One More Bike Is Never Enough

My cousin-in-law posted this on Facebook.  Funny how the proliferation of bikes is a common theme.  Few people are happy with just one, probably because one bike can’t do it all and if you love to ride you probably want to ride in as many different circumstances as possible.

I’ve posted several times on bikes that have caught my eye and after realizing that there is math to support this I’m going to do it again!

Based on the bikes I’ve sat on at various shows over the winter these are the ones that felt special or stood out for me.  Given a chance I’d love to test ride them.

A big, naked Kawasaki Z1000

I wanted to love the Triumph Street Triple, or the Suzuki Gladius, but they felt on the small side.  I was also keen to try the Yamaha FZ-09, and while it fit ok it didn’t offer much in the way of an emotional charge.  

As far as naked bikes go there was only one that felt special, and that was the Kawasaki Z1000.  The big, newly re-engineered Kawasaki has a kind of bonkers ode-to-Japanese-anime look that really gets to me.  That it also fit me nicely and offered an astounding openness (the dash all but disappears into the fairing), made it a love at first sight experience.  I’m still a few years away from a litre bike, but when I’m ready, this one is on the short list.

A need for speed

I went to shows this winter thinking I’m all about the adventure bike, but they aren’t what got me going.  Sure, sitting on the big Ewan McGregor adventure BMW felt grand, but it didn’t really get me excited.  I’ve always been a sports car goof, I guess I’m the same way about bikes.

What surprised me was sitting on the Suzuki Hayabusa.  This was another big bike that felt like it was proportioned right for me (6’3″ 230lbs).  The mystical reputation of this speed machine as well as its visual presence surprised me.  It isn’t a rational response (the BMW was much more sensible, which is saying something), but sitting on the ‘Busa felt special.

That sport bike appeal rocked me again when I sat on the Kawasaki ZX-14R.  With Testarosa strakes over the air intakes and the way you fall into the bike, it quickened my pulse.  Once again, not a rational decision, but the emotion couldn’t be denied.

I still want to expand my riding repertoire beyond sports bikes, but as the weather starts to warm up and the Ninja looks at me from the garage, I find myself not wanting to give it up for some blatting adventure bike that feels like it’s on stilts.  I intend to find my way to a day or two of off-road training because it’s a good way to better understand the physics of riding, but that feels like a rational choice, what I want to do is get some track time in.

In the future I may have a couple of three bikes in the garage.  I hope I’ll love each one in a different way, but it looks like the sport bike may have a special place in my heart.  I guess I’m going to have to come to terms with being a big guy with a sports bike addiction.

Icelandic Motorcycle Culture

I’m sitting in England thinking about our 9 days in Iceland.  We covered over two thousand kilometres in the land of fire and ice, alas, none of it on two wheels, but I was always on the lookout for motorcycle culture and there is no shortage of it on Iceland.  In a future post I’m going to hammer out all the advice I’ve garnered from our Icelandic reconnaissance.

You see a lot of BMW GSes on Iceland.  Viking Biking rents them out of Reykjavik and a ferry delivers them from mainland Europe on the east coast.  The adventure bike is the perfect motorcycle genre for Iceland as the roads vary from smooth tarmac to potholed hard dirt, and everything in between.





On our second day I discovered another side of Icelandic motorcycling culture.  The big-twin cruiser rider can also be found here, albeit in much reduced numbers.  The Norse Riders Iceland Chapter are a mashup of your North American patch club with viking imagery.  Like every other biker I’ve talked to, they look rough but are the nicest people when you chat with them.

Later that day we were making tracks back to Keflavik Airport to return the rental car when we came across some massive lava fields in the south west of the island.  We’d been driving 20 minutes at a time without seeing traffic either way, and this was during the height of tourist season when a number of people had asked me if we should be going there then.  If you like empty roads, you’ll love Iceland.  Through the lava fields eventually came two GSes making time on the empty, winding roads.  I can only imagine the smiles on those riders’ faces.

Even in the capital of Reykjavik you’re looking at something the size of a small North American town.  Traffic moves all the time and there are seldom any backups.  Out in the country you’re making tracks all the time with sporadic traffic at worst.

You’re driving on the right, so you’ve got none of the headaches involved in riding in the UK or Australia/NZ, and the drivers themselves are polite and efficient.  If you pull up behind a slower moving vehicle they’ll turn on their right indicator when it’s safe for you to pass.  We made good time in a hatchback and then a mini-van with six people and luggage; on a bike it’d be heaven.

This left me wondering what I’d most enjoy riding in Iceland.  The Tiger I’ve got sitting in a garage back home would be the ideal weapon – able to make good use of tarmac but able to manage gravel and packed dirt/potholes.  Iceland is adventure bike nirvana.

