Monday, March 3, 2008

Touring on Motocycle

Touring bags for the Savage: Are You Yearning for Adventure On the Road?

Most Savage owners in the US don't use their bikes for touring. In Europe this may not be the case. With its reliability and its considerable carrying capacity (Gross Vehicle Weight 785 lbs less Vehicle weight 352 lbs equals 453 lbs), it makes a trusty pack mule - but it's not advertised or fitted out as a touring bike. The same joys of autonomy and agility which make motorcycling a pleasant way to commute to work can add special pleasure to riding roads through unknown territory, touring scenic wonders, meeting new people and exploring places of historic significance.

As an experienced, aging backpacker, I had a collection of packs, tents, sleeping bags, back country cookware, stoves and rain gear and have developed a packing "system" like most backpackers, organizing the items I pack into my big internal frame trail pack into compartments, one for my "house", one for my "bed", one my "kitchen", another my "bathroom", another my "closet", and the last my "study". Much of the equipment, the techniques and the philosophy of backpacking apply to and can be adapted to motorcycle touring and camping. Anyone who has often experienced the joys of wilderness hiking has learned means to deal with direct exposure to the elements, navigational and planning skills and has learned to operate within the limits of their own physical capability as well as that of their equipment, to expect and be ready to adapt to unforeseen events. For the prepared wilderness hiker, the discomforts, risks and fatigue involved in backpacking are easily outweighed by the rewards experienced on the trail. I apply this same philosophy to touring on my Savage. I just needed to figure out how to carry my "house" securely and safely on my bike, which I now consider to be my younger, stronger pair of legs.

Before I took my first long bike tour I bought a chromed steel rear baggage rack, one of few avage accessories Suzuki makes. Interestingly, the only other Savage accessories Suzuki sells - a windscreen, saddlebag brackets, saddlebags and a gel version of the seat, all lend the Savage to be used for touring. The baggage rack mounts on the rear handle base, is sturdy, rustproof and fairly easy to install and remove. I left mine on after touring season because it looks pretty good and lets me carry an extra item in back if the pillion seat is full using the same bungee net. In order to give me two more bungee cord anchors on each side of the bike, I bought and installed two 10 mm x 1.25 mm thread chromed "Bungee Nuts" to replace the top rear shock mount 17 mm cap nuts, and two 8 mm x 1.25 mm thread ones to replace the two 12 mm cap nuts at the front of each side handle. You can buy these from JC Whitney for $4.98 a pair (Item #s AGL061220X and AGL061221N). They don't look bad, and don't get in the way of the saddlebags.

Prior to my first long tour I also bought an expandable magnetic tank bag with a map holder. I use the tank bag to carry canned beverages, my cameras, road snacks, ibuprofen, sunblock, small clothing items like mesh gloves, fleece wristies and neck collar, my GPS unit, extra film, batteries, binoculars, flashlight, an extra set of keys, my digital pager, my weather radioWalkMan and some audio cassettes. You do have to be careful not to pack credit cards, floppy disks, digital camera memory cards and audio casettes low in the bottom of the tank bag near the magnets around the periphery of its base. In grand tour mode I use my small (5K) backpack on the pillion seat, its hip belt straps lead around the rear saddlebag mount and buckle behind the seat back. This is filled with my "kitchen", my "bathroom" and my "closet". My "house", a two man mountain tent with a rainfly and ground cloth, which may need to be packed wet, are carried rolled up and stuffed in a 12" diameter 20" long dry bag, held on top of the pack with a bungee net. The two make a fine backrest on long rides. A bigger 18" diameter 20" long dry bag carries my "bedroom", a sleeping bag, bag liner, air mattress and candle lantern, which must stay dry. It is carriedbehind the sissy bar on top of the rear rack held down by bunjees cords running from the rear rack over the bag and down to the front saddlebag frame bars. With this arrangement I can carry almost 100 lbs/45Kg of baggage securely, under waterproof cover on week long 1,500 mile bike camping trips.

