Wheel alignment

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Tour de Thames (and something more taxing)

This is the tale of a day of 2 very different halves!  Here's the first half.....

I needed some re-writable CD's for the voluntary computer tutoring I do for local Senior Citizens. I can get them in our village but they're more expensive than in the nearest town, 55 km down the coast road.  Actually, adding the cost of gas to get there and back; overall, they're considerably cheaper in the village!  That ain't the point though to a bike rider, is it?  That delicious anticipation of the ride to come, wheeling the bike out of the shed and slowly kitting up with that slight churning feeling in the stomach.  All these years and I still get those anticipatory butterflies - nothing quite like it, is there?  So today was the day to head to Thames for a ride.

I've posted plenty of other photos of the Coromandel Peninsula, but hardly any of the town of Thames, which is the gateway to the western part of the Peninsula.  The town was built in the first gold rush on the Coromandel Peninsula in the mid-1800's.  There's still gold extraction in one area on the Peninsula but most of the area has a no-mining order slapped on it to preserve the natural beauty.  Consequently, the permanent population of Thames has dropped back over the decades and currently sits at 6 to7000.  However, many of the original old buildings and landmarks have been preserved so I thought a photographic tour whilst I was down there might be interesting.

Wheel the bike out, kit up with all those great feelings and....... down comes the rain!  Well, drizzle anyway but there are touches of blue on the horizon so away we go.  Run through the odd heavy shower but it's getting brighter as we reach Thames.

The photo below is of an old restored stamper battery which is a tourist destination.  The old tunnels in the hill behind the stamper are inhabited by cave wetas, cross between a giant grasshopper and something out of a horror movie and with a leg span as big as your hand.  Totally harmless though. Can wet your pants if one drops on you though! (Click to enlarge).

Working gold processing (non-commercial)

Cave Weta

Restored weatherboard home from the 1800's

The old gold mining training school
Now a museum
 Church for a small congregation

Family home offering bed and breakfast

Thames town centre from lookout

Two sexy bits of kit!

See the boat next to the fish and chip shop below?  That's delivering the catch - doesn't come any fresher than that!

When they say fresh, they mean it! Boat less than 4 metres away

Lovely old pleasure boat going out onto the Firth of Thames

Fully functional old hotel in Thames main street

This might have been the end of this post but.......

Here's the second part of the day which made it REALLY interesting!  Late(ish) last night, I got a call from my Institute of Advanced Motoring mentor, Wayne Holden, asking me whether I was ready for a check ride as he was clear tomorrow.  Immediate panic, but as he was suggesting Thames as a meeting point, it made total sense to do my shopping, take some photos, have lunch with Wayne and then get into the serious end of the day's business.  Didn't stop me thinking, "Oh shiiit" though, even though the short notice was a good thing to stop brooding about it!

I was feeling increasingly comfortable about the check ride as the sun had come out and the roads had dried.  Then something weird happened!  I was waiting for Wayne outside a local cafe when a chap comes out of a nearby shop and says, "Are you Geoff James"?  I was totally gob-smacked and he must have seen my surprise so he went on to say, "I'm Bob Benton, Wayne's other IAM student"!  I hadn't previously met Bob but over the last couple of days, we'd exchanged emails to introduce ourselves to each other as we only live 55 km apart. He'd previously seen a photo of me and the Triple and made the instant connection. What are the chances of me parking right outside where he works and him coming out to pick up some lunch???  You know how it is - within 5 minutes it was like we'd known each other for years. Really nice guy.  Had a good chat, admired Bob's DR650 adventure bike parked round the side of the shop, said our goodbyes with a plan to meet up again shortly.  A few minutes later, Wayne turns up.

Wayne Holden typifies the IAM members I've met so far - friendly, funny, modest, puts you at your ease and of course, a member of an elite bunch of riders who really are the best of the best.  Wayne is an ex-police rider, ex-helicopter flying instructor, runs a driving and riding school in the Waikato district, is IAM Chief Examiner (cars) and an IAM Observer (Instructor) on bikes.  It would be completely intimidating if he wasn't such a bloody nice guy!

Introducing Wayne Holden

Wayne's Yamaha XJR 1300 is a joy to behold in metallic blue with the trademark gold Ohlins suspension - a real beauty.  After lunch, we set off  for a ride around the hill suburbs of Thames with their narrow winding streets.  A bit of drizzle is setting in but isn't any bother until on a steep downhill grade with a sharp bend and a smooth surface, I manage to lock up the rear momentarily despite the slightest dab on the pedal - not a lot of traction there.  After a spell in the suburbs, we set out for Whangamata, a coastal town on the other side of the peninsula.  It's nearly 60 km away and most of the road to get there is twisty so all the skills or lack thereof will be on display!  

Leaving Thames, I feel relatively relaxed, having gone through my first IAM observation ride a few weeks ago, practiced hard since then and backed it up with reading the recommended books.  The relaxed state lasts all of 10 minutes as the skies open and the rain on the road reveals an awful lot of areas which have lost their chip - traction very limited.  Riding in the rain is one thing but riding in the rain on a slippery road with an IAM examiner up your arse whilst trying to ride like a pro is a near bowel-loosening experience!  As an aside, Wayne remarked later that he didn't like that stretch either and felt his bike moving about.  This section of road is exhausting and I elect to run a lower gear for most of it, both uphill and downhill to aid engine braking and good control.

After 20 minutes or so once we cross the mountain range, the roads dry out and I relax.  Traffic is light and I can concentrate on good positioning and situational awareness.  We're cracking along at a decent pace through the bends and it's really enjoyable.  In no time at all, we arrive in Whangamata and I pull up outside the toilets at the Game Fishing Club - enough said!  Wayne walks over, shakes my hand and says, "Well done, excellent riding in some pretty demanding conditions".  I'm genuinely taken aback as inside, I was jelly in the wet and slippery section of the ride - no wonder it was bladder-filling!  Wayne fills in the Observer check sheet and it's all A's - unbelievable and I'm over the moon.  Maybe there is a chance of making it to Observer level after all.  We chat about what comes next and agree that in a week or two, I'll ride down to the city of Hamilton to practice urban skills in dense traffic with him.  If that works out ok, Wayne thinks I may be ready for the final exam with Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner; based in Auckland.  Hmmmm....we'll see.....  

Can crack a smile at last with the stress off!

Bike porn - Wayne's gorgeous Ohlins suspension

After offering my profuse thanks for another fantastic day of riding, Wayne departs south and I head north for home, feeling on top of the world.  After dinner and three large cups of tea, I sit here typing this with energy levels starting to flag badly.  Early night methinks, but what a day!


  1. Hey congratulations to you! It seems as though you've made rapid progress, but more likely you were actually starting from a pretty high standard to begin with.

    Totally sympathize about the slippery conditions. I don't mind riding in the rain that much and I think it really highlights a rider's skill or lack of, however, I do hate it when the wet roads have had substandard maintenance or there is diesel about. Diesel spills used to be quite rare around here but unfortunately seem to be becoming more common lately.

    Best wishes for the next test Geoff.

    Cheers Jules.

  2. Somehow I had the sneaking feeling that you were not going to have to complete many check rides before your test. Excellent work it really lifts an Observer when after a check ride debrief he can see the recommendations implemented so quickly and well. Best get into the big city for some urban practice and stop enjoying yourself so much!
    Excellent photos.

  3. Geoff:

    I like this change of pace travel documentary style, complete with photos. Everything looks so newly maintained and painted.

    Now you know what it feels like to be a female, with observers constantly looking at your "tail" for the right lines . . . and for hours, too.

    congrats on getting a "perfect" score under demanding conditions

    Riding the Wet Coast

  4. Jules:
    Many thanks indeed! That particular route gets heavy trucks on it although it was quiet yesterday. A combination of the hilly terrain and corners seems to slosh diesel from full tanks. Didn't notice it yesterday but have had nightmare trips on that road previously where you could smell the stuff.

    Y'know, after the euphoria of yesterday in having a great check ride, it quickly subsided into just quiet satisfaction. Seeing as you've been there yourself, it's that knowledge that you have to deliver the goods 100% of the time that keeps it all in context. The city check ride isn't that far off, so no room for any ego whatsoever!

    Thanks for that, Thames isn't a "chocolate box" kind of place but in the main, the residents really look after their town. I like it.

    Hahaha - you've been skipping your medication again, haven't you ;-).

    Thank you - a pleasing result but the next test isn't far away and complacency is most definitely not on my mind - far too demanding and stressful for that!

  5. Congrats on the 'A's. Good luck on the next level.

  6. Ken:
    Many thanks. The result was pleasing but the stress never stops with the bar being consistently raised - no time for complacency at all!!!

  7. What a wonderful day. Gorgeous pictures too, very bright and colorful.

    Congrats on all A's. Big pat on the back for you!!

  8. Awesome post Geoff. Those photos are fantastic...thanks for posting them. Good luck on the rest of the testing process....love hearing all about it.

    Wayne's XJR1300 is just beautiful. I think that if I was looking for something bigger than the VStrom the XJR would definitely be on the list. And I saw one last week with the yellow and black Kenny Roberts paint job.....oooh baby!

    anyway, better get back to doing some work or I won't be able to afford any bikes at all!

    cheers mate,

  9. Well done with the riding. I chuckled when you commented about receiving short notice, ". . . even though the short notice was a good thing to stop brooding about it!" That would be me, too. I'm really glad, but not surprised, that it went so well.

    Thanks for the photos of Thames and a little of its history. I really appreciated it a lot.

    Thanks for the share.

  10. Cheers Anthony!
    It's a lovely small town. Would be happy to live there when I get too frail to live on the side of a hill any more, haha.

    I must admit that apart from knowing their name, the XJR's hadn't really reached my consciousness but I'd own one any day, they're absolute beauties. Enjoy the remainder of your week!

    Hi Keith!
    Thank you - I had a slightly restless night beforehand but with more notice, I could have had a restless week! you can bet I'll be uptight again before the next one.

    Thanks very much, it's nice to see a place which has held onto its roots without becoming "plastic" at the same time.

  11. Thanks Trobairitz:
    Warm fuzzies all finished with now and back to practice and reading - can't afford to relax yet. It's worse than being back at school!!

  12. Knew where this was going as soon as I saw that you needed to pick something up. I'm glad you stopped for a few pics of the old buildings. There are some grand ones, but I kinda like that little church...must be the cuteness factor.

    Bravo on the check ride!! I don't know how you do it. I'm a nervous wreck just reading about it. Congrats!

    The bike porn is nice, but I don't even know what an Ohlins suspension is :)

  13. Well done, I am inceidable pleased for you. Here i am struggling with the basics when I went for my lesson, and you are all ready a season pro. Bloody great. It was a great read also.

    To be fair it was good that it rained, it proves your ability, and offers a opportunity to display your skills in a far more demanding envoirment.

  14. Hey Kari!
    Hehe - guess we've all had that excuse! I'd like to get inside that little church sometime, I bet it's gorgeous and probably varnished Kauri wood.

    Thank you - my stomach gets a bit zingy re-living it!

    Stay behind after school Kari and write 100 times, "Ohlins suspension is the best in the world and you'd better have a fat wallet".

    Roger me ol'mate!
    You most certainly are not struggling with the basics! In fairness though, knowing that every few weeks, some Riding God is going to run his eye over me has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind!!!

    You may be right about the rain but I'd still prefer to avoid it. In fairness though, if it rains at the tough end of the course, I'd much sooner be ready for it. We must have a chinwag and a ride when all your painting and moving is all complete.

  15. Oh, Geoff. Would you please stop posting those beautiful pictures? My boss is meanwhile getting tired of me begging daily for another trip to headquarters. Alas, still no travel plans at the horizon. So your photos will have to suffice. Good weather, bikes, boats, fresh fish and chips, and Ohlins. Nice combination.

  16. Geoff

    It appeals to me the idea of crossing a mountain range during an IAM observed ride - this is hard to do in Cheshire and I'm jealous!

