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Old 07-28-2013, 05:57 PM   #46
Cousteau OP
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Joined: Sep 2012
Location: Guatemala City / Washington, DC
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Popayan - The White City



I had initially not planned to spend much time in Popayan, but the timing worked out for me to be there for the Kick-off of Droguerias Alianza's ERP project and my colleague's trip, so I ended up staying several days.



The city was one of the main centers of culture, wealth, and economic affluence during the colonial era and today is the capital of the Department of Cauca. This was one of only a few cities where coins were minted during more than 300 years of colonial rule because of the silver and gold mining production.



Today, Popayan is still considered an intellectual center because of the University of Cauca and is absolutely beautiful with all of its white colonial buildings. It´s almost like walking through a living museum. I particularly enjoyed sitting and people watching at Parque Caldas.



One place where I ate several times that was absolutely delicious is Restaurante Italiano on Calle 4, which is one of the main roads that crosses the city center. I was really in the mood for Italian and this trattoria was really, really good. It's right across from Santo Domingo, a beautiful baroque style church.



On my "work day" in Popayan we delivered the kick-off meeting at a local restaurant called "Quijote" in order to get the directors out of the offices and into a more relaxed setting. It seemed to do the trick. We did the Openbravo demo of the product and laid out the sequencing of activities that we would be performing during the coming days.

We later went back to their offices of the afternoon to learn a bit more about their operations. Although they do have ten pharmacies, much of their business actually comes from wholesale and home delivery business. I found their collection, sorting and distribution system fantastic.



They literally have a "bucket list" - walk around with an order form, fill a bucket in the second or third story levels of the warehouse and then lower it to first floor where they check the contest to the order, pack-it and hand it off for deliver. How cool is this?



 



If you are near Cali, it's only a quick two hour drive down to Popayan. I highly recommend you make the effort for a visit. It's a spectacularly delightful city that is just great to walk around in. I had a few days of rain and even without perfect weather, I had a great time enjoying my time in the parks, sitting in front of the churches and just people watching.

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Old 07-28-2013, 06:21 PM   #47
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Reflexions on Colombia



Well, as I'm on my way out of this wonderful country, it's only appropriate that I jot down some of what I'm feeling and experienced in this wonderful country.

On traveling and safety. Like many of you, I had my reservations and concerns about traveling in Colombia because of the cartels, drug traffickers, the FARC, and other armed organizations/individuals that may be looking for kidnapping victims. Also, remember I'm on this adventure on my own. Interestingly, this same concern was shared by some of my friends and acquaintances that I made while in this amazing country.

I think if you follow a few basic and sensible rules, Colombia is one of the most diverse and fantastic countries you can experience on a bike. My first rule, that applies to all places, not just Colombia is “get on the road early, and DO NOT ride at night.” I figure anyone wanting go do any mischief is not likely an early riser, so if you can get on the road early in the day and be done riding a little after mid-day, you are in pretty good shape not be bothered, plus, six to eight hours on the bike should suffice to get you where you want to go. If not, you are missing a lot.

If you are riding at night, you are just asking for trouble. You would obviously be in much greater risk in general with many drivers not having as good visibility, you included. Also, that is a perfect time for the criminal element to be out and about.

Second rule “Stick to main roads” - There are plenty of roads in the world to go into the backwoods and off the beaten path - Colombia is not that place. I found that the roads are in very good shape, or they are hard at work to get them there. They are incredibly fun, loads of twisties, and some absolutely incredible views, so there really isn't any real reason to go too far into the boonies. I even had a chance to go do some off-road riding in a safe area near Guatape as an alternative route because of a bicycle race had the main road blocked for several hours.

I also found that most roads have a large number of police and military checkpoints. You usually couldn't go more than 50kms without seeing a checkpoint. These guys are dedicated, serious, and I was not harassed or stopped even once. I stopped a few times to ask for directions or check on time/distance to the next gas station, and each time they were very courteous, genuinely interested in my trip, and I was always asked if I liked Colombia and if I had had any trouble. My answer was always the same “I love Colombia and I'm having a great time.”

Now, having said that, it is important that you are very careful on the road. There aren't a whole lot of rules on the road and it's pretty “wild west”, so be ready to go around a blind curve and find a large truck or bus coming your way. I always kept playing these scenarios in my mind as I rode and trying to figure out what my move would be if I got into a pinch. It's a bit like playing chess - just keep thinking a few moves ahead and you'll be fine.

I know a lot of riders like to roll back on the throttle. I'm not one of those riders, but if you are, try rolling it just a little less. After all, what's your hurry? You've got nothing but beautiful scenery all around you. Take it all in, enjoy it. I had one of the most difficult riding days of my trip going up from the savanna of Cordoba up to Medellin. Was caught in an afternoon rainstorm going up an incredibly twisted and inclined road, with dense fog, and weather so cold my teeth were rattling. I also had one of the most amazing views. Through a break in the fog, I was on a steep ridge, probably at least 400 meter drop, and across, not 100 meters away, was a waterfall that just appeared out of the mountain… like something out of a National Geographic documentary - AND I WAS LIVING IT!

More than a country of cities as it is traditionally known, Colombia is a country of tremendous beauty. I leave with a full heart and knowing that when it needs replenishment, there is plenty still to see and do. I missed the Santanderes entirely, so that will remain in the bucket list. It's always good to leave things left unseen so you have a reason to come back, especially when it's as an amazing a place as Colombia.

To my old and new Colombian friends… I want to thank you for making my stay in your country an incredibly memorable one. You certainly have a country to be proud of and to cherish. Despite some of the difficult history and challenging political situation, I've found some of the warmest, most charming, well educated, and industrious/entrepreneurial people in this beautiful land and I for one, am incredibly grateful for the memories I'm taking with me.

To those that have any concerns about coming to Colombia, don't think about it twice, get on your bike, hop on a plane, do what you need to do and get your butt down here. You'll absolutely fall in love with the place and the people. Don't fret… really. I was here almost an entire month, on my own, and I never even felt the least bit insecure. I guarantee you'll have an amazing time. As they say here… the only thing to fear, is the fear of not wanting to leave.
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:36 PM   #48
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Tropical Depression

As I ride into Ecuador and near the 0 degree latitude, I'm culminating a few days of rain and dark skies. I've been now in Otavalo, a little town known for its artisan market a few hours north of north of Quito and I've had nothing but gray, cold, rainy wet days. The hostel I'm staying at, although centrally located, is pretty much vacant. It's the weekend and oddly the town seems empty. Sure, there are some people working and the shops are open, but even when I go into a restaurant to eat, there might be one other table with someone there.

I have definitely had too much time to myself. I'm starting to wonder about the purpose of this whole trip. I'm tired of riding… long days, wet feet, and this chill I just can't seem to shake. It's gotten into my bones and it's not letting go. Rio and Brazil seem really far away at this point.

Am I going to make it all that way?

Tonight I went back to the hostel, Sunday night, and turned on the TV and all I could find was evangelical TV personalities. What's worse, I started watching one of them as there was nothing else on… and as if I were a gluten for punishment, I had to deal with some of the worst consecutive translation English into Spanish of an American pastor at some stadium-looking locale in Latin America. That guy was simply terrible. For all the accuracy this guy was translating, the crowd could have easily been yelling “Halleluyah” to a gringo on stage rattling off his Gramma's banana nut bread recipe.

I also miss my wife, friends, and just my daily routine back home. I'm not sure I'm motivated enough to take off tomorrow and head to Quito. I still have to look up where in the City I want to stay.

I am hearing out my window the constant nagging rain hitting the tin roof that hangs over the laundry area next to my room. Ok, I'm done for tonight.
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:41 PM   #49
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Come to our shop tomorrow - we will take you to a great party that should cheer you up...
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Old 12-17-2013, 06:07 PM   #50
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Quito- Colonial Architecture, turned the corner, and a new friend

Arrived in Quito after a few hours ride from Otavalo, just as I've done in many cities thus far - not having any idea where I'll put my head that night.



