Friday, October 30, 2009

The Bare Necesseties-Just add-venture

Let me just reiterate the fact that Julianne is an art student and I am a music student.  In case that doesn't bring up any connotations for you it basically means that we are poor as f$%k!  We're not touring the country on a new BMW or Harley checking into hotels every night.  That is expensive and boring.  We're going to rough it, so it's good that we're poor because we wouldn't have it any other way.

So the necessities for the trip will include full camping gear, which will have to (a) fit on the bike and (b) be lightweight so as not to overload the bike.  Lucky for us there's another group of adventurers who have already figured out small and lightweight gear: the backpackers.  Backpacking tent, sleeping bags, stoves, etc, are all very small and very lightweight, not to mention excellent quality.  Their gear does, after all, need to last months at a time in the wilderness.  Here is a tentative list of what we think we'll need.  After the list I'll go into detail about individual items.

Sleeping bags
sleeping pads
tarp (for under the tent)

fuel bottles for stove
water container (probably inflatable)
foldable water bucket
dish towel
soap (multi-use)
2 nalgene bottles
coffee percolator or press

General Camping
sun block
bug repellent
first aid kit
tooth brushes and paste, hairbrush, deoderant, etc

--The following lists are things that won't come from the backpacking world and I'll discuss them later--

spark plug wrench
#2 phillips and flat screwdrivers
wrenches (don't know exactly what sizes I want to bring yet)
allen wrench (I replaced a lot of screws with SS allen head bolts)
Pliers (leatherman possibly)
tire repair kit (not sure what type yet)
Electrical tape
zip ties
tappet feeler gauge
chain lubricant
quart of 10W40 oil

spark plugs
tail light bulb
signal light bulb
spare main fuses
points set

blackberry (we originally were going to bring a laptop, but this can replace it for our purposes)
charger for camera and blackberry
solar charger for blackberry

First off, sleeping.  We have already acquired a tent and sleeping bags.  The tent is a Cabela's brand ultralight tent, which we bought over the summer and have already tried out a few times.  It's light for its size, around six pounds, and packs small .  We got the three person tent for the extra room; this thing will be our house for the summer after all.  It's great sleeping without the fly, and the fly is very water resistant for crappy weather.

Juli just got two sleeping bags!  They're synthetic backpacking sleeping bags and are also very small and lightweight.

We are thinking of getting sleeping pads as well.  These are small, thin air mattresses used in the backpacking world.  We are looking at the Thermarest Prolite, which is a self-inflating pad, a big selling point for me.  One of the most irritating things in the world is blowing up an inflatable with your mouth, and I don't think we'll be too excited to do it every night after a full day of riding!   This thing packs really small, around 5X11 inches and only weighs 1 pound.
There are a couple of comparable pads by Big Agnes and Exped.  The Exped pads are awesome, but about twice the weight of the Prolite.  More expensive, too.
We're also considering a traditional foam sleeping pad, and I really like this one from Thermarest.  I like that it doesn't inflate it can never puncture and become useless.  It is very light but doesn't pack quite as small as the Prolite.  It's much cheaper, though, and I wonder if that will outweigh the benefits of self-inflating pads.  Ultimately, I think we'll decide on one of these after comparing them in the store.  It will have to pass the comfy test.

Now onto cooking. I have pretty much picked out a stove. This
is the Coleman F1 Ultralight. The picture shows the stove on top
of the canister. Originally I didn't want one that uses this type of canister because I wasn't sure it would be easy to find them on
the road.
But I have just discovered that a certain big box conglomo that
shall remain nameless carries them, so I think we'll find them
okay. They also have a couple of light stoves there, but not this particular one.  It will have to be ordered on the web.  This little
guy weighs 2.7 ounces as opposed to the one in the store that is
over a pound!

I have two different cooksets in mind.  One is the  MSR Quick 2, which is very complete yet compact.  It includes two pots, two dishes, two stainless mugs, a strainer top, and it all fits into a 7x5" package!  I am also looking at the GSI Pinnacle Dualist.  It is similar in size and weight to the MSR set, but it doesn't have normal shaped mugs or plates, which I don't like.  It does come in a bag that doubles as a water bucket, which is awesome!  It also includes two utensils, which the MSR does not.  Still, I really prefer the shape of the dishes and mugs of the MSR set.  Also, the GSI only comes with one pot.  Two could be handy on the road.

Coffee!  Some may consider this a luxury item and not worth the weight, space, or trouble, but Juli and I really like coffee and I think the trip will be too exhausting to go without.  I can't decide if we should get a percolator or a press.  There is the Open Country 2-5 Cup Perk, pictured at the left, which is about 5X5 inches and weighs 9 ounces.  I like the simplicity of using a percolator. But a coffee press, like the GSI JavaPress seems like a good idea.  I really don't know how it works.  You put some hot water and coffee into it and "press" the coffee through the water, supposedly making coffee.  I think we'll probably go with the perk.  After all,  cowboys on the range didn't carry a javapress.

Now for cleanup.  Towels soap, and bucket.  Well, the soap we've already got.  It's biodegradable and can be used on dishes, in your hair, and on your clothes and body, and is called simply camp soap.  For the towels we were thinking of getting pack towels, which sound like microfiber towels.  They're very lightweight and absorbent, and we're thinking of getting the bigger versions for our bodies.  The bucket we want to get is super cool!  It folds!  We saw this one at EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) that we really like. Carrying water is also concern.  We might get an inflatable water container, which can be seen at EMS too.  We might also carry a plastic gallon jug.  It's something we haven't quite figured out yet.

Now how we'll light our campsite at night.  There are all kinds of LED flashlights and lanterns that are lightweight and small.  I think we'll go with one LED lantern and one LED headlamp.  The lantern can be ambient light.  The headlamp could be useful if we have to setup camp in the dark or if we have a bike issue in the dark.  We don't plan on riding at night but you never know.
I haven't picked out a headlamp yet, but the lantern I want to get is a Black Diamond Apollo.  I checked these out at EMS too and they're really tiny light, but very bright.  It runs on 4 AAs or a rechargeable pack sold by Black Diamond.  I'll need to do some more research to figure out which to get.  We won't always have access to electricity so we may have to go with batteries that get thrown away when dead (which I hate doing, I am usually a rechargeable fan).

So besides all this camping stuff we're also going to need clothes for our bodies.  Many motorcycle travelers get by with just one or two changes of clothes other than their riding gear.  I think we'll try for that.  We'll get a stuff sack for packing extra clothes.

So that's most of what we'll bring.  I tried to be detailed but am sure other things will pop up.  We'll need to pack wisely to get everything on the bike.  We need to avoid packing like the picture up top!

Next posting, I'll probably talk about route ideas so stay tuned.
Jeremy B

Monday, October 26, 2009

Equipment: Outfitting the motorcycle for luggage

One of the driving forces behind this trip is that Juli and I are not wealthy barons.  We simply do not have the funds to fly to Europe and spend the summer hiking the alps and looking at Renaissance art in Florence, Venice, or Mantua.  The closest we can get to having a traveling adventure is riding our (old) motorcycle across our own country, camping along the way and experiencing national parks, museums, and historical places.  

So, maybe you saw that picture of our (old) motorcycle in all its smallness and lack of storage space and wondered how we plan on packing all the necessary gear for such an undertaking.  After all, goldwings have huge trunks and side cases that would hold two of each animal that walks the earth (or swims; those hard cases are waterproof too).  Well, here’s the plan:

 First of all, the bike came with an original equipment chrome luggage rack, which I am very happy about.  It is very handy for strapping whatever you need for a day trip with bunjee cords.  Plus it looks really cool! 
But for the trip the rack is going to serve as a platform for a genuine motorcycle top box, something like this:

These boxes are from JC Whitney and are fairly cheap  (under $100).  I found other such boxes from Givi, but I can’t justify spending twice as much money for a name brand top box.  I haven't decided the exact size top box I want yet.  I am waiting until we have more of our camping gear so I can better judge how much room we'll need.  I plan to add a luggage rack to the top of this box, where we can strap longer things like the tent or sleeping pads. 

