Thursday, December 29, 2011

Last of a dying breed?

In a comment to a recent post where I described an early experience with motorcycle repair, Gary France made the followng observation: “It makes you wonder where children today will get those same sorts of skills, but more and more they cannot even begin to repair things, so are faced with a life of throwing things away when broken.”
This got me thinking. For many years I did all the work on my own vehicles – engine rebuilds, transmission repairs, brakes, etc. I did it all, often with little more than a basic tool kit working in an apartment parking garage. (Some of the neighbours were less than impressed, but doing regular maintenance on the building superintendent’s car made that issue go away.) But now when I have a problem and look under the hood black boxof my 2011 vehicle I realise the best thing to do is take it to the dealer. With the reliability of modern engines and components, the most likely culprit is one of the dozens of ‘black boxes’ and there’s no way any backyard mechanic can afford the $100,000+ worth of specialised electronic gear to test, upload, and re-calibrate any of those computers. And if a firmware fix doesn’t solve the problem, into the scrap bin it goes, to be replaced with a brand new part sourced from China or Mexico.
This means the role of the mechanic is changing. The old style “fixer” is being replaced by the “diagnostician”, the stethoscope by the computer, and years of experience by a parts book and a telephone (or, more commonly, a direct computer link to the parts supplier).
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as, thanks to the all the electronics, feedback loops, sensors, 100,000 mile spark plugs, and so on, today’s tune-up consists of little more an oil change. But it puts general repairs out of the question for the backyard mechanic and takes away the simple joy and sense of satisfaction one gets from maintaining one’s own vehicle.
Perhaps that’s another reason (as if I needed one) I so enjoy owning motorcycles. While it’s true that getting home with some cigarette package foil wrapped around a blown fuse (which I have done in the past – smoking could truly be considered a life saver in those days) is not an option with a modern bike, any decent wrencher with a good shop manual and a few special tools can still do most of their own work.
Photo0001 for webWhich may become a moot point as now we're hearing from Europe that the European Commission is considering anti-tampering laws that would prevent modifications to engines and exhaust systems (as a minimum) and in the extreme could prevent unlicensed mechanics (you and I) from working on their own motorcycles. Stupid politicians (Is that a redundancy?) aren’t restricted to Europe, so needless to say if the anti-motorcyclist faction over there is successful implementing these initiatives, US and Canadian lawmakers won’t be far behind.
As Dylan said, “The times they are a-changin’”. And not always for the better in my opinion. All I can say is that I'm thankful that I at least had the opportunity and skills to do those things because I expect I’m a member of a dying breed, possibly the last generation to be able to do so.
It’s sad really.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

To all my friends in the blogosphere, I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope you get to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, and Santa brings you everything on your list, perhaps even a bit more. And for those of you who get to ride at this time of the year I wish you … well, in  the spirit of the season I won’t go there.
Motorcycle Santa
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Have I got a deal for you

You just bought yourself that “must have” item on your wish list – a new, top-of-the-line digital camera. imageYour new Nikon D7000 has rating of 16.2 million pixels and embodies more features than you’ll ever to learn to use before it’s time to upgrade to the next new thing.
But the real reason you went with a bulky SLR rather than a pocket-sized snapshot camera is because of the lenses. Everyone knows that Nikon makes some of the best lenses out there, offering the best image quality possible. And you can spend yourself into the poorhouse buying lenses for every conceivable use from photographing the space station flying overhead to capturing the antics of ladybugs in heat.
Best of all, lugging all this gear around makes you look (and feel) like you know what you’re doing.
imageBut at heart you’re really a point-and-shoot kind of guy, so what’s the first accessory you buy? You buy a Dreamy Diana lens. That’s right, for $60 you can degrade the image quality of your photographs enough so that they will look like they were taken with a cheap plastic-lensed camera.
Does that sound like you? If so drop me a note and I’ll give you my address. You can send me all your bulky, too-good, equipment and, in return, I’ll ship you a dime-store camera that will take all the crappy photos you want. I’ll even pay the postage. Don’t think of it as giving away good stuff, think of it as freeing up your saddlebags for important stuff like beer, or cigars, or a fifth of J-D.
(On a related note, I am currently investigating ways in which snaps, pops, skips, and scratches can be inserted into the sound stream from your new MP3 player so it will seem like you’re still playing old 45’s from the bottom of your sock drawer. Stay tuned.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On Two Wheels in Spain

Just got back from a fairly long trip which included a few days in Barcelona, Spain. While 4 days isn’t enough time to get to “know” a city, my first impressions are that Barcelona could easily become one of my favourite places to visit. How can you not like a city that celebrates graffiti as being part of its art scene (and some of it is very good indeed), that brought the world Antoni Gaudi  and his magical Park Guell and piece de resistance, the Sagrada Familia, started in 1882 and expected to be completed in 2026 (although some claim 2050 is more likely), a city where ancient Roman walls blend seamlessly into modern shopping districts, and a city that has so totally embraced 2-wheeled travel?
DSC_7096 for web
While I didn’t have the opportunity to experience two-wheeled travel first-hand on this trip, it would be impossible not to remark on how the scooter is such a integral part of the culture. Whether it’s the young lady in a skirt and high heels commuting to work or the older fellow out doing some shopping in the market, the scooter is a major method of transportation for many city residents and the full-face helmet a popular fashion accessory.
DSC_6900 for webDSC_6902 for web
Lane splitting is common at traffic lights where car and bus drivers leave a little room up front for the scooters to move to the head of the line and be the first off the mark when the light changes. Parking appears to be wherever there is space, however riders are careful not to block the sidewalks but position their bikes in such a way that pedestrian traffic is unimpeded. Overall there appears to be a sense of accommodation that is sorely lacking here in North America. I guess it’s partly the car culture we have here and the sense of entitlement that seems to come with 4 wheels and a roof. It’s also likely related to the economics of owning and operating a car versus the cost of scootering. Or it could just be that drivers realise that it could very well be their own wife/son/daughter/neighbour on those two wheels in front of them. But whatever the reason it was very refreshing to see.
DSC_7102 for web

Monday, December 5, 2011

How and Why Did You Get Into Motorcycling?

