Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mountain biking access on the Carp Ridge

Just west of Ottawa lies the Carp Ridge formation, a strip of rugged Canadian Shield that protrudes up out of the surrounding limestone plains. Consisting largely of exposed granite worn smooth by glaciers, covered in mixed hardwood and pine forests (including some old-growth groves), and punctuated by beaver ponds and streams, it's a stunning natural area within a short drive of the Ottawa urban area.

I began exploring the ridge back in the late 80's when I visited my parents who had just moved to the village of Carp, located right on the edge of the ridge. At that time, Carp was a sleepy farming community, known chiefly as the location of the "Diefenbunker"(Canada's Cold War-era shelter for government leaders in the event of a nuclear attack) and the annual Carp Fair (one of Canada's longest-running agricultural fairs). Both are highly-recommended tourist destinations. Behind my parent's home lay many kilometers of unofficial trails into the largely undeveloped and uninhabited lands of the Carp Ridge. A large swath was owned by the City of Ottawa, who at the time seemed to have no real vision for this land except to sell it off to developers.

As the sport of mountain biking grew, so too did local demand for places to ride. The Ottawa area is, in theory, ideal for mountain biking: to the north lies the Eardley Escarpment and Gatineau Park, with hundreds of kilometers of hiking and skiing trails; on the other side of the Ottawa River lies the Carp Ridge with similar terrain in miniature, but with none of the barriers to mountain biking that the National Capital Commission (NCC) had originally imposed on Gatineau Park at the time. So, in the 1990s, unofficial trail development on the Carp Ridge began in earnest, mainly around its southern limits in an area known then as "Kanata Lakes" and now as South March Highlands (SMH).

Soon a local riding community developed around the SMH trail vision. A dedicated team of volunteers formed and systematically built a network of sustainable single track, following the IMBA model which has since been adopted by Parks Canada (among other organizations) as a gold standard for sustainable trails. The nascent Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) took unofficial responsibility for maintaining the network, and after much negotiation with the City of Ottawa, was eventually given formal responsibility to develop and manage the SMH network, as well as some new projects. This partnership between mountain bikers and the City of Ottawa--now extended to the NCC through the development of official single track in Gatineau Park--has benefited the Ottawa area in many ways, not least by providing high quality, year-round recreational singletrack trails in beautiful nature.

As more people discover the beauty and enjoyment of the natural areas that these trails enable, demand increases for more trails. That leads us to the development of a new trail area further north on the Carp Ridge, at Thomas Dolan Parkway. Here, the land is open with swaths of exposed smooth rock; it's a much different character versus the dark, rocky forests of SMH further south. The granite resembles the slickrock of Moab, Utah--one of the world's greatest mountain biking destinations.

Thanks to the initiative and volunteer effort of mainly one person, there is now a spectacular figure-8 trail loop at Thomas Dolan. It mostly follows exposed rock outcroppings, and thanks to some clever dry-stone work, achieves a wonderful riding flow over discontinuities that is always challenging but completely doable if you commit and push your limits. It is also a perfectly enjoyable hike, and one of my favourite destinations for hiking or riding.

But now it's all at risk of being taken away. Although the Thomas Dolan trail is on city lands, a dispute between various user groups is arising about who can use the trail. The city has now officially opened a review, and there's a risk that some or all access may be lost. As an avid hiker, biker, trail builder, amateur naturalist, and--gasp!--off-road motorcycle rider myself, I'm familiar with the many sides of these land-use debates and can empathize with the views of different user groups. But, I have to say, we all need to work harder to get along. There's a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, and blinkered self-interest going on.

One thing I would like to point out is that if not for the extensive volunteer efforts of the snowmobile clubs, ATV clubs, and mountain biking clubs, there would be very few publicly accessible recreational trails in Eastern Ontario for the community at large to enjoy. Trail-building in the challenging conditions of our region takes a huge amount of work: I know, because I lead a small group of dedicated volunteers to build and maintain a 15km public trail network for biking and hiking, as part of OMBA. An unmaintained trail can become impassible in as soon as a few weeks because of overgrowth and blow-down from storms.

While hikers represent a large portion of trail users in our region, they seem to be under-represented when it comes to helping with land access issues and developing sustainable shared-use trails. Yet, I can't help but observe that hikers are over-represented as leavers of dog poop bags and other garbage (coffee cups, beer cans, etc.) on the trails I manage. Nevertheless, whether we are bikers, hikers, snowmobilers, or ATVers, we all have much more in common with each other than initial observations may suggest. Sure, there are a few bad representatives in every group. But if we work together more, and look harder for common ground and shared interests, we can build much-wanted trails that allow everyone to enjoy our lands together, in sustainable and low-impact ways.

Regardless of your preferred outdoor activity, if you want to continue to enjoy access to your local trails, please support one of the local clubs that build and manage these trails. Even if you can't volunteer your time, your membership fee will help to pay for the equipment and insurance needed to keep the trails open.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Gear for a long ADV trip

With all respect to the advice in a recent video from Fortnine (which I agree with, btw), for ADV trips longer than a few days, and through widely varying terrain and tough conditions, a bit more gear is needed to ensure a safe (or tolerably comfortable) journey.

Here's the complete list of gear I'm packing for a month-long, 7500km ADV ride with two other guys this summer. We're shipping our bikes to Calgary then riding down through the Rockies to Utah, across the desert, then winding back north to Calgary via Idaho. The route stitches together segments of the gpsKevin Crest of the Rockies trail, the Colorado BDR, the TAT, and the Idaho BDR. I'll be posting a detailed trip report when/if I return.

In choosing my gear, I'm relying on my prior experience with ADV riding, bicycle touring, world travel, backpacking, mountaineering, and personal preferences. Your priorities may differ from mine considerably, so choose accordingly. The following are my guiding principles in packing for this trip:

  • Pack light. I'm on a WR250R and most the route will be on dirt roads and trails, so maneuverability and fuel efficiency are important, and there's not a lot of HP left at high altitude.
  • Supplies can be replenished every few days. We're not so far off the beaten path that if we need something, we can't find it at the next Walmart or outdoor store. Similarly, we can have replacement tires delivered from vendors like Rocky Mountain ATV to somewhere convenient along the way. 
  • Some gear is meant to be shared (tools, first aid, etc.).
  • The three of us are coordinating our maintenance and tire changes to minimize wasted time and materials (like oil), and we plan to do the work in a major centre near the halfway point (probably in Moab, UT) where there's relatively easy access to any services or parts we may need.
  • If I could, I'd ditch all electronics, but they have unfortunately become essential to my current lifestyle. 
  • A little comfort is OK.
Now, on to the gear! Descriptions are generally from foreground to background, left to right.

  • Footprint (ground sheet) for tent.
  • MEC silicone nylon tarp for quick shelter and to cover the bike and unpacked gear in camp.
  • MSR Hubba NX 1-person tent (poles and tent in red nylon). I debated a 2-person tent, but wanted to minimize packing volume.
  • Sleeping bag, 0C MEC Draco
  • 2 ratchet straps (green) for top-bag tie-down.
  • Anker 21W solar recharger
  • Laundry detergent
  • SeaToSummit packable towel
  • Thermarest 3/4 sleeping pad (in Petzl mesh bag)
  • Somewhere in there is a MEC inflatable pillow. Haven't tried it yet, but the reviews were good and it packs really small. 
  • LED headlamp
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Silva magnetic orienteering compass
  • Flint and steel
  • Sewing kit (in film canister)
  • Clothes line
  • Mesh stuff sack for all the small crap
  • Lumix camera. I'm bringing my iPhone, but I've found phones are unreliable with endless software updates, security issues, etc. when you just want to take a darn photo.
  • Insulated jacket with hood (in grey stuff sack). Highly compressible, it's also much lighter and warmer than a fleece.
  • Klim Tactical Pro jersey.
  • Garmin Montana 610 GPS. This is the main unit mounted on my bars.
  • My own Rugged Wheels brand knitted hat. 
  • 2-3 pairs of Nitrile gloves in ziplock bag.
  • SPF 30 sunscreen. My preference is to avoid sunscreen as it makes everything filthy after a few days of not being able to wash, so instead I stay covered and use a buff on my neck. 
  • Phone charger and headphones.
  • Anker 10000 rechargeable battery in mesh bag. I can keep this charged with the solar panel, and use it to boost other devices as needed.
  • Compact tripod for camera.
  • Tire pressure gauge.
  • SeaToSummit CoolMax Adaptor sleeping bag liner in blue stuff sack. Soft and stretchy, it helps keep your sleeping bag clean and adds a lot of comfort, and it can be used on its own in dodgy motel beds. 
  • Klim Carlsbad pants.
  • Garmin inReach SE+ satellite beacon (yellow). I've subscribed to the basic annual plan and bought medevac services through Ripcord. This should provide adequate first-response coverage until my health and security coverage through my employer can kick in.
  • UV flashlight. For finding scorpions in camp!
  • Yellow and blue silicone nylon stuff sacks (10L each). Yellow contain clothes, which are minimal (basically two changes of Under Armor Heat Gear shirts and tights for riding, two pairs underwear, two pairs moto socks, and a T-shirt and pants for town). No point in carrying more than one set of dirty laundry. The blue stuff sack is for dirty/wet clothing.
  • Klim Carlsbad jacket.
  • Kriega R15 backpack for bladder and essentials. Fits like a dream over my riding gear.
  • About 20' of 1" tubular webbing as a tow rope (in green mesh bag)
  • Spare tube. The other guys will carry an extra tube as well. 
  • RotoPax 1 gallon can. Adds 100km range.
  • Large nylon stuff sack (black). This is for holding all my riding gear on the bike during shipping, so I can fly with minimal carry-on. It also doubles as a food bag.
  • Source 3L water bladder for Kriega pack. Has a quick-release drinking tube to make refills easy, whether from tap or water filter. 
  • Whisperlite International stove. Runs on naphtha (Coleman fuel), gasoline, or kerosine. 
  • 1L fuel bottle for stove (red). Also shown is a 325mL bottle, but my riding partners and I agreed that 1L each should be sufficient and we can easily refill as we go along. 
  • Dish cloths (blue)
  • Salt & pepper in Nalgene bottles, spoon, fork, lighter
  • 1L cooking pot that holds the stove and other items. 
  • Assortment of freeze-dried meals and jerky. Plenty for a few days of emergency rations. 
  • Coleman cup and stuff sack for the freeze dried packs. 
  • Wolfman Expedition soft bags (yellow). They hold about 30L each. I sewed longer top straps so I don't need to roll them so tight, which gives me just enough extra room to ease packing.
  • Fox elbow pads. I opted to remove all the padding from my Carlsbad jacket, as the pads are more versatile if I don't want to wear the jacket. 
  • Microfibre towel (blue) for wiping visor and eyeglasses.
  • Shoei bag for my Hornet X2 helmet.
  • First aid kit (red). I put this kit together myself, and it contains: EMT shears, reflective blanket, sterile compresses, gauze rolls, alcohol swabs, burn dressings, waterproof breathable tape, triangle bandage, assortment of bandaids, large absorbent pads (actually panty liners - they work great and are cheap), tweezers, hemostats, digital thermometer, oral rehydration salts, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, Betadine, Cortisol cream, Polysporin, and probably a few other items. I can make a range of splints by cutting the plastic liners from my Wolfman bags, or use tent poles with duct tape if necessary.
  • Water purification tablets (in blue pouch - mainly as a backup). 
  • Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter
  • MSR Dromedary 4L water bag
  • Neck buff
  • MEC 30L waterproof top bag (orange) for food, frequent access needs
  • Forma Adventure boots
  • Chamois Butt'r for saddle rash (trust me--it can be a lifesaver!)
  • Pinlock visor for my helmet
  • Spare gloves (Fox)
  • Motul off-road chain lube
  • Moleskine notebook and pens
  • Toilet paper and hand-sanitizer
  • Tool bag (blue bag with First Aid badge)
  • TekVest Rally Max vest
  • Klim Mojave pants
  • Alpinestars Fluid Carbon knee braces. Because my knees need the protection!
Oh yeah, there's the WR250R as well. It'll get a new set of tires, MT21 in front and D606 in rear.

Packing it all up

Everything fits in the bags with room to spare. Bags are organized as follows, with weight reflecting food, some water, most clothes:

Left Wolfman bag (yellow) gets the heavy stuff (to balance the weight of the muffler): tools and tube at bottom, tow rope, then cooking and stove fuel, freeze-dried food, tent, and riding pants I'm not wearing at top. 20lb 8oz.

Right Wolfman bag gets the sleeping bag, pad, tarp, clothes, and first aid on top. 14lb 9oz

Top bag (orange) serves as my day-bag for groceries and stuff I need to access more often, like extra water, riding jacket, water filter, solar charger, etc. It also gets the tent poles. 14lb 13oz

Kriega backpack get the water bladder and stuff sack of essentials (snacks, compass, battery, chargers, beacon, ID, etc.). This pack always stays with me, so in theory I shouldn't be totally screwed if I lose everything else. 8lb 2oz

The RotoPax mounts under the top bag, and the top bag is held on transversely with the two green straps. This keeps the weight centralized while leaving enough room to slide my butt back on technical terrain. 

Overall, the weight and distribution is perfectly tolerable, even on such a light, underpowered bike.    

Review: Klim Mojave pants (2018)

Klim updated their popular Mojave mesh pant for 2018, issuing a more stylish design than in prior versions but now in only two colour options: black/gray or black/tan. I opted for the tan.
For reference, I'm 200lbs and 6' with an athletic build. Earlier this year I bought the Klim Carlsbad suit, pants size 34 and jacket in large, and both fit me perfectly with Alpinestar Fluid Carbon knee braces and a TekVest underneath. While the Carlsbad pant has proven very comfortable in cold-warm temps, its ventilation is minimal and will likely be insufferable in humid or desert conditions. Hence the Mojave pant, which I also ordered in 34. 
Mojave fit is almost identical to the Carlsbad, but perhaps a little bit tighter around the waist and in the seat area (by maybe 1cm, but I could've just gotten fatter), and a little looser around the knees. However, the waist is adjustable and compensates just fine. The mesh material makes the pants a lot more flexible and easier to move in, especially with knee braces. This is important, because I've had some pants that slide down when you swing a leg over. The Mojave is cut in a way that stays on my hips, even with a jersey tucked in. 
Note that unlike the Carlsbad, the Mojave doesn't include any armour. I just swapped the D3O hip pads over from the Carlsbad, but there's no pouch for a tailbone pad in the Mojave. The Mojave thigh pockets are well designed and located, and the bellows feature means your wallet isn't digging into your leg. 
While riding, the Mojave is especially comfortable. The velcro cuffs are adequately tight around my moto boots, and there are no obvious seams or folds that cause hotspots. The wind through the mesh is an epiphany of comfort. It should help reduce the funky-junk syndrome of sitting in plastic, on plastic, on hot and humid days. 
Overall I'm happy with the functionality, fit, and styling of these pants, although the real test will be on a month-long trail ride through the Rockies and Southwest this summer. Combined with a Klim Tactical Jersey, elbow pads, and a TekVest, the Mojave pants form part of a great, highly breathable suit for ADV rides on hot summer days.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Backcountry kitchen

This is a really basic kit that I take backpacking and on the motorbike as it's lightweight, compact, and reliable. Although I love good food and cooking, when camping/traveling I tend to eat really simply and then hit up local options when possible to meet local. Cooking properly (and all the gear it takes) can feel like a chore when I'm tired, so I usually stick to one hot dish and eat the rest cold.

Everything is cooked/eaten from the pot or a cup (not shown), and all cooking revolves around boiling water: whether for porridge, instant coffee, freeze-dried meals, or soup. In winter I use a larger pot for melting snow to create drinking water and fill an insulated Nalgene bottle that I drop in the foot of my sleeping bag to warm my toes.

This is a Whisperlite International that I've cooked on now for 25+ years without issue other than the odd cleaning. White gas (naphtha) has the highest energy density of readily available fuels and is what I generally burn, but the stove can also burn kerosene with a quick change of the jet. The red 1L and 325mL MSR fuel bottles provide enough fuel to cook for a long weekend in the summer.

To the left of the stove are the folded aluminum heat shields that go over and around the stove. They look pretty rough but they've also held up well for 25 years.

Sometimes you just want a cloth and scrub pad to clean up food mess. A 3M scrub pad is handy when  there's no clean sand available. The microfiber cloth lets you dry stuff before you put it away, to help resist mould/bacteria growth on days when you aren't cooking. I also wrap the stove in the cloth before stowing it in the pot, so it doesn't rattle in transport.

Water filter
My wife and I survived a six-month trek through West Africa and the Middle East in large part thanks to a Katadyn water filter. Potable water was often a real challenge to obtain, and was stored in all manner of unsanitary conditions ranging from a trough or pail shared with farm animals, to an open well next to raw sewage on the ground, to used motor oil containers.

The Katadyn Hiker Pro is a lighter, less industrial version of the filter we carried on that trip, but it's still capable of removing common parasites such as giardiasis which can cause debilitating GI infections. It won't remove lead or other dissolved contaminants, so drinking water from used motor oil containers remains out of the question.

Swiss Army Knife
What more can be said about this quintessential tool? This is the standard camping model, which includes a large and small blade, can and bottle openers, corkscrew, awl, tiny screwdriver, saw, and tweezers/toothpick. All items have proven invaluable at one time or another.

This one's polycarbonate and fairly indestructible. No need for a fork.

Flint and steel
Back-up for when the lighter and matches fail.

Stow bags
Everything but the fuel bottles and water filter fits neatly into one bag, with the small bits and stove inside the pot and the aluminum heat shield under the pot. I keep the bottle separate (and stowed vertically) to be able to monitor them for leaks. The water filter is in my day pack for easy access.

Backcountry electronics

Electronic gadgets can be tremendously convenient for navigation and safety in the backcountry. Here's the suite of goodies I'm taking on an extended ADV ride through the Rockies this summer. We'll be camping and riding through long stretches of wilderness, where self-reliance is critical and often no cell service or other amenities will be available.

Solar charger (top)
Anker makes some high quality, thoughtfully designed gadgets and their PowerPort Solar charger is no exception. At 21W, it's one of the more powerful options in this size/price range, and it includes two USB charging ports and a mini-USB cable in the package for around C$90 from Amazon. The panels are rigid but fold flat to about the size of a 2L hydration bladder. It's a good size and shape to fit into a small backpack, and the eyelets let you clip it to the back of your motorbike to enable charging while riding. The integrated pouch on the right has enough room to stow a cell phone or battery pack while charging, keeping cables from flapping around.

Satellite beacon (left)
Garmin recently acquired Delorme's inReach global satellite technology and introduced improved versions of the original inReach safety beacon: the inReach SE+ (yellow), the inReach Explorer+ (orange), and the inReach Mini. I bought the basic SE+ model, which provides functions such as two-way text messaging and basic GPS navigation. The Explorer+ adds advanced mapping capabilities, but there are some frustrating restrictions on what maps can be used (for instance, you can't use Garmin maps you've already purchased), so the additional cost was unjustifiable for me--especially as I already have another GPS. The Mini was not available when I bought my SE+, but it looks like it would probably serve as well or better than the SE+, given the SE+ offers such rudimentary map features anyway.

With any of these devices, they are only useful if you get an annual subscription to the satellite service. I opted for the Annual Safety Plan option, which was the cheapest and can be upgraded if necessary. Registering with the plan was straightforward. If I ever regain the freedom to enjoy the backcountry more regularly, I'd probably upgrade to a plan that allows breadcrumb tracking and test messaging at a better bulk rate.

Motorcycle GPS
Again with Garmin, the Montana 610 I bought last year has proven to be a worthwhile upgrade from the 64st handheld model I used the past few seasons. First, the larger screen is a blessing to my aging eyes and much easier to read while riding. Second, the touch interface is easy to use with gloves on. Third, the handlebar RAM mount incorporates a ruggedized power connection system that is far superior to a USB plug. Overall, it's hard to beat the Montana and Garmin's free mapping software (Basecamp) at this price. However, I'm looking forward to if/when Garmin ever updates their operating system and tools to more modern, user-friendly designs. Their devices look (and operate) about 10 years behind the rest of the electronics market, which would be OK if they were priced accordingly.

