Sunday, November 18, 2012

About Getting the Very Best Equipment

Admittedly, there is a good feeling that you can get by owning the very best.  When you know that you have paid top dollar for a recognized upscale brand.   This feeling happens in motorcycling as often as anything else, and this feeling can be addictive.  However, it can become a treadmill where you are putting out a lot of money for not much extra value.  This can happen where you have already laid out a large sum for a top quality piece of gear, then find out that something better has come along.  To get those few extra little improvements, you need to pay for the whole thing all over again.

I was kind of thinking that last week when I saw that there is a new version of my helmet on the market.  I have a Scorpion EXO1000 helmet. While it is a very good helmet, apparently it is now obsolete.  There is now an EXO1100 helmet, with several improvements.  One significant improvement is the weight - it weighs about 4 ounces less than the EXO1000.  That may actually be the only significant improvement, and it comes with a change of test standards.  While the old EXO1000 was Snell approved, the new one apparently no longer can pass the Snell test, and is now qualified under a different test system, which we are assured is "just as good as Snell".   I'm not too much of a believer in these tests anyway, I figure if it passes DOT it's OK by me.  (Except that the Department of Transport does not actually conduct the tests, it's on an honour system, but oh well what can you do.)  One way the new helmet seems to have shed a bit of weight is by reducing the size of the chinbar.  That may be a good thing or it might not be.

Now to get back to the main idea of this blog, which is, do I shell out another $400 to lose four ounces, or do I save a bit of space in the landfill and keep wearing the scratched and dented 2 year old helmet?  I'm keeping it, but not as is. I reduced its weight by about half an ounce by cutting off the old d-rings that I don't use any more since I bought a quick release catch.  And another half ounce of dirt from our six week summer trip might have come out when I washed the liner in the sink. And a tenth of an ounce by removing the clunky scorpion logo.

As bad as it seems to waste $400 just to have the latest helmet, it can be worse with motorcycles.  Last year's $20,000 motorcycle suddenly becomes unattractive when a new model appears with more power, more cylinders, new colour schemes, bluetooth electronics etc.  The only silver lining is that at least you can sell the old motorcycle, and recoup some losses.  (Helmets are much harder to sell.)

Funny thing is, it's all in your head.  Because if you didn't know that there was this new helmet, or jacket, or motorcycle, you wouldn't feel bad.  The way I play it safe is that I try to avoid being addicted to having the very best.  Instead, I try to get addicted to having the most sensible.  Most of the time, anyway.  I know it doesn't always work, but I start with the big ticket items like a house.  I tell myself this house is sensible, I will save money on a house to buy a kick ass car.  Then when I need to buy a car, I get a sensible Toyota Matrix without an air conditioner, and tell myself that's OK because when it's hot outside I'll be riding my new $30,000 BMW six cylinder touring bike, that I bought with the money saved buying the car.  But when I go to get the bike, instead of the Beemer, I opt for a sensible Kawasaki 900 with windshield and non-lockable saddlebags.  Thinking I will use the money saved for a top quality helmet.  Then instead of getting an Arai for $999.97, I go for a Scorpion EXO1000.  And just when I'm getting those warm fuzzy feelings of having a good quality helmet with all kinds of bells and whistles (even though I don't need them and they weigh a ton), along comes the Scorpion EXO1100.

Now finally I can see why rich people think they need to make $10,000,000 per year just to make ends meet.  I just noticed a very nice jacket and pants combo for motorcycle adventure touring (Hey, that's my type of touring!)  at Crazy Al's in London Ontario.  But then I noticed the price.  Oooops. 

Picture: "The Long Way Down" stars Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman with all their expensive stuff.  (Arai helmet, Belstaff jackets, BMW adventure touring bike, and much more.  Even their neck scarves are about $25)  It's great to be a movie star.  And even better, when they get some of that stuff for free because the movie (titled "The Long Way Down") that they are filming about the trip will help other people decide to buy the same helmets, jackets, or gloves.  I'll bet KTM wished they had provided the bikes for the first trip.  Instead KTM turned down Ewan and Charley, and BMW stepped in to provide the bikes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Yes I have Taken Trips Without My Motorcycle

I got asked the question once, about going on vacation.  Do I ever take a vacation without riding my motorcycle?  Well, yes, I have taken vacations without my motorcycle, and in my opinion it is not an improvement.