Gary France (Flies in your Teeth) posed this question (although he referred to it as “motorbiking”) and so I thought I’d take a shot at answering.
It would have been about 1962 when Dad came home with an old and abused pedal-start motorbike, basically a bicycle with an engine attached. He gave it to us kids, along with access to his extensive toolbox (he was a mechanic by trade), and challenged us to get it running. I was the eldest, just barely into my teens, and with no manual, no parts, and no money (but lots of enthusiasm) all we managed to do that summer was to get it stripped down so that it became a pretty decent, but heavy, balloon-tired bicycle. But that experience lit two fires for me – one was a love of mechanics and all things mechanical; and the second was a desire to eventually get a motorbike that actually ran.
A couple of years later in my last years of high school the Japanese invasion was in full swing with people meeting the nicest people on Hondas all over North America. While our small town did have a couple of rough and ready types (or at least we thought so at the time) who rode Harleys or BSAs, getting a ride on one of them was out of the question. But then a couple of my school pals somehow managed to convince their parents to buy them new Hondas. One had a Dream 305 and the other a CB450 Black Bomber, and both carried spare helmets about 6 sizes too big for all the girls they were going to get. But the reality was it was their mates that got the free rides, including yours truly, as the girls didn’t want their bouffant hairdos crushed by a heavy and smelly old helmet. Besides, as I said, it was a small town and their moms and dads would find out in a heartbeat that they’d been seen on one of those “infernal death machines” and that would be that. I was working summers but there was no way I could afford a new bike, and the used market really hadn’t developed yet, so free rides whenever I could get them had to suffice for the next few years while I went away to University.
By 1970 I had graduated and was a shiny new Lieutenant in the RCAF. And I had an income! So one of the first things I did that summer was head down to the local Yamaha dealer and buy  my first bike, a Yamaha 200. I don’t recall the model designation, but I do recall that it was purple, and slow! I learned how to ride in the dealer’s parking lot, put on my $20, open face helmet (glitter blue), and weaved my way home. I was on that bike every chance I got and put about 500 miles a week on it just riding back and forth to the base and around town. But then one day, about two weeks into my ownership of the purple pride, I was nearly run off the road by a tailgater who didn’t appreciate me driving the speed limit (that’s as fast as it would go!), so it was time for a change. Honda had just released the 1971 CB350 with an advertised top speed of 102 MPH(!) and a list price of $999, so that very afternoon I was at the dealership placing my order and a couple of weeks after that I too was meeting “the nicest people”. I still consider that CB350 my first “real” bike. I kept it for about 3 years and put lots of miles on it, although it never, ever got close to doing 100 MPH, and believe me, I tried! (That milestone was finally achieved on  my first Norton.)
It’s now been 41 years since I bought that first bike and, except for a brief period in the early 2000’s, my garage has been home to quite a long procession of Hondas, Yamahas, Kawasakis, Nortons (lots of Nortons) and now a Harley. There have been cafe racers, trials bikes, off-road bikes, dual purpose machines and stock highway rides. Some years I’ve been able to rack up thousands of miles, and other years have been hard pressed to justify the insurance premiums, but it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Chasing Che

I am now reading Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevera Legend  by Patrick Symmes. And while it’s still too early to tell whether this is a book I’ll ultimately like and/or recommend, I did encounter this passage that is one of the best descriptions I’ve read of what it’s like to ride and “taste moments of oneness with the road”. Thank you Patrick Symmes.
There are moments on a motorcycle when all the glory of motion is distilled into one purposeful package. Chasing curves over a swelling landscape, a motorcycle enters the pure expression of physics and is bound to the road in a way no car will ever know. The rider and machine are literally balanced on the infinitely thin line where centripetal force meets gravity. Despite this state of suspended disaster, the sensation of risk is largely a sensation; the motorcycle is in harmony with the road, and risk comes overwhelmingly from other drivers. Any moment of travel on a motorcycle is a light and essential moment, an agile rebuke to a life conducted in one place. The raw force of the engine is not hidden beneath a hood, but alternately purrs and growls a few inches from the knees, demanding the consciousness of power. Sealed behind glass, insulated by climate control systems and music, the driver of a car knows nothing about the directions of the wind, the lay of sunlight, the small changes in temperature between a peak and a valley, the textured noise of differing asphalts, or the sweet and sour aromas of manured fields or passing pine forests. Engaged in all the senses and elements, balanced in the present tense, a rider on two wheels can taste moments of oneness with the road.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unbroken - A book review

This book has absolutely nothing to do with motorcycles, but I know a number of my followers are avid readers and this is such an incredible book I just had to share it.

This is a true story.

UnbrokenLouis Zamperini started life as an unlikely hero. He was a wild child, constantly getting into trouble. Angry neighbours and local police were regular visitors to the Zamperini house until a particular bout of trouble resulted in him joining the high school track team. Soon he was winning every local race and eventually competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His times continued to improve and some reporters were predicting he might be the first person to break the 4-minute mile at the 1940 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

But World War II had other plans. The German-Soviet invasion of Finland resulted in the Helsinki games being cancelled, and Louis signed up with the Army Air Corps, eventually becoming a bombardier on B-24s in the South Pacific.

After returning from one sortie with 594 holes in their aircraft, the crew was assigned a new plane and sent off on a search and rescue mission. The mission ended badly with the plane and most of its crew being lost at sea. Louis and two other crew members survived the crash and spent 47 days in a raft with no food, no fresh water, harassed by sharks and strafed by Japanese planes until they eventually reached land and were subsequently captured. Then life got considerably worse for Louis as he spent the next 27 months in Japanese prison camps, subject  to daily abuse, brutality and extreme deprivation until the war ended.

Returning to the US a broken man, both physically and mentally, Louis struggled to regain some form of normalcy in his life. He eventually discovered his faith and conquered his demons, even finding it within himself to forgive his Japanese tormentors.

It took a long time but Louis got his life back and continues to live it to the fullest. Climbing mountains in his sixties and skateboarding at 82, Louis’ story is a true inspiration to all of us and a testament to the resilience of the human spirit under the most trying of circumstances.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

O’ Mice An’ Men

I had a plan.
Every few years nature blesses us with an incredible Indian summer - warm, dry, and spectacularly colourful. This has been such a year. So on this Thanksgiving weekend, with nothing but sunshine in the forecast and the temperature projected to hit a high of 27C (81F), possibly breaking a record set in 1949 (appropriately, my birth year), it seemed like a good idea to go for a nice, long ride.
Where to go? Well Merrickville has always been a favourite destination, and if I remembered correctly, there was an ice cream stand on the main drag. Merrickville for an ice cream. Perfect. It’s about a 2-hour ride from here so 4 hours there and back would be a great way to spend the day.
Then I looked at the map. Going through Calabogie wouldn’t be that much out of the way and I’d get to ride one of my favourite roads, Highway 511. I could cut across to Perth, then up to Smith’s Falls, and across to Merrickville. Yep, I had a plan.
First stop – a little pull off beside the Mississippi River (yes, we have one too) just outside Calabogie. A popular spot to picnic, launch a canoe or kayak, or just toss in a line to see if anything is biting. I did none of those, just a quick stop to stretch the legs and take a couple of snaps.

And then on to Perth. Lots and lots of bikes on the road today, everyone getting those last rides in before the nasty weather arrives and holds us hostage for 5 long, dreary months. This group I caught up to included a bike that sported one of those convertible trike getups. I followed them for a while hoping they’d stop so I could get a closer look and talk to the rider about what it was like but they turned off on a side road before I had the chance.

In Perth I stopped at (where else?) Timmy’s for lunch and parked among probably 20 other motorcycles in the parking lot – not a large group, just a whole bunch of 2’s and 3’s out for the day. (Sorry Bobskoot, no pictures of my BLT.)
After a slow drive in heavy traffic through downtown Perth (need to make it a destination trip one day – lots of cool little shops to check out) I swung south to loop down to Westport and over to Portland, where I managed to gas up a full 8 cents a litre cheaper than in the city – about 40 cents a gallon difference. And they say the gas companies aren’t gouging us. Right!
Then I got lost. I didn’t have a map and was working from what is becoming an increasingly unreliable memory. So I wandered the back roads for a while finding some that I didn’t even know existed, and a few I’d be happy to never see again. It wasn’t until after I’d traversed a few kilometers of gravel, a couple of dead-ends, and passed through Forfar for the second time (albeit from a different direction) that I realized I had no clue where I was exactly. I knew the general area, so I just headed roughly north until I came to something I recognized. Which turned out to be North Gower.
Now that I had my bearings once again I headed north-east and crossed the Rideau Canal (thank you, War of 1812) where I took these shots of boaters out enjoying their bonus day on the water. Normally most would have put their boats up for the winter by now, so I expect there were more than a few happy procrastinators out there today.











But by this time I had missed Merrickville and my ice cream. I debated backtracking but decided instead to press on. A quick little detour through Osgoode (No ice cream there either. Also got lost again.) and I headed into the city. I stopped at the Chapters where the spousal unit was working today and got an iced latte from the attached Starbucks. It wasn’t ice cream, but it sure hit the spot on a hot day. Checked out the books, bought a couple of videos on sale (Bonnie and Clyde and The Last Picture Show) and headed out into the setting sun on the last lap homeward.
Westport loop
So as Robbie Burns so poetically mused in his 1785 poem, To A Mouse:
“The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley”
I didn’t get my Merrickville ice cream, but I did have a great day in the saddle and logged another 370 kilometers (230 miles) riding some great local roads on a truly beautiful day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bonus days

I’d been planning to pay a visit to my favourite cigar dealer for a while but circumstances, as they often do, conspired against me. But then today the stars aligned: I had a free day, the sun was shining, and temperatures were well above normal. All the excuses I needed for a ride.
And of course the only way to go was the long way.
Arnprior loop
I’m still playing with my GoPro and haven’t yet figured out how to edit and compress videos, so these are a few stills taken en route.
The fall colours are now starting and should be spectacular in the next week or so. These maples on our driveway are already turning yellow.
Driveway shot 2
Riding through downtown Pakenham, bypassing Scoops Ice Cream this time.
pakenham
Just a great day in the country!
pakenham2
And my humidor is happy again.

humidor

Monday, September 26, 2011

How to protest

Here in North America motorcyclists have many reasons to take issue with the governments of the day. Whether it’s helmet laws, noise bylaws targeting motorcycles only, restricted access areas, or even limits on the ages of passengers there is no shortage of causes that are worthy of protest.
And when we do, what happens? We get a few dozen bikers out who may get the attention of the press on a slow news day, and a Gallic shrug (if that) from the people we are trying to reach.  Let’s face it, the powers that be, when they think of us at all, consider us a minor nuisance to be taxed or otherwise harassed simply to go away. Or, if you’re in law enforcement looking for budget increases, then we’re a gang of murderous thugs out to rape and pillage and cast asunder civilization itself. But what we are not considered is a special interest group with immense economic and political clout due to our numbers. And that’s our own fault because we, as bikers, focus on our differences – tourers versus sports bikes, Harleys versus everything else, the hard core rider versus the weekend warrior, off-road versus street riders, the tee shirt versus the day-glo armoured outfit, the wavers versus the anti-wave crowd, etc. We seem unable to recognize that spurious, oppressive regulations that affect any of us affect all of us.
paris demo 2Well, in France they’ve got it together. When the French government tried to bring in legislation calling for all riders to purchase and wear high visibility fluorescent vests they protested. And how! They came out in the thousands, clogged streets and highways, and let the government know they could wield real power when riled up.
Check out the videos at: http://ukfrancebikers.com/2011/06/18/france-completely-paralysed-by-almost-100000-bikers/
Now that’s how to protest. And, as a result, it seems they may actually be being heard by the French government.

The UK is going through similar challenges with hi-viz vests, restricted access, etc. and protests are beginning there as well. I expect we’ll see large turnouts, but not like the  ones in France; after all, no one protests as well as the French.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is That Thing Diesel?

by Paul Carter
Is That Thing DieselAbout a week ago, fellow blogger Geoff James (http://geoffjames.blogspot.com/2011/09/light-hearted-book-review.html) reviewed this book by Paul Carter. Geoff did a great job, piquing my interest and sending me searching for a copy of the book to download to my e-reader. As soon as I had it loaded, I started right in.
As Geoff describes the book, “It's the story of his ride round Australia on a bike originally built by Adelaide University students for an alternative fuels challenge, consisting of a Cagiva adventure bike rolling chassis and a small single cylinder diesel pump engine running on used cooking oil to propel it along.”
If that’s not interesting enough in its own right, the personal story of Carter and his motley collection of mates from his oil rig days will have you either shaking your head or laughing out loud – and sometimes both.
Highly recommended road story. And thanks Geoff for the introduction.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why am I so conflicted about ATGATT?

ATGATT, or All The Gear All The Time, is the credo of many motorcyclists. As a bare minimum it consists of a helmet, a good riding jacket – preferably leather, eye protection, jeans, solid boots and gloves. At the extreme it also includes armoured jackets and pants, da-glo green jackets or vests, and reflective tape sewn or glued onto every available surface – everything but a cabin surrounding the rider and passenger. Riding while wearing a do-rag, shorts, t-shirt and sandals does not meet the minimum standard. Nor does this Yamaha-riding-mankini-clad guy.
There are legitimate arguments to be made for any one of a long list of safety-related gear, all based on the assumption that the rider will (not “if”, but “will”) get in an accident and therefore should be protected – for his (or her) own sake, for the sake of his/her family, for the sake of the medical/insurance companies, and even for the sake of the taxpayer who may end up having to support a vegetable for years to come.
But there are also counter arguments, mostly frivolous but some that credibly posit that all that safety gear just make us feel more invincible and therefore more likely to push the boundaries.  Apparently humans are hard-wired to need a certain degree of risk in their lives. Everyone's threshold is different, but what seems to happen is that if we drop below our own risk threshold we tend to then engage in increasingly risky endeavours until our overall risk exposure levels are again in equilibrium. (See Wikipedia: Risk Homeostasis.) Hence more protection = more risky behaviour, and less protection = more cautious behaviour.
That’s certainly true in my case. I used to be an ATGATT guy,  especially during the years when I was teaching motorcycle safety courses – it just wouldn’t do to be seen by a student riding in jeans and a t-shirt when mandating full protection for them. But recently I’ve found myself relaxing my previously non-negotiable standards. Now if I am just going for a short putt over to the golf course (20 miles) on a hot day I may eschew the gloves and jacket and just wear a golf shirt, jeans and sneakers, or a light windbreaker. If I’m going for a longer ride involving temperature changes, possibly some bad weather, and maybe some twisty roads or high-speed highways I’m more likely going to put on all the gear, including wearing my full face helmet. And what’s interesting is seeing how I (instinctively?) change my riding style when so attired. I know for certain that I will ride more aggressively and faster when wearing full gear. It’s not a conscious decision and the thought process is not  “I will be riding hard therefore I will wear all the gear”. It’s quite the reverse, with the clothing dictating the riding style, almost like the way the speed creeps up on you when you’re listening to a good road song on the radio – it just seems natural.
Any of my former students would find it hard to believe I would ever feel comfortable riding in just jeans and a t-shirt but I have, belatedly, discovered there are times when it is right for me. Is it riskier? Certainly, when factors outside one’s own control are considered. But if I wanted to avoid all possible risk in my life I’d wear my helmet while driving the car, hang a life vest on the bathtub, sell my chain saws, and die of sheer and utter boredom years before my time.
No thanks. I’ll take my chances and wear what makes me comfortable.
(A brief word on helmets. I have had very limited experience riding on the street without a helmet and found that I simply could not relax and enjoy the ride. There are probably many reasons for that, but I just was not comfortable riding that way. Others are different. There is also no doubt that helmets do save lives, which puts them into a different category than gear intended to reduce possible road rash or increase visibility. Having said that though I still firmly believe wearing a helmet should be an issue of personal choice combined with personal responsibility for any possible negative outcomes.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Silence

I hadn’t seen Charles for a few years. We used to ride together back in the 80’s but then he got married, stopped riding and we drifted apart. Then just recently I heard through a mutual friend that Chucky was back on two wheels although his wife was not too pleased with his, as she called it, “midlife crisis”.
At any rate I gave him a call and we met for a ride for old time’s sake.
One of our favourite routes back then was highway 511 up through Calabogie (which I’ve blogged on here), so it seemed fitting we’d do that loop. After meeting up at the Timmy’s in Arnprior we headed west over to Calabogie and then across to Perth (Ontario) on the almost-world-famous highway 511. Then it was back north through Carleton Place, Almonte, and back to Arnprior where we stopped at the local pub for a bite and a pint as it was now about 2 PM. Over a late lunch we caught up on the last 20+ years, and then the conversation naturally turned to motorcycles and Charles’ new acquisition, a 2009 Fat Boy.
“So” I said, “I heard Christine wasn’t too happy about you getting another bike.”
“Aw hell, I needed to find something to get me out of the house. Alone.” he said, and then went on to explain they’d been having some marital difficulties. “I even considered divorce, but she hasn’t said a word to me in 6 months and a woman like that is hard to find. So (shrugs) I bought a motorcycle instead.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tires

Probably no aspect of motorcycling deserves as much attention as tires. After all, it’s those two tiny  (2 – 3 square inches) contact patches that separate the rider from disaster in the rain, in corners, during braking, and through thousands of miles of sometimes high speed road riding. The science of motorcycle tire design and friction theory are well-covered on the internet with countless treatises by knowledgeable (and, it must be said, not so knowledgeable) writers. And ultimately personal preference, riding style and skill level will determine the right tires for one’s own ride. But one thing that is a certainty is that they will be pneumatic tires – there are no other viable options on the market.
Which is all quite amazing since the pneumatic tire has not fundamentally changed since Robert William Thomson patented the first one in Scotland in 1846. (The first practical pneumatic tire (“tyre”) was developed by another Scot, John Boyd Dunlop, in 1887. This was the start of the Dunlop Tire Company.)
While airless tires and solid rubber tires have been developed for specific uses, the pneumatic tire remains the standard for most vehicles, including motorcycles. But that may soon change.
tweel-airless-tire-2Michelin Tires is testing (and one would assume other manufacturers as well) a new type of airless tire. When and if they make it into production remains unknown at this point, but apparently they also have a motorcycle variant in development. This was covered by The Kneeslider (http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2005/11/17/michelin-airless-motorcycle-tires/) 48955-airless_1back in 2005, so it’s not hot-off-the-presses new technology. But perhaps the fact they’ve been working on this for at least 6 or 7 years now is indicative of the challenges faced by manufacturers to provide a safe and reliable tire for all the driving (and riding) conditions we experience.
Still, they are cool and innovative and it would be nice to see a real alternative emerge to what is, essentially, 150-year-old technology. Besides, if you’ve ever experienced a blowout at speed on a motorcycle tire you’ll REALLY appreciate not having to worry about that few seconds of shorts-soiling excitement ever again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The loop (and the Arrow)

For the first time in ages, it seems, the stars aligned and I had a whole day to myself. Sunny, temperatures in the mid-20s (70 – 80F), and a honey-do list that was more or less under control meant that I could spend the entire day riding if I wanted, so I did. Well most of it anyway.
There’s a 400-kilometre loop (~250 miles) I’d wanted to ride for some time that heads west from here through some really pretty back country to the headwaters of the Madawaska River. Dotted with small tourist towns the curvy roads are well maintained and generally not too heavily travelled, making for perfect riding conditions.
Bancroft loop
So in the vernacular of the locals I “headed up the line” to Whitney, passing through the villages of Eganville, Golden Lake and Wilno among others. It’s great cottage country so these tiny settlements were all quite busy with tourist traffic as craft shops, liquor stores, and outfitters were all doing a booming business.
In Barry’s Bay I stopped for lunch (apologies to Bobskoot, no photos of my Subway sandwich) and came across this memorial to a famous Polish-Canadian.

But first some history.
After the Korean War the Canadian government started a project with A.V. Roe Canada to build the world’s most advanced supersonic fighter aircraft.The CF-105, or Avro Arrow as it was known, flew its maiden flight in 1958 with Janusz Żurakowski in the pilot’s seat. In subsequent test flights the aircraft exceed all expectations, achieving a top speed of nearly Mach 2.0 and establishing a benchmark for other fighters in development at the time. (My wife is one of the few people who actually saw the Arrow flying as they lived near the test field.)
Then in 1959 in a surprise decision, the newly-elected Conservative government under John Diefenbaker killed the project, putting nearly 30,000 workers out of a job overnight. The rationale for the decision has been explained at various times as a reallocation of funds from fighter aircraft to Bomarc missiles, or that the US government, the Arrow’s largest potential customer, refused to buy foreign-built aircraft, no matter how good, or that the project had been infiltrated by a Soviet spy and therefore had to be cancelled and all plans, prototypes and flying aircraft destroyed. In fact it was probably more mundane than any of that and was simply politically motivated. Diefenbaker’s new government came to power with a mandate to reign in the previous Liberal government's spending, and this was clearly low-hanging fruit with approximately $500 million spent to date and many millions more to come. And the directive to destroy all assets associated with the program would ensure that even if the Liberals regained power, they would never be able to resurrect the program.
The end result was that many of Canada’s brightest aerospace engineering minds headed south to the USA, seriously damaging Canada’s aerospace industry for generations to come, but hugely benefitting America’s nascent space program.
As the Arrow’s chief test pilot Janusz Żurakowski left A.V. Roe and settled in Barry’s Bay where he died in 2004. This model of the Arrow and a series of information plaques concerning his life as a war-time pilot in Poland and later in the UK, and his subsequent years as a test pilot are on the main street of Barry’s Bay in recognition of his contributions to both the aerospace industry and in later years his adopted community. Very cool.
But I digress.
From Barry’s Bay I continued west to Whitney, at the entrance to Algonquin Park, then dropped south to Bancroft for a weird parking lot conversation and a rest break before heading back home through Denbigh, Khartum, Dacre, and Renfrew.
All told, 396.4 kilometres, and a realisation that I am seriously out of shape for any kind of distance riding. I obviously need more saddle time that isn’t just 1/2 hour spurts into town or to the golf course. Will have to work on that.

