Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Different Trips, Different Planning

Packing light for solo trip to Mexico with the BMW.

Right now I'm in the middle of preparing for our trip to B.C., and I am comparing it in my mind to some previous trips I have prepared for.  One example is a trip I made solo with the BMW K1100LT.  A few years ago I went to Mexico with the BMW, and I didn't do the same type of preparation.  For the Mexico trip, it was going to be my first time in a country where I didn't understand the language, so I bought some Spanish language tapes and played them beside my bed while I slept.  When I woke up I still couldn't speak Spanish.  So then I tried various other ways to learn to speak Spanish, none of which worked. I finally decided to only learn the words I absolutely needed,  (i.e about six words) and use sign language for the rest.

When I prepared the BMW for the Mexico trip, it was in quite good shape already and only needed a new rear tire, which I got in early January.  Then I simply waited, watching the weather on TV every day until I saw a break where it was not too cold, and I could get a good two day run to Kentucky.  That didn't happen until nearly the end of February.  As soon as the weather looked good, I quickly put my bags and overnight stuff in the lockable saddlebags, strapped my camping equipment to the back seat, put on my cold weather riding gear and hit the road. My plan was simply to take the freeways all the way to California, then cross at Mexicali.  I didn't bother looking up any stops along the way, because I was on my own, and my only interest was getting across the USA without ending up in a hospital without medical insurance.

When planning a solo trip, you are free to make your plans without conflicting with somebody else's plans. On this trip, because I'm going with Mary Ann, part of my preparation is to find things to do along the way.  It takes a lot of research to plan stops and activities for six weeks on the road. Before I went to Mexico, it took me three minutes to write down the Interstate route numbers from Detroit to Calexico, California. But Mary Ann is adamant that she will not just zip from one side of the continent to the other in four days without seeing anything.  So that's why I find myself Googling restaurants in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, instead of just stopping at a convenient MacDonald's on the Trans Canada highway.  By the way, if you're ever in Kamsack, check out the Woodlander Inn, on Corner of Third Ave. and Railway St.  And in these days of the Internet, be aware that there is a youtube video that includes a tour through the toilets serving the beverage room.  Please watch at least the first minute of the youtube video, (It's the second link) after seeing it, you'll swear you have actually been to Kamsack.

On this trip, I need to carry more camping equipment - mainly another mattress and sleeping bag.  So I went out to find a comfortable sleeping bag and mattress that also packed into the smallest possible size, thinking that this would save some bulk even if it cost more money.  I already own lots of bulky camping stuff, but I don't have enough space to carry the big stuff on the bike.  However, Mary Ann got the idea that to keep our down filled sleeping bags clean, we should bring along inner bags made of sewed-up old sheets to line them.  It appears the inner sheet is actually bigger, when packed up, than the down sleeping bag that I spent all that money on.  So one step forward and two steps back. Anyway, we finally came to a compromise that does not involve an inner liner made of a bedsheet.

Because we are going in the summer, I'm not too concerned about cold weather.  No electric vests needed. But I instinctively feel that we will be more exposed to rain.  I always get rained on when I travel with other people.  (OK almost always) Why is that?  Because I'm not free to change my plans without notice. Because I have to coordinate with someone else when to go, where to go, and what route to follow.  When I'm on my own, I can drive miles out of my way to avoid a rain system.  On my own, I often end up in desert areas. I love deserts when riding a motorcycle. That's because I also love staying dry.  Anyway, with a six week trip, and two people riding together, and one preset destination in BC, we have to be ready for rain.

Picture: Only had two bags bungied on, tent and one sleeping bag/mattress.  And never camped once on the whole trip.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Shopping Spree at M. E. C.

Disclaimer: This blog may appear to be an advertisement for Mountain Equipment Coop, but I have no connection to the store.  And if you read carefully, you will see that I have not tested this stuff on a real motorcycle trip yet.

A few years ago, some friends of ours took us to the MEC store in Toronto.  It had a remarkable variety of camping and outdoors gear, and we went on a shopping spree.  I don't remember much of the other stuff, but I do remember buying an MEC Wanderer 2 tent.  It was the first expensive tent I ever bought, and what I like about it is that it stands up to wind and rain very well, and has a fly that completely covers the tent and the ground outside the front and back doors.  It's just a two person tent, but I think it really is big enough for two of us, (yes, I have tested it many times) and easy enough for one person to put up and take down.

