Kuat NV Bike Rack Review

Roads Less Traveled

This page is a review of the Küwat NV Bike Rack, a high quality and easy-to-use bike rack that mounts in a hitch receiver.

Nifty new Küwat NV Bike Rack.

This page is a review of the Kuat NV bike rack

The bike rack folds flat against the back of the truck.

A nifty new bike rack from Kuat is easy to use.

The bike rack is folded down and ready for bikes to be mounted.

Kuat

A strap is cinched over the rear

wheel to hold the bike in place on

the rack.

Strap cinching system for Kuat bike rack Kuat rack strap system

A lever arm folds up and down to hold each bike in place.

Lever arm hold bikes in place on Kuat bike rack

The lever arm can extend and

retract with the press of a button.

The lever arm holds the bike in

place on the rack.

Mounted and ready to go.

There is a built-in, retractable bike lock.

The two ends pull out and can be

snaked through the bike(s) to lock them

to the rack.

This image shows the locked lock without a bike.

The Kuat NV bike rack features a built-in bike lock.

One end of the lock inserts into the other.

Bike is mounted and locked to the rack.

The bikes are mounted and run no risk of dragging on the ground if the trailer bottoms out.

Two bikes mounted and locked.

An clever feature is the bike stand.

Insert the stand into this quick release

fitting...

A terrific feature of the Kuat NV bike rack is the built-in bike stand.

The bike rack is folded flush to the back

ot he truck/trailer, the bike stand is

inserted into it and clamped down with a

quick release.

A bike is mounted on the Kuat NV bike stand, ready for bike mechanic work.

Magic!!  A bike stand!!  The bike's wheels and

pedals are free to spin and you can do

whatever bike mechanic work you need to do.

We highly recommend the Kuat bike rack

Two bottoming-out episodes and the round

knob was beginning to look square.

The Kuat NV bike rack is awesome

Jack of JM Welding comes to our rescue.

We get a custom-designed hitch extension made to raise the bikes another 8

He draws the design on the floor using parts he had

available that day.

Designing an extension for the Kuat rack

The pieces are laid out.

We fabricated an extension for our Kuat rack

The hitch extension is welded

and has gussets for added

strength.

Jack powder coats the whole thing.

"I think it's gonna work!"

Awesome hitch extension for the Kuat bike rack

Perfect - the bike rack is raised 8" or so off the

ground.

We lock the bike rack to the hitch

extension.  An internal bolt/nut

attaches the hitch extension to

the hitch receiver and would be

very difficult to undo.

With hitch extension on Kuat NV bike rack bike is well of the ground

Ahhh… the bike is well off the ground.

The bikes are up well off the ground and we are ready to roll!!

Two bikes mounted and ready for their next adventure.

Kuat 2 Bike NV Rack

This is a review of the Kuat NV Bike Rack, a high quality, extremely

easy-to-use bike rack that mounts on a trailer hitch.

For several years we lugged our bikes around on the back of our

trailer using a cheap Swagman bike rack that held 3 bikes.  It held the

bikes by gripping the top tubes in metal jaws.  To mount a bike on the

rack or to dismount it you had to screw or unscrew two long screws

that cinched the rack's jaws closed around the top tube.  There were

several frustrating problems with this rack:

• It was time consuming to mount and dismount the bikes

• The rack's gripping jaws gouged the bikes' top tubes and

chipped off the paint

• The whole rack jiggled wildly in the hitch receiver as we drove,

especially on rough roads

• If the trailer bottomed out in a ditch, the bikes' tires dragged on the ground

• There was no way to lock the bikes onto the rack

• We had to use bungee cords to keep the wheels from spinning as we drove

At the 2011 Interbike bicycle trade show in Las Vegas Mark checked out every bike rack manufacturer for a better solution.  He

finally settled on one made by Küwat, a small company out of Missouri.  This is a slick bike rack.  It is simple, easy to use and

solves almost all the problems we had with the Swagman (see note below).

RACK IS HELD TIGHT IN THE HITCH RECEIVER

The rack cinches into the trailer hitch using a clever expansion

mechanism you control with a round plastic knob at the back of the

rack.  Set the rack into the hitch receiver, tighten the knob until very

tight (or use an allen wrench to get it super tight), and the inner

expansion mechanism holds the rack rock solid in the hitch receiver.

The rack doesn't move at all.

The rack can be folded flush against the back of the trailer (or car/

truck) when not in use.

Then fold it down when you are ready to load some bikes onto it.

EASY MOUNT / DISMOUNT

The rack holds two bikes that face in opposite

directions.  Each bike's wheels rest on a tray.  The front

wheel goes into a rounded tray that keeps it from

rolling.  An adjustable strap loops over the rear wheel to

hold it in place.  Then an adjustable lever-arm is

tightened onto the front wheel next to the fork to keep

the whole bike in place.

So to mount a bike there are three quick steps:

1.  Place the bike's wheels on the rack's tray

2.  Tighten the rear strap around the rear wheel.

3.  Move the lever arm into place on the front tire in front

of the fork and apply pressure to cinch it down.

The bike(s) can be locked using

retractable built-in plastic shielded

cable wires.  One wire comes out of

each end of the rack.  Snake the two

wires through the wheels and frame(s)

of the bike(s), and insert one

connector into the other to lock the

bikes to the rack.  Easy!

To dismount the bikes simply release the rear wheel strap,

press the thumb button on the front wheel lever arm to extend

it and lower it, and lift the bike off the rack.

KUAT NV BIKE RACK BECOMES A BIKE STAND!

As a bonus, the rack includes a built-in bike stand for working

on your bikes.

Simply fold the bike rack up so it is flush with the trailer (or

back of your car/truck).  Insert the bike stand unit using a

quick release lever.

Mount the bike into the stand by its top tube using the quick

release clamps.

Now the pedals and wheels can spin freely and you can do

whatever maintenance your bike needs, from lubing the

chain to replacing the bottom bracket.

ONE PROBLEM - AND A GREAT FIX

Side note: Kuwat does not recommend putting their bike

racks on the backs of trailers due to the long distance

between the rack and the rear wheels of the trailer.  That long

distance puts extra force on the bike rack as the trailer goes

over bumps in the road and makes it possible for the rack to

hit the ground when the trailer bottoms out going through dips

in the road.

The only problem we had with this rack -- one that was

easily remedied -- is that the rack sat quite low to the

ground because the hitch receiver on the back of our

fifth wheel is fairly low, and the rack sticks out quick far

from the back of the trailer.  When the trailer bottomed

our (for instance, entering/exiting some gas stations),

the outer end of the rack dragged on the ground.  We

had two episodes like this, one going in and out of a gas

station and the other doing a u-turn at a National Park

parking lot.  These mishaps scraped the rubber right off

the rack's expansion knob in two places.

While driving through Blanding, Utah, we asked at the

Visitors Center if there was a good welder/fabricator in

town.  We were sent to see Jack Montella of JM

Welding, and in a few hours he created the

perfect solution.

He built an S (or Z) shaped hitch extension that

fits into our trailer hitch receiver and provides a

new higher receiver for the bike rack.

Things like this are available commercially, but when we

priced it out, the cost would have been similar and would

have required waiting for the part to be shipped.  So Jack

made a custom one for us on the spot.

After drawing a picture of the hitch extension on the floor, he quickly cut the

pieces and welded it together.  He put two gussets in the corners to provide

extra strength and powder coated it.  Our only concern with the design was

that this new extension wouldn't fit tightly in the trailer's hitch receiver,

making both the rack and bikes jiggle as we drove.

Jack had a perfect

solution.  He welded a

nut into the inside of the

new hitch extension

where the hitch pin goes through the hitch receiver and the

hitch extension.  Then he fabricated a long bolt that would go

through both the trailer's hitch receiver and the hitch

extension.  As the bolt was screwed into the nut on the inside

of the hitch extension, the hitch extension was cinched up

tightly against the inside of the trailer's hitch receiver.  This

made a rock solid connection.

At the other end of the hitch extension, our bike rack fits into the hitch

extension receiver just as it did into the original trailer hitch receiver,

using Küwat's expansion mechanism inside its tubes.

This has raised the bike rack 8" further off the ground.  Now when we

go through a deep dip in the road, the hitch cable rings (a part of the

hitch receive we don't use or care about) drag on the ground rather

than the bottom of the bike rack.

After we installed the bike rack on the new hitch extension I walked behind the trailer

as Mark drove it over a very rough dirt road.  The rack and the bikes followed the motion of the trailer and nothing more

-- no jiggling whatsoever.

You can purchase the Kuat NV Bike Rack here.

If you have more than two bikes and are mounting the rack on a car or truck (not recommended for an RV),

you can purchase the Kuat NV bike rack extension here.

After a few years wiggles crept in and we started using Hitch Tighteners to make the rack even more stable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kuat NV Bike Rack is available at Amazon (left ad), and if you are putting this rack on a car (not an RV), you can add the extension (right ad).

We receive a 4-6% commission from Amazon (at no cost to you) if you use one of our links to get to Amazon, no matter what you buy or when you finalize the sale. This helps us cover our out-of-pocket costs for this site, but doesn’t pay us for our time writing reviews like this.

If you make an Amazon purchase here, please drop us a line to let us know so we can say thank you!

 

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Lumintop SD75 Flashlight Review – A Car Headlight In Your Hand!

We’ve been doing a lot of night photography lately, catching the Milky Way at Waterton Lakes National Park in the Canadian Rockies and hiking in the dark out onto a rocky point to catch sunrise at Deadhorse Point State Park in Utah. We even hiked the Fairyland Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park after midnight.

Stars at Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Night Sky

The Lumintop SD75 flashlight brightens the rock formations at Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

We’ve also played with creating ghostly images by doing Light Painting in old buildings in Ouray Colorado.

Ghostly image in a ghost town

Mark gets a selfie of his own ghost.

A key piece of gear we have relied on for all of this is a Lumintop SD75 4,000 Lumen flashlight.

In the past we used Maglites and smaller LED flashlights to find our way in the dark and to cast light on the surroundings during a long exposure of the night sky. However, even the best of these flashlights was hopelessly dim.

Lumintop SD75 LED flashlight

Our Lumintop SD75 flashlight next to our Maglite.

Mark is a huge flashlight junkie, and he searched for a long time for a big and powerful flashlight to use for our nighttime photography excursions and to use when we roam around our boondocking spots at night.

He decided on the Lumintop SD75 flashlight.

This is a “search” flashlight similar to the ones used by law enforcement.

There are three power levels, and at max power it is a whopping 4,000 lumens.

The light it throws at max power is astonishing — it goes 0.4 miles!!

Walking in the dark with this flashlight is like holding a car’s headlight in your hand!

Lumintop SD75 flashlight low power

Low power.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight medium power

Mid Power.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight high power

High Power.

  • At low power, it can run for 50 hours
  • At mid power, it can run for 8.33 hours
  • At max power (4,000 lumens), it can run for 2.68 hours

Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Night Sky

Light painting the rock pinnacles at Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

There is a strobe mode as well, and at max power strobe, it can run for 50 hours!

The Lumintop SD75 is made of heavy duty aerospace aluminum and has a hard-anodized anti-scratching HAIII military grade finish. The LED bulbs are the latest CREE XHP70 LED technology.

This is a serious piece of gear that comes in an equally serious suitcase!

Lumintop SD75 flashlight suitcase

The flashlight has its own suitcase. Don’t worry, it’s about the size of a very very big lunch box.

This aluminum suitcase has foam cutouts inside for all the goodies that come with it.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight suitcase open

Foam cutouts for all the extras.

The flashlight comes with four lithium-ion batteries that are rechargeable. It also comes with a wall charger as well as a 12 volt car charger.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight parts

The flashlight packs into the suitcase in two halves. The battery pack is shown in the middle.

So, we can charge the flashlight batteries either in our RV or in our truck, whichever is more convenient.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight charger

Wall charger and 12 volt charger.

There is a battery charge indicator light on the back end of the battery, so we know exactly how well charged the batteries are.

There are also two USB connectors for charging cell phones or other devices FROM the flashlight battery! That’s how much charge these batteries can hold!

Lumintop SD75 tactical flashlight back end

Cap off: Battery indicator light, 2 USB ports + slots for a strap.

There are also two slots on the cap that covers the back end of the flashlight that can be used to attach a carry strap or piece of line.

One very handy feature for when we are setting up our tripods and camera gear in the dark is an LED taillight that attaches to the back end.

Standing the flashlight on end, this taillight illuminates the area all around the flashlight. This would be ideal in a tent or doing emergency truck or RV repair work in the dark too!

Lumintop SD75 Flashlight with LED taillight

LED taillight
Handy in a tent, setting up photo gear or working on the RV.

There is a quarter inch tripod socket on the side of the flashlight so it can be mounted on a camera tripod as well.

Lumintop SD75 tactical Flashlight tripod mount

Unscrew this cap to access the standard 1/4″ tripod mount.

