Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mountain biking the Continental Divide

This may be just the inspiration you need to help get you through these gray, snowy days until riding season resumes.

I've ridden around the Continental Divide in Colorado with my buddy Matt--it's pretty amazing. One ride we did started at 10,000' and went up. Not for the weak of heart, but absolutely worth the effort.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

KTM 690 Adventure project bike has a nice feature on turning a KTM 690 into an all-round dualsport bike.

I've always liked the specs of the KTMs, although I've never had an opportunity to ride one and the original Adventure I sat on was frighteningly tall. I'm 6'-1" and my toes fanned air on that thing.

Woody's Cycles is our local KTM dealer. I see lots of KTM motocross bikes on the trails around here, but BMW has the lock on DS rigs. How are the KTMs for reliability? I'm not sure. If I win the lottery maybe I'll take the plunge. Meanwhile, I can set up five of my KLRs for the same price and still have money left over for gas. And there's a road-oriented wee-Strom that sure looks appealing too...

Adventures in water crossings - Part 2

Last night I explored an interesting unopened road allowance about two concessions south of Richmond Road, just east of Franktown off Hwy 15. Back in the settlement days, Richmond Road was one of the most important routes through eastern Ontario, linking the town of Richmond with Perth. Both towns were important centres for local governance and the provisioning of the steady stream of lumbermen and miners who worked the northern bush camps.

Today, Richmond Road is a straight shot of wide open asphalt through flat countryside that varies from limestone pavement and cedar, to great swampy areas. If you look on Google Earth, you can see that it's pretty much the best (and only) route through the area. It's clear why it was an important route.

So back to the trail. It's probably what Richmond Road looked like in the early days, before modern machinery could work the rock into submission. I love these routes--lots of wilderness and wildlife to see, and surprisingly few bugs considering there's swamp all around you. There I was, putting along, when this stream came up. It was getting darker than the photo would suggest, so I couldn't really tell how deep this crossing would be. Sometimes the embankments, weeds, and flow rate can be clues--but the reflecting light made it hard to actually see the bottom on the far side.

What, that's it?

I decided to just go for it. The worst that would happen is I get off partway and haul my rig back. Judging by previous tire tracks, some trucks had made it through so I was confident I could ride it. Sure enough, it was only about a foot deep, and the rocky bottom wasn't too slick. A little throttle and I goosed through and up the other side no problem, although my right foot got wet.

Nice little trail. At the end I turned left (north) and ended up in Ashton Station. It's a fun little leg that I'll see how to work into a longer ride.

Adventures in water crossings - Part 1

OK, these aren't exactly epic adventures, but for someone like me who's just learning to ride through deep water on a motorcycle, building water crossing skills has been unavoidable this year. It's the wettest July on record in Ottawa. The good thing is the webbing that's now growing between my fingers and toes has helped to reduce the feeling of engine vibration.

Snorkel and mask

My most ambitious attempt was last year on a trail near the intersection of Highway 7 and Dwyer Hill Road, between Ottawa and Carleton Place. There's a huge block of wilderness beside the highway in this area, which I call "The Lost Quarter". However, this Lost Quarter is almost as wet as the real Lost Quarter in Saudi Arabia is dry. It's full of marshes, streams, and scrubby bush wholly unsuited to anything but hosting wildlife (which is of course worthwhile).

There are some intriguing rutted dual tracks that lead into this area. While I've probed some entry points on the east side, I've never ridden all the way through. The mud can be extraordinary and the crossings wide where streams get trapped between rocky outcroppings. If you're lucky, you hit parts where there's sort of a gravelly base of broken limestone and no mud at all. These are great to splash through on a hot day.

Now consider the photo which shows my bike in front of series of long puddles beside a marsh. Two years ago I started to ride into this area on a whim and found it navigable, but didn't go far because of time, and I wasn't sure my bike would handle deep water. That brings me up to Fail Day. Just that morning, I'd modified my carb vent line with a "T" fitting so my engine wouldn't suck in water during deep crossings. Naturally, I had to test it. Before me lay the entrance in the photo.

I set into the first pond at what I though was a reasonable pace to overcome water resistance without stalling, controlling clutch and throttle to keep revs high. It was like driving into a swimming pool. However, what previously had been a gravelly bottom was now slick with several inches of fine mud because of high runoff. My bike went sideways in an instant and I lost it underwater. Just an inch of the left handgrip showed above water, and there I was standing waist-deep in muck.

