Friday, December 30, 2005

Cheeseburger in Paradise

I'm curled-up on the couch with a nice glass of 20-year Port wine reading Jimmy Buffett's latest novel, A Salty Piece of Land. Jimmy paints a fine picture of a Caribbean paradise, and it almost makes me forget the 2 days of freezing rain and current snowfall outside the living room window.

I hate winter, but Mother Nature and I have come to a mutual understanding. As long as she makes sure that the weather is nice when I take my yearly vacation in more tropical climates, I don't bitch too much about the white stuff she occasionally dumps on us Northerners.

I've been planning a few weeks in Key West this coming April - a fine time of the year to get away from winter, as spring is just around the bend and if timed correctly, I get back from vacation just in time to take the bike out of hibernation and finally start moving around on two wheels again. Jimmy's writings are only confirming that I've made the right choice for my destination.

I'm hoping I'll be able to rent a motorcycle while I'm down there, but unfortunately all I've been able to find are HD rentals. Not exactly my cup 'o tea, but if that's all there is then I'll get a Sportster or something.

For now, I'll just go back to my glass of Port and immerse myself in exotic locations!

"Lately, newspaper mentioned cheap airfare.
I've got to fly to Saint Somewhere.
I'm close to bodily harm.
" - Jimmy Buffett

Music From the Skies

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a technology geek. I love electronics; toys like MP3 players, GPS units and all forms of portable gadgetry really get my blood pumping! So you can imagine how happy I was to unwrap a Sirius satellite radio from under the Christmas tree a few days ago. Of course, the very next morning I was in the garage installing the radio in my car. All in all, it was a rather painless install. I guess the biggest PITA was routing the antenna wire from the back hatch area (I drive a station wagon) to the front dash - this basically involved removing various interior panels and tie-wrapping the wire onto clips. Whatever, it only took a few hours to install.

First impression - the activation was easy. It took about 10 minutes on the phone and when I powered up the radio for the first time: BINGO! Over 100 channels at my fingertips. I was a little disappointed at the sound quality since both Sirius and XM tout their services as being "Digital-Quality Sound". This may be true, but it doesn't define the level of quality. From what I understand, both satellite radio services have a similar setup where they're pushing about one hundred channels through a sipping-straw's worth of bandwidth. So basically, music stations get more bandwidth, while talk-radio gets less. The best comparison would be with Internet radio; a good netcast will sound OK at about 64Kbps, while less than stellar quality can be heard at 32Kbps.

What did impress me, however, was the quality of the programming. Three stand-out music streams (for me) were Big 80's (with former MTV VJ's), The Spectrum (Adult Rock) and Hair Nation (80's and 90's glam rockers). I also find myself listening to The Faction quite often as I like their mix of Hip-Hop, Hard Rock and Rap.

I've never been a big fan of talk-radio, even less of Martha Stewart (yup, she's got her own channel - 112), but I was pleasantly surprised when I landed on the Whatever show while checking out the different offerings on Sirius. What I heard could not have been farther from what I had expected coming from the Queen of Homemaking's radio station. Whatever is hosted by Martha's daughter Alexis Stewart, and her good friend Jennifer Koppelman Hutt (daughter of Omnimedia Chairman, Charles Koppelman). It was refreshing (and damn funny) to hear Alexis and Jennifer bitch about their parents (very openly, I might add) and the ups and downs of being part of the New York bourgeoisie. One of the phone-in topics of Wednesday's show was "do your parents still treat you like a child?" It was great to hear Alexis being frankly honest about her relationship with her mother, and just as wonderful to hear Jennifer disagree! The whole show had a very relaxed feel to it, sort've like sitting in a bar with a few friends and bitching about life in general.

Anyhow, I've now ordered the "Home Kit" so that I can hook-up Sirius to my home stereo. Not being a big TV fan to begin with, this just may be the death nail in my cable company's coffin!

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Do One Thing Right.

Why do people have this need to branch out into other disciplines? The running gag is that most actors really want to direct, which isn't a very big stretch as these are very intimately related professions. But why do some actors insist on trying their hand at singing? At the risk of offending her legion of fans, I have to say that Lindsay Lohan can't sing to save her life. Her very poor cover of Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen at the American Music Awards had me rolling with laughter! Oh well, at least she had the guts to try and sing it live; unlike Hilary Duff (another child actor) who seemed to be lip-syncing the whole thing. Whatever, I'm going way off topic here!

The purpose of this entry was actually to crack a few jokes at the expense of ARMEC... Yup, they're the sidecar manufacturer that I mentioned in a previous post. They've got a great reputation as a sidecar manufacturer, where they've created some interesting new concepts (like a sidecar that still allows the motorcycle to lean in corners). Seems that they also have illusions of grandeur with their 3-wheeled "City-Mobil" prototype vehicle. Basically, it's a front-wheel-drive scooter with two wheels in the rear. The front "cockpit" area is attached to the rear through some kind of hinge that allows the front section to lean in corners while the rear wheel remain strait.

