Saturday, 28 June 2014

Fighting The Urge for Sensible Compromise

I picked up my sprockets & chains today from Two Wheel Motorsport.  I then had a chat with Craig, who works there and was the head instructor on my motorcycle course at Conestoga College last year.  He mentioned the used bikes upstairs (TWM goes on and on, be sure to wander around if you go there).  I was interested in a Kawasaki Concours they had on sale because it's a sensible touring bike.  Craig mentioned 'upstairs' when I was asking about used bikes.  I didn't know they had an upstairs.  After getting my parts I went up and found a couple of dozen bikes and no one around.  Since I was looking for a sensible touring bike I immediately found this and took this:

I'm really bad at trying to be sensible.  I ended up buying my current Ninja because of the way it made me feel rather than the sensible KLR I was going to get.  When it comes to buying an appliance like a car I'll be sensible, but a motorbike isn't about being sensible and I don't want to waste my riding time on bland compromise.

I met John the salesman and we finally found the Concours out back.  It's not as big as some other touring bikes, but my knees are still pretty bent on it.  Short of getting some sky-scraper adventure bike I'm going to be bent legged on a motorbike, especially if it's as road-centric as I want it to be.

I suspect the answer still lies in not trying to find a bike for all things, they don't exist.  Instead, a couple of really focused bikes that do different things would do the trick.  Instead of trying to find an athletic road bike that two-ups my son easily, get a machine that caters to time with him and another for solo forays.

The other day a guy road by on a Triumph with a Rocket Sidecar.  I've still got a thing for sidecars.  Uralling or Royal Enfielding up would cover the vintage bike itch as well as the weird sidecar itch in addition to creating a very friendly shared riding experience with my son.  The other bike could be some kind of bat-shit crazy single seater that focuses entirely on me alone on the road (or track).  Or a café racer...

I'm glad that Concours made a big wet noise in my imagination when I saw it with its C.H.i.P.s style windshield and acres of plastic.  A sudden, irrational urge to own it didn't follow.  What it did do is clear up an important point:  don't compromise on what you want a bike to do for you, you'll only end up disappointed.

John the salesman told me the story of a kid who missed the bike he fell in love with by twenty minutes and ended up with tears in his eyes over it.  If I'm going to move on to another bike, it's got to be a tear jerker.  I didn't get into motorcycling for sensible, I got into it for an emotional connection to my machine.  Fortunately, that bonkers bike choice isn't crazy expensive.  An '06 bike with only 2400kms on it costs less than $7000 from Two-Wheel.

For another $7k I could pick up an almost new Versys and go about getting it kitted out with a cool sidecar from Old Vintage Cranks.  It'd be one of a kind on its way to being a multipurpose outfit that I could customize indefinitely.  For $14k I'd be into one of the most powerful two wheelers ever made and a truly unique go-anywhere 3-wheeler.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sprockets, Chains & Walls of Rain

I thought I could make it down to Guelph to order my sprockets and chain and back before the rain hit.  The weather radar said there wouldn't be rain for over an hour.  I left at 2:30 and grabbed some gas in Fergus before heading down Highway 6.  It sprinkled lightly as I went, but it was just enough to take the edge of some truly oppressive humidity.

I got the sprocket and chains sorted out at Two Wheel Motorsport.  The chain drives on motorcycles are one of the first places people play with their geometry.  If you go to look up sprockets and chains for a 2007 Ninja 650r you're buried alive in neon chains and sprockets designed to look like shuriken.  By messing with the length of chain and number of teeth in the sprocket you can essentially gear up your bike, giving it faster acceleration (though it would also be revving over 5000rpm at highway speeds).  

For my first go-around with motorcycle sprockets and chains I went with quality and longevity.  The steel sprockets I got were Afam sprockets designed and built in Europe, they are very high spec pieces.  I stayed away from anything that's neon.  If you're curious, a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650r takes a 15 tooth front sprocket and a 46 tooth rear sprocket (that isn't always obvious as people rush to over gear their bikes so they go 0-60 faster).  I also got an X link chain, which offers a number of advantages over an O link chain, though they are more expensive.  The high quality sprockets (front and back) and a high tensile strength chain cost me about $300 taxes in.  They should be in by the end of the week.

