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Monday, 3 December 2018

A piece of art and a connection to bikes

I'd like to introduce Graham Christmas.  Graham is a fellow Institute of Advanced Motorists member, Aprilia Tuono V4 and GSX-R owner, keen on trackdays and also enjoys mountain biking.

Graham - trackday on the Tuono

Graham and wife Tessa at the trackday briefing

Apart from our motorcycle connection, Graham is a qualified cabinetmaker and a master craftsman.  Both Jennie and I love all forms of art that uses traditional skills, irrespective of the medium used - painting, pottery, metal or wood etc.  It would a tragedy if these skills die out and we have a few original one-off pieces of art in several types of media.  My pride and joy is the Damascus Steel carving knife shown HERE .

Jennie's birthday is at the beginning of December and back in August, I asked her what she wanted as a present.  "Dunno" she says, "But as I'm buying new bike suspension for your birthday, mine better be good".  The onus was clearly on me with that shot across the bows!

All sorts of things were briefly considered and rejected for various reasons but one stuck.  Graham is multi-talented and makes anything which requires high level cabinetmaking skills.  Ages ago, Jennie had seen the photo of a wooden skeleton free-standing clock which Graham made and fell in love with it.  Why not talk to Graham and see if he would make her a skeleton mantle clock to go on our dining room sideboard which is made from solid rimu timber?

A quick email to Graham and the answer was a very positive "yes"!  Then came the drama of figuring out a design which would please Jennie without raising suspicions.  Fortunately, we've been together long enough to know that she loves clean, simple art, very much in the Japanese taste.  More emails and sketches followed and a basic design was settled on.  The frame was to be made in walnut, the gears from beech and the clock dial from NZ heart rimu.  Graham then got stuck into the detailed design calculations.

Early design sketches (source: Graham)

One problem was that Jennie and I have joint accounts and I didn't want to face a grilling on expenditure so Graham graciously offered to let me make full and final payment on her birthday.  However, I sneakily withdrew small amounts of cash and sent them to him to cover material costs.  Jennie admitted later that she did indeed monitor our accounts to see if she could get an inkling as to what was going on but she failed to spot anything!  Haha - 1-0 to me!

As Graham was building the clock, he kept photos of the construction so that he could put the story of the construction together as an electronic presentation to Jennie as part of its history over the years to come. I also made a booklet of the emails between Graham and me so she could see all the discussions, not to mention deviousness which went into getting the final result!

Cutting the beech gears (source: Graham)

Spokeshave work on the frame (source: Graham)

Ready for assembly, polishing and calibration (source: Graham)

A couple of weeks ago, got a call from Graham that the clock was ready and as he was going to be just a couple of hours from where we lived doing a trackday and some downhill mountain biking, would I like to meet him and pick up the clock?  Going on the bike posed a problem in transporting the clock.  Going in the car needed a story to stop Jennie coming along for a ride!  Not exactly telling lies but being economical with the truth, so to speak!  

Me: "Honey, I'm off in the car to meet an IAM mate (true) to talk about the upcoming training course (untrue)".  Jennie: "Why aren't you taking the bike?"   Me:  "Don't want to risk another puncture on a quick trip and besides, I have all these training course notes to carry" (brandishing a heap of IAM documents lifted from my cupboard in anticipation of difficult questions). Haha, 2-0 to me!

The sneaky handover from Graham

The stunning finished article


A very happy Jennie

Massive thanks to master craftsman Graham for making such a magnificent clock - a genuine piece of original art.  I can't thank him enough for helping deliver the complete birthday surprise for my soulmate.  You can judge the standard of his work from the photos on his website.  His clocks are HERE and his other superb items are HERE

I've already got permission to replace the bike next year so I was simply happy to help make Jennie's day a memorable one as opposed to using up brownie points with a heap of grovelling!


