Cold Weather Riding: Thin Insulated Layer

I have a Primaloft hooded jacket that worked well on my 6500-mile motorcycle odyssey last Fall:


Yes, I got mine from L.L.Bean but I think they are available elsewhere. The point is the new lightweight, high performance insulation works. When you put it on, you don’t think it is going to do much for you because it is so thin, but it is warm. And it packs very small.

You can get it without the hood, but the hood is nice if you are off the bike in a cold wind. The hood sticks out under the back of the helmet but doesn’t flap around.

On the trip, I ran into such varied hot-to-cold weather that I took my summer RevIt armored jacket (slightly large for me) and just added layers under it to keep warm. The Primaloft jacket was one of those layers.

It was so hot in Alabama that I was running for a while with just a T shirt. Pretty naked. But snow in the Rockies and a couple whole days of cold rain brought out everything I had including the Gerbing heated vest and the Primaloft jacket.

By the way, the Gerbing vest is a bit of  disappointment. I helps, but is no panacea. With extended riding below 45 degrees F, your body cannot absorb enough heat from the vest to stay warm, hour after hour. You still need a lot of layers to slow down the heat loss.

For cold riding, I wear the Primaloft and the Gerbing, but on most local rides I don’t need to plug in the vest. I can make a 15 mile run on a sunny day at 35 degrees in perfect comfort without electric, but it’s there if I need it.

It’s a bofundous kick to be out on a motorcycle in cold weather. Absolutely, you aren’t as cold as you think you would be. Or as onlookers imagine you are. Using both hands and feet, but mostly your head, leaning into curves, rolling on power,  two-wheeling into the winter wind, smiling.








I thought I Heard Something

Several times in the middle of the night I have heard sounds, footsteps in the house. It must be my wife, but no, she’s asleep. The adrenaline starts to flow.

Then I realize it’s just my heart beating.

In my brain, the difference between normal and total terror is very thin.

That’s how I wound up on the shady side of a Dollar Store in rural West Virginia tearing my F650 apart looking for mechanical demons that weren’t there.


That’s right, the gas tank is on the ground to the left. It’s hard to get at the valve cover on the top of the engine. I thought some bolts had some loose. No. Everything was fine.

Well, the BMW F650, like most motorcycles, emits a lot of sound. But it doesn’t have a loud exhaust to mask the engine noise, so it always sounds like something might be wrong with it. But once in a while my brain gets into a mode where it is convinced the engine is ready to fall apart or even explode.

I left New England in a cold rain wearing a balaclava under my helmet. By the time I got deep into West Virginia, it was really hot. Not only could I hear a lot better without the balaclava, but the engine was noisier from the thin oil in the heat and hard running. Apparently my brain amplified this scenario into a real crisis. The engine was going to disintegrate at any moment and running on “no Google Map highways” through the Appalachian Mountains, you are typically passing by…nothing. The Dollar Store was not a BMW dealership or even a hole-in-the-wall repair shop, but it was slightly better than nothing.

But the fact is I did nothing to the bike except check it, and then I proceeded to ride it in even hotter weather day after day for 6,000 miles and had no problems.

I did start using my earplugs, though.

Consolation: It is satisfying to extensively take your vehicle apart with just the tools you are carrying. People passing by may find it interesting, possibly entertaining, but definitely worthy of genuine sympathy.

F650 Power on the Highway

My ’97 BMW F650 will supposedly put out 48 horsepower at 7500 rpm, but in practice I don’t cruise much over 5000 rpm (75 mph in 5th gear). Why? Vibration, engine sound, intuition and fear. Mainly fear.

Significantly, 5000 rpm is the smooth, high-power sweet spot for the F650 Rotax engine.

At 5000 rpm I can go up the hills typically found on the interstate or roll on more power to get past a truck. I can slow down a bit and then speed up without shifting. And the bike will keep it up all day long.

That said, I am usually more comfortable riding around 65 mph at about 4300 rpm. Everything feels more relaxed. I don’t have as much horsepower to work with but it is manageable.

But if I have to slow down to 55 mph for some reason, I will have to down shift to go up a hill or accelerate. At 3600 rpm, the engine isn’t putting out enough power to do those things in high gear. After all, the bike weighs about 430 lbs. and I’m 170 armored up plus about 60 lbs. of luggage. So about 660 lbs. total. And I have a big windshield pushing the air off me.

