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Friday, 30 September 2011

An interesting day in the saddle!

I had my latest IAM check ride today (Thursday) and the day didn't start well!  The ride was to check my city skills in dense traffic so I made the 2 hour haul down to the city of Hamilton where my mentor, Wayne Holden lives. I've mentioned Wayne before - IAM Chief Examiner (cars), IAM Observer (bikes), ex-helicopter pilot and runs a highly successful driving and riding school.  With all those qualifications, it could be intimidating riding with him if he wasn't such a darned nice guy - really puts you at your ease.

Beautiful day, first day of the season wearing my leathers instead of Cordura, so why didn't the day start well, I hear you ask?  Well......  I committed the cardinal sin of fiddling about with something and not checking that it worked properly before an important occasion!  To be specific, I downloaded a software update the previous evening to the GPS.  I can ride to Hamilton with my eyes closed but needed the GPS to find the rendezvous with Wayne as knowledge of that particular suburb was virtually non-existant.  Kit up, leap on the bike, turn the GPS on and..........   bugger, it doesn't show any roads, just waypoints/POI's on an otherwise bare screen - no actual roads!  Darn it, will have to investigate when I get home.  Didn't think it would be a big deal  so set off for my first destination, the Triumph dealer in Hamilton where I bought the Triple from.  At least I knew where that was!  It's my birthday in mid-October and it was a good opportunity to look for a pair of new riding boots, which is my beloved's present to me (negotiated well in advance).

First up, it was a stroll round their showroom to see what new bike porn was on offer and boy, did they have some nice stuff!  I'll share some of them with you right now. (Click to enlarge)

2006 Honda RC 51

The RC 51 is virtually Honda's old V twin Superbike on the road.  Guzzles fuel like there's no tomorrow, will break the national speed limit in first gear, uncomfortable as hell and super-noisy carbon cans.  It's a gloriously insane bit of kit for the road, totally impractical and I'd have one in the shed tomorrow as a second or third bike!

The wicked Kawasaki 1400 in Badass Black

How about this view in your mirror?
Ducati Streetfighter

Ducati Streetfighter - looks great in the flesh

Chrome and more chrome - Supersize Me, the Rocket 3

Impossibly beautiful - the new 675 Daytona.  My personal favourite

After half an hour's drooling, attention turned to looking for a new pair of boots.  My SIDI's are 8 years old and were totally waterproof until the final 3 hours of last year's 1000 miles in 24 hours ride when it was like standing in 2 small bowls of icy water.  They've done sterling service but truly waterproof boots are an absolute must.  Didn't realise just how different various well-known brands of boot varied for comfort, both in terms of fit and the ability to walk without the gait of a chimpanzee!  Settled on a pair of Alpinestars specially made for Triumph with a nice embossed logo.  They were actually brought in for another customer who had been notified 3 weeks earlier and still hadn't turned up so I was delighted to benefit from his slackness!  Interesting though - I normally take an (NZ/UK size) 8 1/2 - 9 shoe or boot but the Alpinestars were a perfectly comfortable 9 1/2.  A compelling reason for not buying boots on line.

Beautifully comfortable Alpinestar - better be waterproof!

After spending more time than planned in the Triumph shop, I had just over half an hour to get to the rendezvous with Wayne and grab a bite to eat.  Four and a half km as the crow flies - dead easy right?  Wrong!!!!  In general, NZ cities aren't laid out in grid pattern and roads weave everywhere.  There was a little triangle on the GPS which was me and the meeting waypoint 4.5 km away.  I assumed it would be easy to simply point in the general direction of the waypoint and watch the distance close.  Crikey, every road seemed to run at right angles to where I wanted to go and at one stage, found myself on the wrong side of the river which runs through the city with the nearest bridge some distance away.  Made it with severely frayed nerves having covered over 10km with 5 minutes to go!  Wolfed down a million calorie, cholesterol-laden gas station meat pie (tasted great though) and then Wayne turned up to begin the motorcycling equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition.  Well, not quite but being observed can sometimes feel that way!

