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Friday, 2 March 2018

A most excellent week!

Definitely one of the busier weeks for this old geezer!

Last weekend was the Institute of Advanced Motorists annual conference and AGM being held at Lake Taupo in the central north island of NZ, about 270 km from where I live.  For members who fancied a bit of speed without red and blues and sirens behind them, there was also a trackday on offer on the Friday at the nearby Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park - the full international circuit no less!  I was certainly up for that!

Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park - 3.3km international circuit (stock photo)

Riding down the previous afternoon, it was wet with lots of roadworks but the morning of the trackday dawned sunny and warm - wonderful!  After scrutineering, we set up in a pit garage, dropped tyre pressures from road settings, taped the mirrors and waited for the briefing and first session.

The Suzuki ready to rock, with Alan's BMW 1200GT in the background

Terry's Aprilia Tuono and Graham's RSV 4 - yumm.....

The first session was taken relatively easy whilst riders learned the track, sorted out braking markers and so on.  All accomplished with no dramas.  From then on, it was all go, with progressively larger throttle openings held open for longer!  My road-going fuel consumption is generally between 5 - 5.3lt per 100 km and on the track it was between 8-9 lt per 100 km!

Alan on the 1200 GT and I were pretty evenly matched.  He'd been to the California Superbike School and was really impressive in the tight infield whereas I was faster on the sweepers and straights.  At 230 km/hr down the back straight, neither of us wanted to give an inch and all I'll say is thank goodness for ABS whilst scrubbing off enough speed to make the next turn!

 70 year old hooligan having the time of his life! (official photo)

Working hard to stay on the right line! (photo: Barry Holland)

Sticking it to a Gixxer rider who is on the wrong line!  (photo: Barry Holland)

Over 160km/hr down the short pit straight (photo: Barry Holland)

The Metzler Roadtec 01's stood up pretty well considering......

The following morning, there was a presentation on electric vehicles which completely changed my ill-informed views!  IAM member Wendy brought along her recently purchased Tesla Model S which has a 0-100km/hr time of about 4 seconds and was beautifully appointed.

Wendy's Tesla - get the number plate?

A local dealer brought along a Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe.  Both were surprisingly quick off the line and handled brilliantly.  The lack of noise made them even more impressive.  Running and maintenance costs were incredibly low and with ever-decreasing battery costs and increasing range, they're now a serious consideration, particularly as a commuting or round town vehicle.  A mate of mine has one for commuting and saves $100 per week on gas!

Lloyd hammering a Nissan Leaf off the start line

As enjoyable as the cars were, the real fun were the pedal-assisted e-bikes which were there for us to try out!  The Giant model I tried was a real buzz and as fast as heck in "turbo" mode.  One of our members has one for commuting to work in Auckland, a round trip of 38 km and absolutely loves it.  Methinks that one would be handy to replace my 2 decades old mountain bike with all the hills where we live!

 Alan on the Scott e-bike

We also had a presentation by an engineer from Helite, the people who manufacture airbag clothing for motorcyclists.  Everything from inflating hi-vis vests through to adventure riding jackets.  Externally, they looked like a normal jacket and it was an impressive presentation.  Prices were similar to normal higher end motorcycle jackets.

In the afternoon,  it was off to Rotorua, some 90km away to play on the luge.  This is a concrete track  winding down the side of Mt Ngongotaha, hurtling downhill on an unsprung plastic cart.  The more competitive of us kept our leathers on in case of wipeouts, haha!

Lee and I queuing in full leathers - no quarter given or expected!

A long way down....  (file photo)

Stunning views over Lake Rotorua from the top of the luge

Lee's magnificent MV F3 675 triple in the luge car park

After the excitement of the afternoon, it was a brisk ride back to Taupo for a delightful buffet dinner.  The following morning, there was a superb session on accident scene protocols and rendering immediate assistance by an ex-military paramedic and fellow biker.  He was down to earth and debunked a few myths - a great learning experience.  I'll also be doing a re-think on the medical kit I carry and will certainly be adding Celox gel packs to safely stop bleeding.

