The end of another season

Calgary, by snype451

Winter time in Canada! (photo courtesy snype451)

Well, here we are again: the end of November, and the weather is turning. I guess we’ve had a decent autumn, which partly makes up for the lousy summer we had. Plus, during most winters the riding season never entirely “ends” exactly. It slows down a lot, but I generally am able to get a bike out at least once a month. That’s even considering my own personal winter safety rules, which state that I won’t ride when the sun is down, and I won’t ride when there’s any reasonable chance of sub-zero weather. Nor will I ride if the streets aren’t bare and dry. I guess we don’t have it so bad around here.

It is the end of our dual-sport riding though. We tried to get out this weekend but discovered at the last minute that my brother-in-law’s registration was expired. All the registries were closed for some province-wide outage so it was a total show stopper. First off, our local OHV sites close down for the winter in December. Second, that was my last chance to ride before I leave the country again!

Yes, I am headed Down Under once again — where women glow and men plunder. I’ll be there for approximately six months, leaving my bikes here to weather the winter inside the garage. I doubt I will be able to procure a motorcycle there, though who knows? If I can find something suitably cheap and reliable, I will do it.

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In the meantime, I will continue my fitness program while I am there.  That has been going shockingly well. I feel like an entirely different human being. It’s the old cliché: why didn’t I do this X years ago? Seriously though, if you’re even mildly considering it, do it now! My weight is down quite a lot, I sleep every night easily, my mood is so much better, my energy levels are so much higher… People accuse these programs of being “cults” and I can easily understand why. After two months of regular attendance, it is extremely difficult to not evangelize! I just want to grab and shake all of my friends and family and implore them to start going! But… I resist the urge.

Plus the training itself is actually progressing rapidly. My work output capacity has more than doubled since I’ve begun (we have a few benchmark workouts that we do periodically). I’ve got veins and muscles in my arms and legs again. I started out going three days per week, then I moved up to four days per week. Now I’m to the point where I am recovering quickly enough to go five days a week sometimes. The coaches are obviously still guiding me into the full program, and I spend a good deal of time learning skills and perfecting techniques. But under the direction of my coaches, all of the workouts are scaled appropriately for my own fitness and skill level, to keep me pushing hard without getting hurt or discouraged. It’s perfect.

Anyway, I look forward to my return home in six months. I have no doubt that if I can continue my program successfully while overseas that I’m going to come back very fit and strong, and ready to ride hard.

Motorcycle Fitness

KTM and DRZ in McLean Creek

Tyler next to his KTM 550 EXC, and my DR-Z400S in McLean Creek

About ten days ago, I was deep in the woods of the McLean Creek OHV area in Kananaskis. I was leaning against a tree on the side of a hill, and the DRZ400s was on its side beside me. The hill was steep and slick. The trail was polished by the quads spinning up the hill, and as a bonus they had dug deep hollows between all the tree roots. I stalled on a root “shelf”, and quickly dropped the bike to stop a slide backwards.

In total, I think I dropped the bike five or six times. The final time I dropped it, the starter relay just clicked at me, voicing the starter’s refusal to go any further. Luckily, I’ve had suspicions about my starter so I installed a kickstart kit earlier this year. I gave it a few kicks, but at this point I was too tired to really give it a serious go. So, with a bit of help from my brother-in-law, I shifted the bike over to a convenient spot to roll down the hill for a bump start. The bike started up, and the starter gave me no further trouble.

The real problem, though, was that I was sucking wind in a bad way. After lifting the bike half a dozen times, plus wrestling with it to get it straightened out and lined up for yet another run at the hill, I was exhausted. Once I was at the top of the hill, we stopped for a good long break. After that, we continued riding for another hour and a half, and generally had a good day. Regardless of the fun we had, that day I had to finally accept that I am in appallingly bad shape, and that it was preventing me from having all the fun that I want to have.

(courtesy Dzpc)

(photo courtesy Dzpc)

There was a time in my life, up until my early twenties, when I was in fantastic shape. I was a trained athlete, competing provincially and nationally in mostly long-distance and middle-distance freestyle swimming. The price I paid for this was that I spent five mornings and five evenings every week in hard training. Virtually every day for many years was spent recovering from the previous workout, and getting ready for the next. The benefit, however, was wonderful. I could jump into any physical activity or sport, go really hard, and have a ton of fun. What I lacked in practiced skills I could generally make up for with sheer endurance and strength.

Those days, sadly, are long behind me. I’ve got a lot of extra weight on me, and far too many years of chairs underneath me. My time at McLean Creek, however, has been the final straw: it is time to return to that level of fitness I once had, and keep it. It’s gonna take a while, but I know it’s worth it.

Naturally, it’s a two-pronged approach, and the first is nutrition. I already have some significant dietary restrictions that I try to live by, so adjusting to this isn’t too much of a challenge. I simply need to do what I know I must do, and I have the benefit of immediate feedback (ie several days of pain) when I go outside of what I can eat. It’s a strong incentive! So really it’s all about setting my good habits to fit with my needs, and eliminating a couple of bad habits. I don’t really have the option of some kind of temporary “diet”, it simply has to be the way I live for the rest of my life. This was a relatively easy start, since I’m already most of the way there and I just need to stop deluding myself about a few of my food-related vices… Nearly two weeks in, and I already feel infinitely better.

The second prong is exercise. I’m a person who needs a set schedule, professional coaches who keep me honest about keeping that schedule, a long-term program with objective measurements and goals, and (ideally) teammates for mutual encouragement and community. This is exactly what my previous training had, and it worked very well for me. As with the food, I don’t really see this as some kind of temporary program. It simply becomes the way I live my life now.  As of last week, I have found a program. The facility is clean and convenient, the coaches are sharp, supportive, and well qualified, and the other people are friendly and motivational. I am in the process of gathering data and establishing a context for some short, medium, and long term goals, but I’m optimistic. Plus, after a good solid first week of adaptive training, I’m well on my way to getting this as part of my routine.

Of course, I have a very long way to go. But I know that next spring, when it comes time to defrost the DRZ and head back into the trails at McLean Creek, I will be in much better shape to do it. Ideally, I will be returned to a healthy weight, and I know my physical conditioning will be infinitely better than it is now.

Klim Badlands Pro: Long term review

The Badlands (and the previous version: Badlands Pro) represent Klim’s contribution to top-of-the-line Adventure Riding gear. These are fully-featured, spare-no-expense garments, intended to go around the globe in comfort and safety. The only burlier offering from Klim is their Adventure Rally series, which seems to be somewhat more geared towards hardcore rallying rather than RTW adventure.

I’ve written before about my choice of textiles in two other posts: Review: Joe Rocket Ballistic textile suit. (11.0 jacket, 10.0 pants) and Joe Rocket update. In the second one, I mentioned how the Joe Rocket suit had let me down in serious rain, and how I was looking for another set. Though I didn’t write an update, I ended up settling on the Klim Badlands Pro Jacket and Pants. It was a long process, but in the end I settled on buying a set of gear that cost me more than some people spend on a motorcycle (north of CAD$1600). Naturally such a purchase requires a lot of contemplation. Maybe you’re thinking about it right now, wondering if you can find a way to justify dropping a rather large wad of cash on such a purchase? Well, if that’s your goal, then you will find such justification right here.

Klim Badlands Pro Jacket

Klim Badlands Pro Jacket

Feature short-list

The Klim Badlands (and Pro) gear packs a lot of nifty features. There are too many bullet points to list, but for the adventure rider the main features include:

  • 3-Layer Gore-Tex
  • Tough nylon, Armacor, and leather construction
  • Lots of useful pockets
  • Great D30 armor throughout
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Excellent rain protection
  • Comfortable at all times

I’m not going to exhaustively list the features, as there are lots of videos and sites elsewhere that do that. I’m going to focus on my experiences with the jacket and pants, and answer the bottom-line question: is it worth that ridiculous sum of money?

My testing of the gear

I bought this gear in the summer of 2013, mere days before my catastrophic injury. If I recall correctly, I think I ordered it before my crash, and it arrived after. I ended up taking it out for a few test rides in Canada before heading to Australia. While on that trip, I rode approximately 40,000 km on a DR650. I experienced every kind of weather, including +45C blistering heat near Kununurra NT, torrential rains on the west coast of Tasmania, snowy gusts in the Australian Alps, and everything in between. I wore the gear on outback

camping in southern tasmania

My camp site in Southern Tasmania, featuring the Klim jacket on the back of my DR650

highways at 130+ km/h on the Sturt Highway (yes, legally), through the bulldust and dirt on the Oodnadatta Track, and through Tasmanian forests on the Jefferys Track. Since I’ve been back to Canada, I’ve worn them through another 20,000 km of road use, and many days of off-road use at McLean Creek OHV park on my DRZ400. It has seen a lot of hard use in three years.

Although I’ve never had a high-speed dismount on asphalt, I’ve certainly crashed it a lot in the dirt. I cannot speak directly about how this gear would hold up to a full-on crash on the road, but a fellow rider wearing another Klim jacket (the Induction jacket) survived a 100 km/h slide without any road-rash whatsoever. Also, having worn this gear and seen how it holds up under heavy use, I have no doubt that it would survive a high speed crash with grace.

So how does it hold up?

After three years, 60,000+ km, many hard days in the bush, and nearly a year of hard Australian sun exposure, it looks almost embarrassingly new… Just after I ran my gear through a wash cycle and re-applied a Gore-Tex water repellent spray this afternoon, my brother in law saw my stuff and said, “man, that looks like you just bought it”. And if you don’t look too closely, he’s right.

Klim Badlands Pro after three years

Klim Badlands Pro Jacket after three years

Klim Badlands Pro Pants after three years

Klim Badlands Pro Pants after three years

The jacket and pants are both still nearly 100% functional. The only exceptions are two missing snap buttons: one on one pant cuff, and one on the jacket. I could probably replace them if I got serious about it.

In fact, besides the snaps, there are really only three visible signs of wear between the two pieces. First, some of the soft material is slightly abraded around the neck, where my neck whiskers would abrade the material. When I was travelling, I certainly didn’t shave daily which meant that the ol’ five o’clock shadow could get pretty abrasive.

Very slight abrasion. See the orange on the neck line?

Very slight abrasion damage. See the very small orange along the collar?

Second, the inside of the Gore-Tex on the jacket is showing some wear. 3-Layer Gore-Tex often includes a soft fuzziness on the inside of the fabric that is mainly for comfort. It feels better against skin rather than the stiff Gore-Tex membrane. This fuzzy stuff is starting to peel off a bit. It’s 100% cosmetic, and really not a big deal.

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Klim Badlands Pro Jacket

Finally, the right leg of the pants has a few small holes in it, and some discoloration. The discoloration is because the oil filler cap on my DR650 vibrated out, letting oil spray all over my leg until I pulled over and plugged it. I cleaned the leg as well as I could, but a bit of that stain is still visible. The holes and scratches are the result of a rather nasty spill taken on the Jefferys Track. My leg slid along some rocks pinned down by the full weight of the bike. It’s a good thing I had my trusty Alpinestars Tech 3 boots on!

Slide damage on the legs

Slight slide damage on the leg

And how do they perform? Almost entirely good news…

In a word, they perform perfectly.

In the many times I’ve driven through torrential rain (including a memorable 600 km swim from Coober Pedy to Whyalla SA through the worst rains I’ve ever ridden through) I have never once been wet through the gear. My boots soaked through, my hands got soaked, and my face got wet. And that’s where it stopped.

During blistering heat in the top end, I managed to stay cool enough by simply opening every vent in the gear. It is very well designed: as long as air is flowing over the gear, a good portion of it will go through the gear. The leg vents let air circulate, and the upper body vents catch tons of breeze. About the only nitpick that I have here is that the ventilation gaps are so big that it is difficult to zip them without pulling over and partly disrobing.

The D30 pads are on par with the best integrated padding. Or rather, they’re identically that, because I don’t think anyone else competes, do they? Still, it’s built-in padding, and it is adequate at that role. They are comfortable enough and flexible enough, yet they stiffen up as they should when they feel an impact. The integrated chest piece is an interesting addition, and it’s better than nothing, which is what most other Adventure jackets provide.

These days, however, I’m not using most of the integrated D30 pads. I’ve taken out all but the hip pads, as I now use a compression suit underneath. I have a Fox Racing Titan jacket, and it fits perfectly underneath my jacket once I’ve taken out all the built-in pads. For legs, I also use full knee+shin pads plus my boots, so I’ve taken out the knee pads.

Finally, if you’re keen on a Leatt-type collar, keep in mind that only the over-the-jacket ones will really work with this jacket. My STX Jason Britton works fine, but if you want full-on neck-brace integration, you’ll have to go with the Adventure Rally series.

The bad news

Well, there isn’t much for bad news aside from the crippling price. Let’s see… Oh! The pocket for the water bladder is essentially useless: it’s a serious PITA to get the bag in and out. I’m told they’ve revamped that for the newest version, but I haven’t seen it myself. Second, there are two straps near the shoulders with velcro on the end that can be used to hold the collar open for even more air flow. These velcro tabs are a bit small, and the collar tends to break loose and flap in the wind a bit too easily. I think that’s about it.

My final verdict

I am entirely happy with my purchase. Yes, it cost me a lot of money. However, given that I’ve already spent something like 1500 hours wearing it while riding, that works out to be $1/hr. That’s $1/hr to be comfortable, dry, and well-protected. That’s compared to something like $5/hr that I paid for fuel. Plus, as a bonus, the gear isn’t really showing any serious signs of wear. I expect I should be able to get a few more years out of it without any trouble.

Should you buy it?

As with other things, I’d say: if you can afford this gear without it seriously impacting your ability to go travel and do what you want to do, then yes! However, you certainly don’t need to buy it. I knew that I was about to spend a year travelling through Australia, having only this gear to protect me while I was on the bike virtually every day. That allowed me to justify spending top dollar to get the fancy gear. But if I were just riding around home, maybe the odd trip to the coast or a weekend in the bush, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. It’s a huge pile of cash for something you’re only going to pull on to head to the local Starbucks. Having said that, I imagine that unless something drastically changes, my next set of gear will probably be another Klim Badlands set, even if I’m not going on another huge trip.

I really don’t know how it compares to any of the other “serious” gear out there. All I know is, the Klim Badlands Pro gear is some seriously excellent kit.

Motorcycle Camping: Food and cooking on the road

We’ll take a break from the shelters for a different topic here. Food is one of the most important daily considerations while on the road. It’s very easy to get into terrible habits and eat bad food while travelling. During my touring of Australia, I’ve developed a routine that keeps me, my insides, and my wallet happy. This has been developed for the traveller who spends most of the time travelling through or near some kind of civilization nearly daily for most of the trip. Most motorcycles need to refuel every few hundred kilometers, so unless you’re travelling through very serious terrain, you’ll rarely be more than a day or three out of contact.

Canister stove and Trangia setup. Courtesy of Mikael Korpela.

Canister stove and Trangia setup. Courtesy of Mikael Korpela.

Thoughts on camping cooking

I have a minor obsession with camping cooking, mess kits, and related items. I love collecting different stoves, testing different fuels, and experimenting with new techniques and gadgets. I’m definitely a guy who likes to likes to watch Hiram boil water. As you might expect, then, I thought for a long time about what food prep equipment I should bring along with me during my tour through Australia. I knew that I would be facing tropical conditions in the Top End, remote deserts in the Outback, mountainous forests in the southeast and elsewhere, coast beaches all over… It was a mixed bag.

Stoves and fuel

Fuel availability in Australia is straight-forward, as camping is extremely popular with Australians. For alcohol stoves such as the Trangia, look for methylated spirits (meths), available at just about any petrol station, hardware store, or outdoors camping store. Butane canisters are everywhere. Canister mixed gas for stoves like the MSR PocketRocket or others are reasonably available if you keep a full one around to tide you over during remote passages. White gas (known as Shellite in Australia) is just as easy to find as meths, and can be found in the same places. Solid fuels like hexamine/Esbit/etc are generally difficult to find in Australia, though they can be found.

The upshot is that nearly any common camp cooking setup except solid fuel is entirely practical nearly anywhere in Australia. One warning however: firewood is often scarce. Well… kinda. Firewood is often scarce in the vicinity of places that you’re camping in, because people collect and burn it (duh). Unless you are willing to travel to find it and then haul it back on your bike, you’re unlikely to find a lot. Exceptions exist, of course, and I did have a few campfires, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

Also, be very careful to follow fire ban regulations! Each state has its own regulations about what is not allowed during fire bans, and the penalties for breaking them can be severe.

What to cook?

For many, the “obvious” answer to this is dehydrated backpacking food. For me, it was definitely not worth it. This worked out to be about $10/meal for food of dubious quality. Sure, it would be ok for the odd meal or a single weekend, but for weeks or more? No way. While cost is an issue for this stuff, the biggest problem I find with these dehydrated meals is that they are often heavily weighted towards starchy and sugary calories. They tend to work out ok for the evening meal: boil up some water, rehydrate, eat, relax for a while and then let that pile of carbohydrates dump you into a starchy coma at bedtime. But at, say, lunch time, it’s a sure-fire way to make the rest of the day a snoozy yawn-fest. Also, eating this kind of stuff tends to pack on the pounds for me after months of travel.

Generally, that’s a big problem with a lot of the packable lightweight foods: they’re all starchy filler with little in the way of nutrition. All those empty calories from rice and pasta will make you feel a lot more logey and sluggish. Good quality proteins and fats, on the other hand, are much more perishable and less packable in general. Again, it’s fine for a weekend hike if you’re working really hard, but on the back of a motorcycle for weeks and months on end, it’s a great way to pack on a lot of weight and feel terrible the whole time.

One alternative is to try to carry non-lightweight food for cooking. I did this for a short while, but quickly found it unsatisfying and impractical. Mostly it means a lot of canned food. I was unhappy with this both aesthetically and because it means carrying a lot of heavy stuff.

The solution for me was developed during my first months of travelling, and stayed nearly unchanged ever since. It involved three important pieces:

  1. Ditch all the cooking gear.
  2. Eat easy stuff for breakfast and supper.
  3. Have a really good lunch.

Obviously this is Australia-focussed, but I think versions can be adapted for just about any location in the world where people normally live.

Ditch all the cooking gear

I was traveling with a Swedish military Trangia kit that I bought from Military Mart. This is one of my favourite cook kits of all time: robust and reliable. However, I found that all I was ever willing to do in this kit on an ongoing basis was boil water. Cooking any kind of real food made such a mess that I really didn’t like to do it. This was especially true in Australia, where clean water is often quite difficult to find while travelling.

Swedish military Trangia kit

Swedish military Trangia kit

I eventually sent my kit back to my home base, though I did keep a simple mess kit (Light My Fire) for general eating purposes. I was quite glad to rid myself of this cooking kit because it was some volume and weight gone. However, without my cooking gear, I was forced to keep it simple. This meant a change in my meals.

Quick, easy stuff for breakfast and supper

My breakfast and supper, nearly every day for almost a year, was a variation on the same general idea: mixed nuts and hardy fruit, plus occasionally some dry meat. The mixed nuts were whatever “good” mix I’d find at a Woolies or Coles, and a package would last a week or more. I also carried some kind of fruit: apples, oranges, or sometimes a big package of raisins or other dried fruit. If I managed to find a good non-perishable dry sausage or biltong, I’d bring some of that along too. In this way, it was easy to pack a solid week or more of food into a relatively small, non-perishable pack.

Be very wary here about what you buy! It’s tempting to stock up cereal/muesli bars and other packaged junk. They’re fine for a treat, but they’re expensive, sugary, and actually quite bulky for the amount of useful food they provide. Stick to real food.

Eat a really good lunch! Australian civilization version:

While breakfast and supper were mainly about eating something easy and fast that keeps me healthy and happy, I found lunch to be the best time of the day to have a solid hot meal. I usually planned my travel so that lunch time found me driving through a reasonable sized town. Even small towns in Australia usually have the three most important facilities for the travelling motorcyclist besides the petrol station: public washrooms, grocery stores, and picnic areas.

Australia’s public washrooms are great for that mid-day pit stop and wash-up. Every town has them, and they’re almost always centrally located, marked with street signs, and well maintained. They were my first stop of the day.