A couple of days later we were out near Lake Myvatn and came across a couple of Germans on KTMs.  With their light weight soft panniers and nimble bikes capable of handing any rough stuff, these enduros would be another good choice for riding Iceland.

Those KTMs slice down the valley of the Krefla Geo-thermal power plant (Iceland’s main source of electricity and heating is green/geo-thermal energy).  

On our first day with two families, 3 kids and a minivan, we did what all Canadians do and covered a lot of miles, all while repeatedly ignoring the satnav.

The vast majority of this drive was on tarmac, but the satnav kept telling us to turn back on the north shore of the peninsula and we soon found out why.  There were over 100kms of gravel roads that soon devolved into hard parked pot-holed earth roads.  While battling those roads you’re also wrapping around fjords and experiencing blind corners at fifteen degree inclines.  It’s beautiful, but it’s a tough road, especially if you’re still hundreds of kilometres from where you’re going to lay your head that night.  We saw a number of campers just pull up in a fjiord for the night to enjoy the quiet and the view.

It’d be a challenging ride on an adventure bike, but you’d never forget the scenery.  Based on how exhausting the car ride was, I’d suggest 2 full riding days to do this on a bike, and be ready for some technically challenging roads on day two.

 

Snaesfellsyokel: a stratovolcano in a land of rift built shield volcanoes.  There is a road across the back of it, if you dare. Rental cars are restricted from using F roads, and considering how rough some of the ‘main’ roads where, F roads must be quite technical.

 

Your typical busy Icelandic summer road – if you like the view you’ll get a new one like this every ten minutes.

 

Lava fields

 

1st day in Iceland: driving Canadian style (huge distances, various road surfaces)…

 

Taken five minutes past midnight – that’s pretty much as dark as it gets – dusky.

Riding in Iceland isn’t an oddity.  You’ll meet people from all across Europe exploring the continent’s last real frontier.  Whether you’re a cruiser, a sport or an adventure rider, you’ll find your people here on two wheels enjoying some Jurassic Park quality landscapes and empty, sinuous roads.


If you’re into exploration of any kind, Iceland delivers.

A 4×4 off-road ready camper van?  Yep, saw that (parked on black lava sand at the base of a cinder volcano!)

 

This couple were pros.  Their packing was exceptionally organized and the next morning they were up in a light rain in full waterproofs and gone before 8am.








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A Single Decision Could Save Our Future

I watched the first episode of BBC’s Victorian Bakers the other day and it’s still resonating with me.  They kick it off by taking modern bakers and putting them in an early Victorian bakery.  Like one of the guys in this, I have a family history of baking.  The Kings I’m named after were bakers on Drayton high street near Norwich for generations.

My uncle John has a great story of heading out for bread deliveries on a horse and cart with my great grandfather Eddie.  They left before sunrise and were dropping off loaves for miles and miles before coincidently ending up doing their last drop right next to a public house around lunch time.  Eddie went in, had two pints on an empty stomach and then got back on the cart.  The horse walked the ten miles home without direction while Eddie had a nap.  My then six year old uncle just sat next to him with his mouth hanging open.

The BBC show does a good job of situating those early Victorian bakers in a time period that is very unfamiliar to modern people.  They were performing a truly sustainable industry that had been done in much the same way since before the middle ages.  For millenia local bakeries in villages and towns across the country had made bread that provided the majority of caloric intake for everyone around them using technology and processes that were passed down from generation to generation.  Every time I take out a bag of garbage or a box of recycling and wait for a diesel monster to take them away, I’m aware that what I’m doing isn’t remotely as sustainable.  It’s a lot of hard graft, but between our fixations on ease of living and short term gain, the idea that we could hand down an industry to our children without it destroying the world is foreign to us, hard work or not.

