Author Topic: An overnight to mark the equinox  (Read 2453 times)

John Saxby

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An overnight to mark the equinox
« on: October 06, 2023, 02:50:32 am »
Part 1

(Full disclosure: Following are extended notes from a short trip.)

Two weeks ago, on Sept 21/22, I made an overnight there-and-back to parc national de Plaisance, a small park on a peninsula on the north (Québec) shore of the Ottawa River, about 75 kms from home.  This was my first cycle-camping trip since late June 2022, back in the BSE (Before Surgery Era).  Marking the equinox was as much a matter of convenience as A Plan, but the ride was a celebration of our current sunny, warm and dry autumn weather, after a summer of skies reddened by wildfire smoke, followed by tornadoes, torrential rain, and hail.  It was also a test for my reconstructed hips, especially une petite épreuve for my left quads and hip flexors, which have been the object of a lot of strengthening and stretching over the past six months.

The ride would also let me test a different loading configuration for Freddie, my Mk 3 Mercury.  In particular, in anticipation of a longer tour next summer, I wanted to see how the bike would feel with a front rack and panniers.

I knew of Plaisance Park after a fashion, having made a mental note about it some years ago, after an overnight nearby on my Raven.  But, reading a website set up by a local Chilean-Canadian enthusiast gave me the necessary nudge. (You can see José Albornoz’ excellent work here: )

In late August, I did a “pre-connaissance” scan of the bike paths on both (i.e., Québec and Ontario) sides of the Ottawa River, anticipating delays and detours because of road works.  (See notes and photos in my posts in the thread "Rides of 2023".)  That proved to be time well-spent.  I devised a fairly straightforward route through and out of downtown Ottawa; and just as important, kept my expectations in check about how much time I would need to cover the 75 kms or so to Plaisance.  I reckoned I’d need about five-plus hours, including a stop for lunch and unexpected Britrail/Carlisle moments.

The ride to Plaisance

Much of my route follows Route Verte 1, part of Québec’s exemplary Route Verte (Green Route) network of cycleways throughout the province.  (English version of the website is here:  RV 1 begins about 150 kms northwest of Ottawa, and follows a riverside route to Montréal, another 190 kms to the east.  The RV 1 route, like the other parts of the network, is a mix of dedicated bikepaths (tarmac and gravel), rail trails, multi-use pathways, and public roads, including secondary highways. (The latter, happily, often have broad paved shoulders.)

The exit through downtown Ottawa took me no more than 45 minutes.  Within my first 15 minutes, as I’ve come to expect, there was a demonstration of thoughtless destructive potential by an SUV driver who motored through a four-way stop in a 2½ - tonne monster some 25 yards in front of me.  But, no harm done:  I knew what was about to happen, as I saw her approach the intersection unfussed by trivial things like braking. 

Once through the roadworks surrounding the bridge on the western part of downtown, I joined RV 1 on the Québec shore, and followed it along the riverside.  Photo 1 below shows the view southwards across the river towards Parliament and the Château Laurier, the splendid old railway hotel built just before WW I.

The riverside bikepath gives way to multi-use pathways beside a large arterial road heading east through the light-industrial area of Gatineau, the amalgamated city across from Ottawa.  Its industry includes a forest-products mill (thankfully subdued on my ride), a foretaste of the modest old mill towns further downstream.  The RV 1 planners, bless ‘em, laid out a route through the quiet back streets of the small villages that now make up Gatineau’s eastern suburbs.  After a couple of hours, I stopped for my lunch on a grassy open space opposite an elementary school in the first of a string of small towns, Masson-Angers. 

RV 1 then takes a rider onto Hwy 148, the original (now secondary) highway along the Ottawa west of Montréal.  Of course there are roadworks, but they at least have the benefit of slowing down the motor traffic.  This was surprisingly busy on my ride, with more big trucks than I’d expected or like to see.  OTOH, these are usually disciplined and courteous, and the ample shoulders give both of us plenty of clearance.  Fifteen kms further along, I enter the mill town of Thurso, famous in these parts as the birthplace of Guy Lafleur, the brilliant winger for the great Montréal Canadiens hockey teams of the 1970s.  “Flower” was emblematic, his mesmerizing speed and skill the hallmark of those wonderful teams.  (Along with his flying hair--!! who needs a helmet ?? – while still had it.) (There are many who’ll tell you that The Best Hockey Game They Ever Saw was the 3-3 draw on New Year’s Eve, 1975, played in the old Montréal Forum between les Canadiens and the Soviet Red Army team.  I missed that, dammit, being in Lusaka, Zambia, at the time; but I saw the replay after I returned to Canada, and I’d have to agree with the majority opinion.)  (Mind you, Lafleur could do what he did in part because his mate Larry Robinson, from a nearby Ontario farm in the Valley, anchored the team’s outstanding defence.)

Ah yes, the ride.  The north shore of the Ottawa River east of Gatineau is bordered by marshes, now protected as wildlife (especially waterfowl) reserves.  In Thurso, RV 1 forsakes the 148 and turns south towards the river proper.  There’s a ferry across the Ottawa, one of a number in the area, but my route heads east just before the ferry landing. A gravel path ducks behind la Maison Galipeau, a grand old 19th-century house, and heads into the cool shade of the riverine woods.  A sign warns cyclists that cyclable parts of the path “sont endommagés”, but I saw no evidence of that:  the gravel was in very good shape, with few potholes or corrugations.  The path—perhaps an old farm road?—was slightly elevated, perhaps three  or four metres above the river to my right and half that above the marsh to my left.  There were waterfowl a-plenty:  ducks and geese on the water and in the air, not many geese on the path itself (to my relief), and I saw two great herons, a blue ‘un and a grey ‘un.  Magnificent creatures.  The forest path continued for about 8-9 km delightful kms, as I rolled along in 8th gear with little effort.  And, there was an endommagé stretch after all:  on the downslope from a well-restored old bridge across a creek draining the marsh, the path had been rebuilt with granite stones the size of my fist, topped by a treacherous half-covering of gravel.  The detritus of ancient glaciers has its uses, for sure, but I wasn’t about to try riding Freddie down that, so I dismounted and walked us across about 8 or 10 metres of the rocky roadway, everything held in check by the Mercury’s trusty rear disc brake.

Beyond the bridge, nearing the village of Plaisance, the path heads northwards, still through the woods but away from the river and towards the highway, which runs along a slight scarp marking the northern edge of the marshes.  All-of-a-sudden, then, RV 1 has a collection of short-and-sharp ups-and-downs, and I have to be alert with brakes and with low gears.  I rejoined 148 for the run-in to the village of Plaisance, just a kilometre or so across the bridge over the rivière Blanche.  (This must be white and frothy further upstream, ‘cos it was brown and turgid just before it joined the Ottawa.)

Le parc national de Plaisance, my destination, lies on a peninsula in the Ottawa River, a couple of kilometres  south of the village.  (Why is it a national park, within a provincial jurisdiction, you ask?  Never mind – it’s a cultural/linguistic/political matter.)  The peninsula (in French, une presqu’île, an “almost island”) is cleft – imagine a lobster claw of land in the river, with its open end towards the eastand a long slender bay between the two parts.  The southern side of the claw is the larger, “la grande presqu’île”; its smaller sibling is “la petite presqu’île”. 

I followed RV 1 beside the not-so-white river for several hundred metres, then angled eastwards, leaving the RV 1 to continue to Montréal, while I checked in at the office at the entry to the park.  A campsite for the night was just $20, and the park has an area reserved for cyclists.  I was chuffed.  I’d reached my destination (just about, anyway) in good time – it was 3:30 in the afternoon, just four and a half hours’ ride from home, and there’d be plenty of time to set up camp and relax beside the river.

Ummm, not quite. 

The interminable search for a campsite (or so it seemed at the time)…

It took me a full two hours more to get to my campsite, and I was knackered and baffled by the time I did find it.  I now know what happened, but I still don’t quite know why:

Two or three kilometres beyond the office, said the kind lady, you come to a “Y”.  Take the right fork.  Follow that road to its end, and you’ll see a large boxy building.  There, they’ll show you where you can camp, in the area for cyclists.  I repeated, “Thank you, madame.  At the ‘Y’, I keep to my right, and continue to the end of the road.” [All this in French, y’see.]  “C’est ça!” (“That’s it!”)  she said, pointing it out on one of my two maps.  Off I went, riding east on le chemin de la grande presqu’île [“the large peninsula road” -- see above for the two variants of “presqu’île”].  Sure enough, I quickly came to the Y, and took the right fork, continuing on le chemin de la grande presqu’île.  It ran right alongside the Ottawa, sometimes with marshes on both sides.  There were waterfowl everywhere, and almost no traffic on either the main road or the occasional intersecting park trails.  Climbing a short hill, I found myself all-of-a-sudden in agricultural land, with attractive farms and farm buildings on both sides.  Puzzled, I continued for a few more kms, passing as I did so a striking wrought-iron cross with a bright white (painted? anodized?) Christ figure upon it.  (Remember that this is rural Québec, sez I to myself, even if that’s not what you’d expect to see in park territory.) 

After about 40 minutes, I came to the end of the road.  And there was no big boxy building there, just a small farm shed with some trees and the broad Ottawa River just behind it, and no evidence of campsites that I could see.  I swung the bike around, saying “Now what??” to myself.  Near the roadside, there was a fellow clearing some brush.  I waved, and he came over.  I asked if he could help me find the campground – I wasn’t where I wanted to be, and I didn’t know why; and apologized for my rusty French.  He very courteously said he understood my French very well, and that I wasn’t the first one to come to his farm in search of a campsite – although the others were in cars.

“You’re on the wrong road,” he said in English. “This is le chemin de la grande presqu’île.  You need to be on le chemin de la petite presqu’île.  That’s across the bay.”  “So I have to go all the way back to the park office?” I said.  “No,” said he. “You saw the cross a few clicks back?  Take the road there, le chemin Montée Chartrand, and follow that.  There’s a bridge across the narrows of the bay which only walkers and cyclists can use.  Cross the bridge, and head west.  The campgrounds are a few kilometres along on your left.”

I thanked the kind man and wished him well, and headed for the roadside cross with its resplendent Christ figure.  I turned right (too tired to stop to take a photo, even though it was awash in the now-late-afternoon sun), crossed the bridge, and with the advice of a couple of other kind folks,  e  v  e  n  t  u  a  l  l  y   found myself beside the campground office and its attached salle communautaire/community room.  And, “Welcome, m’sieu”, said Chantal, with a smile.  “Of course we have space for you – just over there in Les berges [The Banks].  The salle communautaire is open 24/7, with washrooms and a locker for your food if you need it, and the showers are just a few metres up the road.”

Photo #2 below shows my campsite complete with greenery, trees, solitude, and a picnic table.  I pitched my tent on a flat grassy patch beside the table, made myself a big cuppa with a hefty slug of condensed milk, and looked again at my maps.  Sure enough, at the Y, I should’ve taken the left fork, le chemin de la petite presqu’île.  I was indeed at the very end of that road, after my roundabout scenic detour of 90 tiring minutes.  My two maps, which the kind lady at the office had marked, showed conflicting information:  on one, the smaller, the right fork is marked; on the larger, with the park and surrounds, the left fork is marked.  My fault for not noticing at the time, and clarifying…  But in the end, I saw some lovely farmland and a dramatic cross; and met a generous farmer.  And after supper, that warm-to-hot shower felt soooo good.

The late September day had been warm, in the mid-20s, but even so, there were no bugs to speak of in the evening.  I had taken the precaution of using my -7º down bag, instead of my usual light-and-compact 0º item, and I was glad to have it – the nighttime low was just 2º, although there was little or no wind, and I was snug, warm and dry.  There was a heavy dew, however—I was camped in the middle of a huge river, after all—so in the morning, everything was soaked:  bike, tent fly (both outside and inside), and picnic table.  No matter – everything under cover in the vestibules was no more than damp, and inside the tent, my sleeping bag and clothing were all OK. 

I made myself a big breakfast, added a tangerine and an A-grade home-made energy bar (recipe available on request), and savoured my tea.  Then, I shook the water off the tent fly and wiped off the inner tent where necessary, knowing I could put off more thorough drying for a few hours.  I made a leisurely departure, leaving Les berges a little after 10 AM.

John Saxby

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Re: An overnight to mark the equinox
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2023, 03:05:01 am »
Part 2:    Homeward bound…

But – not so quick, mate.  I tucked my left toe into my pedal clip as I eased down a slight slope to the road; then did it again; and once more.  I looked down, and saw that the clip was dangling by one fixing bolt.  “Ah jeez, what now??”  I leaned the bike against the table, and looked more closely at the left pedal and its toe clip.  (Both the spiffy stainless toe clips and the touring pedals are quality Velo Orange products.)  One fixing nut-and-bolt had completely fallen away, and its remaining mate was loose.  I opened my seatbag with its toolkit, and took out my little plastic bag of miscellaneous nuts and bolts.  Within that, I found what I was looking for – an M3 x 12 mm bolt with a 4 mm barrel hex head, two washers and a nyloc nut.  “No problem,” sez I. 

Ha!  The bolt fitted the mounting hole in the pedal perfectly, but its threaded shaft was fractionally too large to fit through the horizontal slot in the toe clip.  [Memo to self:  write Velo Orange about this incompatibility.]  Not for the first time, it was a Ziptie To The Rescue, and that would see me home.  I tightened the remaining nut-and-bolt on the left pedal-and-toe-clip, and did the same on the right pedal, where both fixing bolts had started to loosen.  Wretched things have a fixing bolt with a Phillips head and a less-than-satisfactory star washer. 

(The Eventual Fix was simple enough: Two days later, back in my home workshop, I used a fine file to widen the fractionally-too-narrow slot on the left toe clip, from 2 mm to 2.5 mm, and fitted a proper M3 bolt with hex-head, washers and a nyloc nut.)

I took the 148 from Plaisance to Thurso, partly to see the rural landscape a little north of the river.  Photos 3 & 4 below show a couple of well-tended adjacent farmsteads, their rich fields of wheat ready for the combine harvester.  As ever, the gravel verges of the road were revealing:  between Plaisance and Thurso, I saw little or no trash alongside the road.  As I left the farmland and drew closer to the suburbs and the city, roadside rubbish became all too common – plastic bottles, beer cans, Tim Horton’s coffee cups, takeaway sandwich styrofoam boxes, umpteen cigarette butts, and plastic bags big and small. 

To my pleasant surprise, the motorists on my return journey were courteous and careful.  The wide paved shoulders on the 148 helped, of course, but on several occasions, cars entering onto the highway from my right deliberately waited to do so until I had passed.  I thanked them with a wave and a thumbs-up.

I reached home in good time, though my leftside quads and hip flexors were very tired after their 165-km workout.  Maybe—if my left quads make it through the winter in good shape--next summer I’ll revisit le parc national de Plaisance, and camp there again.  It would make a nice first day of a weeklong mini-tour of West Québec.  A half-day’s ride to the north takes a cyclist to RV 2, a section of which includes the the rail trail called “Le p’tit train du nord” …

And Freddie performaed admirably – comfortable, precise, and relaxed with the extra load on the front.  Not as light and nippy as on my day rides into the hills, but at ease on the varied terrain, even rolling along nicely in 10th-11th-12th on the paved shoulders of the 148.  All the main components worked as advertised, the Rohloff unfussed, the brakes excellent, and the charging system spot-on.

Notes on gear

A few weights, as reference points.  All are in imperial measures, ‘cos that’s what my antique scale shows:

  •    My Mercury weighed about 32 lbs “naked” before the trip: with two accessory bars, 2 racks, 2 bottle cages, a bell, headlight, the rearmost tail-light, and the charger.  Of this lot, the two racks together weighed about 2 ½ lbs.
  •    The rear panniers together weighed 7 lbs 12 oz, of which the panniers (Arkel Dry-lites) weighed 20 oz.  Their load comprised food, cookware, first aid kit, lock and cable, and a couple of magazines.
  •    The front panniers, loaded, weighed approx. 5 ½ lbs each.
  •    The Revelate frame bag weighed 2 lbs 4 oz.  (Pump, clickstand, rain pants & rain booties.
  •    Handlebar bag, full, weighed 3 lbs 14 oz.
  •    Tent: 3lbs 3 oz
  •    Seatbag:  Tools, spare tube, and tail light. 2 lbs 4 oz
  •    Total load was thus about 30 lbs 5 oz, without water

Front rack and panniers:  For this overnight, I mounted my Arkel low-rider front rack onto Freddie, and fixed two panniers onto that.  One was an Arkel Dauphin rolltop waterproof, half of a 32-ltr pair.  The second was an Altura lightweight rolltop, half of a lightweight pair.

This set-up was not strictly necessary, but I wanted to see how the Mercury handled a front-end load.  That would help in planning longer tours.

Using the Arkel was opportunistic, rather than planned, but it proved to be important.  Knowing that the overnight low was forecast to be 2º, I took along my -7 spring/autumn/mountain down bag, rather than my lighter and much less bulky 0º summer bag.  In its stuff sack, the heavier bag would not fit into the Altura pannier, but it went into the Arkel with room to spare.  I mounted the Arkel on the right side, and the Altura on the left.  The Altura took my rolled-up air mattress, a couple of other small inflatables, and most of my clothing, including my rain jacket.

I had used the Altura panniers in June 2022, and found their fixing-and-closing straps and hooks to be a bit of a faff, and less than satisfactory.  These panniers are very light – just 10 oz each, so that the pair weighs less in total (20 oz) than one Arkel Dauphin, at 24 oz.  The Alturas have a slightly smaller nominal capacity of 30 ltrs, with no outside pockets.  The Arkel has three.

Over the winter, I had modded the Alturas, adding a pair of S-hooks to the upper mounting straps, with the intention of keeping the panniers more securely fixed on the horizontal upper strut of my front rack.  I had also added an elasticized S-hook to the lower mounting strap of each pannier, to engage with the rack’s inverted V on its lower strut.

On my overnight, each pannier weighed about 5½ lbs (as above).  The Altura bag held a slightly heavier payload than the Arkel, by virtue of its lighter “tare”.  BUT:  My heavier down bag wouldn’t fit into the Altura, and one of the two upper S-hooks kept detaching from its strut.  Both of the upper fixing straps on the Altura held more-or-less firmly, but the whole bag slopped around, especially on the gravel paths, as well an on the inevitable frost heaves on the tarmac.

The VERDICT is twofold:
  •    Use the Arkels on the front.  They are secure, spacious, and instantly mounted and removed.  “Finance” their weight with reductions elsewhere.
  •    See if a friend can use the Alturas.  Their mounting straps are a faff, and their light weight proved to be a false economy.

Handlebar bag:  On this trip, I used a strap-on Axiom 7-litre bag that I’ve had for ages. It’s light (9oz) and spacious, with a large main pocket-mit-zipped-key-cache, and two outer pockets. Both of the latter are zipped, and one is large enough to handle lots of rolled-up items like sun hat, seat cover, helmet rain cover, bug veil, etc.  Filled, the bag weighed a bit less than 4 lbs. 

Its downside is that it’s less-than-handy to mount and remove, especially to mount when full.

Another option (to be explored over the winter) might be to use its smaller (4 ltr/6 oz) Axiom cousin, together with a Revelate Sweetroll bag for rain gear and assorted less-frequently-used items (e.g. first-aid kit).  Mounting the Revelate bag so that it does not foul the Rohloff cables is a challenge, so I’ll have to lay around with that.

There is a third option:  My Arkel small handlebar bag.  It scores highest on useability-–easy access, mounting and removal, with loadsa pockets.  But, it’s heavier than All of The Above: with its mounting brackets it weighs one kg.  The preferred choice for long tours, I think; less so for overnights.

Tent:  This overnight was a godd test of a tent’s ability to handle very high humidity and condensation.  The fly on my Nemo Dragonfly was soaked inside and out by morning.  But, I had no noticeable moisture inside the inner tent.

The Nemo is plenty spacious, but I need to make some large Xs on its floor:  A 1:2 mixture of clear silicone with mineral spirits, daubed on the floor with a foam brush, creates just enough residual stickiness to stop a Thermarest Neo from skittering around.  (I owe this to Tarptent, makers of my previous one-person tent.)

Setup for future overnight camping rides?  TBC, but my current thinking is to use the below for warmer weather:

  •    Rear rack:  Tent & two 32-ltr Arkel Dauphin panniers for food, clothing, sleep stuff, cookware.  No front rack.
  •    Seat bag & frame bag:  Tools, rain gear, pump and clickstand.
  •    Handlebar bag(s):  Options as above.

« Last Edit: October 06, 2023, 03:11:02 am by John Saxby »

Andre Jute

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Re: An overnight to mark the equinox
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2023, 04:02:19 am »
Very readable, John. Which you can take from me is not ever easy when such a generous and finely-textured amount of relevant detail is included. Also much appreciated and pored over is the detail of you luggage arrangements.

That said, I'm going to be bolshie and pick a detail that many would have left out: that the truckies were respectful; that gave me a chuckle. That's my experience too: that the routiers always have one eye on keeping their lucrative heavy duty licences.

Thanks for sharing.

Congratulations on your new hips; glad to hear they locomomote you as required.


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Re: An overnight to mark the equinox
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2023, 11:58:54 am »
Great report John, I enjoyed the trip description and the equipment detail in equal measure.  Great that the surgery was such a success, which ought of course to be the highlight.
I think I may have the same Altura panniers (Vortex?), the fitting system so poor I only used it once before adding a set of Ortlieb fittings from some scrap panniers. That wipes out most of the weight advantage and I'm still not keen on them, it's useful to roll one up and carry it for some shopping at the end of a day ride... but a bit expensive for a shopping bag!
Be interesting to hear your thoughts once you've compared rear only panniers for overnights. It's years since I toured with four panniers, though as I get older I think my kit would benefit from a couple of luxuries, I'm considering some fork bags as a half-way measure.
I am also tempted to swap stuff around between Nomad and Mercury and try the latter with the disc fork and 650B wheels.  Just for the experience, I have no need to do so.

John Saxby

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Re: An overnight to mark the equinox
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2023, 04:19:43 pm »
Thanks, Andre and Paul, for your kind words.  And, thanks for your patience with the detail.

The detail was, I confess, as much for my own interest as anything:  I find the discipline of writing something coherent forces me to arrange my various scraps & scribbles... Left in my notebook or wherever, the raw info is rarely accessible & quickly forgotten.

Be interesting to hear your thoughts once you've compared rear only panniers for overnights.

I used the kind of setup I described, Paul, for an overnight a few years ago.  I was using my Raven, then, a bike that was both heavier and more spacious.  If memory serves, I also used a large (rather than medium) Revelate frame bag.  That's more spacious, and thus takes up more of the frame's main triangle. That was no problem with the Raven, which had a 565S frame, larger than the Mercury's 550S.  That overnight route was entirely on tarmac, as well.  Would be nice to retrace that route (also mainly in W Qué, although west of Ottawa) next summer.

Cheers,  John
« Last Edit: October 06, 2023, 04:22:39 pm by John Saxby »


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Re: An overnight to mark the equinox
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2023, 02:29:37 pm »
Great read John - the ocean of text looked daunting but your laconic expression pulled me straight through. Got to the end and was disappointed there wasn't more.

Love it that you're through the surgery and enjoying your Mercury.

I've certainly enjoyed mine a lot more with just rear panniers than just front. Yet to try all four on a trip. If I did, I would reserve the fronts for low density stuff, much as you did.

I'm still enjoying the second Ducati I got so that Lizzy and I could do trips together, but it's tipped me into too many toys syndrome and my Mercury is getting less use. Only one overnight tour since the last one I wrote up here 18 months ago.

Your report I found very inspiring. Maybe I'll get out this spring.
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John Saxby

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Re: An overnight to mark the equinox
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2023, 03:41:59 pm »
Thanks, Ian, glad my long tale of a short ride worked for you  ;)

The Mercury is indeed a versatile bike.  Probably not as well-suited to longer tours than my Raven, but I expect that I'll be doing more light-medium touring than medium-heavy.  And, the Mercury is a treat on days rides, much more responsive than the Raven.

Glad you're enjoying your Dukes, too.  They do have a way of displacing other two-wheelers.  May have mentioned this before, but about 20 years ago our son, now the family Consultant on Ailing Joints from his professorial perch in QLD, said he'd really like to get a Ducati.  This would be his first bike, so I suggested something a bit, ah, measured and manageable might be better.  Maybe a used Triumph twin or triple?  Said he, "But Dad, the Ducati has stolen my heart!"  Happily for his parents and his 'Strayan family, the wishes of his girlfriend at the time prevailed, and he never did get a motorcyle.

Safe journeys, Ian, and keep the shiny side up!