Sunday, December 20, 2015

Abaxo Pannier Initial Review

The last time I bought panniers, George W. Bush was still in office.   I was living in Boston and needed an easy way to haul stuff for my daily commute into Cambridge.    I bought a Blackburn Expedition rack and a set of used Cannondale branded panniers on eBay.

Over the last thirteen years, the bags survived countless trips to grocery stores.   I regularly overstuffed them with six packs of beer and jugs of milk. They endured years of being left outside in the salt air when I lived on Nantucket.   The bags held up to the harsh sunshine of Colorado, although the fluorescent orange faded.   They held up to being towed behind cars, literally thousands of miles of whipping wind gusts.   They've lasted longer than my first marriage. 

Blackburn Expedition EX-1 After 13 Years of Abuse
The bags needed a few repairs along the way.  The built-in elastic bungee fasteners failed, replaced with galvanized fence wire which permanently mounted them to the rack.  When holes in the nylon fabric appeared,  I used a glue gun to patch them together.   But the journey is now reaching an end.   They're falling apart. 

My primary use for panniers is to provide onboard storage on a townie bike.   I mostly haul groceries and sweaty yoga mats, beer and layers of clothing,  and of course water bottles.    Although tempted by nice, highly rated products from Ortlieb (among others), I'm not about to go touring on this machine.  I also don't want bags so expensive that I would be upset if they were stolen.   In this college town, theft is a real possibility.   

Surfing around the web, I found a company called Abaxo selling what looks like decent quality panniers for a very reasonable price.   The description sounded good:  "Waterproof nylon canvas with quick-attach mechanism with highly reflective safety patches on front and back, extra thick heavy duty material and construction, tapers at the bottom for extra heel clearance, handle with rubber grip for easy carrying, and a patented no-rattle attachment system plus bottom spoke protection shield."

At $35.87 each (including shipping), the price was less than half comparably sized Ortliebs.    Abaxo also seems to maintain high quality feedback ratings on eBay and a reasonable return policy.  What did I have to lose?

Initial impressions:  

Still wrapped in original packaging.  

Quick release is intelligent and intuitive.   Pull up on release strap to open fasteners.
The bottom fastener has an adjustable slide to position the bags fore/aft on the rack

Fastener mechanism and locking tabs appear well made.   Rivets might rust.  We'll see. 
Single needle stitching doesn't appear particularly durable but time will tell.  The nylon is heavy material.

Inside:  spoke guard and heavy plastic, riveted. 

Installed and ready for a test ride

You can find the Abaxo panniers on eBay in a choice of three colors.   My initial impressions are that the quality is acceptable, especially for the price.   I'll post an update after I put some miles on these bags. 

p.s. If you're looking for a rack to pair panniers with, I recommend the Blackburn EX-1 Expedition Rack.  It has held up even better than the Cannondale panniers.  I've loaded the rack with almost 3x the 45lb duty rating (buzzed girlfriend) for short rides without any issues. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sidi Crossfire vs...

Years ago, when I bought my first dual sport, a (now re-sold) KLR 650, part of the deal was a big discount in the store on anything they carried or could order.   
The first thing on my list?    A proper pair of riding boots. 

Why boots?    Because riding off road means a high risk of injury to your feet and legs.  Although I had been lucky wearing just a pair of hiking boots, I've seen several riders break bones and end up on crutches.

No thanks.     

I chose a pair of Sidi Crossfire Adventure Boots - the top of the line, albeit pre-Gore Tex version.   Now, years later, I've ridden with these boots all over the country and logged tens of thousands of miles without any complaints.   Although not advertised (back then) as waterproof, they've proven to be heavily water resistant.      

At $500+, they're my most expensive piece of kit but I wouldn't hesitate to buy them again.  They've performed well and proven their value.    

Shopping today, there are more alternatives available.    I recently ran across this review of Forma Adventure Boots.    At $300, a serious competitor.    It's worth a read.

Adventure Motorcycle Forma Adventure Review

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Adventures with Blitzen

I took a quick jaunt up Flagstaff today on Blitzen, my '75 R90/6.    It was a beautiful October evening for a ride.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

3rd Gen 4Runner Maintenance Update

Before my recent trip to Black Rock City, I performed a major service update on my 1999 4Runner.

The work included new front and rear oxygen sensors, spark plugs, spark plug wires, an oil change (Mobil 1 10w-30, Mobil 1 oil filter), new ac belt, ps belt, and alternator belt.  I also bought and installed a new oil fill fill cap because the old one had begun leaking.    I noticed some oil seeping from the valve covers too (it didn't occur to me later that the oil fill cap and valve cover gasket leaks were related.)