Using brewer’s yeast from local breweries and grain from local fields, the bakery, attached to a water powered mill, would feed everyone within walking or riding distance.  In the process of mimicking this time period the modern bakers made a number of surprising observations, such as how effectively the locally sourced and unmodified brewer’s yeast raised the bread.  Modern yeast has been bred to grow as rapidly as possible in order to be distributed industrially on a massive scale.  It’s not made for taste or even health, it’s made for ease of productivity.  Most of what we do in the 21st Century is designed to feed industry.  The modern bakers who are used to this GMO’d yeast were surprised at how well the traditional brewer’s yeast worked, as well as how much taste it retained; modern yeast is bland by comparison.  One of them said that he could make this bread in his current bakery and it would sell no problem – people miss the details lost in industrialization.
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Another naturally rather than industrially sourced ingredient were the local, ancient grains used in this traditional bread making.  An archeologist turned farmer in the area was farming using traditional methods.  So, rather than industry driven monocultural crops that erode soil, he had a variety of grains that naturally grew in the region.  He couldn’t slot that in to modern expectations designed to maximize profit at the expense of everything else, but it did enable the TV production to make a surprisingly accurate traditional bread.  Those traditional grains changed from region to region depending on the local biome, so if you travelled more than two centuries ago, the bread and beer would have tasted different depending on where you were.  Modern grain is bred for rapid growth and tends to be monocultural (and trademarked) in order to maximize short term yields, so they lack that variety and the sustainability that ancient grains had.  Another surprise was the reduced amount of gluten in the ancient grains bread.  Modern monocultures are selected for maximum gluten in order to produce the biggest, fluffiest bread possible.  We genetically engineer grains so they are gluten overloaded then wonder why we’re having a reaction to gluten.
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GMOs aren’t the issue here other than how trademarked, selective breeding also fits into the industrial farming disaster.  We’ve been selectively breeding crops and animals for thousands of years to good effect.  The issue is how industrially driven economics force agriculture into unsustainable, damaging, repetitive high-yield, mono-cultural crops that are inherently dependent on diesel powered heavy machinery and heavy chemical use.  All of this is done to produce as much cheap food or fuel as possible.  The quality of that food and the fact that we can’t keep doing it this way aren’t in the equation when farmers are forced to look at short term gain year after year.  When we mess around with agriculture in order to increase profitability at the cost of our health or the health of our environment, we’re ultimately destroying the world for the short term gain of only a few people, and leaving the wreckage for the people who come after us.


The economic system that drives our industrial economy goes well beyond a lack of sustainability.  It demands sacrifices to our health and safety in order to drive short term profit.    Thanks to this myopia we have turned a staple food that we’ve eaten for thousands of years into something unsustainable and unhealthy in order to make more of it for less.  The following episode of Victorian Bakers showed how industrialization and the profit driven wealth that comes from it not only made a traditional, sustainable industry nearly impossible, but also produced products that were happy to trade health for profit.  The bakers in the show were never as unhappy as they were in the early industrial bakery.  The next time someone tells you that we need to deregulate industry, show them this:


***

The red countries are already upside down. The green coutries are all trending toward red. We aren’t remotely aimed toward a viable end.


This series has me thinking about larger questions around sustainability.  Pretty much everything we do on an industrial scale is driving us toward extinction or at least a drastic correction.  We’re too selfish to make these changes ourselves, but it doesn’t matter because nature will eventually make them for us.  We think we’re forced into making these decisions because of our population, but our population is also a choice.

Current estimates have us at three times the sustainable number of people the Earth can manage.  We could resolve overpopulation in only a few generations, but it would mean radically altering an economic system designed to ignore sustainability in favour of selfishness and short term gain, as well as acting in a way that we as animals aren’t evolved to do.  Procreation is an instinctive force that most people are unwilling or unable to consider modifying.  Asking humans to voluntarily consider modifying the number of children they have raises all sorts of superstition and involuntary anger.  The vast majority of us are not able to worry about how our great grandchildren will survive no matter what horrible things we’re doing to them.

 

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If, over the next four generations, we volunteered to follow a one child per family policy, we’d have corrected human overpopulation by 2100.  By 2200 we could stabilize the human population under that two billion mark while still being able to develop our science and technology towards less invasive and more sustainable goals.  What we wouldn’t be able to do is continue our short sighted economic system that really only works to convert future misery into today’s profits for a decreasing number of people.  Our economic system is only considered successful if it’s always growing.  The only other thing in nature that works that way is cancer, and a cancer is exactly what free-market driven human beings who think they can procreate at will and ignore the natural consequences are.

It’s possible for us to resolve the mess we’re in.  There is a way forward, but I fear it’ll never happen voluntarily.  I’ll never meet my son’s grandchildren, but I hope he can leave them a world where they don’t find humanity to be a selfish, ignorant, overpowering cancer on the biosphere.  It would be a world where human beings take responsibility for the science and technology that have allowed them to medicine themselves past many of the natural mechanisms that would have otherwise limited their growth.  If we’re going to spend billions ensuring children aren’t dying of disease, then we need to produce less children, or forgo the benefits of that medical science.  The choice is one made by a technologically mature species, but that’s not us.

