Water. How much to bring, how to carry it…and how it can make you sick.

Water, water, everywhere / Nor any drop to drink

Now, I enjoy Coleridge’s poetry as much as the next fellow, and maybe more than some. But even if reading his Rime of the Ancient Mariner is well down your personal list of merrymaking options, you’ve gotta admit that first line is pretty familiar – and the famous poem evokes the sound and feeling of seafaring adventure as well as any lines ever written:

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew

The furrow followed free;

We were the first that ever burst

Into that silent sea.

Okay, enough hoity-toity. When I’m on an adventure ride, I need some drops to drink and to cook my legendary campsite meals of powdered something-or-other.

But how many drops of water should you drink?

More. That’s probably the best answer, since most of us simply don’t drink enough.

Opinions vary, but most figures come in around 4 litres per day for an average-sized man exercising in hot conditions. I say “man” because we’re often heavier than women, and one variable that determines intake is body weight. Check out the US Army’s calculations if you want to get really specific for your weight, climate and exercise. According to their algorithm, at 175 pounds, I should drink (or consume in food) 163.25 ounces of water per day, or 4.8 litres, when riding in the desert.

I think their figures are generous: I usually carry 7 litres for a two-day ride from town to town in the desert, with temperatures reaching up to 45 Celsius, and have found that an adequate amount — although it doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error. If I break down or crash, delaying my ability to resupply, I could be in a bit of a pickle.

Does my pee look brown?

You can tell if you’re dehydrated by the colour of your pee, the lighter the better. Clear and copious is the ideal, but it’s difficult to attain when your water supplies are limited. A pale straw colour means you’re doing good.  If it starts to look darker than that, get some water in you.

(Notice how I omitted inserting a photo here? You’re welcome.)

And when should I drink it? (the water, not the pee)

Before you get thirsty.

By the time you feel the need for water, you’ve waited too long. For me, that’s marked by an itchiness in my throat, followed by a headache. Too long.

Drink small amounts of water regularly, up to about a cup (a quarter litre) per hour. Again, you can use the Army’s calculations. I figure they’ve done some pretty extensive field trials, so their numbers should be as accurate as anyone’s.

Drinking from a bottle allows you to monitor your water intake, since most bottles allow you to see precisely how much you’ve consumed; many are even marked in volume units.


But don’t use water bottles.

Since weight is my enemy and space is precious, I don’t carry bottles. Nalgene and other purpose-built water bottles aren’t collapsible when empty, and I don’t want to carry the weight either. Lighter, one-time use water bottles, on the other hand, are flimsy and easily punctured when you fall down go boom. And the research is pretty clear that they degrade with time and heat, possibly leaching nasty chemicals into your drink.

Bag it: carrying water on your adventure ride.

There are many different water systems out there.

I use water bladders. They’re light, collapsible, and some brands are really tough. Their disadvantage I already mentioned: it’s harder to track your intake than it is when you drink from a bottle, so you’ll need to be diligent about monitoring your consumption.

I’ve experimented with bunches of bags. The plastic ones are prone to failure, splitting at the seams or succumbing to cactus thorns, so I carry them only as a backup water carrier. Rolled up in my panniers, they occupy very little space.


For primary water-carrying duties, I’ve settled on MSR water bladders, their “Dromedary” line up. These bags are made of a durable 1000 denier fabric, coated for waterproofing on the inside where the BPA-free lining is safe from abrasion.

And I have never killed one yet. Oh, I tried. But never.


Dromedaries come in various sizes (4, 6 and 10 litres), and I’ve used them all. I usually carry at least a 2 and a 4 litre bladder.

You can purchase a variety of interchangeable accessory kits: 3-in-one caps that let you fill, carefully meter water into a cup or pot, or attach a drinking hose; spigots for quicker pouring; solar shower hoses… The cap size mates up directly with MSR’s extensive series of water purifiers, too, if you’re the pure type.


But there’s always a but…

I’m not too keen on the bite valve design MSR is using now for their drinking hoses. Unlike the older versions of the product, the newer valves don’t come with a shutoff mechanism or a rigid cap to ensure you don’t lose your water when a bite valve is accidentally compressed in your bags or between your bike and the ground. You can see their current design at the bottom right, below, and what I think are some better designs above it.


MSR is correct in saying their valve has a better flow rate than most others, but I’m more concerned about a catastrophic loss of water when I’m a couple days out in the desert.

Lighten up!

DromLite bags are a new series of MSR bladders that are, not surprisingly, lighter than the old ones; they’re apparently even more compressible, too. Whether they are as durable and abrasion resistant as the standard MSR bags only time will tell.

DromLites come in 2, 4 and 6 litre sizes, and I’ve never tried them. Some reviewers say there are problems fitting Dromedary system accessories to the new DromLite bags. I assume MSR will fix any teething pains with their new product – but do your own research.


It’s in the bag.

The ounce or two you shed in weight going to these newer bladders probably won’t matter to you – but the fact they come in smaller sizes might. I stuff my 2 litre bag into a gas tank pannier for easily-accessed drinking water throughout the day. But MSR no longer makes a 2 litre Dromedary — the DromLite is your only option for that size.



Along with my 2 litre, I fill a larger bag or two and jam them into the empty spaces in my panniers. When I set up camp, a small carabiner through a grommet or strap allows me to hang these bag from my handlebars, allowing me turn on the spigot one-handed while filling a cup or pot.