Weird conversation

I took a long ride today (which I’ll post on later) and I had stopped at the Tim Horton’s in Bancroft for a break. I was sitting on the curb beside my bike with a cigar in one hand and an iced cappuccino in the other – just chillin’ - when a minivan pulls into the spot beside me. An older, white-haired gentlemen gets out, looks down at me and says, “Nice day.”
“Yes,” I said “it’s beautiful… hot, sunny.”
“Well you don’t want to overdo it. 70 years ago I was born with a mole on my back and they had to remove it last year.” he said. “Melanoma. 70 years I had that mole and it was okay until last year.”
Not being quite the topic of conversation I was expecting I was a bit taken aback and mumbled something like “70 years, eh?”.
“Yep,” he said. “My mother is still alive – she’s 92 – and she told me to watch out for that because it was going to give me trouble some day. She was right. 70 years.”
He shook his head. “Enjoy your day.”
And with that he walked into Timmy’s and I was left thinking, “Thank god he didn’t have colorectal cancer.”

Monday, July 4, 2011

An early morning ride

I had a tournament start time of 7:30 so I had to be on the road shortly after 6:00 to get to the course with time to sign up and get a brief putting practice in.  I was running late and was tempted to just jump in the car and go without having to pack my golf clothes, put on a jacket and helmet, and perform all the other minor but time-consuming activities involved in getting ready to ride.
I decided to hell with it – it was too nice a day not to ride and if I was a bit late, then too bad.
The sun was up and just starting to rise above the trees lining the road. The air still had that early morning fresh smell (I’d make a million if I could figure out how to package that in a spray can) that lifts the soul with the promise of a brand new day ahead. And best of all, there was no traffic.
But there were deer, lots of deer, having their breakfast alongside the road. I haven’t hit one yet, but with two motorcycle-deer collisions in the area so far this year (one of them fatal), my spidey sense was working overtime trying to judge which way they’d jump as I went past. Fortunately they all either ignored me or went the right (i.e. other) way. (As I reread this last paragraph it reminds me of those headlines, “247 passengers survive as plane lands safely at O’Hare!”.)
After 15 minutes or so I left the the winding roads and forest and entered the more-or-less deer-free zone of straightaways and farmers’ fields. So with the wind in my face, the sun on my back, and the steady throb of the engine beneath me I relaxed and let my mind wander. And I found myself slipping into that Zen state where riding becomes effortless and the man-machine interface disappears. As anyone who has experienced this will tell you, you become “one” with the machine which seems to anticipate and respond to your thoughts without physical input. Time slows to a crawl.  It’s just you, your bike, and a road… to somewhere, anywhere.  It really is a magical experience that, if I’m lucky, I will get to enjoy once or twice a summer.
In this state I was sorely tempted to just keep on going, and would have but for the expectations of my playing partners. So I made the turn into the club parking lot, promising myself to do more early morning rides.
P.S. I should have kept riding. I may have been up at 5:15 but my golf game managed to sleep in until about 9:30 and arrived bleary-eyed and in an ornery mood.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Slip slidin’ away.

For some reason we northerners insist on being able to drive like it’s mid-summer, even in the depths of winter. And for that reason the authorities apply road salt by the tonne from December through March. (The other reason being, of course, it’s a conspiracy by the auto industry so their cars rot out after 7 or 8 years and need to be replaced more often than would otherwise be necessary.)
Fortunately there are some islands of sanity, including our township which doesn’t use salt in our area. The reason is to reduce the amount of salt that runs off into White Lake and, as a by-product, cut down on the number of deer hit while licking salt off the country roads. Instead they use sand – lots and lots of sand. Which is great on icy roads in January, but not so great on paved roads in June. And since our township is too poor to operate a sweeper, the sand can linger on the roads until well into the summer, inexplicably concentrated in corners and intersections. 
Hence this, the end result of a front wheel hitting a skim of sand in the middle of a off-camber corner.
Fortunately there was nothing hurt but some pride, a bit of confidence, and a signal light lens, but it serves as a good reminder to pay very close attention to the road surface ahead as the wrong stuff in the wrong place will put you down in an instant.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Flashback

Back in the days of my, some would say misspent, youth when I was riding Hondas, Yamahas and Kawasakis (never a Suzuki although I did once contemplate the acquisition of an ‘83 Katana) I was forever lusting after something more exotic than the ubiquitous Japanese iron.
Munch MammothFor a pure head-turning, WTF factor there wasn’t much that would exceed the Munsch Mammut (Mammoth) with its transverse 4 cylinder 1200cc NSU engine. This brute, at 550 pounds, was considered massive for the day. But compared to my Dyna at 675 pounds it’s a relative lightweight by today’s standards.
Benelli SeiIf riding an engineering marvel was more your forte, the Benneli Sei would scratch your itch. The 750cc engine was basically a Honda CB500 with 2 cylinders added. With a rated top speed of 120 mph this machine was a goer, and six separate mufflers were sure to capture any passer-by's attention.
Laverda750But up there among the illustrious Moto-Guzzis and German-engineered BMWs (this was before there was a BMW parked outside every Starbucks between here and Portland) one bike really stood out for me, the Laverda 750. In it’s finest orange livery it was hard to miss, but if you happened to be visually impaired, or busy staring at one of the “nicest people” you just met on a Honda, the sound was a dead giveaway. You have to hand it to the Italians, they do sound very well, and the Laverda was no exception, you could hear it coming a long way and there was no mistaking that twin-cylinder rumble when under full throttle. 
And what brought on this trip down memory lane?
Well today I was in the city running some errands (on two wheels, of course) and I pulled up beside a 1975 Laverda 750 at a traffic light. It has probably been 5 years since I last saw one on the road so I engaged the rider in conversation and found out that the bike was still all original. Of course after 36 years it is showing its age, but it is still a daily rider. The paint has lost some luster and he’s thought about repainting but would like to stay with the original orange. His wife hates the orange and wants to change it, so he avoids the conflict by leaving it just as it is. And when the light changed I held back just that extra few seconds to listen to the bark as he pulled away smartly knowing, I’m sure, just why I paused. Nice.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Long Way Home

I won’t complain about the weather – that’s been done to death – but I will say that when water cooler conversations about the weather displace the Stanley Cup playoffs – Go, Canucks, Go, eh? – in Canada, it’s been pretty bad. So let’s just say I haven’t logged very many miles kilometres this year. In fact it’s been almost as bad as 2008. (link)
But tonight turned out to be a perfect night for a ride, with temperatures hovering around 24C (75F), a clear sky, and no wind. The missus was working, and the place where she works has a Starbuck’s, so after dinner I decided to go grab a coffee. Of course it’s about 70 kilometres from here, but who cares, I’m on two wheels! Soon enough I had my beverage of choice in hand and was perusing the Chapter’s bookshelves looking for anything interesting that wasn’t already on my own bookshelf back home. This time I came away empty-handed, but with a few more items to add to my growing list of must-reads. (I mean, how could one not want to read Here’s Looking at Euclid, or Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements?)
Now how often does it happen, while driving your car or truck, that you decide to go the long way home for a change? Not often I’d guess. I know it’s rare for me to not take the fastest, most direct route. But when you’re on two wheels that dynamic changes and it becomes all about the trip and not the destination. So I came the long way home, logging another 100 kilometres or so looping around through Stittsville, Carleton Place, Almonte, Pakenham (with the requisite stop at Scoops for a pralines and cream cone), Waba and finally White Lake  before the last few kilometres back to the garage.
By the time I got home I’d had about 3 hours of country riding, a nose full of spring smells including a dead skunk and freshly fertilised fields, an extended period of riding straight into a gorgeous sunset, and a bike, jacket, and riding glasses smeared with the corpses of thousands of mosquitoes. What a great ride!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Today I said my last goodbyes to an old friend

David was the first person I met when I came to Ottawa in 1972. I was wheeling my Honda CB350 into the apartment garage on moving day only to find my new parking garage neighbour working on his Ducati 250 single. With the bikes being the catalyst we struck up a conversation that signalled the beginning of friendship that lasted nearly 40 years.

Through births, deaths, good times and bad times, we remained friends, not always seeing each other that often but never really being far apart either. And when we did drift it always seemed that common two-wheel interest would soon draw us back together whether it was participating in a local trials event, meeting up at a mutual friend’s place, or just dropping in while out for a ride.

It was David who sold me my first Norton, which began a love affair which has lasted to this day and which has involved at least 5 or 6 of the marque occupying my garage at various times. And it was through him that I learned to ride trials, taking my Honda TL125 places where no motorcycle should be able to go, and earning many, many bruises and scrapes in the process. We taught motorcycle safety courses together and logged thousands of miles on back roads, seeking out new riding loops with the requisite number of curves (i.e. lots).  David and his wife Judy stood up for us when we got married, and he would later share the blame when the missus came home to find us rebuilding an engine on the kitchen table using the dishwasher to clean parts and the oven and freezer to heat and cool parts that needed to be press-fit together.  He was always there to provide mechanical advice or information on the history of pretty much any vintage motorcycle in the Ottawa area as he knew most of them and/or their owners.

Then, a few years ago, David contacted the big C. The treatments were hard and the recovery slow but eventually he was back into the Ottawa motorcycling scene, riding as much and as often as he could and being actively involved with the BMW Owners Club, the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group, and others. But, sadly, the disease returned with a vengeance and this time he would not prevail.

So today I prayed that he is now in a place where the roads are paved, the curves are many, and his faithful BMW will never run out of gas.

Goodbye my friend.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The future just got a little closer

mid_uno3_1This is the story of a boy, an idea, and a uni/motorcycle.
The following clip from the BPG website describes the genesis of this machine.
Four years ago, a then 17-year-old Benjamin Gulak traveled to China with his father on a business trip. When he saw the incredible pollution in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, much of it produced by smoky two-stroke scooters and motorcycles, he knew that electrics would make ideal substitutes—if they were cool. He set out to create a practical, non-polluting vehicle with style.
Working with an inherited set of tools from his grandfather, he built an angle-iron frame, attached wheelchair motors, batteries and gyroscopes and arrived at the moment of truth – the test ride.
Since then, the now named Uno has accelerated at an incredible rate. After winning a Grand Award at the 2007 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the Uno was awarded one of the Top 10 Inventions of the Year by Popular Science magazine. Gulak’s Uno started to appear in newspapers and magazines around the world – leading to the start of BPG Motors.
With investor funding raised from an appearance on Canada’s CBC’s Dragon’s Den Gulak has been able to take his idea from rough prototype to near production and pre-orders are  now being accepted.
Check out the video: http://youtu.be/x2DgwY5QQBk
As my crystal ball has been malfunctioning of late I have no idea whether this is the start of something big or not. But regardless, it’s damned impressive for a high school science project, and beats the hell out of my erupting volcanoes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

ABCD – Epic fail!

I was all set to go out and find a centre (properly spelled) line and take a picture. On May 1 as the rules stipulated. Except somewhere along the way I slipped a cog, thinking today was May 1 and yesterday April 31. “30 days has September, April… aw crap!”
So instead of capturing a suitable image for posterity I enjoyed a rare nice day on the golf course (and I did ride there – quite exhilarating at 35F in the early morning) followed by some very necessary yard work after all the wind damage of last week. It was only when I was reminded to go and vote today that the penny dropped and those tired old brain cells woke up to the fact that if this was May 2, then yesterday must have been… right.
To all of you who are not so Gregorianly challenged and who posted your pictures, kudos. I am slowly working my way through the posts and enjoying all the creativity, albeit with a fair degree of discomfiture. And as for posting my own (non-compliant) centre line photo, I was only able to find one with a centre line, and here it is.
ABCDTaken many years ago, it’s a photo of yours truly reattaching the exhaust system to his trusty(?) Norton Commando at the side of the road while a group of riding buddies look on in admiration disgust pity. One person working and seven looking on, offering helpful and not so helpful advice. Did I mention they were mostly government employees? Note the centre line.

Two Wheels Through Terror – book review

by Glen Heggstad.
Two Wheels Through Terror“The time I spent in the vengeful hands of a terrorist organization was like holding my finger in a light socket for five weeks. That brain-frazzling experience taught me as much about myself as well as the world around me. There is a lesson in everything – often the greater the pain, the greater the lesson.”
Three weeks after 9/11 ex-biker, martial arts expert, judo instructor and adventure tourist Glen Heggstad embarked on a planned 25,000 mile, 8-month motorcycle journey from his home in Southern California to the tip of South America.
A few weeks into the trip, having crossed Mexico and Central America without incident, Heggstad’s decision to take a run up to Medellín from Bogotá, Columbia will change his life forever. Four hours into the jungle ride his spidey sense kicks in telling him something is not right. However he keeps going, right into the hands of the ELN, one of Columbia’s most brutal terrorist groups. Five weeks of beatings, mistreatment and malnourishment follow before he is eventually released. Only to continue his trip to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia.
This is a story of a man who, even as he fights the demons arising from his captivity, continues to reach out to the common person, finding the best in men and women struggling to survive in extreme poverty and despair. Cities offer some security and opportunities to recharge mentally and do needed repairs to his motorcycle, but Heggstad is happiest on the road braving extreme weather conditions, questionable roads and, wherever possible, engaging with the locals.
Based on previous books I’d read I had low expectations for a motorcycling book written by an “outlaw motorcyclist” and “international martial arts champion” but fortunately that turned out to not only be unfair, but incorrect. Two Wheels Through Terror is a well written and engaging narrative. Heggstad brings the reader along on his journey, a pillion passenger feeling the same freezing rain, the pot-holed roads, the terror of the known, the fear of the unknown, and the joys of riding hard on empty highways.
A recommended read for inclusion in any motorcycle library. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Be careful what you wish for

This area is generally a high user of road salt during the winter months, but around the lake the local authorities have decided to use sand only to reduce the amount of salt running into the lake every spring. The difference in winter driving conditions is negligible and it’s healthier for the environment as well, so what’s not to like?
Well, the sand.
When the last of the ice and snow finally disappears, our roadways are covered in sand. Bad enough on 4 wheels, it can be disastrous to hit loose sand mid-curve while on 2 wheels. Being a poor township there are no sweepers to clean the roads, so we have to rely on a few heavy spring rainstorms to wash the sand off and make the roads once again safe for riding.
joe btfsplkSo it was about a month ago when I foolishly commented that what we needed was some rain for that exact purpose. Now I don’t personally believe in a higher being, but someone or something “up there” decided, “You want rain? I’ll give you rain.”
And so it started raining at the end of March… and it’s still raining. By tomorrow we will have surpassed the all time record for rain in April – with more rain forecast right through to the first week of May.
Okay. I get it . You made your point. I’m waterlogged. The golf course is waterlogged. The toys want to come out and play. So stop the #*@*^# rain already!

