Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
4 Parks in 5 Days: Touring and Camping on the CBR125R
4 Parks in 5 Days: Touring and Camping on the CBR125R
Part I - "Flying" to Neys Provincial Park
On July 12, 2012 at 1:30PM I left Thunder Bay, Ontario to start a 5 day, 1300 km (800 mile) touring and camping adventure that included a meet-up with other CBR125R members from the CBR125R Forum www.hondacbr125r.com at Wakami Lake Provincial Park near Chapleau, Ontario. I was looking forward to touring on the CBR125R, as it had been two years since I'd last enjoyed a big trip on the little bike (see: http://www.hondacbr125r.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5913. And I wanted to visit some provincial parks that I had passed by on the highway many times - but never stopped to explore. I also yearned to re-experience the addictive and engaging feeling of piloting the CBR125R along much of the same route I had taken previously. So what is it that makes the CBR125R so fun to tour on? I believe part of this answer involves the strong desire to "do more with less". It is simply enticing to try to extract as much power as possible - use all of the powerband - and explore the entire performance envelope of the bike - revel in the intoxicating sound of a small engine singing in the upper register...often....without losing your licence. You have to really work with the bike to receive the rewards. It isn't easy. But the rewards you reap once you understand the bike and accept its limitations - are plentiful. One other side benefit is that the bike typically garners much attention when fitted for touring. There is something particularly entertaining about telling people that you are touring on a bike with such small engine displacement. It just feels good to think you are doing something that many think "can't be done" or that they wouldn't do themselves. And you didn't spend $40,000 doing it. The CBR125R is the perfect anti-hero Goldwing. Peoples' reactions vary - but they are always gratifying in some way. Those who haven't already performed an inelegant "spit-take" - usually follow up with "pardon me?" Touring with the CBR125R is rewarding for many reasons.
Yet many things can happen in 2 years. This time around - the CBR received a heart transplant in the form of a 4-valve, fuel-injected 149cc Honda CBR150R engine from Thailand. In the summer of 2011, I managed to purchase a 2011 CBR150R mill from Tyga Motorsports, who had acquired a new 2011 Honda CBR150R and planned to design a new exhaust around it. After they were finished with the bike, it was sitting idle in their shop. In the Fall of 2011 the engine was swapped into my CBR125R chassis, and with its new heart pumping again - the WeeBR was re-born. As one of the more eminent CBR125R forum members has said "This is the engine that should have been in the bike all along". Not that the 150R is a rocket. The 4-valve head naturally breathes better than the 125R two-valver at the upper reaches of the powerband - with the 150R screaming 500 rpms higher at redline and yielding 19.5 hp in the process – about 6 more than the 125R can muster. Now, almost a year later, I was eager to experience the 150R's charms out on the highway, under battle conditions, with a full complement of touring gear. How would the new iteration of the CBR handle highway speeds compared to the CBR125R? Would it be able to tackle a strong head-wind? Would I have to tuck behind the windscreen under such conditions to maintain 100kph (62 mph) like with the 125R? How about the notoriously steep and long scenic climbs along the north shore of Lake Superior? Would it noticeably outperform the CBR125R? How might the fuel economy compare? And perhaps more importantly - would the character of the old bike still be there - would all those old traits that endeared me to riding the CBR125R and touring with it in the first place still set my heart aflame?
I like to try out new gear. This trip was no exception. I had already sampled my new Ortlieb Waterproof luggage on an earlier trip this past spring (see:http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=795225&highlight=1600) on my Yamaha WR250R, and found that this setup worked well, and weathered through an impressive amount of relentless rain while keeping everything completely dry inside. I was curious to see how they'd fit and work out on the CBR. I had also installed a new windscreen - originally designed for a Ducati Multistrada. I purchased this 20" dark grey sheet of curvy acrylic from Cee Baileys after they ignored my e-mailed plea to produce an aftermarket screen for the CBR125R. Lots of careful planning, measuring, fitting, creative profanity, and tender loving care went into mounting this sleek laminar lipped lorica onto the nose-cone of my CBR, and I was curious to see if this longer and wider screen would provide a substantial benefit in wind protection on the highway.
After having saddled up the bike, I took the following photo. I was immediately taken by the contrasting black and yellow livery of bike and gear. My girlfriend thought the WeeBR looked like a wasp. I don't normally name my bikes - and Piaggio already had dibs on the Vespa moniker - so I settled for "bee" instead, knowing full well that Piaggio had also named their 3-wheeled utility vehicle the "Ape" (Ah-Pay) – or "bee" in Italy. My Italian barber told me so. I needed something clever. So instead of calling it a CBR, or WeeBR, I resorted to calling it the "Bee"-BR. Hope I don't receive a cease and desist letter from Brown Brothers Racing. What I didn't expect on this trip was the number of compliments I would receive on the little Honda. Many said "That is a beautiful bike". What prompted them to fall for the Bee-BR? Was it the yellow luggage? The Rizoma mirrors? Was it the new windscreen? Or a combination of all of the above? I must admit - I liked the "look" too.
