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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

My Thoughts on the Big Beemer - R1200GS

Many years ago my wife and I watched "The Long Way Round", Ewan and Charley traveling around the world on really cool BMW GS's. Ever since then I have lusted after one, knowing that the $20K price tag would be a huge factor in me never owning one. But the big GS screamed adventure touring. Since then middle-aged men, with dreams of riding The Road of Bones have gobbled up adventure bikes. All the major manufacturers, except HD have jumped on the big ADV bike market. HD, aka Buell had a quasi ADV bike, but they went the opposite way and shut production of Buell down. Feet and fists in the wind baby.

After owning my Vstrom 1000, I have since learned that sometimes a better ADV bike is something smaller. For me anyway. If I'm gonna be riding some gnarly off road, like the LWR boys did in Mongolia and Russia, I'd want a 250. Just watching them muscle around and repeatedly pick up those huge bikes made my aging muscles and bones creak.

However, no matter how you slice it, the big, expensive Beemer is a hell of a motorcycle, and in my opinion worth all the 20,000 dollars of the the price tag.

Thanks to Canada Moto Rallies and BMW Motorrad Canada I was given the good fortune, make it, incredibly great fortune, to be able to ride a brand new (650km on the ODO) 2015 R1200GS at the Fundy Adventure Rally. How many lucky arseholes like me get to take a brand new $20K motorcycle and ride an off road rally with it? Oh and thanks to Editor 'Arris, I was able to ride the Clinton Smout rider training school on the CMG long term test GS.

Other than a very brief stint on the CMG 1200GS, which was basically a 1km highway run, I had no experience on the new liquid cooled machine. So I dove into the deep end,  with my first real ride being a student at the riding school.

Clinton was going to make me do new things while on top of a new, big, bike that I wasn't familiar with, and it was all slow speed tight manoeuvres.

A little background first. Originally I was told I'd be riding the CMG Honda CRF250L in the riding school, which I thought "awesome, little bike, it's gonna be easy" I had videoed the morning class, so I knew what to expect. I used to own an XR250R, so I figured the LRP (little red pig) wouldn't be too different.

That's when 'Arris decided to switch up bikes on me. His lovely wife Courtney wanted to ride some of the afternoon school, so being considerably more petite than I, she got the 250, and I was upgraded to 1200. The 1200 I had never really ridden before. I was a little worried. We all have egos, and I don't really like mine bruised or deflated that often. I figured at least I'd give the class an opportunity to learn how to pick up a big bike after it's been dropped.

Oh.....and did I mention it was my first time on gravel since the previous years rally. Ya, it was.

Thankfully, due to the anal retentive and attention to detail engineers at BMW my worst fears never materialized.

Climbing aboard the big Beemer, it's easy to be overwhelmed with the size, and the complexity of the machine. However the bike feels slightly narrower than my old Strom. The bars are nice and wide and clutch pull is light. The dash has a wide display of options and modes. It was in Enduro mode, which I knew nothing about, other than the ABS is off, sort of. More on that soon. I'm gonna leave all the mode selection crap to later, because at this point, I was told nothing about the bike, other than the key fob is velcroed to the tank, and you press the on/off button then hit the starter.

The new GS is throttle-by-wire. In other words there is no actual throttle cable, it's all done by computer magic, manipulating a bunch of 1's and 0's to give you the desired throttle output based on how much you twist your right hand. At first I really didn't like it. It felt jerky and almost on / offish, like a tap. This is not ideal when your first ride on the bike is slow, slipping the clutch, barely moving exercises.

The great thing about humans, is the way we can adapt to new things, and before long the jerky throttle-by-wire became easier to use. Oh did I mention it was sensitive too.

My fears of lugging the big bike through a tight obstacle course were unfounded. Once standing on the pegs the weight of the big bike disappears. The centre of gravity is nice and low, and the bike is very stable and balanced at slow speed. Of course some helpful words from our instructor Clinton helped me manoeuvre the bike through the tight course without any issues what so ever.

I attended a presentation given by former Honda Canada el presidente, Warren Milner on bike design. One of the facets he touched on was predictability. Basically you get on a Honda, any Honda and it will feel and ride with a certain predictability. All the manufacturers are the same, and BMW is no different. The big GS and it's middle sibling the 800 are very similar in ride.

Last year I rode the 800GS which was a great bike for the conditions we encountered throughout the day, the 1200 was like riding the 800, but with a little more girth, refinement, and power.

