Here in Montreal, the 2023 motorcycle season has officially begun. As of March 15th, we can legally be back on the road. The reality, however, is that no one is stupid enough to do so. I saw—or rather, heard—a scooter on the road yesterday, but I wouldn’t want to take a bigger bike out yet. In fact, I can’t get my bike out yet; there’s still several feet of snow blocking the doors to my shed.
Nevertheless, the air is filled with anticipation as it won’t be long now. Motorcyclists are scurrying about like squirrels uncovering nuts, or birds building nests. I’ve seen a few Facebook posts about preseason maintenance and, for the Harley riders, preseason cleaning and polishing. T. S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but for motorcyclists in northern climates, it’s these last few weeks of March during The Big Melt (aka dog shit season) that are the most painful. To ease the pain, we undergo a ritual process of preparation for the season to come. Here is what I do to get ready to ride.
The first thing I do is undo everything I did last fall to prepare the bike for storage. That involves removing whatever I’ve used to block the intake and exhaust ports, removing the wax I left on the bike to protect it through the cold winter months, replacing the battery and saddle, lowering the bike off the jack-stand, and topping up the tires. The bike is now ready to run, and I might start it up, just to hear its familiar exhaust note and reassure myself that all is well in the world.
Depending on the mileage, I change most of the fluids on the first warm day of spring. (I don’t have the luxury of a heated garage, so all maintenance is done outside.) I changed the oil before putting it into storage, but apparently oil ages even if unused, so I’ll do an early oil change, maybe not right away but soon. For this reason, some people put a cheap oil in the bike in the fall just for storage purposes, then change to the good stuff in the spring. I think that’s a little over-kill, so I put the same top quality synthetic oil in before and soon after storage. And no, I’m not going to start an oil thread by revealing what I use, as much as I always enjoy a good oil thread.
I change the coolant and brake fluid every two years or 20,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. I also remove the brake pads, clean them up with a wire brush, and clean and lube the callipers, paying special attention to the calliper pins. The brake cleaning might be over-kill too, but I like to know the pins are moving freely and generally to keep the brakes free of grit and grime. They’re just one of those essential moving parts that is exposed to road debris. If you’ve never done your brakes before, it really isn’t difficult.
I change the air filter, or in my case, because I use a K&N, clean and re-oil it. This year I’ll be adding a Uni pre-filter to my bike. On my Tiger 800XC, the OEM filter is under the tank, so adding a pre-filter will not only help protect the engine but also significantly cut down on the service intervals for the filter in the air box.
Then the fun begins: I add all the mods I’ve bought through the winter.
If you didn’t launder your gear and wash your helmet liner in the fall, now might be a good time to do it. I also get out the leather conditioner and go a little crazy with it. First I do my leather jacket, then my gloves. Then while the rag is damp I do my satchel, my shoes, my wallet, my fountain pen cases, my belt . . . like I said, I go a little crazy. I do this once in the fall when I put my jackets away and once in the spring. We have baseboard heaters which pull all the moisture out of the air in the house, so I do this at least twice a year.
My favourite brand of leather conditioner? This might start a thread as long as an oil thread, but I’ll say that someone who works at the high-end store in Montreal where I bought my satchel once graciously confided that Armor All Leather Care Gel is just as good as the expensive stuff they sell. That was my brand until Canadian Tire stopped selling it. Then I switched to Simoniz, which I didn’t like as much, and lately it’s been Chemical Guys, although this year I’ve noticed that it’s leaving a white film on the leather once it dries. So after doing a little research, I’m going to try Cobbler’s Choice. Like I said, I’m a little obsessive about moisturizing my leather goods. The best moisturizer, however, is good ol’ beeswax, although it leaves the jacket sticky for a few days.
So with every leather item in my house sufficiently moisturized, my gear is almost ready for the season. I squirt a little WD40 on the buckles of my ADV boots, some Pledge on my helmet, wipe some silicone onto the rubber that seals the visor, and polish my visor with Plexus. Yeah, this stuff costs a lot, but Ryan F9 has done a video showing that it’s the best. If the visor is old and too badly scratched to restore, this is when I get a new one; there’s no sacrificing when it comes to vision on the bike.
I also get out my camping gear and give it some love. Last fall, I treated the tent with Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Waterproofing Spray. I like this stuff because it’s non-toxic and doesn’t leave an after-smell. I also clean my stove and make sure anything that needs replacing is replaced, because there’s nothing worse than a temperamental stove when on tour. The one that I use runs on liquid fuel and requires maintenance from time to time.
Touring for weeks on end and crawling in and out of tents, as I’ll be doing this summer, requires some fitness and flexibility. The long days in the saddle are easier if you have some cardio fitness, so I’ve been running fairly regularly. I do a 5K loop with the dog 2-3 times a week, and when I’m inspired, I run a little longer. Now that the warmer weather is almost here, I’ll be bumping that up and doing some 10K and even longer runs. Running has always been easy for me and it’s my go-to exercise for body and mind.
With all that running, I need to do stretching or my legs get tight and my back becomes prone to injury. This year I invested in some athletic therapy which gave me a set of stretches to do, and as Robert Frost said, that has made all the difference. I used to pull my back a few times a year, often at the worst possible time, laying me up for a week, but with this stretching, I haven’t had an incident in a while. I think I’ve found the answer to my back issues.
In addition to the cardio and stretching, I work on strengthening my core, so some Pilates, yoga, and generally, abdominal work. Sitting on the bike all day is like sitting on a stool with no backrest, so you need a strong core. When you start doing any off-roading, there are even bigger demands on your muscles. I’ve already done a blog about fitness and strengthening, so if you’re interested in the specific exercises I do, check that out. One thing I’ve added since making that post is to work on balance. You can do that with a wobble board, but a simple way to improve your balance skills is to stand on one foot . . . with your eyes closed. Try it. This develops all those nerves in the foot that are essential to good balance, and according to Jimmy Lewis, off road riding is all about balance.
This year, to account for the extra weight of the top-heavy Tiger, I started doing some strength training with kettle bells. I may be a natural runner, but I’ve always had the upper body of Pee-wee Herman. I really like kettle bells and I think they will become a regular part of taking care of myself. The main reason I like them is that you get cardio, strengthening, and core work all in the same workout. Because kettle bells are asymmetrical (unlike barbells), you’re always working your core, and if you string reps together EVOM (Every Minute On the Minute), you also get your cardio workout. Best of all, you really only need a couple of kettlebells to get started and can do it in a small space in the house. I’ve been doing kettlebelling for the past month or so and am loving it! I’m following Mark Wildman’s YouTube channel. He’s excellent and has a series of videos specifically for people like me just starting out.
If that sounds like a lot, it kind of is, and I’m trying to figure out how to fit it all in. At my age, recovery time is not what it used to be, if you know what I mean. At first, I tried staggering running and strengthening on alternating days, but that didn’t leave me any days off to recover. Currently I do a run after my long days at work to run off the stress, then a double workout of kettlebelling followed by a light run when I can, which wipes me out but then I take a full day off with just some stretching. In other words, I listen to my body and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that you need to do an activity 3-4 times a week to see benefits.
Finally, the only other muscle I exercise is . . . eh, hem . . . not what you’re thinking but my clutch hand. I keep one of those spring grip devices on my desk all winter and pick it up from time to time. Works better than a stress ball and helps avoid arm pump when off roading.
Eye on the Prize
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Charles Dickens wasn’t a motorcyclist, but in describing the Victorian era he caught something of the spirit of this intermediary period. As I come to the end of my March Break and head back to work tomorrow, I keep in mind that at least I’ll soon be able to commute by bike, and before I know it, the semester will be drawing to a close and we’ll be getting ready to leave for Newfoundland. Marilyn and I booked our ferry crossing the other night so that trip is a go! 18 days together on the bike camping through Gaspé, Gros Morne, and across The Rock. It’s going to be epic.
Keep your eye on the prize, folks, whatever that may be for you. Have a safe and enjoyable season.
Even before I had my 6A licence I was watching motorcycle vlogs. A weekly series called Weekly Rides with Reuben was my introduction to the world of motorcycling. That was in 2015 and Reuben was ahead of the curve. Today, it seems everyone has a helmet cam.
Recently, a video came up in my YouTube feed—you know the ones that seem to be generated by AI (or at least the narrative voice is) made by an unknown source just for clicks and YouTube revenue? Okay maybe you don’t but that’s the kind of stuff I end up watching in the off season. It was comparing the popularity of Itchy Boots and another female vlogger, and they estimated Noraly’s net worth at over $7M. I don’t know how they estimate these things or if it’s at all accurate but I thought to myself, “I’m in the wrong genre.”
My day job is as an English teacher at a college, and one of my colleagues has been saying recently that we are in a post-literary culture. By that he means that no one reads anymore. And while it’s always dangerous to generalize, we English teachers do see everyday the effects of a general decline in leisure reading. In fact, I don’t even have to look at my students; I can look at my own behaviour. It’s after dinner at the end of a long day of work and I have a choice: read or watch TV? I almost always choose the latter. And the more I watch, the more tiring reading becomes in a vicious cycle that I struggle to prevent.
This blog has been a joy over the past eight years and it’s not dying anytime soon. Believe it or not, even after over 100 posts, I’ve still got lots to say. But I have been wondering if I should expand the blog to include video footage of some of the trips I do. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and while I’d counter that the right word is worth a thousand images, sometimes a few minutes of video footage is irreplaceable in words. Perhaps it’s like the old adage about the book versus the movie: it’s not which is better but what the movie offers that the book can’t and vice versa.
Of course this is not the first time I’ve considered starting a vlog, or at least getting a helmet cam and recording some footage. My hesitancy so far has been out of concern that the filming would interrupt and detract from the enjoyment of riding. I find already that when I’m riding, I’m in the moment and even stopping to take a photo is an annoyance I force myself to do for posterity. I can’t imagine interrupting the ride for 15 minutes while I set up a tripod for a ride-by shot.
I’m reminded of what someone once said to me years ago when I was back-packing through Europe: “Some people go on vacation to take photos, and some people take photos while on vacation.” I’d hate to have the filming eclipse the ride.
And then there’s the investment in equipment. Hands up if you’re tired of the 30-minute helmet cam footage. It seems that like all art forms, it’s all or nothing; you’re either all in with multiple camera perspectives (front-facing, rider-facing, maybe a side mount and, of course, the drone footage). There’s music to buy, and the pretty steep learning curve of editing software. Oh yeah, and then I’d probably need a new computer, a laptop, I guess, and some way to carry it safely on tour in all types of conditions. Sigh! That’s why I’ve been avoiding jumping in.
Wouldn’t the best of both worlds be ideal, at least for me? I don’t think I can jump into the full YouTube channel thing, but perhaps adding some helmet cam footage to my ride reports would be nice. I know that when I rode up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, for example, I stopped at the side of the road to take a photo of what I was seeing, but as good as the photo is, it doesn’t capture the ride.
