Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Tue, 04 Aug 2015 07:46:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Westx1000: Hidden Highways & Haikyoshttp://expeditionportal.com/westx1000-hidden-highways-haikyos/ http://expeditionportal.com/westx1000-hidden-highways-haikyos/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 07:46:36 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29794 Chris sent me a photo a few months ago. The gaping entrance to an out of service mine shaft was centered in the frame with two or three motorcycles sitting on one side, and what appeared to be an eager group of adventurer riders standing on the other. One of which was holding up the canvas sheet that was draped over the entrance. An ominous message was written on it, but since none of these gentlemen could read Japanese Kanji characters, no one cared what it said… or so I assumed. What I later learned was that Chris had aligned himself with a group of expatriates, who, with gray market dual-sport and adventure motorcycles seated beneath them, spend their free time exploring the hidden highways and abandoned Haikyos of Japan’s overlooked and often forgotten backcountry.

Our first encounter with these expatriates occurred in the parking lot of a convenience store. Now, not that this has anything to do with the story, but I need to mention how amazing Japan’s “convenience stores” can be. Imagine everything that’s alright with your local 7-11 – hot coffee, a quick bite to eat, a place to pee, et al. – then add Japanese enthusiasm, courtesy and, well, convenience. The employees of these establishments (7-11 being the most prominent, however Lawson’s comes in a close second) are about as gracious, polite and pleasant as people can be. And the food… good lord the food is good! Pork filled puffy buns, rice ‘pucks’ with salmon inside, fried gyoza, yakisoba noodles, sticky rice wrapped in some kind of egg skin, matcha everything – ice cream, tea, cookies – and a massive selection of baked goods and beer. This is a summation, not to be confused with a close encounter, because honestly, this is something you need to experience for yourself.

I was inside when everyone arrived – purchasing an assortment of the aforementioned sustenance that would be stuffed into my backpack for what I assumed would be a rather long day. I had no idea that this particular day would include some ten hours of motorcycling, a four hour hike into the woods and the discovery of an entire town, abandoned some twenty-plus years prior.

 

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The highways in Japan are nothing like six-wide super freeways found in America. Efficient, yes, but also unabashedly cut into, through and around Mt. Fuji, so as to streamline the process of entering and escaping Tokyo to the west. Our initial destination, a spot that Neil – an expatriate of Kiwi origins – had discovered while shamelessly browsing Google Maps. From above it appeared to be a collection of rather large structures – a home perhaps, with an attached barn, outbuildings and what appeared to be a large piece of property surrounding it. Again, from above, our point of interest seemed but a short distance from the highway. Perhaps an easy bit of bushwhacking, or if we were lucky, a short trail hike. Well, we weren’t lucky.

I threw my jacket across the seat of my motorcycle, slung my camera across my chest and followed my five friends through an opening in a fence and into the woods. What we didn’t account for, what Neil never thought to look at, was the topographical information for this area. Yes, the structures were only a half-mile away as the crow flies, but as we proceeded in the direction of our POI, what awaited us was a massive ravine, some sixty-degrees in grade on either side. “It’s just over that ridge,” Neil shouted. “Not sure what side, though.” We split the group, three and three, and climbed… up! I’m all for outdoor walking, what other people call “hiking,” but a sixty-degree uphill scramble through dense woods wearing a t-shirt, weatherproof riding pants and motorcycle moon boots is not my idea of appropriate attire, or a good time. But trudge we did, foot following foot, cutting across the face so as to reduce the risk of tumbling backwards. I think it was about an hour into it, with a sweat soaked shirt and dark layers of dirt beneath my fingernails that I realized Kyra wasn’t with me. Chris and I had been climbing up at a pace that might only be matched by the most avid of ‘outdoor walking enthusiasts.’ We had reached the top of the ridgeline only to discover yet another hillside we needed to ascend. I made my way to the edge and began to holler, hoping that Kyra could hear my voice on the other side. To my surprise, and I suppose everyone else’s, the other three members of our Haikyo hunting party were coming across the top of the ridgeline, headed dead at us. We rendezvoused, discussed our options and then proceeded, yet again, in the direction of our POI.

 

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In order to paint a better picture, perhaps I should give you a bit of background. From what I have gleaned through Google, conversations with friends and interactions with people living in Tokyo, for the last twenty-five years there has been a mass urbanization of Japan. ‘Up, Not Out,’ is a phrase I am familiar with – the idea that growing our urban centers will reduce our impact on the surrounding areas. And while this seems like a good idea on paper, it does create an influx of individuals into an area that is often times unable to support them. Seattle, as an example, has been unable to meet its ever growing population of Tech Industry professionals, creating chaos for commuters, cost of living increases and overpriced accommodations. Tokyo is a little different, though, but perhaps only recently. Rewinding the clock a few decades, I imagine a city bulging with young people eager to escape the suburban or rural life they were born into. And here we have the Haikyo, what is otherwise an abandoned home on the outskirts of one of the world’s largest cities.

Imagine a mass exodus; fleeing your home with only what you could carry. That is essentially what awaited us at the top of our second, and equally challenging hill climb. A home, two stories tall, with tatama mat floors soaked from rain that leaked through a fire damaged roof, piles of personal effects, clothing and cooking equipment, among many other things. It was clear no one had been here for a while. What we later discovered, however, was that two brothers had lived in this home their whole lives, one dying before the other. Someone – a family member most likely – had visited, and was keen to keep the family shrine that sits in the ‘living room’ stocked with offerings. Other than that, the home was unkempt, rotting and in a total state of disrepair. We climbed a wooden ladder to the top floor where we found unopened gifts, large tins of soy beans, family heirlooms and photo albums. It was eerie.

 

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Our descent was wonderfully short thanks to the discovery of a narrow trail that dumped us about a quarter-mile up the highway from where we left our motorcycles. Back on our bikes, I followed a Russian born Australian turned Japanese expatriate down some of the most incredible mountain roads I have ever ridden. We stopped for a snack and then pulled our bikes beyond a closed gate and onto a section of highway that had been all but forgotten. Where there was once a beautifully manicured and maintained two lane road cutting across the side of a mountain, there was now the crumbling remnant of something that must of have taken years to create. But oh was it wonderful. We snaked our way up and over, down and around, navigating large boulders that had fallen from above, piles of pine needles that were two feet deep in some places, and sections of road that had been entirely washed away. Around two or three more gates, we entered what at a distance appeared to be a small village, with maybe five or six homes on either side of the road. As we approached, however, it became clear that we’d stumbled upon an entire community that had seemingly evacuated their homes. Slippers sat at the entrance, waiting for someone to come home. Linens were folded neatly in the closets. We found a massive teddy bear in the attic, and the fire pit that was used for cooking sat ominously unused in the center of the room. It was as if everyone left for work one morning and never returned.

 

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The ride back took place after dark. We explored a bit more, opening doors, climbing stairs and shuffling through the things people left behind.  Honestly, it’s difficult to explain. Young people, eager to make a name for themselves, or perhaps just experience the excitement that is Tokyo, disregard their family homes and instead move into the city. And since everyone is imploding, there’s no market for these traditional style homesteads, which instead are left sitting, like a time capsule into a culture that I barely understand, a culture that now confuses me even more.

 

 

WESTx1000

Conceived in a coin-op laundry room in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, what started as an excuse to ride dirt bikes in Baja has become a portal into the lives of two cultural anthropologists, authors and photographers. Whether documenting the infamous Baja 1000 off-road race, searching for surf in the Pacific Northwest, investigating Japan’s eclectic motorcycle culture, exploring the West Coast by bicycle or riding their dual-sport motorcycles from Barstow to Las Vegas, the idea stays the same… “If you get far enough away you’ll be on your way back home.” - Tom Waits

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Pipe Dreamhttp://expeditionportal.com/pipe-dream/ http://expeditionportal.com/pipe-dream/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 19:37:50 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=30111
Robbie Maddison defies reality and leaves us speechless. Bravo Mr. Maddison, DC Shoes and DefyConvention Video.

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Sheriff Calls for the Closure of Black Bear Pass to Motor Vehicleshttp://expeditionportal.com/sheriff-calls-for-the-closure-of-black-bear-pass-to-motor-vehicles/ http://expeditionportal.com/sheriff-calls-for-the-closure-of-black-bear-pass-to-motor-vehicles/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 18:32:55 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=30106 Black Bear Pass is one of the most scenic and challenging trails in all of southwestern Colorado, and by its very nature draws thousands of visitors every season. Travelers come from around the world to ply its switchbacks overhanging the picturesque town of Telluride in everything from rented Jeeps to Hummers. As is the case nearly every year, some of those vehicles never complete the trail in one piece. Despite signs signaling the route’s inherent dangers, accidents are rife.

 

This weekend included one more incident as a couple from Florida rolled their vehicle causing a dispatch of rescue resources and the closure of the road for several hours. The couple escaped with non-life-threatening injuries, but this latest event may have been the straw to break the camel’s back. San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters is calling for a permanent closure of Black Bear Pass to all motorized vehicles.

 

“At this time of year we are seeing hundreds of vehicles traveling on this extremely hazardous terrain. It’s not safe, and it’s not safe for our community when all of our resources are tied up for an incident like this.” – Sheriff Masters.

Reports say the couple from Florida arrived at the trail’s famous “steps,” and decided to turn around. While navigating around a rock in the trail, the driver said the embankment gave way and the vehicle slid off the road before rolling several times, coming to rest on its roof. More than twenty responders from the local Search and Rescue team as well as EMS, Fire and Sheriff Deputies were on the scene to conduct the 90-minute extraction of the injured parties. Lined up behind the scene were more than 100 vehicles.

 

This call to close the pass comes on the heels of Sheriff Masters recent comments about other stresses placed on the community and it’s limited resources. In May he spoke out against increased abuses to local camping areas and the massive amounts of trash collecting in the pristine outlying areas around the town. With visitations to the area increasing with each year, something will have to give.

 

 

 

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Chevrolet Announces 2016 Colorado 2.8-liter Duramax Dieselhttp://expeditionportal.com/chevrolet-announces-2016-colorado-2-8-liter-duramax-diesel/ http://expeditionportal.com/chevrolet-announces-2016-colorado-2-8-liter-duramax-diesel/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 07:37:04 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=30018 America has gone green. Not in the sense that Leonardo DiCaprio is driving a Prius, or upcycling pallets into crude patio furniture has become a thing. We’re talking about the other green: envy -and why shouldn’t we be? While every city from Bangkok to Bogota seems to have an ever expanding fleet of diesel powered machines, we (in the U.S.) are often left empty handed. Thankfully, it appears that the tide has begun to shift; especially in the truck segment.

 

Since 2011, General Motors has been producing a variant of their potent 2.8 liter turbo-diesel Duramax engine for use in Southeast Asia and South American markets. The good news is that we will soon be receiving a U.S. spec version of this new powerplant for the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado. Yes, you read that correctly, we will be receiving a compact, diesel powered 4×4 pickup truck right here in the good ol’ U S of A.

 

The four cylinder Duramax is a model of contemporary design and brings with it many welcomed improvements. For forced induction duty, GM has implemented a variable geometry turbine wheel (VGT). This combines the quick spooling characteristics of a smaller turbocharger with the higher flow rate of a larger unit. The function of the VGT is controlled electronically to maximize efficiency and overall drivability across the RPM range. The VGT provides most of the benefits of a sequential turbocharger system with far less complexity.

 

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A faster spooling turbocharger not only provides superior driveability, it also comes with the benefits of forced induction at a lower RPM. This equates to increased torque at lower engine speeds, an obvious advantage when towing. GM boasts that the little Duramax produces an impressive 330 lb/ft of torque from 1,400 – 2,900 RPM (with a max of 369 lb/ft at 2,000 RPM). These are truly respectable numbers, especially considering it propels a compact truck.

 

The diesel variant of the Colorado will also be fitted with an engine brake to scrub off excess speed whenever the accelerator pedal is lifted. A welcome side effect of engine braking comes in the form of reduced brake wear which saves on maintenance costs, while providing an increased margin of safety. GM has also added an interesting feature to their fleet: 4G-LTE Wifi. As of now, they are the only company providing this option. Wifi may not be useful on the remotest tracks, but will certainly prove useful when updating your travel blog on the road.


Overall, the big bow tie has put quite a bit of emphasis on Colorado sales. At the time of writing this, the Toyota Tacoma (the Colorado’s main competition) is out pacing the little truck by a sales ratio 2.5:1. It will be interesting to see if the addition of a diesel motor will have any effect on this. Perhaps if this truck sells well enough, other companies such as a VW (with their Amarok), or Ford (Ranger) might consider us worthy of other compact diesel trucks. Fingers crossed.

