Tag Archives: idaho

The Tour of Idaho: Initial Bike Prep for 2018

In my opinion, bike preparation must be the easiest part of getting ready for the Tour of Idaho. Lots of other folks have done their homework and shared their successes accordingly. Martin has some invaluable info on his site and other finishers have offered their thoughts and guidance as well. Its my feeling that mental and physical readiness are more difficult to achieve and for some, navigation will be a big issue.

I’m not really worried about the navigation aspect (I’m a Cartographer!) and physically, I’ll likely be just fine. Basically, it is the mental part that freaks me out more than anything! I waiver between being very excited and down right terrified on a weekly basis. Randy and Jeff have both reassured me that everything will be just fine but my roller coaster ride of emotions has continued.

With all that being said, I’ll jump into what I’ve done to the WR450 thus far. I’ve studied pictures of Randy’s bike and have watched the Jimmy Lewis video on multiple occasions. Their setups are very similar and being as though they both finished, I suspect their path of prep is a good one to follow. And the rundown on Martin’s site of essential items is not be ignored.

New Exhaust, LED Tail Light & License Plate Holder
New Exhaust, LED Tail Light & License Plate Holder

As with all my bikes, I immediately installed an FMF Q exhaust. I don’t need or want any additional power but I do love a quiet bike. Loud motorcycles piss me off. The license plate holder (yes, I got it plated here in Kentucky) is mounted to a Baja Designs LED Dual Sport conversion tail light. They make good stuff. Tucked behind the side panel is the GYTR ECU. I don’t have the tuner yet, but that is forthcoming.

The Tour of Idaho has a day where no gas is available. If I remember correctly, there was a 230 mile stretch during the later days of the tour this year. My options were the 3-gallon IMS or the 4.1-gallon Safari tanks.The Safari is quite pricey but I felt the extra 1.1 gallons of capacity would be crucial. I also plan to carry a 1-gallon Giant Loop Gas bag. If that doesn’t cover it I can get some from Jeff’s 6-gallon tanker!

Safari Gas Tank
Safari Gas Tank

Mounting the tank was easy, however the wiring harness would not reach the fuel pump. The quality of the tank, and the hardware that came with it, are great, but the lack of a harness “extension” was not cool. I was able to get all the stuff I needed to fashion an extension from CycleTerminal.com. They had the exact connectors that Yamaha uses so it was fairly easy to create once I had all the components in-hand. Having the correct crimping tool and the ability to solder small components was helpful.

My next focus was the seat. Jeff recommended Fisher Seats. I’d never heard of them. He said Harvey used them too. I reached out to Harvey and evidently he has 4 or 5 them. I trust both of these guys so I shipped my seat to Eagle, Idaho so they could work their magic. You have to fill out a form for them before they’ll do the work and it’s almost like filling out a form at the Doctor’s office! When the seat got back to the house, I was shocked at the width. But, after riding it I can see that it will likely work well. The workmanship is outstanding! Honda style vinyl on the top (I don’t like a grippy seat), carbon-fiber style vinyl on the sides, and Yamaha blue stitching make for an awesome looking seat.

Fisher Seat & Safari Tank
Fisher Seat & Safari Tank

There is also one upgrade that is “invisible” but has made a big difference. I’d only ridden the thing once when I noticed the overly soft forks. It would dive going down hills and during braking. Not good. I just happened to have a set of KYB SSS forks in the garage from a YZ250. The spring rate in the YZ forks is a bit firmer and the valving is different two. I rode the bike last weekend with the YZ forks  and was very pleased with that upgrade. They are staying on the bike.

Some smaller items are the Double Take Mirror and a Baja Designs combination switch that combines a Hi/Lo/Off for the headlight and a kill switch. I have horn but its not wired up yet but I did put on my standard full-waffle Scott grips. GYTR-radiator braces provide some protection for the radiators and a TM Designworks skid plate protects the frame and engine. The skid plate wasn’t an exact fit. It was like it was “sprung” outward a bit. A lift stand, some C-clamps, and a drill were needed to get it into place. Hopefully, it will retain that shape when I take it off. If not, I’m getting one from Flatland Racing.

Double Take Mirror
Double Take Mirror

There was a lightly used Scott’s steering damper in the garage, as well as the top handlebar mount. Once I got a Steering Stabilizer Tower I was in business. I feel it’s an essential upgrade for any off-road rider. Can’t imagine owning a bike and not putting one on it.

Below is a listing of the items I’ve installed thus far. The list is still growing but not as quickly now. A tank bag, front fender bag, saddle bags and so forth are the next items to be acquired. I’m good on gear, it’s almost all Klim. It is the best gear I’ve ever purchased in terms of durability. Period. Plus they use topo lines as a design element. Any cartographer would be a sucker for that stuff!

Yamaha GYTR Competition Programmable ECU
Baja Designs Dual Sport Taillight
Baja Designs License Plate Holder
Solid Rear Rotor
Cycra Yamaha ProBend Hand Guards
Scott Full Waffle Grips
FMF Q4 Hex Exhaust
YZ250 KYB SSS Forks
Yamaha GYTR Radiator Braces
Universal 12 Volt Horn (Black 2.25”)
Mirror Mount for Clutch Perch
Safari Gas Tank
Double Take Enduro Mirror & Mount
TM Designworks Skidplate (Blue)
Scotts Performance Steering Stabilizer Tower
Power Tender Battery Charger
Power Tender USB Adaptor
Fisher Custom Seat
DID 520 X-Ring Chain
Sunstar Front Sprocket (14)
Sunstar Steel Rear Sprocket (52)

Additional bike upgrades, GPS and navigation, and all other preparation efforts will be detailed in coming blog posts. I realize it is  11 months away, but I can’t help but plan. Just my nature.

See you on the trail!

The Tour of Idaho: Getting Ready for 2018

Early this year, I was invited to do the “Tour of Idaho” in 2018 by Randy Block. If you don’t know what “The Tour” is all about go check out Martin Harkworth’s website, motorcyclejazz.com. One can find all the details right there in a nice little package.  Martin is the Executive Director of the BlueRibbon Coalition (if you’re not a member you should be) and has spent years fine tuning the Tour for everyone’s enjoyment. To sum it up, the tour is a +/-1,500 mile off road  adventure that begins at the Utah border and traverses Idaho to a mountaintop just a few miles from the Canadian Border.

Tour of Idaho Overview Map
Tour of Idaho Overview Map

I’d found Martin’s site many years ago and had perused it from time to time as it was in my bookmarks. I’d come back to it periodically, but mainly to view the pictures from Day 3 & 4 as each summer I’d ride in that area of Central Idaho. Additionally, I’d seen the TOI recount that was done by “Big Dog” several years. It’s worth reading as well.

Randy is the Eastern Representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition and lives just across the river from Kentucky in Indiana. I met Randy in early 2017 through a mutual interest in working with the USFS in Kentucky. He and his friend Roger completed the Tour of Idaho in 2015 right after Jimmy Lewis. Interestingly, I’d been riding in Central Idaho in 2015 with Will Lyons and he said that after we left he was going to film Jimmy Lewis doing the Tour of Idaho. Small world.

By the way, Will’s work on the video capture and production is phenomenal. If you want the real scoop on what the Tour is all about, you need to watch all 45+ minutes of it! Check it out here.

Randy had noted that Jeff Stoess also had an interest in doing the Tour. Thus, it only made sense for me to team up with him. Jeff is an incredible rider with lots of long-distance adventure riding and dual sport experience. Just the kind of rider you want to be teamed up with!

This was all coming together nicely but I really didn’t have a bike that was appropriate for that sort of undertaking. From what I could tell, most everyone that had finished the tour was on a large-displacement, street legal, four-stroke, dirt bike. My little YZ250s weren’t up for the task. Can you imagine how much premix I’d have to carry?!

Over the next 3 weeks or so I pondered about what bike to get. For me, a Yamaha WR450F came to mind first as I try to support my local economy and you can’t find an orange bike at JVM Motorsports. During this short 3 week period I’d discussed my intentions with several fellow riders. I’d asked Mark Edwards specifically if the WR450F subframe was up to the task of supporting some sort of saddle bag system. So he was aware of what I was thinking.

Mid-morning one day at work I get a text from Mark with a photo of a VERY clean 2015 WR450F. He said it had less than 100 miles on it. It had been traded in at JVM on a street bike. Within 48 hours it was in my garage. Step one. Done. Got a bike for the tour.

2015 Yamaha WR450F
2015 Yamaha WR450F

Mark was right. It only had 92 miles on it. The bike had never really been dirty at all. Factory-applied oil was still on the bright yellow and debris-free air filter.  Wow. Deals like that don’t appear very often.  Knowing that I had over a year to get it ready, I pushed it into the garage where it began to gather dust.

For the next several weeks it just sat there. I did get some nice Cycra ProBend hand guards for it, put a solid rotor on the rear wheel, and geared it down a bit. Otherwise, it got no attention. I didn’t even load it up for a ride.

Nice Hand Guards!
Nice Hand Guards!

As usual, we went out west in July. Visited Gary and Judi in the Black Hills, stopped by to see Keith in Billings, and made our way up to Glacier National Park for a few wonderful days! Afterwards we headed down to the Sawtooth Valley in Central Idaho for a couple weeks. Chip was in Stanley but unfortunately had a bad knee. My aim was to start bike prep for the Tour upon my return to the Bluegrass state. So the WR just sat there and gathered a nice thick layer of garage dust. Waiting for a little attention . . .

More to come on this topic in my next installment. This is just one of many. Stay Tuned!

See you on the trail!

Idaho Riding 2016 – #4

Day 4 of riding in Idaho was great as usual. Dwayne, Chip and I set out on the Little Casino trail around 9:30am or so. Dwayne hadn’t ridden this trail since the re-route they’d done 2-3 years ago. I’d only ridden it once when the trail followed the original route but honestly don’t remember much about it except that there were multiple creek crossings.

About three miles in we stopped and Dwayne said, “This new trail sucks!” He preferred the old route that had less exposed side hill, more creek crossings and a good climb to the top of the ridge. It is not a bad trail, its just not what he’d ridden for so many years. My understanding is that the new route gets you up to the ridge sooner and it never crosses the creek. This is all part of a strategy to keep trails further away from running water thus reducing erosion and sedimentation.

Next stop was a couple logs down across the trail. They weren’t huge so we stopped and cut them with the hand saw. This section of the trail had been cleared recently and whomever did the work certainly earned their wages. Dozens of logs were across the trail just a week or two beforehand and the sawdust piles were still visible from the fresh cuts.

Chip wanted to stop where there is a good view of Redfish Lake and the Sawtooth Range. With that in mind we made our way up the trail looking for the best place to get some photos. A little climb and a few corners later the perfect spot came into play. Ended up being a great view in all directions! Chip got the photos he wanted and I took a few as well.

Chip & Dwayne - Redfish Lake in the Background
Chip & Dwayne – Redfish Lake in the Background

When we headed up the trail from where we were in this photo, I rode Dwayne’s new Beta X-Trainer for about a mile. The bike was very nice for the type of riding that we do. It’s plushness and linear power delivery are perfect for mountain trail riding. Anyone with a short inseam should try the bike as well. Dwayne said it is 10% shorter in both directions which makes it very maneuverable. It is a 300cc engine and all you have to do is dial it back a bit and you’ll be reminded it is a big bore. Oh . . . and electric start too!

This view is along the way . . .
This view is along the way . . .

Onward to the “4-way” where the Casino Creek trails come together with the trail up to the Rough Creek Fire Tower and Martin Creek that leads down to the Warm Springs Meadow. On our way up the hill you pass the junction with Boundary Creek Trail. I went down that trail about a week ago at the recommendation of a local bicycle rider. He said that anyone who can climb up Boundary Creek without stopping on a bicycle has iron lungs and legs!

At this junction we saw a bicyclist coming up that trail. We stopped and talked with him for a few minutes. If I understood correctly, he only stopped once on the way up. One thing for sure . . . this guy was fit! We told him where we were headed and he indicated he’d be going the same way. I’d cleared several logs off the trail ahead the week before so I told him it was probably clear. He waited for us to depart and then headed up the hill.

Martin Creek Trail was the plan so we took the right hand turn and made our way down the trail. I’d forgotten how darn rocky it was. I’d been up it once and there is this one rock step up that is just plain tough. As we approached the Warm Springs Meadow, the downed timber became more and more frequent. Looked like a big game of pick up sticks. That is just the best way to describe it. Forward motion was slow at times throughout this mess.

Dwayne & Chip in the Pick Up Sticks
Dwayne & Chip in the Pick Up Sticks

So we are sitting here on the trail, taking a break after crossing 50+ downed logs, and the guy on the bicycle rolls up. Yep. he’d caught us. Very impressive to say the least. I know Martin Creek is almost all downhill but he’d climb another 750+ vertical feet since we’d seen him and made his way down the trail and across all those logs and over all the rocks. Wow!

We were just getting ready to leave so once again he let us go first. About 20 more log crossings and we rolled into Warm Springs Meadow. What an awesome place! For many years I’d eyed this valley on the aerial photography and topographic maps. It was 2013 before I actually made my way to the valley. Awesome views!

Dwayne on the Beta - Warm Springs Meadow
Dwayne on the Beta – Warm Springs Meadow

About 1/4 mile past the location shown in the photo above you take a right and head up the valley. It is really marshy in that area as beavers are active nearby. We carefully picked our way through the wet spot and as we were getting back on the main trail we saw the guy on the bicycle coming our way. Geez!

Warm Springs Meadow
Warm Springs Meadow

The next mile or so is flat and there were several downed trees along the way to the next creek crossing. This crossing has a “bridge” if you  want to call it that. Essentially, there are about two dozen logs laid lengthwise across the creek. No boards or anything on top. We came to a stop got off and carefully walked our bikes across.

On our heels once again was the guy on the bicycle. He was incredible. Chip told him it was all “downhill” just ahead and onto the Williams Creek Trail. Chip had forgotten there were two more small ridges to traverse before the final descent. Oh well, this guy was in the for the long haul.

Warm Springs Meadow Pano
Warm Springs Meadow Pano

Dwayne took off and I rode just behind his dust all the way to the Williams Creek trailhead just of ID75 near Obsidian. Chip rolled in about 3 minutes later and we took advantage of some shade offered by a pine near the trailhead sign. There were two vehicles parked there and within 8-10 minutes bicyclists arrived, loaded up and drove away. About 5 minutes after that, the bicyclist rolled right up to us. I was amazed! He’d climbed up and over those two ridges and cruised down Williams Creek with ease.

In the end, we learned he was from Washington State and was not acclimated to the high altitude as he lived at about 800 feet above mean sea level. His bicycle was a “Felt” and from what I figured the frame alone cost around $10K . . . yep, just the frame. He’d been “glamping” (his term) with his family at Redfish Lake.  He was impressed with how we got our bikes over all the downed logs but we were blown away with the fact that he’d been keeping up with us for nearly 30 miles!!

Before he pedaled down the road, he took some pictures of us and grabbed a selfie or two. It is about 6.5 miles of flat pavement to the turn off for Redfish Lake from the trailhead. I estimate that the loop he’d ridden was ~36 miles. Wow! Dwayne put it best when he described the guy as “sculpted” . . . you can probably get the picture.

We too made our way up the road and back to the turn off for Boundary Creek. I was looking forward to climbing the trail back up to Little Casino. A group of horses was coming down and we all got off the trail as best as we could. One horse was spooked by the whole thing and almost bucked off the rider. It was kinda scary. Didn’t like it that that happened.

I met a hiker half way up so I shut off my bike. She walked by, said hello and high-fived me! Wasn’t expecting that! The trail was clear up to the junction and all the way back down to the Casino Creeks Trailhead. Simply awesome single track compared to anything we have in Kentucky.

