Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sport-touring gear set up: A complicated yet fun endeavor.

With only one tour under my helmet, I’m still a Sport-touring neophyte, and am still trying to figure out what gear combination will work best while on the tarmac. There is one thing that I have figured out rather quickly and that is: less is more. Less gear reduces worries about loosing it or having someone borrow it indefinitely, however, a dilemma remains as to exactly what gear to bring along.

The following pictures include some of the gear that I have taken with me on trips. I will also include a few words as to how this gear has performed. I hope that you will find this useful and maybe even aid you in deciding what to include in your set up.

These are the basics and some miscellaneous. I bring three pairs of gloves: one is waterproof/heated (Firstgear), one is a regular leather with carbon fiber inserts, and one is leather with fabric. I bought the last pair at a hardware store, after getting tired of my leather gloves soaking up water and being damp. These dry fast, provide almost no protection, but I figure if am Tarmac Surfing in the interstate at 65 mph/ 104 kph in the rain, I have bigger things to worry about.

The small piece of wood is for the bike stand for those times when parking the bike on soft surfaces along with a Kryptonite disc lock for security.  There is also the mandatory O-ring safe chain lube to keep her running smoothly, spare set of keys attached to an oversize carabiner (idiot proofing), lodging paper directories and paper maps. I admit paper sounds antiquated, until the idiot phone breaks or disappears, and since I don't carry a regular GPS (personal preference) paper serves as a back up. Finally, lots of bungee cords and my moto-journal.

The intended set up with the three season 0 degree sleeping bag stored in a Seattle sports dry bag, a three season one person free standing tent and sleeping pad on top.

The actual set up. Almost the same as above except the tent is now inside the saddle bag, the bag is now covered with a reflective vest for added visibility, and secured with a net that proved to be invaluable.

The preferred set up. This time without camping gear and only the essentials; although I like to camp, the gear is bulky and takes lots of space, as you can see from the almost bursting saddlebags. I prefer to load these lightly for safety purposes obviously, and because it saves room for souvenirs (moto-shirts, Micro-brews, etc.) along the way.

The tankbag and saddlebags are First Gear Silverstone. So far I have no complaints, these are practical holding more than enough gear and look decent on the bike. These are not waterproof so I resorted to stashing my gear inside large heavy duty waste bags and small size ziploc bags, and thus far kept my gear dry.

I carry a 3 Liter Camel Back reservoir in my tank bag; so far I only had a need for 1.5 liters. If you look closely you will see the cable that runs from under the seat to the tank bag. That’s my power source, a Tender female connector that links to the phone's cigarette lighter cable, and voila! The phone (or iPod) is fully charge by the time I reached my destination.

Under the seat I carry a Slime moto spare that consists of an air pump and a tube of slime to seal a puncture. These two items fit perfectly under the seat, although I placed them in zip lock plastic bags, since water WILL reach under the seat when riding in the rain.

I bought these items based on favorable online reviews and fortunately I have not needed it thus far. As you can see from the picture, the battery tender cable can be plug to either the heat troller (regulator) for the gloves, to the air pump, or the Tender female power adapter (only one item at time). I have not had a chance to fully test the heated gloves on the field, but the power connection works wells and the gloves heat up nicely.

Rider's gear. I currently wear a Scorpion exo 1000 helmet. It's proven to be really comfortable and quiet. The only issue I had is that after six months the anti fog coating has worn off. I found this out on a cloudy rainy morning while on the Interstate.
The jacket is the transition 2 and the pants are Caliber both from Tourmaster. They are supposed to be waterproof, however, the jacket does not have a hood so I have to wear a Gore-Tex parka over it. Otherwise water leaks from under the helmet. The jacket is most likely waterproof, but the outer fabric absorbs water faster than SpongeBob making it even heavier than original.

The pants have worked well, they have kept me dry, although the fit is not the best the finish is fine and are baggy enough that one can wear street clothes underneath. Both pants and jacket have armor in the crucial areas. At the moment I'm researching other options such as a one-piece suit or a two-piece suit from a different manufacturer. For footwear, I've been wearing a pair of old Gore-Tex lined hiking boots that need to be replaced, as they are not longer waterproof. I found this out on the last trip, bummer. I'm not sure yet as to what I will replace them with.