And for good measure I installed an OEM roof rack and Yakima roof top box.

The parking lot of the auto parts store
On route to the Playa, the motor threw a Check Engine Light (CEL).   I pulled over at an auto parts store and borrowed their OBD II diagnostic reader.   It registered P0171 Lean, Bank 1.   I noticed that I had forgotten to tighten a vacuum clamp on the intake.  So I tighted it up, replaced a cracked vacuum line, and reset the code.

The CEL came back.     At the next auto store I am across, I pulled the MAF and cleaned it.   I also replaced another questionable vacuum line.  

The CEL came back.    I bought a new PCV and replaced it.  This was the clearly contributing to the leaky oil seals.   The PCV was shot.

I also bought a new (remanufactured) MAF.    I tried resetting the CEL with just the PCV replaced, but the CEL came back so I went ahead and replaced the MAF.     The CEL no longer comes on (with about 1,100 miles of driving).

This MAF sensor has not been cleaned in at least 130K miles

Remanufactured MAF sensor in front, cleaned but still faulty MAF in background

Working on a vehicle during a road trip isn't a lot of fun.    One reason to not do a major service just before a trip.

Camping photos:

A video that would have been helpful to watch BEFORE I was on the road.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Scenes from Cars and Coffee

A few scenes from Cars and Coffee this past weekend.    

From the boot of a gorgeous Jaguar XK150

Just a friendly reminder from a concours quality E28-M5. 

It's true.   The typical Rolls Royce Phantom owner probably never opens the hood.   Yet for $263,200 MSRP, I'd expect a little better than this.     You're looking a cheap plastic cover made to look like the top of a motor.  It doesn't even sit on top well, there are huge gaps around it.   It's horrible and a little sad to see so little authenticity in a marque with such a long history of the very opposite.          

Friday, November 7, 2014

Repainting a 4Runner

After 16 years of being on the road without a garage and over 180,000 miles, my 4runner was starting to look a little shabby.   The clear coat had peeled completely off the roof and was mostly gone on the hood.   It was also starting to peel on the top edges of the doors.  

What to do? 

I looked into having local body shops here in Boulder repaint the truck.    Their estimates were between $5,000 and $6,000 - an outrageous amount given the value of the vehicle.   I explored having it wrapped in vinyl, which would provided a tax advantage (advertising cost), but the local wrap shop said that I'd need to have the rest of the clear coat removed prior to doing it.    Plasti-dip was by far the cheapest option, but results were uncertain and it required a ton of my labor.   Neither wrapping or plasti-dip would fix the rust bubble that was starting to form just above the windshield. 

In the end, I chose Maaco.   I was hesitant, but I toured their facility in Denver (on Federal) and their higher-end paint seemed acceptable.  The el-cheapo Maaco options weren't very good and the highest end "Platinum" package didn't offer any further advantage in terms of warranty or real quality.   I chose their 2nd highest end "Performance" paint work with DuPont paint, a 5 year warranty, and a base cost of $1,200.    

Of course, like all warranties, there is a lot of legal language and carve-outs.   Maaco's 5 year warranty is really pro-rated after 3 years and it doesn't include the rust repair, only the paint.    See the table below. 

The paint ended up costing $1469.85, the bodywork to fix the rust bubbles was $451.20, and a new windshield was $240.   With taxes, my final out the door cost ended up being about $2,206.75.   Here's the detailed invoice

How'd they do?

For the price, they did a pretty good job.  I expected minor imperfections and my expectations were met.   Take a look...

Paint chips in the hood are all gone.   The white line above the grill is a reflection.

A paint drip near the side mirror. 

slight over spray near the window molding
A paint drip or two, slight over spray along window moldings. Minor imperfections that are only visible when you look closely.  I expected it and can live with it.   I was surprised that they painted the door handles and the mirrors, these were always just colored plastic (not painted) but they look pretty darn good.    I hope the paint on these parts holds up.

The only clear disappointment (so far) is that under certain light, there appears to be a very light mist of clear coat visible on dark plastic pieces of the dashboard, as if someone opened the door while there was still a clear coat mist in the air.    It doesn't rub off with a fingernail, but I haven't tried a cleaner yet.  I'm not sure what, if anything Maaco can do about it.   I'll follow up with them and see what they say.

Overall, I'm satisfied.   It's a 4/5 star review with one star being deducted for barely visible mist of interior clear coating.