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.

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Wind protection R1150GS

The BMW R1150GS is a brilliant motorcycle but it suffers from an annoying oversight by its German manufacturer; the wind protection is awful. It’s untypical of BMW, especially for such a practical motorcycle. The GS is designed to cross continents on all terrain and its form has followed function; that’s why it looks weird.

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The stock screen is too narrow and the turbulence at head level is abominable. The GS may be able to carry you hundreds of miles in a single day on all type of terrains, but the rider will want to get off it sooner only because of the buffeting. Which defies the point of this motorcycle and is one of its few downsides.

I have spent hours looking for a solution and there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer or an agreed compromise amongst bloggers. But here is my experience and what has worked for me.

The first thing I did after riding the 1150GS was to go straight to eBay and buy a second hand Adventure screen. These are wider and taller and, although it did provide more wind protection on my torso, the buffeting on the helmet was not diminished. I then bought a pair of Tobinators, to be able to angle the screen in just the right position so as to create a smoother airflow. This didn’t work; and I spent way too much time trying the infinite number of settings offered by the Tobinators. I then decided to go back to the original screen and to add a wind deflector on the top. These flaps are built by a number of different companies but I chose the PUIG brand because it was cheaper and looked very similar to the competition. It worked very well indeed, increasing the height of the screen, but also giving it a sharper angle at the top, thus guiding the airflow above my helmet. The torso and arms protection was still bad though and I therefore re-installed the Adventure screen, on Tobinators and with the deflector attached. I am very happy with the result and I feel that I have finally found the wind protection which the GS, a bike designed for overlanding, should have provided as stock.

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Caberg Duke review

Motorcycle experts say that you need to change helmets every few years in order to ensure you are wearing a helmet that is still safe and retains its original protective qualities. If anything, as far as I’m concerned, my visors only last about a year before they are too scratched to see through comfortably.

My previous helmet, a Caberg Trip, had lasted me more than 3 years and was showing signs of its age. It creaked at the hinges and the visor would not lock open correctly anymore. It had been a good helmet and had served me well on three continents. But the time had come to upgrade to something new.

My choice, after a thorough study of what was on offer, went to another Caberg. I think that they offer very good quality helmets at competitive prices. I chose the new Caberg Duke, a flip-front model which is the grandson of the Trip I owned. It has a 5 stars SHARP rating, the highest safety rating awarded by the independent helmet safety scheme. This, and good online reviews were the main reasons that drove my choice.

20130222-120159.jpgOnce on my head, I was very impressed with the Duke. It weighs 1.55kg, which is very light for a flip-front helmet. The small weight difference with the Trip is noticeable; although I suspect that it’s how the weight is balanced because it is only 50 grams lighter. The interior of the Duke feels very comfortable. Caberg has lined it with a thick layer of padding which does three things:

1- The helmet fits more snugly on the head while still remaining very comfortable.
2- It makes the Duke very sound-proof; a quality I can’t rate highly enough as it makes riding long distances that much more comfortable.
3- It keeps your head nice and warm. This could be seen as a disadvantage in warmer regions but I live in the UK and a warm helmet is a good thing to have.

The Duke also improves on the Trip with its new visor. To begin with, the new visor opens and closes with a feel and noise that are testament to higher quality. You could compare this to the difference between shutting the door of an old car and a new one. Just like in the VW Golf commercial; it’s precise and muffled. Then there’s the anti-fog visor insert which works wonders. I was very positively surprised when I rode in the snow with my visor down and experienced absolutely no fog! I repeated this in the rain and it performed just as well. Brilliant!

I chose my Duke in white as I always try to enhance my safety. I read in a British Medical Journal article that, compared with wearing a black helmet, the use of a white helmet was associated with a 24% lower risk of crash related injury. As good a justification as any to guide your choice of colour. [although I’m pretty certain that riders who chose to be conspicuous are more responsible and therefore ride in a safer manner too…].

