Riding A Motorcycle

I’m up into third gear coming up on the cones fast. The wind is pressing into my chest and starting to roar around my helmet. On this introduction to motorcycling course this is as fast as we get going, I’m probably doing about 45km/hr.  As my right hand rolls off the throttle and reaches for the front brake my left hand reaches out to the clutch lever and begins squeezing. As the engine disengages my left foot begins tapping down the gear shifter and my right foot is already on the rear brake and squeezing in time with the front brake, hauling the bike down from speed in surprising time.  As the bike slows, the centrifugal force of the wheels spinning aren’t enough to keep the bike balanced any more, my backside and legs are also subtly beginning to balance the bike.  I’m now only doing about 5 km/hr as I enter the turn but this is a tight box of cones leading to ninety degree left exit.  I turn the handle bars into the corner, trying to keep my eyes up instead of looking in front of the wheel.  At that moment I realize I don’t have enough momentum to get through the corner, I’ve scrubbed off too much speed.  I let go of the clutch in the middle of a sharp, slow speed left hand turn, dumping the bike into first gear, it’s a jerky exit I make as I dump the clutch clumsily and begin to regain some lost momentum.

At the motorcycle course I just took many of us went from never having sat in the saddle to realizing just how complicated riding a bike is.  Unlike a typical car with one hand on the wheel and one foot operating pedals, you’re using all four limbs and your body mass as a whole when riding a bike; it’s a surprisingly aerobic exercise.  At the end of the first day, 2-3 hours in the class room, 7+ hours in the saddle, I was exhausted.  The physicality of it is one thing, then there are the mental demands, especially when you’re new.

An instructor told us of a new rider who had just finished the course and decided to drive his new bike out to Alberta for a job.  It was all very romantic.  He never made it out of Ontario.  The truck driver saw him coming from miles away, he even managed to slow down and stop completely when the kid on the bike, in the oncoming lane, plowed into the front of the truck at high speed… asleep on the bike.  Riding a bike is a good bit of exercise when you’re experienced.  It verges on a mind and body marathon when you’re new and having to think about everything you’re doing.

In addition to the technique of operating a vehicle that asks you to steer with your whole body, change gears manually using both hand and foot, and operate two sets of brakes independently, again, using both hand and foot, the bike rider is also developing a constant 360° awareness of what is happening around them.  Your head is a on a swivel, you’re constantly assessing threats and dangers.  It matters much less who is at fault if you’re in an accident on a bike, it isn’t likely to be a fender bender you drive away from.  Defensive driving on a bike takes on dimensions that car drivers would find extreme locked away in their metal boxes.

After a weekend of getting familiar with the basic operation of a motorbike, my back is sore, my arms ache and I’m still getting over the wind/sun burn, but it was a purging exercise.  If you ever wanted a challenge that puts you into a very intimate relationship with a machine, motorbiking is that.  It isn’t easy.  It’s demanding mentally and physically and requires your undivided attention.  You can’t walk into it after drinking, drugs or even emotionality and hope to do it well enough to not be at risk, and the risk is about as high as it can get.  In a world of safety at all costs, insurance company run nanny states, I’m kind of surprised that motorcycling is still allowed, but I’m glad it is.

Riding is a Zen thing that demands you surrender distractions and live in that moment, your whole body and mind deeply involved in the task before it.  It’s a task that rewards you with a sense of freedom and the thrill of open speed that I’ve never experienced in any automobile; it’s the most honest form of motorized transportation, which is exactly why I answered the call.  Taking the course made me realize that motorbiking was everything I’d hoped it would be.

360° Video on a Motorcycle

I borrowed a 360° video camera from work to see what it could do.  This one is Ricoh’s Theta, and it produces some astonishing results (you can move the point of view around with your mouse as you watch it):

On occasion I teach media arts and one of the key aspects of that course is considering point of view in the media you create.  These 360° cameras ask some challenging questions around how camera operators will present point of view in the future.  At some point we’ll be telling our grand kids that we once all watched the same movie at the same time and they’ll look at us like we’re old and backwards.

Immersive video like this means the viewer tells the story by controlling their own point of view.  You can watch the bike going down the road, watch me on it, watch what the other traffic is doing – it’s a different video for each person who views it.

When you upload this to youtube it’s a big file.  Youtube throws up a low resolution version very quickly, but if you give it some processing time you’ll eventually get access to a full 1080p version, which offers impressive detail in all directions.

