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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Honda's ADV Scooter...........Perfect Bike??? Is it a Bike? Scooter?

Honda has been teasing us with glimpses of it's latest maxi-scooter. Let's be honest, from what we can tell it doesn't really fit into the scooter category, nor does it fit in with the motorcycles. Scooters typically have a CVT transmission, using belts, pulleys, etc to make the back wheel move. This new "scooter" from what we can tell uses the same transmission as the Africa Twin DCT model.

First teaser video

Now we have all seen the concept bike/scooter pics released from the Japan Motorcycle Show, and Honda in fact is putting it into production, but what that will look like is still sort of a mystery.

The new City ADV as it's called is based around Honda's 750 Integra, which is only available overseas. I cannot imagine Honda selling a lot of these in the land of the V-Twins, and assless chaps.  Not sure what they were thinking with the NM1, unless there is a large legion of Batman wannabes looking for a Batbike.

I think Honda will release the City ADV or X-ADV to the North American market. The ADV segment of motorcycling is growing faster than any other right now, and the population with any real money to spend is getting up there in age.

So when you are too old to throw a leg over that 1200GS or Africa Twin, but still want something cool and ADV style to ride, with a decent motor, you can step through the City ADV, and be riding again after that double knee or replacement surgery.

I am very excited about this bike/scooter, whatever. It kinda ticks off most of the boxes for me. I love a scooter, would still like to ride gravel roads, and it has a good sized engine for touring. Oh, and when my hips and knees are shot from too much trail running, I can slide onto the seat and go for a ride. It's like the off spring of an Africa Twin and a Ruckus.

So fingers crossed that Honda does indeed change my horizons forever.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Is There a Perfect Bike?

The never ending quest for the perfect bike, does it really exist? For some, I'm sure it does, for others, not a chance. Unfortunately for me, I think I fall into the later category. I really don't think there is one perfect bike......at least for me anyway.

I have gone through my fair share of bikes, a 1972 Honda Z50, 1984 Honda Elite 125, a 1995 Honda CBR600F3, a 2000 Honda CBR600F4, 2007 CBR125R, 2009 BMW G650 X-Country, 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 400R, 2006 Suzuki Vstrom 1000, a 2001 Honda XR250R, and my current steed a 2014 Moto Guzzi V7. That's ten bikes, not including the new 2016 Honda Ruckus scooter. I have no idea why I cannot be happy, or live with the bike I have. I get bored.

Lately I have been on the scooter kick and the idea of having a large Vespa, such as the 300GTS Super Sport would be awesome. It's fast enough, I can tour, commute and it's practical around the city. But will I get bored of it? Will I go through another ADV bike phase? I already have a scooter in the garage, will I still ride the Ruckus if I have a Vespa? Too many questions and not enough answers.

I think a lot of the problem is my bike purchases have all been compromises, don't want to spend too much money on a two-wheeled toy. I guess that's the dilemma of most people that aren't independently wealthy. Mind you if I added up all the money spent on bikes in the last 10 years I could have just got the one that I wanted and be done with it.

So what is the one? For all you ADV riders out there, this is gonna sound lame, but the one, is a BMW R1200GS. I fucking love that thing. Oh and it gets better, after reading The Long Way Round, and fantasizing about doing my own adventure is when it all began. That was 2005. Then I watch the video series, and went whoa. The 1150GS was awesome. I mean it was way too big a bike for that kind of trip. If I were to ride around the world it would be on a Yamaha XT250 in Austin Vince style. But those big beepers were awesome. Then the 1200GS comes out! Even better.

In 2009 I briefly rode a used '06 that Atlantic Motoplex had, and the love affair blossomed. But the wallet never, so it remained an unobtainable dream. Bikes came and went.

The first Fundy Adventure Rally gave me an incredible opportunity to spend an entire day flogging a F800GS. It was a bike on my radar that would be a reasonably priced substitute for it's big brother. The 800GS was awesome, but not really awesome. I never enjoyed it on the highway. It was buzzy, and not nearly as highway capable as my then current bike, the VStrom. If I'm shelling out $15K, the damn thing better be comfortable on the highway.

Oh, and just a little rant, what the fuck is up with BMW seats? Are they some kind of Gestapo torture device. Shit they are uncomfortable. My G650 was the same way. My first long trip on the bike, left me in a crippled state, and a numb arse.

