2013 Trip out west

I am currently out riding out west, in somewhat of a repeat of the ride we did in 2008. Riding with Dad, Kyle Hayes Sr, Joe and Steve. We’re traveling a more northernly route, and Joe and I will turn around somewhere after Montana, while Dad, Steve, and Kyle Sr. will ride out to Salem, Oregon to the BMW MOA Rally.

I”m not blogging and posting like I used to but our location should be tracked below using my iPhone and Google Latitude which is about to be kicked to the curb by Google in August. Which is sad.

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As I write this we’re in day two of 10 or so days. Currently in Buffalo, MN.

We’re headed to Bismark, ND then on to the good riding.

Sena BlueTooth vs. StarCom 1

OK, since 2007 I’ve had an intercom system in the bike.  StarCom1 Advanced to be exact.


It allows me and a wired passenger to talk.   The intercom part of the StarCom has always been a bit of an issue for me.  Mostly tuning it.  To get the VOX just right, so that we can talk clearly w/o wind noise holding the conversation open when not necessary.

Fortunately or unfortunately I haven’t had to use the intercom portion all that often since Claudine just doesn’t ride with me that much.   When she does they are normally short trips and not worth messing with the intercom.

That being said, I use the StarCom every day on every ride.

It is my audio interface to my GPS (Zumo 550, then 665) and it’s my entertainment center (mp3’s from the Zumo and formerly XM via the Zumo) and when appropriate Radar detector audio.

At one point it also served as my interface to the phone.  Both times, phones connected to the Zumo via Bluetooth and the Zumos hard-wired into the StarCom.

Previous to the StarCom I simply used a MixIT, to be a portable amplifier for iPod/XM and to Mix in the radar detector.


The Mix-IT worked well, but created a mess of wires going into the tank bag where I kept it.  When I decided I wanted an intercom I passed it on to a friend and he still uses it today.  My dad still uses one as far as I know.   (Great product).

The Starcom has a number of advantages for me:

  1. Central mounting location, on the bike.   No longer in my tank bag.
  2. One nice cable to my helmet, no mess.
  3. Intercom capability
  4. Above average volume and sound quality.

The disadvantages are:

  1. It’s not cheap, it’s not super expensive but it’s not cheap.
  2. Starcom cables don’t seem to last a long time.   The Shielded cables for Radar and phone seem to break down.   When you’re talking a $82.95 microphone/audio cable. This is a problem to have to replace it every year or so.  (Two cables actually MIC-02 and MUS-04) if you want Stereo sound, which I do.   And, no, you can’t use cheapo Radioshack cables.  You can, but you won’t be happy.
  3. Tuning the Intercom can be a pain.
  4. Headsets aren’t cheap, now about $75 per helmet.  Figure two helmets for me, one for the wife, one for the kids that equals 4 helmets/headsets.   That is cheap compare to say a J&M system.  
  5. The headsets aren’t easy to shuffle around so you need to mount it in your helmet and leave it there.
  6. Along with the cables I’ve found headsets if worn year-round tend to break down as well, usually the microphone is the first to go.

So what brings me to this review?  Well about two years ago I lost the phone/microphone  capability with my StarCom again.  It actually works if the bike isn’t running, but if it is, well the noise or interference is so bad nobody can hear you.

I replaced the headset, and the cables (again), and re-routed them to get them away from as much stuff as I could to avoid the interference.   It worked for a while but now it’s back to being fubar again. 

All other audio functions work just fine.  It’s the cable from the Zumo to the StarCom that is the issue.

So I decided to look at what else is out there.  

Back in the day before I had the Mix-IT, I did play with one of the first CARDO BT systems for motorcycles and it was pretty good.  At the time it was mono only and phone only.

After searching, the Sena Bluetooth SMH10 seems to be the most recommended at this time.    Also the idea of my riding buddy having one and being able to talk to him was attractive.   So I ordered up a pair.

I unboxed them, charged them, upgraded them to the new 4.0 firmware.

Paired up my Zumo and iPhone and went out of a test ride.

First thoughts:

1) Sound quality from this is HORRIBLE.   Streaming MP3’s from the Zumo 665 is about AM quality at best.   It’s certainly loud enough.  I ride with earplugs so it needed to be loud enough to overcome.   But even at lower volumes w/o earplugs, on a scale of 1-10 it was a 3 maybe a 4 at best.   (Versus the StarCom which I would rate an 8.5-9)

(And yes, I am painfully aware of the need to make sure the speakers are centered in the ear).

2) Phone call testing.

For the first test I used what Sena calls Case 3:


I called my wife who was happy to play along, and she said no.  This is unacceptable.  I was barely legible if at all.

Now knowing that with my windshield down, it can be quite turbulent, I stopped an put the plastic microphone mask on the front side of the mic as suggested and included in the box.

No real change in quality.

I stopped again an switched up to what Sena calls Case 2:


For this the phone call quality was better.  Wife said she’d call me and talk to me in an emergency, or take a call from me in an emergency, but no, she would not talk to me like this for 30 minutes to keep me awake.

It was not as good as the StarCom when the Starcom works.

In this configuration, MP3 streaming form the Zumo was still bad, though GPS prompts sounded pretty good.

At the end of the day I decided I listen to music 98% of the time and talk on the phone 2%.   I’m not willing to give up the music audio quality in favor of what turns out also to be a lesser phone call quality.

The wireless features and Bike-To-Bike capabilities *could* have possibly swayed me.  But even those scenarios are less than 10% of my total ride time and aren’t likely too.

So with some frustration, the Sena gets shipped back today.   

I have ordered the StarCom1 BT-02 module.  If that rectifies my cable issue, then I’ll be a happy camper.  If not then we’ll figure out what to do next.

If you have a sure-fire bike to bike system that provides great audio (with ear plug) and uses or doesn’t use the StarCom system.  Please let me know about it or how you have it set up.

Ride with me for 15 minutes…

Last weekend I participated in the Void in Lynchburg, VA. (see prior post).

For the ride home we picked the scenic (read twisty) route where possible, avoiding the slab (highway).

The video below includes 15 minutes of footage along US Route 311 in Virginia headed towards West Virginia.

Footage shot with a ContourHD camera.

Yeah, I know the sound is out of sync (thanks iMovie).   But it gives you a good idea of why we do this (or maybe why some people don’t).  I don’t claim to be any good at this video editing thing.


Best viewed in 720p

The Void 6 (2011 Edition)

Rally the Void for 2011 is in the books.  If you don’t know what a long distance rally is check out my report from the Mason Dixon 2011, or the Void last year for explanations.

This years theme was water towers and spooky stuff, and by spooky stuff the bonus locations focused on Hard Drive Data Doctor and other things that were supposed to be haunted and/or had some bizarre thing happen at that place in the past.

Example from the rally book:


The Void is unique in that it’s run from multiple locations at once with each starting location essentially being it’s own rally (since there is no way to ensure parity).   Our starting location was Clarksville, TN.

The rally was run from 0900 Friday morning to 1400 Saturday.  In order to be in Clarksburg for Friday morning we rode down leisurely Thursday.  Stopping at Makers Mark distillery, and a couple National Parks so dad could get his passport stamped.

OK so normally, or at least in the past you’re given the list of bonus locations ahead of time.   Sometimes as much as a week ahead of time.   This year the schedule indicated that the bonus locations would be available “No Later Than” 8pm Wednesday the 5th.   Which sucked for us, since we knew we’d be leaving early Thursday.  This meant we’d have less time to plan and even less time to second guess ourselves.

I was very happy to find out that the bonus locations were available Tuesday evening.   So basically Tuesday night was wrecked planning routes.

The initial map of bonus locations looked something like this:


The colors represent point ranges, the shapes represent availability, the round spots are available 24 hours, the squares are ‘daylight only’, and the triangles have additional restrictions.

The rally start time was 0900 on Friday with a finish time of 1400 Saturday.

(for those doing the math that’s 29 hours total).

Subtract out the mandatory 3 hour rest bonus, that left us with 26 hours to work with.

26 hours at 55MPH average = 1430 miles.   55MPH average is a good average for me, and one that I’m comfortable with.   It’s not but burner gold pace (1500 in 24 hours = 62.5MPH).  But this isn’t that type of ride.  These east coast rallies usually involve lots of two-lane twisty roads, so in all honestly a 50MPH average is probably more realistic, unless you’re just a monster.

The rally also had a 1421 mile cap.  So any miles ridden over that would be penalized at 50 points per mile.

So our target route length was set, at 1400 miles give or take.

For the purposes of planning I disregard any what I call ‘standard’ bonuses.  They are standard in that everyone will likely have them.  They include the donation bonus, the don’t lose your flag bonus, and the rest bonus.

There were really any wild card bonuses in this rally so we didn’t need to consider those either.  We just had to work with what was on paper and I liked that.

The one ‘wild-card’ in this route was that if you stopped by the Rally headquarters on ‘Saturday’ and did an Odometer check route (using up about 35 minutes).  You’d score 1 point for doing so, but any bonuses you collected after that check ride were worth double.

So our initial ride had us killing a bunch of bonuses up to roughly 8pm, sleeping for 3-4 hours, being at the rally HQ at midnight to do the check run.  Departing the rally HQ for leg two and slaying a bunch of high valued bonuses at 2x their normal price.

We had a good route, one I was confident would be a top 3 finish.  It wasn’t overly aggressive, it was just right.   In fact I slept like a BABY on Tuesday after working out our optimal route.

Then came Wednesday.

It was noticed that we would hit two ‘high value’ bonuses on Friday that weren’t available until Saturday.   I spent my lunch out re-working things and was once again confident that we would have a good route.

At the end of the day I printed out the rally book and was marking page to make retrieving the information easy.   That’s when I stumbled upon bonus number 109  The group-N combo bonus.   This lovely bonus instructed that if we got 6 of them in a specific order and claimed the combo bonus, that we could score 6666 points.   That was about 1/2 of our 12,000 point route.  WOW, this was a game changer at the 11th hour.

So, of course more time was wasted trying to work that in.   It had lots of pitfalls.   All of the bonuses were only available on Saturday, so it had to be done in 14 hours.  Worse, 4 of them were daylight only bonuses.   Daylight was defined as:  Enough light to get a photo with background items clearly defined or some such nonsense.   That meant with Sunrise being at 0700, it left you with roughly 7 hours to get the remaining four.   While I was sure someone could pull it off, I was sure it was on the edge of our ability and was more likely to cause us to DNF so we wrote that bonus off.

Still we were confident that our route would score well.  Maybe a group-n getter would beat us.   But maybe they’d DNF for trying too.

We left Thursday morning for Clarksville confident we had a good route.   Then we read a question posed to the group.   If you took your rest bonus after the odo-check would that be doubled?  Pfffft I thought.   That doubling nonsense isn’t meant for those types of bonuses, I thought to myself.

Well it wasn’t meant for that but there wasn’t any wording saying it couldn’t so it would be allowed.   The rest bonus was worth 2000 points.  Ugh, making that worth a potential 4000, one that 3/4 the field would go for was a game changer.

We’d have to reassess for the 87th time.


After completing our tour of Makers Mark, and visiting the National parks we landed at our hotel for the start.  Went and got dinner, and re-evaluated the plan.   We still felt that our plan was good, in fact, shifting things around to double our rest bonus would actually score fewer points so we elected to skip that.

At the start we were discussing our plans with John Frick.  We told him what we were going to do.   He said it was a good plan but risky.  We agreed.  Then he mentioned that it was smart that we were starting our rest bonus when we did, and reminded us that we couldn’t start it before 10am.

We got our start receipts, and we were off.

On the way to our first bonus, I looked at our schedule and timeline.   Uh, our rest bonus was supposed to start at 8pm.  For roughly 4 hours.  That meant we wouldn’t have enough rest since it couldn’t be started until 10pm.  How could we have over looked this?   (Knob Creek, that’s how).

I love Knob Creek, but uh maybe it shouldn’t be consumed when planning a rally.

Just before grabbing our first bonus I mentioned to Kyle that we were ‘screwed’, and we were.

At the bonus location we discussed it, and decided we’d just have to adapt and make the best of it.   If we converted our 2000 rest bonus into a 4000 rest bonus by doubling it, we could shift it and pick up some other stuff to make up for it.

It was a good plan, a good adjustment.

We grabbed the first bonus at 10:08am #74 the Factory Water Tower in Franklin TN worth 222 points.

and moved on to the next #73 Billy Hollow Road sign in Pleasant Shade, TN worth 333 points.

and then #70 the crossville water tower with Budd’s sign in the photo for 111 points.

We added Willy G’s grave for 555 points in south Pittsburgh, TN, to help buffer the and make up for dropping stuff later:

it was quite a bit out of the way.

Then we got crushed by traffic in Chattanooga and Knoxville.  Which cost us almost 3 hours on our way to  Kingsport, TN for 222 points.



The photo was taken at 8:30, in our schedule we should have been there at 6pm.  The gig was up.  At that point we knew we were way off schedule, and way off our core route.

We headed to the barn for the 12:01 ODO check and 3 hours rest and recalculate.

Things just weren’t going our way.

We ended up at the Rally HQ at 12:30 instead of 12:01.  We took off in the fog on the ODO check ride, only to miss a turn, which forced us to do it AGAIN by the time we were done it was 0130 which meant we couldn’t leave the hotel until our 3 hour rest bonus was up at 0430.  About an hour later than planned.

A word about rest bonuses.

We’ve slept in church parking lots, we’ve slept in gas station parking lots, we’ve slept on picnic tables.   But last year at the Void, I learned the VALUE of even as few as 3 hours sleep in a bed, in a warm hotel.   It’s worth $50 for a cheap hotel, even for only 3 hours.

I was sure that we’d be able to get a room at the host hotel.  And since the hotel is (or was) a complete dive, it would have to be cheap right?  Wrong.   They have or are in the process of renovating it and making it nice.   The group rate for the rally was $89 a night.   Honestly I thought that was outrageous and price gouging for that luxury hotel, and by luxury I mean total shit-bag.  But upon returning I was mildly surprised that it was in better shape and was clearly on the path to being a better place.   So I asked the clerk if they had rooms, he said ‘sure’ but he wasn’t able to give us the rally rate and that it would be $125 for a room.

Uh, no.   At that point I wasn’t aware that the rooms were recently remodeled, even so, no, not $125.  Not when I can sleep in your lobby for FREE.  The hotel was kind enough to let people sleep on the floor of the meeting center room.  But honestly the last place I wanted to sleep was on a concrete albeit carpeted concrete floor with 25 other guys snoring like you wouldn’t believe.  So uh, no thanks.

Instead of taking $50 or $75 from me, they let a room go un-sold for the evening.  That’s hotel management 101 failure right there.

So anyway, we decided to see if there was any possibility of resurrecting our botched plan.   I spent about 45 minutes looking at what we could do and we decided to bag it.  But we couldn’t check into our room until 12pm the next day.   We spent our 3 hours in the lobby.  Kyle napped upright on the couch.  I simply can’t sleep like that so I stayed up the whole time talking to Hooch, and Jim Pucket.    When our rest time was over we decided we’d run out and get the low hanging fruit.  After all it would all be doubled.    We identified 3 bonuses that would be an fairly easy 400 mile route and add 1400 points to the bottom line.

We saddled up and rode ~70 or some miles, in the dark, in the cold (we saw 38 degrees in some valleys, and arrived at our destination at 06:15.  I grabbed the rally book to read the description.   But we weren’t at bonus number 98, we were at bonus number 90.    So instead of being worth 444 points it was only worth 12, and best of all it was daylight only so we had to stand around for 45 minutes to get the photo:

This was the last straw.  We chucked.   It wasn’t mean to be.   A nice family restaurant at this location opened at 0700, so we stopped, sat down and had a nice breakfast.  Western Omelets and Biscuits and gravy.  Yum.

We left there and grabbed two more bonuses, a 111 pointer and 222 pointer (each to be doubled) and headed back to Rally HQ.

We were back early, like 2 hours early.   But hey we were finishers 🙂 and as it worked out we were right there at the top of the bell curve.

So now we need to buy a shirt 😉

We had a blast, just over 1020 miles or something silly low like that for a rally.   That coupled with mileage to the start and home on Sunday wrapped up a 2000 mile weekend.

We didn’t have nearly the luck or results we wanted but we had fun, and that’s what it’s all about.   Good roads, good friends, good times.


Can’t wait until next year.

The MD20-20 Rally

So this year I’m finally getting to play in the Mason-Dixon 20-20 Rally.

This was supposed to happen the last two years but things have tended to get in the way.

This will be my first (and hopefully not last) long distance/endurance rally.

If you’re not familiar with what that is, let me share with you what I know up to this point. First, we ride motorcycles. No we’re not you’re stereotypical leather clad Harley riders (though there are some Harley riders that do compete in some of these events and I’m not bashing them in any way). The difference though is, well, we actually ride. I think it would be fair to say that a typical weekend ride for what’s considered ‘normal’ folks is under a 100 miles on any given weekend. (Sure some ride further but that’s probably the average). Just look at all the low mileage used bikes for sale. The 98 ZX-11 that bought used in 2005 with 4500 miles on it comes to mind. I put 24k on that in 18 months, and even that pales in comparison to some of the miles people ride.

The MD 20-20 rally is a rally that benefits John Hopkins Childrens center, but unlike your ‘standard’ rallies or poker runs which are usually pretty short and often parade like. The 50 riders in this pack will turn in approx 60,000 ride miles in the weekend, about an average of about 1200 miles per rider. Some will do more, a lot more, others less.

The Rally starts in York, PA and runs through the Memorial Day weekend. The official rally start time is after the 4:30 am riders meeting on Saturday. You must return to York, PA no later than 2pm on Sunday or penalties start to get assessed. Certainly no later than 3pm in which case you’ll be time barred. (Roughly 32 hours of ride time).

At the start, we’ll be given a rally pack with 50+ bonus locations, each worth some amount of points, plus some new locations and a few twists will be thrown in. Each year the MD20-20 has a theme, this year it’s “A Quarter for your thoughts???. What this means is there are four bonus locations that are Quarters. They are not worth any points. But what they do get you is the ability to keep 25% of the points you collected for visiting other bonus locations.

Visit enough locations to collect 2000 points but only one quarter location and you only get to claim 500 points. Simple enough right?

Well not so fast. There is a mileage cap for the rally. 1776 miles to be exact.

There is also one mandatory bonus location, again not worth anything but if you don’t visit this site you are disqualified.

Last week we were given the coordinates for all of the bonus locations as well as their point values. What we don’t have are the details for each location, or what we have to do to claim it.

If one simply maps out the 4 quarters plus the mandatory location, we find the shortest route to be 1630 Miles, which is only 146 miles under the mileage cap. You lose 25 points for each mile over the cap, so that’s not so good.


This rally is full of Iron Butt Rally vets, and those tuning up to compete in the 11 day Iron Butt Rally for 07. I don’t expect to win anything. In fact it’s my goal just to finish and finish respectably as opposed to the DNF’s my buds turned in a couple years ago.

I can’t divulge my route or strategy at this time (as if it would really matter) but I expect to have a blast.

I’ll post again later with my results.