want to go (a Clinton Smout move) and it works!

We got back for a break but before I parked the Kwak we did K turns. The idea is if you get stuck going up too steep a hill you let the bike stall in gear (or kill the motor in gear) and then roll it backwards leaning into the hill and letting out the clutch bit by bit as you turn the back end until you're parallel with the hill (still leaning up it). The tricky bit is once you're near parallel having backed up on the clutch, you start turning the handlebar lock to lock and the bike's nose will fall under the twisting to face downhill. You then stand it up and roll on down. The final move was to bump start the bike. You do this by leaving it in third gear and dropping the clutch at the bottom of the hill as you sit down on the seat. It sounds like a lot of gymnastics but I got it to work on the second try. Tyler said it can really save your bacon if you get stuck on a big adventure bike on too steep a hill.

Just when I thought it couldn't get better, Tyler went and got a couple of the new Surron electric dirt bikes out of the lockup. He gave me the bigger Storm model and then told me (jokingly) not to get it wet. We left both bikes in economy mode because of all the wet leaves over mud. Tyler described 'S' Mode as 'scary', and don't press turbo! 

383 ft/lbs of torque in mud and wet leaves? What could go wrong?!?

I hadn't dropped the big Kawasaki all afternoon despite the crazy conditions. I should have four times but saved it each time. Being able to practice saves is one of the best parts of SMART. I genuinely got to do things on a bike I've never done before, which is the whole point. Sounds ominous, right?

We got out into the woods again and both Tyler and I were down in the first five minutes, but not because the Surron was a torque monster (it's actually easy to get the hang off). It's the lack of clutch after riding one all day that caught me out. I was sliding down the muddy side of a trail covered in leaves and went to pull in the clutch to drop a gear, except the clutch is the rear brake and the Surron doesn't have gears. The bike was out from under me in an instant. Here's a pic from right after - check out that mud!

I finally got myself back on the bike after I slipped in the mud again throwing a leg over it and we went down a second time. The bike took a minute to 're-arm' because I'd popped one of the brake sensors out, but Tyler figured it out and we were off again.

We made tracks after we both learned not to use the rear brake like a clutch.

That's Tyler - ace instructor!

Interesting choice of name, great bike!
No one went down again and by the end of a forty minute blast through the woods and into the trails beyond the SMART owned land, I was getting a feel for the Surron (not Sauron from LotR). Being able to focus on riding without worrying about gears and clutches was one part of it. By the end I was getting crafty with the hand operated brakes. The other piece is the silence. When you goose it the bike roosters dirt like a mad thing, and it's properly quick. The only noise it makes is once you're up to speed and it's a ghostly whine, which suited the October hallowe'en woods. I could hear rain hitting leaves as we whispered through the trees.

Where am I at with an electric dirt bike? If I owned a Surron I'd play with the settings so the energy recovery/gearing pulled a bit more and provided more of what feels like engine braking. That would have prevented the spill on the hill. So much of dirt biking is clutch though. You manipulate the clutch continuously to offer smoother power delivery, especially in tricky conditions. A dirt bike without a clutch and gearing is missing a key control, not to go faster, but to manage the power better. The throttle on the Surron felt a bit wooden after riding the big Kwak all afternoon, but that may well have been because I couldn't feather the Surron's power delivery with a clutch.

The upside is the silence when riding, though it isn't really silent with that ghost whine. It did make me miss the thud of the thumper, and the simplicity of the controls (no clutch, no gears) lets you concentrate on other things, but at the cost of simplifying the riding which I have mixed feelings about.  Aesthetically, a bike having a heartbeat is pleasing, though I could get used to that ghostly howl.

The older much used Kawasaki went through all sorts of gymnastics during the afternoon without missing a beat, while the Surron needed TLC after one drop, which doesn't bode well for its resilience. I'd describe my first time on an electric dirt bike as interesting, but they're not ready for prime time yet. If I were to buy a dirt bike tomorrow it would be a fuel injected ICE model that is decades into its evolution rather than an ebike that's at the beginning.

SMART was running a regional trials event that weekend and I asked Tyler about electric trials bikes, but he said most riders are still using ICE models - once again because the clutch offers much more nuanced control. I suspect electric bikes will end up adopting something like a clutch to allow for that finer control, though they don't need gears so perhaps the clutch is simply another electronic intervention. It's just a matter of time for this to all get worked out, but they're not quite there yet.

As we pulled in to SMART a red fox fan across the parking lot, and I saw wild turkeys and what might have been a coyote in the woods. We clambered out of our muddy gear past 4pm and got changed before heading up the road to Vetta Nordic Spa where we put our aching muscles into various hot waters as we watched the moon rise through the skeletal trees. Yes, the rain stopped and clouds blew over pretty much the minute we stopped riding, but the weather is part of what made it such a good afternoon of riding! As a way to wrap up the riding season (it was snowing the following weekend), there are few better.

You should go!

Tuesday 22 September 2020

SMART Adventures: What Trials Bikes Can Teach You About Motorcycle Control

I'm still thinking over our day this past July, 2020 at SMART Adventures Off-Road Training.  This was our third year taking off-road training with this fantastic program that runs out of Horseshoe Resort just north of Barrie in Ontario, Canada.  If you're interested in expanding your bike-craft, this program will do just that, and they're open during the summer of COVID with all appropriate safety in place (masks, social distancing, temperature testing of all people prior to starting, etc).

Last year Clinton Smout, the owner and head instructor at SMART, had us all try balancing on a stationary trials bike, and that got me thinking about doing a session with them this time.  I'd watched Ross Noble take a run at the Scottish Six Days Trial on TV which was gruelling and battering to his ego and always wondered just how different trials bike are from dirt bikes, so here was my chance!

What is 90 minutes of trials riding like?  Very difficult.  Just to get going you have to give it a bit of gas and let out the clutch and then lift your foot up as you start moving.  Screw it up and you're hoping along on one foot trying to keep the bike upright as it tries to jump out from under you.  Starting to move on these bikes is harder than any other bike you're ridden, and that's just the beginning.

I was on a GasGas 250cc two stroke trials bike, and it was like trying to hang on to a wild horse (I presume, I've never tried to ride a wild horse because I'm not crazy).  It weighs about half what I do, has way too many horsepower and tries to squirt out from under you at every opportunity.  I got Clinton as an instructor this time and he made a point of highlighting just how mad these things are.  The brakes have thrown people over the handlebars and the acceleration has had people wheelie the machine on top of themselves, so if you're going to touch the gas or brakes expect it to respond way more suddenly than any other bike you've ridden.

How do you handle this madness?  The clutch!  A finger on the clutch and a finger on the front brake will reduce the arm pump you're going to experience (Clinton was right, I've gotten good at dirt bikes and can stay loose, but on this crazy thing my forearms were throbbing after an hour).  Without supreme clutch control you're going to launch yourself into the sky on a trials bike.  If you crack the throttle to make it go it'll try and throw you, if you hit the brakes too slow down it'll try and throw you.  You need to modulate the clutch to manage these inputs with any kind of finesse.

I like to think I picked this up pretty quickly.  The GasGas never threw me and I handed it back in the same condition I got it.  Like everything else I've ridden my long body meant my back was what was taking the brunt as I had to bend over the machine.  If I were ever to get my own trials bike it'd have risers or modified handlebars so I can stand straight up on it.  Were I to go after trials riding (and a part of me is very trials-curious), I'd enjoy the violent focus it puts on your control inputs the most.  Once you catch up to what the bike expects, it raises your clutch control to god-like levels.

In the afternoon I took out a Yamaha 250cc dirt bike and couldn't believe what that intensive morning on the GasGas had done to my clutch hand.  Instead of too much gear changing or braking I was modulating the clutch constantly to ride smoother than I ever had before.

It takes a trials bike to make dirt biking seem easy.

Suddenly situations that might have made me stop and adjust my gearing didn't matter.  Between clutch and throttle I could manage deep sand, mud, 30° inclines (in deep sand) and axle deep puddles without hesitation.  I couldn't believe the difference.  When we stopped my son's ATV instructor said, "ok, you know what you're doing", which was a fantastic thing to hear.

If you have access to SMART Adventures (you can get yourself to Ontario, Canada in the summer of COVID), go.  It'll improve your bike-craft even if you're a pavement focused rider.  After you've got the off-road basics down take a swing at trials riding.  It'll give you an appreciation of clutch control and drill you so aggressively in it that your left hand will come out of it with the twice the IQ it came in with.

I even notice it while riding on the road.  I was out on the Honda Fireblade the other day and noticed that my clutch hand was modulating the bike in new and interesting ways.  In mid-corner as I'm winding out power my left hand is helping the bike deliver drive smoothly without me realizing it.

I'm a strong advocate of life long learning and applying it to your bike-craft should be every motorcyclist's main purpose.  If you want to keep enjoying the thrills of riding you should be looking for ways to better understand the complexities of operating these machines.  A couple of hours working with trials bikes did that for me.  I wish I had the means to chase down an ongoing relationship with these visceral, demanding and ultimately enlightening machines.

Monday 2 May 2022

My First Motorcycling Accident: ATGATT Saves The Day!

