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Saturday, 21 January 2012

A nice run on 4 wheels

Dontcha hate it when the weather refuses to play ball?  Normally, the weather is pretty predictable in NZ from Xmas until the end of April with warm, settled weather.  However, this year, the La Nina weather system has been hanging around the north island and has given us the odd few days of unpredicted rain and high winds when we least expect it.

We had to defer a planned fishing trip for a few days finally getting it in mid-week (with Jennie out-fishing me as normal) and yesterday, we finally managed to do a 420 km round trip to the lighthouse at the Manukau Harbour Heads on the Awhitu Peninsula .  I'd been there with my riding partners over a year ago, enjoyed the run and had promised to take Jennie.  Mind you, the day didn't start on a promising note as Jennie's cat Thomas was clearly unwell when I got up to feed him.  Fortunately, the vet in Thames, some 50km down the coast was able to see him so we set off in Jennie's two-seater with Thomas perched on her lap in a cage.  We left him there for diagnosis whilst we carried on to the lighthouse.

Awhitu Peninsula and the lighthouse location

The Awhitu Peninsula is sparsely populated despite being quite close to Auckland.  It's also exposed to strong westerly winds and big seas coming across the Tasman Sea from Australia and many vessels have got into trouble on the bar at the harbour entrance.  The next picture will give you some idea of the average wind speed in this area!

No mistaking the prevailing wind direction!

It wasn't blowing all that hard as we drove up the peninsula although there were some very dark clouds in the direction we were heading, despite an encouraging weather forecast.  The roads are a motorcyclist's dream - continuous twisties all the way although you need to be on maximum alert on the narrow roads for the few sightseers on this route who inevitably have their brains in neutral.  The last km before the lighthouse is hard-packed dirt with gravel on a downhill gradient.  Fine on a road bike if you take your time and no sweat on 4 wheels.

It's a bit of a steep trek from the car park to the lighthouse and we were both fairly warm by the time we reached the top (err......  trying not to say too much to each other to hide the panting!).

A 100 metre climb from the car park!

By Awhitu Peninsula standards, it wasn't blowing all that hard and although we only felt a few spots of rain, it was really laying it down on the north side of the harbour, courtesy of a sudden summer squall.  Pretty spectacular as long as you weren't out in it!

Moody shot of squall passing through

The CEO enjoying the spectacle

The lighthouse itself was restored in quite recent times, having originally been built to guide ships through the treacherous harbour entrance in the mid 1800's.  The lack of bureaucracy is refreshing.  It's open all day with no-one in attendance.  Apart from very informative info on the history of the area, there is one sign politely asking you to close the lighthouse doors on the way out and another asking you put a donation in the coin box for upkeep if you've enjoyed it.  Wonderful in this day and age!  Oh, and not the slightest hint of vandalism anywhere - fantastic.

The Awhitu lighthouse

Harbour mouth - blue skies on the horizon

Apart from the odd sheltered area, plants don't grow very tall at the lighthouse but I was rather taken with the shrub in the foreground below which resembled an out-sized hedgehog with all its spines.  Wonder if it would grow in our garden?

You wouldn't want to fall into this shrub!

On the sheltered eastern side of the Awhitu Peninsula, there are (apparently) lots of pretty beaches.  Unfortunately, road signage isn't all that flash on the maze of tiny roads and even with a GPS, finding one was more by luck than good judgement.  Graham's Beach below was virtually uninhabited and we must go back up that way do do some more exploring when we have a little more time (getting back to the vet's before they closed was in our minds).

Graham's Beach - where is everyone?

Arriving back at Thames, the vet announced that Thomas had a throat infection which antibiotics would clear up but there were some other treatable issues which older cats can get which would require attention in due course.  (Vet-speak for saying that we'll be taking out a second mortgage in the coming weeks to pay for it!!).  Still, animals are family so all we can do is grit our teeth and pay up.  Nonetheless, a great day out together which we thoroughly enjoyed.  The Street Triple is hopeless for 2-up riding but trips out in Jennie's sports car are great fun too.