Hold on!

Most water bladder drinking hoses include a clip to attach the hose to your backpack or jersey near your thirsty mouth. Useful — but don’t rely on them to hold securely while riding off-road. I know riders who have stopped for a drink only to discover their tasty water nipple bite-valve thingy dragging in the dust beside them. Or, worse yet, torn right off during that single-track romp through the trees.


Similarly, I have personally experienced bite valves actually falling right off the hose and taking most of my water with them. If I’m uncertain, I use a cable tie to secure the valve to the hose. (You can see a blue cable tie in the photo of the various bite valves, above.)

I hate that monkey on my back…

Of course, you’ve seen hydration backpacks. I only use mine if absolutely necessary: I would rather let my motorcycle carry the weight, and, anyways, the backpack interferes with the bag I strap onto the rear fender.


If you do use one, you might be able to substitute a durable MSR bladder for the failure-prone plastic one that comes in many such backpacks.


…but I love that dirty water!

I admit to my impurity.

Er – that is, I don’t use a water purifier.

They’re too bulky – although they are shrinking all the time, and innovations like ultraviolet purification devices are actually remarkably compact.

More importantly, purifiers can break.

Besides, I seldom need to use ground-sourced water, since my fuel range means I’m at a gas station every two or three days anyways. I just fill up my bladders at the sink after I empty my bladder at the…too much information….

On the rare occasions I need to drink water I find in the field, I purify it with Aquatabs. Totally reliable, tiny, and they never break. You won’t even notice you’re carrying them, since enough tablets to treat dozens of litres of water take up no more room than a couple Bandaids.


Feeling hot, hot, hot – and sick?

If you ride in the summer (Umm…isn’t that all of us?) your drinking water gets pretty hot. Whether it’s sloshing around in bottles or bladders, it can easily reach temperatures that bacteria find irresistibly inviting.

But that doesn’t mean drinking the water will make you sick. Potable water from public sources – like that faucet in the gas station bathroom, or the restaurant – is treated with a form of chlorine, which kills existing bacteria in the water, and protects against bacteria that may be introduced to your water later on (backwash, anyone?). If you treat ground water with Aquatabs, you have similar protection.

There is a time limit, however; the protection diminishes with time and exposure to heat. Still, if you’re carrying water for a couple days on your adventure bike, you’ll drink it before that becomes a problem anyways.

So don’t worry about it. Or do. Up to you. I’ve never been sick, even after drinking water more than five days old in temperatures creeping up to nearly 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

This water tastes like armpit.

Of course, that old, stale hot water can be difficult to drink. But you need to keep up your intake, remember?

So I add these little guys to my water. They’re cheap, weigh next to nothing, and make a tasty drink when you arrive at your campsite with a big bag o’ hot water. You would likely grimace and pour it down the sink at home – but, hey, this is camping. Therefore yummy.


I don’t recommend the liquid water flavouring products like MiO: not only are they more bulky, but the bottles can burst, and the concentrated syrup leaves concentrated stains and smells when they do. And, in my opinion, they taste even more artificial than the powdered mixes…if that’s possible….

Don’t use any drink mixes directly in your water bladders, either, as they leave a taste behind. Mix up your “Sunrise Classic Orange” in a cup or pot.

What’s your drinking water system for adventure riding?

I bet you’ve got some great tips and products I’ve never used.

Let me know!




Navigation for adventure motoryclists

Basic equipment and techniques to map your adventure

It was 1932 when three Swedish brothers, including Bjorn Kjellstrom, the Swedish national ski orienteering champion, designed a new kind of compass. Their modifications, a liquid-damped housing and clear baseplate, became the foundation of the Silva Compass company which thrives to this day.

But it took 23 more years for the famous Kjellstrom brother to publish his famous bestseller, Be Expert with Map and Compass. His daughter, Carina Kjellstrom Elgin, updated the book in 2010, and it’s now available online as a free PDF. If you don’t have a copy, well…you’ve got that to look forward to! It’s a great introduction to the art and science of terrestrial navigation.

map and compass book

Be expert with map and compass

The title of the book may be a promise or an admonition; I’m not sure which.

But, since the book only arrived more than two decades after the brothers invented their whiz-bang compass, I figure the 23-years-wiser Swedish champion finally realized that outdoor equipment may be shiny, and navigational party tricks might impress girls (Swedish girls, maybe?) — but people are usually the cause of their own problems….

So, instead of inventing a whiz-bangier compass, he wrote a book. And one of the consistent themes in his book, and others that deal with navigation, is “staying found.” Although perhaps imprecise, the term is grounded in a pretty obvious idea: it’s easier to always be aware of where you are, than it is to figure out your location once you’re “confused of your whereabouts.”

The crucial aspect to navigation is…you.

Navigation anxiety

Now, even if you’ve never picked up a Silva compass, you likely already have one of the essential skills of an orienteer: navigational anxiety. That’s the condition I just invented that refers to the fear of pointing your GS off the pavement and riding until you’re nowhere near a Starbucks. Or a hospital.

NA is one of those specialized performance anxieties that keeps you from jumping out of windows and handling snakes; NA helps you choose smart, adaptive survival techniques.

Like reading the classic book on land navigation, and taking a compass and a map on every single adventure ride.

compass for adventure motorcycling
The Silva compass that revolutionized terrestrial navigation

Android doesn’t play well with Adventure

Let’s just pause a moment here and address the elephant in the room, shall we?

Your phone isn’t good enough. Doesn’t matter which phone you have; it’s not good enough.

Cell signal is sparse or non-existent out where they keep the adventure. But you’ve downloaded maps for offline use, you say? You know how to use the satellite GPS functionality of your shiny new Gizmo two-point-oh? Well, you’re smarter than me.

But are you smart enough to conduct field repairs on a 2,900 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery after you drop your iPhone into the Sonoran sand or the Pinelands puddle? Can you reverse engineer your Galaxy from the scattering of small plastic bits left in the divot you just gouged in the dirt when you crashed?

Same goes for your tablet, laptop, your phablet, if you’ve got one, and if that name still exists. (It shouldn’t. Seriously.)

Anyway, I’ve ranted about this before.

So let’s get to the other elephant in the room: GPS

I like Global Positioning Systems. I’ve had several, and I’ll write some posts about the units, mapping software and mounting systems I use.

But here’s the thing: as I said, I’ve had several…including three replacement models of a brand-new, high-end, immodestly-priced Garmin unit. Replacement, as in: bought it, tried it, failed. Rinse. Repeat. Repeat. Argh!

So my point is, they’re great when they work. And then the batteries die, or your charging cable succumbs to an errant branch, or aliens target you with their dazzling ray of — whatever: my point is, they fail. I use two different units at the same time — and both have failed. At the same time.

It’s not so surprising. Adventure riding is hard on equipment. Heat, vibration, cold, high-speed impacts, dust, rain, snow… So if you do decide to point that GS off the pavement, you simply can’t rely on your phone or your GPS; use them, love them — by all means. Just don’t rely on them.

Back to Basics, Bjorn

Here’s where you start, with the basics: take a map and a compass with you on every ride.

A modern compass is pretty much bomb-proof: the one moving part — the needle — floats in a vibration-damping bath of oil.

You can rely on paper, too. It’s got a fail-proof battery (i.e., none), and survives vibration darn well. Upgrade to a Ziploc bag, and paper laughs at rain and snow.

If you’re riding long distances, you might require a lot of maps, since you ride across them quickly. But you can purchase smaller-scale maps (which show a larger area), cut away areas you won’t be travelling, and cover a vast area with a stack of maps not much thicker than the flyers you get in the mail even if you’ve told your letter carrier you don’t want them. And you can write on maps, tracking routes, making notes, locating gas stations.

The ideal solution is to combine paper map and compass with a GPS (or two). We’ll get to more detail on that in another post. For now…

Okay, I’ve stuffed my map in that little plastic window on my tank bag? Now what?

Throw it out.

motorcycle tank bag
You do not want to ride off-road with that between your legs. Trust me.

The tank bag, I mean; keep the map. Oh, heck, keep the tank bag if you like as well, but save it for mounting on your street bike.

Tank bags inhibit your ability to move on the bike, particularly when riding while standing and while ascending hills. There are diminutive little tank bags that stay safely out of the way — but then they either don’t have a map pocket, or it’s just too small to be of much use.

Motorcycle-specific map holders often rely on magnetic mounting on the gas tank, but many dual sport and adventure bikes have plastic moldings on their tanks — or even full plastic tanks. Other models clip to the crossbar, which many adventure bikes don’t have. Awkward. I also dislike these models because, even if I have a handy crossbar, the map obscures my view of the instruments and other hardware attached to my handlebars.

A better solution is a map case designed for kayaking and canoeing. I use the SealLine HP: it’s large (comes in two sizes), flexible, durable and thoroughly water proof. They usually last me at least several seasons of riding, if not more.

map case for adventure motorcycle
SealLine HP

Other map cases resemble a resealable, Ziploc style bag on steroids. These tend to be made of stiff plastic, making it a bit challenging to insert your maps. I prefer a softer plastic, like that used in the SealLine HP.

SealLine map case

Put it on

Use zip ties (cable ties) through one set of D-rings to attach the case to your handlebars; if you use the HP, you can actually remove the neck strap and use the webbing fasteners to secure the map case to the bars.

You’ll also need a Velcro strap or some sort of webbing about 20 cm long. Once your map is inserted, you’ll roll up the case and wrap a strap around it to keep it out of the way while you ride. (I use zip ties again to attach this strap to the handlebars.)

map case on motorcycle
SealLine HP rolled up and secured for riding

The downside of this system is that you can’t examine the map without stopping your bike and releasing the strap.

map case on motorcycle
Deployed for mapping

The upside of this system is that I no longer crash while staring at my map when my eyes should be on the trail.

You win some, you lose some…

There’s more to curing your Navigational Anxiety…

There’s more to navigation…but, as they say, walk before you run. Get a map and a map case for your bike; a small baseplate compass; a bit of knowledge. Start reading your copy of Bjorn’s classic, or another of the many great books and websites, and I’ll get back to you with more posts on navigation, including using your GPS.



“I figure you look just like a cougar’s lunch.”

This story originally appeared in the January / February 2017 issue of Canadian Biker magazine.

Francine, my 2008 Husqvarna TE510, declined to start.

I insisted; she refused. Marriage: what are you gonna do?

Start walking, that’s what.

It took a day to reach Ellensburg, Washington, locate a motorcycle shop to retrieve the bike, diagnose and change a broken spark plug lead and intake valve clearances out of spec. A day of vacation lost, yes, but now I was ready to ride again.

I should be here. But I’m not.

