Becoming a Better Rider…During Winter

At the time of writing this, a blizzard has shuttered most businesses in St. John’s (yay snow day!) and the fierce north easterly wind is making my old house creak. Winter in Newfoundland stirs primeval urges to curl up by a heat source and eat copious amounts of carbohydrates in an effort to produce an insulating fat layer to keep warm. A few centuries of living on the edge of survival in an incredibly harsh climate tends to warp DNA a little, I figure.

If you live in a place where you can ride your motorcycle all year around, you don’t understand the psychology of the “off-season”. Some people call it “PMS” – Parked Motorcycle Syndrome – characterized by irritability, gloomy attitude, looking longingly out the window, and pervasive thoughts of relocation to warmer climes.

But the off-season doesn’t HAVE to be a bad thing. In sports, the off-season is a time to rest and repair, cross-train and work on deficiencies and weaknesses so that you can be better than last year. Some of you might think it odd that I look at riding in the same light as athletic pursuits, but there are more similarities than differences. Riding a motorcycle exacts a physical and mental toll, and if you’re a good rider you’re always trying to figure out ways to be better. Why not use the winter to prepare for riding season? Read the rest of this entry

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Yamaha TW200: “Underrated” is an Understatement

2015 was a year of many “firsts” for me. First Regatta, first marathon, and first time doing some real off-roading. I’d been wanting a dual purpose for awhile, and there was never any question of the one I wanted – the Yamaha TW200. I hadn’t ridden one, I didn’t know anyone who owned one and even online reviews were few and far between.

The online articles I was able to find pretty much branded the TW as a “pitbike”; a plaything to strap to the back of an RV and explore a few trails here and there. Sure, it’s good at that. But the TW can be so much more, especially for novice dirt riders. The TW200 actually has two more horsepower than the ubiquitous CBR125, and it’s much more versatile. So why aren’t they more popular?

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Friday the 13th Ride

Port Dover, Ontario holds a motorcycle rally each Friday the 13th. Though I’ve never been there, it’s become sort of a tradition with me to go for a ride on these occasions as long as the weather is somewhat civilized.

This past Friday the temperature got to a balmy 5 degrees C (41 F) with overcast skies and a brisk wind off the water…nothing that merino wool and an electric vest couldn’t handle. We bundled up, grabbed a couple of take-out subs and headed for a nearby trail.

I immediately noticed the difference in soil consistency. A few cold nights had made the mud super slick and clumpy, filling the tire treads and flicking up on the fenders, engine and seat. I had to ride even slower than I normally would, and be really careful on off-camber sections of trail.

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Just a little bit muddy.

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Review: Womens O’Neal Rider Motocross Boots

I bought my lovely little Yamaha TW200 back in April, and took to the trails bedecked completely in street-riding gear. I didn’t want to jump completely into a whole new wardrobe, so it took a little time for me to realize what dirt-specific articles I truly needed. I was wearing my old Harley boots off-road (I couldn’t bear the thought of getting my Elsinores covered in mud), but with the Regatta and a marathon looming in late summer I was ultra-paranoid of busting up a foot or ankle. Boots became the first thing on the shopping list.

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Offroad Adventure: Automotive Graveyard

One evening in August myself and Mark left the house on the dual-purpose bikes without a clearcut destination in mind. We took a trail leading from Kenmount Road, crossed under the Outer Ring Road and were picking our way over the rocky terrain when Mark spotted something just off the trail. Finding junk in the woods is nothing strange, unfortunately. I could’ve started a blog solely with pictures of garbage that I’ve found in the woods while riding. But this was old junk, and basically in the middle of nowhere. HUH???

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“Hmmm…what do we have here?”

We continued along the trail and within minutes found ourselves in what I can only describe as an automotive graveyard. And I don’t mean Sunbirds and Topaz’s either. Many of these cars were from the 1940’s and 50’s.

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The Seed of Wanderlust

Back when I was young and foolish I packed up my belongings into my Oldsmobile and set out across the country, to seek my fortune in Edmonton, Alberta. What should have been an epic 6000km (3750 mile) roadtrip across Canada was reduced to a blur of gas stations, Tim Hortons restaurants and the seemingly endless Trans Canada Highway. I drove hammer down through eight provinces and I didn’t take one picture. I was determined to “make good time”, stopping so infrequently that when I finally did arrive at my destination I was so used to moving at highway speed that I was dizzy for a week. That was pre-motorcycle me.

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Ride to Truxtun & Pollux Wreck Site

I’m a bit of a history buff, so most of the rides that I plan revolve around some sort of historical site. I had long known of the Truxtun & Pollux disaster on the Burin Peninsula, but never had an opportunity to see it first hand. When we decided to go camping in that part of the province in August, the wreck site was the top thing on my list.

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The site of the wreck

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Even Leftovers can be Adventurous…

…and I don’t mean because they’ve been sitting in the back of the fridge for a week too long. What I’m getting at is when you have a dual-purpose bike, even something as mundane as having leftovers for supper can be amazingly fun.

Case in point: yesterday was a beautiful early fall day, feeling more like early September than October. With the days growing steadily shorter, it becomes a bit of a crunch after work hours to get some riding in, especially when you have a pesky habit of eating decent meals at regular hours. The solution: reheat some of Mom’s homemade veggie lasagna in the microwave, then pack in into the tailpack of the bike along with a couple of bottles of water and hit the trails.  Read the rest of this entry

Keeping the Skills Well-Honed

We lost a member of the motorcycle community last weekend. I didn’t know the guy personally, but when a motorcyclist is killed doing what he/she loved, we all feel it. There were also at least four other motorcycle accidents in the province in the past week. Along with the twinge of sickness I feel in the pit of my stomach whenever I hear about a bike accident, it also drives home the fact that what we love to do is very dangerous.

When we’re riding, we are protected by only two things: Our gear and our skills. I won’t turn this into a debate of ATGATT* but personally I wear the best quality gear I can afford, whether it’s 5 degrees or 25. I realize that proper gear is not a forcefield that surrounds you, protecting you from all bodily injury. In a very bad crash, it doesn’t matter what you wear. BUT in many accidents it means the difference between walking away and spending weeks in the hospital recovering from severe road rash.

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Though not as good as full leather, textile and kevlar-lined jeans are better than casual clothing.

The crashes this week have gotten me questioning the extent of my riding skills. If someone doesn’t see me and pulls out in front of me, would I be able to get on the brakes with enough force to stop quickly while maintaining control of the bike? I’m not sure.

Most of us learn the life-saving accident avoidance skills on tiny 250’s during the motorcycle skills course. We get our license, get bigger bikes, and the next time we have to panic stop we lock up the wheels and crash because we had no idea how our own bike handles when pushed to the limit. Avalon Motorsports teach an advanced course designed for seasoned riders where you use your own bike and learn advanced brake and evade techniques. I took this course a few years ago, and the class was nowhere near capacity. I guess most people figure it’s unnecessary, which is a shame because I felt a lot more confident on my Sportster after taking the course. That being said, I now ride a Vstrom with completely different handling and anti-lock brakes. I need to re-learn my brake and evade skills.

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An Advanced Course will teach you how to handle your bike, no matter how big it is. Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorcycle_training

Let this be a wake-up call to everyone who rides a motorcycle, whether you put on 300km a year or 30,000. Print off some avoidance drills (The Battley Blog is a great site) and find a big empty parking lot on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Start off conservatively and practise until you’re comfortable. When you take the bike out in the spring, head for the parking lot again.

Ride safe everyone.

*ATGATT: Stand for “all the gear, all the time”. Motorcycle safety mantra.

Last Hurrah of Summer 2015

It’s hard to believe that summer is officially over…it feels like it only arrived a few weeks ago. Motorcyclists and summer lovers in general were cheated by #Julyuary and its rain, drizzle, fog and cold temps. Nonetheless, the calender presses on and fall has arrived.

The weather gods were kind though, giving us a beautiful weekend to finish off the summer. In a most irresponsible fashion, I put most household chores aside for the full two days, and pretty much spent all waking hours on the bike. Nowhere epic, nothing extravagant. Just riding. It was one of the most enjoyable weekends of the summer.

Saturday

I hadn’t test-ridden any bikes this summer at all, which is a bit odd for me. I didn’t plan on taking in the BMW test ride day either, but faced with a beautiful Saturday and no plans for an out-of-town ride, we took a spin out to Avalon Motorad to see if anything interesting was available. I managed to hook a ride on the new R1200R, a roadster of sorts with a low seat height and that fantastic boxer engine.

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Comfy ergo’s and lots of torque. Love that boxer engine!

After burning gas that I didn’t pay for and enjoying a post-ride scoff* put off by BMW, we headed off for a leisurely ride around the north east Avalon, stopping here and there for coffee and conversation. It wasn’t until we were on the South Side Road watching darkness descend on the city that I realized I had spent the entire day on two wheels, and didn’t accomplish another thing. Oh well. It was worth it!

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Pouch Cove

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I don’t always drink Starbucks, but when I do I’m on motorcycle 🙂

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Dusk at Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America.

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Darkness falls on the old city.

Sunday

Unlike Saturday, I started Sunday with a bit of a plan…head out the highway for lunch somewhere on the east coast of Trinity Bay. We wanted to go to the Dildo Dory Grill (I’m not making this up…”Dildo” is a part of a dory apparently and is an actual town name) but found out that it was closed for the season. We went to the Shag It Cafe instead (again, not making it up. The cafe is named for the “shag rocks” in the bay that the cafe overlooks). It’s a beautiful spot with wonderful coffee and great food. I highly recommend it.

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See? It’s the actual name.

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Istead of deep-fried what-nots, the clubhouse was served with veggie sticks. Delicious!

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area a little, you never know what what you might see in small towns…

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Someone put a lot of work into ‘Mater here!

Usually when faced with a beautiful forecast for the weekend I try to plan these epic rides. Sometimes that works out, and other times it just doesn’t. I think I need to have more weekends like this, where very little is planned and I just go where the road takes me.

Summer is over, but I’m hoping for a great fall!

*Scoff: a good meal

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