Hunting from a motorcycle smells different. Immediately. You smell what you’re driving through––fresh cut hay on a mid-summer road, composting leaves, and over-ripe berries in the fall, lavender, skunk, or the smell of a black spruce forest in the morning. If you ride, you know there is nothing like it. You feel the road’s surface when you’re on a motorcycle. If you don’t ride, trust me, there is nothing like it. The ease of acceleration, the elation of wind in your face and warm sun at your back, and the ability to maneuver with ease. Once you are comfortable on a motorcycle, it gets in your blood. Even when you put two wheels away for months or even years, it sneaks up on you and you find yourself in your truck, driving down a winding road, and before you know it, you’re dreaming of riding on two wheels.
John Schneider grew up riding his motorcycle from the home farm to the best hunting and fishing spots in his county. Even before he could legally drive, he was on his motorcycle with his hunting gear, off to the rabbit woods in autumn or a swollen summer creek nearby where the odds of landing a fish for dinner were in his favor.
“Growing up, motorcycles were the biggest thing in my life. That’s how we got around, us kids. Before we were allowed to drive a car, we would drive everywhere on our motorcycles. From a young age, even though it was illegal, we were driving on the roads all the time with our motorbikes, because you could always just squirrel off into a field if someone came along. And that happened more than once. That was just a way of life. I grew up with motorcycles as far back as I can remember. My dad wasn’t a motorcycle guy but I just for whatever reason was, and it fit well with hunting when I was a kid,” said Schneider.
Then life unfolds, the motorcycle is put away or exchanged for kid’s toys and a lawnmower. It had been some decades since Schneider hunted from two wheels. And then, it snuck up on him.
“During my '20’s, ’30s and '40’s I abandoned the motorcycle. I didn’t even own a bike. Then something clicked. There were a lot of places I would drive to with the truck (hunting and fishing) but I couldn’t get into the small trails, logging roads, areas that were burned off; it was impossible, but on a bike, you can get into some really crazy back spots. I am not a trail rider. A motorcycle is a tool, like a horse, but a safer-to-run, faster version of a horse. We raised horses. Horses are dangerous,” said Schneider.
It was then he re-imagined his road-legal hunting-adventure off-road capable bike.
“I’ve been looking for opportunities to use the bike as a tool. That was in the back of my mind when I was building the bike. There are many options for motorbike hunting, but of course, dual-purpose or an adventure bike is what you’re going after. You need a bike that can travel on the road at 100 km (60 miles) an hour and also turn off the road and get through mud, hillsides and rocks. That is a specialized bike with specialized tires and extended clearance to allow those activities–– and that’s what I built.”
“When I was a kid, I was hyper interested in wild food. I would go into the bush with a pack of matches, a folded-up piece of tinfoil, and maybe a tin of beans, and I would hunt rabbits, squirrels, and grouse and cook stuff. The Schneider family has been in Sturgeon County for 130 years. I knew the hunting spots and knew the fishing spots. The only way to get to many of those spots was on my motorbike because I wasn’t allowed to drive. So, from a very young age, for hunting, I just hopped on my motorbike and went to the places I wanted to hunt. It’s not unusual for me to get on a motorbike and go hunting––it’s not like a big leap for me,” remarked Schneider.
Schneider chose a 1980’s Suzuki GN 400 that he had originally envisioned as a cafe racer conversion but now decided to convert to his adventure-hunt-bike. He chose simplicity at every turn. He wanted a motorcycle that had a kick starter (nothing like being stranded because the starter or battery fails). He wanted a single-cylinder bike because in his mind a multi-cylinder bike equals multi-cylinder problems.
He went to work and stripped the bike down as much as possible: he chopped the frame short, removed everything he felt was extraneous. Gone. He found a local guy to make a custom single-position seat. He wasn’t going to carry a passenger––even more room for bear or whitetail quarters. He found and installed new 6-volt LED signals from Czech. The stock gauge cluster disappeared along with some of the electronics. (Schneider has been riding long enough to know what gear he is in.) He installed an aftermarket speedometer and a Wassell handlebar from a vintage ‘60’s Norton. (Check out the photo of the classic English saddlebags with an incorporated tool pouch.) He found new tires that were 20 millimeters bigger both front and back, treaded for 50/50 on-road and off-road. He re-jetted the original carburetor to accommodate the increased airflow because of eliminating the airbox and installing a K & N filter. More air in demands bigger carb jets. The exhaust was replaced with an old Harley straight-through muffler. He wanted this machine to breathe easy. Simplicity and dead reliability were his goals. Schneider swapped out the rear stock sprocket for an oversized one to get more torque at lower speeds. He changed out the front sprocket and added a new right-sized chain. Fresh wheel bearings, new shocks, tank paint, and chopped painted fenders brought the bike to what it is today.
“You can buy those adventure bikes, but I am a ‘built not bought’ type of guy. I could go right now and buy one of those bikes. But a good portion of the joy of hunting and fishing is the preparation to hunt and fish, so building my (bamboo) rods, building my arrows, building my bows, and building my bike, there’s an inherent cool factor to that for sure that I am enjoying. It’s the pride of ownership of something that I have built that I am now using to hunt.”
John Schneider extends the pleasure of hunting and fishing by making much of his own gear. From constructing traditional bows from local hazelnut and arrows from Alberta Rose branches, tying flies with close to home deer and rabbit hair, or building his adventure bike––every bit of these builds spreads out the pleasure of the hunt. He extends the pleasure of the hunt the other way too, with handmade bearskin quivers, and bearskin blankets for use when camping.
This fall John Schneider will be working his adventure bike into the nooks and crannies of Alberta’s boreal forest trying to put a tag on a black bear taken with a traditional bow and handmade arrows. I want to see the photos of how he packs that black bear on his motorbike.
John David Schneider is the host of the Food Afield podcast available on Spotify. Schneider’s Gold Forest Grains (www.goldforestgrains.com) are known regionally for organically grown, on-farm stone-ground heritage grains. Gold Forest Grains are featured in local restaurants and used by home bakers who want to use the best ingredients available. He is also a regular participant in Kevin Kossowan’s From the Wild video series.