28 October 2011

Spot Tracker or Personal Beacon?

In my opinion an "adventure trip" on a motorcycle means going to remote places, riding lonely roads, often unpaved, sometimes trails. Going to places like the Death Valley or Mojave back country. Riding in places where you might not see another person for hours.

Yes, this kind of riding can be dangerous. Small things that on a normal paved road with traffic wouldn't be a problem can become a major issue in the back of beyond. A flat tire or broken down bike 50 miles or more away from the next water supply in 40C heat, an injury from a fall on the tough terrain - you name it and you can probably imagine what I'm talking about.

So, what are the typical pre-cautions? Of course, proper riding gear, boots, gloves, helmets, sometimes even dirt riding gear like pressure suits or similar. Having a basic repair kit. Tools for fixing a tire. Water. A first aid kit.

But what happens if you really need help?

How do you notify somebody if you have no cell phone coverage and there is nobody around that might be able to ride out and alert someone?

The tools for this are basically two different flavors of GPS enabled devices:
  1. Tracking tools with two way communication like a SPOT tracker.
  2. A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which you only activate when you need help.
There are some major differences between the two:
  • SPOT is more active. It sends your position to a Satellite system on a regular basis so that you can lay out a "breadcrumb" trail other people can follow, e.g. on a website. There is nothing like this with PLBs.
  • The SPOT backchannel (sending messages to the system) is supported by a commercial entity while PLBs use SARSAT, the federal Search And Rescue system.
  • When you hit the "help" button on a SPOT device, your call is routed to a "call center"-type support group which will then alert local authorities and communicate your GPS to those. When you activate a PLB, federal and local authorities are notified directly without a man in the middle.
  • The SPOT system communicates your GPS position to the SPOT communication center. You can only hope that this is precise and actually works. A PLB sends your GPS position and turns on an analog "beacon" radio signal that can be used by search and rescue teams for finding your position.
  • PLB signal strength for sending the help signal is many times stronger than the SPOT signal. 
  • Even if your satellite signal is not making it, there is a chance that the analog radio emergency signal is caught by someone listening on the official emergency channel.
  • With SPOT you can send a "I'm okay" message. There isn't really something comparable with PLBs. With those "no news are good news".
  • SPOT has been known to work only in 98% of the cases at best. Many people had trouble with the actual devices, hardware and software glitches were very common for the first as well as the second generation.
  • There is no yearly fee for a PLB, SPOT service costs around $100 / year.
Now, you can probably already see where this is heading. 

To make it short: if you want to signal "I'm okay", have someone follow your "trail" actively and maybe have a chance of calling for help when you're in trouble, SPOT is what you want.

Personally, I'll rather go the route of not sending my position all the time, having the nice tracking website that tells people that the house is empty and they can break in, but instead I want to have a device I can really rely on when I'm in trouble. Something I will only turn on when I need help. But then, when I need help - I want to be as certain as possible that someone actually receives that call. 

Therefore, a Personal Locator Beacon is the tool for me. This is what I'll get for the adventures to come (motorcycle trips to California deserts and other trails, a planned hiking trip through the Grand Canyon, Andrea's climbing tours, etc):

ACR ResQLink

It's an ACR ResQLink Personal Beacon. When activated it locks on the GPS satellite system to get the current position, communicates this position to SARSAT, meaning to special authorities that actually know something about Search And Rescue, and then continues to send an analog signal that can be used for locating the device. It also has a bright LED strobe light at the front, adding a visual effect to the mix.

This is probably the only gear that I hope I will never ever use. But if I need to - I'll be glad to have it and I want the best chances that it actually works.

26 October 2011

Sneaky Peek ...

For a trip I plan to make in November, here are some parts I have received something today that'll give you an impression of the planned ride:

Dunlop D606 Rear Tire

It's a set of Dunlop D606 tires. I'll mount them on 21" front and 18" rear rims I have already received. These are for my WR250X of course.

Items I have ordered to convert the "X" into a little Adventure Tourer:
  • 21" front rim, 18" rear rim
  • 44T rear sprocket
  • All necessary bits and pieces to mount the tires myself to the rims and the wheels then to the bike
  • Wolfman side racks
  • Wolfman Expedition Dry Bags
  • OEM Spark Arrestor
  • R-Model side stand as the X side stand is too short for the bike when I remove the lowering links and install the much taller tires

A few missing pieces where I have to decide on the exact item to order:
  • Larger gas tank, likely a Safari 3.7 gallon tank (original is 1.9 gallon which is a bad joke) (Link to a blue one installed on a WR250R - I'd get it in white)
  • Hand guards, likely Barkbuster Storm as they have good weather protection and are reasonably priced
  • A skid plate - for this bike it makes actually sense, though I might not do it for this years trip, yet to decide on this

08 October 2011

Fun Bike - Yamaha WR250X

Two weeks ago, I bought another motorcycle. Yes, I really did and I know it's crazy. It falls under MBS (Multiple Bikes Syndrom), a condition some people have that does not allow them to own just a single motorcycle.

Ah, enough about me, what about the bike? A photo first:

My new to me Yamaha WR250X

I was looking for a bike for dirt riding for quite a while. Didn't admit it early, but I really wanted one. But, I wanted one that is also street legal and a nice ride on back roads. Something versatile and fun, still capable to ride dirt roads, single tracks, trails, fire service roads and so on. It was all about the things I couldn't or wouldn't want to do with my BMW. So, it had to be light weight, not too expensive (when dropped), dirt oriented. 

One of the bikes that came to mind was the Suzuki DR200SE Andrea had earlier. But it has two really big downsides: First, a carburetor which clogs up with the crappy ethanol contaminated gas we have here in California if you let the bike sit for a few weeks - which might happen. Second, it was a bit short on power with it's 20HP (at crank and on paper, big thumb calculation and seat-of-pants feeling says around 15HP at the rear wheel at max on good days). It was sometimes a bit scary on a highway as it would go over 60 mph but it certainly took it's time and it really didn't like it there all too much. All the same is true for the Yamaha XT250 or XT225.

Next a Kawasaki KLX250S came to mind. This also has a carburetor but it scores around 20 to 21 usable rear wheel HP, at least 25% more - getting close. Carburetor still was an issue for me. 

I never considered the Suzuki DRZ400 as I wanted a smoother motorcycle, not a vibrator ... and I also never considered the 650cc class - these are too heavy for what I was looking for and the available models from the Japanese companies in the US are also technically very outdated, you could say "dinosaur like" outdated.

My criteria were:
  • around 130kg wet weight
  • around 30HP (crank, hopefully around 25 to 30 rear wheel)
  • fuel injection
  • not too bad with regard to vibrations
  • high quality suspension
  • good after market support
I immediately discounted all things KTM, Husqvarna, and whatnot as too esoteric.

Given all this, there was actually only a single bike on the market that might do it for me - the  Yamaha WR250R (or X with a second set of wheels). Now, here we are getting close. I would have loved this bike in a 350cc or 400cc package but that's not available and so I was absolutely willing to get a 250. 

The street legal Yamaha WR250 comes in two versions: a supermoto style WR250X with street wheels and tires, slightly tighter suspension setup, stronger front brake, and the dirt style WR250R. I was mostly looking for the R model but as the components are pretty much interchangeable I also included the X in my search. And lucky that I did as there were much more X models available. My most hated dealership around the corner here, the Honda dealer in Sunnyvale, had a 2009 WR250X in black, 5000 miles, $5000. But true to their normal style that was about $800 over Kelly Blue Book dealer retail price for a 2009 model with half the miles and better condition and I told them this. They wouldn't move so I told them to stick ... ah, lets not get into details. But all the better, I wouldn't have wanted to buy from these guys anyways - they always try to rip you off, and proved this all over again.

Kept an eye on Craigslist and suddenly, there it was: a white 2010 WR250X (yeah, not an R, but, so what), 790 miles, lowered with Yamalinks but original links included, stock plus a low seat, Renthal handlebar and softer grips, axle sliders front and rear, Graves free flow exhaust tip (Damn - is there someone out there who wants to sell me their OEM spark arrestor / exhaust tip?) custom decals. All together for less than the older model at the dealer that had 4000 miles more ... 

Only downside: it was sold in Los Angeles. Hmmm, did I say downside? What's better then buying a bike and immediately going on a road trip? Even if it is a short one! So, talked to the seller, agreed on price and what was included, booked a flight to L.A., picked the bike up and rode it home via the beautiful California coast (Highway 1). 

Somewhere along Highway 1 - Big Sur or so

Gave it a first service to make sure everything is nice and in order and now it sits here in the garage happily next to the two GSs. Ha! 

Custom Decals

It really is a surprisingly capable bike. Today I put it through its paces - Black Road, Skyline Blvd, Alice's Restaurant for breakfast, down on Page Mill Road and back home. Chased a Honda 900RR something or other (looked like a very nicely stripped CBR900RR with super bike bars, Ducati hand guards with bar end mirrors, and so on) down Page Mill Road and didn't have all too much trouble keeping up. He wasn't a bad rider or a beginner or so, he rode very technical, shifting his weight for corners properly, but he couldn't use the abundance of four times the power compared to my little one. 

What can I say? The WR250X is an insanely fun bike to ride. Surprisingly powerful and quick, light steering, good suspension (though it got wobbly in some spots on Page Mill, might have some setup to do), good road tires. The tires are now scrubbed in all the way around - not like they were when I picked it up: a one inch strip that was never used and still slippery.

Oh, and one of the best things: so far I'm averaging 3.7L/100km (64mpg). With a best of 3.3L/100km (70mpg) and never really bad. And that was all while not taking it slow.

There are a few things I want to do with the bike though:
  1. Get a set of dirt wheels / tires. 21" front, 18" rear. Something not too knobby, but a 60:40 setup like the Heidenau K60 or Metzeler Enduro 3. Maybe even a Dunlop D606 
  2. Get a rack for soft luggage (very likely Wolfman). 
  3. Get a rear top rack (have one sitting here now, need to install it).
  4. Install some strong hand guards and possibly heated grips.
  5. Maybe make the seat more comfortable. Not sure how yet.
  6. Install a larger fuel tank. What did they think installing a 7.4L (1.9 gallon) tank on that thing? That's ridiculous! 125 to 140 miles range is all.
  7. Install a holder for my GPS.
  8. Get either a Spot Tracker or a Personal Beacon.
Then I plan on some excursions into California's back roads and deserts. We'll see whether I can find some time for it.

05 October 2011

In Memory of Steve

Steve Jobs – 1955 - 2011
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. - Apple Inc.