But enough about the tent I bought years ago.  I will be bringing it on the trip to BC this summer, but we need a more comfortable sleeping mat and sleeping bag that will be really small when packed up.  I was having trouble locating this pair of items until I stumbled across the MEC website, and better yet, noticed they now have a store in London, Ontario.  I would much prefer to go there than to fight my way in to downtown Toronto.  Today we drove down to take a look.

I think we found exactly what we were looking for and more, although I will be the first to admit that these items need some real field testing before I can give a recommendation.  But on price, and immediate appearance, and in-store tryouts, I was very impressed.

First item was the sleeping mat.  There is a type of mat that is very similar to the first air mattresses I used until the mid 1980's.  They are updated by having some insulating materials inside the mat, and having a screw-to-close valve similar to the Thermarest type.  They also have much thinner material than the rubber/fabric air mattresses of old, so they roll up very small when deflated.  When inflated, they are only about 2.5 to 3 inches thick, so they don't really take a lot of air to blow up.  They are definitely not self inflating, though.  When I unrolled mine at home, after an hour it was still lying there seemingly empty.  Finally, I took about 5 minutes to blow it up with my mouth. It also says on the tag "Not self inflating", so I don't know how I ever got the idea it might be partially self inflating. This pad, which is a "Big Agnes", has no pump, either built in or external.  It was about $130, which is very expensive for an inflatable mattress, but it seems very comfortable, so may be worth it.  I gave up on the old (and uncomfortable in my opinion) air mattresses years ago when Thermarests first appeared, and have not gone back since.

Incidentally, the last sleeping mat I bought at Canadian Tire a week ago, had a slow leak which I fixed myself with some JB Weld glue applied to the leaky spot area while the bag was trying to suck in air.  It seems completely fixed now, I slept on the mat three nights in a row, and actually had to let air OUT twice because it is more comfortable with less air than it wants to suck in naturally.  (It's a foam filled self inflating pad, and yes it likes to suck air.  One of only two things on Earth that when you say "this sucks" it's a good thing.  The other being a vacuum cleaner, naturally)

Next item was a sleeping bag.  I was looking for a down filled bag with a barrel shape, which is not as confining as the mummy shape that I have seen up till now.  My own sleeping bag is a North Face down filled mummy bag, it's very warm and packs really small, but it was over $300, and most of the time I just throw it over myself like a blanket because it's too hot and I can hardly move when it's zipped up.  At MEC today, we found a down filled barrel shaped bag that will be long enough for either one of us to use, and was under $100 on special.  I guess it was a model that was being phased out or something.  So it was inexpensive, it feels thick and soft and warm, it packs really small (especially with an extra cost, four-strap compressing bag - also bought at MEC.)  So it was exactly what I wanted - sometime soon I will find out how it works overnight in a tent.

Then we came across two lucky finds, that I did not notice on the Internet, because I needed to see them in the store to know that they were perfect for motorcycling.  Ever since I have been doing long motorcycle tours, I have wanted something to put over my gloves and boots to keep them dry.  In the rain, I have rain pants, rain jacket, and a full face helmet. They can keep most of me dry, but on a "normal" bike like my Vulcan 900, my feet and hands still get wet and cold.  So MEC had the perfect things.  A pair of waterproof nylon overmitts (to go over the gloves), and waterproof nylon overboots - that do up with velcro at the sides and back-  These overboots have a toe pocket, and other than the toe pocket, the rest of the sole of the boot is exposed.  These things were designed for bicycle touring, where you may have your feet cleated to the pedals.  Anyway, both are exactly what I have been looking for for decades - I have tried many alternatives that all failed for one reason or another.  And finally, Although I know they pack really small, I still need to field test these things for water proofing.  It almost makes me want to go riding in the rain to do that.

