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June 15, 2012

Check out my review of motorcycle camping sleeping pads

I’ve been writing reviews of the products we used on the trip (and the stuff we’ve replaced it with) over on my motorcycle blog, as well as answering questions about motorcycle travel and all that good stuff. It was my personal writing, not necessarily related to Corporate Runaways, so I haven’t been cross-posting it here.

Well, Kay pointed out that you all following us here might be interested in this stuff, since clearly you’re interested in motorcycle travel or you wouldn’t be following us in the first place… so if you want to check it out, here is this week’s review of Sleeping Pads for Motorcycle Camping.

Enjoy! And if you have any questions for my Q&A posts, drop me an email through the contact page here or on my site!

March 16, 2012

On-the-bike Photography

Mirror Shot

What’s here

When we set off on our last adventure we had no idea what to look for when choosing cameras for on-the-bike photography, but after taking hundreds of photos from the saddle I’ve learned a number of things that you’re likely to find useful. This post is all about providing you with advice for choosing the best camera for on-the-bike photography, techniques for getting the pictures you want, and how to get them without dying.

The pictures in this post were all taken while riding. Give me a moment to stand still and pull out the good camera and I can easily surpass the quality of any of these, but I’ve intentionally chosen pictures that should be representative, of what you can achieve with an affordable point-and-shoot while riding. You’re not going to get National Geographic level pics this way without years of professional training / practice, and a willingness to risk dropping a camera worth thousands of dollars. I’ve seen it done though, and the results can be stunning.

Why do it?

Many of you may be wondering “Why not just pull over and take the shot?” It’s a reasonable question. The answer is similarly reasonable. There are some shots that simply won’t wait for you to pull over,

Waving Biker

some shots you can only get while riding,

Dachary in Peru

and some shots that wouldn’t be the same if you did stop.

Side of the road biker

Plus, stopping constantly to take a picture of every interesting thing you see gets annoying quickly, especially for people riding with you.

Zona Urbana

When your trip is over, the photographs you’ve managed to snap will be some of the best reminders you have of what you experienced, and the best way to share those experiences with others.

How to avoid driving off a cliff

Riding a motorcycle is dangerous. Riding a motorcycle one-handed much more so. Riding a motorcycle one-handed whilst manipulating a camera… It’s not the brightest thing you could be doing. But, if you are going to do it anyway, here are some good rules of thumb to help you not die in the process.

Before we even go there, you should never attempt to take a picture while riding until you are very comfortable with your bike. A good way to test if you’re ready to take pictures while riding is to ask yourself how freaked-out you’d be to ride with no hands. Does the idea of taking both hands off the bike still fill you with dread? If so, you’re probably not ready to start manipulating a camera left-handed while riding.

1) lanyard, lanyard, lanyard.
Running a lanyard from something on your bike to your camera won’t just keep you from loosing your camera. It’ll also keep you from attempting to catch it when you drop it. You will drop it. In fact, you should drop it. Drop it before you ride, to make sure it doesn’t become a safety hazard when it falls. Dropping the camera needs to become your default response when anything unexpected happens. It’s best to run the lanyard from your tank-bag, or coat. Having a $300 ( or more ) lump of plastic dangling from your handlebars can be very distracting at a time when you need as few distractions as possible.

2) Never attempt to use your camera when the road has shown a predisposition towards potholes.
It’s just not worth the risk. Hitting a pothole with only one hand on the handlebars can leave you hurtling towards the ground at high speeds.

3) Never attempt to use your camera on tight curves
There are definitely some beautiful curvy roads that are well built and just calling out for a picture of your comrades leaning into them. Don’t give in to the temptation. The two big problems here are that you’re more likely to misjudge the apex of the turn if you’re focusing on your camera, and that you never know when some idiot is going to come around from the other direction having drifted half-way into your lane.

4) Always have somewhere you can stash it quickly
In an emergency situation your first instinct should be to just drop the camera, but there will be many times where you’re not in immediate danger, but it’s in your best interest to get the camera out of your hand.

If you’re on tarmac the fastest place is almost always your crotch, but that won’t help you much off-road when you frequently need to stand. My tank-bag has a large pocket on the belly-facing side with a zipper along the top. When it’s unzipped it becomes a big waiting pocket that I can quickly drop the camera in. Even with this quick-stash option, I’ve gone for the faster option of just dropping it in my crotch on a number of occasions.

General safety advice

The most important thing you can do is not take chances just to get a picture. Wait until you’re on a road where you can see a good distance ahead. Practice pulling the camera out of your bag / pocket, turning it on, taking a picture, and putting it away while sitting still on your bike, and then when you’re on long straightaways. It’s not important what you’re taking a picture of. It doesn’t matter if it’s even in focus. You just need to build up the muscle-memory until you get to the point that you can do it without ever looking down.

I have essentially zero pictures from the Sierra Madre Oriental because Mexican roads love potholes, that mountain range is covered covered with tight curves that The Tail of the Dragon becomes a joke, you never know what’s going to be coming around the next corner (or which lane it’ll be in), and at that point in the trip I simply didn’t have the experience to make it worth the risk. I don’t regret this lack of pictures one bit.

Plus, you can always get a helmet cam and turn it on through the twisties.

Where to keep it

My advice is to keep your camera in your tank bag. Just leave the end open enough that you can easily reach in and pull it out without having to worry about loosing everything else in there. I don’t like using jacket pockets, because they’re harder to get the camera in and out of and you want the default place you put your camera away when you’re focusing on more important things, to be fast and easy.

Choosing a Camera

If you’re going on a long ride you’ll want two cameras. One that takes good pictures, and one that is easy to manipulate while riding. I’m going to be talking about the latter.

Camera Type

This part is simple. You need a point-and-shoot. You want a ruggedized point-and-shoot. Look for ones that advertise being shock-resistant and waterproof. These can usually be dropped from about six feet onto hard surfaces with nothing more than superficial scuffing. The waterproofing helps give you some piece of mind when you want to start shooting in a light rain.

The downside to ruggedized cameras is that the quality is simply not as good as normal ones. I think this is acceptable, because you will drop your camera. It will whack against the side of your tank, or fairings, and sooner or later it will start having issues as a result. Normal cameras are simply not designed for this sort of treatment; better to have a camera that will stand up to the types of usage you’ll be exposing it to than a camera that will take better pictures for only the first half of your trip.

The grip

Most people are right-handed, so most cameras are designed for easy shooting and manipulation with the right hand. The problem is that when you’re on a motorcycle you’re not just left handed. You’re a left-handed amputee.

Go into your local camera store and pick up the point-and-shoots with your left hand. Can you turn it on-and-off left handed? Can you press the shutter button without blocking the lens? A number of point-and-shoot cameras put the lens in the top left corner. When riding your hand will want to curve over and grip this corner, which means you’ll probably have your glove in half of the shots. You can make these cameras work, but it may require a fairly awkward grip.

The best option is to bring your motorcycle gloves with you. Once you know where the buttons are close your eyes and see if you can manipulate everything without looking, using only your left hand.

The Buttons

You want a camera with big buttons that poke out significantly. You’ll have to turn the camera on, off, take pictures, and maybe even zoom, left handed without looking. Now, you’re not just a left-handed amputee, you’re a blind left-handed amputee.

Many of todays point-and-shoot cameras are intentionally trying to make buttons that are smooth and almost flat along the side of the camera. Avoid these. You’ll have a very hard time finding the button when wearing gloves, never mind knowing if you’ve successfully pressed it.

While it’s important that the buttons you need to toggle the power and take a shot are easy to find and manipulate, it’s also important that the other buttons on the camera stay out of your way when you’re taking a picture, or simply holding it left handed. You don’t want it going into your settings menu when you’re trying to take a picture of the ostrich running alongside your bike.

The screen / viewfinder

The screen and viewfinder do not matter at all. You can’t look through a viewfinder when wearing a helmet, and you’d be pretty crazy to try riding while looking through one even if you could. Similarly, you can’t afford to be watching a little screen instead of the road. You will be shooting blind.

Zoom

As with all cameras, optical zoom is the only zoom you should care about. Ignore digital zoom entirely. The software in whatever photo app you use on your computer can do digital zoom just as well as your camera. It is much better to have photos from your camera that haven’t been mucked-with in software.

With that in mind, you want fast zoom. The default zoom level of every point-and-shoot is too small for the vast majority of cool things you’ll see in the distance and want a picture of, so once you get comfortable taking shots you’re going to start fiddling with the zoom too. I will typically grab the camera, turn it on, and zoom all the way before taking the shot. After you’ve done it enough times you’ll have a good feel for how long it takes to reach maximum (optical) zoom and not need to check. It is rare that this results in being too zoomed in since you’re rarely shooting at anything closer than 20 feet away.

As with the buttons you want a big, easy to manipulate zoom control.

Peruvian Sheep
(Sometimes you just don’t have time for zoom)

The camera I used for the shots in this post had one of those telescoping lenses that slowly slid out when you turned on, and would slowly retract when you turned it off. I missed a number of shots because I simply couldn’t get it to turn on, and be ready to shoot before I’d ridden past the subject. It was even worse if I needed to wait for it to zoom.

Ruggedized cameras typically have less optical zoom, because the lens is sealed behind a clear pane of waterproof glass/plastic. This hurts your ability to photograph distant objects but the lack of big extending tubes enhances your ability to take pictures quickly, and put the camera away fast.

Power On & Off Speed

You need a camera that turns on fast. What’s fast enough for someone walking around with a camera is not nearly fast enough when shooting from a motorcycle. You want as close to instant on as you can get, and by “on” I mean on, and ready to take a picture. If a lens emerges from it before it can shoot you need that lens to emerge fast. You really want the camera to be ready to start taking pictures in less than half a second. It makes a huge difference. Similarly, you want it to be able to be safely dropped in your bag / crotch as quickly as possible, and that means fast off speed without worrying if the lens is fully retracted or not.

Impending Cloud Bank
(It’s probably not a good idea to keep shooting when you hit that cloud-bank)

Time between shots

You need a camera that doesn’t make you wait between pictures. It’s annoying when you’re walking around. It’s doubly so when on the bike, because you either have to keep glancing down at the thing to see if it’s ready yet, or just click and hope. I usually go with the latter.

GPS

A number of the point-and-shoots are starting to offer GPS functionality built in. The technology is still fairly new when it comes to cameras and the reviews have been mixed. While it’s definitely nice to have geocoded photos, it may not be worth the extra battery drain, or time required to acquire decent precision from the satellites. For now, consider it a nice-to-have but not something to base your decision on unless all other things are roughly equal.

Taking good pictures

There are two keys to taking good pictures on the bike. Practice, and plenty. Practice taking plenty of shots. Never take just one shot. Take three. Most of the pictures you take on-the-bike will be pure crap. They’ll be crooked. They’ll be blurry. They’ll have the subject off in a corner. Don’t worry about it, and don’t try and see how well the shots came out while riding. Take the pictures, take some more just in case, then put it away and look when you stop to take a break.

Another thing that will help your on-the-bike shooting is to practice shooting moving objects when you’re off the bike. Off the bike, try taking pictures of cars moving past you at speed, or runners right when they go past you on the sidewalk. Learn to move your camera at a speed that matches their motion and keeps them in focus, while the world around them is blurred. Getting shots of stationary objects while you pass them from a moving bike requires exactly the same skill. You need to pivot the camera to keep it pointed at the llama right as you pass it.

Eventually you’ll start getting a higher percentage of your shots that come out ok. I’m up to about 1 in 20 that are good, a handful of the remaining ones are worth keeping just for the memory, and the rest just get deleted.

Dachary on Bolivian Dirt

August 4, 2011

[Review] CamelBak Hydration System

One of our readers recently sent me a question asking about how we like our CamelBak backpacks, whether we’d take different models or use some other way of keeping hydrated. Kay and I have had a ton of conversations about CamelBaks and it never occurred to me I hadn’t shared our thoughts here! In short, we feel that CamelBaks are absolutely essential pieces of gear for any motorcycle trip. Here’s what I said to our reader about our respective CamelBak backpacks, and what we’d change today:

Regarding CamelBaks: we both absolutely love them and think they’re an ESSENTIAL piece of kit for any motorcycle travel, be it riding across town or riding across the country. You never know when you’re going to get stuck in traffic and that water is the only thing keeping you hydrated and helping to keep your core body temperature down. It was a lifesaver for me in Mexico City, Costa Rica and parts of South America. We prefer the CamelBak to things like bottles in panniers because you can drink from them inside your full face helmet, while riding. No need to stop and take things off to drink (which would make one inclined to drink less often than one should) and the CamelBak being a worn item means it takes up less space than things like bottles in panniers, etc.

We’ve both agreed on various occasions that we feel “naked” when we’re riding without CamelBaks. Wearing them on the bikes almost feels like wearing a seatbelt in a car. It’s a totally psychological thing, but we both feel more protected with them on. We’ve never once minded wearing them on the bikes, but they can get a bit hot if you’re walking around in full gear in warm temps and they’re cutting off airflow to your back.

Kay had a CamelBak M.U.L.E. (an older version of the updated model) and wasn’t happy with it. With the water bladder full, the interior storage pocket is pretty much only good for flat stuff, or you have to work really hard to get bigger objects in there. If you do have anything in there it makes it more difficult to re-insert the bladder after filling. The extra pockets also encourage you to carry unnecessary weight on your back, and Kay doesn’t believe that the extra bulk of the M.U.L.E is worth it for the minimal amount of usable storage space. He’s currently been experimenting with our CamelBak Un-Bottle as a minimalist option, which is just a bladder (without any straps; he’s been experimenting with various strap options). His preference would be for a three liter version of mine, which doesn’t seem to exist. But I think that’s a personal option – you might decide you love the storage in a M.U.L.E.

Camelbak M.U.L.E.

My CamelBak is a discontinued winter sport model; it’s 2L and has a small outside pocket and “media pouch” for storage. I find I can put a point-and-click camera, bottle of Advil, earplugs, Moleskine, pens, granola bar and a few other small things in the pouch, which is just about perfect in my opinion. It’s similar to the CamelBak Scorpion. (In fact, looking at it I think it was a specially branded Scorpion that was discontinued.) I think it’s got the perfect amount of storage space – it doesn’t tempt me to put too much/too heavy stuff in there, and the storage is on the outside of the pack so it isn’t impacted by how full/empty the bladder is. Kay often looked at it and envied it along the way. Plus it’s easier to fill up because the flap over the opening just unzips and lifts up, whereas you have to take the bladder completely out of the M.U.L.E. or risk getting the contents of the pack wet.

Dachary's Camelbak

Kay feels that three liters is just about perfect amount of water as it was usually slightly more than was required. He liked knowing there was a little extra just in case. I didn’t like the weight of the extra liter and found that two liters was almost the perfect amount for me. Keep in mind that we always drank plenty of additional fluids at meals and it wasn’t uncommon for us to have to refill the bladders on particularly hot days.

Anyway – we love our CamelBaks and could ramble on at great length on this topic. But I highly, highly recommend for any and all motorcycle trips. Most of the other travelers we met along the way also used them, or similar variants, but a few didn’t because they “didn’t want to wear a backpack.” (We think they’re crazy and don’t understand how they can go without them.)

July 12, 2011

[Review] L.L. Bean Microlight Solo

LL Bean Microlight Solo

Quick summary:
I set the L.L. Bean Microlight Solo up and took it down every day for over two weeks and thought it was excellent. It is absolutely worth your consideration for a solo adventure.
Note: this review was originally published in September of 2009 on a blog documenting Kay’s last adventure around the United States. In our travels across the Americas we used the REI Quarter Dome T3.
The details:
I figured that camping was “the way to do it”. I’d save money, and remain a bit more in contact with the world than if i’d of stayed in motels on my trip, so I need a tent.

I hoped on my bike and drove about a hundred and fifty miles up to the L.L. Bean store in Maine. Sure I could have hopped on the subway and gone to the local R.E.I., but hey L.L. Bean’s been at this a lot longer, has a much cooler place to visit, and… road trip! And, to be fully up front. I’d read some good reviews of the L.L. Bean Microlight Solo on their site and just wanted to see one in person.

When I finally made my way to the tent section I encountered an incredibly helpful salesman, whose name I’ve totally forgotten (sorry), who confirmed my thoughts on it discussed a few of other tent options, and suggested that I get the $15 “Footprint”  to go with it, but made it clear that it wasn’t a requirement, but that I’d probably want to put down a plastic bag or something under the tent if I didn’t have it to keep it from being damaged by the scratchy rocks and sticks and such I’d be compressing under myself, and to act as a moisture barrier. I think it was worth every penny. But first, the tent itself.
This is, unquestionably, a one-man tent. As in, one person who’s in shape. If you’re…. “generously padded” this is NOT the tent for you. Two thin people could probably fit if they were willing to lay on their sides and spoon each other. Also, because of the shape you can only sit up just inside the doorway. I’m 5’9″ and I didn’t have any problems with this, although I did occasionally brush my head when placing or removing anything from down by my feet, or if I sat up in my sleeping bag I’d have to scoot back towards the entrance.
This small size is actually one of the reasons I chose the tent. Small size means less material, a smaller bag, and less weight; all things which are critical on a motorcycle trip. When I first got it home I attempted to set it up in my living room just to get a feel for it, but having not set up a tent in well over fifteen years I was rather surprised at how dramatically tent-tech has changed. First off, it’s not a free-standing tent. It simply won’t stay erected if you don’t pound in the tent-pegs. This isn’t a bad thing for most of North America, it just means no living room test-runs, sand and snow would probably be quite difficult without specialized tent pegs, and you can’t set it up on a large flat rock. You’ll need soil.
There are two poles, which are made from tubes of aluminum with an elastic cord run through them to keep them together, and help them snap easily into place as you’re combining them into one long tube; an act that takes about five seconds. Unlike the tents of yesteryear you don’t bend them slightly to fit through some straps on the tent. No, you stick one end through a grommet in the tent, then bend it far beyond anything that seems sensible, until the other end finally approaches the grommet on the opposite side of the tent. Then, you do the same thing for the other pole. It’s not hard, it’s just a bit disturbing to someone who isn’t used to this new world order.

Then, you lift up one of the poles, pull a series of plastic hooks over it, pound in a peg or two, and repeat at the other end. I found the easiest way to do it was to erect one pole, push in one tent peg, then step on, or press far side of the tent down while you grab and lift the other pole. Once you’ve got the far one lifted pound in the diagonally opposite tent peg. Congratulations you’ve just done the bare minimum required to raise this tent. I wouldn’t recommend stopping there but it’s pretty impressive that with two tent pegs you’ve got your tent up. A little floppy at the unpegged corners but hey….  Then just move around the tent putting in the rest of the pegs. The footprint matches the base of the tent exactly, has its own grommets that the poles also go through, and some loops for the tent pegs to pass through directly under the ones for the tent.

Once you’ve done that you now have a mosquito netting tent up with a waterproof base and a full view of the world. If you’d like some privacy, or expect rain, throw the rain fly over it and shove in a couple pegs. The rain fly also creates a little alcove in front of the door under which you can set things you want out of sight, or protected from the rain, but don’t want in the main body of the tent. There is a gap between the netting and the rain fly and this is a very important feature. Your body heat is going to cause condensation to form on the inside of any tent (assuming there’s water in the air to condense) but in a tent like this it forms on the rain fly which won’t end up getting you or your gear wet because of the gap. It simply forms on and runs down the inside of the fly to the ground without ever touching you. Unfortunately the fly tended to sag slightly between the two poles so there was about eight square inches of space in the middle of the tent where they did make contact. This was never a problem even on the most dewey of mornings but it shouldn’t have been happening.  Casually putting up the tent, while pausing to listen to the insects and look at pretty views still took less than 8 minutes from start to finish, including putting all my stuff in it after it was up.

The slight sag of the rain fly was most likely because of the one badly designed element of the tent. At the foot end of the rain fly are two pieces of webbing. Each has a loop at the end for a tent peg to go through and runs through a plastic length adjuster thing. The problem is that no matter how much you shortened the adjuster never held it. I ended up looping the webbing around the adjuster and that was almost the right length. While certain parts of the fly get their own tent pegs there were no pegs for these so you had to put the end loop over one of the pegs used for the base. This would have worked perfectly if the adjusters worked, but they didn’t so it didn’t pull with quite enough tension on the top and you end up with that little sag in the middle. So, if you do get this tent my recommendation would be to purchase two more of the thin aluminum tent pegs that this tent uses. Then you can just put them at the end of the webbing and pull it as taught as you need to.

Space and Comfort:

I am 5’9″ tall and about 145 lbs. I had enough space for me, my one piece riding suit down along my side, my Camelbak M.U.L.E NV on one side of my head, my walking shoes and assorted other small junk by the other side (flashlight, iPhone, a small tupperware of food, etc), a pillow (actually my pants and high-vis vest rolled up), my full-face motorcycle helmet to the left of my feet and my riding boots to the right of my feet. My glasses went in one of the two mesh pockets that are right by your hands when you lay down and seem designed for just such a usage. Those pockets were a perfect little touch. After taking my sleeping bag out of the dry-sack I’d stick it in the alcove (it had a book, notebooks, and an emergency set of dry clothes still in it) and have space on the other side of the alcove that I pretty much never used.

The comfort was fine. It was wide enough that you could curl into a fetal position without trouble and laying there in the morning watching the silhouettes of leaf shadows on the rain fly was nice. You didn’t feel cramped in there. However, I would note that owing to the fact you can only sit up by the doorway you really wouldn’t want to be stuck in there hiding from the rain all day. That wasn’t a concern for me since I ride rain or shine. Also, obviously, this tent is not for anyone who is claustrophobic.

Tear-Down tip:

The rain fly is made of some incredibly slippery parachute fabric. When you roll it up it’s really difficult to get it to stay rolled up nicely as you’re trying to get it in the bag. It just wants to slide out of itself. The solution I found was to roll up the tent (mosquito netting and base) so that you have a rectangle slightly shorter than the bag and about half again as wide with the base out. do the same for the rain fly, then fold that in half again and stick it on top of the base. Then roll the base around the rain fly so that when you’re holding it with one hand there is only the base material exposed to your hand to grip.

For the Footprint: fold it into a rectangle as tall as the bag and whatever width, then roll.

Main points:

  • Extremely light-weight and compact when packed up. I could easily roll it up smaller than the bag it lived in and there was plenty of space in there for the pegs, poles, and the footprint.
  • So easy to put up you can do it in the dark. If you’re familiar with how all the pieces go together. I did it once in the pitch black since dealing with the flashlight too was distracting, and a couple times as I raced the last rays of sunlight.
  • Enough space for you, some gear around your head, and some by your feet.
  • Get the Footprint. It’s worth the $15 for the convenience of all its perfectly placed connectors, folds up very small and can fit in the tent bag.
  • Buy two additional thin tent pegs to compensate for the bad adjusters on the rear of the rain fly.

Assorted notes:

  • I’ve taken the tent down in a strong wind. I was very surprised to find that it wasn’t a hassle at all. There’s simply not enough fabric for it to be a big deal.
  • Owing to extenuating circumstances I never actually used it in the rain, but according to the reviews on the site it performs excellently. I would not doubt this in the least.
  • There’s some velcro on the outside of the rain-fly along the zipper. I am not sold on this. I’m sure they put it there because of some wind issue but whatever their decision was it never became apparent to me and occasionally gave me a trivial amount of annoyance when dealing with the zipper. This is totally nit-picking I admit.
  • The elastic cord through the tent pole sections really made them trivial to put together. You could almost grab one end, wave it in the air and listen to the pieces snap snap snap into place… almost. In reality you can do it with your eyes closed, or better yet, while paying attention to the beautiful scenery you’ve found yourself in. Taking them apart is just as easy.
April 7, 2011

What worked, and what didn’t. A gear review

Most of the items we brought with us worked as expected. Some were outstanding and require special mention. Some items seriously disappointed us. Some items simply deserve some comments to help you when considering items for your next trip.

Outstanding items:

The Wolfman Rainier tank bag

Normally we don’t think much about tank bags. You get the size you want and they either work, or they don’t, and they’re not worth much mention, but throughout the trip we kept commenting about how much we loved these. Excellent build quality, and so much expandability that when we encountered another rider with one fully expanded we didn’t recognize it. The expandability was great, as it made it easy to stow things in the tank bag for a short time. Have some soda left from lunch? No problem, just stick it in your tank bag. Grab some cookies or a bag of chips to snack on later? Tank bag can hold it – just expand the zipper. At one point, Kay had octane booster and a quart of oil in the tank bag in addition to all the normal stuff he stored in there (big, expensive camera, Spanish-English dictionary, stickers, helmet cleaning stuff, toilet paper, etc.) and it still had more room.

The map pouch is great, as it doesn’t leave your map soaking wet after a rain. And as a nice added feature, you can get backpack straps for the tank bag so that when you step off the bike to spend a couple hours touring a ruin, you don’t have to worry about people walking off with your tank bag or their contents. We also bought one set of the larger outer pockets and put one side pocket on each bag. The larger front pocket made storing the rain cover (which is very well designed, highly effective, and can have the map pouch stuck on it ) and the backpack straps slightly easier.

As much as we love the Rainier it should be noted that we had one problem with it. There’s a strap across the front edge of the bag that you grab and carry it by when you walk away from the bike. Kay’s came undone on one side and Dachary’s webbing is starting to fray at the same place. Fortunately, there is a plastic D-ring next to each end of the strap so Kay simply cut off the strap where it was still attached and tied a piece of spare webbing (always carry spare webbing) to each of the D-Rings. Instant replacement strap.

Wolfman Rainier Tank Bag

The BeadBreakr and CyclePump from Best Rest Products

The F650GS has a notoriously difficult bead to break and, with one exception, the BeadBreakr made that trivial. While a number of people just take regular electric pumps for cars and remove the plastic housing we really appreciated the compact and hard-to-kill housing of the CyclePump. Plus, it has an SAE plug on the end (as well as a bunch of adapters) so we didn’t have to attach an SAE to Cigarette adapter to use it. Also, it easily pumped in enough air to set the bead for us (they’ve got another tool for setting the bead on non-tube tires).

We also brought a manual hand-pump we could use for minor top-ups, and in case this one went out on us, but we never had any problems with this one and ended up never using the manual hand pump. We’re lazy and this electric pump was highly effective, fast and easy to use.

Kay, working on the flat

The Leatherman Wave

A multi-tool is a must-have on any trip like this, but you can by an incredibly compact set of bits for this one that give you hex (metric and US), torx, phillips, and flathead ends. We used this constantly.

Ex-officio underwear

Dries fast, lives up to all its claims. Would absolutely buy again. Is stink-resistant and very comfortable to wear under motorcycle clothes (Dachary says more comfortable than regular cotton underwear).

Smartwool T-shirts (or any other merino wool t-shirts).

They wick well. They dry very fast. You can sweat in them for days and they still won’t be stinky once they dry. Thin enough that when the wind hits a sweaty shirt through your vents you get all the cooling benefits that sweating is supposed to provide you with. The 100% cotton t-shirts we brought with us got nasty after one day of sweating in 100 degree F (38 C) weather and took too long to dry if the night was cool. So we’d be carrying around wet cotton shirts for days, or wouldn’t bother washing them because they’d take too long to dry. Smartwool or other merino wool totally negates this issue.

Merino wool socks.

We used thin “liner socks” on hot days and thick Smartwool winter ones in the cold. Don’t believe the claims about being able to throw them in the dryer, but everything else it true. They resist stinking ( although they can only do so much against feet ) and the thick ones keep you quite warm. They dry fast, too.

Smartwool Socks

Vinyl stickers

No, seriously. We fixed and bodged so many things with these stickers. Bag of pasta came open? Sticker. Socks won’t stay on the fan to dry? Stickers. Hole in the toothpaste tube? Stickers. Pannier corner falling off? Lots of stickers. Identifying luggage at the airport? Stickers. Yeah yeah, We hear you yelling about your duct-tape. We have that too, but we liked the stickers, and they don’t leave a residue when you remove them like duct-tape does. Also, we love getting stickers from other riders and leaving ours in interesting places. You should totally get some made for your trip.

Who said the stickers were a waste of time?

Cyclone Buff

A buff is essentially a stretchy cloth tube. The cyclone buff doubles the stretchy layer for warmth and then attaches a thick piece of Goretex Windstopper fleece. Which is warm and absolutely kills the wind. Wear it as a neck warmer. Wear it as a balaclava. Wear it as a hat. Many of our days would have been painfully cold on the neck without something like this, and without a cyclone buff you’re pretty much relegated to wrapping large scarves around your neck or using a balaclava which is not only single use, but also doesn’t go as low under / over the neck of your jacket. We brought normal, lightweight, buffs too and used them to keep bugs from pinging off of our necks, or to keep Kay’s long hair in check before the Honduran barber got ahold of it.

Dachary’s Balaclava

Held Warm-N-Dry Gloves

We were thrilled with these gloves and can’t recommend them highly enough. We rode at highway speeds in sub-freezing temperatures and they kept our hands as warm as any other non-electric gloves would. The real problem was keeping our core temperature up. We rode in cold high-altitude climates with pouring rains and hail and putting these on was almost a delicacy. Our hands never got wet with them.

The only note is that they are absolutely designed to work in conjunction with heated grips. The leather on the palm is standard summer-weight which makes them more comfortable and easier to close your hand and grip the grips, but would be a bad choice without heated grips. As a result, they provide good tactile feedback on the controls but they’re not as warm as some of the massive snowboarding-style gloves. Perfect with heated grips, but not warm enough without. Also, in sub-freezing temps even with heated grips, our fingers got cold on some days. For regular commuting in sub-freezing, would probably get heated gloves. For this trip, though, they were the perfect choice.

Kindle software

We wish we had Kindles (see below) but, lacking them, the Kindle software on our iPhone and iPad enabled us to relax with good books in the evenings; something that was very much appreciated. Dachary read 21 books on the trip, and there would simply have been no room to carry around that much paper. Reading on the phone wasn’t ideal (hence the wish we’d brought Kindles) but it made reading possible when it wouldn’t have been practical otherwise.

Items we wish we’d have brought:

Frogg Toggs

We got sick of our GoreTex and Hydratex rain liners leaving us damp. We really disliked walking into restaurants with shells that were soaking wet and left puddles below our chairs, even worse in a hotel. Putting them in on the road was so annoying that if it wasn’t cold we’d simply skip bothering with the leg ones. Frogg Toggs have an excellent reputation amongst riders, hold up to highway speed winds, and don’t feel like cheap vinyl. We’ve also heard that they help as windbreakers, and while our layers are *supposed* to do that, they weren’t all that effective. There were times on the trip that an extra wind-breaking layer would have made a huge difference in warmth and comfort.

Better external dry sacks.

We bought an outdoor research dry-sack for the tent, Dachary’s sleeping mat and something else. It seemed good when we bought it but it wasn’t designed to survive the stresses of living on the back of a bike for four months. Next time we’ve decided that any dry-sack that lives on the bike will have to be heavy-duty PVC material like the bags made by Ortlieb and Wolfman. The Wolfman Expedition Dry Duffel on Kay’s bike has been beaten, dropped, dragged, and shoved. Kay let one of the clips dangle against a muffler, melted off half of it, and it still held tight when he put it back. The extra d-rings were great for attaching bungies, or whatever, and the only negative comment we have about it is that the handles that meet across the top aren’t quite long enough to meet when it’s full. We’d absolutely buy another one but can’t decide if we want one that opens along the top or on the ends next time.

Another bra

Dachary brought two bras but wished for a third because they take a long time to dry and they get skanky when you wear them. The non-sports bra was more comfortable but the sport-bra dried faster.

Sewing supplies

There are things we’d have fixed if we’d have brought a needle and thread.

Cardo Scala Rider G4 headsets

We bought these in Mexico City when the Senas died. We chose ease of use over known reliability in the beginning. The Cardo’s aren’t as easy to manipulate, and when it rained one of us would generally be unable to speak to the other, but the hardware design is hard to damage, and they’ve got a history of reliability.

Kindles

If you like to read there’s no getting around the fact that you can’t carry enough physical books and you’ll have trouble buying more along the way because they’re mostly in foreign languages. The kindle’s e-ink screen is very easy on the eyes, it’s small, lightweight, has a literal one month battery life, and can hold tons of books and download more whenever you get a net connection. We used the Kindle software on Dachary’s iPhone (better screen) and Kay’s iPad (bigger screen) but really wished we’d had actual Kindle’s. Next time we will. Reading almost exclusively in the evenings and a smidge in the mornings Dachary devoured 21 books and Kay went through 12. There’s no way we’d have been able to carry that many paperbacks. It should be noted that Kindle books almost always come with Digital Rights Management (DRM) which means they could literally become unusable at any moment, but right now there’s no better way for an adventure rider to read on the road.

More Lithium Batteries

Spot Trackers require lithium batteries for a variety of reasons. You will have an incredibly hard time buying them outside of your home country. So stock up before you leave. We think we got approximately three weeks of constant tracking (while riding) per set.

A small container of grease

The grease on Dachary’s rear axel seemed to wear away. The last time we changed her tire we were seriously concerned about how little there was. The gas station didn’t have any but a local mechanic, when asked for grease, squirted some oil on the axel… “Well,” kay thought, “it *is* a lubricant”.

Tiger Balm

Tiger Balm is one of those creams that feels hot when rubbed into sore muscles. In addition to being very effective it also happens to come in a very small bottle (you don’t need much).

Tea and Coffee

Kay’s always been a tea fan and we were constantly being offered tea or coffee with our breakfasts. The problem is that other countries have different ideas about what constitutes a decent “black” tea. For a while Kay kept getting black tea with cinnamon and cloves. Bleh. He regretted not having brought along some “good” tea.

Dachary wasn’t a huge coffee drinker before the trip, but did appreciate “good” coffee. Kay got her a insulated mug / french press to be her one luxury item on the trip, but she decided against it to save space. It was a decision she’d come to regret after being frequently served bad instant coffe and discovering that “cafe con leche” was really “leche con un poco cafe”.

Throttle Rocker

About three months into the trip Kay developed an uncomfortable case of Trigger Finger as a result of constantly gripping the throttle. He actually left one at home because he disliked how it felt in the way on the grip and had no problems on his previous three week trip riding around the states. While we don’t like the idea of motorcycle cruise controls for safety reasons we recommend bringing a Throttle Rocker or something similar. If nothing else, throw it in your pannier just in case.

Items we regret choosing:

Sena SMH-10

Our trials and tribulations with this have been thoroughly documented. We can’t recommend buying these. Go with one of the Cardo Scala Rider models.

Synthetic sleeping bags

They don’t pack small enough and we wished we’d have invested in ones with a lower temperature rating. We’ve since been told that down packs smaller and is generally good to lower temperatures. For the next trip, we’re looking into down sleeping bags that can zip together so we can share body warmth on really cold nights.

Normal sneakers

Kay brought some good sneakers designed for running off-road. They resist squishing and take up way too much space. Next time he’ll bring converse low-tops because they squish very flat and you’re not off the bike enough for good tread to be a real concern. Dachary’s Ahnu Reyes Sandals squished well and had good tread, but occasionally got rocks or sand in them. She’d “absolutely” bring them again. Kay ended up using Dachary’s sandals frequently when she wasn’t using them herself because they were easier to deal with than Kay’s shoes (i.e. didn’t require socks, and Dachary always had them with her).

5 Function Digital Meter from Aerostitch

A great idea but a horrible execution. The device was never designed to be exposed to the elements. Aerostitch claims it’s “not extreme weatherproof without custom modification (disassemble, apply silicone sealant, reassemble)”. We claim it isn’t weatherproof at all without that and that a motorcycle company shouldn’t be selling a device that isn’t capable of being used on a motorcycle without such modifications. We do know of one rider who’s done the custom sealing and had no problems.

Aerostitch Triple Digit Rain Covers

Simply not worth the effort, slippery, and when incorrectly worn fill up like water balloons.

Touratech sidestand feet.

Both had the bottom layer bend down either slightly or severely, and then fell off.

It’s somewhat bent

Bike things that broke:

Kay’s ABS, or rather, the ability to turn it off.
The 5 function meters.
Three inner tubes (rear flats on Dachary’s bike).
2 SW-Motech Quick-locks (hold the pannier frames on).
Corner of SW-motech Trax pannier.
Watertightness of SW-Motech Trax pannier.
Key to Trax pannier broke off in lock.
AirHawk straps (3 out of 4 ripped off).
BeadRider began unraveling
Engine Gasket on Dachary’s bike.
Dachary’s bike has gotten a few inches shorter in the rear.
Tail light / license plate assembly for Kay’s bike.
Fork Seals on Kay’s bike.
Gas light on Kay’s bike.
Neutral light on Kay’s bike.
Cooling fan on Kay’s bike.
Important bolt fell out of Happy-Trails rack on Kay’s bike.
Oil leak on Kay’s bike.
Metal loop on Kay’s kickstand.
Low beam on Kay’s bike.
Odometer / trip meter on Kay’s bike (stuck on trip meter at 0.0)
Rear left blinker on Kay’s bike (dangling by wires)
2 Touratech sidestand feet. – Both had the bottom layer bend down either slightly or severely, and then fell off.
2 Mirror stalk screws that hold the mirrors on (designed to break easily).
Laminar Lip / Wind deflector at the top of Dachary’s windshield.
A few of the array of screws that provide traction on the Fastway Pegs fell out of 2 pegs despite having used red locktite.
Dachary’s Touratech chain guard broke where they always break and Kay’s has a crack most of the way across.
Other things that broke:

Dachary’s Gerbing jacket.
Dachary’s second garbing jacket works but shocks her.
Dachary’s RevIt Rival H20 boots (zipper wouldn’t zip, then came off).
Some stitching in RevIt Sand pants and jacket.
Kay’s glasses (stepped on).
Sena SMH-10 Headsets.
Lid on our pot melted (user error).
Waterproofing on Dachary’s replacement boots.
Waterproofnees of Hydratex in Dachary’s Rev’It Sand Jacket and pants (she gets wet, not damp).
Cheap dry sacks getting holes.
Contour GPS camera (usb port fell inwards).
Cord pull tabs on three zippers on the BMW Rally Pro 2 suit fell off (zipper is unaffected).
Camelbak bite valves. (Kay’s popped off repeatedly. Both now leak, Dachary’s since Nicaragua )
Camelbak lock thing that keeps water from coming out at all (Kay’s fell out twice spewing water everywhere).
Metal underwire in one of Dachary’s bras broke and had to be removed.
Shutter on one point and shoot now fails to always open completely (repeatedly dropped)
Lanyard keeping point and shoot from flying off the bike broke and had to be tied.
Both point and shoots now have scratches on the lenses (only one was used while riding).
One spork.
Injuries and Ailments:

Kay’s back was thrown out twice (lift with your legs not your back).
Far too much diarrhea (twice badly enough to keep Dachary off the bike).
Dachary’s left shoulder in a fall.
Dachary’s left shoulder/neck when reaching for a fan cord.
Kay’s ankle – bruised the bone when trapped between pannier and sand. Hurt when pannier fell on it a second time.
Kay’s shoulder (can’t remember which or why)
Somewhat serious case of trigger finger in Kay’s right hand.
Dachary’s knee and ankle got scraped from falling whilst walking on sidewalk.
Dachary’s hand got scraped on pannier and then on hanger used to hold stuff in pannier lid.
Dachary received a second degree sunburn as a result of standing for too long in the Colombian sun without sunscreen.
Dachary experienced severe Altitude Sickness in Bolivia ( shortness of breath, migraine, coughing, dizziness).
Assorted minor bruises and muscle strains.
Dehydration headaches.
Camping:

We didn’t camp nearly as much as we’d planned but we still used pretty much everything.

REI QuarterDome T3 three man tent

This worked exceptionally well and we’d highly recommend it or the two man version (the T2).

Hideycamp #2

Sleeping Bags

Our sleeping bag choices were poor. Kay’s only experience with down is an old World War II sleeping bag he has that is effing warm but doesn’t compress very well. Along the way we learned from other riders that good down compresses exceptionally well. So we’d go for down sleeping bags next time. Also, if you’re traveling with someone else be sure to get sleeping bags that can zip together should the night prove unexpectedly cold. Next time we’ll bring bags that are rated down to at least 20 deg F (-10 C). Remember that the temperature ratings on sleeping bags are not standardized and generally indicate the lowest temperature it will keep you alive at, not the lowest temperature you’ll be comfortable at.

We did bring sleeping bag liners, which were supposed to give us an extra 25 deg F of temperature range (see below).

Tent Stuff

Sleeping Bag Liners

We both brought the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Mummy Bag Liner which claims to add up to 25 degrees F of warmth. We’re not convinced of that claim but it did help keep us warmer, is far easier to clean than a sleeping bag, so if you get sweaty, just wash the liner – don’t worry about cleaning the bag. Also, your skin doesn’t stick to it like it does to sleeping bag material. On hot nights we’ve put the sleeping bags under us for padding and just slept in these. We’d definitely recommend these. For storage we ended up just leaving them inside the sleeping bag which we shoved in a compression sack.

Therm-a-Rest Z-light Sleeping pad

We bought this because it folds up into a square shape instead of the standard foam sleeping pads which roll up into a tube. Squares are much easier to strap in place. Next time we wouldn’t buy either. The pad certainly helped but any bone that was pressed against the hard ground through it still hurt. Also, we didn’t consider the additional thermal properties you get from using an inflatable mattress, especially the Exped ones with down in them too. Multiple travelers have reported getting punctures in theirs, which was specifically why we avoided inflatable pads, but they’ve all claimed that fixing them was trivial and the frustration was greatly outweighed by the comfort and warmth.

Headlamps

These are a must-have, and not just for camping. If you need to do anything in the dark these are way better than a flashlight. Kay went with a Petzl Tikka Plus 2 LED Headlamp which is quite comfortable and, at 50 lumens, seemed plenty of light, until Dachary would turn on her heavy-duty Energizer headlamp which totally emasculated the Petzl’s 50 lumens. Also, the Energizer had a red light which was particularly nice because it doesn’t kill your night vision. Kay can’t stand the extra weight of the Energizer’s battery pack or its additional strap that goes over the top of the head. Dachary never feels like the Petzl is going to stay on her head. If we had to do it again Dachary would probably take the same Energizer one and Kay would upgrade to a brighter Petzl with a red light.

First Needs XL Water Purifier

We used this very often, especially in countries where large bottles of water are only available in supermarkets. We never needed to filter pond-water or anything like that, but we could have. It isn’t the most compact option, but it is one of the best.

It died so that we might live…

Food Prep

We brought a cellulose sponge for washing dishes, and that was a mistake because they take quite a while to dry. Next time we’ll bring one of those artificial foam sponges because you can squeeze almost every drop of moisture out of them before setting them to dry.

Optimus Nova

We’re undecided about this. It gets spectacular reviews, whereas most stoves get mediocre reviews, and our first one worked great. But the fuel filter on the replacement we were sent after the recall started getting clogged the first time we used it. We didn’t figure out what the problem was till the end of the trip. The manufacturer was great about helping us out with getting one quickly due to the time crunch between the recall and the start of the trip. We’ll get a new filter and give it a few tries back in the states before committing to it on the next trip.

Please, dear gods, let it boil!

Dachary made the call to bring a Gerbing hunting/camping knife as a separate food-safe knife that was to be used exclusively for food. It made cutting beef, and everything else trivial. Not a requirement, but we liked it and will bring it next time. Kay suggested just using the Leatherman knife until Dachary reminded him of everything else we use the Leatherman knife for. It was a compelling argument for a food-only knife.

small cutting board

We definitely appreciated having somewhere clean to cut meat or veggies. Took up essentially no space, weighed nothing, and we used it as a replacement lid on our pot when we screwed up and melted the one it came with. You can also use it as a serving dish, a plate, etc.

The cutting of meat

GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist (pot/bowls/cups)

This is an excellent compact solution that gives you a pot, two cups, two bowls (insulated), and something to wash them in. All of it fits within the pot. We love this thing with one exception. The lid is plastic and if you accidentally let the water boil out of whatever you’re cooking it will melt and be useless. We’d happily pay for another set if it came with a metal lid.

Update: We just spoke with GSI. They’re working on upgrading the plastic on the Pinnacle Dualist, BUT they’ve also come out with the GSI Glacier Stainless Dualist which is the same kit except that the pot and lid are made from stainless steel, and only slightly more expensive. Also, when we told them what happened to our lid they offered to send us a replacement lid in stainless steel. Once again buying good stuff rather than cheap stuff has paid off. Thanks for the great customer support GSI.

Celulose sponge

This was a mistake. You’ll want a good scrubby sponge for cleaning your dishes but don’t bring a cellulose one. Instead choose one of the artificial yellow foam ones. You can squeeze almost all the water out of them and they dry pretty quickly. A cellulose sponge is sometimes still damp in the morning.

On the Bike:

In the end we both decided we preferred the BeadRider beaded seat cover over the AirHawk. The AirHawk provides a soft and constant pressure that adjusts as you move. Unfortunately this means there’s an inescapably constant pressure on your butt. A beaded seat cover allows you to move around to relieve pressure points and is surprisingly comfortable. Three of the AirHawk’s four strap attachment points ripped out of the cover, and whenever it rained while you were off the bike you had to sit your nice dry butt on a soaking wet cloth cover. While we didn’t have any problems a few riders we encountered had an exceptional amount of trouble with their AirHawks getting leaks and requiring lots of patching.

Wet Wet Wet

The BeadRider wasn’t perfect though. Too many accidental kicks when throwing a leg over the seat snapped the heavy-duty fishing line that holds the beads together. A few beads were lost on the side, and we had to re-knot them in a few places to keep other beads from falling off. The slipperiness of the ceramic beads left Dachary sliding forwards on her seat. The wooden ones aren’t as durable but they aren’t as slippery under your butt either.

Fixing the BeadRider… again

Loobman

Dachary gave up on hers along the way. She was unhappy with how the zip-tie delivery mechanism required feeding more zip-tie from time to time (by design) and didn’t feel it was a thorough enough coverage. Additionally she disliked not having something to clean the chain with. Next time she’ll bring a brush and a can of chain-lube. We picked up some S10 chain lube along the way and liked the tiny spray tube it had. Kay, on the other hand, was pretty happy with the Loobman. He likes how low-tech it is and how he could reach down and squeeze it when he happened to remember while riding.

Oxford Heaterz Heated Motorcycle Handlebar Grips

Worked great and never needed to turn them all the way up, even in sub-freezing weather. Unfortunately the buttons for adjusting the temperature are nigh-impossible to manipulate when wearing winter gloves and it the unit resets itself to the lowest setting when you turn the bike off.

FuzeBlocks FZ-1 Fuze block

This product is notable because it’s very small, and unlike every other fuze block out there allows each item to easily be switched or unswitched. When the bike turned off so did the electric jacket and grips. No more needing to remember to turn them off or drain the battery. The GPS on the other hand stayed on so that you could ponder the map.

Denali LED Lighting Kit

Worked great, and is probably the most affordable lighting system of its kind. When Kay’s headlight died we simply pointed them down more and used them as replacement low beams. When we were driving in near-zero visibility it gave us confidence to know that oncoming trucks would be able to see them through the mist. When we turned them on at night the road was absolutely visible. We highly recommend these. Next time we’ll spend the extra cash to get a second set for Dachary’s bike, too.

Denali Lights

Welded kick-stand foot extensions

One of our favorite mods was the “big fat feet” we had an Ecuadoran welder attach to our kick-stands after the Touratech ones had fallen off.

Welding on new kickstand feet and loop

DID X-RING Gold Chains

The general consensus is that you simply can’t buy better. Ours have over 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) on them and have shown no sign of stretching. They should probably be replaced at this point but neither of us was fearing them at the end. They’d probably be in better shape if we had chain lube and cleaning brushes and were maintaining them thoroughly throughout the trip.

Panniers

There are few areas more opinionated than pannier selection, and we’ve formed a couple general thoughts about them. Easy on Easy off is a bigger deal than you think. Every time we went into a hotel Dachary would walk behind her bike and have her panniers off in roughly ten seconds. Kay would be unlocking, unlatching, and unscrewing the pucks in his for the next couple minutes. We decided the extra time of unscrewing pucks wouldn’t be nearly as bad if one of us didn’t have something so ridiculously easy to remove as Dachary’s.

We’re not fans of the puck systems that so many metal pannier manufacturer’s use. It’s annoying to have to open the pannier and dig down into it, sometimes needing to remove things, to get to the pucks and then unscrew them just to get your pannier off or on. One requirement for the next panniers we be will be that the mechanism that attaches them to the frame is both external and quick to undo.

We bought a full sheet of 3mm Neoprene with a cloth backing from FoamOrder.com and carefully mapped out the shapes of every panel we’d have to cut from it. Then used some 3M spray adhesive we picked up at an art supplies store to attach it. A half sheet of neoprene should be enough for one set of panniers. This proved to be a really good idea. No rattling, no black stuff from things rubbing against aluminum, and it provided a little bit of shock absorption for the contents of the pannier.

Kay went with the Happy-Trail 38L Teton Panniers. We felt they were very well made, and don’t think you’ll find anything significantly more sturdy, especially not for the price. The frame was also very good. We were disappointed when Kay’s was ripped off because the bolts in the pucks that hold it on did not shear. Instead the frame got tweaked and the little L shaped pieces of metal the the pucks screw into and hold the panniers onto the frame ended up bending the pannier until the angle of the L was such that its hold was less than the force being exerted by the ground. We honestly believe that Happy-Trail needs to switch to shittier bolts. If the bolt had of sheared it would have been a simple matter to grab a Leatherman, grab the end, unscrew it, and replace it. Instead, we’ve got a bent frame and L pieces that barely hold because, even after repeated banging with rocks, bricks, and axes, they are still not at the right angle. You can’t get anything inside the pannier to help flatten it from the inside. Maybe a tiny bottle jack would work… There are a number of people out there who are soft-bag fans because of the possibility of getting your foot trapped / crushed between a hard pannier and the ground. This happened to Kay twice and if it wasn’t for the malleolus armor in Kay’s boots we’re convinced the ankle would have been broken. With the armor it was just the lingering pain from a bruised bone.

Offloading

The Happy-Trails panniers were modified with Carry handles, Touratech 2 Bottle holder (MSR Bottle and Fire Extinguisher), and Touratech 2 liter Canister holder (emergency emergency fuel).

Dachary went with the SW-Motech Trax cases which we made the same handle-mod on. As noted above, we loved the ease of use of these, but in almost every other aspect they failed. The lid of each pannier has space in it, but unlike Jesse Cases there’s no way to actually hold anything in the roof. We ended up using wire hangers bent in just such a way which kinda-sorta worked for large items like shoes. The Quick-locks that hold the SW-Motech frame together both self destructed as a result of tiny, no-speed drops where the slightest pressure (the weight of the bike) sheered the pins off the locking mechanisms. Dachary is convinced that in an off capable of ripping a pannier from a bike the frame would self-destruct, which would leave you totally screwed. How do you attach the pannier to a frame that’s not really there anymore and limp to the next welder? Kay’s convinced that the thin piece of bent aluminum rod that you use to latch the panniers to the frame would be ripped off and then you’d be screwed because it’s not just something you can weld. It has to be just the right size and bent at just the right angles.

The corners of the Trax cases are plastic and, as far as we can tell, nothing is welded on them. Everything is riveted. The plastic corners will easily rip free of their rivets in an off. We eventually ended up finding someone to replace the corner that’d ripped off.

Five dollar pannier repair

While the cases were initially waterproof (although SW-Motech no longer markets them as such), they began to quickly get things wet inside after a couple of drops. The riveted panels pulled away slightly and made enough of a gap for water to leak inside – particularly the right pannier. We do not believe that this would happen with the Happy-Trail panniers unless there was a very serious dent. Everything in our panniers that wasn’t supposed to get wet was in one of our many dry-sacks. This proved wise with the Trax cases.

On the Hard vs. Soft debate we’re still somewhat torn. We both went with hard for the peace of mind they provide. On one of the test rides with Kay’s soft luggage he was constantly concerned about someone getting in to it. On the journey we had no problems with people trying to get into our cases, but we also didn’t worry about it either. We’re not sure it’s needed, and if we were doing a trip just within the USA we might go with soft luggage, but we definitely appreciate the security aspect of hard luggage.

On the Humans:

BMW Rallye Pro 2 suit

Great construction, exceptional armor, surprisingly good ventilation. Can’t recommend it highly enough. We’ve looked at the Rallye Pro 3 and believe that they’ve taken the excellence of the Rallye Pro 2 and made well chosen enhancements. Ignore the fact that people think you bought it because of the BMW roundel and buy it because it’s excellent.

Crowding around the bikes

TCX GTX Infinity Boots

The waterproofing was excellent. Without the malleolus protector Kay’s convinced he’d have broken his left ankle, possibly twice. Only downside is that the edging at the top is very itchy for at least a month of riding, and after that it’s mildly itchy. Tall socks are required. After using them long enough Kay decided that the boots had become so comfortable that it wasn’t worth the effort of digging out normal shoes if he wasn’t going to walking particularly far (more than a couple miles).

We seem to have gotten a bit dusty

RevIt Rival H20 Boots

These had a zipper that was way too fine, got borked on the first encounter with dirt/mud, and ripped off when trying to extricate a foot from them. These boots might be good for highway touring and commuters, but they’re simply not practical from a construction standpoint for adventure riding. Any off-road at all is virtually guaranteed to cause problems with the fine-tooth zipper. Otherwise, they were comfortable and perfectly fine for certain applications, especially in their price point – just not for adventure riding.

The Zipper of Doom

We ended up returning them at the beginning of the trip and replacing them with…

Dainese Visoke D-WP Boots

These lost all semblance of waterproofness by Colombia at around 6,700 miles and around 50 solid 8-10 hour days in a row of riding, but were otherwise well loved by Dachary and greatly preferred to the Revit Rival H20 Boots due to their thicker soles and extra shin protection. The extra height they provided was just enough to make it easier for Dachary to maneuver her bike in in parking, which she had to do on tippy-toes until the bike got shorter. We’ve been told that Gore-Tex will guarantee the waterproofing in any product that uses it but haven’t contacted anybody yet about the waterproofing of these boots.

Gloves

Dachary went with the RevIt Monster Gloves for the warm weather. For safety reasons we don’t recommend short gloves for most riders but Dachary’s sleeves were actually a bit too long and, she believed, would cover, and protect, her wrists from scrapes even when pushed back up the arm. The Monster gloves wore great, and were extremely comfortable when broken in. They don’t feel particularly protective and certainly wouldn’t have done much in a bad off, particularly in off-road conditions, but they were great for long-distance touring with mostly paved riding.

Dachary had the RevIt Zenith H20 Gloves for the rain and cooler temps. Kay seriously regretted not getting these too. While it may have been excessive to carry three pairs of gloves, there were times when it was too cold for the Monster mesh gloves but not cold enough to justify the Held Warm N’Dry gloves. The RevIt Zenith gloves were the perfect compromise for those in-between temperatures. Also good in the rain.

Kay went with the Joe Rocket Sonic Gloves for the warm weather, but discovered that his thumb (average sized) got slightly jammed when twisting the throttle and eventually had to take out the stitching in the top of the thumb so that it could poke out. Dachary had these before the trip but the felt in the palm wore through near the thumb and became uncomfortable bumps at the edges of the wear holes. They’re definitely good from a safety perspective (Kay’s wearing the ones that saved Dachary’s knuckles in a lowside) and were comfortable for Kay other than the thumb issue, but neither of us would buy them again.

Glove Mod

Kay went with the Aerostitch Triple Digit Rain Covers instead of the RevIt Zenith H20 Gloves, despite a total failure on a test run where they turned into water balloons surrounding his hands. This had been chalked up to user-error. Not buying a second pair of rain gloves would save us money and he didn’t mind the slipperiness of them. On the trip it was decided that they were obnoxious and not worth the effort. From then on Kay just let his hands get wet unless it was particularly cold out at which point we’d break out the…

Held Warm-N-Dry Gloves

See the note about these in the Outstanding Items section. Short version: buy them. Buy them now. Just remember that they’re designed to be used with heated grips.

Electric Jackets

Dachary went with the Gerbing and Kay with the Aerostich Kanetsu TLTec Windblocker. Our initial review made the Gerbing out to be the clear winner, but after 18,000 miles it’s not so black and white. Yes, the Gerbing heated up faster and kept your arms warm too, but the first Gerbing jacket died on us, and the second one had a tendency to shock Dachary at regular intervals unless she wore thick insulating layers beneath it. It was quite painful when turned up too. And, when the first Gerbing died it provided essentially no warmth.

The Aerostich on the other hand burned Kay when worn with the thin side against the skin and turned all the way up, but reversing it to put the fleece between the wires and the skin solved that problem. While the arms weren’t heated like the Gerbing it did a good enough job at keeping Kay’s core warm that it wasn’t a big deal. And, most importantly it still provided a measure of warmth due to its fleece side even when it wasn’t turned on. The Aerostich’s lack of pockets was particularly annoying when walking around in it, as was it’s “motorcycle” cut meant it came barely to the waist when riding and rode up to high when walking around.

So, the question is, would we recommend either of them? We’re not sure. Gerbing has a great reputation and is definitely willing to replace faulty products, but we’re concerned that both jackets had problems. Also, willingness to replace a faulty product doesn’t help when you’re in another country or on another continent and don’t have a shipping address. The Aerostitch has 1970′s technology, but as a result it’s not nearly as finicky, and we love that it has a fleece side that’ll keep you warm should it break, or if you’re just walking around town. The cut and the lack of pockets though…

We highly recommend getting an electric jacket, we’re just not sure which one you should get. Kay’s considering the exo2 gear for the next trip.

Personal Hygiene:

Baby Wipes

Far too many uses to list. About the only thing you can’t clean with them is your visor because they leave a thin film of residue.

Travel toothbrushes

The kind that fold, or split into two pieces. Normal toothbrushes are too long for a toiletries stuff sack and chopping off the end of the handle leaves it too short for comfortable use. Plus if you have the kind that you split into two pieces and it goes inside itself like a little case, it keeps your toothbrush from getting stuff on it from your other toiletries (i.e. leaky soap, etc.)

Towels

We each brought a “large” chamois style MSR PackTowl which was more than sufficient to get us dry and packs very small, but next time we’ll bring the extra large one. The difference in packing space is negligible and you should be able to wrap an XL one around you when you step out of the shower in a campground. You can’t wrap the smaller ones around you.

We also brought a tiny version for drying the dishes. We weren’t sure if bringing a chamois towel for dishes was a good call or not before the trip, but in the end we think it was great.

Mimikaki

You could bring a bag of Q-tips, but that takes up space and needs to be kept dry. A mimikaki on the other hand can get wet, is reusable, and takes up less space than a pen. For those who don’t know a Mimikaki is essentially an ear spoon. Americans tend to put this in the “gross” category but really it’s no worse than a Q-tip and the Japanese have been fans of them for years. Kay went with a poor man’s Mimikaki made from a paperclip (not as dangerous as it sounds), but you can buy real ones from sites like J-List. We recommend getting a metal one if you can find it. Side note: Dachary does not and will not use this. But also doesn’t have the problems with ear wax that most people have. So to each his own in this regard.

Other:

First Aid Kit

We took the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Weekender First-Aid Kit and beefed it up with a number of additional items (see our Office Supplies page for details). We also brought their Suture / Syringe kit, because we’ve been advised that there are a number of hospitals in the world who can’t afford fresh needles and need to reuse them. We suspect that this probably isn’t the case in the Americas, but just in case…

We chose, and would recommend, the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Weekender First-Aid Kit because of its very easy to read section labels. We know from experience that in stressful situations you don’t have the mental capacity to hunt for things. If someone’s bleeding you want a pocket that says “Bleeding”. All of the first aid kits we’ve seen that have any hope of fitting in a pannier need to have items added to them, but we think the clear labeling is a definite benefit in stressful situations. Also the first aid book that it comes with is quite good; not one of those crappy booklets most kits come with. We’re not sure we’d bring the suture kit to the Americas again, but if you’re heading to Africa or Around the World we’d definitely recommend it. We’re happy to report that we only used the kit for burn gel and some pills, although we did consult the book several times to diagnose Dachary’s diarrhea, degree of sunburn, altitude sickness, etc. On a related note, if you’re fortunate enough to have an old-school pharmacist nearby, explain what you’re about to do and ask them if you could have any of their first aid related items or pills that are either about to expire or just expired recently. Ours offered us a number of useful things that he was just going to have to throw out.

Ziplock baggies

Lots of people recommend these. We recommend against them. Every single ziplock we brought ended up self-destructing, and not just a little tear self destruction either. They completely wore out. Holes everywhere. Even nice round things like batteries couldn’t be kept. Save yourself the frustration and just get some small, lightweight dry sacks for holding things in your panniers. We got a few multi-packs of small dry sacks from Amazon.com and they were great as both stuff sacks and at keeping important things dry when our panniers did get wet.

Money Belts

Neither of us ever wore them. Dachary put extra cash and cards in hers but left it somewhere not on her person. it may as well have just been an envelope. Kay never put anything in his. We wouldn’t bother next time. We went with the advice of carrying a wallet that has fake cards and just enough cash for the day. If it gets stolen, no biggie. However, we had no problems in this regard on the entire trip.

Maps

The advice we’d received was to get maps with a scale of at least 1:500,000. In some cases we were able to find maps with a scale of 1:250,000. Some maps had great road coverage but no topographical information. Some had good roads and topographical information. Some were waterproof, some weren’t. Our advice is this: If you’re the type who goes out of their way to frequently ride tiny dirt roads then get a 1:250,000 scale map whenever you can. If that doesn’t sound like you get 1:500,000. The problem with the 1:250,000 scale is that when you’re traveling at normal pavement speeds you have to refold them three times a day just to keep the part you’re riding on visible. Always get a map with good topographical information. The map we had of Chile was very easy to read, but we had no clue when we were about to deal with mountains and valleys which seriously impacts your riding speed due to all the squiggles. Also, it’s good to know when you’re about to climb into the mountains because it generally gets quite chilly when you do.

Waterproof maps, when you can find them, have a surprising side-benefit. They’re much more resilient when it comes to all the abuse your maps take from being constantly refolded to fit into the map pouch on your tank bag. Most of our paper maps look thoroughly beaten, and some have holes at some of the fold corners.

We need to make special mention of the National Geographic Adventure maps. If you want a detailed map (1:250,000) these are easy to read, waterproof, contain topographical information, and include “dirt tracks” and “trails”. The only downside is that they’re only available for a handful of countries.

Salted / Roasted Almonds

The salted ones are hard to find on the road, but you’ll sporadically find fresh ones. We recommend these, because they were always greatly appreciated when we nommed on them from a tank bag, and they take a while to digest so your body receives benefit from them for quite a while afterwards. If it’s mealtime and you can’t find anything nearby, grab a couple handfuls of salted almonds.

Oxford Spanish / English Dictionary

Something like 70% of the words we tried to look up (Spanish and English) weren’t in there, but we found an unexpected benefit. When we were trying to convey something important, but lacked the vocabulary, we’d pull it out and look up the world. Frequently the other person would get interested and, once you’d figured out your word, borrow it to look up something they were trying to convey to you. So, while we wouldn’t particularly recommend *this* dictionary, we would recommend bringing a paper dictionary, in addition to having a copy of Ultralingua on your iPhone (see below).

Fire Extinguisher

Didn’t need to use it, but glad we had it. Also, it turns out that there’s a common scam amongst corrupt cops in South America where they claim you are required to have one even though you aren’t and try and get a bribe out of you. Ditto for warning triangles, which we didn’t have.

Business Cards

You’re going to meet people who are interested in your trip. You can either tell them your URL and hope they remember it, or hope that someone’s got a piece of paper and a pen. Or, you can simply carry business cards. It should be noted that standard US business cards will just fit in a large Altoids tin. The corners might get compressed slightly but not badly, and it’ll help protect them from getting beaten up. We carried a couple tins of them and were very grateful to have them to hand out.

Cameras

We were planning on both getting new point-and-shoot’s for the trip, and after doing a lot of research using Flickr’s Camera Finder to see what real world pictures looked like from various cameras we decided on the Canon PowerShot SX210 SI. Dachary bought hers, but Kay decided to spend his money on a used DSLR and found a Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS on eBay for about the same price $350. We also had an old Canon PowerShot SD1000 which was the “riding camera”.

The old PowerShot got tethered to Kay’s tank bag and was used for shooting while riding. If something horrible happened as a result of it being used on a motorcycle we weren’t going to be too bummed. The tether definitely came in handy as it was dropped or slipped out of where it got shoved for easy access while riding a number of times. Sadly Kay managed to forget it was there, pull the tank bag off the bike and cause it to hit the ground when the tank bag was lowered… repeatedly. Now, the shutter doesn’t always open up completely.

The combination of a good point and shoot (the SX210) and a DSLR is one we’d highly recommend. Mostly we just put the DSLR in landscape mode (no flash) and let it do everything automatically. A telephoto lens would have been nice, but the one it came with was surprisingly good. The 14x optical zoom on the SX210 compensated when the DSLR lens couldn’t capture something small or far off, but time and again we were impressed with how much better the color quality is on the DSLR. Megapixels aren’t everything.

Our advice is to bring a good point and shoot you can throw in your pocket while walking around populated areas and a good DSLR for the really important / beautiful shots. And, if you have an old one, or can afford another, a point and shoot for your tank bag that you don’t mind risking the life of.

Video Cameras

We brought a Contour HD, a Contour GPS, and a V.O.I. P.O.V video camera. The Contour HD worked flawlessly and provided great video. The Contour GPS worked flawlessly and provided great video until the USB port on it that you use to charge it and get data off broke and pushed into the camera where you could no longer access it. The P.O.V. never got used even as a replacement for the broken Contour GPS because the remote never seemed to reliably start a recording so you have to keep the screen on the main body visible and there’s a big-ass fiber optic cable running from the body to the lens on your head. So, every time you step off the bike you have to remove the camera from your helmet and stow it away. (However, another rider told us that the GPS seems to interfere with the signal from the remote, and if you move the remote further from the GPS unit, it might work reliably. We never got around to testing this.).

Also, because you want to not go through batteries at an insane rate you have to wire it to your battery (there’s an adapter for that) but the device must be powered to get video off of it. So, you either have to hold your laptop next to your bike while you download the video or you have to stick in some batteries (it won’t power itself from the USB connection) and then remove them when you’re ready to plug it back into the bike. All-in-all the added complications and frustrations that the P.O.V presented didn’t make Kay feel like bothering. We pondered Velcroing it to the bike, but didn’t want to deal with having to detach it from the bike every time we walked away from it. We recommend a nice cordless helmet cam like the Contour HD or GPS. Just be sure to keep it charged so you don’t miss that incredible moment.

The GPS functionality on the Contour GPS is, right now, largely a gimmick. You can only share it via their video site, but we chose it because even though we planned to share the video on other sites, we’d be able to use the software on our laptops to know exactly where the video was taken which we found a useful thing on a trip like this. No more wondering “Where was this?”

When we met up with OsoBlanco (on ADVRider) on the road and told him of our dead camera he mentioned that on his Around the World trip he and his companions managed to kill five Contour HDs. He’d also had trouble with the remote on the P.O.V. whenever it was too near his GPS. For this trip he’d switched to the Drift HD170 which seemed to be working ok for him, although we all agreed that no-one in the motorcycle camera space has gotten it *quite* right yet.

It should be noted that right now the V.O.I. P.O.V is the only helmet cam we could find with a microphone in. So, if you want to narrate while riding (wind noise will be hard to overcome) it’s your only choice.

Computing

We brought two mac laptops and an iPad. Two laptops is a bit excessive for most, but Dachary still needed to work for some of her clients from time to time and we were determined to keep up the daily posts. Writing daily ride reports takes a lot of work, and if you skip writing one evening you have to make it up the next so there were many nights when Dachary was writing one post or working for a client while Kay was writing a post. This was only an option because we had two laptops, and from a space standpoint, it was only justifiable because we had two panniers each. For riding two-up where space is much more of a concern, we never would have been able to justify two laptops.

We brought the iPad because it has an incredible battery life and because with the addition of the thin Apple bluetooth keyboard it becomes a very effective writing device. We believed that we were going to be camping a lot and thought we’d be able to use it for writing the posts. This didn’t happen but we ended up loving it for two other reasons: 1) excellent viewing angle for watching downloaded movies and tv shows. You don’t have to crowd together to have the screen be at the right angle for both. 2) Kay would use the Kindle app on it it to read books downloaded from Amazon, but it’s not nearly as nice for reading on as a real Kindle.

We don’t recommend the iPad for content creation unless you’re using service like Posterous.com to post to your blog. About the only content the iPad is decent at creating is emails and Posterous.com ingests email and converts it into blog posts (on its site and others if you want), uploads the embedded photos and videos to Flickr, embeds galleries and audio players as needed. But, it can’t post to ride reports on sites like ADVRider.

If, however, you’re just posting occasionally, or not at all… Can’t recommend the iPad highly enough. The only downside is that you’re going to have a harder time connecting to weak WiFi signals, which you’ll encounter frequently, with an iPad (or iPhone) than you will with a laptop. The antenna’s just not as good.

Ultralingua

If you have an iPhone grab a copy of Ultralingua. This is an excellent foreign language dictionary (to and from) with a huge vocabulary. Definitely worth the money. Plus many words that weren’t in our paper dictionaries were in Ultralingua. Truly helpful and awesome. (Thanks Eric for recommending it!)

Because they Rock:

On our trip, Revzilla went out of their way to help us with returns and getting replacement items when we were in far off lands. Their support in finding the right items for the trip was exceptional. Their web site is also the best in the industry. For these reasons, because we are incredibly grateful for their support, and because they simply get what it is to be an adventure rider we’d like to suggest making your next gear purchases with them. You won’t regret it.

Us at RevZilla

March 31, 2011

Costs for The Trip

We did some quick and dirty math, and these numbers aren’t down-to-the-dollar accurate, but they’re within a few hundred dollars in most cases. So for those of you wondering what a trip like this costs, here’s how it broke down for us:

Total Spent During the Trip: $17,000 ($20,200)

Transporting us*: $3,600
Transporting the bikes: $1,800
(Future transport of bikes back home will be an additional $3,200)
Bike service: $2,000
Other repairs/replacements: $1,200
Hotels/Gas/Restaurants**: $8,400

This is just what we spent on the trip itself – not what we spent before the trip getting everything ready. We spent between $1,500 and $2,000 on kitting out each bike, including stuff like fairing guards, engine guards, Denali lights, panniers, etc. (For a full breakdown of bike mods, see our =http://www.corporaterunaways.com/about/company-vehiclesCompany Vehicles page[/url].) We also bought over $1,000 in bike spares that we carried with us before we left the US. So we spent probably an additional $5,000 getting the bikes ready before the trip.

The total cost to transport the bikes doesn’t include what it’s going to cost to get the bikes home at the end of the trip. If we had the money to do it now, it would be an additional $3,200 (roughly), bringing that total to $5,000.

So if you include the mods we made to the bikes before the trip, and what it would cost to get the bikes shipped home, the total cost would be around $25,200.

Total Cost: $25,200

We also bought a lot of camping gear and new motorcycle gear for this trip, which isn’t included in this cost breakdown. Camping gear is probably around $1,000, including tents, sleeping bags and cooking supplies, and new motorcycle gear for the trip is probably $1,000 to $1,500. But this stuff might easily have been purchased for US trips and/or just riding, so we don’t really include this in the price breakdown. But if you wanted to include those items, it would bring the total to: $27,700.

*The cost for transporting us includes two plane tickets from Panama City to Bogota, and two plane tickets from Buenos Aires to Boston, MA at the end of the trip.

**While this wasn’t the plan when we left, we ended up staying in hotels most of the trip. Camping was very difficult to find throughout most of Central America, although it was more available in South America. You could absolutely save money by not staying in hotels.

However, the total cost for hotels in Mexico/Central America was probably around $1,000 (just guessing at a $20 average, which might be too high – I’m erring on the expensive side for the sake of estimating). South America through Peru was probably another $500. It wasn’t until we got to Chile and Argentina that the hotels started getting really expensive (and subsequently we started camping and bush-camping more) and we spent probably $1,000 on hotels in 25-ish days of Chile and Argentina, so if you camp here you can save a ton of money.

So estimating, the total cost we spent on hotels was probably around $2,500. You could practically cut that number in half by camping exclusively in Chile and Argentina, but you’ll need good gear for the cold nights. You get diminishing returns by camping in northern South America and Central America, although it is a big area to cut costs.

March 31, 2011

Day 115 – Buenos Aires

Day 115 – The search for Spock… er… luggage (Buenos Aires).

The neighbors started arguing early last night. Initially I thought that the guy yelling was mentally retarded. Then I realized he was just yelling in Spanish. Unfortunately, they continued for hours and I couldn’t sleep through it. Then I was too hot.. then… Yeah, that’s right. I’m a picky bitch. :P

Anyway, we get up, hunt down some pandas at the Panderia, eat breadfast, and figure out what else we can pack in my panniers. We’ve decided to take mine on the plane and store Dachary’s here at Dakar Motos. We’d like to take them all but Copa only allows two checked bags and United Airlines allows zero… well, zero for free. First bag $25. Second bag $35. Go over size or weight on either of those and it’s another $100, per bag. If we had of known we would have taken the slightly more expensive itinerary because it was all Copa and would have required any baggage fees or a fracking long layover in DC. The end cost would have been about the same and the hassle would have been far less. Also, with the bullshit over the price skyrocketing after our card was declined on the flight we tried to book first I accidentally purchased the flight protection from Travelocity. Hopefully I’ll remember to try calling them tomorrow and see if we can get that refunded.

Where was I? Oh yes, luggage. We’ve decided we can leave more than half of the shit we had in our panniers because it’s useless without bikes. So we’ve packed that in Dachary’s. We’re leaving behind our sleeping pads, two 1.5 gallon gas tanks, one 2 liter gas tank, and one used tire at Dakar Motos for anyone who needs them. Javier has a small stack of used tires here for people too broke to afford a tire from his HUGE stack of new ones. If you need a tire near BA, check with Javier.

This leaves us with 2 helmets and 2 sleeping bags to get back home. There’s no space to leave them, and without them theres no possibility of riding… well, that’s not true. We’ve both got old crappy helmets that don’t fit nearly as well.

Joe and Vern wandered into town before they left and got luggage, so we dropped them an e-mail to find out where. Vern responded with good directions and said they managed to find bags for $50, so we hopped on the train and headed downtown. We’ve written down the maximum linear size (64 inches) and weight (50 pounds) for a piece of luggage in my Moleskine (a must bring item) but lack any way to determine how big the luggage we’re going to buy is. Fortunately I remember one of the street vendors outside of the downtown train station sells tape measures. Sure enough, they’re still there when get there and for 10 pesos I am now the proud owner of yet another tape measure. There are probably three at home in the miscellaneous drawer in the kitchen.

Most of the luggage we found was outrageously expensive. Seriously, what kind of people spend over $300 for a single piece of luggage… oh… wait… motorcyclists. That’s actually a pretty good price for a single pannier. hmm…

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577870750[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577870750Maybe[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577872574[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577872574Wire Moto[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577873866[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577873866Are you sure we’re not in New York[/url]

With a max price of 200 pesos ($50 US) we keep searching, and searching, and searching. We find a number of decent rectangular duffels for just under $50 US but are hoping for something with a bit more protection for the helmets. We find some stiffer things, but the helmets would barely fit and have no extra space for us to put padding around them. We take a break at a massive McDonalds that had two floors and at least 100 people spread out over 6 or 7 lines at a massive counter (not exaggerating) and a woman making sure people kept the lines all about the same length and writing peoples orders down on a form to hand to the cashier. I have never seen McDonalds employees work their asses of like these kids were.

Eventually we find the best compromise. It’s essentially a rectangular duffel with a stiff bottom, a handle and wheels on one end. At 199 pesos it’s twice as expensive as a normal duffel and has slightly worse construction, but in washington DC we’ll have to carry it, two panniers, the dry sack duffel, and two tank bags across the airport so we’ll be very grateful for the wheels, and the tape measure confirms that it’s under 64 linear inches (length plus width plus height). Like the tape measure, we’ve got one of these back home.

We negotiate the crowds and stop at every Cambio (money exchange) along the way, but no-one wants our Limpera or Quetzales. At this point we’re just crossing our fingers that one of the banks or money exchanges at home will take it because we’ve got about $150 US between the two. There were no money changers when we left Honduras or Nicaragua and we weren’t aggressive enough about hunting down banks in the next country. Also, I’ve got a shitload of change from pretty much every country along the way because no-one wants to take that. David passed on a good solution for that though. At his last fill-up of any country he simply hands over all the coins he’s built up during his time there and has them put in that much gas. It’s kind-of a shitty thing to do to that last gas-station attendant, but it does solve the excess change problem.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577449329[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577449329So many zeroes, so little value[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577289145[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577289145Kay in the Park[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577876778[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577876778Dachary in the Park[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577878260[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577878260Painters in the park[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577881200[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577881200Historical uniforms?[/url]

Tired of walking we chill in the park, then make our way to… Starbucks with a BMW! Dachary is a massive Starbucks fan and one of our friends gave us a Starbucks card when we left hoping we could use it along the way, and the BMW clinches it. We’ve got to go in.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577296843[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577296843BMW and Starbucks[/url]

Unfortunately, Starbucks cards don’t work in Buenos Aires (it did in Mexico City), but we get a couple drinks and sit in the comfy chairs watching the world go by and pondering how best to acquire money to free our bikes. Discussions of bills lead to a mini-revalation that might actually help us get a fair way to our goal. I inherited a decent piano when my mom died and I should be able to get it out of storage without too much expense… I hope. We’re not sure what it’s worth, but IF we can get it and IF it sells within a few months it’ll make a nice dent in the $6k we need to raise. So, those drinks definitely paid for themselves.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577300381[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577300381Dachary on the train.[/url]

I ponder the ideograms on the train back, and we stop by the supermarket to pick up some food to cook for dinner, but the meat is behind a counter with no attendant and no bell, and the vegetables are behind a counter with no attendant and no bell which leaves us with pasta. Um… yeah. We’ll try back later, and if that fails we’ll just eat out.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577885608[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577885608Get drunk with the robot.[/url]

Get drunk with the robot.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577884332[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577884332Buenos Aires Ideograms[/url]

Emulate Janus.
Ride bikes with robots.
Run through the corrals (see picture below).
Swing your child in front of the train.
Run on the tracks.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577888090[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577888090Corrals[/url]

For future Runaways staying at Dakar Motos this is the place to eat. Everything else around here looks a little skeezy, but this place has nice people, nice space, and good foods, reasonably priced. We ate here twice with David, and David got a beer both times, and we still spent less than we have in most of the places we’ve eaten dinner in Argentina.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577303241[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5577303241Where to eat when at Dakar Motos.[/url]

Tonight or tomorrow we’ll pack up the new wheelie-duffel.

On a related note Sandra informs us that new TSA regulations say that you can’t ship any personal items with your bike*. That means that your panniers either have to be empty, or only contain bike parts when you ship it. So, if you’re planning on shipping your bike to the US, you’re going to have to hunt down luggage too. Also, she advises that you give her just under one month’s warning if at all possible to arrange shipping to get your bike home (quotes from the cargo companies are only good for one month anyway). I suspect she can do it in less if needed, but it’s always safer with lead time.

* Apparently there was a bomb on a UPS flight and somehow this means we’ll be safer without personal items going along with vehicles. Maybe it’s me, but I think it’d be significantly more effective to hide a bomb in the metalwork of a vehicle than in easily inspectable panniers, or anywhere else you’d store personal items on a vehicle. Maybe the TSA just wants to prevent the really lazy bombers and encourage them to make it more of a challenge to prevent planes from blowing up.

February 3, 2011

Day 59 – Mocoa Colombia

Wow, almost two months now.

Today our friend in the states managed to make it through the snow-drifts to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and procure a new plate (and registration) for my bike. It didn’t require any convincing with tales of dangerous colombian drug dealers. In fact, all it required, literally, was a copy of my registration, which I find rather disturbing, because with the Mass. registration being so amazingly forgeable it seems that just about anyone could go in and fuck with someone else vehicle.

There was one, minor, tiny, insignificant, little snag though. The whole getting it delivered to us? Yeah. No. We checked the FedEx web site… we could have it delivered to a FedEx location in Pasto, which is on the way to one of the two borders. That sounded good, so we gave our friend a heads-up. She goes, and discovers that the “hold for pick-up” location for Pasto is not exactly IN Pasto. No. It’s in Bogota, at the Airport. A three day drive from Pasto. So, not exactly what I’d call “convenient” to anyone living there. It’s a two day drive from Mocoa, and along the way is San Agustín which sounds like something worth visiting since every single adult we encountered between Bogota and Pitalito asked us if that’s where we were headed. Plus, the package won’t be in Bogota until Monday (Today’s Thursday) so why not?

After hearing about her luck at the RMV we wandered back to the welders who presented us with this.

Five dollar pannier repair

We were thrilled. Now, you’ll note that it’s not actually welded. This is entirely our fault. We never specified that it had to be welded. We said we wanted a replacement with aluminum and that we didn’t care how ugly it was as long as it was strong. They then did what I think was perfectly logical. They took a pannier held together with rivets, made a replacement corner from the plastic one we ripped off, and riveted it on like everything else. Welding would have been stronger, but more work, and incongruous with the rest of the construction. We should have been more specific, BUT we were still thrilled, especially for $5.

Welders in Mocoa

Fortunately for us there was a hardware store right next to the welder, and Dachary had the bright idea of going in and looking for some sealant ($3) which we took back to the room (after a stop at a bakery) and proceeded to use. Dachary asked “is it ok to use your bare skin?” I thought… “hmm silicone boobs, silcone implants, silicone in aquariums… why not?” and responded “sure.” so she did, and a few minutes later reported that her fingers were starting to tingle. Not a good sign. “Get it off!”

We then got the latex gloves out of the miscellaneous bag and I finished the job with those, feeling terrible about putting some nasty chemicals into her system.

The rest of the day was pretty simple. Sample pastry stuff for lunch noms since neither of us was hungry enough for lunch. Read the first few chapters of Nathan Millwad’s (NathanThePostman’s) book Going Postal on the Kindle…well, Kindle on the iPad. And venture out for dinner. Dachary ordered Barbecued Beef, and got what was essentially a very disappointing carne asada. I ordered a burger which turned my stomach and I could only force myself to eat a third of… if that.

And that, is about it. Some clothes washing in the sink. Some water pumping…. OH, the water pumping…

Remember a while ago someone commented that it wasn’t worth the effort since you could get water cheaply along the way? Well, we’d both kind of decided, without ever speaking about it, to go with that suggestion because it just spends more time in the morning than we really wanted to, and was annoying, but it turns out that that’s not really an option in Colombia. In Colombia the only places that have large bottles of water are the supermarkets…. sometimes. Gas stations and other small stores along the way generally only have 600ml bottles, and we need nearly five liters a day between us. So, we’re back to pumping.

Side note: we happen to know exactly where to go in Bogota because we had to walk past the FedEx cargo office twice when getting our bike through customs. It’s just down from Girag. :)

February 2, 2011

What’s broken so far…

Just a recap of the items that have failed or broken in some way, so far.

* Airhawk – front strap ripped out of cover. Cory (Oso Blanco on ADVRider.com) had the same problem with his apparently.
* Beadrider – the heavy duty fishing line that holds the beads together is breaking apart and beads are falling out. It and the Airhawk appear to be from repeatedly being struck by the foot when throwing it over the seat.
* Touratech sidestand foot – Both have had the bottom layer of the edge closest to the bike (when extended) bend down either slightly or severely.

It's somewhat bent

* Metal loop on the kickstand in the photo above has broken off, which makes it very difficult to extend the kickstand. We’ll get that fixed the next time we pass a welder and have 20 minutes to spare.
* Cooling fan for the F650GS on Kay’s bike
* Fork seals on Kay’s bike
* screw / bolt thing that holds the mirror stalk onto the F650GS (we brought 2 spares because everyone seems to break these)
* lost tail light assembly on kay’s bike. Including tail light, license plate, and mud flap on Kay’s bike.
* headlight (low beam) on Kay’s bike.
* Rear left blinker on Kay’s bike. This was an aftermarket flexible stalk blinker that the prior owner put on. I’m think he claimed it was Touratech.

Floppy Blinker

* one inner tube (rear). Probably a nail in a Mexican parking lot.

Tube es No Bueno!

* Glasses (stepped on)

Entropy and glasses

* Laminar lip / wind deflector for the top of Dachary’s windshield (broken when bike fell against wall)

* Corner of SW-Motech Trax case. Repeated drops at low to no speed ripped off the plastic corner. We’re getting a piece of aluminum welded to replace it.

Damage to Trax case

* Quick-locks for SW-Motech racks. There’s a vertical shaft with tiny horizontal rods coming out of two sides. The horizontal rods are what holds it on. They both broke off on both Quick locks. Without these in place the rack holding the pannier falls outwards and would bend and break if ridden in that state.

The horizontal pins have sheared off.

* cord pull tabs on two zippers on the BMW Rally Pro 2 suit.
* The electrical socket / connection in Dachary’s Gerbing’s heated Jacket. Yes, it’s currently in the high 80′s outside but we’ll be climbing to over 4000 meters in Bolivia and the Andes and it’ll be good to have working.

Solving the Gerbing's problem

* Sena SMH-10 headsets. – Multiple failures chronicled elsewhere

Taping the Sena

* Contour GPS camera. USB Port fell inwards. We’ve got it in a bag almost entirely disassembled. Just can’t get the last bit of the tube open to get at the piece we need.
* RevIt Rival H20 Boots (zipper died)

The Zipper of Doom

* Digital 5 Function meters – These were never designed for motorcycles and Aerostitch should be ashamed of themselves for selling them. As soon as they get wet, they die. They come back… kind-of. My thermometer is convinced it’s below freezing out when it’s in the 80′s. They both max out somewhere close to 100 deg. F. Mine now beeps randomly The only thing that’s semi-reliable is the voltmeter which is either fully lit up 88:8 or accurate.

* Camelback bite valves. Dachary’s now drips constantly and both of them have started to gradually slide off the stalk. Bring spares.

* Dachary’s hair – lost to a Hairdresser in love with the 80′s
* Kay’s hair – lost in a vicious Honduran barbering.

Not quite broken but….

* Thumb of Joe Rocket Sonic gloves was too short and resulted in your thumb being jammed into the end as you twisted the throttle. Not technically broken but as good as. Attacked the stitching with a Leatherman.

Glove Mod

* Aerostitch Triple Digit Rain Covers

Not broken. Just annoying and slippy. Won’t bother using them again unless it rains during cold weather. First attempt at using resulted in large sacks of water surrounding each hand. Second attempt seemed to work as designed.

January 14, 2011

Tips for Women Motorcycle Riders in Latin America

Being a woman rider on the road in Latin America presents some unique challenges. After nearly 40 days on the road, here’s what I’ve brought, and here’s what I’d do differently if I were packing again:

I Brought…

  • Four t-shirts – two short-sleeved and two sleeveless. I originally planned to bring only three but snuck an extra one in at the last minute because my clothes took up so little space.
  • Two bras – one normal bra and one sports bra, which was supposed to dry fast and wick sweat better.
  • Four pairs of ExOfficio underwear. I brought regular cotton underwear on one of our three-day test trips and it got whiffy and wasn’t that easy to clean. ExOfficio is AWESOME – dries super fast, doesn’t smell as much as cotton, and feels more comfortable under the gear.
  • Five pairs of socks – three pairs of thicker Smart Wool socks, and two pairs of thin merino wool socks.
  • One pair of pants.
  • One box of tampons (sans box).
  • One small GoTube of shampoo.
  • One small GoTube of shower gel.
  • Razor and spare blades.
  • Travel toothbrush.
  • Regular-size thing of toothpaste.
  • Clear-gel deodorant.
  • Fast-drying camping towel.
  • Toilet paper.

I’d Bring Next Time…

  • More thin t-shirts. Two of my t-shirts are thick cotton t-shirts, which are super comfortable, but they get sweaty and nasty fairly quick, stink when they’re sweaty, and take forever to dry. Not practical when you need to wash every day or every other day, pending water access.
  • A long-sleeved t-shirt or sweater thing. I thought I wouldn’t need one on the bike and they take up a lot of space so I didn’t bring one. But it’s been surprisingly cool in some places and a long-sleeved shirt would have been really awesome. Also, in some places, it’s considered bad etiquette for a woman to have bare shoulders or arms (i.e. some churches, etc.) but I don’t have anything to cover them.
  • Fewer t-shirts. I brought four, and then unexpectedly picked up another one on the road, giving me a total of five t-shirts. I only ever wear three of them, really, and keep one in reserve for when the three are dirty/wet, so four is the most I think I’d need. I currently have one shirt too many.
  • More bras. Two bras is NOT enough. Since crossing into Central America, most days I get sweaty and nasty on the bike. We get to a hotel. I take a shower. I want to put on clean, dry clothes – not the sweaty, nasty clothes I’ve been wearing on the bike. Most days, I’ve got one dirty bra that needs to be washed, and the sweaty, nasty bra I’ve been wearing. I want a third bra that I can reserve for putting on when I get off the bike and am clean/dry.
  • More tampons. The sources I found said it’s difficult to find tampons in most places, but I failed to account for how difficult. And I’ve had a surprising number of tampons self-destruct in my tank bag or pocket when carrying them around for use. So my one box doesn’t actually end up being a whole box, and I’m going to need more by February (halfway through the trip).
  • A bar of soap. I opted not to bring a bar because I didn’t want to deal with putting the wet bar of soap somewhere after I showered. But shower gel without a loofa is a pain to deal with, and it also doesn’t lather particularly well when you don’t have hot water (or a loofa). Which will be most of Latin America. So now I’m wishing I had bar soap and one of those plastic things to carry it. I could pick up a bar of soap, but I haven’t seen the plastic soap things (although I could possibly find one in a tourist town. Should look around.)
  • Fewer socks. I erred on the side of bringing too many because I figured you can never have enough clean, dry socks. But I only ever use three pairs, so I think I could get by quite happily with only three.

Things You Can Find on the Road
You don’t need to worry about bringing:

  • Enough shampoo for the entire trip.
  • Enough soap for the entire trip.
  • Enough toothpaste for the entire trip.
  • Enough deodorant for the entire trip.
  • Toilet paper.

Unsurprisingly, you can get all these things along the way and they’re fairly easy to find. Basic hygiene isn’t difficult even when you’re traveling like this. But for sanitary needs, you’ll mostly only ever see pads, which you might not want when traveling on a bike.

If you don’t have enough clothes, you can pick those up, too, along the way. There are TONS of vendors who sell clothes and you can get them fairly cheap. Things like bras and underwear might be more difficult to find if you prefer a particular style or need a special size.

Bathrooms on the Road
Finding bathrooms on the road is slightly more important for women. Men in Latin America often seem to stop and pee by the side of the road. I’ve seen plenty of men who don’t even bother to go behind a tree – they’ll just stand a few feet from the road with their back to the road and let loose. For women, it’s different. You have to find a good place to pull the bike off the road. Preferably, go find a place that’s sheltered because you’re going to have to pull your pants down, and there’s no non-obvious way to do that.

Throughout most of Latin America, we’ve had no trouble finding bathrooms. Sometimes you have to wait for a bit, but unless you’re really out in the boonies (in which case peeing by the side of the road isn’t a big deal) there are bathrooms every 30-45 minutes, in most places. Most gas stations have bathrooms, although some places charge to use them. Never assume that a bathroom has toilet paper – keep a wodge in your pocket when you go to the bathroom (or carry a roll around in your tank bag).

In many places in Latin America, bathrooms (even the women’s) don’t have toilet seats. Or you’ll find a bathroom with four stalls and only one has a toilet seat. Don’t assume that if you don’t see a toilet seat in one stall there aren’t any. Feel free to keep looking. And toilet seats make life MUCH simpler when you have to pee in full gear and you have knee armor that tends to get caught on your tall boots and everything requires precise arranging to work properly in a bathroom.

Don’t assume that hotels will have toilet seats, either. Most do, but some don’t, and some only have toilet seats in some of the rooms. It’s worth taking a look at the bathroom before you take a room to make sure there’s a toilet seat if that’s important to you in a hotel.

Most bathrooms in Latin America don’t have soap, and some don’t have running water. Bring hand sanitizer to clean your hands after you use the bathroom.

In Mexico and Latin America, you don’t throw toilet paper and sanitary waste into the toilet. Throw it into the trash can next to the toilet. It’s weird throwing used toilet paper in a trash can, but it’s how things work here. Get used to it.

Unless it’s a nice, sit-down restaurant, don’t assume there will be a bathroom. Most of the small commodores and tiny restaurants may not have a bathroom at all, or may only have one bathroom that everyone uses and will be quite nasty. When you’re dining at a commodore, you’ll have better luck waiting and using a bathroom at a gas station.