So part of my off season has been spent researching action cameras, and it looks like the DJI Action 3 has surpassed GoPro in a number of ways. Apparently a lot of people are jumping the GoPro ship because GoPros have had an ongoing problem of reliability. They freeze and you lose footage, and the only way to fix them is to remove the battery and replace it again. The DJI Action 3 has a longer battery life, handles heat better, has a touchscreen on the front and back of the camera, a more convenient magnetic mounting system, and is $150 cheaper, although as I write this I see GoPro currently have a sale on their Hero 11 to match DJI’s pricing. GoPro has the better image quality because it films in 5K and DJI currently only goes to 4K, but they will be coming out with a 5K camera in the fall, albeit too late for my planned trip this summer. Decisions, decisions. Feel free to drop some advice below in the comment section.
Anyway, this post is a bit incoherent but that’s the nature of pondering. These are just some thoughts I’ve been having. I’ve reactivated my Instagram account and renamed it to match this blog, and the same for my YouTube channel, which currently has a whopping 50 subscribers. I’m enlisting the help of my talented wife to create a logo and will get some stickers and patches made and generally aim toward maybe, maybe, turning my rides into a small retirement income in a few years if I can find a way to do it which adds to rather than detracts from both the ride and this blog. I can’t see myself rocking a selfie stick anytime soon, but you never know, and stranger things have happened. If you don’t dream it, it’s not going to happen.
Any thoughts or advice for me as I ponder these developments? Drop a comment below.
There’s a balance between customizing a bike and over-modifying it. I remember an episode of Adventure Rider Radio in which Jim Martin talks with Warren Milner, who worked at Honda for 30 years in product planning and R & D. Warren warns against rashly modifying your bike, especially based on advice given on internet forums. For example, at one point in the interview, he talks about the exhaust system, describing how manufacturers spend hundreds of hours developing and testing it before the bike goes into production. That’s because today’s bikes use back-pressure from the exhaust as an integral part of the combustion process to optimize fuel efficiency and emissions, yet one of the first mods owners often do is to slap on an aftermarket exhaust. One can almost hear the collective groan of the engineers as they do.
At the same time, every bike that rolls off the assembly line is built for the average rider—average build, average riding (whatever that is), average skills, average goals. That’s why it’s important to customize it for your specific needs. Tall rider? You might want a taller windscreen to avoid buffeting, or add a wind-deflector. Long legged? You might want to lower your pegs or raise your seat. Or the opposite: you might want a lowering kit so you can flat-foot. Going off-road? You’ll need different tires, etc.. There are a lot of considerations, and fortunately, a lot of options available. The industry is healthy with aftermarket products.
I decided to ride the Tiger for a season pretty much as I bought it. I wanted to get a feel for it stock before making changes. I still have the stock front tire on that came with the bike. The only changes I made were in the realm of protection: crash guards and a beefier skid plate. I’d learned my lesson with the BMW, waiting to buy some upper protection and ending up buying a new radiator along with the guards when I eventually did. After studying the market, I went with Outback Motortek. The guards and plate set me back a cool Grand, but I think they’re the best on the market. The only other mods I’ve done to the Tiger so far were to add an AltRider rear brake extender and a wind deflector.
But with two big tours planned for 2023, it’s time to ask Santa for some items to get the bike ready. Here’s what’s on my wish list for 2023.
The Tiger came with Triumph racks and cases. The system is fine for commuting and light touring, but those side-opening cases aren’t practical for moto-camping.
I deliberated (read, “agonized”) over this decision for a long time. I love my Touratech hard cases, but the Tiger has a high exhaust on the right side so I really should go with an asymmetrical system. When I had the 650GS on the market, I had offers just for the racks and cases, but I was reluctant to separate them from the sale of the bike. The new owner wanted to buy them too, but in the end, I decided I couldn’t separate from them either.
They are great cases and contain a ton of memories with all the stickers from where I’ve been. They are the original puck system, which you can’t get anymore, and I like that you can lock them. I’ll probably use these when I tour the East Coast with Marilyn because they are big and we need the space and I won’t be doing much dirt on that tour anyway. We’ll just have to pack them so the bike stays reasonably balanced.
However, I also plan to ride the NEBDR and MABDR next summer, and from what I’ve seen on YouTube, there are some challenging dirt sections of the NEBDR in particular for which I’ll need a smaller, soft-pannier system. (Soft panniers are generally considered safer for off-roading; there is less chance of breaking a leg.) I know everyone is getting the Mosko bags these days, and they are beautiful bags, but I decided to go with the Enduristan Monsoon Evo 34L/24L system.
I’m using the past tense because Santa took advantage of a Black Friday sale and got these 20% off. I picked up at the same time the matching bottle holster (for my stove fuel) and a can holster (for water, chain lube, or bear spray). One of the nice things about this system is that it’s modular, and I’ll probably be adding more to it as I figure out my needs.
Marilyn and I used the Enduristan pannier topper through the West Coast and loved it. Enduristan products are completely waterproof and designed by ADV riders to withstand the abuse of adventure touring. But the main reason I went with this system is the weight; they are the lightest panniers on the market, with no backing or mounting plates to worry about. This also means that the bags and cases will be easily interchangeable.
It’s Outback Motortek all the way. They put a lot of R & D into their products and back them up with some brave testing, dragging expensive bikes along the ground.
Okay, you might say this is a marketing gimmick, but it does show how the bars, even though they do not come up very high, are sufficient to keep the plastics and vital parts off the ground and protected. The bars look like crap afterward but have done their job and can be re-powder coated.
The rear racks offer protection for the silencer and rear of the bike, in addition to carrying the panniers, so again, I went with the strongest. These are a full 18mm + with the powder coating. In fact, they are industry leading in their size, so big that Dual Sport Plus, where I bought the Enduristan bags, includes a workaround kit of washers so the bags fit these bars.
To these bars, I’m going to add on the left side an X-frame plate so I can mount a RotoPax 1G fuel container inside the bars. This will increase my range when remote riding and help balance the bike, especially when using the symmetrical TT cases. Clint at Dual Sport Plus has my exact planned set-up—racks, panniers, and RotoPax—seen here.
Hand and Lever Protection
The final bit of protection I’ll need before attempting those gnarly sections of the NEBDR is some protection for the levers. I considered going again with foldable levers but that would still leave the front brake reservoir and my hands unprotected. After looking at all my options, I decided to go with Barkbusters. They have a model that is made for my specific bike so the install is straightforward. And if I had any lingering doubts, they were quashed when I saw that BB make a plastic with my bike’s name on it. I know the Jet plastics don’t provide as much wind protection as the Storm and other plastics, but I think they suit the styling of the Tiger, and sometimes you just have to sacrifice a little practicality for vanity . . . I mean, aesthetics.
I’m not going to change my mirrors for now. I’m really not fond of the look of the double-take mirrors and am hoping the crash guards will sufficiently protect the OEM ones. And if they don’t, well, the decision will have been made for me.
What’s the most important part of the bike when off-roading? Given that I’ve posed this question in the subsection titled Foot Pegs, you’ve probably guessed correctly. If your body position while off-roading is correct, you really shouldn’t have much weight on the bars; you should be pretty much balanced on the pegs and steering the bike with your feet (i.e. peg-weighting). Of the four contact points with the bike (hands and feet), the pegs are the most important, so a good set of foot pegs is a must if you are going to do any technical riding.
The Triumph pegs aren’t small but they aren’t large either. I’ve heard that a large foot peg can make a big difference (sorry, bad pun), changing the entire feel of the bike and inspiring confidence. They will also save you resoling your boots quite as often. I looked at IMS, but they don’t make pegs for the Tiger. When I found that Fastway did and that there was a Canadian distributer, I jumped, Black Friday sale or not.
As you can see, at 2.25″ x 4.75,” these pegs are huge. They have adjustment for height and camber, and come with two lengths of cleats: 10mm and 12mm. I’ll probably start with the 10mm since my adventure boots already have a tread. They are expensive, but you only have to buy them once; Fastway sell bike-specific fit kits for mounting, so I will hold onto these babies when the time comes to sell the Tiger.
The OEM tail plate is too small for a duffle and has no good strapping points. It also shifts side to side as part of that Triumph system that shifts as you corner. I really like the AltRider tail plate, but at $260 for a piece of metal, I’m considering other options. You can get an eBay Special from China for 1/3 of that price, but will it be the same? Will the cut-outs be bevelled so they don’t cut into your straps? Will the powder coating begin to wear off after a season or two, as happened on my Kildala rack? AltRider make good stuff, and I like how this one projects out the back of the bike so there’s still plenty of room for Marilyn behind me. I might just watch and wait for this item to go on clearance somewhere, but I’ll definitely need a new tail rack before I tour.
I’ve had the Dunlop Trailmax Mission tire on the rear of the Tiger, and I had them on the GS when I took it to Vermont last summer. This 70/30 tire is a good choice if you are doing a lot of street with some dirt or gravel roads. That’s what I expect when Marilyn and I go through Gaspé, PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. So I’m going to put the matching tire on the front first thing in the spring before we head off.
For the tour in the US, that’s a little different and more complicated. I plan to start out on some BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes) that will take me from the Quebec border down to Pennsylvania, then I’ll be riding principally asphalt as I make my way over to the Outer Banks, including The Blue Ridge Parkway—a bucket list ride for me—and, why not, Tail of the Dragon while I’m in the area.
What do you do when faced with such diverse riding, everything from Class 4 (i.e. unmaintained) roads to the most renown section of twisties in The U.S.? Well, based on my experience, you have to go with the most aggressive tire required for your off-roading needs. You can ride a knobby on asphalt but if you try to take a street tire into mud and gnarly stuff, you can get yourself in trouble. Of course I could by-pass the gnarly stuff, but where’s the fun in that, and besides, I like a challenge!
I’m currently deliberating between Shinko 804/805s and Michelin Anakee Wilds. I know the Shinkos are surprisingly quiet and smooth on the road, despite being a 40/60 road/off-road tire. However, they aren’t great with lateral stability. The Wilds are listed as a 50/50, but I have a sense they might be better in the dirt but louder on asphalt. (I’ve never ridden a set of these before.) I also like that the Anakees are a radial tire, so they will run cooler in the heat at speed. And for what it’s worth, Lyndon Poskitt just put a set of these on his Norden 901 for his tour of Iceland where he’ll be doing similar riding.
The Shinkos are about half the price of the Anakees, but for a tour like this, having the right tire is more important to me than a few hundred dollars. I have run the Shinkos before and they were great . . . until they weren’t. From one day to the next, they started skidding and sliding out on me.
What do you think? Anyone tried either of these tires?
Tools, More Tools . . .
Finally on my wish list are some tools for helping me with these tire changes. I’ve always worked off the grass, but it’s not ideal; you’re grinding dirt into your bearings as you wrestle with the tire, and it’s hard to stabilize the wheel while levering. I think I’m going to ask Santa to get me a tire changing stand and some Motion Pro tools to facilitate this work and protect my rims.
The Tiger is basically a sport bike in adventure clothing; it rips, and I love how it handles through twisties. But I’ve yet to really test it off-road in technical terrain. Fully protected, with an aggressive knobby and soft panniers, Jet will be ready to hit the dirt and I’ll be eager to get back to exploring. Gros Morne National Park is a bucket list item for Marilyn and me, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to get deep into the park on the bike.
In the meantime, we’ve just received here in Montreal the first big snowfall of the winter. I’ve been shovelling the driveway for the past 24 hours, but I really don’t mind. It will be nice to have a white Christmas. I’ve just finished all my grading in my teaching work, and we are sufficiently stocked with holiday sweets and treats.
I was just remarking to Marilyn that, in many ways, I prefer the midwinter holiday to the summer one. While I can’t ride, being a bit house-bound provides an opportunity to step back from everyday life and reflect—a sort of retreat. And what comes to me this year as I do that is how incredibly blessed I am in so many ways. I and my loved ones are healthy, we have enough money, I have a fulfilling job . . . I could go on, but I’m thinking mostly of the people in Ukraine and other parts of the world who are less fortunate. In the immortal words of Ron MacLean, “count your blessings, not your presents.” It’s nice to dream and plan to buy stuff for what we are passionate about, but the most precious gifts cannot be bought.
I wish you and yours a healthy, happy holiday, and safe riding and travelling in 2023.
In the penultimate post in a series on gear, I discuss what I carry when touring.
The first major tour I did was to Cape Breton to ride the Cabot Trail. As you cross the border from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, heading east, you see at the side of the highway a mini-lighthouse advertising Tourist Information. I naturally pulled off for maps and a rest. In the parking lot, I noticed a burley, bearded, rider on his back beneath his Harley, trying to tighten an oil filter with a pair of pliers.
“Hey, can I help in some way?,” I offered. None of his fellow riders seemed either able or willing.
“Not unless you have a 14mm socket,” was the reply that emanated from beneath the bike.
I rummaged to the bottom of a pannier and emerged with the requested item.
“Here you go,” I said, and handed it down to him.
Every touring group should include at least one ADV rider. Because we venture into remote areas, we have to be self-sufficient, and that means being prepared for anything. Anything. Mechanical problems, medical emergencies, security issues—we need to carry on the bike into the bush the tools, spare parts, first-aid materials, and safety items required to get us back out of the bush.
The basis of my touring kit is my tool roll. I use the Kriega roll because I like the little pouch at the side for all the odds and ends that don’t fit anywhere else.
That includes an assortment of hardware and fuses, pipe cleaners, emery paper, safety wire, thread lock, a valve stem tool, picks, and a tool for removing pins from electrical connectors (viewed far right above). The latter contains two tubes of different diameters, one on each end; hopefully one is the perfect diameter to slide over the pin but inside the hole in the connector. The tool pushes the barbs of the pin in so the wire can be extracted out the back of the connector.
I once had a flasher that had a break in the wire inside the connector plug, so I couldn’t simply splice the wire. Every time I put on the flasher, I’d blow the fuse to the circuit that included my dash, so no speedometer, tachometer, and other instrumentation. The only way to fix it, other than getting a new connector and splicing wires, was to remove the pin from the connector using a tool like this. Since then, it’s become part of my toolkit.
Left to right above in my roll is a telescopic magnet, zip ties, various Allen keys particular to my bike, needle-nose pliers, slip-joint pliers, a 1/4″ T-handle, reversible screwdriver (standard/Phillips), 3/8″ ratchet, socket extensions, various wrenches. I like the stubby wrenches from Home Depot because they are lighter—not as light as titanium wrenches, but my wallet is heavier for it. I indulge myself with a ratcheting 10mm wrench.
Why the 1/4″ T-handle? Some of those sockets are 1/4″, but with the Motion Pro T6 adapter, I can use all my 3/8″ sockets on the T-handle.
Where are the vice-grips, you ask? They are in my other tool kit since they don’t fit in this one. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t use vice-grips very often when working, but they are handy in a pinch, so to speak (sorry).
In a Dollar Store pencil case, I have my sockets, some hex bit sockets (3/8″ and 1/4″ stubbies), an elbow socket, spark plug socket, a couple of crowfoot sockets (again, particular to my bike), a spoke wrench, and said vice grips (aka locking pliers). I used to carry torx bits with the BMW, but since switching to Triumph, I now carry hex bits.
There’s some redundancy here, for sure. I probably don’t need both Allen keys and Allen sockets, but the keys don’t take up much space, and sometimes one tool is better than the other for a particular purpose.
I also carry:
Tubes. I know you can get by with one, the front, and cram it into the rear if needed, but I carry both a front and rear tube.
A chain breaker, spare links, and a master clip. I like the Motion Pro Chain breaker for on the road. It doesn’t do rivets like the DID one does, so I have both. I use the DID at home when changing my chain, but take the smaller Motion Pro one on the road with a clip master link.
A digital multimeter for troubleshooting electrical problems. Don’t ask me how to use it beyond the basics because I’m still learning The Dark Arts, but I take one nonetheless. I have the Neoteck NT8233D Pro, which is cheap enough to get wrecked while ADV riding but still decent enough quality and reasonable in size. I’ve considered getting a smart meter, but wondered if it would be reliable enough. Anyone have any experience with these?
Tools, sockets, tubes, multimeter, and chain tool all go in Giant Loop Possibles Pouches that attach to my crash bars at the front, helping to keep the bike balanced front to back.
In one of my panniers, I carry a plastic box that contains other items and spare parts (see image at top). The spare parts have gone with the sold BMW so need to be replenished, but they were a spare clutch cable, spare levers, and a spare water pump. If I were doing a RTW tour, I’d carry more spare parts than this, but so far my tours have been in North America, where parts are readily available.
Also in that container:
JB Weld Steel Stick, for fixing engine casing.
JB Weld Plastic bonder. I’ve use this to fix body panels and broken mirrors.
Self-sealing tape. This stuff is amazing and can seal a high-pressure hose.
High-temperature electrical tape for wrapping electrical wires.
An assortment of electrical connectors, including Posi-Lock, and heat shrink.
More hardware, more fuses, assorted copper crush washers, cotter pins, O-rings, velcro.
Various gauge wire
An extra buckle for my Wolfman tank bag.
Finally, to round out my emergency preparedness, I carry a first-aid kit and bear spray. The kit I put together myself. I took a look at what you get in those prepared kits and it didn’t look like much for the cost, so I bought another trusty Dollar Store pencil case and filled it myself. I won’t go through all that I have in there, but will say the few things you won’t get in those commercial kits:
Carbon capsules. Eaten something that doesn’t agree with you? Take two, wait half an hour, take a dump, job done.
Arnica Montana. Homeopathy for any trauma to the body.
Robax. I have a vulnerable back, which tends to go at the most unexpected times.
Antihistamines. These are great for any inflammation from bee stings or allergic reactions.
Triple Action Polysporin
These items, along with the essentials I always carry on the bike, round out my touring kit. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all this stuff adds up to a quite a few pounds, so I think I’m covered. The challenge is always to find the right balance between taking what you need while keeping the weight down. I’d rather sacrifice some creature comforts like a camp chair, but I rarely sacrifice when it comes to tools and other items needed to keep the bike running (although the camp chair would come in handy if stranded in the middle of nowhere).
I’ll add one more item this winter to my tools: a satellite communicator. I’ve been meaning to get one for a while, and it really is silly to travel into remote areas without one. I’ve considered them all and almost bought a Garmin inReach Mini, but I’m leaning toward getting a Zoleo at half the price. Any thoughts, anyone? I don’t see what the Garmin does that the Zoleo cannot. Am I missing something?
Have I missed anything in my touring kit? As always, your kit is personal to you, so let me know in a comment if there’s something you carry that I do not. Like I said, I’m a self-confessed gear weanie, so I’m always interested in learning about a tool I have to buy. Buying gear is one of the ways we riders in the North get through the off-season, and yesterday I put the Tiger into storage, so I’m all ears.
I’ll wrap up this series in my next post on the navigation apps I use. If that interests you, click Follow and you’ll be notified of it and future posts when they are published.
In this third post in a series on gear, I talk about the camping gear that works for me.
There are many reasons to do moto camping. The obvious one is that you save on accommodation costs. Most campgrounds will charge a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest hotel room or AirBNB, and if you do wild camping, it’s free. But I don’t think that’s the best reason to camp. Camping gains you access to remote areas only accessible if you’re willing to tent it. Yes, you have some inconveniences, but you get to sit by a fire through the evening, hear loon call through the night, and wake up to mist on the water—priceless experiences you can’t get at even the most expensive hotels. One of those inconveniences is that you have more stuff to carry on the bike, but trust me, it can all fit quite easily if you get the right gear. Here is what has worked well for me over the years and during my cross-country trip last summer. I’m not saying these are the best options, but it’s what I’ve been using and am happy with.
The tent I use for car and canoe camping is too big for the bike, so when I moto camp, I borrow my son’s MEC Tarn 2. Yes, he lent it to me the entire summer last year when I did the big trip. I keep thinking I should buy my own but he asks why if he’s not using it. That’s very generous of him, especially because it’s a great 4-season tent.
He lived in it an entire summer when he was tree-planting. It was the smallest tent in camp, and I’ve had people comment on “my tiny tent,” but we both love it for its size because that makes it warm and cozy. And when you are only sleeping in it, why do you need anything bigger? MEC says this is a two-person tent, but the only way it could fit two people is if they slept head to toe, and even then it would be tight. I find I can sleep comfortably with room for my jacket, pants, tank bag, and even a helmet beside me. Yes, for security reasons, I normally take my tank bag and helmet into the tent.
One especially nice feature is the large vestibule. I can fit both of my 40L Touratech panniers in the vestibule if I want a day of unencumbered riding, or at night my duffle bag, boots, and other gear I want to keep dry and close . . . but not too close, if you know what I mean. With only three poles, the tent is quick and easy to set up, and it has held up great over the years. We’ve both been caught in some big storms but it has kept us dry and warm. What more could you ask?
The poles are a little long so the length when packed up is 23″ x 7″ (diameter), but it fits perfectly into the bottom of my Wolfman Duffle or strapped onto the top of a pannier. Unfortunately, this tent is no longer available but there are others with a similar low-profile design and large vestibule. Eureka make one that is similar. I normally put a cheap tarp underneath to protect the floor but I make sure it doesn’t extend out beyond the fly or it will catch rainwater running off the tent and transport it underneath. I’ve never needed to string a tarp over this tent.
