Shrinking The Planet – One Ride At A Time

product review

Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins (Final Chapter)

Seward’s spectacular ocean beauty and sea life had left us slack jawed with amazement. It seemed that each time we went to a new location in Alaska, there was another gorgeous scene ready to unfold directly in front of us. But this day, there was another reason for our slack jaws and now droopy pouts. Today, we were to head back to Anchorage to end our Alaskan and Canadian Yukon adventure.

We had seen so much and met so many wonderful people, that we were indeed quite sad to be beginning the end of our journey. So with really heavy hearts and quite furrowed brows, we packed the bikes and headed northwest towards Anchorage. I can honestly say that the pace was purposely slow and the bike to bike communications between Kim and I were at an all time low; each of us lost in our thoughts and remembrances of the journey we had just experienced.

As we made our way to Anchorage, we took a meandering route to extend our time a bit more. The roads slowly and quietly hissed under our tires, interrupted only by the crunch of gravel and slight wobble of handlebars as we made our way over several sections of road under construction. Each time I was almost immediately returned to the hundreds of miles of gravel we had just covered. Soaring mountains capped with snow, glaciers creaking, groaning and calving new icebergs into a churning sea, wild animals roaming free and unafraid of man, soaring birds and amazing scenery could have conspired to effortlessly lift me from the bike and forever transform me from an itinerant observer to a permanent part of the landscape. I’d just become another part of what is the amazing natural life force that is Alaska. And if it had, I would have welcomed it.

But Alaska did not reach out and grab either Kim or me and we rolled into Anchorage late in the evening, very tired and each upset that our adventure was over. We’d get up leisurely in the morning, grab breakfast and ride over to the shipping agent. There we would unload our gear from the bikes and pack it in our suitcases for the plane ride home. We’d grab a cab back to the hotel and the following afternoon, catch a flight back to Boston and then drive home to NH. The agent would then crate the bikes up and send them home to NH.

The following morning dawned with decent weather and we walked to the Golden Corral near the hotel for breakfast. Believe it or not, Kim loves Golden Corral. Really! She had a hearty breakfast and I enjoyed seeing her enjoy it so that brightened the morning a bit. Well I thought to myself, that’s going to be the highlight of the day.

We walked back to the hotel and jumped on the bikes for the ride over to the shipping agent. We offloaded the bikes and took a few moments to take stock of our situation. Our two little trusty steeds had indeed done an excellent job and performed admirably. Kim’s Suzuki DR650 and my KTM 640A never missed a beat in over 2,400 miles of pavement and gravel riding. To be precise, they covered 2,430.1 miles with over 900 (almost 1,000) of that being on gravel. They hauled a pretty heavy load including the riders, their riding gear, survival equipment and camping equipment.

Not once did they sputter, stall or break down. They carried us through torrential rains, deep mud, asteroid sized gravel and did not so much as cough. The were filthy, covered in dust, mud, and the Denali and Dempster Highway’s calcium chloride.  If you are not familiar with it, calcium chloride, is sprayed on dirt roads as a dust preventative.  It is slippery as snot when wet and almost impossible to remove once dried. In fact, years later, there’s still traces of it on Kim’s DR’s exhaust.

Nonetheless, these two trusty machines carried on without complaint.  The least we could do was give them a quick wash before boxing them up for the long journey home.  So we did.  The cleansing process helped ameliorate some of my dour mood and washed away some of my angst.  The physical contact with the machine and the slow rubbing, scrubbing and rinsing that was necessary to remove only the top layers of grime was like a balm to my raw feelings of having to leave; and in some way, I got the feeling that the bikes felt better too.

Rinsed and ready for crating, we rode the bikes back to the agents and got a taxi to the hotel.  There we sat in the room wondering what to do with ourselves until the following afternoon.  It was not more than twenty minutes when the phone rang.  It was Tracy, the gent who sought us out in Dawson City and whose acquaintance we had made only as a result of a conversation we had with a couple we met in front of Mt. McKinley.

