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Friday, 17 August 2018

An idiot and a Porsche

Our daughter-in-law's mother sadly passed away recently.  As part of the estate settlement, I have just been asked to collect her car not far from where we live and drive it on the weekend to Auckland for eventual sale.

I'd better come clean at this stage and admit that this vehicle is no shopping basket - it's a Porsche Carrera Cabriolet 4S.  Three litre, twin turbo pumping out well over 400 horses with active suspension and all-wheel drive to put all that power onto the road.  Dead keen to have a decent drive of a genuine supercar with less than 5000 km on the clock!

Jennie drove me to the place where it was stored to pick up the keys.  This is where trying to be Mr. Cool was about to descend into pure farce.  No-one there to tell me the basics but what could possibly go wrong?  My Toyota 4x4 has a key.  You know, one of those things with a plastic bit you grip, with a jagged bit of metal out front which you stick into a slot, turn and the engine goes brmmmmm.  Jennie's Honda is keyless and all you have to do is keep the thing that looks like a garage door opener somewhere on your person and press the button on the dash marked "Start".  It then goes brmmmmmm.

This is one of the few times where education or accumulated life experience counted for bugger-all or pretty close to it. Not a good feeling!

This is what I got given:

Yep,   recognise those symbols (I think)!

Even a plonker like me can recognise the unlock symbol so that's what I pressed. Pulling the door open, I was greeted by the driver's seat automatically sliding into some predetermined position which was a "wee bit" different from my anatomical requirements.  The first intelligence test was to adjust the seat and I was found wanting.  After finding the controls, of which there were multiple unmarked options, I stuffed about with limited success.  Aware that as well as Jennie, others might be surreptitiously watching my lack of progress, so about 75% right was good enough after what felt like hours but was probably only a couple of minutes.

The next humiliation was trying to start it.  Clearly, the device was some sort of keyless sensor like Jennie's but where the hell was the start button?  The Porsche has instrumentation to rival the Concorde flight deck and scanning the dashboard gave absolutely no clue.  Visions of having to ring a Porsche dealer... "Hello, I'm not the owner but can you tell me how to start this expensive car I'm trying to drive off in?"  Shortly followed by red and blues with batons and pepper spray.  By this time, Jennie was anxious to abandon me and disappear home in her car.  Desperation was setting in and then I noticed an indentation in the dash, roughly where a normal ignition barrel is.  An experimental poke with my finger and a cover slid aside.  Bingo, the "key thingy" is clearly meant to fit in it.  Just like you see in the movies where the human discovers an alien starship and can't resist sticking things in holes and you know it's probably not going to end well.  I felt much the same.

Just a small fraction of the instrumentation

Give it a turn and the instruments light up but no engine - bloody hell - what now?  Then I notice some words on one of the instruments that says "put your foot on the brake" or words to that effect.  Followed the instruction and Hallelujah - engine rumbles into life! Humiliation is not quite complete however - where the hell is the handbrake?  Not a lever to be seen but after a minute or so, I notice a small switch near my right knee which has a red LED glowing away.  Aha!  an electro-mechanical parking brake.  Snick it into reverse and we gently move backwards, ready to make the 40 minute journey home.

I prefer an understated colour scheme, not wanting to draw attention to myself and this one is the polar opposite with contrasting red mags, black bodywork and a red convertible top.  Sticks out a mile in rural Coromandel and could attract unwanted attention.

It seems an eternity since first opening the car door but it's probably closer to 15 minutes.  Pulling out onto the public roads, I'm aware just how wide this beast is at the rear wheels as the flared wheel arches fill half the wing mirrors.  The driver's internal mirror isn't brilliant either as the rear window is so acutely angled that it's like looking through a 20cm wide slot.  On the Suzuki, I'm doing mirror checks every few seconds, backed up with lifesavers (shoulder checks) where appropriate.  The comparative lack of rear vision on the Porsche is really unsettling.  

Several of the instrument clusters seem to have a dual purpose.  One reminds you about seatbelts and other things when stationary but shows turbo boost and various other pressures and temperatures when rolling.  Far better to just look where you're going than getting distracted.

330 km/hr speedo and multi-function gauge for boost and temperatures

Looking a tad anxious perhaps?

Driving like a nana through town to get a feel for it, I'm acutely conscious that I'm driving a car that cost well over NZ$200,000 and don't want to ding it or worse.  Clearing town, I pull over by the sea to reset my mental calibration.  I find this works if I'm not riding the bike particularly well.  Here's the Porsche Carrera.

Not to my taste but looks the part

Very little traffic on the road so a bit more throttle is used through the twisties.  The all-wheel drive coupled with active suspension makes it eat the corners but can't help thinking that it removes driver "feel".  It actually feels quite sterile and uninvolving which is a complete surprise.  Price of progress I guess in making things safer for drivers who aren't particularly skilled.  Earlier models of Porsche had a reputation for biting the heavy-handed.  I leave the gearbox in auto mode rather than manual and use the paddles for cornering and the odd overtake.  Crikey, this mother picks up her skirts and flies when those twin turbos start to spool up! In no time, we're back in our village, hoping no-one will recognise me in a place where mud-splattered 4x4's and utes are the most common form of transport.  

Parking it in a space under our front decking, all sorts of anti-collision sensors are chiming away and flashing various colours on the camera LCD display, warning of impending doom.  Personally, I find it a distraction and prefer to use my eyes, questionable visibility notwithstanding.  

Does my bum look big?  Big flares to cover the outrageous 305x30 rubber at NZ$1270 per tyre

Just one more humiliation awaits me before calling it quits for the evening.  Being uncertain about fuel consumption, I'd better find out how to fill the thing up if need be on the trip to Auckland in a few days.  Hunt as I may, simply can't find the filler cap release.  Just about to give up and go on the internet for info when I give the cap a little push and it pops open!  The car has to be unlocked before it will activate.  Duhhhh......

We now have to face the weekend delivery drive to Auckland.  A couple of my mates are Highway Patrol officers up that way and I pray that they don't recognise me.  You know what mates are like....

So there we are.....  an interesting day or two, a few laughs at my expense, enjoyed the experience of driving the beast but didn't enjoy the attention it garners.   Last thing you'd want is to get it coined or worse. Would I want one?  Not on your life.  Apart from the frightening cost of owning one, everyone on the road would hate me, thinking "Old geezer trying to re-live his youth, 25 year old mistress tucked away somewhere".  Now if I had a 70's American muscle car like a Boss Mustang or a Charger, the vibes would be entirely different.  Wouldn't even care if they thought that I had a 25 year old mistress!  Ditto for an E-type or Austin Healy 3000.  If pressed for a modern supercar with a bit of class, it would have to be an Aston Martin or a GT40 replica.  I'll stick to bikes for performance thanks!

Addendum:  Well, the Porsche was safely delivered to Auckland.  Nothing remarkable about the drive as it's not a car that gets the driver involved, at least at sane highway speeds.  However, there was one more surprise waiting.  I exited the motorway off-ramp close to our son and daughter-in-law's place and cruised down to the traffic lights at the end of the ramp.  After sitting there for a few moments, the engine stopped dead with a moment's panic on my behalf.  Check the fuel gauge - fine.  Quick scan of the instrumentation - fine.  Oh Lord - what now?  Move foot partially off the brake and it re-starts with no input from me.  Aha - so it's one of those auto-stop engines which saves on fuel!  Amazing how quickly the panic levels rise when something happens that you're not expecting.  An interesting experience to report on but in no hurry to repeat it.  Anyone want a GT 40 or a Boss Mustang delivering? 

The Suzuki at the back - similar performance for under NZ$20,000

Friday, 10 August 2018

A slight problem and a bit of innovation

The phrase "silly bugger" isn't one that springs to mind as an endearment from one's lifetime love although most males the world over would have been on the receiving end of similar words at one time or another.  However, in this instance, I must agree that Jennie's words were well-chosen.

Last week, I was getting ready to waterblast the top of our neighbour's driveway as it gets mossy and slippery with the absence of winter sun. I retrieved the waterblaster from the workshop and squeezed past the rear of our 4x4.  In a moment of stupid inattention, my calf connected with some force on the end of the towbar.  When I could speak again, the air turned blue.

I knew I was in trouble when the leg began to swell with a big haematoma starting to appear.  Having had an internal leg bleed a few years ago, it was straight into the RICE routine with an ice pack and sitting on the settee with my leg up.

The next few days were purgatory, not being able to do much - can't abide sitting about and I always seemed to be in Jennie's way.  The pain wasn't too bad but the swelling made things a bit stiff, especially with the technicolour bruising starting to come out.


As per the Joni Mitchell lyrics "You don't know what you've got until it's gone....", not being out on two wheels or doing anything else productive was causing some intense frustration bordering on depression in the darker moments as the weather has been pretty good.  As I'd already had to cancel some ride coaching and with August and September looking as busy as heck, getting back on the bike was a priority.  More well-chosen words from Jennie but when you're passionate about something......

Gingerly getting on the bike for an experimental sit went fine.  A bit of stiffness getting my foot on the peg but relatively comfortable.  However, the real worry was accidentally knocking the haematoma and making making the damage a whole lot worse. What to do?  Some form of good protection was needed, with various ideas being considered and rejected.  The degree of eye-rolling by one's wife is a good litmus test of practicality.  Then bingo!  Went rummaging in the closet for an old riding jacket and pulled the CE elbow armour from one of the sleeves.  An absolutely perfect fit over my calf and only minor eye-rolling from the boss.  How about this.......