Saturday, 3 November 2018

2015 Suzuki GSX-S 1000 - long term review

The first full day of ownership - arty shot along our street.... October 2015

CHOOSING A REPLACEMENT FOR THE STREET TRIPLE
Rather atypically for me, the GSX-S was something of an impulse purchase.  My much-loved 675 Street Triple had racked up 70,000 trouble-free km.  I needed a reliable bike for my work with the Institute of Advanced Motorists and almost subconsciously, I guess that my thoughts were turning to replacing it before too long.  The replacement was a no-brainer - the long-awaited 765 Street Triple.  Trouble was, despite lots of advanced publicity, the replacement for the 675 still hadn't been released on the market.

I happened to be in Auckland one day and called into a dealer who sells both Triumph and Suzuki brands. There was a demo GSX-S outside and the salesman offered me the chance to take it for a ride.  Be rude not to accept, wouldn't it?  The 1 hour ride through town and up the motorway was not unlike riding the Street Triple in those environments.  The new price was attractive so a deal was done.

A distance of over 45,000 km has now been covered and a tad over 3 years later, I still have it and there have been numerous posts about it on this blog.  At fairly regular intervals, I've been asked the question "Do you like it?" or "What do you think of it?"  That's a question which needs qualifying and I suspect that most riders have the same view about the bikes they've owned.  The answer isn't a simple one so this post is a sum of my experiences and thoughts during ownership.

Broadly, there were two factors involved with its purchase.  The first was "fitness for purpose".  What constitutes a good bike is a highly personal one based on individual needs.  In my late 60's at the time of purchase, 172 cm (5' 8") tall and weighing 74 kg , I wanted a bike which was relatively lightweight and had a modest seat height.  It also needed good performance and handling for my IAM coaching and a range of at least 250 km on a tankful of gas as a nod towards the relatively remote location where we live.  Didn't want to be gassing up en route to the nearest major population centres.  I didn't need to worry about a pillion as my soulmate prefers comfort with a roof over her head these days!  The GSX-S specifications pretty much ticked all the boxes.

The second factor is emotional appeal.  That's a pretty subjective topic and very hard to quantify.  The best example I can give is when I bought the Street Triple in 2009.  On paper, the Thruxton Bonneville, Ducati Monster 696, Speed Triple and Street Triple were my choices in that order.  They were then all ridden. However, literally within minutes of getting on the  Street Triple, it was a case of "I want it, and I want it NOW".  Handling, ergonomics, performance, induction roar and God knows what else all added up to something irresistible.  Totally smitten!  With the Suzuki, I was in too much of a hurry to get a new bike and largely overlooked how powerful emotional appeal is.  Immediately liked the Suzy but didn't love it.  A telling feature is that I used to pat the Triple when walking past it in the shed.  Have rarely done that with the Suzuki.  

Multi-function instrumentation - just 197 km on the odometer

EARLY EXPERIENCE
I'm not big on adding farkles to my bike unless there's a genuine reason.  Don't like obtrusive, noisy exhausts so no aftermarket muffler.  Bought a small Suzuki screen for marginally better protection at higher speeds but mainly because it tidied the front of the bike and I was offered a great price at the time.  Had matte 3M clearfilm applied to the paintwork where there was a risk of stone chips or rubbing.  Crash protectors because they made sense.  Carbon front fender extender to reduce crap and stones from coming into contact with the radiator and front of the engine.  Replace crap headlight bulb with Ring Automotive +130 Xenon bulb, based on my past experience on 1600 km in under 24 hour (Iron Butt equivalent) rides on various bikes.  I also chucked on a set of Oxford expandable throwover bags to carry miscellaneous gear.  I won these in a raffle several years previously but had been unable to use them on the Street Triple because of the high level mufflers.  No heated grips as I use heated gloves on really cold days.  They keep the whole hand warm.

The break-in period generally doesn't reveal the total character of the bike but a couple of things stood out. The OEM Dunlop D214 Sportmax pure sport tyres were totally unsuitable for NZ conditions. Black mark for Suzuki.  In warm and dry conditions, grip was acceptable, even though the traction control light flickered on and off in rain mode. In the dry???  It was also easy to run right off the edge of the tyre in tight bends. Why oh why fit a 50 profile rear?  In cooler, wet conditions, the grip was so bad that it bordered on lethal.  Simply couldn't get enough heat into them.  To use a heartfelt profanity.... fucking awful things. The rear tyre had virtually no tread left by 3700 km.  You'd end up bankrupt constantly replacing them. Good riddance to them and the replacement was a 55 profile Pilot Road 4 which dramatically improved the handling.

