Category Archives for "Gear Reviews"

Jul 01

Drive-by Review: Shark RSR2 vs. Shoei X11

By kevin | Gear Reviews

My good riding pal Hal just got a Shark RSR2. Here are his initial impressions. More to come . . .

Got my new Shark RSR2 helmet the other day and have been wearing it around the house a bit. Here are my impressions so far, though I have yet to take a ride with it.

  • The build quality is as good or better than I have ever seen in a helmet. Outstanding finish quality.
  • The visors are 3mm thick. From now on everything else will seem flimsy.
  • The mirrored visor on the Shark is noticeably more tinted than the Shoei.
  • Removal and installation of the visor is simple enough. Not quite as easy as a Shoei, but almost.
  • There are no detents that hold the visor open. Instead, you adjust the tension on a little lever device on each side of the helmet. This means that you can open the visor just a tiny crack if you want. I hope this turns out to work well.
  • The visors have a small round hole on the bottom right side that fits over a rounded metal post attached to the helmet. This ensures that the visor stays down. When you want to lift the visor there is an indentation in the helmet below the metal post where you can work a gloved finger in to pull out slightly on the visor to lift it. Seems like it will work pretty well.
  • There are two vents in the front. The top vent has a big opening. Looks like it will let in a lot of air. Maybe lots of bugs too. The chin vent looks like it will work well. There is an exhaust vent at the top of the helmet that is integrated into the rear spoiler. All the vents can be operated with a gloved hand. The Shoei X11 has two top vents in the front. One just above the visor, and one on the crown. I’ve liked this arrangement. It will be interesting to see if I am happy with the Shark’s vents.
  • The RSR2 is noticeably lighter than the Shoei X11 when you are holding them in your hands. When they are on your head it is tough to tell the difference. However, it may be a difference that shows up after a long day of riding.
  • The helmet is slightly taller and wider than the Shoei. It simply looks bigger, though not necessarily in a bad way.
  • The fit: Feels a lot like my X11 except around the ears. Shoei has a nice cupped area for the ears. Frenchmen must have really small ears, because the Shark is very shallow in the ear pocket. I’ll either have to modify the padding, get another set of cheek pads, or hope like hell it breaks in without a lot of discomfort. Right now I have no idea how I am going to get my Scala Rider ear pocket speakers into the helmet.
  • All of the padding snaps out for easy cleaning. And the quality of the padding is first rate.
  • It looks like it will be easier to keep the Shark clean of bugs on the front of the helmet. The X11 has a bunch of places where bug guts seem to collect around the vents.
  • Underneath the inside padding the foam liner has ridges that are designed to crush and/or deform on impact. The Shoei has no such ridges, just a relatively smooth foam liner. This is probably one of the reasons the helmet is slightly larger than the Shoei. Does it work to lessen the impact to the head? Seems like it should.
  • The helmet came with tearoffs, and the visors come with the mounting posts for the tearoffs. I’m sure I’ll never use them, but the feature has a kind of coolness factor.

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Jun 14

Drive-by Review: Bead Rider butt saver

By kevin | Gear Reviews

Anyone who has ever ridden a new generation BMW K1200GT has tales of wonder and regard for nearly everything other than the saddle . . . which is truly awful, one of the worst in all of motorcycledom, and absolutely the worst in the class.

In the past I’ve gone immediately to having a custom saddle made, but for a bunch of reasons (I don’t feel like spending the money just now; it offends me to spend this much money on a bike and have such a rotten saddle) I decided to try some lower cost solutions.

First step was an Alaskan Leather sheepskin left over from a previous bike.  That helped, but not by much. 

Next step was the Taxi Driver’s best friend, a bunch of wooden beads.  The best solution for motorbikes is made by Bead Rider (the other choice is to hack your own).  The company offers two basic solutions, the old standby made of wood, and a newer version made of dead dinosaurs.  I chose the former.

The product itself is very nicely made wraps nicely around the edges of the seat.  Installation is challenging only if you can’t figure out how to get your seat off your bike.  The basic idea as I understand it is twofold: relieve all those nasty pressure points and 2) get some airflow under your butt (means more in hot weather).  I’m not sure I can explain all the technical reasons why the first is true, but I can tell you after putting about 500 miles on the rider, that it’s a vast improvement.

Riding around town isn’t enough of a test so I literally took it to the track where I taught the excellent ASS program offered by Puget Sound Safety. I move around on my saddle and hang off the bike a fair bit.  I’m sure someone will find the thought of this horrifying, but I found the beads were a terrific seating surface for this kind of riding, allowing me to slide across the saddle in quick transitions slick as could be.  The beads completely eliminate any up/down motion by the rider.

Finally, it was time to go long.  I saddled up the BMW and rode first to Baker City Oregon via a combination of highways and bi-ways with the same good results: Significantly less butt-ache and fewer pressure points.  From there, on to Winnemucca where I switched to a sheepskin pad backed by temperdic foam, the subject of another review.

So all in, I’ve put about 700 miles on the Rider and can say without a doubt it is a vast, vast improvement over the stock K-bike saddle.  There is no downside to owning the Bead Rider than I can see.  For the price, it’s an outstanding value and well worth trying.

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Mar 15

Drive-By Review: Gerbing 12V Hybrid Heated Insoles

By kevin | Gear Reviews

I’ve been a big fan and user of Gerbing heated gear since shortly after buying my first reentry bike.  I have one of nearly everything that they make, so it was a no-brainer to buy a set of their new heated insoles, particularly because i kind of loathe their socks.

Why do I loathe the socks?  Basically they’re standard socks into which a wire has been woven.  Getting things just right rates as a royal PITA, particularly after you’ve washed the socks.  The wire gets all bunched in the wrong places, which means they get round your toes, jammed into your toe box, and generally uncomfortable in close fitting boots.

So you can appreciate why I was keen to try the insoles . . .

We’ve all had cold feet sometime in our lives. We’re talking REAL cold. Not just wedding-day jitters. Cold, stiff, tender feet can turn any ride into a miserable one. But Gerbing’s Hybrid Heated Insoles are designed to deliver powerful, warming heat. And unlike the other heated insoles, ours provide heat over their entire surface area.

We’ll keep your feet toasty warm, on or off the bike. Because Gerbing’s Hybrid Heated Insoles are designed to connect to your other Gerbing’s Heated Gear, run them straight off your bike’s battery, or you can power them off one of our rechargeable lithium battery packs (optional).

Off I went on Friday the 13th no less for 300 or so miles of riding round the countryside, Gerbing gear head-to-toe, braced against temperatures that ranged in the early morning in the 27 to 32 degree range, and then blessedly into the 50’s later on.

What I Like

  • The insoles trim easily and slide into my boots easy as you please.
  • The coax wires are in the right place: They protrude into your arch and easily connect to the plug on my Gerbing pants.  Routing the wires so as not to chafe is easy.
  • No more of that hated wire-around-the-toe thing. Yes!

What I Don’t Like

  • If they work, I couldn’t tell.  There are warnings galore on the packaging about how hot they’ll get and how I need to turn them off immediately if they get too hot.  Well that didn’t happen.  I cooked my legs trying to get my feet to unfreeze, but never got to the point where I felt like me feet were warm, yet alone too hot.

Hmm.  So now I guess I’ll have to go do a science experiment and plug them in outside my boots and see if they heat up, try with the splitter vs. the pants as the connector, etc. etc.  Doesn’t sound like fun, but in the name of science I’ll give it a try.

But round one does not go to Gerbing.  This should be bone simple.  Plug them in, turn them on, feel the heat.  What else is there to know?

Stay tuned, but right now, these are not on my recommend list.

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Dec 24

Drive-By Review: TechSpec

By kevin | Gear Reviews

I put TechSpec on all my bikes.  I just don’t see how you can ride a modern performance-oriented bike without the ability to get a solid grip on your tank.  I include sport bikes, naked bikes, sport touring bike, and adventure bikes in this category.  So on it went to my K1200GT.

The material is black synthetic rubber with what the manufacturer calls a “snake skin” pattern.   Super high friction, and yes over time it will scuff up your riding pants.

I didn’t photograph the installation but it’s bog simple.

  • Clean the surface with rubbing alcohol or similar. Clean your hands while you’re at it.
  • Test position the panel.  Assuming you have a pre-cut kit, it’s pretty obvious where it goes.
  • Grab a hair dryer and warm up the surface you’re going to stick the panel on.  It needs to be 70 degrees F at least.  While you’re at it, periodically hit the TechSpec panel to warm it up.
  • When you’re ready, peel half the back off the panel.  This is harder than it seems: mostly you need to make sure you’re peeling the paper backing instead of the adhesive layer.
  • Tack the TechSpec panel to the tank using a corner and be sure it’s where you want it. Work the panel with your fingers until you get close to the remaining paper backing. Peel that and keep pushing the TechSpec onto the tank. I just keep pushing at it with my fingers to make sure it’s 100% attached. 
  • Repeat with the other panels.

That’s really it.  Bone simple.  There are other solutions on the market, but this is by far the best.  I bought mine from Pirate’s Lair.

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Dec 22

Drive-By Review: Bags Connection Engage Bag Installation

By kevin | Gear Reviews

I’ve tried most forms of tank bags . . . this was my first go at the very clever ring-mounted “Engage” bag by Bags Connection (bought mine from Pirate’s Lair).  For those not familiar, the bag itself attached to the bike via a plastic horseshoe shaped ring that joins up with a mate that’s attached to the ring around the fuel door.  The advantages?

  • The bag doesn’t touch the tank, sparing the paint all manner of abuse.
  • The bad comes on and off, literally, with a snap.  No more fuss and bother.  Off. On.

Here’s the step-by-step installation on my K1200GT.

Start by removing the screws holding the filler door to the tank.  Don’t worry, there’s nothing that will fall through.  Just back them out.

You only want to take out half of them, which half will be obvious when you hold the mounting ring up against your tank.

The ring that attaches to the tank looks just like a horseshoe.  It’s made of plastic (strong looking stuff).  The trim ring is metal. 

It’s not clear to me that you need the metal ring, but I mounted it.  The kit comes with screws of two lengths, so use the long ones if you use the trim ring.

Here’s what it looks like mounted (above too) with the mated part you’ll attach to the bottom of your bag.

And again.  The spring-loaded pull pin at the top is the key to looking the bag in place.

This is the tricky part.  Place the bag on top of the mated up connectors.  Move the bag north and south to get it where you want it. 

I wanted to be sure to clear my Zumo, so I moved it back from full forward about an inch.  The way to mark this is by sliding a piece of masking tape up under the bag while it’s in place. It’s a pain and you’ll need to fiddle and experiment a little until you commit to drilling the four holes you’ll need to screw the bracket to the bag.

Here’s the bag in place from my view in the saddle.

I’ll do a ride report, but for now I can say with confidence . . .

The installation isn’t difficult. Whatever time it takes you you’ll get back on your first long ride not having to fiddle the bag on and off every time you stop for gas.

  • The bag itself is very clever, well-thought out, and beautifully made.
  • At first I thought it was too small.  Then I decided I should just carry less stuff.
  • If for some reason I want to carry more stuff, there are lots of other bags you can buy that mount up to the same ring.  Cool.
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Dec 18

Protect Your Radar Detector

By kevin | Gear Reviews

A recent posting about Legal Speeding’s excellent (at least as far as I’m concerned) H.A.R.D. system reminds me that one of the devilish bits about running a Valentine-1 or other top line radar detector is keeping the darned thing tucked in against the elements.  There are a number of solutions out there, all of which I find to be some combination of too expensive, too clunky, or too boring.  My solution is a plastic storage container in the sandwich end of things–tons of companies make them. 

I use a ram mount and plate to mount my V-1, so here’s how it works.

  1. Cut a hole in the middle of the cover: The red thing in my picture.  Make it big enough to pass the Ram Ball through.  Put another smaller hole somewhere else in the bottom through which you’ll pass the power cord.
  2. Pass the Ram Ball through the cover and attach to the arm.  So now the cover is below the Ram Mount and above the arm.  It can spin but won’t go anywhere.
  3. Mount up the Radar Detector, and if you use it, H.A.R.D. sender unit. I velcro the sender to the V-1 on the side.
  4. Pull the Power Cord through the second hole and attach.  I cover over the hole from the inside with Duct Tape.
  5. Turn on the Radar Detector.
  6. Snap the clear “bottom” on top. 

It’s now as weatherproof as it needs to be. No water gets in from the top or sides.  If you’ve put tape over the cord hole, nothing gets in that way either.  The hole the mount goes through is blocked by the Ram Plate. 

If your power cord is wired to the ignition, there’s nothing left to do.  If not, when you stop for gas, pry open the container and turn off your Radar Detector.

It’s about as foolproof as it gets.  If you screw up somehow, these containers cost nearly nothing so you’re out less than the cost of a latte.  In the kind of weather where this makes sense, there are no overheating issues.  When it’s sunny and blazing hot . . . well you wouldn’t be worried about rain protection then, would you?

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Dec 14

Drive-by Review: Destination Highways

By kevin | Gear Reviews

I’ve been a huge fan of the most excellent Destination Highways Guide to Washington.  Brian Bosworth and Mike Sanders are certifiable motorcycle junkies and pour themselves into writing these guides.  Gear and books have a way of finding me in startling amounts and I can say with certainty I’ve bought and read all, or nearly all, of the maps, books, and guides available for western roads.  Save yourself the trouble.  If you ride in Washington, and now Northern California and BC, buy these.  The level of detail is beyond belief, rating roads according to . . .

  • Twistiness
  • Pavement quality
  • Engineering
  • Remoteness
  • Scenery
  • Character

Add in useful amounts of information about lodging, eating, camping, dealerships, and pretty much anything else you want to know, and you’ve got the perfect motorcycling guidebook.

I had the opportunity to meet Brian at the recent Seattle Motorcycle show.  Great guy.  Bought the new BC and NC guide along with the new folding maps while I was at it.

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Dec 14

Drive-by Review: Zumo Mount for K1200GT

By kevin | Gear Reviews

Hail BMW.  Bikes like the K1200GT beg to go long, which means you need someplace to put your GPS and probably a Radar Detector.  And likely more than that.

I loved my FJR, but locating, yet alone wiring up farkles, was a major PITA.  So count me thrilled with the fact that BWM makes a GPS mounting bracket that snugs right between the bars.  I looked at all the other solutions out there, and was briefly tempted by what Touratech offers (good luck finding it online, it’s in the “Street” catalog), but in the end, I think this is a mighty slick solution.  I give it a 10

In terms of orientation, the Zumo sits on the left/right centerline of the yoke.  The face of the Zumo is slightly above the grips.  So if you put a ruler across the grips, it would go through the body of the Zumo laterally. The fact is probably 40 – 45 degrees from full horizontal.  So with a small tank bag, you would probably not have to lean forward to see it.  With a large tank bag you would . . . unless you’re built like a giraffe!

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Dec 14

Drive By Review: Perfect Switch BMW Mirror Posts

By kevin | Gear Reviews

I just took delivery of a 2008 K1200GT, a bike that begs for every sort of farkle in the book.  Blessedly, BMW mounts the mirrors on the fairing leaving open the mirror post holes for alternative uses.  One logical choice is a Techmount.  I’ve bought probably half a dozen of these over the years and as much as I want to love them, I just don’t.

A better solution in my book is a very nicely machined post made in small quantities by Perfect Switch.  Add a 1/4 threaded Ram ball and you’re ready for whatever you care to mount.

For me, it’s the ideal solution to placing my Valentine 1 right in my line of sight.  I give this doodad a 10.

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Jul 17

Drive-by Review: Underarmour heat gear

By kevin | Gear Reviews

I may be the last one to this parade, but I finally discovered the joys of underamour heat gear / compression gear. Those are a lot of words: Here’s what they mean.

Compression gear: I’ve been peripherally aware of the idea of compression gear most of my life from closely studying the Sears Catalog as a kid. Back then they were called girdles and women wore them. They were in the section right after the bras. I know this for a fact.

More recently, compressive gear has rocketed to semi-popular attention with the release of the revolutionary new speedo lzr racer swimsuit.

Basically the idea is this. When you start to tire, your muscle tone begins to fail. Muscles have to work harder to fire which makes you even more tired. Bad things happen. In the swimming pool, that idea is enhanced with a related idea which is selective reshaping of the body to improve fluid dynamics. Another discussion.

For the past year or so I’ve been wearing a pair of Andiamo Padded Skins under my riding gear. According to the blurbosity . . .

Padded Skin is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to sitting in the saddle all day on a motorcycle. Sweaty underwear is a thing of the past when you put on an Andiamo! Padded Skin because the Hydrotech coated polyester fabric transports moisture away from your skin keeping you drier and cleaner! The chafe free padded liner provides additional comfort and support and all seams are flat stitched for additional comfort. You’ll never wear cotton underwear on a ride again.

Actually the last part isn’t true. On a recent epic ride I did wear a pair of cotton briefs one day and I was as miserable as I could be. Never again. The Andiamo shorts perform as advertised: more comfort, no sweating, no monkey butt.

More recently, I was teaching a track day and noticed one of my fellow instructors standing around between sessions in what looked like long underwear . . . in 90 degree weather. What!!!! Well it turns out he was cool as a cucumber under his gear and the rest of us were dying. Which gets to the part about “heat gear.”

It turns out that the Heat Gear Underarmour fabric is both UV resistant and a superior moisture transport system. It’s uncanny stuff. If you can get any sort of airflow at all across the gear, the cooling effect is astounding: Much better than if you’re not wearing it.

So I bought some. Actually I bought a lot: tops and bottoms, short, medium and long. While I have yet to test the short stuff I’m ready to call the ball: Don’t waste your money: go straight for the long leggings and the long-sleeved top.

I tested my new gear recently on a 300 mile ride from Seattle, across the mountains to Leavenworth, and then home. I started the day in the seventies, got down to the low 60s in the mountains, up to the mid 90s on the other side, and then full cycle. It’s the real deal.

Putting the stuff on is a bit of a chore. You want it to fit tight. Once its one, it feels great. Every muscle from ankle to wrist to collarbone is under light compression and completely supported. The feeling doesn’t go away. I often get knotty muscles down the right side of my back when I ride long distances. Not this time.

When the temperatures got cool, I just cut off the airflow through my gear. Under those conditions, the underarmour is just like lightweight polypro. But once it heats up, even a small amount of airflow through my riding gear changed everything. It’s like the breeze enters through a vent and spreads up and down your entire body. Very cool in both senses of the word.

And like the Andiamo gear, there’s no monkey but. Your butt and private parts stay dry, vented, and comfortable.

It’s possible I’ll test the short pants and short sleeved shirt. It’s also possible I’ll give it away. The long stuff is just that good. Highly recommend.

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