Tracy lived in Eagle River. a town just outside of Anchorage.  He knew we were headed out of town the following day, but wondered if we would like to go for a ride with him and his wife MaryLee today.  Damn!  We had just dropped the bikes off at the shipping agents and they were probably already well on their way to being crated I told him.  I think Tracy could hear the despair in my voice because he immediately said, “That’s not a problem, my brother Chuck has plenty of bikes and he can lend you both one!”

Well I don’t smile with my teeth showing much, but in this case Kim immediately knew something was up and asked what was making me smile so much.  I told her and almost immediately her expression matched mine.  Two Cheshire Cat grins coming right up!  We immediately jumped into the rental car and drove to Tracy’s house.  We got the nickel tour and headed over to his brother Chuck’s house.  He had a fine collection of bikes.  Chuck said, “Choose one.”  Yikes!  It was difficult to choose, but ultimately, I chose his R100RS PD and Kim chose his R/65GS.  They  were great machines.

Before we knew it we were off and riding as a group.  We rode through beautiful mountain scenery and some awesome horse country in the Matanuska Valley.  Then we headed over to Hatchers Pass where we took a brief ride into the pass but were forced to turn back due to poor road conditions.  We then headed over to a most unusual Alaskan farm.   What’s unusual about an Alaskan farm you may ask?  Well how about if the farm grows musk oxen?  They are indeed unusual creatures.  Raised for their fur which is very warm, they are quite large, sound like tigers when they vocalize and can be quite aggressive when provoked.  They were very interesting animals.

We spent an excellent day just wandering around Alaska and before we knew it, it was time to return the bikes to Chuck.  Little did we know it, but he had one more surprise waiting for us.  When he arrived he showed us his beautiful Ural sidecar rig and literally insisted that we take it for a ride.  Who were we to argue?  So we jumped on with me as the “driver” and Kim as the passenger.  It was a blast for me.  As for Kim, I don’t think she was as amused as I was.  I had never piloted a sidecar rig and with changes in power, the bike changed direction somewhat.  So as we made our way down the road, we also made away across the road.  While I had the huge grin, Kim had the worried, I hope I survive fake smile on.  But she is a trooper and came through with flying colors (and uninjured I might add).

More quickly that we could imagine, the riding day was over and we had to say goodbye to Tracy, MaryLee and Chuck.  They had made our last full day in Alaska a wonderful day instead of a downer.  We still cherish our friendship with Tracy and MaryLee to this day and even went on another trip with them which you’ll hear about in another article.  After many goodbyes, we got into the rental and drove back to the hotel to catch some sleep and get ready for the next day’s flight.

When the following morning dawned, we had reconciled ourselves to the fact that we were leaving Alaska.  We grabbed breakfast and Kim was once again in her glory at the Golden Corral.  Tracy and MaryLee knew that I was a pilot and mentioned that there was a seaplane base and an aircraft museum next to the airport that we could visit if we wanted to kill some time before our flight home.  So off we went and we watched seaplanes taking off and landing for a while.  While I have several “ratings”, I do not have a seaplane rating and watching them only increased my desire to get one.  Watching the bird get up on the sponsons and then break contact with the water was exciting as was watching them glide easily and smoothly onto the water’s surface, some more smoothly than others.

We then walked over to the museum and learned a bit about Alaskan aviation history and how much a role aviation plays in Alaska.  Not only did they have historic displays, they also had static displays of various aircraft from fully restored and flying to in need of restoration and in pieces.  It was all very interesting and a great way to spend the morning and early afternoon.

But before we knew it it was time to head to the international airport for the flight home.  We had spent the morning with small aircraft which do the day to day job of ferrying everyday Alaskans and their goods from point to point.  These aircraft are literally the lifeblood to many remote Alaskan communities.  It was similar to our small bikes on our journey.  They had carried us and our gear from point to point and provided us with the marvelous opportunity to observe some of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon.  We hope that someday we will be able to once again journey to Alaska and the Canadian Yukon and like Alaska’s small aircraft travel all over Alaska on our little motorcycles that can.


Sidi Adventure Goretex Boots – Mid Term Update

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote my initial impression of the Sidi Adventure Goretex Boots.  In that time I’ve had easy pavement and gravel rides lasting for hours as well as some fairly spirited single track woods riding with friends and can say that the Sidi Adventure goretex boots have come through with flying colors.  Smooth tarmac, loose gravel, mud, rocks, water crossings small fallen trees and hidden obstacles have all been easily dispatched by the watertight armored boots that can.

So what do I mean by all of this?  Well on the pavement, smooth gravel and just plain walking about where outright boot performance is not put to the test and comfort is the deciding factor, the Sidi Canyon goretex boot has been up to the task and the more appropriate choice.  On the other hand, the Sidi Adventure goretex with each wearing, seems to become more and more comfortable.  I would not rate it as comfortable as the Sidi Canyon goretex, but comparing the two is like comparing an armored car and a tank.  Both can do protective jobs, but you’d only really bet your life on the tank in all out war.

The Sidi Canyon is the armored car, protecting you from small arms fire, like light gravel roads and the average rain storm.  The Sidi Canyon gortex is the M-16 tank, capable of securing the troops from all sorts of mayhem, such as big rocks, trees, water crossings and the like.  The trade off is that you are a bit more cramped in the tank than in the armored car, but when you need to protect yourself at all costs, bet on the Sidi Adventure goretex boot.

One thing I really like about the Sidi Adventure goretex over the Sidi Canyon goretex is the stiffer sole.  Not that noticeable while walking, it is immediately noticeable while standing on the pegs, especially when taking any hits.  Far less jolt is transmitted to the feet and to my 50+ year old feet, that is a godsend.  For some, that may represent a tradeoff in “feel”, but if you’ve ridden in motocross style boots, there will be as much if not more feel in the Sidi Canyon Adventure than in a pure motocross boot.  However, if you’ve only ridden in street boots, you’ll notice the extra stiffness and that may take some acclimation time.  It should be no big deal.

There have been reports of squeaking with walking but I’ve yet to experience it which is a good thing.  I’ve read reports that if it does occur, WD-40 or such lubricants will stop the noise, but the downside is that they generally dry up and would require reapplication.  However as I said, I have not experienced any squeaking in over 3 months use to date.

The Sidi Adventure goretex boots are also fairly heavy, significantly more than your average street boot.  But if you are going to buy the Sidi Adventure goretex boot, you should be a more off road oriented rider, otherwise you are wasting your money.  You’d be better served buying the Sidi Canyon goretex which is less expensive and more on road oriented.

So when all is said and done, are the Sidi Adventure Goretex boots worth their significantly lofty price?  For those people who spend a good deal (i.e. more than 50% of their time on gravel or off paved roads, but still want a boot that is comfortable and usable on the street; the answer is a resounding yes.  They can be the single pair of boots that do it all for you.  On road, off road, woods, walking about, these boots can do it all.

But if you do more than 50% of your riding on pavement, you may want to look at less expensive alternatives.  The Sidi Canyon being one since they can do 75% of what the Sidi Adventure can do and is signficantly less expensive.  In any event, you can’t go wrong with either of these boots; it’s just that to me, a more off road oriented rider, the Sidi Adventure Goretex boot represents a very smart choice.

Ride2Adventure – Shrink The Planet One Ride At A Time


SENA SMH-10 Bluetooth Motorcycle Communicator Eval

Communications are probably one of the single most important topics on trips that are undertaken that are not solo.  To ensure that everyone understands what is intended, we must all communicate the plan and we must do it well.  Well Kim and I have  used a number of the two way motorcycle communicators and we’d like to tell you about our experience with the Sena SMH-10.  Overall, we’re pretty pleased.

By way of background, the Sena SMH-10 is the first Bluetooth communicator we have used.  Previously, we had used the Collett series of radios the last being the Collett Platinum 900.  While we found the communicators to be good performers, we did not find their reliability to be so great.  They do have a 3 year 100% warranty and Collett does honor their warranty well, but who wants to have the down time associated with yearly repairs which is what we experienced.

So back to the Sena’s.  Overall we’ve found the range performance of the Sena to be pretty good especially considering that it is a bluetooth device.  Sena claims a reception range of “up to” 980 yards (900 meters).  We’ve found that the distance in unrestricted terrain to be somewhat less, perhaps 500 – 700 yards at best.  Frankly, if you are riding with friends, how often are you more than a quarter mile from them?  If you are going to be that far away, perhaps you should call them on the phone, eh?  For us however, the real world test of performance is in more restricted space such as in the woods or around corners in twisty terrain.  Here, the range of the Sena varies significantly.

If you are in the city and are several turns ahead of your riding partner cut off by buildings, range is signifcantly decreased.  The same goes for being in the woods.  The more dense the terrain, the shorter the range of the communicator.  However, we can say with confidence that with all our adventure riding in non-densely wooded terrain, the Sena has given us totally acceptable reception.  This is really important to me as I like to know how Kim is doing when we are in the woods and I don’t always have her in sight.  I believe the same goes for her wanting to keep tabs on me.  As far as range goes, we’ve seen as little as 100 yards in the woods, but frankly we were really buried in there.  If you’re looking for a communicator strictly for the woods, you probably do want to look elsewhere though.

As you can tell from R2ADV, we have ridden all over the world and we ride in all sorts of weather and conditions.  We are constantly riding in the rain.  Pouring rain; as in downpours for hours.  We continued to use the Senas in these conditions and we can report that the Sena did not suffer an water related failure in 2 years of use.  That’s something that the Collett couldn’t claim.  We ended up returning the Colletts 3 times in 3 years for repairs.

We also ride a lot of gravel and in very dusty conditions.  Both in South America and during last years Trans American Trail ride, we rode extensively in very dusty conditions where visibility was almost nil due to the bike in front or an ocassional vehicle we caught up to or passed coming from the opposite direction.  We literally were covered in thick dust at the end of the day and the Senas still worked flawlessly.

The Sena’s charge fairly rapidly.  Ours are the V3.0s and the V4.0s are now widely available.  The V3.0s will fully charge in 3 – 4 hours.  Sena claims that the V4.0 will charge in 2.  We can’t confirm that claim since as we said earlier, our experience is with the V3.0. but it seems a bit strange to this non-engineer that a firmware update would reduce the full charging time.  Perhaps an EE can comment in our comment section and voice an opinion.

Ultimately, after two full hard years of use, we have experienced some problems with one of the Senas.  One unit must be positioned just right to receive a charge.  It seems that there is a poor connection inside the unit.  In addition, the audio has become extremely distorted and has almost become unuseable.  It transmits well, but the receive audio is so bad it is almost impossible to understand the incoming communication.  Since the Sena comes with a 2 year warranty and these units are out of warranty.  Unfortuately, we won’t be able to test Sena’s warranty support on the older failing unit.  However, we do have a replacement pair that were shipped to us new in non-working condition, so we’ll let you know how Sena handles their warranty service as this plays out.

So when all is said and done, would we recommend the Sena SMH-10.  The answer is a fairly enthusiastic yes with a couple of caveats.  As long as you are not depending on the Sena SMH-10 for 100% woods riding, or very long distance communications, the Sena is a pretty good tool.  Our experience has been with these kind of electronics, a couple of years use is about what you can expect to get for service.  Priced at about $300 for a pair, they are not inexpensive, but for the communications, added bit of safety and overall communications, we think they are worth it.

We hope you found this review helpful.

Mike and Kim

Ride2Adventure – Shrink The Planet One Ride At A Time


Aerostich Roadcrafter 1 Piece Suit Long Term Test Ride

For about six years now, Kim and I have been doing nearly all of our daily and adventure riding in an Aerostich 1 piece Roadcrafter suit.  We thought that perhaps you’d like to know a bit about the suits themselves and how they’ve performed for us.  The short answer is “remarkably well” with only a couple of reservations.

So let’s talk a bit about the suit itself.  With its “armor” inserted, it’s big, fairly heavy, and at first not really easy to get on and off.  Are you put off by this?  You shouldn’t be, because here’s the complete story about the suit.

The suit is made of 500 Denier Cordura (i.e. heavy weight) which is highly abrasion resistant and which although not as abrasion resistant as leather, is pretty damn good.  It’s also made of man’s single greatest accomplishment in textiles since the first diaper; Goretex.  I am convinced that Goretex was a divine miracle of some sort.  Water resistant (nearly water proof) and breathable, this fabric can keep water out and breathe (letting hot damp air out) at the same time.  If you have ever ridden in the rain on a warm/hot day and you are wrapped in the sauna of an non-breathing rain suit, you know the miracle that Goretex represents.  You stay dry and cool.  Nice!

There are some bugaboos however.  Downpours of greater than an hour or so will ultimately overcome the Goretex fabric and you will get wet.  Light rain or drizzle for extended times can be handled without issue and you will stay dry.  One issue that does occur on a hit or miss basis depending on the suit is what’s been known as “Aerocrotch”.  After extended periods in the rain, water can accumulate in the crotch area of the suit and ultimately soak through leaving you with a wet crotch.  It’s uncomfortable riding with a wet crotch and even more so when you arrive at your destination and you take off your suit with that “I just pee’d in my pants look.”  Strangely, this doesn’t occur in all suits.  I may have something to do with the fit of the suit.  For example, I can get Aerocrotch, but Kim does not.  Hmm….

I do note that Aerostich has redesigned the zippers of the one piece Roadcrafter suit and they claim the Aerocrotch issue has been solved.  They are now offer retrofitting of old suits with new zippers and I was so satisfied with my suit that I sent mine in.  Unfortunately, I still get Aerocrotch on occasion.

The suit has plenty of vents to let air in.  One opens across the entire portion of your back and there is one under each arm that travels from mid-bicep to mid ribcage.  There are also two hip vents just behind the hip pockets.  As a result, as long as you are moving, you can get quite a bit of cooling air through the suit.  Our experience has been that you can be comfortable in the suit as long as you are moving into the high 80s, low 90s.  However, if you consistently must travel in a lot of stop and go traffic with temperatures in the high 80s or greater, you might want to seek another option.

A total of 4 large pockets are available as well as zippered pockets that allow access to your pants under the suit.  You can carry just about anything you could possibly need in this suit.  There are two velcro closable pockets on the thighs of the legs, a large zippered compartment on the chest, one on the left arm and two large pockets where pants pockets would normally be.

The neck and wrists are adjustable for size (and air flow) with velcro tabs.  Options galore exist for the suit including clear map pockets for thigh, arm, made to specification sizing, extra comfort neck material.  You should really go to their website at http://www.aerostich.com/roadcrafter-one-piece-suit.html to check out all the options.

After you learn how to put the suit on, it is really, really easy to get on and off.  Literally, you can get the entire suit on or off in less than 30 seconds.  Really.  When you first get the suit, you feel very clumsy putting it on or taking it off, but as you learn how to get in and out, and the suit softens up (it is a bit stiff when you first get it – sort of like blue jeans) you’ll put the suit on or take it off just as fast as you take off all your other clothes.  It really is that easy.

All in all, we really, really like these suits.  They have served us very well in our travels all over the world including our rides on and off pavement.  If you consistently ride in very hot temperatures in stop and go traffic, the regular Roadcrafter one piece suit is probably not for you.  However, we note that Aerostich has come out with Roadcrafter Light and Ultralight suits that offer less abrasion and armor protection but are reportedly cooler and lighter weight.  We have not tried either of these suits so we can not render an opinion on them.  Oh and BTW, if you ever have a problem with the suit, or want it reconditioned (which we have done after abusing our suits for 5 years), Aerostich has fabulous customer service and will repair and refurbish its suits for a nominal charge.  They offer the same service for crash damaged suits.

So what does this all boil to?  If we were to use a star rating system, we would give the Aerostich Roadcrafter one piece suit 4.5 stars.  We’ve seen a lot of suits and a lot of options, but the Aerostich Roadcrafter works best for us.


Sidi Adventure Goretex Boots – Initial Impression

I’ve had a little time to ride in Sidi’s Adventure Goretex Boots and have formed an initial impression of their performance.  On a sunny Vermont day, we were able to put in a little over 100 miles mostly on pavement with some dirt and gravel and a tiny amount of slimy mud left over from the Vermont mud season.  With temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s, we did everything from low speeds to some higher speed twisties, so we had a fairly good day and mix of conditions to get initial impressions.

In keeping with a more pure off road bias, the Sidi Adventures are a fairly tall boot.  If you are used to a “normal” road boot, you’ll immediately notice the increased height of the boot.  In addition, it’s also significantly heavier than many road boots so when you first pick them up to put them on, you’ll immediately notice the increased weight.  Once on though, the weight is less noticeable.  Also immediately apparent is the increased stiffness of the boot.  It’s not as stiff as a pure off road boot, but it is fairly stiff and it will take a bit of getting used to if you have previously only been a road boot user.  If you’ve been in pure off road boots before, the Adventures will feel soft.

I found that the boot was a bit fidgety to get on, particularly the upper buckle.  It’s nothing significant, but you will have to do a bit of adjustment to get the buckle to overlap correctly.  This will likely go away with use, but it was a bit of a fuss on the first few fittings.  Not a significant worry however.   On the other side of the coin, adjusting the length of the buckle straps couldn’t be easier and Sidi has done an excellent job here.  A mere snap of the strap downward releases it for adjustment and when you have it adjusted properly snap it up back into place and you are done.  Wonderful!

Once you get the boot on, one thing you will immediately feel is the security of the boot and that is a good thing.   Your foot and leg feel encompassed by the boot; not oppressed by it.  It’s stiff but it feels stiff in all the right places.  It has a large shin guard plate and guards at the ankles and shifting areas.   I felt protected in this boot.

The interior of the boot was roomy enough for my very wide feet which are EEEs.  Normally, I take out the footbeds of my boots and insert rubber insoles as well as a 1 1/4 lift due to a previous motorcycle/car interaction.  I can say that the interior of the boot was roomy enough to accommodate my lift but not my rubber foot beds which are thicker than the factory originals.  So I did have to go back to the factory original footbeds to use my lift.  To translate all of this, I’d say that the toebox and overall interior is fairly roomy.  If you have very narrow feet, you may want to think about adding a thicker footbed, but for folks with normal to wide feet, you should be all set.  As far as sizing goes, I wear a 8 1/2 US shoe and wear a size 43 Sidi Adventure boot.

Initially, the boot had a couple of hotspots in them for my foot and leg.  There was a slight squeezing at the side of my foot, but that eased up as the day went on so I don’t anticipate any problems.  The other noticeable issue was a hotspot on my right shin.  It seemed to be right under the beginning of where the shin guard started only on my right leg.  Once again, this let up as the day grew longer so I attribute this to a break in issue as well.

As was stated earlier, it was fairly chilly out with temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s.  I was wearing one pair of smart wool socks and my feet were always warm and toasty.  They seemed to retain the heat in my boot but never got wet/clammy and therefore did not get cold.  Again, thanks to the wonders of Goretex, these boots can breathe and breathe they do.  We did not encounter any rain or hit any water crossings during this ride, so I can’t comment on its waterproof capabilities at this time but I will update you later in our long term review.

The boots have a lugged sole and offer excellent traction on pavement, gravel or mud which we experienced on this ride.   Since I’ve only worn them one day, I can’t comment on the longevity of the sole, but it does appear to be the same sole as on my previous Sidi Canyon Goretex boots that are 3 full seasons old and the soles look like they have a couple more seasons in them at least.

So can I say that the Sidi Adventure Goretex are worth their lofty price at this point?  It’s hard to tell since this report is only on one day’s ride in the cold.  So once I get some more miles and rides on them in warmer (i.e. hot) weather, I’ll update you all with a long term update and let you know whether I think the boots are worth their high price.  But for the time being, it’s looking like a good investment!

Ride2Adventure – Shrink The Planet One Ride At A Time