For three hundred bucks Canadian the Theta does things the more expensive GoPro can’t.  It isn’t as tough as the GoPro, but forty bucks will get you a waterproof case that resolves that.  If you’ve never tried 360° video, the Ricoh Theta makes for an easy introduction.  I wish I had it for more than a short term loan!

It also does a good job of 360° photography:

trying the photo app on the phone with the 360° Ricog Theta.. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

For the video above I clipped the camera to the windshield with a rubber clamp.  It’s so low profile that the wind had no effect on it.

Below are some screen grabs from the video that show the native resolution of the video in the Ricoh app.  In that Ricoh software you can zoom in and out of the 360° image as well as pan around it.  This is as close as I’ve seen to the Bladerunner photography tool Harrison Ford uses – you can use the video or photo to actually explore the scene you’re looking at.

If you zoom right out you can see the native/fisheye view of the camera.  It does an impressive job of managing the
geometry of filming in all directions simultaneously.

Stills from the garage showing off the resolution of still images on the Ricoh

You can get some pretty interesting perspectives and abstract images out of this kind of camera:

Taken at pretty much the same time as the one above.  This gives you some idea of what the 360° can catch at once.

Revised Seat Geometry=Happiness

After installing a new seat cover (with some modifications), I took the Connie out for a ride.  The change in geometry is a compromise, but I think it’s one I prefer.  In raising the seat height I’m causing more forward lean, but I’m also easing knee flex.

The gel cushion and extra padding on the new seat cover raises the seat a couple of inches.  I notice the forward lean a bit more, but the bike already has bar risers, so I’m not laying on the tank or anything.  The 6° knee angle relaxing is dynamite though.  I’d gladly take a bit more lean to ease the knee cramping.

The extra height above the windshield is negligible as I’m already looking over it by quite a bit.  With the extra height the bike feels like it fits me better.  A shorter rider would find a taller, wider seat difficult to manage, but I still have no trouble getting feet flat on the ground and riding is a much more comfortable proposition.

The seat itself is also much firmer.  Instead of squishy foam I’m sitting on thicker vinyl backed by higher density form over the gel pad.  The Corbin seat I was thinking about looks very low profile, so it would probably have bent my knees even more.  I think I’ve made a cheaper option actually work better for me.

A ride to the Forks of the Credit on a sunny, cool Sunday tested the new setup.

Your typical weekend in the parking lot at Higher Ground in Belfountain – everything from a
1947 sidecar outfit to Ducati Monsters to the latest Yamaha R1, and everything in between
Panniers make handy coffee holders
(I used them for a bakery pick-up in Erin)
Back home, the new seat’s looking the business

Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail: an ultimate ride?

 I’m currently crossing the Canadian Maritime provinces with my wife.  She’s recovering from cancer so a bike trip wasn’t in the cards, but I’m using the trip as reconnaisance for future rides.

On our way back to our hotel after a day on the Cabot Trail in northern Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island, a guy on a Honda Repsol race replica blitzed through a row of traffic five cars at a time and disappeared down the road.  The Cabot Trail attracts that kind of rider with its hundreds of kilometres of twists and turns over the Cape Breton Highlands in the north west corner of the province.

Coincidently, while I was out here, Canada Moto Guide did a primer on how to ride the Cabot Trail.  That and the steady stream of bikes making their way up to the remote, north-west corner of Nova Scotia cemented the trail as a Canadian riding icon in my mind.

We were up in Neil’s Harbour when a bunch of guys in full leathers wandered in to the Chowder House up by the lighthouse (you can write sentences like that when you’re on the Cabot Trail).  The bravest of them was on a Ducati.  I say brave because the road itself is indeed a roller coaster, but it’s also pretty rough in places.  I asked them if they could put a knee down or would they knock their teeth out first.  They laughed and said they pick their moments.

The Cabot Trail traces most of the coast of the north-west side of Cape Breton Island.  This 300km loop takes you up and over the Cape Breton Highlands and through a national park; it’s stunnlingly beautiful and it’d be a shame to rush it.  Actually, what would be a shame would be only doing it once while focusing on the road.  The ideal way to tackle the Trail would be to get yourself into one of the many lodging opportunties on the south end of it and then do a day focusing on the road followed by a day focusing on the many stops available.  If you came all the way to the end of the world in Cape Breton and didn’t bother taking side roads to things like Meat Cove and Neil’s Harbour, you’d be missing some wonderful opportunities.

There are many sections with good pavement and astonishing curves, but there are others where the road hasn’t had any attention in some time and Canadian weather has had its way with it.  I was told there were some switchbacks where riders had a hand down on the ground as they came around, but trying to do that in other places would have had you bouncing out of your seat and kissing a guard rail.  Rough or not, if you’re used to living on a tiny island with sixty million people on it, you’ll find the Cabot Trail frighteningly empty, even in mid-summer.