So, in conclusion, I would highly recommend the Caberg Duke to anyone; it has a top safety rating, it’s very comfortable and well built, it is warm and silent and doesn’t fog-up. It is also very good value for money at less than £150!

20130222-120405.jpgMaintenance of your Pinlock Antifog Insert

After a few months of use you might find that your precious Pinlock Antifog Insert has stopped sticking naturally to your visor. It has become a bit loose and does not provide the anti fogging you expect from it because the silicone seal does not stick to your visor anymore. I had this problem and worried that I’d have to buy a new insert but this website provided me with the answer I was looking for.

Basically, the pins which hold the insert are eccentric and can thus be adjusted by turing them. This will reduce the distance between both pins and allow you to make the fit of the insert tighter, thus solving the problem of a loose lens.

The Pinlock website also offers some very good information about how to clean the insert lens and I suggest you do it at least once a year.

Pinlock inser

Pinlock inser

DIY top box

Top boxes on bikes are a really good accessory. You can keep a lot of stuff in there and it doesn’t affect the width of the bike so it’s great for commuting. Louise’s bike didn’t come with a top box and we have been thinking of fitting one for a while.

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The consideration we had was that it would be very useful to have somewhere in which we could lock our tent on our trip to the Gambia. We looked at different solutions outside of aftermarket because no one makes a low profile box that is wide enough to fit 59cm tent poles. We looked at army surplus ammunition boxes but most are made of steel and weight a tonne. We looked at having friends build us a custom made box out of 2mm aluminium sheets but that fell through.

A couple of weeks ago I saw exactly what we needed in B&Q; a Stanley toolbox made out of plastic with aluminium reinforcement. We took our tent poles to the shop and they fit perfectly! The box is robust and light and has holes for a padlock. The best part is that it costs only £29!

We fixed it straight to the frame with 4 bolts. Hopefully it will be strong enough but I’m confident it is; after all it bears no weight; it’s only duty is to encapsulate gear that rests on the back frame. Time will tell!

Intercom systems

Being able to share your riding experience with a pillion or another rider as you go along is, to me, one of the best things about riding. Riding across new territories, or just enjoying a nice ride on local roads is enhanced by the possibility to share thoughts with the person who is going through the same experience. It is also great to be able to communicate to kill the boredom of highways or just to plan a pit stop.

The first trip Louise and I did in California in 2010 highlighted the need for an intercom. I first decided to go for a middle of the range BT Interphone Bluetooth unit. It was the first generation of motorcycle Bluetooth intercoms and frankly I was disappointed. It was OK to chat while in town, but at speeds over 40mph the road noise covered up any sound coming out of the weak speakers.

Next on the list was a fully wired Starcom Advance system which was excellent. I installed it on the Nomad and it served its purpose brilliantly. The Starcom unit is really HiFi; the sound quality is great and features such as noise reduction, automatic volume adjustment etc made for a great intercom to use with a pillion. We took it to Spain, France, around the UK and I also took it with me to South Africa where I installed it on our R1200GS. There’s something special about riding through the Prince Alfred Pass listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland album and sharing thoughts with your better half in the pillion seat. The only drawback is that one has to plug in and out every time; but this is offset by the fact that it’s all installed and does not need to be recharged every night like Bluetooth systems.

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I had to review my options when Louise passed her license and started riding her own bike. All of a sudden we couldn’t speak anymore, only at traffic lights. The joy of riding together on two bikes was dampened by the fact that we couldn’t share our experience of the road. I looked into two-way radio systems and bought a new Starcom system for Louise’s bike. I never managed to make the Starcom work with the two-way radios and gave up. Instead I bought a helmet mic/speaker set which directly plugged into the two way radios which we kept in our pockets. This was operated with a PTT (push to talk) button velcro-ed to the handlebar… not great. It was bulky, had bad sound quality and frankly it was a bit dangerous to have to press a button every time you want to speak. There was a cable going from the PTT button to the radio, and another from the radio to the helmet… We used this system twice and I dumped it. “Serious” riders like us need something much better than that! I think that in this case you get what you pay for so I decided to invest in a more upmarket, new generation Bluetooth solution.