We’ll also have a tank bag.  I haven't done a ton of research on these yet so I haven't picked one out.  Notice the clear pouch on top where you can insert a map!  We'll stuff things like a cell phone, change for tolls, water bottles, anything we need to get to quickly will go in here.  The cool thing about these is that they are magnetic, they literally just stick to the top of the gas tank.  This could be an issue for riders of modern bikes with fake gas tanks!   

The side cases have been by far the biggest technical challenge.  We decided to go with hard side cases for their strength and weather resistance.  In the 70s you could get Wixom hard luggage, similar to what early BMWs had.   You could also get Hondaline luggage, but I think that might have been later.  Nowadays, though, nobody makes hard luggage to fit these bikes.  Let me rephrase:  It's not really the luggage itself that is the problem.  Ebay currently has 300 listings for hard bags that we could probably use.  It's the racks that the luggage attaches to on the bike.  There are lots of manufacturers of hard luggage and racks to mount them, but nobody makes one for a 1971 Honda.  So I'll make my own. 

Thank goodness for the adventure rider's forum!

This is a great website full of motorcycle traveling enthusiasts.  There are some serious folk on here who have circled the globe, so there is lots of great info on everything from route advice to bike advice to bulls#t advice.  This is where I discovered the idea of using hard cases like Pelican or Storm cases for luggage.
These are Pelican cases sold as a complete luggae system. by  They are industrial hard plastic, extremely durable (used by EMTs, military, etc) and reasonably affordable.  
Caribou does not, however, make a mounting system for a 1971 Honda.  So I plan to make my own rack that will hold these cases. 

There are cheaper alternatives to using cases like these, but we do have some specific criteria that a side luggage system will have to meet.  The cases will need to hold quite a bit, but they cannot be too big.  We need them to be lightweight and they must not intrude on passenger leg room, the way some home made systems do.  There are two of us on this bike at all times, and it's a small bike!  So, while I enjoyed reading threads on advrider about making your own side cases out of ammo cans, the truth is that the big ones weigh in at 15-25 pounds each!  Some people were clever enough to weld their own steel cases, but I am not and those would still be too heavy.  Some people used mermite cans, a type of food container that the military used.  They are large and not very heavy once hollowed out, but they are simply too big for our bike.  I could even use the cheap ebay plastic side bags, but I would still have to fabricate a mounting system so I wouldn't save much money.  The durability of pelican/storm/hardigg type cases is superior anyway, so that's what we'll go with.

I have read countless posts on advrider describing how to make your own mounts for cases like these.  What I will do is make a tubular steel frame that will attach to the shock-mount stud and signal light bracket on my bike.  The signal lights will probably be taken off anyway, because I'll want to move the tail and signal lights forward to where they'll be more visible with all the luggage.  More on that later, as I figure it all out.  

 Here is a picture of what my rack will look like.  The bike pictured is a Triumph Bonneville, so mine will be very similar because the rear subframe of this bike is a lot like mine.  I am not yet sure if I will connect the rack to my existing luggage rack or if I will run a piece of metal across the bike to secure the two sides together and minimize movement.

I will drill holes in the plastic cases and attach a u-channel of aluminum to the bottom, and a turnable block of metal or plastic to the top.  There are many different ways to do this.  One that I especially like is pictured here:
So the cases themselves will be Pelican 1500 or something similar.  They are pretty big, roughly 6x12x17 inches on the inside.  To save some money I may go with Seahorse SE-720 cases, which are around the same size.  These cases can be had with locks for $60 each plus shipping.  So figure in maybe $50 for the stuff to build the mounting rack, and I've got a system that costs many more hundreds to buy.  Of course, that point is sort of moot anyway since nobody makes a system like that for my bike!  

