24 July 2011

Review - Sena SMH10 Bluetooth Intercom

We had been planning the rafting trip for a bit and as we knew we would be on some longer rides to get there and back, we also thought about how to communicate. So far, we have been doing this with hand signals, stopping and shouting (we both wear ear plugs whenever we ride) or just not communicating at all.

This got a little bit annoying as we like to ride together but then it is more as we are both on our own. Therefore, we were thinking about a communication system for a while now.

These were the options we thought about:
  • Cardo Scala G4 - sophisticated, fancy, seems to work pretty well and does about everything
  • Sena SMH10 - does not as much as the Cardo, but with a two button user interface it's dead simple to use and really easy even with big gloves
  • Schuberth C3 helmets with SRC systems integrated (basically a G4 build into the C3)
The Schuberth system was very appealing but also very expensive as it comes with a $700 helmet ... not an option right now. The Cardo would have been great but I really wanted the simple use of the Sena. 

So, just in time to get it for our weekend trip, I ordered a dual set of the Sena SMH10

Installing them on our Shoei Multitec helmets was done in about 15 minutes per helmet and setting them up was about one more minute.

And what can I say - they work like a charm! We had them setup for voice activation which means you swear a little bit in the helmet and a few seconds later a channel is open to talk to each other. Or you blow into the microphone, or yell "heeeeeeellooooo". It always takes a while to react and then it takes some time to initiate the Bluetooth connection. I don't know what the norm is there, it felt a bit slow sometimes, nevertheless I think it's normal that it takes a bit to open a Bluetooth channel.

The other option of activating the connection is to press the big jog dial just once and again, a few seconds later a channel is open. Easy. 

When activated by voice, the system takes a 20 second quiet time to go back to sleep, when activated with the button it stays open until one presses the button again. This worked really, really well. We left the communication open for most of the time last Sunday, which meant about  seven hours moving time. Batteries held up well, but we don't know how much longer they would have worked. For really long trips it might be better to use the voice activation and have them off and go a bit on your own. Just remember that a yell "CAREFUL! Dirty Road" needs a few seconds activation time ... so when on really tough roads, just keep the channel open.

The voice and communication quality was absolutely stunning. We could talk and understand each other incredibly well, while riding, at a gas station, stopped for photos and so on. Incredibly good communication quality. And they work over quite a distance as long as you have visual contact - as soon as large chunks of rock get in the way (like for example in the Sierras on Highway 49), you hear some static when loosing sight of each other. We never lost contact though, even when Andrea was two or three corners back. 

Usage was also incredibly simple - either activate by voice or press the big jog dial, channel comes up. Hold both buttons for a second, system turns on. Press both buttons for a short time, system turns off. The jog dial is also for volume adjustment and I have to say - this is how it should be. Great tactile feedback, easy to do even with the biggest winter gloves.

For example I have no idea how I am supposed to find and press the correct button on some other systems like the Schuberth SRC:

It'll work, but the big jog dial and the one button at the rear are just so much easier.

We have not tried the other features, like listening to music while riding or doing phone calls. I have absolutely no interest in either, therefore I really don't care. The main feature, talking to my riding partner while having helmets on, ear plugs in, and riding the bikes is working perfectly, that's all we need and want. It makes riding together an even more enjoyable experience and gives us more "time together" when on the bikes.

So, conclusion is a big thumbs up for Sena - this is how a communication system should work!

23 July 2011

Another Rafting Trip - And a Bike Tour

After we were rafting on the American River and having a really good time in Mai, we took the offer of another rafting trip shortly after. This time it was on the Merced River which wasn't as high last weekend (June 16th) as it had been two weeks before. Still it was a lot of fun in Class IV rapids and some calmer areas.

Again we were lucky, getting a really good guide with lots of experience who also did a lot of fun maneuvers like bumping against a rock, getting into a "hole" and just sitting there, skating over rocks and so on. In my opinion, this was our best rafting trip so far. It won't be our last one, though ...

But, back to the whole trip which started on Friday afternoon.

This time we travelled by bike - Friday afternoon / evening from Sunnyvale to Merced (click on the image for a larger version):

Sunnyvale to Merced

We decided to take the scenic route - over Mount Hamilton. It took quite a bit longer, but it was lots and lots of fun.

Joseph D. Grant County Park

A great bike for a great ride

We arrived in Merced around eight in the evening and were both happy to finally be in the Motel room. It was a day of work, then a 200km ride on partially very challenging and twisty roads. Mount Hamilton Road and from Mount Hamilton to Patterson is really, really curvy. The two GSs were awesome for this kind of terrain. Upright sitting position, great handling, light steering and very sure footed on the sometimes dirty and sandy road.

During the trip, Gina met a nice milestone:

4444 miles on Gina

Of course not all miles are added by Andrea - but we've been riding quite a bit in the last months.

After a not so good night due to lots and lots of noise, loud neighbors, a nearby train line, and other noise, we headed out for our rafting trip on Saturday morning. As we wanted to have a good breakfast and a not too long ride, we took the direct way to Midpines:

Morning Ride to Midpines

Unfortunately, we didn't get any photos from rafting this time.

Saturday evening we took the little bit longer, but definitely nicer way back to the Motel:

Evening Ride back to Merced

Back at the motel, we were pretty much done. About 170km on the motorcycles, a few hours rafting, it was a hot and long day. Went out to get some food but couldn't find anything in Merced that looked even halfway decent so we decided to get some snacks and a bottle of Corona at a "7 Eleven" and head back to the Motel. This night we definitely slept better ...

Sunday morning, after some planning, we had the route set: East to 49, North on 49, back west on 132, South to Patterson, Mt. Hamilton, Home. Long, but awesome.

Long Way Home

Awesome Views along the Way

Not Sitting on the Road this Time

Small bike? Nope ...

It definitely isn't small (and light) when you let it drop and have to get it back up and then fix some of the bent parts:

Taking the Valve Cover Guard off
What happened? We did a u-turn on the road and Andrea got stuck in a hollow, I stopped, put the bike on the side stand, ran 20m back, helped pulling Andrea's bike back, looked back to mine - and it was lying on its side. Damn. Should have thought about that down slope, right?

Overall damage assessment: a bent valve cover guard (which I'm taking off in the above photo), some scratches on windshield, handguards, cases, and that's about it. The big GS did well. Luckily.

Merced River - Further Downstream

Some more impressions from the trip:

Rural America ...

Sunflowers Everywhere

Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere

Don Pedro Lake

And of course, when we see donkeys we have to stop:

Scratching a Donkey's Ear

They like each other!

It was an awesome trip! Lots of fun, lots of beautiful roads to ride. Sunday was pretty long with about 370km but we made it. The way back over Mt. Hamilton was certainly tough and we were both happy when we were home!

Trip statistics: 750km (466 miles) of mostly fun backroads, roughly 18 hours travel time (including breaks) spread over three days, hundreds of curves, some really tight twisties, a day rafting on the Merced River, first drop of a motorcycle in 15 years (granted about 9 of them without riding at all), character added to the big GS, lots of seat time and practice for Andrea. Great fun!

05 July 2011

Micatech V-Pilot Panniers Installed

Last week I received one of the more important farkles for my GS. Panniers. After a lot of back and forth and thinking repeatedly (here, here, here, and here) about it, getting an aftermarket exhaust, I finally ordered and received a set of Micatech V-Pilot cases.

Installing them was not hard but it took quite some time. I took my time aligning everything properly, getting it all setup. To put it bluntly, the quality of all the bits and pieces is astounding. Every single part is high quality, well thought out and engineered and manufactured to perfection.

The case "racks" are basically just mounting rails that have "bullets" where the cases slide on, here is a photo of the rack installed on the bike:

Micatech Case Racks

The racks are very unobtrusive, barely visible when the cases are off. The cases are attached to the bullets with these parts:

"Bullet Holder"

Again, very high quality manufacturing. Three of these are attached to the back of each case. Two attach to the rails on the bike and one per case is for a cross bar in the back.

After installing the cases, the whole affair looks like this:

Rear view - click for larger image

Side Rear view - it's just 32.5 inches wide!

You can see how narrow they are.

Tiny, right? 37L per case. Lots of space.

On the bike, the cases look fairly small but when the bike sits in the garage with them, it's still quite something. Installed they are about 83cm (32.5 inches) wide. The GS handle bars are about 98cm (38.5 inches) wide, so the bars are 15cm wider than the cases which is awesome as I can be absolutely certain to not touch anything when I get through with the bars.

Still, the cases provide a lot of space. An overall volume of 74L in both cases, that makes it only 8L less than the GS Adventure panniers that are 99cm wide. I very much prefer the narrower profile. I can leave the cases on all the time  if I wanted to, but I probably won't.

We will give the luggage a thorough test in two weeks on a weekend trip to Yosemite. I'll report back then.

When installing the cases I also installed a GS Adventure rear luggage rack which I bought used not too long ago. Haven't installed my Givi topcase to it yet, but will do that long term. For around time riding I will install a Pelican on the pillion seat with the quick release for the seat itself. This will take tools and rain gear and some everyday items. I'll post more pictures once this is done.