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.

Preparing for the Iron Butt

IBA LogoThe mission

I intend to become a member of the Iron Butt Association by riding a Saddle Sore 1000 run – “At least 1000 miles in less than 24 hours”, according to the rules – this summer.

The original plan was to ride solo, but now a friend wants to tag along as an introduction to his driver’s license. The reason I’m even thinking of accepting is that even though his papers will be new, he’s reasonably mature, has been driving cars at least as much as I have, and also has been riding motocross for a couple of years, so he’s by no means a rookie when it comes to riding on two wheels, staying awake and to traffic in general.

Also, if he has a driver’s license, it doesn’t really matter if one of our bikes would break down on the road, or if one of us would have to abort the ride, since the other one could finish the run independently.

The route

Map from Google MapsEach leg of the ride starts and ends at gas stations. The oligopoly here in Sweden means that you can find “your” brand of gas station almost anywhere, and use your brand specific credit card at all stations, which makes planning for night-time stops a lot easier. My route is planned from a safety perspective: I know more than half of the road like the back of my hand, and the final leg is almost all super slab, which makes for less chance of deer encounters during the time when I expect my reflexes to be toast.

The route follows the main roads from the westernmost town of Sweden, across the country to Stockholm, down along the east coast to the southernmost point, and back up along the west coast to the starting point. I will be passing Sweden’s three largest cities, which means I will need to plan my time to avoid traffic jams.

According to the Google roadmap, the trip is supposed to take about 20 hours, which leaves 4 hours of margin. Counting 200 km between gas stops, gives 8 stops á 10 minutes – say up to 1.5 hours including a couple of snacks. Four proper food/toilet stops á 1/2 hour each (separate from gas stops, as per advice from the more experienced), gives a net margin of half an hour. Given that we should be able to ride perhaps 10 km/h faster than the posted limits in most places, we should be able to save up another couple of hours, which could be used for an additional rest/nap stop on the last leg of the trip.

The bikes

I will be riding my almost-stock ’06 Buell XB12X Ulysses. I have mounted the pannier racks, but expect to do without the top box. I feel I can trust the bike now, having ridden it almost two thousand kilometers after putting it together earlier this season.

Rijad will, if he chooses to go, be riding his Kawasaki ZX7. It too has been along for a few hundred kms, so I’m not particularly worried about it.

Since I have the stock windscreen and Rijad doesn’t have a screen at all, orangutan arms will be an issue – extended highway speeds will be limited to well under the point where our licenses are in danger. I am confident however, that he’ll have more of a sore butt than what I’ll have: The Uly saddle is great.

The gear

My current riding boots are done for and need to be changed. I just bought a new pair of Lindstrands Max Tour which I got at a good price at Hansson’s Skinn & MC. They’re a bit thicker than my old boots, so I’ll have to adjust the shifter accordingly stop sissying around and just get used to moving my foot a bit more, but they’re so much more comfortable that I actually just threw the old ones away in a dumpster right outside the shop. I’m pretty sure my feet won’t go numb after a couple of hours on the bike in these boots.

I’m still unsure of what jacket to wear: my leather jacket has less lining than my textile one (both are of the Halvarsson persuasion) and will be more comfortable during the day, but the night part of the ride might get pretty cold, depending on how late in the season we go. On the other hand, I can just compensate with more layers of clothes.

I haven’t given rain gear any great thought, simply because I don’t intend to ride in rain. The area we’ll be covering is small enough that the weather should be predictable within a margin of a couple of days.

For communications, I plan to use a NeckMike/Cobra MT600 radio combo from Bikeman, along with a cable to connect the headset to an iPod.

When it comes to food, the overall advice seems to be to eat lightly. Cous-cous based salads are readily available on most gas stations and should do the trick, along with regular water.

The tools I will bring will be the most basic set: duck tape, a good knife, pliers, a small hammer, screw driver with bits, a tube of Loctite and a can of puncture spray. What I can’t fix with that will probably require more tools than I can bring anyway.

Motorcycle season is here!

It seems I finally got everything on my Ulysses together, just as temperatures went up to summer levels.

The kickstand arrived yesterday. Having worked my proverbial donkey off for a few weeks, and with more work coming up in the evening, I took half the afternoon off to get the bike done.

To get at the bolts that hold the kickstand fastening bracket, the muffler needs to be removed. I managed to do that without removing the drive belt tensioning wheel as per the service manual, but it was a lot of work – especially when replacing it. Without the proper tools, however, I didn’t have much of a choice.

The main difference between the original ’06 XB12X kickstand and the new one, was the pivot bolt, which was replaced with a solid-looking, machined pivot pin. I hope this one will stand up a bit better to normal use.

Now I have a time for the legal part (checkup) on Monday. Hopefully, they’ll accept my race muffler, or I’ll have to do it again within a month – but anyway, at least I’ll be able to ride until then.

Yet another Uly status update

I finally got the last pieces of the electrical system together today, and took the bike for a shakedown ride. Everything felt good – the red light on my new voltmeter  turned off when the engine started running, the heaters worked as they should, nothing looked or sounded unusual, that I could see, so basically, I think I’m pretty much done with the ride inhibiting problems with the bike, and it doesn’t seem as if I’d introduced any more of them.

I’m still waiting for the last parts for the kickstand. From what I heard, they should’ve arrived in Belgium on the fourth, so hopefully I might even get them during next week.

Another Uly status update

Today I finally found the time to do some more work on my Buell.

Status right now is that the new stator is in place, and the primary case is closed again.

Remaining tasks:

  • New voltage regulator needs to be mounted.
  • New Deutch connector needs to be installed on alternator cable to connect to the voltage regulator.
  • I still haven’t gotten the side stand from Bike – I need to check on the status there. I hope it’s just another consequence of the Icelandish volcano eruption.
  • I decided to switch to the (known) street legal muffler since I have to remove the race muffler anyway to install the side stand. After inspection, the race kit goes back on.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

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!

Motorcycle season coming up! (part deux)

Buell Primary Chain
Oooh! Shiny!

So now I’m opening up my Buell, to get to grips with the charging problem that cut last season short. Status right now is I’m missing another imperial size bit. Sweden is great in many ways, but if you want to get hold of non-metric tools, it isn’t. Anyhow, the plans for the Uly are as follows:

  • Rip out the guts of the primary case and install working replacement parts for stator and voltage regulator
  • Install single LED voltmeter into instrument cluster
  • Install grip heaters and new (08+ model) right-side switch pod
  • Install new jiffystand
  • Hopefully get everything back together again without too many spare parts lying around when everything is mounted and done
  • Get it checked up by Bilprovningen allmighty
  • Ride the heck out of the bike

Oh yeah: I’ll really try to do an Ironbutt/Saddle Sore 1000 ride this year. More on that later on.

For possible technically minded visitors, and for my own good, I’ve begun making a list of the tools needed to work on the Buell XB series of bikes; it can be found under Bike Rambling/Tech Tips