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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Pushing my buttons

Most riders who have a well-honed sense of self-preservation are situationally aware, whether it be road conditions which present potential risk or the actions of other road users.   Something as simple as noticing whether a car driver fails to hold a safe line on a twisty road with poor sight lines, or is fiddling about with something inside the car are all subtle hints to stay well clear.  Unfortunately, we all know that there are plenty of both motorcycle riders and car drivers with poor standards which put other road users at risk.

Being trained in Police Motorcycle Roadcraft has unquestionably raised the standard of situational awareness and consequential actions to mitigate risk from my past mediocre levels but it can be a double-edged sword too!  The training, particularly as an IAM Observer (instructor) means that I never switch off as it's so ingrained.  No apologies for that as it's what keeps us safe.  However, at a personal level, there can be a potential downside.  On social rides, I've had competent non-IAM riders say they prefer me to be up front because they think I'll be formally judging them if I'm down the back.  That's not actually true but it's perceptions that count which is why you don't find IAM members advertising the fact in social settings unless it comes up directly.

Moving on to the main point of this post, it's rather a rhetorical question but at what stage do you take action of some form when you see poor driving which may endanger others?  Where's the line between just shaking your head when you see some dumb driving or riding and doing something about it?  It's something I struggle with, partially because of the ego-free mantra of IAM NZ membership and the connotations of not wanting to be seen as self-righteous.  A couple of years ago, we followed a tourist camper van that was periodically weaving all over the road.  As cops in our area are thin on the ground, we rang the van hire company.  It turned out that the occupants had arrived from the UK just a few hours previously and were clearly jet-lagged.  Fortunately, the hire company had a mobile phone contact for them and got in touch pretty much straight away to sort it out.

Something like the scenario above doesn't take much thinking about but fellow blogger Bandit Rider (Andrew) has just mentioned an encounter with an aggressive SUV driver on a recent ride HERE .  That happened to me two weeks ago so thought I'd share it.

I was driving the car up our twisty coast road and caught up with an Audi 4x4 that was waiting to pass another vehicle.  It was clear that the driver was impatient as it was tailgating the vehicle in front.  The other vehicle pulled over soon after and I followed the Audi which proceeded to cut every corner, including ones which were blind.  I was upset as much as annoyed because he appeared to have his family with him.  Friday afternoon and had probably knocked off work early and was in a hurry, heading for one of many holiday homes on our peninsula.

The tipping point for me came after he exited an obscured corner still partially on the wrong side of the road with something coming the other way.  It wasn't a particularly close shave as the other vehicle had time to brake and move closer to the edge of the road but that was sheer good fortune.  However, what got up my nose was that the Audi driver clearly learned nothing from the event and continued to drive in the same manner.  That was when my conscience kicked in and I took a few of photos of his driving.  One of them is shown below.  For info, we drive on the left in NZ!

Accident waiting to happen

The corner is a tight, heavily-obscured left-hander.  The driver moves to the right hand lane to "straighten out" the corner and note that his brake lights are on.  He repeated this on every LH corner and cut across the centre line on right-handers.  What if a bike or car that was travelling at a reasonable pace was coming in the opposite direction at just the wrong time?

Although there is a *555 phone number to report bad driving, I chose to send the details directly to a senior highway patrol officer I knew professionally for comment.  To cut a long story short, he contacted the driver and had what might be described as a constructive but robust discussion, followed up with a warning letter and a copy of the photo above.  In this instance, I'd like to think that a constructive approach where the driver feels perhaps less resentful than when simply receiving a fine and demerit points may have been quite effective but we can never be certain.

This brings us back to the start point......  how do we decide whether actually do something ourselves about a situation we witness or do we just remark on it and do nothing?  I haven't got an easy answer for that and would love to hear from other people who have wrestled with similar situations.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Were those the days???

Currently, there's a thread running on a Kiwi motorcycle forum asking members what their favourite motorcycling era was and why.  As you might expect, the answers have been heavily influenced by each contributor's age but many of the replies have been both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Consequently, I thought that I'd have a little ramble down memory lane myself and see where it goes.

