The second tour of the coming season will be down memory lane.
When I was a boy, my parents used to take us down to Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our family vacations. I was the physical barrier separating my two older sisters in the backseat of our Pontiac Strato-Chief. My dad had installed seat belts in our favourite colours according to this arrangement: red, blue, green. Or was it green, blue, red? I can’t remember, but I remember quite a lot about those vacations. They were among my happiest memories growing up, despite the backseat shenanigans.
We went with another family, and apparently those vacations left an impression on them too, for one of the children named her future child after me. En route, we camped at Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I still remember the nature hikes led by a ranger (who taught us to recognize a particular birdsong by its resemblance to “Drink your teeeeeea!”), the nighttime slide shows at the amphitheatre, walking back to our campsite afterwards, the fog so low you could bounce your flashlight off the underside of a cloud, and the rainstorms. The rainstorms! To this day, I love a good rainstorm from inside a good tent.
We would drive much of the Blue Ridge Parkway before spending a day in Williamsburg, then head over to the coast and camp along the Outer Banks. The campground was so close to the ocean you only had to walk along a boardwalk over the dunes to the beach. I wasn’t a strong swimmer and the sea always frightened me, but I enjoyed playing along the shoreline. One year, we went to The Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, and I think my first ever book was a staple-bound biography of The Wright Brothers I purchased from the gift shop there with the few dollars we were given for “spending money.” That seed of interest later sprouted into a dream of being a pilot when I grew up, and although my career ultimately went in a different direction, it has combined with another interest of mine—poetry—to produce a collection of poems that explores the theme of flight. I might not be a pilot, but I can imagine being one; the opening section is in the voice of Wilbur Wright.
The last time I went down there I was 14. My sisters by this point were already doing their own thing and didn’t go, so I had the backseat all to myself and Supertramp playing on my cassette recorder. During one rest stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we came out just in time to watch three motorcyclists start up their bikes and roar off down the parkway. One was a woman on a BMW. I’d never heard of that manufacturer but my dad clearly had. “Did you see that young woman take off on that BMW?” he remarked to my mom.
Perhaps another seed was planted on that holiday because, since getting my licence in 2016, I’ve wanted to return and ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, and this summer I finally will on my Triumph Tiger 800 named Jet.
The trip so far is pretty sketchy, but that’s generally how I like to tour when I’m on my own. In the earlier trip planned for this coming summer, my wife and I are going to visit Newfoundland, and much of that trip has been scheduled. For this one, however, all I know so far is that I’ll ride The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive at some point, camping at Shenandoah National Park. I also know that I’ll ride some dirt in the MABDR and NEBDR (Mid-Atlantic and North East Backcountry Discovery Routes respectively). The MABDR and Blue Ridge Parkway plus Skyline Drive cover similar geography, so it makes sense to do one down and one back. One is asphalt, the other primarily dirt.
I’m thinking I’d also like to get out to the Outer Banks and ride them too if I have the time. They are less than a day’s ride from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lea of Got2Go recently rode them and titled her YouTube video “The BEST road trip of the USA East Coast?”
At the time of this writing, there are lots of unknowns. Will I be touring solo or with a few friends? I’m good either way, but it would be nice to ride the technical sections of at least the NEBDR with a few buddies, and I’ve put a few feelers out. If I get some takers, will they do the whole tour with me or only one or both of the BDRs? If they can only do the dirt with me, I might change the order of things and ride the BDRs down and the asphalt back, to accommodate them.
I also don’t have a precise route mapped out yet from the Canadian border to the top of Skyline Drive. I’ve got Google Maps, Kurviger, and Rever open in separate tabs of my browser with the “Avoid Highways” option selected and am studying their suggested routes. Depending on which router I’m looking at, it’s between 1000 and 1100 kilometres from my house to where the scenic drives begin. This is prime Civil War geography through Pennsylvania and I’ll be tempted to stop often at historic landmarks.
Will I ride Tail of the Dragon while I’m down there? I’ve heard from several people that it’s not worth it and, in fact, is a little dangerous with superbike and sports car idiots treating it like a track instead of a public road. There are apparently many roads in that area just as good or better and less populated. Do you have any suggestions? Let me know.
So there’s a lot still to decide about this one but one thing I do know is that I’ll be leaving sometime in the fourth week of July and will have a little under three weeks before I have to be back for work mid-August. That’s not a lot of time but my parents did it in three weeks, if memory serves me well, and they had three kids in tow.
I know a lot will have changed and I can’t expect everything to be as I nostalgically remember it. You can’t go back in time or relive your childhood, nor would I want to. But I suspect the mountains and the ocean won’t have changed much since I saw them last, and that’s what I’m going there to see. And this time, instead of being stuck between two sisters in the back seat of a car, I’ll be riding my Tiger 800XC, putting it through the full range of its abilities as I carve new memories through the Appalachian, Blue Ridge, and Great Smokey Mountain ranges.
As I write this, we’re having yet another major snowfall in Montreal. It’s been a particularly snowy winter and after a few mild days, some of us got lured into thinking spring is just around the corner. But as I sit looking out the window of my 2nd-storey study, it’s hard to imagine that the Montreal Motorcycle Show is next weekend and we can legally be back on the road in less than a month.
Still, I must continue making travel plans in a kind of blind faith in the power of nature. If I put on my cheap Dollar Store shades, all that white outside becomes a shade of green, and I can almost imagine it being June and setting off. With this trip, there are some reservations that have to be made, like booking the ferry on and off Newfoundland, so I have started to map out a rough outline of our planned exploration of the Canadian east coast. This will be the book-end tour of the west coast trip of 2021.
Learn from your mistakes
I’m trying to keep in mind what I learnt from that last one, specifically, sometimes less is more. That’s what I keep telling my students, anyway, who think they are clarifying their thesis statements by adding clause after clause. The last trip was spent too much on the Superslab in my need to cover distance in the time I had. I don’t want to make the same mistake so am trying to be realistic in what we can see in the time we have away from the dog and our jobs. Marilyn, the domestic accountant, likes to remind me about our budget too.
My first route planned included The Cabot Trail. It seems sacrilegious not to “do” The Cabot Trail if you are anywhere within 150 kilometres of it on a motorbike, and we will be passing through Cape Breton en route to Sydney, NS, where one catches the ferry to get to Newfoundland. But my practical wife reminded me that we have been to Nova Scotia several times and both ridden (at least, I did) and driven The Cabot Trail and maybe we should devote that time to Newfoundland and perhaps Prince Edward Island, which we haven’t visited. This is a classic case of idealism (i.e. “we can do it all”) versus realism (“we are only human”) so we’ll see in the coming months which ideology wins.
Gaspésie, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland
What we do agree on is that we’d like to ride the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula, or as they like to call it here in Québec, La Gaspésie. I’ve driven that before and it’s spectacular. Marilyn hasn’t seen the Roche Percé, and like the Butchart Gardens we visited on Vancouver Island, we will make a stop at the Reford Gardens in Matane, QC. Forillon National Park at the tip of the peninsula is pretty special too.
Another decision we have is whether or not to visit Prince Edward Island. Our Insight Guides book suggests a three-day 250-kilometre road trip that includes Charlottetown, Argyle Shore Provincial Park, Brackley Beach, and the West Point Lighthouse near Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. Hopefully, those provincial parks offer camping. Technically, I’ve been to PEI, but I was too young to remember much. If we can’t work it in this summer, we will definitely get out there next. Aside from NWT and Nunavut, PEI and Newfoundland are the only provinces or territories I haven’t visited, so I’m hoping we can devote a few days to get a taste of the island.
Should we take the day or night ferry to Newfoundland? There are pros and cons of each, as I see it. A day crossing might be time wasted, just looking out for 7+ hours over endless water. I know there might be the opportunity to do some whale watching, but I’m sure we’ll be doing some of that once on the island. A night crossing is more expensive if you buy a cabin and try to get some sleep. On the other hand, the cabin isn’t any more expensive than a motel room, which we’d have to get soon after landing from a day passage. I’m leaning toward a night crossing. I’ve never experienced sleeping on a boat like my parents did when they immigrated on the Queen Elizabeth II and I think it would be novel. If we cross during the day, we will camp at a favourite campground in Baddeck in order to get to the ferry in the morning; if we cross at night, there might be time to ride The Cabot Trail or stay at Meat Cove, which is an amazing campground off The Cabot Trail right at the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island.
If you’ve visited Newfoundland, what did you do and why? I’m open to advice. There is a growing sense of urgency to decide, especially if we want a cabin as they sell out early, so decisions have to be made soon.
Neither Marilyn nor I has visited Newfoundland before, so this is going to be a treat. Again, we can’t do it all, and we’ve decided to focus on the west coast. Gros Morne National Park is a bucket list item. Then we will continue up the coast on what’s called The Viking Trail because I like history and am interested in seeing the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. Then we will cross the island to Saint John’s because, well, you can’t visit Newfoundland without strolling around Saint John’s, including “hydrating” at a pub on Water Street before climbing Signal Hill. I’ve heard and read about these places and look forward to exploring them in person.
