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December 15, 2010

He made it!

Part 4–and the finale –of Huggy’s ‘Labrador Labour of Love’

[Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]

… The last 295km went by faster than I had expected. By this time, the shooting had more or less wrapped up until Goose Bay. It was time to make hay while the sun shone!

This is where I really got in the groove with the Super Tenere. I was able to ride for long stretches at a time at my own speed. After having about 750km on it, I was very comfortable with its handling and what to expect. Miraculously, about 60 to 75km from Goose Bay a perfect stretch of pavement presented itself with nobody around for miles. Thank God for stimulus spending! Nothing against the mostly gravel road I had been riding to that point, but it felt like a red carpet had been rolled out.

Being in marketing, I’ve always watched commercials with a keen eye and thought about the production of the ad. My last 50km entering Goose Bay felt like I was starring in an ad with cameras rolling. Here I was, riding the latest and greatest motorcycle down a pristine, tree-lined road without anyone else in sight. The leaves swirling behind me as I sped past. Life is good.


We stopped at the sign for Goose Bay for a photo-op and I had a chance to call Marty from Frenchie’s. He met us at the top of the main drag and led us to the shop for the finishing shoot with Pascal, the owner of Frenchie’s.

It was a wrap, I had made it. I hadn’t spent a dime on food or accommodations over the course of three days (and no, I didn’t pack any food either). As a result, Dave Hatch is to host an entire episode on National TV with the word “YAMAHA” written across his forehead! Hmm… Should I use Sharpie fine point or maybe a Yamaha tattoo?

Two good, hard working Labrador men….

To celebrate, Marty invited the crew back to his place … check that, his garage, for some caribou meat and beverages. The wood stove was blazing and it felt great to cozy up next to it while snacking on some of Labrador’s finest wild game. What a way to cap the trip off! (For those keeping score at home, I didn’t buy any food until the following morning.)

….and some wholesome Labrador dinner.

We did a summary shoot in the morning down by the water. Pascal then gave us the unofficial Goose Bay tour. I even found a T-shirt that read, “I survived the Trans-Labrador Highway,” while looking for souvenirs. How perfect was that? Pascal drove us over to the airport and we were off.

The more of these trips I do, the more I realize there are Yamaha enthusiasts all across this land in every nook and cranny willing to help you on your way. If you ever do plan on doing a long-distance trip, be sure to scout the Yamaha dealers along the way. They can always help or point you in the right direction for any people or places you might want to see. We’re united by a common passion. It’s remarkable how that passion can take you from strangers to friends in a mere instant.

For more photos please visit: facebook.com/yamahamotorcanada and visit the Photos section.

The season premiere of A Motorcycle Experience will be on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 11:30AM EST. All shows are broadcast on TSN.

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December 8, 2010

Part 3: Labour of Love

Part 3 of 4

[Click here for Part 1; Click here for Part 2.]


Huggy stares into the great unknown…

… In the morning, the guys woke me up with a surprise shoot. Let me set the scene: Mike and Tyler roll up the door, with the sun blazing and the record light flashing red. I don’t think People Magazine will be calling me anytime soon for their “50 Most Beautiful People,” if they ever see this footage. HD camera + sleeping Huggy + blinding sunlight + rough night’s sleep = Huggy Ogre!

It wasn’t long before we got sorted and on the way. Today we had to reach Labrador City/Wabush, by night fall, with stops in Gagnon, Mount Wright, and the Labrador border along the way. Not that hard when you consider it was only 268km, but we had a lot of TV to shoot with many stops and passes along the way. Filming is a lot of “Hurry up and wait!”

Gagnon was eerie; it’s the definition of a ghost town. Pavement, curbs, driveways, sidewalks, and sewer grates but, no housing or structures whatsoever. Turns out the mine that employed everyone in town went bust sometime in 1985. Since everything was pre-fabricated, they packed up and left!

We carried on, reaching Mont Wright, a gigantic iron ore mine, in late afternoon. I pulled over and was astonished to see that, due to the high iron content in the water, the lake next to the mine was completely red! At this point I was starting to get pretty fatigued and this shoot was tough. After non-stop riding for the better part of two hours my face was frozen. Who cares, right? Yes, but a heck of a lot harder to do a good job on the camera when your mouth can’t move and simply enunciating words becomes a chore. Just ask Sloth from the Goonies.

At kilomtre #570, we hit Labrador and the start of the Trans-Labrador highway. All that effort just to get to the start! We stopped at a gas station to get some fuel. The attendant took one look and knew we weren’t natives. After telling him we were looking for Morley at Hewlett Minpaco, he offered to drive over and show us exactly where it was. Now THAT is Labrador hospitality!


Just in case Huggy had any “accidents,” Morley asked him to sleep on the floor.

