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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A West Virginia Weekend and New Gear: August 11-12, 2018

(Part II of II):  A recent West Virginia Weekend jaunt provided a chance to test some new (and not-so-new) gear, and visit some lovely spots. 

Part II:  Gear

Pegs:  I owe a belated but rave review to Ilium Works for its passenger gripper pegs.  When Jeff got the new BMW R1200GSA last year, it came with the stock passenger pegs of course.  They were narrow metal pegs covered with a rubber sleeve that was anchored by a piece of rubber that protruded through the peg and out the bottom.  They were rather small, so when mounting, all my weight had to be balanced on the very tip of my foot, on a peg that was roughly just over an inch wide and a few inches long.  After a few months, the rubber on the left peg (the side I mount from) began slipping free of where it was anchored and twisting around the peg.  This created a hazard because it would happen just as I was mounting.  Thinking my foot was resting securely on the peg, I’d put my weight on it and then the rubber would start sliding, taking my foot with it, until the rubber had slipped away and the middle part of my foot hit the metal underneath.  The first time it really gave way I slipped so badly I wrenched my back and shoulder and hurt Jeff’s shoulder too, when I tried grabbing him for balance.  After repeated efforts to re-anchor the rubber or to try to mount and dismount without letting the rubber slip (unsuccessful), it was clear we had a problem.  The GSA is a challenge to get on to anyway – it’s very high, and the side and top cases limit the space in which to maneuver.  So, after the MD 20/20 rally, when getting on and off fast was hampered by the peg hazard, Jeff ordered the Ilium pegs. 

These are perfect!  They are much wider, allowing a firmer surface for mounting and dismounting.  They have teeth, so even if it’s wet or my boots are muddy, I never slip.  It’s made the challenge of getting on and off much easier.  While riding, the Illium pegs are more comfortable too, because there is more choice on where to rest my foot. And they look pretty sharp besides. Yay Illium Works! Thank you.

Clothing:  After some trial and error in my effort to find summer-weight gear, I ended up with a Revit jacket and Olympia Cordova pants.  Both have a lot of mesh, weigh a lot less than my Klim gear, and fit far, far better than Klim.  An aside here on Klim:  In my experience, Klim is built for long-waisted women with wide shoulders, extremely long arms, and no butt or hips, which unfortunately is pretty much the polar-opposite of my body type.  With all the body protection in it, it weighs a ton, and it’s very scratchy around the neck and wrists. So, in the two years I’ve been wearing Klim, generally, the best part of a ride is when I get to take off the gear.  In terms of three-season performance, however, it can’t be beat.  The Gor-tex outer shell is water resistant; you don’t need rain gear.  After a really soaking rain will you feel damp, which is pretty much unavoidable, but short showers just roll right off.  The jacket has four exterior pockets, which are reasonably sized and placed, although not as good as the ones on Jeff’s jacket – the man’s version. ( Why do women’s clothes never have really good pockets?)  It also has interior pockets.  It repels dirt really well, and overall performs as well as I could want – except for fit.  It is also very well vented, and even on hot days it’s reasonably comfortable when moving at 70 miles an hour.  But given its overall weight and density, even a stop light in the summer can be torturously hot.  Hence, the lure of mesh gear.

This was the mesh gear’s first test ride and overall, I liked it, but it has limitations.  It’s light – it rests easy on the body.  The breeze flowing through the fabric was just right, very cooling yet the jacket deflected enough wind that even at highway speeds I didn’t feel like I was being beaten up by too much air.  And when we stopped, even to get off the bike and walk, it was more than bearable.  Joy! Happiness!  All this and it fit too! 

