October 05, 2015

Motorcycle Road Trip 2015: A Luggage Review

During my road trip with a 2003 Honda VT750 Shadow A.C.E. through Eastern Canada and the Maritimes I had the pleasure to test two products offered by Motorcycle House. The Viking Lammelar saddlebags for said Honda model, and the universal Viking sissy bar bag.

First of all, both luggage items provided by Motorcycle House did a great job carrying the necessities of life on the road. There is space galore, and while the sissy bar bag is well thought through with regards to organizing your stuff, the saddle bags turn the Shadow into a true cruiser storage-wise, and also by appearance.

Second, the luggage didn't come off the bike. Having said that, there are some minor issues that might need some attention by the manufacturer. Otherwise I'd recommend to make sure to ride on smooth tarmac only, or carry extra straps, duct tape and tie wraps, because uneven pavement does a little number on the gear.

1. The Viking sissy bar bag:

The handsome bag goes well with a cruiser style motorcycle. It is easy to mount, and to remove (if needed), and comes with extra straps for carrying (best: backpack style). The height had me worried with regards to how it would affect the bike's stability in crosswinds or at higher speed, but at no time did this become an issue. Storage is plenty and well thought through. Double thumbs up! For trip preparation and packing review click HERE.

The mounting system contains of straps and fastening clips, which look fairly sturdy but obviously have their limitations.

Day two: broken clip

On the second day, I felt the bag shifting while riding, and found that one of the main clips to hold the bag in place was broken. Nothing, a tie wrap couldn't fix.

Not sure, if it were the change in temperatures (3°C to 24°C), the weather, the crosswinds, or the road conditions, but none of the clips where holding longterm. They all came lose eventually, were bent and wouldn't fasten permanently. Hence, there came more tie wraps to the rescue. 

After having attended to the issue with the appropriate measures, the bags were fixated for the rest of the trip. It worked for me, but I had no intention of removing the bag from the bike on a daily basis. I'd just pull out my backpack, and leave the sissy bar bag on the bike over the whole trip.

Of course there is some normal wear and tear on the zippers and the stitching but the quality seems absolutely roadworthy. No trouble here.

I didn't bother protecting the sissybar bag with the rain cover. My backpack is waterproof. However, even after a full day of pouring rain, the heavy duty Cordura/leather material kept surprisingly dry on the inside. There was some humidity to the touch, yes, but no puddles inside. That's a plus!

Speaking of the inside. Plastic frames on both sides keep the sissybar bag in its shape. At one point, likely when going through a pothole or a dip, one of the frames broke at the bottom, very much at a predetermined breaking point. However, it did not affect the bag, or deformed it. I had only noticed it very late into my trip. No need to fix it.

Oh, and I loved the roll bag. It was permanently mounted with Rok-straps to the pillion seat, not on the sissybar bag itself. I kept it exclusively for food storage: fruit, beverages, my little freeze box, and snacks.

My rating: Thumbs up! The riding was rough at times, and the minor issues developing through my long haul road trip over 6.700km through various weather and road conditions are i.m.h.o. normal wear and tear, and didn't affect the overall performance. At (currently) 169USD it's a steal. You'll get an exceptionally big bang for your buck.

Cabot Trail, N.S.

2. The Viking Lammelar Saddlebags:
It's all in the looks! And these streamlined leather covered hard bags make the Shadow look like a pro. Mounting was not all that easy though. Please visit David's blog to learn more about the installation of the saddlebags.

The inside is covered with a smooth liner. Which is both, good and bad. Good, as nothing starts rattling through vibrations, bad if you have a leakage of a fluid container, in my case oil drops causing stains that were hard to remove.

The mounting hardware and frame are definitely heavy duty, and survived through many potholes, dips and over miles of gravel roads. The saddle bags are lockable, that's a big bonus, however, the two-key system (one per side) is a bit awkward. But you get used to it, just use different coloured key rings, problem solved. The hinges are sturdy as well, and the lids stay open once in upright position.  What didn't impress were the hinge covers.

This is how it looked like after - literally - a ride around the block: The hardware and subsequently the plastic cover loosened instantly. I fixed it several times while on the road but vibrations continued unfastening the screws every so often. In the end, the whole cover came loose, leaving the hinge unprotected, and in direct contact with the stored items. A short term solution to protect both, the hinges and the contents was duct tape. For long term, maybe the drilling of new holes, and a new set of nuts and bolts?

My rating: Given the issues while mounting the bags I would have thrown the towel on this product long ago, but it was David who got the job done, and good. Thanks for your patience on this matter, David. For me however, it's all in the looks. I'd leave the saddle bags on permanently. I like the smooth and streamlined shape, the black leather, and the way it complements the bike.

And once mounted, it is - hinge covers aside - a darn sturdy construction, and can be filled to the max. The right side ended up carrying my laptop, my cosmetic bag, a cable/accessory box, extra gloves, and rain gear. The left side's content was an MSR fuel bottle (filled), a 1l Oil container, chain lube, a tool bag, and a mini air compressor.

Confederation Bridge, P-E-I

For the (current) cost at 399USD it is a well priced option to make a bike not only look better but also suitable for long or short haul purposes. That is if you're not too shy to put a little effort in when mounting it for the very first time. Thumbs up - despite the hinge cover issue.


Sorry, hierzu gibt es (noch) keinen deutschen Bericht, da der Motorradzubehörversand Motorcycle House (noch) nicht auf dem deutschsprachigen Markt vertreten ist.

October 03, 2015

Motorcycle Road Trip 2015: A Bike Review

I am not a mechanic, nor do I pretend to be one. If you are looking for a technical review, sorry, this blog entry is not for you. This is purely an emotional review, from a rider's perspective.

When David and I agreed on the intercontinental mutual ownership of a bike we had both done our homework. After evaluating different models on our wish list, we compared costs and benefits, and it became clear very quickly that - given the budget limitations - we had to go shopping in the Asian cruiser department, and this is how we found the 2003 HONDA VT750 Shadow A.C.E..

The twelve year old chain driven lady came with fairly low milage, at 35,000 clicks barely broken in, a few accessories such as a sissy bar and a luggage rack, and seemed in overall good shape. Alas, there was the colour scheme: roaring flames. However, since the paint scheme turned out to be the only downside, we agreed to buy the bike.

Over the next few months David would tend to farkling the bike: Electrical 12V outlets, ram mounts to hold GPS and mobile phone, windshield, stebel horn and heated grips. He also removed the annoyingly loud and ugly Cobra pipes and replaced them with the proper 2-in-1 OEM exhaust. In addition the motorcycle got serviced at the Honda dealership with attention to fluid exchange and proper maintenance.

Thank you David, for all the hard work. Especially the GPS and the heated grips made my journey a success and a pleasure.

It was helping the budget, that we were provided with a sponsoring offer from Motorcycle House for luggage, and we opted for the Viking Lammelar saddlebags for said Honda model, and the universal Viking sissy bar bag. (Luggage Review HERE)

At this point there wasn't much I could do from afar. It was all in David's hands. My time finally came on 5th of September 2015, when my epic solo road trip through eastern Canada and the Maritimes commenced.

From owning a Harley Davidson Sportster 883, I was already fairly familiar with cruiser style motorcycles, but it needed some farkling on the Sporty to get to a reasonably comfortable seating position for long distance traveling. The Shadow on the other side fits me like a glove, spot on. The handlebar, the seat and its height, the foot pegs, are positioned as if the bike was made for me.

The first few days into my journey I lucked out with the weather, it was sunny, warm and dry, ideal conditions to get a better feel for the Honda. Although heavy, and fully loaded up with luggage, I found it easy to maneuver. The low center of gravity helped. Due to speed limits of 100/110 km/h there was no real opportunity to test the bike under high(er) speed but riding at 120 km/h was comfortable and with limited vibrations. The windshield helped keeping the wind pressure (and the bugs) away, although I had to remove the extra laminar lip, which obstructed my view.

Then came the rain. And the Shadow didn't miss a beat. Easily it glided through the wet stuff, the performance didn't change at all, although the front tire at this point was already fairly worn down.

The only worry were the nuts and bolts on the exhaust. I seemed to lose the fixings one after another. I found a mechanic on Gaspé peninsula who fixed the matter temporarily, another garage in New Brunswick helped me out again, until I came across a very helpful dealership on P.E.I. where the issue got fixed for good. None of them did charge a buck by the way.

Checking oil level, tire pressure, luggage mounting, chain and fastenings became my daily ritual, and I got fairly well acquainted with the bike, and given that I am not a mechanic, I did my best to attend to the motorcycle's necessities. I filled 'er up with 91 octane, when available (not all gas stations provided it), and I replenished about one litre oil over time on a distance of 6,700 km. The chain just needed lubing from time to time, no tightening required.

Half into my trip the backfiring was getting worse. It was a fairly annoying popping sound when letting off the throttle. I played with the fuel grade, but it didn't change. It's a carburetor bike, so maybe the carburetor or the jets were dirty, or it needed some tuning, or maybe it was a matter of faulty spark plugs? Or a leak in the exhaust, something caused by the loose nuts and bolts? Anyway it would have to wait until next service is due.

The front tire continued to lose air pressure on a regular basis, but with the help of the air compressor I was able to balance it out. It looked like tube tires lose air pressure much faster than tubeless tires. I also kept an eye on the rear tire, which needed adjustment every four or five days.

But these remained the only few issues. The Shadow rode on tarmac, grooved pavement, through potholes and dips, over gravel roads, dirt tracks, through sand and dirt, and did a great job. We only got into trouble on the latter: wet P.E.I. mud, but I guess a good performance on this type of slippery surface would be too much to ask of any bike, cruiser or otherwise. We weren't going down but it wasn't easy to get through either.

During almost three weeks on the road, and several thousand kilometres, the Shadow and I bonded. It is a true and honest touring bike, and I couldn't have asked for a better suited one for this trip.

Now, after the journey, the bike will need some attention and TLC. David generously offered to clean the bike (you don't know what you're getting into, my dear friend...). It requires a service, and will have to get looked after with regards to the exhaust/backfiring issue. Also, it definitely needs a new front tire, as this one is no longer good for distance traveling.

And once we get back to farkling, we will have to decide whether to invest in engine guards. It would be nice to have some highway bars installed, in order to change leg position on long highway stretches. Also it would provide an opportunity to add some extra lights. And maybe we should look into replacing the shocks (it worked well for my Sporty)... Time will tell.

Au revoir, Thunderbird. This won't be our last journey. Until we meet again.


Das Motorrad: Versuch einer Bewertung
Ich bin ja keine Fachfrau, bzw. Mechanikerin, und werde mich hüten, so zu tun, als hätte ich Ahnung von Motorrädern. Also wird diese Bewertung ausschließlich emotionaler Natur sein: Aus der Sicht der Motorradfahrerin.

Nachdem wir, David und ich, uns entschlossen hatten, dieses interkontinentale Übereinkommen zum gemeinsamen Eigentum an einem Motorrad abzuschließen (hört sich richtig offiziell an, oder?), machten wir beide unsere Hausaufgaben, bzw. schrieben eine Wunschliste und kamen nach Einschätzung von Kosten und Nutzen, mit dem begrenzten Budget, dass wir uns gesetzt hatten, darauf, dass es eigentlich nur ein japanisches Cruiser-Modell werden konnte.

So entdeckten wir die 2003 HONDA VT750 Shadow A.C.E. Die zwölfjährige kettenbetriebene Dame hatte nur wenig auf dem Tacho, gerade mal 35.000km, kam mit ein paar Anbauten wie Sissy Bar und Gepäckträger daher und machte einen guten Eindruck. Wenn da nur nicht dieser Flammen-Look wäre... Aber da das der einzige negative Faktor schien, entschieden wir uns, zuzugreifen.

Über die nächsten Monate kümmerte sich David um die Aus- und Aufrüstung des Fahrzeugs: es bekam ein paar 12V Stromanschlüsse, RAM Befestigungen für Navi und Mobiltelefon, Windschutzscheibe, Stebel Hupe (sehr laut!) und Heizgriffe. Auch tauschte er den überlauten Cobra-Auspuff gegen den originalen 2-in-1 Auspuff aus. Darüber hinaus wurde das Mopped einer Inspektion mit Flüssigkeitenwechsel in einer Honda Werkstatt unterzogen. Vielen Dank an David für die harte Arbeit. Besonders das Navi und die Heizgriffe machten die Reise um so entspannter und angenehmer.

Nebenbei bekamen wir das Angebot von Motorcycle House, einem Motorradzubehör-Ausstatter aus Kalifornien, ein paar Gepäckstücke - kostenlos - auszuprobieren. Zu den Produkten von Viking, die Lammelar Satteltaschen und die universelle Sissy Bar Tasche, gibt es in Kürze dann auch eine Bewertung (in Englisch).

Bei all dem konnte ich von hier aus nichts weiter tun, außer David immer wieder positiven Zuspruch zu geben und natürlich, meinen Kostenanteil zu bezahlen. Meine Zeit sollte am 5. September 2015 kommen, als ich meine Solo-Reise durch Ostkanada und die Maritimes startete.

Da ich auch eine Harley Davidson Sportster 883 besitze, bin ich an den Cruiser-Stil gewohnt, allerdings brauchte die Sporty seinerzeit einige Umrüstungen bevor ich bequem lange Touren mit ihr fahren konnte. Die Shadow aber passt mir beim ersten Probesitzen wie angegossen: Lenker, Armaturen, Fußrasten, Sitz waren wie für mich gemacht.

Ich fuhr kurz mal um den Block und merkte direkt, da stimmt was nicht. Der Vorderreifen hatte zu wenig Luft. Na sowas? Das Motorrad spricht zu mir und ich verstehe es sofort? Ein gutes Zeichen.

In den ersten Tagen meiner Reise habe ich echt Glück mit dem Wetter gehabt, es war warm und trocken, also ideal, um ein gutes Fahrgefühl zu bekommen. Obwohl die Honda kein Leichtgewicht ist und ja auch noch einiges an Gepäck schleppen muss, hatte ich sie gut im Griff und keine Probleme beim Rangieren. Der niedrige Schwerpunkt war hier ein echter Vorteil. 

Die Windschutzscheibe hielt nicht nur den Wind, sondern auch die meisten Insekten davon ab, mir auf den Leib (bzw. die Jacke) zu klatschen, allerdings musste ich den zusätzlichen Windschutz (Laminar-Lip) wieder abbauen, da er mir die Sicht versperrte.

Dann fing es an zu regnen... und die Shadow fuhr souverän über die nassen Straßen, auch wenn der Vorderreifen bereits einiges an Profil verloren hatte.

Die einzigen Sorgen machten mir die Auspuffbefestigungen. Eine nach der anderen verabschiedete sich, oder hatte sich los gerappelt. Ein Mechaniker auf der Gaspé Halbinsel befestigte den Auspuff provisorisch, in New Brunswick wiederholte sich das Spiel, bis ich auf P.E.I. dann zu einem Vertragshändler kam, der das Problem endgültig beseitigte. Nicht eine Werkstatt wollte Geld für die Nothilfe...

Ölstand und Reifendruck, Gepäckhalterung, Kettenspannung und Befestigungen prüfen wurden mir zur zweiten Natur. Auch wenn ich keine Ahnung von Moppeds habe, so habe ich trotzdem nach bestem Wissen versucht, dem Motorrad das zu geben, was es brauchte, wie 91 Oktan Treibstoff wenn vorhanden (nicht an allen Tankstellen gab es das) und 10W-40 Öl. Über 6.700km hat das Bike etwa 1l Öl verbraucht. Ich denke das ist nicht zuviel. Die Kette hat in der ganzen Zeit ihre Spannung nicht verloren und brauchte nicht nachgestellt, sondern nur mal ab und zu geschmiert werden. Das war damals bei meiner SR500 ganz anders (pre O-Ring Kette).

Zur Halbzeit meiner Reise wurden die Fehlzündungen mehr. Jedes mal, wenn ich vom Gas ging, gab es ein nerviges Geploppe. Ich habe es mit verschiedenen Oktan versucht, ab Benzin liegt es wohl nicht. Da es sich bei der Shadow um ein Vergaser-Modell handelt, war vielleicht der Vergaser oder die Düsen verschmutzt oder mussten getuned werden, vielleicht lag es auch an den Zündkerzen oder irgendwo gab es durch den vormals lockeren Auspuff ein Leck? Na, das musste jedenfalls bis zur nächsten Inspektion warten. 

Der Vorderreifen verlor immer wieder an Luft, aber mit dem mitgeführten Kompressor war es kein Problem, das auszugleichen. Ich behielt auch den Hinterreifen im Auge, aber der benötigte nur alle paar Tage mal Nachschub. Insgesamt scheinen Schlauchreifen schneller schlapp zu machen als Schlauch lose Reifen.

Aber Reifen und Auspuff blieben die einzigen kleinen Sorgen. Die Shadow fuhr locker auf Asphalt wie auf unebenen Straßenbelägen, durch Schlaglöcher und Bodenwellen, auf Schotter- und Feldwegen, durch Sand und Schlamm. Letzteres machte uns aber doch das Leben schwer: der nasse Lehmboden auf P.E.I. Wir kamen zwar ohne Umfaller da durch, aber es war nicht einfach. Aber das wäre wahrscheinlich für einen Cruiser oder auch (fast) jedes andere Motorrad zu viel verlangt gewesen.

Nach fast drei gemeinsamen Wochen und vielen tausend Kilometern kann ich sagen, dass die Shadow und ich eine Einheit geworden sind. Es handelt sich um ein echtes und ehrliches Tourenmotorrad und ich hätte für diese Reise kein besseres Fahrzeug haben können.

Nun, da dieser Tripp zu Ende ist, braucht das Mopped erst einmal eine gründliche Reinigung. David hatte sich freiwillig angeboten, das zu übernehmen. Ob er weiß, auf was er sich da eingelassen hat?
Außerdem benötigt die Honda eine Inspektion, im Besonderen, um die Sache mit dem Auspuff und den Fehlzündungen abklären zu lassen. Darüber hinaus müssen wir uns überlegen, ob wir ggfs. noch ein paar Motorschutzbügel montieren, damit wir hier zusätzliche Highway-Fußrasten anbringen können, denn auf den langen geraden Strecken wäre es ganz nett, die Beine mal auszustrecken. Auch gäbe es uns die Möglichkeit, weitere Lampen anzubringen. Vielleicht sollten wir auch andere Stoßdämpfer anbringen (bei meiner Sporty hat das echt etwas gebracht). Auf jeden Fall muss aber der Vorderreifen ausgetauscht werden. Der ist nach dieser Tour komplett abgefahren. Man wird sehen...

Bis dahin heißt es au revoir, Thunderbird - Black Betty. Das war bestimmt nicht unsere letzte Reise.