The Strom was a very capable bike, great highway machine, could eat miles while cruising anywhere from 120-150kph. Any hard off road would be difficult. The Strom was quite top heavy and had cast wheels. But it was basically a gas and go, change the oil every once and while machine. I do regret selling that machine. It was set up perfect. Not sure what I was really thinking.

So I continued to dream of the big GS. Everyone I'd see one the road would turn my head and stare with envy.

I figured I'd put the whole GS thing behind me and go with a retro bike. I like the retro bikes, and would fill the garage with them if I could. The Guzzi is an awesome bike. It has tonnes of character, and the best exhaust note. It's really comfortable, and with the small Dart Flyscreen is a very capable tourer. There is no logical reason to sell it.

Along comes The Fundy Adventure Rally part Deux. I have to admit I was pretty intimidated by the 1200GS, not riding it on the slab, but to push it through its paces in an off road rally. I was really hoping Rob was going give me the CMG CRF250L. One it's small and light,  and two, I was interested in buying one.

I was scheduled to ride in Clinton Smout's BMW rider course, and had thought I'd be on the 250L. I hadn't ridden off road, or even on a gravel road in a year, and wasn't too confident in my abilities. I scared the fuck out myself a couple of times the previous year on the 800GS, and wasn't keen on repeating that.

Rob had other plans and I ended up the CMG longterm test 1200GS. Yup, it was as big as I remember it was, but now it was liquid cooled with even more power and throttle-by-wire. I was given the bike at the start of the class. No time to get to know the big girl again.

We bonded immediately, and the love affair lasted a whole two days. I really didn't want to give it back. You can read my review of the GS here http://biglandadvfilms.blogspot.ca/2015/09/my-thoughts-on-big-beemer-r1200gs.html

To sum it up the big Beemer took everything I and the rally could throw at it in stride. Fast gravel roads, steep, rock strewn ATV trails, and multi-lane highway.

Oh, and then there is the price.........BMW Motorrad Canada pricing is as follows

Base price $19800

Triple Black Model (black engine and spoked wheels) $715

Touring Package (Dynamic ESA, GPS prep, Onboard computer pro, cruise control, luggage case holder) $1750

Freight and PDI $750

Grand total of ...........$23015.00 or about the price of nicely equipped VW Golf.

The negatives, besides the price. The pure size and weight of the bike. It's big. Closest dealer is in Moncton an hour away, and service is mucho dinero. But you have to pay to play.

The night after the rally I joined former head honcho of Honda Canada, Warren Milner by the campfire and we chatted about the new Africa Twin that was due out. Specifically about the DCT (dual clutch transmission) and mass centralization. I was very intrigued about the new bike, and filed it away in the back of my mind.

Could the Africa Twin be a better "Perfect Bike"?  A test ride on the Honda is in order. So far it has received glowing reviews, and the DCT has impressed more than a few diehard motorcyclists.

Whatever "perfect bike" awaits me down the road, it will be awhile. Two and half years until the 50. A fitting time to get the one.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

I won't be writing about motorcycles, scooters or anything else like that today. I maybe getting a little too deep or philosophical in my old age, but what the hell, I'm most likely past the halfway point of my life right now so I'm allowed to be a little "deep"

Everyone knows, or at least everyone in Canada knows The Tragically Hip's Gord Downey's situation. The 52 year old frontman of one of the most Canadian bands to ever walk the stage is dying from terminal brain cancer. They played their last show on Saturday August 20th in Kingston, Ontario.

In the lead up to this concert there has been a lot of press about the event, about Gord, and what this means to Canadians. It seemed like the entire country was rallying around Gord and the band.

I was never a big fan of The Hip, as they are known here in The Great White North. I never bought an album, none of their songs were on my playlist. Whether it was a mixed tape from the 90's or on my iPod now, there is no Hip.

The concert last night was broadcast for free on CBC, no pay-per-view, no commercials, no time delay to bleep out bad words, it was live, raw, and yes Gord said "fuck" many times. I never quite grasped the effect The Hip had on Canada until last night. The country was basically closed for business from 9:30pm until 12:30am as the Toronto Police Department Tweeted.

The final concert was held in the Downey's home town of Kingston, Ontario, at a small arena that 8000 lucky ticket holders got into. In downtown Kingston the main square was filled with 30,000 fans watching on big screens. All across Canada people gathered in stadiums, theatres, and filled downtown streets to witness the last Hip concert ever to take place. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance.

Other than an Olympic hockey game, I have never witnessed an event like this bring so many Canadians together. The Olympics in Rio were put on hold by the CBC to air this!

I also watched the concert from the big screen in my living room, it was just my wife and I, no big crowds, or get togethers.  Even if you don't like The Hip, you had to appreciate what was going on.

The concert lasted three hours and had three encore performances. It was pretty amazing, and emotional. To be watching a dying man put on his last performance tugs at the emotions. I don't care who you are.


Gord is a pretty amazing performer, more poet than singer. Reminds me of Dylan without the annoying voice. He moves oddly around the stage, his facial expressions sometimes looking like a crazy man, before quickly snapping back to normal, if there is a normal. I liked it. It wasn't the norm.

I came to the realization at the end of the show that I knew almost every song they played. This is a band I never really paid a whole lot of attention to. How is that possible?

Then I read or heard someone say "The Hip played the soundtrack to our lives" It's true, the Hip were always in the background during what I call the formative years of our lives. Out of high school, in college, or university, then shitty jobs, falling in love, settling down, and all the parties along the way, The Hip were the background music in our lives. Just like the background music in those American Pie movies that you never really noticed while watching the movie, but instantly recognized when played on the radio.

So yes, I will be adding The Hip to my playlist, to play in the background for who knows how much of my life is left, or maybe it will be there to remind of how I got here.

Gord...thank you for the music.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Riding a Marathon

In 1997 I moved from my home in Newfoundland to Nova Scotia to start a career at Air Nova. Prior to that I had been flying my arse off at Air Labrador, putting in 1000hrs a year. It doesn't sound like much, but that is a lot of work. I never had a lot of time for regular exercise so I quickly ballooned to a hefty 215lbs. To lose the weight I started running, first it was around the little lake by my place in Dartmouth. It was a struggle and it hurt, but soon I was able to shuffle through a 5k.

I did a 5k running race, which then led to a 10k, then a half marathon, which led to me adding some swimming and biking to the mix. A triathlon was completed, and that pushed me to an Ironman, a couple of marathons, and ultimately an ultra marathon. Never once did I volunteer to help out a race.

This past weekend I combined my love of all things two-wheeled with my like of running. Running and I have a love hate relationship so I'll just call it a like.

The annual Marathon-By-The -Sea was this past Sunday, which saw 1800 runners compete in the 10k, half and full marathons through a very tough, hilly course in the Port City. A friend of mine, Rod Paul, is one of the co-directors of the race, and I asked him if he needed some help. Finally I was going to give back to the running community.

Rod decided to put the Ruckus and I into action as the lead out rider for the marathon. Basically it's like Smokey and the Bandit. I was Bandit, minus the Trans Am, cool moustache and cowboy hat, making sure the course was clear for the lead runner, whom we will call Snowman, minus the tractor trailer load of Coors.

The Ruckus and I had carte blanche to ride all over the course. It was awesome. I was riding on the wrong side of the road, sidewalks, the Harbour Passage walking trail, the Harbour Bridge, the trails in Rockwood Park, and was stopping traffic. It was all to ensure that the race leaders could go as hard as they could, safely and without interference. The roads were not closed, so we had to deal with Sunday morning traffic, which thankfully was light.

It was a perfect day for a marathon, cool, overcast with drizzle and some showers. So needless to say I was dressed in full rain gear.

I lead out all the runners for the first part of the race, along with the lead out riders for the 10k and half. They were on bicycles. The course went up Water Street then onto the Harbour Passage walkway, which winds it's way past the Hilton, and Long Wharf. By the time we hit the open road on Chesley Drive a pack of 7-10 runners had broken away from the main field. The 10km turn was just after crossing the Reversing Falls Bridge which is where some the faster runners turned off.  Part way up Maniwagonish Road was the turn for the half. At this point there was 5 or 6 runners directly behind me, and I figured they were all half marathoners at the pace they were running. I rode up just past the turn around cone and stopped, figuring I'd have to wait a little bit for the first marathoner.

All of them hit the turn around, but one. He looked at me, waved his finger in a keep going motion, and said "I'm in the marathon" Shit this guy was fast. So, fast there wasn't another runner in sight.

I took off and for the next two hours it was basically the two of us. The only point on the course where you can see your competition is at the turn around in Lorneville, and this guy had a huge lead. It was pretty impressive to witness. They guy was running between 15-20kph.

The marathon course is brutal, it's a lot of hills, with some trail running mixed in. There's a section of the Spruce Lake Trail, which was pretty soft gravel, and then more trail in Rockwood Park, plus some tight turns on a narrow sidewalk before the Harbour Bridge. It's not a fast open road course like Boston or New York. Having to slow down to negotiate corners, then accelerate again repeatedly is exhausting.

 Spruce Lake Trail

Once we hit Rockwood Park, we started to catch up to the slower half marathoners. At this point in the race it's hard to see if another runner is catching you. Which was the case. As we hit the open road again I noticed another guy starting to catch the leader.

The leader of the marathon and I had been together for over two hours, and we had only spoken twice to each other, once at the half turnaround and once in Rockwood Park. I had to slightly veer off course to avoid a curb, and he asked me if he was to follow the trail. That's it.

He was in the zone and I didn't want to bother him with chit chat.

However I thought as we got closer to the finish line, I was going to pull alongside him, ask him his name, and congratulate him on a fine performance. Once he crossed the finish line I figured I wouldn't get the chance.

The second place runner was going to ruin my chance of that. With less than a kilometre to go, it's turning into a sprint finish, and I'm right alongside witnessing it. This was so cool. I felt bad at the same time. Here was this poor bastard who led the race for 41km, and could possibly lose within sight of the finish line.

The battle for first

As a volunteer, you have to be neutral in your support of the runners, but I couldn't at this point. I turned around and looked him in the face and yelled "dig deep!" Not that he wasn't already. I have no idea where he found the energy but he surged and held off the last minute charge from the second place runner and crossed the finish line first, FOUR seconds ahead of the next runner. Four seconds separated two runners after 42.2km. Nuts! 2:42 was the winning time.

Turns out the winner was Ryan O'Shay, a New Brunswick boy from New Maryland, and I did get to congratulate him, and shake his hand. He told me he was toast at the 28km mark, and a sprint finish wasn't the way he wanted to finish the race.

The Ruckus turned out to be perfect for the marathon, the big tires enabled me to easily negotiate the trail sections, pop over curbs, race down sidewalks, and it was quite comfortable after three hours in the saddle.

This is where the scooter is far superior to the motorcycle. It would have been exhausting riding a motorcycle at those slow speeds for so long.

I had a lot of fun, was inspired by all the runners, and cannot wait to do it again next year. I might even be inspired enough to do a half marathon next year. Might be.......or maybe I'll just stick to my 7K trail run.

What's next?? The Guzzi maybe going on the selling block, and what replaces it will remain a mystery. Another adventure is in the works, and it maybe of even grander proportions than the Labrador one.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Next Ride

The Ruckus has reignited my passion and affinity for scooters. The ease of use...... just get on, twist the throttle, and go with a big shit eating grin on your face. No clutch or running through the gears. Simplicity at its finest.

The Guzzi is not even a year old yet, and my mind is wandering to a replacement for it already. A bigger scooter, a maxi-scooter as they call them. The Honda City ADV mentioned before would be quite a beast if it ever makes it to the shores here. Although the Honda City that it is based on is a Euro model only, so I think it maybe doubtful. I really should be living in the old country.

So what are the other options? Let's face it, I don't ride off road, and I have the Ruckus for my short jaunts onto the gravel or the odd trail. I don't need to go balls to walls on a KTM. Most of my longer trips are on pavement or smooth gravel at the worst, so I really have no need for a big ADV bike, as cool as they are.

I do want to start doing some longer touring trips, and keep up my yearly New Jersey trip for work, so a long distance capable stead is needed. I know you can tour on anything, but being able to jump on the interstate from time to time and cruise at 120kph is nice. Sometimes you just need to get somewhere fast. So my eye has wandered to the maxi scooters!!!

I know, you're all thinking.......WTF, a scooter, dude turn in your man card.

I've pretty much ridden and owned all types of bikes, sport, cruiser, ADV, dirt, so I have nothing to prove, and I really don't give a shit. Ride one and you'll get it, whether you admit it or not.

The maxi scooters provide a big engine with a CVT so no shifting, loads of cargo space, and the weather protection is awesome, especially in our neck of the woods where it's cold and wet. The Suzuki Burgman for example has 50L of underseat storage, two glove boxes, and electrically adjustable windscreen, plus heated grips, heated seats, and can cruise the interstate at 120kph with the cruise control on.

What are the options? There's the above mentioned Suzuki Burgman 650, BMW C650GT, the Yamaha TMAX and that's about it. Kymco has a 500, but there are no dealers in the area. In my neck of the woods the Suzuki and Yamaha are down the street where Tim Hovey owns the dealership, and BMW is an hour away in Moncton. Honda has a 300, as does Vespa, but they don't cut the mustard.

The BMW C650GT is a luxury touring scooter, no doubt about that. 647cc engine putting out 60hp (10 more than the Guzzi), but weighing in at whopping 261kg, with an even more whopping price tag of $11550.00. That however is before you add the Highline Canada package which is another $750 and gives you heated seats, grips, and tire pressure control. Another $1K for luggage rack and top case, because like a good BMW owner it has to be the overpriced OEM one. Now it's a $13200 scooter, plus an enormous freight charge, PDI, admin fees, and of course tax.

Those Europeans know how to have so much fun. "Let's head to the beach in Nice this weekend my darling"

That's a lot of cash, or credit. But that does get you a pretty damn comfortable, fast scooter that will tour quite easily with the big boys, and not take up too much space in the garage.

Downside.......it's $13K, and the closest dealer is an hour away which can be a pain in the arse with warranty and servicing. The Guzzi is living proof of that.

Next up the Yamaha TMax. I've had a thing for these for quite awhile. It't considered the sport bike of scooters and it has put more than one motorcycle rider to shame.

Yes folks, that is a Roland Sands Tmax.

More Europeans having fun.

Although it is down on engine size compared to the BMW and the Burgman at 530cc it is quite a bit lighter in weight, tipping the scales at 220kg, 50kg lighter than the Suzuki! More than making up for the loss in displacement.

It doesn't have the finer accoutrements that the Beemer and Burgie have, lacking an electrically adjustable windshield, heated seats or even heated handgrips. It does have a keyless system, but that is not a selling feature for me. The underseat storage is also smaller, so a top box is necessary.

Retail price is $10499, but with a rack, top box, liner, and tunnel bag it's only $11268. Plus the dealer is down the street.

I think this guy might be North American. He looks a little more serious, and couldn't find a date.

Also down the street and in the same showroom is the Suzuki Burgman 650. Some say this is the Goldwing of touring scooters, and just by looking at one and reading the reviews I'd have to agree.

It is a 633cc, 277kg beast of a scooter. Really the only scooterness to it is the CVT. It comes with an electrically adjustable windscreen, heated grips, seat, cruise control, and has a massive amount of storage, both in the glove boxes and underneath the seat. 50l of storage under your arse. Enough for any weekend adventure.

The Burgman is on sale right now for $10500, and really needs no accessories.

What all these scooter boast is all day riding comfort, whether it's backroads or droning along on the interstate. You are completely protected from the elements, which is what makes these great commuters as well.

Apparently chicks dig the maxi scooters too. Although her choice in riding attire is doubtful. Maybe she is on her way to work at Moxie's.

The BMW is a big scoot compared to the Honda NC700X.

So what would I buy? Hard to say. I'd rule out the Beemer on price alone. The Tmax has soul, if anything other than a Vespa has soul. It's more like a sport touring bike disguised as a scooter. The Burgman........it ticks off everything on the list of must haves for touring, but just seems boring. There is always a compromise. 

Now, I'm just looking and probably won't buy anything. But after having a hard look, the scooter seems to fit my lifestyle more than a bike. 90% of my riding is commuting to work, where the added weather protection and luggage space is an asset. The rest of my riding consists of the two to three road trips I take a year. Once again the added comfort of a maxi-scooter is an asset. 

Who knows what the future will bring.
Of course the Russian bike with the sidecar is still in my dreams