The destroyed D214 - 3700 km from new

Compounding the grip issue was a severe snatch on a trailing throttle when cracked open. It made negotiating wet intersections and roundabouts an interesting experience on occasions!  The demo bike didn't seem to have that problem but maybe it was due to the shortish ride in that particular environment.  However, with the break-in period coming to an end, it was becoming a major distraction and from the GSX-S owners forum, it was clear that others were experiencing the same issue with a range of solutions being tried. The snatch was so distracting that consideration was given to getting rid of it but a polite and constructive email was sent to Suzuki NZ, expressing disappointment and asking for their comments.  Suzuki NZ had race-prepped one for US journalist/racer Don Canet when he was visiting NZ so I knew they had a good knowledge of the bike.

The following day, there was a reply email apologising for my experience and that if I arranged a time with my dealer they would fit a different ECM at their cost.  This was duly done and the bike was transformed.  Whether anything else was done at the same time I don't know but it was now an absolute pleasure to ride - kudos to Suzuki NZ for their proactive stance.  I might also mention that they also said that if I wanted to come along to a Suzuki track day, I could take out Don Canet's race-prepped bike!  Incredibly generous offer but having never done a track day at that stage, coupled with a bike on slicks, race pads and a footpeg height unsuitable for my ageing body, it was graciously declined.  Kudos to Suzuki NZ for their fantastic customer response though.  Why isn't everyone like that?

POST BREAK-IN EXPERIENCE


Loaded up for a few days away from home

Ergonomics
Ergonomically, the bike is extremely comfortable.  The standard Renthal bars are perfectly positioned for me and the standard seat is good for 700 km days without too much discomfort.  However, I have knee damage from sports injuries sustained in younger days and the footpeg position caused severe knee ache towards the end of a full tank of gas.  This was completely solved by fitting some modified Buell pegs which drop the height by about 20 mm.  Brake lever position and brake light switch required repositioning but it only took a couple of hours at most to do the whole installation.  Beautifully modified by Joe Satterwhite from the US Hayabusa forum and made the world of difference.  Left the "hero blobs" off and even on a couple of subsequent trackdays, nothing touched down.  

Lowered footpegs - modified Buell

Handling
At 209 kg with a slightly less aggressive geometry than the 179 kg Street Triple, it's not as quick handling in the tight stuff but it's still good.  Turn-in has been immeasurably improved by fitting a 55 profile rear tyre as opposed to the OEM 50 profile D214.  The suspension out of the crate was too harsh front and rear for my 74 kg weight (in my socks, that is!).  That adversely affected the handling on bumpy roads.  Rear shock preload was ok but compression and rebound damping needed easing off.  Ditto for the front forks including backing off preload a touch.  I was fortunate enough to attend a suspension course early this year with international guru Dave Moss.  It included a 150 km ride, stopping periodically to make adjustments whilst the suspension was up to operating temperature.  He backed off the stock settings even more than I had originally done and it made a BIG difference.

Dave Moss tweaking the front end of my bike

However, Dave made the valid point that there's only so much you can do with suspension that's been built to a budget price.  By 35,000 km, rear rebound and compression damping had noticeably declined.  Having fitted top quality shocks to my last two bikes, I was well aware how good the handling improvement was on those so fitted a Nitron shock, built to my specs. Didn't bother with remote adjustment as my riding loads don't vary by much.  Cost was ~ NZ$1200 delivered (US$790).  The difference was immediately noticeable.  The rear end stayed in perfect contact over some notorious local ripples caused by logging trucks.  A major safety consideration as well as a performance one.  Rear tyre life should appreciably improve too.  My Blackbird rear tyre averaged another 2000-odd km after the Penske shock had been fitted.  Standard front suspension is adequate but depending on how long I keep the bike, I might fit Nitron internals.

