Motorcycle Camping

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Ewan McGregor says that after doing a movie he needs to regain control of his own space, and motorcycle camping is a way to do that. But then he goes ahead and makes the Long Way ‘Round and the Long Way Down, which seem to deliberately flood his therapeutic space with work-like stuff. Or maybe if he’s in control of the work, that’s all the relief he needs?

In a much simpler scenario, my wife and I recently used a $300 Catoma 2-up-2 tent on our Delaware Water Gap trip along with some borrowed sleeping pads and bags. We carried a lot of the gear in the car to make the load on the bike lighter. Yeah, weird, we took both the bike and the car. Not the first time either.

Since then I acquired an inexpensive bag and pad and I wanted to test them out. The thought of freezing in the night had occurred to me.  Also I wanted to see if I could carry the tent and enough gear on the bike to do motorcycle camping.

If I had the side luggage racks and cases, I’d be happy to use them but they are too expensive and on an F650 they have to stick out too far into the wind, degrading the aerodynamics at highway speeds, especially on the muffler side.

Instead, I used the top box and stacked everything else in front of it.

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Everything is pretty well strapped against the top box.

I have a $90 Saddlemen TS3200 tail bag sitting on the passenger seat. It droops down over the sides of the seat by design, it’s built that way. But it doesn’t go down far enough to touch the muffler heat shields and it just clears the rear directionals. Also, it leaves the right amount of room behind me. I can lean back on it if I want, but in normal riding it doesn’t touch me.

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I knew the 6 lb. tent had to go on top of the TS3200, so I centered a small rectangular cooler inside the bag to provide rigid support for the tent. Worked out fine.

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Catoma 2-up-2 Tent

The tail bag comes with a lot of straps and I lashed the bottom and top of the bag around the base of the top box. And the bag has built-in straps that I used for the tent.

In the picture above of the stackup, you can see the $60 Teton Sports Trailhead +20F Ultralight sleeping bag sitting on top, bungie corded to the tent straps.

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The $60 Klymit V2 inflatable sleeping pad compresses down very small and went inside the cooler to protect it.

klymit_staticv2_anglebag_v1.pngWell, it’s quite a pile of gear and I was worried about it being too top heavy and maybe shifting around, but in fact it was fine. No problem handling it. Perhaps a little more care is needed stopping the bike on uneven ground and making sure the kickstand keeps everything reasonably upright.

With my slim load behind me, I enjoyed the ride up into the White Mountain National Forest where I paid a senior-pass-discounted $11 for a campsite. No showers. It was a Saturday and the campground was pretty full of small children yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!!” I figure the wild animals retreated at least a mile back into the woods. But I felt about as secure as I would in my own home.

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The weather was good, 75-80 during the day and 60 at night. The sleeping bag and pad were fine. I used a silk bag liner. I was plenty warm. The tent is a bit heavy and bulky, but it has the distinct advantage of a 30 second setup. Another couple minutes to stake it down and put the fly over it. Plenty of room in it.

 

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Covered Bridge over the Swift River on the Kankamangus Highway

On the way in at about 3 pm,  I had to ride through a big crowd of tourists packed inside the bridge. I took the photo above as I was leaving the campground at 7 am the following morning.

 

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Sun just up over the mountains

I was home by 9 am. Bacon and eggs. Mission accomplished.

Now I’m setting up to ride to Gettysburg and back in one day. 1000 miles. That’s right, the Iron Butt Club initiation! No camping, but a big distance stretch for me.

 

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Running Lean: Part Two

There are pluses and minuses to everything. Take the “tiny house” movement, for example.

New England town ordinances typically restrict a tiny house to an uninhabitable auxiliary structure on a property with an existing legal dwelling. A partial workaround is to put wheels on the tiny house and call it an RV.

But if the RV sits for more than a few months it is apt to get assessed and taxed as part of the real estate value of the overall property. Even if it has wheels on it. And eventually, if someone is living in the RV, residential zoning will likely require a move to an RV park or a place where zoning allows it.

In other words, the tiny house movement has a giant cannon-shot hole in the side of it. Where will you be allowed use it?

Only the devout can ignore these and other negatives.

Still, I love the idea of a tiny house.

Writing about Jay Shafer, arguably the father of the tiny house movement, Mark Sundeen says, “he described himself as a “meaning addict,” always looking for higher significance in material objects. “A gate in a picket fence that opens onto a narrow path that leads through a yard to an open porch that covers a door,” he said, “is a set of symbols we recognize as signposts guiding us through increasingly private territory toward the threshold of someone’s clandestine world.””

Fantastic! Couple that with the idea that you can build your own dwelling, own it outright, and live in it for next to nothing and you have the perfect thing for anyone looking to live light on the land.

Imagine. A life you can manage!

Here’s a nice, typically-sized version of a tiny house:

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Welcome!

It’s said that an image in the mind is almost as good as the real thing. In some ways better because you can filter out the negatives.

I say, “Dream on!” In fact, park a little scooter behind that tiny house as well.

No Highways

Leaving for a three-night camping expedition to the Delaware Water Gap National Park area in northern New Jersey. It’s sort of the flip side of the trip I took to Maine a while back. 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but about the same distance.

I’m wearing my three season Sedici jacket here and insulated underwear. With a cloudy, 60-degree ride down, the heat gradually drained out of me and around Brattleboro, VT I was needing a place to warm up. I got rained on three times. Coming back was hot and I wore the summer RevIt jacket which lets the air right through.

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If I set the Google Map options to “Avoid Highways” I get the following route:

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It’s a nice, direct scenic run out through the Green Mountains, loosely following the Appalachian Trail down to the park.  The AT passed about 1/2 mile from our campsite, and we were able to hike a few miles on it. Perfect.

I had plugged a USB power outlet into the connector I normally use for the Battery Tender, straight connection to the battery. Bought a $10 phone mount and mounted the iPhone 7 on the handlebars with the charging cord coming out from under the seat. This worked great. I was able to navigate all the way and the phone stayed charged at 100%.

As you are passing through a complex intersection of roads, you can just glance at the screen and see your path through. You don’t have to read all the signs. I think it’s safer.

But there are some quirks to “No Highways”. It apparently computes the quickest route, which is good, but it will often avoid the center of towns. That can be good or bad. If you are sort of looking for gas or food, you might not go by any stations, stores, or restaurants. I wound up in the middle of the national park with very little gas and had to specifically go out and find some. I had started looking at 100 miles on the odometer and was approaching 150 when I finally filled up. Normally, I fill up around 125.

It does seem to like sending you by lakes and rivers, which is nice.

It seems overly averse to construction zones. Just leaving Laconia, it sent me on an unnecessary detour. On the way back from the DWG it dumped me into downtown Albany, NY, apparently looking for a non-highway, no construction way to get across the Hudson River. That’s not the way I went on the way down.

Also, using the navigate mode tends to leave you in the dark about where you are, exactly. You know how far it is to the next turn, how far it is to your destination, but you don’t have an overall sense of where you are and what is around you just beyond your vision.

Finally, it is too strict about “no highways”. On one occasion, I felt like I was riding through people’s back yards right next to the highway. Better to take the highway if all you are going to do is parallel it on much, much slower roads.

By the way, it was my wife and I making the trip, but she drove her Infiniti G37X, cruising in air-conditioned comfort while blasting Amos Lee on the Bose. We each got what we wanted.

 

Running Lean: Part Two

The Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago, is a traditional Christian pilgrimage that dates back to the 9th century. There are many routes, but they all converge on the cathedral in Santiago where the bones of Saint James the Great are thought to reside. The route “par excellence” is the Frances route that starts in St. Jean Pied du Port, France and goes up over the Pyrenees and down into Spain. It’s about 500 miles long.

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The spires are on the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

Nowadays, a willingness to cover some distance on foot seems to be the only requirement to become a pilgrim. My wife and I opted for a minimum Camino that includes just the last portion of the Frances route.

After walking 102 kilometers on the Way from Sarria to Santiago, we got our “compostelas”, spent some time sight-seeing in the old city, and then continued on to the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Finisterre, thought to be the “end of the land” in medieval times. We walked a total of 192 km, about 120 miles.

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End of the land, Finisterre, Spain. 0.0 km marker

We were hiking from marker to marker, cafe to cafe, inn to inn, carrying a change of clothes and a few personal items, minimal food and water, no sleeping bags and no tent. No baggage.

My brain had stopped spinning on the usual stuff after the first 20 miles or so, content to be doing just about nothing. Our days were filling up with very simple things.

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As novices, we were slowly increasing our daily mileage from 6 to 15 and had discovered an early afternoon rest was useful, so when we ambled by a Galician farmer’s mowed field with a nice shady tree near the path, we spread our rain gear on the soft ground and dropped onto it with our packs under our heads.

After walking for miles, it was luxurious to just get off our feet. There were no bugs to bother us and the temperature was perfect.

I munched on a few Choco Flakes, sipped some water, took in the green field, the animals, and the poofy clouds gliding by in a blue sky. I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

I fell asleep right in the middle of my epiphany.

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When I woke up later it took me a few moments to realize where I was. I heard the chatter of pilgrims moving along the path just behind us.

We said, “Hola”.

They looked around and were surprised to spot us on the ground behind the shrubs and tree, but quickly smiled their approval .

“Hola! Buenos dias!”

“Buen Camino!”

“Buen Camino!”

Our vocabulary was pretty much used up. Time to get walking.

Incidentally, you don’t “hike” the Camino, you “walk” it. Not sure what the difference is, but it’s probably part of the subtle magic that works on you while you are on the Way.

 

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Bacon and cheese sandwich and a Coke. Cape Finisterre in the far distance.

 

 

 

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Chocolate-filled breakfast cereal. It worked for me.

 

 

F650 Valve Adjustment

The BMW F650 has one cylinder with four valves and solid (non-hydraulic) lifters, two exhaust valves in the front and two intake in the rear. The clearance between the cam and the lifter is supposed to be .004″ to .006″ for all four valves with the engine cold.

On my bike the left intake was .003″ and the right exhaust was .007″ and the others .005″ and it has been that way ever since the bike had a few thousand miles on it. Now with 15K miles, I decided it was time to try adjusting them.

Checking the clearance involves removing body panels, the fuel tank, the valve cover and then positioning the engine rotation properly, and then slipping feeler gauges between the cams and the lifters. The Clymer manual covers it well, and the process is straightforward, but it is still a lot of work. Adjusting the clearance is much worse because you have to remove the overhead cams, remove the adjustment shims on the offending valves, measure them and compute what they should be, order new ones and wait for them to come in, and then reassemble everything.

The shims are about 1.125″ in diameter and come in various thicknesses in .002″ increments. They sit in a little recess in the top of the lifter, which is shaped like an inverted cup. BMW uses the metric system but my 1″ micrometer is in .001″ increments, so I had to convert to millimeters. Incidentally, it’s easy to interpolate between marks to a precision of .0005″, and that’s what I did.

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The old shims were not worn and still had the original thickness.

The exhaust valve with the loose .007″ clearance measured .0985″ (2.50mm). I reasoned that I needed a thicker shim to make the clearance less so I ordered a 2.55mm shim from BMW. (.05 mm is .002″ and .002″ thicker would theoretically give me the desired .005″ clearance.)

The intake valve with the tight .003″ clearance measured .0945″ (2.4mm). I needed a .002″ thinner shim to get the .005″ clearance, so I ordered a 2.35mm shim.

I’m a “shade tree” mechanic, so I covered the open top end of the engine with a clean plastic bag and then put the tarp over the bike and waited about three days for the new shims to come in. I reassembled everything using a torque wrench, some Loctite 235 on the internal bolts and a slathering of oil on sliding surfaces, rotated the engine a few times and checked the clearance. It was .005″ on all four valves!

The two main difficulties I encountered were one, deciding not to be daunted by it and two, adding and subtracting appropriately with confidence. Maybe I should have been daunted.

The good news is the valve clearance seems to not change at all once the engine has been run in those first few thousand miles. I think it’s better to have a system that is hard to adjust but stays adjusted rather than one you have to keep adjusting all the time.

Notes:

You have to remove a spark plug in order to easily spin the engine into position, and I used my pressure washer with the 15 degree nozzle to blow the dirt out from around the base of the plugs so it wouldn’t wind up in the cylinder. But after removing the tank, I noticed there was some grit sitting on the frame and the spark plug wires. I had already put the washer away so I left the grit there, but it was sitting right above the valve cover and could have dropped into the cam area. I was careful, but I should have taken the time to clean off all the dirt above the area where the engine would be wide open. At least I covered it while waiting for the parts to come in.

Coincidentally, when I was on my way to Stowe, Vermont I stopped in Barre to check my navigation on the iPhone. A guy walked up to me and struck up a conversation about the bike. He had worked on them and knew all about adjusting the valves on an F650 and other makes as well. He said they would often leave them alone if they were only .001″ out of spec. I prefer to feel righteous about having my valves dead on spec rather than stupid at having wasted a lot of time and effort. But my instincts were right in taking my time before actually getting into the cam tear-down scenario.

A valve that is .001″ out of spec allows you to buy a shim that is .002″ different and bring the clearance right to the middle of the .004″-.006″ tolerance. I think that is the exact scenario it was designed to handle, given the spec and that the shims come in .002″ increments. And…if you are checking the clearances every 6000 miles, like you are supposed to, and at some point make the adjustment like I did, I doubt you will ever see anything more than the .001″.

Stowe, Vermont

If you are going to Stowe to attend a wedding, I recommend riding your motorcycle. I took the occasion to do just that and try out my new Saddlemen TS3200 rear bag.  I had recently adjusted the valves, changed the coolant and put in the 20W50 summer weight oil. The bike was loaded and I ran 32 psi in the front tire and 34 in the rear.

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Saddlemen TS3200 bag with the bike rain cover on top of it.

The bag sits on the passenger seat and just clears my back. I can lean back onto it or not. Pretty much ideal in that respect. I have to help my leg bend enough to clear it when getting on and off. I can still open the top box enough to get at the contents pretty well. The bag hangs down over the sides of the seat, but is still well above the exhaust, and it sits just in front of the rear directional lights. It’s held securely with quick-disconnect straps, sort of pulled back against the top box, conforming to the shape of the available space.

The bike is more top heavy when loaded this way but it handles fine once you get rolling.

I was headed to the Field Guide Inn there and got Google Maps to cook up this 123 mile “back roads” route through the mountains northwest of Plymouth, NH and into Vermont. It was a sunny, 70 degree day. Perfect. I wore my Revit Wind summer weight armored jacket my wife recently bought me. Very comfortable all the way up.

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Bridge over the Connecticut River between Piermont, NH and Bradford, VT

The roads typically follow small rivers flowing towards the big Connecticut River and I leaned into a lot of curves on the way to Stowe.

I arrived at almost the same time as my wife, who prefers her Infiniti G37X over anything with only two wheels.

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The newlyweds

In addition to a great wedding, great food and company, we enjoyed hiking in the area, visiting Moss Pond Waterfall and Bingham Falls in Smuggler’s Notch.

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Moss Pond Falls – about 60 feet top to bottom

Stowe is a wonderful place to spend some relaxing time.

On the way home, though, the iPhone radar was showing rain approaching from the west. It was 42 degrees. I layered up and wore the Sedici three-season jacket that I had squirreled away in the TS3200. Also the down mittens with wool liners. Got on I 89 for the short run from Waterbury down to Barre, but the bike felt so good with little wind that I decided to cover some quick miles by staying on the interstate down to New London and then taking NH Route 11 east. I was comfortable running 65-75 mph with an occasional unintended streak near 80 mph. The bike always runs silky smooth in 5th gear and the torque peaks by design at 70-75. I only passed a few vehicles because I was mostly just keeping up with traffic in the right lane.

Stopped for gas and then again for a quick snack. Pulled into the driveway just ahead of some heavy rain. I love radar!

2012 G650GS

I enjoyed taking a spin on a 2012 BMW G650GS, essentially the latest and final version of the F650 line that started back in the early nineties. My own bike is a 1997 F650.

The engine is pretty much the same with the notable exception of fuel injection. I looked for the enrichment lever to start the bike and didn’t find one. Give it a little gas, press the start button and it fires right up!

It has the same characteristic big-single vibration in the 4000-4300 rpm range although a bit more subdued. Nothing in the bars, a little in the pegs, nothing in the seat. I think it has slightly more power in the 3000-5000 rpm range. I rarely use anything higher than that.

The sound is different with more of a growl. The exhaust pipe feeds into what appears to be dual mufflers, but they are connected in series and the exhaust exits from the one on the right.

The geometry and dimensions of the G are identical to the old F, but it felt a bit more nimble, maybe because the fuel tank is under the seat. Or maybe the rear tire had less of a worn flat center section than my Metzler Tourance tires with almost 8000 miles on them.

The suspension is identical as far as I can tell and, by the way, having gotten used to 6.5 inches of travel front and rear, I don’t think I would be happy with the couple inches you typically get on something like a Sportster.

The gnarly headlight works for me and I like the idea of running tubeless tires on the cast rims. It was a cool day and I enjoyed the luxury of heated grips.

Overall, the G has that contemporary BMW feel of substance. It’s a great bike and could last a lifetime with the remarkable support BMW has for older bikes. But this one is essentially brand new with less than 6000 miles on it.

The G650GS got me to the local SlashBurger restaurant very nicely, but I felt like riding it further.  Say, to Deadhorse, Alaska.

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A borrowed 2012 BMW G650GS and Bell helmet and my new Sedici jacket