Picture: The MEC cycling shoe covers - note that the picture is taken with the covers wrapped over a heavy soled boot (not included).  Also, the tops are a bit small for some of the larger motorcycle boot tops.  Mary Ann and I both needed XXL because they seem to be designed for bicycle shoes.  And actually they only had one pair of XXL in stock, if they don't get more soon, I suppose we can at least order a pair online.  With the mitts, a medium fits everything from my heaviest winter gloves to my summer gloves, so I got a pair of medium.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How to Plan a Trip With Google Maps

"Practice Run" map zoomed in on Honey Harbour

Every trip needs some sort of plan, ranging from a vague direction with no restrictions, to deadlines with prebooked hotels.  I fall somewhere in the middle, I think.  My general rule for motorcycle trips is I do not like to prebook anything.  That leaves me free to stop where I feel like at any time, or to move on at any time.  Other than that rule, I do like to plan a trip.  My planning consists of reading maps of where I want to go, and finding places I would like to stop.  Specifically, when motorcycling, I need to find places to sleep, and places to eat, and some interesting things to see or do.

My kind of planning does not seem that complicated, but the more you do it, the more you realize how much work it takes.  This year I have started to use Google Maps, and for the first time I will be taking a computer that I can connect to the Internet.

I will try to run through an example of how I use Google Maps to plan a trip.  I have been using the feature of setting up a "map".  When you set up a map, you can name the map and add to it all the locations you choose.  I have set up a map called "Practice Run"

The places on this map meet a complex set of criteria that Google could never do alone, so it took me hours to weed through many possibilities and create the map of campgrounds and cafes or restaurants.

When we camp by motorcycle, we don't bring cooking stuff, and we don't bring comfortable chairs.  So when I get up in the morning, and I am not in any rush to get to Vancouver, I just want to go to a nearby cafe, preferably with a view of the lake, and just sit there looking at boats and other scenery. So I chose most of these camping spots because they had waterside cafes nearby.  Everybody has their own preferences, so I don't expect to find a map like this already set up on the Internet for me.

I was looking for campgrounds that have tent sites, that are near cafes and near the Georgian Bay or Lake Huron.  To create this map, I would first search for a town on the lake, say "Owen Sound".  Then click on "search nearby".  A search box opens, and I would type in "camping", and click search. A whole bunch of pins pop up related to camping near Owen Sound.  I click on the ones I think are promising (near the water or whatever).  A new page pops up giving any information Google Maps has about the place, which is usually not much. Then I do a bit of independent research, usually using Google, on that location. Sometimes I use Google streetview if it's available.  If the place looks OK, I will come back to the campground page and click on "save to map".  Then I select my existing map "Practice Run", or "new map" if I want to start another one), and click "save".  Next I click on "search nearby" (this meaning nearby the campsite I have selected)  and enter "cafe" to help me pick some likely cafes.  After I make sure they are the type I like, I click again on "save to map".

When I have accumulated many possible places to go, I can edit my map.  This allows me to change the map name, the location names, to add notes to the map and to the locations, and to even change the shape of the push-pins.  So I chose  coffee cup for cafes and a tent icon for tent camping.  By editing the map I can also delete some places that I am no longer interested in.

None of this planning is perfect, but it helps me to see where everything is. If I had more time, I could refine the map further adding more criteria like "free WIFI" for example.  Next step would be to load up the motorcycles and just go somewhere on this map, for a "practice run".

Thursday, February 23, 2012

To Maintain the Vulcan Motorcycle

The Vulcan 900 needs a valve adjustment before we go out west on an estimated 10,000 km trip.  I was struggling with the idea of taking it in to the shop to have it done.  "Do-it-yourself" or DIY used to be almost a religion with me, but I find myself falling away from the true path of righteousness.  I considered the advantages of doing it myself before actually taking it to the shop.  I enjoy adjusting valves if the task is reasonably well thought out.

I would like to replace the fuel level sensor at the same time, because it has not worked since last year.  I suppose I could get the mechanic to do that, but I want to make a little change before it goes in - I want to bend the float arm to calibrate the fuel gauge to read "E" for "Empty" and not "E" for "Eight litres of gas left" or "Early gas stop might be nice".

I ordered a new sensor and gasket from Two Wheel Motorsport (The dealer I bought the bike from).  It's about $80, and another $14 for the gasket.  I gave my credit card number over the phone because they need a $50 deposit, as it's not in stock.  If I had ordered it myself, from it would have been $62.66 and $13.82.  That's a real website by the way.  But I like to support my local dealer, and even more important, if the new part is defective or wrong, I find it much easier to return it to the dealer than to a website.

The Vulcan 900 manual has a lot of annoying go-to's with no page numbers provided.  The Valve adjustment section sends me to "Engine top end chapter" to find out how to remove the valve covers, which in turn refers me to "Fuel System chapter" for how to remove the tank, which sends me to another chapter on how to remove the seat (What?  You turn the key, the seat pops off!  Easier to do it than to search for the required section.)  By the time I finish each section, I forget where I came from, so have to start reading all over again. My solution was to use tabs to mark my pages in the shop manual, so that I could flip around more quickly.

The reason I was reading the shop manual was to find out if I wanted to do a valve adjustment myself or not.  I don't want to do it if it is going to be like the BMW K1100LT, where both camshafts had to come out, and had 3 special tools.  Or the Honda CBX (24 valves) where the manual said to drop the engine before removing the valve covers, and I also needed one special tool to pry out the shims.  I did a valve adjustment on each of those bikes, but I wouldn't want to do something as complicated on the Vulcan.

To my surprise, there were no surprises in the shop manual on adjusting the valves.  Basically, - remove the tank - remove the valve covers, remove the side cover to see the crank nut and timing marks, turn the engine so that your valves are loose, measure the clearance.  So far very standard stuff, but now we come to a tricky part, because if the valves need adjusting, the old shims have to come out and new ones go in of a different thickness.  With the Vulcan it is apparently very easy!  Slide the rockers to the side with your fingers, pull out the shims!  Then I still would need to drive to the Kawasaki dealer and hope to trade the old shims in on some other shims of the correct thickness, or buy some new ones.

If I am too lazy to do this valve inspection/adjustment job myself, I am a heretic to the DIY religion.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sleeping Somewhere

When motorcycle touring, there is often a choice between motels and camping. I was asked asked the question "Why would anyone ever camp?".

Here are some reasons why you might want to camp.  If you are at a rally where other people are also camping - you can sit around the fire, then go straight to bed without worrying about drinking and driving.  Second reason, obviously the price.  Usually the difference in price range is about $25  camping to $100 motel room - about four times as much I would guess.  I have never had a campsite that smelled bad, but lots of motel room smells that could knock you out.  Sometimes all the motel rooms are fully booked, but there is usually space for one more tent in an overflow area.  When camping you rarely worry about bedbugs.  I always feel that the motorcycle is safe when I'm camping, although I might be in danger of being eaten by a Grizzly.

Motels are better if its raining, or real cold, or lots of blackflies and mosquitoes outside.  By sticking only to motels, you can travel light.  If you like to be in towns or cities, you need a motel because you will not find many campgrounds unless you are in tent city for political reasons.  I am usually nervous about motel security, unless the motel has a central courtyard for parking, and I can park in front of my door.

I love to camp on a beach, although the opportunities are rare on most trips. Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana; and El Requeson beach, Baja Mexico.

What we are planning this summer is a flexible arrangement, some camping and some motelling - because we need to deal with some days where camping is not possible, and some days where motelling may not be possible either.

We bought a good tent years ago, also one good sleeping bag. I have foam mattresses and a Thermarest (self inflating sleeping pad)  but today I got a new self inflating mattress from Canadian Tire that is wider, and thicker than the Thermarest. It's called the Broadstone Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad, 25 x 76-in., and 3" thick, for only $64.99.  I am hoping it is more comfortable than our old Thermarest.  Compared to my 2" foam pad, it's about 20% smaller when rolled up, and more resistant to water.  According to my research, many of these Broadstone pads leak where the valve is glued into the mattress.  When I got mine home, I checked and sure enough there is a slow leak right at that junction. Although any leak in a tire is unacceptable to me, this is just a sleeping pad, so I'm going to try it out anyway.  Besides, I have a one year guarantee of replacement at any Canadian Tire Store, so I'll take along the receipt on the trip in case it doesn't work out.

Next I wanted a rectangular sleeping bag that is warm down to 0c and 30" wide by 80" long, and also packs down to a small size.  This is hard to find in Kitchener, so we may need to make a trip to Mountain Equipment Coop in London next week.

