Auxier Ridge Trail: Red River Gorge

While this is not a motorcycle adventure, considering the time I’ve spend there, I can’t help but feel compelled to share the awesome natural beauty of eastern Kentucky. Auxier Ridge Trail Sign MotoADVROver the Christmas-New Year holiday, I caught a brief respite of remotely warm weather, so I snuck in my 10 mile ride around the neighborhood at dawn and then booked it down to the gorge in the Jeep. I had this hike planned as a motorcycle adventure way back in the fall, but when my Shepherd fell ill, I had no choice but to delay. With morning temperatures starting in the upper teens, it was forecast to reach the freezing point in the gorge, while never reaching the mid-twenties in Dayton. Photos of Auxier ridge have so often caught my attention on Instagram, I had to see it for myself.

Parking the Jeep at the end of Tunnel Ridge road, I pulled on another sweatshirt, a neck gaiter, and grabbed my backpack for a 4 mile, round-trip hike out to Courthouse Rock and back. Auxier Ridge Rolling Cliffs MotoADVRStepping out onto the trail, the fire damage from recent years was ever so present. From photos I’ve taken from down on KY-77, I was aware that fire had recently taken down large sections of the forest around Nada tunnel, but until writing this, I had no idea it had destroyed nearly 3,000 acres. While unquestionably unfortunate for the local ecosystem, the 2010 fire cleared large sections of foliage that has in turn revealed majestic vistas of the surrounding cliffs, rock shelters, and sandstone monoliths.

When I set out on my hike, my goal was to see Haystack Rock, and the Wizard’s Backbone. From satellite photos, the prominence of Auxier Ridge is unmistakable, but the ground level photos are extraordinary. Raven Rock MotoADVRFinally reaching the inner depths of the trail, I was inexplicably drawn to a singular peak off in the distance to the east. Taking a side path off the main trail, I realized I was looking at the backside of Raven Rock. I’ve often been caught by surprise by a brief glimpse of the sheer face of Raven Rock peeking out between the trees along KY-77, seeing it at elevation is equally impressive. Having seen it from that distance, I’m now laying plans for a more intimate view on a future visit.

Breaking through the trees on the west side the ridge, Double Arch slowly began to reveal itself as I approached an opening around Haystack Rock. Double Arch Ridge MotoADVRThe unobstructed 180 degree view near Haystack rock is one of the best I’ve seen in the gorge. While I absolutely love the vista from atop Half Moon Rock, Double Arch in the distance, dotted with splashes of evergreen, pushing up from the gray, leafless, tree canopy, makes Auxier Ridge a solid competitor.

Having scrambled around the cliffs at my Grandmother’s house, hiking and climbing around the gorge has always been somewhat of a test of wits against the fear of heights. Auxier Ridge Wizards Backbone MotoADVRWhile I don’t normally feel the perilous “falling” sensation in the pit of my stomach at elevation, I admit peering over the edge at Haystack Rock was a stark reminder of mortality. Conversely, shuffling along the rolling edge of Wizards Backbone, it was a much different experience; it felt more like an amphitheater hidden of the gorge, than a menacing fall hazard. While I had different lunch plans, some cold cut sandwiches and a six-pack of Ale-8 would make for a fantastic summer picnic on the western slopes of the Wizards Backbone.

Looking back east across the ridgeline, I noticed the gravel roadway in the distance. Tarr Ridge KY-613 MotoADVRTurning from gravel to asphalt just before a sharp bend in the road, I recognized it as KY-613 from my first off-road adventure in the gorge. I never noticed how prominent the Tarr Ridge cliff lines were from the ground; again, a testament to Auxier Ridge trail, but more so visiting the gorge during the winter months.

Finding my way back into the trees, I stumbled upon a series of staircases lagged into the sandstone rocks. Auxier Ridge Courthouse Rock Stairs MotoADVRIn the distance Courthouse rock stood alone, surrounded by boulders, rock shelters, and tenacious pine trees. Treading down something like four flights of stairs, I made my way to the base of Courthouse Rock, in search of the climbing route along the east side of the cliff. As I suspected, there was no way I was going to scale the “gully” along the side of the cliff solo. While I suspect it is highly doable, the thought of re-enacting “127 hours” wasn’t leaving my imagination. At that point, it seemed like a good time to head back up the stairs and enjoy my gas station lunch, and then finally backtracking to the trailhead.

 

Once back to the Jeep in the parking lot, I had about an hour to kill before I needed to head home to beat the impending snow. Considering my locale, I figured it was worth a try to attempt to steal an aerial photo of Nada Tunnel. Tracing along the end of Tunnel Ridge Road, I glanced at the GPS on my phone, to see if I was near the ridge that runs along the north face of KY-77, I looked over to find a sparsely traveled trail. Kentucky Highway 77 Nada Tunnel MotoADVRPushing through some pervasive rose bushes and fallen trees from the 2010 fire, I finally made my way out onto the point to snag a photo of 77 bending along the cliff faces. Unable to make out the mouth of the tunnel through the trees, I waited for a moment to hear a car pass by, that way I could follow the car to the tunnel. Despite the cold weather, the wait wasn’t long before a van came along. I snapped photo of what little I could make out of the tunnel, just as I noticed a hand emerge from the driver’s side window as the van pilot took the obligatory photo of the icicles lining the opening of the tunnel; only to find themselves momentarily stuck on the ice. In a really bizarre coincidence, it turns out I actually knew the driver of the before mentioned van; in this case, the roadside photo proved to be much better than the aerial view. Its days like this one, I wish I had a drone; maybe next time.

 

With the alarm going off on my phone, I trekked my way back through the brush to the Jeep and headed home. Auxier Ridge was everything I hoped it would be; majestic views, winter wildlife, and a quiet walk in the woods. A six hour drive for five hours of hiking in solitude, time well spent. Photos simply don’t do the gorge justice; I hope that yet another preview persuades more folks to visit this part of the Bluegrass State.

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A Letter to the AMA: What is the Cost of Motorcycling?

A couple days ago a buddy of mine shared an article on a Triumph message board from American Motorcyclist magazine written by Scot Harden, entitled “Advocating For Motorcycling’s Future”. The article really struck a chord with me, and I highly recommend you take the time to read it. Over the course of many paragraphs Harden talks about not only the waning popularity of motorcycles, but provides a bulleted list of actions that we, as motorcyclists, should take part in as a way to bolster the future of the sport.

Beyond sharing the article, my buddy also asked what we thought about the list of ideas to “save the sport”, and what other actions we might suggest. Considering how passionate I am about motorcycles, it goes without saying I had a thought or two. I personally think Scot Harden is dead-on with his proposal, and I full well intend to do each of the ten things he suggested; some of which I have done already and will certainly do again. That said, I do think that are a few key problems with respect to motorcycles that the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) would be wise to address. After reading my less than eloquent analysis of the motorcycle market, a different friend suggested that I actually type it up and send it off to the AMA. At first I figured it was just more of my senseless banter, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Thus, I stayed up late last evening, corrected internet shorthand and formed a few remotely complete sentences, and finally e-mailed my thoughts off to the AMA. Considering it may find its way into the circular file post-haste, I have decided to post it here on the blog, for the enjoyment or disdain of the masses. By the way, please feel free to make use of the comment section below.

Dear American Motorcyclist Magazine,

With regard to your recent article, “Advocating For Motorcycling’s Future”, I would like to start by saying I passionately agree with all ten of Scot Harden’s points. I would also like to take it further by saying that I personally think that cost is actually the greatest barrier for most newcomers. A new (reputable) “entry level” motorcycle is going to set a buyer back about what, $4,000 or more? That problem, combined with “cultural stigma”, and urban legends surrounding motorcycle safety, makes the “cost” too great for most people to cross the threshold into the sport. Walking into a dealership for the first time, prospective first-time buyers are rolling the proverbial dice when dealing with their first motorcycle sales person. Unfortunately I fear all too many will become acquainted with the moto-equivalent of a used car salesmen that in all likelihood lacks a valid motorcycle endorsement. Another likely scenario is that the would-be first-time buyer perhaps encounters the salty entrenched veteran that just needs to make the end of month sales quota; neither of which do I suspect will properly size up the buyer and get them on the correct machine for their size, budget, and skill level. Being turned off by the over-commercialized “biker image” and sleazy salesmen is the first hurdle, but unfortunately it doesn’t end there.

