Calgary Herald, Smart car utility factor, by Greg Williams

Cochrane firm’s add-ons make Smart cars tow-worthy

by Greg Williams, for the Calgary Herald published: Friday, May 4, 2007

photos courtesy Les McDonald


Les McDonald of Cochrane was drawn to the Smart car because of its miserly fuel consumption — little did he know the car would provide the basis for a new career.
McDonald, 37, has begun importing and in fact manufacturing aftermarket parts for the Smart car. But these aren?t just parts that add a little extra bling. These are parts that add to the ultimate utility of the diminutive automobile.
?I bought my Smart car about two years ago,? McDonald says. ?I loved it and it was so different from what I used to drive.?
What he used to drive was a V-8 powered Dodge Dakota pickup truck.
?I drove a lot for work and the gas bills were just staggering,? he says. ?I wanted to put some of my money back in my pocket.?
McDonald operates Tracker Productions. He produces high definition promotional videos and commercials and must carry with him cameras, tripods and lighting kits. He says the Smart car always accommodated the load, but he sometimes felt pinched by the lack of space.
While perusing the Internet for aftermarket Smart car parts McDonald stumbled across a German product called the Clever End. The device, which is basically a body extension, replaces the stock rear tailgate/back window and fastens to four frame anchor points, two at the top and two at the bottom. The Clever End effectively doubles the carrying capacity of the Smart car.

?I wasn?t necessarily cramped for space, and I wasn?t desperate to find something,? McDonald says. ?But I liked it because of the way it looked.?
He imported one for himself and told the company he?d like to bring them into Canada if they were interested in working with him. And they were. He?s begun importing the Clever End and will begin marketing them on his website in early June. Right now, the site is just a single page and is still under construction. (Note: The site is currently up and running, and McDonald has plenty of new parts for the Smart car. 06/11/08)
?We wanted to set up an online store and sell parts that added to the utility of the vehicle,? McDonald explains. Smart Car Universe is a great business opportunity for himself, but he also wanted to create business opportunities for other people as well.
?We?ll be setting up sales people across Canada (in markets where there is a Smart car community) who can work out of their homes if they want to, but they will represent the product and will help us focus on the service end. We don?t want to sell a product and simply say ?Good luck?.?
McDonald?s driven his Smart car across Canada twice, and once to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. His odometer now reads just over 97,000 km.
?After I test drove the Smart car I immediately bought it. Any misconceptions I had about driving that car were gone after the test drive,? McDonald says.
Following some seat time in his Smart car McDonald says he realized how capable the auto really is. So, he designed a trailer hitch that would allow him to tow either his 4.8-metre canoe trailer or a fibreglass storage trailer. Whether the car should be towing anything is a matter left open to debate, but McDonald figures it?s got a 225-to 275-kilogram towing capacity.
McDonald?s Smart car hitch is manufactured in Calgary. He approached Electromec Manufacturing Corporation with his drawings and measurements, and they fabricated a prototype hitch.

?We made a couple of changes to the prototype, and it works great,? McDonald says. ?And they will be manufacturing it for me, They brought it in at a cost that I didn?t have to outsource it (for production anywhere else).?
Together with the Smart car accessories McDonald will also be selling three different types of trailers suitable for towing behind other compact cars and motorcycles. There are two fibreglass pull-behinds and a utility trailer. These will be imported from China.
?In North America everyone is focused on trailers to pull behind trucks or vans; we had to look elsewhere for smaller units,” McDonald says.

Calgary Herald, National Female Ride Day May 4, by Greg Williams

photo courtesy Vicki Gray


Women on motorcycles will put rubber to Calgary roads — and across Canada — May 4 as part of the first National Female Ride Day.

The brainchild of motorcycle racer, instructor and coach Vicki Gray, National Female Ride Day celebrates women who choose to ride.

“The focus here is to shine a spotlight on women who ride, and enhance awareness of female riders,” Gray says from her home in Toronto. “I just want women to ride on that day.”

