Monday, 21 November 2016
Innovation is a scarce resource in today's motorcycle industry, despite what the OEMs might lead you to believe. Behind every supposed leap forward in electronic trickery aimed at keeping your untalented ass out of the weeds is several decades of stagnant design and engineering tarted up with fancy new plastics. We haven't seen a real revolution in motorcycle design in a long while, at least one that didn't deviate far from the accepted formula of oversized bicycle with a big horny engine stuck in the middle.
The people who truly innovate are not found at major manufacturers. They aren't listening to focus groups or making clay mockups in well-lit design studios with Instagram accounts vomited all over "inspiration boards" on the wall. The people who are driving innovation are doing so in their garages and their homes, building their dreams without the constrictions of tradition and bean counter interference compromising their vision of perfection. They build the future the way they envision it, everyone else be damned. Their work is pure. Their genius is only recognized by the few who can appreciate the iconoclastic vision.
This is not the story of one of those machines. This is the story of a Dirtbag bike.
Monday, 12 September 2016
I'm still a long way from home, but now we are on the final stretch. The excitement of exploring new locales and unknown destinations is subsiding as a return to normality looms; soon it's back to the grind, back to dull reality. It gives me pause as I roll along, inspiring my usual, recurring fantasy of abandoning my world and fucking off into the wild blue yonder.
Always a tantalizing thought for me, but one I rarely act upon. Debt, complacency, and general laziness always conspire against my ability to pull up roots and run for the hills. Plus I have a Ducati in my living room that I am desperately hoping to rebuild soon, a not insignificant task that will hoover up whatever extra funds I can beg and borrow and keep me anchored to a steady paycheque for a while yet.
Monday, 25 July 2016
I head out towards the coast via the 128, the same route I took in the dark on my way south. The roads are lovely. Crossing the Mendocino county line reveals a series of perfect, fresh ribbons of asphalt flowing through avenues of craggy trees forming a canopy overhead. The surface is impeccably groomed and properly cambered, the sightlines good, and there are few decreasing radius bends to catch you off guard. It's motorcycling heaven, roads that are as beautiful as they are challenging, without ever feeling treacherous. You can ride fluidly from one corner to the next, punching up to triple digits along the short straights without fear of overreaching your abilities.
It's a flattering experience, one that renews my faith in my skills. Some of the routes I've taken are so erratic and unpredictable that they shook my confidence, forcing me to pick my way through the bends and occasionally overcook into a blind corner whenever I tried to pick up the pace. Not here. This is my kind of road, with a flow that encourages smooth and fast riding rather than pointing and squirting between hair-raising corners with little to no margin for error. It's also less taxing on the mediocre suspension and tires of the Tuono, which have been giving me grief and sapping my confidence on the tighter canyon roads.
Monday, 20 June 2016
It's time for me to reluctantly begin the journey home. The first leg along the coast north of LA is probably the dullest of the journey, but still plenty scenic. I make San Luis Obispo my destination for the day, a familiar spot to stop and get a motel room where I can spend some time decompressing, catching up on my notes and emails.
Monday, 2 May 2016
"I have one in Vancouver if you still need it."
I picked up the phone and immediately dialed the attached number. He was shocked by how quickly I responded to his message. I probably called him 10 minutes after he sent it.
Sometimes I have trouble mitigating my desperation. Playing it cool isn't my forte when I'm excited or lonely. It's not a good strategy for deal making or finding love, respectively.
Monday, 11 April 2016
It's a beautiful Sunday morning in LA and it's time to go riding.
My first stop is just down the street a few miles, the Deus Ex Machina shop. Actually it's less of a shop and more of a café with a clothing store attached. Regardless, Deus has become the model for the snobby hipster builder joint, the prototype for commercialization of the custom scene beyond recognition.
If you want to buy meticulously prepared espressos or overpriced t-shirts and surfboards in an environment littered with pretentious magazines, Deus is your place.
If you want to buy motorcycles or anything motorcycle related beyond a motif on a T-shirt, you'll want to go elsewhere.
