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Alaska/Canada Trip--2006
Two "Adventure" Bikes

Ride boldly, Lad,  fear not the spills! (From "The Man From Snowy River," by Banjo Paterson) 
I'm not the man I used to think I was. (RBW)
"Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!"
(William Butler Yeats)

For a looong discussion on motorcyling in general and Adventure riding in particular, see the archives (or scroll down) for the first post on September 28, 2006.
It gives some opinions and ideas, along with a bit of philosophy; one (old) man's view of the world of 2 wheels.

New Scooter---2014 R1200RT
Cap'n Ron in the Straits of Georgia
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Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Brief History
The R1150GS I presently ride I bought used in October, 2004. I bought the bike from a fellow in Chicago with a bit under 11K on the clock. It was an '04, had never been off road, and was in pristine condition. It had a Givi tail bag (hard), a Throttlemeister cruise control (throttle lock), floodlights, and an extra set of tires along with a low seat in addition to the stock one. It also had a Cee Bailey tall windshield along with the stock shield, so this scooter was well on the way to being tricked out for some long trips.

On the way back to my home in Southern Idaho, I was caught by darkness just outside Dickinson, ND. I should have stopped earlier, in Bismark, but wanted to get as far West as I could because weather forecasts were for snow in Montana in a few days. About 10 miles East of Dickinson, in pitch dark, I was hurtling down I94 at 70 indicated (on this bike, that is 65 actual). I must have looked briefly at the speedo or some other gauge, because, all of a sudden, there in the road, were two deer, one in my lane, just to the right of the center, and the other just coming into my lane from the inside lane to my left. I later calculated that at 65 MPH, I was covering 95 feet per second, and my lights probably reached out a couple of hundred feet at the most. So, taking off the presumption that I had taken my eyes off the road for a second to look at something on the instrument panel, or perhaps to check a rear view mirror, I had less than a second to react, likely less than that, and I didn't have time to even flinch before I hit the one on the left. I felt an immediate flash of pain in my lower left leg, and it swept through my mind that I was going down, but, incredibly, the bike didn't even waver. I checked the speedo, and it was down to 50 or so, but I was still on the wheels. I looked in the rear-view, but saw nothing. My leg hurt like hell, and I was initially afraid to look; I seriously thought it might be gone. No, it was still there, and a perfunctory check saw nothing glaringly wrong with the bike itself.

I considered stopping to go back and see about the deer, but decided to continue---there was nothing I could do for the deer---about then a car passed me on the inside lane, and I figured there was no point in stopping now, better than a half mile past the point of impact. I cruised on into town, pulled into a motel, and got a room.

I was still somewhat shaken from the experience, and my lower left leg was throbbing, but seemed to be functioning OK. I could walk, with a limp, that didn't make it hurt more, and on inspection after taking off my boot, there was no apparent damage. I decided it must be a severe bruise, and took a couple of Excedrin or whatever I had, and went back out to inspect the bike. The left side was pretty much covered with deer manure. I did not yet have saddle bags on the bike, but had my gear strapped on behind me on the seat. The Givi tail bag was OK, and there seemed to be no damage on the left side of the bike. The mudguard over the front wheel was gone from the forks forward, and the two floodlights were smashed. Later, in the daylight, I found a small quarter-sized dent about 1/8 inch deep on the lower right front of the gas tank. That was it! I must have hit the deer, and I to this day do not know if it was a mule deer or a whitetail, or if it was a buck or a doe, it all happened so fast, I must have struck it a glancing blow on its front right quarter, causing it to swing around and smack the bike and my leg on the left. Had it been another couple of feet into my lane, I would have T-boned it, and probably killed both of us.

The next morning, my leg was not hurting much, and only showed a bit of swelling on the outside of the calf. I had a good bit of deer crap on my riding pants as well as on the bike to clean off, but the bike seemed fully functional, so I pressed on, still hoping to avoid the impending storm in Montana.

I made it home in another day and a half, and a couple of weeks later trucked the bike down to my other place in Arizona, preparatory to a planned trip to Baja California. While there, my wife suggested I would be an idiot to head for Baja on a 2 week bike trip with a leg that was now causing me to limp noticeably. She prevailed upon me to see a doctor (an entirely different story). Upshot-I had broken the fibula in my leg. As it is the small, non-weight bearing bone, the orthopod told me there was no need for a cast or crutches, and that it would heal in a couple of months, and oh, by the way, he suggested I probably shouldn't ride a motorcycle for awhile. Trip cancelled...
10:38 am mdt          Comments

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Whys And Wherefores (Maybe)
The first questions often asked are, “Why a motorcycle, and why at your age? The answers are certainly unclear to the interlocutor, and admittedly vague to the responder.

Why indeed? There is something about traveling on two wheels, with the throb of a powerful engine down there between your legs. Make a sexual reference of that if you will, but there it is. There is a freedom there that does not easily translate to words. The rider is out in the open, experiencing the fluctuations of temperature, the noises not heard from sealed autos (hereafter known as “cages”), and the odors of the environs. It encompasses the feel of the outdoors mingled with a sense of complete control, individuality (severely threatened with the current explosion of yuppie “bikers.”), and unrestrained freedom. There are no written rules, no regulations, and no other constraints other than speed and traffic rules (necessary to survival on a motorcycle even more than in cages), and the common sense and road knowledge gained through experience and miles under the tires.

In the author’s personal life, motorcycle riding has an appeal that may or may not resonate with others. I am 72 years old, and of relatively slim girth. When I don a jacket, gloves, and a full-face helmet, the years peel away, and observers are unaware that behind that apparently young figure lurks a geezer, with liver spots, weak eyes, partial deafness, thinning hair, and the usual old man get-up-several-times-every-night syndrome. In addition, many, many years ago, in another life, I was a fighter pilot. The rush of piloting a jet fighter at 50 feet above the hard cold ground at 400 knots, with the trees, sagebrush and other land-bound material flashing by is something that I will never again experience, but riding a bike, with my butt less than 3 feet off the pavement, sweeping through the curves and rolling on the throttle, with the roar of the wind in my failing ear-pans; that is close enough. It is a rush, similar, yet enervated by the years and the inerrant knowledge of rapidly approaching mortality. The end is coming, and I am not one to sit on a couch with a beer clutched in one arthritic paw, staring at the tube, waiting for the end. I can still swing a leg over a motorcycle saddle, crank her up, and ride off toward the sunset, secure in the feeling that I am still alive and kicking, experiencing the zing of life that remains.

This is, in short, a search for, and a partial rediscovery of a lost youth; a small step back into the past to partake of a life that has largely passed by, but of which some scraps remain. It is the act of living to the limit of one’s ability, taking some risks, and accepting whatever may come of it.

Make no mistake, riding a motorcycle, especially at a relatively advanced age, is taking on a risk. I have been riding motorcycles, off and on, for over 25 years, yet I recognize that the rider is quite vulnerable. His warm, pink body is exposed to the crushing, grinding possibility of collision with hard and sharp metallic and other immobile objects, as well as abrupt collision with abrasive pavement, gravel, or other rash-producing surfaces. Helmet or not, there is a distinct possibility that a sharp blow to the cranium can produce not only severe and debilitating brain damage, but paralysis, and yes, a sudden and violent death. A philosophical view might be that we are going to die anyway, so you take your chances that it will be later rather than sooner, and you decide to participate in the life remaining, to repeat myself, rather than sitting quietly waiting for the end, living vicariously through the miracle of modern electronics.

I harbor no doubt that whoever asked those initial questions will not be enlightened by the previous attempts to justify this bizarre choice. Be that as it may, it is also clear to me that many observers are wishing they too were riding. At nearly every gas stop, pit stop, food stop, or rest stop, the cyclist is approached by someone who expresses interest.

“How do you like your bike?” "Ooh, nice motorcycle." “Where are you headed to/from?” “I used to have a __________. I wish I still had it.”

They sort of shuffle up, and almost kick the ground as they make their question or remark. Their envy is nearly palpable. They want to push you aside and ride off into the wild.

On the road, when passing the (lately not so many) RVs, it is a good bet that the fellow driving is quietly musing,

“If I didn’t have her with me, I’d be out of this monster and riding a bike somewhere.” But, I could be wrong...

What kind of riding, and what kind of bike might be the next question, a question that has no answer. It depends..., a phrase that covers all questions, but answers none. It depends upon what gets you all revved up. Do you want to ride the dirt, throwing up great columns of dust and racing across the terrain without reference to roads or trails? Do you want to commute to and from your job, hoping to cut gas costs? Are you a cruiser guy/gal? Want to take off across the country, feeling the wind in your teeth? Want to get a Harley, a set of leathers and a bandanna, grow a beard, and play bad-ass on the weekends? Are you young and fearless, hoping to learn wheelies and the like on a Hyabusa?

