I was never one to get into the ride with or without helmet argument. For me, wearing one seemed to make sense. During my short racing career, I learned that my neck was not up to the job of keeping my head from contacting the ground. That that orb of skin, bone and brain affixed to the top of my shoulders was pretty vulnerable. No matter how hard I tried, my head often struck the road whether my falling off was precipitated by a high side or a low side. So my choice was limited to what make of helmet to wear and whose rating system I should consider. Snell, ECE, BSI or DOT.
The choice of helmet has been made even more difficult with many manufacturers claiming that they have premium protection over the competition. You could spend less than $50 on a DOT sticker beanie, and less than $100 on an open or full face helmet. The choice is made even more difficult with helmet manufactures making all kinds of claims about the certifications they’ve obtained, while others have remained silent on the subject.
I used to think that having a Snell or ECE sticker on my helmet marked it as a quality helmet. Having a DOT or BSI sticker was OK, but not a sign of cutting edge protection. But over the last couple of years a debate has broken out as to whether these ratings were based on good science and real world situations. Some claimed that the Snell certification did not represent real world scenarios and resulted in a helmet that was too “hard” that would transfer more energy to the rider than a “softer” (i.e. DOT/BSI) helmet.
A major magazine did an article that questioned the ratings systems and postulated that indeed, the generally cheaper and softer helmets DOT helmets were a better alternative to the harder more expensive Snell helmets. From there a major firestorm erupted. If the ratings system didn’t tell the truth, what can we rely on when choosing a helmet?
Well arguably there’s a new sheriff in town and it is gaining wide acceptance throughout Europe and perhaps soon in the United States. It’s called the SHARP Helmet Safety Scheme. It’s based in the United Kingdom and it claims that it takes the best elements from each of the safety standards, while using a more rigorous targeted testing process.
SHARP evaluations take testing one step further than the other major certifications. Using a 5 star rating system, instead of just earning a “certification” SHARP ratings compare helmet performance against the SHARP standard and assign the helmet from one to five stars. Because of this, you can compare the tested results not only against the standard, but against other helmets.
So with all these choices, certifications and claims, what do you use to help you make a decision as to what certification you should trust when choosing a helmet? Want to know how your Arai RX-7 GP rates against an AGV GP Tech? You can compare them right on the SHARP website and get the star rating for each (in this case 4 stars for the Arai RX-7 GP and 5 stars for the AGV GP Tech). You can review all the helmets tested so far here:
The only problem is that they are still testing many makes and models of helmets so you may not find yours or the one you want to purchase. But we now have another source to assist us in making our helmet choices.
Are you even more confused now? I don’t know a lot about the exact science of helmet testing, but I do like having the ability to compare helmets against each other. What do you think?
As you already know, Kim and I do quite a bit of dual sport riding. When you get off the pavement, it’s nice to have a platform that permits you to move your weight around on the bike to assist your balance. It was with this thought in mind that I decided to try out ZipTy Racing’s KTM footpeg extension kit. Having ridden with them for a full season, I can say that these pegs have been an excellent addition.
Providing a wide and stable platform, it is now definitely easier to move around on the bike. In addition, the pegs are now so wide that weight transfers are a piece of cake. Not that weight transfer is that difficult, but having the extra length and width gives you the leverage to move the bike under your feet much more easily. I have found that I feel more planted on the bike and I am never struggling for good foot placement. Just about wherever I would want my feet to be, I can easily put them in the location I desire.
Although the platform is very wide, foot grip on the pegs has not been an issue. The pegs have deep cutouts between the base and teeth around the perimeter of the pegs allow dirt and mud to easily fall out. The inserts install very easily and securely and are available in four different colors: red, orange, black and silver.
All is not perfect however. The platform is very large so that when stopped, your foot placement on the ground is changed. You’ll notice that your feet are a little farther forward or back as you stand. If you place your feet in front of the pegs, care must be used when starting up again as the pegs have a tendency to contact your legs at the Achilles tendon. It’s not a huge issue provided you are careful. In addition, the pegs are so large that you definitely don’t want to use them in a competitive environment. Because of their size, dragging them at extreme lean is possible and you don’t want them hooking up with the ground when racing.
So overall, we really like these peg extenders. They provide a wide stable platform that makes riding more comfortable and easy. They are also at about $85, less expensive than other peg extensions or replacement pegs. If we had a rating system, we’d give these pegs a 4 stars out of five.
Over the years, things in my life have changed; a lot. I’d like to think that as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned quite a bit, hopefully become somewhat wiser, experienced life’s ups and downs and generally lived the life that I wanted, to the fullest. However, what is important to me now may not have been so important to me years ago and vice versa.
This came to me a little while ago as I passed through a small space where we keep the bikes and much of our motorcycle gear. A part of the garage that we lovingly call “The Shrine”. While there, I was hit with a revelation (pun intended) of sorts that over the years, perhaps my motorcycle helmets said something about me. For some reason that resides deep in my subconscious, I’ve kept almost all of my motorcycle helmets as well as many of Kim’s. Seeing them all sitting there lined up on the shelf, they spoke to me. You’ve changed, you’ve abandoned us!
They may be right. What was the single most important thing to me when I was younger was high speed performance. My fear of death or injury was practically nil. I can recall pavement escapades that today seem like insanity. Nowadays, high speed performance is not nearly as important to me. I now know when I fall off, it takes longer to heal and it really hurts! My focus is more on the ride itself and what happens during it, than going from point A to B as quickly as possible. Pavement riding, once the sole realm of my motorcycle riding is now secondary, and riding the gravel or woods is what really burns in me.
So as I stared at the helmets on the shelf, they spoke to me without speaking. Sleek, solid black Simpson Bandits in different versions cloaked with dark visors reminiscent of Darth Vader glared back at me. Several Arai RX series helmets adorned with factory racer replica colors practically screamed high RPM. The ones with the deep scratches from falling off during the years that I was competing in road racing told a story of excitement and falls. Then there were the helmets painted to my specs based upon my somewhat bizarre sense of humor; including one with an attached 18″ black braid of hair which contrasted with my bald head. Finally there were the visor-less dirt bike helmets and helmets designed specifically for adventure riding.
As I stared at them, I think they had a story to tell. They told me that my life had changed and my priorities were different. Perhaps they also reflected the importance I’ve assigned to taking things as they come instead of trying to catch a glimpse of life fueled with adrenalin at warp speed.
So do our helmets say something about us, or was that shrine driven revelation merely a dream?
Oh, yeah; one other thing. My current helmet is a fluorescent “Don’t Run Me Over” yellow. What does that say?
Ride2Adventure – Shrink the planet one ride at a time.
It’s no secret that Kim and I have been wearing Aerostich Roadcrafter one piece suits for years. You probably know that we really, really like them, so we wanted to be up front with our “bias” towards this piece of kit. That being said, we’ve had the opportunity to compare and contrast the differences between the standard Roadcrafter one piece suit and the newer Roadcrafter Light suit. We’ve literally ridden these suits tens of thousands of miles in extreme heat and cold. We’ve also ridden them for hours on end in dry, damp, rain and bucketing down rain. As such, we’d thought we’d offer our impressions of the suits.
Both of our original Roadcrafter suits have handled the years very well and we still use them on a daily basis. That being said, we’ve been riding in hotter and hotter locations and heat has become a more significant issue. Our recent trip along the Trans American Trail in the hottest, muggiest weather we’ve ever experienced, made checking out a lighter weight option almost mandatory. Ten or twelve hour days in the saddle in significant heat certainly makes the riding more difficult and potentially more dangerous.
So it was with some excitement that I ordered an Aerostich Roadcrafter Light for Kim for our wandering trip across much of Europe in mid July heat. Kim has a pretty off the shelf size frame, so I was able to order one right off the rack for her in grey and hi-viz yellow. It arrived in just a couple of days ready to wear.
The standard Roadcrafter is made with 500 denier cordura Gore-Tex with 1050 denier cordura in the ballistic areas (i.e. high impact areas). Both these deniers are much thicker and heavier than the 200 denier outer layer cordura Gore-Tex of the Roadcrafter Light. Aerostich claims that the Roadcrafter Light is has roughly two thirds the abrasion resistance of the 500 denier cordura. They don’t publish the denier of the ballistic areas for the Roadcrafter Light, but it seems to be similar to the ballistic material used in the standard Roadcrafter, meaning it is very sturdy.
There are significant differences between the standard Roadcrafter and the Roadcrafter Light. Think of the Roadcrafter Light as the evolution of the standard Roadcrafter. According to Aerostich, there have been numerous improvements including:
snap down collar,
removable rare-earth magnetic collar clasps,
water-resistant inner wallet/phone/iPod pocket,
adjustable impact pad positions,
inner pocket hook for accessory pocket
and a mini-carabiner helmet holder clip.
There are additional options, including:
Integrated Boot Raincovers,
Chest Impact Pad,
Chest Insulation Pad (Standard and Electric/Heated versions) can also be incorporated.
Having tried it on, Kim commented immediately it felt lighter than the standard Roadcrafter. The difference in weight is indeed very noticeable and it is significant. She also said that it felt ready to wear and exhibited none of that having to “break it in” feel. We note that although the standard Roadcrafter has a brief “break in” period, it eventually becomes like an old pair of jeans; very comfortable. Fit in the Roadcrafter Light appears to be the same and Kim thought it was quite comfortable. Getting in and out was also the same easy procedure as it is for the standard Roadcrafter.
Since the Roadcrafter Light has some claimed improvements, we thought it appropriate to discuss them. So far, the suit has been entirely waterproof. There have been no leaks and none of the previously dreaded Aerocrotch. The zippers do seem to have tighter teeth, but it has not effected the ability to zip or un-zip them easily.
The snap down collar (in the back) is easy to use and makes the collar snugger and easily closed. As you may know, there are now strong rare earth magnets in the base of the collar and in the collar tabs. They keep the collar down while riding so you don’t have to ride with the collar closed. They are very effective, however, perhaps a bit too effective. When you are suiting up and you want the collar up, you need to exercise a bit of care zipping up so that the collar doesn’t automatically fold down. This is a minor annoyance and if you had to choose between having or not having the magnets, you’ll definitely prefer that the suit have magnets unless you are riding in the Antarctic and the collar always has to be up. The water-resistant pocket seems to do it’s job, we’ve not seen any water in the pocket.
There is a very definite difference between the armor mounting in the two suits. The standard Roadcrafter has a sort of inner liner that has sewn in pockets to hold your armor. The Roadcrafter Light comes with separate pockets which you Velcro into the suit in the appropriate places. While the pockets stay in place once you position, Kim has found that she has to use a little more care when putting her booted foot into the suit, especially on the right leg where it does not open all the way. She’s never had an issue getting the suit on or off, it’s just that she needs to be more careful putting it on so that her boot doesn’t get hung up with the pocket. That said, if you don’t wear armor, this is a non-issue. If you do wear armor, it shouldn’t be considered to be a big enough issue to turn you off from buying the Roadcrafter Light. Lastly, the inner accessory hook and the helmet carabineer are nice to have, but aren’t anything spectacular.
We did not order the integrated boot rain covers, chest impact pad or chest insulation pad so we can’t comment on them or how well they do or don’t work.
Overall, Kim really likes the Roadcrafter Light and now wears it most of the time. If it’s going to be cold, she opts for the Roadcrafter standard, but in all other cases, she rides with the Roadcrafter Light. It is lighter, fits the same, watertight and packs smaller than the standard Roadcrafter. There’s really nothing not to like about this suit.
So if you are the type that always wants the most protection that you can get in a cordura suit, or you ride in mostly cold temperatures (i.e. 50 or below) you’ll probably want to opt for the standard Roadcrafter. But if you are ok with having two thirds the abrasion protection, in a lighter, cooler suit for $200 less, then the Roadcrafter Light may be for you.
You should really check out both suits yourself, but we thought we’d offer you our perspectives. Your perspectives may be different, so take the time to investigate what will work best for you.
I couldn’t have captured the essence of motorcycling any better. The end of the video just reaches to my soul.
Riding the TAT we’d been in rural areas for quite some time. But the deeper we ventured into Mississippi, we began to notice that we’d entered another level of rural and got the feeling that we had really passed into an era where time may have stopped for a while.
