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Friday, 20 November 2015

The Suzuki GSX-S 1000A - after 2000 km

Well, I've been able to cut loose for the last few hundred km after diligently completing the running in and what a brute it is!  If the Street Triple was a rapier, the Gixxer is closer to a broadsword or battleaxe!  As mentioned in the previous two posts, both the demo ride and delivery trip home were anticlimactic in that it was similar to riding my 2009 Street Triple in terms of ergonomics and nimble handling.  That’s not denigrating the Suzuki but a massive compliment to just how good the Street Triple is as a great all-round bike. In fact, the power to weight ratio of both bikes are not hugely apart and in real world road conditions, we’re only talking fractions of a second differences in performance up to the legal road limit.  The additional 42 kg of the Suzuki isn’t at all noticeable because it’s carried so low.  Mass centralisation was clearly a major feature of the design brief, including a single low, stubby Moto-GP style exhaust system.

I've had the silver and black leathers for years honestly - not a Power Ranger!

Having already said that it’s quite nimble, it’s a bit more flighty and less controllable on bumpy roads than the Street Triple, bouncing around a fair bit.  That's almost certainly because it needs setting up from scratch for my weight and that will happen when everything settles in.  The Triple had lots of attention in that respect and care in setting sag and damping really paid off.  Nonetheless, it’s very good indeed for a sport bike with taut suspension and feels more like a 600 than a 1000.   As mentioned in previous posts, it was noticed that on the most sensitive traction control setting that it actually activates on tight corners when “pressing on” in dry conditions.  You can’t feel it, but the TC warning light flickers on and off showing that it is changing power delivery characteristics.  Rider comfort, at least for a person of my height is surprisingly good and even with stuffed knees; the footpeg height is relatively comfortable.

Forget the claimed top speed of around 250 km/hr on most of the world's public highways, it's the brutal acceleration which is the really impressive feature.  Sport Rider magazine ran it through the standing start 1/4 mile in 10.6 seconds with a terminal speed of 214 km/hr.  With grunt like this, traction control is clearly a real advantage in reducing unfortunate consequences from a ham-fisted approach to throttle control!  It raises the question of how much power is sufficient for everyday road use.  In this instance, to borrow the phrase used by Rolls Royce about their cars; it’s “adequate”!

To slow the bike down after the brutal acceleration, the Suzy is equipped with radial 4-pot Brembos up front and a single pot Nissin out back, with ABS to make the whole thing civilised.  As yet, I haven't had to use the brakes in anger so can't make any objective comments.  On the delivery trip home, they were quite wooden, but the dealer warned me that they would take time to bed in.  I've done one deliberate hard straight line stop, simply to test the ABS as I've never ridden an ABS bike before.  The feeling left me a bit underwhelmed as there was no savage, wedding tackle squashed into the back of the tank-type deceleration. Perhaps that's the point of it - no dramas during heavy braking.

The OEM tyres are Dunlop D214 sport soft compound.  Excellent dry grip but like most pure sport tyres, require heat to deliver maximum adhesion.  That is likely to be problematic for IAM mentoring work in all weathers, particularly wet winters.  However, given that the life of these tyres is likely to be somewhat short, they will be replaced with the outstanding all-weather Michelin PR4’s fairly soon.

Fuel range came as a pleasant surprise.  Range is important to someone who lives a fair distance from the main centres and besides, I hate stopping for gas when on the move!  With a sympathetic right hand, it’s quite possible to get around 300 km or thereabouts.  An excellent feature of the instrument panel is a “range until empty” readout, giving the rider real-time information.  Allied with this are instant and cumulative fuel consumption readings in several different output measurement formats.

Any downsides?
Well, it is a sport bike so a pillion rider is unlikely thank you for the minimalist seat and high rear pegs on anything but a short(ish) run.  If you don’t plan to take a pillion or go very far with one, then they might still walk normally afterwards!

On the GSX-S website forum, quite a few riders have complained that the engine is snatchy off a trailing throttle. Coming from a Street Triple which had a similar reputation, I would have said it's a touch sensitive at low openings but not something which can't be lived with.  On a constant throttle at slow speeds, it is a little lumpy but it’s not particularly annoying.  However, if it’s used for regular commuting in heavy traffic, it might become irritating but in fairness, riding a sport bike in those conditions is not exactly “fit for purpose”!

Another thing which may or may not become irritating is a combination of the exhaust and induction noise.  It's noticeable when rolling off from fairly high revs in the lower gears, there appears to be a harmonic which can be quite intrusive (read loud!) I personally like it up to now but acknowledge that it might not be to everyone’s taste. 

The marketing hype which went along with the bike’s release played quite heavily on the “hooligan” element of the bike’s nature so it’s entirely possible that the induction howl is quite deliberate. Maybe the lumpiness too but more likely to be the consequences of emission controls.

Accessories, plus odds ‘n sods
I’m not big on bling to turn it into a tart's handbag and extras have been limited to strictly practical use.  With its pure sport bias, the GSX-S is not set up to be a sports tourer but a range of aftermarket racks are available to take luggage.  I’ve simply opted for throw-over Oxford bags which have sat unused in a cupboard for several years. The bags have been on for one run of several hundred km, didn't move and didn't affect the handling of the bike.  They don't look too out of place either.  I also have a 10 litre yachting dry bag which can be bungeed to the top of the bags to give additional storage for a few days away.

Oxford expandable bags for touring

For paint protection, 3M matte finish anti-scratch clear film has been applied to the fuel tank and rear cowl.  Absolutely delighted with the workmanship of the guy who applied it.  So good that it's virtually invisible.

Arrows showing edge of matte 3M clear anti-scratch paint protection

A Pyramid self- adhesive front guard extension has been fitted to stop road crap from being fired into the radiator from the front tyre.  R&G crash mushrooms have been fitted to protect the bike in the event of a drop (shudder).

R&G aero-style crash protectors

A handlebar mount for the GPS has been installed and the standard halogen headlamp bulb has been replaced with an identical wattage but higher output Xenon bulb of the type I used on the Street Triple.  This has benefits in terms of visibility in both daytime and night riding.  A small flyscreen is to be added, as much for looks as protection and that’s about it.  Not even sure whether I'll bother fitting the Escort radar detector/screamer setup which I had on the Triple.

OEM 60/55W Halogen (L), Ring Automotive 60/55 Xenon +130 (R)
(Both on dipped beam)

In summary
It’s a beast of a bike and a lot of fun to get to grips with.  As mentioned earlier, very much like a big Street Triple with added steroids.  In some respects, it’s the sort of bike that encourages immoderate behaviour - a sort of “Who you lookin’ at” teenager with acne bike rather than a mature adult that says “I don’t have to prove anything”!  Having said that, it’s also pretty sophisticated in terms of electronics and is a good example of just how far bikes have developed an the last few years.  Value for money?  Heck yes!!   Fun?  In spades!!

Arty-farty photo on our street

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Suzuki GSX-S 1000A - first impressions and some comparisons

Well, the new bike is here and the Street Triple has gone... sniffle, sniffle!  I put the Triple on the NZ equivalent of eBay and the level of interest was amazing.  I could have sold it multiple times over but couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.  The new owners are a lovely young couple from Northland who did some thorough research and decided that mine was exactly what they were looking for.  I hope they have as much fun as I’ve had with it over the last 6 years.  Despite the prospect of a new bike, I was sad to see it go as it's done everything so well but it's gone to good people.  Hand-over was a perfect arrangement as it happened at the dealers in Auckland at the same time I picked up the Suzuki!

New owners Ray and Sandy, with Ray's dad - gone to a great new home!

Picking up the new bike on the Friday afternoon of a holiday long weekend probably wasn’t the smartest move with the Auckland Southern Motorway clogged with dimwits in cages hell bent on getting an early start out of the city.  Quietly filtering down the almost stationary traffic, it was really noticeable that there were plenty of drivers using their mobile phones and oblivious to what was going on around them.  I lost patience pretty quickly, dived out through the suburbs and went home the long way round through the countryside. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.... and certainly not clogged freeways full of knuckle-draggers!

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself……

I thought it would be worthwhile to record some initial impressions of the 190 km trip home on a new bike and contrast them where appropriate with the Street Triple and Blackbird before those thoughts become blurred.  Naturally, they are personal ones shaped by the bikes I’ve owned and the type of riding I’ve done over the years but here goes!

