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

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.

Saturday 4 July 2015

The Damn It Moment

It was a good week of riding.  On Saturday, Sunday and Thursday I covered over six hundred kilometres around Southern Ontario.  

Saturday had us dancing around in front of the coming storm.  The horizon south of us was ominous to say the least.  We dodged and weaved but eventually rode into the curtain of rain only to have one of the old Kawasakis in the group (and I mean old, it was almost as old as I am) run rough when it got wet.  Fortunately we had already been to three local microbreweries and had loaded up on craft beers, so we were all set for a rainy evening indoors in Owen Sound.

Neustadt Brewery, where you find a variety of craft beers not available for general distribution.  The bikes ranged from a
modern GSX-R to forty year old Kawasakis, a modern Super Tenere, my Connie and a Triumph Scrambler.

Maclean's in Hanover, with impending doom on the horizon.

We rode into the rain and then away from it as quickly as possible - but it was coming again in 30 minutes!  In the
meantime the cranky old Kawi worked enough to get us home.

Not so happy in the rain (though the other 40 year old Kawi was flawless and my Connie ran like a Swiss watch).

Scrambler pipes in the rain.
After watching Canada's girls' team get kicked out of the world cup (but England won so I was still happy), we watched some Isle of Man TT, talked bikes and drank local brews.  The next morning the torrential rain continued.  After some hot coffee I hit the road to test my rain gear like never before, and get to the family cottage in Bobcaygeon where my wife and son were worrying about me.

I was the warm and dry centre of the universe making a Tim-on-a-Concours sized hole in the rain.  Since Jeff had told me to move the petcock from "Pri" to "On" (Pri doesn't mean the primary tank, it means prime, as in giving the engine lots of extra gas to start after being off for a long while), the Concours had developed a new smoothness with no more lumpy low RPM or gas burning backfires when I came off throttle.  With the Connie running better than ever I was ready for a challenge.

The south shore of Georgian Bay in Midland.
I tried to stop at Blue Mountain for breakfast where my son and I had gone ten weeks earlier on our first ride of the year, but it was a zoo.  I eventually found a Tim Hortons and had some hot tea and breakfast.  Pushing on from Collingwood I kept hoping I'd ride out of it, but it only came on heavier.

Riding in the rain is nice, everything smells fantastic and the colours are super saturated.  It gets less magical when you're doing it in heavy traffic.  Drivers see you even less than they normally do and you're dealing with spray and slick pavement as well.  Many moons ago a friend of mine (an ER nurse) invented the Trotter Precipitation Index, which theorized that driver IQ is inversely proportional to the amount of precipitation falling (drivers get dumber the more it rains).  I've generally observed this to be true, but it takes on terrifying new dimensions on a motorbike.

The slog in traffic from Collingwood to Orillia was tense and the rain had finally found a way into my rain gear, soaking my crotch.  Nothing makes you crankier than a wet crotch.

I'd been on the road about three hours when I got to Orillia.  I was on my way (still in heavy traffic) across the causeway on the north end of Lake Simcoe when everything stopped due to an accident.  The road was closed, it was pelting down with rain and so dark street lights were kicking on.  I pulled off into The Point restaurant and was saved with excellent service, hot coffee and home made soup.  I looked so bedraggled that the waitress didn't even charge me, but I left a big tip.

An hour later my core temperature was back up and I was uncramped and ready to take another run at this underwater ride.  The traffic had finally cleared and the road was reopened so I crossed the causeway and headed south around the east side of Simcoe.  No sooner had I saddled up than it began pelting down again.  My warmed up dampness became cold and rain soaked in short order, but I was closing in on my goal.

I pulled out of the stop-start traffic on the local through road and headed toward Beaverton and some dirt bike boots I saw on Kijiji, but missed a turn in the torrential rain and ended up 10 miles down the road I needed to take to the cottage before I realized I'd missed it.  I couldn't bring myself to turn around so I pushed on toward the finish line.

