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Product reviews

Product Reviews

Autocom

Valentine1

Headlight modulator

Fuel Plus

Aerostich RC & Darien

Sealed battery

BMW Accessories

Straps

PIAA 910 lights

Tank bags

Rukka Air Power suit

Touratech ZEGA boxes

Wilbers shocks

BMW Apparel

Aerostich Roadcrafter and Darien

Protective gear comes in many styles, and the Aerostich Roadcrafter and Darien are popular among serious riders. They are designed and built by Rider Wearhouse in Duluth, MN.

Most people are concerned that riding gear will be too hot, and these suits sure looks it. But with the underarm vents, pocket slits, and back vent, hot-weather comfort is OK. When stopped on a 90+ degree day, I'll start to sweat, but there have only been one or two times when it was truly uncomfortable. By this point there are usually cars overheating on the side of the road, so I'm not talking about normal riding conditions.

Regarding warmth, I usually ride in hot weather (90°F+) with a long-sleeved T-shirt (turtleneck with the Darien, due to the collar) with pants made of similar fabric, since you need alayer of cloth between you and the suit. Below that I'm comfortable with jeans. On top there's room for plenty of clothing; at the lowest temperatures I use a turtleneck, Gerbing jacket and sometimes a wind-blocking layer on top, and long johns with pants, or windproof thermal pants on the bottom. This outfit is good for shorter rides (less than an hour) in 10° to 15°F temperatures, and long rides in 30°F temperatures.

Be aware that Rider Wearhouse may try to put you into too small asuit. They recommended a 40L for my Roadcrafter; I ended up with a 42L and sometimes think I should have gotten a 44 for winter use. Others have had similar experiences. Allow plenty of room for undergarments if you plan to ride in the cold.

Crashworthiness is good: I have taken a fairly long slide on wet pavement with some partial abrasion to the hip pockets and nothing more. Lots of people have had really fast get-offs wearing these suits, and reports usually have them walking a bit stiffly for a few days or having a small scrape somewhere. I caromed off the side of a car, doing a pretty hard body-check to the passenger side, then hit the ground, and suffered no abrasions or skin damage at all.

The suits are sometimes called "waterproof" but few people experience this with the Roadcrafter. The one-piece suits especially are prone to leaks at the crotch, due to puddling water while seated on the bike, but the two-piece suits sometimes leak there also. The Roadcrafter is designed to be a commuting suit; fast to put on and take off, so the zipper construction does not incorporate flaps to keep water from seeping through. Sealing the zipper fabric with seam-sealer helps a lot, but won't make the suit waterproof. The outer pockets of the suit are not waterproof.

The Darien is more of touring suit and is more waterproof (and a bit bulkier). However, don't assume that this is their premium model, because in fit and finish it's decidedly inferior to the Roadcrafter. The collar is made of nylon fabric, instead of the ultrasuede-like collar on the Roadcrafter, which pulls annoyingly at my neck hairs. People without trimmed neck hairs probably won't notice this, but I simply cannot ride with this collar against my skin. Additionally, the suit is unlined, meaning that you can dislodge the pads as you don and doff the suit, and you can easily abrade or otherwise damage the exposed GoreTex layer on the inside of the suit. And like the Roadcrafter, the outer pockets are not waterproof.

I got lots of good use from my Roadcrafter, and still use it although it's in tatters from my abuse. It's the most comfortable and protective option I can find for riding, and I will probably buy another if and when I need to. Mostly, though, I use the Darien because of its increased waterproofness. However, if I had to replace the Darien I think I would try the First Gear Killimanjaro instead, due to the Darien's rough construction.

More information on crashworthiness, prices, specials, and other product info is available on their website http://www.aerostich.com.


BMW electric windshield for K75RT

I went through a lot of grief finding the right windshield after adding the RT fairing to my bike. The BMW electric windshield is way more than agimmick; it's many windshields in one. It's low when you want to blow the rain off your faceshield, medium when you want to eliminate the worst of the wind noise, and tall when you want toraise your faceshield to eat or just look around. It is by far the best alternative I evaluated.

Installing it is more complex than you'd think, though. Although good instructions are provided, here are some observations for anyone interested in this product.

