On Balance  

All aboard for a road trip

Cold enough for ya? I’m sure wishing the tractor had heated grips and seat right now, that’s for sure. Man, even a windshield would be an improvement on today’s “in the wind” experience. Suddenly, we’re coming to grips with the fact that even in the Okanagan, we do get a little taste of conditions other denizens of our Great White North live with at this time of year.

So I’m really looking forward to my annual mid-winter road trip escape, my mini-break from shovelling and plowing and tending the wood stove. That’s right, I’m outta here, next Saturday bright and early. On a bus tour, of all things.

Didn’t see that one coming. Never thought I’d be the sort to enjoy bumbling through the countryside on a tour bus, but I guess a person has to be open to new experiences. Sort of. 

I have really gotten used to doing this winter bus thing because I ride it like we always ride: with a bunch of other riders. Shared passion for the world of motorcycling does mean we also share a host of other tastes and experiences. Some say that’s actually one of the reasons people ride. 

Anyways, we’re off. Hopefully without too much campfire singing and that sort of carry-on. There are limits. Speaking of that, the limited budget and other constraints being what they are, the bus tour winds up right back here next Saturday night. So not exactly an epic adventure, but one of great meaning.

Because we’re going to The Bike Show.

Aahhh. Now we’re talking sense, right? There’s nothing quite like a winter’s day inside a gigantic building full of spanking new bikes and gear, buzzing with the fresh currents of the coming season. Sort of like a greenhouse for gearheads instead of green thumbs.

I have a list, of course. Every year, I try to elbow my way into areas where there’s new varietals growing, where people are talking up fresh takes developed on the old themes. This is a chance to get up close and personal with the bikes, technologies, and the thinking, that show promise of making motorcycling more approachable and safer, especially for new and returning riders.  

Every year I make a point of pitching to regional and national manufacturers’ reps the need for serious industry support of rider training. I like to point out that, in other countries, manufacturers run their own riding schools, provide fleets of bikes to schools, or offer partial funding for training. Why nothing here? After all, the money Canadian customers pay for bikes and gear is just as real as anybody else’s. We don’t just print it off on the old dot matrix. OK, most of us don’t. 

So, why don’t we get the same value invested in our safety?

Same goes, by the way, for the bikes. ABS, traction control, and other safety features that are standard equipment on bikes in other parts of the world aren’t even offered on some of the same makes/models here. Or, they’re (very) extra cost options. Why is protecting a Canadian life not worth the same investment?

These make for some fun conversations over the old smokie and fries. Every once in a while, they even bear a little fruit. Long while. Little fruit.

Now, a person can only play that sort of game for part of the day, or it gets old. So I also like to wiggle into the booths where there’s some new technology on offer. Like, for instance, the rapidly advancing airbag technology in riding gear. Really looking forward to seeing the new computer-controlled airbag vests that can go under any riding jacket. Big step forward there.

And the helmets. Heads-up displays are still surprisingly rare, and so is the MIPS and similar construction systems that reduce the frequent brain injuries resulting from rotational forces on impacts, as I understand it. 

The list also is a listing, if you will, of how far into the product line-up each manufacturer has pushed rider assistance safety technologies. It’s handy to have most of them under one roof, so a quick stroll gives a good comparison of the price point and engine displacement thresholds for availability of inertial measurement units, for instance. Hoping we’re finally going to see some at or below the 500cc waterline.

But the really big draw this year is the prospect of seeing the new crop of serious electric bikes. Damon, Zero, Lightning, Energica, and Harley all have some well-developed and downright exciting platforms to show off, and I’m long overdue for some lessons in the future of motorcycling.

What we see on the news every day is making it pretty plain. That future has to be one where what we do (motorcycling) has to not poison people, or the planet, and has to let us get home safe in greater numbers than it does today.

This year’s bus tour is, more than ever before, all about the future.


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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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