Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Too Cool!!

It used to be tough to be cool. But not anymore...

For anyone who regularly experiences outdoor activities in high temperatures, they know first-hand that heat stress is the enemy. So with the summer heat beating down upon Texas, I began researching ways to temper the brutal sun.

When I embark on such a challenge, I don't limit my search to biker solutions. Although we are nine million strong, we are much too small a target market for significant research and development. No, I try to look at who - collectively - must deal with adverse heat conditions and buy in large quantities, as these demographics catch the clothing marketeers attention. For example, athletes, law enforcement, and the military. So this is where my journey began.

My first foray was to research and purchase micro-fiber garments often worn by athletes and law enforcement. The intention was to find both cooler clothing and sun protection. But being a Harley biker at heart, I also wanted color selection that was fitting of the brand. All-black or something darker is highly preferred.

The concept behind micro-fiber garments is the fabric wicks the moisture away from the body and uses it too cool as the breeze blows through the fabric - an evaporative effect, if you will. The pluses of micro-fiber shirts include a wide color selection and several reputable sports apparel manufacturers. The downsides are cost (they run $50+ and up) and the non-biker affiliated logos are prominently displayed. I found a version of the UnderArmor HeatShield shirt that caters to law enforcement which has the logo  blacked-out, and thought it to be a pretty good compromise. I also wear micro-fibre under-garments when riding and find the advantages to include a much cooler ride for "the boys" and the thinner seams created less pressure (pain) points where in contact with the seat.

While much more comfortable than a cotton t-shirt and underwear, the micro-fiber can't adequately battle the 95+ degree temperatures of the South and Southwest on its own. So I looked further...

It seems one of the unintended consequences of the wars in Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq is the development of personal cooling technologies that help our brave soldiers work efficiently in the soaring heat. Clothing cooling technology ranges from evaporative cooling vests, which are worn over a lightweight t-shirt; to a hybrid approach consisting of evaporative cooling and ice packs which is also  worn over a t-shirt; to a self-contained cooling system which runs on a lightweight battery pack and can be worn under the protective field uniforms.

I discovered that one of the innovators in the field is TechNiche International and that they had a relatively broad product offering at all levels and price points. With product prices ranging from $79 to over $500 per unit, I opted to start with the entry-level HyperKewl cooling vest with the mandarin collar (for sun protection on the neck) and zip-off sleeve attachments.

The HyperKewl concept is relatively straight forward - simply soak the lightweight vest in water for 2-3 minutes to let the specially polymer-embedded fabric absorb water, then gently squeeze out the excess and wipe down. The vest gains some weight as it absorbs water, but once put on, you won't notice the added weight...only the instant coolness as it begins to produce a "wind-chill" effect of 10-15 degrees.

We used the vests extensively on a recent 860-mile, four day journey through Arkansas with mid-day temperatures ranging from 95-100 degrees. I'm fair skinned, so I wore a black micro-fiber shirt underneath, while my bride wore a traditional short-sleeve cotton t-shirt. The vest is designed to provide 5-10 hours of cooling comfort, but we found that the cooling effectiveness peaked at around 90 minutes when running down the highway at 70 mph. But not to worry, the vest can be re-soaked at any time and we found the timing was about right for a rest stop anyway! I used the vest with and without sleeves and found that once my core was cooled (using the vest only), the desired comfort level was achieved. So I don't recommend spending the extra $$ for the sleeve version unless you want the ability to use the vest w/arms as a lightweight jacket in the event the temps drop or you are in higher elevations.

A few caveats to share. First, the concept of evaporative cooling is based on the cooling effect the water adds to an otherwise dry(er) wind stream, so the effectiveness of the vests will decline in areas where high humidity is common. Second, this product is a choice of function over fashion. The color selections are limited and the quilted appearance of the fabric may not appeal to some. Third, the quality appears to be good, but I've not yet used the vest long enough to know what perils the repeated use and sweat effect will have on either the appearance or efficiency of the vest. And lastly, (and it is a nit), but the black vest has a bright blue inside liner and matching blue thread is used to sew the two together. The result is a black vest with hints of blue threading visible from the outside, a minor unintended consequence, I'm sure.

If function is what you value and you frequent high-heat rides, the HyperKewl vest is money well spent. It has definitely extended my riding season and opens up new options for where/when to ride!


© 2011 TRHG Holdings LLC

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Butt Hurts

Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks when I get a new bike. I make my purchase decision based on the features and functionality of the bike as a whole, knowing that there will be certain aspects that I will want/need to change. And the process of making those changes is often trial and error.

For all the technology and creature comfort built into the 2009 H-D Ultra Classic, the seat is not the highlight of the experience. In fact, it makes my butt hurt after a couple of hours on the road. Maybe it's just my particular butt, as I've changed the seat on every bike that I've ridden for any period of time. And it's seldom a simple fix because one really doesn't know if you've found the perfect seat until you get a few hundred miles on it. So I've become quite adept at buying and selling used seats on ebay and Craigslist.

But this one has me perplexed. I had rented an Ultra for a weekend before I purchased, so knew the seat was one of the first modifications. I ordered the new H-D Hammock seat at time of purchase, and really liked the rider comfort, but the passenger pillion slanted down, causing my bride to constantly slip out of position. I returned the Hammock and went back to the original.

Then I heard about the mid-year seat change in 2010 that introduced a "low" version of the original Comfort Stitch seat. I special ordered it and knew within a couple of hundred miles that it wasn't going to work for this rider. The "low" feature created a pocket that crowded the "boys" and positioned me too close to the tank. I found myself constantly pushing myself back in the seat, placing pressure on my tail bone. So I sold the seat on ebay and went back to the original. And began a search for something better while continuing to ride.

I checked-out all the usual after-market seats - Mustang, Corbin, Saddlemen, etc. - but wasn't impressed with their width or depth of foam on either the rider or passenger portion, or both. Also considered a custom build from Russell Day-Long, but hesitated at the cost and inconvenience. The H-D Road Zeppelin (RZ) was always an option, but I wasn't willing to fork over the big bucks for a new one with the recent experience on the other three. Then I found a "almost new" one on Craigslist and bought it....along with a rider back rest.

The RZ is an improvement, but still doesn't meet my criteria for long-distance comfort for me or my bride. The rider back rest, however, is a god-send. I've always wanted to get one, just never made the leap. I'll never ride (long distances) without it now!

So where do we go from here? I'll likely be placing an order for the Russell Day-Long in the next few weeks. I'm impressed with the engineering and have not found a single bad remark about them. More importantly, the raves seem to address on all the points that cause me pain today. Fingers-crossed...and RZ for sale.

Addendum:
I've been tinkering with the RZ a little to see if we can make it work.

The critique from the bride was that she was slipping forward when braking and that the (Tourpak) backrest/armrests were too low because the seat felt higher. Further observation was that she was actually sitting a little forward in the seat as a result of the backrest, which kept her from slipping back into the "pocket".

An online search for Tourpak relocation kits yielded several candidates, but a unit made by George Anderson seemed to be getting rave reviews. George's kit is first class - excellent design, quality manufacturing, and awesome powder coated paint (gloss black). It allows the Tourpak to be moved back 1 1/4 or 2 1/2 inches and raised by approximately 5/8 inch. The combination of moving backwards and slightly up was perfect for allowing my bride to scoot back into the pocket for a more comfortable ride and placement of the backrest/armrests.

It took about 30 minutes to install the Tourpak relocation kit and 90 minutes for the initial test ride. It received a thumbs-up approval from the bride. We're giving it a 1,400 mile test run to Arkansas at the end of the month and I'll post an update in that ride report.

© 2011 TRHG Holdings LLC