I seldom need an excuse to ride a motorcycle, but having a specific destination can provide the motivation to tackle a tougher route or longer duration than would otherwise be the norm. Last weekend was a good example of this.
My good buddy, Mike, recently moved to Albany and wanted me to visit him at his new home. I was already planning on taking the Gixxer for a spin, so I decided to give my ride a destination. Of course, I wasn’t just going to buzz down I-5 (ick!) and back. I chose the long way ’round.
I left Gresham at 9 AM and rode due south to Deep Creek Road, which connected to Highway 211 just west of Barton. I followed 211 east into Estacada and veered left onto Highway 224 and familiar ground. There were numerous rafters on the Clackamas River and many cars headed in both directions between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station.
I stopped at the ranger station for a quick bio break, then headed south on NF46. I rode to Detroit without stopping, and maintained a spirited yet controlled pace. The temperature was warming up and by the time I got to Detroit it was already in the upper 70s. I ate a snack, filled up my tank with ethanol-free premium, and turned west on Highway 22.
This stretch of road, from Stayton, up over the Cascades to Sisters and Redmond, is busy and this warm late Spring day was no exception. I had to pass several slower cars, but kept my speed moderated for safety and economic sake — tickets are expensive.
In Mehama, I crossed the Santiam River into the the community of Lyons. It was my first time in that tiny town. Highway 226 west was my new route and I was impressed with how lush it was. This is a beautiful drive, and it exemplifies the beauty of western Oregon. The next town I came to was Scio. I continued south then west again on 226, past the community of Crabtree, and into Albany.
I got turned around in Albany and had to backtrack a few blocks to get onto the correct street to Mike’s house. I don’t have a GPS on my Gixxer and on the ride back I spent some time wondering where I could mount one in the cramped dash space of the sport bike.
Mike and I drove in his car to a nearby brewpub for burgers and BLTs and ice water. We were the only customers until a middle-aged guy showed up solo on his Harley-Davidson. He ordered a beer and Mike and I talked behind his back at how foolish we think drinking and riding is. That guy has his freedom to do what he chooses, of course, including the freedom to make poor choices.
I decided to backtrack the way I came, so I said my goodbyes to Mike and made it back onto 226 east bound. The weather had warmed up into the low 80s and was a bit muggy. The armpit and back vents on my Aerostich Roadcrafter did a surprising job of helping me stay relatively cool. I stopped for gas again in Detroit, before heading north on NF46.
There were many motorcyclists heading toward me and the waves were enthusiastic on both sides at how great of a day it was to ride. When I stopped in Ripplebrook for another bio break and to chug more water, there were a half dozen other riders doing the same thing. I saw a couple of Forest Service law enforcement vehicles parked at a boat launch on the way back on 224 into Estacada, but they paid me no mind.
I got back into Gresham at 4:20 in the afternoon, after riding 320 miles. I was hot, thirsty, and my helmet — which I had already cleaned three times during the day — was covered in bugs. The front of my Gixxer was even worse. It needs a thorough cleaning.
Part of my effort to embark on more off-road adventures is to properly equip my bike. The other part is to increase my skills. My first step was to purchase Dual Sport Riding Techniques on DVD from my friends at Aerostich. This video packs a lot of information in a very compact format (30 minutes), so it requires watching several times. It begins with a series of drills teaching the rider how to maneuver their adventure bike at slow speed. This sounds far simpler than it is. After watching the video a few times, I headed out to a friend’s house to practice.
The property I used is covered with grass and has several trees and small bumps that made an outstanding obstacle course. By putting weight on the outside peg and using my legs to support my body weight, I was able to take pressure off my throttle hand. This was important to maintain even speed in slow, tight turns. I quickly realized I can turn left much easier than I can turn right, so I focused on that skill by doing loops around and around trees in smaller radius circles.
Once I felt I had a handle on that, I began doing figure 8’s as well as riding up a small slope, then making a tight turn at the top and going back down again. Graduating yet again, I moved to the other side of the property where I roamed around fir trees and a small orchard, over bumps and roots. It wasn’t fast; the whole point was slow control. I challenged myself to making tighter turns, and was rewarded with being able to go anywhere I wanted through the trees.
By the time I got home, I was wiped out. I was no doubt tense because of the unfamiliarity of the process, and I’m sure I’ll be able to relax more as I practice. But after just a 45 minute practice session, I could tell that my skills had noticeably improved. I look forward to more practice sessions in the near future.
My next step is to get wider foot pegs and install Heidenau K60 50/50 tires.
Special Note: After a quick email to Touratech USA’s office in Seattle, they said I would not be able to keep my Givi top case once I installed my Touratech side racks. Fortunately, they were wrong. I had to remove the top rack in order to mount the side racks, but once they were in place, I was easily able to put the Givi top rack back on. This means I can have a hybrid luggage system mounted on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. I like my Givi V46 top case and was very happy to keep it.
For about a month now I have been using an Aerostich Courier bag when commuting to work on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. As you can imagine, the body position is rather different between these two bikes. The V-Strom has an upright, neutral position and the Gixxer has me leaning forward with my elbows practically touching my knees.
I use the Courier bag to carry my lunch, an iPad, an external hard drive, and a few other miscellaneous items. The total weight is around six pounds.
The bag itself is one large compartment. I purchased the additional pocket organizer that attaches to the inside panel (that presses against my back) with hook-and-loop fasteners. In this I store pens, business cards, a small notebook, and a few other small miscellaneous items.
I switched from using a Targus backpack with traditional shoulder straps and several external pockets, and so far I think I like the one big compartment of the Courier bag much better. It’s faster to get stuff in and out of the courier bag, and of course it’s easier to see in a single glance what is inside.
My biggest concern was switching from shoulder straps (plural) to a singular over-the-shoulder strap. Once the bag is slung over my head to the opposite shoulder, it presses against the flat of my back and I don’t notice it anymore after I get on the bike. Even when leaning forward on my Gixxer, the courier bag is comfortable and stable.
The hook-and-loop panel holding the main flap down is very wide and opening it can be rather loud.
I commuted to work through some serious rain the other day on my V-Strom while wearing my Aerostich Courier bag slung over my Roadcrafter one-piece suit. The bag remained stable and the contents were kept completely dry despite the heavy precipitation. I’m sold on the quality of this bag and wish I had purchased it long ago.
The craftsmanship of this bag is outstanding, just like that of my Darien jacket and Roadcrafter one-piece suit. The materials are solid and I can tell this bag is going to last me a very long time. Considering the very low price, I think it is an outstanding value.
Back in late May, I placed an order for a Roadcrafter one-piece riding suit from Aerostich. I chose a size 42 regular and had them rotate the sleeves forward to accommodate a sport-bike riding position. My custom-made suit came via FedEx yesterday and I took my first ride while wearing it.
First impressions matter, but I’ve learned that may not always be the case in riding apparel that needs to be broken in before they’re comfortable. Fortunately, my Roadcrafter fit me perfectly on Mile One. As with most specialized gear, it can feel a little awkward when you’re standing upright. It doesn’t get into its groove until you assume the position specific to the activity. You wouldn’t walk through a grocery store wearing scuba gear and expect it to fit right, but as soon as you get into the water everything would fall into place, so to speak.
Despite being a full-size suit, my Roadcrafter is surprisingly light. I expected it to weigh quite a lot, especially considering how much heavy-duty Cordura nylon and hardware goes into its construction. It is fully lined with a thin nylon material to prevent chaffing, and the protective pads in the shoulders, elbows and knees are discrete and barely noticeable.
Getting into the suit is counterintuitive, but the friendly folks at Aerostich include a ‘donning’ guide that makes it a snap. You hold up your suit and step into it right foot first, followed by your right arm. Then you insert your left arm into the sleeve. The unusual part is you engage the full-body zipper up by your throat and then zip it down rather than at the ankle and zipping up. Once I did it a few times, I could get into the suit in less than 15 seconds.
I threw my leg over the saddle of my 2012 GSX-R750 and rolled out of the driveway. Before departure, I opened both armpit vents and the vent across my back. The temperature outside was around 80 degrees so I anticipated being rather warm in the thick nylon suit. Surprisingly, I wasn’t any warmer than I am in my AGVSport leathers and noticed the Roadcrafter actually had a bit more upper-body ventilation. Most of this was from airflow down the back of the collar and across the center of my back. There are no vents on the legs, however, which may be an issue on especially hot rides.
Once I was on my bike, the suit felt like it disappeared. There were no hot spots or areas where the suit rubbed on a joint or limb. There was plenty of airflow from the open collar. It felt lightweight, too. I was immediately impressed.
I rode through Estacada up the Clackamas River Highway 224 to Ripplebrook Ranger Station and back again. During that ride I got sideways a few times and tested out how the suit felt at higher speeds. It was stable and comfortable, with no flapping or other detractions.
By the time I got home, my new Roadcrafter one-piece suit felt like an old friend. I look forward to many thousands of miles wearing it on my Gixxer.
I’ve been wearing an Aerostich Darien jacket for over 60,000 miles now, and if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts on the topic, you’ll quickly learn I value it more than any other single piece of gear I own.
It’s that good.
It’s about to have company. This morning I ordered a Roadcrafter one-piece suit from Aerostich, to be worn predominately while riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. The color scheme I chose was a black suit with blue ballistic accents.
A few weeks ago I spoke with a sales rep at Aerostich on the phone. He convinced me to try on a standard off-the-rack sized Roadcrafter first and ship it back before ordering a custom-made version. The idea is, you put on the standard model, get on your bike and see what adjustments would need to be made. It takes a bit more time, but the suit will be custom-made just for me and I plan to put tens-of-thousands of miles on it, so fit matters.
I’m glad I did. Aerostich shipped a Roadcrafter Light with upgraded pads to me. I tried it on, then sat on my Gixxer while it was up on the paddock stand. Once I got into my tucked riding position, I quickly realized the arms need to be rotated forward slightly. All other aspects of the fit were fine.
I called Aerostich and placed my order for the custom Roadcrafter, then I boxed up the Light and dropped it off at UPS on my way into work. Most Roadcrafters take 8-10 weeks to make and ship, but fortunately the wonderful folks at Aerostich back-dated my request to my first call back in May. I should hopefully see my new suit within the next 7-8 weeks. I’ll report more when it arrives.
I just returned from a solo 5,000 mile trip around ten western states that took 16 days to complete. I left Oregon, went south to California, then across Nevada, Utah, and northern Arizona into Colorado. I then turned north into Wyoming and spent a night in South Dakota before turning west back across Wyoming, into southern Montana, across Idaho and back into Oregon.
The trip ranged from sea level (the Oregon coast) to 14,115 feet (Pikes Peak) and saw temperature extremes from the upper 30’s (Beartooth Pass, Montana) to 120 degrees (Zion National Park). The farthest south was Kaibito, Arizona, the farthest east was Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, and the farthest north was Missoula, Montana.
From a gear standpoint, my bike — a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 — ran without complaint. In the 5,000 mile journey it used up about 3/4 of quart of oil (which is pretty normal for modern bikes). The odometer rolled over 50,000 miles during the trip. My Garmin Zumo 450 GPS half-died about 1,000 miles into the journey. It’s 5 years old so that’s a pretty good lifespan for an electronic gadget that gets exposed to the elements. The standout gear of the ride, however, were my ExOfficio convertible pants. I wore them under my Firstgear Kathmandu riding pants and made the trip a lot more comfortable, especially when riding in high desert heat. They retain zero odor, and I could wash them in my motel sink, ring them out (roll them up in a towel and step on it) and they’d be dry in a few hours. Plus they are super light and pack really small, which is a huge bonus when traveling by motorcycle.
The standout scenery was Beartooth Pass in southern Montana, just northeast of Yellowstone Park. The low point in terms of interest was probably Laramie, Wyoming. The town has the character of day-old dry toast.
I met some really cool people (Jeff in Fortuna, CA; Pam in Deadwood, SD; and Myles and John in Greybull, WY) and saw some shameful racism in many rural areas toward our President.
The trip went without a hitch, basically. There were no pucker moments or involuntary get-offs and no run-ins with law enforcement. It barely even rained — a few drops while visiting Mt. Rushmore.
Speaking of Mt. Rushmore, it was probably the biggest disappointment of all the big-name places I visited. It’s much smaller in person than I thought it was from all the pictures and video I’ve seen of it on TV. In fact, the rock formations surrounding the monument are far more interesting. Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming was kind of a ‘meh’ moment, too, not because it isn’t cool — it is — but because it’s exactly like I’ve seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a kind of “Been there, done that” sort of moment.
I hadn’t planned to visit Zion National Park but had to detour that way because of a road closure. Wow, what a place! I realize it’s cliche to say so but pictures can’t begin to do it justice. It’s as if Mother Nature consulted some big-name Hollywood filmmakers when designing it.
One thing that kept crossing my mind was the viewpoint that several fundamentalist Christians hold concerning the age of the earth. I’m all for the freedom to hold personal religious beliefs, but anyone that thinks the planet is only 7,000 years old is exhibiting a willful denial of reality bordering on malignant ignorance. Just travel around the west and look at the mountains that were built up, eroded away, and built up again and see if that kind of geological activity could happen in a few thousand years … or even in a few million. Wake up. It’s okay if the planet is 4 billion years old. Really. It won’t make you any farther from God to acknowledge what is obvious. If it makes you feel any better, remember what an old friend of mine used to say when asked about his view on dinosaur fossils vs. the Bible, “I don’t know how it happened, I just believe God was involved.”
When I go on these trips, I am often admonished by friends and family to takes lots of pictures. I took some, and I even took some video. In my tank bag was a GoPro HD camera and while riding I would often take it out and hold it with my left hand, filming various angles of the action. I’ve reviewed some of the footage and it worked pretty well. I plan to turn my photos and live footage into a produced video, with distribution to select individuals. Some photos will be posted here, but don’t expect too much. Philosophically, I have been taking the attitude that these places aren’t going anywhere; if you want to see them, go there yourself. I put in a lot of time, money, and sweat riding there and I feel somewhat reluctant to let others vicariously enjoy the benefits of that journey without paying some dues for the privilege. Sorry, but that’s just how I feel.
Meanwhile, my bike is filthy and needs an oil change. My chain is also in dire need of replacement and my Aerostich Darien jacket looks like it’s been to the moon and back (I love that jacket!) I also have 7 GB worth of video to edit. I’ll report back when I have something to report.
I enrolled in the Lee Parks Total Control riding clinic and attended the session in Olympia, Washington on Saturday, May 14th. Because it was an all-day class — 9 AM to 7 PM — I decided to make a weekend trip out of it.
I took Friday off of work and rode across the Portland metro area to Scappoose on Highway 30 before heading away from the Columbia River and into the hills of Northwest Oregon. The road is a nice bend of tight curves and broad sweepers but the surface is somewhat rough in spots and blind corners demand a lot of attention. Once in Mist I continued north on Highway 47 to Clatskanie. This section is very technical and you really have to be on the ball to survive it. The road surface is very rough, the corners are tight and rapid-fire, and there are log trucks patrolling the area ready to pounce on slacking motorcyclists.
The route from Pittsburg to Mist and then north to Clatskanie is heaven if you’re a big fan of clear cuts. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a way to harvest timber by mimicking the bombed out fields of eastern France during World War I. Everything gets cut down and removed, leaving the landscape scarred and defeated, right down to the road’s edge. It’s truly an ugly sight.
Once in Clatskanie (pronounced ‘clat-skuh-nigh‘) I turned west and followed Highway 30 to the hamlet of Westport where I veered north onto a narrow paved road to the terminal of the Westport Ferry. This river crossing is the only ferry remaining on the lower Columbia River. For $3 a motorcycle gets portage to Puget Island, which has a bridge across the north stem of the Columbia back onto mainland Washington.
Waiting at the ferry terminal was a short, gray-haired and bearded man in black leather, sitting on the guard rail next to his 2001 deep blue Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. Walt and I chatted as we crossed the Columbia, the only passengers on the small ferry. The ride was very smooth thanks to a lack of wind, and within a few minutes we were docked on Puget Island and rolling back onto terra firma.
