I worked on three main items to get ready for this year’s trip to the Death Valley: got a trailer and prepared it for the trip; performed a couple of upgrades on the Honda; and a couple of upgrades on the Yamaha. Let’s start with the Honda.
Getting the Honda Ready
Last year I bought the Honda CB500X and turned it into an adventure motorcycle by installing the Rally Raid level III kit. This year all I had to do was fine-tune the bike’s adventure fitness by installing auxiliary lights (Denali DR1), adjusting the compression on the rear shock, and adding the double-take mirrors. That was it!
There is no question there is quality on these Denali lights. They come in a nice box, with a proper wiring kit, with great instructions, and they have a list of mounting accessories and lens filters. I bought these lights based on reviews from other riders and the ratings on their light beam type and reach. I was looking for something powerful enough to make riding at night safer, especially when riding off road, something I would encounter on this year’s trip if judging by last year’s adventures (and it was confirmed on this year’s ride).
But are these fancy lights worth their price? Let’s check the Ebay made-in-china lights I installed in the Yamaha, I will compare their prices and the results of both sets later on and will compare them in more detail on another post. First let’s continue with the installation on the Honda. Denali DR1 lights have a set of accessories, as mentioned earlier, including universal mounting brackets which will fit most any motorcycle brand and mounts that are specific to a motorcycle model, as is the case for the brackets I got.
The instructions were very easy to follow, the wiring is obviously made for motorcycles by people who understand how motorcycles operate, and the kit comes with everything you need for a complete and professional installation.
It helps that the Honda offers enough space to route the wires alongside the tank and inside the fairing all the way to the front of the bike, and the bike also has plenty of space under the seat for the fuse and the relay.
The final assembly looks good and “official”!
And to complete the job, I added caps to the lights which are actually lens filters. I opted for the transparent “flood” option, which diffuses the light (they come in spot light or flood options, transparent or yellow).
It is basically a plastic cap that fits on top of the light and, for my application in the desert, with all the gravel and rocks, also serve as a lens protector.
The final result of installing the Denali DR1 lights was a much improved field of vision at night. On top of that, they are great looking lights and when using the filter caps to protect the lens, these lights are perfect for adventure riding.
Thumbs up for these lights. However, they are expensive… The Denali DR1 was $350 for the set of lights, $60 for the mounting bracket, and $40 for the lens filters (caps), for a total of $450. Looking in retrospect, and based on what I installed in the Yamaha, I would not recommend buying the Denali set (or any similar and expensive set) unless you worry about how the bike looks. As mentioned before, I will compare the two sets on another post.
The next job on the Honda was to adjust the rear shock. The main objective was to adjust the pre-load, get the bike on the proper sag, which required a simple adjustment to the shock’s lock nut, something I should had done last year.
By the way, the tool that came with the Rally Raid kit specifically included to adjust the lock nut by the round holes in the collar of the shock is not very appropriate, as the shock collar material does not have the strength to support the torque of the required turning force. I ended up having to use a different tool that embraced the entire nut to be able to turn it properly.
I did not have a chance to test ride the bike after the adjustment before until I rode it in the Death Valley. My very first impression when I first turned a wheel on the bike after the adjustment was that my rear tire was deflated, so soft the bike became. As a result, the bike was almost an inch lowered, more comfortable, and still handled great on gravel roads. Thumbs up for the Rally Raid rear shock!
The final touch was to install the double take mirrors. Easy job on the installation, they look better and are more appropriate than the OEM for the adventure application, but with mixed practical results. They were constantly needing adjustment, I was never able to tighten them firm enough, it seemed. But at least I could re-tighten them easily and on the go, as opposed to the OEMs, and eventually after so much clamping force was applied to it that it deformed the ram ball mount enough for the mirrors to stay put. Therefore, I’m not convinced this is a permanent solution yet. Anyway, at this point this bike is all set for adventure, it is ready to go on a trip around the world.
Getting the Yamaha Ready
Now let’s talk about the Yamaha. In terms of auxiliary lights, my original plan was to install auxiliary light wiring kits on both bikes and transfer the Denali DR1 lights to the bike I would ride. After I finished the work on the lights for the Honda I thought some more about this and decided for a different set of lights for the Yamaha.
The Denali sets are too expensive for the Yamaha, I concluded. There is nothing wrong with the Yamaha, mind you, just that it is a bike that is set for trail and technical riding and therefore more prone to being dropped… It turned out to be a very good decision in hindsight, but that is for another chapter. Therefore, I chose a cheap set of lights for the Yamaha, some Chinese-made knock offs of Kawell sets (which already are cheap sets of auxiliary lights) called Liteway. They are 4-inch diameter sets rated at 27w (the Denali DR1s are rated at 10w).
The lights came on generic boxes, with the minimum you need to install them (a set of screws and a mounting bracket that allows angling the light right/left and up/down). I had to purchase the wiring harness separately, but for about $15 for the harness, it was a deal. The lights themselves are less than $15 a pair, so I bought two sets, one called “flood” the other called “spot” but to be honest with you, I don’t think they are different at all. Anyway, I installed one flood light and one spot light on the bike, for maximum lighting potential, and now I have a back up set of lights. For a final tally, two sets of lights and the wiring harness (which is very similar to the harness for the Denali) cost $45, which is exactly 10% of what I paid on the Denali DR1.
What about a mounting bracket to install these lights on the bike? It happened that I had L-brackets in my shop supplies and those brackets worked perfectly with the bike’s reflector bracket. For better looks I cut the horizontal side of the L-bracket to match the lights support bracket length, and bent the vertical side of he L-bracket to match the reflector bend (and added another bolt hole to the bike’s bracket – it had only one). These lights are not motorcycle lights, they are made for off-road trucks. The wiring harness I bought was also not made for motorcycles so I had to cut it shorter. The result was a perfect and solid enough fit! It looks a bit, let’s say, industrial, not to say rigged, but it worked perfectly well.
The Yamaha has very limited space in its frame, under the plastic fairing, and under the seat to install the wiring and the relay. It was tight but it worked!
Because these lights are made for trucks, they are disproportionately large for the motorcycle. At the same time, they look a bit rugged (let’s say they are not fancy-looking or sophisticated). They probably wouldn’t look too good on the Ducati, or maybe the Tiger, but they would fit the Honda well enough, I would say. In the Yamaha, it looks like a perfect fit to me, especially if they can do the job for under $45. Actually, under $30 (since $45 was the price for the wiring kit and the two sets of lights). And the lights worked very well in a real application in the Death Valley, as I will document later. Thumbs up for the Liteway LED auxiliary lights set!
Another task for the Yamaha was to get a new rear tire.
I opted for the Michelin T63 just because it was the only tire available on the size I needed for this bike at my friend Rod Johnson’s shop (Cycle Parts). By the way, if you are in this area, buy tires at Cycle Parts, they will install them for free (if you bring the wheels only and not the entire bike). As a policy, I will always try to buy things directly at the local shops instead of online or on franchise stores. I know, it seems like a lost cause these days of online shopping, but while these local shops are operating I will support them by giving them a first option!
Besides the tire, the only other item to install for this bike to be ready were the double take mirrors (same set as in the Honda, just different RAM ball base so I did not need to change those from bike to bike). Oh, yes, and an oil change, of course.
Buying the trailer and getting it ready for this trip and beyond
The final and most labor-intensive item for this trip was the trailer. It is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – a simple trailer that makes it easy for me to load the bikes on my own, and at the same time I can sleep in it. I did some research, looked around for a while. I wanted a trailer that could be pulled by my truck, a 1996 4×4 Ford F150 with the 302 motor (5.0L V8), matted to a 5-speed transmission and a 3.55 rear axle ratio. While an automatic Ford F150 of the same vintage and with the same specs can pull more than 6,000 lbs, the 5-speed is limited to 3,500lbs.
Eventually I will upgrade this truck, but I need a very good reason for doing it first. I paid slightly more than $5,000 for this truck about 10 years ago, it was such a deal, I just find it to be a complete waste of money to get rid of considering it works really well, it doesn’t burn any oil, the air conditioning blows cold air.
Even if this truck had a larger towing capacity, I would still prefer to have a smaller trailer rather than a larger one. I was looking for something that would be as manageable as possible (easy to maneuver, hook it up, and store) and also as inexpensive as possible – after all, I didn’t want the trailer, a tool in my opinion, to be more expensive than any of my motorcycles.
Therefore, the parameters were set. It would be an enclosed trailer that would be the lightest and smallest trailer that would: 1) fit two motorcycles; 2) have a ramp door to easily load the bikes; 3) once the motorcycles were unloaded it could accommodate a cot, a table, and a cooking/sink area; and 4) be tall enough for me to walk inside it without hitting my head on the ceiling, so the interior height needed to be taller than 6ft (but not too much taller than that to minimize air displacement when moving).
That’s all I needed and I stuck to the minimum necessary. Looking at all options available, I decided for a 6×12 enclosed trailer, with a single axle. These trailers weigh about 1,500lbs with a carrying capacity of another 1,500 lbs with the gross weight rated at 3,000lbs. Perfect to carry two motorcycles and gear (or even three motorcycles). I looked at used trailers but not much could be found in this area. Therefore I chose what was available locally, a brand new Interstate Victory available at Trailer Plus. Chris and Brandon, from Trailer Plus helped me with the purchase process and were very patient with my many questions and ideas. They contributed to this built by offering ideas and suggestions. Thanks guys!
This trailer has the perfect size to fit two motorcycles (as mentioned earlier, I could squeeze three bikes if needed), it has a nice loading ramp, and the perfect height.
I had no interest in turning it into a bug-out or stealth camping trailer, so the guys at TrailerPlus installed three windows to make it as livable or enjoyable as possible, and three sets of etracks (one set on the floor and two sets on the walls) which allows me to organize the bikes and cargo on several different ways. They also installed a full electric hookup (120 volts) with one light fixture and two double outlets.
And then I organized the front of the trailer to accommodate a bench area for cooking, I installed a sink, which connects to a gray water tank, and installed a refrigerator.
The refrigerator will be used at my shop as well, when not in use at the trailer. I also organized some fabric to serve as curtains. And it was done!
The bikes fit very well with plenty of space left for carrying other travel gear and equipment on the sides (cot, table, chair, riding gear, chairs, etc). And I was able to lay my pad and sleeping bag between the bikes to sleep on the way in and back on the trip to the Death Valley.
When the bikes were unloaded, I installed a folding table and chair on the back of the trailer, perfect to work on my computer (manage the photos, videos) and charge cameras, etc.
Perfect set up. What else would someone need, right? Okay, what about a hammock? Check!
I will prepare a post dedicated to the trailer where I will discuss in more detail the choice of trailer and the build after I finish the Death Valley set of posts (it has a couple of other features I did not include here and one other accessory that I will install to make it a nice and complete travel trailer, toy hauler). All I can say for now is that it worked very well, it did its job, it completed its first 1,700 miles providing four nights of service and safely carried two motorcycles.
As always, I had a great time in the shop, getting things ready for the trip. This time I had this small heater to help take the edge of the cold nights while I worked on the bikes. This thing goes through canisters faster than I go through beers…
Talking about beer, I usually drink Indian Pale Ale beers, my favorite kind of beer, perfect for an Oregonian (I’ve been living here longer than 10 years, I should qualify as Oregonian by now for the time invested here or for my taste of beer, whichever is more important). But I had some left over Pabst Blue Ribbons from a barbecue with friends at my house and had to finish this supply. They taste like nothing but are light, perfect to accompany me in my work on the bikes. Note: I do not recommend anyone to drink and operate power tools, machinery, or to work on anything that require fine dexterity (of course and don’t drink and drive or ride).
That was it for this portion of my Death Valley 2017 Edition report. Stay tuned for the next chapter when I will report my trip to the Death Valley, my impressions about the 1996 Ford truck and how it handled the fully loaded trailer going up and own passes and dealing with heavy winds.
Thank you for reading.