1300 miles on a Harley-Davidson XR1200: PART ONE
July 21, 2009
Filed under Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Harley Motorcycles, Motorcycle Features: Bikes, Blokes, Culture and Beyond
By Reg Kittrelle
[This 1300 miles on a Harley-Davidson XR1200 two-part road test was originally featured in American Rider magazine]
Denver, Colorado, is approximately 1,300 miles from my home in Santa Cruz, California. I need to be there no later than Monday, July 27, to attend the press introduction of the 2010 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
I could fly out Monday morning and arrive in time for the evening presentation. Or, I could ride there.
After 27 years of being together my wife still asks, “Why would you ride?” If you’re asking this question then I suggest you traipse on over to any number of web sites, particularly those that involve knitting, creative napping, and such. Obviously, I’ve chosen to ride.
Thirteen-hundred miles is not a particularly long ride; I’ve done that much in 24 hours (not fun), and two days would be a reasonable time. I’m going to take four days, for a couple of important reasons. First off, I want some time alone. You don’t live life today. Instead, life assaults you, coming at you from all directions, loaded with everything from BBs to bullets. Sometimes it’s just nice to raise a white flag (temporarily) and go off and be selfish for a bit. Hence, a four-day trip.
My second reason for the lengthy trip is that I’ll be riding a Harley-Davidson XR1200. I love this motorcycle. It’s the best thing that Harley has produced in several years, and it isn’t selling particularly well. There are several reasons for this, but one of them is the misconception that many would-be owners hold regarding just what kind of a motorcycle it is. At some point in the latter half of the last century motorcycles began a slide into specificity. That is, they were no longer motorcycles but, rather, touring bikes, sportbikes, chick bikes… and so forth. This pigeonholing caused many to believe that the motorcycle in question could only be used within the somewhat narrow parameters dictated by marketing. (See, the idea behind this is that if you want to tour, you need a “Touring” motorcycle, and if you want to fling yourself around a canyon road, you need a “Sportbike.” That way, two motorcycles get sold to the same person.) Anyway, the enthusiast press seems, overall, to mirror my warm and fuzzies regarding the XR1200. Unfortunately, the adoring articles often have added that it’s a great around town, commute motorcycle, successfully damning it as a touring rig. Balderdash, say I. You can tour on the XR1200, it just requires a bit more planning. And I neglected to mention this earlier… I’ll be camping out on this trip. This goes back to my “I vant to be alone!” thought.
The “bit more planning” part is largely dictated by the XR’s 3.5-gallon gas tank. More specifically, the fact that you had better be close to gas at around the 115-mile mark. This distance is particularly important here in the West in that it’s not difficult to find yourself on a road that will take you farther than 115 miles to find a gas station… and sometimes when you do, it’s not open. Route planning becomes Job #1.
From home to Denver I’ve two major routes from which to choose: Interstate 80 to Cheyenne, Wyoming, then drop south on Interstate 25 to Denver, or south to Interstate 15, through Las Vegas, and then catch Interstate 70 in Utah for the dash to Denver. The first route is quicker, but mostly boring. I’ve traveled that route too many times and now do so as a last resort. Option two, through Vegas, doesn’t really get all that interesting until you hit St. George, Utah, but there’s enough variety in the first half to keep me interested.
Gas stops are the next order of business. I don’t normally plan these in advance, but that 3.5-gallon tank forces some thought about this. For now (I’ll modify it as I travel), here are my proposed gas stops (mileage is approximate) on the way to Denver:
1. King City, CA 95
2. Lost Hills 115
3. Mojave 109
4. Barstow 70
5. Baker 43
6. Las Vegas, NV 91 Night 1
7. Mesquite 85
8. Parowan, UT 107
9. Richfield 96 Night 2
10. Fremont Junction 50
11. Crescent Junction 98
12. Grand Junction, CO 80 Night 3
13. Glenwood Springs 87
14. Silverthorne 93
15. Denver 72
With the route and gas stops selected, the next step is to determine where I’m staying each night. When camping, my choice of hosts is KOA. I’ve found numerous private campgrounds that are inexpensive, beautiful and comfortable, but KOA has the best organization as regards booking a stay; everything is easily handled at www.koa.com. My first night I’ll be at the Las Vegas KOA. This campground hardly qualifies as getting away from it all. It’s on the grounds of the Circus Circus Casino adjacent the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a great family spot if you want to be able to keep the kiddies busy while you’re losing their college fund. I’m staying there because it gets me across the desert of SoCal, and puts me about 540 miles into my trip. The stars will be obscured by neon and the stillness by silliness but, I’ll be arriving late, and leaving early.
Day 2 will take me to Richfield, Utah, 287 miles up Interstate 15. This road will get me into much more interesting/scenic country, but has the potential of being hotter than the gates of Hell. I’ve been through St. George several times; anything below 110 degrees in the summer is considered a cold snap. Day 3 is a short hop from Richfield to Grand Junction, Colorado, 223 miles. There are any number of side trips that I could take, depending upon the weather. The last day is 245 miles from GJ to Denver. I enjoy this section and have a tendency to dawdle about rather than race into Denver. The press intro starts at 6:30 in the evening, so I’ve most of the day to do my dawdling.
Packing & Preparing
This is the hardest part of the trip: Deciding what to take and, even more important, what not to take. A couple factors come into play here. First, the XR is no FL; it’s carrying capacity is limited. Secondly, this is also a working trip. That means two cameras rather than just my Canon G9, and a notebook computer.
But, before those decisions are made the decision as to where to put the stuff has to be finalized. Look through the videos on this web site and you’ll find one wherein I discussed the merits, and a couple of demerits, of the accessory bags that Harley purpose-built for the XR1200. It’s good stuff; fits great, and works as it should. However, it is designed for day trips, as the carrying capacity, particularly the saddlebags? is on the small side and won’t work for my trip. The exception to this is the tank bag. I’ve larger bags in my inventory, but the perfect fit of the Harley bag won me over. Its biggest fault is that the clear map holder is attached by Velcro strips, and is without a permanent tether. Knowing this, I’ll not stuff anything in that holder that I can’t afford to lose.
My solution for storage is Cortech (www.tourmaster.com). Specifically, the Sport Tail Bag and the Tri-Bag Saddlebags. I have used these on several different motorcycles because, one, they are very flexible in their mounting system and, two, they can carry a lot of stuff. Part of the Harley saddlebag installation on the XR includes the mounting of permanent supports; these worked well with the Cortech bags. Another Harley accessory that I find useful is the small rack mounted aft of the seat. Its stylish curved top reduces its functionality, but it’s still handy to have. OK, tank bag, tail bag, saddlebags, and tail rack; I’m ready to load her up.
Successful trip packing starts with an ordering of priorities. The first of which is to be able to keep the motorcycle going in the event of a mishap. That is, having the proper tools. Today’s motorcycles are marvels of reliability, so I consider “mishaps” to be of two types; you drop the bike, or a tire goes flat. “Drop” means a minor get-off such as in a slow urban turn, a slow-speed low-side, or maybe it just falls over due to the kick stand being on soft ground. The tools that I carry are simple ones that will allow me to straighten bent levers, remove non-essential broken parts, (e.g., fenders), cut and splice wires, etc. Anything more than this, and a tow truck is probably going to be necessary. Long gone are the days when the points could be regapped by the side of the road. To handle these duties I use a Cruz Tool kit RTH3 (www.cruztools.com) and add or subtract to it depending upon the bike I’m riding. As far as dealing with slow leaks/flats, I carry a Stop and Go Tire Repair Kit. The three essential additions to these is a roll of duct tape, Leatherman Wave multitool, and a jug of 20-50 synthetic oil. The latter because hard running in the hot sun consumes more than the normal amount of oil. Also, for added piece of mind the XR is fitted with the TireGard Tire Pressure Monitoring System as reviewed in the next issue (October) of American Rider magazine.
The next priority falls under the comfort heading. As I’ll be camping, there are several essentials to pack. A motorcycle dictates that all these items be as small as possible, but still be able to perform their function satisfactorily.
My motorcycle camping essentials In priority order:
I use an Outside Edge Polarguard bag rated at 20 degrees (f). This bag would not keep me warm in 20 degree temps (all sleeping bags seem to be a bit over rated) but it does do the job when the temps drop into the 40’s. If I need more warmth I put my clothes back on.
The Eureka Backcountry 1-person tent works great for me. It’s narrow, waterproof and stuffs into a very small bag.
This is where the wimp side of me shows through. Actually sleeping on the ground I don’t do. Oh I can sleep, it’s just that getting up the next morning would probably require a medic. I’ve tried a couple of air mattresses that work well, but I don’t like the hassle of blowing them up (even with an 12v pump) or…especially…deflating them. My solution is the innovative High Tech Cot from Aerostich (www.aerostich.com). Through the clever use of polycarbonate rings this cot keeps you suspended comfortably off the floor of your tent. At $217 it’s expensive, but worth it.
Yeah, gotta have one. A rolled up jacket works OK, but not as well as the small inflatable one I use.
With the High Tech cot keeping me off the floor a ground cloth is not as important as it once was. However, it’s nice to have a clean place to rest your boots, etc.
The next priority is food. Restaurants are handy things but they don’t necessarily fit my view of camping, so I do a bit of cooking (such as it is) at the campsite. Preparation is simple; tear off the top of the dehydrated food bag, pour in the proper amount of boiling water, wait a few minutes, eat out of the bag. Clean up amounts to washing the spoon I ate with, and tossing out the bag. Gourmet? Nope, but there is a wide variety of different food available and most are surprisingly tasty. My usual pattern is to have my coffee and breakfast at the site, lunch on the road …I try and stick with fruit… and dinner in camp.
Pulling this off requires two important items. my handy coffee press and a Jetboil stove.
All right, mechanical, comfort, and food priorities are handled. Next come the extras that make trips just that much more enjoyable.
None of the following fall under essential… well, maybe one of them does… but I don’t travel without them. A cell phone. More for safety reasons than anything else, I consider a cell phone an essential in that it keeps any needed help close at hand (assuming a signal’s available). Also, this new world of motojournalism dictates that I stay in touch with Chelsea Adams (AR’s managing editor) and (here’s the new biggie in the magazine biz) be able to post pictures on FaceBook. To do this I carry a BlackBerry Storm. It works great, but picture posting sucks the life out of the phone’s battery. To counter this I installed a Powerlet 12v outlet (www.powerletproducts.com) on the XR which provides a “cigarette lighter” outlet for the BBerry’s mobile connection. Powerlet makes a variety of outlet’s that can be hooked simply to anything with a 12v battery.
The kit I used (PKT-101-24) consists of a 10 amp fused lead from the battery to an SAE connector that plugs into the outlet’s lead. The outlet itself rests in a plastic cradle that is zip tied to wherever you need it. That’s the idea, anyway. As it turned out, the connecting cables were too short for the outlet to be connected to the handlebar; another foot of length would be nice. Instead, I placed the outlet in my tank bag, and fed the cable out the earphone access hole at the back of the bag. This will work fine as I’ll be able to store my phone safely in the bag while it charges. A note about the XR’s battery. Accessing the negative pole on the battery is a real pain in the posterior. So rather than connecting the negative lead to the battery, I threaded a frame bolt through it ?one that helps hold on the left footpeg? and cinched it down.
I can always find a reason to get cold, so heated gloves and a heated liner always travel with me… even through the Southwest during summer. On this trip I’m trying out both of these from, once again, Powerlet. Both the gloves and the liner plug into a dual-control thermostat that also connects to the battery, but uses coax-style, rather than SAE, connectors between the thermostat and the battery lead. Because of that problem with accessing the negative terminal I had to find an alternate location for the negative lead. I couldn’t place it with the outlet’s lead against the frame because it uses too small an eyelet. Instead, I traced the battery’s negative lead to where it attached to the back of the motor. Sufficient thread was protruding to be able to place the connector on the stud and add another nut atop it.
I always travel with a radar detector, in this case a battery-powered Escort Solo. I mounted it on the left handlebar using a Techmount system (www.techmounts.com) . Opposite this, on the right side, I’ve mounted a Timex Ironman watch using a Polar watch mount. The final piece of electronicky stuff is a Garmin 60CS hand-held GPS unit. I use this to manage travel averages of speed and distance; I don’t bother with the map function. No mount is necessary as it receives the satellite signal from within the tank bag.
Yeah, this does seem like a lot of effort for a simple 1,300-mile trip. But, as always, there’s more to it than it first seems.
In particular, I’m testing a number of the mentioned items, the results of which will appear in either the magazine, or this web site, or both. You can follow my progress on our FaceBook site, AmericanRider mag. I’ll regularly post pictures and updates. Also, and I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this, I’m dropping the XR off in Denver and riding a 2010 Harley-Davidson touring model back home. I don’t know exactly which one yet, so stick around you’ll be able to read one of the first on the road reports of a 2010 Harley.
Wave if you see me.