After touring the shop and chatting with Morley for awhile, I struck a deal for food and accommodations. Morley would allow me to sleep on the showroom floor for the night, and he would provide a large pizza and chocolate milk. In exchange, I would shine up all the Yamaha’s in his showroom. I was very thankful for this when I woke up at 5am and saw on the outdoor sign that it was -3 degrees. Why pizza to eat? I figured it was something that didn’t require a fridge and I would be able to eat the leftovers in the morning. You gotta be resourceful when you don’t have many resources!

Brownie and Tyler made their way to the shop in the morning and we set off. Today was a high mileage day. Shooting was the least of the three days but travel was nearly twice as much as we did in the previous two. The goal was to reach Frenchie’s Service Centre in Goose Bay, over 560km away, by dark. Again it’s not that difficult simply riding the distance, but when you factor in a slow moving UHAUL, a couple different shoots, and cold weather, the hours go by quickly.

Looking at this pic, we should note that the 2012 Super Tenere is only available in blue and black, not silver as shown here. Tennies will be available at Canadian dealerships June 2011!

The air was still chilly and as the kilometers increased so did the numbness in my hands.  The gloves I had were not exactly made for this type of weather. To compensate, I rode ahead while the boys grappled with the dirt road in the UHAUL. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I would pull over and warm my hands with the exhaust or hold them together in my coat. After 15-20 minutes, I would see the UHAUL off in the distance with a trail of dust behind it. Push on!


Believe it! This raging river of rock was once a raging river of WATER.

We stopped just outside of Churchill Falls while crossing the Churchill (sort of) River. I was quite conflicted by this. On the one hand, it’s a shame to see something of such natural beauty be completely changed by man. On the other, it provides a source of income to those living in the area and power to Quebec and New York. I stared at the remnants of a raging river, reduced to a wide expanse of rock with trees on either side. It really put into perspective the amount of water that the hydroelectric plant requires. How much water, you say? The reservoir provides storage area for over 1,000,000,000,000 cubic feet of it, covering 5,700KM2!

We did a shoot outside of Churchill Falls, another at the top of the reservoir, fueled up and made our way down the homestretch. Goose Bay here we come!


There’s still more road to go…. Check back soon for the final installment of Huggy’s Labour of Love!

For more photos please visit: facebook.com/yamahamotorcanada and visit the photos section.

The season premiere of A Motorcycle Experience will be on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 11:30AM EST. All shows are broadcast on TSN.

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November 24, 2010

Inside a bike launch

I really admire the technical abilities of guys like Chris Reid and John Bayliss. These two Yamaha legends could probably break down, bolt by bolt, how each Yamaha snowmobile or motorcycle works. I, on the other hand, can only tell you how they handle, or if the seat is too soft. I wish that I could offer more technical insight but, much like my singing ability, I just don’t have it. (Although, my acting skills have received favourable reviews…)

What I can offer you, though, is some insight into the “Launch” of a new Yamaha.


The FZ8 takes in the beauty of Huntsville, Ontario.

Have you ever wondered what goes into a “Press Launch” of a new motorcycle? Not to be confused with the actual development of a bike (John Bayliss does a great job of detailing that process here); I’m referring to the release of a new bike to media and, soon afterwards, the public. As a kid, I drooled over magazines featuring new bike reports. I could only dream of what it would be like to be there, riding brand new machines that hadn’t even hit dealerships yet—and the best part, I wouldn’t be required to fix or wash them!

Most recently, our marketing team organized the Canadian launch of the 2011 FZ8 and Fazer 8. (Actually, I’m lying. Our latest launch was for the new Stryker cruiser and early release 2012 Super Ténéré. But that was a lower scale, one-day deal held at the Yamaha office and not as “exciting” as others.) After all was said and done, it’s safe to say the FZ8 launch was a success. Things ran smoothly, weather cooperated (which is always huge, especially when riding on the street) and media were very positive about the new bikes.

Here is a rundown of what went into Yamaha Motor Canada’s 2011 Fz8/Fazer 8 press launch:

There is usually one guy who leads each event. For the FZ8, that guy was Mr. Renegade, Bryan Hudgin. Actually, come to think of it, he coordinates most of our product launches. (I make sure there is plenty of paper and pens.)


After reviewing comments from the earlier European launch, we knew we needed to find roads that offered plenty of turns, hills, off-cambers, and twisties to really showcase the playful character of the FZ8/Fazer 8.

WHEN
The first step is setting a date. The FZ8 was to be released to public on Wednesday June 9th, along with several other bikes and ATVs,  so we wanted to arrange a press launch at least a month prior. We chose May 25-26. We hold it earlier to allow media ample time to prepare content and include it the most timely issue – cover really sweetens the pot – but not too much headway as they may leak out details … then it spreads throughout chat rooms … and then we get a spanking from the Mothership.

This was not as relevant for this launch, as the bike had already been released in Europe. We often have media sign an embargo or confidentiality agreement that they will not share or publish anything until the official release date … though, that doesn’t always work out.


Le Guide de la Moto’s Bertrand Gahel, and Motoress founder, Vicki Gray, work together to create a nice atmosphere shot for their respective pubs.