One feature we haven’t taken advantage of — because we haven’t been caught out in the rain or gone swimming with this flashlight just yet — is that it is water resistant to 2 meters!! It comes with extra O-rings to help keep it watertight as well.

Overlook night stars North Rim Grand Canyon

My camera aims at the stars at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

I wish we had had this flashlight when we cruised Mexico with our sailboat. We had a 12 volt “4 million candlepower” spot light that we kept on deck during every overnight passage just in case one of us slipped overboard.

Of course, we wore harnesses and clipped ourselves to the boat at sunset and stayed clipped in until sunrise as long as we were outside the cabin. But there was always the chance that the quick release mechanism on the harness might accidentally undo itself or some other catastrophe might happen that would send one of us into the drink.

Milky WayLodge at North Rim of the Grand Canyon starry night and fifth wheel trailer RV

The Lodge at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Frankly, there is no way in any conditions but the calmest seas that our spot light would have been bright enough to illuminate a bobbing head in the water.

This flashlight is so much more powerful, we both would have felt a lot more comfortable it we’d had it aboard with us!

Milky Way and fifth wheel trailer RV

The Lumintop SD75 flashlight brightens up our buggy.

If you are looking for a high quality flashlight for walking around your RV campsite at night, or for hiking in the dark, or for light painting old ghostly buildings in the wee hours of the morning, the Lumintop SD75 is a terrific choice.

It’s also a neat gift idea for that sweet hubby who loves gadgets and is so hard to buy for!!

You can buy the Lumintop SD75 flashlight at this link, and if you enter the code SD75OFF2 at checkout, you will receive a 20% discount!

If this flashlight is a little big for your needs, we have also written a detailed review about two excellent pocket flashlights:

Pocket Flashlight Review: Lumintop EDC25 and Lumintop SD26 1000 Lumen Flashlights

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Porta-bote Review

This page is a review of the 10′ Porta-bote operated with a 6 hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboard. The Porta-bote’s overall design is terrific, and it worked very well for us as a cruising dinghy during our nearly 4 year cruise of Mexico’s Pacific coast aboard our Hunter 44DS sailboat named Groovy.

We initially posted this review in 2012 after we had owned and used the Porta-bote for a year.

10' Porta-bote with 6 hp Suzuki outboard.

10′ Porta-bote with 6 hp outboard.

Since that time, the Porta-bote design has been completely overhauled and revamped.

The new Alpha series models being sold today are much improved over the older models. Many of the problems we had with our Porta-Bote have been eliminated by the new design.

In the end, we used the Porta-bote as our cruising dinghy for nearly four years and we were very happy with it. This review has been updated to indicate the areas in which the new Alpha series Porta-botes outshine the older models like ours.

The most notable improvements are:

  • The transom is an integral part of the hull and not a separate component
  • The seats have been completely redesigned
  • The plastic that the rub-rail is made of does not leave marks on white fiberglass motherships
The Porta-bote rows beautifully

The Porta-bote rows beautifully

We learned, after the fact, that the design engineers read and used this Porta-bote review to pinpoint aspects of the design that needed improvement when they did the Alpha redesign. I am really thrilled that our notes proved useful to them and gave them some good ideas.

The things we loved most about the Porta-bote were:

  • Easy and swift movement, whether rowing or motoring
  • Enormous capacity for carrying groceries, laundry, scuba gear and propane tanks to and from shore in the cruising lifestyle
  • Incredible ruggedness when dragging it up on shore or tying it to a pier covered with barnacles
  • Imperviousness to tropical UV rays, even when left in the sun for years on end
  • Excellent tracking in the water when towed behind a large cruising sailboat

We made a wonderful system for carrying the Porta-bote along our lifelines while on passage, and we found that the Porta-bote fit perfectly into our sailboat’s swim step.

We created a lightweight davit system to hoist it up out of the water every night.

The Porta-bote was light enough, even with the engine mounted on the transom, that I (an able bodied woman) could hoist it by hand to put it on our swimstep for the night without needing to winch it.

The notes below are offered for anyone considering using a Porta-bote as a cruising dinghy. It details how we used the boat and the custom modifications we made. Any criticisms we had of the boat that have been fixed in the new Alpha series are clearly noted in the review.

Would we consider a Porta-bote for a future tropical cruise? Absolutely!!

The official Porta-bote website is

www.porta-bote.com

PORTA-BOTE SPECIFICATIONS

The Porta-bote has lots of interior space

The Porta-bote has lots of interior space

Length: 10′
Beam: 5′
Weight: ~80 lbs (w/ seats but w/o outboard)
Weight: ~135 lbs (w/ seats & w/ outboard)

Component Parts:

1 Hull
3 Seats
1 Transom (transom is integral to the Alpha series hull)
3 pairs eyebolts/washers for seats
2 pairs wingnuts/washers for transom
1 pair aluminum collapsible oars

10' porta-bote has lots of interior space

There’s enough room to take a snooze!

Following is a summary of what we have found to be Porta-bote’s best and worst qualities when used as a cruising dinghy:

Porta-bote Strengths

  • Lightweight enough to hoist in davits effortlessly, even with the outboard
  • Lightweight enough to drag high onto the beach without dinghy wheels
  • Tows easily, with or without the outboard mounted (best without)
  • Rows beautifully — truly a pleasure to row
  • Planes quickly with a 55 lb. 6 hp outboard and two adults
  • Huge interior volume for hauling stuff
  • No worries about running it up on rocks
  • No need for a sunbrella cover to protect the hull from UV rays
  • Half the price of a comparable RIB dinghy

Porta-bote Weaknesses

  • No built-in system to attach a bridle for lifting the boat in davits
  • No “drain hole” in the hull to drain water when boat is out of the water **
  • Seats take up storage space and the long middle & rear seats can be awkward to carry
  • Black plastic seats get untouchably hot in the tropical sun

** We did not know this at the time, but if you want a drain plug, Porta-bote recommends installing a Ronstan RF294 Drain Plug on the side of the boat just in front of the transom and above the black tube.

Issues with OLDER MODEL Porta-botes (NOT applicable to the new Alpha series)

  • Some of the construction materials are not appropriate for tropical, salt water use
  • Transom is heavy, awkward to carry and takes up a lot of storage space
  • The flotation foam disintegrates in the sun and leaves black flecks on the floor
  • Black plastic seams along the length of the hull leave scuff marks on Groovy’s white gelcoat

Our overall assessment after nearly four years of using the Porta-bote in anchorages from San Diego to Zihuatanejo, Mexico is that it is a great little cruising dinghy, especially once a few modifications have been made.

Here are some details about its strengths and weaknesses along with descriptions of the upgrades we did to make it work better.

PORTA-BOTE STOWAGE LOCATIONS on a CRUISING SAILBOAT

The Porta-bote is not as compact a boat as you might think because it is not just a folding hull. It is a hull, three large seats and a big transom Note: in the Alpha series the transom is not a separate component as it was in the older Porta-botes.

The 8′ version is a hull, two seats and a transom, and is reportedly “just as difficult to set up” according to a singlehanding friend of ours who has cruised 10,000 miles, first with a 10′ Porta-bote and then, after he lost it, with an 8 footer. “I liked my 10 footer better,” he claimed. “Smaller doesn’t mean easier, and you lose all that interior space with the 8′ model.”

The Porta-bote planes easily with two adults on board

The Porta-bote planes easily with two adults on board

All the pieces of the Porta-bote are big and awkward to carry. For longer passages we disassemble the Porta-bote and store the hull in kayak-style racks outboard of Groovy’s starboard deck, so it is tucked out of the way without having to hang in davits off the back or lie upside down on the foredeck as most cruising dinghies do. Because of their length, we store the longest seat and the transom in the master stateroom (ugh!). We store the other two seats in our big cockpit locker, standing on end for easy retrieval.

For overnights at anchor we lift the dinghy in retractable davits that are built into our solar panel support arch. The Porta-bote fits perfectly into our sugar-scoop transom, resting neatly on the swim platform and held in place by the shape of Groovy’s hull.

We leave the outboard mounted on the Porta-bote. The boat and outboard are light enough that each of us can hoist the dinghy unassisted (our davit system has a simple 4-to-1 purchase and no winches). Splashing the boat in the morning is just a matter of lowering it a foot or so back into the water, which each of us can also do unassisted.

PORTA-BOTE SEATS and SEAT STOWAGE

The seats on the new Alpha series Porta-botes have been completely redesigned, and the transom is integral to the hull and not a separate component, so the following notes pertain strictly to older Porta-botes.

Porta-bote hull mounted on the lifelines of a sailboat

Porta-bote hull mounted on the lifelines of our sailboat

The three seats and transom are all large, heavy components made of plastic and metal. Each one has some swinging legs that hang off of it, making each piece quite a challenge to carry on a pitching boat. Each of the three seats has two (or three) metal U-shaped rods attached underneath that flip out and become the seat legs once the seat is installed in the Porta-bote. These metal loops are only loosely attached to the seats, relying on spring tension to keep them in place.

The first time I carried a seat forward on Groovy’s deck, one of the metal pieces detached itself from the seat and vanished over the side, never to be seen again. Fortunately Porta-bote replaced the piece free of charge. We now use duct tape to keep tension on the open part of the U-shaped rods so these crazy loops don’t fall off when we carry the seats to and from the foredeck. The metal loops fold back against the bottom of the seats.

Porta-bote rests on foredeck of a 44' Hunter 44DS sailboat

Porta-bote rests on foredeck of our 44′ Hunter 44DS sailboat

Actually, they swing freely and independently of each other, flopping all over the place. However, with some coordination they can be held against the seat while carrying it, still leaving a hand free “for the boat.” Unfortunately the loops don’t fold flat to the seat and there are no clips to hold them in place, so they flop around until you get a grip on them as you carry the seat. Also, when folded, at least one of the loops on each seat sticks out an inch or two beyond the end of the seat. So in the stored position the seat becomes even longer due to this metal bracket sticking out the end.

The design of the seats and legs could be infinitely improved. The seats could be designed to fold in half, shortening them considerably for stowage. The legs could fold into the seats and clip into place so they don’t flop around.

There is a myriad of possibilities for designing solid functional seats that are easy to carry and store. However, the current seats are very awkward, and the black plastic will singe your hand when you touch it after the boat has been sitting in the tropical sun for a few minutes. Simply making the seats of white plastic would be an immeasurable improvement.

We use towels to cover the seats, or in very hot places rely on flotation cushions (which slide around under you). We have heard of cruisers making sunbrella seat covers for the seats too. In the hottest places a towel is not sufficient and you will still burn your backside while sitting on the seats.

The biggest problem with the seats, besides being so difficult to lug around on a rolling boat, is that they are too big to stow easily. Some cruisers lash them on deck, but we have neither found a good place on deck for them nor come up with a quick way to tie them down securely. Many cruisers simply tow their Porta-bote instead of hassling with assembly and disassembly.

2008 Hunter 44DS Sailboat Groovy in Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Mexico

Groovy in Tangolunda Bay (Huatulco, Mexico)
The porta-bote is snug in its perch on the starboard side.

We met a couple that towed theirs thousands of miles up and down the Mexican coast. I consider this risky if the seas get out of hand, and it also seems to defeat the purpose of the folding “portable” nature of the boat.

On our boat the transom and middle seat are too long to fit in a cockpit locker in a way that is easily accessible, so we store them alongside our bed.

The other two seats fit in our large aft cockpit locker standing on end. In order to get a grip on these big floppy seats, we use several large Navy-issue canvas bags, storing two seats to a bag and putting a second bag over the other end so the whole seat is covered (they are salty and dirty when removed from the boat, and who wants that next to their bed?).

A tidier solution would be to have custom canvas bags made to fit the seats with a large rugged handle on the side. It would be awesome if these bags came with the Porta-bote right from the factory!

PORTA-BOTE TRANSOM and TRANSOM STOWAGE

The transom on the new Alpha series Porta-botes has been completely redesigned and is integral to the hull rather than being a separate component

The transom is not only long, wide and heavy, it has a big flopping plastic piece that folds over the hull when the transom is installed in the Porta-bote to provide a support for the outboard to clamp onto. This heavy piece is held to the transom by a thin piece of plastic that acts as a hinge and looks very prone to tearing.

Porta-bote transom on foredeck of sailboat

Transom lies on the foredeck

When we tow the Porta-bote, we remove the outboard, and then the plastic outboard support piece flaps as the Porta-bote goes over the waves, threatening to rip the hinge piece. To stop the flapping and wear and tear on that thin hinge, we use a large clamp to clamp the outboard support piece to the Porta-bote’s hull.

The transom also has two long metal L-brackets along each side. These are the supports that hold the transom in place: two pairs of wing nuts and washers secure the metal L-bracket to the side of the hull. These L-brackets are major ankle-biters and interior cabin wood-gougers when carrying the transom around.

