Monday, 2 May 2016

Editorial - Resurrection

Ducati 916 Rocky Mountains

"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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part IX - Don't Buy the Hype

Deus Ex Machina Los Angeles

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 cafĂ© 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.

Deus Ex Machina Los Angeles

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

Harley-Davidson VR1000 - God's Own Voice

Harley-Davidson VR1000

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.

Harley-Davidson VR1000

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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part VIII - Mandello's Finest

Aprilia Tuono Pro Italia California

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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part VII - Mullin' over Automobiles

Mullin Museum Voisin C27

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.

Aprilia Tuono San Luis Obispo Motel

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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part VI - Awe

Aprilia Tuono San Simeon California

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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part V - The Longest Day

Aprilia Tuono Oregon Coast

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.

Aprilia Tuono Oregon Coast 

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

Brittens at Barber - Meeting the Icons

Britten V1000 Reunion

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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part IV - Mount St. Helens

Aprilia Tuono Mount St Helens

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.  

Aprilia Tuono Spirit Lake Highway

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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part III - Into Smoke

Aprilia Tuono Grand Forks British Columbia

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

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part II - Clearing the Haze

Syringa Provincial Park

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.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

OddBike USA Tour 2015: Part I - Prologue

Aprilia Tuono Highway 93 British Columbia

Just a few more months. Everything you are doing is towards this goal. You need this trip. You need this escape.

Don't jeopardize it now.

I've been repeating this mantra in my head endlessly over the past several months, a process of self-medication to try and ease my tortured mind. It's a small but crucial balm to soothe my stress and bring my life back into focus.

Forget the drudgery of the day and the cruelty of working mindlessly, endlessly. The goal is on the horizon. Soon you can escape, however briefly.

Monday, 17 August 2015

OddBike Road Test: Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Harley-Davidson LiveWire Demo

"No wheelies, no stoppies, no burnouts, no slingshotting."

It's the mantra of the Canadian test pilot, the phrase ingrained into our collective consciousness through years of steady conditioning. We can rattle off the rules as if they were our name, rank and serial number. Anyone in this country who dares to be so self-entitled as to request a test ride aboard a motorcycle they are considering for purchase will be subjected to the bane of our existence: the heavily regulated demo ride.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire Demo

Canadian dealerships are notoriously strict when it comes to lending out bikes. Unless you are a good friend of a high-level employee, or frequent the sort of time-capsule mom-and-pop bike shops that are rapidly disappearing, odds are you will never be allowed to test ride a machine outside of a tightly controlled, fully supervised, predetermined demo route. Riding a bike that you haven't bought yet is a virtual impossibility when you are dealing with big-box dealerships. There are liability issues, don't you know. They could get sued. One moron wrote off a bike on an unsupervised test 10 years ago and they haven't let anyone so much as sit on a bike in the showroom without a salesperson being present and a waiver being signed since then.

So if you want to try out a bike before you sign the paperwork, you'd better sit tight and sign up well in advance for the one demo day that marque is hosting sometime in the next four months. Or do like most of us do: say "fuck it" and buy the thing anyway and deal with the disappointment of the moto rag reviews not matching the reality later.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Help fund "The Story of the Britten V1000" on Indiegogo

The Goal

In October, 2015 a historic event will be held at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama. As part of the 11th annual Barber Vintage Festival, a once-in-a-lifetime reunion of the iconic motorcycles produced by the late John Britten will be held, the first such reunion on North American soil. 
A similar reunion was held in Britten's home town of Christchurch, New Zealand in February of this year and it proved to be a moving tribute to the legacy of a man and a team of enthusiastic supporters who left an astonishing mark on the motorcycle industry. The ten V1000s produced by Britten's team represented the pinnacle of road racing technology at the time, mixed with some of the most innovative experimentation in chassis design seen in the 1990s. These machines are icons and continue to stun onlookers some 20 years after John's untimely passing, 19 years after they were retired from racing.

They are my icon, the machine that has inspired me to pursue all that is weird and wonderful in motorcycles and to celebrate alternative ideas - and the people who pursue them. For the past year I have been quietly working on an in-depth profile of Britten's motorcycles, and this reunion represents the best chance I have to document the individual machines and interview the owners, riders, and participants in John Britten's attempt at conquering road racing.

So OddBike needs your help to attend the Barber Vintage Festival to further the research needed to complete this article. John Britten's story has been told many times, but never in a way that has fully explored the truth behind the creation of one of motorcycling's single greatest machines, or how a relatively tiny operation succeeded in doggedly pursuing a series of unusual ideas and advanced technology in a bespoke machine that has yet to be equalled in terms of public impact and racing success.  

The Britten story is one that inspires breathless hyperbole, and for good reason, but the true story of how the V1000 came to be has not been properly addressed outside of a singular biography written by Tim Hanna (which, incidentally, I highly recommend reading). My aim is to apply my inimitable style of honest, accurate, and technically detailed writing to the Britten story and offer it for free consumption online. This work will be the crowning jewel of OddBike's archive of unusual motorcycles. I also intend to document my personal journey in researching this subject and examining the machines with a separate editorial piece.
Your support will directly contribute to the writing of this story, a long-form article that will be published on as a free and honest tribute to one of the greatest motorcycles of all time and the people who made it happen. 

The Expenses

The expenses that I am aiming to cover with this campaign are as follows:

Return airfare from Calgary to Birmingham - 600$

Ticket for "An Evening with Britten" charity dinner at the Barber Museum - Prices TBA, traditionally 150$

Three day admission to the Barber Vintage Festival - 80$

T-shirt and sticker printing, shipping fees, and Indiegogo fees - 170$

Further expenses will be out of my own pocket.

Other ways you can help

To keep expenses to a minimum I humbly ask if anyone in the Birmingham area has a spare couch or bed they can offer please contact me at jasonevariste (AT) I expect to arrive Wednesday October 7th and leave Monday October 12th.

If you are in town for the festival please get in touch with me, I'd be happy to meet with some of my followers for some BBQ and beer while I'm in Alabama!

As with the previous OddBike campaign, a few OddBike logo perks will be on offer to campaign supporters! I thank everyone in advance for helping fund this project, and I hope I can meet some of you at Barber - this reunion will be a once in a lifetime event and I would not recommend missing it!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Bimota DB3 - Much Maligned Mantra

Sacha Lakic Bimota DB3 Mantra
Sacha Lakic Design
For any Italophilic sport rider, there are few marques than can equal the beauty and desirability offered by the motorcycles produced by Bimota. Starting with their fortuitous decision to start building bikes instead of HVAC equipment in 1972, Bimota has earned its reputation producing some of the most delectable two-wheeled exotica in the world by assembling world-class sport machines around proven, bought-in powertrains. They are one of the few companies that can consistently take top-shelf engines from already capable machines and then make those donor bikes look staid, slow and boring in comparison to what the folks in Rimini have been slapping together in their laughably tiny "factory" since the Nixon administration.

The DB3 Mantra is not one of those machines. Nor was it ever intended to be. The Mantra represents one of Bimota's bigger missteps, an attempt to crack into a wider market that failed to win over many fans. It was expensive and saddled with some of the most controversial styling ever put into production. It was also one of the most useable real-world street bikes ever produced by the company, a fact lost in the unending stream of negative commentary that has dogged the Mantra since it was unveiled in 1994.