Monday 29 December 2008

Riding on the Edge

By John Hall.

“Sure we got into some shootings and serious shit. But most of it was just good, clean fun, like drinking beer all night and standing up on the seat of your motorcycle, drunk and without a helmet, at three o’clock in the morning, while you blew every red light on Hempstead Turnpike.”

I suppose one could debate whether that is an apt description of “good, clean fun”, but what I found quite interesting about this book was that Hall describes a 1960’s outlaw scene that was totally devoid of any criminal activity of a serious nature – no drug dealing, no trafficking, no prostitution – just “good, clean fun”. And so I suspect that there’s either a lot Hall left out of the narrative or there’s quite a bit of revisionist history being presented here.

But while Hall may have been selective in his recollections, Riding on the Edge still opens a window on the outlaw culture at the time and the early days of the Pagans as they began their march to become, according to the book’s jacket, “the most violent criminal organization in America”.

The story line is pretty typical and quite repetitive – getting drunk, taking offense, trashing bars, screwing underaged groupies, internal power struggles, who’s righteous and who isn’t. Reading about all that is good clean fun in its own way but what really differentiates this book from others of the same ilk are Hall’s periodic detours into the history of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Mennonites and the Brotherhood of Zion, observations on Polish family traditions, and so on. Finding these gems scattered among the wreckage of yet another trashed bar or run-in with the authorities is what makes the book readable and kept me turning the pages (I read it in 2 days). It’s still not great literature, but it’s a decent, entertaining read.

Oh, and one last nit to pick: the inside cover says, “In the 1960s, John Hall, a Harley-riding hell-raiser hooked up with the Pagans...”. According to the book, Hall rode a 1963 Triumph TR-6.

Saturday 27 December 2008

Riding with Rilke

Well you sure can't ride 'em this time of year, so second best is reading (and writing) about 'em.

Riding with Rilke is one of the better motorcycling books I've read recently. And while motorcycling and literary research seem to be an unlikely pairing, Bishop brings those worlds together in a fine story worthy of your attention on those cold winter nights when all one has is memories of rides past and anticipation of rides to come.

A more complete review is here.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Bill 117

I know it's now well into winter here in Ontario and all but the most foolhardy bikers have lovingly put their two wheels to bed for the winter, but that doesn't mean we can ignore what's going on at Queen's Park. Bill 117 is another step closer to reality and WILL BECOME LAW if we don't stop it.

As recent experience shows, this government will only respond when public pressure becomes uncomfortable. When the young drivers mobilised to decry the restrictions on their ability to carry passengers, that provision was dropped from the legislation. WE NEED TO DO THE SAME.

So do your bit.

Write letters to your MP, your newspaper, Premier McGuinty and let them know how you feel. Join Facebook groups. Sign petitions. Get everyone you know, whether Ontario residents or not, to do the same. Be heard and be LOUD.

Not a motorcyclist? Be very worried. If they get away with this, next it will be cyclists with their kids in tow, or skateboarders, or snowboarders. You too have a vested interest in stopping this law.

Look here, and here for some background and contact information for the Ontario legislature.

And drop over to
The Lonely Rider for a good summary of what's been going on and some excellent background material.

Friday 12 December 2008

Manyberries, Alberta

For motorcyclists, winter is a time of reflection up here in the frozen north. Barring a mid-winter trip to Daytona or some such southern locale, we know we won’t be riding for at least 5 months so we spend our time reminiscing about trips past. This is one such recollection.

1976. Having been in the workforce for all of six years at that point, I had decided that I needed an extended vacation. Looking back on it now that was probably the one time in my working life I least needed a long break as being low man on the Ottawa civil service totem pole didn’t exactly warrant hazard pay, but being so low in the hierarchy also meant they wouldn’t miss me for 10 weeks. So I strapped a tent, sleeping bag, fishing pole and an extra pair of jeans on the Honda 550 and headed west to Vancouver, where I would meet up with my girlfriend (now wife) who was going to fly out and then accompany me on the return trip.

While in Vancouver we stayed for a couple of weeks with friends of friends who turned out to be terrific hosts, making us feel welcome and right at home from day one. So to show our appreciation, on our last night we presented them with a copy of the then-new photo book, Between Friends. As it was a going away party, the beer and the hippie lettuce were in abundance, and we were all well under the influence when we came across a picture in the book of two grizzled old cowboys standing in front of a grain silo in a place called Manyberries, Alberta. For whatever reason that photo struck us all at the time as being particularly hilarious.

So it was that a few days later when we came upon a road sign on Highway 1 pointing the way to Manyberries that we just had to detour to see the now-famous town. I'm not sure what we expected exactly, but I grew up in a small village in western Quebec so I'm no stranger to small towns. But this was small-town living on the edge. A few low buildings, a grain elevator or two, and that was it. Surrounded by endless prairie, Manyberries was the quintessential small prairie town – nice, but a bit worn out, like your favourite old sofa at the cottage. And there was no sign of the cowboys; just a very attractive young lady driving a bloody great tractor through town wearing cut-off jeans, a bikini top, and a straw cowboy hat. An injudicious remark that she should have been in the book instead of the two old guys earned me a quick jab in the ribs from the girlfriend and a reminder that it was going to be a long ride home if I didn't behave.

We took a look around and, being dry and dusty, we stopped at the local watering hole for a quick pint. I don’t remember the name of the establishment, but I do recall being the only two people in the place besides the bartender – and I don’t think he was too pleased to have a couple of long-haired “hippie bikers” in his bar. But our money was good, and he was keen to take it, so we quenched our thirsts, saddled up, and headed back out of town, north to Medicine Hat and Highway 1.

It was a beautiful day for riding - hawks circling in a clear blue sky and antelope in the fields. Not too hot and not too cold. One of those rare, perfect days that you just know can't last. And sure enough, it didn't.

