Saturday, May 28, 2016

A long, long ride home

Just because it's a holiday Monday, doesn't mean your day is going to be lazy and hazy.

We rose and shone pretty early because Lauren and Harris had people to meet. Out we went, the four of us, heading east to Montreal West. There's just a touch of odd travel dis-symmetry there, seeing as we left from the West Island, and Montreal West is indeed east of the West Island. I like that. It must confound the tourists, like too many other things about Montreal.

Susan and I meandered on foot to a breakfast joint, while Lauren and Harris set off a few doors down to make their appointment.

From there we went back west, all the way off the island and out to Vaudreuil to spend some time with Gino and Gabriella, before shoving off bound well and truly west for Toronto. Gabriella and Gino spoiled us with more food than we could in good conscience consume.

At around 2:30 it was high time for me to get rolling. To be honest, I was not exactly looking forward to the ride to our new home on the Honda Shadow VT 750 (the bike Sonja calls Black Betty, and that I have nicknamed Thunderbird).

I expected the main culprit to be the windshield. It's a mid-height screen and it's just too damn low for me. It was downright terrible last summer and was only made marginally tolerable by adding an aftermarket deflector that was supposed to work miracles. The problem is really uncomfortable turbulence that tosses my head around like an avocado pit in a blender. OK, that's an exaggeration, but really, it's not a lot of fun. The discomfort did indeed begin there, but, as we shall see, spread elsewhere.

Karen was paying attention to my ramblings and mentioned in a comment that Susan and I would be welcome to drop by and say hello as we passed through Kingston. We exchanged some e-mail and arranged to meet at one of the Tim Horton's coffee shops in Kingston. We had tentatively settled on about 4:15. It's roughly two-and-a-half hours of highway travel from Montreal to Kingston. When you shove off thirty minutes late, 5:00 p.m. is the best you can hope for. When the traffic hits a series of walls on the Quebec side of the provincial border, all bets are off.

I told Karen I would call from Brockville and give her my estimated time of arrival as predicted by Garmin, the road wizard. The techno-verdict was ETA 5:30 by the time I called. Karen cheerfully agreed to meet me, as if I wasn't even running as late as Alice's white rabbit.

As I pulled in at the Tim Horton's I scanned the lot for Karen's V-Star. 'Hah! I got here first' I thought. Not so fast Speedy Gonzales! Karen emerged from a mid-sized SUV to greet me.

It turns out her Star developed a case of the sniffles and was busy leaking hydro-carbons.

We sat, drank coffee and chatted, while-ing away some time and catching each other up to speed. It was great to see Karen. If I'm not mistaken the last time I saw Karen she was leaving our home in Beaconsfield headed back home to Kingston. There's something special about getting together with fellow bloggers. It never fails to strike a chord.

Much as I would have liked to stick around, I had a long ride to go, and I had heard hushed whispers about the legendary traffic issues on the 401 at the tail end of a long holiday weekend.

Oh my dear, oh dear. Had I only known, I would have hit the road at six a.m.

The two points where traffic slowed to a crawl in Quebec were caused by construction and not so much by volume. Still, a crawl, is a crawl, is a crawl. I chalked it up to good practice managing the Shadow and its manual transmission at low speeds. Clearly beneficial. Another plus: at forty kilometers an hour, the windshield turbulence wasn't batting my head around like a cartoon Kangaroo with a punching bag.

After saying goodbye to Karen, I enjoyed some smooth sailing. I stopped in Napanee to gas up, doing the mental calculus that it might be my last fuel stop. And it might have been too.

And then the 401 began having fits of slowness, then fits of extreme slowness, followed by convulsive full-on stoppages. As far as the eye could see, up hill and down dale, an endless lava-like stream of tail and brake lights. I was somewhere in the western outskirts of Belleville. Lauren called. They had stopped for dinner in Belleville. I told her I had decided to press on, and that they should expect delays. The Google Maps version of the 401 was scarlet red on my iPhone's screen.

Now's as good a time as any to talk about my bum.

Let's just say that full stops on the 401, as anomalous, and normally unwelcome, as they may be, were a blessed relief. I stood, balancing the bike, trying to encourage the blood in my nether regions to go back to its former habit of circulating. As one might expect of all decent workmanlike torture, the standing breaks were never long enough. As a device designed to inflict pain, the Honda Shadow, with its seemingly large and welcoming saddle, is an unlikely candidate. But as with time-honored Chinese torture, it starts out pleasant enough (what's the occasional drop of water?), but, given enough time (as my daughter Lauren is fond of saying), one's posterior begins to dread the sit as much as it fairly gasps in relief at the stand.

And that's how an otherwise pleasant five hundred kilometer jaunt became exquisitely uncomfortable.

At 10:15 p.m., way too long after leaving Montreal at 2:30,  I rolled into the underground garage, stopped in the vacant parking stall next to Susan's parking spot, and hit the kill switch. I rose gingerly to my feet, my rear end in exactly the same shape as a stock Honda Shadow saddle, and with the strangest feelings radiating along every neural butt-pathway, as the oppressed neurons alternately cheered their new-found freedom, and rowdily cursed the oppressor.  In my defense, during the ride, I tried, valiantly I thought, to alter my posture. With the feet-forward cruiser sitting position, all I could manage was to force my ass backwards until it butted (pardon the pun) up against the pillion saddle. I must have looked ridiculous, and I wouldn't have minded leers and jeers from fellow motorists one bit, but it just wasn't a sustainable position for any kind of relief. If I had to tour on that bike I'd be shopping for an Air Hawk, and maybe a sheepskin, plus some of those bead things, a goose down pillow, some Gold Bond powder, some Spanx, and...

