Monday 30 March 2009

Old Man on a Bike

By Simon Gandolfi.
Old Man On A BikeWhy would a reasonably sane man in his seventies ride the length of Hispanic America on a small motorcycle – a man who is overweight, suffered two minor heart attacks and has a bad back? Stupidity comes to mind…”.  Thus begins Old Man on a Bike, the story of Simon Gandolfi’s epic solo motorcycle trip from Mexico to the tip of South America. 
Gandolfi buys a small 125 cc Honda (a pizza delivery bike) in Veracruz Mexico, and sets out on his 6-month journey, crossing 13 countries and 22,000 kilometres. He has not ridden a motorcycle in a great many years. He is alone. He has a bad heart. But he has a goal – Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.
Old Man on a Bike is first and foremost a travelogue; the motorcycle simply a means of transportation, a source of periodic humour, and a cause of crises of varying degrees. Gandolfi covers the trip on a day-by-day basis, recounting his experiences as a series of vignettes as he discovers new towns and villages, meets new people of many cultures and stations in life (he speaks fluent Spanish which makes this easier than it would be otherwise), and deals with all the trials and tribulations of a long road trip – including breaking his false teeth on more than one occasion and running out of heart medication.
While the diary format is appropriate, I found Gandolfi’s writing style to be such that I got the sense I was experiencing the trip whilst looking through a soda straw – getting but a very narrow perspective frequently lacking in context. Nonetheless, his ability to engage with the local populace did provide some of the more interesting parts of the book as well as giving the reader a basic understanding of the people and the environments in which they live, and through which he travelled.
Gandolfi makes no secret of his politics or his views on current world events such as the Iraq war and at times it seemed Gandolfi was using the book as his personal soapbox. Whether one agrees with his views or not, I just found the injection of politics to be an unnecessary irritant that contributed nothing to the story of his travels. It is a minor flaw to be sure, but still it bothered me enough to warrant a comment in this review.
So bottom line? I would offer a qualified recommendation for this book. Is it a requisite item for inclusion in any motorcycling library? Not really. But as the story of one man’s voyage, it’s an interesting read and one can’t but admire Gandolfi’s courage for undertaking such a trip at his stage in life.

It wasn’t Teddy

A few years back a friend and I were riding out west and took the Northern Ontario route, following the Trans Canada Highway north of Superior. It was 1200 miles of trees, rocks, hills, curves, trees, more rocks, and logging trucks crossing the centre line on blind corners and when cresting hills. Like the airline pilots say, it was hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror, so we were doing long days to get it behind us as quickly as possible.

On the third day of the trip we were looking for a campground up near Kenora, close to the Manitoba border. After stopping at several that were full, we finally found one with a vacancy. It was long since dark, and we were exhausted after 12 hours in the saddle, so all we wanted was a place to pitch our tents and sleep. The fact it looked kind of run-down and didn’t have a pool or any other amenities? No problem.

We paid our $25 to the guy at the office and got a map and directions to the site. We rode over, pitched our tiny pup tents by the light of our headlamps, and within minutes were sawing logs, dead to the world.

At least until the crack of dawn when we were jolted awake by a huge ruckus – banging and crashing and growling - seemingly right outside the tents. I was out of my sleeping bag and the tent before I was even awake, nearly colliding with Frank, who likewise had bolted. What the….? In the pinkish pre-dawn light we could just make out the source of the commotion – a large steel drum located right beside our campsite. With a huge sign on the side that said, “DANGER - Bear Trap. Do not approach!”. And with a very large black bear inside letting us know just how pissed off he was.

That’s also when we noticed that all the other campsites in the neighbourhood were vacant – except for ours!

BearTrapAt any rate, since buddy sure wasn’t going to let us get any more sleep, we figured we might as well pack up and hit the road early and get breakfast in the next town, by which time the shops and restaurants should be open. We rolled up the bags and tents, tied everything back onto the bikes, and headed out.

As we left we stopped at the office and told the attendant (a different  guy) about the bear. When he asked how we knew, we told him we were camped right beside it.

“You were what?” he said, “That section was supposed to be closed until we caught that bear. Who told you to camp there?”

“The guy last night. Gave us the site number and directions, so that’s where we went. We didn’t see the trap until this morning when Winnie the Pooh decided to check it out.'”

