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Offline JMo

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Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« on: September 03, 2015, 06:30:00 PM »
Before I start, I would like to disclose that the following ride report has been assembled from a running blog during the trip itself, which was hosted on another website.

I have subsequently edited as appropriate those original posts made at the time (while endeavouring to retain the feel of the daily diary format) and added new and alternative photographs into what I trust will be a more succinct and entertaining ride report for you to enjoy here on

Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch

Setting the scene...

In 2008 I was lucky enough to get my hands on what was then the brand-new Yamaha XT660Z Tenere, and immediately shipped it from the UK to the USA where I travelled extensively for the next six months - criss-crossing the country and taking in as many of those 'must ride' dual-sport destinations as I could, bound only by the weather and my own (albeit limited) sense of self-preservation.

Together with exploring deeper in to the desert south west than I had before, fundamentally my intention was to ride as much of the Trans-Am Trail (TAT) as I could during the fall and spring of the following year, which inevitably meant chopping the route into more bite-sized and manageable sections.

I immediately headed to Colorado and was fortunate to ride the key high passes before too much snow had arrived, culminating with a spirited gravel-run to the top of Pikes Peak - that like Paradise, has now been paved of course. I then endeavoured to ride as much of the western TAT as El Nino would allow; and in the new year - after an entertaining and enlightening road-trip through the gulf-coast states - I eventually picked up the eastern end of the TAT and did my best to join up the dots...

It really was an epic trip - not only from the pure enjoyment of riding through such a huge variety of terrain, but that choosing to travel off the beaten track had in turn offered me what I considered was a unique insight (or at least a snap-shot) into more rural and small-town America.

For me it defined everything that an 'Adventure' ride should be - it's not just about the bike, or the scenery, or even the people you meet... but how it makes you feel. There is an overwhelming sense of freedom, a piquancy in not knowing exactly where you might stay that night... and when travelling alone, an overriding appreciation of your own self-reliance.

Itchy feet.

Since then I have been rather distracted by real life. Of course there have been compensations - plenty of dual-sport riding and the odd rally race - and certainly the opportunity to work with Rally-Raid Products over the past couple of years (initially on the LC4-50 Dakar bike project, and most recently the CB500X Adventure bike conversion) has allowed me to expand my riding horizons even further - but ultimately there is nowhere I'd rather be than out there somewhere, on two wheels...

Last summer, when John and I drew up the outline specification for a new kind of bike from Rally-Raid, I had just come back from a month in the US where I'd spent a lot of time onboard a new Honda CB500X. Despite an obvious road-going bias, I immediately saw the potential in the bike - not as an out-and-out off-roader or racer as such, rather more of a genuine 'all-road' all-rounder - something you could ride hundreds of miles if required, then confidently take on dirt-roads and Jeep-trails; and ultimately capable enough to tackle terrain that might otherwise cause you to think twice onboard a larger, heavier machine?

Certainly in comparison to my 660 Tenere, the Honda's parallel-twin cylinder 471cc engine is an absolute peach - smooth and lively, offering similar bhp and even better economy - which ought to make any highway miles far more relaxing (not that the Tenere was bad by any means). The CB500X's (comparatively) low seat height and compact dimensions means it immediately feels far more lithe and nimble, while a similar OEM spec to the Yamaha includes a 250+ mile fuel range, small faring and strong subframe makes it an excellent long-distance travelling companion.

When it comes to the dirt, our CB500X Adventure upgrades have been designed to offer similar capabilities (albeit with around an inch less travel and ground clearance that the Yamaha), and certainly ought to handle anything you might want to ride a 200Kg machine (plus luggage!) over on your own.

Having drawn these parallels, we both felt there would be no better way to comprehensively prove the capabilities of the new bike by embarking on a similar trip to that which I'd made back in 2008/09.

Of course from a personal perspective, it would also be an excellent opportunity to perhaps revisit some areas I may have quickly passed though before, find new and exciting trails that I'd had to inevitably forfeit in the past, and not least endeavour to ride the whole length of the TAT consecutively.

Introducing the 'Trans-Am 500' cross-country trail ride.

The idea is to try and visit as many of those 'must-ride' dual-sport and adventure riding destinations as I can within predefined time-frame.

Essentially I am allowing a month each way to cross the country and back again, using a mix of highways and byways, dirt-roads and trails. This won't be all about dirt, indeed the very nature of this bike means you ought to be able to enjoy the paved highway just as much as the trails, and choose your route accordingly.

Starting in May on the west coast in San Francisco, highlights during the initial west-east leg will include crossing through Death Valley off-road, and after a night in Las Vegas, taking part of old Route 66 in Arizona on my way to the Overland Expo in Flagstaff - for the official 'debut' of the CB500X Adventure in conjunction with our US distributor Giant Loop Moto.

From there I'll spend a few days in and around Moab in an effort to really put the bike through it's paces, before heading through Colorado on any passes that are open towards the end of May (possibly precious few if I'm honest, but fortunately I'll be back this way again a month later). I will also endeavour to complete an Iron-Butt Association '1000 mile in 24 hours' Saddle-Sore challenge en route for the east coast, where ultimately I will dip my metaphorical toe in the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach VA.

