Now that the UK is starting to relax the COVID19 restrictions it’s been possible to get out on the bike more. Not being able to leave the country and head into Europe has meant that local rides are the only thing available at the moment, especially with Wales and Scotland keeping their lockdown in place and not allowing the English to visit.
I’ve been riding on my own on the little Honda CRF2510 Rally and really enjoying it. It’s the perfect bike for riding around the tiny B roads in Suffolk and Norfolk enjoying the countryside. Only problem has been not being able to get a drink very often as there is nowhere open for food or drink.
I’ve been using the Calimoto app to generate loop rides starting and ending at home. It really is superb for this and created some really interesting rides. The photo above is from an 80 mile loop ride automagically generated by Calimoto.
Being just just 15mins from the coast is handy to pickup the tiny coast roads and head north up through Suffolk and into Norfolk taking in Orford, Aldeburgh, Thorpeness and Sizewell to mention few eventually arriving at Walcott.
I’ve also been stretching the legs of my Kawasaki Versys 1000 riding out with my good mate Phil who lives a couple of doors down from me. The weather has been superb and the riding has been great. The roads are getting a lot busier now which is a shame but to be expected. It’s been great to get out and about again for sure.
I’d really like to take the CRF250 Rally down to the Pyrenees this summer if at all possible and do the coast to coast route through the mountain trails. Whether this will be possible or not is still too hard to predict but we can but hope!
When all this COVID19 stuff kicked off and it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to go on my trip to Mongolia this year I had no choice but to cancel my service with Garmin for my Explorer+ GPS unit. By cancelling the service I saved over £200, not to be sneezed at.
The saving is great but, it also meant that when I wanted to start using the device again I’d incur the £25 fee to have it reconnected to the Iridium satellite service.
Yesterday I got a call from Garmin, somewhat surprised to say the least I had a chat with a lady by the name of Victoria.
She explained that since they’ve had a lot of people cancel their 12 month service due to the pandemic, Garmin are now offering to reconnect the devices to the service for free, will waive the cost of the first month of service and then will allow me to suspend the service for a long as I want without any monthly fee.
This means I won’t have to pay the reconnection fee when I want to start using the unit again and will just need to login to my Garmin account and recommence the service.
This works perfectly for me so, I’ve signed up and my inReach Explorer+ is active once more.
It’s good to see that companies are reacting to this COVID19 pandemic that’s gripping the world at the moment and providing a flexible approach to service provision.
On an almost daily basis I get asked questions about the setup of my Honda CRF250 Rally that I’ve kitted out ready for my trip to Mongolia and what gear am I taking with me. Since I’m often asked the same question over and over I thought I’d put the definitive set of answers here in a blog post so that I can just refer everyone to the same place, so here goes!
Q: Have you made any modifications to the engine or exhaust to get more power? Are you using an EJK ECU? Have you fitted an FMF exhaust?
Simple answer is No.
I’ve not made any changes whatsoever to the engine, ECU, exhaust or any other component connected to the engine. I’ve deliberately kept the engine completely original so that I have maximum reliability.
When I purchased the bike I knew it only had 24HP and I am happy with that. If I’d wanted more power then I would had bought a bigger bike.
Q: What tank bag are you using?
I have fitted a Givi 6 Litre GRT706 tank bag that fits nicely on the tank and doesn’t get in the way when I’m riding in either the seated or standing positions. The tank bag is mainly for carrying my Canon 1300D DSLR camera and a map that’s visible in the clear plastic water proof top pocket.
Q: What USB device is that you have and where can I get one?
The dual USB and 12v socket with integrated voltmeter I picked up from Ebay. All the information of how to wire it into the AUX 12v feed already on the bike is in this post on the blog. For completeness I’ve also included the details of where you can get the 12v connector really cheaply.
Yes! I was fortunate enough to negotiate a free pair of Oxford Heated Grips when I purchased the bike from my local Honda dealership. They really do get hot and are great in the winter months. All the information on how to fit and wire them to the CRF250 Rally can be found in this blog post.
