Sunday, September 23, 2012

Refuelling Oddities

Although the trip is over, I still have a few more comments, this time about gas fillups.  We made 50 stops for gas this summer.  The usual routine was for both of us to park at the same pump.  I got off my bike and put a VISA card in the pump while Mary Ann remained sitting on her bike, removing the Burgman's gas cap.  Once I had the pump working with the correct grade of fuel, I handed the nozzle to Mary Ann, and she refuelled while I removed the gas cap from the Vulcan.  When she was finished, Mary Ann recorded the Burgman's litres, while I continued filling the Vulcan from the same pump without resetting the amount or the grade.  When I finished, I got the receipt, reset my trip odometer, and then both of us were ready to hit the road again.  It was quick, because neither of us had to remove helmets and earplugs, and I didn't need to walk into the store, or line up to pay for gas.

Of course, in 50 stops there would be some variations.  For example, in Powell River, the attendant remotely shut off the pump and ordered Mary Ann to get off the bike.  Apparently it is illegal to refuel a motorcycle while sitting on it, because of fire danger.  We already knew this, because we were told the same thing by a gas station attendant in Rainy River, Ontario.  We ignored the advice, or at least Mary Ann did. Because of the location of the Burgman filler cap, it is much easier to fill up sitting down.  A few times on the trip we actually saw other motorcyclists refueling while sitting on the bike, which is a bit tricky when you are alone, and have to also reach the pump's control panel while sitting on your bike.

Another time, in Washington state, we came across some pumps equipped with rubber boots, like they have in California, to prevent gas vapour from escaping while refueling.  I handed the nozzle to Mary Ann, and she exclaimed, "What's this?".  She tried to fit it onto the Burgman, but no luck.  So I suggested she just hold the rubber boot up and refuel as usual.  It kind of defeats the purpose of the boot, but what else can you do?  It was the only pump we encountered with a boot on the whole trip.

Another time we were out on a remote highway in North Dakota, hoping to find a town with a gas station soon.  We stopped at the first station we saw in a little town, even though it looked weird.  Actually, by weird, I mean it looked exactly like stations used to look sixty years ago.  No overhead canopy, no instant pay at the pump, and an attendant that came out to do the fillup.  I have been caught this way before in some US stations where the "full service" costs 10 cents more per gallon than the "self service".  I know its not a lot of money, but the principle of making me pay more when I put my own gas in anyway is annoying.  So I checked the other pumps, marked "Self Service" and saw that they did indeed have a lower price per gallon.  So I got back on the bike and was trying to push it over to the cheaper pumps, when the attendant said "Don't bother with those pumps, we'll give you the self service price at this pump."  So we filled up at the expensive pump, then when I paid the bill, they calculated a discount and gave me the self service price.  OK I admit this story is not terribly interesting, but to people who have to fill up every 250 km, it is riveting.

In Sudbury, we were only a few days from the end of our trip, on the way back.  We pulled into a gas station where there was another rider and his wife or girlfriend on a Harley at the next pump.  He said hello and we were kind of chatting while I went ahead with the refueling routine, without really thinking about what I was doing.  After all, this was the 47th time we refuelled the bikes on this trip, and it was becoming second nature.  But he was watching Mary Ann do the Burgman fillup, and he commented, "Wow she really knows what she's doing."  We never heard a comment like that anywhere else, especially at home in Kitchener, where I see women going to self service stations all the time.  But maybe it was more a reference to the teamwork than just surprise that a woman could fill up her own tank.

Picture: Mary Ann and Burgie in northern Ontario, looking for gas.  I have no pictures of actual gas stations for this trip, because apparently when I am on my own, all my vacation pictures end up being gas stations.  So I compensated this time by avoiding all pictures of gas stations.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What Kind of Boots to Wear Motorcycle Touring

 When Mary Ann and I went out west this summer, one of my last minute decisions was to wear hiking boots instead of motorcycle boots, to save space.  Otherwise I would have to bring along a pair of hiking boots in my luggage, a huge space waster.

Normally, I ride with motorcycle boots, and I don't usually bother with hiking boots.  I used to pack along a pair of running shoes for comfortable walking after I found a place for the night.  This time, I wore hiking boots while riding and packed along a pair of sandals that were for walking.

There are many issues to consider when gearing up for a motorcycle ride, the first being safety. I have never crashed wearing hiking boots or motorcycle boots, so I don't know  the difference.  My motorcycle boots are not really expensive, so I am not sure how good they would be in a crash.  But I know that they are uncomfortable to walk in.  When I was young, I could walk long distances in flip flops.  Not any more.  I need comfortable shoes, my motorcycle boots hurt to walk further than the length of a parking lot.

A few years ago, I bought a pair of hiking boots that proved to be very comfortable. At first I wore them for walks in the winter slush, and then used running shoes in the summer.  Eventually I found the hiking boots were so comfortable, I wore them all summer as well. Not just for hiking, mostly for walking in the city. They had begun to replace the running shoes. But the boots were bulkier than running shoes, because they came up to my ankle.

