Five Years of Riding: the beginning

Five years ago I began the never ending apprenticeship of motorcyclist.  The summer before I had a chance to ride a dirt bike at a friend’s farm and got bitten.  My mother had always been adamant about me not riding, so I didn’t, but she had died the year before and I was suddenly able to do something I’d always wanted to try.  That same summer I also became qualified as a technology teacher and was interested in dusting off my hands-on repair skills.  Motorcycling offered a perfectly timed riding and technical renaissance one-two punch.

When I was eighteen and looking for my first car I realized I couldn’t afford it and started looking at motorcycles.  My parents ponied up the difference to keep me out of the saddle.  Living in Canada meant bikes aren’t a year round transportation solution anyway.  I ended up getting so deep into cars that I never found my way back to bikes, but the urge had always been there.  When I had my highest amount of disposable income in my early twenties while working full time before university, I was thinking about a bike again when a co-worker ran a red light on his bike and killed himself in front of all of us as we were coming in for our shift.  That put the brakes on getting a bike yet again.

Twenty years later…

Things moved quickly as the snow melted in 2013.  I walked in to the Drivetest Centre and got my learner’s permit after a long winter spent buying magazines, watching TV shows and reading books on motorcycles; I was rearing to go.  A couple of weeks later I was taking the introductory motorcycle course at Conestoga College.  There was nothing better than high speed passes through the cones, leaning the little learner bike to and fro.  A few days after that I’d found a poorly used Kawasaki Ninja in town and had it in the garage less than a week later.  Meanwhile it was still snowing outside (oh, Canada).

Soon enough the weather turned and I was out on the road.  It was only a 650cc twin cylinder Kawasaki, but it went 0-60 faster than anything I’d ever owned and looked like a rocket ship.  The time I was sat at an intersection and a Ferrari pulled up next to me and started revving its engine was the first time I explored the Ninja over 6000rpm, and I was gobsmacked.  With the Ferrari car lengths behind me I dropped the bike into top gear and gave my head a shake.  Leaning into corners is still my favourite aspect of motorcycle dynamics, but the acceleration of even a mid-sized motorbike is a thing to glory in, and they brake like mad things too.  In addition to being out in the world on a bike, you’re on an athletic machine that can embarrass anything else you’re likely to meet.  It was my mission to come to grips with this wonderful machine.

By May I had my M2 and could carry passengers and go on big highways, so I immediately spent all of July commuting solely on the bike to a summer course seventy kilometres each way including a blast down the biggest highway in Canada.  The first time I pulled out on the highway I eased up to 90km/hr and followed the slow lane.  That lasted for about ten seconds and then I was gone.  The next morning I indicated onto the highway, shoulder checked and was at a buck twenty in the fast lane a second later; what a rush.

What typified my first year of biking was my commitment to using the thing.  Rather than take the car if it was raining, I put on rain gear.  Rather than take the car when I had to go shopping, I found a way to carry what I was getting home on the bike.  That commitment was what got me racking up over five thousand kilometres on the Ninja, which isn’t easy in Canada with its short riding season.

The mechanical side of things had me taking care of basic maintenance, but the Ninja was my first choice of bike because it was a mid-capacity machine that was relatively new and in ready to ride shape – the idea was to learn how to ride.  I’d leave the deep mechanical work for future years.  Most of the repair energy on the Ninja was spent on un-blacking it and making it colourful again.  When I eventually sold it I got pretty much what I’d paid for it even though I’d added over ten thousand kilometres to it, so the painting paid off.

Future years would have me diversifying my bikes and rescuing a basket case that would challenge my technical skills and have me knee deep in mechanics, but the early years were all about riding as much as possible.

from Blogger

I’ve Become Reasonable In My Old Age

Someone had a similar shirt at the Indy MotoGP, and it got a
lot of smiles from the uncaged crowd-Zazzle let me recreate it

There was a time when I was loopy about cars, they were all I could think about.  That passion slowly faded as cars became an appliance to get me to work.  The freedom they once represented became an expectation.  You’re less inclined to fettle a car that you are depending on.

When I began riding a few years ago I rediscovered that passion.  Where driving a car is an expectation of adult life, riding is the exception, you’ve got to really want to do it.  It’s a more physically and mentally challenging mode of transport that demands more of you while also risking more of you.

The reward is being ‘in the wind’.  You are out in the world on an elemental machine that offers you a sense of immediacy that no car can match.  On top of the magic is a rational foundation of performance and cost.  My bike can out accelerate a Corvette while getting better mileage than a Prius, and it does it all while offering thrills unmatched on four wheels for a fraction of the cost.  You can also comfortably fit three bikes in a one car garage.  If you’re into vehicles as a passion, bikes take the cake in terms of economy and performance.

You might say, ‘hang on, what about super cars?”  You’re not going to find them particularly economical, but surely they are better performing.  Cycle World magazine recently did an article on just that.  The ‘Vette got buried by everything there.  The Kawasaki H2 was the fastest machine to 60 and 100.  The only place it lost out was top speed to the Mclaren P1, which topped out fifteen miles per hour faster thanks to some fancy aerodynamic bodywork.

This might be the moment that cars take back the performance crown, but it’ll cost ya.  The McLaren P1 goes for $1,150,000US (just over $1.5 million Canadian), and they’re sold out.  The H2 will cost you $27,500 Canadian, and with some aerodynamic tweaking borrowed from the H2R (I think I’d make my own carbon bodywork), an Akrapovič exhaust that’ll increase power, sound fantastic and shave off almost six kilos (€1,415, or about $2125 Canadian dollars), it’d be a beast.  Add in some power commander kit to electronically improve engine output and you’ll have an H2 that will be fastest, period.

With less than $4000CAN in aftermarket kit, you would
have a weaponized H2 that would work over the two
million dollar McLaren six ways from Sunday.

The tweaked H2 would set you back about $31,500.  With some carbon bodywork to aid high speed passage through the air, you’d still be under forty grand.

I once dreamed of super cars.  Now I’d happily go for the H2 with some steps toward an H2R, have something rare, beautiful and fastest, and save myself 97.5% of the cost of the McLaren.  My mid-life motorcycle fixation is eminently reasonable compared to the irrational fetish of the super car, now solely reserved for the one percenter.  

Motorcycles are democratic… speed for everyone!




… I know it’s the super H2R (fifty grand), but my god…

Reading The Trails

We loaded up our wee mini-van and spent 48 hours out in the woods near Bobcaygeon.  Into the back I packed some helmets and the tiny Yamaha.

The cottage we were at is an ideal base for off-roading.  It’s at the end of a long gravel fire road deep in the woods, and it’s surrounded by off road snowmobile trails.  You couldn’t ask for a better place to practice the art of riding off road on two wheels.

I really need to get my mits on an off road bike so I can go on those trails with my boy on his bike.

While I was lamenting my lack of a dual sport I went out on one of the ATVs and rode some trails with an eye for how a bike might make its way through three foot deep puddles and up rocky washed out trails.  The ATV is like a tank, bashing its way through with brute force and massive wheels.  You’ve got no chance of falling off and you pretty much knock your way through on a hugely over-square, balanced machine.  A bike would be like a scalpel after using a butcher’s cleaver.

The inherent lack of balance on a bike means pounding through those massive puddles would be a tricky proposition.  I can’t wait to try it.  Since I started riding I’ve realized how many different ways there are to learn motorcycle dynamics, and off-roading will push those boundaries far more cheaply than track racing might.

I’m hoping to nail down an off road focused dual sport and some kit in the next couple of weeks and then I intend to spend a lot of time up on the trails around the cottage, falling off a lot and learning things I’d never get to learn on the road.

A lovely little Yamaha came up in Orangeville for sale.  I’m hoping it’s still available.  It’s a light weight, air cooled XT350, the grandchild of the venerable XT500.  It’d also look good with with my son’s PW80.  Just two guys out on their Yamahas.

Here’s hoping it’s still waiting for me.

Assessment NOT for learning

Exams are in the bag and I’m wondering what the point was.  Knowledgeable, capable students did well, incompetent students didn’t, but neither have the opportunity to learn from their exams.  It begs the question: what is the point of an exam?

By high school most students think that education is something being done to them.  The write-an-exam-get-a-mark approach only confirms this in their minds.  If assessment isn’t for learning, what is it for?  Beaurocracy?  To maintain the teacher as the final arbiter in the classroom?  Neither paperwork, nor maintaining hierarchical classroom structures hold much interest for me.
We’re currently being told that if we don’t make formal exams for all classes we’ll lose formal exam days.  Good riddance I say!  The end of a semester should include a debrief and a chance to review your summatives and assess the state of your own knowledge in terms of course expectations.  This would provide a valuable pedagogical bridge between courses and empower students to take responsibility for their own learning.
From a teaching perspective, the debrief would mean that all the heavy, end of course summative assessment actually serves a purpose.  It isn’t supposed to be punitive, and your grade in a class shouldn’t be a mystery to you.  Assessment should be transparent and functional.  Most importantly assessment should provide you with an opportunity to improve your learning; formal exams are none of those things, they are the black hole that learning falls into at the end of a course.
At the end of this course I’m going to get you to write a high stakes, stressful exam that is the same for all of you regardless  of your learning styles.  It’s going to assume you all have the same writing abilities.  I’m then going to surprise you with the results!
I would love to ask the student who left half his exam blank, why did you do that?  I’d like to understand where in his thought process he thought doing nothing was the way forward.  I’d love to question the student who ignored obvious clues in a text and completely misunderstood its intent.  I’m curious to see if, with a nudge, they are capable of seeing what was in front of them the whole time.  I’d like to congratulate and confirm for the student who wrote a fantastic final that, yes, you really know this stuff.

There is a time and place in learning to ask the hard question: do you know what you’re doing?  The end of course summative could be this reflexive learning opportunity, but not when it’s cloaked in formal exam tradition.
Instead of considering transparent, reflexive course summatives that provide assessment as learning, we’re clinging to formal exam models from the early 1900s designed to produce secretive, teacher dominated results that serve no learning purpose.  If the organizational structure of a school schedule isn’t serving learning, what is it serving?

Temporal Prejudices

Recently a friend on Facebook shared this Washington Post article about Winston Churchill. I tend to shy away from hero worship, it isn’t really in me to do, but I am motivated to try and address one of our last blind spots when it comes to prejudice.

I’ve seen people time and again criticize those who lived before them as being immoral and somehow answerable to the laughable ethics of our own time. That article on Churchill, a man who lived at the end of the British Empire and spent much of his career trying to hold the tattered pieces of it together, often using the same kind of bombastic rhetoric you still see today, is no doubt accurate, but the re-defining of statements made over a century ago based on modern values is neither fair nor particularly useful, unless you’re a politician trying to win a point.

There is a real danger in interpreting historical people from a modern perspective. We are all creatures of our time – it dictates our thinking more than our culture, language or economic status does. To criticize someone for a lack of understanding at a time when it didn’t exist is itself a kind of prejudice. A fairer way to judge them would be to consider if they helped move us toward the clarity of thought we think we enjoy today.

This first became obvious to me when a history professor told us the story of his father coming back to university as a retiree. The man was well into his eighties and he thought it would be fun to take early Twentieth Century history since he’d lived through it. He quickly became so despondent with the course that he dropped it. The young students in the class ripped into what they called the rampant racism of the time. He tried to explain to them that racism wasn’t rampant, it was how society functioned back then, but they didn’t want to hear it. It’s hard to understand his point unless you’re aware of just how blinkered you are in your own time. Most people are happily ignorant of these prejudices.

Everyone, as they get older, must experience this strange kind of temporal emigration. We all move away from the values we grew up in. I suspect it’s one of the things that wears out seniors the most, society moves on without you. Newer people change the rules and things change (hopefully for the better, but there is certainly no guarantee of that). I imagine most aging people feel like the world has become a foreign place to them.

Based on the myths Western society is founded on, you’d assume that this is a case of continual improvement with us becoming the shining zenith of civilization, but human history suggests otherwise. We have moments of rationality that become eclipsed by our own darker nature. When that happens you’d better hope there is a Winston Churchill to fend off the Nazis of the world. There are racist imperialists and there are racist imperialists – had the other guy won, the definition of racist imperialist would have ascended to new heights. Starving people in India to feed soldiers during a war is a very different thing to active genocide, which is what you’d have had with Axis occupied India.

There are a number of points made in that article that, while true, ignore the circumstances they were made in. Dresden fire bombings are described as an unmitigated act of terror. In retrospect the Allies won World War 2, but this was by no means a certain outcome. In an all-out war with both sides intent on the complete subjugation of the other, the Allied firebombings not only severely affected the German war machine’s means of production, but it also struck fear into an enemy drunk on its own sense of superiority. You don’t win wars by pulling punches. Was Churchill an imperialist? No doubt, and he shared the racist views of his culture and time period, but to rewrite history to suit your own values without recognizing that cultural influence is itself a kind of prejudice.