The upper fairing support bracket is different; this is required because the width of the mechanism will not fit between the original bracket and the fairing. The difference is very small but it's absolutely significant. It might be possible to modify a old-style bracket to allow this windshield to be used. The bottom line is that the fairing needs to come off, although we did not remove the mirrors and the lowers as called for in the instructions.

The instrument pod mounting changes, to move the pod rearward about 1/4". This involves a spacer plate and a counterweight, which replaces the rear cover of the existing pod mount. There is less room for cables to run between the pod and the dash pad.

The power is fed from the "additional equipment" plug in the relay box. The wiring harness for the shield plugs right in and provides a new plug on a pigtail so that other equipment can still be attached. Power comes in from three different circuits: one feeds the controls, one powers the map light, and the the last ( fuse 5, the "additional equipment" fuse) provides power to the actual motor. You may need to add this fuse or the windshield won't work! DAMHIK. On my bike, the pin to feed the map light was in the wrong position, so I added a jumper on the new "additional equipment" plug to divert power back into the correct wire on the electric windshield harness.

Installation time was about three hours.


Autocom motorcycle intercoms

Their intercoms are the size of one or two packs of cigarettes, and are full-featured motorcycle intercoms. I've used the Pro-3000 model and its successor, the Pro-M1. There are leads for the rider and pillion headsets, as well as a transceiver plug which can accommodate a custom bike-to-bike radio, CB, HAM radio, cell phone, or any other device needing a microphone and/or speaker. There is also a stereo jack for music input or a radar detector. Communication is voice-activated. Devices connected to the transceiver jack also are voice-activated, making for hands-free communication while riding. Headset volume is automatically adjusted to compensate for ambient noise. It takes a 9-volt battery which doesn't last long, so you'll want to install a 9V power supply on the bike. Speech can either override the music or overlay it (music lowers in volume), your choice.

Some people spend a lot of money on crappy intercoms before buying an expensive one, and others don't. If you want clear communication at speed, you'll probably end up with an Autocom. I plug my radar detector into it for normal riding, and plug a CD player in for trips (especially 2-up). Both can be used at once using the transceiver jack. I have also used a CB, cell phone, and bike-to-bike radio with it and enjoyed excellent hands-free VOX transmission. Technical details on this are on a separate page.

The primary complaint I have (and have heard from others) is that the stereo output is too weak. Depending on the CD player used, full-volume might not be loud enough. However, be aware that speaker placement in the helmet is VERY critical! Being 1/2" out of position makes a huge difference; be sure to locate the center of the speaker with the center of your ear canal. I installed the headset into my second helmet improperly and never noticed since I was only using the Autocom for a radar detector (which had plenty of volume). Carrying a passenger or using the CD player after that, I noticed a lack of volume and attributed it to other problems, finally realizing that the speakers were nearly an inch off center. Repositioning them made a huge difference in bike-to-bike communication and cell phone use. However, the weak volume with CD players was also noticed with my previous helmet (where the speakers were properly placed).

The DIN connectors on the Pro-3000 cords are flimsy and tend to deteriorate. This model used thin plastic covers (like those found in electronics catalogs) to accommodate the ambient-noise sensor in the driver's lead, while later models (which lacked this feature or handled it differently) have nice rubber plug housings. Now Autocom can retrofit the rubber connectors, with a hole for the sensor where needed, to the Pro-3000.

Autocom is on the web at http://www.autocom.co.uk/. There is also a US distributor, Rocket Moto.


Sealed battery

Since it's hard to see the acid level on the K-bike, I retrofitted a Yuasa YTX20L-BS,which is a positive-right 18AH 270CCA permanently sealed battery. They are sold to H-D, Kawasaki, and some are even exported to Japan. You should be able to find one at a Yuasa dealer (may have to order) but certainly a HD or Kawasaki watercraft dealer would have one. There is also a positive-left version called the YTX20-BS, which is a H-D retrofit for some older models. If you get one from HD it will be filled with acid, but anywhere else and you'll have to fill it yourself (special bottle provided - it's fun to do).