UV flashlight
OK, this gadget is probably unnecessary for most people, but as I'll be camping in desert areas in the American southwest, I wanted a way to check for scorpions when nature calls me out of my tent in the middle of the night. For $15 on Amazon, I'm hoping this flashlight improves my odds of not stepping on something painful and crunchy.

Cell phone
Yeah, nothing new here. It's an iPhone 6S. The camera is good, it's nice to have some tunes, and having web access is valuable for booking ahead, ordering parts, etc. Many of the areas I'll be traveling through won't have good (or reasonably priced) cell access, so any data services will have to rely on occasional WiFi. Hence the inReach beacon.

My travel companions picked up some used Android waterproof phones which, combined with downloadable maps and mapping software, will serve as their mounted GPS device. This could be a good solution, although I'm concerned about how reliable their power connection will be when exposed to a month of trail abuse. In any case, it'll be a good comparison test of alternatives to Garmin's overpriced technology.

USB cable
I'll be packing two of these to charge various devices, as experience shows one is guaranteed to crap out for no apparent reason.

Battery pack
This is another fine Anker product, a Powercore 10000. It's about the largest size that can be feasibly charged using the 21W solar panel, and will serve as backup if all else fails.

Relying on any complex technology that requires thousands of fragile components and millions of lines of code to all function perfectly and in harmony is a tremendous leap of faith. As backup, buried in my gear are an orienteering compass, waterproof maps, and a trusty old LED headlamp that doesn't need an online Facebook account and software updates to simply turn on and use. And there are plenty of sticks and rocks lying around to fend off any scorpions.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Review: Lightweight ADV riding suit

The wide range of conditions faced by an adventure rider poses some contradictory challenges when choosing appropriate jacket, pants, armour, and other gear. Further complicating matters is the wide choice of options available today. From leather to high-performance textiles, carbon fibre, and exotic materials like non-Newtonian fluid armour (think D3O), it's easy to fall into "analysis paralysis" when making a selection.

One set of challenges is driven by those unavoidable long sections of pavement to endure on the way to the good stuff. Here we face higher speeds, traffic, greater forces from wind and rain, and higher energies to absorb and deflect in the event of a collision or abrasion with the road. To withstand these assaults, riding gear must be constructed from highly durable materials which are often heavy and stiff. As a result, this gear can become uncomfortably hot at low speeds, and they tend to restrict mobility.

Another set of challenges is driven by the low-speed trail-riding aspects of the sport. Here, maximum flexibility and light weight, to allow high mobility and cooling, are paramount. MX gear is designed to meet these demands, but often at the expense of weather protection.

The ideal ADV suit combines the protection of street gear with the light weight and mobility of MX gear. However, it's a mythical beast, because none of the gear I've researched myself or heard described by others truly covers all bases. Compromises are unavoidable, so the question is really about what tradeoffs work for you. I'm going to cover what I've come up with to suit my own needs.

First, some context. All of my riding in the last few years has been on a WR250R with a high seat and soft luggage (Wolfman bags) attached when taking extended trips. A typical day for me consists of 50/50 pavement/dirt, with the dirt often being very rough and technical fire roads with water crossings, mud, and slow speeds through humid Eastern Ontario forests. Afternoon storms are common in the summer, with temperatures ranging from the high 20's to low 30's (Celcius), but feeling like high 30's to low 40's with the humidex. It's sticky, sweaty riding. On the other hand, spring and fall riding brings icy puddles and deeper water crossings, frequent rain showers and occasional snow, and gusty north winds that can make an otherwise sunny day feel bitterly cold. While there's really no one suit that can realistically cover all these conditions, it's important to have versatile gear because it's not uncommon to encounter the full range of these conditions over a span of a few days (or even one day). Such is life in Eastern Ontario, where the motorcycling season is a pathetic 6 months long--if you're lucky. Furthermore, riding a small bike leaves little horsepower and storage space for back-up gear. So you tend to dress once for the day.

This year I decided to make a significant investment in gear upgrades, as my older gear (based on an Olympia MotoQuest suit) proved ill-suited to my needs, and some other bits needed replacing anyway.

The foundation pieces of my new system are the Klim Carlsbad jacket and pants, and a TekVest RallyMax vest for upper body armour. The Carlsbad is a full Goretex suit aimed at ADV use, as reflected in the slightly looser cut and lighter materials than touring gear. The next suit up from the Carlsbad would be the Badlands, which is noticeably heavier and stiffer, but offers more durable materials in key wear areas like the elbows. Although the Carlsbad feels like a hiking jacket by comparison, it is well constructed and optimized for weight and mobility. Having ridden in it now for a few weeks in temperatures ranging from -3C to +10C, I can vouch that it does a remarkable job of cutting the wind, resisting rain and snow, and maintaining core warmth. I love it. However, it remains to be seen how it performs in the true heat. The vents are small, and I doubt they'll help much in extreme heat.

As for the Carlsbad jacket, it's optimized for light weight and areas like the back panel are unlikely to provide much mechanical wear protection in the event of a spill, even though it incorporates D3O level 1 elbow and shoulder pads, and a level 2 back protector. My solution has been to rely on the TekVest worn under the jacket for protection, removing the shoulder and back protectors from the Carlsbad to avoid redundant bulk. This way, the jacket only needs to serve as weather protection and can be removed easily if it gets too hot. I've left the elbow pads in the jacket, as the TekVest provides no protection in this area.

The TekVest is a marvel of textile engineering and really quite something to behold (and wear). I ordered mine on February 2 and only received it on April 23: this was an extraordinary delay in our modern era of instant gratification, more so considering the manufacturer is located only a couple hours drive from me. However, the wait was worth it. Pictures hardly do the vest justice: it is a beefy bit of kit, made from high quality materials and offering an enveloping sense of security when worn. This is not some flimsy item. No surprise that TekVest makes products for Klim, although I think the TekVest versions are better appointed for the price.

The TekVest will serve as an important under-layer to the jacket and, with jacket removed, as hot-weather outer protection layer. For hot weather, I will wear the Klim Tactical jersey underneath (also a robust bit of textile gear) and separate Fox Titan elbow pads on an Under Armour compression layer. This combo should provide high breathability, sun protection, and abrasion/impact resistance when trail riding on hot desert days. Note that the TekVest can be loosened significantly to maximize airflow without compromising protection, which should improve cooling compared to the pressure suit I previously used. The vest also fits under the Carlsbad jacket perfectly well, without binding or creating any odd pressure points.

Back to the pants. As a hedge against the Carlsbad pants for the hottest weather, I also bought a pair of the Klim Mojave pants, which are similar to the Carlsbad and Dakar pants except constructed with large mesh panels. While I don't like the idea of carrying two sets of riding pants, if I'm going to be wearing my riding gear for a month straight as planned this summer, I might as well be comfortable. Now, if only Klim can sort out their inventory, as last year it was a fiasco trying to order certain Klim pants in popular sizes. (Rumor was that a major shipment was delayed when a shipping company in the east went bankrupt.)

For knee protection I opted to get a set of the Alpinestars Fluid braces in carbon. While initially skeptical of going to a full brace for ADV riding, an experience this past winter with a minor MCL injury convinced me that it's time to nurture my 50-year old joints. Having worn the braces on each ride so far this year, I'm delighted to say that they fit me very well right out of the box and completely disappear when riding. I simply forget I have them on--except when mounting or dismounting my bike. Then the braces do exactly what they're supposed to do, and make it hard for me to swing my leg over the high seat. I should also point out that the L/XL braces fit nicely under the Carlsbad pants (size 34), and seem to move freely without creating pressure or potential wear points. It's easy to get the pants on, but removing them requires a wiggling exercise that I just know is going to make taking a crap in a narrow public stall challenging. See, you really need to consider these practical matters before you suit up, or you can get caught by surprise!

Rounding out my gear are two sets of gloves (gauntlet and trail gloves), Shoei Hornet helmet, Fox Titan elbow armour, Thor kidney belt (an oh-so-comfy accessory on long rides), and Forma Adventure boots. The boots proved very comfortable (and waterproof!) last season, and are much lighter than a full MX boot, although I've heard some complaints they may not provide as much support on long technical rides. That may be a matter of preference, as I found my previous MX boots to be tiring in different ways because they were so heavy and clumsy to walk in. I've also got a Leatt GPX neck brace which integrates with the TekVest. Not shown is a Dainese amoured shirt which I discussed in an earlier post. That may form a base layer option if the elbow pads prove too uncomfortable.

Overall the combination of gear is noticeably lighter and more comfortable than my previous set-up, and is more versatile while offering greater weather protection and mobility. It's too bad it's all grey, but the colour options were bleak and I wanted light colours to reflect the sun. However, I now have no qualms about heading out in any weather, whereas before I would maybe think twice if conditions were poor. The real test will be this summer, on a planned ride from Calgary down the Rockies to Utah, through the desert, then back up through Idaho to Calgary. That will cover a full gamut of conditions from snow to sand and sweltering heat, and should provide some good insights on what to improve.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Seat Concepts upgrade for WR250R

The stock seat for the WRR is narrow and firm, offering good mobility when standing on the pegs, but by the same virtue skimping on cheek support for those inevitable, long, seated stretches between the fun stuff. That gets old pretty quick, and in my case has resulted in squirmy repositioning that I'm sure has drawn some strange looks from passing motorists.

If I didn't already have a long trip planned for this year, I'd probably grit my teeth and put up with the stock seat for a little longer--especially since I'm considering a new bike at some point and there's only so much it's worth spending on the little thumper. However, the WRR has proven to be such a champ that I figured I'd treat it (and myself) to a little more TLC until the mythical Perfect Bike(TM) comes along. (C'mon, Yamaha: where's my T700, already?!)

There's a number of often cheekily-named solutions to this problem that don't require replacing the whole seat. I looked at several, and frankly couldn't justify any of them for my use. All but a few are overly wide and optimized for touring, where you're seated most of the time. While probably quite comfy (and reports suggest they are), these options looked like they'd interfere with standing not he pegs, or wouldn't be robust enough to withstand typical trail abuse. One nifty design from MOESOF consisted of webbing and foam rolls that attach around the seat, but it's made to fit specific bikes and can't be transferred to fit a different bike. That was a deal-killer for me. Also, most of these add-ons came in around CAD$200 after shipping, duties, and taxes, which made it hard to justify the hassle.  

For double the cost, replacing the whole seat seemed to offer the best solution and overall value. Seat Concepts is one of several companies offering upgrade seats for many models of bikes. They've gained a reputation for good quality, comfort, and reasonable prices compared to other options. You can order just the fabric and foam kit and re-cover your own seat frame, or order a complete seat ready to install. In each case there are options for materials and colors. I opted for a standard complete seat with the gripper fabric in Yamaha two-tone, which is a drop-in replacement for the OEM seat. To my happy surprise, this was an in-stock item from MX1 Canada, the Canadian distributor of Seat Concepts. It arrived well-packaged at my door within a week of ordering.

The Seat Concepts (nice and new, on the right in above photo) is about 4cm wider at the midpoint, creating significantly more support area where you normally sit. The front and rear are narrower, allowing good mobility in the standing position. Seat Concepts says they use an improved foam versus the OEM seat, although I couldn't feel much difference from a quick sit-test.

Underneath, the frames are nearly identical, except for some missing foam gaskets on the Seat Concepts. These can be replicated with some closed-cell foam weatherstripping I have on hand. There's a slight gap under the Seat Concepts, probably as a result of my IMS gas tank altering fit, which I'm sure will cause a tapping noise between the seat and bike frame as the seat flexes. Since noise is often a byproduct of wasted energy leading to probably bad things, I'll add some foam between the seat and rails to prevent this movement and help delay the eventual heat death of the universe.

Overall fit and finish is good. Installation is as easy as removing/installing the two seat bolts as per usual. Once I've had a chance to ride, I'll report back on comfort.

Update: Despite snow and ice, and -3C, I went for a 20 minute ride and can say the seat feels pretty good. At least, I didn't notice I was sitting on it, which I can't say for the OEM seat after a few minutes.