Diversions

We’re in the midst of a federal election up here where the megalomaniacal, anti-democratic leader of the Conservative Party is likely to win another mandate with about 35% of the votes. Unlike the two party system in the US we have a total of 5 parties vying for support, so the splits let one party ‘win’ even though as much as 70% of the population don’t support them. On the plus side we have no hanging chads as we still use paper ballots.
So for most of us whose interest in politics goes beyond responding to superficial prime time attack ads this is all very stressful. We know the best interests of Canada and most Canadians are not going to be met by the party on track to win, but there’s precious little we can do about it under our anachronistic first-past-the-post voting rules.
That’s why I needed a diversion.
And that’s why I hung the bicycle in the trees.

Friday, April 22, 2011

An open letter to the people of Boston

We just got back from a very enjoyable visit to your fair city. From Marathon Monday through to Thursday we experienced your burg and did the marathon (spousal unit only) and tourist thing, enjoyed the sights, the history, and the pubs, all the while keeping an eye out for those missing R’s. (I knew it was time to leave when I was beginning to sound like a  local: “Is theah a place heah wheah ah can pak mah cah?”)
Unfortunately, except for Marathon Monday, the weather was terrible, but you can’t be held at fault for that – even the combined intellects of the 287,361 university and college professors who live in and around Boston isn’t enough to control the weather. Nor predict it, as each day was a fresh surprise.
But I do have a couple of observations and suggestions related to your driving habits.
When you took delivery of your new Volvo, the sales rep probably pointed out that lever just to the left of the steering wheel. That is a turn signal activating lever, intended to be used to advise other drivers and pedestrians of your intent to change directions. It is NOT a handy hook for your man purse.
Second point, once accidentally activated by placing your man purse on the lever, it is customary practice to remove said purse and cancel the flashing signal light before the fourth intersection in which everyone around you expected you to turn left, only to be disappointed and surprised when you drove straight through that red light.
Red lights. In most jurisdictions with which I am familiar, the approved signal for accelerating (i.e. “flooring it”) when approaching an intersection is a yellow light, usually a stale yellow, but definitely not red. I’m sure you can appreciate that if red didn’t mean STOP then there would have to be another colour for that, and I’m also reasonably sure your signal lights didn’t offer a 4th option. So try to stop on a red light; the life you save may be mine.
And one last item. When you pull out in front of another driver in a 40-mph zone, causing that driver to smoke his tires to avoid an overly intimate encounter, it is customary to get up to speed quickly and not take 3 blocks to do so. I know you are environmentally conscious, but trying to save gas by letting your Mercedes idle up to 40 mph just doesn’t work. German engineering is not THAT good.
So in my personal (and very unofficial) ranking of North American drivers, Boston has now surpassed both Toronto and Montreal for the worst drivers honour. Whereas Toronto drivers are totally unpredictable and Montreal drivers are overly aggressive, Boston drivers combine both traits, being simultaneously aggressive and unpredictable. Obviously a source of pride to some, it’s also a dangerous combination.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ABCD – May 1st – Mark it on your calendars now

A Bloggers Centerline Day, or ABCD, will take place on Sunday 1st May 2011.

The plan is to inspire as many bloggers as possible to go outside and take a photograph of themselves on this day, wherever they are in the world. The photo can be creative, arty, contain more than one person, be in any type of location and can contain anything else you like. It must however contain the centerline of a road and at least part of you, the blogger.

There are 5 rules....

Rule 1 - the picture must be taken on 1st May 2011.

Rule 2 - the picture must be of yourself, and you must be a person that publishes a blog. You can include whatever else you like in the picture, including other people if you wish.

Rule 3 - the picture must include the centerline of a road.

Rule 4 – you should publish the picture on your blog on 1st May 2011, along with a few words about the picture and why you chose that location or pose.

Rule 5 - when you have posted the picture on your own blog, put a comment on http://garysusatour.blogspot.com/2011/04/abcd-will-you-take-part.html and include in that comment the address of your own blog post containing your own picture. 

Gary France will then pick his favourite photos and publish these as being the winners. There will be a prize of $100 awarded to the overall single winner, as chosen by Gary.
In order to get this event known as widely as possible, please copy and paste this posting onto your own blog, including the title. Please do that today!

As a reminder to yourself to take the photo and post it, put an entry into your diary for 1st May 2011.

Road test and first ride of the year

It took a few weeks, but the weather finally cooperated (no rain and 45 degrees) so I got to road test the Ascot. And it runs like a charm after the repair, even if I do say so myself.
It’s been a late and cold spring here (even now they’re calling for the possibility of snow on the weekend), but the lake is now free of ice and the spring flowers are just starting to peek above the ground. Our private road is finally clear of snow and spring mud (most of it is in shade all day long, so it takes a while to thaw and then dry out) so that a ride, even to the mailbox, doesn’t mean a 2-hour clean-up when you get home.
So when I got a notice today from the post office that a package was waiting for me it seemed like a perfect opportunity to don the leathers and helmet and go pick it up on two wheels, which I did. And did it ever feel good. There’s still lots of winter sand in some corners, and the skills are a bit rusty, but that will change quickly. And by the time we’re back from Boston (the missus is running the marathon next week) we’ll be back into riding season with a vengeance. Woohoo!
Almost ice freeThe last bit of ice.
Crocuses Crosuses the deer haven’t found yet.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Old family photos

Every family has that box of old photos stashed away in some dusty corner of the attic or garage.  And as succeeding generations pass on the collection grows, like mushrooms in the dark, rarely ever seeing the light of day.

Every so often you drag the box out and among all the blurry photos (Why do we insist on keeping bad pictures?) and pictures of families you don’t recognize (Could that be second cousin Billy-Bob and his 17 children and step-children?) you find those hidden gems, memories of a distant and not-so distant past.

This is one such photo.

With Streaky in Digby

My father joined the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) in 1940 and served overseas during the war, stationed at various RAF bases in England and Scotland. While at RAF Digby one of his favourite pastimes was to take his dog Streaky for a ride around the base or into the nearest town. There was a war on so danger was a relative thing and ATGATT wasn’t a big deal for humans, but note the lack of protective gear on Streaky.

