The Ebb & Flow of Pedagogy in Education

The intention of Dusty World is to work through ideas I’m having around teaching.  Since I’m a technology teacher, a lot of those ideas are tech-focused.  This week, after years of forced contracts and an unbelievably rough round of negotiation, my union has voted to accept an austerity contract that was bargained virtually at gun-point.  Since our last bargained contract we’ve been wage reduced, had benefits striped and work load increased.  By the end of this contract we’ll be looking at more than a 10% reduction in take home income when inflation is considered.

The politics of the agreement aside, what does something like this do to my work environment?  Instead of focusing on pedagogy and excellence in learning, I find myself performing damage limitation.  Knowing that my employer focuses on finances rather than pedagogy is difficult to hear, but when the school board association walks into negotiations demanding dictatorial control over teacher time, stripped benefits and wage reductions, you can’t help but come to that conclusion.

Teaching is a human activity, and I am the human face at the end of a large, faceless, increasingly politically driven bureaucracy.  I’m supposed to be teaching my students how to manage digital technology so it doesn’t manage them, but increasingly I find my time being spent trying to protect my students from a system intent on doing less for less.  When I’m cobbling together 8 year old computers just to give students a chance at hands on learning, or trying to calm agoraphobic students in overcrowded spaces, or sourcing fans to keep the classroom temperature from boiling because we have thirty two old machines huffing away in there, quality of instruction is obviously not the goal.

The education system goes through changes in focus all the time, and the effectiveness of learning waxes and wanes depending on the political climate. I began teaching in Ontario in 2004 and my early years were in a system in recovery from Mike Harris‘ “unprecedented disinvestment in public education, which destroyed a historical competitive advantage in the space of a decade.”


Ontario’s public education system, under reasonable management, saw huge steps forward in terms of effectiveness.  Before the cuts began in 2012, Ontario’s education system was top 5… in the world, and, with BC, led Canada up the charts.  You can imagine how satisfying it must have been to work in an environment like that.  I’d often find myself developing lessons or reading about teaching techniques on a Saturday night.  I didn’t take a summer off in my first eight years of teaching, taking many additional qualifications (at my own expense) and teaching online to expand my skills.  With the amount of time I spent at it, I was probably dancing with minimal hourly wage, but I didn’t care because I threw myself into my profession and my profession looked after and encouraged me.


That sort of intensity appeals to me, I enjoy the challenge and get a lot of satisfaction out of doing a difficult thing well, but it depends on support.  Anyone doing anything well does it because they have good support around them.  If you don’t believe me watch any professional sport.  When you suddenly find yourself losing common sense arguments around class sizes based on safety and access to tools, you start to wonder whether going all in is that productive, or healthy for you.

One of the best bits of advice I got at teacher’s college was,
“always be ready to go to work again tomorrow.”  I didn’t
used to get frazzled running hard, but now I do.


It was nice to start my career in a time of such positive pedagogically driven education.  I got to do that because the teachers before me suffered through a decade of cheap nastiness.  We’ve swung back to the cheap nastiness now, but rather than fight it we vote for it.  I was willing to fight for better, but the vast majority of secondary public teachers are ok with less.  How will that translate to their work in the classroom?

I’m going to have to reconsider my survival strategies.  If I throw myself all in and then get slew footed by a lack of support, I tend to get emotional about it.  Rather than do that, perhaps a little distance is the better way; a less passionate, more circumspect approach to the classroom.  How do you think that will play with students?

If I want to test myself by finding excellence in what I do, the Ontario classroom isn’t where that’s going to happen.  In 2015 it has become a political wasteland of compromise and an excuse to do things cheaply for political gain.  I’ll do what I can to protect the students I am given, but the goal isn’t excellence in learning any more, it’s do less with less.

Fortunately, I have a lot of hobbies.  I’ll find other aspects of my life to throw myself into with abandon.

Why Do You Like Bikes So Much?

Part of the pleasure is in the simplicity of the experience.
It’s analogue, immediate and visceral, yet still mentally
stimulating, meditative even! Mark Webber knows.

Asked by a grade 9 this week upon seeing my wall of motorbike photos ranging from Coventry Eagles to Kawasaki H2s.  My answer:

“Bikes are faster than cars in every way that matters.  They cost a fraction as much, insurance is less, they barely use any gasoline and when you go around a corner you feel like you’re flying.”  The kid nodded and then said, “I’m gonna get a bike.”

Beyond all of those excellent reasons there is also the involvement.  Cars have you sitting in a box, watching the world go by from behind a screen.  On a bike you’re out in the world.  You see more, smell more, hear more, feel more, and you’re expected to do more.  When you ride you’re using both hands, both feet and your entire body to interact with the machine.

In a car you spin a wheel and it goes around a corner.  On a bike you counter-steer out of the turn to drop the bike toward the corner and then lean into it.  Once you get the hang of it, it feels like dancing.  The first time they had us weaving through cones at the introduction motorcycle course I said to the instructor, “I could do this all day!”  Bike acceleration is astonishing, but the cornering is magical.  If you want proof, find any twisty road on a sunny summer day and see how many bikes you see.

Bike cornering is magical.
In the hands of a genius it’s ballet.


I’ve driven some pretty involving cars.  The best get you about 40% of the way to what a bike feels like, and I’m comparing sports cars that cost as much as a house to regular road bikes – I’ve never ridden a supersport or track bike.


There are lots of other reasons why you should ride a bike (the camaraderie and sense of belonging to a group that recognizes their own, the exercise it provides, the ability to go places a car couldn’t, the rich history, the technological know-how), and only one reason why you shouldn’t.  Yes, riding a motorcycle is dangerous (mainly because of all the people in boxes), and it demands attention and skill, but the benefits are epic.



Rivers to Roads

Yesterday I took the KLX out for a stretch, today the Concours.  I’m trying to get her up over thirty thousand miles this season.  Thanks to today’s run I’m a hundred miles closer.

I first aimed at Marsville to have another look at the XS1100, this time in daylight.  It’s $500, the motor isn’t seized (!), and it’s seen better days.  I left a message on the number attached to it, we’ll see what comes back.

That it’s covered in cobwebs and has spent the last who knows how long in the back of a barn somewhere only makes me want to take it home and take it apart more.  It’s a good candidate for a tear down – especially if I can get the price down.











After looking at ye old Yamaha, I struck north, aiming for Horning’s Mills and River Road.  Nothing works out the kinks like bending the big Kawi down some winding roads.  It was busy up there, with lots of bikes looking for the twisties.  The weather was hot (in the thirties Celsius) and sunny.

River Road gives you some very un-Southern Ontario like bends, it was nice to give the edges of my tires some work.  With all the traffic on the road I had to keep timing my corners so I wouldn’t run into nice old couple in minivans out for a lovely drive.  A guy coming the other way on an R1 showed how it’s done, executing a smooth, quick pass to get around the moving chicanes.

Just when you get past the twistier bits you come across the Terra Nova Public House, a tavern in the old style, with raftered ceilings and great local beers on tap.  After a break in the shade and a cool drink, I took the Concours back down River Road the other way and headed back via Grand Valley and Belwood, to Elora.

Three hours in the baking sun had me a little sun-stunned by the end of it, but what a lovely day for a ride.  The memory will keep me warm in the coming darkness!





Implications of a Situated Intelligence in Learning

One of the big shocks I got in philosophy was reading Bertrand Russell’s Analysis of Mind.  If you can get through it you come to the startling realization that we are barely conscious at all.  Russell does a thorough job of demystifying how our minds work.

With The Singularity looming a number of films attempt to
imagine what a super-human intelligence would look like.

If you can imagine a being with the mental capacity to be constantly self-aware and conscious you begin to see just how different from us it would be.  We have flashes of self awareness, moments of conscious consideration, but more often than not we fall back on instinct and autonomic processes.  An always on intelligence would never surrender a decision to involuntary reflex, but we do it all the time.  Basic processes aren’t the only thing at stake here.  If you’ve ever found yourself in your driveway but unable to remember the drive home, you’re performing complex mental and physical processes without conscious thought.

That always on, aware intelligence is able to consider and respond in non-reflexive ways to all physical and mental challenges.  Repetition is what we use to manage our limited ability to attend to the world around us.  With sufficient muscle memory from repetitive action we are able to do pretty amazing things with our limited attention spans, but we have to offload cognitive capacity to our muscles and the world around us to achieve it.

The idea that we are dislocated minds that exist metaphysically is one of the last remnants of pre-Enlightenment thinking.  From souls to Descartes’ ghost-in-the-machine, we’ve long cherished the idea that our selves exist beyond the mundane world in which we find ourselves.  But the very idea of a self only happens because it is situated in reality.  Context, rather than self awareness, is what gives us the continuity required to acquire a sense of self.  Your ‘youness’ isn’t a magical property that exists in the ether, it’s a consequence of your mind interacting with the world around you.  The circumstances you find yourself in are created by past action.  People around you treat you as they do because of past action.  What you think of as your mind is actually a series of circumstance that expand beyond your head and through your body into the world around you.

A skilled person recognizes this process and ‘jigs‘ their environment, using their surroundings to support their work.  You see this in everything from a scientist’s lab to a short-order cook’s kitchen, to a teacher’s classroom; they all design their work environment to allow them to do their jobs better (assuming they are good at what they do – jigging an environment to perform well is a sign of mastery).  In extremely performance focused jobs, like professional sports or acting, this jigging takes on talismanic power that look like superstitions to the uninitiated.  Our psychology can be very sensitive to how immediate surroundings support or detract from our performance.  The pre-game ritual of an athlete before a game or the actor before going on stage both reflect this.   Our intelligence leaks out into the world, forming it to our will in order to get ‘our heads on straight’.

I take the concept of jigging my work space very seriously.

Jigging of their environment is a window into student learning.  You can see how thoroughly a student understands a process by how well they manipulate their environment.  The student who can’t find the right tool for the job probably doesn’t understand the job very well.  My father always used to give me a hard time for leaving his workshop in a mess; I get it now.  If you can’t find a tool when you’re in the middle of a complex task you won’t be able to perform the task well.  Your continuity of thought is broken by poor workplace planning.  My father’s assessment of the dirty shop was actually an assessment of my understanding of the craft of the mechanic.

True mastery learning requires an advanced practitioner to
jig their working environment to produce complex work.
This isn’t that.

The stock classroom is a Cartesian throwback to the disassociated minds myth: our minds are magical buckets which we can fill with information.  Of course they aren’t, they are fractured, non-continual biological processes designed to interact with the world around them.  A human mind only blossoms in the presence of an interactive reality.  You have to shed the myth of a Cartesian mind in order to see the absurdity of the typical classroom.

If education is going to adapt to this simple truth it needs to recognize that learning isn’t confined to mental processes.  Even cognitively focused courses of study like mathematics are recognizing that tangible representation improves student learning.  If you teach students like brains in boxes you don’t get very far.

Recognizing tangibles in teaching concepts is only the first part of this incorporation of an accurate philosophy of mind in learning.  The real power comes in creating adaptable learning environments that encourage student control.  If you’re teaching anything sufficiently complicated then allowing students control of their learning environment will only improve their chances of mastery.  If they can’t control their work space (or worse, it’s handed to them complete), they are being robbed of the opportunity to own their learning.  Environmental control also allows teachers a vital insight into how well a student understands the material they are learning.  If a student designs a non-functioning work space it shows you just how far from understanding the basic concepts of what they’re trying to do they are.   It is a common occurrence for the least capable students to walk up to me days before the end of a two week engineering project and tell me they are missing key components to finish it.  This is a valuable insight for both myself and the student into just how ignorant they are.  The worst thing we can do is what we do now:   put students in institutionally designed spaces that demand conformity and tell them to do it in their heads.  A key aspect of mastery learning is recognizing how expertise is rendered in the world around us, and then using that information to assess understanding and improve learning.

NOTES

Bertrand Russell, On Mind
Finishing off Descartes’ ghosts
Rene Descartes, ghost in the machine
If we can’t have souls, we can have magical, metaphysical minds!
Matt Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head
A modern dismantling of Enlightenment ideology that has run wild
I recently attended Stratford’s Possible Worlds.  
It plays on a conceit that you see in a lot of drama (Jacob’s LadderInceptionThe Matrix), that we would be incapable of realizing that the world around us isn’t real.  This conceit trivializes reality and sends us back into that superstitious state of magical minds.

I’d argue that our existence actually precedes and produces our intelligence.  We wouldn’t be what we are if we were brains in boxes being fed information; reality defines our intelligence.  I had a lot of trouble getting into Possible Worlds because it used science and tech babble to lead the audience through a fractured dreamscape, depending on our belief in magical minds to suspend our disbelief.

River Crossings & Riding In The Empty Quarter

I’ve been building a map of local green lanes and interesting back roads to use the KLX250 on.  If you know where to look, there are some surprisingly tricky off-road bits around where I live.   As I build up the map I’ll have a list of go-tos that mean I don’t have to go far to get off road.  If anyone lives in Wellington County or nearby and has any suggestions, I’d be happy to add them.

I headed down a back road suggested by Jeff the motorcycle Jedi this time.  It ended at the Connestogo River where there was a water crossing.  It was obvious that Jeff wanted me to try it, so I did!  What happens next is all on him:


Success!  The first was tentative.  I did what ABR Magazine suggested and scoped out the bottom first, looking for any deep holes I might fall in to.  The river was never more than two feet deep and fairly even, so I figured I’d give it a go.  ABR said to proceed slowly so you aren’t swamped by your own wake.  I might have been a bit tentative on the first pass, but the second was a test to see if I could proceed with a bit more throttle.  Like all things off road, the real trick seems to be don’t fight the handle bars, they’ll find their own way, even over slippery river rocks.

Some of the back roads in my area aren’t maintained, which makes them much more interesting from a dual sport perspective.  The farm trails I took to get to the river were remote and varied from groomed gravel to deep mud holes and larger rocks.  In a couple of places I couldn’t have gotten by with a car, which was what I was looking for.  You have a moment where you think, “if I drop it here and can’t get it going, I’ve got a walk to get out.”  Calling for a pickup wouldn’t have been an easy exit.  I was never more than a short walk from help though, farmers waved from a wide variety of vehicles while they tended fields throughout the ride.

In one mud hole I was in a rut which led me right into the deepest part of it – it was the only time I had to come to a stop to keep my balance.  Once I had my feet down the big knobbies on the KLX chucked up clods of mud and I easily powered out of six inch deep sludge (which smelled a bit cow-ish).

One of the nicest parts of dual sporting is getting lost in the world without traffic.  I put over 60kms on the KLX on this ride, the vast majority of it without another vehicle in sight.  At one point I was connecting trails and doing about 100km/hr on a back road and I was reminded why the empty quarters are better.  A guy on a sport bike blew past me and then slowed to look back over his shoulder with a shrug.  I waved at him to follow me down the next dirt track.  He didn’t.

The next day I’m still feeling it in various muscles.  Working your way though challenging trails on an off-road bike is a full body workout.  Austin Vince must be made of iron!

Another benefit of dual sport riding?  If you’re into photography, it’ll take you places worthy of it:


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!
$950,000
 

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.
$51,000
 
 

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).
 
$30,000
 
 
 
 

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.
$400,500
TOTAL
$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.

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