Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I just finished this book.  It's the first book I've finished digitally, I'm more of a paper and ink reader, but I thought I'd give this a go on my phablet.

The narrative is based on a man and his son doing a cross country trip on a motorcycle in the 1970s.  The story focuses on that quiet mind you experience as you make miles on two wheels.  While some people's mind wander while riding, the narrator of this hefty tome starts with an examination of the basic mechanics of motorcycle maintenance but quickly wanders into a philosophical deconstruction of Greek philosophy and its effects on Western thinking.

If you've got a background in philosophy it's fairly easy to follow, if you don't you're probably going to be wondering what the hell is going on in places.

The book is full of some real gems in terms of how we approach basic mechanics as well as life in general, but it can get pretty full of itself as well.

To further complicate things the author is battling with his alter-ego as he recovers from electroshock
therapy.  No, this isn't an easy read, though it's worth it if you can get through it.

Last year I read Shopclass as Soulcraft, which I'd recommend as a much more accessible read if you're interested in getting philosophical through the lens of motorbiking.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic, and it has attained a kind of cult status in philosophy and motorcycle literature.  I'd recommend reading Crawford before you take a run at Pirsig.  Reading a review of Western philosophy wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Looking at a better fit of bike (at 6"3' I'm a bit of a giant on the '07 Ninja 650r), I came across Cycle-Ergo, an online simulator that shows you the shape of any number of bikes and how your frame sits on it.  This is an interesting exercise even if you aren't looking for a new bike.

The FAQ explains that the basic rider model isn't perfect, but

does show you lean angles and other ergonomic considerations in riding.  The feet on the floor option should be taken lightly (the FAQ explains there are too many factors - rider weight, thigh size, seat shape,etc - that can change it), but it still gives you a rough idea.  

If you want to be a lean into it sport rider, then this will show you just how uncomfortable you'll be looking cool.  If you are looking for a long distance multi-purpose (as I am),then this will show me which bike offers me the most natural/classic riding position.

There are a lot of options in the menus to the right, so be sure to play with them.  After you put in the rider height and inseam you can modify various parameters of the stock bike (handlebar locations etc).  It also shows you variations in angle due to seat position.  At the riding school they encouraged me to sit as close to the tank as possible, so I tend to sit forward in the seat.  

I looked up my current Ninja (an '07 650r).  The bike feels too small for me, and it looks it in the diagram.  

I don't find the wrist position overly uncomfortable, even though I am at quite a forward lean angle.  What I do find uncomfortable are how high the pegs are and how bent my legs are on it.  At 75° it's one of the most extreme angles I found in the knees.

My feet are flat on the floor with bent knees.  The low seat means I can stand up at a light with inches of light beneath me.  It's a short bike I have to fold myself onto.  When at speed I'm catching a lot of wind in the face, even with the aftermarket windshield on it.  I have to lay on the tank to get out of the blast.

One of the bikes I'm considering is the Triumph Tiger 800xc.  The seat height on this bike is much (much) higher than the Ninja, and the steering seems to be closer and higher, offering a less stretched forward lean.

Unlike the backward bent legs on the Ninja, the Tiger offers me a more neutral almost 90° leg angle as well.  It looks like it might be a promising fit.

The Kawasaki KLR650 is also short listed as a possible contender.  It too has a tall, upright stance with a more neutral riding position.  At half the price of the (nicer) Triumph I'd also be much less worried about dropping it, which would certainly happen at some point if I'm exploring less paved roads.

As a bike I've actually sat on, I have to say this looks pretty close to accurate.

I ran the simulator with a number of other bikes just to see what various styles looked like.  The vague body shape reminds you that this is a rough simulation, but if you're considering buying a bike why not compare it to what you're on now or what you think would be your preferred style of riding.

I wish I'd have known about this tool when I was first looking for a bike, it would have given me some stats to consider.

