The Wish List, 2020

Biker Santa

It’s that time of the year again, when we reflect on the year that’s been and plan for the year ahead. This year I upgraded my training by attending two remise en formes, discovered Vermont’s wonderful dirt roads, travelled up the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence almost into Labrador, and wrote a handful of articles for northernontario.travel. I was so busy travelling, I didn’t do a lot of club riding, although I did lead two day rides: one to Ottawa for the Tulip Festival, and one to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont.

Next year I want to start to introduce what I’m calling hybrid rides to our club. Those are rides where a group splits off from the main group and rides some dirt and then meets up with the gang later for lunch. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now but just have to figure out the logistics. I know there are some club members with ADV or ADV-style bikes who are interested in riding some easy dirt roads.

I want to do more challenging trail riding to improve my off-road skills, and it might finally be time to head across the country, completing that teenage dream of seeing Canada from a motorcycle. But more on that later. Right now I’m thinking of the goodies I’m asking Santa for to make my riding next year safer and more enjoyable. Here is the Wish List, 2020.

Stadium Suspensions PR1 Rear Shock

My rear shock now has over 90,000 kilometres on it and has never been serviced.  Imagine, that oil in there is 13 years old! Also, the stock shock on my bike is okay for road riding, but it’s too soft for any serious off-roading. The spring is also too soft; when I’m fully loaded, I’m sitting 2 cm under the recommended sag. I could try to have it serviced and replace the spring, but the combined cost would be almost as much as a new shock. I think it’s time to upgrade.

I’ve been talking with Stadium Suspensions in Beloeil, Quebec, just south of Montreal, where I live. They specialize in ATV, MX, and off-road suspensions. The nice thing about going with a company like this is that they can customize the shock to your weight and riding style. They have three models, and since I’m neither a beginner nor a pro, I’m going to buy the mid-priced unit, the PR1.

Stadium

You can see that this shock is an upgrade from my stock one because the PR1 has a remote nitrogen reservoir. On mine, the nitrogen is in the same compartment as the oil, which is fine for street riding, but once you get off road and the shock is working hard for extended periods of time, the oil heats up and mixes with the gas and froths and you start to lose your compression. Separating it is the answer; the best shocks are designed with a remote reservoir.

Other features of the shock include:

  • Spring preload adjustable
  • Rebound damping adjustable
  • Compression damping adjustable
  • Thermostatic system
  • Velocity Reaction Damping System (VRDS)
  • Bladder system reservoir
  • Length adjustable (+/- 10 mm)
  • Piggyback Reservoir, 360 degree angle adjustable
  • Magnum reservoir optional
  • Tool free compression knobs optional
  • Individually custom build for rider/application
  • Fully serviceable/repairable/convertible
  • Gold, red or blue, anodised reservoir
  • Progressive or linear springs

The other nice thing about Stadium is that they can build into the new shock my existing preload adjuster. I really like the ability to adjust the preload with the turn of a knob—no tools necessary—so I’m sold. With my new Ricor Intiminator fork valves in the front and this baby at the back, I’m going to be flying!

Protection

Speaking of which, I’m getting up to speeds now off-roading at which I really should be wearing a neck protector. A neck protector prevents your head from rotating beyond a certain degree, saving your neck in a fall. I don’t want to end up a quadriplegic, thank you very much. I don’t have a specific one chosen yet, but Leatt are a major manufacturer. Again, I don’t need the pro version (5.5) so I’ll probably go for the 3.5.

gpx_neckbraces_35__0000_leatt_neckbrace_gpx_3.5_wht_front_1020003950

In fact, I believe these are kind of a custom fit item since they are semi-restrictive, so I’ll probably just try a number of them on at a store with my helmet on and see which feels best.

The other piece of protective gear I’ll pick up is a new back protector. I love my Knox Venture Shirt but the pack protector is cheap EPS and prevents air-flow. On those really hot days, it results in an uncomfortable wet back and has led me to not wanting to wear my protective gear. Knox have a better one which, as you can see, allows air circulation. It’s D30 so will provide better protection too. Neither do I want to be a paraplegic.

knox_microlock_back_protector_upgrade_part114_750x750

Auxiliary Lighting

I’ve been thinking of getting aux lighting for years, ever since I had a run-in with some roadkill coming home late one night from New Hampshire. Sure, you can get the cheapo made-in-China generic knockoff version at Amazon for $40, but they break easily and don’t stand up to the beating of off-roading. Everyone I know who’s bought cheap has had issues soon after. There’s also the quality of the LED light; it’s apparently not just a question of the number of lumens but the optics technology involved to reflect those lumens where you want them. If I’m going across the country, some auxiliary lighting will help get me there.

I’m pretty sure I’ve had Denali D4s on a previous wish list, but I think I’m going to go with the Cyclops Long Range Auxiliary Lights. I’m very happy with the Cyclops LED lamp I put in my headlight. In fact, it’s been one of the best upgrades I’ve ever done on the bike. It occurred to me the other day that Cyclops also make auxiliary lighting, so I’ll stay with the tried and true. Cyclops lights might be a little cheaper than Denalis and have a number of features that make them a compelling choice. I like also the smaller size on my little bike.

Cyclops

The Long Range lights stand up to their name by projecting a whopping 883 feet down the trail. They come in either a 10˚ or 20˚ arc, and a popular set-up is to put a 20˚ unit on the right and a 10˚ unit on the left. This arrangement will give good illumination of the side of the road while still penetrating those 883 down the road.

But of course it’s not just about seeing things but also being seen. Studies have shown that oncoming drivers sometimes mistake that single headlight for a double in the distance and turn in front of you. Having that triangle configuration makes you a lot more visible day and night.

One very nice feature of these lights is the ability to wire them directly into your headlight switch and program them. You set the intensity you want for low-beam driving lights so you aren’t blinding oncoming drivers. Then, when you flick on your high beams, you get full intensity. The plug-and-play wiring harness makes installation easy.

Got you curious about how good these are? Here’s a sequence of comparative photos provided by ADVPulse.

distance-sequence

Cardo Packtalk

Cardo

I’ve been of two-minds about communications systems. One of the things I like about riding is the solitude. Even when you are riding in a group, you are alone with your thoughts, as Ted Bishop aptly describes in Riding With Rilke:

When I first put on a full-face helmet, I have a moment of claustrophobia. I can hear only my own breathing and I feel like one of those old-time deep-sea divers. . . . When you hit the starter, your breath merges with the sound of the bike, and once you’re on the highway, the sound moves behind you, becoming a dull roar that merges with the wind noise, finally disappearing from consciousness altogether.

Even if you ride without a helmet, you ride in a cocoon of white noise. You get smells from the roadside, and you feel the coolness in the dips and the heat off a rock face, but you don’t get sound. On a bike, you feel both exposed and insulated. Try putting in earplugs: the world changes, you feel like a spacewalker. What I like best about motorcycle touring is that even if you have companions you can’t talk to them until the rest stop, when you’ll compare highlights of the ride. You may be right beside them, but you’re alone. It is an inward experience. Like reading.

Riding a motorcycle is one of the few occasions in my life to be in the moment. It’s just me and the sensations of the bike and the beauty of the surrounding environment. Why would I want to pollute that silence with people nattering in my ear?

Maybe I’m just anti-social. Maybe I’m a purist, or a rebel, or all three at different times. I’ve heard the argument about comm systems increasing safety, but my response is if you need to rely on others to stay safe, you shouldn’t be riding. On the big club tour I did last summer, I was the only rider without a comm device. Did I feel left out? Not really, except when I went to talk to someone at a rest or gas stop and that person gestured to say “I can’t hear you because someone else is talking to me in my helmet.” Yeah, ironically, comm systems can alienate people too.

But I’ve decided to join the club, so to speak, and get one, and I have to say it’s mostly for the ability to hear voice commands from my GPS, to hear incoming texts and send out voice-activated replies, and to answer and initiate phone calls while riding. But I’ll admit it will occasionally be nice to communicate with others in a group, especially if I’m leading. And of course there is always the option to mute the nattering when desired.

Club members are very happy with the Cardo Packtalk, mostly for its mesh technology which makes connecting (and reconnecting) large numbers of riders fairly easy. I had the opportunity to try one during a club ride and found the sound quality good. And while I didn’t have the opportunity to test the connectivity to my phone, other club members have said that the person you are talking to on the phone cannot tell you are riding a motorcycle, so the mic must work very well at cutting out ambient noise. My feeling is that this purchase is going to be the most significant change in my riding experience.

Pearly’s Possum Socks

Pearlys

Last but not least, I’m asking Santa for socks in my stocking. I heard about Pearly’s Possum Socks on Adventure Rider Radio. The host Jim Martin raves about them. Socks, you say? You want Santa to bring you socks? Well these are not just any kind of socks. They are a blend of merino wool, which I’ve raved about elsewhere, and possum fibres, which are hollow and therefore super warm since each fibre has a built-in dead-air space. (I wonder how vegan motorcyclists manage?) They are apparently also very soft. A little nylon to strengthen everything up and you have a premium sock that is warm, breathable, comfortable, durable, and anti-bacterial in a compression fit to aid circulation and to help avoid muscle fatigue.

At a premium price. With extra S&H to Canada and the currency conversion, these socks come to over $100 a pair! Gulp. I’ve balked a click away from purchasing them a few times, which is why I’m asking Santa to bring me some instead.

* * *

I always feel very First World, or is that now Developed World?, in making these lists. I’ve worked hard my entire life to achieve a certain level of material comfort, but I’m also aware of the opportunity I have here in Canada and the lack of opportunity less fortunate have elsewhere. And being year-end, I always end these lists by expressing gratitude for what can’t be bought: my health, my wife, and my son. I’m also pretty fortunate to have so many friends, a community of riders and others who help give life meaning and value.

We don’t have to look far to see those who are alone and without basic material comforts. And neither did Saint Nicholas, who gave his inheritance to the poor and became the patron saint of sailors, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, and students, among others. His charity lives on amid the advertising and commercial hype of Christmas as long as we continue to look.

Happy holidays, and safe riding in 2020.

The Wish List, 2019

Moto Santa

If I’m going to get my wish list to Santa before Christmas, I’d better send it now. This year has been a tough one for a few reasons, but mostly because my mom died in the fall. That threw everything off, including my blog writing. I just didn’t have the appetite to write, or ride, or do any of my other interests. But the midwinter holiday and the turn of the new year is as good an opportunity as any to turn the corner and start to look forward to the warmer weather and the chance to ride again. Here are a few things I’d like to get for the 2019 season.

But first, let’s take a look at what didn’t make it off my wish list last year.

  • Upper crash bars: check
  • Inline fuel filter: check
  • Flexible front flashers: check
  • Chain-breaker: check
  • Wheel lug/tire iron wrench: check
  • New front tire: check
  • Body armour: check (not Leat but Knox)

So the only two items that didn’t make it off my 2018 wish list were the Garmin Montana GPS, for the second year running, and the Sea-to-Summit mattress.

Garmin Montana 650

The GPS is a must this year; I can’t put it off anymore. As you know if you read my last post, I actually suffered a breakdown on my tour this summer from using a phone GPS. The port on the phone is just not built to withstand the demands of off-road riding—the vibrations, the moisture, the drain on the battery. I ended up jeopardizing my bike’s battery which led to the breakdown. And if you’re doing any serious off-roading, you’re often going to be outside of cell service. This is a fairly big-ticket item so I’ve been avoiding it, but fortunately, I’ve been doing some writing for Ontario Tourism and the money earned from that writing will offset the cost this year.

There is a new 680, but the 650 will be more than enough for my purposes and maybe I’ll get a deal on a discontinued model. I’m so tired of trying to use GoogleMaps to plan my rides! It works okay to get you there but you don’t have much choice in the route (just “avoid motorways,” “avoid toll roads,” and “avoid ferries.”) I’m looking forward to being able to use BaseCamp to plan rides on my computer and import tracks to the GPS. It’s also going to open up a whole new world of off-road track sharing through forums. The Montana is the most popular off-road GPS on the market, with topographical maps, the ability to geocache photos, dual map capability, a micro SD card slot, and many more features that I’ll probably never use. Best of all, it’s rugged.

A Lithium Battery

Shorai

Shorai LFX14L5-BS12

I’ve also decided it’s time to retire my old wet cell battery. I actually got two when I bought the bike. One died about a year ago, and the second is now getting weak. The battery on my bike is known to lose fluid because it’s right next to the upper oil tank, so it gets hot. Also, you have to remove all the plastics on the bike to check and to maintain the battery, so a low maintenance battery would be a huge benefit. I’ve decided to try a lithium battery. I heard about them on Adventure Rider Radio but had concerns about using a lithium battery in a cold climate like Canada’s. However, I’ve heard on forums that it shouldn’t be a problem. You just turn the electrics on for a minute or two to let the battery warm up before hitting the starter. I won’t have to worry about this one boiling dry, as my current one did outside of Mattawa, and an added huge benefit is that it’s much lighter than a wet battery. It’s the easiest way to shed several pounds up high on my bike.

Ricor Intiminator Fork Valves

Intiminators

41mm Ricor Intiminator Valves

This past year, I lost the preload adjuster on the rear shock. I think what happened was the new Holan upper crash bars install too close to the adjuster. The bars use the same mounting point, and I think the adjuster threads got strained from the tip-overs and eventually stripped. I was lucky to find a generous soul willing to swap me his adjuster for mine, but in doing some research on this item, I discovered that many riders find the suspension on my f650GS too soft, especially for off-roading. I’m not a big guy, so I don’t find the rear too soft, but the front end does dive under braking, and for the past while I’ve had a clunking noise coming from the forks on certain types of bumps. I was going to rebuild the forks this summer, replacing the bushings, so I’ve decided to install some Ricor Intiminators at the same time to firm up the front end. They don’t look like much, but these babies have something called Inertia Active Technology. Developed over a twenty year span, this technology can distinguish between chassis motion (fork dive) and wheel motion (bumps in the road). It allows the wheel to move and stay in contact with the road but doesn’t allow the forks to compress when front brake is applied. How, you ask? You’ll have to read the details of the technology at their site. The bottom line is that you get a cushy ride on the road without the fork dive under braking, and better handling off road. According to many comments on user forums, the suspension on my bike is its greatest weakness, so I’m looking forward to improving the front end.

 

K & N Air Filter

KandN

This one is kind of a no-brainer, which makes me wonder what took me so long to make the switch from paper to cloth air filters. Okay, I do remember reading up on foam filters when I first got the bike, but what I read was that the OEM paper filter protects better than foam. And that is true, partially. Dry foam filters have holes upwards of 90 microns in size, too big to stop sand, which can penetrate your engine and do nasty stuff to it. But an oiled foam filter will protect your engine just fine, and most dirt bikes and off-road bikes like KTMs use oiled foam filters. However, too much oil results in loss of power because not enough air is getting in to mix with the fuel. Recently I discovered the K & N cloth filter which protects as well as OEM but is reusable like foam. It’s also zero maintenance (no oil to administer) and is reusable; just clean in soapy water, rinse, and dry each year. Sounds like the best option for me. Goodbye disposable paper filters.

Klim Carlsbad Pants

carlsbad-pants-grey-30

Santa came a little early this year with some Klim Carlsbad pants for me, so this one is not officially on my wish list. I love my Klim Dakar pants; nothing is more flexible and durable for off-road riding than the Dakars. But they are not waterproof. That’s just not the way they are designed. They are designed to pull through overhanging thorny brush without tearing, and to allow maximum airflow when it’s not, so not waterproof and not for adventure touring. I’ve been desiring a Gore-Tex pant that will keep me cool in the heat and dry in the storms. No stopping under bridges to pull on rain gear, no trying to anticipate weather—just ride rain or shine and remove guessing from your day. I saw these on sale 43% off their regular price about a month ago and jumped before Fort Nine sold out of my size.

