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Everything You Need To Know About The New Caterham Motorcycles

Caterham, famous maker of that delightfully classic open-wheel road racer we all love, has announced intentions to have a go at motorcycles. Three prototypes were revealed days ago at the International Motorcycle Exhibition (EICMA) in Milan, and we’re all eager to see what becomes of them.

Caterham Bikes will offer two electric options (“Classic-E” and “Carbon-E”, you can guess which one is modern looking) and one 750CC dual sport called “Brutus.”

The Brutus is being billed as “the SUV of motorcycles” and will have an automatic transmission, plus the capability of being converted into a snowmobile through some sort of conversion kit that, Caterham promises, can be fitted in four hours.

…Consider me officially intrigued.

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“All Roads Lead To Craigslist”

…how my girlfriend described my relationship with the internet.

So simple, so undeniably fact.

Sometimes we get too caught up the rat race of chasing pageviews, impressions, and billing by the click.

Let’s not get too bogged down with the nonsense economics of the internet and get back to what it’s really for: browsing limitless, ever-repopulating, pages of cars for sale.


A Social Network For Motorcyclists

EatSleepRIDE Map

Commercial Disclosure: The makers of EatSleepRIDE let me download the app fo’ free if I promised to write it up. Otherwise it’s like, three bucks.

The battle wages on between experiential purists and optimization-crazed technophiles over what it means to ride a motorcycle.

Those in the latter camp want Bluetooth helmets and LEDs everywhere while the purists might claim even fuel injection defiles the sport of two-wheeled traveling. With so much culture wrapped into the world of motorcycling, I know this means a lot to some of you.

I tend to lean toward a Thoreaian approach- I like low tech bikes that run when they damn well please and mark their territory with oil stains. That said, twenty-year-old technology is all I can afford.

Regardless of my affinity for kickstarters and carbys, the folks at EatSleepRIDE seemed like RoadRoving and pitched me their new motorcycling iPhone app. I had already been using GoogleMaps to navigate and other apps to measure my speed, so this wasn’t really that much of a leap.

Besides, their timing was good- I had just dumped my Android HTC for an iPhone 5 (lamentably) and I was happy for a way to justify my purchase.

Get on with it, what is this EatSleepRIDE business?

EatSleepRIDE is an iOS app that I’ll describe as hybrid of route tracking and social networking.

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New England Café Racer Convergence

I have never been shy about meeting people from the internet.

I’ve had plenty of strangers in my house buying things I’ve posted on Craigslist, and made purchases the same way.  Even met with randos in parking lots to buy cars (though I always pack heat when I carry cash).

But the “2013 Convergence” held by the Café Racers of New England was the first large, informally-organized-via-the-internet, gathering of strangers I’d ever braved. Café of NE is a Facebook group, let’s call it a club, organized by a good guy Greg.

For real, he actually is a good guy and his name is Greg. His haircut even matches the meme! See?

Greg: Running Cafe Racers of New England

The club is all about celebrating motorcycles built in the “café racer” style. If you don’t know what that is, get the hell off my website.  Or Wikipedia dat if you must.

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Pants-Shitting Shakedown Ride Across Manhattan

Having finally had a chance to ride the Hipster Hot Rod, I dared a multi-mile death race across Manhattan and recounted the story on Jalopnik.

Catch the piece here.

Many of the commenters weren’t feeling the sarcasm of the project as much I had intended… which made for some hilarious/offensive annotations to my tale. Among the best:

theanswerisstillno: So many reasons, but that bike is garbage.

CafeCanuk: I would suggest that your homemade, hipster ride pushes you close to the designation of sui-cyclist

User1312: I’m assuming you realize that your bike is the equivalent of a 1988 Chrysler Omni with a missing window, stolen stereo, broken third gear, four drum brakes and two wheels falling off

WorldRallyBlog: Heavy frame, single speed, ridiculous tires and upsidedown handle bars? You really should try the actual bike next time, this thing will hurt you! 

Noise: They make girls with big glasses and lots of scarves throw themselves at you. but they are awful awful awful commuters.

HateBox: Buy a car, Jerk.

Enjoy the piece and see all my contributions to Jalopnik here!