The Ducati all-rounder adventure bike - the seat is supposed to be horrible

I've always thought Gixers were cool... painfully cool

Living out my Mad Max fantasies on an Interceptor... worse lean, better on the knees than the Ninja

I was considering this bike last year, but the blandness described  in reviews put me off

I've sat on one of these too - it felt small, it looks small in the picture, but classy!

Another rider at work has one of these, loves it, nice riding position!

The simulator lets you put a passenger on too - this is the Tiger with Max on the back

Here is what I'd look like if Ewan McGregor was my best friend...

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Transitioning to Season Two

It's getting into autumn and my first season of biking is coming to a close.  I've enjoyed the Ninja and I've done a lot of work on it.  I've overcome my anxiety around opening it up and working on it and I've put a lot of miles on it in all kinds of weather.  I'm far from the beginner I was in April and my garage is more a shop than it's ever been before.

Not only has riding become a new interest but it has also reawakened my love of mechanics which has in turn influenced my work in general.  So far the whole experience has been a positive one full of firsts and valuable learning opportunities.

I'm thinking about season 2 and where I want to go.  When I started off riding I was aiming at a KLR650 or other big dual purpose bike but went with the Ninja because it was local, available, low mileage and made a lovely sound.  The Ninja offers me an opportunity to explore the limits of a modern road bike, but that can be a tricky proposition, and an expensive one.  Were I to stay with the Ninja I think I'd find some track days and feel out some of the more extreme limits.  Knowing how a vehicle handles on the track offers you a unique insight into how to manage it on the road, especially in emergency situations.  I've driven cars and shifter-carts on track and know how to work towards the edge without stepping over it (too far).

I've been very careful with the Ninja, but I'd like to push my understanding and that involves taking risks with the machine.  I can't understand the dynamics of riding if I'm never riding over seven tenths.  If I'm going after a deeper, more nuanced understanding then I've got two options: the dirt track or the race track.  One is obviously cheaper than the other.

The KLR is still under consideration
I'd initially shied away from doing off road for fear of wear, but I'm over the maintenance panic now.  I'd still like to develop my road riding skills, but exploring limits seems like a less dangerous option in off road and multi-surface riding.  To that end, I think I'll look to a multi-purpose/enduro bike for my second season and begin exploring roads without worrying about where the tarmac ends.  The ultimate goal is still the long distance/adventure touring bike.  I love the swiss army knife abilities of those bikes.

The KLR still offers an affordable, basic, multi-purpose bike and I'd consider it seriously.  It's also not crazy expensive.

Triumph Tiger 800xc, my first
British bike?
Given a bigger budget I'd aim for a Triumph Tiger 800xc.  It is a capable off-road bike that doesn't tip the scales too madly, while still offering an effective road mile covering bike.  A bike that can pack in the miles is what I'm looking for.

Either the bargain basement KLR or the Tiger would get chucked to the curb if I sat on them and they didn't feel right.  Now that I've done some miles I'm getting a much better idea of what I want my bike to feel like.

KTM's outrageous 990 Supermoto
Fortunately there is no shortage of multi-purpose bikes out there.  From Yamaha Teneres to KTM 990 Supermotos to BMW's famous adventure bikes, there are many options and many of them have that naked, standard bike look that I prefer.

I'm planning on finishing up my work on the Ninja and putting it out for sale this fall while looking for my second season bike, this time spending a lot more time considering how I fit and what I want to do with it.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Biking Family History Part 2

Since seeing pictures of my granddad on a motorbike I've been curious about my family history with bikes.  Knowing that bikes have been in my family for generations is kinda cool.  When home in August I got to see some more bike-related family history.  My Uncle had a couple of albums I hadn't seen before that had some fantastic pictures in them.

It's always nice to see pictures of Granddad, and seeing him working on his bike was wonderful.  I guess if you rode a bike in the 1940s and 50s you spent some time making sure it was running right, or it wasn't running at all.

