1972 Moto Guzzi on Trans-Labrador Highway (don't need no stinkin' GS)

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by nick949eldo, Aug 21, 2011.

  1. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Hello Folks,

    Just back from a whirlwind tour of the Trans-Labrador Highway on my 1972 Guzzi Eldorado.

    Route: Inverary, near Kingston, Ontario - Baie Comeau PQ - Manic 5 - Labrador City - Happy Valley / Goose Bay - Blanc Sablon - ferry to Newfoundland - coast road to Port aux Basques - ferry to Sydney, Nova Scotia - home. Total distance about 5500 kms in 6 days.

    The Trans-Lab includes about 1000 kilometres of gravel road - some fresh, like riding on ball bearings, some rutted and washboardy - but nothing a proper bike can't handle.

    The Eldorado ran flawlessly (ignoring generator mount problems - fixed with a couple of bungees).

    On the last day I rode from the ferry dock in Sydney, Nova Scotia to home (Inverary, Ontario) (1749 kms or 1087 miles) non-stop. Left NS at 2.30 AM, home at 1:30AM. Not bad for a 39 year old bike and its geriatric rider!

    There are a couple of short videos at:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNIJHLCLJsA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1vH1o3mPm4

    I'll be posting more as I do them.

    Nick

    (ps The GS is a nice bike - no disrespect intended. Just not necessary).

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  2. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    While I was on the road, I did a lot of thinking about why I decided to take the 1972 Eldorado. It is my oldest and clunkiest bike. I bought a barely used 2007 Moto Guzzi Breva 1100 this spring, which superficially at least, would have appeared to offer a higher potential reliability, better suspension, more agile handling and higher levels of performance (for that long highway slog home).

    But....while the Breva is undoubtedly a Moto Guzzi, and therefore by definition is a bit querky and out-of-the-mainstream, it just doesn't have the charm, character, class and charisma of the old Eldo. I get more enjoyment from riding her at any speed than any other. I've ridden plenty of modern bikes and I'm usually bored with them within 5 minutes - they just do everything too well!

    As far as being a suitable bike (or not) for the road conditions on the Trans-Labrador Highway. It was fine. Nothing broke, nothing packed up - the only problem was the pre-existing generator mount bolts - a long term achilles heel of loop-frame Guzzis, and I knew about that possibility before I started. .Admittedly old Guzzis are built like tractors, but in my world, that's a good thing.

    The Trans-Lab is, after all, a road. It ain't 'off-road' and you don't need a jacked up adventure bike to enjoy riding it.
    Sure, its a long one, unpaved for most of its length and a bit bumpy in spots, but a road like any other, none-the-less. You can die out there if you act like a fool or a plain unlucky, but that can happen anywhere.

    Until recently I owned a Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe - an 800lb cruiser monster which I sold once I finally admitted to myself that the cruiser riding position was designed by idiots who had no idea what riding a motorbike was all about. Nevertheless, I wouldn't have hesitated to ride the Trans-Lab on it, and would have been just fine.

    I saw plenty of GS's and KLRs near, or heading to or from the Trans-Lab. They were probably more controllable on the loose gravel, possibly a bit smoother, and allowed for faster cruising speeds (as if that's what its all about) - but I reiterate - unnecessary.

    So - if you are thinking of riding the Trans-Lab, don't bother going out and plonking down your hard-earned on a new 'adventure' bike (didn't all bikes used to be adventure bikes?). It just isn't essential. Take the bike you love - then together you can have a real adventure.

    Nick

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  3. GreeKKTiNoS

    GreeKKTiNoS Been here awhile

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    GuZZi !


    :clap:clap:clap
    #3
  4. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    DAY 1 - Inverary, Ontario to La Malbaie, Quebec

    The unwholesome reality of Montreal lies directly in a line between where I live and where I want to go. There are two main options - suffer through the urban nightmare, or find a way around. I usually choose the latter.

    From Inverary I rode through rural eastern Ontario to Hawkesbury on the Ottawa River. Crossing in to Quebec, I followed a more-or-less direct loop around the back of Montreal, passing through Lachute, Joliette and Berthierville, joining Highway 138 along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River about 30kms southwest of Trois Rivieres and well east of Montreal.

    It was Saturday, so just about every chrome-laden Cruiser and Can-Am Spider (the national toy of Quebec) was out along 138. On any normal day, 138 is a really nice road. It hugs the river and passes by classic 18th century Quebec farmhouses and exuberant churches, through a seigneurial landscape divided into long, narrow strips extending back from the river frontage.

    I have ridden that route many times but that Saturday it was too hot and there was too much traffic for my taste. The Guzzi was running well and I was eager to get this first day over with so I joined the arterial Highway 40 and blasted through Quebec City, rejoining the river just east of Beauport. On trips like this, I always start off wondering whether its reasonable to thrash a 39 year old bike along major highways at highway speeds for hour after hour. After I while though, the lazy cadence of the engine and the effortless and comfortable way she eats up the miles convinces me that I have no need to be concerned.

    Beyond the religious pilgrimage centre at St. Anne de Beaupre, 138 runs across the shoulders of the Laurentian Mountains, through scenery which, while not grand, is delightful. It rises over high ground, well inland from the river, through a series of small strip villages before dropping down to the pretty little town of Baie St. Paul where the Gouffre River meets the St. Lawrence. It comes as a bit of a surprise to many to find that this part of Quebec is so unilingually French. My French is limited to "Je ne parle pas fran├žais" but I get along just fine with grunts, pointing and judicious use of my visa card. people are pretty much the same the world over, and if two people have a desire to communicate, whether they share a language in common or not, they can. That, at least, has been my experience.

    My circuitous route around Montreal had eaten up quite some time, and it was well into the early evening before I reached La Malbaie. i had ridden about 750 kilometres, but with the heat and traffic, it felt like much more. I resorted to a motel I had stayed in once before. If I'm feeling charitable, I could describe it as a worker's motel - it was one of those places that has a parking lot full of trucks with work trailers and tandem trucks and guys smoking on plastic chairs outside their rooms. If I'm being honest, I would call it sleazy.

    Nick

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  5. Mane

    Mane Been here awhile

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    Hey,

    Nice report, I'll be watching closely and thanks for taking the time to share it with us.

    By the way, could you tell us how many miles on the Eldo?

    Regards,
    Mane
    #5
  6. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    The Eldo is a two owner bike so I know the mileage is roughly accurate. It turned 61,000 miles on this trip, so just shy of 100,000 kms. Barely run-in for a Guzzi!

    I'll post Day 2 later today.

    Nick
    #6
  7. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    DAY 2
    I was making an early start so I wheeled the Guzzi close to the road before starting the engine. While blasting (a relative term) down the highway through Quebec City yesterday, I had blown out most of the chicken wire I use as exhaust baffles, so the bike was a tad loud.

    Its only about 75 kilometres between La Malbaie and the ferry across the Saguanay Fjord to Tadoussac, but its a nice ride. High forested hills and steep rocky bluffs crowd the road. It was overcast and dreary and I had stopped to put my rain gear on, but by the time I arrived at the ferry, it had cleared up a bit.

    Baie Comeau lies almost 200 kilometres further to the north-east along the St. Lawrence River. Even though its an enjoyable ride, I wanted this part of the journey to be over. As far as I was concerned, the trip didn't really start until I hit gravel north of Manic 5.

    From Baie Comaeu the route veers north away from the St. Lawrence River in to the heart of Quebec, paralleling the Manicouagan River. Hydro Quebec has built a massive series of power dams on the river (Manic 1, 2, 3 and 5 - 4 was abandoned). The river flows south from the Manicouagan Reservoir which occupies the basin left by the impact of a 5km. diametre meteor. The crater is approximately 100 kms wide and can clearly be seen from space.

    Highway 389 is a great road. It twists and turns through classic Canadian Shield country, crossing innumerable streams, avoiding rocky hills and lakes on its path between Baie Comeau and Manic 5. The road surface is in poor condition, with numerous frost heaves and potholes, but the scenery and endless curves more than compensate.

    There is a gas station, cafe and motel at Manic 5. I needed to fill both the bike and my belly so I stopped first at the cafe. Three BMWs were lined up out front; a GS with the full Ewan/Charlie kit, an older RT and a modern paralever naked I didn't recognise. Their owners, who I think were probably out for a Sunday ride from Baie Comeau were coming out of the cafe as I arrived, and I think it would be a bit of an understatement to say they were surprised to see the Guzzi and even more surprised when they learned where I was heading.

    They were curious to find out whether I had any real idea of what was ahead. I like to think their concerns were assuaged once they learned that I had already ridden the 350 kms of gravel road between Manic 5 and Labrador City in both directions - and on the same Guzzi, but if they were, it wasn't showing on their faces.

    I rode the gravel road north from Manic 5 for about 200 kilometres that afternoon. The road was in fairly good condition - indeed, the short section of old paved road around the former location of the mining town of Gagnon was actually less pleasant to ride because it has become heavily frost heaved and has not been maintained well. As evening approached, I began to look for a place to camp. I travel with a 4 season Clark Jungle Hammock, so all I needed was a couple of trees approximately 8 feet part. Not too much of a problem in this part of Quebec.

    I found a small track leading to a lake, just off the side of the highway. I pitched my hammock, enjoyed a supper consisting of potato chips, baguette and beer, and settled in for the night to the mellifluous sound of courting loons.

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  8. Backlash

    Backlash Adventurer

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    Well mine is a GSA but just got done with the same loop. Do not know how it happened but the instrument panel lit up at Port Hope Simpson and told me I had a lampf out. Dug out a spare and put it in (an H7). What a bitch--go all that way and loose a light bulb filament. Just can not figure out why. It could be dust entered the bulb and shorted it out. Or, I had the preload set to high on the front shock. Well I stopped at the local gas station and they found me one to put back into my stash. The same as a Yamaha snowmobile. It also was pricey at a whopping $5.49. The gas tank was sized about right as I had plenty of fuel left at Mary's Harbor. I rode with a Slelvio up the Dempster last year and he needed about four extra gallons to go anywhere. Maybe the new ones take more fuel.
    #8
  9. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    I like GS's really -perhaps I'm a bit jealous..........nah, don't like floppy tits - especially surgically lifted ones.

    Glad you were able to fix your problem. The Stelvio has an absurd 17 litre tank, so no wonder he was running out of fuel all the time. The new Stelvio NTX has a bladder like a camel and should be good for hundreds of miles.

    I had a wiring problem before I left (which I had forgotten to trouble shoot) and did the whole trip without a high beam. Glad you were able to fix your problem - those guys at the Yamaha dealer seemed very pleasant - or at least, amused to see an old Guzzi rider unable to find the darn hotel.

    Nick
    #9
  10. bobw

    bobw Harden the phuck up

    Joined:
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    I love the bike and agree with your thoughts about motorcycling. Too many miss out for all the wrong reasons

    Safe travels and Cheers
    :beer
    #10
  11. SpeedwayRN

    SpeedwayRN Go Spies!

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    Awsome! Just awsome! :clap
    I pick up my new (left over) Breva 1100 in two days! :happay
    Funny how everybody seems concerned over Guzzis poor dealer network but you always hear about guzzis just running forever. Yes they can have bothersome little niggles just like any other brand can and do have. After all they are machines.
    #11
  12. Mane

    Mane Been here awhile

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    Thank you for the answer, and I do agree about the break in part... :D

    Keep posting!

    Regards,
    Mane
    #12
  13. tshelver

    tshelver Been here awhile

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    Hmm, I had an '82 SP1000NT, and I have to say the 'niggles' (and a lack of performance) were enough to push me to a K100RS.
    Rear drive unit cr@pped out at 5000 miles (a friend was riding it, so maybe was a bit heavy-footed with the gears), several clutch and accelerator cable breakages, and in the day of tubeless BMW wheels and Honda Comstars it was still running tubes (and getting a lot of flats).
    By 8K miles it had developed a weave in high speed corners.

    Still, a nice bike for me a the time. Really comfortable, handled well most of the time, excellent weather protection and saddle, and a lot of character.


    I was just reviewing my history with Jap vs Euro bikes the other day, and the worst of my Jap bikes (an '88 Concours I picked up in '97: rear drive shaft seal at 40K) was better than the most reliable of my Euro bikes (new '84 K100RS, shock at 5K, alternator bearings at 18K).
    I'd still rate the Guzzi ahead of my 98 R11GS and the Husky for reliability though...

    Right now I am contemplating doing this trip on my VFR, that I originally bought the Husky TE610E to do. The Husky with 7K and 5 years is sitting in the shop undergoing major surgery to make 'like new', the VFR has 21K and 8 years and has only ever needed tires, oil, filters and a chain (preventative maintenance).

    The reliability factor has me looking at taking the VFR to Mexico / central America over the winter, instead of the Husky.

    Back to the topic, maybe the Eldo is better suited for this riding than a lot would think. Softer suspension and easy riding position are probably a fairly big advantage.
    #13
  14. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    DAY 3 (100kms south of Labrador City to Happy Valley / Goose Bay)

    I awoke to light shining through the bug screen straight into my eyes. "Must be dawn", I thought, unzipped the screen and struggled out for a pee. Then I noticed that vicious orb in the sky, looking balefully down on me. It wasn't dawn at all - just high moon. The moon has never been my friend and has always been a trigger for restlessness and insomnia.
    Thinking that dawn couldn't be far away, I had a quick snack, packed up the hammock and sleeping bags (I carry two lightweights which give me a wide range of temperature control) and got back on the bike.

    Its times like this that you notice the differences between modern bikes and those from the primordial past. The Eldorado's headlight (actually a 7 inch right-side car sealed beam) cast a weak pool of light a few feet in front of the front wheel. I switched to high beam and there was an ominous flickering before the pool expanded slightly. Still, with the combination of the moonlight and the headlight, there was enough illumination for me to navigate back on to the road and head for Labrador City. Surely dawn could not be far away?

    This part of Highway 389 criss-crosses the railway tracks which lead south from the Fermont mine, just on the Quebec side of the Quebec / Labrador border. I had to be careful near the tracks, not because of any danger from trains, but because of the steep rutted curves before and after every crossing. If I tried to go too fast, I could easily loose track of where the road was heading, and veer ominously towards the ditch. On one of these corners, my high-beam quit altogether, temporarily leaving me to navigate by moonlight alone. I switched to low beam, adjusted my already desultory speed, and carried on.

    Eventually the lights of the Fermont mine appeared in the distance, and beyond that, the paved road to Labrador City. I arrived in town just in time to be caught up in the 5:30AM, Tim Horton's pre-shift rush moment. By the time I had struggled out of my riding gear, the line-up was gone and I was able to order a coffee and breakfast sandwich unimpeded.

    Beyond Labrador City, the road is paved for quite a distance. Nice road. No traffic. Perfect surface. The landscape is fairly flat supporting stunted spruce trees and string bog interspersed with innumerable ponds and small lakes. I'm assuming that the plan is to pave the whole thing eventually. For me, that will be a shame, for no matter how quiet a paved road may be, it just doesn't provide the same sense of remoteness that a gravel one does - and I'm assuming that I'm not alone in having those feelings.

    The old Eldorado continued to roll along uncomplainingly. I had filled with gas in Labrador City, so was fairly confident that I could reach Churchill Falls, a mere 244 kilometres away without having to resort to my spare tank. Once the road reverted to gravel, my speed decreased and my fuel consumption increased, especially because this section of the road was undergoing some fairly heavy maintenence, including laying miles of fresh, loose gravel - the motorcyclists bane. I guess the work crews and signal flag people aren't used to seeing an elderly Moto Guzzi on the Trans-Lab. I either got incredulous looks or enthusiastic thumbs-up and waves.

    In Churchill Falls I refilled my tank and bought some wholesome and sustaining food to keep me going on the next leg of the journey.

    Before I left Ontario, I had remounted the Eldo's generator and applied Locktite to.the bolt threads. The generator sits in a cradle between the cylinders. The bolts that hold the cradle to the engine block are a weak spot on these bikes - and sometimes even the cradle will crack with vibration. Somewhere between Churchill Falls and Happy Valley, it became obvious that the generator was flopping around again and all my preparation had been for nought. This might sound as though it could have been a bit of a problem, but a well positioned bungee cord soon had the generator more or less held in place.

    Common practice is to run 30wt fork oil or ATF (automatic transmission fluid) in the forks of these Loop Frame Guzzis. Before I had left, however, I had read somewhere that running 80/90 gear oil in the forks improved damping and their general feel. I'm glad I did. Some parts of the highway were potholed or had long sections of washboard. My forks would occasionally bottom out, but not nearly as often as I had expected.

    The 290+ kilometres to Happy Valley/Goose Bay passed uneventfully. For me, these road trips are all about flow. I imagine I'm tuned in to the sound of the engine, the feel of the road surface beneath the tyres, how my backside is coping and whether I'm getting close to running out of fuel, but usually I can't remember a single thought during hours of riding. And that's just the way I like it.

    About 60 kilometres west of Happy Valley the road suddenly dove off the edge of the Labrador plateau into the valley of the Churchill River. From here to town, the road has been paved with the most perfect asphalt I think I have ever seen. Those last few miles into Happy Valley were sheer bliss.

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  15. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Conventional wisdom among Guzzista is that you need to endure through about 20,000 miles worth of sorting out various niggles that should have been fixed at the factory, before Guzzis really settle in. After that, they are usually good to go for hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately, many owners can't (or refuse to) get through this irritation / fettling period - which means that there are many fine bikes out there, relatively cheap, which get snapped up by the Guzzi cognoscenti then run hard for decades.

    I place a higher premium on being able to cope with whatever problem arises (and they always do) than with trying to find the ideally 'reliable' bike. One of the reasons I love taking the Eldo on long trips is that, short of a catastrophic mechanical failure (unlikely), there is virtually nothing which can't be fixed at the side of the road (punctures, carbs, points, distributor etc.).

    So what happens when you are 100 miles from anywhere on your VFR (a bike for which I have great admiration, by the way - my son has one), and your ECU clags out? It probably won't happen - but it could. Are you equipped to deal with it? No cell phone service for AAA or CAA rescue on the Trans-Lab.

    Call me a Luddite, but I don't regard more technology as much of a solution to anything. I could have taken my 2007 Moto Guzzi Breva 1100, which so far has been flawlessly reliable - but I preferred to take the Eldo.

    In remote areas (and this applies to more than motorcycling), its yourself, your state of mind and your knowledge it is best to rely on. Because it will probably be all you have to fall back on.

    Nick
    #15
  16. WaywardSon

    WaywardSon Long timer

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    Loving your ride, route and report. Thanks for taking the time to include us.

    You sent me to the dictionary with seigneurial. I don't think we have any of that in Kentucky...maybe up north in Indiana at French Lick:D
    #16
  17. ducnek

    ducnek Satisfied customer

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    love it.

    :lurk
    #17
  18. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Day 4 Happy Valley to Port Hope=Simpson


    Before leaving Happy Valley I had to find some replacement gloves for the pair I had accidentally left at the side of the road once the pavement started, and fill up with gas again. The young lad who served me in the Home Hardware, really surprised me by saying "nice Guzzi", until I noticed the massive patch of road rash on his arm and the old Yamaha parked outside. Clearly he had recently had a lesson in the need for proper protective clothing.

    It is 409 kms (254 miles) from Happy Valley to Port Hope-Simpson - the most recently completed section of the Trans-Labrador Highway and the longest stretch between gas supplies. I was fairly confident that with the extra 10 litres I was carrying in the can on my back-rack, I would have enough - but it would be close.

    I was expecting the newest section of highway to be a nasty mess of fresh, loose 3inch aggregate and had been steeling myself for some slow and painful riding. The reality was quite different.

    The new road (Highway 510) diverges from Highway 520 a few kilometres out of town and almost immediately crosses the Churchill River via a long bridge. The road bed on the bridge has been constructed of welded re-bar by someone with a death wish towards motorcyclists. The ribs of the bridge surface grabbed at my front tyre and shook it like a terrier with a rat the whole way across. Perhaps most of the riders who travel this route on 'adventure' bikes, sail over this bridge without noticing its evil inclinations. I'd be interested to hear.

    Beyond the bridge, the road was in excellent condition. I had already noticed that those sections of the Trans-Lab which were constructed from crushed rock aggregate tended to be less pleasant and motorcycle friendly than those made from aggregate derived by sorting and sifting local glacial till. The natural materials pack down into a smooth (usually reddish) surface, providing a wonderful road surface which could be ridden at virtually any speed, even on a jalopy like mine. In contrast, even when well packed, the road surface left by the man-made materials was a constant mine-field of loose gravel patches which sit like marbles on a billiard table.

    Today the weather was a bit grim with dull leaden skies and the promise of rain. A little rain wouldn't be a bad thing since it would dampen down the dust and help consolidate the loose gravel. Too much rain though, would turn the gravel dust to mud and create a whole new set of riding issues. Fortunately for me, it didn't do that, although I it did rain hard enough for me to stop, put on my industrial strength rain gear and hide my video camera.

    Since I am fairly tall, the standard screen on the Guzzi isn't quite tall enough to shield me from turbulence - especially at highway speeds. Much to the distain of my VFR riding son, my solution is to duct tape an old helmet visor to the top of the screen. Despite looking like a dog's breakfast, it works remarkably well.

    Initially, I had taken it off once I hit gravel, but with the higher speeds possible on the excellent road south of Happy Valley, and for added protection from the rain, I decided to remount it - a laborious process that takes perhaps two whole minutes. I immediately noticed an improvement in my riding in the softer gravel sections. The higher screen forced me to look further ahead; whereas before I was probably looking 10-15 feet in front of my wheel, now I had to scan the road at least 20 feet ahead, and usually further.

    It was about this time that I started to notice some unusual tracks - narrow half moon shapes which diverged from the heavily flattened areas where the majority of the vehicle tracks ran. After another hundred kilometres, they became more common and now I could beging to trace more of a linear path. Something was heading down the road, leaving tracks no more than an inch or two wide. On the straight stretches they were hard to follow. Up hill they were easier to trace as they seemed to weave from side to side.

    I gradually became certain I was following a bicycle. What kind of a person would ride a road like this? I soon found out as I eventually caught up with him about 120 kms past where his tracks clearly showed he had spent the night. The cyclist wasa 58 year old gentleman from Gatineau, Quebec. He had been on the road many days.

    I pulled up next to him and after brief hellos, handed him two bottles of beer from my pack. Once, cycling in Spain in the seventies, I had been the recipient of a similar unexpected kindness.

    The last few miles before reaching the Labrador coast brought a considerable change in the scenery. The endless spruce forest, interspersed with large areas of bog gave way to a bare, rolling landscape of krummholz and lichen. The influence of the cold Labrador current in the nearby waters was plainly evident.

    As on previous days, the Eldorado had behaved flawlessly. As I parked in front of the hotel in Port Hope-Simpson, I wondered whether the riders of the expedition equipped KLR's parked outside had had as pleasant, comfortable and trouble free journey as me.

    Photos: left- typical road conditions, right - Port Hope-Simpson

    Nick

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    #18
  19. OldPete

    OldPete Be aware

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    Subscribed!

    Great bike indeed!

    Helped my cousin go through the Eldo he bought in the early 90's.
    Still does its thing to this day. Slow but fun.

    Note: The Tonti framed engine uses a 14# flywheel. The loop framed engine uses a 36# flywheel. Yep, it is true.

    Check out the vids of GuzziV7(channel) over at youtube for rough roading a loop frame in SA.
    #19
  20. Jim K in PA

    Jim K in PA Long timer

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    Nick - thanks for sharing your trip and your excellent writing with us. The quote below speaks volumes about your character. :nod

    #20