Steel-Braided Brake Lines

Single Front Line

Last year I accidentally damaged my rear brake line while fixing my rear shock. I’ve decided I might as well take the opportunity to upgrade to steel lines which are better for off-roading anyway. Galfer lines are made in the USA, are model specific, and have teflon inner coating to avoid deterioration. There are even colour options for both the line and mounting hardware. I’ve already got new front and rear disc pads waiting to be installed, so I’ll be doing a complete brake rebuild in the spring.

That’s it. A suspension upgrade, a lithium battery, and (finally!) a motorcycle GPS top my wish list for this year. But like last year and every year, my main wish is continued health. A friend of mine is currently battling brain cancer and wasn’t able to ride last year. He’s recently had a setback and will be spending Christmas in the hospital. I’m thinking of him a lot and would gladly forego all these goodies and more for his health, but unfortunately there are no deals like that available in life. You have to count your blessings, and bless each day you have to live. However messed up this world is, experiencing all it has to offer is and always will be the most wonderful gift of all.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours.

The Mother of Invention

Last fall while practising some off road skills, I broke my radiator. I was working on power slides using two cones and riding hard in a figure eight. In a power slide, you brake slide into the corner, then at the apex crack the throttle, break the rear end loose, and slide the back end around as you accelerate out of the corner. In one attempt, I must have angled the bike too much or not cracked the throttle enough (you’re aiming for the right combination of both) because the bike just plopped down on its side. It was already at a steep angle and didn’t fall far, and onto sand, no less, so I didn’t think much of it. But a few minutes later the temperature light came on and the bike overheated. At over $600 for a new radiator and no used ones available on eBay, I decided to put the bike into storage early and deal with it in the spring.

This gave me a whole winter to think about what happened. Was it just bad luck? I decided to buy some upper crash bars to protect the faring and radiator in the future. I have lower crash bars and even some makeshift ones that I’ve had welded onto those, extending out past the pegs and which I thought would be wide enough to protect the upper part of the bike in a fall. But this happened on sand, not asphalt, so they simply sunk into the sand and didn’t stop the impact on the radiator. Ironically, if the bike had fallen on asphalt, I’d be $600 richer. So yeah, bad luck. But I also got to thinking about the Dakar riders and how they dump their bikes all the time on sand and don’t end up with busted radiators. What saves their rads on impact and not mine?

Two winters ago, I was considering a trip to Blanc Sablan, QC, which would have required riding the Trans-Labrador Highway. It’s 1,500 kilometres of gravel road, and without cell service (only satellite phones placed periodically along the highway) and logging trucks barreling past you, it’s imprudent to be without a radiator guard. One errant stone thrown or kicked up into the fragile fins of the rad and you are stranded in the middle of . . . not nowhere, but Labrador, and that’s not good. So I  installed a radiator guard.

From the beginning, I wasn’t entirely happy with it. For one, it required removal of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) shrouds to install. One look at the shrouds and you can see they’re designed to funnel air into the radiator as well as offer some protection from flying stones. In addition to concerns about adequate cooling, the guards (there are two, one for each side) are also a little flimsy. They are thin aluminum, designed to be light, but because the body panels snap into grommets on the guards (or, originally, the shrouds), they serve another important purpose in supporting the structural integrity of the bike.

Looking at the guard that came off my bike, I could see that it had buckled upon impact.

And this is after some initial straightening. My guess is that the body panel bent the guard and the weight of the bike torqued the radiator. (The leak is in a bottom corner.) It might even be that the guard was shoved into the radiator upon impact because some of the fins are damaged. The OEM shrouds, although plastic, are stronger and might have prevented the damage. Ironically, it’s quite possible that my radiator guard led to my radiator breaking! The lesson here is beware of altering OEM parts on your bike. Sometimes those German engineers know what they are doing. And these bikes, all bikes today, are thoroughly tested before going on the market. Swap out OEM parts for aftermarket ones with prudence!

So I decided to go back to using the OEM shrouds. I wasn’t completely happy because my new radiator would still be vulnerable. The only other major manufacturer of guards for my bike also requires that you remove the shrouds. I therefore had no choice but to try making my own, some that would fit inside the openings of the shrouds.

When I was a kid and was working on my bicycle (or some other project) and needed something very specific, I’d just walk around in my parents’ basement until I found it. I’d have a vague idea in mind of what I needed, and since my parents’ basement was filled with stuff of all kinds, it was just a matter of time before something that would do just the trick presented itself. Walking through a home renovation warehouse is a similar experience. You don’t know exactly where to find what you envisage or even what section it might be in, but keep walking. In my case, I found my new radiator guards in the eavestroughing section.

