Oh. Canada.

As an American, and not unlike many other Americans, I have this weird spatial/cognitive relationship with our great northern neighbor.

Obviously, and just like any other American, I’m aware of the fact that a half-continent-sized land mass looms north of my own country’s controversial and troubled borders. Rationally, I know that it’s a sovereign state with ten provinces, three territories, and one preternaturally handsome boy-Prime-Minister (Beto O’Rourke of the North). That it has its own colorful French/English/Scottish history, indigenous peoples, governing structures, bustling cities, languages, accents, and foods.

Take donair pizza, for example. A Canadian, um…touchstone? Innovation? Mistake? (Regardless, this slice of pure cultural Canadianness should come in handy now that the entire country has legalized weed. But more about donair late-air.)

Anyway, despite all this, in my own regrettably US-centric mental construct, the world of North America sort of stops somewhere north of my eyebrows, with the 49th parallel—that hard east-west line stretching from the top of Washington State to the scraggly, northern reaches of Maine—feeling like the upper boundary of my actual, physical American head.

It’s almost as if Canada sits outside and above the ceiling of my mind, like a vague and incomprehensibly vast pine-scented attic, dark, endless, and cold.

Obviously, I know Canada’s up there. It’s always been up there, teeming with moose and conifers and hockey rinks and scallop boats and 36 million proud Canadian souls, a sort of parallel universe to the US, but nicer and more civil (if a little less enterprising or ambitious), and certainly less crowded.

But when it comes to Canada, this rider has rarely tended to think of it, much less considered visiting it. Which is a shame, since a fair bit of the eastern reaches of The Great Maple Kingdom—from Quebec to New Brunswick to the Maritimes—is easily within a day ride from me in southern New England.

Well, this all changed a few summers ago during a family visit to Portland, Maine, and not on a motorbike.

The Adventurelounger clan was knocking around downtown Portland on Commercial Street (which runs along the waterfront); and after an awesome breakfast at what is arguably the city’s best diner, Becky’s, we strolled over to the Bay Ferries to look into a day trip to one of the Casco Bay islands.

As we rounded the corner from the smaller ferries and boats, I was struck by something incongruously huge and imposing in the harbor. It looked like a cross between the space shuttle and a boxy, windowless cruise ship.

Turns out I was looking at The CAT, a high-speed catamaran ferry which makes the 212-mile sea crossing from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia daily, in just under six hours.

Oh, Canada.

There was already a line of cars and motorcycles waiting to board that morning. As they rolled up the steel ramp and into the CAT’s belly, I thought to myself, “Someday, I’m gonna ride that sumbitch to Canada, and then I’m gonna ride around Canada some more.”

Well, that someday was a Sunday this summer. And here, my friends, is how it rolled.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Between work obligations, family commitments, and a fickle August weather forecast, I had three Weather-Channel-certified clear days—from dawn on Sunday morning until late Tuesday night—to get me and my Yamaha Super Ténéré from Westport, Connecticut to As-Far-As-I-Can-Ride, Nova Scotia and back again.

In practical terms, this is what a three-day run to an island 200 miles off the coast of Maine would look like:

1) Early morning run for Portland

2) Afternoon ferry to Nova Scotia

3) Overnight in Yarmouth, NS

4) Rise and ride around as much Nova Scotia as time and butt-comfort would allow, from dawn to dusk

5) Overnight in Yarmouth again

6) Seven AM ferry back to Portland

7) Ride home

I was “Mainely” compulsive about this timing because of weather. I would’ve loved to eke out five days of riding instead of three, and get more Nova on my riding bagel.

But on the weekend I was planning to ride, three dry days were bracketed by shitty, monsoon-like weather. I hate riding in rain for obvious comfort and safety reasons, and the only thing I hate worse is riding in electrical storms on a mobile lightning rod. And the only thing I could possibly hate more would be braving thunderstorms and a washed-out I-95 on brand new, slick-as-snails rubber, like the unridden Heidenau Scouts I’d just put on the Ténéré.

I mean, will you just look at all that baby tire fuzz?

Since Weather.com was calling for clear skies from Connecticut to Nova Scotia for a solid 72 hours, my ride was going to happen in that dry window, and that was that.

I spent the rain-soaked Saturday before my trip in caffeine-soaked, pre-ride jitters, compulsively route-planning, list-making, over-packing, unpacking, re-packing, rearranging, fuel-topping, pressure-checking, and electronics-charging.

Do I need flip flops? Where’s the goddamn GoPro? IVY DID YOU TAKE MY GOPRO CHARGING CORD! How the frig do you get this route on the Garmin? Goddammit this happened last time…waypoint or route? Sidi Adventures or the Rev’Its? They’re more comfy but you’re gonna ride dirt. But you’re gonna ride slab. Pack rain kit or screw it? Fleece? But it’s August. But it’s Canada…

It’s like getting ready for school with your mother screaming at you in your coffee-jangled, middle-aged head. 

By 10 pm that evening, having exhausted myself and my self-inflicted compulsion-fest, I did a final check of the weather app, which called for 🌤️🌤️🌤️—clear skies!—by morning), kissed my Emily goodnight, and drifted into fitful “scarecited” sleep.

At 5:15 I popped up, downed a couple of Nespressos, suited up, went down to the garage, hopped on the Super-T, synchronized iPhone, watch, Garmin, and the bike’s trip meter, opened the garage, turned the key, fired her up, rolled on the throttle and rolled out of the driveway at precisely at 6.

Despite what the digital weatherman in my iPhone had been saying, and my best laid plans, it was…misting.

By the time I got onto I-95 heading north/east, it was drizzling.

And by New Haven, it was raining.

🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️🌧️

How do you silently scream FUUUCKK! to yourself in Canadian?

So my adventure started off wet, with a severe case of highway butt-pucker as I passed (and was passed by) 18-wheelers, their blasts of zero-visibility road spray obscuring my line and buffeting me about. I rode tip-toe straight on the bike’s slippery new sneakers, clenching my way from New Haven to Hartford, where the rain became heavy enough for me to pull over and throw on my (perfectly packed) rain kit.

Forecasters, you get an F. Maybe even a U.

Nevertheless, I-95 gave way to I-91 to I-84, and by the Mass Pike the rain was finally starting to ease up. I turned my rain-frown upside down when I stopped at a Massachusetts rest area to lose the hi-viz rain kit, along with my New England Thruway butt-pucker.

By Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I was feeling practically sunny, along with the atmosphere. So I stopped to grab some breakfast.

If you ever find yourself in Portsmouth NH, pop over to Popovers On The Square, smack in the middle of downtown. Everything they serve—and I mean everything—floats into your mouth on a raft of steaming, pillowy, golden dough. It’s popover heaven, and my chosen cloud was a fluffy egg-and-cheese variant. I topped up on caffeine, chatted with a few bikers, and then headed for Maine. 

It’s another hour of wide, fast slab up the Maine Turnpike into Vacationland (as the state plate proudly proclaims). I motored past Kittery, Wells and the Kennebunks, finally reaching Portland around noon. I had about two hours until ferry loading, so I swung by one of my favorite local groceries, Lois’ Natural, to stock up on some CAT food.

Already three bags on the Super-T? What’s a fourth? So I saddled up with provisions and made my way down to the ferry.

As I rolled into the queue for border control quietly giddy with excitement, I wondered:

Maybe there’s some other dad across the lot with his family, and he’s seeing me on my bike and looking at that weird boxy ocean space shuttle in the harbor and thinking, “Someday, I’m gonna ride that sumbitch to Canada, and then I’m gonna ride around Canada some more.”

If that’s you, go for it. But for today, it’s my turn. Behold the glee:

They board motorcyclists first in order to tie-down the bikes, so along with several other riders (including an older “just married” couple riding off to honeymoon on their spanking new Goldwing), we were sent to the front of the line to wait.

By now, it was blazing midday sun, and I joined the other riders in peeling off our sweat-soaked riding kits to change into civvies before boarding. When the signal came, we gingerly moto-tiptoed up the metal boarding grate (which would be like falling on a cheese grater in flip flops and shorts), and into the belly of the CAT.

Here’s my Super-T, a few spots from the Goldwing honeymoon chariot. All tied down, just like in marriage (just kidding, honey).

I really had no idea what to expect aboard The CAT. I was prepared for something stark, utilitarian and ferry-like—fiberglass benches with a crappy hot-dog concession, battleship grey sand-grip metal flooring and fogged-over plastic windows.

But instead, it felt like a cross between the Acela and a food court at the mall. The CAT was slick and modern, with shiny wooden floors, two dining areas, an array of seating choices from leather barcalounger-style recliners to mini sofas and cafe tables, and several outdoor decks.

I chose this perch to eat my organic Maine lunch. Although an entire pint of blueberries, while healthy, produces some interesting results after it goes on its own adventure ride down your digestive tract.

Here we are ferrying past Portland Head Light.

And after we cleared the harbor, Captain Catamaran floored it. Au revoir, America. I’m going to that country up above my head.

I almost lost track of the time watching the sun set on the aft-deck. Omigod! It’s almost 7:30 Atlantic Daylight Time! Can’t be late for the on-board entertainment!

You can experience what I experienced below. It was better than good. It was Canadian powercringe good…

To be fair, “powercringe” kinda makes me sound like a snarky American jackass, which I can occasionally be. But the CAT crew guy leading the spontaneous acoustic sing-along was earnest, charming, and occasionally on-key. He was putting himself out there trying to pass the time for our motley crew of vacationing families, retirees, and the odd adventure biker. It was almost sweetly fun. Almost.

Maybe I’m turning Canadian? 

We cruised into Yarmouth Harbor under darkness. I re-kitted up, unleashed the bike, wished the Goldwingers well, and rode out onto Canadian soil. After a brief wait at border control (and a chat with a guy on an R1200GS Adventure who was heading for the legendary Cabot Trail), I found myself puttering down an abandoned Main Street in Yarmouth.

Since it was 9:30 pm on Sunday night on a Canadian island (isthland?) way out in the Atlantic, everything was predictably closed. But I was hankering for a quick bite before heading to accommodations a short ride north. Thankfully, the lights were on here at Jake’s Family Restaurant (photo credit: Tripadvisor.CA).

Which brings me back to something I said at the beginning of this post that I’d address “late-air.”

I walked into Jake’s like a weird American spaceman just off the shuttle in full riding-kit spacesuit. I pulled off my helmet, approached the counter, said hi, and tried to figure out what to eat.

They had a glass warming case filled with pizza slices, and one of them looked like it was oozing cheesy goodness over some lumps of what looked like meat…

“What kinda slice is that?” asked the American astronaut.

“Donair!” chirped the Jakey Canadian counterman.

“Don-what?” inquired the astronaut.

“Donair.” said the counterman.

“Like, uh, Doner? Like doner kebab? That kinda meat wheel?” asked the alien in the spacesuit.

“Yeah kinda like that, eh? It’s got, like, sausage meat, but it’s donair, ya know?”

I didn’t, but it sounded good enough to me. Whatever it was, with that amount of glistening melted cheesiness, it had to be good. I ordered two slices and a Diet Coke, and sat down, stoked and marveling at the fact that I was actually in Nova Scotia, about to scarf.

I lifted the slice to my lips, salivating in anticipation of the first bite. And when I chomped down, I experienced a mouthful of sensory confusion…which rapidly escalated to panic.

My eyes, brain and tastebuds all indicated cheesysaucysavory.

But my mouth was saying sweet…sticky…meaty. 

As adults, we rarely ever experience the gag reflex. I did. I actually gagged.

The weird, almost violent mixture of flavors and textures produced some kind of reptilian parasympathetic nervous reaction in me, like I was eating something toxic. “Reverse thrusters! Commence vomit sequence. Eject! Eject!”

A quick Google search on my phone identified the source of my revulsion. It turns out that donair pizza is a Nova Scotian invention. They take a perfectly good slice of pizza, cover it in salty doner kebab meat (at least I had that part right)…and then smother it in a sickly-sweet sauce that is essentially Cinnabon frosting mixed with vinegar and garlic powder.

In other words, this, on top of sausage wheel meat, on top of pizza.

What. The. Fuck.

I covered the crime scene with a napkin, folded it between two paper plates, and stealthily pitched it, lest I be observed as a culturally-insensitive American spaceman. Then I got back on my bike and rode north through the Nova Scotia darkness to my lodgings, about 12 miles up the coast in Darling’s Lake.

I arrived where I’d be staying—at the Churchill Mansion Inn—around 11 PM. The kindly innkeeper showed me upstairs to my room, where I shed my riding kit, took a hot shower, and cracked a flask of bourbon (Basel Haden, for those who care) to celebrate arriving unscathed (and unpoisoned) in Oh, Canada.

Cheers to you. Tomorrow, we ride.

Hello, Darling’s.

Darlings Lake, Nova Scotia from JP/CT on Vimeo.

I crashed for the night at the very cool Churchill Mansion Inn, a nineteenth century mansion built by Canadian sea captain and merchant mariner Aaron Flint Churchill, anecdotally famous for having warned Captain Edward Smith (of the ill-fated Titanic) to quit seafaring and retire before his luck ran out. Oof.

Here’s my Ténéré in front of the Inn, wearing her accidental maple leaf livery.

It seemed like I had the place all to myself, with the exception of one of the Innkeepers, a delightful local woman who served up a delicious breakfast and a tour of the gracious old Victorian-era home.

I’d done a fair bit of obsessing about my route, as I only had from dawn to dusk to explore the southeast corner of the Island. After consulting other ride reports (and with advice from some friendly locals on ADVRider), I decided on a loop that would take me north along St. Mary’s Bay (an inner stretch of the Bay of Fundy); up to Annapolis Royal; then inland and south with a swing past Kejimkujik National Park on the way to Bridgewater; south and then west along the coast through Brooklyn and Lockeport, and then wending my way in and out of the coves on the way back up to Yarmouth.

Let’s ride.

First stop was at one of the longest, sandiest stretches of beach on the Western shore—Port Maitland. Nice looking beach, but the facilities could use a little TLC…

I noodled my way North along Rte. 1, aka the Evangeline Trail, threading through little Acadian and French fishing communities, and admiring the wooden churches that dotted the landscape.

I rolled through Digby, which lays claim to being the scallop capital of the world. From the number of boat yards and scallop trawlers on view, who am I to argue?

I decided to stop for a little caffeine boost in Annapolis Royal (which sounds better to me if you Frenchify the second part, as in Casino Royale). It’s a tidy, historic little community on the bank of the Annapolis river, just inland from the Bay of Fundy.

Here’s where I stopped: Sissaboo Coffee, apparently named after the nearby Sissiboo river.

