La Classique 2023

If you like dual sport riding, you’ll love La Classique.

La Classique, organized by and with close to 1000 riders, is the largest dual sport rally in Canada. It’s so popular that I’d never managed to get in. Registration fills in about 2 days—you blink and you miss it—and always seems to fall when I’m busiest at work grading mid-terms. I almost missed it again this year but snuck onto a team last minute.

It used to be you had to organize a team, and I could never find riders willing to join me. Now RidAventure has simplified the process and you can register as a single rider and join an existing team. That’s what I did and found myself on Les Amis de la Motorcyclette, a great group of Francophone guys. RidAventure has also separated the Saturday and Sunday rides to allow wider participation in the event. That’s a great idea because even if you aren’t riding, there are vendors and test rides available for a more relaxed day of hanging about.

I registered for the Saturday Classique Plus route, which is about in the middle of the skill level of rides. You have to be comfortable riding Level 2 Trails. I felt pretty good about that but was a little concerned about my tires. Organizers are clear that you need knobbies for anything Classique Plus and up, and because of the long-distance touring I’m doing this summer, I had on Dunlop Trailmax Mission tires, a street-biased 70/30 tire. In the end, I probably should have had a more aggressive tire, but I managed.

This rally falls nicely for me right at the end of the school year. I worked hard in the weeks prior to the rally, pushing to complete all my end-of-term grading so I could ride away with a clean conscience. In fact, I did so much intensive grading toward the end that I developed a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome in my writing hand. Thankfully, it didn’t significantly affect my use of the throttle and front brake except in the most intensive sections.

Parts arrived from Dual Sport Plus just in time, and I spent the Friday of my departure adding hand guards and folding mirrors; I was worried about breaking a lever or a mirror in a crash, which is not uncommon in dirt riding. I was also worried about breaking my bones so geared up in my Knox Adventure Shirt, neck guard, and tucked some wrist braces into my bag. (Yeah, a little tip-over can cost you the better part of the season, so I’ve started using these if there is a chance of falling.) I left unfortunately at rush hour on a Friday, so after the requisite hour to get off the island, I was on my way.

One nice thing about these rallies is that you can camp on site. The rally this year was in a new location in Saint-André-Avellin, north of Montebello, and there was a big open field for all the tents. RVs were parked in another area, and there were a lot of them!

Camping at La Classique 2023 in Saint-André-Avellin.

Now if there’s one thing I know about camping in Canada, it’s that you don’t want to do it before July. The bugs are bad! In my last minute haste, I forgot to pack bug spray (doh!), so the first order of business once I got my tent pitched was to find some. Then I checked in at registration, got my sticker and T-shirt, and spent the rest of the evening hanging with The Awesome Players at their camp. As you may remember, I did a few rides with them a while back, and they are a great bunch of welcoming guys. In fact, although I was on my own for the weekend, I never felt alone; there’s a strong sense of fellowship within the RidAventure community.

One of the things I like about these rallies is checking out all the bikes. The next morning, before forming up for my ride, I took a stroll along where the campers’ bikes were parked.

Better than the Montreal Moto Show.

Yes, that is an action camera I’m using. As I pondered in a previous post, I’ve decided to join the crowd of YouTube content creators, although I’m not a hero—as in, I didn’t get a GoPro. After much research, and heavily influenced by this video review by Dork in the Road of several action cameras, I decided to get an Insta360 One RS. I’m not interested in the 360 lens; I think that’s a gimmick that will quickly lose its appeal, and I don’t like how it makes every shot look unnatural, like through a fish-eye lens.

I got just the 4K boost lens and will be incorporating some short video footage into my posts in the future. I’m not interested in “competing” with full-on YouTube channels because that’s not my genre: I’m primarily a writer, not a videographer. I wouldn’t know my way around a massive video editing program like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, and I wouldn’t want the interruption in my rides of setting up a tripod for a ride-by shot or sending up a drone, although drones capture some amazing footage. So my footage will be minimal and serve to complement the written accounts of my rides. Anyway, we’ll start with that and see how it goes. All the videos I use will be available separately on my YouTube channel. Let me know in the comment section what you think of the new multi-media format.

Enough about that. After perusing the bikes, I had to get up to the start area and introduce myself to my adoptive team.

Marc Chartand giving the pre-ride talk.

The rally is extremely well organized. At registration check-in, your bike is inspected, you sign a waiver, then receive a wrist band and a sticker for your bike. The sticker indicates what group you are in, and there is a corresponding marker to line up with your group. Here we all are, lined-up and waiting for the signal to pull out.

500 riders waiting to start.

I was a little nervous, being my first Classique and not knowing if I’d chosen the right level. You don’t want it boring, but then you also don’t want to slow the other boys down. In the end, it was the right choice, but I faced some challenging sections. My philosophy in riding and in life is that you want to push yourself slightly out of your comfort zone once in a while; that’s when growth occurs. My French and my off-roading skills got an injection this weekend.

Finally we got the signal to start our engines and pull out. We were on our way.

Starting out on the Classique Plus ride.

Right away you can tell that my bike is different from most other dual sports. You can hear the high-pitched induction whine of the Triumph triple instead of the growl of a parallel twin. But that’s what I love about this bike: it’s a sport bike engine shoe-horned into an adventure chassis. It’s smooth with a ton of torque and loves to be revved, and it handles through the twisties like a sport bike. Okay, it doesn’t have the tractor factor of a big thumper or a parallel twin, and that’s something I have to keep in mind when off-roading. I have to remember to keep the revs up or it will stall climbing hills or working through sand and mud.

Soon we left the asphalt and were enjoying the countryside on some easy dirt roads. No doubt the route planners considered this as warm-up for what was to come. The trees closed in and then we were snaking through the forest on a twisty dirt road, and lacking knobbies, I had to remember to weight the outside peg on each corner or risk low-siding.

Sorry about the wind noise. This was my first time using the camera and I’ve since discovered the audio setting for wind noise reduction. There’s an option in the Insta360 Studio application for post production noise reduction, but for some reason, this particular noise gets “reduced” to a sound similar to fingernails being dragged down a chalkboard.

Soon we turned off this road and entered Parc Papineau-Labelle, and that’s when things became a little more “interesting.” Our entrance was a rocky hill climb, and although it wasn’t super difficult, as anyone with a GoPro knows, the action cameras flatten out all hills and the image stabilization smoothens out the ride. In fact, my suspension was working hard, and it wasn’t long before the ABS on my bike sent an error code to the ECU.

Rocky hill climb into Réserve Faunique Papineau-Labelle.

To sit or stand? There’s an excellent podcast by Adventure Rider Radio (April 15, 2022) with an aerospace physicist and Chris Birch on this topic—well worth a listen—but one thing I remember from it is the simple maxim to sit when you can and stand when you have to. Some terrain requires that you stand so you can control the bike through the footpegs, but standing all day would be tiring, so sit when you can. You can see me stand when I enter a climb or a sharp corner. You can also see me glance down a few times to check what gear I’m in. Sometimes I’m concentrating so much on the terrain I forget and want to verify.

This was fairly easy dirt riding so I decided to keep my ABS on. I thought you really only have to turn it off if you’re doing steep descents in loose terrain where you might find yourself suddenly without brakes. But one thing I learned this weekend is that my bike is not happy with ABS on in even this degree of chatter. You can see in the following clip that I have a couple of warning lights on. They would turn out to be the check engine and ABS lights, so I put two and two together and figured it was an ABS/speed sensor error. (Later back home, I confirmed this using an OBDII scanner.) I got pretty good at navigating through the set-up menu on my dash to turn ABS off since it resets every time I turn off the bike. For short stops, however, I was able to use the kill switch but keep the ignition on and it didn’t reset.

I’m not sure which caused me more concern: the warning lights or that I was losing my sticker.

At one point, we came across a moose. I could see something running up ahead in the road and thought at first it was a horse, but soon realized it was a moose. We backed off and let it run ahead until it could get off the road. In all my years of canoe camping, I’ve actually never seen one, so this was exciting.

Also exciting were the patches of sand that sent the bike snaking. You just gotta hold your nerve and let the bike sort itself out. Nobody went down that I’m aware of, although there were some close calls. Here, I’m watching the guy in front almost lose it on a sandy corner, and then when I reach up to turn off my camera (I had it on loop mode), my front slides out and I almost lose it.

Almost overcooked.

Finally, with the ABS turned off and a few hours of this, by lunchtime I was feeling more confident in the sand.

Finally feeling confident in the sand.

Unfortunately, that would be the final clip of the day. For some reason which I would only discover at lunch, my camera would not turn on and would not record anymore. When I could finally unmount the camera and have a look, it was displaying a message that an error had occurred in my last video and would I like to fix it. (I did but the above clip is missing metadata.) It had started to rain hard and I was feeling a bit stressed about keeping up and decided that perhaps this was not the best time to test and troubleshoot the new camera so I put it away. That’s unfortunate, in retrospect, because the real fun was about to begin.

Shortly after lunch we had a sandy hill to climb, and even the best riders in the group were having a hard time with it. This is where I really needed some knobbies. I was looking at the hill and thinking this isn’t going to go well, but what choice did I have? Go back to camp or go for it. So I went for it and surprised myself. It wasn’t pretty—I had to dab several times—but I got most of the way up. Having done the hard bit, the last part I did less well. Like I said, I have to keep the revs up on this bike or it will stall. But with some pushing from others, we all made it to the top and lived to ride the rest of the route.

Not me but someone else getting a push. You can see how deep the sand is. Photo credit: Jean-Charles Paquin

There were some easy water crossings but no other major obstacles and we were back at camp by 5, in time to clean up before dinner.

The next day I was going to head home early but decided to do some test rides. First up, just out of curiosity, was the new Harley Davidson Pan America. It was, shall I say, a little underwhelming. If you imagine what a Harley adventure bike might be, that’s pretty much it: a little loud and rough and brash. There was a lot of vibration up through the handlebars, which was surprising because they had street shoes on. The best part of the test ride was that the sun finally came out! It had rained hard through the afternoon and night and everything was soaked, so it was nice to see the sun and to know my tent would dry out before I had to pack it up.

Test riding the new Harley Davidson Pan America.

There’s definitely some interesting technology built into this bike. The suspension lowering feature when you stop is innovative and will open up the adventure market to those who struggle with the seat height of most adventure bikes. And hydraulic valves sound neat. I don’t know exactly how they work but the bottom line is apparently you never have to adjust the valves. There were some Pan America bikes at the rally so they are selling, but I don’t think this bike is going to cause a major splash like the Teneré 700 did or the BMW GS.

Speaking of the GS, I’ve always wanted to try the iconic bike. As followers of this blog will know, I had the single 650GS for years and loved it and always wondered what the big boxer would be like. Many said that the big cross-Canada trip I did would normally be done on the big bike, and I have to admit considering it when I decided to change my bike, but I’m nervous about taking a big bike like that off road into remote areas. It’s close to 600 lbs. and, with gear, that’s a lot to lift on your own if you dump it.

Anyway, this was my chance and so I did a test ride on a 1250GS. I have to admit, what everyone says about how it carries its weight is true. You can turn this bike easily at slow speed. But what I found most impressive—not exclusive to the GS—were the rider modes. I’ve never ridden a bike with rider modes before, and after 20 minutes in Enduro Pro mode, I was sliding this baby around corners. You can hear me making exclamations into my helmet.

Test riding a BMW 1250GS.

It’s very confidence-inspiring, but I couldn’t help thinking that I was cheating; it wasn’t me doing the powerslides but a computer. Call me a purist, call me a technophobe, call me a Luddite, or just call me poor, but I’m glad my 2013 bike doesn’t have rider modes. I know they’re the way of the future, but for now, I’m happy to have to learn throttle and clutch control and braking using manual inputs. Speaking of which, my throttle/clutch control sucks (!) and I’ll be targeting it with some practice in the coming weeks.

Upon reflecting on my ride of the day before, perhaps what I am most proud of is not that I kept up on the tires I had, but that I did it without any rider aids, including ABS. It was all me. I’m not a great rider, not yet anyway, but if I had a bike with that level of computer input, I wonder if I’d ever be. What are your feelings about rider modes? Greatest safety advancement in motorcycle technology in the recent past, or making us all lazy, unskilled riders?

Finally it was time to start heading home. I packed up and headed down the 321 to the lovely 418 East that took me into Grenville.

Heading along the beautiful 418 that hugs the north shore of the Ottawa River.

It had been a great weekend at my first Classique. The sun was out and I had the whole summer vacation ahead of me. I was feeling pretty bouyant, and since I was in an indulgent mood, there was only one more thing to do to make the moment perfect.

TuneECU Tutorial

Paired with an OBD-II reader, this app is an essential tool for DIY’ers.

When I had my BMW GS, there was only one OBD diagnostic tool and it was called GS-911. At over $800 for just the Enthusiast (WIFI) version, it was always a little too much for me to swallow, even though I knew you really shouldn’t be riding anywhere remote without one; there are just some issues that require you to be able to communicate with the ECU to solve.

Now that I have the Tiger, there are more options available, and a popular one is an app called TuneECU. I recently used it to balance my throttle body, but it can be used to do so much more.


TuneECU began because of a fuel mapping problem on some Triumph bikes. One owner was so annoyed at Triumph’s unwillingness to fix a gap in the rev range, he took matters into his own hands and created an app that can read and write fuel maps to the ECU. I’m happy with the mapping on my 2013 TigerXC, but I had noticed a little buzz in the right hand-grip and a forum post advised to check the balance of the throttle body.

For those who might not know what that means (I didn’t, having come from a thumper), as I understand it, it’s basically getting all your cylinders to fire with the same force. If one is more powerful than the others, it destabilizes the engine and creates vibration up into the handlebars. Sure enough, when I checked mine, the third cylinder was a little out of sync with the other two.

Tools Required

  • an Android phone
  • a WIFI OBD-II reader (OBDLink LX recommended)
  • TuneECU (Doh!)

The hardest part of this job is getting down to the throttle body. On my Tiger, I have to lift the tank and remove the airbox, and that requires removing a lot of body panels first. I won’t go into that because it’s bike specific, but just follow your service manual (you have one, right?), photograph everything before it comes off, and lay parts and hardware out methodically in the order they came off. And because you might have to unplug a sensor—at least temporarily—it’s probably a good idea to remove the cable from the negative terminal of your battery.

You’ll be required to run the engine to do this, so be sure to keep all sensors plugged in or you’ll get an error code. (You can clear codes in TuneECU too, but more on that later.) On the Tiger, that meant unscrewing the sensors from the airbox and throttle housing and laying them out of the way. You also have to ensure that all hoses are plugged, for the same reason. This may require some creative solutions since you have to find things with just the right diameter. (No bad jokes here.)

Bike Set-Up. Tank lifted to expose throttle body but all sensors and hoses plugged. Who says I’ve hung up my sticks?

Connect your scanner

Once you are ready to go, replace the ground on the battery but don’t start the engine just yet. First, plug in your OBD-II reader. There are lots of them available, some for as little as $25 on Amazon, but you take your chances with the cheap ones. You might find that it can’t read your bike or communicate with TuneECU. I’d heard that the one to get is OBDLink LX. It’s a little more expensive, but it works without issues.

You need to know where your OBD-II connector is. On the Tiger, it’s under the passenger seat. When you plug in the scanner, you’ll see its power light go on, indicating that it’s already getting power from the battery. Now get your phone and open TuneECU and select Select from the ECU menu. You’ll see a long list of motorcycles and hopefully yours is there. If not, select Other.

By the way, for Triumph bikes, there are two ECUs: Sagem and Keihin. You’ll see both options under the ECU menu. I wasn’t sure which ECU my bike has, but I figured 50/50 odds were pretty good, guessed Keihin and got lucky. I’m not positive, but I think TuneECU can autodetect if you choose the wrong one.

Once you’ve selected your bike, click Connect. (Later, you can simply choose Connect from the ECU menu.) You’ll see some flickering, both on the scanner and in the bottom right corner of the TuneECU screen, and when it turns green, you are connected.

Make your adjustments

Now start the bike and let it warm up to running temperature. You’ll see the three cylinders listed in the Adjustments screen. Cylinder 1 is the left-most cylinder on the bike (facing front, when seated on the bike), and Cylinder 3 is right-most. Cylinder 2 is not adjustable but is the baseline to which you adjust the other two. In the photo below, the adjustment screws are circled in red. Triumph have thoughtfully added a stripe of yellow paint to each screw so you can keep track of where you are.

Go slowly! Do small adjustments one at a time, blipping the throttle and waiting for the engine to settle back into idle after each adjustment to see what it has done. It didn’t take me long before I had all three relatively the same. They should be within 10 hPa of each other.

The pressure will jump around a bit but the cylinders should stay relatively the same.

Run tests

When you’re satisfied you’ve got it as close as you can, slide the screen right to left to get to the Sensors screen. Under the List menu, select which sensors you want to test. This is where TuneECU becomes an excellent diagnostic tool! You’ll see what voltage is getting to each sensor. You can also see and clear error codes, run specific tests, reset the ECU adaptations, and reset the service reminder. Normally the latter can only be done at a dealer, but TuneECU can also clear it. If you do your own maintenance, you no longer have to see that annoying little reminder (wrench symbol) every time you start your bike.

While I had the airbox off, I added a Uni Filter pre-filter to my bike. It replaces the snorkel and apparently removes 95% of the dirt, and since I have to remove my fuel tank to service my main air filter, I was all over that. The pre-filter sits under the seat so access is a lot easier, and I think it will keep my engine cleaner too. Some people swear by K&N filters; others say they’re not trustworthy (I’ve written about this earlier), but with two filters in there, I think I’m good.

Final adjustments

Because I added the pre-filter, I decided to reset the ECU adaptations so it would learn the new parameters. When you do this, just beware that the bike may act a bit weird at first afterwards. For example, my idle was low, and the bike in fact stalled once. But after a short ride, it was back to normal.

I had another small issue that will be of interest to other Tiger owners and perhaps others. Once I put everything back on the bike and went for a test ride, my fuel gauge was showing empty and my gas light was on. I thought I hadn’t plugged in the fuel level sensor correctly so off came all the plastics again and up came the fuel tank. But I had, and a little Google research reminded me that you have to ride the bike a few kilometres for the level to be updated. I’d noticed this after filling the bike—how it seems to take a long time before the display adjusts—but forgot in this context. Every job requires at least one “mistake,” but I’ve come to look upon mistakes as “opportunities to learn.”

TuneECU is a powerful tool, so just a word of caution and a disclaimer to use at your own risk. Writing to the ECU is no small thing, and I don’t like second-guessing Triumph engineers, so be careful. I have a minimalist approach to this stuff, and now that the throttle body is adjusted, I’ll be using it primarily as a diagnostic tool.

TuneECU is €24.99 and OBDLink LX is about $100, depending on where you live. That’s a price I’ll gladly pay to have the silky smooth Triumph triple running even smoother, and for the peace of mind of having an excellent diagnostic tool with me while on tour. It’s small enough to fit easily in my kit and can give me a ton of information about all the mysterious electrics of the bike. As motorcycles become increasingly complex and computerized, it’s nice that there are tools like TuneECU and OBDLink LX at an affordable price for DIY mechanics.

Ready to Ride

What is your preseason prep?

Here in Montreal, the 2023 motorcycle season has officially begun. As of March 15th, we can legally be back on the road. The reality, however, is that no one is stupid enough to do so. I saw—or rather, heard—a scooter on the road yesterday, but I wouldn’t want to take a bigger bike out yet. In fact, I can’t get my bike out yet; there’s still several feet of snow blocking the doors to my shed.

Nevertheless, the air is filled with anticipation as it won’t be long now. Motorcyclists are scurrying about like squirrels uncovering nuts, or birds building nests. I’ve seen a few Facebook posts about preseason maintenance and, for the Harley riders, preseason cleaning and polishing. T. S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but for motorcyclists in northern climates, it’s these last few weeks of March during The Big Melt (aka dog shit season) that are the most painful. To ease the pain, we undergo a ritual process of preparation for the season to come. Here is what I do to get ready to ride.

