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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Under African Skies, pt 1

I'd better start with an apology for pinching the title of Paul Simon's wonderful song but it's an accurate reflection of what Jennie and I have just been up to.

We always head off somewhere to celebrate our wedding anniversaries and celebrating 45 years of marriage required something a bit special, as does our forthcoming 70th birthdays!  Cruising the north west coast of Australia and exploring the inland wilderness of that region was an early possibility, as was self-driving the magnificent national parks in Utah and Arizona.  However, we managed to find something which fitted the bill perfectly - a safari for just 6 people through Tanzania and Kenya in a 4x4 - pure magic!!  Errr.... I did initially suggest a new 765 Street Triple as my half of the celebrations but it was suggested that my health could suddenly take a turn for the worse.

However, getting there from NZ is a bit of a nightmare.  The options were several plane changes and waiting around at various airports, or face the world's longest non-stop commercial flight at 18-odd hours from Auckland to Doha in Qatar, then a 6 hour hop to Nairobi.  Facing a solid 18 hours in cattle class would be a killer so we decided that as part of the special celebrations, it would be business class, decent shuteye and hit the ground running (well almost).  Haven't travelled business class since retiring so being pampered is a rare treat!

Well, travelling business class on long haul was definitely the way to go.  Apart from the excellent food and all the pampering, converting the seats to full beds meant that we were able to get around 7 hours good shuteye and not feel like zombies when we arrived.
Boeing 777-200 LR business cabin. Room to stretch out - could get used to this!

Adding to the experience was the express processing for business class passengers - out of the airport in about 20 minutes from landing.  We were met by a hotel chauffeur with a top of the range Lexus saloon.  As soon as Jennie saw the flash car, she whispered, "We're not going to have a repeat of Thailand, are we?" Regular readers may remember that incident but for those who don't, it's HERE .
Having received the warning shot across the bows, I behaved like we did this sort of stuff all the time and received approving looks from the CEO.

Whilst still in NZ, we had booked a desert trip in a 4x4 but weren't really sure what to expect.  The first surprise was when our driver arrived at the hotel to pick us up.  Close to 7ft tall, he was an imposing character but softly spoken with an excellent sense of humour.

Seriously tall timber!

The 4x4 was a fully-spec'd Toyota Land Cruiser with a 5.3 litre V8 and an impressive amount of grunt.  On the drive out to the desert which took close to an hour, it was a good opportunity to find out a bit about Qatar from a local.  Like many Middle Eastern countries, it's run by a royal family and is seriously rich based on an oil economy and its spin-offs. However, what impressed us was that the rulers are clearly aware that reliance on oil is a strictly temporary arrangement in the scale of time.  They've embarked on a project called National Vision 2030 to develop an integrated approach to economic, social, technological and environmental harmony.  Progress is already evident with massive spending on getting the infrastructure right to support long term growth.  There are world-class roads and support networks being built everywhere to cope with sustained growth although it seems weird at present with very little traffic on them.

Rush hour in Qatar

Roads to nowhere, but all part of a long term plan

There were signs of the oil and gas industry everywhere with flare stacks sticking out of the desert. The sky was a strange colour in a lot of places but we reckon it was caused by the wind picking up fine sand from the desert and partially blocking out the sun.

Sand, oil and gas everywhere!

Eventually, we reached the seriously big dunes and joined up with 3 other vehicles from the tour country.  Whilst they were dropping tyre pressures to cope with the sand, Jennie and I hopped outside to take in the views.  Crikey, that was a shock!  45 degrees C (113F) and windy.  Very easy to see how short survival time would be without proper measures.

White robes make a lot of sense in these temperatures!

The 4x4 drivers are seriously experienced and skilled which is just as well as this was no granny tour! Absolutely exhilarating would be an understatement as we were really flying and sliding all over the place.  On one flat stretch, I saw the speedo touching 140 km/hr which ain't bad on sand!

And off we go at speed......

Stopping at the crest of one massive dune, I thought we were stopping to admire the view but we were merely lining up to plunge down a frighteningly steep angle for several hundred feet - talk about an adrenaline rush!!!

Oh shiiiit.......

