Rick’s Gentleman’s Express Blog

Motorcycle news and opinion

Stuart Munro

without comments

I read about the recent passing of Stuart Munro in the CVMG newsletter.

In case you have never heard of him, Munro was the brains and driving force behind motorcycle safety training in North America for over a quarter century. Having worked as an instructor for 11 seasons at both Georgian College in Barrie and Humber College in Toronto, the story brought back lots of memories, both good and bad.

When I first started teaching it was to help work my way through college. Graduated licensing was about to begin in Ontario and there was a mad rush to get through the old system and not have to wait five years at class M2 just so you could pass another test in order to drink and ride. We were working every weekend and even doing week-night courses to handle the volume.

Back then, the demographics of the students formed a sunken bell-curve with lots of know-it-all teenage guys, a smattering of adventurous females and a bunch of midlife-crisis males returning to motorcycling after a family and/or a divorce. Most of the students took it pretty seriously and did reasonably well on our fleet of little 125’s. Fact is, many of the young know-it-all’s did know a lot. They had been riding dirt bikes for a decade already. The women were competitive and eager to learn. The old guys were rusty but mostly competent.

Fast forward almost 20 years (I took a few years off between my 6 years at Georgian and 5 years at Humber) and things had changed. The cocky young guys were now trying to move up from a skateboard to an R1. No place to ride a dirt bike anymore… The women were just as serious and competitive as before, but their numbers were up. Still no experience though. The old guys that were convinced that buying that new Harley would increase their chances with the strippers at their favourite watering hole were not returning to motorcycling. They were total newbies with the reflexes and coordination of well… a forty five year old.

I eventually quit to have summer weekends to myself after all those years but did have some fun and make some lasting friends along the way. Like anyone who has worked as a teacher, when I get together with former colleagues the stories inevitably turn to “the dumbest student I ever had” stories, but there were lots of really good students as well. In fact they far out-numbered the bad. I hope that at least some of the lessons took…

More on this subject and Stuart Munro’s legacy to follow…

Written by admin

May 3rd, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Niagara Motorcycle Raceway

without comments

My wife and I recently attended the Dirt Track Nationals at Niagara Motorcycle Raceway just outside Welland, Ontario on the grounds of the Welland County Motorcycle Club. I had spent many years in the Niagara area and used to be a regular at the track. I hadn’t attended a race there in well over ten years and had built it up a bit with my wife based on my rose-coloured rear view.

We took a meandering country roads route from Paris to Welland following the Welland River. In its heyday Welland was a busy factory town. The downtown area used to be bustling, even if all the traffic was really just backups caused by raised lift bridges on the old Welland Canal. After all these years and all the bad news I had heard, I was still shocked at how hard the times Welland has fallen on really are. The old Union Carbide plant and Atlas Steel where schoolmates of mine ended up working are now just brown-fields. You could shoot a cannon off from the old Stelco pipe mill to the abandoned John Deere plant in Dain City without anyone noticing, never mind getting hit.

I had imagined relaxing before the races over an ethnic dinner of some kind in the largely eastern European south end area of town known as Crowland. (We used to call it “Hunky Heaven” in less politically correct times.) We ended up with takeout from a Tim Horton’s consumed alongside an abandoned section of the old canal.

The race track is a lot more business-like than the old days. Back then you could back a pickup up to the east fence and relax with a few cold ones from the comfort of a lawn chair set up in the bed. Now there is security and when I took my backpack in it was checked for bottles. After all these years, the boys at the club in Welland have this race thing down to a science and things run like a well-oiled machine. The washrooms are concrete block construction with running water and flush toilets, not porta-potties. The concessions are permanent structures run by the club. Lighting, fencing and the sound system are top-notch.

I was initially disappointed with the races themselves – no 750’s, seemingly interminable kiddie class races with 3 or 4 PW50s to a heat, very few non-local racers – until I realized that this is just the way things are now. The days of guys driving all the way from Ohio or eastern Quebec to race here are gone the way of high gas prices and high equipment costs. Welland County MC has kept the flickering dirt track flame alive with little support from the CMA or anyone else for that matter. Not really a “national” anymore, the racing was nevertheless quite entertaining once it got to the top classes and lived up to its billing on the ticket stubs as “Balls to the Wall Motorcycle Racing”.

It was great to see some old friends again and to re-visit some of my misspent early adulthood. I now have a truer, re-adjusted picture of the dirt track scene in Canada and will go again next season with different expectations.

Written by admin

August 26th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

BMW breaks with the past

without comments

A while back I mused about the future of BMW motorcycles. At the time, it looked like the motorcycle division was headed for a downward spiral as graying yuppies snapped up BMW’s 4-wheeled offerings to keep up their cred at the office but opted for air-cooled v-twins when it was time to put on a black t-shirt and forego shaving for a few days in order to get in touch with their inner Fonzie. BMW’s K-bikes were looking decidedly old and the engine in the top of the line K1200LT tourer had “only” 1200cc.

When BMW started churning out chain drive singles and transverse in-line fours, I truly thought that they had lost their way and were grasping at straws. When I heard rumours about the new six cylinder touring bike I was convinced that hopeless excess had won out.

After seeing images of the new K1600 and reading the reviews, I realize that I had it all wrong. Gone are the last remnants of dorkiness from all those black air-cooled twins with the white pinstripes. BMW cars have always seemed sportier than a Mercedes but their bikes were the opposite – quirky and under-powered (or all the power the chassis could handle, depending on your point of view). BMW had tried an image makeover in the past with their flying brick K-bikes: a revolutionary design that just never caught on with the flat-twin diehards. I tried out a K100LT and found it loose and buzzy. The re-designed twins were much nicer so BMW soldiered on with them while honing the handling.

Porsche had tried a similar image makeover with its 924 and 928 but, like BMW did with its new boxer twins, eventually went back to the drawing board for a clean-sheet re-design of its traditional flat six after a tepid response from the faithful.

BMW’s K1600 changes all that. Gone is the dorkiness and lack of power. These things make the Gold Wing look its age and are so far beyond the air-cooled v-twin touring bike competition as to make them look steam-powered.

I hope for two things: a demo-ride program somewhere so I don’t have to live vicariously through press-launch impressions, and to live long enough to afford one of these things when used ones are within my price range.

Written by admin

June 4th, 2011 at 7:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Postpartum depression

without comments

This item was originally posted on this site’s forum and is being re-cycled here…

I finally sold an old bike of mine over the weekend. I had been trying to sell it — off and on, with a hiatus during the winter — for almost a year.

I found a good buyer that is going to fix it up and ride it, not part it out on eBay like a tired horse sold for dog food.

I was relieved to finally move the thing, but at the same time a little nostalgic about all the years I had spent on it. Surprisingly, I had trouble sleeping last night, laying awake and thinking about working on it and the trips I had taken on it. The sensation took me totally by surprise — me the cynic waxing lovelorn over a piece of machinery. I’ve never been one to do that corny comparison of women and motorcycles, or to give my bikes nicknames. Nevertheless, there is some sort of pang there for an inanimate object, a pang that probably won’t go away for a long time.

Written by admin

May 22nd, 2011 at 10:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

All cruisers all the time

without comments

This thread was originally posted on this site’s forum and is being re-cycled here…

Exploring our new location here in the beginnings of Southwestern Ontario has me visiting any bike shop I happen upon. I recently stopped in at Brantford Motorcycle, a Yamaha dealer in the city of the same name, and The Power Garage, also a Yamaha dealer, in Woodstock.

Both places were full of cruisers — most of which I can’t tell apart — with a smattering of sport bikes to appeal to the younger crowd. Brantford Motorcycle did have a couple of FJR’s and an MT01.

In talking to the staff, I learned that cruisers are pretty much all they sell nowadays. In fact, the manager at Brantford Motorcycle remarked that if someone had predicted ten years ago that Yamaha’s top selling bikes would be air-cooled V-twins one decade into the 21st Century, he would never have believed it. The crossed tuning forks company has always tried to be on the leading edge: 5-valve heads, hub-centre steering.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the roads around here which tend to be of the rolling country variety through green fields and woods. Not really the typical haunt of the highly strung sportbike. In fact I have found that roads through wide open spaces have a sedative effect.

Then there is the age angle, as riders are getter older and less apt to want to wail on an R1 or Hayabusa.

What ever the explanation, much to my chagrin, it appears that the cruiser thing is not going away any time soon.

Even more cruisers…

I stopped in at another local motorcycle dealership here in the outskirts of western Ontario to actually look at bikes. (Sorry, all you potential buyers in Toronto that have no dealerships within an hour of your home).

I visited Cycle One, a Kawasaki dealer in Woodstock, Ontario. A very friendly place with a line-up of motocross bikes outside and a row of heavyweight cruisers inside. The very helpful young man working sales asked if I needed any help. I told him I might be in the market for a new bike sometime soon (not really true, but I wanted to see how I would be treated) and being new to the area was in to look around.

He asked: “Do you think you would be buying a cruiser?”

I told him that no, even though I am too lame for a full-on sport bike, I wouldn’t be caught dead on one of the two-wheeled barca-loungers they had on display. He did admit that it took a “certain type of rider” to enjoy a cruiser. He looked up a price for me on the new Concours they had next to a Versys.

Here’s what I’m wondering. Are cruisers selling because they are all that’s available anymore, or are they selling because they are perceived as less threatening by middle-aged newbie riders?

I must say that over the last few years, as cruiser sales have taken off, I have lost interest in new models and/or attending new bike shows. My wife is often amazed at the amount of trivial information I have retained about all sorts of bikes: “that has to be an 1100 ‘Wing because it still has the larger diameter front wheel”, or “wow, a Honda CX Turbo, I can’t tell if it’s the 500 or the 650 because the guy repainted it red and they never came in that colour”, or “that’s the UltraGlide because it has those little clear air deflectors on the sides of the fairing”, etc.) I must say that as the big imitation-Harley cruiser trend has gone on (and on) I no longer have any such interest in bike details and furthermore can’t even tell one brand from the next, nevermind the models.

Have cruisers killed motorcycling for me?

Comment by Slo…

I understand your sentiments and like you I really don’t understand the reason why cruisers are so popular. The thing is the dealerships are full of them and, as far as I can see, these are the bikes that are keeping these shops in business. On the road you’ll see them everywhere and their numbers outstrip any other type of bike out there, so their riders can’t all be wrong. Or, perhaps, it just could be that the whole world, except you and I, has gone crazy.

Slo

Written by admin

May 22nd, 2011 at 10:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Trailering

without comments

This item originally appeared in the forum section of this site and is being re-cycled here

A discussion with a friend about riding a couple of weeks ago got me thinking, and it relates to an earlier topic of giving up street riding in a couple of ways.

My friend and I were discussing a couple we know that do a lot of riding and are into the “social” side of motorcycling. That is, they like attending motorcycle events. If the event is a long distance away, they like to trailer their bikes there and then offload them to ride around at their destination.

There was an article in Cycle Canada magazine a few years ago about a guy that toured by towing his Honda CX650 behind a Chevy Astro van. He camped in the van and then made day trips on his bike out and back from his “base camp”. I remember some controversy surrounding the story at the time that this was not “real” motorcycling.

Now I have trailered my bike to Daytona twice (and ridden there once). I know people that trailer their dirt bikes and vintage bikes without any concerns about their manhood. I know people that trailer their sport bikes to distant twisty roads. Should they have ridden there to prove something?

As I get older and coincidentally have less vacation time, the idea of trailering a bike to a destination or even renting a bike there gets more attractive. Does this make one less of a “real motorcyclist”?

Comment by slo

Trailering, what a subject, it`s a surprise to me that this thread has sat so long without a response.
O.K. anyone involved in motorsports is going to be transporting their ride as the days of riding to the track, stripping off the lights, and going racing are long gone. Also, a trip down into the States for some quality time on the bike in the middle of a Canadian winter will surely have the bike tied down to something at some time.

But for everything else, except of course if it’s not broken, ride it.

Everything else…

(a reply to Slo’s comment)
I knew there would be some diehard opinions on this…

I guess for me, with my bike for sale and looking at buying something smaller and shorter range, all these questions about how much bike I really need and what kind of riding to do are boiling up right now.

When I first started riding, just going for a ride was a thrill and I did it regularly. Bigger, faster bikes equaled bigger and faster thrills. After a while I started to get bored with the same old roads and wanted to explore further afield. Even bigger bikes with saddlebags and windshields followed.

Now that I am no longer up to a cross-continent marathon, I have been re-thinking what motorcycling really means to me and what kind of riding (if any) I will be doing in the future. Track days sound like a rich man’s hobby to me. Dirt riding — I’d rather ride through the woods on my mountain bike.

Complicating matters is an interest in motorcycling with my wife, a new rider. She has no pre-conceived notions about riding yet, so the idea of trailering our bikes somewhere and then exploring with them makes sense to her, being much like taking our bicycles somewhere on the rack on the car and then riding around a new town or trail.

I know guys that trailer their bikes to distant twisty roads even in summer, partly because their bikes would not be the best choice for the trip there and back. I suppose there is always the fear in the back of your mind that you might need to trailer your bike back from such a trip. I know that I wasted some beautiful twisties in BC because the bike I rode there on was loaded down like a pack mule and had a squared off back tire and a blown fork seal 10,000 km into the trip.

Written by admin

May 19th, 2011 at 9:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

City Bikers

without comments

I spent the last week attending a work-related training course in downtown Toronto – the city of my birth and my home until three years ago. The course necessitated getting up at 4:15 each morning to catch a GO train into Union Station and then walking the last few blocks to a location at Bay and Queen. Looking out the window of the student lounge, I was almost face to face with the clock on the tower of the old city hall, now a court house.

