This year marks two decades of publication for Canada Moto Guide, which started life in 1997 as CMG Online.
Over the years, we’ve done some great stuff and some stupid stuff, but we’ve always had fun. There’ve been rallies, races and road trips, as well as testing pretty much every motorcycle that ever came to Canada. We’ve told you all about these adventures and misadventures on the electronic pages of CMG, and now it’s time to look back at some of our favourites.
We’ll run 20 stories over the next 20 Throwback Thursdays as a reminder of where we’ve come from and just how great we can be. Today, we’ll go right back to the beginning, when Founding Editor Rob Harris went home to the U.K. and mixed it up with a flock of sheep, a cascade of warm beer, and a Triumph Trophy. It’s classic Editor ‘Arris, right down to one of the Trophy’s best points being that it was free to him for a week.
Thank you to Jim Hewitt, now resident in Melbourne, Australia, who found and scanned some of the original photos from this article so we could publish them properly. And please excuse the other tiny photos – we were still figuring out this Internet thing back in ’97 and everybody was still on dial-up. – Ed.
1997: Northern England
Returning to the land I’d given up just a few years ago in favour of my new home, Canada, I was given a typical English summer greeting of low overcast clouds and a chilly 9 degrees Celsius as the plane descended from its sunny domain at 30,000 feet. Coming back stirs up many old emotions. This was where I was born, grew up, kissed my first gurl, and (eventually) got laid for the first time.
I had two weeks planned, half of which to be spent catching up with old friends and the rest riding the new Triumph Trophy 1200, which had been arranged courtesy of Triumph Canada’s Chris Ellis. This was gonna be great!
A few days later I arrived at the Triumph factory in Hinkley, Leicestershire, way earlier than I’d arranged, and so had a couple of hours’ wait until the Trophy would be ready. Not to mind, a group of French Triumph owners were already there, waiting for a tour of the factory. Ten minutes later I was following along too.
If you ever make it over to England, it’s worth trying to get on this tour, but better arrange it before you arrive, otherwise you’ll be lucky to make it past the main gate. Unfortunately, there are no cameras allowed within the factory, and so that’s why there’re no pictures here.
After the tour I was given the keys and a quick run down of the Trophy’s doo-dads. I got the ’96 1200, four-cylinder version, but Triumph also puts out a smaller 900 triple, which is essentially identical apart from the engine. The 1200 came fitted with an optional high screen (now standard equipment after the smaller screen received universal slagging) and the standard hard luggage, which can hold two full face helmets and is easily and quickly detached and reattached – very useful.
The ’96 model was the first year of the revamped Trophy, which although using the same chassis and engine as its predecessor, has totally new and improved bodywork. The whole unit looks well designed and integrated with an attention to detail that Mr Honda would be envious of. However, the new Trophy has found itself either in the ‘love the looks or hate them’ category. This is mainly thanks to the chrome rimmed dual headlights which look uncannily like a pair of designer sunglasses. Initially, I agreed with one journalist who said that ‘the new Trophy must have fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down’. However, the style has somewhat grown on me and I now consider it distinct rather than just plain ugly.
The trip back to my northern motherland (North Yorkshire) via the M1 was mind numbing but comfortable, thanks to the enormous fairing. The next day was the start of a two-day trip with my brother as passenger around my old stomping grounds, the Yorkshire Dales. So with waterproofs (essential) and a change ‘a’ clothes, I headed north with a rather nervous passenger.
Now, nervous passengers are always a challenge, especially when they’re around the 250 lb mark. Brother Mike used to ride a bike himself a few years back, and was obviously not comfortable with renewing his acquaintance with two wheels from the back of the bike. It didn’t help much that we were at the cargo design limit of the bike either. In order for Mike to fit he had to invade some of my space, pushing me forward past the ideal riding position.
However, at a combined weight of nearly 500 lb, plus luggage, the Trophy 1200 still had the required torque for sudden bursts of speed without necessitating dropping down a gear first. Triumph seems to have mastered its four-cylinder engine design: it’s very smooth (except for a slight buzz at 100 mph), with copious power, gruntmeister torque and no word (to date) of any reliability problems.
Initially, corners were hard work, and every passing manoeuvre was accompanied by nervous squeezing of the legs, just in case I’d forgotten my brother’s presence. The spine-framed Triumphs (of which the Trophy is one) have a bit of a reputation for a relatively high centre of gravity. Solo, this isn’t much of a problem, but with two big buggers and luggage, slow-speed riding, especially around town, becomes a real chore. I found it best to drag my feet in stop-and-go traffic to prevent a potentially very embarrassing sideways spill.
As we hit the hills and the oh-so-twisty roads of the Dales, I was once again back in motorcycling nirvana. The Trophy coped well until pushed hard, when it would tend to wallow and grind out in corners. Although this was always predictable and therefore controllable, it was obviously not helped by the cargo weight. But then at 515 lb dry weight, the Trophy is not a light puppy anyway. Never mind, let’s pull over and crank up the rear pre-load. Hmmhh, ‘take it to your local Triumph dealer for adjustment,’ stated the owner’s manual – guess we’d just have to ride a bit slower.
Our first day ended up at Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel. If you’re on a tight budget, England offers few cheapies. Youth Hostels are an exception to this at approx. $15 a night. The down side is that you have to sleep in dormitories. Spending the night in a room with 10 exhausted hill walkers is akin to trying to sleep in the centre of the 401 on a Friday afternoon. I was treated to quadraphonic, bed-vibrating snoring. After two hours I finally gave up, put four chairs together in the TV room, and had an uncomfortable but quiet resting place.
The next day we planned a loop through the core of the Dales and then back home. First destination was Tan Hill pub, which at 1,760 feet above sea level is the highest in Britain. The ride up saw the temperature drop steadily and the wind pick up accordingly. As with most touring bikes, the side gusts would blow us across the road, but never enough to cause pant-pooping. The big screen and heat off the engine were a godsend, and kept the worst of the cold from me. However, had it actually been warm during my trip, that engine heat may not have been so welcomed.
Many of the roads up here are open (no walls or fencing), which are pure ecstasy for bikers, but with the added danger of kamikaze sheep waiting around blind corners for the unsuspecting motorcyclist. Talking of hazards, on a single track piece of road, the Brit bikers’ arch enemy, a Volvo Wagon, decided that not only should he not move over, but should also pass us as fast as possible. Knees in and buttocks clenched, we watched him slide past with inches to spare (where’s my Anusol when I need it?). We let our disapproval be known with the English two-fingered salute, but then if he wasn’t paying attention to what was ahead of him, he probably wasn’t paying attention to what was behind him either. Bastard.
Cold, and wondering why summer had deserted us on July 31, we stopped in a cafe for a coffee and chip butty (fries sandwich – don’t judge until you’ve tried one). A quick discussion and we agreed to make a slight diversion to take in Alum Pot. Now this, as the name suggests, has nothing to do with happy smoking drugs – no. It is indeed a big, big mother of a hole in the ground, into which a stream falls for 350 feet before splashing into a pool at the bottom. It’s a short walk from the road, interrupted half-way by a sign declaring that this is private land and persons wishing to cross it should firstly go to a farm in a nearby village to pay 30p (about 60 cents) just for the privilege! Yorkshire folk can be a bit tight when it comes to money. “We’ll pay afterward”.
Alum Pot is surrounded by stone wall to foil the kamikaze sheep. Fortunately, people can leap over the perimeter wall and carefully potter down to the hole’s edge. When I got there I suddenly got that strange urge to jump. Being of strong will, I opted to just gawp into the darkness and then carefully retreat instead. With the day rapidly coming to an end, we whipped back to home base for many a pint of warm beer and a blissfully quiet bedroom. Oh no, we’d forgotten to pay our 30p! How will I ever be able to sleep now?
After a few days riding with me big brother as passenger I decided it was time to dump the sibling and go it alone. Besides, I wanted the whole seat to myself! T’was time to team up with somebody who had their own steed. Enter stage left, my trusty mate Jim Hewitt.
I met Jim at University, convinced him that motorbikes were good (much to the disapproval of his dad) and recommended that he buy a real crappy old Honda CB550 (the single overhead cam jobbie). Jim spent most of his time fixing rather than riding (still does I think) but he now knows all about oil leaks, ’70s Honda cam chains and just how few parts a fist full of dollars will get you. Luckily, he had just rebuilt the motor so that we could explore one of England’s true biking heavens, the Lake District. By the way, in England anything bigger than a baseball diamond is considered a lake – Canadians would probably consider this area the Little Pond District!
The morning of the Great Harris/Hewitt Expedition was spent trying to do the ignition timing on the CB. Huh, damn points, I cursed as I tried to juggle a timing light, feeler gauges and two screwdrivers. The Trophy looked on smugly through its chrome rimmed headlights – ’90s technology ready to go, ’70s technology ready to die.
“That’s good enough, you lead just in case there’s any problems”. Or roughly translated “If that shit heap dies, you die too”.
With half the day gone already, we quickly identified a likely campsite via a relatively twisty route over the tops. Since I was now passenger-free, the Trophy was loaded with all the gear for two. This is where a touring bike like this comes into its own. No more precarious mountains on the back, held on by fraying bungee cords and a huge dollop of optimism. The hard bags held most of the stuff, with the rear of the seat being used for the sleeping bags and ‘tent’. I hesitate to call a bright yellow sheet of prehistoric plastic a tent, but Jim called it a tent so I gave him the benefit of the doubt (oh god please don’t let it rain!).
After a quick blast back over the Dales and a brief stop for chips smothered in curry sauce (the English know how to build up to a good heart attack!) [bloody vegetarian – LT] we meandered up Great Langdale to its upper reaches where our campsite beckoned, walled in on three sides by stony-capped mountains (well, big hills anyway). Luckily, we’d got there just before the rush of weekend tourists and so managed to erect our yellow sheet (please, please please, don’t rain) in a prime spot within easy staggering distance of the bogs (toilets).
