Great article on riding a motorcycle

Came across this article online and had to share it. 


Recently, various newspapers ran a photograph of me on a small motorcycle. They all pointed out that I hate motorbikes and that by riding one I had exposed myself as a hypocrite who should commit suicide immediately.

Hmmm. Had I been photographed riding the local postmistress, then, yes, I’d have been shamed into making some kind of apology. But it was a motorcycle. And I don’t think it even remotely peculiar that a motoring journalist should ride such a thing. Not when there is a problem with the economy and many people are wondering if they should make a switch from four wheels to two.

Unfortunately, you cannot make this switch on a whim, because this is Britain and there are rules. Which means that before climbing on board you must go to a car park, put on a high-visibility jacket and spend the morning driving round some cones while a man called Dave — all motorcycle instructors are called Dave — explains which lever does what.

Afterwards, you will be taken on the road, where you will drive about for several hours in a state of abject fear and misery, and then you will go home and vow never to get on a motorcycle ever again.

This is called compulsory basic training and it allows you to ride any bike up to 125cc. If you want to ride something bigger, you must take a proper test. But, of course, being human, you will not want a bigger bike, because then you will be killed immediately while wearing clothing from the Ann Summers “Dungeon” range.

Right, first things first. The motorbike is not like a car. It will not stand up when left to its own devices. So, when you are not riding it, it must be leant against a wall or a fence. I’m told some bikes come with footstools which can be lowered to keep them upright. But then you have to lift the bike onto this footstool, and that’s like trying to lift up an American.

Next: the controls. Unlike with a car, there seems to be no standardisation in the world of motorcycling. Some have gearlevers on the steering wheel. Some have them on the floor, which means you have to shift with your feet — how stupid is that? — and some are automatic.

Then we get to the brakes. Because bikes are designed by bikers — and bikers, as we all know, are extremely dim — they haven’t worked out how the front and back brake can be applied at the same time. So, to stop the front wheel, you pull a lever on the steering wheel, and to stop the one at the back, you press on a lever with one of your feet.

A word of warning, though. If you use only the front brake, you will fly over the steering wheel and be killed. If you try to use the back one, you will use the wrong foot and change into third gear instead of stopping. So you’ll hit the obstacle you were trying to avoid, and you’ll be killed.

Then there is the steering. The steering wheel comes in the shape of what can only be described as handlebars, but if you turn them — even slightly — while riding along, you will fall off and be killed. What you have to do is lean into the corner, fix your gaze on the course you wish to follow, and then you will fall off and be killed.

As far as the minor controls are concerned, well . . . you get a horn and lights and indicators, all of which are operated by various switches and buttons on the steering wheel, but if you look down to see which one does what, a truck will hit you and you will be killed. Oh, and for some extraordinary reason, the indicators do not self-cancel, which means you will drive with one of them on permanently, which will lead following traffic to think you are turning right. It will then undertake just as you turn left, and you will be killed.

What I’m trying to say here is that, yes, bikes and cars are both forms of transport, but they have nothing in common. Imagining that you can ride a bike because you can drive a car is like imagining you can swallow-dive off a 90ft cliff because you can play table tennis.

However, many people are making the switch because they imagine that having a small motorcycle will be cheap. It isn’t. Sure, the 125cc Vespa I tried can be bought for £3,499, but then you will need a helmet (£300), a jacket (£500), some Freddie Mercury trousers (£100), shoes (£130), a pair of Kevlar gloves (£90), a coffin (£1,000), a headstone (£750), a cremation (£380) and flowers in the church (£200).

In other words, your small 125cc motorcycle, which has no boot, no electric windows, no stereo and no bloody heater even, will end up costing more than a Volkswagen Golf. That said, a bike is much cheaper to run than a car. In fact, it takes only half a litre of fuel to get from your house to the scene of your first fatal accident. Which means that the lifetime cost of running your new bike is just 50p.

So, once you have decided that you would like a bike, the next problem is choosing which one. And the simple answer is that, whatever you select, you will be a laughing stock. Motorbiking has always been a hobby rather than an alternative to proper transport, and as with all hobbies, the people who partake are extremely knowledgeable. It often amazes me that in their short lives bikers manage to learn as much about biking as people who angle, or those who watch trains pull into railway stations.

