Aug 20 2009

Round-up

tim

It’s been ages since I’ve posted an update! The trip is only two and a half weeks away, and while there is plenty still to be done, there’s plenty more that is falling into place.

Tank Bag Insert
I’ve been working on a foam insert for the tank bag, to keep everything in there in its place. At this point it has to house (securely):

  • UHF Handheld CB Radio (and cradle… not ideal)
  • VIO-POV helmet camera recorder unit
  • AutoCom comms integrator
  • Canon HV-20 HDV Camera
  • Battery charger for the above video camera
  • iPod nano
  • Mobile phone
  • 2 x 3-way cigarette lighter sockets
  • Power adapters for the radio, the helmet camera, the battery charger, the mobile phone, the iPod and the AutoCom
  • A pair of gloves

The VIO-POV and the UHF radio barely fit upright in the deepest part of the bag, and the mass of cables and adapters is pretty frightening. Mk I turned out to be to bulky, and trying to shape the layers of foam to compensate for the angled floor of the bag became tricky. Mk II has worked out much better. The foam is angled with the floor of the bag, and the whole insert stops a few inches from the front (handle-bar end) of the bag, leaving space for the jumbled cables and adapters. I think it will work!

Testing… one… two…
Had an interesting weekend of testing recently.

First of all, I’ve worked out that I’ve hooked up the SAE connector to the bike with reverse polarity. It doesn’t matter too much, since the cigarette lighter sockets I’ve rigged up are also wired in reverse to compensate. So, unless I want to hook something directly to an SAE connector, I should be OK… except that in its current state the SAE connector can short against the frame of the bike, which is not so good.

I’m reluctant, but I think I’ll need to fix that.

Ran some tests with the AutoCom the iPod and the VIO-POV, all running off the bike. The first issue was the electrical noise from the bike. I’ll have to add a noise filter to the power supply, which suddenly makes fixing the crossed polarity less of an issue, since I’ll be pulling things apart anyway. The noise wasn’t so bad with just the iPod, but when I spoke and the VOX system kicked in, it was much worse. I’ve sourced a filter… so that will have to be added.

The next thing I found was that the throat mic was freaking out the AutoCom somehow. I’d experienced this already in tests at home, but it’s worse than I thought. I’m not sure yet if it’s just the adapter I’ve made, or if the gain on the mic is a little high, but either way, it creates an awful hiss in the headphones which masks just about everything else.

I’ve got the VIO-POV recorder connected to one of the AUX ports on the AutoCom. It doesn’t pick up the sound from the iPod (and I don’t know yet if it picks up other parties in CB an phone conversations), but it picks up anything from my own mic, or that of a pillion passenger. What I can’t tell (with the electrical noise and the hiss) is whether it records all the time, or just when the VOX control kicks in. The clips I made have engine/power noise right through, and I can’t hear the mic kick in and out the way I do in my earphones… so that will need further testing when the power noise issue is sorted.

The VOX sensitivity will need to be adjusted, too (if that’s possible). At the moment I need to talk fairly loudly to get it to kick in. It’s not too bad, but if I trail off at the end of a sentence, the gate closes and the last few words are lost. Again, it might be related to the position of the throat mic, and a range of other things.

New Gear
I’ve got a bit of gear on order (some of it on back-order, which could get tricky), and have purchased some other items:

  • Dianese Knee Pads – they’re slim enough to sit inside the top of my dirt-bike boots, and they have articulated knees
  • Pivot Pegz – these things better be the best you can buy, cause they’re flipping expensive. Pretty though. Will fit them in the next few days.
  • Fox padded bike shorts – these have a padded seat like normal bike shorts, but have added protection for the hips and coccyx. My girlfriend the paramedic tells me that nursing home patients wear them to protect their hips if they fall… though without the “Fox” branding, I suspect.
  • RAM Mounts – a handful of balls and clamps so that I can mount my helmet camera just about anywhere. They’re ordered… should be here any day
  • AutoComm cables – an adapter for the UHF radio, plus a PTT switch for Marco. The switch is on back-order, but should be here by the end of the week.

More news to come… I’m going to bed.

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Jul 9 2009

New Riding Gear

tim

A reader suggested a while back that the DriRider Rallycross range of gear was good, and that it had served him well on a trip to the top-end.

The Rallycross range has been refreshed each year since it came out. The original jacket didn’t have a great reputation amongst posters on ADVrider, but by all reports later models improved. I think I’ve managed to try on just about every year’s model now, and the improvements are significant with each year.

The 2008 model was predominantly mesh construction, with a zip-off sleeves and a removable waterproof/thermal liner. It also had a cavity for a hydration bladder in the back. I tried this one, but the combined thermal and waterproof liner was ridiculously warm, and limited the jacket to hot, dry climates, or cold, wet ones, and nothing in between. Also it was just plain uncomfortable to wear. Most of the armour seemed to hit pressure points, and I get the feeling it would have been exhausting to wear for any length of time. Needless to say, the previous models were worse on all points.

The 2009 model (which I’ve bought) looks much like the 2008 jacket, but it has improved dramatically. The liner is now two liners – waterproof and thermal – and either or both of these can be zipped in and out pretty quickly. All of the zips, clips and straps have been upgraded in terms of quality and functionality, and press studs have been replaced with Velcro in just the right places. The main front zip opens from the top and bottom, and the bladder pocket now has a zip-open gusset to make room for the hydration kit. The jacket is heavy, but it’s very comfortable in any configuration, and the combination of liners means it’s easy to tailor for conditions as they change.

I also looked at pants in the same range, but these aren’t mesh, and rely on zippered openings for ventilation. The seem OK, but I took the advice of Mandy and Marco (who shopped with me) and decided to stick with Kevlar-lined jeans instead. Between the jeans, my existing off-road pants, and basic waterproofs, I think I’ll do OK. At their suggestion I’m also going to purchase what can only be likened to bicycle shorts with body armour in them. I’d heard the merits of bike shorts on long trips, but these, with built in hip protection, seem like the way to go.

I also picked up some Rallycross Pro gloves, which are overpriced and useless in the cold or wet, but otherwise very good. They’re effectively dirt-bike gloves, but made of heavier material. I think they’ll be perfect for off-road riding and warmer weather.

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Jul 26 2008

Helmet

tim

I’ve been out of the country for a couple of weeks, and I hadn’t heard from the helmet guy, so I dropped in today to see if they were in… and they were!

Last time I was there I tried on a small (the only size they had), and was surprised how comfortable it was, even if it was tight. Tried a medium and a large today, and was just about to settle for the large (which would have sucked, since they only had them in black), when the ever helpful sales guy suggested that I try the medium again.

It turned out that if you give the helmet a good shove from the back, the pressure goes from the front. Tried the medium for a while in the shop, and was really happy with the fit.

Tried some goggles, and though the one they had will fit at a pinch they don’t quite touch around my nose. Turns out that they sit just as well without the strap! I tried my old Spy goggles when I got home, and they’re a great fit. The foam touches and seals to my face, without applying any real pressure at all.

Really happy with the fit… now let’s hope it lives up to expectations in terms of wind noise and isolation.

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Jun 21 2008

Riding Gear

tim

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)

tim

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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