Making it down safely - our turn next!

We also stopped at what they called the Inland Sea where marching dunes had completely cut off the sea, forming a huge saltwater lake.  It looked surreal with the sand going straight into the water.

Part of the inland sea

Wilting tourists blocking the view

Fair screaming along - watch out for the dropoff!

A quick break at a desert camp - pretty opulent tents!

Heading back in a different direction, we came across several people hang gliding the dunes which provided perfect lift.  Guess they were used to the heat and wind!

Hang gliders launching off the dunes

A really great start to our holiday.  Apart from the dune-bashing thrill, it's always a wonderful experience to see other countries and cultures for the first time.  Qatar was a delightful surprise and we were really impressed with their plans for the future when oil revenue starts to dry up.

Right, into Africa in the next instalment!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Trouble in Paradise

A while back, I made a post about the proactive measures being taken by the NZTA, the country's national highways agency to make one of the country's great motorcycling roads, the Coromandel Loop; safer for motorcyclists by involving them in the decision-making.  That post is HERE .  I then made a subsequent post with photos showing the damage to the Thames-Coromandel section of the Loop from some particularly nasty storms and this is the link: HERE .

Since then, there have been more temporary road closures caused by short duration heavy rains.  The problem is that the storms earlier in the year seriously weakened both the soil bond on the rock cliff faces and even opened cracks in the rock structures.  The result of this is that every time it rains, there's a good chance that previously weakened rocks, trees and clay are going to come down onto the road in many places and the road will be closed for several hours whilst the landslips are cleared. There is another route off the Coromandel Peninsula but from where we live, it adds between 1 - 1 1/2 hours to any journey so the normal preference is to stay home and wait for the road to be cleared unless the trip is absolutely necessary.

Big boulder fall near Thames
(source: Stuff news website)

Not what you want falling on your head whilst riding
(source: Stuff news website)

However, even with the coast road open, there's currently another hazard for motorcyclists.  The clean-up crews are still in fire-fighting mode getting rid of the slips and other materials which come off the cliff faces and haven't had time for any proper remedial work.  The normal drainage channels at the bottom of the cliffs have become blocked with silt.  What this means is that rainwater picks up clay from the cliffs and floods straight across the road in numerous places, often round blind bends. Wet clay has bugger-all grip and even with traction control on the most sensitive setting and care being exercised, I've had a few puckering moments in the trouser region.  Even when it's dry, the clay granules still present a potential sliding hazard.

What this means is that for riders, most of the initiatives which the NZTA roading authority was initiating on behalf of riders is pretty much on the back burner until a semblance of normality returns to this stretch of road which is likely to be months away.  No big deal in the scheme of things and no point in getting worked up about Mother Nature.  In the meantime, residents of the area can get regular updates of road closure status to their phones on an almost hourly basis or log directly onto the NZTA website to avoid getting turned around.  

Typical live on-line road hazard map for the Coromandel Peninsula

The inconvenience to motorcyclists is exceedingly small in the scale of things. The impact on local businesses which rely on tourist trade in particular are enormous when faced with road closures. Here's a link to a video and article which appeared today on a news website concerning the impact on business: LINK .  Sadly, events like this affects the economy of the whole region.  

Let's just hope that we get a decent run of fine weather as spring arrives and everyone can get back to normal for the main tourist season, as well as making my commute for IAM coaching to be a whole lot more pleasurable.  Getting clay off the bike after every ride is also getting a bit tedious!

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Metzler Roadtec 01 end of life review

Regular readers of this blog will know the history of the tyres I’ve had on the GSX-S 1000 from previous posts.  By way of a brief recap, the OEM Dunlop D214 pure sport tyres were horrid things for road use in NZ where it’s eminently possible to get 4 seasons in one day.  Grip in warm, dry conditions was fine but when it was cooler and damp, they were bastards (to use a technical term). Hard to get enough heat in them in those circumstances for decent grip and I didn’t trust them.  Also bearing in mind that I was breaking the bike in during this period, a rear tyre life of 3700 km to a completely ruined state was pretty underwhelming.  It was also potentially bankrupting considering that I generally cover about 20,000 km/yr.

