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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Don't panic, don't panic!!!!


A couple of days ago, I received an email from Philip McDaid, IAM Chief Examiner; saying that it was time for my cross-check ride and what was I doing on Thursday? (today).  The cross-check ride is virtually a mock run under a wide range of riding conditions of the IAM full membership test to ensure that I can consistently perform to the police rider standards which the IAM use as their baseline.  Philip said he was happy to ride down my way from his Auckland base and I thought "Sweet - roads that I'm totally familiar with - that gets rid of a lot of stress"!

We arranged to meet in the historic gold-mining town of Thames 50-odd km down the coast for a pre-ride coffee and I set off this morning under sunny skies and in an excellent frame of mind, although under no illusions that it was going to be a relaxing ride.  Incidentally, in the photo below, the large catamaran moored in the background looks like it has a VW Kombi for a cabin, particularly with the 2 tone paint!

Early morning on Coromandel Harbour
We live on the hill to the right 

Philip and I met up in Thames and over coffee, my relaxed demeanour changed somewhat when Philip explained that in order to be examined over the wide range of conditions required, we would NOT be riding on local roads, but would in fact be riding back to the Auckland area, using a mix of 2 lane roads, the  Southern Motorway itself and driving in high density traffic in one of Auckland's southern adjoining towns!  I thought I took the news pretty calmly given that the anticipated ride had just turned to custard but must have had a stricken look on my face which explains Philip's triumphant grin!  The shock of an alternate destination with some unknown roads must have caused me to mis-hear some of the route (my story and I'm sticking to it!) but more of that later.

Philip in Thames

How cool is this?  Thames main street
Painted in Highway Patrol livery


The one-way route (re-traced to return home)
Approximately 370 km for the day

The run from Thames in moderate traffic was really enjoyable apart from part-way along the predominantly 2-lane State Highway 2 when we caught up with a fuel tanker doing about 10 km/hr below the national open road speed limit of 100 km/hr.  This was where the mind games started!!  "Hmmm... I'd really like to get past this but to do so quickly, I'll need to go over the speed limit.  Will Philip ping me for speeding or will he ping me for failing to make progress if I don't - oh heck, what to do?"  Well, he didn't ping me for passing in a brisk manner, but he did notice whilst I was looking ahead for an opportunity that I'd drifted a little closer than the 2 second following rule when there was no need to do so!  Fortunately, I was out to one side of the tanker or the "gentle reminder" might have been a bit more forceful!

Traffic on the Southern Motorway was moderate and I felt completely comfortable with lane positioning, overtaking and situational awareness.  Too comfortable as it happened as my brain had registered Papakura as our first destination, not Pukekohe.  Consequently, I serenely sailed past the Pukekohe motorway off-ramp with not a care in the world until Philip came flying by and indicated to get off at the next junction.  My stuff-up became painfully apparent when we stopped moments later to fit the radio comms ready for the part of the route I wasn't familiar with.  Suffice to say that I felt a complete pillock when Philip said if I'd used my mirrors, I'd have seen him indicating at the Pukekohe turn.  How abso-bloody-lutely humiliating!!! Philip also advised me to look out for "speed creep" on the motorway - easy to do when a fair percentage of the traffic is travelling above the speed limit!

Time for some dense traffic work around the town of Pukekohe which has narrow roads, made even narrower by parked cars.  It also seemed that there were tight radius mini roundabouts at every intersection with traffic coming at you from all angles.  However, all the recent city riding practice must have paid off as it was stress-free with no incidents.  Road positioning well away from parked cars helped no end.  From Pukekohe, it was off south on the narrow twisty rural back roads towards Ngaruawahia.  The conditions are similar to my local roads and I love 'em!  It must have been apparent to Philip too as after 20 km or so, he called a halt to proceedings and said I'd nailed it - YESSS!!!!  

Absolutely over the moon, enormously proud and to be perfectly candid, more than a little surprised.  It's really hard to maintain a sense of perspective when you're concentrating so hard and I thought that the fuel tanker incident and missing the motorway turn-off earlier in the day might have cost me dearly at this advanced level but Philip said that he could see that my overall skill level and riding plan was up to standard. Phew!  Back to the Autobahn motorway service station for a late lunch and a debrief, Philip said that he'd be speaking to one of the other IAM Examiners to take me for the official full membership riding test in the very near future.  So between now and then, It's practice, practice and even more practice!

Starving after all the stress!

Sooo.....  370 km for the day, including 2 1/2 hours of minutely observed riding by the Chief Examiner.  Surprising how much it takes out of you and it's likely to be an early night!  It's been seven months since starting out on this journey and it's hard to describe just how much the standard of my riding has improved.  It certainly IS possible to teach an old dog new tricks!  IAM is an amazing organisation where professionals such a commercial instructors, police riders and other people with unbelievable riding skills volunteer their time to help others raise their game - simply outstanding.



Thursday, 20 October 2011

2 years with the Street Triple

It's almost 2 years to the day since I bought the Street Triple and the comprehensive reviews earlier in this blog (HERE and HERE ) still stand good - it's a peach of a bike and I've loved every minute of owning it.  Today was its 20,000 km service so I knew that my wallet would get a lot lighter but hey; it was a sunny, warm day and the 320 km round trip to the dealer down mainly country lanes should take away some of the sting!

I love visiting Hamilton Motorcycle Centre as Heath, the dealer Principal and his team are more like friends than a business entity and it's that high quality personal service delivered with a smile and accompanying leg-pulling which puts them at the very top of the tree.

Whilst Matt, the Chief Technician started tearing the bike down for the major service, I wandered into the parts and showroom area to grab a coffee and look at the bikes as there's always something new and interesting.

Some serious dismantling at 20,000 km

Mighty big holes for 3 - 225cc cylinders!

Let me share some of the nice stuff which the dealership currently has on the floor......

The first bike inside the door is a BSA trials bike, probably from the mid 60's.  Compared with modern bikes, they look so elegantly simple, almost flimsy.  I didn't bother to photograph the whole bike but was rather taken with the simple little muffler.  It was one of those designs which just felt and looked "right", if you know what I mean.

What a neat bit of engineering

The next bike to catch my eye was the touring version of the Triumph Rocket 3.  This was the first one I'd ever seen and it looked far more integrated than the roadster versions - I really liked it.  Woe betide  anyone who mistakes it for a conventional cruiser and tries to show it up on the road - there could be some red faces!

A wolf in sheep's clothing

Next bike to interest me was a new T100 Bonneville.  Bonnies have always had that iconic aura but the paint job on this one was very similar indeed to the early Bonnies when they were arguably the fastest thing on the road.  Triumph play the nostalgia card very well indeed.

Beautiful standard of finish

The Ducati brand really is sex on wheels and a row of them always makes a nice composition, as do the carbon Termignoni carbon end cans.

These get the hormones sloshing about!

..... and so do these, sigh.......

The next bike to catch my eye was the Triumph 800 adventure bike.  The attention to detail is superb with more than a little artistry about the design.  If I was being practical about replacing the Street Triple right now with something else, I think it would be one of these.  It gave me that hard-to-describe emotional connection inside which a lot of other bikes don't, despite them being excellent bikes in their own right.

Horny triple pipes on the 800

Pilot's eye view on the 800
Elegant simplicity

A customer's Kawasaki H1 500 triple was on display.  These bikes had a wicked reputation with the narrow powerband meaning that an incautious and heavy-handed rider was likely to need dental surgery when the front end came up and smacked him in the face.  Comparing it with modern bikes, the forks are ludicrously skinny and no doubt contributed to poor handling.  The narrow drum brake looks scarily inefficient!


Mountain bikes have stiffer forks than these!

Voted one of the top 10 motorcycle engines
of all time in an international poll

The Triumph Tiger is a bike which has been around for some time and for some unexplainable reason, I really didn't pay a lot of attention to it.  That certainly changed seeing the one below.  In hot orange with a deeply-sculpted seat and some of the nicest panniers I've ever seen on a bike, it looked simply stunning.  Nicely done, Mr Triumph!

 This is a seriously good-looking bike

That was the last of the photos I took in the shop but one of Heath's regular customers turned up on his Beemer R1200 and sidecar combination - something you don't see every day!  With the 2 big alloy side cases, an alloy top box and space inside the sidecar, it looked like you could tour with self-sufficiency for a fair length of time.

For the serious enthusiast!

Whilst I was waiting for the Triple to be finished, Heath wandered over and said, "Would you like to take the Ducati Streetfighter for a spin?"  This is the bike I showed in the 3rd and 4th photos of THIS recent post.  Would I what!!!!  However, experimentally cocking my leg over it, I was right on tip-toe and a nightmare vision of dropping an expensive piece of art at the traffic lights outside flashed before my eyes.  Sadly, I thought it was better to decline..... at least until I've mentally prepared myself for it!  Heath's generosity shows why he's so highly regarded in the industry.

Just before I left for home, I was having a chat with 2 biker gang members who proved to be really interesting as well as entertaining.  One of them uttered a sentence I thought I'd never hear, "Man, Harleys are sh*t, don't know why we had them".  They both had Rocket 3's; more effective for doing a runner on, that's for sure!

The ride home was glorious with warm temperatures and sparkling seas on the coast road.  In the town of Thames, a Triumph 675 Daytona and what was possibly a Triumph Bonneville America pulled out of a gas station  and followed me north up the twisty coast road.  I wasn't going to get sucked into a dick-waving contest so more or less stuck to the speed limit and maintained high cornering speeds to see what happened.  The Daytona rider stuck with me but made no attempt to pass and the guy on the cruiser got dropped off a bit.  The convoy re-grouped when I got baulked by a car in the twisties for a few moments which I then overtook down a straight bit.  The Daytona rider was content to sit on my tail at a sensible distance but the cruiser was hell-bent on getting past.  Unfortunately, it took him most of the straight to do it and he entered the next bend far too hot for his ground clearance and basic suspension, dancing all over the road with sparks coming off his stand or footpegs - quite a sight!   He must have been really close to filling his underpants as he slowed right up and waved me past.... what a hoot, but the consequences could have been much, much worse for him.  Would imagine that he felt a complete dick.

All in all, one of those days which makes the soul sing and most car drivers simply couldn't begin to understand.  Oh, and considering that I had a new air filter, oil and filter, new plugs, cam shim check, full diagnostics and a thorough check including a test ride; I thought that the charge of just over NZ$500 (US$400) was extremely reasonable!



Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Starting to join the dots....

Unlike St Paul on the Road to Damascus, there has been no blinding light to set me on the road to more competent riding - I'm not smart enough for starters to pick up on anything quickly.  It was simply a creeping realisation that were gaps in my riding ability which increased risk. Most regular readers will be well aware of the path I chose to correct this earlier in the year.  When a fellow Kiwi bike enthusiast, Ron Prichard, recently lent me a motorcycle book I'd not heard of; I initially came close to mailing it back with a neutrally-worded note of thanks.  (A euphemism for not initially understanding a bloody word of it for the first dozen or so pages).  This is the book in question:

ISBN 978-1-884313-75-2

Dr. Berndt Spiegel is a psychologist, has lectured at university and has his own consulting company.  It was his academic writing style about psychological theory which which initially put me off , but the fact that his personal blurb said that he was an enthusiastic motorcyclist persuaded me to persevere and I'm really glad that I did.  It's not an easy read.  Some of his chapters required a "once over lightly" approach to get the gist of it, followed by a slower, in-depth second go.  This isn't a book review as such - it would be very difficult to review properly in such a short post.  However, it's the first motorcycling book I've read which has succinctly explained the reasons behind comments about riding which a lot of bloggers have raised in their posts, including me.  I suppose you could call it "joining the dots" of what we might have thought were unconnected observations about the way we ride, but in fact have a common root.  What I'll do is give a few examples and see if it triggers anything - certainly did for me. The title of the book could well have been called "The Top Three Inches", referring to the impact of the human brain on riding skills.

