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Change of Plans (already)

03 Feb

After reviewing my original plans for this trip I have decided to shorten it a little. I had hoped to take 6 weeks for an “Around-the-US” tour but after reviewing this plan I think that’s just too long to be away. Maybe when I don’t have family and work obligations I’ll be able to revisit my original plan and possibly even expand it. For now, however, I’m going to make the most of a 3 week cross country tour. The new plan is to pick up RT50 near my home in Virginia and ride either to Sacramento, CA. or close to it. I think this is a more reasonable trip length and will still provide me with the experience that I’m looking for.

I say that I might not take the road all the way to Sacramento. I’m not sure that I want to venture that close to that large a city at the western end of the trip. I’m currently looking at locations just to the east of Sacramento that will serve as a good layover before turning around and coming via RT50. The beauty of planning this far out for a trip like this is that it truly affords me the opportunity to review the plan for long spans of time and make careful, well thought out choices on the route. This is I’m sure just the first of many changes that I’ll make to the final trip as I get closer.

The other big change stems from a trip that I took in the fall of 2010. I had the opportunity to cross off a great ride from my “Riding Bucket List”. Myself and 4 other riders completed the trip down Sky Line Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway from it’s beginning in Virginia to it’s end in North Carolina and back. It was a 4 day Moto-Camping trip that was one of the best times I’ve had on a bike to date. The best part about the trip was the opportunity to fine tune my preparations for the X-Country trip. Most important, however, was that I realized my current bike is not the bike I want to take a major motorcycle trip on. For several reasons, some practical and some purely selfish, I just know that I will have issues on my Harley on a 3 week trip across the US. Let me try and explain what these reasons are:

Reliability: Since purchasing my ’05 Electraglide in 2008 I’ve had several minor, but truly annoying, issues with the bike. Most of these issues stem from work that was done by the previous owner, new pipes, upgraded air filter, new grips, etc. While I believe that I’ve corrected or resolved most of these, the longer that I have the bike the more things crop up. I’m not convinced that there aren’t issues I’m unaware of that will bite me in the end. Considering the state of the bike, it’s age and the mileage that I’ve put on it (about 10K/year) it’s highly likely that there are mechanical problems I’m not aware of just waiting to ruin my trip. I don’t know everything the previous owner did or didn’t do. The level of neglect that I’ve discovered points to a rider who rode hard and a lot but did little to ensure the bikes overall working condition.

Comfort: I know that there are ways to make a bike more comfortable. I’ve added some aftermarket parts to my bike to increase the comfort but it just hasn’t gone far enough for me. Part of this is my unwillingness to spend the cash on larger ticket items (like a custom seat) to increase the ride comfort, some is just the general design of the bike. I will say that to it’s credit the bike is very comfortable with the stock seat, handlebars and riding position. However these also are items that contribute to my long ride discomfort. The seat is great for about 3 hours, then its foam core compresses and it needs an overnight (or my ass just needs the rest) to restore itself to a comfortable cushion level. I’ve replaces the stock grips with new ones that have an increased amount of rubber but they still tend to make my thumbs cramp after a long time in the saddle. The reach to the handlebars is good but because of the relaxed riding position most of my weight is concentrated on my tailbone with no ability to redistribute to my arms or another portion of my body. This also leads to saddle discomfort. I have also installed “highway pegs” on the engine guards and this helps, but again after 3 – 4 hrs of riding (even with breaks) it’s just painful to get back in the seat.

Ride-ability: What i mean here is the ability for the bike to handle several types of riding from straight line cruising, to sweepers, to tight switchbacks. The Harley handles the first two really well, it’s practically what the bike was made for. The last however is an exorcise in well … exorcise. Having to muscle the bike through tight turns is difficult and slow. I attribute this to the cruiser style and weight, mostly the weight on the front end with the attached “Bat Wing” fairing. This fairing tends to pull the bike into corners (or the direction of travel) which is great in a sweeping turn, but on a tight switchbacks when your next turn is immediate, swinging the head of the bike back and forth just plain wears me out in short order.

Selfishly: Here’s where there aren’t really any practical reasons but just personal. One reason that I purchased the Harley was that it was a little slower and mechanically antiquated. I was just getting back into riding after about 5 years off. I wanted something that I could commute to work on and that would ease me back into riding. I also wanted a bike that I could work on myself and get to know (hence the purchase of a cheaper Harley that was “well used”). After putting over 30K miles on the Harley in 3 years I’ve gained a remarkable amount of confidence in my riding and have even been cited as a person to emulate in my riding groups for by “good lines” and careful but technical approach to riding. I’ve also been repairing and maintaining the bike mostly myself and truly believe that I’ve scratched that itch. I’m ready for a bike that can do more as far as riding capability and needs less attention to maintain.

I also feel that there is a reaction by riders and non-riders when I say that I ride a Harley that I don’t believe I appreciate any more, if I ever did. Due in some part to the perpetuation of the “Biker” image that Harley maintains and that many of it’s owners are happy to embrace and the actual image that any Harley riders project, I feel I’m immediately categorized and lumped in with a group of riders that I don’t particularly identify with. I’m a wear all the gear all the time kind of rider. I have a bright yellow full face helmet. I’ve added extra lighting for better viability where the trend in Harley’s seems to be the “blacker the better”.  All of this makes me state that I’m a Rider first and a Harley owner second just to try and make a distinction between myself and the brand. I’m tired of fighting this image and just want to get away from it.

So to rectify all of this I have been test riding and reading about several different bikes and landed on the BMW R1200RT. I’ll go into the reasons in another post. Suffice it to say that I expect to be purchasing a new BMW in the fall of 2011 or winter of 2012. In my estimation and test rides this bike should resolve most of the issues that I stated above. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that later too.

Next post I’ll discuss the things that I discovered with my gear on the BRPW trip. What worked and what failed.

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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in X-Country Road Trip

 

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