Category Archives: bike

QStarz Q818XT – 10Hz GPS receiver

The QStarz BT-Q818XT bluetooth GPS receiver is a 10Hz unit that is 100% compatible with RaceChrono. It also offers high poll rates, DGPS (differential GPS), AGPS (almanac GPS) and long battery life.

While most decent GPS units use the SiRFstarIII chipset, the 818 uses the relatively unknown and new MKT II chipset.

My experience with the 818XT has all been positive. It acquires satellites very quickly, and I’ve not had any bluetooth issues with the connection to my Android phone. However, I was confused by a few of the features and settings when I first started using it, so hopefully this blog post will help answers some of the questions I originally had … as you might be having them too.

There is a 3 position on-off switch on one side of the unit; those positions being Off, 1Hz and 10Hz. The differential (DGPS) capability is not enabled when operating at 10Hz, but is available when the switch is in the 1Hz (middle) position. However, 1Hz is not really fast enough for reliable lap timing, so what can be done?

Well, you can download the Windows drivers and the GPS View application (for Windows only) which will allow you to reconfigure the 1Hz switch setting to a frequency between 1 and 5Hz. You can find the downloads for the 818XT at QStarz Downloads page – select “GPS Receiver” as your product type and choose your exact model from the secondary (right hand) menu. There are also links to a quick quide and full user manual.

After installing the driver and application, connect your Q818XT to your computer and switch it on to the 1Hz setting. Open Settings->Control Panels and select the System control panel. Switch to the Hardware tab and look to see which LPT/COM port the 818 is listed as being connected to. Launch the GPS View application and set the appropriate COM port at the top of the window. You should then see the GPS messages scrolling in the top left panel of the window – if you don’t then you have probably selected the wrong COM port.

If you switch to the Setup tab, you can change the frequency for the middle (1Hz) switch position. Look for the section that says “Fix Update Rate” and hit the Query button. It should report 1Hz in the Data Bandwidth box to the right. Since we want 5Hz instead of 1Hz, all you need to do is change the rate in the pulldown menu from 1 to 5 and hit the Set button. That’s it, the 1Hz switch position will now operate the unit at 5Hz with full DGPS capabilities. It will remain at 5Hz until you pull the battery out of the unit or possibly until the battery runs completely flat.

Just remember to make sure you select the middle (1Hz) setting instead of the 10Hz switch position before you head out on track! In my opinion, a 5Hz refresh rate with DGPS is more valuable than a 10Hz rate without DGPS as the position reports will be both frequent enough and have a greater accuracy.

The AGPS feature is less important for accuracy as it primarily affects how long the unit takes to get its first fix. It does this by updating its internal almanac which enables it to locate the appropriate satellites more quickly. You can use the Update button in the lower panel to download a new almanac automatically from the internet. The new almanac will last for 6 days, and you can update it as often as you like.

Bluetooth Pairing
Pairing this unit with your phone should be simple. Enable Bluetooth on your phone, switch on the Q818XT and it should show up in the list of available devices. The pairing code will be “0000” (four zeroes).

Make sure you change the “GPS receiver type” setting in RaceChrono to be “Bluetooth device” and select the QStarz 818XT as the external GPS device.

Unit Location
In order to give the unit decent line of sight with the satellites in the sky, I mount the unit on the tail of the bike. The 818XT has a rubberised bottom which is placed on the tail unit, and the whole thing is then taped to the tail.

I used a lot of tape; firstly to ensure that the receiver doesn’t fall off (?!) and secondly to try and form a waterproof barrier around the switch and the USB connector. Since the device lasts for 24-40 hours on a single charge you can switch it on before taping it to the bike, and then leave it on for the full track day.

Pre Track Day Preparation
I usually charge the unit for 2-3 hours before a track day. Using QStarz’s GPS View software, I also upload the latest almanac(which lasts for 6 days) and double-check that the 1Hz switch position is still re-mapped to 5Hz.

That’s really all you need to know about this receiver.

If you want background on using the QStarz 818XT then have a read of this post on how to set up and use a lap timer.

Update Summer 2014

You might be interested in reading a comparison between the QStarz 818XT and the Garmin Glo.

Bike Track Day Preparations

Before going out on track with the Daytona for the first time, these were some of the things that I needed to attend to:

  1. Basic Maintenance
  2. Crash Protection
  3. Tyres
  4. Suspension
  5. Other Odds and Sods

Basic Maintenance

This involves checking the following:

  • Lubricate and adjust drive chain tension
  • Tyre condition and pressures (what pressures are you going to run on track?)
  • Check brake disks and pads (will they last for the track day?)
  • Fluid levels; brakes, engine oil and coolant
  • All fasteners and fixings
  • Look for any oil leaks

Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook these basic checks. On a track day the bike will be worked hard so it’s worth giving it a thorough check up. Depending on what needs doing, it shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes of your time, and it is a worthwhile investment ahead of a day spent on the race track.

Crash Protection

If you intend doing more than one track day and you’re intent on learning to ride faster (which means that you’ll be pushing yourself out of your confort zone) then you should probably accept the fact that you will come off the track at some point.

On that basis, you might want to try ensuring that you cause the minimum amount of damage to the bike. What tends to get most commonly broken in a crash are the fairings, tank, levers and pegs. The fairing and tank are big ticket items while the other parts tend to be (much) less expensive.

My long term plan is to remove the fairing, headlamps, indicators and other non-track day items from the Daytona next spring and replace them with a “cheaper” race fairing. In the meantime, adding crash protectors to reduce damage caused to the bike seems like a sensible precaution.

As a result, I visited the T3 web site and order a complete set of engine covers and protective mushrooms. While these won’t actually protect the fairing or tank they should help reduce the total repair bill should I be unlucky enough to take a tumble on track.

I had also been debating the merits of buying carbon fibre tank protectors but figured I would be better off getting a replacement second hand tank from ebay for around £100 (US$ 160) when I needed one compared to spending £90 (US$ 144) for the protectors that might never be needed.

Tyre choices are very subjective. Because my on track riding is not good enough to warrant race tyres (yet), I wanted a compromise tyre that would meet the following objectives:

  • Soft compound for track use
  • Safe to use on the road (riding to/from track days)
  • Good handling characteristics in the wet

I spent a few hours researching using the internet before finally decided to on a pair of Michelin Pilot 2CT tyres; a 120/70 ZR17 TL 58(W) for the front and a 180/55 ZR17 TL 73(W) for the rear. The 2CT is a two compound tyre that’s been around for a few years, but which consistently has good reviews. I was looking for a tyre that would be good on track but that would also work well in cold wet weather … we get a lot of that here in the UK! The Michelin Pilot 2CT seems to meet all of my tyre objectives.

For the road I run 36psi front and rear. On a warm track day, I’d drop the tyre pressures to 32 front and 30 rear (depending on the temperature). On a cold or wet day, I’d run my normal road pressures as the tyres are unlikely to generate enough heat to warrant reducing their pressures.

Apart from the manufacturer’s handbook for your bike, there are a multitude of guides on the internet on how to set up your suspension. The first thing to do is to note your current settings for compression, rebound and (if you have it) high speed damping. Write them down! Then note the full range for each of these settings (normally a number of clicks).

To adjust your preload, you will need to “switch off” all your damping in order to determine the correct preload setting for your suspension. This is really a two man job and it is best to consult a reputable source on how to do this.

Because I’m not skilled at suspension adjustment, I paid a race mechanic to help me set up my suspension.

It turns out that I’m too light for the springs in my front forks, so those will have to be replaced at some point in the future.

Once you’ve set the preload correctly, you’ll need to adjust the damping settings back to a sensible value. Typically the middle of your range setting is a good starting point. It’s worth getting the suspension set up correctly because along with tyre pressures, it can make a MASSIVE difference to how your bike feels on track.

Other Odds and Sods

The other thing that I urgently needed to add to the bike were a set of tank grips. These are a sticky polymer pad that sticks to each side of the tank where your legs and knees sit. They are vital to helping you to support yourself on the bike using your legs, especially for track use. Without them trying to get any kind of purchase from the tank is nigh on impossible in leathers!

With all this done the bike was ready for its (first?) track day. Will I be as ready?

Got the bug… now get the bike

I ride a Triumph Street Triple daily and because I rely on it for my commute, I didn’t fancy damaging it on a track day. Also, having ridden the CBR600RR I realised that there is quite a big difference between a street bike and an out and out sports bike.

I know people use street bikes on track but I figured that I wanted to ride on a sports bike. To this end I had to decide what size and make of bike to buy. I’ve ridden litre plus sports bikes in the past and decided that I would prefer something smaller like a 600cc bike; even if it meant a slightly more cramped riding position for my 6’2” (187cm) body.

Although I really enjoyed riding the CBR600RR, I decided that I wanted something that had a bit more character but not so exotic that it was going to break the bank. Secondhand was my best option as I couldn’t really justify paying new bike prices for something that wouldn’t get ridden that often or which might get totalled on track.

The obvious choice for me was the Triumph Daytona 675. The reviews for this bike have been consistently good for several years, and having ridden a Street Triple for a while, I could vouch for the fact that the engine is amazing – it just makes power virtually from tickover and pulls like a train all the way to the redline.

Having decided on the bike, I started to scour the small ads to see what I could find. I researched for about three weeks weighing up age, mileage, condition and extras. I had already discounted the pre-09 Daytona models as the 09 and later models had a taller first gear, lighter wheels, better suspension and a more powerful engine. I also didn’t want something that was too old or which had high mileage.

Prices from main dealers for the ’09 and later model Daytonas varied between £5,500 and £6,500 (approx US$8,800 – 10,400 in October 2012). Some private ones were cheaper but I was looking for something clean with no damage history.

One evening I was researching Daytona parts online when I spotted a black 2010 Daytona with 3,000 miles on the clock. I rang the seller the next day and we did a deal over the phone. The following day I jumped on a train with my leathers and helmet in a bag and set off for the North of England to collect the bike.

The bike looked better in the flesh than in the photos, and although I didn’t really want a black bike, I had to admit that it looked great. I fired it up and the exhaust barked into life – the menacing growl at tickover was aided by the fact that the baffle had been removed from the Arrow slipon can. The sound of the exhaust was pure intoxication!

After riding a street bike (Street Triple) for nearly three years, getting on the Daytona and reaching forward to the handlebars was a bit of a shock. I pulled away with trepidation as I didn’t really feel 100% in control, but within a few miles, I slowly began to start getting used to the riding position despite the fact that both my back and wrists were beginning to complain. As the discomfort grew, I seriously began to question my sanity about buying a sports bike after all.

Riding through town and 30mph roads was pure hell; offset only by the fact that the exhaust note was attracting much (admiring?) attention from roadside bystanders, which was quite amusing.

If I thought the exhaust sounded good at tickover, it was nothing compared to the symphonic howl that develops from 4,500 RPM upwards. I think that this is due to a combination of the airbox flapper and the exhaust EXUP valves opening fully which allows the engine to breathe better. The Daytona makes power from low down in the rev range, but from 6,000 RPM onwards, the bike literally propels itself forwards with an urgency that you just need to experience yourself to understand.

Once I got out of town onto the A roads, I was able to increase my speeds significantly enough that the wind started to take some of the pressure off my wrists. This bike was made for fast sweeping A roads – it feels so taut and planted that you just want to keep increasing your speed as you drive through corners.

After a few miles of A roads, I still had over 160 miles of motorway to negotiate to get home. Although at the time, I hadn’t really clocked the double bubble screen on the bike but I seriously began to appreciate it as the speedo veered past 70 mph. Even so, with my body complaining about the cold and cramps from the riding position, I elected to stop every half hour or so, to break up the monotony of the journey.

Apart from comfort, another area where the Daytona differs significantly from the Street Triple is the quickness of its steering. Initially it feels like it wants to fall into corners – this makes for really quick steering which can be a little disconcerting in the wet and in slow speed corners. The fact that the front tyre was slightly squared off on the bike didn’t help much but at least that could be fixed with a set of tyres quickly enough. The other main differences between the Street Triple and the Daytona were in the suspension and brakes; on the Daytona the brakes are phenomenally powerful. The suspension too is much tauter than the Street Triple’s while still being quite compliant and forgiving.

After nearly 200 miles of riding, I arrived home. I was elated from riding such an amazing machine although that was slightly tempered by concern that I might have driven through one or two speed cameras on the wrong side of the speed limit!

In summary, not only has riding a Daytona confirmed everything that I read about it in reviews but the one I bought seems to be a really tidy and clean example and I am really happy with its purchase.

Track Day Economics

Having decided that I wanted to do more track days in order to improve my riding skills, the question was how would I actually go about doing this.

I have a road bike that I use for daily commuting. While I could have used that on track I couldn’t really afford to have it off the road for any length of time following a track mishap.

That left three choices:

  1. Go to a race school where the bike is provided by the school
  2. Go on a track day and rent a 600 for the day
  3. Buy a bike specifically to use on track and do regular track days

Option 1
To spend a full day at Ron Haslam’s school involves buying two half day sessions costing £289 – that equates to £578 (US$ 920) for the day. The rental of leathers and the CBR600RR is included in the price and there is NO accident damage deposit required either. The day would total 6 hours of which 1.5 hours would be on track in 6 x 15 minute sessions.

The California Superbike School costs £399 for the day, plus £249 for the bike, plus £35 for the leathers if you need them which equates to £683 (US$ 1090). The school also requires a £1000 deposit for the bike hire – you get it all back if you don’t damage the bike.

On paper I think that Ron’s school looks better value for money compared to the California Superbike School.

If you wanted to do ten track days a year with Ron you’d be spending nearly £6,000 (US$ 9,600) and nearly £7,000 with California Superbike School plus any damage you caused to the rental bike!

Option 2
Many of the track day companies will rent you a 600cc bike for the day. Track days typically cost £99-149 and the bike rental is just under £300 with a £500 excess. You would need to have your own leathers as these are not normally available for rent.

Ten track days would cost less than £500 each plus any damage you caused to the rental bike. It’s probably best to assume that you’ll drop the bike once in ten track days although you may not cause any very serious damage to the bike. That’s realistically around £5,500 (US$ 8,800) for a summer season.

Option 3
Initially buying a track bike seems like a silly idea but if you buy the bike (well) in the winter and sell it before the summer ends (and you repair any damage it sustains), you could end up losing very little money on it for nearly 6 months use.

Ten track days would cost you £1,500 assuming £150 per day. You’d also have to factor in a new set of tyres and brakes – let call that another £300. That’s a total of £1,800. Also factor in depreciation on the bike itself; let’s say another £500 (assuming that you don’t totally destroy the bike on track).

With options 2 and 3, you also need to factor in the cost of instruction. Some track companies will give you one session with an instructor for free while others will hire you an instructor for £100-150 for the day, or typically £25 per session.

So taking advantage of the free instruction and one paid for session each track day adds another £25 per track day. That equates to another £250 for the ten track days.

The total cost for option three comes out at around £2,700 which appears to be the cheapest of the three options.

For a reasonable number of track days, it looks like buying a track bike and selling it at the end of the season is the most sensible way forward.

There’s another benefit to options 2 and 3 over option 1; you get to ride at different tracks rather than the same one all summer! (Since the schools are usually located at a single track).