Why Nova Scotia?

Why not Nova Scotia might be the better question. It's one of those exotic sounding places that I've never been to and that's reason enough for me. I plan on leaving around the 8th of May and spending several weeks on the ride. Along the way I'll be camping out, visiting unsuspecting friends , and maybe getting to ride along with them for awhile. Let me know if you're up to either!


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good Grief! Izzat a Voltmeter?

OK, so it’s a voltmeter. Not too long ago I tried out a digital instrument gizmo that included a voltage display plus a whole bunch of other cool stuff. The gizmo turned out to be somewhat fragile and definitely not waterproof so it went away, or at least it’s not going with me on this trip. As it happened I became somewhat interested in the status of the bike’s electrical system, particularly when I’m running all the farkle stuff like electric vest, heated grips, etc.

On my way home from my last trip I found myself running in the dark very late at night and in the middle of one of Oregon’s delightful coastal rain storms. The bike was running a bit shaky, the chain was rattling like crazy, the GPS had begun to fade in and out and the headlight was looking dim. Maybe I was going blind? All of this had begun to get really bad somewhere around Hebo and having a voltmeter on board was the deciding factor to start turning all non-essentials off except the headlight. It plainly told me things were going the wrong direction, power-wise.

Once I got home and had time to think about things I knew I wanted to have a reliable voltmeter on the Ninja for my next trip, one that was illuminated and waterproof. Going back into the research mode again I soon found one that other bikers had tried and found to be reliable, including being waterproof. Actually I don’t like to use the term “waterproof” as that sort of suggests you could take it with you on your next scuba diving trip so maybe “water resistant” would be more apropos.

The little unit I bought is British in design albeit most likely made off shore somewhere. Doesn’t matter, it’s nicely made, comes with a cool little rubbery gasket and brass hardware. You have your choice of red or green LED displays and voltage ranges. I ordered it via their web site and it arrived in a couple of weeks. For anyone interested here’s a link to their store: http://www.themeterstore.com/index.asp

The model I ordered is designed to be panel mounted which meant I had to auger out a rectangular hole in the fairing where I wanted it located. This entailed using a drill and my Moto-tool which I dearly love. Final finishing touches were done with a jeweler’s file and the end result was worth the time. I wired it to a switched 12 volt dc source so it’s off when the ignition is off and it has it’s own fuse just in case.

All told I’m very pleased with the meter, now all I need is a thermometer of similar quality… Anyone got any suggestions?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Anti-Hydration Part Two: Keeping your cool

If you research what happens to your wrinkly old body in climes of extreme heat you’ll find most problems are related to loss of water. This happens when your internal system says “Hey, it’s hot as hell out there so I’m going to sweat a bunch and cool things down.” Right.

That fact hasn’t escaped the attention of a whole bunch of inventive people and subsequently there are a ton of products to help you keep your cool. One item that is popular among bikers is the “Evaporative Cooling Vest.” For the most part they work on the same principal; when water evaporates it creates a cooling effect. Sooo…if you cover yourself with a wet vest – yuck – the water will evaporate and in the process you’ll be cooler. At least until the water is all gone and then you’ll just be wearing another piece of hot sweaty gear which you may want to remove.

Since I like to shop for gear (What, you didn’t know that?) I spent a fair amount of time looking at various web sites that feature cooling vests. What I found was most use the same or very similar materials for making their products. Oddly enough prices went all over the map from as low as $20 to as high as $250. Naturally there’s a difference between them but because of my minimal requirements I was fortunate to be in the lower price range. After looking at vests until my eyeballs were beginning to bug out I settled on one in the mid-price range, around $40 bucks delivered.

I haven’t tried it out yet as I’d probably freeze my patootie off if I did. I have confidence that the company that makes it knows what they’re doing so I’ll just wait until I’m in Roasting Dogs, New Mexico to try it out. It’ll work. I know it’ll work…

Anti-Hydration Part One: Adding a water bottle to the mix.

