Is That an Armchair?

Key_largo_for_lunchAs before, with ad hoc bike rental, I continued my trend of riding bikes I haven’t had a chance to ride yet. I figured Miami to the Keys is essentially a straight motorway run, so I’d rent a tourer. My choice was limited to just about any Harley ever produced (and that’s not happening. Ever!), a Honda ST1300, which I rode in my UK trip last year, or a Honda Goldwing.

So my trusty steed for this adventure was the Goldwing. A brand new, 6-cylinder, boxer engined, 1.8l “car on two wheels,” complete with 4 speaker radio, reverse gear, and acres of luggage space. As other bikers disparagingly refer to as “an armchair.” Of course if you’re going to spend entire days on straight motorways, without so much as a bend, fire trail, or bump in sight, you’d probably rather be in an armchair than on a super bike or dual-sport.

Leviathan

This is a BIG bike. A beast that makes the 240kg BMW R1200GS feel like a moped. If this baby falls over, you simply are Not. Lifting. It. Up. Ever! And I don’t even want to think of a leg trapped under this machine. Best not to have reason to.

Initial impressions are of surprising acceleration considering the bulk of the bike. It’s shaft drive, so you’re not going to beat any sports bikes at the lights, but it would be a +$100k sports car to give you a serious run for your money. Of course this bike is so big you’re never going to filter to the front of the lights to find out. But navigating the 4 & 5 lane Florida Turnpike down to US1 was a treat.

You do have to roll power on as you lean into a corner, rather than waiting for the apex. It has a serious tendency to oversteer and drop. Of course counter-steering just makes this worse on a bike, but a handful of throttle gets you around without too many underwear stains.

The weight of the bike lends to a stability that misleads the senses. I noticed Archie dropping way behind as we left Miami, and a quick glance at the speedo brought me up; I was cruising at 95 mph (152 kph). You simply don’t notice the speed. The engine is hardly breaking a sweat, there is no vibration, and whilst there’s turbulence over the top of the windshield, it’s not noticeably different at higher speeds.

Creature Comforts

I’m in Florida, so 5 of the 6 pre-set FM radio stations are Hispanic, which was ok for the time it took me to get used to the layout of the controls and dashboard. Of course you need serious volume to overcome wind noise above 40 mph, and the speakers certainly crank it out. But that doesn’t detract from the actual wind noise. I found the Bluetooth headset in my helmet produced far better quality music, without ads, and knowing glances at traffic lights.

As to that armchair. There is no question that your butt sinks into the plush bucket shaped saddle. Together with the suspension, and simple bulk of the bike, it soaks up most highway impediments. We took 5 hours to get to the Key, and 4 hours back to Eagle Riders next to Miami airport, and there was no hint of iron butt syndrome. And the pillion seat looks even better, with a plush back rest, and footboards rather than pegs. If you’re ever going to be a pillion, this would be the bike to do that on.

Peg-to-seat distance is ok. You’re low down so you can put your legs down at the lights whilst straddling a baby hippo. But the pegs are under you, not in front like a cruiser. This means you don’t get lower back crushes when you hit a pothole. It doesn’t feel like your knees are around your ears, which is how I felt on the ST last year.

The handle bars, however, are another story entirely. I found them too low, which caused serious back pain across my thorax. Nothing I could do, short of standing on the pegs, would alleviate the pain in my back. Perhaps I’m too used to the high, wide, adventure tourer style bars, or simply too old. I did have a massage when we got to Key West, and that along with a couple of Ibuprofen midway through day two, made this manageable. But if I was to buy a large tourer like this, I’d be testing the BMW’s, or installing risers.

Another gripe was the windshield. Bizarrely this is electronically controllable on the ST (i.e. you can raise or lower the windshield), but a fixed feature item on the GW. Its height put a bunch of turbulent air right at my brow. At anything over 40 mph with my visor open, the buffeting would shake my head so hard I couldn’t focus my eyes and my neck hurt. With the visor closed there was still significant buffeting and the greenhouse effect of the Florida sun. Of anything, this is the one item that would put me off ever buying a Goldwing (not that there’s any threat of that).

Money Sink

This is an expensive piece of kit. And one view would be all the value that you get for your money.

