It's getting to be that time of year again - months of snow bound Ragnarok motorbike hibernation are making me twitchy. I like winter generally, it offers a very different and sometimes beautiful view of the world, but when motorcycling has become your go-to stress reliever, being out of the saddle for months is a source of pressure. If you look at the seasonal leanings of this blog, you'll see winter generally leads to yearning.
This time around the fixation is on the Mercedes Metris Van. I've previously looked at Ford Transits from a Guy Martin point of view, and other small van options for moving bikes to where I can use them. The Metris has the benefit of being as efficient as the little vans but can swallow the Tiger with room to spare. The other little vans would required a tight squeeze if it'd fit at all.
Another benefit of the Metris is that you can customize it to your needs and it'll still go everywhere a normal vehicle will. It's also surprisingly competitive in price to the Ford and Dodge/Fiat options. So, what would I do with the only Mercedes I've ever been interested in buying?
Last year at pretty much this exact same time I was mapping out waterfalls in Virginia. The drive down to Roanoke is about 11 hours. With the Tiger in the back I'd have left right after work and been in Roanoke by midnight. After a good sleep and breakfast and I'd be out all weekend making use of those lovely temperatures while chasing spring powered waterfalls across the Appalachians. After a good ride Sunday I'd have a big dinner then head back into the frozen wastelands of the north getting in after mid-night, but I'd have the Monday of the long weekend to get back on it again.
All told that'd be about 2000kms in the van and another six hundred or so miles riding in the spring blooming mountains. If I could convince the family to come along, they could crash in the hotel or jump on the back and come along.
I've been reading Guy Martin's autobiography and his van powered wandering to motorcycling events all over the UK and Europe seem entirely doable, if you only have that van. He seems to be able to fit an improbably amount into a very limited amount of time simply by getting himself there and then getting himself home again.
It's a good read that trips right along. I enjoyed the narrative flow of the follow up book When You Dead You Dead more (I read it first), but you quickly fall into Guy-speak and feel like you're sitting in a pub with him hearing the tale. If you like motorcycles and racing it's brilliant. If you just like a good story well told, it'll do that too.
I'm a visual animal to begin with, and Pinterest feeds my first language directly without any words; I'm usually a fan. As my collection of pins grow the feed starts to show things that the Pinterest A.I. thinks I'll be interested in. That impartial comparison revealed a number of interesting and not particularly flattering connections to motorcycles.
Apparently a large number of people who make motorcycle themed boards on Pinterest don't think too much of women. They either enjoy taking shots at their biological functions or treating them like sex toys. This gets tiresome quickly when you post nothing like this on your boards. How overt sexism possibly has anything to do with motorcycles is beyond me, other than the fact that a lot of people who profess to love motorbikes also evidently have strongly held beliefs about the inferiority of women and like to post disparaging images to support and publicize that belief.
The A.I. isn't judging, it's just matching up evident associations between what I would have described as diverse, unrelated interests. But there is a calculable statistical connection between people who post pictures about motorcycles and people who like to advertise the fact that they are a sexist asshole. If there wasn't the maths wouldn't have put that crap in my feed. I find it all a bit embarrassing.
When you tell Pinterest you're not a fan of these suggestions it begins to tune them out. It's taken the better part of a week of continual weeding to clean out my feed, which makes me sad. The clingyness of this statistical connection suggests it's a strong one, which leads to the question: are the majority of motorcycle riders sexist? If they are then I guess Pinterest's AI should keep doing what it's doing, but I hope my actions are making that AI a bit better at connecting interests.
Not everyone who is into bikes is a mouth breathing jerk.
When the AI isn't battering you with overt sexism, it's hammering you with what appears to be insecure man syndrome. Apparently the women hating angry men are also very insecure and like to post images and words that I can best describe as mad-bragging. I've never gotten the chest beating "I'm a tough guy" talk. Anyone who spends a lot of time telling you how tough they are probably isn't.
Evidently there is mathematical evidence that many people who like motorcycles also have a tendency to hate women and nurse giant insecurity complexes; or perhaps they are just the loudest ones.
What got me wondering about this was a sudden increase in the bimbo on a cruiser/angry man images in my feed. What really pushed me over the top was an overt reference to Trumpist conservatism that verged on white supremacist. I was so shocked by the pin that I removed it immediately. I'd be embarrassed to be associated with an image like that. Afterwards I was noticing a proliferation of other biker nonsense and started screen grabbing it as it happened. I wish I'd kept the first one as it makes the later ones look tame by comparison. It makes me wonder just how poisonous and nasty some people's feeds could become. You could make the argument that it's what they want to see, but if were Pinterest I wouldn't feel good about spreading that kind of negativity.
If you look at my Motorcycle Media page, you won't find any bikinis or angry biker threats, yet Pinterest clearly sees a statistical connection between those subjects and what I'm into. Any women in my pages are conspicuous in that they are riders, not adornments, and are clothed as such.
From a technical perspective I wonder if Pinterest are looking just at keywords or whether they have something smarter going on with image recognition. Considering it's Pinterest I'd hope it's the later, yet they seem intent on trying to hook me up to the angry-white-guy-biker vibe, which I've never shown any interest in. Perhaps these are teething pains as Pinterest seems to be exploring AI quite aggressively.
I've bumped into North American biker culture before, and it usually hasn't been all that much fun. It seems particularly comfortable with a view of masculinity that seems pretty antiquated. These archaic misogynists appear determined to cling to their 20th (19th?) Century ideas. This doesn't bother me that much because they're on the wrong side of history, I just wish Pinterest wasn't so intent on slapping me in the face with them.
I know hyperbole sells papers, especially in the infamously hyperbolic British press, but with Dakar winners whining about how hard it is, the whole thing looks to be on the verge of imploding. With all of this negative noise around it, it's only a matter of time before some enterprising probably American lawyer attempts to shut the whole race down with a liability lawsuit. I''m hoping the cavalier French organization running the Dakar are suitably prepared to deal with that. It would be a crying shame to see the Dakar ended by such mediocrity.
These headlines popped up on Lyndon Posskitt's Instragram feed. In typical Lyndon fashion he was simply thankful for the attention, you'd be hard pressed to find a nicer guy. That the headlines are so turned up to eleven as to be practically hysterical isn't anything new. When unprepared playboy racer Mark Thatcher got lost in the Sahara during the 1982 Paris to Dakar rally the British press lost their minds. Rather than wonder why a spoiled rich kid who had forgotten about the race until the week before it began and then managed to navigate his driver almost two hundred kilometres off piste before crashing was in the mess he was in, they questioned this weird, dangerous foreign event. Even the level headed BBC can't help but describe it as a mental illness.
In the almost thirty years the Dakar ran in Africa, only five times did half or more of the competitors cross the finish line. It took until the 1990s to get over half of the starters to the finish for the first time.
Tacking on to the end of Red Bull's graph there, in 2015 there was a 51% finishing rate. 2016 was a 62% finishing rate and 2017 came in at an all time high 72%. Perhaps the issue is that the race has been catering to the results orientated professional rally teams more and more. With their money and vested interests trying to control the race and maximize participation and therefore advertising revenue, there is moneyed pressure to turn the Dakar into a glorified two week world rally stage. The quick professionals are the biggest complainers. If you're looking for proof, those inflationary finishing percentages tell a tale. Or perhaps it's because in 2018 everybody thinks they deserve a medal for showing up.
If anything this year's Dakar looked like the desert races of old with sand, dunes and savage navigation. What you're seeing here is Dakar sporting director Marc Coma's course design getting better and better. If anyone could take the Dakar back to its roots, it's the guy who was worried about navigation losing its importance in the first place.
You can take all the press hyperbole fed by professional speed-racer whining with a grain of salt. The Dakar is in good hands and it will remain what it is: the toughest motorsport event in the world.
I got replacement rubber bits for the now fifteen year old Triumph Tiger 955i in before Christmas, but the weather has been so diabolically cold that even with a propane heater in the garage, the floor is still radiating negative thirty degrees and working in there is a misery. We finally had a break in temperature this weekend so I got a chance to fit new rubber on the Tiger...
Perished Rubber Replacement on a Triumph Tiger - YouTube
It's only -1°C out there, so it's garage door open time!
My targeted bits were the rubber covers on the mirror stalks, which aren't that important but you see a lot of them while you're riding and they bothered me. The shift leaver rubber has been held together with Gorilla Tape for the better part of a year (that's some tough tape) and one of the rubber bits that go between the seat and the frame had disappeared, so I was aiming to replace that too so the seat would sit evenly and there would be no metal on metal rubbing.