Whatever. Because they are so knowledgeable, they will know precisely why the bike you select is rubbish and why theirs is superb. Mostly, this has something to do with “getting your knee down”, which is a practice undertaken by bikers moments before the crash that ends their life.

You, of course, being normal, will not be interested in getting your knee down; only in getting to work and most of the way home again before you die. That’s why I chose to test the Vespa, which is much loathed by trainspotting bikers because they say it is a scooter. This is racism. Picking on a machine because it has no crossbar is like picking on a person because he has slitty eyes or brown skin. Frankly, I liked the idea of a bike that has no crossbar, because you can simply walk up to the seat and sit down. Useful if you are Scottish and go about your daily business in a skirt.

I also liked the idea of a Vespa because most bikes are Japanese. This means they are extremely reliable so you cannot avoid a fatal crash by simply breaking down. This is entirely possible on a Vespa because it is made in Italy.

Mind you, there are some drawbacks you might like to consider. The Vespa is not driven by a chain. Instead, the engine is mounted to the side of the rear wheel for reasons that are lost in the mists of time and unimportant anyway. However, it means the bike is wider and fitted with bodywork like a car, to shroud the moving hot bits. That makes it extremely heavy. Trying to pick it up after you’ve fallen off it is impossible.

What’s more, because the heavy engine is on the right, the bike likes turning right much more than it likes turning left. This means that in all left-handed bends, you will be killed.

Unless you’ve been blown off by the sheer speed of the thing. At one point I hit 40mph and it was as though my chest was being battered by a freezing-cold hurricane. It was all I could do to keep a grip on the steering wheel with my frostbitten fingers.

I therefore hated my experience of motorcycling and would not recommend it to anyone.

The Clarksometer

If you like misery, climb aboard


Why I Hate Electronic Instrument Panels

I recently bought a 1985 Honda Magna v45. I love the bike, but it was my first with an electronic instrument panel. The biggest difference between it and my previous bike, a 1983 Kawasaki 440 LTD, is the electronic low-fuel indicator as opposed to the reserve tank method.

I was a bit wary of the electronic low-fuel light when I made my purchase, but it was all in good working order so it was quickly off my mind.

Last night I was riding one of my favorite loops in Toronto and had just pulled on to the DVP when the bike started to chug and lose power. I managed to pull it off on the shoulder and started to assess the problem. I quickly realized the tank was bone dry. There was no previous indication that I was low on fuel. A few quick calls and my Dad came to the rescue (again, thanks Dad!).

What really irritated me was that there was absolutely no warning. I know I should be on top of my gas level, but with the speedometer still inoperable it’s a little difficult to gauge distance travelled. Guaranteed I’ll never let the tank get less than half full.

When I had the analog “reserve tank” method, I never had a problem. It is idiot proof and seemingly an infallible indicator. Why go the electronic route when it is so prone to error?

New York City to Daytona

This is from an e-mail from my Dad who rides a Harley Davidson ’05 Dyna Wide Glide. Thought I’d share his trip, sounded like a lot of fun and I can’t express how jealous I am.