Oh, and one other thing.  Not that it's any big deal but this is the last blog post, at least for the foreseeable future.  They say in retirement that you're busier than when you were in paid employment and that's certainly true in our case.  Jennie and I are both voluntary computer tutors for Senior Net, a nationwide organisation to provide computer tuition and support for senior citizens.  I've also recently been appointed national training co-ordinator for both the motorcycle and car divisions of  IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists).  This will involve designing and running a database to ensure that members receive training in a timely manner.  This will be the main focus for some time, so more than happy to put blogging at the bottom of the pile. 

I'd like to wish my fellow moto-bloggers in particular every good wish, safe riding and thanks for such entertaining blogs.  I've really enjoyed them, not only because of our shared love of two wheels, but also for the comradeship and a peek into lives in other parts of the world.  We're not so very different are we, despite politicians trying to raise unecessary artificial barriers between our cultures.  Take care and I'll try to make time to see what you're all up to on the odd occasion!


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Michelin Pilot Road 3 tyres progress report

This post is predominantly for my mate Jules in Australia.  He's been nudging me along to write a progress report on how the PR3's are going on the Street Triple.  Personally, I think he simply wants to sit back and watch the fur fly as everyone seems to hold strong opinions about tyres, even if there's bugger-all objective evidence for aforesaid opinions!  The report is a bit nerdish (oh all right, anal!) so if you want to do something exciting like watching paint dry, it's ok by me :-)!  Think yourself lucky - Jennie has to put up with this sort of behaviour all the time!

Background
Just to recap, I'm an Avon fan, having had them on my Blackbird and then the Street Triple.  I fitted them to the ST after being a little disappointed with the Dunlop Qualifier sport OEM tyres.  The Qualifiers gripped ok in the warmer weather, I was nervous about them in cooler, wet conditions and they also tended to tip into a bend rather than roll in smoothly.  By 6000 km, they had lost most of their tread and also lost their shape.  The replacement Avon Storm 2 sport-touring tyres did most things really well but were outstanding in the wet, which was not unexpected based on past experience. They were replaced at 10,000 km which was satisfactory, given that the ST gets used for its intended purpose although the front tyre triangulated a bit towards the end of its life.  I would have happily used them again except that the NZ Avon importers had hiked the price significantly beyond that of competing brands.  That was the spur to look around and the PR3's sport touring tyres were chosen.  Photos of the Storms and PR3's when first fitted, together with some accompanying remarks can be found HERE.

The PR3's have now been on for nearly 6 months, so how have they gone so far?  Before we get to that, let's have a think as to why opinions on tyres vary so much (a euphemism for unadulterated bullshit in most instances) .  There are many variables which impact significantly on tyre performance (road surface and temperature, ratio of straights to curves, tyre pressures, bike weight and geometry, riding style to name but a few. Bike magazines which test normal road tyres round a test track for lap times don't replicate real world conditions either.  In other words, we're not comparing apples with apples in most cases. I'm not going to offer up much in the way of hard science either BUT what is relevant is that the ST has been ridden by me over virtually identical road and weather conditions for a touch over 20,000 km using 3 different sets of tyres.  At least this gives strong comparative indications, if not absolute ones.

First Impressions
The PR3 is similar to many modern road tyres in that it has dual compound construction - harder towards the centre to reduce wear when vertical and softer towards the edges for additional mechanical grip when leaned over.  I have the higher load rating "B" specification on the rear.  Carcass construction allegedly also increases the contact patch area when leaned over but other manufacturers make that claim too.  Where the PR3 is significantly different is in the tread pattern.  Michelin claim that they are the first to use the fine grooves (called sipes) which are a feature of some performance car tyres for clearing water at a higher rate than conventional rain grooves.  Here's a picture of the front tyre when it was first fitted:


Pilot Road 3 front - brand new

After leaving the tyre fitting place, my first noticeable impression was at walking pace coming up to the first set of traffic lights. There appeared to be a slight vibration through the bars at around 5-10 km/hr.  I actually wondered whether the transverse sipes were creating a harmonic at low speed. It wasn't enough to be worrying and it now seems to have gone away.  Don't think I was imagining it!  After taking it easy for 50 km or so, I started to explore the characteristics a bit more.  Turn-in was similar to the Avons, in that it's a progressive roll rather than the more pronounced drop in of the Dunlop Qualifier.  The reason may be due to a less crowned profile.  I'm also of the view that the PR3 is fractionally slower steering than the Avon Storm 2, but not to the extent that it's an issue and feel perfectly at home on them. In fact, they were so reassuring that there were no chicken strips on the rear tyre at the end of the 160km trip home.

Experience to date
The tyres are just coming up to 7000km from new.  Three characteristics are immediately noticeable.
  • The profile is perfectly even with little or no hint of squaring off  on either tyre or "triangulation" on the front.  
  • There is heaps of tread left.  I regret not measuring the tread depth when new but there is still over 3mm in the centre of the rear hoop  which suggests that 12000 km + will be easily attainable, even riding with enthusiasm.
I set the tyre pressures with a quality digital gauge (NEVER with a gas station inflator) and run them at 35-36 psi front and 39-40 psi rear, a little lower than in the Triumph manual.

Here are photos taken today, showing the tread and even wear profile.

Front

Rear

Front - worn nearly round to the edge and minimal tearing

As mentioned earlier, the PR3's were chosen over the Avons principally on price - NZ$600 fitted and balanced against $NZ650.  If you factor in the clearly superior tyre life, then it makes the PR3's a really attractive economic proposition.
  • The third characteristic is performance.  In the dry, they really grip.  Job to say whether they're any better than the Avons because my mental bar is set lower than the limits of either brand of tyre but suffice to say, they're confidence-inspiring.  However, in wet conditions, they're sensational.  I thought Avon were great (and they are) but the PR3's are better.  In my last post on riding Dr Andy West's Daytona 675, he enthused about their performance in the wet and has subsequently said that when the Supercorsas are worn out, he'll be replacing them with PR3's.  Clearly, the Supercorsas are a superior tyre for continuous high speed work such as track days but for everyday road use where they don't reach the high operating temperatures required especially in the wet, grip is probably less than the PR3.  They certainly didn't give me much feedback in damp conditions.  Another interesting thing I noticed when Andy was riding my bike and I was following him in the wet was that the tyres were leaving a noticeable dry line behind them.  Perhaps this is an indicator of good water-pumping ability.  Must observe other bike tyres too.

Well, there we are - some impressions of the Michelin PR3 based on a comparison with other tyres fitted to the Street Triple and used in near-identical conditions - hope you think that it's been worthwhile.  More to come at life end.

Addendum:  The full end of life report can be found HERE


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Triumph Daytona 675 ride impressions

Ok, let's start with an introduction - the chap in the photo below with the beautiful Daytona 675 is Andy West.  I think you know the disreputable old geezer on the right so the least said about him the better.
 
A pair of Triples (sounds odd...)

Being oh so terribly formal, Andy is Dr. Andrew West, a prominent figure in the world of science and commerce and Vice-Chancellor of NZ's Lincoln University.  At a far less formal level, he's a life-long bike nut and also has an early Triumph Trident and an immaculate '69 Triumph Bonneville in his man-cave at home.  As I was also due to find out during the day, he's a really down to earth nice guy and a bloody quick and safe rider too.

Going back 6 months or so ago, Andy contacted me through the blog as he'd seen the link to my Street Triple review and asked for my views about its suitability for his wife as a post-learner machine.  As well giving some opinions, I'd offered Andy the chance to ride it for himself and draw his own conclusions.  Today was that day so rode down the coast to Thames to meet him, bring him home for lunch and then settle into the serious fun of trying out each others' bikes!

A few showers had passed through in the morning but the weather was brightening up, the roads were gradually drying and the portents were good for using the bikes how they were meant to be used (in the name of thorough and objective road-testing, you understand).


