Friday, June 22, 2012

A Review of the Book "Lois on the Loose" by Lois Pryce

I was at the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group rally in Paris a few days ago, and one of my finds was a book called "Lois on the Loose", by Lois Pryce. It is about Lois giving up her job and taking a motorcycle trip from Alaska to Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America.

Well, Mary Ann was a little disturbed that I read the book before she did, and called it a fake present for myself.  But no, really I wanted it for her because we are only about three weeks from going and she is still saying five months is over-preparing. In a way, I see her point.  I am possibly better organized for this trip than I am in real life.  Example - I have checked to make sure that all my clothes for the trip fit in my luggage.  I have not checked that all my clothes for real life fit in my closet (they don't, actually).  Maybe that's one reason I like travelling.

Well, since I've read the book now, I will do a book review.  After I finished the book, which I really enjoyed, I found Lois Pryce's website where she has some extra pictures and information.  At that point I came to realize something that had not struck me while reading the book.  Lois was actually quite well prepared for the trip, I might add, even better prepared than I am for my trip.  She didn't really cover the details of the preparation in the book, but that is simply because she wanted to write a good story, one that people might like to actually read.  Whereas I am just writing about anything that comes up, and likely some of it is boring.  So not only does she prepare better than me, but by not writing about all of it, she also writes better than me.

One reason I think Lois was well prepared is in her choice of a motorcycle.  Although she often mentions in the book that everybody puts down her bike for being too small, (a Yamaha Serow 225cc), I think that most experienced motorcyclists would probably agree on second thought that it was actually a good choice - a little unusual perhaps, but given the route and the size of the rider, it was an intelligent balance of size, carrying capacity, speed, reliability, and on-the-road repairability.  Lois' previous bikes were a  1959 BSA Bantam D7, a 175cc 2-stroke; followed by a 1963  BSA A65 Star, a 650 twin.  For someone with that history of motorcycles, choosing the Yamaha Serow borders on genius.  I hope I'm not spoiling anything here, but even when I first read about her choice of a bike, I did not think it was stupid at all.  And I still enjoyed the story.

Mary Ann asked me if I thought the book was realistic or if it was just exaggerated to make a great story.  Never having done most of the things that Lois did, I can't really say. But I don't think she exaggerated, it was more like she maybe selected what things to leave out.
Lois had a self deprecating sense of humour, and so it suited the character development to downplay her own strengths and some of the humour came from making fun of her own weaknesses.  And that's one reason why her book is funny and an interesting story, too.

So I guess my only criticism of the book would be that at first I was fooled into thinking that Lois was in way over her head, but actually, far from feeling sorry for her, maybe she is a better motorcycle traveller than me.

Picture: From Lois's website, she is changing the clutch.  Another thing I have not yet done, may never do.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Merge Late or Merge Early?

This entry is not strictly about planning for this trip. But if I could read the minds of other drivers on the road, I may never want to drive again.  Recently, the Kitchener Record ran an article about "Late Merging", and the comments it attracted gave a peek inside the mind of some local drivers, including some potential road ragers.

The comments range from sensible to outrageous.

I hate getting stuck in traffic queues while motorcycling.  When the car drivers are lounging in air conditioned comfort, talking on the phone, and creeping along with their automatic transmissions at speeds too slow for a motorcycle, I am either overheated, or freezing.  I'm balancing 800 pounds of machinery, working my clutch hand until it cramps up.  On the other hand, I can merge in anywhere with my bike, and can go around almost any obstacle, so I am very tempted to take the quick way out and leave the car drivers steaming in anger while they paradoxically lounge comfortably yakking on the phone.  After all, I did not cause this traffic jam, and if everyone was on a motorcycle, the problem would not even exist, because two motorcycle lanes could fit in one car sized lane.

The deal is that in early merging, warning signs are placed three kilometers before the end of the lane.  While this will encourage people to merge early, unfortunately it can result in stopped traffic queues up to a mile long before the lane actually ends, while the ending lane is almost empty for the same distance,  and some drivers to race down the clear lane, passing hundreds of cars to claim a place at the head of the line.

My question is, must you really merge as soon as you see an arrow warning of a lane closure ahead? If so, which car do you merge in in front of?  I have seen lineups that stretched back to well before the first warning sign.  By the time I see the first warning sign, the "open" lane is already completely stopped.  So where am I going to merge in?  Do I have to come to a screeching halt in an open lane just because I saw a merge arrow, or am I allowed to keep moving until I find a place I can safely merge in? If I stop arbitrarily with my motorcycle, I could be killed in a rear end collision with a car.

There should be no need for road rage on this subject, as studies are being done and eventually new traffic control methods will be developed.  Here is an academic study of these strategies without the rhetoric.  You can google it to find the .pdf file if you wish.


Wakeel Idewu

On p. 38,  the pros and cons are:

Early merging (i.e. warning drivers way ahead of time) pro: Some drivers exit the freeway, reducing congestion. con: Does not work well in high traffic volumes, where sideswiping and aggressive driving and long queue lengths result.

Late merging: (i.e wait till the end of the lane to merge, and "alternate" entering the constriction) pro: Shorter queues, fewer sideswipes, less aggressive driving. Con: Hazardous during low volumes where drivers come upon the lane closure at high speed with little warning.  Drivers often do not comply with the requirement of alternating.

Picture: From a road ragers' web site

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Noise Cancelling and Motorcycle Pants

We went for a ride using our Scala Rider Q2 intercomm, and it just was not working right.  Sometimes the problem is in understanding how these things work, so I looked up the theory behind the "Noise cancelling" microphone.

I was having trouble hearing Mary Ann.  Sometimes her voice did not even activate the communication, and I had to push the mc button, but even then I heard almost no sound at the other end.  This is what I found out about noise cancellation.  First, was a very interesting video demonstration of a Scala Rider headset communicating through a phone.

If you listen on the phone, it is shocking that you hear absolutely no other sound than the rider's voice, even while he is riding a motorcycle on the highway at speed.  I was surprised, because I always used my headset while I was also riding, so with all the real road noise around, I could not notice that there was no noise coming through the speakers from the other bike's microphone.

How does noise cancellation work?  This not just a directional microphone, instead it has some electronic trickery to virtually "erase" the background noise.  A directional mike boosts the sound in one direction, and partially blocks it from other directions.  So with a directional mike, you point it at your mouth, and it should work, especially if you yell louder.  But like I said, this is not a directional mike.  The microphone cancels noise, but how can it tell what is noise and what is not noise?

Electronic noise cancellation does not work by recognizing human speech patterns, instead it is actually a fairly simple trick.  There are two microphones, one in front (toward the mouth) and one in the back of the boom.  The back microphone picks up background noise, and by way of explanation, anything the back microphone picks up is deemed background noise.  Whether you would classify it as  background noise or not makes no difference. The "background noise" (whatever the back microphone hears) is inverted and combined into the sound in the front microphone, entirely eliminating those sounds, (and only those sounds) whatever they might be.

To make a noise cancelling microphone work right, the trick is to make absolutely sure your voice is not being picked up by the back microphone.  So you should avoid yelling, for example, as this may flag your voice as noise.  The critical step is to position the microphone correctly.  The Scala Rider manual unfortunately is not clear on the exact position of the microphone.  It seems like you should place it very close in front of your mouth, centred horizontally.  Apparently you can move it from side to side without losing the sound, but you cannot move it up or down or your voice will end up as noise, and be cancelled.  In some places, Scala Rider suggests that the right spot is the corner of your mouth, in another it says centred on your mouth.

This is mentioned in the guide, but must be stressed.  Don't bother testing the the intercom inside the house or in a quiet place.  It seems to need at minimum, the sound of a motorcycle exhaust nearby to work properly. I don't really understand why, but here is an example.  Mary Ann and I both put on our helmets, and turn on the intercom.  Then we continue loading up the bikes, and closing the garage doors, during which time we can talk but the Scala Rider is not picking it up.  Then Mary Ann fires up Burgie, and I do the same on the Vulcan.  Mary Ann lowers her visor, then suddenly I hear the click of  her face visor shutting through  my speaker, and from then on we can communicate via Scala Rider Q2.  I have no theory about this, except maybe it needs some real noise to tell the difference between noise and speech??

So when I looked at Mary Ann's helmet, I noticed the microphone has slipped down, away from her mouth to the bottom of the chin bar.  When I move it back up, the system works perfectly.  Without noise cancellation, the sound quality would be awfully bad, but as with any new technology, you need to understand the principle behind it.  Maybe they should start teaching this stuff in school, or do they do that already?

Update on the choice of jacket and pants for the trip out west.  Now that I know how to clean the Scorpion Commander high visibility textile jacket, I will take it along, and leave my black leather jacket at home.  Helping me to make up my mind, Mary Ann is has now got a pair of textile motorcycle pants, the Olympia Airglide 3.  These "overpants" have large mesh panels for cooling, and can be worn over ordinary jeans or even shorts while providing an acceptable amount of protection in hot weather.  They can also be removed easily with full length zippers for walking around in your summer clothes.  I almost feel like getting a pair myself, but they are over $200, so I'll just go with my kevlar cargo pants.  While Mary Ann was trying on the silver coloured pants, she also tried on the silver coloured matching jacket.  With that combination she remarked that she looked like an alien from outer space.  So I guess she must have seen a few science fiction movies after all.  Anyway, women are often very influenced by what clothing is flattering, and Mary Ann did not think that looking like an alien from outer space was a good thing, so she didn't buy the jacket.  But I wonder about the hip padding, because most women do not want pants that come equipped with their very own set of padded hips.

Picture: Olympia Air Glide 3 ladies pants worn by a professional clothes model.  And she probably has the hip padding removed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Which Jacket Should I take?

According to "Hitchhikers's Guide to the Galaxy", the most important item to take no matter where you go, is a towel.  But I am thinking the most important item on a motorcycle trip might be the jacket.  On my first few long trips, the jacket was an afterthought, a flimsy nylon shell not designed for motorcycling.  Somewhere in Manitoba I met another young guy riding a motorcycle across the country, and he was shivering in just a t-shirt.  That was all he brought.  Made me feel like a genius for bringing my nylon windbreaker and a sweat shirt.  (and a windshield on the motorcycle, which he didn't have either)

Since then I have had quite a few motorcycle jackets, and right now I have two that I like best.  One I call a "Dakar" style, meaning it is a 3/4 length.  It is the Commander, made by Scorpion, and in high visibility colour.  It is a textile jacket, with vents, zippers and pockets everywhere.  The other is a heavy leather bomber jacket, also with pockets, vents, zippers and liners.

Which is better, the traditional black leather motorcycle jacket or a modern high-tech and high visibility (flourescent lemon/lime neon glow) with reflective patches?  It is just too much to take two heavy jackets, so lets look at the pros and cons.

The hi-viz jacket's appearance is too extreme for normal walking down the street or into a cafe. Heck, it's almost too much for riding a motorcycle down the 401. The black leather jacket, from what I see in public, now has become fashionable, at least in Ontario.

However, the high viz jacket is more visible than the black leather, so the series is tied at one point each.

One of the best features of the black jacket is that it shows very little dirt. My one big disappointment with the hi-viz is that it not only shows dirt, it projects the dirt directly on your retina, and the dirt is difficult if not impossible to remove.  I have had the jacket since March 2010, and it has been in the washing machine once, in January 2011.  At that time it almost came clean again.  But since then I have accumulated even more road grime, and when I threw it in yesterday, it came out still looking dirty and old.

How do you get an old hi-viz jacket clean again? I did a little research on the internet, and came up with nothing that I didn't know already.  The consensus seemed to be "just live with it.  It will not look new again."  But actually, there was a better way, and in fact it is sort of suggested in my washing machine manual.  You have to put some liquid dish soap on the dirtiest places, and let it soak in first.  The after a half a day or so of soaking, throw the jacket in the washing machine.  Well of course I didn't read that until I was ready to put the jacket in the washing machine, but I came up with something a little different myself.  I sprayed some "Fantastic" on the dirty parts, and rubbed it with an old tooth brush.  Then I mopped up the excess and repeated until cleaner looking.  The jacket was starting to look good, and Mary Ann suggested spreading dish soap over the dirty parts and letting it soak.  So I used both methods, and now I am throwing the coat in the washing machine again.  But it already looks clean enough for me.  It doesn't look new from up close, but get back 10 feet in the sun and you're blinded by the sheer visibilty of the colour, you will never see the remaining dirt.  I should mention that so far I have not seen any fading or colours running despite my abusive treatment.  The material is extremely durable, and the colour is pretty stable too.

So where does that leave me in the decision of which to take?  Just as torn as ever.

Pictures: Which jacket is the high viz?.  Hint: high visibility is easier to see.