 

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Powertrain Specifications

Engine: 2.8 liter turbo-diesel 4 cylinder, aluminum cylinder head, dual balance shafts

Turbocharger: VGT (Variable Geometry Turbocharger) 40 PSI max, no wastegate

Fuel: Diesel, 29,000 PSI common rail direct-injection, 16.5:1 C/R

Engine output: 181 hp @3400 RPM, 369 lb/ft torque @2000 RPM

Transmission: Hydramatic 6L50 | Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber (reduces backlash)

Transfercase: 2 speed electronic

MPG: TBA (rumoured to be in the 34 mpg range)

 

Towing Aids

Exhaust brake

Integrated Trailer Control

Towing capacity: TBA

 

Special Features

4G-LTE Wifi

8” Touchscreen headunit, touch and swipe feature

Rear vision camera

Forward Collision Alert

Lane departure warning

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Sirocco Overland: The Beginning of the End (Part 1)http://expeditionportal.com/sirocco-overland-the-beginning-of-the-end/ http://expeditionportal.com/sirocco-overland-the-beginning-of-the-end/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 07:07:13 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29928 As darkness fell, I was scrabbling around on the floor underneath the 100 series Land Cruiser trying to locate the origin of the fast flowing fuel leak emanating from the main tank. With the beam from my head torch, I could see the stream of petrol arcing like an ornamental fountain away from the top of the tank. This was going to be tough to get to, but even tougher to try and repair.
Just moments earlier we had filled up both fuel tanks (by hand) after arriving on vapour. To add further complexity to the situation, we were having engine trouble which was causing a lack of power and eventual halt for five minutes… every five minutes. We were 200Km south of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and less than five days in. This was not how I envisaged my five weeks mapping National Parks for the MAPA Project…
Let’s go back a little. The MAPA Project (Mapping Africa’s Protected Areas) has been doing its thing around the south and east of the continent since 2008, when I was busy driving around Morocco in my own Land Rover. It wasn’t until late August 2010 that I spotted a thread on the Expedition Portal notifying that they were doing the same for West Africa and looking for volunteers. The post was a number of months old, but I thought it was worth getting an application in. This time around, MAPA decided entrants needed to be in pairs to ensure compatibility. This being the case, I needed a good friend who could take five weeks off with little notice, wanted to travel through some of the most politically unstable and corrupt countries of the world, and working voluntarily at the same time. Bush mechanics, a foreign tongue, Wilderness First Aid training, 4×4 driving skills, some gadget experience and a thirst for outdoor living were all desirable extras.

 

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Emails went around some of my more experienced overland travelling friends but the response was a disappointing and resounding no. I put the trip out of my mind. Two weeks later I got a call from Peter, a friend I’d made in Morocco; he had reconsidered and was up for a new adventure. We promptly put our applications in and weeks went by without even a notification. A quick email to March Turnbull (MAPA Director) proved he had not only received our applications, but had put us on the first reserve list. “Is that OK?” he said. Absolutely! A month later March called us up, but Peter was in Namibia. We had to say no. At the end of November, another opportunity came up as MAPA had a 3-month stint to fill early the following year. We put in for mid- March to mid-April when Peter would be around, plus it straddled the holiday year for us both meaning getting time off should be easy…
Routes were planned, and flights were scoured for reasonable prices. Luckily, this took a little longer to finalise, as Peter soon discovered he could not get the full five weeks off work. It was no good. I had to find someone else… fast.

 

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By February, the project was under threat as teams had been mapping east to west from Cameroon and routes were becoming harder to negotiate. The recent civil unrest in the Ivory Coast removed a vital link south along the coast. Parks in northern Mali and Niger were off-limits due to the recent kidnappings and murders of westerners by various terrorist cells. Coupled with the possibility of closed land borders into Guinea-Bissau (due to an ongoing military coup), MAPAs time in West Africa was limited. With the other team two weeks ahead of us, it was decided that they would make their way to Guinea (if possible) through to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau then on to Dakar in Senegal, the final meeting point. My route would take me through Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and possibly Gambia. With only five weeks to go and nobody lined up, I honestly didn’t think I would be going anywhere. Simon, a friend at work, sounded keen but couldn’t get the time off…so he quit! He felt the time was right to start a new adventure, so he did it in style! The four-week countdown vanished in a haze of injections and packages of Toyota parts, and before I knew it, I was bidding farewell to Lisa on the tarmac of Bristol Airport. The adventure had begun.
Burkina Faso
Touching down in Ouaga (Ouagadougou) the air temperature on opening the cabin doors was a relentless 42°C. Visas and yellow fever certificates were checked, and after a quick rustle of the bags we were cleared from customs.
Our lifeline for the next five weeks was a Toyota Land Cruiser 105 series. South African registered and right hand drive, it unfortunately had the 4.5L straight-6 petrol engine (1FZ for Toyo aficionados). Thirsty? How does 14mpg (20l/100km) sound? Not to worry; we had two fuel tanks topping 120 litres and a further three jerry cans on the roof. Fuel worries aside (for now), we had a 50 litre inbuilt water tank, solar panel, battery charger, braii grill, winch, awning and the legendary MT45 Engel fridge.

 

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After picking up our Malian visas and an assortment of food, we headed south filled with excitement and anticipation of mapping our first park. When you’re in a new country, you need a little time to adjust to your surroundings. Climate, language barriers, and more importantly for overlanders, road conditions can vary enormously. Driving into Pó after six hours of diversions, potholes, corrugations, dirt roads and tollbooths, we couldn’t find the piste we needed to get to Nazinga Ranch, our first park. Asking the locals proved fruitless; as we would discover soon enough, not many people had even heard of the National Parks. Making our way through a ramshackle market, the dirt road soon opened out to the piste we were looking for and we were on our way to Nazinga Ranch. We had only wasted three hours…
Keen to spot some wildlife, we entered the park early. We paid our fees at the park’s entrance, some 40km from our accommodation in the centre. Less than 10km in, we came across a large herd of antelope cascading through the bush in front of us. Moments later we disturbed a troop of baboons as we passed their watering hole. Stopping at the next hide overlooking one of the many barrages (watering holes/lakes), we spotted crocodiles, herons, rollers, kingfishers and several other bird species. As we crossed the last barrage into
the encampment, we were thrilled to see three elephants cooling off in the water. We couldn’t believe how much wildlife we had seen in the last two hours!
A pair of Canadians established Nazinga Ranch in 1979 for wildlife and ecological studies, developing a 600km network of pistes interlinked with a number of barrages over a 50x40km area. They re-introduced various species that had been poached from the area and worked with farmers to limit livestock in the park’s boundaries. With improved resource management, the park flourished and surpassed all expectations. Today the ranch is nationally owned and aimed at tourists. We spent the next two days mapping the remaining pistes and waypointing barrages, taking in the plethora of wildlife as we went. What a welcome to Burkina Faso.