I decided to stop at Wild Goose Beach just 15 minutes outside of the city. The water is relatively shallow here and warms to a more comfortable "just slightly above beer cooler ice-water" temperature during the summer months. A young lad of about 8 years of age walked up the path right after I had captured the photo below and yelled at me "Are you coming swimming!?" I was startled not so much by his question - but that he would be brave enough to initiate a conversation with a complete stranger dressed in black - straddling a dark, ominous, motorcycle. Most people react to me like I am Darth Vader. This kid had balls. Or at least one - the inflatable beach variety he was carrying in his hand. Only a few moments earlier, as I was pulling into the parking area in 1st gear - traveling at what could only be described as a "walking pace" - a family heading toward the beach far in the distance ahead looked over at me and then promptly snatched their kids off the road like I was erratically charging toward them in a Slant-6 powered Sherman tank. Yes - it seems that a fear of motorcycles and motorcyclists runs deeper than the water at Wild Goose Beach. I told the kid that I would love to take a swim, but I had somewhere else to go. He seemed content with that explanation.
In the distance you can see the outline of Nanabijou - Thunder Bay's famous landmark - the Sleeping Giant.
As soon as I turned onto Hwy 17 heading east from Thunder Bay, and quickly accelerated the Bee-BR up to highway speed - I felt at home. Images and feelings from my previous trip were suddenly readily available. I remember thinking how comfortable it is to ride for a smaller bike. And it carried the extra weight of the luggage remarkably well - so much so that I had to look back a number of times to ensure that it was still attached to the bike behind me. What also became immediately clear was that the bike felt like it had been suddenly and miraculously endowed with about 5 extra ponies. How could this be? To those uninitiated with riding a small-displacement bike at highway speeds this might sound puzzling. For those familiar with the CBR125R - this makes perfect sense. I had a nice tailwind. The CBR125R's performance is often dependent upon wind direction - much like when sailing a boat. On this "run", I was easily able to sit-up at 100 kms/hr (indicated) and had gobs of throttle left. Life was good. I was experiencing what Volkswagen would call Fahrvergnügen.
The photo below was taken near Kama Bay, a short ride past Nipigon, Ontario. During the spring, you can see water cascading down the cliffs. Such flat-topped mesas are a signature feature of the Thunder Bay area.
So what is it really like to ride a motorcycle along the north shore of Lake Superior? I think the next three photos do a better job of answering this question than I ever could. When on an epic ride - I often try to capture the moment - try to be mindful of what it is that makes the ride so enjoyable. I remember thinking about this while negotiating the twists and turns along the lake. The best that I could come up with that explains why riding a motorcycle along this route can feel so satisfying is that the bike feels like it is floating along the road - flying along – rather than riding on top of it. With all the changes in elevation and banking you experience - high above the lake - it really feels like flying. A couple of riders I spoke with commented on one particularly scenic roller-coaster-like stretch between Terrace Bay, ON and Marathon, ON as being "an incredibly amazing ride". That about sums it up.
This photo was taken about 25KM (15 miles) east of Nipigon, ON at the top of one of a multitude of climbs the route follows.
A few moments later, as I was descending a climb, the following image appeared above my windscreen. Mt. St. Ignace towers more than 380 m (1250 ft above Lake Superior) and is now part of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.
I re-fueled in Terrace Bay after riding about 220 kms (138 miles) and the bike used 7.4L of fuel, netting about 84 mpg (70 mpg U.S.). Not bad for a bike loaded up like an Aspencade. I knew I was getting closer to Neys Provincial Park - my destination for the evening. I had wanted to visit this park for quite some time. Many avid Ontario Parks campers I've chatted with over the years have identified Neys as their favourite park in all of Ontario. I needed to know why. I wanted to experience it for myself. What was it that made Neys so special? I would soon find out.
