Saturday, November 22, 2014

Personal Experience as a Member of the Motorcycling Community


     Before I had a motorcycle, I secretly had a negative image of the motorcyclists. I believed that they were rebels without a cause, who only made problems for society. I thought that the sport bike riders sped on the highway, and that the Harley riders were criminals. I never let my prejudices affect the way I treated them in person, but these were the thoughts I kept to myself. After I bought my bike and started riding, I found that being part of the motorcycling community was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.

     Bikers are an extremely kind group of people. They would go out of their way to introduce themselves and have conversations with me. It didn't matter where I was or what I was doing; if they saw that I had a bike, they would talk to me. Even if I pulled up to the same stoplight with another motorcyclist, we would chat until the light turned green. This friendliness is even experienced while riding. It's considered almost rude not to acknowledge another passing motorcyclist without a simple hand gesture or head nod.

     The best part about this community is how inclusive it is. It doesn't matter who you are, your age, race, gender, economic background, or beliefs; everyone is treated equally. Other motorcyclists won't judge you for your bike. You'll get the same attention riding a brand new $30,000 Honda Goldwing as you will a beat up, $500 250cc starter bike. New riders are given special attention, since bikers want to set a good impression and encourage them to continue riding.

     Women from my experience talking to other riders are also given extra respect as riders. Traditionally, motorcycling has been seen as a male activity, but the times are quickly changing. When I inform other riders that my sister has a bike, they are impressed and excited. I am too. I'm happy that there are many strong and independent women out there who are going against the grain of society and changing cultural norms. It's doing a huge favor for the motorcycling community as well by making it more inclusive. Sure, there are the a few riders who are stuck in their old ways, but in general, motorcyclists see it as a good thing.

     Motorcycling has really changed my life in so many ways. It's not just the thrill of travelling, or the sense of freedom only achieved by riding. It's the people who form this community that make riding such a pleasure. It saddens me that there are many people out there who see motorcyclists the way I did long ago. My greatest hope is that one day, everyone will be able to share these experiences. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: RollBags



     Chances are, if you own an older or smaller motorcycle, your large volume luggage options are limited. These bikes aren't designed to tour even though they are perfectly capable machines, and that means that the luggage bags you do bring with you can only really be jerry rigged to your bike. You can't get those big suitcases like the ones that mount to the back of a sissy bar on a Harley. If you do need high volume luggage space, the best option is a rollbag.

     Oxford makes a fantastic rollbags available in multiple sizes. For a smaller or classic bike, the Aqua30 and Aqua50 bags are the way to go. They are extremely durable, and don't rip as you try to cram all your belongings inside. They are also waterproof, and protected my laptop and clothes against days of heavy rain without a single drop of water entering the bag. They can be mounted on your bike however you want with no additional accessories. The four included straps work well to hold the rollbag in place, although it is a good idea to check the tightness every time you stop.


Oxford Roll up jerry rigged to my bike

     When it comes to choosing between the 30 or 50 gallon bag, I would strongly recommend going with the larger Aqua50. The only difference in size between the two is the circumference of the bag, not the width. Since they are soft luggage, the compression straps on the outside of the bags will remove any unused space. In this respect, you might as well have the extra 20 gallons of space just in case you need it. The $15 difference in price is well worth it. Besides, you may need room for souvenirs!

Review: Travel Pillows

     You know the problem here. You just woke up at camp, and you're packing everything on your bike. There's one last item you need to stuff into your saddlebag, and it seems stubborn about fitting. No matter how hard you try, it seems like you just can't close and lock the luggage. That item is your pillow.
     Pillows in general are the epitome of wasted space. They have to be light, fluffy, and comfortable. For riding purposes, pillows also have to be very small. The following are alternatives to full size pillows rated by overall value:

1. Stuff Sack Pillows




     Probably the most nontechnical of the travel pillows, the stuff sack pillow is simply a waterproof bag that you throw your laundry into and close. It's absolutely genius. I say that because it is reliable but also small. It may not be the most comfortable alternative, but I've had a few decent nights of sleep using it.

Pros:

  • Reliable
  • Cheap
  • Extremely small

Cons:

  • Not very comfortable

2. Compressible Pillow




     Compressible pillows are essentially small pillows that roll up inside themselves to be even smaller. Even in their rolled up state, they take up way more space than seems necessary. They are still considerably smaller than a full size pillow, but I don't find them to be particularly comfortable. They feel like the courtesy pillows you get on an airplane, but worse.