The base of the large Mareg battery is 122mm x 177mm. The base of the YTX20 is about 83mm x 170mm. So you need to create a spacer which makes the bottom of the YTX20 fill the same space as the large Mareg (it is too wide to fit into the step where the small Mareg goes). While you could shim it with just about anything, I took a block of 1/2" PVC and trimmed it to the size of the large Mareg. I then milled a recess into it the size of the YTX20. To suit the K tie-downs, the YTX20 must be lifted 11mm, so I left the remaining material in the milled recess at that thickness. I centered the recess laterally, and positioned it so the front of the battery was 13mm from the front of the material. This way the tie-down was clamped onto the vent strip of the battery and not the sealing strip. On a low-seat K the cables end up pretty close to the fuel computer, since the connectors now have to attach to the front of the terminal (instead of the side as they do on the Mareg). The negative cable end actually sticks between the ribs on the bottom of the computer tray.

I've had no issues with it performance-wise. Once or twice it ALMOST didn't start when it was about 10°F, but that's what happens when 20W50 gets cold. And be aware that this battery may not fit bikes which do not accept the large Mareg! If there is only enough width for the small Mareg (and not a millimeter more) then you're out of luck, as this one is about 10mm wider.

Yuasa has a website at http://www.yuasabatteries.com


FuelPlus

This is a trip computer made by Electronic Resources for BMW K-bikes, and it sure seems pretty neat to me. As far as I can tell (and I have quite a few friends who use one, too) it is an absolutely reliable indicator of how much further you can go on your fuel. 30K trip odo, timer, destination tracker & alert, mpg, clock, daily stats and the other features are of secondary importance to me.

It's a chip and display which replaces the clock. A bit of soldering is required but nothing heroic. Cost is $189. It works by monitoring the speedo pulses (to measure distance) and the fuel injector pulses (measuring number AND LENGTH of them) deriving from that the exact quantity of fuel which has been consumed. Each fuel pulse is essentially converted into the corresponding amount of fuel, and that is subtracted from the known tank volume. Calibration is possible to your specific tank (good for those carrying aux fuel) and it ends up being extremely accurate. It is controlled by the clock buttons (extended buttons are provided) and you reset the unit at each fill-up.

MPG and range are calculated based on recent consumption. "Recent" is settable by you, to vary from a 500-foot average to several miles. The pamphlet states 14 miles for the longest averaging distance but it isn't really true - 3 or 4 miles is more like it. I've corresponded with the designer about this and he agrees.

I bought mine from Speed's cycles in Elkton MD. Here's what the flyer says for release 3.0:

Features. * new 3.0 features.

ECONOMY (mpg, k/l, m/l, or l/100k) is calculated by the distance traveled and fuel used. If you find yourself in need of more miles, slow down and the indicator will tell you how many more miles per gallon you are getting.
RANGE is calculated by your economy and fuel remaining. The distance used for the average is selectable* to give instant to long averages.
DISTANCE* to go is shown when you have a junction or fuel stop set. The display will switch to and flash the distance remaining when a preset ALERT* is entered.
RANGE TRACKER* will tell you at any time if your range is more than or less than your distance to go. This allows adjusting your consumption to match your distance remaining to assure that you can achieve it without running out of fuel.
A TIMER tells you how long since your last break.
A distance MARKER* can be used to measure distances for mapping.

Daily trip information is displayed and resets after 2:00 AM and after ignition on. It gives miles traveled, time traveled, and average speed during the day. Miles from fill up are reset when refueling. A 30,000 mile odometer is manually reset for total trip miles or whatever you want to use it for. Your factory trip meter is now free for it’s intended use.

Electronic Resources has a web page at www.fuelplus.com.


Kriss Starburst headlight modulator

A headlight modulator pulses the high beam from about 25% intensity to 80% intensity and back, about 3 times per second. This does NOT give a strobe effect; 3cps is very slow compared to a strobe. The idea is to create more of a sense of movement to make the small motorcycle more visible.

The Kriss unit is a box about 1"x2"x3" with wires coming out which attach to the headlight, the headlight harness, a 12V source, and your horn (not required). Also there is a photosensor which controls the modulator. As long as there's power to the 12V lead, the modulator will run if the sensor detects enough ambient light (no modulation at night!). Low beam operation is unaffected. The horn lead, by the way, makes the hight beam do a dance when you hit the horn (I did not connect this).

I find the sensor to be too sensitive. Even mounted horizontally (most sensitive) the modulator will stop working while riding through the woods, even on a bright day. I will modify mine by running it to a 3-way switch: one position will open the sensor circuit (always off), one will enable the sensor (automatic operation) and the last will short the sensor wires (always on).

