Predictably a Blog

  • Cooking with Sticks and Twigs

    Cooking with Sticks and Twigs

    Nearly everywhere you’ll ever camp you’ll find all kinds of combustible hot-burning biomass. Sticks and twigs the size of your thumb and smaller. This stuff is way faster and easier to light and to cook with that you’d think, burns nearly smokelessly, and will reliably provide more than enough heat for all kinds of trail cookery.

    But why go Neanderthal now, with all those ingenious little gas stoves available? Because A) it’s less stuff to carry so you’ll travel lighter, and B) it’s nearly as fast to gather the fuel and then heat a liter of water as it is to do the same job with a hissing stove. And C), it’s a lot cleaner than you’d think. Soot is confined within the ‘chimney’ of samovar-kettles so you never touch it, and flat-folding stoves come with fabric storage sleeves.

    What if it’s been raining all day and everything is wet? Uhh…Dead limbs still attached to trees usually remain dry enough to ignite quickly with only a little help from an accelerant like a small piece of dry paper or a few drips of gasoline, or one or two Esbit fuel tabs (#4133). After they are going the heat provided will dry wetter stuff added later. But when it’s really raining super-hard find a motel and eat at a diner -- (even if you are carrying a gas stove).

    About the only places you cannot quickly and easily find sticks and twigs are a few high desert locations.

    —Mr. Subjective


    Products mentioned in this post:

  • Long Service Model

    Our Irrational Attachments

    Many years ago I read a story in a British motorcycle magazine about a fellow who’d ridden the same bike for almost his entire life. A quintessential quirky Englishman. I liked this story so much that I transcribed and saved it back in 2002, because at that time I didn’t have easy access to a digital scanner. It was an incredible story…Some fellow had bought a new bike in 1929 and then ridden it continuously and as his only transportation for the next 70 years until he died. Sometimes Aerostich customers -- and some motorcyclists-in-general – form long attachments to their gear and motorcycles, but nothing like this.

    Perhaps today it is textbook-simple for any modern psychologist to explain this kind of long-term loyalty toward things inanimate which have been wonderfully ‘faithful’? Emotional transference? Or? Whatever the explanation, an understanding appreciation doesn’t actually change one’s situation. I can sort of trace threads of my own such irrationality as perhaps descending from a few long-ago (and long forgotten) childhood experiences, but any limited self-awareness here does not salve or mitigate these materialistically-anthropomorphizing behaviors.

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    There are dozens of examples of faithful artifacts from my life for which I’ve developed some kind of irrational attachment, particularly my long-used gear, motorcycles and tools. Examples surround me and range from an old practically worthless aluminum snow shovel which has been repaired and ‘rebuilt’ several times simply because I like how it ‘feels’, to long-faithful motorcycles, tools and related gear. (About that shovel…For maybe thirty five years I’ve removed winter’s snow with that stupid thing. Duluth averages about 85” a year x 30-plus years with this shovel = who cares?...it’s moved a lot of snow. Back when I was a kid I hated to shovel, doing so at least once by parental command: “Get out there and shovel! Right now!”, and yet today I’m lovingly maintaining a stupid old shovel…) I know others who can only cook their family’s meals on their beat-up rickety worn-out kitchen stove surrounded by an otherwise beautifully remodeled and modernized kitchen, and others who are cooking-fluent only with some familiar and beat-up old cast iron pan.

    No parental memories were in any way ever involved with my motorcycling, as neither parent rode and both were neutral on this activity, but to this day I sure love ‘dancing’ with the familiar crappy old bikes I’ve long ridden and maintained. Whether this dance involves old motorbikes, gear, kitchen stoves, fry pans or whatever, neurologically it probably all is about the same as Willie Nelson’s relationship to his famously beat up guitar ‘Trigger’, except in most cases enjoying THC (…weed, marijuana) isn’t quite as connected.

    The story excerpted below is thin on psychological speculation about emotional transference (?) or whatever, but still amazing, and indirectly reveals something about why Aerostich gear is made the way it is, and why it may be worth this level of attachment.

    We work everyday here to update and improve Aerostich products, but this is not always enough to trigger a replacement purchase from someone with well-worn Aerostich gear. You would hardly believe what we sometimes receive for refurbishment these days. Beloved beat-up old riding gear that’s been long used and cared for. Stuff that remains both comfortable and protective, and a well-experienced rider’s faithful tool…A faithful and silent witness to years of motorcycling experiences.

    “But the newest Aerostich gear is WAY better.” We say.

    “Bah, just do the best you can to fix up this one..” They reply.

    And so we usually do.


    Long Service Model

    Excerpted From ‘The Classic Motorcycle’ (UK), February 2002; by Roy Poynting http://www.classicmotorcycle.co.uk

    “Bill Shepherd bought his James brand new in 1929. It proved a shrewd purchase as it served as his main transport for the rest of his life. Roy Poynting samples this fully documented, original and unrestored vintage two-stroke.”

    “….I guess we all keep some paperwork about our bikes. If only to look back at, and wonder why we bankrupted ourselves to buy some worthless old hack. But imagine being so satisfied with your purchase that you kept it until your death, and along the way, you kept all the paperwork which went with it.

    Bristolian Bill Shepherd was such a man. a life-long bachelor who never drove a car, he was apparently fiercely independent and was reluctant to even accept a lift. In old age he sometimes resorted to public transport, but otherwise, he went everywhere on two wheels. In 1927, he bought a Rudge Whitworth pedal cycle, and kept its bill of sale among his records. Then in 1929 he went to Tinklin and Daish, motorcycle agents of Cleveland, Bristol, and ordered a Model A9 James. And that was that! The Rudge cycle and the James motorcycle were his sole personal transport for the rest of his life.

    It didn’t restrict Bill Shepherd’s activities, though. He thought nothing of taking a week’s holiday and riding the other end of the country to watch the Scottish Six Days Trial! When he had had the James a mere 32 years he proudly wrote to Villers saying how happy he had been with its two-stroke engine. At that time-less than half way through his ownership-it had propelled him over more than 100,000 miles!

    But to return to the historical records, Bill Shepherd meticulously kept them all. They begin with an individually typed letter from Tinklin and Daish-dated 25/6/29, and signed by Mr. Daish-stating that: ‘we beg to inform you that we have placed an order and hope to be able to notify you of its delivery in the course of a week or so.’ The delivery date was slightly optimistic, but on 15/7/29 Mr. Daish wrote that: ‘We beg to inform you that we now have had delivery of your James motorcycle...We shall be pleased to see you at any time that is convenient to you.’

    Bill duly took delivery-he even kept the guarantee card which had been dangling from the handlebars - and registered his purchase with the manufacturers. On the 1st of August, the James Cycle Company sent a typewritten personal acknowledgement promising: ‘Should you at anytime require information, or other assistance, our Services Department will always give you prompt and careful attentions’. How sad that we have abandoned such leisurely courtesy in just one man’s lifetime.”

    “…I can’t deny that mixing oil with the petrol tends to produce an exhaust haze, but if he’d wanted to Bill Shepherd could have forked out another two quid for Villier’s sophisticated automatic lubrication set-up. Speaking from experience, I think he was wise to opt for the less temperamental petrol system. Anyway, smoke is not a great problem with modern oils, and they have all but eliminated the old two-stroke bugbears of coking up and plug-whiskering.”

    “…The lighting system is undeniably pathetic. Six-volts and very few watts - direct from the flywheel are shared between a dim 4 volt headlamp bulb in series with an almost invisible 2 volt tail lamp. But otherwise, comparison of the James A9 with a rigid 200cc James from the early Fifties, leads to the inevitable conclusion that our engine and frame manufacturers had been marking time for a quarter of a century.

    Bill Shepherd would not have been human if he had never considered changing to another motorcycle. But such thoughts would have soon evaporated, because he obviously belonged to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ school. He added a few items to the basic specification on purchase. The carrier was a factory option costing eight schillings and sixpence (42 1/2 p), and the fork dampers were quite an upmarket feature at 18/6 (92 1/2 p) extra. Thereafter, changes to the James’s original specification are few and far between. Notably the silencers are not the originals. Again, speaking from experience with my own James, he may have changed to ones which ere more easily decarbonised. He also swapped the lever throttle control for a twistgrip. Bill apparently initially spurned the factory option of a factory-fitted lighting set (three versions were offered at prices ranging from £1 10s to £5), but within a couple of years he fitted an aftermarket set made by Miller.

