20-20

 

Kevin_cropHindsight may be 20-20 but nobody can predict the future. This Covid-19 has thrown us all for a loop, and we still don’t know how the story will end. It’s hard to make plans for the summer when everything is so up in the air, but I am a Gen-Xer. We grew up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over our heads and still managed to make it to school each day, even hold a few tentative plans for the near future. A little pandemic isn’t going to stop me planning the riding season set to begin.

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Obviously, much of this is pending how the pandemic plays out, so I’ve made some educated guesses. The regions are starting to open now and the stores and schools will be in a few weeks. It looks like we will be starting to loosen social distancing restrictions in the near future, although I think everyone is going to be wary of close proximity in confined spaces for some time to come.

For that reason, I think most of my riding this summer will be either solo or with a few riding buddies, cognizant of minimizing contact and risk. I’m okay with that. Riding is already a pretty solitary activity even when shared. I love solo touring, but as I said in my last post, I love club riding too. Here are my tentative plans for this summer amid this weird year so far.

Touring

The first little tour I’m going to do is down into Vermont and New Hampshire for a few nights once the border re-opens. Last year I rode the Puppy Dog Route on my own in June and it was just the thing to recenter after being stretched out of shape by 100 students, each wanting a piece of me. This year I will try the Hamster Ride, which is the same sort of thing as Puppy Dog but in New Hampshire instead of Vermont. It’s a series of dirt roads traversing a good part of the state up to the Canadian Border. I love dirt roads, state parks, the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, and the secondary highways of the northeastern states. I think Bigby and I will attempt Mount Washington while passing nearby, but I won’t be putting any “This bike climbed Mount Washington” sticker on my pannier. That’s boasting. Besides, it makes you question the reliability of any vehicle that feels the need to advertise the accomplishment.

MtWashington

Photo Credit: Ted Dillard

I don’t have any other small tours planned, but Marilyn and I will be doing some day trips together. To beat cabin fever, we’ve done a few rides along the river these past few weeks. We go in the late afternoon and it’s a slow, easy ride west as the sun sparkles off the water. Marilyn says she thinks she’s caught the motorcycle bug. The other day while doing some routine maintenance on the bike, I noticed my rear brake pads were finished, so I’m waiting on new pads to arrive in the mail. Now she’s asking, “When are those pads arriving because I want to go for another ride?” Finally, she might be getting the appeal, and as long as we don’t get caught in a rainstorm, I think I’ll be able to cultivate that interest into a simmering passion. We will pack day lunches and head off on our own small adventures.

But The Big One, the tour I’m most looking forward to, is the cross-country one I’ve wanted to do since I was 19. I thought it might be this summer, but then our dog got sick, so it was put on hold; then sadly our dog died, so the possibility was back on; but then Covid hit, so now I’m not sure. But all going well, I’ll be heading across Canada sometime in July. I’ll head up toward Ottawa on Highway 417 which turns into the 17 after Ottawa, then I’ll just keep going, westward, through Chalk River, Mattawa, North Bay, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and just keep going, as far as Bigby will take me. I’ve never driven across the country, so this is going to be a real discovery for me of the country I grew up in and call home.

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Mattawa, ON., Gateway to the West

The plan is to meet Marilyn somewhere out west (she will fly) and we’ll visit her sister-in-law in Washington State. I may be tempted to ride a portion of Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, while I’m close, and that’s why I want to do this in July, although the heat will be worst then; I want to have the flexibility that no fixed deadline provides, and I have to be back to work in August. Then I’m going to come back through The United States, checking out their national parks. I’ve never seen the midwest, or The Grand Canyon, or Yosemite, or much of The States to be honest. So I’ll be discovering that country too, camping all along the way.

I’m considering doing some of this on dirt, either some BDR sections (Backcountry Discovery Routes) or a part of the TAT (Trans America Trail). There’s a lot to plan, but now that my work is done, I have the time to start.

Club Riding

I won’t be going on any tours with the club like I did last year, but I’ll do some day rides in the Montreal area. These are easy rides of 350 km/day or so into the surrounding regions with a few forays across the border. See my last post on the benefits of club riding. This year will be muted by social distancing, but motorcyclists are used to managing risk.

I’ve decided to lead a couple of dirt rides for the club. We are primarily an asphalt club but there are now a few members with ADV or ADV-styled bikes and even some cruisers who aren’t afraid of dirt. Often on club rides, I’d see an interesting dirt road leading off into the woods and I’d be dying to go exploring. I’m betting there are a few others who feel the same. Ideally, I’d like to offer these as an optional portion of a larger club ride, with a plan to meet the group for lunch. I’m going to call these 50/50 rides (50% road, 50% dirt). With my new Cardo PacTalk comm unit, club riding will be a whole new experience for me this year.

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Off-Roading

I cannot tell a lie. What I am most looking forward to this season is developing my off-road skills. It’s been a few years now since I took some beginner courses to get me started and I’m ready to take my skills to the next level. I’ve purchased Chris Birch’s Say No to Slow set of instructional videos on Vimeo and have been watching them while I wait for the brake pads to arrive. I can’t wait to get out there and try some of what Chris is saying.

Why pay for something that is free on YouTube, you ask? In a previous post, I listed some of my favourite online teaching channels, and I still think those are excellent resources. But Chris goes into a lot more detail than most of those, and more importantly, he covers the boring fundamentals that those channels can’t afford or choose not to cover, and that’s what I need. Yeah, everybody wants to learn how to wheelie and drift (but not at the same time!), but I’m more interested in things like bike set-up, foot placement, body positioning, and cornering in the dirt, which are covered in the video series. I was surprised that the entire set of 12 videos is under $50 Canadian. I don’t have any affiliation with the production team. I just know good pedagogy when I see it and what I need now most is guided self-practice.

There is a sandpit just over the border in Ontario I practice at, and a network of trails and Class 4 roads not much further starting in Hawkesbury. My bike has a new rear shock—one capable of some serious dirt—and Ricor Intiminator valves in the front forks,  so the suspension has just been upgraded to dirt-worthy. It’s got good crash protection, as do I with my new Leatt STX neck brace. We’re ready.

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The STX is for street and adventure riding. The wider scapula wings do not conflict with your back protector and you do not need integrated body armour.

Are you ready? It’s been a crappy spring for weather but the double-digits are just around the corner. Is your bike ready? I’ll be writing an article for my new paying gig, Riders Plus, on how to get started maintaining your bike. So get your tools out and let’s change the coolant, the brake fluid, the oil, check your tire pressures, and get ready for a new season. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Riding makes everything a whole lot better, especially when shared in the company of friends. If you want to escape the bad news for a day or more, there’s nothing quite like a fast motorcycle to help you do it.

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Bigby, ready for the 2020 season.

How to Survive the Off-Season

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As I write this, 40 cm of snow is descending on my home city of Montreal, Canada. My place of work is closed. In these parts, we call this phenomenon a Snow Day, and while you know in the back of your mind you’ll have to make up this missed work at a later time, for the moment it doesn’t matter. You have an unexpected day off!

Now what to do with your “free day”? Snow days for motorcyclists, however enjoyable, seem to accentuate what is already a painful time of the year. The bike is in storage for four months, leaving you counting the days toward spring and The Big Melt. You’ve got four months to fill and now you can’t even use work as a distraction. Well, here are some of my favourite ways to get through a snow day and the winter months.

Window Shop Online for Gear

My son likes to make fun of me because I’m always researching my next gear purchase. Gotta Get the Gear! I could walk into a store in the spring and buy everything I need for the new season, but what fun would there be in that? Half the fun is researching, and the other half is prowling for the too-good-to-be-true discontinued clearance-sale last-item deal in your size! (Fringe benefits of being abnormally slim is that the Small is often the last to go.)

Follow Someone Around the World

Can’t take the bike out for a spin? No problem. You can follow someone around the world online or in print. Currently I’m following Itchy Boots as Noraly makes her way solo up through South America towards Alaska. I’ve also recently discovered Ewen and Charlie’s YouTube channel where you can re-watch Long Way Round, Long Way Down, Race to Dakar, and By Any Means—all free. Thanks guys! But my favourite series is Races to Places with Lyndon Poskitt. Lyndon and Basil Bike tour around the world—but here’s the catch—they race in an international cross-country race on every continent. Hence Races to Places. Lyndon races in the Mongolian Rally, the Dakar, Roof of Africa, Baja 1000, and others, filming everything himself. It’s a huge commitment but he’s developed a huge online following. After 9 seasons and some 230,000 kilometres, the series has just wrapped up. You don’t have to watch all 9. Jump in anywhere; they’re all good. There are many, many more adventure riders spanning the globe and through the power of GoPro and YouTube, we can vicariously ride along. Martin Heidegger never anticipated this when he was so critical of technology. 

If old technology is more your thing, how about the book that started the adventure riding industry, Jupiter’s Travels? Or Lone Rider: the First British Woman to Motorcycle Around the World by Elspeth Beard? Also on my reading list is Motorcycle Messengers: Tales From the Road By Writers Who Ride, edited by Jeremy Kroeker. As more people today are travelling the world by motorcycle and then writing about it, a genre called motorcycle journalism is emerging. If you are shut in, a good book about riding can help pass the time.

Watch the Dakar (Again)

January means the Dakar, a 10,000 kilometre race over 12 days, the equivalent of riding from Alaska to Florida in two weeks. It’s the most difficult, gruelling, and therefore prestigious off-road race in the world. This year the race moved to Saudi Arabia and there was some criticism about that, but the racing is always good no matter where it is. Watch race summaries of each of the 12 stages or just sit back and watch the Best of Bikes compilation.

Watch Team Races to Places in the Eco Africa 2020 Rally.

One series I especially enjoyed this winter was Lyndon Poskitt’s team Races to Places compete in the Africa Eco Rally Race 2020. The race covers the same terrain as the original Paris-Dakar race, across northern Africa, ending on the west coast in Dakar. This was Lyndon’s next brain child after completing his round-the-world adventure in Races to Places. He put together a team of five riders for the race and brought along his dad and others as mechanics and support crew and a media crew as well, liberating him from doing all the filming and editing. In the first few episodes, we watch Lyndon build the bikes from the frame up (KTM 450 Rallys), introduce the team, organize the gear, and ship everything over to Africa. Then the racing begins. Every episode includes both race footage and life at the bivouac, and I find this series provides a better, more complete idea of rally racing than the professional Dakar footage. Well done Lyndon! Oh yeah, and there’s a dramatic conclusion. If you’re into rally racing, you can’t miss this 17-part series.

Learn New Skills

Sports psychologists claim that visualizing technique has the same physiological effects as actually doing it. That’s all the excuse I need to spend more time online watching motorcycle videos. But unlike the above, there are plenty of schools willing to offer rider tips and technical training for free. Clinton Smout of SMART Riding Adventures has an excellent series of instructional videos, as does Bret Tkacs at Mototrek. I also really like Brake Magazine’s Mini Tip Monday, where you can learn frivolous but impressive skills like how to do a donut, or spin turn, or get on and off your bike like pro. If those still leave you craving more instruction, why not get it from The Man himself, Graham Jarvis? Here are 5 Techniques to Improve Your Hard Enduro Skills. Even if you ride a big adventure bike like me or any other bike, these techniques will improve your riding.

Plan Your Next Adventure

Okay, leaving aside YouTube for the moment, another thing you can do during the winter months is plan your next adventure or tour. I plan to travel across Canada this summer, coming back through The United States. That’s a minimum of 10,000 kilometres, so I’d better get planning! I’m actually a pretty minimal planner, choosing to keep an open schedule and camp where convenient, but I don’t want to be riding past historic landmarks unawares. So I bought National Geographic’s National Historic Sites of Canada and am perusing it. I also have to decide if I’m going to do any of the Trans Canada Adventure Trail, Trans America Trail, or any Backcountry Discovery Routes while travelling. I’d like to, but because I’ll be solo, I need to get a sense of the difficulty of specific sections and routes. Fortunately, there is a lot of information online about these dirt options. But all trip planning begins and ends with GoogleMaps and Tripadvisor. So start getting excited about your next big trip by scouting your route, finding accommodations, restaurants, and not-to-be-missed landmarks. And if you’re not going on a big tour, you can at least scout your local area for those hidden gems.

Peruse Bike Forums

Speaking of trip planning, perhaps no better resource for adventure riders is ADVRider, including its hugely popular forum. I went looking for info on how many inmates (i.e. registered users) are on that forum and found nothing. But a list of registered users is 9342 pages long and each page contains 40 users, so that means there are 373,680 users! Wow! No doubt this reflects the popularity of the site and the ADV market. There’s a lot of good info there including forums on trip planning, ride reports, GPS & navigation, bike-specific maintenance forums, something titled Face Plant (I can only imagine what that’s about), and a personal favourite of mine, the Toolkit Thread. Everyone’s searching for that must-have, elusive tool, and it seems a matter of personal pride to many that they can whittle their entire toolkit down to fit inside a used pack of chewing gum. The other forum I practically live on during winter is f650.com. You may recognize the similarity in the name of that forum and this blog and that is not a coincidence. The Chain Gang, as it’s affectionately known, is a forum dedicated to owners of the BMW 650 bikes in their many iterations—Classic, Funduro, Dakar, and mine, the GS. Any mechanical issue I have, I go there first. Heck, sometimes I read about other people’s problems so I’m prepared for when that happens to me. Finding and reading a bike-specific forum devoted to your bike will alert you to the weaknesses of your machine and help prepare you for when you need to do that roadside repair.

Listen to Motorcycle Podcasts

Like YouTube and user forums, there’s a variety of motorcycle podcasts and you can find one that fits the kind of riding you like to do. One of my favourites is Adventure Rider Radio. Host Jim Martin and producer Elizabeth Martin do an excellent job putting together a weekly show that covers adventure stories, technical tips, industry developments, and more. But you don’t have to wait for a snow day to listen to a podcast. I use a podcast app on my phone that allows me to download the episode to my SD card and listen to it anywhere. I’ve found I can’t read on the bus after a day at work so a podcast is just the thing to zone out during my commute. 

Work on Your Bike

Of course, if you have a heated garage, you can always do some work on your bike. Heck, I don’t have a heated garage and still do work on the bike. Last weekend I spent some time in the shed removing the rear shock, replacing an engine mount, replacing the starter motor O-ring, and torquing my crankcase bolts. The temperature had risen to a balmy -8 Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) so I took the opportunity to do this work and be ready to ride come spring. I’ll be back out there as soon as my new shock is ready to install. A riding buddy repainted his entire bike last year, and another had the engine rebored and did other major mods, including repainting. If you are one of the lucky ones to have a heated garage, now is the time to do that maintenance and thumb your nose at the rest of us.

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Stay warm and carry on.

Write a Blog

Yes, you knew this was coming. Another way you can spend a snow day is by writing a blog post. 650thumper gives me the opportunity to revisit my motorcycle adventures, and when I heard that the college is closed, my first thought was that I’d like to spend my “free day” thinking and writing about the freedom of motorcycling.

How do you survive the off season? Let us know in the comments section below.

The Wish List, 2020

Biker Santa

It’s that time of the year again, when we reflect on the year that’s been and plan for the year ahead. This year I upgraded my training by attending two remise en formes, discovered Vermont’s wonderful dirt roads, travelled up the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence almost into Labrador, and wrote a handful of articles for northernontario.travel. I was so busy travelling, I didn’t do a lot of club riding, although I did lead two day rides: one to Ottawa for the Tulip Festival, and one to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont.

Next year I want to start to introduce what I’m calling hybrid rides to our club. Those are rides where a group splits off from the main group and rides some dirt and then meets up with the gang later for lunch. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now but just have to figure out the logistics. I know there are some club members with ADV or ADV-style bikes who are interested in riding some easy dirt roads.

I want to do more challenging trail riding to improve my off-road skills, and it might finally be time to head across the country, completing that teenage dream of seeing Canada from a motorcycle. But more on that later. Right now I’m thinking of the goodies I’m asking Santa for to make my riding next year safer and more enjoyable. Here is the Wish List, 2020.

Stadium Suspensions PR1 Rear Shock

My rear shock now has over 90,000 kilometres on it and has never been serviced.  Imagine, that oil in there is 13 years old! Also, the stock shock on my bike is okay for road riding, but it’s too soft for any serious off-roading. The spring is also too soft; when I’m fully loaded, I’m sitting 2 cm under the recommended sag. I could try to have it serviced and replace the spring, but the combined cost would be almost as much as a new shock. I think it’s time to upgrade.

I’ve been talking with Stadium Suspensions in Beloeil, Quebec, just south of Montreal, where I live. They specialize in ATV, MX, and off-road suspensions. The nice thing about going with a company like this is that they can customize the shock to your weight and riding style. They have three models, and since I’m neither a beginner nor a pro, I’m going to buy the mid-priced unit, the PR1.

Stadium

You can see that this shock is an upgrade from my stock one because the PR1 has a remote nitrogen reservoir. On mine, the nitrogen is in the same compartment as the oil, which is fine for street riding, but once you get off road and the shock is working hard for extended periods of time, the oil heats up and mixes with the gas and froths and you start to lose your compression. Separating it is the answer; the best shocks are designed with a remote reservoir.

Other features of the shock include:

  • Spring preload adjustable
  • Rebound damping adjustable
  • Compression damping adjustable
  • Thermostatic system
  • Velocity Reaction Damping System (VRDS)
  • Bladder system reservoir
  • Length adjustable (+/- 10 mm)
  • Piggyback Reservoir, 360 degree angle adjustable
  • Magnum reservoir optional
  • Tool free compression knobs optional
  • Individually custom build for rider/application
  • Fully serviceable/repairable/convertible
  • Gold, red or blue, anodised reservoir
  • Progressive or linear springs

The other nice thing about Stadium is that they can build into the new shock my existing preload adjuster. I really like the ability to adjust the preload with the turn of a knob—no tools necessary—so I’m sold. With my new Ricor Intiminator fork valves in the front and this baby at the back, I’m going to be flying!

Protection

Speaking of which, I’m getting up to speeds now off-roading at which I really should be wearing a neck protector. A neck protector prevents your head from rotating beyond a certain degree, saving your neck in a fall. I don’t want to end up a quadriplegic, thank you very much. I don’t have a specific one chosen yet, but Leatt are a major manufacturer. Again, I don’t need the pro version (5.5) so I’ll probably go for the 3.5.

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In fact, I believe these are kind of a custom fit item since they are semi-restrictive, so I’ll probably just try a number of them on at a store with my helmet on and see which feels best.

The other piece of protective gear I’ll pick up is a new back protector. I love my Knox Venture Shirt but the pack protector is cheap EPS and prevents air-flow. On those really hot days, it results in an uncomfortable wet back and has led me to not wanting to wear my protective gear. Knox have a better one which, as you can see, allows air circulation. It’s D30 so will provide better protection too. Neither do I want to be a paraplegic.

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Auxiliary Lighting

I’ve been thinking of getting aux lighting for years, ever since I had a run-in with some roadkill coming home late one night from New Hampshire. Sure, you can get the cheapo made-in-China generic knockoff version at Amazon for $40, but they break easily and don’t stand up to the beating of off-roading. Everyone I know who’s bought cheap has had issues soon after. There’s also the quality of the LED light; it’s apparently not just a question of the number of lumens but the optics technology involved to reflect those lumens where you want them. If I’m going across the country, some auxiliary lighting will help get me there.

I’m pretty sure I’ve had Denali D4s on a previous wish list, but I think I’m going to go with the Cyclops Long Range Auxiliary Lights. I’m very happy with the Cyclops LED lamp I put in my headlight. In fact, it’s been one of the best upgrades I’ve ever done on the bike. It occurred to me the other day that Cyclops also make auxiliary lighting, so I’ll stay with the tried and true. Cyclops lights might be a little cheaper than Denalis and have a number of features that make them a compelling choice. I like also the smaller size on my little bike.

Cyclops

The Long Range lights stand up to their name by projecting a whopping 883 feet down the trail. They come in either a 10˚ or 20˚ arc, and a popular set-up is to put a 20˚ unit on the right and a 10˚ unit on the left. This arrangement will give good illumination of the side of the road while still penetrating those 883 down the road.

But of course it’s not just about seeing things but also being seen. Studies have shown that oncoming drivers sometimes mistake that single headlight for a double in the distance and turn in front of you. Having that triangle configuration makes you a lot more visible day and night.

One very nice feature of these lights is the ability to wire them directly into your headlight switch and program them. You set the intensity you want for low-beam driving lights so you aren’t blinding oncoming drivers. Then, when you flick on your high beams, you get full intensity. The plug-and-play wiring harness makes installation easy.

Got you curious about how good these are? Here’s a sequence of comparative photos provided by ADVPulse.

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Cardo Packtalk

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I’ve been of two-minds about communications systems. One of the things I like about riding is the solitude. Even when you are riding in a group, you are alone with your thoughts, as Ted Bishop aptly describes in Riding With Rilke:

When I first put on a full-face helmet, I have a moment of claustrophobia. I can hear only my own breathing and I feel like one of those old-time deep-sea divers. . . . When you hit the starter, your breath merges with the sound of the bike, and once you’re on the highway, the sound moves behind you, becoming a dull roar that merges with the wind noise, finally disappearing from consciousness altogether.

Even if you ride without a helmet, you ride in a cocoon of white noise. You get smells from the roadside, and you feel the coolness in the dips and the heat off a rock face, but you don’t get sound. On a bike, you feel both exposed and insulated. Try putting in earplugs: the world changes, you feel like a spacewalker. What I like best about motorcycle touring is that even if you have companions you can’t talk to them until the rest stop, when you’ll compare highlights of the ride. You may be right beside them, but you’re alone. It is an inward experience. Like reading.

Riding a motorcycle is one of the few occasions in my life to be in the moment. It’s just me and the sensations of the bike and the beauty of the surrounding environment. Why would I want to pollute that silence with people nattering in my ear?

Maybe I’m just anti-social. Maybe I’m a purist, or a rebel, or all three at different times. I’ve heard the argument about comm systems increasing safety, but my response is if you need to rely on others to stay safe, you shouldn’t be riding. On the big club tour I did last summer, I was the only rider without a comm device. Did I feel left out? Not really, except when I went to talk to someone at a rest or gas stop and that person gestured to say “I can’t hear you because someone else is talking to me in my helmet.” Yeah, ironically, comm systems can alienate people too.

But I’ve decided to join the club, so to speak, and get one, and I have to say it’s mostly for the ability to hear voice commands from my GPS, to hear incoming texts and send out voice-activated replies, and to answer and initiate phone calls while riding. But I’ll admit it will occasionally be nice to communicate with others in a group, especially if I’m leading. And of course there is always the option to mute the nattering when desired.

Club members are very happy with the Cardo Packtalk, mostly for its mesh technology which makes connecting (and reconnecting) large numbers of riders fairly easy. I had the opportunity to try one during a club ride and found the sound quality good. And while I didn’t have the opportunity to test the connectivity to my phone, other club members have said that the person you are talking to on the phone cannot tell you are riding a motorcycle, so the mic must work very well at cutting out ambient noise. My feeling is that this purchase is going to be the most significant change in my riding experience.

Pearly’s Possum Socks

Pearlys

Last but not least, I’m asking Santa for socks in my stocking. I heard about Pearly’s Possum Socks on Adventure Rider Radio. The host Jim Martin raves about them. Socks, you say? You want Santa to bring you socks? Well these are not just any kind of socks. They are a blend of merino wool, which I’ve raved about elsewhere, and possum fibres, which are hollow and therefore super warm since each fibre has a built-in dead-air space. (I wonder how vegan motorcyclists manage?) They are apparently also very soft. A little nylon to strengthen everything up and you have a premium sock that is warm, breathable, comfortable, durable, and anti-bacterial in a compression fit to aid circulation and to help avoid muscle fatigue.

At a premium price. With extra S&H to Canada and the currency conversion, these socks come to over $100 a pair! Gulp. I’ve balked a click away from purchasing them a few times, which is why I’m asking Santa to bring me some instead.

* * *

I always feel very First World, or is that now Developed World?, in making these lists. I’ve worked hard my entire life to achieve a certain level of material comfort, but I’m also aware of the opportunity I have here in Canada and the lack of opportunity less fortunate have elsewhere. And being year-end, I always end these lists by expressing gratitude for what can’t be bought: my health, my wife, and my son. I’m also pretty fortunate to have so many friends, a community of riders and others who help give life meaning and value.

We don’t have to look far to see those who are alone and without basic material comforts. And neither did Saint Nicholas, who gave his inheritance to the poor and became the patron saint of sailors, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, and students, among others. His charity lives on amid the advertising and commercial hype of Christmas as long as we continue to look.

Happy holidays, and safe riding in 2020.

Make Your Own Heated Jacket For Under $50

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The riding season is just around the corner, and remembering those cold early- and late-season rides last year, I decided to get some heated gear during the off season. But a heated jacket can easily run over $200, so I decided to try making my own.

I started by buying the heating pads on eBay for a grand total of $7.39 (all amounts mentioned are Canadian), including shipping and handling. I don’t know how a company can make something, anything, and ship it halfway around the world for that cost, and I probably don’t want to know. The shipping is slow, by boat, so allow several weeks. Still, at that price, I’m not going to hold it against the seller.

You can get them in configurations of 7 small pads or 3 large pads. For the sake of simplicity, I went with the latter. 20190322_100526I figured I’d place one pad horizontally across my upper back to heat my lungs (similar to a chamois in quality winter coats), and two lower, vertically over my kidneys. I’m no biologist, but I remember my Grade 6 teacher saying that if you protect the essential organs, the extremities will be fine.

These pads are 5V and draw 8.5 W—enough to keep me warm but not so much as to tax my electrical system. (I can power this from a battery pack in the inner pocket or plug into my bike using an Optimate USB adapter.) Optimate

This plugs directly into an SAE lead from the battery (for my battery tender) and will handle the conversion from 12V to 5. I’m not including this in the cost of the jacket because I already had it to charge my phone.

I then bought an inexpensive jacket from Mark’s Work Sweatshop (here in Quebec, called L’Équipeur). I was fortunate to find the one pictured above on the liquidation rack for $35. You want it fairly snug since it’s going under your riding jacket and close to your body without dead air space—a known insulator (Grade 6 Physics). Wallfart and Wieners are other good places to try for a cheap vest or jacket. If you get one with a quilted back, your sewing won’t show as much.

The final item was some material to cover the pads once sewn in. I didn’t want to open up the jacket and sew the pads inside the lining for two reasons. First, that would have been a lot of work, and second, I wanted all the quilted insulating material on the “outside” of the pads. So I decided to sew them on the inside of the jacket and cover them with material, and the cheapest material I could think of is a section of a thin, athletic T-shirt I bought from Goodwill for $5.

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I started by pinning the pads in the jacket where I want them.

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I then dug out the sewing machine my mother gave me (God rest her soul) and threaded it with black thread. I can’t help you with the sewing part of this job except to say two contradictory things: a) it’s not as difficult as you may think, and b) read the manual and struggle through your first project; it gets easier. I think of sewing like typing: an essential skill that will pay dividends many times over in the future.

Anyway, you have to be careful when sewing because you don’t want to hit any of the thin wire in or connecting the pads and break it, ruining your pads. Fortunately, the company provides a good inch of sewing material as border.

Once the pads were sewn in, I cut the shirt, pinned it over top, and chalked my sewing line so, again, I wouldn’t accidentally hit any wires. Make sure all wires are tucked inside. You have to leave a gap in sewing the new lining for the cord to exit the lining.

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You can see on the right where I’ve placed two pins horizontally. That’s my marker to stop sewing, and where the cord exits. All was going well until I sewed one of the sleeves to the jacket (Doh!). How to use a stitch-ripper is another essential skill.

After sewing all the way around (minus the port), I cut the excess material away. This is the finished product.

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My jacket has the added feature of an inside pocket with a headphone port. I threaded the USB plug through so I can use a battery pack in the pocket when I’m off the bike. The pads have three settings: high, medium, and low. There’s also a timer setting to shut off automatically after 30 minutes.

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I’ve tested the jacket using a battery pack and it works great! I might not be quite ready to mass produce these, but I’m ready for those cold April rides.

Total cost: Jacket $35 + pads $7 + T-shirt $5 = $47

 

The Wish List, 2019

Moto Santa

If I’m going to get my wish list to Santa before Christmas, I’d better send it now. This year has been a tough one for a few reasons, but mostly because my mom died in the fall. That threw everything off, including my blog writing. I just didn’t have the appetite to write, or ride, or do any of my other interests. But the midwinter holiday and the turn of the new year is as good an opportunity as any to turn the corner and start to look forward to the warmer weather and the chance to ride again. Here are a few things I’d like to get for the 2019 season.

But first, let’s take a look at what didn’t make it off my wish list last year.

  • Upper crash bars: check
  • Inline fuel filter: check
  • Flexible front flashers: check
  • Chain-breaker: check
  • Wheel lug/tire iron wrench: check
  • New front tire: check
  • Body armour: check (not Leat but Knox)

So the only two items that didn’t make it off my 2018 wish list were the Garmin Montana GPS, for the second year running, and the Sea-to-Summit mattress.

Garmin Montana 650

The GPS is a must this year; I can’t put it off anymore. As you know if you read my last post, I actually suffered a breakdown on my tour this summer from using a phone GPS. The port on the phone is just not built to withstand the demands of off-road riding—the vibrations, the moisture, the drain on the battery. I ended up jeopardizing my bike’s battery which led to the breakdown. And if you’re doing any serious off-roading, you’re often going to be outside of cell service. This is a fairly big-ticket item so I’ve been avoiding it, but fortunately, I’ve been doing some writing for Ontario Tourism and the money earned from that writing will offset the cost this year.

There is a new 680, but the 650 will be more than enough for my purposes and maybe I’ll get a deal on a discontinued model. I’m so tired of trying to use GoogleMaps to plan my rides! It works okay to get you there but you don’t have much choice in the route (just “avoid motorways,” “avoid toll roads,” and “avoid ferries.”) I’m looking forward to being able to use BaseCamp to plan rides on my computer and import tracks to the GPS. It’s also going to open up a whole new world of off-road track sharing through forums. The Montana is the most popular off-road GPS on the market, with topographical maps, the ability to geocache photos, dual map capability, a micro SD card slot, and many more features that I’ll probably never use. Best of all, it’s rugged.

A Lithium Battery

Shorai

Shorai LFX14L5-BS12

I’ve also decided it’s time to retire my old wet cell battery. I actually got two when I bought the bike. One died about a year ago, and the second is now getting weak. The battery on my bike is known to lose fluid because it’s right next to the upper oil tank, so it gets hot. Also, you have to remove all the plastics on the bike to check and to maintain the battery, so a low maintenance battery would be a huge benefit. I’ve decided to try a lithium battery. I heard about them on Adventure Rider Radio but had concerns about using a lithium battery in a cold climate like Canada’s. However, I’ve heard on forums that it shouldn’t be a problem. You just turn the electrics on for a minute or two to let the battery warm up before hitting the starter. I won’t have to worry about this one boiling dry, as my current one did outside of Mattawa, and an added huge benefit is that it’s much lighter than a wet battery. It’s the easiest way to shed several pounds up high on my bike.

Ricor Intiminator Fork Valves

Intiminators

41mm Ricor Intiminator Valves

This past year, I lost the preload adjuster on the rear shock. I think what happened was the new Holan upper crash bars install too close to the adjuster. The bars use the same mounting point, and I think the adjuster threads got strained from the tip-overs and eventually stripped. I was lucky to find a generous soul willing to swap me his adjuster for mine, but in doing some research on this item, I discovered that many riders find the suspension on my f650GS too soft, especially for off-roading. I’m not a big guy, so I don’t find the rear too soft, but the front end does dive under braking, and for the past while I’ve had a clunking noise coming from the forks on certain types of bumps. I was going to rebuild the forks this summer, replacing the bushings, so I’ve decided to install some Ricor Intiminators at the same time to firm up the front end. They don’t look like much, but these babies have something called Inertia Active Technology. Developed over a twenty year span, this technology can distinguish between chassis motion (fork dive) and wheel motion (bumps in the road). It allows the wheel to move and stay in contact with the road but doesn’t allow the forks to compress when front brake is applied. How, you ask? You’ll have to read the details of the technology at their site. The bottom line is that you get a cushy ride on the road without the fork dive under braking, and better handling off road. According to many comments on user forums, the suspension on my bike is its greatest weakness, so I’m looking forward to improving the front end.

 

K & N Air Filter

KandN

This one is kind of a no-brainer, which makes me wonder what took me so long to make the switch from paper to cloth air filters. Okay, I do remember reading up on foam filters when I first got the bike, but what I read was that the OEM paper filter protects better than foam. And that is true, partially. Dry foam filters have holes upwards of 90 microns in size, too big to stop sand, which can penetrate your engine and do nasty stuff to it. But an oiled foam filter will protect your engine just fine, and most dirt bikes and off-road bikes like KTMs use oiled foam filters. However, too much oil results in loss of power because not enough air is getting in to mix with the fuel. Recently I discovered the K & N cloth filter which protects as well as OEM but is reusable like foam. It’s also zero maintenance (no oil to administer) and is reusable; just clean in soapy water, rinse, and dry each year. Sounds like the best option for me. Goodbye disposable paper filters.

Klim Carlsbad Pants

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Santa came a little early this year with some Klim Carlsbad pants for me, so this one is not officially on my wish list. I love my Klim Dakar pants; nothing is more flexible and durable for off-road riding than the Dakars. But they are not waterproof. That’s just not the way they are designed. They are designed to pull through overhanging thorny brush without tearing, and to allow maximum airflow when it’s not, so not waterproof and not for adventure touring. I’ve been desiring a Gore-Tex pant that will keep me cool in the heat and dry in the storms. No stopping under bridges to pull on rain gear, no trying to anticipate weather—just ride rain or shine and remove guessing from your day. I saw these on sale 43% off their regular price about a month ago and jumped before Fort Nine sold out of my size.

Steel-Braided Brake Lines

Single Front Line

Last year I accidentally damaged my rear brake line while fixing my rear shock. I’ve decided I might as well take the opportunity to upgrade to steel lines which are better for off-roading anyway. Galfer lines are made in the USA, are model specific, and have teflon inner coating to avoid deterioration. There are even colour options for both the line and mounting hardware. I’ve already got new front and rear disc pads waiting to be installed, so I’ll be doing a complete brake rebuild in the spring.

That’s it. A suspension upgrade, a lithium battery, and (finally!) a motorcycle GPS top my wish list for this year. But like last year and every year, my main wish is continued health. A friend of mine is currently battling brain cancer and wasn’t able to ride last year. He’s recently had a setback and will be spending Christmas in the hospital. I’m thinking of him a lot and would gladly forego all these goodies and more for his health, but unfortunately there are no deals like that available in life. You have to count your blessings, and bless each day you have to live. However messed up this world is, experiencing all it has to offer is and always will be the most wonderful gift of all.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours.

The Lumberjack Trail

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Voyageur Days. Mattawa, ON

What’s your ideal ride? For some, it’s a winding road like Tail of the Dragon; for others, it’s a single-track or ATV trail cutting through dense forest. Mine is some combination of both—a winding dirt road with some technical sections that challenge, like hill-climbs, mud, even the occasional water crossing. That’s what I was looking for when I decided to do some off-roading in Northern Ontario this summer.

I enjoyed looping Georgian Bay with my wife, and I enjoyed the rest stop in Kipawa, Quebec, at a cottage. I enjoyed the ride up to Moonbeam, albeit in the rain. But what I had really been looking forward to is a full day in the dirt, and this was the day I could finally do it.

The violent rainstorm of the night before had subsided by the time I crawled out of my tent. After my breakfast of champions, porridge, I geared up and headed to the park gate. I figured the attendant would be familiar with the area and able to direct me to the trailhead of The Lumberjack Trail, a 26 km. loop from Moonbeam to Kapuskasing I’d found online at an interactive trip planner.

Lumberjack Trail

Lumberjack Kapuskasing-Moonbeam Loop

I rode down to the gate, pulled a U-turn and parked. When I entered the kiosk, the young lady was staring into her phone. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Good morning. Do you know where I could pick up The Lumberjack Trail?”

Teenaged attendant: (looks up from phone) “The what?”

Me: “The Lumberjack Trail. It’s an off-road trail that goes from here to Kapuskasing. I saw it online.”

Teenaged attendant: (goes back to phone) “Ok Google, what’s The Lumberjack Trail?”

Me: “You don’t know it?”

Attendant: “There’s a lot of trails around here. Basically it’s the only thing to do. Me and my friends go on them on the weekends.”

Me: “Oh, so you ride off-road too?”

Attendant: “No we go in cars. Anything.”

Me: “Well, it’s supposed to go right past here.”

Attendant: “There’s a really pretty one. It’s a . . . a pépinière. Oh, how do you call it in English? Ok Google . . .”

Me: “A nursery.”

Attendant: “Yes. There are a lot of pine trees. But I don’t know how to find it. Try the Tourist Information.”

So off I rode, back to the flying saucer, pondering whether I should ask for directions to the Lumberjack Trail, the Pépinière Trail, the Nursery Trail, or a pine grove?

Once there, I was quickly directed to the trailhead. It turns out that you follow Nursery Road and it takes you straight there.

Nursury Trailhead

This looked promising

A short ways in, the trail became sandy and I found the pine trees.

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The Nursery Trail

It was open and easy, but with sand and some small hills to make it a Goldilocks level of difficulty. Unfortunately, it ended too soon. I arrived at a T-junction to a gravel road. Knowing that left leads back to the main road, I turned right and found myself on an open, flat, fairly straight dirt road. Silt Road

The surroundings were pretty enough, but the riding was not very challenging. I was a bit disappointed. It was too easy. It’s actually hard to find a trail with just the right amount of challenge for your particular skill level, and where the Nursery Trail had at least some sand, this road was dry and hard-packed. I was bombing along in third gear, not even standing, thinking “This is too easy” when I hit a section still wet from the rainstorm the previous night. Everything suddenly went sideways—literally. A truck or larger vehicle of some kind had come through before me and left tire grooves. I started to lose the back end, went sideways, got cross-rutted, whiskey throttled towards the trees, and went down high-side, hard. It was my hardest fall yet.