Made for the job!

The question of securing it in place still needed resolving.  Direct taping to the leg wasn't a good option as the screams from pulling duct tape off a hairy leg would be heard in the next town.  Solution - tape it to a pair of long johns!  With the problem solved, it was time to kit up and give it a try.  I must admit that I was quite apprehensive for a while and my riding wasn't particularly fluid for the first 20 minutes or so.  After that, muscle memory overtook the apprehension and enjoying the beautiful sunny day along the coast road became the overriding emotion.

Parking up for a few minutes after around 40 minutes of riding, it was a pleasant surprise to find that I hadn't stiffened up and wasn't in any real discomfort - awesome!  Same at the end of the ride home.

Bike, sun and sparkling water - doesn't get much better than this

Not another person in sight!

Jennie thinks I'm stupid to be riding so soon and she may have a point.  However, it raises an interesting question about the positive impact of mental well-being on physical recovery as long as it's not taken to extremes.  The ride certainly lifted my mental state.  On the other hand, ageing does have an effect on the rate that the body heals so maybe over the next year, it will be time to retire from IAM and just do some social riding on a different sort of bike.  At least I've got a fall-back position in terms of our boat and travel to keep occupied if I cut down or stop altogether.

To finish on a different note, regular readers will have seen various tyre end of life reviews on this blog.  The Suzuki came equipped with Japanese-developed 50 profile Dunlop D214 Sportmax pure sport tyres.  Horrible things.  Grip was ok in hot, dry conditions but in cooler conditions or in the wet they were lethal.  At the most sensitive traction control setting, the TC light was always coming on in corners, even in the dry.  The rear tyre only lasted 3700 km and it was a relief to replace them.  Many owners went for one of the big brand sport touring tyres to get more life and 55 profile to get a better rate of turn-in and a larger contact patch when leaned over.  

The anticipated gains were achieved and the traction control light rarely, if ever comes on.  It bothered me a bit in case going to a different profile tyre had inadvertently affected the TC calibration so belatedly, I recently emailed Suzuki NZ to query the effect.  They responded quite quickly saying that tyre profile made no difference as the traction control had a self-checking function every time the ignition was turned on.  This confirms that the 55 profile sport touring tyres which many riders fitted do give better grip.  However, at the end of the reply from Suzuki, they gave the standard "corporate-speak" (or arse-covering if you prefer) caution about the adverse impact of fitting non-standard tyres.  I don't really have too much of an issue with them doing this for legal reasons but is supplying a new bike from a Japan with a set of tyres (D214's) which are manifestly "unfit for purpose" in many parts of the world where weather conditions are so variable a less responsible thing to do?   I did email back politely querying this and predictably didn't get a response as it's a difficult topic bound up with corporate supply policies.  I suppose that the moral of the story is to do as much research as you're able with respect to tyre choices as you won't necessarily get the full story from your bike or tyre supplier.  

This doesn't mean that Suzuki NZ are by any means deaf to their customers.  Readers may remember that when I first got the bike, it snatched badly at low throttle openings.  When I got in touch about the problem, Suzuki replaced the ECU with another type at their cost which solved the problem.  They even offered to let me have a trackday ride on the GSX-S 1000 race bike which they prepared for visiting US journalist Don Canet.  As generous as the offer was, that was a bridge too far for me!

A 400 km outing today to take a rider out for his Roadcraft Advanced Test.  The rider passed and I completed the ride pretty comfortably with the armour protection in place.  Need to take sensible precautions but yayyyyyy....... I can ride again!

A smiling Blair, who passed his Advanced Test today!

Friday, 13 July 2018

This is why we do it

I'm just one of thousands, if not tens of thousands of both volunteer and paid motorcyclists world wide who spend time trying to lift the skill base of riders to reduce the risk of harm and raise their enjoyment of riding on two wheels.  I guess the reasons why we do it are all pretty similar in that it maintains our own personal standards whilst trying to help others.  And let's not mention that essential ingredient of having fun!

Watching all riders go from strength to strength over the months of coaching with IAM to pass their Advanced Police Roadcraft test gives a lot of quiet satisfaction and pride.  However, some give a bit more pleasure than others and I'd like to introduce Colin.

Colin and his Road King

Colin joined IAM in 2013 and before IAM had established a presence in his region, it was a 4 hour haul up to Auckland, spending a further 2 hours on a demanding mentored ride; then riding 4 hours home again.  His level of commitment to raising his skills was truly humbling.  Even more recently, it's still been over 2 hours each way to attend more "local" advanced coaching.  Furthermore, on both the longer hauls and shorter ones, Colin unfailingly showed up in all weathers.

