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Friday, 26 June 2015

Winter maintenance and other ramblings

It's winter in NZ and whilst my blogging friends with colder winter temperatures may snort with derision, we still get a few cold days and this week was a good example with snow down south and in the high country, plus some uncharacteristic frosts up our way.  A bit of winter maintenance on the bike was called for.  My favourite tyre and accessories dealer is 130 km away in Auckland and whilst both Auckland and where I live on the Coromandel Peninsula are more or less sub-tropical, the southern loop to get there can get a mite chilly!

Perhaps just a smidgeon of exaggeration!

Setting off early, there was a decent frost on the ground as I headed south, then west. Several layers of Icebreaker merino under my Gore-Tex  but the 2 hour trip and absence of a screen and heated grips on the Street Triple still made for chilly riding and a leaky nose (ewwww....)

The Street Triple has now covered 66,000 km and the OEM sprockets and chain were starting to show their age.  Still, that's not too bad for a bike without a Scottoiler or similar constant flow device.  I have been pretty diligent about lubricating the chain every 500 km or so, using virtually every type of chain spray in the known universe. These have ranged from superb to bloody diabolical (a biker technical term).  Among the best was a DuPont product which disappeared from the market a few years back.  Castrol Chain Spray O-R was the absolute worst. With a viscosity approximating that of water, their Marketing Department showed a complete disregard for the truth with their "fling resistant" claim on the can.  The evidence was the black crap which accumulated on the mufflers and back of the numberplate.  It was also a great magnet for road grit. However, since switching to Maxima Chain Wax two years ago, all is sweetness and light - it does exactly as claimed and the bike is a sight easier to clean!

New front and rear sprockets and a Tsubaki Alpha X-ring chain

I also needed a new rear tyre.  Regular readers of this blog will remember the full life review of the Michelin PR3 HERE .  The rear hoop lasted for approximately 15,000 km and its replacement had a virtually identical life.  It was the best all-round tyre ever tried on the Triple - bags of grip in all conditions and exceptional in the wet.  This tyre was superseded by the PR4 which is available in a range of compounds for different purposes and weights of bike.  The "standard" PR4 allegedly has a harder compound in the centre to extend life.  In fact, Michelin claimed an increase of 20% above that of the PR3 but that seems to have been quietly dropped.  From personal experience, the life of my PR4 has been identical to that of its predecessor, not that I'm complaining as it's still a great distance considering the hammering it gets!  However, the PR4 is more expensive than the PR3 and if that was done on the grounds of longevity, we've been ripped off!   All complaining aside, it's a terrific tyre.  The front tyre still has lots of tread and the profile is still good.  It may well last longer than than the 17,000-odd km I got from the PR3 front, possibly due to the bigger spacing between sipes and the likelihood of less flexing.

Brand spanking new PR4 - supreme wet weather grip

The Drury Performance Centre guys in Auckland are a terrific team.  Real bike enthusiasts with an outstanding customer service focus.  I was still getting my gear off when one of the technicians came out and wheeled the bike onto the hydraulic lift.  In less than 1.5 hours, the sprockets, chain and tyre had been changed, all at a great price and I was on my way home again in slightly better temperatures than the way up.  It's worth travelling a reasonable distance for great service like that and building long-term relationships.  The bike was noticeably smoother with the new chain and sprockets although the original ones weren't in particularly poor condition.  Just goes to show that you don't notice the slow decline in performance.

Another item of note is that my Christmas present from the CEO was a custom rear shock.  The OEM shock was definitely built to a budget with no compression and rebound damping adjustment.  In fact, it was noticeably past its best by 40,000 km.  Having experienced the advantages of a high-end Penske shock on my Blackbird (not the least being a substantial increase in tyre life), a UK-made Nitron was chosen for the Street Triple.  It was sprung and valved for the conditions I ride in, plus my weight (any sarcastic comments will be met with an equally sarcastic response).  It was almost perfect straight out of the box, with just half a turn of preload being required to get the loaded sag spot on.  Handling is now sublime and a local sharp dip in the road which previously jarred my spine is a thing of the past with the new setup.  A great investment which gives more performance than aftermarket cans or any other accessory!

