Norway tour 2012 debrief

Having spent the weekend riding some 1400 kilometers in the beautiful Norwegian fjord and mountain landscape, I feel like jotting down some notes and almost-reviews.

Scala Rider

This intercom system worked so much better than I thought when I first saw it. I bought a NeckMike system a while ago, since I wanted to combine ear plugs with intercom functionality. In reality, the Scala Rider system does a better job when it comes to communication (it’s got full duplex for one, and second, it’s wireless, which means no forgotten cables when you step off the bike). It’s also fully functional up to about 120 km/h (on an effectively fairing-less bike) with or without ear plugs.

There are three main drawbacks:
1. I needed to “slightly adjust” my helmet to fit the speakers. It doesn’t come with depressions for this kind of communications system, so I needed to cut open the noice-reducing padding on the inside of the styrofoam protective layer to avoid getting cauliflower ears from the speakers pressing against my earlobes. Since the fabric cover for the chin pads is removable, I could do it without destroying anything.
2. The carrier rack for the communications module sticks down below the helmet if you don’t choose to glue it in place. This makes putting on and (especially) removing the helmet somewhat painful after a while, since the opening in effect becomes a little tighter than usual, so the ear on the receiver side tends to snag a little.
3. The accumulator is pretty integrated into the system, which means that with use, the time available for communications will diminish and you can’t do anything about it. Anyone familiar with Apple gear knows this problem. It’s OK if you plan on getting new stuff every other year or so, but a system like this shouldn’t be that upgrade prone, and therefore I count non-serviceability as a drawback.

As I mentioned above, wind noise renders the system useless above 120 km/h or so on a bike without a large windscreen. The sensitivity for voice activation needs to be adjusted or you’ll get closer to 8 than 13 hours of battery life out of it, and on the pair we used, one speaker quit working within a day of use, which probably is an individual problem rather than a design one – but again, miniaturization makes for lousy serviceability.

GoPro HD Hero 2

I never really saw the point of video cams until I really tried one. This one basically has a power/function button and a start/stop button, but it’s surprisingly easy to make nice movies, thanks to the fisheye lens. I edited the resulting raw film with iMovie on my Mac, and the result of an evening of playing around with the material can be viewed below.

The Zero Gravity Tall Windscreen

This was my first real test of the higher windscreen for my bike. Windscreens are a tradeoff between environmental feedback and comfort. Where the XB12X is an excellent hooligan bike and canyon carver, the R1200GS is a ride which lets the pilot step off the bike fully rested after 300 kilometers of highway.

Basically, even with the taller screen, the air – and, as I frequently experienced during this ride – the rain, hits me at the upper part of my chest. At highway speeds, this means my helmet gets pressed into my face, and I need to fight to keep my posture against the wind, and if it rains, it means all the rain that hits the front of my bike will end up on my jacket, drop down, and finally create a puddle in which I sit. This is OK with proper rain gear, but textile riding gear without GoreTex membranes soaks right through after a while in these conditions.

The next thing to try, of course, is a windscreen bracket from Palmer Products, to get the windscreen up a bit and make it adjustable. This should also fix the potential problem of the original rubber grommets breaking at highway speeds, giving me a face-full of windscreen at a hundred mph.

IronButt/SaddleSore 1000 debriefing

As I mentioned a few posts ago, a friend and I were going to do a SaddleSore run. Well, last Thursday we did it. Sad to say, I don’t have pictures. My phone died on the way, and luckily I didn’t find my camera before I left, or it would probably have met it’s demise in the same way.

The route

SaddleSore Route
Our route including fuel stops

We planned a route using Google Maps, looking to do a bit more than the 1609 km or 1000 miles required for the actual ride. The final result was 1637 km according to Google Maps (1646 according to my odometer). I was a bit worried about the time it would take for the run, so the entire ride followed the largest possible roads. We didn’t hurry things very much; our speed was mostly legal, and we took our time at stops – necessarily, as it turned out, and in the end we got our final gas receipts just about 22 hours after our starting receipts. A single person in a hurry and with more comfortable gear could probably do the same ride another couple of hours faster, which only goes to show that a SaddleSore 2000k run is entirely possible here in Sweden.

The ride

Short version:
It was wet, cold and miserable, and I’d do it again without a second thought.