 

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Our elation didn’t last long as our Land Cruiser started to lose power and we were soon reduced to a limp. We suspected air/fuel problems, but there was nothing obvious. We left the park via the west where we passed some of the most remote villages of our trip, a truly unforgettable experience. But we struggled to find fuel so had to digress from our scheduled route and head back north to Sapouy. After finally fuelling up, we decided we needed to be back in Ouagadougou to get the car sorted, so with the sun setting we drove towards the capital.
It was during the drive that we noticed the massive fuel leak. So back in Ouagadougou, we spent the weekend patching the hole in the top of the fuel tank and cleaning out the air filters to fix the power issue. After checking and cleaning the spark plugs, we could still find no obvious problem. We traced the fuel lines, blew out the fuel filter: nothing. We would have to wait until Monday for Africa Motors to look at it. We headed up there early, and they suggested a number of things, none of which solved the problem. But it did improve things and the Cruiser was drivable once it had warmed up, as long as you didn’t need to ‘give it the beans’ at any point which made overtaking a little trickier than usual!
The next morning we arrived at Deux Bales National Park, where the park ranger kindly informed us there was nothing to see. He was still happy to charge the 12,000CFA (US$20) for the privilege of driving around though! We mapped the pistes, way-pointed the entrance, park boundary, park office and all the oued crossings, which were extensive. Stomachs rumbled and the midday sun loomed so we headed off to the encampment, which was under development after floods ravaged the area in 2006. Luckily, the restaurant was up and running, so we had a bite to eat overlooking the River Mouhoun while a man in a dugout canoe drifted silently past.

 

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As the intensity of the oppressive heat waned, we set off and covered another quarter of the park, yet we saw nothing but elephant footprints. So, after a quick dinner and some data processing, we decided on an early night. Hopefully, the elusive elephants wouldn’t trample our tents in the dead of night… I woke early the following morning, getting the coffee on as the sun rose to the sound of the dawn chorus. We mapped the remainder of the park
before heading back to Ouaga’ for the night. On the way there we picked up a trio of young Germans who informed us that there had been rioting in Ouaga’ only days ago. Shops, businesses and fuel stations had closed as premises had been ransacked and vandalised. This was bad news for us; we needed fuel and food before heading to Mali. Things had calmed down quite quickly though, and shops started opening their doors. We stocked up on what we needed and headed northwest the next day for the border.

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American Overlander: Arizona Outdoor Furniturehttp://expeditionportal.com/american-overlander-arizona-outdoor-furniture/ http://expeditionportal.com/american-overlander-arizona-outdoor-furniture/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 07:24:59 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=30006 It’s no secret the modern overlander has a predisposition for creature comforts. A typical overland campsite often has finer appointments than many brick and mortar homes. This is certainly true if your campsite is adorned with furnishings from Arizona Outdoor Furniture.

In an age when most camping tables are inevitably headed for the dumpster, Arizona Outdoor Furniture’s offerings are built to be handed down to the next generation. Designed and fabricated by well-known overlander Brian DeArmon, his creations are the product of his many years on the trail. He has an astute appreciation for refinement, and the durability required to make sure his furniture endures years of adventure.

We recently had the chance to test the Prep and Cocktail tables, and we are were impressed, not that we had any doubts in Brian’s abilities as a craftsmen. Made of solid white oak, the Prep table has a 32-inch height which makes it ideal for camp duties whereby standing is preferred over sitting. The 36×24-inch work surface provides ample real estate for preparing meals or mixing sundowners. Assembly is intuitive and takes as little as three to four minutes once you get the assembly process dialed in.

 

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One of the finer attributes of the Prep table is its positive stance. Whereas many camp tables are little more than wobbly platforms on which to spill your precious liquids, this table is steadfast and solid. Disassembly is quick and fitting all of the components into the heavy-duty zippered bag is effortless. One of my pet peeves is having to wiggle things into small storage bags but this is not the case with the Arizona Outdoor Furniture bags.

 

 

To compliment the tall prep table, we added the shorter and smaller Cocktail table to our kit. At just seven pounds and packaged in a waterproof bag scarcely larger than a loaf of bread, it slipped into our truck taking up very little room. Once assembled, a process that takes fewer than a few minutes, the 16-inch height and 15-inch squared table surface provided more than enough room for the drinks and snacks we like to keep within easy reach. Not too tall to pair to lower chairs like the Kermit chair, it was also a perfect height when used with regular sized chairs like those from Pico or Snow Peak.

 

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At $279 for the Prep Table, and only $99 for the Cocktail Table, they represent an excellent value considering those prices include a robust storage bag, and lets no forget this is for hand-made furniture.

 

For more information, visit: www.azoutdoorfurniture.com

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Honda’s New Africa Twin: The Final Details Releasedhttp://expeditionportal.com/hondas-new-africa-twin-the-final-details-released/ http://expeditionportal.com/hondas-new-africa-twin-the-final-details-released/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 07:44:08 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29976 After what amounts to effectively a two-plus decade wait, the final announcement of the forthcoming Honda Africa Twin hit this weekend with less impact than I would have expected. It’s not because the new Twin isn’t a stunner on paper. If anything, I think most people are reserving their excitement for the day when these machines finally start rolling onto dealer floors. According to Honda that should happen in the early months of 2016.

In what I would say is one of the most protracted teases in recent motorcycle history, Honda has been slowly releasing images and vague details about the Africa Twin for the better part of the last two years. As of last friday, they finally opened the books on this new motorcycle with all the juicy details, save for the final price.

Much of the information released was already known, but is now confirmed. The new 998cc twin produces 94 horsepower with 72 pound feet of torque. At only a shade over 500 pounds with a five gallon tank, 21-inch front wheel (spoked) and class-leading suspension travel, the Africa Twin leans heavily towards the dirt, playing nicely into the wants of many riders and in keeping with the legacy of the original “Queen of the Desert.”

Honda used the 2016 Africa Twin to showcase a host of new technologies, at least as they relate to a big adventure bike. Most notably is the optional Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT).  With automatic and manual modes, the DCT system is designed to offer riders precise control of the transmission with a push of a button on the left handlebar. The system is even capable of detecting the steepness of a given incline to transition the bike through the gears most effectively. At an added 31 pounds, the DCT system might earn its weight offset with those riders new to the dirt.

The design ethos behind the Africa Twin centered around reducing weight and bulk, and most importantly, maintaining an ideal balance. To achieve this end, the battery is packaged aft of the cylinder head and the water pump is contained within the clutch casing to reduce overall engine bulk. That engine is a derivative of their CRF250R and CRF450R machines with materials shared by the brand’s high performance CBR1000RR sportbike.