Something wicked this way comes!
After wandering around looking at new bikes in the showroom for a few minutes I jumped back on the Ninja and headed back north.  As I turned on to Elora Road the sky got menacing, then it turned positively apocalyptic.

I've ridden through rain a fair bit, especially last summer when I was commuting on the bike.  This one looked turbulent though.  I stopped to zip everything up and take that picture and then I drove into a wall of water.

One of the nice parts of being on a bike is how connected you are to the world.  As I rode toward the darkness I knew this was going to be more than a sprinkle.  The clouds were scalloped and black/green and the temperature dropped ten degrees as I rode under them.  Then the smell of ozone filled my helmet.  I could see across the valley ahead that cars had their headlights on and the wipers were going furiously, behind them the standing wall of rain advanced steadily.

Hosed but home.
As the first big drops hit me I hunkered down on the tank behind the windscreen.  The wind picked up and I had to lean into it to hold my line, and then I rode into the water wall.  I like riding in the rain.  The bike is surprisingly well planted and if you want your visor to clear just turn your head and watch the rain roll sideways across it.  Of course, I like it better when I'm in rain gear, which I wasn't this time.  In about 10 seconds at 80kms/hr in torrential rain I was soaked to the bone, but I was only 10 minutes from home so I could get wet.  Cars were pulling over, the end was nigh.  Trees were bent sideways and it was night-time dark.  I made it the 10 minutes up the highway and turned on to back streets.  I was in my driveway a minute later.

After getting the bike inside and towelling it off I peeled off soaked clothes.  It was the first time I wasn't hot and sweaty all day.  I love riding in the rain.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A Silent, Fast & Sustainable Future

The other day I swung in for one of my infrequent fuel stops on the Ninja.  As I was finishing up putting $18 of super into the tank, good for another 300kms, the guy across from me was bleating about how much it was costing ($180 of the cheap stuff) to fill up his massive pickup truck with chrome wheels and low profile tires (I won't go into how wrong that is, suffice it to say that this truck wasn't purchased to *do* things, it was purchased as a look-at-me-penis-extension - one that costs over two hundred bucks a week in gas).

His fill up would put about ten tanks in the Ninja, at 300kms a tank his single fill up would get me over 3000kms (!), and he has the nerve to stand there crying about how his inferiority complex has resulted in poor choices?  If gas doubled in price tomorrow I'd still be able to afford to ride.  I wonder what Bucky-look-at-my-truck would do.


I was reading Cycle Canada last night and came across a letter from a reader who (after extolling the virtues of cruisers for a long time) went on to sneer at the idea of quiet electric bikes, basically saying that they'd have to pry his Harley out of his cold, dead hands.  Many of those dinosaurs will soon be extinct and maybe then we can move on to forms of motorcycling that are sustainable for generations.  I've often wondered what it would have been like to ride my Grand-dad's bike.  Wouldn't it be cool to get to a point where our descendants can?  It would give me great pleasure knowing that we developed a form of motorbiking that is so efficient and undamaging that my great, great grandchild could enjoy it without worrying if it will irreparably damage the world.

Don't get me wrong, I love the sound of a nicely tuned engine as much as anyone (you can keep your farty exhausts), but if the internal combustion engine is the pinnacle of human achievement, we're in real trouble, especially if we're going to stuff the world full of billions of people who all want a giant pickup.


Way back in the 1990s I watched one of those Star Trek: The Next Generations that was dangerously insightful.  In the episode, Force of Nature, it is discovered that warping all over the place actually damages space.  It snuck up on you, but the allegory was clear - even if you love something (burning fossil fuels and making CO²), you can't be blind to the damage it does.  What was previously a blind-love relationship with motor vehicles became more complicated for me after that.

