Lobo Loco Rally

I just signed up for the Lobo Loco Scavenger Hunt on August 27th.  You can still sign up if you’re in Ontario and want to try a motorcycle scavenger hunt/rally.

It looks to be a good time.  You start off any time after 8am from somewhere in Southern Ontario and finish up in Hamilton by 4pm.  Dinner follows with the other rally contestants.  It’s $75 for the rally & dinner.

You try and hit as many way points as possible on your way to the 4pm meeting in Hamilton.  It should be interesting to see the various bikes and riders who sign up for this.

They include a video which explains how this type of rally works:

The sign up ends soon.  Act quick and sign up if you’re interested!

If  you’re still curious, they’re staging another one on Oct 15, 2016.  Follow the facebook page to see details.

Staring Into The Abyss

Originally published on Dusty World  in October, 2012:

I was just reading Doug Peterson’s Blog about how a number of edublogs are looking at the Amanda Todd story.  I can understand the urge, but I’m coming at this from a different angle than most.

I’ve had a particularly difficult year dealing with suicide.  In September I received an email from the coroner with a PDF attached.  In many pages of astonishing detail I read the science that showed that my Mum’s death wasn’t an accident, that she took her own life.  When you’re staring into an abyss like this the rhetoric currently in the media sounds astoundingly shallow.  Suicide isn’t a rational choice, or even an emotional one, it’s an existential choice, the most profound one imaginable.

To pin an action like this on a single motivation (ie: cyber bullying so you can amp up anxiety around technology use with children) is simplistic and manipulative.  I have no doubt that cyber bullying played a part, but to base suicide on a single motivating factor is asinine and seems more in line with pushing a political agenda than recognizing a complex truth.

When I was in high school I was big into Dungeons and  Dragons.  At the height of the hobby a kid in Orangeville killed themselves and the press gleefully pinned the cause on D&D, causing panic in parents and making me, as an avid player, feel isolated and vilified.  They’d done something similar a few years earlier with Ozzy Osborne and another suicide.  This kind of simplification fills up the reports of the chattering classes, and helps idiots create fictions that let them push agendas.  That many in the public swallow it is a lasting sadness.

From an educator’s point of view, this is being treated as a management issue.  I fear suicide is being used to manipulate cyber bullying as a political tool – which under my circumstances seems particularly callous.  Rhetorical stances like ‘suicide is never an option’ and rationalizations abound in an attempt to direct this very difficult aspect of human behavior.  Control is the goal, based on a very real fear of the outcome.  But the rhetoric still comes on in response to the presses’ assertion that cyber bullying caused this death.

I’ve been staring into this abyss for a while now.  It has made work difficult, it has made life seem like the self made experience that it is, which is exceedingly heavy if you’re like most people and happy with distractions and assumption as your reason for being.  Nothing is inherently valuable, life is what we make it – literally.  In my Mum’s case she was battling mental illness and was finally on medication for it – which she overdosed on.  Did mental illness play a part in her death?  No doubt.  Was it the only cause?  Not remotely.

The suicide I’m dealing with didn’t happen in a vacuum, I suspect none of them do.  I also suspect that none of them has ever, ever happened for a single reason.  There is no doubt that Amanda was bullied, and that this was a factor in her suicide.  What I question are the responses that focus on dealing with a single social issue that has always and will always exist as though resolving it would somehow magically have prevented her death.

People are naturally social and competitive.  Bullying is a result of this basic human nature, it always has been.  The twist now is that many of the clueless digital natives are publishing what has always happened privately for everyone to see.  Instead of being seen as a window to a previously hidden behavior, the media has dubbed this a cyber bullying epidemic and called into question the very technologies that have made a problem as old as humanity obvious.

The educational response has been to try and get out in front of this invented epidemic.  As someone who has circled this abyss, I’d ask everyone involved in education to consider the situation from more than a single perspective.  Please do not simplify suicide into a misunderstanding that can be rationalized away.

We are not serving our students well if we simplify this into an administrative exercise solely to reduce suicide numbers.  Appreciate the complexities of suicide and try to see the people who end up in this darkness as whole people with many interconnected, complex issues, and not something to be convinced, coerced, manipulated or managed into doing what is more comfortable for everyone else.

Suicide is complex, terrifying and present.  It deserves our full attention, not a soundbite.

Art Therapy.

They’re all trying to kill me, even when they’re not

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon in April and I’m pootling down a residential street in the town next to mine on my way home from work…

There is a kid, maybe nine or ten years old with a basketball in his hand, standing on the grass on that corner to the left.  A white, ludicrous-sized SUV (maybe a Tahoe?) is in the lane approaching me.  I’m doing about 40km/hr towards this seemingly innocuous scene when the kid (who is looking the other way and hasn’t seen me at all) decides to throw the basketball out in the street right in front of the SUV just to see what it’ll do.  You could see him standing there doing the math before he chucked the ball.

The Tahoe driver has that vacant I’m-in-a-giant-box-and-don’t-need-to-pay-attention look you see in a lot of SUV drivers.  Generally, the larger the box they’re in, the less they seem to care what happens outside it.  He suddenly keys in that a basketball is going to hit his precious status symbol, so he swerves out of his lane and right at me, except I’m not there.

A couple of things inform my ESP on the road.  Firstly, Conestoga’s Motorcycle Training courses did a great job of getting me to threat assess and prioritize what’s going on around me.  For less than the price of a decent helmet you get experts with decades of experience getting you started.  Motorcycle training courses should be mandatory for anyone wanting to ride on the road.  They give you the best chance to survive the often ridiculous circumstances you find yourself in.

The second piece is something that Matt Crawford mentions in one of his books.  He has a mantra he chants when things get dodgy, and I’ve found that it helps remind you to never, ever depend on the skills or even basic competence of the people driving around you.  When things get sticky Matt mutters in his helmet, “they’re all trying to kill me, they’re all trying to kill me.”  It’s the kind of gallows humour that most motorcyclists would find funny, but it’s also sadly true.

A few weeks ago a kid made a mistake in school but it was excused as an accident by one teacher because the kid wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt anyone.  Another teacher pointed out (rightly I think) that not properly preparing for a task, or doing it half-assed isn’t an accident, it’s incompetence, and that person’s intentions are irrelevant, they are at fault.  The word accident removes blame and makes everyone feel better, it covers all manner of indifference.  No where is this more true than on a motorcycle.  Any experienced motorcyclist will tell you that it doesn’t matter if you have right of way when you pull out and get clobbered, or whether the distracted driver that side swiped you while texting shouldn’t have been.  You’ll loose any physical altercation you have with a car (or a 3 ton Tahoe).  It’s on you, the rider, to avoid these idiots.

On a quiet back street in Fergus, Ontario I could very well have ignored the abject stupidity unfolding in front of me or spent my energy assigning blame, but I didn’t.  The child’s profound ignorance and vicious curiosity (great job with that one parents) along with the Tahoe driver’s distracted, indifferent approach to operating a six thousand pound vehicle could have very well ended me (80km/hr closing speeds between two vehicles won’t end well for a motorcyclist).  As it was, I’d pulled over to the curb and was stationary as the Tahoe went by in my lane, looking surprised and freaked out that his precious truck almost got hit by a basketball.

I could have gesticulated, but I just stood there at the curb shaking my head as the freaked out driver rolled past.  You’re not going to convince someone like that to be better than what they are.  The kid ran out into the street (he still hadn’t looked my way), and grabbed his basketball.  I could have talked to him, or eventually his parents, but there’d be little point to that either.  Blame is a waste of time.

Even when they aren’t trying, they’re all still trying to kill you, keep your head up.

A Day In The Shop

I took a day off from the enormous deck I’ve been building to work on the Concours.  After the initial clean up I got the instrument cluster off in preparation for a new speedo cable.  This looks like a pretty easy job.  The cluster is only held on with two bolts and the speedo cable runs directly from it to the front tire.  You slot the ends of the cable in and do them up and you’re off to the races.  Replacement cables only run you about ten bucks.

’94 Concours clutch lever assembly.  Those
little bolts that hold on the cover are 4mm
and hard to source (not much in the way of
metric bolts around here).  The clutch lever
meets up with a pin and various odds and
ends that connect it to the reservoir.

I’ve also removed the rather sad looking handlebar end weights and looked at the clutch lever.  The former owner said it was missing a grommet, but it looks like other odds and ends are missing as well from the lever assembly, which is remarkably fine boned.  I’ve looked up prices online, but there don’t seem to be any Canadian online parts sellers that work in this kind of OEM detail.

Considering the relatively low cost of the odds and ends I need (about $30), it seems silly to buy American and deal with customs hassles and shipping costs that almost equal the cost of the parts.  Even with dealer markup, my local Kawi dealer should be able to beat the shipping markup.

I finally got to the various fairing bits and panniers and they look to be in good shape after I got the cobwebs, mud and grime off them.

The current plan is to get the speedo operational, check other details and then put her back together again and take her in for a safety check.  If all goes well there I’ll begin the process of putting her back on the road.  With any luck I’ll get some miles on before the snow falls and then spend the winter stripping her down for a paint job.

The instrument cluster is a simple removal, two bolts
underneath hold the unit to a subframe.  The whole
thing is connected to the speedo cable out the bottom
and a couple of wiring harnesses out the side.
Many bits and pieces make up a
Kawasaki Concours.  The instrument

bezel (middle) cleaned up nicely after
a soak in some armourall.

I finally got the Connie up on the centre stand.  If there is a trick to that I’d love to hear it.  I ended up putting a wooden
ramp out back and man-handling it up it in order to get the stand down.

Connie’s Home

It’s a very Kawasaki garage!

The Concours is home.  After a long bath (engine cleaner and a deep rinse) she fired right up.  I like this bike, even when it’s covered in cobwebs and has been sitting outside for a year unridden it’s still got fight in it.  The engine has gobs of torque and pulls hard.  The controls are stiff, but the gear changes are very smooth.  Shaft drive seems like magic.

So far she seems to be as advertised: good mechanicals but a mess aesthetically.  Over the next few days I’ll be breaking her down and seeing what needs doing.  Hopefully there won’t be any surprises.

It’s a two bike garage now…
The Connie cleans up nicely


Dreams and Realities

It’s the bike on my bedroom wall when I was a kid.

As near as I can tell the ’84 Interceptor is still for sale, though the owner isn’t responsive to emails.  I’ll end up phoning and see if I can get up there next week to look at it.

In the meantime, a Concours appeared nearby that looks like a good buy.  Mechanically good but a bit rough looking, it’s priced to sell.

So here I am again at the intersection of fantasy and reality, wondering which way to turn.  The Interceptor isn’t running, will need a complete rebuild (it’s been sitting for a decade), and costs $700.  It’s also a good couple of hours away and would need me to find/rent a vehicle to bring it home.  The Concours is twenty minutes away, roadworthy and is $1000 or best offer.  Price wise there is little between them.

Owning a bike at all is a dream come true, so the dream versus reality distinction is finer here.  The question now is which direction do I want to go next?  Last year I did a lot of miles on the Ninja.  This year I’ve been riding a lot of different bikes and the Ninja hasn’t seen me as much.  I want to continue to expand my riding repertoire.  Both bikes offer bigger engines and variations on the sport touring theme.  The Interceptor would be my first Honda, the Kawi would introduce me to shaft drive.

The purpose of buying a fixer-upper is to have something to spanner in the winter months, so the idea of repairing the Honda isn’t fearsome, it’s something I’d look forward to, and parts seem to be available for it.  There are also a lot of information sites on the web about it.  I’d always assumed I’d buy a Honda bike, but I’ve been waylayed by Kawasaki’s awesomeness.  I’m trying not to be brand specific but rather honour the engineering.  Having said that, I’ve always had a crush on Hondas and Triumphs.

She doesn’t look like much, but she’s got it where
it counts… If it worked for Han Solo, it’ll work for me.
Is this my diamond in the rough?

That Concours needs some TLC too though.  The Concours is ten years newer with lower kilometres.  This seems like a no-brainer, but this is where emotion clouds the decision.  The Interceptor has been my dream machine forever, I’ve always wanted to own one.  The Concours is a much more usable machine.  My son and I could tour on it comfortably and do a lot of miles.

The Concours is also a gentler machine, and while I’m still an adolescent when it comes to riding a motorcycle, I’m 45 years old otherwise.  That the Concours is a big guy who can move with surprising speed is a much better fit for this balding, middle age guy than an ’80s superbike.  There comes a time when you don’t want to look absurd on a bike, or maybe that just doesn’t matter.

