Living with “Orange Crush”

It’s been a month since I traded in my Triumph Trophy for an orange and black BMW K1600GT that I dubbed “Orange Crush”. Since it’s my primary transportation I’ve ridden it every day—except for some rainy days here and there. So, I think I have a good handle on the good, and the bad of owning it.

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Pilot Motosport Riding Gear Review

ATTGATT. All the gear, all the time. It’s the mantra I live by, especially since my motorcycle is my primary transportation, and I ride every day. That turned out to be a good decision in 2008, when the van driver for a handicapped transportation service, presumably trying to drum up some more business, ran a stop sign and T-boned me while I was riding my FJR1300. I walked away with just a broken toe.

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Buffaloed

VikingCycle Skeid Jacket

So, here’s the usual thing with gear and apparel reviews, when you write for a web site like this one: someone sends you an item to review for free, and which you get to keep. In return, you are obligated to write a review of it. Most of the time, it’s no big deal. They send you a mid-range bit of riding gear, you write a review with mid-range approval, because they almost invariably send you an item that does the job it’s supposed to do, at a reasonable price.

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Time Travel

2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

Suzuki is best known for two motorcycles: the Hyabusa, long known as the fastest production motorcycle in the world, and the GSX-R750, a bike that provides nearly suberbike performance at the weight of a 650cc supersport. But, alongside those two motorcycles is a third model that holds a special place in many people’s hearts: the V-Strom.

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VikingCycle Warrior Motorcycle Jacket

Riding Gear Review

Motorcycle House contacted me and asked me if I’d be willing to review some of their gear. They wanted me to review a set of their leather saddlebags, but, since I ride a VFR1200, that wasn’t possible. So, they asked if I’d be willing to review a jacket. They even let me pick the jacket I wanted to review. Since I’m a sucker for a nice leather jacket, I chose the Warrior motorcycle jacket. There was no quid-pro-quo for a nice review. The deal was that they’d send me a jacket, and I’d review it, as always.

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Brief Lumix FZ200 Review/Comparison

As a photographer, my first choice for any professional assignment is a digital SLR. But, as a guy who just walks around and likes taking pictures, I want something slammer and more convenient. And I also want to be able to shoot video. Also, as a pro, a nice camcorder that I can use as a B-roll camcorder to back up my big video camera is a big plus. So, after a lot of research, I settled on getting a Panasonic Lumix FZ200—the successor to the impressive FZ150—as a walking-around camera/camcorder.

Today, I decided to do a little comparison of images taken with my Canon D50 with the FZ200. All images are zoomed to 100%.

canon50djpeg

Canon 50D original JPG image

lumixfz200jpeg

Lumix FZ200 Original JPG image

canon50drawconversion

Canon 50D Uncorrected RAW Conversion (Photoshop RAW converter)

lumixfz200rawconversion

Lumix FZ200 Uncorrected RAW Conversion (SilkyPix RAW Converter)

iphone4sjpeg

iPhone 4S JPG image, included for curiosity’s sake. iPhone shoot 8 MP compared to the 12.1MP of the FZ200 and 15MP of the Canon 50D. It’s actually really good for a tiny cell phone camera.

A couple of interesting differences are evident. The Lumix shoots much warmer. Dropping the color temperature of the RAW image from 5100 to about 4600 produces a much closer color match.  The smaller 1.2/3" sensor on the Lumix loses some fine detail, producing a softer image, which is not totally fixable in RAW, but can be sharpened nicely in SilkyPix.

The Lumix JPG compression is really too aggressive. The image is full of compression artifacts at 100% when you shoot in JPG. However, for sharing images on the web, you’ll resize them down by quite a bit, anyway, so much of that won’t be obvious. Shooting for the web and sharing via email will work just fine with the FZ200 in JPG mode. If you’re interested in blowing up any of the images, then you’ll really want to shoot in RAW, so you won’t have to deal with the in-camera JPG conversion.

