Thursday, 14 January 2016

Very Superstitious: Riding The Superstition Mountains of Arizona

Arizona roads are magical.
I'm getting suspicious as I ride out of Scottsdale into the desert and see signs saying I'm entering Phoenix.  My son and I are riding in December, not something we usually achieve in Canada.  Our rental is a Kawasaki Concours14 from  We pull over into a gas station to pick up some water we needed anyway then turn around and start heading the right way.  I'm dataless and gpsless and we're heading deep into the mountains a couple of days after Christmas.

Soon enough we're out of the urban sprawl of Phoenix and feeling the cool desert breeze as we head north on Highway 87 through scattered saguaro cactus.  I have that realization I often get when I haven't been in the saddle in a while: wow, do I love riding a motorbike!  The vulnerability, the sensory overload and the speed conspire to make a rush of adrenaline that opens you up to this overwhelming experience even more.  I've tried many things, some of them not particularly good for me, but nothing, and I mean nothing, feels better than disappearing down the road on two wheels.

Once clear of traffic lights I immediately get lost in the winding corners and elevation changes of the Bush Highway.  The bike is leaning left and right, feeling weightless under me and eager to spring forward at the twist of the throttle.  My twenty year old Concours at home under a blanket in the garage does a good job with a thousand ccs, this newer fourteen-hundred cc machine is a revelation, even two up.

The Ride:  350+kms through the Superstition Mountains
A couple of weeks after our ride our
route was buried in a foot of snow.
We leave the traffic lights of the city behind and immediately find ourselves amongst ranches and desert aficionados hauling everything from ATVs and Dakar looking off-roaders to boats and bicycles.  It's the end of December but it's still 16°C on the digital dash and people are making use of their time off after Christmas. 

The Bush Highway turns back toward the sprawl, so after crossing Usurer's Pass we drop down to Highway 60 in Apache Junction having bypassed miles of Mesan strip malls.   Highway 60 is empty and arrow straight.  What would you do on a 160 horsepower bike you've never ridden before?  I do it.  In what feels like moments we're leaving the desert floor behind us and climbing into the Superstition Mountains.  I feel like I'm sitting on a Saturn V in a full stage one burn.

The ride into the Superstition
Mountains is elevating.
We're both wearing fleeces and leathers and it was comfortable on the warm desert floor, however the mountains ahead are looking mighty foreboding.  We started our ride in Scottsdale at just over a thousand feet above sea level, but the road to Globe is going to take us up to almost five thousand feet and we can feel the temperature plunging as we climb.

I've wanted to ride this road to Globe since driving it in a miserly Nissan rental car years before.  It's twenty five miles of being on the side of your tires.  You're only upright as you're switching sides.  The temperature drops and snow begins to appear in shady patches on the side of the road.  We surge ever upward in a cocoon of still air.  The Concours' fairing is keeping the worst of it at bay while that mighty engine makes short work of any moving chicanes in front of us.  Would I like to ride this road on a sport bike?  Sure, but the big Kawi makes it easy to enjoy two up with luggage.

As is the way with winding roads I get to the end of them in a trance, and always earlier than I think I should.  By this point we're both cold regardless of what we're wearing and fairings.  The outside temperature in Globe is 4°C.  We jump off the bike at the Copper Bistro and stamp some feeling back into our legs.  Walking into the restaurant we're met with the incredulous stares of the locals.

"Kinda cold to be out on a bike, ain't it?"
"We're Canadian."
The old timer at the bar gives us a look like he understands why we're out but still pities us for doing it.  We can't help being what we are.

Do not mess with the Globe popo.
We warm up to a damn fine burgers and fries.  Max likes the splotches of copper made into art on the wall.  Globe is home to one of the biggest copper mines in America and the locals have that toughness that you see in people who don't sit at a desk for a living.  The Globe Police department comes in for lunch, men with no necks who look like they stay in shape by managing the miners on Friday nights.  You wouldn't want to mess with these guys.

Warmed up, we're back on the bike and filling up before ducking out of Globe on the 188 into the Tonto Basin, a two thousand foot drop down from where we had lunch.  In warmer weather the 188 is busy with boat haulers heading to the lake behind the Roosevelt dam, but today the road is ours.

Roosevelt Dam, a nice stop and the beginning of the rather
bananas Apache Trail - an astonishing road but not the sort
of thing
 you'd want to two up on a Concours.
We wind down into the Basin and see the big saguaro cactus return.  The temperature is back into double digits and we're at our ease following the twisties on an empty road.  We meet the odd bundled up motorcyclist coming the other way and get the universal wave, but otherwise it's wonderfully quiet.

