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October 26, 2018

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Ride to Indiana and Reviews

July 17, 2020

I’ve not been back long from a ride on my Bonnie north from central Florida to attend and cover for Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Magazine the VJMC’s National Rally, held this year in southern Indiana. Getting on the road again was a nice break from sitting here in front of the computer after many events had been cancelled because of the pandemic. The ride also gave me a chance to test some new kit I had bought, a new set of tires, and my repaired Forma Adventure Boots, a tent, new set of tires, and new progressive fork springs.

 

The rally was held again at Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, one of my favorite venues, as I had camped on weekends back in my youth with my family, Mitchell being just a couple hundred miles from my home in Niles, Michigan. Not only did Spring Mill offer a chance to revisit nice memories, it is fairly close to the Ohio River and quite hilly, making for good riding up and over hills, through forests, and between fields of corn just about “knee high by the fourth of July.”

 

First off, the new kit I had bought, taking advantage of some bargains offered during the shutdown and pandemic, was a set composed of a Darien Jacket and a pair of Darien Light pants. While I am a firm believer in buying what you can at the time and not letting having perhaps cheap gear keep you off the road, sometimes buying the best turns out cheaper in the end when you buy really good gear. And that is the case with Aerostich riding apparel. While I got by for ten years wearing cheaper suits, the stuff wore out quickly, and the last set I had had been repaired multiple times and was due for more repairs. When Aerostich sent me an email with an offer of twenty-five percent off gift certificates; I gifted myself with one sufficient to cover the cost at 25% off a Darien jacket. This jacket, most likely, will be the riding jacket until I can ride no more. I figured I’d better leap at this offer when I had the chance, because finding the $700 or so later for a full-priced jacket may be out of reach for a very long time. For pants I could make do with my Sliders (second pair and now unavailable) until I could swing a matching pair of Darien pants at a more reachable $500 or so later on.

 

As luck would have it, though, I was chatting via email with Ron Davis (Associate Editor at BMW Owners News and author of Shiny Side Up) and mentioned my new purchase. Ron asked me what size I was. I asked why, and he told me he had a pair of Darien Light pants he may have worn twice but which had been replaced by a new Aerostich Brother Jeremy outfit and that he would probably never wear again. Heck, I’m flexible, the “Light” version would suit me just as well. It turned out the pants were exactly my size, and the asking price?—$150. So, in the end I got a complete suit for about half of what I would have paid regularly. And everything got to me before I left for Indiana.

 

The other thing that had happened was, as I was climbing onto my T100 for a ride a couple weeks before to Virginia to visit with my brother for a couple days, the sole simply fell off my trusty Formas! (I spent a miserable ride in torrential downpours with wet feet on that trip in an old retired pair of touring boots.) Now, I can’t blame Forma, as these boots were well, very well, past their warranty period and had seen many miles of hard use. I emailed them to see if I could get them to reattach the soles, which otherwise were good as new, just as were the boots themselves. While waiting for a reply from Forma, I came across a website offering MX boot repair along with a video showing how they did it. After watching the video (click to see video) and seeing their careful work, first removing old glue from boots and soles, roughing up the boot and surface of the sole to be attached to the boot, and then their process of vacuum bagging the boot and sole together for a perfect seamless rejoining, I was sold. Instead of waiting to hear back from Forma, I shipped the boots of to mxbootrepair.com. I have to say here, the cost of shipping far exceeded the cost of having the soles reattached. Getting the soles reattached was only $25 per boot, but getting the boots to MX Boot Repair cost me $60 (partly due to a packaging screwup on my end). Getting the boot back was much less; as I recall around $30.

 

Another bit of kit I got before leaving was a nice REI “Groundbreaker II” two-person tent for a reasonable $79. Usually I buy  cheap Walmart or Rural King $25 dome tents and just replace them after a couple seasons, but I wanted to see how much better, if at all, the tent from a more respected brand would compare.

 

On the bike, while doing regular pre-ride maintenance on the Bonneville, I had replaced the fork oil and the original springs with progressives from Ikon, and this trip would be my first opportunity to see how they performed.

 

Finally, I had also just put on a new set of Shinko 804/805 tires on the Bonnie and I had left home with zero miles on them. This was the third set of these I have installed on the bike. I’ll give you the rundown and thoughts on them later.

 

So, back to the ride. I left early a couple days before the event and had torrential rain through Florida and Georgia, and the rain lasted almost to the gate of the place I stopped for the night in Ephesus, Georgia, at David and Emmy Woodburn’s, also known as “Barnsley Motor Werks.”

 

I had met David and Emmy through a mutual friend and author when they were at Barber Vintage Festival a couple years ago. My friend, Sam, mentioned that David and Emmy had ridden their sidecar rig from the Philippines with their infant daughter onboard overland to the UK, and through Africa as well, and that David had a great story to write. David ended up going with another publisher, but I was glad to share ideas and give what advice I could. This year, David had gotten quite a lot done on the manuscript and while enjoying a great meal on this trip, we sat and discussed it and  David read me passages so I could give him my input. David does great work on, mainly vintage from what I could see scattered around his place, BMW motorcycles. We had a great evening of wine and conversation before hitting the sheets for an early departure the final push the nest day to Mitchell, some 500 miles further on. I was offered a room, so no test of the tent that night.

 

The next day I had more rain, but by the time I got across the Ohio River, in mid-afternoon, it had dried out. There is a small road called IN 66 that runs for a while more or less east along the north shore of the big river with matching curves as the river wound its way to the west and its meeting with the Mississippi. The road turned then north through the Hoosier National Forest until it eventually met up with IN 237, then 37, the direct route to Mitchell. The curves there were interesting and different than what I had become used to in the Appalachians. Instead of giant elevation there were many hillocks, meaning you would ride up quickly and crest one when maybe the next curve would immediately take you right or left to the next bump, rise, turn, and on and on. You had to pay special attention because you could not see what was beyond each rise and if you had too much speed on, you might be surprised by a turn that might be a big challenge to make, not to mention the gravel often kicked up from the side of each curve. It was boisterous good fun ,and I had a smile on my face all the way to Route 37.

 

The rally was the usual great fun, with the chance to meet other members and take part in some group riding. The rain held off for most of the weekend, with e exception of Saturday evening while we were all dining together in the Spring Mill Inn, when it came down in buckets, but only for a half hour or so. I was lucky to have chatted up some hikers earlier who were returning to the campground, , yes, they would go zip up my tent’s front window I had forgotten about earlier, although I had thought ahead and moved its location ever so lightly to get it clear of an obvious rain run-off pathway.

 

Sunday, I left for South Bend, Indiana, where my best friend from high school lives, for a couple days of hanging out, reminiscing, and talking about life over a few beers. I figured I was only a couple hundred miles away, I should take the opportunity and see Joe, who I only get to visit with every couple years. It would only cost me a couple extra days. While there, I took a couple hours to ride up into Michigan past our old house and high school and out westward toward the next county just using intuition to find my way back to Joe’s in the afternoon. I managed to not get lost and found Joe’s with a minimum of fuss (perhaps my memories were clearer than I thought). At Joe’s the tent also stayed packed.

 

The ride up to Mitchell had been exhausting doing it in only two days, so I left Joe’s with the aim to extend my return journey by a day and making two stops on the way home. I left Joe’s on a Tuesday and headed to a place I had camped before in southern Ohio, near the big river and a little town named Peebles. I knew the place did not have food or drinks, so I stopped on the way and bought a couple huge cans of beer and a ready-made sandwich at a grocery store. I had just downed both when a fellow rolled up in a gold cart to chat about the bike. We got on well, and when he got ready to go back to his semi-permanent trailer he had parked there, he asked if I wanted to have a couple beers. Well, I’m not turning that down! He rode on, and in a few minutes, I walked over to his trailer, just steps away from my campsite. He offered me a comfortable chair next to his with a view into the surrounding woods while  we popped the lids on the first of many beers, and the conversation ensued. Eventually, he asked if I was hungry. His wife had not come down for the weekend with him, and he didn’t want to cook just for himself; well, what could I say? So, I had my second dinner and more beer. We had a lot in common, and the talk flowed effortlessly. The next thing I knew the clock had almost struck midnight, and I said my good nights and thank yous for the good food and company.

 

In the morning, the aim was to get to Tellico Plains in Tennessee, where the west end of the Cherohala Skyway deposits its riders and there are a couple “made for riders” campground handy. Friends I had made at a Horizons Unlimited meeting in North Carolina, and who lived in the area, had told me about one they particularly liked and at which they often stayed on weekends and for riders’ gatherings. I had stayed at another one in Tellico before, so I thought this time I’d check out the one they had recommended—Cherohola Mountain Trails Campground. I found it after not too much trouble, as it was a bit up a side road (TN 39) from the center of Tellico Plains. What I found there was delightful, with lots of camping space on soft grass beside a creek, small cabins scattered about in the middle, and room for RVs closer to the main building. I registered with the friendly hosts and mentioned my friend who camped there often and was told I was just going to miss her as she should be arriving the next day. This was the week of Independence Day, so I thought I might see her and some of my other friends, as many had at least some of the week off. Oh well, I though, close; maybe next time. I quickly dropped off my bag at the picnic table at my spot and ran back into town for Mexican food at a new place recommended by my hosts. The food was inexpensive and tasty and there was plenty of it. I rode back weighing slightly more than when I had left.

 

Back at camp I broke out the tent. This would be my last night in it, so I can include its review here. Putting it up is super easy and I found it took less time to actually pitch it than to pull all the stuff out of my dry bag that I keep on the pillion. Unlike my cheaper tents, this one did not have a sleeve you have to maneuver the poles through but, rather, hooks to hang it form the poles. There was no awkward lifting the entire tent while standing up the poles like with my others. Instead, you simply laid the tent down (I might mention here this tent has no “bathtub of floor material, so a footprint is needed; I had bought a cheap tarp in Mitchell to this end), put the poles in each corner, lifted the poles into place by themselves, then simply lifted each hook into place along the poles with a large hook at the crossing point of the poles. That’s it: self-standing at that point. The fly takes just one pole across its width inserted into pockets then connected to the big hook in the center. Then each corner has a strap that hooks to where the tent corners are also connected. It takes all of three minutes to put it up! Also, this tent has a mesh top under the fly and a window on one side with a zippered and netted opening, and on the door as well, making for good ventilation. The door and window are tucked enough under the fly the mild rain presents no problem getting in with the window unzipped. The tent is really a one man, but perfect for me camping alone; it is rectangular in shape instead of square like my others and provides just enough room on one side for my sleeping pad and bag (although on this trip it was warm enough I only slept in my bag liner) while there is enough room left beside me to store my boots, riding clothes, tank bag, etc. I camped in the tent five of the nine days on this ride, and in spite of the rain during the trip, it never got wet inside.

 

 The Groundbreaker II from REI. Shown here without footprint. It is free standing but can also be secured with stakes and lines.

 

The tent in a compression bag which will fit in the dry bag with my sleeping bag, bag liner, and sleeping  pad. The PVC tube contains the poles. I wrapped the ends with retro-reflective tape for visibility on the bike. I strap this across the front of my tail bag, allowing me to compress the tent itself.

 

Once I was set up I took some wet fire wood that had been left there  and tried to coax a campfire out of it (fire wood was free there, but I did not bother going to fetch dry wood). Other than initial flames from the gas I had sprinkled on it, the logs never caught, so I left it at that. As I was fiddling with it, though, and SUV pulled up next to my camp, and there was Annette, my friend from Horizons Unlimited! She had arrived a day early for the Fourth of July gathering. Night was gathering about us about that time, but I had an opportunity over coffee and muffins in the morning to have a proper chat with her before rolling out.

 

I can’t recommend this campground enough. The owners are very friendly and the tent space only set me back twelve bucks—and free coffee and rolls in the morning included! This is going to be a go-to spot when I am up in the area, and I plan to try to make one of the get-togethers Annette puts on there. (Link to Cherohala Mountain Trails Campground)

 

Valdosta, Georgia, just eighteen miles from the Florida state line was my next day’s stop. Another old high school friend lives there and teaches at nearby Valdosta State University, so I often try to stop by to see her, while stopping there also has the advantage of giving me a pretty easy day of riding (only about 200 miles) home the next, and final, day.

 

It was so good to see Julie. Even though we had to keep our distance a bit from each other, talking from six feet away, we had a great time catching up as we always do and some great steak and potatoes for dinner as well.

 

In the morning we were greeted by a minor catastrophe that held me up for an hour or so. Using the bathroom the night before had me worried I had messed up the works, but in the morning the toilet had returned to normal. But while checking it and starting to feel relieved, a shout came from the back of the house, where her brother roomed. The bathroom there had flooded, as did the bathroom near the garage and laundry we discovered. It turned out I had not been the cause (thank goodness!), but the septic system had overflowed and had to be pumped out, while we sopped up the overflow until things were reasonably dry. But by the time I left, the man had come and gone, and the pumping was done, so Julie was back in business again, although she had some more work on the system that would have to be done in the near future. Surprisingly, I had stayed completely dry throughout the whole episode, so I put on my gear again, and headed south from home, with a stop two-thirds of the way down to have lunch with my son in Mount Dora, where he works as an EMT.

 

It was a dash along the Interstate until almost Ocala, when I got off the big highway and headed off to my son’s through the Ocala National Forest. A quick lunch with Jacob and I headed home, this time through the Green Swamp on FL 33, in an effort to avoid the worst traffic on US 27 (the more direct route).

 

By the time I was home there were more than 2,800 more miles on the ODO and the old Bonneville was fast approaching 100,000 at a bit more than 98,000 showing. The bike has proven a reliable mount and runs better now than when I bought it in 2012 with a bit over 3,000 miles on it. In all those miles I had only had to replace the rear brake light switch—the only non-maintenance or customizing work I had done on the bike.

 

So, how’d everything do?

 

Well, I told you about the tent. The tires, as had the last two sets, performed flawlessly and even gave me the chance to ride a little gravel when out on my joy ride to Michigan. When I ride, I am mainly on pavement, but if something comes along, like a hard-packed forest road or a gravel backroad, I want to be able to ride it if desired. The Shinkos have proven to be great and actually a quiet tire on pavement considering they’re “knobbies,” with very little sacrifice in on-road performance. I’ve ridden Deal’s Gap and numbers of challenging roads with them and they stick almost the same as the stock Metzelers (or any of the other tires I’ve tried). Off pavement they perform brilliantly as well. And you’d think life would have been sacrificed with these “cheap” tires, but both changeovers got me almost 12,000 miles out of the fronts, and both rears could have been ridden several more thousand without getting too “skinny.” And all that for about half the price of Pirellis or Michelins.

 

 The previous set of Shinko 804 (front) 805 (rear) tires with 11.858 miles on them. Not bad.

 

I had installed Ikon basic shocks on my 1987 Suzuki GS550g a while back, which turned it into an entirely different machine, so I thought while changing out the fork oil I might as well try some progressive springs from Ikon. Installation was straightforward and easy (other than compressing the spring while trying to put the fork caps on). Roger Kirwin, from Ikon, suggested shortening the spacer quite a bit, but instead of messing with the stock steel ones, I made new ones out of heavy-walled PVC. The bike with them in seemed to be better “planted” when cornering, and I was pleasantlry surprised at the ride. If I was to do anything differently, I might shorten the spacer tube slightly more and install adjustable fork caps to give me a little more flexibility with pre-load adjustment. I may still do that. Overall, I am very pleased. (Link to Ikon America)

 

The Aerostich outfit performed flawlessly. This suit does not require you to stop and put in a liner when it starts raining; it is rainproof out of the box. Usually you do not even have to close any vents, other than the sleeve ends, unless it is pouring down in buckets. Then a simple tug on the underarm zippers and the two on the back seal it off completely. The only time I got any wetness inside (and it was a tiny patch on my chest behind the main zipper) is when I failed to zip the main zipper up to the top during a downpour. In all the other torrential rain I had ridden through I stayed completely dry!

 

At first, I thought this jacket/pants combo may be too hot, as I live in unusually hot and humid central Florida. Before this I usually wore mesh jackets and had to deal with stopping to zip in a rain liner before the rain came down and soaked me. This was always a tedious affair, and you better start well ahead of the oncoming rain or you might as well not do it. As far as heat, well, when stopped ANYTHING you were is going to make you hot when you are stopped and the Darien is no different. But with the ample ventilation openings and the ease of using them the flow through the jacket was impressive, the back vents did a good job of keeping the jacket from “ballooning” and letting the air through and out, and I could barely tell the difference between it and the mesh jacket It was probably slightly warmer than the mesh, but it was a very slight difference, and the trade off was well worth it. Really, in June in central Florida or Georgia you are going to be warm no matter what jacket you wear. The pants, however, I never felt hot in. The legs have full length zippers that can be opened while riding, which I tried once or twice but really didn’t need to, as I was comfortable with them closed. The armor was easy to attach in this gear (although I did not realize the back protector was extra, so I’ll be ordering that soon) and comfortable. The fabric was heavy and took the first full day to break in, but I suspect that thickness would come in handy in a slide on the tarmac. Everything about this stuff says “quality” and I am very happy with the suit, which I expect to wear the rest of my riding life. It was (a lot of) money well-spent, so if you can swing it, you won’t be sorry you have it.

 

The back of the Darien jacket showing the back and underarm zippers that are quite effective at moving cool(er) air around you.

 

Finally, the boots. The folks at MX Boot Repair were great, and as soon as they received the Adventures from me, they  gave me a call and a price. I could not believe they only charge $25 a boot to do this work. The boots, other than the flapping sole (and loose one on the other), were still like new and well worth the expense to fix them, rather than to replace them. The soles behaved like new and never showed any size of looseness, and actually seemed to solve the problem of a bit a lack of waterproofness that they had developed. My feet never got wet on the entire ride. While discussing what I wanted done to them during the phone call, I mentioned this ride was coming up and asked if it would be possible to get them back to me before I left (my jacket had arrived a day after my soaking ride to Virginia Beach). They said they’d try, and the boots showed up at my house two days before I was to leave! I can’t recommend them enough and getting a$270 boot repaired for about $100 (if I had not messed up when shipping them out) was well worth the expense for a pair of boot that should last tens of thousands more miles.

 

 

 

You can see here how well the soles have been re-attached and how little the sole had worn on these Formas.

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October 26, 2018

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