Solo to Sarnia – Bike Prep

Louise is heading out on a solo trip to Sarnia in a couple of days. In order to get her bike ready, there were a number of modifications and additions that she wanted done/made before the big day, which is Saturday, July 7.

First up was a new rear shock to replace the dead stock shock. The stock shock is pretty lame and I think all VStroms need to have the rear shock replaced. The shock that Louise went with was the Progressive 465RAP Short Shock with remote preload adjustment.

We ordered the shock from Vicious Cycle, rather grudgingly. We haven’t had great service from them, but there’s usually a significant savings (in duty mainly) ordering from them versus ordering the same thing from Twisted Throttle in the US. After the difficult time we had getting updates from Vicious Cycle, this was probably the last thing we’ll have ordered from them.

Since the new shock arrived before riding season really got going, Louise decided to take the VStrom to Walt Healy and get them to do a full oil/filter change, chain adjustment and to install the new shock back in mid-April. While they were at all that, Louise also asked if they could lower the front-end of the bike to get the whole suspension geometry back to where it should be.

This turned out to be a great idea as the handling is vastly improved and there’s a number of other little things that work better, like airflow over and around the fairing and windscreen. While the shock itself was kinda expensive, it’s made such a huge difference to the bike that there’s no question that it was money well spent.

Next up was fixing the StarCom radio connection. During last year’s PNW2011 trip, Louise lost the use of the Push-to-Talk (PTT) button for talking to me over the radio. At the time, I thought it was the PTT button or cable itself and during the troubleshooting in a Safeway parking lot in Omak, WA, Louise suggested simply setting the StarCom to use VoiceActuation instead of the PTT button.

Great idea! I made the change and aside from hearing EVERYTHING Louise said inside her helmet, it worked well.

Now fast forward to a week or so again and the radio connection failed altogether. So I resolved to fix it once and for all. I pulled the cabling and tested the PTT button and another known good PTT button. It made no difference which PTT cable I used, it still didn’t work, so the problem wasn’t the PTT button. That was both good and bad news – good in that it meant I didn’t have to source a new PTT button, but bad in that I still had no idea what the problem was. Next up I swapped in a spare StarCom unit – it also made no difference, still didn’t work.

So now I figured maybe the radio connection cables – the cable to the radio is short and coiled so it doesn’t run too far inside the bike from the handlebars to under the seat, so I had an extension cable for most of the way. I tried some connections without the extension cable and … voila! It now worked fine! Luckily, I had another extension, tried it and no problem, so I ran that and all was good.

Since I had all the electronics pulled out anyway, I thought now would be a good time to install the new fuse block, the EasternBeaver PC-8, replacing the old Centech unit; and fixing the fender under the seat. When the rear shock failed, the rear tire would actually come up high enough to hit the underside of the fender under the seat and wound up wearing a hole in the thick plastic! The first fix I tried sucked, so I ripped it out and tried again with different materials. It worked only marginally better, so I ordered a used fender assembly from eBay and when it arrives and Louise’s bike is back from the trip, I’ll put in the new fender.

Anyway, back to the Fuse Block. The EB PC-8 unit comes with a VStrom-specific harness and relay, making it very easy to install. It took only a few minutes and it was all done with everything all wired up again. I like the design of this unit way better than the Centech it replaces. I have one to be installed on my VStrom and I may get one for the FJR down the road.

Alright, so the electronics were all fixed up, next was to install the Admore Rear Light Bar under the top case above the stock tail-lights. We’d tried to install it earlier, but the included bolts were too short and we needed slightly longer ones. Finally picked those up and finished the install. The Admore light bar provides a number of LEDs lights that flash then go steady when the brakes are applied, and has sequential signal lights as well. The wiring part was the hardest and required the top box mount to be removed, and the plastic body work on the back pulled of to get access to the specific wires. This actually sounded and looked harder than it was and it only took about 90 minutes start-to-finish. The result is a great looking safety addition that also happens to look really cool.

Louise had also ordered a thing called the MadStad windshield bracket. The stock VStrom screen can only be raised or lowered by a couple of inches – the MadStad allows for forward and back tilt as well as a much greater range of adjustment up and down. This bracket took about 30 minutes to install and it’s another great farkle – very useful and works very well.

Something that’s missing on most bikes is protection for the handlebar ends and the brake/clutch levers in that case of a tip-over. Quite often, in a fall, the brake or clutch lever can get broken, in fact in 2010, when Louise and I went to the coast, she tipped the Burgman over in Field, BC, on the first day, snapping the rear brake lever. We had to fix it with a stick and duct-tape until we got home 2 weeks later. We’ve seen BarkBusters at the Motorcycle Shows and the time had come to get a set for the VStrom and get them installed. So tonight, I pulled the stock hand guards off, which are simply plastic wind deflectors – there’s no protection with them, and Louise and I installed the aluminum bars that make up the BarkBusters system. They look great and offer way more protection for the hands if it rains and will save the levers in the event of a tip over.

There’s not much more to do to the bike, Louise had some goo loaded into the tires this morning to mitigate punctures and had the chain adjusted. We just have to check the oil and coolant, pack it up and she’s ready to go!

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