Bike Prep

The first thing I do is undo everything I did last fall to prepare the bike for storage. That involves removing whatever I’ve used to block the intake and exhaust ports, removing the wax I left on the bike to protect it through the cold winter months, replacing the battery and saddle, lowering the bike off the jack-stand, and topping up the tires. The bike is now ready to run, and I might start it up, just to hear its familiar exhaust note and reassure myself that all is well in the world.

Depending on the mileage, I change most of the fluids on the first warm day of spring. (I don’t have the luxury of a heated garage, so all maintenance is done outside.) I changed the oil before putting it into storage, but apparently oil ages even if unused, so I’ll do an early oil change, maybe not right away but soon. For this reason, some people put a cheap oil in the bike in the fall just for storage purposes, then change to the good stuff in the spring. I think that’s a little over-kill, so I put the same top quality synthetic oil in before and soon after storage. And no, I’m not going to start an oil thread by revealing what I use, as much as I always enjoy a good oil thread.

I change the coolant and brake fluid every two years or 20,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. I also remove the brake pads, clean them up with a wire brush, and clean and lube the callipers, paying special attention to the calliper pins. The brake cleaning might be over-kill too, but I like to know the pins are moving freely and generally to keep the brakes free of grit and grime. They’re just one of those essential moving parts that is exposed to road debris. If you’ve never done your brakes before, it really isn’t difficult.

I’m fortunate to have MuddySump’s channel to follow for routine maintenance. He’s an excellent mechanic and has the same bike as me.

I change the air filter, or in my case, because I use a K&N, clean and re-oil it. This year I’ll be adding a Uni pre-filter to my bike. On my Tiger 800XC, the OEM filter is under the tank, so adding a pre-filter will not only help protect the engine but also significantly cut down on the service intervals for the filter in the air box.

Then the fun begins: I add all the mods I’ve bought through the winter.

Gear Prep

If you didn’t launder your gear and wash your helmet liner in the fall, now might be a good time to do it. I also get out the leather conditioner and go a little crazy with it. First I do my leather jacket, then my gloves. Then while the rag is damp I do my satchel, my shoes, my wallet, my fountain pen cases, my belt . . . like I said, I go a little crazy. I do this once in the fall when I put my jackets away and once in the spring. We have baseboard heaters which pull all the moisture out of the air in the house, so I do this at least twice a year.

My favourite brand of leather conditioner? This might start a thread as long as an oil thread, but I’ll say that someone who works at the high-end store in Montreal where I bought my satchel once graciously confided that Armor All Leather Care Gel is just as good as the expensive stuff they sell. That was my brand until Canadian Tire stopped selling it. Then I switched to Simoniz, which I didn’t like as much, and lately it’s been Chemical Guys, although this year I’ve noticed that it’s leaving a white film on the leather once it dries. So after doing a little research, I’m going to try Cobbler’s Choice. Like I said, I’m a little obsessive about moisturizing my leather goods. The best moisturizer, however, is good ol’ beeswax, although it leaves the jacket sticky for a few days.

So with every leather item in my house sufficiently moisturized, my gear is almost ready for the season. I squirt a little WD40 on the buckles of my ADV boots, some Pledge on my helmet, wipe some silicone onto the rubber that seals the visor, and polish my visor with Plexus. Yeah, this stuff costs a lot, but Ryan F9 has done a video showing that it’s the best. If the visor is old and too badly scratched to restore, this is when I get a new one; there’s no sacrificing when it comes to vision on the bike.

I also get out my camping gear and give it some love. Last fall, I treated the tent with Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Waterproofing Spray. I like this stuff because it’s non-toxic and doesn’t leave an after-smell. I also clean my stove and make sure anything that needs replacing is replaced, because there’s nothing worse than a temperamental stove when on tour. The one that I use runs on liquid fuel and requires maintenance from time to time.

Body Prep

Touring for weeks on end and crawling in and out of tents, as I’ll be doing this summer, requires some fitness and flexibility. The long days in the saddle are easier if you have some cardio fitness, so I’ve been running fairly regularly. I do a 5K loop with the dog 2-3 times a week, and when I’m inspired, I run a little longer. Now that the warmer weather is almost here, I’ll be bumping that up and doing some 10K and even longer runs. Running has always been easy for me and it’s my go-to exercise for body and mind.

With all that running, I need to do stretching or my legs get tight and my back becomes prone to injury. This year I invested in some athletic therapy which gave me a set of stretches to do, and as Robert Frost said, that has made all the difference. I used to pull my back a few times a year, often at the worst possible time, laying me up for a week, but with this stretching, I haven’t had an incident in a while. I think I’ve found the answer to my back issues.

In addition to the cardio and stretching, I work on strengthening my core, so some Pilates, yoga, and generally, abdominal work. Sitting on the bike all day is like sitting on a stool with no backrest, so you need a strong core. When you start doing any off-roading, there are even bigger demands on your muscles. I’ve already done a blog about fitness and strengthening, so if you’re interested in the specific exercises I do, check that out. One thing I’ve added since making that post is to work on balance. You can do that with a wobble board, but a simple way to improve your balance skills is to stand on one foot . . . with your eyes closed. Try it. This develops all those nerves in the foot that are essential to good balance, and according to Jimmy Lewis, off road riding is all about balance.