He started to laugh. “That son-of-a-bitch”, he said. “When I came on at midnight last night he said he’d baited the trap. Now I know what he meant.”

Sunday 29 March 2009

Look Ma, no hands!

This is hilarious. Stupid, but hilarious.
This rider (in India?) is in heavy traffic, laid back, texting on his phone. Almost as good are the comments of the guys in the car taking the video, and the behaviour of other drivers changing lanes with all of 6 inches to spare. That alone would ensure I’d have an iron grip on those bars and my knees would be pressing dents into the sides of the tank. But not this guy.
Requisite disclaimer: Do not try this at home, unsupervised.

Friday 27 March 2009

A new riding year has begun!

Unlike some lucky souls, this year’s inaugural ride did not include cherry blossoms and azaleas. It was 100 miles of snow in the ditches, bare trees, the smell of manure on freshly tilled fields, and eyes tearing from the cold (should have worn the full-face).
With the sun shining in a clear blue sky, it was just too nice a day to take the cage into the city to pick up the few bits and pieces I needed from the dealer. So on went a few extra layers of fleece, the lined gloves were found in the bottom of the toolbox, the windshield was snapped on, and we headed down the road. All was right with the world. Until the return trip. I had forgotten how the temperatures plummet with the setting sun at this time of year. And how much colder riding into the wind is than riding with it. (You know you’re getting old when you have to be retrained on the basics after a 5-month layoff.)
But that’s just noise. In an hour or so, when I’m back to normal body temperature, I know I will have enjoyed it.
HD Spring Ride

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Two wheels of a different kind

One of my brothers lives about 3000 miles away, so we don’t get to see each other very often, but when we do we have some great times and some great stories to tell afterwards. This is one such story. It is, strictly speaking, a tale of two wheels; it’s just that the two wheels are the rollers on a belt sander rather than the wheels of a motorcycle.
belt sanderThe last time I visited, and after the requisite couple of beers to catch up, we ended up out in the garage (where else?). When I’d last been there it was little more than a shed that you could fit a car into, but since then he’d insulated, finished the inside, put in cabinets, lots of shelving, good lighting and so on including putting in a brand new garage door – which now displayed three large dents, in a roughly triangular shape, about 2 feet off the floor. Naturally I asked what happened.
“Well let me tell you about that, but first have another beer.” he said. “You ever listen to the CBC?”
“Of course.”
“Well one day they had on this program where this guy was talking about belt sander racing. I didn’t catch all of it ‘cause I was working on the truck at the time, but these guys would race belt sanders for fun.”
I’d heard of belt sander racing, but couldn’t quite figure where this was going.
“So I was out here one day and came across that 4-inch sander over there” he said. “Well it works pretty good, so I thought I’d give it a try. I cleared a path from here to the door, put on a course sanding belt,  duct-taped the trigger closed, sat on it, and plugged ‘er in.”
“You sat on it? You’re not supposed to ride the thing!”
“Yeah, so I found out. Keerist, did it ever take off! Damn good thing the cord was only 6 feet long because even after it pulled out of the wall I was still going like hell when I hit the garage door.”
Now I’m laughing. Hard. Beer coming out the nose hard.
“Yup. Those two lower dents are my knees. The top one is my forehead. And an $800 door too.
“Didn’t try that again.”

Sunday 22 March 2009

But you didn’t see me

This has been around for a while, but with spring come more bikes on the road and, unfortunately, more accidents, so it seemed timely to post it again. (Thanks to The Lonely Rider.)
I saw you hug your purse closer to you in the grocery store line.
But, you didn't see me put an extra $10.00 in the collection plate last Sunday.

I saw you pull your child closer when we passed each other on the sidewalk.
But, you didn't see me playing Santa at the local mall.

I saw you change your mind about going into the restaurant.
But, you didn't see me attending a meeting to raise more money for the hurricane relief.

I saw you roll up your window and shake your head when I drove by.
But, you didn't see me driving behind you when you tossed your cigarette butt out the car window.

I saw you frown at me when I smiled at your children.
But, you didn't see me when I took time off from work to run toys to the homeless kids.

I saw you stare at my long hair.
But, you didn't see me and my friends cut ten inches off for Locks of Love.

I saw you roll your eyes at our leather coats and gloves.
But, you didn't see me and my brothers donate our old coats and gloves to those that had none.

I saw you look in fright at my tattoos.
But, you didn't see me cry as my children where born and how I have their names written upon my heart.

I saw you change lanes while rushing off to go somewhere.
But, you didn't see me going home to be with my family.

I saw you complain about how loud and noisy our bikes can be.
But, you didn't see me when you were changing the CD and drifted into my lane.

I saw you yelling at your kids in the car.
But, you didn't see me pat my child's hands, knowing he was safe behind me.

I saw you reading the newspaper or map as you drove down the road.
But, you didn't see me squeeze my wife's leg when she told me to take the next turn.

I saw you race down the road in the rain.
But, you didn't see me get soaked to the skin so my son could have the car to go on his date.

I saw you run the yellow light just to save a few minutes of time.
But, you didn't see me trying to turn right.

I saw you cut me off because you needed to be in the lane I was in.
But, you didn't see me leave the road.

I saw you waiting impatiently for my friends to pass.
But, you didn't see me...I wasn't there.

I saw you go home to your family.
But, you didn't see me...Because I died that day you cut me off.

I was just a biker...
A person with friends and a family.

Please ride safe.

Friday 20 March 2009

Rheinlander, Wisconsin

I’ve not done much distance riding for many years, but there was a time when we’d bungee the tent, sleeping bags and an extra pair of jeans to every protuberance on the bike (a Honda CB 550F) and take off for a few days or a few weeks. Some of our best motorcycling memories come from those trips and the amazing people we would meet on the road. This is one such experience we had in Rheinlander, Wisconsin.
My wife and I were coming back East from Vancouver Island. It was the last week in August, and it was cold! Temperatures for the past few days had barely risen above 60F, which gets damned cold after a few hours in the saddle with no windshield.
We had decided to swing down into the States to go south of Lake Superior, and so it was that we found a small mom and pop campsite just outside Rheinlander. At first we thought they were closed because the place seemed empty. But we’d had a long, cold day and decided to stop and camp anyway – open or not. As it turned out, they were open, but the cold weather – and the fact it was mid-week – meant that we were the only campers. The owner indicated we could have any site we wanted, but pointed out a nice, flat spot for our pup tent, close to the office where we could get some basic foodstuffs if needed. And seeing how cold we were, gave us a couple of cups of coffee to warm up while we set up.
Perfect. We paid our $10, pitched our little tent, and were sitting there enjoying the coffee and discussing supper options when this massive motor home cruised in. Looked like we weren’t going to be the only campers after all, if you call a 40’ house on wheels camping, that is.
After checking in at the office, this bus started cruising around the campground, and around, and around, finally stopping right in front of us. The 60-something-year-old woman got out and came over to our table, somewhat apprehensive and all apologetic, and said that we were occupying the only flat spot large enough for their “camper”, and would we mind moving?
“Of course not. Give us 5 minutes.”
Pulling up 4 pegs and shifting a pup tent 20’ is no big deal. So we did. And went back to our coffee to a chorus of thank you’s from hubby, who got down from behind the wheel after positioning the motor home on the site.
Later, as we were coming back from the office with some hot dogs that were going to be our supper, the woman stops us and says she has a roast beef in the oven if we’d like to join them for dinner. We’d been on the road for 8 weeks, subsisting on hot dogs, sandwiches, chilli, and whatever else could be cooked in a pot over a campfire, so roast beef? All right! A quick cleanup to get some of the road grime off, and we were at the dining table, enjoying a fine piece of meat. The food was delicious and these folks were everybody’s grandparents – interesting, funny, with lots of stories and pictures of the kids and grandkids. We were quite enjoying ourselves.
At one point while we were talking about our trip, the wife asked, “Aren’t you afraid sleeping in a tent?”
My wife replied, “No. The animals leave you alone. As long as you have no food in there with you, you’re fine.”
To which the response was, “Animals? Hell girl, I’m talking about people! Aren’t you scared of the people?”
Now that had never occurred to us, but it took the conversation off in a whole other direction that ended up with this elderly couple showing us all the guns they had stashed in and around that motor home. Having grown up a hunter, and with a few years in the military, I was no stranger to guns, but the arsenal these folks had was truly impressive. A handgun in the purse, another in the glove box, and one under the pillow (seriously!). And those were just the ones they told us about. But the piece de resistance was a short-barrelled Belgian shotgun – 20 gauge if I remember correctly – that he pulled from under the mattress. Hand carved stock with an engraved action, this little shotgun was truly a thing of beauty, to be used “if anybody bangs on that door in the middle of the night”. Warning duly received.
We visited for a while longer, finished our coffee and headed off to our “unsafe” tent, both determined that neither hell nor high water would have either of us banging on that door in the dark.
By the time we awoke the next morning they were gone and we were alone again, in a campground near Rheinlander.

