Thursday, July 31, 2014

480Km between gas stations??!!

As per Steve's response from this morning (I'm following his blog at sabot03196.wordpress.com and he is very kind to respond to my comments with hands-on advice), it looks like I'm going to need even more than 10L of extra fuel I already packed.

It appears that I missed the part where you have to take a 95Km detour to Cartwright in order to get gas between Goose Bay and Port Hope Simpson. It would extend my already long day by almost 200Km and I probably wouldn't be able to make it to Blanc-Sablon for the night. I don't think I can ride 800Km of unpaved road in a day:

https://goo.gl/maps/wncfi

So, instead of buying another jerry can that I probably won't need again I decided to bring a 5.5L laundry detergent jug. I've used it to store gasoline for the lawn mower with good results and I can throw it away once I cross Labrador.



Alternatively, I can use a 4L kerosene container I have. Even better.

I just checked my numbers again. Google maps says it's 405Km between Goose Bay and Port Hope Simpson. That means that 14L (tank) plus 10L (can) will get me there if the bike doesn't burn more than 6L/100Km. I'm almost certain Majesty can achieve better fuel economy than that even fully loaded and on loose surface, but I'm still going to hedge my bets with another can. Unlike the one under the seat, that extra one will be strapped to the top case rack and kept empty until Goose bay.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Where is the point of no return?


Reading Steve Abbott's blog and his trials and tribulations got me thinking of "the point of no return".

All my previous long distance trips were relatively easy to plan, shorten or abort. I could plan day-by-day, thinking about where I'll go tomorrow only after I settle for the night. I rode anywhere between 350Km and 1,350Km a day, always able to find adequate lodging within an hour ride of where I was (to be fair, Duda's long distance booking was absolutely essential there). I've been to some pretty remote places, but never went so far off the beaten path that I would have to turn back mid-day in order to avoid having to sleep under my bike.

This one is different. There will be points where I'll be facing over 200Km of unpaved road in unknown condition to reach a place suitable to spend the night at. The same distance will be behind me, with the only difference being the known road condition, for better or for worse. If my cards don't fall right I may be faced with a tough choice: to double-back where I came from with my tail between my legs or bite the bullet and press on into the unknown, accepting the consequences of not getting there on time.

So, where is that imaginary point? Depending on conditions (I don't want to list everything that can make this ride miserable in hope none will materialize), I imagine it to be somewhere on the newest section of Trans Labrador Highway, about four hours South-East of Goose Bay. To be honest, I have no idea if I can ride 600km+ of dirt in a day under the best conditions, but I will give it my best shot.

Speaking of points, the northernmost point of this trip will be at 53.6 degrees. If it was in Europe it would be just North of Liverpool or hamburg, or South of Minsk. That's not nearly as far North as I thought, but it's definitely very remote. Man, this continent is really huge.


Everything except the last few items is packed and on the bike tonight. I managed to bring everything I need, including some stuff I hope I won't need at all. Tomorrow is reserved for last minute adjustments and a good night sleep. Leaving Friday before dawn.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A guy on Trans Labrador Highway now

There's a fellow who's on a very similar route, about a week ahead of me. His blog is at:

sabot03196.wordpress.com

He is around Labrador City now, as per his Spot track log:

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0tL81vbOOGQqkQ2iAGzaoLnjYqi7eOqqm

I'm following with great interest. His experience can be very valuable.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Test ride

I went on a test ride today to check on several things:

- Charging system. I needed to know whether I'll be overloading Majesty's alternator (i.e. draining the battery) by having it power the GPS, phone, tablet, heated grips and heated jacket liner at the same time. I used this nifty little voltmeter to keep an eye on the voltage.


- GPS. The old hacked Curtis started freezing and shutting down after 50,000Km of riding on the vibrator called the Bandit. That engine will shake any electronics to pieces after a while and I'm surprised the cheap Curtis lasted that long. I was hoping much gentler vibrations of the counter-balanced single cylinder Majesty's engine will agree with it. The IGo software is excellent and it would keep me informed of both how to get there and how long it will take.



