Let’s Talk About Gear

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.

Helmet

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.

Arai Signet-X

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.

Neck Brace

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.

Leatt STX neck brace

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.

Upper body

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.

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.

Lower Body

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.

Klim Carlsbad pants

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.

Boots

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.”)

SIDI Adventure 2 Gore-Tex 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.

Socks

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.

Gloves

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.

Aerostitch 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.

Conclusion

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.

Klondike Days

Continuing north, I explore Dawson City, then venture up The Dempster Highway.

When I was at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, a neighbouring camper wandered over to examine the stickers on my panniers. He had a box on the back of his camper and also collected stickers, so we struck up a conversation about the places we’d been. He told me that he and his wife had been all over Canada and their two favourite places were Newfoundland and Yukon. I’d never been north, as in North, and I had a bucket list item to see Canadian tundra, so I was especially excited about entering Yukon. The trip so far had been amazing, but in many ways this felt like the climax of the tour.

I left Boya Provincial Park and soon entered Yukon. I was expecting the 3rd degree but in the end didn’t even need to show my vaccination passport. There was a roadside check and I had to fill out some paperwork but was soon on my way.

Nisutlin Bay Bridge

The Klondike Highway (2) is long and under considerable construction, so there were delays and some tricky deep dirt and mud in the bypasses that was warm-up for The Dempster later. Apparently they’ve been working on this road for longer than Transport Quebec has been rebuilding the Turcot Interchange, but I suspect the mafia aren’t behind these delays. It led to a long hot day in the saddle. The heat was following me all the way north and it was 32 degrees Celsius in Dawson City when I arrived late afternoon.

Fortunately, there was ice cream.

The first thing you notice about Dawson City are the colours. I suspect it has something to do with there being little light for major portions of the year, like putting up Christmas lights midwinter. Or perhaps residents know that tourism is a major part of their economy so why not make the buildings look nice. Lord Elgin High School, built in the 70s in my hometown of Burlington, Ontario, with its purple and orange colour scheme has nothing on this school in Dawson City.

Robert Service School in Dawson City

I crossed the mighty Yukon River on the free 24-hour ferry and set up camp right on the river at Yukon River Campground. I love the Territorial campgrounds! They are $12/night including firewood. Like the recreation sites in BC, they work on an honour system, with envelopes and a secure deposit box at the gate.

The forecast was clear so I decided to try sleeping in my hammock. That would turn out to be not a good idea. My sleeping bag is good down to 7 degrees Celsius plus I have a silk liner, but I was still cold. The relentless heat that had been following me across the country was finally abated at night in the Yukon. I also found it very difficult to get in and out of both bags (liner inside of bag) in the pitch dark for those nighttime bathroom breaks. I wish I had a video of me trying to climb back in. I tried climbing into the hammock and then inserting legs; I tried standing and pulling the sleeping bag up first and then climbing in. Both were comical, and I felt like I was in a Charlie Chaplin movie. The next night I slept comfortably in my little warm tent.

The next day I took a guided tour of Dawson City. Yukon Tourism provides tours with a guide in period garb and you get access to buildings that are normally locked to the public. We went into the local bank (one of the first in the region), the post office, the saloon, but for some reason not the brothel. I was surprised to find the same BC fir on the ceiling of the post office that is in my 1934-era home in Quebec. I guess that wood was freighted right across this country.

After the tour, I wandered up to Writers Lane, which contains the homes of three major Canadian writers—poet Robert Service, Pierre Berton, and Jack London—all a stone’s throw from each other.

I don’t know what is in the water in these parts, but there is some major literary talent up here. In fact, Maria Rainer Rilke and other writers like Robert Bly have written that the main ingredient for good writing is solitude, and there’s certainly plenty of that up here. There is also some pretty dramatic history that makes for good fiction.

The next day I pulled up stakes and headed up The Dempster Highway. I write that casually but in fact the decision of whether to try any of The Dempster had been on my mind the entire tour as I was traversing the country. My original plan, as anyone who has been following this blog knows, was to reach the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk. I knew I didn’t have the right tires (Michelin Anakee Adventures) but thought I’d be okay at least for the bottom 70K into Tombstone Territorial Park if it was dry. Only once I was on The Dempster, all that was on my mind was “This isn’t so bad . . . I can do this . . . I wonder if it’s all like this? . . . I don’t want to have regrets that I didn’t try . . . you won’t be here again for some time . . . don’t be a wuss,” etc., looping through my brain like the daredevil “friend” who always gets you into trouble.

So when I got to Tombstone, the first thing I did was ask at the the Interpretive Centre if The Dempster is like this all the way up. The nice young ladies at the centre replied, “Have you received permission to enter Northwest Territories?” What now? I had been following the Covid restrictions on the Yukon border all winter because it was closed for much of it, but hadn’t checked NWT! Turns out strictly residents and people doing business were allowed in. The staff did encourage me, however, to go to Eagle Plains, about halfway, and from there I could ride another 45 minutes for the photo-op at the Arctic Circle sign.

Hmm . . . I had the rest of the day to mull that over, looking closely at the forecast. (If there were any rain, I’d be stuck and would have to wait for the highway to dry out, which could be days.) In the meantime, I decided to do a hike just north of the Interpretive Centre on Golden Sides Mountain. A short ride got me to a horse trail that leads to this spectacular view of four valleys—three in front, and one behind.

Feeling like I’m on top of the world.

That night in my tent I did the mileage calculations over and over again in my head. You need to have a range of at least 370 kilometres to get to Eagle Plains. Although I had not planned to go up The Dempster, I fortunately filled up at the base of it first. (One gets gas when one can in these parts.) My bike has a 17-litre tank and I have another couple of litres in bottles on the back, only one of those bottles was half full because I use it for my stove. So I had about 18.5 L and my bike gets 20-25 K/L, depending on the riding, so I calculated my worst case scenario and concluded it would be tight but I had enough to get me there. And in the end, I did. I cruised at 80 K/hr. and my fuel light came on about 60 K from Eagle Plains but I made it.

Click on any image to enlarge.

Once there, I treated myself to a steak at the restaurant at the lodge. I guess dining etiquette is a little relaxed in these parts because you can apparently play ball with your dog in the dining room here, and why not? I think you should be able to play ball with your dog in any dining room!

Eagle Plains Lodge. I like how the server casually steps over the rope toy.

There I met Mountain Man Mike. Mike is an avid outdoorsman with his own YouTube channel about his adventures in his truck-top camper. He told me about Rock River Campground just south of the NWT border so I decided I’d follow him up there for the night.

I headed up to the Arctic Circle sign. Mike was already there doing some filming and took the requisite photo. Thanks Mike!

I set up camp next to Mike and we had a nice campfire through the evening. At one point, about 10 o’clock at night, he was chopping wood and it was LOUD! I asked, “Isn’t it a bit late to be chopping wood?” He paused for a second, thought about it, then said simply, “It’s expected.” Well, it’s not like Security is going to come tell you it’s quiet time.

Washing my cookware the next morning in the turquoise Rock River. Strange to see the water flowing north.

Now there are a few places on Earth where you especially don’t want your bike not to start, and halfway up The Dempster is one of them. I had put 20W/50 oil in this bike in North Van when the heat had been relentless, but now it was about 2 degrees Celsius and my bike wouldn’t start. It doesn’t like 20W/50 in cold weather; the flywheel is just too big to crank over fast enough.

Mike could hear what was going on and wasn’t surprised when I slunk over to ask him for a push. He’s fortunately over 200 lbs. and very fit, but it even took him a few tries to get me going. Thanks again, Mike. You were a Godsend!

It was drizzling as I pulled out of Rock River so I high-tailed it down into lower climate where there was sun. A quick gas stop in Eagle Plains and I was on my way again.

I saw Mike only one more time, somewhere down The Dempster. He’d stopped to take some drone footage. After saying our good-byes, I pushed on and was soon back at Yukon River Campground for one night, exhausted but happy that I’d made it as far as legally possible. I didn’t make it to the Arctic Ocean, but it’s not going anywhere soon, and I’ll return to complete The Dempster when the time is right.

I’m glad I risked it. The geography up there is nothing like I’d ever experienced. The area is vast, remote, and pristine, untouched and unblemished by humans. And in that rawness is a natural beauty that is unparalleled by any park or nature reserve I’ve visited. There are very few places on Earth like it, and those are quickly dwindling. I hope that when I return, it will be as I remember it.

This marked the turnaround point of my tour and now I started heading back home. I had to be in Montreal in a little over a week for work. But first Bigby needed an oil change, so I went to Whitehorse, where I knew there is a Canadian Tire. Unfortunately, the large and excellent Robert Service Campground was closed so I ended up at High Country RV Park.

Note scavenged box underneath with plastic liner to catch the oil. You gotta do what ya gotta do. The dirty oil did end up back in containers and dropped off at the local Can Tire.

I found a private corner of the crowded camp and did an oil change. Now Bigby was ready to make the big sprint home across the country.

Trip Planning: Secondary Decisions

Talus Lake, Tombstone National Park. Photo credit: Travel Yukon

In my first post on planning my big trip this summer, I discussed the essence of the route, some preliminary considerations regarding how much dirt to ride, and got some gear to help with navigation and heat. In this one, I make a significant change in the route, start getting fit for long days in the saddle, and prep the bike for the start of season.

Change of Plans

The initial plan was to ride from Montreal to Calgary, where I’d meet up with my wife, and then we’d ride together through southern BC, including Vancouver Island. After that, I was going to head off south solo down the west coast to California and make my way back through The United States. However, after watching Covid-19 numbers in The United States climb through the winter and political tensions cause rioting on both sides of the country, I decided that perhaps now is not the best time to be travelling in The States. As it turns out, our American friends are doing better now with their vaccination program than we are, and the political tensions have calmed, but I still have concerns about the sharp rise in violent crime rates in the US. The causes of that increase are currently being debated, but no one can deny the alarming spike.