Monday, 21 March 2016
It is 1986, and Harley-Davidson is in the midst of a rebirth. After years of struggling under AMF ownership and suffering through poor quality, lagging sales, and a tarnished reputation, the 1980s have offered a new era of prosperity for America’s perennial motorcycle manufacturer. Following the purchase of the works from AMF by a group of investors led by Willie G. Davidson in 1981, a major restructuring has restored solvency to the marque. And now the company is looking to recapture some of the racing successes that had driven their brand for decades. The XR program led by Dick O'Brien in the early 1970s had given The Motor Company a strong base for success in American racing, but it was limited to dirt track and a few notable but fleeting wins in European road racing with Renzo Pasolini and Cal Rayborn aboard the XRTT. With the coffers finally filling after the dark days, Harley's reputation improving, and production steadily climbing, the mid-1980s seemed like the ideal time to begin a new program that would lead to the development of the most potent, most modern motorcycle HD would ever create.
This is the story of the VR1000, the Superbike contender that was hoped to put Harley-Davidson back on the road racing podium. This is a story you might think you are familiar with, but the truth of the matter is that you haven't heard the real story of the VR, how it came to be, and how it came to end.
Monday, 14 March 2016
I get up early to head back to Pro Italia to make a pilgrimage to one of the dealers I've long been curious about. I've dealt with them in the past for parts orders for my 916, back in the fleeting days when the Loonie was worth a damn and it was cheaper for a Canadian to buy parts in the States. I also wanted an Aprilia mechanic to have a listen to the persistent top end tick in my Tuono, if only to quell my hyperactive imagination and remove the spectre of imminent mechanical catastrophe from my mind before I rode 2500 miles home.
Monday, 8 February 2016
I rise early and stumble out into the motel courtyard, exhibiting my usual bleary-eyed pre-caffeinated lack of focus. I wander into a group of immaculate Harley-Davidson touring models tended by a troupe of middle-aged riders. I say hello and someone compliments my Aprilia in a thick European accent, mentioning how few they see over here in America.
It turns out that they are a group of Italians who rented their H-Ds in Oakland to tour around California and Arizona. It seems like a perfectly appropriate way to tour the US of A, and I'm reminded of my dream of riding across Italy aboard one of their uncompromising two-wheeled exports. Probably aboard a Ducati, but an MV, Moto-Guzzi, or Aprilia would be quite alright too.
Monday, 4 January 2016
Matt proves to be an engaging host, an experienced racer filled with good stories, interesting contacts and a wealth of knowledge. I'd talked to him online briefly before but hadn't realized how passionate and knowledgeable he truly was, making my stop in Calistoga after a far-too-long ride all the more worthwhile. He is kind enough to prepare a late night meal for me after my day's adventure, a much welcomed gesture given my unfortunate habit of "forgetting" to stop for a meal due to my excitement and determination to complete the journey.
I have a tendency to zone into a task so completely that I neglect to even feed myself, pushing my basic needs aside in favour of seeing myself through to the end. It's a trait I share with my father, who is known for spending long days in the garage without taking a break. I know this practice well, zoning myself out for long hours as I tinker with my machines or work on my hobbies. I usually don't stop until I encounter a roadblock that stymies me, which generally results in something getting broken in a rare fit of blind rage. I am not known for having a temper, usually being quite calm in demeanour, but when something frustrates me beyond the limits of my patience I have a tendency to snap in spectacular fashion. Demons run when good men go to war, or when the quiet man strips a bolt at the wrong moment.
Monday, 28 December 2015
As per my usual habit I awake at sunrise - or rather, I sleepily hobble out of my tent, because a sore, groggy motorcyclist extricating himself from a single-person tent at the ass crack of dawn of a cool morning is about as undignified an act as you can possibly witness - and go through my usual routine of fumbling with packing my gear into the impossibly tight confines of the stuff sacks from whence they will never again fit.
