Friday, June 28, 2013

The Alaska Trip: Some Lessons Learned.

In no particular order, as things are remembered.  Note: Take all the below with a grain of salt, its solely based on my experiences as a URAL rider and recent trip, your mileage WILL vary!

1.  Cargo Discipline, even with the ample storage provided by a sidecar rig, watch the weight!  I will do better next time.  The weight probably contributed to the excessive wear I saw on the pusher tires but I still don't discount the pavement roughness of the Alaska/Canadian highways.

2.  Mid-April in Alaska, a bit early for seeing wildlife or camping in campgrounds, expect some snow riding. Canadian truckers/drivers do not slow down on snow!

3.  While a Coleman Two Burner Stove is nice, it's also bulky.  Next time, a multi-fuel one burner camp stove will do the trick, no need for special fuel bottles (which are bulky), just use fuel from your gas cans.  Oh, and if cooking by campfire, Marvel Mystery Oil is a great fire starter; as is Tiki Lamp oil.

4.  More camping, otherwise, leave all the camping gear at home.  I will do more camping next time, motels are expensive, especially in AK and Canada.  Can't blame the proprietors, they're trying to earn, in a short tourist season, enough to get them through the rest of the year.  Having said all that, it's really hard sometimes, to bypass the nearby motel and think about setting up camp after a long day in the saddle and it being cold and wet outside (below 40F).

5.  Bungie cords suck.  ROK straps rule.  Waterproof bags, get the thick ones.

6.  No on the snow chains, yes on the rope come-along.

7.  Unless someone lays hands on tires that are supposed to be in stock, they're not in stock.  

7a.  Yep, motorcycle tires are expensive in Alaska.  Shipping costs are the main culprit, not the "greed" of the dealers.  Plan accordingly.   Heck, shipping anything to Alaska can be expensive, that's why they love the "free shipping" option offered by!  Trouble is, the free shipping by Amazon doesn't include tires for whatever reason; your best bet there is the USPS Parcel Post.  Plan ahead or be prepared to pay.

8.  Spare Gas cans are key.  Especially when your range is less than 150 miles on a good day.  Oh, and the little yellow caps on the ends of the spout, they fly them somehow.  I lost both caps on both my spare cans while returning home.  

9.  Always ask the locals about the local sights/roads.  Follow their advice on such things as fuel additives as the gasoline quality can sometimes be an issue.  Marvel Mystery Oil and IsoHeet are good things; the first to keep things clean/lubed in your fuel path, the latter when dealing with water in one's gasoline supply.

10.  Carry water, preferably in a dedicated container, outside your main storage areas.  It's bulky.  It's sometimes hard to camp without water.

11.  Consider taking the Ferry to Whittier from Bellingham, then riding your way back to the lower 48, it's a  lot of miles.  This way, you're there nice and fresh for the riding of Alaska's few roads.   Do the cost analysis, factor in time and lodging, the ferry is not that much more expensive; at least in my case.

12.    Check your road-assistance provider's options.  Some offer excursion diversion, get it!  It would have paid for some of the lodging/food costs during my last breakdown.  Oh, and understand what their towing guidelines are....I didn't but still would have done what I did, after all why would I have it towed to a Vespa dealer that says they also work on URALs, when I know a bit further down the road was Raceway Services?

13.  Free yourself from the chains of wanting a campsite/hotel with wifi internet access.  All else fails, find an Internet Cafe or McDonald's for internet access.

14.  There's no such thing as overnight shipping to Alaska from "the outside", unless its to Anchorage itself, and even then, it's iffy.   Overnight to Valdez?  Try two days in reality, if you're lucky.

15.  A URAL's narrow tires, knobby equipped or not, on loose beach sand?  Not a good combination.  Beware the incoming tide, you will get stuck. LINK

16.  URAL Rider?  Carry a spare air filter or two.  The design of the airbox remains a weak point, dust and water ingestion will happen.  Although the jury is still out, I now believe that it contributed in a major fashion to the second occurrence of rough-running issues I encountered AFTER I fixed the initial water issue involving the PowerArc ignition and the cable from the coil leading rain water to the control module.