What is it with aftermarket motorcycle accessory manufacturers wanting to come out with a "revolutionary new means of transportation"? Some of you may recall Corbin's Sparrow electric vehicle (another 3-wheeled wonder), or even BMW's C1 scooter...

I guess one exception to the rule is Campagna's T-Rex, although this is billed more as an exotic performance vehicle than some ecological marvel. It's an interesting three-wheeler, to say the least. But with a base price nearing the $50K mark, this clearly isn't for everybody.

"Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best." - Henry Van Dyke

Had To Start Moderating Comments :-(

Greetings all!

Just wanted to let all cybernauts and bloggers know that I've now switched-on the moderation tool for comments. It really sucks that I had to, but unfortunately I'd been getting tons of spam comments from idiots trying to sell HD accessories or cheap software. Rest assured, if you post a comment that has to do with the blog (good or bad), it will get published ad verbatim.

Sidecars: To Lean, Or Not To Lean?

I've been doing a bit of research lately on ways to add luggage space to my bike. I've already got hard luggage comprising of sidecases (Kappa K40 - 40 liters each) and a topcase (Givi E450 - 45 liters), add to this an expandable tankbag that holds up to 30 liters and it adds up to a total luggage capacity of 155 liters. Now I can almost hear alot of your moans that "if you need more space, get a car!" Although I hate passing the blame, the simple truth is that my SO requires more space than I. When I'm riding alone, I can easily make due with what's on the bike now - but when my wife tags along, we run out of space pretty darn quick!

One of the first things I checked out were trailers. I didn't like the idea of towing something that didn't lean, so I looked into the selection of single-wheel trailers. The most popular probably being the Uni-Go; a small (140 liter) single wheeled trailer with great styling and nice features being made over in New Zealand. Unfortunately, it costs an arm and a leg (which can be a problem when shifting); with the base "Touring" model ringing-in at over $3,000 CAN. I kept searching until finally I came upon the Monogo trailer manufactured by a small company in Quebec; only half-a-day's ride from home. These guys took an interesting approach; rather than re-invent the wheel and build a trailer from scratch, they used a car-top luggage box (i.e. Thule), added a wheel and a hitch and voilà! The great thing about using existing parts is that they can manufacture them for a very reasonable price: $995 CAN. Another very good thing is that it's very light (54 lbs) and the wheel is positioned close to the middle, which means very little weight on the hitch (tongue weight). Monogo isn't the only company to use a luggage box, there's also the Piggy-Backer out of South Carolina, but it's a two-wheeled rig.

I was almost ready to put down a deposit on the trailer when a friend of mine mentioned sidecars. At first, I shrugged and laughed because the image I had of a sidecar was a URAL rig or something out of a WWII movie. Then he made the remark that "with a sidecar, you could bring your dog along with you". Being a dog person (and very cheap), I'll admit that it saddens me to leave the dog at the kennel when we go away for a few days of riding... It saddens me even more when we go to pick her up and have to pay the bill! But again, doesn't a sidecar equate to little more than riding a three-wheeled car (i.e. no leaning). Not necessarily, there's a company out of Switzerlan called ARMEC that manufactures a sidecar that allows you to lean. This is achieved through an ingenious bottom-mount. This is a very interesting option for me, as it would not only allow me to bring the dog along, but also add about 120 liters of luggage space. The great part is that it can be removed from the bike in about 10 minutes with little more than an adjustable spanner. Oh yeah, did I mention that it also costs an arm and a leg? Oh well, maybe someday...

"The more people I meet the more I like my dog." - Unknown

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Travel Videos... And Other Ways To Bore Your Friends!

I've just recently bought a DVD-Burner - nice little gizmo really. Now I can take boring home movies and import them into the computer, add a menu, soundtrack and some transition effect and subtitles with some handy-dandy software that came with the burner, only to finally realize that they're still nothing more than boring home movies with a bit of bling! Let's face it; most events that make it into your Handycam are usually of the "had-to-be-there" variety. When taken out of context, the viewer will most likely fall into a daze or self-induced coma to make your 2-hour video memories of the summer cottage tolerable!

Here are a few tips that can make your home DVD's a little more interesting:

  1. Keep length of clips to a minimum. Your viewer doesn't need to see all two and a half hours of little Tommy's choir recital to figure out that A) Tommy looked cute in his suit, and B) Tommy can't sing. Try to use the best bits; usually no more than 30 seconds per clip. This keeps things moving and thus can prevent viewer-coma.
  2. Mix media. When traveling abroad, I always try to buy some CD's of local musicians playing some traditional music (folk songs are great). Add this as a background track to a video montage; this way the viewer discovers not only the sights but also the sounds of the region. We've all heard the saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words" - use it! Try to alternate between brief video clips (15 to 30 seconds) and still pictures (5 seconds) with an audio background track.
  3. Add ambiance. If you can swing it; get a small digital audio recorder (some MP3 players have a built-in microphone that allows you to record). This will allow you to pick-up some ambient sounds that you can use as an audio track to strengthen narration. A simple voice-over gets boring mighty quick, but if you add some ambient sounds it lends more depth to the narration. A two-minute loop is usually sufficient for an audio recording.
  4. Subdivide. Try to subdivide your DVD into different subjects, with each "Chapter" no more than 15 - 20 minutes in length. For a road-trip, each "Chapter" can be a different area that was visited.
  5. Don't overdo it!!! Just because the software lets you add scrolling titles, fold-over transitions, lighting effects and mondo-reverb doesn't necessarily mean that your viewer wants to see and hear it! In video montage, the KISS rule definitely applies (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).

As a last tip, here's some simple etiquette: don't assume that guests want to see your home movies! If a certain subject comes up in conversation (the lost art) like Little Tommy's Choir Recital - then suggest that you have a brief clip. If your guests are bored after 5 minutes, shut it down... PLEASE!

"I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Monday, November 28, 2005

Why Hate Change?

We're a funny bunch, us humans. So full of contradictions are we that we'll walk up to the pulpit and preach the merits of a certain technology, only to turn around and condemn that very same tool a few minutes later. I'm speaking, more specifically, about the love/hate relationship we seem to have with technology. I think it has to do with the duality of being addicted to technology and its fast paced evolution, while still longing for "the good 'ole days of yore" when things were simpler, quieter and less stressful. Call it nostalgia; which is synonymous with "selective memory".

Many motorcyclists suffer from this same affliction. On one hand, we're in love with new technologies when applied to our cars. Many of us drive European and Japanese cars and trucks loaded to the hilt with options and goodies like ABS brakes, anti-skid sensors, HID headlights, dual-stage passenger sensing airbags, and the list goes on and on. So why, as motorcyclists, are we so apprehensive when a manufacturer tries to adapt these same technologies to motorcycles?

I recently got a first hand look at motorcyclists' reactions to new technologies when Honda came out with an airbag-equipped GoldWing. Journalists and magazine writers gave their usual spiel of "interesting possibilities" and "a major step forward in motorcycle safety"; but in most cases they get important advertising dollars from manufacturers - so they can't simply come out and say "it’s a stupid idea"! John Q. Public, however, speaks his mind. On multiple forums, blogs and newsgroups, many motorcyclists were quick to pan Honda's idea, some even claiming that this will most likely result in more motorcycle deaths. All of a sudden, everyone's an expert. I even read a forum post where the writer was enumerating the many design flaws of the GoldWing's airbag system. When I questioned how he came about these conclusions, and had he actually had a first-hand look at the system, I was answered with the tired old "been riding for 200 years without any of these gadgets and we're better off without them 'cause they're all part of a government conspiracy to make us clones, blah, blah, blah". Human arrogance; ain't it great? Just about any motorcyclist has witnessed the dreaded "ABS Brakes" debate in two-wheeled circles. It goes like this: "A great motorcyclist can out-brake an ABS-equipped motorcycle with normal brakes". This, I believe, is absolutely true. But how many of us are up to par with Pascal Picotte, Miguel Duhamel or Valentino Rossi? Funny thing is that these same anti-ABS bikers would never consider buying a new car or truck without ABS.

I remember having a similar conversation with my grandfather (86 years young). To paraphrase him, all this nostalgia about things being better years ago is nothing more than "a pile of fresh manure". He remembers tires that would blow for no apparent reason, engines that would overheat when going up a minor grade, cars that wouldn't start in winter when the temps got too cold, 8 miles to the gallon, brakes that would lock up, hydroplaning and losing control, etc. When asked if he would like to have his old 1948 GMC truck back instead of his Camry, he glares at me with that you're-too-young-and-stupid grin, and says "Hell, NO!"

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." - Douglas N. Adams

Perhaps I am a Bear.

Saturday night signaled a momentous yearly occasion - first snow. Although we didn't get much (only a few centimeters), it stuck; unlike some years when we get a "teaser" snowfall that melts away within a few hours. To me, the first snowfall is a trigger for many events, like the holiday season. It seems that the holidays just aren't right without some of the white stuff. I tried running away to Florida a few years ago for Christmas; but it ended up feeling too foreign. Palm trees and egg-nog by the poolside just weren't meant to go together.

Another event triggered by first snow is the dreaded motorcycle hibernation. It's that time of the year when thousands of motorcyclists shine-up their iron horses, take out the battery, make sure the fluids are topped off, and put them away for a long winter's nap. Not particularly my favorite thing to do.

I enjoy motorcycling so much that I dream about it... in winter doubly so! But for the lucky few who have their motorcycle stored in a heated garage or workshop: winter 'tis also the season for farkling. What better time to fool around with the latest accessories, toys, gizmos and gadgets in an ever increasing desire to build the ultimate ride. On my project list: re-upholstered seat, touring windshield, adjustable passenger pegs, and maybe some LED turn signals.

If you're looking for me, I'll be in the garage.

"Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath, for the instinct to be half asleep all winter is so strong in me." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sweet Temptation

Did something stupid yesterday... On my way home from work, I decided to stop by the BMW/Yamaha dealership because they're having a "Moving Sale" and all riding gear was half-price (and I need some new gloves). Got some nice gloves (only $34) and was on my way out when I ran into one of the sales reps. I'd met the guy a few times before, and we started talking. Eventually, I asked him what his current ride was (an obligatory question among motorcyclists) and he pointed to a BMW K1200LT luxo-tourer in the middle of the showroom. This surprised me because: (a) he's young, about 25, and (b) he had just mentioned how he likes to ride "agressively".

Curiousity finally got the best of me when he pulled the keys out of his pocket and casually asked: "You wanna try it?" Now this 2-wheeled yacht isn't really my type of bike - but when someone offers you a $30,000 bike for a test ride with no strings attached... Why not?

Just by sitting on the BMW I could tell that this was radically different to my little 650cc Suzuki. First word that comes to mind? Comfortable - think "easy chair with wheels". Second word? Intimidating - this thing was huge! Honestly though, once you get it over 10km/h the weight disappears.

Handling city traffic was a bit daunting at first, as I'm well accustomed to my über-flickable V-Strom, but I eventually got used to it. Where this motorcycle really shines is on the highway - I could literally ride for hours and hours without even requiring a "butt-break" typical to most other motorcycles. I also finally understood what the salesguy meant by "agressive" riding. Not only does this bike go fast; it does so without your knowledge. I was cruising along at what seemed like a nice leisurely pace until I glanced down at the speedo and saw the needle hovering over 160km/h. Took in a few backroads and the bike handled suprisingly well. Steep lean angles were not only possible, but fun!

Alas, all good things must end, and I finally brought it back to the dealer (with a mile-wide smile on my face). For now, a premium-priced bike is way out of my budget... But someday, maybe?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Choose your wheels wisely.

Those of you who know me are aware that I'm not the biggest fan of a certain American V-Twin engined motorcycle manufacturer. Understand that my distaste is not directed towards the owners of these heavy chrome beasts - fact is, some of the nicest folks I've met at rallies ride an FXLRHTSCXR (or whatever...). It's just that I feel that these bikes are all show and no go and the whole company is based on a marketing campaign that abuses tried and true blind patriotism rather than being based on the machines themselves. [OK - rant mode off]

Anyhow, a good friend of mine (let's call him Bob) purchased an Ultra Classic Electra Glide with all the trimmings last year. By the time he finished adding the obligatory "Genuine HD" bling, "Screaming Eagle" strait pipes (ugh), Corbin saddle, official jacket & beanie helmet, and opting for the extended warranty (good idea), his fully-faired chrome beast cost him - get ready for this - $39,500CDN! Yup - that's enough to buy 2 equivalent Japanese cruisers with plenty of change to spare. Did I tell him he was crazy? Of course. Did he listen? Nope.

Before continuing with his story, I want to make it clear that I never rubbed his nose in it or even gave him a subtle "I told ya so". Bob is, after all, my friend and it's just a bike (albeit, a damn expensive one).

Here's how it's gone for him so far:

  • Motorcyclists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have a favorite weekend getaway known as the "Island Run". Basically, we ride over to Prince Edward Island and run the whole circumference; using every possible backroad to stay as close as possible to the shoreline. Last year, just one month and a half after having gotten his HD, Bob calls me up and says "How about an Island Run this weekend?". Of course, I couldn't resist! So we left Friday after work, riding along Highway 15 towards the Confederation Bridge when I see Bob and Tammy (his wife) pull off to the shoulder. I check for traffic and pull a U-turn to go see what happened. The bike has died! No warning, no oil leak, nothing - its just dead. Pull-out the cellphone and call the HD dealer in Moncton for some guidance, and after being on hold for 12 minutes (no kidding) one of the mechs comes on and says - get this: "It could be anything; he shouldn't have been riding it so long so soon after buying it... It's a new bike, you know!" WTF? Couldn't believe it! This guy is trying to throw the blame on Bob for actually trying to tour on what HD considers to be their top-of-the-line touring mount. And believe me, it's not as if we were pushing it in any way - just a nice slow touring pace... Oh well; they send a truck to pick up Bob's bike and that was the end of our Island Run - without even making it to the Island. Seems his battery had gone bad (of course, it wasn't covered by the warranty).
  • Earlier this year, Bob decided to go to Laconia for the Annual Bike Week. I wasn't tagging along this time (couldn't get off work), so he was riding with some of the usual Crazy Bastards(TM), my usual bunch of riding buddies. This time, he actually made it as far as Fredericton (about 200kms/125miles) before he noticed a huge puff of blue smoke behind him and the oil pressure gauge heading south really fast. Again: phone call, towing, back to the dealer in Moncton, wait to get it fixed, leave again the next morning. Bob told the other guys to go ahead and not wait for him - which they did (he was the only one, out of 12, who was riding an HD and he felt bad about holding everybody up). Bob and Tammy ended up riding 12 hours strait to get to Laconia and catch up with the rest of the gang.
  • Two weeks ago Bob went to Cape Breton to do the Cabot Trail after I told him how great a ride it was (I went earlier in July). Everything went fine, until he was on his way back home and stopped because of some road construction near Amherst. He's at a complete stop, pulls his left foot off the floorboard to shift into neutral, and his foot is left searching in mid-air for the shifter - it was hanging below the bike! Of course, this wouldn't normally be a big deal for other motorcyclists: you pull off to the side, get out the toolkit and tighten the bugger up. Only one problem with HD's: no toolkit included! Believe it or not, even the toolkit is an "HD Genuine" option. Here's the funny bit; Bob rolled all the way back to Moncton (80kms/50miles) in second gear, pulled up to the HD dealer, walked into the showroom (Saturday morning - the place was full), and began a-hollerin'. This time (after a long, animated chat with Deeley Canada - the official Canadian distributor), they agreed to take the bike in and do a complete inspection (I've seen the invoice - 4 pages).