Therefore, we load the transom and the longest seat into a canvas bag before lugging them anywhere — the flopping legs on the seat are held in place, the flopping outboard engine mounting piece is held in place, and the sharp metal edges of the L-brackets are somewhat protected by the heavy canvas.

Some clever engineers at Porta-bote could surely devise a way to secure the transom without requiring large metal L-brackets (or tiny wing nuts and washers, for that matter), and the outboard engine mount could definitely be designed to fold into the transom so it lies flush and is held in place with a clip system that keeps it from flopping around.

Please note that the new Alpha series Porta-botes have the transom integrated into the hull which eliminates the problems associated with carrying the transom around and attaching it to the hull!

PORTA-BOTE ASSEMBLY

Porta-bote assembly on the deck of a sailboat

Step 1: The hull is opened

We have tried several methods of assembling the Porta-bote on Groovy’s deck, and the best system we have found is described below. It takes us about 15 minutes, including retrieving the many parts from the cabin and the cockpit locker.

When the hull is in its stowed position, it is folded lengthwise twice: first the sides fold into the middle, then the (new) sides are folded in towards each other.

The end result looks like a small surfboard, 10′ long and about 4″ wide. Our first task is to remove the hull from its stowed position outboard of Groovy’s starboard side deck. Then:

    Center seat of porta-bote is installed

    Center seat is installed

    1. Carry the hull to the foredeck and open it up. The plastic is rigid and you have to use a lot of force to get the sides to open.

    Porta-bote provides a specially cut board to assist with this: you stand on one side of the hull and push against the other, wedging the board between the two. Eventually the board is positioned to hold the hull open.

    2. Insert the middle seat. The ends of the seats are inserted into metal supports that are riveted on either side of the interior of the hull.

    The seats don’t fit in the supports all that well. There is some wiggle room up and down and the angle of the supports is perpendicular to the hull, which is not ultimately in line with the seat’s horizontal orientation, because the hulls’ sides flair outward.

    Note: The seats have been totally redesigned in the Alpha series!

    Eyebolt / wingnut / washer combo for attaching the seats to the Porta-bote hull

    Eyebolt / wingnut / washer combo for attaching the seats to the Porta-bote hull

    3. Secure the middle seat with wing nuts and washers. The Porta-bote ships with long thin cotter pins that are tied to the seats with thin string so they don’t get lost.

    The cotter pins are intended to hold the seats in place against the metal hull supports, however they fly all over the place when you are carrying the seats, and they don’t hold the seats securely.

    Bolt-wingnut-washer combo for attaching the Porta-bote transom to the hull

    Bolt-wingnut-washer combo for attaching the transom to the hull

    Therefore, we replaced the cotter pins with long stainless steel eyebolts held in place with large stainless steel washers, both above and below the seat, and with a stainless steel lock washer underneath to keep everything tight despite the jiggling and jostling of the hull when the Porta-bote is driven over the waves.

    The eyebolt is slid through a hole in the upper part of the metal support, then through a hole in the seat and then through a hole in the lower part of the metal support, and a wingnut is screwed on from underneath.

    Note: The mechanism for attaching the seats to the hull has been upgraded in the Alpha series of Porta-botes, however we found the eyebolts useful…

    Bolt/wingnut attaching Porta-bote transom's L-bracket to the hull

    Bolt/wingnut attaching transom’s L-bracket to the hull

    The eyebolts also come in very handy for holding the dink in place behind Groovy’s swim platform. We have two lines rigged on either side of the swim platform with clips on the ends that clip into the Porta-bote’s eyebolts on the forward and aft seats. This keeps the Porta- bote parallel to Groovy’s transom and keeps it snug to the swim platform for easy boarding.

    4. Install the transom. The outboard mounting flap goes over the hull, and the metal L-brackets are attached to holes in the hull using bolts, wing nuts and washers.

    The Porta-bote ships with non-stainless bolts, nuts and washers, which are probably fine for the once-in-a-while lake fishing that the Porta-bote is built for. We replaced all these little pieces with stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers and added a lock washer to the set.

    The sizes of these pieces that Porta-bote ships are non-standard (I searched high and low for stainless components that would match the originals). Instead, we simply used replacement bolts, washers and nuts that would fit the holes rather than trying to match the thread pitch, bolt length and width of the ones from the factory.

    Attaching the Porta-bote transom to the hull with wingnuts

    Attaching the transom to the hull with wingnuts

    The lower wing nut / washer set on each side of the transom includes a rubber washer to keep that part of the boat watertight since that part sits below the waterline. The rubber washers last about 6 months in the salt water environment.

    We keep several spare rubber washers to use as replacements each time they wear out. In addition, we have a complete duplicate set of all the eyebolts, straight bolts, wing nuts and washers that we use for the Porta-bote, as it is all too easy to drop one of these tiny pieces overboard while assembling or disassembling the Porta-bote on deck.

    Porta-bote is hoisted on spare halyard

    Porta-bote is hoisted on spare halyard

    The worst aspect of the Porta-bote design for use as a cruising dinghy prior to the new Alpha series, is that you are fumbling with the very large pieces of a 10′ long hull, several wide seats that don’t fit into their supports very well, and a big heavy transom, all while screwing the whole thing together with tiny wing nuts.

    The bottom of the boat is a black plastic “hinge” that acts as something of a keel, so the boat doesn’t sit flat on deck but pivots about on this round tube of plastic.

    So when Groovy rolls in the swell, the porta-bote pivots on its keel, and you are hanging onto the boat in one hand with a fist full of wing nuts and washers in the other, all while trying to mate the threads of the wing nuts to the bolts.

    Porta-bote is lowered into the water

    Porta-bote is lowered into the water

    5. Raise the Porta-bote up and over the lifelines and lower it into the water using the spare halyard.

    We have an electric halyard winch that works really well but also works quite hard during this process (of course it would be a great upper body workout to winch it by hand).

    When the boat rises up in the air, the outboard mounting bracket flops down unless we clip it in place with a large clip before raising the boat. Note: This has been remedied in the new Alpha transom design.

    This part of the process can be tricky in a large swell or in high winds, as the boat is difficult for the guy on deck (Mark!) to control as it swings around on the halyard.

     

    6. Move the boat to the swim platform, clip middle and rear seats’ eyebolts to two lines on Groovy’s transom to keep the Porta-bote parallel to Groovy’s swim platform for easy access, and install the other two seats.

    7. Lower the outboard engine onto the mountain bracket on the transom (using one of the dinghy davits) and secure it in place.

Porta-bote is brought back to sailboat swim platform for the rest of the assembly

Porta-bote is brought back to the swim platform
for the rest of the assembly

Porta-bote front seat is installed

Front seat is installed

Porta-bote rear seat is ready for installation.

Rear seat is ready for installation.
Note the 3 u-shaped metal legs.

Porta-bote rear seat is attached using eyebolts and  washers.

Porta-bote is clipped to swim platform
to keep it parallel to Groovy.

Porta-bote Suzuki outboard is installed on transom

Outboard is installed on transom

TOWING the PORTA-BOTE

Porta-bote being towed by sailboat

Painter is tied at two points on Groovy’s transom to create a 3-point bridle. A second line is tied to Groovy’s transom “just in case.”

The Porta-bote tows beautifully, and we have towed it (without the engine mounted), for hundreds of miles, a few times in some rather large and lumpy seas.

We have towed it with the outboard mounted too, and that works just fine, but we wouldn’t want to go more than a few very sheltered miles towing it that way.

We tie the Porta-bote’s painter to two points on Groovy’s transom, making a bridle. We usually tie a second line to Groovy as well, just in case. There’s nothing like trying to find and retrieve a lost dinghy in big seas (been there, done that!).

We have tried towing the Porta-bote far behind Groovy, but have found it behaves much better when it is snugged up close behind.

We keep it about a foot or so off of Groovy’s transom. Sometimes when we are sailing slowly in lumpy, following seas it has a tendency to run into the back of Groovy.

HOISTING the PORTA-BOTE in DAVITS

We had a custom made stainless steel arch extension built for our boat to support our 555 watts of solar panels and to provide telescoping davits to hoist the Porta-bote.

We drilled two holes on the stern end of the Porta-bote just forward of the transom, one on each side of the hull. We had four stainless steel plates made to reinforce these holes, and those are bolted in place (with stainless bolts), one plate on the inside and one on the outside of each hole, sandwiching the plastic hull in between. To create a davit bridle, we simply run a line between those two holes in the hull’s stern and run another line between the two factory-installed holes in the bow of the boat to make a two-point hoisting system for our davits.

Because the lifting points are at the top of the hull, it is not possible to snug the Porta-bote tightly into the davits. Instead, it always swings a little, no matter how high you hoist it. If the lifting points were in the bottom of the boat, the top edges of the hull could be pulled flush to the davit arms. However, I am not sure how to install lifting points in the boat’s floor. So we don’t travel with the Porta-bote in the davit system.

Porta-bote sits on sailboat swim platform

We raise the Porta-bote out of the water onto the swim platform at night.

The davits are ideal for getting the boat out of the water at night when we are at anchor, as the Porta-bote sits snugly on the swim platform and we secure it with lines tied to the seats’ eyebolts to keep it perfectly still.

Porta-bote in Mexico

Also, if it rains (which it doesn’t do in Mexico’s winter cruising season) or if there is a lot of dew, the boat doesn’t have a drain hole to release the water. Water also collects in the bottom of the boat when we drive it hard, as waves splash in and water jumps over the transom. So there is occasional light bailing to be done, but not more than a sponge or towel can handle.

One thing we discovered is that the Porta-bote’s black plastic seam tubes that run along the length of the hull are made of a plastic that leaves scuff marks on Groovy’s white fiberglass gelcoat.

When we hoist the dinghy in the davits, it invariably bumps along Groovy’s transom a bit, and over time it leaves a lot of marks. They come off with a little elbow grease and polish, but there are plastics out there that are non-marking, and if Porta-bote used that kind of plastic it would be a huge improvement.

Note: The black plastic seam tubes in the new Alpha series does not leave scuff marks

FLOTATION

Just beneath the black plastic lip at the top of the Porta-bote hull there is a strip of foam rivited to the hull. This provides enough flotation to keep the boat afloat if it fills with water — as long as there is no outboard engine mounted on the boat. The foam material deteriorates in the sun and flakes off, constantly leaving little black flecks all over the Porta-bote’s floor. I have heard of cruisers covering this foam with Sunbrella to keep it intact and prevent its total disintegration. I haven’t gotten to that project yet… This foam provides a little flotation, but the Porta-bote will definitely sink if it is swamped while an outboard engine is mounted on its transom.

Note: The flotation material in the new Alpha series Porta-botes does not disintegrate in the sun

USING the PORTA-BOTE

A lot of this description so far includes many negatives and short-comings of the Porta-bote, simply because [the older models were] not designed to be a cruising dinghy and is rather carelessly engineered and cheaply manufactured. However, the great qualities of this dinghy show up once it has been assembled and is out on the water. We have found ways to work around its portability limitations, and feel that because of its good traits on the water it is an excellent choice as a cruising dinghy. We would buy it again, and here’s why:

Porta-bote beach Manzanillo Mexico

Our Porta-bote lines up with inflatable dinghies on wheels
in Santiago Bay, Manzanillo, Mexico

The interior volume is enormous. We have packed it with a month’s worth of groceries (at the supermarket the provisions were mounded way above the top of the shopping cart) along with three weeks worth of laundry (in two huge laundry bags), plus ourselves, and we still had space leftover.

We have also loaded it with five adults and putted along at a good clip. I think six adults would be pushing it. There is plenty of space on the seats for six adults, but the boat would sink too low in the water. It is a fast boat that planes easily with both of us aboard using just a lightweight 6 hp 4-stroke outboard. We raced a traditional RIB dinghy driven by a 15 hp outboard and carrying two adults. They barely pulled away from us as we reached about the quarter mile mark.

The Porta-bote is lots of fun.

The Porta-bote is lots of fun.

I love rowing, and the Porta-bote is a lot of fun to row. It tracks well and moves nicely through the water. For the passionate rower the oars are totally inadequate and should be replaced.

The oarlocks in the hull also seem a little flimsy to me and I wonder how long they will hold up, as they flex ominously with every pull on the oars. The oars themselves are made for very light, occasional use. They are aluminum and they split into two halves for stowage, the handle half and the paddle half. The two halves are joined with a plastic pin-through-a-hole system, but the pin doesn’t actually go through the hole very well because the plastic spring mechanism is flimsy and weak.

So, the oars are prone to coming apart if you don’t keep an eye on them. Each oar has an aluminum pin that fits into the hole in the Porta-bote’s oarlock. The pin is held in place on the oar with a sleeve around the oar that is fastened with an aluminum bolt and wing nut.

On our fifth time out rowing, the bolt on one of our oars crumbled mid-stroke. We replaced the bolts and wing nuts on both oars with stainless steel, and they have been fine ever since. Over our four year cruise, we did not end up rowing the Porta-bote but used the outboard all the time instead.