Think gas is expensive now? You
ain't seen nothing yet.
Welcome to the end of cheap oil.
Just recently I watched Cosmos and the episode they did on climate change was jarring.  Neil deGrasse Tyson demands something more than blind devotion to fossil fuels no matter how easy they've made life.  Ever the optimist, he states that in the next century we'll build the last internal combustion engine as we move on to less environmentally damaging technologies (he's an optimist, I don't know if we're that adaptive).  

If you ask most people to imagine a world without internal combustion, they can't.  I asked kids in class a couple of years ago what they'd like to do when they retired in 2045.  One said she wanted to buy a Camaro.  I asked her what she intended to do with it, use it as a planter to grow flowers?  She couldn't conceive of a world without cheap, plentiful oil, most of us can't, but that world is coming.

"Though they run on fossil fuel, these
are digital machines" - Ewan McGregor
describing the lastest MotoGP bikes
Nothing thrills me more than seeing real change.  Formula One this year is using hybrid gas/electrical power plants and reduced the fuel from 176 to 100 kilograms per race.  The cars are faster than ever but the engines are changing how to drive quickly.  Instead of having to wait for a gas engine to rev up to peak output, the electric assist is providing instant, full torque.  Drivers are having to change how they negotiate corners because the power is instantly available.  The cars are also much quieter, you can actually hear the rubber squealing as they peel out of the pits (you couldn't before over the howl of v8 engines).

I also caught some of the 24 Hours of LeMans.  The prototypes in that race used only electric power to enter and leave the pits.  They were eerily silent and people could carry out normal conversation as they went about their work, it was pretty awesome.  They are also faster than anything previously while using less fuel.  That's the kind of future I can get excited about.

The McLaren P1 is an astonishing piece of engineering.  Over 30mpg and capable of well over 200mph.  It's not just fast for a hybrid, it's one of the fastest cars ever built.  The future won't be slow, though it may be much quieter.

There are still people who keep steam engines alive because they love the history and the mechanics of the things.  They aren't very efficient, and it wouldn't be sensible to have everyone using steam, but it's nice to see mechanical history honoured.  There are people who will keep gasoline engines alive.  They aren't very efficient or sustainable, and it wouldn't be sensible for everyone to have one,  but it'll be nice to see that history remembered too.  For the rest of us (doofus with his pickup truck included), I'm looking forward to a quieter, faster, cleaner future.  In the meantime I'll enjoy my 0-60 in under 4 seconds Ninja that gets more than 60mpg.  There is nothing like the minimalism of the motorbike to make the most out of every drop of fuel.

Saturday, 21 June 2014


A friend's daughter came by last night because she was interested in The Ninja.  I'm rabidly interested in riding as many different bikes as I can, so when they asked if I wanted to follow along on the Honda Firestorm she'd ridden over I quickly grabbed my gear.  With aftermarket everything on it, the Honda backfired loudly and took off like a scalded rabbit.  The steering geometry on it is very vertical and the grips small, making the bike turn in very quickly even though it feels heavier than the Ninja.  It was definitely a young man's bike, riding it for more than an hour would be agony, but I totally get it, it was a blast!

The test ride ended up not fitting the rider (she found the Ninja tall and the riding position too upright), but the possibility of Bike2.0 got me thinking...

They have a nicely-looked-after '06 Concours at Two Wheel Motorsport.  It's an athletic mile eater that easily 2-ups and is in its element as a long distance tourer.  This particular one is low kilometres (~50k) and well maintained, it would run for ever with no problems.

I'm pretty weight fixated after riding the Ninja and doing a lot of thinking about bike dynamics, and the Concours isn't light even if it is light on its feet for a big guy.  I was wandering Kijiji yesterday after suddenly facing the prospect of maybe being bike-less and came across another interesting choice.  I've been doing a lot of reading on the new VFR800f Interceptor.  This is another athletic mile eater that is at home in the twisties, and at over 150lbs lighter than the portly Concours it plays to my sense of what athletic means in a bike.  I've always been a Honda fan, I had a picture of one on my wall when I was a kid, it'd be cool to own one.

The VFR on Kijiji is an '02, almost half the miles of the Concours for sale and 'meticulously maintained'.  Not to be an English snob or anything, but the add is nicely written too:

Mint condition, meticulously cared for, very low mileage (28000 km) VFR 800 VTEC with ABS. The VFR 800 has the distinctive single sided swingarm, ABS and the legendary Honda Interceptor V4 engine that is famous for producing one of the most intoxicating exhaust notes of any motorcycle powerplant... it's music. This bike is just as comfortable eating up corners in the twisties as it is taking you on multi day trips in comfort. It comes with 2 seats, the stock one and a Sargent seat, 2 windshields, stock and a tinted Zero Gravity windshield, solo seat cover, PDF Honda VFR800 Service Manual and a set of frame sliders still in the box. Also installed are the 2006 VFR clear tail light and smoke front turn signal light lenses. $5700 or best offer.

There is something about a rider who knows spelling and grammar that gives an air of competence.  When this guy says it has been meticulously maintained I believe him because he knows the word meticulous (and how to spell it).

I've got such an itch for this bike that I'm tempted to give him a call and ride down to Hamilton to give it a go.  I only wish I had the money aside to snap it up if I liked it as much as I think I might.  The process of selling the Ninja means that the VFR might be long gone by the time I'm ready to pull the trigger.

That was quick.  I'm glad he sold it, but sad too...

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Coast to Coast to Coast 2.0

I just finished watching Arctic Clutch.  He doesn't go as far as I'm planning to with Coast Cubed and he does it in a more alcohol fuelled young man's way, but he does shed some light on travelling in the far north.  From the video it's hard to tell whether 150km/day on the Dempster Highway is difficult, or difficult because he's hungover.  He does mention how expensive hotel rooms are up there though, which is helpful.

774kms of gravel before another
140 new kms up to the coast,
over 900kms all told - all gravel 
The key to being able to access the arctic coast in Canada and enable a coast to coast to coast trip is the completion of the Dempster Highway up to Tuktoyaktuk.  It looks like it will be completed by 2018.  A summer 2018 coast to coast to coast epic adventure, sounds like a plan!  I'd the first person on two wheels to complete this trip.  Anyone interested in joining me?

Next to the extreme distances involved (the Earth's circumference is just over 40,000kms, this trip is over half that, all in one country!), the hardest part of this trip is the ride north to the Arctic Ocean.  I'd originally thought that since eighteen of the twenty thousand kilometres of this trip will be on pavement, I'd get a bike focused on that task.  I'd stop in Dawson and prep the bike for the rocky portion of the trip with an engine guard and some dual purpose tires tough enough to handle a couple of thousand kilometres over rocks.

An argument could be made for an adventure bike for this, but unless it's a very road focused adventure bike I wouldn't consider it.  Having to put up with a tall, wallowy, wrong-tired, road-awkward bike for just 10% of the trip still seems wrong headed.  What is vital is a bike that can handle high kilometre paved road days that wouldn't fatigue me.

Having seen Nick Sanders double Pan-America Highway run on a Super Ténéré, I'm thinking that a multi-purpose bike might work better, though with having to deal with Central and South America, Nick had a lot more unpaved road to deal with.  There are, however, a number of 'adventure' bikes that are much more comfortable on pavement and can eat huge miles easily.

I'm still always thinking about lighter weight bikes and don't want some litre plus monster to lug around.  With that in mind I'm rethinking choices for this trip, especially if I've got a couple of years to get my ducks in a row.

An early favourite of mine is the Triumph Tiger.  Described more as a good road bike with some off road ability, it would be putting the priorities in the right order but would still have no problems with the Dempster Highway.  Being made-in-England myself, I'd enjoy doing Canada's first coast to coast to coast ride on a compatriot.

I was all set to be a Triumph guy from the start, but my Ninja has snuck up on me, and Kawasaki offers some interesting long distance options.  I've already thought about the Kawasaki Concourse, which would handle the big miles in an athletic but capable manner.  Then there is the odd, but Cyclon-looking Kawasaki Versus (the odd cousin of my Ninja), which looks like it could handle the Dempster.  Maybe Kawasaki would like to bring the Versus out of the shadows and make it the first bike to ride coast to coast to coast in Canada.