We pull into Roosevelt Dam for a stretch and a drink of water before following 188 to its end at Highway 87.  Our animal sighting luck kicks in at this point.  As we're kitting up to leave the dam a bald eagle flies over it and down the Salt River looking a scene out of a movie.

By this point it's mid-afternoon and we're both wind blown, dehydrated and a bit achy from the swings in temperature, and I've got the trickiest part of the ride coming up.  I've driven the 87 in a car and know what's coming.  We pull up to make sure our ATGATT is airtight and for me to get my head on straight for a high speed decent on a fast two lane highway down the side of a mountain range.

Have a stretch and get your head on straight for the ride back
to Phoenix.  The locals don't take this road slowly.
The first time I drove the 87 toward Phoenix from Payson I was astonished to see large trucks towing full sized boats blow past me at better than eighty miles an hour.  This road moves and none of it is straight.  Some of the corners feel like they last forever and they all generally lead straight into another corner.  For a guy from Southern Ontario, home of boring, straight roads, this isn't business as usual.

The Concours surges down the highway and I drop into the flow of traffic.  Leaning into corners for up to thirty seconds at a time has me concentrating on perfect arcs and not being happy with the results.  How often do you get to describe high speed arcs for an hour at a time?  I'm feeling rusty, frustrated and want to find a way to smooth out my mid-corner corrections.  Fortunately I'd been reading Total Control by Lee Parks on Kindle and found his advice about one handed steering to be the solution to my broken corners.

Total Control by Lee Parks - it's exhaustive in its description of motorcycle physics.  I wouldn't call it light reading,
but that one bit on steering input made me a better rider instantly.
Lee's advice is to only push on the inside handlebar when in a corner.  This causes the bike to counter steer deeper into the corner with very little effort and much finer control from the rider.  I wouldn't normally get much of a chance to play with this on Southern Ontario roads but Arizona was made for this sort of thing!  That one piece of advice got me down the 87 with significantly fewer sore muscles.  By the time I was getting to the bottom of the Superstition Mountains I'd had many long corners to test and refine my technique and my arcs were more precise and less meandering as a result.

The Concours is back in the lot next to this ridiculous thing.
I'd take two wheels over anything else any day.
We roll back into Scottsdale afternoon traffic like two cowboys who have just time travelled back from the Old West.  The suddenly onslaught of traffic is a bit overwhelming.  After a last fill up (the gas station attendant has a starry eyed look at the bike) we return the Concours to AZrides and get checked out in a matter of seconds.

The rush hour drive home in the rental SUV is tedious and slow, but that blast in the mountains cleared out the cobwebs.  The ZG1400 made an interesting comparison with my ZG1000.  I found the newer bike a comfortable and agile machine, but the whining of electronics didn't thrill me, and the tightness of the foot controls were awkward.  Because this is someone else's bike they made choices (like ridiculously high risers) that I wouldn't have.  None of these things spoiled the ride, and the biblical power of the ZG1400 motor is something that needs to be felt to be believed.  This taste of ZG1400 makes me wonder how I'd fettle my own.  Thoughts of a ZG1400 swirl in my mind as I roll along with the commuters into the setting sun.

ZG1400s for sale (they aren't $800 like my old ZG1000 was)...
2008 with 100k on it:  $8600 (really?)
2008 with 63k on it:   $7850
2008 with 13k on it:   $8900 
2009 with 72k on it:   $7000
2013 with 8k on it:    $13,000
2015 with <1k on it:   $13,500
new 2016:              $18,000

Photos from the helmet cam.  It was supposed to be video but I didn't set it up right.  I guess I'll have to go back and do it again.  I'm most sorry you can't hear the sound of a ZG1400 engine singing in the tunnel...
The Bush Highway

The tunnel out of Superior - the Concours' engine was a spine tingling howl!

The road to Globe

The never straight 87 back to Scottsdale - 3300 feet down to the desert floor, none of it straight... at 80mph.

Dropping down into the Tonto Basin

188 into the Roosevelt Dam
The Apache Trail a couple of days later in the rental car...
Back of the Roosevelt Dam before tackling the Apache Trail.
Roosevelt Dam
Sunset on the Apache Trail
Maybe on a dual sport or adventure bike?  Not on a Concours.  Apache Trail is a couple of hours of hair raising corners with no crash barriers, washboard gravel  and thousand foot drops.  A brilliant road, if you're brave enough!

