Saturday, September 16, 2017

Possibilities…

We are currently enjoying one of the nicest stretches of weather since last summer (and I’m referring to 2016 here). It’s been a week of temperatures in the high 20s with no rain. Perfect weather for riding.

And today was no exception.

Now that I have the little Kawasaki more or less sorted I’ve been casting about for my next project to keep me occupied over the winter and one of these for sale in the local Kijiji caught my eye, an ‘84 VT500 Interceptor.

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I admired them back in the day so I thought, “better late than never”. The bike for sale didn’t look this clean in the ad but it was supposedly complete and running, came with a spare donor cycle, and was price negotiable. So I decided to go have a look and combine that with a nice ride on a hot, sunny, September day.

All was going well until Richmond where I ran smack into a parade that totally blocked my route. The oh-so-helpful police officer that was directing traffic gave me, another biker, and a lady in an SUV, instructions on how to get around the parade. Which put us in a working gravel pit. I guess he really didn’t know the town that well. After a few other false starts and u-turns on dead-end streets we all decided to just wait it out, which we did.

After 15 minutes or so I was back on the road and soon at my destination.

The owner was a young’ish lad who bought the bike with the intention of putting it on the road but became a bit overwhelmed with the amount of work it would take, to say nothing of the $$ required. He was right to be concerned. It doesn’t appear to need any major surgery but will require lots of TLC – certainly more than I’m willing to put in.  And with the engine and 4 carbs all shoe-horned into an impossibly small space in the frame, they are notoriously tough to work on. So I think I'm going to pass on this one but will keep looking for something simpler.

But then, while having a quick lunch at a nearby Tim Horton’s, one of these showed up.

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It has been a long time since I last saw a Water Buffalo (Suzuki GT 750) and this one was pristine. 39 years old and it looked like it came straight off the showroom floor. Not a scratch on it. The owner claims he bought it like this a few years back and all he did was clean it up. It’s all original – paint, exhaust, etc., everything but the tires. He didn’t want to sell it; said it was his favourite to ride. Bummer.

After a pleasant parking lot chat it was back on the road again, taking a slightly longer route home. And four-and-a-half hours and 230 kilometres after heading out this morning I was having a refreshing swim in the lake to cap off a great day.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

There is no solution…

… so simple that the bureaucrats can’t screw it up.

This is a Google Maps satellite image of an intersection near our house.

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The through road, coming from the bottom and exiting top left, is posted at 80 kilometres per hour. At the red line, at the apex of a curve, the surface changes, without warning, from newly-paved to loose gravel.

Two months ago the missus and I pulled a rider and his motorcycle out of the ditch on the far side of the intersection. He lost control when he hit the gravel at speed. He was a bit banged up – cuts and bruises – but otherwise okay. His bike was rideable after we bent a few things back into place. He was lucky and was able to ride home.

Three weeks ago, two other riders collided in that same spot when they both went down after hitting the gravel unexpectedly. Both were injured, one seriously enough that he had to be medevaced by helicopter to an Ottawa hospital.

CaptureAfter the first accident I contacted the township of Mississippi Mills, in which jurisdiction this intersection falls, suggesting that this, or a similar, sign be posted giving riders advance notice that the pavement is about to end. Their response? Mississippi Mills is only responsible for the road beginning where the gravel starts and so they couldn’t post such a sign because the location where the sign should go (marked by an “X” on the above photo) was on a county road.

When the second accident happened I contacted the county – Lanark Highlands – to see about getting a pavement ends sign put up. I spoke to the Superintendent of Public Works who advised that they were aware of the situation and it would be remedied in a few days.

Here’s their solution. At the spot marked with the “X” on the aerial photo they put up this sign.

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An astute observer will note that the diagram bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual geometry of the curve; it’s a simple curve, not an “S” bend, and the intersecting road is off to the right, not the left. The 20 km/h is an advisory only, ignored by every road user in the province except big rig truckers with tippy loads. They also put a stop sign on the gravel road side of the intersection, which serves no useful purpose whatsoever as the problem occurs with riders transitioning from pavement to gravel at speed, not vice versa. But worse than all that, there is still no warning about a surface change, which is all I asked for in the first place.

