Jun 21 2008

Riding Gear


Doing a long trip with a slab of off-roading in the middle of it makes for a bunch of compromises. Hence the choice of bike. The other thing is the choice of riding gear.

I’ve ridden my KLX for years with a Dri-Rider style road-bike jacket; one of the long-ish ones that keep the rain out and the sweat in. It’s been a good jacket, though the zip-out extra-warmth liner got zipped out so long ago I can’t find it now. It’s great on the highway, but as soon as you start actually working hard or riding slow, it can get pretty hot.

Last year I bought some real live dirt-biking gear – pants that stop at the anke and fit inside your boots, a pressure suit, and a jersey that goes over the top of that. The difference has been amazing, particularly on a long, offroad trip when it’s warm. Sure, you feel like a twit in an armoured fishnet stocking shirt thing, but such is the price of fashion. But the air-flow…. lovely!

My only concern with the new MX gear is that it’s probably next to useless in a high-speed tarmac off. And that’s kinda the place I’d like it to work. It’s also what I expect to be riding on for 8000-odd kays next September.

So there’s the trade-off: road gear is too heavy and hot for off-road (not to mention Top-End off-road), and MX gear is too light for the highway.

Last week a friend and I checked out some alternatives at a local bike gear shop. We looked at a bunch of stuff: summer (way-breathable) road-bike gear; short-waisted, fully armoured road-bike gear (which was cool, though the shoulder and elbow pads were a little uncomfortable); big, long Dri-Rider type jackets. The only thing I missed, which I found today, were the MX jackets. These have no armour in them, but they’re reasonably insulated, windproof and waterproof, and are designed to go over a pressure suit and jersey. They have plenty of zip-up vents, big pockets etc.

Thinking about the mixed conditions of the trip – road, trail, south, north, desert, day, night, camping – this might be the best option. I can use the ol’ hiker’s “layering” technique, whether we’re riding in the desert sun or camping in the desert cold… or anything else along the way.

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Jun 14 2008

Bike Shopping (or at least Tyre Kicking)


Spent the middle of today checking out bikes with a friend of mine (and prospective travelling companion). While the primary interest was in the KLR650 (which my friend had not get up close with yet), we checked out just about anything with two wheels.

What amazed me most was the price variations. We’ve found a $500 spread in advertised prices (though when I spoke to one shop assistant about his own store’s web-advertised price, he knew nothing about it. But more amazing still was the range of on-road prices, which seriously saw $1000 difference between the best and the worst. Admittedly the best was via a contact, and probably as good as I’m going to get, and others were just first offers, and I don’t think anyone was trying. Ah well, I’ll stop kicking tyres soon.

The level of attention and service was interesting, too. Neither of the Kawasaki dealerships we went to seemed to give a damn. Maybe we just looked like tyre kickers, but apart from the “can we help you”, “what’s the on-road price” exchange, they payed us little attention.

One pleasant exception was at Peter Stevens in Rinwood (yeah, the good guys get named). We were in there looking at the V-Stroms (well, everything, really), and Jamie was really helpful. He had a lot of good to say about the KLR (a bike and brand they don’t even stock), and gave us really good advice about what sort of compromises to expect on a dual-sport bike. Made me wish he stocked the Kawasakis. Another guy (who’s name I can’t recall) gave us plenty of assistance with Helmets, which was great, too.

Finally got to check out the Zeus ZS 2100 B Dual-Sport helmet. There aren’t many stockists around, and these guys unfortunately only had a small one in stock. Still, even the small was a reasonable fit, and it really was quite good. If they’re as quiet as the reviews suggest, I’m very interested. The guy at the shop said that they work with most standard goggles, though most of the time I doubt I’d need them. He’ll let me know when they get more stock in. At $250, they’re a lot cheaper than the Shoei or Arai DS helmets, but they’re really quite good.

We also checked out jackets, pants and boots. Boots are a tricky choice on such a long trip. Road-bike boots are a little too tame (or just plain wanky-looking), but dirt-bike boots might be a little too much. We saw some medium-length boots that seemed to have good shin protection and reasonable toe and ankle movement, though. Makes me wonder if the old combat boots that I wore in Tassie might be the best option.

So… most interesting bikes?

