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Saturday, 4 May 2019

One for the Engineers or Techos amongst us

It's 11 years since I retired and a lot longer than that since I practised as a professional engineer.  However, once an engineer........  (accompanied by eye-rolling from my long-suffering wife), I can't just jump on a bike and ride the bloody thing.  Can't shut down the need to know a lot more about it - mostly stuff that is relatively unimportant and irrelevant to most of the human race and normal, sane people.  However, when we meet up with another rider who has similar inclinations, just try and shut us up!  Lifelong friendships have been forged with less of a bond.

This post is predominantly for Lee - friend, fellow IAM member and ENGINEER.  He posed some technical questions in the comments section of the previous post.  However, anyone without technical inclinations is most welcome to skip it.  And if you're a female, I am immune to eye-rolling and exasperated sighs as I've had 47 years of it from my beloved!

Bike forums are often known for opinion without facts to back them up.  My immediate mental response to that sort of comment is a grumpy "Where's the evidence?"  However, a recent forum post was about instrument errors on motorcycles.  By comparing speedo readings with those on my GPS, I knew that the speedo on my GSX-S 1000 was 8 km/hr fast at 100 km/hr.  I was immediately curious about the KTM so set off on the day before Good Friday to have a bit of fun and collect some data using the GPS as a reference point.

Bad Girl Lola at Kuaotunu, Coromandel Peninsula

The KTM has heaps of information on its TFT screen and even more info in a whole series of drop-down menus.  I was particularly interested in the accuracy of the speedo, odometer and fuel consumption.  Fuel consumption is influenced by all sorts of factors, not the least being your right wrist so I just rode how I normally do, switching between Street Mode and Sport Mode depending on road and traffic conditions.  I wasn't all that interested in absolute consumption, just what the instrumentation was telling me compared with fuel actually topped up at the end of the ride and distance covered according to the GPS.  Sad and nerdy person that I am, it was quite interesting.  I need to get out more.....

The main screen of the KTM 
(The range isn't really 720 km, it changes as soon as you get rolling)

These are the readings from a 170 km round trip on twisty roads.  Bike instrumentation compared against my Garmin GPS.

Speedometer:  Reads approximately 5% more than the GPS and looks pretty linear from a series of readings at various speeds.  At an indicated 190 km/hr, the GPS reads a little under 180 km/hr.  This particular reading is theoretical, you understand!

Trip Odometer:  Reads 6.6% more than the GPS.

Fuel consumption:  Bike instrumentation shows 8.9% more optimistic economy than the GPS distance divided by the actual fuel taken to top up the tank at the end of the ride.  True fuel consumption with a mix Street and Sport modes was 4.61 lt/100 km for the trip.  This looks about right for the 270-300 km that I expect from a full tank on an average journey without hammering but "making progress".

Just out of interest, compare this consumption with that of the GSX-S 1000.  On similar journeys, it used to drink 5.5 lt/100km.  On a trackday which Lee and I did in 2018, it was nearly double that consumption figure.  Lee's contention is that a combination of modern technology and Euro 5 emissions legislation is making modern engines more fuel efficient.  I don't think that there's much doubt about that and other factors such as power to weight ratio, gearing, drag coefficient all have a bearing on consumption.  Then there's external factors such as road conditions and your right wrist!

I'll repeat the experiment again on some longer future trip.

The other thing I recently tested was the headlight.  This is the first bike I've owned with an LED headlight.  Its angular or insectoidal-shape also made me wonder how good it was going to be in lighting up twisty roads out in the countryside with no ambient lighting.  We have nothing in NZ that's going to eat your face if you run into it, but collecting a sheep, cow or deer is going to sting a bit and spoil your day.

Based on a praying mantis or Alien from the movie?

 Full beam in daylight - bright!

Heading from Coromandel village to Whitianga township after dark is a good test as there's virtually no artificial lighting between them and lots of tight corners and elevation changes.  I'm delighted to report that forward illumination was really good and side illumination (road verges) was also good.  The latter was far better than I was expecting, given the headlight shape.  The following photos don't really do the headlight justice in reality but they do show that the important bits show up just fine.

Top of the Coromandel -Whangapoua hill.  Wet roads

Long Bay Road - good side illumination as well as distance

Naturally, lighting can always be improved with spotlights and the like.  However, I've done 5 NZ equivalents of the Iron Butt 1600 km in under 24 hour endurance rides on previous bikes.  There's around 11 or 12 hours of riding in the dark on mostly twisty unlit roads.  My yardstick is would I be happy riding in one of those events on the KTM?  The answer is yes - no problem at all.

If your eyes have glazed over after reading that lot, I apologise.  You can have a rest now as for part of May and June, Jennie and I will hopefully be having an excellent adventure in China and Hong Kong!

Fun in the sun

Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Scalpel - one month and 1500 km down the track

By way of a brief recap, I wanted a lighter bike as a concession to age (and short legs) and for various reasons, my personal choice boiled down to the Triumph Street Triple or KTM Duke 790, nicknamed "The Scalpel" by the factory.  Having owned a Triple 675 for 6 years and briefly tried a 765, I knew what wonderful bikes they are and was pretty relaxed about owning either the Triumph or KTM as both would meet both my functional needs and importantly, touch my soul in a way that my GSX-S 1000 didn't.

The previous post detailed the test ride on a demonstrator Duke and the effect it had on me, actually laughing out loud inside the helmet.  I'd already done plenty of research on the Triumph and Duke and it was the fun factor and potentially wild nature of the Duke that sealed it.  Part of the research involved being put in touch with a Kiwi professional engineer, Rodney O'Connor; who had worked for both KTM and Triumph design teams whilst travelling overseas.  Rodney gave some great insights as to the workings of both companies which were extremely valuable.  However, the most valuable bit of information he gave was this (reproduced verbatim):

"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"

After riding the Duke, I did a mental coin toss simulating the Street Triple coming out on top.  I actually felt disappointed and that reaction clarified and sealed the decision to buy the Duke!  Amazing how a simple bit of advice made the decision so clear.  Thanks a million Rodney.... and Blair who made the introduction!  You really do need to listen to your heart as part of the buying process if you want complete satisfaction.

Sooooo....  here we are, one month in and about 1500 km on the clock.  Would have been a lot more had it not been for hosting UK friends we hadn't seen for 34 years, then copping a virus which laid me low for a week.  Thought I'd take the opportunity to detail my experiences and thoughts so far.  Naturally, these comments are personal for my particular needs.

Day 1... about to ride home from the dealer - laughing already

Excellent for my 5'7" height.  At 825mm seat height, it's 15mm higher than my Suzuki but the shape of the seat is such that it allows my legs to be in a more vertical position at a standstill.  This amply demonstrates that both seat height and shape both have a bearing on suitability.   The seat is firm but surprisingly comfortable.  Longest day in the saddle so far has been 500 km with minimal stopping and whilst I've been aware of pressure on my butt towards the end, it hasn't been distracting.

No complaints about seat comfort

On the Suzuki, I fitted lowered footpegs to relieve the pressure on damaged knees.  There has been no need to do this on the KTM as it's even more comfortable than the Suzuki with its modified setup.  The upright riding position provides excellent all-round visibility - an important safety feature in traffic.

The KTM weight at 169 kg without fuel is about 40kg lighter (yep, that's one heck of a lot!) than the Suzuki and has a lower centre of gravity.  That's a massive benefit to my ageing body, particularly at low speeds, parking or just wheeling it about.  A lightweight bike was my No 1 criterion (coupled with performance) and the purchase has hit the spot in this respect.  Performance aspect shortly!

The electronics package on the KTM is really impressive and is controlled through the TFT screen.  The basic riding modes are Rain, Street, Sport and Track with ABS and Traction Control being lean-angle sensitive too!  It also has launch control and anti-wheelie options if you're pushing the performance envelope but they will be features to play with a bit further down the track. A steering damper is standard.  Being a typical guy, I haven't read and memorised the manual from cover to cover yet!

The photo below shows the TFT display in its normal riding mode.  The black background is "night mode", designed to reduce glare.  In brighter light, it has a white background.  A sensor auto-detects light levels.  Some reviewers have found this feature a little annoying (e.g switching when riding under tree cover) but it doesn't bother me in the slightest.  The display shows all the normal stuff - distance covered, distance before next fill-up and so on.  Approaching the rev limit, the screen above the rev counter line starts flashing KTM orange as a visual cue that it's time to think about changing gear!

TFT display in low ambient light mode

One technical feature I do use is the quickshifter.  This could be easily dismissed as a toy for wannabe racers but not needing to use the clutch is surprisingly useful in a normal road environment.  Downshifts are silky smooth and very fast so that any disruption to the bike's drive/stability is minimal.  Smooth upshifts require a reasonable amount of throttle and for this reason, I still tend to use the clutch most of the time.  However, when gassing it, the benefits are the same as downshifting.  In any event, the gearbox is an absolute peach and engaging first gear in particular is the tiniest of "snicks", compared with the big clunk on the last bike.

Quickshifter behind the engine

I've only used the headlight in twilight conditions as opposed to complete darkness but the LED light comes in for particular praise on road tests.  No reason to doubt it from what I've seen so far.  EDIT:  Have now tried it in complete darkness on twisty roads with no ambient light and it's perfectly acceptable.  I have completed 5 "Iron Butt" 1600 km in under 24 hours organised rides on various bikes.  They involve 10-12 hours of riding on minor roads in complete darkness and I would be quite happy to complete such a ride on the KTM without any form of lighting upgrade.

That's bright, that is!

PERFORMANCE (aka Wossit do, Mister?)
The engine
In the real world, brute horsepower isn't a good indicator of the ability to make progress on public highways.  Power to weight ratio, torque characteristics and handling all have significant influence.  Comparing the power to weight ratio of the KTM and GSX-S1000, they come out at 0.62 bhp/kg and 0.69 bhp/kg (dry weight) respectively so close enough not to really matter.  Sufficient to propel the KTM to a top speed of around 230 km/hr which is more than adequate for this old geezer!

The claimed torque of the KTM is 86 N-m compared with 106 N-m of the Suzuki but the KTM isn't having to accelerate as much mass.  From the perspective of owning both bikes, the Suzuki is definitely better but not by much under most conditions.  Snap overtakes at any speed in any gear are a breeze, aided by the quickshifter of course.

Sexy pipework!

The engine note is one of the features which I found attractive.  The standard muffler has quite a bark without attracting too much attention and pops a little on the over-run.  The "big bang" 435 degree firing order makes it sound a bit like a Ducati V twin with Termignoni end cans when revving.  At lower revs, it sounds more like a large capacity single cylinder trail bike.  In summary, I like it a lot!  One of the more well-known applications of "big bang" technology was on the 2 stroke NSR 500cc Honda GP bikes in the 90's which Mick Doohan and others rode.  Uneven power pulses made the engine power delivery easier to control, better traction and less tyre wear.  Maybe it applies to some extent on road bikes too!

In a word, exceptional. Very little countersteering required on bend sequences to point the bike where you want it to go - you can just chuck it around.  I guess this is a combination of the light weight and steering geometry.  Less fatiguing than a larger, heavier bike.  Everything I expected it to be.  Tyres are the purpose-designed Maxxis pure sport.  I've no complaints about them so far in warm conditions or even wet mixed with warmth in rain mode and they are now virtually worn to the edges.  However, in the colder, wetter months; they're probably going to exhibit lower levels of grip associated with pure sport tyres under those conditions.  When the time comes, they'll probably be replaced with Michelin Road 5's like I had on the Suzuki.  A great all-round tyre in both wet and dry conditions.  Another aspect of the handling I love is the turning circle - it's SMALL!  My Suzuki was so-so and the 2009 Street Triple was abysmal.  With the Triple, you couldn't make a complete U turn on a moderate width road (as I found out to my cost not long after buying it - only a broken front indicator cover but massive ego damage).

Haven't really had to use them in anger but "adequate" is the word that comes to mind.  Damned by faint praise I suppose.  As time goes by and if any real shortcomings arise, I'll pop a set of EBC HH pads in as that's done the trick on both the Street Triple and GSX-S 1000.

Fuel Consumption
Before purchase, this was the aspect which bothered me a bit with the KTM having a 14 litre tank.  Living way out in the countryside, my journeys are usually several hundred km and having a reasonable range is important.  I've been pleasantly surprised.  If the instrumentation is fairly accurate, fuel consumption during the break-in period has equated to a range of between 270-300 km which is quite acceptable.

Too early to tell in the longer term but the paintwork, plastic and alloy looks really good with a lot of attention to detail.  Bolts are mostly normal hex head with the Torx 6 point star in the centre for better grip than either Phillips or Allen keys.  The toolkit provides various sized bits.

I've always avoided accessories with purely cosmetic function but nonetheless, seem to have made quite a dent in my wallet in terms of aftermarket stuff from around the world to meet my particular needs.

The finished article (for now)

Starting up front, an Ermax flyscreen from France.  Minimal impact at low speed but at higher speeds, wind blast is moved up to the shoulder area.  One possible unintended consequence is that the screen disintegrates squishy bugs, then fires the pulverised remains across my visor with the accelerated slipstream.  Will have to see if my observation is correct.  Extortion clearly isn't the sole province of the Mafia.  The French manufacturer wanted over NZ$100 in shipping costs alone.  You know how it is when you desperately want something - grit your teeth and pay up!  That's exactly what I did.  Quality is excellent which takes some of the pain away.

The R&G crash protectors and Pyramid front guard extension came from the UK and shipping rates were pretty fair.  I had both on my Suzuki and knew what I was getting.  I've also fitted R&G anti-slip tank protection.  That's the matte finish area at the rear of the tank and it blends in nicely with the matte seat and matte plastic cover below the tank.  Wasn't really interested in the anti-slip properties and bought it simply for paintwork protection from being scuffed with my riding gear.  I also bought a CNC-machined attachment to increase the foot area of the sidestand.  The original foot is quite narrow and I could foresee plenty of scope for it sinking into a soft verge, followed by lots of embarrassment and ego damage!

Crash protection - R&G Aero

Nice alloy side stand pad

The best value for money accessory has been the tail pack on the rear seat.  It's waterproof, expandable (it'll allegedly take a helmet) and has padded straps to convert it to a back pack.  Bought via eBay from Hong Kong for NZ$60 delivered.  Given the price, I didn't have particularly high expectations about the quality but I can't fault it!

Fantastic value for money and looks like it was designed for the bike

A radiator guard is a possible addition to the accessory list but at least the front guard extension keeps the crap and stones from the front wheel pretty much away from the radiator.  At least with the accessory list more or less done and dusted for now, Jennie won't be scanning our bank statements and rolling her eyes!

A bit early to tell but nothing major at present.  The chain clearance under the swingarm is pretty close which makes lubricating it somewhat more difficult, even using my ABBA Superbike stand.  Not a big deal though.  Of slightly more concern is correctly setting chain tension when the time comes because of the proximity to the swingarm - will have to do some reading about that.

Not much clearance between chain and swingarm

"Character" is a word which means different things to different people.  Modern bikes are normally so good that it's hard to separate one from another apart from looks.  In the case of the KTM, the engine note and characteristics, looks and overall performance all genuinely add a point of difference.  This is obviously personal to me and is also influenced by the bikes I've previously owned.

Do I still think I made the right choice between the KTM and the Street Triple?  Unequivocally yes.  I would have been happy with either but the Duke adds an extra dimension of excitement.  To go back to my slightly tongue in cheek comment in the previous post.....  the Street Triple is the smooth, sophisticated chick who is classy and exciting, perhaps a tad predictable but still delivers a great performance.  The KTM is the slightly dodgy chick, a bit wild and unpredictable and fun but delivers a sensational performance that lights your fire. Definitely wouldn't take her home to meet your mother!  Like the dodgy chick, the KTM encourages immoderate behaviour.  I can't sum it up better better than that!

A fellow IAM member took it for a short ride today.  When he returned, he had a massive grin on his face and his first words were, "If I owned this, I'd really be risking my licence".  Enough said!

More on the KTM after a bigger distance has been covered, but an update covering instrumentation accuracy and headlight effectiveness can be found HERE

Out and about on Bad Girl Lola!

Friday, 1 March 2019

When ageing bikers go bad......

Regular readers will remember past comments on this blog, some serious and some flippant; about ageing motorcyclists, risks and strategies to enjoy and safely prolong their riding.  My thoughts about taking the issue seriously was prompted by a series of email exchanges with US motorcycle safety guru and author David Hough.  Those exchanges were summarised in a post from 2011 HERE . 

The exchanges prompted me to raise my skills with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  It not only gave me new skills but reinvigorated my riding enjoyment too.  It's also opened the opportunity to assist other riders of all ages to upskill too.

Now at 71, it's time to put the next part of the plan into action.  My Suzuki GSX-S 1000 is by no means a heavyweight at 210 kg dry but its centre of gravity is relatively high.  As I seem to be shrinking and am now 5' 7" in old money, a high C of G and being vertically challenged are not a good recipe, especially parking around off-cambers or uneven ground (don't ask me how I know!).

Clearly, it was time to consider a lighter bike but one with good performance, which I've been doing for many months.  As well as weighing up technical specifications, I've been careful to think about that very personal factor - emotional appeal.  The GSX-S was bought rather more quickly than prudent and whilst it's a great bike, it didn't have much emotional appeal.  A simple example is that unlike my old 675 Street Triple, it didn't get patted when I walked past it in the shed! 

Without going into all the reasons why, the two bikes which I thought would fill the technical and emotional sides of buying a new bike are the Triumph Street Triple 765 and the KTM Duke 790.  Time to do some test riding!

If I can draw a very non-PC analogy going back to my late teens or early 20’s, the Triple is equivalent to the smooth, sophisticated chick you meet at the pub. A touch expensive, reliable and predictable in many ways, but nonetheless exciting. Call it the "safe" option if you like. Then there is the slightly dodgy chick, a bit rough and wild, maybe a tad unreliable but is unpredictably exciting. Not the sort that you’d take home to meet Mum but we’ve either fantasised about the latter type or experienced one at first hand. That’s the KTM. (Can’t believe I’ve just written that paragraph but you get the drift and it is probably applicable to both sexes if we're honest about it so being offended is tough luck).

A couple of days ago, it was time to test the Duke 790, nicknamed "The Scalpel".  169 kg, 435 degree “big bang” motor, lean sensitive traction control and ABS, launch control, adjustable wheelie control, track, sport, road and wet weather modes, quick shifter, slipper clutch, steering damper – motorcycle porn for a techo. What’s not to like?

Rocked up to the KTM/Suzuki dealer in Hamilton to find that the dealer principal had just fitted Bridgestone Battlax RS 10 tyres.  This is in anticipation of a trackday he's doing next week.  They are not really a road appropriate tyre as you could almost spread the soft compound with a butter knife.  I think life will be in the hundreds of kilometres!  However, a hot, dry day and the dealer telling me to go and enjoy myself........ what could be better?

Introducing the KTM Duke 790 - aka "The Scalpel"

This bike is deceptively small but the ergonomics are perfect for me.  Just like my old 675 Street Triple, everything is instinctively in the right place.  The seat is about 15 mm higher than the Suzuki but as the seat profile is more rounded, my legs are more vertical when on the ground.  Coupled with the light weight, it's really confidence-inspiring for a shortarse.

No time for heroics on the first outing so "road" mode was selected from the TFT display and the motor started.  There's quite a bark from the standard muffler and you probably wouldn't want it a lot louder to start drawing attention to yourself.  Some nice pops on a trailing throttle too. 

Sexy pipework!

Pull away from the dealership into the traffic and everything feels good.  Leg position feels perfect for my stuffed knees and the seat feels perfectly comfortable,  Great all-round vision too.

Dive down a side road and out into the country.  I'm not sure what I was expecting in terms of performance but crikey, this bike really picks up her skirts and accelerates!  The perfect example of a great power to weight ratio and not needing massive horsepower to get stunning performance.  The clutchless quick shifter works a treat when you have the throttle pinned but is a little more vague at low throttle openings ,  Downshifts using it are universally good. 

I love the engine note but don't quite know what to make of it as it's almost unique.  It's not like a conventional twin because of the firing order.  Sometimes, there's a hint of V twin and at other times, it feels like a stonking big single.  Yet another point of difference compared with the opposition.

Into the twisties and the reason for the nickname "Scalpel" becomes apparent.  It eats corners with virtually no input from the rider other than getting the entry position right.  Getting entry speed right seemed less critical - just lean it a bit more!  And boy, do those RS 10's stick!   

Evidence of an enjoyable test ride

In fairness, I didn't push as hard as the state of the tyres might suggest.  The dealer principal had already given them a good workout to and from his home and I just added to that.  With the coarse chip of the roads I took it on (compared with a track) and air temperatures of around 30 degrees C, it wasn't hard to start making inroads on their life.

For most roads out in the countryside, the first 5 gears were more than adequate and at the legal limit of 100 km/hr, 6th gear felt a bit like an overdrive.  That was probably exacerbated by the motor still being a bit tight.  It felt better at higher (illegal) speeds and as it's capable of around 230 km/hr, you wouldn't want to engage the higher gears too early unless you're in economy mode.

Looks like a preying mantis with its LED headlight - skinny too

After some enthusiastic riding in the countryside, I realised that I was absolutely fizzing - genuinely taken by surprise as to how good it was and how much I was enjoying it.  Modern bikes, excepting the odd lemon, are universally good.  I guess this can mean that they can be a bit "same old, same old".  The Duke breaks this mould and the experience is incredibly refreshing.  It adds a genuinely different experience.

I put it in sport mode on the edge of coming back into the city just out of curiosity and it was significantly more sensitive to small changes in throttle opening and skittery.  It may settle down as the motor beds in but in reality, it's no big deal to keep it in "road" mode.  

Coming back into the dealership, my feeling was almost identical to the time I first took a 675 Street Triple out after owning the Blackbird for 8 years.  That feeling can be summed up as " I want it and I want it NOW".  A deal was quickly done as I've used the dealer for servicing my bikes since 2001.  As of next week, the Suzuki will be no more and a KTM will grace the shed.  Remember the rough chick analogy?  Exciting times ahead and will report back with a more thorough review in due course.  Experiences like this are what keeps us young!

As with my old Street Triple, the KTM is the sort of bike which encourages immoderate behaviour.  I'm going to have to watch that!

Oh, the black and silver colour scheme as opposed to the traditional KTM orange is partially down to Jennie.  She doesn't like the orange which I think partially translates as an old fart on an orange bike doesn't look right!  No problem with this as the black and silver matches my leathers and hopefully will draw less attention of the wrong kind!

Addendum: 1500 km update HERE

The smile says it all!

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Best of 2018 Picture Challenge

Fellow blogger Sonja  has issued a challenge to post 10 photos taken in 2018 on specific topics.  Always nice to look back and choose some favourite ones so here you are Sonja, covering your chosen themes!

1.  In the city
This is the Viaduct Basin area of Auckland waterfront.  It's being redeveloped in readiness for the next America's Cup.  Our son-in-law is a landscape architect and is heavily involved in the redevelopment.  The public seating on the right of the photo is his design and was the first installation of many.  The slat seating has lights inside which come on at night.

Viaduct Basin, Auckland

2.  In the countryside
This is Colville Store on the Coromandel Peninsula.  You can't quite hear the banjos but there are a few "hippy" communes in the area, lots of alternative lifestylers and artisans.  The store stocks just about anything the local area needs as it's a bit of a haul to the nearest town.  Nice place to stop for an ice cream.

"Deliverance" country!

3. By the water
This photo was taken entirely by chance.  We live on the ridge in the background and were just travelling into the village to take part in a pub quiz for a local charity.  The sun was just setting and I stopped for a few seconds to take the photo on my mobile phone.

Coromandel Harbour at sunset

4.  Something red
There was only ever going to be one photo chosen for this theme!  In December, we had the privilege of hosting lovely friends from the island of Guernsey, UK.  We all enjoy plants of all kinds and for some years, I've been teasing Nick about the spectacular NZ Pohutukawa trees which flower in their millions in December.  Well, Nick and Irene finally got to see them in the flesh which has killed any further teasing. (maybe!)

Nick and Irene suffering more smart remarks about Pohutukawa!

5.  People
Our daughter Victoria bought me an Asian Cooking course for my birthday and I chose Malaysian cuisine.  Travelled to Auckland and we went along to learn to create a classic dish from scratch.  Not only did it smell wonderful, it tasted sensational.  An unusual and magnificent birthday present!

Dad and daughter time

6. Animals
Our two cats, Thomas (17) and Annie (7) are very much part of the family and the local community come to that.  Sadly, time caught up with Thomas this month and he's now at rest in the top of the garden overlooking the harbour.  Photo taken around Christmas.

Annie and Thomas chilling in the heat of summer

7. Plants
We're fortunate to live in a pretty much frost-free area of NZ so we can grow a wide range of decorative plants and fruit.  The photo below is a close-up of a bee on one of our dwarf bottlebrush bushes.

Dwarf bottlebrush flower

8.  Something unusual
Back in March, we visited NZ's capital, Wellington; to catch up with old friends.  They surprised us by booking a trip to the movies.  Not any old movies but to a movie theatre in someone's back garden!  It's a 40 seat theatre which specialises in showing old period movies.  The reception area is straight out of the 50's in terms of decor and memorabilia.  They even have a half time interval where "period" food and drink are served.  Crackers and processed cheese with a slice of tomato on top, home made cake and scones, instant coffee and tea from a massive teapot.  Absolutely wonderful atmosphere - no wonder you have to book ahead.  For those who are interested: Time Cinema

The delightful reception area

9. Something funny
Back in August, I demonstrated complete incompetence by smacking a leg into the towbar of our 4x4 with considerable force.  The result was a huge haematoma and massive bruising which was exceedingly painful.  I had a full calendar of motorcycle coaching which would have been seriously disrupted by staying at home for a few weeks.  I looked for a way round this and ended up duct taping an armoured elbow protector from an old motorcycle jacket over the haematoma to protect it from knocks.  Jennie was not best pleased and most of her comments are not printable.  "Silly old fart" is by far the mildest of them.  It worked though and saved me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself!

Brilliant idea!

10.  Best photo of the year
Almost impossible to pick as there are several that hold special memories.  However, the photo below taken in February is pretty special. It was taken at the Moto TT track day at the Bruce McLaren international circuit, Taupo.  We were at Taupo for the Institute of Advanced Motorists annual conference and taking part in the trackday was part of a fun-filled weekend.  The Suzuki really picked up her skirts and flew.  After about 6 sessions on the track, most of us were exhausted, called it a day and sunk some ice cold beers back at the motel.  No wonder professional racers have to be athlete-fit!  As a 70 year old at the time, I was pretty pleased to hold it all together and lap pretty quickly too.  Growing old disgracefully is great fun!

Could almost pass for a young fella if I left my helmet on!

There you go Sonja - challenge accepted.  Any other bloggers fancy having a go?

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Good news and bad news

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  Absolute joy that Jennie's hip replacement is going ahead in early February and her suffering over the last year or two will shortly be at an end.   It will be fantastic to have her operating at full steam again.  It's being done at a private hospital and no mucking about these days - they have you up and walking the next day (with crutches) and generally send you home a couple of days later.  No riding for me in Feb whilst I'm taking care of her and doing the household duties but so good to have her out of pain.  It also means that our trip to China at the end of  May can now go ahead as planned.  For a while, it looked like we might lose the deposit with all the medical uncertainty.

This week has been a sad one as we said goodbye to our 17 year old part - Russian Blue cat Thomas.  We got him as a rescue kitten from the SPCA.  The photo below was taken on the day we brought him home.  He looked so sad as he had a weepy eye and maybe that was part of why he was chosen. Or did he choose us..... ?

A little waif in need of love....

He quickly attached himself to Jennie and became quite a character in the neighbourhood.  Thankfully, he was good mates with the cat next door but scrapped with any other felines in the neighbourhood and was quite happy to take on sizeable dogs too.  The local vet got a nice income stream from regularly patching him up!

Attacking the cat flap for some unknown reason

He loved his food and became pretty well-known in the neighbourhood for turning up at BBQ's up to a couple of streets away.  Ever-polite, he wouldn't scrounge - he'd simply sit and stare at someone until a bit of steak or sausage was forthcoming!

When we retired and moved to Coromandel, he loved the lifestyle and often walked to the beach behind our place and explored the rock pools.

Exploring the rock pools at the beach

Thomas was always into thinking big.  He couldn't be arsed to chase the local bird population but on numerous occasions, we'd wake in the morning to the sight of a rabbit hopping around the lounge which he'd dragged through the cat flap.  He never hurt them - just used to bring them home and watch them.  His crowning glory (so to speak) was dragging a very angry pheasant through the cat flap one day which proceeded to flap round the house and poop everywhere before we could get it outside.

After that, he settled for an easier life and recognised that neighbours flushing their outboard engines meant that they'd shortly be filleting their catch.  He'd saunter off and politely sit by their filleting benches waiting to receive trimmings.  Always a very dignified cat.  One near-neighbour used to place a fish scale on his head to signify that he'd been fed when he finally arrived home!

  Thomas inspecting and approving a neighbour's catch

Tussling for the TV remote with his personal servant

A few tears have been shed over the last few days.  As with all animal lovers, they're family and we grieve accordingly when we lose them.  It's one of the nicer traits of the human race when we can give unconditional love to another species.  RIP Old Fella.

Handsome chap

We've been out fishing regularly because of Jennie's upcoming enforced break and so far, it's been a scorchingly hot summer.  In fact, too hot to be on the water for long without good protection.  UV levels in NZ are pretty high and we share with Queensland (Australia) the dubious distinction of having the highest skin cancer levels in the world.   Time to fit a canopy to the boat so that was our slightly belated joint Christmas present to ourselves.

Spent the best part of a day this week assembling and fitting it.  Most of the time was spent in careful measurement and trial fitting before drilling holes.  Not a good look to have surplus holes on a boat.  Delighted to say that everything went well and it works perfectly.   Surprised to find that it was made in NZ, not China.  Great quality product with clear instructions.  Can't wait to try it out.

A shady canopy - pure bliss!

Ready for action

Oh, and in other good news, I've been given Executive Permission (official trade name) to replace the Suzuki this year.  Won't do anything for a few months but there will be some delicious test riding to be done.  Going for something lighter as a nod to my age but no sacrifice in performance.  Errr... I haven't actually mentioned the performance angle to Jennie as I'm trying to portray uncharacteristic maturity.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that another Street Triple is one of my two front-runners.  This time, the 765 R or RS.  However, the other choice might raise a few eyebrows!  It's the KTM 790 Duke.  Despite (or because of my 71 years on the planet), maybe it's time to get an utterly mad wheelie monster of a machine that spells FUN in huge capital letters.  Not that I'd ever be caught behaving like that, oh dearie me no.

Watch this space......

Sunday, 23 December 2018

2018 in pictures

2018 was a crazily busy year, even by our standards and went in the blink of an eye.  The following photos represent various happenings in each month with a few comments and thoughts to go with them.

This is peak summer holiday season in NZ.  Living in a region which everyone  wants to visit in the vacations, we tend to hang around at home as the roads are busy with feral drivers who leave their brains wherever they come from.  The garden is a riot of colour at this time of year so that's what the photos are of.

 Bee on a dwarf bottlebrush plant, using the camera macro function

Tree loaded with colourful Luisa plums

The Institute of Advanced Motorists annual conference and get-together was held over a weekend at the scenic Taupo township.  For those who arrived on the Friday, there was the opportunity to take part in a trackday at the Bruce McLaren international circuit.  What a fantastic experience in great company.  Pulling 230 km/hr down the back straight then hard on the brakes, hoping I would make the tight left-hander at the end of the straight!

The first photo was taken just after dawn on the way to the circuit.  IAM Chief Motorcycle Examiner Philip on his Fireblade,  Lee on his MV Augusta 675 and my GSX-S 1000.  The second photo was taken by the track photographer of me flying round the left-hander at the end of the back straight.

The three musketeers at dawn en route to the track

Some old geezer trying to recapture his youth

A long weekend in NZ's capital to visit old friends also saw me mountain biking on the cycleway on the Kapiti Coast.  As part of the new motorway development, the government department responsible for building a new section of motorway also built adjacent wetlands to attract birds and other creatures plus the scenic cycleway.  Excellent work!

Trying to regain lost youth!

We also purchased a new boat for sea fishing.  Jennie's hip problem meant that the old boat was no longer comfortable.  Delighted to say that the new one does the business.

So-fish-ticated (named by our daughter)

An "arty" shot using the macro function of a plant in our garden after a rainstorm.  Showing off, it's called Dasylirion Wheeleri - a vicious but attractive spiky ball over a metre across which is good for drawing blood from the unwary, especially grandchildren!

Dasylirion Wheeleri from Mexico

The vicious plant in question

Word has also got around the local bird population that I'm a soft touch when it comes to giving them a feed.  If they see me working at the computer and I haven't put food out, they'll tap on the window if the ranchslider is closed or if it's open, they'll come inside and remonstrate with me!  In this case, it's some representatives from the local flock of Californian Quail.

C'mon human, pull finger and get out here pronto!

I was hugely proud to be appointed as an IAM Examiner.  Many Examiners are serving police officers with specialist riding and driving roles within the force and it was a genuine honour and humbling to be in their company and the massively competent civilian Examiners.  The photo below is the first rider I took for his Advanced Roadcraft Test and delighted to say that he passed the stringent theory and practical examination.

Chris and his GSX-S1000

We also took our grandchildren out fishing among the commercial mussel beds outside Coromandel Harbour and their parents also came out on their kayak.  Everyone caught fish and a great day was had by all.

Family fun

It's not only riders with sporty bikes who join IAM - everyone can benefit.  In the photo below, Trainee Observer (mentor) Tony is coaching cruiser rider Henry. I was mentoring Tony in observing skills and a couple of months later, he passed his Observer Test with flying colours.

Tony and Henry acting the goat

The Coromandel Peninsula is a haven for artisans of all sorts - potters, weavers, painters..... you name it and they're here.  We needed a new bookcase for a guest bedroom and commissioned a local furniture craftsman to make a rustic one for us in solid macrocarpa.  He's also made furniture for our deck and a large bookcase for our lounge and we have a great relationship.  We drop him off fish that we've caught and he gives us organic vegetables from his garden!

Picking up the bookcase from Greg - smells divine

Well into winter, although not that cold.  A great social run with fellow IAM members in the Central North Island.  Along twisty, largely empty back roads with freshly made wood-fired pizza for lunch.  Takes a lot of beating!  Also gathering near us for club runs were the local Ford Mustang and Mazda MX5 Miata car clubs.  Everyone mixed in waiting for their respective start times, creating a great atmosphere.

Assembling in the town of Te Aroha

Various plants flower all the year round in our garden and all though this succulent has been planted for a few years, it's the first time that it's flowered.  The conical flower spike is about 30 cm long and lasted for about 3 months.  Hope it does it again next year.

Flowering succulent, or maybe a Triffid!

It was also our 46th wedding anniversary, clearly demonstrating how tolerant Jennie is in putting up with me!  Didn't take any photos so it's appropriate to post one from our honeymoon in Croatia and Venice in 1972.

Sigh..... when we were young....

Regular readers will remember the 17th August blog post of collecting a Porsche Carerra 4S Turbo and delivering it to Auckland.  That is.... remembering that I made a complete fool of myself adjusting the seat, trying to start it, looking for the parking brake and a whole load of other embarrassing incidents.  Apart from the humiliation, it was a surprisingly underwhelming experience.  The electronics package meant that it didn't require much driver input at sane highway speeds combined with poor rearward visibility.  Over $200,000 in NZ plus an equally frightening operating cost.   Has totally put me off supercars  - give me a 70's muscle car every time, or even something like a Lotus 7.

Not exactly an understated colour scheme

Two more central north island Trainee Observers passed their Full Observer theory and practical tests in the past few weeks.  Chris, the middle of the three below had just passed.  Neil on the left ran the test.  Pete, on the right, is the new IAM member who Chris was putting through his paces as part of the test.  Now here's a surprise..... Pete is actually in charge of the Highway Patrol road policing team for our province!  Mainly driving cars in his day job but also a keen motorcyclist, he saw joining IAM as a means of regularly maintaining his skills to a high level.  Great guy and a real pleasure to have in our region.

Neil, Chris and Pete

One evening, Jennie and I were heading into our village to take part in a charity fundraising quiz bang on sunset.  I took the following photo by sheer good fortune on my mobile phone a few hundred metres from home which is on the ridge at the rear of the image.  Often, the best photos come about by blind chance!

Sunset over Coromandel Harbour

A busy month.  Turned 71, fitted a new Nitron custom shock to the bike (Jennie's birthday present to me!) and had a brisk social ride with some of the fellow IAM Observers from our region.  The first photo was taken in a town called Paeroa.  The Lemon and Paeroa (L&P) bottle signifies NZ's nearest equivalent to Coke.  Originally made in Paeroa in 1907 from local carbonated spring water and lemons.  Now made in Auckland and almost certainly bears no relationship to the original product!

From left: Lloyd, Rob, Neil and me

October also saw the second of 3 punctures in 4 months, one of which necessitated the replacement of my Michelin Road 5 rear tyre.  All of them happened in out of the way places and I'm glad that I always carry an electric pump and 3 different options for repairing a puncture.  Overkill?  Not when you live out in the boondocks!  The next picture shows me fixing a puncture with "dog turds" during a training ride.  Hopefully, the run of bad luck has finished.

The smile is more relief than amusement!

Long-term readers might remember that an adorable, tiny stray kitten just a few weeks old turned up at our place in 2011 and never left.  We called her Annie (as in Little Orphan Annie).  A few weeks after she turned up, my old cat passed on and since then, Annie made it her business to supervise everything I do.  She's rarely far from my side when I'm at home.  Here she is making sure that my computer work is up to scratch and it looks like I've been found wanting by her expression! 

Must try harder, human!

Jennie's birthday and took her completely by surprise with a wooden skeleton clock which I'd commissioned a friend to make for her.  All sorts of tricks were pulled and white lies told to throw her off the scent.  The details are mentioned in a recent post but to say that she loves it is an understatement.  Had to laugh when she told me that she'd been monitoring our joint account to see what I'd spent in the run-up to her birthday.  Thought she might so had a crafty way to get round that!

One happy lady....

Whilst in Auckland helping to run a motorcycle course, I stayed with our daughter Victoria and son in law Luke.  Luke is a landscape architect and his design for public seating was chosen as part of the Auckland waterfront upgrade in time for the America's Cup defence in 2021.   The first one has just been installed.  Consisting of computer-cut slats with internal lighting for nighttime, it looks spectacular.  Very proud of what Luke is achieving so early in his career.

Cool public seating at the Viaduct Basin, Auckland

December sees millions of pohutukawa trees in full bloom in NZ.  The photo below was taken from our son's house on Christmas Eve.  The crimson blooms have formed a carpet of red "needles" in the road.  A whole lot better than snow!

Colour me red.....

Looking forward to what 2019 might hold.  The "knowns" are a hip replacement for Jennie which will see her out of pain at last, a visit from old friends from the UK, a trip to China and replacing my Suzuki (Official Permission, no less!) .  I'm sure that there will be many more surprises along the way!

Here's wishing all fellow bloggers and readers a fabulous and safe 2019!