These all have their appeal, but they are not the subject of this author’s attention. What draws me is what can best be described as “adventure” riding. This means long distance trips to unusual places, and includes civilized as well as the less traveled climes. It means pavement, dirt roads, gravel, mud, and the elements. It means having the temerity to keep going, never mind the destination. The destination is something sought, but the main point is the ride son, the ride. It is the going that matters, not where one goes. If that means a dirt road 496 miles to a town in northern Northwest Territory, Canada, and a return on the same road, so be it. It is the getting there that matters.
So, we are about to discuss Adventure Riding, wherever it may lead...

This kind of riding breaks down into several categories, but they all mean the same thing, and that is getting out there and riding. You may never leave the pavement, never plan to get out there on those treacherous unpavements, but Adventure riding necessitates the probability that sometime, somewhere, there will be occasion to leave the macadam and put the wheels onto something a bit less substantial, something that is more influenced by the elements, and hence, challenging to the rider, be he/she experienced or novice.
Your Adventure may be a trip to the neighboring city, state, or province. It may entail a week, a month, or a year. It may take you over roads not before seen, or it may take you over the same road with the different experience of doing it on two wheels instead of four. It may take you to foreign countries, different cultures, languages, or people. It may lead you to new friendships, new experiences, new adventures. And that is the point. You will live in a different world, a world where it is too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. It is a world that is not always pleasant. It is a world where the comforts of home and hearth are not readily accessible. It is a world where you had best bring your full sense of humor. You are “out there” on a bike, and life is a good deal closer. The insulation of the cage you usually surround yourself with is comfortable, but it removes you from the world, and makes you an observer rather than a participant. That is key here. You are riding on two wheels rather than sitting amidst four because you want to live as part of the world, not watch others do it for you. The rewards are plenty. There comes that perfect road, the perfect weather, the exhilaration of speeding along unfettered by the cares of that other life. You are into the moment, and there are precious few things like it...

So, you are going to prepare yourself for Adventure riding. You will need several things in addition to the right motorcycle. You will need a minimum of expertise, the right riding gear, the right accessories, the right knowledge (expertise and knowledge are not the same), and most of all, the right attitude. Attitude is important, because without it, play becomes work, fun becomes misery, and motorcycling becomes dreary. You are going to have some days that are not thrilling, not revealing, and not fulfilling. You are going to have flat tires, rain, mud, rude cagers, traffic, breakdowns, and general unpleasantness. Well prepared, these can be minimized, but they will occur, despite all hopes to the contrary. There is an old saying I recall from a former life,

”If you didn’t have a sense of humor, you shouldn’t have signed up.”

It is true, true, true. One has to look at that flatly as part of the trip. Attitude can conquer just about everything.

On a recent trip from Guatemala back stateside, I had an experience in Mexico illustrating my point. I was about 50 Km north of San Pedro Pochutla, on Mex 175 from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, and it was getting late. I should have stopped at an appealing little motel about 100 clicks back, but I thought I could make it to town before dark. I was wrong. It was getting dark, and I was tired. I had ridden nearly 500 miles, was no longer enjoying the twists and turns of the road, and was just trying to get there: bad decision. I came around a blind left hand turn, making about 40 MPH, and BLAM! A flash of white, a blur of lights, and I was on the roadway on my right side, not just a little stunned. I recall thinking,

“Shit! The bike has to be wrecked.”

I jumped up, amazingly unhurt. The bike was on its right side on the pavement, the engine killed. The object of my spill was a large white bus, a local commuter taking locals back over the road to their respective homes, and it had stopped right there on the roadway, its lights cutting into the growing darkness. The driver came around from the left hand door, glanced at his front bumper where I had made contact, and then looked to me.

My Spanish fled.

“I’m OK,” I shouted in English. “I’m all right.”

People began to gather from a small contingent of houses at the roadside, children, teens, moms and dads, all came running. There was no apparent damage to the bus, and seeing as I was up and walking around, the bus driver, clearly not interested in dealing with the police, waved “adios,” got back into his vehicle, and drove off. I heaved a sigh of relief, as I too, did not want to see la Policia, having neglected to buy Mexican Insurance when I crossed the border the day before at La Mesilla. There hadn’t been any insurance vendors apparent, and I elected to take a chance and get through without it. This is "wise" only if one makes it without incident, because the Mexicans have a lock on vehicle insurance in their country, and any accident of any kind, large or small, without immediate proof, in Spanish, that you have coverage will result in a trip to the local carcel until the liability can be worked out and payment made. Taking a chance like this is not worth the risk, but there you are; judgments are not always wise, no matter the outcome.

