Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Big One!

For nearly two years I had been saving and prepping the Caponord. It was time to put some serious miles on the blue Aprilia and do some touring in earnest.

There were a few objectives of the trip, some were achieved, some not, but that didn’t matter; the main thing was to ride the Caponord to its fullest.

One objective was to look at sites for the upcoming Australian Caponord Meeting. This meant traveling to the high country.

Day minus 2 to minus 1
Last minute packing, prepping and re-organising. I did check lists, more check lists and still forgot some bits and bobs. (Note to self, ALWAYS take a belt for your trousers). 

Day 1: Left Sydney around 8.00am and headed towards Canberra taking some back roads rather than the easy F1 freeway. On the way I noticed a bit of clutch slip. I had changed levers recently and knew that it was most likely just some adjustment on the new lever required. The problem was I didn’t have an Allen key small enough. Anyway, it could wait until Canberra.

I arrived in Canberra at around 3.00pm (Hey, I was meandering a bit!), set up the tent at the local caravan site and then met up for dinner with a friend. I adjusted the lever hoping all was going to be ok.

Fig 1.Home sweet home, well for one night anyway.

Day 2: Headed towards Tumbarumba via Tumut. On the way to Tumut, I saw a lot of bikes on the road and in Tumut. (I estimated around 200+) I found out later it a cancer fundraising trip in a nearby town. I bought myself a pie and a drink in Tumut and watched the parade of various bikes for at least an hour. 

Next stop Tumbarumba. The first thing I noticed was the drop in temperature while riding. The ambient temp was around 10-11deg. The longer the ride, the colder it got until I had to stop and put a few more layers on.

That night the forecast was for sub-zero so I decided to chicken out tenting and took a cabin at the local caravan park. Even though the cabin was pretty dirty, at least it was warmer than the -2 night outside. There’s not a lot to do in Tumbarumba on a Saturday night, so I walked the deserted streets and saw very little but a sleepy little town.

Day 3: Headed off to Melbourne via Holbrook, Albury, Tallangatta and then to Cottles Bridge to visit a mate from the Aprilia club. (Steve, aka Precis, another Caponord rider) The trip started by some of the most lush pastoral land I had seen in ages and the road was an endless run of pleasantly long sweepers. (Perfect hey!) 

I arrived near Steve’s place around 4.00pm. Cottles Bridge is nestled in the back hills of Melbourne and is really away from it all.

I have to say, I’ve done plenty of dirt riding over the years, but Steve’s driveway was a challenge with a fully laden bike. With hairpin turns, steep gradients and then more hairpin turns, I had to use every skill I could muster up to keep the bike upright. Somehow I got the front door!! 

I had a lovely afternoon and night with Steve & Liz and enjoyed a good time around a bonfire with Steve. 

Fig 2. A gaggle of 'Nords

Day 4: Steve’s wife, who also rides a Caponord was looking at purchasing a new motorbike, so we decided to all ride to together so she could look at the potential bike. This is quite a thing to have 3 Caponords all together in Australia. It was a beautiful day for a ride with perfect temps and great roads. Throw in some spirited riding from Steve and it was a day of riding to remember. After a good lunch we parted company and I headed off to Hall’s Gap, which is at the base of the Grampian Mountains. 

Fig 3. You see some strange things in the middle of nowhere. A submarine at least 500kms away from the closest sea. In fact it's the decommissioned HMAS Otway at here final rest place.

Day 5: Hall’s Gap is a magnificent place to camp. I woke up to Koalas above my tent and a plethora of bird life. I should have stayed longer, but the call of the road was too loud. I travelled through the Grampian Mountains via a place called the Zumpsteins. This location is simply a camp site that is renowned for Kangaroos but it must have been their day off, because I didn’t see one. Oh well!

Fig 4. Please don't poop on my tent Mr Koala

Next stop was Horsham. This is a big rural city, so I wandered around and had a bit of a look. After an hour or two it was time I headed for Lake Alexandrina. 
On the way, I saw a pink lake. Essentially it was a salt lake that was evaporating lever and amazing salt crust. I wish now I had taken a photo, but for some stupid reason I didn’t stop. 

Driving this road is a fairly long haul and on some of the straightest roads in Australia, but I wanted to get to the lake. So much for that plan as the road into the Lake was closed due to flooding and road work, so I changed route and headed towards Tailem Bend. I couldn’t find a decent place to camp along the road so chose a caravan park. A huge mistake!! The place was extremely noisy and run-down. I can laugh about it now but at the time I wasn’t funny. Not much sleep that night.

Day 6: Off to Adelaide! I went all the back roads and relived some of my youth with some of the best biking roads in South Australia. I had cut my teeth on these roads and enjoyed every km. Unfortunately, I must have picked the wrong day to drive behind a truck. A rock was flicked up and smashed my helmet visor and damaged my helmet. I can consider myself fairly lucky that I wasn’t hurt. The helmet was a right-off and meant I had to buy a new one in Adelaide. I arrived in Adelaide around 3.00pm.