The replacement set of choice were the Michelin PR4's, having used them on my Street Triple and having found them a brilliant all-round tyre with exceptional wet weather grip properties. They even survived a track day without complaining too much.  A 55 profile tyre was chosen as opposed to the OEM 50 profile in the hope of getting a quicker turn-in and it worked – much easier to change line in twisty conditions.  Approximate rear tyre life was an entirely acceptable 12,500 km and both hoops retained a reasonable profile and decent handling throughout.  Photos and a more detailed account can be found HERE .  It goes without saying that tyre life is governed by many factors...... road characteristics (surface, temperature, ratio of twists and straights etc), total loaded weight, riding style and many more aspects.  However, life comparisons between tyres in my case are valid because I travel the same type of roads, most of my riding is tied up with advanced roadcraft coaching and I don't commute.

I would have happily replaced them with another set but the relatively newly-released Metzler Roadtec 01’s had been launched to critical acclaim by motorcycling journalists. Like the PR4, wet weather performance was reputed to be outstanding.  No harm in giving them a try so I purchased a set, also 55 profile.

 New Metzler Roadtec 01 tyres

The first ride on new tyres is always a cautious one to bed them in but also because the handling feels very sensitive after running on older tyres.  However, on subsequent rides, the 01's felt slightly quicker turning in than the PR4's and the front end felt marginally more planted. It may be due to the 01 front tyre not having transverse sipes like the PR4 but in any event, the difference is pretty small. My impression is that the Roadtec 01 has a slightly sportier feel than the PR4 but again, it's not a massive difference.

In the wet, I haven't noticed any difference in grip between the PR4 and the Roadtec 01, they are both terrific in both wet conditions and dry public roads.  Under rigorous measurement with a better rider than me, there may well be a difference between the two brands but for my standard of riding and end use, they are both totally fit for purpose in terms of grip and feel.

So what about life?  I've just racked up 11000 km and the centre of the rear tyre is close to the legal minimum of 1.5 mm. The front has a lot more depth but they will both be replaced within the next 1000 km.  That means that life is near as dammit the same as the PR4's.  I ran the same cold pressures at 39-40 psi rear and 36 psi front for both brands.

The rear hoop has retained its shape pretty well as the photos below show.  Not having a significant central flat spot must be in part due to riding on mainly twisty roads with no commuting.

Rear Metzler Roadtec 01 @11000 km

Rear Metzler Roadtec 01 @ 11000 km (45 degree angle view)

The profile of the front tyre is interesting as it has lost its shape, particularly in the last couple of thousand km, with significant "flats" towards the edges.  Part of this is undoubtedly due to the twisty roads in our region which I mentioned earlier and the amount of countersteering employed when riding at a reasonable pace.  I wouldn't have a clue whether carcass construction to give a bigger footprint when leaned over has any bearing on the wear pattern (see below).  Also, the leading edge of each rain groove is higher than the rear edge but doesn't seem to affect the handling. It doesn't show in the photos. It just looks odd. Not really classic cupping. 

Wear profile of front Metzler Roadtec 01 @ 11000km

Front Metzler Roadtec 01 @11000 km
Arrow shows the area of flattening around the circumference

In summary, I'd be perfectly happy to fit either the PR4 or Roadtec 01 but will be going with the 01's again to build up a bit more comparative experience with them.  Both fantastic tyres for the all-weather riding I do and both exceed the 10,000 km minimum life that I mentally set for my particular use,

Tyre prices in NZ tend to be higher than in bigger countries because of the shipping costs, economies of scale and relative lack of competition. Current prices vary a bit between dealers but the fitted price for a pair of standard load rating Metzler Roadtec 01's (120x70 -17 front and 190x55-17 rear is around NZD640/USD460/AUD603.  Michelin PR4's for the same size are around NZD605/USD425/AUD570 .  Does the price difference matter to me?  Not really that important, tyres are such an important safety factor that skimping simply isn't worth it.  

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Shoei GT Air Review

This isn't a full review of the GT Air helmet, you can find plenty of reviews on the web, including the YouTube videos hosted by the ever-enthusiastic Anthony from Revzilla.  This is a bit more personally-oriented in selecting one for my specific needs and finding out whether the selection process actually worked!