There is more to this story, but the short of it is that this could have been considered a “bad” day for me. On the contrary, it was a good one. I am at the age where I do not have “bad” days. There are good ones, and better ones. Any day where I wake up and get out of the sack is a good one. Whether it becomes a better on depends entirely on what unfolds, but it is never bad. The only bad day will be the one on which I pass finally from the scene.

So, it was a good day. I wasn’t hurt, and should have been. One of us was too close to the yellow line, and who is not important once contact is made. It is too late then for blame, and the outcome has little to do with fault right then. The bike, as it turned out, was not seriously damaged. I will pick up this story later, but for now, it is enough to say that it was indeed a good day. Attitude is everything (almost).

Another interesting aspect of this adventure riding is the interaction between people. On a bike, there is something there that is missing in other types of travel. I imagine hikers and bicyclists have similar experience, but there seems to be something about a motorcycle that brings out a unique spirit of adventure in the onlooker. It oozes “romance” and “adventure” although the rider may have just completed 500 miles of misery and travail, the onlooker only sees the apotheosis of whatever his imagination can conjure. This opens the “adventurer” up to many conversations with people, and one soon learns that people are pretty much the same all over. There are good ones and bad ones, and it is my impression that the good ones vastly outnumber the bad. We Americans, especially Americans who have not traveled much, seem to think that poverty and dishonesty are one and the same. I take the stand that people are no more likely to be thieves just because they are poor than those with relative wealth. Prudence is a good byword at all times. I rarely leave things lying around where they can be picked up easily, whether I am in New York, or Boise, or Mazatlan. I rarely leave my bike parked where I cannot see it, whether I am getting gas or stopping for a bite. When I overnight (RON), I usually find secured parking. A remarkable number of hotels and motels will make an effort to secure vehicles, even to the point of having you bring your bike right into the lobby, as I have done on many occasions. I nearly always cover the bike with a complete bike cover, as it removes it from prying eyes. Of course, it does not prevent theft, but it reduces the chance that thieves will see an opportunity to remove whatever strikes their eye. On more than one occasion, I have paid someone to watch things. This seems to be effective, and it doesn’t cost much. A few bucks spent for a guard can be well worth the money, but one always needs to establish the price beforehand.

It is nice to have gear that is easily locked, yet easily removed when on an RON. For instance, I can remove my Jesse saddle cans in about 30 seconds, yet they lock securely for short stopovers, or in situations where the bike is in secured parking spots.

I am of a mind that there is no “best” motorcycle. No bike does everything well, and no bike does anything perfectly. Just as politics is the art of compromise, motorcycle design is the art of constant adjustment to riding styles and purposes, and there is no such thing as perfection.
I presently favor the BMW R1150GSA Adventure. This is a rugged and serviceable motorcycle, designed for long trips through and over pavement and dirt. Make no mistake, this is not a true dual purpose machine. It is big and heavy, and it is not made for trail or dirt riding, at least not by the likes of the average cyclist. I have had this bike on and off of all kinds of roads, and there are more than just a few types I hope never to encounter again. The GS designation on this bike stands for gelande-strasse, which I understand means “gravel street,” or “off road on road.” It is good on both of those surfaces, as long as the gravel is not deep. Get it into deep material such as sand, mud, or gravel, and it is extremely challenging. Getting back on the rear, especially when loaded with gear is very difficult, and the front end, heavy and weighted, plows severely from side to side, usually resulting in a spill. By deep here, I mean anything over about 4 inches. I am not an accomplished dirt rider, which makes it all the more difficult to control, and I am quite careful in launching into this kind of terrain. I think standing on the pegs and getting back as far as possible is a technique that offers the best result, but I have as yet not mastered it. I took a good spill in Baja California a year and a half ago, and broke 4 ribs, an experience I do not care to duplicate.

After the fall, which took place about 50 Km South of Bahia San Ignacio, I had to ride almost 100 Km back to the town of San Ignacio, and it was not delightful. So, now when I encounter deep riding, I choke, gripping the handlebars rigidly and holding my breath for world records.

The GS is a grand bike, but it is not the best bike, since it is my opinion that there is no such critter. The best bike is the one that suits the rider and his/her goals, style, pocketbook, and whimsy. Kawasaki makes the KLR 650, which is another popular and very good bike for adventure riding. They have maintained essentially the same design for over 15 years, and continue to sell many of these every year. Devotees swear by them once their deficiencies have been addressed, and they are few.

Triumph makes the Tiger, and Honda makes several models, one of which, the Africa Twin, a bike of 750 cc displacement, has for some reason never been marketed in the US. The major problem for many of us with almost all of these bikes is that they are very tall. People with inseams less than 34 inches have difficulty with these scooters. They are tall for the ground clearance needed in many unpaved venues, and for this reason, those of us who didn’t eat our Wheaties find them uncomfortable. I like to be able to straddle a bike with both feet flat on the ground and the knees slightly bent. My GS, with the original shocks put me on tip toe when stopped. I was able to barely put the soles of both feet on the ground, but the heels were still in thin air. When stopping, for example on a typical crowned surface, crowning from right to left, one dassn’t put down the right foot, because by the time the foot was flat on the ground, the bike had leaned over so far that it was impossible to stop it. This is less true with a lighter bike like the KLR, but even that caused me some grief on more than one occasion. The GS, due to its mass, was impossible, and even when stopping with the left foot down, especially on a right to left crown, it meant getting the side stand down before attempting to put a foot down, lest she got down too far before that foot touched. Even then, there was more than once when I had it made, but then loose sand or gravel caused that left foot to slide, and look out! Thar she goes!

And, that is the next point regarding these bikes. Once the bike is down, it is quite nice to be able to pick it up by oneself. The GS weighs around 600 pounds wet, and loaded the way I travel, with camping gear, probably tops 750. Picking this bike up is very difficult under the best of conditions, and impossible without assistance at least 3/4 of the time.

I have lowered my bike by putting on Works Shocks. That, and the low seat (optional extra) brings it down to where I have much less difficulty starting and stopping. But, when I do drop the bike, and do not kid yourself, if you do this kind of riding, you are going to eat dirt occasionally, I struggle getting it back on the rubber. On more than one occasion I have had to just relax and wait until I am treated to the kindness of strangers who come along to help. This is not a problem unless one has chosen a remote route, and then it could be downright life threatening. So, consider the comfort of being completely independent and being capable of “getting it up” without strangers, block and tackle, or Viagra. If the bike is lowered, the center stand has to be cut down, and even then, the moment is altered, and it is very difficult to get it onto the center stand. I have not yet cut down the side stand, and have to be very careful when I park. I cannot park on a right crown, as the stand is too long and the bike is almost vertical. I have to find a depression to put the foot into or move around so that I am on a left crown, and that gives enough of a lean that it won’t fall over easily.

The plusses of the BMW R1150GSA Adventure are more than enough for me to outweigh the minuses. It has good range. The 8.1 gallon tank gets me at least 300 miles before sweating it. The bike cruises at 80 MPH indicated (75 actual according to GPS) at about 4300 RPM, and will consistently achieve 40 MPG, usually a bit more. The bike has lots of torque at low RPM in second and especially first gear; it pulls very well.

The bike carries a good load without strain. I generally have, with the Jesse side cans and the Givi tail bag, around 100 pounds of gear, including tie-ons and a tank bag, and there is no noticeable adverse affect. The bike is not covered with plastic fairings or chrome, and keeping it clean is not a priority. This is a “working” bike, and in my opinion, is not particularly attractive off the showroom floor. There is no crying need to keep the water spots and dirt off this cycle. The bike comes with crash bars (a must for any “adventure” bike), and they prevent most damage, although I have replaced the front turn signals at least once, had the tank pounded out, and replaced the windshield. Mine, now a stock model, is now sporting a large “owie” where I spilled on the Dalton ( The Dalton Highway, from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse) in July. I went down crossing a wet gravel berm (windrow) to avoid an oncoming semi, and the W/S took a good hit on the right side. It is badly scratched from top to bottom, showing the impact point. But, I rarely look through the W/S, so it is just one more battle scar.

Repairs and parts can be expensive. Not many miles after concluding the Alaska trip, I apparently sheared a final drive shaft. The motorcycle is now in the BMW shop, and I anticipate the repairs, including parts, to approach $1000. This just after spending $900 on repairs to the master cylinder (another result of the Dalton spill), valve adjustment, and other maintenance items. This bike is rugged and trouble-free, but when breakdowns do occur, it requires parts, expertise, and money, not to mention time.

A simpler bike, like the Kawasaki KLR 650 can be repaired cheaply by almost any competent mechanic, and that says a lot for the it. When in remote regions, simplicity is important. This bike, as most of these types, needs some more protective gear, such as headlight protection, oil cooler guard, a good bash plate, and perhaps cylinder head guards and better hand protectors. Some people put on rear brake master cylinder guards as well. Of course an adventure rider needs something in which to carry gear. Hard bags or soft? Both have their advantages, but let me say this at the outset: whatever size bags you purchase, you will fill them up. It is the first law of packing. If you do not have room, you will not take it, and that makes it easier. Large bags encourage extras and promote careless planning. So keep that in mind.

I like hard bags, because they not only give some protection when that inevitable spill comes along, but they are a bit more theft-proof. Of course, given the opportunity, an enterprising thief can compromise any theft protection, but hard bags make it harder for casual thief, or one who has to work quickly. Soft bags can be locked, but they can also be slashed quickly. Soft bags can present leakage problems when it rains, and hard bags are usually easier to seal. My Jesse bags are water and dust proof. However, hard bags are rigid, and it is harder to cram in that extra pair of flip-flops or can of beans. Soft bags have zippers, and they leak unless extraordinary installation was employed. And, zippers give out at the most inopportune times. Hard bags are considerably more expensive, and they can also bend and break in that tank slapper you just went through.

Cage drivers are apt to look for automobile sized objects, and miss you on your bike altogether. High visibility is an asset, and I recommend a flashing tail/stop light as well as running or flood lights in front. I keep mine on at all times, and it seems to make me more visible. I wear a lime green/yellow riding coat most of the time, along with a white helmet. A white helmet is said to be the most important factor in increasing a motorcyclist’s ability to be seen. Speaking of helmets, helmet laws notwithstanding, I cannot recommend too highly a full-face helmet. I have heard all the objections to this bucket, but the protection it affords is more than worth the times when it is hot and uncomfortable. There is just no avoiding the fact that you are going to hit the dirt, the gravel or the pavement sooner or later.

That is rule number one of motorcycling, especially this kind of riding. You will fall, and rule number two is that you will not be able to choose the time or place. I have a full-face helmet that I have worn for three years, and it has saved me from a couple of head blows that I would not have survived unscathed had I been wearing another type, such as the half helmet or worse, the “tin pot.” These full-face helmets do not restrict visibility, no matter what the nay-sayers might have one believe. Yes, they can be hot. They have the added disadvantage that you have difficulty talking and making yourself understood while wearing one. I usually remove my helmet when carrying on anything more than rudimentary conversation. My bucket is showing signs of age, and I am going to try a “flip-up” for my next head protection.

Get a full-face helmet at the outset, and you will never notice any restrictions. It is worth the cost and the perceived inconvenience.

Gloves and boots are also de rigeuer. I never ride without first donning these protections. Along with these, it is wise to wear protective jacket and pants or leggings. I took a couple of spills on gravel covered pavement a few years ago, and on both occasions, had just removed my jacket and protective pants because it was hot. For my carelessness, I suffered some mild abrasions on the knees and forearms, which I am ready to testify, were very painful for several weeks. I cannot imagine what severe “road rash” must be like. I have heard that it while it will not kill, it just makes you wish you were dead. When I clipped the bus in Mexico I was completely uninjured, although my helmet had some scrapes, along with my gloves and an abraded hole in the shoulder of my jacket. This was a mesh jacket that had “ballistics” (padding) in the elbows and shoulders, and my only mark was a slight bruise on one shoulder. Had I been wearing a shirt and jeans, I would surely have had some skin removed as I slid on the tarmac.
Leather offers the best abrasion protection, I am told, but it has some drawbacks that direct me to other materials. Leather is hot, and, it is miserable when it gets wet. Rain on a motorcycle will penetrate faster than just about any other situation, and wearing leathers will result in wet, soggy, unpleasant riding sooner or later. Besides, they take forever to dry, and require more care than other coverings. No matter what your preference, get full body coverage. It is worth the cost.

I wear earplugs at all times. My hearing has suffered greatly over the years, a result of unprotected shot gunning, decades of jet engines, and the motorcycle. Your hearing is going to suffer as a result of riding a motorcycle. I have hearing loss in the higher registers, especially in my left ear, from the engine noise in DC-3s and Fairchild F-27 turboprops, which I flew for years. In addition, and much more bothersome, is the tinnitus (preferably pronounced TIN-nitus, not tinNITus) that plagues my left ear. It is like a loud hissing that is constantly there. It never goes away, but thankfully, I am able to ignore it most of the time, and forget it is there. Right now, as I write this though, I am acutely aware of it, and it becomes quite bothersome. Whenever it is quiet, such as when camped out in the great out-of-doors, this hissing can be most annoying. So, I recommend ear plugs. I have a pair that are custom molded to fit my ears, and they offer a measure of protection, but my hearing continues to deteriorate because of the exposure. Full face helmets, and flip-ups especially, are noisier than no helmet, and bikes without fairings and windshields can be quieter than faired bikes. But some of the road bikes are very quiet. There is a “bubble” of air that the motion of the bike produces, and if the rider can adjust the fairings or windshields enough, it is possible to sit almost entirely within the bubble and minimize the turbulent flow around the helmet. This turbulence produces a rumble that is quite loud at times, and over the course of 8 or so hours with decibels reaching 80 or more, the damage is telling. Protect your hearing as well as the rest of your corpus.

I carry a full motorcycle cover, as mentioned earlier, to keep the bike under wraps on RONs, and a bit less interesting to passersby. It is more stuff to carry, that can be an aggravation, but also serves as a ground cloth if you have to do roadside or campsite maintenance, and it is a good cover for assorted other things besides the bike itself. I often put my helmet and riding coat and trousers on the seat under the bike cover, where it is out of the weather, yet does not clutter up a tent while camping. Mine has grommets, so a cable lock can be run under the bike, and this is further discouragement for the casual thief if not the determined ones.

A GPS is nice to have, but I think a trip without one is not much the less for it. They give you some good travel directions, but are not unknown to lead you astray now and then. You should always carry paper maps anyway, so the Geeper is only a luxury, and if money is not plentiful, I would forego this gadget.

I use a tank bag, although to tell the truth, it is a bit of a pain. It is in the way when refueling, it scratches the paint on the tank, and it is right there for the taking, along with whatever contents you have in it, unless you go to the trouble of taking it off and dragging it with you wherever you are going when you leave the bike. Some are magnetic, and they pick right up for carrying, but a lot of them have zippers and straps, and are a bit of a hassle to take on and off. Helge Pedersen, the renowned world bike traveler and photographer does not use one. Instead he uses a bar pack that holds a map or two, papers, and other flat objects that are handy to have close at hand. I find that tank bags shift around, and some of the larger ones stand so tall when full they block your view of the instrument panel, blocking turn signals, speedo, and more importantly, oil pressure gauge or low light. With my bag, I am constantly craning over or around to the side to check these items, and it seems whenever I go very long without checking, that is the time I have failed to cancel a turn signal (my GS does not have automatic cancellation). I would have to have a low oil light come on and be unnoticed until the engine seized...
I take an electric vest. This is another luxury item that certainly is not vital, but it is very comfortable even on days that are not so cold. I have heated grips on my bike, and the combination of vest and grips makes for some nice riding that otherwise might be a bit less fun. I was a skier many years ago, but I have never been so cold so quickly as on a motorcycle. Even a 50 degree (fahrenheit=10 degrees, Celsius) day can be pretty chilly after awhile, and the vest is a nice insulator even turned off. I learned many years ago on the slopes that if you can keep your thorax warm, the fingers and toes stay a lot happier.

Did I mention lower body protection? Some kind of protective chaps or pants are almost a must. Sure, they can be hot, but the alternative, should you hit the bricks, is not as comfortable. This voice of experience here tells you that a brand new pair of Levis provides precious little anti-skid protection. The resulting road rash is not a part of the adventure experience I recommend. Besides, ripping the right knee out of a new pair of Levis is discouraging. Knee pads, hip pads, and in the coat shoulder and elbow pads can make a world of difference when sliding on the cold hard roadway, no matter what its surface. Some of the riding suits are very expensive, topping $1500, but reasonable riding protection can be had for considerably less. I favor a product called Aerostich (that is not a misspelling). They make several offerings including a couple of two piece suits as well as a one piece coverall type. These suits run close to $800 US, but they have "ballistics" in the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders, with the added feature that they are waterproof without having to drag along and put on outer rain gear. I have the Darien Model, which is a two piece, and I have never been wet in this suit. I have been in some long steady rains as well as tropical thunderstorm gullywashers, and this suit has served me very well. Riding wet can be miserable, and the price of this suit makes it cheap insurance against abrasions or worse in a fall, and good weather protection. This Darien jacket has a zip-in liner that doubles as a light jacket for off the bike times, and that folds into itself in a nice zippered pouch that serves well as a pillow if camping.

Which brings me to: To camp or not to camp? That is a question. Here is another one of those posers. I suppose there are times for both the “Hotel Adventurer” and the “Rough Adventurer.” Camping has both its joys and its pains. It is more stuff to tote, and it can be less than thrilling setting up camp after a long hard day, especially if you are caught in a driving rain, as has happened to me a couple of times. Packing it all in after a rain also presents less than charming conditions, as putting gear away wet means you only have a few days at best before things start to mildew, so you have to plan a drying time soon.

Cooking out is fun, but the even freeze-dried meals begin to taste the same after a short while, and their cost is quite high. Then there is the problem with pots and pans, both carrying them as well as cleaning up. What kind of a stove does one use? Propane, or other pressurized combustibles are nice, but will you be able to get refills in Southern Bumphuck? This is a bit different than when backpacking, where there are no eating emporiums handy. In that case, cooking is clearly required, and freeze-dried food fills the void adequately, if not to the highest gourmet standards. But on a bike trip, there is usually some kind of cafe or restaurant fairly close at hand, and it is nice to get up from the table (as opposed to squatting on your haunches or balancing on a log) and walk away, leaving the dirty dishes behind. Of course, restaurant eating can be expensive, and there are ways to get around the freeze-dry situation. You can stop at the local grocery facility every day or so and stock up on less expensive cookables that give more variety and palate-pleasing aspects to your meals.

I am preparing for a prolonged trip this fall/winter, to South America, and am pondering the camping dilemma. There are not a lot of good campsites between the US border and Chile, I am told, and it seems like a long way to drag camping gear for just a week or two of camping down in Patagonia. This is not to say there is no camping in Central and South America, but there are not a lot of places that are around enough people to be safe. Besides, the hotels in CA and SA are plentiful, and if you do not require 4 Star accommodations, they are cheap enough to make camping seem superfluous.

Hotels and motels in the US and Canada are a different story. Rooms there can easily run $100/night or more. On my recent trip back from Alaska and Canada, I was caught by darkness and rain as I rode from Watson Lake, BC toward Edmonton, Alberta. I reached Fort Nelson a couple of hours after dark, and it was still pelting rain, as it had done most of the afternoon, so I was in no mood to set up a camp in the dark and in the rain. I stopped at three motels, all of which were full, and finally went into the lobby of the Fort Nelson Hotel. The sign in the window said “No Vacancy.” but I went up to the desk, bedraggled and dripping on the desperate hope that they had held back a room or two. They had not. The desk clerk was most solicitous though, and made several calls. He found a room at the Motel 8 just down the street. I said I would take it, not bothering to ask how much. How much could a room at Motel 8 be, anyway?

I walked into the lobby at the 8, and the clerk said, yes, they still had the room. It would be $185 Canadian. That converts to over $160 US! I was wet (on the outside), I was tired, and I took it. It was a nice suite, but not that nice! I couldn’t believe that a berg like Fort Nelson would be that full up on a week night, but there you are. Camping gear can be a bother, but it also might save a night out in the cold, or hunched over a cup of coffee in an all night diner if even the $185 rooms are gone.

All right. You have the bike, the riding gear, the accessories, the bags, the helmet, and all the goodies, including your motorcycle endorsement on your drivers license. You are ready to go---almost!
Now is the time to do yourself a huge favor. Take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation or equivalent motorcycle riding course. Even if you rode bikes as a kid, way back there twenty years ago; even if you have been riding for years; even if you took a course only a few years ago, take a MSF course. You are never too old or too smart or too good to learn something new or re-learn something old and forgotten. I take the experienced riders’ course every few years, and never fail to pick up new or forgotten information. It keeps me thinking about safety when I ride, and it teaches me things I can do to minimize my chances of becoming one of the ever increasing motorcycle accident statistics. Successfully completing the MSF course, in addition to giving you your motorcycle endorsement if you don’t already have one, gives you a break on your insurance with most companies. It is well worth the money (usually less than $100) and the day (or two) of effort and training. I cannot emphasize this too much. You will learn something, and will come away with a new and enhanced attitude about riding and your particular level of proficiency.

4:39 pm mdt          Comments

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