Well, Bob's bike finally got a clean bill of health. Now it's for sale - any takers?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Respect the Two-Wheeled Traveler

There's an unwritten code among motorcyclists: respect is shared among two-wheeled aficionados only if you can prove you are worthy of it.

I've mentioned before that I don't really "fit-in" with most motorcycle clubs. I ride what marketing types have labelled an "Adventure-tourer"; in other words, a motorcycle built for long distance travel over various types of terrain. I'm not limited by the boundaries of asphalt roads and highways; dirt and gravel suit me fine. My bike has a large fuel capacity, which allows me to cover about 600kms before taking a break to fuel-up (which I often do). Because this whole adventure touring thing isn't really the norm here in North America, I often get strange looks from the "Biker" crowd... They don't really know what to make of me and my too-tall half-faired steed. The squids sort've brush me off too; since they can't figure out what exactly it is I'm riding. This all suits me fine, as I didn't get into motorcycling for the "cool" factor.

What I have found, however, is that most motorcyclists - regardless what flavour of bike they're riding - tend to show some curtesy and respect when I meet them. Maybe this is because they can tell by looking at my setup that I'm not just in it for "show". The tankbag, sidecases and topcase, GPS, heated grips and full rider gear are there because I need them; they all serve their intended purpose. I log some serious miles on my bike; often doing over 1200kms per day. For some reason, other motorcyclists respect this, and I've often found myself sitting with the leather-chaps-with-fringe crowd at a roadside diner in some forgotten town.

Here's my personal breakdown of motorcyclists according to what they ride:
  • Harley Davidson: You'll meet really great people who ride Harleys. You'll also meet complete assholes who are nothing more than poseurs. The nice folks are almost always the ones who actually ride. The assholes are the ones who add bling and trailer their precious chrome collections to rallies.
  • Crotch Rockets: You'll meet really great people who ride sport bikes. You'll also meet complete assholes who are nothing more than poseurs. The nice folks are almost always the ones who actually ride. The assholes are the ones who spend thousands trying to get an extra 7hp out of their precious inline-4's and carry dyno charts in their wallet to prove it.
  • Luxury Tourers (Goldwing, K1200LT, etc.): You'll meet really great people who ride luxury tourers. You'll also meet complete assholes who are nothing more than poseurs. The nice folks are almost always the ones who actually ride. The assholes are the ones ride but somehow believe that the fact that they paid the price of a small house for their two-wheeled Camry gives them the right to be whiney geriatric diaper-fillers.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Rule of thumb: be good to your fellow motorcyclist. Doesn't matter what you ride - as long as you ride.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bits & Pieces

Last Sunday I'm on my way back home to Moncton after having spent the holiday weekend riding through every backroad and coastal route I could find in the Acadian Peninsula (Northeastern New Brunswick, Canada) with my wife riding pillion. Everything about that weekend had been perfect: the weather was sunny with little wind, traffic had been generally light, the bike was performing flawlessly, heck - some of the roads had even been given a fresh layer of asphalt!

Back to Sunday afternoon. We've just left Miramichi after a nice lunch of liver & onions for me, and club sandwich for my wife (she can't stand liver). Traffic is a bit heavier now as most of the weekend's travellers are, like us, heading back home. I'm getting ready to pass a slow moving dumptruck when a small rock about the size of a gumball gets thrown up from under the truck's rear left tire and hits me right on the edge of my helmet visor. CRACK! I finish passing the truck, get a safe distance in front of him, then pull over at a convenience store to see how badly damaged my helmet is.

My inspection reveals that the visor has broken on the right side near the hinge, but the helmet itself seems to be without a scratch. I grab the roll of duct tape from under the seat and do my best MacGyver job of fixing the damage so I can get home without eating bugs (didn't have a spare visor - my mistake).

On Monday, after work, I stop by the motorcycle shop where I bought the helmet to order a new visor. The parts guy checks something in the computer, frowns, then makes a few phone calls and frowns some more. "The visor isn't available anymore" he says. My first reaction is confusion, I just bought these helmets last year (two of 'em - his and hers) and at that time they were current stock in the distributor's catalog! How can they discontinue the visor for a helmet they were selling just a few months ago? Kevin, the parts guy, sees my frustration (why are service guys always named Kevin?). I explain to him that I understand this isn't his fault - but I'm pissed-off with the distributor for crappy service. He dials the number and lets me speak to one of the reps at the distributor's office. She tells me that they dropped the helmet from their line because of poor sales - which is total bunk. Kevin tells me that they sold at least 30 of these helmets last year! The distributor is unapologetic. Asshole!