Yamaha XT660: beautiful bike, especially in black. They’d need some modification, since the twin exhausts are completed exposed, and there’s no rear rack. In order to carry luggage they’d need side and top racks added. Also, there doesn’t seem to be the same after-market modding and farkle market that there is for other DS bikes. They’re a little dear. And they’d need a decent windscreen. Oh, I should also mention the exhaust pipes run down the front of the engine and under the whole bike. What’s with that???

Benelli Tre 1130 K Amazonas: oh my giddy aunt! My friend has since found out that they’re pretty dodgey off-road, and not what you’d call a comfortable ride, but this this is impressive up close. It’s like a street racer on stilts.

Kawasaki KLR 650: Duh! OK… not exactly a revelation, but it was good to check out a few things I hadn’t noticed before; things that the photos can’ tell you. There’s enough clearance under the handlebars to mount power outlets in the horizontal part of the fairing below the instruments. I’ve heard reports that the plastic there can crack if it’s drilled, so maybe not. The side panels are rigid enough (and have enough clearance) that they won’t be pushed against the exhaust by the saddle bags. Nice to know.

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Jun 9 2008

Why the KLR650?


Found this on Adrian Scott’s site (though it’s from someone else). It’s interesting to read his reasoning for the KLR650 (which seems to be similar to my own), and also the list of things that broke down on the three bikes on the trip.

One thing I’m impressed with is his plan to buy new, identical bikes. This is a great idea, and one I would take on board if I had any idea who was coming! Still, most people I’ve chatted to about the trip (who might be interested in being a part of it) have shown an interest in the current KLR (or an older model), and most would need to buy a suitable bike for the trip anyway. I guess it would be more important to take identical bikes if we weren’t taking a support vehicle.

Then again, if we were all taking new KLRs we probably wouldn’t need a support vehicle

Spoke to a guy a few weeks a go who is toying with the idea of riding around Australia with his mates on Honda Dominators. Although the Dominator is no longer in production, it shares a lot of parts with the XR650. To his thinking (and his expertise as a motorbike mechanic) the Domi’s are cheap, reliable and easy to fix, and if everyone on the trip has the same cheap, reliable bike, it simplifies everything. Hard to argue with that.

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Jun 9 2008

Hard way round


Gotta love this guy. Adrian Scott rode a 2004 KL650 (stock!) from Magadan in Siberia, along the Road of Bones to Istanbul…. SOLO! He was recently featured on ABC Radio (which I missed, but which I’m downloading right now), and he’s published a book, which I think I’m going to have to buy.

Anyone familiar with Long Way Round would know about the Road of Bones and what a mess it is. And this guy did it on his own, on a KLR. What a class act. It certainly adds weight to the argument that the BMW 1200 Adventure is just ridiculously large and heavy. It takes 2 people to lift one if you drop it, and that’s without gear. A 650 makes so much more sense to me.

Adrian’s site has a lot of detailed information about the route, the gear he took and all the preparations. Great info!

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Jun 9 2008

Off-topic: Cheese


You have to see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-Ut73TA4nw

(Sorry… they won’t let me embed it)

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Jun 1 2008

Day 11 onwards…


I’m pretty happy with the route for days 1 to 10, though I’ll wait for some feedback from friends who know some of the roads better than me (or at all), and adjust them as I go.

But Day 11 is where it will start to get tricky. It’s 250km to Barunga on what becomes the Central Arnhem Road, and the bitumen runs out about 20km after that. It’s not a full day’s ride to Barunga, obviously, but it’s also hard to tell how far we’d make it past that.

One option would be to make Barunga the destination for the day anyway. That would give us an easier day’s ride, give us time to check out Alice Springs a little, and possibly give us a chance to prepare the bikes for the long dirt ride to Lake Evella and Nhulunbuy. It’s about 500km from Barunga to Lake Evella, but I’m guessing that will take more than a day to do. If that’s the case, it puts us Lake Evella sometime on Day 13 – over half our likely distance in less than our total time. Here’s a map of the 3 days.

Hopefully we can get a few days in Lake Evella to meet the locals and catch up with old friends. How long we get will depend on the route we take home. Or perhaps it’s the other way around – the route back will depend on how long we choose to stay.

