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Monday, 30 May 2011

I want one of these!

In the not too distant future, maybe motorcycles won't be the ultimate thrill machine any more - maybe a bit old for one of these but I can dream, sigh.....
The Martin Jetpack

It's a New Zealand invention, developed over the last couple of years or so and has just had its first high altitude test - really impressive and is already attracting strong overseas interest.  Just the thing to avoid those rush hour blues!

There's a link to the video here - hope it's available to overseas blog readers: Martin Jetpack .  Another link here: TVNZ News

Friday, 27 May 2011

A sense of community.....

Among the motorcycling fraternity anywhere on earth, the sense of community is pretty strong.  Two complete strangers on bikes meeting up at a remote spot is almost always a cue for a friendly conversation, irrespective of background and the type of bike.  About 10 years ago, I came across a patched gang member miles from anywhere whose bike had broken down.  Thought hard about stopping but did anyway, not without some worry.  Turned out he had a broken throttle cable and I was able to make a temporary repair and get him going again.  He was desperate to pay me with money or drugs (!!!) but we settled on him paying it forward if he found anyone in a similar position.  It made me think at the time that with the pace and culture of modern life, outside of motorcycling; perhaps some of that spirit in the world has ebbed away over time.

It was a post today by fellow Kiwi blogger Nick which made me think about the subject again.  He remarked that his elderly Mum and Step-father have been volunteers, delivering Meals on Wheels to senior citizens for several decades.  Jennie and I are volunteer computer tutors for senior citizens in our area of the Coromandel Peninsula and sometimes, we struggle to run courses because it's so hard to get more than a couple of people together at a time.  Must admit that it's been extremely frustrating and we recently tried to find out the reasons for the apparent apathy.  The reasons were rather humbling actually!  Despite an average age of maybe 70, virtually all these people belonged to several community support organisations of one sort or another and time certainly didn't weigh heavily on their hands with all their commitments!  The old saying, "Give a job to a busy person to get it done" was never more true.

We've only lived permanently in Coromandel (pop.1500) for just over 3 years and it's taken a fair bit of that time to realise that the huge amount of voluntary work behind the scenes is what makes it such a special place to live. 

Community BBQ at our place

Coromandel Community Xmas parade

Coming back to motorcycling and the sense of community among us, I wonder if that makes us more predisposed to voluntary work (even in the motorcycling field) as we get older and our lives become more settled?  Food for thought maybe....

Friday, 20 May 2011

Chain lubricant and tyres - a couple of product reviews

DUPONT CHAIN LUBRICANT
Back in February, I bought a can of DuPont Multi-Use Lubricant to try out on the Street Triple chain. Up to then, Motul chain lubricant had been the long-term favourite.  The Motul did have one drawback though.... it flung sticky black residue onto the wheel rim, underside of the chain guard, rear of the numberplate and annoyingly; it baked onto the underside of the high level mufflers. Solvent was the only way of shifting it.  Oh yes, and it gradually built up in the engine space ahead of the front sprocket and gradually oozed down the hot engine.  Nothing like getting sticky grease onto your cleaning cloth to trigger a burst of bad language!
 DuPont Multi-Use Teflon spray

Fellow blogger Sonja also used the DuPont teflon product and said that she's well-pleased with its performance.  After 3000 km of its use, Sonja's comments are spot on.  Firstly, there's no fling which is just wonderful - no more use of solvents before getting out the soap suds.  Secondly, the chain doesn't pick up dirt, staying clean and bright as per the photo above.  Most importantly, does it do the job of minimising chain and sprocket wear?    Well, maybe 3000 km isn't much of a test but if we accept that component wear is one  contributor to chain slackening, there hasn't been any need to tension it in those 3000 km.  The signs are all good!  Price is a touch more than most other top end brands.  Although NZ$30 per can (~US$23) isn't cheap because of the relative lack of competition in our market, it still will last a decent length of time.  Oh, and the rear paddock stand bought earlier this year makes chain lubing so much easier than the old method of wheeling it along and spraying a section at a time!


AVON STORM 2 ULTRA TYRES
Now if I see a motorcycle forum post about "Which tyre is the best?", chances are I'll pass it by as there's more bulls*it spouted about tyres than virtually any other bike topic!  Talk about people getting hot under the collar and arguing the toss without presenting any reasonable evidence to back up their claims!  I also have some reservations about the validity of motorcycle magazine track testing in relation to a real world environment.  Truth is that virtually any tyre made by the major manufacturers will meet the requirements of the road riding community.  They will all have their particular strengths, drawbacks and "feel" but the real trick is matching the tyre to your environment and style of riding. Let me give you give an example.