I have tried to point out the errors and request, again, a simple pavement ends sign, but I now appear to be on the shit list as I get no response to emails or phone calls to the county. However I will continue to escalate and hopefully this will be fixed before someone dies because of simple bureaucratic ineptitude. Stay tuned....

Monday, September 4, 2017

Any job worth doing is worth doing twice. (II)

Unfortunately I seem to be making a practice of this.

IMG_20160925_113842892webAfter no activity for a few months I am now making some progress on getting the little Kawasaki roadworthy, and one of the main jobs was to replace the tires. Now a previous owner had done just that, but it was 18 years ago. Although the tires looked brand new, the rubber was hard and the sidewalls cracked, so they had to go.

So new tires on the floor and tire irons in hand I tackled the job. 4 hours later…..

Let’s just say it was a bear to break the beads. It was like the rubber had vulcanized right into the pores of the cast wheels. But finally, using a lot of creativity, a bottle jack, a few 2X4’s, and the tractor for weight, the old tires were off and the new were on.

At the time I considered changing the valve stems but that would require another trip into the city and a couple more days’ delay. Besides, the old tires were holding air just fine so they were probably okay.

Next day the front tire was flat. Yup, the valve stem was leaking, presumably after being disturbed during the tire change. So another trip into the city for a new stem, dismount the wheel, remove the tire, etc., etc.

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You think I’d learn.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MosaïCanada

As part of the Canada 150 celebrations the National Capital Region engaged Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal to create an exhibit reflecting Canada’s history and diversity. The end result is a spectacular kilometer-long walk through some stunning horticultural sculpture.

We’d been meaning to visit and finally got around to it today. We were blown away by the artistry and attention to detail – all done in various types of plants, grasses, mosses, and so on to provide the texture and colour the artists desired. It is reported that 3 million plants of 80 different varieties were required to create this magical garden.

problem neighbour Aside from seeing the odd trimmed cedar in a front yard I’d never paid much attention to this art form. Supposedly all the rage in Victorian times it had fallen out of favour but is now making a modest comeback.

It is, understandably, extremely labour intensive and expensive (reported cost – $10 million to put on this particular exhibit of 100+ sculptures) so don’t expect to see this type of exhibit  too often. But if you ever get the chance to visit one, go for it, as these examples were truly beautiful.

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Walls and roof of 'station' covered with mosses.

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Canadian Pacific train crossing the Prairies. Life-sized and all plants.

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Inukshuk and puffins.

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Copy of a famous Orca sculpture by BC’s Bill Reid.

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Inukshuk and polar bear.

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Puffins.

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Muskox.

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Celebration of Canada’s links to China.

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Voyageur.

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Mother Earth. She’s probably 30’ high.

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Not horticultural art but still amazing creations by a British artist (forget her name) who uses driftwood as her medium.

All in all a great way to spend the day. Best of all, it was free. (Worst of all was the $53 parking ticket I got because I misread the sign. The fact that there was actually a free space should have been my first clue. Sigh.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Tinfoil and vinegar

I decided it was finally time to get down to doing some work on the Kawasaki. A while back I had cleaned and rebuilt the carbs. (One of the POs – don’t know which – ‘forgot’ to replace a few small parts like springs and such and mis-installed a few others, proving once again that some people should never be allowed near tools.) Not surprisingly, once the carbs were set up properly it fired right up and ran well. Since the heart seemed strong it was now worth my time and effort to get it into reasonable shape to pass a safety check and, ultimately, get it licensed.

IMG_0140Fork seals were leaking and the clutch cable was frayed. The exhaust system was also leaking. And just overall, the bike looked ratty, which could trigger a more detailed safety inspection that I wanted.

Seals were easy to replace, as was the clutch cable (although very messy as it’s routed next to the front sprocket and is therefore subject to a lot of chain lube spray). A new, less radical, set of bars was obtained (surprising how many new parts are still available for a 35-year-old motorcycle), and the air box was replaced by 2 separate air filters.