In a more perfect world I’d have a big enough garage to get both.  The Interceptor would get stripped down and prepped as a vintage race bike.  I could then live out my dreams of riding it on the safety of a track.  The Concours would get fixed up and cover some huge miles, occasionally finding some twisties to show off its athletic prowess.

Buying a bike has been such a visceral experience that I think I’ll have to see both in the flesh before I make a decision.  I’m hoping that the Kawi strikes an emotional nerve with me because if she can get under my skin I know she’d be a better fit than a feverish teenager’s dream.

Project Bikes

I got a couple of nibbles on Kijiji from my ‘got an old bike in your shed you want to get rid of?” ad…

1979 Suzuki GS850, not running, asking $500


A review on this specific bike from the UK shows a lot of love for it.

Here is a history of the GS850 series of bikes from Suzuki.  It’s a touring bike and weighs in at around 600lbs.  With a shaft drive and that weight it isn’t exactly ideal as a cafe racer rebuild.  It is however air cooled and those pipes are lovely. Something other than a cafe racer could be

the goal.  This military style build is interesting.

As a bobber style bike with a saddle, the GS850 has some potential!



1986 Honda Shadow 1100cc, no info given, asking $500

Another big cruiser (many people seem to have these old lumps lying around).  Shaft drive, massive motor, covered in things.  Everything I don’t like in a motorcycle.



If these get customized, it seems to be along chopper lines.  I think I’m holding out for something a bit less, um, big.

Architectural Responses to Virtual Mindspaces

I’ve been watching home reno shows over Alanna’s shoulder and noticed that in almost all cases everyone is knocking out walls and creating ‘open concept’ living spaces.  I can’t help but think this is a side effect of personalized media.

Once you had a ‘TV room’ but it’s no longer needed.  We still share media, but we don’t sit in a room staring at a cathode ray tube in groups.  Without the need for shared broadcast media viewing spaces we open up our living spaces.  Any time we want some privacy, we simply dive into a screen.

One of the unique features of digital technology is that it creates a self-directed, private virtual space for your interests.  If you want to drop out of your surroundings you can do it in a moment on a smartphone or tablet.  You can see people doing this in public spaces all the time, but it also works at home.  We used to do this with watching TV, but the broadcast nature of that media meant not everyone watching wanted to.  Even the ones who chose the show were passive consumers.  In a world where some people wanted to watch TV and others wanted to read, we built up walls as the two aren’t mutually conducive.  With personal devices and media you can have ten people all doing exactly what they want in media rich ways, all in the same space.

Digital media is much stickier and attention grabbing than broadcast media because it’s self directed and participatory instead of passive and consumptive.  Digital immersion can happen in much busier places because we are active participants.  It can also thrive in those places because digital media offers a richer variety of media.  It effectively amalgamates all previous forms of media as well as spawning new ones.

Architecture reflects our communication habits: this space
is designed for the telling of information.  Self directed
information gathering and collaboration are not what
this room is about.

Architecture adapts to changes in how we communicate.  Classrooms in school are an architectural response to a model of teaching based on the verbal transmission of information.  You couldn’t have twenty teachers all talking to their students in an open concept space, it wouldn’t work, so walls went up.  Now that we’re evolving into personalized virtual spaces that offer access to information, communication and collaboration on a level unimaginable twenty years ago, what will physical classrooms evolve into?  If you don’t have to wait for someone to verbally communicate information, what will schools look like?

We lament digital distraction as a scourge on society, but it is also an information rich immersive experience that offers us a new dimension of mental privacy.  We are increasingly able to collaborate and communicate in complex, geographically irrelevant ways.  Watching how architecture responds to this change in behaviour is one of the surest ways to see how influential this digital revolution has become.

Chain and Agony, or, the End of Local Parts Suppliers

I’ve got to admit I’m a bit pissed off.  After trying to wrap my head around chains and sprockets online I decided to buy locally and have a chat with the parts desk at my regional dealer.  Since it was my first time doing a chain/sprocket replacement I figured I’d pay the extra cost and get some face to face advice.