On the trip I make sure to carry coins and cash for the unlikely toll roads and gas station in small towns where credit cards are seldom accepted. Lastly, for added peace of mind I signed up for AMA road assistance, in addition to my insurance company's, as well as added trip interruption benefits, and comprehensive coverage to my bike.
If you have any suggestions about gear/set up alternatives or questions about my gear, etc., feel free to send email. Ride safe and Enjoy the Ride.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2500 mile update: Interstate impressions and road mannerism

I’ve now owned my 250 for almost two months and logged a few miles on it. Most of these miles have been at interstate speeds, so I thought I would share my experiences with those out there in motto- world that are still debating whether this bike can handle the super slab. It’s an axiom that this bike is not really intended for sport touring, however, some of us will defy engineers and push the limits of the 250, or is it the inverse? So how does the bike handle the Interstate? I’d say rather well. I’ve ridden the 250 through thunder storms while being passed by semis, light rain, strong head winds, up and down hills (up to 3585 ft / 1092 m) at times in the fog, up to 75 mph/ 120 kph fully loaded (+- 80 kg). And the 250 has delivered and impressed me with its subtle capabilities.

But is it comfortable you asked? I will say up to x distance, depending on terrain and rider stamina. Riding the 250 long distances at interstate speeds demands; fortitude, commitment and a positive mind set, the bike is rather light and wind shifts will affect its trajectory, thus it will require continuous rider input. Wind conditions will have a direct impact on ride quality, it’s unavoidable. The lower fairing provides adequate wind protection; the windscreen on the other hand leaves you exposed at high speeds, offering little protection. The rider has only a few options, full tuck or half tuck if you happen to have a tank bag that hinders a full tuck, or a bigger screen. At times I felt like I was in a boxing match taking direct jabs from the wind right on the face, resulting in my head flailing to the right and left repeatedly. Other times (few) I felt I had to really, really lean into the wind to be able to stay on my lane, a disturbing feeling.

The geometry of the bike (although relax by sport standards) places a lot of stress on the lower/upper back and neck requiring shifting of body positioning. The stock saddle is surprisingly comfortable for looking and feeling firm. My longest day on the saddle was 415 miles/ 664 km and I did not experience major issues during the ride. Sure, I had to shift sitting positions to relieve pressure points, but that is expected. The bike’s suspension and steering tracked really well, and at high speeds on smooth tarmac the 250 glides smoother than an electric monorail, the bike feels positively solid and at high speeds only minor weight shifts will carry you on your intended path. Even while fully loaded the suspension (at factory settings) handled road imperfections well, and trust me there were a lot!

Overall, considering the 250 is being utilized for something other than its primary [commuting] purpose, if one has realistic expectations and copious stamina the 250 will make a stupendous tourer. Would I change anything on the 250? So far, I can’t think of anything. I did want heated grips but instead I purchased heated gloves. Other than that I’m pretty satisfied with my purchase and the bike’s performance. Two things will make the ride more enjoyable: one will be to log more miles and consequently build more stamina, second; having the right cold/wet weather gear.

Friday, September 16, 2011

MD to Skyline Drive: 105 miles/ 168 km of undulating, twisting tarmac.

Miles covered: 380/608 km
Days riding: 2
Highest elevation: 3585 feet/ 1092 m

I concluded the second part of my Moto tour with a trip to Skyline drive in Shenandoah National Park, VA. There isn’t much to be said about riding Skyline Drive that hasn’t already been expressed. Here is a moto-enthusiast feeble pictorial attempt at capturing the experience. Sit back, grab an IPA and Enjoy the Ride.

Early morning at the gate to the park, the weather was great, sunny and cool, cages were scarce, with more than a few motos around. The tarmac was smooth and mostly free of debris. Moto Bliss.

The bike is warm up and ready to roll. With a 35 mph/56 kph speed limit within the park, there is plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. It was so relaxing I found myself yawning a few times.

There are many look out spots along the route, and although the weather was sunny and clear there was a blue Haze that hangs over the mountains in the distance.

A Rider's view, sweet.

More Haze and tarmac.

There is a beautiful valley in the distance.

More of that smooth, seductive path.

Her name is "Naked Lady", one of the many motos on the drive,except this one stood out.

Later on at the campground. The pumps are for decor only.

Home for the evening. This was just outside the southern point of the park at a private campground.

There was a half mile drive on gravel in order to reach the cabin. Nothing like a good old gravel road at the end of the ride to "wake you up".

The ride back home. There aren't easy routes home (D.C./Maryland Metro area) and riding on Constitution avenue feels like you are in The Matrix with plenty of sentinels along the way. And you most likely will have to perform some crazy maneuver-think Neo-moto- to get through this madness.

Sport Touring Moto-bagdes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

MD to the Hoosier State

Miles traveled: 1400/2240km.
Days on the road: 7/ actual riding 4
States crossed: 4
Longest day: 415miles/664km
Highest elevation: 2900ft/884m
Highest grade: 13% for half mile/.8km

It’s Sunday 6:30am, I slept four or five hours at the most. It’s go time, time to tour on the 250R. Our first real road test, the weather calls for rain all along my chosen route, oh well; time to really test all my gear! It’s dark, gloomy with the ever threatening skies, not exactly the way I picture being initiated into Moto-Touring. The first 50 miles are slow going, is dark foggy and drizzling, I’m starting to wonder: what am doing out here? The bike handles well despite being fully loaded (+ -175lbs/80kgs rider and gear).

Initially, I had planned on taking Route 50 West to Bloomington, IN., however, in the end I switched to the Super slab (SS), time to find out how the 250 will handle it. I’m averaging 60mph/96kph, climbing the hills of Western MD, and the 250 has plenty of power on tap. The challenging part begins once we entered OH. on I70 West, where Semis are ubiquitous. It starts, I am surrounded, all I can hear in my head are The Doors “…Let it roll, Baby, roll…” and I obliged and rolled the throttle. All is well for the first 300miles/480km until finally the skies opened up, I can’t see very well out of my shield, my gloves are soaked, semis are hurdling by at 65 mph, I pulled over, time to reassess and wait out the rain. The rain lets up and I find a place to sleep for the night. Total miles; 365/584km and trust me it feels like I’ve been out this long.

The next morning is more of the same, dark, gloomy and wet. I can’t wait around for the rain to stop, and so I’m back on the SS. Suddenly I noticed the exit numbers are climbing Oh wait, I’m heading east! No, no, I should be going west. The exit numbers should be decreasing, time to turn around, if I could only find and exit. I finally turned around and joined the semis; here comes one, no problem, later two in a row spraying water all over the road at 65mph/104km! And here is when I learned what Tarmac Surfing is all about.

I sensed their presence; I saw their headlights briefly. First, a slight change in wind direction, than I see the huge right front wheel zoom by, the rain is steady and relentless and it’s dark all around. The only light is the beam from my headlight ahead of me, (and the truck’s lights) where I can see the rain streaks fall to the ground. And as expected, now the wind turbulence from the truck is trying to push me off the road, normally you only feel the wind, except it’s raining and through my headlight beam I can see the air “wave” coming at me at full speed! The 250 cuts through it, I tucked in and gripped the handlebars. I’m in 5th gear rpms are high, I rolled the throttle and hang on! I’m weaving in the dark, gloomy wet interstate, riding the “wave”. The truck passes…but wait it’s not over here comes another one. That morning I caught my first two 13 foot waves; I hope it will be awhile before I surf again.

The rain ceased, and I’m hoping the rest of the day will be uneventful. And it was until the winds picked up around the southern Indiana and Ohio border. Did I mention IN., loves speed? The speed limit in the state is 70mph, so everyone is driving way over that, I have no choice, got to let it roll again, while facing some strong head winds, I tucked in and just like that I’m surfing again. At least this time I have more traction. On this half of the tour I was unwillingly one of the “Riders on the Storm” (TD).

Leaving home early sunday morning.

The first rest stop, there are trees behind all that fog!

Lake Lemon IN.

Cruising the twisties around Bloomington, IN.

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Off the bike activities.

A contrast of machines and horsepower.

Ultra Luxury vs Minimalist.

Old buildings near Nashville IN.

A Rider's view somewhere along Route 40.

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Route 40 between Washington PA., and Keyser Ridge MD.

A small town along Route 40.

Almost home, only 225 miles to go.

Next time: Gear set up, riding etc.