Day 7&8: Spent a few days with friends, doing minor maintenance and buying a new Arai XD-4 helmet. (Sensational bit of kit!)

Day 9: After having lunch with another Caponord rider, Alby (aka Caponord) I headed towards the Barossa Valley. Unfortunately I arrived a bit late and most of the wineries were closing and as such I couldn’t buy any wine. Next stop was Barmera.

I got to Barmera at around 5.00pm to find the town was crowded beyond belief. A local sporting event meant that every camp site was booked solid. Next stop Renmark. Again, no joy and I’m starting to get concerned. I didn’t mind sleeping rough but the only real place to camp was along the Murray River. 

Considering it was mating season for the local Tiger snakes, I thought better of it. Way too dangerous in a tent. At 7.00pm I arrived in a small village called Paringa and booked into a pub. At first it looked a bit ordinary, but after a fabulous meal and talking with some local characters it turned out to be a really top place.

Day 10: Headed off to Mildura and it was decision making time. I could turn left and go to Broken Hill and see some big desert country or turn right and head across the Hay plain. I chose right. (I was very glad to made this decision later.)

The Hay plain is what we call a micro desert in Australia, however it’s roughly the size of Tasmania. It’s a vast and amazing place with harshness that is breath-taking. If you can imagine driving 2 hours without seeing a tree, then you can get an idea of how vast it is. The temp was hovering around 35degC and the wind was blowing at around 30 knots. It made the riding difficult, but not too unpleasant. The wildlife however was extraordinary. 

Fig 5. The Hay Plain, 200 kms of nothing - Wonderful!!

I saw Emus, Eagles, a few Kangaroos and a myriad of bird life. I had a quick lunch stop in Hay and then pressed onto West Wyalong.

Again, the other side of Hay is even more desolate. I drove for 3 hours not seeing another vehicle of any sort, a tree, or sign of water. Simply stunning!!

I arrived in West Wyalong late in the night quite tired and worn out.

Day 11: Headed off to Bathurst and the weather was turning nasty. I could see on the horizon storms building. At around 10.00am the rain started and the temp dropped to around 10 degrees. Again the wind was an issue and gusting up to 40 knots. The driving was starting to get a bit difficult.
I arrived in Bathurst to sunshine! Unbelievable! I looked at the map and thought about making a dash for Sydney. At only 200kms away it seemed like I could give it a shot. However, the rain came in again and it was getting too dangerous to drive. I stopped for the night in Lithgow, (famous the world over for its recent bush-fires.)

Day 12: The rain seemed to have slowed, so I decided to cross the Blue mountains. This was a decision I would later regret. Thunderstorms came in and the driving was very slow and dangerous. I could hardly see and got completely soaked. 
At around arrived home at around 1.00pm very wet and very tired.

So, overall the trip was enjoyable. The Caponord did very well and performed as it should. The rain on the last day did take its toll and now I have a dead bike. The battery seems ok, but could need a charge or maybe I have some bad earths. The stepper motor failed at Steve’s place but got me home. The clutch got worse, but I’m sure it’s easily fixed. My new RR sum-guard was slightly damaged but easily repairable. Some electric gadgets stopped working, but I’m sure these are also an easy fix.


Last time I wrote, I mentioned I had purchased some SW-Motech Trax panniers. They arrive and are surely are a sweet piece of kit.  I had to purchase some adapter plates for the existing Hepco and Becker pannier frames however these were easy to install and very well made. I have to hand it to the Germans, they know how to engineer. When I initially was researching on the web, I had read about issues with leaking, but so far they have been completely drip free inside.

So how are they on the road? To get the negative out of the way, there are two things that bug me a little. Firstly, the locks must have the keys in them when they are unlocked. I guess it’s some sort of safety feature, but to be honest, who needs locks out in the desert? I have retained the frame mounting locks, but when touring I remove the lid locks. It's an easy process to remove the lock barrels, almost too easy! I have spoken with a Locksmith about this and he thinks I may need to replace the locks. Hmmm…. Also the lids catches could easily be opened with a screwdriver. I guess one day I will have to update the catches. No rush.

Second negative is the width. I opted for the 45L cases and they are just over a metre wide on the bike. I have learnt to be very conscience of their width already. On one occasion I brushed another vehicle because I simply forgot the width at the back of the bike. No damage, but a scare to say the least.

Also with this width, you do notice the wind resistance at high speed. I have also learnt that a safe speed is the legal limit, so I stick to it. I have ridden a faster, but the fuel consumption degrades accordingly.

Now for the Positives! They mount very easily. Locate the lugs on the frame and they simply slip on. Flick the frame lock and the cases are completely secure. My panniers came with high grade carry bags that have a Velcro seal. These make life dead easy when you want to remove the contents of the case. The lids seal very well, the hinges are solid and overall I have been very impressed. I must say in closing the SW Motech cases are great general usage cases. I would never suggest that you would do a trans-global trip with them, however there is no reason why you couldn't.