Time will tell how well the Africa Twin will do in North American markets, but as best as we can tell, it’s going to poach a lot of riders from the BMW and KTM fold. As a former owner of a 1989 Africa Twin, I can’t wait to swing a leg over the new iteration. It looks very much like the motorcycle we’ve waited for so long to have.

 

For the full story on Honda’s website, click [HERE].

 

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Trevolta’s Crowd Funded Travel Site Announces the Endhttp://expeditionportal.com/trevoltas-crowd-funded-travel-site-announces-the-end/ http://expeditionportal.com/trevoltas-crowd-funded-travel-site-announces-the-end/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 17:17:24 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29970 Some people likely saw this coming. I know many people wanted it to happen. Either way, it would seem that crowd funded travel has taken a hit as of late with Trevolta announcing the end of their services.

You may remember our coverage of Trevolta in December of 2013 at the time of their launch. My op-ed about the acceptance of crowd funded travel stirred up a great deal of discussion, both for and against. The voices in the latter category were most virulent in their castigations of travel “hand outs.” Nonetheless, in the months since then, we have seen a steep rise in the number of people seeking free funds, a surprising number of them receiving every penny they hoped for.

In the email announcement I received from Trevolta, they assert their untimely demise is not a result of a poor business concept, but rather one of insurmountable business logistics with a team on opposite ends of the earth. They say their members have had a fruitful relationship with givers and takers alike, and in fairness, their website seems to corroborate those claims. Oddly enough, their site doesn’t have any news of their planned closing, which may just be a matter of keeping up appearances while the wheels grind to a halt.

The question now is: What does this mean for future crowd funded travels? From my seat as a traveler and journalist, I have no idea. Reports from the inter-webs suggest that sights like Go Fund Me, Indiegogo, Travel Starter, and Honey Fund are doing well to pair empty hands with wads of travel cash. I still don’t get it, but maybe I’m just getting old. When I get hungry I don’t go around asking for a free sandwich. Anyway….

 

Click the image below for the original story on Trevolta:

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From the Trevolta team:

 

Dear friend,

Over the last 2 years we have developed an incredible community, helped numerous travelers from around the world achieve their dreams, supported some great causes and launched many epic campaigns. With great sadness though, the time has unfortunately come for us to stop operations, close the business and create something new some day soon.

It is incredibly difficult to run this global business from South Africa, where the founders are currently based and the company was formed. From the initial growth in popularity of the platform in late 2013, we needed to take a couple of urgent steps that sadly resulted in a very complicated business structure, shareholding and management, as well as trading limitations globally. As a team we have been working tirelessly over the last 9 months to address the issues and plot out a sustainable way forward, but unfortunately every option has resulted in a dead end.

In good faith and because we believe in the vision of Trevolta and value our community, we as founders have been funding the business for the last 8 months in the hopes that we would eventually find a solution, but unfortunately we are no longer able to do so due to the ever growing complexity of the business and the associated costs. With your best interests at heart, we tried to find the best solution as we were moving forward, but wrapping things up and starting a new chapter appears to be the only way.

We want to thank you for giving us the opportunity of building something meaningful and for being a part of the journey over the last 2 years. We’re deeply sorry if we didn’t deliver what you had hoped for us to deliver, and we certainly hope to stay friends with each and every one of you as we move forward. We’ve learned a whole lot over the last 2 years and will certainly apply our learnings when we embark on our next entrepreneurial journey.

 

Following this, the next steps in terminating the platform will be as follow:

 

• 20 July 2015 — we will close the ability to create trips on the platform, but will continue accepting payments for currently running campaigns;

• 17 August 2015 — contributions will be suspended and no further donations will be allowed on the platform. You may choose to request a payout before that date if required, or refund all your current contributors.

• 17 August — 23 August 2015 — all trip owners will be settled up with their outstanding amounts owing;

• 24 August — 31 August 2015 — the team will be on standby for any requests/questions from the users, after that all subscription services will be terminated and our associated accounts closed; If you wish to switch to another platform, but have already started PR of your Trevolta page, we will gladly assist in redirecting your Trevolta page to the new service where you have settled. Simply send an e-mail to info@trevolta.com before the termination of the service, and we will get it done.

 

Having your best interest at heart, we suggest you to consider creating a trip on one of the following platforms:

Indiegogo

GoFundMe

TravelStarter

HoneyFund

 

What’s next for us? Two founders are embarking on a trip to explore the world, while working remotely and building more dreams. Trevolta was just the beginning of a great journey ahead. Follow Mark and Lorette on Twitter to be a part of this new chapter and participate in the new beginnings.

For the time being, Neil will be situated in South Africa working hard as always on some personal ventures. Follow Neil on Twitter to see what he will be up to. We as founders have grown into a family, and the team will continue working together on new ventures as we move forward.

We could not thank you enough for being so awesome and for showing your support in the last few years, with that we will make sure to come back with a bang!

 

Always Love & Always Light,

The Trevolta Team

 

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Madagascar in a 25 Year Old Pajero: The Red Island of Africa (Part 2)http://expeditionportal.com/madagascar-in-a-25-year-old-pajero-the-red-island-of-africa-part-2/ http://expeditionportal.com/madagascar-in-a-25-year-old-pajero-the-red-island-of-africa-part-2/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 07:50:53 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29698 Madagascar, the Red Island of Africa, is sometimes described this way not because of its socialist past, but because of the color of the local soil. This island was once covered almost entirely with green rainforest, but the slash-and-burn agricultural technique of local farmers has led to heavy erosion over time. Today, throughout the country, the reddish color dominates the soil. While driving there, red dust quickly covered all our belongings inside the cabin.

Near the town of Ambalavao, we stopped to see the Zebu market, the largest in Madagascar. While parking near the market, a group of local children surrounded our car. They peered inside and asked for something, but we were not sure what they really wanted. Unfortunately, we did not have any cookies that children always took very willingly. In broken mix of several languages, we tried to find out what they wanted. To no avail, children still insisted on something inside our car. After some time, my wife realized, “they must be thirsty, let’s give them the water these kids are pointing to.” We had only one partially empty bottle of water that we decided to give them. One boy quickly grabbed it and ran away. To our surprise, he did not drink the water but poured the entire contents on the ground. With an empty bottle, the boy disappeared from our sight between countless cattle in the market area. That behavior extremely surprised us. Later, we understood that Malagasy people live on an average of two USD per day. Thus, these used empty plastic bottles are a real treasure if they can be found or acquired. They can be used for storing milk or water, or can probably have hundreds of other uses. From this experience on, we always gave empty bottles to kids we encountered along the way.

 

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While driving in the southern part of Madagascar we passed through gemstone-rich areas. Small mining towns on the way looked richer than the ones we had seen before. Gem dealers’ “palaces” dominated in the area. In front of each of these establishments were cars shining from a newly applied wax coat, a stark contrast to the surrounding dust. To show high status and wealth these houses were built entirely of concrete. They had glass windows and decorative balcony railings. All of this seemed very strange because the architectural styles and materials used were almost completely unknown in the local construction industry. These homes were also places where local miners traded their rough colored gems such as sapphires, rubies, etc. There were no large mines with mineshafts in the area. As we saw, gem mining here was simply digging underground tunnels without any safety measures, taking dirt out to the surface and sluicing it in a nearby river.

Excited to see baobabs we reached Ifaty Spiny Forest, on the shores of the Mozambique Channel. It was an area where plants adapted to prolonged periods of drought. The Ifaty area, with many small fishing villages, seems to be a quite isolated part of the island. Malagasy live there in a very harsh environment and rely mostly on fish as their main source of food. The local population is more similar to the black Africans as opposed to the inhabitants of the east part of the island who look similar to people of Indonesia. The west coast populace builds simple grass huts in the same way their ancestors did centuries ago. Almost everyone walks around barefoot here. Women often cover their faces with mud in order to protect their skin against sunburn.

 

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In the eastern part of the island, in the mountainous region of Madagascar’s Central Highlands, there is a tribe revered for their wood carving talents. They are known as Zafimaniry. Their houses and art are unique among all Malagasy ethnic groups. After a few hours on the dirt roads, driving mostly across rice fields, we entered the village of Antoetra. Almost immediately, dozens of people surrounded our car. Everyone was trying to say something, but we could not understand what they were saying. We came here to see the traditional mountain village. At first glance, it was not a very picturesque location. We expected unique wooden houses, but it was hard to find them here. After a long conversation, we realized that local rules required us, as they said to pay a visit to the community house to see the president of village. He greeted us warmly and requested a fee for a visit. It was 10,000 airary (around 4 USD) per person.

 

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While waking in the village we were invited to see the interior of one of the houses. It turned out to be a home of an important elder. He showed us that traditional Zafimaniry wooden houses were erected without nails. There are not so many of them in Antoetra, the community we visited. This is because of high price of wood, which is now hard to get due to deforestation. It is cheaper to build out of clay or use other materials. When we entered the old chief’s house, we found the simplest interior you can imagine. There was only one room with small windows and no glass. There were no beds or any other furniture; there was no stove, no sink, and no running water, not to mention a bathroom. There was absolutely nothing inside except woven mats on one side, an open fire on the other and a few small everyday items by the wall. The house had no chimney and smoke filled the entire interior. Smoke blackened the ceiling and internal walls. Our host without wasting any time started to explain. “Our homes always have a traditional setting, where each corner has a special meaning; the most important is the northeast corner of the room where we pray to our ancestors.” It actually made sense. Most of the Malagasy tribes share common ancestors that arrived centuries ago not from Africa, as many may think, but from Asia, today’s Indonesia, probably Borneo, an island, which lies in the northeast direction from Madagascar. “The northern part of the house where you are sitting is reserved for men and guests. The southeast corner is a place to store water. The northwest part of the house is where we keep our tools”—the elder continued—“and finally the southwest corner is for the hens.” It was the moment we noticed a cage near the door. The host added—“chickens are safe here from other animals and people who may steal them.”
Madagascar is very exotic destination, far away from mass tourism. I have to admit that the Pajero aka Tractor cooperated very well and we had no major issues with the car. We drove almost 2,500 km/1,550 miles in total and had the best time you can imagine. If you like off-road adventures and unique social and environmental experiences, this island is the perfect location for you to explore.

expeditions.swulinski.com

 

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Trust Is Best Served Ignoranthttp://expeditionportal.com/trust-is-best-served-ignorant/ http://expeditionportal.com/trust-is-best-served-ignorant/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:02:02 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29863 From the back seat, free of a seatbelt and full of unspoken worry, I studied our driver. His right wrist casually rested on the shift lever ready for his next challenge, and in turn, gear-change. Fingers clutched both a lighter and a cell phone glowing with updates from the Facebook feed which he, coolly, scrolled through. Never missing a beat on this beaten path, he – to my horror – formed responses! I grew more nervous. Trying to hide the fact from our companions, it was a constant effort to rid concern from my face while my eyes darted back and forth. Driver. Road. Cliff. Repeat. I tried hard not to shift in my seat and to hold myself upright at hairpin turns. “Today” was the first stage of the rally which Justin and I had the good fortune of attending, and therefore our first real encounter with these bonafide Rally Photographers – in this case motorcycles and quads were the focus. This ride was a quiet one. Ignorant as I was, I didn’t dare conjure up distraction with any friendly conversation for fear that our captain, Edoardo, would drift his attention further away from managing our safe passage. So I sat, silently.

It was a hot morning, sure, but the sweat that pooled between my hairline and brow was a response to something a little more self-induced. I squeezed Justin’s leg, and he soothed me in response. To take my mind off of my clear and utter lack of control (and I need control), I stared passed Justin’s ever calm features out onto the wilds of Sardegna. We were invited here not just to witness this race, but to be affected by everything that surrounds it. We were hired to tell a story. So, intently, I observed. The cliffs that displayed our impending doom were surprisingly quite calming. Modest, coarse trees lined our path and blanketed the horizon; a sea of olive green distorted by lime, forest, purple, gold and silver. To say the scenery was epic would be a grand understatement. The sheer exposed drop on our right in all of its luring drama forced me, instead, to accept that I had chosen to board this Land Cruiser with complete, albeit kindly, strangers. In my defense, I was under the distinct impression that they regularly champion roads like these which make even the most adventurous of four-wheeling pioneers take caution, all for the sake of the “perfect” photo. I made my choice. You have a job to do, I concluded. And so, it was time to trust.

 

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Day after day, during our week-long stint posing as “Rally Photographers,” I enjoyed [read: endured] this sort of death-defying ride along the race-course of the Sardegna FIM Rally, forged into its namesake’s back country. On the journey in or up or away, I would have the same inner dialogue then, ultimately, resolve. I was a foreigner: to the land, to the people and to this sport. Dirt roads are typically a joy, but I don’t often, er, ever ride the challenging, narrow types on four wheels. Nor am I ever a passenger, for that matter, so I felt out of my element. Anxiety was sent to Justin’s blessed hand most mornings, and I’d clutch hard to not betray an ounce of discomfort to our new friends. I couldn’t have them know that their indifference to the perils outside made me a bit uneasy. It was about respect! And, gratitude! They were generous enough to let us tag along in the first place, no sense in taking that for granted. Besides, despite my unspoken monologue, I would’ve given anything to do it again. As we edged an ancient roadway sculpted into a teal and grey spotted cliff side, my teeth finally unclenched long enough for me to ask some questions.

Edoardo, frequently a wordless spectator, was a weathered vet specializing in the field of Racing Photography – rally or otherwise, and has been in the business some 20 years. Why? “I often tell people that taking good photographs is the least important part of the job,” he said to us. Edo was trying to explain that with events such as the infamous Dakar Rally, your talents must be multifaceted. He loved documenting rallies because they took skill beyond the written description of a photographer – at least to be really good. A driver confident off-road can access locations most other members of the media on the scene, especially ones shuttled by the organization, couldn’t access if they tried. A cordial, clever and outgoing person can make the connections needed to acquire insider tips, sell photos… or just find some fantastic fish and wine when it was time for lunch. The latter we found in an unassuming, quaint little bistro boasting outdoor seating and tuna carpaccio so good it would make the Japanese jealous. The name: “Flamingo.” One of his more important tips to top us off, spoken as always in his confident and almost anti-Italian cooool fashion – with not a trace of arrogance, “if you can’t speak the language or you’re ugly” – cue the laughter – “you will not get far.” Advice noted.

 

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Many years of experience developed this knowledge, and we were privy to it. Why exactly? I still don’t know… Cristiano, the long time friend and business partner, appeared as a lanky, fresh-faced fellow who obliged us with short chuckles, subtle but hilarious jokes, a sincere smile and, as generously as Edo, his wisdom. On the last day, it would be at least another hour until any motorcycles would sound in the distance. We had found ourselves a line of sight to that “perfect” photo a little too quickly. Justin and I, novices as we were to the Pro Rally Routine, sat upright and alert a top a gathering of boulders, waiting. Cristiano, however, seized this opportunity to remove his shirt (a common practice), gingerly sprawled out on the flattest rock-face, and began to “bathe.” Edo soon followed suit. I stared momentarily before bursting with laughter. Lesson some-odd-number: leave no moment to waste, and don’t forget to lighten up. This work can become grueling quickly, so grab some peace, quiet and a tan at any available occasion. Maybe it’s just common sense, but Cristiano’s take on insight was a welcomed one.

If the photographers were funny, then the videographer was hysterical! Attila was in fact named after his more famous predecessor, an unlikely title to such a cheerful character. With the lift of his chin and a decided clap, he would regularly announce that it was “HAP-py hour!” Though, he had no idea – or so it seemed – that in America this nomenclature referred to a period of the day when alcohol and morsels of food at a bar are actually affordable. “Happy” indeed. English wasn’t abundant in his vault of vocabulary, but that never discouraged him from speaking every word of it to us. Just after sunrise, he would greet us with an exuberant “Are you ‘appy?!” laced with a rich Italian accent. “Of course we’re happy! And you?” To which he would respond in big gestures and a far bigger grin, “If you are ‘appy, then I am ‘appy!” And so we’d begin our day. It was a ritual I looked forward to as an energy booster, and tranquilizer, before our ascent into the next set of uncharted territories. All of us experienced long busy days, but because of our duties to the ‘If You See Kay Wines’ rally team and our WESTx1000 clients, Justin and I had a distinct lack of sleep to show for it. Exciting and enjoyable as the experience was, it was still work, nonetheless, and we intended put our all into it.

 

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Our last ride in the trusty red Land Cruiser, which I had come to know so well, was a much more jovial one. Champions were named, awards were given and the race had long since passed. Justin and I were amidst a grand celebration in the town center having drinks and people-watching while our now familiar friends pushed syrupy liqueurs in shot glasses into our mitts which, thankfully, they sipped slowly. Wandering through the streets was a giant of a Catalonian man I had affectionately dubbed “The Gorilla” during the rally. His presence – or maybe his racing titles – quickly lured a small crowd, including us fools, to hear his drunken proclamations. “Vamos a la playa – Let’s go to the beach!” He waved us all in some unknown direction, apparently towards the only four-wheeled vessel anyone was willing to drive… Edo’s. Edoardo and what we can only assume was a well-intentioned ‘groupie’ parked it in the front seats. Justin and I were once again perched on the bench seat in the back, although this time we were wedged firmly against a door and a couple of German girls also sharing a lap. The Gorilla rounded out the end of the bench. Attila, Cristiano and two other unnamed bodies were crammed into the trunk. A multicultural clown car, I thought. I smiled to myself.

The noise engulfed me, and the bumpy ride shook me in and out of reality. To think, only twelve hours prior, the last of my many heart-racing moments were over now. Too many taken for granted, I’m sure. Every day the descent from the course and into a town to seek out Wi-Fi became more and more effortless. It’s odd sometimes how retracing your steps can turn a terrifying experience into something meaningful – In my case, inspiring. Maybe it was exhaustion; I was sun drenched. But I’d recount the day: the moments we’d caught on camera, then the ones we’d missed. I reminded myself to bring more water next time. And a snack! When my mind would quiet, the feeling of serendipity would well up and lull me into a stupor until we’d reached our destination. Even now, the days blur together. Yet seated on my Honey’s lap – sea bound – listening to the nonsense flying around me, breathing in sweat and booze and breath, I appreciated where I was at that moment, and where I had been. I admired the glow from the dashboard which enabled me to see that madness. I gripped the cloth headrest that kept me stable. I vibrated with the rumbling engine. Bumping and bouncing blindly, I let go of all control, once again, resolving inwardly that Edoardo knew his limits. And hopefully not for the last time.

 

 

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Conceived in a coin-op laundry room in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, what started as an excuse to ride dirt bikes in Baja has become a portal into the lives of two cultural anthropologists, authors and photographers. Whether documenting the infamous Baja 1000 off-road race, searching for surf in the Pacific Northwest, investigating Japan’s eclectic motorcycle culture, exploring the West Coast by bicycle or riding their dual-sport motorcycles from Barstow to Las Vegas, the idea stays the same… “If you get far enough away you’ll be on your way back home.” - Tom Waits

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Rugged Ridge Releases New Roof Rack for Two-Door JKhttp://expeditionportal.com/rugged-ridge-releases-new-roof-rack-for-two-door-jk/ http://expeditionportal.com/rugged-ridge-releases-new-roof-rack-for-two-door-jk/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:36:54 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29755 It seems that all too often modifications show up that create more problems than they solve. They block factory features, require you to drill or cut into your vehicle, and sometimes just don’t interface with any other accessories. It’s refreshing then to see products that not only solve your problem, but make using your vehicle easier and more enjoyable. It would appear that Rugged Ridge has done just that with their new roof rack.