Q: How will you keep your chain lubricated during the trip?
Q: What crash bars are they you have fitted? What skid plate do you use?
I use a great integrated skid plate and crashbar combo from Inpreda/GPKompozit. The bike has been dropped a few times on the trails now and it’s protected everything really well. The bash plate has also taken a few hits and has done a great job at protecting the engine sump.
I’ve fitted a Tusk pannier frame to the bike, it’s really solid and can handle the weight I’m going to put on it. All the details on fitting it correctly and the adjustments I had to make are detailed in my blog post here.
Q: What size Rotopax fuel canisters are you using?
Due to the cost I decided not to use Rotopax fuel canisters however, I do need to be able to carry extra fuel with me to make it between fuel stops on the trip and so after much research I went with some ChinoPax fuel canisters that I found sensibly priced on Ebay. They are really well put together and are very strong. They’re made from a very thick plastic that isn’t brittle and so they can take a fair amount of bashing. Noraly of Itchyboots fame uses the same cans and has dropped her bike on them many times without incident. I got 3 x 5L canisters with fittings for less than the cost of 1 x 1 Gallon Rotopax can. Since the two front canisters will only be used on certain parts of the trip when fuel is difficult to get I didn’t see the point in spending a fortune on Rotopax cans when they would be empty most of the time.
I’ll also being using petrol to cook with and so the rear 5L tank will always have fuel in it so that I can cook at the end of each day. Full info on fitting etc is on the blog right here.
Q: Are you using hard or soft panniers?
I’m using soft panniers from Givi as I didn’t want the extra weight and bulk of the hard panniers. I looked at a lot of soft pannier options including the very cheap Lomo throw over bags but, eventually I settled on the Givi GRT709 Canyon 35L lockable soft panniers.
I really like the Givi soft panniers, they’re well put together, have a separate waterproof inner bag and have a separate water proof bottle carrier on the rear facing side of each pannier making it easy to gain access to drinks without having to open the main bag.
Q: What GPS are you going to be using on your trip?
I’ll be using two effectively, one on my iPhone in the Ultimate Addons waterproof case mounted above the instrument cluster and a Garmin inReach Explorer+ with SOS capability. I also have a Garmin Zumo 350LM that I may take as backup but it’s worth noting that Garmin do not supply maps for Central Asia for the Zumo GPS units and you have to create your own using OpenStreet Maps.
Q: What side stand foot is that in your photos?
It’s another Chinese made item from Ebay I’m afraid. When it arrived it didn’t actually fit so I had to re-engineer it but, it fits perfectly now.
Q: Have you changed the suspension and if so what have you done?
Yes I have changed the suspension as the OEM suspension isn’t really fit for the kind of punishment I’m going to be giving it on the trip. There are quite a few options available suspension wise for the CRF250 series of bikes these days but I opted for the HyperPro uprated progressive spring for the front forks and a completely new custom built Hagon shock for the rear.
The difference these two changes have made is stunning! The bike now handles so much better and to date I’ve not managed to bottom out the front or rear suspension even hammering along the trails.
There are a number of articles on the blog with regard to suspension. Links to all the articles are detailed below:
Most suspension questions should be answered between those 3 articles.
Q: Does the Hagon shock reduce static sag? If so, what is the seat height?
Yes, the Hagon shock with the spring that I have along with the Hyperpro fork spring reduces static sag considerably. With the bike off the side stand and standing free without load the seat height is increased to 93cm (930mm).
Q: What tyres are you using on your trip?
I’ll be setting off on a pair of Continental TKC80s. These are great 50/50 tyres for road and off-road use. I am aware that people with high power bikes complain that they wear quickly on the tarmac but, on my little 24HP CRF250 this isn’t going to be an issue. Whether I’ll be able to get another pair of TKC80s as I travel I don’t know, so it may be a case of just buying whatever is available when they wear out. I imagine I am going to need 3 or 4 pairs of tyres over the duration of the trip so we’ll see what I end up using as time goes on.
Q: What hand guards are you using? Are they any good?
