All posts by mark

2016 Wrap Up

2016 brought about some fundamental changes in my riding style.  I’ve gone from solely street riding to more of a dirt and adventure style of riding.  The pair of KTM’s that I  purchased at the beginning of the season to replace the K1600 GTL have completely transformed my riding.20160625_105015

With the switch to more dirt riding, my yearly mileage has dropped considerably.  I was riding over 20K miles a year on the street but this year, I’ve only gone around 10K on the bikes.  A day out on the 690R only results in 100 miles of exhausting trail riding rather than a 300 mile leisurely cruise through multiple states.  When riding the 1190, I tend to seek out dirt roads that I was previously reluctant to explore with a big touring bike.

At some point, I’m going to need to take another cross-country trip so that I can follow some long and lonely dirt roads to remote places that I was unwilling or unable to travel to in the past.  I think I’m going to need another season of practice and experience with my dirt and off-road skills before I set off on the next big adventure.  I still have a lot to learn about choosing the right line when riding off-road and haven’t really learned how to ride in sand at all.

I’m guessing that by the summer of 2018 or 2019 I’ll be ready for the next epic ride.  Until then, I just want to avoid any serious injuries so that I can once again explore the USA on a motorcycle.  There’s no better way to see the world than on a motorcycle.

 

A Good Day of Riding

In keeping with the theme of the previous blog post, I took the Kawasaki Versys out to explore some dirt roads.  I started out by heading to the Holy Jim Trail.  It’s close to where I’m staying and I’ve been there a few times so I figured it would be a good place to start the day’s ride.

20160607_112254There’s a steep hill off to the side of the road that I’ve looked at and avoided in the past because it looked like it would be difficult to navigate with the Versys.  However, when I went past it today, I decided to give it a try.  After studying the hill for a minute or two to choose a line, I started going up.  About 3/4 of the way up the first part of the hill, I got into the deep bumps/ruts.   The rear wheel lost traction about the same time the front wheel slid in the soft sand and down I went.  Loose dirt and sand isn’t really what the street oriented Avon Trailrider tires were designed for so I’ll chalk this one up to poor judgement on my part.

I rolled down the hill about 10 feet and looked up at the bike laying over on its side with the top of bike on the downhill side.  I walked back up the hill and got the bike spun around so that I could get it up off the ground.  Since I was in some ruts and there was loose dirt all around, getting the bike upright and pointed back down hill by myself was difficult.

After getting the bike back down the hill, I continued down the dirt road to the end where I turned around and headed back out towards pavement.  I decided that I’d like to try a road near Lake Elsinore called N. Main Divide.  So, I headed to the Ortega Highway which I always enjoy.

I turned left onto N. Main Divide and after a couple of miles, saw a dirt road and turned on to it.  The first mile or two wasn’t too bad.  There were some ruts and loose dirt but nothing too hard.  Eventually, I stopped at the bottom of a fairly steep part of the road in a shaded area and setup my GoPro to capture some video.

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The next couple of miles had some sections that were a bit challenging with deep ruts, loose dirt/sand and rocks but nothing too bad.  Eventually, I came to another steep hill that looked like more than I was willing to take on by myself so I turned around and headed back down the canyon.

At some point, I saw a turnoff and decided to pull off and see where it went.  It didn’t go far, maybe 100 feet, so I turned around and went back to the road.  As I was turning back onto the road, I touched the front brake and the front tire slid and I fell again.  I guess that’s why you’re not supposed to use the front brake in dirt.

I had a bit of a scare when I tried to restart the bike and it refused to start.  I walked away and soon realized that I hadn’t turned the key off when I dropped the bike and that that it probably just needed the ignition turned off/on again to reset the tip-over switch.  That was the problem and it fired right up for me.

Since this was the second time I had dropped the bike in one day, I decided that it was time to go home.  At 470 lbs plus gear, the Versys isn’t exactly a lightweight bike and I really didn’t want to have to pick it up again.

Other than a few steep spots where I had to work at keeping the bike from picking up too much speed downhill, the reset of the day’s ride was uneventful.  All-in-all, it was a good day of riding.

Damage to the bike was minimal.  The crash bars and BarkBusters did exactly what they were supposed to do.  The engine cases were untouched and the brake levers survived unharmed.  I have a couple of scratches on the right mirror and a small mark on the plastic near the gauges, but other than that, the bike is fine.  The dirt I fell down in is more like fine talcum powder than sand so it got into everything.  The bike could use a good washing.

Unfortunately, a bag of Chex Mix that I had in the saddlebag didn’t fare too well.  When the bike tipped over, the unopened bag popped and there were Chex all over inside the bag.  So much for my afternoon snack.

I was pretty dirty and tired when I got back home, but it was worth it.  After a shower and a cold beer, I felt good about the day’s ride.  I got to explore some canyons and back roads that I haven’t been on before, found the limits of my off-road abilities, was reminded not to use the front brake in loose dirt, and didn’t hurt myself or the bike despite falling down twice.  It was a good day.

Learning to Ride All Over Again

I’ve been riding motorcycles for about 10 years now having started on the street and gradually shifting towards more and more dirt riding.  It’s been an interesting transition in a number of ways.

My interest in riding dirt roads and trails has evolved over time.  When I first started riding, I wanted to go on long cross country trips to experience all that North America has to offer. Initially, I was quite satisfied to be able to go 500+ miles each day soaking up as much scenery as possible travelling exclusively on paved roads but over time, I started realizing that I was missing just as much as I was seeing.

I started wondering what was down that lonely dirt road that disappeared into the desert or what I would find if I traveled up a steep dirt road in the Rocky Mountains that quickly disappeared into the forest.  I found myself yearning for a different type of riding that would allow me to go places that most people pass by every day.

Many of the places I would have liked to go were simply off-limits when riding a big heavy touring bike.  While my Harley Davidson Electra Glide and BMW K1600 were both great at eating up miles on paved roads, these bikes are simply not made for dirt roads.  So, after 6-7 years of riding exclusively on the street, I started looking for a bike that would be more suited to dirt roads.

This led me to the purchase of my 2013 Kawasaki Versys in an attempt to open up more riding options.  The Versys has allowed me to ride some easy dirt roads while also being fun on the street.  While the Versys has allowed me to explore some Forest Service roads, it’s still more street oriented than a true adventure bike.

So, after crashing my K1600 in the summer of 2015, I decided that the replacement for the big BMW would be an adventure bike.   As it turned out, I ended up with enough enough money to replace the BMW with two bikes – the KTM 1190 Adventure and the KTM 690 Enduro R.

The two KTM’s have opened up new riding opportunities that were previously off-limits with the other bikes I’ve owned.  The 1190 is a great for longer rides and dirt roads are now something that I actively seek out rather than avoid.  While it is a bit bigger and heavier (40lbs) than the Versys, it somehow just feels more stable and easier to ride on dirt roads and trails.  Of course the 1190 is still a 500+ lb. bike with street tires so when things start getting difficult, I just turn around, make a note of where I am, and return another day with the smaller KTM.

The 690 Enduro has been a blast to ride.  As a dual-sport bike, it strikes a nice balance between street and trail riding.  The LC4 motor has plenty of power for street riding while the knobby tires and tall suspension make trail riding fun.  In the short time I’ve had the 690, I’ve been on some trails that I would never attempt on any of my other bikes.

This new focus on dirt riding has me feeling like I’m learning to ride all over again.  After so many miles of street riding, getting comfortable slipping and sliding around in mud,   loose dirt, and over rocks is going to take some time.  Further complicating things is the fact that I generally ride alone and don’t have anyone to show me the proper line over obstacles so I guess I’ll need to learn this the hard way.  With practice, I’m confident that I’ll improve my skills and when I do, it’s going to be even more enjoyable to get off the road and onto the dirt.

I’m currently back out in southern California for a couple of weeks and will be riding the Kawasaki Versys in search of that next dirt road to adventure.

 

 

KTM 690 Accessories

After a couple of hundred miles on the 690, there are a few things that need to be addressed in order to fully enjoy this awesome dual-sport bike.  

First on the list of things to do was to add a RAM mount to the handlebars to hold my phone.  I also went ahead and added battery tender lead that, along with the proper adapter, will allow me to plug in my heated jacket liner or 12V power socket.  

The next area for improvement was to address comfort.  The stock seat is hard and narrow.  I don’t expect the seat on a dual-sport bike to be all day comfortable, but I found that the stock seat is only good for about 20 minutes of street riding so there’s certainly room for improvement.  I decided to order a seat from Seat Concepts hoping that it would be better than the seat that came on the bike.

The 690 doesn’t come with any kind of windscreen which results in quite a lot of wind pressure on my torso at highway speeds.  To address this, I ordered the KTM Powerparts windscreen.  The KTM screen is short but I’m hoping it deflects enough air to ease the constant wind blast when riding on the street.

For storage, I ordered a Wolfman Enduro tank bag.  The tank bag along with the Wolfman Wolf tail bag should be enough daily use and short day trips.  I like to carry a few necessary items such as a small toolkit, a clear windscreen, a sweatshirt, some electronic gadgets and related cords as well as a bottle of water.  These two bags should give me enough storage without taking up too much space or adding too much weight.  

I’ll post the results of these upgrades once everything arrives and gets installed.  

KTM 690 Enduro R

20160415_123642In mid-April, I went down to my local KTM dealer and picked up a 2016 KTM 690 Enduro R to satisfy my dirt riding desires.  While the 1190 is good on dirt roads, I want to to able to get off the beaten path and 500lbs is a little too heavy for more difficult trails.  The 690 is quite good at the rougher, more challenging trails that go through the woods.

At just over 300 lbs with knobbies and long travel suspension, the 690 seems to be quite 20160415_123549good when the trail turns into a collection of ruts and rocks.  As a beginner to dirt riding, I took the 690 places that were way above my skill level and the bike seemed to just plow through no matter how tough things got.

On my first day out in the woods, I only tipped it over once while trying to go through a 6″ deep mud pit.  On uphill and downhill trails with loose dirt and gravel as well as some big rocks thrown in just for fun the bike was surprisingly stable.  I was amazed that I didn’t fall more often.

The seat height is challenging and I can only touch the ground with my toes but I haven’t found it to be much of a problem.  Because the bike is relatively light, even when it tips over to the side a bit it’s easy enough to hold it up and keep it from falling over.

On the street, the knobby tires take some getting used to as they squirm around a bit when cornering.  Power is quite good and vibrations are tolerable for shorter rides.  Wind protection is non-existent which limits how fast you can comfortably ride on the highway.  The narrow dirt-oriented seat is certainly not intended for all-day comfort becoming uncomfortable within 30 minutes.

As the summer progresses, I expect that the 690 will be capable of taking me wherever I want to go.  It could use a small windscreen and a better seat for longer rides but it sure looks like this is going to be a great bike for exploring remote areas.

 

A Week with the KTM

We’ve had some rather mild weather for early March here in Upstate NY so I was able to ride the KTM to work a few times during the week and also spent a few hours just riding around.

I added a Wolfman “Wolf” tail bag this week so that I can carry some basic stuff such as tools and my clear faceshield.  If I find that I need more room to carry stuff, I think I’ll just use the Nelson Rigg soft panniers that I already have.  I’m not sure if I really want hard luggage on this bike.  I also ordered crash bars and a skid plate from KTM yesterday and hope to be able to install them next weekend.

I now have 500 miles on the bike and did the first oil change this morning.  Changing the oil on the KTM is relatively  simple – remove two drain plugs on the side of the engine case and remove the oil filter.  Refilling the oil is a two step process where you put about 3 liters in, start it up and then add another half a liter to get it up to the full mark.

For the most part, I’ve limited my riding to the street.   Once I get some crash protection installed, I’ll start looking for some less-than-perfect dirt roads and easy trails to start gaining some experience off-road.

 

KTM 1190 Adventure

Since crashing my BMW K1600 last summer, I’ve been looking for a suitable replacement bike.  I think I’m done with big, heavy bikes for now and have been looking at mid-sized bikes that would be comfortable on day-long rides while still being agile and fun to ride.

I’ve also become a fan of off-road riding thanks to the Kawasaki Versys.  While the Versys isn’t really an off-road bike, I have taken it on some dirt roads and easy trails. It’s been a great change from street riding opening up a whole new world of riding opportunities.  

So, during my last trip to California I visited a huge motorcycle dealership called Bert’s Mega Mall.  I was able to look at offerings from virtually every manufacturer all under a single roof making comparison shopping very convenient.  After spending about an hour looking around, I had narrowed it down to just a couple of bikes.

After returning home to NY and visiting a couple of local dealers to get some price quotes, I decided to go ahead and buy a KTM 1190 Adventure.  So, on a cold Saturday morning I picked up my new bike and rode it home.  

I’ve only put a couple of hundred miles on it so far, and it’s still a new toy, so it’s hard to give a full and un-biased review at this time.  However, I will say that it seems to be just the kind of bike I was looking for.  The size of the bike fits me well, it has good power, good suspension, good brakes, and is a real pleasure to ride on the less-than-perfect back roads we have around here.

1190 AdventureI’ve taken it on some un-maintained dirt roads in a local state park and there’s no doubt that the KTM is better on dirt roads than the Versys.  I’m not an experienced off-road rider so I really can’t pinpoint what makes it better.  I suspect that the combination of better suspension, traction control, and wheel sizes just add up to a better off road experience.  I guess that’s to be expected, after all, the KTM cost more than twice as much as the Versys. 

I’m really looking forward to getting some seat time on this bike. I think I’m going to like it a lot.

 

Another Day in the Sequoia National Forest

Since I had such a good time riding through the Sequoia National Forest yesterday, I thought I’d go ahead and spend another day exploring the area.  So, I got started at around 8:00 am and headed towards Glennville on 155.

I was looking for a specific Forest Service road (23S16)  that is shown on the map that I have.  I rode around in circles for about an hour before finally giving up and changing my route plans.  I headed north through the forest on another Forest Service road (23S05).  Within a couple of miles, the sky started to get a bit grey and I started feeling a few sprinkles of rain start falling so I stopped and put rain covers on the soft bags and kept on going.

Near the end of this road, a guy unloading a horse from a trailer stopped me to ask about the weather.  I told him that I had run into a few sprinkles and heard some thunder.  I asked him if the horse was afraid of thunder and he replied “I don’t know, but I’m about to find out”.  He also told me that there was a nice place to visit called the Trail of 100 Giants just a few miles north of where we were.

20150612_122214I decided to go ahead and ride to the Trail of 100 Giants.  After parking, I got a trail guide and went for a short walk to admire the giant trees.  Even though I’ve seen these trees before, they’re always impressive.  I spent about 40 minutes admiring the tree before getting back on the bike to continue the day’s ride.

By this time, it looked like the rain storms were becoming more widespread with hardly any blue sky visible.  As I headed east toward Johnsonville, it looked like I was heading toward some heavier rain so when I saw a road that went south where the sky looked a bit better, I went that way instead.   As it turned out, the road that I found was the 23S16 road I was looking for earlier in the day.

20150612_133210This road went through some forest that had been burned so the views weren’t as good as some of the pristine forest I’ve seen but it was still an enjoyable ride.  During the 25 or so miles I rode on this paved mountain trail, I ran through some light rain but  avoided the heavy rain that appeared to be just a couple of miles away.

As I emerged from the forest, I decided it was time to head back toward Bakersfield to find a room for the night.  As I descended out of the mountains, the air temperature rose dramatically.  By the time I got to Bakersfield, it was almost 100 degrees and I was glad to stop, get my leather jacket off, and get into a nice air-conditioned room.

 

 

Sequoia National Forest Ride

For as long as I’ve been riding, it seems like I always feel the need to keep on moving and see as much as possible every day.  Today, I decided that I was going to slow down, relax, and take my time.  I actually stopped quite a few times to take pictures and just enjoy the scenery.   I only traveled about 150 miles and went the whole day on a single tank of gas.

