Cool Stuff

by Lou Dzierzak

At the end of February, Minnesota riders start to think spring. We linger in the garage for a few minutes looking at the bike. Thoughts move from last year’s trips to travel plans for this summer. Travel agents call this the shoulder season&emdash;too early to begin but close enough to give it some serious attention. A few diehards may trailer their bikes to Daytona for Bike Week, but the rest of us just keep crossing days off the calendar.

Even with the mild winter, everyday riding is still three months away. Riders use the time to build lists of adjustments, repairs, parts to replace and “must have” accessories. Riding a 16-year-old bike, my list is long, especially when it comes to accessories. If there were a support group for gear junkies, I’d definitely be a member.

This February I had the opportunity to see thousands of the newest, most improved, technologically advanced, performance enhancing after-market products on the market. The Dealernews International Powersports Dealer Expo brings almost 800 manufacturers to one place where dealers can come to see what’s up, fill out order forms and add new products to their stores. Every after-market manufacturer or distributor of any consequence is represented. Lots of business gets done here.

For the rest of this column and the ones to follow, new parts, accessories, apparel and cool gadgets will be the focus. You will be familiar with some of the gear and may even own a piece or two. The goal is to show you the products that fall under the radar of the mainstream motorcycle magazines. Leave the $500 replica helmets to them. This column will tell you about real world gear, real world experiences and where to get more information if you’re interested.

I returned from the Dealer Expo with forty pounds of brochures, catalogs, new product flyers and stickers. Here is a sampling of gear you will see on your favorite dealer’s wall this spring.

ORTLIEB SADDLEBAGS

Every packing system I’ve used has had some compromise: great looks but too small or water repellent turned soggy. Some look nice on the bike, but installation is permanent, so a toolbox is required to take the bags with you. The saddest is when you have great looks, weather proof and easy on/easy off, but when your passenger throws a leg over, he or she finds bag and passenger are mutually exclusive.

Ortlieb saddlebags come from Germany and are new to the United States. Europeans consider them to be the best, and they are definitely worth taking a look at. The bags are constructed with the same materials and sealing systems as river runner dry bags. Loading is easy with a wide-mouth top entry. They close by rolling the top down and clipping both ends for a completely waterproof seal. Submerged in a full tub, they lived up to the claim. Design details confirm they understand riders. The lower leading edge is cut back for passenger clearance. Closed cell foam on the inside surfaces prevents bodywork scratches. Internal stiffeners hold the bag’s shape. Scotchlite reflective materials adds to nighttime visibility. No fringe. No frills. Just well designed, functional bags that work. For more information call the RiderWearHouse at 1-800-222-1994.

TIMBUK2

Timbuk2 is a crossover product. Their bags are used by bicycle messengers all over the world. Take a look at the riders blasting around downtown Minneapolis. You’ll see nothing but Timbuk2 on their shoulders. So, how does a bag made for pedal-powered two-wheelers apply to horsepower-stuffed two-wheelers? Timbuk2 bags solve a problem.

How many carrying systems have you tried? Backpacks are too small or two big. They leak. Getting something out is a chore. Tank bags work on the bike, but they don’t make very good briefcases. What makes the Timbuk2 bags unique is the strapping system. A wide strap comfortably crosses one shoulder and a small strap from the other side clips in to hold the bag in place. It’s quick, easy and rock solid.

Made with 1000 denier Cordura shells, waterproof 14 oz truck tarp linings, quick adjusting shoulder straps, reflective tails and small pockets inside and out, they make the daily commute easier. No more briefcases flapping in the wind. No more repositioning a bag every five minutes. Try one on and you will quickly see a waterproof, spill proof, practically bulletproof carry-all for anyone on two wheels. A Bolo model has replaced my tank bag, backpacks, and bungee strapped duffels.

There are four bag styles in 13 colors. For info call 1-888-timbuk2 or visit their web site at www.timbuk2.com.

CHATTERBOX

ChatterBox is just one of the companies I visited who offer intercom products. What impressed me was the focus on the rider rather than the technology. The ChatterBox HJC-90 is a basic rider to passenger unit. The HJC-90 is tiny and delivers crystal clear rider to passenger communications. For a suggested $44. 99 retail price you get high/low volume control, an audio mute switch to eliminate music during conversations, Walkman-type audio input and power switches all at your fingertips.

The package also includes two sets of batteries, headset extension cords and mounting brackets and hardware. Best of all, installation doesn’t require dismantling your helmet and possibly voiding a warranty. The test unit I used more than lived up to the pitch. It had logical instructions, easy installation and sound quality to match Baby Bell. ChatterBox also offers rider-to-rider, long distance and CB models. For more information call 1-888-452-2269 or visit the website www.hjc-chatterbox.com.

There are many more gear descriptions to come. If you have any ideas or want to pass on information about something that works for you, please write. Time to go shopping.

M.M.M.

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