Pros:

  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Not very comfortable
  • Bulky

3. Inflatable Pillows     




     I've found the inflatable pillow to be the most comfortable of all the pillows, and its small size is marvelous. Even the valves on the new models have very little resistance, assuring that you can blow one up with three or four full breaths late at night after an exhaustive day of riding. It has only one issue, and a major one at that. The plastic lining inside the pillow is way too thin, and mine popped on the third day of use. It wasn't defective. It just wasn't durable. For that reason, it is the lowest on the list.

Pros:

  • Moderately comfortable
  • Small

Cons:

  • Not durable

Review: Heated Jackets

     Heated jackets/liners are the greatest thing to come to motorcycle travelling since the saddlebag. Not only are they amazing at keeping you warm in the coldest riding conditions, but they also save space by replacing the many layers you would need to achieve a warmth even close to what heated jackets provide. Although expensive, they are almost a necessity on long rides, even when temperatures are as warm as 60 degrees.
     Choosing a heated jacket/liner is not an easy task. There are two kinds of heated jackets: those that run on your bike's battery, and those that have their own internal batteries. The following are heated jackets rated by overall value:

1. Heated Jacket Liners That Run on the Bike's Battery



     This is by far the best option. You never have to worry about running an internal battery dry, and they are extremely warm. They don't consume as much power from your bike as you would think. I was able to run my GPS, charge my phone, and keep my jacket liner at 100% power without draining the battery of my '73 CB750 with an aftermarket alternator. Additional equipment to increase the liner's functionality may increase the net cost, but it's well worth it.

Pros:

  • Very warm
  • Endless power when connected to bike
  • Consumes relatively little of your bike's battery

Cons:

  • Doesn't work when detached without additional equipment
  • You have to unplug it every time you get off your bike
  • Expensive external temperature controller recommended

2. Heated Jackets That Run on an Internal Battery



     Although heated jackets with an internal battery provide the ability to conveniently run off the bike in cold temperatures, they are not suitable for the needs of the motorcycle traveler. They do not get nearly as warm as those that run on your bike's battery, and the battery only lasts 2 hours at 100% power. They also can't charge while connected to the jacket, so you can either charge the battery or use it, but not both. It takes 3-4 hours to fully charge, so it takes twice as long to charge it than the time you can use it. It's great for watching football games on a snowy day, but not for long riding days with the wind continuously pounding your chest.

Pros:

  • Detatchable
  • Cheaper

Cons:

  • Not very warm
  • Battery does not last long enough for a long ride

Monday, November 17, 2014

7 Things to Know Before Crossing a Desert



     Whether it's the scenic views, the quiet roads, or simply the most direct route to your next destination, deserts provide a riding experience unlike any other. However, deserts are far from safe, and can be life threatening. Before including a desert in your next trip, there are a few things to understand about this harsh environment:

1. A successful trip through the desert should at no point leave you thirsty
     Battling the sun and 100+ degree weather will drain your body of fluids faster than your brain can detect. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, lightheadedness, and sleepiness. Pull over immediately if you feel any of these symptoms. You will be surprised how much you drink. By the time you actually feel thirsty, your body will be in the process of shutting down,

2. Avoid drinking... water?
     Water isn't the only thing your body loses in the heat. When you lose volumes of sweat, your body is also being starved of electrolytes. Electrolyte imbalance can be just as dangerous as dehydration, so remember to drink Gatorade or Powerade instead.

3. You will drink more water than you think
     I originally thought that two 16 ounce water bottles could hold enough gatorade to last me gas station to gas station. I was going through 72 ounces of water an hour; more than twice that amount. Make sure to pack extra bottles, or bring a camelback hydration system with you if possible.

4. You may or may not feel the heat
     It may seem counter intuitive that being hit with warmer-than-body winds on your motorcycle will cool you off. However, in order for your sweat to change from a liquid to a gas, it takes additional energy. Depending on your speed, this energy will either come from your body or the wind.

5. Try the Mojave Desert
     Cell phone service in the Mojave, like most deserts in the U.S., is very limited. However, most major highways in California have call boxes stationed every few miles. I-40 is no exception. If you break down there and there are no passing motorists, these call boxes may be your savior.

6. Try riding early in the morning or late in the evening.
     High temperatures peak between 11 am and 5 pm. Try to plan your trip around these hours if you are feeling safety conscious. Most motorcyclists ride before and after these hours, so based on the time of year, you may not be alone.

7. Passing motorcyclists know the dangers of the desert
     I pulled off to the side of the highway to take some pictures in the Mojave. Every motorcyclist that saw me slowed down before I gave them the "OK" signal. They know the dangers, and won't leave you out to dry.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Experience Owning a Moped



     I was about sixteen when I first started getting interested in motorcycles. I had just spent all of my money on a car, so I had no cash to spend on a motorcycle. I also wasn’t allowed to have one, since my dad told me they were dangerous. I did some research and found that I could purchase a bicycle engine kit for $200. It came with a gas tank, the motor, chain, and all attachments needed to convert a bicycle into a moped. Without much thought, I had made the purchase. I didn't even have a bicycle.
     My friend David notified me of a bicycle at my high school that had been abandoned. It had been locked to one of the bike racks for almost a year, and the tires were deflated and the chain was starting to rust away. We decided to do the right thing and breathe new life into this bicycle, so we brought it home.
     When the package arrived, I opened the box and immediately began working on attaching the engine to my bike. It was simple enough to put together, but getting the moped working was a different story. When the clutch worked, the carburetor flooded the engine. When the carburetor worked, the chain tensioner fell off. The parts were cheaply made, and nothing worked reliably.
     However, during the six months that I was able to have the moped (mostly) working, it was deadly. The clutch didn't work, so I had to start pedaling with the engine engaged. This also meant that I couldn't stop. This put me in a ditch a few times. The moped also had a habit of catching on fire.
     My moped days officially ended when I was riding, and the rear tire deflated and wrapped itself around the wheel spokes. I managed to cut the tire off using a Swiss army knife, but I still had to get home. I rode that moped without a rear tire, and drifted every turn. I was on one of the final stretches of road when the lack of grip on the pavement forced me off the side of the road at 20 mph. I was injured, but I still had to push the moped a few more miles back home. Never again.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

How to Pack for a Motorcycle Trip



     I read a ton of articles on how to pack for a motorcycle trip before going on my coast to coast expedition. The main issue I had was that these articles were particular to the rider, the kind of bike they had, and the type of trip(s) they were taking. I've taken a few smaller trips to places like St. Louis from my home in New Albany since that major journey, and I will attempt to clear up any confusion for new riders facing their first trip and keep information as basic as possible.



Variables


The Motorcycle

     A common misconception among new riders is the idea that they need a purpose built touring bike to go on a long distance trip. The only important requirements for a distance motorcycle are that it is reasonably comfortable, in great mechanical condition (also parts are easy to find), and preferably can take the highway. Having said that, each motorcycle has its own set of limitations. A 250cc Honda Rebel isn’t going to provide the same level of comfort or luggage space as a 1,800cc Honda Goldwing, yet both motorcycles are just as capable of crossing the United States.


To Camp or Not to Camp



     Camping provides many advantages to an adventure motorcyclist. It is cheaper, more fun, and gives the rider a more observable feeling of location change. It does have some drawbacks, however. It is much more difficult to sleep in a tent, and camping supplies take up precious space on a motorcycle.
     Hotels provide far more amenities than any campsite, but do not provide the same thrill that is experienced with camping. Hotels under the same brand feel exactly the same in each location, but campsites make one intimately aware of the change in geography.



Time

     My entire journey was pressed because I had to make it home in time for school and my sister’s graduation. More time equals fewer miles each day, which in turn means less fatigue. With more time, one can also enjoy more sights along the way. There are other smaller but equally important advantages to having more time as well. I was forced to eat whatever I could find at gas stations because in many instances, I didn’t have the time to stop at a restaurant and eat real food. This became a major issue since the gas station diet lacks nutrients, which contributes to fatigue.

     For any motorcyclist who is constrained by time and travels over 200 miles a day, it is important that he observes various, simple techniques for warding off fatigue. Plenty of sleep is needed for obvious reasons, but frequent breaks are equally important. One can expect to take twice as long to reach a destination as his GPS indicates. This is simply the nature of riding a physically challenging vehicle where the rider is open to the elements. I knew when I needed a break because my backside would start to go numb.



Equipment

     Having durable equipment is extremely important. Make sure your bags are waterproof, because it is more than likely that you will go through rain. Remember: don't take anything you can purchase later. There is no sense taking something you don't need hundreds of miles. Based on the type of bike you have and your budget, I have outlined equipment to consider before taking your trip.

Items marked with * can be bought at REI.com. Their equipment is more expensive, but second to none.



Life support system


     I'm talking about basic equipment that you need during your long distance trip. Water, Food, GPS/maps, spare clothes and toiletries. This should account for the standard rider on a multi-week trip travelling non stop. Adjust according to your needs.


Basic:

  • Two water bottles full of gatorade (16oz)
  • Some small snacks
  • 2 jeans (can be reworn)
  • 2 long sleeve shirts (can be reworn)
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 2 pairs of long johns
  • Leather or protective jacket (hopefully water resistant)
  • Sweater to wear under jacket
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, shampoo (conditioner), shaver, wet wipes (for cleaning visor)
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Toolkit

Recommended:


  • Camelback water bladder (50oz or more) + water tube*
  • Gatorade mix
  • Food for 1/2 a day
  • 3 jeans (can be reworn)
  • 4 long sleeve shirts (can be reworn)
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • Bathing suit
  • Leather or protective jacket (hopefully water resistant)
  • Heated jacket (avoid battery operated ones, go for the warmer ones that run on your bike's battery)
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, shampoo (conditioner), shaver, wet wipes (for cleaning visor, first aid kit)
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Toolkit
  • 1.25 gallon auxiliary fuel tank (you'll be surprised how handy it is, as well as how safe you'll feel)

Camping

     If you choose to camp, which I would highly recommend you do, these are things you will need:


Basic:


  • 1 person tent
  • Very warm sleeping bag
  • Flashlight (or phone flash)
  • compact towel*
  • Blow up pillow or stuff sack*

Recommended:


  • 2 person tent
  • Very warm sleeping bag
  • Flashlight
  • compact towel*
  • Blow up pillow or stuff sack*
  • Auxiliary fuel doubles as lighter fluid
  • Compact air mattress*
     Avoid purchasing micro stoves, plates, cutlery, and any other camping food supplies if you plan to travel within the United States. I've never found them practical to use when high calorie fast food restaurants are so plentiful, even in remote areas.


Important Information on GPS Devices

     If you have a great sense of navigation and use maps, and can travel even when it gets dark and you can't read the map; more power to you. If you have a GPS device charging on your bike's battery, then what I'm about to tell you is extremely important. If you use a purpose built device like a Garmin, the maps are preloaded onto your device. This means as long as you have satellite coverage (which is pretty much everywhere), you will have directions. While it may seem space saving to use your smartphone instead, smartphones require a 3G signal to load the maps and satellite coverage to plot your location. Smartphones don't actually store the maps. This means that if you are in an area that has no 3G coverage, you won't be able to use the GPS function. If you are on a long trip, don't be surprised if you rack up extra data costs from using your smartphone as a GPS during your journey.


Other Important Tidbits


  • Don’t overexert yourself. Arriving late to your destination is better than not arriving at all. 
  • If at all possible, avoid using a backpack. I can think of nothing worse than being weighed down by a heavy backpack when riding hundreds of miles a day 
  • Staying hydrated and well fed is especially important. Most of the time when I got tired on my motorcycle, it was because I didn’t get enough to eat or drink. Overeating is also something to avoid. If one consumes too much food, his body will require more energy to process the food, which will take away from his energy available for riding. 
  • Talk to people. At the very least, people are happy to share life experiences with you that will keep you entertained. At most, you will learn something new which could help you on your journey (fellow motorcyclists can tell you touring trick, locals can tell you good places to eat). Also, if you are travelling alone, you are at the mercy of strangers if you are in a jam. 
  • Never, ever, ever, ignore a problem with your motorcycle. Get it fixed immediately. You don’t want to permanently damage your motorcycle or risk it becoming unreliable. 
  • Fellow motorcyclists will look out for you. If you have been riding motorcycles for a long time you know exactly what I’m talking about. They are also the easiest group of people to start conversations with because you associate with them. Sometimes they are even open to favors.