First off, as a reviewer I must say that I’m a friend of the author. Not a “close” friend – Max and I maybe see each other twice a decade and don’t talk or e-mail more than a couple of times a year. But our common thread is motorcycles, and we’ve both made sort of a living (such as it is in Canada) writing about them for several decades.
Allow me to say here that in my opinion, Max is superior to anyone else in Canada who’s ever written about the pleasures, rewards, and general high-end feelings anyone can get from riding – he’s the best, and I believe that his columns and stories in Cycle Canada over the years and his books (check out Word Dust Press) easily support that contention.
Now, one of Max’s closest friends, and a neighbour and close riding buddy, died last year. It’s always tough when somebody close to us dies, and this latest book from Max is basically a memorial to his good friend, incorporating various columns over the years, but with some light edits and additions to focus on Neddow’s contributions to the rides. The material dates back in some cases to more than two decades ago, and includes many hilarious references to currently famous Canadian motorcyclists, including nine-time Canadian superbike champ Jordan Szoke.
And of course, it’s doubtful you’ve been everywhere Max has with Neddow, so you’ll no doubt pick up some excellent touring trips as well, particularly if you’re thinking about heading toward Quebec or Nova Scotia sometime.
Great for yourself or as a gift for a riding friend. In the meantime, here’s an extract from the book, an Around the Bend column Max wrote for Cycle Canada about Neddow and himself playing hookie to go for a ride.
Can’t get there from here
First published in Cycle Canada magazine April, 2005
Neddow doesn’t avoid work so much as not actively seek it out. If you bring a project to his door, that’s one thing, but don’t expect him to knock on your door to see if anything needs fixing. Which is a pity, because he’s very good at fixing things, particularly weird stuff most people would never touch.
Such as this Kawasaki 350cc industrial single-cylinder engine of mine, a sturdy chunk of internal combustion about the size of a ZX1000 engine producing the power of a 50cc scooter. When it needed repair, I took it to Neddow. Or the mating of a Velorex sidecar to my Seca 650 so that sidecar could easily be removed, returning motorcycle to its natural state in a few minutes, a job still not finished because we keep making changes to the connections. Or the hydraulic pump he connected to a 350cc Honda twin starter motor for his son’s low-rider, hopping bicycle (the truly weird thing being that neither he nor his son saw anything odd about this venture).
As long as the project involves things metal and mechanical, Neddow is keen. If it’s wood, don’t bother talking to him. And, of course, you need to deliver. Leaving his shop to work elsewhere is too much like having a job, a horror to be avoided at all cost. Fortunately for Neddow and me, the area of northern Ontario we call home is blessed with high unemployment, so there’s very little threat of that happening.
But Neddow does have this one shame, a blotch on his near-clean record of unemployment. Every once in a while he goes to work for Mullie. Mullie sells stuff operated with hydraulics, one of Neddow’s many mechanical specialties. So Mullie pays Neddow a bunch to pop around every now and then (mostly then) to fix things. It’s a brief exposure to work—with minimal risk of addiction—that benefits both parties. So I wasn’t surprised when Neddow called to say he was headed up my way to see Mullie, and did I want to go for a ride via the long way there? As I had just installed new fork springs in the Seca, a ride with Neddow—which typically includes the road-scrap the rest of the world bypasses—seemed a good idea.
Mullie’s is north of my place, so we aimed east, connecting the usual USE AT YOUR OWN RISK, NOT MAINTAINED invitations to good riding. We followed a route suggested by the whim of the moment—no map, compass, or GPS to nag or interfere with the serendipitous pleasures of an unstructured day. Which is how we found Chrissy’s Cafe in Mattawa, featuring an all-day breakfast from 4:00 am to 2:00 pm, when it closes. (Actually, I think it’s permanently closed now, a loss to all fans of extreme cholesterol.)
From the standpoint of Neddow’s job prospects it eventually became apparent that aiming toward Mullie’s, west of Mattawa, would be a good idea. So we headed north, following that torturous patchwork of pavement known as Hwy 533. But my, what a wonderful gathering of curves, all kinds, all beat to hell by logging trucks that stray into the oncoming lane while wallowing around blind corners, air-brakes howling as recapped tires stutter-screech the surface into tarmac washboard. It’s a challenge even on a dual-purpose bike and way beyond the capabilities of my little Seca’s historic twin-shock suspension, new fork springs notwithstanding. Up on the pegs, handlebars thrashing back and forth like the horns of a Calgary Stampede steer, I fought to remain on this rodeo road, unable to ease up because Neddow was right behind me on his KLR.
The fun ends at Hwy 63 where we decided to head southwest in the approximate direction of Mullie’s. Here, the pavement proved luxurious in comparison, despite the occasional pothole, heave, and crack, its long straights and lazy curves making for a relaxing ride. And slightly boring. So when Widdifield Station Road arrived, and we traded relaxation for gravel, heading north. Away from Mullie’s.
My last taste of this road happened too many years ago. Beyond the initial few feet of pavement, it used to be a rough bit of twisted two-track that demanded constant attention to avoid the mud holes and protruding boulders. Still more years ago, a nudist camp shared space with the surrounding northern bush, blackflies and mosquitoes. The camp is gone, and even the road now wears a coat, this one of reasonably smooth gravel, the route still largely free of straights, making an ideal run for the Seca.
We circled around Four Mile Lake to Feronia, stopping at Hwy 63 again. Mullie’s was now but a few kilometres directly south of us. Across the Mattawa River. Which you can only traverse by boat or by the bridge back in downtown Mattawa. Or by sneaking around its western end in North Bay, where the sun was beginning to set on another day wasted away in pursuit of the giggle.
It was too late to get to Mullie’s. Who would have thought finding work could be so difficult? But that’s the beauty of being unemployed in the north—sometimes the things that need fixing are best tended to from the seat of motorcycle.
Adventures with Neddow, ISBN 978-0-9730263-4-4, a book by Max Burns, published by Word Dust Press, Astorville, Ontario, $24.95