The mechanics of self-publishing a book

I have written Ohlen’s Arrow and am finished with all editorial changes. It is now in the final proofreading stage. In fact, I hope to only have one more go-through to catch any errant spelling or grammatical errors before I call the text golden.

The cover design has been approved and is now in the hands of the illustrator for the final proof. She’ll next work on the world map that appears in the front of the book.

Meanwhile, I have purchased 10 ISBNs, enough to handle each publication channel. Initially, I intend to offer the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iTunes book store. There are no plans to print the book in a dead-tree edition, but I’m not opposed to that happening down the road.

I am also currently working on creating the book’s tagline and blurb. For such short pieces of text, they are remarkably difficult to create. They say you should never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice. Well, try summarizing an entire novel in less than 10 words. Better yet, try doing it in a way that makes people want to buy the book while simultaneously not giving away the plot or the surprising twist you gave it at the end. That’s a challenge!

My goal remains to have Ohlen’s Arrow ready for purchase on-line by June 1st. So far I think that deadline is still feasible. Stay tuned.

Become a Student of the Art and Science of Motorcycling

We should all be students of the art of Good Riding because no matter how many miles we’ve put under our wheels, we always have more we can learn.

Here are a few things I’ve learned, both through formal instruction (Lee Parks Total Control, etc.), reading, and a lot of personal practice. Much of this advice is a repeat of what’s already been said, but the fundamentals can’t be overstated:

1. Look through the turn, both with your head and eyes. Even if your head maintains a fixed position, if your eyes are wandering you will still unconsciously point the bike in that direction — giving you a ‘weaving’ turn.

2. Practice one technique at a time, in a controlled environment, before you move onto another technique. Spend a day doing nothing but concentrating on your head and eye position through corners. Exaggerate it. Make it become muscle memory. Then, on another day, focus on having relaxed hands (no ‘death grip’) and arms, etc.

3. Practice panic stops. Find a straight stretch of road or parking lot, get up to various speeds (starting slower then increasing in 10 mph increments) and then stopping as quickly as you’re able without breaking the tires loose. Get good at this. Get good at knowing the traction limits of your tires. Get your body used to how the bike feels. Get good at applying increasing pressure on the brake controls rather than abruptly grabbing a handful of brake lever.

4. Practice dodging manuevers. When you see a patch of gravel or some other obstacle, your natural instinct is to look at it. On a motorcycle, ‘target fixation’ determines that what you look at is what you’ll hit. So practice looking at the free space to the side of obstacles. Go for a ride, and at a very reasonable speed, spot objects or even shadows in the road, and then shooting for the safe space next to it instead of the thing itself. Get good at latching your eyes onto the safe path, not the dangerous object in your way.

5. If you find yourself tensing up in corners, you’re probably doing something incorrectly. Do you have a death grip on the handlebars? Is your back killing you when you get home? Is the arc of your turns wavy? That’s a sign you’re probably looking around with your eyes or moving your head (or looking too closely in front of the bike and not far enough through the turn). Get an experienced rider to follow you and give you pointers if you’re having a hard time figuring out where you’re going wrong.

6. Above all, practice makes permanent. Identify correct technique, then practice that until it becomes muscle memory. If you practice incorrect technique, the fact that you’re ‘practicing’ is actually counter-productive and just reinforces bad technique.

Every time I ride, no matter what the circumstance, road, bike, or destination, I am mentally aware of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it … I’m practicing. Every ride is a practice session of one kind or another. If it isn’t, my mind is elsewhere and I should be at home in front of the TV, not on a motorcycle.

Review: HJC RPHA-MAX Modular Helmet

Call me loyal, but every helmet I’ve worn has been made by HJC. I’m not saying they’re the highest quality brand available, but I am saying they are probably the best value helmet brand you can buy.

My first helmet was an HJC SyMax, purchased at a local motorcycle dealership a day before my MSF Basic Rider’s Course back in September, 2006. It was affordable, comfortable, and had a basic set of features that suited my riding needs.

After a few years, I upgraded to the HJC SyMax II, the updated model of the SyMax. It had increased features and was even more comfortable. That helmet has been with me for over 30,000 miles and has served me well.

