A Change of Pace

I just spent a week on a houseboat.  Houseboats are to boating what uHaul truck rentals are to driving, so it wouldn’t be fair to judge boating based on driving one, but it did offer some insights into boating culture.

Boating (like motorcycling) makes you aware of just how much driving a car turns people into assholes (it must have something to do with being enclosed).  There are still jerks in boats (they tend to be in smaller boats with giant outboards), but generally boating is a gentlemanly activity.  It’s also remarkably classless.  We went down and up the lock system on the Trent-Severn Waterway and found that everyone was happy to chat, from people on half million dollar cruisers to tiny fishing boats.  That is certainly not the case for automobile drivers or that sizable group of bikers who are more interested in presenting an image rather than being human.

The more experienced boaters were also willing to assist and offer advice if it looked like we were in over our heads (which we occasionally were).  The community nature of boaters (ignoring yahoos in speedboats) was exceptional, and enjoyable.  I felt something similar at Indy with motorcycling.  After the hyper-selfish world of the automobile driver (the most antisocial – almost psychotic – activity we saw was driving up to and back from our boat trip), it’s nice to see some modes of transport creating positive human contact.

We didn’t really have a plan when we started out, but we were told that the largest lift lock in the world (in Peterborough) was too far for our slow boat to manage, so we decided to go for it.  We got there late on day two of our four day rental.  The Parks Canada people were absolutely fantastic, staying late to get us docked at the top of the lock where we then got to spend the night.

The lock was built in 1904 using mainly horse, steam and human power to build it.  It’s still run and owned by Canada.  Twenty First Century Canada doesn’t build things and is more interested in selling off its natural resources to create fake-balanced budgets.  I’m surprised that this historical monument to Canada’s past engineering mastery isn’t now owned by the Chinese.  Maybe if more Canadians had some idea that this exists and spent a moment remembering what we are capable of, we’d see Canadian manufacturing spark back to life.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see a Canadian two wheeled manufacturer at the Canadian Motorcycle Show at some point?

A McLaren P1 or Motorcycle Nirvana?

I recently ruminated on super cars vs. super bikes.  The McLaren P1 (if you can find one) costs about $1.5 million Canadian… or about what I’ll make in my entire career as a high school teacher.  It obviously isn’t designed for the rest of us.  Were someone to give me a P1 I’d immediately sell it, probably for more than $1.5 million (rich people find ways to have the things they own constantly increase in value).  What would I do with the million and a half?  Here’s the motorcycle themed version of one super car:

Turn a horse farm into an iron horse farm:  $950,000


Headwaters Horse Farm Mins From Mono Cliffs Park, Fine Dining & Shops. Easy Access From Airport Rd & Hwy 9 Off Paved Road, Custom 4 Bedroom Home, Updated Bank Barn 4 Stalls, Run In, 64’X32 Shop (2014) & Paddocks Situated On 45.6 Acres Perfect Setting For Equestrians Or Working Farm. Huge Open Concept Kitchen, 2 Sided Fireplace, Great Room With Fireplace, Master Suite, 4 Piece Ensuite, Walk In Closet & Walk Out To Enjoy Beautiful Views Over Class A Farmland. ** EXTRAS ** Steel Roof, Electrical In Barn, Shop & Garage Done In 2014, Detached 1 Car Garage, Heated Tack Room, Auto Water Outside, Hardwood Floors, Slate In Foyer, Mud Room & 3 Pce Bath, InsideEntry From Garage.

A lovely country house with a HUGE 2000 square foot workshop (the new home of Mechanical Sympathy), and a barn to store all the old bikes I’d be picking up… all on almost 50 acres of rolling Niagara Escarpment. Some of the nicest roads in southern Ontario run through here.

I’ve still got over half a million left!

Bike Delivery System

The dreaded Guy Martin-Transit Van dream resurfaces!  A new, diesel, nicely spec-ed out Transit Van costs about $45k.  It’s trailer ready, so I’d throw in a bike trailer too for bigger loads – the ultimate bike delivery system could deliver 4 bikes to the track (or the Tail of the Dragon in the middle of the winter), and provide an instant pit area.

Racing & Race Bikes

The money-to-burn-wishlist has some sure-things on it.  A modern track bike and a vintage racer would both be in the workshop (along with track days and training, that’s about $30k).

Road Bikes

I’d keep the Connie and the KLX.  The Connie would get the fancy seat I couldn’t justify ($500), but otherwise I’d let it ride.  With almost fifty acres I’d have my own trail system to ride the KLX on.  A race track with a mile long straight would let me test all manner of motorbike madness.
I’d do the Ninja H2 with upgrades ($40,000) to scratch that McLaren beating itch, and then I’d go into my huge workshop with a vintage VFR750 Interceptor, a Triumph Daytona and both my current bikes and wonder what I’ll do with the $429,000 still left over from unloading that McLaren.
$1,071,000 (gets me a massive property with a huge shop, many bikes, a super bike that’ll go faster than the McLaren anyway and a new van – and I’ve still got over four hundred grand to play with!)

How We’ve Situated Ourselves

I’m wrapping up Matt Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, and it’s leaving a lot of questions around education.

Throughout the book Crawford questions the hyper-individualized nature of our post-enlightenment selves.  He does it in the context of skilled manual labour, which does a lot to refute the ideal ‘generic/flexible intelligence’ we all value nowadays.  Skills situated in real-world demands are immune to academic flights of fantasy.

Below are some quotes I’m ruminating on:

“…manufactured experiences promise to save us from confrontations with a world that resists our will.”

Anyone teaching modern teens feels the strain of trying to haul them out of the digital trance they prefer.  I teach computers and this is acute, like trying to teach pyromaniacs how to be firemen.  Many of my students are incapable of seeing the machines they are supposed to be learning about as anything other than entertainment.  Computers are a digital window into a world where you can always be capable and rewards are continuous and timely.

The proliferation of fairly terrible flash games on the internet indicates that many students would rather exist in digital Pavlovian response environments than deal with the pesky real world.  The game play is so bad that I’m astonished anyone plays them, but play them they do, for hours at a time.  Crawford has a section on machine gambling that strikes startling (and terrifying) similarities with how I see students playing these digital games (most of which are thinly veiled advertisements).

Between an isolated and hyper-intensified (almost sacred) sense of self, and the nature of digital economics, people are immersed in a society that has quantified and actively seeks their attention for monetary gain.  Crawford describes this as the enlightenment ideal of a free self taken to bizarre extremes – but these extremes feed nicely into the neo-liberal/globalized digital economy we’ve created for ourselves.

Distraction is seen as a problem of technology, but it is actually one of political economy: “in a culture saturated with technologies for appropriating our attention, our interior mental lives are laid bare as a resource to be harvested by others.”

Hack the future – or be used by it. Digital technology has
evolved into the shiny gateway to an attention economy
that is as relentless as a casino in catching eyeballs..

Worries about digital-distraction have long been tied to education and technology, but Crawford does a good job of uncovering the economic foundations of that problem.  My concern has always been that poor implementation of educational technology simply feeds students into this harvester.

If we’re delivering a single branded approach to educational technology, we aren’t teaching fluency so much as dependence.  This is why technology multi-nationals are so willing to ‘work with education’.  With students already walking into class having been digitally branded on a personal level, education has jumped on the bandwagon by following student trends (kid’s love ipads!) rather than pedagogical imperative.  If we’re going to recover students’ ability to navigate (rather be navigated by) the digital economy they are immersed in, we can’t be driven by the same processes.

If the only point of education is to put more bricks in the wall, then we should just keep on doing what we’re doing.  If we want to teach students to survive in a voracious economy that sees their attention as a commodity then we need to teach them what the technology is and how it works.  Open source software and un-locked, non-brand specific hardware would be a good place to start, but you’re not going to see lots of ads for it.

“the advent of hyperpalatable mental stimuli… raises the question of whether the ascetic spirit required for education has a chance.  The content of our education forms us, through the application of cultivated powers of concentration to studies that aren’t immediately gratifying.  We therefore had to wonder whether the diversity of human possibilities was being collapsed into a mental monoculture – one that can more easily be harvested by mechanized means.”

Student directed learning: the kind of thinking
being embraced by Ontario’s education leaders
at this summer’s conference.  This kind of nonsense
ignores how education has worked for millennia.