The GT Air Expanse TC4

A confession......

My much-loved old Shoei helmet is 9 years old.  Funny how time gets away on you without noticing! It's been so comfortable that it's one of those things you tend not to think about, particularly as it looks pristine.  Still, looks aren't everything and it's about twice as old as normal recommendations for the life of a helmet - rather embarrassing!

What actually triggered thoughts of a replacement was the recent purchase of some custom-moulded silicone ear plugs. They don't deform like foam ones and there was pressure on them from my Sena comms speakers which was quite distracting.  I need comms for my IAM mentoring and it's pretty handy on social rides too.  Once the trigger was pulled to look for a replacement, speaker cutout space became the main consideration.  Another factor was dazzle from the sun.  I've gone down the route of carrying two visors for weather changes and riding in the dark and it can be a pain for various reasons.  Also, a really dark visor causes problems when you're entering shaded areas having been out in bright light.  Iridium-coated visors offered a partial solution and so did my last visor with a graded tint but boy, I've spent some money on visors over the years - I've just counted 10 good ones in the cupboard!

My good mate and fellow IAM Observer and blogger Rob Van Proemeren has just bought a Shoei GT Air and the first thing I asked was about space for speakers and he said that they seemed quite deep.  The other feature is an internal flip-up smoked visor which seemed a sensible alternative to a cupboard full of visors!  I should mention that I then floated the idea of a new helmet to my Chief Financial Officer on safety grounds and bless her heart, she thought my head was worth preserving.  Discussing the myriad of colour schemes shown on the web, I preferred a blue and white livery and she preferred the one with green highlights.  See the photo above - you know what's coming, don't you??  Anyway, armed with comms and new earplugs when visiting my favourite dealer a couple of days later, the GT Air was indeed the bees knees (or the dogs bollocks, depending on where you come from in the world).  Shoei helmets are perfect for my head shape.  Arai's and some others aren't. But what about the chosen colour, I hear you ask?  My more cynical friends would say that I caved in to Jennie.  However, hand on heart, the green highlighting and gold pinstripes looks far nicer in natural daylight than blue.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it..

So far,  I've done an almost continuous 500 km ride which is a good test of comfort.  So what are the things I've noticed?  Let's start with a small negative... I wear spectacles and in the still air confines of the house before I jump on the bike, a bit of huffing and puffing can mist up my specs, even with the visor open. I think this is because of the detachable breath guard.  It's designed to deflect breath away from the visor but in doing so, I think it deflects it back onto my specs.  I could fix the problem by removing the guard but it's not a really serious matter so will leave it in place for the time being. It doesn't happen in the open air.

Right, onto the positives....

It's supremely comfortable.  The speaker cutouts are indeed deep enough to accommodate the Sena speakers and new ear plugs without interference.  Soft infills come with the helmet if you don't have speakers.  It's a perfect fit all round and I didn't experience any irritating pressure points during the ride.

Deep cutouts for speakers

At 1.6 kg, it's a little lighter than my old Shoei thanks to composite construction and thanks to the good fit and decent aerodynamics, it feels very stable at normal road speeds.  This reduces fatigue as does the other notable feature - it's very quiet compared with the old Shoei.  Listening to the coms is just like having the person stand next to you.  As well as the good fit, there's been attention to detail to reduce noise levels in terms of a chin guard, vent design and even the flip-up tag on the visor has been aerodynamically shaped.  Also, due to the visor closing mechanism design, it's pulled back hard against the rubber seal, eliminating air whistle.  The other benefit is that it seems unlikely that water will dribble down the inside of the visor.  It certainly didn't during a short downpour on my ride.  Another feature which I hope never to use is quick release side pads so that the helmet can be easily removed in the case of an accident.  Incidentally, the whole helmet lining is removable for washing. Only the cheek pads were removable on the old helmet so I'm sure that various life forms had set up residence in there over the years.

Visor mechanism - all sorts of springs and cams and stuff - leave well alone!

