By Michael Clark
When it comes to riding, no Canadian summer is ever long enough.
I’m enjoying the fall colours as I tool around the favourite roads I’ve met this summer aboard my Yamaha Virago test bike. There are a few more layers of clothing in place to contend with the chill. I even put on a pair of thermals to diffuse the pins and needles sensation in my legs. However, my days are numbered. The mercury has dipped below zero as of late to turn shallow puddles to ice. At least preparing the Virago for a ride doesn’t involve a scraper.
There are those who hang on as long as they can. I’ve already noticed thicker, puffier suits being worn by the highway cruiser set. The crew at Winnipeg Sport and Leisure has even encountered the odd Cross-Canada diehard rolling in for an oil change – in December! Snow and ice-savvy tires are available for those who just can’t say no to winter storage.
Portage and Main in Winnipeg is without a doubt, the coldest corner in Canada come December. How I envy the rest of the country. It might mean a rainsuit in Vancouver, or possibly opening the jacket vents in Alberta in February when a Chinook rolls through. My thoughts turn to California, where their idea of winter seems to hover around 14 degrees of our Celsius. The coastal tourist traps along the PCH are closed for the season. What is wrong with you people?
No amount of winter storage can cure what now flows through my veins. I’ve got the bug. Or is it a, dare I say it, drug? Hopefully, this doesn’t make me the Hunter S. Thompson of the transportation trade. If you’ve never ridden, or should I say inhaled, the euphoria may be hard to comprehend. It may not sound earth-shattering to take an on-ramp at a smidge over the posted limit, with a lean imposed by counter-steer that seems to defy the laws of physics. Nor would the thought of using your body as a windbreak at highway speeds seem appealing. You’ve obviously never inhaled.
As I’ve skipped across the continent this summer on automotive press trips, I’m amazed at how many auto journalists have never ridden. It seems like such a logical extension of what we do; we crave speed, savour dynamics, and enjoy feeling our faces contort in cornering exercises. However, what seems to be occurring amongst practically every form of ‘cage’ is the continued insulation between the driver and the road. In the grand scheme of safety, the moves to such systems are welcome. They are needed. And they take the fun out of everything. A Virago and its brethren is one of the last few places that your survival is based on skill. You are the ABS. You are the Electronic Stability Program. You are the Cornering Stability Control. You’re ‘It’. That awareness comes with you when you switch from saddle to sport bucket.
The list of those to thank is a long one: the good people at Yamaha Motor Canada for the use of the Virago; Winnipeg Sport and Leisure for keeping it in check; the training staff of the Manitoba division of the Canada Safety Council; plus the tips from those both new and seasoned that I’ve met along the way. I’ve sat back from the experience and asked myself whether this was just a phase. An overachievement perhaps on my mid-life crisis, which is but two years, five months, seventeen days, ten hours, and seven minutes away. You’ll probably find the motorcycle experience on most of the “Things To Do Before You Die” lists that crop up from time to time in six-dollar magazines. Unlike a sky dive or a bungee jump, riding is something I can never see an end to. Whether it’s a shiny 2007 test bike or a weathered ’81 XS400, keep your eyes open for yours truly this coming April. Just look for the fluorescent orange pumpkin I call a helmet.
Read Michael Clark’s entire series! Learning to ride a motorcycle: