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.

5,000 miles in 16 days

I just returned from a solo 5,000 mile trip around ten western states that took 16 days to complete. I left Oregon, went south to California, then across Nevada, Utah, and northern Arizona into Colorado. I then turned north into Wyoming and spent a night in South Dakota before turning west back across Wyoming, into southern Montana, across Idaho and back into Oregon.

The trip ranged from sea level (the Oregon coast) to 14,115 feet (Pikes Peak) and saw temperature extremes from the upper 30’s (Beartooth Pass, Montana) to 120 degrees (Zion National Park). The farthest south was Kaibito, Arizona, the farthest east was Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, and the farthest north was Missoula, Montana.

From a gear standpoint, my bike — a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 — ran without complaint. In the 5,000 mile journey it used up about 3/4 of quart of oil (which is pretty normal for modern bikes). The odometer rolled over 50,000 miles during the trip. My Garmin Zumo 450 GPS half-died about 1,000 miles into the journey. It’s 5 years old so that’s a pretty good lifespan for an electronic gadget that gets exposed to the elements. The standout gear of the ride, however, were my ExOfficio convertible pants. I wore them under my Firstgear Kathmandu riding pants and made the trip a lot more comfortable, especially when riding in high desert heat. They retain zero odor, and I could wash them in my motel sink, ring them out (roll them up in a towel and step on it) and they’d be dry in a few hours. Plus they are super light and pack really small, which is a huge bonus when traveling by motorcycle.

The standout scenery was Beartooth Pass in southern Montana, just northeast of Yellowstone Park. The low point in terms of interest was probably Laramie, Wyoming. The town has the character of day-old dry toast.

I met some really cool people (Jeff in Fortuna, CA; Pam in Deadwood, SD; and Myles and John in Greybull, WY) and saw some shameful racism in many rural areas toward our President.

The trip went without a hitch, basically. There were no pucker moments or involuntary get-offs and no run-ins with law enforcement. It barely even rained — a few drops while visiting Mt. Rushmore.

Speaking of Mt. Rushmore, it was probably the biggest disappointment of all the big-name places I visited. It’s much smaller in person than I thought it was from all the pictures and video I’ve seen of it on TV. In fact, the rock formations surrounding the monument are far more interesting. Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming was kind of a ‘meh’ moment, too, not because it isn’t cool — it is — but because it’s exactly like I’ve seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a kind of “Been there, done that” sort of moment.

I hadn’t planned to visit Zion National Park but had to detour that way because of a road closure. Wow, what a place! I realize it’s cliche to say so but pictures can’t begin to do it justice. It’s as if Mother Nature consulted some big-name Hollywood filmmakers when designing it.

One thing that kept crossing my mind was the viewpoint that several fundamentalist Christians hold concerning the age of the earth. I’m all for the freedom to hold personal religious beliefs, but anyone that thinks the planet is only 7,000 years old is exhibiting a willful denial of reality bordering on malignant ignorance. Just travel around the west and look at the mountains that were built up, eroded away, and built up again and see if that kind of geological activity could happen in a few thousand years … or even in a few million. Wake up. It’s okay if the planet is 4 billion years old. Really. It won’t make you any farther from God to acknowledge what is obvious. If it makes you feel any better, remember what an old friend of mine used to say when asked about his view on dinosaur fossils vs. the Bible, “I don’t know how it happened, I just believe God was involved.”

When I go on these trips, I am often admonished by friends and family to takes lots of pictures. I took some, and I even took some video. In my tank bag was a GoPro HD camera and while riding I would often take it out and hold it with my left hand, filming various angles of the action. I’ve reviewed some of the footage and it worked pretty well. I plan to turn my photos and live footage into a produced video, with distribution to select individuals. Some photos will be posted here, but don’t expect too much. Philosophically, I have been taking the attitude that these places aren’t going anywhere; if you want to see them, go there yourself. I put in a lot of time, money, and sweat riding there and I feel somewhat reluctant to let others vicariously enjoy the benefits of that journey without paying some dues for the privilege. Sorry, but that’s just how I feel.

Meanwhile, my bike is filthy and needs an oil change. My chain is also in dire need of replacement and my Aerostich Darien jacket looks like it’s been to the moon and back (I love that jacket!) I also have 7 GB worth of video to edit. I’ll report back when I have something to report.

Touring Tips: How to Ride Long Distance Like a Pro

I ride an average of 9,000 miles per year, more than half of which is during long-distance trips. Those miles have occurred without a single get-off and took place during all types of weather and road conditions. During that time and over those miles I’ve learned a few things, some of which are included below. Most of these tips pertain to long-distance touring rather than short single-day trips or commuting.

1. Take classes and practice specific skills. Take the Basic Rider’s Course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to get your endorsement, then after 5-10,000 miles, take a more advanced course. I suggest Lee Park’s Total Control.

2. Don’t buy cheap gear. Quality is a higher priority than price. Quality gear is usually more comfortable, making the ride more enjoyable.

3. When buying gear, get pants and a jacket that is waterproof via the outer layer. Gear that uses a removable waterproof inner liner is a waste of time and money.

4. Rub Pledge furniture polish on the outside of your face shield to make rain bead up and run off. Rub shaving cream on the inside of your face shield to prevent fogging.

5. Keep some kind of tool kit on your bike. My suggestion for its contents are: flat repair kit, DC air compressor, electrical tape, adjustable wrench, allen wrenches, multi-tool, small can of WD40, rubber gloves, paper shop rags, and one large black plastic bag.

6. Keep a bottle of water and a power bar in your tank bag. It’s also a good idea to keep a half-roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag.

7. Wear earplugs.

8. Look down at your side stand when you put it down. Be sure of the surface before resting your bike’s weight on it. Crush a pop can and put that under the side stand foot to give it more stability on loose surfaces like gravel or sand.

9. Leave cotton clothes at home. Use merino wool socks, even in the summer, and wear synthetic wicking underwear and t-shirts as your base layer, especially during warmer rides. In colder weather, use polar fleece as an insulating layer under your jacket and pants; bonus points if your polar fleece is the wind blocker variety.

10. When it’s hot, wear a vented or mesh jacket and get your t-shirt wet underneath. You’ll actually get a better evaporative cooling effect this way than riding without the jacket at all (warm air compresses against your chest and is actually warmer than the ambient air temperature).

11. This is a tip about riding in general rather than specific to long-distance touring: look ahead, don’t look at the road right in front of your bike. Your cornering will be a lot smoother and more efficient, and you’ll even be able to take the same corner faster than you would otherwise.

These are some rules I live by:

Riding is optional. Never ride when it isn’t safe to do so, either because of weather conditions, the mechanical condition of your bike, your physical health or mental state (don’t ride stressed or distracted, etc.)

Never drink and ride. Ever. No exceptions.

Your ability + current conditions = riding safety margin. Never exceed this.

Take care of your bike. Pay attention to maintenance items like fluid levels, tire wear and pressure, chain cleanliness, etc.

Ride respectfully. Be courteous to other riders regardless of their brand of bike. Be respectful of the communities you ride through. Be a positive reflection of motorcyclists and never leave a negative impression of riders upon those you meet.

Some people consider All The Gear, All The Time (ATGATT) to be a flexible matter of personal choice. I don’t. I consider it a basic rule that should never be broken. I value my health and safety too much to violate the rule or even bend it, regardless of conditions.

Always wear a helmet, even if one is not required by law. Keeping your brain contained inside your skull is more important than keeping the wind on your face.

Never buy a used helmet. If you drop your helmet, replace it. They suffer internal damage that is not visible or detectable and you need it to be factory-fresh in case of an accident.

Looking good is nice, but never sacrifice safety for the sake of fashion.

If another rider needs assistance, do what you can to help. You may need help someday and good karma is a handy thing.

Never underestimate the V-Strom

It was a beautiful Spring weekend and I rode 330 miles (210 Saturday, 120 Sunday) to take advantage of the weather. Saturday was a convoluted route up the Clackamas River to Ripplebrook, down to Stayton for lunch, over to Silver Falls State Park, then back home to Sandy.

Sunday was up the Clackamas yet again, this time past Ripplebrook up NF46 to where I got stopped by snow on the road several miles past Austin Hot Springs (at the junction with 4660 if you care).

There were a lot of bikes out and a fair share of slow cars. Saturday I saw a funeral procession going by in the other direction, heading from Colton to Estacada, for a young fireman that died.

One thing I realized over the weekend is that the Suzuki V-Strom is a truly versatile and capable bike. I’ve harped on this topic before but it’s true. The Strom doesn’t excel at any one thing — it’s not as off-road capable as a KTM Aventure nor as fast as a Yamaha R1 — but it can perform the same kind of function that both bikes provide. It’s excellence is its versatility.

I am strongly considering getting a 600 cc in-line four sport bike, not because I feel the need to go faster in a straight line or around corners — I already carve up the twisties fast enough on my V-Strom, thank you very much. A 600 sport bike provides a much more immediate experience with the road. It’s more intense.

But in the meantime, if you need a one-bike-does-it-all solution, the V-Strom is an outstanding choice. There are some other bikes that probably equal the Suzuki in capability and versatility, such as the Ducati Multistrada and the new Triumph 1200 Adventure, but they can’t do it for the low purchase and maintenance cost of the Suzuki.

When it comes to getting your bang for the buck in a single motorcycle, never underestimate the Suzuki V-Strom.

A snowy ride

I wanted to test my new Firstgear Kathmandu overpants in bad weather and that’s exactly what happened over the weekend. Cutting to the chase, the pants performed admirably but that’s not the interesting part of the story.

Keep in mind, it’s the middle of March and Spring officially starts tomorrow. March in western Oregon can be mild and meek and pleasant, and it can also be hellish and fickle and tumultuous. So far, it’s definitely been the latter.

It was sprinkling lightly when I left the house but I had honest-to-goodness rain within a few miles. My goal was to ride up the Clackamas River highway to the small community of Three Lynx, turn around and then come back home, hopefully through as much rain as possible. I put Pledge furniture polish (“Lemon, mmm!”) on the outside of my helmet’s face shield and shaving cream on the inside, made sure the zippers were all closed on my pants and jacket, donned my Aerostich tripple-digit overgloves, and hit the road. All of my gear worked great, although my hands eventually got cold (which is nothing new).

The highest elevation my route traversed was 1,210 feet, just east of Estacada as the highway passed above North Fork Reservoir. I saw snow flakes in the air but nothing was sticking on the ground. It rained off and on, heavy at times, all the way to Three Lynx where I turned around and headed back. This pattern of weather continued, with rain falling at least 80% of the time.

When I got back to Eagle Creek the rain turned to big, fat snowflakes and it started to stick on my fairing, arms, legs, and helmet. I used the squeegie on my tripple-digit glove covers to wipe the building snow from my face shield. The snow wasn’t sticking on the road surface but it was sticking on the ground next to it. By the time I got home a few minutes later, I had to wipe the snow from my face shield every 5-8 seconds and visibility was reduced from the volume of snow flakes in the air. Snow had built up on my bike’s fairing and completely obscured the view through it. I had snow over my boots, knees, and covering my arms and shoulders. There was also 1/4″ of snow built up on my helmet (only the face shield was free of snow buildup).

Within 20 minutes, the sun was shining and the 1/2″ of snow on my front yard was melted and gone as if it never happened.