Now the drawbacks:  With all the mesh, there are only two highly-inadequate exterior pockets in the jacket. No space for more. Further, it’s not water-resistant.  The sales clerk who convinced me the Revit jacket was for me pointed out that if it’s hot enough to wear mesh, you probably don’t mind getting wet.  And it does come with a lightly lined removable liner which provides both warmth and water resistance.  The Olympia pants also came with rain pants that can be worn under or over. 
With our first rain shower, I had to agree, that getting a little wet was fine.  I cooled off and dried right out after it was over.  But when it started to rain the second time, much more heavily than before, we were at a higher elevation and the temperature dropped too.  So, when pulled into a gas station I pulled on the rain gear – pants and jacket liner.  The rain gear worked great, especially when worn as the outer layer.  But the rain jacket, in particular, is warm, and it’s not vented.  Further, having to stop to take on or off layers, rather than just zipping or unzipping vents is a pain.  On the upside, Jeff (wearing three-season Klim) complained that after getting soaked on Saturday, his gear never completely dried out for Sunday, whereas my lightweight stuff was completely dry and ready to go on Sunday. 

So, the upshot on the pants and jacket are:  great for when either (1) it’s hot and highly unlikely to rain; (2) so hot I really want the light gear and I don’t mind being wet – knowing I’ll dry fast once it stops; or (3) I expect pretty steady rain and the temperature is somewhere between mid-70s and high-80s, such that the liner/rain jacket will be comfortable and the rain gear will just stay on most or all of the time.  But for most longer trips when the precipitation is less predictable and the temperatures more likely to vary widely, the Klim’s versatility is hard to beat.  It doesn’t require stopping to pull rain gear on or off and the venting allows a wider range of temperature adjustment.   

Gloves!  I upgraded these this year too.  When I bought my first gloves, I really didn’t know what I was looking for but now that I’ve somehow ended up with four pairs of gloves, I have some clues for newbies on the options:  Depending on the weather, you may want ones that are vented for hot weather, lined for intermediate temperatures, wired for heat for cold weather, and/or waterproof.  Vented ones won’t be waterproof, although one of my four pairs has a vented “grip” side and a side that's waterproof.  While the waterproof side keeps my hands dry in the rain, the grip side gets soaked, so while it seemed like I was getting two gloves in one, after it rains it’s pretty apparent I have only one set of – very soggy –gloves.  As a result, I’ve found three sets are pretty much necessary  – hot weather; waterproof and mid-temperature (useable in hot weather too, just not as comfortable); and wired for heat.  

In my first round of glove buying it also never occurred to me to look for “smart” fingertips so that I could use my phone with out taking off my gloves.  Bad move!  Upgrading to fingertips that can be used on a touch screen makes life so much easier.  How many of the fingertips?  Both hands, with the thumb and forefinger of each is ideal.  Cuffs that will come up over your jacket or not? Depends – for the vented, hot weather gloves, no; but I prefer cuffs for the rain and cold weather.

Riders have a somewhat more expanded list of concerns because they also have to consider the grip the palm covering will provide and take into consideration if they have heated grips or not.  Not so important for passengers.  But, lastly, both passengers and riders will appreciate the little squeegee on the finger of their waterproof gloves for clearing their visor of raindrops!

Alaska Leather seat:  Before I ever sat on the GSA, Jeff had changed out the stock seats for Sargent after-market ones.  The Sargent is cushioned, but it’s still shaped more like a plank than a seat. The RT (the old bike) had more shape to it and was much more comfortable.

After the first few rides, in an effort to relieve my aching “sitz” bones, I purchased an Alaska Leather skin.  While it provides a bit more cushion, that’s not the problem with the Sargent seat, so the Alaska Leather when used as intended didn’t really solve the problem.  However, I’ve found that by rolling the Alaska Leather under so that it only covers half the seat, I can reconfigure the seating area to give a bit more lift under my legs and change the pitch of the seat, which helps tremendously.  It looks a bit odd, but I’ve now ridden well over 6000 miles on it, and they were far more comfortable than the first 1000 miles or so on the GSA without it.

