Wingstock 2007, part 2

Woke up early, went downstairs to the continental breakfast for coffee. One thing I’ve learned is to take the tray that is usually under the ice bucket to breakfast so you can carry two cups of coffee, OJ, milk, and a bowl of cereal back to the room. Mission accomplished, no spills. I look at weather radar and it’s not good news. Rain is moving in so I finish breakfast, pack up, check out, and hit the road. I manage to get away before the rain gets to Elizabethtown, but the respite was temporary. The gps display hints that wetness may be unavoidable, and a quick rainshower proves the point.

I’m at the exit for Mammoth Cave National Park, so I opt to exit here and see what the rain gods have in mind for today. I stop and fill the tank, and take some time to survey the radar and the general gray skies. I decide to go to Mammoth Cave National Park, since I’m so close and I have a National Parks Pass. That decision turns out to be a wet one. I get back close to Bowling Green and it’s raining hard and more rain is coming. I find an abandoned gas station next to an operating one and I take refuge under the awning. A pleasant surprise is that the awning is transparent to XM signals and I can continue to watch the area of rain moving west to east. I get a cup of coffee and a snack and wait out the rain. While I’m waiting, I make some calls and strangely, people that are sitting at desks working are none too sympathetic to a motorcyclist on vacation even if they are getting wet. Laughter seemed to be the most common response. Undeterred by the laughter, I reiterate the motto “biking is better than working.” Although, biking in the rain isn’t a lot better than working, but it is better. Barely.

The rain eventually clears out, but leaves the roads very wet. I head out, the next major town is Nashville. Most of the ride to Nashville is uneventful, but as I get closer there are some storms moving from the south between Nashville and Knoxville, so I opt for a warm lunch and the time should allow the storms to move across the route. Lunch was good and the storms are now north of my route. Knoxville arrives on the gps right on schedule and I turn south towards Chattanooga. The terrain is becoming more hilly and mountains are visible. This is why I came down here – to ride in the north Georgia mountains. Continuing south, I can see some storms moving towards the northeast near Canton, my destination. I decide to stop and top off the tank, and take my time so that the storms can move through.

It didn’t quite work as planned. I was dry until I was on highway 20 heading for Canton. I got behind a log truck running about 30 mph and that slow speed gave the thunderstorm plenty of time to wet me down. The truck and the rain worked in perfect concert so that when I got to the hotel, my pants were soaked. My jacket, helmet, and gloves kept my upper body dry, but my jeans were soaked.

After a last-minute route change and two days of dodging rain, I was there. The trip was over 800 miles, and was the longest one-way ride I’ve taken. I learned about dodging weather, the importance of a warm and waterproof jacket, the fact that stopping for a while is often a lot safer than pushing on, and that a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park will cause you to get wet (100% of the time, in my experience).

I met up with John at the hotel, mrprez on the GL1800 forums, and we had dinner at Cracker Barrel. We decided to take a ride tomorrow on a route he’s familiar with, so the next adventure awaits.

Wingstock 2007, part 1

Wednesday rolled around, warm but not overly so. I really didn’t have a lot to pack – just some clothes and toiletries. I had some last-minute changes in the route and decided on an overnight stop in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The route was uploaded to the gps and everything was ready to go. Shut the thermostat off, turn off the water valve in the laundry room, bike outside, close the garage door. Go back into the house, check that all lights are off, doors and windows shut, then turn the alarm on and shut and lock the door. Oops, forgot the bluetooth earpiece for my cell phone – unlock the door, turn the alarm off. Find the earpiece, and go through the alarming and locking stuff again.

Finally, everything loaded and ready to go, bike warmed up. Put on jacket, insert earbuds, put on helmet, put on gloves, make sure everything is zipped and velcroed. Reset the tripmeter, check the clock, and we’re off. I quickly found out that the voice prompts from the gps will make it damn near impossible to listen to XM, particularly when the gps thinks you should turn and you decide not to turn. It will want you to turn around and reroute at every opportunity and will tell you over the audio that you need to turn. When you don’t it will say “recalculating” and then start the process over again. I stopped and figured out how to turn off the voice prompts. At last, music without interruptions. Except that the earbuds are getting really uncomfortable now. My helmet is a new Nolan N-42 3/4 helmet, and the foam around the ears is in a different place than in my Nolan N-102 flip helmet. There isn’t nearly as much room for the earbuds that the other helmet had, so I stop in Joliet to cut some foam off so they aren’t as long. It is better, but still not as comfortable as with the N-102. Oh, well. I am NOT going back home to switch helmets.

Headed south now, listening to XM channel 7 (70s music) with the occasional change to channel 6 (60s music) and making good time. Near Layafette, Indiana (GO PURDUE!) the nexrad shows some rain ahead. Suddenly, I’m in the middle of a rainshower but the rain is supposed to be AHEAD of me, not ON me. Oh well, I guess it rains even if the nexrad says not. I duck under a gas station awning to wait it out as it looks to be moving through at a good clip to the east. I bought gas and a snack, and headed out. Unfortunately, even though it wasn’t raining now, the roads were wet and the spray kicked up by other vehicles made it seem like it was raining. Finally, the road dried off and I did as well, a few miles further down the road. Rain showed up again near Indianapolis, this time it was the leading edge of a wide area of rain. It was drizzling a little so I upped the pace to get ahead of the main body of rain and was largely successful. About 10-15 miles south of Indy the roads were dry. The skies stayed gray but there was no more rain. I crossed the Ohio River at Louisville, and headed for Elizabethtown. Arrived around 5pm, found dinner and checked into the hotel. After a hot shower and some checking into tomorrow’s weather I called it a day.

I really had not planned to use the newly activated nexrad weather radar on this trip, but I guess it really wasn’t my decision. it worked very well, and once it’s been on for a while it will show the movement of the precipitation. Knowing the direction and rate of movement, you can make a decision to wait, reroute, speed up, etc. to try and avoid the worst. Yes, people have ridden motorcycles for years without radar and done just fine, but since weather is so much more a factor when on a motorcycle than in a car, I think that the additional information can be used to make the ride a safer one. Perhaps less wet as well, but in my mind the real benefit is safety.

NEXRAD weather radar…

…on the Goldwing. I activated the “Sailor” package from XM radio so that my Garmin 478 gps can display weather information directly on the screen. Not just a forecast, but actual, real-time weather radar. I called Garmin and told the lady I spoke with that I wanted to add the “Sailor” package to my account and she said it was only available for aircraft or boats. I decided to avoid the problem and just said that it was for my boat. After hanging up, I parked the bike outside with the gps on and about 20 minutues later I had weather radar on my bike. I zoomed out to see if there was any storm activity I could locate and there was.

It was west of Minneapolis towards the Minnesota-North Dakota state line, moving east. I called my friend Mike (of Soggy Bottom Run fame) and asked if it was raining where he was (he works in Eden Prairie) and he said that it wasn’t but that storms were forecast for later in the day. Then I told him that the radar display on my bike was telling me that the forecast may be correct. I’m hoping that this information will help keep me dry (or at least dryER) and avoid bad weather that brings with it reduced visibility and slippery pavement.

It seems that every extended trip I’ve taken lately has resulted in at least one soaking rainstorm and I sure hope this may be the ticket to bring that streak to an end.

Fog lights

I decided that I would add fog lights to my Goldwing after seeing the huge difference in visibility they gave – not to improve my visibility AS a rider, but to improve my visibility TO other drivers. I decided against the Honda lights as they seemed overpriced, and a couple of other kits were not earning good reviews for quality. I chose the Ion series of lights by Electrical Connection. I have some other products from this company and they are high quality, work as intended, and the company stands behind them. The kit was just as I expected – well-constructed, with decent to good quality installation instructions, and they fit properly without any mucking about.

I went to remove the lower front cowling and the first problem was apparent. The lowest screw on the right side had buggered threads, and as a result the screw was ruined but I was able to run a 6mmx1 tap through the nut and clean it up. I used a Dremel tool to remove the “caps” where the lights are to be placed, and a small end mill to clean up the tabs afterwards. Mounting the lights on the cowling was fairly simple, but I added some extra stainless steel cotter pins to make it easier to install the mounting springs. OK, lights mounted and centered in the holes.