Hop on the Husky. Still. Would. Not. Start.

Resigned, I left the bike at the shop and trudged to the Greyhound station. One ticket to Vancouver, please.

A week later, I got the call: the bike was fixed. Turns out, we had actually diagnosed the problems correctly. But, try as she might, Francine couldn’t start after our repairs because I might have neglected to adjust the manual decompression cable that was holding open an exhaust valve. Although nobody has yet proven that to my satisfaction.

Could I have a Corona, please? The family size.

Now that a week of holidays had been sacrificed to my ineptitude, I loaded me and my frustration back on a Greyhound heading south from Vancouver and spent six hours sitting next to a guy drinking a family-sized Corona through a straw. Believe me, I was happy to arrive in Ellensburg.

I retrieved the Husky, with its handlebar-mounted GPS, and began planning a route for the remaining week of my vacation. I had originally intended to ride 200 kilometres east of here, in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, but now that was too far to be feasible in the week I had left. It also meant I hadn’t loaded any maps for this area of Washington on my GPS.

I remained undeterred – uninformed would, admittedly, be a more accurate description – and turned off the pavement onto an overgrown track that looked promising, heading for the nearest empty-looking region on the entirely inadequate Washington state highway map I had just purchased at a gas station.

An hour later, I was forced to admit my plan might suffer some not insignificant flaws, as I was now riding through a forest fire.

I had unwittingly ridden into the destruction of the catastrophic 33,000 hectare Colockum Tarps Fire of 2013.

Squinting through acrid smoke, I was soon lost in a labyrinth of ridges and canyons lit by flickering flames. Dismissing the obvious strategy – Just stop, you moron! – I rode through the murk until I regained enough sense to become acutely anxious about my dwindling fuel supply. Thankfully, I had stumbled across the Columbia River and found a spot to set up camp. It was clearly not a good idea to continue riding.

Hey — this isn’t on the map…

Naturally the next morning I continued riding. I did ponder the idea of retracing my route but, of course, dismissed that thought as spineless and unworthy. But the GPS – its memory card positively bursting with detailed maps of riding areas far beyond the hazy eastern horizon – displayed nothing but my location marker and track. I was a triangle trailing a pink line across grey emptiness. I looked up from the screen; grey, smoky emptiness swallowed the trail up ahead, too. So I guess everything must be fine then….

Oh, I see: I’m right here. That’s not even slightly useful.

I forged ahead, focusing on the tiny arrow that was me, moving across the blankness of the tiny screen of the useless GPS – including when I should have been focusing instead on the old mining road cutting across the hillside I was traversing. So, at a barely discernible curve, I launched the Husky off the mining road and onto the rocky slope below.

Is this why they say, “Look where you want to go?”

I’m not sure what it actually means when people say someone was “knocked out.”

I suppose it could be the disorienting loss of a period of time – seconds, minutes? – or the peculiar displaced feeling of abruptly discovering you are situated somewhere which you don’t recall having any role in your plans whatsoever. As I say, I’m not sure. I am quite positive, though, that such an experience always concludes with a demonstration of the kind of language a person used to pick up on the docks and on whaling ships and today learns on the Internet.

Favoring my left ankle, and, actually, most of that leg, along with sundry other joints, I haltingly improvised repairs. Then I restarted the bike and cajoled it back to the road, uncertain about the implications of the pool of coolant left behind on the rocks. That uncertainty about the damage I may have done to a radiator morphed into an entirely unwelcome certainty as a sizable cloud of steam erupted from under the Husky’s fuel tank. I had been creeping slowly along the path – because, you might recall, I was operating on the fumes that had been the only thing remaining in my fuel tank since the night before – and I had just overwhelmed the limits of a damaged cooling system in the balmy 40o C temperatures of an August day on an arid plateau during a forest fire.

Not lacking a sense of irony, Francine followed the steam with a sputtering from her fuel pump.

We were now out of gas.

I pushed the bike under some scorched pine trees and broke out the magic. You know: JB Weld, hose clamps and zip-ties. I prepared to conduct marginally more thorough repairs to the damaged radiator. The heat was overwhelming, even in the broken shade the trees offered now that the sky was clearing and the sun was vengeful. So I stripped to my…well, let’s just say I stripped, and began disassembling the Husqvarna. That’s when the hornet stung me on the…right there. Sensitive location. Insert euphemism here. You know what I’m talking about, right? And you know that old saying, “They won’t bother you, if you don’t bother them”? Yeah, I used to believe that one, too.

Letting the JB Weld work its magic

Eventually, repairs were complete. I set up camp in an early-evening twilight of dissipating smoke and settled in for a sweltering night, giving the metal epoxy time to metamorphose into unbreakable steel, because somebody told me it would do that if I used the stuff correctly and deserved good karma and loved children and small animals.

Washington, yes. Definitely.

Morning arrived, and I consulted my crisp new state map, using it to accurately pinpoint my location: yep, I was definitely in Washington. Reassured, I strode off down a rocky trail heading north, and, I hoped, towards a town. Or a gas station. Or a place that wasn’t on fire. Remembering vividly the aftermath of tangling with ill-behaved hornets while naked, I was sensibly clad in a protective bathing suit and flip-flops.

An hour later, just as my footwear was beginning to disintegrate on the jagged rocks of the trail, I saw a 4×4 bouncing its way toward me from the crest of a still-smouldering hillside. The truck pulled up and the driver rolled down his window. I could feel the icy wonderful air conditioning.