One final comment about handling.  In the middle of winter a couple of months ago, I had an incident which whilst alarming at the time, was quite reassuring in retrospect.   I was riding on a wet, twisty road which gets minimal sun in winter, with the traction control in rain mode.  Exiting a bend with only light acceleration, the rear of the bike suddenly snapped about 30 degrees sideways.  I countersteered and the bike snapped just as quickly back in line with absolutely no drama.  Suzuki have clearly worked on mass centralisation and that, combined with traction control seems to have made the bike very stable and predictable, even in a significantly adverse situation.

Nitron NTR R1 rear shock - seriously nice engineering

Brakes
Ok, but nothing remarkable.  Have never had a close shave due to any inadequacy on their part but on my first ever trackday, I wasn't game to rely on them in late braking from speed down the long straight at Hampton Downs!  They seemed to lack real bite once hot.  The ABS works just fine though. On my Blackbird and Street Triple, I used EBC HH pads and was really impressed with them.  Put them on the Suzuki this year and noticed an immediate improvement, especially at the February trackday at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport track  at Taupo.  Extremely happy camper now!

Old geezer does a Moto TT track day

Performance
There isn't really much to say.  One litre capacity, around 140 horses at the rear wheel, 74lb-ft (100 N-M) of torque, true top speed of around 235 km/hr (145 mph).  Academic really and more than adequate in most countries where high speeds are frowned upon by the law and likely to land a rider in serious grief.  I've had it up to an indicated 230 km/ hr on the track and it got there pretty quickly.  A whole lot less on public roads and performance is more than adequate for my needs.

A rapid road ride with some of the IAM coaching team

In real world road riding, it's the torque /acceleration which is the most useful trait to make good progress and the engine which is based on the original 2005-8 GSX-R 1000 "torque monster" engine certainly delivers that.  Maximum torque is delivered at over 9000 rpm but it's still pretty useful below that.  I loved the Street Triple torque because it delivered about 90% of maximum torque at 4000 rpm.  In essence, a virtually flat torque profile and a great power to weight ratio which made snap overtakes easy, without having to dance on the gear lever. The GSX-S doesn't quite have the same profile but certainly nothing to complain about!

In terms of fuel consumption, between 260-300 km per tankful is achievable on everyday riding but of course, it depends on your right wrist.  You don't buy one for economy. The instrumentation shows around 5.5 lt/100km for much of the mixed environment riding I do.  I noticed at the last trackday I did that it was nudging 9lt/100 km!

Tyres
Probably the most debated topic on any bike forum.  Everyone has an opinion and a favourite brand.  The truth is that most riders run out of talent before a modern tyre from any of the major manufacturers reaches the edge of its performance envelope.  The trick is in choosing a tyre which suits the riding of the individual concerned.  As an IAM mentor/Examiner, I don't often get to choose what weather I ride in so a sport/touring tyre covers all conditions.  The OEM D214 pure sport tyres mentioned earlier in the review were manifestly unsuitable as an all-round tyre.  For a number of years on several bikes, I've been impressed with the Michelin Pilot Road series, particularly for their wet weather grip.  I've had 2 sets of Metzler Roadtec 01's on the Suzuki and whilst they pretty much matched the Pilot Road 4 in the wet, dry weather performance subjectively felt a little more planted.  The Road 4's and 01 rear tyres lasted for around 11,000 km before being replaced.  That's fine by me and a whole lot different to the 3700 km life of the D214!  Currently on 55 profile Road 5's and performance-wise so far, they're a step up on anything else I've tried.  The high crown gives a rapid turn-in.  Wet weather grip has been sensational and I run out of talent before anything lets go in the dry.  They've made the Suzuki a really nice bike to ride in all conditions. 

Brand new Road 5 - soft compound outer edge layer clearly visible

At present, there's only one question mark hovering over a ringing endorsement of the Road 5.  The first rear copped a puncture at ~2000 km which was not repairable.  Its replacement punctured at ~4000 km which was repairable.  In the last few days, I got yet another puncture (slow leak from a small nail).  So that's 3 punctures in a bit over 3 months.  I'd like to think that it's sheer random chance as previously, I went for over 3 years without a puncture.  Hopefully, it's not a shortcoming in the tyre design for the conditions I ride in.