Conventional “wisdom” says that motorcycles are dangerous; worse still they are primarily and openly accepted as toys in the United States. Which leads me back to cost; why invest in a dangerous toy that I can seldom ride year-round? The industry needs to focus on lower costs, disputing “conventional wisdom”, and expounding on the advantages of owning a motorcycle. In recent months I’ve become nearly dependent on my motorcycle; looking back at my “ride calendar”, I rode 334 days in 2017. I live in Dayton, Ohio, not exactly the frozen tundra of central Michigan, but a far cry from Daytona Beach. Locally, I recognize that number may appear a bit “extreme”, at least among most casual enthusiasts. However, I’m here to tell you, I suspect there was snow on the ground for no more than 30 of those days. Despite the lack of “filtering” laws, I also get to work faster on the bike than I do in the car. A motorcycle simply gets through traffic faster, even without the ability to split lanes or filter to the front of traffic signals. I also don’t stress about finding parking most of the time, and beyond physically arriving sooner, I also believe that the commute “feels” shorter, even if the actual elapsed time is only marginally different. I’m sure all motorcyclists will agree, you’re more engaged while riding a motorcycle than you are while driving an automobile. Motorcycles are also more fuel efficient, and arguably better for the environment than cars. Why should I drive solo to work each day in a 6 passenger SUV, when I could feasibly take a single occupant Motorcycle; which likely gets double the gas mileage? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a green peace warrior, and I full well understand this question is rhetorical considering our culture is so enamored with comfort, supersized value meals, and bloated four-wheel-drive station wagons. The point is that these are advantages to motorcycles that need to be marketed; right along with all the “roll your own”, “freedom machine”, and “true adventure” slogans.

Admittedly, I am not overly familiar with exactly what the AMA does (outside of sanctioned sporting events), nor why I should be interested in becoming a member. I will say that I am somewhat familiar with the AMA’s lobbyist reputation, right or wrong, and I regret that it is not exactly in alignment with my personal views on motorcycling. However, in direct response to Scot Harden’s piece, we as motorcyclists should indeed do those 10 things, however I believe there are 3 things that the AMA, in turn, needs to support and promote.

1. The AMA needs to be funding, promoting, and/or conducting honest research on motorcycle crashes to combat the belief that motorcycles are overwhelmingly dangerous. The “Hurt Report” is laughably outdated, meanwhile the current National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics are all but completely inconclusive. Currently we have little to no useful information regarding the cause, conditions, nor the rider’s safety gear and experience level following a crash. Moreover, judging accident mortality rates based on miles traveled is ridiculous given the limited sample size of motorcycles as they are so vastly outnumbered by all other motor vehicles. On the same note, the endorsed rider to licensed motorcycle ratio is misleading considering the number of endorsed motorcyclists that don’t presently own a motorcycle, meanwhile a great number of motorcyclists have a virtual garage full of tagged motorbikes going nowhere. If we want to make an argument that experience is a determining factor in rider mortality, then so be it, but it needs to be quantified. I’ll also argue that suggesting motorcycles are “ex-percent more dangerous than cars” by the number of fatalities versus miles traveled annually is a farce when you compare that to pedestrian fatalities. More pedestrians were killed in 2015 than motorcyclists, over 5,300, not to mention the 818 bicyclists; let’s attempt to look at those numbers through the prism of miles traveled. Sounds kind of silly doesn’t it? As motorcyclists we shouldn’t stand for this reputation; we must combat it with facts. Meanwhile, asking the questions, why are upwards of 25% of motorcyclists killed riding without an endorsement or with a blood alcohol level over 0.08%? Why do we sit quiet and accept that these “outlaws” are skewing the statistics?

2. Taking a respite from lobbying the repeal of helmet laws, the AMA should be championing causes that provide advantages to motorcyclists, such as motorcycle exclusive parking, “dead red” laws, lane “filtering” (stopped traffic only), and potentially lane “splitting” (In Ohio I suggest it be legal for motorcycles to pass between cars when, and only when, traffic is moving under 25 mph). I will go further to say that the AMA should take action to fight “distracted driving”. I admit, I do not know how to legislate ignorance and stupidity out of existence. However, if there are technological or legislative measures that can be taken to keep people’s hands on the wheel and eyes on road, that’s a more critical issue than me “feeling the freedom” in my hair”; despite my opposition of mandatory helmet laws.

3. While the vast majority of the burden falls on us, the motorcycle masses, the AMA would be wise to support and promote media that explains that riding a motorcycle can be affordable. In 2016 I sold my “new bike” for a similar, used, Triumph that I will use as an example. I will also admit, I do not consider a $6,000 used motorcycle to be “cheap”, especially by the younger generation; however that is sadly considered “reasonable” by motorcycle standards. I recently went back through my receipts from day one of purchasing my Triumph; adding up the costs of oil, filters, tires, light bulbs, motorcycle jack, wrenches, feeler gauges, gaskets, and all the other incidentals except gasoline. Doing all my own maintenance, and covering about 28,000 miles in the first 12 months (July 2016 to July 2017), I spent right around $2,000 on maintenance parts and tools in the first year of ownership. That number breaks down to about $167 a month and less than $0.08 per mile. Converted to a more reasonable annual mileage of about 6,000 miles, that comes to about $430 annually, or $36 per month. In my opinion, that’s a big selling point for motorcycles; if you overcome the “No replacement for displacement” disease, motorcycles are actually quite affordable. Yes, you can buy a “beater” $1,000 car, and likely operate it cheaper than a motorcycle. However, even riding like an absolute maniac, I suspect that the average American has a car payment, well in excess of $170 a month, let alone $35. If you have a car with a heavy payment, yes you should drive it and, by God, enjoy it. Meanwhile, if you have a bike with a payment, and its primary job is occupying floor space in your garage, you’re flushing your money down the toilet. My point is that the prospective buyer has a good shot at buying a reliable, affordable, used bike with cash, and ultimately saving a boat load of money in the long run. I’ll gladly claim that financing $4,400 on a new Honda Rebel , and paying cash on a $500 “Beater” car still makes more economical sense in Dayton than financing most used cars. The bike manufacturers aren’t necessarily going to get a whole lot of help out of this formula, however we’re talking about getting millennial butts in saddles here. Bike number two will come along soon enough; we need to get them on bike number one before it’s too late.

The motorcycle industry image is typically a “pretty” motorcycle with a sticker price in excess of $12,000. While the bulk of those advertisements are heavyweight cruisers, even the average “adventure bike” costs significantly more, while sadly spending more time at Starbucks and in the garage than it does on the road, let alone the trail. That’s the problem; the average millennial gets a lot more bang for buck from a cell phone, tablet, or just hiking in the local state park than they get from a motorcycle. That image needs to change; along with the associated costs and piss-poor dealer customer service. Meanwhile, as Scot suggested, we motorcyclists should indeed act as ambassadors for our sport; yet we must also combat a misinformed society that is utterly convinced motorcycles are “death machines”. People have successfully said it long enough and loud it enough they believe it is unquestionably true; we need well published, in-depth research to arm us with facts to combat that stigma. A motorcycle, while unquestionably a damn good time, is actually a superior mode of transportation, not a toy.

Sincerely,
Moto Adventurer

 

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Red River Scramble 2018: The Bluegrass Adventure Rally

Kentucky Highway 77 Nada Tunnel MotoADVR2018 is finally here, beyond a lengthy list of goals I’ve already set for this year, another big one is to host the second edition of “Red River Scramble”. For new visitors to the blog, Red River Scramble is a casual grassroots motorcycle rally hosted by yours truly in Red River Gorge, Kentucky. For those unfamiliar, nestled in the Appalachian foothills, Red River Gorge is a canyon system littered with sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls, and natural arches. The paved roads in and around the gorge are some of the best in the Bluegrass State, meanwhile the off-road riding offers adventure seekers challenges over a myriad of conditions with intimate access to some of the area’s unique scenery.

Long time readers here know that eastern Kentucky is arguably my favorite place to ride, so I want to share that experience with similar minded motorcyclists. Rose the Scrambler Miguels Pizza MotoADVRThis year the event will run from Friday, June 1st, to Sunday June 3rd, and will be held primarily at the Natural Bridge Campground in Slade, Kentucky. I expect that I will ride down Friday morning, catch lunch at Miguel’s Pizza (I’ll be easy to spot, Rosie is unmistakable at this point), spend a little time wandering around the gorge until I can get keys to my cabin at the campground. At that point I’ll get a good fire rolling as I wait for more guests to roll in. It’s my intent for attendees to enjoy some casual riding and sight-seeing Friday afternoon, then meet up for a campfire at my cabin as an informal meet-and-greet and “check-in”;SkyBridge MotoADVR that should give folks a chance to mingle and form riding groups for the next morning. Saturday will be the big riding day as I expect quite a few groups will tackle the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway (DBBB), while others break off to see more of the local landmarks and enjoy the twisty pavement. After a long day of riding Saturday, folks can again gather around the fire pit and “swap lies” about the day’s adventures. As of this moment, I’m also planning on having a few (limited) giveaways Saturday evening.

