Back in January I came up with the idea of producing a mostly-educational YouTube series about motorcycle riding technique and safety. I was searching for an excuse to combine two things I enjoy doing; riding and making films.
I pitched the idea to Bret Tkacs, a professional motorcycle safety instructor, co-owner at Puget Sound Safety, and regular contributor to the popular AdventureRiderRadio podcast. After a couple of meetings we decided to have a go of it!
The plan was simple. Make short educational videos about Bret, motorcycle riding and gear, and publish them quickly. I didn’t expect to build an audience quickly, and so far that’s been the case. The subscribers are trickling in.
A couple of the early episodes were documentary style and took a full day to shoot, but lately we’ve been more focused and can shoot a piece in about an hour. Post production averages about one long day per episode which is quick by some standards.
I’m using a DJI OSMO for most of the filming, supplemented by four YI action cameras and a Canon C100 mk2 for zoom lens and shallow focus shots. The whole kits fits in the Pelican top box on the back of the Versys. Initially I carried a selection of EOS lenses for the c100 but I’m finding all I really need is the 24-105mm f/4 zoom.
Good audio has been a challenge from the start as we figure out the best workflow. Initially we tried to make the Sena helmet cam the primary audio but the noise cancellation on the is horrendous. It’s fine <5mph but terrible at speed because of the wind. Attaching a Rode VMPR to the OSMO and C100 works well in close quarters if the ambient sound is fairly quiet. A Sennheiser lav mic feeding an old Tascam recorder works best, even if the double-system sound needs to be synced up later.
We’ve shot in a variety of on-road and off-road locations throughout WA state and a bit in OR. So far no problems with the gear bouncing around in the top case for hours on end, even bouncing through the roughest trails of the WA BDR.
Overall these have been fun to produce and Bret has been great to work with. Each episode is better than the previous one, and I expect they’ll keep getting better as we refine the process.
With temperatures barely hitting 50F for a few days last week I rattle-canned some of the KLE’s green to black and then tried to put a few local miles on after the paint had dried.
I roamed around out towards Shelton and McCleary and then cut back to the west side of Capitol Forest. There are both paved and unpaved routes for vehicles through the forest. Both are amazing rides but this early in the year the paved D-line will be covered with slippery moss and ice in places. The muddy C-line sounded like more fun anyway.
The C-line’s condition was actually pretty good. Plenty of ruts and mud from all the rain we get up here (it’s a rain forest, you know) but the KLE650 handled it fine, certainly instilling more confidence than the heavier and sportier K75.
It was Friday afternoon and with the exception of a few logging trucks, I had the road all to myself.
As I gained elevation I started seeing more snow on the roadside, and finally at about 1100′ the road was wall-to-wall snow and ice. Non-passable for this rider. After a quick photo break I turned around and headed back down to US12, and then back home to hose off the dirt.
It was a short and sweet break from the winter doldrums.
The 2016 motorcycle season ended for me on November 1st when I buttoned-up the K75 in Cranston, RI and flew back to Olympia. It was a good year for bike traveling (23,000 miles mostly west of the Rockies) but not a great one as several trips were cut short due to work, weather and family stuff.
In November, as the winter gloom and rain moved into the pacific northwest, I hunkered down in the warm house and caught-up on Adventure Motorcycle Radio podcasts and unread motorcycle forum threads while the new KLE650 trickle-charged out back. Oh, how nice it would be to live in sunny southern California where the weather always welcomes the motorcyclist!
A smattering of work delivers distraction, and the winter solstice and holidays pass, but still the months-long absence of two-wheeled travel is cutting a hole in my heart that hurts. Motorcycle withdrawal has set in. Day dreams of next year’s riding interrupt duties and downtime. Where to go? Who to visit? Can I make motorcycle traveling lucrative?
I should explain that last bit. Traveling is unquestionably rewarding for me. It clears my cluttered mind and kindles creativity. After a week of fresh air and extremes on the road my brain wakes up and changes gears. The road is emotionally gainful, but can I turn it into a business? I’m working on it. But back to my whining…
To be clear, it’s not the riding I miss most in winter. The cold and wet makes riding up here uncomfortable but not impossible and plenty of Washington riders continue to commute through the winter. Traveling by bike is more than just riding. The bike invites connection and encourages exploration. It opens doors to conversations and sometimes relationships like nothing else. A solo motorcycle traveler is seldom lonely. Every fuel stop, cafe and campground brings new introductions and stories. But not in the winter. Those interactions are what I miss in winter… and the twisty mountain roads.
Winters off the bike do have some advantages. There’s time for maintenance, ordering parts, researching new gear and planning for the next season. I’ve added a spare clutch cable and air filter to the KLE’s panniers, installed a high-viz rear LED light bar, and added a couple of Horizons Unlimited meetings to the calendar. It’ll probably be February before the rubber meets the road. Which reminds me, I need to wear these OEM Dunlop tires down soon so I can switch to Shinko Ravens.
In the meantime I’ll need to be patient, I suppose. The world is warming but the best PNW roads will still be coated with mossy slickness for a while.
A periodically updated selection of motorcycle-related quotes I like.
“You see, in my dreams, I am still a boy on a bike. Because when I was a boy, every day was an adventure and a new beginning. Because when we are children, we are reborn every morning, but when we grow older, a little of us dies every night: killed by what ifs and if onlys, by mortgages and bills, dry rot and rising damp. When we travel, though, we are children again. And when we travel by motorcycle, we have nothing to think of when we wake but checking out of a motel, throwing a few belongings into our panniers and riding off down the road, unencumbered by regrets and concerns. On a motorcycle, every day is an adventure and a new beginning. On a motorcycle, I am still a boy on a bike.”
I did some traveling for work recently, but without the motorcycle.
On Saturday November 5th, after three weeks travelling cross-country on the K75, I flew home from Providence to Olympia, and promptly headed to my office to pack up video camera gear. The next morning it was straight back to the airport for a long 14-hour flight to Tokyo where I’d work for a few days shooting behind-the-scenes video for the Classic Rock Music Awards which took place at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan sumo arena on Friday 11/11.
I arrived in Tokyo at about midnight on Monday, took a short train ride from the airport with my producer, then a cab, checked-in at the Marriott Ginza, and had Tuesday morning free to wander around downtown Tokyo. The cab drivers we found in Tokyo did not speak any English and communicating our destinations was a little problematic. We tried to show them addresses on the smartphone but I suspect they had trouble reading the small displays.
Later in the afternoon on Tuesday, my producer and I visited the recording studio where the house band for Friday’s show was rehearsing. Mostly we just hung out so that the musicians could get used to us. We’d come back the following day with cameras and we were hoping they’d let us get up close and comfortable.
After breakfast at the hotel on Wednesday morning I wandered around Ginza, a popular upscale shopping area of Tokyo, and then southeast towards Tokyo Bay. Downtown was clean, organized and not as crowded as I expect it to be.
“Tokyo, February 20, 1998 — Honda Motor Co., Ltd. has announced the launch, on March 20, of the new, improved Benly CD50/CD90 business bikes with specially toughened “Tuff-up” tire inner tubes to minimize the risk of punctures now fitted as standard. With their 4-cycle OHC single-cylinder engines, which provide plenty of power at lower and medium revs to give a very smooth ride, these bikes have sold well in Japan for many years.”
On Wednesday afternoon it was back to the recording studio / rehearsal space, this time with cameras and audio in-tow. We filmed a string of visiting musicians who had come to rehearse with the house band. Jeff Keith, Frank Hannon and Brian Wheat (Tesla), then Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and finally Johnny Depp. We finished the day with an amazing traditional sushi meal in a basement restaurant hidden on a dark, downtown street thanks to the executive producer.
On Thursday morning I took a short walk down to the famous Tsukiji fish market. I brought my Fuji XE2s still photo camera and a 14mm lens, but after seeing all the hustle and coordinated chaos in the market I decided to shoot video, something the Fuji camera does not do very well.
On Thursday afternoon we loaded-in to the sumo arena location where we’re be for the rest of our visit. I shot behind-the-scenes video of the bands practicing and setting up on stage.
On Friday morning, even though I didn’t have very much free time and it was pouring rain, I decided to head back to the fish market to shoot a few stills.
I got soaked down to my skivvies in no time, but fortunately the camera gear was not affected.
The market is an amazing place. The hustle and bustle is unending. Ideally the best time to visit would be at sunrise near the summer solstice. All the real action happens very early in the morning, and by 10am things have quieted down.
The rest of the day Friday was spent shooting video back at the sumo arena. Sound checks, red carpet shots, backstage interviews, but mostly I just wandered around trying to capture moments with the old rockers having a good time.
During the show on Friday night I spent most of the time on stage behind the drummer and guitar amps filming towards the audience.
Took the 10am bus from the hotel to the airport.
Got to the airport early on Saturday morning and had enough time for a good ol’ American waffle breakfast from Tully’s! It was actually kind of gross. The waffle felt like a kitchen sponge and the whipped cream was unnatural. On the other hand, I flew Asiana Airlines round trip to Tokyo and the Korean meals onboard were fantastic.
The icing on the cake was a trip back in time! I departed Tokyo at 2pm on Saturday and arrived in Seattle two hours earlier that same day!
During the last three weeks in October, 2016 I rode the K75 from WA to RI so that I could leave the bike on the east coast permanently.
It was a cold and wet ride most of the way. Heavy rains from Washington to Montana, and the temperature never really got above 50F degrees all the way across the country. The days usually began in the 30’s and then peaked in the 40’s. I stuck mostly to the interstate highways to save time since daylight is limited this time of year, but I tried to venture off-road at least once a day for an hour or so. I packed camping gear but never used it. There was never a problem finding cheap motels. Route Map here.
I made it to Missoula on my first day and stayed in a tiny motel downtown across from an Indian restaurant. After an early start and some good espresso on day 2 the clouds opened up and the sun started to come out on the eastern side of the Rockies.
In eastern Montana I diverted off road through a canyon for about ten miles.
I spent a full day visiting the Dakota pipeline protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. I was hoping to make some photos of indigenous peoples preparing for the upcoming winter. In order to receive permission to photograph in the camp I agreed to a whole list of restrictions imposed upon the press including the promise not to photograph children, animals, food prep, or any adult without express permission. It was very limiting.
I stopped to visit with friends in Ithaca and Kingston, NY, and then finished the ride east and parked the bike at my dad’s place in RI.
I rode I-5 to Eugene, OR, then east to Crater Lake, then south past Mount Shasta and into the Sierra mountains to the Horizons Unlimited Travelers Meeting just east of Yosemite at the Mariposa Fairgrounds.
It was a great ten-day ride.
Made some new friends, met Mr. Sam Manicom and got to explore some new excellent California back roads.
Kawasaki valve shims are a perfect fit for the BMW K75’s valve adjustment, and the Kawasaki dealership is right down the road, so in July I stopped in to buy a few of the $5 hardened steel discs. Positioned on the left and right of the dealer’s main entrance were a couple of brand new, bright green 2014 Versys 650’s with “SALE! $4995” price cards. I sat on one and thought it felt a bit small. The upright riding position was not what I’m used to. I purchased the shims and returned home to finish the valve adjustment on the BMW.
I did a bit of research on the Versys and found that most owners loved them and found them incredibly reliable. They have quite a following in Europe as an all-arounder type bike. It was hard to find any negative Versys feedback in forums and blogs, and the YouTube reviews are glowing.
A couple of weeks later while enjoying the K75 on the roads around Capital Forest on a beautiful early afternoon, I thought to visit the Kawasaki dealer and have another look at the discounted Versys. You see, after the K75’s last valve adjustment, it was clear that the BMW engine would manage only another 5 or 10 thousand miles before requiring a top-end rebuild. The valves are actually already below spec and there is no more room to adjust them.
After the dealer answered some of my questions about the Versys, mostly maintenance related, I decided to take a test ride. The scanned my driver’s license, I signed the waiver, waited almost an hour for them to prep the new machine, and then hopped on and headed off towards the country. I made it two blocks before promptly slipping on an oil patch going around a slow-speed corner and the bike fell out from underneath me instantly. I had forgotten how slippery brand new tires are, and I wished the dealer had reminded me before handing me the keys.
The low-side fall happened in the blink of an eye. I landed unscathed on my right shoulder while the bike slid on its side for a couple of feet towards the middle of the road. I stood up swearing at my poor judgement. A passing motorist helped me lift the bike and offered help, but I was fine. I looked over the Versys for a minute and then hopped back on and rode it two blocks back to the dealership.
I wandered around the showroom floor for what seemed like hours waiting for the verdict from the service department. I silently shuffled acceptable repair values around in my head. Maybe the salesman would exclaim the fault was not mine and I could leave uncharged! Maybe I should make a run for it! Although damages were entirely cosmetic, the repair bill for parts and labor tallied-up at $2100. Ouch. The thought of a $2100 test ride made my head hurt. Financially it made more sense to buy the bike than to pay and walk away, so that’s what I did.
I returned to the dealership a week later to retrieve the Versys. The service department un-bent the brake pedal and assured me the bike was sound, albeit a bit scuffed up here and there. I took it slow out of the lot and through town, careful not to lean into the corners on those shiny Dunlops. The sky was clear and the weather perfect so I headed to my favorite local destination, Mt Rainier National Park.
On familiar country roads through Yelm, then Ashford and into the park’s west entrance the bike started to grow on me. Careful not to exceed the recommended 4000 rpm maximum during the engine’s 500-mile break-in period, I was surprised at how smooth the ride was. Kawasaki’s parallel twin engines have a reputation for vibrating, but this Versys wasn’t too bad. Up to the lodge at Paradise for a quick stop then over the pass and down the east side along Steven’s Canyon Road to WA-122. Leaving the park’s south entrance and then west towards home on US-12 I felt like the Versys’s tires had enough miles on them to experiment with handling, and I discovered that the bike enjoys turning.
After about 200 miles, with the sun setting behind me, I arrived home feeling like things were much better than I had expected. I wasn’t ready to buy a new bike this summer, emotionally or financially. But the Versys seems like a good value and I anticipate it being less needy than my K75.
In June I jumped on US-12 through WA and ID and met some moto friends from across the country in Red Lodge, MT for week of fun in the sun. Or should I say “in the heat”. It was hot enough to break all-time records across the American southwest. Three of us rode the Beartooth Highway east of Yellowstone National Park and then zipped down to Logan, UT where we met up with another three riders. Over the next few days we dipped further south in Utah, then east into Colorado, down to the Four Corners monument where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. Then it was north through the endless beauty of Utah’s canyons back up to Salt Lake City where we wrapped it all up.