My first thought as I lay on the ground was, “Well, the gear worked.” I had invested earlier in the season in some excellent protection specifically for off-roading. My Knox Venture Shirt, Forcefield Limb Tubes, and Klim D30 hip pads all did their job. I got up without even a bruise. My second thought was for the bike. If there was something broken, it was going to be difficult to get it out. I noticed that the folding levers I had also invested in had done their job. The clutch lever was folded up, saving the lever from breaking off. I lifted the bike and took a look. Nothing was broken or cracked; the crash bars had done their job too. There were some new scratches on the windscreen and front cowling near the headlamp, but nothing more. Oh well, new honour badges, I thought.

My concern now was getting the bike back on the road. I was lucky: if I’d gone a few feet further I might have lost it into a ditch and then would have needed a winch to get it out.

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Once I lifted the bike, I realized it was going to be difficult to get it back onto the road.

The front end was partially into the ditch and it would take some rocking and cursing to get it back a few feet to where I could carefully walk it back onto the road, making sure the front tire didn’t slide down.

I looked back at my skid marks and played amateur accident inspector.

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You can see where it all went wrong.

I tried to ride on but the silty dirt, when wet, is like glue and gums up the tires instantly. It was like riding on ball bearings, or rather, trying to ride on ball bearings.

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Slow-going in the wet silt

The ride now certainly wasn’t too easy. I basically had to do the Harley waddle, foot by foot, hoping it would get drier. I tried riding along the edge of the road in the long grass, thinking the grass would provide some grip, but the problem then was that I couldn’t see what I was riding over or where the ditch was. I dropped the bike a second time and began to wonder how I was going to get out of there. Would it be like this all the way to Kapuskasing?!

Then I had an idea: I knew that in sand you put your weight to the back to unweight the front tire. This helps prevent the front from washing out, which is when you go down. Maybe the same technique applied to all low-traction terrain, including mud. I tried and it worked! The front tire didn’t wash out as easily, even, to my surprise, climbed up out of some small ruts when needed. I had stumbled upon a new off-road skill.

When the road dried out, I was able to sit down, but kept my butt well back, over the rear tire. It all suddenly made sense why those Dakar riders always sit so far back. Now I was able to go at a better pace. The rest of the road wasn’t as wet as that section and, although open and straight, turned out to be just challenging enough. I stopped a few times when I saw some interesting paw prints.

Bear Prints_web

Bear prints. I also saw wolf and hare tracks.

When I felt I was past the worst of it, I stopped for lunch and took in the surrounding wetlands.

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Wetlands north of René Brunelle Provincial Park

I popped out in Kapuskasing next to the Shell station on Highway 11. Although there was a sense of incompletion in only doing one half of the loop, I decided that was enough excitement for one day and headed into town to find the LCBO and something to enjoy back at camp. I wanted to explore the town a bit and was glad I did. Kapuskasing has an iconic ring of Canadiana to it.

I had the impression that it was bigger than it is, but there isn’t much in these parts that is big. These one-industry towns in the north are built on mining or forestry and are pretty remote. I rode through the town centre, which is a roundabout, and landed at the train station, the heart of all Canadian towns.

P1030264Surrounding the station were archival photos of the town and area, and I discovered that Kapuskasing had been the site of an internment camp during WWI. Primarily Ukrainian immigrants were shamefully sent there to work in a government-run experimental farm studying the viability of farming on clay. Later in the war it was a POW camp.

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A plaque outside the train station commemorates the Kapuskasing Internment Camp, 1914-1920

I love Canada and am a proud Canadian, but every nation has its dirty little secrets hidden in untaught history classes. Currently in Quebec, some teachers have expressed serious concern that the role of minorities is overlooked in the current history curriculum. I believe that a little less Upper and Lower Canada and the harmonious relationship with Indigenous Peoples, and a little more on the Indian Residential Schools (IRS), the internment camps of law-abiding citizens during both world wars, and the not-so-quiet actions of the FLQ in the 70’s would go a long way toward real truth and reconciliation among its diverse peoples.

I left the station and rode to the City Hall, then parked and walked out to a gazebo overlooking the river and mill. I came across this plaque about the Garden City and Model Town, and it occurred to me how much promise and hope there must have been in Kapuskasing at one time.

Garden City

Maybe Kapuskasing is iconic. It could be symbolic of how the country seemed when Europeans began settling here—pristine, pure, wild—like the blank page awaiting our best intentions. But intentions are just a start. The real work happens after the first draft, when we see all our mistakes and how we can make it so much better.

Trip Planning

MapHow much planning do you do before heading off on a tour? Do you have your entire route determined with accommodations booked, or do you leave a little to chance and exploration? Is your trip fixed in asphalt or is it flexible, able to change when the spirit moves you or weather or some other factor meddles with your plans? There is security in knowing where you’re going and that there’s a reserved room waiting for you at the end of a long day of riding, but there’s risk and excitement in leaving some room for chance; sometimes the most memorable moments are gained through the unexpected.

The answers to these questions lie in your aversion to risk. No one likes risk, but it’s the price we have to pay for adventure. When used as an adjective, as in “adventure motorcycling,” adventure is defined as “designating a type of tourism to exotic, esp. wilderness destinations usu. combined with hiking, canoeing, etc.” (OED). And right after that definition is another, more foreboding definition: “a daring enterprise; a hazardous activity.” My wife thinks I’m crazy going where I want to go, which says a lot about her aversion to risk, although she did marry me, which in itself is risky, and she condones my riding. But generally I think I have a higher threshold for risk, so when we decided to travel together to Manitoulin Island this year, our trip planning itself was an adventure.

We solved the problem in a simple but ingenious way: we’ll travel together for part of the trip—she in the car, me on the bike—with a fairly clear route and campsites reserved for each night. Then I’m going to split off and head further north on my own with no reservations made and Lady Fortune riding pillion. I have a general idea of where I’m going (i.e. north) but having no reservations means I’ll be able to follow my nose or recommendations from locals, explore dirt roads, go at a pace determined by conditions (weather, fatigue, terrain, etc.) and, most of all, live in the moment. I live my life on a schedule 51 weeks of the year; I reserve one for me and the moment.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have any planning to do. I have lots. In fact, because my solo adventure involves some risk, I need to be prepared as well as possible to minimize it.

Packing

Because I’ll be heading into some remote areas, I have to carry everything I might need for possible problems. For me, that starts with my tools. Worst case scenario is getting stuck in the bush somewhere and having to hike it out, or worse, not being able to hike it out. So the bike has to be reliable and I have to be able to fix anything that might break on it. This year I’ve been conscientiously putting together a tool roll and some spare parts and other items that might be needed.

Tools

Primary Tool Roll

I use the Kriega tool roll. I like the extra pocket for doo-dads like fuses, Locktite, tube patches and cement, valve stem tool, etc. I also carry a full set of Torx sockets because my bike is a BMW, almost a full metric set of 3/8″ hex, and a few 1/4″ particular to my bike. I’ve been trying to do all repairs on my bike using these tools so I know I’ve got everything I need. If I have to grab something out of my tool chest that isn’t here, I consider adding it to this set. I also have a Stop & Go electric pump so I can drop and add air to my tires when I do some off-roading or for if I get a puncture. It runs off the bike’s electrical system using a SAE connector.

I have a secondary set of tools, spare parts and materials that stay in the tail compartment. I don’t use these as often, but it’s nice to know they’re there should I need them.

Tools2

Secondary Tool Roll

Tire pressure gauge, spark plug remover, small crescent wrench, Torx multi-tool, stubby Phillips for the battery terminals (it’s the only way to get in there to tighten them), wire-cutters, some extra hardware, an extra hose clamp, safety wire, epoxy putty, extra electrical wire, and a pipe cleaner. Pipe cleaners are incredibly useful. I really should have a few of those. Fortunately, I smoke a pipe so I have a few in my pipe bag.

Not shown, but I will take, is a D.I.D chain-breaker tool, some BIG box wrenches for that (unfortunately, it requires 27mm and 19mm box wrenches, which lie in the bottom of my pannier), a small length of extra chain, and a spare spark plug. I’ve changed my headlamp from the OEM halogen to the Cyclops LED which should be good for the life of the bike, otherwise I would carry an extra bulb. I will also take an extra water pump since that’s the vulnerable part on this bike. I’ve written recently about those issues and know that some guys with the 650GS and its cousins just take an extra pump when touring.

First Aid

First aid might be bracing a broken leg or removing a splinter. You have to be ready for everything. I considered picking up one of those pre-made kits you can get at a pharmacy or outdoor store but decided to put together a personalized one using a Dollar Store pencil case.

FirstAid

First Aid Kit

It contains compression elastic, various cotton bandages, alcohol swabs, two types of medical tape, anti-bacterial cream, arnica montana, Band-Aids, some NSAIDs, tweezers, nail snips, antihistamines, and a few items particular to me: Robax, because I have a vulnerable lower back, and some ear drops, because I’m prone to ear infections. I think I get them when I’ve been wearing the ear plug, which irritates the ear canal, and then I go swimming in less than pure water. So I take Buro-sol, which prevents the infections, and Auralgan, which is the only over-the-counter medication I’ve found that can treat an infection once it gets a grip. I also keep in my tank bag a small tube of Aleve, my weapon of choice these days for headaches. If I don’t drink enough water on hot days, I’m prone to getting a headache, so I like to keep these at hand.

Clothing

Think you’re travelling light? Cut your items in half, then cut in half again. You’re probably close to what I can take on a motoadventure. I need one pannier for food and one for cooking and camping items, so that leaves one 30L wet-dry bag for my clothing and personal items. One advantage of travelling with my wife this year is that I’ll be able to take a few extras for the first part of the trip, then leave them with her when we part. For example, I normally do not take hiking boots. I ride in my adventure boots and change into running shoes at camp that double for, well, running, since I try to keep up my fitness even when touring. What could be better than a short run in fresh air surrounded by pristine wilderness?

Because I have to be so efficient with my packing, I LOVE merino wool. It is the Swiss army knife of fabrics, able to keep you warm when cold and breathe and wick when hot. I usually take one merino T-shirt and one or two synthetic athletic shirts for when it’s really hot. If it’s cold at night, I might wear my merino all day and all night. Ew! you say? Merino also has antibacterial properties. Those New Zealand sheep shall inherit the earth, I think.

I take two pairs of riding pants: kevlar jeans and Klim Dakar off-road pants. I also pack one pair of those thin, nylon outdoor pants. They are cool, keep the bugs off at camp, and I can zip off the lower leg portion to convert them to shorts. Versatile is the name of the game. The same goes for my riding jacket. I’ve considered wearing my Klim Traverse off-road jacket because it’s Gore-Tex so doubles as rain gear, but I’ve decided to wear my Joe Rocket touring jacket just because it has that zip-in liner for when it’s cold. Temperatures can fluctuate dramatically on a bike during the day and my jacket is my only climate control. It also has adequate venting for when it gets hot; I’ve ridden in that jacket when it’s been over 30 degrees Celsius and, although it’s got leather on the important areas, there’s enough textile and venting for hot weather. I’ve also recently upgraded the armour to the best CE2 protection on the market. The only downside is that it’s not waterproof, so I’ll also have to take rain gear. Even with the zip-in liner, I’ll also take a polar fleece sweater which doubles as my pillow when folded. The only other specific riding gear I take (besides my helmet—Doh!) are my two pairs of gloves, one for hot weather and a rainproof gauntlet.

Navigation

My trip-planning began during another trip, about a month ago, to Guelph to visit my parents. I was at an En Route, the Ontario government rest stop cartel, and wandered over from the Horny Tim’s/Bugger King side to the Ontario Tourism side. I asked what they had specifically for motorcycle tourism and was given a few documents. One outlined several circuits in the region, making it easy to decide on a basic plan from which to build a more personalized route. There’s a Manitoulin Island Circle Tour, Georgian Bay Coastal Route (both self-explanatory), and the Great Legends Circle Tour, which brings you as far north as Driftwood, just west of Cochrane. I decided to do all three.

We’ll be camping the whole way, and since the Bruce Peninsula is a popular vacation area for the hoards of Torontonians, we decided to reserve a site for each night. When I head north, I’m expecting the demand to be less so I haven’t made reservations for that section of my trip. In fact, I’m going to try wild camping, which I’ve never done before. You basically find a discrete spot off the main road and pitch there for the night. No fire, no potable water, but I have my stove and purification systems. I also have my bear spray.

I’ve been experimenting with a couple of GPS apps, namely Maps.me and Sygic Car Navigation, but seriously, they are so far not as convenient as GoogleMaps. GoogleMaps just works. You look up a campsite in Chrome, click “directions” and GoogleMaps opens up and guides you there. And if you’ve downloaded that area in an offline map beforehand, it doesn’t require data to calculate the route and guide you there. Traffic information uses data, but I’m not anticipating much of that in Near Northern Ontario. I’ll probably use GoogleMaps for most of my navigation with a paper map in my tank bag for literally the big picture.

If I happen to slip out of cell service, I carry an old, cheap, Garmin car GPS inherited from my parents. Yeah, in an ideal world I’d have a Zumo or Montana, but neither the world nor my bank accounts are ideal, so the hammy-down GPS will have to suffice this season. It’s not like I’m navigating The Great Trail or anything. That’s next year.

Final Prep

So we have our accommodations set for the first part of the trip. I’ll GoogleMap the distances and make sure they are viable, research some tourist attractions in the area, although I’m more into wilderness than attractions. Still, I like knowing the history the area and what unusual landforms I might be riding past. You wouldn’t want to cruise through Thunder Bay, for example, without noticing Sleeping Giant or stopping by the Terry Fox Memorial.

Then I hold my breath and check the weather forecast. I can’t do anything about it, but it’s nice to know what the highs and lows will be to ensure I’m packing right. If it’s going to be below 10 at night, I might add a woollen hat.

I’m going to save the topic of my moto-camping gear for another blog so I won’t get in to that now. But I lay all the items out on the floor where I can see them to ensure I don’t forget anything essential. It’s much the same as my canoe-camping gear, and it pretty much stays together in storage, but we’ve all been there: you get out in the bush and go to have your tuna pasta and realize you’ve forgotten the can opener. So I lay it out and I make lists. I’ve made so many lists, jotted on the backs of grading rubrics as I think for when I’m free, that I decided finally to do a digital version for perpetuity.

Finally, I make sure the bike is ready. It’s been running great lately so I’m going to leave it alone now except to check all fluid levels and do an oil change. I’m only a few thousand kilometres into my latest oil but I know from last year’s tour to start with fresh oil and avoid having to do it on the road.

Let’s see how this unfolds. Look for a series of blogs in the coming weeks about our adventures. Oh, one essential item I forgot to mention is a digital recorder, at least if you’re interested in keeping a record of sorts. At the end of the day I’m too tired to write so I spend a few minutes in my sleeping bag recounting the highlights of the day, which can lead to some interesting entries. Last year in one such entry I started narrating the dream I was slipping into. If nothing else, it’s nice to listen to those recordings midwinter and relive the ultimate freedom that moto-camping offers.

 

 

 

 

The Wish List, 2018

santa_motoIt’s that time of the year again, when we get to dream big with empty wallets. In an ideal world, one where either Santa exists or bank accounts are bottomless, what would you get to prepare for next year’s riding season? Here’s what I’ve been hankering for.

Let me say at outset that there are already a few goodies either arrived or en route for my BMW f650GS. I busted my rad in a stupid tip-over in sand so figure I should have listened to my intuition and bought those upper crash bars earlier in the season. I’ve looked at them all and, given that I’ve already got lower engine protection with my BMW engine guard (the cage), the only ones that would fit are by Touratech or by Holan. TT have only one anchor point at the front, so the bar is kind of floating and kind of useless. Fortunately, Holan make one that anchor front and back, and their customer service is excellent. After a lot of back and forth, I managed to negotiate a slow, cheaper shipping option from Poland, where they are made. Holan_bar

It’s those upper two bars that are currently somewhere over the Atlantic. They fix onto the centre spine and at the back on the frame by the preload adjuster. They will protect the fragile radiator and the faring without getting in the way of my leg position.

The other thing I got is an inline fuel filter. My bike’s filter is supposed to be changed every 40,000 kilometres, but since the filter and the fuel regulator are one unit, it costs over $200 to change. So I’m adding a Golan (no connection to Holan) Inline Peak Fuel Filter ahead of the OEM filter, which should mean I never have to change the expensive unit.

golan_peak_flow_mini_fuel_filter_750x750

Mine is the mini on the far right.  It’s not available in Canada so I had to order from Revzilla, and whenever I do that, I add a little something else to make the shipping worthwhile. In this case, it was a pair of Baja Designs turn signals. flashers

Seems whenever I drop the bike, those front flashers get the worst of it, and I’ve already glued them back together a few times, but they still look a little worse for wear. The Baja signals have a flexible stalk, which makes a lot of sense. And being designed for the Baja Rally, they are built tough. They look the same as OEM, but should stand up better when I and the bike do not.

I’m also building a more comprehensive travel took kit based on a great thread at ADVRider.com. I won’t bore you will every item, but just say I’m gathering sufficient tools to fix just about anything on my bike in the field. I figure if I’m going to ride to remote regions, I have to be able to fix pretty much anything that might break. The tools actually is the easy part; the tricky bit is deciding what spare parts to bring along. You can’t bring a spare of everything!

tire-wrenchSo I’ve already bought this wheel lug wrench/tire iron in one. It’s light enough to carry everywhere but is good to 90 ft/lbs. T-handles, steel-reinforced epoxy putty, a tow strap, etc. — I love tools!

chain kit

The one item that was a little out of my budget so went on the wish list is the Motion Pro Light Weight Chain Breaker and Chain Press Tool.

When your bike is chain-driven, like I said, you have to be ready for anything that can happen in the bush.

Okay, tools aside, I need a 50/50 tire on the front. I’m still riding a Metzler Tourance, which is fine for dirt roads but not for too much more. I’ll get and mount Heidenau K60 k60-scout-dual-sport-front-tireScout on the front to match the back, and this will allow me to GO ANYWHERE! Yes, I’m that confident that once I get this tire, no more tip-overs in mud and sand. Nature in all its awesome power and trickery will bow down before me and my machine.

Next up is some body armour. I know, I know: what happened to Nature bowing. Well, I may win the war, but that’s not to say the trail won’t win a few battles along the way. My new Klim Tourance jacket that I bought for off-roading is just a shell and comes with no padding. That suited me perfectly because I decided I’d rather get full-on armour for those spills, something like the Leat Body Protector, than the wimpy pads that are in most motorcycle jackets. Leat Body Protector

The nice thing about this option is you can wear it under a motorcycling jersey on those really hot days. That should complete my off-road gear necessities. I now have boots, Klim Dakar pants, the Tourance jacket, a LS2 Pioneer helmet, goggles, and gloves.

Montana

The other fairly big ticket item I need is a good, dedicated motorcyle GPS, or as they call them in Europe, a navsat. I’ve been making do with a combination of Google Maps on my phone while in Canada and an old car (i.e. non-waterproof) GPS while in The States, but neither is perfect. I’ve tried apps but none work reliably, and lord knows, navigation is an important part of any ride. The one on my wish list is the Garmin Montana, a unit designed specifically for off-road use. 

As you can see, it includes topographical maps, a glove-friendly colour touchscreen, access to both GPS and Glonass satellite fixing, HD camera (with the capability of taking geotagged pictures), a smartcard port, Basecamp, geocaching, wireless capability . . . it’s got it all and is the GPS of choice by most adv riders. It’s also got a price tag to match these capabilities, so I’m going to have to be extra good for Santa to spring for this baby.

seatosummitAnd really, that’s about “all” I need. One luxury item is a Sea to Summit mattress, something that was on my wish list last year too. Yeah, my Thermarest is pretty good and at the end of a long, hot day of riding, a bed of nails feels pretty good. But eventually, for the long tours, this premium outdoor mattress would be pretty nice. This insulated mattress has a dual layer construction, allowing you to inflate the top layer to comfort and the bottom layer to even out uneven ground. That jagged tooth of a rock under back will feel like a pea, and the whole thing weighs less than 1 pound 12 ounces and packs up to 5″ x 9″. And as I’ve said before, when you’re roughing it and saving money on accommodation costs, why not have the best camping mattress money can buy?

So that’s my list: some tools, a new front tire, a better GPS, and some body protection. But the main thing I wish for is another year of health and safe riding. That is all that anyone can ask for, and with God’s grace, receive if one is so lucky.

Got a few items on your wish list? Don’t be shy. Stick them in a comment and maybe there’ll be a few things there we haven’t heard of.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and safe riding in 2018.

 

My Favourite Motovlogs

I didn’t know what a vlog was before I started riding. As a writer, I was more interested in blogs, and YouTube was a place where you could see your dear friend’s child act in the school play, a compilation of the sexiest ice-bucket challenges, or the footy game you missed last weekend (if you were willing to follow the sketchy link). Then GoPro entered the market and it changed everything. Suddenly you could get a rider’s-eye view in HD with sound that didn’t seem like the guy was riding underwater, or through Hurricane Katrina, or both. Companies also woke up to the idea of advertising for free under the guise of providing product reviews, and a generation of unemployed video editors found work. The video blog, or vlog, was born.

Perhaps I’m already thinking of those long winter months when the bike is up on a jack in the shed with a 40 watt bulb pointed at it. If you’re like me, product reviews midwinter is like a balm to a wind-chapped itch to ride, and a helmet-cam is the closest thing there is to throwing a leg over said motorcycle stored in the shed. I spend a lot of time during the winter on YouTube, learning stuff, buying stuff, or planning on buying stuff once spring hits. In prep for those regrettably not too distant months ahead, here are my favourite motorcycle vlogs and YouTube channels. Enjoy!

Because I subscribe to the free (i.e. cheap) version of WordPress, I can’t embed videos. You’ll have to click on each hyperlink to have a sample vlog open in a separate tab.

Weekly Rides With Rueben was my entrance into not only vlogging but also motorcyling in general. Before I even had my full licence, I went searching one day for tips for newbies, and after a few scattered hits, I stumbled upon Reuben’s vlogs. Reuben (I don’t know his last name) worked for Competition Accessories in North Carolina, and they decided his vlogs would be a good way to generate traffic to the store, I guess. A new video was uploaded every Wednesday and together they were, as he says at the beginning of each video, “a random collection of motorcycle adventures, life on two wheels, and product reviews.” If that sounds eerily familiar, I guess Reuben’s videos heavily influenced my thinking about this blog. Topics covered included riding in the rain, riding at night, avoiding obstacles, and preparing for fall riding, for examples. Then his store started partnering with a nearby dealership and he started doing bike reviews. Reuben also did product reviews from the store in front of the camera, but I think he was more comfortable behind the camera. He never seemed at a loss for words, and was articulate and knowledgeable. I learnt a lot from Reuben over his 74 posts. The posts abruptly stopped without notice because, as rumour has it, the store was bought out. A new guy from another location took over, but it was never the same. Hope you’re doing well, Reuben!

The ancient Roman poet Horace wrote that poetry should both “delight and instruct.” The same could be said for a good vlog, so while I might find it “delightful” to watch Rosie Gabrielle ride through Oman or Ottawa, if I want to learn how to ride, I go where the experienced riders are. Sorry Rosie! Zack and Ari, co-editors at Motorcyclist Magazine, have been riding together for a long time! (Like, since childhood.) They are good riders. In fact, I’ve watched Ari break a track record on a KTM 390, and Zack is no slouch either. Just watch his MC Commute, where he rides a different bike to work each day and gives a review en route. Their show On Two Wheels (again, a rip off from yours truly) is a lot of fun with their humour keeping things light but rarely stupid, and always the bikes are front and centre. One of my favourite episodes is the one on the BMW GS, yeah, the bike that opened up the adventure touring market and spawned my f650GS. But even more than On Two Wheels, I love MC Garage, where Ari walks us through some simple maintenance of our bikes. I have a lot of respect for people who are both good riders and good mechanics. I’ve used some of Ari’s tips to fix not only my bike but also my car. I think Horace would agree that instruction for a hungry audience is also a delight.

If Ari and Zack are good riders, Lyndon Poskitt is a great rider! How great? Dakar great. Podium finisher in Baja great. And he knows his way around a bike too. In fact, he built his bike from the frame up. In Races to Places, Lyndon travels around the world, stopping at various rally races like the Mongolian Rally, The Baja Rally, and of course the Dakar, to try his luck and skill. His key sponsor, Adventure Spec, put together the vlogs of his adventures. Production quality is high, which is especially impressive since Lyndon does all his own filming. I’ve done enough adventure riding to know that when times get tough, the last thing you want to do is stop for a photo (or cutaway, or take 20 minutes to set up a 20 second shot), but Lyndon is committed loyally to his project and followers. I’ve also learnt a lot about different countries vicariously from Lyndon. I’ve followed him across eastern Europe, down into Asia, and now over to Australia. I’ve really been enjoying this series, now starting its 7th season. I’m trying to savour them because I’m almost entirely caught up and will soon have to wait for each new episode.

If you are more into street riding, or rather street racing, you want to check out Lockk9 TT Racing’s channel. Nobody does video editing as well as this guy. I can’t get enough of this video: great editing, great music, not bad riding. It’s a shot of adrenaline on a cold mid-winter morning to get you out the door and to your job.

For product reviews, I go to two sources: Fort Nine and Revzilla. I love Fort Nine because the reviews are thorough and I know that whatever RyanF9 talks about I can get from this Canadian-based online store without the hassle of cross-border issues. I bought my 50/50 tire based on his rave review of the K60 Scout (i.e. “I’m not even going to say this is my favourite pick of the video because the K60 is my favourite tire on the motorcycling market right now”). He’s knowledgeable and funny, and tells it like he sees it, which is not always the case with product reviews. Usually they end up being positive, pointing out only the merits of a certain product. In fact, many so-called “reviews” are really just product descriptions, with very little if any evaluative comments thrown in. Ryan also does pretty good vlogs. In his vlog about how to legally ride off road in Canada (his split infinitive, not mine), I found out about Chemin Scotch north of Hawksbury, and checked it out, and had a blast. In a recent vlog, he talks about having a degree in Art History (Art History!) which really is evidence that what you study in school doesn’t have to be what you do in life. And no one does bike reviews like Fort Nine. They are creative works of art. Apparently Ryan writes the scripts and some guy named Steve handles the editing. Just check out this review for example, in rhyme, of the new BMW 310R. I’m so old I can’t say exactly what he’s parodying, but I think it’s hip hop videos. In another, he says he’s heading back west to BC to start a new chapter with Fort Nine. I hope that includes more vlogs.

For more in-depth product reviews, I go to Revzilla. I don’t know what Anthony drinks in the mornings but I know I want some. A 19′ review of the Klim Badlands jacket? Really? He strips that bad boy down inside and out. Meanwhile, world population has increased by 4,750 by the time he’s done. It’s thorough! How much do Klim pay him to represent their product? How long does it take him to learn all the details of that jacket? Because of the currency conversion and cross border brokerage (motorcycle gear is duty-free, however), Revzilla is not always the cheapest option for me, but I never buy a product without checking out the Revzilla review and user reviews there. Thanks guys! And just to show my appreciation, sometimes I do buy there and have it shipped to Burlington and ride down to pick it up. I especially like their Gear Guides, where they compare a number of select products in the same review. You can salivate all winter long, and drop Christmas hints to loved ones by sharing, or create a wish list of your own for when you’re stinking rich.

I’ve saved the best for last, but I’m going to cheat because it’s not even a vlog. It’s a podcast, but I’m including it because I’ve probably learnt more about the adventure touring experience from Adventure Rider Radio than from any other single source. Yeah, the show caters to adventure riders, but host Jim Martin is always careful not to exclude other types of riders and riding, and much of the information is relevant to motorcycling in general. I’ve learnt everything from the esoteric (e.g. the nitty gritty of motorcycle chains) to the mundane (how to prepare tasty meals in camp, or first aid). One of my favourite things to do during the winter is run a hot bath and listen to ARR on my iPad while I soak away the chills. I’m always keen to learn new skills, especially if it’s from the comfort of a hot bath, and one of my favourite segments is the rider skills segment with Bret Tkacs of PSSOR. The show functions on a donation and sponsor basis and it’s pretty impressive that Jim and his wife churn out a show every week. I’ve been meaning to send a token of my appreciation, and will, because while the show is obviously a labour of love, these kinds of shows don’t survive if not supported by those who enjoy and profit from them.

There are a few others I cruise past from time to time, but I’ll stop there. Drop a comment about your favourite motovlog or channel and I’ll check it out. Or let me know what you think of some of these. Happy fall riding, while it lasts.

 

The Wish List

santa_moto

My wife and I have a difference of opinion on gift-giving. In her family, it’s common to send out gift suggestions around birthdays and Christmastime. They come over the phone or via email from distant family, or they are dropped—maybe not an entire list but a single suggestion—into a conversation on a completely unrelated topic, seemingly innocuously, as if accidentally, usually with one’s back turned. I get it: you’re trying to help the other person out, who legitimately might have no idea of what you want. If this is a distant family member, that makes sense. But if it’s your spouse, well, you have to wonder how well your soulmate knows you.

