26 January 2012

Get out ...

Saw this on advrider.com and just have to share:


CHANCE ENCOUNTER from Josh Manning on Vimeo.

It reminds me of myself. Lots and lots of work, but I sooooo enjoy being on the bike, just having a great day somewhere in the area. Love the movie!

15 January 2012

Gear - What Worked and What Didn't

After my trip over Thanksgiving in 2011 I have a few updates on the things I bought for myself and the bike and what I think of them. This shouldn't be seen as a review of any kind, just my opinion on some things.

1. Hydration

From last years experience and from some other rides I did in the past, I knew I had to do something against the de-hydration problem I sometimes faced. I'm not someone who stops often for photos or for smoking (I don't smoke) and normally I see to it that my bikes have a decent fuel range. Which means, that I don't stop often enough to drink, too.

So, this time I thought I could do better by getting this:

CamelBak M.U.L.E

And guess what? It worked! It's one of the best additions I have ever made to my motorcycle gear. I will not go on longer trips without some kind of hydration system anymore and the CamelBak is one of the easiest overall and works fantastic!

Get one, you will see what I mean on your next long trip!

Summary: Works excellent!

2. Staying Warm

As my WR doesn't have heated grips and I know California weather (on my trip to Cal City I had everything from 0ºC to 24ºC - btw: If you read this on Windows, can you leave a comment on how it displays the degree symbol?) and I was not going to nearly freeze my fingers off again as I did the year before. I also planned on not getting as cold overall - and that without a fairing and basically the same clothes.

So, what did I add? First and foremost, proper gloves:

BMW Winter Gloves

These are BMW winter riding gloves and they are seriously warm! They are very comfortable but in order to keep a little warm air around your fingers you have to buy them fairly big and loose and you loose quite a bit of feel on the controls. Not a big as I didn't plan on any technical riding with them, just be aware. I was very happy that I had these and would not leave on a trip without them anymore if there is any chance of getting into some colder weather.

Summary: They work! [Side note: Next time I'll try heated gloves ...]

The other problem I had last year was that my riding gear is not really warm. The BMW Rallye II Jacket I have is not really windproof without the liner and even with the liner it seems the wind goes really through and through. Definitely not recommended for cold weather without other additions. I tried the inner liner last time, didn't work, this time I tried something different - an Aprilia rain jacket for $16 that I got when I bought the gloves mentioned above (Btw: I have to give some credit to the awesome folks at San Jose BMW here. They make great deals, are excellent to deal with and always have good ideas how to solve specific problems.)

Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of the rain jacket handy, will post one when I have it. Just think about a very thin rain jacket that fits in a bag the size of a 0.6L Sigg bottle. It could pack even smaller, but it has one more goodie: the front has chaps sewn in that are in a hidden pouch in the front, so if you only brought this thing and it starts raining, you can protect the front of your legs, too. Doesn't work too well at speed though as it starts flapping in the wind pretty badly. But together with my rain pants, this kept me fairly warm, though still not warm enough in weather around 5ºC at night riding at 65mph. Have to look into other things for the next November trip.

Summary for the rain jacket: it worked. Really good bang for the buck.

For boots and pants I'm still using the stuff I had used before. It works.

Fuel Range

I installed a Safari gas tank and have to say that it works just as advertised. It was easy to install and looks decent:

WR250X with Dirt Wheels and Safari Tank

The tank gave me a fuel range between 180 and 220 miles on my trip, depending on how hard I pushed the WR. I have seen up to 70mpg on backroad riding trips here, so the 3.7 gallon tank could be squeezed to about 250 miles or so. I would not buy it again but just extend the range by taking a Rotopax 1 gallon pack with me. Not as easy, but good enough for what I need I think. I definitely prefer bikes with at least 200 miles (320km) range though. My GS has this and I know that this is a range I can generally live with.

Summary: Works excellent, but is kind of pricy. Might not be as necessary as one might think.

Dirt Tires

I got the Dunlop D606 and have to say, they work in the dirt. But the front is absolutely terrible on the street. The traction in corners is scary, and braking is something you better avoid ... just don't get into a situation where you have to slam on the brakes, the knobbies plain won't hold you.

Summary: Worked excellent in the dirt, front not so much on the road, rear is probably fine

Luggage

I thought long and hard about what I wanted from luggage and how to achieve this. I ended up buying Wolfman racks and their Expedition series side bags.

On a dirt bike, I definitely wanted soft luggage and I also wanted something I can put on and take off easily. I should have gotten something else. The bags are okay sized for what they are (dirt bike luggage), the racks are nicely done and very solid, but the mounting is just really, really bad. It's fickly like nothing I have used before. There are about a gazillion straps you have first loosen, then get all in the right position and then tighten them up again.

The end result is actually fairly nice, but I don't like using them. It took me about 20 minutes each morning to get the already packed bags on the bike. That's about 15 minutes too long.

Wolfman Expedition Luggage

I bet they are watertight though and will work if you can put up with all the strapping and pulling  and hassling, and so on. Just not for me. Next time I'll try either just my two Ortlieb bags (had one with me this time) or test out the Giant Loop Great Basin bag. Just throw it over, pull three straps, done. At least in theory. But as this is about seven (yes, 7) straps less than the Wolfman gear, I'm willing to give it a try.

Wolfman Summary: Didn't work for me. Will sell with the bike.

The Pelican case I mounted on the back was damn handy. I put a small padlock on and put everything that I wanted to be halfway safe in there. This worked out great, but it had one major downside: it pushed the pack roll I had for the camping gear too far forward and therefore I didn't have enough room to move anymore.

Next time I go on a trip with a setup like this (if ever), I'll take the case off and move the bag further back, have one easily detachable bag that I can carry into a restaurant with my valuables.

It works awesome on local rides though.

Pelican Summary: Great idea, unfortunately big downside on a bike that small

Protection

Only item I really used where the Zeta handguards and they were excellent. Protected the levers in my get-off very well. I bet I would have broken the clutch lever and then I would have been in some trouble in the middle of nowhere. Something I'd do to any bike that will see unpaved roads is adding metal backed hand protectors.

Summary: Excellent stuff, get some if you might drop your bike.

Camping

As a sleeping pad I used my trusty Therm-A-Rest mattress - I have an older one that packs quite large and is still only 3.5cm thick (roughly 1.5"). It's a bit thin, but when inflated properly just comfy enough to be okay for me.

If I have to replace it one day, I'll probably go the comfort route and get something like an Exped Downmat 7 or so. I'm getting older and like my creature comforts. And camping is fun overall as long as you sleep well.

Shortly before my trip I also got a new sleeping bag as my 15 year old one was wearing kind of thin and would definitely not be warm enough for desert nights (temperature just around freezing). I got a Marmot Helium down bag and believe it or not - it was exactly the right thing. I could use it in the motels opened all the way as a comforter and in the tent, completely crawl in and it was nice and toasty warm. Only bad thing: you have to get out of it for ... oh, wait, yeah, no restrooms either. You get the point though, I guess ...

For the tent I used our MSR Hubba Hubba and despite the ridiculous name it worked as expected. It's not the best tent for colder weather as the ventilation is just a little bit too good, but I knew that beforehand and can't complain. It worked, was very small and light (~ 2kg packed) and performed flawlessly. I wouldn't want to use it in strong wind though as it doesn't have enough tie down points (at least our older version doesn't) and guy lines. It's a nice weather tent and for that it's perfect.

MSR Hubba Hubba Tent

For some trail side cooking I used my good old MSR Dragonfly, a good gasoline based stove and I'm very happy with it. If I had to buy a new one, I'd get the XGK instead, but that's only for easier and more robust packing.

MSR Dragonfly Stove


Summary Camping Gear: Worked great.


There is definitely more and once I can think of it, I'll put it in more postings ...

14 January 2012

WR250X – Trip to Southern California

I know I have not posted enough in the last two months. Not nearly enough. It was a rough time with lots and lots of work.

Fortunately I also did have some time off and there are a few things to write about.

You might have seen my earlier posts about me preparing the WR for a longer trip. Making it dirt and travel worthy.

Here is the final result:

WR250X in Dirt Travel Outfit
The picture shows what I added to the bike:

  • Dirt wheels and tires
  • Skidplate
  • Handguards
  • 3.7 gallon Safari tank
  • Wolfman racks and bags
  • Pelican rear case
There were some small things here and there but that's about it. The bike was ready to go to the California deserts. Unfortunately, the bike was but I wasn't - but that will come later.

My plan was to leave on the weekend before Thanksgiving (Nov 19th) or so and head South. I wanted to go over Highway 1 along the coast and take some backroads here and there. So far the plan only worked out that I took Highway 1, but I was four days late, started on Tuesday, the 22nd.

Here are some impressions from along the trip, I didn't take many photos though, it was just too cumbersome to get off the bike, fish out the camera and take photos - I'm more a riding not a picture taking guy:

Coast Ridge Trail

Also Coast Ridge Trail

It took much longer than I thought over the partly fairly bumpy trail. It was mostly hard packed dirt, but in places it was wet, muddy, slippery, and sometimes very steep - which doesn't go so well with wet rocks. 

Overall it wasn't a hard to ride trail though. I could have taken the GS there if it didn't have pure road tires on. And I could have taken a lighter bike with pure road tires there, too. Nevertheless, the 30 or 40 miles of dirt trail took me forever and it got dark on the way back down to Highway 1:

Los Burros Road - on the way down to Highway 1

I saw a fantastic sunset, likely on one of the nicest spots to actually see it. Overall it was a good start into the trip. The dirt riding there was fun and fairly easy on this incredibly easy to ride and capable bike.

Further down the road I met some people and they took a photo of me on the bike so that you can see it's not all faked ... 

Los Burros Road at Sunset

I arrived at Highway 1 about 30 minutes later, it was fully dark and got really cold fast. That's the fun in California winter. You have sunshine over the day, 20º C, sun sets, temp drops to below 10º C within what feels like 20 minutes or so. So, I got into my rain jacket to fend of the wind and continued on, planning to find a motel along the route.

Found one in San Simeon, after I rode about another 30 miles in the dark and cold. Was pretty cold when I arrived in the motel, so first thing was a hot shower, second was a pizza ... I was hungry ...

The next I set off towards East. The plan was to get to California City that day. Didn't make it though. I was slow with the bike, nice and slow though. Back country roads, curvy, twisty, cold weather in the morning - it all slowed me down more than I thought. 

But one thing I didn't consider first as a major slowdown were the tires. The Dunlop D606 are absolutely terrible on the road. They are rough and the grip on the front is scary bad. One time I hit the brakes and virtually nothing happened. Of course I slowed down, but compared to the street tires I was running before, this was scary. It feels like stopping distance from 60 to 0 doubled when installing this front tire. Absolutely horrible.

Another mistake I made was setting the GPS to avoid highways. But the thing doesn't differentiate between a nice and curvy highway through the mountains and a 8 lane city highway in LA. So, as I also had it set to not necessarily avoid unpaved roads I got stuck in Farmland somewhere between Barstow and Bakersfield. I got stuck in about 20cm deep clay like mud, dropped the bike a few times, couldn't get going at all for a longer distance, I was either too slower to build momentum to stabilize or too fast and it got into tank slappers. Man this was serious shit.

I fought my way through for about 5 miles (and 2 hours or so) and then gave up and took the next chance to get back on normal roads. Should have taken photos but I was too exhausted, too frustrated and too pissed off. So all I did was find a pressure washer to get the mud off me and the bike. What a shitty experience. I hate mud.

After all this I got only to Bakersfield that day. Was dead tired, hurting in many places, pulled something in my back in that mud adventure and was clearly unhappy with the tires on road travel. 

Next morning I continued on towards Cal City and arrived about 1pm here:

Camp near Cal City

This is basically desert with absolutely nothing there but places where people set up their RVs and go desert riding on dirt bikes.

My home for the night was less fancy though:

The yellow tent is mine

We did some riding around in the desert that afternoon and now I was glad for the Dunlop tires. They performed pretty well. 

As this was Thanksgiving Day, the day was fairly short and I got an invitation for dinner from Bob and his family - btw.: thanks for everything, Bob! It was great. 

During the next day there was some exploring of the single trails around the camp and again, it went pretty well. Riding was fine and I might have gotten a bit too adventurous. In the afternoon I was following Bob over a fairly bumpy single trail, jumped a few times and then it happened. I came over a larger bump, had to head left right after which I did only see after I came in jumping - and there it was, I missed the trail, got into really deep sand, tank slapper started and I went down hard.

I took out one of the mirrors with my rib cage, got bruises all over my body, the bike partly fell on top of me. I dug out from under it, pulled it out of the sage brush there and checked for damage on the bike. Wasn't all too much fortunately. A few scratches here and there, nothing serious. Both mirrors were broken though. 

What about me you might now ask? Yeah, first adrenalin rush drowned most of the pain I had but this subsided now and the pain started. Busted rib, huge (!!) bruise on the right calf where the bike dropped on top of me, other bruises everywhere, sore jaw as I hit the ground with a real "face-plant". My helmet and especially the visor were scratched badly, my jaw was hurting, but the worst really were the ribs.

Bob came back (he was in front of me) and helped me settle things, then we slowly headed back to the camp. I was done. The ribs were bad, but not bad enough to warrant a visit to a hospital, the bruise at my calf grew to about half egg size sticking out of my leg ... bummer. 

So, the rest of the day, I stayed in the camp, horrified by the idea of a night in the cold on the hard Thermarest mattress, but so what? I wanted it, I got it.

Decided that night that I'll head back home Saturday morning - I had to, as my body got more and more stiff and hurting, so I saddled up, got on the bike and rode it home. Yes, I rode roughly 370 miles with a 250cc bike, on a seat as comfortable as a 4x2 piece of wood, with a busted rib and bruises all over the place. I couldn't stop halfway as I knew I would have no chance of finishing the ride the next day. So, home I went. Arrived around 7pm in Sunnyvale, got the bike in the garage, water in the tub, a long bath, and to bed. Again, I was done.

I couldn't ride or exercise for about a month, my ribs were hurting too badly, and by then I had made up my mind: this isn't my style for touring for now. I loved it while it lasted, but I wouldn't want to do it again for the time being. 

There are several reasons for that:
  • I plain can't risk my health and, with that, my ability to do my job so lightly.
  • After a long day in the saddle, I really, really like a motel room.
  • I rather like to see places and "travel" - not do the off-road challenge I did in the desert. 
  • My dirt riding skills are very poor and to improve them I'd have to take risks again.
So, all be damned (sorry the words here), I decided, I will not do something like this again. In addition to that, there was also one more thing to consider: Longterm I needed a car. We can do most of our stuff just having one car, but even then it is often very inconvenient. Taking the bike to the gym is something I really don't like as I take a shower in the gym afterwards and then getting on the bike right after a hot shower has given me a sore neck a few times already.

So we went out and bought a car (different post to follow) - and Andrea suggested that our vehicle park is getting a bit out of control, and I kind of agree. Therefore, the WR went up for sale again. It was fun while it lasted.

I have a buyer now, he will pick it up after I have fixed a few scratches (likely next week) and I hope he'll have more luck with it.

Here's the setup I really loved the WR for:

WR250X in street outfit

And because I really like it that way, the conclusion was fairly simple: I'm not a dirt rider. I'm okay on some dirt roads. I find my way even in some nastier stuff. But I enjoy riding on paved roads much more.

So, goal for this year is to get more realistic about expectations I have for bikes and my own riding style and the time I can spend riding. 99% is paved roads. I have a hard time riding a single bike enough, therefore, if I get the itch for a new bike, I'll replace the primary. Or so ... you'll never know but at least that sounds more realistic than me doing single track dirt riding in the middle of nowhere again.