- Boots. I have a pair of Thor motocross boots that are extremely rugged and waterproof, but brand new and stiff as a ramrod. Unsuitable for walking any farther than to the gas station washroom. Can't shift in them to save my life and that's why I never wore them. They are also a little small. I have a pair of nice Alpinestars boots I bought in Salt Lake City last year. Now that I laid it out like this I'm wondering why I'm even considering that medieval-armor-like footwear :). They look (and feel) like something Thor would wear. However, they will protect my feet, ankles and shins considerably better than the alternative. I once crashed in the forest with motocross boots on and even though I hit a boulder pretty hard all I got was a banged toe. I broke four ribs, but that's a different story :).



Conclusion:

Charging seems to be working OK. It's hard to gauge for sure because the voltage varies between 10 and 14. It mostly hovers around 13, so it should be fine.

GPS is doing very well. There's barely a hint of vibration in its mount at both high speed and idle. I doubt it will die on me, but I have two others (phone and tablet) plus a paper map to fall back to.

Boots are a flop. After for hours, 150Km and a couple of short walks they felt like wearing some medieval torture device. Alpinestars waterproof touring boots will do just fine.

I also tested carrying the full 10L jerry can under the seat. There's more than enough space for it and it doesn't leak. Some guys I met at the forks couldn't believe their eyes when I showed them :). I removed the storage liner and put everything else in plastic bags in case it decides to let the gas out at some point. I'll need it only a couple of times, but I'll need it for sure.


There's still room in there, maybe for some paper towels or some such necessities.

Engine oil is pretty fresh, only about 2,500Km on it, but I changed it anyway. It's too early to change it now, but I don't want to change it on the road and it will be a little too late for comfort when I get back. It's only 1.7L, so I decided to give her Majesty a treat :).

I rode some gravel and packed dirt roads today and am happy with comfort and handling. It brakes very well and 100Km/h is not a problem if the surface is hard enough.

The scoot turned 37,000Km today. I can't believe we put 16,000Km on it already. Ride it like you stole it!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Final bike preparations

I finally got to installing the USB power supply for phone and tablet. An amazing little solid-state 3A DC/DC converter (smaller than pinkie finger tip) will supply juice to the GPS, phone and tablet all at the same time. It draws no current when nothing is connected to it and it's about 98% efficient, meaning no loss and no heat.




Since I was at it, I decided to take my trusty but almost dead Curtis GPS instead of the "limited functionality" Garmin handheld. In order to mount it I had to remove the top handlebar cover, so this is what it looks like now:




It doesn't look very nice, but it's fully functional. Those who know me know I'm a function over form person :).

Removing the whole front tupperwarewas an opportunity to put things togetther a little better. Gorilla tape is there just to hold it tight - it wouldn't fall apart without it.




Last came the air filters. Majesty has two and they are pretty big, but get clogged fast because of their position (low and close to the wheel that throws dust at it). I have replaced original paper filter media with washable double density UNI foam about 10,000Km ago. They were not very dirty, but since cleaning them takes less than an hour... The left filter is in (big red rectangle), the right side one taken apart on the floor (high density green foam, low density red foam and the gutted out filter case they fit in).




 In the end, happy with the days work I added some reflective stickers to the bike, both front and rear. Those lime green ones at the sides of the top case are so bright when illuminated that they look like they are lights, not stickers.
 


Speaking of the top case, my friend Colin was kind enough to let me borrow his. It's about 10L bigger than mine and it has the rack on top - a very handy thing to strap the gear I take off (like the heavy jacket when it's too hot). This is not the first time Colin let me use this case, it's been with me on the 15,000Km trip in July 2011. Here it is in Death Valley:


 

Thanks again Colin, you are a champ!




Friday, July 25, 2014

Studying the route

Studying the travel guides at http://tlhwy.com/travel/travelguides.html. Over 800Km of Trans Labrador Highway is unpaved. Depending on the state of the road surface and weather conditions this can be a pleasant scenic ride, an exercise in extreme masochism or anything in between.

One definition of adventure says it's "Taking inappropriate equipment to out-of-the-way places.". I think this trip will fit the bill. I'll create my own version of this motivational poster when I get back.


Itinerary is a tough one to plan for this trip. Accommodations are few and far between - it's not like you can just get off the highway at the next exit and drop into Motel 6. There are are also three ferry schedules that I have to take into account. If I miss any of them I will be stranded for up to half a day, not to mention that it would mess up my whole schedule.

Then, there is gas. Sections with over 250Km between gas stations make at least 5L of extra fuel a must. I think I'll carry 10L - the can is not much bigger than 5L one, it fits under the seat and I already have it.

Almost forgot: There is no turning back or taking shortcuts on this route. Whatever distance I plan to cover for the day is what I will have to ride, come hell or high water.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Brake fix

Typing this on the tablet to decide if the portability is worth the trouble. On-screen keyboard leaves a lot to be desired, especially when I need to enter any symbols like dashes,  slashes, smileys... On the other hand, I don't really want to carry the laptop.
Brake pads arrived last night and I went to install them right away. It took me less than fifteen minutes to replace front ones, more than two hours for the rear. I managed to pop out the caliper piston and spill brake oil all over the floor. Since that effectively forced me to replace the brake oil :), I went on and bled the front as well, which took another hour or so. That was hard to do alone since you have to pump/hold the lever with one hand while unscrewing/screwing the nipple with the other. This bike is long, so there was a lot of bending, stretching and grunting :). I was done around midnight, but I was done.
These rear brake pads are the thickest I ever saw - about twice as thick as the front. I don't know why, but i'm not complaining :).
On the ride to work this morning the pads are slowly but surely breaking in. Rear feels a little bit mushy, maybe there is still some air in it (it's a long hose from left handlebar to the right side of the rear wheel...). Will bleed it a little more. Front is rock solid.
The problem with bleeding the brakes is that you do it backwards. You pump the oil from the top down, but the air in the system tries to travel up, so you may end up running a lot of oil through the system without really knowing if there are any air pockets left in it. The right way would be to push the oil from the other end, through the nipple on the caliper. It can be done, but I haven't tried it yet and I wasn't about to learn last night. One time consuming mistake was enough for the day :).
Now I'm thinking, Bandit's clutch needs bleeding and it's quite conveniently located for an easy job...
This part is entered by voice dictation this is excellent very nice works pretty well much better than hunting and pecking on the little on screen keyboard I am impressed it looks like I'm going to keep the tablet now I know why there's so many people on the internet that have no sense of grammar laughing out loud haha

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A square ride

I was a busy bee this weekend and did all the following:

- Went to Niagara Falls US on Saturday to pick up the car tire. Installed it right away on the rim i prepared the day before. Based on some "darksiding" stories I've read, I expected the tire to be a little hard to seat on the rim, so I cleaned and polished it well. The mechanic (name withheld to protect the perpetrator of a victimless crime) said it was a much easier job than the one they did recently on a Vulcan. Of course, my wheel "will be mounted on a one-off custom car for closed course driving only". Wink, wink :))




- Replaced the V-belt (CVT belt) today. The old one is still in great shape with plenty of life left, so I'll take it with me as a spare.  Checked and lubed the entire transmission while I was at it. Everything looks very good, and I even cleaned the transmission air filter.


- Wired the heated jacket liner controller. Mounted it with Scotch double-lock on the side of the seat.


