Thursday, September 12, 2013

2013 Blogger to Blogger Tour - Epilogue and lessons learned

Copyright 2013 - Bob Leong
Of all the Tour posts, this is the one that I wasn't  sure how to approach.

For all the other posts there was a story.  Each had a beginning, a middle and an end.  This one required that I provide the structure.

I'll start with a narrative to let you have my thoughts on what the Tour was for me, how it came to be, how I fitted myself into it, how it became real for me, how the experience changed me.  After that's out of the way, I'll tackle the practical side of touring on a Vespa.

Be warned, this is a long, long post.  It evolved almost to stand-alone book length.  I wonder if a publisher... enough of that foolishness.  Here we go.

It all started with a call from Bobskoot in October, 2012.  It went something like this: "Dave, it's Bob, Bob Leong.  Dave, I need to ride to the Atlantic ocean.  I'm going to go there next July.  I'll be going by your place, I'll pick you up and you can come along. You'll need to get a new bike though.  A Vespa GTS will be plenty.  Karen's coming too.  You'll have no trouble keeping up on a GTS..."

It was a lot to take in.  I knew there was much more to this than buying a new bike.  A lot more.  I also knew that I was ready for it.  It was exciting.  It was an honor to be invited.  Wow!

I won't cover all the preparations over again.  You can read the posts on the Tour in their chronological order.  They're in the 'Touring on a Vespa' page.

There was a lot to adjust to.  I had to ease my loved ones into accepting that this was something I could do without interfering unduly with their happiness.  I needed to get myself to the point where I was ready for the adventure, both practically in terms of equipment, and mentally.  Bob was great.  He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know.  He is also generous.  He gave me a stove, a sleeping bag, and a bunch of other odds and ends I needed.  He also provided advice.

I wasn't into being spoon fed though.  I'm self-reliant.  I did my own homework.  I approached the challenge methodically.  In the end I was ready when the time came.

Being ready for an adventure doesn't mean being relaxed about it. There were moments of doubt and apprehension. Fear of the unknown is overstating how I felt. The best way I can put it is to say that second thoughts would drift into my mind. 'I don't have to do this.' 'It's not too late to back out.' 'It makes more sense to go to Florida with Susan, Jonathan and Andrew.'

The tried and true, the familiar, the well-trodden path, radiate very strong gravitational fields that make it difficult for us to set a course to new experiences. To say that it takes courage overstates the challenge. It does take a certain determination to ignore the voices whispering how comfortable your rut is, and how dim and uncertain the new path seems to be.

'I did it!!'

That's where I am today.

Touring is now part of my vocabulary. It has gone from theory to practice. There is a real satisfaction earned from having accomplished what I set out to do many, many months ago.

From where I sit now, I have a fresh appreciation for the meaning of adventure.  Have a look at the post where I explored that idea. You'll see the seventh step alluding to a memento.  The mementos for my touring adventure were the rider profiles I collected.  The idea expanded to include all the riders I have met and had meaningful exchanges with about the meaning of riding.  You'll find the interviews on the 'Rider profiles' page.

Time to move from philosophy to reality, from theory to practice.

In no particular order (actually, that's a lie, I've tried hard to keep a logical progression going), here are my observations resulting from the Tour.

The Vespa GTS Super as a touring bike

Vespa motor scooters were initially designed for the realities of post-war Italy.  They are short-haul machines designed to get people from A to B, where streets are often extremely narrow, to do it in style, in comfort, and with the ability to park in even the smallest available space.

They certainly have evolved since then. The large frame Vespa GTS 300 that is the star of the Tour is a very capable and sophisticated motorcycle compared to early Vespas. It's a 154 kilo (325 pound), 278cc, four cycle, fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, four-valve, dual disc brake, continously variable transmission driven, halogen lit, wonder of a bike, with a top speed of 80 miles per hour, and that gets 65 miles to the gallon.

But can they tour?

The answer is a definite yes.  There are many examples.  You don't need to go any further than the information on this page to find stunning accounts.  Check out the links in the side bar.  There are certainly dozens of stories about cross-continental trips on Vespas, including the small-frame LX 150, not just the large frame GTS.

Vespas are true beasts of burden.  With front and rear racks they have all the capacity anyone could want to tour for weeks on end with all the necessary gear.  Here is a short video I made as I was leaving that shows what my Vespa looked like fully loaded for the Tour:
Is a Vespa, even a large-frame Vespa, a really good touring bike?  The answer to that question has to be "no".

The Vespa's strengths are also its touring weaknesses.

My Vespa is rated a 300cc bike even though its actual displacement is only 278cc.  That makes it very sprightly in the city, and a serious contender on urban expressways. But even a 300 GTS Super will top out at just under 100 km/h with strong headwinds or a long uphill climb in the mountains.  Then again, averaging 110 km/h (more than 65 mph) is not a problem at all.  I reached 127 km/h (78 mph) on the Tour.  That's pretty much where my Vespa topped out with a full load of camping gear.

The second weak suit is range.

Fuel capacity

The design of the Vespa dictates a small fuel tank (it's only nine liters).  That's fine in the city where fuel is plentiful.  Since it sips fuel (I averaged 65 mpg on the Tour), the Vespa's range if you were to ride efficiently and run it dry, is about 240 km (150 miles).  If you're riding with the throttle locked open, as I sometimes was, fuel economy declines, and along with that so does the effective range.

That means that if you tour on a Vespa, expect to stop often to refuel.

To avoid worrying about running out of gas, I carried a five liter jerry can.  It turned out I never needed it, but it was really nice to know that if I did run out of gas, I still had a five liter reserve.  I refueled from the gas can twice, just as a matter of convenience.

In the end, the lack of effective range wasn't a problem.  I was mostly riding in a severe heat wave, and I needed those breaks to stay properly hydrated.

Another weakness related to the sleek design of the bike is the location of that small fuel tank and its filler tube.  Those are located under the saddle.  The frequent refueling means taking off the gear that has been strapped to the passenger seat, and even removing the jerry can from the footwell rack to get the seat open.  The jerry can had to be removed because it prevented the seat from opening fully.  Quite a bit of exercise I would have liked to avoid four to five times a day.  On the flip side, the exercise was a good break from the saddle.

Classic Rack

I wanted to carry extra fuel. There were a number of options available.  The principal alternatives were i) carry extra fuel in one liter MSR bottles (these can be mounted in various ways using clamps to either the rear rack, or a front rack); ii) install one or more one gallon Rotopax gasoline containers (these can also be installed under the rear rack or on or under a front rack); or, iii) carry a jerry can in the footwell.

The first option is quite elegant, and not too pricey.  MSR bottles are about $30 a piece.  The metal band clamps are cheap.  To see what the clamps look like, and how to mount a bottle under the rear rack, check out the video I posted here, at the 1:00 minute mark.  The only issue is that you can't carry much more than two liters of extra fuel that way, which won't buy much in the way of extra range.

The Rotopax solution is a really good hard-core touring option.  The downside is that it's the most expensive option and requires some custom work to install the special mounting brackets, and I'd need to get a front rack.

I opted for the footwell approach.  To do that securely, I purchased a footwell rack from Classic Racks in the UK, specifically this one:
The rack is very sturdy.  It's a slightly more expensive solution  than the MSR bottle route, but has the advantage of being more versatile because it adds useable carrying capacity that can be useful for more than just fuel.  The actual jerry can I chose is a five liter can that is the cheapest container: under ten dollars.  The only additional cost was a set of ROK pack straps that securely hold the jerry can on the footwell.
The solution is not perfect of course.  The rub with the jerry can on a footwell rack, as mentioned earlier, is that the jerry can interferes with opening the saddle.  To open the saddle you have to remove the gasoline can.  It's one more irritant added to the re-fueling challenge.  The nice thing about carryng five liters of extra fuel is that you can push the Vespa's range without worrying that you'll get stranded.  Very comforting indeed.

If touring became an annual ritual, I would definitely spring for one or two of the one gallon Rotopax cans, one of which I'd install under a new Vespa OEM front rack.

Estimating distance capacity and ride limits

I'm not one of those folks who calculate their fuel economy.  It's one of those quirks that separates humanity into three camps.  Those that do, those that don't, and the humans on this planet who don't drive motor vehicles.

I also don't pay attention to how often I refuel.  The answer is 'too often', but was it last Wednesday... no, that was when I got my hair done... Tuesday?  That seems right but... Ah heck, I just can't be bothered to remember.

To make matters foggier, for the longest time I never even realized the Vespa had a low fuel light.  The first time it flickered freaked me out.  'What the heck...' was approximately my reaction.  I didn't even know if there was a reserve of fuel when the gauge hit 'E'.

That level of insouciance is fine, perhaps admirable, in an urban commuter, when you're never far from a gas station.  It doesn't take you long to realize that it won't do when you're touring.  'Do I stop for gas at this station, or press on?'  I wanted a better answer than 'I think I might be OK' or 'beats me'.  I was going to have a five liter reserve tank, but I realized that I still needed to get a grip on my useful range.

About five weeks before my scheduled departure I started logging my fuel consumption.  I wrote down the date, the odometer reading, and the amount of fuel added to the tank.  I also noted the odometer reading when the low fuel light came on.

By subtracting the capacity of the tank (nine liters), with a few weeks' data, I was able to determine the following key statistics for my bike:
  • The distance covered on a full tank until the low fuel light came on ranged from a low of 181 km (113 miles), to a high of 206 kms (128 miles);
  • Fuel economy ranged from a low of 64 mpg, to a high of 69 mpg.  Sorry folks, all these years later and I can't do fuel economy in metric.
  • Distance between refueling stops ranged from a low of 202 kms (126 miles) to a high of 227 kms (141 miles).
The high end of the ranges of the fuel economy numbers included commuting at lower speeds.  You can see the dramatic impact higher speed makes.  The longer distance in the range numbers was achieved mainly by ignoring the low fuel light and praying to the fuel gods to keep the motor running.  Throughout this testing I never actually ran the tank dry.  Perhaps I should have, if only in the interests of scientific investigation.  Me being me, I knew I had enough information to guide my touring and refueling behaviour, and enough, is enough.

The conclusion on absolute range, based on the numbers I collected, including using every drop in the tank, and every drop in the five liter jerry can, is a maximum of 412 kms (256 miles).  If you are willing to fill the tank to the brim, and run it dry, the maximum range is a low of 244 kms (152 miles) and a high of 265 kms (165 miles).

What I really wanted to know was the practical range.  No heroics, sometimes pressing on with the fuel light on, but never running dry, and never tapping into the jerry can reserve.

Here's my take on it, for a 2010 Vespa 300 i.e. Super: ride till the fuel light begins to flicker, make a mental note of the odometer reading, then stop at the next gas station.  That gas station should be in within the next 40 to 50 kilometers (25 to 30 miles).  If you miscalculate, you'll run dry in anywhere from another 32 to 38 kilometers (20 to 24 miles).  Practically speaking, from the moment the low fuel light begins to flicker you've got between 72 and 88 kilometers (45 and 54 miles) left before you run dry.

That was good enough for me.  It meant that I could count on refueling every 215 kilometers on average, or every 134 miles.  In more simple terms, it means refueling three to four times a day.

My estimates rang true on the road.  I refueled about three times a day.  I never ran the tank dry.  I needed the refueling breaks to stretch my legs.  It turns out that my human body has about the same range limitations as my Vespa.

Power outlets

A modern Vespa is not just about gasoline.  It's also about electricity.  Twelve volt power outlets are important ingredients for any motorbike that will be used for commuting.  I would say that they are esssential on a touring bike.  I say they are essential because you will want to make sure that your cell phone stays fully charged, particularly if you occasionally use it for navigation.  You will also want to have a dedicated GPS device.  Both my cell phone (an Apple iPhone 5) and my GPS (a Garmin Nuvi) are mounted on RAM mounts on the left and right mirror stalks.
I mounted my two power outlets on the left kneepad.  You can read about the installation here, and you can see the outlets and RAM mounts in use in the video I posted here.  The outlets are controlled by the Vespa's ignition and are therefore off when the ignition is off.  This ensures that the battery doesn't accidentally discharge when there are accessories left plugged-in when the scooter is parked.

Inline feed from the battery

This was a late addition.  It had been on my to-do list from the moment I got the GTS 300, but life kept getting in the way.  Much as I would have wanted to get underway bright and early on the departure day, I didn't feel comfortable leaving without having the inline feed in place.

I'm pretty sure that many readers have no clue what I am referring to at this point.

Let me clear that up.

As mentioned earlier, I installed dual 12 volt outlets on the left knee pad.  Those outlets are controlled by the ignition.  When the ignition is off, the outlets are off.  The magic that makes that possible is described in detail here.

I wanted to have a simple way to hook accessories directly to the battery.  Why?  Let's take two examples:
  • I wanted to be able to patch a tire to repair a flat.  So far so good.  I carry tubeless tire repair tools and patching materials in my toolkit.  Once the tire is patched, it needs to be filled.  That's where my compressor comes in.  I have a portable compressor that is designed to plug into a cigarette lighter socket.  I had attempted to use the compressor with my LX 150 via the ignition-switched 12 volt outlet, and I blew a fuse, and that took out other stuff, due to poor circuit planning.  Vowing that would never happen again, I followed the advice of members on ModernVespa.com and installed a line directly from the battery terminating in an SAE two-prong plug.  Here's an image:
    The plug just hangs loose just below the left-side cowl.  Once I had the line installed, I lopped off the cigarette connector on the compressor and installed an SAE plug.  Unless I installed a similar line on the GTS 300, I wouldn't be able to use the compressor, and wouldn't be able to fix a flat.
  • I also thought I might need to charge something (like my Sena headset) overnight.  I couldn't leave the ignition on much less leave the motor running.  I happened to have a reasonably long extension wire with dual 12 volt cigarette-type outlets.  So I lopped the male cigarette connector off that and installed an SAE plug.
  • Finally, when winter rolls around, I'll want to plug the battery into a battery tender.  Guess what kind of plug that has - yup, SAE also.
I'm not the world's most talented electrician.  That's why I kicked off my tour five hours later than I would have liked, at noon rather than seven a.m.

Did I need the battery line during my trip?  Of course not.  But if I hadn't installed it, you know I would have ended up needing it.  Life is like that.

Side stand scrapes

The Vespa side stand is no longer standard on the GTS, but remains available as an option.  My bike happens to have one.  The side stand is much maligned.  That said, it turns out to be really useful because it makes it much easier to mount and dismount a Vespa that is fully loaded for touring.  Find out why here.

The downside of the side stand is that it will scrape on tight left hand turns.  Now that will freak you out!  Find out about that here, and here.

Tall windscreen

I was lucky.  The Vespa I bought came very nicely equipped including three OEM Vespa windscreens.  Two mid-height screens (one painted black to match the bike, and one clear), and one tall screen.

I had been using the black mid-height screen for commuting.  For the 2013 Blogger to Blogger Tour I installed the tall screen.  I reasoned that I'd be traveling for very long stretches, hundreds of kilometers, meaning long days in the saddle.  I wanted to avoid bug splatter on my helmet, and minimize tiring wind blast on my upper body.
It turned out that my hunches were borne out.  I was able to ride with my visor open, did not have any bugs strike my face, the windscreen did however accumulate a lot of bug debris.  You can also see the windscreen in the departure video I took.  No need to hunt, it's here.

I had quite a lot of experience with windscreens on my Vespa LX 150.  There was a lot of trial and error before reaching a happy place.  You can read about that here, and here.  For this trip, I cut the tall windscreen down to just below my nose.  That turned out to be just the right height.  It's a Goldilocks story.

Recently I rode for a week without a screen.  That's fine on the bi-ways, but no fun at all on expressways.  Any speed over 95 km/h will cause serious neck and back strain.

Blind spot mirrors

These were a late addition.  I added them only after the first day of the Tour.  They have quite possibly the best cost-benefit ratio of any other change I have ever made to my bikes.
The cost: under five dollars.  The benefit: priceless.

It was lane changes on the Trans-Canada Highway that made me crave blind spot mirrors.  There is literally no margin for error on a bike, at 110 km/h, moving from the middle lane to the passing lane, or merging into the slow lane from a pit stop or an entrance ramp.  The two little blind spot mirrors do the trick, and without in any way interfering with the main view in the mirror that lets me see what's going on behind me in my lane and in the adjoining lanes.

Now that I have them, I'll never ride a bike without them.

Touring speeds

My Vespa GTS 300 i.e. Super can hit a maximum GPS verified speed of 127 km/h (79 mph) traveling on a level expressway with average headwinds.

My traveling companions were riding a Yamaha V-Star 650 and a BMW R1200R respectively.  The Vespa is obviously no match for those bikes.  They can out-accelerate the Vespa at speed and maintain cruising speeds well in excess of the Vespa.  Accelerating off the mark, the Vespa is hard for many motorcycles to match.  At least in the first hundred feet or so.

Our average touring speed was in the range of 105 km/h (65 mph) and there was never a moment, regardless of the highways we travelled on, that keeping up was a challenge for me.  In fact, when travelling alone on the first few days of the Tour and the last day of the Tour, I chose to travel  quite a bit faster on Interstates and Canadian expressways.

Maintaining a high rate of speed when you are touring means having to crank the throttle and keep it cranked for hours on end.  There are ways to make that easier and less tiring.

A few weeks before starting the Tour I spent less than $20 on a throttle lock. I can't imaging riding long distances without one.  The throttle lock is the device on the left.  The device on the right is a throttle rocker, which I didn't find useful and did not use on the Tour.
Aside from providing relief from the strain of holding the throttle open, the throttle lock is useful for those occasions when you are traveling at speed and you need to free up your right hand to do something (like adjusting your helmet for instance).

ATGATT

When I commute, I choose to wear armored gear from head to toe.  By that I mean the following:
  • A Nolan N-102 modular full-face helmet;
  • Either a Corazzo 5.0 or BMW Airflow armored textile jacket.  For the Tour I chose the BMW, and thank heaven I did because all eight days were H-O-T;
  • Either Tucano Urbano summer riding gloves (my choice for the Tour), or all leather riding gloves, or Icon Patrol gauntlets, in that order cool, normal, and warm + waterproof;
  • Tourmaster Caliber armored waterproof riding pants;
  • Icon Patrol riding boots.
I sometimes make exceptions by forgoing the armored pants (usually because I am meeting people and want to be dressed more appropriately for the occasion), but otherwise for me its ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time).

I had recently gotten into the habit of riding surface streets with my modular helmet open.  Seeing what happened to an MVer in the UK recently has convinced me to button the helmet up.  I can do without titanium plates in my face, thank you very much.

Dealing with hot and humid weather

That was what the weatherman had in store for the Tour. In spades. The mercury was never below 90F during the day, and nights were hot and humid too.

When I commute I wear my riding pants over underwear, just as I would if they were jeans. That solution works well for commuting because my suits are in my office and I change there. I have a post on that strategy here.

For the Tour I wanted to be able to take my riding pants off. That meant having to wear something presentable as an underlayer. On the first day I chose a pair of shorts. Bobskoot does the same thing. He wears what appear to be light cotton gym shorts. I don't have those. The shorts I chose were way heavier than Bob's shorts appear to be.

The solution that ended up working very well for me came to me during my two-day layover at my sister's in Toronto. I had packed my favorite bathing suit. See below.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
The hotter it got, the more I smiled to myself in a contented way. The bathing suit fabric looks presentable even when it is dripping wet. It doesn't cling, and doesn't discolour to reveal the portions that are drenched. The other plus, is that if there's a pool, lake or swimming hole at day's end or along the way, all you need to do is strip off the armor and plunge right in.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Once the bathing suit dries (and it air dries really fast), it's nice and fresh and clean from the swim and ready for another steaming day's ride. The same thing held true for my T-shirt.

Hydration

Traveling at highway speeds on a bike, even in the blistering heat, is fairly comfortable. I should preface that comment by pointing out that I don't tend to suffer from temperature extremes.

On the couple of occasions when we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I was perspiring profusely. Since I was dressed for it, I didn't stress over it. I endured. The good thing is that as soon as you start rolling, the air flow cools you right down.  The first few minutes are heavenly, and then things just settle back to comfortable. Hot, but comfortable.

That comfort comes in some measure because you are still sweating, but the perspiration is evaporating at the same time, hence the feeling of comfort.

Which brings me to my point. If you don't go out of your way to drink lots of water, you will dehydrate. I made that mistake during day one. That lead to a persistent headache for the morning of the day after.  Lesson learned.  At every stop (and the small fuel tank imposed three to four each day), I'd buy a large bottle of water and polish it off right then and there.

I also brought along a water bottle. I had spent quite a long time at the sporting goods store carefully selecting the bottle. It was a one liter bottle, with a straw mechanism that made it much easier to drink from with a helmet on, and it had a carabiner on it allowing it to hang from the Vespa's bag hook. At every traffic light, I raised my helmet and drank as much as I could. By then the water was as hot as bathwater, but I knew the importance of drinking, so I didn't let that stop me.

Hydration issues: solved.

What to pack, and what to pack it in

In some ways this was my biggest challenge. I just didn't have any experience. I had bought a book in the spring on moto camping: Motorcycle Camping Made Easy. The book was a comfort and a big help. I also put a post on ModernVespa.com and I got lots of good advice there.

I started a list on my iPhone. Here is what that list ended up looking like. Bear in mind that the list evolved over weeks and months.

     CAMPING LIST

     DOCUMENTS
     Wallet
     Registration and insurance slips
     Passport
     Extra keys
     Pen
     Notebook
     KITCHEN
     Water bottle
     Stove
     Plastic bottle for methyl hydrate stove fuel
     Pot
     Lighter
     Waterproof matches
     Utensils
     Knife
     Plastic plates
     Cup
     FOOD
     Instant coffee
     Coffee Mate
     Instant soup
     Granola bars
     SHELTER
     Tent and fly
     Sleeping pad
     Sleeping bag
     Pillow
     Paracord / Figure 9s
     Mantis Chair
     HYGIENE
     Meds
     Deodorant
     Hair gel
     Hair brush
     Toilet paper
     Shaver
     Shaving cream
     Soap
     Shampoo
     First aid kit
     Sunblock
     Toothbrush
     Toothpaste
     Camp towel
     Bug spray
     Sunscreen
     BIKE / GEAR
     ROK straps
     ROK pack straps
     Sea to Summit straps
     5 liter gasoline container
     Saddlebags
     Griplock
     Helmet/jacket cable lock set
     Air pressure gauge
     Toolbag
     Rain jacket
     Earplugs
     Air Compressor
     Flashlight
     Batteries (AAA)
     Fresh puncture repair
     Red turtle light
     White turtle light
     Emergency tool
        (glass breaking and seatbelt cutting tool)
     Riding jacket (BMW Airflow)
     Buff
     Gloves
        Tucano Urbano summer mesh
        Light leather
        Icon Patrol gauntlets
     Baggies (rain protection for GPS and iPhone)
     Shamwow, rags
     Rain jacket
     VESPA MODIFICATIONS
     Inline battery line to SAE plug
     Dual 12V outlets to SAE plug
     Cut down tall screen
     CLOTHING
     Socks (8 pairs)
     Underwear (8 pairs)
     Corazzo Underhoody
     Deck shoes
     Bathing suit
     Polos, Ts (8 shirts)
     Jeans
     Shorts
     Handkerchiefs
     ELECTRONICS / OPTICS
     Garmin Nuvi GPS + cable and RAM mount
     GoPro + RAM mounts
     DSLR camera + equipment
     iPad + equipment
     iPhone + cables and RAM mount
     Sena bluetooth helmet headset
     Monocular
     Compact binoculars

How much to pack

As you can see I packed a lot of stuff.  I had planned for cold weather which was a necessity, but the whole trip took place in a record heat wave, so the cold weather clothing was never used. I also didn't use up all eight days' worth of shirts, socks and underwear because I stumbled on a hot weather strategy that worked very well for me. See what I metioned about dealing with hot weather earlier.

How to pack it 

I ended up using every cubic inch of storage my Vespa could muster.

          Clothing and toiletries.

As soon as I knew that the Tour was in the offing, back in October 2012, I instantly knew that I needed saddlebags.  David Bogner (Treppenwitz on the Modern Vespa forum), came through for me big time.  You can read about the saddlebags and how I came to have them here: A package from far, far away...

The Israeli saddlebags are intended to be rolled up small and stowed under the scooter's seat.  The idea is that you're leaving work, and your spouse calls to announce that there are surprise guests for dinner and you need to bring home a week's worth of groceries.  Fortunately you have those saddlebags.  You slap them on the Vespa, stash all the groceries in them and ride home a hero.

What they aren't designed to do is carry all the clothing and toiletries you might need on a week long moto tour.  The first thing is that they aren't waterproof.  The next problem is that they only have a little bit of velcro to hold them closed.  That's fine for a quick run from the grocery store.

 Here's how I used them.  The most important thing to do was address the waterproofing.  I opted for Eagle Creek compression bags.  They're inexpensive, watertight and airtight.  You put the clothes in the bag, then close the zip lock, and as you roll the bag up, the air is forced out through one-way valves in the bottom, and voilĂ !  Vacuum-packed clothes.  The compression bags allowed me to fit all my clothes and toiletries into the saddlebags without a care in the world.  I could ride through a day long monsoon downpour and I was sure to have nice dry clothes at the other end.

The next challenge was the inadequate closures.  A trip to the local outdoor equipment store was all I needed to buy eight quick-release buckles and web-strapping.  I added two sets of straps and buckles to the front of each saddlebag, and one on each end, for a total of four buckle-closures on each bag.  Once I had sewed the straps and buckles where I needed them, I took the saddlebags to the local shoe repair shop and had the stitching on the straps re-inforced.
With the bags well-stuffed and the buckles snapped in and the straps pulled snug, my clothes were ready for the trip.

The total cost?  Well under $60.  It would be difficult to beat that!

          Tools and stuff

I normally carry a full set of tools in a roll-up tool bag.  They ride under the seat with a 12 volt air compressor.  And that's where they stayed the entire trip, along with my rain jacket.  I never needed any of it, and I'm most thankful I didn't. In truth, I did use the hammer on a tent peg
          Key odds and ends

The Vespa's glove compartment was the perfect home for... my passport, my 200 lumen flaslight, my tire pressure gauge, my monocular and compact binoculars (because you never know when you need to see close-up from a distance), and my Buff.

          Camping equipment

My tent and its related equipment (other than the poles), alcohol camping stove, camp mug, pot, Mantis camp chair, sleeping bag, camp pillow, camp towel, four 25-foot lengths of paracord, and four Figure 9 tensioners (for extra tension on the tent fly, as clothes line, or in case something needed to be tied down or up), all fit into one 30 liter dry bag.
25 feet of paracord and Figure9 tensioner
Mantis camp chair
A dry bag is a sturdy tubular rubberized bag with a roll top and secure snap buckles that, once closed, is waterproof.

A second smaller but longer dry bag held my sleeping pad, and the poles for the tent.

          Junk in the Trunk

Everything else on my list (other than the jerry can of gasoline, which you already know was secured to the footwell rack) fit in the Vespa's topcase.  All of it was happy to be there except my iPad.  It made its displeasure known by crashing, setting itself back to factory spec, and requiring a complete restore from the backup.  Sheesh!

ROK straps - and burn through

What's the best way to secure two large dry bags on a Vespa without worrying that they'll break loose?

I'm glad you asked.  The answer is simple: ROK straps.  Bob was the one who pointed me in the right direction.  ROK straps... well they rock!  It's genius really.  A ROK strap is a two piece wonder connected by a quick release buckle.  At the ends they have a loop.  Here's what I did.  I separated the two rock straps into their four components.  The long end of the straps (with the male buckle) I looped around the rear rack of my Vespa, one on each side.  The short end of the straps (the short bungee part with the female buckle) I looped around the grab rail, one on each side.

The rest is simple.  Load the dry bags onto the passenger seat.  Bring the long strap from the right side of the bike diagonally across and over the dry bags, and snap it into the left side buckle.  Do the same with the remaining strap.  You now have the ROK straps criss-cross holding down the load.

Tighten each strap, tuck the excess strap under the tightened strap, and there you are.

But that's not the end of the story.

All during the trip, I would unload the bike (several times a day - see the bit about fuel and range above), and would find the right side ROK strap on the left side of the bike.  This puzzled me.  I just wasn't paying attention I suppose.  By the eighth day I finally caught on.  I was refueling for the last time and caught myself doing the thing that made the right side strap hang on the left side.  I congratulated myself for finally clueing in, and tossed the strap back to the right side.

That, was a mistake.  The poor strap hit the muffler and was basically melted down to a single brittle strand.
Fortunately I only had 60 or 70 miles to go, and one ROK strap was sufficient to hold the camping gear securely.

Tent

A colleague at work kindly lent me a three-person tent (a Kelty of one variety or another), and a very nice thick mattress pad.

I highly recommend a three-person tent.  I had enough room in the tent to bring in all my gear, including the saddlebags, and sleep in comfort.  Just ducky, as my dear grandmother was fond of saying.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
Mine is the tent in the middle.  Home sweet (temporary) home.

Sleeping bag

You can tell by now that I'm no camper.  The first hint ought to have been that I needed to borrow the main bits of kit.

The same held true for the sleeping bag.  To be perfectly honest, I had picked up a sleeping bag at  Costco.  It ended up getting returned unused (you have to love Costco's return policy), because Bob, bless his heart, gave me a sleeping bag (a much nicer, much more compact sleeping bag, with a nice compression storage bag to boot), when I was in Vancouver for a visit.  He had used the bag in Oregon and found it too cold.

It was absolutely perfect for the Tour.

Mattress pad

My colleague Marlene has two self-inflating mattress pads, a really nice one, and a really, really nice thick and comfy one.  She wasn't planning a trip, so she lent me the luxury model.  Ahhhhh!  If you are planning a trip, get the luxury model, and sleep like a baby.

Stove and cooking

I didn't plan to do any real cooking.  But I did want to be able to make myself some tea, coffee or soup.  Bobskoot had sent me a very compact alcohol stove.  It's the lowest common denominator of camping stoves, but it's tiny, and will boil two cups of water quite effectively.  I put up a post on the stove when I received it.  You can read that post here.
The stove burns methyl hydrate alcohol which is readily available in hardware stores because it's used as the solvent for lacquers including shellac.  At first I was planning to transport the fuel in an MSR bottle, but I discovered that alcohol will oxidize aluminium, making an MSR bottle a poor choice.  I therefore bought a red one liter Nalgene water bottle for the methyl hydrate and mounted it under the rear rack using stainless steel belt clamps with large plastic thumb screws.  That turned out to be an excellent solution and ensured that I had more than enough alcohol for the trip.  You can see the bottle mounted under the rear rack in the video I posted here, at the 1:00 minute mark.

I brought instant coffee and tea and ended up using the stove two or three times during the trip.  It was very comforting in the evening to have a hot beverage, but since the entire week was hot and dry, the hot beverage was nice to have, but not absolutely essential.  If the weather had turned cool and wet, the ability to make tea, coffee or soup would truly have been a blessing.

Food to bring

All I brought was tea (never used it), coffee (used two or three times), granola bars (I might have had one).  That's it.  It was enough.  All the other food was purchased, one way or another.

Photography

I took along my Olympus DSLR and its various accessories, my GoPro camera, and my iPhone.  In the end, I didn't use the DSLR much.  The iPhone did most of the photography and that worked out just fine.

As for the GoPro, it is invaluable for video on the road and I would never travel anywhere without it.

Blogging

Before taking this trip, I imagined quiet evenings in the glow of my iPad, happily sharing my adventures here.

I did do that, of course, but my iPad was sulking and had to be restored too often.  That sucked.

If I did moto camping often, I'd invest in a sturdy cheap laptop and call it a day.  I'd store everything in the cloud, and be done with it.

That's what Bob and Karen did, and they didn't have any of the grief I did.  Live and learn.

As for WiFi, it's in plentiful supply at campgrounds, and at the places you'd usually suspect (McDonalds, Starbucks, et al.)

Spot messengers, iPhone tracking

Bob got himself a Spot Messenger for the trip.  It made sense for him.  He was covering vast distances solo and wanted help at the touch of a button should the need arise, needed to let his loved ones see where he was whenever they wanted, and wanted friends along the route, including yours truly and Karen, to be able to arrange the rendez-vous in Pensylvania with as little fuss as possible.

The Spot Messenger does all that.

You can find them in Canada at outdoor stores, and at Canadian Tire stores.  The price is reasonable and for anyone leaving on a significant adventure, I think they're a must have.

I was headed for adventure also, but the shorter duration (a week vs a month and more) meant that I could do with less. By less, I mean my iPhone. Susan and I installed the Find Friends app on our iPhones which allows each of us the find the other by initiating a tracking request on the iPhone. This was potentially a more expensive solution than a Spot Messenger if we had used it often since Susan happened to be in Florida and we both have Canadian cell phone plans, but as a peace-of-mind option it was comforting and really inexpensive. Free in fact.

Communicating

The one time Susan did reach out to touch base was at the end of day one of the Tour. She expected to find me at my sister's in Toronto. She was surprised to find me at 10:30 p.m. still riding the 401 and an hour outside of Toronto. That phone call, and the chat that ensued, was made possible by my iPhone and my Sena SMH10 Bluetooth helmet communication system. I cannot say enough good things about the Sena. Extraordinary sound quality even wearing earplugs, ease of use, versatility, and long battery life, top the list of superlatives. Worth every single penny.
And it doesn't stop there. I exchanged text messages and phone calls to set up meetings with fellow bloggers too.

The cherry on the ice cream sundae was the primary reason I got the Sena to begin with: bike-to-bike, rider-to-rider communication.  Bob had the same system. At the touch of a button we could talk wirelessly. It worked just like a one-button phone call. That is a huge advantage when you ride in a group. When Bob stayed a few days with us in Montreal on his return trip home, I gave him a guided sightseeing tour of the must-see Montreal sites courtesy of our Senas.

Navigating

I know many prefer the old school paper map approach, but I am a big fan of GPS navigation. My Garmin Nuvi goes everywhere we do, we take it on vacation even when we fly if we plan to rent a car, and thanks to RAM mounts, it is a fixture on my Vespa. In addition to navigation, I also get the advantage of spot-on accurate speed readings (something most motorbike speedometers don't provide) and a trip computer.
Because I don't have a high-end dedicated motorcycle GPS like the Garmin Zumo, my GPS isn't waterproof (that's why I brought sandwich baggies) and it doesn't beam turn-by-turn voice directions to my Sena Bluetooth helmet headset, so at highway speeds I can't hear our Garmin gal Brittany (Susan and I prefer to listen to the British accented directions).

For occasions when I need the turn-by-turn directions, I get them from Siri on my iPhone. Brilliant.
Entertainment

Few things bring me as much pleasure as cruising on my Vespa listening to music. The Sena, aided and abetted by Siri, let me select and listen to tunes while I ride. If someone calls, or the intercom comes on, the music pauses. So very civilized, and a wonderful way to travel.

Crossing borders, paying tolls

I have to admit, this is awkward. It's difficult to fish out a wallet, small change, credit cards, a passport, and similar things, without removing your gloves. You need to do all this while balancing your bike, and without dropping anything.  If the occasion means interacting with an attendant or border guard, there is the other challenge of full-face helmets and ear plugs. A modular helmet helps because you can flip your lid. But it's still awkward.

"Sorry!" I yell, "I have trouble hearing you! I'm wearing earplugs!"

How many people know that many riders choose to wear earplugs when they ride? I'm guessing not the attendant or guard you're desperately trying to hear when she's talking to you.

 "Mhm hmmmt cnmmn hmmnnhm?" she says.  Huh?

To get at the earplugs you'll be juggling your gloves, your helmet, and the ear plugs, with a growing line up of cars behind you, and a puzzled attendant visibly wondering what the heck you're doing.

I usually have a recommendation for how to handle a situation. Regrettably, I have no clue how to address this awkwardness. Sorry! If you have a strategy that works for you, please post a comment and share your wisdom.

Wildlife hazards - Deer and moose

This is another touring challenge. It's serious, it's a deadly risk, and other than crossing your fingers, saying a little prayer, refusing to ride at dusk or at night through deer country, I can't provide advice.

Be aware of the risk, keep your eyes peeled, and ride very defensively.

Griplock, and other security measures

Definitely bring along your security gear.  By security gear I mean whatever locks you routinely use to secure your bike and gear.

In my case that means my Griplock, a padlock, and a short cable I use to lock my helmet to the bike, and a longer cable that I sometimes use to thread through my jacket or riding pants or both if I plan to leave them with the bike.

I also recommend bringing along a bike cover.  The bike cover I ended up bringing along was a gift I received from Peter Sanderson.  I originally planned to leave it at my sister's in Toronto.  It turned out that I had room to bring it, and I really appreciated having it on the Tour.  For one thing it keeps prying eyes off your ride and somewhat discourages casual tampering.  It also helps to keep your bike safe while you snore to the drone of mosquitoes at the campground, or the drone of the air conditioner at the motel if only because a good cover has lots of reflective material that may prevent someone from driving into your bike in the dead of night.
Copyright 2013 Bob Leong
There you have it: all the lessons learned during my first-ever moto tour.

Thanks for sticking around to hear me out.

22 comments:

  1. That is an excellent write-up and summary of what worked and what didn't. I would add that another advantage of the bike cover is being able to store your riding gear somewhere else besides your tent. I think that my sidecar rig has about the same range as I need to switch to reserve at 140 miles. I attached a 5 liter fuel can like a Rotopax to the side of the sidecar as well as a bracket for two liter Sigg bottles.

    I generally enjoy cooking and brought more cooking gear and staples but bought food daily. Somethines, even if I "hoteled" it, I'll opt for something fresh and homemade rather than restaurant.

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to go through the post, Richard.

    That's a good point on storing gear on the bike but under the cover. I really think that the Rotopax solution is a good one. It seems like the way to carry a meaningful amount of fuel yet in a compact form that lends itself really well to touring.

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  3. A very thorough write-up, David. The good, the bad and the ugly. You are definitely carrying too much stuff ;-) If you use e.g. Icebreaker shirts and underwear you could carry half and had less weight and packing volume. They are easy to clean and the non-smelly kind thanks to the Kiwi merino wool. I can highly recommend these for your next trip.

    Being used to the peanut tank of my Sportster, the fuel range of a Vespa doesn't seem too bad. One needs to get off the bike anyway, and I enjoy the breaks that go with refilling the gas tank. In my area the network of gas stations is dense, so I have not really worried about running out of fuel. The only downside is indeed accessibility to the tank... That's why I prefer the Kriega packs strapped to the seat. No luggage removal necessary, just a bit more lifting weight for the seat.

    I love your list and aside from the camping part I will copy and paste and modify it for my purposes if you don't mind. It's a great list!

    I bet it took you some time to put this together ;-) Thanks for making the effort.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sonja, I had never heard of Kriega luggage, a little pricey but looks really, really nice.

      How does it secure to the Vespa seat? Clearly you couldn't open the seat all the way, but enough to pump gas, no?

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    2. David, indeed it does not open all the way but definitely enough to refill. It is strapped safely to the seat.

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  4. Wow David .. What a post ..great video and nice pics

    Not much time for a comment but you deserve a quick hello!

    Great post!

    I too agree the gts is a great tourer ....it actually makes "touring" very enjoying!

    As always kindest regards
    Len (scootering adventures)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Len, I appreciate the kind words.

      Delete
  5. For someone like me who dreams of taking an extended trip across a few states, this post is a must read, bookmark and print. Thank you for the fantastic write up and I look forward to going back and reading the actual posts from your journey.

    Shad

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Shad. I do this blog mainly as a means of sharing things I learn about the joys of motobikes.

      My only concern is that Vespas are gateway drugs. I find myself increasingly looking at bikes like the BMW GS.

      I think that no matter what, there will always be a Vespa in the garage.

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  6. What a great in depth epilogue David. Sure it was long, but such good info from your tour. A good read.

    I too have blind spot mirrors on my bike. They are a must.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Trobairitz. The blind spot mirrors really only became an obvious need on the Tour. Normally during my commute I'm on the expressway for perhaps twenty minutes, and mostly in one lane. I only tend to merge once or twice at high speed, at the beginning and at the end.

      It was when I was spending hours at expressway speeds that there were many lane changes, and the traffic was much more dynamic, and I really felt the need.

      The nice thing is that they are so inexpensive and easy to add.

      One thing I discovered after installing them, since the Vespa has round mirrors, you can rotate the glass and position the blind spot mirror in just the right place.

      Delete
  7. Wow -- this is the best and most comprehensive guide to Vespa touring I have read.

    When are you riding to Vancouver??

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Steve. The Tour was a blast. Writing the epilogue was time-consuming but bery worthwile. The next tour will be easier to plan because I'll be able to look back to see what worked.

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    2. You did a great job with the write up. I shared a link to your post on ModernVespa.com so other riders could benefit from your work and experience.

      Steve Williams
      Scooter in the Sticks
      ScooterNSticks on Twitter

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    3. Thanks Steve. That explains the spike in traffic from MV.

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  8. David:

    this was a Novel. And also I have been without WiFi for a couple of days. I am guilty of carrying too much so this year I cut waaaay back and still had items that I did not wear.

    I have tried to buy more technical, fast drying, wicking clothes and Morino T-shirts and merino blend socks. Seasoned travelers would take 3 of each and wash or rinse every few days. I don't think I have anything that is cotton as it is too heavy and does not "breathe"

    . . . and when are you riding to Vancouver ?

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

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    Replies
    1. Riding to Vancouver... What a blast that would be. It's not so much the ride out that poses the challenge, as the ride back. It's not so much distance as time.

      Shipping the bike seems a viable path.

      A lot of people prefer renting bikes to tour in distant places.

      I thought maybe you'd teach me to shift on the tour, then I could rent a Harley or Beemer.

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  9. David, I echo the others and appreciate the time it must have taken to do the write up. I also second Sonja and have used for years Icebreaker wool T-shirts and other items allowing you to cut way down on your clothing. Due to my years of backpacking, I have gotten my full camping kit down to two bags - one on the front rack - food & cooking gear, and one small pack (an old canoe pack) on the rear seat (tent, sleeping bag, chair, clothing, wash kit, sleeping pad, headlamp) and I average about 21 pounds total for both bags loaded! Under the seat are tools. My rain gear and cover live in the top case. Any finally, as an old scout look at using a quick release truckers hitch and throw away that figure 9 tensioner - one less thing to carry! Thanks for all of your efforts!

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    Replies
    1. Jim a show and tell on your set up would be really cool and helpful.

      Perhaps another guest post?

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    2. PS: Jim and I are working on a moto camping post in which Jim will impart his expertise in ultra-light-weight excursion packing.

      Stay tuned and watch this blog and the Touring page.

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  10. Excellent! Thank you for sharing. My experiences touring on a Vespa GTS have not included any camping. I found your post when I was searching for footwell racks.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words Shane.

      Since I wrote that I acquired a second bike, a Honda Shadow 750. I now have much more respect for the Vespa GTS as a touring bike. I think it's up there with the best.

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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.