I’ve wanted to get a bike since I was old enough to drive, but my parents did backflips to put me in a car instead (probably wise at the time). Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m looking for something other than just thrills from riding a motorcycle.
What feels like a lifetime ago, I was living in Japan. A colleague and I came across a student who was into racing carts. He invited us out and it became a regular event. I’d always had an interest in motorsports and fancied myself a decent driver, it was nice to have the lap times prove it.
One of the most enjoyable side effects of ten tenths driving in a tiny shifter cart doing 100km/hr into a left hander was how focused your mind is. You are taking in all sorts of sensory inputs, your adrenaline is ticking, you can feel the tires on the edge of grip, the wind is thundering past your helmet, the engine is screaming behind you, and you are no where else but in that seat. You feel burned clean of any worries, plans, random thoughts or distractions. You feel like you’re dancing with the machine under you, it becomes an extension of yourself. It’s a wonderful feeling and I have never felt so exhausted and relaxed as I did after a day at Kiowa, deep in the mountains, tearing around that track.
I’m hoping that I can find that same quietness of mind on a motorbike. The personal space and focus needed will be therapeutic. The chance to disappear into my senses, to be entirely with the moment… the best kind of meditation.
I first came across the Tao in a fourth year philosophy class. Our prof had the six of us go through this little (5000 character!) classic in detail. It’s the closest I’ve come to finding a holy book. At the end of the course he asked us if we could find fault with the ideas presented in it, no one could. It’s a profound, deeply sensitive and honest guide to life. He then asked, will any of you give up your delusions and follow it? No one could or would. Opting out of modern society isn’t easy to do. Even finding the path out is difficult. From bad days in class to moments of clarity, the Tao te Ching offers a voice to the teaching experience:
A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are.
The basics that Lao Tsu stresses are honesty, flexibility and an immediacy with creation. You’d think these simple things to keep in mind but we seem wired to cater to the distractions and abstractions of our intelligence. There is a grace to Lao Tsu’s Way that emphasizes just how fractured we are from the world today. As a teacher I see it more than most because I see generations pass before my eyes. Rapid changes in technology affect both how they see themselves while also further limiting their relationship with the reality in which they exist.
I got replacement rubber bits for the now fifteen year old Triumph Tiger 955i in before Christmas, but the weather has been so diabolically cold that even with a propane heater in the garage, the floor is still radiating negative thirty degrees and working in there is a misery. We finally had a break in temperature this weekend so I got a chance to fit new rubber on the Tiger…
It’s only -1°C out there, so it’s garage door open time!
My targeted bits were the rubber covers on the mirror stalks, which aren’t that important but you see a lot of them while you’re riding and they bothered me. The shift leaver rubber has been held together with Gorilla Tape for the better part of a year (that’s some tough tape) and one of the rubber bits that go between the seat and the frame had disappeared, so I was aiming to replace that too so the seat would sit evenly and there would be no metal on metal rubbing.
The shift leaver was a simple thing. I cut off the tape and the old rubber which was half torn. With the new rubber warmed up and some WD40, the new bit slid on fairly easily. The mirror arm rubbers were equally straight forward. The mirror is on a threaded end. Undoing that and the nut under it that holds it tight meant I could slide the mirror rubbers off. The old ones were cracked in multiple places and barely hanging on. I cleaned up the threads and metal under which was a bit rusty, put some rust paint on there to make sure none comes back and slid the new rubber covers on. Another quick fix.
The problems arose when I tried to fit the seat rubbers. I suspect the dealer sent me the wrong bits. The rubbers that sit between the adjustable seat height bracket under the seat and the frame are circular with a flexible back that holds them to the frame. What I got were some pieces of rubber with sticky backing that aren’t even the same thickness as the circular rubber grommets.
I’d shrug it off but at $3.30 plus tax and shipping for each of these sticky rubber bits, I’m out fifteen odd bucks in parts that seem to have nothing to do with what I was trying to fix. I did send photos of the parts required and I thought we were clear on what was needed. Rather than flush more money on parts I didn’t ask for, I found a rubber grommet that was a bit too big and cut it down to fit the hole. It’s a snug fit and compresses to about the same thickness as the other grommets. I might eventually get four matching rubber grommets just to make things even down there, but for now the seat isn’t uneven and the frame isn’t metal rubbing on metal.
The perished rubbers thing was as much an aesthetic choice as it was a performance fix. Little details like rubber pieces on an older bike bring it back into focus. Regularly watching Car SOS buying full sets of rubbers for older cars they are restoring probably intensified the urge.
Since I purchased the Tiger almost two years ago I’ve done all the fluids and changed the tires which produced a much more road capable bike (the old ones were well past due). I’ve also replaced the chain, but other than these rubber bits and the fuel fittings last winter I haven’t replaced anything that wasn’t a regular service item. The old Tiger has been a trustworthy steed.
I’m usually able to steal a ride toward the end of winter as the sunlight returns and we get the odd warm day with dry roads. With any luck I’m only a few weeks away from stealing another one. The Tiger’s ready for it.
One of the ways I differentiate my courses in order to cater to students who will become digital engineers and technicians is to find opportunities to compete in skills based competitions. Not only does this offer them advanced study in specific areas of computer technology, but it also provides curriculum material that often trickles down into my regular course work.
In the fall we took our first run at the CyberPatriot/CyberTitan IT security competition. Cyber-security is a high demand field we don’t produce enough of in Canada. With a very strong team of seniors we made big steps forward in each round figuring out how the competition works and what we needed to focus on to get better at it. Once we knew how to focus on Windows and Linux operating systems and Cisco networking, we got a lot better. By the final round we’d fought our way up to the sharp end of the competition and ended up finishing in the top 10 out of 90 odd Canadian teams. We’re off to Fredericton in May to see how we fare in the national finals.
I’ve been looking at ways to bring cyber-security into my curriculum and this ICTC run competition has provided me with a pile of material on all levels of IT security from the desktop all the way up to networking. In the meantime, I’ve got four students who are national finalists, which looks mighty fine on both a job and post-secondary program applications. The team isn’t a mono-culture either. One student is aiming at software engineering, another at information technology, another at teaching and the last isn’t ICT focused but is a strong, multi-talented student who can solve esoteric problems well. They also work well as a team, so we’re looking forward to seeing how we fare in the finals in New Brunswick.
Meanwhile, we’ve got four students aiming for Skills Ontario provincial finals in Toronto in May. Unlike last year when we tried to commute into the GTA for the event (utter misery), we are lining up hotel rooms and staying overnight, so everyone will arrive early and well rested – no seven hour school bus commutes for us this time. We’ve got last year’s bronze medalist at IT and Networking who is angling for a higher finish, last year’s 7th place electronics student in the hunt for a medal and last year’s 10th place web developer looking for a top five finish. I’ve also got a ringer for the first ever coding competition at Skills Ontario provincials. Like the CyberTitan competition, I’ve been able to lift a lot of useful course focuses out of Skills scopes. Our electronics have diversified and become much more complex thanks to our competitor’s work in skills (and I love that she’s beating the boys in a predominantly male competition). The web development we started last year is going to provide much of the coding focus for our new grade ten computer class that starts next year.
I get a real charge out of competition. I used to coach soccer at school but now I spend my time focused on supporting technology curriculum. The differences are many. Instead of only catering to students who are wealthy enough to not work and have the free time to play games at school all week, I find myself supporting a wide socio-economic range of students, which I find more gratifying. In the process I’ve been able to show many of them opportunities and post secondary pathways that they hadn’t considered before. I didn’t manage to produce a single professional soccer player in years of coaching, but I’ve managed to help engineers, technicians and digital artists begin their careers. Of course, I don’t get paid to do any of this, but finding students and helping them develop into competitive provincial and national challengers is one of the favourite aspects of my job, even though it isn’t actually my job. The hardest part is convincing them that it’s possible; doubt is the hardest thing to overcome.
