A big ask

After wandering around the NAIMs the one motorcycle wish I had was RACER5.  I had a nice chat with the people running the stand and after seeing that, a weekend in the summer getting my race license would be the most awesome May/June or early July weekend birthday present I could think of.

They run the three day course at Grand Bend Motorplex on little Hondas.  You get lots of track time and classroom support.  By the end of the course you get your racing license.  Watching how they set up the bikes would also be handy as I’d eventually like to build my own track bike.

They also offer kit rentals, so I could get a good idea of what size I’d need as well as how racing gear fits.

The race focus would allow me to explore riding dynamics at an advanced level on a closed track.  I’d be able to bring that knowledge back to my riding on the road.  As a form of insurance, it might well save me a lot of grief.

It’s a big ask, but it would make one hell of a birthday present.  I wonder if any other bikers I know would be interested.

California Snapshots

I went to California for the first time over the mid-winter break.  I was out there on a family trip so I didn’t have many opportunities to ride, but while there I made a point of trying to understand California biking culture.  When you can ride year round biking becomes much less of a niche means of transport.

Here are some snap shots and thoughts from the trip:

LANE SPLITTING or FILTERING

This is something that is a real no-no up here in the safety North.  Talking to a cabbie about it, he said you need to be really careful about changing lanes.  If you hit a filtering biker while changing lanes in a cage you’re likely to take the blame.

Riders in California expect cars to not crowd the gaps between lanes and will make them aware of it if they do.  I saw a guy on a sports bike revving the snot out of it to move an SUV out of his way while he was filtering.

At first lane splitting looked like a dangerous thing to do, but if it makes cage drivers more aware of bikers and offers a real advantage to getting through the attrocious L.A. traffic for riders, then I’m coming around.




LOS ANGELES IS BROKEN

From the moment we landed at the most disorganized airport I’ve ever been to (LAX) and the subsequent traffic chaos all around L.A., I’ve come to the conclusion that the place is broken.

Rides at Disney world appear to mimic the hell that is driving
in LA with remarkable accuracy – do people do this for fun?


The roads in the rest of California were lovely, but around L.A. they make Ontario’s frost heaved slabs look smooth.  With virtually no public transit infrastructure and a fanatical car culture, L.A. is the kind of place you can expect to spend half of your life sitting in traffic.

On a coach trip out to Universal Studios I was able to look down into the cars sitting in traffic.  At any one time more than 90% of the drivers had a smartphone out on their laps.  We saw many accidents in the L.A. area – every single one was an unexplained rear-end collision.  I can explain those ‘accidents’.

L.A.’s car culture has become L.A.’s distracted driving culture.  I’d rather drive in Tokyo or London than L.A. any day of the week.  They say Toronto’s commute is now worse than L.A.’s, but Toronto (GTA ~6 million) is a tiny burg compared to Los Angeles (>18 million).  The dozens of highways that bisect L.A. aren’t up to handling the full on assault of those millions of thumb texters behind the wheel.


  
L.A. STUNTING

While sitting in traffic (behind another unexplained rear end collision) we had a group of sports bike riders doing their thing on the access road next to the highway.  The group must have been almost one hundred big and were all revving, wheelying and otherwise stunting themselves silly on a sunny new year’s day.



It was fun to watch them while we crawled along interminably in the never ending freeway traffic.  The bikes were all very customized with both paint and go-faster bits, and their riders looked like they were having a riot.


You might frown at their antics, but when you consider the alternative is to sit in the cavalcade of metal boxes on the freeway, texting before you run into someone, I’m not sure if they don’t have the right idea.



I thought they were more entertaining than any of the very serious pirates we saw filtering by on their Harleys on the highway.





MULHOLLAND DRIVE

Is one of those icons of Southern California, so I made a point of making the drive down it.  It’s a very long stretch of road that eventually turns into the Mulholland highway and goes all the way to the ocean.

We started at the beginning right out of Studio City in Burbank and the road was terrible!  I guess rich people don’t live on this bit.  You’d need an ADV bike to make any time on tarmac this bad.  For a place that doesn’t get much frost, I’m not sure how their roads can be this rough.

Fortunately, once you get past the first bit the pavement improves dramatically (rich people live here).  The ride is fantastic and the road (named after the engineer who built it) is a testament to imaginative road design over challenging terrain.  We turned off on the 405 and headed to the airport to fly home to freezing Ontario, but Mulholland deserves a look if you’re in Southern California, just grit your teeth on the opening stretch.




PALOMAR MOUNTAIN

I’ve had a poster of the Hale telescope on Mount Palomar on my wall since I was a kid.  The chance to see it in the flesh was one of the highlights of this trip for me.  The trip up the mountain, from sea level to five and half thousand feet, looked pretty epic too.

I, unfortunately, had to do the road in a rented RAV4, which felt like a double decker bus loaded with lead.  The happier people at the top had a variety of two wheel conveyances to get them there, with sports bikes being the clear favourite – not a cruiser in sight.

The guys hanging out at Mother’s Kitchen (great veggie food!) were an all ages sports bike party, with Keith Code look-a-likes and younger riders all chatting amiably about their machines and the road.

Bikes ranged from super sports and even sport tourers like the Interceptor to light-weight nakeds.

It was a cool day in late December when we went up the mountain.  The temperature dropped from high teens to about twelve degrees at the summit – all sunny though.  The riders didn’t seem cold.  Riding up that insanely wiggly 20+ miles of mountain road would be an aerobic workout of the first order.

The observatory itself is completely free to the public, offers parking and a museum with crazy-cheap merchandise (if astronomy hoodies are your thing).  You could spend a perfect day riding up and around Palomar mountain before going for a walk around one of the biggest mirrors in the world.

With a variety of roads, a state park, the observatory and that lovely little restaurant, Palomar mountain just outside of San Diego is a great destination for any biker, and a must see for those bikers with the astronomy bug.

A few days after our trip up there it snowed, but for most years this is the exception rather than the rule.


PRICES IN A YEAR ROUND BIKING CULTURE

While in La Jolla (just north of San Diego), I checked out some of the local bike shops.  The prices are heart stoppingly low if you’re used to Canadian numbers.  You might find a one piece leather suit up here for $600 on the bottom end, but down there the same level of kit is half the price.  Out of curiosity, I wondered what it would cost to outfit myself to ride with all new kit down here.  At Cycle Gear in San Diego it ended up being a shade over $300 for a new helmet, gloves, boots, riding pants and jacket… unreal!


SUMMARY

If you like to ride, California offers some fantastic roads (not in the L.A. area) that beg to be explored.  We also hit Joshua Tree National Park on our travels and it is other wordly!  There are few straight lines, even riding the hilly highways around San Diego would feel special to someone from table-flat Ontario.  There is a vibrant, large biking culture that shows through in the shear variation you see.  I can’t wait to go back and experience the place as it was meant to be experienced, on two wheels.

Bike Bag: Tesseract Dream Motorcycle Accessory

It’s as crazy as it looks, and
utterly fantastic!

I’m sitting on the beach in Lajoya California as a I write this. It’s a comfortable 18° Celsius and I’m missing my bike. I can always rent something down here, but the road I just did begs a bike I’m familiar with; I was watching the guys in their worn leathers and sports bikes with envy.

The road to the Palomar observatory is a knee down roller coaster that takes you five thousand feet up to one of the biggest mirrors in the world. It’s a road that makes me wish my Ninja was here instead of a rental bike that doesn’t feel familiar and is, quite frankly, designed for looks rather than athletics; virtually all rental choices are cruiser or retro based.

After watching Interstellar I started reading about tesseracts and multi-dimensional mechanics. The first thing I’d create with my new-found multi-dimensional engineering skills would be the Bike Bag™!  You press the zipper up against a wall and roll your bike and gear in.

The idea’s been around for a while.

 Once you zip it up you can roll up the zipper and put it in your pocket.  When you get where you’re going you put the zipper up on a wall again and when you unzip it there is your bike and gear ready to go.  A carry on bag and an airline ticket and I’d be ready to ride pretty much anywhere I landed.


I’d have been able to tackle the road up to the big eye in the sky with something other than cautious optimism with my preferred road weapon.


The Shiny New Kawasaki Versys

I’ve always had a soft spot for the ugly-duckling Kawasaki Versys.  I’ve even suggested that it be the first bike to ride coast to coast to coast in Canada when the Dempster Highway is finished.  The Versys points to a time when bikes weren’t styled and marketed to a genre.

The new Versys is no ugly duckling, and I’m looking forward to throwing a leg over it at shows this winter.  I’m also hoping that Kawasaki Canada will put this bike out there as a viable alternative to other light-weight / multi-purpose bikes.  An adventure bike doesn’t need to be some off-road inspired, knobby tired monster, and the Versys could be that swiss-army knife of a bike.

My first experience with the 650 Versys was less than stellar.  I suspect a lot of that had to do with how much the Versys felt like my Ninja.  I’m not looking for hard suspension and a purely road focused bike with the Versys, I’m looking for something more flexible.  I’m hoping that the new bike offers the kind of clearance, suspension travel and all-round usefulness that the old one lacked.  That it offers much more leg room and a less road bike inspired stance is a great start.

The adventure bike-set seems to have a lock on the all-purpose motorcycle at the moment, but there was a time when multi-purpose motorbikes weren’t duck-billed monsters.  The Kawasaki Versys could reinvent that pre-adventure bike ideal of a multi-purpose machine without the big nose.

Old Motorbike Electrics



Turns out the Concours didn’t need a new bulb, it just needed some more electrical connection cleaning.  After replacing the bulb that wasn’t blown I finally took off the fairing only to discover that, like all the other electrical gremlins, it was a matter of dirty connectors.

After cleaning up the wiring harness, suddenly all the lights work again.  I posted what happened on the COG discussions and got this pearl:

As usually happens in a case like this, you immediately see the good advice repeated. Only a couple of nights later I was reading Performance Bike Magazine. They do a bit each month on what to look for in finding an older model sport bike, in this case the thirteen year old Honda VTR1000 SP2. In the article they suggest that cleaning and protecting all electrical contacts on a bike that old is a good winter-time activity.  If it’s true for well cared for sports bikes half as old, it’s even truer for my field-found Connie.


As WillyP states above, bikes aren’t built to keep out the elements, even the most covered bike is virtually naked compared to a car. Even in the case of a well cared for, covered sports bike, cleaning the electrical contacts is a worthwhile off-season ritual. In the case of a field-found Concours, it’s where I should have started in the first place.  A breakdown and electrical cleaning is my go-to next time around.

As a project bike the Concours continues to teach lessons even as it becomes more and more roadworthy.

Dream Stable (this week)

This changes on a moment to moment basis, but in this moment, here is what I wish was looking back at me when I opened the door to the iron horse stable:

1) An outfit fit for my son and I:  A Royal Enfield Bullet Classic with a Rocket Sidecar.

500cc Bullet Classic: $6350
Sportmax Rocket sidecar: $3500+~$1200 installation

The whole outfit would cost about ~$11,000 new… I found a used outfit for $8000, might find another for less.



2) A scooter for my wife: Vespa 946

It’s a dream list so I’ll go for the fantastically expensive Vespa, though Honda makes some mighty nice alternatives for one third the price.

The Vespa?  $9999 for a year old new one (!?!)

(the similarly spec-ed Honda PCX150 comes in at $3899).  I’ve found clean, used scooters for about $1000.





3) State of the art Hyper-bike:  

This has always been a Hayabusa, though I’d chuck it all in for the new Ninja H2R.

Hayabusa:  $14999

Ninja H2R:  ???



4) A Light Weight, Swiss-Army Knife dual purpose bike:

The Suzuki DR-Z400S: $7299

Over 100lbs lighter than a KLR, a super capable, light weight enduro machine that can manage weight, still has good power, but follows the Austin Vince minimalist ethos: nimble, efficient, ultra-capable off road.  Found a used one in good nick for about $4000.


5) A matching off-road bike for my son:

Not sure of the spec on this one.  It would have to be the one he feels most comfortable on because he’s a cautious fellow.

~$2-3000 new – there seem to be a lot of used ones about for ~$1000



I’d be looking at about $50,000 in new (dream) gear.  On a budget I think I could pick up (used) the two dirt bikes for $5000, a hyperbike for $7000, a scooter for $1500 and an outfit for $3-5000.  So $16-18500 for a more realistic dream stable…

Inclusivity is what I’m aiming for with this collection.  We three could go for a putter on scooter and outfit.  My son and I could go off roading together.  Only the Hayabusa really smacks of selfishness.

Of course this will all change again next week, so I’m not holding my breath.

Dodging a Bullet: Assumptions of Safety & Extreme Defensive Riding

We had a tough week at work.  A colleague, the kind of guy who you assume will outlast you because he does everything right, was killed last weekend in a motor vehicle ‘accident’.  I put accident in quotes because it’s not really an accident when the other driver blows through a stop sign while speeding and kills you and your wife (and himself).

You’d be right to say I’m a bit angry about this, but I’m also rather desperately looking for a reason for it.  That things can happen for no reason bothers me, but they do.  They did nothing wrong.  They were driving home after dropping their son off at university.  They were driving in an SUV with a five star safety rating.  I want there to be a reason (the guy who hit them was drunk, distracted, somehow incompetent), but I fear there is none; there is no reason why they are dead other than the most basic one: motor vehicles are inherently dangerous and a number of people who operate them aren’t able to do so well enough to ensure your safety.

If we are going to let pretty much anyone strap themselves into a metal box powered by exploding gases and shoot themselves down roads at high speed, we have to accept that there is an inherent risk, no matter how capable they may be, of death.  Whenever you get into any kind of motor vehicle you accept this risk, or you don’t get into the vehicle.  

It’s generally understood that getting on a motorbike makes this calculus so obvious that people can’t help but tell you (over and over) how dangerous it is.  Those same people will go out and buy five star rated SUVs thinking they’ve beaten the odds.  Those big vehicles mean you’ll always come out of a minor incident, and if you find yourself in a lot of minor incidents then I suppose they make sense.  Better to spend the money on a bigger vehicle rather than making efforts to reduce your inability.  Driver training courses are significantly cheaper than operating a large vehicle, but pride prevents most people from considering them.  We end up in an arms race with the most distracted, incapable drivers operating larger and larger vehicles for their own safety.

I’ve been trying to suss out government safety statistics.  I have a feeling that people who have taken motorcycle safety training have fewer accidents than the general public.  The kind of defensive driving presented to new motorcycle riders is foreign to most drivers in cages who don’t respect the dangerous position they are placing themselves in.  I suspect that there would be way fewer accidents if everyone had to ride a motorbike for the first year of their license.  Exposure gives you a healthy respect for the dangerous mechanics of operating a motor vehicle at high speed.

Were I in my mini-van with my wife and son, I would have probably driven into this disaster just as that colleague of mine did.  Were I on my motorbike, I’d approach that intersection with the same everyone-is-trying-to-kill-me attitude that I’ve adopted since my initial motorbike training course.  On a bike I’d have sworn at the idiot who ran the stop sign after braking hard to avoid him.  In an insulated motor vehicle, remote from the world around me, I’d have assumed I was safely following the laws of the road until it didn’t matter any more.

Followup:  just to make things weirder, this past week I died in a car accident (same name, similar age, lived about 100kms west of me) and a guy who started teaching at the same time I did and is a year younger than me also passed.  Maybe this is just what getting older feels like, you see others around you dropping out of life and can’t help but wonder why you’re still here.

Bike Bucket List

Tim’s bike-hole, once a storage place for unused furniture,
now an insulated work space with two Kawis in it.

Season 1 ended with me getting my license, my first bike and getting over 5000kms of riding in, including a full month of long commutes.  The original bike bucket list included getting the license and first bike.

As season two began I was looking to expand.  Bike bucket list 2.0:

  • build a garage worthy of the name (almost done!)
  • have a bike holiday on some less-Ontario-ish roads (done!)
  • ride more different bikes, done and done! (and that second one even got my wife scooter curious)
  • work on my bike-craft (done & ongoing!)
  • buy a fixer-upper (done!)
  • do an overnight bike trip (didn’t manage it… but the season isn’t over yet!)

Here’s the bucket-list 3.0.  Some of these might take a bit longer to complete:

  • a bike to dance with one on one (light, single seater, lower displacement)
  • a distance bike (get the Concours up to snuff)
  • live the 3-wheel dream, get an all-purpose outfit for Max & I
  • take Max to an off road school
  • then do an off road riding school with him
Some of these are well beyond what I can pull off at the moment, but you never know when circumstances might change.  Besides, if you’re gonna dream, might as well dream big!  If I’m going to do that, retiring into my own little shop would be awesome!  Custom mechanical, digital parts fabrication and finishing!
 
 

Yogacycling

I came across YogaMotorSport on Google+ and began looking into yoga from a riding perspective.  It turns out many professional riders practice yoga.  I’ve never really done yoga before so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into beyond some stereotypes.

Where yoga happens in Elora – via Michael Tan

Our little town has a nice yoga studio right down by the Grand River, a 15 minute walk away.  Awareness Yoga happens in a large basement studio with old stone walls and the sound of the Elora Gorge thundering away outside.  I’m a firm believer in ley lines, and there is definitely a lot of energy coming out of the ground in the middle of Elora.  It’s a nice spot to do yoga.

I went in thinking it was some deep breathing and stretching.  It is that but it’s also a lot of core strength building and I found myself sweating buckets simply following the workout.  I’ve had three classes so far and find the combination of stretching and strength training intense, but combined with the mindset you’re encouraged to follow, it’s also remarkably relaxing.  I don’t come out of it all worked up like I do after a hockey game.  I come out of it calm and loose (though it tends to be sore the next day).

Yoga looks to flexibility, core strength and mental focus, all things that should be in frequent use while riding, I can see why professional riders do it.  I was lucky that my local studio does stiff guy yoga, it’s a men’s only class and I’ve got to say, it’s a really nice change from your typical guy-sports workout, and something uniquely suited to motorbike riders.

Meditative rides through India
Motorcycle Yoga by Lisa Haneberg



Motorcycling & yoga… it’s a thing!

Yoga & Motorcycling

motorcycle yoga mats

yoga and the motorcycle journey

Unscripted Moments

Steve Hoffarth has a good editorial piece in the August/September 2014 edition of Inside Motorcycles that got me thinking about scripted experience.  Steve was lamenting his inability to go racing this year.  He compared going on rides at a theme park and found them lacking.  A scripted experience like being a passive rider on a roller coaster has nothing on the complex, non-linear and entirely participatory experience of racing.

I was sitting in the garage last night working on the Concours when my wife stuck her head in the door and asked how I was doing.  “I’m in my happy place,” I replied.

What made it happy was that I was fixing a problem that had no instruction manual.  Success wasn’t guaranteed and I had to approach it from several different angles before I could finally come up with a solution.  Real satisfaction followed a resolution to a situation that could easily have ended in failure.  It was an entirely unscripted situation, the kind I long for after your typically scripted day in the life of a 21st Century human.

So much of our lives are scripted nowadays, from phones telling us when to be where to GPS units telling us how to get there.  Brakes script themselves for us because we can’t be bothered to learn how to use them effectively, traction control leaps in at a moment’s notice to script your acceleration, vehicles will park themselves, warn you when something is behind you because you couldn’t be bothered to turn your head, and even avoid obstacles you couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to.  I used to enjoy driving, now, at its best, it feels more like sitting on a roller coaster.

All this scripting is a result of software.  It may sound funny coming from a computer technology teacher, but that software kills it for me.  If I wanted to watch machines race I wouldn’t put people in the cars at all, it’s safer that way.  It’s been a long time since a driver could take a car by the scruff of its neck and drag it around a circuit.  We do all this in the name of safety, but ultimately I think it’s lowest common denominator thinking; software engineers design life for the least capable people, they can sell more of it that way.

There are places in mechanics where it just makes sense to incorporate computer control, especially when it amplifies an operator’s nuanced control of a vehicle rather than overwriting it.  Thank goodness for fuel injection.  It allows us to create responsive, linear fuelling and use less of a diminishing resource, it’s all good, as are disc brakes and other technological advances that improve rider feel.  I’m certainly not anti-technology, I make my living teaching it, but I am anti-technology when it takes over human inputs instead of improving them.  That kind of thinking breeds sheeple.

Traction control (many settings!), antilock brakes (many
settings!), hill start control and more electronics than a
moon shot – perhaps bikes aren’t the last bastion after all.

Unscripted moments are increasingly hard to come by.  Perhaps that freedom we feel on a motorcycle is one of the last bastions of unscripted moments when a software engineer isn’t deciding how you’ll spend your time, or worse, spending it for you.

Except they increasingly are.  After I started riding last year I was astonished that this is legal.  In a granny state-world where safety is all that matters, where SUVs are considered better because they’re bigger and collision avoidance systems are desirable because you shouldn’t have to pay attention while operating a vehicle, motorcycles too are succumbing to our vapid, software scripted lives.

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