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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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.