Shrinking The Planet – One Ride At A Time

Archive for June, 2012

Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces – Final Chapter

We awoke in our small dark room to a steady soft rhythmic drumming on the roof of our rented cottage, the “Gold Miners Dream”.   Was it rain or the spirits of the gold miners of the past letting us know that they were still among us?  Perhaps a combination of both?  We brushed aside the curtains and found it was indeed raining again, the miners weren’t with us this time.  As the sky slowly grew lighter, it was time to get out of bed and pack the bike for the relatively long ride to Brier Island.

This ride would take us roughly two thirds the distance down the length of the Nova Scotia peninsula and across its width.  We’d also get a couple of ferry rides in before we ultimately made it to our destination, the Brier Island Lodge. But due to the rainy conditions, we’d have to work a bit to get there.

Because of the distance involved, we decided to put in a significant amount of highway miles, something we rarely do.  So on went the rain suits and as soon as we could hit the highway we were off and running.  Things were pretty mundane for the first three hours or so.  Just a moderate rain and some patchy fog here and there, but nothing special.  However, as we were riding down Route 103 we came across a couple of signs at the side of the road that said in capital letters; “ROAD FLOODED AHEAD” but no flag men, cruisers with flashing lights or other signs indicating a detour or any other significant hazard.

So we continued onward at about 30 MPH in a 100 KPH zone (62 MPH) waiting for the flooded highway.  Boy they weren’t kidding!  We found the area first as some large puddles so we slowed down to a crawl; it was a good thing.  As we slowly rode onward, the puddles turned into real water crossings.  Not inches deep but over a foot deep and getting deeper.

It was amazing to be on a four lane highway (two in each direction) creating a bow wave of water with the water covering two thirds of the front wheel.  Luckily, the deep flooding lasted only for about 500 yards and we were able to continue on.  We did have the highway to ourselves as we seemed to be the only ones on the road at the time.  Perhaps everyone else was smart enough to stay off the roads?  But we were due at Brier Island, and other than the flooding we experienced on Route 103, it was just a steady rain ride.

We ultimately reached Digby, Nova Scotia where we caught our first ferry.  While we were waiting for the ferry to depart, the rain slackened somewhat and I was able to snap a picture of Kim on her bike under the bridge of the ferry, aptly named Petit Princess.  The picture then was quite apropos, my petit princess on the deck of the Petit Princess.  Nice!

Unfortunately, the wind was up and the tide was going out.  Since the ferry ride was so short, there were no tie downs for the bikes and we just sat on them with outstretched legs and planted feet as the ferry’s engines spooled up to take us across the bay.  The ocean across to the next landing was very rough and as we chugged our way across, waves splashed over and across the bow.  Sheets of water flew above the rail while ocean spray rose from its remnants covering our Roadcrafter suits with salty water droplets.  It was another of nature’s reminders; she was still the boss when it came to man versus nature.

As the ferry lurched forward, we lurched in the opposite direction and strained to keep the bikes upright.  With every pitch and yaw of the ferry, we put in a counter input.  It was going to be a challenge just to keep the bikes upright for this crossing.  But that off road riding skill came in handy and we were able to keep the bikes upright for the first ferry journey.

The second ferry ride was much smoother and we made it onto Brier Island without much drama.  Since the island is so small, there’s not much riding to be had there, but it is a nice place to hang out and explore.  There are walking trails right from the lodge that you can take to the other side of the island as well as to the lighthouse on the island.

If you like to look for beach glass, it has the most remarkable beach glass beach we have ever had the opportunity to search.  Within a couple of hours, we had filled up a coffee can worth of quality beach glass and other beach baubles.  We found rusty gears, pottery, chains and other interesting brick-a-brack.

It was also fun to go for a walk through the downtown area.  On the day that we went, it was drizzling and foggy.  But it just gave the scene a bit of a soft, ethereal feel, like a soft cotton swaddling.  We were wrapped and comforted by the misty shroud.  Pictures we took had a soft fuzzy texture, the hard edges of day to day life erased by nature’s weather made cocoon.

While we were out and about, we found some sights to be enjoyed.  Some fishing boats nestled together in the fog, almost as to huddle closely together to share each others warmth, their brightly colored buoys hanging over their sides giving them each a different personality.  Then there were a stack of lobster pots, stacked as if waiting their turn to re-enter the sea and play their role in the cycle of nature.