Standard of finish
I chose the matte grey metallic finish just because it was different from other bikes I'd owned.  After 3 years, the grey looks pretty much like the day it came out of the showroom, as does most of the bike.  Being a matte finish, it only gets "wash and waxed", no polish used.  Some paint is flaking off the bottom of the radiator end caps, exposing bare metal.  Not a big amount and easily fixed if I could be bothered.  A spot of rust on the mirror stalks but again, not a big amount and easily fixed.  Degreaser is used on the engine in the summer to get rid of molten road tar and the whole bike is occasionally sprayed with Muc-Off to bring it back to pristine condition - love that product.  Gearchange and brake levers have a few light rust spots due to the original thin paint wearing through but nothing serious.  Suzuki's have a reputation for having thin paint but I'm more than satisfied with its appearance after 3 years from new.

Chain and sprockets
At 45,000 km, the original chain and sprockets are still in excellent condition.  It's been lubed at about 500 km intervals or thereabouts with Tirox teflon-based wax and it's clearly effective.  I use a home made laser rig for front and rear wheel alignment.  Whether this has a significant impact on chain and sprocket life, I wouldn't know.

Crash resistance
More accurately, drop resistance!  Why is it that most of our accidents occur not long after ownership?  Rhetorical question - most likely because we're not totally used to their characteristics.  Only had one "moment".  Had owned it for a couple of weeks and exiting a gravel parking area, got caught out by the tall first gear and not wanting to gas it too much with all the loose gravel.  I was already leaning it over to join the main road and stalled the motor.  Short legs and down I went!  The R&G crash protectors did their job and the only damage was a slight paint scratch on the muffler end-piece.  Err......  it wasn't the only damage.  Ego damage was massive as I was doing some instructing when it happened.  The trainee had the good grace not to laugh at the bad language over the comms.

Reliability
Apart from the initial problem with low throttle fuelling, no problem whatsoever.  Put in gas, change the oil and filter every 6000 km and have it serviced at the appropriate intervals.  Nothing vibrates, rattles or works loose.  Engine is turbine smooth.  End of story.  For cleaning and routine maintenance, I have an ABBA stand which allows both wheels to be lifted at the same time.  Handy for doing baseline suspension setup measurements too!

ABBA stand - easy to use and rock steady

SUPPLEMENTARY THOUGHTS AND WHERE TO FROM HERE
Do I think that the GSX-S 1000 is a good bike?  Yes, it certainly is but it very much depends on what you want from a bike.  Is it good value for money?  Again yes.  For around NZ$17,000 (US$11,200, 8,700 UK pounds), you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Do I love the bike?  No, I like it a lot but I don't love it.  That's where the emotional appeal I mentioned earlier comes in.  In retrospect, I'd have been better off waiting until the 765 Street Triple came out and buying one.  Having said that, I certainly don't regret owning the Suzuki; it's been fun and still is.  Having ridden Triumphs in my formative years and successfully drag raced one, I'll admit to having an emotional connection to the brand, despite having owned several other makes in 55 years of riding.

What of the future?  Can't be absolutely certain but at 71 years of age, my time riding as an Examiner with the Institute of Advanced Motorists must be limited.  The amount of time spent on that activity is substantial.  It eats into time spent with the extended family as well as going out sea fishing on the boat with my wife.  We also travel and would like to do even more.  It's increasingly important to get a better life balance.  The Suzuki probably isn't the best bike for simply pootling about on and a lower seat height and/or lighter weight would be nice.  The end of 2019 should trigger a delicious search for a new bike with a new "fitness for purpose".  T120 Bonneville?  Maybe.  765 Street Triple, low seat version?  Possibly.  KTM 790?  There's a thought!  Something not yet on the market?  What to do?  Real first world problem, isn't it?