There is only one hill between Manyberries and Medicine Hat, and it was just as we crested that hill that we came into intimate contact with the gumbo that’s used to surface roads in those parts. A mixture of water, oil, and dust, this goop is spread and graded until it packs down and dries into something of the consistency of concrete. But while it’s being worked, it’s more like molasses, very, very thick molasses. Which is what it was when we hit it. At about 70 mph. At the same instant we saw all the heavy equipment all over the road. We went down so fast I didn’t even have a chance to say, “What the f....?”

Some of the workers raced over to help us up out of the mud and their safety guy dragged out the First Aid Kit to patch the scrapes and minor cuts. Fortunately, aside from a bit of road rash, a broken turn signal, and a bent handlebar, we and the bike were fine. It was only when they told us how lucky we were because “The guy last week went right into that grader there. Killed him.” that I got a little irate and suggested, very politely under the circumstances I thought, that they should put up a FUCKING WARNING SIGN! With that, we prised the mud out from under the fenders, got on the bike, and continued on to Medicine Hat, me driving with the left handlebar pointing to the sky and both of us covered head to toe in oil and mud.

We managed to find the Honda dealer in Medicine Hat and as we entered the store, the parts guy took one look at us and said: “Coming up from Manyberries?” which, as one would imagine, elicited the appropriate amount of cussing and a few more Manyberries stories. But we got our parts and found a campsite just outside of town where we could pitch our tent and affect the necessary repairs. It turned out that the campsite was right between Highway 1 and the major east-west CP Rail line, both very busy, and a popular camping spot for the local Hell’s Angels chapter. But that’s another story.

Friday 5 December 2008

Ontario one step closer to banning under-14's as passengers on motorcycles

Yesterday Ontario’s Liberal majority forced this piece of nanny-state legislation one step closer to becoming law by passing it at second reading and referring it to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy.
This after a debate in which Dr. Jaczek (the bill’s sponsor) stood up in the Legislature in support of her Bill 117. By way of preamble she used the example of a 10-year-old child “who had been run over by a car”. How that was any more relevant than a child who was injured falling out of a tree is unclear to me.
The second situation she quotes is from an online article in, by “concerned parent and experienced motorcyclist Art Friedman”. In the article, Friedman states, "Here's a typical disaster in the making, one that I've seen far too frequently. A motorcyclist rides down the street with a kid sitting in front of him, a helmet four sizes too large bouncing around on the child's head, its little hands trying to hold on to the gas tank or the rider's legs.”

Now I don’t know who Art Friedman, what makes him an expert, or where he rides, but in 4 decades of riding I have NEVER seen this on the street – a dirt bike at the cottage perhaps, but never on the street. Besides, this is already illegal in Ontario and more rules aren’t going to make one iota of difference to the idiot who would carry a child on a motorcycle like that.

But then, after quoting Mr. Friedman as a sort of expert witness, Dr. Jaczek says, “Although Mr. Friedman concludes his article by saying he believes children can safely be passengers with proper preparation, I must disagree.” So it’s okay to agree with his ridiculous example because it supports your argument, but when he doesn't support your argument he's wrong? Typical bloody politician!
Anyway this is doing nothing for my blood pressure, so you can read everything she had to say here , along with the presentations by other members both in support of the bill as well as against it.
The fight is not over folks. Keep those cards and letters flowing.

(See here for background).

Monday 1 December 2008

"I refuse to tip-toe through life only to arrive safely at death"

That anonymous quote got me thinking again about the latest Ontario government initiatives to coddle its citizenry, protecting us from ourselves, and furthermore protecting us from ever having to take any real responsibility for our actions. (Previously blogged on here, here, and here.)

Nanny-state legislation, most often initiated as a political knee-jerk reaction to an unfortunate death or injury, seems particularly problematic in Ontario. And without a major backlash, its relentless progression will eventually turn us all into a society of zombies. As we move from one protective bubble to the next, we will live our lives totally unexposed and to some extent oblivious to the real world around us with all its excitement, beauty, and, it must be said, dangers. Unable to conceive of taking any personal risk, we will become solely focused on immunizing ourselves from life so we can survive forever, without fear and without pain. Ironically, in order to live longer we become the walking dead ourselves.

I’m certainly no Edmund Hillary when it comes to living on the edge, but I’ve had my moments (many of which I'm proud to say would now be against one or more laws) and I simply can’t imagine being 100 years old and only having a white bread life to look back on. As the old joke goes, the doctor says if you give up drinking, smoking and wild women you’ll live to be 100. To which the patient replied, why would I want to? Exactly!

Any life worth living is inherently risky. Sure, some of us pushed it too far and, paraphrasing James Dean, lived fast, died young and left a beautiful corpse. Other friends, colleagues and family members didn’t make it this far due to countless other factors beyond their or anyone else’s control. But most of us make it through just fine, in spite of it all. And facing those risks, feeling that excitement, winning... and losing, even those near-death experiences define who we are. They are the underpinnings of our character, the same human character that brought innovation and progress to the western world at an unprecedented rate over the past few generations. It’s the same human character that gives us our heroes, in war and in peacetime; the same human character that lets us dig deep to find that irresistible force needed when faced with one of life’s immovable objects; and the same human character that every society needs in order to survive and that we, as humans, need to truly live.

Losing a loved one before their time hurts, and it’s understandable that those suffering such a loss will cry out for more rules, more limits, more controls so that no one else will ever have to feel their pain. But personal pain is not a good forge for public policy, and we should expect our politicians to be wise enough to realise that.

(Cross-posted from

Wednesday 26 November 2008

I thought I was over it.

