Known as one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, the Cabot trail is a beautiful stretch of road tied delicately around the peaks of the island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The crown jewel of a 3000-mile adventure through both Canada and the northeastern US, this gorgeous motorcycle destination was certainly one for the record books. So to get this party started, let me introduce myself. My name is Josh Koerpel, I live in New York, and I’m lucky enough to ride a 1971 R75/5 named Genghis.
I used to be a tall ship sailor, so I have only seen the shores of Nova Scotia and never ventured inland through this remarkable landscape. Here, beauty abounds. The highways pull you through green blankets of trees as far as the eye can see. The damp, cool scent of pine hangs in the air, mixed with the satisfying bite of campfire smoke. Roads rise and fall past colorful barns and seaside residences brimming with history. However, the maritime province of Nova Scotia also includes the northern island of Cape Breton, separated from the majority of the peninsula by the straights of Canso. It is on this island the Cabot Trail calls home. As our destination sang its siren song, we realized the ride in question would take place on that crowd favorite, Canada Day. Flying Canadian flags off the back in nationalistic fashion, we shoved off.
Before this trip, I made sure to complete some preventative maintenance on Genghis. Transmission spline lube, new oil and filter, new air filter, new cables, tires and tubes, and the packing of some essential spares. I hacked open an old spark plug and built a small Schrader valve rig that inflates a tube from the non-firing cylinder of the running bike. And, because I started a side business building iPhone apps, carried my original app WONDERBOLT allowing me to measure the length, diameter and thread count of metric (and US) bolts and screws in case a replacement fix was necessary. I felt prepared to live up to my bike’s name and go conquer some territory.
After departing from NYC, attending a wedding, and catching the fast ferry ‘Nova Star’ from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, I meet up with Joe. He has already logged 800 miles or so by entering Canada through Maine and curling around New Brunswick on his ’05 Harley softtail deluxe (complete with guitar strapped to the back). We hit the road. As we began the picturesque ride east towards Halifax, it became clear that Canadian highways are well maintained, orderly, and friendly (at least to NY standards! Sorry NYSDOT). Thankfully the low-pressure system of Hurricane Arthur pulled the nasty weather to the southwest, so we were greeted with cloudless skies and atypically warm temperatures all the way to Cape Breton. We rode by geological wonders like the Bay of Fundy, known to have the largest tidal differential in the world (some 50 ft!) and the infamous Oak Island, home of the Money Pit, where an inaccessible treasure is said to reside at the bottom of a mysterious sinkhole.
Momentary gas and food stops were filled with friendly onlookers admiring the 43 year old Genghis, commenting on its style and reliability for such a trip. One fisherman even guessed the year correctly by yelling ‘Hey 1971!’ after observing me from across the street and noticing the dual drum brakes. Others would drive by, park, and walk over for a chat. Needless to say, an old airhead in Nova Scotia was an excellent conversation kick-starter. Not just for other BMW enthusiasts, but all those with a taste for adventure and nostalgia.
At the head of the trail, Joe and I fueled up in a small outpost filled with other motorcyclists ranging from Harleys to Hondas. Striking conversation quickly, it is evident people have come from all over the continent to ride this particular stretch of asphalt. As we waved goodbye and began to depart, I pulled a classy move. Thinking I was in neutral I popped the clutch, stalled out, then in my startled state, let my bike tip over to the horror of all our newfound motorcycle friends. The looks on their faces were priceless. “Everything’s fine” I attempted to reassure, righting Genghis and pulling away, as we left on-lookers dubious of our chances of survival and my pride in the heavy dust.
Joe and I rounded the Cabot Trail counterclockwise, placing the rider on the outside of the road. This approach (apparently) provides the best photo opportunities and is known within Canada as ‘the direction traveled by the brave.’ Normally, Canadian patrols ride up and down the trail charging folks who park their cars, even for an instant, to take photos. Since it was Canada Day, however, all provincial parks were free admission and Joe and I could take as many photos as we pleased. This was fortunate because it seemed a more picturesque photo opportunity presented itself every 50 feet, especially around the northern town of Cheticamp.
After roughly 6 hours of riding, Joe and I broke off the trail and headed south back towards the Canso straights and New Brunswick. A day later we crossed into the U.S. at Holmen, Maine and traversed Maine backroads dotted with old, tired barns. Our good luck with the weather began to turn, and soon we found ourselves riding through thick, relentless rain as the warm humid air was wrung out upon us. Breaks in the weather allowed a quick snapshot in front of Stephen King’s Bangor home as we pushed our way through New Hampshire, Vermont, and eventually back home to New York.
Returning to Nyack tired but happy, the final odometer reading was just below 3000 miles for the trip. Genghis seemed to handle the 12-day adventure without a single major issue, disregarding a slight oil refill (leaky push rod seal) and a zip tie headlight repair. As a 43-year-old bike, the performance was a testament to both German engineering and the power of conscientious maintenance. Retrospectively, how lucky am I to have the opportunity to experience the world in this fashion! Ironically even luckier still, considering what happened upon my return.
Just yesterday (as I’m writing this on July 12, 2014), both mid-ride and only miles from my house in Congers, Genghis finally threw a fit. Thick smoke began to pour from the bucket. The wire harness caught fire and flames licked up past the handlebars at me. The horn made sounds I didn’t think were mechanically possible. Luckily, I was able to pull over, kill the engine, douse out the flames and save Genghis from electrical self-destruction. Upon further investigation a loose headlight connection caused a massive, debilitating short. Thus, as payment for a perfect 3000-mile trip, it is clear the Airhead motorcycle gods would now like me to learn all about restoring R75/5 electrical systems.
Rack up an interesting end to an amazing, worthwhile trip. I love airheads.