Mike Nicolle explaining an aspect of scene management

After a mercifully short AGM (IAM does not thrive on bureaucracy!), it was time to head home.  It was in the delightful company of Street Triple owner Joanne, who is the IAM co-ordinator from Christchurch in NZ's South Island.  Jo hadn't previously visited the Coromandel Peninsula so it was a good opportunity to show her the sights by bike and car.  Jo is dual-qualified as an IAM Observer for both bikes and cars and I'm not!  Found it vaguely unsettling driving her around by car, despite her protestations that she was off duty!

Dr. Jo and her Street Triple R on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula

On the fantastic Driving Creek pottery railway in Coromandel

The day after Jo began her long trek back to Christchurch, and in the company of some other IAM members from our region, I attended a suspension clinic in the Auckland area with Dave Moss, one of the world's authorities on how to set up motorcycle suspension. (His website HERE and his YouTube masterclass HERE , among many others). I thought I was "reasonably" ok on the basics of suspension adjustment but just how wrong can you be???  The clinic was a trial initiative between an Auckland-based riding instructor Chris Smith of Passmasters , Dave Moss and amazingly, our regional council authority.  The rationale was that properly adjusted suspension has the potential to save lives from a bike which handles better with improved grip, less fatigue plus all sorts of peripheral benefits.  The Waikato Regional Council has long championed motorcycle safety with a range of motorcycle training courses but this was the first foray into suspension as a safety initiative.

Arriving in Auckland, Dave checked all the initial settings of the bikes and made some preliminary adjustments based on rider weight.  He then explained what he was doing and why in easy to understand terms and made sure that everyone was comfortable to ask questions, no matter how dumb they thought they were - Dave is a patient and natural communicator.

He then explained that we would be going for a ride of some 150 km covering all sorts of conditions with several stops to make adjustments whist the bikes were at normal operating temperature - the only way to do it properly.  

Dave adjusting my rebound at the first stop (photo: Tony Knight)

Dave holding a Q&A on the ride

Adjusting IAM member Goose's Honda Crosstourer

Bike porn on a GSX-R 600

To cut a long story short, the improvement to my GSX-S was massive, which was a bit of a shock (no pun intended!) and all the attendees felt the same way.  No longer did it wander about over surface irregularities and the effort required to countersteer through a tight series of bends had diminished by a large amount - far less fatiguing.  In fact, I initially tended to over-correct with far more effort than now required, thanks to muscle memory kicking in! All this from fairly tired suspension.  On the way home, the last 50 km was in heavy rain and an indifferent road surface from the recent storm.  I've never previously felt so much confidence in riding in less than optimum conditions whilst still able to make good progress.  Massive thanks to Dave Moss, Chris Smith and the Waikato Regional Council for the enlightened attitude of making this genuine safety-related opportunity available to a wide range of riders!

What a day, what a week!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Something to live up to

Got a call this afternoon from Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner (Motorcycles) for the Institute of Advanced Motorists in NZ.  He wanted to know whether I'd accept being appointed to the position of IAM Examiner, currently one of 6 in NZ.  Must say that it was quite an emotional conversation in terms of both being immensely proud to be asked, coupled with trepidations about upholding the incredibly high expectations and standards.

When starting the journey in April 2011, it was principally driven by the fact that I was seriously lacking in talent and the chances of  injury and/or expensive encounters with the gendarmerie were pretty high.  There's no need to go over old ground as the journey so far has been reported in the blog since that initial assessment where Philip was able to confirm that I would indeed benefit from mentoring using the UK Police Roadcraft System (my mates were far less diplomatic!).

Apr 2011 - Initial Assessment - Philip's expression nearly made me pee myself!

Eight months after joining, I passed the Advanced Roadcraft Test after a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  Serious doubts as to whether I'd ever be good enough. Well, we made it but by then, it became pretty obvious that no matter what a person does in life, learning never stops.  Progressing onto Observer (mentor) training was a great way to build further skills as well as paying it forward for all the time and effort from others which had helped me to become a better rider.  That took the best part of another year to pass and then it was on to Senior Observer after a couple of years of building experience.  A lot of the learning has also spilled over into my personal life, especially interpersonal stuff.  A real life example of win-win!  Now it all starts again with another round of intensive learning but to be honest, would we really want it any other way?    Retirement sure doesn't mean taking it easy!

Dec 2012 - Just passed my Observer Test and have dust in the eye (well, maybe a teardrop)

Mar 2017 - Out for a brisk social run with other Observers

Interestingly, a comment made by Dan Bateman, a training manager at Team Oregon in the USA when I passed my Advanced Test in 2011 still stands out as much as it did at the time.  He said

"Also remember that you will forever be known differently now.  It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals"

It's something I'm acutely aware of and that's going to be even more important now.  The hooligan tendencies haven't entirely disappeared and I hope I can live up to the standards!

Arrested whilst loitering outside a country toilet!
(Steve is a police instructor and fellow IAM member)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A nice win for the team

I must be a bit of a disappointment to magazine sellers, no matter what the subject matter as I don't subscribe to any of them.  In fact, the only time I night buy them is if I'm in a shop waiting for Jennie, bored and there's a handy magazine rack.  Motorcycle mags (naturally!), boating/fishing or house & garden mags are normally what attracts my interest but I haven't looked at any for months.

However, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Tony, one of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Trainee Observers (mentors) that I'm coaching rang and asked me whether I'd seen an article in NZ Bike Rider magazine about safe road positioning.  Tony was pretty disappointed with the article as he thought that it needed a lot more context and could be misleading in its published form.  I suggested that he contacted the magazine and constructively point out where he thought it fell short of the mark.

Tony wrote an excellent email with no hint of one-upmanship or negativity and a few days later, received a reply from Sean Willmot, the Assistant Editor.  Sean's response was gracious and as Tony doesn't live far from the magazine's editorial offices, Sean asked whether they could meet for a chat.  Cutting to the chase, they hit it off extremely well and Tony was able to talk about the UK Police Roadcraft system which IAM and other organisations use as the basis for advanced training.  It ended up with Sean being invited along for an initial assessment, which he was happy to accept.

It was a great opportunity to make the ride part of Tony's coaching programme so I went along to keep an eye on proceedings.

Tony (L) giving Sean a pre-ride briefing

We spent a couple of hours on major highways and highly technical twisty back roads with significant gradient changes, stopping for a ride mid-point debrief to discuss our observations with Sean.  The pre-ride briefing made it abundantly clear that the assessment had nothing to do about being either a good or poor rider, simply to determine what was done well and what improvements could be made as a starting point.  It would have been a surprise if Sean had been seriously lacking good skills given the amount of time he spends in the saddle but nonetheless, Tony was able to identify some improvement areas which Sean happily acknowledged.

Tony and Sean in the high country overlooking the Firth of Thames

What did surprise Sean was Tony's outstanding demonstration of a continuous commentary over the comms, showing his situational awareness and how this was impacting on his road position, speed, gear selection and acceleration sense.  Sean couldn't believe just how much information Tony was processing at any given moment whilst maintaining good progress.

At the end of the ride, there was a final debrief together with a detailed written report and Sean announced that he'd be joining IAM in 2018 as no matter how experienced you thought you were, learning never stopped.  He then said that he was going to write a series of articles about his journey with IAM for the magazine which was a fantastic outcome and may encourage other riders to do the same.

A few days ago, the latest Bike Rider magazine came out and there is a 2 page spread about Sean's assessment experience.  Very well written and complimentary.  Amazing what a bit of courtesy and positivism can do as opposed to having a rant at someone!

Page 1 of Sean's article

Arty-farty shot taken on Coromandel wharf  at sunset after getting back from the ride

Sunday, 7 January 2018

A slight case of Deja Vu

Bloody hell, I've jinxed the weather!  In the last post reviewing 2017,  I showed a photo of an angry sunrise just before a storm last January and said that we "sometimes" get summer storms.  Well, the Coromandel Peninsula and other parts of the country have just copped a real beating from a low pressure storm that has come out of the tropics.

We desperately needed the rain after weeks of hot, dry conditions. We had cracks in the ground on our property that you could put your hand in.  The forecasters were warning that over 100 mm of rain could fall in a 24 hour period, with nor' westerlies above 120 km/hr.  That didn't bother us all that much as our house is protected by a ridge from that wind direction.   Sure enough, we survived just fine and the only remedial work required was picking up small branches from around the property and a small amount of unripe fruit blown off various fruit trees.