Wayne told me to head for the main street in the city and then basically weave down the side streets coming off it for a block, back onto the main street and so on.  Boy, was Hamilton busy!!  It's one of the main venues for the World Rugby Cup which is currently being held in NZ and the place is filled with flag-waving fans from round the world - looked fantastic but a bit of a nightmare to ride through!  Pedestrians jaywalking everywhere, cars everywhere too and doing stupid stuff.  On top of that, one road I wanted to turn down was blocked off by police and there was also a helicopter in attendance.  Turned out to be a bomb scare at a nearby Institute of Technology annexe.  So that'll be a student buying time to get an overdue paper in then!!

Now here's an interesting thing...... there was so much going on that a few months ago, I doubt that I'd have been able to process all the inputs sufficiently quickly to avoid making some stuff-ups which would have earned some red ink on the assessment sheet.  However, I felt quite comfortable and after 90 minutes of riding in the central city area, Wayne went through the assessment sheet and I'd scored straight A's!!!  There's no feeling quite like having tackled something which is genuinely demanding, having worked extremely hard to get a decent outcome and seeing confidence and skill levels improve..... fan-bloody-tastic!  It's also great to be able to repay in some small way the IAM observers who put so much time and effort in on a voluntary basis.  The final comment on Wayne's assessment sheet was "Go riding again with Philip McDaid (Chief Examiner) - all the best!" so I'm picking that the big one - the full membership test must be pretty close - eek!

Just to finish off, I heard a bit of scuttlebutt and because it hasn't been verified, it's all the more delicious to pass on.  Regular readers will be aware that there's another Kiwi blogger who is following a similar training path.  This particular blogger was due to attend an IAM ride last weekend but slept in because he forgot to put the clocks forward one hour!!!  I reckon that ought to be good  for a few beers all round, don't you?  Especially as it doesn't seem to have been mentioned in his blog, haha!

Until next time.....




Sunday, 25 September 2011

Life is not entirely about 2 wheels!

About 10 years ago, Jennie and I sat down and mapped out our "sensible" retirement plan - single storey smallish house for moving about in comfortably as we aged, flat plot of land for ease of maintenance, close to a city for hospital facilities, going to concerts and shows etc.  Funny how the heart sometimes over-rides common-sense on big decisions isn't it?  What did we finally end up with?  Living on the outskirts of a village with a population of 1500, a 2-storey house on a steep hill next to the harbour, a fairly large garden with an awful lot of bush to maintain and a 2 hour drive from the 3 nearest cities and an hour from the nearest hospital!  Added to all this, the place was pretty run down when we bought it and required a fair bit of work to get it to a reasonable standard.  And you know what?  There's a place for heart over head because we've loved every minute, despite it being the complete opposite to a common-sense solution.  Maybe one of life's lessons there!

Although Jennie would say that I'm obsessional about motorcycling, I don't think that's actually true.  Passionate certainly, but I do have other interests. Gardening is one of them because it's amazingly therapeutic.  Nothing like being outside on a spring evening pottering about under the critical supervision of our cats!    I mentioned the hard work to get the house and garden straight.  The garden in particular was a nightmare as it was completely overgrown with scruffy, native bush.  We slashed and burned until there was space to plant some nice native plants, keeping the existing tree ferns and planting other non-native plants under and around them to provide a bit of colour throughout the year.  Now spring is here, I thought we'd have a change from motorcycling and post a few photos of a few of the plants taken this week.

Native plant area of the garden with tree ferns

Bromeliad under a tree fern

Another Bromeliad with lethal spines on the leaves!

Early-flowering Tahitian Pohutukawa

Australian Bottlebrush

Scented orchid growing under a tree fern

Bird of Paradise plant

Azalea bush about 2 metres high

Native Cordyline and Pampas Grass

View from the deck through the bush approaching sunset


Hope that you've enjoyed the brief garden ramble - back to bikes next time!




Sunday, 18 September 2011

A light-hearted book review....

 The cover of the book in question
 
Paul Carter is the stereotypical portrayal of an Aussie male - larger than life, a bit rough round the edges, absolutely up front, supremely resourceful and a wicked sense of humour.  Could be Crocodile Dundee we're describing here apart from the fact that Paul is real!  He spent what might be described as his formative years working on oil rigs round the world and during the process, was surprised to discover that he had a considerable literary talent.  I've read his accounts of working on the oil rigs and the lunatics who worked with him and have literally come close to wetting myself in embarrassing locations.   He's also a keen biker, although that doesn't receive a lot of coverage in those books.