Nitron custom rear shock

Finally, "Executive Permission" has been granted to replace the Street Triple!  Having just tarted it up, I'm not ready quite yet to part with it but maybe early next year.  There are some fantastic bikes on the market and it's fun looking at all the specifications, but could this be the leading contender?

Street Triple R ABS

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Bringing your “A” game to riding

After the recent ScooterBob posts, I’d intended to let the blog slip back into recess.  That’s still the intent but as it’s pouring down outside and thoughts turn to two rides earlier this week, it might form the basis of a worthwhile post.

Regular readers will remember the saga about the journey of Roger Fleming and yours truly to attain our Institute of Advanced Motorists advanced riding qualifications.  The Police Roadcraft system of riding was developed by the UK Police, is used by many police forces world-wide and is arguably one of the most demanding training programmes around.  Rog and I both passed after much effort and stress, going on to train as Observers (Instructors), adding further stress to our lives!  After passing those tests a couple of years back, we recently became Senior Observers after yet another test and more stress.

Mentoring other riders through to the Advanced Test and Observer levels requires us to ride to a consistently high level, which helps to stop those standards sliding which is almost inevitable unless you regularly re-skill.  However, riding well still requires effort and it has to be earned!

Last Tuesday, I took out an experienced rider for a refresher run, predominantly on country roads.  Terry owns a BMW HP4 superbike, mainly for trackdays.  He’s just bought a BMW 1200 GS for general riding and that’s what he used on this occasion.

Terry and his 1200GS - miles of smiles!

It was one of those magic days…… thoroughly enjoying each others’ company, warm and sunny, not much traffic and we were able to make (umm…to use a technical term) “good progress” on twisty country back roads.  Riders everywhere will recognise the thrill from such a ride which feels like you’re on rails.  That slightly detached feeling where your situational awareness is so heightened that control of your bike seems totally automatic and without effort – a feeling so good in fact that it’s almost impossible to describe to a non-rider.

Terry rode to a very high standard and we couldn't keep the smiles off our faces.  A well-ridden GS on twisty, bumpy back roads is a potent weapon!  Absolutely fizzing after the ride and I was so looking forward to getting out a couple of days later with another IAM member.

Up early on Thursday to meet with Lloyd in Auckland.  Lloyd is very close to taking his Advanced Test and if he did well again on this ride, I would be putting him forward for the test.  Lloyd rides a Yamaha TDM 900 with over 140,000 km on the clock and it still runs flawlessly.

Lloyd and his mighty TDM 900

This ride was to be a 100 km mix of busy motorway conditions (freeway), dense city traffic and open country roads to test Lloyd’s understanding and practical application of Police Roadcraft.  He would also be giving a detailed commentary over the helmet comms to describe what he was observing and how this was impacting on his riding plan.

The ride was going superbly with Lloyd’s commentary and bike control demonstrating that he was relaxed, yet totally aware of his environment.  This also put me in a relaxed state and when we took the wrong exit from a roundabout out in the countryside, I suggested that we simply turn round to get on the correct road.

Although it was a fairly narrow country road, Lloyd did an effortless U turn and I prepared to do likewise.  It’s at this stage that Street Triple owners will start to smile and guess what’s coming next!  The Triple is a lovely, agile bike but it has a frankly awful steering lock angle.  Without paying proper attention to the road width after seeing Lloyd get round, I started a classic low speed feet-up turn.  It was only too late in the manoeuvre and leaned right over that I realised another 6” of road width would have been awfully nice!  Almost made it but almost ain’t good enough and had to lay the bike down in the road with me grovelling alongside it.

I would like to publicly apologise here and now to Lloyd for the torrent of bad language that he had to endure over the comms.  The very sort of language that in my teens, would have had my mother reaching for a bar of soap.  If Lloyd was laughing and lovely guy that he is, he had the good grace to do it through clenched teeth so that I couldn't hear him.

Mercifully, the right hand front indicator on its flexible stalk makes a very good crash protector and the damage was confined to a broken lens cover.  The damage to my pride was, and still is, rather more substantial!

The moral of the story is no-one is exempt from a lapse in concentration and you have to be on your game 100% of the time when you ride a motorcycle.  As far as I’m concerned, it was a timely lesson to never let my guard down and hopefully, it will stick because it was entirely my fault, even though the consequences weren't serious.

As a nice ending, a new indicator has already been despatched from the supplier and the damaged one is fully functioning thanks to some thin clear plastic from a tomato carton and the application of adhesive tape.  Even more importantly, Lloyd turned in a near-flawless ride and should be taking his Advanced test in the very near future.  As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining!

Temporary indicator repair on bike owned by an idiot

Thursday, 2 April 2015

ScooterBob the petrolhead (episode 3)

With the Northern Hemisphere spring getting underway and the reverse season starting in NZ, ScooterBob thought it was high time we got out for some more fun before he heads back north of the equator.  The first scheduled outing was to be on the Street Triple but the Chief Executive Officer (aka Jennie) decided that as the day was calm, sunny and the tides were right; a spot of fishing would be in order amongst the offshore islands.

Those who followed my previous exchanges with Bob Leong about my lack of fishing prowess compared with Jennie and his comments about my "lucky red fishing shorts", will not be surprised that SB insisted on coming along to see what went on for himself!

ScooterBob observing the traditional husband and wife fishing battle

Conditions among the islands off the Coromandel coast amidst the commercial mussel farms were simply breathtaking and it really didn't matter whether we caught anything or not ....... and if you believe that, you'll believe anything - bragging rights mean everything in this household!

Not a breath of wind among the commercial mussel beds - sheer magic

First strike to me - a big stingray but after a 10 minute losing struggle, it was easier to cut the line and let the ray go about its business and resume the hunt for snapper.  I'm sure that Bob was looking down and grinning.

A losing tussle with a stingray

To cut a long story short, Jennie predictably wiped the floor with me with some nice pan-sized snapper and the lucky red shorts weren't so lucky.  So what's new - at least I get to share in the spoils.  ScooterBob wisely said nothing about my score or shorts.

Trying not to look too smug.....

With fishing out of the way, it was time for an ummm....... "brisk" trip up the coast on 2 wheels with SB on board.  First stop was the picturesque Waitete Bay with not a soul in sight.

Stop hiding SB, the ride wasn't that quick.....

SB striking an arty pose with a Shoei

Checking out the tidal creek

You go on ahead and I'll just follow along.....

After Waitete Bay, it was just a short ride up to the mini-settlement of Colville.  With the Coromandel Peninsula having a strong arts community and lots of alternative lifestylers, including a handful of communes, the iconic Colville Store caters for a wide range of local needs.  If you need mantles for some obscure brand of gas lamp, they have it!  If you're vegan or vegetarian, they have a massive selection of grains, flours and seeds for sprouting - a whole room of them in fact.  It's a store with character!  The post office next next door must be one of the smallest on the planet.  Quite often, there's a whiteboard outside saying "parcel for Joe Smith" or similar - utterly charming.

Duelling Banjo country......

Colville Post Office 

Colville was the turn point for home and the ride was done at a more leisurely pace down the coast than on the way up!  The Peninsula is known for its arty mailboxes as well as great fishing so ScooterBob just had to stop and admire the giant fish mailbox at the small community of Papa Aroha.

Not a sight you see every day!

Feeling comfortable that SB wouldn't want to report any overly enthusiastic riding, it was time to introduce our Canadian scooter visitor to the upholders of law in our community.  John Morrissey is the Officer in Charge of Coromandel Police Station and the two officers have a heck of a rural area to cover.  Both are keen riders with John having recently sold his big Kawasaki cruiser and bought an even bigger Triumph Rocket 3!

A purely social call!

John cementing Canadian-NZ relationships

Out once more in the district, it was time to see some more sights.  One oddity is the wild pigs on the predominantly dirt 309 Road which goes over the Coromandel Range. European tuskers were thought to have been introduced into NZ by Capt James Cook during early exploration in the 1760's.  Normally reclusive and aggressive if cornered, these pigs are fed by a local eccentric "Stu" and have become pretty tame, simply coming and going as they please.  ScooterBob is certainly seeing some unusual sights around the place!

Not an everyday sight for SB!

The Coromandel area is known for its aquaculture, green-lipped mussels and Pacific oysters in particular.  A short ride was taken with Scooterbob round to the far side of Coromandel harbour to see the mussel harvesting boats unloading at Te Kouma wharf ready for shipping fresh mussels to domestic and overseas markets.

Te Kouma Sugarloaf Wharf

Jennie had taken my 4x4 to haul some stuff about and as I needed to pick up supplies in town, it was a good opportunity to take ScooterBob out for a run in her wheels.  It was also totally appropriate as Bob and Yvonne had also owned an MX5 Miata in the past.  Fellow moto-blogger and close friend of Bob's, Sonja  had also driven Jennie's car as well as ridden the Street Triple in 2012, when she was last in NZ.  The sun was out and the tide was in when we drove back along the causeway to our house - the perfect photo op!

SB looking at the Coromandel equivalent of Arkwright's store in the UK TV sitcom "Open All Hours"

ScooterBob on four wheels!

The road round the Coromandel Peninsula is one of the North Island's great motorcycle roads, 200+ km of twists and turns by the sea and over the Coromandel Range.  On Sonja's last visit mentioned above, she rode my Street Triple in the company of Roger over the famous Coromandel Hill to the picturesque beach settlement of Whangapoua.  That post is on Sonja's blog here and contains remarks by Bob about wanting to fit into Sonja's luggage.   It was therefore an appropriate time for a return visit to introduce ScooterBob to Steve Ferguson, the owner of the Whangapoua beach store.  Steve is a very keen cyclist , even travelling every couple of years to France to ride some of the stages that the Tour de France is held on!  He is also a long-term motorcycle enthusiast and currently owns a Triumph Bonneville America  cruiser.

Steve and his Triumph America with ScooterBob

Bob Leong had long followed the journey of close mate Roger Fleming and I through the various stages of advanced rider training with the NZ branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists .  He offered encouragement in the tough times but also pulled our legs unmercifully and I still look back through his responses to our IAM posts and laugh.

It was only fitting that ScooterBob should meet some of the Auckland region members of IAM at our end of month run last Sunday.  The ride from home up the Auckland Motorway was in some of the worst rain conditions ever encountered but you know what?  Just under an hour before the actual training rides started, the skies turned blue and the roads dried out - maybe ScooterBob had worked his magic!  All the riders were touched by the ScooterBob story and were delighted to mark his visit to NZ!

Roger and Geoff centre with ScooterBob.  IAM Chief Examiner Philip McDaid right foreground

That's the end of ScooterBob's stay in NZ and he will shortly be winging his way to England to meet Nick Laskaris of Nikos World .  What a privilege and fun it's been to take part in  ScooterBob's travels and to to honour Bob Leong.  Travel well SB and very much looking forward to the next part of the story!

Monday, 23 March 2015

ScooterBob goes train-spotting!!

Following the last post about ScooterBob's history, his arrival in Coromandel and meeting our close friends, it was time for SB to go exploring.  Before our friends Peter and Jane Miller returned to the UK, we wanted to show them a local attraction, Driving Creek Railway .  Of course, it would be rude not to invite cherished guest SB along too.