The Street Triple came equipped with French-made Dunlop Qualifier sport tyres.  Gripped like heck in the dry but felt slightly vague on corners in the wet - fantastic performance overall though.  Started to lose their profile shape before 4000 km and the bike felt like it wanted to drop in than progressively roll into a bend.  Rear tyre was worn out at 6000 km and the front hoop still had plenty of tread, but worn badly out of shape.  See the photos towards the bottom of this link to a previous post on tyres. However, the Qualifiers were a sport tyre and overall life is maybe about what you'd expect for a soft compound when ridden fairly hard.  The distinct change in shape and "feel" at around 4000 km was a bit disappointing as they didn't feel right for the rest of their life, but they did their job pretty well overall.

I replaced them with the Avon Storm 2 Ultra sport-touring tyres for a couple of reasons.  I wanted a bit more longevity than a pure sport tyre because of some longer runs which had been planned and I'd long been a fan of Avon tyres on my Blackbird, particularly in terms of superb wet weather performance.  The Storm 2 Ultra is a relatively new tyre which owes more to the Avon VP2 sport tyre than it does to the old Storm ST.  It has dual compound construction, harder in the centre and softer towards the outside for improved grip.  It also has other interesting features which can be ignored for this review.  I'm pretty sure that the dual compound helps to maintain the profile for a bigger percentage of tyre life too, but more on that later.

WEAR
I've just passed the 8000 km mark and both tyres still have plenty of tread.  The rear will last for at least another 2000 km and the front considerably longer than that.   Rear tyre pressure is set at 39-40psi.  Incidentally, I never use a gas station gauge to set tyre pressures.  They're notoriously inaccurate and always carry my own fairly expensive digital gauge.

Rear Storm 2 Ultra at 8200 km

It can be seen from the photo above that there's plenty of tread right across the width of the tyre and more importantly for the sake of handling, the wear profile is pretty even with no significant flat wear area in the centre.  Ok, so the Triple only weighs ~170 kg and I mainly ride on twisty roads but it's still pretty darned good for 8000 hard km.

The photo below shows the front tyre with slight evidence of "triangulation"/flattening on the edges of the front hoop.  If I have to change it at the same time as the rear because of that wear becoming more pronounced, it won't be a big deal.  Maybe I could afford to raise the front pressure from 36 psi to 37 or 38psi in future to reduce any risk of significant carcass deflection, but the former figure was the tyre manufacturer's recommendation for this bike.  Countersteering is also probably a significant contributor to the front tyre wear given the extremely twisty roads with coarse chip that I ride on.  By comparison, the Blackbird was a heavier bike with a weight-forward bias and more conservative steering geometry, so the recommended pressure was 42 psi.


Front Storm 2 Ultra at 8200 km 
Note a hint of flattening off on the sides

A final comment about rate of wear.  It's hugely dependent upon where you ride, how you ride, the weight of the bike and a few other factors like how good your suspension is etc. It's noteworthy that a top aftermarket shock on my Blackbird added nearly 2000km to rear tyre life.  A great excuse to get permission to go upmarket!!!

The only valid comparison is where most of the contributing factors are pretty constant such as on your own bike and the area you mostly ride in.  Expect other people from other areas to have completely different results in terms of tyre life.  If you mainly tour, then tyre life is probably going to be a sight more important than someone with sport tyres who enjoys trackdays or caning it in the twisties!

HANDLING
Let's deal with wet weather first.  They are fantastic and support Avon's deserved reputation for being great in the wet.  I've had the odd small slide over wet tar snakes and the like but they've been utterly controllable.  There's really nothing to say apart from them being totally confidence-inspiring.  In the dry, they are as confidence-inspiring as the Dunlop Qualifier tyres the Street Triple came equipped with.  This may well be because although I like to press on a bit, I'm probably still well within the design parameters of the tyre on most occasions.  That speaks volumes for modern tyres.

The other thing I've always liked about Avon tyres is that they tend to roll in rather than drop in.  This characteristic, combined with them retaining their profile for a big percentage of their life; also adds to rider confidence.

WHAT NEXT?
The Avon Storm 2 Ultra tyres completely suit my "fitness for purpose".  Fantastic in the wet and more than sufficient for my road riding ability in the dry, even when pushing a bit.  They "feel" great too.  That suggests that I'll simply replace them when the current ones are stuffed.  There is a slight chance that I'll fit the Avon VP2 sports tyres with the softer compounds which I had on the Blackbird in the last year of ownership.  If I do go this way, it will only be for curiosity about comparative grip and life rather than real need. You depend heavily on tyres to keep you safe.  It's false economy to skimp. 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A Review and a Related Ride

Sorry about the alliteration in the title, I love corny stuff!

The Review
As many regular readers know, fellow Kiwi blogger Roger Fleming and I are both taking formal steps to raise our game in terms of riding ability.  Both of us have shared our practical training so far through the blogs as well as reviewing some very good motorcycle books which support our practical work.  David Hough's "Proficient Motorcycling, 2nd edition" is HERE and Roger has just completed an excellent review of "The Police Riders Handbook to Better Motorcycling" HERE.  The latter book which Roger reviewed is also required reading for my Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) training programme.  The other publication which I'm using for the training programme  is "Advanced Motorcycling - the essential guide", produced by the IAM.

Approximately 10 pounds from Amazon UK plus postage

Advanced Motorcycling complements the Police Rider's Handbook and although although the subject matter is naturally similar, the content in terms of detail and presentation is sufficiently different to make owning both absolutely worthwhile.

The content of Advanced Motorcycling is broken down into 3 broad sections:
  • Preparing to ride.  Everything from clothing, riding position, how to check for blind spots etc.
  • Basic principles of advanced riding.  Gives the underlying theory of advanced riding and demonstrates how individual techniques link together to form a system of advanced riding which allows you to be in total control, all the time. 
  • Riding techniques in action.  Through the aid of photos, diagrams and clear language, the theory of advanced riding is translated into practical, everyday situations you'll encounter; enabling you to absorb and apply them without great difficulty.
The photo below shows an example from the book covering Riding Plans.  This is how you assess what's going on around you and how you act on that information.  It covers both what can be seen and what can't be seen but what you can infer from clues.  That's the sort of thing which is critical in taking your riding to the next level.

The secrets of careful observation

I'm finding this book superb and in terms of readability, it sits nicely between "Proficient Motorcycling" and the "Police Rider's Handbook".  As with the latter book, it's aimed at reasonably experienced motorcyclists wanting to take their riding to the next level rather than raw beginners who need foundation work first.  However, that's not to say that relatively inexperienced riders won't get something out of the book because they most definitely will.

None of the three books mentioned in this post are about riding fast, racing lines and so on.  They are about advanced roadcraft - staying safe on the road through the application of a range of techniques.  The last two books link these techniques into a system of control.  I wouldn't be without any of them - they are literally life-savers and highly recommended to anyone who cares about their riding.   David Hough's book is American and the other two are British.  Just to reiterate what Roger and I have mentioned previously, these books completely transcend which side of the road you ride on.

The Related Ride
Regular readers will remember the recent highly stressful observed ride I took in the company of the Chief Examiner (motorcycles) of the NZ branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists HERE. I've just had an email from him saying that an IAM Observer has been allocated who will be responsible for guiding me towards passing the advanced motorcycle test following a whole series of observed rides which will progressively become more demanding.  That means getting off my butt and putting in a lot of practice before I get the call!

Today offered a fine window in what has recently been pretty dire weather overall in NZ, so the opportunity for a ride and to practice some of the techniques couldn't be passed up.  A 200 km loop of the Coromandel Peninsula was a good distance but not having ridden for 3 weeks exposed more than a few shortcomings.  I thought of our fellow bloggers up in northern USA and Canada who have such long weather-enforced lay-ups.  Must be really hard to dial in again!  In fact, using the IAM examination criteria, I made quite a few blunders on the first half of the ride and was quite disappointed with myself.  However, it's amazing what a break and a bit of food does and a pit stop at Tairua did the trick!  Sitting near the harbour in bright sunlight munching on a pork and salad-filled roll settled things down nicely.

Weird old boat on harbour edge

Old 2 deck ferry converted into a cafe

Even wearing the hi-viz!

Leaving Tairua, everything suddenly felt "right" - I was relaxed and dropped straight into the groove, holding it all together nicely for the rest of the trip. Amazing how a break and a rethink can completely alter a ride.  Personal assessment for the first half  5/10, second half 8/10.  Lots of room for improvement before the next IAM observed ride!


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Autumn in Coromandel, New Zealand

Today is Mother's Day in NZ.  The crappy weather cleared this morning, presents from the kids duly opened then Jennie and I went and had a leisurely lunch in the sun at a cafe in the village - magic.  It's also the first of 3 arts weekends in the Coromandel district where the many artists living here open their studios to the public.  Pottery, silk, paintings, woodcraft, jewellery, you name it, it's available and all beautifully made.  Jennie and a mate of hers spent yesterday and this afternoon on tour, enjoying themselves.

The highlight of my day was wandering up to the lookout near our house an hour ago and taking a series of sunset photos looking north west over the Rat Island area of the Firth of Thames.  No retouching of the colours, just changing the zoom on the lens.  It was one of those days when it's such a privilege to be alive to see it.

The little dots in the water are commercial mussel beds in about 20 metres of water.  This is where we moor the boat to fish.

Not in any particular order - hope that you enjoy them.  Click to enlarge.













Thursday, 5 May 2011

The other petrolhead in the family

My C.E.O has always been a terrific pillion passenger.  Would hardly know Jennie was there, apart from the fact that she also acted as a human Speed Governor with a whack on the helmet or prod in the ribs if I was getting a bit enthusiastic for her liking. A rather public bollocking out the front of a biker cafe/pub for excessive speed a few minutes earlier with a couple of dozen riders and their significant others laughing their heads off  will remain burned into my memory forever.  Be that as it may, there's still no-one I'd sooner have on the back - absolutely unflappable and almost telepathically connected to what I'm going to do.

With our old BMW K100RS

With the Blackbird on a charity toy run

Jennie's prowess isn't just limited to pillioning though, oh dearie me no!  A few years ago, we spent nearly a month touring NZ's south island by car.  We were staying in Queenstown, NZ's adventure capital and I saw an advertisement for going on a quad bike ride into the mountains.  Jennie wasn't at all keen but after some pouting and generally childish sulking on my part, she reluctantly agreed to come along.  I'd assumed that they would be docile farm quads but when we arrived at the base camp, they turned out to be Polaris 2 stroke screamers with a pretty narrow power band - oh hell!  Cowardice prevailed and I kept my mouth shut.  The guide / instructor was superb and gave us both a bit of practice on undemanding terrain first with Jennie taking to it like a duck to water.  Going into the mountains proper she absolutely lapped it up and on one scary downhill section littered with boulders, she was sticking with the instructor and pulling away from me like there was no tomorrow; a perfect example of where your mental limits are set - what a girl!!!

The Remarkables mountain range - NZ south island

When the last of our kids left for university, meaning that Jennie didn't have to drive them to sport or anywhere else; she decided that the boring old Mazda saloon she owned was cramping her style and it was time to get out and have fun.  Fun came in the shape of a Mk 1 Mazda MX5 in British Racing Green, tan leather upholstery and Panasport lightweight mag wheels.  I was impressed with just how much fun they were to drive.  Cornered like it was on rails and perfect for the twisty roads of NZ.   You didn't need to go super fast to have a lot of fun either.  Jennie loved that car and drove it well too.

Jennie's Mk 1 MX 5 outside the Warbirds airfield

NZ's north island East Cape region
Active island volcano on the horizon

Unfortunately for Jennie, a hip problem was limiting her pillion riding to relatively short journeys on the Blackbird and my solo riding increased.  It didn't dampen Jennie's enthusiasm for driving though and a short while before our retirement to the beach, the question of a later model MX5 was raised as the current one had accumulated a decent mileage.  

We knew a reputable local car dealer who sourced low mileage performance cars direct from Japan and asked him to keep an eye out for one on his trips to Japan.  After one or two false starts, we got a call from Tokyo.  He said he'd found the perfect car which was going to auction that very day.  He'd email photos and some details and did we want him to bid for it?  After seeing the photos and specifications, Jennie took about a nanosecond to decide that she wanted it whatever the price.  And she calls me impulsive on occasions!  The dealer won the auction, Jennie was over the moon and surprisingly, we didn't quite have to sell our first-born to pay for it.  This is her baby in rare metallic merlot paint:

MazdaSpeed-prepared Mk2 MX5

It came kitted with a whole raft of MazdaSpeed performance engine and suspension parts and with only 21,000 km on the clock, it was/is absolutely mint.  The cream leather interior and Bose stereo topped it off nicely.  It goes like a cut cat and the exhaust note is absolute music to the ears!  As per Jennie's first MX 5, she doesn't pussyfoot about in it either!  The eagle-eyed might have noticed the same numberplate on the second photo of the Mk 1 and on the Mk2. In NZ, it's relatively easy to get personal plates and transfer them to new cars.  The plate was a birthday present from me.  Jennie is a keen family historian (genealogist) and the small print at the top of the plate says, "It's all in" and the big letters say "DGENES". Ok????

One happy lady - the secret to staying forever young!

The additional good news is that with Jennie's hip problem now resolved, she can resume being the passenger in a million.  However, she's made it clear that Hell Will Freeze Over before she scrunches up on the back of the Street Triple but she's quite enthusiastic about a cruiser or a trike.  As I'm not ready for either, it'll have to be travelling together in the Mazda for a wee while yet, haha!  Oh yeah, and I'm occasionally allowed to drive it provided I keep it clean and serviced.  Generous of her, isn't it?




Sunday, 1 May 2011

A Blogger's Centerline Day (ABCD)

As per Gary France's great idea (ABCD - will you take part?) to get as many moto-bloggers to submit a photo taken on May 1st of themselves on a road centreline, I humbly submit one from New Zealand, first country in the world to see sunrise (or not, in this case)!!!!

Greetings from Coromandel, New Zealand!

It's an utterly awful day with a full gale in progress and moments later, a full deluge too which now seems to be progressively setting in for at least 24 hours according to the forecast.  That's why the photo was taken just a few metres from the bottom of the drive to our house!


Have a wonderful day everyone, wherever you may be!