There were also some pictures of my Granddad Bill in his RAF uniform on a bike.  With war-time scarcity, getting around on two wheels was the way to go.  I imagine the RAF used bikes extensively as personal transport.

Granddad rode in their motorbike tatoo - doing stunts and coordinated high speed riding.

I love the poses; the bikes, the suits, and some rural Norfolk scenery!  No doubt that Granddad Bill loved his motorbikes!  

I can remember him letting me sit behind the wheel of his lorry and steer when I was four or five.  I wish I'd been around him longer.

The bit of family history I didn't know revolved around my great Aunt who rode a bike too!  She was a single woman who was a serious rider at a time when women didn't really remain single, let alone bomb around the countryside on motorcycles.

I loved hearing about her, and even when I discovered that she died in the saddle in a motor accident I was glad to have learned about her.  I wish I'd have known her.  I feel like the family I have who are into bikes are far from me.

I also talked to my cousin who owns a Fireblade and a BMW R1200.  It was nice to have a bike talk with family members, though I feel like the ones I most wanted to chat with aren't with us any more.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Norfolk Motorcycle Museum

We drove past the entrance twice.  Finally, up a gravel drive we found the entrance to the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum.  This was an impromtu stop between various tourist related day trips.  I'd seen the sign and wanted to go for a wander.  No one else wanted to come in with me, so they stayed in the rental car while I wandered into a warehouse full of bikes.

One of the things you notice in England is just how divergent the technology is, and this museum was no different.  The bikes were odd, different, not a cruiser in sight, no Harleys.  It was decidedly un-North American.

Many of them I couldn't identify at all, some were so old as to be virtually steam powered.  You know you're far from the familiar when you don't even recognize some of the manufacturers.

The building was a working restoration shop with a big warehouse space behind.  Bikes in various states of repair were lined up at the entrance, the finished machines were perched up on a two layer rack that ran through the whole warehouse.

You can poke around the bikes and the father/son duo who run the museum are happy to talk about any of the examples on display.

I had to rush the walkabout because the family was waiting outside, it would have been nice to wander around for an hour taking some good closeups.

If you're ever in the vicinity of North Walsham in Norfolk, England, drop by the museum.  It's a strange trip down someone else's memory lane.

Like what you see?  Many of the restorations are available to buy.

Mainly British bikes, but some others can be found
in the rows

A mighty Vincent!

"Made in England" - getting harder and harder
to find made in not the far East any more

Many parts in the process of being cleaned up...

Sunday, 28 July 2013

One Lap of Japan

7940kms... according to Google Maps
Another dream trip.

I've done most of the north end of the main island in a car, and traveled as far south as Kyoto by train, but the motorbike offers a new way to see the archipelago.

Google maps suggests that this can be done in 6 days and 16 hours, that's at a continuous average of 50kms/hr 24 hours a day.  Assuming we'd want to sleep and eat, the old two to three tanks a day might be the way to go.

At two tanks a day (about 600kms depending on the bike), we'd be back to Narita in just over thirteen days.  Call it two weeks of steady riding.

Being what it is (a volcanic island chain), there aren't many straight roads in Japan, especially if we want to stick to the coast.

When you're riding around volcanoes,
the roads get creative
The epic ferry ride to Okinawa in the south is almost a day in itself.  The riding would never be boring, and it would be miles away from interstate mile making.  Japan is a crowded but super organized kind of place, you can get places as long as you avoid the major urban centers.

Late summer would avoid the tsuyu (rainy season), so landing in Narita in the last week of August, then head north, do Hokkaido, then down the Japan sea coast to the south end of Honshu, a long ferry ride across the East China Sea to Okinawa, two days circumnavigating the island before taking a slow boat back to Honshu.  The last leg would be up the Pacific side of Honshu, through Kyoto and Tokyo and back to Narita.

It'd be nice to do the trip while riding the Japanese bike industry.  Split into four sections, we could ride Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha for a quarter of the trip each.  That way we could meet up with various clubs and groups without being manufacturer specific.  Riding all four big Japanese manufacturers also lets us experience the fantastic bikes Japan makes.

Two weeks, some serious mileage, from a tropical 26 degrees above the equator in Okinawa (roughly in line with central India) to a northern 45.5 degrees at the top of Hokkaido (right next door to Russia),  we'll experience everything from palm trees to snow.  It is entirely possible to climb five thousand feet if we're working our way through mountainous areas and wind up at sea level again by night fall.

Two weeks would be intense, but that's kind of the point.  The route picked out avoids any repeated tarmac other than driving on and off one ferry.  Every mile would be new as we circumnavigate these beautiful islands.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Old Vintage Cranks: a hidden side to bike culture

Ural project: ready for combat!
I finally made some time to stop by OVC in Hillsburgh this week; it's everything I'd hoped it would be.  Only a few years ago this was a one man operation running out of his garage, but as the need grew he moved into a garage space and now has employees and is so busy that he is thinking about expanding again.

The shop was busy with sidecar projects as well as working on what they sell as a dealership (Urals and Royal Enfields mainly).  It was organized, but busy, and every inch of space was in use.  Out front they had sidecar rigs on a Royal Enfield 500cc and the fantastically Soviet styled Ural.
Royal Enfield & sidecar

I'd gone to see the Royal Enfield, I think the Bullet Classic is a fantastic looking classic bike.  With the modern engine and fuel system it's super dependable.  At 500cc I thought it would be much too small, but I (at 6'3") felt more comfortable on it than I do scrunched up on my Ninja, which has a lower seat and higher pegs.  The problem came when I saw the Ural.

The Soviet cool Ural
I was indifferent to it, though impressed by how tough it is from online writing like Hubert's Timeless Ride.  When I finally saw one in person it has a unique aesthetic that you don't find in any other bike.  The lights are blocky and purely functional where an Italian would have made them streamlined and an American would have drenched them in chrome.  There is nothing dainty about the Ural, it's a tough machine built by tough people for a tough environment.  If you dig Soyuz space capsules and the no-nonsense style of Russian technology, you'll totally dig the Ural.  It comes with a movable spotlight (standard), but machine gun mounts are an option... this is the bike that Russians manufacture for their own military, and it looks it.

Max digs that Bullet Classic
After looking at the Royal Enfield and the Ural, I wouldn't want to saddle the RE to a sidecar, it's such a pretty bike on its own, and without the extra weight, even with 500cc, it would move around in a spritely fashion.

The Ural is a beast, and with the sidecar it looks like it could come thundering out of Moscow to chase the Nazis back to Germany (the bike itself is copied from German designs).

OVC's busy show room
If you have the time to drop by Old Vintage Cranks in Hillsburgh, it'll show you another side of motorcycling culture about as far away from the big manufacturer's aesthetics as you can get.  With no American=too much, German detailism or Japanese techno-crush, the bikes at OVC offer you another
avenue into biking that's so not mainstream that it's shocking.  That it's a tiny, independent, busy, working shop packed to the gills just adds to the flavor.

It's only a matter of time before my son and I are on a Ural pounding through the woods, or I'm on a Royal Enfield weaving along back roads, enjoying a bike that's as much a part of the scenery as the scenery is.

If you're heading out of the GTA, I have a suggestion, head north on the 410 out of Brampton (it turns into Highway 10) and hang a left onto Forks of the Credit Road (about 10 minutes up the road after the 410), enjoy that, grab an ice cream or coffee in Belfountain.  Hang a right onto Bush Street/Wellington Rd 52 until it Ts in Erin, go right to the light, left to the next light and you're at Trafalgar Road North.  Hang a right there and OVC is on your left about five minutes up the road as you ride into Hillsburgh.

There are lots of nice riding roads around there if you've never been up that way before.,-80.021324&spn=0.137025,0.338173
Forks of The Credit to Old Vintage Cranks, a nice ride out of the GTA for an afternoon
link to GOOGLE MAP