Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring Shakedown Ride

There's a joke in the corner of the country where I live: "What do you call two days of cold, windy rain that follow immediately after five days of warm, beautiful sunshine? A weekend." All last week, I would get up in the morning, put on my motorcycle gear and commute to work, just barely resisting the temptation to call my boss en route and tell him that I wouldn't be in today. He would understand; he rides, too.

Last Thursday was the worst. My daughter had a field trip to Kenai, and I had the day off so that I could help chaperone her trip. We left Anchorage at 6:00 a.m., driving along the scenic Turnagain Highway into the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula. I had considered taking the Wee since I was going to be driving my own vehicle, and Kylie (my daughter) wanted to ride the bus with her friends. The Wee gets much better gas mileage than my Nissan truck, so the bike would be a lot less expensive to ride on the 300 mile round trip. However, the temperatures on my ride to work in the morning had been in the mid to upper 30's (F), so I was concerned about being too cold on the way to Kenai, since we would be leaving even earlier and would be riding through the mountains. Furthermore, I had been through Turnagain Pass yet this season, so I didn't even know if the pass was ice-free yet. Consequently, I wimped out and took the truck. Needless to say, it was a picture perfect day -- not a cloud in sight, and I spent the entire day in the truck wishing I was on the bike, although that's arguably better than being on the bike, wishing I was in the truck ;)

All day Friday, I was eagerly awaiting the weekend. Saturday morning, I was going to get up early, jump on the bike, and head back into the pass on the Suzuki. Although the roads were clear, there was lots of snow on the ground in the pass, which I thought would make for some cool photos of the Wee. The light, when we stopped in the pass on Thursday, was fantastic, so I planned to get up early on Saturday morning and be in Turnagain Pass by about 7:30 a.m.

I actually left Anchorage about 9:15.

With only a half tank of gas.

Under grey, gloomy, overcast skies.

As I passed Girdwood, about 30 miles south of Anchorage, it was raining and I was down to a third of a tank of gas. The Wee gets pretty good gas mileage, the pass isn't that far from Girdwood and, having other engagements later in the afternoon, I was becoming pressed for time. Consequently, I decided not to stop at Girdwood as I had planned when I left Anchorage. By the time I reached Portage, another ten miles away, I was down to one bar of gas on my gauge, I was cold and I was frustrated. The pass looked socked in, meaning I wouldn't be able to get any good pictures anyway, so I pulled a U-turn at the turn-out to Portage and returned to Girdwood, heated grips turned up to max, and huddled down over my gas tank to minimize wind resistance. After topping off the gas tank with 4.9 gallons of $4.49 gasoline (meaning that I had almost a gallon left -- more than enough gas to get to the pass and back), the ride back to Anchorage was uneventful. At Potter Marsh, I took the "international route" back home, going up the seriously fun switchbacks of Potter Heights Drive, before crossing Finland, Portugal, Romania and Bulgaria ("-Drives," lol) en route to my Anchorage home.

Fortunately, with the exception of Romania, the "international route" is composed of gravel roads that are more like lower-48 fire roads than residential city streets. Finland, in particular, is a rough, pot-holed gravel road, often with deep puddles from snowmelt and run-off, and Portugal...well, Portugal scared the crap out of me the first time I took this route home. It's a steep curve across the saddle overlooking Potter Ravine Park. Like Finland, Portugal has run-off flooding the road at the low point of the saddle, which eventually dumps into the creek that carved Potter Ravine.

Although the weather in Turnagain Pass looked to be pretty miserable, I managed to snap some photos of the bike on some of the international roads:

The ride didn't turn out quite the way I had planned, but it was still a great way to kick off the riding season.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Last of the Winter Accessories

Here is the last of the new accessories I picked up over the winter for the Wee-Strom:
That's my grandson Clark in the baby seat. He was born last September 22, missing my wife's birthday by a matter of hours :(

For those of you about to get up in arms about taking a baby on a motorcycle, if you notice, I'm not wearing all my gear. This was staged just for the photo; his mom was just out of the frame to the right of the photo, laughing (well, more like rolling her eyes, lol).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

DIY Tool/Fuel Tube

One of the reasons I bought the V-Strom is its range. The 2009 DL650 has a 5.8 gallon gas tank, and my experience so far says the DL650 gets an average of 43.6 miles per gallon, for a total range of 231 miles (with a 1/2 gallon reserve). However, sometimes in Alaska, gas stations can be quite a ways apart, and you never know for certain if the next gas station will be open when you arrive since many of them are seasonal. If you are out for an early or late season ride, will your planned fuel stop at 220 miles still be open? Will you have enough range to backtrack to the last open gas station if it's not? So I started looking around for options for some additional gasoline, just in case.

My ideal solution is Peg-Packer. Available in one or two gallon sizes, this looks like a great way to add range without raising the center-of-gravity of an already top-heavy bike. Unfortunately, my budget for goodies is pretty much spent this year. Another, more affordable, option that I found is the Mega-Tube Fuel Combo. This looks like a really nice solution, and it's roughly 1/3 the cost of the Peg-Packer (although, it carries 1/4 the gas, so arguably, the Peg-Packer is the better deal).

However, I've already got several MSR fuel bottles from 11 oz. to 22 oz. for my dual-fuel camping stoves and lanterns. How hard would it be to roll my own Tool/Fuel tube? I went to my local Lowe's to find out. Here's what you need to buy, if you want to try it yourself:

Materials List:
  • 2 foot length of 3" ABS pipe (my local Lowe's sells them in 2 foot lengths; you can buy a full length pipe and cut to size if you want);
  • cap for 3" ABS pipe;
  • coupling for 3" ABS pipe;
  • screw-top cap for 3" ABS pipe;
  • ABS cement.


First, measure the length of the fuel/tool tube. I wanted mine to be large enough to carry a 22 oz. and an 11 oz. fuel bottle, so I laid the ABS pipe on a shelf next to two fuel bottles stacked end-to-end.

Next, test fit the tube on your bike.

Scuff up the ends of the tube with some sandpaper so the cement will adhere better. Scuff up the inside of the end cap, as well.

Make sure you are using the right kind of cement for your tubing. I am using black ABS tubing, so I bought ABS cement.

Smear some cement on the outside of the tube where the cap will go, and on the inside of the end cap. Make sure all of both surfaces are coated, but don't use so much that it runs or creates globs of cement. You want a thin, even coat on both surfaces.

Twist the end cap as you slide it into place on the end of the tube. Make sure it is pressed as far onto the tube as it will go.

Scuff up the outside of the other end of the ABS tubing and the inside of the coupler. Smear some cement on the tubing and the inside of the coupler, then press the coupler over the end of the tube, again, twisting it slightly as you press it into place... so.

This cap comes in two pieces: a threaded end cap, and a plug that screws into the end cap. Scuff the outside of the end cap, smear some cement on it, smear some cement on the inside of the other half of the coupler, and press the end cap into the coupler. You guessed it -- give it a little twist as you push it in place.

Here is the completed tool/fuel tube.

Here is the tool/fuel tube fixed in place on my left-hand side carrier with zip-ties. I'll try to find some padded aluminum straps to permanently attach the tube, but for now, this should work.

Edit: I've had the tool tube on the bike for almost a work-week now, and I have found two problems with my design so far. First, by making it large (long) enough to carry two fuel bottles, I have a bit of a problem. If you have two bottles in the tube, retrieving the top bottle is trivial...but what about the bottom bottle? How do you reach a fuel bottle that is halfway down the tube? A three inch diameter tube is too small for my hands to fit inside. To solve this problem, I am thinking about incorporating some kind of leash or strap inside the tube that will either fit under the bottle or through the lid that you can use to pull the bottle out. While carrying a water bottle to work this week, I have used a length of copper wire (it was handy...), but I started using it like a spring until this morning, when it got crushed into the bottom of the tube. Now the copper wire *AND* my water bottle are trapped at the bottom of the tool tube :banghead:

Second, I picked up a 33 oz. MSR fuel bottle at the local outdoors shop since I want the most distance possible with the bike. Unfortunately, the new MSR bottle is about 1/16 inch too wide to fit into the tube. It is so close, but won't quite fit. The ABS tube is stout enough, I am thinking of gluing some sandpaper onto the tapered top of the bottle, then using it to grind away enough width on the tube for the larger size bottle to fit, but I'm not certain it's worth the effort. As is, I can fit a 12 oz. bottle and a 22 oz. bottle into the tube, so maybe I'll just use the tube to carry them, and if I am really worried about range (say on a ride to Deadhorse), I'll strap the 33 oz. bottle to the top of my Pelican cases, giving me almost a half gallon of extra gas.

Monday, April 2, 2012

LED Light Replacements

After completing the electrical system upgrades, I replaced the 55W halogen bulbs in the fog lights with LED H3 replacement bulbs and I replaced the tail lights with LED motorcycle tail light replacement bulbs, both from I was a little nervous about replacing the bulbs, since I have seen mixed reviews of LED replacement bulbs at various places on-line. However, while I have yet to get the bike on the road (my driveway is still mostly covered in snow and slush), I am impressed with how the bulbs appear in my garage:

Since there are two bulbs in the tail light on my V-Strom, I replaced one bulb with the LED, then started the bike. The LED actually looked brighter than the OEM incandescent bulb, so I turned off the bike and swapped the second bulb as well, then started the bike again. Some of the reviews I have read suggest that the LED creates a bright point-source in the tail light lens, but that it doesn't illuminate the entire lens the way an incandescent bulb does. To avoid this problem, I bought the LED replacement bulbs that contain 19 LEDs to provide the red brake light and 6 white LEDs to illuminate the license plate. On the Strom, the 6 white LEDs won't reach the plate, since the bulb is in a sealed lens that is isolated from the plate. However, I was hoping that the white LEDs might help light up the rest of the lens, and from what I can see, they do.

I was similarly impressed with the H3 fog light replacement bulbs. Although they don't seem to light up the road ahead like the halogen H3 bulbs do, they are more than bright enough to make me more visible to other drivers on the road, which truthfully, is all I was really looking for. The stock headlights on the V-Strom light up the road *at least* as well as the lights on any other vehicle I've ever driven. The problem I was trying to solve, however, is that motorcycle headlights are so close together than most car drivers, used to seeing bulbs that are close to five feet apart, think that the motorcycle is farther away than it really is. By adding lights well away from the headlights, other drivers now see a triangle of lights, and it is much easier to judge distances, theoretically making it less likely to be cut off by a driver who doesn't realize how close you really are. For that purpose, the LED H3 replacement lamps seem to be more than bright enough.

All in all, I am pretty happy with the LED replacements, and I am very happy to have cut my electrical budget by roughly 115W (110W fog lights + 8W tail lights - ((2 x 0.65A) X 12v) fog lights - ((2 x 0.075A) * 12V) tail lights). I should now have plenty of electrical power to run fog lights, heated grips and the motorcycle's systems without discharging my battery.