Although the modulator will unofficially handle wattages up to 130, I think it's more effective with astandard 60W high beam. The longer cooling time of a higher wattage filament seems to conceal the modulation.

Kriss can be seen on the web at http://www.kriss.com.


PIAA 910 driving lights

I held off buying these lights for the longest time, worrying that they would have too tight a beam pattern. I'd been there before with Hellas on a cage (Comet 500 lights) and had no desire to revisit on a motorcycle, whose body leans all over the place. And I had no chance to "demo" them on anyone else's bike (although I had an offer, but never made it out there) and the reports I got were a bit conflicting WRT using them on back roads.

I should have listened to Adam Wolkoff a year ago and just bought them. These things are great. For anyone who is going through the same decision process that I was, let me try to describe the beam pattern.

Each lamp has a bright area (where the reflector focuses the light) which seems to be about 20' wide and 10' high at a hundred feet. That alone would be too narrow for back roads, but the "direct" peripheral light (straight from the bulb, through the lens and out) is also very bright and gives good side illumination. If you want the focused area to be slightly wider you can shim the bulb out with some copper sheet and widen the pattern. I tried it when the lights were new but decided that the existing pattern was just about right. On the road, there is plenty of light all around and a brighter area about 100 to 150 feet in front of the bike (extending up to the trees).

With 110W bulbs, these things are very bright. I have them wired (and switched) to the high beam. Dimming the lights for oncoming traffic plunges me into very low illumination in comparison. Overtaking cars and turning them on is a lot of fun!

The lights have an "up" and a "down", but the beam pattern is not affected. There are two cooling slots in the reflector, though, and one of them has a little heat shield over it. Also the gasket between the lens/reflector assembly and the body has a gap in the bottom. The gasket could be turned around, but the lens can't, and mounting it upside down might give you a heat-related problem. PIAA makes separate versions for mounting upright or hanging downwards (9164 and 9162). Production of these has been discontinued.


Luggage straps

Helen 2Wheels' straps get a lot of press. What's the big deal? Straps are simple things, right? The thing is, most are a bit too thin, or have a poor fastener, or have ends that are hard to attach, or something. I have lots of straps in a box, and it's as if someone took a look at all of them (they are awfully similar) and said, "Life is too short for this; I'll make the perfect strap." Which Helen did. The result is a strap that... yup, is a black nylon ribbon like the others, with ends and a buckle. The thing is, each of those components is just right. The strap is nice and thick, the ends have single-twist sewn loops, for easy looping around a frame spar or luggage rack. The long part is just a strap with the loop, and the short part is a strong double-D cinch with, again, a loop at the other end. You can cinch these straps nice and tight without fear of anything loosening or breaking. They simply do the job very well, end of story.

The other type of strap I use is the ROK strap. This is diffferent; there's a untwisted sewn loop at each end with a buckle in one of them, and a strong fabric-covered elastic section in the middle. Whereas the Helen 2Wheels straps are best for roll-top bags and compressible things like that, I used the short ROK straps to lash relatively incompressible things (tent and poles) to my saddlebag lid. With non-stretching straps it's hard to tightly lash a small incompressible load (picture tying down a smooth glass bottle with a piece of wire) since the slightest movement loosens the load. Elastic straps were good in this case, and the ROK is the best I've seen. They are available in several lengths; I bought the size that was best for this particular load and loved them.


Valentine1 Radar Detector

Generally rated as the best available. It gives directional arrow signals indicating the location of the signal. This might sound like no big deal, but after using it you'll feel naked without it! Options available are a concealed display unit and a remote headphone adapter. I only have the headphone adapter - the power is fed to the adapter, and an RJ11 cable goes to the V1. Volume for the headphone is controlled only at the adapter, since the V1 volume control only affects its speaker. The full-strength audio signal is carried by pin 4 of the RJ11 plug but with the audio adapter I have a means to set the volume easily. You could send the audio straight to another device by tapping the signal from pin 4, though.

Although Valentine promotes the fact that the detectors can be upgraded, in reality the cost of the upgrade makes it hardly worth it in some cases. Upgrading my old V1 to new standards (better radar, and adding laser) is within a few dollars of the cost of a refurbished unit.

Valentine One is at http://www.valentine1.com


Rukka Air Power suit

This suit is a two-piece loose-weave garment with removeable Gore-Tex liners. When the liners aren't in, it's about as well-ventilated and cool as a garment can get and still act like real clothing (as opposed to the open-mash types like the Joe Rocket and Vanson, which might be even cooler). Part of this is because the suit, especially the pants, IS your real clothing instead of going over street clothes. While you will probably want to wear a shirt, you will only use something under the pants in very cold weather. This, of course, means that the pants must be comfortable enough to wear all day, which they are.

The Air Power is definitely a touring suit. Adding and removing the liners (to get maximum benefitfrom it) takes time, especially since the boots and pants must both come off, so it will probably spark little interest in the Iron Butt crowd. Leaving the liners in makes the suit warmer than a Roadcrafter, since there is no ventilation through the Gore-Tex, and leaving the liners out leaves you in danger of getting your boots flooded in thunderstorms. Light rainshowers, though, are pleasant and usually welcome when it's warm enough that you don't want the liners in. In the west, when there was no chance of heavy rain, I could ride without the liners except when I wanted them for warmth (like right on the coast). In Alaska, I rode with the liners in all of the time because it was cool enough to do so.

On the east coast, where temperatures are more constant, this will be a great suit except during very hot weather when heavy rain is possible (thunderstorm conditions). In those conditions, I would prefer an Aerostich and the option of unzipping the vents, and still be able to become reasonably waterproof without even having to stop. Additionally, it's not really a commuting suit since street clothes generally don't fit underneath the pants.

In heavy rain, the suit seems completely waterproof. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that in rain (or just in cold weather) the Gore-Tex Liner is what's stopping the air and rain from getting to you, and if it is right against your skin you will get colder than if you were wearing a lined garment like the Roadcrafter. Put another way, while Aerostich and similar products stop the wind and rain at the outermost layer, garments like this one stop them at the innermost layer, while the outer shell is cold and wet. Wearing long john pants and an insulated shirt or heated jacket liner would be a good idea in these conditions.

Wearing an Aerostich, especially a Darien, is like wearing a canvas tent compared to the Air Power suit. There's just no comparison; the Rukka is far more flexible and is cut like actual clothing. The rubber armor is far less obtrusive but probably won't protect as well as the pads Aerostich uses (but itwill last longer). There are several small pockets on the jacket and a small one on the pants as well. Either the outer jacket or its liner can be zipped to the pants; if you zip the liner to the pants you get less airflow through the back of the suit (good in cold weather) and you also ensure that the Gore-Tex sheds water to the outside of the pants' waistband.

The fit and finish is very good; the outer suit has an inner lining and the Gore-Tex liners even have an inner lining. These inner linings do add some bulk and warmth to the suits, and sometimes seem a bit too baggy; they can bunch up at the ends of the legs and sleeves when one is donning the garment, and the pants lining hangs down slightly. Strong zippers are used for the jacket and the inter-garment zipper, and very fine zippers retain the liners to the outer garments at the waist and chest openings. Two buttons retain the end of each limb, providing for adequate retention when taking the garment off. The jacket liner gets zipped up separately, with a snapped flap covering it up before the outer jacket is closed. Both jacket zippers, by the way, are "backwards" compared to typical Americal male clothing. The pants fasten with a double D-ring cinch at the waist, and very nice suspenders are included as well.

If your riding style allows for the trade-offs inherent with this type of suit (with removeable Gore-Tex), the Air Power suit is definitely worth a good look. Keep in mind, there are now two successors to the suit I tested; the Air Power II and Air Power III may eliminate some of the nits that I picked.


Touratech Zega panniers

These aluminum boxes are touted as being among the best in adventure-travel luggage. They're made of relatively thin aluminum, bent around the circumference of the box with a seam weld on the inside. The bottom section has cut/rolled/welded corners, and is spot-welded to the side wall with sealant around and between the welds. The lid is made the same way, and a bent section of extruded aluminum edging is sealed to the top of the side wall and the bottom of the lid. A rubber bead is in the lower half of this joint, making for a waterproof seal when the bag is closed.

Benefits: the bags are pretty light and have a lot of useful space. If damaged in a crash, they can probably be restored to functional condition with a hammer. The lids are full-size, so a bag liner that fits tightly can be removed while full.

