Friday, November 29, 2013

Touratech Zega Pro Panniers and Dual Sport Riding Techniques DVD

Part of my effort to embark on more off-road adventures is to properly equip my bike. The other part is to increase my skills. My first step was to purchase Dual Sport Riding Techniques on DVD from my friends at Aerostich. This video packs a lot of information in a very compact format (30 minutes), so it requires watching several times. It begins with a series of drills teaching the rider how to maneuver their adventure bike at slow speed. This sounds far simpler than it is. After watching the video a few times, I headed out to a friend's house to practice.

The property I used is covered with grass and has several trees and small bumps that made an outstanding obstacle course. By putting weight on the outside peg and using my legs to support my body weight, I was able to take pressure off my throttle hand. This was important to maintain even speed in slow, tight turns. I quickly realized I can turn left much easier than I can turn right, so I focused on that skill by doing loops around and around trees in smaller radius circles.

Once I felt I had a handle on that, I began doing figure 8's as well as riding up a small slope, then making a tight turn at the top and going back down again. Graduating yet again, I moved to the other side of the property where I roamed around fir trees and a small orchard, over bumps and roots. It wasn't fast; the whole point was slow control. I challenged myself to making tighter turns, and was rewarded with being able to go anywhere I wanted through the trees.

By the time I got home, I was wiped out. I was no doubt tense because of the unfamiliarity of the process, and I'm sure I'll be able to relax more as I practice. But after just a 45 minute practice session, I could tell that my skills had noticeably improved. I look forward to more practice sessions in the near future.

My next step is to get wider foot pegs and install Heidenau K60 50/50 tires.

Special Note: After a quick email to Touratech USA's office in Seattle, they said I would not be able to keep my Givi top case once I installed my Touratech side racks. Fortunately, they were wrong. I had to remove the top rack in order to mount the side racks, but once they were in place, I was easily able to put the Givi top rack back on. This means I can have a hybrid luggage system mounted on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. I like my Givi V46 top case and was very happy to keep it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Coming Soon: Touratech and Heidenau

2014 will mark a change in my riding, an evolution if you will. Since getting my Suzuki GSX-R750 back in August of 2012, I am viewing my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 in a different light. I see it more as an adventure-tourer rather than a street bike. As noted in some previous posts, I've dabbled in off-road riding a few times in the past but never really got the hang of it. Maneuvering a 520 pound bike loaded down with gear along a loose gravel or muddy road is not easy. Some lunatics actually enjoy it.

But there's something to it. There is the sense of exploration, of being able to follow routes and roads that are less traveled. I've always had a sense of exploration in my life and in my younger days I used hiking and backpacking to fulfill that desire. Today, I carry my tent and sleeping bag on my bike instead of my back.

During this winter, I will be finishing the transformation of my V-Strom into a true adventure-tourer. It already has the skid plate and crash bars. I already have my tent (Hilleberg Namatj 3) and sleeping bag (Marmot Never Summer 0 degree down-filled mummy) and various other camping gear. The final steps will be switching from plastic Givi luggage to aluminum Zega Pro panniers from Touratech and 50/50 knobby tires from Heidenau.

I've already received my Zega Pro's. I placed the order on a Sunday afternoon and received side cases, rack, and accessories the following Tuesday. I chose the 31L / 38L Zega Pro panniers in anodized silver aluminum, and they are very sexy. It's hard to describe how an aluminum box can be so attractive until you see them in person. They are very well made, too. Expect a review of the installation process as well as another report once they're on the bike.

For tires, I'll be switching from 90/10 road tires like my long-mileage standbys, Metzeler Tourances, over to 50/50 knobby (but street-legal) Heidenau K60 "Scouts". They are also high-mileage tires but offer added grip in gravel, mud, etc.

Where am I going with all this? I have several trip ideas planned out, many of which are off-the-beaten-path routes in my home state of Oregon, while others are multi-week trips that approach 5,000 miles or more. Next spring, I plan to take an off-road riding course to jack up my skills. Gear is one thing, training and skills are perhaps even more important.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Aerostich Courier Bag

For about a month now I have been using an Aerostich Courier bag when commuting to work on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. As you can imagine, the body position is rather different between these two bikes. The V-Strom has an upright, neutral position and the Gixxer has me leaning forward with my elbows practically touching my knees.

I use the Courier bag to carry my lunch, an iPad, an external hard drive, and a few other miscellaneous items. The total weight is around six pounds.

The bag itself is one large compartment. I purchased the additional pocket organizer that attaches to the inside panel (that presses against my back) with hook-and-loop fasteners. In this I store pens, business cards, a small notebook, and a few other small miscellaneous items.

I switched from using a Targus backpack with traditional shoulder straps and several external pockets, and so far I think I like the one big compartment of the Courier bag much better. It's faster to get stuff in and out of the courier bag, and of course it's easier to see in a single glance what is inside.

My biggest concern was switching from shoulder straps (plural) to a singular over-the-shoulder strap. Once the bag is slung over my head to the opposite shoulder, it presses against the flat of my back and I don't notice it anymore after I get on the bike. Even when leaning forward on my Gixxer, the courier bag is comfortable and stable.

The hook-and-loop panel holding the main flap down is very wide and opening it can be rather loud.

I commuted to work through some serious rain the other day on my V-Strom while wearing my Aerostich Courier bag slung over my Roadcrafter one-piece suit. The bag remained stable and the contents were kept completely dry despite the heavy precipitation. I'm sold on the quality of this bag and wish I had purchased it long ago.

The craftsmanship of this bag is outstanding, just like that of my Darien jacket and Roadcrafter one-piece suit. The materials are solid and I can tell this bag is going to last me a very long time. Considering the very low price, I think it is an outstanding value.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Say goodbye to Detroit

It's autumn and that means winter is right around the corner. That also means that my riding options become limited. Highway 224 from Estacada to Ripplebrook remains open all year, but from NF46 from Ripplebrook to Detroit is not maintained for winter travel. Once we get our first snowfall down to 3,000 feet elevation, that's all she wrote until mid May at the soonest (two years ago the road wasn't snow-free until the third weekend of June!)

I've ridden to Detroit several times in recent weeks, specifically to get as much road time on that route as possible before it closes for the winter. Why do I like that route so much? It's 80 miles of curves and scenery without a single stop sign or town. Although it doesn't have a lot of especially tight twisties, it does have a broad variety of curve types and conditions. This is a great way to improve skills.

When I rode to Detroit late last week, the fall colors were resplendent and bold. It was a blast.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My first novel, Ohlen's Arrow, is now available

Forgive this shameless plug, but I have published my first novel, a gritty fantasy story called Ohlen's Arrow, and it's now available for Kindle at and for Nook at Barnes & Noble for $2.99. I have also made a free sample available for download [PDF]. It is also available in the iTunes Bookstore.

Vengeance drives him. Will honor save him?

Ohlen's Arrow is a fast paced story with gripping action, quirky characters, and a twist that turns a tried-and-true fantasy trope on its head.

A savage tribe of cru'gan brutally slaughtered his family, orphaning Ohlen when he was still a boy. Twenty years later a ferocious attack driven by a mysterious witch sends him on a perilous journey to rescue his best friend's child. His choice between vengeance and honor will determine not only his own fate, but the life or death of those he loves.

It took me roughly three months to write the book and nine months to get the cover designed and edit the text. I have already begun the process of writing the sequel.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: Aerostich Roadcrafter One-Piece Suit

Back in late May, I placed an order for a Roadcrafter one-piece riding suit from Aerostich. I chose a size 42 regular and had them rotate the sleeves forward to accommodate a sport-bike riding position. My custom-made suit came via FedEx yesterday and I took my first ride while wearing it.

First impressions matter, but I've learned that may not always be the case in riding apparel that needs to be broken in before they're comfortable. Fortunately, my Roadcrafter fit me perfectly on Mile One. As with most specialized gear, it can feel a little awkward when you're standing upright. It doesn't get into its groove until you assume the position specific to the activity. You wouldn't walk through a grocery store wearing scuba gear and expect it to fit right, but as soon as you get into the water everything would fall into place, so to speak.

