Sunday, March 4, 2018

Klim Carlsbad suit and other goodies

Although I have an actual suit of medieval amour, it's heavy, prone to rust, and looks silly on the bike. As I've evolved towards ADV riding over the years, I've tried a number of different pant and jacket combos, looking for the optimal suit that ensures reasonable skid and impact protection for the ride to the trails, as well as high ventilation, armor, and flexibility for the heat and abuse of low-speed riding on technical trails.

At one extreme are suits like the Klim Adventure Rally. They offer remarkable protection and other drool-inducing technical features, but they are also heavy and stiff by the very nature of these features. My little WRR doesn't even have the horsepower to move this suit! At the other extreme is pure MX year, characterized by hard armour and loose-fitting overgarments to maximize protection and ventilation, at the expense of weather resistance. It's great stuff to wear trail riding on a hot day, but not so great at highway speeds in a rain storm. Somewhere in the middle lies the ADV zone, where versatility and quality of riding apparel are perhaps more important criteria in choosing compromises. Fortunately, this is a market segment that's garnering improved gear selection and quality each year.

What not to wear
Many long, uncomfortable days of three-season riding and misplaced optimism have taught me to rule out certain options from further consideration:
  • I'm done with jackets and pants that rely on zip-in layers for waterproofing. They may be fine for long-distance touring, where perhaps you're not moving around on the bike much and not stopping frequently. But for my style of riding--on fire roads and rough trails, with stops sometimes every few minutes--it's simply too inefficient to fuss with multiple layers. They're hot and restrictive--especially when muscling a loaded bike through mud on humid summer days punctuated by rain. All that extra fabric absorbs water and carries mud, impedes drying, and takes up precious space when not being worn or when drying out at camp. I've usually ended up removing the suit's armour and relying on a pressure suit to allow riding jacket-less, but this leaves you stuck with at least two bulky external layers to stow, and a third if the pants also need a zip-in waterproof liner.
  • Pressure suits are hot. I've been riding with a Fox Titan Pro, and overall have been pleased with it. It's relatively comfortable, the armour sits well, and the kidney belt and hard back provide some welcome support and CE-2 protection. However, after a few seasons the fabric became stretched out and the fuzzy size of the Velcro no longer held. I was able to squeeze another season out of the suit by running it through the sewing machine to take up some of the bagginess and replace the Velcro, but the writing was on the wall to replace it. Also, it was not compatible with the Leatt GPX neck brace that's been gathering dust since I bought it a few seasons ago. No point in having a brace if you don't wear it--especially now that I'm doing longer trips to more remote areas, where enhanced protection is prudent. 
  • Knee pads are simply not enough protection. A few months ago I banged my MCL in an innocuous spill while riding my fat bike in the snow. Although my knee has mostly healed, the residual twinges are an important warning that a serious injury may be only a minor tweak away. So it's time to upgrade to full knee braces.
  • From my road and mounting biking experience, I'm a firm believer in reducing the overall weight of rider, bike, and gear to improve handling and comfort, thereby reducing fatigue and improving safety. I maintain a rigorous fitness regime to build core strength and endurance, reduce my body weight, and ensure lots of energy to ride (pedaling or motorized). So that leaves the bike and gear. Having long-since paid my dues with lower quality and heavier gear, I'd now rather save up and pay a bit more to have fewer items of better quality and reduced overall weight, than have a bunch of almost-but-not-quite-right gear that's heavy and bulky while offering no other additional benefits. 
So, what to wear?
Obviously there's no one, perfect solution. In fact, common ADV riding scenarios pose contradictory gear requirements. One solution is to spec a complete suit for each set of requirements. So, if it's a hot day, mesh jacket and pants may be ideal. If it's raining, wear a waterproof suit. But that's not practical for long or shoulder-season rides when conditions may vary wildly. The other solution is more of a buffet approach: choose gear components suited to a range of riding styles, and then combine them in a layered system while eliminating redundancy. This latter approach is what I've found to be more practical for me, although to make it work requires more investment than I've given it up to now.

Jacket and pants
As a basis for my new system, I decided that the best approach to minimize overall weight and layers is to bite the bullet and choose a jacket/pant combo that is guaranteed waterproof in one layer. After looking at countless options I arrived at the Klim Carlsbad suit, which is aimed squarely at the ADV market and offers a looser fit than touring gear and lighter-yet-rugged materials compared to the Klim Adventure Rally end of the spectrum. It's not cheap, but online reviews are overwhelmingly positive and hopefully it provides many years of good use. Initial testing also suggests that my neck brace will work just fine worn over the jacket.
Armored vest
The Carlsbad comes with D30 armour in the back, shoulders, and elbows, although I've decided to remove it in favour of a Tekvest Rally Max vest. While I haven't received the vest yet (should arrive soon!), I expect it'll fit both under and over the Carlsbad jacket. The Rally Max alone will serve as my outer layer in hot weather, and mid layer in cooler weather with the jacket over top. LostInPA over on ADVRider has posted a good discussion about different armour combinations, and I relied on his thoughtful observations in making my own decisions.

Base and mid layers
For my base layer, I'm experimenting with a couple of options. One is a Dainese D-Core Armor shirt, which combines a seamless compression shirt with removable CE armour in the elbows and shoulders. For really hot trail days, I plan to wear just an Under Armor compression T-shirt and elbow pads.

As you can see in this photo, the Dainese shirt (here a men's large) looks unfeasibly small compared to the Carlsbad jacket (Large) and my favorite T-shirt. But it stretches remarkably well and fits very comfortably,  holding the armour in just the right places and promoting the guns.

In hot weather, I'll wear a Klim Tactical Jersey over the base layer, then the Rally Max vest and optional neck brace. Together these layers provide armour, some abrasion resistance and, importantly, sun protection. Although it's hard to see in pictures, the Tactical is surprisingly heavy and is made from some tough open-weave material, almost like seat material for patio furniture. It's highly breathable and incorporates some minor padding in the arms that will help to subdue the sting of hitting branches, but won't provide any serious impact protection in a fall (I'll be wearing elbow pads). Also, this is a long jersey--well past my crotch--and is meant to be tucked into the pants to ensure mobility over the seat.

For extended cool or wet days, it may be easier to just slip the D3O pads back into the jacket and forgo the Dainese shirt or separate elbow pads. It all depends on how trail-washable (and comfortable) the Dainese turns out to be.

Knee braces
I'm leaning towards the Pod K4 based on their light weight and excellent reviews for comfort. I'm skeptical that the patella guard will withstand frequent kneeling, and concerned about fit, both on my athletic cycling legs and under the Carlsbad pant.
Other goodies
A few cold nights last season motivated me to upgrade my summer sleeping bag from the well-used but still serviceable cheap bag I bought 20 years ago and lived out of for half a year while trotting around Africa and the Middle East with my wife. The new MEC Draco (0ÂșC) offers excellent value, comfort, and performance in a small, lightweight package. I opted for a synthetic fill because it tends to withstand being wet better than down, although if you have deep pockets, there are some excellent down bags which shave more weight and are more compressible if that's an issue. The Draco compacts very well from it storage bag, taking up about a 1/4 of the space in one of my Wolfman panniers.

In preparation for travel to remote areas, I've been concerned about ensuring adequate power to charge my phone, headlamps, cameras, GPSes, and emergency locator in the event that something croaks on my bike's electrical system. Anker makes some excellent solar chargers, including this 21W fold-out panel which provides plenty of juice to charge a battery pack (here a 10000 mA/hr unit, also from Anker) that I can in turn use to charge devices when the sun isn't shining. This panel can be slung across the back of my bike or tent, allowing me to charge devices without having a wire strung to the USB port on my handlebars.

Once the spring rains wash away the road salt, I'll be out testing this new gear and reporting on how it performs. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Toronto Manufacturer's Motorcycle Show - Impressions?

Having attended the show out by the airport last year and coming away generally underwhelmed by it, this year I decided to check out the other show held at Exhibition Place. Rumor was that the manufacturer's show would have more of a focus on bikes and bike culture beyond the other show's beef-jerky/leather/chrome/loud-pipes scene that doesn't really appeal to me.

Indeed, there were lots of great bikes to sit on from the big manufacturers, and it was helpful to be able to do side-by-side comparisons of ergonomics and features, especially on ADV bikes where my passion lies. So that was great.

