Mr. Subjective

  • 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.


    Click to Enlarge

    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?’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

    “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.”

  • 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? This one is the Tank-Pack Jr, the smaller of the two available sizes. 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

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