Garmin inReach, MapShare and EarthMate

After much thought a few weeks ago I decided to purchase a Garmin inReach Explorer+ GPS and satellite communicator. At £415.00 this is a serious investment but, that’s only the beginning of it.

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.

What I do want to talk about is the Garmin Mapshare online Service and the EarthMate phone app.

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.

MapShare route planning

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.

Switching on the route in EarthMate app

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.

The route once it is activated

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.

Messaging interface on the EarthMate app

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.

Suspension upgrade, was it worth it?

First rollout of the CRF250 Rally after the suspension upgrade

When I purchased the CRF250 Rally for this trip I viewed it as a cheap base platform ready for conversion into the adventure bike that I needed for the trip. At less than £5000 new on the road it really is a lot of bike for the money. With 43mm Showa forks upfront, 21in and 18in wheels, good ground clearance, LED lighting and a proven 250cc single cylinder engine this little bike has some serious potential.

When I initially got the bike I did nothing to it, just rode a mix of on and off-road for 2500 miles to work out what needed doing to make it right for me.
It wasn’t long before I had a list of things that I needed to do to the bike to make it adventure ready, most of which I have already written articles about on the blog.

Suspension is one of the things I left to last as I needed to have a good idea about weight before I could order what was necessary.

HyperPro spring kit for the CFR250 Rally

I decided to fit the HyperPro progressive spring in place of the OEM spring as it gets great reviews, is sensibly priced and available in the UK from a reputable suspension business via Ebay.

Installation is fairly straight forward and is well documented on Youtube and so I won’t got into the fitting process here.

The HyperPro kit also comes with replacement oil for the forks which improves damping considerably.

For the rear I went with the British manufactured Hagon shock, it’s a quality unit that has both preload and damping adjustment and is extremely well priced at £299.50.

The great thing about ordering a shock from Hagon is that you can talk to their tech team and discuss what you are going to be using the shock for and how you intend to load it. The outcome of the discussion that I had with them was that they wanted to build a custom shock for me using a higher rated spring so that the unit coped better with the load and terrain I was going to be using it in.

So, total cost of the suspension upgrade was £419.45 (£299.50 + £119.95), almost 10% of the value of the bike.

Today I had my first ride on the bike since completing all the work and was amazed at how different the bike felt to ride. The first thing that hit me was how much taller the bike now stands. The unladen sag is considerably less as is the laden sag. Climbing on I now find I can only just touch the ground whereas before I could get both feet down. I would go as far as to say that the bike is a good 2-3in taller than previously when I’m sat on it.

My initial concern was would I be able to dabble when off-roading as now it’s very much one foot down only.

Setting off down the road the first thing I realised was how plush the ride felt. The suspension soaked up the lumps and bumps in the country lanes in a much firmer manner than before but, felt very plush. Steering is also much improved. Gone is the vague wandering front end that used to plague me in the twisties and instead, I now have a much more confident feeling, planted front wheel that gives me plenty of feedback even when pushing hard.

Under hard braking the front end no longer pushes through the mid section of the stroke causing the front forks to bottom out as before, it’s now much firmer and doesn’t get anywhere near to the end of the mid part of the stroke. Hitting a couple of trails I know well, the front suspension didn’t bottom out once, even on a series of whoops that normally cause things to get totally out of control, the bike handled the terrain perfectly. I enjoyed it so much I went back and had another go!

The rear Hagon shock also handled the whoops much better, not once did it bottom out and the damping was unbelievably good compared to the OEM shock. I found myself riding faster than I had before as the bike felt so much more confident both on and off-road.

I also have to note the tyres, the new Continental TKC80s are superb. Loads of grip on the road and good off-road too. For a 50/50 tyre they’re certainly worth every penny. The difference between the TKC80s and the OEM tyres is light and day!

So, is it worth upgrading the suspension on the CRF250 Rally?

The simple answer is Yes! The bike becomes much more confident, more capable, more comfortable and will boost your off-road confidence dramatically and it won’t get out of shape as easily as it does with the OEM suspension.

Fitting the Tutoro chain oiler

Since I’ve had a Tutoro chain oiler on my Kawasaki Versys 1000 from new and it’s been faultless for the last 12000 miles I decided to fit another one to my adventure bike for the trip.

Having a Tusk pannier frame and rack on the CRF250 Rally is actually a bonus as it creates the perfect mounting point for the oil reservoir which would be difficult to mount on a stock machine.

Oil reservoir mounted nicely behind the left hand pannier

The oil reservoir comes with a selection of mounting brackets that probably work on most bikes however, for this installation I had to modify one of the supplied mount to make it work. The oiler comes with a neat little 90 degree bend mount that I had to straighten in order for it to work with the Tusk frame.

As you can see in the photo above, there is a very short straight mount between the bottom of the reservoir and the back of the Tusk cross bar. I straightened it out with a hammer on an anvil gently so as to not crack and break it on the bend. This seemed to work well and has mounted perfectly.

Since I’m going to be riding a lot of washboard trails I also put a cable tie through the spare mount hole in the bottom of the reservoir and around the frame so if the mount bracket does break I won’t lose it.

Cable tie in place to save the reservoir in event of mount failure

Tutoro also very kindly sent me the metal protection cover for the glass reservoir so that it doesn’t get broken by flying stones when riding off-road.

The oiler kit comes with a long length of clear plastic tubing for the oil delivery. This is really easy to route on the CRF250 Rally as there are plenty of places to tie it to. Leaving the bottom of the reservoir it runs neatly behind the Givi GRT709 pannier mount and then along the metal tubing that makes up the Tusk frame.

From the Tusk frame the tube runs down the subframe tube and then along the side of the swinging arm towards the chain stone guard under the rear of the swinging arm.

Oil delivery nozzle mounted in lower chain guard

The CRF250 Rally has a neat little plastic stone guard as standard. To mount the oil delivery nozzle directly over the chain just before it arrives at the rear sprocket it was necessary to drill two little holes in the top of the plastic guard and pass a cable tie through to form a loop. I then passed the delivery nozzle and tube through this loop and tightened the cable tie as show above. This provides the perfect mounting place for the oil delivery nozzle ensuring the chain is lubricated centrally.

Cable tie mount for oil delivery nozzle

The photo above shows the top of the chain guard and the cut off cable tie that holds the oil delivery nozzle in place.

This works a treat and allows plenty of clearance for the chain to pass without contact.

Oil delivery nozzle

The oil delivery nozzle sits perfectly between the stone guard and the rear sprocket with plenty of clearance for all components in the drive chain.

Bleeding the il feed system

The Tutoro oiler relies solely on gravity to deliver the oil to the chain and thus it’s important not to have any up hill runs in the delivery tube. Once everything is secured in place it’s just a matter of filling the reservoir and opening the flow control valve to maximum whilst putting the master valve opener magnet on top of the reservoir.

This then allows the oil to run freely down the delivery tube to the nozzle. Since it’s still winter here the oil is rather thick and so this process took about 15mins. If you’re installing this in the summer you’ll find that the oil runs through much quicker.

Once the oil arrives at the nozzle it’s just a case of adjusting the valve to restrict the oil flow such that there is just a drop every 30secs or so. Once this is done remove the magnet and the installation is complete.

These oilers really are very simple to install and work extremely well.

Remember that in the summer months you will need to close the flow valve slightly as the oil will flow easier due to temperature and then in winter open it up again. I have found on my Kawasaki that there is normally a 1 to 1.5 turn difference on the valve between winter and summer.

New rear shock has arrived!

After a rather long wait my new Hagon rear shock absorber has arrived!

To say I’m happy is an understatement. I ordered it at the beginning of January but since it’s a custom build Hagon had to wait for the custom spring to be made and shipped to them however, the wait was worth it.

Hagon CRF250 Rally rear shock absorber

Upon opening the box I was really impressed with the quality of the product. The shock is beautifully manufactured and put together. The finishing is of a very high quality and the casting/machining of the parts is second to none. I’m really pleased to see such a high quality product come out of a British company. So many companies today just sell cheap Chinese imports it’s refreshing to receive something that is completely made in the Britain.

As you can see from the photos above, the casting and finishing of the product is superb, a complete contrast to the OEM Honda shock that the bike comes with.

The photos above clearly show how cheap the Honda shock is. It’s made from parts that are just welded together to make up a shock of sorts whereas the Hagon shock is fabricated from quality machined parts.

The Red Honda shock compared to the Black Hagon shock.

The Hagon spring is slightly heavier in gauge compared to the Honda spring. The Honda spring is a 70kg unit whereas the Hagon is a 100kg unit. It’s also worth noting how much thicker the shaft is inside the spring, the Hagon shaft is close to twice the thickness of the Honda shaft thus enabling it to handle the stress of off-road riding better.

The Hagon unit also has much more compression adjustment and comes complete with damping adjustment, something the Honda unit doesn’t have.

Fitting the new shock to the bike was easy and I’m pleased to say that the tolerances on the fittings were much better than the OEM shock.

So now the new shock is on the bike I can finally get the bike back together and get it back on the road.

With the new HyperPro front suspension and now this new Hagon rear shock I’m hoping the bike is going to be considerably better on and off-road than it was before.

Suspension review coming soon!

Travel and Medical Insurance

Insurance is the biggest legal scam in the world but, we all need to have it for one reason or another and taking on a trip like the one I’m about to undertake definitely needs some sort of medical insurance as riding off-road for thousands of miles is fraught with potential accidents!

I’ve spent hours filling in forms on travel insurance websites and making calls to insurance providers trying to find the best option for my trip. Many of the companies I’ve spoken to bork the moment you mention ‘motorcycle’ and/or ‘off-road’ and others have no interest in insuring you for more than 30 days.

One company I did find will cover everything I need and didn’t bork or flinch at all no matter what I threw at them.

Navigator Travel Insurance Services Ltd. do have two specific policies for adventure riders that want to travel to regions of the world that are way outside of the norm.

Their Motorcycle Silver and Gold polices don’t come cheap, but they do cover a lot for the money and for a tiny additional fee you can have a policy with no excess. (Well worth doing!)

Note: I am in no way connected with Navigator Travel Insurance Services Ltd. I’m just putting it out there for those trying to arrange an adventure motorcycle trip.

Spending money like water!

Ever since I was young I’ve always got excited about getting new motorcycle clothing and never more so than now.

Getting organised for this trip has been a mammoth task spread over many months and I’m still not completely ready as I’m still waiting to hear about my Russian Visa application.

The last few days have been great as all my new gear has been trickling in.

The small stuff is just as important as the big stuff!

One thing that’s very clear is that the small stuff is often more important than the big stuff! Things like fuel and water filters will be critical to my health and the bike’s, without both we could come unstuck in some of the countries I’m going through.

A good set of paper maps and an old fashioned compass will certainly come in very handy when navigating across the Kazakh steppe, the wilds of Mongolia and Siberia, especially if all the electronics fail.

Tools are extremely important as I’m going to be totally self sufficient throughout the trip so I’m trying to ensure I can cope with most breakdowns but, without taking too many heavy tools.

SD cards aren’t a life saving item but a nice to have for the two Crosstour and Canon cameras I’ll be taking with me. Of course, the latrene shovel is to be considered a necessity these days when wild camping!

Since I already have a Trangia cooker I decided to stick with it and have purchased the multi-fuel burner for it. This new burner will allow me to cook using petrol for fuel, this means that I’ll only need to carry one type of fuel with me for all needs. I’ll be testing the new burner this coming weekend!

During the trip I’m going to need to be able to cope with extremes of temperature so I decided to purchase some new biking gear that has the facility to remove both the warm winter lining and the inner water proof layer. This will I hope, keep me relatively cool in the hot desert temperatures and warm in the below zero mountain climbs.

I’ve tried on loads of outfits over the last few months and not really liked any of them apart from the Rev’It! OffTrack jacket and trousers. The jacket is fairly light for a 3 layer system but also well put together. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a pair of matching trousers from anywhere in Europe and so have gone with the Sand3 trousers. These are made of a slightly heavier material but should be harder wearing. Again the trousers consist of a 3 layer system so should work well in both hot and cold climes.

My Nolan helmet that I use for road riding has now reached it’s end of life, it’s serviced me well over the years but like all good things in life, they never last forever.

Like riding gear, I tried many helmets but kept coming back to Nolan, they just tick all the boxes for me.

I finally decided to go with the Nolan N702X crash helmet. It’s a great design which allows the chin bar to be removed as well as incorporating a full face visor and dark sun visor. I find the Nolan helmets fit my odd shaped head very well and are comfortable enough to be worn all day without problem. The other big bonus is that my Sena headset will fit perfectly too!

The only other thing I’m waiting for now is the Hagon rear shock absorber for the bike, once I have it I can finally get the bike back together and on the road for some test rides.

Exciting times!

Automatic Chain Oiler

I’ve decided to fit an automatic chain oiler on the Honda CRF250 Rally so that I don’t have to constantly worry about the chain being lubed. I’ve had one on my Kawasaki Versys 1000 from new and I have to admit it has been brilliant. The chain on the Versys 1000 has only had to be adjusted twice in over 11000 miles and this is largely due to the fact that it is always well lubricated.

Following my quest to buy British I’ve purchased the same Tutoro automatic chain oiler for the CRF that I have on the Versys. The great thing about the Tutoro oiler is that it doesn’t need to be hooked up to the vacuum side of the injector and neither does it need a power feed. This makes it very simple to maintain and also reduces the risk of problems with the engine should something like the vacuum pipe split and allow extra air into the injector mix.

Tutoro Chain Oiler

The Tutoro oiler switches on and off the feed of the oil simply by using the motion of the motorcycle moving. As the bike moves along a road of trail the movement up and down as it hits bumps etc cause the valve inside the oil chamber to open and allow a predetermined amount of oil to flow. This simple mechanical process needs no adjustment and is perfectly reliable. The flow rate of the oil onto the chain can be adjusted by simply opening or closing the little vale on the oil chamber.

Oil flow adjustment control on the bottom of the oil chamber

Once I’ve got it fitted to the bike I’ll add some more photos to this article.

The Russian Visa Application Centre

Today was the day that I went to the big city of London. I’ve not been there for a while and generally it’s a place I try my best to avoid after working there for far too many years.

My first port of call was to visit Timo Taal at the Almont Group visa agency to complete the paperwork and pay for the visa (See article below about Almont Group). It was great to finally meet Timo as we have conversed by phone and email many times but never face to face. I soon had all the paperwork done and headed off to the Russian Visa Application Centre to give my biometric information.

Upon arrival I was welcomed by big burly Russian gent who gave me a numbered ticket and asked me to take a seat in the waiting area. 30mins later my number popped up on the screen and I presented myself to the young lady sat behind the desk. She diligently went through my visa application forms that had been prepared by Timo previously and confirmed all was good. I then gave my biometric information as requested and was on my way. All done very politely and efficiently.

One thing I did notice during my time at the centre was the number of people turned away because of paperwork issues. This made me realise that it is well worth getting an agency to do all the paperwork in advance as they know exactly how to do things correctly, first time.

Since it’s not a cheap exercise, over £500 for a 12 month multi-entry visa, it is worth getting it done right.
Hopefully by the beginning of March 2020 I will have my Russian visa ready for the trip.

It’s just arrived!

After much debate, pontificating and research my latest tool for the trip has just arrived!

Garmin InReach Explorer+

I finally decided to purchase a Garmin InReach Explorer+ for the trip to Mongolia and back. It’s quite an initial investment which is then followed by considerable outlay for the satellite and SOS package but, my wife will be able to relax knowing I’ll have SOS support should I need it and she’ll be able to track my whereabouts 24/7. (And there I was thinking I’d escape for 6 months!)

I’ll write a more detailed article about setting up the device and purchasing the satellite package in the next few weeks.


So I entered into the dark world of vaccinations today and what a rabbit hole it is!

In January 2019 when I was at the Adventure Travel Show in London I met some lovely nurses from the Fleetstreet Clinic who told me exactly what vaccinations I needed.

The list consisted of the following vaccinations:

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE)

Seeing the nurse at my local GP surgery this morning I discovered that my Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio jabs are up to date so they aren’t required.

Hep A & B and Typhoid I could start today on the NHS, Typhoid being 1 single injection and the Hep A & B being 3 injections each spread over a number of weeks. 1st injections done, new appointments made for the next two set of injections.

So this now leaves the TBE and Rabies jabs. These are available on the NHS but at a cost which is fair enough however, unfortunately my GP surgery doesn’t have stock and won’t get them in time for my trip so I’ll have to get them done privately.

The nurse recommended a company called MASTA Travel Health so I gave them a call when I got home. After being in a queue for ages I got through to what sounded like an Indian call centre, this is where the fun started!

After a long drawn out conversation on the phone it was clear they were going to take me for every pound they could. The chap said I would have to pay for a wellness telephone interview, then if I pass this a face to face health check and if I pass this a one to one travel interview, all of which cost money. I explained I’d already been to my doctors surgery this morning and done all of this and that I just wanted to get the vaccinations but oh no, that wasn’t good enough, their experts are much better. Needless to say I put this conversation to bed swiftly and hung up.

After doing a little more research I found that Boots Pharmacy provide a vaccination service. A quick search on Google and I soon found my local Boots Store contact details. A quick call and conversation with the very helpful lady on the other end and I had an appointment for tomorrow to get both the TBE and Rabies injections started, fantastic!

So the cost for the TBE and Rabies series of jabs (Oh yes there are many!!) is £300.00. I’m guessing when compared to what our cousins over the pond would have to pay this is a very acceptable figure and one I have no issues with.

This just leaves the Cholera Vaccination. Apparently this one isn’t a jab (Hoorah!) but a powder that you mix with water and drink. I’ve yet to have this as the nurse at the GP surgery had to order it, but I’ll get my hands on it soon.

So if you are planning a trip to Central Asia then you need to allow a minimum of two months to get all your vaccinations sorted and will probably feel like a sieve at the end of it!