    For the next 60-plus years, Bill Shepherd confined himself to essential maintenance. The original instruction book and spares list are among the documents, and make their own contribution to the historical records. For one thing, they are devoid of the filthy fingerprints that point to the unskilled tinkerer. Equally tellingly, the few items neatly underlined in the spares list show that the only cycle parts he needed were cup and cone bearings for the steering head and the wheels.

    When Bill Shepherd wrote to Villiers in 1961, he owned up to replacement of a few engine parts. Four sets of small end bushes, piston rings and gudgeon pin end plugs, together with one gudgeon pin and a couple of carburetor needles was the sum total. It was a pretty modest list by anybody’s standards, and at that time he estimated that the James had cost him a penny-farthing (1/2p) per mile to run. Villiers were delighted with the story, and ensured that it ran in both the weekly magazines in May that year.

    Reliability and economy, what more could somebody obviously unconcerned with speed or status want? And the James continued to deliver more of the same. Amazingly, even today, the James is still on its original bore, and only those gudgeon pin end plugs have needed replacement...again.

    I’ve heard of other cases where a motorcycle remained in the same ownership for many years, but I’ve never come across a story like Bill Shepherd’s. It bears repeating that for nearly 70 years, the James was his only mechanized transport! Not a family heirloom, not a sentimental relic, not a toy, but an actual working motorcycle. And what makes Mr. Shepherd even more unusual is that while he was still running his old motorcycle because of its reliability and economy, he also realized its historical significance. Bill was an early member of the Bristol Section the Vintage Club; and while others were restoring Big Ports and V-twins for Sunday best, he was actually riding his vintage James day in and day out.

    As he approached the end of his long life, Bill Shepherd wondered what to do with his unique motorcycle. It would have been unthinkable to entomb it in a museum, or sell it to somebody who would change or not appreciate it. The answer was close at hand. His friends in the Bristol VMCC knew and revered the machine, and Bill simply left it to them in his will so that it would continue to be used in the proper way. He also left them the Rudge cycle, which he kept equally roadworthy and original.

    So far, six members of the Bristol Section have ridden the James, and it is now in the guardianship of retired electronic mechanic Trevor Wells.”

    “…Apart from have the unrecognizably scruffy tank re-painted, Section members have done little to the uncomplaining little workhorse, other than pile yet more miles onto a total which must now exceed 150,000!

    On their advertising material and tank badges, the Birmingham company immodestly referred to their products as the ‘The Famous James’. Sometimes that was a bit far fetched, but if ever a James deserved the adjective, this is the one.”

  • The Economics Of Riding

    The Economics Of Riding

    Motorcycles ridden for everyday transportation was a normal part of my life growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. With high gas prices playing a factor, I have fond memories of both of my parents riding. Dad had a 500 Yamaha with an aftermarket fairing that he’d ride rain or shine to work everyday, and on weekends would let me swing a leg over the passenger seat for a scenic afternoon cruise on the backroads. Mom rode a Honda 125 that was formerly used by the Shriner’s to put on riding agility displays at local parades. She would use it to ride back and forth to her part-time job while us kids were in school, or to pick up a few groceries or run some errands. As a kid, I viewed riding a motorcycle as just a normal part of everyday life.

    By the time I was old enough to drive, my parents had sold both bikes (I suppose the logistics of shuttling 3 kids around played a part in that decision, but my Mom also said she felt like drivers were not paying attention to riders), and I ended up learning to drive on 4-wheels, but always with a thought about wanting to ride a motorcycle...someday.

    Someday came when I started working as part of the marketing team here at Aerostich. After some training and practice, I got my motorcycle endorsement in the Spring of 2009. Donning a new Hi-Viz Roadcrafter Classic one piece, I threw my leg over a borrowed 1971 Honda CB350 and never looked back as I established my roots as a dedicated daily rider.

    In the early Spring of 2010, I was offered a great deal on a lightly used, ’08 Kawasaki Versys, (that fit into the ‘bike budget’ I had been saving for) and logged the first ride of the season on March 11th, continuing to commute nearly every day that year through the end of November. Out of about 165 workdays during that timeframe, commuting on the new bike accounted for 145 of those days (with a few longer day trips and vacation riding days mixed in too). A quick run of the math proved that after the investment in the bike and riding gear, I was saving a fairly significant (to me anyway) amount of money by choosing to ride over driving a car too!

    With my Aerostich gear and a determined mind-set, 2012 allowed me to ride (at least a few days) every month this year – not always easily, but enjoyable every time – from below zero Duluth, MN temps in January and February to sweltering heat and humidity in July and August. Riding (anywhere), for me, is always the most versatile, practical and economical (not to mention fun), way to get from point A to B. Gas prices were jacked-up most of that year too, creating an even bigger savings.

    Flash forward another 5 years and I’m still riding the same Kawasaki (have changed the oil annually and put 2 sets of new tires and brake pads on it over the years) and wearing the same (road grimed) Hi-Viz one piece Roadcrafter Classic. The bike and gear have gotten very comfortable after over 7 years of use, not to mention that every mile and every day that I ride further adds to the long-term value of the investment in the motorcycle and riding gear. Every ride continues to save money over driving the car too. Looking at just the gas savings over the last several years, the economic benefits of riding become pretty easily apparent. The fact that riding gets me from A to B more efficiently, allows easier and more readily available parking options and is better on the environment is nice too. But the personal benefits from riding are where the real reward is. Anytime I ride somewhere, I arrive more alert, aware and ready to take on tasks at hand. If you choose to ride more I’m pretty sure that you would find similar results. Save money, feel energized and healthy and have way more fun!

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  • First Day Riding

    First Day Riding

    Today fellow employee, Randy, reluctantly gave up the keys to the company owned Zero for the weekend. After he gave an overview of the all-electric motorcycle I was perched on, I hopped off and let the thumping adrenaline in my ears subside. What an awesome feeling, I thought. What’s it going to be like when I ride it? That’s when Randy turned very serious.

    Our legendary wall of crashed Roadcrafter gear was hauntingly visible through the open overhead door as we stood outside talking. Randy didn’t pull any punches. He explained how cars like to turn left in front of motorcycles and the importance of assuming you’re invisible when riding. Then he motioned toward the empty lot across the street and suggested, or rather required, that I get the feel of riding there before heading home.

    Forcing myself back inside the Aerostich building for a final meeting before heading home, I pondered the enormity of the adventure ahead. Our company is in town and home is in the country, leaving no way to commute without riding through town, which has lots of scary cars. Getting 100% on the permit test yesterday gives me confidence – just need to block out flunking it four days ago.

    The following half hour meeting was the longest week I ever spent sitting in an office. Finally, I dashed down the stairs and got suited up for the initiation. As a kid I’d ridden a Yamaha TY 50, but not on the road, much. Now, a hand full of decades later, I steadied my flipping stomach, turned the key, then the throttle, and pulled from the curb over to the dirt lot and practiced for 15 minutes. Good enough. I was anxious to get on with it.

    At the second stop sign a pickup almost went out of turn, then the driver smiled sheepishly and waved me, slightly wobbling, through. Turning from the streets, I white nickeled it up to 50mph on the highway and was exhilarated by the wholly unexpected blast of air. Fifteen minutes later I made it to our driveway and was so grateful for the safe transit that I named the bike! Seeing the bike pull in, my wife looked alarmed. Then, recognizing parts of the dorky outfit I wore, she relaxed, looking bemused.

    After a good rest and a settling snack, I hopped back on the cool, light orange bike and rode to nearly every friend and neighbor I know within ten miles. The bike even made it slowly through the rutted muddy trail in the back field with just one minor dump, which my sons saw. But, we pounded and promised everlasting secrecy from mom, which lasted under 30 minutes.

    Country rides for tomorrow have been mapped, more surprised faces of friends imagined, and now I won’t be able to sleep. Louise (the bike not my wife) is charging up outside and waiting, pretty as a peach, for Saturday to dawn.

  • What’s In Your Tank Bag?

    What's In Your Tank Bag?

