Deer Island, NB

Deer Island

After a stressful day of mechanical problems and then almost missing the ferry, I was happy to be on the ferry munching my fish & chips. This photo was taken off the bow and looks toward the campground, which is right on the southern tip of the island. It was a short crossing and soon we were landing.

I came to Deer Island on the suggestion of a retired colleague who teaches sea kayaking at Seascape Kayak Adventures, one of the small businesses on the island. It’s situated in the Bay of Fundy between Maine and the New Brunswick mainland. (Not to be confused with Deer Isle, which is in Maine.) It’s officially in New Brunswick. The adjacent island, Campobello Island, is famous for being the summer vacation spot of Franklin Roosevelt, and his estate is still open to the public to view.

But while Campobello is touristy, Deer Island is rustic! Remote. There’s no potable water at the campground, and they don’t accept credit or debit, so make sure you don’t make my mistake and arrive with little Canadian cash and have to pay mostly in USF. Ugh! I was mad about that one because I make it a practice to carry cash when travelling, but stopping at the bank was literally the last thing on my To Do list and I just didn’t get to it before crossing the border.

I was tired, and the ramp up from the shoreline is loose stones, but I managed them no problem. What I didn’t manage so well was the final turn of the day. I don’t like parking the bike facing in at a site because then I know I have to turn it around before I leave in the morning, so I always try to do that U-turn before parking the bike. I did the turn okay, but lost my concentration at the last moment on the uneven ground literally as I put my foot down. It was a fitting end to a long, difficult day.

Fallen Bigbea

It looks worse than it was. It was a gentle roll onto its side on grass. I removed the top bags and easily lifted the bike back up, and soon everything was right again in the world.

Deer Island Campsite

After two long days in the saddle, the next day was a planned day of rest, so I spent it putzing around the island and checking out The Old Sow. The Old Sow is the largest natural whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. It forms just offshore from the campground, the product of three water systems converging in one spot. The waters rise about 10 feet and there are some serious currents happening in these waters. It’s called the Old Sow because the water will actually make a sucking sound. I went down at high tide, and while there was some swirling water, I didn’t see a whirlpool. I heard from someone later that the best time is actually three hours before high tide.

The island is quaint and fun to ride with the hilly twists and turns, but there are parts like this one where something has been left to rot. No one’s going to take care of this mess, it seems. (Yes that is a collapsed ramp in the foreground.)Lords Cove

Yet despite these eyesores, the island has a charm about it. It’s very quiet. You can sit and be still and listen to nothing but birds, and that is something increasingly rare these days. There’s one restaurant, and no ATM machine, or so I was told, only to come upon one at the general store during my exploring. Oh, my chance to get some Canadian cash, I thought, but discovered there was no money in it because the person who tends it (same person who runs the restaurant) has been too busy to fill it. That’s kind of how life is like on Deer Island. It’s pretty in the summer, but I imagine it’s pretty brutal in the wintertime.

I was supposed to meet up with my ex-colleague and friends for dinner, but there was a problem with the ferries that delayed their return from a kayak excursion, so it was curried lentils for dinner. curried lentils

Not so swanky. I didn’t get many more photos of the island because I was mostly riding it. But this shot of the eastern shore at dawn will give you a good idea of how peaceful it is out there. I’m glad I visited and will go again when I’m out that way. There’s nothing quite like it.

Dawn at Deer Island



Moose Maine-ia

I’m going to start this series of blogs on my tour through the Maritimes in Maine since that’s where my trip began and ended. I decided to cut through The United States en route to my first destination, Deer Island, NB, just off the coast of Maine. I’d visited Maine before a few times and had fond memories of fish & chip shops, swimming in the ocean, and a pleasant ride through small coastal towns. Those associations with Maine were smashed this time round with ATVs, camo-fashion, RV “parks,” and crappy roads.

The first thing you need to know about Maine is that it’s a Gemini state, with the coastal areas very, very different from the interior. It’s only the coast I’d experienced before, and if that’s where you’re headed, I say “Go for it. Bon voyage!” There’s money on the coast, most of it probably not made there but imported from Boston or even New York. And when there isn’t money—the mansions that line Highway 1 in the Hamptons, for example—there’s at least the ocean and a certain quaintness that comes with colourful buoys strung up on the sides of buildings and decorative fishing nets in pubs, starfish decor sort-of-thing, and of course fish & chips, which makes everything look a little better.

The good folks at Camden Hills State Park seem to know this and charge $43 USF for a site and $7 for a bundle of wood. While I was registering, I heard some people on their way out say it’s the most expensive state park. (Is this in Maine or the US, or just the most expensive one they’ve stayed at? I wasn’t sure.) At any rate, with the dollar conversion, I paid about $65 to pitch my tent on gravel and warm my bones. I won’t be going back to Camden Hills State Park anytime soon. I only chose it because it’s close to Highway 1, my ride for the next day.

It did, however, have “free” showers. I didn’t really need a shower but wanted to get a little more out of my $43 so had one anyways. Turns out I paid a higher price because while in the shower it started to teem and the tent got soaked; it would have to be packed up wet. I donned my rain gear and hit the road, heading up Highway 1 toward the ferry crossing to Deer Island at Eastport. It was raining pretty hard and very humid, and I rode through patches of fog. Soon I came to Fort Knox and the Penboscot Narrows Bridge. It’s won some awards for engineering and is pretty impressive. There’s a lookout to stop and admire the bridge but I had only been on the road a short while so decided to blow past; only once I was riding across the bridge, I realized just how impressive it is and decided I had to turn around on the other side, ride back over, and stop at the lookout for a photo. This turned out to be one of those fateful and almost disastrous decisions.

Penobscot Narrows Observatory

When I got on the bike again, it wouldn’t start! It’s never done this before. Aside from that first fall when I had the wrong oil in the bike for the cold temperature, my bike starts reliably every time. Now it would turn over and fire once then immediately quit.

Because of the weather, I was thinking electrical. While I was trying to start it, a guy who had also stopped at the lookout said, “That’s a frustrating sound.” As it turned out, he has the twin cylinder 650GS (2012) and told me the only time it “conked out” on him was in wet weather. He said he’d been riding it in the rain and stopped at his house and it just wouldn’t start again. So he was confirming the electrical/humidity line of thought. He said a few more things that would prove to be extremely important and useful. He suggested I just wait it out because, as he put it, “You’ve only got so many cranks on the battery.” So that’s what I proceeded to do. I decided to have my lunch and wait. I had to force myself to be patient, although given the situation, with so much hanging in the balance, obviously I had an urge to find an immediate solution. So I started pacing, watching the sky and hoping for a break in the weather, which never came. I’d return to the bike periodically and try it, with the same result. I was worried and started considering what I would do if I couldn’t start it and the battery died. I didn’t have any clear idea, but with the costs involved, it would probably mean an early end to my tour.

Dude said something else that I pondered while pacing. He said it sounded like it wasn’t getting any gas, which is true. The bike was turning over okay, and firing, albeit once. It just wasn’t continuing to fire. My first thought when he said this was—and I think I even uttered this aloud—could it have anything to do with the angle that the bike is parked on? The parking at this lookout was such that the bike was tilted back. I knew I had about a third of a tank of gas remaining, but perhaps that remaining gas was sloshed to the back of the tank away from the fuel pump. Eventually I decided it couldn’t hurt and I pushed the bike in a semi-circle so it was tipped now slightly nose-down. I tried it again and it didn’t start. So much for that theory.