In comes the Sena SMH-5. I always thought that the Bluetooth option was great because of the size of the units and the lack of cables. They are also extremely portable which is great for riders like us who often rent motorcycles abroad. The first generation failed because the sound quality was not good enough, but all the reports I read were saying that the 3rd and 4th generations of Bluetooth intercoms were now much better. I read WebBikeWorld’s review of the SMH-5 which convinced me. It promised excellent sound quality, easy use and durability priced at only £170 for the dual set.

I was one of the first person in the UK to get my hands on one, having been shipped one by the very helpful Cliff of Two Wheels Trekkers. My first impressions are of very good built quality, ease of use and great sound. One of the features I really like is the ability to pair it to my iPhone and make my musical choices through voice commands. Some people may think that listening to music while riding is less than ideal for safety reasons but I think that there’s a time and a place for it. It can be totally safe to listen to your favourite music in the background while riding on long empty roads. The SMH-5 allows you to play/stop/change volume very easily with gloves on using the clever Jog-Dial, so there’s no distracting fiddling.

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Louise and I tested the SMH-5 on a short ride in town. I was impressed by the sound quality; also, being a full duplex system, sound is always being transmitted. This, in my opinion, is much better than the VOX systems which usually eat into your first words and can be quite frustrating. This said the SMH-5 is very good at filtering ambient noise and only transmitting the rider’s voice. I wasn’t very impressed by its range though; we got cut off at about 100 meters, but to be fair, we were out of sight with cars between us. I suspect that the range will be much longer on open roads. In any case, we like to ride fairly close to each other and the SMH-5 is more than capable to handle the distance between our bikes. That said, if we do get separated and cut off, and we need to speak to each other to regroup, all we need to do is to call each other by telephone using the voice command feature.

In conclusion, I would certainly recommend the SMH-5 to anyone looking for a high-end Bluetooth intercom at mid-range price. It provides great sound quality, great connectivity, robustness and adequate range. All that at a very reasonable price but it doesn’t stop there; Sena will provide regular firmware updates which means that your intercom will become better with time!

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Roxter heated grips

Though it was an unseasonal 18C this Sunday we can’t hide from the fact that we are in the middle of November and the weather is bound to turn polar very soon. I’ve already located my snood and the liner is back in the waterproof jacket.

I usually have no issue riding in the cold because with the right equipment one can really isolate themselves from the cold. And that’s the secret; using the right equipment. It’s like in construction, having the correct tool makes the job ten times easier.

One great piece of kit that I first experienced on a 1200GS in South Africa this year is heated grips. It’s one of those things that can only be appreciated fully once tested. It’s unbelievable how much comfort they bring to a cold ride and how much further you can ride with heat being transfered to your body through your hands. It’s no coincidence that these days all the top touring bikes come with heated grips installed on them. They even have heated seats…

In anticipation of cold weather and a weekend trip to Belgium on 2 bikes we decided to install some heated grips on the Kawasaki W650. I looked around on the web and most reviews of the Oxfords were very good. I also discovered that Oxford produces a sub-brand called Roxter which is 30% cheaper but built identically.

The first step was to get rid of the original soft grips. This was done rather easily with some cutters and we soon had bare handle bars ready to be fitted with the heated grips. We did a mock installation before glueing anything to make sure everything worked correctly. The main issue we had was that I wanted to instal the system on an ignited wire; ie it would cut off when the bike is swithed off. This means that there cannot be any incident where the grips are left on all night to drain the battery. After some searching and thinking like electricians we decided to attach the positive wire to the wire of the back light. Fingers crossed when I turned the bike on… nothing blows up…good… and the grips become warm. Nice!

Now the W650 is all set up for the winter!