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Friday, May 7, 2010

My Motorcycle History

From the first...

1982 Honda XL80
My dad picked this one up (and a matching XR80 for my brother) at the farmer's auction for a hundred bucks to get us introduced to motorcycles. We learned how to ride (usually full throttle, top gear, trying to stay ahead of each other on a gravel road) how to dress for the ride (always full coverage, boots, helmet, gloves and eye protection) and a little bit about motorcycle maintenance. (oiling the chain, changing the oil, keeping the bike clean) Near Dad's acreage, there was a rodeo grounds with a dirt track and a sand quarry. We would do most of our riding between those two places, riding the gravel roads to the general store now and then to get fuel. Dad always preferred Hondas and that's how the rest of this goes...

1983 XR350, 1984 VF1100S Sabre, 1982 FT500 Ascot
These weren't really mine... they were my Dad's bikes but I was allowed to ride them whenever I wanted through high school (1996-1999) and they all had their own influence on me.
The Ascot was an air-cooled single that sounded and handled like a quad and could only do about 120Km/h pinned in top gear downhill with a tail wind. It was a little lacking on the highway but it loved dirt and gravel roads where you could slide the back wheel around as much or as little as you wanted. It was the easiest motorcycle in the World to ride.
The Sabre was Dad's main touring bike and I only tried it for a few short rides. Like a good roller-coaster, it was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The back-end would raise up like a big cat on his haunches getting ready to pounce when you opened the throttle in the lower gears, due to the crude shaft-drive design. The chassis would wind up like a big rubber band and then release with a kinetic explosion of accelleration. It would do 260Km/h. Second gear didn't work. You had to go straight from first to 3rd but it didn't really matter. It still accellerated faster than my unconditioned brain could process and I loved it. It had a V4 engine and I decided I liked that.
The XR350 was half dirtbike, half Sherman tank. It had a SuperTrapp muffler that made it sound like a gatling gun. Through my adolescent years I was way too small to handle it but that didn't stop me from borrowing it go mess around in the trails once in a while. It was lots of fun as long as I didn't stall it or drop it... or both. I could barely pick it up and it took everything I had to get it restarted. I went away to college and it would be almost 10 years before I rode a dirtbike again.

2000 VFR800FI
I didn't ride a motorcycle through 3 years of college, and when I came back home Dad had a brand new VFR800. His was a 2001 model.... blue with grey wheels. I loved riding it and decided I needed one of my own. I picked up a cheap rebuilt-status red 2000 model that had been crashed and fixed and repainted but was in good mechanical shape and had a strong motor. It had gear-driven cams and a Kerker pipe and the sounds it made were just intoxicating. I rode it to work every day, rode it home on the weekends, and took a few long trips into the mountains. It was the first bike that I really went fast on and learned to love the curves in the road. I had no idea what I was doing but it felt great to lean it over and I could drag the pegs through the turns. I have no idea how I avoided crashing the shit out of it. After about a year I was struggling to make ends meet and had to sell it. A friend bought it, used it for stunting and within a few months crashed the shit out of it.

2003 CBR954RR
This should be a short chapter... the bike only lasted a month. Before I got the 954 I very nearly interrupted my all-Honda motorcycle pattern. I had my first decent job as a lower-level manager and with my steady income I decided I could afford a new motorcycle. The 2003 GSXR1000 had just been released and it was the fastest baddest most insane bike money could buy. I wanted a silver one. Problem was, Suzuki didn't have their own financing and I didn't qualify for the 3rd-party financing through the banks. Honda, on the other hand, had their own financing arm which was happy to loan me the 14 grand for the new 954. Luckily, the financing included "gap" insurance which covered the negative equity if the bike was written off. (can you see where this is going?) It might not have been quite as fast as the mental GSXR, but it was still absurdly powerful and way beyond my capabilities to ride properly. Martin Gelinas scored the winning goal in overtime in game 6 of the western conference semifinal against the Detroit Red Wings and I hopped on the 954 for a celebration ride with my brother in tow on his RC-51. We did a few wheelies downtown then I took off down a dark twisty country road, misjudged a turn, hit the ditch and smashed the CBR into pieces against a boulder. At some point before the boulder I bailed off the bike and only my pride was hurt. My brother eventually caught up and saw me pacing back and forth next to the smouldering red and black Honda. He pulled over, put his bike on its side stand, lit me a cigarette, looked me square in the eye and said: "Can I have your tires?" It gave the situation some desperately needed levity and we shared a good hard belly laugh. That bike barely made it past its first oil change.