We go to great lengths to acknowledge history these days, and I think that’s an admirable thing, but we are still blind to so many circumstances. The recent Oscar ceremony was doing back-flips to acknowledge the rampant racism and sexism implicit in the business, but then proceeded to give a standing ovation to an American soldier who proudly stated that he went to a country half way around the world (Vietnam) to kill the people there for not capitulating with his government. Imperialism is alive and well and we dress up celebrities in fancy dress to give it standing ovations and world wide TV coverage. I wonder what the people of Vietnam thought of that magical Oscar moment. Perhaps all we’ve done in our post-colonial world is hide it behind rhetoric and politics better than we did in the past.

There is something to be said for the clarity of purpose and honesty with which people used to go about the business of empire. At least back then you knew what people stood for. In Canada this looked like outright oppression, religious indoctrination in residential schools and overt colonization. Today all that is hidden behind a quiet racism and just enough prosaic government support to make the people it’s supposed to be helping helpless. In 150 years it might be said that all we’ve gotten better at is the management of colonialism. While all that’s going on we’re removing John A. MacDonald from that embarrassing historical record. At this rate we’ll have history scrubbed clean with our revisionism in no time. Don’t worry though – the racism and cultural inequalities will stay safe and warm under that revisionist blanket.

We often sit up here in the 21st Century criticizing the shortsightedness of the people before us. I wonder what our descendants, looking at us sitting on our high horses while appearing blissfully ignorant about our hypocrisy, will say about us.

We’re burning a hole in the world with fossil fuels, industrial farming the earth into a desert to feed a never ending population explosion, wearing clothes made by third world workers in economic slavery (itself based on the remnants of colonialism), creating the worst economic disparity in human history and proudly supporting martial force when it suits us, which usually means when we need what they have. The only difference between imperialism a century ago and imperialism now is the marketing we put on it. We used to be honest about our imperialist intentions, now we tell everyone we’re exporting freedom.

We’re all blind to the things our time period is unwilling or unable to address. This is as true for Churchill as it is for Mr Tharoor. A good dose of humility is what we need here, not more rhetoric by a politician. A bit more awareness of circumstance and compassion for historical circumstance might also translate into a less judgmental view of our own elderly. Trying to understand someone from a different culture is something we say we value. Recognizing that people from other time periods are essentially from a different culture as well might make us a bit more aware of our own hypocrisy.

Originally published on Dusty World:

Biological Education & Hot Groups

I’ve been to two Minds On Media events, at ECOO in October and the OELC Conference this past February. Both times I’ve been surprised by the response from teachers regardless of their technical prowess. Tech skills weren’t the arbitrating force, curiosity was. The people who were involved in it found themselves working in their ZPD, and felt supercharged by the experience. So much of schooling involves crowd control rather than trying to get students into that zone of proximal development. So much teaching revolves around control, rather than encouraging self directed learning.
When I first attended MoM, the event reminded me of a gardener creating fertile ground, but having the sense not to micromanage the growing/learning. I suspect there is a truth in this that applies to all education. Whether you want to call it student centred or skills based or what have you, education isn’t a mechanical/mathematical process, it’s a biological one. Events like Minds On Media recognize this by empowering the learners (and the instructors) and giving them the freedom to move within a rich learning environment to where they think they need to be.
Most of the PD I experience exists in a mechanical process that alienates teachers and makes them resentful. This approach is used because administration is more concerned with a disciplined environment (that crowd control mentioned above) that ensures full participation even if it is entirely passive, than it is with presenting memorable content. When the learning takes a back seat to crowd control, you know the results aren’t going to be pretty. In fact, they’re going to look at lot like…

The other thing that’s been bouncing around in my head is the idea of hot groups. I know many educators shy away from business approaches, calling them corporate and such, but this one is anything but corporate. Hot Groups recognize a fundamental truth about how people work together. In a hot group members will do work well beyond what is expected or required, simply for the joy of having it received as valuable within the group. In my own case, I recently did a hot group thing for our little cloud working group, I made a group logo and people dug it. It’s an insider thing, only a few will appreciate it, but it builds team and even surprised me with a level of commitment (the fact that everyone wanted a t-shirt was what gave me the biggest buzz about it).
I’ve seen this happen time and again with students. As I type this I have my grade 12s putting together a network of computers using many different OSes. Some of them haven’t done it before, others have, but are unfamiliar with the OSes I’ve provided them with (Red Hat Linux Server, Ubuntu Server, Windows Home Server, Ubuntu Desktop, Win7, XP and Vista). Listening to them talk, they are telling anecdotal stories of failed OS installs, upgrades that led to game failures due to compatibility issues and all sorts of other OS related experiences, all while working through multiple installs. This may look disorganized and inefficient, I’d argue that it’s the opposite. Those students are creating context that I would not have imagined trying in a top down lesson on OS installs, and they’re doing it while creating a sense of group coherence (made even more amazing when you realize that three of the ten of them in there are usually sequestered away in the autism learning class). Those guys came out of there, having installed half a dozen OSes during the period, and they’d also made this (a classic example of a hot group surprise – they were very keen to give me a copy when the class ended).
If you think that has nothing to do with what they were supposed to be doing, you’re determined to force human relationships, and the learning the goes on within them into a linear, mechanical process. Those guys did many things that period that I hadn’t intended, as well as most of the things I had. On aggregate, I’d suggest that they weren’t limited by their teacher’s knowledge of them, their own risk aversion to failure (installing unknown OSes), or a need to overly control the learning. The result is a non-judgmental, rich learning environment that encouraged creativity and constructive peer support. The team building that happened in there today will be something I can continue to develop for the rest of the semester.
If I can create that environment, I do. If a hot group grows out of it, I’m over the moon. You’ll seldom experience a better teacher rush than the one you do when a hot group wows you with what you weren’t expecting.

Motorcycle Media: short films, documentaries & time travel on a Friday night

Friday night had me home alone in the first time in forever.  After a rough week at work I was wiped and on the verge of a cold, so it was a low impact night.  I went looking for some escapist media and stumbled upon EXIF’s Top 6 Best Motorcycle Films.  I’d seen Shinya Kimura in The Greasy Hands Preachers, but I’d never seen the film that set him out as a motorcycle media icon, it’s just shy of three minutes of perfection:

Shinya Kimura: Chabott Engineering

Another one I hadn’t seen before that does a great job of capturing a northern motorcyclist’s winter dilemma is Waiting out the Winter.  It’s a short video, but it sets the mood of tinkering while we wait for the snow to recede in the frozen north wonderfully:

Waiting Out The Winter

WAITING OUT WINTER from Andrew David Watson on Vimeo.

Those short films made a great appetizer, but I was looking for something a bit more long form.  If you’re ever looking to pass a lazy hour or two in another time and place, Cycles South will take you to the early 1970s.  Like the ’70s themselves, Cycles South looses the plot half way through, but discovers itself again before the end.  If you’re delicate and can’t handle the very non-politically correct sensibilities of the early 1970s, don’t watch this, but if you can let it all go and are willing to exist in another time, Cycles South makes for a psychedelic road trip (man).  The whole thing is on Youtube in 15 minute segments, they connected together automatically with a few seconds of delay between, mercifully commercial free.

Google/Youtube lost its mind after I watched the series in order and started shooting motorcycle themed video at me from all directions.  Next up was Fifty Years of Kicks, a twenty minute documentary about two off road motorcyclists well into their seventies.  I wasn’t initially hooked, but the quality of filming and the narrative they were building had me after a few minutes.  There is something about watching old guys fight the clock that is heroic.  It makes me want to celebrate any small victories they have before the inevitable happens.

Looking for something on the history of motorcycles I came across The History Channel’s documentary on Youtube.  It’s a bit wiz-bang flashy and over edited, but you get some Jay Leno, and the jet powered Y2K.  When they went from that to some Dodge Viper powered thing I began to think this was less about motorcycles and more about bored rich people.  I didn’t get to the end of this one.

Have you ever wished you had an old, British uncle with an encyclopedic knowledge of motorbikes who would natter on about them indefinitely?  I was afraid Classic British Motorbikes: 100 Years of Motorcycling was going to be an advertisement for a dealership in England, but the big green Triumph Tiger in the opening moments kept me playing it.  This video takes place sometime in the early two thousands (hence my model of Tiger sitting in front of the dealership).  The idea was to invite in classic bikes and celebrate 100 years of motorbiking in Britain.  The camera work is amateur, as is the interviewing, but you’ll still pick up a lot of history from the owners and the knowledgeable interviewer.

I watched until he interviewed the owner of the dealership who seemed entirely disinterested in the whole thing and was apparently running the family business because of his dad’s love of bikes.  He made a stark contrast to the enthusiasm of every previous interview.  If you’re interested in British bikes and especially their history, you’ll enjoy this one (with a bit of fast forwarding).

It’s amazing what motorcycle media you can dig up on the internet with a bit of luck.

Sand in the Sahara

The other day I was trying to work out how experiential and academic learning interact.  In the process I also found myself assuming things about fundamental learning skills that don’t necessarily exist in many modern classrooms:

Foundational skills are changing now that information is no longer scarce

It used to be that literacy and numeracy were the student skills we felt they needed to succeed.  Information fluency was less important because the gatekeepers of knowledge (teachers) and the limited nature of published paper meant you didn’t have access to what you needed to know so you needed an expert to direct you.  In a world with limited information having a guide direct you to a scarce resource is invaluable.

When I was in high school information was hard to come by.  You needed access to a limited number of books and if you had a question a teacher would provide you access to that information.  Because of scarcity, verbal transmission of information (teacher’s mouth to student’s ear) made sense.  Many teachers still cling to that model because it’s the only one they’ve ever known and they identify their profession through that process.  In 2014 they they are trying to sell sand in what has become the Sahara.

Information is abundant and accessible with only a basic understanding of the technology that provides it.  A modern student who looks to a teacher to give them facts has been conditioned by teachers to be helpless.  Teachers who jealously guard and distribute knowledge in predigital ways are the ones crying about how technology lets students plagiarize or collaborate with each other, or share information – it’s really all the same thing.  Students who are able to find, critically assess and organize information are the ones modelling 21st Century skills.  The ones who have been taught to be passive receivers in a sea of information are a failure in an education system set on maintaining traditional habits.

Considering how information fluency has changed from a passive to an active pursuit (in much the same way that passive TV watching has evolved into active video game participation), it would behoove the education system to recognize the need to integrate information fluency into early education in order to produce self-directed, empowered learners who are able to leverage the ocean of information that surrounds them.  Ignoring this new fundamental skill is producing whole generations of digital serfs.

There is no doubt that literacy, numeracy and the basic socialization of early school is still the foundation, but upon that foundation we should be building information fluency in order to produce people who are not overwhelmed or habituated into a dangerously simplistic relationship with information technology.  By the time a student reaches secondary school they should be sufficiently skilled in literacy, numeracy and information fluency to be able to self direct many aspects of their learning.  In that environment a classroom teacher would very much be a facilitator rather than a traditional teacher, but it’s never going to happen if we don’t take information fluency as seriously as we do literacy and numeracy.

Building foundational learning skills should result in empowered, self-directed learners who can
survive and thrive in an information rich world.

Motorcycles Trump Racism

Canada is far from free of racism, but it plays at a much lower volume here.  Canada’s mosaic approach to multiculturalism and more open immigration policy probably have a lot to do with this.  The United States’ melting pot must feel especially hot if you’re not what the ideal American is supposed to look like.

One of the things that always strikes me when I cross the border south is the unspoken friction between black and white Americans.  Being a big, white, bald Canadian means I’m often assumed to be an off-duty cop, which doesn’t help things.  There is so much history wrapped up in this that it feels heavy, even to an outsider.  When trying to strike up a conversation with a black person in the States you are usually met with polite reticence, like they’d just rather not speak to you.  It’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I get that reticence.  On a previous trip, out of nowhere, at a gas stop a white guy told us that his parents told him never to put money in his mouth because black people had touched it.  I guess we were supposed to laugh and feel a sense of camaraderie with this man, instead my wife and I looked at each other with WTF looks on our faces.

On my first solo trip to the States in the late ’80s my buddies and I walked into a Burger King in Milwaukee and were met with forty black faces looking at us with, ‘what the hell are you boys doing here?’ expressions.  It was one of the only times I’ve been stopped in my tracks by that kind of stare (we hesitated and then went in, had lunch and all was good).

MotoGP has riders from all over the world, from Japan to
South America and everywhere between.  It’s a multi-cultural
global event that doesn’t cater to racism.

On our recent trip to Indianapolis a young black woman at the counter dealt energetically with the four black people ahead of my son and I, but when we finally got to the counter she gave us a sideways glance and sauntered off in a kind of dance, eventually disappearing into the back, singing to herself.  We both stood there wondering what we were supposed to do (it’s hard to pay for gas in the States when you don’t have a ZIP code).  A few moments later another girl came out and served us.  It’s not easy explaining that sort of thing to your ten year old.

Motorcycles on Meridian has riders of all kinds digging bikes.

That friction began to break down when we were at the Speedway.  Suddenly everyone there was a motorcyclist first, even before what colour of American they were.  I found it easy to strike up conversations with people regardless of colour.  That positive energy followed us to Motorcycles on Meridian, where I once again found the motorcycle community outgunning any sense of racism.

The next morning at Cycle Gear we got into conversations with several groups of black riders coming into town for the Indy weekend.  Once again the walls were down and we could just talk bikes.  Again in Ohio, Max and I were taking a break in Wendy’s when a group of tough looking black bikers on Harleys came in, on their way from Detroit to Indy. The reticence was there at first (we were far from Indy at that point) but they soon warmed up to me.  We exchanged advice on road works and left wishing each other a safe ride.  Other people watched the exchange with interest.

Up in Detroit the lovely, young black woman who got our Little Caesars order sorted out had all sorts of questions about the bike and riding.  Motorcycling works even if you’re not talking to another motorcyclist.  There is something about the vulnerability of riding that encourages people to talk to you.  They find it admirable.

The kinship you feel while riding is a very real thing, but motorcycling reaches out into the general public too.  If motorcycling can overcome that tiring American black/white friction, it might just be able to do anything.

Welcome to my insanity!

I’m back in the classroom again and teaching English for the first time in more than a year.  I took a senior essentials English class mainly because few people want to teach it (teachers like to teach people like themselves), and it fit my schedule.  Essentials English is just as it sounds.  These are weak English students who are getting what they need to graduate and get out into the workplace, they aren’t post-secondary bound and tend to find school pointless.

The trick with students this bullied and indifferent to the school system is getting them to read and write at all.  Rather than drag them into a text book or make them watch the department copy of Dead Poets Society in order to prompt some writing, I thought I’d introduce them to my insanity.  In a week where we’re all getting to know each other it helps if students see what you’re into.  Showing your hobbies and interests is a good way to have them get to know you.  If they get excited about the idea of planning a trip and it prompts them to write, it’s a many birds with one stone situation.

With some support, students quickly
got into planning a trip.  28 days,
unlimited budget!

The plan was pretty straightforward: you’ve got four weeks (28 days) starting next Monday.  Assume you’ve got an unlimited budget for a road trip (gotta travel on the ground).  Where would you go?  What would you do?  On the second day I gave them some pointers on Google Maps and some planning tools like a calendar and how to make notes online and they were off.  At the moment it looks like I’ve got pages of writing from students who generally don’t.  The research they’ve been doing also lets me diagnose their reading level.

Needless to say, I bravely volunteered to present first.  It doesn’t feel like homework when you enjoy doing it, and mine was obviously going to be a motorcycle trip.  I probably could have gone more bonkers on bike choice, but I have a sentimental attachment and some practical necessities that prompted my choice.  Rather than go for the South American adventure, I decided to focus on The States, which has tons to offer, especially if you aren’t sweating the budget.

Norman Reedus’ RIDE gave me an idea of where I’d like to go, the question was, could I get to the locations in the show and back home in 28 days?

Here’s what I’m presenting:

I presented this to the class two days before it was due.  Seeing an example helps and gave me a chance to explain my own process in putting together the trip (deciding on a vehicle, breaking the trip into sections, etc).

That photo I doctored of a VFR800 a
couple of years ago came in handy!

Another side benefit of something like this rather than a boiler plate reading and writing diagnostic is that is gives students a lot of control over the direction of their writing, which means I get to learn what they’re into, which helps me remember who each person is as well as offering me relevant subjects I can insert into future projects.

I’m hoping they surprise themselves with the results.  If I catch some of them in the future staring wistfully at Google Maps instead of playing pointless FLASH games I’ll know that they’ve been bitten by the travel bug too!

It’s a lot to try and pull off in 28 days, but when the budget is unlimited, I want more miles!
Into the Rockies ASAP, then down the coast, across the mountains again, and then up the Appalachians home.

Yellowstone!  Riding over a mega-volcano.

Death Valley and across the South West to the Twisted Sisters on the way to the Big Easy.
Back north in the Smokey Mountains and Appalachians.
I was thinking maybe an H2R or RC213 in a trailer, but then that meant driving a truck and trailer all over the place.
Better to be on two wheels all the time, and on the descendant of my first bike crush.