The evening was spent at the local pub and then later staggering from tent to bogs to tent to bogs – good location!
The next day began with veggie Lincolnshire sausages and baked beans (yum) [Bloody etc. – LT]. We then loaded up with a few essentials (waterproofs and a sweater – it was only August after all), and hit the road to Hardknott Pass. This is a road that biker legends are made of. Twisty, windy, with a healthy scattering of 3-in-1 hills (30% gradients). The trick here is to avoid getting stuck behind cars, or even worse, buses. If this happens, pull over, create a gap, slap it in first and if ascending put all your weight over the front, if descending, toward the back.
Ignoring this means you can’t sustain stability speed and before you know it you’re on your ass slowly descending the embarrassing way. For the sake of you the reader, I ignored my own advice and stopped right at the steepest point of Hardknott Pass for a photo op and then hurried to get started again before an approaching group of cars got in front of us. Trying to manoeuvre a bike with the weight of a Trophy on a cliff doesn’t allow you much room for error. The weight shifted to the right and I slung out a leg in an attempt to stop the Trophy from trying to kiss the asphalt. I succeeded, but was now in no position to pull said beast back to the vertical.
“Jim, Jim, I’m falling and I can’t get it back up!”
“Oh, hang on,” said Jim, as he leisurely put his CB into neutral, turned off the ignition and carefully put the sidestand down, before strolling over as the Trophy slid ever nearer to the horizontal. A tug on the bars got it back upright, and after a brief moment’s rest to let the adrenaline subside, we were back on the road.
After a day spent cruising similar roads and visiting many ‘ponds’ – Wastwater being the most picturesque, and deepest at 20 feet (okay I jest, it’s actually 260 feet), we wound back for another night of drunken debauchery.
The next day was time to head back via the famous biker hangout, The Devil’s Bridge. If you ever get the chance to go over, this is a must. Situated between Skipton and Kirkby Longsdale, just off the A65, the Devil’s Bridge is a weekend biking mecca, but especially so on Sundays, when the authorities go as far as closing the main parking area to cages and making it bike parking only – the way it should be in my opinion. We arrived at 3 p.m. to find the parking area full, with bikes overspilling onto each side of the road. Handy tip #2 – the road is bordered by double yellow lines. This is English traffic rules for no stopping and absolutely no parking! We arrived as a policeman was slowly making his way from one end to the other, giving out parking tickets on his way. Bit tight really, as the bikes posed no hazard – but then it’s the law ain’t it – ker-CHING ($$$)!
With bikes safely parked out of fund-raising way, we ventured to the famed bridge. Famed? For what? Well we’re in Northern England here and Northerners are well ‘ard (tough). Ask any Northerner and that’s what they’ll tell you just before they punch yer lights out for asking the question in the first place. Southerners are ‘Soft Southern Poofters’, according to Northerners, anyway. And since I came from the North, I’ve a mind to agree.
Anyway, Devil’s Bridge is a northern proving ground. Who needs a bungy cord when t’waters deep enough? Besides it’s soft enough to break the fall, and you get a free bath at the end as an added bonus. Yes, you guessed it, Devil’s Bridge is the poor man’s high-diving board – well falling-off board may be a bit more accurate. Of course, since I’m now a Canadian (well almost) I had nothing to prove, so I did the civilized thing and watched from the riverside, sipping tea, smoking tabs and taking pictures. In fact, rumour has it that the ticket happy policeman joined in on the bridge jumping, but not on a voluntary basis…
After watching a dozen or so majestic belly flops, we’d snickered enough and so blasted back home for more warm beer and stodgy chips. All in all a most welcome break from the straightness and flatness of Ontario’s road network. Oh, something worthy of a mention. When I was returning the Trophy to Triumph HQ, I had the misfortune to go onto reserve with 201 miles on the clock. No problem, there’ll be a gas station soon.
Eleven miles later, the Trophy spluttered to a halt. Luckily I coasted to a halt next to three AA guys (CAA equivalents) who went out of their way to the nearest gas station to save my embarrassed hide. Thanks guys! By my calculations the Trophy only returned 30 mpg – not too great guys (Triumph guys that is).
Finally, some things I reckon would help the Trophy (although overall I found it very competent at what I wanted it to do).
1) A softer seat (or maybe I just have buns of putty).
2) Shaft drive – It’s a tourer after all.
3) ABS – At least as an option.
4) Lower centre of gravity – hard to fix I know, but it does make it a bit difficult to manoeuvre at low speeds.
1) Very usable engine.
2) Excellent weather protection from monstrous fairing.
3) Excellent hard bags – yes they will hold a full-face helmet.
4) It was free for a week. Yep, didn’t cost me a penny. Ha ha ha…
Many thanks to Triumph and Triumph Canada’s Chris Ellis for organizing the loaner. Also to Jim for being flexible enough to fit within my schedule and me brother and sister for looking after me.