As per Walt’s suggestion, I stopped at the Riverview in Cathlamet for lunch. The club sandwich and side salad were adequate and soon I was back on the road, heading west on SR 4 to connect with Highway 101 north. This section of the coastal highway offers rare glimpses of Willapa Bay, home of famous oysters, before going inland at Raymond for another stretch north to Aberdeen. There were numerous state and county law enforcement officers cruising the area, nabbing speeding motorists. Fortunately they left me alone.
Once across the Chehalis River in Aberdeen I turned west onto Highway 12 to begin my way inland toward Olympia. I stopped just east of town and fueled up, both my bike and myself. It was a four-lane divided highway all the way to Olympia and the miles passed quickly. My destination was the Super 8 in Lacey, and although my GPS told me right where it was, it was visually difficult to spot and I missed the entrance. A quick loop onto the I-5 freeway brought me back around for another pass. The manager said I could park my bike in front of the lobby so they could keep an eye on it for me. It’s always a great experience when businesses are motorcycle-friendly.
After getting settled I walked a few blocks away to O’Blarneys for some bangers and mash and a beer to end the day.
Saturday began dry, contrary to the forecast of increasing chance of showers. I made it to the classroom location about 10 minutes early and already a half dozen bikes were parked outside. Several riders were grouped around Ian’s Kawasaki Versys, watching and assisting as he fixed a flat tire. By 9:10 everyone was present and class began.
The course is 40% classroom lecture and 60% range exercises. The lectures were informative but tended to be long-winded and sometimes tangential. Our instructors, Pete and Jeff, were very knowledgeable, engaging and definitely likable. After introductions were made, we talked about the theory of cornering as well as the mental attitudes needed to ride effectively. Eventually we headed out to the range, a large parking lot behind a nearby mall about 5 blocks away.
The range exercises were the most useful part of the clinic. Anyone that took the MSF Basic Riders Course would find the format and approach very similar. We had a large area to work in, roughly the size of two football fields side-by-side, with circles and routes painted on the asphalt. Pete and Jeff set up several circles and lines using small orange and green cones, then gave us instructions for our first exercise.
To start, we practiced straight-line throttle and brake control exercises, learning to smoothly adjust our speed using a combination of both. Then, after riding around the range to scrub (warm up) our tires, we began some simple turning exercises.
We didn’t break for lunch until 1:10 PM and only had 15 minutes to grab something and meet back at the classroom. We continued with another lecture while everyone wolfed down their food. This time the lecture was far more focused and less tangential. We talked about specific cornering techniques with an emphasis on body position. The group moved out onto the parking lot outside for a series of exercises.
One exercise taught us to visualize a corner’s turn-in point ahead of time, and then recognizing its position in our mind when we reach it. Then we moved onto a pair of exercises that involved leaning to the side into the arms of two other riders, followed by sitting on our bikes and leaning off with our bodies while other riders held our bike. After that, we suited up and headed back to the range.
The remaining series of range exercises taught us how to locate our turn-in point and how to use our head and direction of sight to ensure smooth cornering. Looking through the curve is probably the most influential part of navigating a corner smoothly. I scraped my pegs a couple of times during these exercises, despite riding the tallest bike in the group. It was easy to tell when my eyes or head moved out of that ‘look through’ position because my bike would twitch and swerve along with my line-of-sight. Even my throttle control varied with my eye and head position. Whenever I looked steadily through the curve my cornering technique was smooth and even.
And then the rain came. During a lecture on tires earlier in the day, instructor Jeff commented that modern street bike tires are capable of far more than most bikes and riders will demand of them. He also said that they provide up to 80% traction on wet road surfaces, still above what most riders will need. Those comments gave us the confidence to keep taking the curves in the range exercise even after the rain had the pavement soaking wet.
We rode in at least an hour of hard rain, and I personally found it exciting to take the same corners at the same speed but on very wet pavement. It boosted my confidence dramatically.
(A rider from British Columbia modeled his new leather Aerostich Transit suit after we returned to the classroom. He said he really liked it and that it was well worth the cost.)
After retiring back to the classroom at 6pm, the remainder of the session was about suspension. Since the suspension on my V-Strom has very little adjustment capabilities, I decided to bag the rest of the class and head back to my motel in the rain.
I parked under the front cover at the motel and verified I had permission to do so. Back in my room, I spread out my gear to dry out, showered, then headed to the Shari’s next door for dinner. The rain was falling heavily and never let up for the remainder of the trip.
On Sunday I gassed up and headed home via I-5 in the heavy rain without stopping. Unlike the 260 mile route I took getting to Olympia, the southbound freeway was the 140 mile direct route home. It’s amazing how much more exhausting riding in the rain is compared to riding on dry pavement. My gear held up well, including my Aerostich triple-digit glove covers, but the big winners were my Darien Jacket and my Sidi Canyon boots. They performed admirably as always.
The 2011 annual Aerostich catalog came in the mail today. It’s kind of like the Cabelas catalog but for motorcyclists. I was reading it cover to cover as I usually do, and was pleased to see Neil Peart sporting their new leather Transit suit on page 5. I always figured one of his quotes would appear in the catalog, not a full picture.
Page after page, I kept turning. When I came to page 152 I saw something very familiar. On the bottom half of the page was a photo of yours truly standing over Kiger Gorge on Steens Mountain, wearing my Aerostich Darien jacket, showing its distinctive retro-reflective strip across the back. It was a picture taken by Janice, a friend from California that went to Steens with me and her husband, Mark, back in September, 2010. The caption reads:
“Traffic? What traffic? (Steve Williamson standing over Kiger Gorge on Steens Mountain in Southeast Oregon. Photo by Janice Nelson, 2010)”
I had sent the photo to Aerostich shortly after returning from the trip. They thanked me for the pic but never said another word about it.
I’ve had some time off of work and took the opportunity to get some long day rides under my belt. My first trip was up the Clackamas river road to Ripplebrook ranger station. Not wanting to turn back, I kept going up toward Lake Harriett. My intention was to keep riding toward Timothy Lake until snow or road conditions forced me to turn back. Unfortunately they had the road gated closed about a mile past Harriet and I had to turn around and head back.
Gated road to the back side of Timothy Lake
I veered off onto the gravel road to Lake Harriet and rode past a half dozen die-hard fishermen trying to catch brown trout at Harriet. Several looked at me funny but nodded in approval anyway as I rode past.
Two days later I took a jaunt south toward Stayton. I stopped at the Silver Creek Coffee House in Silverton for a mocha and chatted with Greg, the new owner. He had ridden a lot as a young man but now had too many other hobbies to afford a motorcycle (including working 7 days a week at his coffee shop). Warmed up, I continued south until I got to a crossroad with highway 214. I headed east on 214 and rode the loop past Silver Falls State Park which brought me back into Silverton. There was quite a bit of gravel on the road from recent freezes so I had to take it slow when riding through the park. I fueled up in Molalla on my way back home.
Between the two rides my bike was filthy but happy sitting in my garage. Riding this time of year usually involves cold temperatures and precipitation, so my bike tends to have a dull well-ridden look. I also have my outdoor water faucets turned off to prevent freezing so washing the bike is not an easy option.
In a product related note, I’ve been wearing a pair of Aerostich triple-digit glove covers during the colder rides lately. They work as advertised, keeping moisture away from my gloves underneath and adding warmth. A more accurate way to describe their function is they enable me to ride longer in the winter before my hands get cold — which they eventually do no matter what.
[Updated 1/4/2010] It’s been a pair of chilly rides to work this week. The temperature gauge has been below 25 every morning. Air seeps around my face shield and chills my cheeks and forehead. I got a pair of ‘Triple Digit‘ glove covers from Aerostich as a Christmas present and they work great in the cold weather. After taking a week off between Christmas and new year, it was good to get back to work. I only got a few short rides in during the break, all of them cold or wet. This time of year, that’s about the extent of my rides.
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Like many fantasy authors, Steve Williamson was introduced to the genre when he played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. It was during a family camping trip in May, 1980, and as he and two friends sat inside a travel trailer rolling dice and fighting orcs, the air outside became gritty and hard to breath. It was permeated with the fine gray ash spewing out of Mount St. Helens which was erupting just sixty miles away.
Steve now lives in Western Oregon in the shadow of another active volcano, Mount Hood.