And then I went for a short test ride to see if everything works as it should, especially the tire. To put it simply, if I didn't know I was riding on a car tire I most likely wouldn't be able to tell. If I didn't ride this scooter before, I definitely wouldn't be able to tell. Of course there is a difference, but it's subtle and by no means disconcerting, let alone frightening. In the straight line the difference, albeit relatively sleight, is definitely positive. It feels steadier and more stable, somewhat softer too. Sharp turns are no problem whatsoever, and that's where the perceived difference is almost non-existent. I can only feel it relatively wide turns where the leaning angle is just below vertical. It requires a bit more steering input there, but it doesn't feel wobbly or unstable. These are impressions from a short ride through High Park, but I'm quite happy so far.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Gear

I'll ride for 8+ hours a day at temperatures between 7 and 27 degrees. It's almost certain that I will get quite cold and/or quite wet at some point on this trip, so picking the right gear can make a huge difference.

I'll be comfy in the cold with heated grips and jacket liner. An excellent semi-permeable balaclava will protect my neck from the wind. Either motocross boots or my touring Alpinestars will take care of my feet. I'm deciding between Carhartts pants and suspender type winter motorcycle pants. Ditto with the jackets, both options nylon, but one much more adaptable for hot weather.

Hot I can deal with if it's not too humid, riding at 40+ in full gear for days. Extreme heat that is not likely on this trip just tends to put me to sleep, so more frequent cat naps in the shade are in order.

Staying dry may be a challenge though. The only reasonably waterproof gear I have are the boots - everything else gets soaked fast in heavy rain. Hands and knees are first to go and it eventually gets behind my neck and in my crotch. I have a decent rain suit that helps, but it's a pain to put on and the water finds its way through it too eventually. At the end of a few hundred kilometers in the rain and cold all you want is a warm shower, but you need to dry all that gear off for the next day too.

So, it looks like I have to concentrate on wet and cold combined.

Maybe I'm just over-thinking it. Whatever I bring, I'm sure I'll be sorry I didn't bring something else :) and I'm sure I'll bring a lot I won't need or use.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Luggage

Majesty has more built-in storage capacity than any other scooter I know. Under-seat compartment is big enough to fit two large integral helmets with enough room remaining for gloves, communicators, some tools...

Only the rider portion of the seat flips up to open, so you can access the entire storage space even when something is placed on or strapped to the passenger seat. A big convenience in my book.

There are also two glove compartments in the front. Bigger one is lockable and quite deep. I don't know it's exact volume, but I was able to easily store a couple of bungee cords, a bottle of water, thin gloves, a camera and sunglasses in there. The smaller one is good for a pair of thick gauntlet winter gloves and a microfiber cloth.


I added the Givi rack and a 45L top case. With careful packing one can fit a lot of stuff in there - it's almost like it's bigger on the inside than outside.


Note all the reflectors and reflective stickers. If they don't see it from behind at night (even when parked) they are either blind or driving with no lights.

I'm considering an option to strap the 10L gas can between my legs on top of the gas tank cover. I think I saw it done somewhere before...

A ~60L waterproof gym bag on top of the passenger seat. It will be neatly held in place by just two bungee cords that hook up under the passenger grab bar.


A couple of extra bungee cords and a small cargo net to hold down gear I take off but want to keep at hand, like the jacket when it's hot.
  
All in all, there's enough room to bring everything I need, all easily accessible and all waterproof. Not enough to bring everything I want, but experience told me I don't need at least a quarter of the stuff I usually carry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Preparing the scoot

To prepare her Majesty for this adventure some maintenance and modification is in order. To-do for the next couple of weeks:

Maintenance:

- I have replaced OEM paper air filters with dual density washable UNI foam. Majesty has two air filters and due to their low position they get dirty very fast. They will likely be totally clogged by the time I get to Newfoundland on all that gravel, so I have to be ready to take them off and wash them. Gasoline, oil and a pair of rubber gloves is all I need.

- New sintered brake pads. The EBC HH pads alone significantly improved braking on the Bandit. Majesty brakes very well as-is, but rear pads are due for replacement and I saved on shipping by ordering the front at the same time. One can never have too much stopping power.