IMG_0077But I wasn’t sure how to proceed with cleaning up all the surface rust on every chrome surface. As you can see from this shot of part of the rear fender it was pretty ugly. And every chrome surface was similar. Enter Google and YouTube where I discovered that a bit of tinfoil dipped in vinegar would remove that surface rust and leave the chrome, if not pristine, at least shiny.

I was pretty skeptical but decided to give it a try.

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Et voila! Worked like a charm. The chrome is still pitted and will rust again if left to the elements, but the improvement is remarkable.

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And just to highlight the difference, one muffler has been cleaned up and the second has yet to be touched. That’s tomorrow’s job.

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So who knows? I might get this thing on the road this summer after all.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

La Machine

La Machine is a street theatre company from France known for it’s larger-than-life mythical mechanical creatures. (http://www.lamachine.fr/en/)

Never having heard of them before I was intrigued when I heard that they were making their North American debut here in Ottawa, and so we decided to head downtown today to see them in action.

Of course, so did a few hundred thousand other people (it seemed), resulting in quite a crush as folks tried to jockey for position to see these creatures up close and get that perfect photo. One of our small group suggested that going up into a parking garage might give us a better vantage point and so we did. Fortunately for us it turned out that the machines – Kumo and Long Ma - would eventually come right past us. Good call Max!






It was quite a spectacle, and a great way to enjoy one of the first really nice days we’ve had this year – on my birthday no less.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Getting motivated … or not.

Motivation

Day after day we continue to be deluged with near-record rainfall. May was about 3 times normal accumulations, June came in at about double normal, and we’ve already had a normal July’s worth of rain and we’re just 1/3 of the way through the month. Golf has been rained out more often than not and riding hasn’t fared much better with only a few hundred kilometres put on the bike since I got it – about 4 fill-ups worth. Our garden is drowning and all I’ve done with the boat this year is bail it out – several times. And if one does decide to venture out of doors the fact that mosquitoes and black flies are breeding at a rate previously unheard of for this time of year will drive you back inside in short order. Depressing seems too mild a term.

IMG_0050Instead there’s been a lot of indoors activity, including adding to my collection of ‘some day’ projects.

As some may know I’ve started making cigar box guitars just for fun. Up until now they have been acoustic only because I didn’t have an amp. That changed Sunday when I picked up a gently used practice amp that will allow me to start putting pick-ups in my guitars and test them out. I have a few that now need to return to the workbench to be modified and they have been added to the projects list.

IMG_0135I also scored a vintage Singer treadle machine base on Sunday. Not sure what I’ll do with it just yet (the most obvious solution is to make it into a table, but I have some other ideas as well). It’s intact but for the pitman arm which is missing and I’ll need to make a replacement for that. On this particular model the arm was made from wood so I should be able to create a reasonable approximation from some scrap oak or maple. That’s another project for another day.

Now I just need to get motivated to “git ‘er done”, as the locals would say, and start finishing some of the dozens of other small projects I have underway.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Syringa vulgaris

If the title hasn’t already sent you to Wikipedia, syringa vulgaris is the taxonomic name for the common lilac, which grows in abundance in these parts and throughout much of Europe and the US as well. It is also the state flower of New Hampshire.

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And why am I writing about this? Well this is peak flowering season for lilacs here and the air is filled with their scent, making for very pleasant rides in the countryside.

This month (May) has seen record rainfalls in this area with accumulations more than 3 times the normal average. Combine all that rainy weather with a 2-week absence while we were swanning around Europe and you’re left with about 3 riding days all month.

However yesterday offered up a few hours of sunshine and dry air so I managed to jump on the bike (I really do need to come up with a proper name for her; “the bike” just doesn’t do it) for a quick ride into town to run a few errands. All along the route the lilacs were in full bloom and the smell as I would pass a house with dozens of bushes in the yard was truly divine. Mother Nature’s perfume as it were.

Just another excellent reason to ride rather than being cooped up in a cage with the air-conditioning on.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Curiosities

No trip is complete without at least a few curiosities.