Having done a lot of miles on Canadian roads now I’d approach it as I do them all: enjoy them while you can but expect them to go to shit at any second.  Something with supension travel and some athletic intention would be a good place to start, it made me miss my Tiger sitting in the garage over two thousand kilometres away in Ontario.  A psychotic mix of power and suspension flexibility like the BMW S 1000 XR adventure sport would be good.  Another angle would be to take one of the newest intelligently suspended bikes and see what they make of it.

This ain’t no butter smooth Spanish road, but it’s a fearsome thing.  A couple of years ago Performance Bikes put their man John McAvoy on a sportsbike and pointed him at Spain, in the winter.  It was a riot to read him navigating snow storms through France before finding the sweet never-ending summer of Spanish roads at a time when everyone else is huddled in their houses waiting for the snow to end.  Reading Johnny in questionable riding circumstances is never dull.  PB (now a part of Practical Sportsbikes) should send him out to Cape Breton for a tour of the Cabot Trial in the fall.  It’d deliver demanding and stunning riding and photo opportunities that no one in mainstream motorcycle media seems to be aware of.  It’d also give Johnny a chance to practice his Gaelic.

Instead of riding the same old Spanish roads over and over, motorcycle manufacturers should be bringing journalists out to Cape Breton.  A 300km loop on varying road surfaces through stunning, Jurrasic Park quality scenery and some incredibly acrobatic roads would let them assess a bike’s real-world prowess without cheating on roads that have never felt the terrifying touch of a Canadian winter!

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What Is Learning?

What is Learning?

Thrown out casually during a teacher conference and then immediately forgotten, but it lingered with me.

I heard the initial “transmission of information” definitions around me and shook my head. Saying that learning is simply information transmission is like saying killing is a physical effort that ends a life; a very simplistic definition designed to make a complex idea manageable.

I caught a National Geographic special a few years ago in which a team studying the differences between great apes and humans made the sweeping statement that teaching and learning are the key difference between humans and apes. There is little else to distinguish us from our close cousins.

If it is so pivotal to the definition of our species, it deserves a better definition than “the transmission of knowledge.”

Learning (def’n): the enrichment of our mental facilities that ultimately gives us power over the physical world. We are able to know truth in a broader and deeper way because we can experience the world indirectly and abstract the world in order to understand it beyond our own senses. Learning allows us to preserve and enhance this discipline independent of our individual existences. We are the only species that does not have to relearn how to master our physical environment in every generation; more than that, we are able to amplify previous learning and build on it at an astonishingly proliferate rate. We are dangerous animals indeed.

This definition has a couple of challenges:

Firstly, the idea that knowledge and learning it is very powerful makes people uncomfortable. If you’re teaching and you just want to transmit information, you can simplify your practice to that simple goal. Accepting that learning and knowledge are powerful and potentially dangerous (giving the learner power over the physical world), a teacher would have to also accept some moral responsibility for imparting information, and many teachers don’t want to take that on.

Secondly, since our brains (hardware) became sophisticated enough to develop this viral learning (software), we have developed well beyond the constraints of our immediate physical environment. We have mostly deferred the costs of overcoming our immediate physical space to a macro/planetary level that we haven’t had to deal with directly yet. When I look at all the teachers who drive into my school alone in large SUVs in the morning, I get the sense that most teachers aren’t any more aware of these challenges than the general public; they are either unwilling or unable to consider a larger picture. The viral nature of our learning means the people teaching and the people learning are not learning hard truths with any real discipline. Learning how to overcome nature taught the first learners some hard truths, truths we forget when we are the billionth person to learn a hard won truth as a fact in a text book.

Calling learning the dissemination of information is a very dangerous thing indeed. This is the viral core of learning; when learning becomes knowledge transmission with no real context. The dangers appear thick and fast. Teaching becomes indoctrination and learning devolves into belief generation rather than a coherent, candid body of knowledge. Standardized learning does this in spades. Standardized tests force it, curriculum defines it, cutting knowledge into independent disciplines clouds it and grading validates it. Instead of developing a student’s body of knowledge in a coherent, interconnected, meaningful manner, the industrialized education system creates information overloaded human beings with limited (or no) understanding of what their knowledge is capable of.

This is disastrous for us as a society and a species, especially if you want human beings to live in democratic circumstances with relative economic and civic freedom. The fact that we don’t want to appreciate complexity will result in simple solutions, like simplified education, dictatorial government and poor economic choices. In those circumstances the urge to control the herds of the ignorant would become overwhelming for those in power.

Making learning easy is a disaster, it should be challenging, not pointlessly so, but contextually it has to be, ignorance is preferable to a passing on knowledge that empowers a human being beyond the confines of their natural world.

If learning devolves into knowledge transmission, we populate the world with dangerous fools.

New Zealand Mid Winter Escape

Another mid-winter holiday escape daydream…

A couple of thousand kilometers riding through New Zealand’s summer.

$5267 out and $6510 back = $11,777, but hey,
I could actually sleep on the flights!

Fly into Auckland via Vancouver with lay down seats so I might actually sleep on the plane.

Pick up the bike (they have Tigers!) at bikeroundnz.com and ride from Auckland to Wellington on the south island over a couple of weeks.

$249 a day for 14 days = $3486

The flight home leaves Saturday and gets in early Sunday morning (you get a day back crossing the international date line).




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2018 Motorcycling Wishlist

The 2018 wish list…

Some things to get deeper into motorcycling in the next year:

Ford Transit Van:

$53,472 + some more in accessories.

A means of moving bikes south in the winter to ride year round as well as a way to take off road or race ready bikes to interesting locations  where I can exercise them.

The bonus would be to get all Guy Martin with it.

Become an off-road ninja:

Step 1:  Get the kit:  A KTM 690 Enduro, the best all round off-roader that can also get you there.  
$11,999 + some soft panniers for travel.

Step 2:  Get good at off-roading with lessons at SMART Adventures!  

Step 3:  Do some rallies like Rally Crush, Rally Connex, the Corduroy Enduro, the KTM Adventure Rally (in BC!)

Set up the KTM as an all year ride:

A Mototrax snow bike kit would let me turn the KTM into a year round steamroller.  Back country riding in the cold months would make for some good exercise and training so I wouldn’t be back on two wheels in the spring feeling rusty.  $6000US

Become a road racing ninja:

Step 1:  Build a race bike…

…but why be boring?  Instead of something new take on a race bike rebuild!  There is a ’93 Yamaha FZR600 for sale nearby in need of some attention.  They’re only asking $700 for a fairingless bike, but that means I can go looking for race fairing!  

It turns out 90s FZR fairings are remarkably easy to source.  Since this is going to be a race bike, I can go with a lightless race ready fairing.  The other fairing parts are also available and not crazy expensive.  Getting them all as unfinished moulds means I can start from scratch with a custom race paint theme.

I’d be spoiled for choice with classic race designs, but I think I’d do my own with a 90s style influence.  With a double bubble screen and some customization of rearsets I could make a Fazer that fits me.

Step 2:  (finally) take road race training:

Spend the weekend of May 11-13th next year at Racer5’s introductory course at Grand Bend.

Three days of track training on a rented bike.  Later in the summer I could then follow up with the advanced courses on my own bike (the Yamaha would be ready by then).  That’d be about two grand in race training over one summer.  By the end of it all I’d have my race license and have a clear idea of how to proceed with a campaign, perhaps with the VRRA who also run a schoolWith the 90’s FZR and the training I think I’d be ready to run in amateur classes.

Use next level tech to ride better:

I’m not even sure if Cruden’s motorcycle simulator is available to the public.  I do a lot with VR at work and I’m curious to see just how effective this might be at capturing the complexities of riding a motorcycle.  Even if I couldn’t get it privately, getting one for a month in our classroom would be a cool way of examining state of the art virtual simulation in a very complex process (riding a motorcycle).  It’d also be a nice way to ride when it’s -25 degrees outside, like it is today.


With those tools I’d be able to bike in ways I currently cannot.   I’d have what I need to pursue both off road and more focused tarmac riding which would greatly enhance my on-road riding skills.  If motorcycling is a life long learning experience, these things would be like going to motorbike university.

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After a long wait the o-rings finally came in to the dealer.  I then ended up getting the wrong o-rings (it turns out Kawasaki has like half a dozen different o-rings in this carburetor).  Don’t expect to show detailed pictures and get any help from the parts experts either.


With the o-rings and t-fittings in I was able to put the carb back together again (again).  But before doing that I checked the floats one more time (they were all good), and reset the pilot screws to factory specs.  As I was doing that I noticed that the needles were moving when I flipped the carbs.  A quick check of the diagram showed that the spring seat goes above the pin, not below it, which I’d done (quite embarrassing really – I was tempted not to mention it, but my mistake might prevent someone else’s in the future, so humility – and humiliation – first).

With the pins and seats the right way around I put the carbs back together yet again.  Installing it is as big a pain in the ass as it ever was, with the fitting of airbox boots being a dark art.

With everything reconnected and double checked, the carburetors were ready to go.  I set the petcock to prime to put a lot of fuel in the empty bowls, hit the choke and turned it over…. and it started and idled properly!

As I used to do, I eased off the idle as the bike ran higher and higher as it warmed up.  After a minute I turned the choke off and it was idling at about 1800rpm.  I dialed back the idle speed to 1000rpm and it was running steady.

So far so good, but the issue was applying throttle – the carbs kept flooding, backfiring rich and then killing the motor, would that happen this time?  No!  It’s alive, ALIVE!!!

This video below may be the most satisfying thing I’ve ever filmed.

I now have two working bikes in the garage.  This has been a long and frustrating process, but I’ve gotten the rust off some long unused skills.  I’m taking better organization, attention to detail and theoretical understanding with me as I move onto other mechanical projects.


If it hasn’t been replaced, it’s been thoroughly gone over.  One carb is complicated,
four carbs is a universe of complications!

Dream Racer

Triumph included a link to this on their email newsletter, so I gave it a whirl on Vimeo.  At nearly $9 it’s an expensive (48 hour) video rental compounded by some stuttering even with fibre at home internet.  Looking at the code it looks like Vimeo segments the video to prevent copying.  Those segments kept stalling on transition, which is pretty frustrating, especially when you just paid a premium price to see it.

I like Charley but he wasn’t the guy to see this through

Technicalities aside, the film itself is very engaging.  It isn’t just about a run at Dakar (like Charlie’s was).  The man making the film, Simon Lee, is in his thirties and feels like his dreams of making a film are ebbing away under the pressures of middle aged life.  The man trying to go to the Dakar, Christophe, is a former North African motor-cross champion who failed to complete the Dakar the year before.  He is a skilled rider, but spends all his time in a suit and tie doing business and trying to drum up the money to get himself to the race.  The expectations of middle-aged life are barriers in both men’s struggles.

When desire conquerors circumstance you get a better story

You’d expect a fully financed, technically supported, off-road experienced forty year old rider coupled with a Dakar veteran mentor and a spare rider to hand you his bike when your’s breaks to finish the race (he didn’t).  You’d not expect a single thirty-something experienced racer who has to turn his own wrenches and barely managed to find a bike and get enough money to attend the race to finish (he does).  What matters more, financial support or the will to succeed?  This film sheds light on that question.

Along the way you get to see the Dakar without the money lenses of sponsorship.  This purer Dakar hearkens back to the beginnings of the race (a good documentary to watch about this is BBC‘s Madness in the Desert).  But you don’t have to suffer through poor footage from amateurs to see this raw Dakar.  What you get is video shot by a guy who knows how to shoot video and edited by an expert.  The whole thing is then wrapped in an original soundtrack that supports and nurtures the narrative.  If you’re used to watching half-assed video of motorcycle based adventure, this isn’t that.

A teary conclusion is well earned, and stirs up deeper philosophical questions around media dilettantes & the committed racer…

When you get to the end and everyone is in tears you’d have to be a robot not to share that feeling with them, and it’s not all just about Christophe’s race either, it’s also about Simon’s journey as a documentary film maker.  Both men defy expectations and pursue a dream at great personal expense (emotional, physical and financial).  It’s the kind of story most of us who live in a world that doesn’t give a damn about what we dream of doing can relate to.

If you enjoy a quality, motorcycle themed film, this will do it for you.  It’s well shot and brilliantly edited and musically scored.  The filming is such that you get to know Simon and Christophe who are both painfully honest in front of the camera.  The narrative (aided by that brilliant editing) takes you from introductions, to desperate attempts to source the money and prepare for the race and then tosses you into the Dakar without the antiseptic third person corporate perspective you usually see it from.  By this point you’re emotionally invested in both men’s journey.

I recommend this film.  I only wish I could have ordered the DVD for a few dollars more and been able to watch it without the interruptions and technical headaches.

When a film leverages the Dakar to raise questions around commitment to challenge through skill and determination, and does it well, you’ve got a winner.


Christophe riding injured.  As long as he is conscious, he isn’t going to stop – remarkably sympathetic to his machine as well.


A naked Dakar bike, personally paid for, no corporate spin; not what the modern Dakar is about.  It would be nice to see the money around the Dakar put a bit aside to ease the entry of privateers into the race – they make for better stories than the stone faced, well paid professionals.