The trip to Daytona was both fun and arduous. Fun going down: temperatures in the 70’s, clear, little wind. Toward the end of the first day (Tues.14th) there was a beautiful sky full of pink clouds as we rolled through N. Carolina to a motel in Fayetteville after 600+ miles. The next day was much the same although warmer as we got further south. Heavy traffic in Jacksonville. 80 more miles and we were in Ormond Beach (remember?). the first thing we did was to stop for beer and festivities at the Iron Horse Tavern (remember?). Got to the flea bag of a motel after some wrong turns. The address was 500 N. Atlantic Ave. which turned out to be south of S. Atlantic Ave.!!
I was riding with 2 Hoggers from NYC: Keith is an ex-marine and bus driver 62 yrs and very mechanical and good with directions. Krit is 34, Thai and a photographer, rides a Springer Soft Tail. I rode in the middle on my Wide Glide. We met two other members – Little John and Irish Tommy – down there.
The whole area was swarming with bikes, including a lot of choppers which I’m sure were trucked or trailered in for the most part. Three principal locations: the Rossmeyer dealership (remember?), Main Street, Daytona Beach, and the Daytona Speedway. We hung out for two days at all three bumping shoulders with an incredible menagerie of bikers. I got some Kuryakyn footpegs w stirrups, shiftpeg and a Mustang Sissy Bar pad for my taller bar.
Starting back on Sat. am the weather shifteded on us somewhere in Georgia. Rainsuits! Wasn’t hard, but it did slow us down. As the day wore on it got colder and dark. We were dead tired and cold when we got into Fayetteville. Keith remembered the exit and got us to the same EconoLodge. Unfortunately, the was a reunion for Fayetteville College in town and there were no more rooms at our motel or any others in town. So we had to chug nine more miles up the road to a Day’s Inn whose restaurant closed as we were checking in! We had to walk across the highway for a Quiznos’ dinner.
Sunday morning. Cold. We had to find someplace to buy long johns. Every gas stop meant hot chocolate and effort to shed the shivers. We didn’t eat lunch so stopped for early dinner at 5:30. Then on into the dark and colder riding. We finally decided with 170+ miles to go for NYC that we’d stop, make our explanatory phone calls and do the last leg in the morning. The first motel we tried didn’t have heat. Second one did.
At 6:30am the next day there was frost on the seats of the bikes! The next 2 hrs. before the sun got high enough in the sky to warm things up were so cold I thought that my teeth might crack. We took a long break around 9 to recover and made the rest of the run in heavy rush hour traffic up the NJ Turnpike, 440 to 278 on Staten Island and for me and Krit the BQE to Brooklyn where I took the McGuiness exit to the Pulaski Bridge and home at 10:30. The cats were there to greet me.
Ciao, Papa

Espanola to Bobcaygeon

After a long night of drinking, hot tubbing and freezing cold pool dips, I was up and on the road to Bobcaygeon by 11 am. I filled up Red Molly at a gas station right at Hwy 17 and then headed east to Sudbury, where I met Hwy 69 south. Along this stretch you can go for some time without seeing a gas station, so of course after passing one my low-fuel light comes on. Thinking I should be able to last to the next station, I press on.

After 15 minutes without seeing any sign of civilization I start to think, “I’m going to run out of gas on the side of this highway, in the middle of nowhere. What would I do? Hitch? Walk? How late is this going to make me to Bobcaygeon?”

Suddenly, at Hwy 529 in Magnetawan (about 60km north of Parry Sound), there is a little gas station with no noticeable signage. Of course I drove right passed it and had to turn around, but I was very thankful to whomever decided to open a gas station at that spot. And it only cost 95cents/liter.

I stopped again in Parry Sound for a coffee and to fill up the gas again. The traffic was very light and I was making good time. I continued until I hit Hwy 12 going south-east, where the road started to get busy. First off, this is a poorly marked highway, and when you first join it off the 69 you come to an unmarked crossroad. Without signage indicating a change in direction for the highway I continued straight – and on to a small dead end street. Had to turn around (for the second time thus far) and backtrack.

As you get closer to Orillia, the highway is one lane and packed with cars. The cars leading the pack are slower than the speed limit, and there is no room to pass. This continues until you hit the 11 south just past Orillia.  Again, attention must be paid here. The 11 and 12 merge heading south, but the 12 breaks off south-east again very quickly. The signage again is not noticeable, and for the third time this trip I pass my exit and am forced to turn around.

After what feels like eternity I hit Durham Road 15/8. This will take you east, through Fenelon Falls and right in to Bobcaygeon. This ride was a pleasure. Two lane, 80km/h speed limit, winding road cutting through farm land. Sharp and sweeping turns everywhere and no traffic. I wish I had the helmet camera on for that one. I’ve outlined the route (minus the turn arounds) on the google map below and HIGHLY RECOMMEND taking Durham Road 15/8 if you are in the area.