Thursday 19 March 2009

New bags

When I got my Dyna, I thought it was just fine the way it was – no extra bits hanging off and just a tiny rack that was as much cosmetic as functional. I was content… until I spent a couple of days riding with my brother who had enough secure storage on his Road King for his rain suit, his jacket when it got hot, his lock, his spare gloves, a few tools, a case of beer, a couple of bags of Doritos, and every issue of HOG Magazine going back to the last century. I, on the other hand, had my crap strapped on to every surface I wasn’t actually sitting on, and had him ride behind to pick up the stuff that would periodically squeeze out from under the 100 or so yards of bungee cord and bounce onto the highway. At the next gas stop all the various and sundry items would be returned, tied down again (hopefully better this time) and we’d continue riding.
It didn’t take much of that before bags rose to the top of the must-have list.
Now anyone who has been through this will know that there are at least 500 saddlebag  manufacturers out there, every one of them with the absolute best product(!) at the very best price(!). But it didn’t take much research to discover that anything that was a) well made; and b) looked good would not only break the bank, but put a pretty serious dent in the spousal relationship as well.
“Uh, yeah, but they’re really good bags.”
“What have you got to carry that’s worth $1,000?”
Well, since she put it that way…
So it’s on to Craig’s List and Kijiji looking for deals. Forget eBay – it’s pretty much nothing but dealers these days. “Buy now” the ads say. Well I can go to my local dealer bagsto do that. Auctions are becoming rare as hen’s teeth on that once famous auction house unless one gets really, really lucky.
But you can still find deals on the other two, and I did – a gently used set of H-D bags for about a third the cost of brand new. So one man’s customizing project became another man’s thrift shop and now I can carry my own beer!

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Under a cloud

joe btfsplk bwOlder readers will remember Joe Bfstplk from the L’il Abner comic strip. He was the character constantly followed by a black rain cloud; a jinx who seemed destined to be forever leaving one disaster after another in his wake.

What brought me to this was the recollection of one of the more memorable experiences from my long-past days teaching the Basic Motorcycle Riders Course.

One of my students was a young man, 20’ish, who wanted to get his motorcycle license. The first hint of trouble came when he was having a lot of difficulty balancing the small dirt bikes we used for training. As it turned out, this was the first time he had ever been on two wheels as he had never learned to ride a bicycle! Okay, I thought, we can deal with that, and eventually I got him wobbling around the training area, very slowly, in first gear. So far so good. He only fell off a few times and didn’t hit anything or anyone (I was mostly worried about me!), and he actually got his feet up on the pegs once or twice. Progress.

Once he stopped tipping over, it was time to introduce him to second gear. At this he was completely lost, totally unable to grasp the underlying concepts of gear shifting. The bicycle analogy didn’t work because he’d never ridden one. Shifting gears in a car had no relevance because he’d only ever driven automatics and never really thought about what the 1, 2, D on the shift lever meant. But reverse he got, with all its obvious uselessness on a 125 cc dirt bike. Out of ideas, I brought a senior instructor over to try and explain it. No go.

But with faint hope we persevered, and so followed a period of him racing across the training area at 30 mph in first gear, the engine screaming in agony, or stalling because he was trying to start off in 4th. He was simply unable to process the concept of matching engine speed to road speed.

After a couple of very frustrating hours – for both of us – he realized he wasn’t getting it, and so we agreed that perhaps motorcycle riding was not in his future – at least if he wanted a future. I gave him his money back and he left the course early, much to the relief of the entire instructional staff.