Marilyn and I didn’t do any camping together while she was riding with me last year, but I think we’ll have to next summer when we tour the Maritimes and Newfoundland. I’m in the process of researching a 2-person tent, and the MSR Elixir 2 is on my short-list. If you know of a good but reasonably priced 2-person tent, please let me know. Yeah, we’d all like to have a Hilleberg; maybe in my next life.
Inside the tent, I use a Nemo Cosmo mattress. I’ve used various self inflating mattresses and considered the popular Sea to Summit mattresses, but in the end, I bought this for a steal when it was discontinued and I have no regrets. I know the current inflatable mattresses use a fill bag instead of a pump, but I’ve never found the built-in pump annoying. It takes a timed 90 seconds to fill.
More importantly, this mattress is very comfortable and warm. Fully inflated, it’s 2.5 inches thick, and although that doesn’t sound like a lot, it beats the self-inflating mattresses and I can sleep on my side comfortably without my hip touching the ground. I’ve recently come across some sleeping bags that do not have any fill on the underside, and that’s because most, if not all, of the insulation from below comes from your mattress, so it’s a good idea to get one that has a good R-value, especially if you are doing any camping in Canada. The Nemo is 20R rated for temperatures from 15 – 25°F (-9 – -4°C), and I’ve never been cold on it. It packs up to 11″ x 6″ (diameter) and weighs 1 lb 13 oz, or 815 grams.
Overall, I’m very happy with this mattress. The only shortcoming is that the nylon surface is slippery, as is my sleeping bag, and I’m an “active sleeper,” so I’ve woken up briefly in the middle of the night off the mattress.
For years, and for the big trip last summer, I used a synthetic sleeping bag. It was fine in terms of warmth, and being synthetic meant I could throw it in a washing machine mid-point when I got to Calgary. However, being synthetic, it doesn’t pack up very small and that meant I had to take my large Firstgear 70L duffle when I really wanted to use my Mosko 25L Scout on the tail rack. Realistically, it probably never would have worked with the Scout; when Marilyn joined me, we needed all the room of the larger duffle for all our stuff, but when I got back, I bought a compression sack so I could cinch the bag down smaller. That certainly helps, but I’ve since bought a down-filled bag from MEC and that is now my preferred bag unless I expect to be wetting it (not yet) or sleeping in dirt (not likely) or in heat (not now). I got just a 650-fill one, which was affordable and adequate for 3-season camping, and it packs up small and is very light. I now recognize that for moto camping, you really need a down bag for its reduced size and weight. And for laundering it, I bought some Nikwax Down Wash Direct.
Finally, I use a Sea to Summit silk liner inside the bag to keep it clean. How often do you launder your bed sheets? I know that’s an impolite question to ask most bachelors. But you should launder your bag as often as your sheets, and a liner is a lot easier to launder than a bag. (You can, in fact, hand-wash it easily at a campground.) The benefits of a liner aren’t just related to hygiene. It adds warmth when you need it, and can replace a bag when it’s hot. There are lots of different kinds, from fleece to synthetic, but I decided to get the silk one because it insulates and breathes, so is practical in a wide range of conditions. Sorry vegans.
The type of stove I prefer is one that runs on liquid fuel. I don’t like having to dispose of propane canisters and I find them bulky in the limited space of my panniers. Instead, I have two 1L MSR fuel bottles that fit into racks on the back of the bike. (Most pannier systems, soft and hard, have a fuel bottle holder as optional add-on.) I already have the bottles as spare fuel for the bike, so why not double-purpose them as my cooking fuel? Some people say the food can take on the odour of burnt fuel, but I haven’t found that to be the case.
There are, to my knowledge, two manufacturers of this type of stove: MSR and Optimus. I started with the Optimus but unfortunately we had some issues with it and ended up abandoning it mid-tour a few years ago. The valve got stuck closed and then the threading got stripped in trying to open it again. To be fair, I probably was at fault in turning off the stove at the valve, but I always found that system of turning the stove off by flipping the bottle over awkward and unreliable. Had I known the casing was going to shrink when cooling and fuse itself to the threading of the valve, I would have done as instructed, but I didn’t, and that’s what happens when you don’t read the 15 pages of warnings that accompany most products today.
For the replacement, we went with the MSR Dragonfly. Same idea, better design. Liquid fuel is atomized on the underside of a heated saucer. It seems complicated at first but quickly becomes easy. You open the valve briefly and allow a little fuel to soak the wick, then light it and the resulting flame will heat the underside of the metal saucer at the centre of the stove. After about 30 seconds, the metal is hot enough to instantly turn the liquid fuel to gas and the flame turns from orange to blue. It’s a very efficient design; I can get a bottle of fuel to last easily over a week of full-time use. And best of all, you can find fuel at any gas station. It will burn all grades of petrol, including diesel, as well as kerosene and white fuel. Heck, it can probably burn alcohol if you’re in a pinch, but you’d have to be pretty desperate to burn your bourbon.
The main drawback of the Dragonfly is that it’s loud! Okay, it’s not like a jet is taking off from your campsite, as some online reviews claim, but it produces a steady roar, depending of course on how quickly you need your coffee. MSR also make the WhisperLite stove that is quieter, but we were talked into the Dragonfly by a salesman who uses it to do baking in the bush; the valve is that good. You can turn it right down to a simmer, unlike any other stove I’ve seen. Seriously, after having the Optimus crap out on us in Sudbury, Marilyn and I wanted a stove with a long history of tried-and-true reliability, and the Dragonfly has been used the world over at all altitudes by hikers, climbers, and campers. And after several years of use with only the most minimal maintenance, it’s working as well as the day we bought it.
For years I used an old enamel pot and a steel frying pan, and they were adequate, but before the big trip, I upgraded my cookware. I went with a Zebra 3L Billy pot from Canadian Outdoor Equipment. There are four sizes but the 3L is right for me.
There are several things I like about this pot. For one, it’s stainless steel, so light and strong. There is an integrated pan that fits into the top, so I can have rice cooking underneath and a packaged curry on top, or pasta and sauce, KD and beans, etc.. I like the overhead handle so I can hang the pot over an open fire (instead of trying to balance it on rocks), and the little clips ensure that the handle doesn’t swing down when not in use and touch the side of the pot and get hot. My stove, the pan, and the lid all fit inside the pot, so it’s very space efficient.
I upgraded the frypan to the Firebox Frypan. It’s aluminum, and that might sound scary, but the aluminum is underneath a non-reactive oxide coating. Apparently it’s 30% harder than stainless steel, so scratch resistant, and—don’t worry—won’t cause Alzheimer’s. And being aluminum, it’s extremely light.
This pan requires a little prep to set it up before using, but once done, the surface is sealed and begins a seasoning process that will make your food taste better. That’s at least what Firebox says. Usually when I’m camping, I’m so hungry everything tastes great, but I’ll take their word for it. The sealing process takes a few hours but is not difficult. The handle holds the pan securely, and I’ve used it to lift the pan of my Billy pot too. I like this frypan because it has the same properties as cast iron but at a fraction of the weight.
Between these two items—the Billy pot and the Firebox frypan—I’ve never needed any other cookware.
It’s a good idea to protect your cookware with a bag. This also prevents rattling on the bike if you have hard panniers. You can buy bags, but I decided to make my own. I bought some Cordura off of Amazon and sewed some simple bags with draw-strings. I cut a circle a little larger than the circumference that I wanted, then made a tube and sewed the two together. Then I hemmed the top of the tube and pushed a length of paracord through (attach the end of the cord to a safety pin to push through). Finally, turn the whole thing inside out so the hems are on the inside, and knot the ends of the cord so they stay put. I made an even simpler one for the frypan and plates, and one for miscellaneous cutlery, the handle, tongs, and can opener.
Forget about freeze-dried coffee; you deserve better. When car camping, I’ve used the Melitta system with funnel and filters, but it’s impractical for moto camping. Lately, the only way I make coffee when camping is with the AeroPress.
It looks like a lot of stuff but it all fits together inside the cup. The AeroPress makes a great cup of coffee quickly and easily. The filters come in their own holder, but it’s not waterproof so you’ll want to prevent it getting wet (uh, before using). I can then fit the packed press inside one of my GSI Outdoors Glacier mugs. Again, nesting items helps keep your gear compact.
Once you get into remote areas, you will have difficulty finding potable water. You can boil your water, but that’s time- and fuel-consuming. For years, I used while canoe-camping a ceramic pump like the Katadyn Vario Filter, but the first time I went to replace the filter I choked on the price—almost as much as the original unit. The pump is also a bit bulky for moto camping. That’s when, for a little more money than a new filter, I bought a Steripen.
The Steripen uses ultraviolet light to eliminate bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. It can sterilize 1L of water in 90 seconds and has a basic display that indicates your progress. You submerge it in the water and stir, ensuring all the water gets treated. (For this reason, it’s helpful to have a wide-necked bottle.) A charge lasts for 8000 uses, apparently, but if that is not enough, it can be recharged off the bike via a USB port. Best of all, it’s super small. It doesn’t filter particles, of course, and is less effective in sediment-laden water, but I used it to treat the brown water out of the pumps at Yukon River Territorial Park and suffered only mild rectal bleeding and a slight twitch. (No, seriously, I was fine.)
If you have the space, a ceramic filter and Steripen is a good combo, and this is what my son Gabriel and I did this summer canoe camping. Of course, there are always chemicals, but I gave up on them years ago. If anyone knows of a small and effective pre-filter to replace the Katadyn while moto camping, please let me know.
I’ve told Marilyn I have only two requirements for our retirement home: a heated garage and either a wood stove or a fireplace. I love fires. I was bummed about the fire ban in British Columbia last summer, but thankfully it lifted at the end of July so I could enjoy fires through northern BC and Yukon, where $12 gets you a site and unlimited firewood.
For splitting wood, I have a cheap hatchet. I can’t remember where I got it. I’ve considered upgrading, and still might, but for now this is what I use. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to sharpen knives and axes and bought a sharpening stone and strop with compounds and got to work. Now it’s pretty sharp and does the job. I can’t split logs in half, but I can split off kindling. I had my local cobbler make up a sheath for it.
For years, I used the Trailblazer 18″ Take-Down Buck Saw for sectioning wood. Once assembled, it works great. But it does take some assembly, which makes it impractical for clearing trails when you are riding. I recently saw an Awesome Players video in which Riley is praising the Silky folding saw they use for that purpose. I dropped a hint to Marilyn and she gave me for my birthday this year the 210mm Folding Saw. My son and I used it to prune some branches away from the house this summer and again while canoe camping in August, and I have to say, this thing kicks butt! Nobody makes blades better than the Japanese. An unusual feature of Silky saws is that they cut on the pull stroke. As Riley says, they’ve tried imitation saws off Amazon and they are not the same. This is now my preferred camp saw.
This is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up with a few other favourites. I have two sources of light for when the sun goes down (other than my fire). One is a Spot Lite 200 headlamp by Black Diamond. A headlamp is a necessity, in my opinion, because it leaves both hands free for working around camp. This one is 200 Lumen, which is more than adequate, has settings for distance (spot), proximity (flood), is dimmable, and includes a red light, which doesn’t attract bugs. There’s apparently a way to lock it too, so it doesn’t accidentally turn on in your tank bag and drain the batteries.
For the picnic table and tent, I like the Moji Lantern, also by Black Diamond. It also has 200 Lumen max output and produces a nice soft, diffuse, light that fills the immediate area. It’s dimmable and has a strobe function as an emergency beacon, which I guess might be useful on the water but not for much else. It’s IPX 4 Stormproof, which means it can be rained on from any angle but I guess not submergible in water. The recessed switch prevents it from being turned on accidentally, and double hooks underneath allow you to hang it in the tent. All in all, it’s a very well thought-out and inexpensive small lamp (2 5/8″D x 1 3/4″). Best of all, you get your choice of four colours.
The first time I played something through the Tribit Stormbox I was immediately impressed with the quality of sound coming out of this little speaker. It has rich, full bass, without sacrificing definition in the treble range. I don’t know how Tribit do it. The mesh on top is metal, so it’s durable, and it’s also waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in a shower or during that river crossing. It has a built-in power bank that is rechargeable on the bike via USB-C, and it’s plenty loud enough, especially for a campground. It connects automatically to my phone when I turn it on—no need to pair each time or mess around in settings. I never thought I’d like music so much when camping, but I’ve discovered it’s very nice as a sort of companion fireside.
Finally, my favourite piece of camping gear is my dad’s old (circa 1954) Solingen hunting knife set I inherited when he downsized. Admittedly, these knives have more sentimental value than practical use, but I do use them around camp. The bowie knife is also known as a survival knife. I’m not using it in any sandbar duels, as Jim Bowie did, but I have used it to split wood by hammering on the blade with a rock or for digging a hole for poop, and a variety of other purposes that require a strong blade. If you had to survive in the bush with one knife, a bowie knife would be it. The little paring knife I use for a variety of purposes. The handles are carved antler, and the sheath is ornately stamped. It’s my prize camping possession so, sorry folks, not for sale. I see that Solingen in Germany are not selling any more hunting knives, but there’s no shortage of good quality knives available on the market. In fact, I’ve recently discovered YouTube channels devoted to reviewing knives. Who knew?
If you’ve stayed with me to the very end, congratulations; go outside for some fresh air. I didn’t realize I had so much gear until I started getting into it, and figured if I’m going to talk about it, I should say something meaningful and not simply present a list. I solemnly swear that it, plus food, a small stuff sack of personal items, and even a container of spare bike parts all fit in two 40L panniers and the small Wolfman duffle tail bag. The light stuff like sleeping bag, mattress, and clothing go high on the tail rack; the heavy stuff like all the cooking gear and food go low in the panniers.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. I know several items are already discontinued, but that’s when I usually buy gear—on clearance—and you can find similar items based on these recommendations. If you have a favourite or newly-discovered piece of camp gear, please let us (me and my readers) know by dropping a comment below. I recently took a look at my stats and this blog is getting about 300 views per month—not a lot by internet standards, but not bad either. And while I’m on this topic, please consider following and share with anyone you think might be interested. I am hoping to grow the blog, and with retirement and another big east coast trip planned in the not-too-distant future, I still have lots to say.
In the next post, I’ll conclude the series on gear by talking about the essential tools I always carry on the bike and the navigation apps I use to get around.
In this post, I describe the off-road gear that’s worked for me.
In an earlier post, I discussed my touring gear. In this one, I’ll cover the gear I use for off-road riding. As before, I’ll move from head to toe.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a secondary helmet I use only occasionally, so the LS2 Pioneer was in the right range at about $230. It’s also a long oval, so the right head shape for me. In fact, it might be a bit tight even for me; towards the end of a long day, I wish it were a little wider. But it has excellent ventilation, and this is the helmet I reach for on stinking hot days even for street riding. It has a large eye port that accommodates goggles, a drop-down sun visor, and most importantly, looks really cool!
The foundation, literally, of my off-road gear is the Knox Venture Shirt. I decided to go with a soft compression suit for comfort and safety. I know many will say I should have gotten a roost protector or some hard-shell armour, but for the kind of riding I do, which is not motocross but trail riding, I thought that would be overkill.
The nice thing about the compression suit is that I can wear it under an off-road jersey on really hot days. Also, unlike a jacket, the armour stays in place when you have an off. Because I live about 45 minutes from dirt, I like to wear my jacket to the trail, then swap it for the jersey. This means I need to carry a tail bag or knapsack, but I just don’t feel entirely comfortable riding asphalt without a jacket; it’s like how I don’t feel comfortable driving without a seat belt on.
This product wasn’t available in Canada and I had to order it at Revzilla. It’s since been discontinued but you can still get a similar zip-up armoured shirt from Knox or Bohn. It uses the latest D30 (Knox calls it Microtek) technology in the armour, which is pliable when wearing and stiffens upon impact. I upgraded the back protector to the Dianese Pro G2 because I found the Knox pad did not provide enough ventilation.
The Traverse is just a shell, and it doesn’t come with any armour. It’s very light and comfortable, and it has big zipper vents under the arms. It’s Gore-Tex, which makes it a little hot, but I also use it for street riding when there’s risk of rain. And because it’s going to get muddy, it’s got to be black. This is my go-to does-it-all jacket, and I love it!
For pants, I use the tried and true Klim Dakar pants, over the boot model. These aren’t waterproof, and the first time I toured in them I got caught in a shower and soon learned that. They just aren’t designed for that purpose. Instead, they have a dense, tough mesh that provides some airflow yet resists snags when you’re riding through brambles and thorny branches. There are also elastic accordion panels in key areas that provide a lot of stretch. Big zipper vents front and back enhance airflow, and there are the usual Klim angled zippered pockets for wallet and phone.
If you are going to be doing some serious off-roading—and that involves a lot of movement on the bike—these pants are designed for that. There are also some nice touches like the leather inseams on the lower pant leg where you are gripping the bike. A very durable, ventilated, stretchy pant for off-road riding. And of course, they come with Klim’s D30 armour in hips and knees.
If I’m going to be doing some technical riding, I pull on the Forcefield Sport Tube Knee Armour. Forcefield, like Knox, is also a company dedicated to just armour, so they do it right, and like the Knox shirt, these tubes, although a little uncomfortable, ensure that the armour stays in place when I go down.
If I did more off-roading, I’d probably invest the big bucks in some knee braces. I’ve ridden with the Awesome Players Off-Road Club and Mark did some major damage to his knee a few years ago that got me and others thinking about that possibility. So far I’ve been lucky, but there might be knee braces in my future. For now, these knee pads are the best I’ve found. They won’t prevent torsional damage, but they will help with direct impact.
I use my SIDI Adventure 2 boots when off-roading. They are not motocross boots, but have adequate protection should you get a foot caught under the bike.
One piece of armour I’ve recently started using is wrist braces. I broke my thumb off-roading, and I’ve seen a few riding friends break their wrists recently, which got me wondering why riders don’t wear what skateboarders and snowboarders wear to prevent broken wrists. Apparently, it’s the most common snowboarding injury, for obvious reasons; it’s instinctive to put out your hand to break a fall.
Recently I started wearing EVS Wrist Braces. They are comfortable, and once I have them on, I forget I’m wearing them. Honestly. Okay, maybe you have to be off-roading to forget you have them on, but really, they do not encumber your movement on the bike, your grip on the handlebars, or your control of the levers. I had a friend break his wrist in a silly tip over when his hand hit a rock. It doesn’t take much with this fragile part of the body. They say the extremities are the most vulnerable, so if you off-road, consider picking up something like this and avoid losing six weeks of your season.
I took a tip from The Awesome Players and use a cheap pair of Mechanix gloves bought at Canadian Tire. You generally want a thin leather for the upmost feel on the controls, and mechanic’s gloves provide that dexterity, depending on the weight you choose. They also often have D30 on the back (for when that wrench slips and you were pushing instead of pulling) and are a fraction of the cost of dedicated motorcycle gloves. Go around Father’s Day and you will often see them on sale.
Finally, the only other bit of gear that I use on but particularly off road is my Klim water bladder, or fuel cell, or hydration system, or Camelbak, or whatever you call it. It’s kind of a pain to carry water on your back. It’s heavy and hot, preventing airflow, but I’ve found that on hot days these inconveniences are worth avoiding the two-day headache I get if I don’t drink enough. When you are working hard in the heat, a sip from a water bottle every few hours during a rest stop is not enough. But if it’s cool and I can get away with it, I’ll put a Nalgene bottle of water in one of those canister holders on the back and ride unencumbered.
This one is now discontinued and there are tons of others to choose from, including some with room for tools and first aid, if you want to get everything off the bike. Ryan F9 just did a good video comparing some backpacks that he particularly likes, and an upgrade might be in my future if I were to do a lot more off-roading than I currently do.
So as you can see, I’m pretty much a Klim guy. Their gear is expensive, but I’ve already said, you can get it on sale if you’re willing to watch and wait. I trust the quality of the materials and workmanship and the thought that’s gone into the design. Some will say I’m getting fooled by marketing and there is comparable gear available for a fraction of the cost, and they may be right. But with the fuel pak, for example, Klim’s is unusual in that the seams of the bladder are radio frequency sealed, so you can turn it completely inside-out to clean and dry. It’s for qualities such as that I’m willing to pay a premium price. And when the mouthpiece split and started to leak, Klim sent me a new one. Again, I am not sponsored by Klim; it’s just my go-to brand for gear.
One of the pains with dual sport riding is that you have to buy two sets of gear, one for road and one for off-road. It’s a significant investment up front, and buying all this stuff almost broke my marriage as well as the bank account. But take your time, get a little at a time, prioritizing, and look for discontinued and end-of-season sales. There are sports that are more expensive, I like to remind my wife, and there are more frivolous things to buy than protective gear.
Off-roading is not a dangerous sport. In fact, I got into it because I felt it is a way to challenge myself safely. There’s only so fast you can go on the street before it’s not safe, and the stakes there are a lot higher. Off roading does not involve high speeds—not the trail and dirt-road riding I do—but you can still get hurt playing in low-traction terrain with a 450 lb. bike. Investing in some good gear minimizes the risks and therefore increases the enjoyment of the ride.
This is what I use and have found works for me. What do you use? I’m a gear weenie so I’d love to hear what works for you. Please leave a comment or send me an email. In the next post, I’ll talk about the camping gear I use. If you are interested in moto-camping, click the Follow button and you’ll be notified of new posts.
The first in a series of posts on my riding gear. In this one, I discuss my touring gear.
I’ve had a few queries about the gear I use, usually from someone about to set out on a similar long tour, so I’ll devote a few blogs to the subject. This one is on what I wear when touring. In the next, I’ll talk about my off-roading gear. I’ll then cover my camping gear, and round out the series on navigation apps and other equipment I carry on the bike.
Let’s move from head to toe.
The first time I bought a helmet, I had no idea what I was doing so relied on the salesperson. Unfortunately, she put me in the wrong helmet. She would put a helmet on me, wriggle it from side to side, say “Too big,” then put on a smaller one. Eventually she had me in an XS which, yeah, fit side to side, but within half an hour at my first class had created a pressure point that felt like a nail was slowly being driven down though the crown of my skull.
I’m surprised that head shape is not emphasized more than it is. It’s the starting point of finding the right helmet, but rarely talked about in reviews or explicitly mentioned in product descriptions. I have a long-oval-shaped head, so after a little research, I bought an Arai Signet-X as my touring helmet. I know there are cheaper helmets, but when one’s brains are at stake, I don’t mind paying a little more. I need all of what’s left of mine. The Arai brand speaks for itself, but I like that the helmet is Snell rated and comes with a Pinlock visor; I’ve never had any issues with fogging. I replaced the original visor before my big tour with the pro-shade visor, which is great, but I still find myself shading my eyes with my hand when riding directly into low sun. My next helmet will probably be an ADV helmet with a peak like the Aria X4. I know the peak will create wind noise but I suspect it’s worth it for the speeds I usually do.
Helmets are extremely personal, so the only advice I can provide is to get one that feels right for you. Just bear in mind that, according to The Hurt Report, 1/5 of all impacts on a helmet in an accident are on the chin. And if you don’t know if you are a round, intermediate oval, or long oval, ask someone to take a photo of the top of your head. It will narrow your search and potentially save you a mistake like mine.
A lot of people, even motorcyclists, ask me what that thing is around my neck. The neck brace was designed by Dr. Chris Leatt after he saw one too many riders die or become paralyzed from the neck down. There is a great interview with him on Adventure Rider Radio, if you’re interested in the origins. Otherwise, all you need to do is look at this independent study to be convinced that neck braces make a significant difference in preventing cervical spine injury and even death. It does that by stopping your helmet from rotating beyond what your neck can withstand and by transferring those forces down through your skeletal structure. Once I have it on (and properly fitted), I forget that I’m wearing it; it doesn’t obstruct my head movements at all, such as when I check my blind spot.
What about an air vest, you ask? Doesn’t it do the same? Well, yes and no. According to Dr. Leatt, there is a difference in safety, and I’m not going to try to explain it but will refer you again to the ARR episode in which they cover this subject, also speaking to the head of safety at the Dakar Rally, which recently switched from mandatory neck braces to air vests. (Incidentally, many riders were not happy with the switch.) I’m not going to advocate against air vests. I think if you are wearing either a brace or a vest, you’re ahead of the crowd. I personally decided against a vest because it’s another layer in the heat. And do they all have to be the same colour as piss after you’ve taken your Vitamin B complex?! Let’s have some air vests that look a little more cool, please.
I bought the Leatt STX; the wider scapula wings do not conflict with back armour or an aero hump if you’re rockin’ full leathers on track days. Yeah, neck braces are pricey. There’s a lot of R&D that goes into them and I guess they are still a niche market, but like most of my gear, I bought it significantly reduced (like 50% off) once the particular model became discontinued. I now make it part of my everyday gear, even when commuting to work. I’d hate to have some bad luck on the day I leave it sitting at home.
After some trial and error, I decided to go with a layering system when touring. For one, I didn’t have $1,500 for a Klim Badlands Pro jacket, and two, it weighs a ton. At first I bought a Klim Traverse jacket and tried that. It’s Gore-Tex, which is great because you don’t have to watch the skies but can ride through rain or shine uninterrupted. But Gore-Tex is hot! Yes, it wicks sweat, but it doesn’t allow much air flow. I was imagining the stifling-hot days of midsummer and decided to buy the best mesh jacket money can buy, and in my opinion, that is the Klim Marrakesh.
I have to admit, the Marrakesh is nothing to look at. Plain Jane. For some, that might be part of its appeal. Who wants to look like a Transformer character in an action animation? But put one on, and you will not want to wear another jacket again. It is my most comfortable riding jacket. Perhaps it’s my most comfortable jacket, period. That’s because the Marrakesh is all about the fabric: a 1000 denier 4-way-stretch mesh that breathes, stretches, and protects. Just a little hi-viz is all that is needed, and it has D30 armour in shoulders, elbows, and back. Okay, the armour is Level 1, not 2, but I decided to sacrifice a little on safety for the sake of comfort, with the compromise of upgrading the back protector to Level 2. I was very happy that I went with this jacket when I got into the midsummer heat that followed me all the way up to Dawson City.
Okay, it’s not waterproof, so I had to carry a rain outer layer in my tank bag. (Klim says the material is “hydrophobic,” which does not mean afraid of the water but water repellent.) There are plenty of good light rain jackets to choose from and they will all do the trick fairly inexpensively. I bought the Scott Ergonomic Pro DP Rain Jacket. This outer layer was helpful not just in the rain, of which I didn’t get much, but also when I just wanted something to break the wind.
Underneath, I had either a light athletic shirt if it was hot, or a merino wool base layer if it wasn’t. I also kept in my tank bag, or somewhere quick at hand, a good quality (800 fill) down vest. It saved me many times on and off the bike. It packs down into the breast zippered pocket to about the size of a mini football (remember those?) and did just the trick when I needed a little something under the jacket in addition to the merino wool base layer or around camp when the sun went down. Doing without the sleeves meant it packed down smaller, and if you keep the main organs warm, the extremities will be too. The Microtherm 2.0 down vest from Eddie Bauer has become my favourite piece of touring gear.
I had one more layer, if needed—a good quality polar fleece jacket. This also doubled as my pillow at night when folded or rolled. So between the different base layers, the fleece, the vest, and the wind/rain breaker, I had lots of options for the varying conditions; I could ride from single digits to 35C, rain or shine.
I decided to go with Klim Carlsbad pants, which are Gore-Tex, but you don’t get much airflow over the legs anyway, and who enjoys pulling on rain paints by the side of the road? It’s one thing to pull on a rain jacket and another to remove boots or deal with zippers halfway up your legs. The Carlsbad pants do have some decent venting, so when my nether regions feel a little hot, I just stand up on the bike for a few seconds to air them out, so to speak.
One of the reasons I like Klim is that the Gore-Tex is in the outer layer. With other brands, it may be an inner layer, so you may stay dry, but the clothing still gets soaked and, aside from being heavy, may take days to dry out completely. I also like the D30 armor (Level 2) in knees and hips (removable so you can wash the pants periodically), and the little Level 1 tail-bone protector.
Underneath, I wear soccer shorts with a mesh liner. They double as swimming trunks (to borrow vocabulary from my dad’s era), dry quickly, and, ah hem, provide some freedom for the boys. I never needed anything else, but I have worn thermal underwear (i.e. long johns) in early spring and late fall riding here in Canada.
So layering on top, vented Gore-Tex below. It was a good combination that worked for me.
I should add that I’m not sponsored by Klim (I wish!). I just find they make the best gear, and motorcycling is so important to me that I’m willing to pay a premium for their gear. But as I’ve said above, I never buy full price. I spend part of the off season researching and window shopping, and when the item I want goes on clearance, I pounce.
Like the pants, I went with Gore-Tex boots that I could ride in rain or shine. No dorky-looking overboots, no plastic bags inside the boots, no waterproof socks—just a really good pair of Gore-Tex adventure boots. For me, that is the SIDI Adventure 2 boots. These are amazing, and not just because they look so cool! (When I first showed them to my son, he said, “Dad, these are Batman boots.”)
Adventure riding is all about compromises, and a good quality adventure boot like these offers a balance of protection and comfort. I’ve had the bike come down on my foot in an off-roading off and literally walked away from it, and I’ve climbed mountains and walked for miles around town in relative comfort because they are hinged. I know some will say only a motocross boot provides adequate protection, but for touring, you need something you can walk in. You also need something with a good tread in case you have to push your bike out of mud. The buckle system of SIDI boots is unparalleled in the industry. If you have a particularly wide foot, you might want to look at the Alpinestar ADV boots; I know Lyndon Poskitt recently switched from SIDI to Alpinestar Toucans because he found his feet were a little cramped in the SIDIs. Like the helmet, boots are all about fitment, so not gear to buy online.
The SIDI Adventure 2’s are a premium item but will probably be the first and last pair I’ll ever buy; you can get the sole on these replaced by your local cobbler when they wear out.
While we are down here, let’s quickly talk about socks. I wore one pair pretty much the entire tour. They are actually not motorcycle gear, per se, but athletic compression socks from The Running Room here in Canada. Compression helps with blood circulation over those long days, and the height (over the calf) prevents chafing at the top of the boot. They are also anti-bacterial and wicking. There’s no point in wearing a Gore-Tex boot over a nylon sock.
For cold or wet weather, I have a pair of Pearly’s Knee-High Possum Socks. Possum, you ask? Yes, Pearly’s has managed to turn road-kill into a business. Each strand of possum fur apparently is hollow inside, creating a dead-air space that is unmatched for insulation and warmth with the exception of caribou hide, which shares the same property. If that were not enough, Pearly’s has woven it with merino wool, resulting in a wool that is pretty special. They are also a premium item and it took me a few years to pull the trigger on these babies, but there’s nothing more comfortable or warm for cold-weather riding.
Finally, let’s move to the other extremity. It may surprise you, but I went minimalist with my gloves: only one pair for the entire tour. If a pair of deerskin gloves is good enough for Pirsig, who writes about them in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, they’re good enough for me. I have a pair of BMW Gore-Tex insulated gauntlet gloves for cold weather riding, and a short pair of Five Stunt gloves for summer riding, but for the Epic Adventure Tour, I took only a pair of Aerostitch Touchscreen Elkskin Ropers.
Why? Mostly for comfort. Like the Marrakesh jacket, once you put these on, you will know why. They are super soft and super comfortable, yet provide sufficient abrasion protection in an off. I have heated grips so rarely need an insulated glove, especially for summer touring, and Elkskin, unlike cowhide, can get wet without drying hard. In fact, on a hot day, if you wet them and wear them riding, they will shrink as they dry and mold to the shape of your hands on the grips. Neat.
Aerostitch do a good job with these gloves, still handmade in The USA. There’s touchscreen thread sewn into the thumb and fingertips of the first two fingers, and a visor squeegie on the thumb. They may feel a little bulky compared to the thin leather of other gloves, but the dexterity they provide is adequate for touring, and I suspect they will last for years and years. In fact, like wine and some women, they are one of those items that gets better with age.
Adventure touring requires that you be ready for all kinds of weather yet minimalist because you’ve only got so much room on the bike. This is what has worked for me. What are your preferences? Did I miss something? Let me know in a comment below what your favourite piece of touring gear is and why. I’m always ready to learn, and we Canadians need something to keep us occupied during the long off season.
Don’t believe everything you hear: there’s a way you can ride safely.
If there’s one motorcycle expression I hate it’s “ride safe,” and not because I’m an English teacher. I know the sentiment expressed is of concern, just as I know the expression is grammatically incorrect, but I also know the risks every time I pull on my helmet and throw a leg over the saddle. Saying “ride safe” to a motorcyclist is like saying “Hey, you know you’re working on a no-hitter?” to a pitcher sometime around the bottom of the seventh. Don’t think he or she isn’t aware of it, and drawing attention to this fact is not really helping.
I delayed my dream of riding a motorcycle for decades because someone told me it’s irresponsible to ride if you’re a parent of young children. When I started riding, in my first year, I overheard a club member say, “It’s not a matter of when but how bad.” He was recounting an accident of another club member and it scared the s**t out of me. I resisted watching YouTube crashes for as long as my curiosity would let me. And when I politely tried explaining to a colleague who had expressed a similar dream of riding how he might be able to do it safely, he wrote me later, half-jokingly, “My wife says I’m not allowed to talk to you anymore about getting a motorcycle.”
Trust me: we are aware of the risks. We face them in one form or another, whether in personal experience (“Phew! That was close.”) or public perception (“donorcycle,” and in Quebec, “mortocycle, ha ha). But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that riding is not as dangerous you might think, provided you follow a few basic principles. I’m not going to argue that it’s as safe as driving a car, because it clearly isn’t, and stats don’t lie, despite what Mark Twain says. But if you do it the right way, you can minimize the risk significantly, lowering it to a reasonable probable return on investment instead of willed denial of your mortality.
As I see it, there are five key factors to staying alive.
1. Start the right way: do a good training course.
Riding is a skill, and like any skill, you can learn it either through trial and error or through some guided instruction. I say this is one you probably want to learn using the latter. I wish I’d taken a few classes at a pro shop before I took up golfing in my early teens; it would have saved me a lot of frustration and some fairways a few nasty divots. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, Quebec is the exception in Canada by making a certified skills course mandatory. I haven’t researched the licensing requirements of the various U.S. states, but if I know anything about the founding principles of that country, I suspect the term “mandatory” does not appear very often in their licensing documentation. This is such a shame because I learnt a ton from my skills course. It consisted of 6 hours of theory and 26 hours of practice, including 16 hours closed track and 10 hours guided road practice.
We learnt everything from the correct way to get on and off the bike to throttle control, clutch control, counter-balancing, counter-steering, target fixation, emergency avoidance, emergency braking . . . everything except for how to wheelie, unless you forgot to lean forward when practicing emergency accelerating. And yes, we learnt, inevitably, how to pick up the bike correctly without damaging your back. By the time I did my road test, I was a pretty confident rider with a solid foundation in the basic skills with some developing muscle memory. Doing a course like this apparently gains you the equivalent of about two years of riding experience and, more importantly, gets you safely through that critical newbie period when the majority of accidents occur. It should be mandatory everywhere, and not taking one voluntarily is just stupid.
2. Choose the right bike
If you look at the mortality statistics, most deaths are young men. And if you are a young man and look at a Ducati Panigale and don’t feel a tingle of excitement in your nether-regions, see your doctor. Young men are looking for power these days and will find it in action movies, guns, games, or engines. Now imagine it’s 150 years ago, before the invention of automobiles, and Junior is about to learn how to drive the family wagon. He nervously climbs up onto the platform and takes the reins in trembling hands. Ahead of him are 214 horses harnessed together stretching up over the hill into the neighbouring farm. Does that make sense? The Panigale’s V4 delivers 214 hp at 13,000 rpm and 12.6 kgm of torque. That’s a lot of power to control your first time out.
In Europe and some provinces in Canada, you have to start on a small bike and work up to a big one. For example, in the EU, if you are under 18 years old, you must start with an A1 license that allows you to ride a bike with up to 14.75 ponies. That’s a scooter, moped, or a “real” motorcycle up to approximately 125cc in size, so basically a sewing machine on wheels. (The size of the engine is less crucial than the power to weight ratio, but we’ll stick with cc numbers for simplicity’s sake.) If you are 18, you can start with an A2 Restricted license and a bike in the 250 to 500cc range. After two years, you can graduate to a full A1 license with no power restrictions. It’s a little more complicated than how I’ve summarized, but the essential idea is that you start on a small bike and after a certain amount of experience can ride a more powerful bike. This makes a lot of sense to me since it’s the weight and power that you have to learn how to control.
So if you are shopping for your first bike, despite the licensing in your region, do you really want to start on a litre bike? Don’t listen to the argument that you will “outgrow” a smaller bike. That’s the point: don’t die. I suggest starting on a bike no bigger than 650cc in size. Smaller is even better. There’s nothing wrong with a fun little 250 for your first few years of riding. In A Christmas Story, Ralphie finally gets his Red Ryder BB gun, but we suspect the story would have a different ending if it were an automatic rifle under the tree.
3. Ride with a club, at least for your first year
I’ve written about the benefits of club riding already. A key one is that you will be riding with experienced riders who know how fast to take a corner, how to adjust their riding in rain or after dark, when to take a break, and generally how to stay safe. It’s Darwin’s theory of natural selection in practice, only what is passed on here is not DNA but sound advice gained from lived experience. Again, here in Quebec, for your first 11 months of riding under a probationary license, you have to go out with “an escort.” (Pro Tip: if you are a married man, be sure to explain to your wife than an escort in this context is someone who has had a full license for at least two years.) A few years ago, the Quebec government scrapped this requirement, changing instead to the stipulation that beginners can ride only between sunrise and sunset. I guess that experiment didn’t go well because they’ve brought it back, much to the chagrin of newbies.
When I started riding at the ripe old age of 52, I didn’t have any friends who rode, but I was fortunate to find a local club that accepts learners. It allowed me to ride that first season, putting in over 10,000 kilometers and gaining crucial muscle memory. According to the Hurt Report, the most comprehensive study yet on motorcycle fatalities, over half of accidents that occur happen within the first five months of riding, so my club got me through the most critical period of learning. Club riding is safe also because group riding is more visible to drivers than a solo motorcyclist. The most common type of accident is a car turning left in front of a bike at an intersection because the driver didn’t see the motorcycle. Ryan F9 has done an interesting video explaining the physiological reasons for this blindness. One can forgive the oversight of a single headlamp, but if you missed the dozen motorcycles coming at you through the intersection, put your phone away when driving.
There is some informal coaching that occurs off the bikes too, and as an added benefit, you develop friendships that last well beyond the probationary period (of your license, that is). So if you are starting to ride, go find a club to ride with. If you are a club that doesn’t accept newbies, shame on you.
4. Get the gear
Quick quiz: of the riders pictured above, which catch your eye first? Duh! I like what Clinton Smout says about this: it’s not loud pipes that save lives but loud colours. Don’t want to appear nerdy? I get it. It doesn’t take much to catch the eye. That’s why I’m wearing that single armband over my black jacket (far right, so to speak). You don’t need your jacket to be the equivalent of leaning on the horn when a little “beep-beep” will do to get attention.
Want to wear that classic black leather jacket? Go ahead, but consider some colour in your helmet. Want to wear a black helmet too? Get some auxiliary lighting to increase your visibility. A single headlight can get lost amid the many lights on the road today, but if you can arrange your aux lighting to form a triangle with your headlight, that will significantly increase your chances of being seen. Don’t want to get aux lighting because it cramps your style? At least flash your high-beam as you approach an intersection if you are not sure that driver turning left has seen you. When the majority of multi-vehicle accidents are caused by not being seen, anything you can do to increase your visibility will help.
According to data collected by Dietmar Otte and cited in Proficient Motorcycling (Hough 38), as much as one-third of impacts on the helmet are on the chin bar, so a full-face helmet provides significantly more protection than an open-face helmet, and significantly more protection than, uh, no helmet at all. New Hampshire is one of three states without a motorcycle helmet law, which might explain why their license plates read “Live Free or Die.” Perhaps they should say “Live Free and Die.” Seriously, I don’t want to sound preachy about any of this. What you wear on the bike is entirely your decision, but if you want to ride as safely as possible, get a good helmet, preferably a full-face with a Snell rating, which is the highest rating for safety.
Now that you’ve protected your head, you might consider protecting the next most vulnerable part of your body—your neck. Last year I started wearing a neck brace. It sits on my shoulders and obstructs the helmet on impact from being pushed beyond the limits of my neck. An independent study found that a neck brace significantly reduces the probability of serious neck trauma. It’s comfortable and once I put it on, I forget that it’s there. I’m confident that, in time, neck braces will become as common and perhaps even as required as helmets. If you want the ultimate protection, consider an air vest. This technology is developing rapidly today in terms of improved algorithms, ease of use, and cost. I suspect that they, too, will become the norm, as air bags have become required in all automobiles since 1998.
This is a big topic and I don’t want to loose sight of the forest for the trees. Let’s just say that there is a lot of excellent protective gear available today, incredible stuff like D30 that wasn’t around even a decade ago. A jacket and pants with good abrasion resistance, CE2 rated armor, a back protector, boots, and gloves complete your kit and are an important part of minimizing risk.
5. Have the right attitude
I’ve been driving a car for close to 40 years and have never had even a fender-bender. There’s more to this boast than skill. It’s mostly a product of awareness of my environment and the ability to anticipate problems before they occur. It’s also not pushing my limits in any dangerous way; you have to save a little buffer, say 15%, for the unexpected. Sometimes it’s listening to my body when it gets tired, and sometimes it’s listening to my gut when it knows I’m heading into danger. My dad used to say that his stomach tells him when he’s speeding before his eyes and the speedometer do. And sometimes it’s a faculty that can only be called intuition if not luck. Once he raced off towards Portsmouth, enjoying the speed, when some voice inside told him to take it easy, so he checked his speed. A little further down the road around a blind corner a pile of dirt had been dropped on the road, probably from a farmer’s cart. That would have been real trouble. Mulder and Scully never investigated any of this paranormal phenomena, but they would have made pretty safe motorcyclists, I imagine.
I know a guy who uses a mantra to get in the right frame of mind as he gets ready to ride. As he pulls on his helmet, he thinks to himself, “Everyone wants to kill me.” That’s pretty good, albeit a bit negative. I like to think of my helmet as an invisibility cloak, like Harry Potter’s. And that makes me think of my son.
