Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 18, 2013 - Can you hear me now?

I freely admit to being a gear junky and as such I’ve just acquired a couple of cool new items in anticipation of the upcoming summer touring season. One that I’ll mention in this report is Uclear’s HBC 200 Bluetooth helmet set that’s now residing in my new Shoei J-Cruise open faced lid.

This is my first shot at using a Bluetooth system and I was amazed at how easy it was to install. Besides communicating with other riders you can use it to independently manage your phone calls, MP3 player, etc. There’s also the optional setup of running through a GPS so I paired mine with my old Garmin Zumo 550.

My phone is a simple TracFone, the type for which you buy airtime in blocks and there’s no monthly service fee. The GPS accesses the phone’s directory and all you need to do is press whichever one you’d like to call. For dialing there's a button that pops up a digital display screen to use for manual entries. When calls come in a pop-up icon plus an audible signal notifies you. Before answering the caller's ID is displayed at the top of the screen along with two buttons below, answer and ignore. I'm guessing but I expect it only displays callers names of those listed in your phone book, others are probably displayed as unknown. 

All calls are routed through the GPS which also holds a ton of MP3 music, especially if you stuff an 8-gig SD card in it. Besides providing for the music and phone system that’s enough memory to store all of the USA and Canadian maps. Incoming calls override the music if it’s playing as do GPS route instructions so you’re never in danger of missing a call or important turn. Voice levels are clear and easy to understand without static. I’m not sure how they managed but wind noise doesn't seem to pass through into phone calls which is really amazing. 

The Uclear combo speaker-microphone tucks neatly into the Shoei's speaker cavity

When installing it’s necessary to ensure the mikes which are part of the speakers are aimed in the same direction – there’s no boom sticking out which I really like. The speakers are fairly robust and look like they'll handle a fair amount of use. In my Shoei J-Cruise helmet I had to carve out two small notches in the plastic speaker cavities to accommodate the tiny mike's projection - it's about the size of a pencil eraser. I used a high speed Dremel Tool for this and it only took a few minutes.

Pairing the Bluetooth devices was as simple as turning the GPS on and letting it detect the phone, etc. This is a short fast routine that it performs each time you turn it on and only takes a few seconds.

MP3 music is crisp even at high speeds but of course that’s dependent on whether or not you’re riding a fully faired bike, etc. Music selection can be made by genre`, artist, album, etc, and there are pause/play/scan controls. Music volume is independently controlled via the touch screen and there’s no lack of it.

Uclear's Bluetooth receiver
For those people who choose to use the Uclear without going through a GPS there’s a mouse-looking control that mounts on the helmet. Most operators should find it simple enough to use although I like using the Garmin’s touch screen better than poking around on the side of my helmet.It has a blinking blue LED that signifies power is on and also blinks a code when pairing occurs. The unit runs for several hours on battery and the recharge time is barely 2-hours. A small charger is included with the package as are a couple of different mounting setups. 

Overall this seems like a good system, well thought out, self intuitive and reasonably priced. It’s available in a single helmet format or double if you carry passengers. Can you hear me now?


Sunday, May 5, 2013

May 04, 2013 - Red Girl's Big Fat Pannier Lids

One of the nicest features about the Honda NT700 series is its built-in panniers. [aka “saddle bags”] For running around town doing a bit of shopping or picking up a few groceries they’re to die for, you can haul a gallon of milk & a fair sized bag of goodies. There’s also enough room for rain gear and that briefcase for your office biz [in case you’re unfortunate and still involved in the work thing.] Sigh…

The NT's original panniers

The stock panniers are nice enough but when it comes to longer trips, i.e. touring you really need a bit more capacity. Enter the Big Fat Pannier Lids. Available only from Honda dealerships abroad the NT700 owner is not going to find them in the USA. I checked with our local shop, Honda World, and after digging through their parts lists my Internet information was deemed correct; they couldn’t get them. Seems a bit odd doesn't it, you’d think those of us living in the colonies would at least be able to special-order the damn things but no, not so, we have to shop elsewhere. Phooey.  

So, moving right along I contacted Honda of Bournemouth in England where low and behold they would be more than happy to furnish a set. Aside from that they offer accessories for nearly every Honda sold so they’re now permanently marked in my Favorites list. Ordering a set was dead simple, choose the model and color of your bike, fill out the order form, hand over all of your money plus your first-born and you’re all set. Frankly I was prepared to wait several weeks for delivery so imagine my surprise when they turned up nine days later. That’s faster than a lot of companies here in the USA manage; very good service indeed. Here’s the link to their web site:

Seriously, do these new panniers make my butt look fat?
Size is everything...with panniers anyway

Installation of the new expanded lids is dead simple; you need only remove 4 hinge screws and a retaining strap from each of the original ones, and then mount the new lids in their place. Finally you must transfer 2 small latch attachments from each of the old lids to the new ones and that’s it, done. The entire process takes only a few minutes and you’re ready for the road.

My setup went smoothly just as above however there was just one slight disappointment. During shipment one of the lids was banged hard enough to crack an interior lip, knocking out a small triangular piece of plastic. It’s less than ¼” long and rather than crab to the shipper I took the easy way out; I covered the hole with a combination of black electrical tape reinforced with super glue. Since it’s out of the way there’s no harm done and the repair will surely function as well as the original piece.

Just as I finished my phone rang and it was Chuck Bruce checking in to see if I’d be up to a ride, do lunch, that sort of thing. Talk about timing, I said sure and 30-minutes later I headed over to his place. From there we rode north through Bandon and took the back road west to Charleston, a small fishing town replete with 100’s of boats and the occasional tourist.

Charleston, OR

Our lunch stop was centrally located adjacent to all the docks; a small mom & pop operation catering mostly to fishermen and the odd biker gang [like Chuck & me.] The food was good plus Chuck sprang for lunch which always enhances the flavors. He opted for the Halibut fish & chips while I went for the Cod version. I happen to like Cod the best; maybe because of the oil but that’s how it is. My joints never squeak!

Food...feed me!
Hey where's Larry? Am I getting stuck with the bill again?
I'd own this sign but they take it inside at night...
Mmm, mmm,  oily Cod fish, my favorite!

While we were there one of the owners showed up in his home-built hot rod so we were treated to a lengthy description of the entire build history, etc. Boy there’s a lot parts and pieces that go into one of those things, it’s amazing. 

Have you ever noticed you never see kids driving hot rods? It’s always us old geezer-type guys reliving their lost youth. There’s probably a message there somewhere but I doubt it’s important, we just know how to have fun.

So be it, done for another day and ready for the next farkle.