I do have stock sprockets, so if I changed the front 16 tooth for a 15, I would be running 5000 rpm at 70 mph. That might give me a machine that is better matched to my style of riding.  Some of the guys on the F650 Chain Gang recommend the 15 tooth sprocket. I may try it.

I’m basing my thinking on a recent 6500 mile trip with much of it over 60 mph on a loaded bike.

If you are going to ride the interstate or the high speed two lane roads in the West, especially with a load, the kind of power I get from the F650 is probably a minimum. Otherwise, you will be shifting all day long and constantly reminded that you are on the wrong bike.

Even on the F650, the Road Kings rocket by me, their riders seemingly carefree with their feet stretched way out in front. They look like they’re watching TV.



2018 Trail of Tears

7:30 AM September 15

The F650 and I lined up in Bridgeport, Alabama at the start of the 2018 Trail of Tears Commemorative Ride:



Better shot of the trike in the foreground:



The trike rider:


73rd birthday. He was riding for Native Americans and friends lost in Viet Nam. But it was also “Adventure Before Dementia.” Right on.

More riders behind us. And still more kept joining all along the 220 mile route through Huntsville to Waterloo:


Police with their cruisers manned all the intersections, letting the bikes through. Farmers parked their big equipment at the edges of fields along the route. Local fire trucks turned out.

People in cars, on motorcycles, bicycles, tractors and trucks waved. The police waved. Fire people waved. Old couples waved. Families with young children waved.

Respect for those who sacrificed much more than their share.


By the time the lead motorcycles got to the Cherokee encampment and commemorative powwow at Waterloo, the bikes stretched out for 25 miles.

Staying Dry

On September 10, 2018 I left Gilford, NH on the F650 bound for Alabama. I put on my rain gear west of Hartford, CT just before the patch of blue and green and yellow (yes, yellow heavy rain!) on the radar.

Boot covers, rain pants and jacket. The handlebar muffs and 20″ Clearview windshield were already on the bike.


I could see on the radar that I would have to ride through a band of rain. Couple of hours. No problem.

Except I didn’t realize what was going to happen on the 11th. It doesn’t really show up on the radar, but you can get a dense, foggy mist with the air saturated with water. Not much of it hits the roadway. The road is wet, but there are no standing layers of water on it. No hydroplaning worries. But riding through that wet air will soak you just as much as a light rain. And it lasted most of the day.

I had a bunch of ink-jet printed maps in my tank bag. They were right where the water dripped off my helmet onto the front of my jacket and then onto the bag. Totally ruined. Threw them out. The maps were gone before they were ever used. I didn’t even get into unknown territory.

Quite a bit of other stuff in the tank bag was in plastic bags and was okay.

I had a few new rags to use to clean up things but they got soaked before I could use them. I knew I wouldn’t get them dry so I tossed them. Brand new.

Most of my clothes in the rear bag were in plastic bags and were fine.

My top box will admit water also, so really all three of my storage spaces got wet and only the secondary waterproofing saved things.

The boot covers worked well enough except the soles were slippery on wet pavement (you could drop the bike) and they are a bit awkward to wear into a convenience store to buy something or use the restroom after fueling the bike. But they are cheap, don’t take up much room and will keep your feet dry.


Boot Covers from Amazon. $18

So I learned a few things:

  1. If you don’t want something to get wet, keep it in a plastic bag.
  2. Your feet are the first thing to get soaked. Spray off the front wheel, I guess. Boot covers take care of it.
  3. The bottom of your helmet liner is going to absorb water and you will be  sliding this cold, wet thing over your head when you put the helmet on.
  4. Rain jacket and pants help, but where the water continually hits the fabric, it will saturate and pass some water through.
  5. The Oxford RainSeal Handlebar Muffs help, but some water is still going to get on your gloves or mittens. Enough to eventually soak through.
  6. I think $300 waterproof motorcycle boots would be better in the rain than boot covers. On the other hand, the covers will get you through a little rain just fine.
  7. A good riding suit or pants/jacket set would be ideal for extended travel in the rain.. The fewer separate items to deal with the better.
  8. A couple hours of light rain is one thing, but a whole day or multiple days of rain will get you pretty wet.
  9. The helmet clear outer faceshield gets wet, but you can see fine in the daylight. At night, the light refracts off the droplets and makes it hard to see. Don’t ride at night in the rain.
  10. Use radar to minimize your exposure.
  11. Traffic on the interstate will kick up a spray that will soak you.
  12. You have less traction in the rain, especially on the painted lines.
  13. Carrying extra weight on the bike is more dangerous in the rain.
  14. Run tires that are decent on wet pavement. Less to worry about.
  15. The windshield does generally keep the water off things behind it. The iPhone navigator is okay on the handlebars in a light rain or mist. It’s dry when moving but will get sprinkled on when stopped.
  16. Your face shield will fog up when stopped in cooler weather, but will clear out when moving. Opening the vents will help. You might need to flip it up until you get moving.
  17. How are you going to pay a toll in the rain? My EasyPass didn’t work reliably. In one case there was a bar in front of me that would’t lift until I backed up and took a ticket. Where are you going to put a ticket in the rain?

Face shield will fog when stopped

It’s possible to let the rain get you down, but an alternative attitude is to decide to get really good at it. Solve the problems. Plan better for it. Gear up for it.

And if you own a BMW, there is a de facto expectation that you are a competent rain rider. I don’t know why.




UFO Encounter

I was doing 60 mph in Burlington, Iowa approaching the Great River Bridge over the Mississippi when a light colored object flew into the left front of my F650. It was just a blur, but I felt it hit. The bike began to stumble, losing power, and the staggering continued so I pulled over and shut it down.

I was in an awkward spot between a steep embankment on the right and heavy traffic on the left.

I got off and looked over the front of the motorcycle for damage. Couldn’t find any. Tried a restart but it would barely run. I was unhurt. Nonetheless, the situation was getting dicey.

After some minutes of wondering what had happened and what could be wrong with the bike, I came up with nothing. I toyed with the idea of a coincidence because that opened up a bigger range of possible explanations. Still, nothing made sense.

Then a vague thought came to mind. Have I experienced this sort of engine staggering before? Maybe. When the enrichment lever is on when it shouldn’t be?

The enrichment lever is like a choke, except it adds more gas to the mix instead of restricting the air. You start the F650 in cold weather by moving the enrichment lever toward you, press the start button, and then release the enrichment lever once the engine is running.

Could that be it?

I looked at the control pod on the left handlebar. Sure enough, the lever was half on. Something had hit the lever and shoved it back until that something hit the left mirror post also, stopping any further movement.

I pushed the lever all the way off, started the bike and it ran fine.


Enrichment lever mysteriously turned on


I moved the lever forward to the off position.

UFOs may be imaginary, but that one shut down my motorcycle.

F650 Tank Bag

A tank bag would be nice for my upcoming motorcycle odyssey. I have looked at them off and on over the years but I’ve never connected with anything. They’re either too expensive, too hard to attach to a non-magnetic tank, too small, wrong color or style, or specific to a different bike.

Then I remembered I had an old backpack in great condition that is just the right size.


It went right on the bike without a whimper.

Okay, it whimpered a little when I cut the backpacking straps off it.


Here is the bag mounted securely to the bike with nothing in it.



It’s a nice LLBean backpack/laptop carrier with 4 exterior pockets facing the rider. Mesh pockets on the sides. Large internal storage space.

The top of the pack has a couple handle loops and a sturdy fabric wrapper enclosing both loops and fastened with Velcro. That was so you could carry the pack with the top handle.

I passed the fabric handle in between the handlebar risers and then attached my phone mount. The fabric handle loops around the base of the phone mount and can’t slide back out. That’s how I attached the top of the pack to the bike.


The phone mount base sticks down below the handlebar enough to prevent the fabric pack handle from sliding out.

The straps had connected to the bottom of the pack with snap hooks. I retained the bottom section of strap, punched a hole through the nylon webbing with a pointy tool and attached the webbing to the bike under an existing body screw, one on each side.


The snap hook with adjustable strap is anchored under existing body screw.

That’s all there is too it.

A place up front for all my quick-access stuff.