The narrow gauge railway was built by a (very) eccentric potter, Barry Brickell; to collect both clay and firewood for the kilns from the hills on his property. An increasing overdraft saw his bank manager suggest that the railway might be used for fare-paying passengers as well.  You can read about Barry's incredible transformation of the railway by using the link above but it's an amazing construction winding through the hills.  It's not just a rail journey, the old and often bizarre equipment and kilns used to produce all sorts of pottery are an attraction in themselves.  It's not only pottery which is made there but glass objects, paintings and the occasional bit of ironwork too.  Pottery and glass objects are tucked into all sorts of nooks and crannies in the buildings and up the track waiting to delight the people who stumble on them.

ScooterBob arriving at Driving Creek Railway

Do we drive on the left or right??

Introducing himself to the train driver, Pete Sephton

All aboard!

As mentioned earlier, there are all sorts of treasures tucked into recesses and by the track on the way up into the hills.  Here are a few examples.

Gorgeous glassware made on site

Discarded glass vases in one of the workshops

Bizarre pottery along the track

Yet more pottery

Wonderful rustic workshop

As the train slowly worked its way up into the hills, we chatted with SB and he appeared to really enjoy all the sights.  There are several tunnels on the track and one with a decorative terracotta entrance, all made on site.

Terracotta entrance to the tunnel

One of the items on the tunnel entrance wall is a pottery plaque.  It's a poem by TS Eliot and is a moving reminder to take our opportunities while we can.

A reminder to us all....

At the top of the track, there is a viewing structure appropriately called the Eyefull Tower which gives magnificent views over Coromandel Harbour.  ScooterBob took time during the climb up the spiral staircase to catch his breath and look down on the train.

Climbing up the Eyefull Tower 

Taking in the great views

After returning to the station, it was time for SB to have a last look at the buildings and some garden pottery before a quick peek into the relatively recently-opened art gallery on site.

One last look....

SB in the pottery garden

A forged iron chandelier in the gallery lit with LED's

Part of a forged iron garden art structure

Scooterbob had a pretty full time of it and as we had to take Peter and Jane to the airport for the trip back to the UK, he elected to stay in Coromandel and recharge his battery whilst Peter, Jane, Jennie and I headed north to Auckland airport .

Saying goodbye to his new-found friends Peter and Jane

Next time: ScooterBob goes out on the Triumph Street Triple and other petrol-head adventures!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

ScooterBob in NZ - the Coromandel Peninsula

I stopped blogging over a year ago, partially because I didn't want to bore people with the same old stuff and partially because of being insanely busy with IAM (Institute of Advanced Motoring) activities.  However, the sudden loss of a fellow moto-blogger, Bob Leong; in September 2014 has occasioned a post or two which hopefully adds to a fitting tribute that his fellow bloggers and riding partners have devised and supported on his website: Riding the Wet Coast

Bob Leong - moto blogger extraordinaire

Firstly, a bit of background.

Bob lived in Vancouver, owned scooters and in more recent times, A Suzuki V Strom and a BMW 1100.  On 4 wheels, he drove a very nice Corvette.  As well as blogging about his travels and the people he met, he also wrote about gadgets he bought.  In fact, it was Bob who was instrumental in getting me to buy the camera which I now own through the detailed, but easy to read account of his own experiences with that particular model.  Bob also wrote about his family and although I was never able to meet him in person, his blog and our correspondence over several years painted him as a generous-spirited, most likeable man who would have been wonderful company.  Bob was also the first person to comment on my first ever blog post and make me feel welcome in the blog-o-sphere. Tragically, he passed away whilst touring in the USA with his wife Yvonne.  Almost eerily, Jennie and I happened to be in Vancouver en route from Alaska to NZ when I learned of his passing.

A good friend of Bob's, David Masse; came up with a fitting tribute to Bob's life and dreams by sending a model wooden Vespa scooter (christened ScooterBob) which Bob had once owned, on a journey of its own.  You can read David's excellent account of how the idea came to fuition here: ScooterBob.  Suffice to say that the idea has been enthusiastically embraced by those who knew him personally and through his motorcycle blog.  The following photos and narrative are an account of ScooterBob's travels in my patch of New Zealand.  I hope that Bob is looking down and laughing his head off at ScooterBob's adventures round the world.  Perhaps Yvonne and Family will draw both comfort and pleasure from them too.  The travels certainly embrace Bob's spirit and enthusiasm for discovering new places and revisiting old ones!

