Monday, April 23, 2012

Lost and Burgie's Maps to BC and Back

I have most of the Google custom maps prepared, which are also accessible on my Google Android phone/GPS.  I have bookmarked more places than I can visit, to keep the trip flexible, since I will not be making reservations.  Surprisingly, most time spent in the research involved was not so much looking to see that the places were suitable, but  that the places even existed, and moving their pins to their correct location.

The links:

Kitchener to Winnipeg

View Kitchener to Winnipeg in a larger map

Manitoulin Island


Winnipeg to Saskatoon

North Battleford to Lloydminster

Lloydminster to Jasper

Kamloops to Vancouver

Washington State

Oregon & Idaho

Yellowstone and Area

Billings to Sault Ste. Marie

Suzuki/Kawasaki motorcycle dealers on the Canada route

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Burgman AN400 2005 Brake Pad Replacement

This post is going to get very technical.  There is no pop quiz at the end though, so at least you don't have to worry about remembering any of it.

Take a look at the two brake pads on the left and see if you can spot the difference.  Well apparently I didn't.  So let's start at the beginning.

Changing brake pads is not a difficult job, usually. Because they need to be changed fairly often, and because it's a safety issue, they are usually designed to prevent mistakes being made with the replacement job.  So I decided to change the pads myself, as I have done many other more dangerously stupid jobs.  But this Suzuki Burgman 400 has several poorly  understood quirks.

The first problem is that the rear wheel needs to be removed, which means the muffler hanger needs to be removed, and before that, the muffler too.  So even though it has a simple one sided swing arm design, where the wheel can be removed from the hub with just three nuts, a lot of other junk is in the way if you want to get the wheel away from the bike.  On many real motorcycles, you can replace the brake pads without even removing the wheel.

But wheel removal is only the beginning.

My first step was actually to order the front and rear brake pads, even before I took the brakes apart. I discovered that the original Suzuki pads added up to over $160.  And according to the book, that is because I need to order two front brake pads, at over $40 each.  Here is where major confusion first developed.  I understood they were ordering two brake pads for the front, as there is only one disk on the 2005 Burgman (but two disks on the 2007 model). When they arrived I saw they had ordered two pairs of pads, and after a discussion with the parts people, who had also never seen those pads before, they sent back the second pair of pads.  But then I found out that the Burgman really does takes two pairs of pads on the same disk.  So now I have to re-order the same pair that I just sent back. I never saw a system like that before, and apparently not many other people in the motorcycle business have either.

It is always safer, when ordering parts, to have already disassembled the original part, and take it in for comparison. This is a great rule of mine, that unfortunately I rarely follow.  So it serves me right that I got bitten a second time on the same order!

Although the Burgman's rear brake pads are normal in that one disk has one pair of pads, it happens to have a parking brake to hold it on an incline.  The parking brake, instead of being a separate little drum brake, has an ingenious mechanism that pushes a metal rod against the back of one of the hydraulic pistons in the main rear brake. This results in a bunch of new warnings about changing the rear brake pads.  Oh for the simplicity of motorcycles in 1969!

So what is different in the rear brake of the Burgman?  The first clue is that you cannot push one of the pistons back to make room for the newer, thicker pad.  You can push one piston in the normal way, but the other piston must be screwed in.  To understand why this is necessary, you are invited to examine 6 pages in the shop manual explaining the "automatic parking brake adjusting mechanism".  I wish I understood Japanese, because nobody on the Internet has ever understood the English version.  Anyway, if all goes well, you don't really need to understand it.  But if you are following this exercise so far, you would be correct in guessing all did not go well.

The rear brake pads have a solid pin of metal sticking out the back, that is supposed to fit into a pocket on the face of the "tricky" screw-in piston.  My new El Cheapo brake pads did not have this pin. There are warnings that you must make sure the pin fits into the holes, and Suzuki engineers took the trouble to make sure their pads had this pin.  So why is it missing on my cheap aftermarket pads, and what is the danger of using the cheap pads anyway?  I was not able to find anyone who knows anything about this on the Internet, or at either of the two Suzuki dealers nearby. So after completely reassembling the bike, and going for a test drive on the El Cheapo pads, I suffered an anxiety attack thinking about our 10,000 km trek coming up this summer, including 11,000 ft. mountain passes, and so I picked up a set of more expensive EBC rear pads (with the pin)  for $43.

In my opinion, the reason for the pin is to stop the piston from rotating in the caliper, because the parking brake rod automagically screws out of the piston to compensate for pad wear, and if the piston also rotates, it will either unscrew the parking brake adjustment, or worse yet, screw it up tighter until it drags the pads while you are riding, heating them up and rendering the brake inoperative.

Picture: The difference is the pin that was missing from the El Cheapo pads.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Preparing for Yellowstone Park

The first time we went to the west coast by motorcycle, we had planned to go through Yellowstone Park.  But somewhere in Montana, at one of my many gas stops, a grizzled old prospector regaled us with tales of tourists in Yellowstone who had been ripped to shreds by Grizzly bears, and we changed our plans.

This summer, Mary Ann wants to visit Yellowstone, and so I will try it again.  I have no illusions about Yellowstone.  I figure it is going to be a few mountains, a few geysers, some bubbling pools of mud, coloured rocks, and a couple of hundred thousand tourists being kept in order by heavily armed swat teams of forest rangers.

Robert Pirsig visited Yellowstone briefly on his journey, told in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", which is one of my favourite books.  This is what he had to say about Yellowstone.

"Phædrus despised this park without knowing exactly why...because he hadn’t discovered it himself, perhaps, but probably not. Something else. The guided-tour attitude of the rangers angered him. The Bronx Zoo attitudes of the tourists disgusted him even more.Such a difference from the high country all around. It seemed an enormous museum with exhibits carefully manicured to give the illusion of reality, but nicely chained off so that children would not injure them. People entered the park and became polite and cozyand fakey to each other because the atmosphere of the park made them that way. In the entire time he had lived within a hundred miles of it he had visited it only once or twice."

The Beartooth Highway goes into Yellowstone from the North East, and I decided to try this famous road, which Pirsig and his friends followed coming in to the park.  While checking out the road in Google Maps, I noticed a horrendous number of switchbacks, also known as hairpin bends.  I was hoping this road would not be as vertiginous as the "Going to the Sun" highway Mary Ann and I took ten years ago on our most recent motorcycle trip to BC.  I love the scenery and the curves of mountain roads, but I have a fear of heights too, and if the road is too narrow and the dropoffs too steep, and the guard rails are only 6" high, my fear of heights kicks in and I can't really enjoy the ride.  So I did not enjoy the "Going to the Sun" highway at all.  To research this further, I loaded up Google Earth, which lets you "fly" over a 3-D rendition of any place on Earth.  I was shocked by what I saw.  The Beartooth Highway is going to be quite a challenge.  Apparently at the summit the road reaches 11,000 ft. altitude, with high snowbanks on each side even in summer.  It could be cold as well as kind of scary.  But the pavement looks wide, decent guard rails, and only a few sharp dropoffs at the edge.

Generally I have no problem with mountain roads, as I learned to drive in a mountainous area. But in the last thirty years, I have become accustomed to driving on a flat surface in a straight line.  And Mary Ann grew up in this area, and may be a bit unfamiliar with mountain driving, and then to make things worse she is riding a Suzuki Burgman.  It occurs to me that a Burgman 400 may not be ideal mountain road equipment.  Although it has fuel injection to deal with extreme changes in altitude without backfiring, it will probably lose some power in the thin air.  Then coming down the other side, it will have little or no compression braking to relieve the stress on the brakes.

I think my Kawasaki Vulcan will have only a little bit of trouble with the Beartooth highway.  The ground clearance for cornering is limited, and it does not have the climbing power of my old BMW K1100LT, but who needs it when travelling with a 400 cc Burgman?  The Burgman does have a weakness in the mountains.  There is no way to gear down and let the engine do the braking while going downhill.  This may place an excessive burden on the brakes, and then things start to happen.  When the brakes get overheated, they may fail to slow you down, or they may seize up and stop you altogether.

We have never tested the Burgman 400 on a mountain road, so I went to the internet for some information.  Apparently at least one person who lives near Yellowstone has a Burgman 400 and has travelled this highway a few times with no problems.  But just to be on the safe side, what do you do when you are riding a Burgman down a very high mountain?  First, I would suggest stopping at one of the lookouts to check the brakes once in a while.  Don't stick your hand on the calipers right away, you might get a burn. Touch the forks or spokes first and work your way closer to the disk or calipers.  If you can actually touch them without burning yourself, they are doing fine.  If they appear smoking hot - and worse yet if you can smell burning brakes, wait for them to cool off before continuing.  I cannot describe the smell of burning brakes, but you'll remember it when you do.

What else can you do to avoid problems with the brakes?  New brake fluid resists heat better than old brake fluid, because old brake fluid absorbs water, which will boil off in extreme heat, resulting in steam pressure that eventually seizes up your brakes.  New brake fluid in a sealed container should have no water content, and that would be best for the Beartooth Pass.  Mary Ann's brake fluid is already past its due date, so that will be replaced.  Also the brake pads will be replaced at the same time.  Any other tips for the ride down the mountain?  Here is one that separates the Hill Billys from the Flat Earthers: don't drag your brakes all the way down.  Going excessively slowly will actually put more heat into the brakes than letting the bike pick up speed on the straight parts.  I have no proof of this, but I do know that the slower you go, the less that air resistance can help slow the vehicle.  So release the brakes on the long straights, let it pick up some speed (without actually touching the gas), and brake early for the next curve.

The next tip may require some experience, but it helps conserve the brakes when you can negotiate the curves at a higher rate of speed.  If you need to slow down to 2 mph for every hairpin bend, you will be heating up the brakes faster.

Picture: From this website, which has a nice enough 3:45 minute video.  The road is specatular without necessarily scaring the crap out of you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Going the High Tech Road

Some people like the high tech stuff, others recoil in horror.  On this trip, we will have a Representative of each school of thought. Mary Ann does not care much for high tech stuff, so it was unusual when she said we should get an iPod so that we could run the iBird app.  iBird is the killer app for birdwatchers, with pictures and information on almost 1000 birds, plus a quick identify feature, and many bird calls that are so real the birds answer them.  But other than the iBird app, she has reservations about the usefulness of a cell phone or a GPS.  She also has doubts about the safety of the radio waves coming off these devices, and she says "What's wrong with having a map and stopping to ask for directions if we're lost?  That what people used to do".  I have done plenty of trips based on nothing but a map and some tourist brochures, and that's partly why I got hooked on riding the interstates and dining at McDonald's.

To get iBird, I only need a $200 iPod and a free WIFI connection. But it seemed to me for a little extra money we could get an iPhone which would add a lot more functions like GPS location, and radar weather map - two things I have been looking for ever since my first and only cell phone twelve years ago.  I didn't need the phone calls, and I didn't like the 3 year plan for $50 per month. But some new companies promise low rates for smart phones.

Koodo advertises a data plan starting at $5 per month, with no penalties for terminating the plan. They had cheaper smart phones, but I was willing to pay $300 for the Nexus "S".  But there are many terms to the agreement, nothing is that simple.

The first thing to know about data connection for smart phones, is that the phones can usually connect over WIFI or from a cell phone tower.You can find WIFI Internet connections for free at many McDonald's, also motels, even campgrounds.  But WIFI has a short range (like maybe 10 meters). The cell phone data connection, has the same coverage area as cell phones, but costs money. he cell phone coverage also has some limitations. Koodo for example has little or no coverage in Northern Ontario or the Rockies, or much of the sparsely populated areas of northern Canada.

Typically cell phone hookups are not the same price everywhere you go.  With Koodo, you can get coverage all over Canada (* except where not coverage is not available) for the same price, which is good.  But then Koodo charges more for Internet coverage in the USA.  But then you are allowed to sign up ahead of time for a one month $40 deal to get a special price in the USA.  So what's the catch?

My first price shock was when I asked for the $5 per month data plan.  It was explained to me that this "plan" was not a plan, it was an add-on to a plan. The cheapest real plan was $20 per month for 50 minutes of cell phone time.  So actually, the cheapest data plan would be $25, even though I was not interested in the phone.  Well, it still didn't sound too bad to me so I went ahead with the sign-up.

Once I got home, I did some further checking, to see how much it would cost me for my monthly Internet access. The $5 data saver plan is not unlimited use, so I needed to know the terms. I can check my current daily usage usage online.  But as I was going through the terms for crossing the border I came to another shock.  In Canada if I read it correctly, 3 Gigabytes of download in month will cost me $30.  Beyond that, I will pay $0.02 per megabyte.  But if I cross over into the USA, and download one Gigabyte, my bill will be $3000.  Note that this is one third of the data I can downloaded in Canada for $30.  The $40 special one-month add-on for USA roaming will reduce my Internet bill but one Gigabyte will still come to $1040 under this add-on contract.

The lesson is, you do not just go using your new toys while on the road without reading the fine print.  For example, although I do not care about the phone charges, since I don't plan to use them much, I noticed that you are billed for both outgoing and incoming calls.  So watch out if you give your cell phone number to your third cousin in Outer Mongolia.  But there is an even bigger trap waiting for the unwary Koodo subscriber who ventures into Mexico to download a Gig of data. That bill would be $25,000.

Mary Ann asked me so what is a Gigabyte then?  I said it's half of your iBird app.  If we had downloaded iBird in Mexico, without using WIFI, it would have cost us $12,009.99.

Picture: Koodo's coverage in Canada.  Big spaces left out where I need to rely on WIFI only, or worse yet, a map.