Bike swapping - throw your keys in the middle and see what you get!

A quick walk-around
A preliminary perch on the Daytona showed it to be poles apart from the Street Triple.  It may share the 675 power plant, by that's about as near as it gets!  The Daytona is the closest thing to a pure race bike on the road as you're likely to encounter.  The strongest (and slightly unnerving) impression which hit me when first climbing on board was the near-complete absence of anything in front of you!  I always wanted to ride an Imperial Stormtroopers bike from Star Wars and this is the nearest thing to a terrestrial equivalent!  The low screen and mirrors were way below the eye line and it felt like you were sticking right out in front of the bike.  The clip-on bars also felt like they were vertically below my chin although amazingly, they felt perfectly comfortable.

The seat height is greater than the ST but the narrower seat allowed me to rest on the balls of my feet with complete confidence, also due to the bike's light weight at around 165 kg.  Controls were identical to the ST, so they were instinctive.

Wossit go like, mister?
Andy had warned me that the Daytona has a very tall first gear and he was right! Cutting through dozy holiday traffic in Coromandel village required more concentration regarding road positioning than the ST.  I never actually had to dip the clutch but the fingers were ready if required.  The saving grace was the big torque spread of the motor and I'll come back to this later.

Getting onto the open road was initially unnerving.  The lack of anything in front of the face and the head down, arse up riding position felt quite precarious and coupled with the narrow, low bars, I didn't feel all that confident about hustling through the bends.  Probably no bad thing as the road was still slightly damp in places, the supersports-oriented Supercorsa tyres weren't up to high grip temperatures and there's not much in the way of rain grooves on them either. In fact, they felt quite vague and I didn't like the Supercorsas much at all in those conditions.  Considerable scope for going down on your arse if you pushed really hard, I'd imagine.  I think that for the wide range of weather and temperature conditions I ride in, a good sport touring tyre like the PR3 would give a lot more confidence.  Andy also seemed inclined to this view after riding the ST3. Steering on the Daytona was completely different from ST with its higher, wider bars.  Because of the race-style steering geometry, moving the body around the bike and weighting the pegs was all that was needed to change direction on the D675, with far less emphasis on heavy countersteering.  The faster you went, the less conscious steering effort required!

Up in the hills south of Coromandel, we stopped briefly at a lookout to compare notes and both of us had  huge grins on our faces!  Andy was completely enthused about the grip from the Pilot Road 3 tyres fitted  to the ST and I was blown away with the pin-point accuracy of the steering of the D675.  The other thing which took me by surprise was the relative comfort of the Daytona.  Even for my knees which have taken a hiding over the decades, the high footpegs were surprisingly comfortable.  The thin seat wasn't bad either but for longer hauls, it would definitely have an Airhawk pad fitted to it.  One thing's for sure, you'd never suffer from a cold bum on this bike - heat transfer from the high level pipe and muffler through the thin seat is quite pronounced!

Now here's a thing which I'm sure that many riders have experienced.  If you're not riding too well, often a short stop will make a world of difference and you feel transformed when you hop back on.  So it was with riding Andy's bike.  Even though our stop was less than 5 minutes, hopping back on the Daytona afterwards felt completely natural and my riding was much more assured.

On the run down the coast to Thames with the roads having dried out, we started to use a bit more throttle, particularly when passing small groups of slow-moving holidaymakers.  Whilst the Street Triple is no slouch at all, the greater horsepower at the top end on the Daytona was very noticeable and pretty impressive.  Whilst the top end was indeed impressive,  it still compared very favourably with the ST at lower down in the rev range.  This means that in normal on-road conditions particularly in making snap overtakes, it would completely outshine Japanese IL4's of similar capacity which need to build revs to develop power.  The extremely slim fairing and screen were also more effective than you might imagine.

Is there a downside to the Daytona?  Well yes and no.  It has higher specification suspension than the ST and the setup is on the firm side.  If I was to regularly use one on the Coromandel Peninsula roads, I'd want to knock off a whole lot of preload front and rear and rely more on the excellent rebound and compression damping to lower the tendency to jump about on the more uneven road surfaces. On sweepers with better finished surfaces or for trackdays, it would be nigh-on perfect as it was.  I'd get rid of those Supercorsa tyres though.  The Daytona does have passenger pegs but anyone perched out back is in for a world of pain.  It's that "fitness for purpose" thing though - you don't buy a Daytona for hauling a pillion or lots of luggage about.

On pulling up in Thames before Andy continued home, we were still genuinely smitten with each other's bikes and couldn't keep the smiles off our faces. As I write this quick review, I'd imagine that Andy is telling his wife for the 100th time that the Street Triple is the perfect bike for her.  He can't really lose can he, with a Daytona AND an ST in the shed?  I'd happily do the same except the only thing I'd lose would be my balls, courtesy of someone near and dear!  It's easy to see why both machines have repeatedly won "Bike of the Year" titles in numerous international motorcycle journals.  So there we are,  two incredible machines with the Street Triple having a broader use and the Daytona being more highly focussed. With only being allowed to have one bike at a time by She Who Must Be Obeyed, it has to be the ST for the conditions I ride in, but oh for a Lotto win to help with the case for both of them!

Thanks Andy for a fantastic day, both from the viewpoint of the company, your riding skill and letting me use your Daytona how it was meant to be used!  Catch you for an even longer ride in due course!


Design elegance!



Sunday, 1 January 2012

Social history in photos

It's mid-afternoon on New Years' Day in NZ and everyone is chilling out in our household.  I was inspired by fellow blogger Trobairitz' gorgeous photos from 2011, so spent the last hour rifling through one of our old photo boxes for stuff from years gone by.  No particular reasons for choosing the ones I did except that in most cases, there was a bit of a story to go with them.  Hope that you aren't bored witless!

Let's get the most embarrassing (groan, blush) one out of the way first.  It was taken when I was 16, the year before getting my first motorcycle.  I'd been into building model aircraft for years and this photo was taken at the national championships.  We always used to wear some wacky clothing when competing but whatever possessed me to wear a leopard print shirt defies rational explanation - I hope you've kept your lunch down.  The birds nest hair just adds to the appalling fashion statement.  No wonder that girls steered well clear.....

OMG......

It's highly arguable whether my fashion sense got a lot better but you have to take the next photo in the context of the era - 1972.  It was taken on our wedding day at a very old church in Kent, UK.  Jennie looks a million dollars and her wedding dress wouldn't be out of place today.  I wore a brown suit with matching waistcoat, flared trousers and wide, wide tie - totally in keeping with the Swinging 70's.  I don't know what my Mother in Law had to complain about - I'd had a very substantial haircut for the occasion which should have been enough.  However, I had the temerity to wear a cream shirt instead of a white one - something which she never forgave me for and still grumbled about over the decades which followed, sigh......

Meanwhile, 40 years later......

This picture was taken at Mallory Park in the UK in 1968.  At first glance, it's just a race bike from that area.  However, there were a number of innovative privateer bikes around that time which gave the factory-supported race bikes a real run for their money and this one was no exception.  It was ridden by a chap called Peter Humber who stuck a 3 cylinder 2 stroke Crescent outboard boat engine in a  special frame.  Not only was it extremely fast but it sounded incredible.  I don't know what happened to the development of it, but bikes like this enriched the racing scene in the late 60's.

Crescent 3 cylinder 2 stroke 500cc bike

Drag racing in the UK back in the 60's produced some interesting machinery and the car below was based on a Reliant Scimitar GTE with an unblown 427 powerplant - it was called Whistler.  The Reliant Scimitar was manufactured by a company better known for a range of ghastly underpowered 3-wheelers and it was a real surprise when the Scimitar was released.  Glass fibre body powered by a straight 6 Ford engine - looked great and performed well too.  There's still a cult following in NZ with a Scimitar owner's club of around 150 cars.  Amazing for a country with only 4M population.