Finally, there was evidence of mankind’s shortcomings.  As we walked back to the lodge, we passed a pickup truck.  Inside was a sign advertising its status for sale.  Unfortunately, the sign read, “House for Sale”.  Hmmm….

We walked back to the lodge and got a good nights rest.  When we awakened, the weather had cleared, but it was time to head home to NH.   Yes, our Trans Labrador and Atlantic Providences Adventure was truly coming to an end.  We grabbed a quick breakfast and took the two ferries back to Digby.  From there we headed to Yarmouth and caught the catamaran car ferry called The Cat.  A huge water jet ferry it could make the overnight crossing back to Portland, Maine in about 4 hours.  In so doing, it sent rooster tails of water 25 feet into the air.  It was an impressive sight, but it did indeed mark the end of this most excellent adventure.

Thanks so much for coming along on this ride.  We hope that you have enjoyed coming along with us and that we have inspired you to…

Shrink The Planet – One Ride At A Time

Stuff You “Need”; Or Should That Be Stuff You “Gotta Have”?

There’s an old saying that goes something like this.  “There’s stuff I want and stuff I need and the stuff I want outweighed the stuff I need long ago.”  It’s sort of that way with adventure motorcycling stuff.  Many could argue that the list of stuff you need is fairly short, while others might argue that for significant journeys, the list can be quite lengthy and comprehensive.

But that’s some of the fun of it isn’t it.  We like to get together and talk about all the stuff that’s out there that makes adventure riding a safe, rewarding and enjoyable experience.  So one has to ask him/herself, what do I really need/want to make an adventure ride a reality and what are the cost/benefits of having/not having the item along on the trip.

For example, when riding with Kim, I really like to have two way communications.  I think it vastly improves safety, we can tell each other about road hazards, turns, fuel situations, dangerous drivers and when I’m ready for a pit stop.  But do we really have to have them to ride; no.  But they do make the ride more safe, comfortable and enjoyable.

I also like our Aerostich Roadcrafter suits.  It’s on in less than 30 seconds, it provides great abrasion resistance, has some armor, is fairly waterproof and in high viz yellow, gives us some visibility when we are on pavement.  Nice!  Again, do we really have to have them to ride; no.  But we are once again a bit safer and in cold temps more comfortable and enjoy our trips a bit more wrapped up in our little own cocoons.

So what is important to us is to make the ride a bit more enjoyable and perhaps make the ride a little safer?  Well not so fast there buckaroo.  It so happens that we happen to like some fairly impractical stuff as well that probably doesn’t do a thing to increase safety.  In fact it might compromise it somewhat.  Do you like to listen to your iPod while you ride?  I do.  Is it safer to ride with music playing plugged into both of your ears?  I think not, but often, particularly when I’m riding solo, I must have an iPod and music playing in my ears.  It’s a gotta have item.

So what else do you all “gotta have” on a trip?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Add them as comments to this post and tell us whether it’s a want or need.  Sometimes it might be fairly hard to distinguish.  This will be fun to share among each other.

OK, so now it’s your turn…

Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 8)

Before we could make it to Lunenburg, we had an intermediate stop in the small seaside town of Charlos Cove.  We were headed to a little inn called the Seawind Landing.  Right on the water with great places to beach walk as well as grassy lawns to sit and stare at the ocean it was a wonderful place to hang out.  To top it off, they had an excellent little restaurant with home cooked food and a nice wine selection.  This was definitely going to be our “high-end” stop for the trip.

Traveling over the very bumpy and sometimes grass filled roads, we made our way towards Charlos Cove.  The sky was bright blue with white puffy clouds seemingly racing us as we made our way to our destination.  Some were fairly low and as we made our way up and down ridges and hills, I could see their shadows as they floated and squirmed their way across the pavement.  They looked to be in a hurry to get somewhere but were relegated to moving in a straight lines.  Although they can fly, I wondered if they wished they could traverse the twisties with us instead of flying straight.  Were we clouds, it would a be a wonderful but tragic fate; to fly with the wind but be doomed to an unchangeable course set by it.

(By the way, if you click on any one of the pictures, a full size picture will open and you can then scroll through the entire gallery of pictures in full size in any direction.)

