|10-20-2013, 05:51 PM||#1|
Joined: May 2009
Location: Montreal, Quebec
I just rode a Ducati 916 4000 miles.
The story begins here. More updates to come.
(spoiler alert: the trip has been completed but I haven't had time to sit down and write the travelogue... but rest assured the wait will be worth it. It was an amazing journey).
Incredulity, followed by a comment on the size and metallic composition of my testicles. That is usually the immediate reaction I receive when I tell people I use a Ducati 916 for touring duty. I’ve never seen it as that exceptional. Sure, 916s have earned a reputation for being cantankerous and uncomfortable mounts that are certainly ill suited to cross-country adventures. But reputation and reality are two different things.
Actually I’m lying: the reputation is well earned and quite accurate. I’m not a Ducati apologist who sugar coats the truth in favour of rosy nostalgia or blind brand worship. Riding a 916 any great distance is an exercise in zen-like concentration and meditative pain control, always haunted by the remote but present possibility of mechanical disaster. Spend any time on a Ducati forum and the stories of horror, and the photos of shattered alloy that were once engines, will instill an irrational but justifiable fear into the heart of any Ducati owner.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Peter Egan about an exchange with a mechanic after telling him he planned on riding his Norton Commando from Wisconsin to Washington State:
"Jeff, the head BMW/ex-British Twin mechanic, stepped outside to look at my bike, wiping his hands on a rag. I told him about my trip and asked if there was anything special I should do, outside of regular maintenance, to prepare the bike for a 4,000-mile trip.
'If I were you,' Jeff said, 'I'd change my oil, adjust my chain, set the valves, and then, just before I left, I'd trade it on a BMW.'"
That’s precisely why I enjoy using a 916 as my daily driver and occasional long-distance mount. The mere act of riding it further than the nearest café is a flip off to all those jello-butted Ducatista poseurs who are scared of putting five digits on the odometer, and thumbed nose at all those fairweather tourers who wouldn’t ride more than 100 miles on anything other than a full-dress 800-pound touring rig. I ride a 916 thousands of miles because I can, and because I like to be an iconoclast in my poor choice of equipment.
Also it’s my only vehicle, it’s paid for, and I couldn’t afford to get something more appropriate if I wanted to.
Of course I've learned over the years that no matter how tough or proficient you think you are, there is always someone out there who is riding a pre-war machine a thousand miles further than you. Presumably while eating nothing but beef jerky mixed with crushed glass, carrying a backpack loaded with cinder blocks, occasionally pausing at truck stops and asking burly truckers to kick them in the groin a few times to warm them up. That's not mentioning the Iron Butt brigade, who do their damnedest to make everyone else on two wheels feel inadequate. One must be careful when assuming one's level of badassitude, because there are plenty of far more hardened old gits out there who will be happy to demonstrate how weak and unskilled you really are.
But I digress – you’re here to read about the OddBike USA Tour. So let’s step back a bit and start at the beginning.
It’s mid-summer, 2013. I’m sitting at my desk at my day job, which is located in a basement retail store. I’m staring at my computer screen for about the fourth consecutive hour that day. I've run out of ways to appear busy when the boss is looking. I work in the type of business that we would charitably call a “destination store”: a high-falutin’ luxury retail shop, accessed through double-locked bulletproof doors, on an street populated by bars and nightclubs, with shitty parking. We don't get much traffic in the course of the day. Some weeks are so quiet that you begin to see visitors as undesirable interruptions to your meditative state. Their arrival jars you out of your catatonic trance and you are more annoyed than enthused by the sight of another human being. This is not a place where you make many friends.
I spend most of my time tinkering with the online aspects of the business and hammering out the odd bit of content. But it’s impossible to stay focussed and occupied 8 hours a day, so I often find myself staring at that damnable LCD screen, hunched over the keyboard, watching my skin whiten from lack of sunlight and feeling my muscle atrophy. It’s in these moments when I've run out of things to do that I feel truly trapped. Your average white-collar retail gig, in other words: the sort of soul-crushing routine where you expend far too much energy attempting to look busy rather than actually accomplishing anything.
It’s within this environment that I began developing an escape plan. An idea I had long been mulling over was the classic “Coast to Coast” cross-country tour. I wanted to ride a motorcycle across Canada (and back again). This sort of wanderlust seems to be a peculiarity of us North Americans. We live in a vast landscape that occupies multiple time zones and spans thousands of miles. A cross-country tour to the average European would be a pleasant weekend trip. To a Canadian or American, it’s an arduous journey, a rite of passage that every motorcyclist worth his or her salt must accomplish before they can be considered a “real” rider. We envy those fearless enough to drop everything and hit the road with no particular destination in mind – just ride till you hit ocean, then turn around and do it again.
I had the opportunity to meet Dennis Matson a year ago when he was passing through Montreal on the northernmost portion of his cross-continental blast. For those of you not familiar with Dennis’ journey, I strongly encourage you to read his travelogue. I can’t possibly summarize the journey in any meaningful way, you must read his thoughts and reports. The synopsis is he dropped everything, sold his current bike, bought a brand-new Ducati 1199, and hit the road immediately with just a backpack and the clothes on his back with no particular destination in mind. 15,000 miles later he finished his journey, inspiring intense jealousy among thousands of people who yearn for the ability to let go and ride.
Dennis’ adventure was utterly inspiring, and maddeningly accessible. Two wheels and whatever you can carry on your back and you could be on an epic soul-searching trek. Of course reality, work, bills, and debts keep most of us grounded (Dennis was fortunate enough to have a job that could be done on the road by telecommuting). But the idea was planted and my wanderlust was ignited, smouldering in the back of my mind over the winter, spring and summer.
I finally snapped around July, and set my idea into motion. I began organizing my thoughts and making a serious plan of action to get my ass across the country. I may be crazy enough to use a 916 for a daily rider, but I’m not stupid enough to try and ride it 7500 miles both ways across Canada. I needed to get a second bike, my first choice being a used Honda CBR 1100 XX Super Blackbird, my favourite intercontinental ballistic sport tourer, and enough funding to pay for 30 days on the road.
Being perpetually broke like most Gen Ys I sought aid from my bank. Here’s a tip – don’t ever go to your bank and tell them you are applying for a loan to drive a motorcycle across the country. Tell them you want to buy RRSPs, or sink a bunch of money into junk bonds, or put your cash into a big pile so you can set it on fire. The moment you utter the words “motor cycle” you will see their eyes glaze over in that moment of realization that they are about to waste the next 30 minutes filing an application that will go nowhere.
In other words my idea of flying across Canada by Blackbird was shot down in short order.
I was explaining my desire to travel across the land to a friend of mine who lives in Louisiana. Then I had a lightbulb moment and brought up Google Maps. Louisiana is about 1500 miles from Montreal. 3000 miles isn’t that crazy on the 916 – I’ve done nearly that much on it in the past, as long as I paced myself it would be a relatively easy journey. I asked him for a couch to crash on, and he agreed. I told him I’d be coming in summer of 2014, to which he asked why not this year? I explained my financial bind, and that I would need time to put money aside. He gave me a verbal kick in the ass: “I laid out a plan for you a few months ago”.
What he meant was that several months prior he had proposed a new concept to me – crowdsource funds to write OddBike articles. It was something that had never been done in the motorcycle blogosphere: propose a topic and canvas for funding to pay for the research and travel expenses from the readers themselves, rather than sponsors or advertisers. I didn't take it seriously at the time, and put his advice on the back burner. But as OddBike grew and my writing became more involved, the idea became tantalizing. It would enable me to write better articles and pay for some of the considerable time I invest into the site, without resorting to whoring OddBike out to sponsors and advertisers. I would go direct to my readers for help, and I would only have to answer to them. And having funding for travel and research would allow me to reach out and meet key industry people face to face, something that is virtually impossible to do while living in Montreal.
I was reluctant to ask anyone for money - I would make a terrible entrepreneur, as I feel guilty asking anyone for help. But I had nothing to lose. So I sat down and did some thinking. To make it worthwhile to my readers and myself I’d need to maximize the possibilities for content gathering along the way. The Barber Vintage Festival was coming up in October, and Birmingham is on the way to Louisiana, so that became one of my first destinations. Motus and Confederate are two independent American brands I've been meaning to profile, and they are both located in Birmingham as well. Former Confederate designer JT Nesbitt has a studio in New Orleans and is working on a cool new design that I was interested in checking out. Later I heard tell of the mysterious Traub V-twin at the Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina so I added a stop there to investigate. I now had a series of articles laid out. I could ride down and gather information, conduct interviews, and take photos (an important consideration - one thing they don’t tell you about motorcycle journalism is that everyone demands top-quality exclusive images, regardless of how good your content might be). I’d also have the opportunity to make myself known to a few key people in the industry and spread the word about OddBike and my writing. And of course I’d have fodder for an interesting travelogue.
Pretty soon my “vacation” was looking like more work than my soul-sucking day job. And that was immensely appealing: this would be an intense journey that would allow me to move forward with my passion and take OddBike to the next level. So I set to work and hammered out an Indiegogo proposal. Much to my amazement the contributions started trickling in. I had gone into the campaign expecting nothing to come of it. But now I had backers putting down cash to see me on my way, and I owed it to them to make sure the trip happened and that I followed through on my promises. The OddBike USA Tour was on.
I began getting equipped for the trip. To keep expenses to a minimum I’d camp in state parks most of the way, with a few couches to crash on along the way offered by generous OddBike fans. I picked up a cheap set of soft saddlebags and some backpack camping gear. I planned a route and organized my stops. I was able to confirm visits with everyone except Confederate (I will try to organize something but as of this moment nothing is confirmed). Finally I gave the bike a once over to make sure everything was in order. I spent most of last season sorting out issues and chasing gremlins - while most people might be put off by a season full of problems and repeated breakdowns, a seasoned Italophile sees it as an extended shakedown run where you have the opportunity to sort everything out before next year. Optimism is a required outlook when owning an old Italian motorcycle, as is a philosophy of masochistic fatalism (I resign myself to my immutable fate, and I will enjoy it).
When touring by sportbike simplicity is key. I don’t like elaborate touring gear, and I think it is silly to pay thousands of dollars for boxes that weigh more than the widgets you will be putting inside them. I use lightweight sport saddlebags, my trusty 20$ tankbag which has accompanied me for 8 years, a low-profile backpack, and some cold-weather touring gear to keep comfy. Clothes, tent, sleeping bag, a few snacks, toolkit, a handful of zip ties – good to go.
I practiced my usual style of trip planning – sketch out the broad strokes but leave the details open so that I’m not adhering to a strict schedule. About 300 miles a day, which I can do comfortably without rushing - I also have a tendency to miss exits and take wrong turns so I like to leave myself some leeway in my scheduling. I made no advanced reservations so I can modify my route as I see fit. I’ll be passing through New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana. It will be a total of two weeks on the road, mostly on the Interstate with the odd excursion onto some backroads.
Come Sunday, October 6th the OddBike USA Tour begins.
OddBike - Obsessing over weird motorcycles from around the world.
JEC screwed with this post 10-21-2013 at 10:04 AM
|10-20-2013, 06:08 PM||#2|
Joined: Jan 2008
Location: Fairbanks, AK
|10-21-2013, 12:35 PM||#7|
Joined: Mar 2009
cant wait to see more
Sounds like another fantastic Ducati adventure, and somehting to make Dennis proud, considering he was your inspiration.
I recognize the bike and location of your second picture and can't wait to see what you thought of that place and it's owner.
|10-21-2013, 12:40 PM||#8|
Joined: May 2009
Location: Montreal, Quebec
And no I didn't ride on the you-know-what. Didn't want to temp fate.
|10-21-2013, 04:34 PM||#10|
Joined: May 2009
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Part II - Setting Out
I encourage everyone to read these posts on my site to get the proper images and links, but I'm copying the text here to make things simpler.
I have a strange relationship with motorcycle riding. I have an absolute, unmitigated passion for the sport and I’ve been riding since I was 17, but I still get pangs of apprehension every morning before I hit the road. You would think I should be accustomed to it by now, and yet each journey is preceded by intense bouts of anxiety. It’s not the danger or the risk, which has never factored into it for me. I simply don’t worry about such things. It’s something else, like an intense excitement that builds into this climax of fretfulness and physical discomfort. When I learned that Formula 1 legend James Hunt would often throw up right before a race, I immediately understood. Contrary to what you might think, it wasn't because he was scared, though he had a healthy appreciation for the danger involved in his sport. It was the energy and intensity of the coming event building up inside him to a literal bursting point.
Once I am on the bike, this unease and discomfort immediately melts away and I become part of the machine. My mind settles and my body relaxes. The act of riding becomes soothing, in spite of the fury of the machine and the heightened awareness necessary to pilot it. It’s an addictive routine – your body vibrating with anticipation, followed by a wave of intense calm and serenity washing over you.
I wake up early on the morning of October 6th, an hour before sunrise. I down a cup of coffee and have a light breakfast, my stomach turning at the thought of food. I rarely eat anything before noon, but I force down a few nutritious items to sustain me for the morning ride. I slowly zip into my gear and check over my luggage, making my last minute checks. I maintain a calm demeanor as I pack and adjust my armour, moving slowly and deliberately while my torso burns with the anticipation of the journey that lies ahead of me.
I descend into the parking garage, helmet in hand with my gear slung over my shoulder. I walk around the bike, performing a final check of the lights, tire pressure, fluid levels. I secure my luggage and roll the machine out of my parking spot.
My anxiety has built to a fever pitch at this moment. This is just part of my routine before every significant ride.
I turn the key and flick on the fast idle button. I turn my eyes to the dash and instinctively watch the oil pressure light as I stab the starter button. After a few characteristically lazy turns the engine fires into life and booms in the confines of the garage, the thundering exhaust offset by the clattering and pinging of the dry clutch. The oil light promptly flicks off and I begin to relax. I click the throttle forward to turn off the fast idle, allowing the engine to lope along as it warms up - the staff isn't fond of my Ferraci pipes so I keep noise to a minimum until I leave the building.
I slowly slide my helmet on. The bike stalls, as usual, and I pause to tap the starter button again. The Ducati warmup routine is always the same, and stalling is part of the process. Something about two big pistons in a high state of tune that makes most Ducatis stall happy – sometimes you can get the throttle bodies balanced perfectly and it will never cut out, sometimes the balance is off by a gnat’s ass and it will die at every other stoplight. Part of the charm, I suppose. I define those elusive clichés of “character” and “soul” in inanimate motorcycles as consistent inconsistency. Even when perfectly tuned a 916 will still occasionally cough, hiccup, misfire, or stall. No rhyme or reason, and no predictability – they just do. You come to accept it as the "personality" of the machine, and it makes the thing far more endearing than your typical Yamondazukawa, once you are able to put the spectre of imminent mechanical catastrophe out of your mind. You get the sensation that you are riding a barely-tamed stallion, a beast that you alone are capable of keeping reigned in. T.E. Lawrence had one of the finest summaries, which I won’t attempt to better:
“A skittish motorbike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.”
I put on my gloves and throw my leg over, sitting on the machine and gently blipping the throttle as the temperature needle creeps up off the peg. My anxiety is melting away now as the thrum of the engine vibrates through my body. The basso profundo sound of a barely muffled Italian twin reverberates around me, bouncing off the concrete walls. The intake pulses are channeled through the fuel tank into my stomach. The temperature is over 140 now, time to go. I pull in the clutch, flip up the sidestand, and click the motor into gear. I am at complete ease now as I roll out of the garage into the sharp autumn air.
My anxiety is gone and I feel at home. My journey begins.
Before I set out on this trip, I encountered a few naysayers. The whole "asking people for money to ride my bike" bit ruffled some feathers and incited some minor backlash from people who didn't understand the "funding articles" element of the campaign - a backlash which I anticipated but still didn't enjoy. It's the principal reason I was reluctant to even start a crowdsourcing campaign, because I expected nothing but negative feedback. In the end I got far more positive support than negative, but hearing cutting remarks from Internet Tough Guys is still unpleasant and weighs more heavily on your conscience than the dozen or so pats on the back you received prior to that. Motorcycle culture has long had a dichotomy behind the scenes - on one side you have massively friendly folks who will give their left fork leg to help out a rider, on the other you have the self-absorbed aloof jackasses who play up the outmoded antisocial outlaw biker image. There is an easy litmus test to determine which category someone falls into - the former waves, the latter doesn't.
I've learned not to mention my motorcycle adventures to my colleagues at work: misguided and patronizing advice based on ignorance gets real old, real fast. I made the mistake of sharing my cross-USA trip plans and was promptly bombasted with tales of terror about how I was going to be run off the road and murdered in the USA, and how I couldn't set foot outside after dark, and I was going to be stabbed in the ass by gangs of roving ass-stabbing muggers who prowled the back streets. These are the typical Canadian fears and boogeymen: there is a genuine sense that as soon as you cross the border things turn into a cross between a Wild West frontier and Mad Max lawless dystopia, with certain death awaiting innocent Canadians who made a wrong turn at the Seven Eleven. I rolled my eyes and kept quiet, as I knew it probably wouldn't be worth mentioning that this isn't the first time I've ridden my bike through the US, being the dumb-punk-kid-who-doesn't-know-any-better that I am. I've always found it funny how people who don't ride are just brimming with bad advice for motorcycle riders.
