A California road trip

Gear, Hell For Leather, HFL -

By

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Bike: 2013 Suzuki GSX-R750

Bag: Kriega R30

Gloves: Cortech Latigo RR

GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 62S

Days: eight

Miles: 1,190

Roads ridden: HWY-2, Tuna Canyon, HWY-33, HWY-58, HWY-101, HWY-17, HWY-1

Number of flooded crossings: two

Number of turned-over cars: one

Travelogue
Taking the early flight from Boston allowed me to grab lunch with the rest of the RideApart guys before setting off on the bike.

The tires were new so I chose HWY-2, Angeles Crest Highway, to scrub them in a bit. Mission accomplished. Even though it is significantly warmer in LA than in Boston it was still rather frigid once I got a ways up. I decided to turn around and visit my brother before eventually turning in for the night.

Eight o’clock the next morning I started up the bike and headed from Calabasas to ride Tuna Canyon. I had first heard of this road in this RideApart video. I was considering cutting out the Santa Monica Mountains portion of my 500 mile ride up to Santa Clara, an I ever glad I didn’t. Within 15 minutes I was at the top, having ridden up a tremendous road, looking over the glorious California countryside.

Having reached Malibu via Tuna Canyon (worth the trip) I considered not doing the roads recommended in a recent Cycle World. In this second stretch of canyon roads my experience was rather mixed. I dreaded being on gravel covered broken pavement for over half an hour. Nothing like rough gravel covered pavement to make you question the two tiny patches of rubber keeping you upright.

After I had reached the emotional low I was rescued by a curious entry way and later by a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. Worth it.

Reaching HWY-1 again meant it was time to shoot up to Ojai to ride HWY-33 and all of its inland glory. Enter Complication number one: time change. Since my body was off by two hours my appetite was thrown off more than was expected. That combined with the adrenaline of riding such a machine of such roads on such a long journey I could only muster eating some beef jerky and some water before enter the mouth of the HWY-33 dragon.

HWY-33 did not disappoint and was a tremendous road. At least the southern facing side was. The northern half was covered in mud from melting snow making for a measured ride down into petroleum country.

Prior to reaching the basin there were some fantastic roads, some flooded some not, where I could “safely” test the rev limiter in the upper gears. It works.

Enter Complication number two: The Land of Desolation. Being past hungry and surviving on adrenaline and beef jerky the one dive I saw in Taft offered me no mouth watering lust for what food lay inside. I confined on feeling totally depressed and a bit desperate as I rode past the lonely oil pumps raising and lowering their head to penetrate the silty earth.

Finally reaching HWY-58 my spirits were lifted slightly. I dramatically underestimated the distance to the next restaurant. Before I could reach King City I had to pull over a few times to both break my mental funk and relieve my leg cramps.

King City couldn’t have come soon enough. I forced myself to swallow some limp French dip sandwich and lettuce. After 30 minutes or so my body decided to accept the offering made and after an hour I felt much better.

With roughly 150 miles left to Santa Clara I planned to stop every 50 miles. After the first stop I felt fully recovered and was able to stretch the next to 70 miles. After the final 40 mile stretch I reached my hotel, completing my 12 hour 500 mile journey, and couldn’t have been happier.

During the week I had a few evenings with an hour gap in my schedule. This allowed me to quickly explore a wonderful road among the rolling cow fields just west of Santa Clara. Amazing hairpin after hairpin with near zero traffic less than 15 minutes from the city. It was the first venture to these cow fields where I came across a rolled over car. Fearing the worst I braced myself for finding someone unconscious, or worse, in the cab. To my pleasure it was abandoned and with the license plates removed.

The bike served as my commuter during the week to motivate me to and from my hotel and my seminar and dinner with friends and other such activities.

The ride home started at the same time as the last trip covered in the cool mist common to the Bay Area.

I made my way over the crazy highway 17 down into Santa Cruz. Motorists in California drive so fast and that is apparent both in LA and on Highway 17. Once reaching Santa Cruz I embarked on highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway also known as the PCH. It was my mission to ride as much of the PCH between Santa Cruze and Ventura as possible. This meant riding on parts of the PCH that were probably better skipped over.

The PCH has been in my bucket list and to ride it in such a beautiful day was a blessing. Despite the chilly air the whole way down there were several times where my breath escaped me due to the beauty that is the Pacific Ocean. Big Sur, Salinas, and San Luis Obispo county spring to mind.

The trip south was a much more relaxed ride as compared to the race up from LA. I covered a bit over 400 miles in around 10 hours. I was a bit more sore due to both the chill and the fact that I had been riding a super sport bike for over 1000 miles.

In the end, I continue to be amazed of the beauty which exists in such abundance in California. So many wonderful roads, beautiful mountains, and comfortable weather.

Suzuki GSX-R750
Suzuki has been making the Gixxer 750 since they were cool.

I love this middleweight class of bikes and was very excited to ride this new 750. I will skip the most of the specifications as they have been covered well enough since the 2011 refresh. The most notable features are the Big Piston Forks (BPF) and the Brembo brakes up front.

The seating position is sporty but significantly more comfortable than the competing Triumph Daytona 675. My favorite stock feature of the Gixxer are the adjustable footrests. Since I would be leaned over the tank for 12 hours and 500 miles I adjusted those to their lowest position after a quick ride up the Angeles Crest Highway. This provided a tradeoff of increased comfort for slightly less ease of moving my body from one side to the other in the canyons.

All the modern supersport bikes get a passing grade these days. It’s really about which receive an A+ and which receive an A-. The brakes on this bike receive an A-. Still a passing grade, but a bit squishy requiring significant effort at the lever. There is also very little initial bite. Some, if not all, of this could be improved by swapping out the brake pads and possibly upgrading to braided lines if you felt like getting serious. Like the GSX-R1000, it’s probably in need of an upgrade master cylinder too.

The other characteristics that keeps this bike from getting an A+ are some quirky behaviors in the engine department. The more minor of the two is a slightly unbalanced feel while maintaining highway speeds. There was a slow undulating sound and rhythm to the vibrations. The more egregious behavior was something I have labelled “engine float”. Most noticeable in higher gears, but not restricted to them, the engine would sometimes stop vibrating all together and reach what felt like an awkward equilibrium between the engine driving the wheel and the wheel driving the engine. This was rather unnerving in two scenarios: One – while out in the middle of nowhere worried about the reliability of the engine and whether it would leave me stranded. Two — while braking for a corner, relying both on engine braking and the front brake and for a second or so the engine braking would go away upsetting the bike and my net braking force dramatically reduced.

Having said that, all modern fuel injected bikes experience fueling issues caused by the manufacturer’s attempts to provide liability free performance while conforming to ever more stringent emissions and noise regulations. Some manufacturers seem to navigate this system more gracefully than others. I am confident that both the balance and “float” issues could be rectified by putting an aftermarket fuel manager, like the Power Commander, in the mix.

The final nitpick is that the digital clocks while full of useful information, including a gear indicator, were rather difficult to see in the daylight.

The ultimate question: Would I buy it with my own money?

The short answer: No.

Here’s why. I am reluctant to purchase a bike knowing I’ll need to spend a couple thousand dollars on to build it up to how I want I think it should be off the show floor. I may be delusional to think that it would be possible to not do this for any bike, but that is my delusion. (Perhaps a post about the current state of motorcycle specifications is in order to explore why it is assumed we’re all accepting of fueling deficiencies, silly gearing ratios, and mediocre components on many of today’s sport bikes.) I also greatly favor the engine of the Triumph Daytona 675. The powerband of the Gixxer feels very much like a 600 but with a bit more grunt. Very eager to please above 8-grand but very complacent below that. The Daytona has a more linear feeling powerband. (note: I have not, as of writing this, had the opportunity to ride the 2013 Daytona)

In conclusion, the Suzuki GSX-R750 is a great bike and I applaud Suzuki for continuing to make it. It provided me with a wonderful combination of speed, agility, and comfort. I wish I was more in love with it, but I am only in serious like with it.

Kriega R30
If you had asked me a month ago whether I thought it was possible for a company to differentiate itself by creating a motorcycle specific backpack I would have confidently said “no way.”

After 1100 miles on a sportbike with the Kriega R30 on my bike I can now confidently say that I am a believer. I have always avoided riding with a backpack as they are so uncomfortable. Regular backpacks carry all the weight on one’s shoulders causing discomfort and fatigue. The Kriega system, while simple in appearence, keeps the weight off of one’s shoulders via an innovative strap design.

Fit:
The key components are the front clips, independently adjustable upper and lower straps, and a grippy material on the chest and lower straps. These work surprisingly well to transfer the weight from shoulders to chest and back.

Waterproof:
The R30 comes with a removable waterproof membrane in the main large compartment. Even though I didn’t get any more than a misting on my journey I appreciated the piece of mind knowing my clothes and laptop would be dry in the event of a downpour. The R30 is the only Kriega backpack offering a waterproof main compartment. The external zipper pouches feature weather resistant zippers but make no claim of water protection.

Size:
Regardless of where you stand on the “size matters” debate the R30 is large. It may be more accurate to classify it as XL. I had plenty of room for my week’s clothing and toiletries. In addition to my laptop, tools, and gifts for friends.

Configuration:
The R30 consists of one 30 liter roll-top main compartment, featuring the aforementioned waterproof membrane, two fannypack sized outer zipper pockets, three sinching straps, and plastic D-rings onto which the smaller Kriega US bags can be strapped.

The hardest part of the single main compartment is packing and keeping the weight up high which helps create a comfortable weight distribution for those longer rides. I found jamming my clothes at the bottom and then sinching the lower strap tightly kept my laptop from sliding down the way gravity wanted it to.

Conclusion:
The Kriega line of bags (I also used a US-10 on my trip) are an appropriately pricey accessory that is worth paying if you intend to use it regularly and without too much pampering. The quality is superb and the function outstanding.

I am a believer.

Motorcycle GPS – Garmin GPSmap 62s
Slow and steady wins the race

This could be said about Garmin’s handheld GPS innovation strategy and also said about the Garmin GPSMAP 62S . More on that later.

Garmin has been the leader in personal navigation devices. While the portable car GPS market is now more fragmented the handheld GPS market is split between Garmin and the disruptive smartphones.

I would love to be able to use my iPhone on my motorcycle. There are many reasons why I don’t:
- I’m concerned about its ruggedness. Mororcycles vibrate, bump, and rattle. I am not convinced that the iPhone could stand up to that for any length of time.
- Motorcycles are exposed to the elements. Smartphones in the US are not typically water proof.
- I haven’t found a way to preload both maps and routes into an iPhone app. Some of the best roads for a motorcycle are where no data connection can be found. Being able to both preload maps and routes is farely critical for me.
- I wear gloves when I ride. The iPhone’s capacitive screen does not respond to leather gloves and I don’t think it’s worth it to buy special gloves or finger covers to make my gloves compatible with the iPhone.

For those reasons I choose to pay extra for a dedicated GPS unit. I choose however to purchase the GPSmap series instead of the Zumo series due to the significant cost savings. The GPSmap devices are roughly half as expensive as their Zumo cousins.

Maps. Maps is where Garmin excels and struggles. Their map data is quite good, they lease the data from NavTeq. Their map licensing is where Garmin is stuck in the age similar to when Mp3 digital music first appeared on the Internet and the big record labels freaked out and tried to lock everything using Digital Rights Managament (DRM). Garmin ties each map license number to a single device. This means that if you loose or upgrade your device you are out of luck. What’s equally bad is that buying the downloaded version of the maps to out on my GPSmap device means that I can not use these detailed maps for route planning in my computer unless the device is plugged in to the USB port. Map upgrades are almost as expensive as new maps and in the car navigation segment it is often the same price to buy a completely new device as it would be to upgrade the maps.

The GPSmap series comes with a very basic, practically useless, map pre installed. These maps do not work for navigating on or off road as they basically tell you where the statelines are and that’s about it.