But this wasn't:

Really, Yamaha? I get it that motorcycle culture sometimes blends with sled/ATV culture. But this thing doesn't even have wheels.

Furthermore, I can't imagine that the market for bike-sled conversions exceeds that for a mid-side ADV bike. Instead of showing us a sled, where is the highly anticipated Tenere T700? Or F900GS or F750, or the mythical CRF450 Rally or for that matter?

Usual press hype aside, my spidey-sense tingles with the idea that the market is genuinely interested in a do-all, mid-weight ADV bike that incorporates modern suspension and engine design yet doesn't break the bank and can be repaired without requiring computer science and mechanical engineering degrees. If the success of the Africa Twin is any indication, further extending the concept of less-is-sometimes-more could achieve a category-killing 450- to 750-twin ADV bike.

So many of the bikes I saw at the show either had too much weight, HP, and other costly technology and breakable parts, or were so anemic or under-specced at the low-end (cast wheels!?) that at each extreme they couldn't be considered credible ADV contenders. Not to crap on the manufacturers here: they do make some fine ADV bikes--but for other markets. Often the more desirable models aren't available in Canada or even in North America.

For me, the real value of this year's show was getting to try on new riding gear and see accessories that are normally just web pics. I was lucky to score one of the last Klim Carlsbad jackets in my size from GP Bikes, and will be reviewing it later as part of a new, minimalist system of riding wear I'm assembling to handle extremes of heat, cold, pavement, and trail for this summer's TAT loop.

Inspect your wheel bearings!

Last winter I built up a set of burly new wheels for my WR250R using SM Pro hubs, Bulldog stainless spokes with aluminum nipples, and SM Pro rims. While the combination was almost identical in weight to the WRR's stock wheels, the heavier spokes and higher tensions translated into noticeable handling improvements and the larger bearings of the SM Pro hubs (in theory) should have improved durability.

So, while tearing down my bike recently for a pre-season inspection, I was surprised to discover that one the rear wheel bearings had completely seized despite there being no obvious signs of damage to the bearing itself, although the end cap showed some suspicious, uneven scoring past the seal.

The OEM rear hub uses one 6005 bearing on the drive side and a smaller bearing on the brake side. Here's the bearing replacement kit for the OEM hub. The loose bearing lying on top is also a 6005.

By comparison, the SM Pro rear hub uses three 6005 bearings: two on the drive side, and one on the brake side. It was the inner bearing on the drive side that had seized, which struck me as the least likely bearing to fail unless there was some sort of manufacturing defect. True, these wheels saw some wet conditions last year, but after only 7,000km I wasn't expecting a seized bearing. The outer bearing on the drive side showed some corrosion but remained buttery smooth, as did the bearing on the brake side.

Here's the brake side of the SM Pro hub, with external seal removed:

And here's the drive side:

Removing the SM Pro bearings is relatively straightforward using a drift to knock aside the inner spacer tube and then tap out first one side, then the other, by driving on the inner races.

Rather than buy Moose or All-Balls replacements, for about the same price (or less) I picked up some better quality SKF bearings and seals from a local distributor. The 6005-2RS is a common part used in many industrial and recreational applications, so you can get them pretty much anywhere--including where sleds and ATVs are sold.

Installing new bearings was equally straightforward once I found a 34mm socket to use as a driver. I would've made a tool, but didn't have any rod stock in the required diameter. Sometimes buying a socket is good enough.

With new end-caps installed, the wheels feel buttery smooth again. Here are the old ones showing part numbers:

The lesson here is to not assume that even relatively new bearings are still good, and to check them all carefully before heading out on your next adventure.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Finding adventure: Why I ride

The hardest part of undertaking an adventure is deciding to go. Uncertainty about the unknown, concern about risk, and anxiety about whether it’ll be the “right” use of precious time and resources—all can defeat taking action. When “analysis paralysis” and agonizing over all the “what-ifs” take over, they often shut doors to enriching new experiences and insights.

Even for seasoned adventurers, making the decision to go may paradoxically become both harder and easier with age. This is certainly the case for me now as I ponder my 50th year and plan a new trip.