There could be a future where the reduced human population load on Earth would allow us to continue to develop our science and technology and eventually move our heavy industry out of the only habitable ecosystem we have.  The solar system would be able to provide raw materials for our off-world heavy industry while our home world would became a carefully managed, bio-diverse and sustainable home.  It won’t be groaning under the weight of unsustainable agricultural monocultures we developed to feed an overpopulated planet.  Our biodiverse world would contain self sustaining settlements.  Cities would evaporate and small towns and villages would proliferate, though they would all be able to communicate with each other.  We would benefit from that biodiversity both in terms of sustainability and research.  We can’t make ground breaking discoveries from the massive variety of life around us if we reduce that variety to monocultures designed to feed as many humans as we can stuff onto the planet.

 

Power generation would be regional, small scale and renewable and consumption would be efficient and light.  Settlement size would be dictated by the biome it was located in and how much food and energy could be produced to look after the people in it.  Cellular regional governments would make decisions for their local needs and larger decisions would be made by combined groups on whatever scale was required, right up to world wide decisions on world wide consequences.  High power production for heavy industry would still happen, off world.  The people who wanted to work in heavy industry would work in space and come back to a green and blue home when they wished.  Imagine a world like that pre-Victorian bakery where the benefits of local life are emphasized and enhanced, but with the efficiencies of advanced communications and micro-manufacturing available to improve health, wellness and quality of life.

Space based energy production could be microwaved to the surface when needed.  Heavy equipment built on the Moon from mines throughout the inner solar system would mean access to raw materials without having to upset the Earth’s biosphere.  Saturn is a near infinite source of Helium3 energy.  Once we build the processes to mine the helium there, we have an energy rich, sustainable civilization for the indefinite future.  Advances in nano-technology, gene editing, chemistry and micro-manufacturing would make our current technology look as inefficient and awkward as steam trains do to us.

From that energy rich space based industry we could eventually drop space ladders down to the surface, making the transfer of people and materials to and from space even more ecologically viable and efficient.  There would come a time where there are more people scattered through the solar system than there are on Earth, but it would always be there ready to welcome us home.  Maybe at some point we would build generational ships and head to the stars, looking for other homes.

A future where we are able to hand down our way of life to our descendents without it killing them is only a single personal choice away.  It’s a shame the vast majority of humanity don’t have it in them to do it.  What my son will be telling his grandchildren is that he’s sorry it has all gone so wrong.  As vital resources like water become scarce under the crushing weight of billions we’ll do what we’ve always done when resources get scarce and go to war with each other.  At that point our science and technology will actually be put to the task of reducing human populations radically quickly.  Perhaps in the aftermath of that we’ll find a way forward, but we’re too stupid and self-righteous to make a decision that will avoid that misery now.

I’m a big fan of artificial intelligence.  As I get older I’m starting to think it’s one of the only places I’m seeing any kind of intelligence.  We seem to be regressing politically and culturally.  Given an opportunity to light up a SkyNet that would manage us better than we’re willing to manage ourselves, I wouldn’t hesitate to flip the switch.  It might be the only way we have a future.

 

***

 

Research Links:

The other thing that got me thinking in this direction was Starfarers by Poul AndersonThe characters in the novel are travelling between stars at relativistic rates, so when they return to Earth over ten thousand years have passed.  Anderson uses that as an opportunity to look at how human society could become a long term, sustainable process.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428120658.htm

https://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=2&series=EN.ATM.CO2E.PC&country=#

https://phys.org/news/2012-08-earth-absorbing-carbon-dioxide-emissions.html

https://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/3_times_sustainable
“If we allow overpopulation and overconsumption to continue, the evidence is mounting that billions will suffer and that we will leave future generations a much harder, bleaker life.”
“Taking these non-renewable resources into account suggests 2 billion people living at a European standard of living may be the upper limit of a sustainable global population”

https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/#worldfootprint 

http://data.footprintnetwork.org/#/

https://youtu.be/ANPaAHhfNck

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/nature-destruction-climate-change-world-biodiversity_n_5c49e78ce4b06ba6d3bb2d44

The rapid decline of the natural world.

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.

Planes Trains & Automobiles




As I sit here I’m in the middle of a twelve hour odyssey to get back to Canada from the UK. From this cramped seat where I’m constantly being jostled by people, babies burst into full throated song and planes sit on tarmac for forty minutes waiting to unload luggage from two people who checked in then didn’t board, I’m reminded of how much I fucking hate flying. My sinuses are in a vice and I spent ten of the short 90 minutes we had on the ground in Reykjavik trying to clear them of blood and mucus.

At 6’3” and 17 stone, I’m not built for air travel. These seats were designed for people half my size and the leg room varies from barely sufficient to chronically painful. The only reason I’d subject myself to this hell is to visit somewhere spectacular like Iceland or go home to England for a few short weeks to make any kind of connection with my family and memories from childhood.