WHERE
Due to the FZ8’s sporty, agile and nimble design, we wanted to find a locale that offered long, winding roads, minimal to no traffic and beautiful countryside. Somewhere that best suits “fun” ride character. We settled on Huntsville, ON, and stationed ourselves at Delta Grandview, a beautiful resort which complemented the sleek and sexy sport bike perfectly. The resort and their staff accommodated us well, providing a meeting room for our new model presentation to media, a private dining hall and excellent swimming hole for the wicked heat we were about to experience.

WHO
Time and place, check. Now we need to find people to ride the bikes. For those of you who have planned a wedding, you can appreciate the difficulty in this step. You have a limited number of chairs (budget and bikes) and far too many possible guests. Our budget, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for the “it’s not a party unless everyone’s invited!” theme. You gotta make some cuts.


We’re fortunate to have a very unique and talented group  covering motorcycles in Canada. Each brings their own flavour, especially Cycle Canada’s Neil Graham. His story telling ability is quite impressive, not because he has the best stories, but it’s the way he delivers them. He could make a trip to the grocery store for eggs and milk sound interesting!

We try to include members of the mainstream media (or horizontals, as we call them),  the verticals (or motorcycle specific media) and those who freelance or do a great job of spreading the word through various platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc). We also want to make sure our guests are well qualified; riding is one thing, but the ability to ride and analyze the motorcycle’s design, engine and functions is another. We need test riders who can then communicate these changes effectively to their readers.

For this particular launch, we had three FZ8’s and one Fazer 8. We also had a 2010 Stratoliner Deluxe for media to experience for the first time, and many of our newer bikes to ensure everyone’s butt had a saddle (R1, FZ6R, V-star 950).

[Ed note: Danny was particularly excited about this launch, because it was his first opportunity to ride many of Yamaha’s street bikes. His boss, Tim, didn’t feel quite the same way after hearing many of Danny’s “it wasn’t my fault” stories.]

Oh and let’s not forget about Yamaha staff; it’s important we have a nice mix of people who know how to talk (marketing) and people who can talk the talk (service). For this event, Bayliss and Dave Shepherd managed the presentation and technical questions, while Huggy, Aaron Dowden and I entertained media with interpretive dance. After that, we looked after setting up a pit area with bikes, stands, tools, cleaners and canopies, and make sure the “little things” are covered.


Patience really is a virtue when it comes to motorcycle photography. You’ve got several riders to shoot, you need shots from every angle and you’ve got traffic to deal with. And riders must remember they are judged on style (not speed) when the photographer’s shooting….

But when do we get to ride?!? Soon. When we arrive, Huggy makes sure all of the media’s rooms are prepared (we usually include a small token of appreciation for attending, like a helmet bag or jacket) and our meeting rooms are booked and clear. Meanwhile, Dowden and I set up our pit area, “Yamasize” the resort and get everything ready to go early the next day. As media arrive, we welcome them, hand them an itinerary, press kit and detailed ride route.

During the ensuing presentation, media learn about Yamaha’s motivation behind developing this new bike, how we did it and what it means to riders. Bayliss and Shepherd do a great job working together on this and their knowledge of motorcycle technology is impressive. Following “class,” everyone enjoys dinner, a few drinks and conversation. It’s a great chance for media and corporate to mingle. Stories are shared and lies are told.

Up and at’em! We like to kicks things off early the next day; trying to organize a group of chatty, excited motorcycle media is like trying to organize a group of girls entering a Justin Beiber concert. We need to nail down photo-ops, video, lunch, and make sure everyone has what they need for their editorial. Each ride is structured according to the group, location/roads and weather. On this day, we began with an organized loop, lunch and then a more laidback, free-ride to cap things off.


Riders prepare for a corner shoot.

In the organized loop, we have Yamaha reps leading and following the pack, along with a rep and photographer (Richie Tripp) behind in a support vehicle. This was my role during the FZ8 event; I was the photographer’s butler. Not a ton of physical work, but it’s a never ending job keeping these artists happy. So demanding…  In between fetching Richie water and escargot, I managed to shoot footage for a short “first impression” video which you can watch here. I’m no Steven Spielberg but it gets the point across.

During the first loop, we stopped 3 or 4 times for Richie to snap pics of the media. During the second loop after lunch, media were free to go where they wanted, unchaperoned by Yamaha staff. I’m sure they all adhered to local speed limits….

At the end of the ride, media return to the resort, pick up a DVD of images, have any remaining questions answered and then they’re free to go. Then we wash the bikes, re-fuel them and do it all over again for media group #2! (Wait a minute, in my childhood dreams, I didn’t wash them!)

There you have it, a glimpse into the glamorous world of motorcycle press launches. If you’re curious to know any other tibits about a press launch, comment here and we’ll do our best to answer.

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November 15, 2010

Labour of Love: Part Deux


“What the heck was I thinking?!”

We rode on to our first stop at the gigantic Manic 5 dam , which is the world’s largest multiple arch and buttress dam. I will admit, talking to the camera is quite unnerving when security feels the need to follow your every move!

As Keith Urban would say, this is “Where the blacktop ends….” The party was about to get started….

Sadly, the party ended about 60km later when I realized that when I moved back on the seat, my butt was no longer hitting the tent I had strapped on behind me. Crikey!

I turned around, looking at the bare, plush passenger seat where my tent had once been. As the dust settled and darkness crept in, Mike and Tyler in the UHAUL made their way closer.

“You guys didn’t pass anything on the road, specifically my tent?” I asked.

“Nope,” they replied.

Crikey.

I rode back for about 10kms, scanning the ditch lines, but … nothing.

This was bad for two reasons: The first being that I no longer had my “free accommodations.” What with all the wild fishers on the loose, sleeping under the stars … in Northern Quebec … in October, seemed a little ambitious. More importantly, this was my wife’s expensive tent that I had already damaged on my God forsaken motorcycle/TV trips the previous year and received a good scorning for.  She was NOT going to be happy now that I had lost it.


Probably the only time Huggy was smiling while traversing the demanding wilderness of Northern Quebec.

Sitting in the middle of nowhere while darkness overtook the valleys was not an option. We pushed on to Relais Gabriel and arrived at the gas pumps with the lights on full blast. We had 317kms under our belts but now came the hard part. Where was I to sleep and what was I to eat? The one thing about riding those long distances is that it gives you time to think, and since I hadn’t ate for about 12 hours, this was my first priority.

I asked Brownie to get the camera and we walked into the restaurant. Approaching the counter with a smile, I gingerly asked the hostess (in what was probably the worst French accent ever), “Je m’appelle Bryan. Tu parlez l’anglais?”  Her response: “Oh Yea! Hi Bryan”

YES! WE’RE MOVIN’ ON UP! Surprisingly, my offer to clean the men’s bathroom for a plate of spaghetti, and the women’s for bacon and eggs in the morning, was warmly received. I would even say that it didn’t require much negotiation. Then again, most people are happy not having to scrub toilets. It wasn’t long before I was twisting my fork, followed closely by my best Cinderella impersonation!


He’s lucky! The guys first stop featured a very generous hostess, who provided Huggy with a bite to eat, but not before he shined the porcelain!

My belly full, and the bathrooms sparkling, I stepped out onto the porch. The next order of business was sleep. I cast my eyes on the UHAUL in all it’s glory (kind of like in cartoons when a dog looks at a chicken and imagines it grilling on a rotisserie) and started looking on the bright side of sleeping in the cargo box. Off the ground, mostly water resistant, fisher-proof … it would do. I spread out my sleeping bag and got comfortable (sort of). For the first time in my life, I sure felt like an old-time Hobo! Now where to put this stick and handkerchief…….


Huggy’s new sleeping quarters after losing his tent. What’s the saying, “He who endures, conquers…”

Stay tuned for Parts 3 & 4.

For more photos please visit: facebook.com/yamahamotorcanada and click on the “photos” tab.

The season premiere of A Motorcycle Experience will be on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 11:30AM EST. All shows are broadcast on TSN.

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November 4, 2010

Labour of Love: Part 1

Bryan Hudgin begins his Trans-Lab road trip

Labrador Labour of Love: Part 1 of 4

Labour of love? Now that’s an understatement. It was 585km of gravel road, trees, lakes and mountains (and not much else) just to get to the Trans-Labrador highway! This road is not for the faint of heart, and that’s why the ‘Labrador Labour of Love’ would be my toughest challenge yet. Let me walk you through this trip from the start…

I met Mike Brown (A Motorcycle Experience’s trusted cameraman) and Tyler Hawley (producer) at the airport with my little Ford Focus rammed to the gills. To their credit, airport security didn’t pull a heavy on me when I unintentionally tried to smuggle a Swiss Army knife and matches in my carry-on luggage, which was a camping tent. Seems I forgot the knife and matches were included in there with the pegs (insert sheepish grin here). I shuddered as I imagined how a similar situation would play out, in a US airport, with an over zealous rent-a-cop.

Why the heck was I taking a tent as a carry-on? Well, ego is a powerful motivator, and I had agreed to another challenge for A Motorcycle Experience.  The host, Dave Hatch, had dared me to complete the same challenge as last year, albeit on the remote and rugged Trans Labrador Highway. So there was no food, no accommodations and no money (except for fuel) from Monday morning until Wednesday night. Just me, my Super Ténéré, some fishing and camping supplies, and 1140km of barren road. This is how the ‘Labrador Labour of Love’ name was coined. The payoff? If I successfully made it to Point B without breaking any of the rules, Hatch would host an entire show with the word ‘Yamaha’ written across his forehead.

The camerman and producer were allowed to eat...

...But Huggy wasn't!

We arrived in Baie Comeau Sunday night after a layover in Montreal. Through a series of hand gestures, broken french and a bit of charades, we 3 Anglos managed to get a cab for transport to the hotel. I settled down to sleep a little later, but not before sharpening my knife and reading up on edible plants.

Monday morning brought some confusion, including a last minute run to Wal-Mart for an SD card, and another cab to get to the UHAUL dealer (which was odd as they were also a competing motorcycle dealer. Seeing as I was dressed in full Yamaha regalia, and after waiting an inordinate amount of time, I was sure to check the brake lines and lug nuts before I left.) Patrick from Baie Comeau Motorsports had “Tenny” perfectly prepped for the long trip. Since we were doing the lion’s share of the ride on gravel road, I had opted for knobby tires instead of the more pavement-friendly versions that are stock on the Super Tenere.

The roads are nothing to write home about, but the landscape sure is!

My tentative agenda had the Labrador Labour of Love crew leaving at 9:30AM to make our way towards our first stop 216km down the road, arriving at the Manic 5 dam at 12:30PM.

At 12:15PM we rolled out of Baie Comeau Motorsports parking lot… Yes, quite a bit behind schedule already. Oh Brother.

The road to Manic 5 dam turned into remote in a hurry. It wasn’t long before a combination scent of freshly cut wood and thick diesel fumes were confusing my olfactory system, “… smells …so…sweet…but…[ahem]…why…is…it….hard…..to….[cough]…breath?”

The logging trucks were going by fast and furious and, as such, I increased my speed to stay out of the way. It wasn’t long after that I crested a hill and narrowly missed a plodding porcupine on the other side. Meh, no big deal. About 10kms later I rounded a corner and saw some sort of cat/fox/coyote hybrid. After more thought, I realized it was probably a fisher which was confirmed by almighty Google when I returned home. It was then I realized, ‘Tenny, we’re not in Kansas anymore!’……

The story's not over! Stay tuned for parts 2,3, and 4 to find out if he made it.

For more photos please visit: facebook.com/yamahamotorcanada and visit the photos section.

The season premiere of A Motorcycle Experience will be on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 11:30AM EST. All shows are broadcast on TSN.

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July 28, 2010

What d’ya wanna see Huggy do?

Hey Everyone!

You may recall that last season on A Motorcycle Experience, host David Hatch made a side bet with Yamaha “Scooter Sense” host, Bryan Hudgin.

Dave bet Bryan that he couldn’t ride his Yamaha BWS125 scooter from Montreal to Toronto – with stops in Ottawa and Kingston along the way – using only a $25.00 gas card, tent and sleeping bag for the 3-day trek. Well Bryan not only accepted the challenge but he also completed the journey in record time with gas money to spare. Bryan wisely used “Scooter Sense” t-shirts to barter for food and lodging was provided by the great outdoors. He was able to camp out on viewer Bruce Haskin’s lawn on the first night while sneaking into a provincial park for the second!

In the end, Dave lost the bet and was forced to wear a Yamaha motocross jersey for 7 days straight. Dave has nothing against Yamaha off-road apparel, but he certainly did stand out at a good friend’s wedding!

So, as the fall riding season approaches, Dave and Bryan are at it again. Dave wants Bryan to push the envelope and take on another challenge. Will it be a “Northern Lights” ride from Toronto to James Bay? A “Rocky Mountain High” cruise from Vancouver to Calgary? A “Maritime Mayhem” tour of the East Coast?

Neither man can decide. Instead they are throwing the challenge out to the loyal Motorcycle Experience TV audience….putting you in the saddle! Do YOU have a great idea for his challenge? We’d like to hear it. Post it here on the Yamaha motorcycle blog under the “Leave a Comment” section! Perhaps you’d like to invite Bryan and the Motorcycle Experience crew to explore your home town or favourite local back roads? It’s completely up to you. Just remember, Bryan must remain safe while executing the challenge. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit!

Please send us your suggestions by August 15th. Dave and Bryan will weigh the pros and cons of each submission and decide upon a winner – then they‘ll shake hands and it will be game on!

Stay tuned to the Yamaha motorcycle blog at http://motorcycles.yamahablogs.ca for updates on when and where the challenge will take place. Bryan will also be updating to the blog and Yamaha Facebook page as the challenge plays out. Finally, you can watch the tour in it’s entirety on TSN’s A Motorcycle Experience in the spring of 2011.

Don’t delay! Get your submissions in before August 15th! We may choose yours!

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July 12, 2010

Part 3 of 3: Know it all

(Read Part 1 and 2)….. Day two was much more interesting. No more pushing and pretending to make engine noises (although I think that’s pretty fun). We had throttles cranked from 9 to 4 with only a few breaks for water and lunch. I think I even suffered arm pump at one point! By the end of it, almost everyone had greatly improved their skills and confidence; they could accelerate smoothly, brake BEFORE the pylons and switch gears.

I was proud of my fellow classmates and looked forward to seeing many of them on the outside … but what about me? I may have appeared poised on the outside, but my guts were still churning. It would all come down to the Final Test. Could I overcome the pressure?? Or would I find myself in the same situation as the DriveTest centre, pleading with the evaluator in a last ditch effort to salvage some dignity? Only the motorcycle gods knew my fate.

To much delight, our final practice drills would also be used (with slight tweaks) for our evaluation. The instructors assured us nothing would be new; we wouldn’t be surprised with a wheelie contest or ring of fire. We just had to keep our heads up, eyes forward and stay within the lines. Like lambs going to slaughter, Michael Michael Motorcycle had us line up one by one behind the first test marker.

I was positioned in the middle and had the opportunity to watch others endure each test first. It felt as though I was watching American Idol; I was glued to those who couldn’t carry a tune, or in this case, carry second gear. I kept my eyes on this one guy who was fumbling around like a wounded duck. He was popping the clutch, mis-shifting and skidding to a stop. It was time to end this poor sap’s misery and put him out to pasture.

“Okay, Daniel, you’re turn!” barked Michael. Mind you these are extremely simple tasks, especially if you have any riding history, but at this point in time, it was like climbing a mountain. I needed everything I had. I don’t really recall the next 20 minutes of my life. I was so focused and determined to beat Michael Michael Motorcycle, the ministry and this damn test that I shut off my brain and just rode.

“Congratulations, you’ve passed,” she said.

“What? I passed?!” I replied.

“You did.”

I couldn’t believe it. I did it. As I let out a huge sigh of relief, it felt as though my motorcycle manhood had been reborn. I thanked the motorcycle gods, and vowed I would no longer be so boisterous of my abilities. Oh and Tab passed too….

So, did I learn anything? You know what, I did. I learned that riding a motorcycle is complicated. Not that I ever thought it was easy—and often I’m forced to defend the difficulty of racing motocross—but I’ve been riding bikes for 24 years and didn’t realize how much of it has become automatic. Like when you see a $20 bill floating across the sidewalk; you don’t ask who it belongs to, you pick it up, stuff it in your wallet, and run.

From now on I promise not to be so critical of those who don’t evolve as quickly as others. I’ve also learned to keep my head up. I’ve developed a bad habit of looking right in front of me, rather than being aware of potential dangers further ahead. That’s probably why I sometimes end up hitting the wrong lines on the track—you gotta look where you want to go! Plus, no matter how skilled you are at something, it never hurts to take a refresher. Just because you’ve been doing something forever, doesn’t mean you’re doing it right.

Now I know it all … right?

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July 5, 2010

Part 2 of 3: I know it all

…. (If you missed part 1, click here). A week or so later we signed up for an M1 exit course at SSF. I figured it would be a good opportunity for Tab to improve her skills and it would help lower our insurance rates. As I mentioned above, I’ve tried sharing some riding tips with Tab, but that was met with less than stellar results—especially after not passing my M1 the first time around.

“What do you mean it’s easy?!? You’ve been riding all your life… I haven’t, so back off!”

Sorry, babe. It was in Tab, and my own, best interest to let somebody else offer direction.

(Notice how I didn’t say that I need to learn anything?)

Due to my struggles with the M1 test, I was nervous leading up to the course. Regardless of my riding ability, I couldn’t help but think I would mess up or forget how to ride. Yamaha’s event coordinators, Andre Harris and Aaron Dowden, assured me I would be fine. Andre works with the Humber College program and tried helping me relax by sketching out the course drills. Tab was nervous too. So here I am telling her she’ll be fine, meanwhile, inside, I’m more nervous than a 14-year-old in a game of spin-the-bottle. I know once that bottle turns to me, I’ll puke and start crying.

Unlike the supposed “quick and easy” M1 test, the M1 Exit course would be drawn out over an entire weekend. It begins with a 3-hour classroom session followed by two solid days of practicing drills in a parking lot, culminating in one final, winner-takes-all, evaluation. Thankfully, if you are unsuccessful, you’re eligible for a second try on a later date. I kept telling myself to stay focused, I wouldn’t need a second try, but I still couldn’t shake my prior failure … “you’re gonna fail again…” “you don’t know how to ride…” “don’t screw this up!!” it continued to haunt me.

The classroom portion went okay. It felt kind of cool to be back in school, because this time around, there weren’t any muscle bound jocks waiting to steal my lunch money or wedgie me against the lockers. I even sat in the back of the class and doodled pics of the teacher like I used to. I thought that they were pretty good, but Tab thought that it was “immature.” And like high school, there were a few characters for me to pick on, like the older fellow who thought he was the teacher, sharing his opinion every chance he got and making sure everyone knew he owned a Katana. Wait a tick, wasn’t I the fool who failed his M1??

In came our chief instructor, “Michael Michael Motorcycle.” He tried gaining our confidence with his lively, outgoing personality and compassion towards those who had limited to no riding experience. He reminded us that as long as we listened and did what they asked, we’d be fine. I was on to Michael though; he didn’t care if we passed; he wanted our money, and he especially wanted to fail some cocky so-called “pro” like myself.