On this trip out west, I wanted to bring along my comfortable hiking/walking boots, but they were gong to take up a lot of space, so I started wondering if I could forget about the motorcycle boots and just wear the hiking boots.  Motorcycle boots are about 3" higher than my hiking boots, and motorcycle boots use no laces, so they can't get caught.  Otherwise I saw no advantages to the leather motorcycle boots.  Maybe they are safer, but I have no proof of that.  But I have proof that hiking boots are more comfortable.

My Vulcan has a heel and toe shifter that is easier to use with hiking boots than a toe shifter.  Mary Ann's Burgman has no shifter at all, and you could probably ride it with stilletto heels if you felt like it.  Mary Ann normally rides it with hiking boots.  Her hiking boots are about 1" higher than my hiking boots, so are a little more protective.  And there is very little on the Burgman to snag laces on, so no worries there.

I don't want to make this sound like a product endorsement, because I don't really know what's available on the market.  Anyway, I have an old pair of Keen Targhee II light hiking boots (not the low-cut shoes), which cost about $140 a few years ago.  Before the trip, I bought a new pair of laces for them, as the old ones were shredding.  Then I wore Keen  boots for the entire trip, except when I was wearing my sandals that I also brought along. We never had a crash, so not much to say about safety.  However, this was not one of my higher speed runs either, so maybe I was about as safe overall.  The boots were comfortable, and once I even wore them wading in the Pacific.  We were at a rocky beach that hurt my bare feet so much that I simply put my Keen boots on to go wading.  They took a few days to dry out, but we weren't actually travelling by motorcycle during that time, so it wasn't an inconvenience.  If I had my sandals with me at the rocky beach, I would have worn those instead, as they are better designed for wading.

When we got back from the trip, the Keen Targhee boots were just about worn out. I had come to really like them, so I went back to the same store to buy another pair.  Luckily, they still had a pair for sale my size, but not the same color, and with no reflective threads.

Picture: (1) My Keen Targhees under water at Powell River. (2) A dog belonging to one of my relatives, not sure what the dogs name was any more, there were too many dogs to remember.  The dog is wondering where I'm going in my hiking boots.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lost is Stranded

 The one big disappointment of our trip, it seems, was the lack of any real breakdown to spice up the story. Coincidentally, today, I was answering an email from a fellow Vulcan 900 owner who followed my trip out west on the blog.  We were discussing the fact that the VN900 does not have tubeless tires, and would be hard to repair on the road.  I replied this morning that I have never had a flat on the Vulcan, or on the three bikes before that, for a total of 330,000 km without a flat tire.  Consequently this afternoon I had a flat tire.

Now I have a breakdown to write about, and although it did not happen on the trip, it almost could have.  It was this close.

The flat tire story starts with me taking the Vulcan out for a ride, of course not checking the tire pressure, and leaving my emergency tire pump at home.  About 4 km from town, I experienced a vague feeling in the steering of the bike, kind of hard to describe, but it felt heavy and I had to use a lot of force on the handlebars to turn.  So I pulled over, and the rear tire was visibly flat.  I decided to drive slowly back 4 km to the last gas station on Homer Watson Blvd, to fill it up at the coin operated air pump.

Next, I rode 2.5 km to the next gas station/air pump at Homer Watson and Pioneer Drive.  The tire was losing air so fast that it was flat again when I reached the next pump, but the bike did not appear to be dangerously out of control.  So I pushed my luck again, filled the tire and drove another 1.5 km to the Esso station on Homer Watson and Manitou.  Thinking I was lucky there were so many gas stations on Homer Watson Blvd - almost as many as the Tim Hortons.  Anyway, here  my luck ran out.  I put a loonie ($1 coin) in the slot, nothing happened.  But right above, under the "Have a nice day" sign was a hand written sign that said "Out of order".  By the time I figured this out, the tire was flat again, and I was thinking it was time for plan B, if I had one.

I took about 10 minutes at the Esso station to come up with another plan. The motorcycle shop was closed, so I settled on loading the Vulcan on my little bike trailer, and bringing it home.  So first I needed to get home to fetch the car and trailer. Mary Ann was not home, but I called one of my sons who lives in town and has a car.  Jon volunteered to come and get me and help me out loading the bike on my trailer.  But my car with the trailer hitch was gone with Mary Ann.  So I told Jon to drop me off and I would call him again if I needed him.

When Mary Ann got home, we connected the trailer to the car and headed back to the Esso station to get the Vulcan.  The main problem was that this trailer was built for a bike of half the weight and smaller dimensions. Also, my trailer is built backwards, so that I need to unhitch the trailer to load the bike.  This works OK for a little bike, which I can actually load single handed. But not sure if the Vulcan would fit, or if it did, could I lift the hitch to put it on the ball.  Luckily a teenage boy and his friend offered to help, so we got the bike loaded and the trailer hooked up to the car, and I was ready to roll away when someone noticed that now the trailer had a flat tire.

