Friday, April 27, 2012

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Bike Review: Honda PC800

I will admit that I have had a 'geek-on' for this bike ever since I read about them and saw one at a rally. I am drawn to utility like other avid motorcyclists are drawn to chrome and loud pipes.

I gave up my Burgman 650 scooter to get this bike, and I did so because of the reliability and utility of this amazingly designed bike.

I won't bore you - the reader - with the history and cult fascination of this bike. There are plenty of web sources to learn about that. But it says something about a bike that hasn't been in production since 1998, that it still has such a strong following and its features still has perennial functionality.

I bought my 1997, with 25k miles on a brisk 9 degree day in January of 2010 from a nice gent in Tennessee. The plastic - and there is a lot of it - was in great shape, as is often not the case with these rare, and getting rarer, specimens. It started and ran fine and about the only thing it needed was a new rear taillight assembly since there was a big crack in the lens. I replaced that straight away when I brought it home.

I like this bike. About the only feature that disappoints is how a tall, 6'3" guy has to bend his knees into the riding position. A little shorter and this bike would be ideal. That said, I sit up nice and straight, which is preferable for me. No sports-bike lean forward to make my aging joints and back sore after a few miles.
Shifting is positive and Honda-clunky - which is fine. The 800cc V-Twin engine has a soft growl whose sound and heat is contained by the white engine shroud invisible under the sea of Tupperware. A nice feature, as my previous ST1300 roasted my legs with its engine heat emission.

I have had many motorcycles and scooters and I have to say, this bike is the most balanced I have ridden. I would feel very comfortable taking this bike through its or slow....and it would be ideal for the dreaded 'cone test' for new riders getting their M class on their drivers license.

Wind and weather protection is good - except for the feet. My PC has an after-market Rifle windscreen on it and it does as good as the stock one I suspect.

Storage is really where this bike shines. The whole rear end, from the split-seat back, opens up revealing the coveted - and unique - storage points, one cavernous tub on each side of the rear tire. Totally imbedded and integral in the design of the bike.

The beauty of these waterproof storage sections is that they are not clam-shell external pods. So when you open them, all your stuff doesn't fall out - the feature on the clam-shell storage pods I detest. Ergo, you can really cram a lot of stuff in them....and I mean more than the usual two helmets and gloves. The only drawback to these I can see as a long-distance tourer, is the PITA fact that you have to unload what is lashed onto your rear seat to gain access to the under storage. No matter though with a bit of planning.

Praise-worthy as the rear storage is in the rear, the storage up front leaves you puzzled as to where to put your sunglasses, folding maps, GPS unit, cell phone, sunscreen, etc. The left side glove box is small and doesn't hold that much and is not securable. The right fairing picket is a faux pocket and is the access point to the coolant overflow bottle.
As a commuter and errand runner, this lack of forward storage doesn't bother me much. But when I think through my long-distance tourer lens, some modifications would have to be made.

What I really like about the bike is that it is more-than-usual Honda bullet-proof. They engineered this bike to be virtually maintenance free....or as much so a bike can be. So, good gas mileage, proven and fool-proof mechanics and great utility make this a trouble and worry free bike.

Add to all of that the price point .....good ones with average mileage can range from $2500 to $4500....and you have a great bargain as well. Parts are still available to source - although the plastics are very expensive and a bit harder to locate at times.

A great bike overall and I will keep mine as long as I can I should think.

Bike Review: 2006 Suzuki Burgman 650

This is the steed in which I have logged the most miles on a single trip - which is chronicled here in this blog. Although this is only one man's opinion, I believe my extensive saddle time gives me a unique perspective on this bike.

First of all, it's a scooter....rather, a maxi-scooter...designated by having over 250cc's. For everyone who say's ''s really just a motorcycle without gears...' well, they would be wrong. Although it does share many characteristics of a traditional motorcycle, it is very, and remarkably, different.

Zipping around town is a blast and effective. It is, buy far, the most utility-featured two-wheeled vehicle out there in my opinion. The large under-seat trunk can fit two, full-size helmets - which translates into four good sized grocery bags if needed.

But, this is a long-distance touring blog, so I shall restrict my comments to that end. In that mode, it has served me well. Since I wrote extensively about the positive and negative features of this scooter in the rolling blog pursuant to my long trip, I won't repeat myself here.

But I do want to add two significant points. Size of the rider. I am 6'3" and weight 230. With my gear and me, I pretty much max out the payload capacity of the scooter. Worse though, the scooter is just not really built for guys my size. I mean, I could - and did - manage, but it is not the ideal vehicle to maximize the comfort of those over 6' in my opinion.

The Burgman 650 does have room for multi-positioning of your feet since there are running boards instead of foot pegs. With me though, the downside was my knees. I had to be very conscious of where my knees were at all times. They just tended to rest lightly against the lower dash - which was fine 90% of the time. I would just slightly adjust them when I anticipated bumps and all would be fine. It's those bumps, holes, etc. that I didn't anticipate that drove the dash into my knees with throbbing regularity.

A sub-point to that is the lack of suspension. It has adjustable rear shocks, but I could never find the magic number that dampened the ride to the level of actually being comfortable. Meaning, it retained pretty much the sports aspect of suspension - which suits the scooter fine in everday driving, but quickly tires the rider out on long trips. So, in one hand, you have a good read/feel of the road when you need it.....and even more so when you don't need or want it. No choice.

The second point is reliability....and this may strike some as odd. I say that because my B650 performed flawlessly for the 3 years I owned it. I did my own service on it (except for tires) and it never failed me. Ever.

That said, I belonged and socialized with many scooter enthusiasts and frequented rallies, forums and websites. From those sources, I came to learn that there really wasn't a long history for which to make reasonable calculations about the service length of the vehicle - which was unsettling for me.

I couldn't find a source on the web that boasted mileage over, say 60k. I am sure they are some out there, I just didn't see much legacy to that end. Conversely, I did know of, and read, much about CVT failures. They are incredibly complicated devices and when they go, unless you have a new scooter, you find yourself with a bill equal to or greater than the actual value of the bike!

That aggregate concern over long-term/high-mileage B650's is one reason why I was keen to give it up. If I had my druthers, and if I still wanted to have a B650, I would get another used on, under 10k miles, and sell it before I hit 30k miles or so.

No real reason except for peace of mind.

Bike Review: Honda ST1300

I purchased this bike after doing a fair amount of research - but never riding one. I purchased this used (as I do most bikes I have owned) but it was in pristine condition and my intention was that this bike would be my solo, long-distance touring machine.

Overall, I wasn't actually that happy with the bike. After a three-day trip around Lake Michigan, I made some conclusions.

One good point is that it sat tall - which is ideal for this 6'3" guy. So few bikes can boast that feature - with the exception of the BMW line of bikes.
Also on the plus side is the getty-up. I am not a huge fan of having excessive cc's that serve no purpose. In my mind, it not only is wasted on me, but it adds to the cost, weight and service of the bike.

That said, this bike has a bias for speed. It just wants to go fast...and you have to be very conscious of that as it creeps up so fast that, if you're not deliberately watchful, you're suddenly climbing past 80 mph with barely a whine from the smooth engine. I actually spent more time consciously slowing down than speeding up because of that.

The bike is typical Honda, meaning, a mechanical work of art. That said, the heat on the lower legs is bothersome, but workable. In cold weather, it is a blessing, but other than that, it really makes a pleasant ride less so.

I just couldn't get comfortable on the bike. The seat is very adjustable but I got saddle sore just after 100 miles....which is way too soon. I did have one inch risers on the handlebars, which allowed me to sit up more, but I still found myself more forward than I care to be - which takes a toll on long rides.

I did put a larger windshield on the bike which greatly increased wind/rain protection - but still exposed my hands to the cold and wet.

The gas tank was a behemoth at 7.6 gallons, but that fact was negated by the saddle which kicked me off precisely at 100 often times less on longer rides.

Would I still have the ST1300 if I didn't get a Goldwing?'s a great bike and I would have made other refinements to make it a better LD tourer.

Perhaps at 50 yoa, I am just less inclined to go the distance on a sports-tourer.

Day to Day Touring

For long distance touring, it really boils down to four riding categories: Solo, two-up/one bike, touring with a buddy (2 bikes) and larger groups. I have done all multiple times and they each have their good and bad points.