There were 15 students in our class, and only 3 or 4 of us had any riding experience. I was relieved he didn’t ask about our riding backgrounds; that would only give him and the others more ammunition when I failed. I was actually quite surprised to hear some had already purchased bikes, yet didn’t know the clutch from the brake. Talk about putting the horse before the cart! Nonetheless, I was glad to see new people joining the fold. For those who hadn’t purchased a bike, I was sure to mention Yamaha makes the best bikes and has the best deals. (What? A guy’s got to put food on the table!)

Day one started slow but progressed quickly. The session began with everyone gearing up and choosing a bike that best suit their size and ability. There were all types of bikes to choose from, TW200s, DR200s, KLX140s, Sherpas, and these little shoebox Hondas called Titan 150s. Tab and I went with the KLX140 (I would have chose a Yamaha but they weren’t available!).

Sadly, we didn’t get to fire up the bikes until lunch. Before letting the rockets loose, students learn to balance, control and turn a bike without the engine started. It felt strange being pushed and pushing people all over a parking lot, but it was a smart, safe way to ensure some control before changing gears. I wish I had thought of that before letting friends try out my dirt bikes, it would have saved me a lot of levers and handlebars. Once everyone was comfortable, we progressed to the clutch or as one of the instructors, Wild Bill, calls it, “the boss of the motorcycle.”

Most of what was being taught was quite mundane to me, but honestly, I’m impressed with the logic behind their madness. I was amazed to see how quickly most inexperienced riders picked things up. For some of us veterans, we take for granted how much skill is really involved in riding motorcycles.

Put yourself into the shoes of a grown man or woman and imagine never having turned a throttle, let alone using the clutch, changing gears and then coordinating them together. There’s an art to it, for sure, but the instructors somehow transform a Picasso into paint-by-numbers. As is the case with most things though, there were a few stragglers still going outside, over and around the lines.

I started thinking that maybe Michael Michael Motorcycle and his posse weren’t such bad people, maybe they did want us to pass. That wishful thinking quickly faded as he slapped the back of my helmet, and screamed at me to keep my eyes forward and fingers off the clutch. “This ain’t no motor-cross track!” he added. Well, that might not be exactly what he did or say, but it didn’t matter, I knew his objective…

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June 28, 2010

Part 1 of 3: Know it all

I like to believe that I know everything, or close to, when it comes to riding motorcycles. I’ve been riding two wheelers steadily since I was 3 years old. Certainly most of my experience has been on motocross tracks, but I’ve also bumped into rocks and trees in the woods and I’ve even put some miles on the open road, in the limited time I’ve had my M1. I’m quite confident in my abilities. I’m a “been there, done that” type of rider, for the most part. There’s nothing you could tell me about riding a bike that I don’t already know … or is there?

Last weekend my fiancé, Tabitha, and I completed our M1 exit course at Sir Sandford Fleming College (SSF) in Peterborough. I’ve got to admit: it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. “But Danny, why would an expert, handsome two wheeler like yourself be so relieved for passing a simple motorcycle training course?” you ask.

Let me explain.

Danny and Tabby MX

One bright, sunny day in April Tab and I decided to skip a day of work and complete the first step of Ontario’s motorcycle graduated licensing program: the M1 written test. (I still can’t believe all a person needs to do is pass a WRITTEN exam to legally ride a motorcycle on public roads. Doesn’t matter if you’ve even sat on a bike… you pass, you ride. Crazy!) Tab’s always trying to come up with … er, I mean, we’re always trying to come up with different ways to spend time together, and what better way than by sharing the joys and freedom of motorcycling.

I was shocked to learn that the ministry wouldn’t award me a license based on my impressive riding resume. Never one to honk my horn, but I’ve qualified for motocross races at the professional level, rode across mud, rock, sand and snow, and I’ve even raced on the ice in Quebec (that alone warrants some serious merit). Apparently all of those accomplishments don’t mean much to the “Man.” So like everyone else, I would have to suffer through a simple, mind numbing written test. Aw well, no biggie.

As for Tab, she’s a relative newbie when it comes to motorcycling. She’s ridden off-road here and there but not much else. Tab was very nervous waiting in line at the DriveTest centre. I assured her that it would be a cakewalk. In fact, with everything I had taught her, she would ace this thing. No sweat. During the test, I lifted my head and was surprised to see that Tab had already left the room. Did she get frustrated and say to hell with it? I hoped not because that meant an extra-long car ride home. Moments later I spotted her at the teller and, judging by her smile, I could tell she had passed. Good job, honey!

I, however, was a little more patient; I wanted to not only pass but ace this test. It would prove to Tab that I knew what I was talking about. As I approached the teller, I politely waited until she was done lip synching along with Lady Gaga before handing her my test. I noticed something was wrong as she marked my test; she wasn’t placing checkmarks beside my answers, they were Xs!

“Sorry but you’ve failed,” she said.

“Naw, that can’t be right. I know how to ride a motorcycle. Check them again,” I replied.

“Please move along sir, you’ve failed. Neeeexxxtt!!”

“Wait!” I stopped her. “You mean to tell me, my fiancé, who has spent less than 10 hours on a bike, passed, but me, Danny Brault, a professional MX racer has failed? Heck, I could jump this building if I wanted to!!”

That wasn’t working, so I tried impressing her with my swank job at Yamaha, hoping she’d bend the rules. Not a chance. She rolled her eyes and once again asked for the next person to step forward. My ego bruised, I handed her another $10, wrote the test once more and passed … barely. Needless to say, my family, friends and co-workers had some fun with this. “Oh, but Danny, I thought you were a pro?!” Go ahead, laugh it up … I would.

It was a dark day for Danny MX but I did my best to swallow my pride and bury my embarrassment, way down deep inside….

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May 14, 2010

What’s cool?

Who doesn’t want to be cool? Whether it’s new shoes, jeans, a shirt or whatever, it feels great when someone takes notices and says “Now that’s cool!” And it’s okay to feel that way… I still light up when my mom tells me I’m cool.

When it comes to coolness, scooters often get lost in the shuffle. In the old days, cool was driving a big, heavy steel boat of a car that pumped out big power and pumped-in even more gasoline. What made your car even cooler was if you cut the tailpipe short and let your car rattle, bang and snort all over town like a wounded pig.

That was then, this is now.

Scooters are creeping to the frontline of coolness—especially with ballooning gas prices. No longer are people searching for the biggest, baddest thing on the market. Most want small, affordable and easy to use. (If you don’t believe me, look at the increase in sales of compact cars.) You get all that and more with a scooter. Scooters certainly don’t produce the ground shaking power of a cruiser or pure speed of a litre bike, but they have a unique character of their own that anyone can appreciate.

At Yamaha we have many scooter lovers. I surveyed a few of them to see what make scooters so cool and narrowed down their responses into a top-5 list here for you folks. Take a read and let us know if we missed anything….

TOP- 5 REASONS SCOOTERS ARE COOL

5. They’re cheap.
Might as well hit you with the high, hard one right away: Scooters are relatively inexpensive to buy, cheap to maintain and cheap to fill up. As stated on Yamaha-motor.ca, our BWs 50 gets up to 52kpl/147mpg. Its fuel capacity is 5.7 litres. Multiply that by today’s average regular fuel price  and you could travel approx 300 km’s for only $6. In fact, the cost of filling up is the same price as two rides of public transit!

4. Easy Peasy
Riding a scooter is almost easier than a bicycle—you don’t even have to peddle! Most scooters are small, light, and maneuverable for riders of all shapes and sizes. No clutch, no gears, just gas and go. Unless you’re climbing onto a TMAX or Majesty (they feature beefy 500cc and 400cc engines) Yamaha’s 50cc and 125cc scooters feature slower revving engines, and their step-through design make it easy to get on and off. A scooter is an ideal segue into motorcycling for those with limited two-wheel experience or a great option for aging motorcyclists. Then again, they are a giggle to ride for anyone!

3. One size fits all
There’s no bigger pain (especially for a country boy like me) than trying to find a parking spot on a busy city street, let alone a free one. If I had a scooter though, my problem would be quickly solved. When it comes to parking, one size really fits all with scooters. You could park two, three, maybe even four scooters into a spot occupied by a bulky SUV. Fewer cars parked on the streets means less congestion. Major cities like Toronto are realizing these benefits, and now allow free meter parking to scooters. Cool, eh?


Mr. Scooter Sense, Bryan Hudgin, would like to see Canadian government take a bigger stand for scooters. Some provinces do allow 14 year olds and up to own and operate them, and Toronto features free meter parking for scooters. We’re getting there…

2. Age of minority
Teenagers rejoice, your freedom awaits … well, in most provinces anyways. Quebec, Alberta and New Brunswick allow 14 year olds to own and operate a 50cc scooter; in BC, Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba you can ride one with a regular driving license. Sadly, the province featuring the worst traffic jams and frustrations—Ontario—is also the most difficult to obtain licensing to ride a scooter. You need a motorcycle specific license (written and two-wheel road test) before turning the key.

Obviously some are against allowing people as young as 14 to drive, but IMO, it’s a slow and steady way for them to build confidence and develop awareness and knowledge of the road before getting behind the wheel of much faster and heavier vehicles. As Don McKellar  said in a news article, “I rode dirt bikes and you fell down and skinned your knees. You get up, realize you’re mortal and there are consequences to bad decisions.”

1…..
And the number one reason why scooters are cool: they are an absolute hoot to ride! Seriously. Before you make any jokes, you’ve got to ride one first. I was guilty of teasing our resident “BeeWee Man” Aaron Dowden for riding his in to work everyday … that is until I got off my high horse and rode it around the parking lot. I didn’t want to get off the bike! And for you younger readers, scooters are cooler than walking, way cooler than taking the bus, and compared to getting dropped off by your mom—we won’t even go there!

DanBro

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