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Ninjas & Peacocks

“I think you pretty much know right away if you’re born to ride or not.” That’s when interrupted, “hold on a minute Aaron” and took out my phone to make some notes. Aaron is the second Victoria based rider to be featured in the Bike & Rider photography project. He was one of the few willing to go out and shoot in early January during Vancouver Island’s notoriously soggy winter weather – and this guy was on Ninja 300, hardly the kind of bike one envisions taking on rainy roads!

Aaron felt like a guy I’d known my whole life. Over coffee at Pilgrim Coffee House our conversation shifted from bikes, to travel, dreadlocks and everything in-between. Now with a clearer idea of what I want this project to be, I made sure to delve deeper into the motorcycling questions I hoped to cover. Aaron had such a way with words, I asked if he’d be willing willing to share his stories again, in writing. Thankfully he agreed!

For once I’m going to cut my backstory and blather short to the record setting two paragraphs above and leave you to enjoy Aaron’s story in his own words.

Vitals

First Name: Aaron
Last Name: Elie
Bike Make: Kawasaki
Model: Ninja 300
Year: 2013
Current Job: Quality Analyst (mental health company)
Home Town: Owen Sound, Ontario

When did you get your first bike and what was it?
I got my first bike in April 2018. I really wanted to be able to explore more of the beauty of Ontario and Quebec without relying on other people and I thought a motorcycle would be more fun than a car. It was a beat up 2009 Ninja 250r, plasti-dipped matte black with a loud aftermarket exhaust and red under-glow. It was nothing like the cool chrome cruiser I had originally imagined myself riding, but the price was right, it handled well, and the gritty, futuristic look quickly grew on me. I bought it the day after I finished my safety course, and drove it 7 hours from Ottawa back to Owen Sound less than a week later. I had expected to have more time to practice but my safety course was delayed due to an ice storm. I almost took the bus instead but I think you pretty much know right away if you’re born to ride or not. Once you start learning how to steer, where to look, and how it feels, it becomes clear pretty quickly whether riding is going to feel intuitive, or like you’re going to die.

After my first day on a bike I knew it was going to be a big part of my life and after that first big trip I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me. That summer I did pretty much everything I could on that bike, from multi-day trips to off-road in pouring rain to finding the limits of its agility in twisty canyons and its speed in long open stretches of highway. It gave me something I didn’t even know I was looking for and now I can’t even imagine not having a motorcycle.

Why do you ride?
People often ask if riding a motorcycle is like driving a car, or if it’s like riding a bicycle. I would say no. If anything, I find it actually feels closer to snowboarding. You’re outside, looking far ahead and digging into your line through the turns, and you’re fully immersed in the environment with all five senses. The speed and possibility of injury gives you a deep feeling of focus and you always feel like you’re learning something. Often there are several things going on at the same time and you can’t really focus on any of them, you need to just be in a flow state and have everything happen smoothly in the right order. It’s kind of like skateboarding in that way. Being in the zone with a quiet mind is just a very therapeutic feeling. I’ve also always loved being outside and exploring, looking for waterfalls, rivers, quarries and caves, whatever happens to be around, and getting to these destinations on a motorcycle just improves an already awesome experience. There’s just no comparison to driving a car or taking transit. The feeling of freedom and presence in the moment is extremely powerful.

What motorbike related book, movie or show would you recommend to a friend?
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Akira and Long Way Round
 
What does your dream bike look like?
Just one?? It’s hard to balance between sporty feel, comfort, and off-road capability. I really wanted a Kawasaki Versys 650 or even a Versys 300 but I’m starting to really like the idea of the Triumph Scrambler 1200. I think the best bet is actually to have a couple different bikes for different purposes.

What’s your favourite route to ride these days?
The Lanark Highlands in the Ottawa Valley. Hours of twisties in a beautiful forested landscape. Still haven’t found my favourite ride in Victoria!

Earbuds in or out?
Usually out if I’m just going around town, but in for longer trips. Otherwise I start going a little stir-crazy after a few hours. On my trip through America this Summer when I was riding for ~9 hours a day I listened to an Audiobook for part of the trip and it was awesome. I was making progress in my journey at the same rate the characters were in the book and it just added to the excitement.