The air temperature was only about 15°C and I was soaked again.  Just when it looked like I had this thing in hand, and with no warning, the road was suddenly gone, replaced with deeply rutted mud and gravel.  The old guy ahead of me in his new SUV was worried about getting it dirty and kept stopping (!) in the mud while he tried to figure out where to drive next.  Ever tried riding a loaded Concours in ankle deep mud and ruts?  It isn't easy to keep upright, especially when you have to keep stopping and starting.

My Zen beginning to this trip was ebbing away.  I was cold, sore, and tired, and I'd missed my turn and a chance to pick up some lovely Alpinestars dirtbike boots for a song.  Now I was hanging on for dear life, trying to keep the big bike upright in this strange, slippery, grey mud.  To top it off I was stuck in traffic that had been inflicted with the TP Index.

I might have stopped but there was nowhere to do it.  Cars (but mostly SUVs) were splashing around in both directions, and I was covered in mud.  There were no shoulders to speak of.  At this point I started to get angry.  Alright, fuck this, I'm getting where I'm going instead of doubting myself.  Standing on the pegs I aimed the Concours around the deepest ruts (courtesy of yahoos in cars spinning out in the start-stop traffic) and picked my way through. When you take doubt out of your riding the bike responds to your determination with a sure footedness that I found encouraging.  Ten agonizing, slow and muddy kilometres later I emerged onto tarmac once again.

As I rolled into Fenelon Falls I grabbed the brakes for a stop sign and nothing happened.  The gravel they'd laid down in the construction was full of limestone dust and that grey paste had gotten into everything, especially my front brakes.  I got it stopped and pulled over for a pee in the rain.  By this point I was ready to pick up the bike on my back and carry it the rest of the way, some squishy brakes weren't going to slow me down (literally or figuratively).

I saddled up again and rode through Fenelon Falls which was backed up with cottage traffic.  Passing the mall some yahoo in a Mercedes SUV thought he'd suddenly pull out to get into the line of traffic inching along the other way.  I hit the brakes, skidding the back tire in the never-ending rain, he saw me at the last moment and stopped.  Had he hit me I'd have jumped through his windshield and beaten the shit out of him, I was pretty wound up at this point.  He got a fine what-the-hell-dude gesture but didn't want to make eye contact with the guy he almost hit so he could sit in a line of traffic.

I was finally out of Fenelon and on my way to Bobcaygeon.  The bike was running on empty, but I was ok with that, I still had miles of gravel fire roads before I got into the cottage and lighter would be more manageable.  I ignored the gas station in Bobcaygeon and pushed on to the cottage road with the odometer showing 236 miles since the last fill up.

The cottage road was slippery, but not like that damned construction, and it was graded properly.  I was making my way down this roller coaster of a road when the bike started to chug.  I was monkeying with the choke to keep it going when I remembered how low I was on gas.  A quick twist of the petcock to Reserve (which got me all the way back out four days later to fill up at 248 miles on the odo) made everything happy again and I road the final couple of miles without incident.

The cottage road - sort of like a rally stage.  The Concours was sure footed on the wet gravel.
It was still hosing down when I pulled into the cottage garage and took off my helmet with shaking hands.  Should I have stopped?  Hells no!  I was looking for a challenge and the weather, traffic and horrible roads had provided one.  Doing a difficult thing well is its own reward, and this epic submarine riding trek becomes another unforgettable experience that I can add to my riding résumé.

Still the most comfortable (and cheapest) helmet I own.  Hours in the rain it kept me dry, was virtually fog free (I waxed
the visor before leaving - water beaded off), and comfortable.

Jeff's heated gloves, waterproof for
the first couple of hours, then
soaked, but warm!
Parked in Fenelon Falls with dodgy brakes and a
'screw-it I'm getting there' attitude

Mud covered but parked in the cottage garage.

The next day (sure, whatever) the sun came out and everything was steaming.
It took the jacket and gloves two days to dry out.