My wife did a little riding with me this past summer. I don’t push it with her on the back, not only because of the, eh hem, extra weight that affects the bike’s dynamics, but also because I figure a pillion is already nervous; there’s no need to ride like an idiot to impress. And after one such easy ride, she said—referring to the whole safety thing—”I get it,” by which she meant it’s only as dangerous as you want to make it. You are in complete control of your risk. I’m not saying you can eliminate all risk—there’s always bad luck—but how much risk you want to take on a given day is literally in the palm of your (right) hand.
There are books written on motorcycle safety, and websites and YouTube channels devoted to the technical details of the subject. But to simplify it all, there’s a clear pathway to entering the sport safely: do a course, get the right bike, join a club, buy the gear, and adopt the right attitude. I no longer believe that a crash is inevitable, although risk is certainly a part of riding that we have to manage.
Ironically, I’ve never written a post about safety, although it’s the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when you say you ride. “Isn’t that dangerous?” they ask. Yes, but then so is taking a dump. Think of Elvis. I was really good when I was young at postponing immediate gratification. I was a good boy and buckled down to put myself through university, then I postponed responsibly to raise a child. I oriented my life toward the big golden pot of retirement at the center of the cartoon maze. But when you get into your 50s, you begin to see friends, neighbours, acquaintances, perhaps even family who sadly never make it to the golden years. There’s risk in not doing what your heart desires too, whatever that may be.
So if you’ve always wanted to ride, don’t let your mind talk you out of what your heart is saying. Go ahead and get a bike, but do it right. Ride safe, yes, but more importantly, ride smart. I mean, smartly.
Have I missed something essential to staying safe? Please comment, follow, and share (not because I get any more money—the site is not monetized—but because I like an audience).
I’m between semesters of my teaching work so have been taking this extra time to do some initial planning for the big tour next summer. I’ll be sharing a series of posts about this process. Here’s the first one on some of the initial decisions I’ve made.
My wife, Marilyn, will be joining me for some of this trip but how much is yet to be determined. The initial plan is that I will ride out to Calgary, Alberta, where we have some friends and family, and meet Marilyn there. We have some friends in southern British Columbia, the next stop, and then we’ll end up on Vancouver Island. After exploring the island, we will cross the US border to more family in Washington State. I’d love to visit Yellowstone National Park, which is fairly close, and to ride Beartooth Pass, one of the top roads in the U.S. I also want to ride the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur down to San Francisco.
Part of my reason for heading south is so that when I head back east across The United States, I’ll be riding through Yosemite National Park, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and will be able to see the Sierras as well as those iconic southwestern states and mountain passes. If I keep a fairly straight trajectory, I’ll end up close to The Tail of the Dragon and The Blue Ridge Parkway, iconic rides and bucket list items of mine. Time permitting, I’d like to get out all the way out to the east coast to the Outer Banks, NC, where I have fond childhood memories of family vacations. It’s all rather sketchy at this point, but that’s it, in a nutshell: west across Canada, south down the Pacific coast, and east across The United States before heading north back up to Montreal. A rough and dirty GoogleMaps calculation puts the entire trip at around 12,000 kilometers, or 7,500 miles. It will likely be considerably longer, though, as I plan to explore attractions along the way that will pull me off a direct route.
While I will have some fixed destinations, I want to keep my itinerary flexible and spontaneous. For accommodations, I’ll be camping, and wild camping when possible, which allows for this flexibility. I will cook as much of my own food as I can, extending my budget. It will be a challenge but also part of the fun. This is what adventure riding is all about.
Dirt or Pavement?
One big early decision is how much dirt to ride? I’m thinking this will be primarily on pavement, simply because of the miles to cover, sticking to secondary highways because, well, the super slab is not much fun. But I feel I must get off the pavement through those iconic southwestern states like Nevada, Utah!, and Colorado, even though I’ll be riding solo and am just an intermediate rider. In fact, although I’ll be pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I’d love to put in a few weeks of more technical riding and come back a lot more proficient and confident in the dirt. I just have to do it safely, or as safely as one can.
I’ve been watching YouTube videos of guys doing BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes) and the TAT (Trans America Trail) through those states, trying to access how technical these routes are. Bigby is designed for curving secondary highways and light off-roading, and I have to respect the limitations of my bike as well as my abilities. These are big decisions with a lot at stake, and I can’t let ego or bravado get the better of me. On the other hand . . . how can I cross Utah without riding sections of the Moab desert? And I’d be a fool to not get off the asphalt into the wilderness for some of those Colorado mountain passes.
I’m going to order Butler maps for NV, UT, and CO. They show the BDR routes and contain a lot of good information about which sections are easy. I’m also reading ride reports on the ADVRider forum, an excellent resource for exactly this sort of thing. Why not learn from others who have already done it? What I suspect will end up happening is I’ll ride the easier sections of dirt and jump out onto the asphalt as needed.
How do you have a smooth, comfortable tire for those thousands of kilometers of pavement and still be able to ride the sand and mud that I will encounter off road? Well, you don’t. There really isn’t any unicorn tire that can do it all. Initially, I was sure I would do this trip on the Michelin Anakee Adventure tire. Its smooth profile, dual compound structure (i.e. hard rubber down the middle for longevity, soft rubber on the sidewalls for grip in the corners), and tread pattern would make it a perfect tire for 80% of this trip. But I’ll need something more aggressive for that planned off-roading. I could swap the tire early (I calculate I’ll hit dirt at around 7,000 K on the Anakees), or I could go with a 50/50 tire for the whole trip and suffer some comfort on pavement. Another option is swap out the Anakees for an aggressive off-road knobby, which will mean another switch unless I want to ride Tail of the Dragon and the Blue Ridge Parkway on knobbies, which I don’t. Currently, I’m leaning toward the reliable Heidenau K60 Scouts, a 50/50 tire that should be able to do the entire 12,000 kilometers with some manageable sacrifices on both pavement and dirt. Another option I’m considering is switching to Shinko 804/805 tires, a 60/40 that is pretty beefy for off-roading and surprisingly smooth on the road. They are only good for about 6,000 K but that should be enough to get me home. I’m open to suggestions, so feel free to leave a comment.
In the limited amount of touring I’ve done so far on the bike, I’ve learned that navigation is huge. I struggled in the past with charging issues and roaming charges, even just safely navigating the phone while riding. I think I’ve solved these issues. I followed a thread on ADVRider and bought a Kyocera military grade phone cheap off eBay. It’s locked, but that doesn’t matter because I’ll be using this phone exclusively offline (no SIM card installed) for navigation using maps downloaded to the SD card. This also avoids roaming charges while I’m in The States.
I’ve solved the charging issue by using a magnetic phone cable and gluing the adapter into the port with silicone, making a waterproof seal. (The phone is waterproof but won’t charge if the port detects moisture.) I’ve also purchased the Carpe-Iter Controller, a great little device that mounts on the handlebar and can be operated with my thumb. It works using Bluetooth and has a toggle switch for navigating and selecting apps, and two push-buttons for zooming in and out in maps. It was a little pricey, but will avoid that dangerous dicking around with the phone while one-handed riding. I use OsmAnd primarily and run Drive Mode Dashboard to turn my phone into a dashboard. Drive Mode with the controller is a very nice combination which I hope will make navigation a lot easier and safer.
Drive Mode Dashboard
The only other issue I’ve been having with navigation is that my Ram X-Grip phone holder presses on the buttons on the sides of the Kyocera phone. I think I’ve solved that one by getting the Ram Quick Grip phone holder, which allows you to position the retaining clips to avoid pressing on those buttons.
One concern I have about this trip is that I’ll be riding in extreme temperatures, from 40C deserts to snowy mountain passes. It’s not like I can turn on A/C or heat in the cabin, so I have to be prepared with the right gear since comfort is part of riding safety. And of course I need my gear to be waterproof.
So far, my go-to touring jacket has been the Klim Traverse. It’s a Gore-Tex shell which I layer with a Knox Venture Shirt underneath. The problem with the Traverse is that it’s hot! Yeah, it’s waterproof, which is great; I don’t have to stop and put on a rain jacket but can just keep riding all day long rain or shine. But Gore-Tex does not flow much air, and the jacket is also black. I imagined dying in some of those really hot days mid-summer in the southwest.
I decided to buy a Klim Marrakesh jacket. It’s a mesh jacket so will vent a ton of air, but it’s also 1000D Cordura, so unlike most mesh jackets, will hold up in a slide. It has 4-way stretch so is, without argument, the most comfortable jacket on the market. Anyone who puts one on—I dare you—will not want to wear another motorcycle jacket again. I’m going to be wearing this for two months straight, so comfort is important. It’s not waterproof but water resistant, so I bought a Scott Ergonomic Pro DP rain jacket, and I’ll add a down-filled vest underneath and even my fleece sweater if necessary. In other words, I’ve decided to go the layering route, instead of one-jacket-does-all. I’ll be using my Klim Carlsbag pants, which are great. I don’t care that they are Gore-Tex because your legs don’t get a lot of air-flow anyways. And no one likes pulling rain paints on over your boots by the side of the road.
I’ve had to break the piggy bank for this stuff and my marriage stock is a little low at the moment. But I’m riding an older bike, so what I save on the bike I spend on gear. (That’s my argument, and I’m sticking to it.) I’ve been a little concerned about the amount of oil the engine is losing lately and pondering what I can do about it. As far as I can figure, it’s either losing the oil through the seals or burning it in the cylinder.
It’s a 2006, so it’s possible the seals are worn. My buddy Phil has the same bike but a little older, and he says his engine “sweats” oil at high revs. Yeah, the pressure in the crankcase at high revs might be forcing some oil past those old seals. A little research has uncovered an oil additive called AT-205. It contains a polymer that will restore the plasticity to aged seals that are dried, shrunken, or just worn out. Of course I want to be sure it’s safe for the engine, but user reviews are good and it’s endorsed by Scotty Kilmer. I don’t want to keep this in my engine for long and don’t need to. It apparently works in about 5 hours of driving/riding, so I’ve bought some and will add it sometime in the spring and change my oil soon afterwards. I’m hoping this quick fix will bring my engine back to good health.
If the oil is getting past the rings and being burnt in the cylinder, I’ll just use a cheap heavier weight oil, one that is readily available at Canadian Tire since I’ll literally be burning through a lot of it over the 12,000 kilometers. Castrol 20W/50 motorcycle oil sells for $6.99 at Canadian Tire. My old bike runs better on a dino oil anyways, and it was when I switched to a semi-synthetic 10W/40 that I started losing oil. Coincidence?
So that is the prep so far: a rough sketch of the route, some gear purchases, and some problem-solving of an old engine. Now I just need Covid to go away.
I’ll be posting a walk-around of the bike soon, showing the modifications I’ve made over the years to customize it for my riding, so watch for that. My son is helping me with a video, which I will post to YouTube and write a short post containing the link.
Please Like, Comment, and Follow if you are interested in following me on this adventure.
Hindsight 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.