Back in the 70’s, when I was still riding Japanese iron, there were 2 Harleys that would never fail to make my heart do a quick little two-step. One was totally impractical (and not generally available), and the other was way outside my fiscal capacity at the time. But that’s no reason for a young man to stop lusting, right?

So right up there along with a ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda on the dream shelf (no one has ever accused me of having cheap dreams) were the XLCR 1000 and the XR 750, two of the most beautiful machines ever to come out of Milwaukee in my opinion. Especially the XR 750 which to me was the epitome of function over stripped down form. Beautiful, spartan lines, with a honkin’ great hunk of iron for a heart. It was just mean and I loved the looks of every last inch of it.

Years pass, life gets in the way and dreams fade. I’ve long since given up on the Hemi ‘Cuda – no car is worth 6 figures – and my ‘74 Commando beat the cafe racer urge out of me, or more precisely, convinced my aging body that it was time to stop playing Kenny Roberts. And the XR 750 got relegated to the far recesses of memory as just another “it woulda been nice, but...”

Then this happens! The rumour mill is rife with word of the imminent release of an American version of the XR 1200 that has been available in Europe for some time now. At least one dealer is already taking pre-orders in advance of any official announcement from H-D, which is expected to come on December 5.

And so the dream is rekindled.....

Monday 24 November 2008

Motorcycling families not welcome in Ontario

This past summer, I met a family of 4 riding a Kawasaki Vulcan (I think it was) with a sweet little sidecar rig in which their two children (aged about 3 and 5) sat side by side while mom rode pillion. The kids were helmeted, belted into individual seats, and the sidecar had a cover to protect them from rain, wind, road dirt, etc. They had a radio and lots of colouring books and other diversions to keep them occupied when not watching the scenery go by. It was safe, comfortable, fun, and possibly soon illegal in Ontario.

The Government of Ontario has a Private Member’s Bill, Bill 117, in process that would prohibit any licensed motorcycle operator from carrying anyone under the age of 14 years as a passenger. If enacted, taking your son or daughter for a ride before s/he reaches the magical age of 14 will get you charged. Going for a family outing with the wee ones in a sidecar will get you charged. Teaching your kids responsible motorcycling will get you charged.

There has been surprisingly little attention paid to this in the mainstream media, but the Toronto Star did give it some good coverage
here. The e-zine Motorcycle Mojo also carried the story and a number of bloggers have taken up the fight with online petitions and entreaties to contact the Provincial Government to condemn this bill.

This all came about because a total of 199 children (up to age 15) were injured in motorcycle “accidents” over the course of a 10-year period ending in 2005. There is no breakdown of the nature of injuries, so they could include anything – a burned leg from a hot exhaust pipe, scrapes from falling off dad’s bike in the garage, riding the family dirt bike off the dock at the cottage. In fact, there have been NO statistics reported that show any significant incidence of young passengers, riding with their parents, being injured while on a motorcycle. In short, THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM!

Lest non-Ontario readers suspect that the province is currently the wild west of motorcycling where anything goes, there are already laws in place that require the wearing of a suitable, properly fitted helmet, as well as some reasonable restrictions such as all passengers must have foot rests and be able to reach them.

However, politicians, like nature, abhor a vacuum and
this politician discovered that, gasp!, there was no law in place to restrict carrying passengers under the age of 14. “The legislation is silent on the topic of motorcycle passengers," she said. So rather than worrying about the economy, or Ontario’s auto industry going down the tubes, or the fact that Ontario is one of the heaviest users of highly-polluting coal-fired power plants in North America, or world peace, she decided to jump right in there and correct this terrible, terrible oversight.

My letters to
Dalton McGuinty, Helena Jaczek and my local member of parliament have already gone. Add yours to the list.

Friday 14 November 2008

The customizing bug hits...

People buy motorcycles for a wide variety of reasons. For some, a motorcycle is simply inexpensive transportation – cheap to buy and operate, easy to park, and if it’s a bit of fun too, then that’s a bonus. You can thank this crowd for the recent increase in scooter sales. For others, their motorcycle is a means to get out and enjoy the ride. Function trumps form for these riders – their bikes are generally purpose-built to meet their individual riding styles and preferences whether that is off-road, back-road, or twisty road. Then there is the third group, the group of riders for whom a motorcycle is simply a blank canvas upon which one makes one’s personal mark. Of course they ride their bikes – a lot – but when the buying decision is made the anticipation of what it could become often eclipses the reality of what it currently is.

While there are always exceptions, this latter group can most often be found looking at, modifying, or riding Harley-Davidsons. And whether it was customer demand or H-D marketing that caused the customizing craze to explode – the classic chicken and egg scenario – there’s no doubt that the mother ship has fully embraced the concept, publishing a 600-plus page dream book of “genuine Harley-Davidson” accessories that will allow you to customize your bike to your heart’s content, or until the money runs out, which usually comes first. Then there’s J&P Cycles’ Catalog – 1100+ pages of geegaws, doodads, and whatsits, all designed to give your ride that personal touch. And there are hundreds more suppliers out there, all jockeying for your customising dollars, all sending catalogues to any H-D mailing list they can get their hands on.

For someone who comes from the Brit bike world where accessorising involved deciding whether to go flat bars or clip-ons, or if feeling really adventurous, adding an oil cooler and an electronic ignition module, this is all somewhat overwhelming. Especially when flat bars or clip-ons was a major decision, mulled over for days (I went with flat.) So now I have this – except for a back rest, rack and windshield – stock ’07 Low Rider and an urge to do something with it. I don’t know why, I guess it just goes with the territory.

Now I know the money will run out long before the ideas do, so prioritizing is essential. A rational plan would have rideability and comfort at the top of the list, performance somewhere in the middle, and “coolness” down at the bottom. But rationality has nothing to do with it, so the coolness factor keeps creeping up the list, forcing decisions between options such as buying a Tallboy™ seat to make the ride more comfortable or installing chrome switch box covers. Forward controls or custom paint (I think the factory Metallic Gold was created just for the Low Rider!). Saddle bags or ... Well, you get the idea.

Of course, the downside of all of this is that with so many choices, the easiest decision is to do nothing thus saving yourself the agony of making a choice and not an inconsiderable amount of cash in the process. But that doesn’t satisfy the human desire for change, so you leave yourself open to the temptation to simply trade up to something newer and/or bigger and certainly much more expensive.

So on second thought, perhaps I’ll go with the seat -and- custom paint. Or maybe, saddlebags -and- forward controls. I wouldn’t mind replacing the hand grips.....

Monday 10 November 2008

C120 Renaissance Fighter

My first thought when I saw this latest model from the Confederate Motor Company was, why?

It may be great art, but my butt hurts just looking at the C120 Renaissance Fighter. The forward controls position coupled with the low handlebars means you'll be riding bent over double, whacking your elbows on your knees at every turn. There isn't even a rear fender to hang a plate on although the company claims it's street legal.

My second thought was, because...
- because there are only 45 being made.
- because there are still people out there who can afford the list price of $110,000. - because Neiman Marcus has an exclusive for their Christmas catalogue.
- because they can!

Saturday 8 November 2008

Two foot-itis

Two foot-itis is a well known but little understood malady that affects boaters of every stripe. The symptoms of anyone suffering from two foot-itis include the view that no matter what boat they have right now, one that’s two feet longer would be infinitely better. Or in bovine terms, the grass is always greener....

While I don’t know what the motorcycle equivalent is, I’m sure there must be one as the sickness also affects us. Virtually every rider I have ever met will profess great love and respect for their current ride, but that passion is always tempered by a desire for something bigger, newer, older, chromier, louder, quieter, red, black, or faster. In fact if we had our way and limitless funds we’d be changing bikes as often as we change our socks, or better yet we’d simply do a “Leno” and collect one or more of everything our little hearts’ desired – a custom one, a jet-propelled one, a V-8 powered one, a three-wheeled yellow one.....

But there, protecting us from our own baser instincts, are the spousal unit, the banker (often one and the same), the kids and the mortgage, so we dream away hoping for that lottery win or pay raise that would enable us to indulge our little fantasies. And what makes it all bearable is the sure knowledge that every other rider of our acquaintance is in the same boat – or at least we thought they were.

Which brings me to the point of this story. The brother, a proud (and I thought happy) owner of a 2000 Road King, just announced he’s traded up to a brand new ’08 model.

This is a very strange occurrence because I haven’t heard of any relatives dying recently, and even if they did, none of them have any money to leave behind. Or perhaps the lottery finally paid out, although I haven’t seen his picture in the paper recently holding a big check. I also know for a fact that his wife has not been on an extended vacation in Basutoland so this must have been done with some prior knowledge and acceptance but, like all good Presbyterians, her arms are just slightly shorter than the depths of her pockets so this was not likely a birthday present (besides his birthday is in April).

Perhaps it was the old mid-life crisis line – “Well dear, the way I see it I can either get a new bike or a mistress. What do you think?” Naw, probably not. Didn't work for me either.

Regardless, however he managed such a stunning coup I can only look on in envy and say, “Well done. When can I take it for a ride?”

Friday 7 November 2008

What a difference a week makes!

This photo was taken from the car when driving home from Washington D.C. last Wednesday. This in spite of weather forecasts that were predicting temperatures in the mid-teens Celcius (high 50's Fahrenheit). At the time I was sure I had seen the last of any decent riding conditions and would be putting the Lowrider (she really needs a proper name) away for the season.

But then the weather changed, as it is wont to do on occasion, and turned absolutely beautiful - Indian Summer may have been late this year, but when it came it was glorious.

So today, under a clear blue sky and with the mercury hovering around 20 degrees C, I got in a rare November ride. The leaves are all off the trees and the sun is getting low in the sky, but the lads (and lassies) were out at the golf course en masse (I doubt the parking lot has been this full all summer), straggler flocks of geese were heading south, and blaze orange was the fashion of the day as it's the middle of the deer hunt right now. And I wasn't alone. Hooked up for a few miles with another rider on a late model Indian (don't know the marque that well, so no idea what model it was), and then got blown off the road by a couple of young fellers on sports bikes trying for a speed record along our narrow country lanes. Good for them. If I was still riding my Commando we might have had some fun.

But now I have a problem. The original excuse for the ride was to top up the gas tank for winter storage, but it was such a nice day I didn't come straight home but instead wandered around the countryside for a bit. Result - I now have only a 1/4 tank of gas, exactly what I had when I started out. I wonder if this weather will hold another day?

Friday 17 October 2008

Getting old - or - Not a "real" biker any more?

Took a look out the window this morning. The sun was shining in a deep blue cloudless sky, and across the lake the bright reds and yellows of the maples stood in stark contrast to the dark green evergreen forest.

Took a look at my schedule - clear. “Aha”, I thought, “perfect day for a fall ride”.

Then I actually went outside – and froze my ass off. Temperature was only slightly above freezing. The car windows were covered in frost. And there was a steady, stiff northern wind blowing. No way was I going to add a 60mph wind chill factor to already hypothermic riding conditions, so off came the jacket and the helmet went back on the shelf for another day.

It wasn’t always thus. There was a time when I used to look forward to riding any day there wasn’t ice or snow on the roads, and did, on occasion, manage to get a ride in every month of the year, even in the depths of a Canadian winter. I always figured that if those sonsabitches at the insurance company were going to make me pay 12 months a year like I lived in Florida or something, I’d damn well ride 12 months of the year. Yeah, that’ll show ‘em. And then they can pay to have the frostbite damage fixed too. Now we’re really showing ‘em!