As someone who earns their livelihood in New York City, I’m always pleasantly surprised (shocked, even) when I get a good cup of coffee out in the, well, hinterlands. Well, Sissiboo Coffee surprised and shocked me with a stellar velvety “flat white,” consumed (once again) by this interstellar rider in full astronaut kit. The local art crowd and a couple of tourist families were kind enough to ignore the interloping American who was fiddling with a GoPro charger and obsessing over a Butler map, planning his route south. Thanks for the great cup and hospitality, Sis.

Before leaving Annapolis Royale, I checked out the harbor, and bumped into a German family in this awesome thing. Not quite a Mercedes Unimog, but a MAN truck conversion for touring North America., like this family here in a slightly larger rig. Just hope it doesn’t take premium.

Here’s where I banged a right and started heading inland. I’d read about Kejimkujik National Park, and wanted to find some unpaved confines to try out my new Heidenaus. It must be either a Canadian, regional, or Nova Scotia thing, but they refer to main roads as “trunks,” so I jumped on Trunk 8, a gently winding but fast two-laner.

About midway down the middle of the island, I began seeing one after another dirt road peeling off Trunk 8 and into the woods. Most weren’t marked, and it wasn’t clear if they were logging roads or private ways. I decided they were put there explicitly for the fun and diversion of middle-aged ADVbikers like me.

I killed an hour just hooning around through the woods and getting lost. Never saw another vehicle or soul. I think I found heaven, and it’s on a wet, rutted dirt road somewhere up in Nova Scotia…

After hooning in heaven, I decided to check out the National Park itself, so I paid the entrance fee, and looped around Kejimkujik. If I had the energy, I would’ve stripped down for a dip here (there were several folks swimming). But the thought of de-armoring was overwhelming, so I rode on.

My son’s name is Noah, and the signage here looked like his boyhood bedroom, so I was compelled to stop for gas and water.

The ride south to Bridgewater and Brooklyn was a tad uninspiring, through slightly warn seaside towns under overcast skies. By now it was mid-afternoon, and I had to feed someone other than the Ténéré, so I stopped here for a clam roll, which may have indeed been the world’s best.

I was relieved to find that the sauce in the little paper cup was, in fact, tartar, and not Cinnabon creme.

There are two roads that run along the southern Nova Scotia coast: the fast, multi-lane 103, and the ribbony, unhurried Route 3, which dips up and down through the bays and cove towns of the south shore of the island. Naturally, I chose door number 3, which took me through Lockeport, where I stumbled on a funny little sight. A Lilliputian navy of model boats floating in their own Lilliputian harbor, apparently built and maintained by one Floyd Stewart.

Hat’s off to you, Cap’n Stewart. Your Littlebigharbour made my day.

A little further south took me to Western Head, a lovely seagrass and rock promontory jutting out into the Atlantic. It was a stark and quietly beautiful place indeed. I’ll shut up and let the pictures do the talking.

It was getting to be early evening; since it was summer I still had a few hours of daylight, but the progress I was making along loping Route 3 was slow, and at the rate I was riding it would’ve taken me well past sundown to scribble my way along the coast and back up to Yarmouth.

But another route on my Butler map looked pretty direct and promising: Route 203. It was almost a straight shot back up to Yarmouth…but there was suspiciously little along the way. So I did a quick Google search, and this is what Atlantic Canada Cycling’s website had to say:

 “Route 203 is considered the loneliest road in the province because it has the longest uninhabited stretch of any paved highway in Nova Scotia.  Here this road goes deep into the woods. Totally devoid of people, the only inhabitants here are deer, moose, and a few black bears. Stray roads go off into the woods, remains of old pioneer trails and newer logging roads. With its atmosphere of abandonment, the highway gives a post-apocalyptic Canadian “Mad Max” feeling. The road is very rarely patrolled by the police…With little traffic, no cellphone service and no houses along the way, it’s a dangerous and desolate place to have a mechanical breakdown.”

130 kilometers? No people, cell service or police? A chance of encountering moose or bear? Let’s go!

Despite my initial bravado, I have to say that 203 was more than a little spooky. The pavement is cracked and crumbling in many places, with green grass growing up through the roadway. I am not exaggerating when I say that in a solid hour and a half of riding this “Ghost Highway,” I saw NO ONE—not a car, truck, person, moose or bear. Just one lonely porcupine scrambling out of the Ténéré’s path.

But once you got past the idea that if you made a mistake, they might never find you, it was positively Zen-like, one of the best hours I’ve spent on a bike, magnified by the acute awareness of how alone I was.

I rolled into civilization (aka Yarmouth) just before 8 pm, about 325 miles after I’d set out that morning. I’d be crashing at an AirBnB, a neat little apartment over an art gallery a block away from the Bay Ferries terminal. I finally shed my kid, and rode down to grab dinner and beer before hitting the sack for a 7 am CAT departure.

That’s my digs on the upper left…

My AirBnB host, a delightful Moroccan woman, offered to make me coffee in her restaurant (next to the gallery) at 6 am the following morning. Since her place was literally directly across the street from the ferry, I hung out, caffeinated and chatted until the last minute. Then across the street…

into the passport control and ferry queue…

…and me and my Ténéré were heading back to the US of A.

The return crossing was smooth, fast and sunny. We arrived in Portland, ME around lunchtime. I disembarked with a couple of Harley riders from Massachusetts (who’d been up to the Cabot trail), and we took turns leading our small, three-bike pack south on the Maine Turnpike into New Hampshire, threading our way through tractor trailers and SUVs packed with vacationing families.

The Harley guys peeled off around Marlborough, while I pressed souther-er and wester-er along 495 (shitty traffic), 290 (more shitty summer traffic), then the Mass Pike, 84, 91, 95, and home, where I was greeted by my youngest, Maisie. “How was Canada, Dad?”

Oh, Canada!

To say that I barely scratched the surface of Nova Scotia in 3 days and 1,000 miles would be an understatement. But to say that it started a Canadian itch that just won’t leave me would be an understatement. Oh Canada indeed.

Gotta start making plans for another trip to that country above my mind.

Getting Your Ya-Yas Out

Since I’m the proud owner of a 2013 Yamaha Super Tenere, I guess I’m a data point in Yamaha’s CRM database, which would explain why I received an email invite to their “Demo Days” at Stamford Motorsports last spring. So on the appointed date—an otherwise grey and drizzly Saturday morning—I threw my riding kit into the back of my truck and drove down I-95 to the dealership, where this was waiting for me.

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What could be more glee-inducing than a bright red trailer filled with delicious new toys? It was like a giant motorcycle piñata waiting to be cracked open by a bunch of middle-aged children.

I mean, look at this man-child.

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Talk about a kid into the candyamaha shop.

Thankfully, the guys from Yamaha arranged their sweets in neat, single-file rows to make bike-sampling easier.  And to prevent a riot from breaking out.

In order to ride, all you had to do was follow a simple drill: show them your (M)otorcycle-endorsed license. Slap on a wristband. Listen to the safety briefing and route description from the demo guys (actually, MSF instructors moonlighting as ride-proctors).

And then they let you gorge on bikes for free. Free. FREE!

The first candy I went for was the retro/modern  Yamaha XSR900, which I’d only seen from afar through the shop window of  the internet.

In the metal flesh, super tasty.

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I’d call it more modern than retro, from the sculpted, brushed-aluminum tank with classic Yammy lettering…

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…to the single, digital instrument cluster, which (while cool-looking) I didn’t really love. TMI in TLS—Too Little Space. Plus too-small data for anyone with eyes over 50. They haven’t come out with bifocal visors yet. More style than substance in this little pod, but the rest of the bike had a genuine measure of both.

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The single halogen headlamp was more traditional…

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But the LED tail light was not, which gave the lighting an asymmetrical vibe, sort of like a luminous mullet: conservative up front, party in the back. Still, I liked both, as I did the suede-trimmed saddle, with its (Ron) burgundy tush.

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Add to all this some chunky, machined aluminum bits, cast wheels, and the inline three-cylinder banshee of an engine from the FZ-09, and you get this:

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Riding-wise (for me, at least) it was pretty comfortable, with upright ergos and a comfortable bar height. The motor and gearbox are unassailably brilliant, and liquid-smooth. It’s well suspended and delivers a taught, ultra-responsive ride.

But for someone used to poky adventure bikes (or old BMW airheads), the rush of power on the XR is so abrupt, it’s alarming.  Even with traction control, a firm twist of the throttle felt like it would leave skid marks on the road, and inside your pants. Braking was equally aggressive and abrupt (thankfully, it has ABS, or you’d be dealing with a second set of skid marks).

None of this is so much a criticism of the bike as an honest observation about the limits and comfort of this particular rider. If you’re one of those YouTube hypermotard hooners, you’d be in pig-heaven on the XSR. It’s a howler. If you’re into self-preservation (as I am) and more casual tootling, it’s more of an anti-life-preserver.

So I moved on to something else outside my comfort zone, but for different qualities. This:

 

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It’s a Bolt. But I think Yamaha might have had a few screws loose when they conceived it.

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It’s sort of a cross-eyed mashup of a cruiser, scrambler, bobber, and cafe racer.

Who mixes clip-on bars with rubber fork gators, gold with brushed aluminum AND matte black AND gloss black; LED and digital gauges with cheezily-retro body stickers…

Oh, and did I mention it’s…um…brown?

The ergonomics are bizarre and even a little hostile—that airbox (or whatever the hell that jutting plastic/aluminum trapezoid is) hits you squarely in the mid-thigh, forcing you to ride splay-legged, kinda like this guy.

magilla-gorilla

I looked about that cool riding the Bolt. I don’t think that’s quite what Yamaha was going for.

I like motorcycles, but it was hard to find anything about the Bolt that was even remotely appealing or redeeming. Overall, it’s a triumph of attempted-style over substance. Bolt is what I wanted to do after riding it.

Which was the polar opposite of how I felt when I got the chance to ride this. The iconic and thoroughly un-ironic FJR.

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It’s a pretty remarkable machine, exquisitely engineered for comfort and speed. I’d never ridden a proper touring rig before, and this made me actually want one. For such a big bike, the FJR is shockingly nimble, smooth, and easy to ride. All the weight is carrier down low in the belly of the bike (not unlike the dork riding it).

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The seat height would allow most riders (even shorter ones) to flat-foot it, which truly matters, because you can imagine the crunching, cracking, snapping sounds the bodywork would make even if you had a tip-over at a standstill.

Bar ergos were excellent, reaching back to meet you and letting you ride in a super-comfortable, bent-arm posture. Plus the cockpit was logical, relatively clear, and easy to navigate, so you can concentrate on more important navigation.

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Finally, the airflow management was excellent, from the slick adjustable fairing down to the car-like mirrors, which I think they borrowed from an M3.

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All in all, it makes you want to pack these panniers up with a toothbrush and some clean underwear, and head out for a 1,000 mile ride.

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You think they’ll know it’s missing?

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Starling on the Slipstream

What the hell do starlings have to do with motorbikes? Here’s what.

starling-bewick
From Wikipedia:

Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds; the species familiar to most people in Europe and North America is the common starling. Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious.

From the band Pavement:
 I heard what you said
The leaders are dead
They’re robbing the sky
I can hear their followers cry…

Starlings on the slipstream

From Italian, the most musical of languages:
A starling is a stornello. Stornello is also used to refer to an old folk song, as in “C’era uno stornello così da noi.”  ( “That’s a little song we used to sing back home.”)

From Moto Guzzi:
This little bird is a 1972 Stornello 125. It’s a pretty darling starling.

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And this little bird is a 2016 V7II Stornello. My new Guzzi Stornello, a little song I brought back home, my starling on the slipstream.

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Isn’t she pretty? I’m in love with an Italian bird-bike, and I think I like it.

So how’d this red-and-white Italian beauty come to nest in my garage, next to a honking Super Ténéré, a waspy Italian little cousin (my Vespa GT), and a forty-year-old BMW airhead? Well, here’s how.

Last summer, after having had a multi-year itch for a classic bike and finally scratching it, I found myself the proud and newly-obsessive owner of a classic airhead: an all-original, completely unmolested 1974 BMW R75/6.  I wrote about it here.

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My airhead has been (and still is) a total hoot. Between the low seat, gently-raked bars, relatively light weight, and friendly overall ergos, the slash 6 is incredibly comfortable and easy to ride. I’ve done hundreds of delightful, low-key miles ambling all around southwestern Connecticut with her, and she never fails to turn heads, or the corners of my mouth upright into a smile.

But old-bike ownership has revealed a few things to me. First, if a forty-two-year-old bike is officially designated a “Classic” (note the special plate from the DMV below), then what is its fifty-two-year-old rider’s proper designation? Relic? Fossil? Antique?

Second: “classic” charm requires a certain love for (or generous forbearance with) classic technology. No matter how good the preservation or condition, riding a vintage motorbike is still an out-and-out mechanical experience, an analogue counterpoint to today’s inescapably digital world.

For starters, airheads run on carburetors, little metal contraptions that—with the twist of a throttle—fill up with gasoline and oil, which gets vaporized by a stream of vacuum-induced air and detonated in the cylinders. “Carburation” is achieved through a Rube-Goldberg assembly of needles, butterfly flaps,  floats, and bowls, cleverly assembled (Bingo!) into this:

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It’s primitive technology for sure, but not entirely without fascination or charm. The same can be said for many other aspects of this vintage beauty. Everything is purely mechanical and manual, like the choke. The clutch lever provides a vigorous left-forearm workout, and if you use it enough, you might even develop asymmetrical limbs. Shifting requires some aggressive pre-load from your toes to avoid gear clattering and clunking. The brakes, while disc, are 100% analog and unassisted by technology. Which can produce some thrilling/terrifying/upright-sliding moments, especially when deer decide to make a surprise appearance. Don’t ask how I know.

And finally, with my airhead (and apparently 95% of all the other ones) you have to get used to the gas/oil equivalent of “pee stains” on one or both of your shoes, because forty-year-old airheads tend to dribble more copiously than the fifty-year-old men who ride them.

All of which, getting back to my earlier flight of fancy, is what starlings have to do with motorbikes.  A starling is why I decided that I’m not ideally suited to be part of the airhead flock. A starling is why I grudgingly put my airhead up for sale (still pending). And a humble starling is why I decided to take a flyer on this.

It’s a 2016 Moto Guzzi V7II Stornello, or “starling.” The Storny (as I’ve come to call her) is a factory scrambler variant of Moto Guzzi’s seasoned and successful V7 line, taking the basic architecture of the V7 (now in its second II series), but adding a brilliant red powder-coated frame, wire wheels and knobby tires, a high-mount Arrow exhaust,  fork gaiters, rubber tank grips, and several delicious aluminum bits, including machined foot-pegs, laser-etched fenders and number plates, and a micro-aluminum front fairing.

