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.
There’s a balance between customizing a bike and over-modifying it. I remember an episode of Adventure Rider Radio in which Jim Martin talks with Warren Milner, who worked at Honda for 30 years in product planning and R & D. Warren warns against rashly modifying your bike, especially based on advice given on internet forums. For example, at one point in the interview, he talks about the exhaust system, describing how manufacturers spend hundreds of hours developing and testing it before the bike goes into production. That’s because today’s bikes use back-pressure from the exhaust as an integral part of the combustion process to optimize fuel efficiency and emissions, yet one of the first mods owners often do is to slap on an aftermarket exhaust. One can almost hear the collective groan of the engineers as they do.
At the same time, every bike that rolls off the assembly line is built for the average rider—average build, average riding (whatever that is), average skills, average goals. That’s why it’s important to customize it for your specific needs. Tall rider? You might want a taller windscreen to avoid buffeting, or add a wind-deflector. Long legged? You might want to lower your pegs or raise your seat. Or the opposite: you might want a lowering kit so you can flat-foot. Going off-road? You’ll need different tires, etc.. There are a lot of considerations, and fortunately, a lot of options available. The industry is healthy with aftermarket products.
I decided to ride the Tiger for a season pretty much as I bought it. I wanted to get a feel for it stock before making changes. I still have the stock front tire on that came with the bike. The only changes I made were in the realm of protection: crash guards and a beefier skid plate. I’d learned my lesson with the BMW, waiting to buy some upper protection and ending up buying a new radiator along with the guards when I eventually did. After studying the market, I went with Outback Motortek. The guards and plate set me back a cool Grand, but I think they’re the best on the market. The only other mods I’ve done to the Tiger so far were to add an AltRider rear brake extender and a wind deflector.
But with two big tours planned for 2023, it’s time to ask Santa for some items to get the bike ready. Here’s what’s on my wish list for 2023.
The Tiger came with Triumph racks and cases. The system is fine for commuting and light touring, but those side-opening cases aren’t practical for moto-camping.
I deliberated (read, “agonized”) over this decision for a long time. I love my Touratech hard cases, but the Tiger has a high exhaust on the right side so I really should go with an asymmetrical system. When I had the 650GS on the market, I had offers just for the racks and cases, but I was reluctant to separate them from the sale of the bike. The new owner wanted to buy them too, but in the end, I decided I couldn’t separate from them either.
They are great cases and contain a ton of memories with all the stickers from where I’ve been. They are the original puck system, which you can’t get anymore, and I like that you can lock them. I’ll probably use these when I tour the East Coast with Marilyn because they are big and we need the space and I won’t be doing much dirt on that tour anyway. We’ll just have to pack them so the bike stays reasonably balanced.
However, I also plan to ride the NEBDR and MABDR next summer, and from what I’ve seen on YouTube, there are some challenging dirt sections of the NEBDR in particular for which I’ll need a smaller, soft-pannier system. (Soft panniers are generally considered safer for off-roading; there is less chance of breaking a leg.) I know everyone is getting the Mosko bags these days, and they are beautiful bags, but I decided to go with the Enduristan Monsoon Evo 34L/24L system.
I’m using the past tense because Santa took advantage of a Black Friday sale and got these 20% off. I picked up at the same time the matching bottle holster (for my stove fuel) and a can holster (for water, chain lube, or bear spray). One of the nice things about this system is that it’s modular, and I’ll probably be adding more to it as I figure out my needs.
Marilyn and I used the Enduristan pannier topper through the West Coast and loved it. Enduristan products are completely waterproof and designed by ADV riders to withstand the abuse of adventure touring. But the main reason I went with this system is the weight; they are the lightest panniers on the market, with no backing or mounting plates to worry about. This also means that the bags and cases will be easily interchangeable.
It’s Outback Motortek all the way. They put a lot of R & D into their products and back them up with some brave testing, dragging expensive bikes along the ground.
Okay, you might say this is a marketing gimmick, but it does show how the bars, even though they do not come up very high, are sufficient to keep the plastics and vital parts off the ground and protected. The bars look like crap afterward but have done their job and can be re-powder coated.
The rear racks offer protection for the silencer and rear of the bike, in addition to carrying the panniers, so again, I went with the strongest. These are a full 18mm + with the powder coating. In fact, they are industry leading in their size, so big that Dual Sport Plus, where I bought the Enduristan bags, includes a workaround kit of washers so the bags fit these bars.
To these bars, I’m going to add on the left side an X-frame plate so I can mount a RotoPax 1G fuel container inside the bars. This will increase my range when remote riding and help balance the bike, especially when using the symmetrical TT cases. Clint at Dual Sport Plus has my exact planned set-up—racks, panniers, and RotoPax—seen here.
Hand and Lever Protection
The final bit of protection I’ll need before attempting those gnarly sections of the NEBDR is some protection for the levers. I considered going again with foldable levers but that would still leave the front brake reservoir and my hands unprotected. After looking at all my options, I decided to go with Barkbusters. They have a model that is made for my specific bike so the install is straightforward. And if I had any lingering doubts, they were quashed when I saw that BB make a plastic with my bike’s name on it. I know the Jet plastics don’t provide as much wind protection as the Storm and other plastics, but I think they suit the styling of the Tiger, and sometimes you just have to sacrifice a little practicality for vanity . . . I mean, aesthetics.
I’m not going to change my mirrors for now. I’m really not fond of the look of the double-take mirrors and am hoping the crash guards will sufficiently protect the OEM ones. And if they don’t, well, the decision will have been made for me.
What’s the most important part of the bike when off-roading? Given that I’ve posed this question in the subsection titled Foot Pegs, you’ve probably guessed correctly. If your body position while off-roading is correct, you really shouldn’t have much weight on the bars; you should be pretty much balanced on the pegs and steering the bike with your feet (i.e. peg-weighting). Of the four contact points with the bike (hands and feet), the pegs are the most important, so a good set of foot pegs is a must if you are going to do any technical riding.
The Triumph pegs aren’t small but they aren’t large either. I’ve heard that a large foot peg can make a big difference (sorry, bad pun), changing the entire feel of the bike and inspiring confidence. They will also save you resoling your boots quite as often. I looked at IMS, but they don’t make pegs for the Tiger. When I found that Fastway did and that there was a Canadian distributer, I jumped, Black Friday sale or not.
As you can see, at 2.25″ x 4.75,” these pegs are huge. They have adjustment for height and camber, and come with two lengths of cleats: 10mm and 12mm. I’ll probably start with the 10mm since my adventure boots already have a tread. They are expensive, but you only have to buy them once; Fastway sell bike-specific fit kits for mounting, so I will hold onto these babies when the time comes to sell the Tiger.
The OEM tail plate is too small for a duffle and has no good strapping points. It also shifts side to side as part of that Triumph system that shifts as you corner. I really like the AltRider tail plate, but at $260 for a piece of metal, I’m considering other options. You can get an eBay Special from China for 1/3 of that price, but will it be the same? Will the cut-outs be bevelled so they don’t cut into your straps? Will the powder coating begin to wear off after a season or two, as happened on my Kildala rack? AltRider make good stuff, and I like how this one projects out the back of the bike so there’s still plenty of room for Marilyn behind me. I might just watch and wait for this item to go on clearance somewhere, but I’ll definitely need a new tail rack before I tour.
I’ve had the Dunlop Trailmax Mission tire on the rear of the Tiger, and I had them on the GS when I took it to Vermont last summer. This 70/30 tire is a good choice if you are doing a lot of street with some dirt or gravel roads. That’s what I expect when Marilyn and I go through Gaspé, PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. So I’m going to put the matching tire on the front first thing in the spring before we head off.
For the tour in the US, that’s a little different and more complicated. I plan to start out on some BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes) that will take me from the Quebec border down to Pennsylvania, then I’ll be riding principally asphalt as I make my way over to the Outer Banks, including The Blue Ridge Parkway—a bucket list ride for me—and, why not, Tail of the Dragon while I’m in the area.
What do you do when faced with such diverse riding, everything from Class 4 (i.e. unmaintained) roads to the most renown section of twisties in The U.S.? Well, based on my experience, you have to go with the most aggressive tire required for your off-roading needs. You can ride a knobby on asphalt but if you try to take a street tire into mud and gnarly stuff, you can get yourself in trouble. Of course I could by-pass the gnarly stuff, but where’s the fun in that, and besides, I like a challenge!