Chimney Top Rock Pano 3 MotoADVRJust like last year, admission is free, and riders will be responsible for their own gas, meals and lodging arrangements; I will however be sure to point you in the direction of a good time, that much I can do. The event will again be rain or shine, so please plan accordingly; hopefully the Bluegrass State will bless us with comfortable June weather. Natural Bridge Campground has multiple levels of accommodations, from fully furnished cabins with indoor plumbing, designated RV parking with associated hook-ups, multiple tent camp sites including 110V power connections, along with typical primitive arrangements; bathroom and shower houses are also available for campers.

DCIM125GOPRO“Adventure” is the spirit of the event but again, dual sport bikes are not required. Per my previous comments, paved roads in the area are some of the best in the state, many of which also grant attendees access to some of the best views. Inversely, the dual sport riding can accommodate a multitude of skill levels; The DBBB includes challenging trails around the entire area, meanwhile riders new to dirt can get a taste for gravel on many of the well-manicured forest service roads inside Daniel Boone National Forest.Spaas Creek Road Triumph Scrambler MZ Baghira MotoADVR Seasoned adventure riders may also want to consider making an entire week of the event and tackling the Kentucky Adventure Tour (KAT) as it overlaps with the northern portion of the DBBB in Slade. Just like last year, the “Red River Scramble: Where to Ride” post is live and updated. Attendees can get access to maps from that post and the associated links.

I have also set up several supporting pages for the event this year, most importantly Registration. Again, admission is free, but I would like folks to register so I can get a rough “head count”; it will also make it easier to contact attendees with additional information about the event. Along with registration, I have a general event page which includes links to the associated sites, along with a specific FAQ site which covers a few topics more in detail (i.e. dining and alternate accommodations). The Red River Scramble REVER group is also still live for folks that want to join Rever and preview maps per my comments above. There is also a Facebook Event for this year’s rally if you wish to share the event on social media.

Considering there’s plenty of snow on the ground in many parts of the country, now’s as good a time as any to tune up your motorbike. Mark your calendars and we’ll see you in June.

Quick Links

2018RedRiverScrambleFlyer

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Triumph Scrambler Project: Off-road Rally Planning

Per my recent comments about plans for 2018, I am chomping at the bit to take off-road riding up another notch next year. I full well expected to spend more time in Shawnee State Forest and Red River Gorge this fall, but beyond shady weather, things just didn’t materialize. To some degree, that’s not a bad thing. In her current form, Rosie the Scrambler holds her own off-road with the big ADV bikes (for the most part); that said, there are some impending upgrades that I need to make in the immediate future if I plan on participating in events like March Moto Madness and Conserve the Ride.

 

Obligatory “Overlanding” Upgrades

Rear Brake Relocation

Triumph Scrambler Rear Brake Caliper MotoADVRIn their infinite wisdom, the Triumph engineers over in Hinckley decided to hang the rear brake caliper off the bottom of the swingarm. The only logical conclusion I can ascertain is that they were trying to lower the bike’s overall center of gravity. That advantage will be pretty useless in the event a rock or a log tactically removes that caliper from its mounting bolts.

Free Spirits, Motone, & Triumph Twin Power all offer rear caliper relocation brackets. I’ve not yet made a firm decision, but each of them runs about $100-$150 depending on options selected. Many have said that the stock brake line will work, if rerouted properly; however, Free Spirits offers an extended brake line to utilize the standard routing and hardware. At the moment I’m of the mindset that I want to get this done “on the cheap” as I have lofty plans for multiple rallies next year. Travel and motorcycle events obviously means entry fees as well as additional wear and tear on the machine. It may also make more sense to skip the longer rear brake line right now as I could also see potentially upgrading both brake lines to steel braided Spiegler hoses in the future; right along with upgrading the front caliper.

 

Skid Plate

Admittedly, one of the reasons I leaned toward the Scrambler over the Tiger (aside from cost and opportunity) was the traditional steel frame. Triumph Scrambler Skid Plate Oil Filter MotoADVRRight or wrong, I felt that the steel frame could take additional punishment off-road and help protect the engine. With that, the steel frame means that the skid plate, while still important, can be somewhat simpler, as there’s also a tubular steel frame to shield the delicate bits (Here’s a non-steel frame incident from Red River Scramble). 2013 and newer Scramblers also came with the skid plate as standard, so that was one less accessory I needed to worry about when I started riding off-road.

That said, while the stock skid plate has already saved my bacon a few times, I still have some concerns that the oil filter is potentially over-exposed as the OEM skid plate stops just short of the filter’s fragile skin. AltRider sells a pretty hardy looking skid plate for the air cooled modern classics; alas it’s aimed more toward the Bonneville models as it has “flares” for the low swept exhaust (it’s also quite pricey at $270). Ultimately I’m looking to build a custom skid plate or install an “extension” to the stock plate in order to cover the oil filter.

 

Engine Bar “Modification”

Way back in “stage 1 upgrades” I talked about installing the engine guards. Triumph Scrambler Engine Guard MotoADVRSo far they have done well for a couple parking lot “tip-overs” but I’m still concerned about their durability during more serious “offs” when riding through the rocks around Red River Gorge and whatnot. My first plan of action is to install a “bridge pipe” between the open ended bars that go below the engine. There’s like a 4 inch gap between that section of the engine guard that I want to “bridge” for additional stability. I don’t think this will be overly difficult, I just need to get my hands on the right materials and tools. I’d like to claim that long-term I might fashion my own set of crash bars, but I fear the return on investment might not be that great; considering I don’t currently have a tube bender or any welding equipment, that task could get pricey. Although, I will say that I’m impressed by what has been offered for the new Street Scrambler, with a the right help I could see myself attempting to copy something of that magnitude someday. Maybe that’s the start of a future venture, “Gem City Scramblerwerks”…

 

Oil Cooler Grill

With the addition of the “Fenda Extenda” I’ve successfully kept most of the mud and muck off of the oil cooler when riding off-road. Triumph Scrambler Oil Cooler MotoADVRI am however, still a bit concerned about the safety of the oil cooler considering I am still finding a the occasional ding in the fins when I’m washing the bike. Again, AltRider also makes a part for the air cooled modern classics to protect the oil cooler. It strikes me as a tad expensive at $70, but it’s probably the most robust option I’ve seen. There are also screens that are for sale elsewhere, but I could probably fashion something similar from a spent air filter housing to do the same job. Ultimately I need something that will deflect a rock strike while still filtering air across the cooling fins.

 

17 Tooth Front Sprocket

Earlier this year I was actually considering bumping the front sprocket up to a 19 tooth front cog, that way I would run lower RPMs on the highway during those long distance rides. Triumph Scrambler New Chain MotoADVRStaring down the upcoming off-road events for 2018, I now find myself debating about dropping a tooth on the stock front sprocket and going down to a 17 for more torque at the low end. I recently watched a buddy take a beating in the Kentucky clay because his Tiger was geared to high; that got me thinking that I want to be more prepared for the challenges headed my way at Conserve the Ride in June. Ultimately my plan would be to keep the 18 tooth sprocket on hand and possibly switch back for daily use, but I think it’ll be a worthwhile $25 investment to be prepared for muddy Appalachian byways next year.

 

Peripheral Improvements

Fly Screen

While my do-it-yourself flyscreen has stood up to 4 years and over 70,000 miles, I admit I’ve had my eye on a true Dart Flyscreen for some time. motoadvr_rrg_dualscramblersDart is probably the most prominent “flyscreen” producer I am aware of for Triumphs and Café racers; it makes sense, their flyscreens are full polycarbonate and are shipped with dedicated hardware that’s designed to fit to your specific bike. From everything I’ve seen, I’m really impressed with the overall fit and finish. My cousin had one on his Scrambler prior to its sale; I took it for a spin a few times and was very happy with the airflow. While I like having a piece of my own work on the bike, the acrylic DIY flyscreen has a lot of scratches and chipped paint as a result of rock strikes; I expect I may need the ruggedness of polycarbonate for the upcoming off-road adventures.

 

Headlight

For long-time Moto Adventurer followers, the inadequacy of the Scrambler’s headlight is all but legend at this point. Triumph Scrambler Headlight MotoADVRThe Denali D4s have been an excellent upgrade, which I use almost daily at this point (bright lights save lives), but I still want to throw more light down the road if at all possible. I have been eyeing the Denali DR1 headlight conversion kit for some time. From what I’ve seen, dual DR1’s will provide an incredible increase in light output; meanwhile relocation brackets for the ignition, horn, and rectifier are also included. I recognize that it poses additional challenges; considering I will lose my headlight bowl, I’m going to have to figure out where to stuff those ever so delicate electrical connections. Initially I was concerned that if I lose the headlight ears, I will also lose the ability to attach a fly screen. Fortunately Dart has launched a new line of fork mounted brackets that I believe will  resolve that issue. While I really want Rosie to have the “Terminator” look; the Denali M5 headlight replacement on the other hand is a simple bolt on affair; that presents a really appealing plan “B” for about a hundred dollars less.

 

Front Sprocket Cover

In recent years, Triumph has done a splendid job on fit and finish.Triumph Scrambler Front Sprocket Cover MotoADVR It goes without saying, I’m quite happy with Rosie’s “looks”, however I find her to be a bit on the portly side. As such, I’m on a mission to ditch the excess “El-bees” through all functional means possible. As of this moment, the front sprocket cover is probably the ripest candidate with consideration to cost. There are numerous aftermarket “open” sprocket covers available, unfortunately, I fear many of them will simply dump chain lube all over the engine case. Yes, this is about function, but I admit, chain wax, oil, and road grime baking on the engine case just seems like a bad long-term plan. Moreover, that grime is exchanged for mud when riding off-road; ultimately trapping more heat inside the engine case. If I have my druthers, I suspect I will go with one of the “half” covers, or sheet metal varieties, that way I can cut some weight without the chain “marking its territory” all over my stator cover.

 

Chain Guard

Similar to the front sprocket cover, the chain guard is a big piece of steel that’s begging for a lighter replacement.Triumph Scrambler Chain Guard MotoADVR I’ve said since almost day one of Scrambler ownership, I’d 3D print a chain cover if I could find a printer large enough. I’d really like to fashion something from plastic, resin, or fiber glass, but I simply don’t have the tools or knowledge (yet). Either way, there are still several commercial options; most of which are metal copies of the OEM guard with holes drilled in them, but they at least present lighter options. Ultimately I may just get crazy with the drill press and save myself a few bucks, we’ll see what happens.

 

Side-stand Foot & Master Cylinder cover

Triumph Scrambler Kickstand MotoADVRThe Scrambler’s kick stand is nice and sturdy, but that doesn’t change the fact it drives a hole in the soft dirt in a hurry. Similar situation to previous comments, I could probably fashion myself a steel “camel toe” and have a buddy weld it on. At the same time, there are a couple aftermarket options available. All I know is, throwing down a kickstand puck in a hurry right after your buddy dumps his bike in the dirt is a pain, I could use a solution to this problem post-haste.

Related to the side-stand foot, I also need to “up-armor” the rear brake master cylinder. The Scrambler, unlike its Bonneville brethren, has the brake master cylinder exposed behind the right foot peg (see above photo of the front sprocket cover). The Bonneville, shod with low pipes, hides the master cylinder behind the side cover; a luxury the high pipe scrambler lacks. There are at least two aftermarket bolt-on guards that I’m aware of, it’s simply a matter of biting the $50 bullet and getting it bolted on.

 

Shovel Mount

“Tool, Entrenchment, one each.”

Entrenchment Tool MotoADVR

After my rucksack, my trusty E-tool (collapsible shovel) is probably my favorite piece of left over army gear I have laying around the house. As soon as the snow starts falling with any volume, both find their way into the trunk in case of a winter emergency. Ural Shovel MotoADVRThat E-tool has rescued me from at least one snow bank, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Considering the Scrambler’s limited ground clearance, I’ve resorted to packing the E-tool on at least one off-road adventure. It may be silly, but in the back of my mind I believe I can use it to cut roots and branches, trim a nasty ledge off a rut, and potentially build a ramp over log if I can’t bushwhack my way around. That and well… it looks cool…

 

Big Dreams

Rear Shocks

Long-term, the Scrambler is going to need some serious upgrades if this off-road nonsense gets any more serious. A good set of tires has done tremendous things to boost off-road confidence, but aside from weight, the scrambler’s biggest downfall is the lack of suspension travel. Triumph Scrambler Rosie LR MotoADVRWhen I first pinned down the Scrambler as my new “Adventure” bike, I had a set of Works 6” travel shocks on my shopping list. Unfortunately, in the time that’s passed since, Works has apparently stopped producing those shocks, leaving me in search of a suitable alternative. I’ve already reached out to a number of vendors looking for a qualified option; thus far the responses have not been overly positive. The Hagon 2810s have been good shocks up to this point, but ultimately I don’t think they’re properly suited for the job ahead of them. Moreover, that Hagons have taken quite a beating over the last 30k miles and are starting to show signs of heavy wear. The Scrambler’s greatest weakness is also correlated to its greatest strength, low seat height. The biggest challenge in finding shocks with more travel is that most of them are so long that they will in turn jack the rear end of the bike up to the point that the low seat height advantage is eliminated. I still have an e-mail into the guys at Canyon Motorcycles; I’m hopeful they can get me set up with a custom set of Ohlins with at least a little extra “wiggle room”.

 

Front Suspension Upgrades

In conjunction with upgraded rear shocks, I want to add a little more travel to the front end, along with other upgrades that can be accomplished at the same time. Triumph Scrambler Rosie LF MotoADVRPer my comments about Works rear shocks, Canyon Motorcycles used to sell 6” travel fork dampers for the Scrambler. While that’s no longer an option, Free Spirits Parts does sell a similar part to add 30 mm additional travel to the front forks. They also sell a cartridge emulator that I imagine I would install at the same time considering the forks will already be disassembled. Ultimately I’d really like to get a whole new front end with a good set of Upside Down (USD) front forks with dual disk brakes, something akin to the Tiger or the Tramontana Scrambler, but unless I landed a sweet salvage deal, that’s probably a pipe dream considering the retail price for such a project.

 

Rear Fender

I’ve hated the rear fender on the Scrambler from the get-go. I understand the classic styling on the Bonneville, but for a “dirt bike”, the long skirt has to go. Now, having said that, after a short jaunt down a backroad in the rain, you’ll find yourself wearing mud up your entire back, despite the unsightly stock fender.Triumph Scrambler Rosie RR While still conflicted, I’m approaching the point that I’m more interested in cutting weight than I am keeping clean. That leaves me with several options; the aftermarket is all but flooded with “fender eliminator” kits for all of the Triumph twins. That was my initial plan, ditch the fender entirely; however after closer inspection, I am somewhat concerned that water and mud will creep past the “plate” and make a mess of all the sensitive electrical bits under the seat. That issue, combined with the already prevalent rainy day rooster tail, had me leaning toward a plastic or fiberglass solution. As it turns out, a non-ferrous fender is a high dollar investment, upwards of $300 for just about everything I’ve seen; leaving me to debate option “C”. A close buddy of mine has recently installed the fender eliminator on his Scrambled Bonnie. After looking at photos, I’ve debated if I can seal off cracks between the frame and the plate with RTV, or weather stripping of some sort; that way I can keep the mud out meanwhile scrapping the extra heft. Stay tuned…

 

Indicators

Triumph Scrambler Rear Lights MotoADVRWhile purely aesthetic, I’ve also hated the aftermarket indicators on the Scrambler since I picked it up. They are at least hard mounted, which is an improvement over the OEM signals that bounce all over and resemble weaponry from Men In Black, however they’re still metal with cheap incandescent bulbs. Most people riding with me on a summer day claim they can’t see my signals, and I’m obviously all about giving everything on the bike the “subdued” treatment; thus, lightweight, black, LED indicators are on the “to-do” list.

 

Alloy Wheels

Similar to installing USD front forks, the Scrambler could benefit from a good set of alloy wheels in lieu of the gargantuan chrome steel rims that are shipped from the factory. Scrambler_ADVRI don’t know what the total weight loss will be, but switching to alloy rims will cut unsprung weight, and also offer me the opportunity to upgrade the front wheel from a 19 to a 21 inch hoop. I need to be judicious when making decisions with regard to up-sizing to a larger front wheel, as I’ll again face the possible loss of precious reach to the ground. To counteract the rise in seat height, I suspect I can “choke up” on the front forks a bit, something I doubt will negatively impact the already lackadaisical steering geometry. Considering how I feel about chrome, I’ve actually had my sights on aftermarket black rims since the early phases of planning; unfortunately a quick google search will tell you that you’re looking at almost a $2,000 investment for a new set of spoked motorcycle wheels; even more when you add in sprockets and brake discs. Considering how quickly I go through tires, having a second set of rims to swap between road and off-road tires wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I suspect the “return on investment” calculation would say it’ll take me ten years for the savings to pay off the cost of a new set of rims. Short of swapping out the front end with an old KLR, that may be the only option to get a 21” front wheel on the Scrambler.

 

Final Thoughts

While I’m unquestionably going to start making upgrades over the winter, gearing up for a few rallies this spring, a lot of these dreams are truly dependent on what bike number two turns out to be. Triumph Scrambler Snow Bulldozer MotoADVRDon’t fret, I have no intention of selling off the Scrambler, it’s just an inevitable fact that I need a second motorcycle to keep up this level a moto-ridiculousness; one bike is simply not the best tool for every job. At this very moment I have my eyes set on a Sport Touring bike; with lofty of goals of Key West and returning to Washington State, I’d really like to have a more suitable road-fairing long-distance machine. If that dream comes to fruition (probably not in 2018), I expect I will be moving towards molding Rosie into something on the order of Paul’s high-pipe adventure machine. If things go the other way, and suddenly an XT250 finds its way into my basement, I suspect we’ll have this “planning” discussion all over again; likely with the “Gold Standard” of Swedish suspension and a set of 17 inch cast wheels for full high-pipe supermoto madness.

Posted in Triumph Scrambler Project, What's In Your Dream Garage? | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Goals for 2018: Updating the Moto Bucket List

It’s that time of the year again, Thanksgiving was just two weeks back and Christmas will be here before you know it. This is that time of year that the snowflakes start falling and I start planning for next year’s adventures. Actually that was a lie, let’s be honest, I’m always planning for the next adventure, but the Christmas to New Year’s Day stretch is generally when I lay out the vacation calendar for next year. Before I start planning for 2018, I first want to look back at how 2017’s goals turned out.

 

Reflections on 2017

2The Triple Nickel Ohio Route 555 Triumph Scrambler MotoADVR016 really didn’t pan out for big adventures considering the lull between swapping bikes and getting the Scrambler into fighting shape; on the flip-side, I came out swinging in 2017, knocking the Triple Nickel and Big Muskie off the Moto Bucket List in early spring. Two months later the stars aligned and I finally set out on my goal to ride 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours; almost three years in the making I finally finished a certified Saddle Sore 1000 in June. Hatton Ridge Triumph Scrambler MotoADVRSomewhere in there I also spent multitude of weekends in the bluegrass state; social media posts of those exploits rapidly gave birth to the ad-hoc inaugural Red River Scramble adventure that I had originally planned to launch in spring of 2018. Combined with the fact that I found her in Louisville, Rosie the Scrambler has actually spent so much time in Kentucky this year I’ve taken to referring to her as the Bluegrass Belle. I’m hopeful that riding trend continues next year, and Rosie even gets a pin-up decal to match.

DCIM126GOPRO

The Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway (DBBB) and the Kentucky Adventure Tour (KAT) both found their way onto the bucket list as replacements for the 555 and Big Muskie. Ironically, I found myself on a few sections of the DBBB just days after posting it on the bucket list; unfortunately, after no less than three attempts, I have yet to finish the entire 100 mile loop. Most of my off-road riding buddies have had some heavy doses of “life” this year and our schedules have just never managed to jive;DCIM105GOPROG1065464. that combined with the fact this fall was arguably the wettest in years (so I hear). Considering that the northern sections overlap, I can claim that I have technically ridden a portion of the KAT, but I wouldn’t assert that I have made any honest attempt to tackle any sections not coincidentally on the DBBB. Later on in September, I did indeed decide take knobbies to the 2017 Triumph Dragon Raid, however I didn’t ride nearly as much dirt as I originally had planned. Hurricane Irma successfully put a pretty big damper on the rally this year; if I get off my bum, I’ll eventually lay out the details and post photos of that week at Deal’s Gap.

 

Laying the groundwork for 2018

As of this moment, I expect that Rosie will be wearing 50/50 dual sport tires year-round for the foreseeable future. Rosie Triumph Scrambler Dragon Overlook MotoADVRThe Karoo 3/Shinko 804 combo proved so competent at the Dragon Raid I see no reason to swap them out for street tires unless I’m planning an excessively long, pavement-only, motorcycle adventure. To coincide with that, I would say that finishing the DBBB is arguably my biggest priority for 2018. I’m presently finalizing the last details, including new web pages, for Red River Scramble 2018, so I have high hopes of hitting this goal; bonus points for helping a few others check that box at the same time.

Related to the 2017 Dragon Raid, I wanted to ride into South Carolina and Georgia, but the weather simply didn’t cooperate. While I did pick up Virginia and Washington state this year, for 2018 I want to at least maintain that pace and visit no less than two new states. At this moment I have no idea what states those will be, but it would be easy to mark down Illinois by riding out to the Moonshine Lunch Run in April, or finally reaching Georgia and South Carolina at the 2018 Dragon Raid in September.

KamradByDunbarI also said that I wanted to hit an off-road rally in 2017. As predicted, life superseded “play time” and I’m forced to delay another year. That said, I have Conserve The Ride penciled on the calendar for 2018. The dates have not yet been announced, but the rally was scheduled for the last weekend in June last year, so I expect it should land in about the same place again this coming year. Per my previous comments, attending Conserve the Ride would mean riding through Pennsylvania, marking one more state off the list.

Southern Most Point MotoADVROver 1,300 miles from my doorstep, the southernmost point of the United States in Key West has been on the Moto Bucket List since day one. With exception of the bizarre traffic in Miami, I suspect that it will be a long boring ride from the northern Georgia border to US Highway 1; nonetheless, I’m really anxious for the experience, especially riding across the causeway. Which leads me to my next topic:

 

New Additions to the Moto Bucket List:

The Bun Burner Gold

After completing a Saddle Sore 1000, the next “rung” on the Iron Butt Association ladder is the Bun Burner 1500. Operating under similar rules to the Saddle Sore 1000, to certify a Bun Burner 1,500 a rider must document a 1,500 mile ride in less than 36 hours. BBG PlateThat challenge has another level of difficulty called the Bun Burner Silver, documenting a 1,500 mile ride in under 30 hours, and a final tier of difficulty called the Bun Burner Gold (BBG), for completing 1,500 miles in less than 24 hours. My buddy Rick that joined me for the Saddle Sore 1000 last June has already completed a BBG on his Tiger 800 so I have a good resource for tips and planning purposes. Completing the ride on the Scrambler (or similar bike) is going to be incredibly challenging considering the sheer number of fuel stops, however the current record for most fuel stops is 21, I’d like to think I can keep it under twenty and still finish in time. I’ve looked at several maps laying out plans for possible BBG routes and have contemplated combining the southernmost point and the BBG into one ride. If I head far enough east, I can grab gas outside of Pittsburgh and head south to Key West; top off my tank in the Conch Republic and have a beer waiting for me at Sloppy Joe’s, logging just a hair over 1,500 miles in one day. I’d like to think I won’t have to twist too many arms to get someone to meet me in Key West for a long weekend to be my documented “end witness” when I roll up after a ride like that.

 

Ride Every Day for 365 Consecutive Days

I mentioned wanting to ride year round way back in the early days of the blog. After already riding 10 miles or more for 160 consecutive days once this year, the challenge of riding daily Ohio for 365 days is no less daunting; but I admit, it feels slightly more within reach.DCIM121GOPRO I’ve been back on the horse since fixing the Scrambler back in July, with the most challenging weather right in front of me. At this point, I see no reason to stop working toward a full calendar year; this winter I expect a few heavy snow storms, and I can about guarantee single digit temperatures, but I’m going to give it a go. Right now my biggest concern is keeping the Scrambler running through the harsh winter conditions; as a porch dweller, I’m fretting a bit about all the cold starts. While not inevitable, between work, the fact I only own one motorcycle, and the impending weather in the coming weeks, failure this year is pretty likely. Despite that, I’ve wanted to do this bad enough and long enough, it belongs on the Moto Bucket List, whether I make it this year or not.

 

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2017 Ural Gear Up: Touring Seattle with a Sidehack

DCIM100GOPROG0042933.Forget everything you know about riding and focus on one thing: what it felt like to ride a motorcycle for the very first time. The world is zipping past you in a blur; meanwhile you’re trying to keep your eyes on the road, desperately scanning for the next obstacle while simultaneously trying to tame the machine with each of your appendages. I nearly forgot what that felt like, but after commuting through downtown Seattle astride a Russian rig, I have a renewed sense of appreciation for “first timers”. Take my word for it, riding a sidecar is an experience like no other.

Way back in February, I wrote about a late winter excursion down to the Bluegrass State. Beyond detailing my twisty adventure, that post was also part of my entry for the Rever #WinterBeDamned Challenge. As it turns out, based on my blog and social media effort, I was ultimately selected as the winner of the contest’s grand prize. For folks unfamiliar, the grand prize was round trip airfare to Seattle and an afternoon of riding a Ural sidecar accompanied by a Ural factory rider. Long time readers of the blog are already familiar with my affinity for the Ural. Beyond winning a “weekend vacation”, I was finally going to get the opportunity to ride a sidecar (or is that “drive”?), and see if it truly is the “365 day solution” that I think it is.

 

Ural Headquarters

Flying over Seattle MotoADVRTouching down in Seattle is was like 55° F and raining; seemed like stereotypical fall weather in the Pacific Northwest from what I’d heard. The next morning, Vice President of Operations, Jason Rae, picked me up from the hotel and gave me a short tour of the national headquarters in Redmond. Needless to say I had a lot of questions, and throughout the day I picked up a lot of history, not just about the bikes, but also about the company. Prior to my visit I was under the impression that the company was based in Russia and imported into the United States; in reality, IMZ-Ural is now owned in the U.S., while the motorcycle factory still operates in Siberia.Ural Lineup at Seattle HQ MotoADVR I had an inkling that the staff in Seattle was pretty small, in fact there are only about a dozen employees at the U.S. headquarters, steering the business worldwide. I also had no idea that Ural only builds about 1,400 units each year, with about half of those being sold in the U.S. annually. From the moment I shook hands with Jason and David George (head of Ural Sales and Product Support), my tour guides for the afternoon, I realized that Ural is like a family, and that family extends to its customers.

After the tour, and spending a few moments meeting the other folks around the office, David gave me a crash course on sidecar basics. I had a vague familiarity, considering my previous visits to the local Dayton dealer, Heindle Engineering, but it’s completely different when you’re moments away from getting the keys to a brand new Gear Up sidecar for the day. Ural Gear Up MotoADVRDavid pointed out what little effort it takes to pick up the chair, as he effortlessly lifted the sidecar into the air despite me sitting in the saddle. With the slightest lean over the hack, the weight shift is enough to force the chair back down, but it served as a good lesson for what I was about to experience. After a few more moments of getting acquainted with the controls and just as it started to rain, we headed out to the parking lot so I could practice my steering skills.

For folks unfamiliar, unlike a traditional motorcycle, sidecars steer more like a car; if you want to go right, you turn the front wheel to the right, and vice versa. Left-hand turns, while they still require a little leaning, are relatively simple as the sidecar wheel pushes against the centrifugal force of the turn, keeping the bike upright. Right-hand turns however are the tricky ones that tend to pick up the “tub”, or “fly the chair” as they say. DCIM100GOPROG0283764.The sidecar lifting off the ground wouldn’t in itself be such a problem, if it weren’t for the fact that the action of lifting the third-wheel instantaneously converts your “normal steering” sidecar rig into a “counter steering” motorcycle; abruptly forcing you to figure out which way to push the bars to avoid careening into oncoming traffic. Circling around parking lot islands, I rapidly became familiar with the feeling of the sidecar attempting to levitate, worsening with higher speeds or tighter corners. Accustomed to flogging road manners into Rosie the Scrambler while carving through the twisties, I’m no stranger to leaning off the seat, but take my word for it, you’ve not leaned off a motorcycle until you’ve hustled a sidecar through a few curves.

 

The 2017 Gear Up

Ural M70 MotoADVRUral offers several different trim levels for their sidecars, but their main staples are the M70, cT, and the Gear Up. The one-wheel drive M70 has throwback “Soviet era” styling and traditional telescopic front forks. The more “urban” cT, also equipped with one-wheel drive, has leading link front suspension and more modern styling, including a sidecar windshield. Lastly, what I consider to be Ural’s flagship motorcycle, the Gear Up; again with leading link suspension, but with selectable two wheel drive for inclement weather conditions and tailored for more “adventure” inspired buyers.

Ural Gear Up RF Rainier White MotoADVRWhile Ural has sold a traditional 2-wheeled model in the past, they currently focus on only 3-wheeled variants. Each model is powered by a 750 cc, air-cooled, flat-twin “Boxer”, with a 5-speed gearbox (4 speed plus reverse), and shaft drive. Each model also carries about 5 gallons of gas, with an estimated range of 150-185 miles, depending on “riding conditions”. Generally, a Ural weighs in around 700 pounds or so (dry), with a (recommended) cruising speed around 70 mph. Sidecar tonneau cover and power outlet are also standard on all 2017 models.

Ural Shovel MotoADVRThe Gear Up stands apart from the one-wheel drive variants with it selectable two-wheel drive and “Adventure” accessories. Beyond the extra “push”, the Gear Up comes with an additional “universal” 19 inch spare wheel; sidecar front bumper; LED sidecar fog lights; lockable gas tank “glovebox”; Jerry can; luggage rack; and my favorite “extra”, the folding entrenchment tool.

 

What’s new in 2017?

Ural Gear Up LF Rainier White MotoADVRI’ve been following Ural pretty closely since the big jump to EFI in 2014. Along with fuel injection, that year brought all-wheel disc brakes (did I say Brembo?), along with a hydraulic steering damper, among a myriad of other changes. Since then, Ural has made progressive upgrades to their models, including the universal spare wheel (see above), updated roller bearings for the crankshaft, and liquid paint in lieu of powder coating.

For 2017, Ural has replaced the tractor seat with a new “enduro” bench seat, upgraded to an electronic instrument cluster, relocated the parking brake to the handlebars, installed a reverse gear foot pedal in lieu of hand lever, and added a handlebar switch for the auxiliary light(s).

 

The Ride

Thumbing the starter and firing up a Ural for the first time, I noticed that it tends to “spin-up” a lot like a thumper; DCIM100GOPROG0083083.you hear the engine turn over a few times as it ticks up to idle. David asked me early on if I was familiar with vintage bikes, as the Ural boxer is somewhat similar in character; with straight cut gears, you need to operate the shift lever with authority and resolve. I concur, it does take a little extra “effort” to operate the gearbox, but in reality, it’s just like everything else, you get used to it, and eventually it’s just another facet of the experience. Interestingly enough, while the shifting experience is diametrically different than the buttery smooth “click” of the helical cut gears on my Triumph; despite its otherwise “agricultural” character, neutral seemed to be extremely easy to find on the Ural, something I seldom say about other bikes I’ve ridden.

Similar to its character, looking at the engine there’s no denying it’s reminiscent of a different era. However, that’s not a dig against Ural, the technology might be “old”, but it works, and that’s part of the allure to the brand.2014 Ural Gear Up MotoADVR Ural has been making big strides in recent years; making prudent changes to their components, while still being true to the brand. “Simplicity” is unquestionably the second biggest reason I’m interested in a Ural; two-wheel drive being the first. Overall there’s no denying that fit and finish has been improved year after year since 2014. I have often found Urals sold on showrooms next to Royal Enfield; by comparison, you’ll notice poor quality casting marks and welds on the Indian built Bullet, while the Ural doesn’t have such blemishes. The bike may have an “agricultural” feel, but the machine’s details are very much modern.

In contrast to the somewhat old-fashioned gearbox, the throttle response was buttery smooth, with very linear power delivery. That smooth power delivery becomes critical when maneuvering the rig, but I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Unbeknownst to me prior to writing this, the Ural actually has a dry clutch. Somewhat of a rarity on most motorcycles these days, Ural 750 Engine MotoADVRI’ve heard several Ducati Hypermotards with dry clutches, along with custom Harleys with open primaries, but at no point throughout the entire day did I notice anything, sound or function, that indicated a dry clutch hidden inside the Russian mill. Trying to adjust to all the changes as once, I was initially worried I might be winding out the engine too far considering I didn’t have a tachometer. David reassured me that winding it out was good, “lugging” the engine was what I wanted to avoid (there’s also a rev limiter to keep you from getting too crazy). That seemed easy enough for me, as I would say that I consider that a “normal” practice for me, but I wanted to at least check considering I’d never experienced a bike like the Ural before.

With David convinced I was comfortable with leaning into the turns around the parking lot, we headed back to the office to pick up Jason and head out of the city in search of some backroads. Originally Jason had planned on an eastern route up through the mountains; unfortunately with fall weather it was actually snowing at elevation that morning so he decided it was best to stick with a ride on the far side of Puget Sound. Finally filtering into Seattle traffic, I was immediately surprised by the Ural’s gearing; slowing for traffic lights, without pulling in the clutch I could squeeze the brakes until nearly at a full stop before the engine even hinted that it might stall.DCIM100GOPROG0123196. Meanwhile, with a flat torque curve that pulls right out of the basement, pulling away from a stoplight pretty effortless; aside from a little dose of “sidecar physics”. Related to the previous comment about vintage bikes, this was my first (motorcycle) experience with a 4-speed transmission. First and second gear were impressively tall, David mentioned you could feasibly start the bike in second; I found myself typically cruising the service streets in second, and only clicking into third in the higher speed limits.

As we started to find our way onto secondary streets my attention shifted from avoiding traffic to noticing the character of the rig. ural-gear-up-twisties-motoadvrCruising down the roadway I began to notice the bike “do the worm” with bends in the road and changes in steering. Needless to say that’s a really odd feeling as you pull the bars to follow the curve in the road and then literally feel the tub “react” to the inputs. I didn’t understand this strange sensation at first, and then it occurred to me: the sidecar wheel is in a unique position, not in line with the other two, while there’s also an asymmetrical weight distribution, putting the center of gravity somewhere between the bike and the hack; a sidecar simply “moves” in a way like no other vehicle I’ve ridden in or on. As the day went on I noticed the sensation less and less as I began to acclimate with the “flow” of the bike.

I’ve read about the characteristics of sidecar “piloting” in quite a few other Ural reviews. Most writers mention that you feel the sidecar lag with acceleration and surge forward when under braking. Contrary to that statement, I actually found those acts to be relatively uneventful compared to what I’d expected; I found that it was only prevalent with poorly executed shifts; as long as I managed to shift smoothly, the ride was (generally) linear. With regard to braking,DCIM100GOPROG0073043. there’s no denying that the rig has a tendency to push left when exclusively using the front brake. The rear and sidecar brakes are actually linked with the right foot pedal; so inversely, when only using the “rear” brakes, the sidecar has a tendency to track to the right. Using a balanced application of both brakes, I found that the Gear Up slowed in a perfectly straight line. David reassured me that that’s how a properly set up sidecar should behave; there’s actually a rear brake “bias” that can be adjusted to fine-tune the braking if needed. On the other hand, what really surprised me was the amount of effort needed to “steer” the rig around the corners. It makes sense though, the weight difference of a sidecar versus a motorcycle, and all of that asymmetrical weight being hinged on the front wheel. This effort is compounded by the fact you are leaning into the turn, yet pulling on the bars. On a standard two-wheeled motorcycle you lean into the curve, and the act of doing so actually helps you push the bars, counter-steering the motorcycle into the desired direction. Extra effort aside, the entire act takes a bit of getting used to as you initially feel “crossed-up” trying to maneuver the machine.

Before we had left the parking lot David made a very conscious effort to remind me to be aware of the far right wheel position. DCIM100GOPROG0283740.He said they deal with more dents and dings on the sidecar fender than any other issue with their demo bikes; he mentioned that non-sidecar riders are unaccustomed to how wide the Ural really is and accidentally bump the hack into fixed objects around corners. Following Jason, I Initially found it easy to stay “left adjusted” in the lane as we worked our way out of the city. As we finally found ourselves on more of the twisty bits, I realized how habitual that “outside-inside-outside” motorcycle line through the curves is ingrained in your muscle memory. I did fortunately avoid dropping the sidecar wheel off the roadway for the entirety of the afternoon, but there were still a few times that needed to adjust my line and tell myself “no” when going around the bends; even more so in tight parking lots as it turns out.

Settling into a groove, I began enjoying the scenery and taking more mental notes about the Ural. The seating position is neutral, with your feet slightly forward and the bars easily within reach; it’s actually very similar to my Triumph. DCIM100GOPROG0283737.I admit, when you first mount the saddle, you think your toes will be mashed right up against the jugs, but after spending all day on the bike, that’s really not the case. I was impressed to find that the seat was indeed “all-day” comfortable; it seemed a bit “firm” after riding all afternoon, however having experienced some painful lessons from the Scrambler’s stock bench, I agree that starting out firm is a good thing. From some of David’s comments, I suspect that the new enduro seat will “form to the owner” with time and make it that much more comfortable. That extra space provided by the two-up bench was also welcome; when things got sporty I found myself hugging the tank and leaning off the seat, but when touring on the lazy roads it was convenient to scoot back on the seat, spread out, and relax.

DCIM100GOPROG0032926.

After a ferry ride across Puget Sound, we stopped for lunch in Port Gamble, where I parked the Gear Up in a spot pointing downhill. At 730 pounds, without gas or my own heft, the Ural is obviously not light for a 750; fortunately it comes with reverse. This probably doesn’t sound strange, as reverse is becoming more and more popular on the big baggers like the Gold Wing, and even the new BMW K1600 GTL. The Ural however is different, while many motorcycles utilize the starter motor to actuate a reverse function, Port Gamble General Store MotoaDVRthe Ural’s reverse gear is actually a part of the transmission, so you still use the clutch and throttle. From Neutral, there is a foot pedal you actuate for reverse gear, after that, look behind you, let out the clutch and give it a little gas; just a seamless as a backing out a car. Press the right foot lever back into neutral, and you’re ready to head out.

After a platter of fish ‘n chips and warming up a bit, we set back out to find a few more twisty roads. By that point I was feeling pretty comfortable with my sidecar piloting skills and looking forward to challenging myself with some tighter curves. Headed south toward Bainbridge Island, the sun finally came out and the roads dried off a bit. Pulling on the bars and leaning over the sidecar with a little extra effort, I hustled the Gear Up through the bends of the forest lined streets.DCIM100GOPROG0052968. Several times I noted the profuse amounts of pine needles and grass clippings covering the roadway in the shade, exposing only a pair of narrow wheel tracks where a few cars had recently passed through. At that moment I realized, this road would’ve been absolutely treacherous on a two-wheeled motorcycle, but the Ural was right at home; confidence inspiring by comparison.

From Bainbridge Island it was another ferry ride, this time right into the heart of Seattle. Ural Seattle Skyline MotoADVRAs the ferry “turned the corner” around a point, I could see the Seattle skyline emerge from behind a line of pine trees; I regret that a photo simply doesn’t do it justice. Pulling into port with the sun shining, we passed a number of motorcyclists waiting to get across the sound as the weather was breaking and the work day was ending. Merging into the city I was suddenly reminded of Cincinnati; while Amazon and Microsoft call Seattle home, I still felt a blue-collar vibe downtown, but the pub district and side-by-side sports stadiums really framed that comparison for me.

Headed south toward I-90, we took the freeway east of the city to pick up a few more backroads before it was time to call it a day. DCIM100GOPROG0223448.I was honestly shocked by how easy it was to ride the Ural on the highway. Things that I had read made it sound like you would never want to take a Ural on the interstate, but I can assure you, that’s not the case with a modern Ural. DCIM100GOPROG0233524.No, you’re not going to set any speed records; yes, you need to have plans to pass people and be prepared to be relegated to the right two lanes at times. That said, I found the Ural to be surprisingly comfortable at speed, and at no point did I feel like the Siberian 750 was strung out. I will say that I can see an argument for a windscreen; longtime readers know that I really don’t subscribe to that kind of thinking, so I was reasonably comfortable despite the wind blast, but I can see the appeal for some folks.

DCIM100GOPROG0283694.Somewhere around Fall City we found a good long set of twisty backroads. Littered with quaint cottages, pine trees, and a spattering of fall color, the bends along Issaquah-Fall City Road were the best of the whole trip. DCIM100GOPROG0283874.I had finally started to feel confident with my skill at keeping the chair on the ground while hustling through the curves and I was begging for more; right about that time, we were descending on Redmond to hang it up for the day. Pulling back into the shop I had a million questions and was still trying to digest everything that had happened in such a short period of time.

 

 

The Pacific Northwest

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Seattle is a gorgeous city; riding a Ural in the Pacific Northwest really makes the experience that much better. Beyond the Ural staff, folks in Seattle were very outgoing and extremely friendly; much different than what I have experienced in Chicago, San Diego, and even parts of Ohio for that matter. You can watch movies about the Pacific Northwest, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person; everything is green, from the pine trees to the moss growing on the jersey barriers, it’s very much alive. DCIM100GOPROG0073052.They don’t call it the Emerald City for nothing. My time in the city was unfortunately way too short, I was hoping to catch a good view of the mountains, but weather wasn’t exactly cooperating; what I did see was already outstanding, I can only imagine the views at elevation. I told Jason and David before I left, now that I’ve seen Washington State, it’s going to be very difficult to keep me from returning.

 

 

I want a Ural Gear Up

Ural Gear Up overhead MotoADVRSidecars are icons from a different era, I find it ironic that my initial interest in a sidecar was predominantly to avoid the mundane “comfort” of the modern automobile, and the hustle and bustle of city life; fitting I suppose as the Ural is a “time machine” in many ways. Initially I saw it as a means to an end; a utilitarian machine that lets me ride a motorcycle year-round despite Midwestern winters, while also having the ability to load it up with groceries, or to pick up a friend and go see a movie. My obsession with ditching the car for a “simpler life” never seemed that “deep” until I looked at it in that light.

Ural Gear Up Ferry MotoADVRI regret that I didn’t get an opportunity to test the two-wheel drive. David gave me a short tutorial on how it works when we were parked at the office. He explained the importance of only using two-wheel drive in inclement conditions, as one wheel will always need to be in a “slip” condition. See, the Ural doesn’t have a differential like most four-wheel drive cars; so when you throw the Gear Up into two-wheel drive, the sidecar wheel is locked in step with the main drive wheel. That may not sound like an issue at first, but ultimately that second drive wheel will overpower the steering on dry pavement; when both “rear” wheels are pushing the rig and you go to turn, the Ural just keeps going straight.

That aside, the Gear Up does indeed seem to be the utilitarian machine I hoped it would be. I’ve heard people describe the Ural as antiquated, slow, and even unreliable; but after what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t use those words to describe the Ural. Ural Gear Up Ferry 3 MotoADVRYes, the engine is small in comparison to its weight; but it is simple, and easy to maintain. The Ural mill runs on conventional 20W50 motor oil (5W40 for colder climates), and I’m told an experienced Ural owner can do a valve adjustment in a matter of minutes (there are perks to exposed heads). Yes, service intervals are short (just over 3,000 miles), however this is a 700 pound pushrod machine, running straight cut gears, conventional oil, and can haul around the weight a Gold Wing, including passenger. The bike comes with a fuel can, a shovel, mud flaps, and has over a twenty-one gallon trunk; not to mention the extra space in the tub without the passenger, and the empty pillion seat.Ural Gear Up Trunk MotoADVR Did I mention this is a 750? Urals are shipped with a tool kit that can handle 99.9% of the maintenance you do on the bike, along with a service manual that has actual photos of the before mentioned routine maintenance; neither of which can I find in any other brand’s dealership that I’m aware of. Look, in the end, the Ural is the motorcycle equivalent of a tractor, and it attracts a completely different kind of rider; it’s not about speed and modern amenities, it’s about the experience. David told me they have a motto, “Adventure Together” and “Adventure Daily”; that motto is unquestionably the spirit of the bike, and there’s no doubt that spirit is instilled in its owners. DCIM100GOPROG0283870.Having a Ural means you can go almost anywhere, sent on your journey with the tools to combat whatever obstacles you may encounter; assuming you’re the intrepid type to venture off the beaten path. The best part is, you get to share the journey with someone beside you, be it your spouse, your best friend, or even your four-legged family members. If packing up your life and wandering into the great unknown, with low technology and no deadlines, sounds like your kind of adventure, than a Ural might be for you.

I’ve heard others say it, once you’ve spent a day on a Ural, there’s something about it that simply grows on you. It’s not a performance machine,Ural Gear Up Exo-AT950 MotoADVR it’s not drenched in techno-wiz-bangery, it is simplicity at its finest, and it’s an unsuspectingly good time. Longtime readers of the blog already know, I’ve been attracted to the Ural for its utility, but I was also undeniably caught off guard by its charm. With the character of the engine, and the way it “moves” when you ride, the bike is “alive” in a way I’ve never experienced before. The bike not only grabs the attention of the rider, but also the public. What people say is true, you can’t ride a Ural anywhere without people stopping to talk to you. Ural Tank Badge MotoADVRI always makes jokes about “The Triumph Effect”, as grey-beards see my Scrambler at the gas station and stop to tell me about their old 650 Bonneville; the “Ural Delay Factor” is even more prevalent. It’s no longer just motorcyclists that stop you, it’s every passerby you can imagine, soccer moms and all; everyone is fascinated by sidecars. And they should be, it’s unquestionably the most fun I’ve ever had at 35 miles an hour.

 

Now there’s only one question, can the Gear Up handle eastern Kentucky adventure trails?

 

 

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VUZ LED Reflective Safety Vest: Be Seen

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The first weekend in November came and went, and Daylight Savings Time went along with it; and now the dark times are upon us… This is that time of the year that I’m commuting to work in the dark, only to leave work and ride home in the dark. The longer I ride, the more I’ve made it a point to “be seen” as much as possible, hoping that will keep inattentive drivers from pulling out in front of me or running me over while I’m sitting at a red light. A few weeks ago I stumbled across VUZ Moto on Instagram (pronounced “Voose”); turns out they make a Hi-Viz vest including LED lights that may help me in that endeavor so I sent them a message. I’ve been testing the VUZ Reflective Safety Vest for around two months now and I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve seen.

 

First Impressions

Out of the box the vest material is very light in the hand and the reflective panels are some of the most substantial I’ve seen. VUZ Vest MotoADVRThe vest has really wide reflective panels across the chest with accent panels along the shoulders. The rear of the vest has matching back and shoulder stripes along with two sizeable vertical panels that should be very visible from the flanks. Attaching the controller cable is really self-explanatory and the battery already had a little bit of a charge out of the box. I was immediately struck by how bright the LEDs were; the 6 front LEDs are an unbelievable bright white, while the back has an additional 4 LEDs in red. Per the instruction sheet, the LED controller has five settings, front-only, rear-only, front and rear, strobe, and off. Standing in my kitchen testing out the lights, I figured the strobe setting might be a little over the top during a night ride, but I’ll touch more on that in a minute. The vest dons easily, with lateral “stretch” material that helps cinch the vest over your motorcycle jacket. The front zipper is a little small when compared to a motorcycle jacket main zipper, but it operates smoothly and you can still find it with a gloved hand. I had to put the vest on a few times to realize there is also an exterior zipper pocket available on the lower right side. The inside pocket is really only meant for the LED controller, but the exterior pocket is large enough to store your cell phone.

 

Road Testing

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Unlike some of the competitor’s heavier construction, the VUZ vest doesn’t set out to offer additional crash protection, so much as to grab people’s attention. The material is actually 50D Waterproof Polyester along with an inner mesh liner; it’s thin and very light weight, and is intended to be form fitting to reduce drag. Initially I was a little concerned about the vest trapping heat in, but on an 80°F afternoon, I was pretty impressed with how well it breathed; it’s actually quite comfortable in mesh gear on a hot day, although I suspect you’ll want to make sure you keep rolling on the hottest summer days.

Considering it’s now very much fall, the temperatures have been falling and I’ve spent a lot more time wearing the vest over my new Icon DKR Jacket. Despite the fact the vest is a little oversized, it fits over the DKR jacket nicely as it’s a bit more bulky than my old Rainier jacket. More impressively, the material doesn’t fill up with air, flap in the wind at high speeds, nor does it take up extra room in my mirrors, something I can’t say for my rain suit most days. That said, with the expandable lateral material, you’ll want to follow the size chart and order a vest that fits a little closer to your size (I have an XL, I probably need a size smaller).

Initially I figured I would only use the red LED lights on the back of the vest when riding, just to ensure that drivers see me sitting idle in traffic. It wasn’t long before I found myself riding in the cold rain that I recognized the value of the front lights.DCIM142GOPRO Commuting around the city I figured it was a good idea to turn on the front LED lights in addition to the rear in order to attract more attention to myself in the hustle and bustle of rainy stop and go traffic. Per my previous comments, I was reluctant to engage the strobe setting at night, assuming the flash and reflection off the bike would get irritating, if not distracting while riding. That might be true on a clear day, but on my way home from the office last week the skies opened up. The temperature was somewhere in the 40’s and it seemed like everyone headed home at rush-hour had completely forgot what it was like to drive in the rain. As folks started to get “dodgey” I flipped the VUZ Vest LEDs to full strobe and merged onto the highway. Considering the bright “sheen” on all of the wet surfaces, I really didn’t notice the pulsing reflection of the strobe lights. Just moments after engaging the strobes, I noticed a car up ahead of me start to pull into my lane; just that instant I could see that they recognized the crazy Christmas lights headed right for them and dove back into their lane and refused to move until I passed by. “Bright lights save lives” apparently.

 

Closing Thoughts

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I recognize that Hi-Viz gear is not for everyone, but the first word out of someone’s mouth right after they pull out in front of a motorcycle is: “I never saw them”, I’m of the mindset that it’s worth the extra effort to be seen, especially if you want to survive this somewhat dangerous hobby. Needless to say I’m a big fan of rally orange and Hi-Viz yellow, but when the sun goes down, these big reflective panels are exactly what I’m looking for; the LED lights are an added bonus.

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I’ve spoken with Ryan from VUZ Moto several times in recent days; as of this moment standard black with reflective panels is the only model available, but VUZ will consider adopting other Hi-Viz colors if there is sufficient customer pressure. Personally I think they can get a leg up on the competition by adding a little modern twist on the old “construction worker” thing that you usually find in retail motorcycle stores.

VUZ Vest Front MotoADVRThe Reflective Safety Vest will run you about $70 (delivered; free shipping to the lower 48 states) and comes in sizes Medium through XL, ranging chest sizes from 45 to 48 inches (measured over the jacket). $70 might seem expensive at first glance, but looking at the other safety vests on the market, they tend to run $50 or more, most of which are bulky Mil-spec vests that don’t offer additional LED lighting. Along with the safety vest, southern California based VUZ Moto also carries a number of other motorcycle accessories from luggage to motorcycle covers; more information at www.vuzmoto.com.

Posted in Gear and Safety | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments