Steely-eyed determination: Clark's experiment with tripod, camera, and zip ties proves successful. (Wonder if Yamaha will mind if I drill a few holes on the front fender?)
Steely-eyed determination: Clark’s experiment with tripod, camera, and zip ties proves successful. (Wonder if Yamaha will mind if I drill a few holes on the front fender?). Click image to enlarge

by Michael Clark

Have you ever noticed how ‘pointy’ your wallet is?

I have one of those card holders for my plastic, because GQ said I should two years ago. There’s a clip attached to it, possibly for the wad of fifties that eludes me. It’s metal, and in a pedestrian-speed pocket, there should be minimal injury if I slip or trip on a shoelace. If I leave the seat of my Yamaha Virago test bike at 60 km/h, that clip, and everything else in my pockets, could quickly become shrapnel.

This papa needs a brand new bag, and Nathan Westervelt, Accessories Manager at Winnipeg Sport and Leisure, has everything from cross-town cubbies to cavernous tailbags. “The easiest solution that a lot of people get is a magnetic tank bag,” said Westervelt. I opted for the Joe Rocket Manta unit. It boasts three pockets, one of which is see-through for cell phones. The Manta attaches to the tank securely at four points. How strong are the magnets? Let’s just say that carrying the bag near steel doors and large appliances can get downright annoying.

Longer trips are definitely on the horizon, which means extra room for fresh BVDs. “If you have a backrest, you can use a tailbag,” said Westervelt. The tailbag straps securely to the backrest, with a roll compartment that screams sleeping bag. The cruiser style of the Virago would lend itself well to rear-mount leather saddle bags. Some models use a quick-release zipper attachment, allowing you to remove the bags easily when you check into the Motel 6. There are larger saddle bags that stay permanently attached to the bike, which means you have to pull out all of your crumpled unmentionables if you want them to be there in the AM. There are also special bags that attach to motorcycle windshields.

Westervelt recommends consulting your owner’s manual to determine a safe load weight. “Don’t ever put more than your weight on the bike,” Shifting of the luggage can affect driving dynamics, as can improper weight distribution. “Make sure everything is tight in there,” said Westervelt. “Pack accordingly and pack smart.”

Joe Rocket bag holds a bushel of stuff, looks even better when it's right side up.
Joe Rocket bag holds a bushel of stuff, looks even better when it’s right side up. Click image to enlarge

I stuck to a little more highway time this week, and discovered that my first experience with fierce prairie winds had better prepared me for the ensuing gusts. (Translation; I could wave without fear of falling over.) Speaking of falling over, I almost did. On one particular run east on 44, I decided to turn south on 12 and head into the hamlet of Beausejour. There was zero traffic, which allowed me to slow down to a second-gear crawl as I approached the left turn. A small patch of gravel sat atop the asphalt. Those slippery pebbles and the angle of the rear tire were all that was required to kick the rear out to the right. My left leg came off and down instinctively to steady the Virago. My hip is still angry at me for that move.

The gravel mishap was enough to bolt me out of complacency, and into full-out paranoia. What else out there could I slip on? I’m working my way up to rain, especially when it first touches pavement, creating a deadly mix of oily dirt. The middle of a traffic lane is where dangerous deposits of ‘cage’ oil drippings and coolant dribbles reside. There’s always the freakish variable, such as an unscheduled leak from a tanker truck filled with Pam. All I can do is monitor my speed, look ahead for possible dangers, and avoid gravel more than an ex-girlfriend set on “Stalk”.

I knew that the fraternal hand waves would eventually lead to friendly conversations amongst other bikers. Such was the case with Edmontonian Keith Krueger, who admired the Virago as I quaffed a beer (root) outside Skinner’s Hot Dogs in Lockport. He’s been riding since the mid-Sixties, starting out on a Honda Cub. Krueger had recently arrived in Manitoba after a 14-hour push from Alberta. His ’82 Goldwing has the patina that can only occur from regular use. “This is a couch potato,” said Krueger of his Goldwing, with 80,000 kilometres on the dial. “It’s a great way to go cross-country.”

Forty-odd years of riding has taught Krueger some valuable lessons, some of them painful. “I was in a few crashes before the helmet law,” said Krueger. “I know it hurts.” His biggest complaints are minimalist “skull cap” helmets, and “crotch rocket” riders who engage in hot dogging other than the Skinner’s variety. “The highway isn’t the place to be riding around on your back wheel.” The initial stages of the Manitoba motorcycle license prohibit night driving. Krueger avoids the nightlife for other reasons. “I’ve been too close to too many deer.”

As Krueger suited up for the drive north to family in Gimli, he had this advice for novice riders. “Do like what you’ve done,” said Krueger. “Get a little Virago 250, and get comfortable on it.”

Thanks, Keith. I will.

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