Finally, we have to decide whether we have time to ride The Irish Loop, a 325 kilometre loop along the coastline south of Saint John’s. The name is intriguing since we both have some Irish blood. And anything along a shoreline is bound to please me on the bike. Our guidebook suggests 2-3 days for this, so it really depends on if we can fit it all in.
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont
Currently, the plan is for Marilyn to fly out of Saint John’s back to Montreal like she did from Vancouver when we were out west, and I’ll continue on solo. And I’m pretty sure I’ll come back via The United States instead of my initial plan to return via Labrador and the north shore. Like the caribou during their migration, I’m detouring to avoid bugs. Besides, the riding through Maine and New Hampshire will be more interesting than through Labrador. I recently purchased a subscription to Rever, which classifies roads on a colour coding system, and there’s a cluster of G1 (Best) roads in the White Mountains of NH that is calling my name.
I might saunter my way back along the coast, checking out Bar Harbour and a few other places before cutting diagonally north-west through the White Mountains. Without the deadline of ferry crossings, this will be the unplanned, unscheduled segment of the trip, which is generally how I like to tour. Maybe I’ll stay an extra night in New Hampshire so I can ride those primo roads unladen with gear.
This trip is going to take me about three weeks—two weeks with Marilyn, and about a week solo to get back. After a short rest in which I’ll service the bike and change my tires to something more dirt-oriented, I’ll head off again, this time to ride some BDRs. It’s going to be a full and exciting summer on a new bike, and I’ll have lots to write about so click Follow if you want to follow along.
Is extreme remote riding simply gratuitous risk-taking?
Recently a story was circulating about Eric Foster, a guy who crashed on the Trans-Taiga Highway. Perhaps you’ve seen it. He was riding solo and woke up eight hours later in a hospital in Montreal. It’s actually an old story from 2017 but was republished end of November and that’s when I saw it. It’s a pretty gripping story, as far as crash stories go. He was riding in perhaps the remotest area of North America when he crashed, breaking his back and a leg. Some trappers saw the smoke from his motorcycle on fire and came to his aid, but it took hours for first responders to get to him, and then hours to get him to a hospital. The story has a happy ending; he returns to the spot where he had the accident and finishes his trip, stopping to thank the trappers along the way who helped him.
I’d never heard of the Trans-Taiga, so the article got me looking. It’s a dirt road built by Hydro Quebec to service their dams, and it is indeed about as remote as you can get in Quebec. According to Wikipedia, it’s the “northernmost continuous road in Eastern North America,” snaking 582 kilometres (362 mi) through forest from James Bay Road to the Caniapiscau Reservoir. That’s right—that’s all there is at the end of a dangerous journey: a reservoir. Then you turn around and ride the same road back.
Why would someone want to do such a ride? Well, the answer is in the article. Eric Foster describes himself as “a challenge guy.” When asked why he wanted to ride the Trans-Taiga, he replied, “Just to say I did it,” then added, “I love a good challenge.” I’ve found myself saying the exact same words of that last sentence, and I’ve written about risk-taking in an earlier post when discussing my decision to try The Dempster, another dangerous highway. Quoting Jordan Peterson, I wrote at the time:
“When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.”
12 Rules for Life
Research on the Trans-Taiga led me to looking at James Bay Road, a highway so remote that you have to sign in at a check point before riding it so officials can keep track of who’s up there. I watched a YouTube video of a group of guys who rode it to James Bay, including a few kilometres of the Trans-Taiga, “just to say they did.” And then the YouTube algorithm did its thing and showed me another series of videos of a father and son riding the Trans-Labrador Highway, which was right up my alley because I was considering riding it back from Newfoundland this summer after crossing to Blanc-Sablon.
The Trans-Labrador Highway is one of those classic ADV rides you’ve apparently got to do to call yourself an ADV rider. It also snakes through some pretty remote territory, and until recently, was mostly gravel. (The final remaining section of dirt has recently been paved.) I watched the six-part series and the riders did have some adventure. They had a break-down and had to be saved by some locals, and they encountered some unseasonable weather and were held up for a few days by a late snow fall. There was some good bonding time, for sure, but in terms of the ride itself, it seemed like hours and hours of mind-numbing coniferous forest. No lakes, no mountains, no cliffs, no hill climbs, and as of last summer, no dirt.
Why would the Trans-Labrador be such a popular ADV ride? It has to be its remoteness, and if you live in the northeast of North America, the Trans-Lab is one of the few remaining truly remote roads.
If you’re looking for a challenge, remoteness will provide it. For one, there is the not-so-little issue of fuel; you have to be able to cover upwards of 400 kms between fuel stops, which can be done by carrying extra fuel in a Rotopax or another fuel container. With remoteness usually comes some challenging riding too since no one wants to pave a road that has limited use. And if it rains, that challenge increases significantly, especially on roads like The Dempster or The Dalton that are sprayed with calcium chloride as it makes the mud greasy. Then there’s the danger of wildlife, whether it be an aggressive grizzly bear or, worse, the black flies.
But the real challenge of riding remote is simply the lack of assistance should you have a mechanical or medical problem. I won’t say you are on your own because even on these remote highways there are still trucks passing periodically, but parts and medical assistance become scarce. This is where you have to be prepared: know how to fix your bike, carry spare parts, bring a first-aid kit, and have on you a satellite tracker like the Garmin inReach units that are connected to emergency services.
Is it worth it? Well, to each his or her own, but for me, the risk itself is not enough. In fact, I’ve been wondering if riding remote for its own sake is really just a way for some people to feel alive again. Stuck in otherwise pretty safe lives, we seek danger in answer to an ancient call somewhere in the reptilian brain that harkens back to another era when we lived close to death. Some people skydive. Others bungee jump. Some climb mountains. And some race The Isle of Man TT in search of what Guy Martin calls “The Buzz,” that adrenaline hit you get when you are on the edge of life and death.
But watching these videos has led me to rethink my upcoming tour. I don’t think I’ll be coming back from Newfoundland via The Trans-Lab. It’s not because I’m scared of remote riding, but in my world, there has to be some pay-off for the risk, and bragging rights just isn’t enough. When I rode up The Dempster, every kilometre was worth the risk for the magnificent views the highway provided. I’d never seen geography like that before and likely won’t until I get up there again.
But the Trans-Lab, the James Bay Road, and the Trans-Taiga don’t offer much beyond hours and hours of forest. From what I can determine, there aren’t even places to pull off safely for a rest or to camp. These are roads built exclusively for trucks to get from Point A to Point B, cutting a single line through otherwise impenetrable bush. I’ll leave it to the black flies.
For a challenge, I’ve decided instead to ride this summer the NEBDR and MABDR (North East and Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Routes respectively) down to The Blue Ridge Parkway, and while there, I’ll probably do Tail of the Dragon, although riding a curvy section of road at the limit of my skill and the bike is not my preferred mode of challenge these days. Rather, I’m looking forward to testing my metal on those Class 4 roads of the NEBDR. I’ll take a rocky hill climb over speed or gratuitous remoteness any day; it’s what drew me to ADV riding in the first place. Off-roading provides a challenge that is relatively safe. That might sound like an oxymoron, but you don’t have to risk your life to get “The Buzz.” Successfully completing a technical section of road or trail will give you a hit too, and if you don’t make it and drop the bike, well, you live to try another day. And along the way, there are some pretty great views, villages, and campgrounds.
What do you think? If you ride a motorcycle, you’re familiar with managing risk. Is remote riding your thing, and if so, why do you do it? If not, what kind of riding gives you The Buzz? And if you don’t ride, what do you do to step outside your comfort zone and feel alive? Drop a comment below; I’m always interested in hearing from readers.
There’s a balance between customizing a bike and over-modifying it. I remember an episode of Adventure Rider Radio in which Jim Martin talks with Warren Milner, who worked at Honda for 30 years in product planning and R & D. Warren warns against rashly modifying your bike, especially based on advice given on internet forums. For example, at one point in the interview, he talks about the exhaust system, describing how manufacturers spend hundreds of hours developing and testing it before the bike goes into production. That’s because today’s bikes use back-pressure from the exhaust as an integral part of the combustion process to optimize fuel efficiency and emissions, yet one of the first mods owners often do is to slap on an aftermarket exhaust. One can almost hear the collective groan of the engineers as they do.
At the same time, every bike that rolls off the assembly line is built for the average rider—average build, average riding (whatever that is), average skills, average goals. That’s why it’s important to customize it for your specific needs. Tall rider? You might want a taller windscreen to avoid buffeting, or add a wind-deflector. Long legged? You might want to lower your pegs or raise your seat. Or the opposite: you might want a lowering kit so you can flat-foot. Going off-road? You’ll need different tires, etc.. There are a lot of considerations, and fortunately, a lot of options available. The industry is healthy with aftermarket products.
I decided to ride the Tiger for a season pretty much as I bought it. I wanted to get a feel for it stock before making changes. I still have the stock front tire on that came with the bike. The only changes I made were in the realm of protection: crash guards and a beefier skid plate. I’d learned my lesson with the BMW, waiting to buy some upper protection and ending up buying a new radiator along with the guards when I eventually did. After studying the market, I went with Outback Motortek. The guards and plate set me back a cool Grand, but I think they’re the best on the market. The only other mods I’ve done to the Tiger so far were to add an AltRider rear brake extender and a wind deflector.
