Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Six Wheels Across Canada

Crossing Canada (and we're not even going
coast to coast) isn't a little trip.
Next summer we're aiming for the family cross country trip.  If you live anywhere except one of the largest countries in the world that might not require too much forethought, but it takes over 2000kms and 3 days just to get out of the province we live in, then there are another four provinces to cross before getting to the family reunion in British Columbia.  The thought of doing this on a bike is both invigorating and a bit overwhelming, and besides, I'd like to spend some time in the car with everyone soaking up the views together.

What to do?

Is it possible to get a vehicle that would get us across Canada reasonably comfortably but would also allow me to drop two wheels down when the roads demand it?

I've had the van itch before, but is there a vehicle that could carry the three of us and a bike well?


Guy Martin's Transit Van fascination has long been an influence.  It turns out you can buy a special Guy Martin Proper edition these days in the UK.

Choices for North America aren't that special, but you can still put together a custom enough van that might be the Swiss-Army knife of a vehicle that I'm looking for.  What's interesting is that on the UK site they talk about using a Transit as your 24/7 vehicle like that could be a thing, but North Americans would find Transits impossible to live with (because North Americans are just too precious?)

The long wheelbase, medium roof Transit will handle four seats with room enough to comfortably swallow a Triumph Speed Triple as well.  With a finished interior it'd be a comfortable way of making the epic cross country trip and could handle all the luggage we could throw at it.

In cross country mode it'd have the four seats in and plenty of room to stretch out and cover big miles.  I'd be tempted to swipe some of the "Proper" Transit and sporty it up a bit, but the main idea would be to have a modern, efficient van that is able to do many things.

With the bike out we'd be able to stretch sleeping bags out in the back, and there are some other interesting options I think I'd explore.  The Aluminess Roof Rack turns the whole roof into a patio, which would be handy on trips for photography, as a base for drone filming operations or as a vantage point when the van is taken to events.  It has a cool LED spot light bar on the front too.


There are a number of interior finishing options available.  I'd take the van to a finished interior, but I don't know about a private jet on wheels, I'd want it to keep some of its utilitarian appeal.  Being able to rotate the front seats would have obvious benefits though.  A number of companies finish these vans, from use based needs to full on camper conversions.

The medium roof, long wheelbase version of the Transit will take in about 163 inches long in the cargo area - a Triumph Speed Triple is about half that, so it'd fit behind a second row of seats.  Maximum load width is almost 70 inches, the Speed Triple is less than half that wide at the handle bars and much less elsewhere, so it'd fit comfortably on one side of the rear cargo area.  Maximum load height is 72 inches, the Speed Triple is less than 50 inches tall.  Even a big bike like my Tiger (54 inches tall, 34 inches wide, 89 inches long) would still comfortably fit in the Transit.  Since a Transit will take close to 4000lbs in payload, the thing could easily handle a pair of big bikes without breaking a sweat.  One bike, 3 people and a pile of luggage wouldn't make it break a sweat.



The ten thousand kilometre odyssey across Canada would be a lot more fun with such a comfortable, spacious and capable vehicle... and being about to ride the Rockies and the West Coast west and then back east again would be spectacular.

Almost four thousand kilometres of Rocky Mountains and West Coast?  Magical!  Having a vehicle that can deliver it together AND on two wheels?  Bazinga!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Dangerously Close to Hipster Cool

The Concours customization continues slowly.  The (too short) Canadian riding season is staggering to a close, so I'm out on the Tiger whenever possible (3°C this morning).  Soon enough the snow will fall, the roads will become salty nightmares and I'll have lots of mechanical time on my hands.  Today it's a cold front coming through with high winds and torrential rain that has me in the garage instead of out on the road.

The front light is now prepared to go into the wiring loom, as is the rear one.  Both front and rear are LED units so I'm having to make a few changes to get them happily connected to the twenty three year old loom.  I'm going to mount the rear lights higher up under a rear cover that'll also wrap up the back of the seat.

I've got basic framework in place - I'll eventually paint it all flat black so it fades into the background, but for now I'm just leaving it metal coloured.  I was originally going to get the body panels done in thin metal so it looks Mad Max-ish, but that doesn't look likely to happen any time soon.  I was watching Out of Nothing the other night and they said they'd taught themselves fibreglass body panel building, so I intend to do the same.  I'll work out the panels in bucks and then make fibre glass finished product; it'll be a good project.


I'd originally tried a smaller coolant tank in the back, but it couldn't handle the needs of the bike, so I've relocated the stock one under the back seat.  With panels in place it'll be all but invisible.

As much as possible I'm hoping to keep the bike looking mechanical and simple, but with some carefully sized fibreglass I should also be able to keep the ugly bits out of sight.

Up next is wiring in the lights and finishing the back end.  After that it's just making fibreglass.  Two side panels for the back and the rear cowling for sure.  The stock front fender is way too heavy looking, so I'll be looking at options for that.  I might do something strange to frame the radiator - that top rad hose is a natty looking thing.

The only mechanical part I'm looking for is a very basic instrument gauge.  I've been collecting ideas on Pinterest, so eventually I'll come across the ideal piece and grab it.

I heard once that Axl Rose bought a new Harley and had it customized so it looked old by adding patina to it.  Only a rich person would do something so asinine.  The Concours has had a long, hard life; it comes by its patina honestly.  What I love about the bike is that it's mechanically very sound (now).  Rebuilt carb, rear hub, bearings, brakes - it's new in all the right places, but you couldn't tell from looking at it.

It's getting to the point where this thing is starting to look dangerously hipster cool; I might have to grow a beard.









Wednesday, 11 October 2017

A Superior Week in the Woods

I always get to this time of year when I'm 50+ hours a week at work and get antsy.  Instead of having my waking hours decided for me days hence, I wonder what I'd do if my time was my own.

It hasn't been a great fall for colours.  A brief cold spell followed by a long period of strangely hot weather means the leaves haven't been shocked into a super colour burst, but if it's autumn I'd still like to see some colours.  


Rounding Lake Superior would certainly surround me with trees.  This time of year it's half empty up there, so the roads would be mine.  It's a long ride around the largest of the great lakes with half of it in Minnesota and Michigan, about 1700kms just to ride around the lake.  


It's pushing my luck to expect the weather to be with me, snow is a distinct possibility in October in Northern Ontario, but it'd be an epic last ride before the doors close on another riding season.

Riding Superior means I could pop in to Aerostich in Deluth, Minnesota and look at Roadcrafters.  They even have a sale on now!  I might be able to get one of these bespoke super-suits and finish the ride looking like a cross between an astronaut and a ghostbuster.



Day 1 (289kms+ferry)
Elora to Tobermory (225kms, 3 hours):  Leave Friday after work (3:30pm), get to Tobermory quickly!
Ferry Friday Night:  6:10pm from Tobermory to South Bend 7:55pm.
South Baymouth to Little Current: (64kms, 1 hour), get in at about 9pm.  289kms on the bike plus a ferry ride across Georgian Bay.
Overnight:  Anchor Inn, a 19th Century hotel in Little Current




Day 2 (512kms)
Little Current to Wawa (512kms, 6 hours):  lunch in Sault Ste Marie. 


Overnight:  Wawa Motor Inn




Day 3 (482kms)
Wawa to Thunder Bay (482kms, 5.5 hours): across the top of Superior

Overnight: Hampton Inn & Suites Thunder Bay.




Day 4 (301kms + border crossing)
Thunder Bay to Deluth, MN. (301kms, 3.5 hours)

Get there early and checkout Aerostich (there's a sale on!) open 8-6 Monday to Friday.

Overnight: Holiday Inn Downtown Deluth.






Day 5 (406kms)
Deluth to Marquette (406kms, 5 hours)


OvernightCedar Motor Inn, Marquette


Day 6 (364kms + border crossing)
Marquette to Sault Ste Marie (364kms, 5 hours)


OvernightHoliday Inn Express Sault Ste Marie.




Day 7 (624kms+ferry)
Sault Ste Marie to South Baymouth (353kms, 4 hours)
Get to South Baymouth for 12:30
Ferry 1:30 to 3:30pm
Tobermory to Elora (225kms, 2.75hrs)

The whole thing (624kms, 9+ hours including ferry)

HOME!  Three thousand kilometres in a week.




Saturday, 7 October 2017

Ice Fog On Your Visor

A cool, foggy morning greets me as I put on my helmet and stare into a fog shrouded rising sun.  The Tiger starts with a willing snarl, burbling in its strange triple way, eager for the off.

Condensation immediately coats my visor as we leap into the morning's ground clouds.  The roads are dry but beads of condensation constantly reappear to be wiped away by a quick hand.


A cold, morning ride is a glorious thing.


Full of oxygen and surrounded by the smells of the world waking up to the first touch of the sun, I'm just another empty thing being filled.  Cold wind presses around and my heat bleeds away making me even more a part of the scenery.

It's all especially sharp because I know that this can't last for long.  Soon enough the roads will be covered in ice and salt and I'll be trapped in a shiny metal box, trundling to work, removed from the world, wrapped in metal and glass.


I pass through empty countryside soaking up the rising sun and wiping away the never ending dew.

The camera struggles to capture this moment hidden as it is in the clouds.  Moisture streams from the lens as the camera tries to blink away its tears, but even blurry images of this ride resonate.  


Don't fight the lack of clarity, embrace it, let it be.


I'm dripping with morning mist when I slowly dismount with icy joints at work, but my eyes have filled me with delights.  I leave the Tiger steaming in the glorious, golden haze and walk inside.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Pushing 360° Video Quality on a Motorcycle

I've been messing around with 360° immersive video at work.  One of the best ways to quickly get familiar with the technology is to use it in a difficult circumstance so you can find its limitations.  At work we're building immersive video to show a virtual walk-through of our school.  If the gimbal and camera we have will work on a motorbike, it'll work stuck to a kid's head as they walk through the school.

There are a number of barriers to admission with 4k video and image stabilization.  Fortunately, the 360Fly4k windshield mount I have is so over engineered that it easily handles the weight and motion of the gimbal and camera rig.

I've previously done 4k video with the 360Fly4k, but it has a big blind spot on it, so this would be my first true 360 4k video.  The Fly is a tough thing that takes great footage, but I'd describe it more as a 300° camera than a true 360 one.

This 4k 360 camera is the Samsung Gear 360.  I'm running it off the camera because the app won't run on my Android non-Samsung phone because I guess Samsung don't want to sell many of these cameras - it's kind of a jerk move on their part so if these things don't sell (because you have to have a Samsung phone to access it remotely), then they're getting what they deserve.

The Gear 360 has a small screen so you can see settings and using the buttons is fairly straightforward, though you'll find yourself constantly accidentally pressing buttons while you're handling it.  The Ricoh Theta 360 is still my ergonomic favourite in terms of control and handling, and they just came out with a 4k version of the Theta - perhaps they'll lend me one to test.

The gimbal is a Moza Guru 360°Camera stabilizer.  The typical gimbal design has weights to the left or right of the camera to keep things balanced, but on a 360 camera that means you're blocking all sorts of sight lines.  The Moza gimbal is vertically stacked with the weights hanging below, mostly out of sight.  It has a power button and a push button joystick that lets you set shooting modes and centre your camera so it's looking where you're going rather that looking down the 'seams' between the two cameras.

Most 360 cameras are actually two or more cameras working together.  The resulting footage is then stitched together in software to make an every direction video.  The raw footage from the Samsung looks like this (on left).  A front and back facing fish-eye camera capturing separate footage.

Because both cameras are capturing different scenes, you can often see where they are stitched together because of a difference in ISO which shows up as a clear line of brightness difference (on the right).  They all tend to be identical, fixed-lens cameras, so the aperture and shutter speed tend to be identical.

The first test video has the Samsung camera set at highest resolution (4096x2048 pixels in video) and 24FPS.  The gimbal is in locked mode, so it's always looking in the same direction even if I go around the corner.  The gimbal provides smooth video by taking the bike's motion out of the video (it's always looking in the same direction as the bike and I rotate around the shot), but a bike's motion is one of the best parts of riding, so for the second shot I set it in tracking mode so it followed the bike's motions.


Uploading it to YouTube out of the Gear 360 Action Director resulted in a flattened video that doesn't allow you to pan.  In order to produce that kind of video in the G360-AD (what a ridiculous name), you need to PRODUCE the video in the software and then share it to YouTube from within the program.  My issue with this is that when you bring the program in it takes an Intel i7 VR ready laptop the better part of twenty minutes (for less than ten minutes of footage) to process it before you can do anything with it.  When you produce it (again) for YouTube you end up waiting another twenty minutes.  The Ricoh Theta saves the video (albeit 1080p equivalent) in a fraction of the time and the resulting saved version is 360 ready for YouTube; the 360Fly software is likewise efficient at 4k.  I'm not sure why I have to wait forty minutes to produce less than ten minutes of footage on the Samsung.  I know it's a lot of data to work through, but it isn't a very streamlined process.

So, after a lot of post processing, the 4096x2048 360° video out of the camera shows up on YouTube at 1440s (s stands for spherical rather than p - pixels - spherical footage is stretched across a wider area and tends to look less sharp).  I'm not sure where my 2048s footage went - I imagine part of that big post processing was to shrink the footage to fit on YouTube more easily?

 If you click on the YouTube logo you can watch it in YouTube and adjust the resolution (bottom right) to see how it looks (make sure to do it full screen to use all your pixels).  If you're lucky enough to be watching it on a 4k display, this will come close to filling it.

The quality is excellent, the microphone remarkably good (they get beaten up pretty badly on motorcycles), but the awkwardness of post processing and the ergonomics of the thing don't make it my first choice.  Trying to manage it with gloves on would be even more frustrating.  What you've got here is a good piece of hardware let down by some weak product design and software.

The software does offer some interesting post processing options in terms of wacky arts filters, but if you're shooting at 4k all this does is drastically reduce the quality of your video.  If you're going to use those filters film at way lower resolution so you don't have to wait for hours while they process.

I'm aiming to go for a ride tomorrow to look at the fall colours after our first frost.  I'll bring the Samsung along and see how well it photographs.  It's promising 15 megapixel 360 images and high dynamic range landscapes, so I'm optimistic.  Photography is timeless and my preferred visual medium anyway, I find video too trapped by the continuity of time.  Maybe the Samsung will be a good photography tool.  Of course, I won't be able to fire the thing remotely because I don't have a Samsung phone...




Follow up:

The next morning I set up the camera on the gimbal for the ride to work.  The camera epically failed to catch any of the magic of the morning mist.  The video I got was starting and stopping every minute and the footage was a mess, full or artifacts and unusable.  

Compared to the robust Ricoh Theta (which I've had out in light rain with no problems) or the bullet proof 360Fly4k, which I've left filming through full on storms, the Samsung gave up the ghost at a bit of fog on an otherwise sunny morning.

This is not a tough camera by any stretch.  Dainty might be a better way to describe it.  For something that's supposed to catch the world around you, it's best used indoors.  Yes, I'm bitter that I couldn't catch anything of that glorious morning ground fog.

Simulated image indeed - this camera wouldn't work that close to an ocean!  If you're looking for a resilient, tough, outdoor camera, this ain't it.