Green Laning

Public by-ways: It’s a thing in the UK, not so much here.

Green laning is a big thing where I’m from, but in Canada in 2015 most of the crown land around here has been sold off to pay off the debts of investment bankers.  With all the land hereabouts private it’s not easy to take an off-road bike on a trail.

“As a military training area, Salisbury Plain is a unique
environment that has to be shared by both military and
civilians alike” – ha! Can you imagine that in Canada?

I got the KLX to trail ride.  I’m not interested in ‘catching air’ or riding like an MX loonie.  If I’m getting to places most people don’t and practising my bike balance, I’m happy.  The point of the exercise is learning better bike control, being off road lets me do that.  If I have any interest beyond trail riding it’s in trials, which is also hyper-focused on bike control and balance.

Today I took the KLX out for an hour or so, looking for trails.  Dirt roads start less than a kilometre from our sub-division, so I went there first.  I went south on Sideroad 6 North for about 5kms before hanging a right, crossing back over the regional road and then cutting off onto Sideroad 14.  From there I found a nice cut along a hydro line.  Another five minute stint on pavement found me at another off road trail which took me back north of Elora.  I ended the trip following the Grand River looking for off-road opportunities (there weren’t any), though Pilkington Overlook was pretty.

Riding off road is an interesting process.  The massive suspension travel and knobbies on the KLX makes it amazingly sure-footed.  On the gravel roads I made a point of crossing back and forth over the centre line through the deep stuff, letting the bike wobble and find a track.  Even when I got onto the rougher stuff I still found the bike remarkably composed and had no trouble navigating ruts, mud puddles and deep grass.

I’m looking forward to getting deeper into the brush!

Just outside of Ponsonby



North off Side Road 14, a lovely little trail.




North of Sideroad 10 it’s blocked off due to an electrical transfer station


2 Line East leads to the Elora Gorge Park entrance – it’s a nice little bit of gravel



Pilkington Lookout

If anyone else lives north of Guelph and knows of any good spots to trail ride, please let me know!

I Am M: The M2-exit exam for a full M license


Here I am early on a Saturday morning back at Conestoga College for my M2-exit course.  It’s the last official step in my progression through Ontario’s graduated motorcycle licensing system.

I got my M1 in March of 2013 after writing a short test in a dingy Drivecentre office in Guelph.  Getting my M2 in April of 2013 was the next big step, and the last time I was sitting on a bike in Conestoga’s parking lot.  Back then they were little Yamaha 250s, this time I’m rolling in on my own version of the Millennium Falcon, a 999cc Concours I’ve rebuilt myself.  My motorcycling has evolved a lot in the past two and a half years.

It was a busy weekend at the college with two beginner courses with over 50 students getting started on the little bikes.  Our M2-exit course had only eight people in it, four guys and four girls, riding everything from the most ridiculous cruiser imaginable to perfectly serviceable 500cc sport bikes.

… and now. The M2-exit is as diverse in bikes
as it is in riders

Watching the Victory ride all over the don’t-cross-lines while trying to lean a 280mm rear tire was both tragic and kinda funny.  It also had trouble stopping in the box, but hey, it sure was stylish.

The people on the course were as wide ranging as you can imagine, from a Ninja-riding pretty, blonde environmental scientist in her 20s to a grizzled, cruiser riding truck driver in his 50s.  You really got to see the breadth of motorcycle culture in our M2-exit class.

The Friday night was your typical three hour theory talk with lots of diagrams, videos from the 70s and legal talk.  When we left we had to be back in the room ten hours later (and I had a 90 minute commute in there too).

What the bike-control sheet looks like

On Saturday I was there bright and early to secure one of the first two spots on the testing calendar so I could leave earlier.  Saturday morning was spent in stifling heat in the parking lot following lines and working on slow speed manoeuvring.  Every time we stopped everyone stripped off jackets, gloves and helmets and lay under a tree drenched in sweat.  It was good to practice slow speed and precision riding and it turned into an impromptu test of the Concours’ cooling system.

With temperatures on the wrong side of 40°C on the pavement, the fans kept kicking on and off when needed but the big bike stayed, at most, in the middle of the temperature gauge.  By mid-morning several of the cruisers were having trouble starting in the heat and the rear brake light fell off the brand new Victory mega-cruiser.  The 21 year old, $800 Connie hummed along like a champ though, always starting at the touch of a button.  Damn, I love that machine.

After a short lunch we were back out, this time doing group rides.  One was simply a primer to riding in formation where we followed an instructor around while he very very obviously checked for dangers in places where we might be expected to check for dangers on our test.  It was very helpful in calming everyone down.

The second ride-out was a practice run with the instructional ear pieces in.  On the test you have a walkie-talkie with an earpiece that the instructor gives you directions through.  He then assesses how you perform these actions from a following car.    I was lucky enough to be the lead rider so I got to practice the instructions with a clear road in front of me.