Let's take that that phenomenon that I've always called "Zen riding", where a rider seems to be on rails and in an almost detached state.  The normal thought is, "Why can't I ride a lot more frequently like this than I actually do?"  Conversely, why is it that when you're super-eager to get out for a ride, you often end up riding quite poorly and stuffing things up?  Dr Spiegel explains very clearly and in a lot of depth how some relatively repetitive tasks are much more effectively carried out at a subconscious level.  By way of example, he cites the simultaneous tasks of balancing the throttle, changing gear, braking and other "routine" components of riding.  Where it tends to go wrong is when these activities get brought into the conscious level where you think about them too much, i.e trying too hard or something suddenly going wrong and so on.  Without going into detail here, quality practice and training is a great way of making sure that routine tasks stay buried in the subconscious level more than they would otherwise do.  An interesting example given which is unconnected with motorcycling involves the great jazz trumpeter and singer Dizzy Gillespie.  When asked about the transition between the trumpet solo and his vocals in a particular song, he was unable to answer the question because it was carried out at a completely subconscious level.  We can all think of things we do which fall into that category.

So what about the conscious self - what do you do with that?  Well, one of the most important things is monitoring for external dangers.... what lies round that bend?  How do I prepare for the unknown?  It all makes sense, yet how many riders do we see who don't construct good mental pictures of potential hazards?  Taking racing lines round blind corners, not moving out from the road edge when an entranceway with an obscured view  is observed and so on.  These monitoring and forward-thinking actions are what are commonly referred to as situational awareness.

What can't you see?  A car cutting the corner perhaps?  A mob of cattle?
What are you doing to prepare for any eventuality?

I particularly like that all this fits in with my current IAM training but more importantly, understanding WHY things happen is the best way for me personally to lock any learning into place.  This book does it brilliantly.

Another topic which the book covers extremely well is how to become self-critical of your own riding.  The author makes a valid point that downplaying self-criticism certainly soothes a rider's ego but it also throws away opportunities to reduce error and improve.  The chapter covering this topic gives some very practical advice on how to raise your own self-awareness.  It's only when you're honest in admitting to yourself that there are gaps in your riding skills AND being motivated to want to do something about it that any lasting progress will be made.  Taking that first honest step is probably the most difficult of all - it certainly was for me.   Dr Spiegel's chart below shows the improvement process rather nicely (click to enlarge)


The author gives a telling example of repetition and training which will be recognised by many of us.  He says that he's always amazed at how well overall the British ride in the rain.  Whilst riders in drier countries prefer to avoid those conditions, the British have little choice because of the frequency of wet weather so they are not intimidated by the conditions.  Think about a long ride you've done in challenging conditions - you dial into it and gradually become more relaxed and proficient, don't you?

The book isn't all academic - Dr Spiegel gives eminently practical advice on how to apply the psychology of riding on an everyday basis.  Overall, this is probably one of the most important books about riding well that I've ever come across.  As already stated, it's not always an easy read and it's likely that if you haven't been riding all that long; the impact might not be as great as for a more experienced rider.  It's definitely a book which can be read repeatedly and still learn a lot.  Particularly good for those who are planning to become instructors themselves.  For me, it's helped to join together observations about my riding which I thought were loosely connected at best.  I've just ordered my own copy from Amazon!

Now that's got to be good for someone who is 64 today and trying to stay safe on 2 wheels for as long as possible eh?



Thursday, 13 October 2011

NZ Classic Bike and Car Auction - Oct 19th

Next week, Webb's Auctioneers in Auckland are auctioning classic cars, bikes and associated memorabilia.  The auction is taking place at Deus Ex Machina and I've mentioned this magical place in a couple of previous posts.  It still amazes me just how much classic automotive stuff is hidden away in this country with its 4 million population, but forever glad that this stuff is still about!  I've seen some of them in the flesh at Deus Ex Machina and classic events round the country and they are literally in showroom new condition!

The on-line catalogue is  HERE with 100 mouth-watering pages but just to whet your appetite, here are just a handful of pages from it.  Oh to have a large disposable income, sigh.....

1915 Triumph with wickerwork sidecar

1928 Harley Davidson

1937 OK Supreme

1957 BSA Gold Star (dribble, dribble....)

1961 Mercedes Roadster

1968 Factory Bultaco

1970 Kawasaki H1 Triple

1975 Suzuki 500 GP bike

1982 Honda CX 650 Turbo

1976 Lotus Elite


Hope you've enjoyed some of these fabulous machines.  Lots, lots more in the on-line catalogue!