Despite being a full-size suit, my Roadcrafter is surprisingly light. I expected it to weigh quite a lot, especially considering how much heavy-duty Cordura nylon and hardware goes into its construction. It is fully lined with a thin nylon material to prevent chaffing, and the protective pads in the shoulders, elbows and knees are discrete and barely noticeable.

Getting into the suit is counterintuitive, but the friendly folks at Aerostich include a 'donning' guide that makes it a snap. You hold up your suit and step into it right foot first, followed by your right arm. Then you insert your left arm into the sleeve. The unusual part is you engage the full-body zipper up by your throat and then zip it down rather than at the ankle and zipping up. Once I did it a few times, I could get into the suit in less than 15 seconds.

I threw my leg over the saddle of my 2012 GSX-R750 and rolled out of the driveway. Before departure, I opened both armpit vents and the vent across my back. The temperature outside was around 80 degrees so I anticipated being rather warm in the thick nylon suit. Surprisingly, I wasn't any warmer than I am in my AGVSport leathers and noticed the Roadcrafter actually had a bit more upper-body ventilation. Most of this was from airflow down the back of the collar and across the center of my back. There are no vents on the legs, however, which may be an issue on especially hot rides.

Once I was on my bike, the suit felt like it disappeared. There were no hot spots or areas where the suit rubbed on a joint or limb. There was plenty of airflow from the open collar. It felt lightweight, too. I was immediately impressed.

I rode through Estacada up the Clackamas River Highway 224 to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and back again. During that ride I got sideways a few times and tested out how the suit felt at higher speeds. It was stable and comfortable, with no flapping or other detractions.

By the time I got home, my new Roadcrafter one-piece suit felt like an old friend. I look forward to many thousands of miles wearing it on my Gixxer.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ride to Maryhill Museum Art Festival

I had plans to go fishing last Saturday, but those plans fell through so I decided to take a ride on Shoot to Thrill instead. But where to go? I remembered my very artistic and talented sister was one of the exhibitors at the Maryhill Museum Arts Festival, near the junction of SR14 and Highway 97 in Washington, overlooking the majestic Columbia River.

The weather was perfect for a ride, too. The sun was shining, there wasn't a lot of wind, and it wasn't going to be uncomfortably hot.

It didn't take long before I was up and over Government Camp and veering off onto Highway 35 northbound. I took NF44 east past Camp Baldwin and began to smell the smoke from a wildfire. I couldn't see where it was coming from until I went through the small town of Dufur and got onto Highway 197 north. Just as I was descending into The Dalles, I could see the source of the smoke from a wildfire on the southwest side of town.

I stopped at the Chevron for a snack and struck up a conversation with Dylan, one of the attendants, while he was taking his break. We talked about bikes, cops, and a few other topics before I got back on the bike and crossed the Columbia. I got onto SR14 and headed 17 miles east to the Maryhill Museum.

Several exhibitor tents were set up on the lawns in front of the museum. Most sold artwork or crafts, including my sister, Tami ( My arrival was a total surprise, she had no idea I was coming. Although we tried to talk, she had numerous customers so my visit was mostly symbolic.

I headed back to The Dalles where I filled up my gas tank (and said hi to Dylan once again), then headed south on 197 back into Oregon. This time, instead of heading back home on NF44 through Dufur, I kept going south to Tygh Valley where I headed west toward Wamic. There were lawn mower races going on at the Pub-N-Grub and I slowed down as I rode past the dusty event.

Soon I was zipping past Rock Creek Reservoir and getting sideways on the wonderful road between Wamic and Highway 35. Before long I was up and over Government Camp once again and back home in plenty of time for dinner.

Here is the route I took there and back.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Happy Birthday, GSX-R750!

My 2012 GSX-R750, Shoot to Thrill, turned 1 year old on Sunday. I celebrated with a ride to Detroit that took me through a thundershower that lasted 20 minutes. The rain drops -- as Forrest Gump would call 'Big 'ol fat rain!' -- were so big they hurt when they struck my arms through my riding leathers. During the twisty part, I took it real slow to maintain traction. Once I got up over the pass and hit the long straights I made fast time.

A few miles before reaching Ripplebrook on my way home, the rain had stopped and I had dry pavement. Two nights before there had been severe thunderstorms in the area and there was a lot of tree debris on the road. I even saw banks of hail on the side of the road in the shade that looked like snowbanks. Amazing!

In the year I've owned my Gixxer, I've put 7,000 miles on it. This is atypical for a sport bike, but consider that during that same year I also put 7,000 miles on my Suzuki V-Strom! That's a lot of saddle time.

At this point, if someone asked if I liked the GSX-R750 or the V-Strom better, I'd give them a big smile and say, "Yes!"

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Long-term Review: Garmin Zumo 220 GPS

I have ridden my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 with a Garmin Zumo 220 GPS several thousand miles, through all kinds of weather, over the past year and have a follow-up long-term review.

This unit has been up into Canada with me and around Washington, Oregon, and California. In that amount of time a few issues have cropped up, one of which has proven to be very inconvenient.

Because the unit doesn't snap into a connected docking station, I have to plug a mini-USB cable into the back of it before mounting it into its cradle. This doesn't take very long, maybe 15 seconds more than it should, but that's not a big deal. The problem is that when I'm stopped, even if I turn the unit off using it's power button, it still draws power as long as it's plugged in. I forgot to do so on two different occasions and both times it completely drained my battery within 36 hours. Fortunately both times occurred when it was parked in my garage at home. If this had happened when on a big trip the inconvenience would have had me tossing the confounded thing into a ditch or against a brick wall.

I had my local motorcycle shop rewire the power cable so that it was integrated into the ignition switch circuit. Theoretically this should have disconnected power to the unit whenever the ignition switch was off. However, this doesn't seem to be the case. Regardless of how I wired the unit, if I power it off with its own power button, it should halt the current draw and protect my battery charge.

On a recent trip to Canada, I also noticed the unit would spontaneously reboot itself while I was traveling down the road. There was no obvious cause or trigger for this behavior. Fortunately it came back up after a few minutes and it maintained the route I had programmed in it at the time. However, this is an unnecessary distraction and a potential inconvenience. It also makes me lose faith in the unit's reliability.

I am currently researching a new GPS unit for my bike that uses a docking cradle rather than a cable. I will also verify the power cable is in fact disconnected when the ignition to the bike is in the OFF position. If anyone knows of a unit that meets my requirements, please post the make and model in the comments section.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ride Report: Taking the GSX-R750 to Northern California

After returning home from a 2,800 mile ride up through British Columbia to Hyder, Alaska on my V-Strom, I stayed home a full day and two nights to regroup. Then I left Monday morning on my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 and headed south. The intent was to work my way to Fortuna on the northern California coast, then spend a day riding the loop inland on highways 299, 3 and 36, then backtrack my way home. It’s a five-day ride.

The ride to Coos Bay was pleasant and I had excellent weather for it. I went south through Estacada, Molalla, and Scio, and confusing Lebanon before heading west on highway 34 to Philomath. I gassed up and ate a snack at McDonalds under wonderful sunny skies.

The stretch of highway 34 from Philomath through Alsea and into Waldport was like butter. There is very little traffic, the pavement is in excellent shape, and the blend of curves is like butter. The Gixxer barely broke a sweat, nor did I.

I stopped along the sea wall in Waldport to give my ass and back a rest. It was foggy and there was the faintest bit of salty mist in the air.

It was much cooler heading down the coast on famous Highway 101 than it would have been if I’d stayed in the Willamette Valley. The temperatures there were forecasted to get into heat-wave territory.

The Gixxer ran great. That bike makes me think a Swiss watchmaker and an Olympic athlete hooked up and had a kid. It’s not comfortable like Lay-Z-Boy, though. By the time I reached Fortuna, my butt hurt and my left knee ached a bit, but depending on how I time my rest breaks, I can almost go the same distance in a day on the GSX-R as I can on the V-Strom.


Dinner that evening was a Paulaner Oktoberfest beer, salad, and beef rolls at the Blue Heron German restaurant a few blocks away from my motel. Thinly sliced beef roast wrapped around thick-slicked bacon, stone ground mustard, and a pickle in the center, covered with rich gravy. Yummy!

Ride Report: Day 2, Coos Bay, OR to Fortuna, CA

I slept well. The complimentary Best Western breakfast wasn’t too bad, especially compared to many others, with plenty of protein options and surprisingly good coffee.

