The Bumblebee and the Vespa 2014

I think it's time for me to redefine what this new blog is about. In the past I've posted individual blogs for motorcycle/motor scooter rides to places like Alaska, Nova Scotia, Key West, Mexico, Canada, New York, etc. That's all well and good but it seems nowadays I'm dividing my rides into shorter ones comprised of two or more weeks each on different bikes. The total time and mileage is about the same, it's just split into multiple rides with a break somewhere in the middle.

The summer of 2014 serves as a good example of that wherein I rode south to Tombstone, AZ on my '92 BMW R100GS Bumblebee/Ural sidecar rig, (phew!) then returned home for a few days and set out again on my '07 Vespa 250ie motor scooter to visit Canada. That summer has gone and the seasons have changed as will the reports, some will be about shorter rides, some will be about maintenance, and maybe on occasion I'll post a photo or two just for interest. I may even introduce other bikes, a few of which are lurking under cover in the barn...

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Aug 20, 2015 Prepping the Bonnie for Touring

Rock 'N Roll you fat little bugger!
In my last posting I described how I came to possess a 2012 Triumph Bonneville, one of the sweetest motorcycles a rider could wish for. Although it arrived fully outfitted for touring every owner has individual tastes and as such I had to add a few mods of my own to make it perfect – for me, that is. My goal was to prepare the bike for a late summer ride, hopefully one of several thousand miles.

The first item of interest would be a windshield having a bit more mass, somewhat like a small fairing. It would defray most of the weather I expected to encounter and at the same time reduce the turbulence around my helmet. The Bonnie came with two really good windshields, one favors a summer design that allows substantial “wind in your face” and the other leans towards a winter design, much larger to the point it even provides wind protection for your hands. I haven’t actually ridden with the second one for the worst of all possible reasons; I don’t care for the appearance of the thing…to me it looks sort of, uh, clunky. Styling is everything…ewww.

With that in mind I opted for one of Parabellum's Scout models, a design that the manufacturer claims will reduce turbulence at all speeds and provide increased fuel economy. Posts by owners on various blogs and forums echo their claims so I ordered one. To ensure their customers are happy campers the factory allows new owners a 30-day grace period to evaluate the Scout and if not completely satisfied you may return it for a refund. Provided you haven’t messed with it of course.

Parabellum Scout windshield

Jerry Smith doing the Parabellum install

Curiosity made him do it...
Next up would be to mount my aging Garmin Zumo 550 GPS, currently residing on the Bumblebee. To facilitate the transfer I robbed an extra RAM ball mount from another bike and ordered a locking RAM arm to discourage the snatch & grab folks. I had to run a fused circuit to provide power but that was an easy task and the unit works as it should.

Ready to roll

Winnamucca? Huh?
The Happy Trail Tetons aluminum panniers* on the bike arrived sans liners so I ordered up a set for each side. These are comprised of 3 fitted water resistant bags that make packing and loading/unloading a much easier task. I added a large masking tape numbered tag to each that correlates with my master packing list. That may seem like overkill to some but it nearly eliminates fumbling around while you’re looking for a particular item. Personal experience speaking there...

(*”Saddle bags” is a term that doesn’t seem correct to me unless the material they’re made of is leather or one of the new magic materials like Cordura nylon, etc. Aluminum seems more like a roller skate case.)

That large bag in the center is a medium size MotoFizz camp seat. Odd name that. 

Besides the internal bags I’d been thinking about another set of Happy Trails gear bags designed to attach to the tops of their panniers. They’re useful to store items that might be needed in a hurry such as rain gear, etc. I mentioned them to Jerry Smith and his eyes lit up. “I think I’ve got a set of those” he said, and sure enough the next time we had coffee he gave them to me. Boy are they ever nice! Thanks Jerry.

Another new product now available from Happy Trails are their Primus fuel bottles & mounting brackets which hold 1.5 liters of fuel each and mount on either the front or rear of their panniers. With two of them my reserve fuel now extends the distance I can travel by about 35 miles in case I run out of gas. That may not seem like much but in the past I’ve literally ran dry within a couple of miles of the next gas station and if I hadn’t had a bit of fuel on board I’d have had to hike it.

My buddy Chuck Bruce thought these were fire extinguishers - imagine 1.5 liters of fuel tossed on a fire... Wooosh!

Ergonomics is nearly always an issue with any bike you’re bound to ride and the Bonnie was no exception for me. Although I was fairly comfortable I still felt the reach for the handlebars was slightly long so an adjustment was in order. This is such a common occurrence for me I have a number of bar extensions or “risers” on hand. In this case the ones I wanted to try – RoxRisers – were already residing on the Bumblebee so off they came and onto the Bonnie they went. It’s a good fit, I rode for a couple of hundred miles and there's a marked improvement in comfort. While doing the risers we also swapped out the handlebars for the stock ones and that proved helpful too.