Next, I’d head into the local grocery store and find something for lunch. Often it would be chicken skewers or salmon fillets from the butcher’s case, supplemented with some fresh veggies like a small bag of ready-cut coleslaw mix and/or whatever other produce looks good. I’d refresh my breakfast/supper stock, and I’d top off my water supply.

Finally, I’d find the local picnic area. The great thing about Australian picnic areas is that they almost always have public cooking grills or flat-tops! These things are awesome. Most of the time they’re entirely free, though sometimes they take a coin. Press a button, and pretty soon you’re cooking.

Lunch in Rockhampton. Chicken skewers, cole-slaw mix, tomatoes!

Lunch in Rockhampton. Chicken skewers, cole-slaw mix, and tomatoes on the free flat-top!

This is a typical lunch, taken during my trip while I was in Rockhampton, Queensland. I always carried with me a roll of foil, a small container of oil, and some salt & pepper. Cooking this lunch was a simple matter of wrapping up the veg in a foil packet with some oil, salt and pepper (here I’ve torn it open to see that it’s done), making a “boat” for the chicken skewers along with a little oil, and adding another sheet to cook the tomatoes. I remember this lunch very well: it was absolutely delicious, quite affordable (~$10), and about as healthy as it gets.

It’s important to not load up on a big pile of starch here, unless you want to knock yourself out with mid-afternoon drowsiness.

This is the kind of lunch you can really look forward to every day. With a little creativity and some foil, there isn’t much you can’t cook on one of these flat-tops. You end up with very healthy, affordable, high-quality food without having to worry about perishable food or much in the way of cleanup.

Eat a really good lunch! Outback version:

While in the outback, it was a bit more challenging to have a good lunch like this. Even in Marree, at the start of the Oodnadatta track, I managed to find a picnic shelter with a working flat-top. However, the problem was to find good fresh food. Often times, my lunch+fuel stop would be at a roadhouse, the only building for a hundred kilometers or more. In this case, simply do your best and move on. Often I would get a “burger the lot”, consisting of a burger with fried egg, bacon, generic salad mix, beetroot slice, and sometimes onions, peppers, cheese, and/or other local additions. This was almost always a bargain at $12-$15, considering that a liter of water was usually $5 at a remote roadhouse.

Thankfully, my lunches at roadhouses were relatively infrequent.

Naturally, during the times where I was off-road for the entire day, I’d just have nuts/fruit/biltong for lunch. Surprisingly, I never really got tired of it.

Final word

Despite my devotion to camping cooking, in the end I found that actually carrying cooking gear was a needless chore. At least this was true for me in Australia, where I could find free cook spots in every small town. To this day, my short-term trips are all without camp stoves. I just don’t need it: I’m perfectly happy to have a quick and easy breakfast without all the fuss of fuel, cooking, and then cleanup.

While it’s true that North America doesn’t have the free flat-tops like Australia does, it is still quite simple to pick up a rotisserie chicken or other hot item from a local supermarket, combine that with some good fruit and veg from the produce section, and have a satisfying hot lunch at a picnic table. The options are bit more restricted, though hot entrees are now becoming a lot more common.

This is a viable approach in nearly all western/modernized countries, I believe. In other locations, e.g. southeast Asia, it’s not too difficult to find good hot lunches for a very reasonable price.

I could see this changing for extended travel, far away from any kind of town. Probably the biggest driver for this would be the need to boil water. The longer I’m away from civilization, the more important it is for me to have hot water, and for me the threshold is about three days.

Otherwise? Skip the cook kit. It’s unnecessary weight, volume, and hassle.

Motorcycle Camping Shelters: the ultralight hike tent

This is the third post in a series on camping shelters that work well with motorcycling. Stay tuned for several more posts in this series, and check out the previous one, Motorcycle Camping Shelters: the Australian swag.

Through most of my travelling, motorcycle camping has been at least a part of the journey. For me, camping is mainly about saving money. Although I have enjoyed camping for most of my life, I’m getting to the point now where I appreciate comfort somewhat more. Over the years, my ability to sleep well on hard ground has slowly diminished to the point where it’s become almost unenjoyable. I do still camp, but the motivation is to save money rather than in the camping itself. For this reason, I strive to maintain a minimum level of comfort that can sometimes permit me a half-decent sleep.

During my travels, I’ve tried just about every kind of shelter that can be carried on a bike, including a minimalist bivy, an Australian swag, solo backpacking tents, camping hammocks, larger backpacking tents, and even a purpose-designed motorcycle camping tent. In this series, I’ll describe my thoughts on each type. In this post, I’ll discuss the ultralight hike tent.

The ultralight hike tent

This is one of the most popular forms of shelter for motorcycle camping, probably because it’s the one that the most people already own when they begin. Also, it’s probably the most overall versatile shelter: it can fit one or two people plus a small amount of gear in just about any condition. I’ve used this kind of shelter in virtually every kind of normal weather, including snow, days of torrential rainfall, sweltering heat, extreme high winds, and more.

Denali Zephyr I

Denali Zephyr I

The tent that I’ve used the most for camping is the Denali Zephyr I from Anaconda in Australia. I’ve used other tents, including fancy technical ones from MSR and Big Agnes, but this one has travelled the most distance with me (and would be my tent of choice for a solo tent).

This was the first tent that I switched to after using my swag throughout Tasmania. I appreciated the swag a lot, but in the end it was just too big and heavy for my bike. When I went looking for a replacement, I wanted something small, cheap, and hopefully reliable. When I walked into Anaconda, they had begun their end-of-summer clearance, and the Zephyr I was on sale for a very reasonable $99. However, even full price ($209.99 at the moment) is a fair price for this tent.

The good stuff

There are many good points about this particular tent. First, as mentioned, it is very affordable. I think that a highly technical ultralight tent is probably wasted on motorcycle camping. For the most part, saving a couple hundred grams is a poor trade for increased durability. Motorcycle camping tends to be harder on gear than backpacking, and the ultralight fabrics tend to wear out quickly. Obviously the swag is the ridiculous end-member on the “cost vs. durability”, but the Zephyr I is no slouch. Its materials hold up to camping reasonably well for nylon, and it costs about the same as a few nights in a hostel. So it is no problem to replace it every few months if necessary.

Second, it did a good job in all weather conditions. It generally held up well under very strong gusty winds, though I did suffer a small easily-repaired tear in the fly due to flying debris. I spent a boring but dry three days in Strahan, waiting out endless torrential rainfall. I also remember a rather shocking awakening in coastal Victoria… The horror crept over me as I realized that water was running in a stream all around my tent, several centimeters deep. It was a good thing I had chosen my camp site as well as possible given the constraints of the campground, as several spots were pooled 30+ cm deep. Despite my horror, I was completely dry. The bathtub bottom worked as advertised!