Caution: hi-resolution bike porn ahead.

I mean, how could anyone resist? I first spotted the Storny on the showroom floor of Hamlin Cycles in Bethel, CT.  I’d driven up there in the drizzle to test-ride a garden-variety “V7 Stone” as part of their “Guzzi Demo Day” promotion, just curious what a more modern air-cooled motorbike would feel like.

But the V7 Stornello was sitting there all by her lonesome, aloof and apart from the broader flock of V7 Racers, Specials, and Stones, next to a sleek new V9 Roamer…

The little red and white scrambler just called out to me like a sweet summer song. I made the fateful mistake of swinging a leg over, saddling up, wrapping my hands around the grips, and glancing down at the headstock.

It was Stornello #51. This graying bike-obsessive was also 51. A sure sign. Kismet. It was beshert.

So after some hemming and hawing (and help from Jim Hamlin, Adam Zuckerman, and a sweaty checkbook), I went from bird-watching to bike-buying. Jim gently guided my trembling hand towards the signature line, and with a squiggle and stroke, it was done, and she was mine. Just in time to turn 52. HBD to me.

Happily, the Storny is air-cooled, just like the airhead. She’s also low, light, easy to throw a leg over, and incredibly comfortable (and SOOOO fun) to ride. And just like an airhead, she’s propelled by a clean, maintenance-free drive shaft (not a dirty-bird chain).

But here, the parallels with a vintage BMW airhead end. The lil’ Guzzi might have all the optics and “emotion” of a classic motorbike, but she’s resolutely modern. Goodbye carbs, hello electronic fuel injection. Deceleration is assisted by ABS, which IMHO ought to be required equipment on all new motorbikes (and I guess now is). Wet road handling is made safer via electronic traction control. And the speedometer doesn’t make a gyroscopic whirring sound, since it’s not actuated via a set of gears and cables attached to the spinning front wheel.

I still haven’t sold the Beemer, although together, they make a pretty handsome couple—two birds of an airhead feather, flocking together.

But there’s really only room for one “classic” in my garage, and in my life.  And I’m going with the one that has classic looks, but a higher-tech soul. Anyone in the market for a pristine R75/6?

 

Idiots’ Delights

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Before we get to these two idiots, a brief meditation. It will help make this ride report make sense…

Like many other suburban New York eighties kids, I grew up listening to Vin Scelsa on WNEW-FM in New York. And after hearing just a few of his shows (usually at the kitchen table over unfinished homework in the last few procrastinatable hours of the weekend), I became a besotted fan of his Sunday-evening sonic walkabout, Idiot’s Delight.

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Idiot’s Delight was like the Schott’s Miscellany of radio shows, as eclectic and free-ranging as a Catskill’s organic poultry farm. I loved how Vin zigged and zagged, riffed and ranted, shifting from Lou Reed to the Ramones and then to something totally off-kilter like Patsy Cline, but always managing to string it together along a musical or cultural or observational theme. It was like taking a road trip inside someone else’s head.

What’s more, Mr. Scelsa’s jovial, every-guy delivery—all the more earthbound and un-DJ-like for having the imperfection of a minor lisp—made it feel like you were following along one of your best friend’s cerebral road trips. And enjoying the eclectic tunes along the way.

Back in those old WNEW days, I happened to be listening the night John Lennon was killed, and remembered Vin Scelsa taking to the airwaves to share the news. He was audibly shaken—literally, speechless—and simply dropped the needle on Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland, letting the song speak for itself.

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That night turned into a sort of impromptu radio shiva with listeners calling in from all over, and other DJs dropping by to talk, cry, reminisce, and ask why—all mediated by Vin’s poignant and very pointed choice of music. While I never counted myself a particularly avid Beatles fan, Lennon was an indisputable cultural icon, and listening to Vin and the show into the wee hours, I think I experienced the idea of grief for the first time in my teenage life.

Vin Scelsa was truly a DJ for the ages, which is sort of ironic and bittersweet now that we’re in an age that has about as much use for DJs as it does vinyl records, newspaper editors, or taxi dispatchers. I miss him. I genuinely miss that thoughtful musical curation and commentary, and the predictable regularity of a “friend” on the air, which you don’t really get with Spotify or Apple Music or DIY iTunes playlisting. I miss having someone interesting and worth listening to, a familiar voice guiding you through songs and ideas and experiences, a sidekick to the soundtrack of what’s going on in the world, or in your head, or in your life.

If you never saw John Michaud’s excellent appreciation, you can see it here.

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All of this occurred to me the other weekend—radio, voices, music, friends—when I set out with my old friend Jonah for a three-day motorbike trip up to Vermont.

Jonah and I have known each other almost as long as I’ve listened to my old radio friend Vin Scelsa. We’ve been buds since college days back at the University of Vermont, and we’ve remained close even as we’ve built careers, launched families, and grown older on opposite coasts. Given my social laziness, I consider it a real life-achievement that we haven’t just stayed in touch, but that we’ve always made time to hang out, do some traveling, and stoke our mutual obsessions with (in no particular order) surfing, cars, music, and motorbikes.

We’ve surfed Costa Rica and the Outer Banks. Hooned around deserts on motorbikes. And with the exception of a single broken ankle last year (thanks to a patch of greasy mud in Utah) we’ve managed to return from all our adventures in two unbroken pieces.

The two unbroken pieces:

Here are the two (actually, three) broken pieces from last year, now finally fused back together.

So here’s where Vin Scelsa comes in. On our past motorbike trips, we’ve always experienced the adventure analog-style, alone within the bubbles of our respective helmets. We’ve ridden together but apart, navigating and narrating the twists and turns of the ride with whatever happened to be flashing through the grey space corked up between our foam ear plugs.

Two bikes, two riders, two internal thought streams. But no radio contact. Communication was relegated to hand gestures.

But this time, for this ride, we were joined by this.

Not Ali G. But techmology itself, in the form of these little black discs embedded neatly up inside our pumpkin-protectors. As Ali would say, “Is they good or is they whack?”

Well, they is actually so freaking good, it’s whack.

Both of us have had these Sena Bluetooth headsets for a while now (thank you Revzilla), and we’ve noodled around with just a few of their features. I’ve used mine to answer the occasional “where are you and when will you be home” calls from wifely (you get those when you ride). And Jonah’s used his Sena to play road tunes.

But neither of us had explored the intercom function…until now. And all I can say is holy interguacamoleYou press a couple of buttons, do a little jog-dialing, watch a few lights blink, and presto—there’s a friend on the radio up inside your brain. No delay, no static, no hiss. Just someone in your head besides you.

So while we’d still be two idiots on separate motorbikes, we could delight in having someone else interesting and worth listening to in our helmets, an old familiar voice to guide each other through twists or turns or hazards or holy-shit vistas, sidekicks to the soundtrack of what’s going on inside our heads.

I know I’m late to the party, but it was kind of like a own 21st-century dawning of this:

So without further ado (Hark—I hear the moto-lions roar), and in humble homage to Vin Scelsa (I told you this would ultimately make sense) here is our “Idiots’ Delights,” a haphazard revue of our radio-enabled, three day on/off-road motorcycle adventure through Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Thanks for the inspiration and years of audio friendship, Vin. It’s like you’re part of this ride.

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Thus, I give you Idiot #1—yours truly.

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And Idiot #2, Jonah (brotherman never asks for dressing on the side, which is one of the many reasons we get along.)

Now the steeds. For the first time, we weren’t riding rented or borrowed bikes, which we usually do since we’re riding far afield from home. We took two of my own bikes, a pair that I like to refer to affectionately as the “Candy-Stripe Twins.” For obvious reasons.

And twins they are—a 1200cc parallel-twin and a transversely-mounted 750cc V-twin. I planned on mostly riding my faithful ’13 Yamaha Super Ténéré. Jonah would pilot the ’16 Moto Guzzi V7II Stornello. Both bikes have varying degrees of off-road capability, which I care about since finding and riding New England dirt roads is a singular, obsessive habit of mine. And that’s what we’d mostly be doing this trip.

I’d done a fair bit of planning and route-plotting with this in mind. A few folks over on ADVrider were kind enough to share GPS tracks (thank you, Rhode Trip), and I loaded my Garmin with them.

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We sort of planned a New England Dirt Opera in Three Movements. Based on the GPS tracks (and guidance from several other ADVRiders), the first and southernmost off-pavement route started around Naugatuck, CT and ran up to the top of the state in Winsted/Winchester (also known as the Town That Can’t Decide What to Call Itself).

The second movement would be the venerable Trans Mass Trail, which squiggles its unpaved way up through Massachusetts and terminates around Greenfield.

And the final, northernmost movement would be the Vermont Puppy Dog Route (aka PDR)  which runs from the Green River in southern VT all the way up to the Canadian border. The majority of these three routes run on filthy, dirty, dirt. And gravel. And a few pavement connectors. But mostly dirt.

So Jonah flew in from San Francisco on a late Thursday night before our ride, giving us some time to chill, have a beer, and play fighter pilot. Picture two idiots on kitchen counter stools at midnight, wearing motorcycle helmets and yammering on the radio “Tenner to Storny, Tenner to Storny, you copy? (fake static sound) Yeah copy—what time ya wanna say wheels up? Over. (fake static sound) Let’s say oh-seven-thirty. Rendezvous at Nespresso machine. Out.”

Motorcycling. It makes children of men. Which is the inherent joy of it.

So in the morning, after some caffeine and quick pannier-packing, and we were ready to roll.  Here’s the pre-ride warm-up sequence; the Super-T doesn’t need it, but the Guzzi really does—like me, it requires a few minutes of warm dark liquid sloshing through its innards before it’s even sentient, much less moveable.

The Flying Stupidity Brothers, in their kit and ready to split.

Besides the GPS tracks, we didn’t really have a definitive ride plan, just two end-of-day destinations. Manchester VT on the way up and Brattleboro VT on the way back down, where we had hotel reservations (candy stripe twins, meet the candy ass twins—Idiot #1 in particular might like riding on dirt, but likes sleeping on a Westin Heavenly Bed).

Along the way, we could ride as much or as long as we wanted. But having played with the GPS routes, it was clear that an all-dirt run up to Manchester through 3 states would vacuum-up 16 hours of time. So for the first morning we opted for a faster run up route 8 to Winsted, to get some early mileage under our belts before hitting the Trans Mass Trail.

Two uneventful road hours of riding and we were near the top of CT, where we stopped for provisions at the hotdog-skinny Winsted Diner. And I mean skinny like without the bun.

Watering the horses. Here’s Mr. Storny…

And Mr. Big Stuff.

I’ve been to the Winsted Diner a couple of times. The place is frequented by biker-type bikers, with their biker-type bikes. I say this without judgement, but I/we (speaking for you too, Jonah) have about as much in common with the chrome-plated/ape-hanger/leather-fringe Harley set as I/we have with Fez-wearing Lion Clubbers, Amish Mennonites or Magic-the-Gatherers. We’re totally civil, and we both obviously enjoy the ride, but we’re from other planets in the solar system.

Still, we all gotta eat.

And we all have to check in on Big, Important Things. Like whether our kids are getting to school back in California.

After a quick pitstop, on to the ride.

We headed out on 8 and up through the last vestiges of Connecticut. Going…

Going…

Going…

Gone. And across the Mass border around Sandisfield, this:

Dude let’s get on it OK Brotherman just remember last year—tank slapper death wobble dude wet clay after a thunderstorm  just ride chill until I get my sea legs again don’t be a fucking pussy don’t break my fucking Guzzi BRAAAAAAPPPPPPPP!!!!

And we’re off. By the way, and all caution notwithstanding, if you want to know what peak-happiness looks like, it looks like this.

We Trans-Mass-Trailed our way up through the left side of the state (since it’s Massachusetts, isn’t it all that way?)

Brotherman leftern Mass until Savoy then bang a right towards Greenfield dude what’s with all the Trump signs in Connecticut righty state home of Winchester and Ruger that’s bonkers all Hillary and Bernie signs here lefty state, just like the ‘Mats song…

So we wended our way up “leftern” MA through Otis, Becket, Peru, and Savoy.

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The grey, overcast morning gave way to a cobalt-and-cottonballs afternoon.

Somewhere around No-Idea-Where, MA, I stopped and used my iPhone to snap this. The Garmin confirmed our blissful mid-Mass nowhereness.

Here, an admission. While we were being “guided” by the voices along the routes (tracks?) that I’d uploaded onto the Garmin GPS, in addition to Jonah I had Lady GarGar periodically chirping in my head fol-low-the-route-for-thir-teen-miles. But I was becoming increasingly certain that I had no idea what I was doing by trying to actually navigate. Or that Lady GarGar had any idea where she was sending us.

This may be because I’m an idiot. But it might also be because the Garmin engineers had no f-UX-ing idea what they were doing when they built the functionality into their system, either. It seems like you should be able to load in a route and simply follow the directions. But the way the routes seemed to load, they were in discreet “sections,” which got you between two waypoints, and then you’d have to return to the menu, figure out which waypoint you’d actually reached on the route, and then select the next one to travel to. Despite Jonah’s and my best efforts, it was a navigational disaster.

What’s more, half the time Lady GarGar would put us on pavement for a stretch, and then chirp turn in one half mile…1000 feet…500 feet…100 feet…now-turn-right dude she’s saying to turn right where the fuck are we supposed to turn there’s no road or trail it’s the middle of a cornfield fuck I don’t know let’s bang a u-ey and see if we missed something okay right behind you yep that’s a field recalculating what the fuck is she doing i don’t know you wanna navigate that thing’s supposed to navigate it’s a gps for chrissake it’s a g-piece-of-shit well let’s go back to that last intersection and get gas and figure it out..

Which is how we found ourselves here in Windsor, MA, several hours after stopping in Windsor, CT. (If we make it to Windsor VT, do we get a prize?)

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Watering the horses.

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With tanks full and Lady GarGar (a third but thoroughly unreliable voice) in our heads, we headed back to dirt roads and dirtier language, cussing about her inscrutable so-called guidance. But it actually didn’t matter a lick, since we had nowhere to be but riding, and the riding was so gosh-darn delightful.

Dirt yielded to pavement after we made that right and noodled our way over towards Greenfield.