17.  Leaks/oil seepage from the engine?  The new URALs are much better made than the older ones, find out what's causing the leaks.  It might even be warrantied!  My rear main seal sure was, and when it failed it caused clutch plate contamination.  LINK

18.  A properly adjusted clutch cable is key.  Learn how to do it.  Clutch dragging?  Could be the cable, could be a worn clutch actuator arm.  If you've got the transmission apart from the engine, put some Honda Moly 60 grease on the transmission input spline!  Just like with airhead BMWs, a little goes a long way, too much will fling off and contaminate the clutch plates.  LINK

19.  Monitor the color of your spark plugs.  They are indicators of engine health in terms of air/fuel mixtures being correct.  A nice caramel color is what you want.  Fouled/black plugs?  Perhaps not enough air getting in the fuel/air mix (check your air filter).  Oh, and carry a spare pair of the correct plugs.

20.  Engine compression and being able to check it.  Carry a compression gauge, it's another basic check of engine health.  I now carry such a gauge for the long trips.   

21.  Buy or make two wire leads, with gator clips on the ends.  Helps for diagnosis of electrical issues, can be used also to bypass your ignition wiring as part of troubleshooting.

22.  Extremely cold overnight temperatures zap your battery?  Try warming things up under it with your camp stove for a few minutes.  Note, don't do this if you're leaking gas or oil!  LINK

23.  Thinking of re-jetting due to altitude?  I ran with stock jets in my home altitudes ranging from 5000-14000 ft with no issues, same jets all the way down to sea level in Alaska.  Perhaps the PowerArc helped in this?

24.  Gas stations in Western Canada and Alaska, can be few and far between.  Don't pass up chances to fuel up when near half empty or more.  See note 8 and 9.

25.  A SPOT (or similar device) provides good peace of mind as to your location/status for your loved ones and friends and is a handy record of your route.  It's worth the money.  The yearly subscription auto-renews, if you don't want to continue it, call them and cancel at least 30 days out.

26.  A ride to Alaska and back will make you more confident about changing tires, trust me.

27.  Know your tools, I still cringe in embarrassment when I remember how I didn't know the extra length available on my bottle jack.  Wires will break, carry a small soldering gun/solder, extra wire.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The 2013 CZAR: Colorado Zidecar Adventure Riders Rally

The CZAR rally this year, the second one since its conception, occurred from 21-23 June this year.  It was centered in the Gunnison, Colorado area and there would be a total of six rigs, and eight Uralisti, two boys and three dogs.

I didn't get there till Friday evening due to other commitments, but traveling along with me was my youngest son Miles.  We greeted the folks that had already been there, they'd ridden to the campsite near Taylor Reservoir via Cottonwood Pass and Salt Creek Road, and had already set up their own campsites.

In attendance were organizers Jay and Deana along with Darrell and Piper with their son Nakari and two dogs: Duncan and Schnitzel.  Having arrived with their RV towing their Ural, were Craig and Julie.  Rounding  out the group was new member Scott M. on his Taiga Green 2012 Gear-UP.

Martha and Patrick showed up a little later to join the dinner gathering, with Jay being the cook and the rest of us taking advantage of the preparations made or provided by Darrell and Piper, Julie and Martha.

 Miles studies the scavenger hunt list while I drink some of Darrell's wine....
Yeah, I know, nice camp boots....forgot to pack something more comfortable

 Ready for S'Mores!

Patrick, not a camping or outdoorsy kind of teen....

Martha would then "retired for the night" to the hotel she'd booked in Gunnison as that's her idea of camping; tagging along was Patrick, my oldest son who was quite full of bug bites.  Miles would be spending the night in my tent.

 Although six rigs are pictured, one would not participate in Saturday's ride, it
was apparently having clutch-related issues.  The plan was to ride it home
carefully on Sunday and get it fixed later on.

photo courtesy of Deana and Jay

 Here's Piper, Darrell's wife with their two dogs Schnitzel (brown and white)
and Duncan, their newest addition.