Saga Of The Hipster Hot Rod: Assembly, Completion

After fifteenish labor hours (and days and days waiting for parts/doing other stuff) the 1976 Schwinn cruiser I picked up at a yard sale is finally “complete”.  Below I’ve broken down the construction process into bullet points, so I can get to the hilarious antics about how I’ve already almost died trying to ride it.

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Mercedes-Bus

This Spring something caught my eye at one of my favorite dealers; Copley Motorcars in Needham, MA.

By “favorite” I mean the proprietor lets me poke around every few weeks when he knows full well I have no intention to bid on his hardware; which has included a gullwing Mercedes, Ferrari F50, BMW Z8, and other rare delicacies.

But the machine in question this time shared nothing in common with the aforementioned vehicles, other than pedigree.

At The Helm of Mercedes Bus

It was a full-sized Mercedes-Benz Bus, vintage 19sixtysomething, converted for use as an RV.

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Vintage Hardware on the Trails in NoAZ

A few months back I got out to Arizona to catch the 2013 “Overland Expo”… more on that later.

While I was there, I caught up with a guy named Chris I had ski-bummed with in California.  Poor bastard  had his season cut short when his hand got caught in a ski-sharpening machine, no pun intended, but we’ve kept in touch since.

Chris is my friend because he’s a good dude.  And also because he has a near-original Suzuki Samurai.

Samurai in NoAZ

After showing me his place and his dog he obliged my desire to take his whip for a spin.  We headed out of Flagstaff and had our pick of trails in less than ten minutes… godbless the West.

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Attention Hipsters: Upstate New York, Not Yet “Cool”

Dateline – Beacon, NY: a dingy old brick town on the warpath to gentrification.  Leading the charge is their modern art museum called The Dia.

As in “¡Dias Mio!”, “Carpe Dia”, or neither of those made-up things.

Sounded great, so while dear old mum was visiting my Hudson Valley encampment last week I figured we could kill some time by having a look.

The scene upon arrival was promising; the parking lot is among the coolest I’ve ever seen!  Seriously.  The blacktop is perfect and those grass islands are classy as hell.

Aston Martin in Dia Parking Lot

I’d park my Aston Martin there too.

But once we got inside…

Not so much.

We walked through some impressive stone slab doors and found ourselves in one of the most vast and empty structures I’d seen.  Think airplane hanger done up in the style of a Bushwick loft apartment.

Sure, it sounds awesome.  And it would have been, had I been allowed to hoon through it in a Fiat 500 a la Charlie Sheen.

But I wasn’t.

I wasn’t even allowed to run around and make engine noises I can do what I want, mom! >:(

All I could do was stroll and look at stupid things stuck to the wall somebody had classified as “art”.

Dia Modern Art

Yup, that’s it.  Go ahead, make the comment.  Tell me “I don’t get it.”  You know what?  I don’t.  And I’m calling the dude or chick who made this out right here, right now; these solid-colored shape-chips are not worthy of the gravity this space lends to a piece.  I guess it’s not your fault, aspiring artist.  It’s whoever gave the nod to putting giant paint chips on the walls and charging people twelve dollars to see them.

Other arts that were featured: Fluorescent lights (not modified, just on a wall instead of a ceiling).  Monochromatic squares.  Chrome squares.  An auditory exhibit in the garden playing a recording of people making bird noises.

But the deepest of insults was what I called the “disgraced junkyard” exhibit.

Disgraced Car Parts At The Dia, Beacon

Some prick had collected perfectly cool car parts and humiliated them; twisting them into stupid sculptures that looked like shitpiles left by an AT-AT walker.

The only thing I liked inside the place was this massive garage door.  I’m still not sure if it was an exhibit or just part of the building, but I sure did want to open it and park one of those dump-trucks they use in Australian mines inside.  I managed to capture a hipster in the photo of the door so you’d have an idea of the scale.  Pretty impressive, right?

Giant Garage Door

Of course there’s always the chance that the hipsters in charge of the museum are so ironic they’ve filled their entire building with shitty art as a joke.  If that’s the case, well, that actually would be pretty funny.  But either way, save yourself the exorbitant entry fee and stay the hell away from this place.

The city of Beacon, however, I was kind of down with.