Although I enjoy each for different reasons, I dedicate one trip - my long Summer trip - as a solo trip. I am one of the most social animals around and I thought I would find solo touring to be a lonely

venture. But that turned out to be pleasantly not the case at all. I find it to be almost a retreat atmosphere and do some of my best thinking all alone on the open road.

First of all, unless you have bike-to-bike communications, you're pretty much alone with your thoughts even while riding in a group. So, all I had to be concerned about - on the lonely front - was when I stopped riding for the day.

This is where I have found having a routine is helpful. I usually try to stop riding for the day at around 3 or 4 pm. I try to get on the road at or just after sunrise, so that is a good 6 or 7 hours of riding when you factor in gas, lunch, stopping for the largest 'Ball of Twine' roadside attraction and stretch breaks....and the occasional nap. That's enough riding for me for a day.

My routine is usually the same: Since I like to camp the majority of the time on the road, I find a nice place, set up camp, unload the gear and get the lay of the land. I talk to the proprietor(s) and ask about local places to go for good food and any evening doings that may be going on. Even if it's for the night - and I am usually dog tired - I like to know what's going on. Sometimes to go there - as in a weekend jazz contest in the town square in Fort Collins, CO, which was awesome. Also, sometimes you want to know what's going on so you can avoid going there, as in a cattle auction that was being held in a nearby town near Billings, MT which was going to kick up a lot of dust and clog the roads near town....let alone the smell.

I will also make a round or two around the campground - and met some of the most nicest people that way. I met a nice couple when I stopped and told them their renovated Airstream trailer was so cool...and it was. It turned out they were members in an Antique Airstream Trailer Assoc. and we had a great conversation over lemonade about those amazing silver trailers.....or as my wife calls them,'hot dog' cookers.

Any motorcyclist at a campground will give you a quick and polite nod which is good conversation starter. "Where you from? Where you headed? Anything cool down the road?"...are all good starters. I met one woman riding a big ole Harley who was camping solo, struck up a conversation, and she told me of the "Beartooth Pass" heading into Yellowstone National Park..which I never heard of but ranks as one the best rides of my life. It pays to talk and be flexible with your itinerary.

I have often found dinner companions that way...either invited to their BBQ or deciding to go out and eat in town together. Every once in a while, sitting and reading at my camp-site, some large group of campers will invite me over to hang out and offer a meal and some good company.

You just don't get those types of experiences at a roadside motel.

Most of the time though, I end up going out to eat by myself. I grab my maps and use that time to plan the next days general routes, or find a wi-fi spot and update this blog. Before I leave the campground (or even the motel), I always plug in the coordinates of where I am staying in my GPS. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to dinner in daylight and tried to return after dark and couldn't find my way back to the campgrounds because I was unfamiliar with the local roads. All I do on my Garmin is press the screen and it logs my current position as a waypoint, so I can find my way back.

I have never had any of my stuff ripped off at a campground when I leave camp for dinner. That said, I don't leave my stuff lying outside the tent, and anything of real value is with me or on the bike. I did have riding gloves stolen once when I left them on the dash behind the windscreen. My own fault for leaving a tempting target, but I use vented, rubber-armored mechanics gloves you can get from Wal-Mart for $20. For most of my riding over 45 degrees, these work great and is not a hug 'hit' if they get feet and walk away.

Road food can get a little tiring after a week or so and I don't carry a backpacking stove and related cooking gear. But I will have plenty of water, trail mix, fiber bars and, believe it or not, fruit on board. You'd be surprised how little fruit you eat dining at local eateries, dives and greasy spoons. Without some fruit in you're touring diet, you'll start to feel like a pirate with scurvy in short order.

Unless you have to be at a certain place on a specific date, I would suggest not blowing through all these little towns and cities. Relax. Make time to take a tour of the huge paper factory that employs virtually the whole town. Visit the 'Canal Museum,' and see the trails where mules teams pulled barges down the waterways. Find that Zip-Line proprietor and take a ride of your life over vast mountain sides. Get up early at a hot-air balloon rodeo and watch them come to life as they rise above the morning mist and defy gravity.

My motorcycle is important to me as an experience in itself. But it is also a magic carpet that allows me to visit new places, meet new people and have different experiences. The saddle got you there and will take you back. But life and adventure also happens when you get off your trusty steed.

Happy Trails.....


There are as many ways to camp as there are riders. I have been camping while touring and seen a Goldwing trike pull in next to me towing a 'bunkhouse' trailer. I befriended them and got the tour, and watched them set it up. It was cool and I could appreciate it, but its just not me.

I also saw a long distance Ninja rider have the 'bare-bones' camping set-up and have this individual bivvy - like a tent coffin - where the top of the 'tent' was about 6 inched above his prone face while sleeping. Again, cool set-up but not my idea of how I enjoy camping.

My first foray into motorcycle camping involved a '2-person' tent (and that is a manufacturer misnomer) that fit well on my then bike, but barely held my air mattress and left no room for my bags or gear.

Let me tell first why I like camping versus motelling. First and foremost, I get to talk to people. I always walk around the campsite once my rig is set up and strike up conversations with all sorts of people. A quick comment on their set-up or rig, and the conversation just flows. I met some of the nicest people that way - and ended up having a cold one or sharing dinner with them.

I just don't get that same experience at motels.

I also like sleeping with and on my own stuff. I like setting up my tent and making everything just the way I like it. It is a familiar ritual - and these little familiarities on the road make me feel connected to the process of traveling but being in control of my surrounding.

Let's talk about the gear.

Tents - Well, I have had three tents in all, and I don't know if I found the 'mother of all tents.' I started out with a nice North Face Frog tent, that was nice, but I broke a pole which could not be replaced. The second tent I bought was too small.

My current tent is a 6 person tent I bought on the road at Cabela's in Wyoming. To much tent? Yeah, I admit it. I would have bought a 4 person tent but, out West and on the road, I couldn't find one driving through three etates. But I can strap it on my bike and it offers many benefits.

In actuality, there is enough room for 2 persons and all their gear. But here is the real reason I like it: I can stand up in it at the center point...and I am 6'3". Ever try to change your clothes in a small tent? Miserable experience - especially as I get older and bit less flexible. Also, there have been occasions when I was stuck in a tent due to weather, and it is nice to have room spread out and relax.

The amount of room I lose packing and hauling a slightly larger tent is offset by the above features, in my opinion.

Air Mattress - I am not a camping purest in that I need to sleep on the ground or have some high-tec, wafer thin sleeping pad that doesn't make me comfortable. I make room for an air mattress...and the requisite air pump. Yes, I lose some packing room for shirts, socks and/or underwear...and I don't care. I like sleep...and I sleep better when comfortable. Not only is this old boy sleeping much 'cushier' on an air mattress, the trapped air acts as an insulator from the cold ground - making me that much comfier.
Once, I set-up camp in the dark where I didn't have a chance to get the lay of the land and see the high point of this assigned tenting site. I later learned I was in low channel, and the storm during the night (which I slept through) created a running creek through and in my tent. I didn't notice because I was perched high on my air mattress (aka, raft) and was bone dry. There was an inch of standing water in my tent and all I did was chuckle. So, when I camp on the beach and my tent gets dragged to sea in high tide, I will be safe on my raft!

Sleeping Bag - I have a Sierra Design, 3 season bag rated down to 30 degrees. I also have the kind that is squared at the bottom, instead of the mummy bag. I like it better because I can roll without the bag wrapping itself around me. Also, I can unzip my sqaured bag and just use it as a cover if I don't need to trap all my body heat. The lowest temp I camped in was in Yellowstone Natl Park and it got down to 30 ish degrees. I was toasty warm except for my head - but once I put on my ski mask I use when cold riding, I was set for a good nights sleep.

Towels - Man, micro-fiber towels are worth their weight in gold! No more terry or cotton towels that take forever drying. I have two small ones for washing and drying the bike, and a bigger one that I use to shower with. I can shower, dry off, wring it out and by the time I pack up the tent, it is dry and ready to get packed. No, they are not as cushy as your towels back home. When you buy one, rinse it out a few times to make it softer. You won't regret having these!

Water Bottle - Listen, when its 35 degrees outside at night, and you're snug and toasty in your sleeping bag; or, it is a muggy night and you hear the telltale sounds of squadrons of mosquitoes buzzing around, the last thing you want to do it exit the safe confines on the tent. I keep a wide-mouth empty water bottle close at hand for these encounters. Man, it is a life saver. Have one in a different color so you don't confuse it with your drinking water don't want to make that mistake.