I do think the 1200 is easier to ride slow, and when I mean slow, I mean crawling slow. It seemed better balanced. Today was spent mostly in first gear. We did a short, and rather slow trail ride as a group, and overall the GS was easy to ride, no issues what so ever.

The next day would be the real test, the rally itself.

Unlike last year, I never once scared the crap out of myself at this years rally. I overshot a couple of corners in 2014 with a just a tad too much speed trying to be a Marc Coma, and almost put BMW's 800 into various ditches and weeds in the Sussex area. Not sure if I learned my lesson from last year maybe the 1200 was a little better at handling it, or maybe my riding skill was better? I'm thinking I slowed down a bit.

I could go into all the details on the riding modes, but I won't, because I don't know. I never left Enduro the whole day. I do know there is rain, dynamic, enduro, enduro pro, and road. You can Google it if you are the least bit interested. The mode selections change the suspension, ABS and TCS settings.

Yesterday during the riding school I was using the CMG longer termer. Today I was on one of the BMW demo machines. This one had a key and not the FOB setup. Not a fan of the FOB thing, maybe it's my age, don't like them in cars, don't like them on bikes. Other than that I think it was basically the same bike.

BMW gearboxes are typically clunky, and the 1200 was certainly no different. Shifting on the CMG bike was a little smoother and I had no issues finding neutral. The demo bike........well it was a pain in the arse trying to get that thing into neutral at times. No idea why, maybe it was the lower mileage, but stopping on the side of the road to take video became a frustrating dance on the shifter to find the elusive green light on the display. Out of the whole day riding I'd say that was my biggest gripe. I'm thinking it was bike specific.

Since I was stopping to take video here and there, and then having to catch back up to my team, I spent a lot of time shifting under hard acceleration. This combined with the sensitive throttle-by-wire made for some lurching when shifting through the gears. It became less of a problem later in the day as I came more accustomed to the bike.

I can't find the horsepower stats, but 115hp comes to mind, and this bike hauls ass. The power is addictive, and combined with the great suspension you'll soon find yourself hauling down a dirt road at over 140kph. That, believe it or not, is a downside, because I could easily see myself getting into a lotta trouble with that much HP on tap.

The bike is so well planted, and balanced that at speed it just glides over everything, potholes, ruts, etc. Not much knocks it out of line. The downside.....well once a bike this big gets out of line things can go wrong really fast. Luckily for me and BMW, I never had the misfortune. A couple of ruts at 90kph got my attention, but the ol' girl just powered thru them.

Brakes....... luckily I never had any panic stops, so I never really got to appreciate maximum braking. I believe in Enduro mode, ABS is still active on the front brake, and limited on the back brake. You can still lock up the rear end at slow speeds. Since I had no issues with the brakes, I'd call them good, and easy to modulate, especially when using the front brake only to get you down a steep rock strewn ATV trail.

Through the day I took the GS through slippery muck, mud holes, up steep hills, down steep rock strewn hills, high speed dirt roads, and interstate and it just took everything in stride. It was a beautiful bike on the highway, cruising effortlessly at 120-130 with plenty of power on tap for passing. I took it down stuff I'd never dream of riding my old Vstrom through.

Is it the perfect adventure bike? Well for North America and Europe, I'd say it is as good as it gets. Not many bikes are comfortable to ride slow through gnarly terrain, and then will get you home quickly on the interstate at 130kph, or tour across American on the I95 to return via the TAT. It goes from touring bike to a big dirt bike by simply standing up on the pegs.

Downsides? Well there is the price. $19400 Canadian will get you the base model, and like all things Bavarian, option packages will add up quickly. Plus, if you like the dealer to do your maintenance work, that too will extract more loonies from your wallet. First service is in the $1K mark.

Footpegs, ridiculously small and skinny, way too small to standing on for any length of time. I was constantly moving my feet around on the pegs towards the end of the day to help relieve pressure points on the sole of my feet.

Weight, although not really noticeable, unless you are coming from a KTM 350EXC, is definitely gonna be a factor if you have to pick this thing up. Fully loaded for a multi-day trip, by yourself.......let's hope you don't have to pick it repeatedly.

Other than that I couldn't find much wrong with it. I mean to really know if you'd like a bike or not you'd have to live with it for a month or two, and I don't think BMW will let a hack blogger do that.

So.....would I buy one? Maybe, if cash wasn't an issue, but even then I'd be on the fence about it. I like smaller bikes, and right now I want to tour on the Guzzi, and for $4000 I can get a slightly used Honda CRF250L which is all I really need for some off road adventure. With Guzzi and a CRF in the garage, I'm still over $9K richer, or less in debt, because, lets face it, money will always be an issue.