Meanwhile, in the classroom this semester I’m running yet another round of capped at 31 students software engineering (it’s tricky to stuff 31 student computers into a classroom, but I manage it). I started this course three years ago as a bit of a joke, but I couldn’t run it like one, the opportunities it provides are too real. Our school started offering courses in hockey and camping and I jokingly suggested I make a video game course if we’re giving credits out for recreational activities. I spent much of my youth playing hockey, camping and video gaming, so why not? Of course, I didn’t get high school credits in those things, but I digress.
Our software engineering class has become an applied coding course that focuses on engineering process rather than the mathematical minutia of coding, which I leave to computer science. We start with IEEE’s Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) to get a handle on best practices in real-world software building, then we learn 3d modelling in Blender and scripting in C# in Unity in order to prepare everyone for some game development.
This class has produced published software since the first year it ran and has allowed students to produce digital portfolio work that has gotten many graduates into some of the most challenging post secondary programs in the province. Like the competition opportunities described above, software engineering has turned into an intense but demanding real world opportunity that allows senior students to step up and demonstrate some leading edge digital skills.
My senior computer technology (TEJ) courses also focus on real world problem solving. We cover CompTIA industry testing for A+ technician in 3M and NETWORK+ administration in 4M, and both courses also do in-school tech support. We’re also building VR ready systems for our board SHSM program to distribute to other schools. Working in real world situations with live problem solving and deadlines is something my students find invaluable, whether it’s in class or in competition. It gives them strong portfolio work (check out our ever expanding collection of 3d models, in 3d!) and prepares them for the intensity of life outside of the rubber walled, failure-not-an-option world of high school. It’s a lot of extra work, but I didn’t get into teaching computer technology in order to be able to spin the same lessons out year after year; the constantly changing nature of the subject area is one of the reasons I chose to do it. The real world challenges and intensity of competition keeps things interesting for me too.
I stand on the cusp of another year teaching computer technology and I have to say I’m looking forward to it in spite of the various nonsense surrounding Ontario education these days. I have a particularly strong crop of seniors and I’m hoping to exceed the lofty heights we’ve previously reached. @CWcomptech continues to grow and seek out new opportunities.
I’m also hoping this strong senior group will uncover new opportunities for us to explore, but then they already have. The Cybersmart Project, a student run training course for other schools interested in getting onto CyberTitan started over the summer and has already picked up a number of schools they are going to help.
We had Gord Alexander from IBM Canada come in last year and show our grade 10s how to code IBMcloud’s Watson AI. The pickup on that was amazing with students of all skill levels returning to it in their culminating projects. Gord followed up by applying to present at this year’s ECOO Conference#BIT19 on how students can access this free and very accessible artificial intelligence learning environment. I’m looking forward to helping out with that at the conference.
One of the nicest things about teaching computer technology is that it’s never the same year to year, but sometimes those emerging technologies can be difficult to access. Not so with Watson. If you’ve got students who can code in Scratch, you can get them going with Watson and have scripted, AI supported projects very quickly. I suspect students from grades four onward could manage the coding involved and I’m looking forward to sharing this exciting possibility with Ontario teachers in November.
Over the summer I took two Cisco courses (thanks Philippe!) that will improve our practice. The IT Essentials course was something I’d been looking to complete in order to give my students access to current materials. Up until now I’ve been cobbling things together from books and various online sites. It was a lot of work and constantly falling out of date. The Cisco Net Academy course is current and covers much of what we were doing anyway, but in a concentrated and curated format that should lighten my preparation for teaching IT in junior high school classes.
Having been a certified computer technician since 2002, the IT Essentials course was review, but the other course I took was a bit more ferocious. The CCNA Cyber Operations course is designed for cybersecurity specialists who want to get a handle on the current state of play as they begin working in cybersec. It’s a no-holds barred review of advanced networking analysis tools followed by detailed explanations of how cybersecurity has been implemented in the very networked world of 2019. I’ve really enjoyed taking the course and should be wrapping it up over the next couple of weeks. Having an understanding of best management practices in cybersec should help me coach our school teams more efficiently and effectively. It has also handed me a plethora of current network assessment and management tools that will find their way into my senior ICT curriculum immediately!
2019-20 feels like it could be a banner year. Competition is always fickle and you never know what Goliaths you’ll face, but we’ve never had better access to the tools we need to succeed as we do now. As long as the education system isn’t thrown into an artificial crisis, we should be ready to produce an exceptional year of graduates with rich extracurricular experiences who are ready to tackle the challenging, digitally empowered 21st Century workplace.
The in-law’s cottage happens to be about 20 kms away from the bottom of the 507. I like the 507. It twists and turns through the Canadian Shield offering you bend after bend without the usual tedium of Southern Ontario roads. I lost myself riding down it the other day. Last week I was pondering how fear can creep in to your riding in extreme circumstances, like trying to ride through a GTA rush hour commute. This week I’m struggling with how the Canada Moto-Guide and Cycle Canada are portraying deaths on the 507, which is evidently a magnet for sportbike riders who have confused public roads with private race tracks. On the motorcyclists spectrum I tend toward the sportier end of things. I’ve owned Ninjas, sports-tourers, adventure and off-road bikes. The only thing that chased me away from sportbikes early in my riding career were the insane insurance rates and the fact that any modern motorcycle is already light years beyond most sports cars in terms of performance. My old Tiger goes 0-60 in under four seconds, or about as fast as many current top-end muscle and sports cars. To spend thousands more on insurance for a bike designed for a race-track just doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially when you factor in the condition of Ontario roads.
Having said that, I’ve been a diehard MotoGP fan for the past six years. Watching riders develop and express their genius at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing is not only glorious to watch, but it has taught me a lot about riding dynamics, and I think it has improved my bike-craft. I totally get speed. Riding a bike always feels like a bit of a tight-rope walk, and being able to do it quickly and smoothly is a skill-set I highly value. Like so many things in motorcycling, balance seems to be key. Last week, among the idiotic commuters of the GTA, a frustrating number of whom were texting in their laps and half paying attention, I was unable to manage that danger and it led to a great deal of anxiety. Rather than give in to that fear or throw a blanket of bravado over it, I looked right at it and found a way to overcome it. Honesty with yourself is vital if you’re actually interested in mastering your bikecraft. I came to the conclusion that you need to approach two wheels with a touch of swagger and arrogance when that fear rises up. This is done to moderate fear and give you back some rational control, especially when circumstances conspire against you. The problem with swagger and arrogance… and fear for that matter, is that it’s easy to go too far, and so many people seem to. Emotionality seems to dictate so many aspects of motorcycling culture. From the arrogance of the ding-dongs in shorts and flip flops who tend to the extremes of the motorcycling spectrum (cruisers and sportbikes), to the ex-motorcyclists and haters who can only speak from fear, it’s these extremes who seem to speak for the sport. I struggle with those emotionally driven extremes, but recently CMG seems intent on writing odes to them.
The CMG editorial news-letter this week makes much of not knowing why this rider died: “He knew the dangers, and he admitted to going fast,” says his partner, Lisa Downer. “He knew when, where, how – it was just one of those things. A lot of people think the way the curve was, there was a car (approaching him) that was just a little too far over the line and David had to compensate. By the time that car went around the bend, they wouldn’t even have known that David went off, because the sightline’s gone. Or it could have been an animal, or a bit of gravel. You just don’t know.”
There were no skid marks on the road. Like so many of our lost, no one will ever know why. Our lost? Here’s a video by that same rider from the year before:
“…the helmet cam shows his speedometer. “A decent pace on the 507 in central Ontario, Canada,” he wrote in the description. “Typical Ontario roads, bumpy, keeping me in check.” His average speed on the near-deserted road was above 160 km/h, more than double the speed limit, and at one point it shows an indicated 199, where the digital display tops out. At such speeds on a public road, there’s little room for error.” – little room for error?