Temdan waterproof iPhone case:  Yes!  It works.  You can even talk on the phone without taking it out of the case and it wasn’t very expensive.  Only drawback is that the control to flip the switch to silence isn’t very effective so either I can’t silence it or I’ve silenced it and can’t get the sound back – unless I take it out of the case which is not all that easy.  But everything else – touch screen and the other controls – work just great!  I can sit on the back of the bike, even in the rain, and use the phone. 
Little by little … I’m learning!

A West Virginia Weekend and New Gear August 11-12, 2018

(Part I of II)  A recent West Virginia Weekend jaunt provided a chance to test some new (and not-so-new) gear, and visit some lovely spots.

Part I:  The Trip

Jeff and I hadn’t taken a bike trip since returning from our eastern Canadian tour in June (blogs still in the works) so notwithstanding forecasts that included scorching heat, thunderstorms, and other scattered precipitation over most of the east coast, we were ready for another trip.  Jeff picked West Virginia as the destination most likely to offer the best mix of weather, given options ranging from “not great” to “downright miserable.”

I was really looking forward to a hot weather ride because at the end of last season, after too many trips when I just melted in my Klim three-season jacket and pants, I had bought a light-weight mesh jacket and pants. After I made the purchase, the weather immediately cooled off, so my new stuff has been hanging in the closet waiting for August to roll around again.

Saturday, August 11, started off cloudy.  As usual, there was a lot of slab just to escape metro DC, but after an hour or so we were in the Virginia countryside.  One of the weekend goals was to reach the top of Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia at 4,863 feet.  It was a pretty ride.  We went through part of the George Washington forest, passing by Elizabeth Furnace.  We stopped at a little country store and gas pump (old-fashion read-the-gallons-off-the pump-and-go-in-and-pay sort of place).  The cashier insisted we should avoid Route 11 as it was the weekend for the Route 11 yard sale which she said would be a mess.  We admired the “black bear check station” sign and the old fashion scale (for weighing your bear?) and grabbed the geocache we came for.  We did a bit of Route 11 as planned and did indeed see many yard sales and flea markets, but didn’t hit any of the traffic jams we were warned of.  We passed through Harrisonburg and turned west.

The ride over the mountains was slow because we overtook a number of bicyclists on a road with no shoulder and we were behind a truck with a wide-load trailer.  He couldn’t pass any bicyclists without moving well into the on-coming lane, and the curves in the mountain road offered few opportunities to do that.  The bicyclists were strung out over a couple of miles, so it was a slow and torturous climb.

Finally, we were able to get around the truck and then quickly clear of the cyclists, so we were sailing until the rain started.  We ducked under a gas station overhang so I could pull on my rain gear (see more on this below) and Jeff could switch out his gloves for waterproof ones and tuck his phone away. From our overhang, we watched the pilot vehicle for the cyclists attempt to spray-paint directions onto the road, but in the pouring rain, there was little chance it would last long enough for the cyclists to read it. We left our gas station shelter and after a short drenching, the rain cleared.  We stopped at the Germany Valley overlook, which was gorgeous.  

As we approached Spruce Knob, Jeff asked if I were game to go up.  The road condition was uncertain, and it wouldn’t have been much fun in the rain anyway, but at the time it looked pretty clear, so up we went.  It was a reasonably easy ride up – a bit steep and twisty on a very narrow road, and there was a bit of loose gravel, but overall it was fine. Lovely wildflowers on the banks of the road. At the top there was plenty of parking and a 900-foot easy walk to the overlook tower.  We climbed up and took photos.  We also explored a bit further down the trail – I think it was a ½ mile loop – but by then the clouds were rolling in again and, as usual, motorcycle gear is not conducive to hiking, so we cut the hiking short and headed back down the mountain. 

