Sunday, April 10, 2011

FOOTHILLS PARKWAY & THE KLR 650 KAWASAKI

I took a risk today.  The sciatic nerve pain has all but gone for some reason.  I simply awakened three days ago and it was gone.  The vertebrae simply moved back in place while sleeping in a chair.  I don't trust it.  Nor am I going to lay down and die over it.  I decided to take a ride on the motorcycle.  If the pain returned; so be it.
I haven't been on the Foothills Parkway this season yet due to this back malfunction of mine.  I headed out late afternoon today.  I chose Route 129 South to the Southern end of the parkway as it went past Tellico and Chilhowee Dams.
As soon as I saw the water of Chilhoee I wanted to be in the canoe.  But, as the old saying goes;  love the one your with and this afternoon I was with the KLR Kawasaki.
The Foothills Parkway connects Route 129 South with Route 321 West and East.  It's not a particularly long road, maybe 14 miles.  It is, however, a road with spectacular views of the Smoky's.  The surface is perfection and a motorcyclists dream.
Grand views of the mountains are afforded the traveler on both sides of the road.  Many folks come up here to watch the sun set.  There is no better place to sit and watch that big orange ball of sun drop behind the mountains.  The overlooks are manicured and perfectly situated along the route for optimum mountain views.
I am so fortunate to live so close to all this Majesty.  I can leave home and be in these wonderful mountains and on these gorgeous lakes within 15 minutes. 
A lot of friends ask me why I don't use a larger displacement motorcycle.  I have used motorcycles with big engines all my life.  My motorcycle touring background encompasses over a million miles and most of those miles were covered with machines 900 cc and above.
I guess the main reason I drive a small to mid size powered motorcycle is that I'm not as driven to go cross country anymore.  After one has driven all over the West and visited every national park on a motorcycle; he becomes less interested in repeating the cycle over and over.  There was a time that all my off work hours were spent in the saddle of a motorcycle.  Some years I would purchase three motorcycles of the same brand and model just because there were some mid year changes that I just had to have.  Big engines are great for propelling one across the continent but totally unnecessary for handling the mountains and valleys here in the Eastern U.S.  Let me put it this way;  I had a 1200 cc, 130 horsepower BMW Sport model that I rode from 1999 until 2003.  I would drive it 45 to 65 mph on average.  I now have a 600cc machine; half the engine size, that I drive 45 to 65mph.  The insurance is cheaper and the bike weighs a lot less.  It negotiates the mountain curves super and will go off road if I desire.  The fuel mileage averages out to 51 mpg and it sees 59 mpg occasionally.  I can afford to drive it.  A little more about the, "my",  KLR Kawasaki follows:
It is a machine that is easy to handle due to it's smaller size and low weight.  It lacks the horsepower of many of it's brothers but, as I said before; I'm not interested in peak performance any more.  I do want the bike and engine to function perfectly.  Therefore I had to make some modifications to the KLR in order to tailor it to my needs.  For instance;  the side stand on the newer models is too long in my estimation.  The bike never leans at the proper angle to assure it will not tip over in the other direction, especially with a touring load.  The shortened side stand you see below was added to alleviate any chance of the motorcycle standing too "straight up."
I do use this machine to tour with.  Again, speed isn't my goal.  Dependability is.  This bike will cruise at 70 mph all day and not complain.  I needed a means of carrying necessary items and elected to purchase Happy Trails Saddlebags.  They are made of powder coated welded aluminum and are of the quick removable variety.  They are water tight and tough as nails.
Items such as tent, fishing rod, ground cloth and even a spare jacket can be attached to the outside of the lids with straps or bungee cords.  I also installed a center or service stand that will allow the positioning of the motorcycle level when parked.  This would be handy for oil changes and flat tire repair, perish the thought.  A grab or lift handle was installed to pull and lift the bike onto the center stand.
Motorcycles come from the factory tuned the way the government wants them tuned.  Some of these machines will not even run properly. Actually, none of them run properly.  They are sluggish and run very lean which, isn't a bit good for longevity.  Therefore I drilled out the fuel proportioning screw and replaced it with a manual adjustable screw.  It is the brass colored round thing you can see in the bottom of the carburetor.  That small modification alone made this motorcycle drive substantially better than it did when I got it.
 The item you see below is called a tank bag.  It sits atop the fuel tank and allows access to items commonly used throughout the day.  This one is made by Wolfman.  I think it's the best one available for the KLR.
The next item I have added is a windshield.  I am very picky when it comes to shields.  They have to be perfect.  I don't believe the people who manufacture windshields are, or ever were, motorcycle riders.  It seems that windshields are designed more to flow with the lines of the bike and look really "sharp," rather than be functional.  I demand function in my equipment or it's a waste of time and I'll toss it out in the yard with the rest of the stuff that didn't prove to be functional as advertised.  I bought three different shields for this bike before running into the one you see below.  The first two are out in the yard by the fence where computer hardware, jackets, tools and an sundry of other items that didn't work as advertised were discarded over the years..
The shield is dark tinted and I do not look through it.  I look over it..  The top edge of a windshield, in order for it to deflect wind, must be at the riders chin to his nose.  That works!  I've seen shields a foot too low and marketed as wind tunnel tested and labeled the perfect shield.  Any shield where the top edge is lower than one's chin or as tall as the eye line will not function correctly.  Period!  This shield is manufactured by Cee Baily who designs cockpits for jets.  They make good stuff.  It is fully adjustable as can be seen in the following shots:
I ride in some pretty foul weather.  The most sensitive part of my body is my hands.  When my hands are cold I may as well quit.  Hence, heated handlebar grips.  The controller is shown below.  The grips will heat to a point where one can not hold them.  The controller is obviously a necessary item.  Heated grips are really functional even in the Summer on a chilly morning.  It's always chilly on the Blue Ridge Parkway and that's where I like to be.
Last but not least is the power accessory outlet.  It is mounted on the handlebar and I use it to recharge my cell phone and camera batteries while on the move.

There are other modifications I have made with this bike but I won't go into details here.  The idea is to make a fully functional platform for traveling by eliminating as many weak areas of the motorcycle's design that is possible.   I would take this machine anywhere and depend on it.  It's not God's gift to motorcycling but it's a solid traveler.  The average person is better off with a large displacement motorcycle if his desires are long range touring.  As I've said before;  I've been there and done that.  It would be more of a challenge on this little mosquito though.  By the way;  the ride on this little tyke is as good and better than most motorcycles that claim to be touring bikes.  True statement....

Check in tomorrow because Douglas and I will be on Chilhowee Lake in the Gheenoe.

The canoe trailer has shipped so we'll be back in the canoe shortly.  I refuse to lift those canoes up to my shoulders again since this sciatic nerve problem.  Wait until you see the set-up I've got coming.