On the gravel, we found remnants of old farms and homesteads. It was a little mesmerizing riding through this part of the country. You could really get the feeling of old-time farming and people scratching a living from farmland carved from the thickly wooded earth. Each farmer cutting down trees by hand and pulling the stumps with horses or oxen.
By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.
Then suddenly, the farms disappeared. Fields gave way to forests once again. Forests partially relented and gave way to water. We were in the true wetlands of Mississippi. When I was a kid, we called these places swamps. We weren’t in a swamp, we were in the true definitions of wetlands. The swamps of my childhood were a smelly, litter infested, mud and still water mess. These were different.
Green and brown never mixed in such symmetry. The brown water was tinged with green and rolled lazily past the shores. Trees sprouted from the depths of the water on roots that gave the trees a “standing on tip-toes” look. The roots arched from the water forming a triangular base from which the tree trunk sprouted. Although they provided a platform out of the water for the tree trunk, the moss-covered roots reached away from the base and dove into the water. A clear sign that the tree needed water to survive. These rounded tubular roots were a natural straw, feeding the ever-growing trees life-giving nutrients and fluids. It was a great example of the circle that is life, be it human or otherwise.
We stopped to take a few pictures of this natural wonder and in the 30 minutes that we were taking pictures, not a single soul passed by. We were enjoying our frozen moments, but we had to get moving in order to make it to the Arkansas border for the day.
Before we knew it, we had transitioned into back onto hard surfaced roads and farms once again began made began dotting the landscape. Most were fairly large and crossing from one to the next took some time. We had passed several and as we rounded a corner and headed down a straight stretch of road, we came across a somewhat immovable object. There was a very large animal standing in the middle of the road.
Tracy had already ridden by the large animal but the rest of us were stuck behind. Kim saw it before I did and said into her communicator, “Oh look, there’s a cow in the road.” I paid more attention than I had been and sure enough, there was a very large animal standing in the middle of the road. I muttered into my comm back to Kim, “Um Kim, that’s not a cow, it’s a bull.” “Oh” was the somewhat unimpressed response. But the bull wasn’t going anywhere fast and he was in a somewhat testy mood. He stood his ground and stared directly at us.
Somewhat surreal, in a fenced field beside the road, a group of cows and calves stood at rapt attention watching and waiting to see what might happen. While the cows watched from the side of the road, the bull watched us and we watched the bull. We yelled at him and revved our engines, but still he remained unmoved. Now we were stuck. What could we do to get this bull’s attention and make him move? After a lot of shouting and revving of engines, I decided that we had to do something different. What could we do? There was only one thing left to do. I reached over to my handlebar and gave my NH approved street legal horn a blast. Said horn was of the rubber bulb type normally associated with little children’s bicycles.
After about the 6th “honk”, the bull slowly walked to the side of the road and stared into the brush. MaryLee took off in a flash and was past. Kim and I revved our engines, I engaged the clutch and… stalled my bike. Great! I immediately pushed the starter button and… silence. My battery was now dead, it had given up but we hadn’t. I kick started the bike furiously and it caught on the fifth or sixth kick and we were off.
With the bull facing to the right we rushed to the left side of the road and we were quickly past. Not happy with trespass, the bull immediately turned left and started chasing us! He followed for about 50 yards and then stopped. But in the end, I guess he felt had to show his bull chivalry and put on a show for the cows who had been watching.
With the bull dispatched, the next item on the agenda was to try to find a replacement battery for my KTM. I thought to myself, “Oh great, we’re out in the wilds of Mississippi. Where are we going to find a motorcycle shop and better still, one that is familiar with KTMs. As we trundled on, I resigned myself to kick starting my little KTM each time we stopped.
We hadn’t been back on the road for more than an hour when Kim called through the communicator, “Look on your left!” I didn’t see anything and motored on. She said “Turn around, there’s a KTM shop on the left!” Amazed, I said, “What? Did you say that there was a KTM shop?” “Yes!” somewhat loudly she responded, “turn around we’re going to pull in.”
I made a very rapid U-turn and sure enough, it was a combination farm store and motorcycle shop, complete with KTMs! I couldn’t believe our luck. I walked to the back of the store to the parts counter and asked them if they had a battery for a KTM 250XCF-w. Sure as heck, they did. They also had oil, filters and other miscellaneous parts that would come in handy. While I waited for the other parts I wanted, little did I know that Tracy had taken the battery, had it installed and I was ready to go. Wow, he had done that in the stifling heat and had never said a word about it. I was so grateful, I didn’t know what to say other than thank you. True friends are amazing. With a new battery in place, the bike fired right up and we were back on the road and hightailing it to our rest stop for the evening, a moored riverboat that was also a casino. The best part, only about $40 a night.
As we motored on towards the casino, we decided that the heat was too much and we needed to stop get into some air conditioning and quench our thirsts. We found a small roadside market and went inside. There we met some of the nicest people. One gentleman came over and sat down at our table and asked us where we were from. We told him a little about our trip and he told us about himself, his family and his farm. I was a great little chat, and I think he wanted to invite us over to his house for dinner, but just couldn’t get that part out.
It was just as well, as we’d walked into the market, there on the counter were two large gallon jars filled with picked pigs lips and pickled pigs feet. Help yourself. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to try that delicacy. But others had enjoyed it because both jars were only partially filled.
Having had a nice chat and cooled of in the air conditioning, we walked outside once again into the thick and muggy air. Kim was just finishing off her Coke when she decided that her “cool vest” had dried out. These vests are made to cool by being immersed in water and then as you move through the air, the water evaporates and cools you. “No worries”, I said, and quickly readied my hydration system to cool Kim off. One of the nice things about my hydration system is that it keeps the water fairly cold, especially when it had been filled to the brim with ice cubes that morning.
Before she could say anything, I had the hydration system going and ice cold water was shooting out at her. At first I don’t think she knew what to do. Be angry or be happy that she was being sprayed with ice cold water. Luckily for me, she liked it more than the initial shock and ultimately asked me to spray her all over. But I must tell you, when the water first hit her, her expression was priceless. Surprise, dread and relief all at the same. I was a wonderful sight and one that Tracy caught on film. It is one of my keepsakes from the trip that she and I now both enjoy.
A couple of hours later, we were pulling into the parking lot with our dusty and dirty little machines. We parked in front and went inside to the front desk outside of the casino. After about 15 minutes, we had our rooms and headed to the bikes to get our gear. We asked the doorman where we should put our bikes and he said, “Leave them right there, We’ll keep an eye on them for you.” Wow, we’d never been treated like that and after gathering our gear to go to our rooms, we left the filthy bikes next to the sparkling clean limousines. What a great scene!
Even better was our walk to our rooms. To get there, we had to walk through the casino. With people sitting at tables and at slots, we “moseyed” our way though. Some people were dressed to the nines and we had our own attire. Dusty riding pants and pressure suits were our wardrobe and they created a bit of a surreal picture. I just had to stop to take a picture of Kim. It came out wonderfully with Kim’s bright smile and dusty gear providing an amazing contrast to the well dressed people, flashing lights and ringing bells.
We’d had a long day, and it was time to turn in for a good nights rest. For tomorrow, we would make our way into Arkansas and start another hot humid day on the TAT.
With Tracy’s pannier repaired we were once again underway on the TAT. The day had been filled with enchantment and excitement and we wondered what other treats the TAT could drum up on this day. It wasn’t long before we would get a taste of some of the twists and turns of the TAT. Literally.
We found ourselves on a gravel road somewhere in Tennessee. The joy of travel sort of overwhelmed us and we just decided to go the way we thought we should be going instead of taking the time to properly assess where we were. What else could happen on this day’s journey? As the TAT wandered and snaked its way westward, we found that it still had a few tricks.
As we made our way, I guess we zigged when we should have zagged. Suddenly we seemed to be making a lot of turns when the route sheet said we should have been going straight. We had become wanderers instead of travelers and that was ok with us. Winding roads changed from gravel to asphalt and back to gravel. Soon we were pretty much lost but we were having fun.
We guessed where we were and turned left onto a gravel road. Shortly thereafter, we came upon a wooden bridge without guardrails of any kind and we decided it was worth a try. Boards laterally placed on beams comprised the base with with three rows of boards running along its length for each tire track. It was an easy crossing of a lazy stream and it sort of represented the kind of day we were now having. Easy going. We thought, what the heck let’s go and see where it led.
The road snaked through a short section of forest and then into an open field. Soon we found ourselves at a farm house with a gate at the end of the road. Wow, we had not been on a road, but we had been riding someone’s long driveway! A woman came out of the house and made it clear that we were on her property and she’d like us to leave.
By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.
We said we were sorry for trespassing on her property and soon she calmed down. We told her we were riding the TAT and told her a little about it. She said that we weren’t the only ones to ride down her driveway without permission and asked us to tell all those TAT riders that they should keep off her property. Well I guess we weren’t that far off course then. All those TAT riders on her property? We must not be that far off course then. We finalized our apologies and rode back the way from which we had come.
Soon we were back on the trail and going in the right direction. The roads were good to excellent and we were once again having a lot of fun, wicking it up a bit through some pretty rural areas. Tracy and Mary Lee had the need for speed more than Kim and I did and soon we had nothing but their dimming dust trail to follow.
But Kim and I were not worried, we knew they would stop and wait for us at some intersection ahead. We were enjoying ourselves and took our time dawdling along. The road was covered with a thin layer of pea gravel on top of some very hard dirt. Not super challenging, but enough to make the bike move around underneath you a bit. Kim was doing great and she was merrily chugging her way along and I was just as happy to follow in her wake and take in the sights.
About ten minutes after we lost sight of them, we once again found Tracy and Mary Lee. Tracy’s bike was facing the wrong way, parked in a shallow ditch at the side of the road. Mary Lee’s bike was on the correct side of the road but sat in the middle of her travel lane. The two of them stood standing at the side of the road and they looked like they were in conference. They stood shoulder to shoulder, looking across the road hands gesturing as if explaining some exciting event.
Kim pulled over and stopped beside them both. I on the other hand went past them and pulled off to the side of the road and walked back towards them. Now I could see that Kim was in discussion with Tracy and MaryLee. All were animatedly chatting at a level that did not allow me to hear what was being said. When I arrived at the group, they told me that MaryLee had just crashed but was OK. That’s strange, I thought to myself. Mary Lee’s bike is parked on the road and Tracy’s bike is in the ditch, but MaryLee crashed? Hmm….
They proceeded to tell us the whole story. It was a minor crash and Mary Lee’s bike had escaped mostly unscathed. The bike and MaryLee had only picked up a few scratches in the incident. The only remnants of her fall were some shallow gouges in the pea gravel.
I was amazed at Mary Lee’s enthusiasm. She had just crashed and was relating the incident more like a war story than something that had just happened. One thing we learned about MaryLee, she did not do anything half way. She either went for it all out, or didn’t do it.
It turned out that she too had her own little secret (to me anyway). MaryLee is the first Woman’s Downhill Bicycle World Champion and she knows how to ride bikes (obviously)! She was also an Olympic Nordic skier and has retained her competitive spirit and drive throughout her life. Every time Tracy wicked it up a bit, MaryLee was right on his tail, on all sorts of terrain. Her spirit is indeed impressive, but she was fairly new to motorcycling and at the speeds she sometimes traveled at, I feared for her safety during parts of the ride.
But Mary Lee was unfazed from her little get off and she was raring to go. All that was left of her crash was a small spattering of pea gravel and some marks in the road. She was ready to go and so were we. So once again, we hopped aboard our little machines and headed toward new trails.
The TAT was once again going to deliver special sights, sounds and smells. The trail squirmed and twisted its way southward leading us towards Mississippi. With the southerly turn, the temperature started to soar even higher. It was well over 100 degrees F, and the humidity was unbearable. It became apparent that we would soon need to stop to hydrate and rest.
Passing through a small town, we arrived at the Olive Hill Store. Inside it was cool so we purchased some drinks and decided to stay a while. The proprietors for the day were a pair of 16-17 year olds talking about things that kids their age discuss, while apparently running the store. Soon a friend of theirs came in and the two girls talked about their friends while their male acquaintance passed judgment on the girls friends. It seems that small towns are the same the world over, people just being people.
After our brief respite, we returned to the bikes for some more heat, humidity and amazing sights. Riding along, it soon became apparent we were getting to places where not many people go and time slows down. It seemed we were going back in time and we were willing time travelers to this very special part of the TAT.