To make up for the situation (although it really isn't his fault), Kevin talks to the sales manager, then returns and offers me any helmet in the store at dealer cost. Talk about going above and beyond! I chose a new flip-up helmet (similar to what I had), ordered a spare visor for it, and of course - I made sure it came from a different distributor.

This weekend, I'll be burning my old helmet... Just for fun!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Might As Well Face It - You're Addicted To Bling!

My yearly pilgrimage to the Caraquet Lobster-Bike Rally (catchy name, no?) was last week. Although I don’t particularly enjoy motorcycle rallies, it’s nevertheless become something of a tradition for me. First, it's a "all-style" rally - so you run into (not litterally) crotch rockets, cruisers, adventure tourers and even - yep - scooters! This year it seemed like scooters were planning an invasion of sorts judging by the shear number of 'em put-putting around. Secondly, it's in my hometown of Caraquet and it gives me an excuse to ride up and see the family. Of course, the rally has its share of testosterone-heavy events, like the ever popular tire burnout or the wet T-shirt competitions; but it’s also a great opportunity to hang-out with other motorcyclists of various backgrounds that share a common fascination.

This fascination with motorcycles can be on many levels: some find the act of riding itself an exhilarating experience – being able to lean into a corner and countersteer is something car drivers will never experience and it brings you closer to the actual act of driving than anything else. Others are die-hard wrench-heads that love to see exactly how many extra horses they can squeeze out of a few cylinders; this was prominent at the mechanics’ competition where “the best of the best” took to their wrenches to compete against the clock and – more importantly – against each other.

Other people simply like the bling.

Many times over the course of the weekend I was blinded by excessive amounts of chrome attached to unsuspecting HD’s, Road-Stars, Vulcans, Boulevards and whatever else. One chopper actually had a gold-plated engine case, exhausts, rims and other bits and pieces. I talked to the owner, Gary, and he confided (more like bragged) that it had cost him insane amounts of money to customize his bike; the only reason he stopped customizing was because he claims it was going to cost him his marriage! One thing he mentioned really caught my attention: “Once I started, I just couldn’t stop… It was an addiction!”. C’mon Gary – get a life! I’ve seen friends battle nasty addictions to alcohol and various drugs that often leave them scarred for life physically and emotionally, but I had to laugh in this guy’s face when he admitted his gold-addiction (which, by the way, is not a wise thing to do when the guy in question is the size of a truck).

All through my conversation with Gary he kept mentioning how his golden two-wheeled trophy (a Yamaha RoadStar, by the way) was a “great machine”. Now I don’t disagree with Gary since many of my friends and riding buddies have Yamahas and I can vouch that they are very reliable. I just wondered what kind of experience he had with the bike given that the odometer read 270 kms!

I don’t want to judge the bling factor too much; if it makes you happy (and doesn’t hurt anybody), so be it! But I hope they’ll forgive me if I don’t consider them to be serious motorcyclists (by my personal definition). To me, a serious motorcyclist (in no specific order):

  • has ridden higher than 3rd gear,
  • has seen the sun rise and fall from behind the handlebars,
  • has ridden in the rain, wind, cold and even possibly snow,
  • rides with full gear not only for safety’s sake, but also because it is more comfortable during thousand kilometer days,
  • doesn’t give a damn that his jacket isn't blazoned with a Harley-Davidson logo (or any other logo for that matter),
  • rides his or her motorcycle to work, store, errands, etc… not just to the local watering hole on Friday nights,
  • would rather spend money on heated grips than chromed rims,
  • would never, ever, trailer his or her motorcycle to a rally (or anywhere else - unless it's broken down)!
I don’t want to come off with an "I’m better than you ‘cause I really ride" attitude. My philosophy has always been: "It doesn't matter what you ride - as long as you ride". Like I said – whatever makes you happy. Just understand that bling doesn’t impress me and don’t be insulted if I'd rather talk to the guy sitting on the mud-encrusted high-mileage GS than bow to your chrome altar.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chain, Chain, Go Away...

Clean, dry, lube, ride, and repeat.

Those are the basic instructions you need to learn when riding a chain-driven motorcycle. Some don't seem to mind too much. But then again, some seem to spend more time shining than riding, and on longer trips their bikes are usually tagging along in a trailer! Not that there's anything wrong with being a chrome worshiper; it's just not my thing.

I got into motorcycling as a means to travel. I’d read books like Jupiter’s Travels and Ghost Rider; so these are the people I wanted to emulate. Problem is, Ted Simon never mentioned how often he had to stop to oil the chain and change the sprockets when on his ‘round the world trip. Neil Peart didn’t have to worry of such things, he had a shaft. Ah yes, the elusive shaft. It used to be a rarity among motorcycles, a piece of automotive technology grafted onto a two-wheeled vehicle. Shafts are now commonplace, even on entry level cruisers (like the Yamaha V-Star 650). Alas, I’m not a cruiser guy; and most of the bikes I like that are equipped with shafts are beyond my financial resources.

Maybe BMW could sponsor me! I’d write about what great bikes they produce, cleverly ignoring some of the “issues” they’ve had with the splines on their final drives, and they’d reward my lack of journalistic integrity with a new R1200RT. Yeah, I know I’m dreaming…

About the cheapest bike out there that would fit my needs is the Yamaha FJR1300; which isn’t a bad thing in itself, since it’s a great sport touring rig. At least, that’s what almost every magazine review and comparo have said about it. Now my only obstacle is getting the boss (wife) to approve such a purchase. Maybe it’s time for some flowers ;-)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Too Many Images...

So I finally broke down and bought a digital camera. I can imagine some of you are dragging their mouse pointer towards the bookmarks section of your browser right now because you're expecting some sort of techno-phobic rant about how digital isn't better than film... Read on; you may be surprised!

First of all, I'm not a technophobe. For those of you that read my motorcycle posts you should know that I tend to gravitate away from carburators and more towards EFI. Same goes for photography. I've always been a fan of digital image manipulation (i.e. digital darkroom) because it makes professional photography techniques more accessible. You no longer need a darkroom with enlargers and bottles of image fixers and other chemicals. A decent computer with Photoshop will do the trick. Although, I admit, Photoshop is almost as expensive as a complete traditional darkroom!

My biggest beef with digital cameras was the lack of quality; still is, actually. You see, my 20+ year old Minolta SLR still consistently outperforms my new Fuji S2 Pro. Doesn't really make sense, does it? You see, film technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, just like its digital counterparts. Even a budget point-&-shoot camera loaded with pro-quality 400 speed film will outperform even the most expensive digital SLR in many situations.

So why is everybody jumping on the digital bandwagon? Money baby, M-O-N-E-Y! I've done a few wedding gigs and the latest craze is "non-intrusive" or "documentary" style pics. These are basically un-posed pics of the bride fixing her makeup or the groom putting on his socks. For whatever reason, people like it. The problem with doing this style of photography is that alot of it is hit-or-miss; in other words, you'll be shooting alot of film to get very few sellable pics. In comes digital photography. I've got two memory cards that each hold about 1GB's worth of photos. If that's not enough, I've got a digital wallet onto which I can dump the memory card's contents (it holds 40GB). This effectively means that I can machine-gun the shutter throughout the whole ceremony then sort through the pics and select the best ones when I get back to the studio. Once the initial selection has been made, I can print out contact sheets for the client or have them browse through the pics on the website. They can then make their selection, including size and number of prints, and I print them out then mount them in albums or frames and the job is done!

Here's the other cool bit: they can give their online photo album's address to grandparents, aunts and uncles and they can also order prints. It only takes a fraction (and I don't use that word lightly) of the time that is used to for me which means I make a better profit margin while charging less to my clients and offering them a better service.

Like I said: M-O-N-E-Y!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Cabin Fever... or The Impatient Motorcyclist.

So the kitchen sink clogged-up beyond belief last Saturday. Leftover bits and pieces of food from the garbage disposal’s diet were floating around in gently spiralling motion, which would have been kind of beautiful had it not been for the stench. What does this have to do with motorcycling you ask? Patience, my friend. You see, being the man of the house (i.e. slave to my wife); I took it upon myself to try and fix this nuisance that was depriving me of the great pleasure I get when doing the dishes. I trotted out in the snow to the storage barn in the corner of our land in search of a plunger and drain snake (“our land” is actually one tenth of an acre in suburbia – the seventh circle of hell). After fiddling with the frozen lock for ten minutes, I finally got in and froze in my tracks when I saw it: my motorcycle (actually, I was also literally frozen in my tracks)!

It almost seems like years since I put it away for the winter. I’ve got to give credit to my brain for effectively masking out the thought of motorcycling throughout most of these cold months; I guess it’s a form of self-therapy. Somehow when I saw it there in the corner, the overwhelming urge to ride it came back with a vengeance (damn you, brain for giving up on me). The best I could do for now, given the 50+ feet of snow outside, was to sit on it and pretend I was somewhere warm; which was a particularly difficult thing to imagine considering that the seat was rather cold on my – ahem - twiddly bits. Eventually I managed to mentally filter out the cold (or my body simply went numb) and enjoy my brief daydream of a ride down some summer road through twisty corners with no traffic. The lack of feeling in my extremities (all of them) ultimately brought me back to reality with a deafening thud. Dismounting the bike proved to be a rather disgraceful dance since most of my joints were no longer functioning within normal parameters due to lack of heat. Regardless, my little fantasy did me some good and proved to be helpful therapy in coping with the long wait until the snow melts and Mother Nature brings the warmth of Spring back to my life.

I slowly made my way back to the house with images of summer rides still filling my mind. I somehow felt as though things weren’t that bad and the wait for warmth would now be bearable. Of course, all feelings of well being were completely shot to hell when I walked through the door and saw my wife still pointing at the kitchen sink. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to go back to the storage barn and get that plunger and snake... But first I’ll just dream a few laps around the neighbourhood.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Motorcyclists: Our own worst enemy!

Read a great article by David Hough in Motorcycle Consumer News last weekend regarding the use of "Straight Pipes" on motorcycles. To my surprise and delight, Hough took the whole "Straight Pipes Save Lives" theory and flushed it down the can! How refreshing it was to finally hear a true motorcyclist (i.e. someone who rides for reasons other than image) speak up against the lies and propaganda being touted by certain interest groups.

For years many motorcyclists have been singing the praises of loud pipes (that is, if you can *hear* them singing), claiming that they force car drivers to take notice of motorcycles. Others even claim that the loud rumbling of exhaust pipes gives a menacing tone which makes other drivers think twice before messing with you! Obviously the rumbling tone has also affected their ability to think.

The truth is, loud pipes are dangerous. A motorcyclist must above all be aware of everything going on around him or her. If you can't hear that SUV's horn coming up too fast behind you because your chrome beast makes more noise than a 747 at take-off: you're roadkill! Hough also raised more scientific proof, like the fact that exhaust noise is comprised mostly of low frequency content, thus making it omni-directional. In a nutshell, this is the same theory as a subwoofer for your home theatre system. No matter where you install the subwoofer, the sound will propagate omnidirectionally and make itself heard throughout the room. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the location from which the sound is emanating. So in other words, although a car driver may hear the rumble of straight pipes coming, they won't be able to dicern from which direction the sound is coming.

Many independant studies have shown that straight pipes do little to nothing to prevent accidents. The latest of which being the MAIDS study in Europe. There is, however, undeniable proof that loud pipes are having a negative effect on all motorcyclist's rights and privileges. Many towns and cities have adopted laws that either limit or prohibit the use of all motorcycles during certain hours and/or on certain streets.

There's also the whole issue of outside perception. The bikers who claim that loud pipes make them seem more menacing are absolutely right! Which just adds fuel to the fire for any group that is pushing to implement restrictions on motorcyclists.

Let's face it: as motorcyclists we are greatly outnumbered on our roads and highways, and the majority rules. If we keep being a nuisance to other motorists, we're just our own worst enemy.

A word of advice to motorcyclists out there who are thinking of getting loud pipes to ensure that they get noticed - paint your bike hot pink with flashing purple lights instead; I guarantee that more people will notice you than you would care for!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Long, Cold Winter...

So now its official: winter is here. The new year is here and it's brought a suitcase full of snow in the guise of a blizzard. This time of year always conjures up a bagful of mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m happy to see the holidays are here. It’s a great time of year to get together with family and friends, reflect on the year gone by and simply have fun. There are, of course, the gifts under the tree and the massive turkey dinner prepared with love by the family matriarch (which, invariably, leaves grandpa snoozing in the easy-chair from over-exertion at the table). There’s also a feeling of general brotherhood; goodwill towards men and all that. People seem to smile more often and shake hands more willingly. That is, of course, if you stay away from the dreaded shopping malls; or as I tend to call them “Hell in a shopping basket”!

Winter also has a flipside for many of us; the other side of the coin, so to speak. For a great number of men & women around the world, winter means “No Motorcycling”. Now to all you four-wheeled commuters out there who have never seen the sunrise over a set of handlebars: don’t try to understand what I’m talking about, you simply can’t. I won’t try to make this an overly ideal or romantic affair, like the lone-biker-down-a-desert-highway image that manufacturers over-use in their ads, because it isn’t.

Motorcycles and their riders have a constant love/hate relationship: it doesn’t idle right, or the seat’s too high, or the windshield’s at the wrong angle, or the pegs are too far back, and so on and so on... But the funny thing is that they keep coming back for more! No matter how burnt-out a motorcyclist might be from working on their ride and spinning wrenches in the shop their smile goes from ear to ear when they press that small red button and bring the two-wheeled beast to life. Which is precisely why winter can be so darn depressing for some of us living North of the snowbelt. Ever look at a motorcyclist’s face when he or she is prepping their bike for a long winter’s nap? It’s a mixture of pride and sadness; proud of another great riding season, and sad to see that it’s coming to an end.

The advent of the Internet and the online motorcycle communities has helped ease the burden of hibernating for some bikers, but it’s also added salt to the wounds of others. Who really wants to hear about a biker in sunny Florida riding around in tropical temperatures when you can’t even stand to look out the window because the frost and snow is too depressing? Winter can also be quite costly for motorcyclists as it gives them plenty of idle time to think-up new ways to “accessorize” their bikes. A great man once said that “We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch”, and many snow-bogged motorcyclists do just that!

There is an upside to hibernation though: the incredible feeling of childhood joy you get come spring when you can finally take out the bike and go for that first ride. You meet up with your riding buddies, show off any new toys you may have added over the winter, and bitch about how your bike isn’t quite right yet! “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” they say, and I tend to agree. It’s almost like having two holiday seasons! Come to think of it, I’ll keep the snow and bitching: it only makes me appreciate Spring that much more when it finally comes around.

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart!” – V. Hugo