Just got back from a nearly 2000 mile ride down the Blue Ridge Parkway and through the Smokies in NC and TN and I thought some of you would be interested in my impressions of the gear I used on the trip. Here we go:
Suzuki V-Strom DL1000 – what can I say about this bike that hasn’t already been said? Honestly, I love it. It does everything I ask it to and does it well. It’s a freakin’ hoot in the twisties (if you aren’t shy and kind of know what you are doing), comfortable on the highway, somewhat capable on dirt and gravel. It’s ugly as hell, but I like that about it. Yes, there is wind buffeting (see below) but it’s a motorcycle. With any bike I think there will be compromises, but addressing those issues is part of what makes owning a bike fun. This V-Strom is very uniquely mine now – set up the way I want it and to my specs and level of comfort and farkle. We did multiple days of a couple hundred miles and a 540 mile day, and I don’t think I would have wanted to be on anything else. Well, that new K1600GTL sure looks nice… haha.
Sargent Seat – so, I hated the stock seat. My (fat) butt hurt after literally 20 minutes on that thing. I know there is much debate about soft saddles vs hard ones, but I generally tend to prefer softer ones and that goes all the way back to my bicycle riding days. This saddle is a dramatic improvement over the stock version. I’m a big guy and I squish seats, and I have found that I can do a couple of hours on this seat before things get dicey. From then on I just have to get off and stretch and walk around more often. It seems that no matter what I put on top of the seat, it is still best when used on its own. Sure, I’d like to look into a Russel, but for the money the Sargent has served me well. Would purchase again without hesitation.
MadStad Brackets and CalSci Large Windshield – here’s the thing: I think the MadStad bracket is worth its weight in gold. It took me a while to find just the right spot, but now I leave it there and it has been the one thing that has had the most dramatic effect on wind quality. I think there is credence to the theory that much of the buffeting on the V-Strom comes from below, but this bracket is enormously helpful. The Calsci? Meh, it’s fine I suppose. I’m not sure it’s any better or worse than any of the other aftermarket shields. I wanted a taller one than stock, and it serves that purpose, but I’m not sure it’s the glorious windshield revolution that the website makes it out to be. It’s a bit rough around the edges and was a pain to mount (holes didn’t line up), and I can easily get the bike to buffet just as bad as the stock shield if I put the bracket in the wrong place. So, thumbs up to the MadStad brackets and probably a push on the CalSci.
Givi V35 Side Bags with Admore Lights and V46 Topcase – Hard to complain about the Givis. They are good road bags – decent looking and easy to use and very portable. I wouldn’t rely on them if I rode a lot of off road because I just don’t think they will stand up to being dropped hard, but for this trip they were great. You have to be careful about overstuffing the V35s though, lest you get stuck in a situation where the bags won’t close fully, but you also can’t get the latching mechanism to pop back open. Kind of a pain, but once you identify it as an issue, you can move on accordingly. The Admore lights are nice. I want people to see me and these help. Pricey though. Would buy the Givis again easily. I want lights on the back of the bike, but might look at something less expensive than the Admores next time.
Continental Trail Attack Tires – I have to admit that these things stick like crazy on pavement. I don’t do a lot of racer boy stuff on the streets, but like anyone else I do like to occasionally open it up on a great road when you are relatively alone (gotta stay ahead of that GoldWing in my mirrors). These things hold corners really well right up until you get to the very edges, then they get a bit squirmy. But on long, fast sweepers they are a great tire. Comfortable in most other situations too. Unfortunately, about halfway into a 2000 mile ride the front developed a pretty big wobble, so I’ll need to replace it, and probably will go with something else that isn’t so wobble-prone. Up to this point however, I really liked them.
Spot 2 Satellite Beacon – not a lot to be said here – 95% of my tracking messages and “I’m OK” messages got where they were supposed to go even though we were on wooded 2 lane roads for most of the trip. Good for the wife’s peace of mind. Hope to never need the SOS.
Sena SMH-10 – I really like this unit, and had underestimated how convenient it is to be able to communicate with someone on another bike with something other than hand signals. No more frantic waving to say “turn up here”. And you have the opportunity (as I found out first hand) to say things like “BEAR up ahead!” Overall it just made the trip more pleasurable. Batteries last for a few days of regular and constant use. We had to reboot them occasionally, but I don’t mind that, and they are dead simple to use. They are definitely “line of site” use as well, but we were rarely out of site of each other. Money well spent.
Shoei RF1100 – first a disclaimer: I really like Shoei helmets. They seem to fit my head better than most brands, and I think they are high quality and reasonably priced (for what you get). I just can’t trust my head to a $99 helmet. If you can, then more power to you. Anyway, I now have an RF1100 and an X12. The RF1100 moves air better than any helmet I’ve ever had, which is why I chose it for this trip since it was going to be blazing hot. It’s the first helmet I’ve ever owned where you can truly feel the air coming in and moving over the top of your head. It’s comfortable, has good visibility and looks good as well. The X12 is quieter however and seems to have a little more plush interior. With all the vents open the RF1100 can be just plain loud, but the tradeoff in ventilation makes it worth it to me. Would buy again for sure.
Tourmaster Sonora Air ¾ Mesh Jacket – so Tourmaster, and mesh jackets in general, seem to inspire heated debate. I know there are questions about Tourmaster quality, and this one does have threads coming loose and a slightly dodgy zipper (but I’ve put a lot of miles on it too). And I know that there is question about whether mesh is as protective in a fall as textile or leather (I don’t think it is). But the fact is that I really like this jacket, and I wear it when it is so hot that leather or textile jackets just aren’t options. When I wear it I feel that I at least have more protection than not wearing a jacket, and that I won’t suffer heat stroke when it hits 92 degrees, which it did every day on our week long trip. So it is a compromise and I acknowledge that. But when it’s hot I just can’t reach for anything else.
First Gear Mesh Tex Pants – I hate riding pants, but I like these. Comfortable and look pretty good. Knee pads are huge so they can get in the way when trying to move around on the bike or walking when off of it, but overall these fit well. Sizing is comparable to my normal pants size. Not noticeably cooler than jeans, but not hotter either. Would probably buy again.
Harley Davidson Boots – so I know that this brand isn’t exactly the first one many people here turn to for gear, but I have to admit that I like their boots. I had a pair that I liked quite a bit and then bought another, taller, pair with a gift certificate from a family member (“oh, he likes motorcycles, so he must ride a Harley Davidson….” Haha.) The boots are comfortable, good looking and seem to be wearing well.
LD Comfort Wear – not bad. They do help eliminate seams that can cause discomfort, but they weren’t a revelation for me. Glad I have them, but not shouting from the rooftops about them yet. My dad uses the shirt and pours water all over it when it’s hot. Calls it his air conditioning. Sort of weird to see him doing it in the parking lot of a truck stop though……
Air Rider Gel/Memory Foam Seat Pad – not so much. Actually too firm and set me up WAY high on an already tall bike, and eliminates the usefulness of the backrest lip on the Sargent. Made my butt hurt worse than the seat alone. And it was expensive. Wouldn’t buy again but they are nice people and have a nice store if you’ve ever been there.
Freedom Rider Air Seat Pad – meh, not impressed. Just didn’t help all that much. Also very expensive. Made my butt hurt and the squishing around bothered me, regardless of how much (or little) air I had in the thing. Wouldn’t buy again. My dad seems to like it on his GoldWing however, so it could just be me.
Frank Thomas (Cycle Gear) Gloves – pretty sure this is a Cycle Gear brand. I’ve had them forever. Kind of a ventilated glove with solid material over the knuckles. They fit well and I never got hot, so I can’t complain.
Rapid Transit Platoon Tail Bag – only piece of gear that I purchased recently that I truly loathe. It’s too narrow on the inside to make it useful – you can expand it vertically, but they you just have a ridiculous 3ft stack on the back of your bike. The supplied straps are lousy – they don’t hold the bag down well and one of the hooks broke off when I was trying to reposition it, making the strap useless. I had planned to run this on my back seat, but ditched it at the last minute. Would not buy again.