Finally, it packs up VERY small! I find that volume tends to be a harsher constraint on motorcycle loading than weight. Certainly weight is important of course, but I find that the big poofy stuff like tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, etc take up huge amounts of volume that make packing a smaller bike challenging. The little Zephyr I packed up smaller than any other tent I’ve ever had. It does weigh in a good 400+ grams heavier than a high-tech ultralight from MSR, but I find it worth it.

The bad stuff

There aren’t too many bad points about this tent.

First, it is small — though I must say, bigger than many other solo tents. There is virtually no room for gear inside the tent. I had a tarp with me, so I had no trouble rigging up an external living/storage space for my stuff. However, on those long rainy days in Strahan I really wished I had a bit more room inside. I guess this is the price to pay for such a small packed size on the bike. When it was time to replace this tent, I went with a larger 3-person tent. Though it was a bit bigger when packed, the room inside when set up was well worth it.

Second, it is vulnerable to damage. One rather memorable wind storm on the east coast left me with a small tear in the rain fly due to a flying branch. It was easily repaired with the included repair kit, but a somewhat unluckier tear could have led to a catastrophic rip in that wind. Plus thorns and sharp rocks, common in various parts of Australia, can easily lead to punctures in the flooring. A groundsheet or footprint would definitely help here, but it’s not a 100% guarantee of safety.

Successful application of the ultralight hike tent

These are great for just about any kind of long term motorcycle travelling. For longer trips in risky weather, I’d go for a larger 2 or even 3 person version. It’s worth it for both the lounging room and the gear storage. They can be vulnerable to damage, but keep it affordable and it will be replaceable without too much pain. Consider a ground sheet to help with rough ground (Tyvek is a good option). A tarp may also help stretch a solo tent into a more comfortable shelter. Again, Tyvek is an option here, though I prefer a “real” tarp (such as the beauties from DD Hammocks).

Thus ends the hike tent post! Let me know if you have any questions or comments etc. In the meantime, I’ll get working on the next installment.

Motorcycle Camping Shelters: the Australian swag

This is the second post in a series on camping shelters that work well with motorcycling. Stay tuned for several more posts in this series, and check out the previous one, the minimalist bivy!

Through most of my travelling, motorcycle camping has been at least a part of the journey. For me, camping is mainly about saving money. Although I have enjoyed camping for most of my life, I’m getting to the point now where I appreciate comfort somewhat more. Over the years, my ability to sleep well on hard ground has slowly diminished to the point where it’s become almost unenjoyable. I do still camp, but the motivation is to save money rather than in the camping itself. For this reason, I strive to maintain a minimum level of comfort that can sometimes permit me a half-decent sleep.

During my travels, I’ve tried just about every kind of shelter that can be carried on a bike, including a minimalist bivy, an Australian swag, solo backpacking tents, camping hammocks, larger backpacking tents, and even a purpose-designed motorcycle camping tent. In this series, I’ll describe my thoughts on each type. In this post, I’ll discuss the Australian swag.

The Australian swag

Swags are an Australian type of bedroll. Traditionally, a swag is little more than a large sheet of canvas. The canvas is folded over in half, with the top half draped over the sleeper. The swag acts as ground sheet, cover from the elements, and insulation (often supplemented by a wool blanket liner).

The True Blue Mulga traditional swag

The True Blue Mulga traditional swag, which includes a foam mattress for extreme luxury….

Modern swags are more akin to small solo tents, but made from heavy canvas, often supplemented by bug nets, vinyl and nylon materials, and they include a thick foam mattress. Many models also include poles and guy lines.  Generally a swag is stored by rolling it up with sleeping bag or blankets and mattress all still inside.  So the swag itself becomes a very heavy and quite large roll of canvas, vinyl, and bedding – far larger and heavier than an equivalent backpacking tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.

ultimaz-300x300

The Ultima Compact Swag, a modern swag that includes bug netting and many other modern comforts.

During my travels in Australia, I bought and used the Ultima Compact Swag. It took me a long time (and a fair bit of actual camping) to understand why Australians would trade a typical solo backpacking tent, weighing in at less than 1.5 kg and with a packed size of 43 cm long x 15 cm diameter, for a “compact” modern swag like this one, which tips the scales at a porky 9+ kg and fills 45 cm long x 35 cm diameter. I did learn this reason, however, and it is one of my more prized bits of gear that I still use today.

First off, one big consideration is that the size and weight includes not only the shelter, but also the sleeping mat and sleeping bag. The tent solution would require an additional sleeping bag (~1 kg) and mat (~1+ kg for an equivalent thickness compared to the included mattress in the swag), plus the volumes of each. Granted, the swag is still more than double the weight and volume, but it’s not as bad as it first appeared.

Ultima Compact Swag packed up on the back of my DR650.

Ultima Compact Swag packed up on the back of my DR650.

Second, easily the most important reason to choose a swag is its brutal toughness. While a tent is made of e.g. lightweight 30-d nylon fabric and the mat is self-inflating and vulnerable to punctures, the swag is 15 oz canvas and heavy-duty vinyl with a dense foam mat that is impervious to punctures and damage. Camping on a soft forest floor in Canada poses few challenges to a backpacking tent that can’t be easily handled with a 75-d nylon footprint. Australia, however, is very different…

Tribulus terrestris

Tribulus terrestris, the bane of bare feet and all things inflatable!

These little bastards are horrible. Tribulus terrestris is just one example of a plant that produces horrible spiky nutlets that can cover vast swaths of ground. Pitch a tent on top of these, and you will have hundreds of holes through both footprint and tent. Inflate your mat, and it will puncture and deflate from a dozen wounds. Sweeping the area is futile, as they are everywhere and even a single one will cause catastrophic damage. Even if you did manage to clear an area, more will inevitably be tracked in inadvertently sooner or later.

Enter the swag! With its monstrously tough materials and unkillable foam mattress, it is ideally suited to these conditions. The swag survives as a viable product in Australia because it can be rolled out onto nearly any surface without too much concern, and it will survive the harsh and damaging conditions that are common across the country. Furthermore, the materials are much more resistant to long term setup and abrasion. A wayward spark from a campfire is not catastrophic, and it would easily survive a hailstorm that would instantly shred a backpacking tent.

Successful application of the Australian swag

The swag definitely has a role to play in motorcycle camping. I used it quite happily for a while, though eventually the size became more annoying than the benefits it provided. It was just too big and heavy to carry on the DR650. I think a swag would have been absolutely perfect if I had a larger bike, like the Moto Guzzi Stelvio that I currently ride. If I had been touring Australia on a large ADV bike like that, I’m quite sure I would have carried the swag the entire time, and used it very happily.

Therefore, the Australian swag is probably an ideal shelter solution for a long-distance traveller in a harsh environment on a larger ADV bike.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my brief introduction to the Australian swag and its potential usefulness to the motorcycle camper. Stay tuned for another exciting shelter overview coming soon!