Dwayne had an iced downed watermelon in his cooler so Chip cut it up and we enjoyed it before loading the bikes. What a wonderful way to finish up another great day of riding in Idaho. No doubt I’m fortunate to ride with these guys!

It was good to shed my gear and I was certainly getting hungry. Jumped into the Sprinter and pointed it towards the hotel for a shower and dinner. Already thinking about the next riding adventure!

See you on the trail!

 

Idaho Riding 2016 – #3

Day three turned out to be adventure! Chip and I went out for the day and started right where his RV was parked. The ride began with about 4 miles of asphalt heading out towards Stanley Lake. Another 3+ miles of two-track leads to a frequently used section of single track that traverses some awesome meadows where the views of the surrounding mountains are wonderful. We stopped about 6 miles in where the trail intersects with the Elk Meadow Trail. The photo below shows the view just beyond the trail signs. We have to cross that meadow.

Elk Meadow
Elk Meadow

I’ve only been across this “trail” four times now. Each “crossing” was memorable. The first year, the meadow was flooded with about 7″ to 9″ of water with thick reeds and grasses stretching as far as the eye can see. I was following someone that had been across before and magically we emerged at a 10′ wide running stream where there was a sand bar that made it easy to cross. After that, you turn left and head towards this tall wooden post way down the meadow where the crossing is easier. More than half of this 1+ mile crossing was through the flooded type area I described above. Sketchy.

The second year it was relatively dry and the crossing was not too bad at all. I had the GPS tracks so that made it easier to find the trail and the best crossing points. Year number three was an adventure for many reasons. Check out this video for a cool riding blooper captured on helmet camera in the meadow. Hats off to Philip for keeping the bike out the water!

This year was a challenge. The middle of the meadow was closer to 10″ to 12″ deep. I followed my tracks closely but it just kept getting deeper. We reached the point where the initial creek crossing was supposed to be easy, but that was far from the case. The sand bar was gone and a tall bank had been cut into the far side. (We found out later that beaver dams situated downstream had raised the water level in the meadow.)

Retreat! We turned around, backtracked to the edge of the meadow and started riding along the margins as best we could. Patches of willows, large sinkholes, and narrow but deep creek crossings were encountered. Our goal had been to find that tall pole where the second crossing was marked and finally it was within reach. Some quick searching revealed a place to cross that was easy and wouldn’t tear up the meadow or the opposing bank. Less than 20 yards beyond where we crossed, the tall pole highlighted the path forward.

A mile or so afterward, we were at the base of the mountains where the trail intersects with two others (see below). This was a good opportunity to take a quick break and regroup. I knew that the climb ahead promised to be the next challenge.

Trail Junction
Trail Junction

What we found on the way up was not fun. There were dozens of downed trees and some portions of the trail had deteriorated for a variety of reasons. Not good. At one point, I had to use the hand saw to cut a path so we could move forward. I should have taken my chainsaw on this ride. Bad move on my part.

With some effort, we reached the top of the climb. The last portion wasn’t steep but it sure was rocky. Momentum was the key! Elizabeth Lake is visible from this summit and a good view of the Sawtooth’s is just a few feet away through the white bark pines.

Elizabeth Lake
Elizabeth Lake

We paused for a while to enjoy the view and rest up a bit. What a cool place! I feel fortunate to ride on this great trail system with folks that appreciate it and know it well.

At the Summit - Elizabeth Lake is at my back.
At the Summit – Elizabeth Lake is at my back.

The next section of trail is notoriously rocky. Keeping a good rhythm is tough as there are places where you have to bulldog your bike through the boulders. Reprieves are few and far between until you reach the next trail junction. The scenery is nice and the wildflowers were on display, but concentration on the trail was important.

We forged straight ahead at the next intersection and made our way down Swamp Creek trail. Someone had cleared most of the logs on that route, however some quads had pushed there way up the trail about 2 miles farther than allowed. Irresponsible use of the trail will eventually lead to its closure. The trail ends at the highway where we found a way across the meadow and over to Cape Horn road. After about 3 miles of gravel, we reached the Valley Creek trailhead. There is a short quad section that leads to some single track or another Forest Service road.

We chose the single track! The Forest Service had worked on this trail last summer and it wasn’t too bad considering it burned 2 years ago. The setting is surreal. The ground is seared black as are the trees. Wildflowers are abundant on the hillsides and the creeks in the valley are very lush in comparison. Riding the trail with the trees was certainly better but we still have fun on this slow and steady climb up to Basin Butte road.

A view towards the White Cloud Mountains from Basin Butte Road
A view towards the White Cloud Mountains from Basin Butte Road

Chip and I took another quick break at Basin Butte road. The view above is just a few feet from the trail marker on the opposite side of the road. Afterwards, we coasted down this trail which leads back to the Basin Creek trail. This mostly downhill route is favored by mountain bikers. All was going well until we encountered some downed trees in an old burn area near the end. Getting around a couple of the root balls was not easy and going over was not an option!

Some more nice single track back led us to another Forest Service road and then back to where Chip’s RV was parked. Just under 50 miles once again! Kim was nearby at the RV Park with her friend Kathy so she came over as I loaded up and peeled off my gear. It was about 4:30 and I was ready for beer! Back to Stanley for a shower, some beer, and a good dinner.

Doing a loop like this is nearly impossible in Kentucky. There are few places left in the US where riding like this is an option. I plan to ride as much of it as I can before it is all gone!

See you on the trail!

Idaho Riding 2016 – #2

On my second day of riding, I was lucky to tag along with Bill and a friend of his from the Boise area. We went out on Basin Creek and up to Hindman Lake. There was a group of four riders there when we arrived so we took a break. Before we left another 3 riders showed up. As usual, I was the oddball in the group. All of the bikes were orange with the exception of one Husky (orange KTM) and there I was with my blue YZ/WR 250. Everyone else was from Idaho so the “Kentucky” plate on my bike stood out.

We left the lake and headed down the trail and over to the Valley Creek Trail. A short way down the trail, our group turned left (eastward) onto Prospect. Lots of deadfall was on the ground but Bill employed his saw and we made our way through the route. The first couple miles was bad but it got clearer as we moved towards the Basin Butte road.

After a short break we headed down Sunday Creek trail back towards Basin Creek. I hadn’t ridden Sunday Creek since the recent burn and it looks really bad in terms of erosion. The good part was the wide variety of wildflowers. There were more colors and shapes and sizes on that trail than any other that day. The purple lupine were shin deep and covered the blackened soil along the single track trail.

The end of Sunday Creek intersects with Basin Creek so we took that trail back to the trailhead where our vehicles were parked. Good timing. Bill had business in town and at the RV Park and I was looking forward to getting Smoke Prime Rib for dinner!

No pictures of this ride. I do have some GPS tracks as proof but nothing more!

See you on the trail!

Idaho Riding 2016 – #1

Took a short ride this morning. Kim dropped me off at the Casino Trailhead around 9:30. I went up Little Casino and the trail was in good shape. Most all of the deadfall had been cut back. There were two places where I had get out the saw, one of which was an ancient six-trunked white bark pine that had fallen across the trail about 1 mile past the Boundary Creek. Some folks had been riding around it and it was all chewed up. Not good.

A Grand View of the Sawtooth Mountains
A Grand View of the Sawtooth Mountains

I ran into a large group of hikers that had come up Boundary and stopped to speak with them for a few minutes. There were about 12 teenagers with a couple guys that were probably teachers or camp directors. They were tired and wanted to know how far they’d need to hike in order to see the surface of both Redfish and Little Redfish lake. When I told them it was about 2 miles or so, they kinda decided to head back down!

I found a few snow drifts in the usual places along Little Casino as they’d been sheltered from the sun. Last year was the only time I’ve ridden that trail and not seen snow. From what I understand, the snowpack was pretty good this past winter.

Snowdrift
Snowdrift

Went up to the 4-way (Little,Big,Martin,Lookout) and took a short break and turned around. Went back down Little Casino to Boundary. I’d never ridden Boundary, so I took it down to the main road and then back to town.

4-Way Trail Intersection
4-Way Trail Intersection

On the way down I stopped for a mountain biker that must have had iron lungs. I was very impressed at his progress on the unrelenting steep grade. I shut off my bike and got it off to the side so he could get by. He stopped at the switchback just past me and thanked me for allowing him to come by easily. I told him Little Casino was clear which was going to make his loop much easier.

On top of the world!
On top of the world!

I didn’t have my helmet camera with me for the ride but I did get a few pictures along the way. That is good, as I rarely get to stop and take pictures when riding with a group.

Trails like this is why I ride!
Trails like this is why I ride!

I don’t like riding on the pavement but sometimes its necessary to make a good loop. Having the plated “WR” is nice for those occasions. I got back just before noon so Kim and I went to lunch. She was pleased and I was certainly ready to eat!

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #12

Lately, work has been slow on the Sprinter. But as we’ve geared up for our annual westward pilgrimage, I’ve been prompted to make some additional improvements that are going to be handy while traveling.

Previously I figured that I couldn’t have two fender well boxes as the one on the driver’s side would interfere with the motorcycle tie downs. After eyeing this situation for a couple months I came up with a solution. A short length of chain was run between the two D-rings towards the front on the driver’s side of the van. Then, rather than put the tie down hook in the D-ring, I placed it 8 links forward on the chain. This was effective at offsetting the tie down so that it would easily clear the front edge of a fender well box. Easy enough and quick to do.

With the chain fix in place for the tie downs, I proceeded with building another fender well box. All I had to buy was two hinges, some aluminum channel, and a small can of Minwax black poly stain. There was plenty of plywood left over from my other projects and even some with the good veneer for the top.

Two Fender Well Boxes!
Two Fender Well Boxes!

Luckily, I kept the piece of plywood that was left over when I cut out for the other fender well curve. Perfect! That was all I needed for a template. It took me over a week to get that other fender well cover built, but this one went together in 3-days or so. The majority of my time was spent painting it with the Olympic deck coating that I’ve used on other surfaces.

When completed, it dropped right into place with no issues. There were several items that had been stowed underneath the passenger seats that now have a new home in the fender well box. The front half has been dedicated to motorcycle parts and the rear half has chain saw stuff, hand trimmers and stuff that came from underneath the passenger seats. A little bit of room still remains in each half.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Three days before we got our van, Jesse came over to the house with his Fiskars tree trimmer device. It has a long extendable handle that has a clevis type trimming mechanism that is great for trimming branches. There is also a small saw blade attachment that can be used to saw bigger branches than the trimmer can tackle. We used this trimmer for about 30 minutes getting all the branches off the trees that line my driveway. I knew that if they weren’t trimmed back they’d be dragging on the new van. Not good.

Well guess what I got from Jesse for Christmas? A brand new trimmer complete with the saw blade attachment. He knew I’d need one again to trim the driveway and of course it will be handy while cruising the forest service roads out west or back here in Ky while finding a good place to park for riding.

For weeks I’d wondered how to haul this tool in the cargo area of the van. I’d seen some nice roof mounted options but then I’d need a ladder and with my luck I’d probably fall off the damn thing and hurt myself. Best to keep it inside the van and at a reasonable height.

The option I settled on was a 6′ piece of 4″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe with two clean out adaptors. Both my trimmer and my nice 6′ extendable handle wash brush would fit in it. A piece of 10″ poplar hardwood was stained with the black poly stain and the PVC components and 4 metal straps were all painted with Krylon SuperMaxx spray paint.

Mounting Hardware
Mounting Hardware

The pipe was secured to the wood using the metal straps and 1/4-20 SS hex head bolts with self anchoring T-nuts on the rear of the wood panel in countersunk holes. This whole assembly rests on a 1/8″ ledge that is the top of the black wooden rail that runs just below the large cargo area panels. Some #10 SS screws were used to secure it to those panels.

PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood
PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood

I’m now working on a way to strap the trimmer and the brush to the PVC or one of the straps. They need to be secure so they won’t slide out under acceleration. I’m going to look at some nice rubber straps to keep them from moving around. I have a piece of black foam rubber than I’m going to use to isolate them a bit so they won’t rattle.

Trimmer & Brush
Trimmer & Brush

Lastly, I acquired a little 12VDC fan that fits right behind one of the cargo area exhaust vents. There are four vents back there just inside the back doors that direct air out some one-way vents that are positioned behind the rear bumper corners. The little fan is currently wired up to an 8 pack of 1.5 volt AA batteries with one of those old 9V battery clips. It will run all night on a single charging of the batteries. Why do I need this? Well I’ve found that if I hook it up at night after loading my bike there is no gas smell in the van the next morning. How about that! Dad said all I needed was a slight negative pull on the space and it would work. He was right. Need to wire this up to the van but that can wait.

Cargo Area Vent Fan
Cargo Area Vent Fan

There are a couple more things I’d like to do within the cargo area but I’ll know more about how to handle that after our trip. Also, the passenger seat area will be totally reconfigured by this time next year. Looking forward to getting that all lined out with a comfy seat/bed and some cool storage options.

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #1

It was a hard decision to make but we sold the 2007 F-150 Crew Cab last month and drove away from the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Lexington (James Motor Company) with a brand new 2015 – 170 wheelbase, high-roof, 4×4 Sprinter Crew Van. There is a ton of room in the thing, it drives great at highway speeds, and will allow us to carry more “stuff” on our trips than ever before. No more trailers like last year. Done with that nonsense. Below are a couple photos.

Front View
Front View
Side View
Side View

Kim and I had seen lots of these out West over the past couple years, many of which had been customized for some specific tasks. Some were simply setup as a dedicated camper, others were deluxe mountain bike haulers, and a couple were actually dirt bike haulers that could hold 3-5 bikes. Tim and Becky, the owners of the Sawtooth Hotel where we stay in Stanley, had picked up a 2014 – 170WB, 2-wheel drive, Cargo/Crew Van that had no real interior improvements . . . a blank slate to work with! We got to check it out a couple times and realized how spacious and adaptable the Sprinter platform could be. It certainly got us both thinking.

Realizing that it was about time to get a new truck within a year or so, I started out by looking at 3/4-Ton Crew Cab Pickups. Pulling the trailer last summer with the F150 cost us bunch more in gas and I just hate dealing with a trailer. I figured a 3/4-ton truck would pull a trailer with ease and if we got a diesel it would last a lot longer. The next thing that happened was sticker shock! Have you priced a brand new 3/4-ton truck lately? I was appalled at the pricing. The Chevy/GMC 2500 option was right at $66K outfitted with options similar to our current F150 and the F250s were about $4k less. Sure, you could get a Dodge in the mid to upper $50K range, but most everyone I spoke with steered me away from those.

So just for kicks and giggles . . . I got on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter website and started the “Build Your Own” process to see what one would cost. Now that 4×4 (new for 2015) was an option it would be something I could truly consider. I was amazed to learn that I could actually get a 4×4 in the size and with the options we’d want for less than the F250 options I’d been studying. For about six weeks I revisited that site dozens of times just checking out all the options. Below is an image of one option we’d built and really liked.

Sprinter Config Option
Sprinter Config Option

When proposed this to Philip his initial comment was, “Dad, no one will take you two seriously in that thing. No Way!” Jesse and Bo really liked the idea but as Jesse noted, “You need to drive one to make sure it is really what you think it is.” He was right . . . I’d never driven any type of “van” and moving forward in the decision making process hinged on knowing how it handled, especially at interstate speeds. Next step . . . schedule a test drive.

