champers

48 months ago

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- Story

Why you must buy them a dirt bike now

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

All she ever says to me is, "Why are we stopping?"

All she ever says to me is, "Why are we stopping?"

by Paul Fenn

Contributing Editor

“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes

I have a friend, a Maritimer, who owns an online magazine dedicated to offroad motorcycling. On the bottom of his emails sits the above quotation, an invitation to insurrection, a snarling taunt at comfort-seeking and fearfulism.

Fearfulism, the most dangerous F-word, is consuming the developed world. I hate it in more ways than I can do justice with a keyboard. And Covid-19 sure ain't helping, as it's something that actually does need to be respected, if not feared, and too many fools are doing neither.

As we’ve been learning, fearfulism's net effect is the opposite of its intended one: Making us and our spoiled kids physically, mentally and emotionally pudgy and frail, less curious, less engaged with the outdoors, more wimpy and cautious than any prior generation, ever. Afraid of the wrong things; not afraid of the real threats.

The playground awaits

The playground awaits

My crusade

I'm trying to set an example by being a 60-year-old moto-delinquent. Not the muffler-eschewing Harley guy who ruins your backyard tranquility April through November. No, my bike's muffled and I mainly ride it, and others, in woods, canyon lands, deserts and the odd ghetto. The only peace and quiet I aim to disturb is my own, and the odd chipmunk’s (though do brake for them).

It began in 2009, when a pinched sciatic nerve turned all the muscles in my left calf and foot into non-operational gel for a year, forcing me to stop sports, namely rock climbing and mountain biking. One afternoon, as I limped down a quiet street, depressed and bored, a Ducati roared by. I thought, “Salvation."

I went and bought, not a Ducati, but a BMW dual-sport F800GS, a 250kg behemoth. After my first hour on it, I realized tar-riding would never be my thing. That was a Friday. The next day I rode to Northumberland County, Ontario and found some dirt trails and scared myself to death, nearly crashing a hundred times. But I loved it. The fear brought back memories of a childhood filled with danger, facing down stakes and gaining mastery.

Peak GS was not enough

Peak GS was not enough

Except my bike lacked knobbies and I lacked skill

As funds allowed, I mounted better tires, installed crash bars, got body armour and motocross boots, and pushed myself into ever-harder tracks. I began doing weekend rides into deep Pennsylvania, getting as lost as I could on gravel backroads, trails and unmaintained oil well and pipeline access roads that thread through the Appalachians like dusty capillaries.

It became increasingly more dangerous work. I wondered about crashing in some dark forest with no cell coverage, expiring alone after days of agony.

I needed a riding partner

One early frigid April morning I rode to my first dirt rally, the Spring Rade, near Bethany, Ontario. On a trail so deep with mud that a jeep had been abandoned in the slop, along came Amir, a Persian guy twenty years younger than me. He’d seen me spinning my Heidenau K60 in a rut, and stopped to yell, “I came through here two weeks ago with those tires. Good luck!” Then he took off.

Yeah, nice to meet you, too.

My mother lived 5 minutes from here. How couldn't I visit her weekly?

My mother lived 5 minutes from here. How couldn't I visit her weekly?

Somehow, I managed to catch and keep up with him and a few others, all on big BMWs, Triumphs and KTMs. The mud that day was deep and welcoming, and I went down many times. But I loved the adrenaline, the interesting new sphincter sensations, the conquering of limits and the gradual ability that seeped in over time.

My brothers in filth

I'd assumed membership in a subculture of large-engined dual-sport bike riders who tackle terrain normally seen by dirtbikes half their size and smaller. It comes at a much higher physical and mental taxation rate, and there lies the satisfaction: Entering intimidating, Delphic lands you have no business visiting and getting out the other side intact – ideally to a burger and an ice-cold beer.

Stopping in Upper Nowhere, PA for a cold beer. Mandatory

Stopping in Upper Nowhere, PA for a cold beer. Mandatory

I sold the BMW, upgrading to the miles more competent KTM 950cc Super Enduro R. This Austrian-made fluke of engineering and corporate policy inhabits the fringes of legality and rationality. It was designed to win the two most important offroad races in the world, the Dakar Rally and the Erzberg Rodeo, which it did. It was promptly banned from further competition in both. Unfair advantage is a bitch.

Go on, tempt fate... or reside in an oblivion of far more dangerous comforts

Go on, tempt fate... or reside in an oblivion of far more dangerous comforts

It'll take you there and back

Its rarity (around 3,000 were made between 2006-2009) and legendarily unrefined barbarity have earned the SE a cult following. Aficionados call it the apocalypse machine because it’s the one that’ll get you through anything. It is the most powerful dirtbike ever created – and it somehow slipped through the fun police's cracks into full street-legality. Its horsepower (110 after a few mods) and torque are nothing short of monstrous. To twist the throttle all the way and hold it there a few seconds is to come nose-to-nose with Beelzebubian oblivion.

The upshot is that my SE’s capabilities have significantly elevated my own – though I know I’ll never be its equal. Over time, with the help of Amir & Co, I began to tackle more of the maintenance, repair and upgrading work. This knowledge has gotten me out of the woods and home more than once – an indescribably satisfying experience, especially for someone who'd always assumed he had reverse mechanical aptitude.

What you get

The long-term effects of off-road motorcycling on the sum-total of one's maturity, or lack thereof, are certainly up for debate. But I'm convinced they prove my Darwin-backed theory that the only way to keep one’s edge, sanity and composure in life is to face down danger, humbling experiences and, occasionally, death. And with a decent amount of regularity. Say, every Saturday.

Buck naked fun

Buck naked fun

As pandemics, climate change, rising fascism, cutthroat global competition and a hundred other perils rattle our gates, fearfulist parents and their offspring need to slice open their cocoons and venture out into the hard world to sample it raw. They need to prepare themselves for the future fight for our way of life, just as our parents and grandparents did through the Great Depression and World Wars I and II.

My gym: Pulling my friends and I in and out of paradise

My gym: Pulling my friends and I in and out of paradise

Putting yourself and/or your smartphone-deranged brats on a dirt-capable bike would constitute a noble start. Just do it at a time when hospitals aren't overcrowded with C-19ers, just in case you make an unplanned visit to one.

All roads should lead to adrenaline

All roads should lead to adrenaline

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zyonsdream

48 months ago

I’m in my early 40s and have recently discovered the world of ADV riding. I still love traversing the country’s tarmac on my wing but taking my Africa Twin into the dirt takes me back to my youth riding quads in the backwoods from dawn to dusk

carrierjason

48 months ago

Good read!

97af

48 months ago

Great read Sir. 🙂