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Friday, 1 March 2019

When ageing bikers go bad......

Regular readers will remember past comments on this blog, some serious and some flippant; about ageing motorcyclists, risks and strategies to enjoy and safely prolong their riding.  My thoughts about taking the issue seriously was prompted by a series of email exchanges with US motorcycle safety guru and author David Hough.  Those exchanges were summarised in a post from 2011 HERE . 

The exchanges prompted me to raise my skills with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  It not only gave me new skills but reinvigorated my riding enjoyment too.  It's also opened the opportunity to assist other riders of all ages to upskill too.

Now at 71, it's time to put the next part of the plan into action.  My Suzuki GSX-S 1000 is by no means a heavyweight at 210 kg dry but its centre of gravity is relatively high.  As I seem to be shrinking and am now 5' 7" in old money, a high C of G and being vertically challenged are not a good recipe, especially parking around off-cambers or uneven ground (don't ask me how I know!).

Clearly, it was time to consider a lighter bike but one with good performance, which I've been doing for many months.  As well as weighing up technical specifications, I've been careful to think about that very personal factor - emotional appeal.  The GSX-S was bought rather more quickly than prudent and whilst it's a great bike, it didn't have much emotional appeal.  A simple example is that unlike my old 675 Street Triple, it didn't get patted when I walked past it in the shed! 

Without going into all the reasons why, the two bikes which I thought would fill the technical and emotional sides of buying a new bike are the Triumph Street Triple 765 and the KTM Duke 790.  Time to do some test riding!

If I can draw a very non-PC analogy going back to my late teens or early 20’s, the Triple is equivalent to the smooth, sophisticated chick you meet at the pub. A touch expensive, reliable and predictable in many ways, but nonetheless exciting. Call it the "safe" option if you like. Then there is the slightly dodgy chick, a bit rough and wild, maybe a tad unreliable but is unpredictably exciting. Not the sort that you’d take home to meet Mum but we’ve either fantasised about the latter type or experienced one at first hand. That’s the KTM. (Can’t believe I’ve just written that paragraph but you get the drift and it is probably applicable to both sexes if we're honest about it so being offended is tough luck).

A couple of days ago, it was time to test the Duke 790, nicknamed "The Scalpel".  169 kg, 435 degree “big bang” motor, lean sensitive traction control and ABS, launch control, adjustable wheelie control, track, sport, road and wet weather modes, quick shifter, slipper clutch, steering damper – motorcycle porn for a techo. What’s not to like?

Rocked up to the KTM/Suzuki dealer in Hamilton to find that the dealer principal had just fitted Bridgestone Battlax RS 10 tyres.  This is in anticipation of a trackday he's doing next week.  They are not really a road appropriate tyre as you could almost spread the soft compound with a butter knife.  I think life will be in the hundreds of kilometres!  However, a hot, dry day and the dealer telling me to go and enjoy myself........ what could be better?

Introducing the KTM Duke 790 - aka "The Scalpel"

This bike is deceptively small but the ergonomics are perfect for me.  Just like my old 675 Street Triple, everything is instinctively in the right place.  The seat is about 15 mm higher than the Suzuki but as the seat profile is more rounded, my legs are more vertical when on the ground.  Coupled with the light weight, it's really confidence-inspiring for a shortarse.

No time for heroics on the first outing so "road" mode was selected from the TFT display and the motor started.  There's quite a bark from the standard muffler and you probably wouldn't want it a lot louder to start drawing attention to yourself.  Some nice pops on a trailing throttle too. 

Sexy pipework!

Pull away from the dealership into the traffic and everything feels good.  Leg position feels perfect for my stuffed knees and the seat feels perfectly comfortable,  Great all-round vision too.

Dive down a side road and out into the country.  I'm not sure what I was expecting in terms of performance but crikey, this bike really picks up her skirts and accelerates!  The perfect example of a great power to weight ratio and not needing massive horsepower to get stunning performance.  The clutchless quick shifter works a treat when you have the throttle pinned but is a little more vague at low throttle openings ,  Downshifts using it are universally good. 

I love the engine note but don't quite know what to make of it as it's almost unique.  It's not like a conventional twin because of the firing order.  Sometimes, there's a hint of V twin and at other times, it feels like a stonking big single.  Yet another point of difference compared with the opposition.

Into the twisties and the reason for the nickname "Scalpel" becomes apparent.  It eats corners with virtually no input from the rider other than getting the entry position right.  Getting entry speed right seemed less critical - just lean it a bit more!  And boy, do those RS 10's stick!   

Evidence of an enjoyable test ride

In fairness, I didn't push as hard as the state of the tyres might suggest.  The dealer principal had already given them a good workout to and from his home and I just added to that.  With the coarse chip of the roads I took it on (compared with a track) and air temperatures of around 30 degrees C, it wasn't hard to start making inroads on their life.

For most roads out in the countryside, the first 5 gears were more than adequate and at the legal limit of 100 km/hr, 6th gear felt a bit like an overdrive.  That was probably exacerbated by the motor still being a bit tight.  It felt better at higher (illegal) speeds and as it's capable of around 230 km/hr, you wouldn't want to engage the higher gears too early unless you're in economy mode.

Looks like a preying mantis with its LED headlight - skinny too

After some enthusiastic riding in the countryside, I realised that I was absolutely fizzing - genuinely taken by surprise as to how good it was and how much I was enjoying it.  Modern bikes, excepting the odd lemon, are universally good.  I guess this can mean that they can be a bit "same old, same old".  The Duke breaks this mould and the experience is incredibly refreshing.  It adds a genuinely different experience.

I put it in sport mode on the edge of coming back into the city just out of curiosity and it was significantly more sensitive to small changes in throttle opening and skittery.  It may settle down as the motor beds in but in reality, it's no big deal to keep it in "road" mode.  

Coming back into the dealership, my feeling was almost identical to the time I first took a 675 Street Triple out after owning the Blackbird for 8 years.  That feeling can be summed up as " I want it and I want it NOW".  A deal was quickly done as I've used the dealer for servicing my bikes since 2001.  As of next week, the Suzuki will be no more and a KTM will grace the shed.  Remember the rough chick analogy?  Exciting times ahead and will report back with a more thorough review in due course.  Experiences like this are what keeps us young!

As with my old Street Triple, the KTM is the sort of bike which encourages immoderate behaviour.  I'm going to have to watch that!

Oh, the black and silver colour scheme as opposed to the traditional KTM orange is partially down to Jennie.  She doesn't like the orange which I think partially translates as an old fart on an orange bike doesn't look right!  No problem with this as the black and silver matches my leathers and hopefully will draw less attention of the wrong kind!

The smile says it all!

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Best of 2018 Picture Challenge

Fellow blogger Sonja  has issued a challenge to post 10 photos taken in 2018 on specific topics.  Always nice to look back and choose some favourite ones so here you are Sonja, covering your chosen themes!

1.  In the city
This is the Viaduct Basin area of Auckland waterfront.  It's being redeveloped in readiness for the next America's Cup.  Our son-in-law is a landscape architect and is heavily involved in the redevelopment.  The public seating on the right of the photo is his design and was the first installation of many.  The slat seating has lights inside which come on at night.

Viaduct Basin, Auckland

2.  In the countryside
This is Colville Store on the Coromandel Peninsula.  You can't quite hear the banjos but there are a few "hippy" communes in the area, lots of alternative lifestylers and artisans.  The store stocks just about anything the local area needs as it's a bit of a haul to the nearest town.  Nice place to stop for an ice cream.

"Deliverance" country!

3. By the water
This photo was taken entirely by chance.  We live on the ridge in the background and were just travelling into the village to take part in a pub quiz for a local charity.  The sun was just setting and I stopped for a few seconds to take the photo on my mobile phone.

Coromandel Harbour at sunset

4.  Something red
There was only ever going to be one photo chosen for this theme!  In December, we had the privilege of hosting lovely friends from the island of Guernsey, UK.  We all enjoy plants of all kinds and for some years, I've been teasing Nick about the spectacular NZ Pohutukawa trees which flower in their millions in December.  Well, Nick and Irene finally got to see them in the flesh which has killed any further teasing. (maybe!)

Nick and Irene suffering more smart remarks about Pohutukawa!

5.  People
Our daughter Victoria bought me an Asian Cooking course for my birthday and I chose Malaysian cuisine.  Travelled to Auckland and we went along to learn to create a classic dish from scratch.  Not only did it smell wonderful, it tasted sensational.  An unusual and magnificent birthday present!

Dad and daughter time

6. Animals
Our two cats, Thomas (17) and Annie (7) are very much part of the family and the local community come to that.  Sadly, time caught up with Thomas this month and he's now at rest in the top of the garden overlooking the harbour.  Photo taken around Christmas.

Annie and Thomas chilling in the heat of summer

7. Plants
We're fortunate to live in a pretty much frost-free area of NZ so we can grow a wide range of decorative plants and fruit.  The photo below is a close-up of a bee on one of our dwarf bottlebrush bushes.

Dwarf bottlebrush flower

8.  Something unusual
Back in March, we visited NZ's capital, Wellington; to catch up with old friends.  They surprised us by booking a trip to the movies.  Not any old movies but to a movie theatre in someone's back garden!  It's a 40 seat theatre which specialises in showing old period movies.  The reception area is straight out of the 50's in terms of decor and memorabilia.  They even have a half time interval where "period" food and drink are served.  Crackers and processed cheese with a slice of tomato on top, home made cake and scones, instant coffee and tea from a massive teapot.  Absolutely wonderful atmosphere - no wonder you have to book ahead.  For those who are interested: Time Cinema

The delightful reception area

9. Something funny
Back in August, I demonstrated complete incompetence by smacking a leg into the towbar of our 4x4 with considerable force.  The result was a huge haematoma and massive bruising which was exceedingly painful.  I had a full calendar of motorcycle coaching which would have been seriously disrupted by staying at home for a few weeks.  I looked for a way round this and ended up duct taping an armoured elbow protector from an old motorcycle jacket over the haematoma to protect it from knocks.  Jennie was not best pleased and most of her comments are not printable.  "Silly old fart" is by far the mildest of them.  It worked though and saved me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself!