I’d been told that working with the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Lexington was easier than the one in Louisville. That works well for us as it is only about 35 minutes max from our house so I got in touch with their Sprinter sales guy, Dan, and scheduled a time for us to drop by and check one out. They only had one 4×4, 170″ wheelbase model on the lot and it was actually a Crew Van that was configured very similarly to what we’d been wanting.

On our initial visit we took a tape measure so I could get some measurements. I wanted to make sure at least two bikes, gear, tools, sewing machines, sewing tables, and all of our luggage would fit. Getting all that junk in the truck was like a puzzle and typically things were stacked from the floor to roof in the rear seat. It was always a chore to get to what you needed.

It was more than obvious that wasn’t going to be a problem with the Sprinter. You could stand up fully in the back and it was even possible to get right up from the passenger seat and walk to the rear row of seats or the back with ease. Very nice. Kim and I both asked lots of questions but one questions changed everything. I asked Dan how long it would take to get one if I ordered it that day. He said you might have by July of 2016. Really? He indicated that the build process wouldn’t even begin until April or May of 2016. Geez!!!

What we learned is that only 12,000 4×4 models were built for 2015 and a single oil company immediately ordered 10,000. That left only 2,000 units for all of the US market. We left shortly thereafter without even driving it. Needed to think this through a bit more.

Early the next week we called Dan and setup a time for a test drive. We made a little loop out the Interstate and then took an exit so we could return on some rural roads. About 20 miles or so round trip. It was comfortable and drove like it was on rails at highway speeds. Kim immediately noted how high it sits and how far and wide the view is from the front seats. Great for seeing the countryside!

The unit was not the color we wanted but it did have the roof-mount AC unit which is a $3,300 option. Also, it had the premium paint job, the 4×4 low range option, and the towing package already intact. We discussed the pricing a bit and surprisingly it was much cheaper than the “Build Your Own” options online. I sold my F150 that weekend, transferred it to the new owner on the following Wednesday and picked up the Sprinter that Friday. It was a done deal. We had the perfect travel machine! One magazine noted it was the “ultimate post-apocalyptic zombie avoidance vehicle” but honestly I hope we never have to use it for that sorta thing.

Stay tuned for more on my build process. It is going to take some work to get it setup just like we need it for bike hauling and so forth.

See you on the trail!

Kenda Equilibrium: Report #3

We now have over 300 miles on a Kenda Equilibrium. It is the 18″ version and I’ve been running it exclusively on my 2-stroke WR250s. Philip used one on the bike he rode in Idaho this summer and I had put close to 100 miles on it prior to that trip. Those miles combined with some recent trail work put it just over the 300 mile mark.

Close Up of the Equilibrium
Close Up of the Equilibrium (~300 miles)

At this point the tire does show some wear, but it still performs very well. I can say this, it does not like the road. It wears down quickly on pavement so keep that in mind. Also, it does not like to be spun as that chews it up too. If you think about it, that is about the same as most trials tires. Their compound does not appreciate spinning or high speeds on asphalt.

As I noted above, Philip (and Jesse) used the Equilibrium in Idaho this summer. Jesse put close to 200 miles on his but Philip did not log that many miles during his shorter stay. They both praised the tire on the sidehills, tackling roots, and climbing over rocks. It also did well when we encountered some damp sections where the trials tire did not.

Another View of the Equilibrium
Another View of the Equilibrium (~300 miles)

I ran the IRC Trial Winner trials tire and was totally pleased except in a couple of damp sections along Germania so it was good to have it along as a point of comparison. Bo was running a Michelin trials tire and was really pleased with the performance too. I was afraid the Equilibrium would shed some side knobs on the rocks but all them were intact even after some crazy rock gardens. Very impressive!

From what I can tell, there are only two very small drawbacks to this tire. First of all it simply does not clean up very well. It is hard to rid the sipes of debris and the lettering dulls rapidly. I realize that has nothing to do with performance but it is part of the total package.

Secondly, it does impact the trail more than a trials tire. It is certainly better than any knobby in that regard, but it does turn up more dirt than the 4″ wide trials tire imprint on the trail.

Other than the two items above, I’m sold on it. I suspect that when the ground freezes it will cease to be so awesome, but we’ll see when the time comes. There is no way you could really run studs in this tire and obviously other tires are more suited to that type of thing.

Now as for racing, I personally have no first-hand experience with it in that type of situation but Travis said he’s seen lots of them on the starting line the past few months. He tried one, the 19″ version, at a few races and has been pleased. His comment was that it worked great on slimy roots and rocks, hooked up good in the ruts, and did at least as good as half worn knobby in the deep mud. I believe his plan was to finish out the season with it in terms of racing.

The Tire Stack
The Tire Stack

The last time we ordered some of these tires they were on back order for a couple months. So after a few weeks of testing the first tire, I decided to go ahead and order some more! Note the three on top of the IRC VE-33 in the photo above. Obviously I was impressed enough to invest in a stockpile! Get one for your bike and give it try!

See you on the trail!

Freezing in July

I guess it is all a matter of perspective. Was it a good thing? Or a bad thing? Depends on your frame of mind and desire for adventure. This all started on a morning in mid-July. The forecast was for cloudy skies and a 40-percent chance of precipitation. We were situated in central Idaho and the plan was to ride up to an old Forest Service Lookout structure. Regardless of the forecast . . . the ground is dry and any rain that fell would only improve traction and knock down any dust. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it?

