I’ve been going to SMART Adventuressince 2018. As a way to get myself doing things on a motorcycle that I don’t get to do on the road, it’s a great opportunity to expand your riding skills. Getting experience on a variety of different bikes is never a bad thing either.
I’ve had some great days at SMART. A particular highlight was during the deepest, darkest summer of 2020 when I did a full day that started on a trials bike, moved to a brand new GS1250 and ended on a dirt bike. It was a great day of bike learning across three very distinct machines.
Last summer we managed to squeeze in a half day and it was the first time I’d done the expert riding group, which I second guessed myself on being in. Unfortunately the father who dragged his son into it wasn’t so introspective. I spent a good amount of money hoping for expert riding opportunities but the afternoon consisted of watching this kid fall off a bike too big for him that his dad kept demanding he ride, and then watching him drop the second bike we had to go back to get for him into a two foot deep puddle. We ended up spending most of the afternoon picking this kid up or riding back to the base after he broke a bike. I needed this trip to SMART to be a win after that last disappointment.
We tried to arrange a trip up in August but things got complicated (dog died, kid going to college, in-laws being difficult) and it never came into focus. I thought this would be our first year not going up to Horseshoe Valley, but Max’s reading week was at the end of October and the week before the weather looked like it might hold up, so I signed us up for an afternoon, and this time SMART nailed it, though in fairness it’s not their fault if a toxic dad wants to design a miserable afternoon.
Going this late in the season and during the school year means you’re less likely to trip over father/son drama. Max got Dave who was the instructor who taught him both ATVs and dirtbikes previously, and I got Tyler who I hadn’t had before but is an incredibly talented off road rider who also has a knack for finding where I was at in terms of skill and then keeping us at that edge throughout the afternoon – I learned tons.
Having a look around before the ride out, it’s not easy keeping the jealousy in check when it comes to SMART Adventures owner Clinton’s bike collection.
Why are y’all wearing rain jackets? ‘Cause it was raining… a lot! That’s inches deep mud.
We started with some warm ups in the bowl at the base. I’ve been on a 250 CRF Honda before but this time they had a Kawasaki KLX 300 with bar risers which fit me even better. Tyler had me doing riding with one hand while standing up (in mud), which isn’t as easy as it sounds, then rear wheel lock up braking, then both wheels coming as close to locking up the front as we could manage (in the mud). We also did logs and tires, but once Tyler had an eye in on where I was with clutch control and balance we took off into the woods, which were spectacular!
Riding in a thick ground layer of leaves is tricky. You can’t see rocks or mud underneath, but it teaches you to ride looser and float over the surprises without over correcting for them. We did a lot of kilometers through the rain and brilliant colours and the riding was never dull.
I’m always surprised at how physical proper off-roading is. With mid-teens temperatures and the rain gear on I was dripping wet with sweat. I worked hard at using my legs to grip the bike so my arms weren’t putting pressurized inputs through the handlebars. It’s a combination of balance and lower body strength that demands a lot of energy. One suggestion was to turn my feet fractionally into a corner to weight the pegs in the direction I want to go (a Clinton Smout move) and it works!
We got back for a break but before I parked the Kwak we did K turns. The idea is if you get stuck going up too steep a hill you let the bike stall in gear (or kill the motor in gear) and then roll it backwards leaning into the hill and letting out the clutch bit by bit as you turn the back end until you’re parallel with the hill (still leaning up it). The tricky bit is once you’re near parallel having backed up on the clutch, you start turning the handlebar lock to lock and the bike’s nose will fall under the twisting to face downhill. You then stand it up and roll on down. The final move was to bump start the bike. You do this by leaving it in third gear and dropping the clutch at the bottom of the hill as you sit down on the seat. It sounds like a lot of gymnastics but I got it to work on the second try. Tyler said it can really save your bacon if you get stuck on a big adventure bike on too steep a hill.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, Tyler went and got a couple of the new Surron electric dirt bikes out of the lockup. He gave me the bigger Storm model and then told me (jokingly) not to get it wet. We left both bikes in economy mode because of all the wet leaves over mud. Tyler described ‘S’ Mode as ‘scary’, and don’t press turbo!
383 ft/lbs of torque in mud and wet leaves? What could go wrong?!?
I hadn’t dropped the big Kawasaki all afternoon despite the crazy conditions. I should have four times but saved it each time. Being able to practice saves is one of the best parts of SMART. I genuinely got to do things on a bike I’ve never done before, which is the whole point. Sounds ominous, right?
We got out into the woods again and both Tyler and I were down in the first five minutes, but not because the Surron was a torque monster (it’s actually easy to get the hang off). It’s the lack of clutch after riding one all day that caught me out. I was sliding down the muddy side of a trail covered in leaves and went to pull in the clutch to drop a gear, except the clutch is the rear brake and the Surron doesn’t have gears. The bike was out from under me in an instant. Here’s a pic from right after – check out that mud!
I finally got myself back on the bike after I slipped in the mud again throwing a leg over it and we went down a second time. The bike took a minute to ‘re-arm’ because I’d popped one of the brake sensors out, but Tyler figured it out and we were off again.
We made tracks after we both learned not to use the rear brake like a clutch.
That’s Tyler – ace instructor!
Interesting choice of name, great bike!
No one went down again and by the end of a forty minute blast through the woods and into the trails beyond the SMART owned land, I was getting a feel for the Surron (not Sauron from LotR). Being able to focus on riding without worrying about gears and clutches was one part of it. By the end I was getting crafty with the hand operated brakes. The other piece is the silence. When you goose it the bike roosters dirt like a mad thing, and it’s properly quick. The only noise it makes is once you’re up to speed and it’s a ghostly whine, which suited the October hallowe’en woods. I could hear rain hitting leaves as we whispered through the trees.
Where am I at with an electric dirt bike? If I owned a Surron I’d play with the settings so the energy recovery/gearing pulled a bit more and provided more of what feels like engine braking. That would have prevented the spill on the hill. So much of dirt biking is clutch though. You manipulate the clutch continuously to offer smoother power delivery, especially in tricky conditions. A dirt bike without a clutch and gearing is missing a key control, not to go faster, but to manage the power better. The throttle on the Surron felt a bit wooden after riding the big Kwak all afternoon, but that may well have been because I couldn’t feather the Surron’s power delivery with a clutch..
The upside is the silence when riding, though it isn’t really silent with that ghost whine. It did make me miss the thud of the thumper, and the simplicity of the controls (no clutch, no gears) lets you concentrate on other things, but at the cost of simplifying the riding which I have mixed feelings about. Aesthetically, a bike having a heartbeat is pleasing, though I could get used to that ghostly howl.
The older much used Kawasaki went through all sorts of gymnastics during the afternoon without missing a beat, while the Surron needed TLC after one drop, which doesn’t bode well for its resilience. I’d describe my first time on an electric dirt bike as interesting, but they’re not ready for prime time yet. If I were to buy a dirt bike tomorrow it would be a fuel injected ICE model that is decades into its evolution rather than an ebike that’s at the beginning.
SMART was running a regional trials event that weekend and I asked Tyler about electric trials bikes, but he said most riders are still using ICE models – once again because the clutch offers much more nuanced control. I suspect electric bikes will end up adopting something like a clutch to allow for that finer control, though they don’t need gears so perhaps the clutch is simply another electronic intervention. It’s just a matter of time for this to all get worked out, but they’re not quite there yet.
As we pulled in to SMART a red fox fan across the parking lot, and I saw wild turkeys and what might have been a coyote in the woods. We clambered out of our muddy gear past 4pm and got changed before heading up the road to Vetta Nordic Spa where we put our aching muscles into various hot waters as we watched the moon rise through the skeletal trees. Yes, the rain stopped and clouds blew over pretty much the minute we stopped riding, but the weather is part of what made it such a good afternoon of riding! As a way to wrap up the riding season (it was snowing the following weekend), there are few better.
With Triumph giving up on my Tiger before I’m prepared to, I’m going to document the research and give details on what works when you’re trying to keep a Triumph 955i’s fuel system working by replacing old o-rings.
This has involved a crash course in o-rings and engine operating temperatures. As I work out a fix here I’ll post details on o-ring sizing, what type works and include data on measuring the intake manifold at temperature.
Here are the measurements for the upper and lower fuel injector seals. The classy move by Triumph would be to open source publish the technical details for all the parts they no longer support so that the rest of us can get on with keeping the history of the marquee alive. With that in mind, here are the deets for the upper and lower fuel injector o-rings:
The thick ones go on top where the fuel injector meets the rail. My best guess is 3mm thick by 1.5cm outer circumference.
The skinny ones go on the bottom where the fuel injector slides into the intake manifold.
My best guess there is 2mm wide by 1.4mm outer circumference.
The Tiger is a metric bike, so I’ll work in mm (if Triumph went imperial on o-ring, what the actual f***). The thicker o-ring is 1.5cm or 15mm outside diameter (OD) and (I think) about 3.5mm cross section (CS). Looking at that chart, the #203 is a 14.58mm outer diameter with a 3.53mm cross section. That makes it mighty close. What would be nicer would be if Triumph just came out and gave us the precise sizes for these parts it has discontinued. Triumph?
The thinner one is also a 1.5 (ish) mm outer diameter (15mm-ish), but the cross section is thinner – perhaps two and a bit mm, and they have a 2.62mm cross section standard o-ring size. You’d have to hope Triumph didn’t make bespoke o-rings for their fuel injectors, right? For the skinny o-ring I think I’d take a swing at the 2.62mm cross section / 14.43mm (1.443cm) size.
The All O-Rings site also has a good description of the materials you want to get your o-rings in. Nitrile and Viton are what I went with in the pointless Amazon order, but those are the materials you want in a fuel heavy application like this.
That’s the configurator (right) – pretty straightforward, but it sounds like they manufacture each order, which probably won’t make this a viable solution for someone just trying to keep their old Triumph on the road.
If only there was some kind of network of retailers who supported Triumph motorcycles who could order this parts to help their customers keep their older Triumphs rolling… some kind of ‘dealer’ network who understand how parts work and how to order this sort of thing in large enough quantities to make a profit while offering customers what they need.
If you follow the blog you’ll know I’m on a mission to get my 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i to roll over into six figures on the odometer. I picked up the bike with under forty-K on it and have done the majority of the now high miles on it. Over that time I’ve had an ongoing battle with the early fuel injection on the bike, but other than that it has been my preferred ride even as a series of other bikes passed through the garage.
Once again the fueling has gone off on the bike just as I was hoping to push it over the 100k mark in its 20th year on the road. If I lived somewhere that wasn’t trying to kill me for four months of each year this would be an easier goal, but trying to do it in Canada where the bike has to sit through minus forty winters and then navigate the frost heaved results in our too-short riding season? It’s technical a flex I’m up for, but it’s a shame that Triumph isn’t.
I tried the usual solution of rebalancing the fuel injectors, but the bike is still stalling out and running rough. I checked the valves less than 15k ago so that isn’t likely it. If it isn’t throttle body balancing, which the bike is prone to needing, perhaps it’s time to, at over 90k, to finally replace the o-rings and gaskets in the fuel injection system, but Triumph tells me that the majority of these parts are discontinued.
One of the reasons I enjoy the old Tiger is that it still catches eyes and prompts conversation when I’m out and about. Another reason I like it is that it can pretty much do anything (I’ve trail ridden on it and done multi-thousand mile two-up road trips too). It fits me better than anything I’ve ridden, is fun to chuck around in corners and has handled axle deep mud when I needed it to. The engine is full of character and pulls well even two up and, considering the miles it has done, the amount of TLC needed isn’t unreasonable. I’d love to keep this bike going indefinitely, it’s a shame that Triumph don’t feel that way.
I had a chat with the dealer (who isn’t particularly local, it’s a 170 mile round trip to go there physically – I usually get parts delivered), and they said that this is a problem with Triumph – they don’t support their older machines. He then went on to say I couldn’t use generic o-rings because the Triumph parts are strangely size specific. I’m going to try anyway because I really want to be able to jump on my old Tiger and ride. I wish Triumph felt the same way.
Never standing still, always pushing to get the best from ourselves, for our riders. Building iconic motorcycles that celebrate our past while embracing the future through bold design, original styling, purposeful engineering and a genuine passion for the ride. Always focused on delivering complete riding experience, creating bikes with the perfect balance of power, handling and style that totally involve the rider and bring out the best in them. This is our passion and our obsession. We are chasing the same thing as our riders THE PERFECT RIDE. Nick Bloor CEO Triumph Motorcycles
All good stuff, but maybe focus a bit more on celebrating Triumph’s past, Nick? That includes the bikes your reborn Triumph have been making since the nineties.
Alas, the Tiger’s fuel system is acting up (again), so it’s all Concours14 this fall, but the big bike is doing the job. It handles two up without breaking a sweat and when I want to ride it like a sports bike, it never misses a beat. It’s heavy, but once it’s in motion it seems to loose one hundred pounds. It’s no Fireblade, but it’s surprisingly willing in the (few) twisties we have around here.
This time of year the fall colours mean you can enjoy a ride even on our tediously straight roads…
If you’ve read this blog you know I’ve written a historical fiction of my granddad’s time in the RAF during World War 2. The two books I’ve done already are about his time behind Nazi lines in France in 1940, but after he escaped he got sent to Africa and spent the the next chapter of his time overseas crossing the Sahara (in 1940s vehicles!) and fighting in Egypt and Libya. I’m keen to eventually trace his steps but when am I ever going to be on the east coast of Africa?
The Allies didn’t have control of the Mediterranean in late 1940 (remember Guns of Navarone?), so the Royal Navy took Bill and his RAF squadron down the east coast of Africa to Takoradi in Ghana. There they unloaded their Hurricanes and ground support vehicles and then they (incredibly), saddled up in their 1940s vehicles and leapfrogged with their planes ***across the Sahara***!!! It’s a 5000+ kilometre odyssey that leaves me absolutely awe struck:
Sure, Tim, you’re saying, but when are you ever going to get to Ghana? Well… I applied to the Global Forum for Cybersecurity Expertise’s cyber-research proposals in the summer and my paper on quantum disruption in cyber got accepted… which means I’m going to Accra, Ghana to present it at the end of November at the Global Conference on Cyber Capacity Building. That puts me about 200 kilometres away from Takoradi where I’d have a chance to stand where Bill stood in late 1940.
I’m feeling pretty scrappy. The dream ride would be to get a collection of 1940s RAF bikes, cars and lorries and repeat that astonishing trek across the desert to the southern coast of the Mediterranean. That’s some pretty gnarly country, so doing it as part of a documentary with a film crew that looks at what life was like in the desert in World War 2 would be the dream part of this ride.
Some of my cousins ride and some of their kids are old enough to do it too. There are several times in Bill’s military career when he shouldn’t have made it out, but he had a knack for it. An opportunity for his descendents (who wouldn’t be here if he didn’t have that knack) to repeat this Sahara crossing while talking about the history and passing through the heart of the desert on 1940s technology would be… epic.