Trying to get details out of the parts-desk guy was like pulling teeth.  He seemed frustrated with my questions and didn’t offer up much.  I guess the logic there was, ‘just bring it in to service.’  I left paying over $300 taxes in for what would have cost me $240 online, but was none the wiser.  I was at least assured that these were the specific parts I needed.

After a series of confusing and frustrating situations, here is the advice I wish the parts guy at the dealer had given me:

The Ninja 650r uses a 114 link chain, he gave me a 120 link chain but told me this was the stock chain especially for my bike.  He’s not wrong, but he didn’t tell me I’d have to ‘break’ the chain.  Here is how I wish it’d gone down:

You’re going to need one of these to break and master link up a motorcycle chain. It isn’t expensive (about sixty bucks)

Parts guy: “I’m ordering you the chain size for your bike, but it comes with six extra links.  When it comes in I’ll get one of the guys to break the chain so it fits your bike specifically.  If you want I’ll even ask him to do it when you come to pick it up so you can see how he does it.”

He could have sold me a $60 tool (probably for more) and I would have left knowing what I was getting into, instead all I got was the exasperated face.  

When I hung the chain on the bike it was way too long (it was a 120 link chain going on a 114 link bike, but I didn’t know that at the time).  I had to go digging to find out why the chain ‘specific to my bike’ obviously didn’t fit.

This experience asks a larger question about brick and mortar stores versus shopping online: why would I spend the gas and time driving there and then pay the extra 20% for the experience if I can pay less online?  If there is nothing value added in me bothering to buy at full retail locally, then why would I do it?

Second up, I wish he’d have offered me some pragmatic advice for doing my own chain work:

Parts guy: “Is this your first motorcycle chain?  It’s pretty easy to mess it up.  I’d suggest going for a basic O-ring chain for your first go.  If you botch the job you’re only out fifty bucks and you’ve learned something.”

I ended up buying the bells and whistles X-ring chain on his advice, and then breaking it a link too short (after looking up how to do that on that paragon of customer support, the internet).  It’s an expensive learning experience breaking a chain so that it doesn’t fit my bike.  At least it’s still over 110 links and a 520 sized chain, meaning it’ll work on a lot of other bikes.  Now I’ve not got to decide whether to seal it up and wait for an ideal use or try and resell it (at a loss).

One way or another, I don’t think I’ll be driving down to the local dealer again for parts, I get my questions answered with more patience on the internet, which beggars belief.

Note:  a couple of days later I went online and picked up a basic O-link chain from the same Japanese chain manufacturer from Canada’s Motorcycle (35% cheaper than the equivalent chain from the dealer).  In a matter of moments the chain was on its way (free delivery).  It got here in the same amount of time it took the dealer to order it in (but I didn’t have to drive down to the city twice).  I’m all for buying locally and helping out the area economy, but if local business don’t realize how they can add value to a local buying experience, they’re going to kill it stone dead.

Note²:  maybe it’s only a motorcycle dealership thing.  I went to RONA to make an order for deck parts and they couldn’t have been more fantastic, same with Universal Rentals in Fergus, equally awesome customer service.  Are motorbike shops just too cool to care?

Note³: See the followup post on how to break/shorten/master link a new bike chain for how-tos. 

Naked Versys Ninja: Riding Many Demo-Bikes

At Kawasaki’s Demo-Day last weekend I threw a leg over as many different bikes as I could.  I’m looking for my second bike and I have an opportunity to make a much more educated decision this time, however my expectations didn’t always match my riding experience, although with my current crush they exceeded them:

Kawasaki Z1000

As pretty in person and a treat to ride.

I started on a bike I like so much I’ve got a poster of it up in the garage: the Kawasaki Z1000.  Riding a 1000cc bike spoiled me for the rest of the day.  You can be inattentive with gear changes and the big four just pulls away with turbine like insistence.  The wide bars made handling light and responsive and I didn’t find the gearing as twitchy as I’ve read it is.


The saddle most wanted.

It’s not often that someone you’re smitten with is as impressive in person, but the Z1000 rides as special as it looks.  It pulls hard, feels wonderfully poised and seems to enjoy moving as much as the rider, it has the same kind of cheerful internal combustion that my Ninja has.

Our 20-30 minute round trip down country roads and through villages put this naked beauty in its glory.  It’s a bike for riding not a bike for covering miles at speed, but if you’re looking for an interactive riding experience this is it.  As a solo riding machine that puts the focus on the experience, you can’t get much better.  It’s an emotional as well as a mechanically satisfying ride.  When I’ve been riding long enough that I can afford to insure one, it’ll be on my short list.

Kawasaki Versys

The big Versys with a wonderfully smooth four cylinder and a very neutral riding position.

I’ve been curious about the Versus for a while now, it’s Kawasaki’s all-rounder.  Before taking any out I was talking to the Kawi-rep and he said they get photos of people riding Versys to the ends of the earth, it’s a very capable all-round machine.

I’d initially only signed up for a 650cc test ride, but the rep was able to get me onto a VIP ride with the 1000cc, and I’m glad he did.  The big Versys is a tall bike with great wind protection, tall handlebars and comfortable seating position.  Like the Z1000, that big four is turbine smooth and pulls hard at any RPM.  It’s an easy bike to ride and doesn’t show its weight other than the somewhat awkward ride height.

My 32″ inseam just touched the ground but I couldn’t flatfoot.  On a bike this tall I’d expect more relaxed geometry in my legs when I’m on the pegs, but they were bent about as much as they are on my Ninja.  Short of getting on a cruiser I’m going to have to assume I’ll be folding myself onto most bikes.  If the foot pegs are high enough to allow the bike to lean into corners meaningfully then leg geometry is going to be bent.

The little Versys, a close cousin to my Ninja with the same engine and many shared parts.

Overall I found the big Versys a nice surprise.  It’s only 33 kilos heavier than the 650cc bike and has much more presence, comfort and wind protection.  This would be a bike that could cover long miles with ease, yet is higher off the ground and able to traverse even rough terrain.

I was talking to a rep from Rally Connex Adventure Tours about the Versys and he suggested it wouldn’t take much to create a Versys Scrambler.  His main concern was the soft underbelly full of exhaust pipes – with a modified exhaust that runs up the side high on the bike, the Versys might become a real RTW contender.

The little Versys was the one I was keen to try.  It has the same engine as my Ninja, which I think sounds great, is super efficient and offers great power to weight.  I expected a light, quick bike with a more neutral riding position suitable for longer rides.

I was surprised at how rough the little Versys was.  Perhaps I was spoiled by riding the bigger bike first, but on the ride home back on my own Ninja it had none of the buzziness of the 650cc Versys.  The seat was hard and high and the riding position is less leaned over than on the Ninja, but not by much.  When revved it I found a lot of vibration coming back through the handlebars and seat, to the point where I didn’t want to rev it and actually stalled it at a traffic light (my only stall of the day).  Perhaps it’s a new engine and it hasn’t been worked in yet, but the bike I was most curious about was the one I had the least interest in after the ride.  It was uncomfortable, felt under-powered and didn’t offer the more relaxed rider geometry that I was hoping for, a real disappointment.

Kawasaki Ninja 300

I would have signed up for a ride on the Ninja 1000 or the ZX-14r, the former because it has gotten good reviews as an athletic all-rounder, the later because it’s bonkers and I’ve got a crush on it, but instead I thought I’d try the Ninja 300 to see what such a wee bike is capable of.  It turns out, quite a lot!  Trying to keep up with everyone else on two to three (to five!) times the displacement was tricky until I figured the bike out.

The little Ninja is unbelievably light and feels weak until you get half way up the rev range, then that little motor comes to life.  Five minutes in I wasn’t letting it drop below seven thousand RPM, and I hit the rev limiter at a stratospheric 13,000 RPM a couple of times before I figured out how to keep it close by the sound of the engine (which is surprisingly smooth and eager).

The wee Ninja is a limited machine, no doubt, but when you wring its neck its also a very entertaining one.  It was nice to end my day of rides with such a pleasant surprise.

There was such a mix of bikes at this demo ride that I’m disappointed that I couldn’t try them all.  From the ZX-14r super-bike to something as relaxed as the Vulcan cruiser, I’m more curious than ever as to how all these bikes do the same job differently.  Even up the sports/adventure end of things where I did my riding, the differences in the bikes were astonishing.



As I mentioned before, if you have a chance to do a demo-day, I highly recommend it.  The experiences gained there make finding a bike that suits you a matter of fact and hands-on preference rather than faith and opinion.