The main street is Burlington, VT-esque… old brown buildings refurb’ed to sell fancy shit.  Found a great taco place, and a coffee shop across the street that looked like it had a lot of potential.

Was hoping I’d be able to say it might be early enough to stake out cheap rent in an increasingly cool place- but no, the sweeter apartments are already cresting $1,000-a-bedroom.

Well, there’s still affordable land in the desert!  For now.


Pushing Tin

It had been over a year since I ‘d motorcycled more than a hundred miles in one day.

Granted, I’ve never even sat on a bike designed to ride distances like that, but my Australian adventures of 2011 gave me the “pleasure” of crossing a continent on what most riders probably wouldn’t leave their yard on (I’m looking at you, TTR250).

Last week I got to experience a whole new kind of endurance ride- sportbike touring.

The forums, my parents, and everything I knew about my oil-cooled Gixxer told me that kind of distance on this kind of  bike would be… miserable.

The seating posture is aggressive, fuel capacity is short, and the exhaust is loud.  The machine hasn’t even proven itself particularly reliable; with at least one catastrophic malfunction per season so far.  And yet…

1991 Suzuki GSXR750 on Highway

I couldn’t see myself living in New York while the bike was collecting dust in Boston.  So I cajoled the ever-supportive Sydney into piloting my sedan to run deer interference and transport cargo while I crossed central New England on a bike designed to cross finish lines.

She’s one of the only people I see regularly who can drive a three-pedaled car, and I had a feeling I’d need a massage after the journey… which I could start campaigning for at one of our rest stops.

It was two-hundred-forty-one miles of almost all highway riding between the garage my bike lived at and where I wanted it to be.  The trip took about four and a quarter hours by car; I figured it might take five with a few stops.  Not even close.

The first fifty miles were fine.  Familiar territory, first tank of fuel, I was feeling good.

Mile fifty-one we hit gridlock traffic and I had the first grumblings that I might have made a poor decision.  My right wrist had gotten a bit sore from throttle vibrations, which were substantial, and now my left got a turn to share the pain as I slipped the clutch for what felt like an hour.

When we landed at the next available rest area, I learned it had been about an hour.

I did a little Macarena dance to shake out the shivers and I guzzled two PowerAids before fueling up.

Tank full, traffic subsided, I let Sydney merge onto the highway ahead so I could explode past and serenade her with the song of my people.  Drafting my car down the long onramp I dropped a gear and strangled the throttle, a tortured scream belting from my rusty Yoshimura canister.  Kinda of a motorcyclists’ equivalent of farting through a vuvuzela; rude, gross, and immature to everybody in earshot.

I, of course, was having a riot.

After turning three dollars worth of petrol into noise I had to take it easy so I could make it to the next rest area.  I laid down on the fuel tank to try and find some comfort, and observed my car in action from different lanes.

Seeing it from the third person was cool- I rode behind Sydney for awhile and pretended as I was playing Need For Speed as my Acura.

GSXR in the BerkshiresThe scenery got prettier as got further west- that seems to be a commonly true statement when travelling in America.

Hours and miles rolled by, we popped into rest stops to refuel and had the same conversation;

“Should we get some food?”

“Is there anything besides McDonalds?”
“Slim Jims,”

“…”

“Ok, we’ll try the next one,”

Fatigue racked up.  It got dark.  Darker.

By the time we cut south on New York’s Taconic I was so beat I dropped to 5 MPH below the speed limit.  I had to seek refuge behind my car as I knew deer were lurking behind every tree, and the roadsurface was so bumpy I could barely read my license plate.

The Squadron At Rest

By the time we rolled into the driveway we were seeking, seven hours had passed since our initial departure.  My body and headlight had collected enough insects to stick pins in and start a museum, and I was still haunted by the drone of my exhaust in the silence of the Upstate New York woods.

But when I woke up the next morning, the sight of the Suzuki keys on my valet gave me a facewide grin.

New roads to crush, new diners to ride to, and a whole summer to do it.

Worth the effort, no question.


Summer Projects ’13

Summer Vehicles 2013

Amazingly, my wayward sportbike seems to be operating within acceptable parameters so far.  So on the workbench will be dad’s ’77 Honda Express, to which I lamentably lost a tiny-but-key piece to two summers ago (carb float pin; paper-clip like object the size of a fly’s leg), and my newly acquired ’76 Schwinn lay waiting to revived.