The higher the altitude the better the attitude. Onward! The ride started out well and we enjoyed some relatively new single track trail that leads to some very nice sweeping views of the Sawtooth Mountains. It was cloudy, but we could see for many miles down Sawtooth Valley and all of Redfish and Little Redfish Lake in the foreground.

Redfish Lakes from a Ridge
Redfish Lakes from a Ridge

We stopped along the way for a snack at just over 9,000 feet above mean sea level. The views were spectacular in all directions but the clouds did put a bit of a damper on it. As we moved forward up the trail I expected to come across some snow drifts on the north facing slopes. But this year, unlike others in the past, there were no snow drifts remaining. I’d heard it was a bad year for snow but a wet spring. Thus, no snow drifts on this trail in 2015.

The next stop was a 4-way trail crossing. The tree that hosted the classic wooden trail signage was literally, laying on the ground. The signage was intact but the tree had seen better days. I noticed it was getting a little windy and a bit more cloudy as we made our way onto the trail that leads up to the Lookout.

Casino/Martin Creek 4-Way (2012)
Casino/Martin Creek 4-Way (2012)

There are some notoriously rocky sections in this trail and we all had fun negotiating the obstacles. At the end of the rock garden, the trail drops down a bit and the starts a steady, switchback laden climb to the top. This is when the “precipitation” began. It was scattered but hard rain fell for the next mile of the climb and then it turned to hail. The hail was small but you could hear it bouncing off the helmet with authority!

Freezing Precipitation on the Camera (Jesse's View)
Freezing Precipitation on the Camera (Jesse’s View)

A couple switchbacks later, the hail transitioned to sleet. It started to cover the trail as we parked our bikes several short switchbacks below the Lookout structure. It was coming down hard and frankly, we were getting wet and it was chilly. So . . . we ran for it! Right up the remaining switchbacks to the structure. Philip was leading but I actually made it up first and crawled underneath the decking of the Lookout.

Next I noticed the grounding cables on the structure and the rods driven into the granite just 2 feet away. Hmmm . . . it is storming on this mountain and I’m beside the lightning rod. At about that moment, Philip climbed up and got up on the deck. I followed and found him removing a panel in front of the door. The door behind it was OPEN! Yes, we all ended up getting inside and out of the elements.

I’ve only visited a couple of these lookouts and this is the first time that was open, fully accessible. The crew piled into the little 12 x 12 (?)  structure and found a wide range of items. There was a little square shelf/counter in the middle and one table against one of the outer walls. There was just enough room to walk around the counter in the middle and unfortunately, only two “chairs” graced the structure. We settled in accordingly as the sleet was pounding the metal roof and the clouds began to envelope the mountain top completely.

Lookout Interior (Pano)
Lookout Interior (Pano)

Two boxes full of glass panes for the windows were on the floor and a box of caulk and window glazing was against the opposing wall. I’d say there were 12-15 gallons of paint, two cordless drills, replacement belts for a sander, some basic tools, small candles, matches, and coolest of all, a Brunton gas stove with 1 and half containers of propane. We took the half bottle and fired up the stove to dry out a gloves, generate some heat, and provide a bit of light. A couple of the small candles had been employed for light as well.

Propane Powered Glove Heater
Propane Powered Glove Heater

After poking around a bit more we found 1/3 a bottle of whiskey, and empty whisky bottle, a couple tarps, a lantern, latches and other small hardware that would be useful for fixing up the places. By the way, when we left, there was still 1/3 a bottle of whiskey!

What we really liked was this piece of paper that was nailed to the side of the counter. It was a hand-written note professing the grandness of the place we had accessed and the value of the structure itself.

It was still relatively early in the day but after about an hour of rummaging around and watching Jesse and Philip take pictures I was ready to head down the mountain. Unfortunately, it was still precipitating. You know . . . the thing that there was only a 40% chance of occurring?

Jesse & Philip in the Lookout
Jesse & Philip in the Lookout

About 20-25 minutes later it all started to subside and we peeked outside. The sleet had just about stopped but we were “inside” a cloud. Our bikes that were parked a couple switchbacks down were not even visible. It was cold but luckily the wind was dying down and we’d all put on the jackets that we’d been carrying in our backpacks. Prepared!

Trailside Parking
Trailside Parking

The group scuttled down the hill to retrieve our bikes and head back towards the Big Casino trail at the 4-way I mentioned earlier. The ground was now wet which made for awesome traction however all the rocks were wet which made it interesting! We crawled back through the rocks and dropped onto Big Casino.

I’d warned Bo and Philip that Big Casino was rocky. It is not difficult, but in places the rocks are relentless. You just have to stand up and negotiate the obstacles or it will simply beat you up. Think you can just get off the trail and go around? Wrong, the landscape is littered with small to boulder-sized rounded rocks as far as the eye can see. Someone picked the path of least resistance many, many years ago!

Philip Negotiating the Rock Garden
Philip Negotiating the Rock Garden

The trail had been clear all the way down, but about 1/2 mile from the truck there was a small tree blocking the trail. Jesse used his big hand saw to get it out the way and we finished up the ride with just under 50 miles on the odometer.

What an adventure! Everyone really enjoyed the trails and the views but the freezing precipitation on the mountain added some extra excitement. We were all a bit wet and hungry so the loading went quickly back at the trailhead. Getting back to town for some food and a shower were high on the list!

This is one trail ride that we’ll never forget!

See you on the trail!