Brilliant idea!

10.  Best photo of the year
Almost impossible to pick as there are several that hold special memories.  However, the photo below taken in February is pretty special. It was taken at the Moto TT track day at the Bruce McLaren international circuit, Taupo.  We were at Taupo for the Institute of Advanced Motorists annual conference and taking part in the trackday was part of a fun-filled weekend.  The Suzuki really picked up her skirts and flew.  After about 6 sessions on the track, most of us were exhausted, called it a day and sunk some ice cold beers back at the motel.  No wonder professional racers have to be athlete-fit!  As a 70 year old at the time, I was pretty pleased to hold it all together and lap pretty quickly too.  Growing old disgracefully is great fun!

Could almost pass for a young fella if I left my helmet on!

There you go Sonja - challenge accepted.  Any other bloggers fancy having a go?

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Good news and bad news

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  Absolute joy that Jennie's hip replacement is going ahead in early February and her suffering over the last year or two will shortly be at an end.   It will be fantastic to have her operating at full steam again.  It's being done at a private hospital and no mucking about these days - they have you up and walking the next day (with crutches) and generally send you home a couple of days later.  No riding for me in Feb whilst I'm taking care of her and doing the household duties but so good to have her out of pain.  It also means that our trip to China at the end of  May can now go ahead as planned.  For a while, it looked like we might lose the deposit with all the medical uncertainty.

This week has been a sad one as we said goodbye to our 17 year old part - Russian Blue cat Thomas.  We got him as a rescue kitten from the SPCA.  The photo below was taken on the day we brought him home.  He looked so sad as he had a weepy eye and maybe that was part of why he was chosen. Or did he choose us..... ?

A little waif in need of love....

He quickly attached himself to Jennie and became quite a character in the neighbourhood.  Thankfully, he was good mates with the cat next door but scrapped with any other felines in the neighbourhood and was quite happy to take on sizeable dogs too.  The local vet got a nice income stream from regularly patching him up!

Attacking the cat flap for some unknown reason

He loved his food and became pretty well-known in the neighbourhood for turning up at BBQ's up to a couple of streets away.  Ever-polite, he wouldn't scrounge - he'd simply sit and stare at someone until a bit of steak or sausage was forthcoming!

When we retired and moved to Coromandel, he loved the lifestyle and often walked to the beach behind our place and explored the rock pools.

Exploring the rock pools at the beach

Thomas was always into thinking big.  He couldn't be arsed to chase the local bird population but on numerous occasions, we'd wake in the morning to the sight of a rabbit hopping around the lounge which he'd dragged through the cat flap.  He never hurt them - just used to bring them home and watch them.  His crowning glory (so to speak) was dragging a very angry pheasant through the cat flap one day which proceeded to flap round the house and poop everywhere before we could get it outside.

After that, he settled for an easier life and recognised that neighbours flushing their outboard engines meant that they'd shortly be filleting their catch.  He'd saunter off and politely sit by their filleting benches waiting to receive trimmings.  Always a very dignified cat.  One near-neighbour used to place a fish scale on his head to signify that he'd been fed when he finally arrived home!

  Thomas inspecting and approving a neighbour's catch

Tussling for the TV remote with his personal servant

A few tears have been shed over the last few days.  As with all animal lovers, they're family and we grieve accordingly when we lose them.  It's one of the nicer traits of the human race when we can give unconditional love to another species.  RIP Old Fella.

Handsome chap

We've been out fishing regularly because of Jennie's upcoming enforced break and so far, it's been a scorchingly hot summer.  In fact, too hot to be on the water for long without good protection.  UV levels in NZ are pretty high and we share with Queensland (Australia) the dubious distinction of having the highest skin cancer levels in the world.   Time to fit a canopy to the boat so that was our slightly belated joint Christmas present to ourselves.

Spent the best part of a day this week assembling and fitting it.  Most of the time was spent in careful measurement and trial fitting before drilling holes.  Not a good look to have surplus holes on a boat.  Delighted to say that everything went well and it works perfectly.   Surprised to find that it was made in NZ, not China.  Great quality product with clear instructions.  Can't wait to try it out.

A shady canopy - pure bliss!

Ready for action

Oh, and in other good news, I've been given Executive Permission (official trade name) to replace the Suzuki this year.  Won't do anything for a few months but there will be some delicious test riding to be done.  Going for something lighter as a nod to my age but no sacrifice in performance.  Errr... I haven't actually mentioned the performance angle to Jennie as I'm trying to portray uncharacteristic maturity.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that another Street Triple is one of my two front-runners.  This time, the 765 R or RS.  However, the other choice might raise a few eyebrows!  It's the KTM 790 Duke.  Despite (or because of my 71 years on the planet), maybe it's time to get an utterly mad wheelie monster of a machine that spells FUN in huge capital letters.  Not that I'd ever be caught behaving like that, oh dearie me no.

Watch this space......