After having the carburators on the GSXR rebuilt I was left with enough bits to get the Express’ tiny thumper pumping again, whether or not the rest of the machine is willing to cooperate remains to be realized… the rear wheel bearing is weak enough to shake with a slight pull of the rear brake and the (original) tires are literally molding.

The bicycle’s issues are more cosmetic, by nature of being significantly less complex.

Let the labor begin!


BMWs of Brooklyn

The northeastern USA officially had it’s first “favorable weather weekend” seven days ago, and summer vehicles wasted no time in making themselves known.

I spotted this tidy E30 on Franklin Avenue with some of my favorite modifications; french-style amber high beams and a blacked-out grille.  I even like the color.  Wheels are off an E46; much cleaner than many aftermarket options in my opinion.

Maroon E30 in BK

Just down the street was this R/60… from the rounded edges and small fuel tank I’d estimate it’s an older one (1960’s).  I’d liken my relationship with these bikes to that of Wayne Campbell and a ’64 Fender Stratocaster in classic white with triple single coil pickups and a whammy bar.

BMW Bike in BK

They’re so well executed and universally respected, it’s hard to go wrong with a classic Bimmer.

Along the lines of classic, I was keen to investigate these cafe’ed bikes as well.  Not BMWs, but chopped to the minimalist “cafe racer” style that seems to be experiencing a resurgence.  I’ll take these over a post-2000 sportbike any day, “there’s no school like old school”.

Cafe Racers in Brooklyn

My father’s been taunting me with that adage all weekend as his ’81 commuter snapped to life days ago after winter’s hibernation.  My airhead is still languishing on in the back corner of his garage until I can get back out to revive it.


Obscure Exotics Socialize In Monaco

Short of a business offer from a Nigerian prince, what’s the best thing you can find on the internet?  Obviously, pictures of cars you don’t recognize!  With that in mind, let me indulge your desire for distraction with this photo I found-

Taken in Monaco about two years ago, it reveals a lineup of true exotics parked in a storage garage… let’s allow our imaginations to fill in the location as next to a racetrack or airport.

Monaco Exotic Car Lineup

The two on viewer’s left caught my eye first.  The orange one’s a bit Spyker-ish, but the grey… decidedly unknown.  Searching placed the grey sports car on the far left as a Benarrow PB5.

What’s your guess… Italian?  British?  Korean?

Of course not.  That chunky, swooping musculature and Castle-based marquee could only come from a designhaüs in Deutschland.

In fact, the car built off an Audi A5.  You like it better already, don’t you?

The relationship is quite apparent in side profile shots of the car; the Audi silhouette is closely retained.  A few moments of research report it shoves over 500 horsepower through a manual transmission to an AWD drivetrain.  You can see it in action in their cheesy promo video here:

The orange vehicle to the Benarrow’s left is another German called the Melkus RS2000GT.  Apparently powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine that produces 300 horsepower (awesome) its counterpart the “GTS” gains an extra 50 from the same displacement.  Hopefully someone remembered to lower the cylinder compression ratio on that thing before jacking the boost pressure up a few PSI.

Sadly, it seems the Melkus has only been caught on camera in shotty cellphone snaps.  Here are some clips anyway:

The rest of the cars may look pretty familiar (Cayenne, Maybach, SLR, 911) however the photographer reports each car is modified so extensively, the respective tuners saw fit to rename the vehicles themselves.

I love when little shops get brave enough to invest the time and money to bring their own creation to the streets.  It’s probably not a great return on investment (if one exists at all) but you’ve got to admire the execution of dreams.

The Cayenne was done by Merdad Design, the Maybach by Xenatec (is that a penis pill company?), and the two sports cars on the far viewer’s right are Gemballa products.  Gemballa is an impressive institution- not only are they one of the few tuners to have a legitimate website, but they also the audacity to rename a 911 the “Avalanche GTR 800 EVO-R“.  Sorry guys, but Ferdinand Porsche would be fucking furious.

Still, a pretty cool collection of machines we will likely never see in the wild.

Note; it has been reported that Xenatec is now out of business.  Probably because they thought this was a good idea.


Very Merry Christmas from the New HQ

After six months operating out of my dear friend’s porch, spending nearly half that time looking for a better sleeping/working space, I have finally begun organizing a new command center on the Metro West side of Boston.

Though it lacks a helipad and tank full of laser sharks, the angular brick building I’m now calling HQ does have sufficient sleeping space, ample office space, and a batcave-esque parking situation that requires tripping over laundry and discarded moving boxes to get between the house and a vehicle.  Now that’s a high-performance security setup if I ever saw one.

At least my Acura gets to sleep soundly in the comfort of a stone cell… which I can’t wait to remove the trash from and fill with LED floodlights.

The garage is still full of dust and leaves, but at least it’s safe from falling branches and vandalistic youths.  A high priority task this summer will be the polishing and decorating of the vehicle storage space.  I’m thinking a high-res glamor photo of an M5 on the wall; something for the TL to aspire to.

TL in Boston Garage

The previous owner had his office where I’ve crammed my bed and presumably vice versa, however I think my configuration will yield significantly higher levels of productivity while maintaining adequate fidelity to the “modular minimalism” design style and general feng shui of the place.

Until I can settle on the architecture of my desk and workspace, I’ve commandeered the living room for writing/working/Xboxing.  Since most of the house socializing takes place in the kitchen, the two gentlemen I’m sharing the house with don’t seem to mind my temporary overflow.

Livingroom Workspace POV Livingroom Workspace

Up those stairs leads to the executive suite.  The licence plates seemed like a low-impact early decoration in that I didn’t have to affix them in any way.  I’m always in favor of minimizing damage to walls with screws and whathaveyou.  KG’s jersey displayed prominently in the closet reminds me to act like an insane animal at the beginning of each day.  I try to channel his relentless energy whenever possible and/or reasonable.

Stairway to Heaven

My old mattress had become impregnated with mold during the porch stay, so I dropped a new unit into this little slice of floor on the landing.  (That area’s called a “landing” isn’t it?)

Nice lighting makes it easy to get up in the AM- greatly helpful as there’s no coffee maker in service yet in the kitchen.

Bedroom Landing

The place is shaped like an uppercase “T”, so if the trunk is the bed/stairs area, the left wing is the office area and the right is designated for sink, shower, and toilet related activities.

The office is still an empty vessel, but I established a temporary valet out of cardboard moving boxes for the foot of the sleeping area.  Not the level of elegance I’m looking for in the long term, but it’ll do until a few more paychecks clear and I can design a satisfactory piece here.

Temporary Valet

Eventually I’m hoping to incorporate a hamper with the valet; basically have dirty clothes be deposited into the bottom like a solar trash compactor.  At present, another cardboard box is taking the role of dirty clothes management.

Future Office

The future office will fit a giant “L”-desk easily, and perhaps even a couch of similar shaping.

For some reason the sink countertop is over a meter long, so I’ve decided to designate the open area to the right as a “clean room” surface.  Perfect for detailing computers and other tools.

Cleanroom Surface

As far as decor, I don’t have any furniture but all of my domestic ancillaries (rubbish can, record case…) are repurposed military equipment.

Military Bathroom

The irony of a chest designed to contain deadly munitions being reduced to harboring poop paper was too pleasing to resist.  And the surplus store had a 1970 US Army briefing entitled simply “Survival” which serves as a nice prop/reading supplement.

Next phase is to get a work surface installed and get this office operational, followed shortly by the elaboration of a few select wall hangings.


Garage Living

Apartment hunting is the worst.

Just as car salesmen continue to perpetuate their less than favorable reputations, the realtors I’ve met don’t seem to be in any rush to improve their image either.

My requirements are pretty basic; I just want to live downtown, equidistant from a gym, bar, and coffee shop, with easy highway access, one of those sweet stainless-steel microwaves, and of course climate-controlled indoor storage for a car, 4×4, race car, and three… maybe five… motorcycles.  I mean, I don’t even have any pets!

It’s not like I haven’t been trying.  Every day I go on Craigslist, type “batcave” into the search bar of the Housing section, and hope for the best.  Still nothing.