After installing the City Map the 62s does a fine job of navigating you to your destination. In my recent trip where I had a 500 mile long route I wanted to follow the initial calculation took upwards of a minute. After the initial calculation though it was very responsive until I missed a turn and it would need to recalculate. Sometimes this happened quickly one time I decided to make a new route from scratch it was taking so long.

Having owned the predecessor 60csx I can assure the 62s is faster and with a better screen. The tones are significantly quieter and I ended up turning mine off as they were useless on the motorcycle. To navigate I relied on the map with the Distance to Next data to inform me of upcoming turns.

Over all I am very pleased with the hardware and map quality. The software is lacking yet still adequate.

I highly recommend the Garmin GPSMAP 62S as a motorsports GPS due to its ruggedness and relative value over the Zumo series. It also has the benefit of doubling as a hiking or off road GPS.

Cortech Latigo RR Gloves
Cortech has long positioned itself among the value players of motorcycle accessories. They try to offer more affordably priced items with a quality that is higher than normal for the price. Cortech has had some success with this strategy and has in recent years tried moving a bit up market by offering higher priced items while maintaining their higher than normal-for-the-price quality standard. The Latigo RR gloves fall in between, acting as a bridge between their upper and lower priced models.

Being one of Cortech’s mid-tier offerings means it gets a full leather construction with TPU hard parts over the fingers but doesn’t get the metal knuckle or robust wrist protection. This combination means the Latigo RR gloves are targeted directly at the sporty street rider. At around $90 they do offer a lot of features for the price.

With supple palm leather and precurved fingers the Latigo RRs proved to be quite comfortable over my 1100 mile trip. After a few hours they felt broken in and allowed for easy finger movement. The base leather of the entire backhand is perforated providing tremendous amounts of airflow. This no doubt limits their application in the colder months of the year but I was still quite comfortable in March riding down the PCH.

Now for the bad: The main problem and potential problems I see with the Cortech Latigo RR gloves is consistency and attention to detail in the manufacturing process. The pair of gloves I wore on my trip were actually the second pair I received. The first pair had a stitching problem on the inside of the first knuckle of the right index finger causing a hole to develop after 30 minutes of wear around the house. This second pair seems to be adequately stitched however it is easy to see discrepancies between the right and left glove. Using white and colored leather will show these imperfections more than all black gloves and Cortech also designed these gloves using many pieces of leather, perhaps to save on material costs, which dramatically increases the chances that seams won’t exactly line up.

The value and comfort of these gloves does outway the risk of potential manufacturing shortcomings. I also recommend giving them a thorough once over after you get them in the mail to check for such mis-stitchings. I enjoyed these gloves and feel they offer a high level of comfort and protection for the street at an affordable price. I look forward to using them when the warm sticky New England weather comes around later in the year.

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke]

    What’s equally bad is that buying the downloaded version of the maps to out on my GPSmap device means that I can not use these detailed maps for route planning in my computer unless the device is plugged in to the USB port. Map upgrades are almost as expensive as new maps and in the car navigation segment it is often the same price to buy a completely new device as it would be to upgrade the maps.

    I’m a longtime Garmin user — over a dozen years of owning various Garmin devices.

    I don’t know what version of software, maps, etc you’re using with your Garmin, but I have always been able to do route planning on my various computers (desktops, laptops, even handhelds running Windows) — at full map resolution — even with none of my Garmin devices plugged into the computer.

    Right now, I’m on Basecamp 4.1.2 with City Navigator North America NT 2013.4. My wife has a Garmin Nuvi in her car. I have two Garmin handhelds which I use for motorcycling, hang-gliding, and boating.

    Garmin NuMaps Lifetime for North America is $53.85. I don’t consider that expensive.

    BTW, I also have Garmin StreetPilot Onboard for my iPhone as well as my wife’s. With the latest update, you can choose which regions you want to keep on your iPhone. (Previous versions required that the whole map — approx 2 GB — be stored on device.) StreetPilot Onboard works without a data connection. (In fact, my iPhone doesn’t even have a SIM card in it.)

    For my various Android devices, I have Sygic and NDrive for offline navigation.

    For many reasons, including the several that you mentioned in your trip report, I rely on my Garmin for navigation when I’m motorcycling (or doing other outdoor activities) versus any of the mapping programs on my smartphones.

    BTW, not that I’m encouraging you to do this — because I think Garmin’s lifetime maps are fairly priced given their quality — but it’s very easy to assign a single lifetime map license to all of your Garmin devices.

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the feedback. I am able to use the detailed map but only when the device is plugged in. I have as of yet not been able to figure out how to transfer the maps for “offline” use.
      I’ll take another look.
      Thanks for reading.
      - Jeremy

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidyarica.freire DavidyArica Freire

    Thanks for this trip report, great read. I think I wanna go to CotA for MotoGP on my liter bike but I don’t know if my body could take it.

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      I’m sure your body could take it if you give yourself enough time to plan in regular rest stops and breaks. In the second half of my 400+ rides I would stop every hour or so and walk around.
      If it’s really far away a night’s sleep will help your body tremendously.
      Thanks for reading and happy riding.
      -Jeremy

  • Kyle McStravick

    Good report . What are the pants you’re shown wearing?

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      They are Dainese New Drake Air pants. http://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/dainese-new-drake-air-textile-pants

      I’ve had them for a couple years now. They are great in that they work both as stand alone riding pants or over pants without me feeling like I am wearing big black canvas bags on my legs.

      I wear them all year round with varying underlayers.
      - Jeremy

  • http://twitter.com/mchale2020 Jordan

    You friend-zoned the Gixxer? Ouch.

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      It didn’t have that special something to make it into my lovers circle.

      • http://twitter.com/mchale2020 Jordan

        It’s a shame, all that mouth watering technology that benefits a racer is used to pass emissions for us plebians.

        Do you own a Daytona? I was wondering what your experience owning one has been like if you do.

        • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

          I do not own a Daytona, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t listed over them. I was able to rent one from racyrentals.com a year and a half ago. It’s a wonderful canyon machine. It’s much less “comfortable” than the gixxer though. The Daytona would make a great track bike, in my opinion.

          • karlInSanDiego

            I took a tip from the guys on triumph675.net and swapped my clip-ons from right to left and vise-versa. This required drilling on hole for the brake reservoir but has made my Daytona much more comfortable on long rides, bringing the bars up about an inch and making them flatter.

            • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

              That sounds like the poor man’s helibars solution. Interesting idea.

  • roma258

    I’ve had the Cortech Latigo gloves for a couple season now. I know they’re not the nicest gloves around, but I’ve been very happy with them all things considered. Had a few getoffs on the track without any major issues, they’ve held up great to the abuse.

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      Glad to hear of your good experience with the gloves. I hope to have similar success.
      California and other western states do have some of the best motorcycle roads in the world. I am trying to find more legitimate excuses to get out there and ride more.
      Thanks for reading.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sean.matic.3 Sean Matic

    Did the 1012 Moto GP Laguna Seca ride with Wes & Co and about to leave in 5 min to do this route north. It’s every bit as epic as Jeremy describes in his great write up. Nicely done on the adventure and the article.

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      Thanks Sean. It is a tremendous route. Worth doing as often as time will permit.

  • KeithB

    Great read! We are really keen to get out that way and do the PCH run.
    Long way from Toronto but I’ll get there.

    A note on gloves and iPhones…
    There is conductive thread available and with a couple of simple stitches in the index finger of any glove, you can operate the multi touch screens. No need to buy “special” gloves.

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      Even if I don’t take to mounting my iPhone that would make it more convenient for me to quickly check something on my phone without having to take off my gloves.
      Do you have a thread recommendation?

  • MrMotoWise

    Don’t believe him, everyone. 33 to the 58 sucks. And Cerro Noroeste is a boring straight road full of potholes. Stay away!

    • http://twitter.com/jeremyblanchard Jeremy Blanchard

      Practicing crowd control?