How to Survive the Off-Season

20200207_150331

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

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

Window Shop Online for Gear

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

Follow Someone Around the World

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

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

Watch the Dakar (Again)

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

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

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

Learn New Skills

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

Plan Your Next Adventure

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

Peruse Bike Forums

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

Listen to Motorcycle Podcasts

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

Work on Your Bike

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

IMG_5313

Stay warm and carry on.

Write a Blog

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

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

How to Spot a Biker in Wintertime

user-logging-lineup

Photo Credit: Mikey Angels

We all know how to spot a biker during the riding season. For one, the gear—leather jacket, riding boots, neckerchief, helmet tucked under one arm—are dead giveaways. If you miss those signs, there are some more subtle ones: bugs splattered over said jacket, the distinctive smell of grease and exhaust, and a certain spring in the step upon leaving for the office. But where I live, the riding season is only eight months long. We still pay registration and insurance for the full twelve months, mind you, and it’s a lot more than our southern riding friends too. But don’t get me started! That is a topic for another post. This one is about how to spot a biker once the snow flies and the motorcycles are safely stored away for the winter.

So with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek and a nod to twotiretirade, here in no particular order are ten signs that you are in the presence of a motorcyclist.

1. When driving a manual car, they rev match when slowing.

Don’t know what rev matching is? You obviously aren’t a biker. Rev matching is used to slow the vehicle smoothly using the engine rather than the brakes, and it’s the common method of slowing a motorcycle. Yeah, you can push in the clutch, downshift, then let the clutch out, but that will result in the car lurching and putting a strain on the engine components. Not cool. The proper way to engine brake is to disengage the engine using the clutch, then, while downshifting, blip the accelerator to bring the revs up a bit, then gradually let out the clutch. Matching the revs to the corresponding speed of the desired gear ensures smooth deceleration, puts no unnecessary strain on the engine, and makes you sound like an F1 driver. Cool. 

2. They refer to highways using the definite article. 

Because bikers are more concerned with the route than the destination, they talk a lot about routes, which they don’t call routes but “rides.” Nobody knows your local network of highways better than a biker. And because they are always talking about roads, they adopt a kind of shorthand in referring to them. You’ll never hear a biker say “Highway 148”; rather, it’s “the 148.” Or maybe that’s “The 148.”

A typical discussion about a proposed ride goes something like this: “So I was thinking we could take the 40 and pick up the 342 in Hudson, then left onto the 10 in Rigaud to the 14, then the 4 all the way to . . .” You get the idea.

3. They prefer secondary highways.

There are two types of travellers: those who want to get there, and those who want eventually to get there. It should be evident which bikers are from Number 2 above. If you are driving with someone and they suggest taking “the scenic route,” chances are you are in the presence of a biker, or a biker at heart.

4. They shoulder check when driving.

When I was learning to drive, my dad taught me how to set up my side mirrors so I wouldn’t have to shoulder check. Most people have them set to view down the sides of the car, which is useless. You want to angle them further out into your blind spots so a glance is sufficient to check. That fraction of a second to turn your head may be crucial if traffic in front suddenly slows.

That said, I had to learn to shoulder check when I started motorcycling. With a helmet on, you feel like a horse with blinders, so you have to make a quick glance over your shoulder before changing lanes, just in case. And because the stakes are a lot higher on a bike than in a car, I always shoulder check. In the back of my mind is Murphy’s Law that states the first time I don’t is when there will be some idiot driving happily in my blind spot. Now that it’s a habit, I continue to shoulder check well into the winter months of driving. I can’t help it.

5. They sometimes mistakenly refer to the windshield as the windscreen.

Windshield, windscreen: what’s the difference? They are synonyms, you say. They are, but there’s a world of difference in biker parlance.

6. They are a bit obsessive about tire pressure. 

Most people check their car’s tire pressure once or twice a decade, if at all. In fact, if you are required by law or good sense to have winter tires during the winter months, you might just leave this essential bit of maintenance to your mechanic twice a year when he or she swaps them over. Bikers, on the other hand, check them before driving to the corner store to pick up milk. It’s just something that is so crucial on the motorcycle that, again, it becomes second nature.

7. They carry tools in the trunk.

Okay, not everyone who carries tools in the trunk is a biker, but most bikers will carry tools. For the same reason as above, bikers feel naked on the road without tools. Did your car come with a set of tools? Probably not. But most bikes do. Maintenance on these temperamental beasts is part of the cost of riding, so a smart biker is always prepared. In the winter months, I just thrown the tool roll I use with my bike into the trunk of my car. If there’s a socket set, a pair of channel lock pliers, and some safety wire and zip ties in the trunk, you are in good company and the company of a good travel partner.

8. They have a radar app on their phone.

You probably have a weather app on your phone, probably one with click-bait and forecasts into the next fortnight. That weather app might even have a radar component that you never use because you don’t know how to make heads or tails of that mass of coloured pixels moving across the black screen. But just as bikers are amateur mechanics, they are also amateur meteorologists. Again, the stakes are so much higher on a bike. Sudden rainstorm? You can run to the car, but a biker has to ride in it all the way home, arriving soaked to the skin, with hypothermia.

The radar app is an essential tool for ride planning, not just to choose your gear but also your route. Knowing where the precipitation is and where it will likely be at any given time of the day means that with a little planning and a lot of luck, you might just be able to skirt it.

9. They think motor oil is an appropriate topic for dinner-table conversation.

There are motorcycle forum threads on motor oil that, if compiled, would rival War and Peace in length. Motorcyclists are a little crazy about their oil, and I mean “their” oil. Everyone has a preferred brand and is willing to duel or flame the idiot who puts a far inferior brand into his or her machine. Synthetic or mineral? Asking online which you should put in your bike is like throwing a french fry to the lurking seagulls at a food truck. Motorcyclists may have only a high school understanding of Chemistry, but can pull out of their arse such arcane information about motor oil that you’d think they were short-listed for a Nobel Prize.

10. They know that a wet clutch is not a form of sexual assault.

It may sound creepy, but a wet clutch is something most motorcyclists have. It’s a clutch bathed in motor oil, often the same oil that lubricates the engine. Because we ride the clutch so much as an essential way to regulate speed, a wet clutch ensures we don’t burn it out. Most cars, on the other hand, have dry clutches, which are known simply as clutches, or just “the clutch.”

* * *

Why should you care, you ask? Well, bikers tend to get a little down in the wintertime when they are not able to ride. So if that acquaintance beside you exhibits any of these signs of motorcycle culture but weather does not permit them to exercise this passion, cut them some slack. Once spring comes round, they will transform from grumpy cager (i.e. driver) to cool biker, able to withstand all that the cruel world throws at them like the superheroes they secretly are.