Picture: In case you were wondering, that is not snow on the ground.  It is my motorcycle, against a background I grabbed off the Internet.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Practice Loading

This is my bike, and all the bulky camping stuff is loaded

This morning I went to Canadian Tire for some research and shopping.  I intended to buy the 65 litre Outbound Expedition bag, but on seeing it in real life, I changed my mind and bought the 90 litre bag for $70.  I was glad I did, because when I returned home to stuff the mattresses in the bag, I found that they just fit.  When strapped to the back seat of the bike, the cargo bag equals the total width of my saddlebags, and I just barely have room to sit without being pushed too far forward.  So the bag is just exactly the right size.

With the Expedition bag securely attached, containing two mattresses and two sleeping bags, I still needed a place to attach the tent bag and hopefully one more bag of miscellaneous stuff in a dry bag. I think they can be attached securely to the top.

While I was at Canadian Tire, I noticed some items that could be worth trying.  There was a Broadstone 25" wide self inflating foam pad, which is double thickness for comfort. (3 inches).  While I was there, I took the opportunity to make sure it fit in the Expedition bag.  And another worthwhile purchase might be the Roots Outdoors Eastern Pines rectangular sleeping bag for Mary Ann.  She does not have a good sleeping bag, and complains that all the bags are too short for her anyway.  This bag is supposed to fit people up to 6'4", but does not compress very small, from what I saw in the store.  And as she also complains of the cold, this bag is rated down to -10c.  At $69.99 it may be a bargain, if it works anywhere near what it boasts  (i.e keeps a 5'10" woman warm down to +15c this summer).

I also bought a couple of straps and two new 40" bungie cords.  The straps are useful for holding a rolled mattress, tent or sleeping bag tight.  The have a special buckle that allows you to tighten it up once you have put it around the roll.  Once you work out the best technique for tightening these belts, it makes for very tight roll

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Use Bags A Lot

This is not the Lost Motorcyclists' bike. It's just
 to give an idea of how useful bags can be.

There are many different ways of carrying things on a motorcycle.  Saddlebags, trunk box, tank bag, fairing pockets and compartments, sidecars, trailers, and backpacks.  But the most overlooked method of hauling your crap is the humble bag strapped or bungied on to the seat (or wherever it will fit.)

I'm sure all the other methods of hauling crap have their own unique body of knowledge that you must learn, but the most complicated to figure out is how to use the bags.  Bags are very versatile. Relatively cheap, can fit on almost anything, and carry almost anything.  But you have to know how to use them.

Well I use bags a lot, because I am kind of cheap myself, and many of my trips are unique enough to require new bags.  So I thought this would be a good time to share some tips about packing bags for a motorcycle trip.

Like most other knowledge, I aquired this gradually. When I took my first trip across Canada, I used garbage bags to stow all my gear. You might think I would know better, especially as this was my second motorcycle and I had been riding for three years already. After that trip, I learned that garbage bags shred at higher speeds.  The next year I went out west again, and I had durable bags custom tailored for my stuff. (meaning they were home made - but still good bags).

So after 40 years riding, I should have the right bags for travelling by now, but I still don't.  That's because the crap I take keeps changing, and it's very important that the bags are the right size, because it's best if the bags are full. Full bags are semi-rigid, and stiff bags are easiest to strap on tight and stay in place.  If the bag is too big, it will flop around, get loose, break things, tear etc. etc.

This trip is the first time I will be travelling with my wife riding her own bike. Also the first long trip with the Burgman. And the first trip where we are too old to use small thermarest mattresses - apparently now we need a full foam mattress, which will be the biggest items in our luggage.

The ideal form factor for a bag, if it is to be strapped on a motorcycle rear seat or luggage rack, is about 20-30 inches long, and anywhere from 1 to 15 inches in diameter.  Bags of this approximate shape can be strapped on securely when they are full and fairly rigid. And if the passenger seat is free, you can carry several bags of this shape, strapped together, very securely.

Since the mattresses are the biggest items, I will start my planning around them. I need to find a bag just about 25 inches long and 13 inches in diameter to put both foam mattresses in (rolled together).  After several hours on the internet it turns out that Canadian Tire has a bag almost that size.  It is the Outbound Expedition 65 Litre bag - just an inch shorter than what I want.  If the mattresses cannot be crammed in, I can always trim 1" off the foam.

Next I need a bag for the tent, which actually comes in its own bag, a convenient 5"x24".

Another bag will be required for the sleeping bags/pillows/some extra clothes.  I have a Sealline 30 Litre dry bag that could hold some of those.  Dry bags were invented for canoeing, and they are so waterproof that you could throw them over Niagara Falls without any water getting inside.  Instead of an ordinary closure, you roll the end up and strap it down - making a completely watertight and very strong seal.  If I am not using a "dry bag", and I need to keep the contents dry, I put a plastic bag inside the outer bag.  A garbage bag will do fine.  Do not assume that it will never rain on a long trip.

One of the down sides of bags is that they can be ripped off fairly quickly.  There are several things you can do for security.  First one is don't put essential items in a bag that is strapped to the bike and out in the open.  Although I have never had one stolen, or even had one fall off, I did once forget one in a parking lot at a hotel.  Second tip is to not have bags that look too good.  Actually this is pretty easy after the first day of riding through rain, as all the bags will be dirty.  So the third tip is to not have bags that look too disgusting, as that might attract random vandalism. (actually I have no scientific evidence to back that up).  But if you don't leave the bike for long periods of time fully loaded, you should have no problem.  After you get to a motel or campground, leave the bags in the motel room or tent before you go off sightseeing.  Although you may wonder about the security of the tent, in my opinion it is as safe there as anywhere.  I trust campgrounds for safety, maybe even more than a locked motel room.  If you must do sightseeing during the day, which leaves your fully loaded bike in a parking lot - well at least make sure no essential trip-ending items are in the bags.  Take them with you or lock them up in any secure place you have.  In our case, Burgie has two secure areas, so we'll be OK.  The Vulcan has no secure areas, so if I were travelling alone, I would not go sightseeing away from the bike during road days, bike fully loaded.

Picture: This bike has another problem - the high seat of the BMW GS plus loaded rear seat mean it is very hard to sling a leg over.  Lost has a low seat height, so I can do it fairly easily.  Burgie has an even easier way - the step thru design.  The picture is here

Friday, February 17, 2012

Don't Bring the Torque Wrench

Zero-B Waterproof Saddle Bags

I have had another full day of planning the trip.  I went to Zdeno's to check out the soft luggage, and the throttle locks.  Then I cleaned out the basement and took two car loads of junk off to thrift stores, and put the rest at the curb for garbage day.

But as Mary Ann says, maybe I should ease up a bit, as we are not leaving until mid July and it is now only February.  In my defense, much of that junk in the basement has been there for years, and it will be kind of nice to be able to move around in there right now. Also, it will be used as a staging area, where I can gradually assemble all the important bits from our master trip list, when I create one.

Having planned several of these trips before, I know the basic routine.  1. Make a list.  2. Get all your crap together 3. Pack it 4.  Get your house taken care of 5. Make sure you have the important stuff (e.g. credit card, drivers licence, keys, glasses - basically everything I forgot two weeks ago in Dutton)  6. Leave

The trip to Zdeno's did not yet result in any new equipment, because I was unsure of the types of throttle locks they had.  In the past I have used simple N.E.P. locks, but this time I want to try the gloriously complicated Vista Cruise.  However I needed to come back home and check the reviews on the internet before committing myself to another piece of worthless junk.  So according to the internet people, it basically works.. which is hard to believe from looking at the kit.  So I will probably buy it (about $35) next time I'm there.

Vista calls it a cruise control, but that's because it dates back to when motorcycles didn't have real cruise controls, so there was no confusion.  In reality it is a throttle lock, that simply holds the throttle open while you scratch your rear end with your right hand (or whatever).  I am keen to try a throttle lock on a bike with a torquey engine.  Up to now, I have had bikes with the power produced at high rpm - the faster the engine goes, the more power.  That type of engine will not hold a constant speed for long with a locked throttle, because as it speeds up, it gains power - which speeds it up more.  The opposite is true of slowing down- engine loses power as you slow down, and you slow down more.  So it is an unstable system.  On the other hand, when an engine has no powerband at high rpm, speeding up will meet more wind resistance, which keeps the speed from going higher.  Slowing down means less resistance - but more torque from the engine, which keeps you from slowing down any more.  In theory, anyway.  So far all my tests were on peaky bikes, like the Honda CBX and Yamaha 250 two-stroke.