In the summer of 1971, I flew to Dakar, Senegal, and left my motorcycle at home.  I could have driven there, as I was living in Sierra Leone.  I just looked it up on Google Maps, and apparently today it would be 1484 km, in a time of 18 hours and 41 minutes.  But 40 years ago,  sure it would have been three times as far - with the country of Guinea blocking the way.  Back then, Guinea was like North Korea today. So going around Guinea would have made the trip 2596 km, and 43 hours.  And allowing for the roads of 1971, that may add up to several weeks, if I made it at all.  All along the way, it would have been a problem finding restaurants, gas stations, or hotels.  Fighting poisonous snakes, malarial mosquitos, getting lost without a map, stopped for days at border crossings.  And the biggest threat of all was crashing my motorcycle so far from medical assistance.

So I didn't even consider taking my Honda CD175, and I booked a trip that went by air from Freetown Sierra Leone to Dakar, Senegal.  Then a train ride from Dakar to Bamako, Mali.  And finally another airplane from Bamako back to Freetown.  I figured this would be an easy way to make the trip, but when the trip was over, I wondered if the motorcycle might have been easier and more fun.

I guess it started OK, a simple flight to Dakar, got off the plane and took a taxi to a downtown hotel.  Stayed about ten days and enjoyed the sophisticated French colonial city with outdoor cafes, markets, and historical sights.  I made two trips to visit the island of Goree, an infamous slave trading stop off.  The trouble started when I took the train to Bamako. I was expecting to spend the weekend in Bamako, then board my flight early Monday morning.  But first, the train broke down in the middle of the desert.  I was travelling third class, which admittedly, in hindsight, was stupid.  In third class you are not guaranteed a seat, and even if you get one, it is only a wooden bench.  All this to save the equivalent of about ten bucks.  But then I had counted on the advice of a fellow CUSO volunteer from Sierra Leone who had made the train trip first class, and according to him it was not worth the extra money.  Being only 22 years old, I guess I was not smart enough to ask "So do you have even the foggiest idea what third class is like?"

So after the train broke down, we had to spend the night in the desert with no power after the locomotive drove off. There were no towns around either, so the passengers on the train were really on their own.  We made the best of it, though.  Next day the new locomotive finally arrived, but by this time we had already lost half our weekend in Bamako. I was also getting a bit hungry, as the food I brought had run out and there were no dining cars (in case you couldn't guess.).  So I was interested in stopping at the next town for some oranges or bananas.  As soon as we stopped, the train was mobbed by food vendors, but I was shocked to hear the prices being called out.  Three million francs for one orange!  In Sierra Leone it was two for one cent, where Sierra Leone cents were similar to Canadian cents.  In Dakar, Senegal it was a thousand francs per orange (which still worked out to about two for one cent).  But I wasn't sure I had enough cash on me for an orange in Mali.  Anyway, I found out that Senegalese francs were worth far more than Mali francs, so I still had enough money for oranges and even some other food, which I can't remember anything about other than it didn't kill me.

Anyway, it was not over yet.  We had crossed a border into Mali, and border guards armed with machine guns got on the train and were making the rounds looking for passports.  They confiscated my passport, and told me I could pick it up at the ministry of tourism on Monday.  Well, that didn't work for me, as there was only one flight a week to Freetown, leaving 8 AM Monday, and at the time I didn't feel like spending another week in Bamako.  In fact I'm not sure I could afford it.  The hotels were (I had to do some math) approximately 15 billion francs per night.  There was another delay before reaching Bamako, because a young child had fallen to his death off the train.  Finally we made it by nightfall on Saturday, then all day Sunday was spent retrieving my passport from the Ministry of Tourism.  I paid no bribes, but I had to make a trip by taxi to the other side of the city to get one stamp, then return, before a sympathetic official returned my passport in time for my plane on Monday.

The funniest part of the plane ride home for me was trying to get off when we landed in Freetown (which was just one of the many stops).  The stewardess rushed over to me as I headed for the door "No, no one is allowed off here!  Please return to your seat."  I was puzzled: "Then why does my ticket say Bamako to Freetown?".  The stewardess was now the shocked one. "You're getting off at Freetown?  Why?".  I said "Because I live there."  "Oh, sorry.  It's just that usually nobody gets off here."   In those days, Sierra Leone was not a big tourist destination.

Picture: I wish I had spent the ten bucks for first class. I don't know if this is first class, but it's a heck of a lot better than what my car looked like. (from this website, which also has other pictures of Kayes, one of the stops on the route)