Stay tuned for Part II - Neys
Part II - The Bee's Neys
So how did the Bee-BR perform out on the highway? When the wind was at my back, the bike surprised me by deftly passing a truck pulling a camper traveling about 95 km/hr on a straight stretch of road. Normally in this instance, I would downshift to 5th, grab a handful of throttle, squeeze the tank with my knees, point my toes inward, pull in my shoulders, clench my butt cheeks tightly together, tuck in my upper torso on top of the tank, tilt my helmet upward for better visibility, close my mouth, and hold in my breath - in effect do anything I could to become more streamlined – and then gently ask the bike for power. This time - I kept it in 6th, and just tucked-in. It wasn't the quickest pass - but the bike accelerated evenly and briskly enough. When I returned to the lane, I looked down and the speedo read 120 km/hr. Impressive for a bike with only 149cc of displacement and carrying a significant load. Then again, my tailbag and saddles were probably acting like a spinaker - helping to propel me forward in the direction of the wind. By comparison, with the 125R I was generally able to maintain 100 km/hr (indicated) under most conditions - but doing so often required lots of tucking-in, particularly when facing a headwind. On the steep climbs I remembered sustaining a speed of 80km/hr (50 mph) in 4th gear. “Dancing” with the bike in this way is part of what makes it so engaging to ride. Compared to the 125R, the 150R was able to maintain 100km/hr more easily - I didn't need to tuck-in nearly as often (under similar windy conditions), and I could crest the hills about 10 km/hr faster (90km/hr or 56 mph) in 5th gear. The power and torque characteristics of both bikes seem rather similar up to about 8000 rpm. Beyond this rpm is where the 150R's greater 4-valve lung capacity enters the party – continuing to produce a narrow spread of extra power all the way up to its 11,500 rpm redline. Just out of curiosity, when approaching some of the hills, I slipped the bike into 4th gear and let the revs climb to 11,000 rpm - let the bee furiously flap its wings - and saw an indicated 100 km/hr on the speedo - something I could never do with the CBR125R up these hills. And the 150R engine feels smooth at this frenetic pace - much smoother - surprisingly - than my CBR250R feels near redline - with virtually no vibration from the grips and foot pegs. Yes - it is more fun to the rev the 150R than the CBR250R. The 150R just doesn't punish you with vibration at high revolutions. Fortunately, the 250R is such a torque-monster - you rarely need to rev it that high.
The beach toward the middle of the image below is part of Neys Park. While I had only been riding for about 4 hours - I was looking forward to setting up my tent, eating some food, and settling in for the evening.
As I was approaching the Neys turn-off from a distance, I could see two riders in high viz yellow jackets heading into the entrance of the park. I remember thinking that it was nice to know there'd be other motorcyclists camping tonight.
When I approached the gate, I pulled up behind the two bikes that had arrived just moments earlier. Two Suzuki V-Stroms. I noticed the licence plates were from Michigan. When I entered the gatehouse one of the riders waiting in line turned towards me with a big grin and asked "Is that a CBR250R you are riding?". There it was. I smiled and said "No - that is a CBR125R". I believe he said "Pardon me?". I replied "A CBR125R". He then responded "Wow - we don't have those in the U.S." He was right. So we spent some time chatting about our bikes and what it was like touring with the Bee-BR. I told him about the CBR's heart transplant. It turns out, Dan and his dad Art had both purchased used V-Stroms so they could complete the circle route of Lake Superior together - something they'd wanted to do for a while. Who wouldn't want to tour Lake Superior on motorcycles with their dad? I was really starting to like these guys already. They were very friendly and after registering - invited me to their site (site #63) - which just so happened to be a short walk from where I would be staying this evening - site #75. Both were located right along Neys' spectacular beach. It was a great feeling to be able to secure such a nice site along the water at this uncrowded park. I heard Harry Callahan's voice ask me if I felt "lucky" and I replied "Yes. Yes I do Harry". Before leaving the gatehouse - I purchased two bags of firewood. I didn't anticipate making a fire - just thought it would be a nice gesture to leave it on the site for the next visitors. The gate attendant told me that the park warden would deliver it to my site in person - so I didn't have to find a creative way of carrying it down on the bike!
Here is what the road looked like in front of my home for the evening. The privacy between sites seemed better than average. One perk was that I was only around the corner from an outhouse. Wait....that's no outhouse...it's a comfort station! (said like Obi-Wan Kenobi).
I thought I'd take a few more photos of the Bee-BR and gear before dismantling the bags and setting up my tent. While it was a pretty hot day so far - being nestled so close to Lake Superior provided just the right amount of air-conditioning. The temperature felt perfect.
And here is my setup. Yes - I like to sleep in comfort. But packing gear on a bike is a lesson in compromise. For me, the most important part is having a good sleep. The Camptime Roll-A-Cot, Nemo Cosmo Insulated Air Mattress, and Eureka Cayuga 30-Degree rectangular sleeping bag have stood the test of time. The sleeping bag is roomy, warm, luxuriously flannel-ishous, and inexpensive. The downside? It takes up half of my tailbag volume. Ouch. Yet - if it didn't work for me - I would have replaced it long ago. As it stands -this is my "go to" setup. One of the most common questions I get asked by campers passing by my site is "How do you fit all of that on your bike?" I guess it doesn't help that it looks like I have a bed in my tent. Nevertheless - it is surprising how much gear the Ortlieb bags can swallow.
After setting up the tent, I ate a Subway sandwich I had carefully stored in my tankbag, and drank an elixir known as Green Squal Powerade. I wanted to take some photos of the lake, ride out to the highway and purchase some beverages from the Can-OP across from the park entrance, and then pay a visit to Dan and Art. How would the evening unfold?
Stay tuned for Part III.
Part III - Neys Beach
Once I had set up my tent, it was time to take a few photos of the beach in front of my site. I have spoken with many people who claim the beach is really the center piece of Neys Provincial Park. I can see why. It is huge, incredibly picturesque, pristine, sandy, and intimately surrounded by rugged hills. It really does feel like a special hidden gem.
Here is an HD video I shot of the beach.
I took a walk along the shoreline and dipped my hand into the water. It felt surprisingly tepid - maybe just a little cooler than bath water! That's unusual for Lake Superior. However, we've been experiencing a warmer than usual summer so far around the big lake.
After snapping some photos, I took out my Galaxy S Glide phone and was pleased that I had a signal from my site. Sweet. I made a few calls to my girlfriend, dad, and good friend to tell them that I had made it to the park safely. I then decided to take a trip on the Bee-BR to the Can-Op store (Neys Lunch and Campground) and stock up on some beverages. I first rode by Dan and Art's site to see if they needed anything from the store. They weren't on their site. Hmm. I wonder where they were? So I continued on my way to the store to purchase more Powerade.
Upon returning, I walked over to Dan and Art's site again. Still no sign of them. I spied a trail leading past their bikes to the beach, so I followed it. When the view opened up, I spotted them. In plain view. Sitting down, with a cooler between them. They apparently knew how to enjoy the moment. As I approached, they immediately recognized me and enthusiastically offered me a beer in the most discreet manner possible. I was hot. Sweaty. Tired. Dehydrated. Parched. It is hard to describe how intense my desire for a cold beer was at that point. I would have braved running across an electrified grid to receive a beer injection - just like a rat in a 1950's Olds and Milner experiment. When they offered me a tallboy can of Molson Canadian - fewer words could sound more profound at the time - I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Yet - I didn't want to drink their beer, as I knew their supply was precious and limited to a mini cooler. When I politely resisted - they said "No - we've been waiting for you and saved a beer specially for you!". Did I mention already how much I was starting to like these guys? When I had seen them entering the park earlier in the day, they had picked up some libations from the Can-Op (Neys Lunch) which doubles as an LCBO and Beer Store agency. There is nothing like a cold beer after a hot day in the saddle. Even better when you have some great company to share it with.
I learned that Dan was a mechanical engineer and used to ride a Honda VTR1000F, also called the SuperHawk in the U.S. He said the bike just had way more power than he needed and unless it was ridden to its full potential - he found it boring to ride. He reiterated the phrase "It is more fun to ride a slow bike fast than ride a fast bike, slow". His father Art used to race enduros in his younger days and it sounded like he had been quite an accomplished rider in his time. Besides the V-Strom, he also owned a 1960s Honda C160 and a whole assortment of other older - yet special bikes. Both of them shared a passion for restoring motorcycles. And their hearts were especially tied to Yamahas. Art seemed to have a particular fondness for DT100 enduros. Dan had restored an early 80s Yamaha XS650 that he sold to a friend and then recently bought back from him. And they both really liked the V-Stroms - and had creatively modified them to carry their gear for the trip. I had a great time chatting with them, but it was now after 10PM and I knew they had had a long day. I suggested some places they might like to visit - including the Agawa Bay campground section of Lake Superior Provincial Park, near where they planned to stop the next evening, and the pictographs located nearby. I also wished them a safe and enjoyable trip and hoped that our paths might cross on our adventures the next day. It was a pleasure meeting and chatting with these friendly and interesting riders.
Dan and Art were relaxing on the beach just like these campers I zoomed in on in the photo below.
After I returned to my site, I stepped out onto the beach again and took a few more photos. I decided to try out the 20x optical zoom on my new camera, a Sony HXC-20V and captured this distant rock formation.
As the sun was setting, I knew I had to take one more photo of the lake to cap off a very satisfying evening at Neys park.
I then retired to my tent for the evening. I had already perused the park brochure, so I was a little short on reading material. I thoughtfully packed a couple of motorcycle specific books in my Icon Urban Tankbag - including the concisely titled "Lightweight Unsupported Motorcycle Travel for Terminal Cases Being a Treatise on Touring by Motorcycle in a Practical and Efficient Manner" that had been recommended to me by Ken, a ADVR forum member who formerly rode a Yamaha TW200 and appreciates the thrill of riding small-displacement bikes, and "Street Strategies: A Survival Guide for Motorcyclists". Hard to imagine experiencing a more satisfying evening. Of course, I slept well too. The rhythmic sound of the waves crashing on the shore all night certainly contributed to my restful slumber.
Stay tuned for Part IV.
Nanabijou screwed with this post 10-26-2012 at 06:48 AM