It has been over a month since I’ve ridden the Tiger with its infinite headroom, divine wind and singular sense of freedom. The freedom of riding a motorcycle has never felt so far away as it does when you’re human cattle on an airliner.

As a younger man I studied flight and once dreamed of doing it myself, but and older post sinus surgery me finds the pressure changes painful and the increasingly OCD/socially anxious me would rather be walking across the Sahara than sitting on this aeroplane right now. There is no kind of tired like the kind of tired you get from the pressure changes and dehydration of flying. The resting 150 heart rate from the social anxiety is a nice bonus.

I love to travel. Going to new places and seeing all the different ways the world can be beautiful is one of my favourite things, but the emotional cost of doing it this way is extreme. The difference between going somewhere on a motorbike and going somewhere in a plane is like the difference between creating a piece of art and looking at a picture online.  One is Travel with a capital T, the other is utilitarian transportation.

We did nine days and covered over two thousand kilometres in some truly beaten up rental cars in Iceland, and the country begs for another go. It’s a beautiful, expensive, unique place that makes you feel like you’re on the edge of the world. Iceland wasn’t born yet when the Canadian Shield I live on was already ancient. That newness comes through around every corner, and it’s blessedly free of people. The ones you do meet are happy to see you (because seeing you is a rarity) and their sense of humour is so honest and piercing that it’s practically glacial in its purity. If you can afford it, there isn’t much to dislike about Iceland though more than a night in Reykjavik is enough though – head out of the capital for the real thing.  If you want a less touristy city, Akureyri on the north coast is a lovely alternative.

We wandered Iceland in a rental hatchback that looked like it had fought a ground battle

in Afghanistan and then a diesel minivan with no springs left and almost a hundred thousand kilometres on the clock. They did the job, but they did it with no joy. When I returned the black and blue Vauxhall Corsa to the impossible to find rental agency (they are called Flizzr, but you have to go to SixT to get it and they don’t say they’re Flizzr anywhere), it was with minutes to spare. I came screaming in from miles of lava fields in a never ending dusk with whisps of smoke streaming off the car, drove it into the side of the building where it burst into flames, mic-dropped the keys at the feet of the stunned attendant and skipped off into the never-to-happen darkness – at least that’s how I remember it. The car had over 80 known dents and scratches on it (life is tough in the land of fire and ice), yet the attendant still went over it with a floor mirror on a stick and took ten minutes to OK it so I could go. Whatever.  

The best car I’ve ever driven was a 9/10.  The worst car I’ve ever driven was a 1/10.  It got a 1 because it actually moved.  I’ve sat in zeroes.  This Corsa was a 3/10 car because it didn’t strand us anywhere, but the car pulled constantly and sounded like an asthmatic runner.  I’ve seldom driven a car so beaten and tired and so minimally engineered in the first place as to make driving it so tiresome… and don’t rent with Flizzr, it’s a headache.


The worst bike I’ve ever ridden was a 9/10 (bikes go up to 15/10, though I suspect an H2 is a 17/10).

The next day we picked up the diesel Citroen C4 Picasso – a six passenger minivan that was supposed to carry 3 adults, 3 teens and all their luggage for a week. Somehow it managed it, which says great things about Citroen’s ability to package a people carrier. It had three times the mileage of the poor, old, beaten Corsa but looked five years newer which says great things about Citroen’s ability to produce a tough vehicle. Other than the shock-less suspension that wallowed over bumps, the C4 was useful, but never enjoyable. It pulled well enough with all that weight, and got impressive gas mileage; it was the best vehicle on this trip, 7 out of 10.   Who rents vans with blown suspension, a broken windshield and almost 100k on them?  Icelandic car rental agencies, that’s who.

We drifted out of Iceland on a bus, which was easy enough, only to get stranded at the airport for five hours because Air Canada can’t be bothered to change the tires on their planes often enough. An Air Canada Jazz flight out of Gatwick, where we were headed, blew a tire on take off. A close scan of the runway showed nothing.  Even when we don’t take Air Canada they manage to delay us.

We touched down near London at about 1am only to walk into a massive line at customs. The five hour closure had created a huge backlog, but rather than prepare for the backlog the UK had its customs agents sit there all day doing nothing and then left the night time skeleton crew unsupported. We got a bit lucky and only had a 45 minute wait in line, but the planes coming in behind us filled the massive waiting room with snaking lines. It must have been hours before the backlog was cleared by that exhausted night shift.

We were car-less for nearly a week and made do with commuter trains and the tube in and around London. We finally made our way up to Norfolk on British Rail First Class. It only cost a few pounds more to upgrade and it was the nicest single public transport experience of the trip. Comfortable seats, a quiet, modern train, complimentary tea and big windows were a joy. That the drooling masses weren’t on that car was also nice. Our seatmate was a transport engineer on his way back from interviewing a job prospect in London. We arrived in Norwich feeling ready for the next leg.  I still love trains, I’m not sure why.

My cousin’s car (another ancient Corsa in similar shape to the one in Iceland, but 100%

A week living in my home town? Priceless.

less expensive) got us all over Norfolk. It took a few days for us to acclimatize to no shoulders (ever), roads that often disappeared into a driveway sized single lane and drivers who seemed almost psychotically intent on over driving every blind corner. We were told later that as we drove away from Norfolk things would get more sane, and they did. You have to treat driving in Norfolk like lion taming – show no weakness, never break eye contact and establish dominance immediately. Any sign of weakness is seen as an opportunity to try and kill you. We learned the term ‘normal for Norfolk’ and in fifteen days of living there came to appreciate the intensity of their driving culture. Doing it in an old teal Corsa with Norwich City Football Club stickers on it made us look a bit less touristy. By the end of two weeks we could blend.

We cabbed it over to Enterprise Rental Car in Norwich for the next leg. We were getting a Skoda something or other mid-sized (compact in Canada), but it turned into a diesel Toyota Avensis station wagon (estate in the UK). This car was relatively new (12k miles on the odo), with massive, fancy alloy rims and a powerband about an inch wide. It pulled like a V6 from idle, but if you went over two thousand RPM it would start to wheeze, and by 2500rpm it was like accelerating in reverse.

It had a six speed manual transmission and I couldn’t imagine a car that needed that less.

One of the most perverse things about UK driving is that for a people doomed to sit in traffic most of the time, they are all determined to drive a manual transmission. I love manuals, but there is a time and a place, and a big diesel station wagon isn’t that time or place. The Toyota felt under-powered and guzzled diesel. Conservatively I’d guess that the Citroen with six people and their luggage got at least 40% better mileage than the newer Toyota that would turn off if left in neutral and stopped at a light – which caused quite a panic the first time it happened. That the Citroen managed to feel more lively with an automatic transmission, twice as many people and over four times the miles on it doesn’t say great things about Toyota’s state of the art when it comes to diesel motoring, but that wasn’t the worst part of the car.

I’m a sceptic of integrated sat-nav/GPS systems in cars. I understand how Google Maps and apps like Wazer crowdsource information and generate their map data, but the corporate systems built into cars have always seemed like half-assed, cheaper attempts at doing the same thing. They steer me wrong often enough that I usually take their directions as a suggestion at best. Toyota’s 2017 model GPS/sat-nav was the most half assed I’ve ever seen. A number of times in Dartmoor park we were led onto roads that were more an idea of a road than a passable thing, but it really let us down on our way to one of the biggest tourist attractions in the UK.
 

The Eden Project is a massive greenhouse science experiment in an abandoned quarry in Cornwall. As one of the largest tourist attractions in the country you’d think Toyota’s sat-nav could get us there. Instead of walking us in the front gate it turned us away into a town nearby and then directed us up a single lane track that almost had us damaging the rental car (with £1000 detectable) while we tried to avoid other lost new Toyotas and eventually do a 15 point turn to get back around and follow the phone instead. This kind of psychotic behaviour came up so often that I started questioning everything it suggested (“what are you talking about you psychotic bitch?”) We eventually retired the Toyota sat-nav (all we’d need according to the kid at Enterprise in Norwich) and used Wazer, which worked a treat on the heavily travelled roads of the UK.

Our last day with the car had us driving from Dartmoor in Devon to Epsom near London…

during the summer holidays. We spent nearly as much time sitting in traffic as we did trying to get the car back in time. That the on-board GPS kept wanting to drive us through the middle of towns during rush hour (it’s always rush hour in England) didn’t help.

After lining up to get in, lining up to park, lining up to pay, lining up to get into the castle and then lining up to leave again, we ended up with about 20 minutes at Corfe Castle. That’s what driving in the UK is like. You start on a trip and the GPS tells you you’ll get there at 5:00pm and you watch that slip away over the day until you’re frantically trying to navigate roundabout on top of roundabout in London suburb rush hour traffic ten minutes before they close and charge you for another day with the car. Our saving grace was my cousin leading us over there after we dropped off the luggage at his house – you’ll never get lost with a native guide.  I’d give the Avensis station wagon a 4/10 – it’s more like a six or seven as it’s a big car that carries a lot and is smooth and modern, but that guzzling diesel and murderous GPS mean I wouldn’t even give it a pass.