    There are essentially just two kinds of tank bags: The emptyish ones for varying day-to-day commuting loads and full-ish ones that have been loaded and equipped specifically for long distances and all-day-plus rides. Over the past thirty years I’ve assembled several of the latter type and even though each has been assembled with slightly different components, a few commonalities exist. 1. Flashlights/headlamps. 2. Cutting, pliering and screwing tools. 3. Scarves, bandana’s and rain glove covers. 4. Maps and guides. 5. Cameras, radios and electronic items. 6. Spare bike-specific small parts. 7. First Aid items. 8. Snack foods.

    All seems pretty simple, but details matter a lot when you are far from home. Here is one example of a tank bag setup for use on a 2007 BMW R1200 R…

    Row one, left to right, across the top. The bag itself is an old California-made Rev-Pac, made by a guy named Jim Revely, a firefighter who retired decades ago to make motorcycle luggage and run a motorcycle resort in a friendly small California town called New Cayuma. It’s somewhere in the middle of practically nowhere, and the resort, called the Song Dog Ranch is still there but is no longer operating as a motorcycle resort. Maybe he still makes bags? https://www.facebook.com/motomobile/ This one is the Tank-Pack Jr, the smaller of the two available sizes. http://www.revpack.com/tankpack/ I just like how it fits me and my bike. Not too large or too small, and like the temperature of the porridge in ‘The Three Bears’ children’s story this bag is just right for me in size, shape and configuration. I’m on my third one. But I digress…

    The front of this bag has a full-width external pocket just large enough for a pair of sunglasses if the case isn’t too thick, so that’s where my Rx sunglasses ride. The entire map window lifts up from the rear revealing a central zipper from the back up to the front of this bag. When this map case is Velcroed down at the rear there’s just enough room for a lightweight Aerostich ball-style cap (#658 $16), which goes onto my bald head the moment my helmet comes off. At the base where the bottom meets the sides, about in the middle front-to-back, and on both sides I’ve added two little webbing loops from which I attach a lightweight bungee (#944-943 $14) that goes over the top of the map window. This helps hold the map window down over the cap and gives me a place to put my riding gloves at gas stops.

    On the right side of the top sunglasses’ pocket clips a little waterproof flashlight on-a-leash (#887 $21) for those after dark riding situations when I’m able to unclip it to read a map or check anywhere on the bike…while rolling. Or not. On the other end of this pocket an old-fashioned wax-lead grease pencil (#2340 $15) that I’m able to un-holster while rolling and which is used to write temporary ‘memory jog’ messages or the license numbers of rude cars directly onto the map case window. Later the wax just rubs away with a windshield cleaning paper towel from a gas station.

    On the left side of the bag is a RAM mount ball (#6284 $7), about two thirds of the way up the side. On the inside of the bag is an “L” shaped aluminum strap from a hardware store which stabilizes the ball nicely whenever the bag is pretty full, which it normally is. The RAM ‘dog bone’ clamp (#6228 $13) is the shortest one available and on top is another RAM ball which is attached to a little clear plastic platform about the size of a playing card. On top is usually either a battery powered AM-FM radio (#3916 $50), an iPhone or a battery-powered radar detector.

    Next is a small umbrella. Living and traveling on a bike is a guarantee that you’ll be spending time either standing around a wet campfire or walking somewhere (or with someone) in the rain. Carrying an umbrella also reduces the likelihood of encountering rain by at least 82%. Guaranteed. Try it.

    Below the umbrella is a lightweight cable lock (#1011 $19) and a piece of webbing that can be clipped to two of the tank bag’s mounting clips to allow you to carry it over one shoulder like a messenger bag. The lightweight lock is rarely used…to secure a jacket, helmet or riding suit from growing a pair of legs and then walking away from some seedy location. I can’t remember the last time I used it. Normally all the gear and helmet come with me if the location is even slightly questionable, or out of sight.

    The tank bags rain cover is next to the umbrella and gets used lots. Even if it’s only slightly threatening rain it’s nice to be ‘ready’ and not have to stop. With smartphone animated weather-radar apps this kind of forecasting is simple.

    Triple Digit raincovers (#442 $47) go into my Darien Jacket’s side-entry pockets to be similarly ‘ready’ if rain is anticipated. If the road is straight and smooth and there’s not much traffic I can take them off and put them on without stopping, but it’s nothing I’d recommend, because it involves a very wide empty road and a lot of room to wobble back and forth between the lines attempting to steer with knees only. Google ‘counter steering’ and you’ll find dozens of explanations why this is tough. Takes more than a mile but I’ve never actually paid attention enough to really know. It’s always too long and too risky and a relief when the switch is done.

    The little titanium flask (#4445 $74) holds scotch. Nothing as fancy as the container. Just enough to get drunk once, or mildly high twice. Or to share around a campfire with friends. Or to drink as you are lying near death on the side of some lonely road somewhere beyond the middle of nowhere and its pitch dark after a terrible crash when you’ve just killed some stupidly innocent deer. When I was younger this was a plastic flask (#2014-2015 $4) which held a little more and cost a lot less. Who says you get smarter when you are older?

    The navy blue zippered pouch is a self-storing ultra-ultra–light hooded rain parka that adds a windproof under suit layer on a cold day and is also good for walkabouts on cool or wet evenings and mornings.

    The silk scarf (#1549 $27) is great on super hot days when wetted and on cold ones when dry. Provides slippery neck comfort in any conditions, so you don’t need to close your collar quite as strangulatingly close around your neck. Which is nice.

    The playing cards are like the scotch in the flask. For whenever one might be stuck somewhere waiting for something to happen. Like a tent when it’s raining or under a picnic shelter. As long as there’s someone around to share your misery of not riding, cards work as time-passers.

    Row two, left to right, begins with the little bungee cord that goes across the top of the tank bag’s map window and the earplug speakers (#3134 $69) that are usually looped around the bungee when they’re not in my ears. Just below is a short coily cord (#2313-2353 $5) which connects to either the radar detector or the iPhone or the radio.

    A short canister of bear spray (#3563 $19 ) in a little Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) for safety at night in a little tent, from both quadrapedal and bipedal intruders. Never had to use it. Just being superstitious and thinking about Murphy’s Law. Needs to be replaced every year for fullest potency.

    The little stainless folding poo trowel (#1584 $11) is more than for superstition and means you can stealth camp and hide your and poo just about anywhere you want. Which is nice. There’s enough TP at least one poo, and when more is needed it’s available at the next gas stop. Which hopefully has clean rest rooms so you don’t need the trowel-squat experience in the first place. But if and when you do, there’s no substitute for carrying one of these.

    First aid kit (#1767 $25) Do I really need to explain? This is another ‘Murphy’s Law’ item. If you carry it, you’ll never need to use it. Next to this the little bottle contains some aspirin, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, etc. Various over the counter pills which can be identified visually. Having a headache when you want to do some riding really sucks. And if you want the fastest headache relief possible teach yourself to grind up a straight aspirin tablet with your molars. Chew it to dust. That’s what ‘headache powders’ were in the 1800’s, before tablets were invented. This brings relief much faster if you can stand the momentary mouth bitterness. A swig of water helps wash it down but isn’t absolutely needed once you are used to doing it. Your salivation will be triggered which quickly takes care of this. Some riders take an over-the-counter joint and muscle pain med pre-emptively and swear this helps reduce discomfort and fatigue during long hard ride days. Definitely makes a difference you'll feel.

    Miscellaneous items within a zippered Chase Harper ‘junk’ pouch (#979 $12): High end Japanese-made lighter/mini-blowtorch (#2509 $47), Mini USB power adapter, 12 v to 5v (#3158 $20), Spare key for 3' motorcycle lock (#1153 $20), Mini liquid filled compass on Velcro strap, Space Pen (#2315 $20), Pencil tire gauge (#3550 $7), spare throttle lock (#1774 $49) in case installed version (#1893 $37 fails, Neutrogena rub on SPF 30 Sunscreen (#2084-2085 $6), pocket change and currency, Mini Carabiner (#4024 $7)

    Bottom Row, left to right. Aerostich microfiber hat (#658 $12) carried under map window for fast deployment.

    Small blue Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) With spare ear plugs (#1274 $3) and face shield cleaning kit (#1051 $25)

    Small purple Aerostich envelope bag with spare 12v power cord, spare audio cords, smaller Aerostich envelope bag with spare earplug speakers.

    Medium size Aerostich envelope bag with AM/FM/Weather radio (#3916 $50) and related cords and connectors.

    Near the back opening of the tank bag, loose items include a spare tail light or turn signal bulb (#4896 $59) in an old 35mm film canister, a Spyderco folding knife (#2410 $73), a Petzl headlamp (#8241 $27) and a pepper spray self-defense tool (#4623 $35) which is supposed to be transferred from the tank bag to an easy-to-reach place on my riding suit, but I always forget to do this.

    A green Aerostich envelope bag carries a mini-multimeter (#2939 $14) and a small blue Aerostich envelope bag (#738 $11) carries some spare batteries.

    Last but-not-least, a yellow zippered Chase Harper bag contains a few jerry-rig repair items that don’t fit anywhere else. A spare CBT boot strap -- I think this is the very last one. I needed one once about ten years ago and have not needed another one since. Murphy’s Law again? Since these are no longer available, we make a strap repair kit (#418 $24) and if I didn’t have this strap, I’d carry one of these. Also in this pouch are a mini roll of duct tape (#756 $6), a short piece of insulated wire, some straps cut out of a motorcycle inner tube, a spare adjustable bungee hook, a spare side release buckle, a stick from a hot melt glue gun that is useful with the mini-torch listed above, a GI can opener (#2068 $4) and simpler model Leatherman multi tool (#3671 $55) and a mini Aerostich bag (#720 $11) with a few bike fuses, I think.

    That about covers it. The total of the items purchased from Aerostich comes to around $1000 which is what can happen if one gets carried away. On the other hand, most of this stuff was purchased incrementally over a dozen year period. I’ve made three different pre-set up tank bags similarly and this one is for the bike I currently ride on trips. The others are less elaborate. Do you really want to know? One is for an old Airhead I rode for twenty years and the other is for a little 620 Ducati I kept remotely for winter season riding in the Southwest mostly.

    What’s in your Tank bag?

    – Mr. Subjective, 6-17

    PS - Our company motto in latin translated as ‘better late than never’ could not feel more true. Which is how I feel about this video. I know part of it is that I’ve personally grown emotionally and psychologically in the past several years and this stuff is less important to me now than it was ten years ago. I loved figuring out all the little logistics stuff to the point of being obsessive. Nowadays it feels old (and so am I) and it doesn’t seem as important anymore. But I’m glad we captured the obsessiveness of it all before entropy takes over and these details fade away a little more. I’ll always be OCDish about lots of different stuff, but can’t quite imagine going back and doing this all over again from scratch another time.

    The two tank bags featured in these two videos, and the smaller one for the bike I once kept in Arizona, are the most recently built tank bags, but before these three were several others starting back in the early 1980’s. The first one was a huge multi-level Chase Harper bag, modified to be even larger with a custom-made map-case ‘office’ attached to the top. It was so big it was practically a fairing. Each successive bag got a little smaller and the contents became more focused.

    From the beginning one thing all of these bags had and have in common was some way of mounting an audio source or radar detector (or both) to the top left side where it could be easily operated while moving with my left hand. The first item there was a Sony ‘Outback’ ruggedized AM FM Cassette player, and I usually carried half a dozen or more cassettes on most trips. The first attached is a photo of this setup from about 1986 showing a radar detector just below an AM-FM reciever. Also attached is a still from the setup I used for about fifteen years beginning in the early-90’s, which featured several items mounted to a Lexan platform that had some aluminum struts beneath that fit into slots on both sides of the bag, and lastly a couple of screen grabs from the video of the RAM mount that is on my current tank bag.

    1986 Setup
    Early 90's setup
    RAM Ball Mount

     

    RAM mount - interior
    RAM mount

    Read the 2017 catalog online, all 298 pages

  • The 2017 Iron Butt Rally started in Minneapolis 6/26

    These photos are of some of the 105 competitors getting ready for the start of this 11,000 mile event. This event takes place every other year. Not sure we will be back to capture images of the riders returning from this challenging ride, but hope you enjoy these photos of some of the riders getting ready to depart!

    Follow the progress of the riders by going to http://ibr.wvi.com/

    To view a selection of gear to make your long distance riding more comfortable, check out our Endurance Rider Guide.

  • ZBZ Blog Wrap-Up

    ZBZ Blog Wrap-Up

    “With electric,…You can be efficient and be a devastator.” – Luke Workman, former Zero development engineer, Gizmag.com interview, May 17, 2016

    All year around, winter or summer, a Zero like ours can move through city traffic better than any gasoline powered bike, especially if one has occasional impulses to take advantage of evolving traffic situations with a few moto-only moves. So be warned: You’ll soon be riding through traffic a little more selfishly than you did on your trusty ol’ suck-squeeze-bang-blow exhaust generator. Aboard a Zero you’ll usually be over-and-out-exit-stage-left-tail-lights-in-the-rear-view-mirror-gone before witnesses realize you did anything funny, and whatever that was played a bit like a silent movie…in other words, sort of unreal. It registered visually but without confirmation from the other senses. No audio insult added to a possibly perceived injury. This never stops being neat. So enjoy exploiting the prime in-traffic secret of electric motorcycles: Stealth.

    Saving money on gas is also cool and no periodic engine maintenance is pretty nice, too. So is the virtue of maybe being slightly kinder to our warming planet. Taken together all this is nothing to sneeze at…but it’s still the dead-silent kick-ass 10-50 mph torque that’s the biggie. No muss…No fuss...“Yippee-ki-yay, mother-fu—er!” all the way home. So beware. As with all addictive experiences, managing this can be a problem. Take away all of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and replace it with the soft whrrrr of dancing electrons and you’ve got a completely new game. Trouble in River City, my friends, and it’s spelled Z E R O. You traffic-cutting, bad-ass, son of a bitch, immature sociopath.

    Enjoy.

    April 29 email from Zero to Aerostich:

    “There’s no reason to put it away until it is shipped back. Keep riding! Ride the wheels off of it! The more miles the better as far as we are concerned.”

    A drug dealer, writing to a junkie: “Here’s a bit more, it’s free…”.

    The motorcycle not only survived intact, it is 5 for 5. All who took turns riding it now want one. Not a single functional or mechanical problem. It sat outdoors overnight all winter, in temps as low as minus 20ºf, and each morning it came right back asking for more. Even those anticipated corrosion-ugliness-damage situations were minimal…it’s actually developed kind of a nice hard-ridden patina.

    In fact, just yesterday right in the center of Duluth’s downtown, a man about thirty five dressed in scruffy clothing with a sketchy kind of ‘I’m between jobs’ look paused in front of the bike just as I was about to put on my helmet and looked it over end to end then directly at me and asked “Did you build this?” “No” I replied, half-smiling, “It’s made in California.” This was at two in the afternoon on a typical windy, chilly, crummy overcast Duluth-springtime Monday. There were still a few patches of snow in the shadiest places and my guess is the temp was only about 39 or 40. A few moments later someone else hurrying past said, without breaking their stride, “Nice bike”. Spring is in the air here. Definitely.

    As MY commuter tool, this bike has been a revelation. In the beginning I thought I’d miss the shifting and uhmm…’roar and thunder’ of my DRZ 400. Nope, not one bit. In fact, the ease-of-use, smoothness, quiet and forget-about-the-machine aspects of this Zero have been really nice. It’s so much more of a magic-carpet feeling than any regular motorcycle, and so much more fun to slice and dice around and thru surrounding traffic in silence. Going back to the DRZ is going to feel like getting on some kind of an antique. This bike is not for touring, traveling or those long back road riding days with friends, but rather it’s for putting more effortless fun into getting back and forth to work. For this, it’s the cat’s ass. Ten years or fifteen years from now every motorcycle company will probably be making a few models of electric motorcycles for exactly this kind of riding. Every one. And, if all this wasn’t enough, lots of today’s tech ‘insiders’ are predicting great increases in battery capacity very, very soon!

    If I could design one of these bikes idealized for ME and MY commute, based on what Zero offers today, it would not be much different than this two-battery dual-sport model. I’d prefer this one’s relaxed steering geometry to the supermotard version’s steeper fork angle, but I’d really want to have the bigger front brake from that model. I’d also like the ride height of this one to be about 1” lower, and the handlebars to be about 1.5" narrower to fit my body size better. And I’d want to be able to install electric grips easily, and a larger headlight, and figure out a way to mount a low front fender. Maybe even a 19" front wheel with a rim the same width as the rear, and a similarly fat tire. Also, some way to cleanly eliminate the stylized forward-thrusting plastic ‘wings’ on either side of the frame. And I would like to be able to lock the forks in the straight ahead position, no matter how stupid this seems. (Uhhh…if Zero also offered a slide-in hybrid option to go into one of its two battery spaces with some kind of small gasoline-powered battery charger, it would sell. Engine from a small chain-saw, lawn trimmer or RC model airplane…I’m not a customer for this myself…just sayin’.)

    One more small note about winter-riding-in-general. Today it’s about 38ºf, which is a helluva lot easier and more fun than riding was a few weeks ago at 18º, much less at minus 8º a month and a half ago, even wearing some of the best gear money can buy. But regardless of the temperature, the feasibility and ease of riding all winter was a revelation. One year ago it was a big deal to take a bike out for a short spin on that one sunny, nice dry-road day in January or February…we’d celebrate it.

    Our Zero-Below-Zero commuting experiment proved that even in the most adverse cold weather situations riding is still far more fun than driving, and electric motorcycles left outdoors all year in very low temperatures worked just fine. These results were not anticipated, nor that it would quickly become easy and routine to commute all winter via motorcycle. Nobody expected that.

    “I’ve Got a Secret” was the name of a pioneering and popular 1960’s TV game show (full-length episodes on YouTube, kids). The phrase contains a great truth about motorcycling-in-general as well as about many kinds of unrelated-but-similarly-societally-marginalized, non-mainstream activities and experiences. Across the USA the wonderfulness of using motorcycles for commuting has been a long-time-secret known to only a very few riders. Most people have almost no idea how great riding nearly every day can make you feel, especially compared to the falsely ‘relaxing’ experience of being inside a car or bus.

    Soon after you first learn to ride you find yourself going down the road thinking you know something everyone in the cars surrounding you doesn’t know, so you giggle to yourself a little. (…And now a word from our sponsor: Same thing when first wearing an Aerostich one-piece R-3 suit. You quickly realize you’ve discovered something about dressing for riding everyone else who rides in regular gear doesn’t know…Now back to your regularly scheduled program.) Then, as you ride more you forget this is secret stuff and begin to take it for granted. With an electric bike you discover anew it is a lot more fun to slice through urban traffic, partly because you are able to do so with greater abandon because of the silence, and because you don’t need to devote attention to managing an internal combustion engine with its lumpy torque curve and multi-speed transmission. No amount of fuel injection programming sophistication at the other end of any twistgrip works quite as smoothly as this Zero’s one-speed digitally-controlled stepper motor.

    To be fair and complete, you do need to recognize most recreational riding is some version of an all-day, or at least several hours long, group affair: You and one or more of your buddies go riding, tracing out some interesting roads with maybe a lunch or dinner stop along the way. A Zero doesn’t work well for this unless everyone else is also on one because the limited distance-to-empty range and longer energy refill time is fundamentally incompatible with combustion bikes. But taken by itself it’s another story. If its battery range falls within your requirements it’s a far superior piece of equipment: Less costly to ride, simpler to manage dynamically, and even more slippery thru surface-street traffic than the very best gasoline powered motorcycle. You’ve got a secret and it’s a big fat one. But don’t gloat or brag. You’re too good for that, and soon-enough these kinds of bikes will be a lot more ordinary in urban traffic anyway.

    This Zero functioned well all winter and with less corrosion damage than anticipated. No matter how ugly and unpleasant the riding condition, everything just worked. After riding this thing for several months now getting back on my Suzuki DRZ 400 commuter feels like I’m getting on an antique. (It’s ok honey…Don’t cry. I still love you. I’ll always love you.) This bike helps me appreciate the condescending smugness and pride new Tesla car owners exude…

    In terms of ride dynamics, our Zero is fine, but nothing special or extraordinary. It pulls, turns and stops about like a typical 550-750cc bike. But in terms of cut-and-thrust traffic functionality it’s an entirely new world. The magic carpet effect of every bike is magnified here because it’s so vibration and noise free, and every bit of torque is there instantly, right from the bottom. And again, all the crap you can get away with (if you are inclined to get away with stuff) is more safely available. Sketchy moves, whatever they might be…Use your imagination. I just can’t get over that part, or emphasize this enough. Full disclosure: In my own day-to-day commuting I’m enough of a coward that there’s probably only one ‘safe’ opportunity per week to actually do anything questionable which may somehow cause anyone nearby stress. With this bike that number-per-week goes from maybe one to two. And boy-howdy, every time an opportunity comes up it’s priceless, and I’m grinning to myself for the rest of the day.

    What’s beneath The large Zero labels on this bike are two $4k each (?) handmade-in-California batteries wrapped in a fairly conventional Taiwanese or Chinese (?) chassis which might have cost less to produce than even one of its high-tech batteries. Plus an amazing electric motor and digital controller system. My knit-picks were few: The rearview mirrors are not the best because the stems are too long and they are too high. And the mirror’s ball-socket does not have enough friction to resist even light knocks and taps, either. Maybe that’s adjustable? I didn’t look. There was a little too much free play in the throttle on ours, too. Very slight. Other knits were picked earlier in this blog (fenders, bodywork styling, electric grip circumference, etc). That’s it.

    Thanks Zero! Thanks Volunteers!


    Afterword - Part 1

    “We wanted flying cars and what we got was 140 characters…”

    –Famous observation of tech investor (Facebook, others) and Pay Pal founder Peter Theil, in his book ‘What Happened to the Future?’

    At one of our Aerostich Pop Up events a rider on a modified Zero came in and bought an R-3 Aerostich suit. One of the many mods on his bike was a half-completed dustbin fairing. Adding a Vetter style scooter body to any Zero or other electric motorcycle would probably mean 50% more range. And a semi-recumbent riding position would be an engineering choice, not a requirement.

    This Zero’s electric motor makes 44 horsepower (33 kW) and the entire bike only weighs 131 kg (289 lb.) with both batteries installed. Range-to-empty is 40-70 miles, depending on speed. The added wind-resistance of moving at highway speeds makes a significant difference.

    “It’s looking like the 2020s will be the decade of the electric car. Battery prices fell 35 percent last year and are on a trajectory to make unsubsidized electric vehicles as affordable as their gasoline counterparts in the next six years...That will be the start of a real mass-market liftoff for electric cars…By 2040…Thirty-five percent of new cars worldwide will have a plug.”

    – Tom Randall, Bloomberg Business, Feb 25, 2015 bloomberg.com/features/2016-ev-oil-crisis

    I easily remember when electric motors in this bike’s horsepower range were massive, about the size of a thirty to fifty gallon drum. Hmmmm…Right now Apple, Google and others in Northern California and elsewhere are creating flying car prototypes with lightweight electric motors and batteries exactly like what is in this Zero. It’s literally an R&D boom. A uniquely synergistic tech/money/culture alignment of the planets. In some ways it almost resembles a gold rush or fad.

    Only three months after the above story Bloomberg Business Week made “flying cars” their cover story, in its June 18, 2016 issue, they reported Larry Page of Google had just spent more than $100M on a startup called ZeeAero, plus more at a second separate development lab called Kitty Hawk to create an entirely different type of flying electric machine. “…within the next few years we’ll have a self-flying car that takes off and lands vertically-or at least a small, electric, mostly autonomous commuter plane,” they reported.

    Larry’s larger development effort is probably a small electric airplane and the other is probably a four or six rotor one or two person camera-drone-style aircraft. The same story also mentioned flying car projects by JoBen Bivirt and Pinterest co-founder Paul Sciarra, and AeroMobil, and Terrafugia, and Airbus (yes, the Airbus) and Lilium Aviation. Separately, a Chinese-developed Ehang 184 “megadrone” was displayed at the Las Vegas CES trade show this summer and was said to be capable of taking one person aloft, remotely piloted like a camera drone. This “world’s first self-driving taxi-car” featured four fold-away-for-storage arms carrying stacked (counter-rotating?) fans. It sure looked like an upsized version of any camera or toy drone, though it’s single passenger capsule somehow didn’t look quite right. The ballistic parachute roof sure did, though. All small electric aircraft are sure to have them.

    With stars in their eyes and visions of Henry Ford’s revolutionary 1918 leapfrogging of motorcycles via the famously practical Model T automobile, all these teams are heading straight for flying cars. Perhaps they want to skip right over bikes (again)? Well harrumph…Those working on creating this future commute to their development labs by car, just as they got to and from everywhere else for as far back as they can remember. OK, maybe this is a chip on my shoulder, but this brave new electric-flight future would be a lot cooler if it was about flying motorcycles more than flying cars. Skip right over those noir wet-weather Blade Runner levitating cars for now, please.

    Afterword - Part 2

    Just as we were beginning our Zero winter-commuting adventures, and about eight months before that Bloomberg feature one of us (Randy) replied to an email about flying cars with a link to Google images of many existing flying motorcycle-ish machines: “Cool. I would like to try one. The hover bike is supposedly close.” And “Our gear would work great for flying weather-exposed transportation.”

    I replied: “Sort of, but the overlapping fans shown are not good. A part of two of the fans ‘swipe’ through their 360º circle is through the ‘dirty air’ of the upper and overlapping fan. And thus less effective and potentially destabilizing or vibration-inducing. Each ducted fan needs to be in as clean air as possible for maximum efficiency…I could draw a sketch of how I would do this that would look not a lot like any of these images. The center section would look a bit like a vertical rectangular old-fashioned telephone booth, but without any glass. In the center of the ‘booth’ would be a saddle, motorcycle style with footrests. Beneath the saddle, batteries. Above the saddle a ballistic parachute attached to the ‘roof’. At the bottom, two dolly wheels. At each corner, about at saddle height, sockets to plug in and lock each of the ducted fans. Each fan about 6' diameter. To make the pilots view better, two of the four upright ‘phone booth’ corner beams might end at about waist height and only two of them, diagonally opposite, would continue up to the mounting platform for the ballistic parachute. The pilot would sit on the diagonal, with one overhead beam to each side. A fan directly ahead, one to each side and one directly behind. The fore and aft fans would be about a foot farther out from the booth than the side fans, for greater lift leverage and because slightly more of the motion would be forward, not side to side. The side fans would be directly adjacent to the booth. All four fans would be the same size, though, for cost and fabrication and controller-logic reasons. For simplicity the entire center structure would be fabricated from stock extruded aluminum tube, beam and angle and sheet materials. Each ducted fan structure would be carbon fiber (blades, duct), with an aluminum arm or tube about 4” diameter connecting the motor/hub section of the ducted fan to the socket which would plug into each ‘phone booth’ upright section. One into each corner, projecting horizontally outward from the corner equidistant from each flat side of each extruded vertical beam. In other words, from the edge or corner, not from a flat side. This would be a very cost-effective way to build a safe, controllable, portable and flyable one or perhaps even two person flying machine.

    I bet all-in it would cost only about $50K to develop a flying proof-of-concept. Any engineer could easily calculate how long it would stay in flight, based on how much battery, and how much the pilot weighed. A wonderful goal might be 15 minutes of safe flying time, which would be quite a lot at 2000’ while moving laterally at maybe 70mph. And again, the whole rig assembled would be about the same footprint of a small pontoon boat (a bit wider), so I could take off from any residential driveway and land on just about any flat roof.

    If I had one of these, I’d take it to work in the rain today. And probably every day thereafter. I have a feeling the FAA would have a problem with it, though. My guess is the all-in development cost would be only $1M with a production and commercialization cost of an added $5-10M. Which is almost nothing in relative terms. The five of us could make this, and none of us are geniuses. I just know we’d do a better job than what’s out there now (Google, November of 2015).

    Sure is fun to daydream-write it out…And you know how the early aircraft builders would name their crafts: The Spirit of St Louis. The Lark of Duluth. The whatever. We might name this one the ‘Monty Python’, I think.”

    A day or two after writing the above I wrote again about another shared Google-linked video businessinsider.com/hover-bike-to-hit-market-in-2017-2014-5: “These have come a long way in a short time. I saw video of an earlier version of this one a year or two ago in tethered flight. Even emailed the developer to see if they wanted to work with us on a riding suit for the test pilot. I see now they’ve added some little ducted side things for yaw and pitch control and turning, and the rear fan is now angled for forward thrust ability. Good progress, but a four-fan or six-fan configuration would be so much easier to fly and control. Much more inherently stable, too. And maybe even flyable to a controlled landing with one engine down if needed. What these folks here seem to be after is a package narrow enough to carry down a highway. Something 8' wide max. For marketing reasons.

    As usual, I’d come at this differently. Four ringed fan sections each 8' diameter. And they would not be very heavy. Just electric motor and carbon fiber. They could stack four high for transport on a trailer, then at the launch site attach to the center section with some kind of durable socket and latch design. The center where the rider and batteries are is the heavy part. But it still would probably be liftable by one person. Or maybe drag-able with dolly wheels beneath. Assembled, the five sections would be about 16' wide and maybe 18 or 20' long. Still manageable compared to a regular helicopter, auto gyro or small airplane. And vertical take off is the huge advantage of any of these. Footprint size isn’t the issue. The problem this kind of flying machine solves is eliminating the need for a runway, and (crucially) the skill of ‘balancing’ as a conventional fixed or rotor wing flying machine requires.

    Or maybe the fans would only need to be about 5' in diameter? Four 5's = 20. Two 8's = 16. So the whole thing would be only 10' wide x 13-15' long. About the size of a small pontoon boat. The other element that I’d add to my four-rotor version is an aluminum or carbon fiber ‘roll cage’ above the pilot’s saddle. And on top of the cage would be a ballistic parachute.

    Still fun to write about it and share. I’m fairly sure I’m correct about the above junk, for whatever it’s worth. I was thinking four rotors were the only way to go the moment I first saw a little camera drone maybe three years ago. It was an ‘ah-ahhaaa!’ for obvious flyability and control reasons, and now that this way has been demonstrated, where are the full size human carrying versions? No wonder all the money is flowing to making these machines now. All the existing technology is out there already. Nothing needs to be invented or pioneered. Lightweight batteries? Check. Lightweight airframes and lightweight super-powerful electric motors? Check. Digital joystick flight controllers (from camera drones)? Check. What has always been Apple’s recipe for success? All the stuff in their Mac computers, iPods, iPhones and pretty much everything else they ever made was already out there. They just adapted and mashed it up a lot better than everyone else.

    --------------------------

    Actual parts needed for a home-made flying proof-of-concept: Four Zero Electric Motorcycles, single battery model. To be scrapped and parted out.

    Motors: Zero

    Batteries: Zero

    Controller: Zero motorcycle engine controller.

    Flight dynamics processor: From any small camera drone.

    Airframe: Welded aluminum. Speedrail?

    Ballistic parachute: Gov’t surplus plus four 20 gauge shotgun shells.

    This whole thing is a mashup of existing components. Nothing new needed to be invented. Welcome to your flying car.

    ------------------------

    Whenever new stuff like this gets perfected enough to become market-viable early adopters begin enjoying whatever-it-is long before regulations catch up. This happened in the 1960s with snowmobiles, in the 1970s with ATVs and today with all the little camera and toy drones, and it’s probably about to happen again with personal flying machines equipped with Zero-type batteries, controllers and electric motors. Which is really cool.

    Presenting: Your 2018 Apple flying car! Quick, central casting, get me a tall thin guy in a black turtleneck, jeans, round glasses, an impish grin and a twinkle in his eyes!

    And an Aerostich R-3 Stealth one piece suit…Size 42 Long.


    Products mentioned in this post:

  • 8 Tips For Beating The Heat

    Rand Rassumusen, SEDALIA:

    A Primer Focused Mostly, but not Exclusively, on Riding and Camping in the Heat

    One-Hundred-and-ten degrees. Fahrenheit! That’s what the thermometer affixed to my windshield says. Of course, that’s in the direct sunlight; but then, so am I. I mean, really, why would a motorcycle rider care what the temperature is in the shade? Late on this Missouri July afternoon the heat bears down on me with an almost physical weight. Even so, I can still tell when a blast of air has first made its way past a cylinder, and collected it’s extra heat before swooping up my leg and under my helmet carrying an extra furnace blast. I haven’t ridden in this kind of heat for a while—if ever. But it’s okay; I came prepared for exactly this. I had made my decision that I was going to attend the BMW MOA National this year, in Sedalia, MO heat be damned and, anyway, I know how to ride in heat.

    TIPS for Beating the Heat:

    Andy Goldfine, proprietor at Aerostich, is fond of saying that, when riding in heat (or cold for that matter) a rider must strive to create a “micro-climate.” That is, a smaller, more hospitable personal ecology in which to ride. People who live in desert nations have understood this for millennia, and it is the reason that we always see desert-dwellers in heavy clothing—which seems counter-intuitive, but is backed-up by much objective science and many years of experience. So, I revert to my own experience riding in heat. I drink lots—actually forcing water, juice and Gatorade; I re-wet my long-sleeved cotton T-shirt at every stop, and I wear a jacket to control the evaporation of my shirt. Controlled evaporation is the key to staying cooler longer. If you wet your t-shirt and wear nothing over it, it will feel really good…for about 10 minutes. But if you mute the evaporative effect with an over-jacket, and venting, you will feel quite-a-bit cooler for an hour or more. That is one of the reasons Aerostich suits are built the way they are, with so many venting options. I have also resorted, at times, to filling the pockets of my Aerostich with ice (a tip learned from my wife, Susan) and sucking on the remaining cubes for as long as they last. But, despite the forge-like heat, I seem to be okay with more basic measures today.

    As important as the physical adjustments a rider must make when the riding conditions are uncomfortable, is a positive mental attitude. Pirsig was right when he contended that focusing on the discomfort, or worse, complaining, helps no one, and just makes it worse for everyone. I knew what I was getting into before I ever decided to attend this rally, and I chose to come anyway; so I have no one to blame but myself. Anyway, I am very much enjoying the ride—heat and all. My bike seems always to have a positive attitude, no matter the conditions. Right now, for instance. I am running up-hill at 75MPH, pulling my trailer in 110 degree heat, with nary a burp or stutter from the motor, and with speed and power to spare. It makes me wonder how this little 650cc motor can withstand this kind of heat and use. And not just to withstand it, but to handle it. I take a gas break/rest stop at the north end of St. Joseph, MO, and go through my routine: fill the tank, use the rest room, re-soak my shirt and buy lots to drink. If not almost to the rally site, I am at least close. It has been a good ride so far…

    Tip #2 for Beating the Heat:

    What you eat significantly affects how much heat you produce. If it is hot, avoid high fat foods like meats and cheeses and go for foods with higher water content, like fruits and salads. I have to admit that I violate this rule all of the time and just order whatever I am in the mood for, but it’s worth bearing in mind if heat is a real problem for you. Also, as good as a cold beer might taste with your lunch on a hot day, it’s not really a good choice. Even setting aside the drinking and driving aspect, alcohol is a diuretic and dries you out more quickly. Tea too (although, again, I often have it for lunch despite my own sage advice.). If you get bored with plain water, fruit juices or club soda gives you a little variety and still gives you needed water. Club soda cuts cotton-mouth better than anything else I know of. I like Gatorade and its ilk occasionally, but the regular stuff has a lot of sugar.

    At St. Joseph, MO I turn eastward toward Chillicothe. This allows me to circumvent the entire Kansas City metro, and do some other-than-freeway riding for a while. Heading east in the late afternoon, feels no cooler, so I employ another mental technique for beating discomfort; I simply force my mind to concentrate on things other than how uncomfortably hot I am. It can be done. I sing, compose, or think of my grandchildren or other pleasantries to distract myself. Thirty-six, while not exactly a rural road, is nice and rolling, and passes through several small Missouri towns. At Chillicothe I stop for fresh ice for the cooler, several gallon jugs of water, and some groceries. Another reason I like to tow my trailer to rallies: lots of room for groceries.

    Tip #3 for Beating the Heat:

    In the original insulated plastic cooler I had bolted onto the tongue of my trailer, the ice would be gone in just a few hours in hot weather. So, I replaced my original cooler with a larger insulated plastic cooler so I would have room to add an inner, collapsible nylon cooler. With the nylon cooler inside of the larger one, my ice now lasts from 12-24 hours depending on how hot it is. You can also increase your cold factor by freezing all your bottles of drinking water on the night before you leave home. If you save empties you can fill them at your home faucet and save a lot of money. Trust me: if you take one out and put it in your bottle holder it will quickly melt enough to drink—too quickly, as far as I am concerned.

    Arriving a day early to a rally has several advantages. The registration process is a breeze, with no lines whatever. Choice camping sites are also easier to come by. After registering, I talk to Dan about where he is camped. I follow him, but just until I come to a large, shady tree. By scoping out the directions, I calculate that a correctly placed tent will be out of the sun from mid-morning through the entire rest of the day. For the next 20 minutes I talk with Dan and busy myself with the dozens of small details of making camp. Here again, experience pays off when dealing with heat: my tent has 100% mesh uppers. And that means with the rain fly rolled up and tied off I am sleeping in a screen tent which, I guaran-damn-tee is a lot cooler than a regular tent with breathable nylon uppers..

    Tip #4 for Beating the Heat:

    If you are in the market for a new tent, I would strongly suggest buying one with mesh uppers. If you are devoted to your old tent, but are good with a sewing machine, or if you know someone who is, some tents can be fairly easily converted to mesh uppers, without in any way compromising their weather resistance.

    After my complaints about the heat and humidity at last year’s rally at Chippewa Falls, Susan bought me a small “tent fan.” These attach to the tent using a magnet on the outside to hold the fan on the inside. Tonight is my first use of the fan. What a small miracle! This is not a wind tunnel; but it does provide just enough moving air to keep me comfortable. Its performance is greatly improved by the fact that because of the mesh uppers it is pulling in cooler air in rather than just re-circulating the hot, humid air present inside a normal tent. We’ll see how long the single “D” battery lasts. I brought spare batteries just in case.

    Sometime about two in the morning I awaken to thunder, and I can see flashes of lightening in the western sky, but I decide that I am not deploying the rain fly unless it starts actually raining, as to do so would obviate the advantages of this tent. I thus go back to sleep and remain so until morning. When I wake up, the fan is still running. Although I never had to cover up during the night, I was comfortable enough to sleep. That alone was an improvement on last year.

    Tip #5 for Beating the Heat:

    If you attach your rain fly on one side, and roll it up, you can sleep cooler, and it still only takes a minute to deploy if rain threatens.

    Tip #6 for Beating the Heat:

    As obvious as it sounds, the colder the drink and the less you move, the cooler you will stay. Therefore, when I get back to my tent I set-up my sunshade. I take my umbrella and mount it to my fairing with mini bunjis. This gives me 4’ of nice shade in which to sit. And as Colin Fletcher (in his book The Complete Walker) describes it, that little patch of shade makes the difference between hell and, well, something a comfortable half-hitch short of hell. Then I break out cans of cold club soda and start reading my books.

    Tip #7 for Beating the Heat:

    If, like me, you enjoy (or at least can hack) getting up in the pre-dawn hours, you can sometimes beat much of the day’s heat. If the trip is short enough, you can be home and napping before the real heat starts coming on at noon. I know some riders who break the day into to riding halves, with a long afternoon hiatus in between. Just before crossing the Mojave, my friends Matt and Joanne Butler rented a hotel room at noon, and napped, read, watched TV, and swam until 10:00p.m. before checking out and starting their ride. Matt told me it was worth the money!

    I awaken Sunday morning at 2:15. It takes about 20 minutes to pack all of my junk into the trailer. As promised I would make sure Andy knew when I was leaving, so I drive as close to his tent as I can without actually running over his head. I smile into my helmet as I think of him good-naturedly cursing me in his tent. As I connect with north 65 I am surprised at the amount of traffic still on the road in Sedalia, including another rally-goer leaving north on 65. About five miles out of town I pass him/her, and we ride in tandem the 15 miles up to I-70, where she/he goes east and I go west. It feels good cruising along in the pre-dawn hours. Watching the day come on is one of my favorite things to do as a rider. The air, while not exactly cool, is some 30 degrees better than it will be this afternoon, and I am determined to get as far as I can, as early as I can. This is as much psychological as it is physical; if I don’t make some real miles early in the day, I feel like I am behind all day. I take the 435 around KC and connect with I-29 N., with dawn coming on.

    By 11:30, when I reach Sioux Falls, my thermometer shows 101 degrees, and it feels like it! I buy gas and then drop into an Erberts & Gerberts for a cold sandwich and an air-conditioned rest. As I eat and read, I am also subconsciously preparing for four more hours in 100-plus degree heat. And with that in mind, I go willingly—rather than reluctantly--back out into the heat where my ever-faithful R-65 waits. Across the lot, in the shade of a bank, there is a sinister looking dude eyeing my bike. It occurs to be that he might be casing the banjo strapped to the top of my trailer. I don’t know if that is right, but I do notice that he moseys off as soon as I come out.

    Tip #8 for Beating the Heat:

    Sunburned lips are no joke so keep your high SPF lip balm where you can frequently apply it both on and off the bike. The high SPF lip stuff can be hard to find at C-stores, so we always lay in an ample supply whenever we find it in stock, until we have so much of it that I can always find a tube around the house. Always wear a brimmed or visored cap in the sun. I keep mine right in my tank bag and don it as soon as I stop if I am going to spend any time in the sun.

  • Final Rides and Thoughts

    Contempt or Wheelies?

    They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Well I say familiarity breeds wheelies! After I became familiar with the Zero, my desire to do wheelies and other motorcycle antics kept increasing. Keeping the desire to be mischievous at bay was harder and harder. Especially as the weather became warmer and the road conditions improved.

    The first full throttle accelerations were a blast with no tire spin. The clear roads and wearing studs produced more available traction when not leaned over on dry pavement. It sure was fun to quickly squirt away from stop signs and lights. It amazes me how quickly the Zero accelerates from a dead stop. That is the performance sweet spot. Once up to speed the end of acceleration drops off suddenly. No rev limiter kicking in as the engine says in a Scottish accent “I’m giving you all I got!” It is more like, “Excuse me? Just for your reference, you have reached the maximum acceleration point of the Zero FX with dual battery configuration. Thank you.”

    Just to be clear, I didn’t do any wheelies. I kept reminding myself that this is a test bike and must be operated in a safe and responsible way at all times while obeying all traffic rules and regulations. I really did well as I can honestly say that I didn’t exceed the speed limit by more than about 7 miles per hour and mostly rode at about 5 over so as not to be going too much slower than other traffic. The studded tires were similar to having a parental control limit on the throttle. Spirited riding with them would have likely bitten me at some point.

    When I get comfortable with any motorcycle after day in and day out riding, I start to find myself automatically adopting certain riding behaviors subconsciously. I never decide to do these things, they just happen. The most common is coming to a complete stop without putting my feet down. The goal is to reach that short tiny oscillation you get as the bike comes to a stop, springs back briefly and springs forward again. A sort of boing, stop. It is really satisfying at some deep level. The trick then is to balance the bike for a second or two before riding off again.

    Does this constitute a full stop by traffic law? I ask myself this question often. The motorcycle meets the legal description of having ceased all forward movement. Lateral movement of the motorcycle is continuous even at a stop as it moves slightly while your feet are down. Most officers are looking for one foot on the pavement as then you are generally in a position to assess the intersection for safety before proceeding. I generally try to keep my feet up stops at non stop sign places and away from active traffic scenarios. It sure is fun and my subconscious likes to sneak them in when I am not expecting it.

    Last of the Snow and Riding to City Hall

    We had a couple late season snow falls and some freezing rain/snow. A thin layer of snow or ice wasn’t an issue with the studded tires. Just routine commuting on the Zero.

    Snowy Night Morning Snow

    One of my last rides on the Zero was to a committee meeting at Duluth City Hall. I walked through the building with my Roadcrafter Classic suit on as people gave me worried stares. As I entered the meeting room, all went quiet as I unsuited. In our small town, transportation riders are still scarce and stand out in any general business type environment. Bicycles are common and don’t stand out as much. Hopefully motorized two wheelers will follow and it looks like they will.

    City HallOne other committee member rides and has been listening to my stories about the Zero each month and was able to see it in person. He was surprised at how small it was in appearance. The narrowness of the lower chassis area makes the Zero FX look very small visually to riders as they expect a wide engine to be there. The dimensions of the bike are actually what is considered full size in the motorcycle world but perceptions are that it is sub size.

    One Last Look at the Magaco

    Grandkids WaivingAn opportunity finally came up to let my grandkids see grandpa ride off on the Zero magaco. The oldest actually has now learned how to say motorcycle pretty well so magaco may go into hibernation for awhile until the youngest picks it up. They really like to watch out the window and wave as I wave back while riding off. It is like embarking on a grand journey every time!

    The oldest has told me multiple times over the Winter: “Grandpa! Don’t ride the motorcycle. It's too cold.” I try to explain that my riding suit keeps me warm but I don’t know if he believes me. He even crunches up his forehead as he says it like he is giving me a good talking to about my irresponsible behavior. He may be channeling his parents.

    Final Thoughts

    The experience of riding the Zero this Winter has been really great! I am thankful to have had the opportunity. My eyes have been opened to a whole new realm of what I now consider rideable days. My fear of frozen surfaces is almost gone. I had a fall once in a very unusual black ice scenario some years back that made me fearful whenever I was riding around the 32° F mark. It involved a bridge so I still use caution as bridges can and do freeze sooner than roads.

    Before the Zero Below Zero project I used to always make sure the temp was above 32° F when riding with any kind of moisture in the environment. Now, I take into consideration the amount of thermal energy built up in the road surface and routinely ride home on regular tires with wet streets and air temps in the upper 20s° F. The thermal energy of Lake Superior also comes into play and streets near the lake can be fine while just up the hill there is ice forming. I never used to play the traction game like I do now.

    My key takeaways are:

    • You can effectively commute about 70% of the Winter in Duluth Minnesota on an electric motorcycle with lightly studded tires. Reasons:
      • Fine and linear throttle control allows the rider to adjust rear wheel power to stay within the available traction range more easily than is generally possible with a gas powered motorcycle.
      • The electric motorcycle does not need to warm up. You just turn it on.
      • No shifting allows you to wear heavy boots and keep your feet warm.
    • The number of accidents per mile will be less with an electric motorcycle. Reasons:
      • The simplicity of operating the Zero reduces the amount of attention needed and that extra attention can be used for more awareness of your circumstances.
      • The Zero’s extreme linear throttle control and lack of need for shifting allows for finer control of the motorcycle.
      • The absence of engine noise allows you to hear other road vehicles so you can be more aware of your surroundings.
      • The Zero is always in the “right” gear ready to get you out of trouble. You don’t need to continuously shift and keep the engine RPMs in the power band so you are ready to accelerate quickly if needed.
    • Less maintenance means more riding. The Zero is the perfect commuter motorcycle. You could literally ride it for years of commutes without needing to do anything but plug it in and check tire pressure.
    • I want one! Wife? Are you reading this?

    Products mentioned in this post:

  • Saying Goodbye to the FX

    Saying Goodbye to the FX…

    The Zero Below Zero project is now complete.

    We put the FX through a tough Duluth winter to see how it performed, but we also tested ourselves.

    It really comes down to taking the first step out of your comfort zone.

    • Once you figure out your extra layers under your Roadcrafter, it becomes routine.
    • Once you add accessories like Aero Warm Grips, you become more comfortable.
    • Once you put on enough studs, you become confident.
    • Once you remember the bike is quiet and people can hear you singing, you shut up. Yes, that really happened!
    • Once you have enough people tell you you’re crazy, you believe it!

    Riding the FX through the winter made me a better and more confident rider. I no longer check the weather and plan my rides around the nicest days. I ride when I want to ride no matter what my weather app says.

    The project created an excitement around the company that staff and customers could all be a part of. It created a great camaraderie and support amongst us test riders. We shared information on how to keep warmer, how to navigate in the snow and they always made sure the bike was moved to level ground so I could get on it.

    This was a fun and unique project to be a part of and it makes me think, what’s next?

    Safe travels FX and thanks for the ride!


    Products mentioned in this post:

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