I started with some aluminium grill that goes in your gutters to keep leaves out. It was cheap and perfect width and even pre-painted black. Most importantly, the openings were the right size—not so big as to let small stones through but big enough to allow sufficient airflow. It was also strong enough to withstand the shake, rattle, and (unfortunately) roll of off-roading. stretched aluminum

Then I carefully measured the openings of the shrouds. MeasuringI used some cardboard and created templates that I could fit into the openings. They were basically squares but with the edges folded about 1/4″. I would use those edges to fix the grill to the shroud, but more on that later. I had to cut the corners so when folded they became like a box (or half a box). One opening on each side was a little tricky because one side of the square is not straight but has a jog. Carefully measuring and fiddling is necessary, but better to do this with cardboard before cutting into your grill.templates

When I had the four templates, I held each up to the grill and cut using tin-snips. CuttingThis is a little messy and you have to vacuum carefully afterwards to collect all the sharp bits of discarded metal. I then held the template against the cut metal and used my Workmate, my vice, and some blunt-nosed pliers to fold and shape the guards.Folding I offered each into its opening and tweaked. FittingThis requires patience, but if you follow your templates as a guide, which you know fit well, you’ll eventually get there. Use the tin-snips or pointed-nose pliers to trim off or bend in sharp edges that can scrape the plastic as you fit them. If you do scratch the plastic a bit, use some Back to Black or Armour All to lessen the visibility of the scratch.

Finally, I wrapped each edge with electrical tape to give it a finished look and prevent the sharp edges from scratching with vibration. TapingFortunately, those clever German engineers had the foresight to drill two holes in the opposite side from the mounting points, probably with something like this in mind. When the guards are done, you can fix them into the shrouds using the mounting screws on the inside and either zip ties or 1/2″ 10-24 machine screws and washers on the outside. I decided to go with the screws just to be sure everything stays put.

Here’s the finished product. I’m happy that I’ll get the cooling effect of the OEM shrouds plus protection for my new (expensive!) rad.Finished covers

These guards are particular to my bike and unless you have a 650GS you’re going to be facing a different situation. Maybe there is a good guard or any other add-on for your bike on the market. But if there isn’t, or if you’re not entirely happy with the product or the price, don’t overlook the option of making it yourself. With a little ingenuity, time, and patience, you can sometimes do better and save yourself some money in the process.

The Wish List, 2018

santa_motoIt’s that time of the year again, when we get to dream big with empty wallets. In an ideal world, one where either Santa exists or bank accounts are bottomless, what would you get to prepare for next year’s riding season? Here’s what I’ve been hankering for.

Let me say at outset that there are already a few goodies either arrived or en route for my BMW f650GS. I busted my rad in a stupid tip-over in sand so figure I should have listened to my intuition and bought those upper crash bars earlier in the season. I’ve looked at them all and, given that I’ve already got lower engine protection with my BMW engine guard (the cage), the only ones that would fit are by Touratech or by Holan. TT have only one anchor point at the front, so the bar is kind of floating and kind of useless. Fortunately, Holan make one that anchor front and back, and their customer service is excellent. After a lot of back and forth, I managed to negotiate a slow, cheaper shipping option from Poland, where they are made. Holan_bar

It’s those upper two bars that are currently somewhere over the Atlantic. They fix onto the centre spine and at the back on the frame by the preload adjuster. They will protect the fragile radiator and the faring without getting in the way of my leg position.

The other thing I got is an inline fuel filter. My bike’s filter is supposed to be changed every 40,000 kilometres, but since the filter and the fuel regulator are one unit, it costs over $200 to change. So I’m adding a Golan (no connection to Holan) Inline Peak Fuel Filter ahead of the OEM filter, which should mean I never have to change the expensive unit.

golan_peak_flow_mini_fuel_filter_750x750

Mine is the mini on the far right.  It’s not available in Canada so I had to order from Revzilla, and whenever I do that, I add a little something else to make the shipping worthwhile. In this case, it was a pair of Baja Designs turn signals. flashers

Seems whenever I drop the bike, those front flashers get the worst of it, and I’ve already glued them back together a few times, but they still look a little worse for wear. The Baja signals have a flexible stalk, which makes a lot of sense. And being designed for the Baja Rally, they are built tough. They look the same as OEM, but should stand up better when I and the bike do not.

I’m also building a more comprehensive travel took kit based on a great thread at ADVRider.com. I won’t bore you will every item, but just say I’m gathering sufficient tools to fix just about anything on my bike in the field. I figure if I’m going to ride to remote regions, I have to be able to fix pretty much anything that might break. The tools actually is the easy part; the tricky bit is deciding what spare parts to bring along. You can’t bring a spare of everything!

tire-wrenchSo I’ve already bought this wheel lug wrench/tire iron in one. It’s light enough to carry everywhere but is good to 90 ft/lbs. T-handles, steel-reinforced epoxy putty, a tow strap, etc. — I love tools!

chain kit

The one item that was a little out of my budget so went on the wish list is the Motion Pro Light Weight Chain Breaker and Chain Press Tool.

When your bike is chain-driven, like I said, you have to be ready for anything that can happen in the bush.

Okay, tools aside, I need a 50/50 tire on the front. I’m still riding a Metzler Tourance, which is fine for dirt roads but not for too much more. I’ll get and mount Heidenau K60 k60-scout-dual-sport-front-tireScout on the front to match the back, and this will allow me to GO ANYWHERE! Yes, I’m that confident that once I get this tire, no more tip-overs in mud and sand. Nature in all its awesome power and trickery will bow down before me and my machine.

Next up is some body armour. I know, I know: what happened to Nature bowing. Well, I may win the war, but that’s not to say the trail won’t win a few battles along the way. My new Klim Tourance jacket that I bought for off-roading is just a shell and comes with no padding. That suited me perfectly because I decided I’d rather get full-on armour for those spills, something like the Leat Body Protector, than the wimpy pads that are in most motorcycle jackets. Leat Body Protector

The nice thing about this option is you can wear it under a motorcycling jersey on those really hot days. That should complete my off-road gear necessities. I now have boots, Klim Dakar pants, the Tourance jacket, a LS2 Pioneer helmet, goggles, and gloves.