But recent developments in my domestic situation have taken my thought process to the next level (or perhaps, the next level down).

Our shower stopped working, so I effectively ceased usage of the apartment’s bathroom (having a much nicer one at work for poop-related ventures).

I’ve already long since abandon the kitchen, having found it’s highly preferable to outsource all cooking to the falafel guy in Davis Square, the near unlimited supply of bagels at my office, and Taco Loco.

Ergo, the question I had to ask became obvious: Could I live in a garage?

A big one, of course.  At least three-car sized… my bed/home office would occupy about a car’s worth of space, my Acura would sleep on the far end and my motorcycles could rest in between.  Obviously sacrifices will have to be made this summer if Project 2002 comes to fruition, but at that point it will be warm enough for me to sleep outside.

But if I’m already showering at the gym, eating every meal from food trucks, and taking my dumps with the ducks in Boston Common, why waste money on renting a bathroom and kitchen I don’t need?


Aside

“Most Wanted” Back To Console

The Criterion/Electronic Arts team typically kills it with their semi-live action-looking video game commercials.  Their new ad for the latest exploitation of the “Need For Speed” franchise appeals to the hoon in all of us:

Nice blend of campy-overdrama and the lovely lines of some supercar favorites.  Will probably be adding this game to my arsenal of procrastination tools… in two years when it’s $19.99.


Sweet Sighting: ARC-Edition Viper

Dodge Viper ACR

I had forgotten just how imposing a Dodge Viper is in person, but a brand-new ARC Edition with a jet airliner sized GT wing is something spectacular to behold.

Spotted this monster coiled up near one of the car dealers I work with in Natick, and I have to say I’m really digging the black/red accent on white colorscheme.

Side-exit exhaust and engine bay you could land a helicopter on help this car make a bold statement indeed.  And who could look upon that decidedly serpentinian face and not cower in fear?

Behind those menacing headlights lies a 8.4-liter V10 that belches out 600 horsepower- enough to buy this Viper a plate at the 200 MPH Club dinner.  In around 14 seconds.

In case my pretentious diction just did a donut around your brain, that means this car can go from scratching its balls at a stoplight to charging foward at 200 MPH in less time than it took you to read those last three sentences.

Only 500 were made between 2008 and 2010, so keep your eyes open for this one if you’re in the New England area.


“Sweet” Sighting: …What IS that?

Found this gem parked outside of the ADESA Auto Auction in Framingham, MA.

It caught my eye from across the parking lot because, I mean, come on.

At first I thought it was the failed abortion of a GM concept (the Monte Carlo taillights) or maybe it was “bring your kid to work day” at the design studio and somebody hit “send” instead of “save” on this beauty.

But closer inspection revealed that this could not possibly have come from anywhere that was anything more advanced than what we in the industry call a “shade-tree” mechanic.

I’d venture a guess that this vehicle was literally constructed under a tree.  And probably in the dark.

Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer works for a car company and builds a one-off called “The Homer”?

I mean, right?

Aside from the taillights the only thing that’s really identifiable are the wheels.  They look a little early-911 to me, but I imagine they’re from something far less prestigious.  What chassis, suspension and driveline setup this wildman is running is anybody’s guess.  As badly as I wanted to meet the creator of this creature it was about 105 degrees outside and sadly I had to prioritize a Dunkin Donuts run.

Okay, as tempting as it is to just shit on this thing with its bumpy hand-fiberglassed body panels, mismatched gauge faces and what I’m pretty sure is hand-rolled paintjob, let’s take a step back and think about what this guy’s done.

He had an idea for his own car design, and he fucking went for it.  Sure it probably didn’t come out as sleek as he had imagined, but if I had attempted this I guarantee it would look ten times worse.  Fiberglass is really hard to work with, and custom-making an interior is no cakewalk either, even if it is rudimentary.

As goofy as it looks we can’t discount what he has accomplished- the body fits (pretty much), and presumably the car works.  I mean, it was wearing license plates and sitting in a day-use parking lot.  So hey, he’s not going to win a Concourse show anytime soon but for all intents and purposes; “Mission Accomplished” and bravo for giving a pretty insane project the old college try.

That said, the idiot who approved this car for an inspection sticker I’d like to have a few words with.


Everyday I’m Tumblr’n

Well, not everyday.  Can’t sit in front of the computer that long.  But RoadRoving.com has officially spilled into the world of Tumblr and is making a habit of aggregating great images I didn’t create but reckon you’d enjoy over there.

Sticking primarily to artistic photos of vintage cars and motorcycles for now, but you might catch the occasional supercar or Suicide Girl if you visit often enough…

Give us a look at http://www.tumblr.com/blog/roadrovingadventures.


What’s To Come After A Season’s Wrap

Just returned from seven weeks on tour that had my team and I crossing Australia east-to-west, playing the longest golf course in the world, spelunking, competing in the Australasian Safari Desert Race, riding the infamous John Holland Track solo, then finally bringing a team of bikers across the country again west-to-east.

Tour season’s over, but I’m going to try and squeeze one more Cape York in before the wet season sets in.
When I get back, I’ll publish the last two months worth of triumph and tragedy.

Can’t wait for more moto-madness?  Here’s a preview of what I’ve been up to…

…Power-on!


Windorah, And A Wrap-Up

The ride out of Birdsville was less than ideal.  The Birdsville Races (a major horseracing event) was taking place the following weekend, and traffic was steadily coming our way.

And when you have to pull over, cover your face, and absorb a barrage of rocks every time you pass an oncoming truck, travel can get a bit frustrating.

But we made it to the Windora pub safely, where Magnus made friends with the Swedish chick working the taps and I admired an old Daihatsu 4×4 that had been put out to pasture.

After fueling up with Merv, the blind servo manager, we left for Longreach where we picked up our trailer, bid adieu to our clients set a course for base camp at Airlie Beach.

Having depleted our provisions, dinner was a simple dish that I’m almost ashamed to admit I’m quite familiar with; “mix in your mouth” nachos.

Yep.  That’s when you eat chips, cheese, and meat without a plate.

Coupla days off… then Safari.


Crossing The Simpson

The Simpson Desert.  Vast, untamed expanse of sand in the middle of the world’s largest island.  Taking three times as long to cross as the Sahara, the French Line across the Simpson is one of the most epic rides to be had in Australia.

It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer of my season with OAT.

And with the floods subsided and my shoulder healed, I was finally getting my shot.

Each morning on the track felt like Christmas… I woke up with a giddy anticipation I hadn’t known since I was a rugrat tearing through wrapping paper.  And with each day I got a little bit better at managing the sand, the dunes, the Simpson.

I was determined to finish the track with my body and bike in as good condition as they had been when I began, keen to prove Mags wrong that I could in fact return one of his vehicles in usable condition.

***

So what’s so great about riding a motorcycle across the desert?

Imagine skiing the best run of your life; lots of speed, deep powder, sweeping turns.  Now imagine that never ending until you release the throttle.

Thanks to the miracle of the internal combustion engine, a motorcycle can ski up the hills as well.  Each kilometers is more fun than the last and after an hour or two in the saddle the balance, engine control and focus just clicks.

It’s a bit difficult to get used to holding the power on constantly, even when you’re slowing down, but a steady spin of the drive wheel is essential to keep yourself from sinking.

When we pulled up for the night, I collapsed into my chair at the fire with the kind of spent-satisfaction you have after a six-hour shag session.

We passed a few other groups of interest along the way.  A group of blokes on Suzuki DR650’s, a big pack of camels, and a team of journalists reviewing 4x4s… including a four wheel drive Mini and a Chinese Great Wall SUV.  Our riders reckoned they were wasting their time and ruining the track, but I was glad to see someone try something different.

***

The west-to-east crossing (which we took) is easier than the other way because the dunes aren’t as steep.  Shaped by the prevailing wind, heading eastbound allows you to enjoy a long run-up up the dune, then a steep drop into the next gully.  The dunes also get bigger as you head east, giving a nice and linear progression of difficulty.

Right up to the boss: Big Red.

Whether you’re on a motorcycle, 4×4, camel, or unicycle, Big Red is one of those “boxes to tick” if you’re off roading in Australia.  Just about thirty kilometers from Birdsville, it’s fairly easy to get to but a proper monolith to behold.

The last time I had seen it was from the passenger seat of the Isuzu, chocking back winces as pain shot through my recently-destroyed AC joint.

Now I was back.  On a bike.  And I wanted revenge.

By the time we reached Big Red the hour was late, shadows were long, and everyone was dying for a beer.

I sensed that Carl and Bruce, having already surmounted Big Red years before, would be content to bypass it and head straight to the pub.  But I knew I’d only be back here once, and I’d be driving the truck.  There was no way I was going to get this close without having a go.

I stabbed the throttle ceremonially.

But I resisted a sandy burnout, and walked up to speed.

I heard Magnus’ voice in my head, like Obi-Wan Kenobi guiding Luke Skywalker out of the Hoth;

“…Up straight, steady application of power…”

I was getting closer and Big Red was growing.

It looked far bigger from the saddle of this bike than the cockpit of our truck.

Hands were starting to sweat as I picked up speed.

50…60…70…

I strangled the horn to scatter the desert pigeons out of my path, the dune was towering over me like a tidal wave and I was experiencing genuine fear.

80…85…

The front wheel hit the dune and I powered-on all the way, yelling into my helmet and leaning as hard as I could against the force of acceleration.

“GIVE IT HELL!”

It was all over in seconds… I was standing on the top, heart still racing at full throttle, stomach still at the bottom of the hill, and the bike idling calmly as though nothing had happened.

I allowed myself a fist pump and shut the bike down to avoid overheating.

After some photos it was time to hit the bar.  An easy descent and a fun 30 kilometers later we were riding out of the sunset and pulling up once again at the famous Birdsville Pub, where people with names like “Wizard” tell you about the time they crossed the Simpson in a nitrogen-powered rickshaw.

But no matter how tall the tales get in that bar, I knew I had made it across and that’s all I needed.

In a couple months time I’ll be back… on twice as many wheels, which will be ten times as hard.  I can only hope for as much success as the desert allows.

Click here to see the “Best Of” photo album.


Celebrities at Purni Bore

At the gateway of the Simpson Desert (eastbound route) lies Purni Bore, the last water to be found until Eyre Creek three days on.

While enjoying morning tea there we had a visit from famous Australian Dick Smith.  The corporate mogul/philanthropist who’s one of the most respected men in the country happened to be cruising the desert in his Bell 206 LongRanger.

He spotted our vehicle and reckoned it was a mobile espresso machine, so he came down in a whir of dust and noise to have a cuppa and spin a yarn.

Dick talked with us for some time, and I was quite glad I had resisted mooning the chopper on its way in.

By the time he left we were behind schedule, so we wrapped up the chain and sprocket swap we were working on and hit the track hard.

We were officially in the Simpson, and the sand waits for no man.


Desert Preamble, The Road To The Simpson

After Finke I got my second real taste of sand riding on the way into Lambert Center, a loamy and twisty ride of 12 kilometers to the geographic center of the world’s largest island.

Carl offered some good advice on negociating the blind corners;

“Imagine there’s a car coming around every corner.  If you’re not in control going around the corner, there’s no point in going around the corner at all.”

Making it both in and out of the Center without coming off or colliding with another vehicle, I finished another day feeling satisfied.

***

Our next stop was Dalhousie Springs, a beautiful swimming spot kept at a toasty 30-something degrees Celsius by geothermal heat.  But once again I found the parking lot more interesting than the point of interest, as I spotted a late-90’s Defender with French license plates and just about every accessory you can strap to a Landy.

The family of four traveling in it were indeed from France, having shipped the vehicle to Melbourne they had driven it to the Red Centre and were planning on driving home through Asia and the ‘Stans after a lap of Australia.

I had a hard enough time overlanding with my family to Prince Edward Island from Boston ten years ago… can’t imagine how these Frenchies will get on, but good luck to them.

Two roof tents, an awning, hood-mounted tire, and a quarter-panel jerry can mount… Magnus reckoned whoever built this did a Google search of everything cool you could stick on a Land Rover and bought whatever he saw.  I could do without the stickers, but looks nice in white.

But despite having the entire catalog of off-road accoutrements, the only way you can be sure it’s a Land Rover is the fact that the hood is up.


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