Road Trip '99 Equipment Reviews

Over the course of the 45 days and 11,000 miles of the trip there was ample opportunity for the strengths and weaknesses of the things I brought along to present themselves. Here I present a somewhat brief synopsis of how well the various parts worked, both on their own and, where appropriate, in concert (or interference) with other items.

Here's an index of what you will find on this page:

Or you can bail out and return from here to the Equipment & Reviews page or the Road Trip '99 main page.

Motorcycle Related

1988 Honda NT650 Hawk motorcycle
This bike was built up by Mr. Pot Bellied Racer (PBR) himself. It's fitted with a CBR F2 front end, a Fox shock, steel braided brake lines, Muzzy slip-on exhaust, Two Brothers clip-ons, the air box has been drilled for increased flow, and it has been re-jetted. It will now do a roll-on wheelie in third gear (um, after I reset the valves, again, that is). There have also been a few aesthetic changes made to the rear end as well involving the chain guard (removed), brake line (through the swing arm) and fender (removed and replaced with a simple license plate bracket).
Up to Date Registration
Don't leave home without it. As it turns out one of the most favorite games cops like to play is to find a pretext to stop you and demand this document. Bad things happen if you can't produce it.
Up to Date Insurance
Ditto. Same game as registration in most states.
Small Chain Lube
During my trip I tried two different brands of chain lube and they were both junk! Both Blue Label PJ1 and Bel-Ray state that they won't fling off and this claim is bullshit in both cases. By far the worst one is Bel-Ray. Next time I'll make space for a large container of paraffin based chain wax because it is pretty much unavailable out there on the road.
Mobil 1 Oil
I prefer to use synthetic motor oil and Mobil 1 is my preferred brand. Its a little difficult to get hold of out there but not impossible.
Tour Master Tank Bag
This is a pretty good bag but I have a few complaints about it. Number one is that it isn't waterproof unless you put the cover over it. The cover, it turns out, is much too small to fit over the tank bag when it is even close to being fully loaded. The cover is also not clear so you can not see your maps and navigation devices when the cover is on the bag. The problem here is that the cover gets put on the bag when it is dark and stormy out which is quite the easiest and worst time to get lost. Lame.
Tour Master Saddle Bags
Again, these are pretty good bags but they have similar problems to the tank bag (above). In the case of the saddle bags though the covers are too big and do not stay on the bags at speed even when the edge of the elastic band is slipped under a bungee cord. I discovered this when I lost one of the bags into my rear wheel and exhaust. Shredded and burnt. Bunk.
Broken Arrow
Throttle Rocker "cruise control"

This is an interesting item that would have received much praise from me if it hadn't done (what seems to be permanent) nerve damage to my right thumb. This device clips onto the throttle grip and allows the rider to twist the throttle by using the palm of their hand rather than actually holding it in position in the usual way. This gives some much needed relief to the muscles of the right hand, which would ordinarily be very overworked by holding the throttle in the same position for, say, six hours a day for weeks on end. The big problem with this device is that it is made of hard, vibration transmitting, plastic so that the usual handlebar vibration gets transmitted straight to a nerve in the palm of the hand. After a few days of using this device I noticed that my right thumb was numb and tingly, even the day after using it. I stopped using the Throttle Rocker after about day five and things got a little better but as of this writing (99.08.29) my thumb is still a bit tingly and somewhat numb.

Any product that does permanent biological damage to the rider as a result of being used as intended gets an automatic "Broken Arrow" rating. There may be a lawsuit here if my thumb does not recover.


Motorcycle Tool Kit
The usual cookie cutters that almost all bikes come with. I had to purchase a real 17mm wrench in order to adjust my chain. Typical.
17mm Wrench
It turns out that on the NT650 the two jobs most likely to need doing on a road trip both require a 17mm wrench so bring a good one. I had to buy one on the road because I didn't. The two jobs are oil change and chain adjustment.
Not Used
Crescent Wrenches, small and large
I didn't use these but it was a good idea to have them.
Not Used
Screw Driver (multi point)
Again, I didn't use this.
Allen Keys
It turned out that I needed one of these to adjust my mirror. Good thing I had them on hand.
Not Used
Pliers, small and large
Didn't use them but good things to have around.
wire stripper
It turned out that I did need to do some field wiring and this was one of the tools I needed. Good thing I had it.
Not Used
Soldering Iron, Solder, Flux
My field wiring didn't require soldering because I had the crimp tool set (see below).
Multi Meter
I needed this to do diagnostics during my field wiring. Good thing I had it.
Crimp Connector Kit
This turned out to be a really good thing to have along. I needed on at least two occasions and it is much faster than soldering.

Emergency Equipment

Not Used
First Aid Kit
Did not need it but an absolutely "must have" item.
Not Used
venom extractor
Did not need it but, again, a "must have" item.
Not Used
Water Purifier
Didn't use it although I was tempted to use it to remove the funny taste from the local tap water in a few towns. Anything to do with water sources and reserves is a really important thing to have when traveling alone.
Used it on a couple of occasions for trivial direction finding for camera shots. Vital thing to have in an emergency.
All persons should have a source of ignition. It's one of mankind's earliest inventions and it's an oldy but goodie.
A source of illumination is a handy thing for those who don't enjoy fumbling and tripping in the dark. A reliable one is even better.

Auxiliary Equipment

Camelbak™ Water Carrier
This is a great invention. You don't have to stop, take off your helmet, and fish around in your luggage when you want a drink. You just push the hose up under your helmet and drink. Also, this is a decent source of cold when traveling in hot climates. You fill the bag with ice, and a little water for thermal conduction, and then wear it under your road jacket against your back. Works great. I suggest using one that is fairly slim and without all the pockets and gee-gaws that they sometimes have cluttering them up.
Insect Repellent
This is a must in the south unless you enjoy being bitten and stung. A lot. I used the "non-chemical" kind called Cactus Juice and it seemed to work OK. I don't like the smell of the "chemical" kinds and I'm a little paranoid about the long term health consequences of using them as well.
Prescription Glasses
If you need them don't forget them.
Prescription Sun Glasses
This was a really great idea and I'm glad that I spent the extra money to set my sun glasses up with prescription lenses. The clip on type don't work so well as somebody I met on the road discovered. He had the clip-on sun glasses for his prescription glasses but on the first day out he was whipping along on the freeway, opened his visor to make an adjustment, and those clip-ons were history. Whipped right out of his helmet by the wind.
Crust Buster
Photon "white" LED Lamps
These are one of the best inventions since fire (see above) they run for 8 hours or so on a single set of two coin cells and, even though they are small enough to hang from a zipper or key ring, they supply enough light to set up a tent. Great.


Zip Ties
One of the Western worlds best inventions. They can be used to fasten or hold just about anything. The black ones are UV resistant, the white ones are not.
Electrical Tape
This is a decent compromise between aggressive adhesion and longevity. I chose to bring electrical tape because it is weatherproof and the adhesive does not turn to crusty shit like duct tape does. It doesn't have the adhesive power of duct tape or strapping tape though.
Motorcycle Lock
Useful for locking the helmet to the bike and such.
Bungee Cords
Used to tie down my tent/bedroll and sleeping bag to my seat. There isn't a chance in the world that either of these, let alone both, would fit inside my luggage.
Bungee Netting
Useful for carrying temporary cargo on top of all the other luggage already on the bike.

Cooking Equipment

Butane Camp Stove
I bought a cheap one from Berkeley Surplus and it works like a champ. It boils a big cup/bowl of water in just a couple of minutes. It is not, however, particularly parable because none of its parts fold up. Next time I'll bring one that folds up because space is very restricted inside motorcycle luggage.
Camp Stove Fuel
The stove uses fuel. Bring enough.
I use an ordinary, large, enameled cup. No complaints.
Thermos, quart
This was a really nice luxury item. There are few things as refreshing as iced tea that is actually ice cold when it is over 100F and 100% humidity outside and there is no shade.
Tea Ball
If you drink tea this is a good way to brew it.
Ziploc ® Bags, sandwich and gallon sizes
Both sizes are useful in the fight against rain. Given the fact that my luggage was not waterproof I had to do something to keep my stuff dry. These bags are a really good first step and they take care of about 90% of the problem. The was another trick that I used the large bags for earlier on the trip. I would fill a gallon sized bag with ice from a gas station soda machine and then put it down inside my coat to keep cool. Over a period of about an hour the ice would melt and by the time I got to the next service station it would be drinking water. Repeat at next gas station.
Flatware: knife, fork, spoon
These you will need as usual.


Very important. I always had at least a 1.5 liter bottle in my tank bag as well as the thermos and Camelbak (see above).
A good, dense, loaf of bread for making sandwiches. It won't last more than five days or so before going moldy, however.
Peanut Butter
Or almond butter, or whatever you prefer. Good when you need to eat something at, say, a rest stop.
Trail Mix
Same uses as peanut butter and bread but a little more portable.
Power Bars
These are also good in emergencies.
Tea in the morning or at night. I get my Russian Caravan tea from Peet's Coffees & Teas.
Sugar Bags
For use in tea. Steal them from restaurants as needed.
Dehydrated Tofu Chili
I found this in a store in Austin, Texas, and it was such a good idea that I'm amazed that I didn't think of it at the beginning of the trip. Just add hot water and wait a few minutes and it's pretty damn good.
Dehydrated Black Beans
Same as the chili but a little less zippy. Sort of bland, actually.


Ground Cloth
For use under the tent. Need to fold the edges under so that they don't stick out past the tent or if it rains the water will pool between the tent and the ground cloth. Keeps the dirt and whatnot off the bottom of the tent and protects the tent from sharp stones, etc.
The tent that I have is a Walrus two-man tent. It's not particularly light or fancy but it works well and has survived all the storms that hit me during this trip.
Not Used
Thin Rope
Useful if the tent needs to be tied down or the food needs to be tied up (in a bear bag). I had some but didn't use it.
Sleeping Mat
The mat that I have is one of those foam roll-up types. The next time I do this I'll use one of the fancy self-inflating ones. The foam pad I have works well but is not very small when stowed. The inflatable ones are great.
Sleeping Bag
I have a North Face bag and it's a pretty good one. I was only cold one night (way up in the mountains) on the whole trip.


FirstGear Kilimanjaro Jacket
This item worked as advertised. It kept the wet out even when it was raining drops that, I swear, were the size of large marbles. Even at freeway speeds. The arms are a little thin so rain at speed tends to sting a bit. Ventilation was good. Wearability and comfort were reasonably good (I wore this just about non-stop for 45 days). It has enough pockets for most of my electronics gear. There is one thing that should be fixed in the design of this jacket though. When the right side of the collar flips open the (hook) Velcro on it attacks the stitching on the right shoulder pad. Over time this will destroy the stitching in that location. Pretty good item overall though.
FirstGear Overpants
The pants are a different story however. They leak in the seat and they lack adequate venting. There should be a short, zippered, vent on the inside of each leg somewhere near the knee. This vent arrangement would allow air into the legs of these otherwise (just about) unbearably hot trousers without compromising their protective integrity the way opening the outer zipper does. This is because in order to get any real air circulation through the outside zippers the must be opened for too big a length. The outside zippers do not face into the wind like the (needed) inside leg zippers would. Fix these two things, especially the leaky seat, and these overpants will be up to speed.
Arai Quantum/e Helmet
My head is shaped like the inside of an Arai helmet. This one fits and works well. It doesn't try to rip my head off at freeway speed the way my old Shoei RF-200 did. This is a very good helmet (it ought to be at over $400).
Widder Electric Vest and Controls
The guy who invented these should be sainted or something. This thing is just the greatest when it's really cold out and you have to keep on driving. Great.
Commie Jackboots
What can I say. I've been wearing boots like these since the Berlin Wall came down. They are cheap and durable and when you put an athletic insole into them they even become comfortable. Too bad they are getting hard to find.
Timberland™ Rubber Sandals
After hurting my feet on the gravel bottom of Lake Mead I bought some rubber sandals for wading and showering. They were inexpensive and easy to get.
1 Army Pants
I mostly wore shorts under the FirstGear overpants because the overpants were so hot. I started out with two pairs of pants on the trip and sent one pair back because I didn't need it and it was taking up space.
1 Shorts
Shorts with many pockets. These were a very versatile item.
4 Shirts
In the South the number of shirts was the limiting factor in how often I did laundry. When it's 100F or so and 100% humidity wearing the same shirt two days in a row is simply not an option.
Thermal Underwear
I used these for sleeping in when I was at higher elevations and Northern latitudes.
6 Pairs Socks
More socks = fewer laundry days.
3 Pairs Underwear


Listed here for completeness but not reviewed because we've all been using them for so many years that we really know what we need and what we don't.

Tooth Brush  
Tooth Paste  
Hair Gel Gosh, this looks like extreme vanity. Well maybe it is...
Wash Cloth  
Soap Box Put wet soap in here. Duh.
Disposable Razors I brought only a few of these because I wasn't really going to shave every day.
Shaving Cream Needed for use with the razors. Initially I simply used soap but later on I picked up a little, tiny, can of cream.
Toilet Paper A good idea to have some of this. Just in case...

Electronic Equipment

Battery Charging Station

60 W 12 VDC to 120 VAC Power Inverter
I bought this from the Sportsman's Guide catalog and it's nearly a piece of junk. The 12V lighter plug failed immediately and had to be replaced. Each and every time I start the motorcycle the inverter would go dead until reset by unplugging and plugging it back in. Junk.
Charging Station
Radio Shack NiMH charger. Unexceptional but seems to work.
24 x AA NiMH Batteries
These are just super. They last a really long time compared to NiCd batteries and they cost just over $2 each. Not a bad deal considering that alkaline batteries cost about $1 but are not at all rechargeable.

Digital Camera

Apple QuickTake 200 Digital Camera
Like I said earlier, this is probably the lowest quality image digital camera. Ever. It always seems to have either a field of view that is just too narrow or way too wide. Oh well, it's what I have. This is really somewhere between a Squib and an A-Bomb.
5 x 4MB SmartMedia Storage Cards
$17 each and they hold about 44 photos per card. That's getting down to cheaper than film and they are reusable to boot.
1 x 2MB SmartMedia Storage Card
Came with the camera.
PC Card Adaptor (just in case)
This thing is a real necessity for downloading images from the camera to a computer. It is simply hundreds of times faster than the serial cable and doesn't need any special software.
mini-DIN8 to 2.5mm mini-jack Serial Cable
This is the serial cable used to connect the QT200 camera to a Macintosh computer. It also just happens to be usable to make a serial connection between the Newton MP2100 and the Kenwood D7-A ham radio.


This is the final incarnation of the Apple Newton Message Pad. It really works and does what it was advertised to do and more. Connecting this to a ham radio with a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) and using TCP/IP through it is very simple. It does so many neat-o things that I won't bother trying to list even a fraction of them. It has the Palm Pilot beat in every category except size. No you can't buy one because they are no longer in production.
Not Used
Goes with the Message Pad. I thought I might need it for writing letters or doing packet radio but turned out that I didn't use it even once.
Cable Adaptor "dongle"
This is the vital link between the MP2100 and just about anything else in the outside world that doesn't wield a pen. Don't forget it. Don't loose it.
Serial Card, Cable
This card is an extra serial port with a DB-9 (standard) connector cable. Handy.
Ethernet Card, Cable
This card is an Ethernet port. This is a really useful card because it allows the Newton to connect to an EtherTalk network. I used it once to print a letter at the only laser printer for miles around which just happened to be on an EtherTalk network at a high school.
Fax Modem
I brought this along just in case. Fax modems can be useful in the complete absence of available printers. It seems that fax machines are more common than printers, I have discovered.

Hand Held Ham Radio

Kenwood TH-D7A Hand Held Ham Radio
This is the "do-it-all" model of hand held ham radios. It has a built-in 9600 baud Terminal Node Controller (ham radio modem), built-in Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) software, and a whole slew of other features. I'm still trying to learn all its tricks. Pretty good but needs more output power. Next time I'll bring an amp/mobile unit along as well because I was almost never close enough to hit any of the repeaters out there.
Junk. There needs to be a type of headset that is immune to wind noise both at the mic and the headphone. Like I said, this one is junk.
Not Used
AA Battery Adaptor
I didn't use this item but I can imagine it would be useful in a pinch.
Broken Arrow
Kenwood 12V Filtered Adaptor
This adaptor gets the award for the absolute worst piece of junk that I brought on the trip. The engineer who designed it should be put to hard labor for the rest of his or her life. This thing did a good job of trying to burn out the radio it was supposed to be the filtered supply for. The device has a small part inside with a ridge on it that causes the spring-loaded contact at its tip to rapidly make-and-break contact when the unit is subjected to vibrations such as found on a vehicle. The rapid on-off switching of the supply seems to cause it to become "un-filtered" and put out a high enough voltage that the radio gives a "supply overload" signal. Very poor mechanical design for a $50 cable. I just can not say too strongly how poorly this, very expensive, piece of crap was designed.
Standard Antenna
This antenna is the one that came with the TH-D7A and is the shortest and most convenient of the pair that go onto the hand held. It's a low performance "rubber ducky" so not much was expected of it.
High Gain Antenna
Supposedly this antenna gives a 2 or 3 dB boost over the short one that came with the unit. I haven't had the chance to notice much of a difference between the two of them. Its performance was nominal.
Mobile Antenna
This one is affixed to the motorcycle and has a substantial boost in gain over either of the hand held ones.

GPS receiver

Crust Buster
Garmin GPS-III Mapping Receiver
If there was a piece of equipment that performed way beyond my expectations this would be it. I just can't express how totally cool this little toy is. No more navigational confusion. No more getting all turned around in an unfamiliar city. No more squinting with a lamp in the dark pulled over at the side of the road trying to read a map that is flapping in the wind. Great. One small drawback was the unit's poor battery life (8 hours) but since I used it on the bike about 99% of the time this wasn't much of an issue. The newer ones have about four times (36 hours or more) the battery life now.

The least expensive place to buy this particular GPS receiver is, oddly, the Aerostitch web site. The listed price is (as of 99.09.01) $257, which may be an error on their part but they will honor it as long as it's still on the web page.

Garmin Cable, 12VDC and RS-232 (DB-9) Serial
The only drawback to the GPS-III is the cost of the (proprietary) power/data cable: ~$50.

Other Cables

DB-9 f to 2.5mm Mini-Jack Cable
I built this to interface between the MP2100 serial card and the D7-A radio. I brought this just in case I had to use the keyboard with the MP2100 while connected to the D-7A.

DB-9 m to 2.5mm Mini-Jack Cable
I built this to interface between GPS-III and the D7-A radio.

2 x 5' BNC to BNC Coax Cables
I picked these up at a Radio Shack after the one that I had failed.
Fan, 12VDC Muffin (computer) Type
This was another good idea that came along a little late in the trip. The idea here was to put together a fan that I could use inside my tent, powered by the motorcycle's battery, during those hot Southern nights. It's probably just as well that I never really got a chance to use this device given the state of health (or lack thereof) of my NT650's battery. The drain from this all night probably would have led to a disappointment in the morning.

Maps & Information

Ham Radio Repeater Map Book
The ARRL Repeater Directory is a necessary accessory if you have a ham radio and actually plan on talking to anyone else with it.
KOA Campgrounds Guide
I would have to consider most of the nights spent at KOA campgrounds to be failures of some kind. It is far more enjoyable to camp at an actual park campground than at a KOA parking lot with camp sites. Most of the times that I did the KOA thing was because I couldn't find an alternative or needed to do laundry.
A-Bomb Road Maps I picked up an assortment of road maps from service stations along the way. Typically the "going to a new state" ritual included some searching for maps of the new state either just after or before crossing the border. Gousha maps are the very best, hands down. They get an H-Bomb H-Bomb.
Pocket Road Alas
The Gousha Pocket Road Atlas to be exact.
Relativity Books
I had planned to do a bit of reading but really did very little.

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Page last modified Sunday, July 20, 2003 1:40 PM