I sta20150611_082116rted out around 8:00 this morning and headed out into the Sequoia National Forest by way of Breckenridge Road.  The first part of the ride went through large areas of grass with cows grazing out in the open range.  It was a surprisingly warm beginning to the day – not hot but comfortably warm.

After climbing higher up into the mountains, the landscape transitioned from grasslands to forest.  The temperature dropped slightly and became what I would have to describe as perfect weather.  The road was narrow with and I had to watch for patches of sand that had fallen from the sides of the hill.  The scenery was spectacular and there were no other cars on the road – none, not even one.

There was plenty of wildlife along the road.  There were squirrels everywhere.  I must have seen at least 100 squirrels run across the road over the course of the day.  Surprisingly, I only remember seeing 1 dead squirrel so they seem to have mastered the art of crossing roads without getting run over.  I’ve never seen so many squirrels in a single day.  There was a spot near a ranch entrance where I probably saw 20 or more of the furry little rodents scurry across the road in a 100 ft stretch of road.  I couldn’t believe my eyes as one after another sprinted across the road.  It was comical.

I rode by a rattlesnake in the road and after determining that it was dead, I turned around and took a picture of it.   It was a small one, maybe 30 inches long.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a snake out here in California.

20150611_102314I turned off of the paved road onto a Forest Service road (28S62) and continued climbing up the mountain and through the forest.  The road was in good condition making for a nice easy ride.  As I continued through the forest gaining altitude, I rose above the clouds that covered the surrounding mountain tops.  The views were incredible.

The Forest Service road brought me up to Breckenridge Lookout which I though was just going to be a nice place with a scenic overlook or something like that.  I parked the bike and headed up a trail and found that there was a fire tower where the park rangers can watch for forest fires.  I climbed up the tower, signed the guestbook, and spent about a half hour talking to the forest ranger about the forest and surrounding areas.  Of course the view from the tower was spectacular.  There were some maps of the area that showed some more detail than the map that I have so I took one with me.
20150611_102322After leaving the fire tower and getting down the paved road, I headed up another forest service road that indicated that there was a trail that was only open to motorcycles.  I got to the trailhead and there were two guys hanging out on the tailgate of their pickup.   I asked them if they knew anything about the motorcycle trail and one of the guys jokingly said that if I were to go down that trail, I’d have “the adventure of a lifetime”.  He went on to explain that it was a narrow trail with steep drop offs and nowhere to turn around.  Even walking the trail was a bit challenging.

I decided that I wasn’t really ready for an adventure and instead, hung out with them and chatted for a little while.  According to these guys, about 10 years ago when they were out hiking in the woods nearby, they ran across some odd rocks that spelled out the names of the disciples from the bible arranged in the shape of a pentagram.  Apparently, this was the site of some satanic rituals of something.

I chatted with these guys for about half an hour and then headed back out on the road.  By this time, it was about 2:00.  I got back on to Breckenridge Rd and then on to Bodfish Caliente Road.  This was another spectacular road with plenty of twisty roads through the canyons.  I turned on to Walker Basin Rd and made a nice loop around and back on to Bodfish Caliente Rd.

20150611_160337I went all the way to Bodfish and then turned back towards Bakersfield on Kern Canyon Rd.  This was another incredibly twisty road that eventually came out on to Rt. 178 which runs alongside of the Kern River.  I stopped a couple of times to take some photo because the scenery was so beautiful.

178 brought me back into Bakersfield where I found a room and stopped for the night. All-in-all, it was a great day of riding.

Back in California

I’m back out in California riding the Versys and visiting family for a couple of weeks.  I’ve spent most of my time with my family and have only been out on a couple of short rides so far.

I took a ride to the Dainese store in Costa Mesa and bought a pair of Dainese Delta Pro C2 Perforated Leather Pants.  The pants are the final piece of gear needed for track day riding.

After getting the pants in Costa Mesa, I took a ride on the Angeles Crest Highway and then over to Big Bear to break-in the pants and enjoy some nice riding.  The weather was in the 70’s and great for riding.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading out for a few days of riding.  I’m planning to ride north towards Lake Tahoe zig-zagging back and forth across the mountains until it’s time to head back to Orange County to catch my flight back home.