I arrived in Bobcaygeon just on time for dinner and shortly before the sun set. Total trip time was around 6.5 hours, and the bulk of it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Toronto to Espanola

What a fantastic weekend this Thanksgiving was for riding. My dad and I decided to ride up to Espanola to visit family on the Saturday. The original planned route was north on Hwy 400, continuing on Hwy 69, then west on Hwy17 from Sudbury in to Espanola.
Ofcourse the 400 was like a parking lot, so we got off at Major Mackenzie (just after Canada’s Wonderland) and took Jane Street north to Hwy 9 where we rejoined the 400. This is an amazing route for a two lane 80km/h Hwy through the country. I cannot adequately describe how impressive the colors are this time of year.
Coming in to Sudbury on the last stretch of Hwy 69 was stunning. Although the sun had started to set and the temperature with it, the lighting ameliorated the autumn colors. The road offers some high speed turns and rolling hills.
We rolled into Espanola after 7 1/2 hours on the road, a trip I would highly recommend. You can view the route on the google map below and the photos posted below will give you an idea of the scenery.
The next day I had to ride to Bobcaygeon on my own for another Thanksgiving feast, which I’ll write about shortly…

myself, uncle john, my dad

myself, uncle john, my dad

keymarina, about 50km south of Sudbury

keymarina, about 50km south of Sudbury

myself at keymarina

myself at keymarina

Thornhill, ON ride (right outside Toronto)

The weather this past Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in Toronto was beautiful, clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low to mid 20’s (low 70’s Farenheit). So I took the opportunity to go for a nice little ride outside of the city. I had a friend from the thornhill area who wanted to ride on the Harley, so I picked him up and he was able to show me some nice country roads in the area. I liked it so much that I took my girlfriend for a ride there the next day. I’m a fan of taking the Don Valley Parkway up there, the traffic wasn’t too bad (I got pretty lucky for some parts though) and it’s actually quite pretty this time of year with all the leaves changing color. Once you’re out in the Elgin Mill road area, there are lots of little roads that could probably be explored as well, so look at this loop more as a guideline. Have fun exploring and enjoy the last weeks of riding weather!

Unfortunately, the google maps aren’t working quite so well with wordpress at the moment, so here’s the link to the map for now.

Fuel Efficiency 101 (or, tips to save gas)

As I write this post, gas has dropped here in Toronto to 105.2 cents/litre. While this is much better then what it has been of late, it is still higher than what most of us would like. Even though motorcycles are very light on the wallet when it comes to the pumps it is always possible to reduce that burden more (even if ever so slightly) with minimal effort.

The following items apply to any vehicle (gas powered, that is) and comes from the Ministry of Natural Resources Canada and an employee of a petroleum company!

Tips on Driving and Maintenance:

~Follow the Manufacturer’s recommended maintenance. A poorly maintained vehicle can cost the equivalent of up to 15cents per litre more on fuel each time you fill up.

~Check fluid levels at least once a month. Check and change the engine oil and coolant according to the manufacturer’s recommendations in your owner’s manual. Also check around and under the vehicle for fluid leaks, and if there are leaks have them repaired.

~Measure your tire pressure at least once a month. Inflate cold tires to the recommended pressure. For every 28 kilopascals (4 pounds per square inch) of under-inflation, fuel use increases by about 2%. Properly inflated tires will last longer, make your vehicle safer to drive and save fuel.

~Reduce idling. If you are stopped for more than 10 seconds (except while in traffic) turn off your engine. It has minimal impact on the starter system, and idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than it takes to restart your engine.

~Warm up your vehicle by driving it at a moderate speed. In most cases, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling from a cold start on cooler days. Vehicle components are best warmed up by driving the vehicle.

~Use cruise control. (My bike has one…) Under normal driving conditions, cruise control can save fuel on the highway by keeping your speed constant and avoiding inadvertent speeding.

~Remove unnecessary weight. Unnecessary weight can result in wasted fuel and needless CO2 emissions.

~Adopt fuel-efficient driving habits. Accelerate smoothly, as abrupt starts and stops waste fuel. Plan your driving and look ahead of traffic. Anticipate problems and keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the one ahead to avoid sudden braking.

At the Pump

~Fill up your vehicle only in the morning while the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the
more dense the gasoline, when it gets warmer gasoline expands.
A 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.

~While you are filling up, do not squeeze the trigger to a fast mode. If you look you will see that the trigger has three stages: low, middle, and high. At a low speed you will minimize the vapors that are created while you are pumping.

~One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY. The reason for this is, the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine.

~If there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, do not fill up. Chances are any dirt or debris that has settled in the tanks is being stirred up and could make its way into your tank.

I hope you can use some of these tips and save some money at the pumps. Every little bit counts.