I’m currently deliberating between Shinko 804/805s and Michelin Anakee Wilds. I know the Shinkos are surprisingly quiet and smooth on the road, despite being a 40/60 road/off-road tire. However, they aren’t great with lateral stability. The Wilds are listed as a 50/50, but I have a sense they might be better in the dirt but louder on asphalt. (I’ve never ridden a set of these before.) I also like that the Anakees are a radial tire, so they will run cooler in the heat at speed. And for what it’s worth, Lyndon Poskitt just put a set of these on his Norden 901 for his tour of Iceland where he’ll be doing similar riding.
The Shinkos are about half the price of the Anakees, but for a tour like this, having the right tire is more important to me than a few hundred dollars. I have run the Shinkos before and they were great . . . until they weren’t. From one day to the next, they started skidding and sliding out on me.
What do you think? Anyone tried either of these tires?
Tools, More Tools . . .
Finally on my wish list are some tools for helping me with these tire changes. I’ve always worked off the grass, but it’s not ideal; you’re grinding dirt into your bearings as you wrestle with the tire, and it’s hard to stabilize the wheel while levering. I think I’m going to ask Santa to get me a tire changing stand and some Motion Pro tools to facilitate this work and protect my rims.
The Tiger is basically a sport bike in adventure clothing; it rips, and I love how it handles through twisties. But I’ve yet to really test it off-road in technical terrain. Fully protected, with an aggressive knobby and soft panniers, Jet will be ready to hit the dirt and I’ll be eager to get back to exploring. Gros Morne National Park is a bucket list item for Marilyn and me, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to get deep into the park on the bike.
In the meantime, we’ve just received here in Montreal the first big snowfall of the winter. I’ve been shovelling the driveway for the past 24 hours, but I really don’t mind. It will be nice to have a white Christmas. I’ve just finished all my grading in my teaching work, and we are sufficiently stocked with holiday sweets and treats.
I was just remarking to Marilyn that, in many ways, I prefer the midwinter holiday to the summer one. While I can’t ride, being a bit house-bound provides an opportunity to step back from everyday life and reflect—a sort of retreat. And what comes to me this year as I do that is how incredibly blessed I am in so many ways. I and my loved ones are healthy, we have enough money, I have a fulfilling job . . . I could go on, but I’m thinking mostly of the people in Ukraine and other parts of the world who are less fortunate. In the immortal words of Ron MacLean, “count your blessings, not your presents.” It’s nice to dream and plan to buy stuff for what we are passionate about, but the most precious gifts cannot be bought.
I wish you and yours a healthy, happy holiday, and safe riding and travelling in 2023.
In this final post in a series on gear, I discuss the navigation apps I use when touring.
“I learn by going where I have to go,” Theodore Roethke says in the refrain of his famous villanelle “The Waking.” That may be a good philosophy in life, but when motorcycle touring, it’s downright dangerous. There’s nothing worse than not knowing where you’re going and fumbling with a GPS in traffic while riding. Yeah, I’m all for exploration and adventure when you don’t have to be somewhere, but when the light is fading and you still don’t know where you are pitching camp, or when your fuel gauge is on one bar and you don’t know where the next gas station is, that’s a problem.
I learnt early in my touring experience that navigation is huge, maybe because I had so many problems keeping my phone charged. If the USB port detects moisture, the phone stops charging, and it doesn’t take long for a GPS app to drain your battery. And then there’s the cord. If your phone isn’t charging and the port isn’t wet, it’s probably the cord. They make them so cheap these days that the internal wires break. I once had to ride from the Cabot Trail over to the Best Buy in Sydney, NS, just to buy a new cord to get me home. What a pain!
So let me say at outset that if you don’t yet have wireless charging on your bike, you should. It’s a game changer. It avoids 90% of the issues you are going to face on tour. For years I worked around the charging problem by using the type of cord that has magnetic adapters. I siliconed the appropriate adapter into the port of my phone, then just attached the USB cord via the magnet to charge the battery. Rain didn’t affect the charging. The cord was still liable to break, but they are cheap and you can buy, like, a 4-pack on Amazon for $20 so can carry several.
The problem with this set-up is that the magnetic adapters are fine for charging, but most can’t transfer data, so now your phone is limited off the bike. Maybe you don’t want to silicone an adapter into your $1,100 iPhone 14. I worked around this by buying off eBay a cheap, used, military grade phone that I dedicated for bike navigation. It didn’t have a SIM card in it and was locked, but it didn’t matter: I used it in Flight Mode. That’s right, I don’t have a huge data plan and I ride in places that often don’t have cell service, so I download all my maps before leaving.
The main app I use to navigate is OsmAnd+ because it is open source and includes free maps to be used offline. This is also great when I travel in The States because I don’t get hit with roaming charges. Last I looked, OsmAnd+ was about $20. I bought the Plus (paid) version because it imports GPX tracks, which I need for leading club rides, but the free version works perfectly well for navigation, if that’s all you need. OsmAnd also includes contour lines and hillshades layers. When I venture off-road, it’s nice to know how steep the mountain is going to be. There is also a Points of Interest (POI) layer so I can see gas stations, restaurants, healthcare, parking, and convenience stores and supermarkets on the map (configurable), and a Wikipedia layer, so I can see what significant landmarks I’m riding past or near. It’s a great little app, available for both Android and iOS.
I’ve tried maps.me, Gaia, Locus Map (Pro and Classic), Scenic, Eat Sleep Ride, and others, but I always come back to OsmAnd. It’s easy to use yet full-featured, a rare combination. It does what I need it to do and no more. Do I really need to know how far over I leaned the bike on my latest ride? Do I really need crash detection? Does my wife prefer to hear that I’ve crashed from an app or a person? But the main reason I like OsmAnd is for the free maps. I started using Locus Map Pro but maps are $1 per country. That sounds cheap—$1 for all of Canada—but for some reason they consider each state in the US a country, so that can add up fast. I still have these other apps on my phone as back-ups but I don’t really use them.
The other main app I use to navigate is Google Maps, now called just Maps. (I guess Google figures it’s so ubiquitous we no longer need the brand name.) Maps handles addresses better than any other app, thanks to Google’s AI. Need to know where a specific place is but you don’t know the address? Just Google it, then press the navigation arrow icon and it loads in Maps and guides you there. Easy peasy. As much as I like OsmAnd, you need a specific address for it to find your destination. (You can, however, press and hold on the map to choose a specific point of destination.)
You can use Maps also offline, but like OsmAnd, you have to download offline maps before leaving home. (The search feature, however, does require cell service.) In the upper right hand corner, press your identity icon, then select Offline Maps from the menu. Press “Select Your Own Map,” zoom and position the frame using two fingers to select the area you want, then press Download. I name each map so I can keep track of them. They will expire if left unused for a certain amount of time, but you can update them all quickly and easily every once in a while when you are in a Wi-Fi zone. I downloaded maps for all the provinces I planned to tour before heading across the country. I didn’t need the northern part of most provinces, but I grabbed everything where I thought I might be riding. This was important since I was often not in a region with cell service.
The only other navigation app I use is Waze, and I only ever use it around town, frankly. That’s because it shows where the cops are. Nice! (Not that I ever speed.)
For route planning, I use the web-based Kurviger. Forget BaseCamp. Kurviger is intuitive and full-featured. I choose the type of route (highway, straight, curvy, very curvy; one-way or round trip), the origin and destination, and Kurviger comes up with an interesting route. I then drop in shaping and waypoints to shape the route exactly how I want it, flipping back and forth between Kurviger and Maps in street view to check the quality of the road. (Drag the little yellow man, ur, person, icon onto the map to see a street view.) When I’ve got the route exactly how I want it, I export it to a gpx file. Kurviger can generate a QR code for the file or hyperlink to share, or send it directly to Scenic, if that’s your preferred navigation app. I usually email the gpx file to myself then open it on my phone, which knows to open gpx files in OsmAnd.
I have Kurviger Pro on my phone as well, and it uses BRouter to do the routing. BRouter takes some setting up; like the offline maps in Googe Maps, you have to download in sections the areas you need first, but the upside is that you can use Kurviger Pro in the field. For example, say you’re riding with some friends and you’re looking for a good route to a specific place but nobody wants to pour over a map to make those decisions. Just open Kurviger Pro on your phone (it will load a map at your current location), press and hold on your destination, and it will generate a route—again, to the degree of curviness you want. You can even share the route with your friends.
