2016 and I’m off to a slow start

I haven’t been riding much in the last quarter of 2015, and the new year isn’t shaping up to be any different. I try to get both the V-Strom and Gixxer ridden at least once every other week, rather than winterize them and let them sit.

The pattern is to find a dry weekend, even if it’s just an hour of opportunity between rain storms, and ride each bike for at least 30 minutes. This helps clear the exhaust of moisture and charge the battery. I keep my bikes in a storage unit and there’s no electricity, so that eliminates the possibility of putting the batteries on a tender/charger.

With El Nino, the weather has been rather uncooperative. It’s been raining like mad, and on the rare dry days, it’s bitterly cold and blowing wind. I also have to avoid most side roads because they often still have icy patches or gravel from previous freezes.

As a result, I have no interesting blog posts to write. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some interesting rides in as the weather improves with spring.

Rebuilt V-Strom suspension from Adventure Power Sports

During a recent trip to northwest California for a group ride, I came to realize how inadequate the stock suspension really is on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. The bike has 62,000 miles on it and the suspension is completely stock without modification or adjustment. Over time, suspension components soften and wear out and need to be replaced. Because this degradation had taken place over tens of thousands of miles, I didn’t notice the change.

The first evening of our group event, a presenter and fellow rider by the name of Jay Jobes of Adventure Power Sports, out of Eagle, Idaho, talked about suspension on V-Stroms in particular and adventure bikes in general. Jay, who goes by the nickname “Sasquatch”, discussed the mechanics of front forks and rear shocks, how they work, and what they’re designed to accomplish. Jay also talked about what happens when suspension isn’t up to the task, either through weak design or pure age.

During the day, our group had taken a 180 mile loop ride on the finest back roads California has to offer. This can best be described the way the locals put it, “If you go off the pavement and the ride gets smoother, you know you’re in California.” The route went from asphalt with more bumps than a teenager’s face to washboard gravel with gnarly potholes. It was rough, and my bike let me feel every bump in full detail.

I noticed several characteristics of how my bike behaved on those challenging roads. On abrupt bumps, I’d feel a ‘chunk’ in the front suspension. This was a result of the forks not being able to handle the impact and slamming at full compression. Other sections of pavement had numerous, small bumps like riding across invisible corduroy, that dislodged the bike and left the tires airborne for fractions of a second instead of remaining in contact with the ground. This created a slight stopping effect that felt similar to the way ABS pumps your brakes several times a second. When this occurs repeatedly and in rapid fire, I was actually pushed forward slightly. Finally, when cornering, because the bike’s tires were becoming airborne in tiny but rapid intervals, it became nearly impossible to go around a bumpy curve with any kind of stability or sense of safety.

That night, Jay talked about suspension and described its dual roles: to efficiently absorb bumps in a way that conducts the least amount of shock to the rider, while immediately after pushing the tire back down as quickly as possible to maintain constant contact with the road surface. I asked a few questions and, with Jay’s well structured and informative answers, I quickly realized just how inadequate my suspension had become.

A rebuild or replacement of my stock suspension components was long, long overdue.

Jay has developed a technique for rebuilding the stock V-Strom suspension. This is significant because it was designed from the factory to be a throw-away component. It’s not built to be rebuilt. Jay’s technique provides riders like me a cost-effective way to get better-than-factory suspension without having to buy after-market third-party components. He takes the suspension apart, replaces the internals with higher quality after-market components, and puts it all back together. Even more, Jay interviews the customer to determine their weight, height, riding style, and frequent luggage load to make sure he chooses the right internals and makes the proper settings for their particular needs. It is custom suspension at lower cost than off-the-shelf after-market parts.

A week after the trip, I contacted Jay and gave him the details he needed. I took my bike to my local dealer and had them remove the front forks and rear shock, then store the bike in the back of their shop. I shipped the components to Jay at his location in Eagle, Idaho. He made sure he had the new parts ordered and on-hand in anticipation of the job.

Jay did the work and had my parts on a big brown truck headed back to my dealer within 24 hours. Once back at my dealer, they put the rebuilt forks and rear shock back on the bike. The total cost was $1280, and that included $200 in shop labor and $160 in shipping (there and back). I could have spent $1,600 for just an after-market rear shock and still had to pay for installation (or done it myself, which isn’t feasible where I currently live) — and that wouldn’t even include the front forks!

When I picked up the bike from the dealer, I took it for a short ride on a nearby semi-bumpy road for comparison. I had ridden the same road the day before I had the suspension removed, in anticipation of doing an A-B comparison. I didn’t feel much of a difference. The road wasn’t bumpy enough to make an adequate comparison.

The following weekend I took the bike for a 265 mile ride around Mt. Hood on a mix of gravel roads and bumpy Forest Service paved routes with lots of bumps.

The following Monday I called Jay to discuss my observations. Initially I was disappointed with the results. I hit several hard bumps and felt them similar to before. I went over washboard roads and they still felt like washboard roads. Other riders at the group ride had told me, “The difference is night and day.” My experience wasn’t anywhere close to that. More on that in a minute.

During my phone call with Jay, we talked about the specifics of how my bike was acting with the rebuilt suspension. Being an expert on the subject, Jay knew what to ask and how to describe the different aspects of the ride. I realized that the difference was there, the improvement was there, I just had unrealistic expectations.

My cornering seemed to be improved. Most of the route I took was very familiar to me, much of it memorized, so I was used to how fast I could go around numerous curves. I noticed I could go around the same corners at greater speed and with increased confidence and stability. Under hard braking, the bike seemed to stay level to the pavement, and felt as if both tires were providing equal grip to slow it down with greater efficiency. Before, the bike would dive forward like the forks were saying, “We give up!”

When hitting harsher bumps, I still felt them, but gone was the ‘chunk’ sound and sensation of the forks being overtaxed.

Rather than attempting to be an ace motorcycle mechanic, I needed to focus on how the bike behaved instead of how it functioned. In the end, it became clear to me that the bike was allowing me to ride at a higher level of performance and confidence with a lot less stress than before.

In the end, I have reached several conclusions. Above all, I was impressed with Jay’s knowledge and willingness to patiently explain a complex mechanical apparatus to a complete novice. He spent quite a bit of time describing how I can adjust the settings and do comparison rides until I get it dialed in exactly the way I want it. He met his commitments, was prompt, returned calls in a timely manner, and was well organized, having my parts on hand before my components arrived, got them rebuilt, and shipped back in very short order.

I also concluded that my bike’s suspension has become something I don’t have to think about anymore. I can now focus on the ride and other aspects of the experience instead of worrying that I might bounce out of a curve or lose hard parts from hitting big bumps.

Although I wouldn’t describe the before and after comparison as “night and day,” I would give it my highest endorsement of any expense for a bike: it is worth more than the cost, and to me, that is the best definition of a good value.

Post, Oregon … finally

I am running out of places in Oregon that I haven’t visited by motorcycle. One of the locations on my to-ride list was Post, Oregon, the geographic center of the state.

Been there, done that, won’t bother doing it again.

Don’t get me wrong, the ride there and away was fine, with some classic eastern Oregon scenery and roads. But, the location — you can’t call it a town — of Post itself is just a general store with a sign, and that’s it.

They do have a gas pump, which I suppose would be convenient if you were running low. Regular unleaded cost $2.96 a gallon, which is amazingly low considering the remote location. I paused long enough to get off the bike a take a picture, then moved on.

My route was Gresham to Prineville via highway 26. I know, boring. But I didn’t really have any other viable routes to take. Once in Prineville I took state route 380 east-south-east to Post, then kept going east to Paulina. When I left home, I stopped at a gas station in Boring to put some air in my tires and got chatted up by a retired school man named Val. He was very familiar with the area and suggested I take a side route south to Burns, then north on US 395. I thanked him for the suggestion and looked for the required road when I got to Suplee. Alas, I never found it.

Even my GPS kept wanting me to go all the way to 395 first, then south to Burns, which would involve riding the same 45 miles of road twice in the same day. That’s not going to happen.

The last dozen miles of 380 before you get to 395 are much more wooded and typical of the Blue Mountains kind of terrain. I came out onto 395 just north of Seneca. I rode up to Canyon City, gassed up, then got to my motel in John Day in the mid afternoon.

I stopped at the Shelton Wayside along highway 19 just south of Fossil for a break, and used the timer on my camera to take a rare self-portrait.

Dinner was at The Outpost next door. That night, some rowdy kids decided to paw-tay the night away in the room next door so it took ear plugs to give me a few hours of sleep. The next morning I left with temps in the mid 30s. I took my usual route home: Kimberly, Spray (where I got gas), Fossil, Antelope, Maupin, Wamic, Government Camp, home. The weather was perfect. I saw two cow elk cross Bakeoven Road between Shaniko and Maupin, and earlier saw a wild turkey on the pavement, but other than that the only other critters I saw were a half dozen dead deer at various places along the route.

$8.90 in Detroit

Over the holiday weekend I rode each of my bikes to Detroit and back, the V-Strom on Friday and the Gixxer on Saturday. There were a lot of vehicles on the road and a fair number of bikes as well, and Detroit itself was hopping.

Something interesting happened. I gassed up my V-Strom on regular unleaded at the small store in Detroit on Friday and paid $8.90 for the fuel bill. On Saturday I rode my Gixxer to Detroit and filled up the tank on premium unleaded. The bill?

$8.90.

Involuntary Get-Off in the Snow

Adventure riding has its price, and it’s easy to say that if you spend enough time riding off the paved stuff, sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a situation where you need to take a deep breath, grip the bike tight, and lift with your legs.

Last weekend I had a slow speed get-off coming down a fire road in the Cascades foothills behind Timothy Lake. I was standing up on the pegs, riding down that 1″ deep strip of snow in the center of the road. Suddenly my front tire cranked left, I tank slapped a few times, recovered, shot into the left tire track and across into the 5″ deep snow on the side, then went down onto my left side. I was unhurt and the only damage done to my bike was my front left turn indicator got bent a little bit (but still works). The Touratech side case didn’t have a scratch and handled the incident with ease.

I was able to lift my bike by myself, although it took several tries. Standing in snow doesn’t make for good foot traction, and also the tires kept sliding away from me as I’d lift.

Some gas leaked out of the filler cap and I could smell the fumes as I rode home. I stopped at the Ripplebrook Ranger Station and exposed the underside of my tank bag to the sun to let it evaporate and that eliminated the problem.