Many people feel that once a helmet has been worn for three years, it’s time to replace them. This is because the padding inside compresses and apparently moisture and exposure to the elements weakens the helmet’s ability to protect your noggin in an involuntary get-off.

The logical replacement choice was the SyMax III. But there was another option available, and after reading a lot of reviews and analyzing the available features, I decided to get the HJC RPHA-Max.

It is a higher-end modular helmet, costing almost $150 more than the SyMax III, but it had a feature set and level of quality that I was looking for. I ride 10,000 miles a year, in all kinds of conditions, and I wanted a helmet that could meet my needs.

The RPHA-Max has a slightly more neutral shape and is sized a bit smaller than the SyMax series, so I ordered a medium instead of a small. That was a good call — it fits my head well with no hot spots. The fit is a little different, however. The bottom of the helmet seems to be closer to my shoulders and this makes it slightly more difficult to swivel my head around. I still have a full turning radius, but it takes a bit more effort at the extremes. The chin bar also sits slightly closer to my mouth. What’s weird about this helmet is that it has the same smell inside as a new car.

The chin skirt is a mixed blessing. It blocks noise and airflow, which is good on cold rides, but it blocks airflow, which is bad on warm rides. Once I seat the chin bar down into its locked position, I sometimes need to reach up with my finger tip and pull the chin skirt down off my chin into it’s intended underneath position.

When riding a bike with a windscreen, the helmet is quiet and stable. On my V-Strom 650, I now have the quietest ride of any helmet I’ve worn. When riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, however, things change. I noticed my head position drastically changes the noise level in the helmet. If I’m facing directly forward, it’s quiet. If my head is titled down at all — like I’m trying to touch my chin to my chest — it gets very noisy around the face shield. If you ride an unfaired bike that has a neutral seating position, no worries. The RPHA-MAX is quiet and rock stable. If you tilt your head down at all, the aerodynamics change at a very specific angle and it gets noisy. Considering this, I wouldn’t recommend this helmet for those riding race-replica sport bikes (most folks that ride these type of bikes don’t wear modular helmets to begin with, so this issue may be moot).

The visor has excellent horizontal peripheral visibility, but slightly reduces the bottom portion of the vertical peripheral field of view. This means when I’m riding, I now have to tip my head down slightly to get a full view of my V-Strom’s speedometer. I never had to do that with my SyMax or SyMax II. The upper quadrant of my vertical field of view is about the same; no restriction of view.

The visor has outstanding clarity, but when I bring the built-in sun shade down, some distortion occurs. The main visor now has a central grab point (and lock!) instead of offset to the left. This means I can raise my visor with either hand. I was able to grab the visor lift point okay while wearing my Cortech Scarab winter gloves. Although I suspect the visor has several detents, in actual use it seems I can place the visor in any position I want and it will stay there.

Top ventilation on the RPHA-Max is outstanding. A simple flick of the switch on the top of the helmet brings immediate and noticeable airflow across the top of my head. I can notice it even when wearing a bandana or other head covering inside the helmet (which I usually do to absorb sweat). This will be a very handy feature during summer rides.

The helmet is lightweight, making my previous helmet, the SyMax II, feel heavy by comparison. It feels more snug around my cheeks and neck, and despite having a slightly different internal shape, it still fits my head comfortably. I’d say the RPHA-MAX has a neutral shape. The noise level is pleasant (I wear earplugs). Overall, the helmet feels like more of a precision instrument than its predecessors.

The visor is relatively easy to remove and put back on. Since it’s a Pinlock type and I have the anti-fog Pinlock insert, I don’t need to take it off to apply shaving cream — the poor-man’s anti-fog solution. This is my first use of a Pinlock visor and I absolutely love it. I’ve since ordered a Pinlock visor for my HJC CS-R2 helmet, worn when riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750.

One of my complaints of the SyMax series was the visor didn’t form a tight seal against the brow of the helmet, and this allowed rain to run down the inside of the visor. The RPHA-Max appears to form a tight seal all the way around, and so far it has kept the rain out.