Germany is, overall, pretty progressive when it comes to disabled access. Of course it is an old country and retrofitting for wheelchair access is not always possible. However in this case the shop owner made the effort, installing a small ramp beside the main door. Unfortunately the 6-inch curb surrounding the establishment makes the ramp somewhat useless.

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One thing we noticed was how dog friendly it was. Everywhere we went we saw these Hunde Bars (literally, “hound bars”) where pooch could get a drink of fresh water, or where the owner could ‘park’ Fido whilst shopping or contemplating the stained glass in the local cathedral.

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In Germany getting married is a civil act, not a religious one. Therefore, while you can get married in a church, you must, by law, also have a civil ceremony for it to be legit. And so that’s why on any given weekend you will often see brides (and grooms, of course) hanging around outside the Standesamt (Registry Office or Marriage License Bureau). And that’s how we participated(?) in 3 separate weddings, including the one of Marie Antoinette (really???), and another involving the Wiesbaden fire department, complete with coiled hoses and sirens. A third, just-in-time wedding (no pic) had a *very* pregnant bride who, I expect, was rushed to Obstetrics immediately following the ceremony.



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In keeping with the romantic theme, we discovered what looked like trees emblazoned with ribbons in many of the small towns. Upon closer inspection it became obvious that the trees were recently cut and usually tied to a lamp post or some other fixed item like a downspout. Turns out that in Rhineland one of the May Day traditions is for young men to dress up a tree or branch with ribbons and place it in the yard or in front of the house of a girl he wishes to marry. And during a leap year it’s the girls who decorate and place the trees. Judging from the numbers there are a lot of young ladies out there who are someone’s target. It’s quite a nice idea, and colourful as well.

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Usually the streets in the older parts of the cities were paved with cobblestones. While this is in keeping with historic accuracy it sometimes made walking a bit unsteady when one is used to smooth pavement. My teeth rattled just watching bicyclists traverse these streets, often at speed, and I marveled at the local ladies who managed to get around wearing 4 inch spike heels without breaking an ankle, their neck, or both. And I was certainly not tempted to  take a guided tour of a cobble-stoned city on rollerblades, like this group did.  No wonder they needed a rest.



And finally, the cost of maintaining these ancient churches and cathedrals is phenomenal so fund raising is critical. However I don’t think you’d see too many houses of worship in North America selling booze in the vestibule. Some sold wine, often from their own vineyards, while others, like the Koln Cathedral, sold brandies.

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And those are just some of the little things that can make a pretty good trip truly memorable.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where in the world …. ?

One of the reasons, among many, that I have been silent for a while is that the frau and I just spent 2 weeks in Germany. We escaped miserable spring weather here in Ontario and arrived in Frankfurt to sun and mid-20s temperatures, which stayed with us for the entire 2 weeks with the exception of 1 day of rain. And that was a driving day anyway, so nothing was lost.

The objective was to visit the “romantic Rhine” which is loosely described as the part of the Rhine between Frankfurt and Koblenz. Sloping hillsides covered with vineyards and spotted with medieval castles, it’s one of the more picturesque areas of Germany to visit, and we had wanted to do so for some time.

Of course we could have taken a river cruise, but for maximum flexibility we opted to drive. And as a result we saw more and got much further afield than we contemplated when initially planning the trip.

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Route 2
It’s hard to overstate how beautiful this part of the lower Rhine is. It’s in the heart of wine country so vineyards cover every surface, some on slopes so steep that maintenance can be done by hand only (and, as one local put it, by people with one leg shorter than the other). As a major trading route during medieval times it also attracted many of the great houses of the time which built castles on its banks to both control the flow of goods but also to extract tolls from anyone using the river for commerce. Now those castles spot the hillsides as ruins or, in some cases, have been renovated as inns (one of which we stayed in) and hostels. And visiting the villages built around those castles 1000 years or so ago, seeing still-occupied buildings that are 7 or 8 times older than our country is, is simply amazing.