It misted during the night so I had to wipe the dew off my bike before loading up. While watching a rerun of M.A.S.H. in my motel room last night, I heard Colonel Potter say something profound:

“The only guy I have to beat is the man I am right now.”

The ride continued south on Highway 101 and was pleasant with mostly cool air and occasional fog for dramatic effect. I stopped frequently because I had a short distance to travel and a long time to get there (unlike my previous trip to B.C.) Lunch was at the Subway in Crescent City.

Along the way I detoured through Prairie Creek Redwoods park and took a photo of a large bull elk, still in the velvet, having a lay-down snack in the brush.

Other than some slow drivers and a smattering of construction delays, it was an uneventful ride.

Dinner was piping hot fajitas and organic ale while chatting up the locals at the Eel River Brewery next door to the Super 8 in Fortuna.

Quote of the day: “I’m not one-dimensional but sometimes I make a good point.”

Ride Report: Day 3, Loop to Weaverville

After another night of sleeping well, I started with the usual free continental breakfast provided by the Super 8, sans protein. It usually gives me enough energy to make it to Weaverville where I stop for a real meal.

Fortuna is on the south side of a string of cities, including Eureka and Arcata. Since I knew I’d be tired at the end of the day, I decided to ride north on 101 through those towns and do a clockwise loop, to get that city riding out of the way up front. When I would finish at the end of the day, I’d only have a mile of easy freeway riding before getting back to my motel.

The run north went quickly, including the big mess through Eureka at 30 mph. I then turned inland on highway 299. I got stuck in a line of cars slugging along behind a slow semi. California drivers seem to be really good at letting me pass, though, which is something I miss when traveling to other states.

I stopped in Willow Creek by 9 AM for gas and a protein drink. The temperature was already getting warm. The leg of 299 from Willow Creek to Weaverville seemed a lot shorter than I remembered. I usually travel the loop counter-clockwise so that may have had something to do with my new perception. 299 is scenic and has a few wonderful curvy sections, but there’s a lot more law enforcement present so speeds must be moderated at all times.

Before I knew it I reached Weaverville and it was already getting uncomfortably warm. I gassed up the bike, then stopped at the Trinideli for a tasty BLT. Plenty of bacon! The Trinideli was for sale, too. For only $129,000 you could own a thriving restaurant in a small, quaint town.

The next leg, highway 3 to Hayfork, is my favorite road, ever. And I’ve ridden close to 65,000 miles of roads. It is windy, has great sight lines, and the pavement is in pretty good shape. However, as with all things of great reward, this comes with great responsibility. You cannot ride beyond your abilities or the conditions on this road and you must be completely focused at all times. You can find gravel on the inside of curves, oncoming trucks that have crossed the center line, slow locals and RVs, and all sorts of critters including deer darting across the road in front of you.

But, if you survive all those hazards and make it to Hayfork, you probably have a huge grin on your face and adrenaline pumping through your veins. Running highway 3 is best from Weaverville to Hayfork because most of the curves are uphill and that makes it easier to modulate your speed using just the throttle. It also takes a lot of strain and weight off your wrists which occurs when braking on a downhill curve.

I rode this leg with moderate assertion without being reckless and yet the enjoyment level was as high as ever. I may have enjoyed it more because I didn’t have any pucker moments, either from riding too fast or from close calls. The temperature was high and that is also why I didn’t push it.

A few miles past Hayfork the road branches west onto highway 36 which runs all the way to Fortuna. I had to stop for construction up in the hills and pulled up next to a grey-haired gentleman on a V-Strom 1000 with a silver tank. We chatted for a bit, and being on the faster bike, he let me go on ahead once the construction delay was over.

The rest of 36 passed smoothly under my tires. I stopped in a shady spot on the outside of a curve in the slow, gnarly section just west of Dinsmore. This is a section of 36 that has no center stripe and has multiple 10 and 15 mph hairpins that demand full attention. I drank some water and cooled off for a few minutes, then continued onward. Soon I was back on the road and zooming through a fun stretch of redwoods near Grizzly Creek State Park. The air got noticeably cooler the closer I got to highway 101.

When I pulled into the 76 station behind my motel I saw a couple riding BMW 1200GSs and heard them speaking in a southern accent. I caught a glimpse of their Arkansas license plates and discovered why.

I took a quick shower and ran a load of laundry before dinner. I ate at the wonderful Eel River Brewery next door and in addition to a couple of pints of their fantastic beer, I also had a fantastic conversation with two local guys named Loren and Rusty.

Ride Report: Day 4, Fortuna, CA to Coos Bay, OR

Happy Birthday, America! July 4th.

I saw a lot of flags on the side of the road and especially waving in the strong northern wind as I rode through small towns. Other than the wind, however, the ride north was pleasant.

I stopped in Brookings for a photo of the beautiful coast, then continued north. There were many people walking around Port Orford, apparently getting ready for some kind of parade or other celebratory activity that was about to start -- I never could determine what, exactly -- and then I got stuck behind a string of cars led by two nimrods that thought the speed limit was 35 mph. WTF? It took a long time to get past them.

After checking into the hotel in Coos Bay, I showered and napped. Dinner was at the Shark Bites restaurant a half dozen blocks away in downtown Coos Bay. I ate Dungeness crab cakes with a thai pepper sauce for an appetizer, and halibut tacos for the main course. Both were outstanding. They went wonderfully with an Eola Hills chardonnay.

I had a great conversation with the gal working the bar, a student dietician named Charlotte. We talked about food and discovered a mutual love of the Food Network show, “Chopped.” For my second cocktail of the evening, I challenged her to come up with something original using mint as the main ingredient. She made a drink with mint and lemon juice muddled together, then added cucumber soda, lime juice, and Tanqueray gin, served over ice in a Mason jar. It tasted like a fresh rain in Spring time so I dubbed her creation, “Spring Rain.” Soon everyone wanted one, and the owner, Charlotte’s brother, said it needed to be put on the menu after tasting it. It was a huge hit.

Shortly after 10 PM fireworks began exploding in the sky over the Coos River 100 yards outside my hotel room window. I had an excellent view of the whole show. The loud fireworks kept setting off the alarm of a car in the hotel parking lot.

Ride Report: Day 5, Coos Bay, OR to Sandy, OR

I woke to sunshine and relatively calm winds compared to the intense headwind I experienced riding north into Coos Bay the day before. After breakfast, I was loaded and on the road by 7:30 AM.

Traffic on highway 101 was very light so I was able to get sideways on the GSX-R750 in the twisties without too many slow cagers to contend with. Normally 101 is clogged with land barges and various other members of the Anti-Destination League. There is also a strong law enforcement presence, especially in the many small towns, along 101.

I gassed up in Waldport and had a snack, then retraced my steps inland on highway 34. It was a fast run and I had a gal in a Lexus keep up with me. Impressive. I stopped at the McDonalds in Philomath for an early lunch, then crossed I-5 into Lebanon where I got lost, again, trying to find the two lane highway north to Scio.

I ended up on Tennessee road, which zigzagged around, then dumped me onto the freeway in Albany. I tried a secondary road to Scio but it dropped me back onto I-5 yet again. I rode the freeway into southern Salem and took the exit to highway 22 eastbound, then stopped at a busy gas station in Stayton for a break.

After involuntarily slabbing it on I-5, I was eager for some curves, so I continued eastward on 22 until I reached Detroit. I gassed up for the last time of the day and got onto NF46 northbound past Breitenbush to Ripplebrook Ranger Station. There I got on highway 224 westbound into Estacada, then home. It was a familiar route and was a great way to end a rather long day in the saddle.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ride Report: To Hyder, Alaska through British Columbia

I rode 2,784 miles in seven riding days from Sandy, Oregon to the dual towns of Stewart, British Columbia and Hyder, Alaska during late June, 2013. I rode my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. View subsequent posts for a detailed trip report and photos.

Ride Report: Day 1: Sandy, OR to Osoyoos, BC

My itinerary was aggressive from the start. I crossed the state of Washington from south to north and didn’t end my day until I’d crossed the border into Canada and finished at the Super 8 hotel in sunny Osoyoos, BC. The weather for this leg was very pleasant and didn’t get hot until I reached Wenatchee.

I went around Mt. Hood via Government Camp, then over to The Dalles via NF44. I crossed the Columbia River via highway 197, then took SR14 to Goldendale for my first stop of the day. I gassed up, ate a snack and had a bio break, then followed highway 97 all the way north into Canada.

My Garmin Zumo 220 GPS was set to ‘shortest distance’ and it took me on surface streets through Yakima and Ellensburg. A benefit of this was it routed me onto SR 821 along the Yakima River. This is a fantastic road, winding along the river valley through rugged eastern slope topography. It was the highlight of the day.

I stopped at a gas station near Wenatchee and got chatted up by four local guys, each on a different bike. They were on their way to a rally in nearby Waterville, and were interested to hear about my trip.

My border crossing was uneventful and efficient. When I checked into the Super 8 in Osoyoos, the very friendly gal at the front desk (Cindy) remembered my wallet from when I visited two years prior. It’s a topographical map made out of Tyvek, the stuff you put on the side of your house, and is sold by It gets comments everywhere I go.

It started sprinkling shortly after I got unloaded, but I was allowed to park my bike under the front overhang, so it was a dry process. Dinner was at the A&W across the street. That’s the only problem with that particular motel -- you have to walk a bit, or across a busy street, to eat anywhere when staying at the Super 8 in Osoyoos. Otherwise it’s a great hotel. (On my way back I stayed at the Best Western in Osoyoos and now prefer it. See notes later in this series.)

I got chatted up by another V-Strom owner, a guy from Calgary, Alberta, as I was loading up the next morning. He also owns a Yamaha FJR1300, a bike I considered buying before I chose the 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 instead.

Ride Report: Day 2: Osoyoos, BC to Quesnel, BC

I woke up to sunshine, and after a sans protein continental breakfast at the Super 8, I stopped at Billy’s Family Restaurant in Princeton, BC about 100 kilometers up the road.

Highway 8 to Spences Bridge was the highlight road of the day. It follows a river canyon and has wonderful curves and fantastic canyon scenery. Spences Bridge is also fun, crossing the Thompson River via a one-lane bridge.

Other than the Fraser River Canyon (big!) and Highway 8 to Spences Bridge, I noticed that British Columba resembled many parts of eastern Oregon, especially the Blue Mountains. This is not a bad thing, but perhaps I expected BC to be more exotic and rugged. It’s beautiful, but my expectations were off a little bit.

I stopped at the Best Western in Quesnel, B.C. (pronounced “kweh-nell”) It was a hotel and I had to cart my luggage up the elevator to my third-floor room. The temperature outside had been climbing by the time I arrived so the air conditioned hotel was a welcomed change.

Dinner was in the bar downstairs. A picture of an actor portraying Judge Begbie, “the Hanging Judge” from nearby historic Barkerville, stared at me as I ate my dinner of halibut florentine. The service was nice, but the halibut was so overcooked it squeaked when I chewed it.

Ride Report: Day 3: Quesnel, BC to Smithers, BC

There was a thundershower the previous evening, but the pavement was dry by the time I woke up. Intense rain several days before had caused massive and destructive flooding in southeastern BC and many parts of Alberta. My original plan was to ride up central BC, cross over the Rockies to Jasper, then follow the eastern slope of the mountains down to Banff and Lake Louise before crossing the border back into the U.S. into northern Idaho or Montana. The flooding wiped out sections of the Trans Canada Highway 1 and caused massive destruction in Calgary and surrounding areas. Because of this I changed my itinerary to backtrack my way back home the way I came.

After breakfast downstairs, I headed north on BC 97 (the Cariboo Highway) to Prince George where I stopped for gas and food, then I headed west on BC 16 (the Yellowhead Highway) to Smithers. Along the way I stopped in Vanderhoof, the geographic center of British Columbia, and had lunch at Twins Cafe. I got chatted up by a local truck driver. It was a somewhat one-sided conversation, unfortunately, because his hearing loss was so severe I had to shout for him to hear my answers to his frequent questions. He was pleasant, however, as was everyone else I met while in British Columbia.

I had sun all the way until I got to Burns Lake where thunder and hail assaulted me for a half hour. The rain was intense. I had to brake for a black bear crossing the highway just as the rain started. I’m sure someone would have considered his random presence to have been an omen for the bad weather. Despite numerous warnings signs of their crossing, I never saw any moose.

By the time I got to the Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers, I was tired and felt as if I’d been riding for a week already. Three long days on the bike will do that. I stayed there based on the recommendation of a friend, and I highly recommend it to others. The accommodations are a good value and the food is outstanding. Ellie, Angela, and the other gals that work in the Fireside Lounge provide friendly service and the menu is incredible. I especially recommend the short ribs ravioli.

Ride Report: Day 4: Still in Smithers

The weather the next day was terrible, raining constantly, and because I was so tired I hunkered down and stayed put an extra day. I used the opportunity to do laundry, sleep, and read.

Ride Report: Day 5: Smithers, BC to Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK

I checked out of the Hudson Bay Lodge, loaded up the bike and headed northwest. The goal was to reach Hyder, Alaska. My GPS said I would arrive at 10:24 AM, which was great. I could stop, have lunch, sight-see a little bit, then head back to Smithers for the night. As I rode, 10:24 am came and went, yet I still had 100 km to go. I thought my Zumo 220 was out of its mind. When I finally reached Stewart, BC and crossed the border into Hyder, I noticed the clock on my bike said it was 11:24 am. Then it dawned on me that my GPS tells me the arrival time based on the time zone of my destination. Hyder is in the Alaska time zone while Stewart was in the Pacific time zone.

Just before I got to Stewart, I stopped in front of the glacier for a few photos, then crossed a narrow one-lane bridge that was erected after the original bridge got washed out by a flood more than a year prior.

In Hyder, I rode up the forest service road 88 to the Fish Creek wildlife viewing area. You can walk on elevated wooden walkways and see bears fishing in the creek below it. All I saw was the creek; no bears were present. Back in Hyder I stopped at the general store to buy a souvenir for my wife. The owner, a big guy with a head and beard full of white hair, asked me where I was from. When I told him I was from Sandy, Oregon, he smiled and said he was from Beaverton, Oregon, about 40 miles to the west of Sandy.

We chatted for a bit, then I headed over to the Glacier Inn for some lunch. This is a very charismatic place, where you can get “Hyderized” -- drink a local form of moonshine. I never drink and ride, so I left with a full belly but no booze in me. Getting back into Canada and the tiny border crossing, a young gal named Cyr (pronounced ‘seer’) asked me several questions, then let me through. There is no questioning when going from Stewart into Hyder.

On my way back to Smithers I saw a cinnamon bear peaking above the brush on the side of the road. I made it back to Smithers under light rain and checked back into the Hudson Bay Lodge for the third night in a row.

Ride Report: Day 6: Smithers, BC to Williams Lake, BC

On my way back south toward home, I spaced out my daily rides a little better. This time I rode a bit past Quesnel and stayed in the Ramada Inn in Williams Lake instead. It was adequate; I prefer Best Westerns and most Super 8. I did some light maintenance on my gear to clean it up, showered and took a nap, then had dinner. The ride to Williams Lake was sunny and pleasant except for a head wind that really buffeted my helmet around (HJC RPHA-Max; see my review elsewhere on this blog).

Stampede Days is an annual event in Williams Lake and the morning I left it seemed everyone I saw was wearing a cowboy hat, including the waitress during breakfast.

Ride Report: Day 7: Williams Lake, BC to Osoyoos, BC

I would be arriving in Osoyoos on a Saturday so the night before I thought it would be a good idea to check the Super 8 online and make a reservation. It’s a good idea I did so as I found out the hotel was booked solid. I noticed there was a Best Western in Osoyoos so I got on their web site and reserved a room.

When I got into town I had a hard time finding the place, so I had to search for the Best Western using my GPS. It routed me there and with a lot of heat outside, I was glad to check into my air conditioned room.

Osoyoos is kind of like the Palm Springs of British Columbia -- in fact, I think that is it’s nickname -- and because of recent thunderstorms, it was muggy as well as warm. After getting showered and settled in, I cleaned and lubed the chain on my bike and added some oil, then went to the attached restaurant for a wonderful taco salad and locally brewed pale ale. Four RCMP officers, three women and a man, were sitting at a table a few feet away. The guy in the group had a front hairline in the shape of a comma, and one of the gals looked like a 40 year old Boof from the movie, Teen Wolf (with Michael J. Fox).

Ride Report: Day 8: Osoyoos, BC to Sandy, OR

It was going to be a warm day so I had my gear converted to warm weather mode from the outset. After breakfast I crossed back into the United States without delay, then headed south on highway 97. This time I changed my GPS’ mode to ‘fastest route’ and it took me on SR17, a road I’d never travelled before.

A bit south of Tonasket I could see intense thunderstorms ahead and to my right. I had hoped to dodge it, as I was witnessing large lightning flashes every 15-30 seconds. Unfortunately I ended up riding right through the maelstrom. The rain came down so hard and thick it looked like snow. The rain drops were so fat and hit me so hard that they actually hurt when they struck the arms of my jacket (Aerostich Darien sans liner). After riding through it for five minutes, I emerged on the other side muggy but under sunshine. I dried out soon after.

I had a lot of wind, but despite a few light sprinkles, I made it to Soap Lake without getting dumped on again. I gassed up and after paying, the owner came out and looked at my bike and chatted with me for several minutes. I suited back up and headed down the road.

When I passed through Ephrata I experienced a similar deluge with lightning that hit me near Tonasket. Fortunately it was short lived as well. Then it got hot.

I made it onto Interstate 90 for a fast run into a sweltering Yakima, then I got back onto highway 97 southbound. The heat was oppressive but I motored on until I got to Goldendale where I stopped for gas, food, and a bio break.

I crossed the Columbia River back into Oregon via highway 197, travelled south to Tygh Valley, then followed a forest service road past Wamic and Rock Creek Reservoir where I joined highway 35 at White River. The air was pleasantly cooler at this point, and it was just a matter of time before I was on highway 26 over Government Camp and down into Sandy and home. By the time I reached my house I had travelled 450 miles, a new personal one-day riding record.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ride to Hyder, Alaska

I just got back from a ride to Hyder, Alaska via central Washington and British Columbia. I'll post a detailed ride report, but I'll summarize here.

1. I've never met a Canadian I didn't like, and this trip proved them to be very friendly people.

2. I didn't see a single piece of litter or graffiti in B.C. anywhere.

3. I saw three different bears, one of which was brick red -- the rare Cinnamon Bear! -- but saw no moose.

4. My Garmin Zumo 220 GPS randomly resets itself; I'm unsure why.

5. The dual towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK provide amazing scenery and are very much worth the trip.

6. I'm tired; that was a long trip.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Coming Soon: Aerostich Roadcrafter One-piece Riding Suit

I've been wearing an Aerostich Darien jacket for over 60,000 miles now, and if you've read any of my previous blog posts on the topic, you'll quickly learn I value it more than any other single piece of gear I own.

It's that good.

It's about to have company. This morning I ordered a Roadcrafter one-piece suit from Aerostich, to be worn predominately while riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. The color scheme I chose was a black suit with blue ballistic accents.

A few weeks ago I spoke with a sales rep at Aerostich on the phone. He convinced me to try on a standard off-the-rack sized Roadcrafter first and ship it back before ordering a custom-made version. The idea is, you put on the standard model, get on your bike and see what adjustments would need to be made. It takes a bit more time, but the suit will be custom-made just for me and I plan to put tens-of-thousands of miles on it, so fit matters.

I'm glad I did. Aerostich shipped a Roadcrafter Light with upgraded pads to me. I tried it on, then sat on my Gixxer while it was up on the paddock stand. Once I got into my tucked riding position, I quickly realized the arms need to be rotated forward slightly. All other aspects of the fit were fine.

I called Aerostich and placed my order for the custom Roadcrafter, then I boxed up the Light and dropped it off at UPS on my way into work. Most Roadcrafters take 8-10 weeks to make and ship, but fortunately the wonderful folks at Aerostich back-dated my request to my first call back in May. I should hopefully see my new suit within the next 7-8 weeks. I'll report more when it arrives.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gaining skills on my GSX-R750

As I've mentioned in previous posts, every time I ride I make an effort to improve at least one aspect of my skills. Every ride is a practice ride in one way or another. Lately I've been focusing on my cornering technique when riding my 2012 GSX-R750.

The chicken strips on my Shinko 011 Verge tires are down to 3/8" wide on the rear tire and 1/4" on the front, yet the knee pucks on my AGVSport leathers are as shiny and untouched as the day I bought them. Leaning off when cornering is a lot of fun, and as I've been practicing, it has been the comfortable way to go around a curve.

One thing I've figured out is that if a technique feels uncomfortable or unstable, or if it feels unsafe, then I'm probably doing something wrong. Conversely, if I go around a corner smoothly and easily, then whatever I was doing was probably correct.

The single most important aspect of cornering I've learned seems to be looking ahead, through the turn. Doing so makes any corner smoother and more stable. Once that aspect of my technique became rote, the next thing I worked on was my grip. I make sure my hands are relatively loose and that I don't have a death grip on the bars. This reduces fatigue and increases my endurance. It also avoids zigzagging through the curve.

The next thing I've addressed has been my body position. I grip the tank with my knees and support my weight with my legs, freeing up weight on my hands and wrists. By doing so, I'm able to finesse the front end more easily. In the curve, I use my legs to shift my weight across the seat to the inside of the bike. I press the inside of my outside thigh against the tank to help support my weight. My chest is pressed down against my tank bag, my inside elbow is kept loose, and my hands keep a slightly loose hold on the grips.

The final piece of this equation is my head position. I point my chin ahead through the curve and even keep my eyes steady. I noticed that even if I kept my head in a single position, if my eyes were wandering around my cornering was jerky. Now, I maintain a steady head and eye position as I go through the turn. This makes my cornering smooth and easy and more enjoyable.

Taking a corner at speed with good technique is almost anti-climactic. Entering the corner is smooth, using both deceleration on the throttle and an easy application of the brake. I smoothly shift my body to the inside of the bike using my legs, not my hands, I hold a steady head and eye position through the curve using gentle throttle inputs, and as I transition out of the corner I use a smooth application of throttle. As I accelerate out of the corner, the bike stands up and I again use my legs to smoothly shift my body back onto the center of the seat.

When it's all done, as I continue onward, I have a smile on my face and a realization that nothing abrupt happened, there was no jerkiness or zigzagging around the corner. It was smooth and I approach the next curve with a feeling of confidence and control.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Weaker helmet laws increase motorcycle crash injuries

According to recent findings, injuries and deaths increase in states where mandatory helmet laws are weakened or eliminated.

Advocacy groups that push for the elimination of mandatory helmet laws, such as the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and American Bikers Aimed Toward Education of Michigan, make claims that other factors account for the increase in the volume and severity of serious injuries and deaths in states where helmets are no longer required.

However, the data shows an irrefutable correlation between the repeal of mandatory helmet laws and the spike in the number of motorcycle injuries and their severity.
Nationally, motorcycle deaths have risen in 14 of the past 15 years, with more than 5,000 deaths last year, according to an analysis by the Governors Highway Safety Association of preliminary 2012 data.
Many rider advocacy groups fight to remove mandatory helmet laws, claiming that wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle should be an individual choice and not mandated by law. They often claim, however, that riders still choose to wear helmets even when they're not required to do so.

However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sent observers to states last year to count how many motorcyclists wore helmets, 97 percent of motorcyclists in states with universal helmet laws were wearing helmets compared with 58 percent of motorcyclists in states without such coverage.

Despite claims to the contrary, helmet use saves lives. Furthermore, an individual choosing to ride without a helmet has implications beyond their own lives. Insurance rates and the overall cost to society goes up when they crash because the severity of their injuries imposes a larger financial burden passed on to the rest of us. Wearing a helmet is more than a matter of individual freedom.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: MotoCentric Mototrek Sport Tail Bag, Tank Bag, and Side bags

I purchased a set of MotoCentric soft luggage for my 2012 GSX-R750 in August of 2012. I paid $62.99 for the tail bag, $69.29 for the magnetic tank bag, and $119.99 for the side bags from (I had a 10% discount coupon).

I've since put a few thousand miles on the bike, mostly commuting to work and local day rides, but recently I used them for an overnight trip (250 miles each way) to John Day, Oregon.

Up to this point I've been used to hard luggage, using Givi side cases and top case on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. The MotoCentric set was my first use of soft luggage. I selected them based on reviews, features, and benefit vs. cost. Before I get into the details of my review, I'll summarize for those with short attention spans:

The MotoCentric Mototrek soft luggage system represents a solid value in soft luggage for sport bikes.

Review Details

The tank bag is used on my Gixxer all the time. Since my AGVSport leathers only have a single interior pocket, I put my garage door opener and cell phone in the tank bag. I also put spare gloves, a rag, and a few other miscellaneous items in it. The magnets are very secure and it's nearly impossible to lift the bag straight up. You have to peal it back from front to back to remove it from the bike -- that approach works easily.

The side bags take a half hour to install and adjust to the bike, but once that's done, they go on and off in a matter of minutes. The tail bag takes even less time to adjust, install and uninstall. Once mounted, both the side bags and tail bag are rock solid, even at high speed.

I've not loaded the bags to capacity yet. The tail bag and side bags have zipped expansion panels that make them wider and add to their capacity. On my recent overnight trip, I was able to carry a fair bit of clothes, toiletries, an iPad, and a few other items without needing to open up the expansion panels. The additional weight in the side bags didn't seem to affect how they hang on the bike at all. I was impressed.

The individual features and details of the MotoCentric bags show attention to detail. Although they are relatively inexpensive, they aren't cheap in terms of features or quality. The zippers work well, fit and finish exceeds my expectations, and the materials used are high quality.

This past weekend I rode up through the Cascades to the small town of Detroit, Oregon. It was raining the first quarter of the journey so I pulled over and put the waterproof covers over the tank bag, tail bag, and side bags. The cover for the tank bag resides in a small pouch on the forward tip of the bag. The cover is permanently attached at one point on the front, then wraps around the part of the bag closest to the rider's chest using elastic. There are no tie-downs or snaps, just elastic. While riding, the cover remained secure.

The covers for the side bags are similar to a shower cap, with an elastic band around the opening. They also feature a springy drawstring that can be cinched tight. The covers flap around in the wind when riding, but that cinch strap keeps them on the sidebags.

Unfortunately, the cover for the tail bag wasn't as secure. It uses only elastic, no cinch cord, and when riding back toward home it came off and now has to be replaced. It's possible I didn't have it pulled down all the way around the tail bag, but I'm usually pretty meticulous about checking those kind of things. A cinch cord on the tail bag cover, like the one used on the side bag covers, wouldn't cost the manufacturer much and would provide a more secure fit.

Other than losing the tail bag waterproof cover, I have no complaints about the MotoCentric soft bag products. I view them as a good value, worth more in features and quality than their cost.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Shinko 011 Verge sport bike tires

UPDATE 9-18-2013: After purchasing a front and rear Shinko 011 'Verge' tire for my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, I've since put 5,000 miles on them and absolutely love them. They show hardly any wear, my chicken strips are only 1/4" wide and I've never had any loss or reduction of grip in the corners. I've ridden with them in the rain a couple of times now and they have felt planted and solid.

I paid $221 for the set from, using a 10% coupon from a previous purchase and free shipping. I paid my local motorcycle shop, Yamaha Sports Plaza in Fairview, Oregon, $100 in labor to remove the factory Bridgestones and put on the Shinko's.

The reviews state that the 011's are a high mileage tire and I hope to get 8,000 miles from the rear, more from the front. I'll post again when the tires get within 80% of their tread life, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Shinko's provide excellent grip with a completely neutral feel. When riding, I'm unaware of the tire, I simply ride as modestly or as assertively as I wish. They present no wobbles or vibration at any speed (I've had them up to 130 mph). Keep in mind these are not Z-rated tires, so it's not a good idea to take them over 150 mph. I've ridden on moderately damp pavement and they performed very well.

My chicken strips are only 1/4" wide at this point. Keep in mind I'm new to sport bike riding and only have 4,000 miles under my belt on my GSX-R. On every turn, these Shinkos have inspired confidence to this relatively newbie rider (as of this riding I've ridden 60,000 miles total, most of it on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650).

I'm a huge fan of the Shinko brand of tires, feeling they are an outstanding value. They provide a lot of tire for relatively little money. The 011 Verge make a great tire for sport bikes, and unless they wear out after just a few thousand miles, I anticipate mounting them on my GSX-R750 for the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Eastern Oregon Bliss on a GSX-R750

Some rides are utilitarian and have the charm of lukewarm tapwater. Others are sublime extensions of oneself that shall remain in our memories until the day we die, and perhaps beyond.

This past weekend was such an experience.

My goal was to take my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 on an overnight trip of at least 250 miles each way to see if I can physically handle that kind of mileage on a sport bike, as well as test out my luggage and its ability to carry what I needed. The fact that I would be traveling on some of the best roads Oregon has to offer was incidental.

My route took me over Mt. Hood, down to the Deschutes River rafting town of Maupin, through the hamlets of Shaniko and Antelope, along magical highway 218 to Fossil, through the cowboy town of Spray and along the John Day river to the destination town of the same name. It was windy and the pass at Government Camp would be a bit chilly so I started off with my yellow Nelson-Rigg rain jacket on over my AGVSport leathers for extra warmth. When I reached the lone gas station in Maupin to fill up, I was able to shed that outer layer.

The absence of premium 92 octane unleaded is a concern when riding in rural areas. My Gixxer averages 43 mpg when I ride it, and with its 4.5 gallon tank, I have an effective range of about 180 miles before I'm running on vapors. In Maupin, I not only filled my gas tank, but I filled up a 30 oz. fuel bottle that I kept in my tail bag just in case. As the big-bellied station attendant said, "That will save you a 15 mile walk!" Fortunately, it was never needed on this trip.

I left Maupin for Shaniko via Bakeoven Road, a route I highly recommend to any rider, especially those on sport bikes. The first few miles out of the Deschutes River canyon are technical and require top attention. The curves are great but gravel is common and the stakes are high if you leave the pavement. But, through adversity we grow, and each successful run over roads like that makes you a better rider.

East of Antelope highway 218 shines. The road is in fantastic shape, there are great sight lines and very few blind corners, traffic and law enforcement is nearly non-existent, and the weather was perfect. What's not to love? I really got sideways and the chicken strips on my Shinko 011 Verge tires are now down to 1/4" wide.

By the time I got to Fossil I was ready for lunch. Unfortunately, the Big Timber restaurant was closed -- either for the day or permanently, I'm not sure -- and the only other place to eat was crowded with pirates (cruiser folk), so I continued onward. I stopped in Spray and ate a BLT in the back of the small market and gas station combo. From the looks of their few, sparse shelves, first impressions would indicate they're about to go out of business. Not all first impressions are accurate, however. The two gray-haired gals working the joint rustled up a BLT for me, and 20 minutes later I was back on the road.

From Maupin east, the nearest source of 92 octane unleaded is Dayville on highway 26. It took 3.4 gallons to cover the approximately 145 miles, so the range between fill-ups was adequate. Another hour down the road and I was pulling into the Best Western John Day Inn and unloading my gear into my room.

Things got even better the next day. I left John Day at 8 AM and had the roads to myself. After getting warmed up on the highway 26 leg to the junction with highway 19, I ramped up my pace and really got sideways. Other than a brief snack break in Spray, I maintained a brisk and spirited pace all the way to Maupin. For those who haven't explored the byways of rural Eastern Oregon, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. The topography and rivers have to be seen to be believed.

I fueled up once again in Maupin, this time only requiring 2.3 gallons -- odd -- and went home through Wamic, past Rock Creek Reservoir, and then back over Government Camp and into Sandy and home.

My cheeks are still sore from grinning so much.

But back to the original goal of testing the trip-worthiness of the GSX-R, yes, it's possible. Riding attire is important, and would probably be better served with an Aerostich Roadcrafter or Transit suit rather than racing leathers. Also, luggage space is reduced but with judicious selection of only things that matter, that's not much of a challenge. Fuel capacity is also an issue, but with the what-if inclusion of extra fuel via my 30 oz. bottle and careful route planning, that also isn't much of an issue. Riding a sport bike is a much more physical endeavor so fatigue can be somewhat of an issue. Ironically, my butt hurts more when I ride my V-Strom, but my neck and knees hurt a bit more on the Gixxer. It's a trade off, and frequent rest stops mitigate that adequately.

Having said all that, the V-Strom is more capable for long trips but the Gixxer provides more smiles per mile.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Become a Student of the Art and Science of Motorcycling

We should all be students of the art of Good Riding because no matter how many miles we've put under our wheels, we always have more we can learn.

Here are a few things I've learned, both through formal instruction (Lee Parks Total Control, etc.), reading, and a lot of personal practice. Much of this advice is a repeat of what's already been said, but the fundamentals can't be overstated:

1. Look through the turn, both with your head and eyes. Even if your head maintains a fixed position, if your eyes are wandering you will still unconsciously point the bike in that direction -- giving you a 'weaving' turn.

2. Practice one technique at a time, in a controlled environment, before you move onto another technique. Spend a day doing nothing but concentrating on your head and eye position through corners. Exaggerate it. Make it become muscle memory. Then, on another day, focus on having relaxed hands (no 'death grip') and arms, etc.

3. Practice panic stops. Find a straight stretch of road or parking lot, get up to various speeds (starting slower then increasing in 10 mph increments) and then stopping as quickly as you're able without breaking the tires loose. Get good at this. Get good at knowing the traction limits of your tires. Get your body used to how the bike feels. Get good at applying increasing pressure on the brake controls rather than abruptly grabbing a handful of brake lever.

4. Practice dodging manuevers. When you see a patch of gravel or some other obstacle, your natural instinct is to look at it. On a motorcycle, 'target fixation' determines that what you look at is what you'll hit. So practice looking at the free space to the side of obstacles. Go for a ride, and at a very reasonable speed, spot objects or even shadows in the road, and then shooting for the safe space next to it instead of the thing itself. Get good at latching your eyes onto the safe path, not the dangerous object in your way.

5. If you find yourself tensing up in corners, you're probably doing something incorrectly. Do you have a death grip on the handlebars? Is your back killing you when you get home? Is the arc of your turns wavy? That's a sign you're probably looking around with your eyes or moving your head (or looking too closely in front of the bike and not far enough through the turn). Get an experienced rider to follow you and give you pointers if you're having a hard time figuring out where you're going wrong.

6. Above all, practice makes permanent. Identify correct technique, then practice that until it becomes muscle memory. If you practice incorrect technique, the fact that you're 'practicing' is actually counter-productive and just reinforces bad technique.

Every time I ride, no matter what the circumstance, road, bike, or destination, I am mentally aware of what I'm doing and how I'm doing it ... I'm practicing. Every ride is a practice session of one kind or another. If it isn't, my mind is elsewhere and I should be at home in front of the TV, not on a motorcycle.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: HJC RPHA-MAX Modular Helmet

Call me loyal, but every helmet I've worn has been made by HJC. I'm not saying they're the highest quality brand available, but I am saying they are probably the best value helmet brand you can buy.

My first helmet was an HJC SyMax, purchased at a local motorcycle dealership a day before my MSF Basic Rider's Course back in September, 2006. It was affordable, comfortable, and had a basic set of features that suited my riding needs.

After a few years, I upgraded to the HJC SyMax II, the updated model of the SyMax. It had increased features and was even more comfortable. That helmet has been with me for over 30,000 miles and has served me well.

Many people feel that once a helmet has been worn for three years, it's time to replace them. This is because the padding inside compresses and apparently moisture and exposure to the elements weakens the helmet's ability to protect your noggin in an involuntary get-off.

The logical replacement choice was the SyMax III. But there was another option available, and after reading a lot of reviews and analyzing the available features, I decided to get the HJC RPHA-Max.

It is a higher-end modular helmet, costing almost $150 more than the SyMax III, but it had a feature set and level of quality that I was looking for. I ride 10,000 miles a year, in all kinds of conditions, and I wanted a helmet that could meet my needs.

The RPHA-Max has a slightly more neutral shape and is sized a bit smaller than the SyMax series, so I ordered a medium instead of a small. That was a good call -- it fits my head well with no hot spots. The fit is a little different, however. The bottom of the helmet seems to be closer to my shoulders and this makes it slightly more difficult to swivel my head around. I still have a full turning radius, but it takes a bit more effort at the extremes. The chin bar also sits slightly closer to my mouth. What's weird about this helmet is that it has the same smell inside as a new car.

The chin skirt is a mixed blessing. It blocks noise and airflow, which is good on cold rides, but it blocks airflow, which is bad on warm rides. Once I seat the chin bar down into its locked position, I sometimes need to reach up with my finger tip and pull the chin skirt down off my chin into it's intended underneath position.

When riding a bike with a windscreen, the helmet is quiet and stable. On my V-Strom 650, I now have the quietest ride of any helmet I've worn. When riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, however, things change. I noticed my head position drastically changes the noise level in the helmet. If I'm facing directly forward, it's quiet. If my head is titled down at all -- like I'm trying to touch my chin to my chest -- it gets very noisy around the face shield. If you ride an unfaired bike that has a neutral seating position, no worries. The RPHA-MAX is quiet and rock stable. If you tilt your head down at all, the aerodynamics change at a very specific angle and it gets noisy. Considering this, I wouldn't recommend this helmet for those riding race-replica sport bikes (most folks that ride these type of bikes don't wear modular helmets to begin with, so this issue may be moot).

The visor has excellent horizontal peripheral visibility, but slightly reduces the bottom portion of the vertical peripheral field of view. This means when I'm riding, I now have to tip my head down slightly to get a full view of my V-Strom's speedometer. I never had to do that with my SyMax or SyMax II. The upper quadrant of my vertical field of view is about the same; no restriction of view.

The visor has outstanding clarity, but when I bring the built-in sun shade down, some distortion occurs. The main visor now has a central grab point (and lock!) instead of offset to the left. This means I can raise my visor with either hand. I was able to grab the visor lift point okay while wearing my Cortech Scarab winter gloves. Although I suspect the visor has several detents, in actual use it seems I can place the visor in any position I want and it will stay there.

Top ventilation on the RPHA-Max is outstanding. A simple flick of the switch on the top of the helmet brings immediate and noticeable airflow across the top of my head. I can notice it even when wearing a bandana or other head covering inside the helmet (which I usually do to absorb sweat). This will be a very handy feature during summer rides.

The helmet is lightweight, making my previous helmet, the SyMax II, feel heavy by comparison. It feels more snug around my cheeks and neck, and despite having a slightly different internal shape, it still fits my head comfortably. I'd say the RPHA-MAX has a neutral shape. The noise level is pleasant (I wear earplugs). Overall, the helmet feels like more of a precision instrument than its predecessors.

The visor is relatively easy to remove and put back on. Since it's a Pinlock type and I have the anti-fog Pinlock insert, I don't need to take it off to apply shaving cream -- the poor-man's anti-fog solution. This is my first use of a Pinlock visor and I absolutely love it. I've since ordered a Pinlock visor for my HJC CS-R2 helmet, worn when riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750.

One of my complaints of the SyMax series was the visor didn't form a tight seal against the brow of the helmet, and this allowed rain to run down the inside of the visor. The RPHA-Max appears to form a tight seal all the way around, and so far it has kept the rain out.

UPDATE 1-02-2014

I've worn this helmet for over 5,000 miles in all sorts of weather conditions and I would say it has continued to exceed my expectations. It is versatile and comfortable and has held up without any issues. It has done a good job of keeping water out when riding in the rain, and the Pinlock insert has been wonderful at preventing fogging on the inside of the visor. As I have stated before, this helmet is an excellent value and if I needed to get a new helmet, I'd buy another HJC RPHA-MAX without hesitation to replace it.

UPDATE 4-17-2013

Removing the chin skirt is an easy process (just follow the simple directions). Doing so is good when you're riding in warm weather but perhaps not so good when riding in cold weather. On my commute in this morning, it was 34 degrees. Minus the chin skirt, a fair amount of cold air circulated across my face and made my eyes water for several minutes until they got used to it. I placed my glove under my chin to replicate the chin skirt I had removed the night before and the airflow stopped immediately.

I also added the included anti-fog Pinlock insert. It was easy to put into place (as you might imagine), didn't reduce clarity at all, and eliminated fogging entirely during my cold morning commute. Yay! No more rubbing shaving cream on the inside of my face shield!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: Hilleberg Nammatj 3 GT tent

My previous tent, a 3-person dome from Cabela's, was getting long in the tooth and lacked some features I wanted in a motorcycling tent. After doing a lot of research, and realizing that I'd wasted a lot of money buying cheap tents in the past, I decided to get the best tent I could and stop this repeat purchasing madness.

I chose the Nammatj 3 GT tunnel tent by Hilleberg.

The Nammatj is somewhat expensive, costing me $795 for the tent and $96 for the matching footprint. I purchased both online from, a retailer based in Eugene, Oregon, and received the gear the very next day after ordering -- with free shipping! As my review will show, it's not about the cost, it's about getting more than you paid for. That's how I define value, and the Hilleberg delivers value in spades.

Unlike a free-standing dome tent, the Nammatj is a tunnel design that requires staking down. The downside to this is you can't pick up the tent and relocate it to fine-tune your spot. This is a minor issue, however, as you merely need to pick your spot a bit more carefully -- which is something I do anyway.

As you can see in the picture, the tent has two chambers, the sleeping quarters behind the yellow door and the storage 'mud room' just inside the door. There are vents fore and aft that provide a surprising amount of ventilation. Because they are sloped down, you can open them even in bad weather.

The matching footprint has dongles that let you tie it down at key points around its perimeter. This prevents the footprint from moving around once it is in place under the tent. The footprint packs up to the size of a hardback novel when folded, or a can of Fosters when rolled.

The tent itself can be set up in the rain without worrying about getting the inside wet. My previous dome tent had a mesh no-see-um material for the roof, so setting it up in the rain got the inside wet. It didn't become weatherproof until I attached the external rain fly. The Nammatj doesn't have a separate fly; the tent material itself forms the weather barrier. The inner tent (in yellow) is actually attached to the outer tent using a series of dongles and can be removed, making the outer tent just a shell. This is great versatility.

When using this tent, it becomes clear the designers at Hilleberg thought of everything. The attention to detail is impressive and the craftsmanship is superb. I expect this tent to last many years.

It took me 15 minutes to set up the tent for the first time, aided by watching a video on Hilleberg's web site ahead of time. Now that I have practiced, I could probably get the tent erected in under 10 minutes. Break-down takes even less time.

Everything goes into a stuff sack that easily fits on top of my waterproof duffel on the passenger seat of my Suzuki V-Strom. It's too large to fit into a side case or top case, however. The tent is too heavy for backpacking, but that's not why I bought it. If that was a requirement, I would have purchased the Nammatj 3, which is a single chamber tent minus the front 'mud room' chamber.

After spending a night in the Nammatj, I can say the purchase price is easily forgotten and the tent quickly becomes a joy to use. For motorcyclists looking to save money on motels, or those simply wishing to enjoy the outdoors, I heartily recommend Hilleberg tents in general, and the Nammatj 3 GT specifically.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

V-Strom Mid-life Maintenance

I took my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom DL650 to the shop this week for some mid-life maintenance. It now has 53,000 miles and other than a faulty TPS sensor, it's never had a thing go wrong with it. Think about that for a second. That's the equivalent distance of riding twice around the planet with only a single electronic sensor going bad.

I'm having the coolant flushed and the radiator, hoses and clamps inspected. It's getting some new shoes, another pair of Metzeler Tourance tires. I prefer Shinko 705s, as they have quite a bit more grip, especially on wet pavement, and a bit more off-road traction. However, I can only get about 5,000 miles out of a rear Shinko; the Metzelers give me 10,000 miles, which will last me all season.

I'm also getting the battery replaced, not because of age but because I ran the current unit down by leaving my Garmin Zumo 220 GPS plugged in over night. It draws current even when powered off. Speaking of which, I'm having the shop re-route the GPS' power cord to a switched circuit. This will prevent power from going to the GPS when the ignition is off.

Finally, I'm having braided stainless steel brake lines installed, replacing the factor rubber hoses.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hanging off up the river

We've had two dry days in a row in Western Oregon and I've taken advantage of it to put some miles on the GSX-R750. I rode it to work on Friday, carrying my gear in my MotoCentric soft bags. They are light, functional, and look fantastic. I rode the long way home, following the Sandy River through Springdale, past Oxbow Park, then through the rural communities of Aims and Bull Run before emerging back up the hill to Sandy and home.

Saturday I took the Gixxer up the Clackamas River on Highway 224 to Ripplebrook Ranger Station. It was overcast and chilly up the river valley but the pavement was mostly dry. There was only a smattering of sanding gravel in the center of each lane on the last few miles before reaching the turn-around point.

The ride wasn't just for fun (although it certainly was that). I was specifically practicing my right-hand turns. To counterstear, you push right to turn right, and push left to turn left. The problem with pushing right to turn right is that's where the throttle is. You don't want your pushing to affect your throttle input. So how do you push without pushing?

I practiced two techniques. The first was gripping the tank with my knees and keeping my upper body directly lined up with the bike; i.e. no hanging off. This works fine for slower cornering, but doesn't work if you jack up the speed around the turn.

The second technique was to lean my body to the right, hanging half of my butt cheek off the seat, and supporting my body by pressing the inside of my left leg and my left elbow against the tank. This removed weight on my right wrist. I made sure I was supporting myself enough by flexing my right hand and ensuring I had a light touch on the grip.

After riding 80 miles of a decent set of turns, it started to become easier. By the time I was heading home I was easily able to double the posted corner speed with a great deal of control and comfort.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Getting paid to ride

I work in Gresham, Oregon but we have a satellite office in Lacey, Washington. I needed to install a new server in that office so I used the opportunity to ride there on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 yesterday. I left home at 7 AM and got there shortly after 9 AM. It was a chilly ride, never getting over 40 degrees until late morning. Other than some chilly toes and finger tips, my Aerostich Darien jacket and Firstgear Kathmandu pants did a great job keeping me warm.

The V-Strom ran perfectly, too. It has a neutral seating position and good coverage with the Givi after-market windscreen (and Madstad windshield bracket) and both combined to make it a comfortable ride.

By the time I got back home at 5:30 PM I had ridden 284 miles round trip. That's easy to do on a 'Strom.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Trip Itching

No, I'm not talking about frustrating skin conditions when traveling long distances on a motorcycle. I'm talking about itchy feet, the desire to travel that occurs in the late winter months. I've spent a lot of time indoors and haven't taken any overnight or multi-day rides since the Fall and I'm feeling a little stir-crazy.

I have some trip ideas for the upcoming riding season -- scratch that. Let's call it trip season, since I ride all year long. One includes a jaunt up into southern British Columbia, another involves a fair bit of off-road adventure riding on the V-Strom. Yet another idea is to take the same route of last June's 5,000 mile ride to Colorado, but in reverse order. Every given road you encounter provides two experiences, and it's a good idea to ride it in both directions to experience each.

My V-Strom has 53,000 miles on it and I've got some major preventative maintenance scheduled in the coming weeks. The bike has been rock solid reliable and preventative maintenance is the key to making it so. I'm also just a few miles shy of 3,000 on my GSX-R750, and I'm gearing up for some overnight trips on that as well. So far it's only been used for local day rides.

Although the plans haven't firmed up yet, 2013 looks to be a high mileage, high smiles trip year.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chains and frost

Saturday I pulled both bikes out into the driveway. It was chilly, in the low 30's, but the sun was shining. I gave the chains on each bike a thorough cleaning, then added fresh lubrication. I ran the engines for 10 minutes, and using the center stand on the V-Strom and the paddock stand for the Gixxer, was able to run the bike in gear.

I rode my V-Strom to work last week so it received it's once-a-week maintenance ride, but my Gixxer hadn't received any forward momentum love. I decided to suit up and zip into Gresham and back on the sport bike. It was good to get it out onto the road, although anywhere shade crossed the pavement I encountered a frosty road surface. Those kind of rides require a mellow throttle and brake application.