Humiliated and panicked about submerging my baby, I managed to wrestle my bike upright, find neutral, and drag it out of the pond and back to shore. Two bicyclists who happened to pass by at that moment looked at me as if to ask whether they should call an ambulance. I stood up the KLR and let the water drain out. Only few seconds of trail riding and I faced a long walk home.

After about a minute, I thought what the heck, let's see if it'll start. Sure enough, first try and it fired right up. What a champ! I eased home and gave the bike an inspection. The T junction worked as planned, and the gasket I'd improvised for the airbox managed to seal out all but a tiny trickle of water. Everything important was dry.

I haven't reattempted this trail. It's deep. Maybe by the fall it'll be low enough to try again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wilbur mine located!

Tonight I rode out to Wilbur to look--for about the fifth time--for evidence of the former Boyd Caldwell mine. As I passed the old house on the Wilbur Road I noticed a man sitting on the porch, so I stopped for a chat. John "Bud" Thomas and his wife Brenda are probably the only two people living in what's left of Wilbur. Bud is 75, friendly, and full of stories. He's agreed to let me record a conversation with him about his experiences growing up in the area.

Bud's mother and grandfather worked in the mine, so he was able to describe some good details of the mine operation and its location. The old train station was at the end of Bud's property along the K&P. There were another 22 houses at one time, but they weren't located where the map or remaining buildings would suggest. It seems that the village was actually a bit further south along the K&P. Thanks to Bud's instructions I found the rail spur bed. It comes in at a Y as I suspected, but near a flooded area south of Bud's house that doesn't look like where there should be anything of interest. I'm planning to do some better data collection on all these locations so there's a better record for posterity.

As for the mine itself, a beaver pond has long since covered some of the more important remains and the bush has all but reclaimed the rest. The landscape is now quite different from what it was, so it's really not obvious where to look and you're unlikely to stumble across the remains by accident. Bud told me there may still be foundations of the houses and some ore piles visible in the woods.

One footnote about placenames: Bud said that Lavant Station was of course called "Iron City" originally, but when Bud grew up it was known as "South Lavant". I think he said Lavant was called "North Lavant" or "Robertson" (same as the lake it sits on). He shook his head in disgust when I showed him my map, and said he doesn't understand why all the names were changed when the modern maps were made.

If it ever stops raining (the bush is soggy and the deer flies are many and merciless) I'll be back in a heartbeat to follow up on these findings.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some sleuthing uncovers intriguing details about the old iron mines in the Wilbur/Lavant Station area along the abandoned K&P railway. Here's an excerpt from an Ontario government annual report dated 1884:

"Boyd Caldwell Mine -- The Boyd Caldwell Mine is at Wilbur Station, in the south western part of the township of Lavant, close to the Kingston and Pembroke road, and a siding is laid from the track to the mouth of the shaft. The machinery consists of a twenty horse-power boiler, a steam hoist, and other plant. The shaft has been sunk about 75 feet, and 6,000 tons of ore have been taken out, but the mine had been closed for some time previous to my visit. It is owned by Mr. Boyd Caldwell, of Lanark.

"Wilbur Mine -- This one is near the Boyd Caldwell mine, and is owned by the Wilbur Iron Mining and Manufacturing Company, the stock of which is controlled at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Its machinery consists of an air compressor for driving six drills, a double hoist, a fifty horse-power boiler and other plant. The quantity of ore shipped from it in 1882 was 8,000 tons; in 1883, 17,000 tons; and in 1884, 9,200 tons. the hamlet of Wilbur has a population of about 250 souls, nearly all of whom are miners."

I haven't found the mine sites yet, but I'm looking. It's challenging because the mines were abandonded 100+ years ago and the bush has reclaimed its sovereignty. As you can see in the pictures there's not much left of even Wilbur. It's hard to imagine that here in the 1880s there was once two boarding houses, a blacksmith shop, shoemaker, shingle mill, and carpentry shop, and probably a scattering of rough shanties that housed some 250 hard-drinking miners.

The old rail spur to the Caldwell mine head should still be visible. It sure wasn't obvious when I went looking last weekend, thanks to the undergrowth and incredible clouds of deer flies (I was saved by my motorbike helmet). I explored one promising, rutted side trail along a ridge on the east side of the main K&P line, but it seemed too steep for rail and at too sharp an angle to be a practical spur. Then it got too dark to explore further. It did look like a good accessible spot for a mine though, so I'm going to look again and compare on Google Earth with some GPS readings I took. One map I have shows a mine just north east of Wilbur, in the saddle between the long north ridge from Wilbur and small bump just north of town. There's another mine indicated along the north ridge. Both locations seem logical because you'd need fairly flat rail access from the main line, and you don't want to be below water level in such a swampy area or you'd need a substantial pump. (Yet no such pumps are listed in the Government report.)

The general swampiness of the area suggests that ridges like ones near Wilbur would be the most likely spots to discover and extract valuable ore. The Government report describes much valuable ore found all along the K&P up to and past Calabogie. Ridges like these are the most accessible features to survey and exploit in the area, given the technology and practical considerations of the day. The locals almost certainly know exactly where it is. Some more bushwhacking is in order!

One other thing: It was Lavant Station (not Wilbur) that was originally registered with the name "Iron City" when it was founded (and owned by) Boyd Caldwell in 1881. This point wasn't clear in the "Whisky and Wickedness" book I mentioned in an earlier post. Google Maps shows the K&P trail as "Iron City Road" at Lavant Station (highest magnification).

So why did these mines close? The market for iron collapsed and these far-flung sites simply couldn't be profitable given competition from mines and refineries in Pennsylvania, where there was also abundant coal for smelting.

Margot Hallam at the Lanark Archives has graciously offered to help me dig up information about the Caldwell mines. I'm also going to see what I can find from locals in the area. It would be neat to see what became of this bit of history and I'll post pics of what I find.

Historic tours of Lanark County

Lanark Highlands Historical Tours has posted some...well, historic tours that make interesting motorbike day trips in the countryside west of Ottawa. All of these are fine for street tires, although some gravel roads may be involved. Check out the old photos and compare them with how things look today!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Epic singletrack, France

I saw this pic of two riders in SingleTrack magazine (one of the best mountain biking mags by far) and immediately contacted the photographer, Seb Rogers, to find out where it is. This is on my list of must-do trips.

"Getting there involves riding the cable car to the top station and then a bit of riding / hike-a-bike... but from the point of the photo on there's an absolutely incredible singletrack descent that goes on and on and on. It's super-technical (but all rideable) and with quite a bit of exposure. One of the best trails in the Alps, for sure."

Seb Rogers

Tatlock quarry and New Road

West of Almonte is the hamlet of Tatlock, where there's massive marble quarry that's really worth a trip on a sunny day. The rock formation is gleaming hill of white crumbly rock that OMYA is gradually stripping away for use as filler in things like paint, plastics, and toothpaste. (See my other post for more information on the geology.)

Access is well marked on the gravel road leaving Tatlock to the west. You'll see a sign to the quarry lookout where the gravel road makes a sharp left turn. In fact, the overlook road used to be the road out to highway 511 until OMYA rerouted it so they could strip off more of the marble formation. The original road passed to the left of the main quarry operation today. Note that as of July 2009, Google Maps showed the original road passing through the quarry, not around the north of the quarry as it is now.

You can probably still drive in a car to the quarry overlook. The road is deteriorating quickly since it's no longer maintained, so beware of deep ruts on the steep sections and blind corners.

If you're heading from the quarry to Highway 511, an interesting sideroute is as follows. Go back to the overlook entrance and continue along the new gravel road (County Rd. 9) as if you're going to 511. About 500m along the road takes a sharp left. Turn off here at the bend and continue straight along Concession 6. It winds along for a kilometre or so, devolving into a rough dirt road. About 2km from the turnoff there's a narrow dirt track up to your left. This is "New Road" and is indicated by a hard-to-spot sign in the trees across from the T intersection. Follow New Road all the way to Highway 511, about 3km. It's twisty, steep, and loose. Not recommended for street tires unless you go slowly. Worth the sidetrip though--it's a really pretty and rugged up there.

Update Aug 25, 2014: The quarry has recently been closed to public access. According to the large sign barricading the road, some people didn't respect the fencing around the viewing area and trespassed into the quarry proper.