With that on the internet, one wonders how he had his license the following year. You can come at this from ‘it might have been an animal, or a car, or gravel’, but I think I’m going to come at it from here:
“David was an experienced rider who’d got back into motorcycling just three years ago; he was 52, but had put bikes on hold since his 30s when he went out west…”
That’ll be over 170 kms/hr on rough pavement around blind corners next to a massive provincial park full of large mammals…
An ‘experienced rider’ who had been riding for three years, after a twenty year gap? And his first bike in twenty years was a World Super-bike winning Honda super sport? Whatever he was riding in the mid-eighties and early nineties certainly wasn’t anything like that RC51. What his actual riding experience was is in question here, but rather than assign any responsibility to an inexperienced rider, we are speculating about animals, cars and gravel?
I generally disagree with the speed kills angle that law enforcement likes to push. If that were the case all our astronauts would be dead. So would everyone who has ever ridden the Isle of Man TT. Speed doesn’t kill, but how you manage it is vital. There is a time and a place. If you’re intent on riding so beyond the realm of common sense on a public road, then I think you should take the next step and sort yourself out for track days, and then find an opportunity to race. In Ontario you have all sorts of options from Racer5’s track day training to the Vintage Road Racing Association, where you can ride it hard and put it away wet in a place where you’re not putting people’s children playing in their front yard in mortal peril. If you’ve actually got some talent, you could find yourself considering CSBK. Surely there is a moral imperative involved in how and where you choose to ride? Surely we are ultimately responsible for our riding?
Strangely, Mark’s article, The Quick and the Dead, from 2017 has a much clearer idea of time and place when it comes to riding at these kinds of speeds. In this most recent news-letter we’re at “it would be easy to dismiss David Rusk as just another speed freak, killed by his own excess“. In 2017 he was quite reasonably stating: “If you’re going to speed, don’t ride faster than you can see and dress properly. And if you’re going to speed, do it on a track“. I guess the new blameless recklessness sells better?
There is a romantic fatalism implicit in how both CMG and Cycle Canada have framed these deaths that willfully ignores much of what caused this misery in the first place. Motorcycling is a dangerous activity. Doing it recklessly is neither brave, nor noble. Trying to dress it up in sainthood, or imaging blame when the cause if repeatedly slapping you in the face is neither productive nor beneficial to our sport. Up both ends of the motorcycling spectrum are riders who are all about the swagger. For those dick swingers this kind of it’s-never-your-fault writing is like going to church. I get it. Writing for your audience is the key to enlarging it.
Last Sunday I did a few hundred kilometres picking up bodies of water for the Water is Life GT rally, with the 507 being the final run south to the cottage. The roads weren’t exceptionally busy and I was able to fall into a rhythm on the 507 that reminded me of what a great road it is. As it unfolds in front of you, you can’t guess where it’s going to go next. Surrounded by the trees, rocks and lakes of the Shield, it’s a gloriously Canadian landscape.
I’m not dawdling when I ride. I prefer to not have traffic creeping up on me, I’m usually the one doing the passing (easy on a bike). The big Tiger fits me and the long suspension can handle the rough pavement, but I’m never over riding the limits of the bike where gravel on the road, an animal or other drivers dictate how my ride is going to end. The agility and size of a bike offer me opportunities that driving a car doesn’t, but it doesn’t mean I open the taps just because I can. Balance is key.
There are times when a rider (or any road user) can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and no amount of skill will save you. For the riders (and anyone) who perishes like that, I have nothing but sympathy. They are the ones we should be reserving sainthood for. Not doing the things that you love, like being out in the wind on a bike, because of that possibility will neuter your quality of life. That doesn’t mean you have a free pass to be reckless though. Do dangerous things as well as you’re able.
I’m well aware of the dangers of riding, but I’m not going to throw a blanket of arrogance over them, and I’m certainly not going to describe recklessness as a virtue while hiding in delusions of blame. Doing a dangerous thing well has been a repeated theme on TMD, as has media’s portrayal of riding. Having our own media trying to dress up poor decision making as victimization isn’t flattering to motorcycling. If you can’t be honest about your responsibilities when riding perhaps it’s time to hang up your boots. If you don’t, reality might do it for you.