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Change of Plans (already)

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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Gearing Up

In preparation for the X-Country trip I’ve started putting together my gear. I’ve started with the camping gear first. It was pretty apparent on my first motorcycle camping trip that I needed to upgrade the equipment that I have, which is for car camping. So I’ve started looking for smaller, lighter gear along with a few things that I realized I need but don’t have.

HydraLight Zipper Duffel by Seattle Sports:

I started with a bag. I need a way to get all the gear on the bike and to the camp site. After looking at a lot of bags I went with the HydraLight Zipper Duffel by Seattle Sports. Here’s the product description from Aerostitch.com

“This light, waterproof duffel constructed of coated ripstop nylon will keep your stuff dry on the road or down the trail. Additional webbing and D-rings on each side allow you to easily strap it to your bike. Welded seams, waterproof zipper, with extra support on the bottom and sides. Shoulder strap included. 3887 cubic inches of space, yet super packable. Medium is 13″×23″×13″, 24 oz. and Large is 14″×28″×15″, 43 oz. Grey.”
Here’s a picture of the duffel tied up and ready to go on my bike for one of my camping trips.

Review: I’ve been on two camping trips with this duffel since I purchased it. On the first trip I ran into some light rain and the bag held up well. On the second trip I encountered hours of riding in hard to moderate rain and the bag did not remain waterproof. I believe that the issue is with the zippers. They have a flap that covered the zipper that in light to moderate, intermittent rain seems to keep water out just fine but after hours of being rained on they just could not keep the water out. The second failure also has to do with the zippers but was exacerbated by how I have the bag strapped to the bike. When the bag is strapped down sufficiently to keep it from moving, and to allow me to use it as a back rest, the two rubber flaps that server to keep water out of the zipper track get separated along their seam. This compromises their effectiveness and permits water to get into the bag. I think that in the future I’ll be looking at Dry bags that have a fold-over or roll top closure to prevent the issues that I’ve had with this bag. The good news is that I packed everything in the bag in waterproof stuff sacks with roll top closures (or 1 quart freezer bags) that performed perfectly. So no real harm done with the water getting into the main bag.

Waterproof Stuff Bags:

As mentioned above I picked up several Waterproof Stuff Bags to pack and organize my gear with. These proved to be invaluable for storing and keeping my gear organized. I purchased one of each size to cover all needs. I use the extra small one for toiletries, 2 small ones for my camp stove and to organize other items (flashlights, matches, fat wood, etc.), the medium one for my sleeping bag and a large for my clothes. I have an additional large bag that I use for dirty or wet items that I just pack empty.

Review: As an organization tool these bags can’t be beat. They segregate
out my gear and because they are all different colors I can easily grab the bag that I need when I need it. They have a roll top closure that works well to seal out the wet (or keep it in if needed). You do have to work on getting the air out in order to not take up unwanted room when packing but after a few times using the bags this was pretty easy. These bags really saved me a lot of grief by keeping my gear dry when my duffel leaked.

Now that I had a place to put my stuff, I needed the stuff. So, back to shopping.

Colman Exponent Multi-Fuel Stove/Cranky Pump:

I picked up the Colman Exponent Multi-Fuel Stove which is a small packable camp stove that will run on white gas (unleaded gas) or kerosene. I can pump gas right from my motorcycle tank into the stove using the Cranky Pump. This is a hand held crank pump that will pull gas from the tank as you crank the pump but stops when you stop cranking. No siphon hoses that you have to suck on and then crimp to stop the gas flow. Really nice little gadget.

Review: The Colman stove worked perfectly on my recent 4 day
camping trip. I highly recommend this stove for travel. It’s not as compact as other travel stoves but the fact that it takes unleaded gas right from my tank means that I don’t have to carry camp stove fuel so the size isn’t that much of an issue compared to the convenience. Reading the instructions provided with the stove is critical. This is not a stove that you can, in my opinion, just jump into with out knowing the specifics of how it works. Once used a few times though the operation becomes second nature. If I had to say anything negative about the stove it would be that after filling it with fuel, it is then full of fuel. Repacking the stove means either burning off the remaining fuel (which I do when returning home for long term storage), trying to pump the fuel back into the bike (not easy and there is still residual fuel in the stove), or packing it away with the fuel in it. I bought a watertight, roll top dry bag just to store the stove knowing that I didn’t want to waste the fuel in it by burning it off and being unsuccessful in getting all the fuel out and back into the bike. Because of the sharp “fins” next to the burner and because the fuel is gasoline (read degrades plastic bags) I choose a tough bag to put this in so that there would be no spill over onto my other gear if a leak did occur (which none did). Also important to note is that the “fins” and pot support ring around the top are very easy to bend, I know this from personal experience. So take care where in your packing you put the stove so as not to compress it and ruin the top of the stove.The Cranky Pump pump worked flawlessly. A nice feature of this pump is that one of the tube ends has a metal tip that helps ensure is gets to the bottom of the bikes gas tank to provide a good flow of gas when the pump starts. To clean it out after use I just run water through the pump and then leave out to dry. Sine I only needed to fill the stove once on this trip I wasn’t worried about water getting into the stove the next time I used the device.

Kelty Gunnison 2 Tent:

The test that I used on my first moto-camping trip was an old two man tent that I had in my garage from way back. My first mistake was in thinking that this would be fine to use after sitting around for years. I didn’t waterproof it or even try and set it up before the trip. I discovered that A) it was too big to be really affective as a moto-camping tent and B) that it was not longer waterproof (the hard way). Shortly after that soggy trip I starting looking for a new tent. I reviewed a number of tents but settled on the Gunnison based on reviews from several sites and the price.

Review: Shortly after receiving the Gunnison I set it up in my back yard. The setup was easy and certainly something that I could do by myself (unlike the previous tent that I had). The poles are connected at the middle creating an X that then snaps into clips at the corners of the tent and attached to the walls of the tent via carabiner style hooks. The rain fly for the tent covers 90% of the surface area and also creates two vestibules for gear and boot storage (nice not to have the tent smell like dirty socks). The tent performed well on my 4 day trip. Through several rain storms I did stay mostly dry. On the last rain however there was some dampness on the floor under my mat. I believe that the seams need to be sealed and I’ll be applying a fresh spray on waterproofer before using again. I had, on the advise from another site, purchased a cheep tarp and cut it to the footprint of the tent to provide ground cover. This may have contributed to the leaking tent as my cutting skills were not very exact. I will definitely be picking up the purpose built groundcloth for this tent in the spring. Aside from weather protection the tent was very spacious and made getting my 6′ 2″ body dressed and undressed a non-event. Plenty of room for gear and with the added vestibules wet stuff stayed outside and the rest stayed inside. Pack size is good too, just 7″×25″ which fits perfectly into the HydraLight duffel. Overall I’m very happy with this tent.

Coleman TrueTemp Sleeping Bag:

I have a sleeping bag now that I’ve used for years when camping with my family. However, it is very bulky and took up an inordinate amount of space on the bike. I bought the Coleman at Target. It’s a 50 degree summer weight bag but since I generally camp in the spring through fall and tend to run pretty warm it works great. No frills here just a simple bag.

Review: Every sleeping bag that I’ve ever owned since I was a kid has made me sweat when I sleep. I finally realized that I don’t need a supper warm or even warm bag, I need a bag that will cover me when I’m in my tent and that packs small. I happened upon this bag when shopping at Target and it seemed to fit the bill and was inexpensive enough that if it didn’t work out I wouldn’t feel obligated to use it. Turns out that I made the right choice, and it may be the first time in my life where buying the inexpensive item turned out to be the right way to go. I do plan on purchasing a set of fleece pants and undershirt for cold weather riding that will be sufficient to augment the bag if the temperature does dip into the lower register. For now though this bag stuffs into my dry bag and has worked in both warm and moderately cool weather. I took it camping up in the finger lakes in NY in early September and it performed perfectly.

Aluminum Non-Stick Cookset:

My first moto-camping trip I tried to take plastic utensils and paper plates and bowls thinking that I didn’t want to have to clean up dishes. I neglected to realize how ineffective paper products are in the rain and how fragile plastic utensils are when eating steaks and potatoes. I also cannot cook on or with paper/plastic dinnerware. The Aluminum Cookset that I picked up was inexpensive and generally well reviewed so I thought I grab a set and test them out.

Review:This cookset is light and compact. It easily fit in with my gear and there was even space inside to store some salt/pepper shakers and a Hobo knife that I picked up from Duluth Trading Company inside the pots. The quality of the set leaves a little to be desired. The handles are riveted to the pots and upon opening my set I noticed that one of the handles mounting plates had been cracked during the attachment process. The handles are another issue. From the picture that the manufacturer provides it appears that the handles will fold out from the body of the pot and stay put by way of friction or some other means then fold back around the pot for storage. In reality the handles flop around loose and are hard to keep together when the pot is full of water. I’m still working on a way to keep them together when cooking so that the plastic at the end of the handles does not touch the hot pan and melt to it. on the plus side the set does work well and I like the addition of the frying pan with the set. If I can’t solve the issue with the handles though, this may become a play toy for my girls in their toy kitchen.

I’ve picked up a number of smaller items that are just generally good to bring along and have actually made my moto-camping trips a lot nicer. The Aquis Travel Towel and personal camp towel are great for showers, dishes and wiping down the bike. They are supper absorbent and quick drying (especially when strapped to the back of the bike for a little bit). Speaking of showering I highly recommend J.R. Liggett’s bar shampoo. So much easier than carrying a bottle of shampoo. I take various flashlights, deck of cards, fatwood, matches, etc. For the most part though I’ll just keep refining my list as I camp and continue to try and perfect my gear list. I’m sure there will be more reviews to come.

 
 

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Road Trip USA

April 22, 2010

The first thing that I’ve done to help prepare for the trip is buy a lot of books about taking a road trip. The best that I found and the one that I’ll use as my guidebook on this trip is Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen. He outlines several East – West and North – South routs to take across the US and I’ll be combining several of them to make my loop. So the next step is figuring out the mileage, cost and time for the trip. I’m hoping to take 6 weeks but I’m not sure I’ll be able to take that kind of time so I may need to edit the trip to 4 weeks. I’ll plan for both and see what makes more sense.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2010 in X-Country Road Trip

 

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