Greenfield was not what I’d call a high point of the ride. It’s a typically (and depressingly) beat New England town, with what must have been a once-charming and attractive main street a shell of its former self. Even on a sunny day, the place feels like surrender.  Peeling, nineteenth-century mid-rise buildings house empty storefronts, or off-kilter enterprises like a vape shop, second-hand music store, or budget furniture showroom. People-wise, the sidewalks seem a little like a rehearsal take for The Walking Dead. As this Trip Advisor reviewer notes:

“[Greenfield] seems to have been overrun with societies [sic] “less desirable.” Shopping downtown was downright scary, hassled by the homeless and apparently mentally ill. I couldn’t walk ten feet without being surrounded by a cloud of second hand smoke or dodging skateboarders, kids on bikes or a man walking with a traffic cone on his head.”

Sigh. Like too much of New England, Greenfield has succumbed to the post-oxycontin heroin epidemic, which must have made it compelling (upsetting?) enough for Anthony Bourdain to include in a 2014 episode of Parts Unknown; hometown native Matthew Becklo explored it further in this heartbreaking post. We two idiots took several laps up and down Main Street looking to score some, well, lunch, but were having a hard time committing to anything because it all looked so sketchy.

So we settled on the simplest option—a straight-up pizza parlor. We parked the bikes outside, but the general street vibe (and I’m a New Yorker) made me forgo my custom of just leaving my bike crap piled up on the handlebars. GPS, gloves, neckbrace, jacket, and helmet—all came inside.

As it turned out, the only other people we’d be sharing Greenfield’s finest pizza joint with (besides the decent and hard-working owner) was a skinny, tattooed kid in a wife-beater, and his clingy, hollow-eyed girlfriend. Cue the Lemonheads:

A coupe of slices, a surprisingly decent salad, and we were out of there. I don’t mean to be uncharitable or judgmental. But Greenfield might better have been dubbed Pittsfield. But then, Massachusetts already has one of those too, imprisoned by the same New England scourge.

Grim and sad. But we were out for dirt and joy. So onwards to Vermont.

We crossed under I-91, looking for a side street that would take us to Green River Road, a picturesque dirt and gravel ribbon which runs along the Green River and threads its way up into southern Vermont. I rode it several years back on an F800GS, and was looking forward to crossing this…

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But the Green River Covered Bridge was under construction, and we wound up following a long but pretty detour over the hills and through the woods.

At some point, we crossed into Vermont, which always feels like home to me. Thanks for hanging out the welcome sign!

If Emily and I ever build a place up your way, we might have to settle down on my own personally-branded dirt road. Relax, Jonah—we’ll look for a road for you, too.

We stayed on the PDR it until it intersected VT Route 9, the Molly Stark Byway, and hopped on some pavement  to head west, since our end-of-day destination was in Manchester. There’s a scenic lookout and store in Marlboro, where the Brotherman and I stopped for some Birch Beer and VT swag for Jonah’s kids. My guys have aged out of refrigerator magnets and maple sugar candy a few years ago, but are still not quite of age for a craft beer sampler. Plus no pannier room…sorry kids!

The remainder of Friday’s ride was mellow, aimless fun. We headed north and bumped into the West River, which after about 10 hours of riding looked like a good place to cool off with a dip. And it was.

Then Route 30 through Newfane and Townshend, and up and over to Manchester, where we arrived at dusk at the Kimpton Taconic for some hard core moto-camping.

They were hosting some kind of black tie benefit (in Vermont?), and the place was jammed, so we got to conclude the day’s adventure fittingly: off-road.

Then showers. Civvies. Bourbon. Beer. Chow…

And then this: ever wonder what two middle-aged idiots sound like after 12 hours on motorbikes and a couple of drinks, falling asleep in a hotel room filled with stinky moto-crap, with the TV left on all night?

Just like that, friends. Just like that.

Tomorrow, the Idiots delight in a lap of Vermont, and some Mass Trail joy in reverse…

Tenner Lube

Oil changing. I’ve had the dealer do it for me before, which involves schlepping up Route 7 to Danbury and waiting…waiting…waiting. Ordinarily, it’s also an excuse to indulge in some fantasy bike shopping and gear fixation.

But since I have a New England road trip coming up in less than a week, I decided it was time to pull my big-boy pants on, get friendly with my Not-So-Little-Pony, and do it myself.

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Ténéré friendship is magic indeed.

I took her for a 10-minute warm up ride around the neighborhood, then parked her on my molten, 98-degree driveway and set up shop.

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Neat freak here. My mother is German. Hardcoded into the genes. Just can’t help it.

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Thus, I jumped into the manly and motorly art of earl-changin’.

Step one, remove the psuedo-plastic bash guard. To be fair, it’s not much of a bash guard, but probably ideal for suburban ADV-Loungers like me. Defends against errant imported beer bottle caps or granite chips from the really nice driveways.

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Now yer wrenchin’ man!

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Don’t forget all the nuts…two fore and two aft.

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Nice to be using the actual tools inside my very sweet tool roll. I got it from a guy In Wisconsin who makes them himself, and will sew them to your exact specifications. Great piece of kit. No affiliation other than the fact that I bought one from the dude here: TheoHenry Tool Rolls

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Next, remove Mr. Oil Filler Cap so there’s no vacuum effect…

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Then spin off the filter (sorry friends—here’s where my hands started to get greasy and photo-documentation became a challenge, so no pic). I didn’t use/need an oil filter wrench. Just wiped it clean, gripped it with my bare mitts, and twisted hard.

Now’s when the real fun starts. Bust out your favorite 12mm socket, position your oil pan under the oil plug, and get cranking.

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After undoing the plug, what started as a gusher started dribbling suspiciously early. And it turned out to have spewed only a meager 1.5 quarts of oil in the pan (the little hash marks on the inside of the pan said so).

The bike ostensibly holds nearly a gallon of synthetic dinosaur juice (3.8 quarts, to be sure). I wondered if the oil was somehow lingering up inside the engine, held up there in the cylinders by the vacuum effect (even though the filler cap was off). So I rocked the bike back and forth vigorously on the center stand, trying to squeeze the remaining 2.5 quarts out of the well. I got some, but certainly not all.

Here’s all I had to show for a day’s worth of oil-drilling.

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That’s when I became suspicious, and turned to the internets. Thanks to several posts on the Yamaha Super Ténéré Forum, it became obvious that there’s not one but two oil drain plugs on the Tenner: one under the gearbox…and one aft, under the oil reserve pan. This I confirmed by paging through that pristine, uncracked text otherwise known as “The Owner’s Manual.”

Doh. Thus, Plug #2.

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And when you tap that sucker, that’s when the real gusher starts.

I drained and rocked, drained and rocked, until there was no more than a very occasional drip of oil. Then I replaced the plugs and copper crush washers (reused them this time), torqued to spec, primed the new filter with 10W-40, oiled the gasket, screwed her on double-hand-tight, and poured about 3.5 quarts of oil into her (based on the clear plastic window gauge on the oil bottle). Closed the filler cap, fired her up, and nearly done.

I rolled the bike onto the flat garage floor to check the oil level. Since the Ténéré uses a dry sump, and sucks oil out of the pan via a pump, you really can’t be “too low” or “two high.” You just need enough oil in the pan to be siphoned up to do its work.

After shutting her down, my first check looked like this:

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I let it sit a while longer, and it didn’t get any higher. So I added maybe another pint or so of oil, which brought the level to this, healthily within the two bars next to the sight-glass window.

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And voilá. Done. Here’s my Not-So-Little-Pony…next to my new actual Little Pony.