If your riding is on the motorways of Europe or the Interstates of the USA, and you’re going to be spending weeks of long days in the saddle, with perhaps a significant, non-rider, other in the back seat; I could see this being a viable option. There’s no question that the luggage space, audio, and seat comfort lends itself to the grey nomad lifestyle.

But be prepared to spend a LOT of money. This thing guzzles fuel like there’s no tomorrow. I easily used more than double what Archie did, over the identical distance at the identical speed. I reckon this thing used more fuel than my car. Certainly a lot more than the Duc.

Then there’s the non-std mod cons you’d be adding: An aux input for your MP3 player, GPS, and adjustable windshield for starters.

If, however, you want to ride your bike more often than the annual motorway tour, or retirement plan, I just don’t get the attraction.

Perhaps it’s a Ducati thing.

I’d love to actually run the numbers, and compare this to an open top roadster. I’m not sure there’d be a lot in it.

There’s Never Too Bad a Day…

…to have a great ride.

I certainly needed to cross this bike off the “bikes I haven’t ridden” list, and I’ve done that.

Was it fun? Sure.

Archie and I had a great time. What’s not to love cruising down the Keys alongside Azure Blue water on a motorbike? Any motorbike.

T-5 Finalising Gear & a Break from Regular Programming

Project 2012: Day 248

We're now into single digits for the countdown to the BIG MOTORBIKE TOUR – you can read more about that by clicking on the “On Tour” menu item above – in fact we're so close now, there's almost not time to have something shipped from Amazon to Motoquest Seattle and get there before me.

Break in Regular Programming

Anyway, because of the ride, then the family holiday, there'll be a break to scheduled programming on the blog 🙂 Not a break from blogging, just from the following the schedule I've been publishing for the 2012 Project:

  • Sunday = Food (Tasty, Simple, Bloke Recipes)
  • Monday = Get your Dream Job (Interview Techniques, CV's, etc)
  • Tuesday = Rog42 Passions (motorbike, diving, video, photo)
  • Wednesday = Hump Day (jokes, movie, book & theatre reviews)
  • Thursday = Start-ups (How not to start-up a high tech start-up)
  • Friday = CTO (and yes, I know I'm about 6 weeks behind on that)
  • Saturday = Personal Success (parenting, leadership, influence, effectiveness, happiness etc)

for the next month, I shall be bringing a daily wrap up, or observation from our holiday. Starting today, with my Top Down Tour.

Father's Day

My girls really went to town for Father's Day and got me a couple of necessary items. Lightweight sleeping bag (800g) – this is only rated to 8C, but it is late summer in the US, I will have storm riding gear, and can always find a motel if it's that bad.

However, this little beauty weighs next to nothing, making it ideal for the flight(s) and the ride. And check how small it folds up. Again perfect for packing.

The next item that I discovered I really needed on the Black Dog Ride, was a self-inflating sleeping mat. Again, it needed to be compact, and light, but still comfortable.

And my family outdid themselves.

That's the sleeping bag on the right, and the sleeping mat on the left. I know, right.

So for camping, I now have a great little tent. A sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and a couple of little torches.

I may need something to make tea/coffee in. But then again, mostly I should be near diners and am not planning to have to cook.

Packing

Packing is turning out to be harder than expected. Mainly because of two reasons:

  1. The flying prior to the ride, and holiday afterwards. I'll have extra gear (riding and camping) that I have to carry on the flight, and lug around the USA with me for 3 weeks.
  2. The one way nature of the ride. Y'see, everything unpacks from my flight luggage into the panniers on the bike. But then, I have a one way flight back to Seattle, and can hardly take a couple of aluminium panniers with me on the flight.

Still, onto how I'll resolve that in another post. First, packing the riding & camping gear.

Done.

Here is the tent, sleeping bag, mat, my touring trousers, towel, and first aid kit, all neatly packed in the bottom part of my bag, ready for the flight on Sunday.

All in, fits perfectly

Still to come

Transportation woes – all the pitfalls to get to a place on the other side of the world, economically, without spending days transiting, and on time.

  • Gearing up – making sure from navigation to protection, from media to emergencies, we have everything we need for the trip.
  • Where to stay – Couch Surfing, Tent Space, Friends, and Camping.
  • Finance – How to buy things, book things, and get money across without being rorted
  • Covering your Ass – Insurances, Contact Folk, Health Contingences
  • Media Planning – What computer to take, if at all. Which camera? When will I be shooting photos, videos, and sharing the same.

At the end of the day, even though it's in the USA, I will be riding a big motorbike close on 3,500kms in 9.5 days, by myself, in a foreign country. I mean, it is a bit of an adventure… 🙂

Getting Close Now

Project 2012: Day 227

Update 1 – Planning

Travel

The planning phase for my Bucket List Ride, the Topdown Tour of the US 2012 is really starting to ramp up now. I’ve booked and paid for most of the bike rental. I pick up the bike in Seattle on 9th September from Motoquest. My flight is booked, as is the Vancouver to Seattle bus.

I’ve also paid for a return flight from Long Beach to Seattle for the 19th September, when Lucy and the girls fly in to the US.

Safety Gear

Because I’m riding alone, I wanted to ensure that people could track my progress, and that I have a way to call for help, or alert Emergency Authorities even if there is no cell signal. To this end I ordered a SPOT GPS Messenger, which does exactly that.

You can follow my progress on the page on this blog. I’ll also be testing it on my Black Dog Ride week-end that you can check out at http://blackdog.rog42.net. Feel free to sponsor me 🙂

The one frustration is that a device that costs just $99 in the USA (which is about AU$93) is charged at $200 here in Australia. “On Sale”

I also ordered a UTAG ICE Dog Tag. This is a USB device that carries all of my personal, identification, medical and emergency contact information. Along with insurance details. If I’m unconscious, I want to ensure that people can rapidly get the information they need to treat me. Especially insurance in the USA, not to mention my rare blood type.

This is a cool device that hangs around your neck, just like a dog tag, but plugs into any USB drive.

Home from Home

Camping

I’m planning to get off the beaten track, and at least half of my nights will be camping. Partly to minimise cost, but mostly because I actually enjoy getting out into nature, and the ride from Top to Bottom on this continent’s coast has some of the most spectacular nature in the world.

Now Air Canada is quite strict on their “1 bag 23kg” policy, so I’ve been researching light, strong, weather proof, compact, yet large enough, inexpensive tents. 🙂 No mean feat. Especially when this has to include my Helmet, and Riding gear.

After weeks of research, including building an Excel model, looking at tents both locally (more expensive, have to include in flight weight) and in the USA (less expensive, have to bring it back, potential warranty issues) I ended up finding a tent left over from the Aldi “Extreme Hiking and Mountaineering Sale”

Alloy poles, gear loft, alloy pegs, taped seams, bathtub groundsheet, 2 entrances, 2 vestibules, in a compression dry bag, at only 2.5kgs and just AU$70 – bargain. 🙂

Especially when you have 60 days to return it if not satisfied.

Now I’m doing the same with both sleeping bags, and hiking self inflating mattresses. I’m also looking at a dry bag for the camping gear on the back of the bike.

At the moment I’m unsure about cooking equipment, as I may just eat out all the time. I’d rather not spend too much time shopping at supermarkets.

Electronics

Another big issue is what to take in the way of electronics. On the one hand I don’t want to spend all my time editing, and posting etc. On the other this is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I don’t want to leave the SLR at home and then get to experience a shot that I’ll never get the chance to see again.

Of course all of you get to live life vicariously through my lenses as well.

;

Suffice to say I’ll have:

  • Contour GPS Helmet Cam
  • iPhone 4S for most Instagram and Candid Shots
  • Canon 550D with twin lens for serious photography
  • All three of the above devices take HD video – but I may try and reclaim my Flip Camera from the friend I lent it to a year ago
  • For editing and Internet, I’m tossed between the iPad and the MacBookPro. I’m erring toward the iPad at the moment because of battery life, ease of charging, limited replacement cost should something happen to it, weight, and the limited functionality will minimise the time I’m messing around with electronics. Mostly this trip is about disconnecting.

To that end, I’ll be testing the iPad this week-end as well. If it works, I’ll leave the MacBook at home. I can pretty much do everything on the iPad and iPhone.

That’s it – I’m getting the riding gear together as well, but I’ll leave that for another update.

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