I was also looking at luggage, specifically saddlebags for Burgie. Mary Ann wants to know how much stuff I'm planning to bring.  In my experience, it's not good to estimate the space too close. One use for the saddlebags is aesthetic - it might make the Burgie  look more like a serious touring bike instead of a scooter.  At least it breaks up some of the swoopy lines.  I was especially interested in waterproof saddlebags, with a rubberized coating like canoe "dry bags" have. I found out they make some, and Royal Distributing in Guelph has a cheap pair for under $70, called Zero-B bags for snowmobiles.  But they are stunningly ugly in the catalog, and reports on the internet say the buckles break and seams rip - so not good for long distances, apparently.  There are some really expensive ones I could order on the internet, but I prefer to touch before I buy.  Zdeno's has normal motorcycle bags from $80- $160, and they look very well made.  But those are easy to find, so I'll just wait until we need them, and I can try them out on the scooter and see if they fit and look OK first.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This Time Let's Stop and See Things

This summer we plan to ride our bikes from Kitchener, Ontario to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Although Mary Ann has about 5 years and 15-20,000 km of riding her Burgman 400 already, this will be her first big trip on her own bike.

The entire trip to Vancouver Island parallels the US border, so we applied for our Canadian passports just in case.  There is a new requirement (I guess a few years ago) to have a passport when visiting the USA.  The other problem with visiting the USA is health insurance to cover us in case of a massive rip-off.  Ordinary health care outside Canada is automatically covered by our socialist system, but "excessive charges" are not covered by our normal insurance, we have to get special ripoff insurance.  Which is itself a ripoff but a smaller one.

Lost and Burgie talking about where to go
This summer, Mary Ann will have her own bike, the Burgman 400. Right from the start we had to agree on some new guidelines for distance and speed. We both know that she does not like to go as far each day or go as fast as I do. How this will work out in reality is anybody's guess, but our plan is to sleep each day till about 9 or 10 AM, and go for breakfast before we start riding. That will be a contrast to my normal routine of getting up at dawn and riding three hours before stopping for breakfast.  Then we plan to ride a couple of hours, and stop for lunch. Then an hour more riding and stop for something else, which right now I can't remember what it is.  Then one more hour will finish the day and we can find a motel.  If we need to spend long evenings in motels, I am bringing a laptop computer to do this blog.  Mary Ann wisely decided to set aside six weeks for the round trip, and I think we're going to need it.

A Burgman 400 presents many unknowns when used for long distance touring.  I don't know how long CVT transmission belts will last, I don't know what to watch for when they start to fail, and I don't know how suddenly they fail.  The smallish tires also need watching.  The engine should be OK, but I have found that when travelling at speed, the 400 cc engine can lose a little oil.  And someone I know has burned out a Burgman 400 engine that ran low on oil.  So first we need to check oil level daily and be prepared to add oil as necessary, which is not easy given the recessed location of the filler cap.  Second, we must also check air pressure in the tires.  And because checking the drive belt is difficult and replacing it is a problem, I decided to replace it before the trip and keep the old one as a spare.  The old belt is actually the original one.  And knowing that it took the Suzuki dealer a week to obtain a new belt means that having a spare is a good idea in case of breakage.

Our next preparation is for luggage space.  We are not taking a trailer, but with two bikes we should be able to carry anything we want - but we still may need extra carrying space.  The Burgman already has a huge lockable underseat storage area, a lockable glove compartment, and two small fairing pockets.  The Vulcan has two leather saddlebags.  I can put a large duffel bag on the seat of the Vulcan, but it will need to be taken inside at night if we are not camping.  We could easily add some new soft saddlebags to the Burgman, and I think the straps would go under the seat, so that we could have easy access to the underseat storage during the day.

I was looking at Givi trunks (or top boxes), but Givi does not make an adapter for either the Burgman 400 (2005) or the Kawasaki Vulcan 900.  I like the idea of a trunk, because it's so easy to get into while travelling, and you don't need to fill it with stuff, you can just throw things in there all day long.  And if the trunks have extra brake lights on them, that's a useful safety feature.  But some trunks fall off, and the following rider can go a long way before you notice it's missing.  If Givi made the proper adapter, I think I would go for it, but if the adapter has to be improvised, it may not be worth the money and trouble.