I'm exaggerating for the purpose of storytelling, of course, but the ass-stabbing caution did come up in earnest. As did dire warnings of hurricanes and hillbillies the moment I crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
Once again I am reminded of Peter Egan's adventure by Norton:
"Skeptics, heretics and hooters were everywhere, like some chorus in a Greek tragedy, portending ill for their flawed and heedless hero. I finally quit telling people about the trip and made plans with my wife in the privacy of our own living room."
So it was that I kept my plans to myself, sharing only with the loyal readers of OddBike.
Pulling out of the parking garage I'm greeted with the low sun of dawn and a piercing 5 degree (celsius) morning. It takes a few moments for the icy fingers of cold to begin poking through my gear after exiting the warm garage, but the fog on the inside of my visor leaves no doubt - it is fucking cold out. Not that I haven't ridden in colder temperatures (I think every Canadian rider has done at least one sub-zero jaunt. Or at least I hope I'm not the only idiot who has) but it is something that I will never get used to. No matter how many layers of gear I wear, or how thick my gloves are, I will never feel at ease unless the temps are above 15 degrees. All the more reason to ride as far south as I can manage as quickly as possible.
The US border into New York state is only about 40 miles south of Montreal. Many local riders will head over to NY or Vermont to take advantage of the perfectly manicured US backroads through the Adirondacks. I certainly don't blame them, the roads in Quebec are legendarily awful, carefully maintained in a perfect state of disrepair by half-assed union workmanship, municipal corruption, and mob skimming.
Passing through US customs, I understand why the locals frequent the US. The agent takes my passport, types my name in the computer, stares at the screen for 15 seconds before handing me back my documents and wishing me a good ride. No questions, no "what is your business in the USA?" or "how long is your stay?" or "are you now, or ever have been, a member of the Al Qaeda network?". Just a quick check and off you go, have fun in our land of freedom and cheeseburgers. A lot of Canadian provinces could learn a thing or two from the process - like welcoming riders and their tourist dollars, instead of alienating them with draconian law enforcement and noise laws.
The weather is clear for the first 100 miles into New York but soon gives way to a light rain. Fortunately I was smart enough to pack a rain suit. Unfortunately I'm not smart enough to take my boots off before slipping the pants on, and I promptly tear a hole in the left leg. A seasoned touring rider I am not. I do my best to look dignified on the side of the Interstate, hopping around on one foot while I stretch the slightly-too-small rain suit over my pants, all while cursing the shoddy material that ripped like crepe paper the moment I put my leg in it.
I veer off the Interstate near Albany to get gas and end up on a secondary road that runs parallel to where I was heading... Time to modify the route and take a scenic detour. The rain is subsiding now, leaving a dark sheen on the brightly coloured leaves that are unmistakably of the "Northeast in Fall" colour palette - vibrant but subdued, and stunning in mid-autumn at the moment the leaves begin to fall. I ride through Hudson and the surrounding towns, passing through some of the most pitch-perfect New England neighbourhoods you could imagine. Stuff straight off the pages of Martha Stewart Living: Colonial and Cape Cod architecture preserved in a sympathetic but authentic way, surrounded by a flawless fall landscape. A few people have put out early Halloween decorations. Pumpkins dot the picturesque front porches. Burnt orange leaves falls gently and swirl around me as I ride though small communities that are simultaneously beautiful and eerie, like the opening of a horror movie where the idyllic community and its blissfully ignorant denizens are introduced before things turn into a bloodbath. I imagine Michael Myers hiding behind a tree, knife at the ready. Maybe I've been watching too many slasher flicks.
My destination is a private residence owned by a wealthy motorcycle enthusiast who retired from banking before the capital-C Clusterfuck in 2008 with enough cash to live out his dreams. I knew of him through a friend and had heard tell of his private motorsports wonderland in the rolling hills of upstate New York, but I still didn't really know what to expect. I had never met him before, but my friend had given me a good recommendation and the fellow was kind enough to offer me a place to stay for the night.
I arrive at a motorised gate, just in time to meet the full-time mechanic, Peter, as he returns from a parts run. He quizzes me to a bit, having not been informed of my arrival. Apparently I seem harmless enough, and he leads me into the property. A one-lane road forks and runs to the various buildings - the main house, a guest house, the garage and workshop, the private 1.1 mile racetrack. Oh, I forgot to mention that part. This man has built a racetrack in his front yard. Now that he is retired, he has dedicated himself to a career in racing - his passion began with bikes but migrated to open-cockpit cars once his first daughter was born and he wanted something a bit safer. I won't pretend to understand the intricacies of the categories he races in, but suffice to say he has some impressive four-wheeled equipment at his disposal and he is doing quite well as a privateer. His ultimate goal is to race at Le Mans, a noble endeavour that I salute. The world needs more enthusiastic privateers nipping at the heels of the factory efforts, but it is becoming increasingly difficult given the level of technology and funding needed to participate in modern racing. He has the advantage of private wealth, but money isn't a substitute for proficiency, and he hones his skills right here in front of his country house.
Peter brings me to the main motorcycle building. We enter through the workshop where a few machines are lined up - a couple of race-prepped GSX-R 600s, a half-assembled shifter kart, a Ninja 250. He hands me a legal waiver to sign. Having a racetrack on your property presents its own set of legal challenges, apparently.
He flicks on the lights in the adjacent room. I instantly set eyes upon a pristine Bimota V-Due. Around it was a room full of obscenely rare motorcycles, with a few interesting cars slotted in among them. I think I stood there frozen for nearly a minute, unable to react to what I was looking at. It took me a while to regain my composure and start wandering through the rows of bikes. I realise what I am looking at is my personal dream garage, with almost every bike I have ever desired sitting in front of me. I realise that here is someone who has almost the same taste as I do, but who has earned the wealth to fulfill his dreams.
Bimota is one of my favourite brands, but they have never been homologated for sale in Canada. I have only seen one Bimota in my life, a restored KB1 that was being exhibited in a Toronto vintage bike show. Now I am looking at nearly all of them in a single room. I can barely take it all in. The V-Due is one of my all time favourite machines and was the first bike I profiled on OddBike. But there is also a Tesi 1D, tucked in beside a Ducati 851 Tricolore. Here's a DB1, DB2, even the infamous Mantra. Most of the SB, YB and HB machines are represented as well. And there are the perfectly restored Ducati bevel head singles and twins, and the Honda RC45, the Dakar-prepped Cagiva Elefant.
Then you go upstairs, where you find more Bimotas lined up with Laverdas and a few odd machines, including a first-series Hesketh V1000. I run around madly snapping photos and taking in the details of machines I'd only ever read about, barely able to process what I'm seeing. The owner, Alan, has been profiled in the past but mainly for his four-wheeled endeavours. I was floored by his collection of motorcycles, which had always been ignored by the car-centric press who wouldn't know a NR750 from a Gold Wing.
I chat with Peter for a while, sharing the usual motorcycle shop talk. Swapping stories, talking bikes. Peter is a seasoned motorcycle mechanic who worked mainly on Japanese machine before being hired by Alan. He still runs his own repair business on the side, while working as Alan's Crew Chief and Motorsports Director. While his speciality is bikes, Alan has slowly introduced more and more car-related work into his schedule, much to Peter's dismay. There is a big disconnect between cars and bikes when it comes to mechanical work, and it is rare to see a professional mechanic who can do both equally well. Bike guys usually look at cars with disdain, and vice versa. Since getting into motorcycles 10 years ago I've become less and less impressed with cars, a contrast to the youthful enthusiasm I had as an adolescent reading the buff mags and rags. In fact I haven't owned a car in 4 years, and have zero desire to get another one.
So I understand Peter's position perfectly, and I feel a little sorry for him - particularly considering the calibre of machines sitting in front of me, most of which are static and would need some significant prep work to get running. There are only three or four that are in a ready-to-ride state. I was disappointed that most of the bikes weren't being used regularly, but not really surprised given the quantity on hand - there is only so much riding one man and a few of his friends can accomplish, even with a private racetrack in your yard.
Alan arrives. He is a flurry of energy, going madly off in all directions. I introduce myself and sheepishly compliment him on his facilities, and thank him for hosting me. Between unloading his car and firing off questions at Peter (I think the topic of the day was gearbox options for an LMP car, but they lost me pretty quickly), Alan takes a few moments to begin describing his passion for Italian machines and how he began collecting bikes. He has an infectious childlike enthusiasm. Here is a man who is having fun and living out his dreams, with every toy he has ever wanted at his disposal. He is passionate, friendly and lively. I cannot picture him in the banking industry.
He sets me up in the guest house, a beautiful open building set on the shore of the private lake adjacent to the main house. The bedroom I am staying in is only slightly smaller than my entire Montreal apartment.
As quickly as he arrives, Alan is gone, off running errands around the property. I drop off my stuff and get a tour of the property from Peter. We hop into a side by side Polaris ATV and ride around the wooded trails surrounding the estate, then up onto the ridge overlooking the lake and the track. We drive around the track, which is a tight and technical circuit that has no real straightaways. It was designed by Alan with some input from Keith Code, and was intended as a bike track - the cars came later, but were equally at home. It's basically a perfectly maintained canyon road in front of your house, with zero traffic and safe runoffs. In fact Alan has given up street riding entirely for the safety of the track, something that might seem surprising to non-riders (A track? Safe?) but is quite common among sport riders who get sick of close calls, rough pavement, absent minded drivers, and LEO attention.
I retire to the guest house in the evening, feeling a bit ill at ease in this environment. While I work in a luxury industry I come from a simple background. Aside from the race track and the motorcycle collection Alan's property is reasonably modest and not at all ostentatious, but still intimidating for a simple person like myself. I also feel slightly guilty - I don't know Alan personally and don't want to be an ungrateful mooch taking advantage of his hospitality. I am extremely grateful that he has opened his home to me, but I am not entirely at ease. The beautiful but awkward furniture doesn't help - everything is "form before function" where the pieces looks impressive but weren't designed to be sat upon by human beings. I suppose you could say the same thing about a lot of bikes.
The well-stocked beer fridge in the guest house helps me relax. I forgot to bring anything for dinner and don't dare ask my hosts for food, so I resign myself to Rolling Rock and beef jerky from my snack stash. I take my notes for the day and do my online business, updating my readers on the journey through Facebook on my iPod. This will become my nightly ritual - relaxing, scribbling out the days events and thoughts, and tossing a few pictures onto Facebook to let everyone know I'm still alive. I manage to figure out the impossibly complicated centralised media system and spend the evening watching a Military Channel documentary marathon on fighter aces. A good start to the OddBike USA Tour.
It was fortunate that I had this opportunity to unwind in luxurious surroundings, given what I had in store the next day.
|10-21-2013, 07:03 PM||#11|
Joined: Oct 2009
Location: Oakland, Kalli Fornia
Wow, a racetrack in the front yard....now I know what to ask the wife for come X-mas...
Great report so far, and the 916 is one of my dream bikes, I will pick one up one day.
|10-23-2013, 07:21 PM||#12|
Joined: May 2009
Location: Montreal, Quebec
I wake up at dawn the next day to clear skies and mild temperatures, a marked improvement from the previous day's conditions. It gave me the opportunity to wander the property in silence and take some better photos of the track and the estate. I adhered to the Lone Canuck stereotype, rising early and quietly taking in the beauty of the natural surroundings in the morning light while everyone else slept. Nobody needs to know that I was also checking my emails. I'll just let you imagine me silently gliding across a mist covered lake in a birch bark canoe, nobly surveying my surroundings.
Alan's property is situated on rolling hills surrounded by picturesque farmland and modest houses. While his buildings are far from ostentatious, his setup is a significant step above the nearby homes (even without the track). There certainly must have been a bit of jealousy involved when the local community took him to court to block his plans to build a race track, citing noise, safety, and zoning concerns. He eventually won after a lengthy legal battle, but the point was made that the neighbours were not impressed. The nearby Interstate makes far more racket than activity on the track ever would, so as far as I'm concerned the noise argument is a moot point. In any case they maintain a 7 pm curfew on track activity.
Tempted though I was to try out the track, I abstained. I have no track experience and did not want to tempt fate at the outset of a long journey using my only mode of transportation. The track wasn't exactly a go-kart loop either - it's a highly complex course with blind corners, sharp transitions, tricky camber and elevation changes, and a narrow surface. Peter noted that despite a great deal of experience and the short length he still finds it a proper challenge. I took that as reason enough not to try my luck. "I am a Road Person", I thought to myself, paraphrasing Hunter S. Thompson in my head.
I packed up my gear and prepared to set out. My next destination was a state park just past Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
My rough planning set out a goal of approximately 300-350 miles per day, about the upper limit of comfortable riding for me on the 916. Most Ducati Superbike owners would cringe at the idea of going more than 50 miles, but after riding the thing for seven years I've grown accustomed to the seating position and 200-300 mile days are easy. You must learn to hold your weight up with your core muscles and keep the pressure off your wrists - that's proper sport riding technique anyway. Keeping a limitless stock of ibuprofen is also a good idea. The last time I did a properly long trip on this bike I ran a couple of 600 mile days to make up time, and vowed never to make that mistake again. Coincidentally I took up smoking as a daily habit right around that time I rode to Cape Breton and back.
My routes were fairly direct, mostly interstate. Nothing exciting, as I had to be in Alabama in five days and I didn't have time to explore too many backroads. That being said I left a certain amount of leeway in my planning to allow for some exploring, alternate routes, or dealing with the unforeseen. Being the luddite that I am I relied on my tried-and-true method of navigation - printing routes off Google Maps and scribbling pace notes on scraps of paper to stuff into the top of my tankbag. I mapped out the entire journey well in advance, but without making any prior reservations so I could just do whatever the hell I wanted and not worry about being in East Blunderfudge County by 5pm for check-in at the Bates motel.
So it was that on Monday morning I looked at my map and said "fuckit" and redrew my route westward to avoid passing through southern New York and New Jersey.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, the Interstate was going to take me close to New York City and that sounded like a recipe for horrific traffic. I scribbled a new western route on the map and hit the road around 8am with the sun shining and the temperature in the teens.
I cut south along the Taconic State Parkway then west along I-84, with nothing much to note except a horrific car wreck being cleaned up by State Troopers. Soon I crossed into Pennsylvania, and things started getting interesting.
By this point the sky had clouded over and the temperature had started dropping noticeably. That pleasant fall morning was giving way to bleary grey day that is misery to ride through, particularly on dull Interstate routes. Just as I pulled into a sleepy off-highway community for gas it started raining. Damn. Time to squeeze into the rain suit and look like a dolt hopping around on the side of the road. Again.
I filled up and headed back for the freeway, sliding my front end across the thickly-painted centrelines. Sometimes I think my lack of reaction time makes me appear more skilled than I actually am. The best reaction to a squirrelly machine is usually no reaction, maintaining steady input and a relaxed grip on the controls. Before I have time to react the front regains traction and I continue on my merry way as if I had intended to slither sideways across the road -meanwhile I was secretly thanking whatever combination of luck, physics and chassis dynamics had managed to keep me from lowsiding in the middle of a small Pennsylvania town.
Things soon went from bad to worse. I quickly discovered that unlike many US states, Pennsylvania has utterly atrocious roads that rival Quebec for their sheer filling-rattling, suspension-bottoming, rim-mangling treacherousness. I ran into one stretch that had longitudinal crevices running for miles at a time, where the road had chipped away under the wheel ruts in the lanes. The first section I absent-mindedly rode straight into sent my steering into a full lock-to-lock tankslapper - something that has never occurred before on my Ducati. If the road is bad enough to send a 916 into a pants-wetting headshake, you know you are dealing with some seriously bad surfacing.
Then came the grooved pavement, which combined with the rain and steady traffic made the next 20 miles absolutely terrifying. The bike was weaving significantly on the deep grooves and I could feel that I had barely any traction across the slick graded surface. I kept my distance from cars and my inputs gentle as I skated across the pavement. Fun it was not.
The weather cleared briefly and I stopped in Scranton for lunch before heading south on I-81. When I left the restaurant a local fellow commented that I was about to get hit with some serious weather. I smiled and said "oh I know, I passed through it on the way here"
Problem was that wasn't the weather they were referring to, which I soon found out the hard way.
Leaving Scranton the rain started again, but this time it meant business. Within a few miles conditions went from shower to torrential deluge with strong winds. Visibility was down to less than a hundred feet. When I lost sight of the tailights of the car I was following, I had a pang of realization: if I can't see the car in front of me, the guy behind me sure as hell can't see my worthless Italian brake lights. I turned on my turn signals and desperately scanned for the nearest exit to get the hell off the Interstate until visibility improved.
I spotted a couple of Harleys parked at the nearest underpass, and pulled up behind them. As I got off the bike one of the riders walked up to me and greeted me in French. A bit stunned to hear anything other than English in Pennsylvania, I glanced at their license plates: New Brunswick. My home province. I greeted them and told them I was from NB as well. They asked me where I was from, and holy small world it turned out we were all from Moncton. We exchanged pleasantries and sat down to wait out the rain.
After a few minutes I got tired of waiting and hit the road again, wishing my hometown compatriots well on their journey. They seemed a bit stunned to meet another Canadian on the road, particularly one riding an old Italian sport bike equipped with luggage, in the rain, claiming he was heading for New Orleans. That would become the most common reaction I would encounter when I met people along the way and informed them where I had come from and where I was heading. I'd be lying if I didn't enjoy the shock value of the trip and my poor choice of equipment.
The rain is steady but not as violent as before. Visibility is acceptable but now I'm properly soaked, as is the bike. I had the good sense to install waterproof liners in my luggage, which happened to look remarkably like the clear plastic trash bags they give out for recycling in Montreal. The fact that Nelson-Riggs charges an extra 20$ for optional rain covers is laughable.
Funny enough I've never had issues with riding my Duc in the rain and do it quite regularly - one of the first things I did when I bought it was clean and grease every single electrical connection, a good bet to avoid the breeding of eye-talian gremlins. That being said the temperature gauge stopped working, the first of several problems I would encounter along the way.
I pulled off at Minerstown, a tiny town that looks exactly like you would imagine - a simple but tough looking little community surrounded by hills and winding roads. I encountered a State Trooper parked at the side of the road with gumballs lit, and was so distracted by his presence that I nearly ran straight into the foot-deep pond in the middle of the road that he was trying to warn people about.
I stopped at the town's sole gas station to fill up and warm up with a coffee. Sitting under the awning watching the rain fall and the locals come and go, one of the clerks came out to empty the trash and started chatting me up. She asked where I was heading. "Harrisburg, then Virginia tomorrow". She cocked her head and looked at me intensely "Are you crazy? There is a tornado warning!" Whoops, guess the weather was worse than I thought. I duly noted the warning, finished my coffee and hit the Interstate again. If I'm going to get sucked up by a twister, I'd prefer it to happen on the road, not sitting at a rural gas station twiddling my thumbs.
Sure enough a few miles down the road I realized why there was a tornado warning in effect. Riding along I suddenly felt a significant change in temperature, at least 5 degrees within the span of a few seconds. I had passed right across the barrier between two temperature fronts. These are the sorts of details you will miss while driving in a car. Motorcycling is always an intense sensory experience in ways that are not necessarily apparent.
At this point I've cancelled the plans for camping in my mind - what I desperately want at that moment is a hot shower and a hearty meal. I stop in Carlisle and grab an offramp hotel room, which is exorbitantly priced considering the beautiful location right within earshot of the interstate - I've paid less for suites downtown in major cities. But I am in no mood to hunt down a better deal (which is likely the basis of their entire pricing strategy) and resign myself to paying too much money, vowing I wouldn't make the same mistake twice - continental breakfast be damned.
After laying out my gear to dry and having that magnificent shower I was so desperately craving, I wander off in search of food. I find a simple pizza joint in a strip mall about a mile away and enjoy a slice of delicious grease-slicked pepperoni the size of my face with a root beer for less than 3 bucks. Two things strike you as remarkably cheap in the US when you are from Canada - food, and gas. In rural areas I was filling up for under 3$ a gallon, the most expensive places were around 3.80$. Listening to the locals complain about the high price of gas was cute when you are used to paying 1.40$ a litre for regular, which works out to 5.30$ per US gallon. And you guys thought 4 bucks was the end of the world.
The next day I wake up early and head down to raid the breakfast spread. I want to be damned sure I get my money's worth. Of course I don't, but I amuse myself making a rubbery waffle with a self-serve contraption, which is remarkably devoid of safety features considering how litigious American society supposedly is. I imagine a plaintiff appearing before the court, a crosshatch pattern branded into his forehead, his lawyer decrying the lack of warnings informing you not to stick you face into the waffle iron.
I finish my mediocre breakfast and gear up for the day's ride. It's a cool, clear morning, looks like a good day of riding ahead after yesterday's awful weather. I load up my luggage and go to start the bike to let it warm up a bit before setting out. Key on, flick the fast idle button, stab the starter... Womp womp womp womp womp. No ignition. Cycle the key, listen for the fuel pump. Everything seems normal. Try again. Womp womp womp womp. Still nothing. I can smell fuel charge wafting out of the exhausts, which means I'm getting plenty of fuel - in fact I suspect it's getting too much, and it is probably flooded. This is a new problem. I generally don't ride in cold weather much and having the bike stored in a heated parking garage means I've never had to fire it up from dead cold after sitting outside overnight.
I am worried.
I pause and collect my thoughts, put on my helmet and adjust the saddlebags. After another minute I try again, this time the bike fires instantly and settles into its normal clattering idle. Definitely flooding the motor, once it had a chance to evaporate it started right up - but why is that? I let the bike warm up and hit the road, my mind turning over the problem that has now presented itself, many miles from home and still a long way from my destination.
The morning's ride is otherwise uneventful and takes me through Maryland, West Virginia, and into Virginia. The bike starts and appears to run fine once it is warmed up. Riding through Virginia my odometer clicks over to 34000 miles, exactly 1000 miles into my journey now. I notice a remarkable smell riding through the Shenandoah Valley - something like toasted vanilla with an undercurrent of honey that persisted for over 100 miles. It's subtle but unmistakable, and another example of those extra levels of resolution that riding a motorcycle reveals.
My next stop is Claytor Lake State Park, located off the Interstate just past Roanoke. After overpaying for my accommodations the previous night I'm quite determined to camp this time around.
Camping is one of those activities that I find immensely appealing in my mind, given sufficient time from the last instance of doing it. I need enough time to forget the miserable humid cold at night, the hard, rocky ground, and the bug-addled bathrooms (or shitting in the woods, depending on where you set up camp). Camping for me is a social activity better done with a group of friends and a case of beer (and a gallon of gasoline to keep the fire going). Solo camping is just an exercise in being cheap. I grew up in the country, so nature has a limited appeal for me given my familiarity with it. I enjoy it, I appreciate it, but I don't bow down to some imagined splendour and go camping to pay reverence to the magnificence of the Earth. Not after seeing some of the bugs that inhabit the forest floor. The only advantage to camping in my mind is entertaining your inner hillbilly by getting drunk, setting fires, and shooting guns (if circumstances allow). Unfortunately only one of these three options is available in a State Park, and I'm pretty sure they frown upon the high-test and old tire method of ignition.
In any case it would be a shame to drag the extra weight of a tent and sleeping bag along with me and not use the damned things.
I stop in Roanoke to grab a snack and pick up something for supper. Driving along a double-nickle section of freeway I notice the bike is surging noticeably at steady throttle around 4000 rpm. Seems in line with my rich starting problem from the morning. Something is definitely amiss.
I head straight to the State Park after Roanoke and nab a camp site. The campground is well populated and not particularly woodsy. The surroundings are stunning, tall deciduous forests with hiking trails snaking through the leaf-blanketed landscape. But the campsites themselves look like off-highway RV parking lots, nothing more than gravel pits packed tight together in little clusters just off the main road. I was hoping for something a bit more... secluded, but I don't feel like exploring and looking for more remote sites.
Once I've unpacked and erected the tent (a Eureka Solitaire, which gets high praise from me for being light, compact, and easy to setup) I get to work doing what every seasoned Ducati owner does best - troubleshooting issues on the side of the road (or campsite, as it were). I suspect that my rain riding might have caused some issues so I start going over the electrical connections, fuses and sensors to look for anything amiss. I discover a melted main fuse which was still functional despite looking like a piece of rock candy, and my coolant union had developed a crack along the mounting point which was cutting the ground to the temperature gauge. I tried to find a short that might explain the melted fuse but everything was clean and well greased. I replaced the cooked fuse and it would remain fine for the remainder of the trip. I suspect that one of the temperature sensors is causing my rich fueling issue, the coolant temperature switch being the most likely culprit as it has the greatest effect on the fuel mixture and has given me trouble in the past. But aside from cleaning the connector and checking the wiring there isn't much I can do at this point.
I notice a truck with Ontario plates parked in the lot next to mine, with a small trailer stowed nearby. An hour after I arrive I hear the distinctive rumble of a V-twin rolling into the camp, and I'm surprised to discover that my neighbour is arriving on a Suzuki SV650. I go up and introduce myself, telling him I wasn't expecting to meet another Canadian on two wheels out here. Turns out that he was on his way to Barber as well, but was being more sensible by driving the boring stretches with his bike in tow, then spending the afternoons exploring local backroads on the SV. Smart, but also a bit lacking in adventure if you ask me. As far as I am concerned a bike should only be carried on a trailer in two instances - when being delivered to a new owner, and when the engine internals have made a break for daylight.
The fellow turns out to be a veteran rider who has been on two wheels since the late 70s and has a great deal of experience in the sport. These are always fun guys to converse with, because they are always brimming with great stories from the road and have seen attitudes and perceptions shift over the decades. He helps me poke around the 916 a bit and lends me some tools, and offers a beer to help expedite the process. I finally give up troubleshooting for the evening and we sit down and start swapping stories.
Unfortunately, he exhibits the attitude I dread and try to avoid - the arrogant Canadian. This is the same attitude I encountered among my peers before setting out on the trip, which annoyed me to no end - judgmental attitudes towards Americans. This manifested itself when one of our lot neighbours came over to say hello. As he strode over to us, the fellow from Ontario muttered "oh shit, here comes the redneck" under his breath. The man greeted us and invited us to join his family for dinner and drinks. As he walked away my compatriot muttered "I don't want any fucking squirrel stew".
I was angry. This man had just opened his hearth to us and we could have gone over and made some new friends (not to mention gotten some good barbeque). But instead my fellow Canuck had let his prejudices come through, and it put a damper on the rest of the evening for me. Don't get me wrong, he was a great guy and was friendly and fascinating to talk to - with me, the other Canadian. But he clearly didn't want to associate with the locals, which left a bad taste in my mouth. Especially considering I come from an upbringing that would probably fit his "redneck" profile.
One thing I realized while travelling through the South was that it was remarkably familiar - it reminded me of the Maritimes, except with armadillos and funny accents. Simple, friendly, salt of the earth people. They may lack "sophistication" according to certain definitions but they aren't stupid or ignorant, and they certainly aren't threatening. I felt right at home, which is why the knee-jerk naivete of other Canadians before, during and after this journey seriously pissed me off. After spending two weeks down there I came away with a much higher opinion of the people and places in the South, and will never look at them the same way.
Besides, I'll bet squirrels are delicious.
|10-23-2013, 08:11 PM||#13|
Joined: Sep 2012
Location: The Purgatory of Suburbia
I'm in, great write up lets see more pic
"The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday"
|10-23-2013, 08:47 PM||#14|
Joined: May 2009
Location: Montreal, Quebec
|10-23-2013, 11:04 PM||#15|
Joined: Mar 2012
Hooked and enjoying the read so far.
Thanks for sharing.
These RR's will help inspire my own escape from Montreal someday.
2012 Triumph Tiger 800 XC
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