I don’t like to get political here, but there’s nothing more political than personal safety. The Grand Canyon is not going anywhere soon, and besides, I keep hearing on Adventure Rider Radio that you don’t need to leave your home country to have an adventure, especially a country as big as Canada. So while our American friends are sorting out a few things, I’ll take the opportunity to explore and discover fully the country I’ve proudly called home my entire life. When I hit the Pacific Ocean, instead of turning south, I’m heading north. The Far North.

With the US no longer in the picture, the technical riding of the BDRs and TAT was out of the equation. Most of my trip would be on the pavement, so I went looking for a new goal to challenge myself and decided to try to make it up to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, as my final destination. A solo trip up to the Arctic Ocean seems like a worthy goal.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s so important to me to have that kind of a crazy goal, as if crossing the country is not enough of a challenge. It’s hard to explain to my wife and others what would motivate me to ride solo into that remote wilderness. I didn’t even understand it myself, until I read recently something by Jordan Peterson that provided an answer. In his best-selling book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, in the chapter on Rule 11, Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding, Peterson makes a case for allowing our children to risk pushing their limits, whether it’s athletically in play or otherwise. Early in the chapter, he writes:

“When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will” (287).

In other words, I like a challenge! Yes, there is risk involved, and I often find myself strangely reluctant to leave on one of these adventures because I am literally leaving the comfort of my home and increasing my stress level. There’s a mild anxiety that descends on me, and part of that stems from going solo. But anxiety is just another shade of excitement if you frame it differently, and once I’m on the road, that’s how it appears to me. (I’m referring to mild anxiety, to be clear, not the debilitating kind that afflicts some people.) It’s akin to the performance anxiety of a big game or a race; once the game or race has started, it’s all fun, even the tough bits. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the rewards of the ride, which in this case will include seeing the tundra, the northern lights, and the Yukon Mountain Ranges—all firsts for me. Who knows what else the trip will bring? 

Anxiety is just another shade of excitement if you frame it differently.

I have to add that this is not foolhardy behaviour. I’ve been preparing for this kind of trip since I started riding in 2015—developing technical riding skills, learning about my bike, and getting the right gear (which in this case includes bear spray). Heck, I’ve even been teaching myself this winter the 5 best knots to add to my bushcraft. Maybe Peterson could have simply said: the antidote to chaos is preparation.

Now I’m just waiting to see if the territorial borders will open. Currently, anyone crossing into the Yukon and the Northwest Territories has to self-isolate for two weeks. I haven’t had my first vaccination yet, but at 57 years old, I’m next in line, and our fair Prime Minister has promised that all Canadians will be vaccinated by July 1st, so I’m betting that they will open. This might be a game-time decision near the end of July, but I’ll ride up to northern British Columbia and see how far I can get.

Getting Fit

Sitting on a motorcycle all day is like sitting on a stool all day, unless you have a backrest (which my bike doesn’t) or have loaded the pillion seat with bags (which I can’t, leaving room for my wife when she joins me). Usually this time of year I’d be swimming and running and playing indoor soccer, but Covid has killed all that, leaving me pretty sedentary. I realized I had to get going again, so on March 1st my wife and I made a mutual pledge to do 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. So far it’s been working out (ha ha, bad pun) and we are starting to feel the effects.

For me, the key to exercising regularly is finding the right activity at the right time of day. Those two elements are the combination that unlocks the door to fitness. We decided that 10:30 a.m. was the best time for us. We’ve had our coffees and have done a little work at the computer and are ready for a break, especially one that involves moving. And since I’m mostly interested in core strength and cardio fitness, I’m alternating between Pilates and running every other day. This way, each muscle group gets a recovery day between workouts.

My wife alternates between Pilates and her stationary bike, so every other day we do Pilates together. There’s a saying in the Pilates world: do 10 workouts and you’ll feel better, 20 and you’ll look better, and 30 to have a completely new body. I’m not sure that last one is possible at our age but we certainly are feeling better after our first 10. We do a very simple routine using only a yoga mat. If you want to improve your core strength and flexibility, check out Pilates. It has cured my lower back issues and gives me better overall body awareness and posture.

I’ve had some foot issues so the running has been difficult, but a new, wider, pair of running shoes has fixed that and I’m literally on the road to improved cardio. Come April, I’ll move on to some strength training, particularly upper body, and I’m working hard to rehabilitate my thumb that was injured last fall in a little off.

Prepping the Bike

Our riding season here in Quebec officially kicked off on March 15th. I wasn’t on the road that day, but some unseasonably warm weather has allowed me to get out to the shed a little early and do what I needed to do to get the bike road-ready. This is the first year I haven’t done something major, like change my shock, chain, sprockets, brake lines, or even fluids, and it’s been nice! For once, a few little jobs and Bigby is ready to ride.

itcontroller

I mounted the Carpe Iter Controller. There wasn’t room on my handlebar for it so I had to make a little bracket that mounts on the mirror stem. I also upgraded my navigation software (OsmAnd, Locus Maps, Kurviger) to the pro versions and updated my maps. I added a little guard for my rear brake master cylinder (thanks Rick / Kildala), and flipped my auxiliary lights on the mounting bracket to get them a little lower and add separation from the main headlamp—all easy stuff and I went for my first ride last Tuesday. I even figured out a workaround for my tank bag harness that was damaging the plastics, and I’m really happy to have my Wolfman Explorer Lite tankbag back.

Also in that other post, I mentioned the product AT-205 Re-Seal I was going to add to my oil to recondition the engine seals. I’m always nervous about adding anything to the engine oil so thought I’d contact the company first, just to be sure. Good thing I did! Turns out they do not recommend it in applications that involve a wet clutch. I’ll have to make do with the bike as is, keeping an eye on the oil level throughout the tour, and switching to a 20W/50 once we get into the warmer weather.

Good to Go

I haven’t done much specific route planning yet, but with my departure date roughly three months away that is about to kick into high gear. I’m reading ride reports on ADVRider, but if you have recommendations, please let me know. In particular, I’m looking for good campgrounds, must-see attractions, must-ride roads, and good restaurants and accommodations through southern BC and Vancouver Island, since my wife and I will not be camping much while on the road. Feel free to drop them in the comments section below or send me an email through the Contact page.

Enjoy the spring riding.

Ride Safe

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.”

Riding is not as dangerous you might think, provided you follow a few basic principles.

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.

Doing a skills course apparently gains you the equivalent of about two years of riding experience.

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.

The 2021 Ducati Panigale

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

At the Manic-5 dam on a club ride

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.

When the majority of multi-vehicle accidents are caused by not being seen, anything you can do to increase your visibility will help.

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.

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.”

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).

20-20

 

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

mushroom

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

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

Touring

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

MtWashington

Photo Credit: Ted Dillard

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

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

Priest Carving copy

Mattawa, ON., Gateway to the West

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

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

Club Riding

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

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

Group_ride_1web

Off-Roading

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

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

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

stx_front_web_zoom_1

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.

Bike2020

Bigby, ready for the 2020 season.

The Church of Club Riding

 

 

Lookout2A few years ago, one of the editors of a major motorcycle magazine made the mistake in an op-ed piece of mildly criticizing club riding. I think he took issue with all the club patches at the motorcycle show and said he didn’t get the appeal. The next month there was the expected outrage in the Letters to the Editor section, with folks claiming they were cancelling their subscriptions. This was before the era of cancel culture, but he had stepped on the hoof of a sacred cow. Clubs are the backbone of a lot of riding in North America.

I love solo riding, whether it’s a day ride or a long tour. But I’ll always be a member of a club because it offers much that solo riding cannot.

Safety

When I started riding in 2015, we had this stupid law in Quebec that you had to ride with an “escort”—someone who’s had a licence for at least two years—for an 11-month probation period. The idea was that the experienced rider would help ensure the newbie takes corners at an appropriate speed, leaves appropriate distance, and avoids the myriad of pitfalls to which an inexperienced rider can fall victim. I didn’t know any escorts but was lucky to find a club that accepts learners. In fact, it was one of the few, if not the only, club in the area that admitted learners. This club was literally a life-saver for me and others.

That law is now thankfully gone, but I would still recommend learners ride with a club those first years on the road. Studies show that the most dangerous period of time for new riders is the first year and the third year. Some of the people leading our rides have been riding their entire adult lives and have lived to show others how it’s safely done. Beyond that, there is safety in numbers, not only if you have a mechanical problem, but more importantly to be visible. Cagers can miss a single headlight and turn in front of you, but they can’t very well miss ten headlights coming at them. You are safely tucked into a mass of motorcycles as long as a semi. There’s some informal mentoring that happens off the bikes too. If motorcycle riding is a skill, club riding is like an apprenticeship.

Group_ride_4web

 

 

Community Outreach

Many clubs organize rides to raise funds for various causes. I like to tease the Harley folks here from time to time, but one thing I really admire about them is their strong community involvement. Look at the leather vests of some of these riders and you will see embroidered patches for all the fund-raising events to which they have devoted their time and energy over the years, humbling even the most ardent Facebook virtue signaller. Our club has participated for the last few years in the Ride for Dad, which raises money for prostate cancer research. As a nice touch, our lead organizer named our team after a club member who passed away from cancer. There are rides to raise money for breast cancer research too, the SPCA, and other local charities.

When clubs aren’t raising money for a good cause, they are escorting a bullied kid to school or pitching in for other social causes. The irony is that bikers are often fighting social stigma and prejudice of their own, but beneath the leather of every biker I’ve ever know is a heart of gold.