There's a bit of my motorcycling history in some of the early blog posts but in a nutshell, it started in 1964 when I passed all my national school exams.  My incredulous grandparents bought me a Suzuki 50 as a well-done present.  They had correctly tagged me as not being particularly motivated at that stage and it was a surprise to both them and me that I did ok.  The Suzuki had a horsepower rating in single figures, a massive windscreen and the aerodynamics of an aircraft hangar but despite its feeble performance, it represented freedom to roam wherever I liked.  This was subsequently replaced by a 350cc Triumph Twin which leaked oil everywhere, then a 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 which was my sole transport in all weathers.  It had its fair share of reliability issues but on the positive side, it taught me a lot about practical maintenance, especially when stranded on the roadside with the awful Lucas electrical system.  They didn't call Lucas the Prince of Darkness for no good reason!

At my age, I'm way past embarrassment so the photo below is of me in 1967 (I think), complete with obligatory biker hairstyle of that era.  Marlon Brando and the Wild One movie had a lot to answer for.

A complete poser with a nice Tiger 100

Subsequent engineering studies motivated me to build a drag bike principally as an engineering exercise. Performance parts weren't so readily available over the counter as they are now and I'd like to think that people had to be a lot more innovative to get a competitive edge.  Earlier blog posts describe the work done on Icarus to make it nationally competitive but if it wasn't for the engineering lab facilities and support from the tutors, it wouldn't have happened.  There are plenty of photos of the final version of Icarus in the earlier posts, but the one below is of its first ever outing with its largely standard but supercharged Triumph engine; before the short stroke conversion, nitro and sticky slick.

More balls than I have now!

Developing a career, getting married, emigrating to NZ and raising a family pushed bikes onto the back burner for a while but they were never forgotten.  By the time I returned to them in 1987, Japanese bikes had largely cornered the big bike market, they were supremely reliable, didn't leak oil all over the place and had more performance than most of us could ever use.

My old Blackbird - still outrageous performance nearly 20 years after first hitting the market

Maybe it's partially because of my age but emphasis has definitely shifted from tinkering with bikes to simply getting out and enjoying riding them and trying to ride as well as I can - a big shift.  I dunno whether it's just me but modern bikes in general seem a bit bland, perhaps because they do everything so well.  You really have to look around for a bike which has "character", whatever that word really means.

Soooo..... having had bikes spanning a period of 50 + years, what's my favourite era?  Well, it has to be the late 60's because it had such a seminal influence on me - personal freedom to travel, intertwined with my education and subsequent career as a professional engineer.  Would I go back to bikes of that era?  Not on your nelly, unless it was for just pottering about on locally.  Modern bikes are superior in almost every way, unless you like a bit of tinkering that is!

That last sentence neatly leads me to introduce one of my closest friends, Rick.  We grew up in the UK together and both got into bikes at the same time. Rick has a love of classic vehicles.  Whilst he might strongly disagree with my definition, I use the word "classic" euphemistically, really meaning old crates which need so much maintenance that they are rarely on the road.  He has a Jensen CV8 car and a very early Morgan V8, both of which are a significant drain on his wallet and occasionally, a test of  his sanity.    He used to own a Mk 2 Triumph Trident which was so unreliable that he was on first name terms with the Automobile Association recovery teams in several counties.  Even Rick's legendary fortitude was sorely tested and he ended up selling it after a decade or two of ownership.  Among other bikes, he bought a new Honda Fireblade which curiously, has only done a minimal mileage since its purchase in 1999. Perhaps it was because he actually had to ride the thing rather than constantly tinker with it in his shed.

Despite being fully aware of the reliability issues of Italian vehicles, both two-wheeled and four, he has always hankered after a Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport.   Last year or thereabouts, he bought a late model (the last year it was made was in 2000). It was immaculate and had very low mileage.  I have to admit that it is a lovely-looking bike and the design is anything but bland. 
Rick and his gorgeous Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport

Being cynical and given their reputation,  I would have wondered why it was in such good condition with such low miles since new.  I would have concluded that the then owner had so many problems that it was simply parked under a dust sheet and forgotten about.  Rick was clearly ruled by his heart and bought it.  Predictably, a number of other problems surfaced which were all apparently well-known to owners.  Some of them took quite a bit of engineering to fix, others a lot of thought and patience.  With it being summer in the northern hemisphere, I'm looking forward to tales of great rides but hope that he has retained his AA membership!  Given that Rick is the same age as me (68) and the Guzzi has low bars and high footpegs, I suspect that there will also be tales of Ibuprofen being required on anything other than shortish trips!