The other Moto-bloggers who have helped ScooterBob in his travels have posted the most wonderful scenic photos of their corner of the world.  I hope to be able to be able to do the same but as Bob was a real "people person", I've also chosen to introduce ScooterBob to family and friends to add a human angle and hope Bob would have approved.

International traveller ScooterBob arrived in Coromandel Town from Andrew further down the North Island of NZ.  We were having breakfast on the deck when SB arrived so it was an opportune time to remove him from his travelling home, let him have some sunlight and welcome him to our neck of the woods.  As Bob loved people and valued friendships, I thought it would only be right and proper to introduce ScooterBob to some of our great friends during his stay - more on that later.

Annie welcoming ScooterBob to our home

We didn't want to wear SB out on his first day so his first outing was close to sunset when I took him down to the town wharf to let him look at the fishing boats and meet a couple of the local commercial fishermen who were enjoying a cold beer after a day out at sea.

SB checking out the local fishing fleet at sunset

Local commercial fishing identities Bunsen and Pete exchanging yarns with SB

After meeting some locals on the wharf, it was off to the lookout near our house to enjoy sunset over the islands in the Hauraki Gulf.

Sunset over the Hauraki Gulf

Unfortunately, the best-laid plans to go a little further afield were curtailed by dire warnings from the NZ MetService about the fast-approaching Tropical Cyclone Pam.  Mercifully, it passed a little further to the east than expected so some torrential rain over 24 hours or so and some boisterous winds were all we encountered.  However, it gave us the opportunity to take a couple of shots in less than tropical weather!

Cyclone Pam approaches!

With the weather packing up fast, there was just time to nip down to the end of our road to show SB the building seas.  With his shiny coat of varnish, SB scoffed at the driving rain whilst I was getting rapidly soaked.  SB was far too gracious to call me a wimp, but I'm sure that's what he was thinking.

Seas and rain building, but SB enjoying the bracing conditions

With normal weather returning, it was time to venture a little further afield and introduce SB to some close friends who live not far from us.  Paul and Julie are lovers of British classic vehicles.  Julie drives an immaculate MGB GT V8 which was in for a service when we visited.  Paul is a dedicated Norton enthusiast and Secretary of the NZ Norton Owners Club.  For everyday transport, he rides a 1951 ES2.  His ride for rallies and similar outings is a flawless Commando 750 fastback which he bought brand new when he was 19!  The other Norton is a Commando 850 racebike which owes very little to the original road-going 850 Commando and like most racing machinery, is a bottomless hole into which money is poured.  However, it is very, very fast, surprisingly reliable and Paul does extremely well in post-classic racing.

ScooterBob playing with his big English cousins

SB goes racing!

This summer has been really busy in terms of friends and relatives visiting us, both from NZ and overseas.  It was a great opportunity for ScooterBob from Canada to meet visiting English friends of ours who we hadn't seen for 42 years!  I've known Peter and Jane Miller since I was in my late teens.  Pete and I drag-raced bikes together in the UK, albeit in different capacity classes.  We moved to NZ  in the 1970's and Pete went on to enjoy ultimate accolades with an FIM-approved world record in the 500cc class over the standing start quarter mile with his supercharged, nitro-burning beast.  Pete and Jane are still motorcycle enthusiasts with a Triumph Thunderbird cruiser and a KTM trail bike in the stable.

As Bob really enjoyed his food, we thought that he would completely approve of ScooterBob being invited to a BBQ at home with Jennie, Paul and Julie and Pete and Jane.

Jennie, Jane, Julie, Peter and Paul

SB enjoying convivial company with Annie photo-bombing!

In the next instalment of ScooterBob in NZ, we venture further afield!