However, as the storm moved south, the wind swung towards the west and that's when mayhem struck due to a number of factors coinciding - talk about bad luck!  This is where we live and what happened.

The Coromandel Peninsula, NZ

The Coromandel Peninsula is a major tourist destination, particularly in summer on account of its beautiful beaches, great fishing and its forest parks.  State Highway 25, also known as the Coro Loop; is a mecca for motorcyclists because of its challenging, technical nature.  There are only two ways off the Peninsula and for us, the most direct route is due south to Thames which normally takes a little under an hour.

Anyway, back to the story.  As the strong wind shifted to the west, it built up a storm surge which hit the eastern coast of the Firth of Thames.  Normally, that wouldn't be a major issue but it happened to coincide with high tide and a king tide at that.  The torrential rain added to the problem with already swollen rivers and streams.  This meant that big waves came over the road, carrying large rocks from the shallows.  The combined action has caused extensive flooding in some small communities and smashed the road to pieces in quite a few places.  At best, the seal has been torn off the compacted base structure and in the worst spots, the base structure has been wiped out too.  Here are a few photos from the local news services and public sources.

The mail must get through!

Boat floating in someone's back yard down the coast

Much of the road is now on the beach

Debris at Te Mata

Tar seal ripped up north of Thames

More seal damage

My heart goes out to the people down the coast who have suffered significant damage to their property.  In terms of economic damage, it's happened in the peak tourist season.  With the road closed for the foreseeable future whilst repairs are being made, businesses on the western side of the Peninsula will be badly affected.  In terms of direct impact on us, it will increase our travel time to get off the Peninsula by a further 1.5 - 2 hours by having to drive round the eastern side of the Peninsula so I guess we'll be minimising travel for a while.  We really haven't got much to complain about though compared with people further down the coast.

As mentioned earlier, the severe damage came about through a number of factors coming into play at the same time.  However, these extreme weather events seem to be increasing world-wide.  Whether it's a temporary phenomenon or a longer term trend remains to be seen but there sure is a cost to them, both in financial and human terms.  Let's hope that the rest of 2018 is a whole lot better for the planet!

Friday, 22 December 2017

That was the year that was - 2017 in pictures

2017 was a year that seemed to be over in a flash.  I thought it would be nice to show the year pictorially with a few photos which I haven't  previously published on the blog.  Every month of the year is represented.

Summer in the Southern Hemisphere and a time for the grandkids to descend on us ('cos Nana J makes great cake, haha!)  The photo shows us in a corner of the garden with all the grandkids and two of our 3 adult children.

Some of the James clan

Although January is mainly warm and sunny, the heat sometimes brings summer storms.  The next photo was taken from our deck at dawn, a few hours before a big storm swept through.

The calm before the storm....

This photo is important to me for several reasons. Rob (L) was one of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Trainee Observers (Instructors) that I was mentoring.  He had just passed his written and practical Observer Test with flying colours after about 8 months of intense work.  Keith (R) is on his assessment ride prior to joining IAM.  Rob went on to coach Keith and at the time of writing this, Keith isn't far off taking his Advanced Roadcraft Test and then beginning his journey as a Trainee Observer.  It represents a wonderful cycle of raising skills, improving road safety, increasing riding enjoyment and it's all done on a voluntary basis.  The perfect example of paying it forward!

Rob and his Hayabusa and Keith with his FZ6R.  Some old geezer's bike in the middle

A highlight was meeting Aussie moto-blogger Steve Hoswell of  Road to Nowhere fame and his mates during their NZ north island tour.  It was only for a few hours but it was a genuine pleasure to ride with them and make an instant bond.

Steve and his mates on the Coromandel Peninsula

A trip to the top of the south island as part of an annual long weekend get-together with friends from down country.  Visiting the World of Wearable Art museum and adjoining motor museum in Nelson, then enjoying the stunning scenery in the area.  The photo was taken at Tata beach with the rugged hills in the background.

Magnificent Tata beach

April in the north island of NZ and the Coromandel Peninsula in particular wasn't much fun at all weather-wise.  Unrelenting torrential rain and gales saw us cut off from the rest of the country for a week with landslips and virtually no riding in the month.  Remedial work to roads and cliff faces is still going on!

A massive slip on the Thames coast road (courtesy of Thames District Council)

Flooding less than 1 km from our house (courtesy of  Coromandel Civil Defence)

Nearly into winter and NZ's nectar-eating songbird, the Tui; is enjoying the nectar that is produced by one of the large succulents in our garden.

Communing with nature

Not my photo but racing catamarans was a passion of mine when younger and fitter and I still follow sailing from the armchair.  NZ won the Americas Cup in Bermuda with their foiling catamaran Aotearoa.  A nice short video summary HERE .  Particularly notable that a country of 4 million was able to defeat the massive resources of Larry Ellison and Oracle USA by sheer innovative thinking in their design.  Long live the people of the world who think outside the box, no matter what field of endeavour!

What a spectacle - 40+ knots over the water!

A very special milestone with Jennie and I celebrating 45 years of marriage.  I genuinely don't know what she saw in me all those years ago as I was a shy professional engineer without too many social graces.  The most appropriate photo is one I dug out of a shoebox.  It was taken on what was effectively our first date when I took her to the wedding of mutual friends in 1971.  The rest is history......

Still totally crazy about her.....

More winter IAM duties, this time out with Hamilton riders Paul and his wife Joy.  Both are BMW fans with Paul having a K-series road bike and building a cafe racer.  Joy is the proud owner of an R9T.  Paul is shortly due to sit his Advanced Roadcraft Test.  Joy comes along for the company and is an extremely accomplished rider.  Next step will be to encourage her to join IAM..... no pressure, Joy!!!

Immaculate Beemer and matching immaculate riding gear!

The trip of a lifetime to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary.  Flying business class, a stopover in Qatar and a safari by Landcruiser through Kenya and Tanzania including ballooning on the Serengeti.  Lots of animal and other photos posted earlier in the blog so we'll avoid those already posted.  The shot below was taken in the Qatar desert across the Persian Gulf to Saudi Arabia in the distance.  We look pretty relaxed considering that the temperature was 44 deg C (111F) and windy. You could feel your skin shrivelling by the second!

44 deg C and survival time not very long without water and shade!

Skimming the Serengeti at dawn

My 70th birthday but mercifully, there are no photos to mark the occasion.  A very pleasant evening at a local restaurant with cherished friends.  It also marks 54 years of motorcycle ownership.  However, the photo I've chosen is of the house and garden as spring is well underway and plants are coming into bloom.

A long way from civilisation....

The weather in the North Island is hot and dry with rainfall way behind seasonal averages.  Not good for the farmers and horticulturalists but great for motorcycling.  A mid-week ride 25 km up the coast was accomplished with all of 3 vehicles being sighted and me being the only person at beautiful Waitete Bay.  That's a ride which is good for the soul!

Absolute solitude

Arty farty attempt

On the shores of Coromandel harbour

There are so many options as it's been a busy month but will finish with just two photos.  The first is Jennie's 70th birthday which all the kids and grandkids came along to.  The first is of Jennie cutting the white chocolate mud cake and the grandkids impatiently waiting for a slice.

Hurry up, Nana J!

The second photo is of IAM member Colin who rides a Harley Road King.  Colin is only a ride or two away from taking his Advanced Roadcraft Test but that's not the end of the story.  Colin lives 160 km south of the city of Hamilton, the nearest spot where he can train in city, country and motorway-type environments.  To come on a mentored ride, it takes Colin a couple of hours to get to Hamilton, a couple of hours being mentored under the critical gaze of an Observer and another couple of hours to get home.  That typifies the dedication of riders who set themselves the goal of raising their skills to an internationally-recognised standard.  That dedication is also why Observers are happy to donate their time - it really makes a difference.

Colin and his immaculate Road King

Well, that was my 2017 in pictures - a lot of fun.  May we all have a safe, healthy and enjoyable 2018 despite a number of world leaders apparently trying to achieve the opposite result! There are some real advantages to living at the bottom of the world at the moment!