There’s still lots to work out. We’ll need permits to enter some areas, even up to this point. If we can’t refuel in Lake Evella, then the nearest listed fuel is Nhulunbuy, 220km further north and east. Can we make it from Lake Evella to Darwin, or do we have to head back down the Central Arnhem Road? Do we skip Darwin altogether, and concede that we can fly there another time?

My gut feel is that we’ll head back to the Stuart Hwy roughly the way we came, and follow it all the way south, through Coober Pedy and Woomera, then head home over Port Augusta. Once back on the tarmac we could get home in around a week, though that would be a hard ride. Here’s a rough map of the return trip, though the actual daily destinations are just place-holders for now.

But if that meant we had a week (or near enough to it) in and around Lake Evella, it just might be worth it. I’ll update the main route page when I get this settled in my head.

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Jun 1 2008

Panniers, Saddle Bags and… StompGrip?


A lot of the material I read about adventure riding mentions the pros and cons of hard panniers and saddle bags. I’ve never been a fan of panniers, particularly on an off-road or adventure bike, where the rider frequently has to put his feet down, and where dropping the bike is a reality. Most panniers have hard corners, which I wouldn’t like to connect with in a fall. Also, being both rigid and metal, they really don’t seem likely to survive an impact (or frequent impacts, for that matter). Plastic panniers seem to be more rounded, but they’re usually smaller than their metal equivalent, and look as though they would hold less than a saddle-bag.

So, I’m settled on saddle-bags. No surprises there.

There also seem to be some differing schools of thought on how best to support saddle-bags. There’s a few reasons for this. Heat is an issue on whichever side of the bike the exhaust sits. I experienced this in Tasmania, where my buddy and I both managed to melt our side plastic, though this was only a little, and only on long, slow, difficult stretch, where the bikes were running hot and the bags were tied down hard. If heat is the only issue, I’d rather find a heat shield or spacer behind the plastic that stopped contact with the muffler. (We also found out, after some of the mount points tore off the bags, that you don’t need to tie them down all that much. They tend to move with the bike.)

Another issue, particularly where there’s dirt involved, is that of scratching the side-panels. My KLX-250 came back from Tassie with plenty of scratches, and the ones under the saddle-bags managed to get fine dust ground into them over the 10 days of the trip. Some saddle bags offer soft backing material, but I can’t see that making much difference. Even soft cloth with grit in it will scratch the plastic.

I’ve seen a variety of frames for the KLR and other bikes which can support saddle bags. Some of these are as heavy and involved as pannier frames, which seems a bit over-the-top to me. Some follow the contour of the side panels. Some push the bags out wide to give them a straight drop. None of them do it for me. As long as the sides of the bike are roughly symmetrical (something the KLR does better than my KLX, and even that was fine) and the plastic panels cover enough of the exhaust (and on the new KLR they do), I’d rather just let the bags sit.

The other day I found a product which looks as though it will address some of these issues. StompGrip is a clear, self adhesive rubber surfacing which provides grip and protection on hard surfaces. Most applications seem to be on the tank area, to give the rider knee-grip. I’m not sure if that’s a great idea on a dirt-bike, or even a dual-sport, where your ability to move independently of the bike seems to be just as important as your ability to hold on. But putting it on the side panels where the saddle-bags would rest might make sense. It would provide some grip for the bags, provide protection for the bike, and probably add another layer of insulation from the muffler.

Unfortunately there’s no kit specifically for the KLR, but they sell sheets of the stuff, so I could cut my own easily enough.

Now I just need to find that heat-shield or spacer for behind the plastic and I’m all set.

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Jun 1 2008

Helmet Camera Update


You’ll notice a comment on the Helmet Camera post from Mark. He points out that the POV.1 Hemet camera can connect to a standard tripod, since one of the mounting brackets has a standard thread on it. Excellent! He also mentions that the POV.1 has a wider-angle lens, which will make a huge difference to that video quality, particularly over rough surfaces. Wide-angle lenses minimise camera shake, as the overall shot area doesn’t change as much when the camera is bumped (think of how unsteady your camera is when you zoom in on something – it’s the opposite of that).

It’s cheaper that it used to be, too. Sweet!

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