And for Pete’s sake, RIDE!
Story and photos by Heather Bashow
I have always believed growing old is mandatory; being old is optional. And yet, as I approached my 65th birthday, I decided to sell my 1976 Honda 400 Four Super Sport. I was riding very little. It was a classic bike and I wanted to keep the mileage low, and over the last two decades, I was also concerned about reliability. But the real reason I sold her to a collector in Alberta was I felt others would think me foolish to still ride. I was unprepared for how much I would miss knowing I could still ride.
I’m a photographer, so to ease the loss I headed out to the racetrack at Shannonville, Ont., to shoot some bikes. The community warmly welcomed me and many soon became friends. After trading a photoshoot of my friend Rob Davies’ beautiful 1199 Panigale for an aggressive, twisty and tremendously-fun-in-a-sort-of-terrifying-way ride on the back of that Panigale, I recognized that I had to have my own bike again or I’d be making a fool of myself begging rides on the back of everyone’s litre bikes. I knew I could still ride well – that my reaction time was excellent, and I felt no different than I had in my 20s. So that winter, I plotted how to tell my husband, and the following spring I bought a 2014 Honda CBR500RA.
Back to Basics
I live in a mecca of twisty roads, most of which I had never ridden. I couldn’t wait! But at 65, I was going to have to learn how to ride differently, because this little sport bike was unlike my café racer. Fully faired, it caught crosswinds more than my naked bike; super-nimble, it craved a deep lean in corners; and it had a higher centre of gravity fully loaded, so at a standstill, I had to keep it perpendicular or it would fall over. I learned that last bit the hard way when I dropped my bike, horrifyingly knocking over a friend’s bike, and paid for repairs on both. A track friend (yup, same friend), Bob Beattie was also free to ride during the week, and it’s from weekly rides following him on every twisty road within a six-hour round trip of Kingston, Ont., that I learned to ride a sport bike. I put 23,000 km on her in two years; and it was now 2016 and it was time for an adventure! When I saw a forecast that October with three perfect days, I packed up, saddled up and headed for the twists around Huntsville.
I had planned the routes weeks before on Google Maps, selecting the twistiest and most convoluted non-direct way to and from Huntsville that I could create, with a day in the middle to explore the Huntsville area. The routes looked as if I’d dropped a drugged ant on the map and said, “Surprise me.” I plotted those routes with a ton of waypoints into Tyre (free GPS routing software), and uploaded them to my TomTom Rider GPS. It would send turn-by-turn directions to my Sena headset. As a backup, I also printed out the routes with turns and the distance in between.
This would also be a photo tour, so I had also packed a DSLR into my tank bag. That left enough room for Plexus and a cloth; chargers for my phone, GoPro and camera; a portable charger for the GPS; two changes of underwear; and a toothbrush. Cleaned and lubed the chain, changed the tires . . . I was good to go.
As an older woman riding a sport bike on her own, I felt completely safe. People in this area are friendly, I had a GPS to guide me, a cellphone in case of a problem and friends all over Ontario from the track . . . who owned trailers! If I did run into trouble, I could post my problem on Facebook and be confident that someone in the area would help.
Initially, I had thought to have friends join me on my trip as I entered their areas, but it proved too restricting to set up meet times. I didn’t want to have to rush through beautiful photo ops or wait for someone to arrive, so most of the trip would be solo. But Bob met me near Tweed and rode to Buckhorn with me, which was a good thing, since I got lost twice on the 70-minute trip just to meet him. Although I had tested my GPS a number of times, for some really annoying reason on this trip, it decided I should go home – continuously. The blue air surrounding me was not from my exhaust, and it was only the thought of what I’d get on a resale that kept me from throwing it under an oncoming truck. My printed backup directions started where I met Bob, and that’s what I used for the rest of the trip.
I confess that as I left Bob after lunch in Buckhorn, I considered scrapping the trip. The GPS seemed an omen, I wasn’t sure how accurate my printed routes were and I thought I would find it a lonely trip. But I’m not one to quit, and I knew I would regret it if I did. And once I was on the twists of CR 507, the smile never left my face. I arrived in…