All of which to say I have new-found respect for Sonja's... courage, stoicism, and good posture. I'm sure my experience has much more to do with my couch-potato cushy ways, than with any real shortcoming inherent in the vehicle's ergonomics. Sonja will surely chime in and set the record straight.

I fired up the app I call 'find my spouse' on the iPhone. Susan was in Oshawa, headed my way, about thirty minutes out, by Apple's reckoning. By the time Susan, Lauren and Harris showed up, I was finally able to walk upright without making strange monkey faces.

12 comments:

  1. Kudos to you, David for riding such a long distance without pre-conditioning your body. I wouldn't have been able to sit in the saddle for 500+ kilometres distance on my first days on the Shadow, however endurance was increased day by day. A sheep skin or an Air Hawk might do the trick for you, and believe me when I say that your bum (and related muscles) will also develop some stamina over time. I kid you not.

    As with for the wind shield, I remember that the deflector didn't do anything good for me, the height of the stock shield was just perfect for my size and posture. Maybe we should get another one fitted for your comfort?

    Anyway, I am glad that you made it home safely on the 401 without major issues (sore bottom aside). The long distance ride was certainly a good deed for the bike after having her sit in storage for such a long time.

    I hope that your recent experience won't discourage you from further exploring long distance trips on our bike, eh ;-)

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    1. Ah Sonja, thanks for the generous and very kind words.

      As for the windshield, I think that for joy riding around Toronto I'll just pull it off and see how it goes. As long as I keep my visor down on the highway I should be fine. The windshield was really for touring (bugs, prolonged air blast, some shelter from rain, etc.) and not for every day riding. It works for you as is, and that's exactly what was hoped for.

      As for touring, the Vespa is definitely, hands down, my weapon of choice on some many levels.

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  2. David, I'd like to believe that conditioning will take care of the nether region challenge. I can only encourage you to try variations with your windscreen. Angle, deflectors, different shield height, etc. I look over the top of all of mine with a full face helmet and do well in most conditions. I've got faith that you'll find a more workable solution soon.

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    1. As I mentioned to Sonja, the screen is really much more for her than for me, and it works just fine for her, so that's fine.

      I think that the extra weight I'm carrying these days is more the culprit that any other factor. If I lose the weight, the saddle will be great (I hope)!

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  3. 500K for the first ride on a new (to you) bike is actually pretty good. And now you know why many of us avoid Toronto at all costs - the rest of the world all wants to go there... at the same time.

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    1. I know, I know.

      That's actually the worst aspect of Toronto. The traffic here is pure bedlam.

      The people I meet are generally really very nice, kind, welcoming, considerate... until they get behind the wheel. After thirty minutes trying to get somewhere that with reasonable traffic would take only ten minutes, those same nice people become homicidal maniacs in their cars, speeding at breakneck speeds when they spy an opening, refusing to let anyone change into their lane, cutting people off with abandon. It's just plain nuts, and certainly worth avoiding.

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  4. Well that didn't sound like much fun at all.

    One of the reasons Troubadour sold his Triumph America was the cruiser riding position putting pressure on the tailbone when riding.

    Good job making it home safe.

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    1. Brandy parts of it were great fun, only less so once the numb-bum set in.

      The big rumbly cruiser is fun to ride, certainly more macho and it elicits more waves from the cruiser set, that's for sure.

      My advice to you: don't try a Vespa unless you are OK with buying one. The more experience I get on various motorcycles, the more I appreciate the Vespa for its many strengths.

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  5. I rode 1600 miles in 4 days a week ago. It was the Fall Gathering of former MP3 riders. I rode my Honda NC700X. It had a new seat, built by the Sargent Seat Company of Jacksonville, and supposed to be the best seat on the market. It is beautiful with a matching pillion seat cover. The first 400 miles to Charlotte were tolerable. The next 250 painful. Then we had an 8 hour ride through the Virginia mountains on Friday. It was unbearable towards the end. I spotted a large, soft towel in the cabin that night and decided to make a makeshift "Towel Hawk" for the four hour ride on Saturday. I was comfortable for that entire ride. So I decided to buy a beach towel to use for the ride home. It turned out to be skimpier and harder than the luxurious cabin towel. The returning 650 miles were miserable for me and my comfort. When I got home, I half wanted to kick the bike over in the driveway. But I didn't and called Sargent on Monday. They said to bring it by and that they would make it comfortable for me. Fingers crossed.

    I used to think that people complaining of butt issues while riding were just wanting to stop. I have never had an issue with any Vespa seats on some very long rides. But this Honda seat and now replacement seat are miserable.

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    1. Bill I read that post. What a great adventure that was. You guys in the Sunshine State are truly blessed.

      David Bogner (Treppenwitz on MV) swears by the Air Hawk. In a recent post he explained its principle in some detail, and the importance of adjusting the inflation so that the rider's bum can shift during the ride, which he claims essentially solves the numb-bum issue, particularly on crazy long rides like Iron Butt rides.

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    2. I want to give Sargent the option of fixing the seat first. Air Hawks have a great reputation, but putting one on that beautiful new seat would be a shame. I am thinking that if they can just replicate the extra cushion I got from the towel, it should be fine.

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  6. I found the GTS seat the most comfortable I have ridden, ever. I am persuaded that an air hawk may solve many seat problems and I think I may try one. My Triumph has a Sragent replacement seat (the stock seat went pancake flat after 75,000 miles/120,000 kms) which is okay but a little optional; extra height on long trips might be more comfortable.

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