Ever seeking adventure, Nick Adams took his 1976 Guzzi V-twin with automatic transmission on a long distance haul across Canada’s remote, rough roads. If gravel and gullies weren’t tough enough to handle on a heavyweight tourer – suddenly the road disappe
Ever seeking adventure, Nick Adams took his 1976 Guzzi V-twin with automatic transmission on a long distance haul across Canada’s remote, rough roads. If gravel and gullies weren’t tough enough to handle on a heavyweight tourer – suddenly the road disappeared altogether…
After travelling fifty miles that morning, I didn’t fancy turning around to retrace my ride back. But floodwater had washed away the gravel which formed the road bed, leaving a metre-wide gulch on either side. Riding across wasn’t possible. I looked around and noticed that a four-wheeler had made an impromptu track around the base of the culvert, so I parked the bike and took a little walk. The track dived down a three foot gravel bank, traversed the soggy stream bed – mercifully now with little more than a trickle – then dived back up a cobble bank to the road. Could I do it?
I was pleasantly surprised by how easily the Convert dealt with this tricky spot. One of the great advantages of the automatic transmission is that no matter what the circumstances, you are always in the right gear. If you need more power or speed, just twist the throttle. I trickled down the first bank, carefully eased across the old creek bed then gunned it up the second rise, the Convert bellowing as the rear tyre scrabbled for some traction. I made it.
I won’t pretend the rest of this section was particularly easy riding. Once the road diverged from the river the quality of the road surface became more consistent, gradually morphing into a fully-fledged gravel logging company ‘haul road’ for the last few miles, but although the big rocks and washouts were a thing of the past, the road surface was still extremely loose and slippy. Eventually I hit the paved road just west of Shining Tree. A couple of deep breaths later and I was off riding the 222 miles to Kapuskasing and my stop for the night. The Convert had acquired a pleasant, dusty coating, but was otherwise unaffected.
Most of the cross-country heavy goods traffic uses Highway 11 as an alternative to the numerous hills along the Lake Superior coastal route, so it came as no surprise that I shared the road with some massive trucks. Both they and I were heading to Nipigon, where the two roads converge at the Lake Superior shore. Not that the trucks bothered me much. I usually had the road to myself, and anyway, I have always found long distance truckers remarkably respectful of motorcyclists.
There isn’t much to keep the mind engaged on the first stage of this road towards Kapuskasing. The terrain is part of an enormous post-glacial lakebed, now covered with forest, punctuated by a few tiny patches where failed farms are being reclaimed by nature. Then the terrain changes, culminating in a lovely stretch of road with Lake Nipigon and the Nipigon River on one side, and the impressively vertical cliffs of the Pijitawabik Palisades, the escarpment edge of a 1200 million year old diabase sheet. The last time I had seen the palisades, 35 years earlier, I’d been helping to disinter a burial eroding from the river bank – but that, as they say, is another story.
On a modern bike there would be little to occupy the mind: on an old clunker there are always little things to keep you engaged. Did I remember to grease the wheel bearings when I changed the tyres? Are the brakes feeling more spongy than usual? I wonder how the universal joint is faring? These little things can easily grow into major concerns even if nothing is wrong.
At the end of a 426 mile day I checked into a motel, then rode into the town to pick up some essential supplies – more beer. I forgot to put in my ear plugs and suddenly all my anxieties about the condition of the bike were confirmed. Everything was loose and rattling. The valve gear was clattering mightily, I could hear the timing chain whirring around, the drive shaft was clunky, the rear springs were squeaking, the forks complained if I hit a major bump. My bike was falling apart. Then I put my ear plugs back in and the bike was smooth and serene again. Whew!
With Lake Superior a constant presence on the right, and high, rocky, forested hills on the left, the ride demands more endurance than technical skill. Following a brief breakfast, I headed south towards Sault Ste Marie, where the waters of Lake Superior spill out through the St Mary’s Rapids heading for Lake Huron. As I left, I could see a couple of well-laden bikes in the distance. Over the next twenty miles I gradually closed the gap until I was matching their speed about fifty yards back.
Over the next rise, they suddenly braked and pulled over to the shoulder with me close behind. We’d all seen and simultaneously responded to a rider pushing his bike along the other side of the road. It didn’t take long to establish that the young lad on the Suzuki 650 single had overestimated how far he could travel on the measly 10.5 litres of fuel his tank could hold. I had extra fuel, they didn’t, so as I emptied my spare 2.5 litres into his tank – more than enough to get him to the next gas station – they continued on. The young guy was on his first big motorcycle adventure, with another 300 miles to go. I like to think he’ll remember this event fondly, and render assistance to someone else in the future.
The ride to Sault Ste Marie isn’t epic like a Stelvio Pass or the Icefields Parkway but it has a grandeur and charm of its own which never fails to make me happy. My anxieties of the previous evening had long since passed as I swung along with the road, rising over treeclad rocky headlands and swooping down to vast uninhabited bays, the Convert providing a satisfying bellow from its twin exhausts.