This year, to account for the extra weight of the top-heavy Tiger, I started doing some strength training with kettle bells. I may be a natural runner, but I’ve always had the upper body of Pee-wee Herman. I really like kettle bells and I think they will become a regular part of taking care of myself. The main reason I like them is that you get cardio, strengthening, and core work all in the same workout. Because kettle bells are asymmetrical (unlike barbells), you’re always working your core, and if you string reps together EVOM (Every Minute On the Minute), you also get your cardio workout. Best of all, you really only need a couple of kettlebells to get started and can do it in a small space in the house. I’ve been doing kettlebelling for the past month or so and am loving it! I’m following Mark Wildman’s YouTube channel. He’s excellent and has a series of videos specifically for people like me just starting out.

If that sounds like a lot, it kind of is, and I’m trying to figure out how to fit it all in. At my age, recovery time is not what it used to be, if you know what I mean. At first, I tried staggering running and strengthening on alternating days, but that didn’t leave me any days off to recover. Currently I do a run after my long days at work to run off the stress, then a double workout of kettlebelling followed by a light run when I can, which wipes me out but then I take a full day off with just some stretching. In other words, I listen to my body and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that you need to do an activity 3-4 times a week to see benefits.

Finally, the only other muscle I exercise is . . . eh, hem . . . not what you’re thinking but my clutch hand. I keep one of those spring grip devices on my desk all winter and pick it up from time to time. Works better than a stress ball and helps avoid arm pump when off roading.

One hand on the mouse, one hand on the grip strengthener.

Eye on the Prize

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Charles Dickens wasn’t a motorcyclist, but in describing the Victorian era he caught something of the spirit of this intermediary period. As I come to the end of my March Break and head back to work tomorrow, I keep in mind that at least I’ll soon be able to commute by bike, and before I know it, the semester will be drawing to a close and we’ll be getting ready to leave for Newfoundland. Marilyn and I booked our ferry crossing the other night so that trip is a go! 18 days together on the bike camping through Gaspé, Gros Morne, and across The Rock. It’s going to be epic.

Keep your eye on the prize, folks, whatever that may be for you. Have a safe and enjoyable season.

2023 NE USA Tour: Preliminary Plans

The second tour of the coming season will be down memory lane.

Jumping waves on the Outer Banks, NC, circa 1970.

When I was a boy, my parents used to take us down to Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our family vacations. I was the physical barrier separating my two older sisters in the backseat of our Pontiac Strato-Chief. My dad had installed seat belts in our favourite colours according to this arrangement: red, blue, green. Or was it green, blue, red? I can’t remember, but I remember quite a lot about those vacations. They were among my happiest memories growing up, despite the backseat shenanigans.

Not my dad’s Strato-Chief but similar.

We went with another family, and apparently those vacations left an impression on them too, for one of the children named her future child after me. En route, we camped at Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I still remember the nature hikes led by a ranger (who taught us to recognize a particular birdsong by its resemblance to “Drink your teeeeeea!”), the nighttime slide shows at the amphitheatre, walking back to our campsite afterwards, the fog so low you could bounce your flashlight off the underside of a cloud, and the rainstorms. The rainstorms! To this day, I love a good rainstorm from inside a good tent.

Since getting my licence in 2016, I’ve wanted to return and ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, and this summer I finally will.

We would drive much of the Blue Ridge Parkway before spending a day in Williamsburg, then head over to the coast and camp along the Outer Banks. The campground was so close to the ocean you only had to walk along a boardwalk over the dunes to the beach. I wasn’t a strong swimmer and the sea always frightened me, but I enjoyed playing along the shoreline. One year, we went to The Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, and I think my first ever book was a staple-bound biography of The Wright Brothers I purchased from the gift shop there with the few dollars we were given for “spending money.” That seed of interest later sprouted into a dream of being a pilot when I grew up, and although my career ultimately went in a different direction, it has combined with another interest of mine—poetry—to produce a collection of poems that explores the theme of flight. I might not be a pilot, but I can imagine being one; the opening section is in the voice of Wilbur Wright.

A postcard of this famous photo of the first flight sat on my desk and served as inspiration.

The last time I went down there I was 14. My sisters by this point were already doing their own thing and didn’t go, so I had the backseat all to myself and Supertramp playing on my cassette recorder. During one rest stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we came out just in time to watch three motorcyclists start up their bikes and roar off down the parkway. One was a woman on a BMW. I’d never heard of that manufacturer but my dad clearly had. “Did you see that young woman take off on that BMW?” he remarked to my mom.

Perhaps another seed was planted on that holiday because, since getting my licence in 2016, I’ve wanted to return and ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, and this summer I finally will on my Triumph Tiger 800 named Jet.