Gray, 48, has been riding a motorcycle since 1983. She got involved with bikes just after she’d been transferred to Nova Scotia while working for Revlon International as national training manager.
Click here to read the rest of the column in the Calgary Herald…

Calgary Herald, SAIT custom motorcycle mirrors the trades, by Greg Williams



photo courtesy Richard Burgess

There’s no television crew, and there’s no $100,000-plus budget. But sparks are flying and gears are turning in the corner of a SAIT shop as work continues on a custom motorcycle. When completed, the machine will highlight the majority of the trades in the Manufacturing and Automation department at SAIT.

“Our dean (Brad Donaldson) basically challenged us to try and come up with something that would promote the department and what we do,” says SAIT millwright instructor Richard Burgess. “I thought about it for a day, and then blurted out the idea to build a custom bike.”

According to Burgess — who says that judging by the amount of Orange County Choppers and West Coast Choppers hats and T-shirts he sees on campus — many students and instructors are interested in custom bike building.

Read the rest of the column in the Calgary Herald, click here…

Mark Gardiner ‘Riding Man’ and One Man’s Island, by Greg Williams, Calgary


It’s finally here. Mark Gardiner’s book, Riding Man, is available. Riding Man details Gardiner’s personal odyssey as he dreams of — and ultimately races in — the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. The book is available at Gardiner’s website,, and the film, One Man’s Island, is available at
This is a piece I wrote for the Calgary Herald Driving section, and was originally published Sept. 26, 2003. Black and white photos courtesy Peter Riddihough.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is the most historic and the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world. One Man’s Island is a documentary feature film about one man’s dream–to race in this prestigious event.
But One Man’s Island is not just about one man’s dream to ride a motorcycle in a race. As the film succinctly points out, everyone has a

‘TT race’ of their own.
Canadian and ex-Calgarian Mark Gardiner sold everything he had in late 2001. He moved in January of 2002 to the Isle of Man and began training for the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Races–held annually in June.
But he wasn’t alone. In the late 1990s Gardiner was the creative director of an advertising agency. He met Peter Riddihough, who was just starting out producing television commercials in Toronto. During a lull in filming a TV commercial together, Riddihough listened as Gardiner told him about the TT race.
“I told him about motorcycle racing, and talked about wanting to ride in the Isle of Man TT,” Gardiner recalls during a phone interview from his home in Paris, France. “I told him what I planned to do–I was thinking of selling everything and moving over to the Isle of Man and pursuing this goal.”
On the very day Gardiner decided he would quit his job, sell, give away or abandon his belongings and move to the Isle of Man, Riddihough sent him an email.
“He wanted a real story to tell,” Gardiner says.
In 1907 the first Tourist Trophy was held on the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea. Racing on mainland Britain was not allowed, as public roads could not be closed and there was a blanket speed limit. The Isle of Man perhaps saw a tourist opportunity, and invited motorcycle manufacturers and racers to run an event on their public roads, closed specifically for such races.
Referred to as the ‘mountain course’, the track consists of 38 miles of twisting and undulating road that runs through villages and countryside and then into the mountains of Man. Rather than truly racing against an opponent, the TT is run against the clock–riders are sent out 10 seconds apart.