Colin's business and family commitments disrupted his coaching for lengthy periods but he showed real determination  to get the job done.   On Wednesday, I took Colin for his formal Advanced Test, covering city, freeway, and country road environments and he absolutely aced it.  The enthusiastic response Colin got from the IAM coaching team and other members showed just how much his perseverance and fabulous attitude was recognised and makes it all so worthwhile.  As the title of the post says: "THIS IS WHY WE DO IT".

Oh, and don't let anyone say that a cruiser isn't the ideal machine to make rapid progress on twisty back roads, it's all about situational awareness, road position, throttle control and being in the right gear - just follow Colin and be impressed!

There was only one downside to the day.  About 25 km from home, I got a puncture!  A bit of a wobble whilst cornering alerted me to the fact and I pulled over to have a look.  Sure enough, the rear tyre was well down but I couldn't see the source of the leak.  It was in the middle of nowhere with no cell connectivity either.  Fortunately, I always carry an electric pump and a bit of trial pumping showed that it would hold air for a wee while.  That last 25 km took well over an hour with regular stops to add air but at least I got home!

An inspection the next morning revealed a small slit in the corner of one of the rain grooves of my Pilot Road 5 tyre which was only fitted 2000 km ago - bugger!  I was a bit concerned about unseen damage to the carcass through running at low pressures so this morning, took it by car to a dealer about 140 km away who had a direct replacement in stock if the need arose.  A quick inspection showed that the tyre was damaged internally.  Offsetting the pain to my wallet was the outstanding service at Drury Motorcycle Performance Centre.  From arrival to leaving was under 30 minutes and they even made me a cup of coffee in that time - how good is that?

The new tyre getting fitted

Back home and ready to assemble

Aligning both wheels with a laser rig

Back out on the road again, scrubbing in the new rear hoop

Road safety concerns all of us and with increasing traffic volumes and drivers being distracted by any number of in-car devices, drugs, alcohol and downright poor attitudes and skills, it affects us all.

There is a very sobering website covering every road death in Australia since 1989.  The way that the graphics are presented make the statistics especially poignant.  It's HERE .   My best friend and close workmate was killed in a road accident in the late 1980's and only a few minutes after being told, Jennie and I, accompanied by a police officer; had to break the news to his wife and children.  That's not something you ever want to do more than once in a lifetime and it still haunts me in darker moments.

It was this tragedy which had such a big impact on my life in so many ways and every one of the deaths represented on the Australian website and the rest of the world have people who are profoundly affected for the rest of their lives.  The main hope is that at least some good also comes out of it for those left behind.  In my case, it caused me to focus on what was really important in life.  Indirectly, I suppose it caused my later involvement with the IAM rider and driver improvement programme, both from a personal benefit basis and being able to pay it forward later by helping others to become better riders.

On an altogether different note, for my 70th birthday late last year, our wonderful daughter gave me a voucher so that we could go together on an Asian cooking course in Auckland.  We finally found time to redeem the voucher and just over a week ago, attended the course.  I chose Malaysian food as I'd never cooked it before.

The tutors were huge fun, easy to follow and everything was prepared from scratch.  Here are some photos of the occasion.

Our gorgeous daughter - fantastic facilities

Demonstrating before we start - oh those spice aromas!

Teamwork - Victoria wielding a sharp knife whilst I wash rice 

Plating up - perfect rice dome

Ta-daaaa...... two delicious meals!

Pretty good, even if I do say so myself!  Tasted divine

We had a fantastic time together but I'm now under pressure to cook it for Jennie.  Managed to stall for a wee while as we can't get some of the fresh Asian herbs where we live but our daughter has sided with her mother and will be mailing some down from Auckland!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A social ride and some purchases

Our central north island region of IAM covers some 36,000 sq km so it's difficult to get a bunch of riders together to socialise as opposed to formal 1:1 coaching.  We try and organise a purely social ride every couple of months or so but with winter here now and with parts of our region getting some decent frosts and/or fog first thing, meeting at a central location can present a few challenges.  It's an early start for some, riding a couple of hours or more to a rendezvous, spending 3 or 4 hours on the ride and then going home afterwards.  Extreme care on the roads are required and good warm gear too.  My Gerbing heated gloves were perfect for an early morning start.

However, a few hardy souls turned up last weekend to ride through the Waikato back roads.  It would seem that a few car clubs had the same idea as we shared the start point at the small town of Te Aroha with the MX-5 (Miata) and Ford Mustang owners clubs. At the finish point, it was an encounter with the Jaguar owner's club.  Excellent that everyone mingled and chatted.

Some of the group arriving at Te Aroha

The Waikato province has some fabulous, technical backroads and the leader of this ride who goes by the nickname of "Goose" had chosen some beauties.  We use the "corner marker" system where the second rider stops at a turnoff to ensure everyone takes the correct route.  It enables riders to progress at a good pace without anyone missing the turns.  I volunteered to be the Tail End Charlie sweeper on this ride to keep an eye on things from the very rear.  That position also means it's a real pleasure from the back to see a bunch of identically-trained riders all cranked over taking the same lines through corner after corner - sheer poetry!

The ride took us past the entrance to the Hobbiton set from the Lord of the Rings movie.  A bit of care was needed here as narrow, twisty country roads and bus loads of tourists aren't a good mix with riders "pressing on".  However, no dramas!  Everyone who has been there says it's a terrific experience, not at all tacky.  It's located on a working farm.

Not a Hobbit in sight (file photo from Trip Advisor)

The back roads were exceedingly well chosen by Goose as with the exception of just a handful of km near Hobbiton, we encountered almost no traffic.  Just east of the town of Cambridge, we rode up a narrow sealed track to the summit of Sanatorium Hill; so called because tuberculosis patients were once sent there to recover.  All that remains now is a beautiful park with spectacular views across the Waikato province.  The view was made even nicer with the remains of morning fog below us in patches and frontal cloud starting to roll in.

  Mount Pirongia in the distance from Sanatorium Hill

The bikes at Sanatorium Hill

Striking frontal cloud starting to roll in

From the photo op stop, it was on to our lunch destination, Oasis Hideaway just outside Cambridge.  It's a rustic function venue which is open to the public on Sundays with their speciality being wood-fired pizzas - perfect!

Lots of natural wood everywhere at Oasis Hideaway

Some of the outdoor seating with a large brazier

Petrified wooden dragon - could it be Smaug?

After filling up with pizza, it was time to head for our respective corners of the central north island.  It's so nice riding with friends whom you trust implicitly and I arrived home towards sunset happy and having covered a little over 400 km.  The first social ride of winter!

It was also time to renew the brake pads on the Suzuki.  The OEM pads have lasted for 40,000 km with a lot of life still left in them.  However, they've always been "adequate" at best and it is well past time to upgrade them.  On the Blackbird and Street Triple, the OEM items were replaced with EBC HH sintered pads and the improved braking was remarkable.  Why the manufacturers don't fit pads as good as these as standard is beyond me.  They are kind to brake rotor life too. 

Decent stopping power!

Not a big job to fit them to the Suzuki, although it took a chunk of the morning to replace them all, much of which was taken up with giving the calipers a thorough clean.  Jennie thinks the rear pads look like toy tortoises, bless her.  I can see what she means in the picture below!

New EBC and old OEM rear brake pads (or toy tortoises if you prefer)

A curious thing though!  EBC pads are manufactured in the USA so I looked on eBay USA to buy them on line.  However, the pads for the GSX-S 1000 are different depending on whether it's the ABS or non-ABS model.  I needed the ABS version.  It was hard to tell which was which from the eBay adverts and as a lot of the GSX's imported into the USA are non-ABS (why????), I wasn't prepared to get into a hassle if I ordered the wrong ones so bought them locally for a bit more than I'd have paid ex-USA.  The weather is crap outside today so bedding in will have to wait until later this week.

The other purchase which arrived today from Revzilla is a new motorcycling undershirt.  I've been a long term fan of Icebreaker merino layers for all activities as they are warm in winter, wick sweat off in the summer and you still have friends at the end of a ride as they don't smell!  A lot of my layers are getting old and tatty so perusing Revzilla, I saw what might be just the thing.  It's a skin layer made of Outlast fabric which apparently regulates temperature in both summer and winter.  Allegedly, it was developed by NASA for the space programme where B.O might lead to extreme violence on a long stay in space!  I'm normally the world's biggest cynic with claims like that but it's made by Rukka.  Given their excellent reputation, it's worth a try at US$70.  Looking forward to see how it performs. 

Rukka Outlast body shirt - I definitely don't look like this guy!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Bloody computers.......

I'm fairly well educated and thought my problem-solving skills were reasonable so why is it that the moment that our desktop PC decides to misbehave, I turn into a knuckle-dragging moron with psychopathic tendencies?  Even the cats steer clear of me when something goes wrong with the computer.

Let's go back a month or two.....

The Institute of Advanced Motorists in NZ is growing fast and emails with documents attached leave a bit to be desired in terms of rapid communications between regions.  Similarly, it's difficult getting key players physically together to do some forward planning.  Enter Microsoft on their white charger, bless 'em.  They provide a suite of tools which falls under the general title of Microsoft Teams free of charge to charitable institutions and all the indications so far is that it's an absolute gem and will save bucket loads of time.  It makes document sharing and editing in real time a piece of cake.  Nice clear folders giving multiple access to all the key documentation any of us need.  All installed and working first time up by one of our IAM Observers who also happens to walk on water when it comes to IT systems.  He also talks in clear, unambiguous English but more on that later.  Shame he rides a BMW.

Simple, free and works brilliantly - screen shot of part of the system

One of the other superb features of MS Teams is the ability to multi-party teleconference by video, or voice alone.  This is a godsend, just as it is in the normal business world or academia.  It's particularly valuable to my region of IAM which covers an area of some 34,000 sq km.  Getting the voluntary regional Observing team physically together for planning purposes is a nightmare but with teleconferencing, easy peasey and all part of working smarter.

In the short while the system has been working, I've used a combination of tablet and Samsung S8, principally because my desktop PC has no camera or mic.  However, having a nice big screen to use whilst teleconferencing would be a big plus for an old codger like me, so let's buy a video camera with an in-built microphone and hook it up - how hard can that be?  Well as it happens, soaking up half the weekend with several losses of temper, not to mention plummeting self-esteem!

Nice, simple Logitech camera clipped to the top of the PC screen

Last Friday, my Logitech camera duly arrived by courier and the sparse instructions optimistically said, "Clip it to your screen, stick the other end in a spare USB port and the world will be your oyster".  You just know that it's going to end badly, don't you?  Although the video worked fine, the audio was non-existent and the control panel only partially resembled what was on the instruction sheet.  After an hour or so of blundering about and finally admitting defeat, a quick search of the internet implied that Windows 10 was the work of the Devil and the various builds and patches ensured that getting peripherals to work properly had about the same chance as winning Lotto.  What to do now?

With a sinking feeling, I explored making contact with Microsoft or Logitech and it appears they've both got quite cunning to avoid both expense and direct responsibility for solving the problem.  I was directed to what are euphemistically called "Community help boards" where supposedly IT-savvy people unconnected with the main parties try and solve your problem.  Messages detailing the problem were duly placed and literally within minutes, replies were posted.  This turned out to be quite a depressing experience as they may well have been talking in Martian.

An example: "Yes, Windows 10, build version 17134 stuffs up the camera drivers and you need to roll it back to an earlier version called Zog 1634, revision xyz "(I made that bit up but you get the picture).  Here are the instructions on how to do it - we hope that you have a doctorate in computer systems as it will only take 24 hours in that case".  One look at the instructions indicated that trying to follow them would likely end in complete disaster.  The community boards yielded completely differing ways of solving the problem but there was a common thread.  When I asked whether their solutions would solve my problem, you could sense a mental crossing of fingers and a long-winded answer which boiled down to "Maybe".  Plain English and confidence in getting a good outcome are clearly skills lost to IT people.

Not wishing to turn a bad situation into a hopeless one, I had a nosey about on the Microsoft website and saw that a major update of Windows 10 was being rolled out.  Windows 10, version 1803 to be precise, so that it looks as if I know what I'm talking about.  Using that time-honoured IT expert solution of crossing my fingers, I started the download and a couple of hours later and answering some Microsoft startup questions which I took an (un)educated guess at EVERYTHING WORKED, INCLUDING THE MIC!!  Why didn't anyone simply tell me that there was an update and to try that?

Success is why you see a smile in the next photo taken on the webcam.  If it had been a video, you would have heard me singing ,"We are the champions".

A happy non-IT person

Having now offended every human being on the planet with IT skills, I will take my leave.  Running the maintenance engineering team at a large pulp and paper mill was child's play compared with hooking up this video camera to the PC!  Good job spending a whole Saturday getting a solution was whilst it was pouring with rain and I didn't want to get the Suzuki covered in crap!

Until next time........

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Tyres and other stuff

It's been a busy few days for this old fella!  Last Sunday saw an IAM ride in wet and often torrential conditions.  Not the most enjoyable environment but it's good practice riding in adverse conditions whilst making progress to keep us sharp.  Tony, one of our Trainee Observers (mentors) is getting to the pointy end of his training so getting him and a new Associate out in challenging conditions keeps everyone honest.

Yours truly from Tony's Go Pro - rain, rain go away......

The ride went surprisingly well with no anxious moments and all our rain gear did its job with no leaks.  I gave my Cordura gear a wash recently with Nikwax Tech Wash and TX.Direct Wash-in and those two products do a great job of rejuvenating riding gear.  I've used Tech Wash previously on hiking jackets etc but never previously used the two products in combination.  Don't know how long it will last but extremely impressed.

Great for Cordura/Gore-Tex-type riding gear

Tony (Yamaha Tracer) and Jim (Honda ST 1300) at the coffee stop

On Tuesday, it was an early start to the city of Hamilton 160 km away for a routine service and new tyres.  The last 2 sets of tyres on the Suzuki have been Metzler Roadtec 01's.  On both occasions, useful life has been about 11,000 km.  Whilst there is still some reasonable tread left on both tyres, the front 01 goes out of shape and the bike tends to drop in rather than roll into tight corners.  False economy to wring every last km out of such critical bits of equipment so both always get changed at the same time.

Metzler Roadtec 01 front tyre at ~11000 km

Metzler Roadtec 01 rear tyre at ~11000 km - kept its shape quite well

Even with the front tyre going out of shape, they're a superb tyre and grip well in all conditions from torrential rain to a trackday in hot conditions.  I would have happily replaced them with an identical set but more on that in a minute.

Arriving at Boyd Motorcycles, they were waiting for me and the bike was whisked off into the service bay pretty much as soon as I got off it.  Great staff who try and get me back on the road as soon as possible as they know it's just over 2 hours to get home.  Only had time for a quick peek in their showroom as a friend was picking me up rather than hanging about at the dealer,  However, I liked the BMW R9T cafe racer in the photo below.  Not sure how comfortable it would be on a long haul though.

BMW R9 Cafe Racer in the foreground

The service and new tyres took about 4 hours which was pretty good.  The replacements are the new Michelin Road 5's, the successor to the PR3's and 4's which I've previously used on various bikes and liked; especially wet weather performance.  The switch away from the Metzlers is pure curiosity.

Having been been released relatively recently, the pricing is still pretty sharp, presumably to gain market share.  There's a host of technical differences compared with both their predecessors as well as the Roadtec 01.  The most obvious visual difference is that the design more resembles their pure sport tyres than the PR3's and 4's with a high crown and a tread pattern which stops a long way short of the tyre edge - see below.

Michelin Road 5 front tyre

Michelin Road 5 rear tyre

Preliminary magazine road tests suggest that it's a superb all round sport touring tyre and outstanding in the wet.  This is somewhat comforting because that lack of tread out towards the edge is a slight worry.  I just hope that the design brief to the French engineers wasn't " Nobody leans a bike zat far in ze wet, so no tread is needed.  If anyone does, well, merde......".  Well I do, given half a chance so "merde" indeed!  I'm sure that the compound  takes care of that problem (he says hopefully).

Although the Suzuki came with 50 profile tyres, I've gone for 55 profile again for quicker turn-in and a bigger contact patch when leaned over.  Michelin's marketing department are a bit vague on expected tyre life compared with its predecessors but from experience, they speak with forked tongue anyway.  The claim was that PR4's lasted 20% longer than PR3's but from personal experience, there was absolutely no difference.

It's far too early to make any objective comments about performance, not wanting to skate along on my arse on the delivery trip home.  That will have to wait until they are properly scrubbed in.  If they are as good as the Metzler 01's, last for a minimum of 10,000 km and are trustworthy at pace in the wet, I'll be a happy camper!

The ride home was one of those which are truly good for the soul.  No time constraints, beautifully warm and because it was late afternoon, very little traffic on the road.  New tyres meant not treating the road like a personal race track whch meant that I could chill and enjoy the spectacular views along 50 km of coast road.  Arriving in Coromandel at sunset, I pulled up at the wharf which is just a few hundred metres from our home on the ridge in the following photo.

 Sunset on Coromandel town wharf

Aren't days like this what we live for?  Good for the soul indeed and out fishing in the boat tomorrow.  This retirement business isn't too bad at all!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Road Trip!

Once a year, we meet up with our friends Georgina and Mike from Wellington and spend a few days exploring some part of NZ together.  Regular readers of the blog may remember last years' trip to the top of the South Island.  This year, our friends weren't able to travel far because of other commitments but as we weren't all that familiar with the surrounds of our capital city, they arranged a local itinerary and kept quiet about what we'd be doing over the weekend.

Leaving Coromandel last Friday, we set off for Wellington, some 650 km away in Jennie's Jazz Rally Sport.  Most of the roads in NZ are a lane in each direction interspersed with overtaking lanes every few km.  It's only near cities that motorway-type roads are normally encountered.  The most interesting part of the trip down for us is the so-called Desert Road.  This is part of State Highway 1 in the central north island.  It sits at between 2000-3200 ft  (600-1000 m) altitude and is part of a plateau with 3 active volcanoes on it.  There are skifields on the volcanoes (fun, fun!) and apart from herds of wild horses, the only other significant occupants are the military on manoeuvres.  It's a wild, lonely place but stunning in good weather.  Not so nice in bad weather as we were to find out on the return home!

The Desert Road and Mt Ngauruhoe (7500 ft, 2300 m)  (source:

The next day was spent exploring Wellington's south coast, apart from a drive to a lookout at the northern end of Wellington Harbour.  It ain't known as Windy Wellington for nothing and we could see a stormy weather front rolling in from the south.

Wellington city centre is on the other side of the harbour disappearing into a squall

By the time we got round just east of the city, it was blowing an absolute gale and pouring down which arguably, is the best time to see Wellington's south coast.  As cities go, Wellington is really pretty.  The compact CBD is pretty much on the level with the suburbs around the hills surrounding the harbour.

Looking across to Mt Victoria as another squall comes through

The storm front took an hour or so to pass through and better weather to come in behind it but the kite surfers were having a ball in Lyall Bay getting big air and attaining some impressive speeds.

Screaming along in Lyall Bay

Bronze artwork called "Frenzy" - I wouldn't want to meet it in the water!

After the weather front had passed through, we continued the tour of the south coast and then had an early meal at a Thai restaurant as our hosts rather mysteriously told us that we were going to the movies but refused to say more!  

We pulled up in the dark in a normal suburban street and noticed a few people strolling down the driveway of an older house and where "normal" people have a garage or workshop, there stood a movie theatre!!  It's called Time Cinema and the original occupant of the house built it over 35 years ago for family and friends to enjoy old classic movies in a relaxed setting - how absolutely fantastic!  As well as a 40 seat movie theatre in original 50's decor, the reception area is packed full of memorabilia such as movie cameras through the decades, classic posters and so on.  Here's a peep.....

Part of Reception area (source: Time Cinema)

Theatre room (source: Time Cinema)

The first half of the evening was taken up with footage by both locals and professionals of the Wahine ferry disaster 50 years ago.  The Inter-Island ferry Wahine foundered on rocks at the entrance to Wellington Harbour in one of the worst storms ever to hit NZ.  Over 50 people lost their lives and there would have been many more had it not been for the heroism of rescuers.  A tragic event but fascinating to see the footage from that time.

On a much lighter note, the interval was about 30 minutes long and here was yet another delightful surprise!  For the modest admission price of NZ$10 (US$ 7, GBP 5), supper was thrown in too with a distinct late 50's theme.  The savoury was crackers with a slice of processed cheese on top, adorned with a slice of tomato.  This was followed by slices of sponge cake and fruit cake and cups of tea served from a giant pot.  Absolutely kitsch, absolutely fabulous!

Returning to the theatre room to a hand-rung bell,  the nautical theme continued with a showing of the original black and white Titanic movie from 1958 called "A Night to Remember".  Among the stars was a very young Honor Blackman famed for her later roles as  Cathy Gale in the Avengers TV series and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.  Honestly, it was far more gripping than the later version, better acting and the special effects were much better than you might have thought from a 50 year old movie.

What a treat and wonderful surprise it was to be introduced to something as delightfully quirky as Time Cinema - I still grin when thinking about it.  Definitely a highlight of the trip.  The world needs places like that!

The next day saw a round trip west of Wellington to a small beach community called Makara west of the city as we'd never been there before.  A biker's paradise with a narrow, twisty road running in deep valleys.  Certainly not much room for error though, especially if anything coming the other way decided to cut blind corners.  The intent was to have lunch at the cafe there but unbeknown to us, the cafe got destroyed by the recent Cyclone Gita.

Remains of the cafe wall

Oh well, it would have to be a late lunch in Wellington as there was some more exploring to do.

Picturesque old cottage at Makara 

De-consecrated old church at Makara - not for a big congregation!

Makara beach - a desolate spot in winter

Before heading back to the city to find something to eat, there was time to visit the wind farm overlooking Makara and the immediate surrounds - no wonder given that the west coast in this area is renowned for rough weather!  Apparently, this farm is capable of powering 70,000 homes.

A heck of a size compared with the trees

Scattered along the ridge line for several km

Not really an eyesore on the landscape

On Monday, we said goodbye to Georgina and Mike and headed about 50 km north to catch up with old friends Bill and Marg at Paraparaumu.  Isn't it funny with really close friends.....  don't see them for at least a year and the moment we see each other, it's like you've never been away.  Guess that's part of the definition of real friendship.  

After lunch, Bill and I hopped on mountain bikes for a bit of exercise.  There's a fairly new motorway north of Wellington and as part of the overall design, the national roading authority, NZTA; has also built a gravel cycleway which runs alongside it through nicely landscaped berms.  In fact, kudos to NZTA for the planting of millions of native shrubs all along the motorway.  Not only that but they have deliberately established flight corridors of trees for birds so that they can travel with shelter and nesting between the coast and mountains in an uninterrupted manner.  Our friends have already noticed the increase in bird life around the area.  Furthermore, the rain runoff from the motorway has been channelled into man-made wetlands which are already being colonised by black swans, geese and ducks.   A great example of roads being built with strong environmental considerations.  They don't have to be eyesores.

Part of the motorway with dense planting of young native shrubs

On two wheels of a different kind!

Early the next morning, we left to drive the 600-odd km home in some of the worst conditions that we have ever encountered - gale force winds, driving rain with limited visibility, thunderstorms and even a tornado not far from where we travelled.  Some parts of the north island sustained quite a bit of damage from the wind, with one gust recorded at 213 km/hr!  Driving in those conditions is all part of the fun, albeit pretty tiring keeping the concentration levels up for 8 hours.

So no motorcycling this time around but as they say, a change is as good as a rest!  Seeing and doing things you haven't previously experienced is always good for the soul.