I’ve fitted a pair of Zeta XC hand guards to the bike. I like them because the plastic hand guard can be unscrewed and replaced if it gets broken and the aluminium mount bar provides great protection for the brake and clutch levers in the event of a drop.
Are they any good? Well they saved my hands a few times now from bushes and branches and the levers didn’t get broken in the falls I’ve had off-road so, I guess that must mean they are good.
Q: Where do you get your stuff from?
A multitude of places! Ebay, Amazon, local motorcycle dealerships, overseas … there are many. I’ve put together a list of suppliers on my suppliers page.
Q: Are you going to change the chain and sprockets?
Yes, I’ve got rid of the cheap and nasty OEM chain and sprockets and replaced them with a DID 520VX3 chain and JTS sprockets. I’ve kept the sprocket sizes standard, 14/40.
Q: Have you changed the handle bars and/or fitted bar risers?
Yes, both! On my first venture off-road with the CRF250 Rally it was immediately clear to me that I needed to raise the handle bars up a bit as I was having to lean over too much to reach them when standing.
I decided to change the bars for a better quality item as the OEM handles bars flex very easily and I could see them getting bent out of shape very quickly.
This is a good question! I’ve spent ages trying on different skid lids trying to find one that really fits me well and that isn’t too heavy or noisy in the wind. Time and time again I kept coming back to the Nolan N702X. I have a Nolan helmet for road riding and really like it and this 702X really works for me. It’s great in that it’s convertible so I can remove the peak if I want, remove the chin bar and make it an open face helmet and wear it with the visor or goggles. It just ticks all the boxes. The other great thing is that my Sena headset will also fit. Money now spent, I’m really pleased with my decision.
Q: Are you wearing KLIM motorcycle clothing for the trip?
Simple answer is No. KLIM maybe nice clothing but it should be. At almost £2000 for a pair of trousers and a jacket they ought to be gold plated too! I’ve been using RST motorcycle clothing for some time and really like it but, it’s a bit hot in the summer months. After looking around and trying many different outfits on I opted for the Rev’It OffTrack jacket and Sand3 trousers. The reason I got the different trousers is that no one in Europe had the Offtrack trousers in stock and there wasn’t going to be another manufacture run until mid 2020. On the plus side, the Sand3 trousers are made of a slightly heavier material which should wear better especially when kneeling fixing punctures or repairing the bike. Both the trousers and jacket can zip together and have the complete 3 layer system meaning that in the really hot areas like the Gobi Desert I can remove the inner water proof layer and the warm quilted layer leaving me with just the thin outer shell with the back, elbow and shoulder protection.
Q: What tools are you taking with you?
I’ve based my tool pack on the tools I’ve needed to do the jobs on the bike during the preparation stage. I’m sure there are tools in the pack that others wouldn’t take and tools that others take that I’m not. It’s a personal thing and also takes into account my attitude towards risk which may be different to everyone else.
The above image shows all the tools that I’ve included in the pack so lets go through what we have here.
Spanners: 19/12/10/8mm. Tyre Levers: 3 x including a Motion Pro tyre lever/ring spanner combo for the rear axle. Allen Keys: 6mm Long and short, 5mm long and short, 4mm & 3mm Long. Electrical Screwdrivers: Large, medium and small flat head and large and medium cross head. Sockets: 17/14/13/12/10, 10mm Sparc plug socket, 17/14mm Hex for front axle, Bahco 1/4in socket set and 3 x socket to ring spanner converters so that I don’t need to take a socket wrench with me. Electrical: Multimeter, cable/zip ties, insulation tape and a length of electrical cable. Miscellaneous: Valve removal tool, pliers with wire cutter edge, stanley knife, Hagon rear shock C spanner, Tutoro priming magnet, plastic fuse puller and tyre pressure gauge.
I also have an electric 12v tyre pump and head torch that are not shown in the picture.
I also recommend you take a look at Matt Boyle’s video about his tool kit that he takes on his CRF250 Rally adventures.
Q: What spare parts are you taking with you?
