Even before I had my 6A licence I was watching motorcycle vlogs. A weekly series called Weekly Rides with Reuben was my introduction to the world of motorcycling. That was in 2015 and Reuben was ahead of the curve. Today, it seems everyone has a helmet cam.
Recently, a video came up in my YouTube feed—you know the ones that seem to be generated by AI (or at least the narrative voice is) made by an unknown source just for clicks and YouTube revenue? Okay maybe you don’t but that’s the kind of stuff I end up watching in the off season. It was comparing the popularity of Itchy Boots and another female vlogger, and they estimated Noraly’s net worth at over $7M. I don’t know how they estimate these things or if it’s at all accurate but I thought to myself, “I’m in the wrong genre.”
My day job is as an English teacher at a college, and one of my colleagues has been saying recently that we are in a post-literary culture. By that he means that no one reads anymore. And while it’s always dangerous to generalize, we English teachers do see everyday the effects of a general decline in leisure reading. In fact, I don’t even have to look at my students; I can look at my own behaviour. It’s after dinner at the end of a long day of work and I have a choice: read or watch TV? I almost always choose the latter. And the more I watch, the more tiring reading becomes in a vicious cycle that I struggle to prevent.
This blog has been a joy over the past eight years and it’s not dying anytime soon. Believe it or not, even after over 100 posts, I’ve still got lots to say. But I have been wondering if I should expand the blog to include video footage of some of the trips I do. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and while I’d counter that the right word is worth a thousand images, sometimes a few minutes of video footage is irreplaceable in words. Perhaps it’s like the old adage about the book versus the movie: it’s not which is better but what the movie offers that the book can’t and vice versa.
Of course this is not the first time I’ve considered starting a vlog, or at least getting a helmet cam and recording some footage. My hesitancy so far has been out of concern that the filming would interrupt and detract from the enjoyment of riding. I find already that when I’m riding, I’m in the moment and even stopping to take a photo is an annoyance I force myself to do for posterity. I can’t imagine interrupting the ride for 15 minutes while I set up a tripod for a ride-by shot.
I’m reminded of what someone once said to me years ago when I was back-packing through Europe: “Some people go on vacation to take photos, and some people take photos while on vacation.” I’d hate to have the filming eclipse the ride.
And then there’s the investment in equipment. Hands up if you’re tired of the 30-minute helmet cam footage. It seems that like all art forms, it’s all or nothing; you’re either all in with multiple camera perspectives (front-facing, rider-facing, maybe a side mount and, of course, the drone footage). There’s music to buy, and the pretty steep learning curve of editing software. Oh yeah, and then I’d probably need a new computer, a laptop, I guess, and some way to carry it safely on tour in all types of conditions. Sigh! That’s why I’ve been avoiding jumping in.
Wouldn’t the best of both worlds be ideal, at least for me? I don’t think I can jump into the full YouTube channel thing, but perhaps adding some helmet cam footage to my ride reports would be nice. I know that when I rode up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, for example, I stopped at the side of the road to take a photo of what I was seeing, but as good as the photo is, it doesn’t capture the ride.
So part of my off season has been spent researching action cameras, and it looks like the DJI Action 3 has surpassed GoPro in a number of ways. Apparently a lot of people are jumping the GoPro ship because GoPros have had an ongoing problem of reliability. They freeze and you lose footage, and the only way to fix them is to remove the battery and replace it again. The DJI Action 3 has a longer battery life, handles heat better, has a touchscreen on the front and back of the camera, a more convenient magnetic mounting system, and is $150 cheaper, although as I write this I see GoPro currently have a sale on their Hero 11 to match DJI’s pricing. GoPro has the better image quality because it films in 5K and DJI currently only goes to 4K, but they will be coming out with a 5K camera in the fall, albeit too late for my planned trip this summer. Decisions, decisions. Feel free to drop some advice below in the comment section.
Anyway, this post is a bit incoherent but that’s the nature of pondering. These are just some thoughts I’ve been having. I’ve reactivated my Instagram account and renamed it to match this blog, and the same for my YouTube channel, which currently has a whopping 50 subscribers. I’m enlisting the help of my talented wife to create a logo and will get some stickers and patches made and generally aim toward maybe, maybe, turning my rides into a small retirement income in a few years if I can find a way to do it which adds to rather than detracts from both the ride and this blog. I can’t see myself rocking a selfie stick anytime soon, but you never know, and stranger things have happened. If you don’t dream it, it’s not going to happen.
Any thoughts or advice for me as I ponder these developments? Drop a comment below.
I’ve had the Tiger for a full season now and a reader asked me to do a comparison of the two bikes, so here goes. I won’t say it’s like comparing apples and oranges because both of these bikes are peaches, but one is definitely older than the other, so the comparison is a little unfair. I didn’t sell the Beemer until the end of the season so had the rare opportunity to ride both bikes alternatingly, and the experience revealed their differences. This is how I see they line up.
Looking at the two bikes above, you’d think the ergonomics would be quite similar. In fact, that is not the case. The first time I climbed on the Tiger for a test ride, I felt like I had to reach for the bars, and the dash seemed distant. This took some getting used to. There’s a lot more space around the triple clamp with the Tiger. Conversely, after riding the Tiger for while, when I climbed onto the BMW, the cockpit seemed cramped. This is really a preference thing; you get used to whatever your ride. But I would have liked a bit more room on the BMW. That tight triple-tree led to cracked plastics when the buckle of my tank bag got pinched between the centre panel and the fork tube when the bike was at full lock.
This sense of being a bit cramped was exacerbated by the height and design of the saddle. As I said in my original review, the OEM seat made me feel like I was sliding down into the tank, and while raising the seat when I did the Seat Concepts upgrade solved the sliding problem, I could have used a bit more leg room. On long days, I often found myself stretching out with my legs up on the Giant Loop Possibles Pouches I had strapped to the engine guards. The BMW is a great bike for someone who wants to get into adventure riding but doesn’t have long legs; it’s not the best for people like me, whom my mother nicknamed “Long Shanks.”
The Tiger’s engine displacement is only 150 cc more than the BMW’s, but the triple cylinder engine puts out an extra 44 bhp, almost twice that of the BMW’s (94 bhp vs. 50 bhp). This is noticeable. You get used to what you ride, and the BMW, fully loaded, pulled Marilyn and me over The Rocky Mountains, so it’s got plenty of power for adventure touring. But I have to say, after riding the Tiger, the BMW seems a little, uh . . . gutless. Sorry BMW folks! You can have a spirited ride on the Beemer, for sure, and I’ve kept up with much bigger and faster bikes on it, but nothing replaces the thrill of torque. The BMW has 44 ft/lb of torque, whereas the Tiger delivers 58 ft/lb.
However, the BMW delivers reliable, linear power throughout its rpm and gear range and for that reason, it’s probably the better engine for off-roading. As I’ve written, the single cylinder engine hooks up both on acceleration and engine braking, providing a sort of mechanical traction control and ABS. (It has something to do with large gaps between the power strokes.) The Tiger, on the other hand, is an inline triple without even the T-crank of the new models that offsets the firing by 270 degrees. My 1st Gen model fires 120 degrees apart, so there’s constant power delivery to the rear wheel.
Okay, another big difference, as you might expect when comparing a single with a triple. To be honest, the main reason I decided to upgrade was for a smoother ride. The BMW is as smooth as you get with a thumper, but upon returning from a 20,000 kilometre tour across Canada and back, I decided I wanted something that would be more comfortable, particularly at highway speeds. And I couldn’t have chosen a smoother bike than the 1st Gen Tiger (except for maybe a boxer, but didn’t want the weight). I’m glad it doesn’t have the T-crank. As I’ve been reading on user forums, why would you unbalance an engine primarily for the exhaust note? Yes, the T-crank has some of the properties like I mentioned above with regard to traction and braking, but those characteristics are better handled by electronic rider aids on today’s bikes. I love the high pitched whine of the silky smooth triple and would only go back to a single on a trail bike.
While I’m on this subject, when I was researching the upgrade, I considered the f800 GS, which would have been the natural upgrade from the 650. But isn’t a parallel twin just another single but with the piston cut in half? I don’t understand why manufacturers don’t make inline twins; it seems they would be smoother, especially if the firing was 180 degrees apart, making the pistons counterbalance each other. I read that even the f800 GS can be a little vibey at highway speeds, and since smooth power was my top priority, I went with the Tiger. The only vibration one can get apparently is from a little rotational movement after the third cylinder fires, but it’s nominal. I can see from using TuneECU that my throttle body is a little off, so I’ll be balancing it first thing in the spring and that should make an already smooth engine even smoother.
Electronics? What electronics? Both bikes are from an era before ride by wire, rider modes, CAN bus, and rider aids. The Triumph, however, at least has ABS whereas its an option on the GS (mine did not), and it’s nice to have a fuel gauge instead of just a fuel lamp. (The BMW’s fuel light comes on when there is 4L left in the tank, good for about another 100K if you’re careful.) Both have robust stators that put out more than enough power to charge your phone and farkles. The BMW puts out 400W and the Tiger a whopping 645W. The display on the BMW is pretty bare bones—just lamps, dial instruments, and a clock. The Triumph has a little more: 2 trip meters that show live and trip fuel efficiency, estimated remaining mileage in the tank, and other data that may or may not be of interest to you. The interface is a bit clunky, or I’m getting old; an entire season with the bike and I still don’t feel comfortable navigating through it. Turning off the ABS requires several inputs, and unfortunately, converts back to ABS when the bike is keyed off.
Both bikes are designed for “light off-roading,” according to their manufacturers. They both have a 17″ rear wheel but the BMW has a 19″ front to the Tiger’s 21.” I discovered the first time I strayed off the tarmac with the Tiger that this is a bigger deal than what you’d think. Those extra 2 inches make a big difference. I found myself rolling over obstacles on the trail that would have jolted the BMW and had me losing balance and momentum. The difference might be related to suspension as well. The forks on the BMW are pretty poor for off-roading, a weakness that couldn’t be corrected entirely by adding Ricor valves. The BMW has 41mm diameter forks and the Tiger 45mm. Again, that small difference in size is significant in performance. (That’s what she said.)
The smaller front wheel would lead you to think that the BMW would be better on the road than the Tiger, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference in how both bikes tip into corners. Despite the 21″ wheel, the Tiger is surprisingly good in the twisties. Perhaps that’s because it’s based on the sporty Street Triple Daytona but tuned and geared for off-roading. And while we’re talking about gearing, the Tiger has 6 to the BMW’s 5. The gearbox of the Tiger is silky compared to the clunky box of the BMW.
Fit and Finish
By this point, my BMW readers must be feeling annoyed. As I said, it’s a rather unfair comparison between bikes 7 years apart in age. But bear with me: there are some shortcomings to the Tiger. They are not, however, in the fit and finish. The Triumph is remarkably polished and refined in look and feel and has an excellent reputation for reliability, surprising given the British company’s reputation for unreliability in its old bikes. If Triumph couldn’t compete with the Japanese in manufacturing and quality control during the 1970s and early 80s, they certainly can now. In fact, they can compete with the Germans too. Triumph have developed a solid reputation in user forums for reliability, and while I can’t attest to that personally, the fit and finish of my Tiger is excellent, equal to the renown German-engineered BMW.
Yes, this is where the BMW shines. Putting the gas tank under the seat produces a very low centre of gravity. To my knowledge, there really aren’t better balanced bikes than the 650, 700, and 800 GS’s with the low gas tank, except for maybe the larger BMW boxers. The Tiger, by contrast, is a little top heavy, so I have to be careful moving it around by hand. (Thankfully, the top-heaviness disappears once you’re rolling.) The Tiger is also heavier overall—an extra 50 pounds (473 vs. 423 wet, respectively).
The other shortcoming of the Tiger is its tendency to stall from stopped. There was a problem with the fuel mapping of the earliest models, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about how unforgiving the engine is off the line. This is a known issue that Triumph have tried to correct in its latest iteration of the bike (3rd Gen), with apparently limited success. I think it has something to do with the tiny pistons, but I’m not sure. At any rate, between the tall centre of gravity and the tendency to stall, I have to be more cognizant than ever of throttle and clutch control when riding, especially two-up.
And along the same lines, I’d say the BMW is more agile and maneuverable than the Triumph. I am more confident on it thus far than on the Triumph, although I’m hoping to get more confident once I do more slow-speed practice. Parking lots, tight spaces, single track—I can turn the BMW on a dime. It really is a very, very good bike for a beginner learning the basic skills of counter-balancing and clutch control, or someone maybe looking to downsize from a heavier bike.
Other Annoyances of the Tiger
Whoever at the Hinckley plant designed the side and centre stands should be fired. The side stand is so tall I have to be careful parking the bike; if the lot or driveway has a slight camber and the bike isn’t oriented accordingly, that can be enough for the bike to fall. Once I stopped at the side of a road to deal with a problem and as I stepped off the bike, it almost fell over. (Thankfully I caught it in time.) Another time I parked it okay, but I removed the left side case first, and before I could say “Bob’s your Uncle” the bike was on its side. I never had to think about this on the Beemer. In fact, it has quite a low side stand, and the bike listed quite a bit.
Similarly, compared to the BMW, it’s very difficult to get the Triumph onto the centre stand. I can’t have any cases on the back when I try, and if I do, I have to park the bike with enough aft-slope to help me pull the bike onto its stand. Even without the cases, if there’s a slight forward slope to the road or lot, it’s not going on. Both the side stand and centre stand heights are known frustrations for many owners, based on comments on user forums.
Overall, however, I’m very happy with the Tiger, as I was very happy with the GS. Which is better? It really depends on where you’re at in your riding and what kind of riding you want to do. The BMW was a great starter bike, but I kept it long after I was a beginner because it was a fun, reliable, capable bike. And the experience of riding a big thumper is unique; what I traded for smoothness was the raw, tactile, visceral sensation of the GS. Now that I’ve discovered the joy of long-distance adventure touring, the Tiger is the better bike for me. With its smooth and spirited engine, it’s going to be a blast touring on this bike, and as a pillion, the wife prefers the comforts of the Tiger, especially with the hard case as backrest. We’ll be taking this bike through the Maritimes, and then I’ll change the tires and do a solo trip down to the Outer Banks, including some off-roading on BDRs. As much as I love it now, I suspect I will truly bond with the bike during that planned US tour. Anyway, that’s my hope. Stay tuned.
As always, feel free to drop a comment below, especially if you have one of these bikes. In the meantime, my Canadian friends, we are less than two months away from the start of the new season. How are you keeping busy in the off season? Are you upgrading too, doing any mods? I’m always happy to hear from readers.
Is extreme remote riding simply gratuitous risk-taking?
Recently a story was circulating about Eric Foster, a guy who crashed on the Trans-Taiga Highway. Perhaps you’ve seen it. He was riding solo and woke up eight hours later in a hospital in Montreal. It’s actually an old story from 2017 but was republished end of November and that’s when I saw it. It’s a pretty gripping story, as far as crash stories go. He was riding in perhaps the remotest area of North America when he crashed, breaking his back and a leg. Some trappers saw the smoke from his motorcycle on fire and came to his aid, but it took hours for first responders to get to him, and then hours to get him to a hospital. The story has a happy ending; he returns to the spot where he had the accident and finishes his trip, stopping to thank the trappers along the way who helped him.
I’d never heard of the Trans-Taiga, so the article got me looking. It’s a dirt road built by Hydro Quebec to service their dams, and it is indeed about as remote as you can get in Quebec. According to Wikipedia, it’s the “northernmost continuous road in Eastern North America,” snaking 582 kilometres (362 mi) through forest from James Bay Road to the Caniapiscau Reservoir. That’s right—that’s all there is at the end of a dangerous journey: a reservoir. Then you turn around and ride the same road back.
Why would someone want to do such a ride? Well, the answer is in the article. Eric Foster describes himself as “a challenge guy.” When asked why he wanted to ride the Trans-Taiga, he replied, “Just to say I did it,” then added, “I love a good challenge.” I’ve found myself saying the exact same words of that last sentence, and I’ve written about risk-taking in an earlier post when discussing my decision to try The Dempster, another dangerous highway. Quoting Jordan Peterson, I wrote at the time:
“When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.”
12 Rules for Life
Research on the Trans-Taiga led me to looking at James Bay Road, a highway so remote that you have to sign in at a check point before riding it so officials can keep track of who’s up there. I watched a YouTube video of a group of guys who rode it to James Bay, including a few kilometres of the Trans-Taiga, “just to say they did.” And then the YouTube algorithm did its thing and showed me another series of videos of a father and son riding the Trans-Labrador Highway, which was right up my alley because I was considering riding it back from Newfoundland this summer after crossing to Blanc-Sablon.
The Trans-Labrador Highway is one of those classic ADV rides you’ve apparently got to do to call yourself an ADV rider. It also snakes through some pretty remote territory, and until recently, was mostly gravel. (The final remaining section of dirt has recently been paved.) I watched the six-part series and the riders did have some adventure. They had a break-down and had to be saved by some locals, and they encountered some unseasonable weather and were held up for a few days by a late snow fall. There was some good bonding time, for sure, but in terms of the ride itself, it seemed like hours and hours of mind-numbing coniferous forest. No lakes, no mountains, no cliffs, no hill climbs, and as of last summer, no dirt.
Why would the Trans-Labrador be such a popular ADV ride? It has to be its remoteness, and if you live in the northeast of North America, the Trans-Lab is one of the few remaining truly remote roads.
If you’re looking for a challenge, remoteness will provide it. For one, there is the not-so-little issue of fuel; you have to be able to cover upwards of 400 kms between fuel stops, which can be done by carrying extra fuel in a Rotopax or another fuel container. With remoteness usually comes some challenging riding too since no one wants to pave a road that has limited use. And if it rains, that challenge increases significantly, especially on roads like The Dempster or The Dalton that are sprayed with calcium chloride as it makes the mud greasy. Then there’s the danger of wildlife, whether it be an aggressive grizzly bear or, worse, the black flies.
But the real challenge of riding remote is simply the lack of assistance should you have a mechanical or medical problem. I won’t say you are on your own because even on these remote highways there are still trucks passing periodically, but parts and medical assistance become scarce. This is where you have to be prepared: know how to fix your bike, carry spare parts, bring a first-aid kit, and have on you a satellite tracker like the Garmin inReach units that are connected to emergency services.
Is it worth it? Well, to each his or her own, but for me, the risk itself is not enough. In fact, I’ve been wondering if riding remote for its own sake is really just a way for some people to feel alive again. Stuck in otherwise pretty safe lives, we seek danger in answer to an ancient call somewhere in the reptilian brain that harkens back to another era when we lived close to death. Some people skydive. Others bungee jump. Some climb mountains. And some race The Isle of Man TT in search of what Guy Martin calls “The Buzz,” that adrenaline hit you get when you are on the edge of life and death.
But watching these videos has led me to rethink my upcoming tour. I don’t think I’ll be coming back from Newfoundland via The Trans-Lab. It’s not because I’m scared of remote riding, but in my world, there has to be some pay-off for the risk, and bragging rights just isn’t enough. When I rode up The Dempster, every kilometre was worth the risk for the magnificent views the highway provided. I’d never seen geography like that before and likely won’t until I get up there again.
But the Trans-Lab, the James Bay Road, and the Trans-Taiga don’t offer much beyond hours and hours of forest. From what I can determine, there aren’t even places to pull off safely for a rest or to camp. These are roads built exclusively for trucks to get from Point A to Point B, cutting a single line through otherwise impenetrable bush. I’ll leave it to the black flies.
For a challenge, I’ve decided instead to ride this summer the NEBDR and MABDR (North East and Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Routes respectively) down to The Blue Ridge Parkway, and while there, I’ll probably do Tail of the Dragon, although riding a curvy section of road at the limit of my skill and the bike is not my preferred mode of challenge these days. Rather, I’m looking forward to testing my metal on those Class 4 roads of the NEBDR. I’ll take a rocky hill climb over speed or gratuitous remoteness any day; it’s what drew me to ADV riding in the first place. Off-roading provides a challenge that is relatively safe. That might sound like an oxymoron, but you don’t have to risk your life to get “The Buzz.” Successfully completing a technical section of road or trail will give you a hit too, and if you don’t make it and drop the bike, well, you live to try another day. And along the way, there are some pretty great views, villages, and campgrounds.
What do you think? If you ride a motorcycle, you’re familiar with managing risk. Is remote riding your thing, and if so, why do you do it? If not, what kind of riding gives you The Buzz? And if you don’t ride, what do you do to step outside your comfort zone and feel alive? Drop a comment below; I’m always interested in hearing from readers.