Ride Maps

The actual trip:

The original plan:

A bit less: the Superstition loop with a jaunt up to the interesting bit of Hwy 60 - though mileage wise this is pretty close to the full monty below. it doesn't include AZride's Bushy bypass...

Getting to the twisty bits (hitting the interesting bit of 60 before coming back):

The full monty: what I would have aimed for solo

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Frank Lloyd Wright's House

Lloyd Wright's only motorbike... he designed 70 odd cars though.
What does Frank Lloyd Wright have to do with motorcycles?  Well, he designed one.  In addition to that one 1930s Harley he also designed dozens of cars, including some pretty iconic ones like the VW Mini-Bus and the original gullwing Mercedes 300.

I went on a tour around Wright's house, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale and was blown away by this polymath's genius.  I'm not that sharp, maybe just bright enough to recognize genius, but it leaves me in awe.  I always end up leaving places like Taliesin West thinking that a big part of genius is just not giving a shit about what other people think.  Free from social constraints, geniuses are able to follow their urges and amaze the rest of us with their discoveries.  Just don't get too close to one.

It's covered in soot because it
belches fire...
From reading Nietzsche to wandering around the Van Gogh Museum to seeing the world Wright made for himself, you can't help but wonder what it must be like to be that free of social expectation.  That freedom is what Wright exploits to create an aesthetic that is truly iconic and unique.

Being free from the shackles of society, Wright, like Van Gogh and Nietzsche, make a real mess of their lives.  It's in that glorious mess that their genius is realized.

Our tour guide told us the story of Taliesin's water.  They used to haul it up onto the plateau where it's located (miles from the Scottsdale of the day).  Wright decided he wanted a well dug so he called a guy up and had him dig even though the guy had been up on the ridge before and knew there was no water to be had up there.  

At 200 feet the well digger stopped.  He didn't have the gear to go any further.  Wright made a fuss and told the guy to go and get what he needed to go deeper.  He finally struck water at almost 500 feet, and Taliesin has had its own water supply ever since (it's wonderfully cold and tastes fantastic).  Wright never paid the well digger.

You have to wonder how many people geniuses use and throw away in order to express their genius.  The social calculus of genius is interesting - many people continue to benefit from Wright's genius.  The people close to him who paid for it are all forgotten and long gone.

The house that Frank built (and didn't pay for),

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Motorcycle not-so Super Show

A not-so-super Saturday morning.  After driving through thick fog for almost two hours we're told to line up to get in
the parking lot, then line up to get in the door, then line up again to get into the show - it was over an hour wait to
get to the single guy with a ticket scanner.
After a long slog through pea-soup fog we arrived at the International Centre in Mississauga on Saturday morning.  This was my third go at the North American International Supershow, and it's probably my last.  My first go was a bit of culture shock with the girls girls girls and men dressed like pirates thing knocking me for a bit of a loop.  Our second go impressed upon me the real focus of this show:  limited choice but cheap gear if you're lucky.  Our third go was long lineups, dodgy websites, and crowds, though the odd deal was found.

Once again, the only thing we bought was from my local motorcycle shop, Two Wheel Motorsport.  Once again I bumped into Steve who ran the course at Conestoga that got me going on two wheels and got a fantastic discount, this time on a Shark Raw helmet.  $150 for the lid, taxes in (less than half what it's retailing for).

The website the show put out (when it loaded at all)
was insecure.  Management & organization is an issue.
What would be nice would be having access to show specials at my local.  I'd happily spend the hundred odd dollars I spend getting to and into this show and apply it to purchases at Two Wheel.  If that's a possibility I'll save a Saturday next January and avoid the lines, crowds and other nonsense.  I'm going to contact Two Wheel and see if show specials might be available for customers on that weekend at their shop.  Their new digs are twice as nice as the International Centre and it doesn't take you an hour of lining up to get in the door.

The other reason to attend a show is to touch base with your favourite motorcycle media.  I did have a nice chat with Glenn from Motorcycle Mojo but couldn't find Graeme at Inside Motorcycles, though I can see my favourite motorbike magazines at the Toronto Motorcycle Show in February which feels like a much more professionally organized, industry driven event.  I can also take my wife to that one without her rolling her eyes at all the strippers on display.

As far as other people I'd want to chat with, the CoG guys were too busy but I had a good talk with the Widow's Sons.  Even in the cases of these obvious connections I'm a bad joiner.  It doesn't occur to me to contact CoG or the Widow's Sons to go for a ride, I'd rather just go out on my own.  Riding in a group feels like a needless restriction to me.

I'll stick to complaining about the poor organization both online and at the venue, but the show itself is what it is. I'm an odd-duck in motorcycling.  I prefer to ride alone.  I go riding to find solitude and in that solitude delve more deeply into the craft of motorcycling.  Riding to feel a part of a crowd, 'show my colours' or just show off isn't my bag.  I don't ride to be seen or make a statement, I ride because I love riding.

To the dress-alike leather pirates and many other social riders this show must feel like coming home.  Next year I think that's where I'll be.

Coulda skipped that...

Woulda happily have skipped that (this is the passageway you get funnelled into
after getting out of the big passageway)...

Coulda done this at Two Wheel...

Coulda done that at Two Wheel...

Friday, 8 January 2016

Bike Bucket List: Ironbutt Glory & MotoGP photography redux

almost 1600 miles diagonally across North America.
My motorcycle bucket list includes earning the Ironbutt basics.  The first two rides are the Saddlesore (1000 miles in 24 hours) and the Bunburner (1500 miles in 36 hours).  The Austin MotoGP race happens to be just over fifteen hundred miles away, making it an ideal target for these badges of long distance endurance riding.

I'm not sure that I'd ever do an Ironbutt again, but it'd be nice to have done it once.

The MotoGP race in Austin is on April 10th this year.  Leaving on a Tuesday night would get me there for the event.  Even with a (more) relaxed ride back, I'd still only be on the road for seven days - 3 of them at the GP.

I roughed out hotel stops based on ideal distances, but it would probably be significantly cheaper to pick a hotel chain and stay with them throughout.  My hotel of choice would be Hampton Inn, so a revision based on where I can stop at those might be in order.

After Indy got cancelled, this is the only other race on my continent, so my only chance to ride to a race event.  It'd be nice to see the circus in action again this year, and Austin, while much further away, offers a chance at Ironbutt glory!

Video of MotoGP practice through the esses at Indianapolis.

I'd be nice to go down there with some good camera kit and see what I can capture.  I did pretty well with my little Olympus last summer, but another go with more effect gear would net even better results.

Many of the images I took had to be photoshopped a bit to hid the poor resolution and light intake of my camera (creating a simplified painted look in Photoshop hides these weaknesses).


I'm also getting frustrated with the lack of lens availability with the Olympus I've got.  I'm thinking of going back to a superzoom on my next camera.  The Nikon P610 has enormous reach (4x what the Olympus telephoto can manage with similar light loss).  What would be even better would be a full 1" sensor superzoom like the Pentax FZ1000, then I'd have a multipurpose camera with excellent low light ability - though they are three times the price of the smaller sensor superzooms.

I had a fixed lens superzoom a few years back and loved the flexibility, though it was one of the first electronic view finder cameras and lagged annoyingly.  It's light intake wasn't great either.  The new ones will benefit from much faster electronics and dramatically larger sensors letting more light in.

The Olympus PEN is an entry level mini-SLR.  I've enjoyed the size and convenience but the lenses are expensive and hard to find, and the kit lens has broken.  The body itself also broke under warranty when I first got it.  A second failure in three years has me thinking about moving on.  I'm looking for the simplicity and flexibility of a fixed lens superzoom again.  This would be especially handy when travelling on a bike where all the SLR clobber takes up too much space.

As a photographer I've always enjoyed being able to do more with less.  I've often seen people with suitcases of gear worth ten times mine take worse pictures.  As long as it can keep up with my eye and offer the control I need, a quality fixed lens superzoom will let me do that in spades.

Rough Planning Maps:

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Tires & Wheels

The wheels are off the Concours.  Tomorrow they're off to school to have the tires off and the bearings pressed out, then it'll be over to Erin for some wheel magic at Fire Ball Coatings.  If this goes well Fire Ball are going to be my go-to for advanced paint treatments.

In the meantime I've been going over the bits and pieces, getting it cleaned up.  I suspect I might be the first person into the rear drive hub in many moons.

The Bridgestone on the front was manufactured in November, 2007 - that's eight years and two months ago!  Ipads weren't invented when this tire was made!  I'm not experienced or fussy enough to tell the difference between new and old/mismatched rubber, but I hope new tires are going to transform this bike's handling.

The rear Dunlop was manufactured in March, 2011 - four years and nine months ago.  Not as bad as the Bridgestone but having two different branded tires on the bike isn't ideal either.

Even though the Dunlop is almost five years old and I have put 10,000 miles on it (plus whatever the guy before me did), it's still got the rubber nipples on it - that's one tough tire.

Removing the rotors was a pretty straightforward process.  I aim to clean them up and maybe paint them or at least clear coat the middles before putting them back on.

I saw a TV show on current bike customizing trends and they said they had Axel Rose came in and bought a 'distressed' Harley - a new bike that is scuffed up to give it character (patina in the tongue of customizers).  I come by my patina more honestly.

The cover inside the drive side of the rear rim - pretty grimmy, but getting cleaned up.

The rubber weighted piece under this cover (and the cover itself) were in there good, it took
a fair bit of cleaning and wiggling to get the cover out.

The shaft drive with the rim off.  Doesn't look too bad.  I'll give the rear sub frame a clean and lube while everything is off.

Concours ZG1000 looking like something out of Star Wars,
and ready for a hover conversion!
Candy gold on the left looks pretty spectacular, but my old warrior is getting the plain gold.  Fire Ball Coatings has me
thinking about a project bike that I could really bling out though: power coated frame, candy coated rims... the works!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Motorcycle Reading: Red Tape & White Knuckles by Lois Pryce

I read Lois on the Loose a couple of months back so I put Red Tape and White Knuckles on Kindle for a read over the Christmas holidays.  Lois's ride through the Americas was a great read, so Red Tape had a lot to live up to.

If you enjoy well edited, lean writing that is almost pathological in its honesty you'll love Lois's writing style.  She holds nothing back as she describes her long and arduous route from England to Cape Town.  Her vulnerability riding a motorbike colours the entire trip, making this very much a motorcycle focused read.

Now that I've read both books I often find myself wondering how the people she ends up travelling with find her depictions of them.  She is relentless in her assessment of how people deal with the challenges of adventure travel, and it isn't always (usually?) flattering.

Lois is equally honest with her own fears and abilities while navigating Africa's byzantine politics and sometime apocalyptic landscape.  Her doubts creep in throughout this difficult ride, but she also explains how she recovers which is a wonderful insight into resiliency.

You'd think that the physical aspects of trying to cross Africa on a motorcycle would be what slows her down, but just when you think that the Sahara Desert will be the ultimate challenge you're scared to death of what will happen next in the Congo.  People are, by far, the most dangerous thing Lois encounters, though they are also often the saving grace.

Like Lois on the Loose before it, Red Tape & White Knuckles has some can't-put-it-down moments (especially awkward when you're supposed to be getting off a plane).  And like her previous trip this one leaves you feeling like you've been on an epic journey where the beginning feels like a distant memory as you finish.  Like the best journeys, this one feels like it changes you.
It's better if it's a tiger...

Toward the end of the novel Lois has an interesting talk with her husband Austin.  Lois's atheism comes up a number of times during her trip through religion soaked Africa, and her discussion at the end about Austin (also an atheist) praying for her safety was enlightening.  It got me thinking about what being an atheist means.

I'd also describe myself as an atheist, but that doesn't mean I'm lacking in imagination or meaning in my life.  If Life of Pi teaches you anything, it's that you shouldn't miss the better story or the resiliency offered by an empowered emotional approach to challenging circumstances.

Lois contrasts the dead eyes and mercantile nature of the Congolese with the gentle kindness she finds elsewhere. There is such a thing as being too much of a realist, of allowing the world around you to dictate your reaction to it.  We're powerful creatures able to create our own responses to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

On our recent trip south I found myself putting on my lucky socks before I loaded up my son and all our gear to go for a ride in the Superstition Mountains (I know, right?).  Do I really believe these socks are lucky?  No, not if I dwell on it, but I like these socks, they make me feel like I've got my best kit on, they put my mind at ease, make me feel like I'm ready to do a difficult thing well.  That confidence has real world value.  Same with that lucky hockey stick, or my lovely motorcycle.  Am I superstitious?  No, I wouldn't say I am because I spent most of my young adult life learning that things like fate or luck don't exist, but I recognize the value of empowering myself with positive thinking.

If Austin found some peace in fraught times worrying about Lois in Africa then this isn't a repudiation of atheism and reason, it's an acceptance of the power of hope.  These tentative forays into the psychology of adventure riding suggest an untapped opportunity.  Lois's honesty allows her unpack the complex psychology around dealing with fear, nurturing resiliency and developing an effective mental approach to the challenges of travelling off the beaten path.  I get the sense that she shies away from this kind of philosophizing, but I hope she doesn't in the future.  If her purpose is to get more people out and about, this would aid in that.

Unfortunately this brings me to the end of Lois's current works.  Fortunately she's working on another novel due out soon about her riding around Iran...