Tag Archives: Sprinter

Renfro Valley Dual Sport – 2017 Edition

Hat’s off to the organizer’s of the 2017 Renfro Valley Dual Sport once again! I’ve only done this three years now, and each time, I’ve been amazed at how well they mark the route. If you pay attention, you could probably do the whole thing without a roll chart. It’s marked that well. The sign-up process is a breeze and flows quite smoothly. Make sure to get it on your calendar when they announce the 2018 dates. Typically, it is held the first weekend in May.

Day 1

I’d been talking up the dual sport all year long with some guys I normally ride with. Some had never done it before, and others hadn’t done it for many years. I was actually kinda worried that the group would be too big, but it all worked out just fine. In the end, there were five of us riding together on Saturday. Greg, Bo, Kyle, Travis and I all headed out on the route just before 9am. Ideally, 8:45am would have been a bit better but this crew is fairly quick and I didn’t expect us to have to wait very long on anyone.

The Crew

Just like in 2016, there was a fairly strong possibility of rain on Saturday. Argh! I’ve never ridden the event when it was even somewhat dry. Well the forecast gods made a good call as it started coming down about an hour or so into the route. Luckily, I’d suited up in my Klim Traverse jacket with the d3o pads in the shoulders and elbows. This setup over my regular riding layers was the ticket. The vent zippers on the Traverse made it easy adjust to the conditions they changed throughout the day.

What are you looking at?
What are you looking at?

We’d hit all of the Green Arrow (Hero) sections that morning and folks were getting stuck all over the place. None of the crew had any issues with the hills or ruts and we tractored up, over, and around everyone and made good time as well. About 3 miles from lunch, we came out onto a paved road. It was in the mid-40’s, pouring down rain, and we were all ready for some shelter and food. Especially Bo. Evidently he was in dire need of nourishment. Everyone was in much better spirits after a good lunch and some “so-so” hot coffee.

The Hungry Man!
The Hungry Man!

They had gas for sale at the Sand Gap Community Center where we had lunch for $4/gallon. A bit steep in price, but it meant you didn’t have to head over to the store and wait in line behind 50 bikes to get gas. The guys on smokers mixed their gas accordingly and shook it up in the supplied milk jugs. I’ll do that again next year!

Travis at Lunch
Travis at Lunch

The rain was subsiding a bit as we pulled out for the second half of the day. There was some great riding ahead but it was going to be wet and sloppy for sure. Trail conditions were deteriorating quickly as the crew moved forward. Some sections had water running down the ruts in the trails. When we got to the 2nd afternoon Hero section, Greg indicated that the potato salad at lunch was not working out very well. I think he was getting a little green. Not good, as we had over 40 miles left to go. He and Bo skipped that Hero section and promised to meet us at the junction.

The Court Jester
The Court Jester

In the end, Bo and Greg had to wait over 30 minutes for us. It was not good. This was the only section where I had to hit a hill twice. Travis, Kyle and I were challenged for sure! Tiring to say the least. Things were just plain sloppy and it was hard to keep forward motion at times. For the first time ever, my “WR250” got a little warm. I never remember this happening to the bike before. We stopped for about 4-5 minutes so it could cool off. Not good. Bo and Greg had made a good call not running that section.

Sloppy Conditions
Sloppy Conditions – But the Captain America Boots are Clean!

The next Hero section was the cool stuff at Big Hill. I rode that last year (in the rain) and it was OK, but this year it was wetter. Kyle was pumped to try it so we let him head his own way. I knew of one really steep downhill that I just wasn’t willing to tackle in these conditions. It just wasn’t wise, at least not for me. At this point we were less than 30 miles from the staging area and the rain was still coming down but you could see the clearing skies in the distance.

The Hungry Man!
The Hungry Man!

In a short while, we popped out onto the pavement and there was no precipitation. Excellent! A combination of pavement, gravel, quad trails, and jeep roads lead us to the final section of cool single track. Very, very nice to say the least. A wonderful way to wrap up the day. It flowed well and now that it wasn’t pouring, it was actually enjoyable! We came off the single track and dropped onto an old road that descended down a creek bed back to the final section of pavement. I’d say 4 miles later, and we were back at the staging area. It was nice to start loading up without the rain as an annoyance. Special thanks to Greg for being our leader for the day. I greatly appreciated not having to ride in the front for a change.

Our Fearless Leader!
Our Fearless Leader!

Bo, Kyle and Travis had other obligations so they headed back north. Charlie came by and said his shoulders were hammered from fighting the little Husky he was riding so he pointed his van northward to Indy. With the mass exodus underway, the plan was to seek out Jeff and John and see if we could tag along on Sunday.

Charlie in the Ky Woods
Charlie in the Ky Woods

Greg and I stayed for the evening. We got a good meal there in Mt. Vernon and went to our hotels to get some rest and recover for the following day. The forecast for Sunday promised to be awesome, cool in the morning with a high around 61 degrees and plenty of sunshine. Good deal!

Day 2

Onward! Woke up to a light coating of frost on Sunday morning with clear skies. Things were damp, no doubt about it, but at least the sun was shining. I met Greg at the staging area around 7:30am. He’d had a rough time with leg cramps that evening and throughout the night. I’ve dealt with that before and it is not fun. Makes me cringe to just think about it. Wisely, he headed north as well, not wanting to chance getting 40 miles in and have to deal with the leg cramps. Plus, he had a 5+ hour drive ahead of him. Smart decision.

So I got in touch with Jeff and John and they were fine with me tagging along. Their friend Justin was there too. He was a good rider for someone that had only been on a bike for 3 seasons. Being young and tough benefited him as well. He kept up a good pace and dealt with most obstacles very well.

John pulled up in his Sprinter beside the MotoVan and everyone got their gear on and bikes ready. A group of four is a good size for this type of outing. The first part of the day was a bit too much pavement for me but as soon as we turned onto some natural terrain I got really interested. The lack of precipitation made it much easier to take in the surroundings. Mountain laurel were in full bloom and the  ferns were popping out of the forest floor. Sandstone rocks and the associate reddish dirt were prevalent at certain elevations on the route. Neat stuff!

Unfortunately we encountered lots of bottlenecks on the route that morning. Some of the more challenging hills were making it tough on many of the riders. Luckily, our little crew was able to get around these sections with little effort and kept a great pace.

There was one particular Hero section that I really enjoyed. It traversed a hillside with sandstone cliffs towering on the ridge above. Evidently, this is part of the “Sand Springs” area where Travis rides frequently. Jeff said that he’d ridden there with Travis the year before. Some of that section had burned last fall and that made it easy to see through the trees. The steep hills and off-camber trail layout made it fun to navigate.

Just before lunch we went under I-75 and ended up in “downtown” Livingston, Kentucky at the local fire station. They were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and had all the fixins’ laid out to embellish them accordingly. Just like, Saturday, the fire fighters had gas available for purchase, but this time for $3 per gallon. Good deal. We all gassed up after eating and headed back out for some more fun.

We saw a couple groups that were bypassing the main route and taking the road back to the staging area. Boy they really missed some awesome riding. The Hero sections after lunch on Sunday were some of the best we encountered all weekend. So glad I stayed for Sunday this year!

Jeff, John, & Justin checking out the Sandstone
Jeff, John, & Justin checking out the Sandstone

My favorite landscape feature of the whole event was a sandstone outcropping that had eroded into a series of passages that were 30′-50′ deep. As we approach this area, I noted what looked like pea gravel on the trail. My first thought was, “How in the world did they haul this pea gravel into here?” Hmmmm. When the sandstone became visible you could literally see the little pieces of gravel embedded in the geologic structure. These little pieces had eroded away and washed down the hillside, thus the appearance that someone had spread the gravel on the trail.

The Route
The Route

Not too far on down the trail from the sandstone outcroppings we came upon an overlook. It wasn’t a natural overlook, but rather a sheer drop off into what was an old mine. You could see the large shafts from the edge and the old railway that serviced the mine many years ago.

Jeff & John at the Mine Overlook
Jeff & John at the Mine Overlook

When we reached the end of that trail and hit the gravel road, Jeff turned right off the route and we headed down to the mine shaft entrances. There you could see 3-shafts and it was then obvious that the railway actually went through the mountain via a tunnel that we’d just ridden over a few minutes beforehand. Justin and I followed Jeff and John into the mine shafts. Kinda eery.

In The Mine
In The Mine

I didn’t think about it at the time, but what if the vibration caused by our bike engines had made pieces of the roof come down? Not good. I might not go in there again. I’ll just wait outside and take pictures!

The route had one more Hero section and then some old road beds, quad trail, gravel and so forth before the end of day. We saw a dual set of train tunnels a few miles before the end and actually road down the gravel beside a railroad bed for about 1/2 mile. The sun was still shining, everyone’s bikes were in good working order, and no one got injured! A great way to end the day.

If it isn’t obvious, this is now permanently on my “To Do” riding list for every year. I certainly wished that I knew about this event many years ago. I recall folks not coming to KORHS races because they didn’t want to miss the dual sport. Now I understand! Don’t miss it next year!

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan Travel Report

It was about this time last year when we decided to get either a 3/4-ton Diesel truck or a Sprinter. I didn’t know much about them then, but by September we were test driving one and by October a brand new 4×4 Sprinter was in our driveway.

Side View
Side View

One of the primary reasons for the Sprinter purchase is that it really suited our type of traveling. It secures the load (motorcycles and sewing machines), it is NOT a trailer (which I hate to tow), and it is one awesome and comfortable ride! Our recent westward trip confirmed all of this and taught us several things about the van.

I am honestly surprised at how comfortable the Sprinter is from a driving perspective. The seating position is great for long periods of time, it has every adjustment you can imagine, and the seat foam is firm but comfortable and provides excellent support. Power seats would be nice but the adjustability is still there.

KyMotoVan
KyMotoVan

Seems like so many folks get a Sprinter and immediately get upset at how it rides. Well think about it . . . it was designed to have a load. One motorcycle and associated riding gear makes a noticeable difference but having a full traveling load makes it ride like a dream! Once again I was pleasantly surprised with this big monster and how it behaved on the interstate. Cruising along at 75mph to 80mph was not a problem and the steep inclines were clobbered by the little turbo-charged V6. It would just pull and pull with no abandon!

A Full Travel Load
A Full Travel Load

Kim learned that it was easy to just stand up and walk to the back and sit on that bench seat. She could stretch out, get something from the cooler, our luggage or just enjoy a different view with no great effort. The spaciousness is second to none! Something about the additional space that makes traveling less tiring. I guess you don’t feel quite as confined as you’d be in a car or truck.