Since I've got a couple of years to work this out I'll pound the pavement and see who wants to be involved.  OLN Canada should probably be on the ground when someone completes the first coast to coast to coast Canada ride.  Isn't this like finishing the railroad (finally)?  Canada is, at last, truly a three coast entity and we can all enjoy it.  Over twenty thousand kilometres of travel without crossing an international border.

Canada really is something rare in the world, enormous and unfinished... especially to the north.

Whatcha think Kawasaki Canada?

Time to get the Versus out of the shadows and make it the first bike to ever go Coast to Coast to Coast in Canada?

Monday, 9 June 2014


A week before we headed out to Victoria my wife suddenly suggested that we get scooters for our first day.  I was flabbergasted, she isn't a fan of motorbikes.  I quickly arranged the scooters with CycleBC and waited to see what would happen.

Thursday morning we woke early after the longest day ever (up since 6am, a day of work, four and a half hour flight to Calgary thanks to tornadoes in Saskatchewan, an hour layover and another hour on to Victoria before the cab ride in - we got in at 1am West Coast time, that'd be 4am our time).  After a big breakfast we walked over to the rental place and got ourselves two scooters.

Alanna got herself a little, red Honda Jazz and Max and I got the industrial looking Yamaha BWs. After a quick practice in front of the shop we pulled on to the street.  We'd been told about a park a block away so we headed over there and rode around on empty streets for a few minutes, then discovered the petting zoo there and ended up not leaving for half an hour.

We then puttered over to the sea and started circumnavigating Victoria's coastline.  We ended up covering over 64 kilometres that day.  The scooters made it easy to pull in and hop off anytime we saw something interesting.

After the park we followed the coast stopping at scenic lookouts and eventually at the Oak Bay Marina where we had a nice cup of coffee, fed some harbour seals and looked at the lifestyles of the rich and famous docked in the harbour.  Oak Bay is a nice place to stop and take a break.

We pushed on up the coast and through the very green Mount Doug Park before finally cutting inland for the run out to Boutchart Gardens.  Waiting at a light an older fellow on a Triumph T-bird stopped behind us and struck up a conversation with Alanna after she told him it was her first time ever on one.  He told us about how he and his wife used to rent scooters together before the light changed and we all burbled off down the road.  You just don't get moments like that in a rented cage.

We arrived at the Gardens and were directed to special 2-wheel parking close to the entrance and enjoyed a long walk and lunch in one of the loveliest spots in a lovely city.

Later in the afternoon we saddled up for the long ride back.  By now Alanna is riding like an old pro, but the rush hour traffic we ran into on our way out was heavy, and with Max and I on the little Yamaha, we had trouble getting to 40km/hr on flats, on hills I just started pulling over into the bike lane to let traffic past.  Apparently that wasn't enough for a couple of fuck-wits in a pickup who thought that throwing a full beer can at us would be funny.  Seeing red I suggested they slow down so I could haul them out of the passenger window and beat the shit out of them, which my son found hilarious.  If either of them happen to be reading this drop me a line, I'd like to meet you guys.

We pushed on into town and the traffic only got sillier, so we made a change of direction and puttered through the University of Victoria before heading back to the quiet roads on the coast.  We retraced our steps before angling in to the CycleBC store downtown and dropping off the scooters.

We had bugs in our teeth and big smiles on our faces.  Alanna was surprised at how much fun she had and how gentle the scooter was on her arthritis.  She's now thinking about getting a scooter, which is awesome!

This pretty little Italian Piaggio Fly 50
is well under $1000 safetied and
ready to go
A quick look around found some nice, lightly used scooters for well under $1000.  Even bigger 150cc units aren't much more expensive.  Even bonkers Italian Vespa style costs less than four grand brand new, and the super dependable Japanese, Italian inspired copies are only a touch over two.  

Since Ontario made a full motorcycle license a requirement to ride something as simple as a scooter, she'd have to take the course I took last year, but they do a great job of making it fun.  I'm hoping she's still willing to give it a go.

Light Cycles & Super Models

I had a beautiful ride home last week in a late June evening.  With the sun backlighting
the western horizon and dusk upon me, I had to stop and take a few pictures of the Ninja at night...

