Friday, October 24, 2014

What Tools to Bring for a Four-Month Motorcycle Trip?

The boy scout in me really enjoyed this part of the trip prep and planning process: Building a tool kit that would get both our bikes through four months on the road in South America.

We already have a great set of tools we carry on our other trips, but I realized that riding this many miles, we have to consider that we will be performing regular bike maintenance along the way, not just roadside repairs.  My normal Cruz Tools roll with a few additions isn't going to cut it.  Our trip will include oil and filter changes, valve adjustments, and other tasks.  I'm going to need more--and better--tools...

First thing I did was dump out all the contents of my usual tool roll onto the workbench and start picking out the tools I like using, noting any tools that were missing or could be better.  After doing an oil change, tire change, and a bunch of other pre-trip service, and setting aside the tools I used, I had a pretty comprehensive list.  Time to get out the credit card, hit up the Craftsman website, and shop some local hardware stores.  You can see my--almost--final tool and spares list below.

Before anyone makes any comments: Yes, my tool kit is overkill for most trips.  I realize that, but I didn't want to have to do a valve adjustment in a hotel lobby in Cusco with a Leatherman and a set of spanners.  Having tools that are nice and easy to use will keep me from putting off the necessary maintenance and repair that will get our bikes through the whole trip.

Next, I wanted to dedicate a space on my bike for tools, and only tools.  Normally this is a pouch or roll at the bottom of one of my panniers, but in this case, I wanted to do something special.  My friend Dave from ADV Gear offered to weld me up a one-off, aluminum tool box that clipped in place of my passenger seat.  He made it the same height as my fuel cell so that I can still strap a dry bag on top of it and keep a low profile.  It turned out perfect, and he even installed a lock that matches my Touratech panniers.

Unfortunately, none of my tool rolls or bags would fit in the box, and I didn't want my tools to rattle around loose inside the box.  This would cause noise, damage, and disorder.  I wanted my tools organized so that I could always know where the 10mm wrench or T30 torx bit was. Brayde's mom happens to be very good at sewing and has made some really nice bags for Brayde in the past.  For my birthday, she offered to make me a custom tool bag with loops and pockets for all my tools that would fit exactly in my new tool box.  Awesome.

After a fun weekend of canvas material shopping and lots of measurements, what she came up with was far beyond my expectations.  Now I have something I've always wanted on my motorcycle: my own custom tool bag, for my custom tool box, for my custom tool kit.  I've been using it to perform daily work in the garage and finding a few things here and there to add and subtract.  All-in-all, I'm pretty confident I'll have just about everything I'll need for this trip.

Some photos of the finished product:

Bag opened with top layer for wrenches.
Top layer removed
Bottom of tool bag
Tool List:

All the tools in the world won't do you much good if you don't have the spare parts and materials to work with.  Here is a list of some of the spares that we'll be carrying with us during our trip.

Some Spare Parts, etc.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Brayde's Bike Gets New Suspension

In preparing for our trip to Mexico last March, Matt and I tried to set the rear sag on my 2007 BMW F650GS with a light load of luggage. Even with the shock preload turned all the way up, there was still too much sag. Sure enough, as we rode through rough terrain in the Copper Canyon, I could feel every rock and hole, and bottomed out on my fair share of 'topes' (huge Mexican speed bumps). After an especially rough section in Baja, we discovered my fork seals were blown.

When we returned, we reached out to Alex at Konflict Motorsports, a local suspension shop with the reputation of being experts with dual-sport and adventure motorcycle setups. With some quick measurements and assessment of riding style, Alex reworked my front forks with cartridge emulators, new springs, seals, and fluid. The difference was immediate, like night and day. This was my first time getting customized suspension, and I couldn't believe the impact it has on riding. Things as obvious as better endurance because my arms aren't worn out, and better braking and handling, to subtleties like better visibility because my mirrors aren't blurry from shaking. Well worth it!

This also made my worn out rear suspension extra apparent. Luckily, I know just the guy to help me out with that! Two years ago, Touratech came out with a new suspension line that Matt has already been testing thoroughly on his R1200GS. We saved up our pennies, and by mid-summer Matt had a Touratech Suspension Explore HP rear shock re-sprung and dialed in for my weight and riding style.

With a couple hours and beers and a mechanically-savvy husband, my F650GS now rides even better than new. My friend Angela and I recently took advantage of a beautiful afternoon to go ride around some dirt roads in the Cascades, and once again, I could not believe the difference I experienced. We got incredibly muddy and had a blast. Suspension that is dialed in to my size gives me the ability to ride faster and more comfortably in all terrain, from railroad tracks to gravely washboard and everything between.

Just a few weeks left before I get to really put everything through its paces on our big trip--can't wait!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Coming Up with Our Route

While we don't want to have too strict of a schedule and route for this trip, our usual "fast and loose" attitude to travel probably isn't going to cut it on a huge trip with a set amount of time.  Looking at maps and tracing routes happens to be one of my favorite pastimes, so I don't mind doing a bit of research.

First thing we did is buy the biggest, most detailed, Mexico, Central, and South America maps we could find.  We had them laminated, then dedicated a wall in our home office to trip planning.  Using color coded stickers, we began to mark all the cities where we had friends, and all the sites we wanted to see along the way.  Doing this alone, just about traces a route for you; simply connect the dots.

The rest of the route planning has involved talking to a lot of our friends and contacts that have done similar rides in the past.  Our friends Hank and Alfonso who have ridden extensively in Mexico and Central America, gave us great tips on which roads to take, and which border crossings to avoid.  Our friend Dan sat down with us one night in his map room and traced out all the roads he's ridden during several trips to South America in the last few years.

While in Germany on a business trip, I was also able to connect with some friends and South American distributors for our company that gave me great advice and help planning the route.  Ivan from Peru stayed up late with me one night, just looking at maps.  The next night my friends Martin and Katja traced their route from their South America trip in 2008.  Talking to people with first-hand experience has been instrumental in the planning of our trip.

Brayde purchased several helpful guidebooks including The Adventure Rider's Handbook, and the Central America Handbook and South America Handbook by Footprints.  The Footprints handbooks have been very helpful. They go into more detail than you can imagine, have a variety of city, region, AMD country maps, and even go as far as to tell you which documents you need for each of the border crossings.  We highly recommend these books.

At this point, I think we've put together all the pieces of the puzzle and a rough route has taken shape.  This is by no means a set plan, and I'm sure we'll deviate from the route often as we find new things to explore.  Having a rough idea of where we're going will be helpful in planning mileage, budget, bike maintenance, and other important details of the trip.