The “ascetic spirit” of education is long dead.  If it isn’t fun and engaging, it isn’t a correct lesson plan according to modern educational thinking.  Students treat marks as a score, demanding them immediately and ignoring feed-back.  There is no delayed gratification in modern education.  Teachers have to justify (up front) any teaching – it can never lead toward a goal that is out of sight.  Where ever possible we are asked to be as transparent and immediately gratifying as possible.  The more forward-thinking, extreme view is that teachers are no longer needed at all.  In an information rich world (conveniently delivered on closed platforms by multi-nationals), students can learn on their own with no direction.  All you need is an I.T. guy to keep everyone connected.

If we’re producing generic-intelligence graduates that are able to work anywhere for minimum wage with no real expertise other than a can-do attitude, then we’re doing a great job.  Crawford’s focus on skilled labour neatly sidesteps the ideal of the liberally educated university student who can’t do anything but is ready for everything (as long as it doesn’t involve reality).  Reality makes demands on skilled trades that most academics find beneath them.

The danger in digital technology exists in its ability to latch onto and modify our very plastic thinking processes.  A skilled-trades approach to understanding digital technology can elevate us from being users to being architects.  Nick Carr does a good job of criticizing this in The Shallows.  Crawford goes further by explaining that technology isn’t the issue, it’s the cannibalistic economics that drive it that we should be protecting students from.

By pulling back the curtain and revealing the machinery that feeds this relentless economy we enable students to dictate the terms of their digital experience.  What happens instead is that we present digital technology as if it’s just another educational tool, which allows the underlying economy to seep into education unseen, feeding students into a mechanism that wants to commodify their very thoughts.

The Ride to Indy: The Gear

After putting well over a thousand miles on in five days I’ve been able to focus on what works and what doesn’t.  Here’s a quick rundown of the gear used and how well it worked.

I used the Alpinestar S-MX 1 boots there and back again.  Vented and able to catch air on even the hottest day, I’ve had them for a couple of years now.  They aren’t as clean as the stock-pic, but I like the lived-in look.

Boots were one place where I had no issues – these things are excellent and worth every penny I paid.  They are big rain catchers, but we never saw any rain so it wasn’t an issue.

The Teknics Motorsports jacket I picked up at the motorcycle show last January was my jacket of choice.  In cooler temperatures and up to the mid-twenties it works a charm.  It has vents in the arms, chest and back, but the air flow isn’t strong.  On the return trip in 30°C+ temperatures it was sweaty hot though.

Once south of the border helmets and gear became very optional, but I never felt comfortable riding around without kit on.

No jacket seems able to do the full range of temperatures, and other than the sweaty, hot day coming back, the TK jacket did the business.

As for warm weather protection I’m still considering my options.  We stopped at Cycle Gear in Indianapolis on the way back and they had Bilt mesh jackets on sale for sixty bucks, but we were running low on space so I didn’t partake.  I’d still like to know what kind of gear works best in the heat.

Henry Cole has some kind of fully vented under-armour when he rides in the desert.  Considering the miles he’s done he must know something.  His kit is Knox Cross Body Armour (I just looked it up).  It’s about three hundred bucks from Motorcycle-superstore in Canada.  It’s a made in the UK ventilated, armoured jacket, but it ain’t cheap.

I picked up these Speed & Strength leather gloves this year and they’ve quickly become my go-to glove.  They feel solid with leather palms and full finger padding, but they’re also very ventilated with those knuckle vents moving a lot of air over your hand.  Any glove that is this solid, cool and conforms to your hand this well is a good glove.  At no point did my hands get sweaty or uncomfortable, even after eight hours on the road.  Epic gloves.

My Macna riding pants work well in many conditions.  They ventilate efficiently but still feel comfortably warm when the temperature dips.  I’d never ridden them into this kind of heat before and I quickly found their limit.  The ride down in mid-twenties was great, no problems at all.  The ride back in the thirties is where I found the pants couldn’t get the heat out fast enough.  The heat from the bike didn’t help.  Behind the padding and solid bits you start to drip and it’s downhill from there.

I ended up with heat rash on my butt in no small part due to the pants.  Wearing jeans on the last day was the only way out.  Great pants up to 30°C, after that you begin to look at all the Americans riding around in shorts and wish you could too.

I thought these were the super-ventilated riding pants, so I’m not sure where to go from here.

Bell’s Revolver Evo helmet did lid duty on this trip.  Since removing the snaps at the temples it has become all-day comfortable as opposed to agonizingly painful.  The flip up visor works like a charm.  I even left it up on short rides for an open view and some wind in the face.

