Perhaps the maddest thing Canada Moto Guide has ever done is create the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally. It makes no sense at all, which is very CMG.
Founding Editor Rob Harris describes here how the rally came to be, and how it unfolded on its first venture around Lake Ontario. From a disorganized group of five riders, it developed the next year into an organized group of 22 that helped raise money for Kids Help Line. It repeated every two years, taking different routes of 800 km on assorted machines, but always the focus was on the gutless but plucky little 49cc scooters. More than 100 riders attended the 2013 rally and the same again in 2015, when its organization was taken over by Kymco.
Every rally has had stories to tell, but those riders have followed a path set down by others. The very first rally, though – it was forging the way. Nobody was quite sure if it could be done, so they set off into the rain at 4 am to find out. – Ed.
WORDS: Rob Harris; PHOTOGRAPHY: Richard Seck
Alcohol is a dangerous thing. I’m not talking about the obvious here – drunken behaviour, drowning in your own vomit, etc. No, it’s its ability to make a bad idea seem good that has caused the most grief for me in the past.
You’d think that I’d learn from my mistakes, but I have also found that what may seem like a profound mistake at the time of execution, can suddenly become one of life’s notable occurrences, shortly after completion. The event in question is the CMG Mad Bastard Scooter Rally – an endurance rally using scooters.
Scooters … they sound sensible enough. The classic image is of old ladies boogying into town to pick up some food for Mr. Tiddles, right? Well yes, and no.
Let me start at the beginning, or maybe even just before.
Although CMG is by far the biggest online motorcycle magazine in Canada, it’s always tough to be able to get the funds to do stuff. This means that in order to be able to compete with the more affluent print mags we have to be creative … but we also have to be cheap.
So when we managed to get our hands on a Honda Ruckus scooter (the street-fighter of scooters) for the whole summer, we also had to come up with something to do with it, which was not only cheap, but also creative, and hopefully within the CMG style of oddness.
The alcohol did its job – enabling the oddity aspect – and on one winter’s night Mr. Seck (the CMG photographer) and myself came up with the idea to take the Ruckus on an endurance ride. The original plan was to merely head north, get to a certain distance and then turn around and head back. Not bad, but that was missing the all-important grin factor – the bit that cracks a grimace into a smile on those who you recount your idea to.
That missing factor came in the form of Lake Ontario. At about 800km in circumference, a scooter traveling a maximum speed of 60 km/h should be theoretically able to circumnavigate it in … oh, 13 hours? Allow another 3 hours for stops and another 2 for ‘mishaps/steep hills’ and you have an 18-hour ride, or thereabouts. And what better time to host this event than on, or as near to, the summer solstice? Thus ensuring the longest amount of daylight possible.
Yes, that’s endurance (with a purpose), cheap (little fuel and no accommodation) and most importantly, odd. Hell, you could even say it was mad …
And that is how the first ever CMG Mad Bastard Scooter ride was born.
Trouble was, as soon as we started telling people, anyone with a scooter was immediately expressing an interest in coming along. We had never figured that anyone else was as mad as us, and besides, we had a reason to go, they didn’t. Well, if other mad bastards wanted to go, why not?
So the first ever MBS Ride became the first Annual MBS Rally and we immediately set out to see what we could make of it.
DEATH BY A THOUSAND LOONIES
Three classes were set up depending on the engine capacity of the scooter (the under-75cc being the maddest “Straight Jacket” class), with the main rule being that you return to the start location within a 24-hour window, bringing proof that you actually went around the lake in order to qualify for official Mad Bastard status (receipts would suffice).
One of our first calls was to try and secure a location that would not only be open at 4 in the morning, but also stay open for the next 24 hours (or until the last scooter returned in that time period). We decided to try Motoretta Scooters on 554 College Street as it appeared to be a well-run shop and, more importantly, was located just around the corner from Mr. Seck’s abode (easing us into the early morning chaos).
Motoretta owner Morey Chaplick seemed to get it and not only offered up his store for the start/finish location, but also offered up a thousand dollars for the winner. Since this was technically a rally and not a race, we decided to modify the wording to a thousand loonies (it is a Mad Bastard Rally after all), with the winner being the one who was deemed to be the maddest entry. Although we didn’t really know what that meant, we figured that it would become self-evident pretty quickly.
A date was set (June 24th), and to keep things simple we decided to not try and set a route, or even a direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise), specifying that once you left the safety of Motoretta you were on your own.
All that was left to do now was to get the word out and do something with the Ruckus so that my 6’4” frame could fit on it well enough that I could endure 18 hours. Oh, and also be able to at least steer it – the stock position put my knees firmly against the handlebars, making bar movement somewhat limited.
A special page was set up on CMG along with numerous announcements in various scooter-specific sites, inviting anyone and everyone along … as long as they were on a scooter. The Ruckus adaptation was made with a pair of aluminum extrusions allowing the seat to go back and up, giving more legroom and extra height all in one. Slap a sheepskin on top, and the job was not only done, it looked pretty cool too.
Well, in a CMG kind of way.
THE SHORTEST NIGHT
The Tuesday before the Rally revealed that only 5 people had pre-registered – and that number included Mr. Seck and myself! We’d hoped for a minimum of 6 to 8, but at least it wasn’t just the two CMG guys (which would have meant the Rally would have to be renamed the CMG Sad Bastard Rally). At this point I think it’s fair to call the scooter-purist guys a bunch of wusses. We got some “wow, that’s nuts” replies from our posts on the various forums, but unless we see a healthier turn-out from them next year, the wuss name stands!
I was also starting to realize that holding the Rally on a weekday and the “once you leave you’re on your own” clause were probably not helping, but for this year at least that was the best we could muster. Still, there was no turning back now, and a small group helps to keep the potential chaos down, and that was a welcome thought.
Talking of chaos, one of the participants included a man named Bobb Todd. Bobb was a keener from the start and had gone out of his way to ride the course the week before on his GPS-equipped 650 V-Strom, and had come up with an 800+ km route in a clockwise direction.
Trouble was, he lived in Owen Sound and it was proving difficult for him to get his 1981 Honda C70 down to Toronto in time for the dawn start. No problem I thought, why not stay at Chez Seck?
Then – thanks to a mix of fate and pure chance – we met up with what was to become another M.B. rider – Gary Davidson. I knew Gary from some previous motorcycling endeavours and although he had originally been interested in the Rally, he’d opted out due to a mix of a heavy workload and no one to bend his arm.
Unbeknownst to us, Bobb had arranged to meet Gary at Chez Seck in order to sell him a GPS unit, the connections only being made when Gary turned up at the front door: “I know you” being exclaimed in unison. There was no doubting it, this was meant to be and by the end of Wednesday night Gary had phoned his boss to tell him not to expect to see him the next day.
The MB possie now stood at six.
A plan to get an early night turned into 11:30 pm, with alarms set for 3:00 am – only 3 1/2 hours later. Bobb got the floor next to my sofa-bed and duly confessed that he was a demon snorer …
Now, if there’s one thing that I can’t cope with, it’s snorers. I don’t blame them – shit, I even snore on occasion, it’s just that I have the tendency to focus on every snort, the rising crescendo being noted and analyzed at each step. Needless to say it makes sleeping impossible, and although exhausted, I spent the next one and a half hours focusing on every one of Bobb’s breaths.
Ironically, he didn’t really snore much, but the damage had been done and I found myself puttering down to Motoretta in the morning darkness with only two hours sleep under my belt and an estimated 18-hour ride ahead of me.
THE LONGEST DAY
Motoretta were true to their word, and shortly after we arrived, Jeremy – an unlucky Motoretta rep – showed up with a tray of coffees and a box of donuts.
In the next 30 minutes, Gary joined us, followed by Mr. Richard Szpin. Mr Szpin had eagerly contacted us when we originally announced the idea on CMG. The problem was that he did not have access to a scooter. As a writer for the Ontario based Ride On magazine we’d put him in touch with Honda Canada, who in turn had set him up with another Honda Ruckus for the ride.
A large and enthuthiastic Mr. Szpin showed up on a small and bog-standard Ruckus. Even Mr. Seck (who had secured another Ruckus, also courtesy of Honda Canada) had at least extended and softened the seat – thanks to a block of wood, some duct tape and an aftermarket air-cushion. Oh well, maybe he was making a point and going for the 1000 loonies…
With the first light of day illuminating some rather ominous clouds, a group of five MBs (one had failed to show, but I shall not embarrass Mr. Arthur Pidgeon by revealing his name) fired up their collective scooters and headed east out of Toronto …
04:55 hours – Motoretta Scooters, 514 College St, Toronto, On
With one no-show and five dopey-shows, scooter history was made as the first signs of morning light lit up ominous clouds. Eight hundred kilometres of side-roads lay ahead of us, with a 24-hour window in which to complete them.
