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.

 

The Himalayan

On the day we bought the 1997 BMW F650 two years ago, my wife and I had looked at two bikes.  The second was the F650. The first was a fairly new Royal Enfield Chrome Classic 500. The RE was less motorcycle, more expensive, and had some surface rust on the fasteners from being stored under a tarp in a damp place. Still, I was drawn to it.

I can’t help myself.  There’s a place in my brain that is sort of owned by Royal Enfield motorcycles, probably in the same neighborhood as apple pie and Walter Cronkite.

So I was intrigued to learn that RE has a new bike just now appearing on the scene in India. It’s called the Himalayan, a reference to the expeditions RE riders take up into the Himalayas, and to the fact that the bike has many of the enhancements often found on those expedition-modified machines. And some new features as well.

A Royal Enfield with a counterbalanced engine? With a rear mono-shock suspension? Overhead cam? Take a look.

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Royal Enfield Himalayan

The bike weighs about 400 lbs with 4 gallons of fuel, giving it a range that approaches 300 miles. 21 inch front wheel with 8 inches of fork travel, 17 rear with over 7 inches of travel for the mono-shock suspension, and disc brakes front and rear. Plenty of ground clearance. Engine is a counterbalanced, air/oil cooled, 411 cc, two-valve, carburetor single. The smoothest RE engine ever built. And yet it still has that signature long stroke for good low-rpm torque.

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The Himalayan is different, simple, visceral, bordering on crude. I like it.

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Hopefully, a version of this bike will show up in the USA. Reports indicate 55 mph to be an ideal cruising speed, so you could ride it all day long on the secondary roads of New England, for example. It’s not going to be too happy on the interstate.

Nonetheless, with attachments for various bits of luggage, good range, comfortable seat, smooth engine and good fuel economy, it’s a legitimate medium-speed adventure touring machine. Not to mention just hauling stuff locally.

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In the USA, we bought about 2.5 million new pickup trucks in 2015 alone. Mostly, they just haul the occasional tube of caulking from Lowes. Even a Himalayan is overkill for that.

The bike is more off-road than street, which aligns it with the $6500 DR650S here. The DR is lighter, faster, more powerful, and proven. You can get a new leftover model for $5500. But it doesn’t have the character and “approachability” of the Himalayan.

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DR650S

 

With the same single-cylinder engine displacement, we have the streetier $5000 KTM Duke 390, which is smaller, lighter, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, faster and more powerful. It has the upright riding position of a dual sport, but also the 17-inch wheels and shorter wheelbase of a sport bike. A thoroughly modern design. Not as good a comparison as the DR, but it shows what you can buy for $5K.

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KTM Duke 390

At $4300 -$4500, the Himalayan would fit nicely into the market here, and not in a small way. At a higher price, you move into the space occupied by the classic RE bikes. Not competitive technically, but oozing character. If I bought a Himalayan today, I can imagine still owning it in 10 years. I can’t say the same for the other two.

In the USA, you can buy a new fuel injected RE Bullet 500 for $5K, and it’s possible the Himalayan could work in that price range also if it had good build quality, fuel injection, and maybe slightly more power.

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A few days from now, I’ll be riding 250 curvy blacktop miles up into the North Maine Woods, followed by another 20 miles of dirt into the “back of beyond”, hoping the log cabin is still there.

Which is probably why that part of my brain is chanting, “Himalayan. Himalayan. Himalayan.”

 

The Ural

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For a couple of months I have been seeing a fantastic shiny military green Ural sidecar rig cruising past my house. The Urals are unmistakable, especially if you have seen Indiana Jones, practically any world war II movie, or the new Mortdecai ,starring Johnny Depp. This one looks brand new and 75 years old at the same time. As it turns out it is neither.

Walking near my house, I passed a man doing some work at a neighbor’s. We struck up a conversation and he mentioned he had the Ural. He had recognized me as one of the dual sport riders in the neighborhood. The Ural is a 1992, before they were officially imported into the USA, drum brakes, carbureted, single wheel drive, and very low miles when he got it. He cleaned the carbs, did some ignition work, and eventually got it running smoothly.

Compared to the F650, I can see some significant advantages to the Ural. You aren’t going to drop it, it will stand up by itself when stopped so you don’t have to ever put your feet down, it has a reverse gear, you can more easily carry a passenger and more gear, and it comes standard with a huge cool factor. Not to mention a spare tire that will fit any of the wheels.

Like the F650, it is a blast to ride, similar displacement, requires a motorcycle license, easy to work on, world-wide presence, and off-road capable,

Some things that might be considered disadvantages are 35 mpg fuel economy, a low 50 mph sweet spot (70 mph max), $13K-$16K to buy new, hard to steer, and a whole different riding paradigm. The main thing you lose is the easy two-wheeled lean of a regular motorcycle, which is, arguably, everything.

Fascinating. Under the right circumstances, I can imagine going for the Ural.

Incidentally, Brian also mentioned the dirt Sandwich Notch Road through part of the White Mountain Forest. Easier to do that than going further north to hit the paved, but curvy Kankamangus.