Long version:
Rijad and I had been talking about doing this ride for a while, and I’d told him I was going to be free the week from the 16th to the 22nd, and said I’d like to try it then. Saturday to Monday, I’d been in Norway with Tanja, showing her the Hardangervidda area and the fjord country south of Bergen. Tuesday and Wednesday I spent working on the house, and Wednesday afternoon, Rijad came over to me to ask if we were going to go. The weather report for Wednesday had been way off, promising rain when in fact we had fair weather with scattered clouds. The weather report for Thursday said that we could expect rain when passing Stockholm, and then another two areas of rain clouds with possible precipitation near Norrköping and near Kalmar, and in the end we decided to go for it. What’s the worst thing that could happen, right? So we did a final check of our bikes, adjusting his chain, checking oil and air levels, lightbulbs, bearings, the works.

Contrary to the weather report, it had been raining heavily the entire night before we left. At about half past six in the morning, the rain had gone, and we were scheduled to meet up at the first gas station at eight. The clouds were bluish and hung a few kilometers inland, straight in our path.

Half an hour into our ride, we got into the first proper rain. Rijad had brought real rain gear. I hadn’t. 15 minutes later, it was clear to me that this was going to be a wet experience. I was sitting in a puddle and felt the icy-cold water down the front of my neck and up from between my jacket and my pants. Thanks to not having installed the comfort kit on my Buell, the engine heated my puddle to an almost comfortable level, not very different from what it must be like wearing diapers. In other words: The water from below didn’t really hurt, but my T-shirt was draining body heat off of me, and I was recognizing the symptoms of moderate hypothermia just a couple of hours into our ride. Without the heated grips, I would have aborted the ride then and there.

First gas stop was in Karlskoga. I thought for a while, and decided to ditch my wet T-shirt and shorts, changing to two layers of clothing, saving the final long-sleeved T-shirt for later. I also bought a magazine to put between my riding gear and my clothes. Donning three layers at once would have allowed me to build back heat faster, but I wasn’t sure about how effective the magazine would be when it came to keeping my clothes dry, and I was desperate to have something dry for the night. We also had some food, and I drank some scalding hot coffee to warm up a bit from inside. I was going to call Tanja, and realized my phone literally had drowned in my pocket – there was a puddle on the inside of the screen.

As we continued on our way along route E18 to Stockholm, the clouds shrank back a bit, even letting some sunshine pass through, which was exactly what I needed. I still wasn’t warm, but I was a lot more comfortable than I’d been up until then – I even stopped shivering for a while. We entered the actual city in the afternoon, and so our speed was low practically all the way past Bromma airport and down to the E4 on-ramp. We found a place to fill up on gas, but the pumps didn’t write the station’s name on the receipts, so we had to get them stamped and signed by the owner. Luckily, this was the only place where this was a problem during the entire trip.

The road down to the next stop was pretty much uneventful. After the stop in Stockholm, I took out the magazine for comfort reasons, but somewhere between Norrköping and Valdemarsvik, we got into another area of light rain, where I put it back, and then I let it stay there the rest of the ride. It was late afternoon and the sun didn’t do anything when it came to heating anymore. The rest of the ride was simply cold – but not violently so.

We got off the E22 and rode into Västervik to fill up and find a place to eat. We got directions to a pizza place from another customer at the gas station, but on the way to it we found a fastfood restaurant called the Corner, and decided not to lose more time. We had a giant burger with extra everything each, since it was more than six hours since the last time we ate, and we didn’t expect to eat much more during the trip. After dinner, I put on the last of my shirts and hoped it would keep me warm enough, while we headed back to E22 and the road to Kalmar and further.

The next few hours were interesting to say the least. We had to make a quick stop at a gas station around 10 in the evening to clean our visors. There were so many bugs and mosquitoes that it was impossible to see anything through them, and the light drizzle that had helped us to keep them clean earlier had stopped. The road varied from superslab level to main street through small towns, and every few kilometers there was a warning about the fence ending and the possibility of deer or elks or wild boar crossing the road. Often we kept up with cars for a few kilometers, freeloading on their superior headlights, but either they were driving too slowly or way too fast for me to risk keeping up with them considering the very real chance of hitting a wild animal. At this point, Rijad began keeping a bit of a distance to me. Given the choice of more light or a bit of a safety margin should something jump up in front of me, he selected the latter.

From Kristianstad, we turned south again, towards Ystad, for almost an hour worth of riding on relatively narrow roads through the deer-infested countryside to get a few additional kilometers worth of riding to qualify for the SaddleSore. From there, we went almost all the way to Malmö, and turned onto the E6. After a few hours of riding with the knowledge that we’d be dead, or possibly even worse off, if an animal jumped up in front of us, it was very nice to know that the next four-five hours or so of riding would be almost guaranteed animal free. At this point I felt my mind begin to wander, and my eyes began to move sluggishly. Fortunately, it was enough to stand up on the footpegs and flex my muscles for a bit to get a bit of circulation to my brain again, to keep me awake until our next gas stop near Falkenberg, where I filled up with some hot chocolate, since I felt my stomach wouldn’t like another cup of coffee right then.

Except for me still being cold and Rijad fittingly considering our ride having a bad case of saddle sore, the last bit past Gothenburg and upwards was a breeze. The sky was almost clear, allowing for a great view of the stars and, later, of the sunrise.

When we stopped for our checkout fill-up of gas at Knäm, Rijad asked me if I’d do another one of these rides back-to-back to this one if I’d get a million Swedish kronor for it. Of course I would. I did this one for free, didn’t I? From his question, I suspect his ass really didn’t like the ZX7 seat.

Lessons learned

Preparing for a 24 hour run is overrated. Make sure you’ve had enough rest beforehand, and make sure you begin with a mechanically sound bike. I kept putting the ride off, thinking I must have missed something crucial. In the end, our preparations consisted of googling for gas stations in 250 km intervals, and that was basically it.

Extended highway riding eats tires like crazy. Make sure your rubber is good before the ride.

Two things to bring for long rides: Clothes and rain gear. The latter isn’t just “nice to have”. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have felt really cold even once during this ride if I hadn’t started it by getting soaked and sitting in cold clothes for a couple of hours.

We stopped for fuel 8 times including the final/check-out stop. It turns out a Kawasaki ZX7 is a somewhat thirstier than a Buell XB12X, so Rijad’s bike decided the distance between stops: In the end we didn’t want to risk much more than 250 km per tank, even though I wouldn’t be afraid to ride somewhere around 300 km at a time with my Uly. With that amount of gas stops, no additional stops were needed, contrary to the IronButt recommendations. More stops would cost more time, but wouldn’t do anything good from a comfort perspective.

The food found along the way is good enough for a 24 hour ride. I would think more about what I ate if I was to spend several days in a row on the bike, though.

Another interesting thing I suspected but didn’t know for sure, was that you simply don’t get sleepy on a bike. Your brain may turn to mush, and your reflexes get slow (to a point), but you’d definitely need more than 24 hours in the saddle to actually risk falling asleep from exhaustion. One thing I noticed at one point was that I was starting to associate incoherently, almost feverishly, but once I noticed that, I just focused and made it to the next gas stop with no further problems, after which my brain worked fine the rest of the way.

Radio communications and MP3 players are overrated. We ended up not using my radios at all – it was enough to just overtake the other person and pull over when needed. When it comes to music, I got so much sensory input anyway that music in addition would have been too much for me. I hummed along with my engine and that worked fine.

Helmets. Get one you can wear for a few hours on end. I’m ditching the Lazer and getting a more comfortable and less noisy one next year.

Of all the farkles I can think of, heated grips is right on the top of the list for useful features. I don’t think I could’ve made it without them.

I found out what to use auxiliary lightning on a bike for. I didn’t expect that to be a useful feature here in Sweden, but for late-season night-time riding? Definitely.

The Buell XB12X truly is a capable touring bike. For high-speed cruising on the Autobahn, maybe less so, but for real-life riding in speeds below 130 km/h, definitely. I’ve said it before, but I can say it again: I’m keeping this bike.

First real ride

Map of the ride
Today's ride - about 300 kms of great fun

Today, I finally got my shit eating grin back: I woke up at 6 am to have my bike inspected. I left the house at 7, and rode to the gas station in Skee. From there, I rode straight up to Bengtsfors. Conditions were simply great – I had about 20 minutes to wait when I got there. The Uly passed through the inspection with flying colors, even though it had the race kit mounted. The guy who inspected it obviously liked the Buell bikes, and showed some knowledge I didn’t expect, which was kind of nice. Not being very tall, he didn’t want to risk dropping the bike, and simply skipped the test ride they usually do, but instead immediately took up the payment and let me go.

The bike cooling down while I adjusted my earplugs

So I proceded to rip up from Bengtsfors up to Årjäng, back to Hån, Norwegian Örje, down to Tistedal and Halden, and finally back to Strömstad to have a cup of coffee with Tanja.

The ride was actually pretty cold, and it made me glad I decided to mount my grip heaters. Without them, I don’t think I would have taken the long way back home. But as it was, I’m really glad I did – this part of Scandinavia is beautiful and offers great riding even at almost-legal speeds thanks to the rolling hills and the many twists and turns.