Motorcycle License, Insurance, Sherpas, Mods and Stuff!

Lets see if I can make sense of this post...

I'm getting ready to take off on this epic road trip, and I keep buying stuff, but it all has to fit on the motorcycle. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't go. If the bike is too heavy to move... I don't go! I think at the moment, I have enough stuff for a van!

Motorcycles really aren't made for hauling stuff, so we have to put cases and boxes on them.

Cargo System
This is still a work in progress. In fact, its not even quite started yet! I had thought I'd be finished this phase by now. I mean, its now 22th of June, and my apartment lease expires end of July. One thing that kind of held me up, was I never seemed to have time to get my motorcycle license!

Yes, I see the irony there, I'm going around the world on a motorcycle, but I didn't even have a license to ride it yet!

This is one of those Cart before the Horse kind of stories, goes like this. I used to have motorcycles, so I've been licensed off and on since I was 16. Got my first dirt bike when I was10 or 12? Little GT80 Yamaha. But everytime I'd move, it would be from Canada to the US, or Washington state to California, or to Guam, or what ever, and while they would typically transfer my normal car drivers license, they wouldn't transfer my motorcycle license. Never figured out why either!

Anyway, this winter, when I bought the bike, I didn't really think all the way through things. By spring, I knew I needed to get my motorcycle drivers license. And in my move to Canada, I ended up with a GDL, or Graduated Drivers License. Its kind of a probation thing. So, even though I'm actually from Canada, I've never been licensed to drive here, because I lived in the US since I was 14.

In Canada its mandatory to have basic insurance.

You can't get license plates unless you have proof of insurance. You can't take a motorcycle skills test unless you have plates on your bike. And most places won't give you insurance unless you have a motorcycle license!

So I finally got my head around all that, and first got my car drivers license figured out. Of course, at the time I was driving a Porsche 928, and it took me a couple of tries to pass the driving test, because I was speeding! Oops! Honest, I have been driving that road for almost a year, and never knew it was a 70 KM/h zone. The guy even gave me a warning to check my speed, so I carefully slowed down to 80 Km/h, thinking that was the right speed. So I got to pay for the test twice. Drivers testing is privatized in Alberta now, so the test was $120... twice. Plus the fee for getting the new actual ID card made.

After getting the Car license all legal and stuff, I finally found an insurance place that could write a policy for the motorcycle, with no motorcycle license. Of course it was a high risk, so expensive, and terrible coverage, but then I could at least go get the plates, and pick up the bike. If you read my earlier posts, you'll remember that was the weekend it snowed! Alberta, April, go figure right?

Next I took my motorcycle written "learners permit" test, and passed that easily. You are supposed to have someone with you when ever you are practicing your riding. I assume they mean following you in a car, because I can't imagine learning to ride a motorcycle, with someone riding on the bike with you! Well, I don't really know anyone who is a licensed motorcycle rider in Alberta, who is also available anytime I wanted to ride somewhere. And eventually I sold the Porsche, so if I wanted to go anywhere, I just rode the bike, and called it practice riding. Like to Jasper... twice :)

When I bought the bike in April, the testing place wasn't even scheduling test rides, because either it was snowing, or there was so much sand on the road it really wasn't safe to ride a motorcycle yet. Then I kept getting sent to Jasper on short notice, and couldn't ever schedule a test ride. Finally, this last week it looked like I'd get some time off, so I scheduled a test ride, at $130. No pressure there, I mean, if I don't pass, I get to schedule another one, at $130! Fortunately I did pass it the first time, but the person evaluating me took his time telling me I did pass! First he shows me on his pad all the things I did wrong, and explained it all in great detail... the whole time I'm thinking, CRAP, I failed! Finally he shakes my hand and says I passed... whew! Happy Dance :)

I tried to look at it in a good way, I mean, in my 40s, I've been driving for over 25 years now, and have learned all kinds of bad habits I'm probably not aware of. Plus different places have different rules too. So there were a few things he was telling me that just seemed so wrong! Good learning experience though, really. I often think about people who never move, get their license at 16 or 18 or what ever, then drive till they're 80... Maybe people should go through a quick retest every 10 years? That would never be popular right?

Right after passing the test, I go straight to my insurance agent, and had them rewrite my policy with a better company. I'd heard that Jevco was motorcycle friendly in Canada. The actual numbers probably won't be important here, but the new policy, with full coverage, collision, fire and theft, etc, everything, was about the same price I had paid for the absolute minimum legal coverage, when I was high risk and unlicensed. So, as I recently posted on Facebook, I now have full coverage... I don't know if I want to start myself on fire or run off a cliff first! The first reply I got to that was "Why not do both at the same time"... I love my friends!

Hmmm I'm kind of jumping around here, sorry about that! Honest, I tried to edit this a few times... I'm not very good editor!

Back to the whole Cargo System. You may have seen bikes set up like this in your neck of the woods. You start with a "dirt" bike, knobby tires, long suspension, maybe a little windshield / fairing on it. By the time you're done, it looks like it would have been easier to just get a big Gold Wing tour bike instead! To hold everything, you end up with some kind of box on the back of the seat, and a couple "saddle bags", actually called Panniers, one on each side of the motorcycle, kind of drapped from the seat over the back wheel. Then you start getting creative, there are now bags fitted over the gas tank, sometimes you'll see smaller panniers drapped over the gas tank, maybe something up on the front fender too. You go from a nice nimble motorcycle to a freak show you just hope never tips over, because it will take a team of sherpas to pick it up again!

With the freak show and sherpas in mind, obviously I didn't want to have all the extra stuff hanging off the bike for the riding test!

My previous employer does amazing metal building work, has an industrial laser cutter, a paint booth, and a team of very talented artists, and would have been the perfect choice for building the panniers and brackets I need. But since I was out of town so much, I never got around to even asking if they could help. Western Truck Body, of Edmonton, builds trucks for the oil industry. My project would probably keep a welder busy for at least a day, and they would be better off building those $150,000 trucks instead.

That lead to my next logical plan. Going to Princess Auto, and checking out their fine selection of Military Surplus Ammo Cans. I found 2 really nice 40MM grenade cans, which I'll use for the real panniers, two 5.56mm cans, and two 50 cal cans (actually, the 5.56 and 50 cal cans are the same size, just labeled differently). This works for me in so many ways... the cans are military green, so is the bike! They are all stenciled with all kinds of cool markings, which should make my life interesting when I do border crossings! And ammo cans are nearly indestructable, and water proof too! All that's left for me is to figure out a way to make brackets and racks to mount them to the bike. Then I'll add some locking hardware so I can keep people from walking off with my snacks, and life is good.

Had a thought just now as I was writing that last paragraph. When I read the other motorcycle touring blogs, there are a lot of stories of the riders crashing, and one thing they are all saying is their panniers are getting dinged up. There are tales of them on the side of the trail, with rocks, trying to pound the dents out so they will close, etc. And the brackets break pretty often too. Crashing sucks, but its part of riding a motorcycle, so its best to prepare. In design and engineering, there is a concept, where you can either make something indestructable, or you can make it much simpler and lighter, and keep it easy to fix. (or I just made it all up, you pick!) An extreme example would be to compare the Space Shuttle to a hang glider. Or in my case, my panniers and racks. The ammo cans themselves are pretty tough, but I'm betting in a crash, they will cause the brackets to break or bend. So maybe I should make things kind of "pop off" in a crash. Less damage, I just pick things up, and reattach them, and off I go. Hmmm. Maybe not quite bungee straps and velcro, but its gotta be kind of simplistic, or I'll never get it done!

I also picked up a government surplus reusable shipping container. You know the ones, its white, latches, handles, padding inside, made from some super tough plastic. That is what I'll be attaching to the back of the bike. My plan is, when I get off the bike, like to go into a restaraunt or go see some attraction, I don't want to have to carry my helmet, jacket, boots, etc with me. As awesome as I do look in all my spiffy gear, you just really look like a dweeb when you're more than 40 feet from the motorcycle! Likely I'll try to keep the box mostly empty while riding, then when I stop, I can pull some shoes out, put the boots in, maybe grab a ball cap to put on, put the helmet in the box, and the jacket. Like the ammo cans, the shipping container is also fully water proof, with a rubber gasket. Heck, its even air tight. When they air ship these, you have to release the air pressure through a little valve before opening it! Only problem is its white, so I'll have to paint it, probably just go with flat black. Then add reflectors to it!

Hmmmm what else...

Oh, yeah the motorcycle :)

The KLR-650 starts off pretty good as it is. I think people buy it because its just about perfect for everything. Then they go about and change everything anyway! I keep reading about all the mods people are doing, and I'm reminded of an old aircraft mechanic I met a couple years ago. He was talking about Pilots and their aircraft, and all the mods they'd want to do. Its like cars too. I mean, you buy your car, then you go put all the fancy stuff on it, so it doesn't look like every other car. My Dad always put the dual exhaust on, and glass paks... and lights, he liked lights. Mr. Put, the aircraft mechanic, said there were as many gizmos for pilots to buy as there were pilots, and most of them only made things worse, either added weight, broke, or caused other things to break.

I've been looking at the bike, and trying to imagine what will work for me, on my own adventure, not just what everyone else is doing. After reading a lot of blogs, and forums, I came up with a list of things to fix, change, or tweak. And another list of things to just leave alone, to keep things simple.

In the engine, is a counter balance system, that helps cut down on the vibrations you get with a large single cylinder engine. As part of this system, there is a chain that spins some weights, and there is a tensioner on that chain that apparently tends to break. The bike itself is pretty reliable, so this one system tends to be the weak link. If that fails, in the jungle somewhere, it causes a lot of damage, and might be the end of the ride if you can't find replacement parts. In the KLR-650 world, its called the Doohickey. That's a technical term!. Involves taking some stuff apart, but the instructions seem pretty clear, so I ordered one and will install it before I leave.

Another weak link on this bike seems to be the bolts that hold the sub frame onto the rest of the bike. The sub frame is what the seat bolts to... and all those nice big cargo boxes we all like to bolt to the bike. What ends up happening, is the first bolt breaks, but you don't notice it, till the second bolt breaks. Then not only does the whole back of the bike drop down onto the tire, but a bunch of wires get torn out, probably ending in an electrical fire... right next to the gas tank. Over all, seems bad to me! So there is a kit you can find, that replaces the smaller bolts with bigger ones, involves drilling some holes, they even give you the required drill bits. That's also on the way, should be here end of this week.

I'll have to do the sub frame mod before I start mounting the boxes, or I'd have to take them all off again! And I noticed while scoping things out, I think I'll modify the wiring a bit while I'm in there. There are a lot of wires that aren't loomed or tied up very well, so might as well take care of that now, before mother nature throws some rocks and twigs in there!

Speaking of wiring... this isn't something I'd recommend, but here's what I did... A few days ago I went to go for a ride, and the bike wouldn't crank. I've been pretty fortunately so far, most of my problems happen on a day off, in good weather! The light worked, so I knew battery wasn't dead, it just wouldn't go. I knew there were some safety "interlocks" in the ignitions system, so I suspected it was one of those. Also, I'd noticed the bike a bit weird to start since I got it a couple months ago. Just random times it wouldn't crank, then it would be fine again. Electrical stuff is so interesting!

There is one switch on the clutch lever, and another on the side stand. They work together, to prevent you from riding away with the side stand down. Now don't quote me on the details here, ok? The switch on the clutch was failing. I took it apart to check it, first, and the contacts were getting bad. It makes one circuit when its pulled in (clutch disengaged, so you can idle) and it makes a second circuit when you let the clutch out (engaged, so you can drive). My understanding is, you can start the bike, in gear, with the side stand down, as long as the clutch is pulled in. As you let the clutch out, the bike will shut off unless you pull up the side stand. Overall a good idea. My thinking though, is after a couple crashes, those switches get messed up, and you're on the side of the trail, in the rain, in the dark, 3 hours from camp, and the bike won't start. So after reading the chapter in my Clymer motorcycle maintenance and troubleshooting guide a few times, and following the wires, and reading the wiring diagram, I cut the wires to the clutch switch, and also the side stand switch, and "hard wired" them to the run position. Of course, now I can ride with the side stand down, or start the bike in gear, which will eventually bite me in the butt. But that problem shouldn't ever bother me again.

With all that said, I did eventually find another loose connection that was the real problem, but the clutch switch was about to fail anyway! The small wire to the starter solenoid / relay was loose. It was the next logical thing to check!

Ok, next thing to consider is the size of the fuel tank. Depending on who you believe, there is either about 5 or 6 gallons of fuel on this bike. I've not put in more than about 5 gallons in at one time, but I did hit reserve once. And there is always the issue of how much fuel is actually usable, because it doesn't always reach the pickup. A lot of people on long rides will carry a spare fuel can. I still might do that as well, but I'm getting one of the IMS 6.6 gallon plastic tanks. I almost talked myself out of buying the tank. I decided to get the big tank, because of the weight and balance issue.

I'll be putting a lot of weight on the bike, and most of that will be toward the very back end. Really, the worst possible place to load the bike is at the very back. It will mess with steering if you're too far out of balance. So, of course, if I were to carry extra fuel, in a fuel can, it would likely end up at the back of the bike. Also, there is that issue of the sub frame, and all the extra weight puts more load on those bolts. If I carry an extra 1 or 2 gallons of fuel, it would be behind me. If I add a bigger gas tank, its in front of me, where the weight will help balance all the extra stuff in the back. Still... a $300 tank, for an extra gallon or maybe 2, seems like a lot of money.

Last point there, then I'll move on, eventually you will run out of gas, no matter how big the tank is. So some kind of a gas can is a good idea anyway, so you can walk to get gas. I have read of guys going to a gas station, buying a 2 liter of Coke, drinking the coke, then filling the 2 liter up with gas, to walk back to the bike. On my bike, a 2 liter should get me 25 miles! We'll make that Plan B!

Its always good to be thinking of what your Plan B is!
Until the next one

By Carlin Comm posted on 2012-06-22