Saturday 15 February 2014

training ignorance & fear out of your bikecraft

I've been trying to find a comparison about the relative dangers of motorcycling that didn't devolve into anecdote and hyperbole, I couldn't find one on the internet (the home of anecdote and hyperbole).  After reading all sorts of people who knew someone who died on a motorbike, or were hit by a car 'that came out of nowhere' (cars don't come out of nowhere, they're very big and weigh thousands of pounds), I'm left shaking my head.

I know a guy who died on a motorcycle.  He was late for work and ran a red light at over 100km/hr and ended up going over the hood of a nice, old couple's car who were turning left into the lane in front of him.  Along with a pile of other people I ran across our work parking lot and got there just in time to see him die.  Not to speak ill of the dead but this guy was a yahoo, and his accident was all about his idiocy and had virtually nothing to do with his motorcycling.  Had he run the same light in a Mustang he would have ended up killing three people, two of them completely innocent, as it was he traumatized them. 

Online you'll find many anecdotes about how dangerous it is 'out there'.  There was the guy who went on at length about how a muffler fell off the car in front of him and he couldn't avoid it; he hasn't been back on a bike since.  I suppose that muffler came out of nowhere too.  I wonder how close behind the car buddy was when that muffler took him off his bike.

In many cases those ex-bikers say that training doesn't help, the only thing that does help is a cage of your own.  A life lived in fear is a life half lived, and there are a lot of people hiding in cages living half lives on the interwebs.  The emotionality and ignorance on display is distressing.  How can you do a thing well when your stories clearly demonstrate ignorance around how to operate a motorbike effectively?  I wonder if any of the people who knew that yahoo I worked with are the ones now saying how dangerous motorcycling is.

Extreme defensive driving, if you're not thinking about
all of this approaching an intersection,
you're not doing it right
Having taken some training I plan on taking much more because it really does help.  If you're serious about your bikecraft you will continue to seek out ways to improve, otherwise you aren't taking the task seriously.  Training isn't just about how to make a bike go, it's also some of the most intensive defensive driver training you'll ever experience, and I've done a lot of advanced driver training.  

Anyone who wants to pin the dangers of motorbiking on everyone else on the road feels helpless, training goes some way to mitigate that, though afterward you're never able to say, "it came out of nowhere!" or, "it wasn't my fault!"  When you finally get to the bottom of the extreme defensive mindset you need on a bike everything is your responsibility, including responding to the poor driving of other people.  If you're not willing or able to shoulder that responsibility you shouldn't be on a bike.

In addition to the dismissive attitude toward training, the other theme that develops as you read the anecdotal former rider or friend of a dead friend online is the anger.  People who have have a hate on for riding and are now evangelizing against it were angry when they rode, frequently telling stories of how they were shouting at four wheeled offenders, incredibly upset by being run off the road, angry at how poorly everyone else uses the road.  They've never shaken this anger, it's a part of who they are and they still spout it online.  You have to wonder how blind that anger made them when they rode.

Another benefit of training and then advanced training is that rather than approach a situation with an emotive response, you tend to be clinical.  Anyone who has taken martial arts understands how this works.  The untrained fight in ignorance, throwing haymakers and making a wondrous mess of it all.  They typically attempt to overcome their ignorance and inexperience by fighting emotionally.  A true student of anything is clinical because they approach their craft with an eye to constant improvement.  They don't thrash around in anger, they analyze and improve.  An emotional mindset seldom leads to skills improvement.

The angry biker is a dilettante, someone posing, looking for social status with no interest in improving their bikecraft.  You can't learn if you're angry.

When riding a motorcycle in an angry, blaming way you are attempting to cover your ignorance with loud emotionality.  Don't be ignorant and upset, become skilled and clinical, and always have an eye toward improving your craft.  Riding a motorcycle well is a deeply immersive experience, you're doing a difficult, dangerous thing, and doing it well should be a great source of pride.  When you're lost in your bikecraft you are attentive, meditative, alert and alive in the truest sense of the word.  I don't imagine any of the naysayers on the internet care, but this is an important place to find yourself.

Copyright All rights reserved by JamesAddis

Interweb hyperbole...

Saturday 26 February 2022

Zipper Replacement on a Motorcycle Jacket

Back in 2016 we did a winter family holiday to Las Vegas and then drove down to Phoenix.  While there my son and I rented a bike and rode the Superstition Mountains just east of the city.  Having done some research, I thought I'd try buying a leather bike jacket while down there as US prices tend to be much kinder than Canadian ones.  I ended up with a Bilt black leather bike jacket that I've used on cooler rides since.  It's not high tech protection wise but the leather is thick and the jacket is a solid thing.  It was the last of the 2014 designs and I got it on sale ($159!) as they were wrapping up their Christmas shopping season at the CycleGear shop in Mesa.  Your typical excellent American sales service too.

Since then I've done thousands of miles with the thing and it has always done the job.  It isn't well vented so it tends to do early spring/late fall duties.  This past fall on my last big ride of the year I was wearing it for the 270km ride up to Deerhurst Resort and then it handled a torrential downpour when I rode into Algonquin Park the next day.

It was all good until on the way home I undid the zipper and it came off in my hand when I stopped for a drink before heading back south.  I managed to get the zipper to reconnect so I wasn't flapping all the way back, but a broken zipper meant the jacket couldn't be used anymore, which made me sad.  What followed was a deep dive into zipper technology as I attempted to fix it.

A six year old leather jacket might not be my first choice when getting caught in a downpour, but it did the job!  The hotel room had a lot of drying leather hanging up in it when I got back.

Some online research had me filling my head with new zipper related vocabulary.  The retaining box on the jacket had come off when I pulled the zipper down.  Most of the online advice (which turned out to be right) suggested that you can't fix a broken box, it requires a zipper replacement, but on a thick leather jacket that seemed like a bit much.  Of course, Amazon sells crap that insinuates that you can fix a broken retaining box, so I wasted money buying that and then found that it wouldn't grip and simply didn't work, even after multiple attempts.

Top Tip:  don't waste your time trying to fix an old zipper.  It took some effort, but removing the old zipper and installing another is just some work and isn't impossible.

I finally ended up buying a quality YKK replacement zipper (after learning an awful lot about YKK zippers).  My crafty wife has all the sewing kit so she gave me a seam ripper that made removing the old thread very easy.  If you've got an exacto knife or craft blades and steady hands you could probably remove the thread that way, but the seam ripper does it without damaging the material.  With the old zipper removed and the outer leather separated from the inner liner, the jacket ended up sitting under my work table for a couple of weeks because the thought of pushing a needle through the leather seemed like a bit much, but it's no harder than other mechanical work (makes your hands ache though).

I got some heavy duty coat thread when I purchased the replacement zipper.  This stuff is nylon-rope strong which helped with the sewing, which I did by hand.  The stitching doesn't look like it's done by a machine but it's consistently spaced and didn't cause any pinch points up the zipper.

I came in through the back lining and out through the existing holes in the leather.  By separating the layers I was able to line up the needle with the holes and then it was just a matter of keeping everything straight as I worked my way up the zipper hole by hole.  Alanna suggested I start at the bottom and work up - that was good advice.

Using the existing holes on the thick hide is the trick.  You might be able to do this on a machine but I don't know how you'd do that as the jacket material is thick and you'd need to align the holes the machine is punching with what is currently there.  Doing it by hand is a bit tedious but it works and means you're not punching any new holes in anything.

When I got to the top I tucked the zipper (I couldn't get one the exact length of the old one so got one about half an inch too long) into the collar which had been separated when I removed the zipper thread.  With the top of the zipper tucked into the collar, I sewed everything up using the existing holes in the leather.  Once again, separating the material let me align the needle with each hole one by one.

The final product zips up like new and has no pinching or clumping on the front of the jacket.  Sewing in the other side was easy.  I separated the zipper once one side was in and then  did the other just the same way.  By the time I was wrapping it up I'd gotten quick at it.

Alanna had a thick needle and that strong thread really helped the process.  With a leather jacket the trick is to use the existing holes in the material rather than trying to punch new ones, which in my case meant doing it by hand.  The end result is that my old leather jacket, which now has some nice patina on it, is back in service and ready for the 2022 riding season, should this never ending winter end.

If you lose a zipper on your favourite old motorbike jacket, don't toss it out.  A replacement zipper is less than $15 (CAD) and with thread and other odds and ends you should be able to replace that tired zipper with something that'll let you enjoy your well loved leather jacket for years to come.

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:

Friday 5 August 2016

Domino Effect

I find myself fighting a constant battle with non-riders over just how dangerous motorcycling is. They can't understand why I would risk life and limb (or my son's life and limb) to do something so superfluous.  Unfortunately, the press is more than willing to inflame this perception.

While I was away this weekend a news story appeared that threw more gas on the fire...

"In an attempt to avoid collision with the fifth wheel, the motorcycles came in contact with each other, creating a domino effect and one rider, the deceased, came in contact with the fifth wheel,  Eight men and one woman were sent to hospital with multiple injuries. The driver of the truck was not hurt.

Bloodbaths, and then five people ♥'ed it?
Where do I even begin with this?  The people involved in this crash made a number of bad decisions that led to a disaster.

A group mentality had them passing a vehicle en masse, something you never do.  Any sane motorcyclist knows that your pass is yours and yours alone, even (especially?) when you're in a group.  You make the move when it's safe and practical to do it, not because the people around you are.  This is yet another reason why I don't like riding in groups, there is pressure to ride as a unit instead of an individual.  That kind of thinking is the antithesis of why I ride.

A few weeks ago I met up with an eclectic group of riders up by the Bruce Peninsula.  At its biggest we were about half a dozen bikes.  There were a couple of times during the ride when people crossed double yellow lines and dived around traffic.  They've all been riding a lot longer than I have, but I found some of the moves a bit reckless, and didn't follow.  My ride is my ride, I make the decisions.

My best guess at what the point of impact looked like.
In the video below it looks like the bikes are in a pile
in the oncoming lane, so they attempted to pass to the
left of a left turning truck and trailer.  Done on
Draw Accident Sketch.
Looking at video from the accident, it looks as though the bikers were trying to pass the left turning camper in the oncoming (left hand) lane - they were trying to beat the turning vehicle, which sounds like a bad idea no matter how you phrase it.

This reads like a litany of things not to do while riding a motorcycle.  Apart from the group mentality, attempting to pass a left turning vehicle on the left suggests a real deficit in road reading, let alone basic physics.

This kind of riding is what stopped me from getting on a motorcycle just when I was going to get my license the first time twenty years ago.  In that case a kid, late for work, gunned it through a red light and went over the hood of a left turning car; instant fatality.  The cautionary tales that come from these situations always have more to do with poor road craft than they do with the perils of riding a motorbike.

Riding a motorcycle isn't easy.  10% of my class failed to get their introductory license through a combination of poor coordination and inability to manage the many things you're doing on a bike (you're using both hands, both feet and your whole body to ride it), and that was in a parking lot.  On the road there are a whole raft of other considerations on top of operating the bike.  You need to develop advanced defensive riding skills because you'll lose in any collision; it doesn't matter who is at fault when you get in an accident on a bike.

My suspicion is that these bikers thought their numbers and loud pipes would humble any other road user into waiting to let them pass.  Using intimidation as a road management tool is a slippery slope.  I'm not trusting my life to other people's perception of me - more often than not they don't see me at all.

Shortly after this happened I came across this great article explaining to car drivers why motorcycles act the way they do.  I'm willing to bet the people involved in this accident had no familiarity with these habits.  Riding a motorcycle is a difficult thing, but doing it well is very satisfying.  Doing it poorly is just asking for trouble.  If you're a non-rider and you want to trot this out as an example of why motorcycling is dangerous, it's a poor example.