Dark apartments, a smattering of taxicabs, the occasional drunken clubber and a very tired Motoretta rep (Jeremy) were the only witnesses to the historic event.
04:59 hours (+ 4 mins, 1 km) – Spadina Avenue, Toronto
It starts to rain, and with a grand total of 1 km under our belts we stop to don waterproofs. Bobb lights up a cigarette and snarls that we’re going to be in big trouble at this rate.
05:40 hours (+ 45 mins, 22.5 kms) – Near Highway 2 and the 401
After a 10-minute wait and one dubious u-turn, we all reunite and settle in to a long stretch of Hwy 2 to Kingston. Our first near-disaster. Coming out of Toronto on Hwy 2 just short of the 401 entry, half the group turn off to keep on Hwy 2, half continue. Bobb – cigarette lit – calculates that we’re averaging a measly 30 km/h, which would mean a 27-hour ride ahead of us.
06:30 hours (+ 1 hour, 35 mins, 60 kms) – somewhere east of Oshawa
We finally get past Oshawa and the grind of suburbia with its mass of stoplights. The clouds are clearing after doing a great job of blocking out the early morning sun, and we’re really starting to get into a groove.
A look back in my mirrors sees a receding Mr. Szpin. He isn’t looking happy.
07:00 hours (+ 2 hours, 5 mins, 90 kms) – somewhere a bit farther east of Oshawa
We stop for gas and amuse the attendant with the MBS Rally story. We’re feeling optimistic as we’re finally starting to get up to speed. Mr. Szpin doesn’t share the upswing in mood, declaring that the Ruckus is slow and uncomfortable and his back is hurting. He announces his official withdrawal from the Rally, but at least he tried.
Four riders hit the 2 again, with 180 kms/4 hours till Kingston and the ferry to Wolfe Island.
11:00 hours (+ 6 hours, 5 mins, 270 kms) – outskirts of Kingston
The outskirts of Kingston wrap around us after a rather enjoyable blast on the meandering Hwy 2. It’s good timing as we need to catch the ferry which departs hourly – on the half-hour – the next being at 11:30. The option to carry on to the Thousand Islands crossing (if we missed the ferry) was dubious, as it not only adds 50 km to the trip, but is listed as an expressway and so probably illegal … never mind full of scary-fast cars.
So far we seem to be stopping every 75-100 km (1 1/2 to 2 hours) for a quick rest and gas stop – 100 km being the maximum range of the C70 and B-Whiz – although the Rucki still haven’t illuminated their reserve lights. Still, Bobb and Gary have both covered for this limitation with red one-gallon gas cans strapped on where space allows. Average speed is a decent 45 km/h, which – if we can keep it up – would result in an 18-hour ride, hitting Toronto at 11 pm.
With 10 minutes till ferry departure, we have just enough time to grab some food from the Tim Horton’s around the corner. It’s the start of lunchtime, so the line-up is big, but the drive-through is empty and proves to be a quick way to stock-up. Bobb’s bike refuses to start and so he misses the chance to get some Timmies, but he says that he has his own supplies and plenty more cigarettes to smoke in the meantime.
12:30 hours (+ 7 hours, 35 mins, 290 kms) – US Border – Cape Vincent, New York
With sandwiches eaten and coffee on scooter floorboards, we take to the ferry and utilize the opportunity to renourish, stretch and contemplate the US part of the trip. A black helicopter circles overhead. Bobb lights up another cigarette. I realize that I have left my tinfoil hat at home.
After a short blast across the 11 km of Wolf Island, we time it perfectly for the next ferry over to the US.
When we disembark, Peter Hoogeveen of Iron-butt/Blackfly 1600 fame is waiting to greet us. He and Bobb Todd are fellow endurance riders and friends, and Peter decided to take a small diversion on his way from Montreal to Toronto to have a laugh at our expense.
13:00 hours (+ 8 hours, 5 mins, 291 kms) – leaving US Customs, NY
A strong headwind has started from the southwest, and for the next 100 km the speeds drop down from a heady 60 km/h to a frustrating 50 km/h. That’s at least two hours of an uncomfortable crouched position to minimize wind resistance.