I, on the other hand, love the element of surprise, and am willing to gamble my gift receiving in the hope of being pleasantly surprised. I also like giving gifts. I like the challenge of trying to think of that very thing someone has always wanted although he or she doesn’t realize it until the epiphany of opening my gift. My sister says I have gifting issues, but I say I’m just a kid at heart. The best part of Christmas is not the turkey dinner, the family visits, the work parties, the chocolates, sweets, egg nog, the smell of pine in the living room, the decorative lighting . . . no! It’s opening gifts, damnit! It’s getting to be both a kid again and Santa at the same time, if only for a morning.

It is therefore completely against my gifting policy to write this blog, which is a composite wish list of my most desired motorcycle gear. These are the things I would buy tomorrow if I happened upon about $4,000 and had my debts and mortgage paid and about three times what I actually have in my RRSP and child poverty worldwide was a thing of the past. It’s not meant so much as a wish list to my spouse or anyone else but a dream list to myself. Fortunately, I don’t need any of this stuff to fulfill my plans for next season, but they sure would make my journeys more enjoyable.

First up is a new seat. The BMW’s Rotax engine is the best thumper going, but their saddle sure does suck! I noticed it immediately upon going for my first ride. Well, what I noticed immediately is that the seat is sloped forward so it feels like the boyz are constantly crushed against the airbox. What took about another five or six hours on the seat to notice is that it’s not just the boyz that have complaint. After that first tour, when I put 800 kms. on the final day, I had a new tactile understanding of the term “saddle sores.” So if there’s one item I am somehow going to purchase at the beginning of next season, even if I have to sell body parts to get it, it’s the Touratech Comfort Seat, Extra High.

ttsaddle

Yeah, BMW has a comfort seat, but why reward them for putting a cheap seat on an otherwise excellent bike? I’m really happy with my Touratech panniers and I have a lot of confidence in this German company, which seems cut from the same cloth as BMW itself. I’m going to go with the extra high because I can easily afford another 2 inches on the height (my mom’s nickname for me is Longshanks), and it will change the ergonomics and make me less cramped. I would go with the FreshTouch version, which is covered in some technical material that somehow doesn’t retain heat as much as regular vinyl.

I plan to start some off-roading and I saw at the Simon Pavey school that motocross boots are mandatory for their courses, so a pair is on my list—not that I’m going to Pavey’s school in Wales, but I understand why he thinks they are necessary. The body parts most likely to be injured in a fall are your feet and lower legs, and when you are off-roading, especially learning to off-road, I imagine you fall a lot. The bike can fall on your leg or you can clip something like a trunk or rock when you plant a foot to corner. Now I don’t need a premium boot, not even an intermediate boot; an entry-level should do just fine and from the research I’ve done, Alpinestars is the brand. So on my wish list is a pair of Tech 1 AT’s.

tech1

If I were going higher end, I would probably get a pair of Sidi’s, but these are the only boots under $200 with a hinge/blade system for increased flexibility. I also like that they have a sewn sole, so you can have it replaced by your local cobbler when it wears out. The buckles are plastic but you can swap them out for the metal buckles found on the more expensive Tech 7’s if desired.

My next purchase will be an off-road helmet. I love my Arai Signet-Q touring helmet. It’s light, comfortable, really well ventilated, has the Pinlock anti-fog system, and SNELL certification, but . . . it was $800! I simply can’t afford another Aria helmet, even though the XD-4 is an amazing helmet. I went looking for something less expensive that wouldn’t be a huge sacrifice in quality and found a company named LS2 which makes quality lids at a fraction of the price of the big boys. The one I’ve got my eye on is the 436 Pioneer. It’s got a polycarbonate shell so it’s light, has a tonne of venting, an optically correct, fog-, UV- and scratch-resistant visor, a drop-down sun visor (great for touring), and is ECE rated. Best of all, it’s built for long-oval head shapes, which is what I have and right in line with the Signet-Q. I was so stoked about finding this helmet I almost bought one last summer but held back, hoping (praying?) they would release one in 2017 in a blue and white graphic to match my jacket. In writing this blog, I went to their site and lo and behold:

ls2_436

I’m a happy man.

Next up would be some auxilary lighting. That first tour to New Hampshire taught me that it’s not always possible to get to where you are going before sundown. Also that there are animals crossing the road at night. That road-kill incident sent me looking for secondary lighting and the Denali D4’s are on my wish list.

denali_d4s

These babies will send a beam almost 700 metres down the road in front of you. Better still, the combo beam and wide-angle lights also illuminate the surrounding roadside like it’s daytime. Because they are LED’s, they pull only 3 amps per pair. Wiring is easy, and you can wire them either into your high-beam switch or, as I might, a separate switch; I have an empty switch next to my four-ways that I could use or save for some fog lights. There is bike-specific mounting hardware so these will tuck in nicely at the top of my forks.

denali-mount

Okay, now we get into the practical stuff. Sleeping. If I’m going to camp while en route across the continent, I’m going to put the money I’m saving on motel costs toward the best inflatable mattress money can buy. My ultralight Thermarest is okay for 5 nights of canoe-camping, but for anything longer, especially when daytime concentration is essential to staying alive, I want a better mattress. I remember seeing one at La Cordée a few summers ago when I was buying a new mattress. It had a built-in pump, inflated I believe to about 4″ thick, was puncture resistant, and packed up smaller than a sleeping bag. Why, oh why, didn’t I buy it then? On my list is something like it. Suggestions, anyone?

Even more practical are tools for fixing a flat. So far I’ve been flirting with disaster. Anyone touring in remote areas has to carry sufficient tools to patch a puncture. Unfortunately, my bike uses tubed tires. The tubeless kind are so easy to fix with those plugs, but on a tubed tire you have to be able to remove the wheel, remove the tire, patch the hole, replace the tire, and re-inflate. The patching is the least of my worries. I’ve been patching bicycle tires practically since I was pre-verbal; it’s the other stuff that concerns me. I want to be able to break that bead and get the tire off and on without damaging the rim. On Adventure Rider Radio, I heard about BeadBrakR by BestRest Products. beadbrakrIt’s a series of tire irons that fit together to create a tool to leverage the tire off the rim. So you have your bead breaker and tire irons in one convenient pack. BestRest also produce the CyclePump to re-inflate the tire. Yes, you can use CO2 cartridges, but you only get one shot with them. The CyclePump is small enough to pack easily and runs on your 12V port, so if your patch isn’t perfect, or if for some reason you can’t patch the hole, you can use the pump repeatedly to get you to the nearest service centre or, if you’re really in the sticks, to phone service.

Speaking of safety, another little tool that I think would bring my wife peace of mind is the Spot Gen3. gen3_productIt’s a small, clip-on device that works with satellite technology to do a number of things. It can track your movement, so your wife will always know exactly where you are. Hmm . . . Okay, so don’t take it to your high school reunion then. Press another button and you can check-in with family to let them know you’re okay when out of cellphone range; it will send an email with GPS coordinates or a link to your location on GoogleMaps. This will be handy even on group rides to The States to avoid texting charges. Press another button to alert them you need help in non-life-theatening situations, and still another to hail the helicopter ambulance.  So if you’re planning a solo trip up to Deadhorse, AK, on the coast of the Beaufort Sea, as I am, this should be in your stocking.

Finally, we come to the most important items and the ones that, at about a thousand dollars apiece, will probably be on my list next Christmas too. I love my Joe Rocket leather jacket. I bought it as a starter jacket off eBay for a song and it’s been my one and only jacket so far. I zip the quilted liner in and out as needed, sometimes several times a day as temperature fluctuates, and throw a cheap rain jacket and pants over everything if the skies open up. But what I’d love, eventually, hopefully in this lifetime, is a Klim adventure jacket and matching pants.

Badlands.jpgKlim are the undisputed leaders in riding apparel and for good reason. They spend a lot of money on research and development, and all their products are premium quality. For example, the armour in their jackets is D30, which feels like soft, pliable rubber but molecularly stiffens upon impact; you can wrap this stuff like silly putty around your finger and then take a hammer and whack away to your heart’s content. And they’ve developed something called SuperFabric which is five times more abrasion resistant than leather with only half the weight. Gore-Tex means no need for an exterior waterproof jacket or zip-in liner. Warm in cold, wicking with vents in heat, this bad-boy is a one-jacket, climate control centre for four-season riding, and when the only thing separating you from the elements or the asphalt is your clothing, your jacket is the most important investment next to the bike itself. A Klim jacket will take me from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in comfort and safety. I haven’t decided yet whether I want the Induction or, for a few hundred dollars more, the Badlands, but one thing I am sure of is that whichever model I eventually get, it will be in the hi-viz colour. When Marilyn and I drove the Cabot Trail a few summers ago, we definitely found the hi-viz jackets caught our eye at a distance. I don’t even think hi-viz comes at a coolness cost these days; rather, as I’ve claimed in a previous post, I think hi-viz is the new cool.

Most of these items are to set me up for the adventure riding I’m longing to try. Now I’ve got the bike and the licence, but if feels like those things are just a start. I remember during my first theory class in my licensing course, the instructor warned us that “this sport will latch onto your wallet worse than your ex-wife.” Having experienced the financial cost of one divorce, I almost fled the building. Now I see what he was talking about. But he continued by suggesting to pace ourselves, to “not go crazy” but slowly build up our gear. And to avoid a second divorce, that is what I’m going to do. In the meantime, a wish list is a fun way to dream and plan, research, and select, without the messy consequences of actually buying. Like window shopping.

No doubt your wish list is different from mine. What do you hope Santa leaves under the tree? Merry Christmas, and happy and safe travels in 2017.