The West - East leg (outbound): San Francisco CA to Virginia Beach VA.
(note. this is a very rough outline, particularly as Google maps tends to snap to major roads).

All being well, I intend to start the return leg around the 1st June - initially riding the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway and a visit to Deals Gap, before picking up the Trans-Am Trail in it's entirety all the way back to the Pacific coast.

The 'new' TAT.

As a number of you will be aware, over the years, Sam Correro (originator of the Trans-America Trail) has embarked on a series of updates and revisions to the original TAT route, typically where sections have either been paved or washed away, in an effort to provide a suitable alternative that remains true to the original conception of an off-highway crossing of the entire country.

What is particularly exciting for me is that my trip this year coincides with his most comprehensive re-working of the 'Trail so far, with a brand new western route between Moab UT, that now heads north via Idaho, before turning west again and connects with the original route through Northern Nevada, and ultimately the official end point at Port Orford, Oregon.

The East - West leg (return): Virginia Beach VA to Port Orford OR.
(similarly to above, this map is only a very rough indication of the proposed route, but hopefully indicates the new western TAT route).

This new route is not scheduled for release until later in 2015, so I am delighted, and indeed honoured that Sam has given me the opportunity to be one of the first people to actually ride the newly-revised Trans-Am Trail. Perhaps even more enthralling is that there is currently a sector of 'no-mans land' in Idaho that I may well need to pioneer myself, which ought to further add to the excitement!

A time line...

In exactly a week from today I'll be flying over to the west coast to pick up the very first production CB500X Adventure from the Giant Loop HQ in Oregon, together with some of their minimalist luggage of which I'm a great fan. Certainly my plan is to travel simply and light for the duration - which reflects the whole ethos of the CB500X Adventure project in general, and suitably echoes Giant Loop's motto: Go light. Go fast. Go far.

A more detailed separate post with my packing list will follow, but suffice to say that I intend to fit everything I'll need (including a basic camp) into a Coyote bag behind me, together with just a small tail-pack for my tools and puncture repair kit.

My official departure is scheduled for the 10th of May, when I'll be heading south from San Francisco for the first leg to Flagstaff AZ for the Overland Expo, where we will officially debut the bike to the press and the public over the weekend of 15-17th May.

Throughout the trip I will endeavour to update you all as regularly as I can, with plenty of photographs too of course! Certainly a significant change over the past seven years has been the almost universal introduction of WiFi in even the most remote restaurants, coffee shops and gas stations, although as you might imagine there will still be periods when I'll be out of range and have to be my own barista...

Follow me!

While this is very much a solo endeavour for me, it is reassuring to have the support of both Rally-Raid Products and Giant Loop - and indeed a key part of this marathon journey is to provide them with essential feedback that in-turn can be passed on to their customers.

In that regard, they both intend to keep an eye on me! - and I'll be using a SPOT tracker each day that I'm on (and off) the road, which means you'll also be able to log-in and track my progress across the country and back - oh the wonders of technology!

I'd be delighted if you'd join me on this new and exciting adventure - so please do subscribe to this thread for regular updates, and of course you'll also be able to follow my progress through the SPOT tracker... and I hope that I might even get the opportunity to meet some of you in person as well!

Oh, and finally, what about the little pink fella you might ask? - Piglet!

Yep, despite essentially retiring from traveling (he has a distinctly wonky neck now and a nose that is about to burst at the seams I fear), he will of course be joining me on this new, and hopefully 'most excellent' adventure. Let's just hope its not a bogus journey!

Toot toot for now!

Jenny xx

Offline JMo

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Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2015, 06:33:45 PM »
Thursday 7th May: Day -3

So after a couple of fraught days packing back home, I had a very pleasant flight over on a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340 yesterday (a nice new plane compared to the 747 that usually flies this route earlier in the day), and it was barely half full too - which meant there was plenty of room to spread out over a couple of seats and try and get some rest...

I got a fabulous view of the bay and San Francisco itself as I came in early evening - you can just make out the new section of the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and of course the Golden Gate Bridge which I shall be crossing in a couple of days time to kick off the coast to coast journey east - after a stop on the Marin peninsular for the ubiquitous photo of the bridge with the city in the background of course! ;o)

Nerdy tech in Silicone Valley

I've spent today going through my cameras and other tech (photos and a more detailed description to follow shortly) - the plan is to try and travel as light as possible, with minimalist kit to reduce weight and general liability...

Certainly a significant change from the last time I undertook a similar journey (back in 2009) is not only one extra cylinder on the bike, but the availability of far more compact and modern tech...

I'll be using an iPad air to keep in touch with you all (rather than the clunky old Dell Mini 9, that while having the same size footprint, was 6 times as thick and 10 times as heavy it would seem!), and I'll be exclusively using my Panasonic Lumix LX7 which can produce excellent results from a compact camera, with far more creative control than the simple Fuji compact I used before (and ultimately lost somewhere in the Moroccan desert, during the Heroes-Legend Rally later that year).

I have also added another gadget to my arsenal this time - or rather John has - in the form of a Garmin VIRB video camera. This is Garmin's equivalent of the GoPro type of fixed lens rugged digital camera, but has a few nice additional touches - the battery offers up to 3h of recording time, and is actually the same type as fits the Garmin Montana GPS I'll be using - which means that there should always be a fully charged battery available for the camera, as the GPS will be hardwired to the bike (allowing continual charging) of course.