 Julie and Tina
photo courtesy of Julie and Craig

Tina proves a good "Monkey"
photo courtesy of Julie and Craig

The day's ride was a loop that included Taylor Reservoir, the town of Tin Cup, Cumberland Pass, steep mountain trails strewn with large rocks, gravel, dust and did I mention steep inclines?  As a competition, we split into two groups of rides, all trying to find the locales/objects listed in a scavenger hunt list.  

 Miles at the small settlement of Tin Cup, we would find the
Tree Stump Art  and Town Hall scavenger list objectives here.

Taylor Reservoir
photo courtesy of Deana and Jay

 A view of the road up to Cottonwood Pass, it's steep...
photo courtesy of Deana and Jay

 Craig driving his rig towards Cottonwood Pass Summit
onboard are his wife Julie and their dog tina
photo courtesy of Deana and Jay

Striking "Heroic Poses" at the summit
Left to Right: Deana, Tina, Julie and Craig
photo courtesy of Deana and Jay

 After much riding in first gear at high RPMs, all three of the rigs in my group made it 
to the top of Cumberland Pass.  This was Valencia's second time at the pass, neither
she or I remembered how bumpy it was on the way up and down!

 Darrell flagged down the Yamaha rider thinking he was riding a BMW GS motorcycle.
You see, that was one of the scavenger items we were looking for, we would not
end up finding a GS rider till back in town in Gunnison, CO.

The Yamaha rider is from North Carolina and is heading towards Alaska.

Back in Gunnison, after a quick snack and UDF session in Pitkin, CO, we gathered with the other team at the Gunnison Brewery restaurant.  Everyone was ravenous after all that riding and scavenging.  My team won the scavenger hunt by one point!  Apparently, it was the last point, my having to replace the air filter on Valencia due to it being clogged with dust from the trails, that put my team over the top!  :)

 After dinner, most Uralisti riders ended up buying one of the above
sidecar toys that was sold as a Christmas decoration.

 One last view towards Gunnison, its verdant valleys providing a nice
framework for its cinder cone-like hillsides.

 I believe this is the Taylor River, which was next to the Lodgepole
National Forest Campground we were staying at for the rally.

Saturday night was a pretty quiet affair as we were all tired from the day's riding and scavenging.  Miles didn't spend the second night with me in the tent, he opted to ride home in Martha's car.  I guess waking up several times at night with temperatures in the 30-40s wasn't his cup of tea.

Sunday dawned bright and cold.  I was first up again and was packed and ready to go by 7:00 AM or so.  The other folks got their stuff together and I departed along with Darrell and Piper on their rigs by 8:30 AM or so.  Good rally, good times with fellow Uralisti!

I was riding with Darrell and Piper to make sure that Piper's rig, which was being driven by Darrell would make it past the summit of Cottonwood Pass as it was the one that had been experiencing clutch issues on Thursday.  Ironically, the clutch seemed to be working fine this morning!  Oh well, she'll still be taken apart by Darrell to make sure all is well in there.

 Valencia, near the top of Cottonwood pass, on the western side of the pass.  

Descending from the summit of Cottonwood Pass (this is a beautiful
motorcycling road by the way...paved on the eastern half and packed dirt with some 
gravel on the western half)

The three of us made it to Buena Vista with no incident by 11:00 AM and we said our goodbyes after fueling up.

I would motor on, heading back home on US285, Valencia pulling strongly even on the long inclines.  I was fortunate in that I had a tailwind pushing me home.  No mechanical issues to report besides a clogged air filter the day before, luckily I carry a spare.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Taking Martha to Court

Yep, the time had come to take my loving wife to court!

So that she could report for jury duty of course, what did you think I was taking her to court for?  :)

We took Valencia of course, as it was a nice sunny and cool morning here in Colorado.  The rush hour traffic was in full force but we were only on Arapahoe Road for a few minutes and happily turned off onto Potomac Drive and away from all the discontent looking cagers going to their jobs.

 Here we are, in the courthouse parking lot, with a view
of the "correctional facility" behind us.

While Martha went in and waited to see if she would be required to be a juror, I was left to my own devices in the parking lot.  This is usually not a good thing as my mind wanders and I start getting "ideas" on how to improve my rig.

Today's "idea" was to gain extra storage, albeit only for temporary usage such as when camping with a passenger riding along.  I thought about a metal rack mounted on the nose of the sidecar but thought it would ruin Valencia's looks.  

Then it hit me, why not try the new saddlebags on top of the forward or nose section of the sidecar?

 I easily removed the saddlebags from the pillion seat area and 
arranged them on the nose.  The idea would be to anchor it in place somehow,
with a soft blanket perhaps underneath to prevent scratches to the paint.

The water bottles that comes with the saddlebag would be
conveniently within reach of both rider and monkey.

So what do you think?  I would end up buying another saddlebag set of course, and continue to use one on the pillion seat, and the second one on the nose for camping trips.

Martha, and the 100 or so other prospective jurors were eventually told all cases they'd been summoned for had been "settled out of court" and so they were all released with the thanks of the court.  Yay.  Now Martha is good to go for at least a year.

After a bit of grocery shopping, we went on home before things got too hot here in the metro area.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Aussie Saddlebags for my Russian Steed

Today is Ride to Work Day!  Did you ride?

I rode, even though I am unemployed at present.  I rode to Down Under Saddle Supply to remedy a lack that I'd experienced during my recent ride to Alaska and back.

You see, I used a tailbag, to store and have ready access to gloves, maps, straps and such while riding.  The one I used worked OK but I wanted something better.

A bit of online research and I found these saddlebags in nearby Aurora, CO:

 I originally had picked out the brown colored version but the sales guy talked
me out of it as most of Valencia's trim is black.

 Left bag: gloves, spares, straps
Right bag: rain coat and pants
Top Bag: Jacket liners.
(and yes, the Kolpin gas can still fits when mounted
to left side of sidecar's left quarter)

Handy access to water bottles, which came with the saddlebag

Two forward straps allowed me to secure the bag to the frame of the tug.  No straps are left hanging loose, to be caught by the spokes of the rear wheel.  The straps have quick release buckles so I can release the saddlebags at night and take them into the hotel or tent as applicable.

The straps on top can be used to strap down other items, a waterproof bag perhaps.

The 2013 CZAR (Colorado Zidecar Adventure Rider) Rally is this coming weekend, in the Gunnison area.  It'll be a good test of the new saddlebags.  I might look into suitably sized plastic storage containers to make the bags retain their form when empty, but that's later on.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Alaska Trip, some stats, some thoughts....

There's many things I need to continue refining in my mind about my ride to Alaska and back by Ural.

For now, some stats:

A total of 75 days away from home:

Of these, the majority of them (42) were days I stayed at the home of friends I knew, friends I met along the way and friends from the Internet.  24 days were motel days when I either couldn't find an open campground (and didn't know you could camp at highway turnouts/rest areas).  Five days I actually camped (good thing Valencia lugged all that camping equipment there and back huh?) and finally 4 days on the Alaska Ferry.

Valencia's odometer read 20,907 Kilometers at the start of the trip, it now reads 38.937 Kilometers which means she and I rode 18,030 Kilometers or 10,818 miles together.

Valencia, carrying myself and all the crap I packed for the trip, weighed in on a highway scale at 1250 lbs.  She weighs 736 lbs dry, and has a gross vehicle weight limit of 1344 lbs.  It was close to max limit.  I must be more weight aware next time.

At an average miles per gallon estimate of 27 MPG (yeah, sad, but that little 40 hp 750cc engine was lugging around almost 1300 lbs of sidecar rig, rider and gear!), I figure I used up about 400 gallons of gasoline.

I went through five tires, three of them on the pusher wheel.  Again, I must say I was highly disappointed with the mileage achievable on the DURO tires.  Both the HF308 and 307 versions rendered less than 3000 Km as pusher tires when on Alaskan/Canadian roads.

Two flat tires, resulting in three ruined inner tubes.  Yep, three.  Let's just say the guy at the tire shop in Watson Lake, BC really wasn't up to the task of doing motorcycle tire changes.

Wildlife sighted: One small black bear, two small herds of Caribou, about ten moose total (none with racks), one Bald Eagle (in Oregon), assorted squirrels/varmints doing the death dash across the road as I approached.

Best part of the trip?  Meeting with old friends again and also meeting new friends on the road.

Worst part of the trip?  Well, the mechanical issues encountered sure weren't exactly joyous times; but it was the uncertainty they generated in the trust I had on Valencia at the outset of the journey that was the worst part.

Still, time was on my side and so it was more inconvenience and some costs out of pocket not covered by URAL's incredibly fast and comprehensive warranty coverage.

 All the above fit on the rig, either inside the sidecar, or on it in some fashion
The above stuff got used.

 The above gear also was in the sidecar or on it, but didn't get used at all!
Again, when one has a sidecar, cargo discipline is damn near non-existent!
But it could have been worse, at one point, there was a small Honda
Generator on the packing list!

Valencia's odometer reading yesterday afternoon as I got to the house.

I was told, upon arrival up North, that mid-April was really too early to show up to Alaska as the state doesn't really open up for warm weather tourism till Memorial Day Weekend.   There being a "late spring", the likes of which hadn't been seen by folks who've lived up in Alaska over thirty years, didn't help things.

I will say though, if you want to see lots of snow on the mountains still, mid-April is just right.  Destruction Bay, YT in mid-April was beautifully snow-clad, later on in late May?  Not so much.

Roads not taken:  Dalton/Haul Road to the Arctic Circle and Atigun Pass, weather and trust issues with the rig.  Denali Highway, not open due to late Spring and snow-clearing operations ongoing.


Spent the day cleaning up Valencia and putting things away.  She continues to run well, the air filter was a bit dirty but not clogged with ash as I'd thought last night.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Uraling back to Colorado - Day 64: The Rider is Home

A long day in the saddle today, but the reward was being home again with my loving wife and sons.  Almost 11.5 hrs and 771 kilometers on the clock (almost 463 miles).  Not the longest day in the saddle by far but it was a long one!

I left Montpelier, Idaho at 5:40 AM and by 6:00 AM I had crossed the border into Wyoming.  If you're ever in the area, I'd skip Montpelier for lodgings either before or after.  Just saying.

Then it was just riding on US 30 East until it junctioned with I-80 near Green River, WY.  Not much to report about the riding itself, just a lot of traffic with me being the slowest vehicle tootling along in the right lane.

Near Superior, WY, I took the exit as I was feeling sleepy.  I found a frontage road that paralleled I-80 for a bit so I rode along to "wake myself up".  I ended up at this sign as a good happenstance because of my tiredness:

 Near Point of Rocks

 Apparently, one rides a part of the historic Overland Stage Route
along I-80

 I've never seen a gas pump where one puts in cash for gas....weird.

At a RR crossing near Point of Rocks

Continuing on, the next stop was at the exit for the Continental Divide Road.  A sign pointed to a nearby small hill where a couple of signs could be seen.  Again, fortunate happenstance allowed this cool historical find:

 Valencia at the Continental Divide alongside I-80 Slab

 Ya know, finding and riding what remains of the Lincoln Highway
would be one heck of a ride report!

The rest of the day was steady riding at 55 mph along the route shown below.  Valencia did great though as I got close to the Denver Metro area and its smoky air (due to the numerous wild fires currently burning), Valencia seemed to have slight troubles breathing.  I was not getting full power and I bet the air filter is clogged with ash when I check it tomorrow.

Still I made it home safely and Valencia didn't have a single issue!  Martha and the boys were waiting for me in the driveway, and you can check out the photos on Martha's blog:  LINK, once she gets a chance to write it all up.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Uraling back to Colorado - Day 63: Ontario, OR to Montpelier, ID

I left Ontario, Oregon and the Motel 6 shortly before 7:00 AM and made it over to Boise by 8:00 AM.  I couldn't locate the URAL dealership at first so instead decided to get breakfast at a local restaurant.

While in the restaurant, reviewed Google Maps again and realized my error.  After breakfast, the shop was open and I found it right where Google said it was.  It's a small building, easy to miss if you don't know what to look for.

I wandered in and fortunately the guy I started talking to was the owner!  Fred Wiley is his name and when he found out I was a URAL rider enroute to Colorado, and that I was asking to borrow a torque wrench and a spot to do an oil change, he said: "No problem!"

He showed me a nice dry spot on a concrete pad in the back of the shop, handed me an oil pan and a torque wrench, and left me to my maintenance chores.

I rechecked the torque on the head bolts, all were fine.  I changed out the oil in the engine and was happy to not find any large metal shavings, just a few "sparkle sized" grains of metal in the oil filter which I tore apart.

After I cleaned up, I asked Fred for a picture and thanked him for a great first experience at his dealership.

Fred Wiley, the owner of Big Twin Cycle Center and 
new URAL dealership for the Boise, ID area.

So, if you're interested in a URAL sidecar rig or a BMW motorcycle, and live near Boise....go check out the offerings Fred has.  The day I was there, he had a blue/white and forest fog pair of rigs.

Maintenance done, I headed back onto the I-84 slab.  Eventually I reached Bliss and turned off to check out the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway which had been recommended to me by a friend of the family.  The byway proved dissapointing in that the "thousand springs" have dissapeared along with the water for them, there's barely a dozen or so springs where there were apparently a thousand.  I guess someone forgot to pay the water bill?  :)

The byway took time to do and proved just a tour of farms and cattle ranches.  I eventually reached the other end of it at the city of Twin Falls.  It was hot, it was full of cars, and I wanted nothing but to get back to the I-84 slab and keep going east!  I even crossed over the Perrine Ridge bridge without taking a single picture.....sigh.

Here's my route for today, all slab riding as I get closer and closer to home.

Roughly 374 miles of riding today, man it was hot.  I hear its even hotter in the Denver Metro area!  I had to take more breaks than usual due to the heat making me sleepy.  Valencia did great today as well, I am taking it easy on the "almost completely rebuilt engine", keeping speeds between 55-60 mph (indicated) which translates to 50-55 mph actual.

About 524 miles and lots of more slab riding separate me from my loving wife and sons.  It'll be a long day of riding tomorrow but I believe tomorrow night I'll sleep in my own bed, with a bit of luck.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Uraling back to Colorado - Day 62: Salem, OR to Ontario, OR

I left Bluekat and Ron's home shortly after 7:00 AM and arrived at Raceway Services in Salem, OR shortly after 8:00 AM.

Last evening, I had a chance to give Rachel, Bluekat and Ron's daughter
another ride in the sidecar.  She doesn't like her picture taken apparently....  :)

Robert started checking out Valencia's torque on the head bolts, asked me about yesterday's oil change, examined the oil I'd brought from that oil change, fixed the mounting bolts on my front brake caliper (they were stripped due to overtightening I think).

I was out of there by 10:00 AM, once again thankful for such a great dealership such as Raceway Services and the stellar shop crew and management that they provide for customers.

The rest of the day was steady ( speed was between 55-60 mph indicated ) riding on the I-84 Super Slab.  No pictures of the Columbia Gorge area, too much congestion due to a traffic accident on milepost 44 which really snarled things up.

10 glorious hours later, and according to Google Maps roughly 421+ miles, I checked into a Motel 6 in Ontario, Oregon.  I am a tired rider tonight.

Here's today's route:

source: google maps

 As I rode along, I tried to capture a sundog rainbow, failed at that
but as you can see, got a good shot of the sky and clouds somewhere
to the west of Ontario, Oregon on I-84.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight.  That's the saying where good
weather is presaged by the appearance of red skies in the evening.....I hope its correct.

Valencia ran great all day I am happy to report.  The plan is to cross into Idaho tomorrow and stop at the URAL dealer in Boise, ID to get him to check/re-torque the head bolts one more time per the recommendation of Raceway Services.  I didn't have a torque wrench with me and the one I found at a NAPA store was $200 so I passed on that purchase!  I also hope to do a 1000 kilometer interval oil change to ensure there's no more metallic shavings in the engine oil.

After that's done, it's more slab time heading towards Wyoming.