The Journey

Europe 2015 pt. III: Stuff for my stuff

The last time I wrote about my preparations for my European adventure (back in February), perhaps the biggest development was that I had bought panniers for the Honda. Each holding 33 litres of stuff, the panniers were a quality piece of kit and dramatically improved the look and utility of the bike. 

I put them to good use on a trip to York in late winter and they performed brilliantly. But the bike upon which I had placed them had been giving me cause for concern for a while. Little things had me worrying. A certain squeak in the front brake that never went away –– even after replacing the front pads. A tendency to get stuck in gear or out of gear when the engine had been running particularly hot. Oh-so-slightly loose handlebar switchgear that couldn’t be tightened any further. Dentist-drill vibrations at 80 mph that left my hands tingling for days afterward. A seat that got uncomfortable after 45 miles. The fact it was 10 years old.
As I say: little things. No one of those things was a good enough reason in and of itself to sell the Honda, but collectively they contributed to my desire to do so. Jenn actually sealed the deal on my decision to get my V-Strom (a) when she said: “You write about motorcycles, babe. This is your thing. Of course you can’t just stick to one bike.”
Yeah. I had to get a new bike. My career depended upon it…
Doing so was a mixed blessing. Mostly good, admittedly; I don’t yet know this as irrefutable fact, but the V-Strom 1000 Adventure is almost certainly a perfect machine for traversing Europe. However, it is a step back in terms of luggage space. Combined, the Strom’s panniers offer just 29 litres of storage –– 4 litres less than a single Honda pannier. I went from 66 litres to 29. Not to mention the fact my old magnetic tank bag isn’t compatible.
Fortunately, Jenn gave me a Kriega US20 bag for my birthday and just last week, I scored a massive eBay win thanks to the fact that a seller misspelled “Kriega” and I ended up getting an almost-new Kriega US10 bag for only £9 because I was the only one to bid on it.  (A new US10 retails for about £55 and used ones hold their value frustratingly well on eBay. Before this stroke of luck, I’d never seen one sold for less than £45 –– more than I’m willing to pay for a used item)

With these and the panniers, I’ve got 59 litres of carrying space. Beyond that, I’ve got an old kayaking dry bag that I think holds about 20 litres, which I can strap to the rack. So, about 80 litres in all. I’ll be spending more than three weeks away and will need clothing for a number of different scenarios, but I’m optimistic this will be enough.
If it’s not, I’m considering wearing a small backpack to hold water, sunglasses, a visor cloth and other need-it-right-now essentials. I have two concerns about this plan, however:

Firstly, I have ridden a little bit with the aforementioned backpack and I’m concerned it may be causing pain in my shoulder. Additionally, it is a very old backpack and one part of the chest strap is broken. I’m not sure I can trust it for the full 3,000 miles to Volterra and back.

Secondly, it’s at this point in the planning process that I start down the slippery slope of buying new stuff. If I go with the backpack option, I’m planning to buy a CamelBak reservoir to put in the backpack. Or something similar. I’ve never used one of these things, but having one strikes me as a good idea because:

  1. It will allow me to drink water on the go. I have a bad habit of getting dehydrated when I ride, because I neglect to take the time to stop, pull bottled water from my bag, and drink it.
  2. It will allow me to hold more water –– the plastic bottle I usually carry only holds 500 ml.
  3. If the worst happens and I’m in a crash, the water bladder is less likely to cause me damage. Whereas I sometimes worry that landing wrong on a Nalgene-style bottle could damage my back (in spite of my back protector), or, worse, it could crack and puncture me with shards of plastic.
OK. That last grisly-death-by-water-bottle scenario seems highly unlikely. Stranger things have happened though; hundreds of Americans are killed each year by tortilla chips.
My alternate plan is to just strap a few Nalgene bottles to the Kriega bags somehow. Bungee straps, I guess. And maybe that would be best, anyway, because it would demand I stop and get off the bike every so often. One thing I really hope I can get myself into the mindset of doing on this trip is stopping frequently. To take pictures, to stretch, to refresh myself mentally, and enjoy the fact that I am on an incredible journey across Europe. 
Too often when I consider this (or, in fact, any other) trip, some part of me wants to power across the continent, like when Baron von Grumble rode through 14 countries in 24 hours. Instead, I should be using Jason Warner Smith’s trek across America as inspiration. He took several weeks to cover the distance and made sure to stop every 30-40 miles.
Still, this doesn’t actually get me out of spending money.

When I watched the Baron von Grumble video of his 14-country ride, one aspect of his trip stuck out for me: border checks. He frequently had to produce his passport and, often, a credit card to pay for tolls. His BMW R1200GS had a fancy little compartment on the tank in which to store these things. My V-Strom 1000 does not, so I’m thinking it would be nice to have some sort of a tank or handlebar bag.

Admittedly, the large pockets in my riding trousers could serve that purpose, but, uhm, I don’t know. The thought of that makes me a little nervous. I don’t know why. Plus, the pockets aren’t quite big enough to hold my sunglasses (EDIT: That’s a lie. I just checked; they fit fine).

Ideally, I’d use something like the SW Motech Quick Lock EVO City tank bag. It looks like a really nice bit of kit, and the size of the thing would also remedy my “Where to store water” issue. The drawback, though, is the fact that, good gracious almighty, it’s expensive. Givi have something similar for less, but it is not that much less and it is a lot uglier.

Not to mention the old truth that fixing one problem tends to create another. If you read my review of the Givi GPS holder, you might remember one of my biggest complaints was that it sits too low in my field of vision. So low, in fact, I suspect a tank bag would block it.

To that end, with or without a tank bag I’ve been considering getting a handlebar bracket adapter from Touratech. Basically, it’s just a bar that bolts to your handlebar clamp and allows you to mount stuff a few inches higher. The Touratech website doesn’t say exactly how many inches higher, which is the sort of information you’d kind of like to have if you’re going to fork out £48 for some bits of metal.

That cost is nothing, though, compared to the asking price of a TomTom Rider 400. I’d really like to have one of those. It’s expensive, though. I feel I will need to invest in some kind of new sat nav, however, because the hand-me-down device I’m using at the moment doesn’t have European maps (nor the ability to download said maps). So, if anyone has any suggestions on devices they’ve used I’d appreciate your input.

I won’t want to rely solely on a sat nav, of course. I’m going to want some actual physical maps, as well. Paper maps will help me plot a good route, something that’s challenging on, say, Google Maps, because it’s hard to have a full perspective on mapping software.

I’m guessing I’ll want detailed maps of Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The only other country I’ll be riding through will be the Netherlands (I’ve decided to simplify things and drop the route that would have taken me through Belgium and Luxembourg). My itinerary is such that I don’t foresee getting much chance to explore the Netherlands, so I’ll be on motorway through that stretch.

Which is a shame. Next time. I do really want to spend some time in the Netherlands. If not simply because I’ve never met a Dutch person I didn’t like. And, uhm, the women are easy on the eye. (My friend, Astrid, once came to stay for Christmas and was so intimidatingly beautiful my ex-wife banned her from ever visiting again)

If anyone has experience with a particular map brand they prefer over any other, please let me know. Personally, I’m inclined to go with Michelin. Just because I’m a fan of their tires.

Meanwhile, the issue of the V-Strom’s screen continues to concern me. It’s the only real foible I’ve experienced so far. I lowered the stock screen to its lowest setting and have found doing so improves things a bit, allowing the wind to hit my helmet cleanly rather than having a big ol’ mess of turbulence swarming at the top of my head.

However, I went on a longish ride recently and found myself suffering shoulder/neck pain at the end of the day. This may be because of the aforementioned backpack. Or it may be because the low screen leaves me battling wind gusts. A little more research is necessary.

But even if it turns out the screen isn’t responsible for shoulder pain, I already find myself thinking about getting a Givi AirFlow windscreen. I’ve read a lot of good things about the screen on various V-Strom forums, with a number of the people singing its praises being my height (6 foot 1) or taller.

It’s definitely the sort of thing I’d like to have before next winter –– to help keep the British misery at bay. Although, I wonder about its use on this particular trip. Continental Europe is much warmer in the summer than Britain. Perhaps I’ll want the steady wind blast I get with the stock screen. After all, I’ll be riding in the same old leather jacket I’ve always worn, which has no vents or the like for hot weather.

And that makes me think it would be nice to have a good-quality textile jacket. Something like the Oxford Montreal 2 seems affordable enough. And (rare for Oxford products) I like the look. But, just the other day I happened to be at a Triumph dealer and tried on a Triumph Traveller jacket that I really liked. It’s the bee’s knees. And it’s got loads of pockets. Enough, perhaps, to eliminate the need to get a tank bag.

And if you take that into consideration –– you know, subtracting the cost of a tank bag from the cost of the jacket –– it makes the price of the Triumph Traveller pretty reasonable…

Wait. Stop. Just calm down a minute, Chris!

If I were to buy all the stuff on the little wish list I’ve created above, I’d be throwing down at least £900. Just to prepare to go on a trip! Nevermind the costs of hotels and food and petrol and, you know, actually enjoying myself. That’s just ridiculous. Especially when you consider that my father-in-law used to meander across Europe on his unreliable Bonneville in the late 1970s. He did not have sat navs or high-end tank bags or fancy ways of consuming water. And considering the fact he was a trainee gardener, I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of money, either.

Neither do I. So, perhaps I should be taking inspiration from him. Despite my dedication to working myriad Amazon links into my posts lately, it’s a tactic that isn’t likely to amass a fortune (Full disclosure: To date it has not earned me a single penny). Really, I should be working with what I’ve got and trying not to spend any more money.

Well, OK, the maps. I should definitely spring for the maps. And perhaps a few bungee cords. So, about £20 expenditure at the most. Beyond that, my desire to have All The Things may cloud my ability to properly enjoy this adventure.

I don’t know. What do you think? What do I absolutely need? Do I already have those things? Or, are there, in fact, several things that I haven’t even thought about? All advice is appreciated!

(a) I am considering naming my bike “Essie Mae,” because I like being obscure. Huge points to you if you understand the reference.