Friday, June 28, 2013

The Alaska Trip: Some Lessons Learned.

In no particular order, as things are remembered.  Note: Take all the below with a grain of salt, its solely based on my experiences as a URAL rider and recent trip, your mileage WILL vary!

1.  Cargo Discipline, even with the ample storage provided by a sidecar rig, watch the weight!  I will do better next time.  The weight probably contributed to the excessive wear I saw on the pusher tires but I still don't discount the pavement roughness of the Alaska/Canadian highways.

2.  Mid-April in Alaska, a bit early for seeing wildlife or camping in campgrounds, expect some snow riding. Canadian truckers/drivers do not slow down on snow!

3.  While a Coleman Two Burner Stove is nice, it's also bulky.  Next time, a multi-fuel one burner camp stove will do the trick, no need for special fuel bottles (which are bulky), just use fuel from your gas cans.  Oh, and if cooking by campfire, Marvel Mystery Oil is a great fire starter; as is Tiki Lamp oil.

4.  More camping, otherwise, leave all the camping gear at home.  I will do more camping next time, motels are expensive, especially in AK and Canada.  Can't blame the proprietors, they're trying to earn, in a short tourist season, enough to get them through the rest of the year.  Having said all that, it's really hard sometimes, to bypass the nearby motel and think about setting up camp after a long day in the saddle and it being cold and wet outside (below 40F).

5.  Bungie cords suck.  ROK straps rule.  Waterproof bags, get the thick ones.

6.  No on the snow chains, yes on the rope come-along.

7.  Unless someone lays hands on tires that are supposed to be in stock, they're not in stock.  

7a.  Yep, motorcycle tires are expensive in Alaska.  Shipping costs are the main culprit, not the "greed" of the dealers.  Plan accordingly.   Heck, shipping anything to Alaska can be expensive, that's why they love the "free shipping" option offered by!  Trouble is, the free shipping by Amazon doesn't include tires for whatever reason; your best bet there is the USPS Parcel Post.  Plan ahead or be prepared to pay.

8.  Spare Gas cans are key.  Especially when your range is less than 150 miles on a good day.  Oh, and the little yellow caps on the ends of the spout, they fly them somehow.  I lost both caps on both my spare cans while returning home.  

9.  Always ask the locals about the local sights/roads.  Follow their advice on such things as fuel additives as the gasoline quality can sometimes be an issue.  Marvel Mystery Oil and IsoHeet are good things; the first to keep things clean/lubed in your fuel path, the latter when dealing with water in one's gasoline supply.

10.  Carry water, preferably in a dedicated container, outside your main storage areas.  It's bulky.  It's sometimes hard to camp without water.

11.  Consider taking the Ferry to Whittier from Bellingham, then riding your way back to the lower 48, it's a  lot of miles.  This way, you're there nice and fresh for the riding of Alaska's few roads.   Do the cost analysis, factor in time and lodging, the ferry is not that much more expensive; at least in my case.

12.    Check your road-assistance provider's options.  Some offer excursion diversion, get it!  It would have paid for some of the lodging/food costs during my last breakdown.  Oh, and understand what their towing guidelines are....I didn't but still would have done what I did, after all why would I have it towed to a Vespa dealer that says they also work on URALs, when I know a bit further down the road was Raceway Services?

13.  Free yourself from the chains of wanting a campsite/hotel with wifi internet access.  All else fails, find an Internet Cafe or McDonald's for internet access.

14.  There's no such thing as overnight shipping to Alaska from "the outside", unless its to Anchorage itself, and even then, it's iffy.   Overnight to Valdez?  Try two days in reality, if you're lucky.

15.  A URAL's narrow tires, knobby equipped or not, on loose beach sand?  Not a good combination.  Beware the incoming tide, you will get stuck. LINK

16.  URAL Rider?  Carry a spare air filter or two.  The design of the airbox remains a weak point, dust and water ingestion will happen.  Although the jury is still out, I now believe that it contributed in a major fashion to the second occurrence of rough-running issues I encountered AFTER I fixed the initial water issue involving the PowerArc ignition and the cable from the coil leading rain water to the control module.

17.  Leaks/oil seepage from the engine?  The new URALs are much better made than the older ones, find out what's causing the leaks.  It might even be warrantied!  My rear main seal sure was, and when it failed it caused clutch plate contamination.  LINK

18.  A properly adjusted clutch cable is key.  Learn how to do it.  Clutch dragging?  Could be the cable, could be a worn clutch actuator arm.  If you've got the transmission apart from the engine, put some Honda Moly 60 grease on the transmission input spline!  Just like with airhead BMWs, a little goes a long way, too much will fling off and contaminate the clutch plates.  LINK

19.  Monitor the color of your spark plugs.  They are indicators of engine health in terms of air/fuel mixtures being correct.  A nice caramel color is what you want.  Fouled/black plugs?  Perhaps not enough air getting in the fuel/air mix (check your air filter).  Oh, and carry a spare pair of the correct plugs.

20.  Engine compression and being able to check it.  Carry a compression gauge, it's another basic check of engine health.  I now carry such a gauge for the long trips.   

21.  Buy or make two wire leads, with gator clips on the ends.  Helps for diagnosis of electrical issues, can be used also to bypass your ignition wiring as part of troubleshooting.

22.  Extremely cold overnight temperatures zap your battery?  Try warming things up under it with your camp stove for a few minutes.  Note, don't do this if you're leaking gas or oil!  LINK

23.  Thinking of re-jetting due to altitude?  I ran with stock jets in my home altitudes ranging from 5000-14000 ft with no issues, same jets all the way down to sea level in Alaska.  Perhaps the PowerArc helped in this?

24.  Gas stations in Western Canada and Alaska, can be few and far between.  Don't pass up chances to fuel up when near half empty or more.  See note 8 and 9.

25.  A SPOT (or similar device) provides good peace of mind as to your location/status for your loved ones and friends and is a handy record of your route.  It's worth the money.  The yearly subscription auto-renews, if you don't want to continue it, call them and cancel at least 30 days out.

26.  A ride to Alaska and back will make you more confident about changing tires, trust me.

27.  Know your tools, I still cringe in embarrassment when I remember how I didn't know the extra length available on my bottle jack.  Wires will break, carry a small soldering gun/solder, extra wire.  


Anonymous said...

Some good advice. When I head off on overnight trips I use "Andystrapz" to tie gear down. I have had 4 sets for years. All different lengths. I find them excellent.
Google them. I don't know how make a link to the Andystrapz site.


VStar Lady said...

A great look back on the trip of a lifetime. So, now that the kinks are worked out, where's the next adventure?

redlegsrides said...

Farrider245, never heard of those straps, thanks for the info.

VStar Lady, where's the next adventure? Wisconsin I think, but will be trailering the rig there....running at 55mph on our super slabs is no fun.