Motorcycle Camping Shelters: the minimalist bivy

This is the first post in a series on camping shelters that work well with motorcycling. Stay tuned for several more posts in this series!

Through most of my travelling, motorcycle camping has been at least a part of the journey. For me, camping is mainly about saving money. Although I have enjoyed camping for most of my life, I’m getting to the point now where I appreciate comfort somewhat more. Over the years, my ability to sleep well on hard ground has slowly diminished to the point where it’s become almost unenjoyable. I do still camp, but the motivation is to save money rather than in the camping itself. For this reason, I strive to maintain a minimum level of comfort that can sometimes permit me a half-decent sleep.

During my travels, I’ve tried just about every kind of shelter that can be carried on a bike, including a minimalist bivy, an Australian swag, solo backpacking tents, camping hammocks, larger backpacking tents, and even a purpose-designed motorcycle camping tent. In this series, I’ll describe my thoughts on each type. In this post, I’ll start with the minimalist bivy.

The minimalist bivy

MSS 4-part bivy by Tennier Industries

MSS 4-part bivy by Tennier Industries

I have used the Modular Sleep System (4-part) by Tennier Industries. It’s commonly called the MSS, and is generally sold as military surplus in the US. I paid something like $80 including shipping for my entire set on eBay a few years ago. However, these systems seem to have gone up in price.

The system features 4 parts: a light sleeping bag (green), a heavier sleeping bag (black), a full GoreTex bivy (woodland camo) and a black stuffsack to store it all in.

I started out using the entire kit. I quickly realized that the truly valuable part of this system is the GoreTex bivy. The sleeping bags are much heavier and bulkier than modern sleeping bags. They are somewhat more durable than modern bags, but I find most of this benefit is made irrelevant by the GoreTex bivy, which does an excellent job of protecting the bag. Now I only use the bivy itself, paired with a much better sleeping bag and a smaller stuff sack.

The bivy is absolutely excellent for what it is. It is pure 100% 3-layer GoreTex. It is tough, reliable, waterproof, and most importantly for me: roomy! Most bivy bags are painfully small and claustrophobic. There is no such problem with this bag. I slip sleeping pad inside the bivy with me and sack out on the ground. The bivy keeps me clean and dry, all for a very compact and lightweight solution.

There are problems with the bivy, however. First, and most importantly, it has no bug screen. This means it’s only suitable in areas where bugs are non-existent. Most of my time in Australia was spent in areas where you don’t want friends crawling in with you in the night. However, in Canada where I spend some time camping above the treeline where there are fewer bugs, it works quite well, especially with a little repellent as backup. Of course, there are many solo bivy bags that include a bug net, and they work well.

Second, it’s a small bivy. There is no room to store any gear or to hole up in bad weather. Essentially it’s a fair-weather-only solution for shelter. In a pinch you could ride out some rain, but it’s not a long-term solution. There were times in my trip around Australia that I spent two or three days stuck in a tent waiting out virtual monsoon rains. This would have been impossible in a bivy. If you add a tarp and/or a bugnet to extend its usefulness, you’ve essentially built yourself a small tent solution, but likely at a heavier weight and with a less convenient overall experience.

Successful application of the minimalist bivy

I’d say the most appealing application for this setup is the overnight dual-sport backwoods adventure. For taking my Suzuki DR-Z400S out on an overnighter deep in the bush, this would be ideal. Paired with the smallest sleeping pad and sleeping bag you think you can get away with, this will pack into small soft panniers alongside a toolkit and emergency gear to give you just enough to get through a night. It probably won’t be the most comfortable sleep ever, but hopefully you’d be tired enough to not care too much. And since it’s just for one night, the weather forecast should give you reasonable warning of an incoming downpour. If you use a bivy with bugnet, it’s a bit more flexible but other drawbacks remain.

That completes my short discussion of the minimalist bivy! I’m not really much of a bivy guy myself, as I tend to favor thicker sleeping pads, protection from the bugs and the elements, and more room to store and protect my gear. However, they certainly have their place. Let me know what you think!

2014 Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX: Review after a year

356048_1_2014_Moto_Guzzi_Stelvio_1200_NTX

2014 Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX. Look at that gorgeous beast!

Last February, I splashed out on a brand new Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX. I bought the model year 2014, on for a good clearance price. The only difference between any of the Stelvio NTX model years is the colour of the paint.

The stock motorcycle is delivered including many parts that are optional on other big adventure bikes. Included in the MSRP are: SW-Motech racks and panniers, bash plate, crash bars, hand guards, and auxiliary lights. The only accessory that I added was heated grips, which I believe are a necessity on a Canadian bike for touring. I’ve mentioned the Oxford grip heaters before, and they integrate perfectly with this bike’s built-in grip heater switch. I got my dealer to throw in the OEM ones, but the Oxford ones are just as good if not slightly better.

The Stelvio NTX represents a fantastic value for its price. I would say the only other bike that offers as much value as the Stelvio NTX is perhaps the newer Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure. I considered that bike very strongly when purchasing this one, and it was a close call. In the end I chose the Stelvio NTX for a few reasons:

  1. Maintenance
  2. Performance
  3. Personality

I’ll go into each point during my review.

I’ve travelled over 14,000 km on this bike, and I believe I have a good feeling on this bike as a sport-touring bike, an every-day around-towner, and an adventure bike. I have also performed most of the routine maintenance on it, and I feel like I know what it takes to keep this machine running strong.

Sport-touring

Alberta isn’t exactly a motorcycle touring paradise. We have tens of thousands of kilometers of straight, flat road. However, I have taken the Stelvio NTX into British Columbia on several occasions: I’ve done trips to Radium and Canal Flats, Kamloops, Vancouver, and Victoria. Cruising the smaller mountain highways, especially the Crowsnest Highway along the southern border, is an absolute joy. She cruises at highway speeds in smooth and confident comfort. The handling is superb, better than any litre-sized sport-touring or Adv/touring bike I’ve ever ridden, including the BMW R1200GS, BMW R1150R, Suzuki GSF1200 Bandit, and the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure. Sweeping high-speed corners on the NTX are endless fun, with the suspension providing a solid clean planted stance through even the roughest mountain asphalt.

The shaft drive introduces an interesting dynamic that is familiar to any shaft-drive pilot. On idle at stop lights, a twist of the throttle gives a sideways twitch that can feel unsettling to the uninitiated. However, this also adds to the personality of the Stelvio NTX. It’s something I appreciated on my R1150R as well: the twitch and rumble of the engine at low idle is viscerally appealing, though perhaps it’s a taste that a few may not share.

The Stelvio NTX’s 1200cc engine is a big part of the charm of the bike. Pushing out 105 hp / 77 kW @ 7250 rpm and 113 Nm / 83.3 lb/ft @ 5800 rpm, it is certainly capable of respectable performance, though it isn’t anything truly groundbreaking. The real key to this engine, however, is in its performance throughout the RPM range. Dyno charts (such as those found here) match my own experience with the bike. The torque curve is very nearly flat from 2500 RPM all the way up to 8000 RPM, with a step up around 4500 RPM. This reflects my own butt-dyno, which tells me that she lugs very cleanly in the lower RPM range almost like a 650 thumper, but as soon as I push it up to about 5000 RPM and beyond, it pulls away like a Bandit. Ok, sure, it redlines at 8000 RPM instead of 12000+, but those 3000 RPM are thrilling. She’ll pull hard up to 200 km/h and beyond, and provides a stable and smooth ride at that rate (or so I’m told….)

Every-day riding

As an every-day around-town bike, she’s decent but not ideal. It’s a big bike, and with the ADV stance it’s quite top-heavy. It has a long turning radius, but the balanced stance and smooth low-RPM idling allow for  reasonable parking lot maneuverability.

The weight of the bike is something that often comes up in reviews. Frequently, reviewers mention how much heavier the Stelvio NTX is reported to be compared to the R1200GSA, yet they are universally surprised at how much lighter it feels to drive than they were expecting. Well, it turns out that some folks on advrider.com looked into this, and they found something surprising.  When both bikes are equipped the same, with crash bars and bash plate, panniers, auxiliary lights, and the same amount of fuel, the weights come out to 279.5 kg for the Stelvio NTX, and 280.5 kg for the R1200GSA. That is, they are essentially exactly the same weight. The reviewers are probably making a simple mistake: the Stelvio NTX official published weight spec is a wet weight that includes all factory stock equipment such as panniers, lights, crash bars, etc. The R1200GSA, on the other hand, does not come standard with everything, and so its published weight doesn’t include it.

Adventure Riding

The Stelvio NTX is an “Adventure Couch”. It is intended to be a sport-touring bike that is capable of travelling off-road when conditions demand it. While there are a few YouTube videos of people doing rather ambitious rock-crawling and single-track riding on these bikes, it’s more realistic to imagine these bikes travelling down fire roads, forestry roads, and back-country 4WD trails. For these purposes, the Stelvio NTX performs very well. Any cleared trail that is passable by standard passenger vehicles is easy and comfortable on this bike.

That’s not the extent of this bike’s abilities, however. My other motorcycle is a 2009 Suzuki DR-Z400S. I like riding this bike in our local OHV trail systems, and with my brother-in-law, we’ve spent many days zipping around the single-track and quad trails on our little bikes. However, the OHV trails are a good hour from the house, so it’s a weekend-only activity. In the evenings, we like to take the dual sport bikes out to some vacant light-industrial zones just on the outskirts of the city. There we can find excavated pits, partly leveled sites, plenty of dirt berms and piles, and lots of good low-key terrain for having fun on the dual sports. One day I decided to take the Stelvio NTX to this site and try it out. I switched off the ABS and traction control and eased the big girl off the asphalt and into the dirt and gravel of our local “training grounds”. I was rather surprised with what I found.

The Stelvio NTX handled the dirt very well for such a big bike! Easily the limiting factor was my own ability. She climbed rough and steep 45 degree inclines without trouble exactly as I would have done on the DR-Z: in second gear with clutch slipping for control. She descended the same slopes just as comfortably. Baby-head stones were no trouble for the suspension, and slow going was easily controlled with low RPM creeping.

However, there were three things I didn’t like about the Stelvio NTX off-road. First, the clutch pull was rather tiring. Considering that it’s essentially the clutch out of a small full-sized car, that’s not surprising. Fine clutch control becomes a workout for the forearms after a few minutes. Second, the clearance is a bit too low for seriously technical terrain. I found myself brushing the center stand on occasion. Third, that center stand gets in the way of my big flipper feet when I’m trying to stand on the pegs. For any hard off-road travel, it will have to be removed I think. This is likely only a problem for those of us with big feet (Euro size 47).

Maintenance

The Stelvio NTX is a Moto Guzzi. I have a Moto Guzzi dealer in my city, and there are actually quite a few dealers across Canada. However, it still isn’t common as a Japanese or German dealer. With a bike like this, a certain amount of self-reliance goes a long way towards having a bike that is fun to own and ride.

There are two factors that make this relatively easy for me. First, parts are readily available online. There are several North American major online parts dealers that keep just about anything one could need in stock, and so far I’ve generally had everything delivered within about a week. My experience with my Japanese and German bikes tells me that my local dealers often don’t have the parts I need in stock locally, so it’s a wash in that respect. Second, the Moto Guzzi motorcycles are easy to maintain. For example, valve adjustments are a trivial matter, even simpler than the same job on a BMW boxer engine due to the upwards angle of the heads. A full valve adjustment and oil change takes less time than just an oil change on my friend’s KTM 950 Adventure…   Very few special tools or equipment are needed to do just about any job on the Stelvio NTX.

Moto Guzzi museum at Mandello del Lario

Moto Guzzi museum at Mandello del Lario

The Stelvio NTX, however, is a Moto Guzzi. In contrast to the Japanese and German bikes, which are manufactured on robotic assembly lines in massive numbers, the Stelvio NTX is hand built in a picturesque factory near Lake Como, Italy. Sure, it has a romance to it, but it also means that it misses out on the ultra-optimized quality control that the other manufacturers can afford. The Stelvio NTX has experienced few serious failures, though there are a handful of small issues that should be addressed by the new owner before even the first ride. For example, the auxiliary lights share a fuse with the charging system, and if they happen to short out internally, they will blow this fuse. This will have no immediate consequences, but it can leave a rider stranded if the bike fails to start after shutting down with low battery. The fix is simple: install a low-amp fuse to protect the charging fuse (or just remove the lights). There are a few other little possible gotchas that can be avoided by a little preventative work.

So, in summary, the Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX favours an owner who is comfortable working on their own machine. It is designed to be easy to maintain and repair, and parts are easily available. However, as a hand-built motorcycle, it also has a few quirks which are easily remedied but should be addressed early in ownership.

Final word

I imagine it probably comes through in this article: I love the Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX. It does everything I wanted, from sport touring to Adventure riding. It is easily a match for any other sport touring bike I’ve ever ridden, without any qualification.

On the Adventure side, it is also a match for any other large ADV bike I’ve been on. I’ll only comment on the ones that I feel strongly about.

vs. BMW R1200GSA

It has all the qualities that I love about the R1200GSA, without the drawbacks. Let me start by saying that I do love the BMW boxers from a pure riding point of view. They are great, comfortable, fun bikes. However, the actual ownership of one makes me unhappy.

I have personally experienced many of the most common flaws in the modern boxers, including a destroyed final drive, clutch slave cylinder, and clutch line corrosion, and I’ve experienced the dubious joys of tracking down a suitable replacement telelever shock in a relatively remote location. I’ve seen first hand just how many hours it takes to even expose the clutch etc, and I never want to do it again. Nor do I want to pay the shop hours for someone else to do it. I also do not like the over-gadgetification of the modern BMW bikes, as I value reliability and ease of maintenance/repair over fancy features.

About the only thing I’d like to have from the BMW side is the aftermarket accessory support. I do slightly envy e.g. Touratech’s pillion seat luggage rack. However, I gladly trade those accessories for the ability to very easily maintain everything on my bike.

Now, if I were a rich man, I might consider the S1000XR. But I’m not. And if I were looking for a mid-sized bike, the F800 series would be very high on my list. But I’m not.

vs. KTM Adventure 1190 / Super Adventure 1290

I don’t have a lot of serious experience on the newest iterations of these bikes, so I can’t be too critical either way. However, based on other Adventures I’ve ridden, surely these must have an edge off-road. The KTM bikes would have been a strong contender if their price was anywhere near the price of the Stelvio NTX. However, similarly equipped, the KTMs come in well over $20k, which is just too much for me. Also, my experience with the 950 Adventure and a 525 EXC tells me that the KTM bikes are optimized for performance, with very little accommodation for ease of maintenance and repair. Furthermore, I’m not really looking for a hardcore off-road bike with this. I’ve got my DR-Z400S for that stuff.

 vs. Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure

This is an interesting bike, and I came very close to buying a V-Strom 1000. As much as I love the Stelvio NTX, I’m sure I would be similarly enthusiastic about the V-Strom if I had chosen it. The value is unquestionable, and they have a long history of solid reliability and extremely happy owners.

So why did I not choose the V-Strom? I guess in the end there were two reasons. First, the Moto Guzzi is a simpler to maintain. From what I understand, the V-Strom isn’t bad, but the Moto Guzzi is just so easy. I really like a shaft drive. Second, the Stelvio NTX is far more cool. It sounds better, it looks better, and it feels better to drive. I did spend a couple of days on a new V-Strom 1000 when I was in New Zealand, and I enjoyed it. However, it didn’t have the character of the Moto Guzzi. It didn’t sound as good, it didn’t feel as growly and powerful, and it didn’t handle as beautifully.

Anyway, that’s my feeling on the Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX. I love it a lot, and I look forward to many years riding on it.

Dual Sport and ADV Touring

Since my last post, I was in Canada working for a while to build up some cash reserves. Then I went back to Australia for three months, but this time was more for research purposes (I am a scientist) and no motorcycling was involved. This was especially painful as I was in Tasmania, which is easily the best motorcycling location I’ve ever seen in my life. Now I’m back in Canada for the foreseeable future (which extends approximately three months into the future).

I’ve mentioned my Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX already. She is a fine machine. I have taken her on a few trips to the coast and around here quite a lot. I’ve done about 14,000 km over the past year and a bit that I’ve had her, so it’s reasonable distance for Alberta but nothing really impressive.  In that time, I’ve had zero problems and have enjoyed riding it thoroughly. The maintenance is very simple to perform given a few tools (most notably a carb sync tool and the computer interface cable, both easily available online for a total of about $200). I bought the Morgan Carbtune and the Lonelec cable kit and I have been entirely happy with both. I have previously mentioned the BMW R1150R that I owned in New Zealand a couple years ago, and this Stelvio has everything I loved about that bike, and none of the things I hated.

Stelvio at Okanagan Lake

Okanagan Lake, summer 2015

The Stelvio, however, is without question an “Adventure Couch”. It is a sport touring “adventure” bike with an upright seating posture and off-road styling: in intent and capabilities it is indistinguishable from the BMW R1200GSA. Given enough skill, it is possible to ride this bike through some gnarly stuff, and it is certainly capable of around-the-world travel, as Andrea Livio has shown:

I have not pushed it to those limits, but I have spent some time in local OHV areas exploring some of the easier trails.

Last summer, however, I picked up another bike that has consumed a good portion of my riding time: a 2009 DR-Z400S ! She is a lovely machine, reminiscent in many ways of my sturdy DR650 though quite a bit smaller and more nimble. She is also very affordable (Kijiji abounds with listings of DR-Zs in great shape for less than $5000).

IMG_1113

My DR-Z400S near Canal Flats, BC

My brother-in-law also got himself a dual-sport, and we like to take them out to McLean Creek whenever we get a chance.

KTM and DRZ in McLean Creek

Tyler next to his KTM 550 EXC, and my DR-Z400S in McLean Creek

So I suppose I’ve split my original KLR into two bikes: the big couch for long-distance touring, and the little DS for local trails and mud. I love the DR-Z quite a lot. It is easy to maintain, needs very little modification (I’ve added some case guards, a seat concepts seat, barkbusters, and doubletake mirrors).

Tyler and I are currently planning an entirely backwoods route across the rockies to get to Canal Flats. We’ve got it marked out to go from the Forestry Trunk Road near Chain Lakes through to Elkford, and then to Canal Flats. I intend to get lots of photos, and if we make it through I’ll also see if I can post my GPS track! Stay tuned for more…

Bike Security on the Road

While I was travelling, I was always somewhat aware of the possibility of my bike being stolen or vandalized. Whenever possible I parked inside locked gates. Failing that, I made sure my bike was parked as close to the door of my motel room, or beside my camp spot, or generally as close as I could get it. I also had my bike fully insured, including the value of all the additions to the bike. The difference in the actual insurance cost was small (less than $200 overall) but at least I’d get something back if the worst were to happen.The most likely scenario would probably have been vandalism and/or theft of my gear, especially for something like a DR650. However, during the entire trip, I’m not aware of even one single person ever coming within six feet of my bike without me present. I believe this is the result of using the Stealth Tarp!

Stealth Tarp in action

Stealth Tarp in action

For whatever reason, with Stealth Tarp engaged, nobody noticed my bike. Without it, people would often walk by staring at it. I spent a lot of time at electric BBQs and picnic tables in rest stops cooking meals. Frequently I’d be a good 25m from my bike, sitting and eating lunch. From there, I could observe my bike from a distance where people weren’t aware I could see them. Without the tarp, people would stare, look at the stickers on the windshield, laugh at the pink fuel tank, marvel at the size of my majestic fuel tank, etc. With the tarp, however, not a second glance… They didn’t even notice the bike. It was unreal just how effective it was. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself over and over.
When camping, I always covered the bike with a tarp. It kept the rain and dew off, and it reduced the bird invasion. It didn’t take me long, however, to begin stretching the tarp over my bike nearly any time I left it for more than a moment. This is something I will carry forward into my current life with my new bike. I highly recommend it for all motorcycle travellers!
Of course, disc brake locks, alarms, and other security features are always a good idea. If somebody really wants your bike, they’re going to take it, but the point is to make it not worth the hassle. Part of that is making it hard to steal, and part of that is making it less tempting of a target. Undoubtedly a “pro” bike thief wouldn’t be blind to my bike simply because of the tarp, but it certainly made the kids much less interested in poking around.