Montana

The other fairly big ticket item I need is a good, dedicated motorcyle GPS, or as they call them in Europe, a navsat. I’ve been making do with a combination of Google Maps on my phone while in Canada and an old car (i.e. non-waterproof) GPS while in The States, but neither is perfect. I’ve tried apps but none work reliably, and lord knows, navigation is an important part of any ride. The one on my wish list is the Garmin Montana, a unit designed specifically for off-road use. 

As you can see, it includes topographical maps, a glove-friendly colour touchscreen, access to both GPS and Glonass satellite fixing, HD camera (with the capability of taking geotagged pictures), a smartcard port, Basecamp, geocaching, wireless capability . . . it’s got it all and is the GPS of choice by most adv riders. It’s also got a price tag to match these capabilities, so I’m going to have to be extra good for Santa to spring for this baby.

seatosummitAnd really, that’s about “all” I need. One luxury item is a Sea to Summit mattress, something that was on my wish list last year too. Yeah, my Thermarest is pretty good and at the end of a long, hot day of riding, a bed of nails feels pretty good. But eventually, for the long tours, this premium outdoor mattress would be pretty nice. This insulated mattress has a dual layer construction, allowing you to inflate the top layer to comfort and the bottom layer to even out uneven ground. That jagged tooth of a rock under back will feel like a pea, and the whole thing weighs less than 1 pound 12 ounces and packs up to 5″ x 9″. And as I’ve said before, when you’re roughing it and saving money on accommodation costs, why not have the best camping mattress money can buy?

So that’s my list: some tools, a new front tire, a better GPS, and some body protection. But the main thing I wish for is another year of health and safe riding. That is all that anyone can ask for, and with God’s grace, receive if one is so lucky.

Got a few items on your wish list? Don’t be shy. Stick them in a comment and maybe there’ll be a few things there we haven’t heard of.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and safe riding in 2018.

 

My Favourite Motovlogs

I didn’t know what a vlog was before I started riding. As a writer, I was more interested in blogs, and YouTube was a place where you could see your dear friend’s child act in the school play, a compilation of the sexiest ice-bucket challenges, or the footy game you missed last weekend (if you were willing to follow the sketchy link). Then GoPro entered the market and it changed everything. Suddenly you could get a rider’s-eye view in HD with sound that didn’t seem like the guy was riding underwater, or through Hurricane Katrina, or both. Companies also woke up to the idea of advertising for free under the guise of providing product reviews, and a generation of unemployed video editors found work. The video blog, or vlog, was born.

Perhaps I’m already thinking of those long winter months when the bike is up on a jack in the shed with a 40 watt bulb pointed at it. If you’re like me, product reviews midwinter is like a balm to a wind-chapped itch to ride, and a helmet-cam is the closest thing there is to throwing a leg over said motorcycle stored in the shed. I spend a lot of time during the winter on YouTube, learning stuff, buying stuff, or planning on buying stuff once spring hits. In prep for those regrettably not too distant months ahead, here are my favourite motorcycle vlogs and YouTube channels. Enjoy!

Because I subscribe to the free (i.e. cheap) version of WordPress, I can’t embed videos. You’ll have to click on each hyperlink to have a sample vlog open in a separate tab.

Weekly Rides With Rueben was my entrance into not only vlogging but also motorcyling in general. Before I even had my full licence, I went searching one day for tips for newbies, and after a few scattered hits, I stumbled upon Reuben’s vlogs. Reuben (I don’t know his last name) worked for Competition Accessories in North Carolina, and they decided his vlogs would be a good way to generate traffic to the store, I guess. A new video was uploaded every Wednesday and together they were, as he says at the beginning of each video, “a random collection of motorcycle adventures, life on two wheels, and product reviews.” If that sounds eerily familiar, I guess Reuben’s videos heavily influenced my thinking about this blog. Topics covered included riding in the rain, riding at night, avoiding obstacles, and preparing for fall riding, for examples. Then his store started partnering with a nearby dealership and he started doing bike reviews. Reuben also did product reviews from the store in front of the camera, but I think he was more comfortable behind the camera. He never seemed at a loss for words, and was articulate and knowledgeable. I learnt a lot from Reuben over his 74 posts. The posts abruptly stopped without notice because, as rumour has it, the store was bought out. A new guy from another location took over, but it was never the same. Hope you’re doing well, Reuben!

The ancient Roman poet Horace wrote that poetry should both “delight and instruct.” The same could be said for a good vlog, so while I might find it “delightful” to watch Rosie Gabrielle ride through Oman or Ottawa, if I want to learn how to ride, I go where the experienced riders are. Sorry Rosie! Zack and Ari, co-editors at Motorcyclist Magazine, have been riding together for a long time! (Like, since childhood.) They are good riders. In fact, I’ve watched Ari break a track record on a KTM 390, and Zack is no slouch either. Just watch his MC Commute, where he rides a different bike to work each day and gives a review en route. Their show On Two Wheels (again, a rip off from yours truly) is a lot of fun with their humour keeping things light but rarely stupid, and always the bikes are front and centre. One of my favourite episodes is the one on the BMW GS, yeah, the bike that opened up the adventure touring market and spawned my f650GS. But even more than On Two Wheels, I love MC Garage, where Ari walks us through some simple maintenance of our bikes. I have a lot of respect for people who are both good riders and good mechanics. I’ve used some of Ari’s tips to fix not only my bike but also my car. I think Horace would agree that instruction for a hungry audience is also a delight.

If Ari and Zack are good riders, Lyndon Poskitt is a great rider! How great? Dakar great. Podium finisher in Baja great. And he knows his way around a bike too. In fact, he built his bike from the frame up. In Races to Places, Lyndon travels around the world, stopping at various rally races like the Mongolian Rally, The Baja Rally, and of course the Dakar, to try his luck and skill. His key sponsor, Adventure Spec, put together the vlogs of his adventures. Production quality is high, which is especially impressive since Lyndon does all his own filming. I’ve done enough adventure riding to know that when times get tough, the last thing you want to do is stop for a photo (or cutaway, or take 20 minutes to set up a 20 second shot), but Lyndon is committed loyally to his project and followers. I’ve also learnt a lot about different countries vicariously from Lyndon. I’ve followed him across eastern Europe, down into Asia, and now over to Australia. I’ve really been enjoying this series, now starting its 7th season. I’m trying to savour them because I’m almost entirely caught up and will soon have to wait for each new episode.

If you are more into street riding, or rather street racing, you want to check out Lockk9 TT Racing’s channel. Nobody does video editing as well as this guy. I can’t get enough of this video: great editing, great music, not bad riding. It’s a shot of adrenaline on a cold mid-winter morning to get you out the door and to your job.

For product reviews, I go to two sources: Fort Nine and Revzilla. I love Fort Nine because the reviews are thorough and I know that whatever RyanF9 talks about I can get from this Canadian-based online store without the hassle of cross-border issues. I bought my 50/50 tire based on his rave review of the K60 Scout (i.e. “I’m not even going to say this is my favourite pick of the video because the K60 is my favourite tire on the motorcycling market right now”). He’s knowledgeable and funny, and tells it like he sees it, which is not always the case with product reviews. Usually they end up being positive, pointing out only the merits of a certain product. In fact, many so-called “reviews” are really just product descriptions, with very little if any evaluative comments thrown in. Ryan also does pretty good vlogs. In his vlog about how to legally ride off road in Canada (his split infinitive, not mine), I found out about Chemin Scotch north of Hawksbury, and checked it out, and had a blast. In a recent vlog, he talks about having a degree in Art History (Art History!) which really is evidence that what you study in school doesn’t have to be what you do in life. And no one does bike reviews like Fort Nine. They are creative works of art. Apparently Ryan writes the scripts and some guy named Steve handles the editing. Just check out this review for example, in rhyme, of the new BMW 310R. I’m so old I can’t say exactly what he’s parodying, but I think it’s hip hop videos. In another, he says he’s heading back west to BC to start a new chapter with Fort Nine. I hope that includes more vlogs.

For more in-depth product reviews, I go to Revzilla. I don’t know what Anthony drinks in the mornings but I know I want some. A 19′ review of the Klim Badlands jacket? Really? He strips that bad boy down inside and out. Meanwhile, world population has increased by 4,750 by the time he’s done. It’s thorough! How much do Klim pay him to represent their product? How long does it take him to learn all the details of that jacket? Because of the currency conversion and cross border brokerage (motorcycle gear is duty-free, however), Revzilla is not always the cheapest option for me, but I never buy a product without checking out the Revzilla review and user reviews there. Thanks guys! And just to show my appreciation, sometimes I do buy there and have it shipped to Burlington and ride down to pick it up. I especially like their Gear Guides, where they compare a number of select products in the same review. You can salivate all winter long, and drop Christmas hints to loved ones by sharing, or create a wish list of your own for when you’re stinking rich.

I’ve saved the best for last, but I’m going to cheat because it’s not even a vlog. It’s a podcast, but I’m including it because I’ve probably learnt more about the adventure touring experience from Adventure Rider Radio than from any other single source. Yeah, the show caters to adventure riders, but host Jim Martin is always careful not to exclude other types of riders and riding, and much of the information is relevant to motorcycling in general. I’ve learnt everything from the esoteric (e.g. the nitty gritty of motorcycle chains) to the mundane (how to prepare tasty meals in camp, or first aid). One of my favourite things to do during the winter is run a hot bath and listen to ARR on my iPad while I soak away the chills. I’m always keen to learn new skills, especially if it’s from the comfort of a hot bath, and one of my favourite segments is the rider skills segment with Bret Tkacs of PSSOR. The show functions on a donation and sponsor basis and it’s pretty impressive that Jim and his wife churn out a show every week. I’ve been meaning to send a token of my appreciation, and will, because while the show is obviously a labour of love, these kinds of shows don’t survive if not supported by those who enjoy and profit from them.

There are a few others I cruise past from time to time, but I’ll stop there. Drop a comment about your favourite motovlog or channel and I’ll check it out. Or let me know what you think of some of these. Happy fall riding, while it lasts.