Then along came a cyclist who was touring. I recognized an accent and discovered he’s from Quebec City. We struck up a conversation which was a welcome distraction from my dilemma. 15 minutes into the conversation I tried the bike again and it started! He must have been my ange gardien! I was so relieved! After this little incident, I decided to keep the tank topped up the rest of the trip. It happened another time later in the tour when the bike was tipped back, with the solution again being just to straighten the bike. So now I know: my bike doesn’t like to start unless level.

I knew my battery now was low but, although I wanted to fill my tank, I had to ride another hour to charge the battery before I felt comfortable stopping, and even then, I chose a station not far from a garage, just in case. I’d lost some valuable time and the rest of the day would be tight for catching the ferry to my planned campground. I rode hard, stopping only briefly for short breaks and snacks, but knew I had until 6:00 at Eastport to catch the last ferry. I pulled in around 5:15 and saw a sign announcing that the ferry was permanently closed. Another dilemma.

So I did what I usually do when I’m in a fix: I struck up a conversation with a local. He told me there’s another ferry at Campobello Island just past Lubec. His daughter looked up the ferry times. The last one is at 7:00, but I had basically to do a loop around the bay, back to Pleasant Point, south on the 1, left on the 189 out to Lubec, cross through Canada Customs, blow through Roosevelt’s old estate to the ferry at Welshpool, all in less than an hour. I did it with time to spare for take-out fish & chips. 


That was the pleasant part of my experience in Maine. It got worse when I returned on my way back.

Day 1

Day 2

Getting Dirty


With the growing popularity of adventure biking, it was only a matter of time before someone organized a rally for adventure bikers. June 7-10 was the second annual Dirt Daze rally, held in Lake Luzerne, NY. I heard about it through a club friend and decided to head down from Montreal.

Dirt Daze is actually the off-road component of the big Americade rally held the same weekend in nearby Lake George, and my ride down on Highway 9 took me right through that other rally in the late afternoon. I felt a little out of place as I rode through on my GS with Touratech panniers. All the Harleys were lined up gleaming on both sides of the street, and it seemed to me that it was more about the bike than the riding. Guys were sitting shirtless on plastic chairs outside their motel rooms drinking beer out of the can. It didn’t seem much fun. I scooted through apologetically for ruining their parade and was soon at “my” rally in Lake Luzerne.

No sooner was I off the bike when an organizer said to me, “Welcome. Slow race in five minutes.” Now this is more like it! I was pretty pooched from my 5 1/2 hour ride down, but he was so enthusiastic and convincing it would be fun I decided to drop my big tail bag and participate. There were ten of us, and we were paired in heats of two. The course was a straight 50 feet, lined with cones. Last over the finish line wins and moves on, the other eliminated. In watching the first couple of heats, I saw that the start was crucial; if you get ahead over the first few feet, it’s difficult to make that distance up. When it was my turn, I was pretty nervous with everyone watching and a little too tentative off the start and stalled the bike. Doh! Damn! I was mad at myself but it was all for fun.

Then I rode back to the camping area with my tailpipe between my legs and chose a spot to pitch for three nights. We were pretty packed in, but it was nice to be able to camp on site and keep costs down.


The rally is held at The Painted Pony ranch. It’s a great location with food and drink available at the saloon, showers, and lots of space for vendors and the four obstacle courses. And since it’s a ranch, there is livestock.


If you’re a light sleeper, you might want to camp at the nearby KOA campground. Between the lowing and the snoring and the 2-strokes firing up at 6 a.m. (all of which become indistinguishable after a while), you’re not going to get much sleep.

I’ve never had any off-road training, so I signed up for a two-hour beginner class on Friday morning with Jimmy Lewis. Jimmy and his wife, Heather, run an off-road school in Nevada and offer at Dirt Daze compressed versions of their full-day courses. Jimmy is an amazing rider. He was a podium finisher for the Dakar and overall winner of the Baja and Dubai rallies, among other accolades. His curriculum focuses on balance and traction. In all the exercises we did, we never got out of first gear. His exercises develop muscle memory for finding and maintaining that neutral point when the bike is in balance. He says if you come to an obstacle and you’re off balance, you’re going to get into trouble. As for traction, he says it doesn’t matter what they call your tire—60/40, 70/30, or 85/15, like mine—if you run your hand along the side of the tire and don’t feel sharp edges, you’re going to go down in the mud. More on this later. In fact, in their school in Nevada, they make 50/50 tires mandatory.

One of the nice things about Dirt Daze is the people you meet. I came alone but was never alone. A couple of us who did the morning class went for lunch together and then decided to do one of the self-guided rides in the afternoon. They had done a guided ride the day before, and when we got lost on our self-guided ride, we decided to return to a network of trails they knew of from their previous ride. I’ve never done single track trail riding, so I quickly got in over my head, especially with my “street tires,” as everyone kept referring to them. I actually did pretty well with the slow turns and descents, even the sandy hill climbs—the back end sliding all over the place—but when it came to mud, my skills and tires let me down—literally! I and the bike ended up in a deep mud puddle at the bottom of a hill, but I managed to get the bike back up and out using some of what I’d learnt in the morning class; Jimmy had showed us how to start in low-traction terrain without digging in. When I re-emerged from the woods and met up with the other guys, I must have been a sight. Someone said “I’ve got to get a photo of this.” When we got back to camp, I headed for the bike wash. “Why bother?” someone asked. “It’s just going to get dirty again.”

The next day was my planned “big ride”—a guided full-day ride through the Adirondacks with about 50% off road. It was led by veteran rider Bill Dutcher, founder of Americade (then Aspencade East) in 1983.BillI’d been warned about Bill: the “old man” hauls ass. There were twelve of us, and I decided to tuck in behind him so I could watch and learn. Soon after we pulled out of the ranch I found myself going 70 km/hr on a dirt road with a smattering of gravel. Shit, is it going to be like this all day? I was riding over my head but didn’t want to hold the group up. All was good for a few kilometres until we headed down a sweeping descent. Halfway down I knew I was in trouble. I knew if I braked and turned I would lowside, but fortunately I didn’t panic. I dropped my line and headed straight, gently squeezing the brake. For the first time in my short riding experience the thought that I might crash flashed through my mind, but fortunately I eased to a stop before I ran out of road. Someone behind slowed and gave me the thumbs up as a question. I nodded and looked back. No one was behind me, just empty road. I realized I needn’t have worried about holding the group up because they were all well behind. I had made the classic mistake of trying to keep up with a rider who had 49 years of riding experience on me.

I took that little incident as my warning and decided to drop back. As the day continued, the group settled into two groups, with three fast riders up front with Bill and the rest of us behind at a slower pace. They waited for us at each turn. It worked. I was still a little out of my comfort zone, but in a good way. I was able to practice the peg-weighting I’d learnt with Jimmy as we weaved through the Adirondack backroads. There were a few times when I hit sand and almost lost the bike (again, the street tires!) but at a much lower speed. At one point we hit deep gravel, what looked like 3/4 crushed stone, and that was interesting. Again, I had enough good sense or gods’ blessings to not panic but let the bike go where it wants to go and ride it out. When we got to the next rest stop, Bill asked if anyone had had trouble with that gravel, and reminded us that the technique for dealing with it is to get your weight back and, counter to what your intuition is telling you, get on the gas. It lifts the front end and the bike rides over the gravel instead of digging down in, which would be trouble. I was learning a lot.