 ... and it wasn't so bad thanks to all the (quality) gear, all the time.  This weekend we had family friends coming over so I took their son and mine up to S.M.A.R.T. Adventures for an afternoon dirt biking.  My boy did a day on bikes last year so he was stepping up to intermediate level, the other boy had never ridden before.

It was a glorious day.  We had snow last week but it was 15°C and sunny on Saturday, and we weren't gettting on a bike until it had already reached that lofty high.

They kit you up good at SMART!

We got kitted up and out to the bikes.  Ethan went with another new rider and did the how-bike-controls-work introductory lesson.  Max hadn't been on a bike in 10 months and had only had a day when he last did, but he remembered all the basics so off we went.

We had Joe instructing us who I've had a couple of times before.  He has psychic trail reading skills and is a joy to follow in the woods.  He's also big on the basics (elbows up, sit at the front of the saddle right above the pegs and most of all, clutch control!).  Max had the basics down, but his work on the clutch dramatically improved his ability to ride off road this time around, it was time well spent!

We did the ride-over-a-log thing and after a tentative start Max got a handle on that too!  All in all it was a very satisfying afternoon of riding.

To end the day we joined the new riders and did some of the easier trails.  Earlier we'd been talking to the instructor who had been looking after the new riders and he said you can never underestimate how tired the newbies are.  The physical and mental demands on learning to ride from scratch are heavy.  We all lined up as a group and headed out into the woods for one last ride together.

We were coming down a washout with rocks and loose dirt when the instructor eased up at the bottom, perhaps deciding which way to turn.  I was up on the pegs behind him and was able to stop, but Max was behind me and couldn't.  Ethan was behind him and said Max hit the back brake hard enough to lock up, but with the loose surface and incline he slid right into me, trapping my ankle between his front fork and my bike.  When he came off, his bike surged forward as it stalled, driving into my ankle even more.

It was trapped so tight I was thinking it was already broken, but SMART doesn't mess around with the kit.  Those SIDI off road boots are the balls.  Having been caught between the two bikes (which were now locked together), there was an incredible amount of pressure on my ankle, but the boots were taking the brunt.  I couldn't move and was frustrated that I hadn't avoided the situation entirely, but it was a series of events I couldn't see behind me and the accident was no one's fault.  Max was feeling terrible about it, but once the tail end instructor had run down the hill and seperated the bikes, I got up and tested the ankle and was stunned to find I could stand on it without any real pain.  Even now, a day later, it's only mildly bruised and I'm able to walk on it without any pain.  If I hadn't been in good off road boots I'd have dust for an ankle.

We got the bikes sorted out (one of the plastic panels had popped out on my Honda 250cc, but was popped back in - it wasn't even cracked!) and continued the ride.  At the end of the day we got back to the SMART office and all was good.

As I told Max, "this was about as ideal an accident as you could have!"  He learned about
leaving space, keeping his eyes up and experienced target fixation for the first time (which might one day save his life if he's learned to look where he wants to go).  It also underlined my belief in ATGATT.  I tell you what, thanks to SMART I'm going to be looking for some SIDI dirt boots when I finally get my own kit.  They aren't cheap, but then neither is a broken ankle.  Wear the right kit and even if you have an accident, you walk away!

I'm still hoping to get Max and I sorted out with a couple of tidy 250cc bikes to go trail riding together.  It's great exercise, a wonderful way to get deep into the woods and sure, it could be dangerous, but with the right kit and a sensible approach to riding it's a manageable risk that can also have minimum environmental impact.  A knowledgeable trail rider leaves no trace while exploring wilderness in a way that few other activities allow, often enjoying over 70mpg.

I know a lot of people think of motorcycling as a pointless risk that is destined for injury, but that isn't the point at all.  When done well, as we did it yesterday, riding is the best kind of exercise for your mind and body, and something I'm always willing to mitigate risk on in order to enjoy.  I've heard of many people who have an accident and never ride again, but that isn't my way.

We're aiming to do a full day SMART later this year.  Funds permitting, we'll get ourselves independently riding off road eventually, but in the meantime, SMART provides the kit and the bikes along with some vital mentorship.  We'll both be better riders by the time we're soloing on the trails in our own gear on our own bikes.

Monday 2 July 2018

Get S.M.A.R.T.

My birthday and Father's Day are within a month of each other, so I made a combined ask and got a day at S.M.A.R.T. Adventures in Horseshoe Valley.  My previous off road experience was limited to a couple of hours on a dirt bike at a farm many years ago and a short and frustrating go with a KLX250.  My goal in taking the S.M.A.R.T. (Snowmobile, Motorcycle, ATV, Rider Training) course was to explore those aspects of motorcycle dynamics that are beyond the range of typical road riding - unless you're in the middle of a crash.