Update Nov 22, 2015: Closed again when I visited two weekends ago. Not sure if seasonal or permanent. 

Stony Swamp trails, Ottawa

Many mountain bikers in the Ottawa area are surprised to learn that the Stony Swamp in Bells Corners offers some great trail riding. I only really discovered the area myself a couple of years ago, despite driving by it almost daily. Sure, you can see some trailheads from the road--but from that perspective it really doesn't look inspiring. Why bother bringing out the bike when the Kanata Lakes technical trail system is only a few minutes away?

It wasn't until I got really desperate for some new trail options that didn't guarantee bloodied shins and bent derailleur hangers that I finally caved and rode into the swamp. Wow! It's amazing back there! Turns out there's a few thousand acres riddled with trails through red pine forest, limestone outcrops, and--yes--swamp. The riding is mostly flat, but fast and flowy in many places. There are some moderate technical sections for fun, and best of all the mud and bugs are far less an issue than at Kanata Lakes. In fact, Stony Swamp tends to dry out really fast in the spring (except for a few stubborn spots) and the mud, perhaps because it's mainly on limestone instead of granite, isn't the sucking sticky clay stuff that can make riding and bike maintenance a chore elsewhere in the Ottawa area.

Stony is a great area for long training rides where you want to stay in your Zone 1 or Zone 2 exertion level for 2-3 hours. Technical difficulty is mainly a 1 on a 5-point scale, and the technical sections are about a 2. It's perfect for introducing someone to trailriding, or if you have a hardtail and just want to go fast.

I've found that one of the best places to start is the small NCC parking lot on Timm Road. There always seems to be a few cars parked here with middle-aged men sitting by themselves. I don't know if it's a pick-up spot or something, but I'm less concerned about getting my car broken into while they're hanging around. By contrast, the large lot across from Hazeldean mall seems to get a lot of break-ins. There are many other places to start from, but I like the drama and solitude of the Timm start.

The attached riding route looks a little wacky because I've tried to minimize retracing the same section in the same direction. Despite all the trail options getting lost is hard. A good baseline route through the area is the Rideau Trail, indicated by red arrow trail markers. Other than that, just explore. It'll probably take you a few long sessions to really find everything.

For an official trail map and other info about the Swamp, here's the NCC page.

Update (2014): Stoney Swamp fell victim to an extensive bush fire several years ago, To reach the fire, crews cut a number of roads into the heart of some of the best mountain biking trails in the swamp. The remaining trails are still pretty good--especially for beginners. But the hardest stuff is gone. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Epic singletrack

If you're a truly passionate mountain biker, you really owe it to yourself to hit the epic singletrack opportunities in Colorado and Utah at least once in your life. It's an unforgettable experience.

In 2007, my buddy Matt Thompson and I packed two hardtails in his truck and spent a week chasing some of the best singletrack that North America has to offer. We started in the Front Range outside Denver, headed over to Crested Butte, and hit Fruita on the way to Moab.

Fruita and Moab are of course stellar--but the hidden gem in my opinion is Buffalo Creek near Pine, Colorado.

This was some of the best alpine singletrack I've ever ridden: perfectly buff trails, grip that only a tire salesman could dream of, stunning scenery, and brilliant flow.

At one point we got caught in a flash thunderstorm as we began a long, technical descent. It was one of the craziest downhills I've ever ridden, hardly able to see through the pouring rain as I skated furiously down a narrow singletrack flooded with a torrent of rainwater.

Crossing the Continental Divide brought us to the real South Park and an epic ride that started at 10,000' and only went up.

Coming down that trail I bagged an aspen at full speed and fragged my wheel. Dumb move. Fortunately I narrowly missed impaling myself horror-movie-like on a projecting stump when I face planted.

The historic town of South Park is well worth a visit while you're in the area.

And fortunately there are natural hot springs and other great sights along the way.

Crested Butte turned out to be Crested Bust. Perfect conditions on the evening we arrived, but the next day brought 15 cm of snow. So much for hitting the 401. That's for another trip. So we headed south to Gunnison where rain prevailed, and pushed on to Fruita. Ahhh... nice weather--finally!

While searching for a wheel repair in Fruita we met with Greg from DT Swiss who hooked me up with a free new rim and some other goodies for Matt. (Thanks, Greg!) The next day Greg took us for a classic loop and totally schooled both of us on his singlespeed. Turns out the sandbagger is a champion 24hr specialist and he knows every trick in the book. I was totally bagged from elevation fatigue, but even if I'd been in better shape I think Greg would've pwned us handily.

The cherry on the cake was riding Moab's Porcupine Rim in the full 50km loop right from town. Matt and I had done the ride together many years ago, but this time we were on better bikes and in much better shape. That was the fastest I'd ever ridden such technical terrain on a hardtail, just flying off stairsteps and ledges. We totally smoked groups of riders who were on full sussers. It was a truly Zen experience for both of us, and actually kind of frightening if I think about it. The thing is, on this type of terrain you really don't have time to think--you just have to DO.

That week most of our rides started in the 7000' range and went up. As I look at these pictures again, I often wonder why I don't live there, or even visit more often to benefit from all that brilliant terrain and altitude riding. Point is, you gotta take these opportunities in life to have the adventures you dream about. Maybe it's because you can't have it anytime that makes it so special.

Wilderness Tours mountain biking

One sweet ride for the self-propelled is the 30-odd km out-and-back "Rafters to Coliseum" route at Wilderness Tours in Beachburg, Ontario.

It isn't officially that long, but the route is poorly marked, the online map sucks, and I ended up playing around on some extra loops anyway because they were such a rip. Really, these days there's no excuse for poor trail marking what with GPS, Google Earth and all--especially since a paid trail pass is required ($5-10 I think). But enough griping. It's really worth a spin. When I rode it last fall I had the place to myself and the staff generously refused to accept my payment for a trail pass. Once I hit the dirt I didn't see another soul for hours.

I think one of the top Zen moments was flying through this pine stand on a smooth, gentle downhill. The light filtered softly through the treetops, somewhere a woodpecker hammered away, and there was just the zing! of tires on a bed of pine needles. I had to ride it twice just to be sure I wasn't dreaming.

There's a network of shorter loops near the Rafters lodge area that dip in and out of a broad ravine. Downhills are screaming and the uphills are equally screaming. Bring a lot of water--it gets hot, humid and dusty, and there's opportunity for a lot of steady exertion. There's also a merciful chance to rinse the sweat off in a dip at the rapids.

I rode Kenda Nevegal tires, which aren't bad considering all the slimy clay you'll encounter if you get a sprinkle. When it's dry, it's hard and fast. I also recommend bringing a slower rider for company. I saw vivid proof of bears in the area.

Folger or Bust -- following the K&P

The abandoned Kingston & Pembroke ("K&P") railway line is a great jumping-off point for some interesting trail rides west of Ottawa, including the E Trail and its numbered tributaries. Following the K&P from Sharbot Lake to Calabogie, or all the way to Renfrew is a beautiful ride--especially in late summer. There are many lakes and endless forest, so even though the line is straight and you have to pay attention to your front wheel, it's a great introduction to backcountry riding in the area.

These photos are from along the trail and a sidetrail, and in the ghost town of Folger, a whistle stop on the K&P just north of Lavant Station.

The K&P is pretty good gravel overall, if narrow and potholed in places. A road-oriented dualsport tire is fine as long as you don't go too fast, and you avoid riding early season (lots of ice remains in the shade) or when its wet (some mud and minor gravelly stream crossings that look worse than they are). If you have knobbies, I highly recommend the side trail cutoff just north of the old railway bridge about 3km south of Clyde Forks. Watch the trestle crossing because the planks are parallel to travel and spaced to catch motorcycle tires. The cutoff ascends a sandy hill (seen in the pic looking back to the K&P), then the trail becomes a loose dual track with lots of ups and downs. It's some wicked riding for a dualsport and not at all recommended for street-oriented tires. Trail pass and maps are advised--you're really in the sticks out there.

This whole area saw its heydays start around 1880 with the coming of the railway to support the square timber industry and the discovery of iron and other minerals in the area. In fact, near Lavant Station in 1881, a community called "Iron City" was surveyed to support two local iron mines and a copper mine. Lavant Station once hosted a sawmill, hotels, and a post office. It's hard to imagine now that 130 years ago a few hundred people lived in town out here and this was one of the up-and-coming frontier towns. By 1911 it was all ghost town, and in the 1950's a lot of the old structures burned in a massive bush fire. One of my maps shows a possible location for the iron mine. I'm going to see if I can find it.

For a great read about the history of the area, I recommend the fascinating book "Whiskey & Wickedness - No. 3" by Larry Cotton (

This way to the Abyss

C'mon, isn't that just a challenge for you to explore? :-)

This is on the 4C Concession between the Clayton Road and Old Union Hall Road, just west of Almonte, Ontario. The trail looks like a beaut from here, but just go a little further and...

Just past where I took this shot I successfully traversed the most humongous mudpit through a swamp that I've ever attempted. No joke, it was about 15 feet long and about 18-24" deep of soupy, deeply rutted muck. I was in well over my hubs, my feet were submerged, and I had just the Kenda 270's on F&R. Given all the riding I've done since, I can't believe I made it through this swamp in one go without dumping, stalling, or even putting my feet down. If I'd dumped, I doubt I would've been able to pull out my bike by myself. I was so stoked after getting through I completely forgot to take a picture. Sorry! I'll go back and take a shot of how it looks dry sometime.

Heartbreak lodge

These are the remains of a log cabin on a backroad off a backroad off a backroad near the virtual ghost town of McLean, south-west of Sharbot Lake. The logs themselves are long since gone, but you can see their impressions in the poured cement that remains from where a farmer once probably tried to shore-up and weatherproof the structure.

The cabin overlooks a swampy pond and overgrown pasture that even now has striking primitive beauty. Of course, there must've been unimaginable hardship eking out a living here as a rock farmer, barely surviving the long winters only to be tormented by clouds of bugs during planting and calving season.

On the bike are Kenda 270 front and rear tires. I don't recommend the front at all for loose gravel roads--too slippery--and is all but useless in the mud. Rear is good.

In the dry sack are tools and tire repair kit. I haven't flatted yet, but I've learned how to remove and replace both front and rear tires in case I ever do. The tricks are soapy water to lube the tire, at least one long tire iron, and patience.

I also ride with a Camelback. If you don't have one, I recommend it highly so you can sip water easily and often.

Tires for dual-sport

There's endless discussion online about what tires work best for dual-sport. Of course, what works best for you depends on your bike, your riding skills and style, terrain--and, ultimately--budget.

I'm a bit of a cheap bastard for my KLR (hey, it's about having fun--not worrying endlessly about keeping chrome polished!), so I'm not going to mount rubber that's a sizeable proportion of the value of my bike. And the reality is, family and work commitments restrict me to being mainly a weekend warrior. So my choice of tires may not be the "best" in terms of available performance, but overall I've found them to be a good compromise for gravel roads, the occasional rock garden, and muddy ATV trails.

I've settled on a Kenda K270 for the rear and a Pirelli MT21 for the front, and heavy-duty inner tubes in both. I ordered my tires from where I've had great service. I had K270 on the front and rear previously, and while the rear is fine I have to say the front is pretty lousy on fire roads. The MT21 really bites into the dirt, improves control on rutted terrain (the bike actually goes where you point it) and gives a much more predictable wash-out in cornering. The rear is knobby enough to get you through the mud if you're careful, but it's still not so knobby that you scrub it down on a 100+ km ride to and from the dirt. In fact, I got about 7000 km out of my last K270 rear, where I was about 80/20 road/dirt. I'm not accelerating hard though, so that helps extend their life. So does proper air pressure.

How do they ride on the road? Well, it takes some getting used to the sideways "walking" feeling of the knobs when you corner hard--especially on pavement. I learned to get used to that by doing hours of figure-8's in a parking lot. Now I feel much more confident on the dirt.

Mountain bike tires are a whole different matter. I ride Kenda Nevegals... the rubber is super grippy on slimy granite and they aren't so deep that they clog up with our regional clay. I've tried tons of tires on my mountain bikes and these are by far the best overall tire for Eastern Ontario so far.

It irks me that my mountain bike tires cost about $60 each, which is more than a rear K270 for my motorcycle. And I get way less life out of a bicycle tire.

Easy in...