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See? Friendship really is magical. But more about the lil’ Guzzi in another post…

March Mapleness

When in March, most people’s thoughts turn to Madness. Mine turn to Mapleness.

Not that I’m a basketball hater or anything. It’s just that there’s something about maple sap running down collection tubes—nature whispering about winter’s looming demise, and a sure harbinger of spring—that’s more exciting to me than a bunch of college guys running up and down a court.

Plus it’s the perfect excuse to take a ride up through New England in search of this:

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So the other Saturday, I set sail on the good ship Ténéré, in search of some sweet, sticky spring.  Here’s my craft on the causeway over the Congamond Lakes at the CT/MA border.

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I had to stop and defrost at the venerable Granville Country Store & Cheese Shop…

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…where I had a “toasted cheddar” that was better than it had any right to be, and a hot cup of tea. My toes and fingers were frozen (it was in the forties, and I’d been riding for almost two hours), and I wasn’t sure how I was going to press on. I thought, “what are the chances they sell those “Lil’ Hotties” boot/handwarmers, along with cellar-aged cheese,  local jams and jellies, and pies?

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They had ’em. Score.

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The view from the grilled cheese table.

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I didn’t have a Coke, but this still made me smile.

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Before I headed back out, I did a Google search for “maple sugar farm”, and it turned out there was one less than ten miles away right in Granville. Bingo.

Much of the ride there was joyfully unpaved…

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In time, I arrived here at the corner of Maple and Happy.

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The sugar house was cooking with activity.

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Here’s their sparkling new evaporator, creating that intoxicating, maple cotton-candy fog that produces the single finest smell on earth. It’s the olfactory equivalent of crack.

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One of the farm owners (believe it or not, I assume this is Mr. Ripley himself) gave a little impromptu syrup tutorial on how you start with maple water boil it down to waffle-drizzling goodness.

Where there’s maple smoke, there’s maplewood fire.

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Fire in the hole…warmth for the soul.

I headed up to their “Pancake House” and store to buy a pint of their amber finest and some maple sugar candies (they’re so sweet your teeth hurt) before hopping on my Maple-conveyor and heading back south.

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Couple of hours of this….

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And it was time for some of this at our old farmhouse. Not quite maplewood. No sugar air. But you know what they call it. Home sweet home…

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Ski and Ride

Skiing. Riding. Riding. Skiing.

With the possible exception of surfing, eating Twizzlers, or doing the New York Times Sunday crossword, they’re easily two of my favorite things to do on this green and white earth.

Some of these life-loves can easily be enjoyed in the span of a single day. But not skiing and riding. Twizzlers and crosswords? Easy-peasy—I do’em together all the time. Riding and Twizzlers? A natural pairing, and a motorcycle is a great excuse for executing a Twizzlers run (plus you look a lot less like an ass-hat riding with a Twizzler in your maw than a cigar or cigarette, especially since you can chew it and swallow it). Surfing and the New York Times Sunday puzzle? Totally doable between expression-sessions, so long as you don’t drip too much.

But I’ve never been able to jam skiing and riding into the same day, for obvious reasons. Good conditions for one (snow, ice, frigid temperatures, winter) are grim conditions for the other. Especially since I’m not one of these “studded” types.

But this Sunday, the last of this January, the stars (or suns) somehow aligned, and I finally got my chance to ski and ride…without actually planning for it.

According to the Weather Channel, Sunday was supposed to be a pretty mild midwinter day in New England. The weather gods were calling for mixed sun and clouds in the high forties. And since one of my kids is at school (hi Noah!), one’s in Florida seeing an aunt (hi Maisie!), and one’s taking the ACT (sorry, Ivy!), this here kid decided to go skiing. So I roused myself at the usual commuter wake-up time (5:30 am), hopped into my truck, and made a run for Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Ski Butternut.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride up Route 8 through the Litchfield Hills and the southern Berkshires. I was stoked to revisit the beginning of the Trans Mass Trail (see my all-dirt MA ride here) at the intersection of Rood Hill Road and Sandy Brook Turnpike in Sandisfield, MA.

That was then….

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And this was now.

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I made it to Great Barrington in under 2 hours, suited up in the parking lot, hoofed over to the base lodge, and was on boards doing runs by 8:45. Butternut (like most of southern Vermont and northern Connecticut) has had a disastrous snow-desert of a season, and everything on the trails was 100% man made. But for snow of the non-organic variety, it was surprisingly well-groomed, and actually pretty sweet.

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I went up and down Lucifer’s Leap a dozen or more times without pause, carving and charging the corduroy until I could feel the burn. Not this one (although I did vote for him  wayyyy back when I was a college kid in Burlington, VT)…

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But the one in my legs. Burning quads on the way down, and then riding the quad on the way up, run after run after run. It was a carver’s delight.

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Despite it being the dead of winter, it was actually warm enough to be skiing in a sweatshirt. Here’s yours truly at the top of Lucifer’s, a Connecticut guy on Massachusetts snow “representing” for Vermont, courtesy of his alma mater. Nice to get a few shout-outs from some other Catamount dads.

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I went up and down like a yo-yo, meeting oddball folks on the lift and making ski-talk on the ride up, and then dialing in the lactic-acid power-carves on the way down. I don’t think I stopped or paused once. And since I’d been making track since 8:30, I broke for an early lunch to rest and soak up some sun.

A plate of fries, a bowl of New England clam chowder, sunny skies and temperature hovering in the mid-fifties? I was having a joy meltdown.

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Unfortunately, so was the snow. I skied until 1:30, at which point the snow was thick like Stew Leonard’s soft-serve, and just as sticky. So before bogging a ski and ripping my hip out of the socket (it almost happened a couple of times towards the mushy bottom), I decided to call it a ski-day, and head back to CT.

The drive back was just as delightful, and for most of Massachusetts it was so warm I actually had the windows down. At one point around Marlborough, the temperature gauge in my truck hit sixty. In January. In New England.

It is a natural law of New England that when the temperatures rise, so do the bikers. And as I drove through Winsted, sure enough I passed maybe a half-dozen guys out on motorcycles. They were the typical Northern  CT black & bedazzled Harley crowd, brapping their way up and down Route 44. But they were out there riding. On a Sunday. In January. In New England. So I stepped on it.

When I pulled into my driveway an hour later, I marched into the house, took off my ski pants, pulled on jeans and riding boots, threw on a jacket, grabbed my (other) helmet, and headed out to the garage.

I can’t express how weirdly satisfying it was to go from ski boots to riding boots, from ski helmet to Shoei, and from snow gloves to motorcycle gloves—all in the span of a few hours. It took a little more effort than usual to swing my tired legs over the bike, but once I was in the saddle, it felt stupendous. My airhead fired up on the second try, and we were off and riding.

Two and half hours earlier I was carving on two skis. Now, I was carving on two wheels. Call it love-squared.

I went for a typical Fairfield beach lap, motoring over to Southport, then Burying Hill, and then on to Compo. Here’s my airhead by the beach at Southport, with a mini dirty Buttenut in the background.

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At Compo, I ran into another guy on an BMW, but a late-model R1200GS. He was out for a cruise with his young daughter, who was riding pilion. He knew his airheads (although he pegged mine as a ’73, when it’s a ’74), and we had a nice bike chat, both shaking our heads at the guilty pleasure of riding through such an unseasonably warm winter.

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“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever happened to skiing?”

Some pleasures shouldn’t be gloated-over. Just enjoyed in private silence.