When traveling in our trucks, the whole back seat area would be crammed full of stuff. There was barely enough room and everything was wedged into place making it hard to get to things in the middle or on the bottom. We “kinda” had a system but nothing was efficient about it at all. With the Sprinter, all of our luggage, Kim’s sewing machine, and my gear bag all fit between the rear bench seat and the partition. Plenty of room. Very nice for a change!

Luggage Loaded with Room to Spare!
Luggage Loaded with Room to Spare!

One negative point regarding the Sprinter is its sheer size and how that impacts driving in strong winds. It does have the new Cross Wind Assist but nothing can prepare you for driving across Wyoming! Going out, it was hitting us in the front and on the driver’s side. I’d say there was about 5 hours of driving, where both hands needed to be on the wheel. Basically, you just didn’t know when it would hit, so you had to be ready with a dual-handed grip on the wheel. On the return trip we encountered similar conditions but it was not as long in duration.

We took the big rig on several Forest Service roads and it did very well. Our trip up towards Basin Butte Lookout was a good climb with several newly graded water bars to test the clearance. I started out in 2WD to see how it would do and in the end we never needed 4WD. The BFGs and manual shifting made it very easy. Really learned to love the manual shifting option on those dirt roads. I can think of many situations where it will be an advantage.

KyMotoVan at a Trailhead on the Basin Butte FS Road
KyMotoVan at a Trailhead on the Basin Butte FS Road

Most would think that fuel economy would be terrible in such a large, high-profile vehicle. Well, I’m very pleased! I’d been getting 13.8mpg -17.6mpg around the house which mainly included trips to Casey County to ride and maybe once every two weeks I’d drive it to work. On the trip, the worst I got was 14.6mpg and that was during the windy portion of Wyoming on the way out. Interestingly enough, the best I got on the way home was 18.9mpg and that was when the wind was working in our favor. Plus, there is a lot more downhill driving on the way back! There was no way I could achieve this type of fuel mileage in a 1/2 or 3/4 ton pickup truck. Especially if there was some type of trailer involved!

You know how folks that ride motorcycles on the street always do that “low wave” at each other when the pass on the roadways. Well for some reason, Sprinter folks seem to be that way too. I don’t know how many times we’d see someone approaching in their Sprinter and they’d be waving with enthusiasm. Didn’t see that one coming!

KyMotoVan near Craters of the Moon
KyMotoVan near Craters of the Moon

One evening I was standing out on the deck enjoying the view and a couple pulled up and parked out front. They jumped out of their Honda Element and ran towards the Sprinter. The guy got down on his hands and knees to look at the drivetrain and his better-half was just taking pictures like crazy. He jumps up and says, “It is a 4×4!” and she pointed at the emblem on the rear door. I never said a word and just took it all in. They were pumped they’d seen a 4×4 Sprinter to say the least! Gotta love it!

A couple weeks before the trip I was all torn up about the “biodiesel” availability between here and Stanley. I researched all sorts of things and studied Google Maps for appropriate fueling locations. Geez . . . that was all just a waste of time. We had no problems at all finding B5 or better . . . non-issue. I will know next time . . . having the diesel rotopax containers as a backup is still a good idea though.

Rotopax Diesel Containers
Rotopax Diesel Containers

One more note. The BF Goodrich KO2 tires are simply awesome. The ride is great, they did wonderfully on the forest service roads, there is no doubt they improve the look of the vehicle, and they are yet to show any wear after over 8,000 miles! If you have 4×4 Sprinter get some and make sure that you MB Dealer does the install and balancing. If you don’t, they will wear out sooner and will not give you the wonderful ride that I’ve enjoyed.

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

Bottom line . . . we’re hooked. There are lots of other cool things about the Sprinter but I don’t have enough “free cycles” to commit at this time. If you have a Sprinter, then Congratulations . . . if you don’t . .  then maybe you should?!

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!

Renfro Valley Dual Sport – 2016 Edition

I’d heard about this event for many years, but honestly, I didn’t have a good idea of what it was all about. I mean, it is called a “dual sport” how much fun can that be? In 2014, Jeff,  a riding buddy of mine, encouraged me to attend the Renfro Valley “Dual Sport” the next year. He’d told me all about his adventures on this ride and evidently, he hasn’t missed one yet! Later on, I spoke with 2 or 3 other riders about it and they too had only great things to say.

Jeff @ a Renfro Valley River Crossing (2012)
Jeff @ a Renfro Valley River Crossing (2012)

With all these great recommendations, we just had to sign up. Jesse and I went and Travis tagged along on his DRZ400 (he did very well on it). You can read about the 2015 experience in this blog post. We had a great time and promised to return in 2016. It was on my calendar!

My pre-registration information came in the mail a few weeks ago and I immediately filled out the form and sent them a check for Day 1. It is a 2 day event but we only did the first day in 2015. My plan for 2016 was to sign up for one day and then go back on day 2 if I felt like it was doable. Physically, that is . . . I guess mentally too.

I started watching the weekend forecast everyday during the week leading up to the event. This was probably a bad idea. The forecast was horrible in terms of precipitation but OK in terms of temperature. Riding in the rain isn’t miserable if it is warm enough. Also having the right gear makes it much more comfortable (another post on this is forthcoming).

On Friday, the forecast finally improved in that the rain was probably not going to start off until 11am or so. Hooray! Like Charlie said, “It is really easy to call it day when it is raining at the start.” I pulled out my High Sierra Motorcycle Club jersey and took a picture, and sent it to a few folks. I was going regardless of the forecast! Ride or Die. No Snivelers.

Ride or Die
Ride or Die

Several people I know had planned on coming to the event, but for one reason or another, all of them bailed. I knew Jeff would be there as would Charlie. Michael also indicated he’d be with Charlie’s group and Travis was going to bring Taylor and ride along with a crew he’d been to Colorado with. Therefore, I had several options for “tagging along” with some fellow riders. Philip will regret not going but he had final exam stuff to prepare for this year.

I arrived around 7:55 am and found a good place to park the Sprinter. As I put it in park, I noticed an older model (pre-2007) coming down the road with “KTM” on the front above the windshield. It was a 3500 that was all blacked out. After unloading a couple things I headed over to the sign up. On the walk over I spotted a 2014 parked by Jeff and there were at least three more in the gravel lot at the sign up area. I don’t remember seeing any there last year so that was pretty cool. The new thing? Maybe so, but none of their’s were 4×4!

The sign-up line was short. The number of riders was down from last year. The forecast had kept them at home. It was a quick process as I had pre-registered for the event. I ran into several people I knew on the way back to gear up and finish unloading. All were more than gracious to offer to let me ride with their group. Appreciated!

Good to see Jeff G. as always. It had been exactly one year since I’d seen him. He was going to ride sweep with Harvey and Marty. I just couldn’t handle being out that late on a rainy day. Many thanks to them for doing what they do!

In the end, the “Indy” group was my choice. It would be good to ride with both Charlie and Michael. I saw their group prepping to leave so I rode over there to wait. Didn’t want to hold them up. There were a couple stragglers in the group so Charlie and another rider took off and waved for me to come along. The way it worked out, this was our group. Charlie, “Little Dave”, and I were it. Just three of us, and I could tell within a few miles that we were evenly paced and moving along very well.

Little Dave & Charlie
Little Dave & Charlie

We stopped at the first marker for a “Hero Section” to take a break. As we sat there, 3 or 4 groups came by. They’d head down the road with the Green Arrow (Hero) and within 5-7 minutes they’b be back. Each group indicated that there weren’t any markers. Someone had said that they’d taken them down because of all the rain. Up until this point, it had not rained. But, then it began, as a light downpour. With so many groups not finding the arrows ahead we just chose to take the main route. Onward!

Our little group made very good time and ended up being some of the very first people to make to the lunch stop. There couldn’t have been a dozen other riders already eating at the Sandgap Community Park shelter house. A quick bite to eat, a trip to the restroom and back out on the loop. There were a couple of groups rolling into the parking area as we were leaving. And yes, it is still raining at this point.

Our first stop after lunch was about as far away from the staging area as we’d get all day. Yes, I’ve studied our tracks. There is a very large sandstone cliff overhang that the trail runs underneath. A perfect place to take a break on a rainy day! There is a small lake about 100′ straight down to the left of our bikes. Beautiful!

Sandstone Cliff
Sandstone Cliff

Moving on, we spent the next 15 miles or so on very old dirt roads, some gravel and about 4 miles of pavement. This lead us to our gas stop at the “Fill Ups” Gas Stop along US421. We had another reprieve from the rain under the awning as we gassed up and added some premix to our fuel tanks.

Charlie went in and asked for a trash bag. The clerk gave him one and he told him he’d use it as a raincoat. Some other riders were coming in the door as Charlie walked out and he told them, “The sales clerk is selling rain coats for one dollar!” Very good.

The Trash Bag Raincoat
The Trash Bag Raincoat

I had driven past this gas station many times on our way to Earl and Marcella’s property where we used to host the “Big Hill” hare scrambles for the Kentucky Off Road Hare Scramble Series. My knowledge of this area was excellent. I knew from last year that we’d be riding on that property just up the road.

About 5 miles after leaving the gas station we were stopped at a Green Arrow at the very edge of the property. I knew exactly where we were. Cool! The neat thing was that not a single person had ridden this advanced section. All of the tracks, and there were very few, lead forward on the main loop. This was some of the best single track trail we road all day. It was slick, and one of the downhills was a bit hairy, but being the first to traverse it made it even better!

Green Arrow at Big Hill Advanced Section
Green Arrow at Big Hill Advanced Section

At one point during the “Big Hill” advanced loop it comes out and crosses the road but when we came back on the road we found the green arrow, but couldn’t find the next turn. We rode around for 20 minutes trying to find some orange marker tape or another arrow. Finally, Little Dave found a piece of tape and we were back on course! Actually, we went back onto Earl’s property and picked up some of the old hare scramble course and then made our way up a logging road and back to some pavement. Once again, this was all in the rain. Relentless.

The adventure continued as we made our way past the “Three Links” community marker and two miles down the road to a gravel farm road where a sign said “Welcome Riders”.  We sure didn’t expect to see that. About 3/4 mile down the gravel road we saw a sign that said, “Lemonade, Sweet Tea, Sodas, and Beer!” Really? Hmmm. Just around the bend in a yet to be completed pole barn sat a family selling exactly what they advertised. They invited us to pull our bikes under the barn and take a break. I wasn’t interested in a beer at that time of day but the lemonade was sure good. There was a fire and everything. A good rest.

At this point, I had 86 miles on my odometer and Little Dave determined we had 20 or so to go based on the route sheet. The next few sections were getting really nasty. The dirt roads were essentially mud, the trails were slick and nasty with greasy roots and rocks, the gravel was heavy and wet, and of course the roads were slick if you pushed it with the knobbies on. Things were a bit more sketchy than earlier in the ride. Prudence was necessary.

We passed up the last “Green Arrow” section as they’d been told at the morning Rider’s Meeting to not ride it if it had rained. Something about high water (Did you see the picture of Jeff at the top?). It didn’t appear that anyone had gone that way and it looked like one bike was parked where the old gravel road started. I guess to turn people around?

The bad part about this whole ride to me is the first and last 6 miles or so of straight up pavement. The other paved sections are much shorter and those aren’t too bad on the “WR” but those two extended sections of blacktop are tiring. I’m just not comfortable riding on the road. Never will be. However, I do realize that those road sections are what it takes to get you to the good riding!

When I pulled back into the staging area my odometer said 09.49 miles. That means “109.49” as my digital odometer has only two characters before the decimal point. I’d never seen it do that before!

109.49 Miles
109.49 Miles

I loaded up quickly, jumped out of my wet and thoroughly nasty gear, dried off a bit and got into something dry. Nice. I ran over to tell Charlie and Little Dave goodbye. Good to ride with good folks. Like Charlie said, “It’s a small world!” They were staying for the next day. Adios! All I wanted to do was get home to take a shower and get a good beer. Back to the Sprinter and northward towards Osage Hill.

Ready for Clean Up!
Ready for Clean Up!

There is no doubt that I’ll be back next year. This is now a “must do” on my event list and I will encourage others to join in. The folks that host the event do a good job. They are a bit “old school” in terms of trail marking, and this pisses off a lot riders, but I totally understand. I’ve laid out a 12 mile hare scramble course, put up 500 arrows and 1/4 mile of marking tape and still been criticized for bad course markings. I can’t imagine marking 120 miles. Hats off to them for their efforts!

Don’t forget to add the 2017 Renfro Valley Dual Sport to your riding calendar!

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #11

New Tires:  Originally, the van had 245/75 R16 Continental VancoFourSeason tires gracing the silver steel rims. It rode very well on the highway and there was minimal road noise. No complaints at all in that regard. However, I was told early on that the Continentals wouldn’t last very long . . . maybe 35-40K at the very best. So, my plan was to wear them out and do some research in the meantime regarding appropriate replacements.

Well this plan started to deteriorate very soon. My first bad experience was during our big snow this past winter. The van did very well on the icy and snowy roadways that had been plowed, but I got it off into some fresh snow about 10-12″ inches deep and climbing out was not easy. I had it in 4×4 mode but didn’t know to turn the ASR features off. Regardless, those Continentals just wouldn’t dig in. They’d sit on the top of the snow and just burn in a nice icy patch. I was concerned, but I also thought well I’ll just be careful where I take when it snows really deep.

Motovan in the Snow
Motovan in the Snow

A couple weeks later I went to park the van in a field where I’d parked my F-150 hundreds of times. It was a little wet, but certainly nothing bad at all. At least that is what I thought. As soon as I hit this one wet grassy area I could feel it spinning and the traction control warnings were lighting up the dashboard. In this instance, I was alone and there was no one there to pull me out if I got really stuck. So I eased on up to my parking spot trying not to spin excessively in the big rig. Immediately, I put it into 4×4 mode just hoping that I could get out later that afternoon with no issue.

Parking in the Field
Parking in the Field

When I climbed out to survey the damage to the field I noted that the tires were just packed full of mud. It was obvious that Continentals did not clean themselves well and my experience with the snow highlighted their lack of ability to dig in. This is not good. I have this nice big adventure vehicle with 4×4 and it is getting stuck in a damp, flat, grassy field.

The next weekend, I put the darn thing in 4×4 when I pulled off the main road. It was damp again and I was worried that I’d damage the field or worse, get stuck. It did well but I could feel it spin a couple times as I got into the grassy area. It didn’t slow down like last time or even feel like I’d get stuck, but it still spun a bit. Once again, the tires had packed up with dirt. That’s it! I’m getting some real tires for this ride!

From what I’d read online, it was obvious that the BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2s were the way to go. They are highly recommended, I’ve seen them on dozens of Sprinters online, and Jesse had gotten over 50K on his last two sets on a Chevy 2500. Lots of folks seemed to think that a larger tire size than stock was a good idea, but I just wasn’t comfortable with that. Narrower tires go the best in mud and snow and tires that are too big around could rub and would make the vehicle taller. Let me tell you . . . making that beast taller just doesn’t sound like a good idea at all!

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

It took some effort but I found a tire place in Lexington that would give me a good deal on just the tires. This way, I could have the MB Service Center do the mounting and balancing. In the end, this worked out very well as the MB Service Center had the best rate on mounting and balancing and they have the wheel weights made specifically for the “steely” wheels on the van.

Their turnaround was very quick and the Technician said I’d made a great choice on the BFGs. He indicated they’d be perfect for the type of traveling and off road excursions we’d be doing. One thing he said though was that, “They will talk to you a bit more going down the road.” At this point I was anxious to see how well it rode and how much road noise would be generated by the more aggressive and deeper tread.

My drive home was an eye opener. Pulling out of the parking lot I could tell that there was a bit more drag when turning at a slow speed. But, as soon as I hit the main road the steering and ride were just as effortless and smooth as with the Continentals. Hmmm . . . I surely didn’t expect that.