- New car winter rear tire. Car tire has a wider contact patch and should have better grip on loose surfaces as well as better comfort on the highway. If other people's experiences are to be trusted, it's not half bad at cornering either. Winter tire has softer rubber, but it should still outlast at least two motorcycle tires. It costs less than half, so if you count mounting and balancing costs it's at least five times cheaper per kilometer. I couldn't find a suitable tire (winter, symmetrical thread pattern, 13" rim) in Toronto, so I ordered it from US. Expecting to pick it up from my US address (CBIUSA.com) next weekend. It's Achilles Platinum 7:



- Replace CVT belt. The current original factory belt is still in good shape and has plenty of wear left, but it's far beyond manufacturer recommended replacement interval. I'll install a new one and give the transmission a once-over while I'm at it. I'll bring the old one as a spare.

Modifications:

- USB power supply. I have my mounted my old self-refurbished GPS (base maps only) on the steering head with power supplied from a DC/DC converter. I want to attach my tablet and phone to the same power source and stick them in the left (lockable) glove compartment.



- Hook up a connection for the heated jacket liner. I have the controller and half of the wiring already in place. Just need some connectors and means to affix the controller to the side below the seat.

- Headlight switch. If I have enough time I'll add a switch to turn off the right headlight (or maybe both?) in case I need to save electrical power for the heated grips and jacket liner. I don't know how much extra juice Majesty's charging system produces and I may need every Ampere I can spare.

- Sheepskin seat cover. Still debating on this one. It's a great comfort mod for both hot and cold weather. However, it will likely get soaked at some point and I don't need one more thing that I'll have to dry or protect from the rain.

- It occurred to me that I'll be often parking on surfaces that are too soft to support the center stand or the side stand. Carrying and using kickstand pucks is a PITA, so I decided to rig it up something uglier but more efficient:


I have yet to test it, but I don't think it will sink in anything that's not fluid. Zip-ties are holding it in place just fine and it doesn't touch anything or stick out when stand is folded up.

I already have good heated grips and, thanks to my friend Jesse, hand guards too.




I'm thinking of getting those mitts that ATV folks use over the handlebars. Very warm and excellent in protecting my hands from the elements, but can be uncomfortable in dry, warm weather...

Cigarette lighter socket is installed in case I need 12V power for anything extra (example, tire compressor). 


Tools:


- Compact compressor and tire plug kit. I've used a $15 Canadian Tire compressor and $5 plug kit in numerous occasions with excellent results.




- Enough tools to be able to clean air filters and possibly also replace the CVT belt on the road. I just need a long screwdriver for filters, but CVT is a different story. I'll make a full assessment of what I need when I replace the belt.

- A bunch of zip ties, duct tape, campers headlight, flashlight, Swiss army knife, WD-40, ...

Friday, July 11, 2014

The weapon of choice

For the first time ever, I have a choice of two bikes. My trusted ‘02 Suzuki Bandit 1200S (173,000Km) or my wife’s ‘05 Yamaha Majesty 400 (33,000Km). A 110hp sport-tourer that took me across the continent twice without a single hiccup, or a 34hp single cylinder maxi scooter that we bought a year ago for my wife so she can finally start riding herself.

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No contest, right? Well, not so fast.

I was always curious where all those unpaved roads lead to because the more remote the road - the more unspoiled the scenery. Therefore, I often rode "Suzy B" on surfaces she was not designed for, like mud, rocks and salt.

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Such riding is possible and enjoyable, but it requires a lot of skill, experience (something I lack off-road), concentration and strength, not to mention a healthy dose of guts in some instances. I can easily tough it for a dozen kilometers, but not for few hundred, let alone a thousand. Also, it can get scary when the surface is too soft/deep. Picking up the fully loaded Bandit from the ground that offers no traction can also be a big challenge (take pictures, take all the luggage off, push-pull her up or find help, put the luggage back on, examine, clean, fix…).

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The bike is quite heavy (I estimate about 250Kg without luggage), the center of gravity is pretty high and I can barely put my feet on the ground for support. I have to be careful with the throttle, feather the clutch, pay attention to what gear I’m in and go very easy on the brakes - all at the same time. The power and torque of that engine can be quite counterproductive on loose surfaces. Packed dirt and gravel is fine, but the ride gets progressively more tiresome and uncomfortable when it gets looser and deeper.

