Sunday, July 24, 2016

How Triumphs are made

Older video, but hadn't run across this one before and it's great!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Exploration: Mohr's Road, Fitzroy Township (Updated)

An ongoing pursuit of mine has been to explore ghost roads and pioneer settlements in unexpected proximity to Ottawa. For instance, in 2008 when I worked in the Ottawa high-tech suburb of Kanata, I prided myself on finding a route that enabled me to commute from my home in Almonte, a distance of about 35 km, almost entirely on dirt roads and bush tracks requiring full knobby tires. At the time there was only one fully paved direct road from Almonte to the nation's capital--rather remarkable in this modern era. While that particular option has been greatly "improved" since then, there are many other forgotten byways to explore nearby.

One such byway is Mohr's Road, which runs south-east from its start in the hamlet of Galetta. In the mid-1800s, the Fitzroy area was becoming an important settlement area and stop along routes north to the lumber camps and other pioneer settlements. By 1853, the hamlet of Mohr's Corners began to take shape--and eventually got its name--as the result of efforts by the German settler Ephraim Mohr:

Today Mohr's Corners is a bona-fide ghost town with little remaining to suggest its former importance. Mohr's beautiful stone home (see picture below) is gone, but the former schoolhouse remains today as a private residence.

By the early 1900s, the village of Galetta just a mile up the road had taken over as the local centre of bustling activity, driven by its access to valuable water power from the Mississippi River, and the thriving Kingdon Lead Mine nearby. Kingdon Mine, now a ghost site, was once one of the most productive lead mines in North America. Today it's mostly forgotten except by locals. However, in Google satellite view you can still see the mine tailings as an obvious white patch on Morris Island.

Here's a period map of Fitzroy township in Carleton County where Mohr's Road is clearly depicted leaving the green squares of Galetta:

Mohr's Road is now unremarkable except where the modern section abruptly ends south-east of Mohr's Corners and assumes its original pioneer character:

Obviously this grassy track was too irresistible to pass up--even at dusk--so there I went. Later, using Photoshop, I superimposed Google satellite imagery over the original map above to see how the remnants of the road follow the original surveyed road allowance. It's pretty clear that the Mohr's Road of the old map aligns with some intriguing trails found on site. Moreover, the old map suggests that right in this area were some farms with buildings. I didn't notice any evidence of them but will investigate on a future trip.

The above grassy section passes through some heavily rutted sections full of thick clay mud before it finally emerges at Grant's Side Road:

If you head east down Grant's Side Road a few hundred metres, you'll enter an impressively dark tunnel formed by a remnant of the original forest that would've covered the entire area.

Back at Mohr's Road, the trail continues past Grant's Side Road as this tempting track. Since the maps suggest it follows the road allowance, it too was irresistible to explore:

In simply crossing the road, the fertile clay soil gave way to the unforgiving limestone pavement that is common throughout the region west of Ottawa.

The pioneers who arrived here only to find that their 200 acre land grant was useless rock must've been heartbroken--all the more so if the neighbour's land was fully productive soil. It's no wonder this section of the trail was abandoned. Continuing along the trail reinforced my suspicions. Here the trail entered a low, forested area. The thin soil has eroded down to bedrock and, clearly, this section is probably flooded in wet conditions:

The trail became more Hansel-and-Gretel-ish, but according to my GPS still followed the road allowance. Can you imagine dragging a wagon through this?

Soon after it entered a swamp that I wasn't going to attempt to ride through. I explored a well-travelled trail around the swamp for a short distance, but it devolved into a maze of ATV trails. Since there was no clear way to follow the road allowance, I turned back and looked for the exit at the other end, off Panmure Road.


The map and satellite suggested that the far end of the Mohrs Road is almost certainly what is now Morningdove Drive in a newish subdivision off Panmure Road. Here's what it looks like at that location:

An old road leads straight into the bush. Looking back towards the subdivision it seems pretty obvious:

But heading in the other direction, the well-travelled track veers left soon after passing a downed tree, and the part that continues straight along the road allowance peters out rather fast:

Yep, that's the road passing straight back through the scrub in the middle of the picture below! 

Many indications that this area is actively hunted. 

From here I was able to reconnect with the route I'd taken from the other end at Grant's Side Road, which would enable me to complete a run of the historic Mohr's Road, right on Ottawa's doorstep. However, the obvious, well-travelled trail bends east around the road allowance before meeting up again with the straight section on the road allowance. Heading straight into the bush along the road allowance doesn't seem to be a viable option.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Rugged Wheels

Over the last few months I've been preoccupied with getting ready to officially launch an exciting new venture: Rugged Wheels Inc.

Rugged Wheels is a wire-spoke wheel building business focusing on off-road applications and high-end components for motorbikes and bicycles. Upgrading your wheels and tires can significantly enhance your ride enjoyment, improving bike performance, handling, and durability.

Having secured dealerships with two premium global brands (one in motorbikes, one in bicycles), I'm now tooling up my shop and dealing with all the insurance, financial, and other commercial stuff needed to go live--hopefully in the next few months.