But with two big tours planned for 2023, it’s time to ask Santa for some items to get the bike ready. Here’s what’s on my wish list for 2023.
The Tiger came with Triumph racks and cases. The system is fine for commuting and light touring, but those side-opening cases aren’t practical for moto-camping.
I deliberated (read, “agonized”) over this decision for a long time. I love my Touratech hard cases, but the Tiger has a high exhaust on the right side so I really should go with an asymmetrical system. When I had the 650GS on the market, I had offers just for the racks and cases, but I was reluctant to separate them from the sale of the bike. The new owner wanted to buy them too, but in the end, I decided I couldn’t separate from them either.
They are great cases and contain a ton of memories with all the stickers from where I’ve been. They are the original puck system, which you can’t get anymore, and I like that you can lock them. I’ll probably use these when I tour the East Coast with Marilyn because they are big and we need the space and I won’t be doing much dirt on that tour anyway. We’ll just have to pack them so the bike stays reasonably balanced.
However, I also plan to ride the NEBDR and MABDR next summer, and from what I’ve seen on YouTube, there are some challenging dirt sections of the NEBDR in particular for which I’ll need a smaller, soft-pannier system. (Soft panniers are generally considered safer for off-roading; there is less chance of breaking a leg.) I know everyone is getting the Mosko bags these days, and they are beautiful bags, but I decided to go with the Enduristan Monsoon Evo 34L/24L system.
I’m using the past tense because Santa took advantage of a Black Friday sale and got these 20% off. I picked up at the same time the matching bottle holster (for my stove fuel) and a can holster (for water, chain lube, or bear spray). One of the nice things about this system is that it’s modular, and I’ll probably be adding more to it as I figure out my needs.
Marilyn and I used the Enduristan pannier topper through the West Coast and loved it. Enduristan products are completely waterproof and designed by ADV riders to withstand the abuse of adventure touring. But the main reason I went with this system is the weight; they are the lightest panniers on the market, with no backing or mounting plates to worry about. This also means that the bags and cases will be easily interchangeable.
It’s Outback Motortek all the way. They put a lot of R & D into their products and back them up with some brave testing, dragging expensive bikes along the ground.
Okay, you might say this is a marketing gimmick, but it does show how the bars, even though they do not come up very high, are sufficient to keep the plastics and vital parts off the ground and protected. The bars look like crap afterward but have done their job and can be re-powder coated.
The rear racks offer protection for the silencer and rear of the bike, in addition to carrying the panniers, so again, I went with the strongest. These are a full 18mm + with the powder coating. In fact, they are industry leading in their size, so big that Dual Sport Plus, where I bought the Enduristan bags, includes a workaround kit of washers so the bags fit these bars.
To these bars, I’m going to add on the left side an X-frame plate so I can mount a RotoPax 1G fuel container inside the bars. This will increase my range when remote riding and help balance the bike, especially when using the symmetrical TT cases. Clint at Dual Sport Plus has my exact planned set-up—racks, panniers, and RotoPax—seen here.
Hand and Lever Protection
The final bit of protection I’ll need before attempting those gnarly sections of the NEBDR is some protection for the levers. I considered going again with foldable levers but that would still leave the front brake reservoir and my hands unprotected. After looking at all my options, I decided to go with Barkbusters. They have a model that is made for my specific bike so the install is straightforward. And if I had any lingering doubts, they were quashed when I saw that BB make a plastic with my bike’s name on it. I know the Jet plastics don’t provide as much wind protection as the Storm and other plastics, but I think they suit the styling of the Tiger, and sometimes you just have to sacrifice a little practicality for vanity . . . I mean, aesthetics.
I’m not going to change my mirrors for now. I’m really not fond of the look of the double-take mirrors and am hoping the crash guards will sufficiently protect the OEM ones. And if they don’t, well, the decision will have been made for me.
What’s the most important part of the bike when off-roading? Given that I’ve posed this question in the subsection titled Foot Pegs, you’ve probably guessed correctly. If your body position while off-roading is correct, you really shouldn’t have much weight on the bars; you should be pretty much balanced on the pegs and steering the bike with your feet (i.e. peg-weighting). Of the four contact points with the bike (hands and feet), the pegs are the most important, so a good set of foot pegs is a must if you are going to do any technical riding.
The Triumph pegs aren’t small but they aren’t large either. I’ve heard that a large foot peg can make a big difference (sorry, bad pun), changing the entire feel of the bike and inspiring confidence. They will also save you resoling your boots quite as often. I looked at IMS, but they don’t make pegs for the Tiger. When I found that Fastway did and that there was a Canadian distributer, I jumped, Black Friday sale or not.
As you can see, at 2.25″ x 4.75,” these pegs are huge. They have adjustment for height and camber, and come with two lengths of cleats: 10mm and 12mm. I’ll probably start with the 10mm since my adventure boots already have a tread. They are expensive, but you only have to buy them once; Fastway sell bike-specific fit kits for mounting, so I will hold onto these babies when the time comes to sell the Tiger.
The OEM tail plate is too small for a duffle and has no good strapping points. It also shifts side to side as part of that Triumph system that shifts as you corner. I really like the AltRider tail plate, but at $260 for a piece of metal, I’m considering other options. You can get an eBay Special from China for 1/3 of that price, but will it be the same? Will the cut-outs be bevelled so they don’t cut into your straps? Will the powder coating begin to wear off after a season or two, as happened on my Kildala rack? AltRider make good stuff, and I like how this one projects out the back of the bike so there’s still plenty of room for Marilyn behind me. I might just watch and wait for this item to go on clearance somewhere, but I’ll definitely need a new tail rack before I tour.
I’ve had the Dunlop Trailmax Mission tire on the rear of the Tiger, and I had them on the GS when I took it to Vermont last summer. This 70/30 tire is a good choice if you are doing a lot of street with some dirt or gravel roads. That’s what I expect when Marilyn and I go through Gaspé, PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. So I’m going to put the matching tire on the front first thing in the spring before we head off.
For the tour in the US, that’s a little different and more complicated. I plan to start out on some BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes) that will take me from the Quebec border down to Pennsylvania, then I’ll be riding principally asphalt as I make my way over to the Outer Banks, including The Blue Ridge Parkway—a bucket list ride for me—and, why not, Tail of the Dragon while I’m in the area.
What do you do when faced with such diverse riding, everything from Class 4 (i.e. unmaintained) roads to the most renown section of twisties in The U.S.? Well, based on my experience, you have to go with the most aggressive tire required for your off-roading needs. You can ride a knobby on asphalt but if you try to take a street tire into mud and gnarly stuff, you can get yourself in trouble. Of course I could by-pass the gnarly stuff, but where’s the fun in that, and besides, I like a challenge!
I’m currently deliberating between Shinko 804/805s and Michelin Anakee Wilds. I know the Shinkos are surprisingly quiet and smooth on the road, despite being a 40/60 road/off-road tire. However, they aren’t great with lateral stability. The Wilds are listed as a 50/50, but I have a sense they might be better in the dirt but louder on asphalt. (I’ve never ridden a set of these before.) I also like that the Anakees are a radial tire, so they will run cooler in the heat at speed. And for what it’s worth, Lyndon Poskitt just put a set of these on his Norden 901 for his tour of Iceland where he’ll be doing similar riding.
The Shinkos are about half the price of the Anakees, but for a tour like this, having the right tire is more important to me than a few hundred dollars. I have run the Shinkos before and they were great . . . until they weren’t. From one day to the next, they started skidding and sliding out on me.
What do you think? Anyone tried either of these tires?
Tools, More Tools . . .
Finally on my wish list are some tools for helping me with these tire changes. I’ve always worked off the grass, but it’s not ideal; you’re grinding dirt into your bearings as you wrestle with the tire, and it’s hard to stabilize the wheel while levering. I think I’m going to ask Santa to get me a tire changing stand and some Motion Pro tools to facilitate this work and protect my rims.
The Tiger is basically a sport bike in adventure clothing; it rips, and I love how it handles through twisties. But I’ve yet to really test it off-road in technical terrain. Fully protected, with an aggressive knobby and soft panniers, Jet will be ready to hit the dirt and I’ll be eager to get back to exploring. Gros Morne National Park is a bucket list item for Marilyn and me, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to get deep into the park on the bike.
In the meantime, we’ve just received here in Montreal the first big snowfall of the winter. I’ve been shovelling the driveway for the past 24 hours, but I really don’t mind. It will be nice to have a white Christmas. I’ve just finished all my grading in my teaching work, and we are sufficiently stocked with holiday sweets and treats.
I was just remarking to Marilyn that, in many ways, I prefer the midwinter holiday to the summer one. While I can’t ride, being a bit house-bound provides an opportunity to step back from everyday life and reflect—a sort of retreat. And what comes to me this year as I do that is how incredibly blessed I am in so many ways. I and my loved ones are healthy, we have enough money, I have a fulfilling job . . . I could go on, but I’m thinking mostly of the people in Ukraine and other parts of the world who are less fortunate. In the immortal words of Ron MacLean, “count your blessings, not your presents.” It’s nice to dream and plan to buy stuff for what we are passionate about, but the most precious gifts cannot be bought.