This uncivilized procedure is followed by the soothing effects of the day's first cigarette and an instant coffee prepared over a portable stove. If I'm feeling particularly thrifty I might make some instant oatmeal and skip the pleasure of a greasy breakfast, but today, on this damp morning, I'm feeling like I deserve something more substantial. Today's a day for my favourite practice of riding as long as I can stand on an empty stomach and stopping at whatever eatery happens into view when I can't suppress my hunger any longer.
Monday, 23 November 2015
I, like any other red-blooded motorcyclist, have cultivated a long-held fascination for the work of the late John Britten.
I don't recall the first time I heard about or saw a picture of a V1000. I do remember that I experienced the same reaction most people have when they first encounter a Britten: "what in the almighty hell is that?"
This amazement was followed by an intense curiosity spurred on by the extreme styling, the gaudy colours, the elemental design. After the shock of the whole subsides, the strange little details suddenly pop into your periphery. The machine becomes more and more fascinating the closer you look. Just what is this strange, organic machine painted in bright blue and pink livery?
Then, inevitably, you learn how the Britten came to be: the condensed and mythologized story of a man in a shed in New Zealand building a world-beating race bike, one that had the performance to dance with multi-million dollar factory efforts - and beat them fair and square on the track. You watch the documentaries; you read the articles detailing John's project and the astounding innovation on offer. You learn of his tragic death in 1995, and the myriad "what ifs" that followed his untimely passing. What if he had lived to continue building bikes? What would have been the next step? How could he have topped himself, after he had built one of the most astounding motorcycles of all time?
It's a powerful story, an engaging tale of the everyman beating the world and exposing the weaknesses of a large, lumbering industry mired in tradition in the process. A man with a vision and grim determination takes on the establishment with a home-built special, and does well enough to scare the shit out of the factory efforts - all the while inspiring the notoriously fickle motorcycle market to appreciate an alternative, first-principle design. It is the classic David versus Goliath story arc with a tragic end, one that fits into the Kiwi tradition of self-reliance and DIY ingenuity.
It's a good story, but it is one that is simplified to the point of fiction. The truth is that the story of John Britten and his machines is far more interesting and nuanced than the "man in a shed" myth would lead you to believe, and the motorcycles that Britten and his team produced from the late-1980s through to the mid-1990s are even more amazing than you thought they were.
Monday, 12 October 2015
The following day I hit the road alongside Neal. I learn very quickly that at this altitude the Tuono is even more of a homicidal maniac than I'm used to. When a car tries to cut me off in the early morning traffic I give it a handful in first gear to scoot past and the front instantly rockets skyward with the sort of alacrity that is both terrifying and endlessly entertaining. I apologize to Neal for drawing any unwanted attention and gesture to the luggage; the extra weight on the ass end makes this thing ridiculously wheelie happy.
I head down the I-5 through Seattle, painlessly bypassing most of the morning's commuters via the HOV and express lanes. While I’d love to stick around and check out the sights (the Museum of Flight is on my bucket list, but time is too limited this time around) my goal for today is a bit further south.
Monday, 5 October 2015
I awake at dawn, the sunlight reduced to a dull grey glow filtered through the haze of smoke. It appears that the forest fire smoke has grown denser overnight, and a light coating of soot has formed on the tent and my bike by the time I emerge. I prepare a quick breakfast, my on-the-road staple of oatmeal and instant coffee, before I pack my things and prepare to hit the road - I have a lot of ground to cover today, as I'm aiming to be in the Seattle area by evening to meet with an OddBike follower who has offered me a place to stay.
Monday, 21 September 2015
My journey begins as they often do, early on a cold, grey morning punctuated by the gut-twisting anxiety I often struggle with whenever I'm about to embark into the unknown. Or pretty much every time I get up before sunrise and try to force a meal down when my bowels are going haywire from being awoken at such an ungodly hour. My best laid plans of departing just as the sun cracks over the horizon are usually derailed by a few visits to the bathroom before I even get my gear on, and suddenly my eager 6 AM departure becomes a leisurely roll out sometime around 8. So it was this morning, as per my usual, that I hobbled down to the parking garage with an armload of 30 pounds of luggage well after my intended start time while I silently cursed my overactive gut.