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.

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Zero Gravity Buell Touring windscreen review

As per my latest post, I recently received a higher windscreen for my Buell XB12X.

The stock windscreen is low – it puts the slipstream straight in the rider’s stomach or lower chest area. This is perfectly alright for shorter rides – I’ve even seen people entirely remove the windscreen for a more street fighter-like look, but on longer rides or when riding in cold weather, this gets tiring.

Enter the Zero Gravity Touring Windscreen.

It’s only a couple of inches higher than the stock one, but transfers the slipstream to shoulder/helmet level when sitting in an active riding stance, lowering upper body buffeting and making wind noise noticeably quieter. The effect of this is that longer rides become a lot more relaxed, even if it’s not as effective as the barn door of a wind screen that’s mounted on the BMW R1200GS. The difference lies mainly in how you can sit on the bike and still be protected. The larger screen of the GS lets a rider of average height sit upright when riding even at speed. On the other hand: A Buell Ulysses isn’t first and foremost a touring bike, but a sporty bike capable of touring duty. Mounting forward pegs, handlebar risers and sheepskin seat covers goes against everything in the bike’s philosophy, so I simply reject the claims of hard buffeting with the ZG windscreen from riders who’ve done such mods on their bikes – sitting further back naturally puts you in a more turbulent area, and that area naturally lies closer to a smaller screen than it does to a higher one.

Another problem people have written about, is the touring windscreen breaking loose at speed. Some have gone to great lengths to avoid the problem, including mounting large mounting brackets on the flyscreen. I understand the thought, but for now I believe it’s enough to simply use new grommets when fastening the larger windscreen. When testing my setup in controlled circumstances, the windscreen worked perfectly well, albeit with some flexing, in sustained speeds up to 160 km/h. That’s perfectly acceptable when touring. For hooligan duty, it might be safer to go with the lower stock screen, though.

To conclude this post, I’d say that next to the heated grips, this mod is definitely worth it, both for extending the riding season and for making long rides more comfortable.

Neckmike first impressions

I ordered a communications package for use with the bikes a few days ago, and it arrived yesterday. The system is the Cobra MT600 + Neckmike combo from Bikeman I mentioned in the Preparing for the Iron Butt post.

The contents of the box

I ordered the double package, which comes with two Cobra MT600 radio units, rechargable NiMH batteries, a charger with a Y cable (to charge both units simultaneously), two Neckmike bundles and one set of small + one set of medium size earbuds each.

Along with that, I also ordered an MP3 player extension – and some extra earbuds, since I’ll be using the system while training a couple of friends for their rider tests.

The Cobra units (manufacturer’s spec sheet) are vanilla two way radios in a retail package. They’ve got the standard features with availability of both CTCSS and DCS “channels”, and a theoretical range of 5 km.

The Neckmike all bundled up

The Neckmike system basically consists of a throat microphone of the kind used by tactical units in noisy environments, in-ear headphones, and a waterproof send button. The pick-up part of the unit is mounted on a springy piece of rubber covered metal, that feels solid enough. Because of how a throat mic works, it’s pretty sensitive to placement, in an almost digital way: It needs to sit right next to the jugular to pick up the vibrations from one’s speech, or you won’t hear a thing. Other units I’ve seen solve this with an elastic or velcro-fastened band around the neck. Further use will have to prove if the Neckmike approach to the problem is good enough, but I can see why one wouldn’t want to have a fastened band around the neck while riding a bike. In case something happens, you really don’t want to be stuck with things wrapped around your neck. This shouldn’t happen with the Neckmike system.

The problem with other communications packages for motorcycle use, is that they tend to depend on speakers mounted inside the helmet. This is alright if you never ever need to ride at highway speeds, or if you’ve got a windscreen like a barn door. Otherwise, riding for long periods without earplugs is a pretty good way to get permanent hearing damage.

The in-ear phones of the Neckmike come with interchangeable heads in three different sizes (the largest one can be specially ordered, but the small and medium ones are included in the package, as I mentioned earlier). They work very well in protecting from outside noise, and from what I could feel, they should be no problem to wear for a while, although I will write something on this when I’ve had time to try them for real.

A real road test review will follow.

Uly status update

I forgot all about time today, but that’s kind of alright, because my Buell is getting closer and closer to being ready for riding season.

I got a phone call from XL Bygg that they had received my 1 1/8″ hex head tool, but I didn’t have the time to pick it up. On the other hand, I’ve been fretting for a while about the work I wanted to do on the electrical system up in front; installing the grip heaters, the ’08 Uly right side switch pod, and a LED volt meter. Since I don’t usually do electrical work, I was a bit nervous about getting stuck somewhere, but as usual there was no need to worry.

About the parts

The grip heaters, grips and the switch pod were bought at American Sport Bike. The heaters are twin element systems (“high and low”), which is fine since the ’08 switch pod has two heater settings. I also switched to new grips following the advice in the service manual.

The single LED volt meter is called VM2-DUO and was bought from Swiss fellow Adventure Rider and electronics wizard Joerg Hau. It’s really simple interface, just a two-color LED that lights up red if the charging system is out and lights up yellow if the voltage regulator doesn’t work properly.

Installation

Installing the heaters took some time, since the left-hand grip on my Uly was glued in place and refused to budge until I removed the left-side switch pod and used a screwdriver to pry it loose. After that, I had to spend some time removing the pieces of rubber that were stuck to the bar.

After that, I put a layer of electrician’s tape on the bar, to insulate the heater a bit, so that it won’t lose all heat down into the metal, which obviously would be kind of pointless. Then I measured where my fingers will go, and glued the heater element in place – it goes almost all the way around the bar. Next I lubed up the inside of the grip with water and some soap, and slid it in place, and finally I mounted the switch pod back in place.

The right side was almost identical, but there, I also had to mount the new switch pod, which eventually required me to remove the entire handle bar, to route the new, thicker, cable.

Behind the screen
The electrical system with the heaters and the volt meter (the cylinder to the left) installed

Up in front, behind the fly screen, I hooked up the power line from the switch pod to the aux power line that also feeds the power outlet beside the instrument cluster. Then I cut the heater cables and connected them to the proper wires from the heater elements.

Next up was the volt meter.

Instrument cluster opened
The led mounted underneath the yellow fuel warning light

For a clean look, I followed the concept of what Ft_Bstrd on AdvRider did on his Uly, mounting the LED in a non-used spot, drilling out a hole for the light to shine through, and filling the hole where I routed the cable with hot glue. Then I cut the wires to the aux power outlet and connected the volt meter input there.

VM2-DUO in action
It's alive!