There are some other apps I use, not for navigation, strictly speaking, although they can be used for that. If you’ve followed Itchy Boots as she makes her way across the Americas, you will have heard of iOverlander. Noraly uses it to find her accommodations. I’m rarely sleeping with a roof over my head when I tour, but iOverlander is equally useful for finding campgrounds and even wild camping locations (i.e. places on crown land where you can camp for free). The app is user-based, and users submit descriptions and photos of the sites they’ve stayed at. This is helpful because there are a lot of people boondocking with campers and vans, and their needs are different than those who are tenting. So a safe gravel parking lot might be good if you have an RV, but not so nice if you are tenting. I wish iOverlander made this distinction, perhaps using a different symbol for each type of wild camping.
Last spring, a friend and I planned to camp at a state campground in Vermont, only when we got there it was closed. In fact, we were too early and all the state campgrounds were still closed for the off-season. (Doh!) So I opened iOverlander and it showed a wild camping spot a short distance away. We ended up at lovely site next to a river with a few other campers nearby for security and even a drop toilet to boot!
I also use weather and radar apps, of course, to monitor the weather. They are pretty straightforward so I won’t spend any time on them. But for the record, my preferred apps in this department are WeatherCAN and MyRadar. I like WeatherCAN because it’s generated by Environment Canada. I reluctantly open Weather Network only when I need a 14-day forecast, steeling myself for the clickbait.
The Best Riding App on my Phone
I’ve saved the best for last. There is one app that I have come to love, to love I say, so much so that it’s become almost indispensable. It’s an app like no other since it is an overlay on the Android system and replaces the usual interface. It’s called Drive Mode Dashboard, by Thork Racing.
This is what I see when I launch DMD. (This is Version 2.0.) Instead of my usual desktop and app icons and widgets, I see this. It’s fully configurable but this is how I’ve set mine up—with a set of most-commonly-used apps on the left and a compass, digital speedometer, and odometer on the right. There’s more info along the top, as you can see. Along the bottom are icons for a map, my full list of apps, settings, even a digital rally book. Pretty cool.
But where this app really comes to life is in conjunction with Carpe Iter Controller, a bluetooth controller that mounts to my handlebar. With this controller and DMD, I can navigate throughout my phone—open any app, open and control media in Spotify, change the volume in my helmet, the brightness of my screen, and more. Where I use it most is to zoom in and out and pan around in maps. I think I could even tune my ECU while riding if I wanted to. About the only thing it can’t do is stop Microsoft Office Update from reminding me to check for updates every time I open Word! (Can Bill Gates avoid this?)
I see Thork Racing have a new unit out now with three buttons and a toggle and it can connect directly to 12V. My 1st generation controller has a rechargeable battery that lasts about a week with full-time use. There wasn’t room on the Beemer’s handlebar to mount it vertically so I made up a bracket and mounted it horizontally on the mirror stem. I have it mounted vertically on the Tiger, and yes, you configure the orientation in the driver software so the toggle switch pans your maps accordingly. Needless to say, with this set-up, if my eyes are not always on the road, at least my hands are on the handlebars. The controller is a little pricey but it’s a very nice modification.
Despite finally getting my phone set up to be my primary means of navigation, I ended up buying a used Garmin Montana 600 for the big trip. I was nervous after having so many tours tainted by navigation issues and wanted a reliable back-up. The Montana has a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver and HotFix® satellite prediction. No, that’s not a dating service but the latest technology to ensure your connection to satellites is never dropped. The Rugged Mount is waterproof and robust enough for off-roading, and while I’m not positive, I think the Montana has a more comprehensive off-road mapping system than the phone apps. The Google Car made all the way up to Tuktoyaktuk, apparently, but it can’t go on single track or some of the ATV trails I do.
When all electronic devices fail, I rely on that thing called a paper map. No batteries needed! My Wolfman tank bag has a nice big clear plastic sleeve on top for them. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, so to speak, after staring into a 6″ x 3″ screen all day. I’ve recently discovered Butler maps, made for motorcyclists, and they are not only water resistant but also contain routes suggested by other motorcyclists and a ton of other information on the flip-side. I bought the one for The Maritimes and it currently hangs in my upstairs hallway outside my study, as did the one of North America I used to plan my cross-Canada trip. So a paper map serves multiple purposes: it’s great in the field, but it also serves to navigate me through the dark winter months of the off-season.
What are your preferred navigation apps and devices? Are there some I haven’t mentioned? Drop a comment below. I always like to hear from readers.
In the penultimate post in a series on gear, I discuss what I carry when touring.
The first major tour I did was to Cape Breton to ride the Cabot Trail. As you cross the border from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, heading east, you see at the side of the highway a mini-lighthouse advertising Tourist Information. I naturally pulled off for maps and a rest. In the parking lot, I noticed a burley, bearded, rider on his back beneath his Harley, trying to tighten an oil filter with a pair of pliers.
“Hey, can I help in some way?,” I offered. None of his fellow riders seemed either able or willing.
“Not unless you have a 14mm socket,” was the reply that emanated from beneath the bike.
I rummaged to the bottom of a pannier and emerged with the requested item.
“Here you go,” I said, and handed it down to him.
Every touring group should include at least one ADV rider. Because we venture into remote areas, we have to be self-sufficient, and that means being prepared for anything. Anything. Mechanical problems, medical emergencies, security issues—we need to carry on the bike into the bush the tools, spare parts, first-aid materials, and safety items required to get us back out of the bush.
The basis of my touring kit is my tool roll. I use the Kriega roll because I like the little pouch at the side for all the odds and ends that don’t fit anywhere else.
That includes an assortment of hardware and fuses, pipe cleaners, emery paper, safety wire, thread lock, a valve stem tool, picks, and a tool for removing pins from electrical connectors (viewed far right above). The latter contains two tubes of different diameters, one on each end; hopefully one is the perfect diameter to slide over the pin but inside the hole in the connector. The tool pushes the barbs of the pin in so the wire can be extracted out the back of the connector.
I once had a flasher that had a break in the wire inside the connector plug, so I couldn’t simply splice the wire. Every time I put on the flasher, I’d blow the fuse to the circuit that included my dash, so no speedometer, tachometer, and other instrumentation. The only way to fix it, other than getting a new connector and splicing wires, was to remove the pin from the connector using a tool like this. Since then, it’s become part of my toolkit.
Left to right above in my roll is a telescopic magnet, zip ties, various Allen keys particular to my bike, needle-nose pliers, slip-joint pliers, a 1/4″ T-handle, reversible screwdriver (standard/Phillips), 3/8″ ratchet, socket extensions, various wrenches. I like the stubby wrenches from Home Depot because they are lighter—not as light as titanium wrenches, but my wallet is heavier for it. I indulge myself with a ratcheting 10mm wrench.
Why the 1/4″ T-handle? Some of those sockets are 1/4″, but with the Motion Pro T6 adapter, I can use all my 3/8″ sockets on the T-handle.
Where are the vice-grips, you ask? They are in my other tool kit since they don’t fit in this one. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t use vice-grips very often when working, but they are handy in a pinch, so to speak (sorry).
In a Dollar Store pencil case, I have my sockets, some hex bit sockets (3/8″ and 1/4″ stubbies), an elbow socket, spark plug socket, a couple of crowfoot sockets (again, particular to my bike), a spoke wrench, and said vice grips (aka locking pliers). I used to carry torx bits with the BMW, but since switching to Triumph, I now carry hex bits.
There’s some redundancy here, for sure. I probably don’t need both Allen keys and Allen sockets, but the keys don’t take up much space, and sometimes one tool is better than the other for a particular purpose.
I also carry:
Tubes. I know you can get by with one, the front, and cram it into the rear if needed, but I carry both a front and rear tube.
A chain breaker, spare links, and a master clip. I like the Motion Pro Chain breaker for on the road. It doesn’t do rivets like the DID one does, so I have both. I use the DID at home when changing my chain, but take the smaller Motion Pro one on the road with a clip master link.
A digital multimeter for troubleshooting electrical problems. Don’t ask me how to use it beyond the basics because I’m still learning The Dark Arts, but I take one nonetheless. I have the Neoteck NT8233D Pro, which is cheap enough to get wrecked while ADV riding but still decent enough quality and reasonable in size. I’ve considered getting a smart meter, but wondered if it would be reliable enough. Anyone have any experience with these?
