Friday, January 9, 2009

Great Rides

The bikes are still at the airfreight company in Bogota. So I am putting this blog together for the technical information of my biker dude friends.This is a blog entry about motorcycle stuff. So if you can skip this are not interested in the machine part of the trip. First a list of stuff that works and we could not do without, even if we did not know it when we started:

1. The First Gear riding outfits. They really work. The pants are made as “over pants” but we ride using them as regular armored pants.

2. The Seal Line bags. These are the bags we have strapped to our racks. They are very strudy, absolutely water proof, and hold a lot. In fact they hold too much. That means we put too much weight in them to start and it made the bikes top heavy.

3. The AutoCom system. This is the electronic system that lets us listen to our ipods and communicate between the bikes. We run a Motorola walkie talkie with a 25 km range. The push to talk switch automatically cuts out the music when we need to talk. When we were in Guatemala City the BMW dealer cleaned the bikes with a power washer. It shorted out the push to talk switch, but I was able to take it apart, dry it out and 2 weeks later it works just fine. In the meantime we crossed 4 borders without the system. So it is not a necessity, but it sure comes in handy to coordinate passing and discuss plans on the go.

Stuff that does not work so well:

1. The BMW panniers are nice because they come off at night and go in the room. But it is not durable. If I had to do it again I would not buy any BMW panniers or bags. I think the Pelican and Caribou stuff is much better, stronger, more water resistant, and still lets you take it off the bike at night.

2. The Kolpin auxillary gas tanks. They leak. Kolpin supplied a cap and nozzle that they did not manufacture and which really does not fit. In fact, the fit is so poor that it is necessary to put a plastic baggy inbteween the cap and the can to ensure a tight seal. I would not buy Kolpin again. There is another manufacture making ATV tanks and nozzles that fit the Kolpin bracket. So I will replace the cans when I am finished.

3. The Kildala rack. It is not sturdy enough for Latin American travel. They worked well until we got to Baja, then cracks started to appear. For a while I was spending every Saturday morning in a welding shop reinforcing the racks and re-installing them. I finally found a great welding in San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico with a TIG type welder and we added another layer of aluminium to both sides of the rack. That has solved the problem. So the Kildala rack needs to be build of steel at least 5/16 in thick, or the aluminum needs to be 3/8 in thick. Also the hardware needs to be beefed up. The retainer screws need to be stainless steel with a Torx type head (T20) and the aluminium supports need a shock absorbing seal to ensure the screws do not vibrate out, which does happen. I added duct tape gaskets to the supports , and that has solved the problem so far.

4. Cee-Bailey windshield. They break because they are too thin. Almost any impact will cause the windshield to start to crack at the holes where it screws onto the front couling. I have looked at all the other BMW GS type windscreen systems, and I think BMW just cheaped out on the design for the F650GS. So even their tall windscreen is kind of lame. But they are half again thicker that Cee Bailey’s. I will say that Cee Bailey’s does a better job of deflecting wind and bugs. But at $180 a pop for the windshields it is kind of expensive for womething with a useful life of about 3000 miles.

Great Rides and Experiences:

So far my top 3 rides for the trip are:

1. San Juan Del Cabo to Durango. This ride starts in San Juan Del Cabo in Baja. Total curves. Then you pull into the ferry terminal 10 km ( more or less ) south east of La Paz and take the ferry to Mazatlan. Be sure to book a cabin. It costs $70, sleeps 4, and is a first class passage. You will get off the ship about 7 am and get breakfast. Then take the libre to Durango via El Salto. This is the famed “ Espina del Diablo” or devil’s spine. It starts about 45 minutes outside of Mazatlan. You will be heading south and will turn left. There is a choice of roads. One is the “via corte” which is the short way on the Cuota. The Cuota is a toll road. The other road is the “Libre”. Take the libre. Make sure you gas up before you start. We only made it as far as El Salto from Mazatlan. But if you did not dilly dally in Mazatlan and did the ride in with a little more daylight you could make Durango. This road is not for the faint of heart. It is 6 straight hours of hair pin curves and shear drop offs. Oh did I tell you about the trucks! Yeah, there is constant truck traffic on this too. So never figure the inside lane is yours. Or you will met by a guy in a Kenworth hauling fuel over the Sierra Madre. I would not recommend using a heavy motorcycle. The lighter the bike the faster it handles, and you will need that on this road.

2. Villa Hermosa to San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico. This is a Chaipas ride. It starts in Villa Hermosa and takes about an hour and a half to hit the mountains. Take the libre again to San Cristobal. Do not take the Cuota. Leave Villa Hermosa by 9 am or you run the chance of loosing daylight by the time you get to San Cristobal. It will be blazing hot when you start and change to crisp and cold when you finish because you go from sea level to 7200 ft through breathtaking country. This ride does not have the shear drop offs of the Devils Spine, but the curves are every bit as challenging. Also be ready for a little off road work. We had one water crossing on this road ( means NO Bridge – drive through the stream) and the road turned to dirt in at least 4 spots. Not a ride for a low clearance machine. Stay at least 2 days in San Cristobal because there is plenty to see and do. It is kind of like a 450 yr old Boulder Colorado with every brand of Tequila. Great Hotels, great prices, great scenery.

3. Panajachel to Antigua Guatemala. Panajachel is a resort town on Lago Atitlan. It is filled with hotels and resturants. Either getting there from Antigua or going back to Antigua go through Finca San Isidro on CA1 about 25km west of Chimaltenango.That means if you are headed West from Chimaltenango you need to turn left at San Isidro. The road is full of switch backs and vistas, including photo ops of Lake Atitlan and its volcanoes. This road is not nearly as long as the prior two rides, but it has some obstacles. The occasional earthquake or just water causes land slides. So do not assume the road is just fine around the next curve. There are sections covered in slides every day.

For all of these rides bikers will share the road with all other traffic, including lots of bicycles, pedestrians, and the occasional cow. So practice your emergency swerve and quick stops bofore you leave home.


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