2004 CBR1000RR
As soon as the insurance was settled on the 954 I went straight out and purchased the 1000RR. I wanted the new Kawasaki ZX-10R but again... easy financing on the Honda! The CBR still felt more "right" to me and it looked fantastic it its all-black glossy bodywork. For the most part I fooled around in town and posed with the other squids but I did take a couple of really memorable trips into the mountains on the 1000RR. One day while fooling around with the other squids - in this case doing laps around a cloverleaf - I fell off and hit my head on the pavement hard enough to crack the shell of my Shoei RF900 helmet. I spent 3 days in a hospital bed with a nasty concussion. To this day I still don't remember the wreck. The bike had enough damage to be written off but I decided to fix it instead. I was afraid to see what would happen to my insurance premiums and I just felt foolish about it. There was a busted aluminum water joint that needed to be replaced, but the engine had to be removed to access it. I bought a service manual and a bunch of new tools and went to work. Other than basic maintenance, I had no idea how to fix a motorcycle and this was a fantastic learning process. I gained a better understanding of how everything worked, and gained a lot of confidence as a mechanic. I followed the book to the letter, took my time and eventually got it all put back together, with the addition of a custom race-replica paint job. I continued on with the posing but dialed down the squidly stuff and took a couple more trips into the mountain roads of BC. The mountain roads were a lot of fun but riding around in the city was getting to be really boring. Then I signed up for a track day and everything changed. I learned how to ride a sportbike properly, in the environment it was designed for. I wasn't even interested in riding on the street any more. I put the fairings and street stuff in a box and installed some fiberglass racing fairings. I rode exclusively on the race track for a full season and started to get interested in racing.

2007 CBR600RR
I started looking for a deal on a crashed sportbike that I could build into a track bike. A 600CC supersport would make the best platform (easier than a litre bike to go fast on) for a rookie racer, and Honda's new '07 CBR600RR was the lightest, most powerful, best-handling 600 on the market. I found a perfect candidate... an insurance write-off from Saskatchewan with only 630Kms. It was irresistably cheap. The fairings and lights were smashed but I wouldn't need those anyway and all the important parts were still in good condition. I spent a winter building it into a kick-ass race bike. In the spring I put my CBR1000RR back to street-legal trim and sold it. I got my race license and competed in the local racing club initially as a novice, then an amateur. I raced on a team for the local trackday / track school company... the founder of which I became good friends with. I ran all 6 events and between race weekends got lots of track time as an instructor for the school. It was a summer I'll never forget. I documented the build of the bike here: http://www.motorcycleaddicts.org/honda/7242-07-600rr-racebike-resurrection-journal.html (sign up as a member to view pics)

2007 CBR125R
I was looking for a "pitbike" that I could mess around with at track days when Honda Canada announced that they would be offering the CBR125, which was previously only sold in foreign markets. With a price of only $3300 it was only a little more than I was planning on spending for a pitbike, but it was road legal and therefore much more useful. It was a hilarious little bike. It didn't have enough power for riding on the highway but it was great around town and always made me laugh when I rode it. I even took it to a couple of track nights. Eventually I just stopped riding it. I moved from a central location in the city to the suburbs. It didn't make sense to commute on it and I had an expensive wedding to pay for. I sold it to a guy who wanted to learn to ride. This, after all, is what it was designed for and I'm sure it did its job well.

2008 CRF250X
A couple of friends who used to do trackdays with me had sold their track bikes and started riding dirt. They had been bugging me to get a dirtbike and join them. I went out with them a couple times on a borrowed CRF450X and got hooked. The type of riding they were doing was not what I remembered from my dirtbiking youth. They rode challenging technical single-track in the mountains and I found it exhilarating. In 2009 I upgraded the suspension on my 600RR racebike and rode it...... once. It wasn't that I didn't want to ride it anymore, I just didn't have time with my job and my upcoming wedding. It seemed a shame to have it sit there unused in the garage, so I sold it to another racer and used the money to buy the CRF250X. I decided on the 250 for similar reasons that brought me to a 600 for the racetrack... it was easier to handle than a 450 and with my limited skill I could actually go faster on it. Ibought it second-hand but it was basically brand new. A guy with no riding experience had bought it, rode it once for about 10 minutes, scared himself stupid, and put it up for sale. I got a great deal. I upgraded it with some trail-riding gear (skidplate, hand guards, rad guards) and only rode it once before I had to put it away for winter. As I am writing this, it's the 6th of May and winter still hasn't released its icy grip, but I'll be getting back out to the trails very soon. And I'll be filming my rides. Maybe I'll share them here.

2010 VFR1200FA
I've written at length here about my reasons for getting the 1200... here is a brief overview: I miss riding in the mountains, and I want to bring my wife along when I can. The VFR is awesome, and I wanted it. Now I have it. I'll let you know how it goes. So far so good.

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