Anticipating a wet weekend, I took myself off to the public library and was delighted to find a copy of his latest book - the cover of which is shown above.  It's the story of his ride round Australia on a bike originally built by Adelaide University students for an alternative fuels challenge, consisting of a Cagiva adventure bike rolling chassis and a small single cylinder diesel pump engine running on used cooking oil to propel it along.  With a top speed of 70km/hr and vibration on par with a road compactor, you just know this is going to be one heck of a tale!  Oh, and the bike was prepared for the trip by the Australian main branch of Deus Ex Machina - you may have seen my 2 blog posts on the NZ branch of these extraordinary motorcycle builders.

Paul is one of those rare writers who describes things so well that it's easy to believe you're there too.  His enthusiastic but unhinged approach to things marks him as a "man's man" whom guys will immediately identify with.  Women will identify him as possessing the very worst, irritating and excessive traits of their partners!  This isn't some tale of  a mega-expensive Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman-type ride, it's done on a shoestring with some help from a few odd mates (the emphasis being on ODD) plus some family members.

 The conclusion to an unbelievably funny incident!

Paul's self-deprecating writing style  makes you immediately identify with the predicaments he continually finds himself in.  In my case, it's usually the most embarrassing ones!  I'm not going to spoil it for the potential reader but there's one incident in a hospital where Paul is stiff all over following a spill from the bike and moving about with the aid of a walking frame.  Why is it that all medical staff seem obsessed with bowel movements??  He's been put on a diet of prunes for over 24 hours.  Whole prunes, puréed prunes, prunes with a side dish of prunes - you get the picture!  At a completely inopportune time, they start to work as intended and what happens next had me crying with snot running out of my nose and ribs hurting.  One of the funniest and perfectly-painted mental pictures I've ever encountered and that's just one incident in this brilliant book.

The twists and turns in the book will probably awaken a deep-seated need to go and do something completely daft on two wheels so don't blame me if that happens - you've been warned!!  If you enjoy it (and you'd have to have had a humour bypass not to), go and get the biographies of his oil rig days too - you won't be disappointed.

Is That Thing Diesel?  by Paul Carter.  ISBN 987-1-74175-702-6
Costs about US$11 from Amazon; a bit cheaper if downloaded as an e-book.





Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Rain, gales, sun, stress and fun

Last week, Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner for IAM emailed me to organise another check ride and we settled on yesterday (Monday).  As an aside, he mentioned that a member from Christchurch in the south island who had come north to pick up a new bike would be with us and we arranged to meet in the village of Clevedon, just to the south east of Auckland

A nice 370 km round trip from Coromandel

On Sunday, the weather in our area was appalling with torrential rain and gales.  The forecast for Monday was for the high winds to remain but the rain should ease back to heavy showers.  Heck, not the sort of conditions to be examined for precision riding but no point in trying to back out because riding well in adverse conditions is part of the whole point of raising your skills!

Wake up early and check the weather - everywhere is wet and it's heavily overcast but not raining at present.  Have breakfast, wheel the bike out of the shed and bugger.....down comes the rain in buckets.  Can hardly see the mountain range across the harbour from our house.  Oh well, it will be a good test of my new Michelin Pilot Road 3 tyres.

Raindrops keep falling on my head, la la.....

On with full wet weather gear and set off down the coast road.  A lot of vigilance is needed as all the rain from Sunday has washed a smear of clay off the cliffs onto the road in places.  I can also see the rainbow colours of spilled diesel on some of the hills - probably an over-filled truck tank, but no dramas. It's a different story crossing the Kopu bridge just south of Thames.  The ancient long bridge is a narrow single lane, uneven surface and currently wet with a strong, gusty crosswind.  It's a bit hairy on 2 wheels and a relief to cross it without major incident and roll on the opening of the new bridge next year!  Nerves are increasing with the prospect of a check ride in wet, slippery conditions.

The rain sets in with a vengeance but it's the crosswind which requires the most concentration.  At least the visibility through the visor is good having applied a coating of Rain-X before setting out and it's really doing the business in dispersing the droplets.  Up the western side of the Firth of Thames, the wind is more on the nose which is a relief and half way up at Kaiaua, the rain stops and a bit of blue sky appears - yayyy! No more rain for the day.

Bye bye, leaden sky - blue starting to appear

The remainder of the ride up to the Clevedon meeting point is on wet, twisty roads but mainly sunny skies which is heartening apart from a small rear end slide on one corner - no obvious cause but not particularly alarming either. Meeting with Philip in Clevedon, he introduces fellow IAM member Duncan Seed who is the proud owner of a new Buell XB12 Ulysses. This is the first one I've seen and it's a really attractive bike.

Philip then springs his surprise - Duncan is a qualified advanced  instructor on cars and trucks and is also an IAM Observer on bikes.  Furthermore, he'll be taking my check ride today and Philip will be observing us both.  Actually, Philip did ask whether it was ok, but knowing what a great bunch of guys the Observers are and the fact that they donate their time for free, why would you say no?

After some refreshment, Philip equips both of us with radios.  Reception is a bit patchy so he gives me general directions for the ride and as a fall-back, to watch for his indicators in my mirrors coming up to intersections if I don't hear the radio instructions. Oh no, I'll have enough on my plate without looking for Philip two bikes back, but he assures me that if I take a wrong turn, it's no big deal.

Philip and Duncan sorting out radio comms

I'm sure my keys are here somewhere......

The first leg from Clevedon through Maraetai is down narrow, winding country lanes not unlike the area in which I live.  No nerves from being observed and feel pretty comfortable that I've done a decent job.  As we approach the built-up suburbs near Howick with multiple roundabouts, I realise that the radio instructions are becoming very difficult to hear.  The outcome is a bit of sensory overload, looking where to go next, managing the heavier traffic and I mis-indicate a couple of times which is embarrassing.  Shortly afterwards, we pull in for the first debrief.  Absolutely over the moon to hear that my rural riding was spot-on in all respects.  The only comment was that in the built-up area with lots of parked cars on the roadside, I should move even further towards the road centreline to minimise risk from doors opening, cars suddenly pulling out etc.  Absolutely fair comment.

Philip swaps batteries on the radio and suddenly, we have great reception!  The next part of the journey towards the suburbs of Ellerslie and Penrose involves riding down a road with two, and sometimes three lanes in each direction.  This is where my relative lack of experience of riding in big city traffic in unfamiliar territory shows up.  I know that the 3rd lane in some places leads off to other suburbs and we need to go straight on.  To make life a bit easier for myself, I stay in the outer "through" lane in some places where I should really be staying left as far as possible, but most of my focus is on not getting lost!  I feel a real surge of pride when Philip comes on the radio to compliment me on a slow speed approach to stationary traffic at traffic signals which allows me to continue riding rather than come to a halt.  Feedback like that is great because it cements the technique in place.

From Penrose, we head to McDonalds in the suburb of Greenlane for a coffee and the full debrief of the ride.  Duncan reminds me of the near-centreline positioning in town traffic but says that my positioning after he'd mentioned it last time has been fine since then.  The other thing I need to watch is the 2 second following distance rule. Although my positioning in city traffic relative to the vehicle in front was apparently good, I tended to close the gap a little on some occasions.   Duncan also raises the need to use the left hand lane on dual carriageways more when appropriate - all excellent advice.

Both Philip and Duncan are really pleased with my riding and say that the items raised fall into the "nit-picking" category (their words, not mine!) but riding at a high level all the time is the expectation when you reach this standard. Philip then goes on to say that I'm pretty much ready for a cross-check by another observer prior to sitting my full membership test.  In the meantime, I should take the opportunity to work on the items raised on rides with my mates Roger, Bob and Andy who are also undertaking advanced training.

Two hours to ride to Auckland, two hours being observed and two hours home - another magnificent and totally fulfilling day; if not just a touch mentally exhausting! 