I’m hoping that a firmware update for the FZ200 will be forthcoming from Panasonic in the not-too-distant future, to improve the in-camera JPG conversion. Until then, shooting in RAW is the best option for shots that you’ll want to use at 100% of zoom.

On the other hand, if you’re just shooting for vacation or family pics, and for sharing online, the Lumix FZ200 is a pretty good camera.

I also took some test shots, using both 6x and 12x zoom with the camcorder function. The long zoom length is great, and the full 1080 HD video shows more detail and clarity than the Canon Vixia I was using. I’ll be very happy to shoot B-roll with this camera.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tECJNQ6kplY

Overall, the Lumix FZ200 is a fine camera/camcorder for casual shooting, and—using RAW—for some light pro applications. It’s perfect to use as a camera for online sharing, and has quite a lot of capability for such a small, compact camera. So, far, I’m pretty happy with it.

I’ll be even happier if Panasonic cleans up the in-camera JPG conversion with a new firmware update.

Xelement Men’s CF-624 Armored Race Motorcycle Jacket Review

First, for full transparency, this is a solicited review. Leatherup.Com contacted me and asked if I would be interested in having them sending me some gear to review, and I said I’d be happy to. There is no payment or quid pro quo, other than that they’d send me stuff from time to time, and I’d review it.

cf624_1What they sent me this week was the CF-624 Armored Race Motorcycle Jacket. I’m going to assume that the "Race" is merely a style name, and not referring to actual race use as this is a textile jacket, not a leather one. I can’t imagine anyone going to the racetrack and wearing anything but full-on leathers. But it certainly has a racing-style look to it, and is a fairly attractive jacket.

The outer shell is a 600-denier nylon "Tri-Tex" material, comparable in weight and thickness to the shells that Tourmaster/Cortech or Joe Rocket uses for their textile jackets. The jacket has removable CE armor pads at the elbows, shoulders, and back, with additional foam protectors sewn into the shell in front, and down the back. It comes with a quilted, insulated, zip-out liner for colder weather, and when the liner is zipped out, the inner shell of the jacket is fully lined with polyester. One thing I always look for is the back zipper for connecting the jacket to riding pants—an item usually missing in the Tourmaster stuff I’ve seen—but present and accounted for in the Xelement jacket.

For warmer weather, there are four zippered vents: two in the arms and two in the back, that open mesh-covered vents for airflow. The outside of each shoulder also mounts a polycarbonate external protector that has integral screened holes to allow additional airflow. Each side has nylon pull tabs with velcro closures to cinch the waist to your size.

cf624_2The CE armor at the elbow and shoulder has a semi-rigid outer shell, with a softer impact-foam backing, while the back protector is a removable impact-foam pad. All of the armor is CE certified, however.

The bottom of each sleeve has a zippered closure for tightening, as well as velcro tabs.

The construction overall seems solid, with well-stitched and taped seams.

I would say it compares very well with the relatively more expensive gear from Tourmaster/Cortech, Joe Rocket, and even some of the Icon Motosports textile gear. For an $80 jacket, it seems like it’s a pretty good value, as that is about $50 less than comparable Tourmaster jackets.

There are a few cons. Personally, I’d like to see some additional, thicker cordura patches in the impact areas, as well as some adjustment snaps on the arms to tighten the elbow armor more firmly. Also, some reflective material would be nice, as this jacket has none at all. Having said that, I had a Harley-Davidson textile jacket that didn’t have those things—and no back protector besides—that cost double what this jacket costs.

One caveat about buying an Xelement jacket seems to be a common complaint that they run a bit small. I can confirm that. At 5’10" and 190lbs, I generally wear a size large, but this jacket in that size is a tight fit with the liner in, and just large enough to provide adequate freedom of movement without it. I’d recommend buying a size larger than you would usually wear.

