Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tired again…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

No new blog posting tonight since I had to catch up on some bike tasks.

Worn out rear tire on the GS

First off, I had to mount up a new rear tire to replace the one that I wore down to the chords on my recent Wyoming trip. I keep saying I’m going to try out a new model of tires but can’t seem to get both the front and rear to wear out at the same time. I again decided that I wasn’t going to do anything different this time around so I just got another Metzeler T66X.

The other bike related tasks for tonight were gear related. A few years ago I got a hand-me-down Widder Lectric-Vest from my buddy Todd Unprounceable. I used it on my Beemer until I replaced it with a Gerbing jacket liner last year. At that point the Widder passed on to my wife who used it all last winter. Well, during this past Saturday’s afternoon ride over a snowy Togwotee Pass the Lectric-Vest started shorting out. Tonight I got it boxed up to send back to Widder for repairs.

Finally, I also got my wife’s Roadcrafter suit boxed up to send back to Aerostich for a cleaning and re-sealing. The unfortunate reason for sending her suit in for a cleaning is because one of my cats decided to use it as replacement for the cat pan. Rather than have my wife spend the rest of her riding career smelling stale cat urine I decided to be proactive and get the suit in the mail ASAP. Hopefully, we’ll have it back in a few weeks so she can get in a little more riding before the end of the riding season.

[image from my photo collection.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

You light up my life…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

Having reluctantly laid out the big bank for a BMW a few years back, I have been pretty slow to sink more money into bike. Right after I bought it, I added the Jesse bags and a few extras like a Throttlemeister and Touratech hex oil filler plug but overall I’ve been very happy with the bike as it was originally designed.

One thing that I have thought about fixing are the headlights. I know it seems strange to argue about lighting on a bike with a 700W alternator and dual 55W Halogen headlights but because of the way the Euro spec headlights throw their light pattern it is difficult to see things off to the side of the road when riding at night. Because I live in the mountains, animals are a constant concern and I’ve nearly blinded myself straining to see the reflection of light off critter corneas when riding home from work in the evening.

PIAA lights on the GS

Two years ago, my wife Jonna bought me a pair of PIAA 510 Super White driving lights. I bought a ZanZBar light bar from Cycoactive and then bought a Euro right side switch pod from BMW with the “extra” three position switch. But at that point I stalled out because the wiring of the Euro switch pod meant that some electrical trickery would be required to get the lights to function the way I wanted (with the three position switch giving 1) spotlights off 2) spotlights on with high beam 3) spotlights on). As a result, I stashed the whole shebang in my projects box and then didn’t touch it until this past weekend. With some free time to play in the garage, I started digging out a lot of different projects for all the bikes and decided to finally tackle installing the PIAAs.

First, I threw my plans to use the Euro switch on the back-burner. I did go ahead and install the Euro switch pod but all it does now is turn off one and then both of the headlights (a basically useless switch but with it installed I can always splice the wires later to get the functionality I wanted…on the plus side, if my alternator ever dies I can now switch off the lights and eek out a little extra mileage from the battery). Anyway, the ZanZBar light bar went on so easily it could have been designed directly by BMW. The PIAA lights bolted up quickly too. Then I spent way too many freaking hours tediously running the PIAA wiring harness through the bike wiring harness, down to the battery, then back up to the switch pod (to install the stock PIAA switch/LED on the handlebars) and then back down into the wiring harness to splice into the high beam circuit behind the right headlight. The PIAA wiring harness is about a foot longer than needed for installation on the GS but since the connectors are pre-installed, it requires cutting/soldering to shorten so I just zip-tied the extra wires in with the rest of the harness.

Around 11pm, I finally got everything installed and buttoned back up. Now the PIAA switch is powered whenever the high beam is activated. I can either leave the PIAA switch on (so the spots work with the brights) or can switch them off so I’m not blinding cars when commuting during the day. Everything seems to work great. The dual 55W bulbs, along with the dual 55W stock headlights (when using the high beam) are enough to light up the road like it was noon. The only two things I’d do differently is get the Euro switch working from the beginning and actually solder the high beam splice into the stock wiring harness rather than using the PIAA supplied vampire splice. I hope to correct both of these in the near future. The only other task still on my list is to play around with different angles for the driving lights to see if “crossing” the beams gives better road illumination when leaned over in terms. I’m pretty with them happy so far.

In addition to getting the PIAAs mounted, I also took some time while I had the bike disassembled to install two extra Powerlet sockets up on the GS “beak” in front of the gas tank. I used one of the Powerlet wiring harnesses for the first socket then cut off the “T” connector and spliced in another set of 12 guage wires for a jumper over to the second socket. I still have to finish a little of this wiring because I couldn’t find any plastic tubing at the hardware store that I use to protect the jumper wires. I’m hoping to find something at NAPA this week and will install the second “T” for the second Powerlet later this week. Then I will have dedicated power feeds for the GPS and a radar detector (if I ever decide to buy one).

What is really nice is that I can’t think of what else I want to add or change to the 1150GS, other than replacing things as they wear out, unless its just to replace it with a new R1200GS. I’m a gear hound but this bike is just so well made that I can’t really find many things that have to change.

Hopefully these new PIAAs are going to give me a lot of confidence when riding at night. If you’re driving in Colorado one evening and find your eyeballs being seared by the lights from a fast moving BMW…I apologize in advance.

[image from my photo collection.]

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Still tired…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

This coming weekend will be another session of fighting with the big, round, black deamon from hell. Yes, its true, no sooner than I got all my tires mounted back in February I walked out one morning to find the front tire on the DRZ was flat.

DRZ-400S tire

Specifically, I found that the last time I rode the DRZ I ripped the valve stem out of the tube in the front tire. I remember that I was practicing stoppies on the dirt road leading to our house but a couple of things still make this flat tire surprising: 1) I was trying to brake hard on a loose dirt road so I’m surprised it generated enough stopping power to slip the tire on the rim and 2) I suck at stoppies so I’m surprised I was able to apply that much braking force without falling down.

Nonetheless, when I went to put air in the flat front tire, I heard the tell-tale sound of air hissing out into the rim rather than filling up an inner tube. This past weekend, I broke the bead on the tire and fished out the tube to find that, sure enough, the valve stem was no longer attached. Now I’ll have to completely remove the tire so that I can extract the stub of the valve stem. While I have the tire off, I’ll see if I can install a rim lock as the front tire on the DRZ400S doesn’t have one (that lack of rim lock no doubt contributed to the ease with which the tire rotated on the rim).

In addition to spending even more time fighting with tire irons I’ll get to add to that pleasure the delicate task of trying not to pinch the inner tube. The one bonus is that when I’m finished installing the new tube and remounting the tire I’ll get to try static balancing the tire on my new Rod Neff tire balancing stand which is shown in the background. (Don’t worry, I’m aware the balancing a dirt bike tire is overkill but I’d like to get some practice before I start doing tires where balancing is important.) I bought the adjustable stand that can also be broken down flat for easy storage. Its a well made unit and, assuming I get around to buying the $BMW$ adaptor for my GS wheel, I should be able to now mount and balance the tires on all the bikes in my garage. My buddy Jeff just bought a motorcycle tire changer from Harbor Frieght which I need to go check out to see if it will fix the problem of trying to juggle three tire irons while holding a tire flat and without bending the expensive brake rotors…as if I don’t have enough toys in the garage!

Ultimately, I’m just trying to find a way to make tire changes more interesting because at the moment I’m tired of fighting with the damned things and summer is just beginning!

[image from my photo collection.]

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The best bike I can\’t buy…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

As I mentioned in a blog posting last December, I’m looking to add a new bike to the garage this year. After a few months of looking, I’m still not ready to lay down cash but the field has been cut down to just a few candidates.

Before talking about the contenders, let me explain how I narrowed the field. First, I got to spend two weeks riding the new BMW R1200GS during our recent Edelweiss tour in Spain. The new GS is a fantastic bike but ultimately it doesn’t differ enough from my current R1150GS to justify an upgrade. What was most apparent is that the new GS is lighter than the older model. I’m not convinced BMW has really gotten more ponies out of the motor but with less weight it feels that way. When it does come time to replace the R1150GS, the new 1200 will be the one but not this summer…

Another option was to replace my old FT500 Ascot based track bike with something newer but that was a long shot from the beginning because of how little I use the thing. Jonna really loved the F650GS during the Spain trip and has expressed an interest in replacing her SV650 with the Beemer. That leads to a possible situation where I sell the Ascot, turn her SV into a track bike and then get her a F650. However, when we looked at the cost difference between the Suzuki and the BMW, that option seemed less attractive. Again, maybe in the future but not this summer.

So with those two alternatives postponed I’ve started seriously looking at sport bikes. Any of the liter bikes are pretty hard to justify, given that they have more power and better handling that I’d probably ever use on the street, but when are bikes really a logical thing? If I can buy a 185 hp, tire shredding, asphalt melting monster why wouldn’t I? The Suzuki GSXR1000 and Kawasaki ZX-10R top the list of sport bikes that I’ve been checking out.

KTM 990 Superduke

But there is one bike that I’m passionate enough about that I would buy it immediately: the KTM 990 Superduke. The bike just seems perfect…light weight, upright seating, lots of power but still tuned and geared as a brutal supermotard bike. I like the bike’s looks and think the KTM V-twin motor is really in its perfect environment in the Superduke…a physically small motor but with big power. Now for the bad news: KTM isn’t importing the Superduke into the US in 2005. A few of the local shops have them but only for display purposes, not for sale. KTM USA hasn’t announced any plans to import the bike in 2006 either, so the chances of the bike being available this fall looks pretty slim. For the moment, the closest I can get is surfing the 990 Superduke web site and watching the promotional video over and over.

If anyone from KTM USA is reading, consider this one vote for bringing the 990 Superduke to the States. If there are any grey market importers reading, then forget KTM USA, lets talk!

[image from the Sport Rider web site.]

Friday, February 25, 2005

I\’m getting a new GPS…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

The agonizing choice has finally been made and the credit card has taken a big one for the team.

Garmin Quest GPS

After much deliberation I decided to purchase the Garmin Quest from my buddies at Cycoactive. In addition to getting the GPS, they sell a nifty locking mount from Touratech, various Garmin software packages including European maps and a spiffy neoprene case to keep the GPS save when travelling.

Unfortunately, neither Touratech nor Garmin yet sell the vital DC power source. The Quest needs 5V DC for power so its not particularly easy to hack together my own solution. Both Touratech and Garmin claim they will have a 12V DC to 5V DC solution in the next few months. Probably not in time for my upcoming trip to Spain but it seems close enough to take the risk with the Quest.

In addition, the Quest is small enough to be more functional as a hand-help GPS for hiking and geocaching than the other models I was considering. The Quest also has a flip-out external antenna so it will hopefully have better reception than the other models. One downside to the Quest is that it doesn’t allow for memory expansion via plug-in cards but it does have 115MB of RAM which is enough to hold detailed road maps for a couple of states. The GPS comes with the American City Select package, I’m also getting the European City Select package and a topo/recreational package. That should give me maps for riding or hiking, both locally and when travelling.

I’ll try to post another blog update once I’ve actually has some time to play with the thing. In the meantime, I’m off to read the online manuals.

[image from the Cycoactive web site.]

Friday, February 18, 2005

I\’m so tired…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

Despite the best efforts of my work environment, I somehow remain an optimist. Though there may not be an overabundance of evidence to back up that claim, I think I have one thing in particular I can use to demonstrate that fact. You see, this weekend I will be mounting up new tires on two of the bikes in the garage.

Garage full of tires

Its not that I haven’t seen the weather reports that estimate multiple inches of snow this weekend. I am not deaf to the predictions of temperatures tonight in the single digits. I’m not so dim as to miss the asphalt covered with a fine dusting of ice melting gravel that makes keeping even a four wheeled vehicle upright a challenge. You see, I don’t expect to ride in the next 48 hours anyway, so those items are not a deterrent. Its just that somewhere in the depths of my battered soul, there still smolders a small bit of eternal optimism and that softly glowing ember is what drives me to put fresh tires on bikes that will not be ridden this weekend. Instead I know that soon, perhaps even in the next few weeks, the sun will shine. The snow will melt. The gravel will be washed off the road. My helmet, which I washed last week, will finally dry out and no longer smell like a raunchy foot locker. Spring beckons just around the corner. The roads of Colorado will murmur the call of the curves. A little work now is not in vain, I will ride again!

Just one evening of knuckle busting, of freezing my fingers on 10 degree stainless steel tools and of straining my back as I do the gymnastics necessary to remove the bikes from the front end stand are all that is necessary to pay the final dues of winter. In return I shall receive the ticket to ride.

Any day now, these wheels will be turning…

[image from my photo collection.]

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Power to the people…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

I posted recently about my quest for a new GPS. Well, this has led to another round of bike modifications since I hope to power my new toy off the bike’s 700 watt alternator rather than a steady (and expensive) diet of AA batteries.

Powerlet goodies

My Beemer came with two Powerlet jacks or perhaps a better term is receptacles. What, you might ask, is a Powerlet receptacle? Funny you should ask…BMW (and some other European manufacturers) decided to go to a standardized connector for electric accessories such as heated clothing and optional factory accessories like GPSes, portable music and the like. The Powerlet connector looks like a half-sized cigarette lighter adaptor but with a more pointy ‘male” connector. In the US, there is a psuedo-standard for DC wiring with the two prong SAE connector but since BMW isn’t American, they have never heard of SAE. So, back to the story. My BMW already has two Powerlet receptacles (the “female” portion of the adaptor) so both the rider and passenger can use electric clothing. If I add another electronic device to the bike like a GPS or MP3 player, I’d like to have a Powerlet adaptor cable and an available Powerlet receptacle to power it. Additionally, since the BMW uses Powerlet, it makes since to either install Powerlet adaptors on my other bikes or build SAE-Powerlet adaptors.

Thus I have been spending money left, right and center to accomplish this job (fortunately, the parts are relatively cheap…). First and foremost, Powerlet themselves may well be able to make this month’s building lease payment thanks to my obsessive nature. I’ve been buying male connectors, female connectors, 90 degree male connectors, inline fuse blocks, “T” molex kits for the spade connectors on the back of the female receptacle, fancy drill bits for making holes to mount female receptacles, pre-drilled mounting plates and pre-made Powerlet kits with everything pre-built.

Second, Gerbing have made a few bucks because I wanted a new adaptor cable to go from SAE to Gerbing’s proprietary “coax” connectors. (Their connectors, by the way, suck bilge water since they come apart with the slightest pressure. You have to use shrink wrap to keep them together. If you end up permanently connecting them with shrink wrap why bother with a connector in the first place? Why do I give them money, I hear you asking…because their electric jacket liner is one of the great wonders of the world.) As long as I was giving them my credit card number I bought a real thermostat so no more on-off-on-off switch games while I’m riding. Whoo hoo, at least I’m spreading the wealth.

My riding buddy Todd gave me an old pair of old Widder Lectric-Heat electric gloves a few years back, probably to buy off his own guilt at having watched me crash over a cliff he led me to on my dirt bike or something. Anyway, he didn’t have the power cable, so I called both Gerbing and Widder in an attempt to cobble together something to power the gloves from my Gerbing jacket liner. Unfortunately, the Widder gloves are designed to be wired in series with their other electric gear where Gerbing’s gloves are wired in parallel with theirs. There is also the fact that the jacket liner is 12V where the gloves are 6V. Rather than melt my hands to the (already heated) grips on the BMW, I shelved that project. I could get a separate cable to power the gloves independently but that will cost $50. Then I’d have to add yet another Powerlet jack to power the damned things. Gerbing, on the other hand, sells their electric gloves for $130 and they work with the liner. Ixnay Idderway. Anyone want a pair of used Widder electric gloves?

Finally, I’m certain to be helping fund Garmin GPS R&D department’s budget once I get around to buying a new GPS. As if the purchase price of the GPS (and software) wasn’t enough, I’ll also be springing for some sort of handle bar mount and, naturally, the power cords and adaptors necessary to power the thing off a Powerlet receptacle. Cha-ching.

I don’t know yet if I’ll bother building adaptor power cables for the Rio MP3 player or the Chatterbox FRS intercom/radio unit. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it.

My current plan is to add two more Powerlet receptacles to the Beemer, both pulled directly off the battery with a separate 15A fuse. If I get really fancy, I may see if there is an unused terminal on the fuse block and wire it through there. More sano and easier to destroy major parts of the bike if I screw up. Oh wait, that wasn’t a reason… Both Powerlet receptacles will be installed up on the “beak” in front of the gas tank and below the instrument cluster. On the fancy R1150GS Adventure, there are two additional Powerlet jacks installed there from the factory…hummm…wonder if the R1200GS has those? Maybe it would be cheaper to upgrade the than to keep buying all these damned parts! In the meantime, I’ll have to hope the temperature in the garage gets above freezing at some point so I can actually install all this stuff!

[image from my photo archive.]

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Motorcycle geek consumerism…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

I regularly complain about the seemingly rampant consumerism here in the US. It seems like everyone is generally focused on what to buy next, whether its new clothes, a new car, new toys or all the other things that indicate status and success in our society.

Despite my hippie ideals, in the interest of showing honesty and hypocrisy, I’ll admit that my own motorcycle obsession brings with it a certain amount of consumerism so ultimately I’m guilty too. Just a few weeks ago I posted a blog entry about looking for a new bike this summer and now I have a second example of this in that I’m ready to upgrade my ancient Garmin 12 GPS with something newer. Oh well, just color me an alpha consumer when it comes to bikes.

I have a few requirements for the new GPS:

1) Must have memory and downloadable maps, including European maps.
2) Must have a motorcycle mount available, preferably from Touratech.
3) Must have an external DC power option.
4) Must be usable both on a motorcycle but also handheld for hiking/geocaching.

Additionally, it will be a bonus if the GPS runs off generally available batteries like AA Nicads and I think color screens are usually easier to read that the black/white ones.

Garmin V GPS

So far, I’ve only been looking at Garmin because I like the products I’ve seen from them in the past. I currently have the search narrowed down to four models: The Garmin GPS V, the Garmin 60CS, the Garmin 276C and the Garmin Quest. The V is an age old design and has become a standard in the motorcycling community but its also nearing the end of its life span. It’s block design is also not the best for hand held use. The 60CS is exactly the opposite in that respect, perfect for hiking but maybe not the best for mounting on the bike. However, it also is rumored to have a better antenna which is nice for both hiking and riding. The 276C looks to be the ideal motorcycle GPS but I need to check around to see if its price is really justified by it’s functionality. Finally, the new Quest seems to be a great compromise but its so new there aren’t many people with firsthand experience.

I have a motorcycle friend who works for Cycoactive in Seattle, so I’ll have to check with him to see what an actual trusted salesman has to offer on the subject. I hope to come to a decision soon so I get the new GPS in time learn it before heading to Spain in March. If you have any opinions about GPSes, please post a comment as I’m thankful for all the information I can get at this point.

[image from Garmin web site]

Friday, December 17, 2004

New bike deliberations…

Author: site admin
Category: Bike Updates

Help me out here, folks.

Next year, I’m planning to buy a new bike. This bike will replace one of my bikes (the Minister of Domestic Tranquility has forbidden adding a new bike to the garage without first getting rid of one of the four I already have). I’m keeping the relatively new 2000 DRZ400, so my current thoughts are:

1) Finally sell my ancient 1988 Suzuki GSXR1100 (ex-Team Hammer Suzuki race bike) and replace it with a new sport bike. This is the most logical, after all sport bikes have changed dramatically in the past 16 years but also the most difficult since I’ve done so much riding on the old thing that I’m quite attached to it. Nonetheless, if this were to happen I’d be getting something completely excessive like the new Suzuki GSXR1000, Kawasaki ZX-10R, etc. I considered, as a variation on this idea, to replace the GSXR with something more exotic like an Aprilia RSV1000 or a used Ducati 998 but realized I use a sport bike for strictly utilitarian purposes. Why buy an expensive dinner fork? Besides, the old GSXR isn’t worth much so that would mean even more out-of-pocket expense to buy some tarted up European replacement.


2) Replace my 2001 BMW R1150GS with a new BMW R1200GS. On one hand, this is very attractive since the R1150GS is relatively low mileage (40,000) and thus will have a decent trade in value. I love the GS, so the thought of having the same basic bike but 40 lbs lighter is very, very appealing. The downsides to this are that the R1150GS is relatively low mileage, so why trade it in? Also, I *loath* BMW’s power assist brakes and that is a standard item on the new R1200GS. Finally, does it really make sense to pay all that money (hey, I complained about the BMW purchase price the first time around!) just to loose those 40 lbs? Maybe I could get a Touratech carbon fiber sub-frame for the 1150 for the same amount and with the same benefits.

3) Upgrade my ‘82 Honda FT500RR track bike. The reason this one is likely to crash before ever getting off the ground is that I never use the damned thing as it is. Still, I hand built the thing (with some help on the frame from Bare Bones Racing) and I thought it was a hoot to ride the two times I’ve ridden it. Something like an SV650 would make a much better platform for track riding (and racing, should I ever get around that). Factor in that a used SV would be incredibly cheap and this is undoubtedly the best financial decision. A slight alteration to this would be converting the old GSXR into a track bike, ditching the race Ascot and reverting back to plan #1 of getting a new sport bike.

I’d also thought about getting a vintage bike to toy around with (since an early 70s Kawasaki H2 has always been on my wish list ) but I’d rather have something newer right now. Besides, I don’t have enough time to maintain the projects I already have!

I plan to look around at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show this weekend but I know I’ll end up liking whatever I sat on last the best. Does anyone want to offer suggestions?

[image from Lone Star BMW]