Worst accident?
I bought a V-Strom 650 this Summer to ride across America from Ottawa to Victoria. In South Dakota I hit a really nice, flat, freshly-paved stretch of highway and I was almost at my mid-point destination so I decided to have some fun and see how fast the bike could go. At 100mph, I got a speed wobble and got thrown from the bike. I landed on my face and hands, rolled a couple times and slid about 40 feet on my back. The bike went another 20 feet and ended up in a ditch. It was the only day of the trip that I wasn’t wearing riding pants and I lost a pretty serious amount of skin on my knees and hips, and it looked like my foot was broken at first but it turned out to be intact. I had a MIPS helmet from Bell and I don’t know how scientifically sound the MIPS system is, but I was fully cognizant after the crash so I give it an A+. I had a brain-bucket with me as well and I almost wore that instead because it was the hottest day of the trip. Helmets aren’t even mandatory in South Dakota but if I hadn’t been wearing a full-face helmet, I probably would have lost my jaw. I probably would have been crippled if I didn’t have a back protector in my jacket too, and my leather wallet in my back pocket literally saved my ass.

Thankfully none of my injuries were very serious and I was able to clean the debris out of the road and start patching myself up. A 90 year-old farmer drove up, he said he’d seen part of the accident and that he would come back and check on me as soon as he dropped off a dead skunk he had in the back of the truck at his house. He came back and gave me some food and water, and an off-duty search and rescue worker happened to drive by with a trailer and we all heaved the bike into it and went to the nearest mechanic. The worker’s kids were in the back of the truck, and they both had blonde mullets. The mechanics we met were brothers and also both had blonde mullets. South Dakota is wild. The bike was not salvageable and my injuries were too serious for me to continue the trip, but everyone I came across was extremely kind and helpful. I was more than 2,000km from home with no vehicle, bleeding everywhere, wearing a death metal band shirt and long dreadlocks, an an environment that felt very alien to me. It was a very vulnerable position to be in, and the people who helped me out went way out of their way. It was really touching and I feel a real duty to pay it forward.

I’m still not exactly sure what happened. My Ninja 250r could go 150km/h so I figured the V-Strom 650 could at least go 160km/h, which is 100mph. I guess I had too many bags on the bike to be going that speed, and I had just loosened the suspension at the suggestion of a biker I stayed with in the Bunk-a-Biker program, which probably didn’t help. Honestly, my old Ninja 250r felt faster at 100kmh than the V-Strom did at 100mph just due to the riding position, type of handlebar, and engine character, so it made me reconsider what kind of riding I really wanted to be doing. I ended up flying the rest of the way to Victoria and buying a Ninja 300 to take smaller trips with less bags and get more of the feeling I was looking for without going quite so far over the speed limit. I still want to finish the trip I had planned, but I’m going to take it in smaller pieces instead of all at once. I took a lot of risks on that trip, it was just the speed that got me. Now I try to pick my risks more carefully.

What place/route do you dream of riding?
I really want to ride through the Rocky Mountains, the national parks in Utah, and the California coast.

What’s something unique to the motorcycling community?
Bikers are kind of like skateboarders. Both are communities full of people who are willing to take serious risks for what they love, so they can seem a little intimidating, but usually everyone is actually really friendly and interesting. You start to pick up on the signs too and after a while you can tell if someone is part of the crew from small things like the marks on their shoes or boots, or the type of clothes they’re wearing. There’s always a lot to talk about too, from the vehicle to the gear, trips, accidents, good local routes… But the funniest thing for me is when you run into someone who used to ride but stopped for whatever reason. They always get this distant look in their eyes and you can tell they’re remembering that indescribable feeling you get from riding. You just get this feeling like “yep, (s)he gets it”.

What question would you like me to ask the next rider?
“If you could change one thing about the world (in relation to riding or otherwise), what would it be?”

Post Shoot Anlaysis

It’s hard for me not to touch on the shooting experience itself. I learn so much from these outings. This time I applied lessons learned from my last session with Chris. One of those lessons was not to take on so many locations. Everything above was shoot in just one area, Royal Roads University area which includes Hatley Castle. Still, in this small area we managed to get a lot of backdrops: castles, stairway, peacocks and forest. This made far more efficient use of out time and left more time for relaxing between shots.

Something I’m always striving for is diversity in my photos. I don’t want everything framed up, lit, posed and shot the same way. I was happy to incorporate some strong detail shots and a motion pan into this session. I want to keep introducing more techniques into a single session to keep it interesting.

Story. Is it necessary? Why can’t I let it go and be happy with a gallery of random places and poses? I struggled for a long time with sequencing these shots. It didn’t make sense that Aaron would be riding through the forest helmet on and in the next shot it would be off. I wanted it to flow like a movie. Maybe the two shots are just too similar and that’s why it jars me. I need to figure out how to make these galleries more cohesive. Perhaps coming up with some kind of story before we start will help me with that.

As for working with Aaron, so chill. I feel lucky to have has a chance to shoot and make a friend in the process. Thank you Aaron for being part of this project. Looking forward to digging into some curves with you this summer buddy.

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