Cape Town to Cairo 2012

Motorcycle Gadgets

Motorcycle Hardware – What we are trying; what’s working and what’s not

Photos on the Fly

We are using two approaches to take photographs “on the go.” First is the GoPro which attaches to the helmet and has an internal battery.

There is a new accessory for it that allows you to turn it on and off remotely. It is tricky to program, but it gets rid of the problem of fumbling blindly to find the button on the device which is attached to your helmet, particularly when something comes up fast or if you are in an exciting and challenging terrain situation and need both hands on the handlebars. The device is directly under the GPS attached to the handlebars.

The disadvantage mainly relates to battery life and figuring out how to hook up the remote. If you do not use the remote, you have to figure out a) how to turn the camera on and b) how to take the picture. It has the ability to take pictures in still and video. The advantage of this setup is that you do not have to install it in the motorcycle. Since the camera is mounted on your helmet, you aim the camera by turning your head. The disadvantage is that it is complicated to program and there is a potential battery life issue. Without the remote on the picture above, I do not think it is practical because the button is hard to find, you don’t know if it is in still or movie mode. The remote is critical for the GoPro.

The other approach is the one I am using. It involves POV cameras. I have two of them – one on the front fender taking movies;

one mounted on the handlebars to take still shots.

The recorders for each are mounted remotely. One is located inside the tank bag on top of the gas tank. The second is attached with VelCro to the right pannier.

A major advantage of the POV system is that it is constantly recording. It will save approximately 30 seconds of video that occurs after you press the button. The remote buttons that start the recorders are on the left handlebar – moderately easy to activate, but in the future I will mount them even more conveniently. Another advantage to this system is that there is no concern for batteries. They are wired directly to the motorcycle battery. The concept is that you leave them on the motorcycle all the time and take out the memory chips to download them to the Apple Aperture program.

At this point, I would like to mention the expert support of Dave Turner back home. He is able to help me from the other side of the planet so that I have video and pictures to share with you. Thanks, Dave!

The main disadvantage of this system is that it takes the picture of where the front wheel is pointed not where you head is pointed in the case of GoPro. Another disadvantage is that it is tricky to set up. After a month on the road, I still do not have it fully debugged. One of the POV’s mysteriously turns off and I think I am taking pictures when I am not.

With some dead time in Nairobi waiting for our visas for the Sudan, I will rewire it to see if I can get it right with both recording units located on the tank bag where I can easily see the status of each unit.

I think the best idea is to have a single lens reflex camera that can take motion pictures or still shots mounted on the front of the bike with some sort of shock absorbing arrangement with a fairly wide angle lens with two buttons. One button that determines the angle of the camera – straight ahead, right angle or left angle. The other button should be a toggle to take a still picture or a video. With a camera mounted on the front of the bike, you would only have to clean one lens and you could take more complex photographs.

Finding Our Way

Helge has programmed on a GPS the suggested route that we are to take (picture illustrating GoPro remote). It is almost impossible to get lost. The way point for the evening is given to us each morning and all that is required is to follow the “breadcrumbs.” There are remarkably detailed maps on Africa even showing the speed traps, in some cases the nasty speed bumps which are steep and can be more than one foot high and occasionally not marked.

Controlling Music

This little unit is called SCOSCHE.

It gives you remote control over your iPod music – the volume and skipping selections. The iPod is buried deep in your clothes and as your speed increases the background noise increases, so this is an important device to have.

On the other hand, with tricky riding, such as the rhino trail, listening to music is not advisable. A difficult road requires disciplined focus and music is a distraction.

Suspension Geometry

My bike has different steering geometry than the others. Note that the front fork is angled more forward and the position of the axle is forward from the centerline of the fork.

This provides a more aggressive steering and is definitely not helpful in sand. In the hands of an expert rider (which I am not) in challenging off-road conditions, it provides faster turning and more control. On the highway it is probably not helpful and it is definitely not helpful when hitting deep sand at speed. As the front wheel catches the sand, it can exert too much force on the handlebars to maintain control. I am offering this up as an excuse for falling so many times! Note the angle and the axle position on the typical BMW Adventure motorcycle – my three amigos bike of choice.

Steering Damper

One way to deal with aggressive steering is to damp the steering so that it cannot be turned quickly. This would be useful for the highway and for sand. I have a device on my front fork that is Scots made by Ohlins by which the damping of the steering can be adjusted very precisely. I should have been using this when we were encountering sand but did not.


We plan to change tires in Nairobi, but after 4,500 miles the rear tire is now bald and would not be suitable for riding in the rain. I normally use a larger rear tire than is recommended by BMW, mainly to get more wear and longer life. This tire is a 140x80x17.

A preferred, although not recommended by BMW, is a 150x70x17. Notice the front tire still has a lot of mileage left.

Tires take horrible abuse with sharp rocks and it is amazing that they are so durable. This is a patched flat that did not hold up showing that probably a sharp rock went through the tread and came out the sidewall of the tire. Eventually we had to use a tube to fix this leak.

Motorcycle Protection

Notice how banged up the crash bars are on the motorcycle. It is critical to have every possible device to protect the motorcycle against its environment. One of the advantages of a BMW is when it falls over it does not fall all the way because of the way the cylinders stick out. With a “boxer” engine it cannot fall over all the way. The cylinders are vulnerable and need to be well protected. The panniers in the back also offer protection to your leg if the motorcycle falls over.

The other motorcycles have several interesting features. One allows you to adjust the stiffness of the suspension as you are riding – firming it up on a hard surface for better control. It is even possible to adjust the way the shock absorber functions. A second feature is traction control and anti-lock braking. These can be turned off on the fly in gravel conditions where you want to be able to spin the back wheel for better control

As I get older I am more and more convinced that these Adventure motorcycles (on-road and off-road) need to be lighter. Controlling a big motorcycle in the mud or deep sand is very difficult and most people riding recreationally are not able to do it.

Tech Post
« Previous
Next »

Back to Top

Add A Comment

Add A Comment

Code in the picture:
Your Name(*):
Notify me of any further comments to this thread: