Saturday, 13 April 2019

Gold Winging It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 8 April 2019

Spring Riding On-Bike Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 24 March 2019

2019's First Ride

I've been able to steal a ride from winter the past couple of years, but not this one.  It's been dangerously cold and snowy throughout.  I was finally able to steal one at the end of March Break for half an hour up and down next to the Grand River (which was full of ice chunks and very swollen).

The Tiger was resplendent with its new engine guard and fired up at the touch of the button after its long winter hibernation.  The last time it was out was mid-November, so this year was actually a 4+ month hibernation.  Newly lubed cables and well sorted details meant it felt smooth and responsive after so long in the garage.  Do I ever miss the power to weight ratio of a bike when I can't ride.  Slicing through air barely above freezing was bracing, and as I crossed to the north side of the river I came upon a bison farm.

Any exposed skin would have been feeling double digit frostbite, and even mummified it cut like a knife.  I didn't complete my usual loop over the covered bridge, but even half an hour out on two wheels cleared away a lot of cobwebs.

It's still snowing as much as it is anything else, but temperatures are climbing over zero with more regularity.  With any luck rides will soon become commonplace.


360° on-bike photos are back!

Frostbite has never made me so happy - the look on my face after the first ride of the year, no matter what the temperature.

Crazy like a fox!

Spring riding in Canada... next to a six foot tall snowbank.

Wait a minute, those aren't cows!

I turned around and went back for some closer shots.   Bisons!  In Ontario!

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Tim's Ten Bike Wishlist

One of the pieces they had in the recent big 100th edition of Practical Sportsbikes was a 10 bike wishlist.  Being a magazine focused on older sports bikes, that's what their lists were.  My wishlist is more wide ranging, covering everything from pre-war classics to the latest digital machines.  There is a bit of 80's representation, but it also has a pile of other bikes both old and new.  

My dream list would lean heavily on the dreams...

Tim's Ten Bike Wish List:

1)  Granddad's Coventry Eagle

I've talked about my Granddad's Coventry Eagle previously.  This particular wish involves me coming across old NG4743 in a barn and restoring it myself.  Being able to restore and ride a bike that should have been in our family for multiple generations would be a moving experience.  I saw some Coventry Eagles at the British Motorcycle Museum a couple of summers ago and got surprisingly emotional at the idea of riding one.  The most magical one would be the one Bill owned.  If you're going to wish list, wish hard!  I couldn't begin to guess what this would cost as it probably doesn't exist.

2) Kawasaki Z1000

There are a number of modern bikes that have caught my eye.  A consistent choice has been the shamelessly anime inspired, Sugomi designed Kawasaki Z1000.  New ones go for about fourteen grand Canadian.  I'm partial to the orange one from a few years ago.  There is a low mileage one in Drummondville, QC for about nine grand.  As modern naked bikes go, this one is big enough to fit me and scratches every Robotech Cyclone anime dream I had as a kid.  The only thing better would be if it could transform into battloid mode - and it looks like it might.

3) Honda VFR750F

Most of my 80's bike fantasies revolved around the Honda Interceptor.  The VFR-750F RC30 came up on many of the Practical Sportsbike lists as well; it's an '80s kid's dream superbike.  Because it hits that nostalgic twang, it's now a collector's item and an expensive proposition, but hey, this is a dream list!  Something like this would allow me to maybe edge into vintage racing and track days, though both things are pretty thin on the ground in Ontario.  The RC45 race bike derivative would be an even better choice for vintage track riding.

4) Yamaha XT500

Another nostalgic choice would be a twinshock trail bike that I could use in vintage off road events.  I've thought about trying to get my father-in-law's old Suzuki, but he sold it on and I'd probably end up paying more than it's worth to get back.  Thanks to Henry Cole and crew, I've got a soft spot for Yamaha XT500s.  A restored XT would let me pursue silly things like classic enduro rallies and the V.I.N.C.E..

5) 1938 Triumph Speed Twin

With all the research into World War 2 I've been doing, the Triumph Speed Twin keeps coming up as a huge leap forward in two wheeled technology.  If I were to own a pre-war bike, this would be a more likely dream choice.  Perfect versions go at auction for $24k+ Canadian.  I'd be happy with a less perfect bike that I could actually use.

6) 2019 Ariel Ace

The Ariel Ace is one of those bespoke and bizarre machines that could only exist for me on a dream bike list.  Since first seeing the almost architectural design of the Ace's girder front forks and trellis frame, I was smitten.  The Ariel uses a stock Honda motor but is otherwise a custom machine that you can design to your own wishes.  At £24,950,this is very much a dream list bike.

7) Kawasaki H2

The Kawasaki Ninja H2 supercharged superbike is an unbelievable piece of engineering.  Since the first time I saw the state of the art processes Kawasaki uses to mold the supercharger to hearing it break the sound barrier while spinning, I was a fan.  This dream bike is north of thirty grand, but it'd let me maybe see the dream of 200mph on two wheels, all while listening to that supercharger chirp.

8) CCM RAFBF Spitfire

CCM's Spitfire custom model comes in a variety of styles, but my favourite is the classically styled Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund Spitfire.  This 600cc customized thumper is a lightweight thing that looks like it would be a blast to ride on twisty roads.  As a modern bike with classic styling, it would fill a niche in my dream garage that nothing else does.  £18,000 isn't cheap, but dream list, right?

9) Honda Goldwing Touring

Say what?  A Goldwing?  One of the functions of my dream bike garage would be to participate in as many different kinds of riding as possible.  Of all the big touring bikes, Honda's new, lighter Goldwing is the most capable all-round tourer there is, and it's Honda bullet-proof.  Another bike north of thirty grand, it's something that would only be on a dream list, but it means I could take a happy pillion with me and tour like we mean it.

10)  Husqvarna 701 Enduro

Husky's 701 Enduro is an off-road capable bike that'll also handle the roads needed to get you to the edge.  This would be another one of those bikes selected to let me experience a specific kind of riding.  The 701 only weighs a bit more than I do but is a big, capable off roader that would fit me, keep up with traffic when needed and still be able to off road.  At about $14,000 Canadian, it isn't a cheap dream off roader.

I feel like I'm missing a modern track day bike.  A Honda Fireblade or Yamaha R1 would be on my shortlist for that duty, though with no Ducatis in the mix here, the new V4 Panigale R would probably win dream bike wishlist status over the more mundane Japanese choices.  I might be convinced to swap the Z1000 out for that.

I'm also partial to weirdness, and a sidecar outfit would scratch that itch.  I like older styled outfits, so a Royal Enfield or classic modern Triumph with a bullet sidecar would be a cool thing to add into the list, perhaps after swapping out the XT500.  I only leaned toward the Goldwing as a touring option instead because you get to lean on the Honda.

Rather than go the Husky route, a stranger choice there might be getting a Lyndon Poskitt rally bike made.  At thirty to sixty thousand Euro, they aren't cheap, but that's what a dream bike list is all about, right?


I've managed to cover a range of bikes from the early 1930s to the latest models.  With a sweep of almost ninety years and what are some truly weird options, I hope I've managed to express just how diverse and strange my motorcycling proclivities have become.  My final list would include bikes manufactured in England, Japan and Europe and range in price from pretty accessible to pretty much unattainable.

If nothing else, a dream bike list lets you stretch your expectations and expand your considerations around what you might ride.  From doing the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride on my grandfather's Eagle to seeing the wrong side of two hundred miles per hour on a supercharged dream machine, for me the dream stable is about opening up possibilities rather than creating a museum exhibit.