No misting.  The pinlock insert which is supplied with the helmet takes care of misting but the vents also seem quite efficient - you can feel the air movement inside the helmet.  Very reassuring in adverse conditions.  The helmet is also a little longer fore and aft than the older one, meaning that my face is a little further away from the front.  Also handy as it gives a bit more clearance for the Sena microphone.

And finally...... the internal visor!  Diving in and out of the shade on the coast road, not to mention sun-strike off the sea, it worked a treat.  Looks like it might finally offer a near-perfect solution.   The slider shown just below the visor in the photo above is mechanically linked to the internal visor and extremely easy to use with gloved hands.  Looks pretty cool in town too with the clear visor raised **cue Jennie rolling her eyes and sighing**

Robocop wannabe

At NZ$899 (US620 or GBP479), it's not a budget helmet but the price is surprisingly comparable with overseas sources. However, it's well made, comfortable and totally meets my needs.  I'm a happy camper!

Finally, a plug for a product I've only been using for a few month but does exactly what it says on the tin!  The bane of any motorcyclist's life is good vision in wet weather. To bead moisture off visors quickly, I've used all sorts of products with varying degrees of success.  Rain-X which has a silicon base has been pretty good but seems a little less effective than it used to be.  I recently started using Plexus (not to be confused with health products of the same names as they'd smear the visor), which was developed for the aviation industry - helicopter bubbles and the like.  Shifts moisture really well and splattered bugs are easy to remove.  Not cheap, but economical to apply. Prices seem to vary wildly with an on-line NZ motorcycle accessory shop being the most expensive and an on-line aviation accessory business being the cheapest.

Plexus - doesn't disappoint

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Some idle thoughts about inspirational people

This post really isn't about motorcycles although one of the subjects is a keen motorcyclist and one of the other two used to be a keen motorcyclist - perhaps there's a link if we want to push statistical credibility **grin**.

A couple of weeks ago,  I had a meeting with the Chief Motorcycle Examiner of the NZ branch of Institute of Advanced Motorists, Philip McDaid.  It's a registered charity and office-holders receive no remuneration -  purely voluntary.   As past trainees, we all received world-class advanced motorcycle mentoring and as we have progressed through to being mentors ourselves, we are now helping others; as well as continuing to learn ourselves. Very much a case of paying it forward - a perfect outcome.

Philip trying a member's Fireblade for size

After briefing Philip about developments in our region and listening to him talking about his vision for the future, it reminded me that even with great processes, it still takes a really great leader to make an organisation outstanding. I guess that everyone has an opinion about what makes a great leader but I'll try and share my thoughts in without making it too dry.

It goes without saying that Philip is an exceptional rider.  Listening to his helmet to helmet commentary, describing what he is seeing all around him (situational awareness) and how the observations are impacting on his riding decisions borders on the unbelievable.  Fast or slow, his riding looks absolutely sublime and effortless.  His riding alone commands respect but there are other advanced riders in the organisation who come close too.  However, there are also additional qualities which combine to make Philip a true leader.  One key aspect is his humility and complete lack of ego. It's such a powerful and inspirational quality that it completely permeates the IAM culture and is embraced and reinforced by the membership.  Add Philip's vision for the organisation, an unrelenting passion for excellence, making sure that individual members have every opportunity to contribute and flourish and you start to get an inkling about what makes a true leader as opposed to a good manager.

There was a recent article in a national newspaper regarding a survey about why people leave their jobs.  As you might expect, the reasons were quite varied but there was a strong undercurrent of feeling undervalued by their manager having a major impact, irrespective of remuneration or other working conditions.  In my whole working life prior to retirement, both in academia and industry; I have worked for some good bosses as well as some truly awful ones.  However, in all those decades; I have only worked directly for two people who could be described as true leaders.

The first was my Head of Department at Cranfield University, who passed away many years ago.  Incredibly intelligent with a love of the good life, he had a bit of an ego but it was never at the expense of his team.  Consequently, it was looked on more as an eccentricity than a shortcoming.  He could be an irascible old bugger but irrespective of status, everyone in the department was treated the same and certainly got to know when they fell short of his expectations.  He also had the knack of sweeping everyone along with his drive and vision for the future and pushing people to achieve the near-impossible.  In my case, his influence lead me in a direction that I could not have envisioned and it had a direct impact which continued for a couple of decades both in the UK and NZ.  It's probably fair to say that John was not loved but hugely admired for his abilities.  He didn't really fit the conventional definition of a "people person" in an obvious way but he quietly cared about his staff and made sure that we were all challenged but supported at the same time.

The last is John White, who became my boss at the pulp and paper manufacturer I worked for until retirement.  Since retirement, John and I have remained friends so I'd better choose my words carefully!  Before working for John, I got to know him through a company-wide quality systems project I was implementing and we got on well.  We also rode bikes together on the odd occasion.  He rode motorcycles in his university days but then out of the blue on a business trip to Japan, he bought a Honda CB1000 "Big One" with all the performance extras and had it shipped back to NZ on one of the vessels which carried our products!

Sometime later, he "poached" me from the department I ran to introduce good technical systems into his own particular sphere of influence. From my perspective, John had a number of qualities which when put together made an exceptional leader.  He was a brilliant innovator but didn't have much time for detail.  That's why he assembled a team with diverse skills.  When he came up with a concept, he'd get the appropriate person in his team to look at the practicalities and if it was a flyer, he'd back them all the way with the resources and time to do the job.  No micro-managing from John - if you'd earned his trust, it was support all the way.  He was very aware of his strengths but also things other people were better at than him, hence building a team with diverse skills.  He had strong personal integrity, was very approachable and open which meant that discussions were extremely productive.  From time to time, employee satisfaction and performance reviews were conducted by an external agency across the company.  It was no surprise that our team came out on top and it could be directly linked to John's inspirational leadership and our respect for him.

In more recent years, John has taken up cycling.  More specifically, mountain bike endurance riding.  Clearly, his focus and determination from business has transferred to his cycling prowess as twice, he has won his age group at the World 24 hour solo endurance championships (WEMBO) and is off to Italy to defend his title in June.  If that's not inspirational, I don't know what is.  There's a case of wine riding on a good result in Italy!

World Champion John White in his rainbow jersey

There are lots of books on leadership and this post hasn't been about adding anything insightful about the key qualities of leadership.  What I've tried to do however, is to show from a personal viewpoint how inspirational people can positively affect the lives of others, very much for the better and help us to lift our own game.  The news is full of so-called leaders from the world of politics, commerce and everything else under the sun making all sorts of nonsensical utterances which add bugger-all value to anything or anyone.  My view is that the title "Leader", is not one to be automatically conferred.  It has to be earned through deeds and respect.

Back to motorcycles next time! 

Friday, 21 April 2017

An interesting couple of weeks

Riding on two wheels has been a bit patchy over the last two weeks.  Firstly, it was tropical cyclone Debbie which hit NZ after causing extensive flooding and damage along the eastern seaboard of Australia.  Our village escaped the worst of it but we were cut off for a couple of days due to landslips on both exit roads from the Coromandel Peninsula.  Places a few hundred k's south east really copped it.  Being stuck caused the cancellation of some IAM training in Auckland but delighted Jennie because I got leaned on to attack the backlog of jobs around the house!

With the weather clearing, I arranged to take the Suzuki GSX-S1000 for its 24,000 km service and an updated ECM/ECU to be fitted (That's the brains of the bike's engine management system).  More on this later.  Then unbelievably, the weather forecasters announced that Cyclone Cook was coming out of the South Pacific to hammer us, Coromandel was square in its sights and things were looking grim.  Hurried tying down of deck furniture and securing garden art, followed by an anxious wait.  Fortunately for us, it tracked further east at the last moment and all we got was some heavy rain for a few hours and moderate winds, but the south-east of the north island bore the brunt of it.  Unfortunately for us, the cliffs which run down the western coast road of the Peninsula were still soaked from Cyclone Debbie and another drenching brought down dozens of slips, cutting us off for another week.  One of the few penalties of living in a remote, unspoiled area!

One of the massive slips on the Coromandel coast road
(source: Thames-Coromandel District Council)

These delays were knocking my IAM coaching schedule around and although the western coast road was still closed, the eastern one had opened, the weather was good and so it was off to Auckland to resume coaching.  The only downside is that the eastern route adds 100 km each way to the journey. Shouldn't really complain about extra distance on two wheels but 600+km days including an intense coaching ride do tend to get a bit tiring so I stayed with our Auckland-based daughter overnight.  Well worth the effort as Lloyd, my trainee Observer (Instructor) did a magnificent job of introducing a new IAM member to the first stage of Police Roadcraft advanced riding.

Lloyd (R) debriefing new member Chris (L) mid-point through the ride

Having a bit more time in Auckland was quite handy as I organised to have some custom silicone earplugs made.  I normally use foam plugs but must have weird-shaped ear canals or something because they always seem to work loose. Had 2 pairs made which took about 40 minutes overall.  What a difference!  They work incredibly well, are supremely comfortable and would be great if you're a light sleeper.

Custom ear plugs - seriously effective

The other thing I did whilst in Auckland was get my hands on a little gift for Jennie for upcoming Mother's Day next month (A guy being organised in advance??? Amazing!).  A fellow IAM member is a trained cabinetmaker who has just started his own business.  Jennie and I both love items made in wood and on his website, I saw some fully-functioning wooden padlocks he'd made in different designs.  The one I chose is shown below.  The craftsmanship is superb using two different woods on both the key and the lock.  Instead of a business card, he uses a curved wooden leaf with his details on - clever and ultra cool!  Jennie doesn't read my blog so we're safe!  Also, Graham makes the most exquisite all-wood skeleton clocks.  Take a look HERE .  The world is a better place for having craftsmen like Graham in it.

Gorgeous functioning wooden lock - smells wonderful too!

Right, back to bikes......

About 3 weeks ago, I spoke with Simon Meade, G.M Marketing of Suzuki NZ.  Regular readers of this blog may remember that I've described the Suzuki as a good bike, but not a great bike.  It does its job well, but doesn't make me feel passionate about it.  One of the niggles is that it's pretty snatchy and hunts at low throttle openings, or off a trailing throttle.  If I was using the bike for city commuting or similar, it would have been sold by now.  However, as much of my riding is on open roads, it's only really irritating in traffic and in greasy conditions at low speed.  I'm given to understand that the root cause of the fuelling problem is to meet emission compliance testing in the European Union.

Talking to Simon, he said that a new ECM was now available and I could have one fitted at no charge. All that was required was having the ignition key and its spare reprogrammed.  Just like that, no fuss, no arguments, just "we'll send one to your dealer" from Simon.  That's what you call service!

With the coast road now open, albeit covered in clay in a few places, it was time to re-schedule the Suzuki service so I headed off at the crack of dawn yesterday to my favourite dealer in Hamilton, about 160 km away.  On picking up the bike a few hours later, the ride through Hamilton traffic to get to open country was a revelation!  All the snatchiness had gone, just leaving a slight lumpiness which wasn't intrusive, just a reminder of the sporting heritage of the powerplant.  It's transformed a good bike into a great bike and who knows, maybe I'll develop an emotional attachment to it like I had with the Street Triple!

One final amazing thing.....

Whilst I was talking with Simon, he asked me what I thought of the Suzuki performance and I mentioned the track day I did on it last year.  He doesn't know me from Adam but floored me by offering a ride on their race-prepped version which they sometimes take along to track days!!!!  This is the bike which U.S - based journo Don Canet from Cycle World successfully raced at NZ's premier street race in Paeroa last year! (Cycle World article HERE ) . The excitement was quickly tempered with a bit of sanity and I politely declined.  The combination of slicks and racing brake pads which need to be hot to work effectively could well be a recipe for this old fella to go skating along on his bum in front of lots of track day enthusiasts - not a good look.  Incredibly generous and unexpected offer by Simon though.  Nice to know that Suzuki NZ have great people at the top.

As I said at the start, an interesting couple of weeks!