Although my Ruckus adaptations are working well, the greater height means that I have a greater frontal area and greater drag. In order to keep up with the others, I have to get as flat as possible, which results in a miniscule speed difference, but holding the position for five minutes is enough to gain about 50 meters with the pack. It’s a painful reality, but the option to give the throttle a quick squirt to catch up with the group is not there when everyone is flat-out all the time.
Peter buzzes back and forth on his Yamaha FJR1300 with annoying ease, but it’s good to have someone there who can keep an eye on the back marker, to reduce the chance of losing a colleague.
At our next gas stop, Richard shows me how to position the Crampbuster so that it locks against the brake lever and holds the throttle wide open. In fact, now there’s no need to hold onto the bars at all, and I quickly learn to steer the Ruckus by my feet on the floorboard alone. This is a lifesaver as I can find more comfortable positions, thus helping to save my back.
15:00 hours (approx) (+ 10 hours, 5 mins, 400 kms) – Mexico, NY
We finally hit the town of Mexico, NY, which is roughly also the halfway point. It’s been 10 hours so far and the loss of time on the ferries, and me having to fill in a visa/waiver at the border, has reduced our average speed to 40 km/h, projected arrival time now a very painful 1:00 am. And that’s assuming that we can even sustain this pace – fatigue now becoming a big factor.
But spirits are still high, boosted by the fact that we’ve just joined Hwy 104, which swings us due west – the head-wind changing to a much less troublesome side-wind. Traffic starts to pick up and we’re forced to ride mostly on the hard shoulder as many cars and trucks seem to have great difficulty deciding when to try and pass a group of scooters. Oddly, they seem to hang back during the long straight bits and then panic-squirt by as soon as a corner comes and everything tightens up.
We break the boredom with the occasional dual – one Ruckus slowly creeping up on the other by drafting it, the lead Ruckus blocking when the plot is discovered.
17:00 hours (+ 12 hours, 5 mins, 485 kms) – somewhere near Sodus, NY
A quick calculation shows that we’ve almost done 500 km, and I muse that the remaining 300 km could be done in … 6 hours? Bobb lights up another cigarette and brings my optimism back to reality with a more realistic 7 – 8 hours.It’s now been 12 hours since we left Toronto and I’m starting to feel my first signs of real fatigue. It seems like a good point to grab dinner and take a much-needed break, so we peel off into a Burger King – fast food for a slow group.
I hate him.
18:00 hours (+ 13 hours, 5 mins, 510 kms) – Around Rochester, NY
As we entered Rochester, the 104 got noticeably bigger and without announcement turned into Expressway. Although the map warned of this impending problem, Bobb seemed to think it was going to be a minor blip on an otherwise excellent route.
Panic braking and last minute swerves of the cars and trucks behind us seemed to play out in slow motion, as Bobb on his C70 led the way as the gallant four rode into the Valley of Death. It’s not helped by misleading signs, suggesting that you have to be in the middle lane in order to stay on the 104. Bobb followed said signage, but the rest of us refused to follow and stayed in the relatively safety of the slow (ish) lane and observed the mayhem occurring directly behind Bobb.
It was a relatively short, white-knuckled experience, and a post Rochester gas-stop was full of tales of close misses and stern looks at Bobb, who had been oblivious to the chaos unfolding behind him.
21:00 hours (+ 16 hours, 5 mins, 630 kms) – Wrights Corner, NY
The last 3 hours of the 104 have proven to be quite pleasant – with little to no traffic to make dodgy passing maneuvers. But post-dinner fatigue has set in, my limbs are aching and my body is burning with the buzz of exhaustion. Dark clouds ahead block the glare of the setting sun, but also warn of impending wetness.
We are now within 40 kms of the Canadian border and at our last gas stop of the US part of the trip. It’s dark, the heavens have just opened, and Bobb’s bike is refusing to start again. We’re joking around about having to leave him there, but there’s also the reality that that is exactly what we might have to do.
It’s still not starting and making no sounds that it might either. I remember an old mechanic’s trick, pull the plug-cap off just a tad, and with the next kick we’re back in action. Relieved at not having to make the tough decision, we depart the dryness of the canopy and into the saturated darkness.