The shift leaver was a simple thing. I cut off the tape and the old rubber which was half torn. With the new rubber warmed up and some WD40, the new bit slid on fairly easily. The mirror arm rubbers were equally straight forward. The mirror is on a threaded end. Undoing that and the nut under it that holds it tight meant I could slide the mirror rubbers off. The old ones were cracked in multiple places and barely hanging on. I cleaned up the threads and metal under which was a bit rusty, put some rust paint on there to make sure none comes back and slid the new rubber covers on. Another quick fix.
The problems arose when I tried to fit the seat rubbers. I suspect the dealer sent me the wrong bits. The rubbers that sit between the adjustable seat height bracket under the seat and the frame are circular with a flexible back that holds them to the frame. What I got were some pieces of rubber with sticky backing that aren't even the same thickness as the circular rubber grommets.
I'd shrug it off but at $3.30 plus tax and shipping for each of these sticky rubber bits, I'm out fifteen odd bucks in parts that seem to have nothing to do with what I was trying to fix. I did send photos of the parts required and I thought we were clear on what was needed. Rather than flush more money on parts I didn't ask for, I found a rubber grommet that was a bit too big and cut it down to fit the hole. It's a snug fit and compresses to about the same thickness as the other grommets. I might eventually get four matching rubber grommets just to make things even down there, but for now the seat isn't uneven and the frame isn't metal rubbing on metal.
The perished rubbers thing was as much an aesthetic choice as it was a performance fix. Little details like rubber pieces on an older bike bring it back into focus. Regularly watching Car SOS buying full sets of rubbers for older cars they are restoring probably intensified the urge.
Since I purchased the Tiger almost two years ago I've done all the fluids and changed the tires which produced a much more road capable bike (the old ones were well past due). I've also replaced the chain, but other than these rubber bits and the fuel fittings last winter I haven't replaced anything that wasn't a regular service item. The old Tiger has been a trustworthy steed.
I'm usually able to steal a ride toward the end of winter as the sunlight returns and we get the odd warm day with dry roads. With any luck I'm only a few weeks away from stealing another one. The Tiger's ready for it.
The cunning plan would be arrange to pick up the bike in the spring. It's a few hundred bucks to fly out to Rapid City. It happens to be right by the Black Hills and Sturgis where the big Harley thing happens. I've got no interest in that, but the Hills are supposed to be lovely riding, and only four hundred miles west is Yellowstone. I've always wanted to see the mega-volcano that will eventually wipe out most of the human race.
After hitting Yellowstone it's a long arc back to the east. That isn't what the Ténéré is about, but if I did it focusing on back roads and trails, it'd be an interesting way to find my way home.
It's over 700 miles east before I get to Deluth on the west end of Lake Superior. From there it's still a long way home. In previous dream rides Deluth has been the apogee of around the Great Lakes rides. This time it would be the half way point on a long ride east.
A conversation with one of my students at lunch today:
Lyndon demonstrating, 'it's hard'
"What are you watching?" "Footage from today’s stage of the Dakar race." "What's that?" "The hardest race in the world." "Why is it so hard?" "It's thousands of kilometres of dangerous off road racing with cars, bikes & trucks with little sleep over weeks at a time. Many people who start it don’t finish. People die on it almost every year." This very smart grade 9 student was confused. Finally she asked, "Why would anyone do that?” “Because it’s difficult,” I replied. She ruminated on that a moment then asked, “why is it so dangerous?” “Because people race it in cars, trucks, quads and bikes, all at the same time over deserts, mountains and jungles. If you’re on a smaller vehicle it becomes even more dangerous than it already is.” “Why on earth would anyone do that on a motorcycle?!?” “Because it’s even more difficult…”
Rally Dakar 2018 - The best moto video - YouTube
Is attempting the dangerous and difficult with ample chance of failure a bad idea, or the point of it all? Risk nothing and you lose everything.
If you haven't been keeping up with the race this year, it's still all to play for. If you want the official feed you can find it on the Dakar YouTube channel.
If you're into documentary film making using the latest in state of the art video and on the fly editing, Lyndon Posskitt's Youtube Channel will take you through the race one gruelling stage at a time. If you've got some time, watch Lyndon's Malle Moto - The Forgotten Dakar Story about last year's race. It'll set you up for this year's harrowing adventure.
If there was ever an excuse to load up a shipping container with old enduro bikes and send it to Europe, this is it. The Twinshock Trailfinder is a two day event that focuses on older bikes (with twin rear shocks). I'd dig up four old XT500s, clean them up and have them ready to go, in team colours.
Some soft luggage would make them as touring ready as they are going to get while keeping everything as light as possible. The Trailfinder event starts on June 6th in Tremp, Catalunya, Spain and runs until June 8th. An option is to container the bikes over to Antwerp, Belgium. It's a two thousand kilometre ride if you go the pretty way around through the Alps down to Spain. Two thousand kilometers on thirty-five year old enduro bikes is pretty hard core, but that would kind of be the point.
If the container got into Antwerp mid-May, we could get them sorted out and on the road by May 21st. We could then wind down through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and France before reaching Spain. At 300kms a day that's a seven day trip. With a couple of days off in there to explore, we could roll into Barcelona at the beginning of June and get the bikes sorted at the Yamaha Motor Centre before heading up to Tremp the next week.
Rather than get all GPSy with the ride down, we could do it all with survey maps like the ones used in the Twinshock Trailride. By the time we found our way to Spain we'd be very familiar with how European survey maps work and would be able to find our way around without looking like lost North Americans.
After three days of trail riding with THE VINCE in the mountains, we could then spend an extra week getting better at it now that we've had a pro show us the ropes, maybe with some Jo Sinnott style wild camping in there.
When we're all done we could find some storage for the bikes and park them up, waiting for the next time someone needs to go trail riding in Spain.
Digging up old, twin shock enduro bikes is tricky, especially in the icy wastes of Canada where old machinery quietly rusts away under the snow and salt. Ten years in Canada is like thirty anywhere else. Looking country wide, the only XT500 I could find was in Victoria BC, over four thousand kilometres away.
Expanding the search into The States means I might be able to find non-rust belt bikes that have had easier lives. Unrestored but road worthy bikes look to be about two grand. Restored bikes go for over three thousand. There is one in North Carolina, and one in Mesa, Arizona. With some some searching and a US broker I think I could collect together four road worthy or thereabouts XT500s for under ten grand, and then spend some more prepping them.
If I started now I could probably have the bikes at hand by the end of February and then spend March sorting them out. April could be spent breaking them in and shaking them down for any last minute issues. They'd be shipped the end of April to show up in Antwerp when we needed them.
I'd be dangerous if I had money and time on my hands...
When I see a self-funded privateer like Lyndon Poskitt rolling in, maintaining his own bike, sorting himself out with a good night of sleep (in a tent on the ground) and then going at it again the next day, I have to think that maybe the speed-wonky professional racers with their team prepared vehicles and motor-home accommodations have missed the point entirely. Don't get me wrong, I love watching the genius of the fast riders, but when they start moping about how a stage wasn't simple enough that reflexes and speed wasn't all it took to win it, I get annoyed. Why do professional athletes always want to try and boil complex things down into something simple that they can more easily dominate? Is that really what win at all cost competition has done to them? It isn't very flattering. The less funded a competitor, the more in keeping with the spirit of the Dakar they seem to be.
The professionals of motor-sport with their ungodly reflexes and singular focus on speed struggle with the Dakar, and that's exactly why I like it. They complain about difficult navigation and the challenges of driving on fech-fech because they want every race to play to their strengths and run like an off road rally on carefully prepared stages. They've failed to comprehend that the Dakar is a long distance, cross country race. If they want to run rally stages, go run rally stages, but don't whine about the Dakar for being what it is.
What the Dakar is confounds people, but rather than hearing millionaire pro-drivers whining, I'd rather see real people battling the thing without excuses. That many privateers and small teams have struggled mightily to get the funds just for the opportunity to face this monster of a race only makes their struggle more poignant. I wish advertisers would enable more privateers into doing the Dakar and media would spend more time showing their battles. Your brand gets a chance to show support for some real heroism and the media would have human stories to develop instead of focusing on the monotonous drone of competition.
Charles Cuypers has navigated the rally in a car and ridden motorcycles previously. He knows what he's up against and yet once again he dares to try and finish the thing. Watching this fifty year old fail to finish yet again was truly heroic. It wasn't very dignified, but it was the most honest, heart wrenching thing I've seen in ages.
He filmed his crash in the desert and eventual rescue by helicopter. Through the whole thing he was chanting to himself that he would never give up. The moment when he realizes it's over and bursts into tears on the helicopter is genuine, unspoiled and a beautifully sad thing to watch. Will this aging man try again, or has the monster finally beaten him? I don't care, I'm already a fan. He had the courage to face the monster in the first place, and isn't that what matters?