We lunched at a classic mountain lodge with a beautiful view of the surrounding Adirondack mountains. Lunch

Other parts of the ride brought us to picturesque

We ended up again at that network of trails and I fell victim again to mud at a small water crossing. I crossed the stream okay, but once on the other side I was so focused, quite literally, on the mud under my tires I forgot to look beyond the obstacle further down the trail. Perhaps I tightened up too. Perhaps I got too much weight over the front tire. Before I could say “another classic mistake” the bike was on its side halfway up the bank. Despite the spills, the ride was exhilarating and I told Bill afterwards that it was so far the ride of my life.

Back at camp, we were treated to a demonstration by World Freestyle Champion Chris “Teach” McNeil. His nickname is Teach because he is a Latin teacher at a private school. Now as an English teacher at a CEGEP in Montreal, I thought I had the cool factor when I pull onto campus on my bike, but I’m pretty sure this guy is more popular with his students. Freestyle or stunt riding is not my thing, and I’ve seen videos online of guys doing nose-wheelies on litre bikes. But seeing it live is another whole experience. It’s pretty damn impressive to see the way the power and weight of his BMW S1000XR is a plaything in his hands.

After such a full day, I was ready to retreat to my tent. I lit a pipe and wandered through the camping area checking out the other bikes, then struck up a conversation with the guy next to me. I was lamenting a few scratches on my bike from the falls that day when he said, “Ah, you can’t worry about that shit. It’s a bike.” It reminded me of the comment earlier about not bothering to wash it, and I thought again about the gleaming Harleys just up the highway and just how different adventure biking is from that kind of riding. Adventure biking is about the adventure of not knowing what’s going to happen in the woods. It’s about helping others lift and fix their bikes on the trail, like when Bill helped me fix my engine guard with a zip tie and duct tape. It’s about escape, and risk, and skill—a lot of skill! What impressed me the most from the rally was not any particular bike but the skill-level of many of the participants.

It seemed à propos that one of the final events of the rally was the Ugliest Bike Contest. The bike that won was the one Jimmy Lewis borrowed to win the slow race.

Seat Concepts: 650GS Dakar Install

What’s the most important contact area in biking? Some say it’s the two patches of rubber, one on the front tire, one on the back, that touch the road. Some say it’s the four contact areas of control—two hands on the handle-grips, two feet on the pegs. I say the most important contact area is your butt on the saddle. I come to this conclusion after a season of riding with an OEM BMW seat. The Bavarian Motor Works, as the name suggests, are renown for their engines, not so much for their upholstery. The guys in my club know that after around 200 kilometres I start to squirm. By 300 I can’t take it any longer and stand up, even if we’re at highway speed. After my 800 km day last year, I had a new understanding of the term “saddle sores.”

There’s nothing worse than ruining a day’s ride by being uncomfortable on your bike. For that reason, on my Wish List last Christmas was a new seat. My old seat was not only uncomfortable but the vinyl had cracked with age. It was due to be changed. cracksThe only problem is that both BMW’s and Touratech’s comfort seats are about $700 CAN. My butt was telling me to spend with abandon, but my mind (and my wife) was reminding me of our budget. Then I heard about Seat Concepts, a company that ships you the foam and cover and you re-upholster the seat pan yourself at a fraction of the cost. For my bike, it was about $250, or close to 1/3 the price of the other comfort seat options.

Seat Concepts is an American company, so I ordered through MX1Canada in BC and let them handle all the cross-border issues. The standard foam is for people 160 lbs. and up, and since I’m 145 soaking wet, I custom ordered the foam to my weight. There are four options for the cover: gripper top/carbon sides, all carbon, embossed top/vinyl sides, and all vinyl. There’s also a swede option but that’s not practical in geographical areas that rain, which is pretty much everywhere except the desert. I was interested in the gripper top, but it’s not recommended for people who sometimes ride in jeans, including me, so I opted for the all carbon option, which is their second-most popular covering. I also decided to choose the Dakar height since I was feeling a little cramped on the bike. It all arrived in the mail this past spring and all I needed was a warm day to do the work, since they recommend placing the cover in warm sunlight to heat it up. That day finally came last Sunday, so I got to work. Here are the tools I used.

There are some excellent video tutorials offered by the folks at Seat Concepts, but here is how my install went.

I started by removing the staples in the old seat. I used a flat-head screwdriver and dug them out. stapler_remove1

Don’t worry if only one side of the staple comes out . . .


. . . because you are going to grab the staple and pull it out with blunt-nosed pliers.


Once all the staples are removed, you just peel back the old cover and separate the foam from the seat pan. On mine, it came off easily. Apparently on others, you have to coerce it a bit.


You will have a bunch of holes in your seat pan from the old staples. They have to be sanded down with a medium sandpaper or they might puncture your new seat cover.


Now you’e ready to glue your new foam to the pan. I used 3M’s Super 77 aerosol spray and it worked great—so great, I asked my wife to assist by separating the sides at the front while I positioned the back. The glue is tacky at this point, so you want to get one section straight and right before another touches. A second set of hands helps at this crucial stage. Note that I laid the foam upside-down on my workspace and placed the pan onto it; it was easier that way.

This is what the seat looks like before covering.


Meanwhile, like I said, your cover has been basking in the hot sun and is pliable. Heating it first also helps because when it cools it will shrink and tighten up. Seat Concepts provides some thin plastic to waterproof the foam. It’s recommended you use it under the cover. So I began by wrapping the seat and taping the plastic to the underside of the pan. (The tape is temporary and will be removed later after all the staples are in.) There were some small wrinkles in the plastic but it is impossible to not have any and I figured the plastic is so thin I’d never feel them under the cover.

Then I started the part that gives most people some stress. It actually was not hard at all. I started by putting two stables at the back and one or two in each corner at the front. Make sure the cover is centred by examining the seams closely. Then I just started wrapping and stapling the cover from the middle outward toward the front and back. I pulled the cover over the lip and stretched it just a little more and put in a staple. I worked both sides at the same time, ensuring the cover stayed centred and taut. cover_beginning

I borrowed an electric stapler from a friend, but as it turned out, my hand one was just as effective and I used it for tight spots in combination with the power stapler. I used 1/4 in. T50 staples. As with any stapling of this kind, it’s important to stabilize both the item being stapled and the stapler from recoil or the staples will not go in all the way. Any that did not, I tapped in fully later with a hammer. Yeah, a second set of hands is helpful at this stage too, but it doesn’t take long. cover_end

Then I just used an Olfa knife to trim the excess cover and plastic. The finished product looks great!done

Finally, I reinstalled the seat. It needed some coaxing because the Dakar seat is a little wider at the back than the standard, but well worth it if you can afford the extra height. I took measurements before and after and the Dakar is about 1.5 inches higher than the standard. It also has a flatter front shape with less sloping into the tank. Here are the two seats side-by-side, before and after pictures for comparison.



It’s surprising what that 1 1/2 inches does. Everything feels different. I feel more upright on the bike, seated on it rather than sliding into it. Controls feel different too. And while I can still flat-foot, I feel that extra height at each stop. Most importantly, my knees are now bent at 90 degrees, which is the best ergonomically, according to technician at my work who helped me set up my new office chair.

I haven’t done any long rides yet with the new seat, but I’ll follow up here with a comment once I do. Next weekend I’m going to a rally in NY State where I’ll be going on some day-long rides, but my early indication is that the seat is very comfortable. I’m also happy with the money I saved by doing it myself.

Adventurero Heroico: a review of The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara


We’ve all seen it, the iconic photo of Che Guevara, silkscreened on the T-shirt of a slouching teenager as a sign of a budding ideology or subtle form of protest against The World as he or she has come to inherit it. It was snapped in 1960 by Alberto Korda while Guevara listened to Castro’s oration at the funeral service of 136 people killed in an act of naval sabotage. Even converted to duotone, the implacable and determined expression is remarkable, the eyes gazing off toward a distant point of revenge and justice.

I’d heard that Ernesto (Che) Guevara was radicalized while riding a motorcycle around South America, visiting up close, in a way that only a motorcycle can do, the poverty, hardship, and exploitation of its proletariat. His eight-month journey on a Norton 500 (affectionately named La Ponderosa II—The Powerful One) with Alberto Granado, a doctor and specialist in leprosy, is captured in The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America, now turned into a major motion picture starring Gael García Bernal.

Guevara’s radicalization cannot be found in any specific moment but occurs over the trajectory of his journey. What is evident at outset is that he comes from a privileged life. At first, the two seem more interested in drinking and carousing than visiting leper colonies or talking to the working poor about their plight. In a typical scene, they get into trouble after drinking copious amounts of wine:

Chilean wine is very good and I was downing it at an amazing rate, so by the time we went on to the village dance I felt ready for anything. It was a very cosy evening and we kept filling our bellies and minds with wine. One of the mechanics from the garage, a particularly nice guy, asked me to dance with his wife because he’d been mixing his drinks and was the worse for wear. His wife was pretty randy and obviously in the mood, and I, full of Chilean wine, took her by the hand to lead her outside. She followed me docilely but then realized her husband was watching and changed her mind. I was in no state to listen to reason and we had a bit of a barney in the middle of the dance floor, resulting in me pulling her towards one of the doors with everybody watching. She tried to kick me and as I was pulling her she lost her balance and went crashing to the floor. As we were running towards the village, pursued by a swam of enraged dancers, Alberto lamented all the wine her husband might have bought us.

There are, however, moments when an innate sensitivity and political empathy toward the poor come through in the writing. Soon after that escapade, they meet and are invited to stay with a married couple, Chilean workers who are Communists, and Ernesto hears the man’s tragic story:

In the light of the candle, drinking maté and eating a piece of bread and cheese, the man’s shrunken features struck a mysterious, tragic note. In simple but expressive language he told us about his three months in prison, his starving wife who followed him with exemplary loyalty, his children left in the care of a kindly neighbour, his fruitless pilgrimage in search of work and his comrades who had mysteriously disappeared and were said to be somewhere at the bottom of the sea.

The experience leaves a deep impression on the young man. That night he gives a blanket to the couple and he and Alberto wrap themselves in their remaining blanket: “It was one of the coldest nights I’ve ever spent but also one which made me feel a little closer to this strange, for me anyway, human species.” Writing later about the couple, Ernesto makes clear his own budding political ideology:

It’s really upsetting to think they use repressive measures against people like these. Leaving aside the question of whether or not ‘Communist vermin’ are dangerous for a society’s health, what had burgeoned in him was nothing more than the natural desire for a better life, a protest against persistent hunger transformed into a love for this strange doctrine, whose real meaning he could never grasp but, translated into ‘bread for the poor,’ was something he understood and, more importantly, that filled him with hope.

Guevara is a good writer. I read the book in translation (trans. Ann Wright) but the strength of Guevara’s voice rings through. He is articulate, possessing a broad vocabulary, funny, and perceptive. His powers of observation—essential for any writer of travelogue—extend to the landscape as well as the people he meets. At times, the sentences are lyrical and poetic, such as in this passage, where he personifies the Chuquicamata mountain that has been industrialized into a copper mine:

The mountains, devoid of a single blade of grass in the nitrate soil, defenceless against the attack of wind and water, display their grey backbone, prematurely aged in the battle with the elements, their wrinkles belying their real geological age. And how many of the mountains surrounding their famous brother hide similar riches deep in their bowels, awaiting the arid arms of the mechanical shovels to devour their entrails, spiced with the inevitable human lives—the lives of the poor unsung heroes of this battle, who die miserable deaths in one of the thousand traps nature sets to defend its treasures, when all they want is to earn their daily bread.

Guevara’s critique of the exploitative power of Capitalism is expressed in the language of war and personal suffering, both of Nature and humans, in a telling indication of the major themes that would later occupy his political life. He sees Capitalism as a plague on Nature and human society, a force that devours if left unchecked.

His critical eye does not stop with economics. In another passage, he shows distain toward the Church that dominates Latin American society:

In a moment of boredom we went to the church to watch a local ceremony. The poor priest was trying to produce the three-hour sermon but by then—about ninety minutes into it—he had run out of platitudes. He gazed at his congregation with imploring eyes while he waved a shaking hand at some spot in the church. ‘Look, look, the Lord hath come, the Lord is with us, His spirit is guiding us.’ After a moment’s pause, the priest set off on his load of nonsense again and, just when he seemed about to dry up again, in a moment of high drama, he launched into a similar phrase. The fifth or sixth time poor Christ was announced, we got a fit of giggles and left in a hurry.

Always there is a tone of understatement, a dry irony that runs the risk of appearing sanctimonious, but I would rather have a strong, personal voice in a travelogue than a weak, objective one. He does not hold anything back, even when describing the hygiene habits of the Native Chileans:

The somewhat primitive idea the indians have of modesty and hygiene means that, regardless of sex or age, they do their business by the side of the road, the women wiping themselves with their skirts, the men not at all, and carry on as before. The petticoats of indian women with children are veritable warehouses of excrement, since they wipe the kids with them whenever they have a bowel movement.

As shocking as this is, the most surprising aspect of The Motorcycle Diaries is that they don’t travel by motorcycle for much of it. The bike dies a dramatic death on page 44 of my edition, and they spend the rest of the journey bumming rides from truckers, travelling by foot, raft, and boat when necessary. In this way, the book is like George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, which documents Orwell’s self-induced months of hunger and poverty while squatting in Paris and tramping across England. And perhaps like Orwell, there might have been a desire in Guevara to purge himself of the privileged lifestyle in which he was raised, or at least open his eyes to another strata of society of which he had had only a passing familiarity and a superficial understanding.

They do visit leper colonies and are regarded there as heroes, more for their humane treatment than their medical treatment of the lepers. Where others fear and shun these people, Alberto and Ernesto mingle amongst them for several days, drinking and playing music together, and when they leave they shake the lepers’ hands, a gesture that in itself is more healing than any medicine the doctors can offer.