But that was then and this is now – a few decades later. I still like to ride, but not under any conditions. Beating the insurance company doesn’t seem so important any more. I avoid the rain like the plague – and snow, doubly so. I avoid driving as much at night as I used too – I say it’s because of all the deer on the roads out here, which is true, but it’s also because my night-time vision isn’t quite as good as it used to be. And memories of being so cold after one long ride that I, the bike, and the missus would have done Laugh-In's Arte Johnson proud the way we came to a stop and then simply, slowly, toppled over in a parking lot, are no longer just more incentive to get out there and do it again.

Nope. I have now reached the stage of maturity where comfort and safety trump “What the hell. Go for it.” I may not put as many miles (kilometres up here) on a year as I used to, but when I do ride I get home feeling relaxed, happy, and ready to go again – when the conditions are just right.

Monday 22 September 2008

Two-legged, four-wheeled buffalo

I recently had the experience of being surrounded by a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park in South Dakota. A large number of us were motorcycling through the park when we came across this herd, consisting of perhaps 100 of these very large animals, spread right across the road. No matter what we did, they would not give way until the Griswold family in a grey minivan showed up and slowly inched their way through. We followed like a bunch of ducklings right on momma’s tail feathers

Curious about the behaviour, I checked at the next information centre and was told that, for some reason, buffalo just do not recognize motorcycles as anything to worry about. They will get irritated by the noise, but visually, a motorcycle has no impact on them at all.

I was reminded of this today when a buffalo-minded pickup truck driver just about rearranged my skeletal structure for me.

Fortunately I was doing the speed limit in a 40 kph zone when he pulled out from a strip mall exit, tires squealing, crossed the oncoming lane of traffic, and pulled right into my lane and my space. Emergency braking exercises to the rescue, I avoided hitting him (and he, me) but by no more than a few inches. After a bit of fancy footwork to hold the bike upright, I chased the culprit down to the next traffic light where I pulled up to the driver’s window. The conversation went something like this:

“What the %$#@^ was that about back there?”
“You just about ran me off the road!”
“Coming out of the hardware store.”
“I did? Jeez, I’m sorry. I didn’t even see you.”
“Well that’s *&%^$ obvious. You could have killed me and you wouldn’t even know it. Godammit pay attention before you do kill someone.”
“Sorry man.”
Yeah, right. Sorry man. The driver was maybe 25, a blond-haired surfer type dude (except there is no surf here and the surfer dude look went out in 1970, but never mind, this is Arnprior). And he really didn’t see me.

Which brings me back to buffalo. This guy would most likely have behaved differently if I’d been driving a minivan, but on a motorcycle I was a non-entity. Totally invisible.

But what’s even more worrying is that my normally pretty good sixth sense didn’t give me any tingles at all until I had a windscreen full of white half-ton. Have to watch that – it’s not infallible after all.

Monday 8 September 2008

Amazing miniatures

A friend sent me some photos of miniature motorcycles made from watch parts. The images were amazing, as you can see from the picture above, but there was no indication who the artist was.

Well it didn't take long (thank you Google!) to discover the artist is a Brazilian sculptor, Jose Geraldo Reis Pfau.

Check out his web site for more of his amazing work.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Boneheaded move of the day

On the way back from the dealer this morning, I was riding along a 2-lane, 80kph highway when I noticed another motorcycle come up behind me. He tucked himself in about 20 meters back in the right-most tire track (I was in the left, hugging the centre line).

We rode along like that for a couple of kilometres when all of a sudden this loaded Gold Wing is passing me on the right!

Totally unexpected, it gave me quite a start. Luckily I hadn’t picked that moment to move over, or make any sudden lane changes else we’d both be in a ditch somewhere on Highway 29.

I can’t imagine what he was thinking (probably not much) because he had no need to pass like that. We were in a passing zone and there was no oncoming traffic, but for some reason this dumb-ass decided he’d just blast up on my inside instead of pulling out to pass properly. I fleetingly considered chasing him down, but I was already doing 20-over and he was disappearing fast into the distance.

I don’t want to wish misfortune on any rider, but I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps just a little crash might knock some sense into this idiot, or better yet, convince him to hang up the chaps for good.

Monday 25 August 2008

Sometimes you just have to go for a ride

Was feeling kind of grumpy this morning. The weather had turned cold overnight and with grey skies and a brisk north wind blowing it wasn’t shaping up to be a very nice day at all.

Which was pretty depressing. Because of lousy weather and personal commitments, I hadn’t been on the bike since getting back from Sturgis almost two weeks ago. I was getting itchy. So when the weather guy called for today to be sunny and warm, and I had nothing else on the agenda, I was looking forward to a nice, long ride. Perhaps up the back roads to Pembroke. Or over to Westport for lunch.

Then I woke up to this!

So I moped around for a while and did a few odd-jobs around the house. It kept me busy and knocked a couple of items off the honey-do list but my disposition did not improve one iota.

Finally I decided I was going to go for a ride anyway – weather be damned. So I bundled up and headed out just as the clouds broke and the sun came out. Almost immediately the weight fell off and I felt better than I had in days. It was still cool, but traffic was light, roads were clear, and I was riding!

Didn’t go far – just 80 kilometers or so around the block (big blocks when you live in rural Ontario) – but it was just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

I'd never ride a bike. It's too dangerous. My friend....

Why is it that as soon as a non-biking friend or acquaintance discovers that you ride a motorcycle, they feel compelled to tell you about their other friend/relative/mother-in-law who was recently killed/severely maimed in a motorcycle accident? And it’s not just a passing reference either. Oh no, it’s full-contact with all the gory details, the more gory the better, including the number of protruding bone fragments, cracked ribs, shattered vertebrae, months and days in the hospital. “And he was lucky!”

It is actually quite curious. When you are bragging about your new sports car you don’t get people quoting accident statistics for rag-tops over coupes. No, they talk about the sports car they will buy when they win the lottery, or the cross-country trip they took in ’69 in their friend’s Austin-Healy 3000. Bought a new fishing boat? People tell you about their own boat or the great fishing trips they’ve experienced, not the number of drownings in Ontario lakes this summer.

But motorcycles trigger a different response. I suspect it’s because the average person has little or no knowledge of the sport or the rider’s world, and so, in a misguided attempt to connect, they fall back on what they do know – Uncle Bert’s unfortunate introduction to the driver’s door of a Chevy ½-ton back home in Lower Armpit last August. That incident is probably the only reason they are aware that Uncle Bert even had a motorcycle, or in some cases, that Uncle Bert even existed, but it’s the only motorcycle story they know so you get the whole enchilada.

So if you are a non-rider who has happened to stumble into this blog and this post, do us all a favour. When someone “outs” themselves as a motorcyclist, the proper response is to express an interest in the bike, or motorcycling in general (fake it if necessary), not to remind the rider that we are all mortals and are but on this earth for a short and finite period of time. You’ll be surprised how much more relaxed the conversation will be.

Friday 15 August 2008

Impaired trumps quick AND smart!

While visiting the World War I battlefields in Europe last fall, we had occasion to enjoy a lovely dinner on an outdoor patio in the beautiful city of Ypres. Just as we arrived, a group of 4 bikers from England rode up on their various models of BMW and established themselves at the adjoining table. Of course I’m always interested in anything bike-related, and they were only 3 feet away, so eavesdropping was not a problem.

After all the usual stuff about where they’d ridden that day (all the way from London), the traffic (horrid), the weather (great), and what the best Belgian beer was (Chimay) two of the group got into a rather spirited discussion about which was safer – an old biker, or a young biker.

The younger of the two (mid-20’s I’d say) contended that the younger biker was safer due to his better reflexes and ability to identify, assess, and react to a hazardous situation more quickly. The older fellow (50’ish and a pilot) claimed bullshit; an older, more experienced biker would be more defensive and would get into fewer situations where quick reaction was required so he was a safer rider. (Being on the north side of 50 myself, I was nodding in agreement.)

This argument is as old as motorcycling itself (or flying, or skydiving, or scuba diving, or even driving) and so after more than an hour of debate there was no agreement. But what really made the whole thing noteworthy is that while they were having this discussion, they each consumed several pints of Chimay and then suited up, got on their motorcycles, and rode off – weaving ever so slightly down the road.

Moral: The safer biker is the one who, young or old, isn’t so stupid as to drink and ride.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

To the fantastic people of South Dakota:

Kudos to the people of Sturgis, Rapid City, and all the surrounding communities for their hospitality during rally week. It’s easy to say that the economic benefits of having a few hundred thousand visitors is a powerful motivator, but that usually isn’t enough to change underlying attitudes, especially if they are negative to begin with.

From servers in bars and restaurants to hotel staff to retail personnel, the people of South Dakota were genuinely welcoming, friendly, and enthusiastic. “Welcome Bikers” signs started sprouting along I-90 (along with the ubiquitous Wall Drug and Corn Palace billboards) as soon as we crossed into the state, and through their actions the people demonstrated that this was much more than simply a marketing pitch.

I suspect few other places in North America would not only accept but embrace the idea of having so many strangers and so many motorcycles disrupt their lives for what actually amounts to a couple of weeks every summer, so thank you all for making a great trip even better.

Sunday 27 July 2008

No fault found

Well, not in the gearbox anyway. After carefully disassembling the gearbox, labelling all the bits and pieces to ensure a proper reassembly, I couldn’t find anything wrong with the box. Gears all slid smoothly up and down the shafts; no broken teeth or unusual wear patterns; no excessively worn bearings. In short, everything seemed just fine.

However I did find a bottom end full of powdered aluminum. The last person who had the engine apart had reassembled it with the forward cam chain slipper installed incorrectly. As a result the cam chain wore away a large part of the inside of the case, generating a huge amount of aluminum powder that was being carried around by the oil. So my thinking is that perhaps (hopefully!) this was all just a bit of aluminum grit that caused one of the gears to bind on the shaft, and now that it’s cleaned out no more problems.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

So now it’s time to reassemble the motor and put the whole plot back together. Fortunately the gaskets all came off the cases without undue damage, so they are being re-used. I expect it may leak a bit, but there’s really no option as gasket kits for 34 year old motorcycles are not that easy to come by. And I have a coffee tin of metric bolts somewhere (just need to find it – not necessarily an easy task) that I can use to replace all the stripped Phillips-head bolts originally used to hold the cases together. Even with an impact driver, they are getting tough to remove and replace, so I’ll do what the factory should have done in the first place and use ‘advanced technology’ fasteners.

Aside from the aggravation of having to tear it all down and put it back together, this little exercise did give me a chance to check out the engine’s innards, and they are in very good shape indeed. The barrel is clean with no scratches or serious wear marks; the piston and rings are fine; there is very little carbon build-up on the head and valves; bearing play is minimal; and generally everything looks good. So, aside from the cam chain slipper problem, it looks like the engine has been well taken care of and not abused. That can’t be said of the rest of the bike as it shows a healthy dose of ‘good honest wear and tear’, but I’m now at least confident that the engine isn’t the weak link.

And, truth be known, taking stuff apart and getting it all back together in working order (without any shop manual I might add) is kind of fun!

Wednesday 23 July 2008

We have the technology....

Actually it's "we have the tool", and all for the princely sum of $1.68 (which is actually quite a lot for a small piece of threaded steel - even if it is that sexy black colour).

Now back to tearing apart the TL125 engine.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Have a trailer, but no bag.

I have to get my truck and my Low Rider about 500 km down the road next week, and wasn’t keen on trying to get 650 pounds of motorcycle up about 3’ into the short box, with ½ the weight bearing on an open tailgate. So trailering was the obvious answer, except I didn’t have a “real” motorcycle trailer. But I did have a flatbed landscape trailer that is load rated high enough to take the weight. Practically brand new, I got it for $200, but only after confirming that it didn’t just fall off the back of a delivery truck somewhere.

So with a few modifications including a front wheel chock, the addition of a couple more tie-down points, slab sides, and a spare wheel and tire, I now have a motorcycle trailer. I think it’s solid. It looks solid. And I’ve even tested it on a few short runs. But in spite of all that, I am still somewhat nervous trusting a $15,000 pay-load to a $200 trailer. Or at least I was, until I saw

Now I am not suggesting that a trailer that comes in a canvas bag is in any way deficient. It looks to be an innovative product that is well engineered and owner testimonials are all very positive. But one must admit it does look a bit, shall we say, minimalist, especially to someone like me who is from the school of if-a-2X6-is-good-let’s-use-a-2X10-to-be-sure where mass is a virtue. However, since so many happy customers have put their trust in (and expensive toys on) this product, I now feel a whole lot better about my trailer with all her excess poundage. May she not let me down.

Monday 21 July 2008

Trials bike a trial

Fired up the TL125 yesterday to run out to the end of the road for the paper and – seized transmission.


At $300 a couple of years ago, it’s not like I have a lot of money invested in this 1974 Honda trials bike, but I don’t want it to become a garden ornament either (although there are a few of those out here in our neck of the woods). So in the probably vain hope that it’s something relatively minor and easily repairable without having to double my investment, I pulled the engine out, only to hit my first roadblock – getting the flywheel off. (This is the part where I realize how dumb it was of me to give away my spare parts and toss the shop manual from the first TL 125 I had.)

Thankfully there’s always the internet where I discovered that the right way to do this - as compared to the pry-bars and hammer approach I was considering - was to use a 14mm X 1.5 bolt and gently turn the flywheel off the crankshaft. Aha! But six 5-pound coffee cans of assorted nuts and bolts later I discovered I do not have a 14mm X 1.5 bolt in my possession. So there'll be a short delay until I can get into the city and get the requisite bolt.

This project may take a while.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Rush hour (!)

This morning I had an appointment to take the trusty steed into the dealer for a scheduled warranty maintenance – at 9 A.M.

Normally I quite like being up and on the road early in the morning, but a 9 A.M. appointment meant I had to travel the last 25 kilometres on the 417 at the height of rush hour. As on most major urban highways, “rush hour” means that traffic moves along at 5 kph for several minutes, surges to 60 or 70 kph for a few seconds, then screeches back down to 5 kph again, or to a complete standstill. This pattern repeats endlessly until you reach your exit, or the other side of downtown.

Trying to ride on two wheels in this madness poses a particular challenge as you can only go so slowly before you have to stop or fall over (not recommended). So to avoid any of that unpleasantness, the smart rider opens up a couple of car-lengths ahead and uses that space as a buffer so that the “slinky” effect is minimised and hopefully a slow but steady pace can be maintained.

That is until the typical moronic Ottawa driver comes on the scene. They say nature abhors a vacuum; well so do Ottawa drivers. While doing my best to keep some open space in front of me so I could keep moving I had at least four drivers who were behind me pull out and pass, only to immediately pull back in front, taking up my space. Of course I then pulled back a bit to open it up again, only to have the next jerk do the same thing. Every one of these guys felt it necessary to pull out into another lane of traffic to pass so they could fill that hole in front of me, but not one of them got any further ahead than a single bike length.


Sunday 13 July 2008

It’s not a motorcycle, it’s a lifestyle....

I’ve owned a pretty wide range of motorcycles over the years – Yamaha 200, Yamaha 350-LC, Norton Commando, Kawasaki Z1-900, a selection of Honda Fours, Norton Atlas, etc. – and all had their fans and detractors. But nothing prepared me for becoming a Harley owner. Once you cross that threshold you go from just being a guy who happens to ride a motorcycle to being a member of a totally different sub-culture.

Now you have to buy your riding gear fully emblazoned with corporate logos. HOG membership is a virtually requirement. Every male over the age of 80 stops you on the street to tell you how he rode “one of them” just after the war. Catalogues containing hundreds of pages of (very expensive) shiny bits to add to your ride start showing up in your mailbox. Vacation planning shifts from nudist resorts in the Caribbean in February to Sturgis in August (okay, perhaps that’s a bad example). And personal improvement moves out of the fitness clubs and into the tattoo and piercing parlours.

Resistance is futile.....

Friday 11 July 2008

Sturgis - gotta go and get the t-shirt

There is one more step to completing the transition from years of owning Japanese and British iron to North American and that is the requisite pilgrimage to Sturgis for Bike Week.

H-D and Sturgis are the peanut-butter-and-jelly of the motorcycling world in my mind. One is not complete without the other. Sure you’ll find lots of metric bikes there, but it’s really all about Harleys. And while not every Harley in the world gets to drive down Main Street at least once, those that don’t wish they had.

I have the bike now, and if I want to really earn the right to wear the HD-logo’d everything, Sturgis is a must-do. And so the younger bro and I are off to the 68th Annual Sturgis Rally. But it’s not without some trepidation. The idea of half a million bikers descending on a town of 3,000 people for a weekend does create a few flutters. Just the thought of the traffic jams alone is pretty daunting. But, like the Burning Man, it’s been on my to-do list forever and I know I’d always regret not taking the opportunity when I had it to go at least once.

So in two weeks or so we load up the trailer with his Road King and my Low Rider and head west. A couple of days on the road and then 5 days of riding in and around Sturgis and the Black Hills. Should be a blast!

Sunday 29 June 2008

Who'll stop the rain?

This is getting depressing. We've had nothing but rain it seems since mid-April. Now it's been 10 days since I got my new ride - and it's rained every day but 1! I'm sick of cleaning and polishing, I want to put some miles on! I want to scrub the nubbies of the new tires! I want to go to Pakenham for an ice cream! I want to ride!

(Cross-posted from Views From The Lake - Eh?)

Thursday 26 June 2008

... may result in death or serious injury

The User Manual for my new H-D contains a wealth of information in its 63 pages, including 107 WARNINGS that specified behaviour could result in “death or serious injury”. The unaware (and some would argue intelligence-challenged) buyer is duly warned that smoking while peering into an open gas tank is unwise and “may result in death or serious injury”. Likewise, running the motorcycle in an enclosed garage is not recommended as carbon monoxide is bad for one’s health and excessive quantities may “result in death or serious injury”. There’s even a warning that failure to follow other warnings on cleaning materials could “result in death or serious injury”. (I guess I’ll have to pay more attention to the labels on soap and paste wax from now on.)

Clearly the product liability lawyers have been busy, but they’ve still missed a few. Nowhere in the manual did I find this warning: “Purchase of this motorcycle without the express prior permission of your spouse/significant other may result in death or serious injury”. Or how about: “Operating this vehicle at excessive speeds while removing the bugs from one’s teeth may result in death or serious injury.” Then there’s: “The installation of excessive chrome attachments to this motorcycle may cause blinding reflections resulting in death or serious injury”.

Note to H-D: Feel free to use the above warnings in future manuals without attribution.

(Cross-posted from Views from The Lake - Eh?)

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Live to Ride

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I last posted. Well, actually, I can. Like the politicos chomping at the bit to get the hell out of Dodge, I too have succumbed to a deep malaise concerning all things political. It’s just too damn infuriating and tiresome to sustain any level of interest in the moronic happenings on the Hill for more than a few months at a stretch – and I hit the wall about 3 weeks ago.

So instead, I turned my attention to a far more interesting topic – motorcycles. Harley Davidson motorcycles to be specific. Ever since I first rode one back in the 60’s (yeah, I’m that old) I have nursed a not-so-secret desire to have one of my very own. So decades (and 20 or so other lesser motorcycles) later, I decided this was the year, and so the search was on.

I sat on every bike, new and used, at the local dealerships – several times. I watched listings in Kajiji, Craig's List, eBay, and the Auto trader. I read the want ads in the local papers. I drove all over the city looking at motorcycles and even found “the one”, only to have the owner/seller’s wife refuse to let him part with it. (He did allow as he should have obtained her permission before I drove an hour-and-a-half each way, and burned $50 in gas to check it out. Thanks a lot, pal.)

But eventually I found exactly what I was looking for in Toronto. So a quick trip for a look-see, followed by a handshake and an arranged delivery/hand-over in Kingston, and I am now the proud owner of an ’07 Dyna Low Rider.

I’ll be seeing you on the road!

(Cross-posted from Views From The Lake - Eh?)

Saturday 12 April 2008

Once a biker...

Well, spring has officially sprung, and even though there’s still snow on the ground and ice on the lake, the oh-so-familiar stirrings of desire to get back on two wheels are surfacing.

After more than 30 years of riding, I got rid of my last street motorcycle – this gorgeous ‘74 Norton Commando – about 7 years ago. Work pressures and some physical problems at the time kept me from riding, so it just sat in the garage. But like any thoroughbred it needed to be ridden hard, and on a regular basis, so, sadly, off it went to a deserving home (actually, we delivered it to a downtown bank, after hours, rolling it into a back room where it was to stay until the proud new owner could figure out how to explain it to his wife – but that’s another story). While I haven’t seen it personally since then, I’m told that it’s still in the area and being thoroughly enjoyed, so I guess he finally got whatever approvals he needed.

But I digress. Where was I? ... Oh, yes. Spring. The time of year when the biking magazines find their way into my shopping cart with more frequency and the stack of back issues of Bike Trader reaches epic proportions and threatens to topple off the side table. The time of year when conversations with the spousal unit lapse into 3-word exchanges – “Dreaming again?”, “Yep.” And the time of year when the most remarkable aspect of any trip into the city is how many bikes I saw on the highway.

Spring also triggers the requisite visits to the local dealerships, just to “have a look”. The new bikes, all shiny and proud, sit out front, and the “previously enjoyed” models hide in the back, seemingly embarrassed by their flashy counterparts with their hefty price tags and “DO NOT SIT” warnings. Yet it’s to the back I go, looking for that one-in-a-million find – a pristine, slightly used, and most importantly, cheap, ride – and secretly hoping I don’t find it because then I’ll have a REAL decision to make (and explain).

And then, to top it all off, my brother sends pictures of his H-D Road King, all tuned up and ready to go, along with the link to the Sturgis web site, “in case you’d like to come along”. Sigh....

So yeah, once biking gets into your blood it never, ever leaves. Other pastimes, hobbies, sports, etc. come and go over the years, but once bitten by the motorcycling bug you are hooked for life. There will be times you change your riding interests from cruising to touring to sports riding to dirt or any of the other dozen ways in which one can have a blast on two wheels. And there will be periods when you don’t ride for a whole variety of reasons. But inevitably you will come back at some point and either buy that dream machine you can finally afford (or have finally figured out how to rationalise) or pick up an older model more appropriate to your budget and riding style. Whatever the choice, you will be back on two wheels, and I’ll be seeing you on the road.

(Cross-posted from Views From The Lake - Eh?)