Yep, that’s what epic looks like.
Austin Vince did Mondo Sahara, which was ambitious. This is… more.
No pride here at TMD. The other weekend I went out for a ride with my lovely wife and we stopped for a snack. The parking lot wasn’t even but the bike was full of fuel and had the top box on and it was a very windy day. I had to lean on it to get it to stand up and thought it would be ok – you might see where this is going.
I was once told that bikes fall over, it happens to everyone, but I’ve never had it happen before. I’ll be more cautious next time. My best guess is the road behind the restaurant channeled the wind making for even stronger gusts and it toppled the bike. We were around the corner on the patio when I heard the worst kind of smashing sound and immediately got up to come around to see Big Blue on its side. I remembered the lift with your legs holding the handlebar in and the back of the seat, and got the big thing upright again.
It started right up and I rode it around the corner to another spot on more even ground out of the wind tunnel. Much swearing ensued but it was really my own fault. I checked it twice to make sure it was stable, but that second check should have told me I didn’t like how it was sitting and I needed to find a better spot. Lesson learned.
The wing mirrors on GTR1400 / Concours 14s are (big) plastic pieces over an aluminum frame. They’re one of my least favourite stylistic choices on the bike. They work well but they are enormous and make what is already a big bike look enormous, so my first reflex was to find a lower profile alternative. The bike looks much more svelte when it’s mirrorless.
The only aftermarket option I could find is pretty much the same thing – industrially big. I might be tempted to customize something, like perhaps an electronic rear view option, but something stopped me. I’ve worked hard to get the C14 to fit, but it never has. Bar risers, modified foot pegs and a pang Corbin saddle and it still feels like it was made for someone else. Love the engine and it handles well enough with the rear tire mod (slightly larger profile balances the bike forward a bit more) and getting the suspension set for my size helped too, but it still feels like someone else’s bike, so I started looking at other options.
I reached out to the metal shop teacher at my school but he can’t weld aluminum. He suggested Fergus Welding & Machine Shop just up the river from us. It was described as ‘turn of the century – 18th Century’. I gave them a telephone call (because they have no digital presence at all) and went over to show them my broken mirror frame.
Our shop teacher wasn’t kidding. This place is in an old stone building and it was indeed old-school with paper filing upstairs and blacksmith come metal shop downstairs. The broken bit was in fact aluminum and their Yoda-like welder said that if it was ‘white metal’ he wouldn’t be able to do anything with it and that he’d only find that out when he ‘hit it’ for the first time. I left my phone number on the box and off I went.
I got the bike undressed and cleaned everything up. I’m amazed at how strong the fairings are on this thing. Even with seven hundred odd pounds coming down on it the thing held up with only scratches.
Fergus Welding & Machine Shop called back end of the next day and Dave said he was able to sort it out. It cost me $25 and I tipped them with a six pack. The part was impossible to source used and a new metal piece was asking $260US, so I came out ahead there.
The job was really well done. Dave tacked the part back together following the break and then filled it like the magician he was described as. When I put the assembly back together it fit like a glove – all the holes lined up perfectly and when I took it out for a spin tonight everything is tight and works as it should. It gives you an indication of how over-engineered this bike is that it can tip over, break the metal mirror frame but not smash the mirror itself. There’s a lot to like about a C14, but me fitting on it comfortably isn’t one of those things.
Undressing the whole bike gave me a chance to clean it up properly. The owner before me parked it in a shed for several years and spiders made it their home. Many webby nests were found throughout, but they’re all gone now. It also gave me a chance to lubricate the throttle cables and clean all the electrical connections of which there are many. This bike continues to amaze with how complicated it is, but it’s build like a nuclear submarine.
Next steps? Sort out the fairings. If it were a more popular bike I could get some Chinese knock-offs and get them painted for a grand, but I’m not that lucky. I looked up Color Rite who I got the Neptune Blue touch up paint from when I first got the bike. The previous owner had it tip over on him (on the other side) and the touch up made it all but disappear.
Color Rite does good stuff, but it ain’t cheap and their shipping (at nearly $100CAN!) is astonishing. If I’m $200 in to touch up, perhaps I can remove the panels, flat them myself and then find a local paint shop to do them up for me. I’ll have to see what that costs.
I grew up next to the sea as a kid and miss it everyday. Sometimes I’ve just got to see some water. The nearest/nicest way to do that which actually hits the odd corner (I get what I can take in the corner desert that is SW Ontario) is over to the Niagara Escarpment and up it to Georgian Bay. Saturday was a 24°C perfect August day, so off I went.
Some quiet time on the trails at the end of Beaver Valley in the woods and then it was an hour blast back through the tedium to the maddening crowds.
Imagine you’re buying a car from a reputable manufacturer. That manufacturer doesn’t build all the components itself. It partners with other reputable manufacturing specialists and works with them to tight tolerances so that all the bits fit together and work properly.
In a tightly controlled supply chain like that you end up with complex systems that can take you hundreds of thousands of kilometers through extreme environments with only regularly maintenance. When engineering is taken seriously like this, amazing, resilient machines are the result.
If your car was built like the cloud infrastructure your business/school/government depends on to operate every day, your ‘manufacturer’ scours the internet looking for free bits and pieces of code that will do a job that they can’t be bothered to code themselves. This freeware, often taken without consent and seldom supported, becomes part of a stack of under engineered software that makes your magical, money saving cloud infrastructure work. Any time someone decides they want additional functionality, another piece is patched into this mess.
Imagine if your car was built like this. Every tire would come from a different manufacturer with different specs but they all got chucked onto the car because they filled a need at that particular moment. Some of the tires come from tire manufacturers, some came from a guy who thought he could build a better tire in his shed, and they’re all different makes and sizes. Some are tested for safety, some aren’t even legally tires. The other parts of your franken-car would also be sourced like that, with simplistic needs met but with little thought for integration or upkeep. Some parts of your rolling nightmare are updated regularly, others never have nor will be, meaning what fit together this week might not next.
One day your engine bolts might update themselves and suddenly the motor won’t start because nothing fits. The horn that got installed might not actually be a horn but a fire hazard waiting to burn your new car to the ground when you press the button. You might be running a 1990s transmission with a 2023 chassis that only superficially work with each other but will fly apart the first time you take a corner.
If there were any consistency in how open source software is integrated into business systems, this might work, but in most cases complex cloud based information management systems are cobbled together collections of corporate systems and under-resourced open source freeware. Why would this chaos suit some companies?
The stack of hardware and software your data passes through to use the internet is staggering. On your computer (laptop, smartphone, whatever, they’re all computers) you’re using a browser likely made by one company on an operating system made by another. The drivers that run the hardware that connects you online are a third company and in all three cases they may well have ‘grabbed’ some open source software to make their piece of the puzzle work. Once your data actually leaves your device it hits your router that is running another bunch of hardware and software before getting fired out to your internet service provider (ISP), who is running goodness knows what (but probably with ample amounts of ‘free’ open source software). From your ISP your data bounces from server to server on its way to its destination. If you’re reading this through social media connections you’ve now picked up all their bad habits (Twitter, Meta, Google, though notice that they all make monetizing free software like a community service). In many cases they throw trackers on your network traffic so they can sell to you.
This mad hack-fest is how the internet works and it’s how the cloud based programs everyone finds so convenient are built and maintained. Your ‘mission critical’ new cloud based accounting software depends on the slap dash engineering to work… all day, everyday. This approach almost begs to be abused, and it is.
How can we possibly secure this mess? Well, it’s nearly impossible, which is why you see so many criminals taking to this new frontier. The people using this technology are now decades into a digital skill crisis that shows no signs of ending, so the people who drive these terrible cars don’t have the skills to know just how bad they are. Our information and communication technology illiteracy also affects management who make ill informed decisions about how to integrate technology with resilience and best engineering practices first.
Imagine that you are the under-resourced mechanic for that franken-car. When something breaks you may find that it doesn’t fit into what the car has changed into as other parts got upgraded. You might find that the intention of the part you need to replace was misunderstood and it wasn’t the right thing to use in the first place. Whenever you open the hood you’re not expecting to see branded parts that were designed to be engineered together, you’re seeing a hodgepodge of bits slapped together to work in a given moment. Your maintenance of this car becomes a panicky grab at anything that might make it work, which only makes things worse.
That under-resourced mechanic has a lot to do with cybersecurity specialists. When I read an article like this scattered piece in the Globe and Mail I get a sense of just how panicky and clueless management is. What’s particularly galling in that article is the insinuation that many cybersecurity experts are somehow untrustworthy criminals because they’re able to recognize the under resourced mess we’re sitting with. Incredible.
Cybersecurity is an uphill struggle. You can expect the systems you work on to be cobbled together messes, your operators don’t know what they’re doing and the people working against you (many with organized crime or foreign government support) only have to get it right once while you have to get it right (on a nightmare software stack) everyday. It’s no wonder we’re in a decades long shortage of cyber-talent and seeing burnout becoming a major factor.
The decision to start taking online security from software development up seriously is going to take a revolution in thinking. Perhaps the coming quantum disruption to encryption in cybersecurity will prompt this change. The hacked together mess we’re working with today is begging to be burned down and redone properly.
The Iron Butt Rally is long distance motorcycling’s most challenging endurance event. It runs once every two years in the continental US and Lobo Loco Rally Master, Wolfe Bonham, is a veteran of the event. Wolfe ran the 2023 IBR and has been sharing his ride on Facebook, but he said he’s OK with guest posting on TMD, so here is parts 4-6! Eleven thousand miles in eleven days? Enjoy!
Sunday afternoon has our standard rider’s meeting, following the rookie rider’s meeting. After that we just have to anxiously await the dinner banquet where we’re finally given the Rally Book that will dictate our fates for the next 11 days.
