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Monday, January 5, 2015

Equipment - Wheels & Tires

Boston to Anchorage to Panama
To tell a real adventure rider look at the panniers. If there are no scratches they either are a poser, or just got them for their birthday. Maybe poser is too strong a word. Maybe they like the look and comfort of an adventure bike and are happy to stick to paved roads on weekend rides. I'm not here to judge.

OK, maybe a little bit. When I see a GS in full battle gear with extra lights and gear but no dirt, I'm suspicious. When the skid plate is pristine without a single gouge or dent, I'm pretty sure. And when I see the Hero Cam mount, I'm convinced. DORK!! Adventure riding is inversely proportional to bling and directly proportional to dirt. A clean bike is the emblem of an unimaginative mind.

Adventure travel is all about less. Less weight, less stuff, less self.

There are many suppliers of adventure gear. Among my favorites are Twisted Throttle, Touratech, Wolfman, and Happy Trails. Whitehorse Gear is not as big but gets a thumbs up for being a local New England company that is very supportive of riders.

When you get a new bike the first thing you think about is bags. It's the most obvious symbol of being a serious rider. Serious riders need stuff and need a place to put it. Saddle bags have evolved into metal panniers, textile bags, and rubberized, waterproof vaults.

Truth be told, the luggage is one of the last things to think about when equipping an adventure bike. Maybe we should start with how the bike rolls down the road.

First, wheel bearings! Nothing says Stop! like your wheel not rotating. The dirt, mud, and water crossings take a huge toll on the bearings and seals. Sooner or later they will fail and Murphy says they will fail at the most inconvenient time and place, like 20 miles into the woods. Fresh seals and bearings are smart prep for an adventure ride of any significant length. Original bearings and seals can be had from the manufacturer but they can also be acquired from after-market suppliers like All Balls. An inexpensive alternative is to look for a bearing and seal supplier local to you, and buy direct. I've always found that the sales people at such places have been great at helping me find what I need and often suggest better alternatives. Maybe they get bored looking up parts for truck transmissions.

There are lots of videos on YouTube to show you how to replace the bearings and seals. Watch a couple of them to get a feel for the process. CAUTION: When you are installing the new bearings press on the outer edge only! I always put the new bearings into the freezer overnight before installation. Then I use a big socket that fits the outer edge to push them in.

Next on the list is tires. You are not going to get far off the road on street tires. They won't dig in on rocky slopes and they will load up and leave you stranded in mud. This is where you really need to honestly ask yourself whether you are going to be a serious or occasional adventure rider. Adventure tires will definitely get you through tough terrain but at the cost of some highway grip and comfort.

For a bike used mostly for commuting, the Heidenau K60 Scout or the Michelin Anakee 3 will provide great road grip while allowing ventures on Class 1 & 2 roads with confidence. They are good in the rain and twisties. They have long lasting wear characteristics.

To get serious off-road you need the Continental TKC-80 or Dunlop D606. As you might imagine, the on-road performance is inversely proportional to the off-road grip. The TKC-80s are 50/50 on-road/off-road tires while the 606s are 25/75 tires. The TKC-80s are what I used on my latest Mexico trip that had a lot of paved road to cover. They got me where I wanted to go but I admit to skipping a few places that might have been a problem. They lasted 4000 miles but were totally shot in the end. I would have replaced them sooner if I had the opportunity.

The Dunlop 606s are my tire of choice when the going gets tough. Hands down they are the best DOT legal adventure tire in my opinion. They are noisy on paved road, you want to be careful in the rain, and they wear out in 2500-3000 miles. However, they take a beating from rocky trails and never let you down. They get into the mud and keep going like a Caterpillar tractor. This is basically a street legal enduro tire. When I wanted to descend the Shafer Trail and traverse the White Rim Trail in Moab it was the 606s that I trusted.

Not the place you want to be worrying about your tires!!
Next – the next two pieces of equipment to get before you get going.

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