Saturday, 30 March 2013

Philosophy of Riding: choosing a bike

Buying that first bike has a lot of philosophical underpinning to it.  Do I go with the swiss army knife of bikes, used by the Navy Seals themselves?  Or do I go with a road specialist with ungodly dexterity?  What I ride dictates how I ride.  A dedicated road bike offers a very different experience to an enduro.  To KLR or to Ninja, that is the question.

I should add, that I have always loved Suzukis, the GSX-R 750 was my dream bike when I was younger, and the Gladius is exactly the kind of naked bike that I like. I'd been kinda hoping my first bike would be a Suzi, perhaps a Vstrom, but they are hard to find used!  I was originally going to get a new KLR (only $6300+taxes brand new 2012), but I'm just getting out of five years of car payments and would like a break, so I'm going all in on a used bike.

The KLR? 
  • A big bike with a comfortable driving position for me (a big, six foot+ guy)
  • Can go just about anywhere - handy for a guy who lives in the country (dirt roads)
  • This particular one has only 1200kms on it
  • Lets me practice many different riding environments.
  • as sensible as a bike choice can be

The Ninja?
  • road specialist bike with a wide range of performance (won't outgrow it quickly)
  • an emotional choice that feels fantastic
  • dexterity (ungodly braking and acceleration) would get me out of trouble
  • able to handle all aspects of road driving well (KLR isn't highway/high speed friendly)

Ups and Downs

The KLR is far away in Milton - meaning I'm spending a couple of hours just to go see it, and it might not be as nice as the pictures suggest (which obviously weren't taken recently).  The Ninja is five minutes away in Fergus.

The Ninja has low miles (only 8000 miles), but the KLR has fantastically low miles and is 2 years newer.

The Ninja has been repainted and has been dropped at least once.  The KLR has been dropped too, but they aren't trying to hide it. The Ninja appears to be in good working order, but it's also had a long list of owners in its short life (I'd be #6 or 7?).  This is a Ninja with a shady past.

The KLR owners aren't responding to communications and are far away.  The Ninja owner was immediately available, has been completely upfront with the bike (even pointing out blemishes) and lives around the corner (I taught his cousin English).  He has put half of the 8000 miles on the bike.

The KLR is a bit more expensive, and obvious (nothing hidden).  I don't know what its history is.

The Ninja has charisma... and I've had a habit of wanting to save orphaned machines (my long and storied car history is full of examples).  I sympathize with the Ninja, I want to give it a good home.

The KLR would let me learn on and off road riding, all in one bike, though it wouldn't do either thing as well as a purpose built bike would do - it's a swiss army knife.  The Ninja is a scalpel, very good at what it's designed for, but it isn't going off road.

Any used vehicle has secrets, the KLR might be the lemon, the Ninja the safe buy, but the Ninja's history, paint job (which is peeling and showing the much nicer blue underneath) and history suggest that it might have been abused.  That just makes me want to save it more.

Either bike would let me get my hands dirty maintaining and modifying it.  Both Ninja and KLR appear to be easy to work on.  They insure for the same amount (it's all about engine size and they are within 2cc of each other - though they couldn't be more different bikes).

If there's a sure choice, it's lost on me.  I'm looking for an emotional relationship with my first bike.  The come hither looks, lovely sound and mysterious history of the American Ninja suggest she's trouble; I just don't know how much trouble I'm looking for.


When the Navy Seals want a bike, they go to the KLR!  The Navy Seals!
The Ninja can do this!!

... and if not that, then at least this:


We worked out $3800 safetied - it needed a new rear tire and some reflectors.  It also needs fluids changed, some TLC and the fairings taken off and painted so that the bike doesn't look like a stunned sixteen year old's idea of exciting.

Nexx MaxiJet X40 Modular Helmet
The new Ninja 650 has a nice white option. High visibility and going with the Star Wars Imperial pilot theme I've been going for.  It'd nicely match up with my dream helmet and the black and white gear I'm going for.  I suspect my juvenile, flat black ninja will become ivory white shortly.

I'm hoping to have it in the garage in a couple of days.  In the meantime, I found the manual online and hopefully will know my way around the bike when it gets here.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Pan American Motorcycle Diaries

As I got into motorcycling, I came across Ewan McGregor & Charlie Boorman's Long Way Round.  I HIGHLY recommend it if you enjoy travel documentary.  The Long Way Down is a second trip they took that felt a bit more rushed, but still very enjoyable.

The idea of being on a bike, out in the world, and seeing the world, has real pull for me.  And so... the Pan American Motorcycle Diaries: From Toronto to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.  Courtesy of Straw Dogs (originally published February, 2013):

The North and Central American ride

  • gearing for 500kms a day in the States, 2-300 a day in Central America
  • minimizing interstate/get there fast without seeing anything roads
  • the idea is to get away from the local touring scene as soon as possible and get into the once in a lifetime bit (Central & South America)
The direct route: minimal highway travel in The States

The South American Ride

A much shorter and cheaper ocean voyage, then south through Columbia
 PAMD2.0: from north to west to east in South America
Using the new ferry service from Colon, Panama (on the Carribean side) to Cartegena on the north coast of Columbia.
  • much cheaper than trying to charter a boat down the Pacific side
  • regular, dependable service
  • more than enough space for everyone to go at once
Chilean Atacama Desert & Volcanoes
The South American portion now includes Columbia and an angle through the Atacama desert in Chile. The end result is a more economical, shorter trip (though with more time on the ground in South America) and we still get to add another two countries to the roster.
  • 7000kms in North & Central America (6 days in The States at 500kms a day, 22 days in Central America at 2-300kms a day)
  • A 500km/7 hour ferry trip from Panama to Columbia
  • 8000kms in South America (27 days at 300kms/day)
Even if we reduce the South American mileage to 200kms/day, we're still only looking at 40 days.

With the reduction in time and cost, we could easily leave mid-May and arrive without rushing (including days off and/or diversions) at the beginning of August.

May 17th, 2016 departure from Southern Ontario.

North & Central America: 7000kms

CANADA: 325kms to U.S. border ~ first day - stop in Toledo?
USA: 2700kms to the Mexican border ~ 6 days, 6 nights
MEXICO: 1800kms to Guatamala ~ 7 days, 7 nights
GUATAMALA: 300kms to El Salvador ~ 2 days, 2 nights
EL SALVADOR: 328kms to Honduras ~ 2 days, 2 nights
HONDURAS: 150kms to Nicaragua ~ 2 days, 2 nights
NICARAGUA: 360kms to Costa Rica ~ 2 days, 2 nights
COSTA RICA: 560kms to Panama ~ 3 days, 3 nights
PANAMA: 581kms to Colon (ferry) ~ 4 days, 4 nights

North America:   6 nights
Central America:  22 nights

South America: 9500kms

COLUMBIA: to Ecuadoran border 1550kms ~ 6 days, 6 nights
ECUADOR: to Peruvian border 931kms ~ 3 days, 3 nights
PERU: to Chilean border 300kms ~ 2 days, 2 nights
CHILE: to Bolivian border 288kms ~ 2 days, 2 nights
BOLIVIA: to Brazilian border 1566kms ~ 6 days, 6 nights
BRAZIL: 1866kms ~ 7 days, 7 nights

South America: 26 nights

Basic budget 

  • Gas per day ~ $30 avg (higher in expensive countries, lower in cheaper countries)
  • lodging per day ~ $60 avg each (shared accommodation)
  • food per day ~ $40 avg (lower/higher)
  • ~ $130/day/person
  • 54 day trip = ~$7000 each
Had I the means, I'd offer ten places and budget $10,000 per person and do the trip from May 17, 2016 to August 1st, 2016. The seats would be filled by people willing to document the experience using various forms of media from their own distinct perspective.  I'd want people of various backgrounds who would all bring their own insights into the experience of riding through such a diverse range of cultures and climates.  I'd then take the results and build a travel documentary in multiple media about the experience.

The Pan American Motorcycle Diaries

A two month odyssey along the spine of the Americas.  Out of the Great Lakes basin, across the Mississippi and the Mid-West, through South Western U.S. desert, along the Mexican coast before crossing the back of Mayan Mexico and tracing the Pacific coast of Central America all the way to the Panama Canal. Recrossing to the Caribbean side of Panama, we take a ferry service to Cartegena and trek south through Columbia into Ecuador. Following through the Andes and bouncing off the South Pacific shoreline, we enter Peru and after heading inland to Machu Picchu we skirt Lake Titicaca (I just wanted to say skirt Titicaca) and head south into the Chilean Atacama desert.  Crossing volcanic Chilean Andes we enter Bolivia and finally cross the back of the Andes into the Amazon basin.  The rest of the trip skirts Brazilian jungle on the way to Rio on the South Atlantic coast.

60 days, 15 countries, two continents, 16,500kms!


Quiet Mind at Ten Tenths

Written March, 2013, courtesy of Straw Dogs:

I've wanted to get a bike since I was old enough to drive, but my parents did backflips to put me in a car instead (probably wise at the time).  Now that I'm older and wiser, I'm looking for something other than just thrills from riding a motorcycle.

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was living in Japan.  A colleague and I came across a student who was into racing carts.  He invited us out and it became a regular event.  I'd always had an interest in motorsports and fancied myself a decent driver, it was nice to have the lap times prove it.

One of the most enjoyable side effects of ten tenths driving in a tiny shifter cart doing 100km/hr into a left hander was how focused your mind is.  You are taking in all sorts of sensory inputs, your adrenaline is ticking, you can feel the tires on the edge of grip, the wind is thundering past your helmet, the engine is screaming behind you, and you are no where else but in that seat.  You feel burned clean of any worries, plans, random thoughts or distractions.  You feel like you're dancing with the machine under you, it becomes an extension of yourself.  It's a wonderful feeling and I have never felt so exhausted and relaxed as I did after a day at Kiowa, deep in the mountains, tearing around that track.

I'm hoping that I can find that same quietness of mind on a motorbike.  The personal space and focus needed will be therapeutic.  The chance to disappear into my senses, to be entirely with the moment... the best kind of meditation.


From August, 2012 courtesy of Dusty World:

I just finished reading Matthew Crawford's "Shop Class for Soulcraft", a philosophical look at the value of skilled, physical labour.  Having come from a mechanical background into an academic one, a philosopher-mechanic's critical examination of the 'creative economy' we're all dying to jump into was refreshing.
I've often missed the clarity and satisfaction I found in repairing machines, and now I have a philosophical explanation of that sense of loss. Crawford delineates meaningful work in terms of objective standards, a sense of community and individual agency.  He then goes on to disembowel the MBA speak found in the otherworldly knowledge economy that can only exist in an entirely abstract sense of work, one I fear that has been applied to the skilled trade of teaching courtesy of lawyers and politicians.

It's been a few weeks now since I finished the book.  I'm finding that the lasting impression is one of embracing my smart hands again.  The idea that mind work is somehow superior to hand work is nonsense, though our school is streamed according to that logic (academic/applied, university/college).  The argument that we discover the truest aspect of human intelligence when we work our minds through our hands continues to ring true for me.

The other, unintentional side effect has been a re-awakening of my love of motorcycles.  I'd originally gone after one when I was 16, but my parents offered to up what I'd saved to get me into a car.  It's probably one of the reasons I'm here today, it was a smart move.  At 43 I'm not interested in wrapping myself around a pole.  Riding is a way to be alone with your thoughts, no obtrusive media, and the development of a constant awareness; you can't let your mind wander on a bike, they are ruthlessly observant of incompetence. Riding also offers an intimate familiarity with a machine in a very minimalist way that is appealing.

I come by my urges honestly.  Here is a picture of my Grand-dad Bill in the late nineteen forties... I need to get myself some white riding shoes!  I later learned from my Aunt that Bill was a stunt rider in the R.A.F. motorcycle tatoo (they would do gymnastics and stunts while doing drill on the motorbikes).  Wild!