It was a long and bumpy ride, and by the time we reached our destination, we were pooped.  Saddlesore and tired, we were more than ready to get out of our gear and have a nice quiet dinner and grab some shuteye.  We unloaded our bags from the bikes and Kim normally quite resolute about long rides, said that the ride was so bumpy and filled with grass filled cracks, she’d almost have preferred to have ridden her dirt bike.

We were however, rewarded with a wonderful dinner, a room overlooking the ocean and a spectacular red sunset.  Thoroughly satiated, we hit the rack for a great night’s sleep and a lazy rest day.  We generally lay and sat about doing a bunch of nothing, reading, lounging in the Adirondack chairs in a grass covered field while taking in the sun and enjoying the day.  But it couldn’t last forever and around 2:00 in the afternoon clouds began to gather.  Shortly thereafter, the sky became grey and dark and a heavy rain shower began.

But it was just another beginning because it seemed like as suddenly as it had started, the skies began to clear and we were treated to a double rainbow and freshly scrubbed salty ocean air as the sun began to set.  In doing so, its light cast a warm golden glow upon a nearby island  and we sat and watched the end of a lazy perfect day.

The following morning we packed the bikes and headed towards Lunenburg for our actual destination, the Ovens Natural Park.  Owned by the Chapin family, (yes if you know of the singer Harry Chapin, it is indeed his family that owns the Ovens)  the Ovens is a combination campground (with rental cabins available), nature walk, sea cave exploring, and music wonderland.  Right on the ocean not far from Lunenburg, the Ovens allowed us to get to know a bit of Canadian life, enjoy the ocean, walk the beach and explore several caves that run right out to the ocean.

We took half a day walking the nature trails which wandered among the sea cliffs and led to the entrances of the sea caves.  There were beautiful views and paths that led directly into the caves for exploring.    The caves are called the Ovens, which is what they look from the outside from the sea; hence their name.

Around noon, we headed into Lunenburg and were lucky enough to arrive just in time for the arrival of a Canadian national icon, the Bluenose.  She was arriving into port with a full cannon salute and bagpipes piping.  A crowd was anxiously waiting on the dock for her arrival and many camera were raised to take photos of the Canadian icon returning to its home port.

We quickly parked the bikes and joined the crowd.   It was evident that there was a lot of pride in the Bluenose and it was great fun to be part of the crowd.  With the Canadian flag proudly flying from her middle mast she majestically glided into the dock to great fanfare.  Up close we could see that she was indeed a beautiful vessel, trim with sleek lines, a true portrait of the speedy racing ship that she was known and loved to be.

We took a few pictures of our own, chatted with a few people and decided to take a walk around Lunenburg to experience its sights and sounds.  Lunenburg is known to be a bit of an artists colony and it did not disappoint us one bit.  During its history, Lunenburg was a fishing town.  Although the fishing industry is no longer its main source of income, its heritage has not been forgotten.  As we walked down one of its main streets, we looked up at the street lamps and saw that they had been decorated with large, hand cut and hand painted metal fish of the Atlantic.  They were great.  Each light post had a different fish and they were in the fish’s actual colors.  It made us want to walk the length of the street just to see the different fish!

Wandering along the streets of Lunenburg, we were treated to many galleries, shops, restaurants and even a museum.  It was a grand afternoon of walking, visiting and just plain enjoying the sights, sounds and people.  But the sun was rapidly sinking and it was time to get back to the Ovens before dark.  We jumped back on the bikes and enjoyed a sea side setting sun ride back to our cabin.  It had been a great day and we were looking forward to tomorrow.  We had a fairly long ride to the tiny island off the coast Nova Scotia named Brier Island where we’ll take you in part 9.

Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 7)

We awakened to falling rain and fog.  Our foggy heads cleared quickly, but the fog and rain outside refused to do the same.  We resigned ourselves to more riding in the rain and reduced visibility, but that is part of the adventure isn’t it.  We were more disappointed that we would be missing scenery along the way to the ferry at Port Aux Basques.    Unfortunately, we didn’t see much for most of the ride, but as we approached the ferry, the rain did stop and visibility did increase somewhat.

Although the weather obscured the traditional scenery, we were in for a treat when the ferry arrived in port.  Out of the fog, a giant ghostly shadow appeared.  Moving slowly, it glided silently towards us with a nearly imperceptible rocking motion.  We knew it was a ship, but we couldn’t clearly make out any detail.  As it approached, it blew its horn and there was no doubt it was a large vessel.  Then out of the gloom we made out the blue, white and gold of the MV Caribou.  Although it was a very large vessel more than 565 feet in length, her impressive form glided more like giant kayak across the calm harbor waters than a ferry capable of carrying 1,200 passengers, 370 cars and 77 trucks.

Just as we thought she would pull into the dock and tie up, she gave us a special treat.  What we hadn’t noticed was that the vehicles entered and disembarked from the rear of the ship.  The Caribou was headed straight into the dock, so how would she unload her cargo.  Ahhh….  A 270 degree turn would be necessary in the very narrow harbor.

So as easy as pie, the Captain of the Caribou turned his gigantic vessel around in the middle of the small harbor with very little clearance.  It was an awesome display of seamanship.  You want to see it?  Well, OK…..

After a successful docking, we were able to load the bikes onto the Caribou for the ride to Nova Scotia.  It was a smooth uneventful trip and before we knew it we were being discharged on the shores of Nova Scotia around midnight local time.  Of course it was raining again and finding our hotel was a bit of a chore, but find it we did and we dropped into the rack to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Viola!  We awoke to bright sunshine with only a few clouds dotting the sky.  What a wonderful change!  Having heard about the beauty of the Cabot Trail and the twisty roads that surrounded it, we made a beeline for the reportedly smooth pavement running along side the mountains and ocean.  We were not to be disappointed; not one iota.

On narrow, bumpy and mostly deserted roads, we passed many small towns which seemed to have one thing in common; wonderful people.  During our brief stops, or our overnight stays, it seemed that everywhere we went people greeted us and wanted to chat.  All the greetings were warm and welcoming, we often felt like lost relatives.  They wanted to know about us and they often told us much about their families and themselves.  This give and take is in our opinion what true adventure riding is all about.  We were really not all that far from home, but we were learning much from the folks we interacted with and I think we got a true feeling of what it was like to live in the Canadian Atlantic Provinces.

As welcome and comfortable as we were, we hightailed it towards Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail.  The blue skies, clear blue ocean and sinuous mountain roads beckoned to us.  As we rolled along the road that paralleled the bright blue ocean, we passed the tiny town of Wreck Cove and immediately the mountains which mark the beginning of the Cabot Trail became visible.

We could see the steep and twisting road immediately in front of us.  A sharp hairpin turn led to the steepest part of the road that clung to the side of the mountain as the ocean lay calmly hundreds of feet below.  There was only one thing left to do and it was to ride that road.  And ride it we did.  The road was steep enough at the beginning that we used first gear for the a significant portion of the climb.  It was a bit interesting to be riding this twisting road only a couple of feet from the guard rail that was the only barrier a several hundred foot drop to the ocean below.  But nonetheless, the view was spectacular.

As we crested the first ridge of the mountain, we lost sight of the ocean, but the pavement became very smooth and we were able to enjoy some twisties on a smooth surface.  We both hooted and hollered into our communicators and told each other how spectacular the riding was and  how much we were enjoying Nova Scotia.  Although we were enjoying the twisties, we did take the time to stop and enjoy some of the spectacular mountain views along the top of the mountain pass.

Later as we began our descent from the top of the mountain, we were treated to another set of twisties, this time even more exciting than at the beginning of the day.  Hairpins and decreasing radius turns awaited our eager throttle hands and wide open eyes.  But this wonderful steeply descending road presented us with a significant dilemma.  The problem was that the twisties were so technical that we dare not take our eyes off the road while navigating each corner.  So you say, why would that be a problem?  The problem was that just beyond that guard rail were the most amazing views of the north Atlantic you can imagine.  The bright blue sea met an equally dazzling ocean and where they met at the horizon, it was as if the two were merged into one.  The decision as to which to look at was mind rending.

But as we laughed to each other over our communicators, “someone has to do it,” we started down quickly scanning from road to sea, road to sea.  If you know anything about instrument flying, it was an exercise in scanning.  Don’t stare at anything, keep moving your eyes, soak it all in to your brain and make the correct control inputs.  It was a test, but a wonderful one at that.

As the road straightened out a bit, it still provided awesome views of the ocean and of itself as it undulated up an over little ridge crests alongside the sea.  To your left, green trees sprouted from the sheer mountain walls while to your right, the ocean vied for your attention.  It was an amazing test of willpower just to stay on the road.

The mesmerizing ride took away all realization of time for us and before we knew it, we had completed the Cabot Trail and were headed back inland across the peninsula towards Lunenburg.  A very lovely town with an artists flair, we were treated to more local sights and flavor.  We’ll take you there in Part 8.

Transiting The Trans Labrador Highway & Canadian Atlantic Provinces (Part 6)

With significant regret we left our roadside whale watching motorized perches and rode on towards Blanc Sablon.  I was somewhat gloomy leaving such a sight, and the darkening weather matched my mood.  Overhead clouds were gathering and the skies brooded and darkened.  By the time we reached our hotel, a cold misty fog surrounded us.  We were looking forward to a nice warm room and a hot dinner.  We were able to accomplish both and fell into the rack for a good nights rest.

We awoke to overcast and heavy rain.  It seems like each time we visited Newfoundland it rained and it looked like this visit would be no different.  I dressed and we packed our bags for mounting on the bikes.  It was while I was mounting the bags on our bikes that an older gentleman approached and quietly watched for a while.  I clearly remember him.  He was wearing a clear raincoat and a yellow Gloucester fisherman’s hat.  I noticed he was wearing a Cessna belt buckle and he had the pilot’s wrinkles around his eyes from squinting into the sun.  Just by looking at him, I could tell that this man had had some adventures of his own.  Nearby, a tour bus idled its rough and slow diesel drone and he looked at it disdainfully.  He would then watch me packing in the rain with a look of longing and desire.  It truly appeared like he was ready to jump on and ride

After a while, he walked a bit closer and asked where we were headed and where we had come from.  I told him that we had ridden from our house in New Hampshire and we were headed to Newfoundland.  We chatted a bit about the trip so far and what the Trans Labrador Highway had been like.  While we stood there in the rain, he looked me in the eye and looked over to the bus he would later board and he said, “I wish I was traveling with you.”  You know what, if I’d had the space on the bike, I would have taken him along.  Pilots have to stick together you know.

Before we knew it we were in line for the ferry getting ready to ride churning grey misty seas.  Finally this signal was given and we rode our bikes aboard, tied them down and made our way to find some seating for the trip.  Even though the trip started in the morning, the entire ride was dark and rainy.  A few ghostly icebergs silently passed in the distance their silhouettes a grainy shadow against a backdrop of white-capped grey and green.  A few whale and dolphins passed, breaking the water’s surface, spouting  and seemingly pointing out the way.  It seemed that in no time, we had arrived in Newfoundland and it was time to disembark and start our Newfoundland part of the trip.

Unfortunately, for most of this journey through Newfoundland, poor weather surrounded us and we decided to make a beeline to our first destination near St. Anthony, the Glacier Manor Resort.  Now closed, it was a wonderful little place being built by a couple; John and Edna Simmonds using their own two hands.  Dinner was home cooked by Edna while John literally serenaded us on the guitar while we ate.  It was terrific.  We sat and chatted and discussed the US and Canada and before we knew it we had transitioned from acquaintances to family in the breadth of a few short hours.  Together with John and Edna, we’d been able to shrink the planet a little more on this trip.  Wonderful!

We went out for an early evening walk in an attempt to see some moose.  As the sun set, we came across a pair of very large great horned owls.  One flew off quickly and the other stayed for a while and watched us watching him.  We remained very quiet and did not make any quick movements or loud noises which might scare him off.  Finally he had had his fill of watching us and as he flew away.  But as he did, he left us a gift of one of his large feathers which we still have to this day.  It was if he were saying, thank you for not disturbing us.  For doing so, I leave you a part of me to remember us and Newfoundland by.

As the sky grew darker, we walked towards the more open fields and waited for the moose to come out.  They did not disappoint us.  They came out in fairly large numbers and quietly and calmly walked across open fields looking for some snacks.  We watched in amazement wondering how such large animals could move about so silently.  We watched for an hour or so and headed back to the resort for a good night’s rest.

Come the morning we made our way towards Newfoundland’s table top mountain National Park Gros Morne.  It was green and gorgeous.  Sheer walls of green with bare spots of rock shot straight up.  Not to points, but to vast flat table tops that stretched for miles.  Surrounded at the base by trees, as they rose, the mountains lost their leafy cover and instead were covered in huge patches of velvety green moss. The moss often undulated up the sides of the mountain giving the slope a wavy texture until reaching the table top.  They were extraordinary sights.

