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words & photos - Kevin Green
The amount of adventure gadgetry and accessories on the market these days is mind-blowing, and we've spent the last few months trying out some for size

I reckon adventure biking was invented for Aussies to have loads of fun. Well, at least when not drooling over insane videos of the Dakar Rally, so I’m always interested in testing gear that could make trips even better. My dream in 2012 is to complete a fairly big ride somewhere. Maybe even the Top End -- a very long way from my home base in Sydney but like I said, it’s something to aim for. Or maybe just an excuse to spend some money on the bike regardless…

The gear I’ve been testing over the last few months includes Noiseguard headsets, Garmin GPS sets, GME UHFs and Hepco&Becker adventure panniers.

GARMIN MONTANA 650T GPS

Having somehow managed to get lost in a small plantation in Brisbane once, navigation is one of my priorities these days.  Top of the list is the Garmin Montana 650t GPS. It was released in 2011 and there was plenty of chatter among global forums about its effectiveness, but I reckon it’s a great piece of kit. Typical of Garmin gear, it’s solidly made with a toughened exterior that has a large 10cm screen.

This is a true multi-purpose device for both land and sea, so to use it on the bike requires some accessories. Firstly, the cradle with power connection and secondly a handlebar mount. I’d recommend the sturdy RAM ball joint mount, which I’ve used for 18 months without mishap. Power is direct to the bike’s battery or its own lithium ion battery pack which lasts up to 16 hours. For those trips where you’re off the grid, the Montana also works on three AA batteries.

The Montana 650t is touch screen and this works effectively even with gloved hands. The unit has a mini SD cardholder for additional maps/charts but comes with in-built Hema topographic maps. A major plus with this, over say some of the handheld Garmins I’ve used, is the ease of inputting waypoints. You can zoom in to the detailed mapping, click on the desired spot, name it and then select them all for your named route. Very simple.

I enjoy leading my mates on rides so knowing where you’re going (without spending ages peering at the paper maps) is always good for morale, not to mention more time at the pub or campsite at the day’s end. Other pluses I’ve found with the Montana are the daylight readable screen and the City Navigator for around town. Among its other useful features are the 5MB camera, in-built wifi (for sharing waypoints), and it also supports BirdsEye Satellite Imagery (subscription required) that lets you download satellite images and integrate them with your maps.

The Montana is a premium product at $799, but it’s at home on the bike, in the car or on the fishing boat.

RADIOS

A great gadget for the bush is a two-way radio, as it’s a great way of keeping the group going without having to continually stop and regroup. On some of the more technical sections I’ve used it to warn fellow riders about dodgy terrain or oncoming yahoos (usually on KTMs…).

In terms of connectivity, manufacturers take several approaches with some connecting to handsets via wireless/Bluetooth and others hard-wired to your headset.

I’ve tested both these types of systems in the past and they all work pretty well. During long-term use I’ve found wireless headsets to be the most convenient and the excellent Scala G4 Rider is a favourite with the wife and me. These are high quality Bluetooth headsets that come with in-built radio and automatically adjust to the ambient noise so you can always be heard. For separate riders I’ve tested them successfully to distances of about 700m.

Garmin has recently brought out a variation on this theme with the Rino 650 hand-held UHF. The clever bit is the in-built GPS. TOPO maps are supported and the 4.5cm touch screen gives a reasonable image, while the 5W radio is supported by a sturdy external antenna. Wireless text messaging between units is a handy feature and the custom profile allows you to set it up for each individual using the device. Waypoint setting is fiddlier than the Montana but it works. I was unable to find a mount for it, as it’s primarily a hand-held unit, though there are car and marine brackets.

The price from Garmin is $599 but the ‘street’ price could be lower so check out Johnny Appleseed.

LUXURY HEADSET

For those long days in the saddle, a good headset is a blessing. The best are the custom-moulded variety, designed in comfortable plastic for your very own ears. I had mine moulded at the Sydney bike show by Johnny from Noiseguard (www.hear.com.au) and I received them in the post two weeks later. These are rated as Class 5 (35dba) which means they pretty much cancel most external noise and snugly fit deep into your ear canal so that nothing protrudes to catch on your helmet.

Simply plug your iPod or smartphone and light up those boring tarmac miles. For two-way comms, the standard 3.5mm jackplug works with many third party UHF radios – I recently did this with GME’s TX6100 UHF radio. I particularly liked the idea of a unit that can be used both with the helmet and when just relaxing. Very well worth the $435 I’d say.

HEPCO&BECKER PANNIERS

Finally, my Hepco&Becker panniers, bought cheaply last year and gathering dust in the shed. These are the ribbed alloy units so stand up to a bash in the bush. I mulled over either making a frame for them or stumping up the cash and buying a set for my Tenere. I was going to weld up some boxed mild-steel tubing but never got around to doing it.

Then I met up with Ron and Judy from Motorcycle Adventure Products and they sent me a top quality and sturdy frame for a reasonable $369. This price included the lock adapters, which are essential, and Ron took time to advise me about fitting.

It’s made of mild steel tubing with sturdy flat brackets and stainless bolts, which means my prized alloy panniers are ready to roll for that big Top End trip.

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Published : Thursday, 19 April 2012
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