And before you know it we’re all opening our Rally Packs, which seem oddly thin. The theme this year is food, and while there are not a lot of locations to choose from in the first 2.5 day leg, we are all given identical Bingo cards with 25 restaurant chains on them. To claim each we’ll need a photo of our motorcycle with our Rally Flag in front of the restaurant along with a receipt for a purchase inside. This will prove to be quite a time suck. A normal photo stop can be done by an experienced rally rider in under 2 minutes, including photo and paperwork… but going inside for a receipt could take 5-10 minutes each. They aren’t worth a lot of points, but if you start to score Bingo rows or columns the points start to add up quickly. Blacking out the entire card is worth an additional 2000 points. I think I’ll go for it.
Back in my hotel room by 7pm I start the planning process for my route. We are now on the clock and decisions about time spent planning/routing vs sleeping the night before begin to set in.
The Rally Book is scanned into a .pdf that I can search through while riding. The points, time limitations, and notes are added to the location codes so that I don’t have to look that up later… it all comes up on my Garmins. Weather is checked and locations are grouped by point values. It becomes obvious there are 3 distinct routes: Maine, Florida, and Denver. Given our required 2nd checkpoint in Denver I discount that one almost immediately. Maine looks more promising than Florida, but includes several locations in downtown NYC, which always makes me nervous not being from that area.
I opt for the Florida route, with the goal of getting to the daytime only high point Cedar Key location right at sunrise. That will mean skipping a few lower point locations on the way south, and only getting 1-2 nap on the first night. But, doing so opens up some options on the 2nd day to scoop up everything along the Gulf Coast and end up with some restaurants in Houston before pulling the first leg mandatory rest on night 2. Fingers crossed that sets me up to get to the big points group photo just north of the Leg 1 Checkpoint in Tulsa.
I’m happy with my plan, and in bed by 11pm.
The morning comes sooner than expected after a restless night of barely sleeping, laying in bed playing the “what if” game in my head. Breakfast is shared with fellow riders, some not saying much about where they are headed, and others sharing ideas and concerns. Bikes are loaded and we are required to be standing with our bikes from 8am until our final odometer readings are taken.
Cory Ure, parked beside me is nowhere to be seen as rally volunteers are coming down our line. I look everywhere for him, but it’s too late. They bypass his bike, and now he’ll be held from leaving until all other bikes have left.
Following a brief last minute rider’s meeting we all mount our bikes and nervously await the start. Next to me is Lisa Cover Rufo and her daughter Molly, who is calmly sipping on an iced latte! The luxury of being pillion!
Before we know it we’re off! This is my 3rd IBR, and it still brings me to tears every time I start. It is such an honour and privilege to be amongst this elite group of riders.
Pulling onto the highway we all start to spread out on our own individual plans and routes. Who will have the best plan? Who will find glory? Who will struggle just to make the finish, and who won’t get back? Will everyone be safe, or will tragedy strike? I take the ramp to I-79S on a beautiful sunny morning. My die is cast. Little do I know the next 2 days will be some of the toughest, most dangerous riding of my life.
Here’s a link to a video of the start. This is not my video, but enjoy.
Part Four – IBR 2023
The Heavens Open up
Heading southbound it isn’t long before I encounter my first of many mechanical issues. I notice my windscreen is getting closer and closer to my cell phone. I had adjusted it yesterday and it becomes apparent I didn’t torque down my Tobinator tight enough. I jump off at the next exit and waste 10 minutes getting it done right. This will be one of many roadside repairs in my near future.
Back on I-79 and it’s not long before I realize I’m running short on fuel much sooner than expected. I check my Garmin for the next available fuel and am once again off the highway. My auxiliary fuel cell is transferring fuel much slower than anticipated and I make a mental note to turn the transfer valve on sooner. On the upside this exit has a Jersey Mike’s, so I quickly snag a Bingo location while off the highway with a quick iced tea.
My next fuel stop snags the ever present Waffle House chain, but then I see the storms building across my path. The next 2 days will have me ride through no less than 7 severe thunderstorms.
Crossing on HWY 19 the weather changes. What had been a rather warm afternoon suddenly becomes very cold, and the skies open up.
Prior to the rally I had discovered that my now 6 year old Klim Carlsbad riding suit was no longer shedding water like it used. I had followed their instructions to re-water proof the outfit, but this would be the first real test.
Eventually the rain was becoming so heavy that my wheels were parting puddles deep enough to send spray up to my knees. Worried about hydroplaning I spied an upcoming Bojangles on the next exit. That’s when I also noticed I had an oil pressure light glaring at me on the dash.
It looked like a brief break would allow this storm to pass. I could get an actual meal, dry my gear, and look into my oil situation.
Under the awning of the gas station next to the restaurant I could see my oil levels were good. I guessed the only thing to do was continue riding and watch the engine temp. If it began to rise I’d know that oil wasn’t getting to all the needed spots.
Soldiering on I was getting really tight on time to make The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta, GA before they closed at 9pm. This chain is on the bingo card, but only available in the Atlanta area. I figured this would likely be my only trip through Atlanta on the rally, so I had to get it today.
This would mean passing up on visiting a Pal’s Sudden Service bingo restaurant en route. I figured I’d be able to find one later in the Rally as they are more common…. spoiler alert… I didn’t, and it would cost me blacking out the entire card! Day 1 decisions can have a cascading effect, like the butterfly that flapped its wings in Central America 3 days ago that is now causing the storms in the southern USA I’m now riding through.
My route to Atlanta only diverged enough to snag the high point value giant peach water tower in Gaffney, SC that was featured on the rally poster.
I called ahead to The Varsity to make sure they didn’t have any ideas of closing early, threw away another planned stop at a Whataburger location, hauled ass to downtown Atlanta where Cherrelle was waiting to close with my peach lemonade already poured! Phew… and it was refreshing too.
Also in the downtown was a metal peach sculpture that proved tricky to find a spot to park to take the photo. After doing a couple of laps around the nearby stadium I figured using one of the hotel lots was the only real option… and low and behold, I run into Jeffrey Gebler pulling out of one. He let’s me know he had greased the valet with a few dollars to let him park there. I quickly followed suit.
On returning to my bike a group of high school students and their teacher were checking out my bike. They were in town on a skills competition for, of all things, motorcycle and small engine repair. I took a few moments to chat with them and show them the live tracking. We wished each other good luck in our competitions and I headed out of Atlanta for Florida.
This final stretch of the night had me in more thunderstorms and it was becoming quite obvious that my Klim gear was indeed no longer waterproof. More concerning was the amount of water now pooling in my Sidi Adventure Goretex boots from running down the back of my calves.
Watching the tracker I knew most Florida bound riders had pulled off for the night, and I could see they were snug out of the weather in hotels along I-75S.
I was determined to push further and arrived at the Florida welcome center rest area where I curled up on a picnic table under an awning for 2 hours sleep…
Or so I thought…
Part Five – IBR 2023
The Struggle is Real
I wake up to the sound of distant thunder. A quick look at my weather app shows another massive storm about to roll through, and the winds are picking up. I doubt I’ll stay dry under this little park awning so I head for the shelter of the nearby welcome center. Inside I chat with a very friendly security guard as we watch the rain flying sideways and palm trees bending in the wind. I hit up the snack machine for dinner/breakfast, then make the call that I might as well be putting on some miles if I’m no longer sleeping.
I make my way through several clusters of storms on the way to Cedar Key in the dark. It should be just after sunrise when I arrive.
Suddenly my lights pick up movement from the ditch. An armadillo is attempting to cross the road, and given the wet conditions there’s very little I can do but brace for impact. I’ve always feared hitting one of these after seeing one destroy a wheel well and fender of an RV as a child. I expect it to be like hitting a rolling bowling ball. Bam!
In actual fact it was more like a large raccoon. Sorry little dude.
I pass by 2 other riders heading back out of of the Key that must’ve passed me while I napped. It’s quite windy with the nearby storms and i struggle a bit with the rally flag.
From here I’m off to New Orleans. The morning is chilly and my gear is still soaked. As I get close to Tallahassee it starts to warm up and the sun is out. I stand up on my pegs to get my gear in the wind to help it dry out. It’s working, except my boots are still swamped.
….OK OK… the clutch. For the past day all I can smell when at lower speeds is burnt clutch. I’ve made the decision to shift the bike to neutral anytime I’m stopped at a light to help preserve it as much as possible. This goes against everything we teach as motorcycle instructors. I’m also being as gentle as possible going through the gears when accelerating. Between it, an oil pressure light, my slow to transfer auxiliary fuel tank, and wet gear, the first 24 hours has kept me on my toes.
… back to Day 2.
As I get to Mobile the temps soar. It’s over 100F and extremely humid. I snag a Whataburger for my Bingo card and to cool off. I’ve been carefully watching my engine temp, and given how hot it is outside, if my oil pressure sensor warning was accurate the engine should be running extremely hot. It’s not. In fact, it sounds great at speed, although now at idle I’m starting to notice a concerning rough vibration throughout the bike. I probably should have performed a valve adjustment before leaving Canada. Great! One more thing to nag at my mind for the next 9 days.
Leaving Mobile they are thunderstorms popping up everywhere due to the heat and humidity. Coming through Gulfport and Biloxi I’m faced with 2 of the worst. Visibility becomes almost zero, signs everywhere warn of flash flood areas, and I’m trying to position myself behind transport trucks so they can part the water as much as possible to keep me from hydroplaning. I’m standing on the pegs, hazard lights on, crawling at less than 20 mph. My mind keeps telling me this is too dangerous, but there really is nowhere to go. My mind also tells me that we’re “the World’s Toughest Motorcycle Riders”. The words of one of my famous instructors, Simon Pavey come to mind. “Have a spoonful of concrete and harden the ‘f’ up!”. I soldier on towards New Orleans.
The weather breaks for a bit and I’m able to snag a CookOut, Popeyes, and Sonic, all at the same highway exit. There is another storm front about to descend onto New Orleans, though, and it’s a doozy. The I-70 bridge is so windy I have the bike leaned at almost 45 degrees and I’m getting tossed back and forth in my lane. Fortunately there aren’t a lot of other idiots out here on the bridge in this weather, so I’m not worried about hitting another vehicle. At worst I’ll get to go for a swim over the railing!