Not only can you select between filming in either wide-angle or a range of zoom levels, but together with a range of mounting options (including a neat RAM ball adaptor), the physical shape of VIRB also makes it far simpler to place on a rock or glove to get a nice stable ride-by shot.

It will also sync to my Garmin Montana GPS so I can take video and still photos remotely - when the camera is mounted on the bike or helmet for example - and it even has enough range (around 20ft) so that I can set it up as still camera and be in the shot on the bike without resorting to the self timer and running back and forth!

Maps and GPS.

The other significant difference is the GPS I'll be using. I'm still old school in that I prefer a dedicated GPS unit rather than software on a smartphone - and for years was very happy with my aged Garmin 2610 that saw me all over the USA (twice) and around Europe and Morocco. It was the perfect on-bike device in my opinion, other than the fact it had no built-in battery, so had to be hardwired to the bike and meant using (and therefore carrying) a mains adaptor if you wanted to programme it in a hotel room for example... it was also unkindly referred to by friends as 'a brick'.

While the Garmin Montana is still a physically large device, it offers the option of a dedicated Li-ion battery pack (that can be shared with the VIRB camera) or using AA batteries in an emergency. Ultimately, perhaps the nicest thing about the Montana is not only it's rugged construction, but the large touch screen and customisable menu/home page that works really well on a bike.

I bought the version that includes the built-in US TOPO maps in 100K scale, and have supplemented it with their City Navigator mapping for the whole of the country - allowing me to navigate in the traditional routing manner when hunt for hotels, food and fuel as required; while it still has a huge amount of dirt-road data which can also be routed along in exactly the same way. Alternatively I can switch to the TOPO maps for additional detail, and of course the TAT route maps that I have are a simple track log, that will work with either mapping set.

In addition to the Garmin which I'll be using for day-to-day navigation, I have a series of digital maps in my iPad to aid with route planning, although I admit I still prefer a paper map of each state, and a handful of highlighter pens for working out my initial route.

Therefore I'll be taking some key paper maps (Utah and Colorado particularly) with me, can buy additional ones on the road, and will post any back home any I no longer require - helping to keep weight and clutter to a minimum.

Before I leave for the official start on Monday, I'll endeavour to post up some detailed photos of the gear I'll be carrying before and after it's loaded onto the bike...

This will include my tools and spares, camping, comms and camera equipment, and those few personal effects I can cram into whatever space is left in my luggage system.

Piglet of course get's his own papoose ;o)

More soon!

Jenny xx
« Last Edit: September 03, 2015, 06:38:15 PM by JMo »

Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2015, 06:39:03 PM »
Friday 8th May: Day -2

It's been a couple of hectic days up in Oregon!

For me it started with a bit more of this:

photo. leaving San Jose for Portland OR

Swiftly followed by some of this:

photo. flying over the Three Sisters on the way into Redmond/Bend.

... Although there was a slight delay at Portland while president Obama took off in Airforce One after a visit, causing the airport to lock-down for half an hour... Unfortunately I'd already boarded my plane, which meant I was denied another Starbucks while waiting!

Right, that is probably enough about planes for a while now - I hope not to have to see another until at least the end of June and the end of my trip, and am now free to travel with a washbag full of liquids, scissors, and not least a tool kit - having had to forefeit all of these during my transfer up to Oregon; and I have to say it is rather nerve-wracking riding a newly assembled bike over 500 miles with not so much as an allen key in my possession, but hey, I'm getting a little ahead of myself already...

Harold met me at the airport and I was soon introduced to the rest of the Giant Loop crew over a couple of huge pizzas for lunch, and later a few beers too - well, we had a big task ahead of us that afternoon!

Yes, there was still a little work to do shall we say, before I would be able to ride away the following morning en route for the official start point on the west coast, San Francisco.


Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2015, 06:40:31 PM »
Saturday 9th May: Day -1

Mileage today: 0 - 286.4

So to cut a long story short, Harold and I completely assembled the bike over the next 24 hours (pausing for precious few to catch a little sleep) from my memory, calculated guesswork and only a couple of phone calls to John - rest assured this process is all part of helping to produce the step-by-step instructions that will be dispatched with the customer kits - and once the finish touches of graphics were applied, we were all set to go by lunchtime on Saturday 9th May...

I have to say, I really like how the stripe kit works on the all-black bike!

Of course we couldn't sign off until project manager Piglet had also given his approval - and he particularly liked his new papoose!

So with a cheery goodbye and the well-intentioned promise to take good care of the bike, I finally hit the road around 1.30pm this afternoon, to embark on an initial appraisal and shakedown run prior to the start of the west-east leg of the coast to coast trip, on Monday (11th May).

Of course I'd barely gone 100 miles south on hwy 97 (initially rather dull if I'm honest, although it was lovely and warm and sunny, which makes any journey immediately more tolerable of course...) before the temptation to get some dirt under the tyres overtook me ;o)

I had originally planned to ride via the rim road around the west side of Crater Lake on my way south, but unfortunately the gates were still closed until next weekend (at the earliest) because of snow. Still, I know I'll be back this way again as the last section of the TAT passes close by, so fingers crossed I'll get another bright and sunny day to make the most of the surreal scenery up there...

Recalling there was an easy dirt road that ran parallel to the highway a few miles to the west, I poked around with the GPS on the fly and potted an interesting alternative that would allow me appraise the new suspension over some fast sandy and washboard gravel.

photo. Yep, turn right Clyde!

Everything was going swimmingly, and the bike was comfortable at 30 and even 40 mph (I didn't consider it prudent to try and go much faster, especially with not tools or puncture kit with me), until I noticed the headlight and fairing seemed to be vibrating rather more than it ought to over the washboard surface...

Sure enough, when I stopped to look it dawned on my that I had forgotten to torque up the two bolts that hold the support frame to the headstock, and the nuts had worked loose and together with both the bolts now, had disappeared.

I rather sheepishly limped a few miles further until I could eventually pick up a smoother dirt road back the main highway - still, it meant I got a fantastic view of Mount Scott (a volcano on the edge of Crater Lake) in my mirrors!

I ultimately hit the highway for another hundred and fifty miles before passing by the spectacular Mount Shasta once I'd entered northern California (at over 11,000ft above the surrounding plateau, you can see the peak from around 100 miles away - And I have to say when it initially appeared on the horizon while I was still in Oregon it was breathtaking...) This photo was taken from much closer, as I descended towards the junction with the interstate and decided it was time for a comfort break at the comically and appropriately named town of Weed. And I did!

So to end the day, I now find myself holed up in a Motel 6 near Redding - with some reasonable wifi, strange noises coming from upstairs,  and a little over 200 miles left to San Francisco in the morning...

Then it will be time to pack properly, and for the cross-country leg of trip to officially start at 8am on Monday, from Alice's Restaurant - where Skyline Boulevard crosses, most appropriately, La Honda road...

That is where the fun really begins!

Toot toot for now ;o)

Jenny xx

Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2015, 06:41:34 PM »
Sunday 10th May: Day Zero!

Mileage today: 291.3*

*66.9 miles of which is my Trans-Am 500 route, from the overlook of the Golden Gate Bridge, to San Jose, CA.

So just a quick update as I haven't stopped all day today...

Spent the night in a Motel 6 in redding last night, and ploughed on early this morning, well after the requisite stop for a morning brew of course ;o)

photo. It must be a genuine 'adventure' bike, look how seamlessly it bends into it's natural habitat...

Then it was a long shlep down the I5 towards San Francisco... fortunately the weather wasn't too bad on the coast and I was able to get the rather hackneyed but at the same time 'essential' west coast shot of the bike, and piglet of course - at the official start of the Trans-Am 500 today, 1.30pm on the 10th May 2015.

So a few observations from today... the bike storms along on the freeway, although personally I'm happier at around 70mph rather than pushing 80+, as it seems to start drinking fuel at higher speeds - not helped by strong headwinds all day unfortunately.

It also feels rock solid in sweeping high speed bends, and carving around the on and off ramp slip roads at intersections - I can't wait to get it up on Skyline Boulevard tomorrow, and later hwy 198 which is an absolute corker in the area ;o)

The suspension really is a dramatic improvement over stock - not that that was particularly bad, it's just now everything feels so much more controlled and stable - aided by the 19" front wheel over rough sections of road, and the general gyroscopic effect. Honestly, it feels just like a factory adventure bike now!

I was also really pleased with how well the Giant Loop Coyote fits onto the rear seat, and the 'solo' luggage brackets are the perfect location for the lower strap clips, while the forward straps work really well around the subframe tube just above the pillion peg hangers. I've ridden the best part of 600 miles so far on the bike, and the luggage is totally unobtrusive - so I'm really going to enjoy the next few weeks in that regard I feel.

So after the 'official' start today, I rode the grand total of 66.9 miles back to San Jose where I'll be staying overnight, before meeting Dave at Alice's for breakfast tomorrow morning - my preferred route is actually up Page Mill Road, rather than the usual Woodside (hwy 84), especially at that time of the morning, and the ride there ought to be great warm up to the day!

I have also managed to cram all the personal belongings I wish to take with me on the trip (including a complete camping set-up) into my Coyote bag, while my tools, first aid, a spare tube and even a small can of tyre lube all fit neatly in the Klamath tail pack.

To complete the 'three bag' system - essential snacks, Piglet and my iPad will stay safe in my Camelbak Blowfish backpack; while various pockets in my jacket provide safe stowage of regularly used items such as my camera/s, ipod, wallet and pocket journal book (yes, I'm still a bit old school in that regard ;o)

I'm sure things will shake themselves down over the next few days, as is always the nature of a trip like this, but I really trust that this time I've brought nothing unnecessary, while at the same time allowing for unforeseen circumstances, and having the where-with-all to effect any repairs (albeit temporary) to keep me going on my way...

I apologise I've not yet had time to photograph and put together a detailed inventory of what I'll be carrying with me - that will follow once I get some free-time* either at the Expo, or the following week in Moab...

(*unlikely I admit.)

One thing I am keen to appraise (and the initial feeling is good) is my new riding gear for this trip. Traditionally I have always worn Alpinestars boots and enduro gear, and exclusively Arai dual-sport and off-road helmets... However, I thought I would give various items from the Icon range a go this time, particularly as I like their new Raiden DKR jacket, and feel their Patrol boots could prove to be more appropriate for life on and off the bike, especially as I only have room in my luggage for one pair of sandals!

I'll endeavour to profile my current choice of riding gear over the coming weeks for anyone who's interested... one thing I will say is the Icon Variant helmet feels very comfortable and quiet (well it did when I was back home on my road bike). However, on the CB500X it appears that I am suffering a fair degree of wind-noise, and while I never thought the OEM screen was particularly noisy with an open face helmet, wearing a dual-sport helmet with a peak (such as the Variant) seemingly creates a huge roar over 70mph... I tried standing up and the noise immediately disappeared, so I might experiment with the screen height or even an add on lip before my 1000 mile Iron-Butt attempt towards the end of this month.

Stay tuned - it all kicks off tomorrow at 9am sharp!

Toot toot!

Jenny (and Piglet) xx

Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2015, 06:44:13 PM »
Trans-Am 500, Day 1: San Jose to Ridgecrest CA.

Mileage today: 418.7

While yesterday afternoon marked the official start point of the west to east coast to coast leg, the Trans-Am 500 ride really got underway today at 10.10am this morning, after an overlong breakfast at Alice's Restaurant south of San Francisco, with my riding partner for the next couple of days Dave Lin from Bay Area apparel company

Joining us for breakfast, and indeed very generously buying for us too - thank you! - was ADVrider inmate Sparky831 who had ridden up on his own CB500X to see the Adventure conversion, chew the fat in general, and ultimately see us off by joining us in a spirited ride along hwy 35 (Skyline Boulevard) in and out of the morning fog.

Dave and I then took in more twisty roads via Santa Cruz, Hollister and Colinga where we filmed our spirited on-road antics; before sucking up a few miles of Interstate 5 in a effort to stay on some sort of schedule...

photo. Dave setting up the GoPro, on hwy 25 just before we turned on to 198 - two fabulous and traffic free roads in the region!

photo. Dave's shiny new 2014 model 690 Enduro complete with some choice RRP parts has been enlisted as the photo-mule for these initial couple of days...

Unfortunately, Dave's optimism with regard to the fuel range of his stock tank was ultimately all in vain when he coasted to a halt just a few miles short of the next service station at our turn off... Doh.

photo. I soon realised what must have happened and pulled over to wait...

Thankfully he had seen fit to fill his Rotopax can fitted to the soft-luggage racks, and it wasn't too long before he was on the move again... Phew!

Soon after it was my turn to have an 'issue' when my brand new GPS decided to freeze up as we entered the sprawling metropolis of Bakersfield. Fortunately I am now pretty familiar with the various routes through and around town, so rode on unguided until I was able to reboot it by removing the SD card and refitting it...

The upshot of suffering these various delays was that it was rapidly approaching evening now, so we elected to forfeit the planned Lake Isabella to Jawbone Canyon dirt-road sector today, rather stay on the stunning scenic hwy 178 and head straight for our scheduled stop-over in Ridgecrest - which is the last big town en route for Death Valley and the first big off-road test for the CB500X Adventure tomorrow!

Obviously if I didn't have to absolutely be in Flagstaff on Thursday morning, then we might have elected to camp along the trail and continue in the morning... But needs must for these first few days of the Adventure I'm afraid...

So while today was all about some twisty highway riding (and I have to say how utterly impressed I am with the way the bike now rides) and bagging some bike-to-bike video footage, things are likely to look a little more interesting once I start to travel off-road in the coming days and weeks...

More soon!

Jenny x

Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2015, 06:45:42 PM »
Day 2: Ridgecreast CA to Las Vegas NV - via Death Valley.

Miles today: 253.5

The second day started nice and warm, now we were on the edge of the Mojave desert and heading for Death Valley.

Dave Lin from ADVaddicts and I had breakfast in good time and rode the 30 miles to Trona with our jackets already half-unzipped; before gassing-up the bikes, and filling up our backpacks with snacks and plenty of water - it was going to be 100 degrees F today in Death Valley itself.

Dave was onboard his KTM690 with RRP luggage racks and skid plate, plus soft luggage and extra fuel in a Rotopax - I guess a typical set-up for someone who wants to 'adventureise' a 690, and perhaps a good comparison for the CB500X Adventure - as loaded up like that the two bikes were a similar weight, and although the 690 does have appreciably more travel and ground clearance, conversely, that means a significantly higher seat than the CB of course...

photo. At the top of Mengal Pass DVNP. Two different solutions to a common 'Adventure' bike goal from Rally-Raid Products - the KTM 690 Enduro and the CB500X Adventure...

Initial Impressions of the CB500X Adventure off-road...

Overall, the ride through Death Valley (100 miles of dirt) was an excellent test of the bike's off-road ability - a little bit (well, a lot actually!) of everything: sandy tracks, rocky piste, steep rocky climbs and descents, fast gravel and a few technical challenges; before ultimately a final blast at high speed on the West Side Road right up the middle of Badwater Basin... Here the bike felt incredibly stable and composed right up to a (sustained) maximum of 70.7mph - I really can't imagine doing the same thing on a stock bike with 17" wheels!

The bike did feel a little jittery from the rear end at first on rough washboard trails - possibly a result of the short wheelbase/swing arm. Later in the day I turned down the high speed compression damping 2 clicks and it was much smoother - or that might just have been my increase in speed too of course ;o)

On the tight technical terrain the bike was excellent, very tractable and easy to manoeuvre. The only limitation really is the still relatively short travel suspension over rough rocky tracks - typically grapefruit size boulders - hard work on any 200kg bike of course, and you simply have to pick your line and adjust your speed accordingly.

Again, in the 'real world' on a bike like this, especially with luggage, I'd suggest something like 20mph is a realistic rough-trail riding speed, where 30mph or even more is perfectly possible if the rocks are not so large.

Where it does excel though is on faster sandy and gravel piste style trails - typically those found in the desert - here you could ride at 30-40mph or more and it felt very comfortable and stable. As long as you kept an eye out for whoops and bigger rocks etc. you can easily wick it up to 50mph or more, and it just seems to feel better at speed - just be mindful of hitting a big washout or whoop at that sort of speed on a bike with only 170mm overall travel...

It was also very easy to negotiate tricky rocky steps and climbs/descents - the lower seat night (together with the narrow tank between your knees) making things much easier in comparison to Dave on his KTM690 (loaded with luggage). And in such terrain you really can just put the bike in first gear and ride it like an automatic.

I have to say how genuinely impressed I am with the conversion. Of course having a hand in it's development I'm going to say that aren't I? But seriously - this bike feels transformed, and certainly very much what Honda should have done themselves perhaps, were they not chasing the more lucrative 'high end' market with the new Africa Twin, ahem.

These past couple of days have really shown what an excellent all-road all-rounder this bike has become. It was an utter joy to punt it down the twisty county roads in California on Monday, more than comfortably schlepping down the Interstate for a time at 80mph, and an absolute blast (and very confidence inspiring) once we hit the dirt for 100 miles through Death Valley itself... Honestly, I can't wait to get it to Moab, the Rockies, and of course the whole length of the Trans-Am Trail!

The day ended with a lovely (albeit very windy!) ride over the Spring Mountains into the Las Vegas valley, and of course I had to ride the CB up the Strip before heading across town to meet some friends for dinner...

photo. Hitting the Strip early evening is always fun, it's when the neon really makes the city come alive!

The Garmin VIRB I've mounted above the clutch lever (and remotely controlled by tapping the GPS screen) was an excellent way to capture a series of photos - the quality is excellent, and I'm really looking forward to using it more and more during the trip...

Toot toot for now - I have a little show in Arizona I need to attend!


Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2015, 06:48:55 PM »
Day 3: Las Vegas NV to Williams AZ

Mileage today: 269

Since Dave has to be back in San Francisco yesterday, we said our goodbyes at Furnace Creek in Death Valley and I continued on alone to Vegas where I was able to catch up on some well needed sleep and spent the following morning on some essential admin too.

Leaving Vegas at lunchtime with a Subway sandwich tucked in my backpack, the plan was to have a picnic at Christmas Tree Pass which is a dirt road just north east of Laughin and Bullhead city on the Nevada/Arizona boarder. Boy was it windy heading due south again - I tried adjusting the screen the higher of the two positions, but it didn't help much - I ended up tucking in like a road racer until I was able to turn east and onto the dirt.

Christmas Tree Pass is so called because of the decorated trees around the summit:

I came this way in 2009 and recall one main tree, plus maybe two or three others... Now the whole pass has dozens of trees decorated with baubles and tinsel - it's hysterical!

photo. eventually the decorated trees peter out as you descend towards the Colorado river that marks the Arizona boarder...

I also practiced with the VIRB on a helmet mount, as while the footage is great on the road, when riding off-road it vibrates a little too much when the camera is mounted directly to the bike. However, suffice to say I'm going to need a bit more practice getting the camera angles right, there is a lot of footage of my front wheel despite me looking well ahead on the trail. This still picture was at least bearable, the video was rubbish...

So crossing over the Colorado river at Laughin, I took a fast dirt road across to Oatman AZ, which is on the old part of Route 66. It is a typical desert tourist town, all cowboys and souviner tat shops, and there were a bunch of bad-ass Harley riders in town... Who turned out to be a group of French tourists!

Oatman is perhaps most well known for the wild Burros that roam the streets, and are usually more than happy to pose for the odd photo. So I took an odd photo with the fish-eye VIRB:

Getting my kicks...

After a tasty ice cream from the 'Oatman Hotel' (probably not a real hotel if I'm honest)... It was time to retrace part of the old Mother Road east towards Kingman, Peach Spings and Seligman, before picking up the I40 interstate that now replaces the original route to Williams.

The road out of Oatman is a blast, although the tarmac not particularly well maintained these days, so it was nice to be on an adventure bike (especially one with such quality suspension ;o) rather than a sports bike for example.

I passed a funky little fuel stop* and museum, and left another Rally-Raid sticker on their store window that is plastered with stickers from all over the world, and pressed on for Kingman where the Santa Fe railroad passes by...

*note. This probably wasn't a proper gas station any more either, if I'm honest  ;o)

Rather than pick up the interstate that bypasses Kingman, I followed the old Route 66 markers that take you through the middle of town, and rode alongside a huge double-stack container train though a winding canyon.

I mention this train because a little later as I approached Peach Springs, I saw there was a dirt road alternative to the main highway, that actually ran right next to the railroad... Sure enough there was that train again - so I threw caution to the wind and effectively tried to race it! It was like a scene out of a movie as I was hitting 60mph or so in an effort to stay ahead, and had a moment of panic when I saw a railroad crossing sign ahead...

Perhaps foolhardedly, I glanced at the driver of the lead engine (there were four - this train was huge!), and in a moment of movie madness, wicked on in a effort to cross the tracks before the mile long train thwarted my progress (in reality, even if it was a mile long, at that speed it would only have been by a minute or so of course).

I'd love to tell you that I lept the tracks like a scene out of The Dukes of Hazard - and I did, only it turned out that the main line curved away from the crossing, and this was only siding... Probably for the best ;o)

East-bound and down...

So after this messing around, it was getting distinctly dark by the time I entered Seligman and fuelled up. I have passed through this town before in the daylight, and it is a hotchpotch of original buildings, run down motels, and tourist and quirky hippy/arty shops - sort of like the 50s on acid. I thought it might be kind of surreal to ride through there in the dark this time, and it was...

I'd hoped there would be a lot more neon at night time, but it really is a sleepy place these days... On the other hand, Williams about 50 miles up the road was buzzing with all the neon and tourist chutzpah it could muster. There was a huge Harley rally in town, which meant hotels were either full or pricey... I bedded down in one that at least offered free wifi and some semblance of what otherwise might be called breakfast.

I actually woke this morning to the sound of rain (and remembered that Williams is around 6800ft elevation) which is why I'm writing to you now, hoping it is just a shower...

Unfortunately the weather forecast for the weekend is not exactly promising, but at least set-up day for the Expo (today) and Sunday (when I'm due to leave for Moab) looks ok...

photo. look at those temperatures, and even snow for goodness sake! - I predict a rush on rooms in nearby Flagstaff!

I may not have particularly good wifi access over the weekend, and will of course be very busy (I hope) on the Giant Loop stand with the CB500X Adventure. If you're planning on attending the show this weekend, please do drop by and say hello. Just bring a sweater. And a raincoat.

Toot toot for now!

Jenny xx

Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2015, 06:50:29 PM »
Day 4: Williams AZ to Mormon Lake AZ - the Overland Expo West.

Mileage today: 68

photo. It's big, it's black, it's unstoppable... and yes it's another obvious punchline: "and so is the train..." On my way out of Williams AZ, en route for Flagstaff.

I arrived at the site around lunchtime on Thursday 14th May, and helped Harold set up the Giant Loop stand on what was a lovely sunny afternoon... We were located at pretty much the end of the Moto village avenue, sandwiched between the huge Raw Hyde off-road school/tour encampment, and coincidently right next to ICON clothing who were displaying their new range of dual-sport and adventure specific riding apparel under the 'Raiden' branding.

I mention these guys particularly as Rally-Raid supported their promotional film project (that featured a pair of Triumph Tigers), and in return ICON have provided me with a selection of their riding gear to appraise during this trip, and which I trust will fend off the worst of whatever the weather can throw at me... and I was about to find out!

photo. Let's just say that the first couple of Days at the Expo were an endurance!

After a fun evening with a few beers around the campfire, it started to get distinctly colder, and Harold in his chivalry took the roof-tent, while I snuggled down in the back of the Giant Loop van in my less than winter weight sleeping bag.

Day 5&6: Overland Expo west

Mileage on show days: zero

The following day the rain started, followed by hail, and ultimately snow overnight too. To say conditions were bitter would be an understatement, but we smiled on through, although 12 hours of standing on my feet in the wet and freezing conditions took their toll, and I graciously accepted the offer of the kitchen floor of a cabin that Ray & Davin from ICON were staying in nearby - you guys really were a lifesaver!

photo. By Sunday morning we were living in a swamp!

Despite the weather, while Friday was a slow day, Saturday picked up with plenty of human traffic in the Moto village area, and I got to meet any number of interesting people over the next couple of days. Finally, Sunday dawned warm and dry, and much more the conditions we'd be lead to expect - I even ended up with a comedy sunburn after another full day on my feet.

So what about the bike you might ask? Well, I have to say the response was overwhelmingly positive from everyone I met during the weekend. We lost count of the number of times people asked if this was an actual official model from Honda, which was hugely complimentary - and at the same time, it was also humbling to see how many people already knew about the bike, and had specifically come to see it!

photo. Rally-Raid had sent some new parts to fit for the show...

It was also really fun to meet up wiht a number of people that until now had only been internet 'forum friends' - and tried to make sure everyone went away with a couple of stickers that Dave from ADVaddicts has produced for me to take on the trip - a retro CB500X Adventure roundal, plus a really cool (well, I think) shield that personally I'll try and leave at what I consider points of interest along the route - kind of like a treasure hunt if you like?

I also got the chance to look around a few of the other trade stands, and marvel (or in some cases 'wonder') at the elaborate camper conversions and extensive outdoor kitchen facilities that pack up into trailers and 4x4s, and couldn't help but wonder if all these guys do is park up and eat! It certainly made me appreciate just how little I've been able to pack and still consider myself comfortable enough for a life on the road.

Day 7: Mormon Lake AZ to Kayenta AZ

Mileage today: 198

Leaving the show late afternoon on Sunday, my intention was to ride the whole distance to Moab (approximately 300 miles away), but like all things, circumstances seem to have a habit of dictating both route and schedule, and ultimately offering something far more enjoyable than simply hacking through the dark and missing out on what would ultimately set the scene for the rest of the week in Moab.


Offline JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2015, 06:51:42 PM »
Day 8: Kayenta AZ to Moab UT.

Mileage today: 219

Having underestimated how long it would take me to ride to Moab (especially when you consider the hour time change between Arizona and Utah), I felt it wasn't fair to try and turn up at the guest house I was staying at after midnight; and coupled with the high desert cold as I headed north, elected to bed down in Kayenta just south of Monument Valley, and continue the last leg in the morning. There was only one hotel in town that wasn't fully booked, and while I felt utterly spanked at the room rate, I have to say it was very comfortable and a welcome rest after slumming it on floors over the weekend.

The following morning I got to pass through Monument Valley in all its glory, but the real benefit of my enforced stop-over meant I could at last embark on a trail towards Moab that I'd so far never had the opportunity or circumstances to ride: Lockhart Basin.

photo. Mexican Hat rock north of Monument Valley.

The fun begins!

Heading loosely along the route of the Colorado river for nearly 50 miles, Lockhart Basin trail actually has a county road route number, although over the years it has deteriorated considerably (particularly at the northern end closer to Moab), and features a number of tricky and technical rocky sections - although fortunately on the whole I'd be going down these steps in the direction I was travelling.

Having left my marker on a gatepost on the gentler section of the trail, I pressed on at a good pace, although a little unsure of what I might find. I was also conscious that rain had been forecast for Moab that afternoon, and was certainly a little wary of some ominous clouds that seemed to be following me north from the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

I have to say that once again I was impressed with how the bike was handling the combination of rocky and sandy terrain - when the trail is smooth you can really pick up the pace, confident in the knowledge the bike will track in a sure footed manner over undulations and gentle whoops; while over more technical rocky climbs and descents, snicking it down into first gear and simply riding it like an automatic gave no cause for concern, and indeed it felt very balanced and easy to turn/make corrections, particularly when stood up on the pegs.

photo. I loved this sticker when I saw it on Dave Lin's KTM during the trip through Death Valley, and was fortunate to be given one at the Overland Expo.

Of course inevitably this confidence became my undoing, although I would add that in this particular instance, I was perhaps being a little too careful and trying to inch the bike down on the brakes - rather than let it roll over the loose obstacles as I had been doing all afternoon:

Still, I had to get that 'first drop' out of the way, and fortunately all the extremities survived completely intact, despite not having any hand-guards fitted... I'd taken the original MX style ones off at the Expo in preparation for the BarkBusters that were due to arrive - fortunately I'd also fitted the shorty billet levers that John has sent me from the UK, and which have proved particularly resilient this week in Moab - yes, I've dropped the bike more than once now ;o)

What was especially revealing in this particular circumstance was just how damn heavy the bike is once it's laying on its side... Of course the tank was still nearly full of fuel, but I ended up having to undo the straps of my Coyote bag and flip it over the seat to remove enough weight so I could finally lift it back up on the loose and rocky surface. In that regard the banana style luggage really helped making removing and reattaching it easy - although I had to be dexterous to undo the strap on the underside with one hand while supporting the weight of the bike on my leg. A good incentive not to do this too often I'd say!

The sense of achievement on finally reaching the intersection with a familiar trail (that leads to Chicken Corners) meant I was nearly home and dry, and while I'd done my best to avoid the rain so far, I could see an almighty storm ahead of me as I headed over Hurrah Pass towards Moab...

Day 9 (Day 2 Moab): Seven Mile Rim

Mileage today (approx): 49

Having managed to avoid all but a sprinkling of rain the previous day, we took a gamble with the forecast and headed north of Moab and the Arches National Park to one of my favourite trails in the area: Seven Mile Rim.

This particular trail offers a varied combination of technical rocky terrain, fast sandy trails and some fabulous views from the top of the rim both north east, and south across Arches NP to the La Sal mountains in the distance. One particular highlight is an unnerving traverse along a slick rock face in the shadow of two huge rock towers (Monitor and Merrimac), and overall I felt this would be an excellent introduction to the variety of terrain Moab has to offer - to our friends who were visiting for the first time in their 4x4.

Of course for those of us who were riding motorcycles, the subsequent rain and even hail stones made the initial climb up the rocky rim interesting to say the least, and it continued to catch us out for most of the day, although the sun finally broke through mid afternoon...

photo. The break in the weather gave a great view of the La Sal mountains...

photo. Before comprehensively dumping on us again!

photo. fortunately things dried out almost instantly again.

So having toasted our respective successes that evening with another round of beers and burgers at the Moab Brewery, with the forecast now clear - I suggested we attempt a more ambitious trail the following day that would offer one of the best viewpoints in the whole of the area; and not least from my own point of view, really provide a serious challenge for the CB-X.

More soon...

Jenny x


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