vs BMW R1100RT

The setting was perfect for one of those bad '80's horror films. An empty summer camp, a violent thunderstorm, and three unsuspecting motorcyclists. We were just outside Parry Sound, racing against the storm, trying to find the damn camp that I could have sworn I once saw the sign for and Editor 'arris could have sworn he'd once been to.

Well, either fortunately or unfortunately (depending on whether or not you're the murderous, goalie-masked lunatic type), we never found the camp and were never individually mauled to our gory deaths. But being the manly-men we are (except for our third rider Wendy, who's not a man at all), we didn't give up until we had ridden up and down Highway 518 for over an hour. Getting soaked and blown all over by that crazy storm that had caught up with us. At about 1 AM - after somehow turning a 2 hour trip from Toronto into a 10 hour waterlogged marathon - we found the closest motel and simply passed out.

Waking up the next morning provided some interesting perspective. Sometimes checking into the first motel you see is no better for your health than being a victim in a homicidal rampage. We had jumped at the only room available with a third bed, maxing out our person-to-bed ratio. After surveying the half-inch cracks in the bricks that morning, we determined the beds weren't actually listing, but the rest of the motel was. Perhaps this was where the millions of tiny spiders that cuddled with me came from. Or maybe it was the reason for the musty stench of the room, which by now, had infiltrated all of our luggage and would follow us around for the rest of our trip.

Rob brushed his hair out of his eyes and once again gave me a look suggesting, "What the hell have you gotten me into this time?" Or maybe that's what he said, but I didn't care, partly because Editor 'arris can be a bitch before coffee, and mainly because I was too busy packing the bikes.

The Sault area of Northern Ontario has some great roads for the motorcyclist. Unfortunately, most of them are dirt. Here's one of the few paved versions.

Sault Ste. Marie is an underrated region. It's at the eastern most point of Lake Superior and is home to some of the most fun motorcycling roads in Ontario. I've gotten into the habit of going there regularly to teach a motorcycle course at Sault College, always returning with stories of great rides. Enough such that Rob decided to finally get in on the excitement with Wendy and I, and make a quick vacation of it.

Choosing bikes did lead to a bit of a debate and in the end, Editor 'arris and his tender tooshie won over my preference for sport-bikes. I very rarely see anyone else with tons of luggage draped over a sports-bike, so I agreed just to see how the majority of tourers did it.

Decision made, a pair of contrasting 1100cc twins would do the trick. Enter the BMW R1100RT and the Honda Shadow ACE Tourer. The Beemer chosen for it's reputation as a high-tech long distance weapon of the 90's. The Honda for it's simplistic retro 50's style, with 90's reliability. Both come standard with highly functional hard luggage, detachable on the RT, but somewhat editor-proof- (nothing is editor proof - 'arris) which sealed tightly against torrential rains and asinine magazine editors.

Friday was a good day to test out the comfort level of these 'touring' bikes. We needed to get to the Soo in time for Wendy and I to teach a class and Rob needed to quickly get to a TV - to watch England in the World Cup. So, we simply followed the main highways to get the functional part of the drive over with. Despite being designed with touring in mind, and notwithstanding the praise that each of these machines has received from the owners I've spoken with, neither myself nor Rob could stay comfortable for more than an hour at a time.

Fuel stops every 160 km (thanks to Wendy's 750 Virago's tiny range) were more welcome than they should have been. The RT does adjust to suit different riders with it's three position seat, but we found that it tilted forward slightly more than we would have liked. However, the ingenious editor discovered that the removal of the little rubber feet on the bottom of the seat-pan gave something close to an ideal position. The ACE was built with non-adjustable hardware, but was plenty roomy enough.

Louis grins as CMGs Nick Smirniw (centre) and Editor 'arris waste away the CMG expense budget of $4.25 (American!!) at the Keewadin Casino.

In Blind River, the last fuel stop of the afternoon, we split off from Rob due to his patriotic commitment to the English football squadron. The last thing we saw of him was his charging through town, looking for a sports bar while cheering "Hurrah England!!" Wendy and I continued on our way, safely passing everything in sight, short of the infamous French Saab (refer to Anusol™ award, OMG Aug/Sept/Oct 98).

Class taught and Dairy Queen visited, it was time to rendezvous with Rob and get on to Friday night. We had picked up another friend along the way, a biker in spirit, if not in ownership. Louis was pumped about going across the border and visiting the Keewadin Casino. This led us to a greasy all-you-can-eat buffet, joining various trailer trash blowing the bucks at the nickel slots. The casino was not without it's motorcycle content though, with slot machines offering both Yamaha V-Stars and Harley Sportsters as jackpots. Not to mention a display of one of Robbie Kenevil's crashed stunt bikes! We left relieved that none of us had gambling problems.

Saturday morning dawned with great expectations, but little energy. This was partly due to the convenience of the bikes. Having hard luggage is easily addictive. Going on a day trip and not sure if you need a rainsuit, or tools, or a camera, or an extra sweater, etc.? Who cares? Just stuff it all in the panniers and forget about it until you need it. These things are brilliant! And who needs a rainsuit anyway? The massive windscreens will keep you fairly dry in light rain or warm in cool weather. These bikes really take the challenge out of riding.

Saturday's ride consisted of a loop taking us out to Thessalon and up Highway 129 along the Mississagi River valley, which until now was one of Ontario's best kept motorcycle secrets. It was also the home of Ontario's proudly advertised tallest tree, brutally felled by some wacko with a chainsaw last year in some useless protest. I wonder if he was wearing a goalie mask?

We were going to follow 129 all the way to Chapleau, but were swayed by an absolutely dreamy sign at the head of regional highway 556 to Ranger Lake. This radiant yellow sign enticed us to follow it's 82km twisty road. A motorcyclist's dream. Of course, what it didn't warn us about was the lack of pavement after the first 1.5km. Oh well. We now had the opportunity to test the comfort and suspension of these machines over 50 miles of the twistiest, hilliest, most beat up washboard road we could find.

Do we know where we're going"?

"Yes ... I think so".

The next thing we knew we were avoiding big bloody rocks, randomly strewn about on the dirt that used to be a road

Riding the RT allowed me to just pretend that I was riding BMW's gravel road-eating bike, the R1100GS. Once I got used to the top heaviness of the bike, combined with the great feel from the Telelever front end, I was happy to just gas the bike and power the back end out of the corners. Yeah, an interesting way to test ride road bikes. I was on the Honda and found it's low end torque, combined with wide bars, quite good on this 'road'. A pair of knobbie tires and some upswept pipes and Honda might have a new class here - 'arris.

It's a good thing that Saturday night was relatively relaxed. A casual ride to Searchmont and a huge dinner were just what we needed to recharge our batteries for Sunday's adventures. The first mistake was letting me take the map and play guide. We started out by leaving town and taking regional highway 638 through a strangely and almost eerily agricultural region. The pavement was twisty and pink-coloured, but aside from that everything seemed normal enough.


CONTINUED (click here)


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