For anyone considering owning a GSX-S (naked or faired), the dedicated website forum HERE provides a wealth of information and the members are a great bunch who go out of their way to help.  In addition, one of the members, Phuket Paul; has built a magnificent website with just about everything you need to know about the model.  It's HERE .

Awesome day to go for a ride!





Monday, 15 October 2018

In Praise of Dog Turds!

I've had a few punctures during my motorcycling career but in all that time, most of them have been slow(ish) leaks where I've been able ride to a safe point to properly address the problem.  Just 4 months ago I made a post about a puncture I got less than an hour from home.  Even though the leak was quite serious, carrying an electric pump got me home with multiple stops.  I've never actually had to use any of the repair kits I've carried over the years........ UNTIL NOW!

On Sunday, I was out on an IAM coaching ride with my colleague Drew in the central north island, some 170 km from home.  He was riding a Honda ST1300 and I wanted to see how he handled tight, narrow country roads with lots of elevation changes and blind bends.  East of the town of Cambridge and a long way from anywhere is a really challenging bit of road called French Pass.  We were both making good progress but when I followed him round one bend, the handling felt slightly spongy.  Wondered if it was my imagination but the next corner was worse, so called over the comms for Drew to pull over in a safe spot whilst I checked what was happening.  He stopped in a farm gateway and almost as soon as we stopped, the owner of the property came out to see if he could help.  As well as the farm, Chris ran a local mechanical maintenance business and offered his workshop so that we could do a proper inspection.

Sure enough, something long and sharp had entered the tyre but there was no sign of it.  My screw-in and snap-off Gryyp plugs weren't going to be big enough so it was time to try the euphemistically-called dog turds.  I can see where the name comes from, even though they are Chihuahua - sized!  For the uninitiated, this is the dog turd kit:

Chiuhuahua-sized dog turds!

The turds are comprised of a fibre rope impregnated with a sticky substance.  The rope gets doubled over and pushed through the puncture with an awl and the sticking out ends trimmed off.  My kit didn't have adhesive with it, just relying on stickiness and friction.

Using Chris's industrial compressor rather than my portable one, the tyre was inflated and after thanking Chris and his wife profusely, we set off again - RESULT!  Unfortunately, my optimism was short-lived as half an hour later, coming into the small town where we were due to finish the training ride, down went the tyre again!  The looped plug had clearly come out.  The turds were at least 10 years old and I suspect the principal reason was that they had lost a fair bit of stickiness.  Fortunately for a Sunday, a local auto accessories place was open and Drew rode round and got me some new super-sticky ones.

You can just see the two ends sticking out of the tyre

Chopping off the ends, a bit of spit was applied to see if there was any leak from the puncture - there wasn't!

Spit and not-polish

Soon after, Drew went on his way home to the Bay of Plenty and I headed north towards home in Coromandel.  Unfortunately, about 20 km up the road, the same thing happened again.  A closer inspection indicated that one dog turd probably wasn't adequate so I rammed 2 in and added one of the Gryyp plastic snap-off screws to lock everything in place.  I was lucky to inflate it to the proper pressure as my ancient inflator failed just as I reached the right pressure.  I did have a short bicycle pump in the bag but using it would have been moving into heart attack territory.  Given my previous lack of repair success and the fact that it was getting late in the afternoon, I didn't want to be stranded miles from anywhere on the Coromandel Peninsula (aka Deliverance/banjo country).  A couple of quick phone calls and I arranged to leave the bike at an IAM friend's place just short of the Peninsula and Jennie would pick me up from there.  As it happened, this repair worked perfectly and I arrived at my mate's place with no loss of pressure.  Still wouldn't have risked it to get me all the way home though.

Quickly pulled the rear wheel to take it somewhere where it could either be repaired or replaced.  Hell, it's only 4000 km old and the one before that was only 2000 km old.  At this rate, I'll never be able to do an end-of-life evaluation of the Michelin Road 5!  I'd prefer to think it was sheer bad luck on my part than a design weakness in the tyre.  A parting shot by my mate Tony before I headed home with Jennie was him threatening to sell the bike on the NZ equivalent of eBay before I got back!  