Not pulling into the slow lane – my only error on the M2 exit exam. I didn’t because there was more room in front of me in the fast lane. You’ll find the follow-the-rules at all costs approach by the MoT to not necessarily follow the needs of defensive riding.

Riding out in a group made me wonder why people would ever want to do that in a city.  Every stop is turned into a stop times the number of riders in the group, especially if you’re further back.  I found riding around Kitchener in a group to be very tedious.

After all that we finally lined up for the road test.  While each rider went out, the rest were writing a knowledge test in the classroom with questions about rules of the road.  I got to go second.  It was about 45 minutes of riding in residential, industrial and regional roads followed by a brief stint on the highway.

It was all about shoulder checks, mirror checks and constantly (and obviously) scanning for dangers.  If you adapt to their system you’ll find it fairly easy to work with, but I found it too regimented.  Defensive driving should be fluid and agile, constantly adapting to varying situations.  Following a checklist means you’re not honouring the circumstances as they change (for example, always pulling into the slow lane when you have a better space bubble in the fast lane).

I was on my way home with a signed M2 exit pass sheet by 3:30pm.  I was hot, tired and sore (your wrists and fingers take a real beating after a day of slow speed manoeuvring and group town rides).  I’ll take using my mirrors more out of the testing, but beyond that I found the frantic meerkatting to be both exhausting and unsettling on the bike.  We were encouraged to spin our heads around constantly but this is both tiring and disorientating.  There is something to be said for a composed approach to riding a motorbike.

Having to ride conservatively within posted limits was also very difficult.  I’m willing to shoulder the responsibility for my own safety, but not if I must have distracted people in SUVs creeping past me (and into me) because I’m required to ride at five under the limit in the inside lane all the time.

I’m glad I took the exit course.  I got some good practice and a supported approach to the MoT test which isn’t always commonsensical, but I’m also really glad it’s over.  One more trip to the take-a-number, florescent lit, beige misery that is the Drivecentre office and I’m a fully licensed rider.

A Thin & Fragile Pretense

I’m still mulling my way through The World Beyond Your Head, by Matt Crawford.  It’s a slow go because I’m re-reading and thinking over what I’m looking at, often paragraph by paragraph.

On page 153-4 Crawford is talking about the way in which we depend on established values when transacting with each other.  He is talking about how he bills his motorcycle repairs, but I found a surprising correlation between this and my current views on grading:

P.153-54 The World Beyond Your Head by Matt Crawford


This could easily be re-written to describe my own battle with grading:
Consider the case of a teacher. In handing a final grade to a student, I make a claim for the value of what they know about what I have taught them, and put it to them in the most direct way possible (a grade). I have to steel myself for this moment; it feels like a confrontation.  (I hate grading, I feel it actively discourages learning by implying there is a definitive end)
 The point of having posted criteria, rubrics, due dates, class rules,  and the use of complex grading systems with byzantine weights and balances, is to create the impression of calculation, and to appeal to the authority of an institution with established rules. But this is a thin and fragile pretense observed by me and my student – in fact the grade I present is never a straightforward account of the skill of a student. It always involves a reflection in which I try to put myself in the shoes of the other and imagine what he might find reasonable.  (Freeing myself from the tyranny of grading programs is both professionally satisfying and existentially terrifying – what are we all doing here if not making numbers?!?)
This lack of straightforwardness in valuing learning is due to the fact that learning is subject to chance and mishap, as well as many diagnostic obscurities. Like medicine, teaching and learning are what Aristotle calls “stochastic” arts. Especially when working on complex skills at the high school level, in trying to teach one discipline (learning how to code), I may unearth problems in another (the student has little grasp of basic logic). How should I grade for work done to solve a problem beyond the realm of what I’m supposed to be teaching? Should I hand off this new problem to spec-ed, or simply blame previous grades and move on? (I do neither, I consider a student who is able to overcome previous failings to catch up to his peers to be superior to a student who is simply going through the motions because this is easy repetition for them)  This question has to be answered when I formulate a grade, and in doing so I find that I compose little justificatory narratives.


When a student receives a grade, I usually go over the reasons with them in detail, and I often find myself delaying the presentation of the grade, because I fear that my valuation isn’t justified (I can never have all the facts needed to be completely accurate). But all my fretting about the grade has to get condensed into a simplistic number for the sake of systemic learning on an established schedule (our education system is predicated on the receiving of numbers that are so abstract as to be virtually meaningless). Whatever conversation may ensue, in the end the grade achieves a valuation that is determinate: a certain amount of educational value exchanges hands. As the student leaves the class for the last time, I want to feel that they feel they have gotten a square deal in terms of me not using grades as either a gift or a punishment; I want to come away feeling justified in the claim I made for what I think they know and can do.   (but many teachers don’t – empathy and grading can be safely made mutually exclusive thanks to the absolute truth of mathematicsthe more complex the calculation, the truer the grade it produces must be)

Sometimes Indiscretion is the Better Part of Valour

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.

From Tim’s Motorcycle Diaries