So there we are... despite a slightly tongue-in-cheek comparison between bikes of yesteryear and today, and a gentle poke at the difference between owners who like tinkering and those who just like riding; it's been an interesting exercise to consider which era has had the greatest influence.  However, the most important thing is that we all love bikes for whatever reason!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Going Full Circle

Voluntary community work seems to be particularly strong in NZ, almost to the point where it's part of the national psyche and long may it continue! Jennie helps at the local historic gold mining museum and as regular readers know, I volunteer with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  IAM started in the UK and is based on the UK Police Roadcraft training system which is taught for both bikes and cars in several countries.  Passing the Advanced Roadcraft Test is arguably the highest civilian riding/driving qualification in the countries where it is taught.

The Police Roadcraft "bible"

The journey to raise my mediocre riding standard by joining IAM has been documented earlier in the blog.  Firstly by passing the Advanced Test after 8 months of blood, sweat and tears, then going on to train as an Observer (Instructor) which took a further year and enables me to "pay it forward" by helping others.  I'm currently Senior Observer for my region of NZ and spent last weekend in Auckland helping to start a number of riders who have passed their Advanced Test on their journey to becoming Observers themselves.  Hence the reference in the post title as going full circle!

It really is one of those rare occasions in life where there is no downside whatsoever.  I get to ride my bike in the company of people who care about their riding and want to continually upskill.  It also forces me to maintain my personal standards as I get retested every two years!  When I first became an Observer, it was Dan Bateman from Team Oregon rider training in the US who said to me, "Remember that you will forever be known differently now. It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals” .  He was absolutely on the money, but the benefits have been enormous, not the least being my own enjoyment of riding having increased immeasurably.

Anyway, back to the weekend.....

Chief Examiner Philip opening proceedings

The two days consisted of presentations by experienced Observers on the technicalities of how to observe both good riding and improvement opportunities in a rider's skill set and how to succinctly incorporate them into debriefing the rider and giving them a  detailed written report focussing on both the things they do well and improvement areas to practice.

Some of the attentive participants, sweating on what was to come!

Interpersonal skills are also an essential element of being a good Observer in order to positively engage with the people they are mentoring - humility, patience, being constructive and so forth.  Absolutely no place for egos in IAM NZ and that quality is reinforced and treasured by everyone.

Observer Richard covering some of the interpersonal skills

Theory is interspersed with practice rides, where Observers become the "new" riders being assessed and build in subtle errors into their riding.  The Trainee Observers practice observing what riders do well and areas for improvement whilst giving directions over comms.  Having to remember key items in the ride to discuss later whilst maintaining their own standards is far from easy!

Nervous grin from Trainee Observer Hayden as he prepares to observe my riding!

This is my favourite part of the course where Trainee Observers are filled with panic, trying to remember all the positives and improvement areas ready to complete a coherent report on return. Every one of them makes the same comment - so much information to process in addition to maintaining their own riding.   Most of the immediate feedback at ride end is actually rather colourful and involves words that won't bear repeating on these pages. Being called a complete bastard was one of the milder things I've been labelled on previous courses - all in fun of course.  Takes me back to when I was in the same position and what I thought of my mentor!

Trainee Observer Tessa debriefing Steve

At the end of the 2 day course, each Trainee is allocated a permanent Observer mentor who is responsible for coaching the T/O through a series of training modules in real life training situations. The modules are only signed off when the T/O demonstrates repeated mastery of that particular module.  In practical terms, it takes up to a year before reaching the standard required to sit the full Observer Test.  The Test itself  takes the best part of the day.  A written test to check knowledge of the NZ road rules and the Police Roadcraft system - 80% in both sections required to pass.  Next is a one hour assessed ride in motorway, city and country environments to ensure that the Trainee Observer has maintained his or her personal skills.  They are required to give a commentary of their situational awareness and how that is impacting on their riding.  Finally, they are observed conducting an assessment on another rider for around 1 1/2 hours in a range of environments, demonstrating advanced techniques to the trainee if required then conducting a debrief and writing the formal report.

Riders from Auckland and Wellington in deep discussion

If it was easy, it wouldn't have the reputation that it does and riders wouldn't have the level of quiet pride that they do in both achieving a huge personal milestone and having a real impact on road safety.  It also has a spin-off into life away from motorcycling in terms of personal conduct and interaction with other people.  As mentioned earlier, there has been no downside whatsoever to becoming a member of IAM and hopefully, will allow me to enjoy motorcycling well into my 70's.  Not too bad for someone who could be described as a bit of a hooligan until a few years ago!

Finally, one of the riders who joined IAM a year ago has written a blog about his experiences, warts 'n all.  Rob rides a Suzuki Hayabusa and was already what might be described as an experienced rider. Very well written with refreshing honesty and a lot of humour. The first blog post is HERE .  Newer posts can be accessed by clicking on Newer Posts at the bottom of each page or through the archive.  Rob passed his Advanced Test at the start of this month and has now started on the road to becoming an Observer.  Another turn of the wheel!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Bula, bula from Fiji

Bula is Fijian for Hello/Greetings and it gets said about 500 times a day when you're there!

Our 44th wedding anniversary rolls around at the end of the month and although we've visited a good number of the Pacific Islands, Fiji hasn't been one of them.  A good time to rectify that!  We told our adult kids that we were taking a break and received the predictable sarcastic response, "A break from what, exactly?"  We'd booked in at a small resort mainly staffed by residents of a local village on the south-west corner of the main island.  With flying time only 3 hours from Auckland, plus a 45 minute drive to the resort, we could hit the ground running, so to speak.

Air NZ's splendid silver fern logo and tail koru

Land ho!  Arty first shot of Fiji

Upon arrival, the receptionist and Jennie were chatting away and Jennie mentioned that it was our 44th anniversary so on the spot, we were upgraded to a lagoon front property - nice score honey!!!  Huge apartment, massive bed you could have an orgy on (Jennie says, "in your dreams, boy") with a spa bath out on the deck.  Shell necklaces on the bed shaped to say "Bula" along with fresh hibiscus flowers - nice touch!

Step straight off the deck onto the lawn and this is what you see (and you could hear the clunk of my jaw hitting the deck).  The other person on this trip was far more refined than her less cultured husband and took it all in her stride.

I suppose it'll have to do......

The rest of the day was spent exploring all the facilities and planning adventures for the coming days. Oh, and quietly sipping the odd beer and cocktails!

Tough day at the office

Fijians, like most Pacific Islanders, are incredibly friendly and really go the extra mile to make sure that visitors to their shores enjoy the experience.  The service isn't the formal type that you would expect perhaps in Europe or Asia, it's low key and laid back but totally on the ball - love it!

Every evening, there was a local cultural performance of some kind and beautifully done, followed by dinner under the stars and a stroll back to our room...... magic.

Jennie seemed to be taking an exceptionally keen interest.....

Curved swimming pool lit from under water - spectacular

An encounter with a local villager at the lagoon ended with us being taken for a boat tour round a nearby island where they keep their goats and pigs, even dropping us off on a deserted beach to walk the length of it and picking us up at the other end.  Really doesn't get better than that.

Village boats at the lagoon entrance

Off we go......

One of the island deserted beaches - well, apart from.....

Never let it be said that that our holidays don't lack variety.  Just before we arrived, it was reported in the international press that a tourist had found a human body part on a beach not far from us.  The Fijian navy divers were brought in to search the reef  and we saw them heading out on several mornings.  Apparently, it involved a Russian couple who were living on the island so who knows what the investigation will reveal!

Back to more relaxing parts of the break, we love visiting produce markets to see what is grown and to chat with locals.  Fiji grows the usual range of gorgeous tropical fruits and the range of vegetables was pretty impressive.  We were particularly impressed with taro root chips seasoned with fiery local chilli powder - made quite a change from normal potato chips.  A little less keen to try fish that had been sitting in the sun for a couple of hours though.

Beautiful fresh produce at amazingly low prices by western standards

A trip to an eco reserve area to look at some local wildlife showed various bird species with the most amazing colours, as well as all sorts of reptiles.  Jennie didn't seem at all fazed handling a snake!  Here's an interesting factoid...... Fiji imported mongooses (mongeese?) to control snakes which live in their sugar cane plantations.  You see them trotting about all over the place.

Unbelievable colours

Snakes alive.......

Wild ginger

Bright colours weren't just restricted to land animals and plants, with the reef fish also having spectacular colours, as well as starfish the size of dinner plates having the most amazing electric blue colour.

Fiji must be called the land of sunsets as every night was stunning and quite different - here's a selection which were an utter privilege to see....

Locals in traditional grass skirts silhouetted at sunset

No self-respecting moto blog avoids food porn and on our last night, we had dinner at their award-winning top restaurant.  My word, the service and food quality were equal to the best food we've had anywhere.  Amuse-bouche to start, then wonderful palate-cleaners such as homemade mango sorbet between courses....... doing it in style!