The Arcol Road in Lanark County is just one route into an area densely filled will hundreds of kilometres of trail-riding opportunities. However, it's an area that now requires a trail pass ("Gold Pass", see

While this stretch of the road is pretty smooth, it can quickly devolve into rutted dual-track and giant mudpits if you explore of the main route a bit. Be prepared to get dirty!

No speeding!

This is another stretch of the "E" trail in Lanark County, showing typical trail conditions in some areas. Although it may look a bit frightening if you're a roadie or new to dual-sport riding, it's actually quite rideable on bikes like a BMW 650GS with stock tires--if you take it slow. There's a bit of mud but it's not the sticky, sucking stuff that buries you up to your hubs (although there is that too).

Despite the remoteness of this location it's amazing how much traffic it sees. The occasional pickup bounces by and there are often quads racing by. If you break down, there's a good chance someone can give you a ride out of banjo-picking country--but don't count in it. You need to be self-sufficient out here and don't count on your cell phone working.

Need for speed

Just to show I'm not totally a motorhead, here's my time-trial rig. Going fast under your own steam a few times a week is great therapy for my day job in a cubicle. It's also great conditioning for trail riding, when you need to be able to toss around a heavy KLR on rocky roads for hours on end.

Cater to your stomach

One of my cycling buddies is Ken Harper, Executive Chef and proprietor of ChopChop Catering. Ken's a budding road rider out in the gorgeous banjo-picking country we call home. As an accomplished, thoughtful and well-travelled chef he never fails to impress with excellent food and astounding tales of world travel. I encourage you to give him a call if you're looking to impress a crowd with a special dinner.

Eastern Ontario trail network

The "E" trail in Eastern Ontario is one of the main backcountry routes through some spectacular scenery. Judging by all the signs that have appeared along the trail this spring, you now need a trail pass to access this route without risking a fine. Whatever; I got the pass ("Gold Pass", $149--see or pick one up at Carson's in Perth) so now I ride guilt-free. :-)

Here's a pic of the typical terrain. Knobbies highly recommended but not entirely necessary unless you're on a heavy bike or are comfortable sliding around on gravel dual-track. Bathing suit a nice accessory--there are many clear lakes to jump into on hot days.


There's a wealth of interesting dualsport riding near my small town of Almonte, in Eastern Ontario. In this blog I'll share some of my riding experiences in and around Lanark County so you can see what there is to explore here.

Although this blog is ostensibly about dualsport motorcycling, in fact I'm addicted to pretty much any form of two-wheeled fun. That includes bicycling--either road riding or mountain biking. Both motorized and self-propelled cycling offer unique opportunities to explore and enjoy the backcountry. I like bicycling because it's quiet, great exercise, and let's you see all kinds of details about your surroundings. I like motorcycling because it extends my range and gets me into areas where it would be impractical for me to ride my bike. So I'll cover both forms of two-wheeled fun here, because I find them complementary and fun.

On to my motorbike (for now).

I ride a 2002 KLR 650. It's an ugly warthog, but the perfect bush tool for out here. I've looked at a lot of other rides and keep coming back to this thing. My upgrades are progressive fork springs, Arrowhead doohickey (highly recommended: I've done three KLRs and two doos were snapped, with one ready to break), Moose skid plate, Maier handguards, upgraded subframe bolts, IMS moto pegs, T-junctions carb breather, and Kenda 270 tire on the rear with Pirelli MT21 knobby on the front and heavy duty tubes. The tire combo is a good compromise out here and I recommend it highly. Actually, all the upgrades have saved my bacon at some point and I wouldn't consider anything less as a starting point for riding the backcountry here.

To get the most out of trail opportunities in Eastern Ontario, I recommend getting an ATV trail pass. Look for "The Gold Pass", which costs $149 for a year and gives access to an amazing network of snowmobile and ATV trails across the province. While I regret all the increased regulation on pretty much aspect of our lives these days, I understand the need for a trail pass and support the efforts of the, the body that has taken on the role of developing and promoting responsible trail networks and usage across Ontario.

One of my personal projects over the past couple of years has been putting together a trail ride from Almonte to Bon Echo Provincial Park. I've done all but a small section of it, either on foot/bike/motorbike. Of course, it's not just about the riding; I'm also quite interested in the local history, so finding and exploring pioneer trails and ghost towns is all part of the experience.

I'll cover some of my routes in followup posts. If you want to join me, drop me a line and let's arrange something.