On the other hand, maxi scooter is a very different animal. Power delivery is very smooth and controllable, mostly thanks to the CVT. Even if you whack open the throttle it won’t wheelie or power slide, yet the acceleration is strong enough to get away from most cars (many wannabe drug racers have been taught that fact by yours truly). The closest analogy I can think of is a slingshot with a long rubber and a heavy pebble. The acceleration starts gently, but raises steadily and ever more steeply to about 70Km/h. There it levels out a little, but it’s still good to about 120 or so. All the while, no shifting and no clutching, just open the throttle and let her go. On top of that, it stops better and easier than the Bandit, with most of the braking done by the rear wheel - a true advantage in the loose.

Ride comfort is noticeably better compared to the Bandit. Seat is wide, long, soft enough and low enough for both feet to reach the ground. Handlebars require no lean forward or back to reach them which drastically reduces arm, wrist and shoulder fatigue and makes steering more natural. I can shift my legs to several different positions, from sitting like on a park bench to the cruiser-style feet forward. Wind protection is very good, the wide and full fairing, tall windscreen and hand guards leaving only arms and knees somewhat exposed (but not nearly as much as on the Bandit). The center of gravity is low, the wheelbase long and steering rake  sharper, which should all help handling on gravel/dirt. It’s also much easier to pick up when dropped, and I can "Flintstone it" around if need be.

Of the negative sides, there’s less room for luggage, the top speed is about 140Km/h, the range is about 250Km, suspension is stiffer and with less travel, ground clearance is lower, wheels are smaller and I don’t have a good GPS for it. None of that should give me any trouble on this trip, except maybe tank capacity due to long distances between gas stations. Oh yes, it’s going to get a winter car tire on the rear (“darksiding” is a theme for a whole new article) which I expect to further improve both grip and handling off-asphalt.

All in all, the scooter is much less demanding and more comfortable to ride, with trade-offs of less power and top speed, less sporty handling and rougher suspension. I wouldn’t take it to the desert where I was often blasting at high speeds for hours, but I think it’s better suited for this trip than the Bandit. I rode it on some sections of loose gravel before and impressions are quite positive. Time will tell if I am right :).

~6,000Km loop

The plan is to make a ~6,000Km loop that looks roughly like this: 


That's 600Km a day. I can ride that with my eyes closed on asphalt, but all those unpaved sections may slow me down considerably.

The only goals are to enjoy the ride and come back safely. Taking a motorcycle trip like this, especially alone, is a serious challenge that I’m not taking lightly. However, the attraction is irresistible and growing. Whichever way it pans out I’ll have plenty of stories to tell, pictures to show and memories to cherish.

Labrador and Newfoundland (Aug. 1-10, 2014)


The Trans Labrador Highway (TLH, for short) was in my sights ever since I first heard about it. It’s as far North-East as you can get on any road on this continent, and since it was fully complete in 2010 connects back to Newfoundland. On my unofficial remoteness scale it’s right next to Trans-Taiga Road, another “end of nowhere” road. It’s also mostly gravel and dirt, about 1,000Km of it (figure yet to be empirically adjusted).

Labrador is about the same size as Arizona, the seventh largest US state. The total population is 30,000, with almost two thirds living in two cities (if you can call them that). There are not a lot of people left to fill up the rest of its vast territory.

If at this point you are asking yourself “Why would I go there, especially on a motorcycle?”, don’t read any further. If, like me, you would like to ride it because it’s remote and a big challenge to get there - read on.

I finally decided to bite the bullet instead of waiting for ideal conditions (such as a bike better suited for gravel) and I’m riding it (the road, not the bullet :) ) August 1-10, 2014. I have three weeks to plan and prepare. Most of it, including the ride report will be documented here for your reference and enjoyment.