I hope to be licensed and riding in the spring.

n00b at 43

Tim's Motorcycle Diaries

I've always wanted a motorcycle.  The simplicity and immediacy of the relationship between rider and bike has always appealed.  Finally, at the age of 43, I'm becoming a rider.  A couple of weeks ago I sat in an MTO drivetest centre and wrote my M1, so I'm now licensed in the most rudimentary way.  Next weekend I'm taking my training course at Conestoga College in Kitchener. Following that I hope to be on the road.

This blog will trace the process and development of my riding.  I've dug up a couple of entries from another blog that show why I've gotten into riding now.  They should provide some background for what is about to happen next.

A Nice, Canadian Magazine to get you into the hobby...

In the meantime, I've been looking through motorcycling magazines trying to find one that fits.  I'm not a Canadian publications at all costs kind of guy, but Cycle Canada offers smart writing on a wide range of subjects related to the sport (hobby?).  Being a rider in Canada is sort of like being a surfer in Greenland, you can do it, but you've really got to want to.  The place itself isn't really conducive to the activity.  I feel like Cycle Canada approaches this with honesty, humour and wit, while peeling off many of the preconceptions around biking.  Before I began reading it I thought most people think Harleys are the be all and end all of motorbiking.  I was glad to learn that they aren't.  I like 'em so much, I just subscribed.

Getting Your Bike License in Ontario

Getting the M1 was easy enough.  Ontario has a graduated licensing system for becoming a motorcycle rider now.  The M1 is a sit down, multiple choice test on the basics of motorcycle operation (which you pick up from a Motorcycle Handbook you can get for about $17 from any MTO licensing office).  There are also multiple choice tests on road signs and basic driving situations.  There are 20 questions in each set and you can get up to four wrong and still pass (so you need an 80% on each piece).  I've had my G class (regular car) license for 26 years, I didn't study for either of the general quizzes and got only 2 wrong.  If you pay attention to your driving, I'd suggest focusing on the motorcycling handbook.  If you have no idea what is happening around you or what signs mean, it might be time to review the general stuff.

I should add, the general driving portion was very wordy.  Remember those long math word problems you used to get in school?  Like that.  It was almost like it was designed to test your ability to parse complicated text more than it was about rules of the road.  Be ready for that and take your time with it.

You have to go to a drivetest centre to write the M1.  There are many scattered around Ontario but only a few open on weekends.  It took me a couple of hours to get to the counter, write the test and then get the results.  They tell me it isn't always that busy.  The old guy who blocked the only open gate for an hour arguing about his license didn't help.  The M1 costs you about $17 to write.

After the M1 written piece, the idea is to go out and get experience.  You have 60-90 days with your M1 before you have to move on to M2.  M2 you can have for up to 5 years, but if you let it lapse after that you've got to start over again.  After your M2 road test you become an M licensed driver with full privileges.  Conestoga College offers a driver training course for beginners that moves you from M1 to M2.  I'm signed up to go next week.  It costs about $400 and I'm told you're at the bikes they provide a lot over the one night and two day long course; it's very hands on.  At the end of that course I'll have done what is needed to pass the M1 driving test to move on to M2.  M1 means no driving at night, or carrying passengers, or 400 series highways, and no alcohol in your system at all.  M2 is still no alcohol, but you can do the other things.  You usually have to wait 60 days to get your M2, but if you take the course they shrink that time.  I should be able to push up to an M2 in mid-May after taking the course in early April.  I plan on riding at the M2 level for at least a year or two before getting the full M license.


I called the company that I've been with since I was a teen (who has made a small fortune off me) and asked for a quote on motocycles.  They told me to come back in two years.  They then said I should call Riders Plus.  They were very helpful.  Talking to a friend afterward, he's been riding for thirteen years and has been with Rider's Plus the whole time.  He's paying about $600 a year for a 2000 500cc Ninja.  I'll be paying about $1300 a year for a 2007 650 Ninja, to give you an idea of what the insurance looks like.

I'll throw on a couple of older posts showing what I've been reading and why I'm going through this now.  Over the next few days it looks like I'll become the proud new owner of a 2007 650r Ninja that has been painted an unfortunate flat black by an adolescent male of questionable taste..  With the bike in the garage and the course next weekend, I should be insured, plated and on the road by mid-April.

More to come as it happens.