UPDATE 1-02-2014

I’ve worn this helmet for over 5,000 miles in all sorts of weather conditions and I would say it has continued to exceed my expectations. It is versatile and comfortable and has held up without any issues. It has done a good job of keeping water out when riding in the rain, and the Pinlock insert has been wonderful at preventing fogging on the inside of the visor. As I have stated before, this helmet is an excellent value and if I needed to get a new helmet, I’d buy another HJC RPHA-MAX without hesitation to replace it.

UPDATE 4-17-2013

Removing the chin skirt is an easy process (just follow the simple directions). Doing so is good when you’re riding in warm weather but perhaps not so good when riding in cold weather. On my commute in this morning, it was 34 degrees. Minus the chin skirt, a fair amount of cold air circulated across my face and made my eyes water for several minutes until they got used to it. I placed my glove under my chin to replicate the chin skirt I had removed the night before and the airflow stopped immediately.

I also added the included anti-fog Pinlock insert. It was easy to put into place (as you might imagine), didn’t reduce clarity at all, and eliminated fogging entirely during my cold morning commute. Yay! No more rubbing shaving cream on the inside of my face shield!

Review: Hilleberg Nammatj 3 GT tent

My previous tent, a 3-person dome from Cabela’s, was getting long in the tooth and lacked some features I wanted in a motorcycling tent. After doing a lot of research, and realizing that I’d wasted a lot of money buying cheap tents in the past, I decided to get the best tent I could and stop this repeat purchasing madness.

I chose the Nammatj 3 GT tunnel tent by Hilleberg.

The Nammatj is somewhat expensive, costing me $795 for the tent and $96 for the matching footprint. I purchased both online from BackcountryGear.com, a retailer based in Eugene, Oregon, and received the gear the very next day after ordering — with free shipping! As my review will show, it’s not about the cost, it’s about getting more than you paid for. That’s how I define value, and the Hilleberg delivers value in spades.

Unlike a free-standing dome tent, the Nammatj is a tunnel design that requires staking down. The downside to this is you can’t pick up the tent and relocate it to fine-tune your spot. This is a minor issue, however, as you merely need to pick your spot a bit more carefully — which is something I do anyway.

As you can see in the picture, the tent has two chambers, the sleeping quarters behind the yellow door and the storage ‘mud room’ just inside the door. There are vents fore and aft that provide a surprising amount of ventilation. Because they are sloped down, you can open them even in bad weather.

The matching footprint has dongles that let you tie it down at key points around its perimeter. This prevents the footprint from moving around once it is in place under the tent. The footprint packs up to the size of a hardback novel when folded, or a can of Fosters when rolled.

The tent itself can be set up in the rain without worrying about getting the inside wet. My previous dome tent had a mesh no-see-um material for the roof, so setting it up in the rain got the inside wet. It didn’t become weatherproof until I attached the external rain fly. The Nammatj doesn’t have a separate fly; the tent material itself forms the weather barrier. The inner tent (in yellow) is actually attached to the outer tent using a series of dongles and can be removed, making the outer tent just a shell. This is great versatility.

When using this tent, it becomes clear the designers at Hilleberg thought of everything. The attention to detail is impressive and the craftsmanship is superb. I expect this tent to last many years.

It took me 15 minutes to set up the tent for the first time, aided by watching a video on Hilleberg’s web site ahead of time. Now that I have practiced, I could probably get the tent erected in under 10 minutes. Break-down takes even less time.

Everything goes into a stuff sack that easily fits on top of my waterproof duffel on the passenger seat of my Suzuki V-Strom. It’s too large to fit into a side case or top case, however. The tent is too heavy for backpacking, but that’s not why I bought it. If that was a requirement, I would have purchased the Nammatj 3, which is a single chamber tent minus the front ‘mud room’ chamber.

After spending a night in the Nammatj, I can say the purchase price is easily forgotten and the tent quickly becomes a joy to use. For motorcyclists looking to save money on motels, or those simply wishing to enjoy the outdoors, I heartily recommend Hilleberg tents in general, and the Nammatj 3 GT specifically.