The Machine As Narrative

Eighteen months ago I found a 1994 Kawasaki ZG1000 sitting in a field.  It was in pretty rough shape, unused with grass growing up through it.  I was immediately drawn to it, though I was worried about transitioning from my relatively modern, fuel injected, first bike (an ‘07 Ninja) to this twenty year old, carbureted machine that clearly needed TLC to be roadworthy.  

One of the reasons I got into motorcycling was to re-spark my dormant love of mechanics, which had been prompted by Matt Crawford’s brilliant little book, Shopclass As Soulcraft.  I briefly battled with worries about my abilities and working on motorcycles (of which I had no previous experience).  When you get a car repair wrong you tend to roll to a stop surrounded by a big cage.  If you get a bike part wrong it can throw you down the road.  I’d been away from mechanics so long that I was afraid I’d lost the touch.
Once I got my hands moving again they quickly remembered what they once knew.  My ability to repair machines hadn’t been unused, it had simply been focused elsewhere, on IT.  Those years of rebuilding cars and working in the industry quickly came back to me.
The Concours was stripped down, old gauges were fixed, oil lines repaired and it sailed through safety.  The old dog immediately rewarded me with a ride up to Blue Mountain though a snow storm, and a ride around Georgian Bay.  The only mechanical failure as the bike began to rack up miles was Canadian Tire’s fault.
By the end of the summer the old Kawasaki had ridden down the back straight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and clocked up over thirty thousand miles on the odometer.
This winter I’ve been deeper into the bike than ever before.  Besides maintenance items like spark plugs, I also had a close look at the tires, and elected to retire the mis-matched, old tires.  With the tires off and the wheels naked, I looked into industrial coating options.  Fireball Performance Coatings is only about half an hour away in Erin.  After meeting with the owner Mark, I went with a candy coated gold that’ll gel nicely with the red/gold trim look the bike is developing.  The rims are done and are currently at Two Wheel Motorsport getting Michelined up.  Future bike projects are definitely going to make use of Fireball’s coatings.


This week things start to go back together in a big way.  With the tires and rims back I’ll be popping in the new bearings, putting the balancing beads in (first time trying them), and installing the wheels back on the bike.  With the wheels (and disk brake rotors) back on I’ll be able to finally finish the rear brake lines and reinstall the rebuilt calipers.  It’s a lot of bits and pieces that need to come back together, fortunately I’ve been taking photos as I go (a good way to keep track of what goes where).  Between that and the Clymer shop manual, everything should come back together nicely.
A big part of taking things apart is cleaning them up, even if parts don’t get replaced.  I’ve been into many dark places that haven’t seen anyone since 1994.
The clean and shiny drive disk in the rear hub – it’s what the shaft drive feeds into.
A cleaned up shaft drive housing on the back of the bike.
The rear suspension is cleaned up, but it needs a good greasing.
Owning an older motorcycle can be frustrating, but it’s also very rewarding.  The operation of the machine is only one part of your relationship with it.  By laying hands on the mechanicals you become familiar with your motorbike in a new way.  That mechanical relationship integrates with the riding relationship, creating something richer.
It might be nice to have a newer machine that always works, but even if I could afford that, I don’t know that I’d sell off the Concours.  It’s nice to have a machine I’m this intimate with.
As I finished writing this Triumph emailed me with a link to the new Street Twin configurator.  That’d be a lovely machine to start another story with…

Triumph Tiger 955i Graphic Ideas

The old 955i Tiger is now a long ago thing in Triumph’s lineup, but mine is still going strong.  I dug up an old print I made of a tiger face and digitized it before playing with skins on the 955i logo…

I might monkey around with producing a custom sticker set for the bike.  The new Tigers all look like special forces bikes, but the old one had some whimsy to it and asked the obvious question, “why so serious?”  Some whimsical stickers for a whimsical machine that just keeps going.

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Saints & Sinners Long Distance Motorcycle Rally

Lobo Loco long distance rally. If you’re iron butty you could do the 3 day event.  I’m in for the one day on Sunday:

Lobo Loco Rallies are based out of South/Central Ontario, but if you’re anywhere in the mid-west or on the eastern side of North America it’s easy to get to.

It’s a great excuse to find weird things and pile up alotta miles on your bike, and it’s based in the middle of some beautiful Canadian shield riding:

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Niagara Escarpment

I’ve been chased off the road by lousy weather, so the dream trips begin again (it’s a form of therapy).

The Niagara Escarpment

Since moving to Southern Ontario when I was nine, I’ve had a fascination with the Niagara Escarpment.  There are a couple of parks (Rockwood & Rattlesnake Point) that featured prominently with my younger years; I learned to rock climb at Rattlesnake Point.

When I got my driver’s license and couldn’t handle the tedium of arrow straight Ontario roads any more I’d drive up to Belfountain (where I got married years later) and drive the Forks of the Credit.  When I got my motorcycle license, one of the first long trips I ever took was to a conference in Ancaster where I was introduced to Sulphur Springs Road, one of the first times I got that feeling of flying while riding.

Southern Ontario is surrounded by interesting geology, but the only
thing that breaks up the monotony around here is the Escarpment

Last year I took a ride out to Horning’s Mills, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever wanted to live and road River Road down through Mono Hills (somewhere else I’ve looked at houses).  All of these places happen to trace the spine of the escarpment.  

Geological scars have always fascinated me, I think the energy coming out of the ground in these places is palpable; the Escarpment is one of those places.

I usually design trips that go long or take me to exotic place, but this one is a close to home and very doable trip.  The Escarpment enters Ontario just below Niagara Falls at the Queenston Heights (where I attended my wife’s cousin’s wedding).  Starting there, I’d trace the Escarpment through Niagara wine country and past my wife’s alma mater (Brock University).  A logical first stop would be on the turn around Hamilton in Ancaster.  Day One would be only about 100kms, with lots of stops and turns up and down the Escarpment.  Passing through the rows of grapes, we may end up testing the carrying capacity of our rides.

Day 2 would mark the swing north, starting with Sulphur Springs road and winding through Rattlesnake Point and The Forks of the Credit before parking it up for the night at The Millcroft Inn in Alton.  This one’s about 120kms as the crow flies, but includes a lot of switchbacks again.  Pulling in early at the Millcroft spa is never a bad idea anyway.

After a restful night at The Millcroft we head north past my wife’s childhood home in Mono Hills and up to Horning’s Mills before tracing River Road and heading north to the bottom of Georgian Bay.  Blue Mountain looks like a nice place to stop.  This is another 120km day, but with a lot of room for exploration and switchbacks.

Day four has us tracing the shore of Georgian Bay for 150kms on increasingly quieter roads as we head away from the noise of the Golden Horseshoe.  We’d aim for Wiarton to stop for the night before tackling The Bruce Peninsula on the final day.

It’s tricky following the Escarpment up the Bruce Peninsula, road access is spotty at best.  If we try to hit every bit of coast we’re looking at over 200kms of riding.  Many roads don’t appear to join up on the map but might in real life, it’ll be an exploratory day of trying to find the wild edge of the Bruce.

The trip ends in lovely Tobermory.  If we left on a Monday we’d be in Tobermory by Friday night.  The goal wouldn’t be miles covered, but rather how much of the Escarpment could we ride.  Relatively known roads like Forks of the Credit might get company from some Escarpment roads that only locals know of (like River Road out of Horning’s Mills).

The Niagara Escarpment Run

Without any highways or long distance hauling, this begs for a light touch as far as gear

goes.  The bikes would be minimally laden.  In a perfect world I’d do this with my wife and two friends from Ottawa.  Considering the nature of the trip, I’d be tempted to try and do this zero emission.  The Zero DS with the power tank would easily cover the mileage requirements every day and be able to charge overnight at each stop.

It would even be able to handle the ride from Tobermory home at the end of the trip in one gulp.

The Bruce Trail runs along the Escarpment, which itself is a world biosphere reserve.  Being able to ride the escarpment without a whiff of CO2 not only honours the biosphere, but also points to a future of environmentally gentler motorbiking.

Pinterest A.I. Points Out Some Annoying Associations With Motorcycling

I’m a visual animal to begin with, and Pinterest feeds my first language directly without any words; I’m usually a fan.  As my collection of pins grow the feed starts to show things that the Pinterest A.I. thinks I’ll be interested in.  That impartial comparison revealed a number of interesting and not particularly flattering connections to motorcycles.

Apparently a large number of people who make motorcycle themed boards on Pinterest don’t think too much of women.  They either enjoy taking shots at their biological functions or treating them like sex toys.  This gets tiresome quickly when you post nothing like this on your boards.

How overt sexism possibly has anything to do with motorcycles is beyond me, other than the fact that a lot of people who profess to love motorbikes also evidently have strongly held beliefs about the inferiority of women and like to post disparaging images to support and publicize that belief.

The A.I. isn’t judging, it’s just matching up evident associations between what I would have described as diverse, unrelated interests.  But there is a calculable statistical connection between people who post pictures about motorcycles and people who like to advertise the fact that they are a sexist asshole.  If there wasn’t the maths wouldn’t have put that crap in my feed.  I find it all a bit embarrassing.

When you tell Pinterest you’re not a fan of these suggestions it begins to tune them out.  It’s taken the better part of a week of continual weeding to clean out my feed, which makes me sad.  The clingyness of this statistical connection suggests it’s a strong one, which leads to the question: are the majority of motorcycle riders sexist?  If they are then I guess Pinterest’s AI should keep doing what it’s doing, but I hope my actions are making that AI a bit better at connecting interests.

Not everyone who is into bikes is a mouth breathing jerk.

When the AI isn’t battering you with overt sexism, it’s hammering you with what appears to be insecure man syndrome. Apparently the women hating angry men are also very insecure and like to post images and words that I can best describe as mad-bragging.  I’ve never gotten the chest beating “I’m a tough guy” talk.  Anyone who spends a lot of time telling you how tough they are probably isn’t.

Evidently there is mathematical evidence that many people who like motorcycles also have a tendency to hate women and nurse giant insecurity complexes; or perhaps they are just the loudest ones.

What got me wondering about this was a sudden increase in the bimbo on a cruiser/angry man images in my feed.  What really pushed me over the top was an overt reference to Trumpist conservatism that verged on white supremacist.  I was so shocked by the pin that I removed it immediately.  I’d be embarrassed to be associated with an image like that.  Afterwards I was noticing a proliferation of other biker nonsense and started screen grabbing it as it happened.  I wish I’d kept the first one as it makes the later ones look tame by comparison.  It makes me wonder just how poisonous and nasty some people’s feeds could become.  You could make the argument that it’s what they want to see, but if were Pinterest I wouldn’t feel good about spreading that kind of negativity.

If you look at my Motorcycle Media page, you won’t find any bikinis or angry biker threats, yet Pinterest clearly sees a statistical connection between those subjects and what I’m into.  Any women in my pages are conspicuous in that they are riders, not adornments, and are clothed as such.

From that Motorcycle Media board.
WTF Pinterest? I’m starting to think
the AI is going full HAL.

From a technical perspective I wonder if Pinterest are looking just at keywords or whether they have something smarter going on with image recognition.  Considering it’s Pinterest I’d hope it’s the later, yet they seem intent on trying to hook me up to the angry-white-guy-biker vibe, which I’ve never shown any interest in.  Perhaps these are teething pains as Pinterest seems to be exploring AI quite aggressively.

I’ve bumped into North American biker culture before, and it usually hasn’t been all that much fun.  It seems particularly comfortable with a view of masculinity that seems pretty antiquated.  These archaic misogynists appear determined to cling to their 20th (19th?) Century ideas.  This doesn’t bother me that much because they’re on the wrong side of history, I just wish Pinterest wasn’t so intent on slapping me in the face with them.

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Trophy Wives, Velocoraptors and Riding North of the Wall

Every once in a while events conspire to drop you out of the world’s daily routine.  As everyone else is scurrying to work with worry lines on their faces I was disappearing into the countryside on two wheels, unfortunately the Weathernetwork had gotten the forecast wrong and my day of George was going to be more like Scott to the antarctic.
I knew it was going to be cold in the morning, but it was supposed to warm up to double digits later in the day.  Anything over 5°C and I can go all day, but under that core temperature eventually gets to me.  I got over to the Forks of the Credit before 9:30am and it was still only just above freezing.  Higher Ground on a weekday morning is a magical place full of millionaire retirees and trophy wives; I like to soak up the vibe.
“I’m sorry, we’re running out of change.  Everyone keeps paying with hundreds,” the girl at the counter apologized as an elven woman with a lovely Mandarin accent who had just gotten out of her Range Rover tried to pay for a coffee.
As I warmed my hands on a coffee (the heated gloves were warding off frostbite but not keeping them warm), a group of conservative retirees sitting on fat piles of cash (they all arrived in German SUVs or touring sedans) were lamenting the lack of gumption in their millennial children, all of whom were described as directionless and unwilling to make the kind of money their parents did.  “By the time I was that age I already had kids and owned my own house!” one outspoken gentleman declared, “and we worked hard for every penny!”  Of course, back then the pennies weren’t all being held by a generation that proceeded them.  The other favourite topic was ‘those damned liberals’.  Man, do those people ever hate Justin Trudeau.  If you ever have a chance to spend an hour on a weekday morning in Belfountain, you’ll enjoy the 1% watching, just try not to gag on their sense of entitlement.
Warmed up on excellent coffee and with sensation in my extremities again, I headed back out into a one degree warmer day.  At this point we’d already missed the forecast by a couple of degrees, and it wasn’t going to get better.  I rode up and down a completely empty Forks of the Credit, enjoying the curves without worrying about any four wheeled chicanes.  On my way back I pulled off on the side road to Brimstone.  The Credit River was spring runoff swollen and looked spectacular.  A kingfisher was working the river further up but never came close enough to catch on the camera.

I eventually wound my way up the single track road to where it ends. As I sat there with the engine off a dozen wild turkeys crossed the path a couple of hundred yards ahead of me up the closed trail; I dropped the kick stand and grabbed the camera.These things were enormous! They picked their way through the forest looking very prehistoric.  After ten minutes of turkey watching I walked back to the Tiger and packed up the camera.  Before I got on the road again I needed let that coffee go, so I stepped off the trail into the woods.  Have you ever had that feeling that you’re being watched?  

Standing there rather exposed, I felt that prickle and looked around to see the massive lead turkey not five feet away watching me intently – I almost jumped out of my skin.  He looked at me.  I looked at him.  I finished up and he just stood there watching me climb out of the ditch.  He then turned around majestically and walked back up the path were his crew where waiting for him before leading them away up the hill.  My advice is do not mess with that turkey.

After my close encounter of the turkey kind I headed north, following the escarpment’s winding roads. Spring runoff was a theme of this trip with all of the streams and rivers swollen with melted snow. Up in Hockley Valley I fought the urge to keep riding the roller coaster and stopped to grab some images of the exposed red clay.When I got back on the road it was behind a pile of traffic backed up behind a pensioner on their daily Tim Horton’s run. Rather than fight the demographics I took at right hand turn up Hurontario Street.  I was expecting apartment buildings and strip malls, but Hockley Valley don’t play like that.

Down where I grew up Hurontario is the main drag through a city of half a million people.  Up in Hockley it’s a single lane, twisty dirt road that winds its way up the escarpment.  The three older guys who were ahead of me on massive Harleys got to keep enjoying the parade, but I was able to turn onto that dirt trail on my Swiss Army knife-like multi-purpose bike and enjoy some more solitude.

I rounded a corner to find a Dufferin road works van on the side of the road. He waved me through as he was just removing the road closed sign from the winter. The road coming out of the river crossing is very steep and untended. Getting up it in the winter would be a challenge for anything on wheels. He told me I was the first one on the road this year, which felt a lot more special than the parade I’d left behind.I’d originally intended to bomb up Highway 10 for a stop and then ride back down through Mono Centre where I still wish we’d bought a house; this back route up Hurontario was better in every way.  The Tiger is such a capable road bike that I keep thinking about going with purely road biased tires next time around, but unexpected turnoffs like this are why you keep a multipurpose tire on the thing; the Metzelers handled the soft gravel and mud with ease, even on the unpassable hill.  Lightness is the goal off road, but these big adventure bikes are surprisingly capable if you’re conscious of their size and don’t try and ride them like a mountain bike.

Winding my way north through the Hockley Highlands put further lie to the weather forecast.  Rather than warming up to ten degrees it instead dropped back down to three degrees, and the wind was picking up.  Up and down the roller coaster that is Airport Road, I eventually found my way to Side Road 20 and the backdoor to River Road.

With blue, icicle fingers I unbuckled my helmet and cracked my frozen knees as I ungracefully dismounted in the Terra Nova Public House parking lot. The sky had gotten darker and what had been sporadic, light rain on my visor early now looked distinctly white and blowy. I staggered inside with my nose running and a wild look in my eye.  They quickly got me sorted out with soup and what may be the best roast beef sandwich I’ve ever had. The TNPH is one of those places that are common where I’m from but rare in Ontario – a pub with character that looks like it grew out of the ground and has always been there. As the heat worked its way back into me and my blood started pumping again, I could feel the zombification receding.

My vague plan was to work my way up the escarpment, perhaps all the way to the southern shore of Georgian Bay, but my photo/warm-up stops and the general misery of the weather made me aware of the fact that I’d reached the apex of my journey in Terra Nova. As I was looking over Google Maps the day before I’d worked out twenty one of the least boring kilometres you could ride in Southern Ontario, so the new plan after lunch was to do the loop both ways and then head back home.
Using TNPH as the start/end point, the idea was to hit the windiest parts of River Road and then come back around on the most interesting roads available.  It takes about fifteen leisurely minutes to make the loop, but when you’re not in a corner you’re enjoying elevation changes and some beautiful scenery.
Reinvigorated from my roast beef sandwich I did the loop backwards to scope it out and then forwards before following River Road one last time back out of the valley and onto a long and windy ride home.

You seldom spend much time on the crown of your tire.  Riding a motorcycle feels like flying most of the time, but bending one into a corner has a multiplying effect on that goodness.  When you aren’t leaning into corners you’re enjoying some whoopdeedoo elevation changes and the scenery is about as good as it gets, even on a winter-like early spring day.  You’d do a lot worse than making the ride up to Terra Nova for this bit of pavement.

After a couple of loops all the warmth from lunch was long blown away and I was dreading coming back out of the sheltered valley I’d been enjoying.  A last ride down River Road to Horning’s Mills (another place I wish we’d bought a house) had me ignoring the swollen streams because I didn’t want to stop the roller coaster ride.  What did finally bring me to a stop was the overflowing waterfall out of the pond in Horning’s Mills.

After this last stop I made my way through the quiet village and up onto the Shelburne Highlands where fields of wind turbines do their business.  Up on the heights forty kilometre an hour gusts were knocking me around in addition to the plunging temperature.  The partially sunny high of ten had turned into a cloudy and windy high of three.  The windmills were spinning fiercely as I passed through them, and that’s when the flurries started.  A few flakes of snow suddenly turned into reduced viability as snow snakes eddied across the pavement.  I clung to the heated grips but the blasting northern winds hitting me in the side meant double the wind chill.  I couldn’t go much further like this.

I ducked behind the windshield when I could, grimly soldering on as the sky darkened and the wind gusts increased to over sixty kilometres per hour.  I usually make the sixty-six kilometre push back home from Horning’s Mills to Elora in about an hour, but not this time.  Riding into Grand Valley I knew there was a coffee shop on the main street and for the second time that day I staggered into a warm shop with a running nose and a wild look in my eye, this time with snow on me.

Half an hour later, and while snow swirled around the trusty Tiger outside, I’d restored feeling to my fingers and caffeinated myself for the final leg of what had turned into a much shorter and more difficult ride than I’d planned.  As I walked outside an old guy coming in looked me up and down and said, “nice day to be out on a bike…”
“All I can say is that The Weather Network lied to me!” I replied.  He laughed.

South of Grand Valley I was following the Grand River and being off the Shelburne Highlands meant a break from the chronic winds and snow.  Heading south also meant the wind was at my back instead of trying to dismount me.  I finally got my frozen carcas home and stood in front of the fire forever, trying to get heat back in me.

After feeling returned I discovered my wedding ring had fallen off my senseless fingers at some point when I pulled my gloves off.  We’re nineteen years married this summer and I’ve never lost the ring before.  I couldn’t find it in the obvious places so emailed my various stops hoping it had showed up.  It took a second search the next morning when my brain had warmed up to find the ring in the bottom of my bag where it had obviously fallen out of my gloves at some point; good save there.

As painful as it was, I still feel like this trip cleared away the cobwebs and let me look upon the world in a way that any car trip wouldn’t.  I didn’t just go for a drive, I did something genuine and difficult and have a tale of trophy wives, dinosaurs and snow snakes to tell from it.

If it was easy everyone would do it.

Some other pictures from the trip:

Over the Credit River watching kingfishers


Hockley Valley Road.
At The Terra Nova Public House ready for another lap.
Great on the road, but that’s the only place you’ll ever use one.


Winter runoff in Hockley River.


Horning’s Mills Run Off.


If you like the twisties, the loop out of Terra Nova is a keeper.




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