Tools, sockets, tubes, multimeter, and chain tool all go in Giant Loop Possibles Pouches that attach to my crash bars at the front, helping to keep the bike balanced front to back.
In one of my panniers, I carry a plastic box that contains other items and spare parts (see image at top). The spare parts have gone with the sold BMW so need to be replenished, but they were a spare clutch cable, spare levers, and a spare water pump. If I were doing a RTW tour, I’d carry more spare parts than this, but so far my tours have been in North America, where parts are readily available.
Also in that container:
JB Weld Steel Stick, for fixing engine casing.
JB Weld Plastic bonder. I’ve use this to fix body panels and broken mirrors.
Self-sealing tape. This stuff is amazing and can seal a high-pressure hose.
High-temperature electrical tape for wrapping electrical wires.
An assortment of electrical connectors, including Posi-Lock, and heat shrink.
More hardware, more fuses, assorted copper crush washers, cotter pins, O-rings, velcro.
Various gauge wire
An extra buckle for my Wolfman tank bag.
Finally, to round out my emergency preparedness, I carry a first-aid kit and bear spray. The kit I put together myself. I took a look at what you get in those prepared kits and it didn’t look like much for the cost, so I bought another trusty Dollar Store pencil case and filled it myself. I won’t go through all that I have in there, but will say the few things you won’t get in those commercial kits:
Carbon capsules. Eaten something that doesn’t agree with you? Take two, wait half an hour, take a dump, job done.
Arnica Montana. Homeopathy for any trauma to the body.
Robax. I have a vulnerable back, which tends to go at the most unexpected times.
Antihistamines. These are great for any inflammation from bee stings or allergic reactions.
Triple Action Polysporin
These items, along with the essentials I always carry on the bike, round out my touring kit. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all this stuff adds up to a quite a few pounds, so I think I’m covered. The challenge is always to find the right balance between taking what you need while keeping the weight down. I’d rather sacrifice some creature comforts like a camp chair, but I rarely sacrifice when it comes to tools and other items needed to keep the bike running (although the camp chair would come in handy if stranded in the middle of nowhere).
I’ll add one more item this winter to my tools: a satellite communicator. I’ve been meaning to get one for a while, and it really is silly to travel into remote areas without one. I’ve considered them all and almost bought a Garmin inReach Mini, but I’m leaning toward getting a Zoleo at half the price. Any thoughts, anyone? I don’t see what the Garmin does that the Zoleo cannot. Am I missing something?
Have I missed anything in my touring kit? As always, your kit is personal to you, so let me know in a comment if there’s something you carry that I do not. Like I said, I’m a self-confessed gear weanie, so I’m always interested in learning about a tool I have to buy. Buying gear is one of the ways we riders in the North get through the off-season, and yesterday I put the Tiger into storage, so I’m all ears.
I’ll wrap up this series in my next post on the navigation apps I use. If that interests you, click Follow and you’ll be notified of it and future posts when they are published.
After 8 years and almost 100,000 kilometres, I pass Bigby on to new owners.
The first night of my motorcycle training class, the teacher asked: “Okay, what do we have here? Who wants a sport bike? A cruiser? A tourer? An adventure bike?” Students put up their hands accordingly. I didn’t even know what an adventure bike was yet, but I knew I wanted something that would allow me to explore, and I didn’t want to be limited by pavement. The places I wanted to explore likely wouldn’t have any pavement.
At the end of the evening, I approached the teacher to ask about helmets. What would he recommend, full face or modular? At some point, I must have mentioned that my dream was to travel across Canada by bike. “You’re going to get a BMW, aren’t you?” he said. I guess he knew enough about ADV culture to know that is the most popular ADV brand, thanks to Ewen and Charlie, and KTM’s big mistake in doubting them. And in the end, he was right. After a little research online, I zeroed in on the f650GS as a perfect starting bike—low seat height, not too much power, well balanced, reliable, and easy to ride and maintain.
A quick search on Kijiji turned up one for sale near me on the West Island. It even had hard luggage and a touring screen, all set for cross-country touring. It seemed destined to be mine, and within a few days, it was. Getting that bike has been one of the best decisions of my adult life. It has connected me to friends, to readers, to a country, and to aspects of myself I didn’t know existed.
It almost didn’t happen. The bike doesn’t have ABS, and I’ve grown accustomed to ABS in the car during winter when the roads are icy. I thought it would be essential for a new rider and not having ABS was almost a deal-breaker for me. But fortunately, the few people I consulted about my decision were not fans. One distinctly said, “You have to learn how to brake properly without it.”
So I did. I’ve heard of people who use only rear brake. Apparently, Honda mechanics discovered that the rear brake pads of Gold Wings were wearing out faster, much faster, than the front pads, which doesn’t make sense since most of the braking happens with the front. They concluded that Gold Wing riders weren’t using the front brakes, so they developed integrated braking—both front and rear come on, even if you only apply the rear. Smart. Honda engineers outsmarted the riders for their own safety.
My bike didn’t have integrated braking or ABS, so I had to learn how to brake properly. Mostly this meant squeezing the front lever, not grabbing, to load the front contact patch before pulling harder, and using just a little rear to stabilize the bike. I did this every time I stopped, even when cruising along the Lakeshore, at every stop sign and every light, front and rear in correct proportion, so it became muscle memory. Then in emergency situations, which I had, I didn’t have to think about it; the technique came “naturally” and I thankfully never tucked the front end, even once at speed in heavy rain on Heidenau tires in Northern Ontario when I rounded a corner to find someone backing up on the two lane Highway 101.
I knew I also needed to develop my off-road skills to become an ADV rider. I took a course at SMART Riding Adventures in Barrie, and another with Jimmy Lewis at the Dirt Daze adventure bike rally in New York. I joined Moto Trail Aventure mostly for the Rémise en Forme with a certified GS instructor, and the BMW Club of Québec for the same reason. (I actually planned to do rides with both clubs too but that never materialized.) This instruction set the perfect foundation for off-roading, and then it was just a matter of practice.
You don’t even need any dirt to practice off-road skills. I go up to my local church parking lot and do slow speed maneuvers. As Jimmy said, off-roading is all about balance and traction control, so I practiced the balance stuff on Bigby regularly. I also practiced the traction when I could, getting out of the city up onto the dirt roads and ATV trails in the Hawkesbury area. Bigby is a GS, which means Gelände/Straße (off-road/on-road), but I soon learned the limits of the bike. I never learned it street limits; I could lean that bike over and scrape the pedals, even with knobbies on, but I discovered its limits on the trails. The clearance was the biggest limitation, and the front suspension with the 19″ front wheel. It took some superficial damage for these lessons, but I also learnt not to lament the scratches. A fellow rider at my first Dirt Daze rally saw me brooding on my first scratch and said, “You can’t worry about that. It’s a bike.” The matter-of-fact way he put it set me straight.
I also had to learn my way around the engine. Knowing I would be riding into remote areas, I had to know the basics and how to fix problems. As I had with car mechanics, I started with an oil change, then coolant, brake pads, and brake fluid. I bought the bike with 35,000 kilometres on it, so it wasn’t long before I had to do the valves. That service was $1000 at the dealer, just to check them, so necessity was the mother of invention and with my trusty Haynes service manual, I did the valves myself in the shed. (I don’t have a garage, and my poor workspace has been the biggest obstacle to overcome. I’ve lost and found a lot of hardware on the driveway and in the grass!)
The Achilles heel on this bike is the water pump, and I’ve changed that a few times, including once at a rally because I hadn’t done it correctly the first time. (A plastic impeller gear wasn’t installed properly and rattled loose while off-roading.) That was the only time I considered selling the bike early, until I discovered the error was mine and not a fault of the bike. Once done correctly, the pump lasted another 40,000 K until I preemptively changed it before going across Canada.
The other big job was changing the swingarm bearings. That required removing the gas tank and subframe, so basically the entire back half of the bike. The pivot bolt was badly corroded and stuck, and it took two days of troubleshooting and, in the end, two hammers—a ball pane as punch, and a sledge hammer to drive—one on top the other, to get it out. But it eventually surrendered. Yes, I have cursed and praised this bike in equal measure over the years.
I changed those bearings as well as all wheel bearings, clutch plates, the shock, rebuilt the forks, re-lubed the steering head bearings (which were in surprisingly good shape so didn’t need to be changed), and have had the dash assembly apart. And in the end, I restored those scratched body panels to make the bike look good as new.
My first trip on this bike was back to Ontario to show it to my dad, who used to ride. I left the day after getting my full licence. The next month I did my first moto-camp down at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire for their highland games. The following year, my first year with full licence, I went to Nova Scotia to ride the Cabot Trail, passing through Maine, Deer Island, and New Brunswick en route. I’ve also toured Northern Ontario, and these tours have led to some paid writing for northernontario.travel. So the bike has become for me more than a past-time. It has taken my writing in a new direction, and that of course refers to this blog too. I’ve made connections and friendships with people online, and met some of them in person during my travels. I hope to meet more of you in the future.
I have also met new friends locally in club riding. When I began, learners couldn’t ride without an experienced rider accompanying them, so I joined The West Island Moto Club, and some of these members have become my closest friends. I’ve done some touring with the club, but mostly I do day rides with them, and it wasn’t long before, with the right mentorship, I was leading rides.
Some of my favourite riding on this bike has been in the northeastern states like Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire. I’ve ridden the Puppy Dog Ride on it a few times, and some of the Hamster Ride in New Hampshire, and Bayley-Hazen military road. The 650 GS is perfect for this type of light off-roading. I had a 15-tooth counter-sprocket on it for years, which gave it more low-end torque, and there’s nothing like feeling the pull of the big thumper as you climb a steep hill, or sliding out the back end as you round a corner.
Finally, after developing these riding and mechanical skills, modifying the bike to what was perfect for me, and waiting for Covid generally to be over, I completed my dream of crossing the country, and this bike, 15 years old and with over 100,000 kilometres on it, got me there and back. Ironically, the only issue I had was with a new battery I’d just installed for the trip. But the bike, fully loaded, pulled my wife and me over The Rocky Mountains, and took me up north of the Arctic Circle into some truly remote territory. The bike fulfilled its purpose for me—to learn about motorcycling, develop the skills necessary for adventure touring, and get me over the dangerous first few years of riding. It has been the best first bike I could have had, and now it’s time to pass it on to another new rider. Like me, the new owner has bought the bike before obtaining her licence. I’m sure it will be as good a beginner bike for her as it was for me. The engine is still strong, and I wish them both many safe and happy adventures in the future.
My new bike is a 2013 Triumph Tiger 800XC. The XC stands for cross country, so it’s also capable of light off-roading, and I’ll be taking it on BDRs and other adventure tours. It does has ABS, but being a 2013, it doesn’t have any rider aids, and as I read about the new bikes with throttle control, wheelie control, slipper clutches, and other traction aids, I can’t help thinking about what riders of those bikes aren’t learning. I’m happy to be learning how to control the power of this 94 HP engine properly, just as I learnt to brake properly on the GS. It’s going to take my riding skills to the next level. The blog will be keeping its URL and name in tribute to the bike that got me started and to which I owe so much.
Next season I will complete my cross-country tour by riding the East Coast. I plan to visit Gaspé, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Labrador, and the north shore of Quebec including the Saguenay. I might try to ride solo up to Fort George on James Bay “on my way home.” This would allow me at least to set foot in Nunavut. I also plan to ride the Mid-Atlantic and North-East BDRs next summer, if I can get it all to fit. So stay tuned, my friends. The journey continues.
In this fourth post on gear, I talk about the essential tools I carry on the bike.
It’s a constant balancing act: having enough tools to fix most problems but keeping it light. You don’t want to be burdened carrying around stuff you never use, but neither do you want to be stuck somewhere, knowing you’ve left the essential tool or part at home. And then there’s the question of what type of ride you are doing. If I’m riding with the club, I tend to take less, knowing there will be others with some tools and why double-up? If I’m riding solo into remote territory, I take the full works: my tool roll, bag of sockets and drivers, even a container of spare parts. But let’s begin with what is always on the bike, even if I’m just commuting to work 30 minutes along the highway. That’s what is shown in the above photo.
The most common problem you’re going to have is a flat tire, and with tubed tires, you have to be able to get both wheels off. So you’re going to need a big wrench of some kind. For the Beemer, I have the Motion Pro combo tire lever and 24mm socket. It’s a little small, but if you place it right on the nut so you can stand on it, you can remove even the rear lug nut at 73 ft/lbs torque. Into that I place the Motion Pro 3/8″ drive adapter, which enables the lever to drive 3/8″ sockets. For the Tiger, it’s the same set-up but Triumph have a 27mm rear lug nut. Fortunately, the manufacturer’s toolkit includes a wrench with integrated handle so I only needed to buy the corresponding drive adapter and a 19mm hex bit socket (to remove the Tiger’s front wheel).
The Tiger has a captive nut on the left side rear, but for the Beemer, you need a 19mm wrench, which is big and heavy, so I carry a crowfoot wrench for that which I can snap into a 3/8″ drive.
I carry the Motion Pro Bead Breaker and lever set. They’ve never let me down yet in breaking a bead, and double as levers. I know you can remove a tire with only two levers, but I indulge myself on this one and carry an extra, one of my favourite spoons from . . . you guessed it, Motion Pro.
As you can tell, I love Motion Pro tools. Apparently the founder of that company was once asked what tool he would carry if he could only carry one, and he replied without hesitation the Trail Tool. This thing is amazing. Best of all, it packs up so small, I tuck it under my seat. If you add a few bike specific sockets to it and eat your Wheaties, you can pretty much remove any fastener other than the wheel lug nuts.
I also carry a patch kit, of course, so I can repair the puncture once I get the tube out (Duh!).
Included in my essential toolkit is a Leatherman Wave+, just because THAT IS THE LAW if you are an ADV rider. I don’t use the saw tool to clear any trails, but it’s nice to have a good pair of pliers at all times, and the knives and screwdrivers are also handy in a pinch. I added the ratchet drive that came out a few years ago and a set of torx bits, since BMW are so crazy about torx bolts. Now that I’ve switched to the Tiger, I carry a cheap allen key set because Triumph are so crazy about hex bolts.
Yes, that is a bicycle hand pump you see above. I owned the Stop & Go Mini Air Compressor that connects to your SAE battery lead, but it has a design flaw and broke. See RyanF9’s video about that; the nipple pulls out of the hose. Then I looked into the Cycle Pump by Best Rest Products, but at $145 US it would have been over 200 bawks with conversion and shipping! What now? For a pump?! I know it has a lifetime warranty, but at 59, I don’t have that long to live, so I go with the manual pump and muscles. If it’s good enough for Lyndon Poskitt to ride around the world for five years, it’s good enough for me. And beside the pump, you see some cut up socks that I use to protect my rims when I lever off a tire.
I carry a siphon hose, should I or someone else run out of gas, and little jumper cables. I did use these last week, as a matter of fact, on a club ride when someone had electrical problems, but honestly, the easiest way to start a bike with a dead battery is to push start it, assuming it doesn’t have a slipper clutch.
Something I’ve recently purchased is a Bluetooth ODB reader. If you are venturing into remote territory, you really should carry an ODB reader. This was never an option on the Beemer. The proprietary connector on it is round so doesn’t accept third-party readers, and the GS911 tool is something stupid like $900. But with the Tiger, I’ve bought ODB Link LX and use it with TuneECU, an app available for Windows (via USB cable) and Android. The entire kit came to about $150 and provides a lot of diagnostics, including error codes and info from all sensors. You can even use it to remap the ECU! I’ll be using it to balance my throttle body because it tells me that cylinder 3 is a little off. That might be why I was getting vibration in my throttle grip, although that has improved since replacing the air filter. Of course, I carry spare fuses and electrical connectors, and if all else fails, a tow strap.
You see everything above on a changing mat I also carry at all times. You may recognize the Cordura material from my previous post on camping gear in which I write about the bags I made. This is the leftover material and it provides a clean surface to work on while removing tires. You don’t really want to be grinding dirt into your bearings while you wrestle with the tire trailside.
On the Beemer, I use velcro straps to attach the levers and pump to the subframe, and the tow strap tucks in behind the ECU under the seat, with the jumpers and siphon tube on top in a Ziploc. The rest goes in the tail compartment. On the Tiger, there’s no compartment, but everything except the levers, changing mat, and rags goes under the seat. Unfortunately, try as I might, I haven’t found a way to make it all fit, so I have a small bag containing those remaining items in a side case. (Dollar Store pencil cases work well as cheap tool bags.) If I were doing any serious off-roading, which I’m not yet because I still have a road tire on the front, I’d carry those items in a knapsack and ride unencumbered without cases.
This is my set-up for day-to-day and club riding. In the next post, I’ll talk about what I carry when I tour, and then I’ll finish the series by talking about navigation apps. I know I had planned to do all in one, but this is getting long, so I’ll split the planned post up into three.
Am I missing something? How does your essential toolkit compare? Drop a comment below, and if you haven’t already, click Follow to receive word of new posts.
Here in Canada, it is Thanksgiving Monday, so I’ll wish my Canadian readers a happy Thanksgiving and everyone else happy riding and safe travels. With what is happening in Europe at the moment, those of us who enjoy the safety of civil society have all the more reason to be thankful.
In this third post in a series on gear, I talk about the camping gear that works for me.
There are many reasons to do moto camping. The obvious one is that you save on accommodation costs. Most campgrounds will charge a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest hotel room or AirBNB, and if you do wild camping, it’s free. But I don’t think that’s the best reason to camp. Camping gains you access to remote areas only accessible if you’re willing to tent it. Yes, you have some inconveniences, but you get to sit by a fire through the evening, hear loon call through the night, and wake up to mist on the water—priceless experiences you can’t get at even the most expensive hotels. One of those inconveniences is that you have more stuff to carry on the bike, but trust me, it can all fit quite easily if you get the right gear. Here is what has worked well for me over the years and during my cross-country trip last summer. I’m not saying these are the best options, but it’s what I’ve been using and am happy with.
The tent I use for car and canoe camping is too big for the bike, so when I moto camp, I borrow my son’s MEC Tarn 2. Yes, he lent it to me the entire summer last year when I did the big trip. I keep thinking I should buy my own but he asks why if he’s not using it. That’s very generous of him, especially because it’s a great 4-season tent.
He lived in it an entire summer when he was tree-planting. It was the smallest tent in camp, and I’ve had people comment on “my tiny tent,” but we both love it for its size because that makes it warm and cozy. And when you are only sleeping in it, why do you need anything bigger? MEC says this is a two-person tent, but the only way it could fit two people is if they slept head to toe, and even then it would be tight. I find I can sleep comfortably with room for my jacket, pants, tank bag, and even a helmet beside me. Yes, for security reasons, I normally take my tank bag and helmet into the tent.
One especially nice feature is the large vestibule. I can fit both of my 40L Touratech panniers in the vestibule if I want a day of unencumbered riding, or at night my duffle bag, boots, and other gear I want to keep dry and close . . . but not too close, if you know what I mean. With only three poles, the tent is quick and easy to set up, and it has held up great over the years. We’ve both been caught in some big storms but it has kept us dry and warm. What more could you ask?
The poles are a little long so the length when packed up is 23″ x 7″ (diameter), but it fits perfectly into the bottom of my Wolfman Duffle or strapped onto the top of a pannier. Unfortunately, this tent is no longer available but there are others with a similar low-profile design and large vestibule. Eureka make one that is similar. I normally put a cheap tarp underneath to protect the floor but I make sure it doesn’t extend out beyond the fly or it will catch rainwater running off the tent and transport it underneath. I’ve never needed to string a tarp over this tent.
Marilyn and I didn’t do any camping together while she was riding with me last year, but I think we’ll have to next summer when we tour the Maritimes and Newfoundland. I’m in the process of researching a 2-person tent, and the MSR Elixir 2 is on my short-list. If you know of a good but reasonably priced 2-person tent, please let me know. Yeah, we’d all like to have a Hilleberg; maybe in my next life.
Inside the tent, I use a Nemo Cosmo mattress. I’ve used various self inflating mattresses and considered the popular Sea to Summit mattresses, but in the end, I bought this for a steal when it was discontinued and I have no regrets. I know the current inflatable mattresses use a fill bag instead of a pump, but I’ve never found the built-in pump annoying. It takes a timed 90 seconds to fill.
More importantly, this mattress is very comfortable and warm. Fully inflated, it’s 2.5 inches thick, and although that doesn’t sound like a lot, it beats the self-inflating mattresses and I can sleep on my side comfortably without my hip touching the ground. I’ve recently come across some sleeping bags that do not have any fill on the underside, and that’s because most, if not all, of the insulation from below comes from your mattress, so it’s a good idea to get one that has a good R-value, especially if you are doing any camping in Canada. The Nemo is 20R rated for temperatures from 15 – 25°F (-9 – -4°C), and I’ve never been cold on it. It packs up to 11″ x 6″ (diameter) and weighs 1 lb 13 oz, or 815 grams.
Overall, I’m very happy with this mattress. The only shortcoming is that the nylon surface is slippery, as is my sleeping bag, and I’m an “active sleeper,” so I’ve woken up briefly in the middle of the night off the mattress.
For years, and for the big trip last summer, I used a synthetic sleeping bag. It was fine in terms of warmth, and being synthetic meant I could throw it in a washing machine mid-point when I got to Calgary. However, being synthetic, it doesn’t pack up very small and that meant I had to take my large Firstgear 70L duffle when I really wanted to use my Mosko 25L Scout on the tail rack. Realistically, it probably never would have worked with the Scout; when Marilyn joined me, we needed all the room of the larger duffle for all our stuff, but when I got back, I bought a compression sack so I could cinch the bag down smaller. That certainly helps, but I’ve since bought a down-filled bag from MEC and that is now my preferred bag unless I expect to be wetting it (not yet) or sleeping in dirt (not likely) or in heat (not now). I got just a 650-fill one, which was affordable and adequate for 3-season camping, and it packs up small and is very light. I now recognize that for moto camping, you really need a down bag for its reduced size and weight. And for laundering it, I bought some Nikwax Down Wash Direct.
Finally, I use a Sea to Summit silk liner inside the bag to keep it clean. How often do you launder your bed sheets? I know that’s an impolite question to ask most bachelors. But you should launder your bag as often as your sheets, and a liner is a lot easier to launder than a bag. (You can, in fact, hand-wash it easily at a campground.) The benefits of a liner aren’t just related to hygiene. It adds warmth when you need it, and can replace a bag when it’s hot. There are lots of different kinds, from fleece to synthetic, but I decided to get the silk one because it insulates and breathes, so is practical in a wide range of conditions. Sorry vegans.
The type of stove I prefer is one that runs on liquid fuel. I don’t like having to dispose of propane canisters and I find them bulky in the limited space of my panniers. Instead, I have two 1L MSR fuel bottles that fit into racks on the back of the bike. (Most pannier systems, soft and hard, have a fuel bottle holder as optional add-on.) I already have the bottles as spare fuel for the bike, so why not double-purpose them as my cooking fuel? Some people say the food can take on the odour of burnt fuel, but I haven’t found that to be the case.
There are, to my knowledge, two manufacturers of this type of stove: MSR and Optimus. I started with the Optimus but unfortunately we had some issues with it and ended up abandoning it mid-tour a few years ago. The valve got stuck closed and then the threading got stripped in trying to open it again. To be fair, I probably was at fault in turning off the stove at the valve, but I always found that system of turning the stove off by flipping the bottle over awkward and unreliable. Had I known the casing was going to shrink when cooling and fuse itself to the threading of the valve, I would have done as instructed, but I didn’t, and that’s what happens when you don’t read the 15 pages of warnings that accompany most products today.
For the replacement, we went with the MSR Dragonfly. Same idea, better design. Liquid fuel is atomized on the underside of a heated saucer. It seems complicated at first but quickly becomes easy. You open the valve briefly and allow a little fuel to soak the wick, then light it and the resulting flame will heat the underside of the metal saucer at the centre of the stove. After about 30 seconds, the metal is hot enough to instantly turn the liquid fuel to gas and the flame turns from orange to blue. It’s a very efficient design; I can get a bottle of fuel to last easily over a week of full-time use. And best of all, you can find fuel at any gas station. It will burn all grades of petrol, including diesel, as well as kerosene and white fuel. Heck, it can probably burn alcohol if you’re in a pinch, but you’d have to be pretty desperate to burn your bourbon.