Dinner under the stars

Exquisite presentation - sure beats the normal biker meat pie at a gas station!

At the end of the meal, the staff sprang a lovely surprise on us with an extra dessert of fresh mango cheesecake with coconut ice cream and anniversary greetings piped in dark chocolate.  The only downer was that Jennie wouldn't let me lick the chocolate off the plate, but there again, she's always had a sight more class than me.


In a recent post, Aussie moto-blogger Chillertek took the mickey by asking what sort of a busy social life was possible for a 68 year old (i.e. me) to have.  Well Steve, now you know - one with no debt and kids who have left home *grin* .

Wonder where the next adventure will take us?

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Service time and other stuff!

It's hard typing with Annie cat on my lap demanding attention......

It was the winter solstice yesterday in the Southern Hemisphere - days get longer from now.  In a recent post, fellow moto-blogger Sonja asked what was wrong with the weather.  That applied to Europe and Germany in particular but the same applies down south.  Torrential rain and floods on the eastern seaboard of Australia and New Zealand has had its fair share of rain too.  However, on the positive side, the weather has been unseasonably warm for the last few days and temperature records are being set in many parts of the country.  Our village peaked at 18 degrees C yesterday - not bad for mid-winter!

The Suzuki has racked up 12,000 km from new in about 6 months, (90% of it mentoring with IAM) and was due for its first significant service, With a dire weather forecast for the rest of the week, I thought it would be good to get it over and done with.  The dealer I bought it from in Auckland has a really professional and likeable sales team but when taking it back for the 1000 km check, their service team gave the impression of indifference.  That may be unfair, but it's impressions which count.

A few weekends ago, I copped a rear puncture near the city of Hamilton.  It was a relatively slow leak but being 170 km from home, I didn't want to risk a temporary fix failing and leaving me stranded miles from anywhere.  A quick call to Boyd Suzuki in Hamilton who were just open for the Saturday morning saw a really sympathetic response. They said just get the bike to them and they'll look at it straight away.  They were as good as their word, fixed the tyre and I was on my way in less than an hour.  Even better, the total cost including labour was only NZ$45 - fantastic!  They may not have made much on that repair but their excellent service has seen me switch my business to them.  A real example of the impact of good customer service.  More on this later.

Getting ready for the trip south under threatening skies

Arriving in Hamilton 2 1/4 hours after setting off, the bike was taken off to the workshop as soon as I dismounted and was told that it would be around an hour and a half to complete the service.  Felt a bit sorry for the technician as I'd cleaned the bike for him and by the time we got there, it was covered in crap again from the damp roads.

With a bit of time to kill, there was plenty of time to wander round their well-appointed accessories area and showroom.  With a fairly new bike, there was no risk of being beaten to a pulp by Jennie for putting a deposit on a new one so it was a good opportunity to cast a dispassionate eye over the Suzuki, BMW and KTM range which they stocked.  However, that didn't negate a drool over the accessories!

A small part of their accessories area

My current textile riding pants are at least 5 years old.  The term "waterproof" was clearly added to their advertising material by a marketing team who had their fingers crossed behind their collective backs.  They leaked in the crotch about 2 weeks after purchase so plastic overtrousers were always worn over the top for longer hauls.  However, it got to the stage where even regular applications of Nikwax Tech Wash and Nikwax waterproofers failed to stop me looking like I was incontinent, even on short runs.  What a great time to browse along the racks for replacement pants!

There was no way I could justify the expense of Rukka gear or similar but a browse of various websites saw owners singing the praises of mid-priced Rev'it Factor 3 pants. Lo and behold, there was a pair of my size in stock so it was off to the changing room. Lots of quality fittings on the pants and they were a perfect fit, even with armour in all the right places. One feature that I particularly like is that they are a relatively slim cut.  My old ones are quite baggy and I've always felt that I looked like the sort of rider who features in 1950's and 60's adverts for sensible 500cc British single cylinder machines.  Different story with my silver and black summer leathers - mutton dressed as lamb!

A brisk march up to the accessories counter with the impending purchase gave a nice surprise in that the person behind the counter was someone I knew.  Kat used to work at the Triumph franchise up the road and we'd always got on really well when I owned the Street Triple.  She gave me a nice discount on the pants which was completely unexpected and certainly added to the customer experience. It's instances like this which go a long way to building customer loyalty.

Rev'it Factor 3 textile pants

With that part of business concluded, it was time for a wander round the showrooms.  The first thing which struck me was that if you pulled the decals off most faired sport bikes and painted them the same colour, it would be a real challenge without closer inspection to determine what brand they were - simply not enough differentiation for any one of them to stand out above the rest.  However, the naked or semi-naked bikes did show a bit of design flair, even if some of them weren't to my particular taste (whatever that might be!)

Having (probably unjustifiably) dismissed faired bikes in a single sentence, I must say that the KTM range were particularly appealing.  With their ladder frames, sharp edges and bold colours, they were really eye-catching. The bike in the foreground of the photo below is a 200 cc learner-compliant bike and is as sexy as hell - never thought I'd be saying that about a 200!  I'd happily own one of the naked KTM 390 or 690 singles for behaving badly on in the twisties close to home.  Small fuel tanks would put me off one for longer journeys but I guess it's the old adage about fitness for purpose.

The sexy KTM range

My eye was caught by the rear view of the latest BMW 1200 GS below.  Fellow moto-blogger Nikos will probably put a contract on me for saying it but I wondered who had sneaked a main battle tank into the line-up of bikes - bloody hell, it's a wide beast!  The designer was probably a military vehicle or agricultural equipment designer in a past life.  Being towards the end of the queue when long legs were handed out, I'd be looking in the accessories catalogue for retractable trainer wheels.  Having gently taken the mickey, I'll freely admit that it was a 1200 GS that had little trouble in keeping up with my Street Triple on our local and bumpy twisties when I was trying hard to shake it off.  And of course, for pan-continental journeys, they are almost without peer.

A sturdy Bavarian ummm... motorcycle

The BMW XR1000 shown below looks anything but agricultural.  Tall but slim, it defies any normal label of adventure, sports or touring with a modified 4 cylinder motor from the flagship superbike chucking out 160 bhp. Not really sure how well it will sell in NZ as buyers of adventure bikes over here generally use them at least in part for genuine off-roading.  How well the XR would handle anything other than a bit of fairly smooth gravel would be interesting to see. 

Very stylish XR 1000

There were two BMW's which really caught my eye.  I almost missed the first one as it was wedged between some other bikes and was painted gloss black without any lurid decals - a real stealth weapon if ever there was one.  This was the S1000R super-naked with essentially the same motor as the XR.  It was so slim and compact that it could easily be taken for a small capacity bike.  An unobtrusive real missile - my kind of bike!

I did manage to photograph the other bike with real appeal (below).  This is the first time I'd seen an R9T in the flesh.  Its apparent elegant simplicity really shone - what you might call "retro chic", I suppose. Polished metal fuel tank, uncluttered looks, a seat height for the vertically challenged - just lovely.  Price tag very similar to the new Thruxton Bonneville 1200.  It will be interesting to see how sales of both go.

The R9T - gorgeous simplicity

Sure enough, the GSX-S was ready bang on time and what's more, they'd washed all the crap off too, bless them! The total bill, including the new pants was a shade under NZ$600.  Admittedly, it wasn't the sort of major service requiring the bike to be half-stripped but nonetheless, it was a good price which will keep me going back.  Finishing on a light note, I left Boyds and stopped at the traffic signals about half a kilometre up the road.  Suddenly, there was an alarming amount of steam coming up from the bike and for a heart-stopping instant, I thought a radiator hose had come off or developed a leak.  It's amazing just how much water the radiator fins hold after a wash - the surplus was just flashing off as the engine came up to temperature!

All in all, a rather splendid day........

Friday, 3 June 2016

In praise of warm paws, a tyre update and other stuff

Even where we live in NZ, we get sometimes light winter frosts first thing in the morning.  Before readers who get REAL winters tell me to harden up, let me explain!  Most of the mentoring I do involves 500 km days, often in colder parts of the country which also means early starts from home.

On a naked bike, wind chill is a big factor.  I hate the loss of feel with thick winter gloves and although I've had heated grips on some previous bikes, my fingers have still suffered on longer runs.  Not good for control, especially when in the company of other riders.  Last spring, I took the plunge and bought some Gerbing G3 heated gloves from Revzilla in the US.  They sat in the cupboard until yesterday when the first cold spell of winter struck - the first opportunity to try them out in anger!

Gerbing G3 heated gloves

The gloves themselves have heating wires throughout the whole glove, including the fingers which is what I saw as the big advantage over heated grips. The componentry consists of a fused connector to the battery, a variable temperature controller and a wiring loom from the controller to the gloves.  In my case, this goes up the inside back of my cordura jacket and down through the sleeves between the jacket liner and the shell.  Gloves were US$140 and the temperature controller a further US$50 -  a little more than heated grips but not expensive in the scheme of things.  Incidentally, the gloves are made from the softest leather I've ever encountered.

Battery connector from under the seat - tucked away when not in use

Connector to the temperature controller

Temperature controller

The temperature controller sits in a small digital camera case which is looped onto the waist tensioners of my jacket - very quick to adjust (but not on the move!)

Connector from sleeve to glove

Connecting everything up is hassle-free as the ample wiring length means that you can connect up the gloves before slipping them on.  It's easy to run the surplus back up your sleeve but it's not really necessary as they don't flap about or get in the way of anything.  Similarly, there is sufficient length in the wiring from the controller to enable you to get on and off the bike without having to unplug.  The connectors look pretty sturdy which was a worry when initially buying the gloves as fellow moto-blogger Richard Machida let me know that he'd had some connector breakages on his. Perhaps they've been redesigned since then but time will tell.  Besides, with Richard residing in Alaska, his probably get a lot more use than they're likely to in NZ!

On to the million dollar question - do they work?  Well, before leaving home yesterday, I deliberately set them at the low end of the range and they were fine in 2 or 3 degrees C temperatures.  Plenty of scope for cranking them up when temperatures drop even lower!  Happy?  You bet!

In a previous post, regular readers will remember that I was less than impressed with the Dunlop D214 sport tyres which were OEM on the Suzuki GSX-S 1000.  There were several reasons for this but as I cover up to 20,000 km per year and the rear D214 only lasted for 3700km before having to be replaced, cost was certainly a consideration!  I reverted to Michelin PR4's which I'd had on the Street Triple.  As well as being better suited for a bigger range of weather conditions, speed of roll-in to corners was markedly improved as the 55 profile PR4 has a sharper crown than the 50 profile D214.  The PR4 has now racked up nearly 7000km including a trackday. The profile remains excellent with heaps of tread left.  I'm picking that life will be 10000 km or better, which is pretty satisfactory on a 1 litre sport bike.

PR4 at ~7000 km

Finally, nothing to do with motorcycles but living in a benign climate, there are plants flowering in our garden through the whole winter.  Here's a selection of photos I've just taken.

Neoregelia Carolinae Tricolor bromeliad and the ever-present Annie

Close-up of unknown bromeliad variety

Various bromeliads - the banded Vresia is nearly a metre across

Climbing orchid

Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Bee's Knees, a visitor and how we choose our bikes

The Bee's Knees
Blame it on a combination of discus throwing as a school athlete and competitive sailing later on in life but my 68 year old knees aren't in the best of shape.  I had reconstructive surgery on one knee in 1980 but thanks to the benefits of cycling, I've managed to keep away from the butcher's (sorry, surgeon's) knife since then.

However, riding a sports bike with high pegs does cause aching knees after a day in the saddle. Waving my legs in the breeze to get relief during a longer haul is a regular occurrence. Not wishing to join that well-known geriatric biker gang "Sons of Arthritis, Ipuprofen Chapter" because of  an aversion to regular medication, it was time to look at other options.

Striking fear into the public 

Some years ago, I fitted a footpeg-lowering kit to my Honda Blackbird and although it was only a 25mm drop, the difference in comfort levels was huge.  A quick search of the internet revealed several options for the GSX-S. Some looked cheap and nasty and others over-engineered and pricey. The nicest-looking alternative was from a Buell, but required a bit of grinding, plus bushing of the pivot holes. I then found a member of a Hayabusa forum who sold a complete kit, using Buell pegs but professionally machined to suit the 'busa.  Trouble was, the forum post was 2008 so was he still around?  Sent an email, got a reply in less than 2 hours and yes, he was still making them and they fitted the GSX-S - yippee!!!

The postman arrived with a package from the US and it was instantly torn open.  What a treat to see some engineering of the highest quality - all properly bushed and polished.  In fact, they are better finished than the originals.  Kudos to Joe Satterwhite for setting such high personal standards.

Yumm - shiny farkles!