The three rear bags share your slip stream, and the heaviest two are carried within the ideal motorcycle "cargo triangle" defined by lines drawn between the two wheel axles with the vertex at the rider's head. After using adjustable length dacron straps with snap comnectors as tie downs, I found heavy duty bungee cords of various lengths plus bungee nets to be more versatile as well as more reliable on the road. The trick is to anchor the bungee cords at opposing anchor points, pulling each of the three bags together, with a common traction vector focus at the base of the pillion seat handle. Did you know you can use a bungee net as a clothes dryer? Riding on sunny days, just weave your wet items over and under the net's strands and reposition your "laundry" under the net every half hour or so until they're dry, and then pack them away. It's good practice to do visual baggage position checks each time you scan your rear view mirrors, as well as reaching back once in a while to do a bag check with your fingers to confirm stability and centering, especially when starting off with newly loaded bags each day.

I've become a believer in waterproof outer shell touring bags rather than packing everything in plastic bags inside non- waterproof bags. The dry bags and the saddlebags are departures from my backpacking gear. In my compartmented packing system, the sixth "room" or "study", are my reading materials and laptop computer. A seventh "room" I take bike touring but not backpacking would be the "garage". My bike repair tools, extra parts, bike manual, tire pump and patch kit, goes in the other saddle bag along with my rain gear taken when I commute to work, in the same places. Things carried in the saddlebags are packed in small dry bags, as saddlebags are not reliably waterproof. (They seem to hold water, though!) Normally, I also use a waterproofed fanny pack as a fork bag, belted to the front of the triple clamp behind the windscreen. It's my "glove compartment", and part of my "commuter" setup along with my saddle bags. Their functions and contents remain pretty much the same when I loaded up for touring mode.

You can make hiking backpacks, tank bags and fanny packs quite waterproof by using 3M fabric water repellant spray. A less expensive pack fabric waterproofer is a clear household acrylic floor sealer. Just pour it in a Windex bottle and spray away. Apply it with the pack empty, and do both the inside and the outside surfaces. Two applications an hour apart should do it; it does not harm any pack fabric I've used it on, though it stiffens it, and it needs to be reapplied each trip, at least to the outside. No spray on waterproofer is going to fully waterproof exposed zippers and some seams on fabric bags in a heavy downpour, but it'll come darned close. I still put electronics and documents in plastic zip lock bags and sleeves which I carry in my fork bag and the tank bag. It helps protect and organize things, too.

One thing I'd advise you to get and try before for your first long trip is a throttle lock. This is a small plastic flange with a velcro strap and collar you fasten on the end of the right handlebar. It lets you hold a throttle position without having to grasp the handlelbar and still leaves room on the handlebar to brake and steer. No more numb fingers! Avoid fatigue and stiffness by staying "alive" on your bike, repositioning your butt, knees, feet, hands and shoulders with every turn and stop. Develop a sequnce of stretches and exercises you do every five or ten minutes on the long stretches. Stay mentally "alive" by singing aloud, butt dancing to the tunes on your head set or in your head and playing the old road spotter games you learned as a kid, like Alphabet, ROY G. BIV and Word Dominoes, before GameBoys, SUVs and rear seat VCRs were invented. I advocate ergonomics and exercise instead of gel and foam to fight numbness and cramps on long rides, and remain happy with my stock Savage grips and seat after 8,000 miles of touring.

Another part of your successful touring package is hydration underway. Remember, your body is part of the touring package and your cooling system needs as much attention as your bike's. You can use CamelBack units to handlebar beverage can holders to roadside fluid stops on the hour every hour, but you must have a system to replace your evaporative fluid loss of from two to as much as ten times as much as you'd lose standing still, depending on the weather, your clothing and your average speed. If you don't have to pee whenever you gas up, you're not drinking enough. And remember, you can't replace sweat with just water, unless you're eating salty snacks along with it. Gatorade and most sodas and juices are fine. Coffee plus alcohol invites electrolyte depletion and kidney stones. I have a habit of taking two 200 mg ibuprofen tablets, washing my face and hands and brushing my teeth at every gas stop, believing this supports my positive mental attitude as the miles slip by. "Touring" means you'll take the time to enjoy the people you meet, will stop to photograph unique or beautiful scenes and will pause to visit sites of significant historic interest along the way. You're "traveling" if you're just riding your motorcycle to get somewhere. And, you're a masochist if you are live for iron butt competitions, ride a BMW with a seven gallon tank, have installed a head-up display to read your GPS unit reflected in the windshield, use a Camelback for your fluid intake and a bladder catheter for your output.