While we stared at the table topped mountains, we were also treated to ocean view stretches.  We rode alongside twisty two lane ocean roads with clouds racing perpendicular to our course.  Fresh air treated our senses with variety.  When the wind blew from the sea, it was sweetened with the brine of the deep.  When if came from the land, it was pungent with pine.  This ride had turned into a truly sensory delight.

We made a brief stop for lunch in a small town called Port Aux Choix.  It was a charming place and it was clear that we were in Canada.  One of the locals had hand carved a Viking statue and outfitted him full hockey gear including stick and shin guards.  Of course, because he was cool, he was also outfitted with some rather trendy shades.  Of course, we had to take a picture with him.

Continuing our southward ride, we made our way towards Rocky Harbor.  To get to there, we again found ourselves on narrow twisty mountain roads with mountain and ocean views.  At the higher elevations, snow was still on the ground and it was mid June!   Along the way we spotted moose grazing and running alongside the road during the day.  Beautiful to look at, but also an important reminder to be alert when rounding corners.

Rocky Harbor turned out to be another small town surrounded by mountains and the sea.  When we arrived they were having a local regatta, and the townspeople were out and about in all sorts of small craft  plying they way all over the harbor.  It was a day of community on the water.  We enjoyed the festivities for a while, but we really had to get going for our time was running short.  The following day we had to be in Port Aux Basques to catch the ferry to Nova Scotia.

Arriving at our little hotel, which consisted of several separate little cottages and a restaurant, we caught a quick dinner and turned in for the night.  Before we fell asleep the rain had begun to fall and tomorrow looked to be a damp ride to the ferry to Nova Scotia where we’ll take you in Part 7.

Marc Coma Takes A Poduim in the Baja 500, Honda Winning Streak Broken

From Ultimate Motorcycling

MRW rider Marc Coma has added another achievement to his already impressive resume, taking third place in the Baja 500 team competition held in Ensenada, Mexico, this past weekend.

The 450 mile (724km) rally pitted three-man teams against one another. Coma’s KTM USA squad was completed by Mexican rider Iván Ramírez and US representative Mike Brown.


Marc Coma (MRW Repsol KTM) says: “I am very happy with the experience; riding in a team event has been really positive for me. Discovering new things always allows you to improve as a rider and I had a really good team behind me: Both in terms of machinery and personnel.

“We had problems with the bike due to a crash and couldn’t take any risks after that, because we needed to conserve tire life and finish the race. In any case, the result is a good one.”

Owing to a big crash during Ramírez’ first stint, the team’s sole bike was badly damaged and they were only able to trail the leading outfits. An exhaust pipe of the KTM 450 enduro machine used had to be changed as a result of the fall. The bike is a smaller and more simple version of that used by Coma in the Raids World Championship.

Marc Coma’s expertise in navigation was not needed for this event, as the Baja 500 features markers along the course and not the road book typically used in Raids and rally competition.

Mike Brown was the rider for the second stint and he managed to cut the gap to the leader, whilst also gaining positions in the overall standings. The crash had affected the bike severely, which created some constant mechanical issues right up to the end of the race.

The final stint was undertaken by Coma, who started at a speedy pace but resisted the urge to take risks with tire preservation such a key factor. The MRW rider rode the coastal route which was divided into two very different sections: The first was a tricky, mountainous run, the second a quicker, wider route similar to familiar competitions like the Dakar Rally.

The trio of Robby Bell, Steve Hengeveld and David Pearson were the winners of the Baja 500 onboard a Kawasaki, completing the race in a total time of 9h 10m 03s. Two minutes and twenty-eight seconds behind were Honda riders Cotton Udall, David Kamo and Timmy Weigand. KTM USA and Marc Coma rounded off the podium, close to seven minutes off the winners.

The next event for Marc Coma will be the fourth Raids World Championship race, held in Sardinia from June 23-28. The Spaniard currently leads the series.

2012 Baja 500 Final Results: 1. R. Bell, S. Hengelveld, D. Pearson 2. C. Udall, D. Kamo, T. Weigand 3. M. Coma, I. Ramirez Jr., M. Brown

Forced Marriages – Do they work?

Forced marriages?  What does the topic of forced marriages have to do with motorcycling or adventure riding?  Have they lost their minds over there at R2ADV?   Not really, for the most part.  But what brings this topic to mind is the recent purchase of motorcycle manufacturer Ducati by automobile manufacturer, Volkswagen, AG through their division Audi for a reported $1.13 billion USD.  Many financial analysts have questioned the purchase as making no business sense, saying that there is no concrete business case for the purchase.

