Before it becomes a far away and distant memory, I want to post my very first ride report. I say my “very first”, not only because it is the first – and overdue – post on this blog, but because it was my first time riding a motorcycle on the streets!
During the week of July 15th, I touched based with Randy, of the St-Catharines area, on Kijiji and I agreed to buy his 2005 Kawasaki Super Sherpa. We talked for a good half hour on the phone and a price was agreed. He would buy new tyres, install them and have the bike safetied on the 23rd. I would pick it up on the 24th and sign the paperwork to make his baby mine.
My day on July 24th started very early as I planned to get to work around 6:30AM. This allowed me to get off work early, in St-Thomas, and make it to London around 2:30PM if I skipped my lunch break. My work day went fine, but I had forgotten all of the driving notes and directions that I printed to help me get back to London from St-Catharines. My planned route can be seen here. In the car, directions would not be necessary, because I would simply use the 400-series highways. However, to get back, I only had my M1 motorcycle license and I was limited to roads that are not part of the 400-series highways. Another restriction is that M1 riders cannot ride more than 30 minutes after sunset.
As I was writing down the directions that I had forgotten at work – because I do not have a printer at home – I received a call from Randy confirming that I was still coming over and that he would have the bike ready and washed for when I showed up. Sweet. With my crude directions and my friend Lynn, who was voluntold to drive my car back, we left London in a jiffy and made our way to St-Catharines by following the 401, the 403, and the QEW. The drive went really well considering that we arrived there about a quarter passed 5PM. Rush hour traffic was not so bad, even if there was a slight delay due to an accident on the QEW, a few miles before our exit.
When I arrived, Randy had just finished cleaning the bike. He had next to it his new V-Strom. After making me feel at home by giving me a Coca-Cola, he proceeded to go through every little detail of the bike and the various little mods he had done to make this bike his. I could tell right away he really cared for this bike and he had loved this bike during every klick of the 51,500km life it had had so far. While Randy and I chatted things up and eventually went for a test ride, Lynn and Randy’s wife went for a little drive in their convertible Beetle to visit the Lakeside Park Carousel. Lynn loves convertibles, so she was quite happy to get in one.
As I got on the bike for the first time, I realized how much taller the Sherpa was to the little CBR125 I used during the MSF training. The suspension does compress a lot when you’re seated, so it is really not so bad on day-to-day use – even when you are only 5’7″ – but it was an initial surprise. As we took off, I was also surprised and the turning ratio the bike was capable of. Clearly, a dual sport, designed for trail use, would and should have a better turning ratio than the small CBR125 street bike. It certainly made slow speed manoeuvres a bit trickier than anticipated. Regardless, we went off for a quick tour of the nice St-Catharines area neighbourhood and I experienced speeds greater than 35kph for the first time. Woooo!
I got back with a big smile on my face. Essentially, I handed over the cash and completed the transaction rather quickly – I had an eye on the time since I knew London was going to be a long trek for a first time rider.
At 6:40 I was ready to go. I had a pretty good idea that my curfew would be an issue, but there was really no stopping me. Not yet anyways.
Soon after taking off, I experienced crosswinds at 100kph on a short bridge next to Lake Ontario. It gave me a kind reminder that I still had a lot to learn about riding. With Lynn following me in the Toyota Echo, I took the first turn onto Victoria that would bring us down south about 3/4 of the way to Lake Erie. This was a conscious decision based on some advice I received from locals of this area during my MSF course. By going south we could take Haldimand Road 17 – definitely one of the better roads in all of Southwestern Ontario. My crude directions proved to be somewhat useless with the excitement of being on my first Sherpa journey, I kept second guessing what I remembered from the directions and I had to pull over several times to check my phone GPS to make sure we were still on track. Thankfully, I would usually check a few crossroads before I would have to make a turn, instead of going off in wrong directions and then making my way back on track.
With the sun setting and the Grand River to the West of Haldimand Road, we got to see some stunning views. One of the thoughts that really stayed with me was how I knew I had to come back and photograph this whole area. Ontario can be quite beautiful some times. Stopping for pictures could be pretty time consuming in my case, this trip could have easily taken 8 hours if I stopped for every photo opportunity!
As one could expect on a nice summer evening, there were several other motorcycles on this twisty road at this time. It filled me with joy whenever I crossed another rider and they would wave their hand in acknowledgement – I am now part of the club. They had no idea that it was my first ride.
The road was smooth and the bike was sound. I navigated most corners by easing off the throttle a bit. I did not need to get into a hairy situation on my first outing. Thankfully traffic was really light and I was not really holding up any other drivers. Regardless, Lynn driving my car would provided me some buffer for any tailgaters.
Riding up north towards Brantford and Paris, I figured it would be wise to gas up. At the time, I was not so confident on the range of the bike, I know today that the entire trip could be done on a single tank. At this point, it did become quite clear that I would run into a slight issue. My riding curfew was coming up very quickly and some quick math indicated that I would get home a good half-hour past it. What to do? Would I dare leave the bike behind in some strange parking lot and return for it the next day? That thought was discarded pretty quickly and I told Lynn we better get going on the road again. After a quick check on directions, we set off to get on Dundas and drive straight through Woodstock on our way to London.
Around Woodstock it got quite dark and I started to get worried that I would certainly get in trouble if I was ever stopped by police.
It felt kinda chilly out there so I turned on the heated grips for comfort. Nice.
Still on Dundas, I noticed a lot of movement in my rear-view mirror – it looked like a train of lights. As Lynn got passed driving my car, I now knew it was a “gang” of motorcycles. Never having been in contact with other motorcyclists using the same road, I didn’t know how to behave. I kept my blocking position on the left-hand tyre track and figured they would pass me, and they did. I could only think of Lynn who had effectively lost me in the traffic. Since it was dark, I simply blended in with the group of riders. It all sorted itself because I was riding slower than the group and they eventually turned off Dundas.
I approached the city for the final stretch and by this point, I was getting quite hungry. My original plan had us stopping around Brantford for a quick bite. Due to my time concerns, that idea was scrapped.
We got to my place without any concerns other than grabbing a bite to eat. So happy to have made it and relieved we didn’t encounter any problems, I asked Lynn where would she want to eat – my treat.