As you load touring bags on your Savage you add to its mass. By adding to its mass, your braking distance, hill climbing, acceleration, cornering agility, gas mileage, oil consumption, brake pad and tire wear will all suffer to a degree. Although the Savage was not designed or marketed as a "touring" bike, it actually is a pretty darned good bike to tour with! Remember, the first plane to be flown across the Atlantic had one pilot, one wing, one engine, a one piece propeller and minimal instrumentation. In terms of crew, airframe, power plant, control surfaces and instrumentation it was elemental compared to aircraft which attempted earlier crossings and failed. The reason the Spirit of St. Louis succeeded was that it simply had fewer things to go wrong with it in the air. It also succeeded because it was flown by a pilot who had an intimate understanding of his plane's design and operation, and was a healthy, experienced aviator. The Savage's reliability and mechanical simplicity and the understressed, overbuilt nature of its engine and drive train makes your bike less likely to suffer breakdowns on the road than more complex, higher performance bikes. A Savage owner is also more likely to do his own service than the rider of nearly any other bike still being produced. He's more likely to understand his bike's construction and operation than riders of more complex bikes, more likely to carry the tools and parts needed to perform roadside repairs, and know how to use them. His familiarity with his bike means he notices malfunctions early, can troubleshoot the cause and make the adjustments or repairs needed to complete his trip successfully. "Lucky" Lindy was actually "Savvy" Lindy, flying a "Savage" of an airplane competing with the equivalent of Harleys, Ducatis and Triumphs. If you look at the people who do a lot of touring and do it successfully and enjoyably, season after season, they all have a "package". Their touring "package" consists of a reliable bike, a road repair kit plus parts, a centrally mounted arrangement of watertight touring bags, good navigation and planning skills, packing light, never pushing their bikes or their bodies, good wet weather gear, breakdown contingency plans, communications, credit cards and cash. A Savage can be the bike part of a good touring package as well as a BMW or a KLM, unless you're one of those thousand miles a day types compelled to cross the Australian outback or the steppes of Uzbekistan.

You don't need to buy custom made hardbody bracket mounted touring luggage. I don't think anybody makes them for the Savage anyway! With a couple good sized dry bags, a waterproof back pack and tank bag and some smaller dry bags to use inside your saddlebags, bungee cords and a bungee net to secure them and good wet weather riding gear, you are good to go. I mean like motorcycle camping from coast to coast, day after day, sunshine or showers good to go. Notice, I've not mentioned touring two up on the Savage. I wouldn't consider trying it. But, I can't think of a better bike for a couple to tour with than a couple of Savages! The neat thing about the dry bag back pack tank bag system is that after you've arrived at your destination and set up camp or you've settled into your motel or hotel, you've got this cool little chopper which, minus all the touring bags, lets you pass for a local (except for the plates) while you try the local canyon runs and make the local bike night scenes as though you lived there.

Fully loaded with my long tour camping gear, a full tank of gas, road snacks and fluids and fat old me, the bike's mass has nearly doubled, from 352 lbs to 650 lbs or more. The Savage is rated up to a gross vehicle weight of 785 lbs, with a max of 265 lbs on the front and 520 lbs on the rear. You should set the rear shock preload to the highest step and inflate the tires to the fully loaded pressures recommended by the tire manufacturer. If the shocks bottom out on dips you must lighten the load. Take a practice ride for a mile or two each time you add a new bag. Feel the tire tread and sidewalls at the end of each ride. If the sidewalls are warmer than the tread, you need more pressure. The tank bag takes a little getting used to, as it blocks your view of the speedometer. You can stick a little 2" convex mirror under the inside top edge of your windscreen, to let you still see the speedometer needle (upside down), the neutral light and at night, your high beam light. As you add gear it may lower the rear more than the front, and you may need to aim your headlight a little lower. If you ever ride at night fully loaded, the last thing you need is people flashing their high beams at you. Fully loaded and with the shocks preset to the highest notch and you in the saddle, both your front and rear suspension travel should be about 25% compressed. This means the rear wheel, which has 3.1" of travel, will have 2.3" more travel left. The front fork has 5.5" of travel, so loaded, it should have 4.1" left. You can't adjust the front fork spring preload, though you can change the springs. Ask a friend to watch and measure suspension position and travel while you lift up to unload and then maximally load each wheel. You can get a rough idea of this simply by lifting up on one end of the loaded bike as you straddle it, then sit in the saddle. And then, try to bottom the rear out with a butt bash and the front forks out with a forearm mash. If you think you have twice again as much compression travel left to absorb your bashes and mashes than you lose from fully extended when you just sit on the fully loaded bike, you're in the right ball park.

The bike's center of gravity will be higher and moved to the rear in fully loaded tour mode. It will definitely handle differently, especially in slow speed maneuvering and high speed braking. You'll find you need to start braking and gearing down earlier, coming into sharp turns and stops. You need to downshift earlier climbing hills. You definitely need to be aware of the need to slow your hand lever squeeze rate on the front brake, and wait for weight to shift forward to load the front tire before braking down. You are far more likely to lock up the front brake than the rear in touring mode, because you've doubled the bike's mass and thus the kinetic energy you have to stop, while you've increased front tire weighting and traction by a third or so.You should use more early rear wheel braking in touring mode because it bears proportionally more of the gross bike weight. As you get used to riding it loaded, you may be surprised to find the bike actually countersteers, banks and turns at speed easier and smoother than when lightly laden, if you learn to move your weight forward entering turns to get both tires gripping evenly as well as to hold a steady lean angle. "Carving" you can do, but"flicking" you can forget. Riding on unsurfaced roads might even seem easier with a full load, but be aware that you're a setup for for a front wheel lockup and a lowsider, front braking in a turn. You'll find high speed acceleration is hurt more than low speed pickup when fully loaded and, unless you're doing a lot of hills, gas mileage isn't actually affected that much. Depending on how tall your packs are, increasing the bike's lateral sail area and moving its center aft of the combined center of gravity, you will learn that the bow pressure wave of passing trucks can knock you off line, especially in a side wind, because the loaded bike acts more like a weathervane. You can only learn how the bike handles with its greater mass, more rear tire loading, raised center of gravity and increased lateral sail area by taking rides on it, as you add each loaded tour pack. Adjust for increased braking distance by pretending your're riding in the rain. After you nearly blow through an unexpectedly tight blind curve or two with your brakes smoking, you'll get the message.

The Savage's small 2.8 gallon gas tank is in my opinion, in most parts of the US, not a problem. If you can't find a restaurant or a scenic attraction near a gas station to stop at every 120 miles or so, you're not touring, you're traveling. Hey, want to know how to install a gas gauge on your Savage for under a dollar? Easy. Just get a wax china marker pen of a color contrasting with your tank paint. Every time you fill up with gas, look at the last three white numbers on the odometer, add 120, and write the sum down above the gas cap. That's about when you'll hit reserve. Way Cool! Know where the trip odometer goes? Yep, on the other side. When you start a trip, write the odometer reading down on the left hand side of the tank, opposite the gas cap. When you stop, write the odometer reading above that. Now, subtract the bottom number from the top one. That's your elapsed trip mileage. This affordable technology is at hand! If your tank bag is in the way, just write on the windscreen. If you don't have a windscreen, you probably won't be touring long.

If you must have a travel itinerary written out for every hour of every day on the road, if you must have the exact route highlighted on your map from start to finish before your can start off, if a thunderstorm, a herd of cattle or a holiday parade blocking your way is seen as a maddening delay, motorcycle touring is probably not for you. However, if you'd describe yourself as "re-orienting" rather than "lost", if you love stumbling on a place of unexpected beauty as much as one you anticipated, you enjoy the people you meet as much as the places you visit each day and you would consider any day spent on the road which starts with a good breakfast and ends with a good night's sleep to be a roaring success, you and your Savage can be part of a marvelous touring package.

Photos: 1. Starting off, fully loaded, Mason, New Hampshire. 2. Crossing Lincoln Gap, White Mountains, Vermont. 3. Top of Smugglers Notch, Stowe, Vermont. 4. On Lake Champlain ferry from Charlotte, VT to Westport, NY. Happy Trails - and Keep the Butyl Beneath. Savvyge

suggested touring references on the web:

(Jim Canfield, 2004)

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