As mentioned in the previous blog post, the transition from Street Triple to Suzuki 1000 wasn't even on the radar, until a brief test ride two weeks previously which surprised me as the Suzy felt very similar to the Triumph in many important respects, albeit with a shed load more horsepower! Actually, I'd sat on a friend's "F" faired model the previous weekend and found that my feet could go flat on the deck.  That's what really started it so I blamed him to my wife!

About to leave the dealer and face holiday weekend traffic!

Travelling in heavy traffic on the motorway at slow speeds and indulging in a bit of filtering confirmed that despite the difference in weights (Triple ~170 kg dry, Suzi ~209 kg dry), the Suzy carried its weight very low and was ergonomically similar to the Triple – instant confidence!  I could also get my feet flat when the traffic stopped - important for an err... mature guy with stuffed knees! Rob, the salesperson at Holeshot Motorcycles reminded me before I left that the brakes would take some bedding in.  He was bang on the money – nowhere near as powerful as the Triple despite them being 4 pot radial Brembos so I added a few more lengths of following distance.  They slowly improved throughout the journey but have not yet reached the standard I’m expecting.

Reading ride reports on the Suzuki in the press, one common complaint is that it’s a bit snatchy from a trailing throttle.  That’s actually a fair call but the same complaint was levelled at the Street Triple when it first came out.  That gave me an advantage on the hand-over and didn't find it particularly intrusive on the trip home having got used to the Triple..  However, the new experience is only over 200 km so time will tell.

Leaving the motorway and getting out on to the country roads, it was nearly as nimble as the Triple, but not quite.  It did take a bit more effort to change direction through tight twisties .  It has a 190 section rear tyre compared with a 180 on the triple, a slightly longer wheelbase and more weight.  These factors will have some impact but as already mentioned, the difference isn’t huge.  Pushing it through the twisties as confidence grew saw the traction control activation light come on a few times.  Not a big deal as Rob had set it at "Old Fart" mode, the most sensitive of the settings.  I’d like to think that it was because the tyres were new rather than my age or perceived competence affecting his decision!

Stubby, raspy end can and chicken strips virtually gone in under 200 km

Handling over bumpy surfaces saw the bike skitter about far more than the Triple, but not in a particularly alarming way.  You certainly had to be a bit careful getting on the throttle!  It’s not a fair comparison at present though as the new bike running gear needs to loosen up before sag and damping can be properly adjusted for my weight.  I set the Triple up properly for my riding weight using quality aftermarket componentry and besides, international road tests say that not many bikes can live with a Triple in the tight stuff. 

The ride was in warm, dry conditions and the D214 sport tyres stuck well.  Rain grooves are minimalist and like most sport tyres, they require heat to make them stick.  From experience with the OEM Dunlop Qualifiers on the Street Triple, the prospect of riding in the rain in cooler conditions does not fill me with excitement, particularly as I have to do instructing in all conditions. The good thing is that the D214's should be dead pretty quickly and can be replaced with Michelin PR4's, which I love to bits.  Oh, and a real plus is that the turning circle is miles better than the Triple.  Having had to step off the Trumpy a few months ago when I stuffed up a feet-up U turn on a narrow country road in the presence of a rider I was mentoring makes me a bit sensitive to a lack of steering lock. Mercifully, the only significant damage was to my ego.

As the traffic thinned out, the ability to get on the throttle improved, even though running-in revs and engine loads were strictly observed.  The Suzuki has about 45 bhp more than the Triple but that’s nowhere near the end of the story.  If you do the math, the power to weight ratio of both bikes aren’t a mile apart.  Coupled with the wide torque spread of the Triple, it’s only when wind drag starts to kick in at (say) above 100 km/hr that the Suzuki has a significant advantage and clears off.  For everyday riding where corners, road conditions or other traffic impact on speed, the difference between the 2 bikes is nowhere as much as you might think.

Menacing in matte grey metallic paint

The muffler is one of those stubby Moto-GP jobbies slung low for mass centralisation.  It's got quite a bark too which is quite pleasing.  At certain highway speeds and a neutral throttle, there is a droning harmonic-type noise. Unsure at this stage whether it came from the airbox, muffler or both.  Will investigate further although it wasn't really irritating.

At about 3/4 distance home, my butt started to ache a bit, causing a bit of shuffling about on the seat.  It's far too early to draw any conclusions about this.  The seat may soften, my butt might adjust and if they don't; the fall-back will be an Airhawk pneumatic pad like I used for the Rusty Nuts 1600 km in under 24 hours organised event on the Street Triple (HERE). 

Old Geezer plus new bike photo op on Coromandel Wharf

The instrumentation display on the Suzuki is superb, although overwhelming at first glance!  As well as the normal speedo/odometer/tacho/temperature functions, there is permanent ABS and 3 stage traction control which can loosely be described as Old Fart (or rain if you prefer), spirited road riding (2) and trackday (1).  There is also "off", reserved for those who's surname rhymes with Rossi.  The rocker switch on the left bar also allows several fuel consumption options.  The one I particularly like is the one which counts down the km's before fuel is needed.  Let's hope that it's not wildly inaccurate!

View from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise

The Beast safely back at home!

So what now?  The main thing is to get used to it and get the break-in period over and done with.  With a few mentoring sessions already scheduled with the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the 1000 km service should be reached in about a week, then it will be time to see what she'll do!  Some matte 3M anti-scuff film will be installed at the service to protect the rear of the tank and the tailpiece from throwover bags.  The guys at Holeshot Motorcycles already installed paddock stand bobbins and a switched wiring take-off for my GPS and radar detector as part of the deal.  Just have to figure where to put 'em.  A front guard extender to keep the crap out of the radiator is already on order and engine crash protectors will be ordered shortly.  A small Suzuki screen is on back-order.


As I've only done one 200-odd km run from the dealer plus a 45 minute demo ride 2 weeks previously, the thoughts are only first impressions.  Reading back through what I've written, I don't seem to be jumping out of my skin about the Suzuki.  That would be a wrong impression - I love it and am really looking forward to riding it how it's meant to be ridden.   If anything, it's a strong complimentary reflection on just how good the Street Triple is. Totally bullet-proof in the 6 years of ownership, sublime handling and the power to weight ratio means that it won't be embarrassed in bigger company - horsepower is only one side of the equation.  If I enjoy the Suzuki as much as I've loved the Triple, I'll be a happy man!

My thoughts also turn back to the 1135cc Honda Blackbird which graced the shed for 8 years before the Triple. The fastest bike in production when it first came out and also bullet-proof.  On the downside, it was a tad too tall for me and carried its weight pretty high too which is why it had to go as I aged - low speed handling and parking on big cambers could be problematic. Comparing it with the Suzuki mass centralisation and lower weight, sharper handling and modern electronics isn't fair to a bike that was at the top of the tree when first released in late 1996. It does go to show however, how far motorcycle technology has evolved in 20-odd years.  I'll still look back on the Blackbird with huge affection but then was then and now is now - time to move on.

Finally, a personal acknowledgement of the great service I received from Holeshot Motorcycles, right from the demonstrator ride through to riding away on the new bike.  Being gushy about their service would do them a disservice.  Suffice to say that throughout, Rob, the guy I dealt with was friendly, accommodating and utterly professional.  Looking forward to building a long-term relationship with them.  Oh, and they are also Triumph agents so if the rumoured 800cc Street Triple ever gets released, there might be the opportunity for more business (subject to Executive Permission from Jennie of course)!

Can't wait for the next stage of getting to know The Beast!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Taken by complete surprise!

Spring has sprung in NZ and a young man's thoughts turn to......  noooo - get a grip and tell the story!

Sometimes, near-serendipitous things occur which leaves one thinking, "How the heck did that happen?"  Well, a couple of events over the last week or so have ended up having that effect on me!

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love the Street Triple which was bought new in 2009 after having ridden a Honda Blackbird for the previous 8 years.  It's done everything well..... out for a "brisk" ride with the lads, touring, mentoring advanced riding classes and is the most comfortable bike I've ever done the Rusty Nuts 1000 miles (1600 km) in under 24 hours endurance ride on.  It's also been supremely reliable - a rectifier replaced as part of a world-wide recall and 2 mirror stalks replaced under warranty due to rusting - the sum total in 6 years of ownership. The original review is HERE

The intention has always been to replace it with another Street Triple, albeit a sports "R" or "RX" version when the time came.  The light weight at 170-odd kg plus a modest seat height are ideal for someone who turns 68 this month!  There was no real hurry to replace the current bike as it's still in excellent nick but then a couple of things happened.......

The awesome Street Triple RX

The first thing was that Executive Permission was granted to get another bike with no grovelling whatsoever (the quid pro quo has not yet been discussed though, haha).  We all know what it's like when that happens - instant perusing of the Triumph catalogue and a good deal of on-line reading about the sportier Street Triples!

The second thing that happened was reading about rumours that Triumph would be releasing an 800cc version of the Street Triple.  A few worries crept in. If I get a new 675 now, what will be the impact of the rumoured 800cc Street Triple?  If I wait for the 800, will I be waiting for a year or two and will I actually like it when it comes out?   Aargh!  The course to true love never runs smooth ( they say).  The result?  Procrastination and not knowing what to do.

Now it so happens that I was at a gathering of Institute of Advanced Motoring riders and a fellow Observer turned up on a brand new fully-faired Suzuki and invited me to sit on it.  The big surprise was that as a relative shortarse at 5' 8", I could get both feet flat on the deck.  Whilst the bike itself didn't offer immediate emotional appeal as I'm more of a fan of naked bikes these days, it did open my consciousness to other options.

Fast forward to last weekend....... I was in Auckland to help run a training course and ended up sitting on the new non-faired Suzuki GSX-S 1000A in a Triumph/Suzuki dealer showroom - seat height was perfect!  Would Sir like to take it for a spin?  Just about bit his arm off!  It's quite a small bike but I was a bit nervous about the offer, particularly with the weight at 207 kg compared with 170-odd for the Triple and my knees not being in pristine condition.

About to take the Suzy for a test - massive grin concealed by helmet

The salesman appeared to be remarkably relaxed at the prospect of letting an old geezer take out a beast with close to 50 horses more than the Triple.  He quickly indicated the essential controls and rather pointedly said that he'd set the traction control (yep, 3 stage traction control!) in Granny Mode.  Actually, he didn't use those words but would lay money that was what he was getting at.  Incidentally, if you look at the photo above, there is a black mark on the plastic just below and forward of the "S" brand badge.  There is also a scuff on the muffler which doesn't show on the photo.  These were apparently incurred by someone turning off the traction control and giving it a handful.  Maybe the salesman had every right to be cautious!

Within moments of heading out of the showroom, I was amazed at how easy the transition from the Triple to the Suzuki was - it's incredibly similar in terms of general "feel". It carries its additional weight really low so the extra kilos aren't apparent. In fact, it was amazingly similar in terms of both nimbleness and ergonomics to the Triple and it was these features which made the transition from one to the other so easy. The engine is based on the 2005-2008 GSX-R 1000, which has more torque than later versions, but with modern engine management electronics and a brand new rolling chassis to carry it.  The engine produces about 145 ponies, traction control (4 including turning it off!) plus ABS to deliver power and braking in a relatively sane manner.   The term "sane" is relative as the first twist of the wrist up the motorway would have had the Long Arm of the Law doing more than frowning if one had been around.   The acceleration was absolutely ferocious.  Radial 4 piston Brembos brought a bit of sanity to scrubbing off speed though!  Filtering through traffic in urban areas was just like being on the Triple - no drama whatsoever.

To cut the tale short, I came back with a grin a mile wide and put a deposit on one.  Had the choice of electric blue (too much like the old Blackbird), red and black (does nothing for me) or matte metallic grey.  The latter was perfect - understated menace and unlikely to attract unwarranted attention!  Picking it up later this month when the new shipment arrives.

The beast in blue (Suzuki brochure photo)

The beastie from another angle (Suzuki brochure photo)

Must say that getting a new bike right now took me by surprise and buying a Suzuki was an even bigger surprise, but the test ride really was that good! . I think it will be the right choice for my current circumstances.  I'm certainly not discounting a return to a Triple if and when when Triumph release the 800 (rumour late 2016 or 2017) but the Suzuki should be fine for now.  I'll be putting the Triple up for private sale in the near future.

I found a review of the Suzuki from a UK rider on YouTube.  His language is pretty colourful but is in context with his surprise as to its performance and is relatively amusing.  I'd like to think that my riding standard is a sight better than his though!  Maybe the test got to him.  Maybe the test got to me, haha!

When I've had the Suzuki for a week or two, I might put a post together comparing it with the Triple and some overall impressions.

Oooohhhh......  can't wait!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Having fun AND learning at the same time!

There are some weekends which lift the soul and the one just gone was one of them.  The Wellington chapter of the internationally-recognised Institute of Advanced Motorists were hosting the annual general meeting and to make it a memorable weekend, had organised a whole load of related activities.  A number of the NZ Police are also IAM members, both use the Roadcraft training system and we were generously offered the use of the magnificent facilities at the Royal NZ Police College.

I’d originally intended to ride the 600-odd km to Wellington on the bike but Jennie was keen to spend some time catching up with old friends in the region so her MX5 was pressed into service for a bit of 4-wheeled fun!

On the first day of the conference weekend, the morning was split between cornering exercises on the skid pan (mercifully dry at the time) and low speed handling skills.  I enjoyed a lap on the pan in the MX5 which was great fun but spent most of the time photographing the skills on display.  The police instructors were the best of the best and had donated their time for the weekend – outstanding!

Bikes and a lone MX5 on the parade ground!

Briefing by police riding god at the skid pan

Incoming IAM President Carey Griffith and a pensive-looking writer at the briefing!

The way that the police were able to throw their fully-laden BMW's and Hondas about was jaw-droppingly good.  Never try to do a runner because you'll lose!

Not a sight you want in your mirrors on the open road!

Do try and keep up, people!

After cornering practice on the skid pan, it was time to sample low speed handling through almost impossibly close cones.  It was a privilege to watch the police show how it should be done with their wide, heavy machines.

Standing start right-angled turn with cones little more than a metre apart

Lock your steering over, look into the distance and GO!

Incredible display of skill weaving through close cones (Photo by Mark Fleming)

Round the cones 2-up too, no worries!

Some of the team - yours truly kneeling (L)

After a splendid lunch, it was off to the town of Martinborough, over the Rimutaka mountain range - twisty and technical nirvana for riders!  On this occasion, the police riders were very happy to mix in for a rare social occasion which was great.  It was also great to be driving Jennie's MX 5 whilst she was out in the city with a mate.  My passenger Mark was not only the President of IAM NZ, but a very experienced police driver and head of the Serious Crash Unit in one of the Auckland policing districts.  He joked that the run would be my Advanced car test. I took this as license to "make progress"!  I asked after the run whether he'd passed me and with a straight face, he replied that he'd certainly passed something.  Not quite sure what he meant, but it was a reasonably quick trip! One of the other riders later told Jennie that her car "goes a bit" and I received "THE LOOK" (a female trademark) for my pains.  

Perfect lines, no room for error! (Photo by Mark Fleming)

Look what's following the MX5! (Photo by Mark Fleming)

There was a short stop at the Rimutaka summit to re-group and it was noticed that a bunch of Harley-riding "rebels" parked there didn't hang about once they noticed the strong police presence!

Temporary traffic lights to hold us up - aarrgh!

Time for coffee!

IAM Observer (Instructor) Catherine on her awesomely noisy Kawasaki (Photo by Mark Fleming)

After a quick coffee, it was time to return to Wellington for the evening activities of a visit to the regional traffic control centre followed by a lovely dinner at a city restaurant.  A wonderful way to end a packed and fun-filled day. 

Day 2 was the business end of the annual general meeting so no time for hooligan activities.  IAM is growing fast in NZ and it's really heartening to see riders of all ages and all types of machines wanting to raise their skills rather than thinking that they have nothing to learn.  It's uplifting being with fun people and no egos who never stop learning.  And how awesome were the police instructors for giving up their time to be with us?  Just outstanding!

Part of our 8 hour journey home yesterday was across what is known as the Desert Road - part of the Tongariro National Park in the central north island.  The road at its peak is 1000 metres altitude (3500 ft) and can be a god-awful place in bad weather. Although there had been a light dusting of snow in the early hours, it was spectacularly clear when we passed over it   The active volcanoes really stood out and the view was breathtaking.  As I said at the start - an occasion to lift the soul!  

Mt Ruapehu - 2800 m (9000 ft)

Jennie's wheels and Mt Ngauruhoe - 2300m (7500 ft)

Mt Ngauruhoe from the inside of the car

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!