The electrical part was fairly simple. I chose an OEM switch, so that necessitated removing the left-side switch panel. To remove that I had to remove the Baker Air-Wings and the trim strip. I removed the blank, inserted the switch, and connected it to the harness with the keyed 4-conductor plug. Simple enough. I then routed the wires from the battery forward under the frame and then over the left-side cylinder head to the front of the engine. I used a fish wire to pull the relay trigger wire up to the switch I just installed and plugged it in. I have the EC power plate, a neat method of connecting several accessory circuits that keeps the wiring neat. Rather than put another set of ring terminals under the battery posts, I used a position on the power plate and a 15a fuse. I have a ground terminal strip so the ground wire went there. Making sure there would be no short, I turned the bike on and checked voltage at the wires and +12v was the result. OK, that’s done. I put the seat back on, the left-side battery cover, the trim strip, and the Baker Air-Wings. Then I retested the power and I still had +12v. Good. All that remains is to plug the lights in and reinstall the lower cowl.

The plugs are keyed but it really doesn’t matter. The connectors are insulated and the connection is covered after the lights are plugged in. Following the directions I installed the top screws first (the longer ones). The cowling went on easily and all screws and pushbuttons went into place properly the first time. Some folks have had fits trying to reinstall the cowling, maybe I just had a run of beginner’s luck. When I take this apart to have the cowling painted black I will find out if my beginner’s luck has run out or not.

The lights look good and can be seen from quite a distance. The combination of the yellow light down low and to either side, the headlights, and the running lights on the side mirrors makes for a VERY visible vehicle. That was the intent and if the lights help me to see better, great. I will be very happy if no one pulls out in front of me, or turns across my path.

A spoiler

No, not a racing car air dam, not a sentence that gives away the who-dun-it, a spoiler that mounts on the trunk of the Goldwing and has an led brake light in it. They are a fairly common add-on to Goldwings, mainly because of the brake light. Any time you can add more visibility to the rear of a motorcycle it’s a plus for safety. The downside is that the Honda factory spoiler is almost $300. I got a good deal on a yellow one, because the owner never mounted it and subsequently sold the bike. I took the brake light out and then went to Mr. Wizard, the paint guy at Black Magic Customs. He knows how to make yellow paint black and he worked his magic, flawlessly as usual. The rest was up to me.

Following the directions, which curiously say “not to be attempted by do-it-yourselfers”, I marked the trunk lid for the required 5 holes. I double checked to be sure the 5th hole was on the side for the wire leads and then drilled through. It’s nerve-wracking when you’re irrevocably drilling holes in a trunk lid that will cost several hundred to replace if the holes aren’t correct, so double and triple checking seemed reasonable, not paranoid. Drilling the holes to the proper size was easy with a step bit, and the spoiler fit just fine. Whew! I cleaned everything up, reinstalled the inner lid, and put the tools away.

It works great and really adds to visibility. Some folks have used add-on modules to make a running light/brake light or run/turn/brake light out of it, but I think it garners more attention when it’s on only as a brake light. Hopefully the cager following me will see it and avoid rear-ending me. That’s what I want to prevent – along with pretty much all encounters with other motor vehicles. Things are just more enjoyable that way.

Received my Garmin 478 gps

I sold my Garmin 2730 and purchased a Garmin 478 to replace it. Why, you ask? Mainly because I am getting tired of being rained on at least once on every long trip. I understand that rain is inevitable, I would just prefer not to ride in it if I have that option and I think the 478 may provide that option.

It has XM radio like my 2730, which is great while riding. But it also offers something the 2730 does not – the ability to receive and overlay NEXRAD weather radar on my route. Now I will be able to outrun, outflank, wait out, or in other ways increase my chances of staying dry. You don’t get too wet behind the Goldwing’s fairing, but the loss of traction, increased braking distance, and reduced visibility are the major problems. And if those issues (traction, braking, and visibility) affect me, they are also affecting the cars and trucks as well.

The subscription for NEXRAD from XM is the “Sailor” package, and it is pricey at $29 monthly. I have been assured that they are quite happy to suspend the subscription during the non-riding months and reactivate it when you will actually use it. Time will tell if the information helps to keep me dry, but every report I’ve read from people that use it paint a very positive picture.