Tony, with his best "Have I got a deal for you" salesman's look!

I could probably have found a repair place a bit closer to where I live but this morning, headed on a 280 km round trip to south Auckland to one of my favourite tyre dealers as I knew that they had a new Road 5 tyre in stock if the belting was badly damaged.  Fortunately, I only needed a mushroom plug, not a new tyre which was a bright spot of good news with all the time-wasting.  Also took the opportunity to have a right-angled valve fitted to make life easier and bought some more Muc-Off bike cleaner (brilliant stuff), some Motul oil and a new filter so it turned out not to be a bad day.

Nice right-angled alloy valve stem

Tomorrow will see me returning to Tony's to re-fit the wheel and bring the bike home.  Oh, and a nice lunch on the way home as thanks to the long-suffering Jennie for ferrying me about!

There is an upside to this story though.  Getting practical experience of using dog turds was invaluable in case I ever need to use them in the future when help isn't readily at hand.  So many riders don't carry repair kits and it can be a bit more than inconvenient in some circumstances, especially a long way from anywhere with no cell coverage and no-one about.


Monday, 8 October 2018

In search of more traction

In March, I made a post about attending a suspension clinic by internationally-renowned guru Dave Moss.  It involved riding about 150 km and tweaking the suspension every time we stopped.  The improvement was a significant step change but Dave remarked at the time that there's only so much you can do with a Suzuki OEM rear shock.  Having fitted high end units to my previous two bikes, I was aware that despite the improvement, there was more to come.

The Suzuki has now covered getting on for 45,000 km and the decline in compression and rebound damping was becoming noticeable, even to this old codger.  Keeping contact with the road in even moderately adverse conditions is a safety issue as well as a performance one.  Time to look at a replacement, especially with a 71st birthday coming up in mid October.  That's Jennie's present to me solved, haha!

On the Blackbird, I fitted a US-made Penske shock and new fork internals.  On the Street Triple, it  was a UK-made Nitron shock.  The NZ supplier was KSS in New Plymouth who have a second to none reputation for service so it was a no-brainer to go back to them.  A couple of emails back and forth to establish my type of riding, loaded bike weight and so on and an order was placed for another Nitron, custom made to my requirements.  I didn't need to go for a separate remote as my riding loads and conditions don't vary by much.

This beauty turned up a few days ago:

Yumm.... bike porn

I have an ABBA stand (link HERE ) which makes working on the bike a piece of cake.  A fellow IAM member and GSX-S owner (thanks Blair!) gave me some time-saving tips and the old shock was removed, the new one bolted in and sag measurements taken in under 2 hours.  The only minor annoyance was having a retaining shim drop out of the rear brake caliper during disassembly and not seeing where it came from!  However, it became obvious during reassembly so not too much damage to the ego.

Goes nicely with the matte grey of the bike

Seriously nice engineering

Static and loaded sag came nicely within tolerance so no preload adjustment required.  Next step was to check compression and rebound on the road.  A quick trip over the Coromandel Range was just the job as I know every hollow, bump and truck ripple on that road. 

Western side of the Coromandel Range- riding heaven!

Even though I was expecting a better performance from the new shock compared with the OEM one, it still came as a surprise as to just how good it was.  The degeneration of old suspension and tyres come to that is imperceptible so that just adds to the surprise.  Leaned over whilst riding over truck ripples on corners was almost like they weren't there.  In adverse conditions such as wet roads, that's got to be a major safety improvement by maintaining good road contact.  In addition to better handling, an increase in tyre life can be expected based on past experience.  Less fatigue on a long haul too.

If there is any downside, it's drawn my attention to the front forks.  The standard forks aren't too bad, especially after Dave Moss set them up.  However, some RaceTech internals would be a further nice improvement if I decide to keep the bike long term.  Just coming up for 3 years of ownership.  The low throttle fuelling was so bad from new that it nearly got sold in the first 3 months of ownership.  However, Suzuki NZ came to the party by fitting a different ECM at their cost and that solved the problem.  Since then, I've grown to really like the bike, but still don't have the emotional attachment that I had with the Street Triple.

Thanks KSS for your great service and a product which really delivers.  You might see me for some new fork internals in due course!

Parked up at the Whangapoua Harbour boat ramp on the test ride

Finally, on a loosely connected note, the Michelin Road 5's are working out just fine in both dry and wet conditions.  In the photo below, the band of soft compound rubber out towards the edge of the tyre can be clearly seen,  Initially, the lack of tread towards the edge worried me with respect to how effective they would be when leaned over in wet conditions.  I needn't have worried!  A few weeks ago, I was examining an IAM Trainee Observer (instructor) for his full test in near-biblical rainfall.  He's a quick rider, racing and road riding in all conditions and I was concerned about how the Road 5's would fare in those conditions.  As it happened, they stuck like glue - not an anxious moment even when "making progress".  Totally sold on their overall performance and I'll do a full review in due course.

Soft compound band of outer tyre can be clearly seen


Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Rewarding safe riding

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) is a New Zealand Crown entity responsible for administering the country's universal no-fault accidental injury scheme.  Due to the scheme's no-fault basis, litigation is avoided apart from claims for exemplary damages.  ACC works with partners and communities on initiatives to prevent injuries.

As far as motorcycling goes because of the higher rate of serious harm and medical costs compared with cars etc, ACC introduced a training scheme called Ride Forever. (website HERE).  It covers written resources but the most visible initiative is a highly subsidised tiered on-road training programme which progressively increases rider skills in a structured manner.  Details can be found HERE .  Private contractors who have acknowledged high delivery skills are used to deliver the training and must meet auditable standards.



Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Silver and Gold levels are based on elements of the UK Police Roadcraft system which IAM uses as the basis of its advanced rider training.

A number of insurers give discounts in addition to no-claims bonuses for having attended these courses and statistics indicate that those who attend are currently 23% less likely to submit an injury claim.  Interestingly, upskilling or re-skilling for riders used to be viewed as "not macho" among a sizeable percentage of the NZ motorcycling population but judging from recent comments on bike forums and other media, this attitude seems to be softening which is great news.  Post-licence training is still regarded as uncool by a minority but that minority seems to be shrinking.

In addition to this proactive stance by ACC, they are in the process of introducing a pilot scheme whereby targeted riders will receive $100 off their annual bike registration fee for attending Ride Forever.  Early days but kudos to a government department that's attempting to address the root cause of accidents as opposed to the normal "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" approach of punitive legislative measures.  This is the link to the proposals HERE .

One requirement of the pilot scheme is that the riders must have held a full license for at least 10 years.  This is quite deliberate as "mature" returning riders are over-represented in accident statistics.  Who knows, if it's a success, it may well spread.  Younger riders are safer than they used to be because in the last few years, getting a licence is far more stringent than previously.

Looking at the responses on the ACC website, there is an overwhelmingly positive response to the initiative.  I guess it's inevitable that there will be detractors for a whole load of reasons but the important point is that ACC are offering tangible rewards for completing one of their subsidised courses which has demonstrated its effectiveness.  If someone doesn't want to attend, it's their choice.  Wishing ACC every success for taking a proactive stance.

As a final comment, an increasing number of riders who have completed the Ride Forever programme clearly see the value of on-going training in improving their safety and enjoyment and are now choosing to join IAM to continue raising their skills.  That "learning for life" mindset shift has got to be good for everyone, hasn't it?  

The photo below was taken last week when one of the IAM Trainee Observers (mentors) had just passed his demanding full theory and practical tests to become a fully qualified Observer.  The chap on the left is Neil, who is an Examiner.  Chris, in the centre, is our newly-qualified Observer.  Pete, on the right, is the "newbie" who is in the process of joining IAM and whom Chris was assessing as part of his test.  The interesting thing is that Pete is the chief highway patrol cop for our province and a social rider.  If a highly trained cop believes there is value in on-going upskilling, that speaks volumes!


Neil, Chris and Pete - IAM Central North Island region


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.

Owwww....

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!

Addendum:
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!