Don Canet on the Suzuki NZ race-prepped GSX-S 1000
(photo: Cycle World/ Andy McGeehan)

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Trippin' to the Top of the South - pt 3

Golden Bay and Farewell Spit

The last time we were in Golden Bay was 2001 and the one regret on that occasion was being unable to visit a very special place, Farewell Spit.  It forms the very top of the south island and is a little over 26 km long at low tide. Formed by fine silica from the Southern Alps and washed round to Golden Bay by the tides, it's a haven for birds and other animal life.  Unless you're an employee of either the Department of Conservation or Maritime NZ, the only way members of the public can visit the spit is with a sole concession tour which is licenced by D.O.C under strict conditions.  On the map above, the spit resembles the head and beak of a Kiwi which I guess is totally appropriate!

Access is restricted to a few hours either side of low tide.  On the day we wanted to visit, this meant the alarm clock being set for 5am and a half hour drive from Pohara to the little village of Collingwood to get on the tour bus.  Boy, was it worth the early start!  It was pitch black until we reached the spit itself and we were treated to a magical sunrise - couldn't have scripted it better!

First light across the white sand and dunes

Sunrise and large chunk of tree washed up on the beach

The dunes are constantly moving due to the strong prevailing wind but there was hardly a breath of wind whilst we were there - another bonus! More about the dunes later.  Travelling up the beach and dodging patches of quicksand, there was an amazing amount of birdlife and sea lions, none of which seemed particularly perturbed by human presence.

Just chillin'

The white centre is a massive gannet colony

At the far end of the spit is the 30 metre tall lighthouse which is critical for keeping ships from running into the shallows.  It must have been a lonely existence for the original lighthouse keepers but it's been fully automated  since 1984.  A great time to stop for breakfast which consisted of a hot drink and a muffin.

Farewell Spit lighthouse - a lonely place

More arty farty stuff

Men's long drop - not exactly the Hilton!

Farewell Spit recently hit the international news with a mass beaching of over 200 whales which involved a huge rescue effort.  Sadly, many of the whales were beyond rescue by the time that help arrived.  Strandings have happened here since recorded time and it's thought that the shallow approach to the spit combined with shifting sands may confuse the echo location of the whales.

On the return leg, we got to explore one of the massive dunes.  Climbing it was hard going with the powder-like silica sand but well worth it because of the magnificent natural shapes fashioned by the wind.  The lonely beauty of the place was quite overwhelming - what a privilege to see it. Here is a selection of photos.

A long way up.....

Miles of nothing

Pristine powder

Leave nothing but a set of footprints....

The next major stop-off was Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the south island, excluding the ever-shifting spit.  On the way, we stopped of at a beach with adjoining cliffs which were millions of years old.  The weather and tides had exposed the base of the cliff which at one point was a pebble river bed - fantastic!

Gravel river bed millions of years old

Ancient river bed perfectly preserved through the aeons

Photo-bombing Cape Farewell

Collingwood Post Office (only recently closed)

Back at Collingwood at the tour end, we had plenty of time to go exploring in the area thanks to the early start.  In the middle of nowhere, there was an old museum of agricultural equipment which was open but not a soul there other than us!  Among the exhibits (well, more like just chucked in a corner) was a moped which I'd never seen before.  Turns out it was a German-built Victoria from the mid-50's.  Perhaps it got there as a result of the strong German connections to the region mentioned in the previous post.  As a footnote, after the German factory closed, production was moved to India which continued to the early 1970's.  Shades of Royal Enfields!

1950's Victoria moped in surprisingly good condition!

Just down the road from the ramshackle museum were a pair of limestone structures straddling the road which looked like upturned shoes.  Unsurprisingly, they were called the Devil's Boots.  We weren't sure whether the rest of him was under the ground but didn't hang around to look.

One of the Devil's Boots

This was our last night in Golden Bay and it's amazing just how much we could pack into a few days. Sitting at an open air cafe at Pohara Beach eating dinner that evening, we were able to witness a magnificent sunset over Golden Bay and the distant ranges - says it all really!

Sunset at Pohara Beach

Hope you've enjoyed an introduction to the Nelson district and Golden Bay areas of the South Island of NZ.  Even a short trip is good for the soul and we returned home with our batteries completely recharged.  On a more philosophical note, pristine beauty like this is becoming increasingly rare on the planet and I hope that mankind has the wit to preserve it before it's too late.