The trip so far is pretty sketchy, but that’s generally how I like to tour when I’m on my own. In the earlier trip planned for this coming summer, my wife and I are going to visit Newfoundland, and much of that trip has been scheduled. For this one, however, all I know so far is that I’ll ride The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive at some point, camping at Shenandoah National Park. I also know that I’ll ride some dirt in the MABDR and NEBDR (Mid-Atlantic and North East Backcountry Discovery Routes respectively). The MABDR and Blue Ridge Parkway plus Skyline Drive cover similar geography, so it makes sense to do one down and one back. One is asphalt, the other primarily dirt.

I’m thinking I’d also like to get out to the Outer Banks and ride them too if I have the time. They are less than a day’s ride from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lea of Got2Go recently rode them and titled her YouTube video “The BEST road trip of the USA East Coast?”

Got2Go Rides the Outer Banks

At the time of this writing, there are lots of unknowns. Will I be touring solo or with a few friends? I’m good either way, but it would be nice to ride the technical sections of at least the NEBDR with a few buddies, and I’ve put a few feelers out. If I get some takers, will they do the whole tour with me or only one or both of the BDRs? If they can only do the dirt with me, I might change the order of things and ride the BDRs down and the asphalt back, to accommodate them.

I also don’t have a precise route mapped out yet from the Canadian border to the top of Skyline Drive. I’ve got Google Maps, Kurviger, and Rever open in separate tabs of my browser with the “Avoid Highways” option selected and am studying their suggested routes. Depending on which router I’m looking at, it’s between 1000 and 1100 kilometres from my house to where the scenic drives begin. This is prime Civil War geography through Pennsylvania and I’ll be tempted to stop often at historic landmarks.

Will I ride Tail of the Dragon while I’m down there? I’ve heard from several people that it’s not worth it and, in fact, is a little dangerous with superbike and sports car idiots treating it like a track instead of a public road. There are apparently many roads in that area just as good or better and less populated. Do you have any suggestions? Let me know.

So there’s a lot still to decide about this one but one thing I do know is that I’ll be leaving sometime in the fourth week of July and will have a little under three weeks before I have to be back for work mid-August. That’s not a lot of time but my parents did it in three weeks, if memory serves me well, and they had three kids in tow.

I know a lot will have changed and I can’t expect everything to be as I nostalgically remember it. You can’t go back in time or relive your childhood, nor would I want to. But I suspect the mountains and the ocean won’t have changed much since I saw them last, and that’s what I’m going there to see. And this time, instead of being stuck between two sisters in the back seat of a car, I’ll be riding my Tiger 800XC, putting it through the full range of its abilities as I carve new memories through the Appalachian, Blue Ridge, and Great Smokey Mountain ranges.

2023 East Coast Tour: Preliminary Plans

Sketching out the next big adventure

As I write this, we’re having yet another major snowfall in Montreal. It’s been a particularly snowy winter and after a few mild days, some of us got lured into thinking spring is just around the corner. But as I sit looking out the window of my 2nd-storey study, it’s hard to imagine that the Montreal Motorcycle Show is next weekend and we can legally be back on the road in less than a month.

My favourite way to avoid shoveling: write a blog post!

Still, I must continue making travel plans in a kind of blind faith in the power of nature. If I put on my cheap Dollar Store shades, all that white outside becomes a shade of green, and I can almost imagine it being June and setting off. With this trip, there are some reservations that have to be made, like booking the ferry on and off Newfoundland, so I have started to map out a rough outline of our planned exploration of the Canadian east coast. This will be the book-end tour of the west coast trip of 2021.

Learn from your mistakes

I’m trying to keep in mind what I learnt from that last one, specifically, sometimes less is more. That’s what I keep telling my students, anyway, who think they are clarifying their thesis statements by adding clause after clause. The last trip was spent too much on the Superslab in my need to cover distance in the time I had. I don’t want to make the same mistake so am trying to be realistic in what we can see in the time we have away from the dog and our jobs. Marilyn, the domestic accountant, likes to remind me about our budget too.

My first route planned included The Cabot Trail. It seems sacrilegious not to “do” The Cabot Trail if you are anywhere within 150 kilometres of it on a motorbike, and we will be passing through Cape Breton en route to Sydney, NS, where one catches the ferry to get to Newfoundland. But my practical wife reminded me that we have been to Nova Scotia several times and both ridden (at least, I did) and driven The Cabot Trail and maybe we should devote that time to Newfoundland and perhaps Prince Edward Island, which we haven’t visited. This is a classic case of idealism (i.e. “we can do it all”) versus realism (“we are only human”) so we’ll see in the coming months which ideology wins.

The Cabot Trail: an iconic ride

Gaspésie, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland

What we do agree on is that we’d like to ride the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula, or as they like to call it here in Québec, La Gaspésie. I’ve driven that before and it’s spectacular. Marilyn hasn’t seen the Roche Percé, and like the Butchart Gardens we visited on Vancouver Island, we will make a stop at the Reford Gardens in Matane, QC. Forillon National Park at the tip of the peninsula is pretty special too.

Another decision we have is whether or not to visit Prince Edward Island. Our Insight Guides book suggests a three-day 250-kilometre road trip that includes Charlottetown, Argyle Shore Provincial Park, Brackley Beach, and the West Point Lighthouse near Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. Hopefully, those provincial parks offer camping. Technically, I’ve been to PEI, but I was too young to remember much. If we can’t work it in this summer, we will definitely get out there next. Aside from NWT and Nunavut, PEI and Newfoundland are the only provinces or territories I haven’t visited, so I’m hoping we can devote a few days to get a taste of the island.

Should we take the day or night ferry to Newfoundland? There are pros and cons of each, as I see it. A day crossing might be time wasted, just looking out for 7+ hours over endless water. I know there might be the opportunity to do some whale watching, but I’m sure we’ll be doing some of that once on the island. A night crossing is more expensive if you buy a cabin and try to get some sleep. On the other hand, the cabin isn’t any more expensive than a motel room, which we’d have to get soon after landing from a day passage. I’m leaning toward a night crossing. I’ve never experienced sleeping on a boat like my parents did when they immigrated on the Queen Elizabeth II and I think it would be novel. If we cross during the day, we will camp at a favourite campground in Baddeck in order to get to the ferry in the morning; if we cross at night, there might be time to ride The Cabot Trail or stay at Meat Cove, which is an amazing campground off The Cabot Trail right at the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island.

If you’ve visited Newfoundland, what did you do and why? I’m open to advice. There is a growing sense of urgency to decide, especially if we want a cabin as they sell out early, so decisions have to be made soon.

Neither Marilyn nor I has visited Newfoundland before, so this is going to be a treat. Again, we can’t do it all, and we’ve decided to focus on the west coast. Gros Morne National Park is a bucket list item. Then we will continue up the coast on what’s called The Viking Trail because I like history and am interested in seeing the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. Then we will cross the island to Saint John’s because, well, you can’t visit Newfoundland without strolling around Saint John’s, including “hydrating” at a pub on Water Street before climbing Signal Hill. I’ve heard and read about these places and look forward to exploring them in person.

Finally, we have to decide whether we have time to ride The Irish Loop, a 325 kilometre loop along the coastline south of Saint John’s. The name is intriguing since we both have some Irish blood. And anything along a shoreline is bound to please me on the bike. Our guidebook suggests 2-3 days for this, so it really depends on if we can fit it all in.

Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont

Currently, the plan is for Marilyn to fly out of Saint John’s back to Montreal like she did from Vancouver when we were out west, and I’ll continue on solo. And I’m pretty sure I’ll come back via The United States instead of my initial plan to return via Labrador and the north shore. Like the caribou during their migration, I’m detouring to avoid bugs. Besides, the riding through Maine and New Hampshire will be more interesting than through Labrador. I recently purchased a subscription to Rever, which classifies roads on a colour coding system, and there’s a cluster of G1 (Best) roads in the White Mountains of NH that is calling my name.

G1 Best roads to ride are in yellow. That cluster in the White Mountains looks interesting.

I might saunter my way back along the coast, checking out Bar Harbour and a few other places before cutting diagonally north-west through the White Mountains. Without the deadline of ferry crossings, this will be the unplanned, unscheduled segment of the trip, which is generally how I like to tour. Maybe I’ll stay an extra night in New Hampshire so I can ride those primo roads unladen with gear.

This trip is going to take me about three weeks—two weeks with Marilyn, and about a week solo to get back. After a short rest in which I’ll service the bike and change my tires to something more dirt-oriented, I’ll head off again, this time to ride some BDRs. It’s going to be a full and exciting summer on a new bike, and I’ll have lots to write about so click Follow if you want to follow along.

To Vlog or Not to Vlog

Do we need another hero? I ponder the question.

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.

Source: Association of American Universities

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.

Motovlogger wildLensByAbrar’s vlogging gear. Hmm . . . that’s a lot of weight.

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.

This was the best I could do to capture the amazing Stewart-Cassiar Highway in Northern BC.

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.

BMW f650 GS and Triumph Tiger 800 XC Head to Head

Two popular adventure bikes. How do they compare?

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.

ADV Riding as Thrill-Seeking

Is extreme remote riding simply gratuitous risk-taking?

Video credit: Troy R. Bennett

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.

Coincidentally, this series is also by Troy Bennett.

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.

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.

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.

Golden Sides Lookout just north of Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon.

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.

The Wish List, 2023

It’s time to modify the Tiger for dirt.

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.

Foot Pegs

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.

Honestly, I never thought I’d pay $300 for foot pegs, but I’ve been watching YouTube videos of guys doing, or trying to do, the Class 4 roads on the NEBDR and thought, “I’m going to need all the help I can get.”

Tail Plate

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.

You Can’t Get There From Here: Navigation Apps

In this final post in a series on gear, I discuss the navigation apps I use when touring.

Old-School Navigation. I still like to tour with a map on my tank bag.

“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.

OsmAnd Screenshots

I’ve tried, 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.)

Route Planning

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.

Screenshot of the web-based Kurviger route planning app.

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.

Screenshot of Kurviger Pro. All roads lead to Lachute.

Non-Navigation Apps

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.

iOverlander screenshot. Tent icons are campgrounds; crescent moon icons are wild camping spots. Clicking on the icon brings up a window with user-based descriptions and photos.

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.

Rally Book Mode. Ready for the Dakar.

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.

Final Words

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.

Ready for my sticky dots.

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.