Dec 29 2008

New template, and another ride


If you’ve been unfortunate enough to be browsing here today you might have seen a number of different “looks” to the site. Sorry about that. The old template wasn’t handling some basic CSS properly, and was starting to bug me. I’ll fiddle with this one for a while and see what happens. Comments welcome.

Took the KLR out off-road again on Saturday, riding a few tracks around Healesville, Chum Creek and Mt St Leonard.  I had a couple of spills (ok it was three) on a hill-climb that I simply shouldn’t have tried. The bike did OK, but as I approached a crest I ran out of places to avoid the ruts, so I panicked and stopped. Clutch in and front brake on are no way to stop a bike on a hill… so you can guess how that ended. My riding companions – all on smaller and better-suited bikes – were out of sight, so I waited there a while, regained my composure, and wrestled the bike back onto its wheels. You start to appreciate the size of the beast at that point. Anyway, managed to back it into the bush, turn it around and edge my way back down the hill. Managed to drop it a couple more times on the way down, though that probably had more to do with my nervousness and lack of speed than any real limitation of the bike.

It was all a timely reminder that this is a big dual-sport adventure bike, not a dirt bike. It was also good to remember why I bought the bike in the first place, and what it’s best suited to – dirt roads, rough tracks and long distances. Throughout the rest of the ride it proved again that it’s perfect for just that.

I managed to get a some air off a couple of (what Marco would call) whoop-de-doo’s, though I bottomed out the rear suspension at least once. Might need to look at a heavier rear spring, especially if I want to be able to do that sort of thing (even a little bit) on a fully laden bike.

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Dec 26 2008

May have found a top-box at last


I’ve been wondering what to do about a top-box for the KLR. As much as I love soft luggage, I’d like the ability to easily cart random items, groceries etc, and to be able to stash a helmet in a locked container while I’m away from the bike for a short period. For the trip itself , I think there will be a range of gear that will be better stored in a rigid container – stove, cooking gear, some electricals etc. The short-list of features:

  • It must be lockable
  • It must be strong
  • It must hold a helmet, and have a footprint of around 30-40cm square
  • It must be waterproof and dust-proof, within reason
  • It must lock to the bike, and have the ability to be removed easily
  • It must be reasonably priced
  • It must be cheap.

Most of the retail options, such as Givi and DriRider are geared toward road bikes. They’re usually rounded, and made of rigid black plastic. They make sense on a bike that you’re afraid to drop, where the fairing is worth much more than the top-box, but on this bike, and on this trip, the case needs to be considerably tougher.

Most dual-sport pannier and top-boxes are made of aluminium, which is reasonably strong, but doesn’t tend to spring back to its original shape after taking a hit. The only decent plastic dual-sport top-box I’ve seen is the Gobi series, made by Hepco and Becker. The top case and panniers are made from double-walled plastic which looks quite durable, and the wall cavity can even be used to store water or fuel. Unfortunately they’re also around $450, not including the adapter plate to attach them to the bike.

The alternative is to use a storage case that is not actually designed as a motorcycle top-box, such as a Pelican case. Most of these are pretty heavy, and most of them don’t come in “cube” configuration that would hold a helmet. They’re also as expensive as a Gobi or similar.

Taurus 353434

Taurus 353434

Enter Trimcast, a Bayswater-based company that makes rotomoulded plastic transit cases for commercial, recreational and military applications. They seem to be made from a similar material to the Gobi cases, though these are single-walled. They meet all the criteria, except for the fact they’re not actual motorcycle cases. The Taurus Modular Spacecase 353434 is, as the name suggests” a ~35cm cube, which is dustproof, lockable, durable and light. At around $130, it’s also remarkably cheap.

But that does leave me with the problem of mounting it to the bike, though I think I have a solution.

The first step will be to use a large nylon (or plastic) chopping board and chop an inch-wide – or better still, tapered – strip from either side of it. The cut, rather than perpendicular to the surface of the board, will need to be at 45 degrees. This will leave the two outer strips with an “overhang” bevel, while the centre piece will have a “rooftop” bevel. I’d mount the two outer strips to the top of the rear cargo rack on the bike, and the centre piece to the bottom of the case. This would create a slide-in fitting for the case, much like a quick-release head on a camera tripod (sorry… it’s the best example I can think of right now).

The case would be stopped from sliding forward by the narrowing gap between the two side strips At the other end of the case, in one of the side recesses, I’d attach a patio bolt lock that locked down into the side-strip of the chopping board material. Most manufacturers make a push-button lock that only requires the key to unlock it. Since there’s no pin going into the case itself, the dust-proof properties of the case won’t be compromised. Since the bolt will be going into the chopping-board material, I don’t have to worry about the strength of the existing rear rack, or the about drilling into it to accommodate the bolt.

So, that’s where I’m going with all that. Sorry if it’s not the most riveting read… but it’s a brain dump, just so I don’t forget.

UPDATE: I’ve found a source for the the chopping-board material, and it looks as though I might be able to get it in black, which is even better! (I also updated my analogy about the camera tripod, which is probably no clearer than the one it replaces.)