On the one hand, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to live in or extensively visit some 35 countries since an early age. Growing up as an only child to young parents who were also students, we lived in nomadic poverty. Leaving Canada for Sweden, we wound our way through Eastern Europe to Greece and then Italy, and on to South Africa, LeSotho and Swaziland before emigrating to a small backwater town in Queensland, Australia.

Soon after, a family break-up led to the next chapter of my life and the addition of two new people who would eventually become my wonderful step-parents. It was also the start of my dual life, splitting my time between my father’s adventurous  lifestyle around the world and my more mundane routine in Canada. These adventures included sailing around the south Pacific, hitchhiking through Europe, and spending time in Switzerland and southern France with a remarkable collection of musicians, artists, and business people in my father’s (and stepmother’s) circle of family and friends. It was all bare-bones budget, often risky by the standards of the day, and certainly not what was then seen as an appropriate way to raise a teenager. It was fantastic.

This upbringing naturally drove me towards being independent and self-reliant. In that respect, a major epiphany for me was learning to ride my second-hand bicycle on our dirt road in Australia. This, and some old books on bicycle repair, kindled a life-long passion for independent, two-wheeled travel. At 16 I completed my first bike tour, a solo four-day tour through a corner of France and Switzerland. I could hardly wait until the end of high school, when a friend and I spent three months cycling across Europe and I worked as a bicycle tour guide in France.

In university I started to race bicycles, and took up running--against the advice of a doctor who was horrified by my gait. Despite being relatively late to the sport, soon I was competing internationally in duathlons and was fortunate to represent Canada at two world championships. Racing led to rock-climbing and mountaineering, and many trips to stunning locations to enjoy new challenging experiences and guide others.

Twenty years ago today, in 1998, my wife and I took our biggest risk together (besides getting married—that’s a whole other story!). We scrounged every penny, left our careers, and took half a year to travel as locals would through West Africa and the Middle East. In retrospect, it was an unusually perfect time for such a trip. The regions we visited were mostly stable and conflict free at the time, yet tourism was rare. We met many wonderful people in Gambia, Morocco, Mali, Ghana, Syria, and other places where it would be difficult at best, or outright suicidal today. We took chances and had an adventure of a lifetime.

Now—and with the accumulated responsibilities of teenagers of my own, extended family, entrenched careers, and the usual burdens of simply getting older—finding adventure becomes more challenging. It must emerge in more compact, refined forms to remain feasible. In that respect, the addition of a motorcycle license a decade ago enables adventures further afield while retaining many of the characteristics of bicycle travel. 

All this wealth of experience, while contributing to useful know-how in finding and having great adventures, also gives rise to the paradox I mentioned at the start: it stimulates the “what-ifs”. If unchecked, these what-ifs can defeat the goal of finding or enjoying new adventures. I think the key is to find an appropriate balance between experience (often gained through failure) and openness to risk (optimism that you can find a way to succeed) that is right for you. This is tricky. First you need to be aware of the issues, then you need to identify the right balance, then you need to act on it. Many people never figure it out. 

For myself, I think I’ve found a reasonable balance. My fears are tempered by having been in some situations that could have easily and irrevocably led to a spectacular death or at least injury. We all gotta go, someday. I just don’t think my time’s up yet. And when it is, I hope it’s while going full-throttle doing something I love.

Nevertheless, and speaking as a motorcyclist, for the benefit of my family I try to be a conservative rider who assiduously avoids traffic, main roads, and populations in general. Those are risks I can control somewhat by simply minimizing my exposure to them. The tradeoff is allowing myself the luxury of enjoying perhaps a little more risk riding on the path that’s less-traveled and definitely more rutted, rocky and remote: Pick your battles.

Probably like most of you reading this site, I ride because the combination of acceleration, fresh air, and physical exertion is intoxicating and exhilarating. Whether it’s on a bicycle or motorcycle, those two wheels become extensions of my body, allowing me to go places and find adventures that most people can’t or won’t try. The journey—not the destination—is the basis of adventure. Every ride can become an adventure if you approach it the right way. The amazing thing is, once you make that decision to go, the rest just falls into place.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Dualsport route: Michigan's Upper Peninsula

While researching my giant-loop of a ride for this summer, from Ottawa south to the TAT, up the spine of the Rockies, and then back east via South Dakota Badlands and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I ran across this route in ADVRider that's just too good to not share. Now to see how I can incorporate this into my return journey. GPXes are available through this link.

Those dunes are amazing! Did not know the glaciers left sand so deep in this area! Photo from the route creator's (Cannonshot's) photoessay.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fastway Adventure footpegs

Santa finally showed up with a much awaited delivery this afternoon: new footpegs!

Although the WR250R comes with some half-decent footpegs (they're all steel and sharp), the other half of that equation is they're small and uncomfortable if you have to stand on them for any length of time. They also grind your soles to pieces, and this was a contributing reason for replacing my moto boots recently.

A slightly larger peg than stock offers more control and less fatigue on long trail days. After looking at various options online, Fastway (aka Pro Moto Billet) seemed offer some of the highest quality and best set of features in terms of adjustability, and the reviews to back them up. Many riders raved about the Adventure footpeg model for it's size and improved control as a result. While I was a little dubious of going to such a large design, I put faith in the review and decided to order a pair from Gnarly Parts. All the Fastway pegs require an insert kit (ordered separately) to fit the peg to your particular bike.

As you can see, the Adventure is substantially larger than the stock. In fact, you could probably have a picnic with a couple of buddies sitting on each one, they're so huge. I think the optimal size would be about a centimeter shorter, but Fastway doesn't seem to offer anything in that size and you need to go a couple centimeters shorter.

Some assembly is required. There are two lengths of pins to install, which lets you tune the profile under your foot. I opted for the tall pins at the back and middle, and short pins in front to more or less match the profile of my boot midsole. The kit includes red thread locker, which is a nice touch.

Installation is fairly straightforward but I had some minor fitment issues. First, the inserts are a tight fit in the aluminum peg body. The kit includes a small mandrel for hammering the inserts into place, but I found this clumsy and used my arbor press instead. Of course, once I installed one insert I discovered it was about 1.5mm too long to fit in the OEM bracket on my bike. I was able to turn the insert to a precise length using my metal lathe. Alternatively, you could probably file them carefully by hand.

There are two return springs, colour-coded silver and gold. Their fitment on either the left or right side depends on whether you mount the pegs in their low or high position. The height difference isn't much; the low position is about only 5mm lower than the OEM pegs and high about 5mm higher, but with my long legs, I'll take any extra room I can get. Changing the position means pressing out the insert (use the included mandrel) and flipping it over in the peg body. There's really only one way the springs can be installed in either scenario, and with a little fiddling and exertion you can push the peg into position so it aligns with the hole and then drop the original pin through to hold it in place.

One other adjustment is the resting angle of the peg. I don't see the point of this feature on the WRR, where the footage bracket constrains adjustability, so I just installed the adjustment bolt in its lowest position (no washers) which left the peg sitting horizontal. The pegs do swing back if hit from the front, although the range of motion is limited and may not offer much useful protection except when scraping the pegs in a corner. Although, this scenario seems unlikely on a dirt bike with such high ground clearance.

With a Forma Terra (size 11) boot on the peg there's about a centimeter of peg protruding past the side. I'm curious to see how using the full range of foot positioning that's possible on these pegs can improve riding control. If the reviews are accurate and my skills are up to it, it there should be a noticeable benefit.

Monday, January 22, 2018

WR250R winter rebuilds

With the weather oscillating between -40 and +12C, and an ill-timed crash while fat-biking that led to a sore knee, it was finally time to inspect and repair my bike for the upcoming season. This year I'm planning an epic romp that starts in Ottawa, follows the Appalachians down to the Trans-American Trail, sneaks up the crest of the Rockies to Wyoming, and beelines back home via the South Dakota Badlands and part of the TCAT north of Sault Ste Marie. Both bike and rider both need to be in good shape for this journey. If you're interested in joining, drop me a line and check out the ADVRider thread.

The WRR has now accumulated about 27,000km of 50/50 dual sport riding. Last winter I tackled several minor mods to the bike, so I was curious to see how these "improvements" stood up after a relatively short but chronically wet and punishing season of 6,000 km of trail riding.

Removing the skid plate revealed some shortcomings with my latest anti-vibration strategy. It consisted of an adhesive asphalt matting to replace prior failed attempts to use a glued rubber sheet. The asphalt material had softened and flowed with engine heat, and allowed significant accumulations of rocks and other debris to become embedded and rub against the frame, especially in the contact area under the cradle.

Since the matting itself seemed to work well at preventing reflected noise, I decided to just carve out the worst areas of grit (and all in the contact areas), and cover the remaining material with thin adhesive aluminum foil.

This should prevent more crap from becoming embedded where it can touch the frame. In addition, I laid a thin bead of silicone weatherstripping along the areas contacting the engine cradle. This shouldn't collect grit and should provide a secure base to tighten the skid plate bolts. With the asphalt material, I discovered that the bolts loosened and eventually fell out as the material softened, despite using blue Loctite.

All that grit sandwiched between the skid plate and cradle caused some abrasion and superficial rust on the steel. Light sanding followed by 6 coats of primer and paint, combined with the above skid plate mods, should resist further corrosion.

Replacing the OEM gas tank with the larger IMS last year proved to be well worth the money. Being concerned about exposed plastic soaking up engine heat and potentially deforming or degrading, I decided to apply a foil-faced foam insulation as thermal protection. This resulted in a slightly tighter fit than ideal, and some spots where clearances were especially tight (like over the radiator main outlet, shown on the left of the photo below), rubbed and wore through the insulation. This type of friction isn't good, so I peeled off all the foam and replaced some areas with just foil tape. The tank now mounts a little more easily although the hideous gaps remain on the sides (a design flaw).

While the paint was drying I also decided to repair a cracked corner on my home-brew signal light bracket, which was needed to incorporate the tail-tidy kit I had installed. The first version was fabricated from three section cut and filed from 1/8" 6061 aluminum plate, the side pieces riveted on to the centerpiece using extruded aluminum angle brackets. One corner bracket got bent in a tip-over, also cracking the turn signal housing. While hot glue fixed the housing, the bracket needed to be replaced.

Rather than fabricate an entirely new set of parts, it was easier to drill out and replace the corner brackets with new parts made from stainless steel salvaged from the decorative front panel of an old dishwasher. (The dishwasher that has kept on giving and giving!) It's a springier assembly to allow more give. These were riveted to the centerpiece using beefier stainless rivets, and the side pieces were attached using stainless screws and nuts to facilitate removal if necessary. Otherwise, removing the taillights means disassembling the whole back end, which is a nuisance in a warm shop and not recommended at all on a trail.

With the swingarm off I also inspected and cleaned the pivot bearings and chain slider. The pivot bearings may need replacing before my TAT adventure. The slider showed even wear--indicating no chain tensioning issues--but I really don't like how it sits over the pivot bearing cover (the brass-colored part) and digs into the swingarm. The material is too flexible and allows grit to become trapped underneath, which then acts to grind down the swingarm. You should be aware of this issue so you can inspect the swingarm before it leads to failure.

As a temporary fix, I reapplied some JB Weld to fill the worn areas. A better solution would be to fill the worn area with metal, but that's not a feasible option for me. 

A proper fix would eliminate the rubbing caused by the slider design. A search of eBay indicated that TN Designworks finally offered an aftermarket, improved slider made from oil-impregnated hard plastic for the WRR, so I ordered one only to find that although I'd requested the right part, the vendor shipped me something that obviously wouldn't fit.

Searching the TN Designworks site led to more disappointment: they still don't--and are unlikely to--offer a slider for the WRR. So if anyone has a recommendation over the OEM Yamaha slider, please let me know.

A clutch inspection (very helpful using my own guide at this link!) showed virtually no wear since the last time I checked two seasons ago. At this rate I should get another 20,000km out of it before the friction plates need to be replaced.

Likewise for the front rotor: it has worn to only about 3.45mm thickness versus 3.5 mm stock and wear limit of 3.0 mm. No need to replace. However, the rear rotor wears faster in typical trail riding, so I replaced it last season.

New farkles arriving soon include Fastway Adventure footpegs from Gnarlyparts, and a Shorai LFX lithium-iron battery from Fortnine to replace the lead lump while benefiting from considerable weight loss and capacity gain. Also on the shopping list is (finally!) a new, lighter jacket (probably the Klim Carlsbad, to replace my heavy and leaky Olympia MotoQuest) and new armour (leaning towards a TekVest RallyMax tp replace my deteriorating Fox pressure suit).