Gear Review: Viking Aero expandable bags

IMG_0354Many of you will have read my posts about fitting different types of hard panniers. I have always been of the view that panniers are safer because they are less tempting to thief. During our African trip I was happy to leave the panniers on the bikes when we visited a town or went shopping for food on one of our many stops. As usual with motorcycle travelling, there is a trade-off; in this case it is the size and weight they add to the bike. I have often wondered about soft luggage because we are seeing a real trend towards them in the adventure-biker community. I was recently in California again and was approached by a company called Motorcycle House. They are big in the US and are piercing in the UK market now. They asked me if I would review one of their bags and I said of course! This was the perfect opportunity to try out soft luggage and I chose to test one of the Viking Bags offered on Motorcycle House. I chose the Viking Aero Medium Expandable Sissy Bar Bags; I know; my bike doesn’t have a sissy-bar but seeing the pictures I was convinced I would be able to fix it to my bike thanks to its many straps.

Impressions

My first impression when I received the box was that it was very light; did they forget to put the bag in there? No, that’s what bags weigh; a nice surprise for me. The Viking Aero Medium Expandable Sissy Bar Bag is a very flexible luggage solution. The main bag has four side pockets to fill with the items you need to access quickly while the main pocket is easily large enough to carry cloths for a week’s travel. But if that’s not enough, you can expand the bag to give it an extra 20% capacity. What I really liked about it is the different carrying options you get. The bag comes with a shoulder strap and back-pack straps. In addition to this you also get a rain cover and a ton of mounting straps. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the roll bag which clips on top of the bag (or below I’ve found, if that fits your bike better).

1001 ways to attach

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Whereas the Viking Aero Medium Expandable Sissy Bar Bag is, as its name points to, designed to attach to a sissy bar, I found many different ways to attach it to my dual sport bike. I managed to fix it strongly onto my back rack in three different ways and also to the side of the bike on my pannier rack. The Viking Aero Medium Expandable Sissy Bar Bag comes with so many different straps that you could attach it literally anywhere on your bike!

One additional thing I found about the Viking Aero Medium Expandable Sissy Bar Bag is how convenient it is off the bike. We checked it in as luggage on our flight back to London and it travelled very well. It was also just the right size too to slip onto our suitcase handle which made carrying it around very easy.

Verdict

IMG_0819So, am I converted to soft luggage? I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised by this product. It is certainly a very convenient way to travel on a motorcycle. I would most definitely use it if I was flying to a holiday destination where I was renting a motorcycle (something I do often). I would also use it rather than my panniers if I was going on a weekend away to the seaside or riding somewhere overnight. Unclipping the bag and throwing it on your shoulders definitely beats carrying bulky panniers around.

Motorcycle Fitness 

Guest post by Ania Todua

Good health and fitness is important for all of us, but perhaps for riders it is even more essential. If you think riding a motorcycle is no big deal and anyone can do it, then you have another think coming. Motorcycle fitness is one of the key elements that determine a successful rider. For lack of it may not just hinder performance or lead to faster fatigue but also increase the rider’s risk factors while on the road. Fatigue and lack of fitness also means that less flexibility, control and maneuvering of the bike. All in all, a below average riding experience really. In order to negate all these bad effects on your riding, you need to go through a definite motorcycle fitness regime that will bring back the balance and power in your favor.

IMG_3457Even if you know all the correct riding techniques, without fitness or flexibility your performance will always be hindered. Fatigue and rigidity of the body leads to slower reflexes and reaction times, and over time these may even lead to psychological issues. Start with hydrating your body a lot since bike riding is a thirsty business, for your body. You don’t need to become a bodybuilder but you do need to hone and strengthen your muscles in order to maneuver the bike better. Motorcycle fitness leads to increased endurance so that you need less effort to control the bike and handle speed effectively. Riding at a stretch can leads to all kinds of aches and pains, and for a body which is not fit enough these could simply increase.

There are many ways you can start building up strength and increase your overall body fitness. You can choose one which best suits your schedule and time.

Cardio Fitness

Improving cardiovascular fitness is very essential to build up the strength and stamina. One needs to exercise at least 3 times a week at 20 minute sessions which will get the heart pumping. If you are new to the regime or haven’t been too regular this is the best way to start. Over a period of time the body will slowly get used to exercise, become fitter which will allow you to increase the duration of each session as well. When you feel your heart beating fast and your breathing heavy but not difficult then you should know that your pace is right. You want to push yourself but not to the point of collapsing. Invest in a heart rate monitor to keep track of your cardio workouts as well as improvements. Best cardio exercises include a mix of endurance with high-intensity swimming, running or cycling, yes it’s really that simple.

Strength Building

Any veteran rider will tell you how important muscle strength is for motorcycle riding. If you want to be an expert then you need to focus on strength building exercises beginning with your core muscles. These include the lower and upper back, shoulders, chest and abdomen. These will be the foundation for your overall body strength. Other than these you need to work on your stomach, inner thighs and forearms which are used constantly while riding. Focusing on these areas will lead to more stamina and decrease the level of fatigue over time. You can begin with 2-3 (30-40 minutes) sessions a week and slowly scale it up. Start with mediocre weights before you step things up. Remember, when it comes to strength training slow and controlled movements hold more sway. Adopt a regime of combination exercises like squats at times, and step-ups with dumbbells at other times and slowly adding leg curls to a stability-ball bridge.

Stretching

Jathlete-body-exercise-4077-825x550ust like you need a warm up before workouts, you need to do good stretching exercises to make your muscles free and supple after one. It removes the lactic acid that usually builds up during exercise, stretches the muscles and also cools them down. Do these in between your cardio routine so that your body gets more flexible and you have fun in the variety too. This flexibility goes a long way to improve rider performance and meet the G forces from braking, accelerating and turning, head on. You can also start doing Power Yoga which is a great way to make the body supple and flexible while building up strength. It helps one control his/her breathing and therefore leads to a relaxed body for a long time. Complementing your regular workouts with stretching the muscles of your legs and the lower torso will prevent cramps from happening frequently or easily.

A lot of riders use their legs to ride, control and manage their bikes since legs are stronger than the arms. But if one needs to do this well then full-body workouts focusing on making the legs stronger is what should be kept mind. While the muscles work to control and maneuver the bike, the nervous system remains super activated with the proprioceptive sensors so that balance and coordination is maintained at all times. Exercise also helps improve mental focus so that there is excellent brain and motor coordination at all times. Putting on a protective helmet is a must too, so that you are free from the fear and able to focus on the job in hand which is obviously to hit the road. On the other hand, aerobic exercises like cardio improves stamina while anaerobic exercises like strength training and weight lifting adds to one’s endurance.

Exercise lead to overall wellbeing as the heart and lungs become fitter than ever, oxygen and essential nutrients are transferred to various muscles more effectively. As you exercise regularly, you will begin to enjoy better body posture since a fitter body and ease of movement come hand in hand. You will also notice a marked increase in your joint and muscle strength so when you are riding you will find that shifting your weight around and balancing during the rides is super easy now. While riding a motorcycle, the entire body is involved and at times under stress. Other effective workouts involve crunches, push-ups, dips, bench press, bicep curls, triceps extensions, lateral shoulder rises among others. All these things will help you in getting yourself ready for all the challenges that you are going to have during your ride. In addition to this, just do not ignore the need of proper motorcycle gear such as armor jackets for optimum protection, body armors, helmets, riding boots. This is important because no matter how fit have gotten for the day, there’s always a chance for an odd incident to happen.

Very soon you feel see the difference in your body and overall health with a sense of wellbeing pervading your mind. Weight loss for those who have been overweight occurs as well, which too leads to better balance and strength. In fact, there is a kind of freedom, not having to worry about your bodily discomfort or ailments while riding. Your mind is now free to enjoy the ride and take in the sights and sounds better than ever before. All this is only possible when you have undergone a focused motorcycle fitness regimen.

HUBB UK June 2014

Once again, the Horizons Unlimited UK meet, HUBB UK was a fantastic success. Maybe it was because we were well prepared with ear plugs this year (the race track and East Midlands Airport can prove a little noisey), the fact that the sun shone the entire time or simply because the weekend was filled with inspiring adventure travellers. The talks, the activities, the campsite, the volunteers and the organisers made it very special. If you haven’t been to a Horizons Unlimited event before, I urge you to attend one asap. You don’t have to have been on a big adventure, nor do you have to ride a motorbike to leave with itchy feet!

Here are a selection of campsite photos from the weekend at Donington Park.

 

Back to the future – the electric Saietta R

AC/DC

For a few years now we have been promised all electric cars and they are slowly but surely becoming a reality on our roads. However, for many buyers, the purchase of an electric car is the result of a calculated, rational choice based on economy and environmental considerations. Most electric cars aren’t marketed for their driving experience. Except for Tesla that is; the company, led by CEO Elon Musk (founder of Paypal and CEO of the private space transport company SpaceX) has managed to design and produce exciting electric cars.

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They are using innovation and high tech to push the envelope and serve as a catalyst and positive example to other automakers. Musk’s vision and determination is paying off and I for one am very impressed by the cars they are producing as well as the fact that they’ve managed to create a new car brand from scratch. This is the result of a bold vision, ground-breaking innovation and sound industrial manufacture strategy. But what is really selling Tesla cars is the fact that they are desirable and exciting; they are the car of the future, today; a real disruptor of people’s idea of cars.

But on 2 wheels?

So where does this leave motorbikes? Would an electric motorcycle be appealing to bikers? On the face of it, it doesn’t look promising. After all, what most bike enthusiasts like about their machines is that they have a soul, which manifests itself through the concert of moving parts, smells and noises which their engine makes when revved. A lot of us have an image of motorbikes shaped by our teenage years spent fine-tuning two-stroke engines to make them go faster. So what chance would an electric bike have? A hair-dryer instead of an engine? No chance, right? Wrong.

Allow me to continue the teenage/childhood analogy. Before playing with mopeds I played with remote controlled cars. I was always impressed at how quick they were and as I terrified the local cats with the remote in my hands, I had absolutely no problem imagining myself in the driver seat. It is with this frame of mind that I happily accepted the invitation to test-ride the new Saietta R, a british designed electric sports bike.

Saietta city_E1

First of all, I need to set the scene with a little background into the company. Agility, the company behind Saietta R, is the brainchild of CEO Lawrence Marazzi. The chief exec. has a background in Formula 1 as well as aerospace engineering. He is also, and most of all, a very keen biker who has dabbled in racing as a young(er) man. He has a real passion for bikes and wants to revolutionize the bike industry by applying the technology he’s seen in F1 and aerospace to motorcycle engineering and design. According to Marazzi, Agility is re-inventing bikes from the ground up; he says “you don’t use Victorian architectural concepts to build a computer” – new technology calls for new frame architecture.

That is a radical way of thinking that deserves attention. And Agility is already attracting a lot of attention; in November 2013 they were selected by the Government as one of 16 of the UK’s most promising clean technology companies and were invited to take part in the “Clean and Cool” trade mission to Colorado where they demonstrated the Saietta R.

I won’t go into too much technical details about the Saietta R; others will have covered this more competently than me. However, I’ll highlight the radical bits; First of all, it is the first bike to be built as a monocoque structure. It also sports a double wishbone front suspension; two elements borrowed directly from Formula 1. It has a range of about 120 miles in city use and can be charged up in only 3 hours. It has a top speed of 105 miles per hour and will reach 60mph in 3 seconds (!!). You won’t need to worry about replacing the battery because it has an estimated lifetime of 80.000 miles.These are impressive stats which, in my mind, already make it a contender to some of the best sports bikes on the market.

These are all numbers though and only a test-ride can reveal if they are any good on the road. After a long, friendly chat with Marazzi, we both geared up and went to the back of the office where two Saietta Rs were waiting for us in what turned out to be a lovely sunny afternoon. I was shown how to “start” the bike (turn key, push a button) and given some last directions on how to operate it, and off we were. We filtered through London traffic and straight away I was surprised at how much I was enjoying city-riding on a virtually silent bike. I reflected on how this bike would make a great commuter; not having to worry about the clutch, revs, gears etc, allows you to concentrate on the traffic and provides you with a feeling of calm and efficiency which enables you to focus on the road. You also feel like a friendly road user; there’s no scaring of the pedestrians and no bullying cars to the side by revving a loud engine.

 Polarity

We then hit the open road and Marazzi gave me a quick glance in his mirror and then disapeared into the distance in a second; ssssssshhh!! No loud noise, just a discreet yet present turbine sound coming out of the electric engine’s inbuilt air cooler. I crouched forward and opened up the throttle; Woooosh! Wow! The Saietta R immediately catapulted me forward, making use of the 100% of torque available from the get go. I scared myself but I always felt incredibly in control of the bike; its dynamic characteristics make for an impressively composed ride and the throttle response is addictive. The Saietta R is very quick and very well balanced; the engineering team even considered the rider’s inner ear when they tuned the double wishbone front suspension in order to ensure that the very small amount of dive would provide enough information to the rider’s brain, yet keep the bike stable and composed.

Saietta_hr_4_copyright Lee Martland

The single seat gives surprisingly good support, which is needed to keep the rider in place under acceleration. The rider’s position is very reminiscent to that of a Ducati Monster. Other than that, the controls are very straight forward, the only exception is that, there being no clutch, both levers actuate the brakes. The display is very simple and packs together an analog speedo and a digital display which gives you some information about the bike. All very clean and tidy and another aspect which adds to the bikes tidyness.

I didn’t know what to expect before the test ride but those few moments on the open road opened my mind to a different way of biking; I have seen what the future of motorcycles looks like and I’m very excited about it! I shared the preconcieved idea held by a lot of petrolheads that a bike needs noise, vibrations and smells to be fun. Yet I found that it is precisely the lack of those that made the ride on the Saietta R so special and fun. This bike gives the rider an impression of clean, uncluttered efficency which allows them to focus only on the riding pleasure. It also demonstrates that actually, the feeling of power does not come from a roaring engine between your legs. The dynamic characteristics of the Saietta R do that for you without the noise and vibrations. Once you have given it a bit of throttle you instantly understand its power and learn to respect it. As far as I’m concerned, the silence of the bike is one of its coolest features.

After the test ride I had the opportunity to take a closer look at the Saietta’s design. It is obviously a radical design, quite futuristic. Marazzi explains that it wouldn’t have made sense to build such an innovative bike and make it look like any other bike. He has a point. Having no conventional engine or gearbox, Agility was able to use space as efficiently as they could and having the freedom to shape the battery pack like they wanted also enabled them to distribute its weight efficaciously.

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The Saietta R looks futuristic and it certainly stands out from the crowd. On my test-ride two cab drivers struck up a conversation in the traffic, asked questions, gave us the thumbs up and took pictures. Many heads turned as we rode by and we were followed by biker cops whom I know were just curious. When we arrived back to the Agility office, a homeless man, and American with a big camera and a bunch of students all rushed to take a close look and ask questions about the bike. I hadn’t experienced this level of attention since, as a teenager, my dad and I restored and drove around in a 1930 Citroen. It certainly makes you feel special and that’s another feather in Saietta R’s cap.

Agility can be extremely proud of what they have achieved so far; A british company (call it a startup if you wish) led by a super talented, super enthusiastic engineer has managed to rewrite the script about motorcycles. Sure, they are not the only company which produces electric motorcycles, but these guys are aiming very high and their end product is premium. You won’t find the technology they’ve put in the Saietta R in other electric bikes. They’ve also managed to create a very credible brand which is backed up by big names in the industry.

 The future is here, embrace it!

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So would I buy one? The answer is yes. If I was on the market for a naked bike I’d definitely consider it seriously. Just because it’s a lot of fun, it’s different, very well built and quite frankly, my R1150GS now just feels like a big heavy lump of steam-era machinery (I still like it though!).

What I take out most from this test-ride is that we are at a crossroad for motorcycling. Petrol-engined bikes still have bright days ahead of them but they will have to compete with the likes of the Saietta R and will have to start innovating a lot more to stay relevant; the industry is being disrupted. Also, I am now convinced that electric bikes are becoming a real alternative to conventional bikes. And I’m excited about this; we are going to see a lot of cool things happening in the world of motorcycles in the coming years. Watch this space!