To stretch my legs I took a walk at lunch each day in search of the perfect pizza slice. Along the way I got to do a lot of bike-watching. Toronto is the only city I know of where motorcycles can park for free. Gone are the days when you would be ticketed for more than one bike in a parking spot meant for a car. Also gone are the days of low-life car drivers stealing the ticket receipt you left tucked between the gas tank and seat. Gone also are the most ridiculous of all: the tickets for not parking your bike parallel to the curb. Now anyone fearless enough to ride into the belly of the beast is rewarded with free parking and the results are a treat: rows and rows of bikes and scooters of all descriptions. Four or five bikes can cram into a spot that would hold just a single car and judging by the number of times I saw the same machine parked in the same lineup each day, I’d say that commuters are taking advantage of this perk as well as visitors.

Congratulations to the Toronto city council for getting something right.

Written by admin

May 15th, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One-armed akimbo

without comments

Originally posted on the old Gentleman’s Express forum and recycled here…Rick

I have noticed more and more people riding around with their left hand on their hip.

This used to be the exclusive domain of wannabe hard-core cruiser riders. You know the type: trying very hard to look like riding is a very casual thing for them due to their total of — what? — six months riding experience on their new male enhancement device. It reaches ridiculous extremes on cruisers with highway pegs, as the tough-guy poser struggles to accelerate with both feet on the highway pegs and left hand jauntily resting on hip or thigh, forcing him into an awkward forward lean reminiscent of a guy with his leg in a cast sitting on a toilet and forcing a difficult bowel movement.

The “casual look” has crossed over to sport bike punks who try to simulate a one-armed push-up while struggling not to smack their face into the triple clamp at any sudden bump or throttle chop.

I’m waiting for my first spotting of one-armed dirt bike riding. Motocross riders are, after all, the original show-offs.

Written by admin

April 30th, 2011 at 10:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

RIP Buell

without comments

Originally posted on the old Gentleman’s Express forum Sat Dec 05, 2009

I was saddened to read about the death of Buell motorcycles. Erik Buell has to be more loyal to Harley than any Harley rider. He worked for them as a young engineer. He stuck with their old world engines in his otherwise state-of-the-art motorcycle chassis. He sold out to them just over ten years ago and now he says he still wants to continue working with them after they pull the plug on his namesake company.

I participated in a couple of Harley demo rides over the years, but never got a chance to ride a Buell. All I read about them kept returning to the main issue: the slow-revving, pushrod, air-cooled Sportster engine.

Apparently, Erik Buell is going into racing. Too bad he didn’t go to work for a sport bike manufacturer decades ago.

The question remains, with Buell gone, what happens to MV Agusta?

Originally posted on the old Gentleman’s Express forum Sun Apr 11, 2010

Further on this sad story is the news that BRP tried to buy Buell from Harley but was turned down. It would seem like a natural with Bombardier’s Rotax plant already making the (finally) modern engines for Buell’s newest sport bikes.

Harley is a company that has twice purchased Italian bike makers and then done nothing with them. Here was a chance for them to do something nice for Erik Buell after his years of devotion to their air-cooled pushrod v-twins. It seems Harley would rather sell all the tooling and dump on a loyal supporter than to let a Canadian company show them how to do it right.

Addendum

Of course we now know what happened to Harley’s latest foray into Italian sport bikes…Rick

Written by admin

April 30th, 2011 at 10:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

City pegs

without comments

This item was originally posted on this site’s forum and is being recycled here

I was driving home from work the other day and let a couple of guys on Harley’s in front of me when traffic in their lane was blocked by some emergency vehicles. I had to chuckle over their riding style. Despite the fact that we were on a busy four-lane city street near midday, both guys were riding with their ankles slung over their highway pegs. From my vantage point directly behind them their boots formed a pair of V’s — like someone passed out on their back, or perhaps laying on a slab in a morgue.

Both bikes were equipped with what looked like perfectly serviceable and much more comfortable foot-boards, but they went unused. When any braking or shifting had to be done, feet went down to the controls and then immediately back up over the highway pegs. It was pretty comical to watch in stop and go traffic.

I was reminded of a Harley road test I read in Rider magazine many years ago. The author was eavesdropping on a couple of kids looking over a Harley parked at the curb. One of the kids asked the other:

“How come there are three sets of foot-pegs?”

His buddy replied:

“The ones at the back are for the passenger. The ones in the middle are for the driver, and the ones at the front are for when you want to look way-rad and bitchin’.'”

Written by admin

April 17th, 2011 at 11:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized