Latest gear: HJC CS-R2 helmet and Garmin Zumo 220 GPS

When you ride as much as I do, no matter how well you take care of your gear it will eventually wear out. So is the case with my Garmin Zumo 450 GPS and my HJC SyMax II modular helmet.

My Zumo 450 GPS partially crapped out in Nevada on a recent 5,000 mile trip. It still showed my current location, speed, elevation, etc. but the touch screen stopped registering my input. The unit had been reliable although it occasionally became confused, as most GPS units are prone to be from time to time. I had to navigate the rest of the trip the hard way, using paper maps and turn logs that I would plot out the night before.

Getting around is easy enough the old fashioned way, but a GPS unit on your bike is very handy in some other ways. When you’re in a city, they can efficiently guide you to nearby gas stations, restaurants, and motels. In larger cities, they help you find your way through the concrete jungle to critical junctions and highways leading out of town. A GPS can also tell you how far you are from the nearest gas station, which is invaluable when determining if you should fuel up now or head on down the road.

Garmin Zumo 220

I replaced it with a newer model, it’s little brother, the Zumo 220. It is a no-frills unit that gets the job done with the features I need. Unlike the previous unit, the 220 uses a mini-USB connector to attach to the bike’s power. Rather than snapping it into its mounting cradle, you must first plug the mini-USB connector into the back of the unit, then lock it into the cradle. This is an extra step, and it makes me miss the docking station used by the 450.

On the plus side, the 220 seems to lock onto satellites much quicker and the display is easy to see. I’ve yet to rely on it for city navigation or route plotting, but most of the functionality I need seems to be present.

HJC CS-R2 Storm Helmet

My first helmet was the HJC SyMax. It lasted about two years before an upgraded model came out, the SyMax II. Of course I upgraded, even though my old helmet was still functional. The SyMax II was comfortable and versatile and has served me well for several years and tens of thousands of miles. One of the drawbacks to both models, however, was an ill-fitting face shield. During moderate to heavy rain, water would run down the inside of the face shield because the top of the shield didn’t seat completely against the rubber gasket across the brow of the helmet body. On especially cold rides I could feel the chilly air coming through that gap and onto my cheeks.

I’m loyal to the brand, both because of its value and because I know that their head shape fits me. My SyMax II has been showing its age lately and helmets should be replaced after 3-5 years of use anyway — due to the gradual collapse of the interior padding, lessening its protective effectiveness in a crash — so I shopped around for a suitable replacement.

This time I decided to go with a full-face model instead of a modular design. I wanted reasonable cost and features, no internal flip-down sun shade, and DOT-only certification; no Snell rating (Snell rated helmets subject the human skull to higher G-forces in an impact event; look it up). I also wanted a helmet with a design pattern on the outside rather than the plain colors I’ve been wearing to date.

I settled on the HJC CS-R2 “Storm” in grey. It is lightweight, has the feature set I wanted, and was surprisingly inexpensive. I paid $98 for it with free shipping from Motorcycle-Superstore.com.

I’ve ridden about 500 miles with it so far and really like it. I have to get used to the fact that I can’t flip up the whole front part of the helmet like I could with my modular SyMax II. One downside is the face shield only has three detent positions; the first is barely open, which is great when fogging occurs, the other is in the middle and the top is all the way up. I wish it had 5 positions instead of three. The fit is fairly tight around my cheeks, so I find I ride with my mouth slightly open — this narrows my cheeks, basically. I’m assuming the padding will deflate slightly over time. The size was spot on; I wear a small in all three HJC models I’ve owned. There are no hot spots, either. Although the helmet is quiet, there is a slight amount of wind noise from the top air vents, even when the vent is closed. When I raise my head into the full oncoming rush of air above my wind screen I can tell that a decent amount of air passes through the helmet. This is handy when riding in hot weather.

I’ve yet to wear the CS-R2 in rainy conditions, but close examination (and online reviews) show the face shield is pressed firmly against the brow gasket. Although I haven’t treated the inside of the face shield yet, it fogs up very easily. I also noticed the clear face shield that comes with the helmet seems to have a slight gradation of tinting or perhaps polarization from top to bottom. It’s subtle. I’ve ordered an additional shield, the HJ-09 in “Silver”, from Motorcycle-Superstore.com, to provide better tinting in sunny conditions.

Are you a writer or merely someone who writes?

Arnold Palmer once said,

There is a difference between a golfer and someone who plays golf.

It sounds like pedantic semantics (say that ten times fast!) but there is a fundamental change that occurs when you go from doing to being.

The boundary between being a writer and someone who merely writes is hard to define, but it can be recognized by a few different characteristics. The most obvious difference is a writer gets paid to do so, and probably — hopefully — makes a living doing it, although there are a great many successful, published writers that hold down full-time day jobs to pay the rent despite having one or more books on the shelves. Someone who writes probably isn’t cashing very many royalty checks or buying second homes with the advance on their next novel.

Money isn’t everything. Where the financial side of writing ends, the matter of attitude picks up and this is probably where writers separate themselves from the rest of those who merely write. Let’s say you are attending a cocktail party and someone asks, “So, what do you do?” Your answer will say it all. “I am a writer.” Or is it something more like, “I sell insurance,” followed 10 minutes later, buried in the midst of idle chit-chat, “In addition to being a soccer Mom, I’m also writing a novel.”

This brings up another point of contention when defining what constitutes a writer vs. someone who merely writes: have you been published? Some, perhaps many, would argue that you cannot call yourself a writer until you’ve been published. “I’m writing a novel” doesn’t cut it. “I just published my novel,” does. No one cares what you’re going to do, only what you’ve already done. It’s sad, but many people feel that way. There are exceptions, however; see the previous paragraph regarding attitude.

The significance of labels only matter so much, however. It doesn’t matter if you’ve yet to be published, and it doesn’t matter if your works don’t earn you a six-figure annual income. If you have the drive to write, if putting words to paper is your passion and is your default activity — it’s what you’d rather do than anything else, then you may be a writer after all.

Ride report June 2012: Day 1

Sandy, OR to Coos Bay, OR

The weather was perfect for riding … sunny and in the mid 60’s. I started my route on roads through a fancy yet rural neighborhood, where rich executives from Portland have million dollar homes on 20 acre plots. I then took highway 99W down through the Willamette Valley to the college town of Monmouth where I headed west on rural Kings Valley Road. Along the way I followed a young buck deer as he ran down the center of the road, still in the velvet.

In Philomath I fueled up my bike at Chevron and my belly at the adjacent McDonalds, then headed west toward the coast on highway 34 through Alsea to the coastal town of Waldport. The road was in fantastic shape and traffic was light.

In Waldport I headed south in highway 101, then pulled over at the Smelt Sands wayside in Yachats (pronounced ‘yaw-hots’). I walked down to the rocks and waves and took some pictures and even some video on my GoPro HD.

Back on the road I got stuck behind a land barge (RV) from British Columbia with a dozen cars piled up behind it. It took a while but I was eventually able to pass.

I got into Coos Bay and checked into the Best Western by 3:30 pm. After a nap and a shower I walked down to a local restaurant, Shark Bites, but they were closed so I ate next door at EZ Thai. The phad thai was adequate but unremarkable.

Ride report June 2012: Day 2

Coos Bay, OR to Fortuna, CA

I left Coos Bay at 8:30 am after a decent complimentary breakfast (with real food; the best of the trip). It was sunny and cool but not cold. Traffic on 101 was very light and I didn’t stop until I got to Brookings, just north of the California border. I parked in the shade behind a gas/food mart and ate a snack. After a bio break, I continued over the California border for the first of three times in a single day.

I cut inland on highway 197 then connected with 199 to Cave Junction, back in Oregon. 199 is scary in some parts, narrow and winding with deadly consequences if you go off the pavement. I fueled up in Cave Junction after riding 180 miles. A tall guy in rafting sandals asked me several questions about my bike as I gassed it up. He was considering getting a V-Strom. I then ate a BLT at the My Place Cafe next door.

It was warming up so I opened my jacket vents before heading up and over the pass back into California to Happy Camp. Patches of snow were visible in spots along the roadside at the 4,600 foot summit but the road was dry.

It was getting even warmer so I removed my jacket liner, then got onto highway 96 westbound. Soon I came up behind two new V-Stroms, but they were riding so slow I soon passed them both with a beep-beep and motored onward. My next break was Willow Creek where I got on highway 299 for the last leg to Fortuna. I rode 380 miles to that point. Dinner was a really tasty Italian club sandwich and French saison beer at the Eel River Brewery next door to my Super 8. Both establishments are highly recommended for riders.

Ride report June 2012: Day 3

Loop day, Fortuna, CA

The day was spent riding a 270 mile loop in the area. These are my favorite roads and are worth riding a long ways to experience if you’re not from the area. I headed inland, eastbound, on highway 36, then veered northeast on highway 3 from Hayfork to Weaverville. This section is gnarly and wicked and amazing on a motorcycle. It demands attention and offers a great reward to those who conquer it. In Weaverville I stopped at Trinideli for lunch. My friend, Mark, stopped by as he was driving home from Trinity Lake. After lunch, he drove on while I continued the loop by turning westbound on highway 299. Back on the coast, I turned inland and rode the narrow, winding road up to Mark’s home in the rural community of Kneeland. Mark and I had dinner and a lot of laughs, then I rode back down the hill to my motel in Fortuna.