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 MightyWallet.com. 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.