Friday 30 October 2009

On balance, I’d rather have 2 wheels.

Someone recently sent me this picture of an MV Agusta 60cc  Monomoto Superleggera, reportedly built for the little-known sport of Italian monocycle racing in the 1950’s. So I did a bit of research to get the story behind this creation.Monocycle
Unsurprisingly, there are two stories. The “official” story is this:
“This MV Augusta 60cc Monomoto Superleggera is the experimental machine ridden by a wealthy young Italian by the name of Luiggi Bandini. During practice for the 1954 Milano-Taranto road race, Bandini tragically lost control in a misty mountain section while waving to a pretty spectator. His grief-stricken father, Count Enzio Bandini (also known as “The Falcon”), never again permitted anyone to ride or even view this advanced design. Knowledge of its whereabouts faded. Eventually, rumors of this fascinating machine reached the motorcycling bon vivant Todd Fell. On a trip to Naples, his quest to find it was rewarded at the Bandini country villa, where in 2004, fifty years after the tragic accident, the late Count’s family was persuaded to part with the treasure."
Second story:
The bike was recently built in Mexico out of spare parts and was never intended to be ridden.
I’d like to believe the first story as it has a certain class that just isn’t present with a junk-yard build, no matter how pretty the outcome. But, sadly, I expect the latter story is closer to the truth as the bike predates all the necessary electronics needed to maintain balance a la Segway when starting, stopping, etc. Also the inevitable oil leak from an old Italian engine would spell certain disaster.
But regardless whether it is actually rideable or not, someone thought enough of it to pay $17,500 for this objet d’art at a Daytona auction in 2007.

Baby’s got new shoes.

Those of you who follow this blog know I just recently acquired a new toy – a dual purpose Honda XL. The bike is a 1981 model, so spare parts are a bit difficult to come by. However I have been able to locate new rubber.
New shoes
The only problem is that I made the mistake of mounting all lefts on the rear and all rights on the front. On the first ride I just about spun into the ground so I had to re-shoe her so that they are alternating front and rear. She now tracks straight – or I should say straighter.
As an added bonus, with a wife who’s a marathon runner there is no shortage of slightly used replacements.

Monday 26 October 2009

Canadian Police Chase

This has absolutely nothing to do with 2 wheels, but it’s too good not to share, especially with winter coming on.


A Strange and Terrible Saga

Hells AngelsThat’s the sub-title of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels. Originally published in 1966, I probably first read it in the late 60s when I was enamoured of such celluloid heavyweights as The Wild Angels (I desperately wanted to be like Peter Fonda if for no other reason than to bag Nancy Sinatra!) and thought listening to Blues Theme by Davie Allan and the Arrows at ear-drum-imploding volumes on my stereo turntable was the ultimate musical experience. A practice, incidentally, that nearly ended up with me being kicked out of residence. Through the window. By the other guys on the floor who didn’t share my cultural aesthetic.

Seeing that clip now I cringe, but to paraphrase George Lucas, that was in a different time in a place far, far away – a  sentiment surely shared by Fonda, Sinatra, et al as they look back at their early careers.

However, back to the book.

Still in print, I recently came across a copy of Thompson’s Hell’s Angels on the shelf at the local Chapters so I thought I’d give it a re-read, for old time’s sake as it were. And I’m glad I did.
While very dated, the book is actually quite a good read. It takes the reader back to a simpler time in America when a gathering of a few dozen bikers made the national news, when  being a member of a motorcycle “gang” was more about riding, partying, fighting, and drinking – all hard, and not necessarily in that order – than being part of an organised criminal enterprise, and when a six-pack could be had for under $1!

Thompson’s narrative of his time with the Angels (about a year) is both entertaining and informative. He pulls no punches in his descriptions of individuals and their strengths – or more commonly their weaknesses. He doesn’t try to make them heroes, nor does he try to excuse their behaviour. He simply reports. But what’s most interesting is his take on the Angels’ transition from being a few dozen rowdy California-based bikers and petty criminals to national status, a transition he attributes primarily to the media at the time. Life, Time, Newsweek all played a part, as did the daily newspapers and the popular men’s magazine’s,  in making the Angels bigger than life and a whole lot more threatening to the general public than warranted. While boosting the egos of the outlaw leaders the publicity likely accelerated the clubs growth and helped fuel the eastward expansion beyond the California border.

In the 40+ years since Hell’s Angels was written much has changed but many of Thompson’s observations still ring true today. The mass media still thrives on sensationalism at the frequent expense of the truth. Politicians and police forces at all levels still manipulate events to their (and their budget’s) advantage. Perception is made to be reality. And fear sells.

A worthy addition to any bookshelf of American motorcycle history or pop culture of the 60’s.

Sunday 25 October 2009

It’s done

XL500 And now the hunt for parts can begin. Anyone have a spare 1981 XL500S exhaust system lying about?

Thursday 22 October 2009

Am I nuts?

Recently I read somewhere that while you only had a 1% chance of finding a gravel road in the US, you had a 70% chance of finding one in Canada.

As anyone who has travelled in parts of Canada more than a hundred miles north of the US-Canada border can attest, the vast majority of those roads are not paved. So while I don’t know how accurate that statistic is, it wouldn’t surprise me if the real figures were pretty close.

Now living close to the capital  and in that narrow strip of Canada that’s most heavily populated, most of our roads here are paved. But even at that I can probably find 300 or 400 miles of gravel roads all within an hour of home. In fact one starts right at my back door.

Gravel road

And while I love my Dyna, the one thing a 700-pound Harley is not is a dirt bike.

All of which is to say that I’ve been looking for a dual-purpose bike to play in the gravel with, that can get muddy up to the handlebars and stay that way, that can get get dropped on the road, picked up, and ridden off without worrying about scratching the chrome. My ideal bike would be a 500 or 600 cc single, heavy enough not to get blown all over the highway but not so heavy it’s hard to handle, and cheap! Actually truth be told, cheap is probably the number one consideration.

Anyway while killing time last night I came across this find on Kijiji. A 1981 Honda XL  500 single for $500 (cheap). And just down the road.

Honda XL 500
While it isn’t much to look at the owner says it runs well but “it smokes a bit when you start it up”. But I figure if the power train is reasonably sound other than needing rings and perhaps a top end job, the rest is just cosmetics that can be fixed over time as replacement parts can be found.

It will likely never look like this -

Honda XL 500 new

- but it could turn out to be an interesting project and a fun play bike.  I’m going to check it out this weekend so perhaps by Monday the stable will contain one more toy. Just what I need – one more thing to fix!

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Sun’s out!

Long johns (top and bottom) …… check.
Biker Rain Chaps …… check.
Leather jacket with liner …… check.
Lined gauntlets…… check.
Full face helmet …… check.
Windshield on …… check.
I couldn’t pass up a temperature of 45F and no rain. Besides I had to make a quick run into town to pick up a neat little gadget that kill a wattmeasures “hidden” power consumption. Lee Valley Tools  is a top notch and world-renowned supplier of quality tools for general craftsmen, woodworkers, and gardeners. They had acquired a boat load of these little devices and were selling them at bargain-basement prices. I just had to have one. I mean who can resist a bit of electronics that will tell you how much energy you’re wasting with instant-on TVs, computer monitors in energy-saving mode, and other home appliances that suck power 7/24?
But I digress.
Since my last ride the farmers had been busy. Most of the crops were in and the corn stalks had been mowed down. Farm stands lined the roadway selling pumpkins of all shapes and sizes in anticipation of Halloween. Every second house seemed to have a load of firewood – usually in 8 or 10 foot lengths – in the driveway waiting to be cut, split and stacked for winter.
Sadly, Scoops, my favourite ice cream stand, was closed for the season.
It wasn’t a long ride, about 100 miles, and by the time I got back it had cooled off considerably to about 40F. So as I pulled into the garage I was feeling distinctly chilled, even with all the layers, but still with a big grin. It was a good ride.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Autumn colours

Every October we look forward to enjoying a ride or two through the countryside to view the changes as the trees get ready for winter’s cold blast. October temperatures are getting cooler, but on a nice cloudless day there’s still lots of heat in the sun, so riding conditions can be quite comfortable. We’ll head off to one of the nearby artist communities, browse the handiwork of some excellent craftsmen – or I should say craftspersons - stop for lunch and perhaps a pint or two at a local pub, and come home – the long way – enjoying the ride and the scenery.
But this year our plans were foiled. The spectacular September weather morphed directly into late November-like conditions with grey overcast days, lots of rain, and daily high temperatures in the 30–40F range. (October norms for this area are 50-55 degrees.) So the bike (I really need to give it a name) sits in the garage as I try to decide whether to give it it’s winter conditioning and put it away, or hope for that one glorious riding day that will cap off the season. Hope springs eternal, so I expect I’ll wait a little longer. Besides I’ve always felt that procrastination was something best left until next week.
Although it was too cold to ride without an electric suit or so much alcoholic antifreeze as to be dangerous, it wasn’t too cold to shoot a couple of pictures on our local road to show you what early October looks like here.  Enjoy.

DSC_4835 web 2 DSC_4840 web 2 DSC_4834 web 2

Friday 9 October 2009

Looking for trouble?

In the latest issue of American Iron Magazine, columnist Genevieve Schmitt has a piece entitled Packing Protection in which she talks about carrying a weapon of some sort while riding. Recently, a fellow blogger described a day trip for which his riding gear included two handguns and a knife. And as anyone who’s been to Sturgis can attest sheath knives, the longer (i.e. more bad-assed) the better, are a common fashion accessory.
Has riding really become a blood sport?
Over many, many thousands of miles I have mingled freely with bikers of all sorts, and with strangers in campgrounds, some of whom were heavily armed. I have ridden most Canadian provinces and many of the more northern states. I have ridden major cities and rural byways. I have ridden alone and with others. And through all of that I have never felt threatened or otherwise unsafe while on the road (aside from traffic hazards) or even while camping in some pretty remote locations.
Now I will state that I don’t go looking for trouble – never have and never will – so that has a lot to do with it. But I also firmly believe that carrying a weapon – especially one that’s  exposed – can just as easily invite trouble as defuse it. It seems to me that wearing a 10-inch Bowie knife on your belt is an open invitation to the guy with a 12-inch model to prove how those extra 2 inches make him tougher than you. No thanks. And let’s be honest, carrying a knife does not make you a knife-fighter any more than wearing a black belt makes you a karate expert.
Perhaps I’m just a simple, naive Canadian, but if I had to arm myself to the teeth to enjoy my sport, I’d take up fishing.