I wish you and yours a healthy, happy holiday, and safe riding and travelling in 2023.
In the 100th post of 650Thumper, I reflect on a summer of forced relaxation.
Yesterday, the image above popped up as a Facebook memory of exactly one year ago, just to remind me that I once did something pretty remarkable. By contrast, this summer has been pretty tame, even by my standards.
To be fair, this was supposed to be a restful summer after the Epic Adventure of last year. I had eight months to recover, of course, but teaching is a pretty intensive profession, the workload of the semesters off-set by the summers of recovery, and this past year was especially draining as we continued to deal with masks and Covid protocols and the accompanying anxiety of a global pandemic. As a teacher, I am part pedagogue, part social worker, so found myself assuaging the anxiety of some students and standing firm against others who tried to take advantage of the situation. Deciding which is which is the hardest part of teaching, to be honest, and by the end of the semester, I and many of my colleagues were limping to the finish. “Boo-hoo!” I hear those in the medical and services professions saying. It’s true that I didn’t have to wear a mask 8-12 hours a day, but my experience has only heightening my respect for those who do.
But the real reason for a stay-at-home summer is that my wife and I got a new dog, and he was a rescue from a horrible situation. He doesn’t travel in the car without getting sick, and he has some triggers and in general is still settling, so we didn’t feel we could do our planned east coast trip this year. We’ll give him another year to get comfortable enough that we can leave him for even a few weeks so Marilyn can join me for part of that trip, as she did last year. We pledged to make the best of it, doing short day rides and maybe an overnight to test his limits.
The summer started with a bang—buying a new bike and doing a series of short trips with friends in June while Marilyn did dog-sitting duty. First was a club ride to Westport, a small village on the Upper Rideau Lake, that took us along the Saint Laurence Seaway and up through the twisties of SE Ontario. I was on my new bike, purchased, registered, and insured the day before, so I was grinning the entire 700-kilometre, 2-day trip, except for when I watched in a local bar The Leafs lose Game 7, once again.
I followed that with a trip to visit my sister and friend at a cottage in Denbigh, my first solo ride with the Triumph and a chance to put it through some paces on the winding highways of the Ontario Highlands. Then I did a little road trip (in a car) with a writer friend to Vermont in search of literary landmarks, followed by a return soon after with Mike and Danny, my riding buddies who did The Puppy Dog Route with me pre-Covid, but this time we finally did Bailey-Hazen, a military road dating back to the War of Independence. We also did some of the Hamster Ride, a similar dirt-route in New Hampshire, and road out to the ocean in Maine.
I did another trip with Mike and another riding Buddy, Steve, to the VRRA races at Calabogie Motorsport Park on the July 2 weekend. And between those trips was a ride back to my hometown of Burlington, Ontario, for a reunion of The Burlington Teen Tour Band, a marching band I was in through my teens. So lots of short trips in June, when I usually rest on the couch watching a major football tournament, and by July, I was ready for that rest.
July is a bit of blur, to be honest, and the short day rides with Marilyn didn’t materialize. I did a few club rides, but to honest, I didn’t ride much in July. I think that had something to do with a good friend’s passing. I kind of fell into a funk, and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I’m not sure where my time went, but I know I spent a lot of time on the couch. It’s true what they say about depression: it takes the incentive out of doing even the things that normally bring you joy.
Finally, with the end of summer looming, I decided to do a solo ride to Lake Placid, and that put a grin back on my face. I let Kurviger decide much of the route, and for some reason, part of it was a gnarly section of Class 4 road that had me wishing my Outback Motortek crash bars and skid plate weren’t back-ordered. At some point, I decided it was easier to keep going than turn back, and I managed to get back to asphalt without dropping the bike. I had on the front only the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II, the stock 90/10 tire, but we managed. I’ll be doing a comparative blog of the GS and Tiger, but one thing I can say now is that the front end on the Tiger is much better than the Beemer’s. That 21″ front wheel was rolling over stuff surprisingly well! I don’t think I’ll be doing trails with this bike, but it’s good to know what it’s capable of should my adventures take me through some technical riding.
Marilyn and I did finally do a day trip yesterday, down to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. I’m back to work in a week so I said it was now or never. Unfortunately, now was 34C and it required all of our tenacity to get through the day, especially the border crossing that had us sitting in idling traffic for about an hour. Brutal.
The silver lining to the end of summer always is that the best riding in Canada is in the fall, when the leaves have turned colour and the temperature has dropped. There will be some more club rides and day trips and maybe an overnight if my son is available to dog-sit. The Triumph Tiger is a blast to ride, and fingers crossed, so far there has been no indication that we’ll have to wear masks again in class, so my work will be relatively back to normal. I have a lot to be thankful for, and a big east coast trip to plan for next summer.
The first in a series of posts on my riding gear. In this one, I discuss my touring gear.
I’ve had a few queries about the gear I use, usually from someone about to set out on a similar long tour, so I’ll devote a few blogs to the subject. This one is on what I wear when touring. In the next, I’ll talk about my off-roading gear. I’ll then cover my camping gear, and round out the series on navigation apps and other equipment I carry on the bike.
Let’s move from head to toe.
The first time I bought a helmet, I had no idea what I was doing so relied on the salesperson. Unfortunately, she put me in the wrong helmet. She would put a helmet on me, wriggle it from side to side, say “Too big,” then put on a smaller one. Eventually she had me in an XS which, yeah, fit side to side, but within half an hour at my first class had created a pressure point that felt like a nail was slowly being driven down though the crown of my skull.
I’m surprised that head shape is not emphasized more than it is. It’s the starting point of finding the right helmet, but rarely talked about in reviews or explicitly mentioned in product descriptions. I have a long-oval-shaped head, so after a little research, I bought an Arai Signet-X as my touring helmet. I know there are cheaper helmets, but when one’s brains are at stake, I don’t mind paying a little more. I need all of what’s left of mine. The Arai brand speaks for itself, but I like that the helmet is Snell rated and comes with a Pinlock visor; I’ve never had any issues with fogging. I replaced the original visor before my big tour with the pro-shade visor, which is great, but I still find myself shading my eyes with my hand when riding directly into low sun. My next helmet will probably be an ADV helmet with a peak like the Aria X4. I know the peak will create wind noise but I suspect it’s worth it for the speeds I usually do.
Helmets are extremely personal, so the only advice I can provide is to get one that feels right for you. Just bear in mind that, according to The Hurt Report, 1/5 of all impacts on a helmet in an accident are on the chin. And if you don’t know if you are a round, intermediate oval, or long oval, ask someone to take a photo of the top of your head. It will narrow your search and potentially save you a mistake like mine.
A lot of people, even motorcyclists, ask me what that thing is around my neck. The neck brace was designed by Dr. Chris Leatt after he saw one too many riders die or become paralyzed from the neck down. There is a great interview with him on Adventure Rider Radio, if you’re interested in the origins. Otherwise, all you need to do is look at this independent study to be convinced that neck braces make a significant difference in preventing cervical spine injury and even death. It does that by stopping your helmet from rotating beyond what your neck can withstand and by transferring those forces down through your skeletal structure. Once I have it on (and properly fitted), I forget that I’m wearing it; it doesn’t obstruct my head movements at all, such as when I check my blind spot.
What about an air vest, you ask? Doesn’t it do the same? Well, yes and no. According to Dr. Leatt, there is a difference in safety, and I’m not going to try to explain it but will refer you again to the ARR episode in which they cover this subject, also speaking to the head of safety at the Dakar Rally, which recently switched from mandatory neck braces to air vests. (Incidentally, many riders were not happy with the switch.) I’m not going to advocate against air vests. I think if you are wearing either a brace or a vest, you’re ahead of the crowd. I personally decided against a vest because it’s another layer in the heat. And do they all have to be the same colour as piss after you’ve taken your Vitamin B complex?! Let’s have some air vests that look a little more cool, please.
I bought the Leatt STX; the wider scapula wings do not conflict with back armour or an aero hump if you’re rockin’ full leathers on track days. Yeah, neck braces are pricey. There’s a lot of R&D that goes into them and I guess they are still a niche market, but like most of my gear, I bought it significantly reduced (like 50% off) once the particular model became discontinued. I now make it part of my everyday gear, even when commuting to work. I’d hate to have some bad luck on the day I leave it sitting at home.
After some trial and error, I decided to go with a layering system when touring. For one, I didn’t have $1,500 for a Klim Badlands Pro jacket, and two, it weighs a ton. At first I bought a Klim Traverse jacket and tried that. It’s Gore-Tex, which is great because you don’t have to watch the skies but can ride through rain or shine uninterrupted. But Gore-Tex is hot! Yes, it wicks sweat, but it doesn’t allow much air flow. I was imagining the stifling-hot days of midsummer and decided to buy the best mesh jacket money can buy, and in my opinion, that is the Klim Marrakesh.
I have to admit, the Marrakesh is nothing to look at. Plain Jane. For some, that might be part of its appeal. Who wants to look like a Transformer character in an action animation? But put one on, and you will not want to wear another jacket again. It is my most comfortable riding jacket. Perhaps it’s my most comfortable jacket, period. That’s because the Marrakesh is all about the fabric: a 1000 denier 4-way-stretch mesh that breathes, stretches, and protects. Just a little hi-viz is all that is needed, and it has D30 armour in shoulders, elbows, and back. Okay, the armour is Level 1, not 2, but I decided to sacrifice a little on safety for the sake of comfort, with the compromise of upgrading the back protector to Level 2. I was very happy that I went with this jacket when I got into the midsummer heat that followed me all the way up to Dawson City.
Okay, it’s not waterproof, so I had to carry a rain outer layer in my tank bag. (Klim says the material is “hydrophobic,” which does not mean afraid of the water but water repellent.) There are plenty of good light rain jackets to choose from and they will all do the trick fairly inexpensively. I bought the Scott Ergonomic Pro DP Rain Jacket. This outer layer was helpful not just in the rain, of which I didn’t get much, but also when I just wanted something to break the wind.
Underneath, I had either a light athletic shirt if it was hot, or a merino wool base layer if it wasn’t. I also kept in my tank bag, or somewhere quick at hand, a good quality (800 fill) down vest. It saved me many times on and off the bike. It packs down into the breast zippered pocket to about the size of a mini football (remember those?) and did just the trick when I needed a little something under the jacket in addition to the merino wool base layer or around camp when the sun went down. Doing without the sleeves meant it packed down smaller, and if you keep the main organs warm, the extremities will be too. The Microtherm 2.0 down vest from Eddie Bauer has become my favourite piece of touring gear.
I had one more layer, if needed—a good quality polar fleece jacket. This also doubled as my pillow at night when folded or rolled. So between the different base layers, the fleece, the vest, and the wind/rain breaker, I had lots of options for the varying conditions; I could ride from single digits to 35C, rain or shine.
I decided to go with Klim Carlsbad pants, which are Gore-Tex, but you don’t get much airflow over the legs anyway, and who enjoys pulling on rain paints by the side of the road? It’s one thing to pull on a rain jacket and another to remove boots or deal with zippers halfway up your legs. The Carlsbad pants do have some decent venting, so when my nether regions feel a little hot, I just stand up on the bike for a few seconds to air them out, so to speak.
One of the reasons I like Klim is that the Gore-Tex is in the outer layer. With other brands, it may be an inner layer, so you may stay dry, but the clothing still gets soaked and, aside from being heavy, may take days to dry out completely. I also like the D30 armor (Level 2) in knees and hips (removable so you can wash the pants periodically), and the little Level 1 tail-bone protector.
Underneath, I wear soccer shorts with a mesh liner. They double as swimming trunks (to borrow vocabulary from my dad’s era), dry quickly, and, ah hem, provide some freedom for the boys. I never needed anything else, but I have worn thermal underwear (i.e. long johns) in early spring and late fall riding here in Canada.
So layering on top, vented Gore-Tex below. It was a good combination that worked for me.
I should add that I’m not sponsored by Klim (I wish!). I just find they make the best gear, and motorcycling is so important to me that I’m willing to pay a premium for their gear. But as I’ve said above, I never buy full price. I spend part of the off season researching and window shopping, and when the item I want goes on clearance, I pounce.
Like the pants, I went with Gore-Tex boots that I could ride in rain or shine. No dorky-looking overboots, no plastic bags inside the boots, no waterproof socks—just a really good pair of Gore-Tex adventure boots. For me, that is the SIDI Adventure 2 boots. These are amazing, and not just because they look so cool! (When I first showed them to my son, he said, “Dad, these are Batman boots.”)
Adventure riding is all about compromises, and a good quality adventure boot like these offers a balance of protection and comfort. I’ve had the bike come down on my foot in an off-roading off and literally walked away from it, and I’ve climbed mountains and walked for miles around town in relative comfort because they are hinged. I know some will say only a motocross boot provides adequate protection, but for touring, you need something you can walk in. You also need something with a good tread in case you have to push your bike out of mud. The buckle system of SIDI boots is unparalleled in the industry. If you have a particularly wide foot, you might want to look at the Alpinestar ADV boots; I know Lyndon Poskitt recently switched from SIDI to Alpinestar Toucans because he found his feet were a little cramped in the SIDIs. Like the helmet, boots are all about fitment, so not gear to buy online.
The SIDI Adventure 2’s are a premium item but will probably be the first and last pair I’ll ever buy; you can get the sole on these replaced by your local cobbler when they wear out.
While we are down here, let’s quickly talk about socks. I wore one pair pretty much the entire tour. They are actually not motorcycle gear, per se, but athletic compression socks from The Running Room here in Canada. Compression helps with blood circulation over those long days, and the height (over the calf) prevents chafing at the top of the boot. They are also anti-bacterial and wicking. There’s no point in wearing a Gore-Tex boot over a nylon sock.
For cold or wet weather, I have a pair of Pearly’s Knee-High Possum Socks. Possum, you ask? Yes, Pearly’s has managed to turn road-kill into a business. Each strand of possum fur apparently is hollow inside, creating a dead-air space that is unmatched for insulation and warmth with the exception of caribou hide, which shares the same property. If that were not enough, Pearly’s has woven it with merino wool, resulting in a wool that is pretty special. They are also a premium item and it took me a few years to pull the trigger on these babies, but there’s nothing more comfortable or warm for cold-weather riding.
Finally, let’s move to the other extremity. It may surprise you, but I went minimalist with my gloves: only one pair for the entire tour. If a pair of deerskin gloves is good enough for Pirsig, who writes about them in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, they’re good enough for me. I have a pair of BMW Gore-Tex insulated gauntlet gloves for cold weather riding, and a short pair of Five Stunt gloves for summer riding, but for the Epic Adventure Tour, I took only a pair of Aerostitch Touchscreen Elkskin Ropers.
Why? Mostly for comfort. Like the Marrakesh jacket, once you put these on, you will know why. They are super soft and super comfortable, yet provide sufficient abrasion protection in an off. I have heated grips so rarely need an insulated glove, especially for summer touring, and Elkskin, unlike cowhide, can get wet without drying hard. In fact, on a hot day, if you wet them and wear them riding, they will shrink as they dry and mold to the shape of your hands on the grips. Neat.
Aerostitch do a good job with these gloves, still handmade in The USA. There’s touchscreen thread sewn into the thumb and fingertips of the first two fingers, and a visor squeegie on the thumb. They may feel a little bulky compared to the thin leather of other gloves, but the dexterity they provide is adequate for touring, and I suspect they will last for years and years. In fact, like wine and some women, they are one of those items that gets better with age.
Adventure touring requires that you be ready for all kinds of weather yet minimalist because you’ve only got so much room on the bike. This is what has worked for me. What are your preferences? Did I miss something? Let me know in a comment below what your favourite piece of touring gear is and why. I’m always ready to learn, and we Canadians need something to keep us occupied during the long off season.
Some observations on Canada and long-distance touring
Most mornings, Facebook shows me a memory from this time last year, so over the past few weeks, I’ve been reliving my trip across the country, day by day. I’ve also been thinking about it as I write up these blogs, and now that I’ve completed the individual blogs on each segment of the tour, I thought I’d write some more general observations as I step back and reflect on the trip and the country as a whole. Here are five observations, in no particular order.
1. Six weeks isn’t nearly enough time to explore this vast country.
Canada is huge and the distances are immense. Our days were jam-packed, staying just one or two nights maximum at each place before we had to “push on” (a refrain on this tour). Yes, I crossed the country, twice, but far too much of that riding was on the Trans Canada and other major highways than I would have liked. In fact, it was only once I got off the freeway that I was able to experience any geography, history, and culture at all. My need to cover distance was in constant conflict with my desire to slow down and see more of what I was passing. I felt that this trip was really only an overview of many more to come, and I’ll need to spend six weeks in each province to really have a sense of the depth and diversity of Canada. So I’m going to consider this trip as exploratory; a deeper discovery of the country will have to wait until my retirement.
2. One tire cannot do it all.
I decided to use Michelin Anakee Adventure tires, an 80/20 street/off-road tire, because I wanted something relatively smooth and long-lasting for all the asphalt I would be covering. In the end, I was able to do the entire tour without changing my tires—that’s all 20,000+ kilometres on the same tire. This is what the rear looked like shortly after my return.
As you can see, there’s still some good tread left in this tire. So if it’s longevity you are looking for, the Anakee Adventure is a good choice.
However, I was vulnerable when I went off road, particularly up The Dempster. If it had started to rain, the dirt would have turned into mud and I would have been in trouble. The problem is that there were actually two very distinct kinds of riding on this trip: largely asphalt to cover the miles, and sections of dirt or gravel when I could afford it. Ideally, I’d have shipped more aggressive off-road tires out to BC and put them on before heading north. This is exactly what many people do: ship TKC 80s to Dawson City and put them on before hitting The Dempster. A 50/50 tire like the Heidenau K60 Scout would have been another option, but the more aggressive tread on those tires is noisy on the road, despite the centre strip. (In fact, in the 650GS tire size, there is no centre strip, and the rear flattens quite quickly.) The next time I attempt The Dempster, I’ll be starting in BC and will use an off-road tire, even if it means burning through that rubber on the pavement.