So why would Volkswagen/Audi (let’s just call them Audi for now on) a German automobile manufacturer known for precision engineering, spartan, efficient, and practical transportation want to purchase Ducati, an Italian, motorcycle company known for beautiful design (sometimes at the expense of functionality), passion and racing prowess?  Can the two heritages be aligned and successfully combined into one big happy family in this apparent shotgun marriage?

Well the conjecture is that Audi wanted a trophy in its cabinet and its purchase of Ducati certainly represents a big shiny one.  Huge racing heritage, cutting edge styling and maker of perhaps the most iconic motorcycle ever to be manufactured, the Ducati 916.  In addition, prior to the purchase, Ducati had been recently leveraging its racing heritage and begun moving and promoting its brand image to and even wider audience.

With the introduction of the Streetfighter, Hypermotard, Multistrada (version 2) and most recently the Diavel, Ducati had moved from a racing company to a full market motorcycle company.  But, and this is a big but, styling has always been a HUGE priority with Ducati even over cost, functionality and dare it be said, winning races.

But the question remains, how will Audi reconcile this styling priority with its engineering practicality philosophy?  Can/will Audi listen to the Italians when they say but this design is beautiful, you shouldn’t change it?  Will process and engineering controls overwhelm passion and styling at the new Ducati?

This brings me to question what the new Audi/Ducati might do to their adventure bike; the Multistrada.  Ducati, so fixated on performance, installed the engine from their world class superbike, tuned for torque, and fit it between excellent suspension.  Based on all this power, suspension adjustability and perhaps styling,  Ducati decided to mount a solid cast 17 inch front wheel.  This is not an optimal wheel for off roading, but it certainly looks swoopier and handles better on pavement and at high speeds.  Ducati just could not force themselves to fit a 21 inch front spoked wheel which probably couldn’t handle the projected power of the Multistrada, nor does it look especially nice.  Especially limiting is he fact that no tire manufacturer made a “knobby” tire in 17 inch rim sizes.  In fact, Ducati had a tire made by Pirelli especially for the Multistrada that they hoped would fit the adventure mission.

It was not a hit with the off road community.  In fact, it was the reason I sold my Multistrada.  It just really didn’t want to be an off road bike.  It was an awesome machine on the pavement, but anything more than wide gravel roads were a chore for the bike.  I should have known that from the start with the 17 inch front wheel.

So what will the new Audi/Ducati do?  Will the new company use the Audi approach and fit the engineer’s choice 21 inch front wheel or stay with the 17 inch wheel.  Recently, Continental Tire came up with a true “knobby” for the 17 inch rim so now the Multistrada has a knobby tire available.  They are “low profile” knobs, but they are knobs.  Will that be enough, or will the new Audi/Ducati start anew with a new design and a fresh sheet of paper, throwing away the Italian legacy?

Interesting question eh?  I did find that Wunderlich, a german motorcycle accessory and tuning company had been working with Continental and developed this machine based on the BMW S1000RR.   (picture from Motorcycle USA)

It’s an interesting looking machine to say the least.  Wunderlich has no relationship with Audi that I am aware of, but does this impart an idea of German thinking?   Such a comparison is pure conjecture, but it’s interesting to think about.

Well the jury is not only out, it’s yet to be selected.  But once selected, it will be interesting to see whether this forced marriage betweenVolkswagen/Audi and Ducati is given the thumbs up of survival or the thumbs down of business failure.

Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins (Part 9)

Wild animals, humans and motorcycles thoroughly mixed and mingled, it was time to make our way towards Seward.  On our way out of the wildlife park we came upon a rather wheezy looking caribou.  With  his head hanging low in an apparent weakened display of age and surrender, his impressive rack still was over the top of my head.  I stopped my bike beside him to take a picture and to give him the “oh you poor old boy” condolences when suddenly his head popped up.  He stiffened, snorted angrily and took a quick step towards me as to say “get lost or I’ll trample you into little pieces of Alaskan tundra.”  I was really started, nearly dropped my camera and almost fell off my bike.  OK then.  Note to self, old Alaskan caribou can still kick butt.  Give them a wide berth because they can be quite cranky.  Got it.  Oh, and luckily for me, Kim was behind me a fair bit and she saw nothing.  My dented male ego was to remain somewhat intact.

With that, we (actually I) expedited our exit from the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge and set course for our next stop, Seward.   We were quite psyched to be headed there because it is a seaport town and we had planned to go on a full day marine mammal/bird/glacier boat tour while we were there.  Continuing south and traveling along Turnagin Arm we were greeted with more ocean views and twisty roads.  The weather was good and in no time we made it to Seward and our hotel for the next couple of days.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture.  Then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Now the hotel was not much to write home about, but it did offer some surprises.  As we entered the hotel’s lobby, we were immediately surrounded.  Surrounded?  Yes, as in surrounded by wild animals.  Completing our entrance through the one person revolving door we were immediately confronted by two bears, a musk ox and caribou!  In the hotel lobby!  This just after my run-in with the cranky old caribou.  Further in, we found moose, arctic fox, mink and pheasant.  Ge’ez, didn’t we just leave the conservation center?

Well what really happened is that all these animals were indeed in the hotel lobby but they were stuffed.  Perhaps they had been cranky with someone else and then they paid the price?  Oh well, it was just strange seeing all these animals in a hotel lobby, it wasn’t like we were in a hunting lodge.  We quickly “headed” to our room to drop off our gear.  We opened the door there and found…  no stuffed animals.

We put our gear in the room and decided to walk around the town a bit and get some dinner.  We found some murals painted on the sides of buildings which had been painted by the locals.  They showed topics such as the settling of Seward and some were about native Alaskan culture.  They were pretty cool so we snapped a few pictures for memories.  Then we did the tourist thing for a while, checked out a few shops in town and finally settled in for the evening, because we had a full day boat tour with an early start in the morning.

The following morning dawned bright and mostly sunny with fairly calm seas.  It was going to be a good day for a boat tour.  Actually, the boat was more of a ship.  It was a 95 foot vessel with twin 3600 horsepower engines.  She could make well over 26 knots with a full capacity.  This was no little boat.  By the way, I know the vessel facts for reasons I’ll tell you about later.

To ensure we got good seating, we arrived early and plopped ourselves down in the cabin by the windows.  I was sitting there reading my Kindle which at the time was a fairly new device.  The Captain of the ship walked by and asked if I was in fact reading a Kindle and I replied that I was.  We chatted about it and I let him look at it.  It turned out that he wrote software in his spare time, and the e-ink technology was a hot topic so he wanted to see how it looked on the screen.  We chatted a bit more about Alaska and the motorcycle ride we were on which he thought was pretty cool.  Ultimately, he said he had to get back to work and we thought we wouldn’t see him again.  We were wrong.

The boat departed on time and we headed out to sea.  Almost immediately we saw sea otters lolling about in the harbor, some lying on their backs sunning themselves while others rolled lazily like tops to help aerate their fur to aid in insulation.   They were as cute as you hear about and can imagine.  Clear of the harbor, the Captain laid on the power and 45 minutes later we arrived at two islands, one of which was a Steller Sea Lion rookery.  We laid up appropriately close and we could see the females with their cubs sunning themselves while the very large bull males made themselves know with loud vocalizations.  Every once in a while, there would be a bit of a dust up between the sea lions over space, but all in all, they seemed quite happy to lie in the sun and take an occasional dip in the water.   We watched for a half hour or so and it was time to move on.

Thirty minutes later, we arrived at two more islands, the Beehive Islands which were appropriately named because of their shape and one other thing.  The were bird rookeries for many species birds and they flew and swooped all around the islands making them seem like beehives inhabited by bees.  As we got closer to the islands, it became apparent that the islands were crammed with birds.  It looked like every tiny ledge, crevice and crack had a nesting bird or its partner sitting or standing on it. The walls to the island were quite sheer, so they’d stand or sit on very narrow precipices to be used as nesting areas.  There was very little free space by the time the birds had found all the spots they wanted to use.  It was quite amazing.

We watched the birds wheel and soar in the air around and above the island.  Had there been air traffic control, it would have been a controller’s worst nightmare!  But they all seemed to be able to navigate and fly without crashing into each other.  We humans aren’t so lucky.

After about thirty minutes of watching the birds act like bees it was time to find some whales and check out some glaciers.  Both of which we found and saw in abundance.  We’ll tell you about them and the little secret in Part 10.