Skip to main content

What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Europe 2015 pt. III: Stuff for my stuff


The last time I wrote about my preparations for my European adventure (back in February), perhaps the biggest development was that I had bought panniers for the Honda. Each holding 33 litres of stuff, the panniers were a quality piece of kit and dramatically improved the look and utility of the bike. 

I put them to good use on a trip to York in late winter and they performed brilliantly. But the bike upon which I had placed them had been giving me cause for concern for a while. Little things had me worrying. A certain squeak in the front brake that never went away –– even after replacing the front pads. A tendency to get stuck in gear or out of gear when the engine had been running particularly hot. Oh-so-slightly loose handlebar switchgear that couldn't be tightened any further. Dentist-drill vibrations at 80 mph that left my hands tingling for days afterward. A seat that got uncomfortable after 45 miles. The fact it was 10 years old.

As I say: little things. No one of those things was a good enough reason in and of itself to sell the Honda, but collectively they contributed to my desire to do so. Jenn actually sealed the deal on my decision to get my V-Strom (a) when she said: "You write about motorcycles, babe. This is your thing. Of course you can't just stick to one bike."

Yeah. I had to get a new bike. My career depended upon it...

Doing so was a mixed blessing. Mostly good, admittedly; I don't yet know this as irrefutable fact, but the V-Strom 1000 Adventure is almost certainly a perfect machine for traversing Europe. However, it is a step back in terms of luggage space. Combined, the Strom's panniers offer just 29 litres of storage –– 4 litres less than a single Honda pannier. I went from 66 litres to 29. Not to mention the fact my old magnetic tank bag isn't compatible.

Fortunately, Jenn gave me a Kriega US20 bag for my birthday and just last week, I scored a massive eBay win thanks to the fact that a seller misspelled "Kriega" and I ended up getting an almost-new Kriega US10 bag for only £9 because I was the only one to bid on it.  (A new US10 retails for about £55 and used ones hold their value frustratingly well on eBay. Before this stroke of luck, I'd never seen one sold for less than £45 –– more than I'm willing to pay for a used item)
With these and the panniers, I've got 59 litres of carrying space. Beyond that, I've got an old kayaking dry bag that I think holds about 20 litres, which I can strap to the rack. So, about 80 litres in all. I'll be spending more than three weeks away and will need clothing for a number of different scenarios, but I'm optimistic this will be enough.

If it's not, I'm considering wearing a small backpack to hold water, sunglasses, a visor cloth and other need-it-right-now essentials. I have two concerns about this plan, however:

Firstly, I have ridden a little bit with the aforementioned backpack and I'm concerned it may be causing pain in my shoulder. Additionally, it is a very old backpack and one part of the chest strap is broken. I'm not sure I can trust it for the full 3,000 miles to Volterra and back.

Secondly, it's at this point in the planning process that I start down the slippery slope of buying new stuff. If I go with the backpack option, I'm planning to buy a CamelBak reservoir to put in the backpack. Or something similar. I've never used one of these things, but having one strikes me as a good idea because:
  1. It will allow me to drink water on the go. I have a bad habit of getting dehydrated when I ride, because I neglect to take the time to stop, pull bottled water from my bag, and drink it.
  2. It will allow me to hold more water –– the plastic bottle I usually carry only holds 500 ml.
  3. If the worst happens and I'm in a crash, the water bladder is less likely to cause me damage. Whereas I sometimes worry that landing wrong on a Nalgene-style bottle could damage my back (in spite of my back protector), or, worse, it could crack and puncture me with shards of plastic.
OK. That last grisly-death-by-water-bottle scenario seems highly unlikely. Stranger things have happened though; hundreds of Americans are killed each year by tortilla chips.

My alternate plan is to just strap a few Nalgene bottles to the Kriega bags somehow. Bungee straps, I guess. And maybe that would be best, anyway, because it would demand I stop and get off the bike every so often. One thing I really hope I can get myself into the mindset of doing on this trip is stopping frequently. To take pictures, to stretch, to refresh myself mentally, and enjoy the fact that I am on an incredible journey across Europe. 

Too often when I consider this (or, in fact, any other) trip, some part of me wants to power across the continent, like when Baron von Grumble rode through 14 countries in 24 hours. Instead, I should be using Jason Warner Smith's trek across America as inspiration. He took several weeks to cover the distance and made sure to stop every 30-40 miles.

Still, this doesn't actually get me out of spending money.

When I watched the Baron von Grumble video of his 14-country ride, one aspect of his trip stuck out for me: border checks. He frequently had to produce his passport and, often, a credit card to pay for tolls. His BMW R1200GS had a fancy little compartment on the tank in which to store these things. My V-Strom 1000 does not, so I'm thinking it would be nice to have some sort of a tank or handlebar bag.

Admittedly, the large pockets in my riding trousers could serve that purpose, but, uhm, I don't know. The thought of that makes me a little nervous. I don't know why. Plus, the pockets aren't quite big enough to hold my sunglasses (EDIT: That's a lie. I just checked; they fit fine).

Ideally, I'd use something like the SW Motech Quick Lock EVO City tank bag. It looks like a really nice bit of kit, and the size of the thing would also remedy my "Where to store water" issue. The drawback, though, is the fact that, good gracious almighty, it's expensive. Givi have something similar for less, but it is not that much less and it is a lot uglier.

Not to mention the old truth that fixing one problem tends to create another. If you read my review of the Givi GPS holder, you might remember one of my biggest complaints was that it sits too low in my field of vision. So low, in fact, I suspect a tank bag would block it.

To that end, with or without a tank bag I've been considering getting a handlebar bracket adapter from Touratech. Basically, it's just a bar that bolts to your handlebar clamp and allows you to mount stuff a few inches higher. The Touratech website doesn't say exactly how many inches higher, which is the sort of information you'd kind of like to have if you're going to fork out £48 for some bits of metal.

That cost is nothing, though, compared to the asking price of a TomTom Rider 400. I'd really like to have one of those. It's expensive, though. I feel I will need to invest in some kind of new sat nav, however, because the hand-me-down device I'm using at the moment doesn't have European maps (nor the ability to download said maps). So, if anyone has any suggestions on devices they've used I'd appreciate your input.

I won't want to rely solely on a sat nav, of course. I'm going to want some actual physical maps, as well. Paper maps will help me plot a good route, something that's challenging on, say, Google Maps, because it's hard to have a full perspective on mapping software.

I'm guessing I'll want detailed maps of Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The only other country I'll be riding through will be the Netherlands (I've decided to simplify things and drop the route that would have taken me through Belgium and Luxembourg). My itinerary is such that I don't foresee getting much chance to explore the Netherlands, so I'll be on motorway through that stretch.

Which is a shame. Next time. I do really want to spend some time in the Netherlands. If not simply because I've never met a Dutch person I didn't like. And, uhm, the women are easy on the eye. (My friend, Astrid, once came to stay for Christmas and was so intimidatingly beautiful my ex-wife banned her from ever visiting again)

If anyone has experience with a particular map brand they prefer over any other, please let me know. Personally, I'm inclined to go with Michelin. Just because I'm a fan of their tires.

Meanwhile, the issue of the V-Strom's screen continues to concern me. It's the only real foible I've experienced so far. I lowered the stock screen to its lowest setting and have found doing so improves things a bit, allowing the wind to hit my helmet cleanly rather than having a big ol' mess of turbulence swarming at the top of my head.

However, I went on a longish ride recently and found myself suffering shoulder/neck pain at the end of the day. This may be because of the aforementioned backpack. Or it may be because the low screen leaves me battling wind gusts. A little more research is necessary.

But even if it turns out the screen isn't responsible for shoulder pain, I already find myself thinking about getting a Givi AirFlow windscreen. I've read a lot of good things about the screen on various V-Strom forums, with a number of the people singing its praises being my height (6 foot 1) or taller.

It's definitely the sort of thing I'd like to have before next winter –– to help keep the British misery at bay. Although, I wonder about its use on this particular trip. Continental Europe is much warmer in the summer than Britain. Perhaps I'll want the steady wind blast I get with the stock screen. After all, I'll be riding in the same old leather jacket I've always worn, which has no vents or the like for hot weather.

And that makes me think it would be nice to have a good-quality textile jacket. Something like the Oxford Montreal 2 seems affordable enough. And (rare for Oxford products) I like the look. But, just the other day I happened to be at a Triumph dealer and tried on a Triumph Traveller jacket that I really liked. It's the bee's knees. And it's got loads of pockets. Enough, perhaps, to eliminate the need to get a tank bag.

And if you take that into consideration –– you know, subtracting the cost of a tank bag from the cost of the jacket –– it makes the price of the Triumph Traveller pretty reasonable...

Wait. Stop. Just calm down a minute, Chris!

If I were to buy all the stuff on the little wish list I've created above, I'd be throwing down at least £900. Just to prepare to go on a trip! Nevermind the costs of hotels and food and petrol and, you know, actually enjoying myself. That's just ridiculous. Especially when you consider that my father-in-law used to meander across Europe on his unreliable Bonneville in the late 1970s. He did not have sat navs or high-end tank bags or fancy ways of consuming water. And considering the fact he was a trainee gardener, I'm pretty sure he didn't have a whole hell of a lot of money, either.

Neither do I. So, perhaps I should be taking inspiration from him. Despite my dedication to working myriad Amazon links into my posts lately, it's a tactic that isn't likely to amass a fortune (Full disclosure: To date it has not earned me a single penny). Really, I should be working with what I've got and trying not to spend any more money.

Well, OK, the maps. I should definitely spring for the maps. And perhaps a few bungee cords. So, about £20 expenditure at the most. Beyond that, my desire to have All The Things may cloud my ability to properly enjoy this adventure.

I don't know. What do you think? What do I absolutely need? Do I already have those things? Or, are there, in fact, several things that I haven't even thought about? All advice is appreciated!

–––––––––––––––––––

(a) I am considering naming my bike "Essie Mae," because I like being obscure. Huge points to you if you understand the reference.  

Comments

  1. Not sure what occasions you have in mind, and having to dress appropriately for it... I try to avoid having to dress more than casual for starters. Because it is not a vacation if you have to bring formal attire.

    I usually begin my packing procedure with choosing the stuff I want to bring along, and then reduce it to the stuff I really need. I make sure to dress for warm and cold weather, and never take more than a week's worth of clothing, using hotel laundry services or public laundries along the way when needed.

    BTW for the price of the extra equipment you could rent a support vehicle ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. You may find handlebar risers help the shoulder issue - this was brought home to me when I rode a cruiser style motorcycle some 400 miles at Easter with no discomfort whatsoever. So much so that I have now fitted some modest risers to my R1200GS and find these help that issue.

    I also use a cheapish Vanucci tank bag (something like this : http://www.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.getgeared.co.uk%2F10027773_Main-motorcycle-luggage-tank-bag-vanucci-1_l.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.getgeared.co.uk%2Fvanucci_tank_bag_vst03_touring_9_litres&h=250&w=250&tbnid=onkYssDd4uKZ9M%3A&zoom=1&docid=2H6eZFVHPMQumM&ei=AThHVenFEoH-sgGbw4HIDg&tbm=isch&iact=rc&uact=3&dur=360&page=1&start=0&ndsp=32&ved=0CCQQrQMwAQ ) modified with a SW Motech attachment ring so it clips on instantly. It has clear compartments for maps and or mobile phones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've thought about handlebar risers. One of the things that's put me off is the idea of trying to put them in. But, it might be worth it. I'm planning on covering a few hundred miles next weekend. If the shoulder issue persists sans backpack, I'll start looking into solutions. I've got a few longish trips planned before Italy that would allow me to test these solutions before committing to a 3,000-mile journey with them.

      I don't know how tall you are, but since you also ride an ADV bike I'd certainly appreciate your input: Which solution do you think I should try first? New screen or risers?

      Delete
  3. I'm 6ft 6in. The screen is excellent but this is more to do with noise and buffeting prevention than pressure/force - see my write up here (ignore my inability to spell - I trained as an Engineer....http://nwlabs.blogspot.de/2014/06/banish-buffetting.html

    The risers (provided that you do not need to change the brake hose) are easy to install.

    One other thing to look at is the angle of the bars and levers - I'll send you a diagram from a book I have just acquired.

    One solution is the pillion supplied shoulder massage - I can lend you Mrs Nikos if you want..

    I'm afraid it's all rather trial and error (mainly error in my case, with lowered pegs and raised seats).

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's funny. I now have this visual of you jumping off and running in panic from your falling bike just to avoid taking a shard of plastic in the belly.

    Buy one of those bottled waters from a convenience store, the kind with a squirt top, and then find a place on your bike's dash, or wedged between the instrument panel and the windshield, where it won't fall off during a ride. You can swig while riding and refill it if need be. The plastic is flexible enough that it won't shatter and shard. Save you a lot of money on overpriced riding gear.

    ReplyDelete
  5. For more real estate on the handlebars, I've been using a cheap T bar I bought for my mountain bike, which clamps to the middle of my handlebars and raises my old GoPro above my speedo set. I think it can only have cost a few quid in British money. The caveat here is that a GoPro even in a case with a wifi unit on it doesn't weight that much so YMMV.

    Over the years (and I stress here - I am not a long distance iron butt specialist, I like to plod around enjoying the places) I've come to dislike too much stuff in my pockets - it's more stuff to worry about when you get on a freeway/motorway and suddenly find you left a pocket unzipped :)

    Here in Japan we have a fair few toll roads, which allows you to buy at silly expense an ETC transceiver which means you can sail through the ticket gates at reasonable speeds. The alternative (and the only option on the smaller tolls roads) as you know is to stop, remove gloves, find change in some pocket, pay, take any change, put it back in the pocket, put gloves on, ride off. You might get lucky and be able to just swipe a credit card. Given this, perhaps a bum bag/fanny pack may be an option, rather than a backpack? Also, I'd get the chest strap fixed/replaced if you used it - that'll take a little strain off your shoulders.

    I have a CamelBak and would recommend them - reliable, comfortable, and my 2 litre one is fantastic here in the summer when it's pretty much always over 30deg C, and with insane humidity. It's easy to pull over and even with gloves, shove the nozzle up in the helmet for a drink.

    For reading, might I suggest Ted Simons' books - good reading about the journey, not the bike stats.

    Finally, congrats on the RideApart posts - is that a full gig now?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really like the crossbar idea. I checked Touratech (my go-to site for fancy stuff) and they have a crossbar for the V-Strom, so I'll probably get one. I also totally agree about feeling uncomfortable relying on pockets. I'm not sure about using a bum bag, though.

      Hopefully the RideApart gig will have some longevity. I'm just a freelancer for them at the moment. We'll see. Obviously, I really like writing about (and thinking about and talking about) motorcycles. It's nice to be able to get a little money for doing so. I'll keep things moving on this site either way, because it's my own thing and I enjoy it.

      Delete
  6. You may have already thought of this, but 80 liters of space is about the same as a really big backpacking pack. I'd suggest looking at some packing tips for backpackers, if you haven't already. Have you done a test run on packing yet? You might find that you have tons of space already.

    Exciting stuff! I'm looking forward to hearing more.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm about to leave for a short trip to Europe, and wanted somewhere to keep toll tickets etc. I ended up getting a small bag intended to strap to bicycle handlebars. It seems to strap to my little CB500X well enough, and it was only £4.99 on Amazon. If you're interested, I'll let you know how it works out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely interested. Keep me posted!

      Delete
  8. Hey Chris,

    it sounds like you are trying to take all the stuff you think you might use, instead of just the things you are going to need. Is not your wife driving a car to Italy? If so, there is your carrying capacity problem solved.

    Bring a toothbrush, some clean shirts and socks, a pair of trousers and a pullover and be done with it. Oh, and a towel, because you know, just in case...

    Don't stress to much, you will be riding some of the most enjoyable roads in Europe, almost all conveniences are available. Just remember to bring a direct debit card, since no supermarkets or fuel stations I know of accept credit cards in Germany.

    Enjoy the ride :-)

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ride review: Harley-Davidson XL 883 L (aka Sportster SuperLow)

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is like riding a tractor.
That's the criticism so consistently levied against Harley-Davidson motorcycles: that there is something agrarian to the experience. And I can now say from personal experience that all those critics are right. But I can also say those critics are leaving out a key piece of information, which is this:
TRACTORS ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!!
It's a tractor that hurtles forward with roller-coaster intensity, a tractor that goes really fast, a tractor that makes you feel like Brock Lesnar in a children's ball pit. A tractor from the Land of Bad-Ass, with which you can sow the seeds of awesomeness.
But let me back up a bit...
A few days ago, I decided to take the day off, solely for the purpose of getting a chance to ride around and finally make use of the free breakfast coupon sent to me by Thunder Road. As I was gearing up, I suddenly decided that since I was already heading west, I might as well push a few miles further and che…

Ride review: Yamaha XV950 / Star Bolt

Imitation, Charles Caleb Colton famously noted, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, the flattery the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 receives from Yamaha's XV950 is enough to make one blush. Put the two bikes side by side, and the inspiration for the latter is undeniable. Yamaha claims its bike has a "new neo retro Japanese look," but that's clearly just nonsense –– lorem ipsom that was used instead of "totally looks like a Harley-Davidson Iron 883."
Certainly the XV950 –– known as the Star Bolt in the United States –– isn't the first example of a Japanese OEM adhering faithfully to the styling cues of America's best-known motorcycle manufacturer. The orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson write these bikes off as "wannabes," and tend to be pretty dismissive of anyone who would dare consider purchasing one. But I'm going to commit blasphemy here and tell you that the XV950 is unquestionably the …

Ride review: Triumph Bonneville

"OK," I said. "I want one." "Well, you know, maybe you should ask your wife first." "She loves Triumphs," I said. "Still, Chris. You should give it a think. Go home, discuss it with your wife, give yourself a chance to think clearly. After all, this is one of Triumph's most popular models; there's plenty of stock available."
The voice of reason in that conversation was Drew, the salesman at Bevan Motorcycles. He was doing his best to talk some sense into me after my test ride of the 2014 Triumph Bonneville. I was wild-eyed and yammering like a teenage boy who has touched boobies for the first time. This, my friends, is what the Bonneville does to you. It is an instantly rideable, instantly enjoyable, instantly lovable motorcycle that surprises you in just how good a simple motorcycle can be.

The Bonneville, of course, is a storied machine that's been around in one form or another for 55 years. It is a classic. Partially b…