Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Motorcycle Board Track Racing

This is an amazingly clear and well-preserved video of American motorcycle board-track racing (click here). Judging by the motorcycles and the military uniforms on some of the onlookers, I'm guessing the video was shot between 1910 and 1920. At a time when street cars topped out at about 35 MPH, these motorcycles were lapping at about 100 -- without brakes. This video shows a long track claiming to be in Daytona; I'm skeptical of that. But it must've been a rare long track as I believe most board tracks were short, very high-banked velodrome-type tracks. In addition to the pioneering racers, front row spectators were occasional casualties. Yup, this was back when "men were men"...sometimes very splintery men at that.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lithium v. Alkaline AA Batteries for GPS

I've been running GPS on my motorcycle for about 40,000 years now. Though I'm admittedly cartographically-challenged, I mainly use GPS for an accurate speedometer, trip computer and services-locater. I'm currently using a Garmin 60CSx. I've used AAs in my GPS units instead of powering off the bike's electrical system, so battery life has been a big concern, particularly when running the backlight during my early-morning commutes. I'd been using good ol' Kirkland (Costco) alkaline AAs because they seem to last as long as anything else and only cost about .21 each. However, after Consumer Reports tested a bunch of AA batteries in digicams and portable CD players and determined the Energizer "E2" Lithium was head 'n' shoulders above the rest, I decided to give 'em a try. While the retail cost can be as high as $2.25 each, with some searching I found prices closer to $1 each. In any event, the cost is at least 4 or 5 times that of my trusty Kirkland alkalines, so the deal would be off if they didn't deliver much greater battery life. After running the Energizer Lithiums for the last couple of years,  I'm happy to report that they delivere as hoped. While my tests haven't been scientific, I'm confident that the Energizer E2s are lasting a minimum of 5 times longer, and perhaps as much as 8 times longer. Plus, the power seems to stay at a maximum level (as measured by the GPS) before dropping off quickly, whereas the alkalines would slowly fade from maximum power, often forcing me to change them out before they were totally discharged to prevent them from "dying" in the middle of a ride. If you run AAs in your GPS, give the Energizer E2 Lithiums a try. Be sure to change your GPS' battery setting to "Li".

I've read reports in online forums that using the E2s may prevent a GPS unit from powering-up. I checked with Garmin and this is a known issue on units with a sensitive over-voltage circuit. For instance, my Garmin 60CSx will shut down if voltage over 1.65V is detected. While the Energizer E2s are advertised as the AA standard 1.5V, I've measured them right out of the package at 1.65V and over. The solution is to first drain a little juice; my method is to stick the Lithiums in a flashlight (I keep a 2-AA Maglite in my tankbag) for a minute or two. If you're on the road with no other option, repeatedly attempting to power up the GPS will eventually drain enough voltage.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cheap Fix for GPS Shut-Down

A common complaint on motorcycle GPS forums is vibration-induced shut-down when running off AAs. I experienced it as well, until I began wedging one or more rolled-up foam earplugs in the battery compartment and closing the door before they can expand. That was almost 40,000 miles ago and my GPS units (RAM-mounted Garmin 72 and Garmin 60Csx) haven't once shut down due to vibration even though my ZR-7S has a buzzy aircooled inline four and is regularly ridden on Pennsylvania roads (some MX tracks are smoother). It costs only pennies to put new earplugs in with each battery change. Some folks are spending $150 or more for high-tech vibration-dampening mounts. If your GPS suffers from bad vibrations, try my cheapie solution. While it might not work with bikes that are taken off-road, it just might do the trick for road warriors -- and you were just gonna chuck those old earplugs in the bin anyway, right?