By Gary Charpentier
Ahhh, simplicity. There is something beautiful about removing the knick-knacks and distractions from our lives so we can concentrate on what truly matters. I know this goes contrary to the great American tradition of “He who dies with the most toys, wins”, but how much stuff do we really need? These days, even our government encourages us to borrow money to buy more stuff so we can pump up the economy and fight terrorism. Just pull up to the cosmic drive-through and say, “Yeah, I’ll have one Supersize MacLifestyle to go, please… and uh, hold the morals!” There are times when I just want to chuck it all, climb to the top of a mountain and live in a cave. Unfortunately, MegaGreed Incorporated now owns that mountain, and the cave is used for stashing toxic waste.
This simplicity concept has crept into my motorcycling philosophy, to the point where I want to get rid of all the other bikes in my garage come spring. There will be no project bike this winter. Kermit, my new KLR, has proven himself to be everything I need in a motorcycle at this point in my life. That’s a strong statement, I suppose. He is not fast, after all, and he is not pretty. These things were important to me, once upon a time. I always wanted my bikes to stand out in a crowd and leave the punters behind out on the roads that mattered. When you watch motorcycle commercials on television, these are the essential themes. But for some reason, I seem to have gotten over that.
Today I want my bike to be capable of transporting me over varied terrain for long distances with as little drama as possible. The stock KLR is a good basic platform for this. You want simplicity? One cylinder, one carburetor, one spark plug. How’s that for a Zen motorbike, Grasshopper? When I am able to ride it on one wheel, I will have achieved nirvana. “Ohhhmmmmm…..”
The Unified Theory of One Bike (UTOB):
But seriously, during this past season I’ve learned some fundamental truths about life with a single motorcycle. When I bought Kermit from the dealer, I was planning on doing a lot of riding off-road. As the season progressed, I began to comprehend the difference between off-road and off-highway riding, and to realize that I much prefer the latter. Off-highway means secondary roads, dirt and gravel roads, forest service roads… you get the idea. Roads lead to places of interest. If I really want to commune with nature, I can always take a hike. This would not be the case if I lived in the high desert out west, where they have grand vistas that can only be reached by riding across vast stretches of sand and rock. I’ve read many accounts of KLR riders in places like Moab, Utah, and it seems to be the perfect habitat for these bikes. But I live here in Minnesota, where “off-road” really means trees and mud, trees and mud, trees and… swamp.
You need some serious knobbies to deal with terrain like that; the kind of tires that wear down very quickly on pavement. Kermit’s OEM Dunlops wore down to the wear indicators within 5,000 miles. We’ve just turned over 6,000 miles, most of which was on pavement and dirt roads, getting to and from the trees and mud. The rear tire is now slick down the middle and way overdue for replacement. Tire makers have a way of expressing the ratio of on/off-road use by using percentages. For instance, a 50/50 tire is one that is 50% on, 50% off-road, and probably not very good for either one. Using this formula, it appears that I need something like an 80/20 tire, with a harder compound than the stock Dunlops.
Fundamental truth number two: I need to be able to carry stuff with me, whether on a weekend expedition or just riding to work. The lesson seems to be that the more stuff I can carry, the farther I can go and the better prepared I am for whatever happens along the way. So I have loaded Kermit down with a JC Whitney quick-release trunk, a magnetic tank bag, and a pair of AMA Motorsports tank panniers, which are like saddlebags that drape over your gas tank. This distributes the weight over the center of the bike instead of having standard rear panniers hanging out back. It helps the handling on pavement, and when I do ride off-road, everything is readily detachable so I don’t have to haul all that stuff into the swamp.
Fundamental truth number three is that as I get older, comfort becomes more important. To this end, I installed a Corbin flat saddle. I can’t tell you how much of a difference this makes on long rides. Oh, wait… yes I can. That’s what writers are paid to do. It made a HUGE difference! The stock saddle felt like two iron rails under my butt after about 100 miles. The padding was apparently too soft. The Corbin saddle is wider with firmer padding, and you can move around on it as your aching buns and bones demand. I can ride non-stop through a full tank of gas, some 250-plus miles, with little or no discomfort now. That’s quite an improvement and well worth the asking price of around $240.
The last group ride I did this year was in the company of several Goldwing riders. One of them came up to me and looked over my loaded-down KLR. Keep in mind that the KLR badges are covered up by the tank panniers. He asked what kind of bike it was, and without missing a beat I told him, “This is a Frogwing! An amphibious, all-terrain touring bike.” I could tell he was impressed… although I was kidding at the time, I began to realize that this is precisely what I am transforming Kermit into. When I get more roadworthy tires for next season, I am going to go on longer road trips with less emphasis on gnarly dirt bike antics. I can carry a tent, sleeping bag, tools, camera, spares, and basic emergency rations so I don’t have to depend on hotels and restaurants. I can still ride the dirt and gravel roads with impunity, unlike my Goldwing mounted friends.
Does this mean that I’m giving up on serious off-roading? Not really. But as my only motorcycle, I’ve got to outfit Kermit to best meet the challenges of everyday riding. Like it or not, the majority of our miles together unwind on the daily commute. I don’t see that changing any time soon. This winter, I’m going to take a hard look at the intended missions of my solitary steed. (Can you call a mule a steed?) I will add light saddlebags if I need more luggage space. With all that extra weight, I suppose I will need a fork brace as well. Accessorizing becomes a sickness with a bike like this. You always want to add something else, unlike sport bikes where you are constantly trying to strip something off. Kermit is evolving from a dual-sport into an all-purpose motorcycle. I think this is a good thing, but I won’t know for sure until next season. Will the Frogwing concept fly? We’ll see…