Whether rowing or motoring, it takes a while to get used to the Porta-bote’s flexible floor. You can feel every wave and bump under your feet, and it is a very moveable platform, nothing like a hard dinghy or a RIB. However, the movement is just part of the package, and once you are accustomed to it, it’s kinda neat.

Porta-bote motoring away from sailboat

The Porta-bote is a great cruising dinghy.

All-in-all we are very happy with the Porta-bote. No cruising dinghy is ideal, each type being a pain in the neck in at least a few ways. We like the lightweight nature of the Porta-bote and being able to get most of it off the deck and out of the davits and out of the way while on a long passage.

We like its good manners while towing, its speed under power and its voluminous interior space for provisioning runs. The compromises and required upgrades are okay with us in return for its many good qualities. If Porta-bote ever went back to the drawing board and studied its plans and re-engineered the boat for use as a cruising dinghy, they could create a truly superior dink that surpassed everything else on the market.

As noted above, Porta-bote did just that, and the result is the new Alpha series!

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Check out our review of the Hobie i14t Tandem Inflatable Kayak and our Cruising Tips for Mexico.

Here is a summary of our cruise with links to all our sailing blog posts, as well as some anecdotes from the ex-pat cruising life, and a list of guide books we used for our cruise.

We sailed on a 2008 Hunter 44DS sailboat (more pics here) with a 60 gallon/hour watermaker and 555 watts of solar power.

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RV Electrical System Overhaul – New Batteries, Inverter & Converter!

April 2015 – For the past ten days we’ve been doing a total overhaul on our RV’s electrical power systems, and we’re really excited about the upgrades. Having installed several RV and boat solar and battery systems to date, both for ourselves and for friends, we’ve gone all out this time, researching, studying, and talking with the engineers at different companies to figure out which components will suit our needs best. Our upgrades include:

  • Trojan Reliant AGM batteries
  • Exeltech 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter
  • Iota 90 amp converter / multistage charger
Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt battery

We’re getting new Trojan Reliant T105-AGM batteries!

NEW AGM BATTERIES

Since we live on solar and battery power in our RV 100% of the time, having a robust power plant on board makes all the difference. Back in 2008 when we first got our fifth wheel trailer, we asked the RV dealership to install four Trojan T-105 6 volt wet cell batteries for us. These were terrific and served us very well for quite a few years.

However, because we had to leave the trailer in storage for stretches of 12 to 20 months at a time when we cruised our sailboat in Mexico, they deteriorated because no one was there to do the routine maintenance they require.

Wet cell batteries are inexpensive, which is why we chose them at the outset of our RVing life. However, once we started living with higher quality AGM batteries on our sailboat, we found AGM batteries have many advantages over wet cells (our boat had four Mastervolt 4D AGM house batteries and one Mastervolt Group 27 AGM start battery). So we decided to upgrade our RV battery bank to AGM.

Much to our surprise, we managed to time this upgrade really well, because Trojan Battery has revamped, redesigned and re-engineered their AGM battery line completely, and their new Reliant AGM batteries have just hit the market in the last month.

Trojan Reliant AGM 6 volt battery

Our new batteries go into the fifth wheel basement.

The batteries we are installing are their new 6 volt AGM battery called the Trojan Reliant T105-AGM.

Trojan Battery has been at the forefront of battery engineering and technology for decades, and this new AGM version of their ultra popular T-105 6 volt wet cell batteries is a true deep cycle AGM battery, designed to deliver steady power and withstand deep discharging of 50% of the battery’s capacity day after day after day (we plan to discharge them 25%-30% or less each day).

Most AGM batteries are actually dual purpose, designed not only to provide long-term power and deep discharging, but also to pack a high cranking power punch that can get an engine started without discharging the battery much at all. Our boat’s AGM batteries were all dual purpose marine batteries, despite their enormous size.

Obviously, a battery designed specifically for repeated deep discharging is going to be superior as a house battery to one that is designed to be both a deep cycle house battery and a start battery. So these new Reliant AGM batteries should work really well in an RV (or boat!).

The list of advantages of AGM batteries over wet cells is considerable:

  • Maintenance free – no equalizing and no adding distilled water (great if the RV gets stored for months on end)
  • Discharge just 3% per month when they aren’t being used (also important for longer term RV storage)
  • Charge more quickly than wet cell batteries
  • No gasses released during charging, so no special venting is needed in the RV battery compartment
  • Can be installed on their sides or ends since there is no liquid that can spill out

Mark has been very busy revamping our fifth wheel basement battery compartment, and he is taking this opportunity to rewire it entirely, applying all the things we’ve learned in 8 years of living off the grid!

NEW and BIGGER INVERTER

At the same time as our battery upgrade, we also decided to upgrade our inverter. We have loved our Exeltech XP1100 Pure Sine Wave Inverter since we installed it in 2008.

Exeltech makes all the inverters used by NASA, and they supplied all the inverters to both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station (the two sides run on different voltages and currents, so they need different inverters!).

Exeltech XP 1100 Inverter

Our old Exeltech XP 1100 pure sine wave inverter is getting replaced with the 2000 watt version

Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter

Our new Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter

The quality of the electrical signal produced by Exeltech inverters is so pure that they are used by field medical units to run sensitive medical equipment. One nice thing about living on inverter power exclusively is that we never have to contend with flakey RV park electricity, and we know our Exeltech inverter is giving us a great signal whenever we turn it on.

Our old Exeltech XP1100 inverter was too small, however. We have a 900 watt microwave, and 1100 watts of inverter power was shaving it just a little too close. A mishap last year made us realize we needed to go bigger. So we are installing an Exeltech XPX 2000 Pure Sine Wave Inverter that will give us 2000 watts of power.

NEW MULTI-STAGE CHARGING CONVERTER

Solar panels charge our batteries almost all the time, but once in a while we get stuck in overcast and stormy conditions for a while. After about 4 days of grey skies, we turn to our trusty Yamaha 2400i portable gas generator to bring our batteries back to full charge. When we run the generator, we plug the generator into our shore power input connector on the side of our trailer so the converter in the fifth wheel basement charges the batteries.

Our fifth wheel trailer came from the factory with an Atwood 32 amp converter which is a single stage battery charger. This is typical of converters installed in RVs. Rather than going through three stages of charging, these simple converters give the batteries a mere trickle charge at a low charging voltage.

RV manufacturers save on costs by installing basic single stage converters rather than robust multistage charging converters, and since most RVs are plugged into shore power all the time, it doesn’t matter if it takes 48 or 72 hours to charge the batteries completely.

Iota DLS-90 Converter

The Iota DLS-90 / IQ4 Converter does true multi-stage battery charging

Sperry Gardner Bender DSA 540A Clamp-On Volt - Amp Meter

Sperry stands behind their gear!

However, the only time our converter is charging our batteries is when we run our generator, and with that thing making noise and burning fuel, we want the batteries to be charged as quickly and efficiently as possible. We don’t want to trickle charge our batteries from the generator!

We are replacing our old converter with an Iota DLS-90 / IQ4 Converter which not only provides three stages of battery charging but will also put the batteries into a true bulk charge state when we first turn on the generator.

So, with all this wiring going on, we’ve been giving our trusty Sperry Clamp-on Amp/Volt Meter a good workout lately. And we’ve had a surprising experience with that little piece of gear.

We bought it back in 2010 when we were wiring up the solar power on our sailboat. But it died 10 days ago, right as we were starting our new RV power upgrade project. Of course, the warranty ran out a long time ago, but we called the company to see if there was anything they could do. We were shocked when they sent us out a replacement unit at no charge!

It is so rare these days for a company to stand behind its products like that, especially something small and inexpensive like a volt meter. Wow!

We’ll be posting much more detailed info about our electrical system upgrade once we’ve finished it all, so stay tuned!

For now, we’re extremely grateful to our good friend “Mr. G” who invited us to shoehorn our rig into his driveway in Sarasota, Florida, and make use of his workbench, tools and fabricating expertise as we tackle this exciting project.

Fifth wheel RV between houses in Sarasota Florida

A great spot to do a little upgrade work on our rolling home!

Want to learn more about all this, check out these informative posts:

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Trailer Disc Brake Conversion – Electric Over Hydraulic Disc Brakes – WOW!

There are several types of braking systems available on bumper pull travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers today. Two of the most common are electric drum brakes, a less expensive system, and electric over hydraulic disc brakes which are a bit more costly. We recently converted our 36′ fifth wheel trailer’s braking system from factory installed electric drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. What an incredible improvement this upgrade has made in our stopping power and personal safety. The difference is like night and day!!

This page outlines our reasons behind doing this upgrade and the components we chose for our brake conversion. It also gives a pictorial overview of the installation process.

Trailer hydraulic disc brake and caliper installed on an RV wheel

The disc (or rotor) and caliper with red brake pads peeks out from inside our trailer wheel.

This is a long post. You can skip down to the different sections using the following links:

HOW TRAILER BRAKES WORK

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Electric drum trailer brakes and electric over hydraulic disc brakes function very differently.

To engage electric drum brakes in a trailer, when the driver depresses the brake pedal in the tow vehicle, an electrical signal is sent to the trailer’s brakes via a brake control unit in the truck. The brake control may be factory installed or it may be an external unit that is installed by the owner. The electrical signal engages an electromagnet on the trailer’s wheels that expands the brake shoes as the current gets stronger, creating friction on the wheel and slowing it down.

Brake Pedal -> Electrical Signal via Brake Control -> Trailer Brakes

To engage electric over hydraulic disc brakes on a trailer, when the driver depresses the brake pedal in the tow vehicle, an electrical signal is sent to a brake actuator unit in the trailer via the brake control unit in the truck. The brake actuator in the trailer then pumps hydraulic disc fluid through a line to the disc brake calipers on the trailer’s wheels. The build-up of fluid pressure actuates the brake calipers which, in turn, squeeze the brake pads against the disc, slowing the trailer down.

Brake Pedal -> Electrical Signal via Brake Control -> Brake Hydraulic Fluid Pumped by Brake Actuator -> Trailer Brakes

Drum brakes are an older technology. However, RV trailer manufacturers continue to install electric drum brakes to this day because it is far less expensive than installing electric over hydraulic disc brakes. The highest end full-time fifth wheel trailers are frequently offered with an option for electric over hydraulic disc brakes, but they are rarely provided as standard equipment.

Besides greatly increasing overall braking power, one of the biggest advantages of hydraulic brakes is that it is much easier to modulate the brakes for smoother stopping. In contrast, electric drum brakes on trailers can be very jerky, as the brakes are either ON or OFF. We often used to feel the trailer bump into the back of our truck as we stopped, hitting us with a jolt.

TRAILER ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES versus CAR HYDRAULIC BRAKES

Cars are manufactured with hydraulic brakes, sometimes with disc brakes in the front and hydraulic drum brakes in the back. Many high end bicycles are even built with hydraulic disc brakes! Electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes are slightly more complex than car hydraulic brakes, but they provide trailers with the same smooth stopping power that we enjoy in our cars.

The difference between the way hydraulic disc brakes on cars and electric over hydraulic disc brakes on trailers function is that there is no electrical signal involved in a car’s braking system. This is because the car is a single vehicle. No signal needs to be passed from one vehicle to another, as it does with a truck and trailer combo. The tricky part about a truck/trailer is that the brake pedal is in the front of the truck by the driver’s foot while the trailer’s brakes are way behind the driver at the back end of the trailer. Also, in a car, the hydraulic fluid is located under the hood in a master cylinder which performs the same function as the brake actuator that is located in the trailer.

Again, in a car, when the brake pedal is depressed, hydraulic fluid flows directly to the brakes to engage them. In a truck and trailer combo, an electrical signal has to be passed from the truck to the trailer to activate the hydraulic disc brakes in the trailer via the brake actuator.

ON THE ROAD COMPARISON OF TRAILER BRAKING SYSTEMS:
Electric Drum versus Electric Over Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Our fifth wheel trailer, a 36′ 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II, came with factory installed electric drum brakes. We towed it, with that braking system, behind our 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 truck for the first six years we owned it, for a total of about 40,000 miles. When we upgraded to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, we were stunned by what a massive improvement in braking power and safety that simple upgrade provided!

We have now towed our trailer over 1,200 miles since the brake system upgrade, traveling on interstate freeways, maneuvering around tight gas stations and campgrounds, and driving in gnarly stop-and-go-traffic in slick, rainy weather. All we can say is:

“We should have done this a long time ago — probably on Day 1!”

The differences we experienced between the electric drum brakes and the electric over hydraulic disc brakes can be summed up as follows:

DRIVING AND STOPPING COMPARISON

Electric Drum Brakes Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
The truck felt like it was stopping the trailer The truck and trailer stop together evenly without one stopping the other
Braking was either ON or OFF, resulting in a jerky motion Braking is proportional to your speed and is very smooth
Had to mess with the brake control every time we changed between highway and gas station speeds Haven’t touched the brake control since the upgrade was installed
As brakes age, braking power decreases As brakes age, braking power does not change

 

MAINTENANCE COMPARISON

Electric Drum Brakes Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Have to remove wheel and brake hub to inspect brake pads
  • Easy to inspect disc pads without removing the wheels to see if they are worn (use a mirror if they are hard to see)
  • Periodically have to adjust the drums Never have to adjust the discs
    Have to have drums turned OR replace the drums and backing plate with magnet, shoes, springs and cables Easy to replace brake pads with standard GM brake pads from an auto parts store if rotors are okay
    Removing trailer tires to grease the wheel brearings

    Mark removes the trailer wheels to grease the wheel bearings.

     

    DECIDING TO UPGRADE THE TRAILER BRAKING SYSTEM

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    We decided to do this brake system upgrade after Mark inspected the condition of the electric drum brakes that had been factory installed on our fifth wheel when we bought it new seven years ago. He was greasing the trailer’s wheel bearings, and while he had one of the wheels disassembled, he inspected the brake assemby inside.

    Greased wheelbearings on a trailer

    Mark used a Zerk gun to grease the trailer’s wheel bearings.

    He was dismayed to find that both the magnet and the braking surface were basically shot. He completed the wheel bearing lube job, but after he got the wheels mounted back on the trailer, we weighed our options for the brakes.

    Inside a trailer brake drum

    The inside of the trailer wheel and electromagnet at the bottom.

    Electromagnet inside an RV trailer brake drum

    Lots of wear on the electromagnet that controls the electric drum braking mechanism.

    As mentioned above, besides providing inferior braking power all together, one of the disadvantages of electric drum brakes is that, as the brakes age, the braking power gets progressively worse. Not only does the braking surface wear down but the electromagnet gets worn as well.

    In recent months, Mark had been noticing that the trailer brakes were not working as well as when the trailer was new, although he was shocked to see just what poor shape they were in when he disassembled the wheels!

    It is possible to have trailer brake drums turned. “Turning” involves putting the brake drums on a lathe and grinding the surface down to get rid of ridges and make it smooth. However, while a car’s drum brakes can be turned at an auto parts store, trailer brakes need to be taken to a machine shop. This is because they have to be turned not only on the braking surface that the brake pads ride on, but on the electromagnet surface as well. One of the disadvantages of turning the drums, however, is that it makes the braking surfaces thinner and weaker.

    When we began investigating the cost of having the drums turned, we found that it would not be that much less than the cost of replacing the brakes all together which would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.

    An alternative to turning the drums or replacing the brake assemblies would be to upgrade the trailer’s entire braking system to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is an expensive endeavor, on the order of $3,200, but the more we thought about our personal safety on the road, the more it seemed like it was a wise choice to do the brake conversion.

    THE COMPONENT PARTS OF AN ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKE SYSTEM

    There are three components involved in the installation of electric over hydraulic disc brakes:

    • Brake Control in the truck
    • Brake Actuator in the trailer
    • Hydraulic Disc Brakes on the trailer wheels

    In between these components there is both wiring and high pressure line:

    • The Brake Control must be wired into the truck (late model trucks have factory-installed brake controls).
    • The Brake Actuator must be wired into the 7-pin connector on the trailer that the truck plugs into.
    • High pressure lines must be installed between the Brake Actuator and the Disc Brake assembly on each wheel

    Our first job was to determine which components to install. Reading many reviews and talking at length with each manufacturer and visiting several booths at the Quartzsite Arizona RV Show, we chose:

    Kodiak Hydraulic Disc Brakes

    The heart of the electric over hydraulic disc brake system is the disc brake assembly itself, and Kodiak makes superior quality brakes.

    Kodiak has been making disc brake assemblies for over twenty years and is very highly regarded. Kodiak originated as a parts manufacturer for boat trailers, and their brakes are extremely popular in the boat trailer market.

    Kodiak dIsc brake rotor and caliper assembly for RV electric over hydraulic disc brakes

    Kodiak disc brake assembly
    Rotor and caliper installed on the axle.

    Since many boaters launch their boats in the ocean, Kodiak hydraulic disc brake assemblies are offered with dacromet coating and stainless steel options so they can withstand the continuous and highly corrosive drenching they get when boaters launch their boats on and off their trailers in salt water.

    Kodiak disc brakes are also very popular in the horse trailer industry, especially on the largest, heaviest horse trailers that carry multiple horses and have living quarters as well.

    To see the parts included in a Kodiak disc brake assembly, click here.

    Hydrastar Brake Actuator

    The brake actuator is the key middleman in the trailer braking system, and the Hydrastar Electric over Hydraulic Disc Brake Actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions has an excellent reputation as being extremely durable and rugged, even when mounted on the tongue of a travel trailer.

    The role this unit plays is vital, as it is the part of the system that receives the electrical signal coming from the brake control in the truck and, in turn, pumps the hydraulic fluid out to the disc brakes on the trailer’s wheels.

    Hydrastar electric over hydraulic disc brake actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions

    Hydrastar electric over hydraulic disc brake actuator.

    Like Kodiak, the the Hydrastar electric over hydraulic brake actuator is engineered for the salt water boat trailer market where water and corrosion are everyday challenges. The Hydrastar brake actuator is sealed extraordinarily well so it can be mounted on the tongue of a travel trailer. The whole circuit board is covered in epoxy and can function perfectly well when submerged under water. One of their most popular trade show demonstrations is to show the Hydrastar brake actuator working while suspended inside an aquarium full of water.

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control

    We have had an older generation Prodigy brake control in our truck since we purchased our first 27′ 2007 Fleetwood Lynx Travel Trailer, however, it does not work with electric over hydraulic disc brakes. We were delighted to find that there is a much better Prodigy brake control on the market now.

    Prodigy P3 Brake Controller

    Tekonsha Prodigy P3 Brake Control

    The Prodigy P3 is portable and has been designed for people who use many different tow vehicles to tow many different trailers. Not only can it be moved from truck to truck easily, it can memorize its programmed settings for different trailers. It can even be programmed for one trailer that has different characteristics at different times, for instance, a 7-horse trailer that may be loaded with 7 horses or may be empty.

    Best of all, we could swap out the old Prodigy for the new P3 easily because the new unit used the same wiring harness as the old one.

     

    INSTALLING ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES ON A TRAILER

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    Mark was confident he could do the upgrade himself. However, he was not sure he wanted to tackle running the high pressure hydraulic lines. He did that kind of work when we installed the engine-driven ocean water desalination system on our sailboat, and it was challenging getting the lines cut and getting the fittings installed on the cut line. He decided he would prefer to have professionals install this system, and we did a search to find a company that has done hundreds of trailer brake system upgrades.

    Trailer brake upgrade at Zanetti Trailer Repair

    Our buggy gets set up in a repair bay at Zanetti Trailer.

    Zanetti Trailer Repair is located just west of Fort Worth, Texas, in the town of Weatherford, and they do this kind of brake conversion frequently. Considered a horse trailer guru, Pete Zanetti started the company in 1980, and it is still a family operated business.

    Texas doesn’t have the best winter weather, and when we arrived after driving through the remnants of a horrific ice storm, our trailer was covered with a thick layer of road grime, but our gleaming new parts were ready and waiting.

    Electric over hydraulic disc brake upgrade parts

    The disc brakes, brake actuator and brake control are ready to be installed on our trailer.

    A team of three mechanics jumped on the job. To our amazement, within three hours they had completed the entire installation!

    Below is a summary of the steps they took to do the brake system upgrade.

    First, after jacking up the trailer, the wheels were removed.

    Removing wheels from a 5th wheel trailer

    Our buggy’s wheels are removed once again.

    Wheels removed from fifth wheel trailer RV

    Right down to the axles and spindles.

    Then the backing plates for the disc brakes were installed on the axles.

    Disc brake backing plate on a trailer axle and spindle

    The disc brake backing plate is mounted on the axle.

    On a table to the side, the four sets of brake assemblies and bearings were laid out, ready to be greased and put together.

    Hydraulic disc brake components- calipers, rotors and bearings

    The four rotors and calipers will be put together in assembly-line fashion.

    Here’s a closeup of the brake calipers with the red brake pads inside. The red brake pads will need to be replaced when the indented brake surface material wears away.

    Kodiak disc brake caliper with brake shoes

    The Kodiak disc brake caliper.

    Kodiak trailer disc brake caliper with brake shoes

    The brake pads are red, and when worn down to the indent, they will need replacing.

    The wheel bearings and seals were laid out, ready to be inserted in the brake rotor.

    Wheel bearings for Kodiak trailer disc brakes

    New wheel bearings ready to be lubed up and installed.

    Mark had just finished greasing the old wheel bearings on our trailer using a zerk gun. What a surprise it was to see a huge trash barrel filled with wheel bearing grease!

    Barrel of wheel bearing grease

    A Barrel O’ Grease — wow!
    They used an extremely sticky grease.

    The rotors were greased and then the new bearings were pressed in.

    Greasing the rotor on RV hydraulic disc brakes

    Greasing the inside of the rotor.

    Pressing the wheel bearings into the rotor on trailer disc brakes

    Pressing grease into a wheel bearing.

    Then the brake rotors were installed on the axles, and the brake calipers were installed on the rotors.

    Trailer disc brake rotors installed

    The brake rotors are installed on the axles. A brake caliper waits its turn on the ground.

    Kodiak dIsc brake rotor and caliper assembly for RV electric over hydraulic disc brakes

    Kodiak disc brake assembly with rotor and caliper mounted on the trailer’s axle.

    Outside (in the rain!) the old brake hubs had been discarded.

    Old trailer electric drum brakes in the trash heap

    We won’t need these any more!

    Meanwhile, the installers got busy installing the Hydrastar brake actuator in the trailer and wiring it to the fifth wheel pin box. To test the installation, they used a special electronic unit to simulate a person pressing on the brake pedal in the truck.

    Installing the Hydrastar brake actuator on a fifth wheel trailer

    Wiring the Hydrastar brake actuator into the
    fifth wheel pin box.

    Then they unrolled and straightened the stainless steel brake line tubing…

    Measuring and cutting electrical wire for trailer disc brake actuator installation

    Unrolling and straightening the stainless steel brake line tubing.

    … and ran the electrical wires from the pin box into the fifth wheel basement

    Wiring in electrical cable for disc brake actuator in a 5th wheel trailer RV

    Feeding the electrical wire through to the fifth wheel basement.

    The Hydrastar brake actuator unit found a home just inside one of the basement side access doors.

    Hydrastar disc brake actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions

    Hydrastar disc brake actuator installed in the fifth wheel basement.

    Hydrastar hydraulic trailer disc brake actuator from Cargo Towing Solutions

    The Hydrastar disc brake actuator is close to a side hatch for easy access.

    On the underside of the trailer and along the trailer axles, they did a superior job of dressing the hydraulic brake line and connections.

    Hydraulic brake line dressed on bottom of RV

    Looking up at the bottom of the trailer, the hydraulic lines run underneath the trailer, neatly dressed.

    And then they bled the brake lines.

    Bleeding the hydraulic brakes on an RV

    Bleeding the hydraulic brakes. A special box simulated a person depressing the brake pedal in the truck.

    Then it was time to put the Prodigy P3 Brake Control into the truck. This is a portable unit that comes with a carrying pouch. We have only one truck, so we won’t be carrying the brake control from one truck to another. Mark later found the little pouch was perfect for his pocket camera!

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control from Tekonsha

    The Prodigy P3 Brake Control is a nifty portable unit that can be moved
    from one tow vehicle to another.

    The brake control is on the lower right side of the dashboard under the steering wheel.

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control installed on a Dodge RAM 3500_

    Prodigy P3 Brake Control mounted below our Dodge RAM 3500 dashboard

    We were astonished that all this had taken just under three hours, and the installers were almost finished. Wrapping up the job, the wheels were mounted back on the trailer and the trailer was taken off the jacks.

    Replacing the wheels on a fifth wheel trailer

    The wheels get mounted back on the trailer axles.

    The new disc brakes looked very spiffy peeking through our dirty wheels!

    Dirty Wheels and new electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes

    Oh gosh — sure wish we’d cleaned those wheels before this installation!
    But the brand new disc and caliper look great in there…

    It was time to hitch up the trailer and hit the road with our new brakes. I loved the little painted stone outside the office door.

    Zanetti Trailer - We'll Fix Your Wagon

    Zanetti Trailer’s motto is “We’ll Fix Your Wagon” !!

     

    SUMMARY

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    Mark was blown away when we got the trailer out on the highway. On the Prodigy P3 Brake Control, he experimented with a few settings and settled on a boost of “B2” and 8.5 volts. As we eased onto the highway, he commented, “It feels like I’m driving a car!”

    During the next three weeks we made our way from central Texas to the Florida coast, driving in all kinds of conditions, from remote back roads, to many miles on the I-10 Interstate freeway. We sat for hours in massive stop-and-go traffic jams around big cities, and Mark coped with tricky driving situations on small downtown city roads with lots of stop lights.

    In the past, if a traffic light turned yellow at the wrong moment as we approached, we just had to keep going and cross our fingers that it wouldn’t turn red while we were crossing the intersection, because we just couldn’t stop the trailer in such a short distance. No more!! On many occasions, as we came to an intersection, the light turned yellow on our approach, and Mark was able to stop the truck and trailer in time in a nicely controlled manner.

    In Fort Worth, TX, and again around Baton Rouge, LA, we found ourselves in amazingly congested traffic. Mark was able to relax in the heat of the battle, completely confident that he could stop the trailer in a very short distance if need be.

    Fifth wheel trailer RV in Florida at sunset

    Sometimes the best improvements are not something you can see on the surface!

    When we got into Sarasota, Florida, we came across some astonishingly aggressive drivers. One driver cut us off with just an inch to spare, instantly coming to a complete stop directly in front of us. It was a heart stopping moment that all RVers dread. Mark slammed on the brakes with a force I have never seen him use, either in a car or in our truck pulling our home.

    All the tires of the truck and trailer squealed as we came to a shockingly abrupt stop, leaving lots of rubber on the road behind us. We were both stunned that the trailer stopped in such a short distance. There is no doubt that if we had had our old electric drum brakes, we would have rear-ended the car in front of us and had a really bad — and possibly life threatening — accident.

    Believe me, the irony that we had just replaced our brakes, and had jokingly said we needed to test just how good they were, was not lost on us. But we never would have lurched our house like that just to see if the brakes worked!!

    This brake conversion is an upgrade that Mark dreamed of doing for ages, ever since our RVing mentors Bob and Donna Lea had told us about how differently their electric over hydraulic disc brakes performed on their 33′ fifth wheel compared to the electric drum brakes they’d had on other trailers.

    In the end, it was totally painless and very easy to do, and looking back, we realize we should have just bitten the bullet the first year we owned our trailer and gotten it done right away.

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    Edge Evolution CS Tuner Review – Peak Truck Performance!

    The engines in most cars and trucks are computer driven these days, but the installation of an engine tuner puts the driver in the driver’s seat instead. An engine tuner, or programmer, gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine’s efficiency and performance by manipulating the computer’s input parameters to suit the driving task at hand.

    Since 2007, we have lived year-round in a 14,100 lb, 36′ 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer. For eight years, the truck we used to tow this big trailer was a 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 Single Rear Wheel Long Bed truck. Half of our miles driven, we towed the trailer. The other half, we drove it around town with nothing in tow and a few hundred pounds of cargo the bed of the truck. Once in a while we threw in an off-road adventure just for fun.

    2007 Dodge RAM 3500

    Our 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 single rear wheel truck

    When the truck had 85,000 miles on it, we installed an Edge Diesel Evolution CS tuner, and what a world of difference that made to our driving experience, not only when we were towing but also when we were driving the truck around without the trailer attached.

    In a nutshell, it has:

    • Increased our truck’s power
    • Improved our gas mileage
    • Given us a readout for the transmission temperature.

    And it was an easy installation to boot.

    We also installed an optional companion product, the Edge EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor which gives us another piece of crucial temperature data when we are towing under heavy load. This is not a mandatory installation.

    We couldn’t be more pleased with these upgrades!

    Big Bend Texas Bound

    Our truck with our fifth wheel trailer attached.

    This is a long post, and you can skip down the page to the following sections:

    1. Why Install an Engine Tuner?
    2. Edge Evolution CS Tuner – Tested and Validated
    3. Installing the Edge Tuner
    4. More POWER Driving in the Rocky Mountains
    5. More TEMP DATA Towing in the Rockies
    6. Better MPG – Fuel Efficiency Improvements, Towing and Not Towing
    7. Additional Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor Installation
    8. Other features of the Edge Evolution CS tuner

    1. Why Install an Engine Tuner?

    We first became interested in the idea of installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner when Mark saw an article in the October 2014 issue of Diesel Power Magazine (“Tested, Proven, Validated — Edge’s DPF-On Tuner Walks the Walk”). This article discusses the improvements the tuner had made on our exact model truck (well, a 2009 rather than a 2007, but with everything else virtually the same, including the mileage!).

    The Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner works on Ford, GM/Chevy and Dodge RAM.

    Edge Evolution CS Tuner mounted on the dashboard of a Dodge RAM 3500 truck

    The Edge Tuner is mounted on the windshield, low enough not to restrict visibility but still easy to see.

    Why install a tuner? It lets the driver fine tune the engine performance and boost power when needed

    The beauty of the Edge programmer is that it doesn’t change anything in the engine permanently. It simply gives the driver the ability to fine tune the engine for its specific job at the moment, whether that is towing a big trailer, carrying a heavy load in the bed, racing off-road, or driving around town.

    Light duty diesel trucks (i.e., Ford 250/350, Chevy 2500/3500 and Dodge RAM 2500/3500) are built for many uses, from towing heavy horse and RV trailers, to off-road racing, to driving across town and across country carrying big loads.

    The on-board computer of every model truck is programmed at the factory to be able to do each of these things pretty well. However, it is impossible to program the computer to operate the engine at peak performance in all conditions. To make things worse, the truck manufacturers don’t provide the driver with a way to optimize the engine’s performance or to monitor some of the data the computer has already gathered.

    Much of the truck computer’s capabilities and data remain inaccessible to the driver.

    This is where the Edge tuner comes in, because it allows the driver to fine tune the engine for the immediate job at hand.

    The idea behind the Edge tuner is to put the programming power into the hands of the driver, and to provide gauges for monitoring much of the data that the engine’s sensors detect. The Edge tuner can program the truck’s computer to maximize towing power or maximize non-towing fuel efficiency, depending on the kind of driving you are doing that day. It can also set the truck’s computer back to the stock factory settings, which is important if the truck is going into the shop for repair.

    Because nothing mechanical is modified or tampered with, this means that nothing whatsoever is lost by installing the Edge tuner, but a whole lot is gained.

    Why install a tuner? It gives the driver more detailed engine & transmission temperature data

    We were intrigued by the Edge tuner because the installation appeared to be very easy, and the results were absolutely terrific. We tow our big fifth wheel trailer over huge, nasty mountain passes in the western states on a regular basis in the summertime, often tackling 10% and 15% grades on secondary roads. A little more towing power would be awesome!

    What’s more, the tuner displays temperature data that the truck’s computer already has but that the truck manufacturer doesn’t display on the dashboard gauges. All this data is readily available via the OBD-II port (“On Board Diagnostic”) under the dashboard, you just have to plug into it. This is what the Edge programmer does — it is totally “plug-and-play.”

    Edge Evolution CS Tuner programmer for diesel trucks

    In this image, the tuner is set up to display three different types of temperature data:
    Engine Coolant Temp (left), Exhaust Gas Temp (middle bar), Transmission Fluid Temp (right).
    From the factory, most trucks display ONLY the Engine Coolant Temperature.

    So, the Edge tuner would allow us to monitor the transmission temperature as we drove over mountain passes. This is vital data that is not accessible with our standard engine temp gauges.

    Installing a companion product, the Edge Products EAS Exhaust Gas Temp sensor would let us monitor the exhaust gas temperature as well. Data from this optional sensor is shown in the middle gauge in the above image.

    Having this extra information would allow us take action if something other than the engine coolant temperature overheated. It would also keep us better in touch with what was going on in the engine, in the event that the engine coolant temp was within an acceptable range but some other part of the truck’s propulsion were overheating. That scenario doesn’t seem possible, but read on…

    You see, the factory installed engine coolant temp gauge in the truck cab tells only part of the story!

    Why install a tuner? It improves the truck’s Fuel Efficiency (MPG)

    We’ve always wished for a little better fuel mileage, both towing and when we are driving around town without our house attached. The tuner’s Level 2 programming mode promised improved fuel efficiency in non-towing conditions.

    As it turned out, the tuner has increased our truck’s fuel efficiency in all situations.

    What about the truck’s warranty?

    A tuner (or “programmer”) does not permanently modify the truck’s computer or engine. There are “chips” on the market that make a permanent modification, but tuners and programmers don’t fall into that category.

    We have called a few Dodge dealerships, and they have all assured us that if we had a truck that was in warranty (ours is not), they would service the truck even if it had an Edge tuner installed in it. Their recommendation to us was to reset the Edge tuner to “Stock” and then unplug it from the OBD-II port under the dashboard before bringing it in for service so they could properly analyze the engine (they use OBD-II port for their diagnostics).

    The dealerships did say that if they found service was needed because of the presence of the Edge tuner (for instance, the tuner failed and shorted something out), they wouldn’t warranty that work, but they said the Edge tuner itself would not void any warranties.

     

     

    2. Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner – Tested and Validated!

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    It’s easy enough for manufacturers to offer a bunch of sales hype and fake claims about a product like this, but the aspect of the magazine article that really got our attention was that the folks at Diesel Power did a controlled experiment to measure both the horsepower and torque that this tuner generates. First, they put a stock 2009 Dodge RAM 3500 on a dynamometer and took horsepower and torque measurements. Then they installed the Edge tuner on the same truck, put it back on the dynomometer, and did the measurements a second time.

    With the Edge tuner set to its lowest setting (Evolution Level 1), the results were:

    Stock (no tuner) With Edge Tuner
    Horsepower: 321 @ 2,900 rpm 362 @ 2,900 rpm
    Torque: 605 ft-lb @ 2,350 rpm 711 ft-lb @ 2,300 rpm
    Peak Exhaust Gas Temp: 1,266 degrees 1,200 degrees

    So, they saw a jump of 41 hp, 106 ft-lb torque and a drop in peak exhaust gas temperatures. Wow!!

    The Edge Tuner suddenly became a “must have” for us.

    3. Installing the Edge Evolution CS Tuner

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    The installation took a total of 90 minutes, from opening the box, to sitting down and reading the manual, to getting the unit installed in the truck. Very easy. In fact, it was so darned quick that Mark had completely finished the installation before I got my camera out to get pics of the unit going in.

    Edge Products Diesel Evolution Programmer Package Contents

    Edge Diesel Evolution Tuner Package Contents

    The package contents include:

    • The user manual
    • The display unit
    • A windshield mounting bracket
    • Two wire/plug assemblies
    • Tie wraps

    You just mount the display unit on the windshield with the suction cup mounting bracket, plug the unit to the OBD-II port, use the tie wraps to dress it all up, and you’re done. So I guess I didn’t miss much!

     

    4. More POWER!! Driving in the Rocky Mountains

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    15 mph grade in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

    The switchbacks are 180 degree
    hairpin turns

    When we installed the Edge tuner on our truck, we just happened to be staying at the base of one of the biggest mountain passes we have ever traversed with our truck and trailer, the Million Dollar Highway that runs through the Colorado Rocky Mountains between Ouray, Silverton and Durango, on US Route 550.

    This hair-raising, 70 mile stretch of road winds through dozens of 10 mph, 15 mph and 20 mph hairpin turns, going up and down grades that the Colorado Department of Transportation rates at “7% or more,” with some folks claiming a few are in the 9% range.

    To add a little excitement to the drive, this is a fairly narrow two lane road with steep, unprotected drop-offs.

    The views are divine, but it can be a white knuckle ride. The drive begins in Ouray at an altitude of 7,800′ and then climbs and descends over three major passes:

    After finishing the Edge tuner installation, we took the truck up and down the first part of this road between Ouray and Red Mountain Pass about a dozen times. Mark set the tuner to Evolution Level 1, and he felt the difference in performance immediately.

    He hit the gas pedal on a steep incline and his eyebrows shot up as he said to me, “This feels like a race truck!”

    Steep 10 mph switchback on Red Mountain Pass on Route 550 the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton Colorado

    Steep 10 mph grades climbing Red Mountain Pass

     

    5. More TEMP DATA!! Towing in the Rockies

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    Once he was comfortably familiar with the road and the mountain passes, and once we were ready to leave Ouray, we hitched the trailer to the truck and drove the entire Million Dollar Highway — Route 550 — over those three mountain passes from Ouray through Silverton to Durango.

    20 mph grade on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado's Rock Mountains

    20 mph switchback ahead.

    Mark was impressed that the truck had plenty of power at all times and made it up and over the passes without straining. He kept the engine torque in its power band of 2,200 to 2,600 rpm, and he never had to depress the gas pedal all the way to the floor to maintain a safe speed.

    You can set up the Edge tuner display to show whatever data interests you most.

    On the CS model (which we installed), there are two large analog displays with accompanying digital readouts and a smaller digital display in between them.

    The CTS model (which is slightly more expensive) has three analog displays with accompanying digital readouts.

    Mark had set up our tuner to show the Engine Coolant Temp (ECT) and the Transmission Fluid Temp (TFT) on the two large semi-circular analog gauges to the left and right.

    The ECT is a measure of the antifreeze temperature in the radiator, and is the “engine temperature” reading that is given in an analog gauge on the truck’s dashboard. It is also the temperature that most manufacturer’s use to indicate that the engine has overheated, usually displaying a big red light on the dash.

    Fifth wheel trailer in the Colorado Rocky mountains_

    Despite the hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs, semi-tractor trailers and RVs traverse this highway all the time.

    The TFT is a measure of the transmission fluid temp, and it is not a value that is tied into any of the dashboard instrumentation on most trucks.

    In general, both the ECT and TFT temps should be kept below 225 degrees, although newer trucks can run slightly hotter than older trucks.

    The digital readouts on the Edge tuner display unit are big numbers that are easy for both the driver (and passenger) to read.

    Getting into the Red Zone

    What a shock it was to begin our first big ascent on Red Mountain Pass and to see that while the Engine Coolant Temp was in the normal range, according to both the factory-installed in-dash gauge and the Edge tuner (which showed 215 degrees), the Transmission Fluid Temp went into the red zone, climbing past the safe zone of 225 degrees up to 237 degrees.

    The ascent was almost over when we hit this max, and both temps quickly dropped back down as we descended towards Silverton. The ECT cooled down to 198 degrees and the TFT cooled way down to 163 degrees.

    On the next ascent, Molas Pass, (10,970′), the Engine Coolant Temp climbed back up to 215 degrees (still in the safe zone) while the Transmission Fluid Temp topped out at 244 degrees.

    Edge Diesel Evolution CS Tuner showing high transmission fluid temperature

    The truck’s temp gauge (and Edge ECT data) said we were not overheating, but
    that’s just the antifreeze. The transmission fluid temp (right) was 19 degrees too high.

    In the next valley, the temps dropped back down again, and on the last ascent, Coal Bank Pass (10,640′), the temps climbed again, but this time the Transmission Fluid Temp stayed below 235 degrees.

    Insights

    We were both amazed that the truck never overheated, according to the dashboard Engine Temp gauge, but in fact, the transmission had exceeded its limits by as much as 19 degrees, or 8%. We never would have known that without the Edge tuner, and it made us wonder just how hot the transmission fluid would be in the event that the engine coolant temp actually went into red alert.

    If the transmission stays over 225 degrees for too many minutes, the transmission fluid breaks down permanently, and the transmission can be irreparably damaged.

    10 mph grade on steep Red Mountain Pass switchback on Route 550 the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

    Steep grade ahead — prepare for a 10 mph turn

    You can set up alerts in the Edge tuner display so that buzzers sound and/or the display flashes when any of the data being monitored exceeds its maximum. However, by default, the alert system is turned off. This makes sense, as it could be annoying to have a buzzer going when you are already nervously looking for a way to safely pull over to let the engine cool.

    For anyone installing the Edge tuner, just keep the magic number 225 in mind, and you will easily see when you have exceeded that value on the tuner’s display, as the numbers are nice and large. There is also a “red zone” on the analog display, but we found it was so faint that we did not notice it until we studied our photos of the gauge afterwards!

     

    6. Better MPG – Fuel Efficiency Improvements

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    When we tow, we set the Edge tuner to Level 1.
    When we are not towing, we set the Edge tuner to Level 2.

    Increased MPG – Towing – Improves by 2 MPG!

    Before we installed the Edge tuner, we typically got somewhere between 9.7 and 10.5 mpg while towing for long distances, according to the electronic gauge in the truck. This gauge has its limitations, because it is somehow averaging the most recent miles driven, but I have not been able to find exactly how the average is calculated or how many miles back it goes — is it the most recent 100 miles? 500? 1,000?

    Measuring the MPG from one full tank of diesel to the next is a more accurate method, but it is still fallible because one tank may be filled slightly more than another, and if the tank of gas includes both towing and non-towing miles, then the numbers are thrown off.

    So, I can’t offer scientifically collected numbers here, but I can say that after we installed the Edge tuner, the gauge in our truck now typically shows numbers between 11.7 and 12.5 when we are towing consistently for distances of 250 miles or more.

    In essence, the truck is saving 2 miles per gallon while producing more power. Very impressive!

    Increased MPG – Not Towing – Improves by 3 MPG!

    Our truck always used to get somewhere in the 16-18 MPG range when we weren’t towing, better on highways and less in town.

    Now, if we travel 100 miles or more without the trailer, we see an MPG in the 19-21 range. That is an improvement of 3 MPG!

    What a shock it was the first time we drove 130 highway miles at 65 mph and saw 21.6 MPG on our truck’s mileage gauge!!

    Return on Investment

    If this fuel savings alone were used to justify the cost of a new Edge Evolution tuner, how many miles would we have to drive for the unit to pay for itself?

    If we assume the tuner costs ~$450 and diesel costs ~$3/gallon (both rough but reasonable estimates given prices in the last year), and we assume a conservative savings of 2 MPG, whether towing or not, and we tow for half the total miles driven, we will have saved approximately $450 in fuel once we have driven about 15,500 miles.

    Of course, the tuner does a lot more than save a little fuel…

     

    7. Additional Exhaust Gas Temperature Sensor Installation

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    A month after installing the Edge Evolution CS tuner, Mark installed a companion product, the Expandable Accessory System (EAS – product #98603) Exhaust Gas Temperature sensor. This product measures the temperature of the exhaust gases in the exhaust manifold, giving the driver yet more insight — beyond just the antifreeze temp and the transmission fluid temp — into how hot the engine is running.

    This was an optional installation, but after seeing the value of knowing the transmission fluid temperature, we wanted to be able to monitor our exhaust gas temperature readings as well.

    This installation was quite a bit more complicated than the Edge programmer, as the probe had to be inserted into the exhaust manifold. This required drilling a hole in the exhaust manifold, tapping the hole, screwing the probe into the newly tapped hole, and running the wires through the engine firewall back to the Edge Evolution tuner where they plugged into the back of the display unit.

    The hardest part of this installation was drilling and tapping the hole, in part because the exhaust manifold is not super easy access to with a large drill, and in part because the metal of the exhuast manifold is very thick and hard.

    The instructions in the manual called for:

    The most important thing is that the tap handle be big and solid to give you lots of leverage, because the solid cast iron on the exhaust manifold is very thick and very hard. This will make the difference between an easy installation and a miserably hard one.

    As always, Mark got the project underway before I got my camera going, so I don’t have a “before” photo. However, the “after” photo below shows what you’re gunning for and what stands in the way between you and the exhaust manifold.

    Edge Products Evolution Programmer Installed on a 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 truck

    Completed installation with only the braided stainless cable for the probe showing.

    First, unscrew the bolt holding the two black tubes in place so they can be pushed aside.

    Remove the bracket for access to the exhaust manifold

    Remove the bolt to free up the tubes that are blocking the exhaust manifold

    The probe will be inserted here.

    Location for inserting the Edge Products EAS Exhaust gas temperature probe in the exhaust manifold

    Location for the Edge Products EAS Exhaust gas temp probe in the exhaust manifold

    Space is tight, so a 90 degree right angle drill is necessary. Drill a pilot hole first. Then drill the real hole for the probe.

    In order to avoid getting metal filings in the wrong places, grease the drill bit first. Drill a little, then wipe the drill bit down, re-grease it, and drill a little further. Do this for both the pilot hole and the real hole.

    Use a 90 degree right angle drill

    Use a 90 degree right angle drill

    Hole drilled in the exhaust manifold

    Hole drilled in exhaust manifold

    Now the hole is ready to be tapped. Grease or oil the tapping tool well, and work it in and out a quarter turn at a time. As before, after a few turns, back it all the way out and wipe off the metal filings, and re-grease it.

    As mentioned above, a small tap handle will not give you enough leverage for the thick, hard cast iron of the exhaust manifold.

    Preparing to tap the hole in the exhaust manifold

    An undersized tap handle will make the job very difficult. Get a big, sturdy one!

    Once the hole is drilled and tapped, the probe can be screwed in. Grease the probe’s threads with <strong>Permatex Anti-Seize Lubricant first. Then, a cable connecting the probe to the Edge tuner is run from the exhaust manifold back through the engine firewall between the engine and the cab, and on up to the tuner.

    Edge Products EAS exhaust temperature probe screwed into the exhaust manifold

    Edge Products EAS exhaust temperature probe screws into the exhaust manifold

    Wires run through the engine firewall between the engine compartment and the truck cab

    Wires run through the engine firewall between the engine compartment and the truck cab

     

    Mark opted to put the display for the exhaust gas temperatures in the middle display area between the Engine Coolant Temp and the Transmission Fluid Temp. Of course, you can choose to display any data in any of the three display areas, and Mark experimented a little before settling on ECT on the left, EGT in the middle and TFT on the right.

    Edge Evolution CS Tuner programmer for diesel trucks

    Engine Coolant (left), Exhaust Gas (middle bar), Transmission Fluid (right)

    The more expensive Edge Evolution CTS tuner has three large displays with both analog and digital readouts rather than the two large displays and one small one on the Edge Evolution CS tuner.

    Results

    We installed the Exhaust Gas Temperature probe after we had done all of our mountain driving for the season, so we have yet to test it in the mountains. The “overtemp” magic number for the EGT is 1350. Typical temps we have seen driving around town are in the mid-900’s, and climbing a long 5% grade while towing our fifth wheel, we’ve seen the mid-1100’s. However, these have just been the long, gradual grades of Arizona and not the steep switchbacks typical of Rocky Mountain passes.

    We will report our findings about the exhaust gas temperature readings once we have taken our RV over a big mountain pass!

     

    8. Other Features of the Edge Tuner

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    The Edge tuner has a ton of other things it can do, because it essentially opens up the truck’s computer so the driver can access the data and temporarily modify the input parameters for the current driving conditions. (Obviosuly, you must be parked to mess with the menus on the tuner.)

    Our only interest in the tuner has been the improved power while towing, improved fuel economy while not towing and the additional temperature data that is made available when towing over big mountain passes.

    Maintenance and Diagnostic Trouble Codes

    There is a Maintenance Manager mode where you can establish a reminder system for standard maintenance items like changing the transmission fluid, checking the trans case fluid level, inspecting the brake pads, lubing the tie rod ends and rotating the tires. Simply get it started with your current odometer reading, and the reminders will alert you at your chosen intervals.

    If you are really concerned about fuel economy, there is a Mileage Coach that can show you how to vary your foot’s pressure on the gas pedal to maximize fuel economy as you drive. You can also find out the fuel cost per mile of a particular trip if you enter the price of the fuel you buy!

    In addition, the Edge tuner can reveal the Diagnostic Trouble Codes that are present when the truck’s Check Engine light goes on. Most codes can be looked up on the internet, so this might save some head scratching before heading off to a mechanic to get the problem looked at.

    For racers

    We have used only Levels 1 and 2 (for towing and around town driving), however there are two more levels beyond that for increased power performance, if you find your truck on the starting line of a racecourse. These modes adjust the fuel injection and timing to be more aggressive. In addition, the CTS model can be interfaced to a backup camera and it can also monitor the pitch, roll and G-forces!! For those with racing in mind who find themselves at a drag strip, there are also 0 to 60 mph performance tests and quarter mile tests, and the record highest values of these tests are maintained.

    Studying the Data

    You can also connect the Edge tuner to a computer using the USB port. You can retrieve all the data from the Edge programmer into an Excel-readable .csv file. using the downloadable Windows software called MyStyle (instructions given in the manual).

    For us, however, we are content with just the basics!

    Product info:

    For fun:

    After 20,000 very happy miles with this engine tuner, we replaced our ’07 Dodge Ram 3500 with a 2016 Ram 3500 dually. A detailed description of our buying process and options on the new truck can be found here: Which Are the BEST Ram 3500 Options for Towing a 14K lb. 5th Wheel Trailer? A fun story is that rocker Alice Cooper Sold Us Our Truck! For those that are curious, we put a fabulous “puck” based B&W Fifth Wheel Hitch in the bed of our new truck, and we’re getting another Edge tuner!

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    Hobie Mirage i14t Tandem Inflatable Kayak Review

    This is a review of the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak after 3 years of use on rivers, lakes, Mexico's Pacific coast and the Sea of Cortez.

    Enjoying our kayak at St. George State Park, Florida.

    Mark demonstrates using the Mirage drive pedals for Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

    Mirage-drive pedal/fipper

    system.

    Our Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak in Puerto Balandra, Mexico

    Puerto Balandra, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.

    Our Hobie i14t kayak on a beach in the Sea of Cortez

    Puerto Balandra, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.

    Lake Havasu, Arizona - perfect for kayaking with a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

    Lake Havasu, Arizona.

    Our Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak at Redfish Lake, Idaho

    Redfish Lake outside Stanley, Idaho.

    The Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak in its folded and stored postion stands taller than expected.

    The kayak in its rolling case.

    Extra equipment needed for the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak: seats, paddles, pedals, pump, lifejackets

    The other pieces that don't fit in the case: seats,

    paddles, pedal/flippers, lifejackets.