Another problem with the Anakee Adventure tires is that they are quite vibey on asphalt. The hard compound down the middle of the tire results in long tire life but at the cost of vibrations. I used my Kaoko throttle lock whenever possible but my right hand still developed some numbness and tingling. I’m convinced that if this were my regular tire choice, I’d develop nerve damage. The long days, day after day, led to numbness that didn’t completely dissipate for months after my return, well into the off-season. In this respect, I might have been better off with a 90/10 tire like the Michelin Anakee 3 than the Adventure.
In sum, if I were to do it all again, with 5,000 kilometres to cover before I get to serious dirt, I’d go with a true street tire to get me across the country, then switch to a true off-road tire for playing in the dirt once I’m out there. Adventure riding is all about compromises, but when your safety is involved, there are no compromises: if you are doing any technical or remote dirt riding, use an aggressive dirt tire.
3. French and the Problem of Québec
Everywhere I went, I heard French. I sat in a diner in Smooth Rock Falls, Northern Ontario, and heard four older men in the booth next to me speaking French. I sat at the base of the Nisutlin Bay Bridge, Yukon, during a rest stop and had a conversation in French with a man who has been living in Yukon for over 20 years but whose native language is French. I walked into a supermarket in Whitehorse and heard two people in the produce section talking in fluent French. I heard French in every province, and I’ve heard it of course in Acadian Nova Scotia and elsewhere on the east coast. The French language seems to be surviving just fine outside of Québec, without any Bill 101, ridiculous sign laws, or punitive Office de la langue française.
I mention this because, last May, the Quebec government passed Bill 96, which essentially extends Bill 101 beyond high school to the college level. What this means, among other things, is that all students graduating from any college in Quebec will now have to pass a French language test. It’s really more than a test of basic competency; students have to analyze a piece of French literature and write an essay exhibiting that understanding with a minimum of expression errors. Errors are counted and, after a certain amount, the student automatically fails. It’s quite difficult, and many students who have been educated in French their entire lives struggle to pass this required exam. Now even anglophone and allophone students who have gone through an immersion program in which some, but not all, courses are taught in French will have to pass the same test. It’s not clear yet how they are going to do that, or what kind of resources will be available to help them.
The rationale stated by François Legault and his Quebec government for these Draconian measures is that French is disappearing, but to my knowledge they’ve never actually presented any specific data to support this claim. Many of my friends and colleagues—not all English Quebecers, I should add—think this bill has little to do with protecting the French language and everything to do with cultivating a victim mentality in Quebecers, perpetuating the idea that they are somehow besieged by a foreign power such as the Federal Government (the favourite scapegoat) or English North America (as if North America were all English). Some even theorize that restricting access to education in English—except for those who can afford to send their children to private school, where such restrictions do not exist—keeps working class Quebecers “in their place,” just as The Catholic Church did until the Quiet Revolution of the 1970s. Even if French is in trouble—and I’m questioning whether it is—forced unilingualism is not the answer. In Europe, learning multiple languages is the norm, not the exception, even in countries like Hungary, which is a linguistic minority within a larger demographic, comparable to Quebec. (Elementary students there have the option of Hungarian and either English or German. I know because my son did a year of school in Hungary when he was in Grade 3.) Learning French does not have to be at the expense of learning English. We can teach both languages effectively, if there is the political will.
But the problem of Quebec extends beyond the issue of language. Quebec has managed to leverage the threat of separation successfully to entrench special privileges and special status within Canada. Many people might be surprised to know that Quebec gets more in equalization payments than all the other provinces combined. This is because, somehow, when those formulae were developed, Hydro Quebec was exempt from the calculations, making Quebec appear on paper like a have-not province. Removing Hydro Quebec, one of the province’s major employers, from Quebec’s calculations is like removing the oil and gas sector from Alberta’s. It’s time we opened up the equalization formulas and retooled them to make Quebec start pulling its weight in the confederation. There’s a lot of resentment out west towards the status quo, as evidenced by this poster seen outside an outdoor store in Northern BC.
The sense out west that Canada is run by Ontario and Quebec is nothing new. Remember that The Reform Party started out west, as did The Green Party. Quebec is not a have-not province and doesn’t deserve special status or extra money. It’s time that Quebec decides to be either an equal player in Canada or to get out and become the nation it clearly pretends to be by using language like “national” programs, “national” parks, and a “national” holiday.
And while I’m on this subject, I’ll add that I was upset that Montreal did not have a Canada Day parade (July 1st) this year, and rumour is that there won’t be a budget for it in the future either. The decision to cancel the parade had nothing to do with Covid, as there was a Ste. Jean Baptiste parade just a week earlier. I think that if the Quebec government thinks so poorly of its membership in Canada that celebrating Canada doesn’t warrant a parade once a year, perhaps it should give back some the $11.7 billion it receives of the total $19 billion in federal funds transferred to provinces (latest available numbers). But of course it won’t. Under the current cozy situation, Quebec would be foolish to separate. It’s become dependent on the hand-outs to subsidize an inefficient economy.
When my wife was living in Alberta, if she got sick, she’d phone her doctor and get an appointment for later that day. In Quebec, you’re lucky if you have a doctor. Health care is a mess, our roads are a mess, and as a teacher, I see everyday the effects of chronic underfunding in our education system. Yet Quebec has the highest taxes in North America. Where is all that money going? The Quebec government has replaced The Church as the benevolent Big Brother taking care of “its people,” an argument developed more fully in a recent op-ed piece by Vanessa Sasson. I’ve put “its people” in quotation marks because 99% of the Quebec civil service is still white francophones, a statistic that hasn’t budged since the 1970’s. Corruption and a bloated, inefficient civil service are draining the public purse; there are simply too many people at the trough.
Another controversial bill recently passed here in Quebec, Bill 21, targets religious minorities. It prevents anyone in the public sector, including doctors and teachers, from wearing religious symbols, as if those items would somehow influence or prejudice their work. For Christians, this isn’t a significant problem, but for many Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews, they must choose between their religious garb or their careers. No one should have to make that choice, certainly no one in the Canada I know. The standard line given by Legault to defend Bill 21 is that “the majority of Quebecers support it,” an argument that has at its heart the logical fallacy known as Appeal to Popularity (sometimes called Appeal to Ignorance.) I teach this fallacy by reminding my students that at one time slavery was the popular economic model. The fact that it’s popular doesn’t make it right.
Here’s a confession: in the last provincial election, I voted for Legault’s CAQ party. I was tired of paying half of my wages to the government and still having unacceptable roads, health care, and education standards. I was tired of the corruption in the construction sector that has held Montrealers hostage for decades. I’d heard of scandal after scandal at all levels of government, and hoped that Legault, a co-founder and CEO of Air Transat before going into politics, would be a fiscal conservative with the strength of character to do some much-needed restructuring of the Quebec economy. But he hasn’t done anything of the sort. Instead, he’s focused almost exclusively on a social agenda to solidify his grip on power, playing to his rural base and exploiting the most repugnant racist and xenophobic aspects of Quebec society.
What has Prime Minister Trudeau done about this wave of racial nationalism gathering in Quebec? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He needs the Quebec vote too much in order to cling onto his own weakening power. So while he talks a lot about values and morals and draws a hard line against those he claims hold “unacceptable views” in Canada, he allows the Legault government to crap all over the Charter of Rights and Freedoms his dad helped draft and ratify, unwilling to protect religious and linguistic minorities in his home province.
If he had reformed the electoral system, as promised, and made every vote count, regardless of where you live, he would not be so beholden to “the Quebec vote.” But of his three major election promises—reform the electoral process, reform the Senate, and legalize pot—he’s managed to legalize pot. The other two promises were dropped once he learned, after studying the matters carefully (at considerable expense to taxpayers), that they were not politically advantageous to him and his party. Prime Minister Trudeau talks a lot about social justice, equity, and protecting minorities, but he is essentially—we must remember—a drama teacher. He’s acting, and these days there isn’t much genuine coming out of his mouth.
I don’t usually get this political in my blog, and I don’t really want this place to become heavily politicized. But I love this country, and if I can’t get off my chest here, in a blog reflecting on Canada, what I think are some problems we are currently facing, then where can I? And I feel that, having lived in Quebec since 1990, I’m qualified to give some constructive criticism of it. No one else is. You don’t have to agree with my observations and comments, but like in my teaching, I say if we can’t have civil and open discussions about difficult issues, then our problems run deeper than the health of the French language or the status of Quebec in Canada. What do you think? Feel free to drop a respectful comment below.
4. The Orange Summer
All summer long I saw orange garments hanging randomly in trees, and church steps lined with children’s shoes and toys. Some people have referred to last summer as The Orange Summer, a time of reflection and reckoning in the hope of eventual reconciliation. We are very early in this process and much has still to be determined with regard to what a reconciliation would look like. I don’t really have any suggestions, nor is it really my place to make them. But I believe that all relationships are healed through communication, so let’s start there. I believe we will get further faster by talking than pulling down statues. What is clear is that there is an enormous amount of pain out there to be addressed. I thought it was à propos that on my final day of riding, as I rode the 417 down from Sault Ste. Marie, I passed on a stretch of that highway a small contingent in orange T-shirts walking with police escort at the side of the road. A sign on a support vehicle read “Walk of Shame.” I recently saw another roadside sign, this one in Kahnawake, indigenous territory on the south shore of Montreal. This one read, “Legault, hands off our children,” a clear reference to both Bill 96 and residential schools. Are we making the same mistakes again—an authoritative government who think they know best what is right for your children? Have we learnt anything through years of suffering?
Let’s hope that the indigenous peoples of Canada get an apology from Pope Francis when he visits next week. It’s long overdue and a crucial element in collective healing. Then we need a thorough investigation into what happened to those children and hold those to blame accountable. There’s much more to address—difficult work of hashing out treaties—but it seems to me that would be a good start.
5. Heat and the Big Thumper
The 650GS did great the entire tour. I really can’t complain. With over 100,000 kilometres on it and fully loaded, it pulled Marilyn and me over those Rocky Mountain passes in the heat, and it was hot! The battery let me down a few times, but the mechanics of the bike are sound. It’s a great little adventure bike.
Are you sensing a but, dear reader? The 650GS is happiest under 100-110 km/hr, and much of my riding on this tour had to be >120 km/hr, just to cover those distances. This is a bike for secondary highways, not freeways. It is a classic European touring bike, but all of Europe is about the same size as Canada. Those days crossing the prairies, 6+ hours at 5,500 rpm, were not fun, and as I’ve said, I developed some numbness in my throttle hand due to vibrations. By the time I rolled back into the driveway, I was ready for something a little more powerful and a lot smoother.
I also found it difficult to regulate oil level during this tour. It’s difficult with the dry sump system at the best of times, but the varying temperatures and types of riding on this tour made it all the more challenging. The extreme heat, and riding at high revs for hours, led at times to oil rising so high in the reservoir that it spilled into the air box, where it leaked down the side of the engine and baked onto the skid plate.
Shake and bake
It’s possible that I over-filled the bike, but rather, perhaps I was just asking it to do a little more than it was designed to do. I’ve been pushing this bike beyond its limits on and off road.
People have since told me that, for a tour like this, I should have used a 1200 or 1250GS. The big boxer cruises at 120 km/hr, and like its predecessor of another era, the Honda Gold Wing, it eats up the miles. I’ve considered getting a big GS, but I like the dirt too much, and my skills just aren’t capable of taking a 600 lb. bike off road. I’ve had my eye on the Yamaha Ténére 700 (T7) for some time, and the World Raid version looks just the thing for my long distance adventures. Unfortunately, once it gets to Canada, it will be probably close to $20G—a little beyond my budget for now.
I also considered an 800GS. This would be the obvious upgrade to the 650, with a similar Rotax engine and the fuel tank under the seat. But a parallel twin is also prone to vibrations at highway speeds; isn’t it basically a big thumper but with two cylinders? So I started looking at it’s main competitor, the Triumph Tiger 800. From everything I’ve read, the essential difference between the two bikes is that the BMW is better off road, the Triumph better on road. That inline triple has a lot of character and is silky smooth. With 94 hp, it has more than enough power for two-up touring. And if I am being completely honest, most of my riding is on road, even when touring.
So here is my big announcement. After a lot of research, I’ve bought a 2013 Triumph Tiger 800XC. It only had 14,500K on it, so looks and feels practically new. It has been maintained well with regular service and always stored in a heated garage. I’ve put over 7000K on it already this summer and love riding this bike! I can’t wait to do some long-distance touring on it.
Don’t worry: the blog is not changing its name. I will continue to write about my adventures here, having built a little following. I’ve ordered crash bars and a beefier skid plate and so the slow conversion to off-road riding has begun. But for this summer, I’m happy to ride it stock with street tires and just enjoy this engine. It looks, feels, and sounds like a jet, so that’s what I’ve named it.
As for Bigby, I’ll be selling it when the market heats up at the end of season. I know that many potential buyers will be nervous about buying a bike with that many kilometres on it, but anyone who knows the 650GS knows that the engine is bullet-proof and that these bikes are over-engineered. There’s still plenty of good riding and adventures to be had on Old Faithful.
As I write this, we are about halfway through the summer. I’ll be taking the Tiger on day trips and perhaps a few overnights, but mainly just getting familiar with it. I’m planning a similarly big east coast tour with it for next summer and so will be getting some stronger panniers and doing other mods to set it up for adventure touring. I’ve received some queries from readers about my gear, so I’ll also be writing some blogs about what has worked for me. I hope you will stay with me, regardless of what you ride, as we continue the journey.
I’m down to just a few days before departure and not feeling very prepared. By the time I was free and clear of work, I had only two weeks to prepare the bike. That’s a lot, but not when parts take two weeks to arrive from Germany. So I’ve done what I can, as you can see from the list above. Today I remove the clutch cover to change the water pump and clutch plates. I actually have the pump—I’ve had it for a few years because you never know when it will fail on this bike—and I have the cork replacement plates for the clutch. What I don’t yet have are clutch springs and, if required, a replacement clutch cover gasket—that large paper one. These items and a few more were supposed to arrive last week, but it seems Covid is trying its best to sabotage the tour this year as well as last. Today is a holiday in Quebec so if the parts don’t arrive on Friday, I’ll have to make do. That might mean re-using old clutch springs or shimming them if they are out of spec. And hopefully I can get that clutch cover off without damaging the existing gasket. I only ordered a new one in case I can’t.
The good news is that the bike has all new wheel bearings, including the cush drive bearings, and new rubber. I did end up going with the Anakee Adventures in the end, mostly for their smoothness on asphalt. I don’t anticipate doing much off-roading on this tour, and they will be really nice through the twisties in The Rocky Mountains. I tried my best to balance the wheels using jack stands but I think I will get them checked professionally. The pros have computerized equipment that is more precise, and I thought I felt a bounce in the front. I also changed the front sprocket back to the stock 16-tooth, among other mods. My son helped me shoot a few videos of the mods I’ve made on the bike both for dirt and converting it back to street.
My wife, Marilyn, and I did a test ride last Saturday and the bike is running great. I remember now how that stock gearing is so much better on the highway; you have roll on at 120 km/hr.! And at 110 km/hr, which is a comfortable cruising speed for me on the highway, the revs sit right on the sweet spot of this bike at 4600 rpm. Even at 120 km/hr the revs aren’t over 5000. I’m glad I made that change, even though I know you’re not supposed to change a sprocket without changing the chain. Well, the chain has only 7K on it so it will be fine, and I’ll change everything when I’m back.
With all the attention on the bike, I have only just started laying out items to pack. Marilyn is having kittens about this because she can’t imagine starting so late for such a big trip, but I’ve done it before many times and I pretty much know what I’m taking. The only difference this time is that I have to consider two set-ups: one for when I’m solo, and one for when Marilyn is riding pillion. This means that I’ll have an empty pannier when alone. I will fill it with booze and tobacco until she joins me in Calgary.
The only tricky part of packing actually is deciding what spare parts to bring. I’ve done everything possible to prevent an issue on the road and I don’t have room to carry spare engine parts, but I’ll take an assortment of hardware, spare clutch cable and perhaps levers, gasket maker, JB Weld, self-fusing tape—that sort of thing. I’ll try to anticipate any issue that I might have, within reason.
I haven’t been able to research as well as I’d like, unfortunately. The book on Canadian geography I took out from the library sits unopened on my coffee table. I’ll have to do my research on the fly, so to speak. I’m pretty familiar with Ontario from previous travels and from writing a few articles for northernontario.travel, and I found a great video of tourist destinations in southwestern Saskatchewan, so I’m good for the first two provinces, I think. Marilyn is pretty familiar with Alberta, having lived there for 20 years, and we will explore BC together, so I’m not going to beat myself up for not getting more reading done. It’s not like I’ve been idle.
We have a few reservations booked on Vancouver Island and will stay with different friends as we make our way through the BC mainland. I am mostly concerned about when I’m alone and camping, since I’ve heard that campgrounds are all full. I’ll be using iOverlander to find wild camping spots and will have to wing it. This will be a first for me and I anticipate a few nights of searching for a suitable safe spot, but having watched Lyndon Poskitt wing it all over the world, I know it can be done.
The Yukon has dropped the requirement for travelers to self-isolate upon entering, but only if you are fully vaccinated, so I’ll be looking to get my second dose on the road somewhere so my planned trip up north is still on. Unfortunately, since I got the fist one after May 1st, I’m not eligible for the second until after I leave. Like so much about this tour, I will figure that out on route.
It hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m finally doing this. Perhaps I will grow into it, or it will hit me once I leave my first destination in Ontario. I’ll be staying with my sister for a few days and visiting my dad, so the trip proper begins July 1st, Canada Day, which seems appropriate. I won’t be posting while on the road so don’t expect any action on the blog until I’m back. I wish you all a safe and enjoyable summer!
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?
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.
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.
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.
I’m between semesters of my teaching work so have been taking this extra time to do some initial planning for the big tour next summer. I’ll be sharing a series of posts about this process. Here’s the first one on some of the initial decisions I’ve made.
My wife, Marilyn, will be joining me for some of this trip but how much is yet to be determined. The initial plan is that I will ride out to Calgary, Alberta, where we have some friends and family, and meet Marilyn there. We have some friends in southern British Columbia, the next stop, and then we’ll end up on Vancouver Island. After exploring the island, we will cross the US border to more family in Washington State. I’d love to visit Yellowstone National Park, which is fairly close, and to ride Beartooth Pass, one of the top roads in the U.S. I also want to ride the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur down to San Francisco.
Part of my reason for heading south is so that when I head back east across The United States, I’ll be riding through Yosemite National Park, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and will be able to see the Sierras as well as those iconic southwestern states and mountain passes. If I keep a fairly straight trajectory, I’ll end up close to The Tail of the Dragon and The Blue Ridge Parkway, iconic rides and bucket list items of mine. Time permitting, I’d like to get out all the way out to the east coast to the Outer Banks, NC, where I have fond childhood memories of family vacations. It’s all rather sketchy at this point, but that’s it, in a nutshell: west across Canada, south down the Pacific coast, and east across The United States before heading north back up to Montreal. A rough and dirty GoogleMaps calculation puts the entire trip at around 12,000 kilometers, or 7,500 miles. It will likely be considerably longer, though, as I plan to explore attractions along the way that will pull me off a direct route.
While I will have some fixed destinations, I want to keep my itinerary flexible and spontaneous. For accommodations, I’ll be camping, and wild camping when possible, which allows for this flexibility. I will cook as much of my own food as I can, extending my budget. It will be a challenge but also part of the fun. This is what adventure riding is all about.
Dirt or Pavement?
One big early decision is how much dirt to ride? I’m thinking this will be primarily on pavement, simply because of the miles to cover, sticking to secondary highways because, well, the super slab is not much fun. But I feel I must get off the pavement through those iconic southwestern states like Nevada, Utah!, and Colorado, even though I’ll be riding solo and am just an intermediate rider. In fact, although I’ll be pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I’d love to put in a few weeks of more technical riding and come back a lot more proficient and confident in the dirt. I just have to do it safely, or as safely as one can.
I’ve been watching YouTube videos of guys doing BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes) and the TAT (Trans America Trail) through those states, trying to access how technical these routes are. Bigby is designed for curving secondary highways and light off-roading, and I have to respect the limitations of my bike as well as my abilities. These are big decisions with a lot at stake, and I can’t let ego or bravado get the better of me. On the other hand . . . how can I cross Utah without riding sections of the Moab desert? And I’d be a fool to not get off the asphalt into the wilderness for some of those Colorado mountain passes.
I’m going to order Butler maps for NV, UT, and CO. They show the BDR routes and contain a lot of good information about which sections are easy. I’m also reading ride reports on the ADVRider forum, an excellent resource for exactly this sort of thing. Why not learn from others who have already done it? What I suspect will end up happening is I’ll ride the easier sections of dirt and jump out onto the asphalt as needed.
How do you have a smooth, comfortable tire for those thousands of kilometers of pavement and still be able to ride the sand and mud that I will encounter off road? Well, you don’t. There really isn’t any unicorn tire that can do it all. Initially, I was sure I would do this trip on the Michelin Anakee Adventure tire. Its smooth profile, dual compound structure (i.e. hard rubber down the middle for longevity, soft rubber on the sidewalls for grip in the corners), and tread pattern would make it a perfect tire for 80% of this trip. But I’ll need something more aggressive for that planned off-roading. I could swap the tire early (I calculate I’ll hit dirt at around 7,000 K on the Anakees), or I could go with a 50/50 tire for the whole trip and suffer some comfort on pavement. Another option is swap out the Anakees for an aggressive off-road knobby, which will mean another switch unless I want to ride Tail of the Dragon and the Blue Ridge Parkway on knobbies, which I don’t. Currently, I’m leaning toward the reliable Heidenau K60 Scouts, a 50/50 tire that should be able to do the entire 12,000 kilometers with some manageable sacrifices on both pavement and dirt. Another option I’m considering is switching to Shinko 804/805 tires, a 60/40 that is pretty beefy for off-roading and surprisingly smooth on the road. They are only good for about 6,000 K but that should be enough to get me home. I’m open to suggestions, so feel free to leave a comment.
In the limited amount of touring I’ve done so far on the bike, I’ve learned that navigation is huge. I struggled in the past with charging issues and roaming charges, even just safely navigating the phone while riding. I think I’ve solved these issues. I followed a thread on ADVRider and bought a Kyocera military grade phone cheap off eBay. It’s locked, but that doesn’t matter because I’ll be using this phone exclusively offline (no SIM card installed) for navigation using maps downloaded to the SD card. This also avoids roaming charges while I’m in The States.
I’ve solved the charging issue by using a magnetic phone cable and gluing the adapter into the port with silicone, making a waterproof seal. (The phone is waterproof but won’t charge if the port detects moisture.) I’ve also purchased the Carpe-Iter Controller, a great little device that mounts on the handlebar and can be operated with my thumb. It works using Bluetooth and has a toggle switch for navigating and selecting apps, and two push-buttons for zooming in and out in maps. It was a little pricey, but will avoid that dangerous dicking around with the phone while one-handed riding. I use OsmAnd primarily and run Drive Mode Dashboard to turn my phone into a dashboard. Drive Mode with the controller is a very nice combination which I hope will make navigation a lot easier and safer.
Drive Mode Dashboard
The only other issue I’ve been having with navigation is that my Ram X-Grip phone holder presses on the buttons on the sides of the Kyocera phone. I think I’ve solved that one by getting the Ram Quick Grip phone holder, which allows you to position the retaining clips to avoid pressing on those buttons.
One concern I have about this trip is that I’ll be riding in extreme temperatures, from 40C deserts to snowy mountain passes. It’s not like I can turn on A/C or heat in the cabin, so I have to be prepared with the right gear since comfort is part of riding safety. And of course I need my gear to be waterproof.
So far, my go-to touring jacket has been the Klim Traverse. It’s a Gore-Tex shell which I layer with a Knox Venture Shirt underneath. The problem with the Traverse is that it’s hot! Yeah, it’s waterproof, which is great; I don’t have to stop and put on a rain jacket but can just keep riding all day long rain or shine. But Gore-Tex does not flow much air, and the jacket is also black. I imagined dying in some of those really hot days mid-summer in the southwest.
I decided to buy a Klim Marrakesh jacket. It’s a mesh jacket so will vent a ton of air, but it’s also 1000D Cordura, so unlike most mesh jackets, will hold up in a slide. It has 4-way stretch so is, without argument, the most comfortable jacket on the market. Anyone who puts one on—I dare you—will not want to wear another motorcycle jacket again. I’m going to be wearing this for two months straight, so comfort is important. It’s not waterproof but water resistant, so I bought a Scott Ergonomic Pro DP rain jacket, and I’ll add a down-filled vest underneath and even my fleece sweater if necessary. In other words, I’ve decided to go the layering route, instead of one-jacket-does-all. I’ll be using my Klim Carlsbag pants, which are great. I don’t care that they are Gore-Tex because your legs don’t get a lot of air-flow anyways. And no one likes pulling rain paints on over your boots by the side of the road.
I’ve had to break the piggy bank for this stuff and my marriage stock is a little low at the moment. But I’m riding an older bike, so what I save on the bike I spend on gear. (That’s my argument, and I’m sticking to it.) I’ve been a little concerned about the amount of oil the engine is losing lately and pondering what I can do about it. As far as I can figure, it’s either losing the oil through the seals or burning it in the cylinder.
It’s a 2006, so it’s possible the seals are worn. My buddy Phil has the same bike but a little older, and he says his engine “sweats” oil at high revs. Yeah, the pressure in the crankcase at high revs might be forcing some oil past those old seals. A little research has uncovered an oil additive called AT-205. It contains a polymer that will restore the plasticity to aged seals that are dried, shrunken, or just worn out. Of course I want to be sure it’s safe for the engine, but user reviews are good and it’s endorsed by Scotty Kilmer. I don’t want to keep this in my engine for long and don’t need to. It apparently works in about 5 hours of driving/riding, so I’ve bought some and will add it sometime in the spring and change my oil soon afterwards. I’m hoping this quick fix will bring my engine back to good health.
If the oil is getting past the rings and being burnt in the cylinder, I’ll just use a cheap heavier weight oil, one that is readily available at Canadian Tire since I’ll literally be burning through a lot of it over the 12,000 kilometers. Castrol 20W/50 motorcycle oil sells for $6.99 at Canadian Tire. My old bike runs better on a dino oil anyways, and it was when I switched to a semi-synthetic 10W/40 that I started losing oil. Coincidence?
So that is the prep so far: a rough sketch of the route, some gear purchases, and some problem-solving of an old engine. Now I just need Covid to go away.
I’ll be posting a walk-around of the bike soon, showing the modifications I’ve made over the years to customize it for my riding, so watch for that. My son is helping me with a video, which I will post to YouTube and write a short post containing the link.
Please Like, Comment, and Follow if you are interested in following me on this adventure.