Tuesday 26 January 2010

Sat Nav Bad. Sat Nav Good.

Way back in 1979, the Boomtown Rats recorded a song called “I don’t like Mondays”. I would like to extend that to “I don’t like Januarys”. It is still depressingly cold here. And wet. The sort of wet that gets right through to your bones. What are you meant to do if getting on your motorbike means becoming wetter than a fish taking a bath and colder than one of Ben and Jerry’s specials?

Clean the bike? Done that.

Take the dog for a walk? Done that – got wet.

Buy a wake board? Done that, but it is too cold to use it.

OK, so a week ago I thought I needed something new to look at. You might have read my post back in December hinting to my dearly beloved that I might need a new Sat Nav for Christmas for my tour of the USA. Well, it worked :) and I sat there on Christmas day surrounded by discarded wrapping paper and with a big smile on my face, holding a box marked Garmin Zumo.

About a week ago, having seen it was raining AGAIN, I opened the box to give it a try. My initial impressions after a couple of hours were “why did I bother - this is a pile of poo”.

However having got over the teething troubles, I soon realised this was just what I needed. The next few days showed to me this would be very good indeed.

OK, before telling you, dear reader, why I like the Garmin so much, here is the scoop on the teething troubles. I opened the box to see there is no manual, which is strange, so I checked the packing list. Guess what? There isn’t meant to be a manual packed in the box! You have to go online to get one. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for saving the planet and not printing stuff unnecessarily (like in 6 languages) but this is pretty silly. They don’t tell you where to find the manual online, you just have to go find it for yourself, then if you are like me and do want a paper copy, you have to print it out yourself. Not a great start.

One of the things that attracted me to the Garmin was the ability to plot routes on your computer in detail and then transfer them to the Sat Nav unit. This means having to load the mapping software onto your computer. OK so far – loading it was a piece of cake. Then you have to unlock the maps. Garmin please listen to this – it was a TOTAL NIGHTMARE to do this. Two calls to their support department (actually very helpful) soon sorted this though, but why make it so difficult in the first place? I understand the need to do this, but why make it so that only people at Garmin can understand how to do this? Dumb, vey dumb.

The next thing to go wrong was in addition to the maps (Europe) that came on the CD in the box, my wife purchased one of the map sets (the USA) on a memory card that you place into the Sat Nav unit, which I did. However, there is no way to transfer those maps back to your computer to make the route planning easier. OK, so I need to exchange this memory card for a CD, so I contacted Amazon which is where my wife purchased the memory card. What came next was a bummer – to prevent people copying software, Amazon and their suppliers do not take back software, so even though I couldn’t copy it, I had to buy the same USA maps on a CD! I now have all of the USA maps twice. Not happy.

So, this all took a few days to resolve and of course when the new CD arrived I had to go through the stupid un-locking process again. Arrrrggghhhhh!

Anyway, now to the good stuff. Planning a route on your computer is so much better than doing it on a sat nav unit. It is so easy – you can see a proper map and enter waypoints with the click of your mouse, join them up to form a route and save them. So easy! This turned me back into a happy little boy. You can even then view your map in Google Earth to see what other highlights there are along your route that you might want to stop and see. I don’t want to sound too gushy over this, but having used this for the past few days, I am a convert. The TomTom system I have is now consigned to a cupboard and the Garmin will rule supreme I am sure.

Having planned a few test routes I went out and tried them on the road. Ok, it was in my car because it was STILL RAINING, but I am sure you will forgive me for that. The unit performed very well on the road – up to the high standard of the TomTom. The Garmin Zumo has a bigger screen, but a comparison of the two sat navs shows them to be about the same on the road.

I have yet to try the Garmin on a motorbike, but I am pretty sure it will be as good as in the car. I have already wired it in to the bikes power source, which was straightforward. I will rig up the very neat Garmin speakers (extra cost) inside my helmet soon and take it out for a test ride.

That is if it stops raining.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

New Paint Job for the Road King?

You know how your mind turns if you have a difficult decision to made? I am trying to decide if I should get a new paint job done on my 2006 Harley-Davidson Road King. This is the bike I will be using for the tour of the USA. I have been thinking for a while that I might get it done before shipping the bike to New York, but I am not sure. Trouble is, I rather like the sort of classic retro style of the Road King and it seems a shame to do anything that will really detract from it.

But I also like having a bike that stands out a little. Duh, I mean a lot. My custom bike doesn’t exactly blend in to the background!

Then a few weeks ago I saw a picture that a guy called Tony Evans has painted. This was painted onto a piece of flat sheet metal as a sample and I adore the picture which is of Audrey Hepburn. Yes, the picture on the left is really an airbrush painting! Now, it just so happens that I am a bit of an Audrey Hepburn fan and so is my wife. I just love the way she looks in some of her old movies. I even had a picture painted of Audrey for one of the bedrooms in our house in Spain.

So the big question for me is should I have this image, and others like it painted onto my Road King in a sort of homage to B&W movie screen legends? I am going to see Tony later today to see some of his work. I will let you know what I decide, but that may take some time......

Tony's work can be seen at Tony's Custom Paint Shop

Monday 18 January 2010

Motorcycle Lodge

I was cruising the web earlier today and I looked at a blog that I like – it is called Thunder Road. Essentially a guy (Radar) in Texas who loves motorcycle touring is considering setting up a lodge (or lodges) to specifically cater for touring bikers. He is gathering information on what bikers might want out of such a lodge and he wants people to visit his blog to vote on this. I have voted and it struck me that I could help by publicising the need for as many bikers to visit his blog and vote.

If you want to vote and help determine what his lodges should contain, or if you want to publicise this on your own blog if you have one, then visit The Thunder Road Blog

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Visa For The USA

Having visited the USA on many occasions over the past 38 years I thought I knew everything I needed to know about visa requirements when entering the US. It turns out I was wrong.

As I am from the UK I knew that the USA and the UK have a reciprocal visa waiver program. Put simply this means that each country relaxes its normal visa requirements for visitors from the other country – as a UK citizen visiting the USA, I don’t need a visa and vice-versa.

WRONG! I found out today that this is time limited. The waiver program only applies in certain conditions and one of the exceptions is you need a visa if your visit is for more than 90 days. My planned tour is more than 90 days, so I need a visa. No problem, as it will not take very long, but one of the requirements is that all applicants need to have an interview with a consular official following the completion of a comprehensive application form. There are very strict rules to follow when applying for a US visa.

You can find out about the visa requirements by looking at the U.S. Department Of State website

The website stresses the importance of applying in plenty of time before your visit, so I will get onto this very soon.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Snow Business

We don't get much snow in the South of England, but yesterday was one of those rare occasions. As such, I had to take a few photos near where I live......

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Riding Suspended Due To Cold

Brrrr. Winter has hit the UK with a vengeance. This has stopped any thought of riding and my bikes are well and truly put away until the weather warms up. I heard on the tv last night that we had one of the coldest Decembers for so many years and that the UK will probably have more snow today than any time in the last 30 years. I just looked outside and the snow has started here.

Yesterday I went for a walk near to where I live and took a few photos. The pictures below are not snow – they are ice covering the fields and roads. Pretty, but not exactly motorcycling weather!

Friday 1 January 2010

Another Good Book for Trip Planning

I have been doing some more research over the past few days about travelling in Arizona, including the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Sedona, Monument Valley and Route 66.

When I was recently working in Chicago, I stopped by a bookshop and picked up a book called “Arizona, New Mexico & the Grand Canyon Trips". It is a lonely planet book. This book is a gold mine if you are travelling to this area as it is full of useful information about hotels, restaurants, places to see etc. It complements the other books I have suggested in earlier postings on this blog. The other books are good for trip planning and this book fills in some of the detail that you need to know.

The way I used this book (and many others) is to read the brief parts in the book about a particular hotel for example, and then use that information to then look it up on the internet to find out more. I find this works well as the books give you only just enough information, but you really need a little more to make your decision about whether to stay there or not.

This book is a must if you are visiting the area. I am happy to recommend it.