  For an idea of how these cases would look on an old style, naked bike, here is an airhead beamer with pelicans attached, image stolen from somebody on the advrider forum.  These are pelican 1520s, a couple of sizes bigger than what I was looking at.  I may get gray instead of black.  Also, I too plan on using reflector tape on our cases.  Can't be too visible out there! 

So there you have it!  Those plastic cases aren't pretty, but they're big and strong yet light enough for us.  In addition to all of these cases and bags, we'll also get a fork bag for the front of the bike.  That bag will hold our tools and a quart of oil, maybe the chain lube too, we'll see how big they go!  

Next I'll write about just what we're going to put in all this luggage!  Stay tuned!!!!

Jeremy B

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Living Our Dream: The Story so Far

The Jist:

Here it is, our travel blog for the big summer 2010 cross-continental journey! For those of you who don't know, Julianne, the art student, and I the music student, have been planning an epic journey of discovery. We're going to spend the summer riding our 1971 Honda CB500 from our home in New Hampshire to the west coast and back again! We'll stick to the smaller highways and byways. We'll do a lot of camping along the way. We'll see some of the cities and national parks that we've always wanted to. Hopefully we'll have the adventure of our lives!
We'll start with describing the idea, and then the bike itself. Tomorrow, I'll talk about what we're bringing and how we'll equip the bike.

The genesis:

Traveling is something Juli and I have always been interested in. Neither of us have seen much of the country or any other country, unless you count Canada.
One fine day in the summer of 2008, we were both at home in Pittsfield and my dad had the idea to ride motorcycles down the road to look at a Volkwagen bus. We love old VWs, and it was a great excuse to take a little bike trip.
Now I've seen a fair number of busses in my day. Our family has owned two and Juli and I have spent lots of time tramping around our region in dad's '83 Westy. But this bus had an impact on us. We both felt a deep desire to buy this thing and drive it far. We spent the next day fantasizing about driving across the country in a bus, bringing very little with us and camping out where ever .
Then we both realized, "why not drive across the country?" We could save up enough money to take a summer off. The trip itself didn't have to cost much if we did a lot of camping and national parks and other amazing free stuff. We mainly just wanted to get out and see the rest of the country. Juli's car or even my car would make the trip.
I can't remember exactly how the idea to use a motorcycle came about. We thought about the cost of gas. Any motorcycle would get at least a few more mpgs than either of our cars. (Remember, this was 2008, $4.29 per gallon gas was on our minds).
But the more we thought about it, the more a motorcycle made sense. How are you supposed to "get out and see the country" from inside a glass cage? How are you supposed to experience prairie wind from inside a car? Or the wide open skies of Wyoming and Montana? Or the rockies? Or the Pacific coast highway? Yes, a motorcycle was the obvious way to take it all in. We could bring minimal camping gear and camp along the way, to save money and to connect with the land.

The Bike

If we were to take a motorcycle, it would first and foremost have to be one that we could afford. No bikes made within the last 25 years need apply. Secondly, it had to be one with the proper riding position for two-up traveling. No goofy assed feet out front cruiser bikes. No racer-boy wanna be tupperware-cladded sport bikes. Thirdly, it had to be big enough for us and some luggage, but not too big to be fun to ride. No goldwings, 1100 specials, or other behemoths, and no honda Z50s. And finally, it would have to be something reliable. Or sort of at least.

So I scoured craigslist and ebay and local classifieds for weeks. Don't be fooled, I already do this anyway. I love old bikes and am always looking for good deals for fun. One day, in October of 2008, I came upon this old tramp:
A 1971 Honda CB500 Four, decent shape, $500. This was one of
many similar to this that I had been looking at. I told Juli about it because it looked like such a great deal, and she asked "could we use it for our trip?" Now, whether this bike would be good for the trip for not, I would have replied "yes," and I did, for it was love at first sight for me. We wound up getting the bike for $400 because it wouldn't start for the guy. The reason it wouldn't start turned out to be a dead battery, but that wasn't all this old girl needed. As you can see, there were some cosmetic issues. The torn seat, the crappy white paint, the gas-varnished engine covers, and general dinginess of the whole bike needed attention.
So the Honda got all that and more. The bike had around 14K when we brought it home, and was in nice shape overall. Besides the paint and 4 into 2 exhaust, it was very original. I spent the fall and winter working at it little by little. Here's a rundown of what I did:

Rebuilt master cylinder
did the basic tune up: valve adjust, camchain adjust, chain adjust, etc
all new spark plugs
new battery
new uni air filter
cleaned, polished, painted various engine and exhaust bits
replaced shocks with progressive and heavy duty springs
recovered seat
painted it green
cleaned and rebuilt all four carbs
replaced grips with ourys
replaced all cables

Jeez, that list seems so short for how much time I put in! Some of these jobs, especially the carb work, I had to repeat several times before I got them right, which is one reason the list looks so short to me. Also, it was spread out over a few months when I would come home from school on the weekends. And finally, each job had to wait until I had saved up enough money to buy whatever part I needed at the time.
Well, after half a summer of tuning and tweaking, I've got the old girl running nicely!
Here's the bike after all this work:

Before I forget, I have to mention the forum of the century: Without that site I would never have got the bike going so well. The forum is full of knowledgeable nuts who own and maintain sohc4s, (The first honda 4 cylinders, from the CB750 in 1969, to my bike, to the CB350F, CB400F, CB550, and the last SOHC CB650 in 1982). I downloaded (for free) the factory shop manual for my bike and received (for free) countless bits of advice that got me through fixing the bike. Seriously, I had no idea what the f%#k I was doing when I got this thing, and those guys, my book, and a little luck helped me get the bike running great!
Now, as for the bike, it is a freaking classic! I always appreciated the smooth, timeless lines of 70s and older bikes. My dad's got an 04 Royal Enfield that was pretty much my favorite bike. It is amazingly fun to ride. My brother's got a 75 CB750 that I road a couple of times before getting mine. I liked it a lot, but it seemed a little unwieldy to me. Maybe it's because the thing was dangerous.
But when i got the CB500 I discovered the perfect motorcycle! I like to describe the design of this bike as simply elegant. Four cylinders in a line. Four carburetors. One overhead camshaft operating 8 valves on rocker arms. A simple single disc up front with a cast aluminum master cylinder. Spoked wheels. Round headlight. Two gauges. Simple, yet sophisticated. These old bikes were and are renowned for their reliability, and over the 3k miles I've ridden it so far, I have to say I would ride it to the end of the world tomorrow.
This thing is the perfect size and weight and has plenty of smooth power. 50 horses to be exact, for anyone who cares. It has plenty of go to propel Juli and I over the mountainous back roads around here we love so much at a brisk pace.

Okay, well, let's get this out of the way now. There are maybe 2 people who haven't tried to talk us out of using this "old," "small," bike for this trip. "You'd better bring tools." "Are you sure that thing will make it?" "That bike is too small and uncomfortable for a cross country trip"
Those are the most popular comments so far. As far as tools and reliability, I have every bit of confidence that I can keep this thing going for our trip. It's solid and simple. I am fairly confident that any break down we would experience would be something simple and minor enough for me to fix either on the side of the road or in the next town if need be.
As far as small and uncomfortable, we are plenty comfortable on this old girl. We're not big people, and we're not bringing much stuff. We like riding normal sized motorcycles. I don't get today's giant overweight overpowered touring bikes. We're going to ride country roads. We don't need to go 85mph for extended periods of time.
Here's something I'll probably repeat in the future. Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is (among other things) one of the most beloved of all epic motorcycle adventure stories. He did the trip on which the book is based on a honda cb77 superhawk. Don't know what that is? here:

It's a 305cc twin with a about 28 horsepower. Him and his son with a mountain of camping gear, on this bike riding across the country.

So before you ask why we don't get a goldwing or something, just remember Zen!

That's enough on bikes. The next posting will focus on what we'll bring and how we'll outfit the motorcycle for the trip!
Good night,
Jeremy B