If any of my readers happens to have a familiarity with WWII vintage British motorcycles I’d sure be interested in knowing what he is riding. I would hazard a guess that it’s likely a BSA single, but that’s all it is, a guess.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Winter makeover

Well the winter makeover is now done. Can you spot the differences?
Before…

After…
After
Now if the snow would finally go I’d be a happy man.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The best kind of project

Last year I mused (here) about customising my ride and what I could do that was truly unique. In the H-D world, the derby cover is a common way for the owner to announce his/her interests or allegiances – like a mini-billboard on the side of your ride – so that seemed a reasonable customisation target.
As the objective was for something unique, that eliminated the ubiquitous “Live to Ride” messaging, the flames, the skulls, and the American flag (me being Canadian and all). But I did like the patriotic flavour associated with flying the flag so I decided to play around with that concept. Besides there were no manufacturers of derby covers (that I could find) who offered any variation of the Canadian flag, which would make my cover even more one-of-a-kind.
Not being much of an artist, it took me quite a while to come up with a layout that I liked. Dozens of different mock-ups were printed, cut out, and taped onto the cover to see how they looked. I considered coloured and monochrome, simple and complex, large and small images before finally deciding on a simple, monochromatic graphic.
I still wasn’t too sure how it would look in the end so, reluctant to invest too much in the project, I scoured eBay for a suitable used derby cover as my canvas. And I got lucky, finding a nearly new polished aluminum cover for little more than the cost of shipping – a far cry from buying new.
Now the only challenge that remained was finding a way to transfer the image to the cover. At first I considered having it cut in, but after visiting a few machine shops that option went away because of either technical or cost issues. I tried engraving shops but decided I didn’t like the effect where the image was basically cut in multiple passes resulting in a grooved pattern. Chemical etching was a possibility, but again very expensive unless you’re prepared to do it yourself, which I learned is not a simple process.
But then I found a small local shop that could do laser engraving. They couldn’t cut directly onto a curved surface either, but they were able to cut a template for me out of an adhesive-backed material that would withstand sand blasting yet still be easily removed.
One template, a bag of good quality blasting grit, and many test runs later I now have my one-of-a-kind cover. It was a fun project to do, I learned a lot about what is and isn’t possible, I met some good people, it was relatively inexpensive (in dollars if not in time), and I’m very pleased with the results. Now if only every project ended this way.
     Derby 2

Thursday, March 10, 2011

One Man Caravan

by Robert Edison Fulton Jr.
One Man Caravan““Oh no,” I replied. “I’m going around the world on a motorcycle.””
At a dinner party in London, in 1932, Robert Edison Fulton Junior had just been asked when he was planning to sail back to America.
“Who was the more startled, the seven persons around me or myself, I really can’t say. I recall only that the moment I let that statement slip, I knew I’d done something inexplicably peculiar.”
Of course it might never have happened at all but for the fact that one of the other dinner guests was none other than Kenton Redgrave who had just purchased the Douglas Motor Works and offered Fulton a free motorcycle upon which to take the trip.
And thus began an eighteen-month round the world odyssey on a modified, 6 horsepower, Douglas twin, in 1932.
Fulton travelled through 22 countries, including some of the most inhospitable (then and now). He rode through Iraq (Irak, as it was spelled), Afghanistan, Waziristan, India, China, and many others. He crossed mountains, and deserts. He dealt with idiotic border regulations (and guards) and spent some time in jails. But throughout his trip he was, for the most part, able to connect with the local populace and surprisingly survived even the most potentially dangerous situations relatively unscathed. His descriptions of local customs and his attempts to communicate, usually with no common language, are often quite funny and insightful.
I really enjoyed this book, both for the experience of being able to vicariously share Fulton’s trip, but also because many of his observations of the tribal culture of much of the Middle East is no different today – some 80 years later.
So for anyone looking to add to their motorcycle travel library, this is one I would recommend.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

There’s nothing so sweet as the sound of a running engine….

Especially when it was torn down to the cases just two days ago.
Some of you may recall that I purchased a 1982 Honda FT500 Ascot last January for the missus. (Link here.) Well as with any 30 year old motorcycle, it had some issues, not least of which was a minor oil leak around the rocker cover. So one of my winter projects was to fix the leak.
On this model, the rocker cover is precision machined to fit on top of the cylinder head without a gasket. The oil up there isn’t under any pressure, so a good clean fit with properly torqued bolts usually does the trick. But not when the bolt holes have been stripped.
Of 11 bolts that hold the rocker cover in place, 9 had been stripped. Of those 7 had previously been heli-coiled, of which 5 of the heli-coils had also been stripped. So basically, if I had been able to do so, I could have turned the bike upside down and given it a good shake to have the rocker cover simply fall off. Now I knew why the previous owner (the so-called motorcycle mechanic!) had been reluctant to fix the oil leak – although, to his credit, he did advise me of it during the negotiations. So I guess it’s really my fault for not digging further into it at the time. (Another lesson learned, belatedly.)
So I was faced with drilling and re-tapping all those bolt holes 2 sizes over, which is not only a pain in the ass to do, but in a couple of cases would end up making the walls really thin. But then I remembered that the bike came with most of a spare engine, which was spending the winter out behind the shed, covered in snow. I went and dug it out and dragged it into the shop to thaw. And to my great delight, when I removed the rocker cover, the head had not been similarly butchered. So a quick swap of the cam and a couple of other bits and I now had a good head to work with. From there it was easy to bolt it all back together and fire it up. Now it runs great in the garage and I’m just waiting for the roads to clear for a final road test. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see any leaking oil (although the exhaust fumes were thick as a London fog when I was running it up to temperature inside the garage) so I’m hoping it’s good. But for now it’s done, and I can get on to the next project.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Getting to know your dealer

Or even more importantly, your dealer getting to know you.
It’s not uncommon in online forums to see bikers referring to their dealers in terms such as “I went to the STEALER and they tried to RIP ME OFF…” accompanied by a full demonstration of Tourette’s in written form. That’s pretty discouraging because, while there are certainly bad dealerships out there, I believe the vast majority are good folks, just trying to make a living like the rest of us. 
That’s why I’ve always tried to make myself known to my dealer. I’ll drop in every so often just to look at and talk about the new models, or to buy some small item at the parts counter. If I bring my bike in for service I make a point of understanding what they are doing and talking to the tech if possible. I know most of their names, and they know mine. And it pays off in so many ways.
As a case in point, I recently made a rookie mistake and broke a brake light switch. A moment’s inattention, a little ‘snap’, and an “oh crap” moment ensued. So I dropped by the dealer to order a replacement.
(This is where it gets ugly.) The part listed for my Dyna is $34 (outrageous enough), but as soon as they tried to place the order, H-D’s ordering system said that part was superseded with this new $96 part (much more outrageous). $96 for a small momentary switch in a plastic housing with about 20” of wire attached. That’s it. For any other application it would be $4.99 at Radio Shack. (Now if you want to refer to the folks who set retail price points for H-D OEM parts as “stealers”, that’s perfectly acceptable and justified.)
The parts manager (who agreed with me on the last point) then dragged out all his suppliers’ catalogues and spent at least 1/2 hour searching until he found a suitable after-market replacement switch for $22, confirmed availability, and placed the order. The service manager then spent another 15 minutes or so explaining what to watch for during installation so I wouldn’t be back again in a few days looking for another one. That’s great service. 
Some dealers would have presented me with a take it or leave it scenario, but because I have a personal relationship with my dealer they were prepared to go extra mile to keep me as a valued customer. And that’s why I keep going back.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

GoPro listened

The major deficiency in the GoPro camera system was, in my opinion, the lack of any sort of display on the back of the camera that would visually inform the user whether the camera was recording or not. I guess lots of people had similar complaints and so the folks at GoPro listened.
Now I was thinking of something as simple as a blinking light, but GoPro had bigger and better ideas. They have just released the LCD BacPac, which is essentially an add-on LCD screen that clips on the back of the GoPro 1080Pp HD HERO unit, providing video playback capabilities as well as camera setting info.
 image
Mine is on order and I will provide a review as soon as I get it and can try it out.