The main drawback of the Dragonfly is that it’s loud! Okay, it’s not like a jet is taking off from your campsite, as some online reviews claim, but it produces a steady roar, depending of course on how quickly you need your coffee. MSR also make the WhisperLite stove that is quieter, but we were talked into the Dragonfly by a salesman who uses it to do baking in the bush; the valve is that good. You can turn it right down to a simmer, unlike any other stove I’ve seen. Seriously, after having the Optimus crap out on us in Sudbury, Marilyn and I wanted a stove with a long history of tried-and-true reliability, and the Dragonfly has been used the world over at all altitudes by hikers, climbers, and campers. And after several years of use with only the most minimal maintenance, it’s working as well as the day we bought it.
For years I used an old enamel pot and a steel frying pan, and they were adequate, but before the big trip, I upgraded my cookware. I went with a Zebra 3L Billy pot from Canadian Outdoor Equipment. There are four sizes but the 3L is right for me.
There are several things I like about this pot. For one, it’s stainless steel, so light and strong. There is an integrated pan that fits into the top, so I can have rice cooking underneath and a packaged curry on top, or pasta and sauce, KD and beans, etc.. I like the overhead handle so I can hang the pot over an open fire (instead of trying to balance it on rocks), and the little clips ensure that the handle doesn’t swing down when not in use and touch the side of the pot and get hot. My stove, the pan, and the lid all fit inside the pot, so it’s very space efficient.
I upgraded the frypan to the Firebox Frypan. It’s aluminum, and that might sound scary, but the aluminum is underneath a non-reactive oxide coating. Apparently it’s 30% harder than stainless steel, so scratch resistant, and—don’t worry—won’t cause Alzheimer’s. And being aluminum, it’s extremely light.
This pan requires a little prep to set it up before using, but once done, the surface is sealed and begins a seasoning process that will make your food taste better. That’s at least what Firebox says. Usually when I’m camping, I’m so hungry everything tastes great, but I’ll take their word for it. The sealing process takes a few hours but is not difficult. The handle holds the pan securely, and I’ve used it to lift the pan of my Billy pot too. I like this frypan because it has the same properties as cast iron but at a fraction of the weight.
Between these two items—the Billy pot and the Firebox frypan—I’ve never needed any other cookware.
It’s a good idea to protect your cookware with a bag. This also prevents rattling on the bike if you have hard panniers. You can buy bags, but I decided to make my own. I bought some Cordura off of Amazon and sewed some simple bags with draw-strings. I cut a circle a little larger than the circumference that I wanted, then made a tube and sewed the two together. Then I hemmed the top of the tube and pushed a length of paracord through (attach the end of the cord to a safety pin to push through). Finally, turn the whole thing inside out so the hems are on the inside, and knot the ends of the cord so they stay put. I made an even simpler one for the frypan and plates, and one for miscellaneous cutlery, the handle, tongs, and can opener.
Forget about freeze-dried coffee; you deserve better. When car camping, I’ve used the Melitta system with funnel and filters, but it’s impractical for moto camping. Lately, the only way I make coffee when camping is with the AeroPress.
It looks like a lot of stuff but it all fits together inside the cup. The AeroPress makes a great cup of coffee quickly and easily. The filters come in their own holder, but it’s not waterproof so you’ll want to prevent it getting wet (uh, before using). I can then fit the packed press inside one of my GSI Outdoors Glacier mugs. Again, nesting items helps keep your gear compact.
Once you get into remote areas, you will have difficulty finding potable water. You can boil your water, but that’s time- and fuel-consuming. For years, I used while canoe-camping a ceramic pump like the Katadyn Vario Filter, but the first time I went to replace the filter I choked on the price—almost as much as the original unit. The pump is also a bit bulky for moto camping. That’s when, for a little more money than a new filter, I bought a Steripen.
The Steripen uses ultraviolet light to eliminate bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. It can sterilize 1L of water in 90 seconds and has a basic display that indicates your progress. You submerge it in the water and stir, ensuring all the water gets treated. (For this reason, it’s helpful to have a wide-necked bottle.) A charge lasts for 8000 uses, apparently, but if that is not enough, it can be recharged off the bike via a USB port. Best of all, it’s super small. It doesn’t filter particles, of course, and is less effective in sediment-laden water, but I used it to treat the brown water out of the pumps at Yukon River Territorial Park and suffered only mild rectal bleeding and a slight twitch. (No, seriously, I was fine.)
If you have the space, a ceramic filter and Steripen is a good combo, and this is what my son Gabriel and I did this summer canoe camping. Of course, there are always chemicals, but I gave up on them years ago. If anyone knows of a small and effective pre-filter to replace the Katadyn while moto camping, please let me know.
I’ve told Marilyn I have only two requirements for our retirement home: a heated garage and either a wood stove or a fireplace. I love fires. I was bummed about the fire ban in British Columbia last summer, but thankfully it lifted at the end of July so I could enjoy fires through northern BC and Yukon, where $12 gets you a site and unlimited firewood.
For splitting wood, I have a cheap hatchet. I can’t remember where I got it. I’ve considered upgrading, and still might, but for now this is what I use. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to sharpen knives and axes and bought a sharpening stone and strop with compounds and got to work. Now it’s pretty sharp and does the job. I can’t split logs in half, but I can split off kindling. I had my local cobbler make up a sheath for it.
For years, I used the Trailblazer 18″ Take-Down Buck Saw for sectioning wood. Once assembled, it works great. But it does take some assembly, which makes it impractical for clearing trails when you are riding. I recently saw an Awesome Players video in which Riley is praising the Silky folding saw they use for that purpose. I dropped a hint to Marilyn and she gave me for my birthday this year the 210mm Folding Saw. My son and I used it to prune some branches away from the house this summer and again while canoe camping in August, and I have to say, this thing kicks butt! Nobody makes blades better than the Japanese. An unusual feature of Silky saws is that they cut on the pull stroke. As Riley says, they’ve tried imitation saws off Amazon and they are not the same. This is now my preferred camp saw.
This is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up with a few other favourites. I have two sources of light for when the sun goes down (other than my fire). One is a Spot Lite 200 headlamp by Black Diamond. A headlamp is a necessity, in my opinion, because it leaves both hands free for working around camp. This one is 200 Lumen, which is more than adequate, has settings for distance (spot), proximity (flood), is dimmable, and includes a red light, which doesn’t attract bugs. There’s apparently a way to lock it too, so it doesn’t accidentally turn on in your tank bag and drain the batteries.
For the picnic table and tent, I like the Moji Lantern, also by Black Diamond. It also has 200 Lumen max output and produces a nice soft, diffuse, light that fills the immediate area. It’s dimmable and has a strobe function as an emergency beacon, which I guess might be useful on the water but not for much else. It’s IPX 4 Stormproof, which means it can be rained on from any angle but I guess not submergible in water. The recessed switch prevents it from being turned on accidentally, and double hooks underneath allow you to hang it in the tent. All in all, it’s a very well thought-out and inexpensive small lamp (2 5/8″D x 1 3/4″). Best of all, you get your choice of four colours.
The first time I played something through the Tribit Stormbox I was immediately impressed with the quality of sound coming out of this little speaker. It has rich, full bass, without sacrificing definition in the treble range. I don’t know how Tribit do it. The mesh on top is metal, so it’s durable, and it’s also waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in a shower or during that river crossing. It has a built-in power bank that is rechargeable on the bike via USB-C, and it’s plenty loud enough, especially for a campground. It connects automatically to my phone when I turn it on—no need to pair each time or mess around in settings. I never thought I’d like music so much when camping, but I’ve discovered it’s very nice as a sort of companion fireside.
Finally, my favourite piece of camping gear is my dad’s old (circa 1954) Solingen hunting knife set I inherited when he downsized. Admittedly, these knives have more sentimental value than practical use, but I do use them around camp. The bowie knife is also known as a survival knife. I’m not using it in any sandbar duels, as Jim Bowie did, but I have used it to split wood by hammering on the blade with a rock or for digging a hole for poop, and a variety of other purposes that require a strong blade. If you had to survive in the bush with one knife, a bowie knife would be it. The little paring knife I use for a variety of purposes. The handles are carved antler, and the sheath is ornately stamped. It’s my prize camping possession so, sorry folks, not for sale. I see that Solingen in Germany are not selling any more hunting knives, but there’s no shortage of good quality knives available on the market. In fact, I’ve recently discovered YouTube channels devoted to reviewing knives. Who knew?
If you’ve stayed with me to the very end, congratulations; go outside for some fresh air. I didn’t realize I had so much gear until I started getting into it, and figured if I’m going to talk about it, I should say something meaningful and not simply present a list. I solemnly swear that it, plus food, a small stuff sack of personal items, and even a container of spare bike parts all fit in two 40L panniers and the small Wolfman duffle tail bag. The light stuff like sleeping bag, mattress, and clothing go high on the tail rack; the heavy stuff like all the cooking gear and food go low in the panniers.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. I know several items are already discontinued, but that’s when I usually buy gear—on clearance—and you can find similar items based on these recommendations. If you have a favourite or newly-discovered piece of camp gear, please let us (me and my readers) know by dropping a comment below. I recently took a look at my stats and this blog is getting about 300 views per month—not a lot by internet standards, but not bad either. And while I’m on this topic, please consider following and share with anyone you think might be interested. I am hoping to grow the blog, and with retirement and another big east coast trip planned in the not-too-distant future, I still have lots to say.
In the next post, I’ll conclude the series on gear by talking about the essential tools I always carry on the bike and the navigation apps I use to get around.
In this post, I describe the off-road gear that’s worked for me.
In an earlier post, I discussed my touring gear. In this one, I’ll cover the gear I use for off-road riding. As before, I’ll move from head to toe.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a secondary helmet I use only occasionally, so the LS2 Pioneer was in the right range at about $230. It’s also a long oval, so the right head shape for me. In fact, it might be a bit tight even for me; towards the end of a long day, I wish it were a little wider. But it has excellent ventilation, and this is the helmet I reach for on stinking hot days even for street riding. It has a large eye port that accommodates goggles, a drop-down sun visor, and most importantly, looks really cool!
The foundation, literally, of my off-road gear is the Knox Venture Shirt. I decided to go with a soft compression suit for comfort and safety. I know many will say I should have gotten a roost protector or some hard-shell armour, but for the kind of riding I do, which is not motocross but trail riding, I thought that would be overkill.
The nice thing about the compression suit is that I can wear it under an off-road jersey on really hot days. Also, unlike a jacket, the armour stays in place when you have an off. Because I live about 45 minutes from dirt, I like to wear my jacket to the trail, then swap it for the jersey. This means I need to carry a tail bag or knapsack, but I just don’t feel entirely comfortable riding asphalt without a jacket; it’s like how I don’t feel comfortable driving without a seat belt on.
This product wasn’t available in Canada and I had to order it at Revzilla. It’s since been discontinued but you can still get a similar zip-up armoured shirt from Knox or Bohn. It uses the latest D30 (Knox calls it Microtek) technology in the armour, which is pliable when wearing and stiffens upon impact. I upgraded the back protector to the Dianese Pro G2 because I found the Knox pad did not provide enough ventilation.
The Traverse is just a shell, and it doesn’t come with any armour. It’s very light and comfortable, and it has big zipper vents under the arms. It’s Gore-Tex, which makes it a little hot, but I also use it for street riding when there’s risk of rain. And because it’s going to get muddy, it’s got to be black. This is my go-to does-it-all jacket, and I love it!
For pants, I use the tried and true Klim Dakar pants, over the boot model. These aren’t waterproof, and the first time I toured in them I got caught in a shower and soon learned that. They just aren’t designed for that purpose. Instead, they have a dense, tough mesh that provides some airflow yet resists snags when you’re riding through brambles and thorny branches. There are also elastic accordion panels in key areas that provide a lot of stretch. Big zipper vents front and back enhance airflow, and there are the usual Klim angled zippered pockets for wallet and phone.
If you are going to be doing some serious off-roading—and that involves a lot of movement on the bike—these pants are designed for that. There are also some nice touches like the leather inseams on the lower pant leg where you are gripping the bike. A very durable, ventilated, stretchy pant for off-road riding. And of course, they come with Klim’s D30 armour in hips and knees.
If I’m going to be doing some technical riding, I pull on the Forcefield Sport Tube Knee Armour. Forcefield, like Knox, is also a company dedicated to just armour, so they do it right, and like the Knox shirt, these tubes, although a little uncomfortable, ensure that the armour stays in place when I go down.
If I did more off-roading, I’d probably invest the big bucks in some knee braces. I’ve ridden with the Awesome Players Off-Road Club and Mark did some major damage to his knee a few years ago that got me and others thinking about that possibility. So far I’ve been lucky, but there might be knee braces in my future. For now, these knee pads are the best I’ve found. They won’t prevent torsional damage, but they will help with direct impact.
I use my SIDI Adventure 2 boots when off-roading. They are not motocross boots, but have adequate protection should you get a foot caught under the bike.
One piece of armour I’ve recently started using is wrist braces. I broke my thumb off-roading, and I’ve seen a few riding friends break their wrists recently, which got me wondering why riders don’t wear what skateboarders and snowboarders wear to prevent broken wrists. Apparently, it’s the most common snowboarding injury, for obvious reasons; it’s instinctive to put out your hand to break a fall.
Recently I started wearing EVS Wrist Braces. They are comfortable, and once I have them on, I forget I’m wearing them. Honestly. Okay, maybe you have to be off-roading to forget you have them on, but really, they do not encumber your movement on the bike, your grip on the handlebars, or your control of the levers. I had a friend break his wrist in a silly tip over when his hand hit a rock. It doesn’t take much with this fragile part of the body. They say the extremities are the most vulnerable, so if you off-road, consider picking up something like this and avoid losing six weeks of your season.
I took a tip from The Awesome Players and use a cheap pair of Mechanix gloves bought at Canadian Tire. You generally want a thin leather for the upmost feel on the controls, and mechanic’s gloves provide that dexterity, depending on the weight you choose. They also often have D30 on the back (for when that wrench slips and you were pushing instead of pulling) and are a fraction of the cost of dedicated motorcycle gloves. Go around Father’s Day and you will often see them on sale.
Finally, the only other bit of gear that I use on but particularly off road is my Klim water bladder, or fuel cell, or hydration system, or Camelbak, or whatever you call it. It’s kind of a pain to carry water on your back. It’s heavy and hot, preventing airflow, but I’ve found that on hot days these inconveniences are worth avoiding the two-day headache I get if I don’t drink enough. When you are working hard in the heat, a sip from a water bottle every few hours during a rest stop is not enough. But if it’s cool and I can get away with it, I’ll put a Nalgene bottle of water in one of those canister holders on the back and ride unencumbered.
This one is now discontinued and there are tons of others to choose from, including some with room for tools and first aid, if you want to get everything off the bike. Ryan F9 just did a good video comparing some backpacks that he particularly likes, and an upgrade might be in my future if I were to do a lot more off-roading than I currently do.
So as you can see, I’m pretty much a Klim guy. Their gear is expensive, but I’ve already said, you can get it on sale if you’re willing to watch and wait. I trust the quality of the materials and workmanship and the thought that’s gone into the design. Some will say I’m getting fooled by marketing and there is comparable gear available for a fraction of the cost, and they may be right. But with the fuel pak, for example, Klim’s is unusual in that the seams of the bladder are radio frequency sealed, so you can turn it completely inside-out to clean and dry. It’s for qualities such as that I’m willing to pay a premium price. And when the mouthpiece split and started to leak, Klim sent me a new one. Again, I am not sponsored by Klim; it’s just my go-to brand for gear.
One of the pains with dual sport riding is that you have to buy two sets of gear, one for road and one for off-road. It’s a significant investment up front, and buying all this stuff almost broke my marriage as well as the bank account. But take your time, get a little at a time, prioritizing, and look for discontinued and end-of-season sales. There are sports that are more expensive, I like to remind my wife, and there are more frivolous things to buy than protective gear.
Off-roading is not a dangerous sport. In fact, I got into it because I felt it is a way to challenge myself safely. There’s only so fast you can go on the street before it’s not safe, and the stakes there are a lot higher. Off roading does not involve high speeds—not the trail and dirt-road riding I do—but you can still get hurt playing in low-traction terrain with a 450 lb. bike. Investing in some good gear minimizes the risks and therefore increases the enjoyment of the ride.
This is what I use and have found works for me. What do you use? I’m a gear weenie so I’d love to hear what works for you. Please leave a comment or send me an email. In the next post, I’ll talk about the camping gear I use. If you are interested in moto-camping, click the Follow button and you’ll be notified of new posts.