A final thought. I am a bit of a fanatic about protection when it comes to riding gear. The least protective jacket I have is the Olympia Motosports jacket I reviewed a few months ago. It has more armor coverage, and 2000 denier cordura in all the impact areas. My second jacket is a full-on Dainese hard-armored jacket with a 1" thick hard back plate, and my hot weather jacket is a Pilot mesh jacket that I got before Pilot went back to making only custom race suits, and it has so much hard armor coverage that the mesh is essentially useless, as no air flows under the armor anyway. And, If I want to to wear an unarmored jacket, I have a Six-Six-One armor set that I wear underneath it. So, the Xelement jacket is not one I’d wear on a daily basis.

However, I realize that most of you aren’t as paranoid as I am about armor, and aren’t interested in shelling out $500 bucks for a Dainese jacket. So for the vast majority of you guys, this jacket will be perfectly fine. I’d say it’s every bit as good as a Cortech jacket at a much better price. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and better armored than many budget jackets. I would also note that a quick check of customer reviews at Amazon shows that—size issues aside—people rate this jacket well.

Oh, my chick also says it looks nice—and she’s far more of an authority on that stuff than I am.

Review: Freeze-Out Zipped Gilet and Inner Glove Liners

Cycle Gear is running a sale on their Freeze-Out line of motorcycle under layer clothing.  I picked up the zipped jacket gilet and the inner glove liners.  Cycle Gear’s web site touts this line of gear with the following description:

FREEZE-OUT® utilizes cutting-edge membrane laminate barrier technology to block wind and retain warmth while allowing internal moisture to escape. Brushed poly interior facilitates moisture transfer and is supremely comfortable. Thin and light with flat-lock seams to layer easily under riding apparel and equipment. Extend your riding comfort with FREEZE-OUT® accessories.

giletI guess it does all that, but you should be clear. This is not a replacement for the thermal or quilted liners that come with your outer gear. It is an additional thermal layer. If you need a lighter liner than the stock one, it’s OK, but it’s not best suited as a cold-weather replacement for that stock liner.

It’s actually a pretty cool little jacket for 30 bucks. It’s relatively tight-fitting, but comfortable, and is a nice fleece inside. I’ve taken to wearing it as a light jacket after I get off my bike. It’s got a techy, futuristic look, and I’ve gotten several admiring comments on it. Worn as an additional underlayer, it does keep you pretty toasty in the 30-degree range. Otherwise, the "barrier technology to block wind" sounds better than it actually is at highway speeds.

The tighter fit, however, allows it to fit well under your regular jacket/liner, and adds a comfortable thermal layer that’s not too bulky, and keeps you warmer. Another nice feature of the gilet is that the arms both zip off, leaving you with a thermal vest, instead of a full liner.

Likewise, the inner glove liners are fine for some extra warmth under a good set of windproof gloves. I tried them out with my perforated leather sport gauntlets, and they didn’t seem to help all that much.

Used as intended, however, they are both adequately good at what they are designed to do, which is to provide a good, additional, thermal underlayer to your regular riding gear.

The best thing about them is the price, which is under $30 for the gilet, and $15 for the glove liners. The second best thing about the gilet is that, when you get off your bike, you can wear the gilet as a comfy jacket, and it gives you a cool, "I’ve come from the future" vibe.

In a positive, Star Trek way, not  a dystopian, 12 Monkeys kind of way.

Pirelli Angel ST Tire Review

Pirelli Angel ST Tires
Pirelli Angel ST Tires

On Saturday, when I took the FJR in for my 32k-mile service,I saw that the Michelin Pilot Road 2 tires on the bike, which were at 8700 miles, were down to the wear bars.  So it was time for a change.  Sadly, North County House of Motorcycles had sold the last pair of PR2s earlier in the morning.

Well, I certainly wasn’t interested in going back to the Bridgestone BT-021s.  They make the handling of the FJR heavy and unresponsive. But, they did have the new Pirelli Angel ST tire–and at the same price as the Bridgestones.  So I decided to take a chance on the Pirellis.

Unlike the BT-021s and the PR2s, the Pirelli Angels are not a multiple-compound tire.  Instead, Pirelli uses a single high-silica compound, and depends on both their unique method of wrapping the steel, and the tire profile to provide a wider contact patch when the tire is leaned, in order to provide the greater traction.

Apparently, Pirelli tested the tire life by running them through some sort of insane endurance test:

On March 15th 2009, 15 Journalists and 12 Pirelli Testers set 7 FIM World Duration Records at Nardò Technical Center in Southern Italy. On just one set of Angel ST tyres they covered a distance of 5,135 km at an average speed of 214 km/h in a tough 24H non stop trial which proved the consistency and the performance of the new ANGEL ST.

OK. That sounded…fine.  But how would they perform on my bike, compared to the PR2s, which I really liked?

As it turns out, pretty well so far, after about 100 miles.

The handling of the FJR is as good or better with the Angels as with the PR2s.  Grip seems pretty solid, even on the new tread, and with wet morning roads. Of course, only 100 miles into the tires, I haven’t been able to stretch the capability of the tires in the twisties, so the jury is still out, to large extent.  But so far, I’ve found them equal or superior to the Pilot road 2s.

I’ll keep updating on the performance as they get broken in.

Helmet Reviews: Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer & Shark Evoline Modular (Updated)

Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer Helmet
Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer Helmet

I’ve used a Scorpion EXO-1000 full-face helmet as my daily hat for two years now.  It’s a fairly heavy helmet, but I’ve liked it a lot, as it has a lot of premium features, like the adjustable air bladder to custom fit it, the fuller chin and jaw coverage it provides, and the overall comfort of it.

But, it’s getting a bit old and banged up from daily use, so I decided to buy another.  Since I sometimes wear glasses on the weekend, I always have to use my old modular HJC Sy-Max when I ride.  I don’t like the Sy-Max as much.  It’s not a bad helmet, it’s just not at good as the Scorpion. So, I decided that to replace both of those helmets, I’d get the modular Scorpion Helmet, the EXO-900.

At first blush, it seemed perfect.  The fit was snug, but comfortable, and it has all the premium features of the EXO-1000.  In the shop, it felt great when I tried it on before purchasing it.  You also have the option fo removing the face shield and replacing it with a visor. I also loved the color, Hi-Vis yellow.

It seemed perfect.

What I didn’t notice, until I actually used it during my daily commute to work, was that the ear section on both sides has no padding around the top and rear of the ear. So, the cartilage of your ear sits directly against the hard foam of the helmet impact shell.  After about 30 minutes, turning or moving your head becomes painful, as your ears get constantly crushed against the helmet shell.

After three days of this, it got to be unbearable.

So, sadly, I had to return the helmet today.  It was almost exactly what I wanted, but was just too uncomfortable to wear.

Shark Evoline Modular Helmet
Shark Evoline Modular Helmet

Since I’d worn it for a few days, Cycle Gear wouldn’t give me a refund, of course, but they did offer me an exchange for any helmet in the store.  Ultimately, I chose the Shark Evoline Modular Helmet.

The Shark Helmet is significantly more expensive than the EXO-900, coming in at $425 retail.  But, it is a top of the line helmet.  And as you can see from the image, it does one thing that most modular helmets do not: The face mask doesn’t just tip up, it slides all the way back to the rear of the helmet for a more aerodynamic shape.

The inside is far more comfortably padded than the scorpion, however, and it seems to be a better quality helmet all around.  Which, considering the price difference, it should be.

I haven’t had a lot of experience with it yet, since I’ve only had it for 9 hours at this point.  But, so far it’s very comfortable. And it’s also very quiet.  Unlike a regular modular helmet, it doesn’t have a seam on both sides where the face-shield joins the helmet. The wind doesn’t whistle through that seam, so it’s as quiet as a full face.

Hopefully, I’ll like this helmet much better than the EXO-900.

UPDATE (8/9/10):

After a couple of days with the Shark Evoline helmet, I’ve decided I quite like it.  It’s super comfortable, and not too heavy.  I really like just flipping the face guard completely out of the way.  The flip-down, smoked,  inner sun visor cuts bright sunlight acceptably. And it’s fairly quiet.

It does have one feature that I can’t decide if I like or not, and that’s the venting/airflow. I couldn’t tell, really, if the top vent was open or not. It didn’t get too hot, as I kept it open most of the time, so I’ll assume it’s working.  It’s the vent in the face guard that’s a bit different than what I’m used to, though.

In all my other helmets, the face guard vent redirects the air up and toward the clear face shield. The airflow over the face shield helps keep it from fogging. In the Evoline helmet, the vent blows straight back towards your lower face. So, this morning, when it was 62°F and foggy, I noticed that the bottom of the face shield started to fog a little bit, and that was with the vent open.  If it had been closed, It probably would have fogged a lot more. Raising the face shield to the first notch solved the problem. I’m not sure I’d want to do that if the temps were in the 40s, though.

So, I think I’ve found the one drawback to the helmet, which is that airflow management could do a better job of keeping your breath from fogging the inside of the face shield.  It wasn’t a problem at all in the 80°F ride this afternoon.  In fact, I kept the face shield completely closed. And the breeze coming through the vent was very pleasant. I think the fogging issue might be a problem in cooler weather though.  I guess I’ll know for sure in a couple of months.

Other than that, which is a relatively minor issue compared to the overall goodness of the helmet, I like the Evoline helmet a lot.

Protective Gear Reviews

August has arrived, and that means that, here in Southern California, it’s about to get hot.  Barring a few warm snaps here and there, earlier in the summer, August and September are usually when San Diego gets blazing hot, with an intensity that won’t let up until sometime in the first two weeks of October. That’s always a quandary for riders because, while you wish to wear effective protective gear, you don’t want to die of heat prostration.

Fortunately there’s some gear out there that gives you the protection you want, but won’t break the bank, and will help you stay a bit cooler.

First up is the 661 Vapor Pressure Suit.

661 Vapor Pressure Suit
661 Vapor Pressure Suit

The Vapor is made of snug Lycra and mesh, over which is layered perforated biogel soft armor, and over that is hard plastic armor.  CE certified, this armor also includes both a chest protector, as well as a segmented–and removable–back/spine protector that’s held in place with an integral kidney belt.

It offers pretty full coverage with the armor: Back, chest, shoulders, upper arms, and forearms.

Ventilation is really good for that much armor, as both the biogel and the hard plastic is perforated, so it allows a lot of air through.

Velcro straps are fully adjustable and hold everything in place.

It’s surprisingly comfy to wear, and comfortable on your wallet at only $100.

Next is the Fox Titan Race Knee-Shin Guards.

Fox Titan Racing Knee-Shin Guards
Fox Titan Racing Knee-Shin Guards

These are pretty cheap, at $30, and fit very well.  They also have a low enough profile that they can be worn under your jeans or work pants.

Once again, they are hard plastic, backed by a layer of biogel foam for impact absorption.

The neat thing about them is that the velcro straps are very long, allowing for a lot of adjustment, and they hook on with easy release catches on the sides, so you can pop them on and off pretty fast, even under your pants leg.

They do have the down side of only having calf straps, not knee straps.  As I wear them under my pants, that’s not a big problem, but if you’re going to strap them to the outside of your jeans, you need to be aware of the possibility that they might slip and leave your knees unprotected. They can be tightened pretty snugly, but the possibility is there.

Finally, there’s a product I really want to love, but can’t, due a strange design decision: The Icon Motosports Field Armor Leg Guards.

Icon Field Armor Knee-Shin Guards
Icon Field Armor Knee-Shin Guards

Almost everything about these are first rate.  Generous foam backing.  Extensive knee and shin protection, Fuller coverage of the leg.  Velcro knee straps.  They almost have it all.

Almost.

The thing is, that the three velcro straps that close them up along the back of the calves have ridiculously short lengths.  I can’t even touch velcro to velcro on the top strap, and the second strap just barely does.  I can’t see how any average-sized man can wear them.

I’m sure they’re great for women, or smaller men–or, at least, men with pencil-thin calves.  But if you have muscular calves, forget it. they just won’t fit you. Theyre a potentially fantastic product, made hard to use by poor strap design.

That’s a shame, because they are rather pricey at $69.  If they fit me properly, they’d be well worth the price. If you have smaller calves, don’t overlook these, though, because they are very, very nicely made.

And, if you have larger calves, you could always make velcro strap extenders, I guess.  But, at that price, you really shouldn’t have to.

Anyway, here are some products to keep in mind if you want to stay cool, and still have a good level of impact protection.

Michelin Pilot Road 2 Review

Since I bought my FJR1300 two  years ago, I’ve been religious about keeping her maintained at the proper service intervals, using OEM parts.  You can skimp on auto maintenance a bit–though you really shouldn’t–and it might cost you some money.  Skimp on motorcycle maintenance, and you could find yourself rapidly transported to that Great Laguna Seca in the Sky.  part of my regular maintenance has always been replacing the OEM Bhe last ridgestone BT 021 tires regularly.

Michelin Pilot Road 2 Tire Diagram
Michelin Pilot Road 2 Tire Diagram

Until the last service at 24,000 miles.  I’d been talking with Randy at North County House of Motorcycles–where I always get my maintenance done; great crew!–about switching away from the Bridgestones to the Michelin Pilot Road 2 tires.  At my 24k service, both tires were ready to go, so I made the switch.

I’ve now done 5,000 miles on the PR2’s and I think I’m ready to give my review.  The short version: They have transformed the handling of the bike.

The Bridgestones aren’t bad tires.  They were certainly grippy, and allowed you to attack the twisties with confidence. But after 5k miles on the PR2s, I’ve learned that the BT021s really make the steering on the FJR far harder than it has to be. They’re certainly stable tires.  Too stable.  They required significant steering input to put the bike into the right line, and were resistant to changes in body position as a way to lean/steer the bike.  All of the inputs had to come through the handlebars.

The PR2s on the other hand, are an extremely responsive tire.  Shifting your upper body, or sliding your butt over on the seat is enough to initiate a lean, with no input on the bars at all. Prior to my experience with the PR2s, I assumed that the FJR was just too heavy to accept anything but extreme body movement as a steering input.  With the PR2s, I’ve learned that the bike is actually quite responsive to the rider’s movement…with the right tires.

The Michelins have really made riding the FJR a more…uh…sportbikey experience, responsing to shifts in rider position by falling right into the desired line on a curve.  Obviously, the handling on a 650 lb. sport-tourer will never match an R6, or a GSX-R1000 for that matter, but the improvement was immediately noticeable.  And by that, I mean within a single city block, I could tell that the handling was vastly improved.

While responsive, the PR2s are not twitchy. The bike still does exactly what you tell it to do. It’s just easier to tell it what to do. After 5,000 miles, I’ve never gotten a sense of instability from the Michelins. Nor have I ever gotten a sense that the traction of the PR2s are any less reliable than the BT021s.  Indeed, I’ve surprised myself by dragging peg feelers on a couple of occasions without any drama at all, and my chicken strips on the rear tire are down to about 1/4 inch.

What has really surprised me has been the lack of wear on either the front or rear tire.  After 5,000 miles, the rear tire is hardly noticeably flattened at all. I was getting about 6k off the BT021 rear, but it’s looking like the PR2 rear is going to be good for somewhere between 8k-10k, if not more.  I have no idea how long the front will last, as it still looks new.  I’m nowhere near the wear marks on either tire. Usually, a tire compound that resists wear, also resists grip, but I simply haven’t found that to be the case for the Michelins.

Overall, I’ve been extremely impressed with the Michelin Pilot Road 2 tires.  They offer vastly improved handling and wear over the Bridgestone BT021, without sacrificing stability or grip.  I think it’s fair to say that my FJR1300 won’t be riding on the OEM Bridgestones in the future.

The Michelins may cost more, but with better performance and longer life, they’re well worth the extra cost.