About 20mm longer and 25mm lower than OEM pegs

The first job was to get a builder's level out so that the height difference from standard footpegs to both the gear change and brake pedals could be measured and replicated with the new lower pegs. With that done, the old pegs were removed and the new ones fitted in under 10 minutes, including applying lubricant.  At this stage, I'm not going to transfer the "hero blobs" from the OEM pegs until I've tried them out on a reasonable distance run.

The final stage of fitting was a bit more time-consuming.  The gear pedal was easy to adjust to the new height - just undo two nuts on the change linkage, turn the threaded rod until the right measurement was attained and lock it all up again.

Setting up the gear linkage

The time-consuming bit was setting up the brake position.  To get the correct measurement, I had to cut a few mm off the thread of the brake cylinder clevis pin and it was easier to slacken off the whole footrest assembly to do this. The old pegs can still be re-fitted even with some thread removed so no worries on that score. The fiddly bit was adjusting the rear brake light activation switch to compensate for the new position of the brake lever - fingers like ET would have been really useful to stop getting cramp in them!!

The whole job took less than an hour and a half to complete, looks great and feels really comfortable - now to try it on a decent run!

The finished article

A Visitor to our Shores
The world is indeed a small place.  Jennie and I were on Vancouver Island in 2014 as part of a trip through Canada and Alaska.  Because of time constraints, we were unable to meet up with fellow moto-blogger Darlene aka Princess Scooterpie who volunteers as a motorcycle instructor on the island.  However, I recently received a message from Dar saying that a fellow instructor from the island; expat Kiwi, Debra Roberts would be visiting family in our neck of the woods so lunch at our place was hastily arranged.  Being bikers and both involved in training, we instantly clicked and it was non-stop chat.  Serendipity at its best, just a shame that we weren't able to get out together for a ride.

Debra and an old guy....

How we choose our bikes
And now for something completely different which might strike a chord.......

Y'know...... choosing and buying a new bike is normally a long(ish) process and involves much poring over brochures and specs, reading reviews and so on, culminating in a series of test rides. Most of the previous sentence involves dispassionate analysis and logic which is actually pretty straightforward.  Buying with the head is one thing but to be truly satisfied, a purchase involves both head and heart, doesn't it?   A darned sight harder to define what it is about bikes which touch the heart as it's such a personal thing.

When I bought the Street Triple, a Ducati Monster, Speed Triple and Thruxton Bonneville were tried too but it was only the Street Triple that made me say "I want it and I want it NOW".  Let it be said, it wasn't very long into the test ride either!  Six happy years ensued and it would get a pat and smile when I walked past it in the shed.  It was only replaced because the km's were getting up a bit but also because I had Chief Executive Permission to do so.  (Guys reading this may nod knowingly).

I won't go into the details of looking for a replacement as it is is covered HERE but the selection process was unusually rapid.... almost instant in fact.  The test ride of the GSX-S1000 revealed a bike with sensational performance, lots of features such as traction control/ABS and it had great ergonomics.  What was not to like, so I bought one.

Geriatric biker goes out for a quiet ride

Six months and closing on 10,000 km from new, I've sorted the suspension, it's now got good rubber, done a trackday and lots of mentoring with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  A worthy replacement or step up from the Street Triple? Well actually, that's highly debatable and if pressed, I might say no.  I'm certainly not disappointed with its performance but it's not light years better than the Street Triple for my everyday road use. So what's the reason then?  Riding it is enjoyable and fun, but it's not exhilarating.  Bland is not quite the right word, not feeling "as one" with the bike is not quite the right description either. To be candid, I can't give you any concise specifics that make sense, but in a nutshell, there's no emotional connection.  Looking back on the test ride, it didn't "sing" to me like the Triple did and should have listened to my heart.  It gets properly cleaned and detailed because I'm an anal retentive engineer, not because it's a labour of love.  It doesn't get patted when I walk past it in the shed and that's probably the most telling thing of all. This is all a bit of a ramble but hopefully, other riders will make sense of it and understand.

Does this mean that I'm looking to replace the Gixxer?  Well no, at least not in the immediate future but it's unlikely that ownership will continue for more than another year or two at most. It's enjoyable but I want more than that. Looking at the 1200 Bonneville press releases, there's a bit of a heart flutter probably based on nostalgia, but who knows what will whisper in my ear when the time comes?

S'pose you could sum it up by saying that if you don't use both your head and heart when getting a new bike, it might not be a match made in heaven.  The path to true love is rarely a smooth one!