Group_ride_3web

 

Discover New Places

When I started riding with the club, I discovered places I’d never been to before. I’d been living in this province for 25 years but found myself, not a few hours from home, beside a beautiful waterfall, covered bridge, quaint town, or lookout at one of the rest stops. “Where the hell am I, and why haven’t I know about this place before?” I found myself asking. Those early club rides took me for the first time through pockets of the Laurentian Mountains, the Eastern Townships, Smuggler’s Notch, Parc de la Mauricie. Some of these spots were so pretty that I found myself wanting to return with my wife in the car just to show her too. (She rides a bit with me, but her preferred mode is automobile.) In a club ride, you are lead off your beaten path, following someone else’s into as yet uncharted geography for you. And if you are leading, you get to show your hidden gems, whether they are roads or views or restaurants.

lighthouse

Friendship

I’ve saved the best for last. The social aspect is the main benefit of club riding, and it’s something that obviously can’t be found in solo riding. Okay, you can find a couple of riding buddies, but there’s still a sense of community in a club that isn’t the same as riding with a buddy. Ironically, where this is most apparent is away from the bikes. Our club organizes a Christmakkuh party, a brunch in January, a motorcycle film night in February to get us through those winter months when the bikes are stored away. Some of these club members have become friends to me, a self-described introvert and someone who doesn’t make friends easily. And when we can’t meet in person, we connect via social media to share an article, video, or laugh over a meme.

I’m thinking of these friends now as we enter our fifth week of social isolation during the Covid-19 crisis, and it’s these friends who will be the first I’ll see when we get the green light to gather again. Last weekend I was discussing with my wife the benefits of Church-going. I’m not a Church-goer, but I recognize the value of community a regular religious practice offers. Yes, you can be a spiritual person on your own, but a community offers a sense of shared purpose and meaning that, in my opinion, is essential to being human. I feel sorry for those who are divorced from any sense of community, and I feel sorry for the editor who didn’t understand what a motorcycle club can offer. If there’s one silver lining to this crisis, it’s to highlight for all just how poignant the absence of community can be. Perhaps it will make us more compassionate to those amongst us who are truly alone.

Group_web

The Wish List, 2020

Biker Santa

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

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

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

Stadium Suspensions PR1 Rear Shock

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

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

Stadium

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

Other features of the shock include:

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

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

Protection

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

gpx_neckbraces_35__0000_leatt_neckbrace_gpx_3.5_wht_front_1020003950

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

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

knox_microlock_back_protector_upgrade_part114_750x750

Auxiliary Lighting

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

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

Cyclops

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

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

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

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

distance-sequence

Cardo Packtalk

Cardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearly’s Possum Socks

Pearlys

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

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

* * *

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

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

Happy holidays, and safe riding in 2020.

First Ride

Lakeshore

What’s your first ride? I mean the first one of the year? Do you have a favourite go to ride you do when the bike first comes out of storage? I do.

My first road ride ever—when my group at the school finally left the lot and headed out onto the road—was down 55th Avenue in Lachine to Lakeshore Blvd. We’d been warned about the right turn onto Lakeshore and had been practising for it with counterbalancing turns winding through cones. But once on Lakeshore Blvd., it was a perfectly slow, easy ride, with lots of stops signs along the way to practice braking and gearing. It also happens to be pretty scenic too with a view out over Lac Saint Louis. At some point we headed up to the highway and zoomed back to the lot, but Lakeshore, with its signs that read “If you’re in a hurry, take the highway,” was a safe beginning.

Even before I had my road licence and was supposed to ride accompanied by someone with a full licence, I snuck out with my new bike. I headed down to Lakeshore Blvd. and took that all the way around the western tip of the Island of Montreal, going through Pointe-Claire, Beaconsfield, Beaurepaire, Baie D’Urfe, Sainte-Anne’s, through swanky Senneville and along Gouin a little. Then I went across the bridge to Ile Bizard and looped it before making my way back home.

It’s an easy, easy ride, and that’s what you want the first time out, when muscle memory is weak and you have to refamiliarize yourself with the controls. It doesn’t take long for it all to come back, but if you’re going to make a mistake, you want to make it at low speed, in second gear. I lost the last two months of last season waiting for parts, so last week, when I got the bike out of storage, I actually hadn’t ridden for six months. I’d just installed new brake lines so, before pulling out of the driveway, I pulled the front brake lever and tried to move the bike. It’s a simple test they make you do at the licensing bureau before you do the road test to ensure your brakes are working. The bike should nose-dive, but this time it didn’t. It rolled. “Damn, the brakes aren’t working!” I thought, “Why aren’t they working?” Then I realized I was pulling the clutch lever, not the brake. That’s why you want an easy, slow-speed ride for your first. 

There’s another reason you want a slow ride. Usually for me, getting the bike out of storage means doing some work on it. There’s already some work that I do to put it into storage, like change the oil and take out the battery; but getting it out of storage almost inevitably means adding something to it that I’ve bought over the winter. This year, like I said, it was some steel-braided brake lines, but also new pads, and some Rox handlebar risers. These are pretty easy mods, but there’s a chance I’ve overlooked something—a nut not completely tightened, or the controls affected by the risers (yes, I tested at idle full-lock both ways, but you can’t be too safe)—and you don’t want to discover at highway speeds that you forgot to tighten the wheel lug nut, now do you? I give my bike a good look over before I head off, but still . . . A friend recently forgot to tighten her oil cap completely after doing an oil change, so oil was dripping down onto her exhaust pipe and smoking. It’s simple mistake, but oil on the tires could be dangerous. Your easy first ride reduces the risk of those innocuous mistakes becoming disastrous.

Sticking close to home also helps should you encounter a problem with the bike. I’ve limped home from a short distance with my temperature light flicking on and off. As my confidence in the bike grows, so does my distance from home and my speeds. After I did my Lakeshore route last week, I headed off to Ontario on Sunday with a small group. Yeah, there’s safety in numbers too. Although my first ride has always been solo, it’s not a bad idea for it to be in a group.

It feels so good to be back on the road. Six months! It puts a sparkle in the eye and a spring in the step of every rider. As I write this from Montreal, Canada, a snowstorm has blown in, but it’s the last of the winter, I’m sure. The forecast for the next few weeks is above freezing so the riding season officially begins tomorrow. Have a safe season, and if you have a favourite first ride, tell me about it.

 

Flying Solo

Moonbeam Saucer_web

The first time I travelled alone I was 21. The year was 1984. At that time, it was a thing, after finishing high school, to backpack across Europe with a Eurorail pass and international hostel membership card, “finding yourself” along the way. After spending some time with family in England, my uncle drove me to the docks at Portsmouth and I caught a ferry across the channel to start my month-long trek of the continent.

I hadn’t slept much the night before. Although this had been a plan for most of the preceding year, I was apprehensive about setting off on my own for the first time in my life, and my aunt, in the usual succinct manner of that side of my family, said “Your mind must have been active.” In reality, I was shitting bricks.

It was a night crossing and we docked the next morning in Le Havre. After getting some breakfast, I managed to figure out, without knowing a word of French, the correct train to Paris. Once in Paris, I started looking for my planned hostel. Even on that first day, I knew intuitively, as any animal does, that safety at night is the top priority. My anxiety grew through the afternoon as I failed to find not only the hostel but also a decent crapper. Armed only with my copy of Let’s Go Europe, I wandered the streets of Paris, asking passerby in English, to no avail. Parisians, I was discovering, have no time for tourists. I was getting worried. If I couldn’t find this hostel, how could I possibly find myself?

It was at that point that the guardian angel of travel, Saint Christopher, smiled on me in the form of a mute. He was a young man, barely a teenager, unable to speak a word of French or English, and the only Parisian with the patience to help me. In a series of completely intelligible gestures and grunts, he communicated that I had to get on not the metro, as I had mistakenly thought, but the commuter train and go three stops before getting off. What I had failed to understand was that the hostel was not in Paris at all but the suburbs on its outskirts. I think he even took me to the correct platform and indicated again the number three with his hand before waving goodbye. That was the only time during that month I felt in trouble, but I’ve never forgotten that young man nor the feeling of being in a bit of a fix while travelling alone.

There’s something unique about travelling solo. Of course there are practical advantages like being able to travel at your own pace, your own route, in your own company, especially if you’re an introvert. Locals are more likely to approach you and strike up a conversation. But the real advantage of travelling solo is that extra edge of danger in having no one to rely on but yourself. Problems with the bike? You’re on your own. Problems navigating? You’re on your own. Personal security? You’re on your own. That may not sound like very much fun, but as Claire Fisher in the pilot episode of Six Feet Under says about crystal meth, the risk of travelling solo makes everything “burn a little brighter.” It’s a drug one can get hooked on. And with the added risk and reward of motorcycle travel, it’s no wonder that today the thing is to find yourself selling everything and travelling solo around the world by bike. The ADV world is filled with folks doing exactly this, or dreaming about it.

There’s little chance of me packing up anytime soon. I love my little cottage-home in Quebec, my job, my wife, and my son. The solo tour for me this year was five days in Northern Ontario doing The Great Legends Tour, a loop from Mattawa to Kapuscasing via Tamiskaming Shores, then back down through Timmons, Sudbury, and North Bay. After a few days at a cottage in Kipawa, I loaded up the bike, said good-bye to my wife, sister, and a friend, and headed north up the 101.

It was a wet ride but the rain didn’t dampen my spirits; I was finally on my own and heading for adventure. The 101 is a two-lane highway that cuts through boreal forest on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Without any fencing at the sides, you have to stay alert. 101N Forest_webIt climbs as it heads north, opening up into farmland and views of the distant mountains.

101N Farm_web

After riding for a few hours, I took my first break at a rest stop in Ville-Marie.

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Shortly after lunch, just north of Saint-Bruno-de-Guigues, I spotted a sign indicating a covered bridge. I knew my destination was all the way up in Moonbeam, but the adventure bug was itching so I decided to venture off my planned route. A gravel road took me to Pont Dénommee—not the most picturesque covered bridge I’d seen, but not knowing what you’re going to get, like a handful of Bits And Bites, is part of the adventure.

Covered Bridge_web

After riding through, I went to pull a U-turn, but I swung too far right to set up, the road crumbled at the edge, and the front tire washed out. After a week of asphalt, I was out of practice off road. With the panniers on, the bike didn’t tip completely over and it was easy to lift again, even still loaded. But it would be a reminder to stay alert always when off roading and a harbinger of things to come.

With my excursion fulfilled, I returned to the 101 and soon crossed back into Ontario on the 65. The rain started and never really let up for the rest of the day. My Klim Dakar pants are not waterproof and sometime that afternoon I decided, before my next tour, I would invest in some waterproof Gore-Tex pants. I also decided I needed a proper motorcycle GPS. My Samsung S5 is water resistant and works okay with GoogleMaps as a crude GPS, but it does not charge whenever the port detects moisture, and a fully charged phone can deplete in a matter of hours when running a GPS app. The phone and the status of its battery would be a thorn in my side the entire trip and lead to a breakdown on my final day. (More on that later.) I’ve been such a good boy this year that Santa owes me, and if a Garmin Montana isn’t under the tree this Christmas, I’m breaking bad.

At Temiskaming Shores I filled up, then turned onto Highway 11N from the 65. There’s a Tim Horton’s there and it was a welcome stop to warm up if not dry off. From there, I headed north, but instead of angling north-west on the 11, the Great Legends Tour suggests continuing straight north on the 569, then the 624 just before Englehart, then the 672, north and north and north, so that when you finally catch up with the 101, this time on the Ontario side of the border, you’re way up near Matheson and the deciduous trees have disappeared. After a short stint west on 101, soon I was heading north again on the Transcanada Highway 11, but by this time I was happy to be on a major well-maintained highway to crack the throttle. I was keeping my eye out for wildlife, and while I wasn’t sure of the cops situation in these parts, I was watching out for them too. What I wasn’t expecting as I rounded a corner in driving rain was to find a car backing up on the highway! It just goes to show how you can never, ever be complacent on a motorcycle.

Many beginner riders, fearing front-end wash-out, get into the bad habit of using only the rear brake, which accounts for only 10% of stopping power. And many riders with ABS brakes never learn how to modulate the front using two fingers and a gentle initial squeeze until the load is transferred to the contact patch and sufficient friction prevents the tire from washing out. Without the benefit of ABS, I’ve always forced myself to brake properly, emergency or no emergency, to develop muscle memory specifically for the situation I now suddenly found myself in: an unexpected emergency stop on a wet surface at speed. It all might have gone horribly wrong if I hadn’t forced myself to be diligent and demanding with this skill in those early days. This was the payoff. The bike squatted and I quickly slowed without even a skid, then proceeded to gesticulate to the idiot driver in front, not so much a “Fuck you!” but a “What the fuck?” It appeared a construction vehicle had dropped some of its load in the oncoming lane, but to this day, I don’t know why the car in mine had stopped and was backing up. What I do know is I’m glad I learnt emergency braking technique. A lot of people say that motorcycles are dangerous and I won’t deny they are. But learning proper technique, whether with braking, accelerating, cornering, or just viewing the road, will keep you as safe as possible. Bad things happen to newbies who are unprepared.

It was getting on in the day and I still had to get through Cochrane, Driftwood, and Smooth Rock Falls to Moonbeam, angling northwest and now as far north as I’d ever been in my life. There’s not much up in these parts and I’d passed up the opportunity earlier in the day to pick up a little Northern Comfort at the liquor store to warm my belly upon arrival at camp. I regretted that decision now that I was cold and wet. The liquor store in Moonbeam would be closed by the time I arrive, so I chalked that one up as a lesson in poor forethought.

The local council in Moonbeam know how to exploit their name to attract tourism. I’m imagining the council meeting when someone suggests building a flying saucer and placing it at the side of Transcanada Highway to attract tourists. I wonder how that idea first went over? But build they did, and the saucer above is now a local landmark. I, for one, was grateful because Moonbeam is so small you can miss it if you blink. My destination was René Brunelle Provincial Campground just north of Moonbeam. My GPS didn’t say turn right at the flying saucer but it could have. Right on the 581 and soon I was on dirt and soon after at the park gate. The young lady at the gate said my site was one of the good ones, right on the water, and it was! I pitched the tent, had a little supper, then strung the food pannier because there was apparently a bear in the area.

RB Campsite_web

By now the rain had subsided but I still had a chill from the ride. Without any liquid warmth, I lit a pipe and took a walk through the campground. I didn’t have many good words to say about provincial campgrounds in my last post, but now I’m going to say you just have to get far enough away from Toronto and its resident douchebags for all that to change. The campground was lovely. Here are the unofficial rules, posted by one of the regulars.

RBrules

I looped around and as I came back along the lake side of the park I saw between the trees flashes of light in the night sky. Once back at my site, I climbed down to the water and looked across Remi Lake. Every few seconds the sky would light up a diffuse amber, and at first I thought I might be seeing the aurora borealis, or northern lights. It’s not uncommon to see them this far north. But then a bolt of lightening jabbed out from beneath the bank of clouds and I knew it was rather a lightening storm. Nevertheless, the light show was spectacular, and at times like these I don’t want to be alone but sharing the experience with my wife.