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

On the way home, there are about 12 miles of Parkway driving with a 70mph speed limit. As I sped up and headed down the on-ramp to the Parkway I was shocked. The road noise did not increase at all and it was silky smooth at 72mph. After a mile or so I eased it up to 80mph just see how it would feel. Wonderful! I simply did not anticipate that such an aggressive looking tire would ride that well and be that quiet.

One thing the BFGs did for the van was really change its appearance. Those new tires coupled with the nice black Aluminess nerf bars make it look like more of an adventure vehicle and less like and expediter’s van. My dad commented that it looked more “manly” now and Philip strongly agreed. Oh well . . .

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

I’ve parked in the same field twice with the new tires and never even had to think about engaging the 4×4. It doesn’t spin at all nor do they pack up with dirt. If there is one drawback it is that they do pick up rocks a bit more, but I can live with that. I now feel much more comfortable taking the van on some Forest Service roads out west this summer. I’m certain it won’t go where my old F-150 could, but the KyMotoVan will get a lot closer with the BFGs in the mix!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on my partition door and some ventilation work.

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #10

Nerf Bars:  I spent weeks looking at running boards and nerf bar options for the NCV3 Sprinter. There were abundant options for “generic” running boards. Many looked like they “kinda” fit and one person told me their’s were sturdy even with 5 kinds getting in and out each day. In the end, I went with the black powder-coated Aluminess Sprinter Nerf Bars for my 170 WB Sprinter (with a roof-mount AC unit) . . . the AC part will be important later on.

Aluminess Nerf Bars Website Photo
Aluminess Nerf Bars Website Photo

First of all, I must say that the nerf bars are extremely well made. My Father is a decent welder and he too agreed and examined the craftsmanship in great detail. They know what they are doing and do it well. Additionally, the staff was easy to work with when ordering. Coordinating a freight shipment from the San Diego area to a local business was painless to coordinate.

Installation of the passenger side was tackled first. Here is where the AC unit comes into play. Oddly enough, the AC lines for the roof-mounted unit emerge from above just behind the front door steps. On both sides. Unfortunately, the brackets for the nerf bars are impacted by the location of the AC lines.

After lots of examination and measuring, some modifications were made to the front two brackets. The modifications allowed us to kinda tuck and turn the nerf bars up behind the AC line with plenty of clearance. Holding them into place also told us that it was topping out on the back bracket so about 3/4″ was taken off the top of each of those.

We then used a floor jack under the rear bracket to position and push it up into place. Two holes were drilled in the vertical portion of the underbody where the brackets rested. The floor jack was moved up to the next bracket and once again we got it in place and drilled the holes and installed the mounting hardware. A similar process was followed for the last three brackets as we worked our way towards the front.

On the last bracket, the stainless steel screws were used to pull it up flush with the bottom of the step. It worked very well and end up being consistent looking from front to back.

Aluminess Nerf Bars (Passenger Side)
Aluminess Nerf Bars (Passenger Side)

From the look of things, doing the driver’s side was going to be more difficult. As with the other side, we took about 3/4” off the top of the back two brackets before starting. Both of the front two angle brackets were removed and the welds were ground down to a smooth surface. All but about 2 inches was cut away from the top of the second bracket from the front.

The heater hoses are not a problem at all although they look imposing. I removed the 10mm nuts on the AC hose bracket and removed the factory threaded tab. Removing the next 10mm nut up the line on the AC hose made it easier to reposition the hose during the install.

Front Bracket above AC Line & Heater Hoses
Front Bracket above AC Line & Heater Hoses

With these modifications made, the nerf bar has to be rotated into position so that those front two mounts tuck behind the AC hose. Very similar to how it was on the other side. Luckily it totally misses those heater hoses! A floor jack was used to position the rear mount and a barrel jack on the front three brackets as the holes were drilled.

In this instance, the rear bracket was set to straddle the back two body mounting points. On the passenger side the foremost rear tab was behind the foremost body mounting point. Also, it leaned a bit inward towards the center of the vehicle whereas the other side was more vertical. Typical body variations I’d say as it lined up well on the outside and along the bottom of the van.

Rear Bracket
Rear Bracket

Unlike the passenger side, the front bracket did need some spacers to do it right. We cut the piece of aluminum that was removed from the second bracket in half, drilled a hole in each half, and used those as the spacers. Worked very well. It looks really good, feels sturdy, and is “symmetrical” with the other side in terms of its positioning. I used most all of the supplied hardware.

Mounted!
Mounted!

Glad to get this all behind me. It is certainly easier to get in and out and as noted by a couple folks, it does provide some “side” protection as well. I really like the way they look and once again the craftsmanship is great.

Special thanks for my Son and my Father. My Son assisted with the passenger side and my Father on the Driver’s side. Both felt we’d done a good job of really securing to the body in spite of the dreaded AC lines from the roof mounted unit.

Getting new tires put on the van next week and still working on partition door mounting options. Stay tuned!

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #9

Work on the Sprinter has been progressing but now at a slower pace. I figure that the end of “Phase 1” is near as much of my time has been spent tying up loose ends. My aim is to wrap up everything that is “essential” prior to our trip this summer.

D-Rings:  After hauling the bikes several times I finally determined where to place some small “D-rings”  that can be used to secure the rear tire or other things like the loading ramp or a motorcycle stand. Some self-anchoring T-nuts and stainless steel 1/4-20 allen-head screws were used to secure the D-rings to the plywood. It looks good and should hold up quite well.

Small D-Rings in Cargo Area
Small D-Rings in Cargo Area

Fire Extinguisher:  My next order of business was purchasing and installing a fire extinguisher in the cargo area. There are a dozen options where I could have mounted it but after some consideration, I placed it on the end of my fender well box. It sets up off the floor a couple inches and can easily be reached when standing on the ground behind the van. A fire extinguisher is one of those things you get and hope to never have a need to use it!

Fire Extinguisher
Fire Extinguisher

Radio Fader:  One of my gripes about the Audo 15 head unit is the fact that the “fader” sound option is not available on the Crew and Cargo vans. I did learn that it was possible to have it enabled as all of the Passenger vans have speakers in the rear. My local MB Service Center enabled this feature for me last week. Currently, the input signal for my subwoofer amp is a pass through from the Blaupunkt amp that drives the door and dash speakers. With the fader option enabled, I was able to run a set of cables from the rear channel on the Audio 15 directly to the subwoofer amp. I can now fine tune the balance between the front speakers and the subwoofer better but I did have to re-adjust the input level on the subwoofer amp.

Floor Mats:  We finally found some floor mats for the front that are durable but good looking. They kind of “soften” up the cab area a bit if that makes sense. They are genuine MB floor mats and use these big screw in velcro fasteners to keep them in place. Looks like to me that they will hold up really well and be a breeze to clean. Very pleased.

New Floor Mats
New Floor Mats

Aluminum Trim:  Lastly, I’ve been putting some finishing touches in place on the partition. Basically just some angle aluminum pieces that secure the front of the partition to the floor. One was added along the front edge, and a couple are placed on the cargo area side along the floor and on the driver’s side. Stainless steel screws were used and the aluminum was shined up a bit before mounting.

Aluminum Partition Trim
Aluminum Partition Trim

Fender Well Box Finishing Touches:  Additionally, some nice black felt was added to the top edge of the fender well boxes so that it was quieter and sealed better when closed. Kim got it for me and used her rotary cutter and quilting rulers to get it exactly 3/4″ wide. I used a low-temp glue gun to adhere the felt to the wood. Worked Perfectly!

Nerf Bars, the partition door, new tires, and maybe some peg board are now on the agenda. Stay tuned!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine (KyMotoVan) – Report #8

Fender Well Box: I found several references to fender well boxes or covers on the Sprinter-Source forum. After noting how my motorcycle tie downs were routed it appeared that I could have one, but maybe not two.

Luckily, I had plenty of 3/4″ plywood leftover from making my partition and rear wall panels. All I had to do was figure out how I was going to put it together and secure it to the floor and walls. Making a template for the curvature of the wheel well was easy and with a few key measurements in-hand I went to work.

Initially the plan was to cover all of the box with the same Olympic deck coating that I’d used on the lower partition panel and door. However, I ended up having enough of the very nice maple hardwood plywood for the box top so I stained it with some black stain – polyurethane made by Minwax. Three sides are wrapped with 3/4″ aluminum channel to make for a nice look.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

RattleTrap was employed for insulation and sound damping (not dampening) on the surface of the wheel well. Wrapping something that is square and flat over a rounded surface is never fun. Cartographers faced this issue centuries and decades ago when trying to “map” our “round” globe with flat, paper maps! As a result, there were some compromises made in this process.

I cut 1.75″ lengths of 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle and used those along with some allen-head stainless steel bolts and nylon-based stainless lock nuts in each corner. This approach ensured that the box would be very square and solid. Both of the leading corners (front and back) were encased with 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle as I knew they’d endure some abuse while loading and unloading bike and such. Those were attached with some #6 stainless screws and a bit of caulk.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

The hinges I used were Austrian-made and ended up being the perfect solution. They are fully-adjustable in all directions, have a zero-clearance factor on the back side, and are soft-closing. Some foam-based weatherstripping pieces were temporarily added on the two front corners until I can come up with a permanent solution that is both functional and appealing.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Attaching it to the van was easy just above the wheel well and two 1″ x 1″ aluminum angles attached it to the floor. Once again I used stainless hardware to secure everything. It is very solid. Actually nice to sit on.

I now have my tow chain, a cable, spare tie downs, garbage bags, rags, along with stuff that was previously under the passenger seats. This is good. I’ve cleared up space up front and have shifted a bit of weight towards the rear which will further improve the ride.

Fluids Box:  I’ve really been worried about carrying “fluids” in the back of the van. That wasn’t a big deal in the truck but having them “internal” to the van is a different story. About three weeks were spent trying to identify good options for holding things like antifreeze, motor oil, premix, filter oil, chain saw pre-mix, chain saw chain oil, and so forth. In the end, an aluminum tool box made by Better-Built was acquired and deployed (see photo below).

Fluids Box
Fluids Box

It fit perfectly on the floor where I’d planned but when the top was raised it rubbed my nice black panel rails. After some contemplation, I figured out how to space it out from side just enough so it would clear and not scratch anything at all. Very good. So far, I’ve been able to put all my “fluids” in here and with the top being sealed and only two small holes (caulked) on the bottom it should be good to go!

My next project is to mount a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, tire pump, and come up with a great option for securing the partition door. I’m also going to place some small D-Rings on either side of where a rear tire is situated. Once that is done, I’m taking a break from all this and getting back to more riding and bike maintenance. Spring is just around the corner and I need to get some trail work done before it gets all hot and nasty!

See you on the trail!

Riding in the Snow!

When I was young, we’d ride each time it snowed. Sometimes it was just on a small plot of land next to our house, but we’d ride. I can remember my Father, my Uncle and me going around and around a large figure 8. Once you got the hang of it, you could drift around the corners. Good practice!

Sometime in the early 70’s we got a really big snow that shut down things for days. My Father rode his Suzuki TM-250 to a factory in town where he worked in Maintenance. I’d say he was one of the few people to show up for work!

Basically, riding in the snow teaches you a lot about traction, momentum, and weight distribution. Anyone that rides a dirt bike should try it at least once! Like David said after riding last week, “That was mucho fun!” He’d never ridden in the snow before and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Single Track in the Snow at David's Place
Single Track in the Snow at David’s Place

I’m nearly 50 and at this point, I’ve probably ridden in the snow less than two dozen times. Sure, we get snow in Kentucky, but its occurrence is rare and in most instances there isn’t enough on the ground to justify loading up and heading out.

Out West, now that is a totally different story. Their riding season is so short that they take to the snow in the winter. They talk about snowmobiles with turbos, throttles on both side of the handlebars, and “boondocking” in the back country. Dwayne, out near Tahoe has a KTM fitted with a Timbersled and Gary in South Dakota has knobbies with spikes that are just plain gnarly. Obviously, the snow doesn’t keep them inside over the winter!

Gary's Studded Rear Tire
Gary’s Studded Rear Tire

To this day, one of my most memorable snow riding experiences occurred down near Duganville (bet you don’t know where that is). It was in the early-90s and I had a 1991 Honda XR600. There must have been 18″ or more on the ground and I went down to my friend Bob’s to ride. We had an established loop that was about 7 miles long around his three properties. Well I made the whole loop. I put that XR600 in fourth gear and held it at about 3/4 throttle and went everywhere. Up and down every hill, across every creek, and through each “cedar tunnel” . . . it was a blast! The snow was so deep in most places that I could just step off the bike and it would stand up in the snow with no support. I have yet to ride another bike in the snow that was better than that XR. Period.

The XR600
The XR600

Finally it happened. We got some snow a little over a week ago. Actually, we got a lot for Central Kentucky. There was about 12″ at the house with larger drifts here and there. At the end of the road, the drifts were over 2 feet deep. That was on Friday, and on Sunday, Jesse and I went to ride down in Casey County.

For some reason I expected there to be less snow on the ground down that way but when I hit the Lincoln-Casey line the road went to hell. I was driving the Motovan and it was not in 4WD so I eased on down the road noticing that everything “covered” with snow. I’d say there was 17″-19″ of snow on the ground where we parked. Never a dull moment!

Motovan in the Snow
Motovan in the Snow

I had spent 50 minutes or so putting sheet metal screws in my tires on Saturday evening and it paid some dividends. Regardless, forward motion was slow at times and a bit hard on the bike. A big-bore . . . that is a big-bore four-stroke would probably be the best for “big snow” riding but the YZ went ever place I pointed it.

On the Ridge
On the Ridge

We only covered about 4 miles and 50% of that was just logging roads. Towards the end of the ride, we came down this one hill and the snow was piled up almost 3 feet deep! I almost went over the bars getting to the bottom of that one.

Taking a Break
Taking a Break

The next Friday evening was spent removing the screws I’d installed the weekend before. It was going to be in the mid-50’s on Saturday and at our house, the snow was 95% gone. Mistake. Should have left the screws intact. Every North-North West slope was still covered with at least 6″ of snow. In most places it was more. Totally unexpected. Luckily it was heavier and not as light and fluffy as the previous weekend. We got around well but it was tricky and a bit tiring (see video below).

Bottom line. If you own a dirt bike and it snows at least 6 inches where you live, get out and ride in it. You don’t need to go far, just get out. Don’t be a “fair-weather” rider. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn and fun will be had in the process!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #7

Partition: The C-pillar partition is nearly complete. Olympic deck coating was used to cover both the main panel and the door. There are a total of 3 coats on each side but none on the edges. I taped them off using painters tape and it worked quite well. All three panels fit perfectly. The photo below shows the panels prior to any finishing.

Initial Panel Placement
Initial Panel Placement

I placed a piece of 1×1 angle aluminum across the front of the partition where it meets the floor. I’ll be using 3-4 screws to secure it to the floor and some larger 2×2 angle aluminum braces on the backside of the main panel. Those, along with the existing brackets at the bottom of the header panel, will do a fine job of holding everything in place.

Upper Brackets
Upper Brackets

Each panel is attached to the frame using 1/4-20 stainless steel hardware. The partition frame was drilled and tapped at each anchor point and a thin nylon washer was placed between the panels and the aluminum frame. I know the van will flex and things will rub and squeak and so forth.

Front View
Front View

In the end, I’m very pleased with how it is coming together. I’m still exploring options for securing the door panel. I’ve looked at a few plastic knob options but have some other things in mind as well. Getting all the curves to look good as they wrap around the AC unit, headliner, and sidewalls was a challenge.

Header Panel along Headliner
Header Panel along Headliner

The upcoming installment will include a final update on the partition,  some info on my “fluids box” and a custom wheel well cover that does at least triple duty!

See you on the trail!