 

The stress of driving at best meh rental cars in UK traffic meant I didn’t find the energy to go looking for my Morgan3 fix. Perhaps that would have reinvigorated my love of motoring after the diesel miasma.  Dartmoor is a driver’s playground with twisty medieval paths paved over and stunning countryside. As I watched everything from MG-As to E Types and a plethora of motorcycles ride the roads from behind the bars of my soulless diesel prison, I longed to be there, but wasn’t.


So here I am, writing this on a flight back to Toronto. The My Tiger has been sitting under a gentle accumulation of dust for weeks in the middle of the too-short Canadian motorcycle season.  I can’t wait to go for a ride again, I just wish I could wormhole my way to Dartmoor to do it.

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A Good Kijiji Week

Last week a pair of Alpinestar boots popped up on Kijiji that happened to be just my size.  The Alpinestars I have are totally next level, so the chance to own a second pair for the price of tax on a new pair was impossible to ignore.

A ride over to Kitchener on an idyllic Sunday morning and I’m the proud owner of my second pair of Alpinestars, this time for twenty five bucks.  Only used for a season, and in fantastic shape, they’re waterproof and much better for wet/cold weather than the summer boots I currently have.

***  Kijiji Part 2



I love riding with a purpose.  Today I went to Guelph and then Orangeville to check out two dual sport bikes.  I’m looking for something as different as possible from the Concours, so a light-weight off-road focused enduro machine fits the bill.

The first bike is a 2007 Kawasaki KLX-250.  250ccs is on the small side, but this is a very light bike.  At 298lbs, it’s 374(!)lbs lighter than the Concours.  It barely makes any noise, felt spritely and has a radically different riding position.  No windscreens, very open and a tall riding stance.  It’s been immaculately cared for by the original owner and comes with all the right farkles.  You couldn’t ask for a nicer machine and it’s much newer than I thought I could afford.  If I’m worried about the power, there are always options to buff up the bike.

It’s a bonus when you hit it off with the owner and end up having a good chat.  He is an experienced trails rider who offered up all sorts of good advice about where and how to do it.  As he said, this is the ideal bike to learn on.  I may eventually want a more powerful bike, but as a starter this one is as good as it gets.

After a ride over to the Forks of the Credit, and a quality coffee at Higher Ground, I rode the Forks for the first time on the Concours (which always feels lighter than it is in a Millennium Falcon kind of way), and then headed up to Orangeville.


The XT350 looked like the ideal bike.  Air cooled, super light weight, with a medium displacement, but this one was a poor example.  It looked like it had led a life that alternated between abuse and neglect.  Not only was it filthy, but it looked like it was going to rust through in some expensive places.  It didn’t start and after a dozen or so kicks, when it finally did fire up it sounded like a tractor.  It couldn’t have been more different to the only marginally more expensive, lower kilometer, six year newer, much loved, whisper quiet KLX.  I’ll trade a few cc’s for a bike that won’t strand me deep in the woods any day.

I emailed the owner of the KLX standing on the street as the XT owner tried to get it started again and told him I’m all in.  It’s nice when the right thing falls into your lap just when you need it, and in my case that always seems to be a Kawasaki.  The KLX will be my third Kawi (though my first green one).  I can’t wait to get to know it.


Brand Loyalty & Bilingualism

Brand loyalty seems to affect motorcyclists more than most.  Even when they don’t work, motorcycle riders are partial to their rides in a way that owners of other modes of transport aren’t.  With that in mind I just completely ignored my Kawasaki only motorcycle history to this point and just picked up a bike for my son: a Yamaha PW80.  I guess we’re now officially bilingual.

It needs a cleanup and some TLC, but the bike is straight and solid.  Once I’ve got it sorted we’ll be practising circles on the dead end road out front of our place.

They were asking $800, but rather than start there I asked what they were asking.  Since the Mom had put it up for sale and she wasn’t talking to me, it was suddenly $700.  I suggested $600, they went with $675.  For a seldom used, nicely stored 2004 Yamaha PW80, I think I came out ahead.  I could sell it tomorrow for a couple of hundred more than I got it.

I’m still looking for something off-road for me to head out on with Max.  If I had a mint to throw at it I’d go pick up a late model DRZ-400 or a KLX-250, but I don’t.  I’m hoping for a an older enduro bike, but sub 500cc; they don’t come up often.  This is going to be a primarily off-road machine, so lugging a 600+cc ‘adventure’ bike on the trails isn’t a thrilling prospect.  A big enough for me but light off-road machine is the goal.

I’m going to take Max out to the Junior Red Riders course early this summer, then I’m going to make as many trips to Bobcageon as I can manage to get us some time on two wheels together.

Getting into the PW80 was an easy prospect.  The seat pops off with a couple of nuts under the fender and the tank with a couple of bolts.  I’m not sure if two stroke oil can go off so I left it as is, but I emptied the gas tank and put in new gas (the former owner guessed the gas was at least a couple of years old).

I got it started and running smoothly and took it for a run around the circle we live on.  It took off like a scalded rabbit!  I could barely hang on.  The only issue is a broken exhaust.  I’m hoping our metal shop genius at school can sort it out tomorrow.  With a tight exhaust we’ll be off to the trails!

Brand loyalty did play a part in this.  Another bike we went to go see was a Baja 90cc dirt bike.  It looked pretty cobbled together and the fact that it was a Chinese bike gave me the willies.  I might not be a Kawasaki or nothing guy, but I know better than to buy a dodgy, Chinese knockoff.

Riding an Iron Horse in The High Desert

Since missing the opportunity to ride in the desert last time I was in Arizona, I’m aiming for a day out on two wheels over this Christmas holiday.  Since the adventure bike I want isn’t available, I’m looking at a pavement orientated trip.  That doesn’t mean I’m suffering for choice in Arizona though.


Route 60 from Globe to Show Low has fantastic reviews and offers a winding way through the mountains.  The views are so spectacular that I won’t tire of seeing them twice.  You see different things riding the other way anyway.  The section of sweeping switchbacks on the way down to the bridge over Salt River look fantastic…

…though I hope I can keep the bike in my lane unlike Sparky in the streetview above.


Route 60 over Salt River looks special.

Phoenix to Superior on the edge of the mountains is about an hour, then it gets even better!

From Superior, AZ into the mountains it’s beautiful riding… easily a hundred miles of sweeping curves and glorious high desert scenery.  It’s only about an hour from AZRide on lightly trafficked, arrow straight roads to get to the good bits, and even there you’re in the desert surrounded by massive saguaro cactuses soaking up the heat.

Once into the mountains, the roads are interesting and the views astounding.

A nice thing about not doing a loop means that we’ll know when enough is enough and turn around.  I was knocking myself out in BC to make sure the bike was back on time.  It won’t be an issue on this out and back excursion.

I’m hoping to get the new Concours from AZride.com sometime between Dec 24th and the 30th for a foray into the high desert, hopefully on a weekday when the roads are quiet.  It’ll handle my son and I with ease while making mince meat of those twisty mountain roads.

The latest generation of my twenty year old Concours.  It looks like a rocket ship and is nuclear powered.  Hope it’s available!

BYOD: Build Your Own Device


Proof of mastery: you build your own tools.

Perhaps we can work this Jedi logic into education?  


Want to make use of educational technology?  Unless you’ve built it yourself you don’t get free access, you haven’t demonstrated competence!  Access to technology based on demonstrated understanding rather than the net income of a student’s parents?  That sounds like a more sound pedagogical model than current BYOD policies we have.  It’s time for education to take technology fluency seriously.

I’ve already argued for a pedagogical model for technology access

http://prezi.com/bjmmmgc3aka5/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

I think I rushed into mastery too soon there, it’s commonly overused in education anyway.  Unless the digital wizard can produce their own wand they haven’t demonstrated real mastery.  Recognizing all elements in your discipline is a vital element to mastery, including the tools that you need to demonstrate your mastery!

The hunter who hunts with the bow they made?  The rider who rides a bike they built?  The artist who stretches their own canvases?  No one could argue that their understanding of their craft isn’t deeper than a consumer who purchased off the shelf, yet we’ve modeled educational technology on consumerist ideals rather than pedagogical imperatives.

From board provided technology to a mini-lab to bring-your-own-device to build-your-own-device, there is the new continuum.  Until you’ve built your device from the components up and mounted software on it, you haven’t demonstrated mastery of technology, you’re still just a user.

Until we begin to do this in education we’ll continue to produce technologically incapable students who are slaves to their habitual technology use.

Travelling Ninja




A Vicious Cycle got me the kit for the topbox mighty quick (the day before they said it would get here).  It was a quick fit and install.  With the topbox and backrest in place, my son has a much more comfortable pillion to sit on.  A Vicious Cycle makes it easy to get sorted with the right kit, letting you search by bike and get kit specific to your machine.




  

 

 The setup is very solid.  The Givi monolock seems very stable and the frame was all first rate.  There were no problems with installing it.

The 26l topbox might seem small, but for a svelt bike like a 650r Ninja, it’s a well proportioned fit.

 $320 all in (including shipping & taxes) for the Kappa case, the Ninja specific mounting bracket and the Givi monolock base.