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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!