My experience at riding through hot dry country is next to nil, and since I’m planning to see parts of the southwestern US on this trip I figured I’d better bone up on it. I started by reading numerous articles written by people who either live there or have ridden though those states during the summer. There seems to be a general consensus wherein all are agreed that it’s best to consume lots of water and if possible, wear an anti-hydration vest of some sort. They go on to advise you to ride in the mornings and evenings, avoiding if possible the torrid heat of the afternoon. I like their thinking, siestas come to mind…

Taking heed of their advice and that of my buds with experience in such matters I decided to fit a water bottle to the Ninja. Big deal, eh? Before I get inundated with cries of "Hey LL, so and so makes a bladder set up that will fit into your tank bag." Maybe it's the hose thing bladders use that I'm not attracted to, I don't know, but I kind of like swigging my water from a bottle. Anyway I'm going with the bottle for now, maybe later I'll take a look at bladders. Eeww, just the word "bladder" is sort of, uh, unappealing...
Anyway you’ll appreciate that finding a place to mount a bottle proved to be a bit challenging, given that available space has become a premium. My thinking is if it’s within easy reach I’ll be more likely to use it and subsequently not fall off my bike from heat stroke. The tank bag seemed an easy choice as the FAMSA folks had already installed a metal bracket for the carrying strap. Since I’m not using the bracket for that purpose it was a logical spot to mount a bottle.

REI sells a ton of bicycle water bottles and mounting brackets so it was easy to find a setup that worked for me. I selected an adjustable Topeak mount that can accommodate a range of bottle sizes and I also opted for a 21 oz Camelbak bottle with a built-in insulated cover. My choices were made a lot easier thanks to the number of people who submit their feed-back ratings and comments on stuff like this. I love reading what end-users have to say, it’s a good deal for people like me who don't know zip about water bottles and brackets.

Mounting the setup on the tank bag was simplicity itself given the convenience of the FAMSA strap bracket. I fabricated a small rectangular plate that attaches to the strap bracket and then attached the Topeak mount to it using aircraft locking hardware. It turned out nice and the bottle stays put even when the bag is tilted over to the side for refueling.

Oh, and guess what else? The Topeak also holds my insulated coffee mug for those days when it's not so hot. Dang, am I a happy camper or what? Life just keeps getting better.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Apr 26 - Tire Goo… Reaching beyond shoe goo

I’m sure some of you may have used tire goo before so you already know what it is. For those of you who don’t, think of it as a semi-liquid goo that you squirt inside your tire through the air valve. Manufacturers’ claims vary from one outfit to the next as to what it does but the general concept is pretty much the same; the stuff coats the insides of your tires and by doing so it seals small punctures and acts as a sort of balancing agent which helps extend tire life.

There are some brands which caution against riding above certain speeds so if you’re going to use one of these products make sure you select one that allows higher speeds. The brand I use, Ride-On by Inovex Industries also has some built-in corrosion inhibitors which help protect wheels against rust. All told not a bad deal, particularly for me since I have an aversion against changing tires alongside the road. In fact I don’t even like to change them in my garage. Now that I think about it I don’t even like to watch tires being changed.

My first experience with Ride-On was on my trip to Alaska last summer, riding my Aprilia with a Sputnik sidecar. In spite of the challenging roads I never had any flats and the tires lasted way longer than what I’d anticipated; several thousand miles in fact. That was proof enough for me and I decided the Ninja would benefit from a similar application.

I’d ordered one of the motorcycle kits from Ride-On a couple of weeks ago and finally found time to install it this afternoon. Installation is simple, just let the air out of your tires, squirt the appropriate amount of goo into the tires, re-inflate, and go for a ride. Ride-On includes 3 eight-oz bottles of their goo, plenty for any bike, plus a short piece of plastic tubing and one of those metal valve caps to use to remove the valve stem. They also include a chart with tire sizes that you use to reference the amount of goo you inject in each tire. The cost for the kit is nominal, $41.26 plus shipping which came to a total of $55.63 delivered to my house.

Hmm...I wonder if they'll divy up with something for all my kindly words?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Apr 25 – Hot Dang, it’s a new Zumo 550!

On last year’s ride up Alaska's infamous Alcan Highway to Deadhorse my faithful old Garmin 2610 GPS developed terminal water leakage. I remember watching a tiny blister-looking thingy begin to grow on the display and when it finally got so big I couldn’t stand it I picked at it. Just a little at first, and then it was like eating peanuts, impossible to stop at just one. Before long the entire overlay was shredded to bits so I decided to peel the damn thing off. That left a very dim display but at least I could still read it and in the dark or shadows it was fine.

It made it home OK but I decided to replace it with something a bit more up to date, like Garmin’s new Zumo 550. That particular unit was designed especially for bikes and has way more features than this old guy would ever use. After surfing the usual sites I located a supplier with an attractive price and placed my order. Sadly they turned out to be just like so many others on the Internet, take your order and then try to hustle up the equipment they said they had in stock. There ought to be a law! After waiting a couple of weeks before checking back they fessed up to their lack of inventory so I cancelled my order.

It was at that point I made the decision to buy another 2610; they were plentiful on Ebay and I already had the wiring harness in place, not to mention a really cool Touratec locking mount. Bidding wars are fairly light for older GPS units which made it easy to score the one I wanted. It arrived in a few days and as the seller claimed it was in mint condition, including the very latest mapping software. Onto the bike it went and then I discovered it's one and only flaw: the display was just a bit dim, even at it's brightest setting. The seller hadn’t used it on a bike, only inside his car and to be fair it’s more than adequate in a bit of shade or typical automotive interior lighting. I now have a nice mint condition 2610 living inside the car. Bummer…

Once again lusting after the new Zumo 550 series I returned to the surfing fray, hoping to find the killer deal of a lifetime. Not. The lowest prices were always posted by sharks and charlatans, none of whom I cared to do business with. The best deal from a legitimate company was my old friend Amazon.com, always fair, shipping included, and if they tell you an item is in stock you can bet it is. Still I was unwilling to commit to such a high price for a gadget, at least not until Linda offered to spring for nearly all of it as an early birthday present. Hmm…. ah, gee, I dunno Hon, that’s a lot of do-re-mi. I guess I must have spent at least 9 or 10 nanoseconds thinking it over before I acquiesced and placed the order.

Check it out, it’s wonderful! Thanks Hon! Maps? What maps? I don' need no stinkin' maps!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Apr 24 – Today is National Change Your Air Filter Day...Eh?

I think I’d mentioned in a previous posting one of the remaining items on my to-do list was to change out the Ninja’s air filter. After listening to me whine about the complexity of it Jerry Smith had volunteered to help with the task so today I emailed him and as promised, he showed up.

Prior to his arrival I’d printed out the instructions on the changing procedure and had everything at the ready when he arrived. Unlike a lot of bikes that have easy access to the filter, this one requires draining and removal of the fuel tank and a few associated items. As it turned out it wasn’t as bad as it sounded and in fact after doing it we realized we could have skipped draining the tank altogether. We spent the most time on getting the stubborn electrical connector unplugged after which everything else went quickly. Once exposed it was a simple one-screw operation to release the old filter and pop in the new one. I was surprised at how clean the original one was, especially since I’d ridden the Ninja to Alaska and had never cleaned the filter.

After we finished we hopped on our bikes and headed into Bandon for burgers & coffee at the Bandon Coffee Café in Old Town, then it was time to head home for lawn mowing duty.

Oddly enough the guard dogs seemed to confuse Jerry with someone they knew and greeted him with wagging tails instead of bared teeth… What’s that all about?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Apr 22 - New Improved Departure Date?

It occurred to me the other night that I really don't have to wait until June 1st to head out on my trip, I can go any time I'm ready. With that in mind I've decided to move my departure date up to leave as soon as possible. The few remaining items on my to-do list have dwindled down to nearly nothing of importance, the main exception being the arrival of my renewed passport. According to the lady in the Coos Bay post office it should be here somewhere around the 8th of May and then I'll be ready.

I've been riding a lot lately and as often as I go I'm always amazed at how beautiful the southern Oregon coastal area is. Jerry Smith, who's usually busy writing for various biker publications and an old hand at riding in this area took me on a 75 mile jaunt through some of the best twisties I've ever been on. We left Bandon mid-day and headed east towards Myrtle Point via miles of unspoiled back roads. The weather was co-operating and we reveled in glorious sunshine, capping off our afternoon with a coffee stop in Coquille. What a treat that was; I've lived in this area for over 7 years and had never been on any of the roads we followed.

One local ride I like a lot is south to Cape Blanco State Park, not very far but always pretty. There’s never very much traffic on the road and the scenery is spectacular. I ran down there again a couple of days ago, stopped for a few pics and then it was time to head back home to wait for that damn passport.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Apr 8, Part 2 – Ninja gets Whoop-ass Horns!

I expect the above title may seem a bit indelicate to some but in truth that’s how I’ve come to regard the Ninja’s new Fiamm Freeway Blaster horns. Here’s why:

As much as I love Kawasaki’s bikes when it comes to their horns they’re just like so many other manufacturers, go with the el-cheapo model and call it good. I read somewhere there seems to be a strange correlation between the size of the vehicle and the loudness of its horn, i.e., the smaller the vehicle the wimpier the horn. This appears to be backwards from what it should be for if any vehicle needs to be noticed it’s the smaller ones.

Considering that horns are an integral part of a vehicle’s safety equipment you’d think this would be of concern to manufacturers but for some reason it isn’t. Perhaps it’s because a better quality horn would add a couple more dollars to the manufacturing cost? Someone makes these decisions and you can tell it’s not to our benefit.

As a result we bikers end up with very feeble little squeakers for horns that no one and I mean NO ONE can hear, especially those folks with a cell phone stuck in their ear. We’ve all seen them suddenly change lanes without so much as a glance to see if there’s anyone else occupying that same space, especially someone on a bike. If you’ve ever been caught in that situation you know what I’m talking about.

Until recently I’ve been a rider who couldn’t begin to tell you where the horn button is located on my bike; I’ve generally considered the use of one as symptomatic of inattentive riding. That all seems to have changed with the advent of so many cell phones. In the past when a driver was weaving badly or changing speeds inconsistently you might think he was inebriated, but now he’s probably just chatting with someone. The net result is the same, overtaking one of these people can be highly dangerous as they’re oblivious of their surroundings and other traffic. This is where a quality horn comes into play; a light tap on the button that activates a pair of Freeway Blasters will notify even the most brain dead driver of your presence. That’s something next to impossible using one of the factory pipsqueaks.

Please note I’m not advocating the use of extremely loud horns as a substitute for defensive riding, nothing could be further from the truth. However as one of the members of the Ninja forum recently wrote, “As long as you’re going to have a horn on your bike you may as well have one that serves it’s purpose.” I couldn’t agree more.

Acquired from Aerostich.com at $30 per pair plus $4 for an isolation relay and reasonable shipping the horns arrived promptly. Installation took longer than anticipated due to deciding on a suitable mounting location. I knew right off I wanted them behind the front fairing but things being a bit tight made it challenging. I ended up removing the old horn and it’s mounting bracket, then installing the new horns in the same area but modifying the new brackets. The ones supplied with the Freeway Blasters consisted of a single strap which after drilling a new locating hole allowed them to be mounted higher up out of the way of direct moisture, or so I hope.

The isolation relay was needed to carry the higher current required by two horns as opposed to the single factory unit’s lower demands. Location of it was fairly easy, after running the required wiring I used a zip lock strap to secure it to a frame member under the front fairing. The original horn button now activates the relay which in turn operates the pair of horns. The final component was an in-line 20 amp fuse which I located under the saddle just above the battery compartment.

Operational performance test results proved favorable: Both dogs went into their full barking mode the first time I tried the horns. Around here it doesn't get much better than that.

Apr 8 – The Tale of The Big Fatfoot

One of the issues I encountered on my first ride to Alaska in 2006 was all about balance. The bike’s, not mine, although I do tend to wobble about from time to time. Generally that has more to do with the quantity of Big Red I’ve consumed with dinner than anything else, but I digress. Getting back to the bike and the Alaska thing what happened is this: I’d stopped for the day to set up shop at a great campground aptly named Dawson Peaks Resort. My campsite was laid out on sandy soil and after parking the bike I waited for a couple of moments to be sure the kickstand wasn’t going to sink in. It seemed OK so I did the usual camp thing with Big Red and crashed for the evening.

Early next morning I awoke to loud snuffling noises outside my tent which turned out to be a couple of bears checking out food ops. My best blood-curdling shriek sufficed to drive them away and probably woke the entire camp but so what? Except for one other tent everyone else was locked up in their RV’s and posed unlikely prospects for bear breakfast. After the bruins departed I gathered myself up and crawled out of the tent to greet the day and make breakfast.

It was at that moment I noticed the bike leaning over at what seemed a precarious angle, like it would topple over any moment. Not having anything to slip under the kickstand I settled for a rock and more or less shoved it under the foot. Sound familiar? Stepping back to admire my handiwork I allowed that it would suffice and resumed my breakfast preparations. The ensuing noise was exactly what I didn’t want to hear; turning too late I saw the bike laying on the opposite side of it’s kickstand. Apparently I’d used a rock big enough to allow the bike to do a high-side while standing still, no simple task. I won’t continue with what followed, suffice it to say it involved a lot of blue air accompanied by loud grunting noises one makes during the “pick up your bike dummy” process.

All of which brings us up to today’s world and preparations for the ride to Nova Scotia. Since the Alaska trip I’d discovered a number of products designed to prevent just such a topple-over. Namely there are hundreds of cute little designer plates made to slip under your kickstand of which I currently own several. One of them actually has a vivid red flag on a line that you hook to your handlebars as a reminder to not ride off without storing it first. Nice idea.

Then not so long ago I hatched the bright idea of fabricating a really big plate to attach to the kickstand’s foot, sort of a permanent fixture guaranteed to eliminate the sinking-into-the-terra-firma problem. What a genius I am at times. Fortunately over the years I’ve learned that whenever I come up with what seems a truly brilliant idea I’ve only to check around and there it is, in full production by at least 20 companies. Enter Ernie Bell of Dakota, MN and the product he calls the Fatfoot. He doesn’t actually make one specifically for the Ninja 650R but he does make one for Kawasaki’s Versys, a model that shares a lot of design features with the Ninja. Ernie is one of those guys who not only makes cool stuff for bikes but he’s also an experienced biker and understands what it takes to be a good manufacturer.

Here’s the email letter that he replied to my initial inquiry with, you can see by it he’s a responsible business person who cares about his customers:

From: Ernie Bell
To: larrylarry75@ficticious.net
Sent: Friday, March 27, 2009 7:41 PM

Subject: RE: Need Fatfoot Kickstand

Hi Larry, I can't say that I've sold a Versys fatfoot to a Ninja owner yet. I looked at your picture and I must admit that it does look just like the Versys sidestand. Cost with shipping included is $40.00. You can drop me a check in the mail at: Ernie Bell 965 Main street, Dakota Mn 55925. I have them on hand and can ship it out right away when the check arrives. If it doesn’t fit you can send it back and I'll refund your money minus the shipping. Thanks. Ernie 507-643-8888


After receiving Ernie's email I posted my check for $40 and awaited the arrival of the Fatfoot. It came in just a few days later and yesterday I did the install. It was actually quite simple, involved drilling one hole and then clamping the device to the kickstand. It looks to be very substantial in construction and I expect I’d have to park in a swamp to sink it. As a test I parked on our lawn when it was very soggy. I can guarantee without the Fatfoot the bike would have fallen over.

Now the question is do I paint it or leave it as is? Anyway it’s a nice product, thanks Ernie!