 

Seat Concepts: 650GS Dakar Install

What’s the most important contact area in biking? Some say it’s the two patches of rubber, one on the front tire, one on the back, that touch the road. Some say it’s the four contact areas of control—two hands on the handle-grips, two feet on the pegs. I say the most important contact area is your butt on the saddle. I come to this conclusion after a season of riding with an OEM BMW seat. The Bavarian Motor Works, as the name suggests, are renown for their engines, not so much for their upholstery. The guys in my club know that after around 200 kilometres I start to squirm. By 300 I can’t take it any longer and stand up, even if we’re at highway speed. After my 800 km day last year, I had a new understanding of the term “saddle sores.”

There’s nothing worse than ruining a day’s ride by being uncomfortable on your bike. For that reason, on my Wish List last Christmas was a new seat. My old seat was not only uncomfortable but the vinyl had cracked with age. It was due to be changed. cracksThe only problem is that both BMW’s and Touratech’s comfort seats are about $700 CAN. My butt was telling me to spend with abandon, but my mind (and my wife) was reminding me of our budget. Then I heard about Seat Concepts, a company that ships you the foam and cover and you re-upholster the seat pan yourself at a fraction of the cost. For my bike, it was about $250, or close to 1/3 the price of the other comfort seat options.

Seat Concepts is an American company, so I ordered through MX1Canada in BC and let them handle all the cross-border issues. The standard foam is for people 160 lbs. and up, and since I’m 145 soaking wet, I custom ordered the foam to my weight. There are four options for the cover: gripper top/carbon sides, all carbon, embossed top/vinyl sides, and all vinyl. There’s also a swede option but that’s not practical in geographical areas that rain, which is pretty much everywhere except the desert. I was interested in the gripper top, but it’s not recommended for people who sometimes ride in jeans, including me, so I opted for the all carbon option, which is their second-most popular covering. I also decided to choose the Dakar height since I was feeling a little cramped on the bike. It all arrived in the mail this past spring and all I needed was a warm day to do the work, since they recommend placing the cover in warm sunlight to heat it up. That day finally came last Sunday, so I got to work. Here are the tools I used.

There are some excellent video tutorials offered by the folks at Seat Concepts, but here is how my install went.

I started by removing the staples in the old seat. I used a flat-head screwdriver and dug them out. stapler_remove1

Don’t worry if only one side of the staple comes out . . .

staple_remove2

. . . because you are going to grab the staple and pull it out with blunt-nosed pliers.

pliers

Once all the staples are removed, you just peel back the old cover and separate the foam from the seat pan. On mine, it came off easily. Apparently on others, you have to coerce it a bit.

seat_pan

You will have a bunch of holes in your seat pan from the old staples. They have to be sanded down with a medium sandpaper or they might puncture your new seat cover.

sanding

Now you’e ready to glue your new foam to the pan. I used 3M’s Super 77 aerosol spray and it worked great—so great, I asked my wife to assist by separating the sides at the front while I positioned the back. The glue is tacky at this point, so you want to get one section straight and right before another touches. A second set of hands helps at this crucial stage. Note that I laid the foam upside-down on my workspace and placed the pan onto it; it was easier that way.

This is what the seat looks like before covering.

new_foam

Meanwhile, like I said, your cover has been basking in the hot sun and is pliable. Heating it first also helps because when it cools it will shrink and tighten up. Seat Concepts provides some thin plastic to waterproof the foam. It’s recommended you use it under the cover. So I began by wrapping the seat and taping the plastic to the underside of the pan. (The tape is temporary and will be removed later after all the staples are in.) There were some small wrinkles in the plastic but it is impossible to not have any and I figured the plastic is so thin I’d never feel them under the cover.

Then I started the part that gives most people some stress. It actually was not hard at all. I started by putting two stables at the back and one or two in each corner at the front. Make sure the cover is centred by examining the seams closely. Then I just started wrapping and stapling the cover from the middle outward toward the front and back. I pulled the cover over the lip and stretched it just a little more and put in a staple. I worked both sides at the same time, ensuring the cover stayed centred and taut. cover_beginning

I borrowed an electric stapler from a friend, but as it turned out, my hand one was just as effective and I used it for tight spots in combination with the power stapler. I used 1/4 in. T50 staples. As with any stapling of this kind, it’s important to stabilize both the item being stapled and the stapler from recoil or the staples will not go in all the way. Any that did not, I tapped in fully later with a hammer. Yeah, a second set of hands is helpful at this stage too, but it doesn’t take long. cover_end

Then I just used an Olfa knife to trim the excess cover and plastic. The finished product looks great!done

Finally, I reinstalled the seat. It needed some coaxing because the Dakar seat is a little wider at the back than the standard, but well worth it if you can afford the extra height. I took measurements before and after and the Dakar is about 1.5 inches higher than the standard. It also has a flatter front shape with less sloping into the tank. Here are the two seats side-by-side, before and after pictures for comparison.

height_old

height_new

It’s surprising what that 1 1/2 inches does. Everything feels different. I feel more upright on the bike, seated on it rather than sliding into it. Controls feel different too. And while I can still flat-foot, I feel that extra height at each stop. Most importantly, my knees are now bent at 90 degrees, which is the best ergonomically, according to technician at my work who helped me set up my new office chair.

I haven’t done any long rides yet with the new seat, but I’ll follow up here with a comment once I do. Next weekend I’m going to a rally in NY State where I’ll be going on some day-long rides, but my early indication is that the seat is very comfortable. I’m also happy with the money I saved by doing it myself.