My routine now is to arrive into the city and find a nice spot to stop and be able to do a couple online searches on my phone. Usually start by typing a search string for “Hostels 'insert your city/town here'”. That usually brings up a hostel aggregator site like Hostelworld.com or sometimes Tripadvisor and from there I read some reviews, pick one, and Google helps me find the address. Copy/paste the address into Waze and I'm off.

This brought me to Colonial House Quito Hostel's doorstep. I think I surprised the staff by arriving on the bike as they really didn't know what to do with the me. I asked about a parking lot close by, but they suggested I pop the curve and take it into the entryway. At this stage, par for the course.



The hostel is situated within an old colonial house in the historical district of Quito. It's a narrow structure, three stories tall with a staircase at the Center and at each level you're met by an ample hallway, usually with a sofa or stuffed chair to lounge in, and on the third floor is a communal kitchen. Each level has several rooms, some with their own bathroom, and others there is a shared bathroom, that is not part of the original construction, in the hallway.



 



 





The city center is likely one of the best preserved examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the world. It has been the setting for a great many movies over the years. One that comes to mind is the Russel Crowe and Meg Ryan movie “Proof of Life” - one of the scenes takes place in Quito’s main square.





Once in the city, I called up Alfonso whom I was introduce to by Sory and Alain from Cali. They were very insistent that I contact him when I got into town. I met with Alfonso at his house for coffee at around 2pm which turned into a 10 hour marathon conversation. It was amazing how well he hit it off. We talked about motorcycle travel for hours and hours and he showed me the routes, pictures and loads of great stories of his travels throughout South America. I made mental notes on the places and things to do.



One of the major things that I did change from my original plan was to scrap the route down the sierra to see the volcanos and head for the Amazon. Because of the time of year, Alfonso mentioned that the snowcapped volcanos would likely be hidden by cloud cover. I had already experienced that in Manizales when I tried to go up to the Nevado del Ruiz, so no thanks… Alfonso had done this route a few years ago with his cousin and the places I’d see looked simply amazing… so… the AMAZON is calling.



The next day I went out to meet with the Triumph dealership and to say hello. I met Eduardo who runs the dealership, chatted a while and he handed me the contact info for Nicanor, a motorcycle enthusiast who had just bought my exact same bike and lived in Cuenca near the Cajas National Park - something that was still on my list.

No room at the Inn - That night I moved from the hostel as all the rooms were reserved into a little Inn a few blocks from Alfonso’s house. He had been kind enough to offer for me to leave my bike at his place, and was moving on the next morning.



That night we went out for hamburgers at this phenomenal place that Eduardo had recommended. We swung by to pick up Andres “El Indio” Molestina, a good friend of Alfonso - now I also know that Alfonso “el Junior” - interesting how they all have these crazy nicknames.

El Indio is well known throughout Ecuador and has probably one of the most extensive dirt track travel records in the region. He did an incredibly difficult and extensive ride in Peru through some very difficult terrain.

Andres shared a great deal of wisdom and I got loads of tips not only on routes, but also of riding techniques. One of his suggestions, though I was not terribly excited by it, was not to ride from Huaraz to Cusco through the Andes as the quality of roads or tracks is really poor and constantly changing due to weather. This may change some of my plans up ahead - we will see.

Alfonso dropped me off at the inn after dinner, so it was time to pack as tomorrow I head down into the Amazon. This should be exciting!
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Old 12-20-2013, 01:53 PM   #51
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Into the Amazon

This was an entirely unplanned twist in my adventure. After all my research and planning, it was but for the Alfonso’s suggestion that I decided to literally take a left rather than head strait on my path.

I headed out around mid-morning out of Quito after swinging by to Alfonso’s to pick up my bike and gear. I had only taken my duffle bag with me the night before which carries mostly clothes. After my goodbye’s and punching the town of Tena down in the Amazon into Waze, I headed out of the city under blue skies. The exit out of the city takes you through a very long tunnel, several kilometers long. Really cool!

From there, as I headed out of the city and on the highway, I started to climb and three things happened rather quickly. Rain, a very quick drop in temperature, and road construction. You can always handle one of these, but to have all three creep up on you at once, it s a bit of a pain.

So there I was, with all my vents open on my jacket and pants, with mesh gloves on, getting wet, the air was getting near freezing, and with literally nowhere to pull over. My body was starting to shake.

To my right where a shoulder should be - and I’m not talking about a proper shoulder like what you would find in North America or Europe, I mean your basic two foot left-over chunk of asphalt… not even that. There was nothing but a drop several hundred feet down, and you can forget about a railing. I rode like this for what seemed like an hour, though likely more like 20 minutes, crawling slowing up the mountain where both lanes up and down where packed with cars in long, long lines.

I had started to loose the feeling in my fingers and I had to tighten my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering shaking my helmet which shook my entire head. I finally came to a makeshift construction site off of the highway where the construction crew had setup their encampment. A steep ramp off of the highway was at apex of my next curve and although I was part of a long line of cars, I dropped about a foot onto the gravel ramp and skidded to a stop.

As I was on a steep incline, I waited a moment on the bike while I secured my footing and figure out how to best to get off the bike. I was not about to hop off quickly just because I was cold and drop the bike. Except for the oncoming traffic, there was no one around to lend a hand, and lifting the bike by myself on the incline was going to be a beastly task.

Tip: It’s never a good idea to drop the bike, but if it’s going to go, be sure you are at an angle where you can handle picking it up on your own. If not, stop, wait to get off the bike and plan on how best to handle things and what options you may have. Worst case, move to another spot.

First thing that needed handled was to zip up all the air vents to stop the cold wind from zipping through my jacket. Done! Now, since I was going to have to put the kickstand down to be able to go take my cold weather gloves and bluff out of my rear top case, I would need something to put under my kickstand to compensate for angle of the hill I was on. I spotted a large stone near my front tire. Gingerly, I got off the bike on the higher side of the road and balanced the bike the best I could. I walked around slowly, keeping a hand on the handlebars and kicked the large stone towards the middle of the bike, dropped the kickstand and had the bike drop onto the stone. Wheeew… crisis averted.

I swung around back, grabbed my gloves and bluff from the top case, hopped on the bike and was on my way. The road continued to climb and I found myself in somewhat dense fog - well, at this altitude it’s more like you’re just in the clouds. I figure at this stage I was like above 3,800 meters (circa 12,500 ft).

Stopping for a break a little above 4,000 meters at the lookout where you can have a spectacular view of the Antisana volcano. Some say it is the most spectacular volcano in Ecuador. This is more or less what I got to see.



This view, as you may imagine, further strengthened Alfonso’s argument against riding down the Sierra t see the views of the volcanos. I hopped on the bike and headed towards what would become one of the most amazing riding days thus far of my trip.

Once I peaked at above 4K mts, I started to make my way down, and rather quickly. As the altitude dropped, the temperature started rising. I shrugged off the cold and started to feel, though still cool, warmer and more humid air. The fog started to be swapped for what seemed like vapor coming off the road. I came off a plateau I had been meandering around for about an hour and the road broke towards a deep crevasse where I was about to face one of the most spectacular views yet.

Though they say a picture is worth a thousand words, that not the case here unfortunately. The vapor and fog do not give the view justice, so I will try to capture a bit of what I saw and felt.



I had been riding most of the day in post apocalyptic dry dessert environment - filled with jagged rocks made up of browns, blacks, grays… all in a dense dulling fog. As I rode coming out from under the cloud cover, the dense white was replaced by the most spectacular pallet of greens. Dense vegetation on either side of the road, and to my right I could see a meandering river at the base of the ravine. On the back side of the gargantuan crevasse just popping directly out of the mountain, where three pristine water falls. I had never seen that much water come out directly from a mountain, each with drops of several hundred meters.



I pulled to the side of the road, pulled off my helmet, and tried to take it all in. Though I’ve had many moments during my trip thus far, I came to realize in that moment that this was why I was I wanted the adventure - the absolute beauty the earth has to offer. Simply spectacular. I am one happy rider!



 
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Old 12-23-2013, 04:00 PM   #52
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Tena - A river runs through it

As I rode towards the town of Tena in Ecuadorian Amazon, I had an incredible ride through tropical rain forests. One incredible track that stands out is a ride of some 20 kms all riding next to a roaring river with vegetation so rich as if it was about to consume the narrow two lane road I was on. I lifted my visor and just let the spray coming off of the rapids and vegetation refresh my face. The road weaved in and out of the mountain, having you almost spill into the rushing water.



As I made my way into Tena, I pulled aside right after a bridge in town to look up the address of the place I'd be staying - Hostal Los Yutzos. It was only a few blocks from where I had stopped. I checked in, changed out of my sopping wet riding gear (sweat and rain) and headed out to find a rafting outfit.

I asked around and all the rafting operators were located right where I had pulled over next to the river. I walked around and they were all closed. I grabbed a bite to eat, figuring they might have been closed for lunch, but this was a sign of things to come in Tena.

Aside from coming into the Amazon to experience the jungle and the rainforest, I wanted to go rafting. Alfonso had told me of the rapids and I was quickly sold on the experience.

After lunch I walked back to find one operator open, but they were all closed. It was now 4:30, so I would figure things out tomorrow and went for a walk around town.

The next morning I found one of the operators open and when I inquired about the next trip for the day they told me unless I had a group of six, that it was unlikely that I could go during the next three days. Grrrr I obviously did not have the other five!!

My timing could not have been worse. It turns out that there was a major Cacao Festival and, as it was explained to me, and this was the reason why there would be no private party rafting trips this particular weekend. What???



Ok, so here goes. The Cacao fair had attracted a large number of politicos and decision-makers to the festival. Among other related events, Ms. Cacao would be crowned this weekend.



Now, as rafting and Eco-tourism is a major economic sector and employer in the region, the tour operators had gotten together and planned a protest rafting run that weekend. Some 300 rafts would be floating down the Rio Tena in protest of chemical plants that sit up river dumping their crap into the river.

My only choice here, I was told, would be to get a hold of one of the operators and see about getting into one of their boats. Sign up would be taking place the next day at a stand at the fair, so I took the rest of the day to catchup on some writing and to take care of maintenance on the bike.



The next morning I had breakfast and headed to the fair - mind you, this was 9:30 and when I showed I was told that there were no more spots open, but to check back in the afternoon around 3pm, so I walked around, tried some chocolate and learned a bit about the process. The fair was actually well organized and the stands and setup was quite professional. I was a little surprised because the event seemed a little out of place in a little town like Tena.

At 3pm I made my way back to the rafting stand and was told that no spots had opened up, but to show up at the riverside the next day and a spot would certainly open up. It was too late to pack-up, so I figured as a last ditch attempt to go rafting I'd show the next morning. All the same, I let the hostel know that I would be leaving the next morning and I left my things packed up.

Next morning I showed at 7:30 and there was a lot going on. I approached one of the organizers, he took my name and number and said to wait, that a spot was bound to open up. I hung out for about an hour and they were just about done loading all the boats to the trailers and decided to approach the same guy again to check if he had any news. When he mentioned that they wouldn’t know for sure until about 2pm when they were going to have everyone go to the loading spot up the river I just turned around without saying a word and walked. What a total and absolute waste of time. I wish someone would have just come out and said, sorry, there are not spots nor will there be.

So, I walked back a few blocks back to the hostel, changed, grabbed my gear and loaded up the bike. I left Tena at 9:15am and was headed for Baños… no plan, no place to stay as of yet… let´s see what this next town holds in store for me… whatever it is, it´s bound to be better than Tena.
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Old 12-24-2013, 09:37 AM   #53
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Mid-Point Gear Review

I thought that since I'm nearing my mid-point in my ride that I would talk a bit about some of the gear I've been using and how it's worked up to now. I should note that some of the gear I will be reviewing was in fact afforded me under a sponsorship agreement with the manufacturer or reseller, but part of that agreement is that I do provide my honest opinion without bias.

SENA SMH10 Bluetooth Headset



This has been one of my lifesavers on the trip thus far. The quality of audio when synced with my iPhone has been fantastic. I use a GPS app called Waze on the phone most of the time and that too has been great to listen to the directions and not having to look down to the phone. I've actually also been on several conference calls while riding using Skype and the combination of the headset, the iPhone and Skype has really been superb.



As I was riding into Quito, for example, I was on Skype on a call with colleagues in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and the US listening in on the call and jumping in when necessary, all while riding in suburban traffic - and mind you, I was in Quito, Ecuador. Since I also have some long days on the road, I've listened to loads of audiobooks and podcasts which I have thoroughly enjoyed and helped me keep my sanity. It's great to be able to juxtapose fantastic scenery with great music in the background.



That said, it doesn't make you more approachable to the local wildlife.

I've also asked my family and colleagues about the sound quality, and they said my voice was clear and that the surrounding noise, though perceivable, was not a distractor. I'm not sure if it has some kind of sound suppressor for ambiance noise, but the feedback regarding the sound on the other end has been very good.



One thing that I particularly liked when paired with the iPhone was that I was still able to use Siri directly from the headset. I could check the time, have Siri read back my messages to me - I get a lot on iMessage over the course of a day - and one feature I particularly like was being able to bring up a FaceTime call while I was riding. Obviously I'm looking at the road, but the other person can see me while I'm riding, and I can look down when I get to a stoplight from time to time.

The battery life is also something I have been particularly impressed with. Usually I have to charge ever fourth or fifth day and I'm listening to music, the GPS, or books/podcasts almost all the time while I'm riding. I would guess I'm getting about 16 to 20 hours of use out of a single charge. It also came with a great and handy charging cord, which I've often connected to the bike while I'm riding and it charges the headset while in use. Very cool!

There is also a great deal of flexibility with regard to the microphone. It comes with two options. The first is a microphone on a flexible arm and the second is a smaller mic that can be place with either using velcro or with a sticker within the helmet.

Overall, I can strongly recommend the SENA SMH10 BT headset. It's been through all kind of weather - thick fog where the moisture gets into every nook and cranny, torrential rain, 44C (104F) heat, sandstorm, and literally it has not missed a single beat.

Slider All Season Mesh Jacket with Kevlar from Competition Accessories - I got a mesh jacket as my second jacket for the trip on the advise of an ADVRider Crestedbutte-rtw (Fletch - http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=735281 ). It's a great blog if you have not read it. He's been riding for well over a year and I contacted him asking for tips and he strongly suggested to bring along a second mesh jacket. I think this was sage advise as when I did hit that 44C (104F) heat in southern Honduras, I don't think I would have made it riding in my KLIM kevlar jacket. I went through 11 liters of water that day and sweated more than I probably had in my entire life.



The jacket is an all weather jacket. It comes with two liners - one for cold weather and another waterproof liner. I can only speak to the exterior mesh shell as I left the other two layers at home and it has worked great. The construction of the jacket is solid with good stitching, integrated padding in elbows and shoulders, along with CE Armor in the back, shoulders and elbows. These are easily removed when you want to launder the jacket. I put it in the delicate cycle - it says to hand wash in the washing instructions, but honestly, that just wasn't going to happen. It did fine… and trust me, when the jacket sits up and starts taking to you at the end of the day… it's time to wash it.



The color, I chose red, did not wash out and once it dried, it looked good as new. The mesh is amazingly breathable, and it comes with nice side pockets in front, a few pockets on the inside front panels, one with zipper up top where I often kept my driver's license and registration, and a cool hidden pouch on the back. I imagine that's to carry the liners, but it served me well where I could stash a little extra cash and passport on days I went riding without my tank bag. For the price, it's also a winner.

When I'm back from my trip, this will likely be my everyday jacket, as I don't have a car and normally ride my bike.



Stay tuned for upcoming stories and my next reviews.

 
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