I robbed these from the Bumblebee

Safety and Hi-visibility go hand-in-hand on bikes. Although the Bonnie came with decent lighting by the time you add a set of panniers you effectively block the rear lighting from all but a directly behind view. On other bikes I’ve installed sets of bright LED lights as manufactured by AdMore Lighting, a well-known Canadian firm. They offer a variety of kits to enhance your visibility and the one I chose includes a tail light/brake light/turn signal setup. They offer a deluxe version that flashes the brake lights 3 times when you first apply them, then settle down to a steady bright glow and that’s the one I like best. Installation is relatively easy as long as you have a bit of knowledge about wiring.

Vertical LED light strip on RH pannier 

These things are incredibly bright at night

When it’s cold and wet out its most important to keep your hands and torso warm, otherwise you lose body heat in a hurry and that can lead to disaster. Jerry had already installed a set of heated grips controlled by a handlebar mounted LED unit so that part was done. They feature 3 levels of heat plus the controller acts as a digital voltmeter, keeping you aware of your electrical system’s draw, very handy information to have. 
Voltage display plus warm grips...what more could you want?
Chain lubrication while on the road can be made easier with the addition of an automatic chain oiler like the ones from ScottOiler, a Scottish firm. Over the years I’ve used their products on several bikes and believe me, they’re worth the time and expense to install. A simple and visible oil reservoir enables you to see what the status of your oil reserve is and also allows you to make adjustments to the flow, depending on what the weather conditions are. Installation of this unit on the Bonnie was dead simple and initial flow adjustment came easy. Keeping your chain properly lubricated is an absolute necessity and having it done automatically is a luxury indeed.

Adjustable flow ScottOiler
Wrist fatigue – especially for those of us who are truly seniors – can be a genuine concern. Of late I’ve joined the millions of people who deal with arthritis in my hands and as such I need all the relief I can get. There are all sorts of approaches you can use to reduce or eliminate fatigue caused by maintaining your grip on the throttle ranging from throttle locks aka cruise controls to cramp busters, devices that allow you to rest your hand on the throttle control with minimal effort. I prefer the cruise control product made by BrakeAway, an Oregon firm located in Hillsboro.

It works like this, when you reach whatever speed you’ll be riding at you simply press a small lever and it locks the throttle setting. This allows you to let go of the handlebar with your right hand (not recommended of course but everyone does it) and rest your hand or wrist for a few moments. In event of needing to return to manual control you simply press a small release button with your thumb or lightly apply the front brakes, either method works instantaneously. 

The front brake control is the best feature as that’s what most riders use in the event a sudden stop or slow-down is needed. Like when a deer jumps in front of you. Gulp… BrakeAway products aren’t cheap, especially when compared to other manufacturers but they’re the only ones that work off the brake lever and that alone puts them in a class of their own. PLUS…if you’re a cheap guy like me you soon discover you can move them from one bike to another. Notice there’s a common thread running through a lot of my upgrades? This time I robbed the Honda (aka Red Girl) for this item.

A tank bag has accompanied me on nearly every tour I’ve been on. Over the years during which these have occurred the size and shapes of the tank bags has changed many times, ranging from very small to ridiculously large. My most recent excursion took place on the Bumblebee and it was altogether without one, employing instead a simple map case mounted on the cross-bar section of the handle bars. This made for really easy refueling stops as there was no longer any fumbling around removing a tank bag in order to access the fuel filler. 

The Bonnie has an off-set fuel filler cap designed to be in the straight-up position when the bike’s on its side stand, a most novel approach that makes refueling easy. Most tank bags either cover the filler cap or interfere with the refueling process, often requiring removal of the bag. With that in mind I wanted a smaller tank bag, one capable of holding a map but not with huge storage capacity. I opted for a Motofizz Map Bag 1 whose size emulates Goldilocks’ choice “Just right” for what I need. It works great and doesn't have to be moved to refuel.

Paper maps...the original GPS
Long days in the saddle require a bit of personal pampering, especially in those areas affected most by bumps & grinds. The Bonnie's original saddle was previously replaced with a custom unit that makes life easier in the fast lane. Sticking with the "It ain't over till it's overdone" focus I topped off the custom seat with a bit of pure luxury, a nice thick sheepskin pad.

Can you say decadence?

The last item on my shopping list was a replacement rain cover. The ones I've used in the past have developed symptoms reflecting their long use on the road so it was time for a new one. Dowco makes a variety of them and I especially like their light-weight series. The one I chose has a built-in pocket for self storage and a long security strap that keeps it from blowing away. The whole thing compresses down into a small size that easily fits in one of the pannier top bags. 

That about covers (No pun intended!) most if not all of the farkles & upgrades to the Bonnie. As I finish writing this post the bike sits fully packed, fueled, and ready to roll on our front porch. I'll be leaving on my tour first thing in the morning and your invited to ride along with me; my destination should make for an interesting trip and I hope you'll join me.


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