Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Seat Concepts upgrade for WR250R

The stock seat for the WRR is narrow and firm, offering good mobility when standing on the pegs, but by the same virtue skimping on cheek support for those inevitable, long, seated stretches between the fun stuff. That gets old pretty quick, and in my case has resulted in squirmy repositioning that I'm sure has drawn some strange looks from passing motorists.

If I didn't already have a long trip planned for this year, I'd probably grit my teeth and put up with the stock seat for a little longer--especially since I'm considering a new bike at some point and there's only so much it's worth spending on the little thumper. However, the WRR has proven to be such a champ that I figured I'd treat it (and myself) to a little more TLC until the mythical Perfect Bike(TM) comes along. (C'mon, Yamaha: where's my T700, already?!)

There's a number of often cheekily-named solutions to this problem that don't require replacing the whole seat. I looked at several, and frankly couldn't justify any of them for my use. All but a few are overly wide and optimized for touring, where you're seated most of the time. While probably quite comfy (and reports suggest they are), these options looked like they'd interfere with standing not he pegs, or wouldn't be robust enough to withstand typical trail abuse. One nifty design from MOESOF consisted of webbing and foam rolls that attach around the seat, but it's made to fit specific bikes and can't be transferred to fit a different bike. That was a deal-killer for me. Also, most of these add-ons came in around CAD$200 after shipping, duties, and taxes, which made it hard to justify the hassle.  

For double the cost, replacing the whole seat seemed to offer the best solution and overall value. Seat Concepts is one of several companies offering upgrade seats for many models of bikes. They've gained a reputation for good quality, comfort, and reasonable prices compared to other options. You can order just the fabric and foam kit and re-cover your own seat frame, or order a complete seat ready to install. In each case there are options for materials and colors. I opted for a standard complete seat with the gripper fabric in Yamaha two-tone, which is a drop-in replacement for the OEM seat. To my happy surprise, this was an in-stock item from MX1 Canada, the Canadian distributor of Seat Concepts. It arrived well-packaged at my door within a week of ordering.

The Seat Concepts (nice and new, on the right in above photo) is about 4cm wider at the midpoint, creating significantly more support area where you normally sit. The front and rear are narrower, allowing good mobility in the standing position. Seat Concepts says they use an improved foam versus the OEM seat, although I couldn't feel much difference from a quick sit-test.

Underneath, the frames are nearly identical, except for some missing foam gaskets on the Seat Concepts. These can be replicated with some closed-cell foam weatherstripping I have on hand. There's a slight gap under the Seat Concepts, probably as a result of my IMS gas tank altering fit, which I'm sure will cause a tapping noise between the seat and bike frame as the seat flexes. Since noise is often a byproduct of wasted energy leading to probably bad things, I'll add some foam between the seat and rails to prevent this movement and help delay the eventual heat death of the universe.

Overall fit and finish is good. Installation is as easy as removing/installing the two seat bolts as per usual. Once I've had a chance to ride, I'll report back on comfort.

Update: Despite snow and ice, and -3C, I went for a 20 minute ride and can say the seat feels pretty good. At least, I didn't notice I was sitting on it, which I can't say for the OEM seat after a few minutes.

When thoughts turn to spring...

Trails are finally starting to thaw and dry out here in the frozen north, and some green shoots are even poking out of the ground in a few places. Soon it will be that magical two weeks between mud and bugs, when summer riding season starts again. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Ironman vs. Renthal sprockets

I've been running Ironman sprockets front and rear on my WR250R for the past couple of seasons, and can vouch that the rear sprockets are extraordinarily durable and lightweight, being made of case-hardened tool steel and finished in hard chrome or PVD zirconium coatings. I can't see choosing a different rear sprocket any time soon, as the ones I've run for 10,000km+ show hardly any wear and could be mistaken as brand new unless inspected very closely.

Front sprockets take a lot more abuse though, having fewer teeth to distribute the load and presenting more acute angles (and suboptimal forces) to the chain links, and running at higher RPMs compared to the rear sprocket. Here's a view of a 13T Ironman sprocket after about 7,000km (one season) of muddy, gritty riding thanks to an unusually wet year (bottom). For comparison is a new Renthal 13T sprocket (top).

As you can see, the Ironman shows mild signs of shark-finning on the teeth--totally expected given how crappy the conditions were that I ran this in. The chain (a Regina 520) was also replaced at the same time as the sprocket and barely looks broken in. So the sprocket absorbed most of the abuse, as expected.

I would consider this acceptable wear, especially given the extreme wet conditions it was exposed to. Nevertheless, I wanted to compare how a Renthal sprocket holds up, given they're cheaper and easier for me to obtain. The Renthal shows good machining and also appears to also use a case-hardened tool steel, although I don't have a reliable means to test that. Interestingly, the Renthal's tooth profile is different from the Ironman, and incorporates a scallop on the front which may aid in reducing wear or noise. This pic shows the Renthal on top of the Ironman, with the Renthal having teeth with a more triangular shape and pointed top.

Having run the Renthal now for only a couple of hours on the road, I don't notice any differences in noise or feel, but then I wouldn't expect to given a mere seat-of-the-pants assessment.

Will compare results after another 7,000km. Hopefully it's a drier season this year, even if that means unfairly favoring the Renthal.

Replacing the coolant hoses on a WR250R

Somewhere I read that the coolant hoses should be replaced after about 8 years, or if they show obvious deterioration. Although my bike is a 2008, all the rubber is in excellent condition--including the coolant hoses. However, a trip I'm planning for this summer is has a desert component that's going to stress the cooling system more than it's previously experienced. In anticipation of that, I figured it would be a good idea to replace the hoses with upgraded silicone for increased reliability.

DRC Zeta has a good selection of hoses and other accessories for this bike, although for some reason I was not able to find stock in Canada of the replacement hose kit I needed. I ended up finding an alternative kit from AS3 Performance out of the UK. Shipped to my door it was under $100.

When ordering I was skeptical of the quality, as there's lots of cheap Chinese hoses out there. While some of AS3's other products indeed look like rebranded generic after-market parts, at least these hoses appear to be very well made. The silicone wrap is meticulously even and shiny, with multiple layers of silicone and reinforcing fabric interleaved and no voids--suggesting a careful hand lay-up and heat-treatment. They appear to be far superior to the stock hoses, which are squishy rubber with only one reinforcing layer.

I also noticed that just inside the cut ends of the AS3 hoses, there was an English part number  moulded into the silicone, probably lifted off a number stamped into the mandrel used to make the hoses. I wonder if these parts are in fact made by Viper, a reputable UK manufacturer of silicone hoses for automotive applications. Their video of how hoses are made is fascinating and not at all what I was expecting, considering how much automation exists in manufacturing today.

Fitting the hoses onto my bike was straightforward but required draining the coolant (duh!), and removing the seat, side panels, gas tank, and rear shock (which can be snuck out the left side; you don't need to remove the rear wheel and linkages) to be able to access all the hose clamps. The OEM hose clamps just barely fit over the AS3 hoses; in fact, it was a bit of a struggle to slide the hoses on to some of the fittings. Once tightened down though, there was plenty of clamp thread engaged to keep the hoses secure. Overall the fit was excellent and it took less than 2 hours for the swap. No leaks on a test ride; let's hope they stay that way!

Carbon wheels on the 29er

With temps still hovering around the -2C mark, a fat bike with a crapped-out rear hub that can't be fixed (requiring a frame replacement; long story), and a refreshed motorcycle chomping at the bit for warmer days, I've almost run out of things to putter on in the shop. After my last trail ride in the fall, my 29er just sat as it came off the bike rack--much to the surprise of a riding buddy who dropped by. He knows me as someone who meticulously maintains my gear, and here was my sweet ride, all covered in filth.

Time for a rebuild. After a complete strip to bare frame, which I cleaned and waxed, each part was cleaned, inspected, and serviced; suspension disassembled and oil changed; and wheels taken apart with all the old tire sealant cleaned out. The XM401's I built a couple seasons ago have held up perfectly, but I also built a second set of carbon wheels with my own Rugged Wheels premium asymmetric rims last winter, on a set of 28-hole DT Swiss 240 hubs with straight-pull DT Comp spokes. Swapping to these carbon wheels shaved a pound off the ride and they feel amazing! Total bike is now 26 lbs for a large frame. Not bad for a 5 year old bike.

I have a few more carbon wheel sets for road bikes in stock, selling at a ridiculously low price to clear them out. Wheels and tires are really one of the best upgrades you can make on two wheels, and the performance enhancement is immediately noticeable.

Now to wait for the trails to dry out!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: Motul 300V, 10W40

Without any intention of starting a religious war, I'd like to point out that having just switched from relatively inexpensive Castrol mineral oil (chosen on the basis of making frequent oil changes) to full-synthetic Motul 300V, I'm rather impressed by the immediately noticeable improvements in shifting and engine noise.
 To some, the Motul may seem like pricy overkill in a WR250R. But after spending many hours scouring online reviews, oil test reports, and other facts, I chose the Motul on the basis that as a high-performance racing oil for extreme conditions, it would appear to offer improved long-term performance for long adventure rides on my particular bike. Its proven resistance to viscosity breakdown has heightened importance in a small engine, where there's only 1.4L of oil. The oil simply takes more mechanical abuse per unit volume for a given riding distance than in a larger thumper like my old KLR650, which had at least a liter more oil to share the abuse.
This oil will get a real test on a long ride this summer. My plan is to take samples for oil testing to validate my hypothesis.

Review: Icon Variant vs. Shoei Hornet X2

People with high foreheads and narrow faces have what the helmet industry calls a "long oval" or "intermediate oval" head shape. Finding an ADV helmet that fits can be challenging, as not all models with desirable features are available in this shape. And there's no point in pretending otherwise--as I learned a few years ago. The Nolan modular helmet I had bought for its great features felt comfortable in the store. But after about an hour of riding, it caused an unbearable pressure on my forehead that was dangerously distracting, requiring frequent stops to remove the helmet for relief. The Nolan's shape simply didn't fit my head. Reluctantly, the helmet got relegated to the "loaner" shelf and the search for replacement began--about as much fun as filing taxes.

The Icon Variant proved to be a decent alternative. Although I chose basic white to keep my noggin cooler in the sun, the Variant's styling is good and there's a wide selection of graphics to choose from. Now that I've ridden in the Variant for a few seasons, I can attest to its comfort for long-oval heads. Other commendable features include the visor, which has decent optical properties and an excellent hydrophobic coating that causes all but the heaviest rain to bead off--almost as good as windshield wipers on a car. Ventilation is good, although the vent mechanisms can be a little sticky at times. The roost guard is effectively positioned and has surprisingly good aerodynamics at highway speeds.
On the negative side, the visor does not open fully, so wearing goggles isn't an option (although not a requirement for me). Also--and although I replaced the visor last season after the original became too scratched--the seal around the visor is less than stellar and the slight mismatch in shapes creates a gap that allows some rain to leak in. This, coupled with other aspects of the design, result in a somewhat noisy helmet, which require me to wear foamies for any rides longer than half an hour. But the last straw for me was integrating a Sena headset, which would require shaving some of the foam around the ears to fit speakers. While this probably wouldn't significantly affect the overall safety of the helmet, combined with general wear and tear, it was time to put this helmet on backup duty as well.

Back to the filing taxes thing. What ADV helmet would fit? Previously I had ruled out Shoei, as my understanding was most of their helmets are aimed at rounder heads. But the Hornet X2 is aimed at medium oval, and fortunately my head is just within the range of its fit. Measured across my brow, my head circumference is 58.5cm and there's not much remaining hair to interfere with that measurement. This translates to a medium for the Hornet X2. It's tight, but not painfully so, and should loosen up slightly as the foam breaks in.
Since all the specs for these helmets are readily found online, there's no need to repeat them here. However, I will point out that compared to the Variant, the Hornet X2 is a massive upgrade. The Hornet's quality of construction, materials, and attention to detail are all noticeably superior to the Variant's, for not that much more in price. I paid about $500 for the Variant in solid white, and the Hornet in solid white was $629 (fancy graphics add about another $150). But for that price, the Hornet includes a pinlock shield, which isn't available for the Variant.

What's more, the Hornet is a lot quieter, there's less turbulent air in your face with the visor closed (meaning fewer bugs ricocheting up into your eyes from the chin region), the peak has even better aerodynamics, and there appears to be room for speakers without modifying the foam. Having now ridden in the Hornet for a few hours (at -2C to +5C, where you really notice the wind!), I'm happy to say it offers great visibility and performance, and probably higher overall safety given the quality of construction.

So far, so good. Hopefully it remains comfortable over the long term.