Despite the clouds, the rain held off.  We had lunch at The Front Porch across from Seneca Rocks. Our last trip to Seneca Rocks had been April 1, the last of the seven Tour of Honor WV monuments that we had attempted that day.  Seneca Rocks was a “daylight only” bonus on that trip and we made it just five minutes before the end of twilight (see earlier blog) which was sufficient for the bonus but not good enough for a view. This time we had a great view from the restaurant’s second story porch.  The food was adequate if not exactly gourmet, and we also enjoyed poking around the country store below. 

The next geocache offered a nice view of a painted barn and the road provided stunning scenery.  Then we were off to visit the Rich Mountain battle field.  The battle field is on part of the historic Staunton-Parkersburg pike which linked western Virginia to the Ohio river.  The pike was subsequently re-routed, but the gravel, rustic path over Rich Mountain still exists. 

Jeff enjoys challenging the GSA, and keeps learning more and more about how to manage it on rough roads.  This road was great practice for our planned Alaska trip in 2020.  It had some pretty intense challenges, including steep inclines combined with switchbacks and so it offered a sharp leap on the experiential learning curve.  Other than a small tear in one of the bags on the bike and a chip in Jeff’s helmet, no injuries occurred. 

The battle field has assorted plaques, riddled with bullet holes (recent, not historical). It was interesting and made for a pleasant stop.  The ride down was much easier.  And now we can say we rode part of the historic Staunton-Parkersburg Pike.

After a few more stops we made it to our overnight destination, Buckhannon WV.  We stayed at the Baxa Motel (or Inn, depending on which sign you read). Great location just a bit off the main street, with a clean, adequately sized room, AC that worked, lots of hot, hot water in the shower and free parking.  Only draw back was the distinctly 1950s-vibe:  Pepto-Bismol™ pink bathroom tile with black trim, small wall-mounted sink with chipped enamel, and an internet connection to match the era.  (I yearned for the speed of dial-up for a while, and then just gave up). But for the location and price, it beat out the Hampton Inn!

After an evening jaunt up and down the main street -- admiring the architecture, the stunning flower displays, the little libraries, and a Dairy Queen (not a DQ!) that looked like the stage-set for a 1950’s movie – we went to C.J. Maggie’s for dinner.  Should you ever find yourself in Buckhannon, don’t miss C.J. Maggie’s pizza!  I had the spinach and mushroom and it was absolutely fabulous. Could not have been better. (And I’m a real snob about pizza!)

The next morning we woke to thunder, followed by multiple siren-like warnings from our various electronic devices warning us of flash-floods.  So, deciding we were in no rush to leave, we wandered down the street to Audrey’s Downtown Restaurant for a nice breakfast, then to the local coffee and brew house for a cappuccino, and then down to the town park for a geocache, where we got to check out the bocce court and the local time capsule.  Back on the bike, we stopped at a riverside town park which apparently used to be a neighborhood – until floods destroyed the houses and FEMA wisely opted to buy people out rather than rebuild. Then back on the road!
Sunday’s sights included:  

  •           A highway marker for a place where, according to a highway marker, the Pringle brothers once lived in a hollow sycamore tree. This didn’t make sense to us either, but apparently it was at least 8 feet in diameter inside:;
  •          A covered bridge that is an integral part of Rt. 250;
  •          Wind turbines;
  •       Lots of wild flowers and small towns; and
  •           Finally – the Fairfax Stone! 


This was our second attempt to visit the Fairfax Stone.  The first was an early spring ride when the snow had not yet melted, making the route a bit too dicey.  Gravel and ice – no!  This time the road was clear and dry and it was an easy ride right to the parking area, which required a bit of delicacy due to the loose gravel but nothing awful.  The Fairfax Stone marks the headwaters of the Potomac (a least one of the sources) which is just a small spring.  It’s far from the DC banks of the Potomac in every respect.  Nice touch of history and geography for the day.

From there we meandered back to DC, taking little back roads, including more gravel, visited the smallest church in the lower 48 states (according to its sign), the Jenning-Randolph Lake Dam, and like many of our trips this summer, enjoyed a rainbow as we crossed the Shenandoah Valley on our way home.