A couple of hours later, a long section of road reconstruction had brought traffic to a halt. Like the vehicles ahead of me, I switched off to await our turn through the single open traffic lane. I had hardly lifted my face shield when the two riders from earlier pulled in behind me. Compared to the clean and luggage-coordinated Yamaha Super Ténéré that pulled alongside, my Convert was a sorry sight with dust-encrusted carbs and
bug-splattered windscreen, yet I could tell the rider was a bit surprised to see that I’d arrived before them. ‘ That thing moves right along,’ he said. The rest of the day was a hot and tiring slog along the part of the Trans-Canada that parallels the Lake Huron shore. I checked back in to my motel at the end of a 517 mile day. Over the last few miles I’d noticed that the bike was starting to run a little roughly and wasn’t too keen to idle. So once again I cracked a beer, unrolled my toolkit, and settled down to check over the bike.
It doesn’t seem to matter how conscientious you are in packing tools, spares, tape, bits of miscellaneous gear and zip ties, there seems to be a universal law for motorcycle trips that whatever you’ve overlooked or forgotten is what you need most. My toolkit contained a whole range of metric spanners carefully sized to suit the bike. I had a spare clutch cable – I’ve no idea why because the Convert is perfectly rideable without ever using the clutch – I had bulbs,
allen keys, pliers, screwdrivers of assorted types, tyre irons, spare tube and patches. I thought I had everything. But when I decided that I should clean and gap the points, I soon found that the one thing missing was the small allen key I needed to remove the points cover. Typical. A wise person would have spent a restful night, waited until the shops were open, bought the correct allen key, done the points and smoothly ridden away. Apparently I’m not a wise person. I got up with the birds, hit the highway and put up with a burping, backfiring and stuttering bike until I got to the next major town 100 miles further south.
It turns out that ‘Canadian Tire’ (a bit like Halfords) doesn’t sell single allen keys, so I had to buy a full set. While I was there I threw a couple of NGK BPR7ES spark plugs in my basket for good measure.
Once again, the simple elegant design of the Moto Guzzi made my life easy. Although the points cover lies beneath the fuel tank, the tank is only held on by a couple of hooks at the front and a rubber band at the back. I didn’t even need to disconnect the fuel lines. I
just unhooked the rubber band, pulled the tank up and back a bit, then jammed my folded sleeping pad underneath to hold it up. A couple of seconds with the allen key and the points cover was in my hand. A couple of minutes with some emery paper and the points were cleanish and gapped by eye. With the new plugs installed and everything back in its proper place, the bike was soon running properly again and I was back on the road.
The last couple of hundred miles were along roads I have ridden on just about every bike I own. Passing through ‘cottage country’, they weave around numerous lakes and hills. While they’re not quite the isolated roads I favour, they are some of the most entertaining riding roads in the province. You might think that with no real gearbox to play with, the Convert would be a bit dull. Far from it.
It’s different, certainly, but every bit as engaging. Instead of the narrow power band in each gear on a ’normal’ bike, the Convert seems to have one great, big, elastic gear that’s always right. Want to accelerate hard through a bend? Just open the throttle. The
revs will rise and the bike surges forward until you ease off and everything calms down again. Want to get past that car? Twist the grip – no fishing for the right gear necessary – just smooth effective forward progress, accompanied by a satisfying roar. One of my little juvenile pleasures is accelerating hard from a light while other bike riders are watching, knowing that they will be listening for the gear changes which never come.
If the Eldorado’s gearbox hadn’t decided to break, I probably would have been riding it instead. It is deeply satisfying, tough as nails, eats miles for breakfast and has massive charisma that makes me happy even when there’s nobody but me to be aware of it. In the end though, I’m glad I took the Convert. It has given me a proper opportunity to appreciate its many strengths. Like its older sister, the Convert is an easy bike on which to ride lengthy days. It’s robust enough to be unaffected by a little unpaved action, and is almost laughably simple to maintain on the road. It may be an oddity, even for Moto Guzzi – a company not noted for ordinary machinery – but it is unquestionably a RealUsuableClassic and I’ve found I like riding it. A lot.
Normally, a culvert is covered by enough aggregate to make a sort-of road Dust and grit are abrasive. It pays to check the condition of both pads and brake discs In this case, the road had washed away, making it impassable by motorcycle. Even by a Guzzi! All the rider needs to know Luckily, a little way away a 4x4 had made a new road, and the Guzzi handled that fine
The dust of a long road coats everything. Observe how Guzzi provide a stubby footrest above the footboard to make operating the brake pedal easier and, displaying some intelligence, Guzzi tucked the master cylinder away with some of the electrics
To the left is the fuel tap, to the right a cylinder head. In between them lives the distributor To gain access, the fuel tank needs to be shifted, and then rested on a sleeping mat To make it work better, clean and gap the contacts, replace everything
To remove the cap, an allen key is required. To acquire an allen key, a chap needs to buy a whole set. Of course The key to Convert delight is the torque converter, which lives between the engine and the gearbox The converter has its own oil supply A cooler does its best to keep the Convert’s converter oil happy…
Below: Destinations like these make for a truly happy rider. Great lakes indeed