"When I think of the Dakar, I have an image engraved in my head: that of Stéphane Peterhansel, a biker flying over the dunes. It was in the 90s. I was a co-driver and since that day I never stopped dreaming of riding the Dakar on a motorcycle. Being at the start is already a victory. This human adventure shows us what life can be beyond the day to day. I want to live this passion: live life and live the adventure!"
Damned right, Charles, c'est magnifique! Keep fighting that Dakar monster, that's what heroes do.
If you're new to the Dakar Rally and you love motorbikes, I've got a way in for you. Lyndon Poskitt has raced in the rally a couple of times now but this year he has raised the degree of inside media coverage to a new level. If you follow his site you should get daily inside looks into what it's like to ride in the toughest class (Malle Moto is only the rider with no support crew doing everything from maintenance to navigation to riding over thousands of kilometres for almost two weeks, alone). Riding a motorcycle in Dakar is the hardest thing you can do. Some bike riders retire onto four wheels as they get older, but the bikers are the hardest of the hard core.
Lyndon's media crew made an hour long documentary that reviews his race from last year. It introduces you to both the sheer physical exertion, luck and talent, both technical and riding, that is needed to get through the race as a malle moto rider. After watching this it'll seem nearly impossible, but Lyndon's back at it again this year.
Malle Moto - The Forgotten Dakar Story - YouTube
You get a bit of background on Lyndon from the video. This isn't a rich guy playing at racing. Lyndon's magic power is being a mechanical engineer. His mechanical sympathy and technical talent allow him to prepare his bike as well as any mechanic would. For the past couple of years, since a near death experience, he has been riding around the world participating in races and rallies as he goes. He has sourced all his own support for this.
Political instability in Saharan Africa moved the rally to South America in 2009 after decades of running from Europe through the desert to Dakar. The move didn't make things any easier.
If you enjoy motorsport and watching people pushed to the limits of endurance and skill there is little that approaches it. While there are many factory riders and teams on their fully funded rides, the Dakar always has a healthy bunch of privateers racing, so it doesn't seem like the millionaire's club that a lot of motorsports do. There is something very genuine about the Dakar.
If you're interested in other forms of motor racing beyond bikes there is everything from quads to cars to massive trucks. None of it is easy and all of it challenges competitors with thousands of miles of racing through every conceivable ecosystem, from jungles to Altiplano to desert dunes. This year it's running from January 6th to 20th.
Become an off-road ninja: Step 1: Get the kit: A KTM 690 Enduro, the best all round off-roader that can also get you there. $11,999 + some soft panniers for travel. Step 2: Get good at off-roading with lessons at SMART Adventures! $329
A Mototrax snow bike kit would let me turn the KTM into a year round steamroller. Back country riding in the cold months would make for some good exercise and training so I wouldn't be back on two wheels in the spring feeling rusty. $6000US
Become a road racing ninja:
Step 1: Build a race bike...
...but why be boring? Instead of something new take on a race bike rebuild! There is a '93 Yamaha FZR600 for sale nearby in need of some attention. They're only asking $700 for a fairingless bike, but that means I can go looking for race fairing!
It turns out 90s FZR fairings are remarkably easy to source. Since this is going to be a race bike, I can go with a lightless race ready fairing. The other fairing parts are also available and not crazy expensive. Getting them all as unfinished moulds means I can start from scratch with a custom race paint theme. I'd be spoiled for choice with classic race designs, but I think I'd do my own with a 90s style influence. With a double bubble screen and some customization of rearsets I could make a Fazer that fits me.
Three days of track training on a rented bike. Later in the summer I could then follow up with the advanced courses on my own bike (the Yamaha would be ready by then). That'd be about two grand in race training over one summer. By the end of it all I'd have my race license and have a clear idea of how to proceed with a campaign, perhaps with the VRRA who also run a school. With the 90's FZR and the training I think I'd be ready to run in amateur classes.
Use next level tech to ride better:
I'm not even sure if Cruden's motorcycle simulator is available to the public. I do a lot with VR at work and I'm curious to see just how effective this might be at capturing the complexities of riding a motorcycle. Even if I couldn't get it privately, getting one for a month in our classroom would be a cool way of examining state of the art virtual simulation in a very complex process (riding a motorcycle). It'd also be a nice way to ride when it's -25 degrees outside, like it is today.
Cruden B306-HMD motorcycle simulator - first footage - YouTube
With those tools I'd be able to bike in ways I currently cannot. I'd have what I need to pursue both off road and more focused tarmac riding which would greatly enhance my on-road riding skills. If motorcycling is a life long learning experience, these things would be like going to motorbike university.
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