Just reflecting..... getting to full member status of the IAM, let alone reaching Observer is an incredibly demanding process where the bar is set very high and there are no short-cuts or concessions.  In today's world with a preoccupation tending towards instant gratification and not particularly demanding standards, it's a real privilege to have found something which both stretches you and gives such huge benefits all at the same time.  I might also add that it also makes the generally low driving (and riding) standards in this country rather more apparent.  Even worse, it also highlights the low expectations of the authorities in terms of appallingly low requirements to get a licence.  Maybe it's the same for much of the world but I'll reserve a decent rant on the topic for another time!

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler

Something is in need of a couple of hours TLC after yesterday!



Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Spring in Coromandel

Just a few days into spring, a gorgeous warm day, perfect for getting the Street Triple out - so did it happen?  Nah, had promised Jennie that we'd go fishing so wasn't that disappointed! 

The day didn't start out on a promising note though.  Woke up with a prickling forearm and saw a purple area about 5mm diameter under the flesh.  On closer inspection, there was stuff oozing through 2 tiny little holes.  Bugger, almost certainly bitten during the night by one of these suckers:

The White Tail Spider (2x scale)
(source: Landcare Research NZ)

I HATE spiders unless they're practically microscopic.  The White Tail isn't aggressive but will bite if it gets into clothes or in my case, it might have crawled onto the bed *shudder*.  It isn't even a Kiwi spider but an import from our Aussie cousins across the pond.  How is it that 90% of the fauna and marine life in Australia is hell-bent on killing the human inhabitants???  Anyway, it's generally thought the White Tail bite isn't poisonous to humans but the bacteria on its fangs can cause necrosis in a bad bite.  I bit the bullet, gave the wound a good scrub with disinfectant, applied antihistamine cream and it hasn't got any worse - just aches a bit.

Anyway, on to the happier part of the day.......

There's a boat ramp at the end of our road which is perfect for launching in sheltered conditions although the sea was flat as a mill pond today.  It's a well-oiled machine with me reversing into the water and Jennie unhooking everything.

Getting organised by the ramp

Here we go......  tide still coming in

The big fish don't start moving inshore for a week or so yet and we normally only fish a couple of km out from our house among the commercial mussel beds which are convenient to hitch up to without dropping anchor.  Pickings might be a bit lean but most of the pleasure is simply being out there.

Leaving the harbour, we passed our neighbours Brian and Mary in their U.S-designed Bristol Channel Cutter keelboat.  Not enough wind to fill the sails, but perfect for a bit of motoring.  Regular readers may remember this post I made on the stained glass windows Brian made for our house.  Brian is a true Renaissance Man.  Not only did he build the boat, but the woodwork inside is exquisitely carved and he even cast the bronze fittings on the boat!

Our neighbours in their keel boat


Heading out of Coromandel Harbour to the mussel beds

The first hour out there was dire in terms of catching fish but unbeatable in terms of location.  Warm, no-one else around and magnificent scenery.  The water was so clear and still that you could see down several metres.

Jennie - a study in concentration (with no success, hehe)

Commercial mussels growing on ropes - beautiful clear water

After an hour, we shifted location. The fish finder showed a few swimming about, but they weren't biting.  No big deal, a great time to just chill out.......

It doesn't get much better than this
(although pink Crocs might have lured the fish)

Just 10 minutes from packing up for the day, a modest-sized snapper took pity on me and offered itself as a meal - whoopee!  All in all, one of those truly great days when one is at peace with the world, although we could have done without the spider.

Just enough for a meal.....

Sincere (almost) apologies to those who had to be at work today.  Your time will come :-)



Thursday, 1 September 2011

Electric bikes (pushbikes, that is!)

With fellow blogger Bobscoot recently posting about his first foray onto electric bicycles HERE, I thought I'd throw a cool Kiwi electric bike into the mix.  Forget bikes that look like conventional pushbikes, this is THE bike if you want to make a statement!

It's called the Yikebike and the images below are from their website.

 Cool, or what?

Cornering?  No problem!

And folds up for the commute!

Their website is HERE and prices start at US$2000 for an alloy and composite version or US$3800 for a carbon fibre jobbie.  Mr Bobscoot - you're a great collector of expensive farkles like Corvettes and cameras ;-) - getting one of these will really confirm your status.  Buy one for your wife too - no need to thank me :-).

There's a great demo on YouTube HERE