There are a lot of people who try motorcycling then retire early.  They often have a lot of advice.  Many of these short-term motorcyclists liked to warn me earnestly and repeatedly about how dangerous it was to ride to early or late in the season when there was a chance of sand being on the road.  Anything that wasn't table top smooth, grit free tarmacadam meant zero traction and an imminent crash for these earnest scare mongers.

I've always ridden on loose material with caution, but after watching a riding buddy with many years of experience step his heavy Super Ténéré out sideways on gravel roads, I've thought that there is more to gravel and sand than just being cautious.  Between that and my Dakar fixation, it was time to learn something new.  That same guy was the one who suggested the SMART program (he'd been on it previously).  Here was an opportunity to treat loose material as something other than an imminent crash.

That anxiety about traction on a motorbike runs deep in the limited experience motorcycle crowd, and that crowd contains a lot of people who have only ever done a single type of riding on a single type of bike.  If you're going to call yourself a motorcyclist you owe it to your craft to experience as many different types of riding as you can.  The SMART program is an accessible opportunity to do that in the trail riding/off road community in a controlled environment on someone else's equipment (they even provide all the gear).

You owe it to yourself to experience motorcycling in unfamiliar ways...
We started an already nuclear hot day before Canada Day with the affable Clinton Smout going over basic control and balance with a GasGas trials bike.  In no time he had everyone from old guys like me to nine year olds balancing on two wheels while stationary.  I wouldn't have thought that was possible prior - but I was able to stand on the pegs on the stationary bike until my legs got tired.

Getting my Ross Noble on!  Can the
Scottish Six Day Trial be far off?
Clinton also gave the dry stick demonstration, showing how an old, brittle stick snaps easily compared to a young, supple one.  He then went on to say that SMART is about to have its hundred-thousandth customer in the next few weeks and in the decades it has been running they've only had twenty-two ambulances, all of them for old, dry sticks over thirty-five years old.  This forty-nine year old stick paid close attention to this talk.

Within minutes we'd been set up with Joe, the advanced instructor who has over thirty years of experience off road.  I was worried about being put in the advanced group with so little off road experience but they're more worried about whether or not you know how to ride a bike; if you know the controls, you're advanced.  There were larger groups of beginners and intermediate riders learning the basics, but we were just three: Joe, me and a German fellow with motocross experience who has ridden every pass in the Alps.  I was still feeling a bit out of my depth and didn't want to slow anyone down.

We spent some time by the main centre going up and down the hills under the watchful eye of Joe.  I suspect this had more to do with assessing our riding skills than it did anything else.  We did some hill climbs, but on a dirt-specific bike with knobbly tires this was an easy thing to do.  We were on Yamaha TT-R230cc bikes, which might seem a bit on the small side, but the characteristics of this bike were very forgiving; it would pull hard out of any gear.  Joe described them as tractors, and they were.  If it stalled, the electric start fired it right up again, and the massive suspension travel and tires made easy work of every obstacle.

Soon enough we were off into the woods.  We'd stop under the trees out of the blinding sun and 40+°C humidity and practice skills such as clutch control on walking speed turns, rear wheel lockups and eventually crossing large logs.  As my confidence improved so did my speed on the trails, which we'd go and ride to make some wind and cool down between slow speed work.  I was able to keep up with Joe on all but a steep, washed out hill covered in big rocks where I ended up pulling off to the side for a moment to collect myself.  That had more to do with sewing machine legs than it did with bad technique.  If you think off road motorcycling isn't physically demanding, you've never done it before.  In forty plus degree temperatures, we were necking a bottle of water every time we went back to base.

On our next run we focused on standing on the pegs and working the bike with body position and weighting the side we wanted to move to.  This involved going over improbably deep ruts while soaking up the vertical movements with the suspension and our legs while also making micro-adjustments to clutch, throttle and brakes to keep things moving smoothly.  If you think riding a motorcycle is dexterous, trying to operate controls with all four appendages while dropping into foot deep ruts ups the ante again.

At one point we were purring through the forest (the little Yamahas are remarkably quiet for one cylinder thumpers) when Joe held a hand up and made the kill the engine sign.  We all rolled to a stop and not fifteen feet away was a fully grown doe (a deer, a female deer).  She stood there munching her grass while watching us from a sunny glade, looking like a scene out of Bambi.  After a minute or so she ambled off into the brush.  My son took the ATV course in the afternoon and they came across wild turkeys - you're likely to see some wildlife when out in the woods.