I knew what it meant though: more rain was coming. I climbed into my tent and into my sleeping bag, rolled up my sweater and placed it behind my head. As I lay in the dark, I heard the wind pick up and begin to rustle through the upper branches of the huge pines that surrounded me. The rustling grew louder and soon it was a roar and I wasn’t sure if I was hearing wind in the trees or rain on the lake. It was rain, and the storm was a big one, moving toward me. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any louder, the first few drops began to hit the tent.

Review of Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques, by Lee Parks

TotalControl

Can you improve your riding from reading a book? No, but if you practice and apply some of the information presented in Parks’ book, you will. This book is less about road safety than riding technique, so if you’re looking to avoid a collision, see my review of David Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling, which deals with this subject. In fact, Hough cites Parks’ book, and the two have collaborated in the past. Where Hough leaves off, Parks picks up and takes you a step further.

Looking at the cover image, you’d think this book is for sport bike riders. It is, and it isn’t. Most of the techniques presented are definitely meant for the track but can be applied to any type of riding to improve safety and proficiency. It’s not all about safety. If you want to stay safe, stay at home. Sometimes you just want to get around a corner faster, or ride with more advanced riders. There are photos here showing guys dragging a knee on a Gold Wing or a V-Strom, getting air on a GS. It doesn’t matter what your ride is or what type of riding you do, Total Control will have something for you.

The book is nicely organized into sections on Chassis Dynamics, Mental Dynamics, Body Dynamics, Machine Setup, and Rider Setup, with chapters within those sections. I’d say the heart of the book is the section on Body Dynamics, which contains chapters on vision, line selection, throttle control, shifting, braking, body positioning, low-speed turns, and riding two up. Now before you say, “Yeah, we learnt all that in my training course,” let me say we are talking here about advanced techniques, so very subtle and technical aspects of those skills.

We all know about target fixation, but do you know it’s related to us being predators? We know about straightening a curve, but what about premature initiation? (No, this is not a sexual gaff.) How to handle a double apex curve? In the chapter on shifting, I learnt how to preload the shifter, and in my next ride I was shifting quicker and smoother. Another technique I found interesting is trail braking, a technique in which at a point in the corner you are braking and accelerating at the same time! The idea is essentially that since braking makes the bike nose-dive and accelerating lifts the front end, you can use these opposing forces to cancel each other out and stabilize the bike through the corner: “The technique has us simultaneously rolling off the throttle while applying the brakes going into a corner. Once in the corner we start to slowly roll on the throttle as we slowly trail off the brakes,” hence the term “trail braking.” Now before you scoff and dismiss, Parks says that “virtually every MotoGP and World Superbike racer—as well as every motor cop—now uses this technique: so try it before judging it.” And Parks would know. He was 2nd overall in the 1994 AMA Superbike Championship (125GP class) and won the 2001 WERA National Endurance Series Championship. He’s an accomplished rider and knows of what he speaks.

Another interesting bit of information I found in this book is the suggestion to try cornering with one hand. You’d think he was being foolhardy, but in fact he claims that often our two arms are fighting each other through a corner, and allowing one hand (presumably the throttle hand) to take full control actually improves steering. But be careful! Parks says the first time most people try this they oversteer. The book is filled with other such tidbits of useful information. I won’t give all the goods away.

Chapters at the back deal with riding gear and fitness. I’m excited to try a 6-10 minute high-intensity training program designed specifically for bikers by strength trainer Timothy Parravano. It involves only 4 exercises and the only equipment needed is a chin-up bar. In just 6 minutes, you get core strengthening and an anaerobic cardio workout.

The book is extremely technical but is well illustrated with diagrams and graphs. Still, I found some material more theoretical than my needs. For example, there’s an entire chapter on how suspension works from an engineering standpoint. Do I need to know this? I’m really only interested in setting up my suspension for the best ride possible, which comes in a separate chapter. And the chapter on aerodynamics? I’m not going to be tucking behind a tiny windscreen on any of my rides. This is where the book’s leaning toward sport bike racing shows. If you’re like me, you can skim those sections.

The book is now in its second edition and has become a classic. Anyone interested in improving their skills should pick it up. I liked the pep talk by Parks in the epilogue as he waxes philosophic, drawing on his interest in Buddhism. (Illustrative Buddhist aphorisms and parables are smattered throughout the book.) “In a special sense, the reason you are reading this is because your riding is a little bit “sick.” When you are sick, the doctor prescribes medicine. The problem is we get addicted to the medicine. But medicine is not food for a motorcyclist. Brilliant riding is food. The purpose of medicine is so that you don’t need the medicine. The purpose of a teacher is so that you don’t need a teacher. The purpose of method is so you ultimately don’t need a method. In Japan, if you have spent too much time with a particular master you are said to “stink” of Zen. You can think of Total Control as the medicine you need to overcome your sickness.”

Most people may not have the humility to think of their riding as “sick,” but if you’re like me—always interested in improving whatever you do—this book is for you.