Disadvantages: even fairly light accidents will distort them and break the seals at the bottom. The flat aluminum is difficult to restore to true flatness, meaning that it can be hard to get the bags to really mount flatly and tightly to the bike after being damaged. It's very easy to leave a lid unastened and have it blow off while riding, also. A tether system is almost required.

I bought mine (for my R100GS) in Europe for about $650, which is a good value. Much better than the BMW luggage system which is over $500 I think. But now, in the US, the system is about $1000 which makes the Jesse luggage very attractive as an alternative, with similar price and arguably better features.

 


Tank Bags

Big Mak AirBag
Because of the mounting system, which bolts to the fuel filler of the newer BMWs, this tank bag can't slide from side to side, as has happened with other bags on my R1100RS and my R100GS. Additionally, it hinges forward to give easy access to the filler cap. Construction is very good, and there are a lot of thoughtful features such as a pass-through for electrical cables, the ability to use different models of the tankbag on the same mount, and the ability to piggy-back options onto the base tankbag. Although the bag doesn't take specific measures to be waterproof, its basic construction keeps water out in most cases. A wide selection of sizes and options (including rain covers) are available and the price is very reasonable compared to the BMW tankbag. I've used several different bags and this is my favorite by far.

One minor gripe is that they don't use heavy-duty zippers, meaning that they might blow out with age the same way other tabkbags do. Time will tell. I use this bag on my R1100RS, which is the only bike I have that will accept this design.

BMW Multivario
I've used the BMW tankbag on several bikes now (these comments really are focused on the Multivario bags for the Airheads and early K models). These tankbags typically consist of a base that is bike-specific, and a somewhat generic tankbag that zips to it (one complication is that BMW changed zipper specifications at lest twice, and seemingly compatible components might not zip together). This is handy, since the K75 and the R100GS take the same bag, and I could easily move it back and forth with a special base on each bike. The Multivario offers good expandability (more than anyone should use, probably) and good aesthetics.

Although it's a decent tankbag there are a few shortcomings. First of all, the sides tend to lose their form after a while and the tankbag can lean to one side or just collapse on itself. The zippers definitely wear out, making it difficult or impossible to fasten the bag to the bike, add extensions or even close the bag properly. The overall construction of the bags tends to deteriorate over time, with hard use, and the mounting system for the R100GS lets the bag slide to one side easily. I often had the horn blow accidentally when the handlebar contacted the tankbag under tight maneuvering, although this is probably not specific to this tankbag.

Bob Weiss offers service to overhaul Multivario tankbags, replacing the zippers and the sides, overcoming nearly all of the weaknesses I've listed. I use this bag on my K75RT and on my R1100GS, although I increasingly do without it on the GS since it slides from side to side. For the GS, the BarPack and the tank compartment server well for rayying small items. Furthermore, the Wolfman Explorer is probably the bag of choice for the PD, although I haven't tried one.

RKA tankbag
I used the flat RKA tankbag on my R1100RS at first.Being a generic tankbag, it attached using straps at the front and rear, and due to the shape of the tank, the tankbag was prone to sliding from side to side. The most annoying thing, though, was that the zipper to close it runs in one direction only, and was designed so that when the bike is on the sidestand, the 'downhill' side opens first. This makes it very easy to spill loose items in the tankbag onto the ground while opening it, and is in my mind a major design flaw. Opening from the right (upper) side would make a lot more sense. Otherwise, the expandability and shape are fairly nice.


BMW Apparel

Unfortunately by the time I wear something out, it has been discontinued. My favorite BMW article was the Roadster gloves - leather gauntlets with a flannel lining. They were really good as 3-season gloves and I tended to wear them year-round although they were hot in the summer. After about 5 years they are almost worn-out. Not wateproof, but with hand protectors on the bike they stay dry inside for a while unless it's really pouring. These are probably the most comfortable gloves I have ever had.

BMW Gore-Tex boots are really good, but for a while there were problems with new boots not being waterproof. I had to return one pair immediately, but the second was totally waterproof for years. Unfortunately, you cannot return these on an exchange basis; the dealer must return them to BMW and then give a new pair if they are determined to be faulty. When my originals wore out I got a pair of Kalahari boots, which were wonderful except that the buckle latches flopped around. That didn't warrant returning them; the latch was changed when the Kalahari became the Savannah (which wasn't quite as robust, it seemed).