The best $500 I have spent for a while.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Up the Ante!

          In an earlier post I mentioned the purchase of some Chinese panniers. Although they do the job, there are some issues with them that I have never warmed to. The lids weren’t hinged. (One is now) The latches were garbage (now replaced), the sheet metal is not good quality. There seems to be a theme doesn’t there!
So, what is the alternative? Average specialist pannier sets cost anywhere from $600AUD to $1900AUD. These are insane prices for what is essentially a box for storage. There are a million and one panniers out on the market and they all claim to be the ultimate storage box.  I decided to set a personal  criteria and go from there.
I already have a Genuine Aprilia top-case, which is actually a branded Hepco and Becker (or in reality rebadged Rimowa manufactured cases) setup. Nice kit, but the side cases are stupid money and aren’t the strongest out there. I do however enjoy the ease of fitment and removal, with a twist of a key and a flick of a latch. The proposed side cases must be as easy to use.

Also, the Chinese cases were rated at 37 litre and were just a little too narrow for getting gear in and out of. I wanted something wider, but just a little.

The lids should be hinged, and since I already have Hepco and Becker racks, the new panniers must be able to utilise these.

The Adventure Rider world is a great place to be involved in. Via a friend of a friend of a friend, (with a few more thrown in) a pair of very slightly used SW Motech TRAX panniers came on the market. They looked interesting and the price was right.

The following Youtube  video sealed the deal.
I’m now waiting for these babies to arrive.

I’ll put up a full review when they are fitted.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Easter Story

Well this is the other Easter story we aren’t so familiar with. This is not a story from long ago but a journey that would be in the true spirit of Adventure.
The Caponord was itching to get dirty again. My partner Karine and I decided it was time to break free from the city and do some touring and camping.
After a quick consultation with Google maps we decided to head for the Beecroft Weapons Range near Currarong in NSW. This area is used by the Military to test weapons, but part of the “safe area” is among some of the most beautiful parts of southern New South Wales.

Friday night we spent prepping up the bike and the normal camping kit. Tents, bed and food were thrown into the panniers and top-box. Karine developed a sore back which could have put the trip into jeopardy, however the next morning she was ok.

Over the previous week I had spent some time doing a re-map of the Aprilia ECU. Thanks goes out to Mike Chaplin from California for his work in this regard. Mike did all the hard work on a Dyno developing a state of tune that would transform the Caponord from average to Wow! After installing the maps and asking a few questions on the AF1 forum about Fuel trims, IFT, LTFT, etcetera, I found the “sweet spot”.  (Thanks guys on the AF1 Forum)
Saturday morning we hit the road! The weather was perfect and the traffic out of Sydney was light. Past Wollongong and the traffic thickened so we took a break for a while.

Saturday lunch was in Berry. The only reason Berry exists is for tourists. The lunch at the pub was not wonderful but it was better than the $15 hamburgers the tourist sheep were grazing on next door.
Back on the road we headed through Nowra and then turned east. The road to Currarong passes through beautiful emerald green dairy farming areas. The ever present odours (Cow poo) of the country reminded us where we were.
We arrived at the Weapons Range and booked ourselves in.
The road to the camp site is 9kms of dirt. I should have dropped the pressures on the tyres a bit, but even so the bike handled brilliantly. Once we arrived at the camp site, we set up the tent and then went for some exploration.
The beaches around Jervis Bay are some of the quietest and most pristine in NSW. It really did feel at times like we were the only ones there. At one stage we came across a Kangaroo that must have been very used to people because it followed us around for a while looking for a hand out. We also saw a magnificent Sea Eagle searching for its nest and Kookaburras having a laugh.

   A friendly local

     Another Local character

Enough of the friendly!!

Home sweet home.

The navigator, pillion and Love of my life.

Later that night we found Honeymoon Bay. I tried to take photos to capture its beauty, but every one failed. This tiny inlet that was tranquillity in a handful.


 And by day it was even better.

The next day we meandered back to Culburra, Nowra, Kiama and then to Helensburgh. Later that afternoon we arrived home, tired but satisified.

    Culburra was a tad cool.

The mapping had transformed the Caponord. The Aprilia has always been a joy to ride, but the new fuelling has made the experience even better. If I sat on 4000rpm the motor seemed to be at its best. Overtaking is effortless.
The only negative to the trip was my pannier rack cracked at a weld. Anyway, this gives me an opportunity to remove the racking, weld up the joint, add a gusset to the joint to get some strength and powder coat the whole unit. (It’s currently painted). It’s a job that I should have done ages ago.
So that was our Easter. Relaxing, fun and enjoyable. Again the Caponord shone and proved to be one of the best bikes I have ever owned.