Peering at me dubiously, he demanded, “You got a weapon? Two people been attacked by cougars right here.”

“Yeah,” said his passenger, “I figure you look just like a cougar’s lunch.”

Of course I do.

They drove me back to the Husqvarna, and, yes, the air conditioning was wonderful. Then, longing for a step ladder, I attempted to deploy my emergency siphon, cleverly included in my minimal kit. Predictably, the hose was too short to span from the tank of the lifted 4×4 to my bike; it slipped and pumped a litre or two into my eyes. But it pumped a few litres into the Husky as well, and once Francine started, the radiator repair held. I emptied my remaining two bottles of drinking water into the rad, and I was back on the trail and out of the fire.

And you know how that saying goes….

I figured the frying pan was probably just biding its time as I rode through eastern Washington’s desert plateaus, making my way back to British Columbia; I anticipated the arrival of that old skillet each night as I camped under smoky skies and contemplated hazy sunsets.

Between the fire and the frying pan

It had been a titanium intake valve worn well beyond its best-before date that had caused the original valve clearance issues more than a week ago. Now, several days after I escaped the fire, that slowly deteriorating valve finally meant I couldn’t keep the Husky running. I had tools and spare valve shims, but even the slimmest of those would no longer allow the thinning valve to close fully. Frying pan.

Don’t try this at home: the Husqvarna factory wouldn’t approve.

Once again I camped and readied my tools: Vice Grips, feeler gauges, valve shims…a large rock, a handful of sand…. With Francine’s fuel tank set aside, I removed the valve cover, water pump, and rocker retainer, so I could extract the offending shim, only twice dropping it perilously close to the black depths of the timing-chain journal.

Into the frying pan: a shim grinding day

And then I spent four hours in the oppressive heat you can only find in the middle of nowhere, grinding a nine millimetre-diameter valve shim on a sand-sprinkled rock. Since I was out of water, the sweat of my brow obligingly mixed with the sand, adding to the abrasive slurry. And more of that Internet language was heard that day in the forest. Talk about abrasive….

Finally, exhausted, finger tips raw, I popped the misshapen – and now very thin – disc of metal into the precise-tolerance Italian racing engine.

Francine fired right up.

Plainly, it was time to head home. Before I ran into bad luck.

Francine wants to go home.

Oh no — is that a cop up ahead?!

As the RCMP officer stepped out, motioning me to stop my motorcycle, my first thought was this guy must be, like, 6 foot 5. Oh oh.

My second was, “Look, lock, lean.”

“Yeah, you got this!” he responded, waving me on to the next element of the Motorcycle Skills Challenge course.

motorcycle rider
Start of the challenge

I eased out the clutch, rolling into the funnel of orange traffic cones, turning my head to search out the exit and align my Husqvarna TE610 for the restricted left, right, left sequence. Revs up, drag the rear brake into the corner entry, feather the clutch – and exit.

Yes: the humane society asserts that no cones were harmed in the making of this short film!

Now to attempt that dastardly “W” shaped sequence that tripped me up last time…

Kevin finally makes it through the dreaded W (video).

Who would of thought riders would volunteer for a police lineup?

But they did, dozens of them — even in the early morning rain.

riding skills practice
Voluntary police lineup

Braving the rain – as well as the sun that joined us later in the day – the Burnaby RCMP’s motorcycle officers set up a course that challenged the skills of both women and men mounted on everything from Euro crotch rockets to burly adventure bikes to Harley and Victory cruise liners. And, of course, Yvonne and I with our dual-sport Yamaha and Husky.

motorcycle police skills
Showing how it’s done

Positioned at the entry point of each course element, officers clad in high-viz riding jackets pointed out lines, analyzed errors and offered detailed, actionable coaching to seasoned and inexperienced riders alike.

As a result, my second lap was better than my first, and my fifth better than ever – though not, I have to admit, better than Yvonne’s: she nailed that “W” sequence every time, looking smooth and confident.

Watch Yvonne’s smooth, slow-speed control (video).

And our friend Greg, riding less than a year, put in an impressive performance, too. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a rider in the bunch who didn’t notice improvements, thanks to the perceptive and targeted instruction.

motorcycle rider training
Greg in the W

Five techniques to hone your riding skills

According to these motorcycle cops – who complete hundreds of hours of advanced training on their big-displacement Harleys and BMWs – there are a few techniques you can use to ride better in any situation. Are you doing all five?

  1. Look where you want to go. The cone (or pothole) you look at is the one you’re going to hit.
  2. Keep your chin up and your eyes will do the same – since, you know, they’re attached to the same head.
  3. Use engine revs to steady the bike (Google “gyroscope”). Or go buy a gyroscope. Remember the gyroscope you had when you were a kid?
  4. Apply rear brake to settle your bike for corner entry; stay off the front lever at slow speeds, or you’re likely to tip over in a parking lot. (Done it.)
  5. Chew gum.
practising motorcycle riding skills
Get that chin up!

Okay, now you know the techniques – oh, wait, what’s that? Why chew gum?

Well, sometimes a rider’s mind is his or her worst enemy. Trying to decipher, “Look, lock, lean,” or focussing on the natural anxiety that accompanies an upcoming obstacle, we start spinning thoughts that monopolize our attention and detract from the fluidity and instinctive responses that accrue from training and experience.

Chewing gum distracts your thoughts just the tiny bit that might allow your training to regain the upper hand. If you try it, let me know what you discover. Does it make you a more instinctive rider?

Thanks again to the Burnaby RCMP detachment’s motorcycle officers for a great day.

See you next year!

police and motorcycle rider
Stopped by the police again

What am I doing next Saturday? Riding my motorcycle really slowly. With a bunch of police officers.

No, I’m not riding in a motorcade for some visiting dignitary.

It’s the third annual RCMP Motorcycle Safety Skills Challenge,  hosted by the Burnaby, BC detachment.

They’re inviting you to ride through a maze of densely-packed traffic cones at the crawling speed of a baby sloth.

So they can laugh if you fall off.

Okay: they won’t laugh. I made that up. They’re actually good coaches, helping you ride your motorcycle through the torturous obstacle courses they’ve created in an empty parking lot. (Not so helpful when you’re feeling smug after you squeak through the maze at walking pace on your little 400cc bike — and then they do it at three times the speed on a Harley that’s bigger than a Honda Civic. Perhaps I digress…)


You can ride the course once, or keep getting in line and doing it all day long; last year, we were there for a couple hours, riding and watching. Got ourselves a spiffy badge and pin, too.

The Officer-in-Charge of the Burnaby Detachment, Chief Superintendent Stephan Drolet, says, “It will be a unique opportunity for the public to train like we train, and I encourage motorcyclists to take the challenge.

Anyone with a Class 6 licence is invited to come ride the course and learn from some seriously skilled motorcyclists. It’s also a great chance to blow out the winter cobwebs and prepare for riding season in a safe, non-intimidating setting.

Plus prizes!

Saturday May 13, 2017

8:30 – 10:00 am ~ women riders only

10:00 am – 4:00 pm ~ all riders: male, female and anything else you like

3760 Sperling Avenue, Burnaby, BC (Burnaby Lake Rugby Club parking lot)

Bathroom Kits: 4 must-have items for the adventure rider (and for less than $30)

…or: How to banish monkey butt.

I risk it all when I’m riding my bike off-road, clearing massive log piles and getting big air off jumps and over gullies.

In my mind, I mean. That’s the place where I put that overactive imagination Ms. Putnam kept mentioning while I squirmed in the back row of her Grade 3 class.

Actually, the biggest danger I face most of the time while adventure riding isn’t getting air; it’s getting a bad case of monkey butt.

This is a real thing. Imagine the state of your butt after rubbing, chafing and vibrating on a vinyl seat for eight hours, all while wrapped in nylon and foam padding, in sweaty-hot conditions. On second thought, don’t imagine that.

Why the name? Monkey butt? Just imagine a National Geographic special, with a bunch of monkeys scampering away from the camera. Picture their bright red butts. On second thought…

The point is, if you’re on the trail, you need a compact and effective bathroom kit. Here’s what I put in mine.

(Oh — I should mention: these aren’t paid endorsements or affiliate sales links. They’re just products I use and like.)

The “Fundamental 4” must-have items for the adventure rider’s bathroom kit

Trek and Travel Pocket Soaps

Yeah, I used to be one of those hard-core dudes who scorned the idea of wasting space and weight by carrying some pantywaist extravagance like soap. In fact, my record stretch of going without ablutions is 65 days of travel in desert heat. At the time, it wasn’t a problem: since I was alone, there was no one to worry about the smell.

But that was before I started riding motorcycles off-road. Before I had to deal with monkey butt – and before I learned, the uncomfortable way, that you need soap.

What you don’t need is weight and bulk, and these packets of dried soap “leaves” are light and small. You just add a bit of water to dissolve a leaf into liquid soap. There’s no potential for spillage, and carrying 50 leaves means only an extra 15 grams (0.5 oz) of weight.

You can also get shampoo, shaving soap and laundry-wash versions. And, as an added bonus, they’re carry-on compliant for your flight to the Namibian desert.

Baby powder

This is like a good doubles match in tennis: two partners working effectively together and never arguing about who missed the ball.

After you use the Trek and Travel soap on your saddle-contacting bits, dust things down there with some baby powder. I say, “things” because…well, it’s just polite, that’s why. Banish monkey butt. Works wonders.

And since you’re doing this “dual-sport” thing, another way to double-up is to use your baby powder to dust the inside of your tires when you install or repair inner tubes. This reduces the chances of the tube adhering to the tire, which can result in torn valve stems.

PackTowl Nano Towel

What weighs less than an ounce, fits easily in the palm of your hand, dries in minutes, and can be used as a towel and a helmet-lens cleaning cloth? This.

Sunscreen in a bag

I’ve unintentionally used lots of bottles and tubes of sunscreen to protect the inside of my luggage from those pesky UV rays. No more! I now use a durable plastic pouch to carry sunscreen, something like the 0.5 litre Platypus Softbottle. The cap on these bags is threaded onto a spout that is more rigid than you find on a plastic tube or bottle, so they won’t deform and pop open. And, as you use up the sunscreen, the bag is easy to compress. I haven’t had one spring a leak yet – although I haven’t tried packing them beside my knife….

There’s more to your bathroom kit, but it’s just the usual suspects:
  • Toothbrush, paste, and dental floss, all purchased in the travel-size section of the store. In case you’re wondering – or suspecting – yes, I do cut the handles off my toothbrushes.
  • Contact lens paraphernalia and glasses for us blind folk. I use a single contact lens cup, instead of the usual paired set, since my prescription is the same in both eyes and I don’t need to remember which is right and which is left. Remember to take a spare set of contact lenses, though, along with your travel-sized bottle of cleaning solution.
  • Throw in an inexpensive pair of glasses and pack them in a cloth bag or case, instead of a bulky hard case. I store them in a protected location in my panniers, and I’ve never broken a pair yet. And now I’ve said that out loud, you know what’s going to happen on my next trip….
  • I’ve got soap, remember? So no deodorant. Live a little.
  • I don’t shave on trips, so that’s that solved.
  • I used to take a small tube of moisturizer, since I often ride in the desert. Never used it. Besides, sunscreen is moisturizer, isn’t it? (Isn’t it? I have no idea.)

You could put all this stuff in a mesh bag, so your stuff dries more quickly. You should do that.

In my pocket

I carry lip balm, eye drops and Tums in my pocket. But that’s only because I’m usually chapped, dry and irritated, and likely to cause indigestion. I’m sure you’re much more welcome in social settings than I am.

A couple of caveats…

I’m not female. So there could be some stuff I haven’t considered — besides the obvious. Let me know your thoughts.

Secondly: I am a fully-evolved man. Consequently, I am bald. So I don’t need the combs and such to which lesser men are slaves.

Finally: toilet paper. That’s a complex topic. So complex, in fact, that we’ll deal with it in another post. Who knew? Seems simple enough: grab some toilet paper and then….

Now you’ve got a compact bathroom kit, no more monkey butt, and lots of time to imagine yourself getting air. Enjoy the ride!

Please let me know about the great stuff you pack in your bathroom kit; maybe you’ll change my mind!

It wasn’t my fault! Okay…maybe it was my fault.

And then Satan said, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?!”

Ever heard of “Hell’s Revenge”?

Maybe you can help me then, because I’m confused. If you happen to actually be hell, yourself — just humour me here, for argument’s sake — then you’ve already cornered the market on revenge, haven’t you? You kind of are revenge. After all, the story goes that God created you — hell — as a sort of revenge on Satan.

So then… why, or on whom, would you want to be revenged?

And to make matters even more confusing, Hell’s Revenge actually has nothing to do with this post: it’s just a jeep track that criss-crosses the famous Slick Rock Trail in Moab, Utah.

Which does, in fact, have something to do with this post.

It’s the Rapture!

Moab is kind of like Eden to off-road zealots, mountain bikers, motorcyclists, the 4×4 crowd…so it kind of makes sense that the name actually has a bunch of biblical connections, too.

Heaven on earth rock

What I’m sayin’, in a round-about kind of way, is that riding the slick rock is a pilgrimage, a paradise, a temptation and a trial in the desert — it’s the whole religious experience!

Minus, you know, actual divinity and sin and redemption and such.

But the riding…oh, the riding…it’s truly a revelation!

I have for you only one commandment: go ride the rock. And you will be saved, brothers and sisters!

This video is my testimony: a numinous day riding my Husqvarna TE610 around the 17-kilometre Slick Rock trail.

(August, 2016. Soundtrack starts at 0:25)

Food, sex, genius, conflict…death

Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The Breakfast Club. And you can’t forget Soylent Green if you’ve ever seen that twisted classic. It’s not just food, either; there’s other basic human needs: Atonement, for example — which showcases more basic human needs than just atonement… Citizen Kane, for goodness’ sakes! Ghostbusters – okay, maybe not Ghostbusters

Come on, you get it right?


That’s where it all happens. Food, sex, genius, conflict…death. Libraries are where it’s at, and the great movie directors realize it.

And, if you’re heading out on an adventure motorcycle journey, you should realize it, too.

You need to take a library with you.

It’s the 21st century – or so they keep telling me.

Wireless, cellular, satellite… we’re relentlessly awash in a flood of signal.

But if you think your devices are gonna pull down a signal while you’re riding off-road, you’re gonna be disappointed.

The left half of the United States; the northern three-quarters of Canada; in fact, vast swaths of the globe — have only intermittent cellular reception.

Ride into a valley, forest or canyon, and even that signal often disappears as quickly as your friends do when the cleanup starts at the end of the party. Even your phone-based or dedicated Garmin GPS device won’t always work.

So here’s the moral of the story: you can’t rely on using Professor Google to find a pair of fork seals for your F650GS – or, in my case, the valve shim calculation procedure for a Husqvarna TE510.

But you can take it with you.

That’s why I always prepare a library of critical information to take with me when I ride in remote areas.

But I’m all about going light, remember?

My library is a USB drive.

They’re small, durable, inexpensive and easy to waterproof. They also might be as close as I ever get to owning a Lamborghini.

Of course, you can’t access the information stored on it without using another device, like a computer. But much of your library is really only needed once you manage to get back to civilization anyways, and have to find a repair shop, or a part for your bike, or an explanation of a complex adjustment procedure. And they have computers there, in that civilization place.

Anything that’s critical to have while I’m way out there in the dirty parts is stored on *gasp!* paper. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Why not use my mobile phone? I do. I always load a copy of the library onto my phone. But I won’t surprise anyone when I say that mobile phones break, lose battery charge, and are occasionally vulnerable to infuriating software gremlins.

Plus: dust, moisture and vibration are an iPhone’s worst enemies – after Samsung, of course. And dust is why you left the blacktop behind, isn’t it?

So: USB drive. You can shake it around all you want, and it’s still going to work.

Put stuff on it.

You could collect all the information below for all the bikes in your group of riders. You could, because you’re just that kind of person. Personally, I’d tell them to do it for themselves. I’m just that kind of person.

Bike information
*Thanks to ElectroSport Industries (PDF - 302 KB)
  • The maintenance, repairs and upgrades record for your bike. You have one, right?
  • Details for current settings on the bike, like…
    • Suspension compression, rebound, and sag
    • Valve clearances (shim sizes if you’re a bucket kind of rider)
People who can help
  • Contact information for all the motorcycle dealers and shops in your intended riding areas
  • Contact information for off-road riding clubs, meetups and events in those areas
You also need some information about your other equipment
  • Cell phone user’s manual
  • GPS user’s manual
  • Manuals for any other electronics you plan to stuff into your luggage or onto your bike. For example, I use a Trail Tech Vapor gauge and load a digital copy of the manual on my USB drive.
the new-age hippy gurus says it’s good to be self aware
  • Credit card, debit card and banking information
  • Driver’s license details
  • Passport information
  • Health information, including health insurance
  • Emergency contacts

Your situation might call for additional – or less – documentation. Generally, if you’re riding in a country you don’t call home, this fourth list grows long and tall with things like visas, carnets, etc.

And all of this documentation needs to be in universally accessible file formats like PDFs.

 But I still like paper!

It doesn’t break down, glitch out, need a signal from these clouds I keep hearing about, or rely on batteries that always die at precisely the worst possible moment.

So I carry a few critical documents on paper, printed double-sided in a ridiculously tiny 6-pt font.

Oh, and there’s some more old-tech you need as well: a plastic bag. They have these things called “Zip-locks.” Very fancy. I like ’em.

Here’s what I print out on good old reliable paper:

  • My bike’s specifications, including fluid capacities, etc. You’ll find a couple pages of this stuff in the front of your repair manual.
  • Wiring diagrams for the ignition and charging systems
  • Electrical troubleshooting diagram (1166 downloads)
  • The troubleshooting procedures from the owner’s or repair manual for your bike
  • Suspension set-up instructions (I always forget…left for softer, right for harder? Or…?)
  • An image showing the engine’s top-end parts in detail. You’ll find one in your parts catalogue.
  • My maintenance record
  • List of known or common issues for the particular bike I’m riding

Yeah, I know: it sounds like a lot.

But, with the exception of information specific to a new riding destination, you only do this once for each bike in your garage.

Enjoy your library: it’s where everything happens.

Except the riding. That doesn’t happen in a library. It should — but it doesn’t.


A riders’ guide to losing your girlfriend

girl in mojave desert

Welcome back, Ride Guide readers.

Gotta let you know about my story this month in Overland Magazine, a large-format adventure motorcycle magazine sold in Europe and in the USA at Barnes and Noble bookstores.

It’s a feature in the “Inspiring Stories” section — a categorization that certainly surprised Yvonne, given that the tale starts with me abandoning her in the Mojave Desert….

No, seriously. Took her motorcycle, and the GPS, and shouted, “Sayonara!” over my shoulder as I rode away.

Read the woeful tale of abandonment and redemption here.

Buy the print version to get some great photos not included online. Pictures of the truck’s front wheel, for example. (Read the story; you’ll see what I mean.)

I also know how to say,”Go pee-pee” in Japanese. Born linguist.


Research findings stun motorcycle community

A press release today from the International Motorcycle Manufacturers Association (IMMA).

IMMA Secretariat International Motorcycle Manufacturers Association (IMMA)      Tel: + 41 22 920 21 23

20, Route de Pré-bois, CH-1215 Genève 15 Switzerland


A team of investigators today revealed that systematic methodologies and scrupulous examination of research results have, following multiple previously-inconclusive attempts, decisively identified the preeminent expression of the form first articulated in the 1894 Hildebrand and Wolfmuller.

To wit, the finest motorcycle ever produced is the 1970 Honda QA 50. In Sprout Green.

Image credit: Cycle Chaos

Decades – indeed, more than a century – of debate are finally put to rest with the release of this exciting finding. A contentious and oft-times surly group, motorcyclists of all persuasions and every continent unexpectedly united behind the investigative results.

Utilizing a triple-blind study design, researchers were able to isolate confounding variables by ensuring that neither subjects, researchers nor motorcycles were apprised of the ongoing research methodologies employed. Consequently, the results obtained are irrefutable. “Quite simply beyond reproach,” explained Herr Doktor Professor Ber Schmidt, head researcher.

Most frequently cited as definitive was the constant variable, “Primacy of Experience.”

Although complex in nature, Primacy of Experience can be reliably expressed on an X-Y axis (Figure 1).

Notable here is the finding that as the onset of motorcycle ownership approaches zero years (x relative), motorcycle quality reaches its zenith (y grins). The ineluctable conclusion is that the first motorcycle one owns is the best motorcycle one will ever own.

Noteworthy, nevertheless, is the subsidiary finding that motorcycles owned in the latter part of a subject’s life showed a tendency to foster elevated experience values as well. At no point were study participants reported to acknowledge that their own motorcycle was inferior in any respect to the motorcycles of other study participants.

There you have it…the Honda QA 50, in Sprout Green: the best motorcycle in the world.

Ain’t science great?

Disclaimer: individual results will vary — unless your first bike was also a QA50.

That overbite… How did I not need braces?


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