This is the picture of Ernesto that we get by the end of their adventure—a caring and principled young man ready to take the hippocratic oath, not the Guerrillero Heroico of the later portrait, the fighter who was ready to kill to incite revolution. For that, he would have to meet and travel with another man, not the affable Alberto but the militant Fidel.

The Motorcycle Diaries is a fun and easy read at just over 150 pages. There’s a lot of local history woven into the storyline, including a political history of the Incas, and anyone who’s interested in the history of South America would get something from this book. Readers who are interested in the biography of Che Guevara or the germination of South American and Cuban Communism would also enjoy it. But the star of the book is South America itself, the land and its people. Readers will get a strong sense of the majesty of the mountains, the rugged terrain, the Latin American architecture, the friendly and welcoming people. My edition provides a map with the route of their journey, and chapters are titled after the places they visit. My ultimate ride is down into South America and this book has only piqued my interest all the more for that adventure.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motorcycle Fitness

'It's not an actual motorcycle. It's an exercise bike. I made it look like one so my husband would actually use it.'

How fit do you need to be to ride a motorcycle? You are, after all, just sitting on it and twisting a throttle, right? It’s not like you actually have to do any work, like pedal.

Competitive motocross and MotoGP riders are among the fittest athletes in any sport. That’s one extreme. Most of us are not competitive riders, and there is a large range of types of biking, from the physical demands of off roading to cruising on your Harley, each with its own set of fitness demands. You might be “just” a commuter, or a recreational, weekend rider, or someone who likes to tour. The answer to my question above is this: if you are physically unable to do what you’d like to do on a bike, then you have to up your fitness. It’s an easy test. If you find yourself unable to lift your bike, or push it out of mud; if you are nervous about committing to a long club ride in summer heat; or if you’re having trouble even getting on and off your bike, then it’s time to think about your fitness.

I’m no expert but, shall we say, an avid fitness enthusiast, more from my love of playing soccer than riding. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years. But before I get started, since we are dealing with health, I feel the need to do the usual legal disclaimer and say you should check with your doctor or a medical professional before starting any fitness program. In other words, don’t blame me if you have a heart attack!

I believe there are three aspects of fitness and I’ll talk about each in turn: cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and strength training.


The foundation of fitness is cardio. That’s why I’m going to start with it. I annoy my son when we get talking about soccer training (I used to be his coach) because he says I’m fixated on cardio. Maybe I am. Here’s why.

Many people think of energy in economic terms, like a commodity. “I’ve only got so much energy to get me through the day and I’ve got to do x, y, and z today, so I’d better skip my workout.” That’s economic thinking. What those people don’t realize is that you get more energy by working out. Maybe not initially, but in the long run, so to speak. When your heart and lungs are strong, you will find yourself more productive in the evenings with energy to spare. Using the economic model, a cardio workout, then, is like advertising; you have to spend a little to get back a lot.

The other big benefit of boosting your cardio is that it’s calorie-burning, not just during the workout but between workouts! As you get more fit, you are actually changing your metabolic rate. This is, in part, where that extra energy comes from, aside from the fact that it’s easier for you to climb those five flights of stairs to your office several times a day. So if weight loss is one of your fitness goals, improving your cardio is key. Oh, and did I already say you’ll feel a whole lot better?

Probably most of you are already thinking, Yeah, I’ve tried to exercise but I just don’t have the time or discipline to keep at it. Here is the key: you have to find a time and an activity that works for you. I didn’t always work out. In fact, for years I abused my health until it caught up to me with lower back problems, something I still struggle with from time to time (I’ll come back to this later). But at about the age of 42 I started going to the gym. Let me say that again, at about the age of 42 I started going to the gym. I’d tried and failed earlier; the difference this time was that I discovered I could do my workout during lunch hour and eat my lunch at my desk. I’m not a morning person, so that time didn’t work for me; and I just couldn’t heave myself off the couch and out to the gym after dinner, despite my best intentions. But the lunch-hour workout stuck. For others, maybe early morning, before the demands of family and work enter, is the best time, or after the kids are put to sleep, at the end of the day. Experiment and see what works for you.

I also rediscovered my love of soccer, something I’d given up in my teens, and so I had a reason for going to the gym. Soccer is a pretty demanding sport, even at the recreational level, and I know it’s either pay now in the gym or pay later on the field. I also felt a certain commitment to my teammates. The connection between my training and my soccer is so strong that often when I’m running I’m imagining (or visualizing) soccer plays past or future. My wife doesn’t like running but loves biking. Some people like the social aspect of cross-fit; others like the solitary aspect of distance running. Contact vs non-contact, a racquet sport, swimming—it’s really a personal preference, but you have to find something that makes your soul sing. It will be a lot easier to stay motivated.

If you haven’t done much exercise in recent years, you probably should start with walking. (See disclaimer above.) Start with a normal walk for several weeks, then graduate to a brisk walk and build up to a light run. The goal is just to elevate your heart rate to the aerobic zone for 20 minutes, 3-4 times per week, according to most experts. You know you’re in the aerobic zone if you can still have a conversation comfortably but are exerting yourself enough to break a sweat. Worried about burning calories? You’re in luck. It takes the same amount of calories to walk a kilometre as it does to run a kilometre. When my dad once went for his company physical, the nurse thought he was a runner. In fact, the only exercise he did was walking around the industrial park for 45 minutes during his lunch hour.


I’ve always been really inflexible. Once when I went for a massage (back when my insurance paid for it), the masseuse was shocked at how stiff my legs were. “Are your legs always this stiff!?” she exclaimed, holding onto my ankle and shaking the leg back and forth to test its tightness. “Ugh, yeah. That’s pretty much how they always are.”

I’ve never been into yoga, although I know it would be excellent for me. There’s something about yoga types that rubs me the wrong way. There’s a certain sanctimonious, holier-than-thou “I’ve-got-my-life-completely-sorted-out-and-am-at-complete-inner-peace” sort of thing about them that makes me want to knock their seaweed salad all over them to prove them wrong. But maybe I’m being unfair.

Here’s what I do to help my flexibility. Each morning, preferably before my coffee, I do three sun salutations. That’s it. That’s all. Done. But it seems to do the trick. It stretches all the major muscles, gets my heart and lungs working, and clears the sinuses. If you don’t know what a sun salutation is, check this out.

I also do some static stretches after a game, run, or strength workout. The muscles I focus on are the quads, the hamstrings, the glutes, and the lower back. There are lots of stretching exercises available online so I won’t go into specifics here. These stretches take 10 minutes and ensure my back doesn’t get pulled out of alignment. One issue with soccer players is that they develop very strong quads that can pull the back out, so I’m sure to do at least this one after pretty much every workout.

Person doing quad stretch exercise standing.

If you don’t have a wall handy, here’s a tip: holding the opposite ear-lobe from the leg being stretched will help you maintain your balance. Don’t ask me why.

Finally, I also use one of those foam rollers from time to time, as needed, to keep my legs loose. The woman in the link above seems to be having a good time but it actually hurts like hell. The more it hurts, the more you needed it. After a few days of regular use, though, it hurts a lot less, so I know it works. It’s basically a self-massage. I roll my quads, my hamstrings, my IT band (i.e. the outer side of the thigh), my calves, and my lower back.

Despite being naturally inclined toward tight muscles, I’ve actually never had a major pull, so I must be doing something right. I hope I’m not jinxing myself.


Strength Training


If you remember this ad, you are of my generation. It’s actually a brilliant piece that plays on most guys’ body insecurity and sexual desire. It also messed up my head for 30 years, making me think there was something wrong with me for being an ectomorph. Yes, I too was “a skinny 97-pound weakling” and desperately wanted to wear a leopard skin Speedo. Today, a lot of guys are turning to steroids to get “ripped,” sacrificing their fertility for looks, which seems like a pretty good trade-off until they actually bed the babe they’ve literally been busting their balls for and discover they can’t. In my Men & Masculinity course, we talk about this as a kind of reverse anorexia for boys, the social pressure to be “big,” which is really just a synonym for “powerful” in the broadest sense of the word.

I’m going to lay my cards on the table here and say if changing your body image is why you want to work out, that’s the wrong reason. Rather, if it’s to be healthy and strong, that’s the right reason. In terms of motorcycling, as I’ve said, it should be to allow you to do what you want to do on the bike. You don’t have to be physically big to do that. In fact, none of the MotoGP riders look like Charles Atlas. Last year’s MotoGP champion Marc Márquez weighs 59 kilograms, or 130 pounds. That said, the improved toning and shape you get from strength training is an additional reason to feel good about yourself for doing it.

As cardio is the foundation of fitness, I believe core strength is the foundation of strength training. There’s no point in bulking up if you can’t stand up. Core strength keeps you in alignment and prevents back problems. It also allows you sit in the saddle for long periods without slouching. (Remember, most of us don’t have a back-rest.) And nothing I know strengthens the core better than Pilates. I know a guy who developed back problems and his doctor sent him to a Pilates course. He worked out regularly at the gym and was built but lacked core strength. So when I developed back problems, I found a good Intro to Pilates DVD at my local library and did it religiously 3-4 times a week. It actually only took about 3 workouts until I felt a difference. They say you’ll feel better after 10 Pilates workouts, look better after 20, and have a completely different body after 30. Then you can go buy some leopard skin swimwear as a reward.

Once you have your core strength, you can move on to weight training. When I started weight training, someone set up a workout routine for me involving about 10 machines and exercising all the major muscles. That works. More recently, I came across Mark Ripptoe’s Practical Programming for Strength Training that makes the case that you really only need four exercises: deadlift, squat, bench press, and press. Those four cover everything, including core strengthening and areas you wouldn’t think they would, like abdominals. I’m still learning about weight training, but I’ve heard that more weight with less reps bulks you up, whereas less weight with more reps is better for endurance strength. So for motorcycling and soccer, I aim for 10-12 reps.

So how do you fit it all in? Cardio, Pilates, weights—while leaving time for the body to recover, which, at my age, is longer and longer. Something I’m just starting to look into is periodization. That’s where you break the year down into periods that focus on one area. It’s not like you don’t do the others, but the emphasis shifts. This year, coming off a bad ankle sprain that took me out for six months, I started with cardio and stretching, then core strengthening, and now am moving on to strength training. Just before the soccer season I’ll shift again to interval training and plyometrics.

If this sounds overwhelming, keep in mind that a regular program of cardio, stretching, and core strengthening should be sufficient for most types of motorcycling. That’s what the professional fitness trainer put Ewan and Charlie through in preparation for their Long Way Round adventure.

I’m still learning about all this so if I’ve written anything that is factually wrong, please let me know. If you disagree with something I’ve said or have advice I’ve missed, please leave a comment. Like I said, I’m an enthusiast, not an expert, so would be interested in hearing it, as I’m sure others would too.


The Moto Show!


There are a few signs here in Montreal that signal for me that the end of winter is nearing. They are like the conditioned stimuli that get me salivating for spring. I’m referring to the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, the return of Canadian geese, and the Montreal Moto Show, or as it’s called here, the Salon de Moto. So far there have been no geese sightings, and the St. Patty’s Day parade is still three weeks away, but last weekend was the Moto Show, the first sign that things are about to change. People come out of hibernation, and if you’re a biker, your first stop is the Palais des congres.

Last year was my first time going to the show. I went with my son and after some initial apprehension we got into the spirit of it and started climbing on bikes. This year we went with some members of my club, so it was even more fun, but thank God we had phones because it’s really easy to get separated from a group in a crowded showroom! You get stuck staring at a bike and when you turn around five people have disappeared into thin air as if beamed onto another planet. “Where are you guys?” was the common text sent about every half an hour. Then bike manufacturers become place names: “We’re at Honda,” or “We’re heading toward Harley,” and you have to decide whether to catch up or go it alone for a while.

I didn’t have any particular agenda this year except to look for a deal on that LS2 Pioneer helmet on my wish list. As it turned out, I could get it at the show for a little cheaper, shipped to my door, than online at the big superstore, so took advantage of the opportunity. I was also interested in the new BMW G310 and some 250 enduro bikes because now my son is talking about taking a course and starting to ride. As a parent, I have mixed feelings about this: I know riding is dangerous, but I also know it’s really fun, and the time to learn riding skills is when you are young and the brain is still plastic.

I thought maybe we could start by doing some off-roading, which would develop those skills better than any other kind of riding and is a lot safer than road riding, but while he says he could get into rally racing (the navigational aspect appeals to him), he’s more interested in using a bike to get around town. My second choice is for him to start on a small bike. As I’ve written in a previous post, I’m a strong believer in the European stepping-stones regulation system in which beginners start with a bike restricted to 20 hp, then after two years graduate to a bike with up to about 47 hp, and finally after another two years have no restrictions. It’s a little more complicated than that (okay, a lot more complicated) because age and power-to-weight ratio are also factors, but generally the idea is to start small and work your way up to heavier and more powerful machines.

So I was steering him toward smaller displacement bikes. He seems to have a fancy for naked bikes, so I suggested he sit on this Honda CB300.


You can tell a lot about a bike just by sitting on it. Climb on a sport bike and reach down for the grips, you’re almost lying on the tank. You’re tucked in behind a tiny windscreen, your knees are bent 120 degrees and you just know that a few hours in this position is not going to be good for your back or sex life. But you are one with the machine, your knees tucked into the hollows of the tank and you are ready for speed. By contrast, throw a leg over a touring bike and you’re weight is evenly distributed between your bum and your feet, you are upright, staring down the horizon, and the handlebars reach for you instead of the other way around. Oh yeah, and there’s a cup holder. Each bike is designed for a specific purpose, and you feel it right away.

Then there are more subtle aspects of design. I don’t like a huge tank dominating the cockpit, and some bikes feel like there’s a wall of plastic in front of you. Others have a seat that slopes down into the tank, making you feel crowded. Wide handlebars or narrow, digital or analog instrumentation, the width of the faring, position of pipes, etc. are all aspects of a bike’s design and comfort, any one of which can be a deal-breaker. Once in a while you come across a Goldilocks bike. You sit on it and everything feels just right, like when you find your soulmate and know after the first night that this relationship is a biggie. One bike that did that for me this year was the Triumph Street Scrambler.


It not only feels great but also looks really cool. Triumph have done a great job with their direction of putting out the modern classic bike, taking essentially the classic Bonneville design of the 60’s and building modern technology into it. Okay, the Bobber goes too far and is to my taste a bit pretentious, but this Scrambler looks like the quintessential motorcycle yet, according to reviews, for all intents and purposes rides like a modern bike. And with the rack on the back, you could tour with this, even do some light off-roading. I’m really happy with my 650GS, but if money were no object, I’d be heading to Triumph tomorrow.

There are some bikes that are clearly built to get attention, and others where practicality is predominant. On one end of the scale is this Victory Mello Yello, which is anything but mellow in its appearance.


Then there’s the Kawasaki H2, the most powerful motorcycle ever produced—and looks it.


This beast has 998 cc of supercharged power, and I’m not using that term euphemistically. It actually has a supercharger with an impeller that turns at up to 130,000 rpm and compresses air 2.4x atmospheric pressure. It’s also got something called “the planetary gear.” If you think that sounds like something from outer space, you wouldn’t be far wrong. This gear system was designed by KHI’s aerospace division and is incredibly efficient at transferring power. Yes, we humans are amazing tool makers, and we’ve come a long way from that opening scene in 2001 Space Odyssey where a tibia bone becomes the first tool when used as a club. One look at this thing and you have a pretty clear picture of our incredible tool-making ability. Unfortunately, for all that ingenuity, we haven’t figured out how to stop killing each other and share power and wealth. Maybe we aren’t that far from the bone-as-weapon mentality? We are in essence still children in a sandbox, unwilling to share a bucket and spade, even when those toys have evolved to harness 326 hp.

But back to my dilemma about what bike I would feel comfortable my son riding. Not the H2, that’s for sure. The bike I was most interested in him seeing was the brand new BMW G310. It’s taken five years of development to get this bike off the line. Apparently, the biggest hurdle was getting the manufacturing, which is done in a new plant in India, up to BMW’s standards. The result is an entry-level bike that is under $5,000, has all the advantages of the German engineering we’ve come to expect from BMW and, according to initial reviews, is super fun to ride! It’s light and nimble, and despite being only 313cc (35 hp) in size, can keep up on the freeway thanks to a sixth gear, which even my 650GS does not have. Did I mention she’s a beaut? BMW are going to sell a lot of these. Apparently the plan is to bump their annual sales from 150,000 to 200,000 worldwide with this machine and introduce the BMW brand to a new generation of riders.


It’s a single-cylinder, of course, liquid cooled, with ABS. Above is the R version, but an adventure GS model is coming in about six months. It would be fun to do some touring together and BMW says the 310GS is okay for light off-roading, so pretty much the same as my 650GS and would mean we would not be restricted to asphalt. They didn’t have the GS available at the show but here’s a photo of it grabbed off of Cycle World.


It’s got the distinctive BMW beak, an extra couple of inches suspension clearance front and back over the R model, adjustable rear suspension preload, and ABS can be turned off when you leave the pavement. That’s a lot of bike for a little over $5,000! Cycle World is calling it a legitimate contender for the mini-ADV crown. It will take Gabriel a year or more to get his licence if he decides to go ahead with this, and hopefully by that time there will be some aftermarket accessories, like a more comfortable seat (are you hearing this, Seat Concepts?) because I know from personal experience that BMW do not put money into the seat.

In the end, I’m in the uncanny position I put my wife in when I announced I wanted to ride. To her credit, she didn’t freak out and threaten to divorce me, as some wives would do. She has told me she didn’t because she trusts me, trusts that I’m going to do everything right to minimize the risk, and I guess I’m going to have to do the same with my only child. He’s 23 this month, so there’s not much I can do about it anyway.


The Big Sleep


It’s the saddest time of the year. The leaves are down, the birds have flown, and the bike is in storage. A part of us goes into hibernation, only to reawaken when crocuses push through the last of the melting snow.

I love living in this part of the world. The ability to experience all four seasons is actually restricted to relatively few people living in a narrow geographical band circling the earth, and I happen to be one of those lucky few. When it’s stinking hot in the summer, we long for the days of sweaters, tobogganing, outdoor ice hockey, and skiing. When the wind-chill factor makes snot freeze and there’s two feet of snow to clear from the driveway, we think of summer soccer, swimming at the cottage, and lounging with a good book in the backyard. There’s little that’s more spectacular than the natural beauty of autumn in a boreal forest (maybe the aurora borealis?), and you’d have to be a zombie not to have your heart quicken a beat in spring when everything comes back to life, including your sex life. Maybe even zombies come back to life in the spring; I’m not an expert.

I’m thinking of the seasons of the Canadian south because, as much as I like all four in their own particular ways, I wouldn’t mind being able to ride year-round. Winters in Europe, or most of Europe anyway, are like early spring here: cold, grey, drizzly. Okay, not very enjoyable but you can ride in that. And if I lived in southern United States, I could ride through the winter. In fact, some bikers migrate south for the winter, taking their tours in late fall and riding towards the heat, then shipping their bikes back in the spring. That’s not an option for a teacher so, this weekend, the bike went into storage.

Another thing I long for? A heated garage. My house is a converted summer cottage so no basement and no garage. It would be so, so nice simply to pull into a garage after the final ride and park the bike, pull down the door. Then everything I’m about to say I did with numb fingers on my driveway in the cold of late autumn I could do in a warm garage, plus more. I could putz and play, do those big maintenance jobs over the winter instead of cutting into valuable riding time during the summer.

The main purpose of winterizing the bike is to protect it from the effects of time and humidity. I change the oil so the engine is not sitting in dirty oil all winter. For my bike, which has a dry sump system, that’s a full afternoon job. I start by removing all the bodywork which allows me access to the upper oil tank, which is located where a “normal” bike’s gas tank is. There’s also a plug at the bottom of the engine on the oil pan, and that sump plug is covered by the engine guard. So the engine guard has to be removed as well as the bodywork. So I’m basically stripping down my bike just to change the oil.

But here’s where it gets interesting. I need to heat the oil before draining. Do I remove that stuff after the ride or before? I’ve become pretty quick at doing it but it still takes me long enough that I decided to remove it first, ride the bike, then drain the oil. Yeah, I could have just idled the bike on the driveway to heat the oil, and I’ve done that before, but the chain also has to be cleaned and lubed before storage, and I wanted to heat the chain too so the new lube works into the 0-ring seals. It’s these seals that must be prevented from drying and cracking, thus shortening the life of the chain. So with both the oil and the chain to be heated, I stripped the bike and went for a ride. Anyone seeing me riding along the 20 Ouest with no bodywork on the bike must have thought I had either lost my mind or my fairing.

Next I removed the battery, which cannot freeze, and brought it into my house. Then I removed a spark plug, squirted a little oil (about a tablespoon) into the cylinder, and rotated the engine a few times to coat the piston rings and cylinder lining. This prevents the rings from drying and the cylinder from rusting through the winter. Actually, I lie. I started to rotate the engine—putting the bike in top gear and rotating the back wheel by hand—but realized this way is too much work so put the battery back in and used the starter to rotate the engine. (Note to self for next year.) Since my bike has a kill-switch on the kickstand, a safety feature so I don’t ride off with it accidentally down, I used that to prevent the engine from firing.

Next I clean the engine. This year I discovered a fantastic new product called S100. Since I had the crash and engine guards off, I decided now was the time to give the underside of the bike a thorough cleaning. I was going to use an auto engine cleaner to cut through that grease and grime but was worried it might be too strong and would damage some of the components. I asked at my local shop and was told about S100. It’s amazing! You just spray it on and hose it off with a strong jet of water. For the real tough stuff, I used a soft-bristle brush, but really even that is not necessary with this product.

With the engine clean, I coated a rag with light motor oil and wiped it down, again as a rust-inhibitor. Last year I used another great product called ACF-50 that my cousin Mark told me about. It was tough to find here in Canada and I had to mail order it and didn’t get ahead of that this year, so used the light motor oil instead. ACF-50 though is much better. It stops corrosion on contact and coats and prevents future corrosion. It was designed for use in the aerospace industry and is safe for electronics, so you can spray it on indiscriminately without worry. It’s good for 12 months so I really should just apply it each year as part of my winterization. Ironically, ACF-50 is made in Canada, so you’d think it would be easier to find here. Last year as part of my effort to track some down I drove to some remote abandoned building east of Montreal on the promise that someone there had some. I tell you, it’s that good. Yes, this is like a hard drug for bikers and you have to speak easy to the right people to get some. When I got to the building I knocked and looked in the windows but no one answered the door. Then I saw the blinds in an upstairs window move and noticed bullet holes in said window and decided maybe it was best to buy online. This is the honest-to-God truth. ACF-50. It’s good stuff, man! The light motor oil pales in comparison.

I paid particular attention to the exposed steel of the front forks. I even squirted a drop of oil on the fork rings, then compressed the forks a few times to work the oil into the seals. This prevents them from drying during the winter. Next I replaced all the bodywork and gave it the full clean and wax treatment. I know, most of my panelling is plastic, but I still feel the wax helps protect against acidification and oxidation, especially since I live near an airport and it rains jet fuel around here. The last step in protecting against moisture was to spray a little WD-40 (why do all these products have some cryptic combination of letters and numbers, like an internet password?) in the exhaust pipes and cover each with a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band. I plugged the air intake ports too, preventing critters from making those cavities their winter home.

Finally I backed the bike into the shed, put it on the centre-stand, then used my new motorcycle jack to lift the front tire off the floor of the shed so both tires are suspended. This prevents flat spots from developing. I also dropped the air pressure in the tires a few pounds. I covered the bike to protect it from getting scratched should one of the garden tools fall on it. Then I hummed it a little lullaby but there was no kissing, and no tears. It’s a lot to remember, and I found this wikiHow document helpful to review so I didn’t forget something.

I won’t be posting as much through the off-season but watch for sporadic posts on book reviews, trip planning, and my current gear wish list.


What’s In a Name?


I’ve owned my motorcycle now for over 16 months and it still does not have a name. I don’t mean the name the manufacturer has given it—manufacturers like to come up with macho, threatening names, like Intruder, Rebel, Bandit, and Savage—but a personal name like how one names a pet, a horse, or a guitar. B. B. King named his guitar Lucille, and Stevie Ray Vaughan named his Lenny. Sylvia Plath named her childhood horse Ariel, which is a great name because it means Lion of God in Hebrew and is also the name of the spirit character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Wordsworth named the home that he and his sister Dorothy shared Dove Cottage, or perhaps it was already named that when they acquired it. At any rate, I’ve been thinking about the act of naming, and specifically about possible good names for my BMW f650GS. Don’t think I’m weird—not at least for desiring to name my bike—for it’s a common practice, and I’m remiss in not providing one these past 16 months.

Is naming the ultimate act of possession in imposing an identity upon an object, or a gesture of respect in attempting to recognize something’s essential character? We name our children, or most of us do. (Former U.S. alpine skier Picabo Street was reportedly allowed as a child to name herself. We can only guess what her favourite childhood game was.) The baby arrives, we take a look, we say, “It looks like a John” or “a Jane,” or we go searching through baby name books for something that “sounds right.” God forbid we name our child after a T.V. character, although I heard that Judy Collins’ character name Alexis spiked in popularity during Dynasty’s run as a hit series through the 1980’s. Shame on those parents! I feel sorry for all Alexis’s of the world.

But back to motorcycles. The worst name for a motorcycle I’ve ever heard was Matilda. Ugh! I’m not sure if the owner thought she was dancing while riding or there was some other significance. The best name I’ve heard is Bonnie. The bike is a Triumph Bonneville, which is already a pretty cool name, so called after the Bonneville salt flats, of course, but more, the owner is a bagpiper, and in Scots Bonnie means “beautiful.” It is a pretty good-looking bike too, with a burgundy racing stipe down the middle of a matte black gas tank. But despite all this ruminating, I’m still at a loss for a name for my bike.

You can’t name your bike some literary or mythical name like Rocinante or Pegasus without eliciting some eye-rolling. A good name for a bike is both brilliant and understated at the same time. Not understated enough and it’s pretentious; too understated and it’s mundane, not in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way like my pet turtle Doug but just boring! With this many qualifications to fill for a good name, is it any wonder I’m having a hard time?

Once I thought I had it. Late one night in an intoxicated state it came to me in a blinding epiphany: I could name the bike after the high-school girlfriend who was supposed to ride with me across the country 30-odd years ago. I thought it was perfect; it would be like travelling back in time to complete an unfulfilled dream. And what isn’t a motorcycle but some sort of time-travel machine? I wouldn’t use her first name because that would be too weird, too literal, and besides, Carol just isn’t a very good name for a bike. But her middle name, Shelby, might just work. (Her father was a huge car fanatic and you can probably guess who won the Indy 500 the year she was born.) Then I discovered that Shelby means “sweet and loyal,” and that was that—Shelby it would be. I even came across a reference to a derivative of it in Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The universe seemed to be sending me a clear sign.

I know what you’re thinking: What did my wife think of this idea, and why didn’t I see the pitfall of this name at outset? Intoxicated, I said. As in “not thinking clearly.” No, this name clearly would not work, and besides, and more importantly, the few times I’d actually tried it on it just didn’t feel right. Naming is like writing poetry. You work by intuition and sense, not logic, and no matter how right a name might seem to the rational or intoxicated mind, if it doesn’t feel right in the clear sobriety of day, it’s not the right name. So I was back to square one.

Another thought I had was that the bike doesn’t have to be female. Why does it have to have a woman’s name? I’ve never referred to my bike or any other piece of machinery using the feminine pronoun. Giving the bike a gender does indicate something about the nature of my relationship with it, and the truth is, the relationship I have with my bike is not romantic. It’s not like I’m making love to my motorcycle, despite my wife’s suggestion from time to time to “Fuck the bike!” No, that relationship could equally be one of companionship, the perfect travel partner or riding buddy. But in the end, I decided that despite that logic, the intimacy and trust between a hot-blooded hetero man and his bike needs a female name, just not one of a former girlfriend if that man is married.

Sometimes a biker names a bike by playing on the manufacturer’s name, like the Bonnie example above. Ted Bishop has named his Italian-made Ducati Monster “Il Monstro.” Thinking along these lines, I thought of the GS of my bike and Giselle immediately came to mind—a good sign. It derives from the Germanic word “gisil,” meaning “pledge,” so a name my wife could get behind. It has French connotations—a nod to my home province—and best of all, is soft, suiting the 650 single, which is such a forgiving bike. If you can think of a better name, please send your suggestions or leave a comment, but for now, Giselle is the working name and starting to stick.