My only issue is with the flip down sun-visor.  In bright sunlight it isn’t tinted enough.  Other than that this helmet breathes well, looks great and is very quiet for a flip up helmet.  It’s still not cool that I had to cut out snaps to make it work, but hey, you do what’cha gotta do.

Last but not least was the mighty Concours.  The $800 Kawasaki did the business beautifully.  Averaging in the high 40s MPG, it started on the first touch every time, thundered along never-ending interstates and rolled slowly through a hot night in Motorcycles on Meridian without using so much as a drop of oil (that pic in the link is the oil level when I returned – it had barely moved).

I discovered that with a 250lb rider, 120lb passenger, loaded panniers and top-box the bike could do the ton with ease.  Even when making time on the interstates it still returned better gas mileage than a Prius and never dropped below the high 40s MPG… and all this through four carburetors!

Fully loaded with 350lbs of people
on it, it’ll still hit a ton easily.

The heat that comes off the engine is an issue, especially on hot days, but the temperature gauge was rock-steady in the lower half of the range.  The radiated heat from the engine makes for hot legs on an already hot day, which isn’t much fun.  I discovered that if I ride with my feet on the outside of the pegs I’d get fresh air and all was good.

The other issue was the seat.  Eight hour days in the saddle gives you real insight into whether or not a seat works, and the Concours seat was agony after about half an hour.  At 45 minutes my ass hurt so much my shoulder started aching, but by an hour fifteen I had become numb.  On the way back Cycle Gear had a gel seat pad for forty bucks, so I gave it a whirl.  The above mentioned heat rash was the result.  The gel seat didn’t have me squirming around so much, but the heat buildup was so intense it wounded me.  I’m left wondering just how magical an Air Hawk is (I couldn’t find one while in Indianapolis).

Back in the garage with almost
29k miles on it – the Concours is a
super star.

The Concours is such a capable bike over long distances that I want to conquer the seat problem.  While I was away the astonishingly cheap seat cover from ebay arrived.  It has ribbing and additional padding so I hope it solves the problem.  If it doesn’t, I may have to start working toward that disco Corbin seat.

BTW: that’s 93.6¢ a
litre in Canada for
super unleaded…not
the buck twenty
you’re paying here

If I found myself heading down to next year’s Indianapolis MotoGP (assuming they don’t cancel it and there are rumours of just that), I hope to do it in Knox Cross Body armour, some kind of air pants that don’t exist and all while sitting on a Corbin seat.  Other than trying to duct the Concours’ heat away from my legs and addressing the seat there is little else I’d do with this wonderful machine.

As I continue to try new gear bits and pieces stick and become indispensable.  Those Alpinestars boots, S&S gloves and Bell helmet have covered the extremities, and the vast majority of the Concours is brilliant, it’s just the booty and the bod that I need to work on for a cooler and more enduring ride south next time (and I’m hoping there is a next time!).

The Ride To Indy: A Day At The Track

I’m in an entirely dodgy hotel by the Detroit airport after a long day in the saddle.  Indy was fantastic.  The weather has been epic and the Concours has been faultless.  I’ve only got the phone pics at the moment.  The camera pics will have to wait until I’m home and can get them off the camera, they look pretty sharp.

I wish we has more time to spend at the track, but it was a great reconnaissance trip.  I’ll be spending more time down there next year (please don’t cancel IndyGP Dorna!).

In the meantime, with some phone-made media maybe I can convince you to take your bike down to Indy for the MotoGP, it’s a special motorbiking experience.

We got there early and were directed to the back gate and onto the back straight of the oval- all bikes who showed up were parked on the straight!  – I gave her the beans going down the straight, there is nothing like hearing your own bike’s engine howling off the concrete retaining walls of the Indianapolis oval!


Sitting on the main straight watching Moto3 doing their first practice. The little 250cc thumpers are astonishingly loud!
When we came back at about 3:30pm there were hundreds and hundreds of bikes!


Yep, still Indy – there is a golf course in the middle of the oval!  Those people on the berm are watching MotoGP racers dicing with the s-bends on the road circuit.



The Ride to Indy: Cathedrals of Speed

We were enjoying a lovely ride through the Irish Hills in southern Michigan yesterday on our way to Indianapolis for MotoGP when we stumbled across another cathedral of speed, the Michigan International Speedway.  If you swing by when no events are happening you can still sign in and have a look, we did!