Into the city and I’m trying to stay ahead of the front. I quickly snag my photo and head west. Twice the winds in town almost knock the bike over at traffic lights, and several signs are blown off buildings. I need to get out before this hits. With some creative moves at traffic lights I’m back on the highway towards Baton Rouge where I have a Weinerschnitzel bingo restaurant as my target.
Arriving there my weather radar shows a potential tornado, and the staff offer to let me park the bike under their drive-thru shelter. We all watch my radar in hopes it won’t be too bad. It passes on the other side of the river, less than 2 miles from us!
I thank them and soldier on toward Lafayette. It appears the storms are behind me for today. I snag the Crawfish Capitol sign, and head towards Houston. Other than the interrupted nap in Florida I’ve now been riding for 32 hours straight. I plan to pull my mandatory rest in Houston after snagging another 2 bingo restaurants.
That night in the hotel room I remove my boots to assess the damage. 36 hours of wet feet and hot, sweaty conditions has led to Trench Foot. If I can’t sort this out I’m afraid I won’t make the next 9 days.
Part Six – IBR 2023
Reality Setting In
The alarm goes off far too early and I’m donning still wet gear. This doesn’t bode well for my feet, but there’s little I can do at this point. Stepping outside at 4am I’m hit with a wall of hot, humid air. My glasses instantly fog up, as does my visor even with pinlocks.
So far I’ve had to throw away WVSP – 539 pts, TNGA – 586 pts, and a Pal’s bingo restaurant. I realize to safely make the group photo bonus in Kansas by 3pm I’ll also now need to throw out TXHU for another 556 pts. That puts me almost 2000 points off my plan due to weather delays and mechanical concerns. Leg 1 isn’t going to plan… and it’s about to get worse.
I get through Houston before most people are up and set my sights just north of Austin for Ding Dong, TX. Austin traffic slows me down a bit more than expected, along with a missed highway exit. I’m getting concerned if I’ll make the group photo. At this point I have 30 minutes to spare, but I’ll need at least 3 fuel stops, as well as dealing with Dallas and Tulsa traffic.
Apart from a few construction slow downs I get through Dallas in decent time, despite hitting the ring highways at rush hour. Thankfully there is an HOV system. But I’m down to less than 15 minutes to spare for the 1632 point group photo. I’m sweating, both because of the stress and 100+F temperatures. At least it’s not raining any longer, but I can feel my feet continuing to deteriorate in my boots.
As I get closer to Sherman, TX my phone alerts me to a traffic slowdown for construction. It’s going to add 33 minutes. That’s not acceptable. As the slowdown begins I head for the shoulder with hazard lights on. It’s backed up way too far to run the shoulder all the way through it, despite having the excuse of an air cooled bike that will certainly overheat in traffic like this. Then I see a parallel service road divided from me by a ditch and patch of grass. Well, I am on a GS…
Even using all these tactics by the time I’m north of the construction my Garmins indicate I’ll be 10 minutes late to the group photo. I doubt I can make that up, and I still need to battle through Tulsa. It’s time for another change of plans.
The RallyMaster Jeff Earls is a genius at making aspects of the rally just barely attainable. Riders going to the group photo in Kansas at 3pm would have very little to do afterwards except ride to the Tulsa checkpoint 2 hours south, arriving 3 hours early. The bonus- extra rest. However, there is a little 702 point location just west of Oklahoma City. If you run the calculations you *could* immediately leave the group photo, struggle through Tulsa and OKC rush hour traffic, twice, once each direction, and arrive at CP1 10 minutes late. At 20 points per minute penalty you lose 200 points, but still net 500. A reasonable gamble… but everyone else would gain 3 hours more rest.
I had planned to make this gamble, but now that I won’t even make the group photo, I plug OKER-702 pts into my Garmins and divert away from Kansas. I’ll snag OKC early and head to the checkpoint. I’ve now thrown away almost 4000 points. My thoughts turn from top 10 to just finisher status. It’s a tough pill to swallow this early in the event.
En route I stop by a drug store for some Epsom salts, anti-fungal powder, and medicated creams. I need to get serious about my feet. I’m concerned this is turning into a staph infection, and that would certainly mean a DNF.
As I’m eastbound on I-44 I see 2 rally bikes hauling ass westbound. Only 2 brave souls opt to try to snag OKER after the group photo. I stand on my pegs, salute them as they go by, and give them a heroic fist pump. Go boys go!
If you’re into this (and how could you not be), Wolfe did a full sixteen part breakdown of the incredible long distance rally that is the IBR. You can find him on Facebook here.
If you’re looking for a start in long distance rallying, Wolfe rally-masters Lobo Loco Rallies.
This has me thinking about what it takes to take a run at the IBR, but I suspect it’s even more complicated than Wolfe lets on. I’m also curious about what it costs to do the thing. Fuel, hotels and the rest can’t be cheap, and I’m also curious about some housekeeping items like: how do you wear ear plugs for weeks at a time without getting ear infections?
There is more to this long distance rally caper than just the willipower to do it. I’ll ask and see if I can get any more details out of him.