We’re now two weeks into the COVID19 U.K. wide lockdown with no definite date for when the restrictions will be relaxed. The weather has changed and it’s been glorious, typical really, great weather but banned from riding!
My Kawasaki Versys 1000 has never been so shiny and the CRF250 Rally is raring to go on an adventure. The bikes have spent the last month in the workshop/garage and so I got them out over the last weekend to warm them up and let them breath.
Hopefully in a few weeks time I’ll be able to get them back out onto the road again and get a few miles in.
Since the trip to Mongolia and back looks like it’s not going to be possible this year I’ve been wondering if I could do some sort of mini adventure around the U.K. once the lockdown is over. I’ll keep mulling this idea over and see if it comes to anything.
A few of us in the HUBB Facebook group have been talking about meeting up for a weekend of camping and trail riding so that’s something to look forward to.
In the meantime, I’ll just carry on doing all the jobs I’ve been putting off for ages … almost at the end of the list!
I’m very fortunate in that I have a very well equipped workshop with some tools on the shelves that are almost as old as I am.
Some time back I bought a larger side stand foot for the CRF250 Rally however, when I came to fit it I found that it had been badly machined and wasn’t going to work in it’s OEM state. At the time I had a lot going on work wise and so it got put to one side for another day.
Today that day came! In the first week of the CoronaVirus lock down here in the U.K. I’ve been going round doing lots of little jobs that I’ve been putting off for ages. Today it was the turn of the side stand foot.
When the foot originally arrived the fixing holes hadn’t been threaded properly and so the supplied screws didn’t fit at all. I guess I shouldn’t of expected anything better as it was from China via eBay.
So, after much offering up and pontificating I decided to drill out the existing holes, rethread them for a larger more suitable bolt and get it fitted properly.
One of the things that I have on the shelf is a tap and die set, not something that gets used a lot but, over the years it’s come in handy quite a few times.
I drilled the holes out to 4.2mm and needed a 5mm tap to thread the holes. Since the foot is made of alluminium threading the holes was fairly easy.
Before putting the thread in I checked to see what spare bolts I had. In the spare bolts jar I found 3 x M5 0.8 allen bolts, perfect for the job. I soon had the holes tapped and checked everything lined up.
There’s a certain pleasure to be had from doing these simple but, enjoyable jobs using skills that a were learnt back in your teenage years. Adding a little thread lock to each bolt the foot was soon fitted and tested.
With the new suspension the bike sits much taller than it did on stock suspension which means that the bike now leans over quite a bit more when on the side stand. With the new foot added it makes the side stand slightly longer overall and thus stands the bike up a little.
Hopefully now it won’t sink too much in the sand and mud like it used too!
Once the lockdown is over, I’ll get the bike out and give it a proper test to see how it performs in the wet and slippery stuff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.