The hour-ride to the border is horrible. My glasses fog up, traffic cuts too close when passing and my whole body is starting to vibrate from fatigue. My jacket starts to leak, and in pulling over I manage to split the group, Bobb and Richard carrying on oblivious. Peter zooms ahead to catch them but it’s only chance that we meet up again half an hour later, just shy of the border.
22:30 hours (+ 17 hours, 35 mins, 665 kms) – Canadian Border, Niagara Falls, On
Canada! Thank God.
The rain subsides as we enter the chaos of Niagara Falls and spend the next half hour getting lost down side roads, sidewalks and the occasional grassy verge. Bobb seems to be totally lost but doesn’t want to admit it. I’m getting frustrated but it’s unfair to vent on the man who has so far done a stellar job of getting us around the lake … Rochester expressway not included.
We eventually stop to ask directions and find that we’re on the right road – just going in the wrong direction. How CMG.
23:00 – 01:00 hours (+ 18 – 20 hours, 5 mins) – Niagara Escarpment, On
It’s a long, hard slog along highway 20 across the top of the Niagara Escarpment. It’s also cold as the ambient temperature tumbles. We’re damp, very tired, and the end is getting close enough that frustration at its unavailability is starting to gnaw. This is the low point of the trip.
I had been following a rather contorted-looking Mr. Seck, who was transfixed on the road ahead. I was worried that he was starting to shut down. Although it would be a shame to call it quits at this point and check into a motel, the risk of hypothermia is real and it would be better to try and fail in one piece, than to carry on and risk life and limb.
I pull alongside him (a three-minute, hunched-up task) and get his attention with a ‘thumbs-up’ question sign. He comes out of his fixation, absorbs my intent and returns my thumbs-up with a smile. Assured that we can keep going, I drop back and tuck in.
01:00 hours (+ 20 hours, 5 mins, 730 kms) – Tim Horton’s, Hamilton Mountain, On
Just before the descent off Hamilton Mountain, we spot the warm light of a Tim Horton’s and veer off for a coffee and an extended period with the washroom’s hot-air dryer.
My whole being is begging to lie down, never mind get up and back out into the darkness. Even Gary, who up until now had been the spirit of enthusiasm and happiness, was starting to look a little ragged.
It’s now 1:30 a.m. and although we’re only about 80 km from home, the thought of another 1 1/2 hours is agonizing. I grab a pile of newspapers and stuff them down the front of my jacket in a desperate attempt to quell the cold.
01:30 – 03:00 hours (+ 21 1/2 – 22 hours, 5 mins) – Lakeshore Blvd, GTA
We hit the long descent of Hamilton Mountain at full throttle and the Ruckus’s speedo satisfyingly goes off the end of the scale. Fantasies of being in a warm car, blasting along the QEW, enter my mind. Even the Skyway Bridge is off limits, and we meander down deserted service roads and cross under the Skyway via a rusting lift-bridge.
We’re back on Highway 2/Lakeshore Blvd at full speed. We’ve found some second, third, fourth wind as we knock off the last few km with nary a red light to impede progress. Although I’m dying for a pee, there’s no stopping now as we sense the end is nigh.
Peter peels off for a warm bed at his folks in Etobicoke, and we wave a hearty goodbye to an unexpected but most welcome overseer.
As the city of Toronto comes into view ahead of us, the pain diminishes and exhilaration takes over. We’re now blasting down the Indy-equipped Exhibition Place stretch of the Lakeshore, stands paying empty witness to the triumphant returning mad bastards.
03:00 hours (+ 22 hours, 5 mins, 808 kms) – Bathurst Street, Toronto, On
The familiar turn-off debacle from Lakeshore to Bathurst is finally upon us and we’re in joyous mood as we blast north, and then west onto College. Before us are the lights of Motoretta. Here was victory and at exactly 03:10 hours, four very tired scooterists pull onto the sidewalk, turn off their faithful steeds and, well, grin.
It had taken a massive 22 hours and 15 minutes, averaging a painful 36.4 km/h. With a bit more discipline and a more efficient route out of Toronto and through Niagara Falls, we could maybe have cut a couple of hours off that. But we’d done it and within the allotted 24 hours to boot. Besides, the 22-hour 15-minute record is not bad for a first attempt.
Maybe we can beat it at next year’s Mad Bastard Scooter Rally? We’ve got a whole year in which to recover!
Anyone know where Bobb is? He, Rob and someone else (Mr. Seck?) stayed at my place for a CMG pub once.
Good times, good memories.