    Well done on the scores!

    Greetings from stormy England (anxiously checking the weather forecasts for the ride to France next week...),

  17. Tut, tut Sonja. There's you with your summer warmth and stunning scenery and you're getting stuck into me!!! I reckon you should maximise your begging in early Fall and you can be over here by our summer!

    Howdy Nikos! Sea > mountain range > sea in one ride is pretty appealing but as you read, the weather gods had it in for me! Thanks for the kind words.

    All the very best for good weather on your trip - I'm sure it will be fine in France at the very least. If it's not console yourself with their excellent alcoholic beverages!

    From an equally stormy NZ (well, from tonight for the next 2 days)

  18. Good stuff! I've got a theory that the more trying conditions may have actually helped you out. I find in the rain that you are more switched on because you have to be and as a rule the riding becomes a lot smoother. Although I guess if this was a help then the butterflies in the stomach may have evened things out...

    PS: I feel like I'm relearning how to ride now that I'm exploring the gravel on the V-strom. Nothing like a dodgy surface to keep you on your toes...

  19. Hi Andrew!
    You have a good point. That's why in the really dodgy conditions, I rode in 5th gear rather than 6th to get good engine braking rather than use the brakes.

    Yep, I bet that gravel is really doing it for you. I hated the stuff on the Blackbird. Laid it down at walking pace on the track out to East Cape Lighthouse!

  20. Oh yeah, forgot to comment on gear selection. Yep, a lower gear tends to always feel a bit better in trying conditions - be they the wet or in gravel. Having the bike respond more quickly to some throttle input is always good and can help get yourself out of trouble (esp off road).

  21. Yep, and it's very good for speed control in town. Don't even need to look when I'm in 3rd to be hitting 50 km/hr almost exactly. Also good for quickly adjusting distances from the vehicle in front without touching the brake all the time.

  22. IAM UK run regional Skills Days at local tracks every year and one of the skills tought/practised is completing a few laps on the box and throttle and not using any brakes at all. As you say perfect for adverse weather conditions. Magic on a big Vee twin.

  23. Dylan:
    A friend has done stage1 training at the California Superbike school here in NZ and they teach laps on throttle only riding GSX-R 600's. He said that initially, it was completely terrifying!

  24. Congrats are in order :-) Some wonderful old buildings, looks like a nice place to visit.
    Why does that part of the world have such weird creatures? I had never heard of a Cave Weta until recently, what a creature. With a body length of up to 100 mm (4 in) not inclusive of their lengthy legs it must be scary. imagine camping and waking up with one crawling on you, hole crap.
    Your friend has a nice bike, those Ohlins shocks are super pricy.

  25. Cheers George!
    When we were going through a cave a few years back, one fell on the person in front of us. I thought her screams were going to bring down the roof! The common Weta is is just under 3" long all up but it has jaws that can give you a hell of a nip if you take liberties. I really like them though and they're placid if you don't maul them about.

    Yep, you need deep pockets with Ohlins. Penske shocks are nearly as good but a fair bit cheaper. I paid around US$850 for a top of the line one for my Blackbird which was built to my spec and included shipping to NZ.

  26. Without pressure there would be no diamonds.

    Looks like you are well and truly shining more and more as the facets are revealed. Well done!

  27. Hi Dan!
    True, but still mighty stressful at the time, haha!

    Thank you for the kind words, especially moving coming from someone with your background. I'll do my very best to try and keep that standard in the tests ahead.

  28. Me thinks I absolutely do not want a closer look at that Cave Weta picture. Nevermind the dropping on me wetting my pants. I'll almost do that right now. YUCK!!

    Biggest congrats on the great ride! It is usually the prepared people that fuss and stress the most. So I have no doubt that you are quite prepared and ready for this!! Keep up the great work.


  29. Hi Lori - hahahaha, it looks like a scaled-down version of those horrors from the movie Starship Troopers, doesn't it?

    Thanks for the kind words. I'm normally a really laid back sort of person but get me on those IAM tests and I fret for days! It's just me putting pressure on myself; the instructors are lovely people.