Wheel alignment

Monday, 12 October 2020

A bit of variety

There's been plenty going on in our neck of the woods over the last fortnight.  With national school holidays, pretty nice weather and no lockdowns, families have been flocking into our area which is a popular tourist region.  Good for the economy, even if the number of stupid people on the road also increases.  There have been a couple of events too.  One was the annual Illume festival where the village is lit up at night, as indeed are the locals together with a lovely firework display.  Pretty darned good for a static population of around 1600.  The photos are ones I took a couple of years ago as I didn't bother this year.  The fireworks were taken from our deck, about 1km away from the action.

Family fun with an umbrella

Local H-D's festooned with LED's

Shane, the local butcher on his bike

Village shopfronts

Trees in the village

Awwww.... pretty!

It was also the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the visit of the Royal Navy ship HMS Coromandel, after which the village was named.  Naval vessels visited Coromandel and other northern locations on a regular basis to harvest Kauri trees which were knot-free and made wonderful spars for their sailing vessels.  You could call it rape and pillage of natural resources but we won't go there!

Kauri trees near our place

Anyway, to mark the occasion, there was an unveiling of a seriously cool commemorative sculpture.  A young local artist made a representation of HMS Coromandel with a ceramic hull and stainless steel sails.  It was housed in a glass case made to look like a ship in a bottle and the timber surround was made from floorboards from the 1800's local settlers hall when it was recently refurbished.  Pretty darned nice!

HMS Coromandel representation

A really nice commemorative work of art

The climate in Coromandel is benign and the number of (slight) frosts we get in winter can easily be counted on one hand.  It's a perfect climate for growing semi-tropical Bromeliads in the garden.  Two large examples which we planted 5 years ago as just small plants have just developed flower spikes for the first time.  They haven't opened yet but I'm worried that they might turn out to be killer Triffids as per John Wyndham's 1950's post-apocalyptic horror story!  That aside, they're looking pretty cool.

Flower spike 1.5 metres tall

Flower spike 1 metre tall

Motorcycles haven't been forgotten though.  Just over a week ago, I took out a serving Highway Patrol Officer for his Advanced Roadcraft Test.  Trevor drives a patrol car in NZ but in the UK, he was a Class1 motorcycle cop - the best of the best and it showed!  It was a near-flawless ride with a running commentary to match and boy, could he make his ST1300 shift down twisty, narrow country lanes.  Made it look easy, which it wasn't of course.  A really nice chap and a joy to spend the the day out with him - it's a tough life!  He just rides in his spare time here and owns several modern "classic" cars and bikes.

Trevor and his ST1300

Saving the best until last, yesterday was supposed to be an IAM monthly meeting where we do some coaching or go for a spirited social ride in the back blocks.  I should have smelt a rat when Jennie asked me a couple of times during the week whether I intended to go!  

Rocked up at the meeting point cafe some 100 km away and not only were there members from our local group there but a bunch of them from Auckland too.  The common thread was that over the past few years, I'd either coached them directly or had a hand in coaching them to pass their advanced qualifications.  STILL DIDN'T CATCH ON!  It wasn't until my good mate Tony stood up and said that we were all going to have a social ride together on the 200 km Coromandel Loop as recognition of our long association.  Apparently, my face was a sight to behold!  I felt pretty humbled and we had a wonderful time riding one of the great north island motorcycle routes together.  We even stopped at the Coroglen Tavern for lunch.  Not for a beer, but so that I could enjoy my all-time favourite scallop burger!  The ride finished on Coromandel Town wharf, only a few hundred metres from home which was just perfect.  What an incredible day and I'm really privileged to have mates who would do something like that.  Must have a bit of dust in my eye or something..... 

Memorial to Sir Keith Park, a Kiwi who played a major role in the WW2 Battle of Britain

Arriving at the Coroglen Tavern

Some of the team next to a mussel boat - Coromandel Town wharf

Great variety of machinery on Coromandel Town wharf

Some old geezer front and centre with great mates


Monday, 28 September 2020

The KTM 790 at 18 months - a progress report


A hooligan machine if  ever there was one!

An IAM friend of mine who has owned multiple European and Japanese bikes recently said, "There is a special corner of Hell reserved for MV and Moto Guzzi owners who can expect the full dealer workshop maintenance experience".  It was a tongue in cheek retort to someone he knew questioning the reliability of KTM's.  Indeed, several of my friends formed the shape of a cross with their fingers when I announced the intent to buy a Duke 790.  I guess that it's a widely held belief with some substance that Japanese bikes are generally more reliable than European or American ones but what's it really been like to own the 790 since March 2019?

Let's start by saying that I was aware that KTM's had a bit of a mixed reputation before I bought one but the test ride was so exhilarating (HERE) that I just had to own one.  I've rarely laughed out loud inside my helmet but I did multiple times on that day. 

RS 10 hypersport tyres on the demo bike taking a hiding on coarse road chip

The 1500 km review with all the early accessory purchases is HERE and there have been multiple other posts about various bits and pieces.  However, after 18 months ownership and 15,000 km, I thought it might be useful to pull together some thoughts about real life ownership over that time.  The distance covered ought to have been nearly twice that, but that's what C-19 and two eye surgeries do for you!

I needed a bike which had good performance plus excellent handling more than outright power and speed because of where I live in the countryside and also my IAM work.  It needed to be light because of my age - 73 next month for a bit of future-proofing and it's filled the bill perfectly.  Leaving aside all the rational reasons, I also wanted a bike which had a bit of "mongrel" in it! 

HANDLING. In a word, outstanding.  Light weight and steering geometry makes cornering effortless.  It's not called The Scalpel for nothing.  It's very forgiving too.  If corner entry speed is a bit too high, just lean it some more - no drama. That's all that needs to be said apart from noting that good handling also noticeably reduces fatigue on a run.  Ditto for ergonomics with respect to fatigue - my ageing body needs all the help it can get and the KTM is close to perfect for me.  Tyres naturally have a bearing on handling and the OEM Maxxis pure sport tyre get a black mark.  They were fine in the warmer, drier weather when I first bought the bike but as soon as it got colder and wetter, grip reduced dramatically.  A front end slide saw the Maxxis removed at a little over 3000 km and replaced with Bridgestone T31 sport touring tyres.  An excellent all round tyre with plenty of grip in all conditions.  However the front hoop was badly losing its profile at 6000 km although the rear was fine. I suspect that countersteering to maintain good progress on the twisty roads where I live contributes to that. At 8000-odd km, they were replaced with Michelin Road 5's which have been genuinely outstanding, no matter what the conditions are like.  They have currently covered 4000 km and are in great condition.  The other great feature is the turning circle.  Immeasurably better than my last 2 bikes and ideal for narrower roads without having to do a 3 point turn or even worse, having to step off it due to a misjudgment!  (Ummm...... I did this a few years ago on my 2009 Street Triple which had terrible lock.  Almost made it.....)

Rear Michelin Road 5 @ 4000km

BRAKING. The stock brakes and pads were ok (the word "adequate" springs to mind) but I fitted EBC HH pads during lockdown as I knew from fitting them to previous bikes what sort of performance gain to expect.  They delivered the expected performance but I suspect they exacerbated an issue which I'd noticed before they were fitted.  At low speeds (say <20 km/hr), gently applying the front brake creates a slight snatch like the pads are grabbing then slightly letting go.  This becomes more pronounced if more lever pressure is applied.  Sticking a magnetic dial indicator on the forks and checking disc runout revealed a couple of things.  The front right hand disc has a runout of 0.07mm.  This is within the manufacturer's tolerance of 0.1mm but the difference between high and low points is only just over 90 degrees.  The front left hand disc has a runout of 0.13mm which is outside tolerance and the difference between high and low is approximately 180 degrees apart.  

RH front disc with dial indicator

A trip to my dealer a few days ago led to the service manager describing the slow speed braking performance as "aggressive" and he is following up with KTM to get the disks replaced under warranty. I should add that at higher speeds, the brakes perform perfectly and I automatically compensate for the deficiency at the lower speed.  It still needs addressing though. 

THE ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION.  An absolute delight and proof that you don't need a big capacity bike to go fast in most road conditions as it's the power to weight ratio that has a lot of relevance until aerodynamics takes over.  The 790 has plenty of torque but the quickshifter is a really useful tool for keeping the bike in the right rev range.  I use the quickshifter on downshifts all the time for engine braking in combination with the throttle to keep things smooth as opposed to relying on the brakes.  It gets used less on upshifts as it requires reasonably large throttle openings to make smooth changes and I tend not to wring its neck on most occasions.  With the stock muffler, the engine sounds great too with a decent bark and a few pops on a trailing throttle.  No intention to fit a louder muffler as I prefer not to draw attention to myself.

The only slight downside experienced to date is a very slight misting of oil from the cam cover rubber seal at the camshaft ends.  It's nowhere annoying enough to have it fixed properly until a future service requires the cam cover to be removed.  A temporary fix has been to paint flexible sealant along the join at those points and it works perfectly - no more misting.

Sealant painted on part of the cam cover joint

Setting chain tension is complicated by the fact that I have an ABBA stand which lifts on the swingarm pivot rather than a rear paddock stand that lifts on bobbins.  The KTM method is to measure clearance between the underside of the swingarm and the top of the chain whilst on the paddock stand.  I can't use the official method so I do it with my neighbour sitting on it.  In his everyday clothes, he weighs about the same as me fully kitted in riding gear.  All a bit complicated but it works out ok.  Not that impressed with the Chinese OEM chain but will probably change it for a DID brand fairly soon.  It gets lubed with either Maxima Chain Wax or Tirox teflon spray every 500 km or thereabouts using the excellent GREASE NINJA.

ABBA stand with attachments to lift both wheels at the same time

FLEXIBILITY.  The multi-option rider modes/traction control have been particularly useful for the mix of country and town riding.  Sport or Street modes are my preferred options on the open road and the performance increase and throttle response is particularly noticeable compared with rain mode as you might expect.  However, apart from its obvious use, I find rain mode useful for making the bike less snatchy on low throttle openings for city work in dense traffic.  I've never even bothered to use track mode with all the sub-options such as anti-wheelie and launch control.  I find that 6th gear is almost superfluous for the conditions I ride in.  The national speed limit is 100 km/hr apart from some rare stretches of expressway.  At that 100 km/hr, 6th is almost like an overdrive and I only tend to use it on long, straight roads where a constant speed can be maintained.

FUEL CONSUMPTION.   How long is a piece of string?  You don't buy a 790 for economy.  However, because of the relatively remote location where we live and that much of my riding involves 500km+ days, I wanted a decent range out of a tankful.  On an average ride, the instrumentation shows around 4lt per100 km.  Checks against my GPS suggests this is a little  optimistic.  I've never pushed my luck in the name of getting an absolute reading but think that a range of 270 km is pretty safe on most occasions.  Maybe 300 km if you're taking it really easy.

LUGGAGE CARRYING.  Touring on the 790 wasn't a significant criterion when considering the purchase.  There are accessories available involving bolt-on steel racks etc but I wanted to keep the minimalist, clean lines of the standard bike.  A slim rear seat pack is all I use to carry tyre repair equipment, a medikit, a few tools and documentation for my role as an IAM Examiner.  For a 6 day tour last February (HERE), I added a 10 litre yachting dry bag and a backpack which were perfectly adequate.

Travelling light for a 6 day tour

CYCLE PARTS.  The standard of finish is quite impressive.  The paintwork is as bright as the day it was bought and there's no rusting on any of the bolts or other steelwork.  I installed R&G anti-slip film where my knees touch the tank for additional protection.  The bike gets washed using an ordinary car wash 'n wax or the excellent Muc-Off  motorcycle cleaner.  I find cleaning the bike is quite therapeutic and if I'm in need of extra therapy, the paintwork might get a coating of Mother's carnauba wax on the odd occasion.

R&G  grip/paint protection kit

HEADLIGHT.  I thought it would be adequate for nighttime riding where there was ambient light such as street lights.  It's actually much better than I supposed and is fine for maintaining a decent speed in the unlit countryside.  The spread of light also lights up a wide angle which is good for spotting things off the road.  I've done 5 Iron Butt (NZ equivalent)1600 km in under 24 hour rides on various bikes and would have no qualms about doing one on the 790.

No complaints at all!

Lighting up the countryside

SERVICE COSTS.  First service at 1000 km involved an oil and filter change, diagnostic computer check and a general check round the bike.  It cost NZ$279 (260 AUD, 183USD, 134GBP).  Second service at 11000km involved an oil and filter change, check and clean air filter, software upgrade, replace frame bolts under warranty, and a general check round the bike.  It cost NZ$314 (292AUD, 206USD, 161 GBP).  This was a little less than my naked GSX-S 1000 and think that it was pretty reasonable.  The dealer I use involves a 320 km round trip.  They're aware of the travel time involved and always go out of their way to turn the bike around as quickly as possible.  (Boyds in Hamilton for Kiwi riders). 

IN SUMMARY.  I've banged on about it before but to get a match made in heaven, a bike has to meet the technical needs of the prospective owner and appeal to to their emotions.  I found this out first hand when I bought the GSX-S 1000 almost on a whim.  Great performance but surprisingly, I found it bland and a bit lacking in character.  Perhaps that's a slight pointer to the differences between the majority of Japanese bikes and those from elsewhere, particularly Europe.  The 790 gets patted when I walk past it in the shed.  The Gixxer didn't.  It's worth repeating what someone said to me when I had narrowed the choice down to the Duke 790 and the 765 Street Triple R.  "It's not the way the coin lands that decides for you, but your reaction to the way the coin lands that will tell you the decision you want to make".  Those words actually made the choice a lot easier than it would have otherwise been.

Having set the scene, the KTM still makes me laugh every time I ride it and it more than meets my specific technical needs.  The relatively minor issues (call them "character traits") listed in this blog post in no way significantly detract from the immense enjoyment I've had from owning it. Most of the time, l can ride it fairly sensibly, but it really does encourage immoderate behaviour *grin*.  Trying to be dispassionate, if I was looking at a new bike today, it would still be the KTM 790.  Can't express it any better than that.

Coromandel Peninsula where I live - riding heaven!

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Busy, busy, busy!

With spring having arrived and relatively few C-19 restrictions in NZ, it's been a busy week with more to come over the next few weeks.  Regular readers know that a lot of my riding is as an Examiner with IAM, taking civilian riders for their Advanced Roadcraft Test - a system developed by the UK police and used internationally.

This week, I've knocked up just over 900 km in combined travel and the actual testing of two participants, both of whom rode to a high standard and passed with flying colours.  I don't normally mention much about the individuals concerned on the blog but in this instance, it's worth commenting.

Activities such as riding, driving, flying and sailing all require high level training, good judgement and situational awareness to perform at an exceptional level.  Much of this comes over time and in the case of the younger age group with lots of testosterone sloshing about (said by an old geezer!), it's no surprise that they are over-represented in road accident statistics.

I was recently approached by another region of IAM to test one of their members as they were temporarily short -handed.  Happily agreed and arranged a meeting some 140 km away from home.  The only things I knew that he was relatively young, and had passed his pre-test check by another Observer/Instructor whom I knew and respected.  Arrived early and watched as another rider came into the service area on Auckland's southern motorway.  The rider was wearing leathers with the number 46 on them and a replica Rossi helmet.  He was also riding one of Honda's best ever sport bikes, the VTR1000 SP1, equipped with noisy end cans.  This was Cameron, the young man I was due to test - turned out that he was just 19.

The SP1 and the Duke 790

Having spent months being tutored and being recommended for the formal test, it was obvious that he wasn't going to be a complete squid but I wasn't sure what to expect when Cameron mentioned that he raced a 250 Hyosung in club circuit racing.  First thing was to put him through a theory test covering advanced roadcraft and the NZ road rules.  Pass mark was 80% and Cameron scored 95%.  Really impressive.   

The riding test covered about 100 km of motorway (freeway), city and twisty country riding, lasting for between 1.5 and 2 hours of solid concentration.  During each of the environments, the candidate is expected to give a continuous 10 minute commentary over the comms with respect to what he is seeing all around him, what he can't see but can infer and how both are impacting on his riding in terms of position, speed, gear and throttle sense.

In summary, he delivered the best running commentary of anyone I've ever seen at test level, picking up a driver on the motorway who was probably texting (confirmed moments later), drivers who were likely to manoeuvre without indicating and so on, leading to smooth, good progress in an utterly safe and courteous manner.  On the tight back roads, Cameron was in his element and all I can say is that I'm glad I was on a bike that really handled!  He was a joy to watch and made it look effortless.  He aced his advanced test and is the youngest motorcycle member of IAM NZ to do so.  He'll get even better as he trains as an Observer and it will be exciting to watch his progress.  Just goes to show that it's not inevitable that young people have questionable skills, even if I was one of the dodgy ones at that age.  It's all a question of society's expectations and I'm sorry to say that politically, NZ's expectations of the standards required to obtain a licence are not particularly demanding.  I must say that the required standard has increased a little in recent years though.

A delighted (relieved?) Cameron and his SP1

The rider I took out yesterday is a career firefighter for NZ Fire and Emergency.  We went through exactly the same process as Cameron and unsurprisingly, the end result was a good pass.  Riding an immaculate Suzuki GSX 1250 FA, Damian brought the same level of skill to the ride as he would in his career - professional, unflustered, unhurried.  The level of skill made it look easy, which it certainly wasn't.  

Damian and his immaculate GSX 1250 FA

Both candidates were modest and you wouldn't expect either of them to be loudly trumpeting their success.  As with any worthwhile accomplishment along these lines, the level of preparation required tends to generate a quiet inner satisfaction and pride rather than big-noting the achievement.  

Apart from the pleasure I get from seeing the success of riders and drivers who want to continuously lift their game, it makes me keep my standards up too.  Turning 73 next month, it's probably getting close to the time I should be looking at retiring as an Examiner, although not necessarily altogether from riding.  Maybe I should be looking at a light adventure bike to explore all those dirt roads on the Coromandel Peninsula and get that nuisance Bandit Rider out of my ear, eh Andrew? :-)

Monday, 31 August 2020

The elephant in the room

Well, it came sooner than expected but we've just addressed the elephant in the room.  Going back to late last year, I suffered a torn retina whilst riding the bike.  My eye filled with blood and riding home some 140 km was quite a challenge.  To fix it, I had a vitrectomy (watch it on YouTube if you're not squeamish)!  It was totally successful but the surgeon warned me that one side effect was a cataract which would form sooner or later.  In my case, it was sooner than expected. 

All was fine on the February bike tour then lockdown kicked in during March.  Stuck around home doing jobs, I didn't really notice anything but as soon as lockdown ended and driving/riding started up again, the partial loss of long sight in one eye became noticeable.  Not a good position to be in, especially when conducting advanced riding tests. A right royal pain in the arse to use a technical term.

A check with a local optometrist confirmed the onset of a cataract.  Still legal to drive and ride but it was pushing the envelope at the higher performance end of the spectrum.  So it was back to the surgeon.  Not bad enough to qualify for an operation on the public health system but going privately was fine as it was starting to drive me nuts.

Turned up for the procedure a week ago and Jennie and I were ushered into a lounge adjacent to the operating theatre.  Drops were put into the eye to dilate the pupil and the surgeon came in and drew an arrow over the appropriate eye.  Wives aren't noted for dishing out sympathy because they think that their husbands are big wusses. "Pain?  You want to try having 3 kids, blah, blah......".  In this case, the lack of sympathy manifested itself by her wanting to write something on my forehead above the arrow.  Those words were "Insert Coins Here".  Smartarse.  

"Insert coins here" in the fairground dummy

Anyway, cataract removal and replacing the lens only took a few minutes and was completely painless.  The only downside of being fully conscious was seeing instruments of torture hovering near my eye, albeit not in clear focus.  Whatever instruments the surgeon used made noises like something from an episode of Dr. Who when he was battling the Daleks.  In fairness though, I was warned so didn't panic when it started up.  Although I could talk during the op, the surgical team bizarrely gave me a small squeaky yellow rubber duck to hold during the procedure.  They said to give it a squeeze if I felt uncomfortable, wanted to sneeze or whatever and they'd stop.  Didn't actually need to put it to use although when they wheeled me back into the theatre lounge, I made good use of it to announce my arrival to all and sundry.  Jennie's eye-rolling suggested that she'd prefer to be someone else's wife at that point in time.  Sort of evened things up for her earlier smartarse remark.  

With vision having been restored, it actually felt a little odd, like I was slightly drunk.  Guess it takes the brain a little while to recalibrate.  With running a formal IAM assessment ride coming up (taking out a police officer, no less!), it was sensible to see what it was like back on the bike with no pressure.  A short trip to the local gas station went absolutely fine and put me at ease.

Setting off from home for the meet-up some 160 km away, it was an absolutely glorious day with spring only a few days away. We all need days like this after the trials of this year. The eye was fine, the sun was out and the prospect of meeting up with other riders that you know and trust was eagerly anticipated.

Getting ready for a full day in the saddle

Officer Andy and trainee Observer (mentor) Bruce had ridden over from the Bay of Plenty province to our meeting point where we had a mix of city, expressway and tight country lanes all within easy reach for an assessment ride.  As well as road riding, Andy takes part in competitive trials riding so balance and slow speed riding weren't going to be an issue.  With Andy and Bruce on adventure bikes, I felt like the runt of the litter - I'd need a stepladder to get on them! 

Some photos taken by Bruce's on-board camera during the ride - thanks Bruce!

Andy and yours truly in town

Lifesaver (shoulder check) before making the turn

Life at its best - a deserted back road

Tall timber - Honda Africa Twin (Andy) and Triumph Explorer 1200 (Bruce)

As you might expect, Andy was extremely professional in his riding but there was a complete absence of ego and very happy to receive suggestions for fine tuning.  It won't take long at all before he's ready to take his Advanced Roadcraft Test.  Bruce also did well in his observing capacity and will make a great Observer in the near future.

Aren't days like this what riding motorcycles are all about?  Great weather, riding partners who you trust implicitly and a great mix of road conditions over some 450 km  - nirvana!

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Back to the Future

Let's face it, 2020 has been a year that most of us would prefer to forget.  After more than 100 days of being C-19 free, it's reappeared in NZ again.  At the time of writing this, it's small and confined to the Auckland area but who knows what's going to happen next.  The one good thing is that the authorities are onto it with appropriate measures - no dicking about, locking down our biggest city and other measures within 24 hours of discovery.   At present, we're not locked down in our region so apart from reintroduction of social distancing measures and some other sensible precautions, we're pretty much unaffected.

Following the first lockdown in March, I was quietly concerned that my motorcycling days were coming to a close.  The lockdown itself was easy to deal with as there was always plenty to do.  However, when it ended, I wasn't jumping out of my skin to go for a ride which was a bit disconcerting.  I don't really know why this was unless the winter weather influenced my indifference.  I guess you can't predict psychological effects, even though I consider myself calm in unusual or difficult situations. However, I've recently had two cracking rides in brilliant weather which have thrown off any doubts about continuing riding - yippee for that!. 

The first outing was a trip to south Auckland to check out some new routes for putting IAM riders through their Police Roadcraft Advanced Tests.  That's well and truly stuffed now with the Auckland travel restrictions but it was a glorious day out with the discovery of some new, challenging routes.

A quick stop by the Waikato River

Great views over the countryside

One of my mates who lives in that area suggested that I check out a particular highly technical road on the way home which I duly did.  To my horror, there were extensive road works with wet clay, cement dust and lime over substantial stretches of the road and I had a recently-cleaned pristine bike, the bastard!  He claimed no knowledge so I might have been uncharitable with my initial thoughts.  It's the sort of thing which good mates would do to each other!  Guess how I spent a few hours the next day.

The second decent outing was at our monthly regional IAM ride last weekend.  The meeting point is at a cafe some 160 km away from home which means I leave home before dawn in single digit (C) temperatures.  As with the last early start, heated gloves were a godsend, with an ordinary pair being carried to use later on.  I must say that the Michelin Road 5's stick like glue in all conditions and I'm glad I returned to using them after all the punctures I had on the GSX-S 1000.

At the meeting point, we also had a potential new member turn up for an initial assessment.  An IA gives the rider a no cost, no obligation opportunity to see if they enjoy the process, as well as allowing the IAM mentor to check the general standard of riding as a start point for a personalised development plan.  On this occasion it was Libby on her Harley Davidson who thoroughly enjoyed her day and was itching to join at the end of it.

Libby with some of the IAM team

Libby's beautifully prepared Harley Davidson

Having Libby join has been great for several reasons.  Firstly, she's the first female IAM member in our region, even though we've existed for 4 years.  I hope we get lots more now as female riders I've helped to mentor in other regions have been a delight with their positive attitude to learning.  In Libby's case, she had already taken the government-sponsored Ride Forever courses (details HERE ) and wanted to keep upskilling.  Secondly, she's only the second H-D rider in our region and one of the few nationwide.  Good for you Libby!

Fellow IAM members Bruce and Neil with their adventure bikes - they dwarf my KTM!

Jennie has dibs on our single basement garage for her car and my 4x4 sits under the decking on the upper storey of our house.  The bike sits in a covered area just outside my workshop.  The only disadvantage is that to keep it hooked to a battery tender during periods of non-use, I have to run a power lead from inside the workshop.  Not a big hassle in the scheme of things but recently, part of an old solar-powered external sensor light failed, leaving me with a spare solar panel.  I already have an externally accessible battery connector on the bike for my heated gloves which tucks away neatly when not in use.  All I needed was a compatible connector for the solar panel and we were in business!  I've successfully used the same system for our boat for several years and it's worked a treat.  Marine batteries ain't cheap to replace!

Solar panels on shed roof

Solar panel connection to bike

The next challenge is C-19 permitting, having a cataract removed later in the month.  Everyone tells me that it's simple and fast these days but the thought of a scalpel hovering above my eyeball isn't exactly a comforting thought.  At least it shouldn't disrupt riding for more than a day or two.

Stay safe everyone!

Monday, 13 July 2020

A nice winter outing and other stuff

Yesterday was the first get-together for the Central North Island region of the Institute of Advanced Motorists since life returned to pretty much normal after lockdown ended a few weeks back.  It's mid-winter in NZ so we're always at the mercy of the elements.  The forecast said heavy showers with bright patches in between and single digit temperatures on the Celsius scale.  I live over 2 hours away from where we were due to meet and the prospect of leaving home before dawn in the cold and dark on wet roads wasn't too appealing!

On with the Gore-Tex and merino under layers plus heated gloves and away we went.  I put the Duke 790 traction control in rain mode and didn't have a single worrying moment in the dark.  The Michelin Road 5's behaved impeccably and I'm glad that I gave them a second chance after the string of punctures on my GSX-S 1000.  I'm now convinced that it was pure bad luck as opposed any tyre design weakness.  The soft compound out towards the edges of the tyre really work and even in the wet, a good pace and decent angles of lean could be safely maintained.  The photo below clearly shows the soft compound bands.

Darker soft compound on Road 5

I've had heated gloves for about 4 winters now and they really have added another dimension to my winter riding.  Heated grips on previous unfaired bikes still left me with cold fingers which were a distraction and the whole hand warmth from heated gloves leads to much better control and confidence in cold conditions. 

A few hardy souls met at a cafe in Hamilton and as is the normal way of things, a lot of the more local members elected to stay in bed!  Prize for biggest distance travelled to take part in the ride was Bruce on his Triumph Explorer 1200.  He left the family holiday home at 0600 and travelled over 3 hours to join everyone - that's dedication!  Can't really blame anyone for skipping the ride though but getting out in a mix of heavy showers, patches of sunshine and variable road conditions was good for keeping the skills tidy.

A nice mix of bikes

As only one trainee turned up, we turned it into a social outing with a mix of city, open highway and twisty country road riding to knock off any rust from lockdown and had a most enjoyable time.

 At the lunch stop - yours truly second from left

The biggest surprise was yet to come.  I retired as Chair of the Central North Island branch of IAM in February to help long-term continuity and let me concentrate on my other role as an Examiner.  The team presented me with a lovely KTM Race Team fleece and a snow dome with a photo of me and the KTM inside it.  It was an overwhelming moment but we've all built up strong friendships over the last few years and I've mentored most of them or taken them for their advanced riding and Observer (instructor) tests.  A wonderful conclusion to the ride and thanks a million guys, it says an awful lot about the bond we all have .

Seriously nice (and warm) KTM Race Team fleece

Trapped inside a snow dome!

Onto other stuff,  I'm still working my way through digitizing all our old slides, negatives and photos.  I came across a negative which I had no memory of but exceedingly pleased as it's the only photo I have of my Yamaha IT 175 Enduro bike taken in the early 1990's.  Our eldest son Lyndon wanted to learn to ride bikes and we thought the safest way was for him to initially learn on dirt away from traffic.  The company I worked for owned huge plantation forests near home and riding in the forests and fire breaks was perfect.

We bought him a Suzuki TS100 from a friend, the bike having a rather colourful history!  For a drunken bet, it had been ridden Evel Knievel-style by the previous owner at full tilt off a jetty into a harbour on the coast, then unceremoniously dumped in his shed.  I bought it for $50 with no great expectations but it only required a relatively small amount of tender loving care.  It was a lovely bike to ride with a surprisingly wide power band for a 2 stroke.  Perfect for riding in the forest or climbing steep banks etc.

The IT175 on the other hand was a complete bastard (a technical term) and tried to kill me on numerous occasions.  A motorcycle version of Stephen King's Christine!  I bought it from a company apprentice  and its real environment is where the throttle is pinned to the stop - a whole world away from pootling along in a forest environment.  With its narrow powerband, it would highside me if I was too ham-fisted with the throttle.  Lot's of eye-rolling from the CEO when I'd arrive home covered in crap and walking like an old man.  Nonetheless, it was also a lot of fun and I had it for about 3 years before deciding that middle-aged bodies didn't bounce too well.

The early 90's: off-roading with a Suzuki TS100 and a Yamaha IT175 Enduro

The final piece is really a shout-out to fellow blogger Warren Mallett of Motorcycle Paradise fame.  In a reply to a past post on scanning photos etc, Warren mentioned a piece of software called Gigapixel AI which he uses.  Essentially, it's used to enlarge photos without the normal blurring or pixellation you get from conventional optical enlarging.  There are a couple of algorithms in the program which allow you to choose whether to enhance the human form/nature or man-made objects with straight lines or predictable curves.  I like to crop irrelevant material from photos and enlarge the main subject matter so thought that Gigapixel might be of help.  Delighted to find that the website offered a 30 day free trial which was perfect to try it out on a few photos.  I was so impressed that I ended up buying it.  Thanks so much for the heads-up Warren!

The photo below is a screen shot of Gigapixel with the left hand photo being an optical enlargement of the original.  In real terms, it represents an area of about 3.5 cm square on the original photo.  On the right is the same area after it has been processed.  Look how much sharper the engine detail is, meaning it can be enlarged or printed even bigger.

Fantastic clarity on the right hand photo

It also does a remarkable job on the human form.  I used it to enlarge one of those school photos where all the students are photographed at the same time and every head is about 5mm square.  I was able to enlarge it to the point where everyone was instantly recognisable without any effort at all - tremendous.  Obviously, the better quality of photo, the better the result but the face recognition algorithm does a pretty good job.  Some black and white photos from the late 1800's belonging to the local mining museum came up a treat.  For anyone who is interested, this is the link to the vendor's website: https://topazlabs.com/gigapixel-ai/ .  There are lots of examples on the site and it is exceedingly easy to use.