Story and photos by Lawrence Hacking
I was breathless. Only a few metres away, the massive killer whale rolled over and shot me a glance. Within that brief moment, as I stood surrounded by a pod of the majestic animals, it felt as though we had connected. Whale watching had been an item on my bucket list for a very long time, and now, overwhelmed by the experience, I realized that the wait had been worth it. Scratch one off the list.
How I had ended up in a Zodiac off Vancouver Island’s west coast was simple. I had been in the middle of a business trip and did what everyone should do – I booked a few days off to check out the local landscape. The resulting trip around Vancouver Island was the essence of my most basic credo: Never pass up an opportunity to ride in a great place on a new motorcycle. My ultimate destination for this particular trip was Tofino, a tiny fishing village with 1500 residents located on the west coast of the island. I had often heard and read about Tofino since my university days, and knew of its reputation as a destination for surfers, mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts in general. It certainly sounded like my kind of place, and I was eager to pay a visit to the town.
My journey started in Victoria at Savage Cycle, where Mike Backen and Alex Bolz provided me with a 2011 Triumph Tiger 800 for my ride. The guys also kindly supplied me with excellent road maps and one key instruction: Don’t speed on the Island. The map, which was designed with riders in mind, was all I needed to explore Vancouver Island. Not only did it show the main roads, but also the many dual sport– friendly logging roads that lace the island’s backcountry. However tempting fire and logging roads for me, I didn’t want to risk damaging the cast wheels that are fitted to the base Tiger 800, and I decided to stick to pavement for my ride.
The first day of the trip began from Sooke, just west of Victoria. I chose the touristy 240 km loop called the Pacific Marine Circle Route, which follows the Pacific shoreline and offers a picturesque ride through Jordan River and Port Renfrew before heading inland to Lake Cowichan and the Trans-Canada Highway. Motorcycle trips are truly a joy when the road you are on and the bike you are riding seem to be made for each other. The Pacific Marine Circle Route is a gnarly and bumpy former logging road that consists of patchwork pavement and some chip seal in various spots to make things really interesting. Whoever built the road was most likely old school, and probably had little more than a bulldozer, which was used to follow the path of least resistance through the landscape. The route’s combination of corners, which come up quickly, and its poor surface really test a bike’s suspension. After a twenty-minute, dust-off-the-cobwebs start, I stopped for lunch at a serene patio that overlooked an inlet in Jordan River.
After a good meal and a few more kilometres, I felt at ease on the Tiger and noted that it inspired confidence. My first impression of the mid-displacement adventure-tourer was that Triumph’s product planners had a crystal-clear vision of what their engineering department should build. The Tiger seemed to be a perfect bike for the situation I was in, exploring an unfamiliar region on less-than-ideal roads. I immediately appreciated the bike’s light feel and the way its 19-inch front wheel provided intimate feedback to the handlebars. The three-cylinder engine had a raspy personality, and its slightly naughty edge made me want to rip it up. The chassis is an example of the symbiotic relationship that can exist between the design process and its execution in metal; the bike’s Showa suspension, its chassis geometry and riding position all contributed to . . .