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It’s impossible to cover all the key points of a two-week trip in one blog post, but I will touch on a few significant items which, hopefully, might encourage you to visit this area one day. It is well worth it.

One of the highlights for me was to visit Remagen of “The Bridge at Remagen” fame. Though the film was highly fictionalised seeing the actual location, the remnants of the bridge, and visiting the associated museum brought to life an aspect of WW 2 history that had long interested me.

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You can’t visit Europe without also visiting cathedrals. Of the dozen or so we saw, by far the most impressive was the cathedral in Cologne. According to Wikipedia the Cologne Cathedral is the most visited landmark in Germany, and with good reason – it’s beautiful. An added benefit is that you can climb the tower, if you’re up to 533 steps up – and 533 down – a spiral staircase that will make you dizzy if you proceed too quickly. Of course we decided to climb, and we did get dizzy, but the views were worth the effort.

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From Cologne we left the Rhine and headed west to Aachen. Back circa 800 AD Aachen was Charlemagne’s preferred place of residence and as a result the two names have become almost synonymous. That’s not a period in history that’s of particular interest to me but the missus found it fascinating. And, to be fair, I quite enjoyed poking around in some of the ancient buildings and looking at religious relics that, supposedly, contained the actual bones of Charlemagne. Of course, hundreds of years later who knows whether the relics are in fact a part of his cranium, or his forearm, but the believers believe.

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While in Aachen I was looking at a roadmap and, purely by accident, noticed that our route to Luxembourg passed close by the town of Bastogne. The name meant little to my traveling companion but Bastogne was the epicentre, more or less, of some of the bloodiest fighting in WW2, aka the Battle of the Bulge. So we had to stop. And I’m glad we did. The Mardasson Memorial at Bastogne is beautiful, and the museum is a fascinating place where one could easily spend hours and hours looking at the exhibits.

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And as icing on the cake, we stayed in a little town near Bastogne called Hauffalize. Located in a small river valley this was probably the prettiest place we saw on the trip. It doesn’t get much more idyllic than this.

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And then we were on the road again to Luxembourg City, a city of traffic jams, impatient drivers, and a million (at least) tourists. But, again, the historical aspects were fascinating and the scenery was incredible. Luxembourg City is one of the 3 official capitals of the European Union and dates back to circa 900 AD. Much of the city walls and fortifications were built during the 10th and 11th centuries, again giving one the sense of treading the ground where history was made.

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Next stop, Trier. Founded in the 4th century BC, Trier is probably the oldest city in Germany. Arguably, it’s most famous artifact is the Porta Nigra, the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. Dating back to 200 AD the gate is still in remarkable condition, its name deriving from the darkened stone used in its construction.

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But to me the most impressive structure in Trier, and the one that left me most in awe on the entire trip, was the Basilica of Constantine. Built in 310 AD (complete with in-floor heating) as a Roman palace for Constantine, the building later became an Evangelical church, which it remains today. It comprises a massive single room, about 200’ long, 75’ wide, and 100’ high, imposing in its scale but also its simplicity. Standing in the centre of that room left me with a feeling I will not soon forget. It’s easy to see how a religious person might feel (as one did actually say to me there) God’s presence in such an edifice.

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Last stop, back to Frankfurt for a few days. We wanted to see the city but also we were going to meet up with Sonja and Roland of  Find Me On The Road fame. I’m not going to post a lot of Frankfurt pictures but suffice it to say Frankfurt is booming (in no small part to the anticipated financial fallout from Brexit) and we had a great time, including a lovely afternoon spent with Roland and Sonja who drove in from their home a couple of hours away to spend some time with us.

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So that’s it, a (very) brief overview of a great trip.

By the numbers:
  • Kilometres traveled by car – 993
  • Kilometres travelled by foot (we like to walk)  - 170
  • Castles visited – 9
  • Churches/cathedrals visited – 15
  • Pictures taken – 1354
  • Harley Davidson dealers visited – 1
  • Socks lost – 1 (??)
  • German cakes/tortes consumed as mid-day snacks – too many.
Auf wiedersehen Germany. Until next time.