Rugged Ridge Exo-Top for 2-Door JK - Rear Roof Closed - Rear 3Q (1)

Like their existing rack available for the JK unlimited, the new two door version was designed with simplicity in mind. For starters it supports 300 lbs and integrates with most standard roof rack accessories for bikes, kayaks, or roof boxes. This is a big plus right off the bat, and one that will save you from the frustration of purchasing new mounts. All components are bolt or screw together and only require basic hand tools for assembly. They even created a detailed instruction video to make installation easier. We appreciate it, the cryptic IKEA instructions with most 4WD parts really cost us a lot of beer. Best part of their rack though?  It doesn’t require any drilling or cutting of the vehicle, just bolt it to the existing points on the body.

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Included in the price is a new soft top, which utilizes the factory components included with your Jeep. We know, why replace the top at all? One word, function. After seeing the video of it in use, we’re feeling the love for its versatility. Instead of removing gear from your rack and messing around with flip over bars, Rugged Ridge chose to use a slide and velcro setup. This can be configured in several ways to fit the needs of different situations.

The first configuration is the sun slider, think sunroof for soft-top. Unbuckle the two front latches and slide it right back from inside the Jeep; done. It’s a quick and easy way to grab some rays on the way home from work or cover up when the rain begins.

 

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The second, and my personal favorite, is the savannah top, which gives you full roof coverage with no side canvas of any kind. Think safari defender look, without the oil stains. There is also fully enclosed, fully down, and various combinations in between.

Overall we’re impressed with this latest addition to the Rugged Ridge line. It strikes a balance between simplicity, functionality, and good looks that is becoming ever harder to find these days. Well done guys, well done.

 

To find out more information on this new release, check out the Rugged Ridge website here.

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Field Tested: Caribou Luggage Commando Soft Panniershttp://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-caribou-luggage-commando-soft-panniers/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-caribou-luggage-commando-soft-panniers/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 07:26:07 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=29570 Soft luggage or hard cases? That is the question. Looking at it as objectively as possible, it is safe to say both systems have their obvious advantages and undeniable foibles. We could go into those pros and cons until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately it all depends on a rider’s needs and how they fit into a particular style of travel. Straddling this fence as a clever alternative is the Caribou Commando Soft Bag system. Blending many of the finer benefits of both types of luggage, it is likely the perfect solution for many adventure riders.

At the heart of the Commando system is a pair of 35-liter soft panniers constructed of heavy-duty 32-ounce PVC fabric with welded seems and roll-top closures for 100% waterproofness. An internal plastic stiffener adds just the right amount of rigidity to help the bags maintain their shape and further protects the PVC fabric from internal abrasion. At the back of each pannier is a stout aluminum plate which again helps give the bags added structure, but more importantly, that backing panel allows the Commando panniers to be quickly removed with the simple twist of a locking knob on each pannier. This is a particularly nice touch as most soft systems involve a frustrating array of straps and buckles to overcome. In as little as 30 seconds, both Commando panniers can be unlocked and removed from the motorcycle, and re-attaching them is just as quickly achieved.

 

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To thoroughly evaluate the Commando system we decided to use our much-loved KLR as the test bed. It seemed a smart pairing since the KLR is not an expensive machine and at $605, the complete Commando system with Hepco Becker luggage racks is an equally attractive value. Positioned between the higher end rack-less soft bag systems and the lower end hard case options, the Commando system is in our estimation, appropriately priced for what it is.

During our cursory overview of the system we were immediately pleased by the Commando’s clean aesthetic, slim profile, and nice overall quality of construction. The less is more ethos is not terribly congruent with our modern era, but Caribou clearly understands that rare design style. There are no zippers to jam, nor are there an endless assortment of pockets, bells or whistles. There are two buckles on either end of each pannier to secure the roll top closure and a lone nylon webbing handle atop each bag to facilitate an easy carry––but that’s it. They are elegantly uncomplicated.

 

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The release on each pannier is easy to use, holds fast, and locks to the bike for added security. The quick-release rack mounts are a nice touch, but didn’t quite work with the KLRs improperly aligned attachment points.

 

 

We did notice one particular aspect of the design we thought could perhaps use a slight rethink, and that is the placement of the panniers fore/aft on the racks. They appear to be a slight bit too far forward, even if by just a few inches. A pillion would likely have some leg interference with the aluminum back plates on the panniers, but we admit that is getting finicky, and it likely only pertains to the KLR.

In use the bags have performed admirably although we still have more miles to put on them before giving our full report. Given their simplicity, I don’t expect any earthshaking revelations to intersect with our initial evaluation, which to this point is overwhelmingly positive. Even with the aluminum back plates, the bags are very light. I’m not going to say I split lanes, but the slim width of the two panniers won’t give me pause as I squeeze between obstacles on and off the dirt. So far, I’m quite pleased with the Commando system, and I dare say more than I initially expected.

As we’re prone to do, we’ll put them to heavy use for a few weeks or months before we give the final word, but for now, consider us impressed.

 

www.cariboucases.com

 

Pros:

  • Easy on/off
  • Slim profile
  • Elegantly simple design
  • Easy to load and unload
  • Adequate volume for longer trips
  • Lightweight
  • Value

 

Cons:

  • Lengthy assembly process out of the box
  • They mount slightly too far forward on the KLR

 

 

Okay, so there are a couple minor grouses to share. On the upshot, the Hepco Becker rack is nicely designed and made with high quality materials and components. I particularly like how the rack is designed to be quickly detached with a quarter turn of four compression fasteners. Unfortunately, those fasteners don’t particularly line up perfectly with their corresponding attachment points on the KLR’s frame, so the on/off process requires several bolts to be loosened to reduce the stress on the system. I attribute this to inconsistencies in the fabrication of the KLR’s frame features more than a failing on the part of Hepco Becker. Again, this is most likely the fault of the motorcycle, not the rack, and it may or may not effect all KLRs.

My second quip is with the time and effort required to assemble the panniers. I don’t mind some assembly as I understand shipping products in pieces often saves money, but not in the case of the Caribou Commando panniers. I felt like I was assembling pieces that should have been assembled prior to shipping the units out. The bag of fasteners and washers that must have included over 100 individual pieces made my heart sink. It’s why I don’t by flat-packed furniture from Swedish warehouse stores. However, assembly of the panniers was worth the protracted effort and I’m sure they’ll provide years of loyal service.

 

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