In the meantime, I'm curious to hear from readers what they want for rims, hubs, spokes, bearings, repairs, complete wheels, etc. I'll be building up and testing some sweet demo wheels as significant upgrades for my own knobby-tired rides, enabling more detailed reviews and recommendations.

Rugged Wheels for Rugged Rides!

Dual-sport tire review: D606 rear and MT 21 front

The Dunlop D606 rear (120/90-18) and Pirelli MT 21 front (90/90-21) is a popular tire combination for the WR250R and other small DS bikes. Although I've run an MT 21 up front before (on a KLR650), I'd never gotten around to testing both of these tires together. Now, with my currently-mounted Scorpion Pro FIM (front) and K760 (rear) both due for replacement, it was the perfect opportunity to try the classic combo. I ordered both tires from Canada's Motorcycle and they were at my door in 3 days.

Here's my season's line-up as seen from the rear.

On the left is an MT 43 trials tire I ran in the early and late seasons of the last two years, when the pavement was cold. While not exactly a snow tire, the soft rubber of the MT 43 provides good grip even in the cold and allows me to squeeze in more riding up to the limit of me staying warm. The penalty is fast wear and poor mud performance. Haven't looked at my maintenance log, but I'd be surprised if I got more than a few thousand kms out of it. Already a square design, it squares off even more on pavement and should really only be used off road on hard-pack surfaces and at low psi. I can't see myself choosing this tire again for DS riding.

Next is the K760 mounted on the bike. Often available for around CAD$90 or less, it's one of the cheaper options for the rear and provides great performance for the price. This is what I rode in the Roaming Rally in 2015, pretty much using up 80% of the tire's life in 1000km of aggressive dirt riding completed in 26 hours with a loaded bike. As a relative novice in dirt, I found this tire provided great traction and control, and allowed me to corner at speed with increasing confidence because I could feel when it started to break away and then use throttle to control the turn. On pavement it also performed well, giving predictable cornering and braking, and wearing reasonably well considering it's a full knobby and most of my riding was done with luggage. I'd probably run one of these again, given the great value it provides.

Third is the shiny new D606. It's similar in design to the K760 except the knobs are bigger and not subdivided. The D606 is slightly narrower across the knobs although the carcass width is almost identical.

Here you can see more clearly how the MT 43 and K760 have worn down. Nice new, rounded profile on the D606!

Here's the MT 21 (right) compared to the Scorpion Pro. Much bigger knobs on the MT 21. The MT 21 is slightly narrower than the Scorpion across the knobs, but the carcass width is almost identical.

Although initially happy with the Scorpion Pro, I never really became comfortable with it and thought it was just my riding ability that needed to improve. On gravel roads I found the tire wandered unpredictably, despite playing with air pressure from around 12-20 psi and changing riding position. At low pressures it provided little impact resistance and I managed to ding my rim. Running around 18 psi seemed to provide the best compromise between protection, handling, and traction, although it would still squirm and never really felt planted. The bars would sometimes oscillate but fortunately that never led to a tank-slapper. Haven't had this with any other front tire. In the end I concluded that yep, the tire was a significant part of the equation for my type of riding, and vowed to try something else even though there's still some life left in the Scorpion.

Mounting the D606 and MT 21 was straightforward after leaving both wheels and tires in the hot sun for half an hour. They both spooned on easily with just a little talcum powder for lube. The rear was mounted with one rim lock.

Test-riding the D606 and MT 21 on gravel roads and a rough, rocky section of trail immediately revealed an improved change in character for the bike: there was a much more planted feel. I think the bigger knobs are the most significant factor here because they allow for less squirm. The front didn't show any wandering compared to the Scorpion, and overall traction and control was excellent on loose rocky terrain.

In thick clay mud on the Mohr Road (see below--a nice little track near Ottawa!), both tires also performed well, although lateral traction (i.e. sliding sideways into ruts) was reduced on the rear in particular--as expected--given the more rounded profiles of both tires and the less open knob pattern. However, given this range of terrain it's difficult to find one tire that performs well in all cases. You have to pick your operating point. For me, clay mud is sometimes unavoidable but mercifully short, and my bike is light enough to haul out by hand. So the mud performance of D606 and MT 21 is fine.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ride offer: Around Algonquin Park

Want to try an adventure? There are several options to circumnavigate Algonquin Park via fire roads,  ATV trails, and the TCAT. I'm planning a 3-5 day route leaving from the Ottawa Area in early August, camping along the way. It'll be suited to smaller DS bikes like my WR250R. Based on online info from others who've done it, many sections of the route can get pretty rough for large DS bikes. Dirt-oriented tires recommended. If interested, drop me a line.

Update Aug 7, 2016

I completed the ride solo last week, over three days of 12 hours riding each day. 1300 kms of mostly dirt with 17,000 m of climbing. One silly accident while just sitting on my bike. Didn't die. Ride report coming soon!