Then two weeks later I read in the newspaper that an apartment balcony had broken free and crashed onto the balcony below it. Fortunately there were no injuries, but the balcony belonged to … you guessed it. My student.

Joe Bfstplk would have been proud.

Monday 16 March 2009

When fashion and motorcycling collide

you get this.
The best argument I’ve seen yet against mandatory helmet laws.
H/T to Bike EXIF.

Thursday 12 March 2009

Two wheels and conditions awareness

Let me preface this post with the comment that I hope this guy has a full and speedy recovery. But c’mon. What was he thinking?
scooter crash 2I fully appreciate the need to get back up on two wheels as soon as possible once spring is in the air, but this accident was almost guaranteed to happen:
  • The temperature in Ottawa this morning was –13C (8F) with a wind chill of –25C (-13F).
  • We have had successive thaw-freeze cycles over the past few days, so ice patches are common on the roads. And at those temperatures, black ice is also common, especially at intersections.
  • Even without ice, tires simply do not grip as well on very cold pavement – a particular problem for motorcycles with small contact patches.
  • Finally, at 7:30 in the morning, it is barely light out as the sun has just crested the horizon.
We don’t yet know who was ‘at fault’, whether ice was a factor, the rising sun blinded one of the drivers, or the 41-year-old rider simply froze (literally) at the controls. But regardless, this accident would not have happened, and two people would not be in the hospital, if he had only applied some common sense and left his scooter in the garage for another week.
We are all fighting the urge to get out there, but let’s do so safely.
(Photo: Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen)

Monday 2 March 2009

Older riders

Shortly after we moved into our last house, an elderly gent stopped by one day when I was washing the Norton in the driveway. Turned out he lived just a couple of doors away and used to ride one himself – a 1956 Featherbed as I recall. He said he had been thinking about getting another bike, but this time it would have to have three wheels because his balance wasn’t so good and he didn’t feel he could handle the weight safely any more. He was, “almost 80 y’know.”
Anyway this went on for a month or so. I’d be outside puttering around and Fred would show up for a chat and to ask my advice on Honda versus Harley, or trikes versus sidecars. I knew nothing about three-wheeling, but that didn’t stop us from spending time just shooting the breeze.
db_UglyTrike111And then one day Fred showed up on an old Harley Servi Car he’d picked up from somewhere. Cosmetically it was in pretty rough shape – in fact it looked ugly as hell - but it ran well and Fred was in seventh heaven, riding again. Every day he’d be out driving up and down the street, with a huge ear to ear grin on his face. He’d make the odd trip to the grocery store or the beer store, but he generally stayed pretty close to home as he  got accustomed to his new wheels.
Finally one day he had to drive into the city to take his bike in to the shop for some routine maintenance. I watched him head off, all leathers and gloves and helmet and goggles and bright orange safety vest. His wife Marjory stood on their doorstep, wringing her hands with worry about “the old fool” – her pet name for him whenever it came to anything motorcycle. I must admit a certain amount of concern myself, but nothing to be done about it now.
But sure enough, a few of hours later I heard the old Harley as Fred came putt-putting down the street. I walked over to his place as he parked it and had just started to ask how the trip was when Marjory came racing out of the house, hugely relieved. “I just heard on the radio” she said, “the police were warning drivers on the Queensway about someone travelling the wrong way”. “I was worried sick about you.”
Fred, pulling off his helmet, replied, “Nothing to worry about, I’m fine.” Then added, “But it wasn’t just one person going the wrong way, there was hundreds of them.”

Sunday 1 March 2009

The Wearable Motorcycle

First motorcycleSince Gottleib Daimler’s first gas powered motorcycle in 1885, the basic design hasn’t changed. Sure there have been lots of technical advances (thankfully!), but today’s mainstream motorcycles still consist of two wheels, separated by a propulsion system, on top of which sits the operator. 
That hasn’t stopped people from trying to redefine the motorcycle though. For example, we’ve got the Carver One, the McLean Monowheel, and the Can-Am Spyder, all looking for their own place in motorcycling history.
  Carver One mcLean-V8-MonowheelCan-AM_Spyder_Action_Front_448P
But if you want to see a real paradigm shift, you have to look further, to something like this: The Wearable Motorcycle. Very cool.