Gardiner was born in Vancouver, lived in Switzerland, and arrived in Calgary at the age of 16 for his high school years. He bought a small Kawasaki KZ100 motorcycle while attending Queen Elizabeth High School. In an effort to emulate the exploits of American dirt track oval racers–photos of which he had seen in copies of Cycle Magazine–Gardiner set out to practice on a track near the current Blackfoot Motorsport Park.
“It was a disaster, I crashed that Kawasaki until my body was one giant bruise,” Gardiner recalls. “I didn’t have what it takes.”
He stopped riding, but several years later Gardiner realized he had never actually learned how to race his motorcycle.
“It started to come back to me when I was well into my 30s that I had always wanted to be a motorcycle racer,” he says.
With his career in advertising firmly established, Gardiner had a little time and a little money to invest in becoming a motorcycle racer. He attended beginner and intermediate race schools at Shannonville, Ontario and found out he was quite comfortable at speed on a road race course.
Going even further, he bought a 1988 Yamaha RZ350 which he campaigned at Calgary’s Race City Motorsport Park. By the time Gardiner was 40 years old, he and the bike were developed enough that they won the Veteran’s class, and finished third in the Lightweight Sportsman class.
“I was having a terrific time, but I kept thinking if I could just win a real race I’d stop,” Gardiner says. It was about this time that he started work for an ad agency in the Maritimes, where he joined the Loudon Road Racing Society.
He began regularly racing at Loudon events on an MZ Skorpion, a single cylinder motorcycle. Although he was listed as an amateur, it wasn’t long before he was bumped up to a junior ranking. This meant he raced with a pro competition licence. It also meant he could compete in Expert events in American AMA National races.
“Riding the Skorpion in the AMA Pro-Thunder races was a hopeless challenge, it was an utter dogfight and I was constantly riding to the absolute limit not to finish last,” Gardiner says.
But in the back of his mind, Gardiner knew he now had the licences required to compete at the Isle of Man TT–all he needed was FIM recognition–which he received.
Gardiner initially wanted to campaign his Skorpion single, but in 2002 the TT scrapped their single cylinder class and instead instituted a 600 c.c. production class. It was now or never for Gardiner–and Riddihough was ready to film the entire process including Gardiner’s preparations to race in the TT.
“I sold everything, and arrived on the Isle of Man with what I could carry–some clothing and a bicycle.
“My life on the Isle of Man was that of a monk,” Gardiner adds. “My meditation was the island, and I pedaled my bicycle around the course every day–I spent every day looking at it, smelling it and feeling it.”
Using his credit card, Gardiner leased a 2002 Honda CBR600FI from Padgett’s, an Isle of Man motorcycle retailer. He began slowly breaking the machine in by riding the entire TT course. He was racing the course in slow motion, and would imagine himself weighting the footpegs, or applying pressure with a knee on the fuel tank.
Riddihough was there for every step.

“When Mark first started talking to me about what he wanted to do, I told him I’d quit what I was doing and go with him,” Riddihough says. “I’m not a motorcyclist, I can’t even ride. But this story fundamentally had an appeal as a human interest story–giving up everything to pursue a dream. Beyond the context of the motorcycle race, the story is universal.”
The 36 year old Riddihough wasn’t interested in just the race, his desire was to capture the entire process–in essence he felt it would be more meaningful if the film took the audience on the entire journey. He filmed by himself using digital cameras, and built and installed a camera on Gardiner’s motorcycle for some dramatic on-board footage.
For the race Gardiner had help from a number of Calgarians willing to make the trek to the Isle of Man. Paul Smith is the service manager at GW Cycle, and he arrived to tune and take care of the Honda motorcycle. Alberta College of Art and Design instructor and motorcycle enthusiast Bill Rodgers helped work the pit stops, as did SAIT mechanical engineer and Mark’s nephew Kris Gardiner.
After it was all over, Riddihough came back to Toronto and edited over 140 hours of film. To his credit, One Man’s Island was an official selection at the World Film Festival in Montreal, and is an official selection at the Calgary International Film Festival 2003.
The film comes close to being a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for motorcycle racers, but the story is about so much more than just the TT race. It is a story of the universal human condition and the importance of never giving up on a dream. As for the 2002 TT and Gardiner’s results, take in the film. One Man’s Island screens at the Uptown 2 on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 6:45 p.m.
–That was the last line in 2003. As stated at the beginning, buy your own copy of One Man’s Island, and Gardiner’s book, Riding Man.

Excerpt from Riding Man, by Mark Gardiner
Copyright 2006, Mark Gardiner

Once again, we stage on dry pavement, but by the time I launch, it’s streaming rain. My practice partner passes me on the brakes at Quarterbridge. This is getting old. I concentrate on hitting the apex, and get a reasonable drive off the corner, the rear spins up in the wet, but the Honda holds it’s line, and I have a good run to Braddan church.

At the church, I notice something: the wake of the bike ahead of me is still visible in the standing water on the road. He can’t be far ahead. Maybe I have an epiphany, aiming for a late apex, winding the throttle on, and letting the spinning rear tire slide around until I’m pointing down the road. Over the next few miles, riding the CBR as though it was a little dirt bike, I catch and pass several guys. No one passes me.

I close on my next victim at the top of Barregarrow. He’s in black leathers, and another Newcomer–I see by the orange vest. Even in this weather, the run down to the bottom of Barregarrow is top gear. There’s a hump where the road crosses a stream, and it kinks left around a building. It’s the hump, not the corner, that limits your speed. The apex marker is a cast-iron drainpipe. The first time I came through here, I found it damned intimidating–and that was on a bicycle.

I know that I’m going to carry a lot more speed through here than this guy. I plan to pass him on the bumpy straight just beyond. But as I adjust my speed and commit, Mr. Orange Vest panics and brakes extra hard. Leaned over, in the rain, with the bike unsettled by the bridge, there’s no way I’m stroking the brake. I literally squeeze through the gap, brushing the drainpipe with my left shoulder, ‘brushing’ him a little harder with the CBR’s muffler. When I look back, I’m relieved to see that he’s still on his wheels.


Calgary Herald, Toyota Corolla People’s Test Drive, by Greg Williams



2007 Toyota Corolla Sport; photos courtesy Toyota Canada

No-nonsense Toyota Corolla is a functional four-door that holds its value


Greg Williams, The Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, April 06, 2007

It’s fitting that Kyle Jones was selected to test drive the 2007 Toyota Corolla CE. You see, the Calgarian remembers cruising around gravel back roads with his dad as he learned to drive in his grandma’s 1985 Toyota Corolla station wagon.

Then, as a teenager in Airdrie, Jones and his brother shared a boxy Toyota van in which they cruised up and down Deerfoot Trail visiting friends in south Calgary.

Jones, a 28-year old mechanical engineering technologist, is familiar with Toyota’s products, and, to him, the 2007 Corolla represents good value for the money.

Click here to read the rest of the story in the Calgary Herald…


Calgary Herald, GPS Snitch keeps tabs on your vehicle, by Greg Williams

Published: Friday, April 06, 2007

“No one really cares about your vehicle — except for yourself,” says Jim Gunderson.

To defend this point, Gunderson adds that vehicle alarm systems are fine, except that when they go off, no one responds. “Everybody looks the other way.”

Gunderson, 34, is the operations manager of Calgary firm Blackline GPS. He works with Patrick Rousseau, an industrial designer and Brendon Cook, a geomatics engineer. Together, Rousseau and Cook have created the GPS Snitch, a small, self-contained device that can be placed just about anywhere in or on a vehicle, motorcycle, ATV or boat.

The name is a dead give away to what the device can do, but it has a number of applications.


Patrick Rousseau and the GPS Snitch; photo courtesy Blackline GPS

Click here to read the rest of the column in the Calgary Herald…

Calgary Herald, Boutique dealer targets reluctant shoppers, by Greg Williams



photo courtesy auto/One

Greg Williams, For The Calgary Herald

Published:Friday, March 30, 2007

Vancouver auto retailer Mike Wood has shifted into gear and let out the clutch.

With his new boutique-style dealership — Clutch — Wood hopes to attract car buyers who hate buying cars.

He also hopes the concept will be of particular appeal to women.

“A lot of people love getting a new car, love owning a new car; but they don’t like the process leading up to having that new car in the driveway.”

Wood speaks from experience, having worked in the auto industry since 1989.

Click here to read the rest of the column…?

Calgary Herald, Cool Cars Cruising For Cancer, by Greg Williams


photo courtesy Steve Maguire

Cool cars needed for cancer fundraiser

Greg Williams, Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, March 23, 2007

Steve Maguire is looking for some cool cars.

The 45-year old Calgarian wants 2,500 of them, in fact.

And if he can assemble them all on Aug. 26 at McMahon Stadium, his Cool Cars Cruising For Cancer campaign might just be the largest single-day auto event of its kind in the world.

“There are two- and three-day events with thousands of cars, such as Corvettes at Carlisle (in Pennsylvania) and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (in California), but they’re not fundraisers,” Maguire says. He’s hoping to raise $1 million for cancer research.

In 2002, Maguire’s sister, who lives in the U.K., was diagnosed with breast cancer. Frustrated by not being able to do much to help, Maguire and a group of his Calgary Corvettes Unlimited club friends started talking about putting on a car cruise for cancer.

“We thought we’d just get a bunch of Corvette people together and do a short cruise and see if we couldn’t raise a couple thousand bucks. It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Maguire says. “But it’s taken on a life of its own.”

The initial concept grew to include all makes and models of vehicles, from tuner cars to pioneer autos.

“We expect tuned Acuras, Ford Model Ts and As, lowrider trucks, military vehicles, Mustangs — just about everything,” Maguire says.

A website,, and several thousand flyers distributed at Alberta car shows and through car clubs have helped drum up interest in the event. But Maguire says a couple of people in the province have had a hand in spreading the word.

“Mike Nikolai, a gentleman I’ve never met before, has really helped expose the event in Edmonton,” Maguire says.

Expose it he has. From Edmonton alone, there are currently 26 car clubs and organizations planning on participating.

That makes the 12 Calgary car clubs registered pale by comparison.

“Cancer is a disease that doesn’t care about how old you are, whether you’re a blond or brunette, white or black,” Maguire says, and adds: “But someone will unlock the door to the cure, and I’m hoping it’s our million bucks that could help be the key.”

Vehicle registration is $30 (or more, if owners wish to donate), while a spectator entrance fee is $5. Maguire is still looking for donations and sponsors, but 100 per cent of all money raised is going directly to the Canadian Cancer Society.

“Nobody is making a profit here,” Maguire says. “The Canadian Cancer Society is looking after all of the registrations.”

As an incentive to encourage early registration by May 1, tire shops Blaskin and Lane of Calgary and Tire Warehouse of Edmonton are each donating $1,000 worth of rubber. The draw will be made May 3.

See, for more information.

As seen in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section…

Calgary Herald, Hyundai Santa Fe, by Greg Williams


photo courtesy Hyundai Auto Canada

Hyundai SUV bigger, bolder

Greg Williams, For the Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, March 23, 2007

Calgary accountant Bart Vultaggio describes himself as cheap when he says he has just over 270,000 kilometres on his 1993 Chrysler Voyager van, which he calls his “old warhorse.”

What’s more, he probably won’t replace it until the odometer reads 300,000.

But after driving the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe SUV for a week, he concludes the vehicle represents “really good value for the money.”

“I wish I could take it to Montreal on a long drive, and it would be easy to continue parking the Santa Fe in my driveway. I’m sure my neighbours would say: ‘He finally broke down and bought himself something new.’ “

Inside Motorcycles, Western Perspectives, Ian Loughran Revoluzione Cycle Imports Jan/Feb 2007 by Greg Williams

Ian Loughran is a cancer survivor, and his story is inspirational. Since this Western Perspectives column in Inside Motorcycles he has been told he is 100 per cent cancer free. I met Loughran in Sept., 2002, before his Calgary motorcycle company, Revoluzione Cycle Imports, had officially opened its doors. I’ve followed along and reported as the company has grown — and what a success story that is. See their website at If you want to learn more about Loughran and his battle with cancer, check out his site at


Click the image to enlarge…

As seen in Inside Motorcycles, click here to see more of this Canadian magazine…