I’m taking the following spares with me:
Complete clutch plate set and clutch housing gasket. Front and rear brake pads. 5 x oil filters and gaskets. 1 x air filter Front and rear wheel bearing kits Head stock bearing kit 2 x spark plugs Spare bulbs and fuses Puncture repair kit Spare inner tubes Front and rear sprockets
Well I think that just about covers all the questions I get asked regularly online. If I have any more I’ll add them to this page.
This morning I have taken the decision to delay the trip until 2021 at the earliest due to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the fact that I can no longer get travel insurance due to the FCO advising against all travel internationally.
I had already bought travel insurance that was due to start on May 1st 2020 however, since the FCO now advise against all travel that insurance would be useless and provide no cover whatsoever as it clearly states that if the FCO advise against travel it would become invalid.
Based on this I have had to cancel the insurance policy and get a refund thus making it impossible to travel.
This is probably not a bad thing looking at how the Coronavirus is panning out globally at the moment.
To say it’s frustrating is an understatement as I will now lose the £538.00 spent on getting my Russian visa as they are currently refusing to extend the visa for next year. Hopefully this stance will change but, it’s highly unlikely.
So until then it’s a case of continuing with the social lockdown that is currently in place in the UK and staying healthy.
Since I’m delayed going on my adventure due to the COVID-19 global pandemic I thought I’d use the time constructively to cover some of the things I’ve been doing during my preparation that I haven’t blogged about yet.
Whilst investigating GPS solutions for the trip it soon became obvious that Garmin don’t really cover the entire world when it comes to maps for their GPS devices, especially the Garmin Zumo 350LM that I have and use regularly on my bikes.
So I started to investigate the Open Source alternatives for mapping and soon discovered that Open Street Maps can be compiled into the correct format for the Garmin series of devices.
Having worked in IT all my professional life I’m am somewhat of a techie and have a good understanding of Open Source Software and how to apply it to everyday needs.
Open Street Map is an Open Source project that has been going for a number of years now. Originally started by Steve Coast in the UK in 2004, it was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and the predominance of proprietary map data in the UK and elsewhere.
The Open Street Map website provides a fairly simple user interface to select and generate maps based on squares. For most travellers the easiest way to get the mapping information is to select the country from the drop down lists, enter your email address and then click the “Build my Map” button.
This will generate two emails, one to confirm that the request has been received and how long it is going to take to generate your map and then a second email detailing the link where the ZIP file containing the image files can be downloaded from.
This is the easy bit!
Once you’ve downloaded the ZIP file containing the .img image files you need to use a tool to convert them to Garmin GPS compatible format.
Since I’m an Apple MacBook and Ubuntu Linux user I will show how to generate the Garmin compatible files using Linux tools.
If you’re using a variety of the Windows Operating System please have a look here for the details on how to do this. It does appear to be much more complicated!
Using a Linux Terminal window unzip the ZIP file and list the contents as shown below.
Once the files are unzipped you need to generate the gmapsupp.img file that Garmin GPS devices require to interpret the map data. This is easily generated using the mkgmap tool on the command line. Default installs of Linux don’t have this tool installed and so you will need to install it using the following command:
sudo apt-get install mkgmap
Once installed you are ready to proceed by issuing the following command:
mkgmap –gmapsupp ./*.img
As you can see above, once the programme has run you will have the necessary gmapsupp.img file ready to go into the Garmin folder on your device SD card. Note that the folder must have an uppercase G for it to be recognised by the device.
Once the Open Street Map is on the SD card it will appear on the device under the “myMaps” menu item as shown above. The maps are always called OSM Street Map and not by the country name. It’s also worth nothing that you can only have one gmapsupp.img file at a time in the Garmin folder on the SD card as you cannot have two files with the same name.
If like me you are going on a trip and need to have many countries stored then the best thing to do is create a folder structure and keep each country gmapsupp.img file in a separate folder, then all you will need to do is copy the appropriate file into the Garmin folder for each country as you move around.
If don’t have the facility to generate these files yourself please contact me on social media and I’ll happily generate the files for you.
As I’m writing this article I’m watching the update emails come in from the FCO website detailing border closures and states of emergency being declared by most of the countries I need to transit through in order to get to my goal of visiting Mongolia.
So far, Czechia and Slovakia have closed their borders to UK citizens. Georgia and Azerbaijan have put in place tight controls on people entering the country if they’ve come from the UK or via Germany including no access at all during March/April.
Mongolia has closed it’s borders with Russia completely meaning there is currently no way in or out of Mongolia as the borders with China are also closed. If you do manage to get into Mongolia currently there are strict travel restrictions in place to stop the spread of infection since Mongolia currently doesn’t have a single case of infection.
The ‘stans are also now starting to limit access to their region of Central Asia.
As time goes on, more and countries will declare states of emergency and close borders. President Macron of France is considering this at the moment which, if it happens will mean the only way out of the UK to the EU mainland will be via Hoek Van Holland, which is also currently under threat.
So what does this mean for my trip?
Well, at the moment there is no point in me going anywhere as I can only get as far as Germany and then I’m stuck. Each time I look for an alternative route the country I am looking to transit via closes their border or limits access to those that are not from the UK or other infected countries.
I am now looking at leaving the UK at the beginning of May instead of April, I’m hoping this will allow time for the peak infection to pass and for countries to relax travel restrictions such that I will be able to transit my way to Mongolia and back.
This has meant that I’ve needed to move the commencement date of my travel/medical insurance which I’ve been able to do with ease and am now looking to move my ferry crossing with Stena Line.
After almost 2 years of planning and preparing for this trip this is deeply annoying and indeed frustrating to say the least. I just want to get on and go now, everything is ready.
If it turns out that I cannot go in May then it will mean I will have to cancel the trip for this year as the weather window will no longer be viable for such a trip. Lets hope it doesn’t come to this!
With only 21 days left before I leave blighty I’m going through the last few items of preparation.
Today it’s been checking over the camping gear whilst the weather is good and getting the camera mounts sorted on the bike.
The tent hasn’t been out since it’s last visit to Wales and the subsequent cleaning and drying after the torrential rain we had there. Glad to say it’s all dry and clean with no mould!
I’ve also been sorting out the camera mounts on the bike. So far I’ve got a mount on the front of the bike and one at the rear. The rear mount is actually a selfie stick mounted to the Tusk pannier rack so that I can extend it and do pieces to camera easily. It’ll also hopefully give me good rear and forward shots too whilst riding.
The front mount is quite handy as it can look forward and aft so hopefully I may be able to get some shots of me riding … or falling off!
I have been looking for some places to mount the cameras on the side panels of the bike but everywhere I have tried the view is blocked by something. I’ll have to do some more research into interesting camera angles to see if I can improve the current setup at all.
Once purchased you then have to buy a satellite subscription package for the device to actually work. Satellite time isn’t cheap and there are a number of different packages and ways to pay depending on what level of support you want and how long you want to have access for.
It’s worth nothing the charges for messages and track points on the cheapest package, if you do the math you’ll find that with tracking on it’s not as cheap as it initially looks!
So, firstly lets look at the device itself.
The device is really nicely put together and feels like a quality product in the hand. The buttons are very tactile and give positive feedback when pressed. Sizewise it’s as tall as an iPhone 7 Plus and about 2/3 of the width across the screen but much thicker of course. The battery is supposed to last unto 100hrs depending on settings used. I should imagine this time will reduce in extremely low temperatures. The device comes with a clip for attaching it to a jacket or rucksack and a huge carabina which I think could had been smaller and just as effective. You can of course remove the carabina should you wish,
I won’t go into the full functionality of the device as it’s all available on the Garmin website.
MapShare is a web based mapping service that allows you to give family and friends access to a portal where they can track your location pretty much realtime. This is great if like me, you have a wife at home that needs to know where you are during your wild adventures into uncharted territories. This works pretty well and even enables the user to send messages to you via satellite, ping you to see exactly where you are now and see how your journey is progressing but, where it falls down is in the route planning.
One of the main attractions of these kind of devices is the ability to plan your route and then follow it, just like any other GPS device. Unfortunately you can only put routes together on the MapShare website, you cannot create a route on the EarthMate app or the device, a huge disadvantage if you don’t have internet access!
When you do have internet access putting together a route is a rather clunky exercise.
Planning my route to Harwich for example, I initially zoomed in so that I could plan the route at a detailed level following the exact roads that I needed to take, this is great until you come to need to move the map so that you can see the next part of the road. It turns out that whilst you are in route planning mode you cannot move the map, this means that you cannot plan the entire journey at a detailed level. If you complete the route and save it, move the map and then edit the route you find that you cannot add more roads on to the route, all you can do is alter the existing route making it impossible to plan a route at a detailed level.
Zooming the map out so that you can see your start and finish point and then planning the route is successful however, once saved and then zoomed into you will find that your route isn’t actually on the roads you want and the route is actually across fields and through buildings!
This simple functionality of being able to plan the route at a detailed level and move the map at the same time really isn’t rocket science to achieve and is a major failing on Garmin’s part. In this day and age with the tech available this whole MapShare web app could be so much better than it is.
The rest of the functionality on the site is the same, clunky, difficult to use and cannot be done at a detailed level. This is a real shame and a massive disappointment.
Moving onto the EarthMate app, it too is somewhat disappointing. It is basically a cut down version of the web based system but with even less functionality. It also needs to have an internet connection to function correctly defeating the object completely.
To be able to get the routes into EarthMate that were planned on the MapShare web service the phone on which the app is running has to have internet access to be able to sync the route information. This works well when you have an internet connection but if you are in the middle of nowhere you have no chance so, it’s important to plan as many routes as possible when you have internet access and sync immediately.
Once you’ve activated the route it then appears on the main screen map and you are able to zoom in and out. Your heading, elevation and LAT/LONG coordinates are visible at all times. It’s worth nothing that this is not a turn by turn GPS app and so you will have to watch the map as you move to ensure you take the right turn.
Looking at the good features of the Garmin Explorer+ it’s tracking facility is great and works without the need for internet access. You can choose how often your tracking information is sent to the MapShare service via it’s satellite link, I’ve chosen 1min track intervals sent every 10mins which seems to work well and provide a fairly detailed view of the day’s travelling.
The big feature of these inReach devices is the SOS service. This service comes as part of any of the subscription packages and enables the user of the device to raise an alarm should they need urgent assistance. When an alarm is raised it’s immediately handled by Geos Travel Safety in America.
Once an alarm is raised they will contact you immediately via the device messaging service and obtain details of the emergency. They are also immediately notified of your current location. The user of the device can communicate with the Geos support team and provide them with updates as the emergency unfolds. The Geos team will then coordinate with local rescue teams on the ground and arrange your recovery.
The SOS can be initiated via the Garmin device directly or on the EarthMate phone app as long as it has bluetooth connectivity with the device.
It’s worth nothing that for an annual fee of just £19.99 you can cover yourself for up to US$100,000 of rescue fees including helicopter recovery should it be necessary, well worth it in my opinion.
The other good thing about the Garmin Explorer+ is that you can send messages to mobile phones via SMS or email directly from the device without the need for an internet connection, this is ideal when you want to let your wife know all is well when in the middle of nowhere.
You can also send the messages from your mobile phone even when you have no internet connection as the phone uses bluetooth to send the message via the devices satellite connection.
You can also send free test messages that reply to you automatically so that you can check whether you have satellite connectivity or not.
So, to summarise, the Mapshare web app could be much better than it is and really needs an update, same with the EarthMate app. It’s really cheap to develop good phone apps these days so there really is no excuse.
The device itself is really good, rugged, waterproof and has all the functionality I need on my trip through Central Asia. It’s also worth mentioning that the Garmin inReach devices use the Irridium satellite network which has 100% global coverage unlike some of the other devices available on the market today.
Was it a good buy? I think so as it gives peace of mind to my lovely wife and enables her to keep in touch with me all the time and of course the SOS functionality really is a must when travelling alone.