As lunch approached our experienced German went and rode with his son and Joe and I went deeper into the woods, now on trails that would barely qualify as a walking path.  The SMART program is based in Beaver Valley, which is part of the Niagara Escarpment.  The Beaver River has cut the valley through the escarpment, which is also scattered with post glacial erratics (big rocks).  You're working big elevation changes through thick forest including stumps and downed logs along with some very rocky sections; it's a challenging mix.  Now that I was getting the hang of it, I was spending half my attention watching Joe's thirty plus years of trail riding experience as he picked out lines through this spaghetti.  We'd stop every once in a while and have a quick chat about what was going on, with Joe giving gems like, "you'll see me going for the hard pack on the side of the trail, especially when you see all that loose stuff in the middle.  The loose stuff falls into the gulley in the middle and can get pretty deep."

We had a quick lunch, but it was so hot I forced myself to eat something even though I had no appetite.  More importantly was getting water into me.  By now we were well into the forties Celsius with the humidity, and everyone was drooping.  My son had arrived for the ATV training and soon enough he was off and doing loops in the compound, getting a handle on the thing.

As the dust got kicked up in the in-field we disappeared into the woods onto even tighter trails.  I stalled going up a hill so steep that I had to roll it backwards down it to get the carb to feed again and restart it.  Joe then showed me how to roll it backwards on the clutch while powered off and in gear in a controlled manner to get out of a tight spot on a hill.  By this point I was keeping up with Joe as he was making tracks.  It was then that he asked if I'd be interested in going out on a BMW F800GS for the last part of the day.  We'd wrung the necks of the Yamaha dirt bikes doing over fifty kilometres, so I said, 'absolutely!'.  It'd be a chance to try a different bike, which I never say no to.

I'd ridden a BMW once before while riding the south end of Vancouver Island a few years ago.  It was an F800ST - the sports touring version of the adventure bike I was going to ride now.  The F800GS is a nice, tall bike which fits me well.  The controls feel quality, as do the suspension and tires, which cornered so well I forgot they were knobblies.

Joe took us out onto the road and we disappeared into the Copeland Forest for a couple of hours, skipping our water break and riding everything from pavement to fire roads, to dual tracks and, finally, single track trails.  The BMW was obviously much bigger than the Yamaha we'd been on earlier (114kgs for the Yamaha, 229kgs for the BMW), but it's amazing how off-road capable it is considering that weight difference.  It feels balanced and nimble.  The only thing stopping you from trying the really gnarly trails would be if you got stuck (and what it would cost to fix it).  Getting this out of a hedge wouldn't be anything like as easy or cheap as the simple, little dirt bike.

Riding the BMW reminded me of the limitations I experienced with the KLX250 I purchased a couple of years ago.  It was off road capable (I forded rivers with it), but as a dual purpose bike it couldn't carry me at what I considered a safe speed on the road (it would barely touch 100km/hr, which is what most traffic is doing on Canadian back roads).  The BMW was quick and capable on the road, and when we went off road (though on nothing as gnarly as we did on the Yamaha), it did the job without any surprises.  Like the F800ST I rode a few years ago, the twin engine felt agricultural and uninspiring, though it was certainly quiet and efficient.  Compared to the exhaust popping and snarling, induction howling Tiger, the engine felt rather characterless which is a shame considering what a lovely thing the rest of the bike is.  The suspension was so good it made me wonder if the wooden shocks on my Tiger are in need of some attention.

We rolled back in at the end of the day just a few minutes before the other classes returned, and drank a lot of water.  I'd covered well over 100 off and on road kilometres over the day on two very different bikes.  Joe was approachable and willing to answer any questions, but better than that he used decades of experience to quickly assess where I was at and then lay down a series of increasingly challenging lessons that kept me on the edge of my learning curve all day.

I'd been sweating for hours and was ready to get out of the armour and go and wash the caked on dirt away.  My wonderfully wise wife who did all the photography you see here had also arranged a room at the Horseshoe Resort next door, so within twenty minutes I was flat out in a pool thinking about the day.  I'd managed not to dry-stick my way into anything I couldn't handle and was in good, but muscle sore shape.

My son has always been a cautious fellow and reluctant to ride or drive, but he spent a very intensive two hours with Adam on the ATVs and rolled back in looking like he was ten feet tall.  It's amazing what an accessible, patient instructor can do for your confidence.  By the end of the day he was talking about driving the ATVs up at the cottage, which had never been a consideration before.

I can't recommend S.M.A.R.T. highly enough.  If you're an experienced road rider you own it to your craft to spend some time learning these skills, they might save your bacon one day.  If you've never tried offroad powersports before and are looking for an accessible and relatively inexpensive (it's about $200 for a half day and $300 for a full day - all in including all gear and equipment) way to get into it, this'll do that too.  We'll be back again.

With amusement park tickets north of a hundred bucks, you're close to the cost of a day at SMART to park, eat, stand in lines and sit on roller coasters at Wonderland.  Why on earth would you line up to passively experience fake thrills when you could get learn real world skills and experience real world thrills at SMART?  The same could be said for increasingly expensive professional sports spectating.  No line ups, no crowds, (though deer and turkey on occasion) and a great day becoming genuinely accomplished in the great Canadian outdoors.  How could you say no to that?

The 230cc Yamaha I rode typically lasts 6-8 years.  They do a lot of on-site maintenance.  One of the instructors said that they don't wear out engine wise as they aren't ridden that hard, but the transmissions suffer from a hard life with many people new to bikes learning how to clutch and gear on them.

S.M.A.R.T. Adventures:

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Off-Roading Dreaming

My son, Max, got handy with dirt bikes at SMART Adventures last week and now I'm dreaming of some options that would let us explore trails together on two wheels.  If I had half a million dollars sitting around we could get ourselves into a winterized house/cottage on Lake Benoir on the south edge of Algonquin Park.  The only reason I'm even thinking about that is because of COVID.  In any other situation I'd rather travel than own more property but well over a year into this pandemic it doesn't look like travel as normal will return any time soon.  That'd be a couple of acres in the woods in a small, simple house (electricity but mainly heated by wood burning stove) that comes with a good sized workshop.  They have some nice resorts on the lake so this isn't as rough of some of Northern Ontario and it's right in the heart of the Canadian Shield.  Off-road trails abound in the area as well as some of the best riding roads in Ontario.  We'd immediately get ourselves Ontario Federation of Trail Rider memberships and then get into the woods!

Back in the real world where half a million bucks and doubling down on real estate isn't in the cards, getting off-road could happen in a number of different ways.  Here's the most to least expensive in order:


Jeep Gladiator Overland:  $65,000

A capable off-roader that can get us to the trail head while carrying the bikes.  It'd make a great base from which to ride from and then would be able to get us out of the bush at the end of a long day of riding.  There are a lot of camping options that let you leverage the vehicle to make camping a bit less mucky including truck bed mounted tent systems and proper bedding.

2021 CRF250F:  $5649 x2

I took one of these out for the day at SMART Adventures and really got along with it.  I'd buy an Ontario used dirt bike but the prices are absurd.  Broken 20 year old bikes are asking ridiculous money!  New dirt bikes aren't madly expensive and this one, being a Honda, would last as long as I'd ever need it to.  I'd get two of the same thing to make maintenance more straightforward and then my son and I could ride together.

Total (the camping gear is another grand):  $77k


2015 Used Jeep Wrangler:  $36,000

It's got 90k on it, a 5 speed stick and a V6.  It looks in good shape and comes with the towing cubbins I'd need to tow bikes to where we could use them.  The Wrangler has a pile of camping related gear for it that isn't crazy expensive.  The tent off the back is three hundred bucks and the rear air mattress less than a hundred.  The whole shebang would come in under $37,000 and would be good to go pretty much anywhere while still doing Jeepy things like taking roofs and doors off.

Used Dirt Bike:  ridiculous prices

Here's a random selection of used dirt bikes online in Ontario in 2021.  People are asking nearly four grand for sticker festooned, brutalized and rebuilt bikes covered in replacement cheap plastics because the OEM ones were smashed off.  Four grand for these POSes!  I don't know that there is a cost effective alternative to dirt biking, at least in price crazy Ontario.

Here's another example of the insanity complete with questionable literacy skills:  1998 ktm exc 250 2 stroke, Needs a crank seal, witch (sic) I have. ( don’t half to split the case) it’s a 40 min Job if that, it does run but I wouldn’t without doing that seal first as it pulls tranny oil in other than that it needs the front breaks bled and a few small things like bolts for a couple plastics and such, I have the ownership, full gasket kit for the motor, all the paper work on the bike. $2,500OBO  That'd be a sticker festooned, broken and abused 23 year old (!!!) KTM for two and a half grand!  I just can't make sense of Ontario's used dirt bike market.  By the time you've sorted one of these wrecks out you'd have dropped over five grand on it anyway, which would get you a new bike.

But then there are some Chinese manufacturer option:

SSR SR300S dirt bike:  $5000 x 2

Here's a 31 horsepower, 300cc, 286lb well specified off-roader that undercuts the Japanese equivalents by almost a grand.  Of course, the 'Japanese' bikes aren't made in Japan either so everyone is spending a lot extra on brand and dealership accessibility.  I'd have headaches finding parts for beaten up old Japanese brands anyway, so worries about parts don't really matter.  For a couple of grand less than two new Hondas we could still have new bikes, just without the branding.

Here's another:

Vipermax 250cc Apollo:  $2899 x 2

Based on Honda tech, these 250cc bikes have disc brakes and other modern tech and weigh in under 300lbs as well.  They're not quite as big and powerful as the SSR above but they're capable, new and feature a lot of recently updated tech.  The two of them together would cost almost what one CRF250F ($5800 for two vs $5650 for one CRF250F).  They're probably built in the same factory.  Isn't globalism fun?

If I could find a couple of used but serviceable 250cc trail bikes for a couple of grand each I'd happily take that on as a winter project, but they simply don't exist in Ontario and with the Chinese options, why buy terrible, expensive and used?


A Jeep would open up camping and off-roading options beyond what the bikes could do and it's something I'd like to get into in any case.  There are dirt bike hitch trailers for the Wrangler and it could tow a trailer too.

There are a lot of ways to get off-road and out into the wilderness, I just have to figure out the one that works for us.

Saturday 1 August 2020

A Tim's Top Gear Rick & Morty Themed Travel Challenge: We're going to Windigo, Morty!

I'm a big fan of Top Gear, and I especially enjoy their travel/challenges.  I've always dreamed of planning one, getting people silly enough to commit to it and then making it happen.

In the summer of COVID I'm finding myself daydreaming of possible adventures, so I started poking around on the internet trying to find how far north roads go in Ontario.  Bafflingly, Ontario has never connected to its own north sea shore by road.  For a province that has thousands of kilometers of ocean shoreline, Ontario seems intent on convincing its citizens that it's land locked.  I'd love to ride 1000kms north to the sea, but it's not an option.  James Bay is roughly in line with Scotland, so its not like it's in the arctic.

In the meantime, it looks like Windigo Lake north west of Thunder Bay is as far north as you can ride in Ontario on your own wheels:

...which offers us a great thematic riding challenge!  It's time to go to Windigo (instead of Bendigo), Morty!  Here's the inspiration in case you're not hip to Rick & Morty:
Here's the Top Gear style WE'RE GOIN TO WINDIGO, MORTY! Moto Travel Challenge:
  • Each participant gets a $3000 budget for a bike and any farkles that must include a safety certificate.  Ownership is by WG2W Productions, pending the bikes return to Elora within 10 days of the event, at which point ownership is signed over to the rider.  Safety and taxes should be about $400, so that leaves about $2600 for a bike and farkles
  • Insurance and ownership is managed by the event
  • All riders must have a valid Ontario M class license
  • Camping equipment is provided to each rider individually based on a sponsored selection of gear (rider's choice)  Each rider will be provided with bear gear.
  • Each participant has to do any repair or maintenance on their own bike.  Only other competitors can assist.
  • Google maps says it's a 27 hour ride to Windigo.  Riders can only be on the road between 7am and 7pm, so the most efficient (and luckiest) should arrive in Windigo on day three in the morning.  At 12 hours per day of possible riding, 27 hours =  2..25 days of riding.  The earliest rider with a perfectly timed ride would arrive at Windigo at 10am on day three of the event.
  • Timing for the event takes into account speed limits.  Any rider caught speeding is disqualified.
  • Any overnight stops while riding to Windigo must be wild camping following leave-no-trace rules.  Proof of camp site cleanup must be included on rider GoPro footage or a time penalty is applied.
  • The rider who gets to Windigo (getting to Windigo means arriving at the lake on your bike and dipping a toe in) as close to 27 hours of riding after leaving the start line as possible, wins!
  • Riders can choose how to use their daylight hours to ride.  In the case of a tie, the rider to get to Windigo the soonest and closest to 27 hours of riding after race start wins
  • Winner gets a We're going to Windigo, Morty gold medal.  There will be silver and bronze finalist medals too.  Smallest displacement and oldest bikes who finish also get awards
  • Any participant who finishes this long distance riding rally and is able to ride back to the start line within a week of the competition end can keep their bike! 
...followed by 469kms of
challenging unpaved roads
to the end of all roads.
A paved odyssey...
This isn't an easy ride.  It starts with almost 1700kms of riding on paved roads ranging from the biggest freeway you can imagine to single lane tar patched, northern frost heaved back-road.  You've then got almost 500kms of riding gravel up to where all roads end at Windigo.  Trying to do this on a one trick pony like a cruiser would be entertaining, but likely unsuccessful.  This is a challenge for a multi-purpose motorcycle!

The 599 highway isn't Google car photoed once you get on the gravel, and you're constantly dodging lakes this deep into the Canadian Shield.  The closest I could get was this photo of the Mishkeegogamang Band Office, which shows a graded gravel road out front.  Fuel stops are few and far between, some cunning planning will be required!


There are some interesting choices at the bottom end of the bike market in Ontario:

A bike that'll handle the off-road part of this trip, though it isn't built for the thousands of kilometres of paved road leading to the hundreds of miles of gravel fire roads.  Capable of handling the camping gear too.  Should come in on budget on the road.

Low mileage, in good shape and comes safetied, so you'd have a bit left over for farkles.  It'd chew up the pavement side of WG2W effortlessly, but that windshield might never see Windigo (Morty).

Big Honda touring bike, high miles, but it's a Honda.  It'd be a handful on nearly a thousand kilometres of gravel, but some people like that.  Should come in under budget and ready to make miles.  The paves stuff would flash by on this and it could carry camping gear with ease!

Low miles, Kawasaki dependable, in great shape.  The Versys is short for versatile bike system, just what you'd need to get to Windigo (Morty).  The 650 is a lightweight bike that'll handle gravel, and it has luggage and mounting points for some soft bags.  I'd probably be able to get it for $2300 certified, which gives me a bit for some soft saddle bags, then I'm off to the races!  This'd be my choice.  Might spill my extra cash on some 70/30 semi-off road tires.

There are lots of other interesting choices that you could get road ready for under three grand in Ontario.  Seeing what people choose and how they prep the bike for long distance, multi-surface, remote riding would be half the fun.  To stretch the choices there would also be trophies for the oldest bike and smallest displacement bike to finish the ride, so some people might go after those rather than the timed competition.


All bikes have GoPros to capture footage and all riders agree to provide at least 15 minutes of speaking to camera dialogue per day while in the rally.  All competitors have to document their camp build and take down.  There will be a production/sweeper vehicle with a trailer in case of any bike failures.  The vehicle will be able to provide technical support in remote areas and be designed for the gravel portion of the event as well as offer a central point for production and media management.

Competition begins when all riders have their bikes delivered to a shared garage space in Elora.

Film Schedule:
Day 1:  All bikes have arrived.  Bike familiarity and maintenance, bike paperwork taken care of, all riders and production crew doing piece to camera introducing themselves and talking about the event and prep
Day 2:  Bike familiarity and preparation, filming continues
Day 3:  Bike familiarity and preparation, finalizing ride planning, filming continues.  All bikes in park ferme at the end of the day ready for the morning's off.
Day 4:  7am Race start in Elora.  Filmed by production vehicle crew and GoPros on bikes.
Production vehicle stopping in Thunder Bay on Day 1.
Day 5:  7am start.  Production vehicle stopping at Windigo to await arrival of riders (riders who arrive early will have a major penalty, so no one should be there until day 3)
Day 6:  Production vehicle at Windigo Lake awaiting arrivals.  End of day 6:  close of event party on Windigo
Day 7:  All rider camping gear to be taken in by the support vehicle for a lighter ride back.  Sweeping the road south to Silver Dollar (the beginning of pavement).  All competitors camping at Silver Dollar Campsite that night.  Confirm end of event with all riders.
Day 8:  Retrace/sweep route to Thunder Bay.  End of rally event in Thunder Bay.  Riders who want to keep their bikes have 3 days to return to the workspace in Elora in order to claim ownership.  Riders who want to find their own way home can do so and bikes will be transported in the trailer.
Day 9:  Production vehicle sweeps south clearing any bikes that have been parked.
Day 11:  Any bikes that have returned to the workspace in Elora have their ownership turned over to their riders.

Episodes:  45 minute edited
1)  Introducing riders, bike selection and  preparation - possibly include off-road training at SMART Adventures?
2) Rally Start:  day one on the road
3) Rally Continued:  day two on the road
4) Rally Conclusion: day three on the road and rally winners and finishers highlighted
5) where did they go missing riders review, post rally interviews while returning to Thunder Bay, final presentations in TB, sweeping up, who got to keep their bikes
Total production time:  3.75 hours of edited footage

Other opportunities:  Work with SMART Adventures out of Horseshoe Valley - include bits on how to ride off road, what riders can expect, how to manage bikes on loose surfaces.

Rough costing:
8 Competitors @ $3000 per bike = $24,000
Production Vehicle Cost (rental & gasoline):  $3000
Insurance & Paperwork costs at $1000 each competitor = $8,000
Production equipment (cameras, drone, on bike GoPros):  $5000
Production team hotels:  4 people x 2 nights Thunder Bay, 1 night on the road back, 2 nights camping in the north = $2000
Camping gear:  $1000/competitor + production crew = $10,000 (mitigated by sponsorship?)

Total rough budget:  $52,000.  Estimated budget:  $60,000   (mitigated by sponsorship)

Sponsorship opportunities:

- workshop/repair centre where bike setup takes place
- motorcycle farkle manufacturers or suppliers
- camping gear supply
- Tourism Ontario
- Northern Ontario
- motorcycle manufacturers
- competitor sponsorship
- Rick & Morty Themed prize swag