Lowering the F650

Yes, I’ve seen those videos of a short guy riding a DRZ400 with a 37″ seat height, mounting it like a bicycle. And read about “sissies” who lowered their bikes only to reverse them back to the more manly original height. What’s the big deal about dropping a bike anyway? Some people do it several times a season.

On the other hand, most of the bikes on the road are low-seat cruisers. Why is that?

I also see Can Am Spyders and a surprising number of HD trikes and a few sidecar rigs like the vintage Ural up the street from me. Adding a third wheel helps keep the whole thing upright, but you lose a big part of the 2-wheel magic.

I can ride a tall bike, but I don’t have to. I could ride a short one. A light one. Or a  three wheeler. But I have yet to find a bike that beats my 1997 BMW F650, all things considered, so why not just see if I can make it a little easier to ride.

The stock seat is 32″ high and about 10″ wide. It’s hard to stretch your legs over something that wide and still get your feet down onto the ground. My modest 30″ inseam doesn’t help.

I can flat foot it if I really work at stretching my legs over the narrowest part of the seat. Typically though, sitting at a light my heels are a bit off the ground or one foot flat down and the other touching down on the ball of the foot.

I had dropped the bike once, four years ago while duck-walking a turn over a rough spot in my primitive driveway. It was early days of getting back into motorcycling. That’s my excuse. Since then, I’ve managed to keep the rubber side down.

So I can manage 450 lbs. of relatively high center of gravity motorcycle with my feet not comfortably flat on the ground, but I thought I would see what a lower version would be like.

I bought a used $150 BMW lowering kit on eBay that included the longer links, shorter side-stand and shorter center-stand.

The links change out pretty easily with the bike on the center stand and the rear wheel removed. The side stand is easy and the center stand is a little less easy. The difficult part is stretching the stand return springs back on.

The seat is now 29.5″. I didn’t touch the front end.

Yes, it’s easier to handle the bike on rough or uneven ground or in parking lots, backing up and generally horsing it around in the driveway, but what I didn’t expect was the improvement in side wind gust resistance at speed on the highway. It tracks better and is more of a straight line machine than it was before.

Of course, it doesn’t steer quite as quickly as it did. Something to get used to. But I’m a conservative rider and it doesn’t seem to be a problem for my riding style. And I can still swerve around obstacles in the road.

Rake and Trail

The lowering kit increases the rake by about 3 degrees to 31, putting it into cruiser territory. The trail also increased and is now about 5 inches. Rake is the angle the fork makes with the vertical. If you extend this line to the pavement it will be in front of the point where the tire contacts the road and the distance between those two points is the trail. The rake/trail of a sport bike is typically 26/3, a dual sport 28/4, and a cruiser 32/5.

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CycleWorld rake and trail illustration. A is the rake angle. B is the trail distance.

I could reduce the rake and trail by lowering the front end also, but I want to get used to it the way it is before changing anything.

Summary

It looks and feels a bit less dual sport and a bit more standard than it did before and that is okay with me.

Easier to handle when stopped on uneven ground. Easier to back up. Steering a little slower. It was probably too quick before anyway. Fantastic wind stability.

The original windshield is now throwing more rough air at my helmet so I want to try a taller windshield to see if I can quiet things down. As it is now, no windshield at all is better because the helmet air is not turbulent.

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My ’97 F650 lowered to 29.5″ seat height

 

 

 

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Piaggio Liberty 150

What good is a scooter?

In Europe, the 125cc Piaggio Liberty is a workhorse, delivering everything from pizza to the mail. And it’s a reliable a commuter. A 150cc version has just now become available in the USA.

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If you are looking for something light for the street, the Liberty only weighs 255 lbs. without fuel. But the lighter the bike the smaller the engine. Why? I don’t know exactly but it probably has something to do with staying alive. You only get 150 cc’s.

You can have a 150 cc motorcycle,  but a small engine requires a lot of shifting to keep the rpms in the maximum power range. A scooter has a simple automatic transmission and is more or less always in the right gear. No shifting required.

The Liberty engine is the same air cooled, fuel injected, three valve unit used in the much more expensive Vespa. 77 mpg, actual, reported on fuelly.com

The big wheels, 16 inch front and 14 rear, help on rough roads and produce handling more like a motorcycle than a small-wheeled scooter.

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There’s a big glove box up front and good storage under the seat. You can get by without a top box, at least around town. The seat is 31 inches off the ground and pretty narrow in the front, making it easy to put your feet down. No side-stand, but the center stand is easy to operate.

You only get a top speed of 60 mph, and 45-50 is probably more in the comfort range, so you are talking minimalist transportation. Keeping up with traffic is a matter of either picking your roads or occasionally moving over to let cars go by.

Think of it this way, the Liberty is out of the box faster than any hot-rodded 50-60 cc Honda Ruckus, and I would love to go around Lake Winnipesaukee on a Ruckus. I like minimalist thinking, but I don’t want to get run over either. With 13 horsepower, the Liberty has just enough to stay out of trouble.

You can buy a Piaggio Liberty 150 at Herb Chambers Vespa in Boston for about $3600, out the door.

Am I going to buy one?

Very tempting. This is one of the very few practical scooters that look good to me and I am a big fan of things that look good. But I would want to keep my ’97 BMW F650 and I know my wife will say “you don’t have room for it” and be right.

In fact, she did say it.

How did this post turn into thoughts on shed building?

 

 

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.

 

Running Lean: Part Three

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.

 

 

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!