There is something magical about riding at night, the way the light bends with you around corners,
the night smells, the cooling air and long shadows...

... an anime looking bike on a cool June evening.  Whoever did the racing scenes in Akira has ridden motorbikes at night:

Sunday at sunset I was cleaning the bugs off the Ninja...

What a pretty machine, I guess I'm still in love after a year...

... and then Google auto-awesomed this up for me:

That's almost pornographic!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Forks of the Credit

What does the double hair pin at Forks of the Credit look like on a sunny Sunday in May?
... and I missed the first ten that went by right to left!

It's a sunny Sunday afternoon on May 25th and I've got an afternoon on the Ninja.  Rather than do a pointless local loop I aim at The Forks and head east.  It's a nice ride on relatively interesting roads across Wellington County, Hillsburgh and Erin to Belfountain.  When I get there I realize that I've just walked into a mecca of bike culture in Southern Ontario.

The parking lot of the local ice cream and coffee shop is covered in motorcycles of all description, from Harleys to Ducatis and everything in between.  I hang a left and head onto seven of the best kilometres in Ontario.  On the ride down I've timed it perfectly, no one is in front of me and I lean the bike more than I ever have before.  Suddenly timely gear changes are vital to balancing the bike and the tires get some wear on the sides.  

I've been coming up to The Forks since I got my driver's license in the 1980s, but this is the first time I've done it on two wheels (except for once in an Escort GT, but that wasn't intentional).  On my way back I get stuck behind a guy in a Prius (a Prius?  Really?) and decide to pull over at the hairpin to get some media.  An OPP cruiser slows as he sees me on the side of the road but I give him a wave and when he realizes I'm taking pictures and not hurt he gives me a wave back and continues on his way.

Forks of the Credit, from
Belfountain to Highway 10
That train of bikes in the opening video was actually ten bikes longer, I'd already put the phone away when they started and didn't get it out and recording until halfway through the two wheeled parade.

Watching the cars lumber around the hairpin is a stark contrast to the bikes as they weave through the 180° hairpin.  At one point I thought one of the cars was going to have to back up to make it.

Back in Belfountain (where I got married sixteen years ago), I have a cup'o'tea and wander around looking at the bikes.  There is a constant stream of people coming and going, all ages, genders and interests.  The leather clad Harley guys are there, adventure types in their Aerostich, the sport bike crowd in their leathers, the touring riders on their Goldwings with pillions in tow, and even some cafe racers in their vintage gear.  It's a cross section of Ontario motorbiking culture.

That's me on the right.
After my wander I do The Forks once more, this time I'm clear both ways.  I pass back through Belfountain and a whole new flock of bikes have flown in.  My blood is pumping now and I get home fifteen minutes faster than I got here.

Pictures from The Forks of the Credit on May 25th, 2014.

Sea to Sky and Back Again

My son and I are two up on a BMW F800ST on our way out of Sooke on Vancouver Island's south coast.  It's the last big stop before heading into the wild, and it's not that big a stop.  The road has met up with the rocky shoreline and I'm bending the bike left and right around constant corners, I'm seldom able to see more than a couple of hundred feet down the road.  From the steep hillside down to the Pacific Ocean a deer pops over the barrier onto the road right in front of us.  The BMW seamlessly comes to a stop five feet in front of the startled deer that tears off into the forest.  I wait for the inevitable follow up deer and see it next to the barrier watching us.  We pull away slowly and elect to ease off a bit and keep it under 80 kilometres per hour.  Even at speed limit speeds this road is something special.

I'm supposed to be in class, at work, instead I find myself over four thousand kilometres away from home on a cool and sunny Friday morning at the end of May with a rented motorcycle, beautiful weather and three hundred kilometres of astonishing roads in front of me, sometimes life offers up nice surprises.

I've only been riding on the road for just over a year.  I have my M2 license and I left an '07 Kawasaki Ninja 650R at home.  The BMW is only the second road bike I've ever ridden.  It's amazing how different two machines that do the same job can be.  The BMW is a bigger bike, with larger seats, it's much more comfortable according to my pillion.  The suspension is soft and supple compared to my Kawi, and the controls feel lighter.  The clutch take up is smooth and the brakes make me think I need to do the front pads and bleed my Ninja when I get home.  The BMW is a more mature bike in every sense.  The redline is a sane 8000 rpm, and with the soft suspension and big seat it's easy to ride for a long time.  Other than the weird left hand/right hand indicators it's an easy transition from the Ninja (one of the reasons I chose it).

The rider of this fine machine,
in his beaten up, old BMW
leathers was in his seventies!
We work our way down this increasingly empty coastal road until we stumble across the small town of Shirley and Shirley Delicious.  We'd been told by the technician at Cycle BC where we'd picked up the bike that the temperature can drop ten degrees on the coast, and he wasn't wrong.  After a hot coffee warm up and the best sausage roll I've ever had, we bump into another BMW rider who is in his seventies.  After some affable, Teutonic chat we are back on the long and winding road.

From Sooke to Port Renfrew,
endlessly entertaining
From Shirley we wind our way north west up the quiet coast of Vancouver Island.  The east coast faces Vancouver and is as busy as anywhere in Canada, but the west coast faces the endless Pacific and remains largely unpopulated.  From Shirley we saw only a couple of other vehicles as we chased the tail of this amazing road that clings to the side of mountains edged by ocean.  The switchbacks that lead down to single lane bridges over mountain rivers look more like Scandinavian fjords than Canadian back roads.

We stop and stretch about forty minutes into the ride at a scenic lookout, which along with many provincial parks, dot the route.  As we clear the straits between Vancouver Island and the mainland and begin to face the Pacific, tsunami warning signs and escape routes begin to appear.  You really get a sense of being on the edge of the world here.  The edge of North America, the edge of the former British Empire, facing half a world of ocean.

Port Renfrew is more an idea than an actual place; a few buildings scattered among the trees.  We pass through it in moments and find ourselves on a rough paved road into Juan de Fuca Provincial Park where we hope to find Botanical Beach.  We strip off the bike gear and stow it in the big Givi box on the back and head down the trail.  The tide is out and an amazing beach full of tidal pools awaits.

We warm up on the long walk down and soon find ourselves clambering over black stone jutting into the ocean.  The sea life is prodigious, with massive strings of clams, crabs and a million other things crawling on the rocks.  The smell of salt and sharp, clean air is magical. We're the only people we can see.

Jurassic Park has nothing on
Juan de Fuca!

We spend two hours wandering around the rocks, but I've only got the bike for the day and the sun is way past noon.  A quick uphill hike back to the bike has us both sweating.  I figure we should eat and the Coastal Kitchen on the way in looked like a good choice, but my son has a thing for chain restaurants and says he isn't hungry (though he was).  I don't get to the Coastal Kitchen, one of my few regrets on this trip.

I'm looking at my watch and wondering how I can possibly get back to Victoria since it's getting on for 2pm and we're not even halfway around our loop yet.  Lake Cowichan is halfway across the island.  It's only 63 kilometres away but this road is something else, you don't make time on it.  Around every corner (and there is always a corner) you find idyllic waterfalls, tumbling mountain rivers and absurdly beautiful alpine vistas.

Almost two thousand metres in elevation
changes, it's as uppy-downy as it's lefty-righty
The BMW is bending left and right over the patchwork surface of the road, the soft suspension soaking up the bumps.  I get into a rhythm and lose myself for a while chasing this road. 

Unlike the Ninja, I can barely feel Max back there until he uncharacteristically thumps into me as a I brake for a switchback.  He mumbles that he's ok, but we've been on the road since 9am, he's had no lunch and he's dopey, not a good combination.  I push on to Lake Cowichan, now more worried about him than enjoying the ride.  I really wish we'd eaten at the Coastal Kitchen before leaving Port Renfrew, we're not putting that to a vote next time.

We stop in Cowichan and eat lousy fast food at an A&W.  He perks right back up and we get back on the road quickly because it's getting on to 4pm and I've got less than two hours to return the F800.  But Cowichan marks the return to the populated side of the island and the highway out of it is the first 100 km/hr zone we've seen since leaving Victoria.  In a flash we're back to the Trans Canada in Duncan and, after a day spent virtually alone on twisting roads, we find ourselves in a traffic jam surrounded by box stores.  We wait our way through the worst timed traffic lights ever in Duncan and finally get moving south towards Victoria.

Even a commuter road like this makes most roads in Ontario look sad.  It's smooth (it barely snows here and frost heaves are all but nonexistent), and the asphalt constantly snakes over and around mountains.  Though very different from the west side wilderness, the highway ride back to Victoria was nice too.

At speed the BMW is surprisingly comfortable.  The tiny screen on the front had me doubting its high speed comfort, but now I understand how wind to the chest can keep your weight off your wrists.  At highway speeds you seem to lay on the wind, it's remarkably comfortable.  The minimalist aerodynamics on the F800ST do a surprisingly good job.

Once clear of Duncan we don't see another slowdown until entering Victoria, and it isn't a big slowdown.  By five o'clock we're pulling back into CycleBC's downtown shop, tired but elated.  The bike did the whole trip, over three hundred kilometres all told, on a single tank.  It also cast some perspective on my Ninja.

The BMW's suspension makes me want to look into the Kawi's, but a 650R is a very different kind of bike than an F800.  Given a choice though I'd take the BMW's buttery, compliant suspension over the teeth rattling shocks on my Kawi.  I thought the lack of a windshield would hurt the BMW but it was surprisingly good, and makes me question the turbulence I get off the aftermarket windshield on the Ninja.  The weird switch gear on the BMW wasn't convenient, but all of the controls were light and responsive, making the bike a joy to take down twisty roads.  It all sounds like a slam dunk for the BMW, but there is one place where the my older Kawasaki leaves the BMW behind.

It's pretty and capable,
but it has the heart of a tractor
After lugging that BMW engine around for a day I was happy to put it down.  At best it chugged down the road, but most of the time it sounded agricultural.  One of the reasons I fell for the Ninja was the sound of its engine, I've seldom heard anything happier.  Whereas the BMW goes about its business with conservative, grim faced determination, the Kawasaki is an eager accomplice, with a soprano's voice.  While the BMW is grumbling to its redline something magical is happening in the Kawasaki.  Happy up to 8000rpm, it dives to the 11,000 rpm redline with a euphoric banshee wail; the last half of the Ninja's rev range is something wonderful.  That it also manages to feel stronger than the BMW even though it's a much smaller lump is also telling.

I enjoyed riding the BMW, but it didn't move me.  The good news is I now have much higher standards for control feel, brakes and suspension, but without that all-singing engine I'm just not smitten.

As for the trip, it was unforgettable.  From sea to sky and back again, it was challenging, exhausting and completely worth it.  Were I to do it again, I think I'd get the bike for 24 hours instead of 8 and stay over in Cowichan before coming back the other way down the empty coast.  That road deserves two way attention, and I'd happily avoid the traffic in Duncan and the stress of trying to rush the bike back at the end of the day.  It also eat lunch at the Coastal Kitchen, damn it.  The days are long on Vancouver Island in the summer.  If you left at noon on one day, you could meander up to Cowichan enjoy a 10pm sunset and be on the road well after sunrise at 6am the next day looking forward to retracing those mad roads back to Victoria - you'd also miss rush hour on both sides.

CycleBC is located in downtown Victoria right under the conference centre attached to the Empress Hotel.  The staff are quick to get you on the road, know the area inside and out and offer up some great insider tips (why we ended up making a point of seeing Botanical Beach).  They offer a wide range of bikes from the F800ST I was on to a BMW GS, Suzuki Vstrom, Kawaski KLR, Triumph Bonneville and various cruiser options.  Everything looked to be in top form (they have an onsite technician), and the F800 was flawless for us.

If you get a chance to ride southern Vancouver Island, you won't be disappointed.  Next time I'm out there, I'm looking at a longer ride around more of the island.