Now, if someone gave me one, hell I'd be overjoyed.

When I retire, absolutely, it would be the perfect retirement present, and make a great one only motorcycle that I could comfortably do everything on. So in another 14 years, when I get the gold watch from work, and hang up my wings, I'll dropping in to see the local BMW dealer and coming home with the new GS.

Thanks to BMW Motorrad Canada and Canada Moto Guide for letting me abuse their bikes. You don't know how much I truly appreciate the opportunity to be allowed to ride such fine machines.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Fundy Adventure Rally Part Deux

Tropical Depression Henri, and I think they call it a depression, because all the rain it dumps on you is depressing, had moved on throughout the night. This was a welcome relief to rally organizers as well as riders. Their worries now were concerns about what damage the heavy rains had done to the course, and how this could change a relatively easy B route to possibly a more difficult C route. The first team departing a 0700 would soon find out.

Unlike last year were all riders followed the exact same route, rally master ‘Arris put in a liaison stage to split everyone up. Teams would alternate riding a north and a south route to begin the first A stage route to start the rally. 

The first team pulled away right at seven o’clock, drizzle was still falling from the sky, and brightness of the new day was struggling to light up sky under the heavy cloud.

My team, the Rally Yobos was one of the last teams to start, at 0745, so I had time to get some video of the start, wolf down some breakfast, and get geared up for what would be a long day. 

My plan was to follow the Yobos until the mandatory 30min stop in Salisbury and then head off on my own and get some extra video.

All suited up and ready to go, the unlikely team of three guys from Ottawa,ON, Saint John, NB, and Flat Rock, NF, who never knew each other before, headed off into the mist followed by me and my trusty cameras. My day would involve, stopping, filming, and trying to catch back up. Hopefully these guys didn’t ride too fast. The one thing I had going for me was the 115hp of the big GS. If I couldn’t catch a DR, KLR, and an XT250 on a dirt road I was in trouble.

The first part of the rally was pretty easy, basic dirt roads with a mix of pavement. No dust to worry about this year. Last year we had dusty roads with fog, which lead to a dirt filled mist that made seeing through goggles or a face shield almost impossible. 

The Yobos kept a relatively moderate pace to start out, why push hard with 500km of unknown terrain to come. The boys were playing it safe. 

The Yobos elected to skip the first water crossing at 2C, and stay on the 2B route, other than some slick sections it was pretty easy going. 

Some riders on the other hand thought the water crossing at 2C would be a good idea, that’s of course, if your idea of fun, is wading across chest deep water with a nice current, and then sucking the water out of your engine. The lucky ones made it across without issue, the unlucky ones pushed their bikes across, the real unlucky ones tried to ride across before ingesting so much water they hydro locked the engines. Apparently cylinders that are used to pushing air, don’t do so well when replaced with H2O.

I parted way with the Yobos after leg 2B, they decided to try 3C, and I figured a deep water crossing on a big GS that didn’t belong to me was a bad idea. Seeing how I didn’t have a spare $20K lying around to pay for I elected to run 3A with my friend Chris and his teammate, who we lost within the first two kilometres. 

Sean disappeared off the radar somehow, one minute he was in my rearview mirror, the next nadda, nothing. Chris and I pulled over on the side of the dirt road and waited……waited some more, and then decided to backtrack. 

Riding with people you’ve never met before brings a certain element of mystery. Riding skill level is different, and what one person can handle easily, another may have trouble. So my concern was maybe Sean ended up in the weeds trying to catch up to us. His DR650 was outgunned on the paved and dirt roads by the 1200’s Chris and I were on.

Chris and I hauled ass backtracking to where the dirt road met the pavement and waited. Other riders passed by, and Sean was nowhere to be seen,and no one remembered seeing him back at the previous gas stop. We figured he missed the turn to the dirt road and continued on, so we made the executive decision to carry on without him, hoping to meet up with him Salisbury.

We turned around again, and blasted down the dirt road taking us through route 3A. We rode well together, the 1200GS matching his Guzzi Stelvio nicely. Half of 3A was nice, because the paved section towards the end was miserable. I’m guessing it had to be a Conservative riding, because it was rougher than most of the dirt roads we had been on.

Next stop was the Salisbury Big Stop, which was being invaded by a hord of dirty bikers. The odd polished chromed, black leather clad Harley rider giving us a look of disgust. If only they knew how much fun getting dirty was.

Salisbury was a mandatory 30min rest stop, to refuel both bodies and bikes. Chris and I elected to go have a nice sit down meal, and be damned with the 30mins. I think I was there over an hour. For me it was a good chance to interview some riders.

Some riders reported trying 3C, and said it was totally impassable. The water crossing was way too deep. Well one team tried. The previous year’s winners, Team Maribel. They made it across, and spent two hours trying to get a flooded bike going. Nuts.

Eventually Sean showed up, no worst for wear, he had turned back to the gas stop and then missed the turn to the dirt road on the previous leg. He and Chris paired up again and continued on.

I spoke to ‘Arris on the phone, and he directed me to the mud hole at Synton Road, we thought that might be worthy of some video, and it didn’t disappoint. 

I followed a large group of riders out of the Big Stop on leg 4. I remember Synton Road from last year, slippery muck and some mud puddles, and that was a dry year. 

Arriving at the first mud hole, there were bikes going every which way, some coming out, some going in, some pointing sideways across the road. It made an awesome video and photo opportunity.

After a morning of deep water crossings, and stories of drowned bikes overheard at the rest stop, some riders had had enough, and a large group turned tail and buggered out, opting to take the road more traveled instead. 

I confess, I did the same thing, however it was to pair up with Tammy and Eric to high speed it to Fundy to catch riders on the last C section of the day. With a heavy heart I turned around and left the mud behind. 

The three of us slabbed it to the town of Alma on the Fundy Coast, and promptly proceeded to get lost, even with two GPS’s. Some minor confusion on what leg the last C route was required a call to ‘Arris at HQ. 

Section 6C is a rather long, rock strewn, and sometimes steep climb that winds it’s way up the side of the big hills outside of Alma. The smart media crew would have ridden up to it from below and positioned themselves to shoot video, and then there was my crew. We somehow ended up at the top, and had to pick our way down through it, with the ever present fear that teams would be flying up in the opposite direction on the rather narrow ATV path.

It was hard going on the big GS, but with Clinton’s words of “use the front brake only on steep descents” echoing in my head I coaxed the large machine down over the boulder strewn hill.

At one point we came across a dumbfounded couple on an ATV, wondering what the hell we were dong in here on BMW’s. I told him to go ahead of us, but he was insistent on watching my cat-like reflexes and wannabe trials riding skills take the 238kg machine down the steep, narrow trail.

We positioned ourselves in a perfect spot, and were able to get some great video. I even ran into the Yobos and got their ascent of the hill in all it’s glory. If glory is dropped bikes and traffic jam of two-wheelers at the halfway point. It was awesome.

Of course there are always the riders that make a difficult hill climb look ridiculously easy, like the two guys on the Husabergs, and Matt on his KLR, who basically flew up the hill. Damn you, that’s boring video.

The day was getting late, and a quick call to ‘Arris revealed no more teams would make the 4pm Alma cut-off so we headed for the finish along one of the bail out routes. Nice high speed gravel roads. The sun was finally poking it’s head out from the clouds, as we raced (OK, it’s not a race) into the setting sun. It was a beautiful way to end off the day.

The three of us arrived back at Adair’s before the majority of teams had finished, that gave us an opportunity to catch a breather before pulling out the cameras again.

Teams slowly began to filter in and each rider looked the same, filthy dirty, with a large smile on an exhausted face.

The 2015 Fundy Adventure Rally could be summed up as the “wet one”. Stories all night around the campfire consisted of drowned bikes, large mud holes, soaking wet boots, and fun times. Stories that will be retold and exaggerated for next years rally.

Courtney, Rob, Zac and the rest of the volunteers put off another incredible event, their hard work enable us to have an amazing time in an amazing part of the country. 

Tim Shields from Massachusetts said it best “the trails go on forever, it’s incredible riding”

Thanks to ‘Arris and Courtney for inviting me back again this year to video the event, it’s the riding highlight of my year.

 Thank-you to BMW for allowing me to flog a new R1200GS. It’s an awesome bike. I’d have one in the garage next to the Guzzi if it wasn’t for the price tag.

Now the real work begins, filtering through the endless video, and create something worthwhile with it. First up will be the promo video for CMR, then the documentary, which I think won't be out until next years rally.

 I figure, what a perfect venue to screen it, at the 2016 Rally. We can lure everyone into the hall with food, lock the doors and force everyone to watch it.

Picture Credits, Tammy Perry and Jason Summers.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Fundy Adventure Rally 2015 In All It's Wet, and Muddy Glory Part One

I'm staring down a steep, rocky ATV path that is part of the last "C" route in this years Fundy Rally. One rider ahead of me is making a valiant effort to pick up her bike, while being assisted by another rider. These two are my partners in crime for the afternoon, the media team for this years Fundy Adventure Rally.

Photo by Tammy Perry

 Tammy Perry, the official photographer, Eric Russell, owner of Twisted Throttle Canada, and myself, the official videographer have somehow found ourselves going backwards on the last difficult section of the day. It's a rather long steep, rock strewn path through the forest as it makes it's descent down from the high ground into the town of Alma on the Fundy coast. Who says we won't go above and beyond the call of duty to get the best footage and pics. Wrestling a 238kg 1200GS down a boulder filled path is no easy task. Good thing I took the Clinton Smout BMW riding school two days prior. Clinton's voice echoing in my head, front brake only on the steep descents. Which does work amazingly well.

Photo by Tammy Perry

Once again, Rob Harris, Courtney Hay, their merry band of organizers, and volunteers have put off the Fundy Adventure Rally for 2015, hosted at Adair's Wilderness Lodge outside of Sussex, New Brunswick. Ninety-nine riders arrived from all over eastern Canada and the US for the four day event.

I showed up Thursday morning just in time for the Clinton Smout BMW rider training session. Clinton runs a riding school outside of Barrie, Ontario and is a BMW certified instructor. If anyone has seen me ride, they know that I certainly need some instruction. Plus I'll be riding a 1200GS for the rally, and I need all the practise I can get.

Photo Tammy Perry

Clinton is quite a character, a happy, laid back guy, that makes you feel really at ease, with a great teaching style and a dash of a comedy routine.

Photo by Tammy Perry

 The course was held in the gravel pit behind the lodge. Most of it was dedicated to slow speed manoeuvres, which thanks to the great handling nature of the big BMW, was made much easier for me. The rest of the course consisted of climbing and descending, riding over logs, ruts, mud, skids, picking up dropped bikes, towing disabled bikes,  and then culminating with a short, group trail ride.

If any of you didn't do it this year I highly recommend doing next time. If you would like to go visit Clinton's school click on the link here  http://www.bmwhorseshoe.com The school also does kids training, dirt bike and trials riding.

That evening I attended a very interesting presentation by Warren Milner. Warren is the former president, yes that's right, el presidente, of Honda Canada Motorcycles. Warren has since traded in his pinstripe suit for a KLIM one and rides over 50000km a year. He is also not your average corporate executive, he started as a bike mechanic, became a tech rep for Honda Canada and quickly rose through the ranks to become "the" guy at Honda. In other words........he knows his shit, and a whole lot more.

Warren's insightful presentation was about why and how manufacturers do what they do when producing a bike. The never ending battle between engineering, marketing, and what the riding public think they want.

Mr. Milner impressed the hell out of me, not only his vast knowledge on everything motorcycle, but his quiet demeanour, and approachability. I had the opportunity to talk to him for quite sometime at the Saturday night bonfire.

Friday was when the fun began, Henri stopped by for a visit and the bastard dumped 70mm of rain on the area. Henri was a tropical storm, and which had weakened to a tropical depression, but never the less soaked the whole area and turned the afternoon into a write off.

Luckily we had a short five hour window of half decent weather and team BMW was able to get some of the riders out on demo bike rides. Think about this for a moment.......what other manufacturer lets you take a demo bike off road? None, except BMW. I mean it's awesome.

Registration continued on Friday and throughout the day rain soaked riders showed up having traveled from various parts of eastern Canada and the US.

Tammy Perry, the lovely lass who is from Saint John, but now living in St. John's, Newfoundland gave an interesting presentation on her travels throughout North and Central America on her KLR650. Tammy is such a diehard rider she divorced her husband because he thought motorcycles were dangerous. Duh.

The day wrapped up with a buffet dinner, followed by the mandatory riders meeting. The Rally Master, as he is like to be known, Rob Harris went over the route leg by leg, and then the rules for the rally. The heavy rain we had all day was weighing on the organizers minds. Concern over what it would do to the course and the dreaded water crossings.

That was followed up by Courtney's team captain's meeting on how to properly use the SPOT device.

The next day was an early start, first teams left at 0700, so most people turned in early or were busy making last minute preparations to their bikes and gear.

Next post.........the big rally, 500km in 12HR. Woohoo time to get dirty!