Toronto Motorcycle Show

I was excited like a kid before Christmas yesterday as I sat though lecture after lecture because I knew that as soon as classes were done I was going to the Toronto Motorcycle Show (TMS).  Not only would I be able look at (and sit on!) the various bikes Tom and I have been considering for our Round the World (RTW) trip, but I would also get to see Charlie Boorman, of “Long Way Round” fame, in person.  This is a man who has lived my dream.

Tom and I have yet to decide on what bikes we are going to take for the trip.  Charlie Boorman and Ewan MacGregor went RTW on modified BMW 1150GS Adventures.  The bikes took one hell of a beating and still survived the trip (as did their riders, which is always good).  There are a couple of problems.  One, the BMW Adventure is a heavy bike that gets bogged down easily in well, bogs and soft ground like sand.  According to the KTM representative at the TMS, the Adventure is a nightmare in sand because the engine digs the bike deeper and deeper into the sand as you gun it to try and get out.  The second problem is that Tom is vertically challenged.  His feet would barely touch the ground.  This problem is not limited to the BMW Adventure, however.  In fact, as I would discover shortly, the BMW Adventure has a lower seat height than the KTM 640 by far.  As you can see in the picture below, even I was on my tippy toes on the 640, and I’m 6’2”.  (The centre stand is up, but the back tire was still firmly on the ground.  Without the centre stand, the bike would lower with the weight of a rider on it, but you’d still have to mount the bike at that height.  Tom would need to stand on a box.)  The KTM 990 Adventure, on the other hand, has a much lower seat height (as you can see, my feet were planted firmly on the ground).  The KTM representative, who was only 5’9″, said he has ridden both the 640 and the 990, although he admitted to being b it intimidated the first time he rode the 640.  Apparently he was doing a promo in Nevada and they gave him the bike for a desert ride.  He had no choice but to hop on.  He’s still alive, so it can’t have been that bad.
<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/KTM.jpg”><IMG src="/images/14229-13631/KTM2.jpg”>

I asked the KTM representative, who has ridden on sand in the Nevada desert, which bike he would prefer if he were inclined to, say, ride across the Sahara.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  He said he would probably go with KTM’s custom Rally, which is a modified 640.  It is $32,000, and almost impossible to find even if you did have that kind of cash.

Next I checked out the beamers.  The new BMW R1200GS Adventure is a monstrosity of a bike.  It is absolutely huge.  The Dakar 650GS, on the other hand, is much more manageable, although I think my knees might be too flexed for riding long distances in comfort. 

<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/BMWAdventure1.jpg”> <IMG src="/images/14229-13631/BMWDakar2.jpg”>

I had an interesting conversation with one of the BMW reps.  He was encouraging of my “crazy” plans to ride across Africa.  He suggested local places to go for off-road training, and suggested I check out for more info on adventure motorcycling.  I imagine the BMWs are portrayed in a favourable light on that site. 

He was honest and told me that a lot of things can go wrong.  In fact, that very day one of his clients had driven his Dakar into a river in Peru and now the bike wouldn’t run.  The BMW rep said he had faxed wiring diagrams, but admitted to me candidly that the guy was “fucked”.  The nearest BMW dealership was in Santiago, some 2400 kms away.  He would have to arrange to transport the bike there.  The nearest village to where the guy was stranded didn’t even have motorized vehicles, other than a few scooters.

Next I went to see Charlie Boorman, who has just finished a new DVD about his experience racing from Paris to Dakar (the Dakar Rally).  I was looking for inspiration, but instead I got a dose of realism.  Charlie told fascinating stories about his adventures.  But what stuck in my mind is how often he hurt himself; how many bones has broken.  He told the story about how he sailed off a dune near Dubai and fell 70 feet, the bike landing on top of him.  Unable to ride because of a broken collar bone, he had to hang on to the back of another rider for hours (there were no foot pegs for passengers), in excruciating pain the entire way, to get back to civilization.

<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/Charlie.jpg”>
Charlie Boorman tells war stories from Dakar.

The injury that finally took him out of the Dakar rally was a seemingly mild accident – but he ended up breaking both his hands.  There were 230 racers in the Dakar Rally, and 50 doctors and nurses traveling with them.  That seems like a high ratio of medics to riders.  How many injuries were there?  I wouldn’t be surprised if those medics, despite their numbers, were kept incredibly busy.  After having watched some of the footage of the DVD, I was shocked at the number of spectacular wipeouts.  Riders were constantly falling off their bikes, and their bodies looked like they were taking one hell of a beating.  What am I getting into?

<IMG src="/images/14229-13631/Honda.jpg”><IMG src="/images/14229-13631/ducati.jpg”>
Left: Is this my next street bike?  I really like the Honda CBR 1000 RR.
Right: Quite possibly the nicest piece of tail I’ve ever seen.  But I would expect nothing less of Ducati.

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