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Dec 17 2008

New skid plate on the market


I’ve been dragging the chain a bit with regards to a skid plate for the KLR. I know I should get one… I just haven’t yet. In what might turn out to be a handy justification for procrastination, a new skid plate seems to have just come on the market.

A poster on is working on a new design which, even in prototype stage, is better looking than any of the others I’ve seen. It’s more closely matches the OEM black plastic one for shape and coverage, and isn’t so square-rigged as most. It’s still cut and welded, unlike the nicely stamped one on the BMW Dakar… but it looks pretty good.

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Dec 12 2008

Capturing the action


This week I took delivery of a new video camera. My old one didn’t quite come back in one piece from a trip earlier in the year, and I’ve been trying to decide whether to buy a replacement standard def DV model (the equivalent replacement being around $300), or to get on the HD bandwagon. I figured that if I got a lower-end camera I’d still end up buying something HD before long, so it was more a matter of which one when.

I’ve been looking at the Canon HV20 for some time. It one some awards when it came out in 2007, and has reviewed very well. It’s also been the starting point (albeit with some pretty funky add-ons) for some indie filmmakers. It’s reasonably compact, and it’s HDV – using the same miniDV tapes that my old camera used. I’ve never taken to the idea of a HDD-based camera, especially since full is full, and when you’re in the middle of nowhere you can’t do much about it. Also the compression of AVCHD cameras makes the footage a pain to edit. So, the HV20 ticked all the boxes for me.

The HV20 was replaced by the HV30 not long ago. It’s effectively the same camera, painted black. The only new feature is a 24fps “cine mode”, which further caters to the indie film guys. In the US where normal frame rates are 30fps (well, technically 60, but that doesn’t matter), it’s a great feature. In Australia, where standard frame rates are 25fps, the feature is almost useless… which is why the Australian HV30 doesn’t even have the cine mode feature.

So… there are stockists in Australia with HV20s imported when the dollar was, you know, worth around a dollar, who also have the newer but virtually identical HV30, which they no doubt imported at a considerably poorer exchange rate. The difference in price? between $200 and $500, depending on where you look.

I’ve taken a few shots with it, and the quality is incredible. I’ve been looking at 35mm DOF adapters (more on that in a moment) but to be honest the depth of field and manual focus on the camera itself is very good, to the point where I’d have a hard time justifying the expense of an add-on lens.

35mm Depth of Field adapters are a great idea. The theory is that video will never have the cinematic properties of film, as long as the capture surface is smaller than the 35mm stock of motion picture film; so to get around this, a variety of manufacturers have developed a “light-box” with a piece of ground glass inside acting as a two-way screen, that sits between a a conventional 35mm SLR lens and a consumer or prosumer DV camera. The 35mm lens projects onto the ground glass an image with all the qualities of 35mm footage, while all the Dv camera has to do is hold focus on the other side of the ground glass. Some of the results are incredible. If you don’t believe me, Google it and take a look.

Most of these adapters start around the $US1000 mark, and go up from there. 35mm lenses project an upside down image, so you wind up recording the image that way, or running your camera upside down. Either way, the image in the viewfinder remains upside down, regardless of which way up your camera is. So some developers have added an image-correcting feature to their 35mm adapters… for a price.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover, a small company in Turkey which is producing (by all reports) a very good 35mm adapter for around half the price of most others. The design is smart, and aimed squarely at smaller cameras. It spins the ground glass (where others sometimes vibrate it) so that the grain of the glass can never be captured by the camera, only the image projected on it. It doesn’t rotate the image, but that’s not a show stopper, particularly at the price.

So now I’ve found the adapter I would buy if I were to buy one, and have a camera that makes me wonder if I would really ever need it.

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Dec 12 2008



Despite the fact that a 17inch rear tyre isn’t as easy to come by as they once were, I finally managed to obtain a set of Dunlop D606s for the KLR a week ago. I’ve probably only changed a motorcycle tyre once before, but with the help of the KLR workshop manual and a very useful YouTube video, I had the two tyres fitted in around an hour and a half, and 2 beers. I reckon I could probably halve that (the time, but not necessarily the beers) now that I know what I’m doing.

I’ve probably ridden around 200 kays on the new tyres, and for what they are I’m happy with them. They don’t inspire the same confidence on the bitumen that the road tyres did, but I wouldn’t expect them to. That said, I didn’t find myself holding back though the corners on the D606s… I was just more aware of them.

I’m also aware of the noise. At higher speeds I can’t hear it for wind and engine noise, but at low speed the tyres make a but of a howl. Not bad, and certainly not unexpected.

On the dirt they’re great. I repeated a 100km ride to Mt Donna Buang and back, taking the same route I’d taken the previous week on the road tyres, and while the on-road experience was not wildly different, riding on a variety of other surfaces was much better. Hard-packed dirt, muddy corners, thick gravel and water on the track where all much easier to negotiate.

While I’d still probably choose the Trailmaxs for a long highway run, I’d be happy enough with the D606s, if that’s all I had.

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