There was an electric pump in the back of the car, that Mary Ann had purchased the last time she had a flat with the car.  We have never used this thing until today, and as you might guess, we have still never used it.  The cord was too short to reach the trailer tire, and we all agreed that unhooking the trailer again was not an option.  So the young man volunteered to walk home and bring back a complete air compressor system, which he did, and then we plugged it into an outlet on the outside of the Esso station, which I thought I had a right to use due to the lost $1 coin before I saw the "out of order" sign.  The tubeless trailer tire still would not hold air, as the bead was distorted by the weight of the Vulcan motorcycle.  But jacking up the trailer solved that problem and the bead seated itself.

Next problem (you knew there would be a next problem didn't you?  Or are you not a religious person.)  The car's rear hatch would not close.  So we drove home with the hatch open.  Besides, the Vulcan was so long that the rear tire overhung the bed of the trailer, and the rear fender almost touched the hatch of the car when closed.  But later we found that it actually does not touch, and we probably can drive with the hatch closed.

Finally, we got home and went out for a beer and pizza.  Tomorrow I will call Zdeno's to see if I can get a new tire mounted.
A last note.  I found a fresh chalk mark on the front tire of my bike, which I think means that someone was timing me to see if I parked too long in front of the Esso station "out of order" air pump, with a flat tire.  Even though I had talked to the cashier about their pump being out of order, and my bike being stuck there with a flat tire until I could get a trailer.  Or maybe there's another explanation for the fresh chalk mark right in the centre of the tread of the front tire.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thinking about Going East, and Rain Gear

After wrapping up our once-in-a-lifetime trip out west this summer, I was amazed that within a few days, Mary Ann and I started talking about another trip next year, but out East. And that naturally brings me to this topic.  Rain.  Because the only other time I ever tried to do an eastern tour, I got so much rain I made a beeline for the interior, where it is usually dry in the summer.

This summer of 2012 was very dry for us.  We got rain only three times in six weeks while motorcycling.  The first time, in Saskatchewan, we put on our rain gear for about an hour, then stopped for lunch and put them away after, because it had already dried up.  Second time was approaching Victoria BC, where there was no place to pull over and we got wet before stopping at Boston Pizza.  The third and last time was the second last day.  We put on our rain suits, but the rain was long and hard enough that Mary Ann got wet, although I didn't.

Now if we are to go East, we can't expect this much good luck with rain.  So I would like to figure out what was wrong with Mary Ann's gear, and get it right next time.  And this brings me to a discussion of rain gear for motorcycles.  I am going to need a separate paragraph, because my ramblings will not fit in one sentence.

Where are we going with high tech rain gear these days?  One trend I find very disturbing is putting the waterproof layers UNDER the regular jackets and pants.  To the manufacturers, this seems very sensible, I guess.  To me it seems very stupid.  The theory is that you will not have to stop and put on your rain suit, and then stop again to take it off, and I understand the appeal of that logic, but lets get real for a minute.  I do not want to wear a rain suit all day every day in case it rains once on my trip, especially when the temperature is in the 80-100F range or 30-40c range. So that means I have to take off my jacket and pants at the side of the road, when it starts raining, to put my waterproof layers underneath.  Now the jacket is OK, but I'm not doing that with my pants, and neither is Mary Ann.

The fact is, it is impossible to have a cool, protective jacket and pants if they also need to be waterproof.  Gore-Tex or no Gore-Tex.  I just don't understand why the motorcycle gear manufacturers are forcing us down this route, which so far, anyway, has not worked.  I am even doubtful of the use of zip-in thermal liners.

I think it makes sense to wear armoured, protective gear all the time while travelling by motorcycle.  Armoured protective gear can be designed to be cool as well, and I am OK with the gear we have already - except that it came with waterproof and thermal liners, which I am sure boosted the cost.  To prepare for this trip I stripped out all the liners, if any, and instead packed along a few sweatshirts to put on under the jacket if it got too cold.  Those sweatshirts are more versatile on vacation than the jacket liners. In case of rain (or possibly extreme cold), I packed a two piece rain suit to go over the motorcycle jacket and pants. That way I can put it on and take it off beside the road with no embarrassment.  And, even more important, the rainsuit can be more waterproof than the "breathable water resistant" liners that they replace. I say "can be more waterproof" because a lot depends on the material, and the quality of the seams etc.  At any rate, for a rain suit I do not worry about "Breathable" material. It can be totally waterproof non-breathable plastic for all I care.  When I'm riding in rain, I just want to keep the rain out.  When the sun comes out, I will take it off.

Another advantage of stopping to put on rain gear, is that you can also put on protective hand covers and boot covers. It does not take much longer to do, and is very worth while in the rain.  But the trick remains in knowing when and where to stop.

About a decade ago, it was actually more difficult to decide when to put on a rain suit, and when to take it off.  So difficult in fact, that the idea of being able to wear rainproof gear all the time sounded appealing to me, because I hate stopping when I'm going long distances.  And I often was wrong about when to put on or remove the rain suit anyway. But in the year 2012, with radar weather available on my smart phone, some of the guesswork is gone about rain patterns.  So now I'm once again a believer in stopping to put on the rain gear.

Picture: Our first stop to put on rain gear, in Saskatchewan.  Since I already had the smartphone out looking at the weather radar, it seemed like a good idea to also make a phone call home.  And take a picture of what we were doing.  BTW, that is just a side road, not the Trans Canada Highway (Yellowhead Route)