    Deflated Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Pumping up a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Inflating a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Pedaling around San Diego Bay on a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

    Playa Cove, San Diego, California

    Sea of Cortez (Bahia Falsa) with our Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

    Bahía Falsa, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.

    The storgage back for the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

    It's all gotta fit in this bag...

    Inflation/deflation valve for Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

    Valve for inflating/deflating.

    Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - First fold the bow in on itself Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - fold it in thirds Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - fold the stern over everything Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - tighten the webbing straps. Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - finished package. Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak can be rolled around (if you're careful) Hauling the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Carrying the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak with a shoulder strap. Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak  - seats Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - lifejackets pedals/fins Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - paddles The Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak fits into a fifth wheel basement

    Tight squeeze going into the fiver basement.

    Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak takes up most of the space in a fifth wheel basement

    Once there it takes up a lot of space.

    The kayak makes a good platform for waxing the hull. Hauling the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak up into the Garhauer racks

    Getting ready to hoist the kayak.

    Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak at rest in the Garhauer racks

    In the Garhauer racks with the

    bridle/halyard attached.

    A butt saver for the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - self-inflating seat.

    A thermorest butt-saver cushion.

    Our commuter vehicles.

    Kayak moulds at the Hobie Cat factory in Oceanside, California

    Hobie kayak mold rocks back and forth to distribute

    the molten plastic inside the mold.

    Kayak factory at Hobie Cat in Oceanside, Caliornia.

    Hobie Cat factory, Oceanside, California.

    New kayaks lined up ready to sell

    New kayaks ready to go.

    Pedaling the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak in Redfish Lake, Idaho.

    Pedaling into the mountains at Redfish Lake, Idaho.

    Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak at Lake Havasu, Arizona

    Lake Havasu, Arizona.

    Hobie i14t Tandem Inflatable Kayak Review

    One of the best additions to our RV and boat has been our Hobie

    i14t inflatable kayak (manufacturer: http://www.hobiecat.com/

    kayaks/mirage/i14t).  It is easy to launch and is a very stable

    platform with three inflatable chambers: two pontoons and a floor.

    We've tried Hobie's identical hard-shell tandem kayak and found it

    to be a lot more tippy.  We can stand up in the inflatable kayak and

    not lose our balance.

    The kayak can be driven either by

    traditional paddles or by Hobie's

    Mirage Drive pedal system.  These

    are removable pedals/flippers where

    with each pedal stroke the flippers flip

    back and forth.  Apparently the idea

    for this system came to its inventor

    one day while watching marine mammals on Discovery channel, and they are wonderfully

    effective.  The best part is that it makes kayaking a hands-free affair.  The kayak is steered by the

    person in the rear who has a small dial control connected to a rudder.

    We now take only one paddle with us and

    we use it only for quick steering situations

    (the kayak has a very wide turning radius

    otherwise).  Being hands-free we can take

    photos and use the binoculars with ease.

    There are two kinds of pedals, the

    standard ones which are slightly shorter,

    and longer ones that

    are harder to push

    but make the boat

    go faster.  We have

    the standard pedals.

    There is also a sail

    kit which we don't

    have.

    This kayak does not fold

    up to a small size.  Once

    packed away in its case it

    stands almost chest high.

    It is also about the same weight

    as the comparable hard-shell

    kayak.  However it can be

    packed away in a truck bed or in

    the basement of a fifth wheel

    trailer, unlike a hard-shell which

    must be carried in some kind of

    roof rack.

    There are quite a few extra

    pieces besides the hull:  the two

    Mirage pedal systems, two

    seats, two break-apart paddles,

    the pump and two life jackets

    (purchased separately).

    Assembly takes about 15 minutes and is very straight-

    forward.  First the kayak hull is laid out on the ground.  Then

    the three chambers are each inflated independently via

    three valves at the back end of the kayak.  They can be

    inflated in any order, and its just a minute or so of easy hand

    pumping for each chamber.

    Then the seats are set in place

    using clips and webbing straps.

    The paddles are assembled

    and stored in place on the sides

    of the kayak.  The life jackets

    are slipped under the bungee

    cord storage area in the back.

    And off we go.

    Putting the kayak

    away is a little trickier, as it needs to fit back into its case.  We lay the

    case out on the ground and put the kayak on top of it with the stern

    end at the cover-flap end of the case, and then we deflate the three

    chambers.

    The kayak is folded up by first curling the bow in on itself and then

    folding the boat in thirds.  The bow section folds towards the pedal

    opening in the stern of the kayak.  Then the stern of the kayak is

    folded up and over the top.

    At this point we pull the sides of the case up

    and around the kayak and pull the webbing

    straps tight.

    Then we fish out the top flap of the case from

    underneath and fold it over the whole thing and

    pull its webbing straps tight.

    Now the case is ready to be rolled around.  There is also a shoulder strap that can be attached so you can lug the kayak with

    you as you walk.

    Neither rolling nor carrying the case is easy.  The kayak is quite heavy and it's a big awkward package.  I have read of people

    finding the case so flimsy that it ripped and had other problems when traveling as checked baggage.  If I were to travel with it

    that way a lot I would have a strong canvas carrier made for it.  The wheel system is also rather delicate.  On ours the axel bent

    from the weight of the kayak and then the bag dragged on the ground.  It could be bent back into shape, but it is a weak system

    and not for long distance use (like through endless airport walkways).  Rolling it a few steps from our disassembly spot in our

    campsite to the trailer, or from a boat ramp to the truck is not a problem.

    The big heavy kayak hull and its bag are just part of the total package.  There are also those pesky seats, pedals, paddles,

    pump and life jackets to contend with.  All this is easy in a truck or trailer, but carrying all this on public transport by airplane or

    bus would be a challenge.

    The kayak neatly fits into our fifth wheel basement, but once it is in there it is just about all that

    will fit.  All the other favorite basement goodies like camp chairs, barbecue, buckets, tools and

    generator, not to mention the seats, pedals, paddles and lifejackets etc. all have to fit around

    this beast.  However, the days on the lakes and rivers are well worth the hassle.

    The kayak has brought us lots of fun times

    on the boat.  It has been useful as a

    platform for waxing the hull, but far more

    important, it has given us a little exercise

    and a nice slow pace for exploring the

    anchorages we have stayed in.

    We always keep it inflated on the

    boat and we use Garhauer kayak

    racks to store it outside the

    lifelines in when its not in use.  We

    rigged a simple bridle system

    using the two pedal holes to hoist

    it into the kayak racks using the spare

    halyard.  Once up, we leave the seats

    in it and store the pedals, paddles and

    life jackets in the cockpit lockers on the

    boat.  It takes less than five minutes to

    rig up the bridle and either hoist or

    lower the kayak.

    We also bought two self-inflating thermarest seat

    cushions.  We slip these under the seats and it

    really helps with overall butt fatigue and the

    inevitable numb foot problem that creeps up if we

    are out in the kayak for a long ride.  The seats on

    the hard-shell kayak are a little more comfortable

    and less inclined to put your feet to sleep.

    We visited the Hobie Cat factory in Oceanside California where the hard-shell kayaks are

    made (the inflatables are made at another plant).  Molten plastic is poured into moulds and

    then swished around for a few hours to completely fill the mould.  Then when the plastic

    has cooled the mold is opened up and out pops a new kayak hull.

    It was a lot of fun to see all the new gleaming kayaks lined up.

    The inflatable kayak is definitely more delicate than its hard-shell sister, and most cruisers with Hobie Mirage tandem kayaks

    carry a hard-shell instead of an inflatable.  We have had to fix several leaks in the bow chamber and reattach many small pieces

    to the hull using JB Weld (i.e., the anchors for the seats and for the bungie cord in the back).  They fell off due to the relentless

    heat in Mexico.  I also sewed a Sunbrella kayak cover to protect it from the UV rays.  For tropical cruisers spending more than

    one season in the tropics, I would recommend taking a long look at a hard shell tandem Hobie rather then the inflatable.

    However, it is such a fun little boat -- stable

    and easy to clamber in and out of for snorkeling -- that we are happy with our choice, even if it means babying our baby a little

    extra.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    A Mobile RV Service Directory – in a Free App!

    Go Mechanic Home Page

    Go Mechanic app home page

    You just never know what will happen when you go to a bar. The other day Mark and I joined our friend Ron at a local favorite hangout for a beer, and suddenly the guy next to Ron said, “Hey, check out this app!”

    We all leaned over to look at his smartphone. As he passed it around, he went on to explain: “It’s a mobile service app for cars, RVs and boats. If you need work done on your vehicle, or an oil change or detailing, or even new tires, you can get a mobile service guy to come out to you, wherever you are, with just one click.”

    Wow. What a cool idea! It’s a speed dial directory for mobile service providers.

    It turned out that this app is called Go Mechanic, and the guy showing it to us was Brent Stanphill, the visionary behind it.

    Go Mechanic RV Mechanic

    Find an RV Mechanic within 50 miles
    based on either your phone’s GPS
    or a zip code you enter.

    He told us you can download the app for free at both Google Play and the iTunes Store, and before we knew it, everyone at the bar was downloading it!

    The bartender was saying, “Man, I could have used this two weeks ago when my car died.”

    A woman near me was asking Brent, “Can I really get someone to come to my office and do an oil change while I’m at work?”

    Brent grinned, “Yes!”

    Go Mechanic Select a Mobile RV Service Provider

    RV Mechanic listing on speed dial!

    The app locates all the mobile service providers within a 50 mile radius of either the GPS location of your phone or a zip code you enter.

    This way, if you aren’t sure where you are, it doesn’t matter. However, if you need service and you aren’t standing next to your RV, you can simply enter the zip code of where the RV is located.

    Mobile services are a growing trend, and this cool app is making it easy for service providers and customers to get together.

    A few months ago I wrote an article about a couple of full-time RVers who have been providing mobile RV repair services for decades, and I was floored at the high level of professionalism in their business.

    One look inside Phil’s mobile workshop proved that he was a skilled mechanic who had all the tools and spare parts necessary to tackle any RV repair job, from a broken awning to a finicky slide mechanism, to installing a complete solar power system on the roof of an RV.

    Mobile RV Repair provider's mobile workshop

    Phil & Ann Botnick have a fully stocked RV repair workshop on wheels.

    Brent told us that many of the providers in his directory work from converted trucks (like Phil’s) that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct.

    Whether they are oil change providers, vehicle detailers, RV repair specialists or tire providers, these are serious businesses, not fly-by-night hacks.

    Across the country, a growing group of quality mechanics is recognizing the need we all have in our busy lives to find service people who can bring their skills to us. They have set up their mobile workshops with everything they need to do excellent work.

    Interior of a mobile oil change van

    Inside the van of a mobile oil change provider

    And as serious businessmen, they see the value in this app.

    Rather than paying for old fashioned advertising in the Yellow Pages, they pay a nominal fee for a premium listing in the Go Mechanic directory that comes complete with a link to their web page and reviews from customers.

    And that’s how Go Mechanic makes it possible for customers to download this app for free. How clever!

    I instantly wanted to help Brent get the word out to the RVing community. This could be a real game changer for us!

    Instead of hunting down an RV service repair shop and figuring out where to stay while your RV is in for repair, why not have the mechanics and detailers come to you?!

    What could be better than having your rolling home detailed while you’re out sightseeing? Or getting that niggling problem with the generator fixed or the oil changed without having to drive the big beast to an RV repair shop somewhere?

    Interior of a mobile mechanic van providing tire replacement service

    Mobile tire service and sales (including balancing!) is a growing trend!

    Besides the convenience of not having to take your RV in to the shop, it would be awesome to have this directory at your fingertips if you had a major problem that left you stranded on the side of the road.

    As we chatted more about Go Mechanic, Brent told me that it is one of handful of companies selected to participate in the new LaunchPoint incubator program at Arizona State University for innovative technology startups.

    Major media outlets have also taken notice, and the folks at Fox12 News in Phoenix Arizona jumped on the chance to do a segment about the app.

    Watch this fun Fox12 News video clip here!

    As one of the guys on Fox12 News said, “Brilliant!”

    Mobile oil change repair service

    Have your oil changed without sitting around in a waiting room!

    I asked Brent how he got the idea for the Go Mechanic app.

    He told me that a few years ago his parents were planning to drive across country in a used car they had just bought at auction.

    Being a very good and concerned son, he assembled a list of all the mobile mechanics he could find along their route.

    As he handed them the list, he suddenly realized what a valuable resource it was, not just to his parents but to anyone out on the road.

    His ingenious idea has flourished since then, and the Go Mechanic app is being rolled out nationwide with special focus on the RV hot spots of Arizona, Florida and California.

    Go Mechanic Mobile vehicle service provider app

    A clever new app!

    If you have a smartphone or a tablet, download it and check it out.  If you’ve never enjoyed the convenience of mobile service, give it a try!

    For more information, visit these links:

     

     

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