Scimitar GTE drag car

1970 was the year in which my drag bike really started to perform, particularly over the longer distances.  The photo below was taken at a standing start mile event which I was taking part in at Greenham Common.  This was a USAF base in southern England with a 2 mile runway.  The photo is of the doyen of motoring journalists at the time, Dennis Jenkinson.  DSJ as he was known to most, had a phenomenal knowledge of anything to do with motorsport and was equally at home writing deep technical articles or lighter material.  The consummate professional.   

One further comment before we leave this photo.  Greenham Common was a base where nuclear weapons were stored.  It was in the days before terrorism and security was rudimentary to say the least.  Our event was on their main runway and all I can remember about getting onto the base was rocking up at the guardhouse with my bike on a trailer behind the car and an entry acceptance form - incredible!

DSJ checking out a competitor's bike

The bike below is the one which got me back into bikes in the 1980's.  It's the Japanese domestic market version of the internationally-sold Honda XBR 500 single.  This particular version is the GB400 TT which was modelled on the classic British singles of the time  - the Gold Star, Manx Norton and so on.  The fairing is an aftermarket one based on a Yamaha RZ 350.  The fairing looks like it was made for the bike and I loved it to bits.  Photo taken in 1989.

1987 Honda GB400TT

Back in 1989, I was well into bikes again but still competing at a national level sailing catamarans.  The photo below was taken on a lay-day at the national championships in Nelson, south island.  I like it simply because it's a natural photo of our daughter Victoria and me chilling out together.  Regular readers of this blog may remember that she became a professionally-registered psychologist last month.  Where on earth did the time go???

Victoria and her soft-touch father

For part of 1996,  I was attached to our parent company in the southern US.  One weekend, I visited Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, home of the 8th Air Force's B52's.  As per my experience at Greenham Common, security in those days was non-existent by today's standards.  The only worrying thing as I recall was a guard barely out of his teens carrying a monstrous sidearm!  They had an open air museum of memorabilia which was amazing and the photo below sets the scene.  The fuselage below is from the Hustler supersonic bomber, IMHO, one of the loveliest aircraft ever built.  This one was particularly interesting as it had been converted into a rocket sled which had been fired down the test track at Holloman AFB at some ungodly speed.  Eagle-eyed observers in the background will note the business end of a Minuteman nuclear missile!

Hustler fuselage at Barksdale

The photo below was also taken at Barksdale.  It's a Mitchell WW2 bomber which had been impeccably restored.  It struck me how small it is compared with modern warplanes and how vulnerable the aircrew were.  Deep respect.

Mitchell at Barksdale

The next photo is of my 1985 BMW K100RS which I bought in 1993.  I was looking for something to replace the GB 400 and hadn't even contemplated a BMW.  However, I wandered into an Auckland bike shop and there was the Beemer.  It was being sold on behalf of a customer who had been working overseas for several years. It hadn't been used for 3 or 4 years and had only covered around 20,000 km.  It was in near-flawless condition and to get it off their hands, I was offered it for a ridiculously low price, complete with new tyres and official BMW panniers.  A true long distance sports tourer with elegant looks.

I loved that bike and with a couple of fairly minor exceptions, it served me reliably until I bought the Blackbird in 2001.  The photo was taken in 1999 (I think) when my Godmother and two daughters visited from the UK.  In fact, we recently received an email from Linda in the photo remembering one of the highlights of the visit when I took both of them on the back and did "The Ton", an old British phrase for cracking the 100 mph barrier.  Happy days!


Linda on the K100RS

Moving right up to the present day, I took the photo below on Christmas Day.  Regular readers may remember the post 6 months ago when a starving kitten 5 or 6 weeks old appeared in our garden and never went away.  Little Orphan Annie has since grown into the most gorgeous, affectionate kitten who rules the household.  Like the rest of our family, she over-ate on Xmas day and flaked out on our bed.  Her tongue just poking out adds to the cuteness factor!

The ever-vigilant Annie

A happy and prosperous New Year to everyone!